Case Histories June 1999 Issue

Different Dog Breeds for Different Jobs

Not all dogs are suited for a particular job because of their breed alone.

Generally, dogs are bred to do different jobs. Want to herd sheep? You get a Border Collie, not a Cocker Spaniel! Want to go sledding? You look for a Malamute, not a Borzoi! You get the idea.

However, not every representative of a specific breed of dog can fill the “job description” for that breed. So, even though you might wisely choose a German Shepherd when you go looking for a guard dog, it’s impossible to know for sure that the individual shepherd you choose is going to be a good guard dog.

This is exactly what happened with Bill and his dog, Freedom. Bill owned a printing business and wanted a dog who would guard the place at night, but be friendly to clients during the day. He had seen a classified ad in the local paper for German Shepherd puppies and decided that he would obtain one.

Freedom was a beautiful, companionable, shy German Shepherd, who didn't have the confident, inquisitive temperament guard dogs need.

Without researching the breed and without doing any temperament tests, he simply bought the last remaining puppy. She was a little bit shy and wiry, not at all tough-looking, but she was available and the price was right. Freedom was seven months old when Bill bought her, which might explain some of her shyness. She had spent all of her short life with her mother, in the back yard of the breeder’s home. She had no frame of reference for a life beyond the boundaries of her yard.

Bill had Freedom for about a month when he called me. He had seen a flier for my teaching services and thought I might be able to help him attain his goals.

However, he hadn’t really read the fine print. I don’t offer my services for protection or attack dogs, nor do I prepare people for teaching their dogs to compete in obedience trials. I put an emphasis on gentle teaching, without any punishment methods. And I don’t allow choke chains, pinch collars, or shock collars in my school. Since this is rather different from the services of many trainers, I explained my techniques, terms, and conditions to Bill, who didn’t have a problem with any of my requirements.

On to the next step. I asked Bill to fill out a “Behavior Profile.” On this sheet, I ask owners to tell me about their dog’s history: how old the dog is, what kinds of training the dog has had thus far, what the dog’s health history has been, and most importantly, what kind of behavior the dog displays in different situations. I also ask them to describe how they respond to these behaviors. When he mailed the Profile back to me, he also included an extra sheet. This is what he had written:

1. Housebreak

2. Jumping on people

3. Chewing

4. Licking

5. Nipping

6. Come when called

7. Stay when told

8. Would like dog that can be free during business hours without endangering anyone or leaving the premises. Can bark and attack at night to deter vandals and burglars.

The next time we met, I had to explain to Bill that I had a few problems with helping him with his goals for his dog. First, of course, I wouldn’t help him train Freedom to attack. Even if I did prepare dogs for these careers, I would never recommend keeping an attack-trained dog so exposed to the general public. If a dog bites someone, even a burglar, you can be brought to court on a dog bite charge. Also, protection dogs must return to a training facility every 4-6 weeks for follow-up and evaluation to ensure their predictability, reliability, and safety.

However, Bill indicated he would be happy enough if the dog just barked to ward off intruders at night – something that would be easy enough to accomplish, and within my boundaries. But he added that Freedom had not barked once since he had her and she often cowered from strangers. OOPS! Not a good sign for a dog who is supposed to guard a business! I decided to run a temperament test and see what would happen. Normally these tests are done on very young puppies but they can sometimes be of help to determine what is happening with an older dog.

Canine Temperament Tests

I used some of the temperament tests from William Campbell’s Behavior Problems In Dogs, a classic dog teaching manual. (A few of these tests are appropriate only for puppies, so I just did the ones that could be conducted with adult dogs.)

First, I placed Freedom in the middle of the teaching center. Then I stepped away, knelt down and clapped my hands to attract her to me. Freedom did not come. She just sat there looking quite uncomfortable. According to Campbell’s criteria, this would indicate a dog who was introverted and shy. Next, I stood next to her making sure that she saw me. Then I walked away in a normal fashion to see if she would follow me. She did not. I tried again, this time I got her interested in a tidbit before I walked away. She did follow me but hesitantly and with her tail tucked. This, too, would indicate a dog who was introverted and submissive.

I moved on to a social dominance test. During this one, I crouched down and stroked her from the top of her head, along her neck and down her back. She proceeded to lie down, looking very uncomfortable. Then she relaxed slightly and began to lick at my hand. This, especially, indicates submissiveness – not a good trait for a self-confident guard dog!

I also did a startle test. I took my keys and tossed them loudly on the floor. Freedom startled, moved away and did not want anything to do with the keys. Again, this fearful reaction is not what you’d hope to see in a guard dog. A better candidate for the job might startle, but would quickly move to investigate the keys, perhaps barking as he went up to them and sniffed them. Using Campbell’s methodology, these reactions would indicate that the dog “will probably not socialize quickly and may be difficult to train without special techniques,” and “will tend to shy away under stress. These types usually do not interact well with small children.”

It was quite obvious to me that Freedom was not qualified to do the job she had been purchased to do. However, Bill was convinced that his dog should and could be a guard dog. After all, she was a German Shepherd, and that was why he got her!

Multi-pronged approach

I told Bill that we could try some things but I wouldn’t guarantee that Freedom would ever be the dog he envisioned. The first thing I wanted them to do was change her from the grocery store food he was feeding her to a fresh food diet. Improved nutrition would undoubtedly make Freedom feel stronger and healthier, more comfortable with “being in her skin.” He immediately informed me that would be impossible, because Freedom lived at the business and was never taken home.

