I had an interesting conversation with a trainer friend the other day. She had gone to meet a breeder she had never met before, as a potential buyer of a puppy from a future litter. She told me about a little glitch in their conversation that she couldn’t stop thinking about.
She said, “Nancy, I kept using the word ‘trainable’ to describe a trait I look for in a puppy, and every time I said it, the breeder would respond that her dogs are very ‘biddable.’ At first, I wasn’t sure what word she was using; I asked her to repeat it. Even when I realized I had heard her correctly, I wasn’t sure what it meant; I had to come home and look it up. And it turns out that it’s absolutely not what I’m looking for in a dog!”
I was pretty certain I knew the definition of the word “biddable,” but I’ll share the Dictionary.com definition with you, in case you don’t know it:
1. meekly ready to accept and follow instructions; docile and obedient.
SYNONYMS: obedient, acquiescent, compliant, tractable, amenable, complaisant, cooperative, dutiful, submissive.
I agree with my trainer friend; this is not a trait I look for in a dog, either. I like dogs who are curious, friendly, and ready to be engaged and attentive if I hold up my end of the “conversation” and I also behave in a friendly, engaged, interesting way.
I can imagine that there are some people who don’t want an inquisitive, independent dog. Some people truly do seem to want their dogs to be “submissive.”
But my trainer friend and I agreed; that’s the farthest thing from our minds. Personally, I don’t want a submissive husband, child, grandchild, or friend, nor a “docile” dog, cat, or chicken. Why would I need that? Why would I want someone around me to “submit” to my every whim? Meek? That’s not my thing at all.
I asked my friend, “You told the breeder you wanted a ‘trainable’ dog. How would you define that?”
She said, “Smart. Motivated to work with me. One who values rewards that I can deliver. Willing to experiment to get things right.”
I started wondering: Perhaps those of us with a special interest in animal behavior and the methods of influencing behavior value smart, creative dogs more than the average dog owner might? Do you want a particularly docile, submissive dog? Are these traits attractive to you? I’m curious to know what traits you look for in a dog.