Understanding the behavior characteristics commonly associated with the breed of your dog is the first step to building a stronger relationship and partaking in breed-specific training. Becoming familiar with your dogs breed can also help you to learn ways to avoid common problems related to diet, behavior, and care.
During the first week of my Basic Obedience class I request owners research their dogs breed. If they have a mixed breed I tell them to choose 1 or 2 of the breeds that they think there dog might be and research them. Another option is to have your mix breed dog genetically tested. This has actually become a very popular service and has become significantly more affordable in recent years. To learn more, do a Google search for “breed testing for dogs,” and you will find a list of various companies who offer this service. You can also request this testing from your veterinarian.
Owners that research the breed of their dog have a better understanding of why their dogs behave the way they do. Did you know that heelers and shelties have a natural herding tendency that sometimes can lead them to chase after kids, bicycles, and cars? Labrador Retrievers and Boarder Collies are high-energy dogs and need A LOT of exercise. Terriers are known for barking, however, getting them involved early in the proper training regime can do wonders. By understanding these breed characteristics owners can develop patients, understanding, and a good action plan for their dogs.
Dogs have been selectively bred for hundreds of years to carry out certain jobs, and display specific temperaments and behavioral characteristics. Before domestication, dogs lived and survived on their own. It wasn’t until humans got involved and found value in these animals for protection, hunting, companionship, and countless other services, that breed-specific dogs were selectively established.
I encounter many owners who have purchased a pure bred dog because of characteristics such as short hair, reputable breeding family, size, and reputation only to be frustrated when certain breed specific behaviors surface that they were unaware of. This can lead to frustration, confusion, and stress for both the owner and the dog.
I’ve had the wonderful opportunity to train a variety of species of animals. Through my years of training I have learned that it is very important to understand the species and family of animal that you are working with. As a trainer I’ve been taught not to “anthropomorphize,” a fancy trainer word that means to attribute human characteristics to animals, however, through my experience I can say with absolute certainty that animals each have their own unique personalities. I find some want to please, some are eager to learn; some try to do the least to get the most, the list goes on.
This leads me to the controversial topic of nature vs nurture. Is it possible through proper upbringing and training to train a dog that was bred for hundreds of years to chase birds, not to chase birds? Is it realistic? Is it fair? I honestly feel that BOTH nature and nurture play a role in an animals behavior. Through my experience I have found “yes,” it is possible to train some dogs not to display behaviors that they have been bred to do. I have also found that “no,” some dogs have too strong of an instinct or drive to curtail them from exhibiting behaviors that they were bred for.
Prevention and maintenance have been my solutions to dog owners that have a dog with strong innate behavior. For example, we might never be able to train the Terrier not to dig or train the Sheltie not to bark but we can give the Terrier an appropriate place to dig or teach the Sheltie to bark only on cue.
I encourage you to do something for your dog; research their breed. We so desperately want the perfect housedog and pet. You will be doing your pet a favor by understanding their natural tendencies and learning ways to properly respond to the behaviors you may find undesirable.