Excuses Excuses

Sighthound mix Risa running free!

I love hanging out with dog people. I love listening to them talk about their dogs. The struggles they face. The stories they share. I love being able to compare notes between them and my dog. To share our journey as well. Online and in person, I love to talk dog.

I sometimes find that people have some sad, preconceived notions about dogs though. Usually breed- or type-related. “Oh he’s a terrier. You can’t expect him to do that.” “Sighthounds are too independent and prey-driven to have a reliable recall.” “That’s why most people don’t show insert breed here in obedience. They are too insert chosen characteristic here.” I find such statements incredibly close-minded.

While I do know that some breeds DO have natural tendencies that can make it difficult to train certain behaviors, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. In fact, I find that most people are simply using it as an excuse as to why they can’t train to that level. Sure, it’s more difficult to get a CD on a greyhound than a golden retriever. The golden was bred to work with people. The greyhound was bred to work independently. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. It simply means you need to work harder.

Plus, these breed stereotypes don’t do anyone any favors. You cannot compare the working ability of a German shepherd to that of a chow. They were bred for entirely different things. Expecting a chow to work like a GSD is going to set you up for failure. Know what you have and work with it. Don’t expect your dog to be something he’s not.

I find it’s generally more helpful to look at your dog as an individual rather than a breed. MOST golden retrievers are bubbly, dedicated, happy workers. They bond well with their people and will do backflips to work with you. They’re also a gregarious breed and very social. But not all of them are. I’ve seen goldens who shy away from other dogs and people. And some of them simply do not enjoy performing. It does a great disservice to your dog to assume that, simply because he’s a golden retriever, he will do well in obedience. Training is not inherited. It requires effort on your part. And some dogs don’t have the right temperament or breeding to do well at it.

It’s also bothersome that some people think someone is less of a trainer or doesn’t know what they’re talking about because they have a more tractable breed that they work with. “Well, of course, she has Labradors so what she does doesn’t work with my breed.” While this is sometimes the case, that doesn’t mean they have nothing to offer. Training is all about finding what motivates your dog. Once you know that, you can train them to do anything (with the exception of some instinct-based behaviors like herding). Some dogs are going to be better at it than others depending on their natural tendencies, of course. But I don’t think it’s fair to automatically limit your dog simply because of his breed.

Even dogs without pedigrees to explain their behavioral tendencies can have issues that make training difficult--but not impossible.

Having a mixed breed dog, I don’t run into such stereotypes much myself. No one is quite sure exactly what is in Risa’s background though I would place a significant sum of money on her being a sighthound mix. Sighthounds are not known for being good obedience dogs. They’re generally regarded as independent and have incredible prey drive. You don’t see many of them outside of the conformation ring when it comes to dog shows.

Add to that Risa’s poor temperament. Her fearfulness which manifests itself in neophobia (fear of the new), fear of strangers, and dog reactivity. Many people would assume that a more independent, prey-driven, fearful dog would make a poor competition dog. That you’d be working with a dog who would never achieve anything in high levels of competition if you could even get her in the ring at all. I knew this early on. I’ve always known this. And yet I have a dog who has earned high-level titles in various venues.

Do I have to work harder to get a solid performance out of Risa than I would if I had a more stable dog? You’d better believe it! I have to work incredibly hard to get Risa to focus on me and do what is required in the ring. But that makes it all the more satisfying when I get it. 🙂 You value that which you have to work hard to get more than something that is just handed to you. In this case, it also makes you a better trainer. Sometimes you have to think outside the box and work your tail off to earn it. To me, that’s far more valuable.

There are times that I use excuses to explain Risa’s behavior (I’m just as guilty of using them as anyone else! 😉 ). “She’s so fearful and there is so much going on. She just needs to keep an eye out for things that might get her. That’s why she won’t focus on me.” “I sometimes wonder if she’ll ever be able to focus on me consistently because she’s so hyper-vigilant.” The big difference is, I still work on these issues. I don’t just accept these excuses as limitations. More like a challenge that I fully intend to overcome. 😀

About Jamie

I'm just a traditionally-trained artist with interests in dog training. I currently teach classes at the local obedience training club (tricks, freestyle, and Rally-FrEe) and I also teach classes professionally for an organization who helps veterans train their own service dogs.
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