I hear the myth all the time that corsos, neos , rotties, american bull dogs and pitbulls are hard dogs on a lifelong quest to establish their role of dominance and they can only be tamed with methods that use bulling and assertiveness. Okay, maybe that is a little exaggerated, but I commonly see new students bringing in bullys and acting like real bullies. Their dogs are seldom thinking about dominance, but are seeking out some fun or self-rewarding behavior. Even though their intention is to provide them with good structure and teach them to be good dogs there are far more effective ways of doing this.
I often wonder how these highly motivated, drivey, and highly trainable dogs ended up with such a label. I can’t say for sure where these ideas came from. Maybe it came from the fact that these are working breeds not content to lay on the couch all day, maybe because they need more socialization with people and dogs than the average golden, but I think it may have a lot to do with where training has come from.
20 years ago most competitive dog trainers and many pet dog trainers relied on escape avoidance training. Most people who went to puppy classes or dog classes 20 years ago where handed a choke chain OR told to go buy one. The basic go to training methods taught dogs to turn off pressure. Pressure based dog training required the dogs to be uncomfortable enough that they would actually work to turn off the pressure.
Many of our breeds that are considered to be “hard” have a high enough drive that adrenaline may make them appear to be more pain tolerant in heightened situations. Which means that in order for escape avoidance training to have worked they had to issue harder corrections than to the lower drive breeds or softer breeds. Which meant in order to successfully get compliance an owner had to be really get comfortable giving a high-level correction.
In recent years even the highly competitive obedience, IPO, agility and ring sport trainers have started switching the way they look at teaching dogs. Even at this year’s police canine training seminar there was a huge focus on making the switch to motivational methods.
Many haven’t made the switch because they are “bunny huggers” or truly believe a jerk on the collar is going to break the spirit of a 120 lb presa, but because motivational methods create a better product. A stronger heel, a better recall, and a dog who truly wants to dog those things.
These training methods are built off of harnessing and utilizing the dog’s drive and creating win-win situations that teach the dog to want to work for the things that were once thought of as a distraction.
I encourage you to go to a trial near you and see what dogs are placing the highest now. It’s the dogs who love what they do and want to work. We are also seeing a switch in what breeds professional trainers are wanting to work. They no longer think of a pitbulls as a difficult breed, but a dog that has so much potential and willingness to work. Maybe that is why this breed has earned more UKC Superdog titles than any other breed combined.
People often see my dog heeling beautifully with joy, animation and engagement. Guess what, that’s what judges want to see too. I think that many people who aren’t familiar with my breed think he is a little bit of a marshmallow when they see how hard he tries to work to get his prized toy. I can assure you he is no marshmallow, just a dog who REALLY REALLY enjoys working for me. He doesn’t enjoy working for me because I shout heel and jerk him when he grabs the leash to play tug, but because he knows if he heels he will be rewarded with a heart pumping, growly, a rough game of tug.
Dogs with harder temperaments are most easily trained through motivational, engagement methods that use the distractions around them as motivators.
Keep in mind that the definition of dominance is not bulling, aggressiveness or assertiveness. It is simply controlling the resources. You don’t have to be a bully to train your bully.