A black dog in the San Francisco Bay Area is sticking its tongue out during puppy training.
When we bring home puppies or new adult dogs, we can’t help but have certain expectations. Sometimes our dogs are a perfect match for us, other times a sense of disappointment wiggles in.  Maybe it’s time to grab a pen and paper and try to better understand what’s going on.
First, read the following statements and circle the ones that best describe why you chose the dog you have. If none of them applies, write down your own reasons for why you chose your dog.

Examples: I wanted a cute puppy/dog. I don’t like dog hair. I like big dogs. I like couch potato dogs. I wanted a family dog. I wanted a therapy dog. I wanted a canine athlete. The dog needed a home. I wanted a guard dog.

Okay. Now let’s ignore for a moment the reasons why you chose your dog and create a list of what you have observed about your dog.  Again, circle the behaviors that apply or make your own list.

Examples: My dog… Likes people. Likes dogs more than people. Is good/not good with children. Is constantly busy. Tires quickly. Is uneasy in new environments. Chases things or likes to be chased. Is inquisitive and curious. Is shy and reserved. Is distracted by small animals/wheeled objects. Loves toys more than food, or vice versa.

Finally, circle on the page or make a list of the things your dog is good at. This might take a little time, as I’m sure your dog is good at many things – they just might not be the things you want him to be good at!

Examples: Keeping deer out of the yard. Letting me know when someone has arrived at the house. Digging where a gopher hole is. Retrieving anything at anytime. Herding the children while they are in the pool. Searching through the trash. Jumping up onto the kitchen table.

Now let’s consider some interesting facts. The Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the largest registry of dog breeds in the world, states that there are 339 accepted breeds. “Accepted” means that the breed can be classified in one of ten groups: Herding, Guarding, Terrier, Dachshund, Primitive, Scenthound, Sighthound, Pointer and Setter, Retriever and Flushing, Companion and Toy.

Each of the 339 accepted breeds was bred for a specific purpose: to hunt, guard our possessions, herd our livestock, cuddle comfortably on our laps, etc.  There are also countless great dogs who are not classified but originated from the inter-breeding of “accepted” breeds and therefore carry a mix of breeding traits.

With this in mind, let’s return to why you chose your dog. Consider the breed group to which your dog belongs. If you are not familiar with the breed, do a little research. If you don’t know your dog’s breed group, make your best guesstimate based on the look and behavioral traits or your dog. Now, compare your list of what you know about your dog and the list of your dog’s skills.

This exercise is designed to help you understand who your dog is. The dog you have might not match your original vision, but based on his or her individual traits you can adjust how you train and your training goals. This reckoning can help create a bond between you and your dog that you previously did not think was possible.

Labradoodles might be non-shedders and good family dogs, but they can be active dogs that need mental and physical stimulation. Beagles may be adorable, but they can get so distracted by smells that they forget their humans even exist.  Coming when called can be a huge challenge for them. The Tibetan Terrier is classified as a companion dog, which could make it a good therapy dog, but Tibetans can also be very independent and wary of strangers and new environments.

Having trained thousands of dogs and owned several different breeds myself, I have learned that it pays to be flexible. There are always those dogs who don’t fit the mold of what they were bred to do, but when we keep the individuality of our dogs in mind, training really gets fun!  Once we adjust our expectations and begin to know our dogs as they are, we can play to their strengths and enjoy wonderful results.

Bonnie Brown-Cali owns Dog Dynamics, Inc., a Bay Area dog training school that offers a wide variety of private, semiprivate, and group classes in the East Bay.  For more information, visit dogdynamics.org or email info@dogdynamics.org.

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