Any Dog Can Be Trained to…

Pointless rant ahoy! LOWER THE ANCHOR, MATEY!

Any dog can be trained to do [this, that, and the other thing]!”

I hear this a lot from trainers (of all methodologies). Theoretically they’re correct… but I can’t help but let out an exasperated sigh every time I hear it.

If you figure out the most effective reinforcements and put in the needed amount of time and effort… yes, you can technically train any dog to do just about anything. But I feel like dog trainers say this too freely to clients and forget to mention that, quite simply, some dogs are much more challenging than others.

Train a working line German Shepherd to do competitive obedience? No problem! Train a working line Great Pyrenees to do the same? Please record the training sessions and post them to Youtube so I can laugh at them.

It’s no secret that some dogs are bred to do certain things (herding breeds are gonna herd, scenthounds are gonna sniff, primitive breeds are going to scoff at you from their jewel-encrusted throne they bought off eBay using the credit card they stole, etc.). Some dogs are bred to be more handler-focused and biddable. They will be easy to train because working with you is naturally rewarding to them and therefore they’re more forgiving when it comes to goof-ups and punishment.

I’m amused when people say dogs like German Shepherds are a “hard” breed. They ARE difficult for most average dog owners simply because they typically have a lot of energy and need an outlet for it. They want to work – they are not content to be an accent rug in your living room that you occasionally throw a ball for. They’re also very biddable. If well-trained, they will quickly obey a cue even if it interferes with their deepest desire. My previous GSD mix would stop in his tracks and recall from chasing squirrels (THE most rewarding thing to him in existence) because I’d taught him that coming to me was also rewarding… and because he was just kind of wired to obey. My current GSD mix is very much the same way. I’ve been incredibly lazy with training him, but he will still come when I call rather than going to greet the dog across the street he has already dubbed his new best friend. If I tried that with an Akita or a Beagle I would expect to be blown off so fast my head would spin, unless I’d put in substantial time and effort with training. They would likely not be as easy as my handler-focused GSD mutts.

(Note: This isn’t to say a well-trained GSD isn’t that impressive – it’s very impressive and does take a great deal of time and skill! They’re simply more willing to work with us clumsy, ignorant primates than some other breeds.)

For many dogs it’s also very important to have a strong bond and long reinforcement history with them before you see significant results with training. I see many dogs who just kind of tolerate their owners rather than trust and rely on them. Knowing which methods work best for you and your dog is also key. If I had trained either of my dogs with a lot of punishment and corrections, I suspect their training would not be nearly as solid. They were/are both soft and sensitive to punitive techniques. If I so much as raised my voice they would become visibly stressed, usually enough to want to disengage from training – and from me. But I made training safe and fun for them which built their trust in me.

Let’s face it, most average dog owners can’t/don’t want to put in that much effort and many of them don’t have the skill to even if they did. Reading and training dogs does not come naturally to everyone. Training is a mechanical skill that requires keen observation and good timing. Denise Fenzi may be able to train that Pyrenees to compete in obedience, but your lazy neighbor who majored in accounting probably can’t.

There are some dogs I would even argue are near impossible to train to do certain things unless you were telekinetic and could control every aspect of the environment at all times. Sometimes the effort just isn’t worth it and management becomes your best friend. Not to mention that many behaviors have a genetic component – sometimes you can only mitigate, not eliminate. Teaching your Greyhound not to chase your pet rabbit may be a pipe dream, for instance. There are so many variables when it comes to a dog’s behavior and training them. It’s important to pick your battles with some clients rather than getting their hopes up that their Shiba Inu will excel in agility the same way your Border Collie does.