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06/09/2018 - Dog Behaviour
Once the decision has been made to bring a puppy or rescue dog into your life, the one topic that is often overlooked is the ‘type’ of dog being considered. People tend to concentrate more on the breed or look of the dog without taking into account if the new addition is going to be a good match for their lifestyles. If for instance you decide on getting a high energy, ‘working line’ dog because you like to be active at weekends then you need to consider what’s going to happen Monday through to Friday? Unfortunately a high energy dog, or any dog for that matter, has no idea what day of the week it is, it’s all the same to them. Similarly, if you have lots of time on your hands and like to be out all day every day and want a dog for company, then a couch potato of a dog isn’t going to be a good fit either.
You also need to be very honest and realistic about the amount of time you have available and your capabilities when it comes to training which is an absolute must for every dog. All first time puppy/dog owners are amazed at just how much time their new addition demands of them and how much their lives change. It’s just like having a baby.
It’s also important that you understand your chosen breeds instinctive behaviours and what they were originally bred for. A Saluki for example is a stunning looking dog but it was bred for one thing and one thing only and that is to chase down prey across a hot desert, therefore obedience doesn’t rank high in the dogs genes no matter how much training they receive. As a sight hound, they will have a very high prey drive which will always be triggered by fast moving objects or people/children.
Likewise, with a dog of mixed breeds such as a Cockerpoo or Labradoodle, you need to understand the breeding of the dog and ask questions such as was the Cocker or Labrador used in the breeding from show lines or working lines because there will be a difference in how the dog develops and also the type of training you would need to employ. Same goes for the breeding Poodle. And don’t buy a puppy on a whim. Don’t be tempted by that sign you see outside of a farm proclaiming “Border Collie Puppies For Sale”. These dogs are typically ‘working line’, high energy farm dogs who often do not make good family pets.
As an aside, this is not a Working Line vs. Show Line argument, it is more of an educational article to help you choose the right ‘type’ of dog for you.
‘Types’ Of Dog
There are basically three ‘types’ of dog, the Working Line, the Show Line and something in the middle. It will be down to the individual breeding and breeder of the litter as to which ‘type’ of litter they have bred. Therefore it is up to you to know beforehand which type of dog is best for you and your lifestyle as opposed to buying a puppy from the first litter that comes along. I know that once the decision has been made, you want to get the dog as soon as possible but if you take your time now and do your homework, you will save yourself a lot of heartache further down the line.
The Working Line Dog
These dogs are often bred primarily on performance elements that the breeder wants to produce and improve on. Elements such as high prey drive, aggression, dominance (not in the way that most people understand dominance to be) etc will all be desirable traits to breeders of ‘working line’ dogs.
These traits are sought after by those people who are interested in dog sports or the services such as the police or military but these dogs will often fail to function easily in a pet home unless the owner is going to satisfy the much higher needs of this type of dog, which is often a lot more than they bargained for. Incredible amounts of barking and screeching when stimulated, disobedience and lack of responsiveness around distraction are all common when ‘working line’ dogs are not trained effectively.
The Show Line Dog
People who show dogs often focus heavily on confirmation principles that are winning in today’s show rings. When these dogs are titled they are often bred to reproduce more of the parents traits. The dogs full working ability may not be the primary consideration or even a consideration at all.
These dogs if bred with solid nerves can be a great pet dog for the average person (who is willing to train them) but they will not keep up with the ‘working line’ dogs when it comes to performance.
The Middle Group Dog
This group of dogs does not have the punchy drives or extreme aggression potential of the ‘working lines’ nor is the breeder focussed on confirmation showing so they may not have pushed the confirmation angle as much as dedicated show breeders.
This third group does not have the same specific breeding goals like the show and working line breeders do but instead try to produce what they feel would make a good family pet.
As with any puppy, you would be advised to look at the parents and speak to the breeder and ask what are they trying to achieve and see if his or her dogs meet your expectations.
There are very many great dogs in each of these groups so long as you choose what is right for you and invest the time and provide the training every dog needs.
It’s All In The Genes
It should come as no surprise that some breeds seem to have a much stronger desire to ‘work’ stemming from a much stronger predatory instinct than others. It is this predatory instinct which has been perfected over years of selective breeding to produce the ‘working line’ dogs of today. However, that doesn’t mean to say that the breeds listed here are all ‘working line’ dogs. A Labrador for instance could be bred as either a 'working line’ dog for field or a ‘show line’ dog for conformation or something in the ‘middle’. This is why it is so important to understand the ‘type’ of breeding line your dog comes from.
Herding Breeds - Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, GSD, Malinois etc.
Sporting Breeds - Retrievers, Spaniels, Setters, Pointers, etc.
Northern Breeds - Huskies, Malamutes, etc.
