“Like” is different from “love.” Even as you are reading this, I bet you can think of a family member you love deeply, but who also annoys the heck out of you.
I meet a lot of dogs who feel that way about their people.
Here are some signs that your dog might be… conflicted… about you:
When you call your dog, they look back at you and you can see the suspicion in their face. “Why…?” the dog seems to be asking.
When you have your dog on a leash, they usually stand at the far end of it – as far from you as they can get – and studiously ignore you.
Your dog won’t sit or lie down unless you show them the money first – in other words, you need a treat in your hand.
Your dog yawns a lot when you’re walking them or training them.
When you say your dog’s name, they don’t look over at you or wag their tail.
Whenever you ask your dog to do something, they feel a sudden need to sit down and scratch for a while first, or stretch as if they’ve just gotten up from a nap.
Your dog isn’t particularly interested in playing with you.
Your dog’s tail hangs loose when you’re doing things together.
If you drop the leash by accident, your dog takes off immediately and won’t let you get close enough to pick up the leash again.
Your dog dodges away when you reach for them.
Now, I want to reiterate – your dog LOVES you!
…But that doesn’t mean your dog thinks you’re fun to be around.
If you checked a lot of boxes on that list above, I can pretty much guarantee that your dog thinks you’re a no-fun fuddy-duddy party-pooper.
But that changes today! Because today you’re going to learn how to be FUN.
1. Speed Up
Dogs like to go fast. They have twice as many legs as we do and they like to move at a brisk trot. If you want to have a frustrating walk, go slow. If you want to have a fun walk, speed up. Break into jogs. Speed walk. Try to get your dog to keep up for a change, instead of slow down and wait for you.
2. Be Unpredictable
Straight lines are boring. Mix it up! Move in figure eights, zig zags, or do sudden u-turns, especially when your dog isn’t paying attention. Dogs like variety, and they hate moving in straight lines. If you’re so wacky that they never know what you’re going to do next, they’ll be much more entertained.
3. Stop Giving Orders
Unless you’re into square dancing, you’re not likely to have fun while someone is constantly telling you what to do. Instead of giving orders, give feedback. Wait for them to get something right and praise them for it. Heck, start praising them before they get something right. You won’t believe how many dogs stop dragging on the leash and turn into model canine citizens at the sound of a “good dog!”
4. Be Extra
Dogs love melodrama. Did your dog ignore that McDonald’s wrapper on the ground? They are now the BEST DOG IN THE WORLD. Did your dog accidentally pull you over? YOU ARE NOW DYING and you’ll NEVER WALK AGAIN. Did your dog just lick your hand? They are the CUTEST BEST DOGGO and they just SAVED YOUR LIFE.
Exaggerate your facial expressions – yes, dogs can and do read human facial expressions – and your voice. Make dramatic gestures. Get in touch with your inner drama queen. Your dog will love every second of it.
5. Carry Good Stuff.
A bag of kibble is a good place to start, but you should also have some high value treats stashed somewhere on your person, to be whipped out when the moment requires it. You should also have a tug toy, squeaky ball, or some other item that lives in your coat pocket and spontaneously emerges for celebratory games of tug when your dog successfully looks away from another dog or manages to go three whole sidewalk squares without pulling you over.
6. Variety, Variety, Variety.
For most dogs, variety is definitely the spice of life. The smarter your dog is the sooner your dog will get bored. Don’t do the same old thing day in and day out. Rotate toys, tricks, and treats.
7. Give Your Dog Jobs.
Just like children, dogs want to feel important and needed. Include your dog in your daily routine, and give them little responsibilities – like putting your laundry into the clothes hamper or fetching their own leash for a walk. By incorporating your dog into your routine, your dog will be kept busy and feeling useful.
8. Give Your Dog Control.
That’s right – control. Would you want to have zero control over your own life? Of course not. Neither does your dog. So give your dog some level of control. Give your dog choices occasionally – which way should we walk today? Do you want to play with the tug toy or the ball? Would you like some pats?
Perhaps most importantly – let your dog choose to not get a treat. I know that sounds strange but I see it all the time – owners badgering the dog to sit for a treat they’re clearly not that interested in, because if they were, they’d be sitting already… If you give your dog an opportunity to sit for a treat, and the dog doesn’t take it, shrug and put the treat away.
Treats should be hard to earn, not earned under duress.
Trust me, nothing puts panic into a dog’s eyes like a treat returned to the treat pouch. Your dog will drop their butt faster next time, because they realize it is a choice, and that makes them feel less resentful and more motivated.
