Dear John (Ask The Dog Guy),
I have a 5 month female Presa Canario and she’s an awesome pup. She’s very chill/smart, now knows about 6 commands, obeys fairly well, waits patiently until told to eat, and is very food motivated. We train every opportunity we have and I try to take full advantage of correcting her and then immediately rewarding: her during walks, home, outdoor activities, public establishments, and events. Great with humans of all ages loves them and is kind of annoying because she pulls to go say hi (working on it). Taken her to the dog park numerous times and does pretty well with other dogs and has not lashed out yet. I am a full-time student with no employment, so we spent a lot of time together and it’s just us living on our own. The only issue is sometimes she’ll growl at dogs while in the car and sometimes when she gets overstimulated. My fear is as she gets older she will start becoming more aggressive and fearless. So far she respects my demands (because she knows she’ll be rewarded) and understand that I am alpha. The questions that I have are:
1. How can I keep her obeying my every command?
2. How can I properly socialize her to keep her aggression and suspiciousness at bay?
3. What age is it safe to spay her?
Last question, first. What age is it safe to spay your Presa Canario? I have an opinion, but it’s just an opinion as this isn’t my area of expertise. My opinion is from a physiological perspective, for many reasons I’d prefer to wait until a dog (male or female) has fully physically matured. Your veterinarian may have an opinion, but I think most are currently leaning in this direction as well. However, I don’t know how much weight to give their opinions as over my 30+ year career the veterinary community has endorsed spaying/neutering at six months of age and for a while even as young as 8 weeks.
In answer to your first question, I would highly recommend learning how to train your Presa Canario without the use ‘All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free/Never Say No/R+…’, treat, treat, treat or its evil twin, might is right (Alpha/Dominant) ideologies. These approaches, while popular enough amongst the amateur dog training crowd ignore most aspects of recognized behavior modification science (ethology, evolutionary psychology/biology, etc.). If you go that route, you will end up with unsatisfactory results. That is, if your goal is to end up with a dog that has legitimately useful life skills. You can read more about approaches to training in my book: What Are The Different (and best) Puppy and Dog Training Methods (ebook) – John Wade or alternatively, skip to the chase and have a look at my other book The Beautiful Balance – Dog Training with Nature’s Template (eBook) By John Wade.
In answer to your second question, how can I properly socialize her to keep her aggression and suspiciousness at bay? You can no longer socialize her in the sense of what that actually means (or should mean before the amateur dog training world commandeered the term). Your Presa Canario’s critical socialization period is now past (3 – 12 weeks of age). For anyone with a Presa Canario puppy (or any other breed) I recommend reading this before you buy your pup and again when you pick your puppy up: ‘Socialize Your Puppy for Everything’ by John Wade (ebook) Hopefully, you were able to do what I refer to as a full-spectrum imprint on the expected sounds, sights, smells, textures, and overall experiences that she will encounter throughout her life. For what it’s worth, socialization doesn’t keep aggression and suspiciousness at bay. You do that by, amongst other things, developing and maintaining a loving teacher/student relationship with her, choosing training that is based on science and common sense, managing her unsupervised environments so your training isn’t being undone, etc.
With regard to keeping your Presa Canario’s (or any other guarding breed) aggression and suspiciousness at bay, you do that by buying a breed that isn’t encouraged through selective breeding to be a guarding breed. (Something like a Golden Retriever.) All that legitimate, socialization (and training) does is to keep natural aggression and suspiciousness from being triggered by fear and or anxiety. This is true of any breed.
There’s an old saying, you don’t teach a good hunting dog to hunt, you have to teach them to stop hunting. In short, you’re not going to socialize or train a decent Presa Canario to not be a guard dog (naturally suspicious, equipped, and ready to be aggressive), you socialize and train them so that they can more easily listen to you when you tell them to put the brakes on being a guard dog.
John Wade 🐾 (www.askthedogguy.com)
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