But my breeder says….
But my breeder says… If I had a dollar for every time I have heard these words followed by an inaccurate statement about canine behavior I would be a millionaire. Before breeders everywhere start raising their hackles, let me just start out by saying that I am a breeder myself and I know that there are many caring, informed and compassionate breeders out there. Those are not the breeders I am referring to here. My concern is with breeders who are using outdated or simply inaccurate information when discussing behavioral problems in dogs with the people they sell their puppies too.
The majority of breeders out there are not trained in canine behavior or learning theory. Many are experienced and knowledgeable about the characteristics and structure of their breed, but most know little about how to treat behavioral issues in dogs, particularly serious issues such as fear or aggression. Many still believe that the only way to train a show dog is to put a choke collar on him and jerk him until he does it right. This is training from the dark ages and unnecessary when training simple show ring behaviors. Using these methods with fearful dogs is not only unnecessary it is inhumane and unethical.
Many of my clients are show dog owners who are living with dogs with fairly serious behavioral issues associated with showing such as fear. The owner is seeking professional help from a qualified trainer and specialist in order to help the dog overcome the fears and learn to be happy and comfortable in the show ring. Meanwhile, they are dealing with a breeder who says the dog needs to “deal with it”, “get over it” and are recommending that the owner force the dog to show despite their fears and before they are ready for it. Many will try and encourage the owners to “pop” or physically correct the dogs for “misbehavior” when the dog is truly fearful and simply unable to perform in the show ring. This is, in my opinion, extremely unfair to the owner of the dog and even more unkind to the dog at the end of the leash being forced to deal with his fears in a very inhumane way. Many times the breeder wants the dog finished despite what the dog might be put through to obtain that title. Other times the breeder may truly not understand that the dog is experiencing fear and that it needs a lot more work than just “making him do it”. Fear is a complex and delicate issue. Owners of fearful dogs must follow a sound humane training plan if the dog is ever to improve.
So, what do these owner handlers do when they are trying to keep their breeders happy but still want to protect their dogs? The best thing I can recommend is that they stick to their guns. If the end goal is for the dog to truly be comfortable then you must take your time and move slowly when you are dealing with fearful dogs. It can be helpful when the owner finds ways of helping the breeder to understand why you are doing what you are doing and that it is to protect the dog and your relationship with the dog. These are more than valid reasons for insisting on a science based, humane, dog friendly training protocol.