9. Thank Your Dog.
Who wants to feel unappreciated? Not me. Not your dog. When your dog does something difficult, like walking past another dog without flipping out, or staying off the counter while you’re preparing dinner, tell your dog how much you appreciate their hard work! Don’t take good behavior for granted. Thank your dog for trying so hard to be good – even if sometimes they fall short of the goal.
10. Love Unconditionally.
Treats and special toys must be earned. Love and affection should not. A dog with a secure bond to their handler will work harder and do better than a dog who thinks their owner’s love and affection hinges on their ability to hold a down stay. If your dog is struggling to understand something, take a break and love them for a while, then try again.
After all, they love you unconditionally. It’s important to remind them that, even if some days you feel like you don’t like them, you will always love them.
Autism Dogs can be great. After a dozen years of training assistance dogs for other people, I’m finally training my own Autism Dog.
But you probably don’t need one.
Some parents put a lot of weight on getting an autism dog for their child. It seems to be the newest accessory.
When I ask them what they want the dog to do for the child, they often aren’t sure. They just heard that autism dogs can help, and sometimes they’re truly desperate for help.
So it’s really important to understand – a dog can’t fix autism.
A dog can’t make your apraxic child capable of speech.
A dog can’t make the world quieter, the lights in the grocery store dimmer, or help us when we panic at Subway because they forgot one of the sandwiches we ordered and now we have to either go home without a sandwich and go hungry for dinner or speak up.**
**I went home without my sandwich.
They definitely can’t help us when we try to navigate downtown without Siri and accidentally turn the wrong way on a one way street.***
***If any police officers are reading this I'm joking!!! HAAHAHAHAHA.****
****No seriously it was scary but no one got hurt and now I will always always have Siri on. I learned my lesson. I'm too autistic for downtown*****.
*****As per the preferences of the majority of autistic people polled, including myself, a genuine Autistic Person, I don't usually refer to autism as if it is an awkward accessory - I call myself autistic.
An Autism Dog is not a substitute for an AAC device, an Occupational Therapist, or acceptance in the community.
So What CAN an Autism Dog Do?
Well… some things…
Dogs can be trained to stop automatically at curbs, preventing the child from wandering or bolting into the road.
Dogs can be taught to interrupt self-harmful behaviors like skin picking or head banging.
Dogs make for great conversation greasers. As an autistic person, I can vouch for how easy social interactions are when you have a dog. People always ask the same questions, and I’ve got the scripts for the answers down pat. Then people start talking to me about their dog and I just nod and smile and coo over pictures. It’s easy!
Is there anything more soothing than the feeling of soft ears between my fingers? And a firm handle to hold is so steadying when I’m feeling lost and overwhelmed. A tug of a guiding dog with a handle can even help me overcome autistic inertia.
When you’re autistic, people tend to look at you strangely.
Because we process the world differently, we experience the world differently which means that quite frankly we inhabit a slightly different reality from the people around us. That can get lonely. But do you know who doesn’t care whether I made a faux pas at a party?
Dogs. They love me anyway.
I guess those benefits sound pretty great to parents, because we field a lot of emails from people looking to make their autistic child into a Child-With-Autism-Dog. They just adopted a puppy, or are planning to buy a puppy, and they want the pup to become their child’s loyal Autism Dog.
Sometimes, working with an autistic kid and their dog is the highlight of my day. I love my clients, and they love their dogs.
Just the other day I got a text from a client.
That’s the beauty of an Autism Dog. Sometimes that furry companionship is exactly what an autistic child needs to help them face the challenging of daily life.
Sometimes a handle to hold can mean the difference between getting a child from the car and to the school calmly safely… versus yet another eloping incident involving a bolting five year old and a busy road.
Some of the most impressive and skilled dog handlers on my client list are autistic teenagers who train their dogs themselves.
That’s right. I, an autistic person who gains immense comfort and support from dogs, don’t think most people should get an autism dog for their child.
As great and useful as an Autism Dog can be, most families should not be getting one for their autistic child.
Autism Dogs Can Be A Terrible Idea.
The child doesn’t even like dogs.
If you’re an autistic kid and dogs are your special interest, then a dog is the best present your parents will ever get you.
But a lot of people believe that all autistic children just naturally tend to bond with dogs, and that’s incorrect. The fact is that the majority of autistic children, from verbal to non verbal, from apraxic to non-apraxic, with or without intellectual disability, do not enjoy dogs.
