Breeds with strong instincts can indeed be trained. Breed instincts are real, but they can be overcome. For example, a dog that loves to chase birds wouldn’t be so driven by his instinct that he would run himself off a cliff in order to catch one! He would ultimately stop at the edge to save his life.
Every dog has the ability to stop or alter a behavior. The key is that the dog needs to be sufficiently motivated in order to make this choice. You as your dog’s leader need to set the boundaries between acceptable and unacceptable conduct both inside and outside the home. Using a balance of nature-based discipline, praise and play (my Nature-Based Discipline, Praise & Play Method™), you show your dog what is expected, communicate a consequence for breaking the boundary, reward him well for compliance, and then reinforce the whole exercise with a series of repetitions under increasing levels of distraction.
Hunting, herding, tracking, and guarding drives all have their own useful places in certain environments, but not in domestic situations. Chasing birds and critters, running off to follow a scent, barking, and even protective aggression can easily get out of hand unless you train your dog away from these defaults. The idea is that you teach your dog to self-govern i.e. to consciously choose not to follow his inner desire. A self-governing dog is one you can trust. I often talk about the “Trust Zone” in my training instruction because it’s the ultimate goal that maximizes the quality of life between owner and canine companion.
I remember visiting a field trial with my first German Shorthaired Pointer “bird dog.” We both casually wandered in, my dog faithfully by my side the entire time – completely off leash, and we proceeded to watch the commotion of people, hunting dogs, and prey with quiet interest. We had already been there for well over half an hour when someone suddenly noticed that my dog was unrestrained. After being yelled at a number of times to put my dog on a leash, we finally turned and left the crowd, my dog still refusing to bat an eyelid at the enticing surrounds. That was over thirty years ago and I’ve since owned and trained a multitude of dogs with strong breed instincts – all with outstanding success.
So, if you have a dog with strong breed instincts, don’t be quenched by the many naysayers (professionals and industry “experts” included) who will try to convince you that nothing can be done. I hear all kinds of comments in dog training circles against ever being able to trust certain breeds off of a leash, and it’s such a shame. These comments corrupt the dreams of many a hopeful dog owner. Instead, look to the positive examples that completely counter all the negativity and use these to feed your own drive to succeed.
– Don Sullivan
NOTE: You will find more inspiration and encouragement within some of my videos under the “Videos” menu button. Of particular interest to you will be the video titled “Overriding Breed Instincts” on the “Don Sullivan Says…” videos page.
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