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Changing the actions, aptitudes and attitudes of dogs and their people
Will Training Ruin My Dog
or Break His Spirit?
I am often asked questions about how training a dog might alter the dog’s personality:
If you fix my dog’s nuisance barking will he be less likely to bark when someone tries to break into our house?
If you teach my dog to stop nipping and biting my friends, will he still bite a burglar who enters our home?
I want my dog to stop being so unruly, but I don’t want him to loose his spirit! Will training make him unhappy?
Here are my replies:
Dogs as Reliable Alarm Systems
As disappointing as it may sound, if a perpetrator truly wants to penetrate the boundaries of your home, he will not
find the presence of your dog a deterrent. He will come with a method of snuffing out the dog as an obstacle. He
may poison, shoot, distract, kill by hand or more likely simply command your dog to leave the house or to go into
another room where he will confine the dog while he ruffles through your things. If a person is not fearful of your
dog, regardless of how fierce the dog may sound or act, he will be able to overcome the presence of your dog, in one
way or another. That is the blunt truth. The most highly trained dog, even those trained to protect or guard, are not
immune to the intentions of a person who wants to eliminate it.
On the other hand, the presence of a dog in a home certainly makes the house less desirable for a random thief. The
fact that you have a dog and your neighbors do not may lessen your chances of an indiscriminate act of burglary. To
a burglar, a dog is simply another issue to consider, like a tall fence that would make it difficult to get your
possessions off your property, good exterior lighting or an alarm system. Even a yappy, four pound dog can alert to
the presence of a perpetrator or turn one running once the dog begins barking. But, expecting any dog to be
responsible for protecting your home and family is simply asking more of the dog than he can truly accomplish. In
reality, since a well trained dog recognizes humans as the leaders of the pack, we should be responsible for
protecting him from harm! A dog offers a very false sense of security if one expects it to actually fight crime.
The Liability Factor
Dog ownership presents a higher level of liability than living without a dog. If your dog bites someone you will be
liable for the damages. If you have home owners insurance, it will be sought to cover the cost of injury, even if the
person who your dog bites was not invited onto your property and even if he arrived with the intentions of robbing
you blind. That, unfortunately, is the reality, in most cases in the United States. Once your dog bites someone, even
if that person was in the act of stealing your television, the claim that is made against your insurance may result in
loss of your coverage or the ultimatum that you must get rid of your dog. Some home owner’s policies actually
exclude a number of breeds of dogs, so it is wise to check the fine print on your policy if you have a breed such as a
German Shepherd, Doberman Pincher, Rottweiler or Pitbull, or compensation for a dog bite will come out of your
own pocket. It doesn’t matter how ill-intended the bandit might be, if he is damaged by your dog, you will most likely
be responsible for those injuries.
What Is the Dog’s Role as Guardian?
Since even the presence of a small dog can deter a random burglary, let’s consider those crimes that may be
performed by someone who has “cased” your home or business with the intent of robbery or even doing harm to
you or your family members. A highly trained dog can be quite impressive, especially to your typical Joe Public. The
fact that your dog takes all of his commands instantly and is wholly focused on you for leadership and direction may
suggest that the dog has an even larger repertoire of skills, perhaps including attack commands. So, if someone is
scoping out your business or home he will have to contend with a dog that may, in fact, be trained to bite him, since
it is so well trained in other areas. This can be deterrent enough to keep your home safe from focused invasion.
But, it’s not simply about a false image. A dog is more likely to partner up (including in the mode of protecting your
home) with the people for whom it has the very most respect. That is because dogs are designed to seek leadership
and they have a very keen sense of family or pack. The more competent the leadership, the higher the affinity the
dog has for the person. If a home were to be invaded while family members were present, the dog that has a high
level of respect for his people will be the most likely to react in typical guardian/ protection mode. Respect is gained
through proper training, management and socialization. There are, of course, breeds that have a greater propensity
than others to alert or aggress towards an invader. But, respect for leadership and sense of family/pack does play a
very big role, regardless of breed. A German Shepherd Dog that is tied outside 24 hours a day may be far less likely
to have loyalty to his people than a well trained Labrador Retriever that is managed as a house dog and has a well
developed sense of loyalty to his family.
Training a dog that nuisance barking is not to be tolerated does not take away his voice. It only defines, for the dog,
that the pack leader (human) will make decisions about threats in the environment, putting the dog in a calm,
submissive position relative to the people in the home. Squirrels, blowing leaves, the woman who is walking her dog,
the neighborhood tom cat or the UPS man are not true threats and the dog must learn that it is not his job to
“protect” the home from such false enemies. However, the dog’s eye sight and hearing is not affected by training. An
alert dog will still recognize unusual circumstances and may bark or warn his owner of a stranger’s approach, an
unusual event like smoke in the home or even an approaching tornado. At that time, a well trained dog looks to his
human leader for information about whether the unique situation poses a threat. Dogs are very perceptive,
especially of the people with whom they live. Your dog’s training will only make him more perceptive of your normal
status, allowing him to recognize situations that are different or potentially hostile. At those times, no amount of
training will alter his natural inclination to alert you of the abnormal situation. However, you can usually expect a
highly loyal dog to remain by your side during worrying times, more so than the untrained dog that has little regard
for his human’s leadership.
Will Discipline and Good Training Ruin My Dog?
I am often asked whether a high level of training will cause a dog to loose its spirit. I think that there are two reasons
why people ask this question. The first is the misconception of canine happiness. A dog that is constantly on the
move, is frenzied, barking, dancing around and otherwise demonstrating a complete lack of self control is not a
happy, spirited dog. Nothing could be farther from the truth. A dog that is not in a balanced, self composed state of
mind is not happy, albeit many people do not recognize this. The frantic dog is out of sorts, and deep down she
knows it. Most likely, that dog is existing in a leaderless and therefore rule-less realm. Nothing could be more
discouraging to a dog. She is not happy, she is just over active; a result of the irritation of existing in an unstable
Secondly, I think there is a false impression that discipline is a dirty word, and that a highly disciplined dog cannot be
happy, and therefore has lost its spirit. Discipline and spirit are not antonyms, and a good example is the United
States Marine Corps. It is difficult to argue that the men and women in the Corps are not highly disciplined.
However, it is hard to find a group of people with more spirit, as well. In fact, one of the by-products of maintaining
very high self discipline is the allowance for heightened spirit. With greater discipline comes the opportunity for
superior (and yet, balanced) enthusiasm. Although some dog owners may think otherwise, spirit is not a lack of self
restraint. Another example where increased discipline can encourage an environment of true spirit is with highly
trained athletes. Dictionary.com provides the definition of “Spirited: having or showing mettle, courage, vigor and
liveliness”, but says nothing of a lack of self restraint. Some dog owners perceive their dog's lack of self restraint as
"spirit". And, frankly, nothing could be further from the truth. Exceptional dog training does not alter the spirit of a
dog. However, discipline allows the dog to be truly spirited, without being unbalanced or otherwise, out of control,
as it is always in a state of self-control, even when it is acting most spirited. Exceptional dog training allows the dog
to present its true, unclouded natural self. Dogs are designed to live as subordinate members of a highly structured
society, under the umbrella of a fair, sound, competent leader. A dog that is provided that lifestyle will be a truly
happy and spirited dog.
© 2006 Tammie Rogers - all rights reserved. For permission to reprint email
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