Dogs are slimy. Dogs are smelly. Dogs love eye contact. Dogs poop and drool and chew and make loud unexpected noises.
Autistic people are cat people more than dog people. Horses tend to be good. Rabbits. Guinea pigs. Doves, maybe. Not hairy, shedding, stinking, drooling, noisy dogs.
Quite frankly I can’t even explain why I like them, because I dislike basically everything I mentioned above. If I didn’t have this sweeping obsession with animals I’d probably hate dogs too.
The parent wants the dog to accompany the child to school.
Children under the age of 10 or so tend not to have the ability to handle a dog – even a well trained one – on their own. Autistic kids also tend to struggle with reaction time and physical coordination, which are necessary for skilled dog handling.
I learned it, but it took me a long time.
The parent, not the child, usually handles the Autism Dog. So unless your child’s care aid or BI is willing to handle the dog for you when you aren’t around, or your child is old enough and capable enough to manage the dog, the dog cannot accompany your child to school.
Are there exceptions? Of course! Some of my most skilled handlers are autistic teens. But if you have a young child, you should probably forget it.
Autism and puppies don’t mix.
Most of the people who contact me are getting a puppy and want to train it up themselves. It sounds good on paper but if often doesn’t work well in reality.
Puppies are terrible. They make disgusting messes. They jump up. They have VERY sharp teeth which they like to embed in our sensitive skin. They’re a TON of work. They chew up your favourite toys, mess up your beautfully lined up objects, and then leave a poop in the middle of your bedroom floor.
Oh and they yip and want constant interaction and it’s terrible and your child will probably hate it.
Yes, even if your child loves dogs.
Yes, even if your child desperately wants a dog.
Parents continually underestimate how much chaos a puppy will bring into their child’s carefully ordered life.
You should not leave your autistic child – or even your neurotypical child – unattended with a puppy. I don’t care how sweet and gentle your child is, or how much empathy they show to animals. When a puppy is sinking needle-like teeth into their pinky toe, there is an excellent chance the child will defend themselves by hitting or kicking the puppy. It’s a reflex. They won’t be able to stop themselves.
I have seen this happen in families where the parent was 100% positive that their child would never hurt a dog.
The parent was probably right in thinking their child wouldn’t hurt a DOG. But a PUPPY is another story. Puppies are really, really obnoxious.
The child can get violent during meltdowns.
Every autistic person melts down at times.
While some of us elope and scream, or collapse on the floor, some of us can hit and throw things. No, we can’t control it. I’m a grown up woman, married, a parent, and running my own business, and I still can’t control myself during a meltdown so you absolutely cannot expect that of a child.
Thankfully I’m a run-screaming-down-the-side-of-the-highway kind of autistic, not a hits-people-or-dogs kind of autistic but that’s just luck of the draw. It all comes down to how your nervous system reacts to a red alert.
If a child sometimes throws things, or hits and punches people they love when they are upset or melting down, they likely cannot have a service dog. The dog could end up getting punched, kicked, hit, or – in one memorable incident – thrown against a wall.
…I’m pretty sure Amelia is still recovering from that training appointment.
I do have a client whose child can throw a solid punch when they’re worked up, but they are always pulled out of the meltdown by the dog and have never aggressed on the dog.
So can it be okay? Yes. But I find this is very much the exception, NOT the rule, and parents must always remain vigilant and be ready and able to protect the dog from the child if necessary.
We have a duty to provide these animals with safe and loving surroundings. If we cannot guarantee that, then we cannot put the animal in harm’s way.
The dog is a chore.
A lot of parents want their child to have a dog because they want the child to get outdoors and get active more.
It won’t work.
Most autistic kids are struggling with meeting basic daily challenges like getting dressed, going to school, and maybe putting their laundry away. Adding a dependant living thing to their to-do list is usually too much for the kid.
Even when the child adores the dog, they usually won’t put their video games down to go for long walks on the beach with their beloved companion. They’re more likely to complain that the dog gets in the way of the X-box controller.
Now, I’m not saying your child can’t be responsible for the dog. I have clients whose kids love to walk the dog. I know kids who even pick up the dogs’ poop.
So I’m not telling you what your child can and can’t do.
But I do want you to seriously consider these things because I frequently find that the parent’s expectations of the child are disappointed. In fact sometimes I see the child turned off of the dog because it represents more work and more things for parents to nag about.
When People See You, They See Dollar Signs.
