dog training

Breed Stereotypes – Valid or Not?

Miriam-Webster defines the word stereotype as, “something conforming to a fixed or general pattern – especially : a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, prejudiced attitude, or uncritical judgment.”

I recently had a conversation with someone about a certain breed and the “stereotypes” associated with that breed.  While stereotypes are generally seen as negative, I do think we have quite a few stereotypes in our world that are neither positive nor negative, and do clearly come out of a place of at least partial truth.  (An example might be that “all Southerners love sweet tea.”  While we clearly know that not ALL Southerners love sweet tea, we can see by the drink’s geographic distribution that it is most definitely a beloved item in the Southern US more than in other regions.)

While dog breeds can and do suffer from negative/false stereotypes, I found in my conversation with this young person that in his/her mind, “stereotype” and “characteristic” had become synonymous – and therefore were not of much importance because he/she deemed all stereotypes to be false.  Allow me to give a few examples of how these two items become muddied in the dog world:

  1. Pitbulls
    • Stereotype – All Pitbulls are dangerous and aggressive.
    • Characteristic – Pitbulls, as part of the Terrier family, are naturally tenacious and, as the AKC website jokes (about the American Staffordshire Terrier), “eager for a spirited argument.”
  2. Labrador Retriever
    • Stereotype – All Labs are hyperactive and goofy.
    • Characteristic – Labradors are bred to be working dogs and are generally very energetic and friendly.
  3. Border Collie
    • Stereotype – All Border Collies are bad at chasing cars, people, and bicycles.
    • Characteristic – Border Collies are bred to herd livestock and have a natural desire to control movement.

Here’s why I feel we can’t dismiss a breed’s “characteristics” just because it closely resembles the breed’s “stereotype:” WE BRED THEM TO BE THIS WAY.

While a person may be inappropriately stereotyped based on nationality, dog breeds have been specifically and carefully crafted over (in some cases) hundreds of years!  A need for certain characteristics to become common or even close to “guaranteed” in a litter is exactly why different breeds emerged in the first place.  Humans needed/wanted dogs to perform certain tasks, so they bred the dogs who showed the most promise until they had refined the kind of dog they were looking for to do the job.

You’re lost in the woods.  You can choose a Bloodhound or a Great Pyrenees to come find you.  Who do you choose?

You’re a senior adult with mobility issues.  You can choose a Beagle or Pug to be your companion.  Who do you choose?

You’re blind and you need a guide.  You can choose a Golden Retriever or an Akita.  Who do you choose?

If you’re reading this and aren’t familiar with these breeds, I hope you chose the Bloodhound, Pug, and Golden Retriever. 🙂  And while it is possible to get a Bloodhound with a bad nose/work ethic, a Pug who wants to run marathons, or an anti-social/unintelligent Golden Retriever, those aren’t the most likely scenarios.

So, when you’re choosing a BREED – not a specific dog – please keep in mind that whether you call them stereotypes or characteristics, certain breeds do generally possess certain behavioral qualities.  Now, if you’re adopting or buying an adult dog, you can sometimes easily see where he/she differs from the generalized characteristics of a given breed.  However, when you’re adopting/buying a puppy of a certain breed, I highly suggest you feel prepared to handle whatever those generalized characteristics may be!

What’s my point?

Choose wisely.

Don’t choose a high drive working breed and hope that it turns out to be a couch potato!  Don’t choose a low drive, stocky breed and then be surprised if it doesn’t want to run an agility course with you!

Yes, there are ALWAYS exceptions, but I feel those exceptions are normally minor.  Let’s use my dogs as an example using some buzzwords from their breeds’ AKC website listings:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATucker: Labrador Retriever
Friendly – Yep!
Active – Ha! Nope!
Outgoing – Yep!
High-Spirited – Nope!
Affectionate – Yep!

.
.

1Ellie: German Shepherd Dog
Confident – Yep!
Courageous – Mostly!
Smart – Yep!
Loyal – Yep!  To a fault.
Steady – Nope!

