(Before I delve into the meat of this post, I want to preface it with this: I am all for the preservation of natural abilities in dogs. I love nothing more than watching a dog “do it’s thing.” Whether it’s a German shepherd herding a flock or a team of huskies pulling a sled. It makes my heart sing to see dogs doing their job. And I know it makes the dog’s heart sing too. I also still feel there is definitely a need for dogs who can do jobs. From police K-9s to service dogs, etc. There is definitely still a place for dogs with jobs in our society.)
I teach dog training classes to the general public. Your average dog owners. Their needs are simple. They want a dog who can behave nicely in human society and, often, with little effort to obtain said results. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, who doesn’t want results with minimal effort? They also aren’t looking for a hiking buddy; they want a dog who’ll be content with short walks or just being let out into the back yard for bit. Time is at a premium and, in their hectic lives, the dog takes a back seat.
Many like the idea of a dog but not the reality. They get a border collie because they want a smart dog and then they’re annoyed when it moves non-stop or herds the kids. They forget this is a dog bred to herd sheep over great distances all day long. They bring home a Jack Russell terrier and are annoyed when it digs up the yard or tries to chase squirrels on a walk. They forget this breed is an excellent ratter and digging is completely natural. We get a purebred dog because we expect it look and behave a particular way. . .but we forget the reality of this nature. That it needs to be expressed. That, if we won’t give the dog an outlet, he’ll find one on his own. Because that’s who he is even if that’s not what we want.
I had a dog I fostered named Augie who was, what I would consider, the best dog for the average person/family. He didn’t want to do anything. The first time I let him loose in the house to explore, he sniffed around a little bit and then just plopped down into the middle of the living room to take a nap. He was the epitome of a bump on a log. I swear he got annoyed with me when I made him exercise and move around (and I don’t think it was just because he was overweight). Having owned active, do something dogs and previously fostered dogs of the same type. . .I didn’t know what to do with him. Honestly, he didn’t WANT me to do anything with him and that was a first for me. But that is what the average person wants in a canine companion. A very easy, laid back dog. Maybe just a step up from a stuffed animal.
So why aren’t we breeding more companion dogs? That’s really what most people want. Yet they’ll still go out and buy a dog who could “do the work” when they don’t need a working dog! What’s the point in getting a herding dog when you don’t own stock? Why get a terrier when you don’t have a vermin problem? If you don’t take a sled to work, why get a dog bred to pull?
I’m all for purpose-bred dogs. . .and companionship is a purpose. And it’s a far more necessary one in our current lives than that of the working dog. I know many of us with purpose-bred dogs (be it a sportmix or a breed historically bred for a certain task) look down on people breeding dogs “just for companionship.” Granted, our dogs serve that purpose as well but we want the dogs to maintain their ability to do that task rather than just look the part (I am personally a HUGE proponent of this). But should we really turn up our noses at people looking to purposefully breed better companion dogs? Especially knowing that these dogs are going to be less likely to end up in shelters because they’re too much for the average family? Knowing that they’re going to be better suited to contemporary lifestyle than the breeds whose instincts we’re bent on preserving? While it is true that breeding for high-level dogs will often result in pets better suited for average people, wouldn’t it be almost better for the goal to be simply pets for the average person? Regardless of your breeding decisions, there will always be outliers. Dogs bred for work who can’t do the work. Or dogs bred for pets that have to do the work.
Society has changed and I know dogs will too. They’ve adapted to our changing lifestyles over their history with us. From hunting companions to farm guards and now snuggled up on the sofa. I think we’d find far fewer dogs in shelters or with people who are “at the end of the leash” with their dog’s intolerable behaviors if we focused more on making dogs what the average person wants.