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Does Breed Matter?

Does breed matter? I think so and elaborated why on a dog training Facebook group recently. I had posted some images on a dog training group of a dog I was booked to go see. The owners had been told Boxer crossed with a Mastiff. They were told or had assumed English Mastiff but based on the description of the dog’s behaviour I had some doubts and thought the dog might be crossed with one of the more active Mastiff breeds. Either that or this particular English Mastiff genes remembered what their ancestors did for a living more accurately than most of the representatives of the breed that I come across these days. Trainers were invited to offer an opinion based on the images of what the dog’s genetics were.

Short of a DNA test, it’s unlikely with this dog that we’ll ever know for sure. Anyway, a comment was made that I found interesting that I understood to say why does breed matter? They asked what importance there was regarding getting clarity on the mix and the job involved was to “train and not blame on breeds mixed. Just train the owner.

It’s entirely possible that I didn’t completely understand the intent behind the comments and I replied with no intended criticism of the comment’s author. I’m pretty sure that given the opportunity they would be able to point out the difference between what was written and how I interpreted it and what they actually meant. However, I did reply as I thought there were points made that are often erroneously held and my reply was intended for the edification of anyone else that might think that taking breed into consideration when training is unnecessary.

Even as a novice trainer 30 years ago I never just focused on offering training based on the training itself being a complete answer to successful companion dog ownership. Why does breed matter? I firmly believe that a large part of training, maybe the largest, extends beyond knowing how to teach a dog to sit, stay etc. for a treat.

There are many good reasons for why I think the focus should always extend beyond.

The simplest way to explain why ‘Does Breed Matter’ matters, is to say that some breeds are Ferraris and others minivans and not everyone has the budget, the ability or the time to train and maintain, to safely operate a Ferrari.

A dog trainer can believe that all they have to do is to focus the training but it is my personal belief that is all too often not enough to do the job properly. I believe other significant variables will always influence the training outcome and to merely embrace an all you have to do is train the dog attitude, is in my opinion what eventually leads to behaviour problems down the road that often severely impact the dogs, their owners and depending on the behaviour problem, innocent bystanders.

I believe that part of the job for anyone serious about providing dog training services is to approach training much more holistically (as in the actual definition of the word rather than the granola quackery that it is often associated). I will look at every bit of information available and advise clients accordingly including the influence of the dog’s genetics and bloodlines for that matter.

For argument sakes, let’s assume that this dog carries the traits of typical male Cane Corso and let’s further assume that the owners are a very young family that before they had children had an elderly Boxer of which they have fond memories. Let’s also assume, and I suspect this is the actual case that they purchased this dog because he looked just like a Boxer when he was a puppy. In my opinion what we have here are the potential ingredients for an all too common scenario of a great dog and a great family but a potentially “bad” marriage.

Does breed matter? Yes. A Boxer is not a Labrador or a Golden Retriever, but in my view in its current manifestation of the breed, far closer to those than it is a Cane Corso. As a result, I don’t agree that at least in this situation it’s just a matter of seeking training and train. Some breeds of dogs should be considered more a hobby than simply a pet, and I wouldn’t dream of not making a companion dog owner aware of the differences should I think they are making assumptions that may come back to haunt them.

The decisions are theirs and I will do everything in my power to help them succeed but part of the job as I see it is to make sure they have the information they need to make decisions that will contribute to the best outcome for both themselves, their family and the dog. Quite often I’ve found that by making a companion dog owner aware of the differences in the traits they buckle down much more seriously than they might have otherwise.

For what it’s worth, I don’t only factor breed idiosyncrasies into my work. Amongst other things, I also factor owner idiosyncrasies into how I advise as well. The fact is that some dog owners are novices, some experienced with one breed. Some have very little left over of themselves at the end of the day others, albeit rarely, have lives that can revolve around their dog. Others have handling skills that no amount of work will impact. Might be just uncoordinated, might have physical or mental health issues, even personality traits are significant contributing factors. I look for these and other elements and incorporate them into how I tailor my advice.

On a side note regarding does breed matter and the idea that it’s only a matter of training made me think and chuckle a bit as I recall more than a few weekend duck hunters that owned Labrador Retrievers and for their next dog got a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. They were fully expecting the Chesapeake Bay Retriever to be just a larger version of the same only to learn that a Labrador is a Jeep and Chesapeake Bay Retriever is a Hummer and the amount and level of training that sufficed with the Labrador will often lead to disaster with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever.

On a less humorous note is the despicable trend amongst more and more rescues to hide behind the “a dog is a dog” nonsense (even if that dog has a known problematic history) and purposefully mislabel a breed (sometimes with a veterinarian and/or trainers support). I now distinguish these rescues from the reputable ones by referring to them as “rescue mills”. I have regularly seen them send a purebred or predominant pit bull or Cane Corso as a Lab or Boxer X into a home with little or no dog experience. When things go south in these situations as they all too often do the typical rescue/trainer/veterinarian response is to blame the owner inferring that it would never have happened if all they had done is sought the right sort of training and trained.

It occurs to me at this point that there’s an off chance that by making an argument for regarding, does breed matter, I may be giving the impression that I harbour breed prejudices. That’s not the case. I merely believe that factoring in breed characteristics (bloodline characteristics as well) is something that every breeder, rescue and dog trainer should consider as it should influence decisions about training, supervision and other lifestyle choices.

You can read this article I recently wrote for an elaboration regarding rescue mills and lest you think I have some closeted breed prejudice, please take the time to read this additional article I wrote as a rebuttal to a magazine favouring breed specific legislation. (Warning, this one is long)

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3 thoughts on “Does Breed Matter?”

  1. Brandon

    How can breed not matter. We have bred dogs to do specific jobs for years and somehow expect that won’t make make them different behaviourally ? That seem a bit like a oxymoron doesn’t it?

    1. In my experience, the “a dog is a dog” concept is a direct result of a couple of things. It was and is a strategy of many opposed to breed bans. I firmly believe that taking this tact is unwise as even people that are not breed savvy know that there are behaviour traits that separate a golden retriever from a border collie let alone a guarding breed. As a result, they undermine their credibility and the legitimate arguments that should be made but which they lack the dog experience to express intelligently. Those that might make those arguments won’t go near them with a 10-foot pole as they don’t want to associate with the way they typically behave towards those that disagree with them. The myth is further propagated by the rescue mills I mention in the article as otherwise, they would have to admit that the current approach to rescue is highly flawed. For instance rather than slamming good breeders and shaming the people interested in a well-bred dog they should be promoting good breeding practices. At the very least they should stop the slamming and provide people looking for a dog with a guide to tell the difference between legitimate breeders and the majority “greeders.” That, however, would require quite a bit more knowledge about breeding and dogs in general than most have. If people can’t find a legitimate breeder than by all means go to a rescue. All the rescues are doing now is feeding the bad breeding industry. I’m referring to puppy mills either. Most breeders are just puppy mills with better living conditions that might also really like the breed they are messing with. More on this here –

      In both cases, if you examine the actual dog experience behind the beliefs expressed you will find they have very little. They base opinions based on their experience with the dog they own and love and what they are told by like-minded individuals. Ironically in spite of not agreeing with breed banning, I believe these sorts of advocates are the very reason behind many if not most of then incidents that shine a spotlight on the breeds considered for banning. Their dog and inadequate dog handling methods result in an incident and they are mystified. Amazing how often they remain unconvinced even then.

  2. Nancy Kauffman

    Different breeds of dogs can be as different as a duck is to a bear!

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