.
.
.
What you see here aren’t two dogs who are totally opposite of their breed standards, but who are individuals who carry most, but not all, of those breed standards.  Tucker is still very Labrador and Ellie is still very Shepherd even though neither one of them is a perfect textbook example.

So please, as you search for your next dog or counsel a friend about his/hers, don’t allow yourself to assume that yours will be the exception.  When we are choosing a dog, I feel it is our responsibility to do so with great care, research, and thought.  Yes, sometimes dogs (literally) just wander into our lives and we end up with a breed we never imagined – and that’s okay!  But when you’re calling the shots and making the decisions – please do so responsibly!

 

 

At Discovery Dog Training, we treat every dog as an individual and we don’t have a “no-go” list of breeds we won’t train.  We understand that genetics (physical health) and training play a huge role in every dog’s characteristics/personality, regardless of breed, and we feel honored to have been able to work with so many diverse breeds – and mixes thereof!

 

 

Categories: Adopting a dog, Behavior, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Purebred dogs | Leave a comment

Leash Laws – They Aren’t Just About YOU!

This one is going to step on some toes – sorry folks!

I often hear people explain their choice to have their dogs unleashed in public/leash-required areas by saying, “My dog is super friendly – he won’t hurt anyone!”  I’ve also heard, “He doesn’t go too far, and he almost always comes when I call.”

These individuals assume that the leash law is just for them – and that because their dog is friendly or usually comes when called that the law is irrelevant to them.  Friends, this simply isn’t the case.  Nearly every week, I hear my clients complain about off leash dogs who run up on their leashed dogs.  And here’s the thing – most of these client dogs ARE REACTIVE.  Dogs who are aggressive or fearful do not need your happy-go-lucky pup running up into their faces – no matter how much of a social butterfly your pup may be!

I have clients who have worked extremely hard to improve their dog’s behavior, but they are still nervous about going to our local Greenway because of the large number of off leash dogs who show no obvious training or manners.  That is simply unacceptable.

Listen folks, I get it.  Most of you don’t have large yards to let your dogs run and we only have one dog park (which I hear negative reviews on regularly) in the area.  Regardless, it doesn’t give you the right to ignore a law or rule that has been put in place not only to protect other dogs and people, but your dog as well!  If you need to practice obedience at a distance, or even play a small game of fetch, why not use a lightweight long line to make sure you remain in control?

Please, respect your fellow dog lovers and keep your dog leashed where required – especially when that area is a high traffic area.  Remember that some of the dogs you see at the Greenway have been attacked by off leash dogs – and they are still affected by that fear and anxiety!  

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 8.54.16 PM

Fall 2017 – I needed to work on off leash obedience with Beau, but since we were at the Greenway, I used a green parachute cord as my long line to make sure we were still being respectful of other patrons.  Choosing a material that blends in and isn’t heavy helps simulate an off leash environment.  

Categories: Aggressive Dogs, Behavior, dog health, Dog Parks, dog training, Fearful dogs, freedom, leash laws, training tips | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Freedom is Earned

In my domain, my dogs have always earned freedom.  What does that mean?

It means that before Tucker earned unsupervised free run of the whole house, he had to show good unsupervised behavior in my bedroom.

And before he earned unsupervised free run of my bedroom, he had to show good partially supervised behavior in my bedroom.

And before he earned partially supervised behavior in my bedroom, he stayed in his kennel when I wasn’t able to watch him – because that was the safest place for him (and my stuff).

It would surprise most people to know that Tucker was not left outside of his kennel if I wasn’t home until he was somewhere between 2-3 years old.  Why?  Because I knew his kennel was safe, and when he was an adolescent, I didn’t 100% trust him not to stick his head in a trashcan or steal some kleenex.

I have received numerous calls, emails, and text messages from folks who have provided their dog (usually a puppy) with too much freedom too fast.  Young dogs are like children – they get distracted, they “forget” rules, and they are easily tempted.  You shouldn’t feel guilty for limiting your dog’s unsupervised freedom – it can save you money and your dog injury!  I have heard of dogs destroying couches, digging through walls, and even ingesting foreign objects – all because they were trusted too soon.

