Recognizing Your Dog’s Limits
I hate to admit it, but all dogs have limitations. I would like to tell you that ALL dogs can do ALL things, but it’s just not true!! Just like I will never be a professional dancer (I trip over my own feet sometimes… often… ) some dogs just don’t have the genetics to do what we want them to.
Limitations come in all shapes and sizes, first there are the limitations that specific breeds bring.
All breeds of dog have been purposely bred for a purpose and most of them fit within a certain category. The AKC has numerous categories that I usually use: Herding, Working, Toy, Non- sporting, Hound, Terrier, and Sporting breeds. Wikipedia breaks them down even further.
Certain breeds are bred for specific jobs: i.e. herding dogs have been bred to help farmers and ranchers herd their stock. Their instincts for controlled chasing and herding have been modified and tailored to help farmers and ranchers. Generalization due to breed is usually fairly acceptable and reliable; it would be difficult if not impossible to convince a Bassett Hound or a Chihuahua to safely herd a group of stock. It’s just not a reasonable expectation.
When looking for a dog it is superlative to do some research before you add a new dog as a member of your family! Breed generalizations and their instincts will assist you in picking “your” perfect dog!
Just like there are breed specific limitations, sometimes there are individual limitations. Not all Border Collies are capable of herding, not all Greyhounds want to race, and not all Sporting Dogs are capable of hunting. I once worked with a Labrador Retriever that loved and performed fantastic protection work, but certainly not all Labs have a desire to do bite-work.
Likewise I have seen herding dogs that can hunt, and terriers that herd. Some individual dogs show an incredible ability to break all the rules and stereotypes. However one dog’s abilities should not promote the breed toward a certain task. Similarly one or a few dog’s disabilities should not condemn them or their breed.
I believe that each dog should first be assessed taking into account their breed, the breed standards (what task that breed has been bred for hundreds of years to execute) but should also be treated as an individual for the specific behaviors that he shows.
So many times, as a dog trainer, I counsel with owners who got a puppy for a specific purpose that he is unable to fulfill. This unfulfillment leads to feelings of defeat and sometimes anger and sometimes the relinquishment of the dog to a shelter or another home.
Most of us don’t need true “working dogs” and thankfully those that do, know how to find them and select them. And, if a person truly needs a working dog I advocate finding another home for the one they are unhappy with to ensure that both the person and the dog’s needs are met.
But, in most cases I think we need to celebrate our dog’s individuality and find their strengths!
I currently have 3 dogs at my house, each selected for different jobs or aspirations I had prior to getting them as puppies but so far none has met their purpose.
I have always told myself that if the pup did not reach its potential for what I was looking for I would send it back and find another, but I guess I am a sucker or I have a big heart, whichever you like, because the moment I lay eyes on my new pup I can’t imagine getting rid of it. Some tell me this is a weakness, but I am not so sure.
I knew within moments of meeting my oldest and youngest dog that their personality was not correct for the job, but I was in love! If I had sent back my 11 and a half year old Malinois, I would likely have lost the greatest furry love of my life! No matter what I did I couldn’t change his personality and some of his feelings about life (and I certainly tried), but I did learn to love him for who he is and not who I wanted him to be.
I suppose it is like having children; you may want them to grow up and be doctors but they might have different ideas on what they want to be!
I work in a world full of dogs and peers and peers who buy dogs to compete, show and breed, and although I sometimes envy their ability to know what they want and not concede to have anything less, ultimately I feel sorry for anyone who is too superficial to get to know love and respect the animal they have and find other strengths and activities to share together.
Now, don’t misunderstand me I know that not all dogs are right for all families or situations and those dogs should be given happiness in a good and safe environment. I also know that some people’s business revolves around having the right dogs, and their dogs are not pets, and I can respect that.
It is my weakness, or my heart that will undoubtedly keep me from the annals of national dog training competitions, but on the flipside I get to know and experience my furry family members for who they are! It also stretches me to find out what THEY desire to do. I can push them within their limitations through positive reinforcement, socialization and training, but I cannot change who they are and what their genetics tell them to do.
My oldest dog “Nix” had no desire to be the Service Dog I had wanted him to be; he has always been leery of people and years of socialization, obedience and prayers could not change him into the social dog I had dreamed of. However, he had a marvelous aptitude for socializing and temperament testing dogs for play groups, and playing with dogs with disabilities, and rehabilitating dogs with dog aggression. He also is a phenomenal herder and has raised a number of abandoned animals from kittens to squirrels to raccoons. I love him now for who he is and not who I desperately wanted him to be.
My other two are too young to know for sure what is in their future. One has terrible allergies that inhibit her from Service Dog work and also hamper her ability to do strong, deep grip work. Right now we are considering some obedience and/or agility titles if we can learn to keep her allergies at bay. But we also allow her to work on her grip, even though she will probably never attain a title.
And, my youngest who was purchased to do competition PSA work is a bit spooky and skittish and has been from the day we took him home. He undoubtedly will not develop into the strong nerved dog we had hoped for; although he is still maturing and there is a small chance he will totally mature out of this phase! We will continue to allow him to do the work he enjoys and try and discover what his natural talents are.
I will not love either of them less if they never bring home blue ribbons and titles!
Dogs are like people, we don’t all flourish at the same tasks, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t good at other things!
Get to know your dog, you can stretch and extend his limitations through socialization and training but allow him or her to be an individual. Be kind and be caring and encourage the development of confidence in your dog during his journey and you just may discover some new challenges and pleasure together along the way!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.