Some breeds definitely become large enough to overpower us weak humans.  So how can we control them when they're stronger than we are?

Some breeds definitely become large enough to overpower us weak humans. So how can we control them when they’re stronger than we are?

It bothers me when people use a dog’s breed (or lines within that breed) as an excuse for using punitive and/or dominance-based methods for training their dogs. To me, it sounds like a way to validate the use of a strong arm in handling their dog. “Well he’s a very powerful dog. I have to show him that I am in control.” “If I don’t show him who’s boss, he’s going to take over.” “He’s very pushy so I need to show him I have complete control over him.”

There are two things about this thought process that make me laugh inside a bit. First off, most of these breeds are powerful. Once they become adults, there is no way their handler can control them with brute strength alone. I read somewhere once that a dog has the equivalent power of a human weighing 3x what they do. If he really wants to do something, you are not going to be able to stop him. I don’t care how strong you think you are.

Secondly, most of the dogs that fall into the category above are very biddable dogs. They have been breed for centuries to work with people and take direction from people. Why on Earth would you need to manhandle a dog who is already so willing to follow your every word? Yet these methods tend to work with these dogs for that very reason. They want so very much to work with you and take direction from you that they will still do so even when aversive methods are occasionally employed. Try them with a breed (or dog) who is less people-driven and more “what’s in it for me?” and you’ll lose the partnership before it even begins.

Personally, I feel like this type of training shows the weakness of the trainer. It is far easier to suppress behavior you don’t like than to train behavior you do like. Training behavior takes time and sometimes some creative thinking. I also find it’s much easier to teach a dog to control himself rather than feel the need to control him. This self-control is critical if you have a dog who is stronger than you are since he is more than capable of dragging you along wherever he’d like to go. But it is also incredibly beneficial for all dogs, whether they can drag you around or not. What happens when the leash breaks or your dog slips out the door and encounters a squirrel across the road? If he can control himself, you don’t need to worry about him chasing it when you have absolutely no means to stop him. If you’re relying on the leash for control, you’re SOL!

Again, I feel the need to quote Cesar Millan again (which I always find humorous as his methods and mine don’t jive): “Animal. Dog. Breed.” If a method can work on any animal or any dog, why would you resort to a method that only works on some?

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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