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User Name Thread Name Subject Posted
John Hardly BS: Ten Smartest Dogs (67* d) RE: BS: Ten Smartest Dogs 12 Mar 09

It's so funny to think back on it now (some thirty years later) but when I FIRST got a northern breed dog I was still under the twin mistaken notions -- notions that I believe are shared by MOST people outside the dog world, and even by many who have had a few pets (mostly mutts)...

...the twin notions:

1. It's only owner/handlers skill as trainers that dictate dog behavior
2. There is no difference (beyond physical appearance) between breeds.

Those two notions are nonsense.

The very things that northern breeds are bred for DEMAND that they be independent thinkers. In part, if you want a dog that will PULL, to some extent you need a dog willing to run AWAY from you.

Retrieving is not a necessary part of northern breed behavior. We've had two mals who would naturally do it, and we've had four who would never dream of doing it on their own. "Why did you just throw that thing if you wanted it? And I'm the stupid one?"

Northern breed dogs will often chase a toy -- especially if started as a game with a young dog. But that's just prey drive. Retrieval is different. My wife worked nearly an hour EVERY DAY for over two months with Aspen (our male malamute at the time) to get him to retrieve. Once she broke through, Aspen retrieved EVERY time on command (in fact, could do all the exercises in open obedience competition). Still, Aspen never saw retrieve as a game.

Golden Retrievers are not "smarter" just because they excel at the obedience exercises. They excel at the obedience exercises because they are bred for behaviors that coincidentally match what we city-dwelling humans value in dog behavior. Goldens are compliant, not necessarily intelligent.

Goldens suck at agility. You almost never see Goldens in agility competitions, and when you do, you are likely to observe that they don't score well. Agility demands more independence in a dog.

Border Collies are a better blend of compliance and independence. Borders excel at both agility AND obedience. But just try to get a Border Collie to sit lovingly and calmly at your side as you read a book in the evening. Maybe when they are 8 years old or older they'll take on that kind of companionable behavior.

And, of course, you will hear stories of anomalies. Malamutes who love children. Aggressive Goldens (becoming more and more common, actually), calm Border Collies (there is a group of breeders working on this).

But even saying all this, you can probably teach a husky or a shit zu to do almost anything any other dog can do. In order to do so, you will need to invent new methods to teach an "unnatural" behavior to a dog. One well-known trainer one of Dar's favorite authors, Connie Cleveland says that you need to be more inventive in teaching than the dog is in avoiding learning. She says that you will know within MINUTES if a new strategy is working. If one strategy for teaching a dog a behavior doesn't work, you need to quickly move on to a new strategy.

But the good news is that each behavior you teach a dog opens up your ability to further communicate with the dog. A well-hidden key to unlocking a particular behavior will often unlock other behaviors. It's the reason that teaching a dog "tricks" is not wasted time even if those "tricks" appear to have no relationship to behaviors of competition or even behaviors that you want in order to make your dog fit better into the family.

Learning to communicate with your dog is the biggest hurdle, but that communication tends to grow exponentially. And one day you turn around and realize that the dog that once seemed untrainable, seems to have learned to intuit what you want him to do. It's an amazing breakthrough realization.

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