Some thoughts and reflections on how to choose the right working dog for you.

We get asked many questions about what dog is the right dog for schutzhund or protection and security work. We also get many opinions on the subject from a variety of people. The issue of choice of dog is often thought of in terms of the breed of dog, and of course this is the subject of exhaustive debate and passion. Assuming that the breed one is looking at has the necessary temperament and work capabilities, the issue revolves around what characteristics of the individual dog are correct for you.

Before Judging the Dog, Judge Yourself !

Perhaps the single most important step in dog training is often overlooked. As a trainer, handler or even if you are just starting out you need to take what we call the mirror test, and you need to be practical and realistic about it. Ask yourself what type of handler you are. Evaluate how much experience you have with working dogs, how much time and commitment you have available for training. Consider what level you would put yourself at in terms of handling and training, basic, intermediate, or advanced. Think about your style, are you a strong forceful handler, are you more comfortable with a dog which has a strong will to please and is not on the edge of controllability? Evaluate your training objectives. Are you just learning to train and handle, are you looking for a dog that will have good obedience and operate in a house environment, is the dog going to be trained for casual sports or are you planning on training and handling the dog for high level sports or security work. Consider your goal and whether you have the experience or in lieu of that access to the necessary support to accomplish your goals. If you are just starting out remember everyone starts from the beginning, you must learn to crawl before you walk.

In our experience failure in dog training often stems from a failure to accurately access yourself, your objectives and your capabilities.

There are many roads leading to one place

We are often asked for dogs that are “hard”, “high drive”, have “great grips”, or are very tough. There is a tendency to think that this is necessary to create a great working dog. In some cases with the right trainer, and the right level of experience dogs in this category will achieve very high performance levels.

Rarely do we see someone asking for a dog with a medium temperament, and moderate drives.

Here we must address myth and reality.

We know some very very good trainers. An excellent trainer can deal with quite a wide range of dogs and achieve high levels of performance. We have seen a number of dogs that have gone on to become real success stories in international competition. In a number of these cases the dog had issues, some were slightly shy, others were not at all “hard”, but the trainer was able to mold the dog to perform, and the training masked the innate behavior of the dog.

We have seen some truly excellent dogs, especially those with high drive with the wrong handler, these dogs often lack adequate obedience and control, and it shows in the performance and behavior of the dog. This occurs when the handler has over estimated his ability to train and control the dog.

So what does this really mean? A very good trainer can train almost any dog, but the best one’s we know, when choosing for themselves don’t! They spend quite a bit of time evaluating a dog.They look at the temperament, the drive, the overall character, and they attempt to choose a dog that they think fits best with their style and approach.

One handler we know has won the FCI World Championships several times. He would have some difficulties with a very aggressive dog, and a very high drive dog. He works on a obedience based program. A dog with very high will to please, and good basic drives fills his needs best. Another handler we know has also won the world championships, and does so with a dog with drives almost off the charts, this person is tough and likes the challenge of a dog that pushes things to the edge. Two different people, two very different dogs, very similar scoring results.

At our kennel, one of us trains by what we call the contact method. He is far from the strongest or the toughest trainer on the block, but he establishes a very strong bond with the dog. The dog even when fairly tough wants to work for him. This method requires more time with the dog, and is truly relationship based, the results are very good. Another trainer at our kennel, is much tougher, he can mold a dog or where necessary break it down to the level where the dog respects the fact that he is the boss. The dog works out of pack instinct, it knows who the leader is and what the leader wants.

The results at the end of the day are quite similar, the methods are quite different.

So how do You Choose a Dog?

There is no question; all dogs are not created equal, both by breed and within a given breed. Certain breeds of working dogs have years of breeding fostering certain characteristics that are prized by people with an interest or a need for a working dog. Other breeds are bred for different purposes, including shows, domestic pet applications, agility, or very specialized applications. These dogs even with extensive training will not ever achieve the same results as a true working dog, within the type of exercises and training that would be applied to a working dog. You could say it’s the nature of the “beast”.

A good working dog,regardless of your style, must have certain drives or training will not be up to the level you might wish. Drives such as play drive, prey drive, fight drive, defense drive and food drive and will to please are all important. The issue is the level of the drive. Evaluate yourself and your capabilities. Think about and define what your goals and objectives are for you and the dog as a team. Are you just starting out and want to learn how to train? Are you looking to train, learn and have fun? Do you have some training experience and you yearn for you and the dog to compete in some form of dog sports? Is the dog destined for security work? Consider whether you will do best with a slightly “softer” dog, that has the necessary drives but wants to please you, or are your really able to handle the dog that is right at the edge? Think again about your knowledge of techniques and your willingness to put the necessary time into training your dog. Consider whether any expert help or support is available.Forget your notions of what “the best dog is” or whether the dog is the toughest dog around. Picking the right combination gives you a much better shot at success. Success in itself breeds more interest; time gives more experience and greater capabilities to both the trainer and the dog.

At the end of the day, the right choice will certainly give the best results and the highest level of satisfaction for you and your dog.

Credit: Siam Crown Kennel

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