Hounds - Beagles, Bassets, Bloodhounds, Coonhounds, Greyhounds, Salukis, etc.
Terriers - Jack Russells, Scotties, Westies, Rat Terriers, Bull Terriers, etc.,
When It All Goes Wrong By Getting The Wrong ‘Type’
It all goes pear shaped when an owner ends up with a dog that does not meet their needs. This could be either someone that gets a ‘working line’ dog when they have no need for this level of dog or someone that gets a dog that lacks drive for the work they need the dog to do. A dog that fails to live up to the owners needs may end up being re-homed or worse. A dog like a ‘working line’ German Shepherd or Malinois with higher drives and natural aggression can be dangerous in the wrong hands. It’s a bit like getting in a car that is way more car than you can drive.
The same happens when perhaps a dog sport hopeful goes to find themselves a ‘working line’ dog and are told that this ‘show line’ pup will easily meet their needs. The pup is a dog with low to moderate prey drive and little interest in food, so it does not take long before reality sets in and this pup will never do well in a high end dog sport.
I have owned and trained German Shepherds for years and competed with them, in fact they are my dog of choice but I have met many people at the wrong end of a German Shepherd in my many years of training, in fact any top end ‘working line’ dog. They chose to have a ‘working line’ dog and they believe they know what that would entail. But, by the time the puppy is a year old they are in way over their heads, the pup being dog and perhaps human aggressive, disobedient, dissociative, unsatisfied and out of control.
I understand why people are drawn to a dog like a German Shepherd because they project the image of a powerful, robust, agile, prey driven intelligent animal who deals well with pressure and who can easily give an aggressive response when he or she is threatened, yet be gentle and calm the rest of the time. Unfortunately though there are many things that can spoil this image. Lack of knowledge of the breed, lack of socialisation and training and bad breeding or simply choosing the wrong breeder and litter to name just a few.
This is happening in any breed where there is any form of competition. Spaniels, Labradors etc where some have been so inter-bred they cannot switch off from a work ethic making them virtually impossible to own as a general pet dog.
So what happens to the owners of new puppy’s from breeders who pass on these 'hard wired’ dogs as ‘energetic’ pet dogs after they have been rejected by working homes who know what they are looking for? These dogs rapidly become out of control leaving the new owners often wondering as to what they have done wrong as the dog they have is not the family dog they had wanted. This is why ‘type’ is so important.
All dogs need training but if you are intent on getting a dog from ‘working lines’, you will need even more quality training and by that I mean you need to get your game on and learn specific training systems that suit the dog you have.
Training needs to be planned before you get the pup and you should have good management strategies in place and training plans before the puppy arrives in your home. You need to make a number of training sessions happen every day and these need to include daily socialisation events in environments you will be in a lot and around other animals and people.
There needs to be a process for getting your pup socially right and good training exercises will help you do this.
If you go to puppy class once a week and that’s it, you can probably count on needing some management and or rehab for the rest of the dogs life. The majority of puppy classes out there cater for general pets and not ‘working line’ dogs. You’ll find because of the high energy of ‘working line’ puppies, they will take great delight in preying on the other pups, having a ball tormenting them whilst the poor Cavalier pup is being traumatised. So many problems are created in free for all puppy classes so you will have to look around for a class you need versus what is local.
All dogs and in particular any of the ‘working line’ dogs need to be able to control his or her impulses. Although there will be prey drive satisfaction provided by you through play, at times other animals, toys, cars and perhaps bikes, prams or kids could be seen as a prey drive trigger. Your pup over time needs to learn how to control him or herself around these and not chase or engage them. So the way you avoid predatory aggression is to satisfy prey drive, build impulse control and socialise your pup to have a low value for other dogs etc.
Whilst every man and his dog will go for sit, down and shake these can be taught any time and will be useless at preventing dog aggression issues.
Education is key
Any dog will need you to educate them. Letting the dog be a dog and not teaching him or her will no doubt see the dog make mistakes, so rather than chastise him or her when he does the wrong thing, why not start early and teach the dog what he or she should be doing.
Manage your pup until he or she is trained rather than turn your home into a mine field where your pup is just waiting to be yelled at (again) for tripping a mine they didn’t know existed.
Develop a rewarding relationship where your puppy will get paid to do things you like, this can come in the form of food, toys or affection but make sure the pup does find it valuable.
Teach your pup how to control him or herself around distractions by setting social values lower than you but with plenty of exposure.
So the answer to giving yourself and your new addition a proper start is to do your homework first. Decide what ‘type’ of dog you want as well as the breed, don’t go for a ‘working line’ dog if you have never owned one before and be honest with yourself about your abilities and your time. Remember that training a dog successfully requires several sessions a day, not once a week at puppy class.
Like anything that is truly worthwhile, your dog will not come cheap in terms of time input, but the return can exceed every dream you ever had.