Cupcake the American Staffordshire Terrier waiting for her turn to compete in dock diving.

Breed Matters

I have been uncharacteristically lucky in my dog owning life. That, I know for sure. I was beyond blessed to have one of the easiest going Labrador Retrievers around until I was 25. He will always be the gold standard to which I measure all future pups (apologies to all my future pups for that is a tough legacy to live up to.) Clancy was very well trained but more than that, he was simply a very neutral and mild mannered pup. I can take some credit for his easy going ways but truly this was a case of fantastic breeding and a bit of luck. It wasn't until I ventured out of the world of Labradors that I truly realized how lucky I had been and this is where this blog starts today... breed matters!

Retrievers will forever want to retrieve (helllllllo ball obsession!), terriers are tenacious little pups that give new meaning to "like a dog with a bone," and herding breeds will always be looking for the next animal to maneuver. As it turns out in our modern day society these characteristics aren't always appreciated. That doesn't mean these are bad dogs. These pups are simply doing what has been genetically programmed into them for thousands of years. 

This is probably a "duh" statement for most super dog savvy people but I think it is something that bears repeating over and over again for the average dog owner. No matter what breed of pup you are getting, they have some of their traits already hard-wired in and it is up to you to decide if that trait is going to be desired in your next pup partner. Do you have small children? Maybe think twice about a herding breed that might think your kids are just another herd of sheep to tend to. Are you up for the challenge of a protection breed such as a Rottweiler or a Cane Corso? That is a whole lot of a dog that has a ton of power and drive whether you choose to do anything with it (dog sports, personal protection, etc) or not. 

Even if you aren't getting a purebred pup - this still applies to you! A border collie mix might very well still be a bit obsessive about keeping your kids in line. And... say it with me... that does NOT make it a bad dog. That makes it a dog that might not be the best choice for you if you have tiny ones running around. Notice that I say "might" because in the end it is you who needs to make that decision. Maybe you have a huge ranch and that pup is going to get all their herding needs taken care of and then some. I don't know your life but YOU do! That is why breed does matter!

Sometimes you get a freak of nature pup that goes against all logical patterns for the breed but most times... that isn't going to be the case. If you assume your pup is not the exception, it is the rule, you will never be in too much trouble. 

I consider myself to be pretty dog savvy but even I have to catch myself sometimes when it comes to my own expectations for my own pups. Take for example, my sweet little terrier/Chihuahua mix Pippin. Pip is a born ratter. To say he has a passion for hunting rats is an understatement. When he knows he is about to go to work, he literally vibrates with enthusiasm. He does come by this ability naturally but I admit I have also encouraged it a fair amount by taking him to barn hunt competitions and adding a bit of training and commands to his already intense ratting nature. Pip does a lot of his rat hunting at my horse barn and I have enthusiastically encouraged this over the last year or so.

Recently, I went to the barn and I was tired and just wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. Pip, however, was all about keeping up our usual routine of running through the grain rooms and tack rooms in search of rats to chase. I didn't let him off leash and made him stay tied up next to me and he was nightmare. He cried, he pulled, he was clearly anxious and I was in no mood for his shit. I was short with him and clearly today I was not a great dog trainer (or dog mom for that matter.) 

Who was in the right here? Was I so very wrong to want my dog to be quiet and behave? Was Pip justified in his obnoxious shenanigans? On one hand, yes, dogs need to behave when in public and that means no pulling on the leash and no constant crying. On the other hand... I realized that it wasn't entirely fair of me to expect a dog as tenacious (hello that terrier side!) and drivey as Pip to immediately accept this huge change of routine. This was a dog who knew his job and knew the routine and was clearly anxious and upset that he wasn't getting to do one of his all time favorite activities that he associated with the barn. 

This is partially about his breed tendencies (terrier owners, can I get a little empathy here?) and partially about all the training that I had put into him to encourage his hunting. I'm not saying he couldn't be trained to mellow out at the barn but that hunting instinct will always be coursing through his veins no matter what kind of training I do. Pip is who he is and that doesn't make him a bad dog. That makes him a fantastic barn hunt dog! That also makes him a poor choice for someone who has a rat as a pet. 

I think this boils down to two points.

First, whatever mix of breeds Pippin in, he has some world class hunting instincts that are going to be there forever and always. All the training in the world won't change the fact that this little pup will move heaven and earth to chase down a small creature. When I adopted Pip I accepted that about him and while for some that might not be a great trait, I think it is amazing rodent control and I'm thrilled to not need to set out traps to deal with that issue.

Second, training happens 24/7 whether you are thinking about it or not. I was training Pip every time I encouraged him to chase a rat or even when I didn't necessarily encourage it, but I allowed it to happen.

In the end, if I didn't want Pip to have a meltdown whenever I couldn't devote the time to ratting with him, I needed to do some training. It wasn't fair of me to get upset with him for wanting to continue our established routine of doing his absolute favorite thing in the world. This isn’t to say I shouldn’t expect good behavior from my pups but when I had established a routine for months on end, I shouldn’t be surprised when my rambunctious little terrier doesn’t meekly and instantly accept this change.

Yet another lesson learned for me in the vast world of dog training. It all comes down to this... don't get a dog if you aren't ready to deal with their breed quirks. I'm not saying you need to embrace them whole-heartedly as I did with Pip's prey drive but I am saying that you can't be entirely surprised when your Sheepdog is trying to herd you in the kitchen. Be informed about what breed, or mix of breeds, your pup is before committing to them. Oh and, for the love of all that is good and holy, a Google search should not be the only stop in your information search. Call a breeder. Talk to a trainer. The internet is not the be all, end all for information. Case in point this blog, this is but one woman's thoughts and I will be the first to say, I'm not a professional! Just one girl with four dogs and a lifetime of enthusiasm for everything doggie.

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