But here’s the reality folks – as you begin providing freedom, you may have great success for a while and then your puppy does something very “puppy.”  So what then?  Just like a parent with an unruly teenager, it’s okay to take freedom AWAY again for a time until you feel it can be handled appropriately again.

Exhibit A:

IMG_6521

Ellie just turned a year old this past Saturday.  She’s a firecracker, so she has not been given much freedom yet.  It’s only been in the past few months that she’s even been trustworthy enough to leave in the living room while I walk down the driveway to get the mail.  Lately, she had been showing much improved maturity – so the hallway gate blocking off half the house was used less frequently and fewer doors were closed when she was out of her kennel.

This morning I took a phone call from a client.  I didn’t realize that Ellie was no longer in sight until the call ended – less than 10 minutes.  I found her ripping up Tucker’s bed in the back room.  So what now?!  We’ll take away some freedom – we’ll spend a while using the gate again and closing more doors – and when she has gone a while without an incident, we will slowly begin providing more freedom again.

Restrictions and boundaries aren’t mean folks – they’re a safety net for you AND your dog.  Don’t feel guilty – feel in control!

 

 

 

 

Categories: Behavior, Chewing, crate training, dog training, Ellie the Warrior Princess, freedom, kennel, owner encouragement, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Purebreds VS Rescues

Purebreds VS Rescues
Please note that this post is geared mostly towards those looking to adopt or buy a puppy – not an adult dog.  I am also using “rescues” to generally refer to dogs of unknown history and breeding – not necessarily purebreds who need a new home or end up in shelters.

As with almost every other subject, people can get very defensive, and downright mean, when it comes to purebreds versus rescues.  So, just in case anyone is curious, here are my two cents on the subject:

BOTH ARE GREAT. 

And here’s why: each owner’s needs, and each dog’s purpose, is different.

Rescues
I love rescues.  They come in all sorts of cool and sometimes funny looking combinations.    I grew up with Dingo, a “pound puppy” who was mostly Golden Retriever and a little bit of who-knows-what-else.  We had her for nearly 16 years and loved her dearly.  As a adolescent, I never dreamed I’d ever grow up to own a purebred dog.  After all, I’d had a great rescue, rescues are cheaper (initially, at least), and there are a ton of them available.  So, how did I come to a place where I now own two purebred dogs?

DSC00145

Dingo

Purebreds
I love purebreds.  They may be cut from a relatively similar cloth, but they are all still individuals.  I ended up with my first purebred dog, Tucker, because I volunteered to be his Puppy Raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  When he was career changed at a year and a half, they gave him back to me.  During this time, I also had the privilege of becoming good friends with a couple who train Search and Rescue dogs – all of whom just happened to be purebred German Shepherds.

Then I became a dog trainer.  As my business grew, my Labrador (who is atypical in my opinion) decided he didn’t want to have to work every day.  He’s mellow and he’s lazy.  He didn’t seem to enjoy being the one and only demonstration dog or training assistant.  So, we began thinking about our next dog.  And although a working dog will always also be a family dog in our home, our business needs were a huge priority.  I needed a dog with a great work ethic, a confident personality, and a good temperament.  The more time I spent with my search and rescue friends, the more I fell in love with the qualities of the German Shepherd Dog.  And now we have Ellie the Warrior Princess.

Tucker and Ellie

Ellie and Tucker

 

So, if you’re looking for a dog, and you have friends on one side yelling, “adopt, don’t shop!” and friends on the other side yelling, “you don’t know what you’re getting!” how on earth are you supposed to decide what to do?  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Health
    • Most people have heard the statement, “mutts are healthier than purebreds.”  In my experience, that has been true to a point, but not 100%.  My parents currently have a rescued German Shepherd mix and she has had very few health issues so far.  Dingo, however, had poor hips and allergies, and was on arthritis medication for roughly 8 of her 15.5 years.  Tucker is a mess of weird health problems – acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, poor tooth structure – while Ellie, thus far, hasn’t shown any issues other than a birth defect in her eye (which doctors say isn’t necessarily genetic).  When you rescue a dog, you don’t know their health history.  When you buy a dog, you can (and should!) look at their lineage and health history, but it isn’t a guarantee.
  • Physical Characteristics
    • Some people like big dogs and some people like small dogs.  Some people live on 50 acre farms and some people live in one bedroom apartments.  The size of dog you have, and their other physical characteristics (such as their fur), can have a great impact on your life.