Whether you hire someone like us, or get a pre-trained dog, expect to spend a lot of money, and watch out for people who want to prey off of you.
There are a lot of vultures out there looking to get money from parents who are trying to help their child. Selling you an “Autism Dog” is a popular scam.
Note: I’m not referring to accredited charities such as BC Guide Dogs. Look for accreditation through Assistance Dog International when searching for a trustworthy organization.
Unfortunately, since ADI accredited charities contend with massive wait-lists, and since they screen their applicants carefully, many families either don’t qualify (likely for good reason – see above). Others qualify but do not want to wait years for their dog.
This opens you up to predatory Autism Dog programs who will often charge thousands for poorly trained and sometimes even aggressive dogs. These are the same people who push Autism Dogs so hard in the first place.
Here are some biggest factors that people consider when picking their next dog… and why they shouldn’t.
Picking your next family member is an important decision. We find that most families put serious thought into the type of dog they get.
But even in cases where the family thought carefully before picking their dog, we trainers find ourselves often wishing that our clients had picked a different breed.
Well, here are some biggest factors that people consider when picking their next dog… and why they shouldn’t.
“I don’t have time to exercise a big dog” or “I want a dog that can go on hikes with me” are common responses when we ask why a client chose the breed they did.
Unfortunately, people assume that big dogs need more exercise, when size has very little to do with exercise requirements. A Newfoundland needs far less exercise than a Jack Russell Terrier, for example.
Size also doesn’t affect how much space the dog needs. A giant hearthrug is sometimes more suitable to a small apartment than a small ball of unbridled energy. A greyhound needs a couch. A terrier needs a farm.
What size does affect is the cost to care for the dog – big dogs eat a lot, and when they get sick they need much bigger doses of medication.
So by all means consider size, but only for very concrete reasons such as strata bylaws, upkeep cost, and physical work required (a yorkshire terrier should not be considered as a wheelchair pulling dog, for example).
Many dogs are picked because they shed less. Totally valid. Shedding fur is a pain in the butt. But don’t make the mistake of assuming that short haired dogs shed less than long haired dogs.
Anyone who has owned a lab or a pug will tell you that they shed TONS of fur, far more than a golden retriever does.
Sometimes people think dogs who don’t shed are hypoallergenic. This is not, in fact, the case.
My own husband, for example, is very allergic to Poodles. They make him sneeze like crazy. We bought a Bernese Mountain Dog partially because those big, hairy, shedding Alpine draft dogs do not aggravate his allergies.
One client of ours bought a pug because they are the only breed that doesn’t make her break out in hives, even though they shed nasty amounts of hair.
Studies have showed that nonshedding dogs drop just as much dander (skin cells) as shedding dogs, and it is in fact often the dog’s saliva which people are allergic to.
That being said, different types of dogs seem to have different types of dander, so many people are allergic to labs but not to wheaten terriers, for example. But rather than assuming that nonshedding = hypoallergenic, test your allergies on the breed of dog you are considering first.
Finally, remember that if you are buying a mixed breed, such as a golden doodle, that a wide variety of hair coats come out of mixing two breeds together. Some have poodle hair. Some have silky hair and shed less but still some. Some have terrier-type hair and shed all over the place.
Mix breed dogs are often healthy due to hybrid vigour (non-inbreeding) but their temperments and hair coat are less predictable so take that into consideration.
“I heard they were really smart” is a popular reason for getting a particular breed. But do you really want a smart dog?
Smart dogs take a lot of work.
It is harder to train a highly intelligent dog. They question your every decision. They look for loopholes in every rule. They test boundaries just for the fun of it.
If you want a dog who will figure out how to unlatch their crate and get into the garbage while you are out of the house, then get a smart dog.
If you want a dog who will happily snooze the day away and obey you happily and willingly for the love of all things holy do NOT get a highly intelligent breed.
But is that really what you want?
While dog trainers appreciate the lightning speed and the obsessive workaholism of a Border Collie or Belgian Malinois, your average family does not want or need that kind of intelligence.
Dog trainers constantly joke about it, making memes like this:
Most people don’t actually want smart dogs. They pick a dog breed for intelligence and then hire us to fix that intelligence.
They really want willing dogs.
Intelligence usually only refers to how quickly someone learns, or how easily they can solve a problem.
Slow and steady often wins that race.
My Bernese Mountain Dog doesn’t pick up on stuff with the laser-beam focus that my sheltie Odin did. But she’s willing and she gets there and she is a much, MUCH easier dog to live with than Odin was when he was her age.
