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You cant judge a dog by its cover

16/04/2018 - Latest News

It's not size or shape that makes a dog into man's best friend - it's training

I’ve met a lot of dogs in my time. Not just since I started Premier Dog Training, but before that, when working as a police officer. Believe me, you cannot judge a dog by its cover
There’s a common misconception that if you know a little about a dog’s genetic background you can predict what its temperament will be like. That’s true to an extent, but a breed description doesn’t come with any guarantees.

  • That loveable Labrador trotting alongside his owner, wagging its tail and carrying the newspaper was actually a very naughty puppy whose owner came very close to rehoming him.
  • The German Shepherd whose mother was a security dog and whose father also sired some very successful crowd control dogs – is scared of his own shadow and runs away from strangers.
  • The therapy dog with the collie markings, greyhound body, spaniel ears and terrier coat could be a mix of any number of breeds. Nobody knows anything about his background other than he was found on the street and spent some time in a rescue home. He’s proven to be incredibly calm and gentle.
  • That Staffie with the spiky collar who seems to be all teeth and noise started life as a really sweet tempered pup but his owner conditioned him to behave like a thug.

Breeding and genetics is one way of narrowing down your choice of companion. But at the end of the day, your relationship with your dog will mostly be shaped by training and socialisation.

Look at this dear little face. Full of potential. But what sort of dog will he grow into and will his character be formed by nature or nurture?

What your dog is hard-wired to understand

Dogs are born with a number of instincts. There are things that they just know how to without being taught.

  • How to avoid starvation
  • How to defend themselves if necessary
  • How to procreate

First and foremost, dogs are social animals and that’s one thing that they have with humans. They like to have company and they know how to work together to get what they need. In the world of humans, people satisfy the dogs’ need for company.

No dog is hard-wired to understand humans, they don’t understand our language. Neither do they reason or hypothesise. They just learn really quickly that the things they need, (food, shelter, protection) comes from people. And they work for those survival tools, by offering companionship, entertainment, cuddles and obedience.

Remember though, a dog can’t be obedient if he doesn’t know what he’s being asked to do. And if he doesn’t live by human rules (ones he doesn’t automatically understand), he’s considered to be a “bad dog”. Which is where dog training comes in. It breaks down the communication barriers by reinforcing good behaviour and discouraging unwanted behaviours.

Why I believe the best way to train your dog is to be a mentor not a boss

It doesn’t take dogs long to learn that when around humans, every action has a reaction. If they understand which behaviours earn them a good reaction they’ll learn to modify what they do in order to make life better for themselves. If they are punished, and they don’t understand why, they become anxious, confused and fearful. Regardless of what breed they may be.

Imagine that you start working for somebody. You’re new to the job, have no training and no experience whatsoever. You don’t understand the language very well, you miss your family and your normal surroundings, you don’t know the rules and you can’t make your boss understand you. How would you feel if right from day 1 you were yelled at for every mistake you made? What if you were never shown the right way to do something, only punished when you got it wrong? I’d wager you’d feel pretty miserable. You’ll do the minimum amount of work and although you’ll be polite and respectful – it’s your boss after all – you’ll not feel any real affection toward that person.

Now imagine your ideal boss. He or she would train you in the basics of your job and praise you when you get it right. If you make mistakes, you’ll be treated with patience and kindness and reminded of the right way to do things. As you learn and become more confident, you’ll be given tasks that stimulate your brain, keep you interested and teach you more.  Plus, you’ll be fairly rewarded with the means to find food shelter and comfort. Yes, he’s in charge of you and yes, he makes decisions for you but he also gives you confidence, self-esteem and a chance to improve your life. I don’t know about you, but I’d go the extra mile for a boss like that.

Think about the sort of relationship you would like with your dog? Me? I hope my dog sees me as his mentor not as his boss and as a result I hope that he kinda likes me.

Adapting training methods to your dog’s breed and background

Every dog has the same basic needs and the same basic way of thinking. However, when it comes to day to day living and indeed training, different breeds have different needs. Which is why we dog trainers are so keen that every owner should think long and hard about choosing a dog that will suit their lifestyle. A Great Dane is not the best companion for someone who lives on a houseboat. By the same token a naturally active springer spaniel is unlikely to settle well if he doesn’t have enough physical or mental stimulation in a day. Would you introduce a rescue dog to young children without researching his background? I wouldn’t


A dog who has been learnt to trust humans and feel safe in their world is happy, confident and a joy to be around

Within each breed, are thousands of individual dogs, each one has a different character and has had different experiences in life.

I know of a lady who has owned two Labradors – not at the same time. The first was born in the breeder’s bedroom, spent the first 8 weeks of her life surrounded by household noises and being

handled by children and adults. She grew into a confident if rather bossy dog. Obedience training was easy, she learned quickly. But socialisation was “interesting” because she was a strong character with limited impulse control.

The second was from similar bloodlines, but was born in a beautiful outdoor kennel. Like the first lab she was very well cared for – she came from a reputable breeder who was very experienced. At 13 weeks she went to her new home but having never heard the washing machine on a spin cycle or seen the TV, living indoors was a little overwhelming at first. She too is growing in confidence (at the time of writing she is 6 months old). Obedience training has again been easy –
Labradors learn very quickly when food treats are involved. However, socialisation has needed a very different approach.

So 2 dogs, same breed, same gender, same owner, but coming from different backgrounds.  They’ve each needed a very different approach to teach them how to live happily alongside humans. However, both of the dogs were (and are) very well loved and seem to return their owner’s affection.

Help finding the right training techniques for you and your dog

What I’ve been trying to explain in this blog, is that watching a “how to train your pug” video on Youtube is not necessarily going to give you the right skills to train YOUR pug.Training is more than important – it’s essential – no matter how old your dog is, what his background is or what’s in his genes. But training should be tailored to the individual dog-owner team. Just as a workplace mentor   adapts the pace of his training to suit his trainee, a good dog trainer will modify his training programme to suit the temperament, lifestyle and natural instincts of his pupils.

There is no substitute for working with an experienced dog trainer to help your dog use the instincts that are hardwired into him and the characteristics of his breed to become a really good companion.

For more information – contact Sean at Premier Dog Training

Four things your dog really must learn to keep him safe and happy https://www.premierdogtraining.co.uk/blog-post/four-essential-puppy-tips/