One never knows where inspiration will come from. It could be a fleeting glance at something that brings back a distance memory, or it could be found in an unlikely place when you aren’t even looking. Recently, I have found some inspiration in what I feel like is an unlikely place. It’s a very short video by a man that no one has ever heard of in Ireland. It’s not very often that I can agree totally with someone’s views on dog breeding, but in this case, I can find no fault in what the man has to say. It’s a very short video and if you watch it, you’ll probably think, “She’s crazy….this old man is saying nothing of note and it was a waste of a perfectly good minuet.” But let’s sit down and really look at what he’s saying.
So you’ve watched the video, but are still wondering, “Why does this crazy girl think so much of a crazy old Irish farmer who is droning on about Border Collies training themselves?”. Let me set up the scenario for you…….You go out, buy a dog and have every intention of working that dog every day and making him the best possible dog on the planet. The first day, you get the dog, your training equipment, and your training book out, and go to work. Perfect day. The next day, maybe it’s the same. The third day comes around and your significant other wants to go out for dinner, it is a Friday night after all,
and you only do a little training. That’s alright, tomorrow is Saturday and you can make up the time then. Saturday comes and friends want to go to the movies. You go, promising yourself that Sunday will be your day with the dog. You wake up with the best of intentions, but your hangover convinces you that Monday is the day for training and you give him a quick exercise session, so he won’t bother you while you chill on the couch for the rest of the afternoon. During the next week, you get in a few good training sessions, but work and life get in the way and you never get to train as much as you had originally intended. I’m not saying that you are a bad dog owner. Your dog is well exercised, well fed, and well loved. He is just not “training” as much as you would like.
Time goes by, you work with him when you have a chance, but not nearly as much as you had originally planned. One day, during hunting season, a buddy calls you up and wants you to bring your dog over and spend the day hunting with him and his dog. Now this buddy brags on his dog and how much time he spends training, and maybe he does spend that much time working with the dog. Unlikely, but he’s your friend, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt. You’re a little nervous, because you know your dog is good, but hell, you buddy spends every weekend working drills and obedience with his dog, so he must be perfect.
You get to the pit blind, dove field, or whatever your poison is that morning and you unload your dog and your gear. Your dog is kind of hanging out, checking out the situation, and your buddies dog is running around while he’s screaming his name and blowing on his whistle that’s as big as your hand. You guys get going and it’s obvious that his dog is not going to make for a fun day. His whistle sounds like a damn freight train and the dog whines so much that it’s numbing. Your dog, on the other hand is in tune to your quiet whistle and doesn’t hunt perfectly close, but he’s within gun range and is steady on the flush, so you aren’t constantly after him to calm down. Your dog retrieves what you shoot with a soft mouth, while his dog will occasionally pick up a bird, maybe, and bring it within a ten yard radius of the handler, hopefully. If he does happen to pick one up, his mouth is so hard that there is nothing left of the bird when your buddy finally chases down the dog and picks it up from wherever it was dropped.
As the day progresses, you have to be wondering, “What in the world is going on here? I hardly work with my dog and he works with his all the time. My dog is making his look really bad.” Don’t lie, we’ve all had those thoughts!
There are two possible answers and more than likely it a combination of the two. Your buddy probably isn’t working with his dog as often as he says that he is, and the more likely answer is that, your dog has better genetics than his dog. One rule you can always live by, genetics beats out training every single time. You can cover a lot up, on the surface, with training, but if the breeding isn’t there, no amount of training can fix that and the cracks will show at the most inopportune time; like when you are trying to show off to your friend who doesn’t work his dog as often as you do.
Now, some dogs may not reach their true potential, because of the owner, but if the dog doesn’t have breeding to support the traits that you are looking for in an ideal dog, then you will never get where you want to be with the dog.
The man in the video is talking about herding dogs, but the same is true for any breed and discipline of dog. It’s even true for dogs that would be considered house dogs or lap dogs. No one wants a lap dog who would rather be running around, looking for something. They want a dog bred to sit in a lap and requires very little exercise. The opposite is true for a dog that needs to be active to earn his living. Dogs will either pick up their work or they won’t and you will have to “force” them into the job. Who really wants to be forced and who really wants to do the forcing?
To be perfectly honest, I don’t care what titles the parents of the puppy has, if they aren’t game to chase and pick things up, more than likely I’ll take a pass and look further for my next dog. Now many of you may go on the defensive here and say that some dogs mature slower than others, and I will agree with you on that point. However, if given my druthers, I want the quicker maturing dog, because I can get down to the real work of refining their desired traits and not have to wait and hope they mature into the dog that I want. I’m not saying that the slower maturing dog won’t become a great dog, I’m just pointing out that I’m going to get better work done at an earlier age with the one who picks up the work naturally and at a young age. So you may ask at this point, “Well how do you breed for desired traits? Do you go on what titles the possible parents have? Do you look at their breeding history and what their offspring have done?” These are good ways to look at it, but
honestly, any time you breed two of anything together, it’s a crap shoot as to what you’re going to get. You can take two of the most decorated field trial dogs out there and breed them together and get a littler of pups who would rather hang out under the shade tree than fetch. You could take two backyard dogs, breed them together and get national champions. It’s all up to where the good lord decided to give them their points, and we know that he only gives you so many points!
