The Cuteness Trap
Specially Recommended for These Readers:
- Breeders of Guarding/Aggression (By Design) Breeds (as a resource for puppy inquiries and buyers)
- People Interested in Owning Guarding/Aggression (By Design) Breeds
- Dog Trainers Working with People with Guarding/Aggression (By Design) Breeds Puppies
- Veterinarians with Less Aware Clients That Bring In Guarding/Aggression (By Design) Breeds Puppies
- People Involved In Either Side of the Breed Banning Controversy
All too often the relationship and training decisions made with a puppy with guarding/aggression prone genetics are made on the basis of how their dogs behave as puppies. Outside of the disastrous impact this so often leads for both dog and owners it is worth also noting that this is one of the primary factors that have lead to breed banning and will lead to further breed banning.
Many people are unaware that it is a biological reality that out of necessity puppies have what amounts to a built-in governor that tamps down much of the breed’s characteristics. It remains in place until they reach young adulthood. The signs of what they will become are more often than not there to observe by the very experienced but much of the genetic potential and personality characteristics are sufficiently diluted that the less experienced with the breed type companion dog owner often misses the cues. Stronger signs of what is to come will more often than not be there between 6 – 9 months but again if the dog owner is inexperienced they often give the behaviour less weight then they should. On average it isn’t until the dog hits between young adulthood (18 months) and full maturity (3 years of age) where an event occurs that becomes obvious to anyone that the dog’s future is in jeopardy.
As a result, it is especially important for the owners of guarding/aggression prone breeds to not let cuteness trap influence the direction and decisions they make related to relationship and training. The trap is actually double sided. Outside of the reality that the manner in which a puppy behaviour has biologically evolved is not an accurate representation of the more serious breed characteristics yet to come our own biological wiring exerts further influence.
The distinguished ethologist Konrad Lorenz referred to the appeal that so many of immature animal species have on our psyche as the ‘baby schema‘. Where this trips up so many companion dog puppy owners, is the manner in which nurturing feelings are triggered manifests much more of a grandparent/grandchild relationship rather than the significantly different parent/child relationship required to shape a child for fulfilling potential and future success.
It is particularly important for owners of guarding/aggression (By Design) breeds not to allow these biological influences to lull themselves into a false sense of security detrimentally influence responsible ownership as it pertains to both relationship and training decisions when their dogs are at their most malleable.
Failing to purposefully establish clarity as who is the teacher and who is the student (see training pitfalls) at best leaves a companion dog owner’s level of influence on par with found with roommate camaraderie. Potentially and arguably inevitably problematic with any breed but more so with guarding/aggression (By Design) breeds. It is extremely unwise, to wait until young adulthood or when there are problems to get guarding/aggression (By Design) breeds clear on the idea of who is the teacher and who is the student, No means No, and sometimes we won’t be asking them, we’ll be telling them. All too often it leads to disaster and heartache. Even when it does not, it frequently leads to a lifestyle for the dog that is little better than one of house arrest with too rare trips out into the world.
Many owners of guarding/aggression prone breeds that wait until their dogs are young adults or there are problems find they have left it too late. Not because the dog can’t be turned around but because the skill set required to prevent as opposed to undoing the damage done with an adult mindset, full or near fully sized guarding/aggression (By Design) breed is quite different. It is typically quite challenging for the average companion dog owner.
Even if the companion guarding/aggression prone dog owner has access to training expertise and the handling ability or the potential to develop the appropriate handling skills required to rehabilitate the dog, they often don’t have the lifestyle that is necessary to safely supervise and undo the damage. It is a current reality that the options for rehoming an out of control guarding/aggression prone breed range from slim to none and as a result their owners find themselves backed into the euthanasia corner.
As mentioned earlier, the primary reason behind breed banning isn’t due to the breed themselves but due to people purchasing guarding/aggression (By Design) breeds thinking a dog is a dog and proceeding as if there were no differences between a Golden Retriever and the guarding/aggression (By Design) breeds. Failure to take the genetics of a guarding/aggression oriented breed seriously, purchasing only from highly knowledgeable and experienced breeders, fully socializing before 12 weeks of age, lifelong supervision in keeping with what it is wise due to breed characteristics to be potentially a gun with a brain, training and maintaining training, is what leads to so many representatives of these breeds going off the rails. The sheer number of people with guarding/aggression prone breeds that are unaware or indifferent to these factors and the subsequent incidents is significant enough that breeds become banned.
It is one thing to wait until young adulthood to formalise relationship and training for a Golden Retriever and quite another for any of the guarding/aggression prone breeds. Just because the companion dog owners selecting a guarding/aggression (By Design) breed (or any breed for that matter) has no need for the selective genetics doesn’t mean that the dog can forget what its predecessors did for a living. Owners of these breeds need to embrace the idea that what they have brought into their lives is more a Ferrari than a minivan.