      My dad took me to the pound and let me pick out Dingo all on my own – at five years old.  I wanted a “golden colored” puppy – that was my only requirement.  My parents had no idea how big she would or wouldn’t get and what her temperament would be like.  Newsflash y’all – rescues organizations and shelters GUESS at a dog’s breed to the best of their ability, but when they don’t have any history on a puppy, they are guessing in the dark based on the physical traits they can see at a young age.  Thankfully for us, we had the space and finances to handle what turned out to be a 70 pound Golden Retriever mix – not all families have that luxury.  Another example:  I worked for a wonderful veterinarian for a few years who will readily tell you that guessing a puppy’s breed is not her best skill.  She currently owns an 80 pound hound dog because her son brought home a stray puppy that she thought was a Beagle pup…

      While size is an important factor, another important one for a lot of families is the coat.  If you know a family member is allergic to dogs, you may not want to invest time and money into a rescue who MAY be hypoallergenic when you could buy a specific breed known for that quality or even one who has already been tested and proven mostly hypoallergenic.  And besides that, some people just don’t want to deal with fluffy tumbleweeds floating around their house!

  • Purpose
    • To me, purpose is one of the most important factors to consider in this debate. If you’re looking for a family pet, a companion, or a walking buddy, you may not care exactly how big he gets or what his level of trainability might be for advanced commands.  If you’re looking to train for a specific task or skill, or you need certain physical characteristics because of your environment, you may be wary of adopting a rescue puppy when no certain history is available.

      And do you know what I think?  I think that is perfectly acceptable.  I don’t think either of these sides should be judged too harshly.  After all, if you believe as I do that a dog is a long term commitment, you want to be sure that you’re committing to something you can handle and that serves its intended purpose.  Now, there are always exceptions to the above thoughts.  There are organizations who are willing to take the time to comb through shelters and pick out dogs with certain characteristics to train for high functioning jobs – and that’s awesome.  There are breeders/shops who are in it for the money, who are irresponsible, who sell dogs with horrible health and temperaments and who contribute to our shelter dog problem – and that’s repulsive.

      At the end of the day, you should think long and hard about your decision to adopt OR shop and make the choice that will be best for you, and the dog, in the long term.  Don’t let someone bully you into rescuing a dog with a laundry list of issues that you don’t have the money/time to handle.  Don’t let someone bully you into going to the most expensive breeder in town because they think a dollar sign is the only qualifier of worth and value.  Seek out people on both sides of the road, do your research, and make the decision for yourself.

      Mixed breeds and Purebred dogs

      Between my parents, sister, and myself, we have two rescues and two purebreds.  They are all dearly loved and serve their purpose well.  My sister’s dog Harley, who is a who-the-heck-knows-husky-mix?, fits in well as a patient big brother to my nephew and cuddle buddy for my sister/brother in law.  My parents’ dog Kalli, a shepherd mix, lives a happily introverted life with two empty nesters and has amazing mole catching skills.  And then there’s my kids – the German Shepherd Dog who cries when she doesn’t get to go to the office and the lazy Labrador who enjoys sleeping next to kids at the elementary school while they read.  They all have purpose – they are all valuable – and they are all exactly where they need to be.  

       

 

Categories: Adopting a dog, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Mixed Breeds, owner encouragement, Puppy, Purebred dogs, Rescues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You Matter!

Yes, you!

You matter.  You are important.  And, dare I say it, you are more valuable than your pet.

I know this concept is taboo in today’s society, but I believe it to be true.  Our society has taught us to believe that our dog’s happiness far exceeds the value of our own.  I simply do not agree.  Yes, we should care for our animals and ensure that they have proper food, water, shelter, medical attention, and socialization (and training!).  That does not, however, mean that they get to rule the home and do whatever they please at your expense.

