It's All in How You Raise Them. Sort Of!by Konnie Hein on 03/14/16
Have you ever heard the phrase, "It's all in how you raise them" when referencing certain breeds or types of dogs? It's a common sentiment during discussions about aggressive or misbehaving dogs, but it causes many dog lovers and dog trainers to cringe.
As a professional dog trainer with many years of experience working with all breeds of dogs, I can tell you that despite the controversy surrounding this phrase, it is TRUE. Well, sort of!
It is true that if you do not properly socialize your puppy by safely exposing him/her to a variety of positive experiences, there is a possibility that you will end up with an adult dog who is nervous away from home or acts inappropriately in various social situations. And if you do not foster appropriate behaviors and take steps to minimize nuisance behaviors, you will likely end up with a dog who chronically misbehaves.
So, poorly behaved or aggressive dogs are the result of being raised incorrectly, and if you raise any puppy of any breed the "right way" it will be the PERFECT companion for you, RIGHT? Not exactly! And this is where the concern originates. The statement, "It's all in how you raise them" is usually used in a context that ignores two extremely important aspect of raising dogs - the first being genetics, and the second being the owner's training skills and lifestyle.
Through selective breeding, humans have created hundreds of different breeds of dogs. These individual breeds were created in order to perform different tasks. Huskies were bred to pull, Shepherds and Collies to tend and herd, Mastiffs to guard, Pointers and Retrievers to aid in locating and bringing back game, Beagles and Hounds to track and chase game, Terriers to hunt and kill small animals, etc. etc. And as some jobs for dogs have all but disappeared (such as herding), certain breeds are now instead being selectively bred for comparatively modern tasks such as police work or dog sports.
These traits should not be ignored when selecting your future family member. Do you want a dog with an insatiable desire to pull? What about a dog who likes to chase or nip running children? Would a dog who needs to run for hours a day be a good fit for you? Would you want a dog who likes to pick up objects around the house and carry them in his or her mouth? How do you feel about a dog who will track the scent of an animal and follow it for miles? Is a dog who aggressively guards your property from anybody who isn't a close family member something you're hoping for?
These are not the traits of "bad dogs," but they are very real genetic traits of certain working, herding, or hunting breeds. If these traits do not suit the lifestyle of the dog's owner, or fall outside of the scope of the owner's ability to control or manage them, then they can be very frustrating or even dangerous. And proper socialization along with your average obedience class will not eliminate, effectively control, or appropriately direct these traits.
Am I saying that these breeds can't be good companions? Certainly not. In the right hands and in the right homes, working, herding, and hunting breeds can be amazing, useful, and fun companions. What I am saying is that future dog owners need to research the breeds they are interested in owning, and be very honest with the breeder and themselves about their lifestyle and dog training skills. Dogs from working, herding, and hunting breeds often require patient, skilled training and an appropriate and controlled outlet for their natural tendencies.
Another aspect of genetics to consider is the individual dogs being bred. A puppy is likely to have the same or similar temperament of their parents regardless of how they are raised. Shyness, aggressiveness, and difficulty in housebreaking are all traits that can be passed from the parents to the puppy, even if the puppy is raised in the best environment by an experienced owner. When looking for a puppy, it's important to find a good breeder who is committed to breeding dogs who have a temperament suitable for your lifestyle.
And that's the truth of it. If you do your research to find the most suitable breed for you, get a pup from a reputable breeder, and have the time, desire, training skills, and knowledge to raise the pup properly, then you have the best chance for a rewarding and fun relationship with your dog. In this case, having a well adjusted, well trained, and fun companion truly is "all in how you raise them."