Editorial April 2018 Issue

Biddable Dogs or Trainable Dogs?

How would you describe the ideal temperament for a dog?

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.

whole dog journal editor nancy kerns

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:

BIDDABLE: adjective

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.

Comments (3)

Gosh, Iíve always used the term biddable as meaning friendly with a willingness to please, and Iím not sure the breeder in this case would have checked a dictionary before using the term any more than I did! Might have been better to ask the breeder what exactly they meant by that term, or potentially miss out on trainable pups all on the use of a word!

Posted by: Pamsy | April 8, 2018 4:33 AM    Report this comment

Dear Nancy,
I think you misunderstand the use of the word biddable when it comes to dogs.
First, look at more and better dictionaries. It is true that if you just google "biddable" you meekly ready to accept and follow instructions; docile and obedient, acquiescent, compliant, tractable, amenable, complaisant, cooperative, dutiful, submissive. Note that below that is the term from playing bridge, a biddable hand is strong enough to open. So there is an apparent contradiction: a strong bridge hand versus a submissive whatever. If you google "biddable dogs" you will find them easy to train, smart, and social. Biddable breeds were bred to learn and follow the commands of their handlers.
I have 2 Dutch Shepherds, related to the Malinois, immensely biddable but not at all submissive. They are working dogs, police dogs. I can train them to do nearly anything because loyalty and learning are in their genes. High IQ. Compare them to my giant Anatolian shepherd, who follows his genes to patrol our property lines. He is barely biddable. Our old Boxer is silly and cute, very social, but just not smart enough to be biddable. He wants a treat, but just can't connect behavior to reward.
My trainer is puppy shopping, and wants a biddable puppy, one who prefers to interact with people and has a good attention span, like a gifted child. No ADD, please. Not too independent.
I'm also a horse person. If I'm shopping for a baby horse, I want a calm horse who looks me in the eye and wants to interact. Not too hyper, not fearful, not dull, but seeks my attention. A biddable horse.
I like the word, and hope it helps people breed better doggies.

Posted by: Smallrobeson | March 29, 2018 10:05 AM    Report this comment

All of my dogs (except for the Border Collies I bred, raised, and trained with my grandfather) have been rescues. I look for a dog that's what I call "responsive". Smart, willing to listen to me, and work with me as I teach them new things. As most of the dogs were already obedience trained, this has never really been a problem. I don't want a totally submissive dog, but I don't want one who challenges every command I give, either.

Posted by: DreamWeaver | March 25, 2018 2:37 PM    Report this comment

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