I have several clients who start to look anxious at the very mention of going to the park.  They’ve had so many horrible experiences because of their dogs’ behavior that they experience a stress trigger just thinking about it.  Even the ones who aren’t experiencing that level of stress usually say, longingly, “I just want to be able to go to the park again.”

While there are always exceptions to the rule, I have found that these dogs can typically make vast improvements with a little boundary setting and self-control.  In the image below, you will see my Labrador, Tucker, and a client’s dog, Archer, walking side by side at the Greenway.  We did a few lessons at my shop and then ventured to the park.  Archer’s owner had become very wary of taking him out as he had become very dog reactive and somewhat aggressive.  While at the park, Archer not only walked happily with his new buddy, Tucker, but was able to pass by other client dogs we ran into with much more composure.  It was the first time in a long time that his owner had felt in control enough to walk him around other dogs.

IMG_1048B9D58468-1

Tucker and Archer walk side by side at the park.

Interestingly enough, while checking out kennels in my area this month, I saw Archer and his brother at a boarding facility.  Upon telling the kennel owner that I knew him and why, she said, “I just told his owner yesterday that he’d been so much better behaved this time.  Now I know why!”  Boundary setting and teaching self-control can have an effect on so many areas of your dog’s life – and can reduce the anxiety that is often the root of the poor behavior.

So, don’t disregard your own happiness and quality of life.  If your dog is making you miserable – do something about it!  Don’t let our society tell you that setting boundaries and rules makes you a bad owner.  We always want to treat our dogs humanely and with respect, but that doesn’t mean letting them run the show at your expense.  Yes, your dog matters – but YOU matter, too!

557163_3656287169472_835904257_n

Our dogs are going to have bad days and they’re going to do ridiculous things at times, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t still be enriching your life.  If you’re stressing more than laughing, find a trainer and make a change.  [Picture – me laughing after one of puppy Tucker’s “oops” moments – 2012 – photo credit Beth Anne Ho.]

Categories: Aggressive Dogs, Behavior, dog training, owner encouragement, training tips | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Common Puppyhood Injuries

Puppies, like children, often get sick or have accidents.  And while some of these sicknesses and accidents are unavoidable, there are some things we can do as owners to attempt to reduce visits to the vet.

The AKC recently published an article about the top puppy injuries they see come through their insurance program (yes, doggie health insurance is now a thing).  You can read the full article by Clicking Here.

Two of the five most common items they discuss are ear infections and ingestion of a foreign body.

In Puppy Preschool, we discuss the importance of first aid and proper grooming, which includes regularly checking your puppy’s ears and knowing how to properly clean them when they become dirty.  Some breeds are more susceptible to ear infections than others, such as breeds with floppy ears and/or a lot of hair in the ear canal.  Ear infections can be quite painful, and at times costly, so it’s important to utilize preventative strategies when possible.  Even so, ear infections can still occur, so owners would do well to familiarize themselves with the early symptoms so they can receive medical treatment before the infection worsens.

Anyone who has ever owned a puppy also knows that they explore the world with their mouths.  That means that anything within a puppy’s reach is often fair game for mouthing and/or ingesting when unsupervised.  Puppies can often make quick work of certain household objects, so best practice is to crate your puppy when it is unsupervised.  If you are crate training properly and helping your puppy understand that the crate is his safe space, crating him should not cause undo stress.  Even if your puppy doesn’t love the idea of going in his crate while you go to work or run an errand, his safety (and the safety of your belongings) should still be prioritized over his feelings.  As the mature adult, it’s your job to make decisions for him – he’s just a baby!

Even diligent owners who move objects to higher ground and utilize a crate can still find themselves with a puppy who has ingested a foreign object.  While some objects may pass through your puppy’s digestive tract without causing harm, other objects can either leech toxins or become stuck along the way.  When in doubt, call your veterinarian.  He or she may want to take x-rays to identify and locate the object in order to create an appropriate treatment plan.

IMG_1333

Don’t forget that “all natural” objects can become a problem, too!  Puppies who swallow large chunks of wood, rocks, or even large nuts could end up with a digestive issue.  Supervision is always key!  

