Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Obedience stereotypes?

I hate breed stereotypes. You know, “Shelties are shy,” “Rottweilers are mean,” “Hounds are stupid,” “Toy dogs are yappy,” etc.

My two un-favorites are “Tervs have no work ethic” and “Malinois have rotten temperaments.” Guess they forgot to tell Jamie that when he got his OTCh. or Phoenix when he was giving the wheelchair-bound, special needs person kisses to their mutual delight over the weekend.

Most stereotypes are perpetrated by people who have never lived with or trained the breeds they’re passing judgment on. Yeah, there is probably a grain of truth (a single, tiny grain) in each statement because heaven knows not every single dog born on this planet has exceptional temperament and intelligence but automatically condemning a dog because of his physical appearance is the product of ignorance.

You and I know better than to believe blanket stereotypes and we spend a lot of time trying to show John Q. Public that how a dog is treated and trained usually has more influence on the final product than the dog’s genetics.

Sometimes I wonder if we need to transfer a similar approach to training methods. How many obedience “stereotypes” have you followed blindly, never questioning them, even though you’ve never tried any other method to see if it might work for your dog because you were afraid that would be against the "rules"?

Here are a few "rules" I followed without question for years before Phoenix started changing things:

• You can’t let your dog “get away” with anything. (By the time you realize he’s gotten away with something, well, um, he’s already gotten away with it and it’s too late to do anything about it.)

• You have to show your dog who’s the boss or he won’t respect you. (Respect and fear are not the same.)

• You have to make him do it. (Yeah. Right. And what if you can’t? Then what?)

• You have to teach a forced retrieve or your dog will never be a reliable retriever. (No. You don’t.)

There are probably more that I can’t think of at the moment. If you're running up against a brick wall in your training, maybe it's time to re-think some of those "carved in stone" rules.


  1. When I first started reading I thought it said, "humans are stupid". LOL, I had to go back and see it said, "hounds are stupid".
    I have a friend who has two Mals and they are both awesome. Friendly , up beat just all around great dogs!! If I wanted a bigger dog, I get a Mal.

  2. OK, how about the concept that dogs do not actually think and reason and process, but merely respond to stimuli???

    Maybe not all dogs are equivalently good at this, and it goes with the corollary that a truly intelligent dog is much harder to train and handle. Most obedience folks are better off with a slightly dim and really reliable dog, but they think they need an intelligent dog.

    Everyone thinks my current dog is brilliant, but he's not. He is incredibly energetic, fast, and willing to please. Our other papillon, we thought for months was incredibly dim, like almost brain damaged. We finally figured out he is really smart, he could just give a rap.

  3. I never experience stereotypes.

    Haha...I couldn't even type that without laughing.

    Anyway, I still remember when I was telling someone about doing agility with Layla and some successful handler said something to the effect of, "There's more of a chance of a Clydesdale winning the Kentucky Derby than a Malamute being successful in agility." And that's about agility, where there have been 3 or 4 MACHs. The record for OTCh points in the breed is one single point.

    I think people, whether it's done intentionally or not, end up hindering their success when they buy into these stereotypes. If I believed all the stereotypes about Layla and handled her the way the stereotypes would dictate, we'd be doing nothing. She's amazing, and just because some people - MOST people - couldn't get a Malamute to think they (the handler) is worth the dog's time, doesn't mean I can't.

  4. How about when the judge for obedience at the Gordon Setter National some years ago says "well, what else do you expect from a Gordon".