Honestly, if I were breeding dogs together to do field trial work, I would look at both dogs involved and look for traits that I desire. How sensitive are the dogs to the handler? I prefer a dog who is sensitive to me, so that I don’t have to raise my voice much or use much force while training. Do the possible parents look healthy and how are they around people? I don’t want a dog who looks like he will break down after an hour or work and I need a dog who is social around people. How are the potential parents with other dogs? Obviously, a dog with aggression towards other dogs would be hard to manage, unless that was a trait you were breeding for. Now, you’ll notice I didn’t say anything about whether or not the parents had any titles, or how well they hunted. These may be qualities that you look for, but as for me they aren’t that important. If I want a hunting dog, I’m looking at labs or pointers. If I want a personal protection dog, I’m looking at Malinois or Dutch Shepherds. If I want a lap dog or a small house dog, I’m looking at something else (honestly, I couldn’t even tell you what breed I would be looking at, because the thought of a small house dog has never crossed my mind!).
Within these breeds, I will look for lines bred to do the work that I want, so that automatically gets rid of many of the questions of what I’m looking for. I’m not looking at labs that come from American show lines to do field work. I would look at these lines if I wanted a dog to do therapy work or something more subdued. So I go out, ask my questions, and find what I think is the perfect breeding.
The litter is born, and half the puppies run and chase feathers as soon as they can walk. The other half want nothing to do with it and would rather spend time sleeping or eating. So that eliminates them. Of the four that are left (I decided it was a litter of eight), two hide behind their mother any time a new person comes in the whelping room. That leaves me with two to choose from. Out of those two, I take the one who will pick up anything off the floor and play with it, and the one who appears to be more sensitive to his surroundings. This proves that even within a litter of puppies, all raised exactly the same way, you never know what you’re going to get.
I can tell you this is true from two puppies that I am working with right now. They are litter mates and were raised in exactly the same environment. The male puppy is a little more skeptical of new situations, while the female will gladly walk into any room and need no time for adjustment. On the flip side of that, the male puppy will pick up and retrieve
anything I set out for him, any time, no questions asked. He has never been force fetched or collar conditioned, but is more than happy to do any sort of retrieving work that I want to do that day. The female, not so much. She’ll run a perfect line to a mark, get to the duck, stop, sniff it, and continue to hunt like she never found the bird. Now, I know that she knows what she’s supposed to do, because she retrieved perfectly a dozen other times on different days, under exactly the same circumstances. You can come up with as many excuses as you want, as to why today is different, but none of them matter. The fact is, she chose not to do the work, for whatever reason. You can rethrow the bird, and more than likely she’ll retrieve it that time and bring it back perfectly. The fact remains, her brother is at 100% and she’s at 90%. Some champion dogs have come out of litters with mates who never desired to pick up a bird up in their life. You could ask me to force fetch the female puppy or collar condition her, so that she retrieves out of fear of getting in trouble, but why would I want to do that? She likes to hunt, she makes that apparent as she’s running around the field, looking for anything other than the bird she’s supposed to be bringing back! She needs a different job. Put her in the training program for detection dogs, she might like that work better. If not, maybe she’s suited as a rough gun dog, who spends most of her time living with a loving family, plays occasional fetch, and hunts for quail once a year. There are many techniques that you can use to increase a dogs drive for the work, and many of them work, but why add the extra steps into the training if you don’t have to. Pick the dog who naturally wants to do the work.
The puppies in the litter who don’t want to pick up wings at a young age might be better suited as a pet or in a detection dog program. They aren’t washouts, just re-purposed. The fact remains though, if the dog didn’t get the genetics to do the work that you are looking for, you can cover up the flaws with training, but the cracks will show at some point.
Obviously I’m not saying that we don’t need training for our dogs. That would defeat the purpose of many people’s jobs, and we would have a bunch of ill-mannered dogs running around. You still have to train your dog, like you train a kid. They need to know right from wrong and learn the consequences to the choices they make. That’s where your training comes in. You can’t train natural instinct. You can hone it, and bring out the best in the dog and help them to reach their true potential. However, if you need to force a dog to do something (my views on force fetching and collar conditioning are thoughts for another article), then they probably need to find a new occupation and you need to find a new dog to meet your needs. Like the man in the video says, the dogs basically train themselves to herd the sheep. Your dog either came out of the womb ready to retrieve ducks, or he didn’t. He’s not a bad dog because he’s not interested in the retriever work, he just needs to have a different job that serves his natural instincts. Just remember, genetics will beat out training every time.