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— May 13, 2014 —

What happens when we put a “Good Quality” dog in a “Poor Quality” situation?
by Daniel McElroy Jr.

In the dog training world, you may often hear professional trainers discussing breeds, breeders and bloodlines as being or producing “good quality” dogs. How can trainers say such a thing? Doesn’t every dog have qualities and deserve respect? Well, yes. Every dog is a life and needs to be treated as such, but there is more to the concept and hopefully this article will be food for thought.

What we mean when we discuss “quality” is this. In the simplest of terms, if a dog is of a certain breed, and if that breed was developed over hundreds of years to perform certain tasks, then every example of that breed “should” be capable of performing that task to some degree. The better that dog is at that task, the better his “quality” would be.

I won’t discuss health issues in any depth today. It goes without saying that a German Shepherd with hip dysplasia will not be able to work as a Police K9 as well as a German Shepherd with properly-formed hips. The health and structure of a dog is most certainly a factor when discussing his “quality.”

This ultimately will lead to a discussion on genetics and breed tendencies and this is a discussion that needs to happen. Far too often, trainers are asked to deal with behaviors in a dog that the owner finds undesirable, but the dog finds perfectly natural, even necessary. Generally, dogs that are of “good quality” are purpose bred and their genetics rule the majority of their behavior. I like to say that, “Fighting genetics is like swimming up stream. You’ll work your butt off and get nowhere.” (Note: Nothing in this article is meant to apply to the genetically unstable or serious fear biting dog. These dogs are a topic all their own.)

In this blog post, the author discusses what seems to be a great dog put in a bad situation:
I once worked with a fabulous specimen of a dog, from a breed and bloodline where they are intended to bite. And they do, well.

This dog was selected for a job where the animal is required to be gentle and kind to people. This dog was given great training, mastered the complex tasks of the work, yet was unable to be kind and gentle to people. Genetics took over, and bites were given instead of kisses.

I was asked to assess if we could make the dog become sweet and gentle, rather than wanting to bite. My answer was 'Yes, however, one day when the environment is more stimulating, his ancestors will override your training and he will go in and bite ".

This dog was euthanized. A totally healthy, nice dog, who was bred to bite, was euthanized because he did what he was bred for. This case still haunts me.

If you want Cujo, get Cujo. If you want Lassie, get Lassie. But don't be so naive that you think because Cujo is sold from "Kissing Lines" that you can turn him into Lassie. You might be able to 9/10 times, but the one time he does what his ancestors tell him to do, he will be a dead dog.

A fabulous, young, healthy spirit is dead for being a perfect specimen of their breed. We, as humans, can be so unfair to dogs.

Monique Anstee
Victoria, BC
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This post describes the challenges of trying to force a great dog into a role for which it is not suited. It seems this was an attempt to make the dog something he wasn’t and it cost him his life. The dog wasn’t wrong. The humans were.

Part of understanding what a “good quality” dog is understanding that we as humans MUST select the correct dog for our living situation.

Just because the Navy Seals took a Belgian Malinois on a raid in Pakistan, it’s absolutely NO INDICATION that folks should run out and buy one for the “cool factor.” In fact, most “good quality” Malinois generally make pretty difficult house pets. We don’t call them “Maligators” for nothing. I know of one that isn’t doing high level protection work and he does well with his owners. The thing is that they are involving him in lots of other activities, which help to satisfy his genetic drives. Despite this, I believe even they would tell you that he has had a few challenging moments.

Similarly, an owner who wants to primarily sit on the couch and watch The Dog Whisperer with his dog has absolutely no business buying a high drive working line German Shepherd or Rottweiler. If you like the look of the dogs, but don’t want to adjust your lifestyle to suit the dog, then unfortunately there is no way to responsibly own said dog. Sorry, but that’s just the way it is.

The best breeders of “quality dogs” will know what their dogs are supposed to do and what kind of temperament they will tend to have. They will help guide a buyer to selecting the proper dog and I have known a few who refuse to sell their puppies to non-working homes. This applies to all breeds, from Working Group dogs like the German Shepherd or the Rottweilers to Sporting Group dogs like Labrador Retrievers.

There are breeders who are “breeding down” their lines to create less “drivey” versions of working breeds. This is what we see in show line German Shepherds. While this may sound like a perfect solution to the issue, it actually creates another set of issues. Since these breeders often focus more on looks than physical ability, these dogs often end up with serious health issues. The show line German Shepherd’s notorious back and hip issues are a prime example. Also, some of these dogs end up with some of the drive, but not quite the edge of their working line cousins. This can lead to owners having a false sense of security and dogs ending up in bad situations and people getting bit.

What all of this is intended to say is this. “There is a dog for every purpose and a purpose for every dog.” It is our job to make absolutely sure that the dog we select suits the purpose we get him for. If he is to be a couch companion, then we need to select a dog with qualities such as, “likes to lay around” and “champion level napper” not, “will play tug all day” or “enjoys agility training.” If you want to live with a particular type of dog, then it is best to learn what he will need to be a happy well-adjusted companion animal. It is our responsibility to provide a “quality situation” that matches the “qualities” of our dog.


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