 

 

 

Categories: dog food, dog health, dog training, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Accidental Training

Ordinarily, when you think about your dog learning a new behavior, you think about actual training – specific, planned instruction to elicit the response you want.

What few people realize is that your dog is constantly learning – not just when you’re actively teaching.  Dogs are masters of association.  Have you ever marveled at how your dog sometimes seems to know what you’re planning to do next before you do?  For example – I pick up the dog toys in our living room each time before I vacuum.  Well, as soon as I start putting toys away, Tucker goes to his bed to get out of the way and prepare for the entrance of the vacuum cleaner – and the vacuum isn’t even out of the closet yet.

This same principle is at work when we teach “auto” commands.  If you habitually ask your dog to sit as you approach a cross walk, odds are high that he will eventually start sitting at cross walks before you even ask.  He has learned that certain actions from you warrant a certain response from him.

Because dogs are creatures of habit, love associations, and pay attention to every little detail, it can be very easy for us to “accidentally” train behaviors.  Allow me to give you a funny example.

When Ellie was a small pup, I didn’t trust her to be out of my sight for more than three seconds.  She was notorious for getting into things and even more likely to have an accident in the house – housebreaking was not an easy task for her.  I spent a lot of time with her corralled in the living room so I could sit on the couch and work on my computer while still monitoring her playtime.  Well, when I needed go to the bathroom, I would pick her up and take her with me to the closest one, our guest bathroom.  As she got a little bigger, but still no less mischievous, I would entice her to come into the bathroom with me with a toy.  At the time, my only thought and concern was that if she was closed in the room with me, I would at least be able to see if she had an accident instead of missing it and stepping on a spot of soggy carpet later in the living room.

Fast forward several months.  Ellie is now more trustworthy and no longer has accidents in the house.  And yet, nearly every time I walk into our guest bathroom, regardless of where she is and what she’s doing, she follows me!  Without meaning to, I convinced Ellie that when I go into our guest bathroom, she is required to come with me.  Now, she is a shepherd, which means her desire to keep an eye on me is fairly high.  So, how do I know that the behavior is accidentally trained and not just a virtue of her breed?  She only does it with our guest bathroom – never the master bath.

As she gets older and the behavior isn’t reinforced, it will likely fade.  But for the time being, she seems very convinced that I either need moral support or a bodyguard when I go to the guest bathroom!

Ellie’s example is a funny one, but sometimes, we can accidentally train behaviors that we don’t like.  As you’re evaluating your dog’s behavior and trying to figure out how to stop a certain action, ask yourself if you may have accidentally taught it or still be reinforcing it – it might give you some insight into how to fix it!

IMG_2795

This is Ellie’s self-appointed “spot” when she follows me to the bathroom.

 

 

Categories: Behavior, dog training, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

How Many Lessons?

How long will it take to train my dog?  How many lessons will I need?

I get this question almost every time I meet with a new client.  And it’s a valid question – people want to know how much time and money is going to be required for their dogs to reach their goals.

My typical answer is this:  It’s up to you and your dog.

Every person is different.  Every dog is different.  Every situation is different.

And yet, I think I can say with relative certainty that those who consistently put in the time and effort and do their best to maintain good training habits typically reach their goals faster.

But it takes two to tango – and your dog is the other half of the training equation.  I had a client, now friend, who called me for help training her two dogs.  They were not related, but both were Miniature Pinschers mixes.  The same owner, using the same methods and equipment, experienced two different rates of success.  Her female dog was a pleaser and very eager to learn.  She figured out the “heel” command with a high level of consistency in just one lesson.  Her male dog was a stubborn guy and not eager to have to follow rules.  He figured out the “heel” command with some consistency after about two weeks of practice.

As the owner, your part in the equation is commitment to practice, consistency, and patience.  Some dogs/breeds will learn faster/slower than others, but no dog is going to learn quickly if the owner cannot effectively take the lead in training.

Bottom line?  Do your best, do right by your dog, and be patient in the process.

IMG_1521

Ellie, June 2017

Categories: Behavior, Blog, dog training, training tips | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Blog at WordPress.com.