He was also the sweetest, happiest, friendliest, most loving dog you could ever hope to meet.
Doug was a great dog.
Doug was a Trick Dog Champion who would fetch you a Kleenex when you sneezed, and then go put it in the garbage for you. He could dunk a basketball into a basketball net, roll himself up in a blanket, and throw away his own poop bags.
You don’t need a smart dog to get a good dog.
“I heard they are really loyal and loving” is what people often say about their breed of choice.
Guess what? All dog breeds are loyal and loving. They are dogs. We have selectively bred them to be our helpers and companions for millions of generations.
The selfish, unloving, vicious jerks didn’t make the cut.
Every single breed in the Kennel Club database will be described as affectionate/friendly/loving/gentle/loyal.
Every single one.
Any dog with a solid stable temperament will love you and work to please you. Dogs are just like that.
Temperament is the least predictable aspect of a dog breed. Within any breed you can get fearful dogs, outgoing dogs, anxious dogs, and bomb-proof dogs.
Temperament testing is largely useless, too.
Service dog schools have poured a lot of money into trying to predict a puppy’s adult temperaments, but it has been found again and again to be pretty futile. We change so much as we grow and learn that you simply can’t predict the future from a brief snapshot of a puppy’s behaviour.
Someone who lives with the puppy can tell you if they are brave or shy, clingy or independent, but that’s about it.
The physical characteristics of a breed are much more predictable than the personality of the dog in question. They’re all unique individuals, after all.
So What’s The Best Way To Pick A Dog?
While all of the above considerations are things to think about, there is one very important step that many families skip.
Know What Your Dog Was Bred To Do
Dog breeds were bred for a purpose.
While nowadays breed choices hinge largely on things like size or coat type, it used to be that dogs worked for a living, and the dogs who did the best at their jobs were bred and used to parent future generations.
The standard “look” of the breed you love was usually fostered after the fact by fans of the breed who began selecting for appearance. But originally the dogs were bred because they loved to do the job and they were good at it.
That means that your Labrador Retriever comes from generations upon generations of dogs that loved to carry things in their mouths.
Your Border Collie comes from generations of dogs who love to run after sheep and make them go where they are supposed to go.
Your Cavalier King Charles Spaniel comes from ancestors who made particularly excellent companions.
Know what your dog was bred to do, because there is an excellent chance that your dog is going to want to do that thing.
Do not get a terrier if you want a dog that will lie still and sleep all day. Terriers are bred to hunt for mice and rats, and will spend much of the day patrolling. They won’t want to eat out of a bowl – they’ll want to earn their meals.
Do not get a Newfoundland if you want a hiking companion. They were bred to sit on a boat all day and occasionally help haul a fishnet onto deck. Short bursts of energy are the best you can expect.
Do not get a Beagle if you want a dog who hangs on your every word. Hounds are bred to go out and sniff out prey all on their own. They think for themselves and don’t appreciate being given orders. That nose will be on the ground and they will track that rabbit no matter how many times you call.
Do not get a Cavalier King Charles if you want a hearing-ear dog to alert you to fire alarms and ringing phones. That dog is not going to get out of a warm and comfy bed to let you know that your boss is calling you.
Are there retrievers out there who don’t pick up everything in their mouths? Yes.
Are there terriers who sleep all day, rather than barking at passers-by from the picture window? Yes.
Are there hyper-intelligent pugs who need to be kept mentally stimulated to prevent them from thoroughly outwitting their owners?
It’s… hypothetically possible, okay?
My point is that yes, weirdos exist in every breed, and temperaments within breeds can vary widely. However, it is a very safe bet to assume that your dog will really enjoy doing what it has been bred to do.
You can start by looking at its AKC Group.
The American Kennel Club groups dog breeds by purpose.
These are dogs bred for finding or fetching game. Spaniels, Retrievers, Pointers and Setters all fall into this category.
Because these breeds were meant to follow the hunter’s instructions and then return, they tend to be obedient and eager to please. Because they had to be brave enough to put up with loud gun shots, they tend to socialize easily. And because they did not need to guard anything, they tend to be friendly and easy-going.
There is a reason that service dog schools use retrievers – they are emotionally tough, can handle a kennel environment, and they can handle accompanying to the new summer blockbuster action flick. They also love to work.
They also all love to chase birds and need a moderate to high amount of exercise.
As long as you can meet those exercise requirements and give your sporting dog some jobs, they make great family friends.
