Breeds in a Box

I was fortunate enough to attend a great pit bull education seminar given by Drayton Michaels recently. He is working on a documentary called "Judging the Innocent" that will be a wonderful resource for educating the general public about the breed. We got to see clips of some of his work in progress and it is fabulous. It made me start thinking about other breed issues I have experienced both lately and in the past.

I was working with a client recently who had done some work under another trainer. He told me this trainer said that HIS was the best breed to own. While I am always happy to hear of any owner that loves his dogs, it was somewhat disturbing that a trainer would tell any client that their breed was better than the one they are trying to help. Even if they do believe that. The owner was quite offended. (And he let me know it!) Add to that the trainers breed in question is (normally) a high energy herding breed, not suited to just any home.

I would argue that no single breed could go into every home and do well. It is just too situational to the lifestyle of the owners involved, and the traits of the dogs themselves. While some people chose breeds because of the traits they have, the caveat is that the dogs aren't reading the breed books folks. Not all act as described or expected. Even within a breed, individuality happens.

It is to easy to put a dog in a box and explain away behavior than to try to change it. Knowing breed traits can actully help you change the behavior because you know better how to address it. (Why does my dog do that? Because they were bred for it for this reason...., but here is how we can channel that more appropriately for your situation.) But knowing the traits only helps if that particular dog has those same behaviors.

Do I think some traits are hardwired for a breed and can't be changed? It depends on your definition. I think a sighthound will always be a sighthound and a terrier will always be a terrier. That doesn't mean you can't address their behavior and tweak it to make life easier for everyone espeically if it interferes in some way or is unsafe. Would I walk a greyhound off leash? No, but I wouldn't walk most dogs off leash unless I KNEW for a fact they had a solid recall and could be called off anything before they hit a reactive mode. (once in a reactive mode they do not hear you calling) And even then, I would keep in mind that it is a dog, and dogs react like dogs react. Not the way we react or always want them to. Besides, what's wrong with a nice safe leash walk?

In 1992 when I got my first dog as a bona-fide adult, it started a love affair with akitas for me. In the year 2000, after years of training my own dogs, I completed a formal trainers apprenticeship. Along the way I learned that no matter what breed you have in front of you, it is a dog first. Throw out the breed biases and deal with the dog you have. It turns out that all breeds do best with fair and positive training! It wasn't a lesson that was always welcomed with open arms in some of my akita friend circles. Then in 2004 we added our first small dog to the mix, an adult french bulldog. Learning a new language (smushed face, no tail) has helped me even more in my training. It was amazing what this new creature taught me. Then last year brought us another new family member, an adolescent pug from rescue. Who knew this big dog person could be so smitten with lapdog munchkins? Certainly not me. It has become a whole new adventure in the Finnegan household.

Who knows what kinds of dogs the future holds for us. I like many different breeds and I have fallen for many of the random bred shelter dogs I work with. I hope it is something I won't need to think about for many years to come. (not planning on more than 3 at a time, well until we get a bigger place at least)

I hear people all the time say "I love my breed and I will never have any other." I think it is great that they found their best match. For myself though I can't imagine only having one breed. There are so many cool dogs out there. This is where being a trainer comes in handy, I get to play with them all!

To me the best breed, or non-breed, is the one that lives on your couch and is loved by you. Tail, no tail, smushed face, long face, smooth coat, fluffy coat, what could be better than that?

Just as an example: Out of my 3 "breeds" I have two excellent off leash (akita and frenchie) 1 social butterfly both with people and other dogs (akita) and one awesome tracker. (pug) Breaking breed stereotypes is easy if you just ignore them. You may be amazed by what YOUR dogs can do if you don't keep them in their breeds little box. I know I was.

P.S. For anyone that has a so called "bad breed" be sure to get the book "The Pitbull Placebo ~ The Media, Myths and Politics of Canine Aggression" by Karen Delise. It has wonderful information and examples of how the media makes dog bite incidents look far worse than they usually are. Great for anyone who wants to debate the breed issue intelligently.