I suggested that in the morning they could feed her a bowl of high quality, healthy dog food such as Wysong or Pet Guard. Then I asked him if he or any of his employees ever brought their lunch to work? He said “Of course!” I asked whether they could take turns sharing their lunches with Freedom. That way she would get some fresh foods and there would be no extra work for anyone. Bill said he would try that.

Next, we would have to deal with some non-invasive, learn-to-earn teaching. Bill had an employee who had taken a dog training class in the park. There, he had learned how to use a choke chain and how to hit, knee, and scold his dog. He was trying what he had learned on Freedom. This was not working and probably could never work with a dog like Freedom.

Instead, I showed him how to use the click/treat technique. First, we taught Freedom that the sound of the click means she gets a delicious treat. Fortunately, Freedom loved the hamburger treats I was using. She quickly caught on that at the sound of the click, she got the treat.

Next I wanted to show him how to teach Sit with the clicker. At this point he proudly told me that she already knew Sit. I asked him to demonstrate. Bill stood up, quietly said Sit! and nothing happened. Next he said Sit!! a bit louder and nothing happened. Then he shouted Sit!! and nothing happened. So then he pulled up on her collar and pushed down on her butt. At this point, he proudly looked at me as if he had proved that she knew Sit.

I then stood up and showed him how I would teach his dog the word without using the word. I simply took a hamburger treat, held it by Freedom’s nose, then moved the treat up and back. This raised her head and caused her butt to fall to the floor. At that instant I clicked and gave her the treat. I repeated this several times until she was sitting the instant my hand moved up.

Then I added the word. Before I moved my hand I said Sit. Then I moved my hand, clicked when she sat, and, as I gave her the treat, I said GOOD SIT! I repeated this several times until she was sitting as I was saying Sit. No fuss, no muss, no choking, no pushing. She now truly knew what Sit meant. Bill was pretty impressed with this display and thought he might like to continue the process. I then showed him how to teach Down and Walk using the same concepts. I sent him on his way with some handouts and let him know that if he had any problems or questions he could call me. We set up an appointment for the following week.

Sometimes the "Right" Dog for the Job Isn't a Dog At All

Since I had not heard from Bill, I had assumed that his week had gone well and was expecting him to show me a dog who could sit, down and walk. Boy, was I wrong! Bill said that he had been too busy to do any teaching during that week and that Freedom had become a real problem because she was getting bored and wanted attention.

Freedom and her new owner were delighted with the turn of events and with each other. The shy dog found new confidence from daily, one-on-one handling and teaching.

Apparently, the good experience she had at our last session was something that she wanted more of because she came trotting into the center and came right up to me and sat. Freedom wanted to learn and wanted to please but no one was taking the time to teach her about living with humans.

I tried to explain to Bill that unless someone found the time to work with Freedom, there would be no change in her behavior. Nothing changes in your relationship with a dog until the human changes first! Dogs take their cues from us. As long as the cues stay the same, the response to the cue also stays the same.

We reviewed what we had gone over the previous week and again I told him to call me if there were any problems. The following week, it was the same story only this time, Freedom seemed to want nothing to do with Bill. She just sat next to me as if I were her person, not Bill.

Bill said that having to teach a dog and run a business was just too much work. Couldn’t someone just train the dog for him and send him a perfect watch dog? I told him that it’s never a good idea to send a dog away for training. You never know what they will do to your dog. They will develop a leader relationship with the dog that may not necessarily transfer to you. Any problems that arise will always be made to look like it’s your fault because the trainer never has any problem working your dog. It will cost a lot of money, the dog could be ruined in the process and you will never have the control you want over your dog.

My holistic approach to dealing with dogs and behaviors is to consider the entire picture: the dog, people, environment, lifestyle, diet, health, desires, abilities, etc. In this case the situation was clearly not good for a dog – especially a dog like Freedom, who was expected to act as a deterrent and a guard dog, but who was actually a sweet dog with a yen for a human friend.

This time I told Bill that maybe he had made a mistake getting a dog for this purpose – and that he had definitely made a mistake getting this particular dog. It might be more productive and efficient, I told him, to install an alarm system and find a proper, loving home for Freedom.

Bill said that one of his employees had fallen in love with Freedom and that she seemed to like the woman. “Maybe,” he thought out loud, “I could give Freedom to this person and get a different dog to act as a guard dog.” Obviously, Bill was not listening! I told him another dog would still require work, time, and commitment. He had already proven to me, as well as to Freedom and hopefully to himself, that he had none of those things to offer a dog. I gave him the number of the alarm company I used for my business and suggested he call the company for an estimate.

A few weeks later, I got a call from Bill. He had taken my advice. The alarm system had been installed at his business and had already paid for itself. Someone had tried to break in and the alarm went off, scaring them away; nothing was damaged or stolen.

And, best of all (from my perspective), Freedom was in a wonderful home. She was happy and loved, living with a woman who adored her. She was feeding Freedom fresh foods and taking the dog everywhere with her. Freedom was responding to her love, food, and teaching, and was relaxed and comfortable with her new person and her new life.

Author Linda Goodman operates PORGIE Teaching Center in Riverside, CA. 

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