Hounds are bred to sniff out, track down, and sometimes kill game.
This group, which includes Beagles, Fox Hounds, and Basenjis, tend to be independent thinkers and problem solvers who don’t spend much time taking orders from their handler.
The best hounds were the ones who never gave up and didn’t come running back to the boss for help the moment the trail went cold.
Anyone who has ever read Where the Red Fern Grows knows how stubborness – doggedness, you could call it – was valued in hound-type dogs.
If you want an independent family dog who isn’t too clingy, consider a dog from the hound group. Many of them have high energy requirements, but beagles are medium energy while Bassets are practically ottomans.
The working group is the group with the most dog breeds that should have big red flags on them saying “Not For Beginners”.
Ranging widely from herding dogs to guard dogs, any breed in the Working Group was bred for a very specific task and you should keep that task in mind before you buy.
Most dogs from the working group want to do their job and if you don’t give them a job then may Dog have mercy on your soul.
That being said, there are some truly wonderful companions in this group and most dog trainers choose Working Group dogs. I have never owned a dog that didn’t fall into this category.
Because of the variety of tasks a working dog could perform, this is the group where it is most important that you read the fine print on the history of the breed.
The Doberman is a wonderful example.
Dobermann was a tax man who wanted a dog to accompany him on his rounds and protect him (tax collectors are strangely unpopular). He combined the guarding tendencies of a Rottweiler with the rabid workaholism of herding breed dogs and ended up with a dog very similar to what we now call the Doberman Pinscher.
The result is a dog with the fierce intelligence of a herding breed dog with the possessiveness of a guard dog. Which, depending on what you want in a dog, is either awesome or a big fat YIKES.
That being said, don’t rule out a breed just because it belongs to this group. Many of the drafting breeds make calm, loving, and hard working family members. Just know what the dog is bred to do, and think about how that might affect your dog’s personality.
Terriers are mostly vermin-hunters – bred to keep rats out of barns, kill foxes, or dig badgers out of their sets. Some did it competitively, with people betting how many rats a dog could kill.
Because of this, terrier tend to be feisty, independent, and quick-witted. They learn fast, think for themselves, and love a good challenge.
Some terriers were bred for dog fighting – mixed with bulldogs and thrown into the arena for bloodsport. If your dog comes from one of these lines, be aware that extensive dog socialization is a must.
Terriers have a ton of personality and are a lot of fun. They love to do pretty much every task there is… except stay home and sleep.
Toy breeds often are miniaturized versions of breeds from other categories. It delighted wealthy ladies to have a pet which looked like a doll-like version of popular working dogs. Thus the Cavalier is a miniature spaniel, the Pug a miniature mastiff, and the pomeranian a miniature spitz.
Toys were used as the playthings of the rich and indolent and as living hot water bottles for the sick and the poor.
Because they were bred specifically for size or unusual appearance (such as hairlessness) they are more prone to health problems than sporting and working breeds. However, with proper care most Toy breeds have very long life expectancies, often 16-17 years of age.
Most Toy breeds maintain the personality of the breeds that they originally came from, but tend to have more clingy natures and don’t do well alone. Many of them tend to be one-man dogs and can be standoffish with strangers.
Most don’t stand up to rough handling and many are not good with children – Pugs and Cavaliers being notable exceptions. Pugs can be positively rough-and-tumble and make excellent family dogs.
Toys are not for everyone, and they are certainly not the animated stuffed animals they are sometimes mistaken for. Please research carefully about the breed’s health and temperament before you get one.
This is the biggest catch-all of the breed groups. The breeds in this group are usually here because they were (at least in recent history) bred for looks more than for one particular job.
This is where you find many of the most distinctive breeds such as Dalmations, Poodles, and Bulldogs.
If you’re considering a dog in the Non-Sporting category, read the history carefully. Some, like the poodle, are so wonderfully versatile that they make excellent dogs for all types of owners. Others, like the Chow Chow, are only suitable for very specific types of homes.
Many Non-Sporting breeds come with severe health problems – a side effect of being bred primarily for appearance. Bulldogs have chronic skin problems and sometimes need surgery to be able to breathe comfortably. Dalmations are prone to bladder stones. Poodles – especially the smaller poodles – are notorious for their terrible teeth.
No matter how cute you think a particular breed or breed mix is, or no matter how much you have heard about the dog’s personality, it is important to know what a dog was bred to do.
