Does it really matter what breed of dog you get? How much influence does the breed of your dog have on his trainability?
Lots of dog breeds come with some pretty big stereotypes. Chihuahuas are yappy and Great Danes are gentle giants, while the German Shepherd is a powerful protector and the Poodle is a primadonna. How true are these generalizations? In this article, we will explore different groups of dogs, what their main traits are, and how that can influence training.
The first of the groups that we will look at is the toy group. These dogs were originally bred to be companions in the home, and that is still where they thrive today. This is the only group of breeds where the majority of the dogs are still fulfilling the roles that they were originally intended for. With a few exceptions, all of the dogs in these breeds will mature at under 20 pounds. This small size leads to a few issues with training. The first potential issue is that a small size means a small stomach, and training treats can fill these dogs up very quickly. We can combat this by using very small pieces of food when we train toy dogs, or by using their daily meals as training rewards. Another size related issue has to do with potty training. These breeds tend to have bladders that are on the smaller side, and they can take longer to reach a point where they can hold it for extended periods of time.
Another big characteristic of this group of dogs is that then generally have very nice temperaments. Having been bred as companion dogs, they generally love spending time with people and just being a part of the family. However, that doesn't mean that they do not need socialization. All dogs needs to be socialized when they are young to build their confidence. It's important with toy breeds not to constantly have them in your arms or in a carrier when you are doing socialization, and the puppy should have a chance to learn about new environments with all 4 feet on the ground. (Ask us about puppy socialization.)
The hounds are quite a crew! All hounds were originally bred to help in the hunt for various types of game. Hounds fall into two different categories, the sighthounds and the scent hounds. Just like it sounds, sighthounds were bred to hunt by sight. Breeds in this category, such as greyhounds and whippets, are usually very fast and have high prey drive. These traits allowed them to be extremely successful as rabbit hunters, but can also make recalls a problem. It is very important to start recalls early with these breeds, to reinforce them heavily, and to always be aware of the environment when you are working with them in uncontrolled settings. Another interesting tidbit about the sighthounds is that their heads are often more narrow than their necks, so regular buckle collars can slide off with ease. Martingale collars, which are a limited slip collar, are an excellent tool to negate this issue.
Scent hounds were bred to track their prey, some for very long distances. These type of dogs, such as beagles and basset hounds, often have some pretty severe cases of "selective hearing" when they catch a scent. It's very important with scent hound puppies that they learn engagement on the handler from an early age, so as to limit their potential to get distracted by new scents. You can also provide an outlet for this instinctual desire to follow scent by trying sports such as tracking and nose work. Barking and baying can also be an issue with these breeds, as many were bred to alert the handler when they discovered game. These chatterboxes can be curbed by teaching when barking is appropriate, and by teaching a quiet command to use when barking isn't appropriate.
Terriers are some of the most tenacious dogs around. The word terrier comes from the Latin terre, meaning Earth, which is what these little guys end up digging into when they discover their prey. These breeds were originally bred to hunt and kill small vermin, ranging in size from Yorkies bred to kill rats, all the way up to Airedales bred to kill badgers. It takes a very tough, spirited animal to hunt rats and badgers that could be their size or even larger. As such, even though many of these breeds are smaller, it is very important to teach them rules and boundaries from a young age. Socialization is also very important with these breeds, as aggression towards small animals and other dogs can be prevalent.
With dogs of this level of prey drive, recalls are extremely important. Good outlets for exercise, both physical and mental, are also extremely important, because when combined with boredom, that terrier prey drive can manifest as tire chasing and similar behaviors. Another aspect of the terrier's history is that they were supposed to chase vermin "to ground", and digging is still part of the make-up of many terriers. You can catch this behavior early with puppies to prevent it from becoming a major issue.
Catch us for Part 2, where we will cover the other 4 groups!
Sam is the owner and head trainer at Kentucky Dog Training LLC. She set up this blog to share success stories, training tips, the progression of dogs in our training programs, and other thoughts on dogs and training.