Too Much Dog?The problem with many “problem dogs” is that they chose the wrong owner!
People often go to a dog trainer because of a problem behavior. The problem behavior is often the result of a dog that has too much drive and not enough to do. People need to be honest with themselves before selecting a dog. If you don’t exercise now, a dog isn’t magically going to give you the desire to “get your lazy butt off the couch” and start training for a marathon.
I have listed several dogs on the right hand side who at one time belonged to a rescue and had very uncertain futures due to them being just a bit more dog than the average person can handle. I believe that the rescues that owned them certainly felt overwhelmed by them. As mentioned in other parts of this website, I have a huge problem with rescues that want to be in the rescue business but don't want to truly learn about dogs. I don't care how many years that you have done rescue for, it doesn't mean that you know dogs unless you are actually out there interacting with them. The challenge cases are a gift in that they are the only ones that really teach us volumes. None of the dogs listed, I would consider extreme other than my Macy. I took Macy in, because she probably would have met an untimely end in short amount of time due to who she is.
At the same time, if you want to do Schutzhund or Mondio Ring don’t get a couch potato dog. I have seen people show up at a Schutzhund field with their German Shepherd wanting to do Schutzhund with a dog that was not food motivated and had the prey drive of an overcooked spaghetti noodle. Why make a dog miserable by trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. Don’t get a puppy! Get a dog that someone else didn’t want because it had too much drive for their lifestyle. You can often find these at the pound if you look hard enough. These dogs get themselves into trouble because their owners couldn’t handle them. Rescues rarely have these dogs, because the rescues just label these dogs as being unstable because they can’t handle them. I have seen numerous cases where the rescue considered putting a dog down for that reason. The dog went on to have a happy home because someone like me persuaded them to the contrary.
I said “pound” earlier because often rescues are smart enough to not take in dogs that are super charged Tasmanian Devils. The rescues realize that these dogs have no chance of being adopted by the typical fuzzy bunny slipper wearing crowd. Sport people most often don’t go to rescues to get a dog. Law Enforcement often wisely gets good scent dogs from the pound when they have someone knowledgeable enough to make good selections. I once knew a guy that ordered a multi-generation Schutzhund German Shepherd puppy from Europe. The dog eventually decided it was fun to run after children and bite their clothing whenever they ran. The gentleman’s wife insisted that he get rid of the “aggressive dog”. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?! In my eyes they got exactly what they ordered; a dog with a bit of drive. I often advise people to buy/adopt a dog that is a bit older (young adult), so that they can see what they are getting. The common excuses I hear from people why they don’t do this, is, “We want a puppy so that we can train it, just the way we want it.” I scream back, “Nonsense! How many dogs have you trained in the past? Were all of these dogs exactly the way you wanted?”. Hand me a dog that is 5 or 6 years old and I will train it. Puppies are for people with mountains of patience, and tons of time on their hands.
If you want a high drive dog, remember that drive isn’t something you can turn off like a light switch. It is energy that exists in this dog’s every waking moment. If you don’t release some of the bottled pressure that is this dog, he will become stressed, miserable and then do things to try to relieve that stress and that my friend will make you one miserable sob.
In recent times there have been numerous rescues that adopt out Pit Bulls. These rescues will preach positive training methods only because supposedly conventional training hurts and stresses dogs out. They also become horrified at the mere mention of using a tug in training or protection sports. They claim these things will make a dog aggressive. Little do they realize that not giving these dogs outlets for “what they are”, is extremely stressful to these high drive dogs. I am the proud of owner of a dog that is high drive and some would call a Pit mix. Wrestling and mock battle are what makes her happy. Tug games give her satisfaction that gives her soul peace. I once walked this dog for 15 miles in a 24 hour period. It didn’t even put a dent in her. She could have easily gone for another 15 miles. So, how many people are going to walk 30 miles a day to bleed off all that drive. Walking a high-drive dog is not exercise. This same dog, if I play some high paced tug games, is feeling tired after 20 minutes. She has had a good work-out that tests her strength, timing, reflexes, endurance and at the same time teaches her additional obedience and self control. Best of all it dramatically improves the bond with the owner. Walking does not give you any of these things. The rescues that don’t want to become educated in things like appropriate tug play really need to leave these “gladiator breeds” (horrible term but used for lack of a better word) alone. Understand what you are dealing with or quit. Most of them don’t have anything in their mission statement about putting dogs in homes where they will be miserable. So they need to stop discarding good owners that will challenge a dog with the things they love to do. Instead they cater to the crowd that wants to park the Ferrari in the garage and leave it there. Only thing is that we are talking about is a living, breathing thing and not a piece of metal. It feels stress and discomfort from a non-eventful life that is a void when it comes to outlets.
People with high drive dogs, without outlets for the dog often seek a trainer when the built up pressures have caused the dog to engage in negative or destructive behaviors. They might try a reward based trainer initially to discover that the methods are good for teaching the dog new competition style behaviors but they do little to fix the problem behaviors. Most of these folks in desperation then reluctantly seek out someone who is a bit more “old school”. The dog receives hard corrections for infractions and eventually gives it up for as long as someone keeps him in check. I don’t have a problem with corrections. Some dogs I will agree even need very firm corrections. I however have a huge problem with this approach being all that is needed. In my opinion the dog needs outlets to make a good percentage of that negative behavior evaporate. It is all about balance.
Get a dog that matches your lifestyle, personality and energy level. Don’t try to make your dog a sport dog if it isn’t in his genes. Provide your high drive dog with outlets that challenge him. If you belong to a rescue get on board with the program. High Drive Gladiator type breeds need non-politically correct games to make them happy. Accept this and stop making dogs miserable by placing them with the fuzzy bunny slipper crowd.
-- Daniel Audet
Dan runs www.balancedtrainers.com, a website and forum committed to maintaining transparency and integrity in the balanced dog training community.