If your dog is a mix, consider that your dog could want to do either or all jobs bred into their ancestors.
Because while every dog is their own unique person, if a dog comes from a long line of dogs who liked to do a particular job, you need to ask yourself if you want a dog who loves to do that particular thing.
That doesn’t mean your dog can’t do other jobs.
All dogs, for example, have a tendency to guard the family home, particularly when left up to their own devices. This was the first job dogs ever did for humans and so it is in the genetic makeup of every dog, though some breeds are more territorial than others.
Toys, in particular, often take up guarding because they are frequently treated more like cats than like dogs and lack enrichment and other “jobs” so they default to the original dog job – barking at everything.
Ultimately, all dogs are reasonably intelligent, as domestic animals go, and are capable of learning new things.
So Bernese Mountain Dogs, who are lumbering farm and draft dogs, can learn to do agility. Dachshunds, bred to dig our burrowing animals, can learn to play flyball. Pugs can become Trick Dog Champions.
In fact, experienced trainers often delight in training a dog to go beyond its breed and wow other trainers.
But when you are considering a family member, it’s important to understand that every dog has a purpose, it is up to you to help them fulfill it…
We use a lot of treats when teaching dogs a new skill, for several reasons: Treats are highly motivating, quick to deliver, and easy to carry.
But once your dog has learned that skill, treats should be phased out. And yet we meet so many people whose dogs obey them “only when I have a treat in my hand”.
There are three main reasons why dogs get hooked on treats.
Reason 1: Your Dog Only Gets Treats If You Are Holding A Treat
Dogs aren’t stupid. Well, they aren’t the most intelligent creatures on the planet, but they do have brains. If you hold out a treat and say “sit” and your dog sits, and then gets a treat, your dog learns that a treat in the hand = a treat in the mouth. Then, you tell your dog to sit when you don’t have a treat on you. Ever hopeful, he sits anyway. No treat appears, because you don’t have a treat.
So what has your dog learned from this? Unless your dog is an utter moron, he has learned that there is no point in sitting if he doesn’t see a treat. Dogs quickly develop a “show me the money” attitude about obedience. They want proof of payment before they will do the work.
Always carry treats on you, but don’t always give them out. Show your dog a treat, tell her to sit, and then pat her on the head and carry on without handing down the treat. Then tell her to sit with the treat hidden away, and when she sits, give her the treat.
Your dog will quickly learn that the presence or absence of a treat has nothing to do with whether she will actually be paid for her work. So she starts thinking, “hmm… maybe it is the QUALITY of my work that matters…” and she will offer you faster, better, more eager obedience in the hopes that this time she will earn a treat.
Reason 2: You Give Out Food For Free
I see it all the time – I ask a client to get their dog to sit, and they pull out the Pupperoni to motivate their dog. Meanwhile, there is a bowl of half-eaten kibble lying on the floor.
I have to ask – why is that food there? A half-eaten bowl of food tells me several things:
The dog doesn’t love the food.
The dog is being given more food than the dog needs.
The dog doesn’t respect the food because it is freely available.
Don’t free feed your dog. Give your dog a small meal that can be finished in a short period of time. If your dog doesn’t eat it, pick it up and put it away until next meal time. Better yet, make your dog actually earn meals. In an ideal world, your dog would work for every mouthful of food she gets. Breakfast can be doled out bite by bite in return for good behaviour on a walk. Dinner can be served kibble by kibble during a long down stay while you eat your own meal.
But some foods are easier than others. If your dog is on raw, it’s hard to serve piece by piece, unless you break it into frozen chunks and make your dog earn each chunk during a short walk.
Even so, your dog’s meal should be served after your dog has been required to work, and if your dog isn’t interested, pick it up. A few hours of hunger won’t hurt your dog and will certainly motivate him to work for the next meal.
Reason 3: Treats Are The Only Reward You Use
Treats only work when your dog loves them and feels hungry.
What if your dog is full, the treats you are holding are not particularly appetizing, and your dog would much rather play with another dog than come get that dry, tasteless treat that he isn’t even really hungry for? You guessed it: your dog will simply keep playing with his friend.
Too many owners rely on treats to motivate their dog, and ignore a whole world of other motivations in their dog’s environment.
The best reward for your dog is whatever your dog wants most at the current moment. If your dog really wants to go play with his friend, he is going to pay approximately zero attention to your treats. Even if you do manage to get him to obey you and then reward with the not-so-motivating treat, you have just wasted your money in feeding a treat that your dog didn’t even really care about, when you had a much better reward at your finger tips. The real reward that your dog wanted was to go play with the other dog!
