Genetics or the Way you Raise Your Dog? Which Matters Most?
OK. So, one group of people says “Genetics Matter” and another group of people say “It’s All in How You Raise Them”. But which one do you believe?
I mean seriously this is ridiculous. If it’s just genetics that matter then no amount of training will make a difference. And if it’s all in how you raise them then you’re saying that genetics doesn’t play a part. No wonder everyone is confused. Which one is it? Or is it both?
Well… let’s assess the roles that Genetics and Training. Which one matters the most? And is it possible to raise a dog in a way that will help their genetic potential.
What part does Genetics play?
Do you want your dog to herd sheep, then you need to select a dog from the herding group. Do you want your dog to retrieve stuff? Then select your dog from the retriever group. Do you want your dog to guard? Then select a breed that is good at guarding. OK so what I’m really saying here is that each breed has their breed traits. The things that make them a Rottweiller, German Shepherd or Labrador other than shape and colour.
Why does that matter? Because if you want a dog that’s going to excel at doing police work then you wouldn’t select a Pug. Neither will a Border Collie be the best choice. And you’ll probably also struggle motivating a Ridgeback to do the job. Those breeds weren’t bred for the job. So you’ll have a lot more success if you selected a German Shepherd from excellent working lines (that means a GSD whose parents did the work.
Similarly if you want your dog to herd sheep, you’re not likely to select a Dobermann or Staffie or a Golden Retriever. Some might do it. But you’re a lot more likely to find a pup with the natural desire and ability if they came from parents who were good at herding sheep. It means that you have to spend less time training because the natural instincts are already there!
And that my friends is why we say Genetics matter. But it does get way more complicated than that of course.
What part does Training play?
Training is there to enhance the dog’s genetic capability. If you have a puppy whose parents were great at herding, then you’re likely going to find that they’re easier to train for that specific job.
But of course, training takes skill and skill comes from experience. And this can make a huge difference in how well your pup does the task when they grow up. If I decided to train a herding dog tomorrow, then if I’d selected a pup with the natural ability I might have a reasonable chance of success, but a skilled trainer could turn that pup into an excellent working sheep dog. Whereas my dog might only look average at best. Because, you see, I haven’t got the experience or skill in that field of training. And no one is born with skill. What is assumed to be talent is sometimes just good luck or hard work disguised as good luck.
But of course, training is also important to teach your grumpy German Shepherd to have good manners when new people arrive and your over friendly Golden Retriever not to jump up on everyone. Training is also going to help your hunting puppy not become gun-shy and your water dog to love water. And all the myriad of other things.
Training can enhance your dog’s natural skills, build up the areas where your dog’s natural abilities need to be adjusted or teach your dog how you would like them to behave. Even if it goes against what they were bred for (like teaching a husky not to pull on a leash or a German Shepherd to let people into your house).
What if my dog fails at their job their breed excels at?
But of course, the breed doesn’t guarantee that your puppy will be good at the task you want them for. There are plenty of border collies who failed as working dogs. Labs failed at retrieving and of course guarding dogs that failed at guarding. So is this just genetics or does training play a part? Well. A little bit of both
Good training can be the difference between your dog being successful or failing at their genetic potential. And I have heard of entire litters sometimes being put to sleep for aggression except for one or two pups. Did they fail to get the genetic defect or were their owners more skilled at training and developing them?
The answer depends on many factors. Did the puppies inherit a genetic condition that made them aggressive? Or did the owner/trainer’s fail to teach the puppies how to behave?
Was it the Dog or Was it You?
Was it your fault that your dog failed at your training goals or was it their genetics? Did you select your puppy from parents who excelled at the work you asked of your dog? Then, most likely you were the weak link. However if you selected a German Shepherd whose parents did better at prancing around the showring and expect that dog to perform on the Schutzhund field then I’m going to say that you’d have to work very hard indeed to get that dog to IPO3 if it is even possible.
So, really, the answer is that both really matters. And you can only train your dog to the best of YOUR skill and your dog’s GENETIC potential. So, if your skills aren’t that good yet. Go eat a slice of humble pie and ask someone for some help! And don’t take just one trainer’s word for it. I couldn’t help you train a herding dog, just like many other trainers couldn’t help you with aggression.
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