When It Comes to Dog Training, Breed Size Doesn't Matter
I own a 125-pound Rottweiler named Walker. He is the most well-mannered of my five dogs. This is not because I thought he needed more training due to his breed, but rather because he belonged to a former client before he came to live with me. That means that I was paid to train him in puppy class, a puppy board and train session, play groups, and a pet-dog manners class. By the time he became mine, he had been thoroughly trained and socialized.
During that early training, I did nothing different based on his breed or size. I rarely do with any dog. Socialization is the same, in my opinion, for Rottweilers, Golden Retrievers, Springer Spaniels, Great Danes, and Chihuahuas. A sit is a sit and a down is a down. The protocol for teaching "leave it" doesn’t change based on breed.
When a client comes to me with a bully breed, herder, or Chow puppy, it’s true that I stress the importance of early socialization. However, I do the very same thing with Labs, Poodles, and Basset Hounds. While certain breeds will get more societal grief for being undersocialized, aggressive, or ill-mannered, I don’t think that means it’s okay to ignore the early socialization and training of dogs perceived to be “easier breeds.”
Walker is a huge dog, so it was important that he learn to walk nicely on leash. Otherwise, walks would be very painful for the human. But it’s equally important that a Chihuahua or Yorkie is walking nicely on leash. Pulling on leash can be annoying and makes any walk with any dog less enjoyable. Increased arousal while walking can lead to leash reactivity, more barking, and a total lack of control. This isn’t enjoyable for dog or human regardless of the breed of dog.
Because a lot of people have the false impression that Rottweilers are aggressive, it was very important that Walker be friendly with all animals and humans of any kind. He was well-socialized to children, the elderly, people in hats, people in uniform, people of color, men with facial hair, sunglasses, cats, dogs and even horses, chickens and ducks. This dog is bomb proof, seriously.
While a Cavalier King Charles is expected to be friendly, is it any less devastating to an owner when his adorable Cavalier bites children? Sure, they tend to do better with kids than some breeds without special attention to socialization, but by the time we find out that they needed some extra exposure, it’s often too late.
Breed biases and reliance on breed tendencies is a two-way street. I don’t mind so much that people with German Shepherds, cattle dogs or Chows might be more concerned about preventative socialization, because the result will be a better socialized dog. What worries me is the other side of the coin where the person with a Boxer, Golden Retriever or Havanese assumes that their dog will naturally be friendly without the need for early, positive exposure. It’s possible, maybe even likely, but we won’t know for sure until a problem arises.
Some dog owners, and trainers, go so far as to excuse problem behavior because it is a breed tendency. Chows, German Shepherds and cattle dogs are breeds that suffer this. Because the human expects the dog to be shy, aggressive or aloof, they choose to rearrange the dog’s world to fit what they believe is normal for the dog, instead of preparing the dog for dealing with the world more successfully. So, when a Chow puppy shies away from a child, its owner may say, “Oh, that’s just how Chows are. Wait for him to come to you, and don’t worry if he doesn’t.”
I think one should worry! Yes, Chows tend to be aloof with no intervention. All the more reason to have children tossing treats to the Chow puppy, petting the puppy appropriately and helping the puppy learn that kids are awesome! Yes, German Shepherds often bark at new people or things they find to be scary. All the more reason to take the time to pair the scary things with super-tasty treats and help the German Shepherd feel safer in the world he has to live in.
And yes, the Golden Retriever puppy will likely love everyone she ever meets, with or without much effort in socialization and training. It is just as possible that she will not, or that she will be afraid of kids, men with hats or small dogs. All the more reason to make sure that she is just as well-socialized as my Rottie, Walker.
Besides socialization, we also have the issue of training manners like loose-leash walking, sits, downs, door manners and such. We all know that some breeds require a heavier hand, harsher instruction and a strong leader, right? Wrong. Every species, and every breed of dog can learn what they need to learn through the use of positive reinforcement training.
I am not fool enough to believe that dogs should never be punished, but that punishment never needs to be scary or painful, no matter what breed you’re working with. Walker has excellent manners and has never been punished with anything more than the withholding of the reward, a bit of scowl on my face and a repeat of the cue. That’s it, and I’ve never had to do it often.
It is no more difficult to teach a Rottweiler puppy to heel for cheese than it is to teach a Border Collie puppy. The principles are exactly the same. Of course, there are individual differences with any dog when it comes to motivation and timing, but a Rottweiler has no more need for leash jerks or painful collars simply because they are a Rottweiler.
There is only one reason, as I see it, that breed should come into play. That is to present to the world the truth of the breeds who are often maligned by societal opinion. This would include the Pit Bull, Rottie, German Shepherd, Chow, Australian Cattle Dog, Doberman, Jack Russell, and many others. That truth is that they are simply dogs who are as capable of being as sweet and well-mannered as my lovable Walker.
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