So USE THAT.
If you watch your dog for a day, you will see that there are lots of things that your dog wants in life. She wants to go outside, she wants to sniff that post where all the other dogs pee, she wants you to cuddle her, she wants to chase a squirrel, she wants to sleep on your bed, and she wants to play with her ball.
What is the point of chasing after her with treats when you have all of these other great rewards available?
Every time you let your dog go outside, or sniff a post, or chase a ball without asking her to work for it, you waste a reward. You might as well just walk around throwing chunks of steak on the ground for your dog to eat – either way you are giving out free “treats” that your dog didn’t have to earn.
When your dog wants something, ask your dog to do some obedience, or a trick, to get it. Then, instead of fishing a treat out of your pocket, give your dog the thing that he wants!
This way, instead of requiring treats in order to work, your dog will work for you because he knows that it is the best way to get what he wants – EVERYTHING!
People are always trying to make their dog be good.
They drag the leash this way and that, choke the dog, pick up the dog, physically force it to do what they want while insisting “sit sit sit sit SIT!”. But it keeps on trying to misbehave. Unless something changes, they will live in a constant state of war.
Don’t fight your dog. Don’t try to force your dog to do your bidding, because it will just make the dog wish he didn’t have to.
Isn’t it better to have your dog actively choose for herself that she wants to please and obey you? Isn’t it better for her to see food on the coffee table and choose not to steal it, or to see a cat and choose not to chase it?
Instead of trying to make your dog behave in a certain way, set up a world in which your dog will actively choose to do so.
Set up basic positive and negative consequences – if the dog sits, he gets dinner. If he doesn’t, then no dinner. If the dog walks close to you, she gets to continue her walk and gets the occasional treat. If she goes up ahead and drags, the walk stops. Too bad for her.
Then let the dog make his or her own choices.
At first those choices will be the wrong ones.
He misses a meal. She only gets to go three feet down the front path.
You don’t yell, you don’t nag, you don’t force. You simply accept the dog’s choice and enact the consequence that comes with it, good or bad.
Then the dog decides that he doesn’t like this. So he chooses. He chooses to sit. He chooses to walk nicely on leash.
You can’t make a living thing do anything. You have to respect that they are independant living, thinking, feeling beings who make their own choices for their own reasons. Your role is to guide them by giving them reasons to do what you would like them to do and let them choose to do it themselves.
And if they do the “wrong” thing, then that was their decision and we respect and honor it… as well as the consequences that come with it.
A dog’s life is too short to spend fighting. You and your dog should be a joyful team, not opposing armies in a battle of wills. So drop the war, take a look at how you would like your dog’s behaviour to change, and then set up your dog’s world so that it will be easy for her to choose to do so.
When we come to your home and say that we want to teach your dog to sit, lie down, stay, and heel (as well as play dead, close your cupboard doors, ring a bell to go outside, spin in a circle, fetch your keys, jump over your leg and so on…), the first thing we will do is ask you to bring out the high value treats.
Many owners are reluctant to give their dogs treats.
They know too many people (maybe including themselves!) who have dogs who will ONLY obey if they have a treat in their hand.
No one wants to bribe their dog into being obedient.
Nor should you.
What you do want is a dog who obeys you eagerly each and every time you give a command.
How do you do that?
By giving your dog a gambling problem.
Let us take you through the process one step at a time:
Perhaps one of the most commonly touted tenets of dog training is “be the leader”.
Whether the family dog is jumping up, growling, biting, or tugging at the leash, owners are advised by professionals and dog hobbyists alike to “lead the pack”.
It sounds good, and it’s an easy line for lay people to take – “Oh, your dog is misbehaving? You need to be the pack leader and be more dominant.”
Advice for how to do to do this usually involves things like going through doors first, eating first, or turning your dog upside down, all of which are supposed to mimic the behaviour of wolves in the wild.
People think that they shouldn’t sleep with their dog, shouldn’t let him on the furniture, and shouldn’t share their table scraps.
When we meet a new client, we often listen to embarrassed confessions of doing all these things… and then we surprise them by telling them the truth: If you don’t mind your dog on the bed, it’s not a problem. You won’t create a struggle for power if your dog cuddles with you on the sofa in the evenings.
Yes, if you want your dog listen to you and respond to you, you certainly need to be the leader in the relationship. But that doesn’t mean you need to dominate your dog.