Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What kind of dog owner are YOU?

In response to an inquiry about German shepherds as pets, picking an appropriate dog for your lifestyle, and what does 'working' breed mean, Dr. Ken Shiarella, V.M.D. of the Western Animal Clinic has the following to say:

There are two types of dog owners, each is perfectly fine: There is the "casual dog owner" and there is the "dog enthusiast." 

The "Dog enthusiast" is the person who interacts with their dog by putting themselves in the dog's shoes. The activities with the dog are centered around the quest to see what the dog wants to do, is bred to do and what it can do. These are the people who do agility, dock jumping, hunting, obedience, fly-ball, rally, scent tracking, racing, herding, lure-coursing, and similar but less formal home activities. 

These people live in the dog's head, so to speak. Some of that comes naturally, but a lot of it takes work and research. 

The "casual dog owner" love their dogs just as much as the enthusiast, but is more oriented along the lines of the dog fitting-in with their household as it is. The attention the dog gets is more in the context of human activities like camping, and picnics, playing with the kids while they play, barking when they hear something outside at night, getting petted on the couch while movies are playing, etc.

In this scenario, it is up to the dog to live in the heads of their human family.

Really, the only difference between the two is the preferred orientation of the owner and most breeds of dogs can do either very well. 

However, there are some breeds that tend to do better in one type of household over the other. 

And some very popular breeds can do both equally well (labs, poodles, etc.). 

In my honest opinion, the German Shepherd Dog is not one of those dogs. I think they do better in "dog enthusiast" homes and I see just too many problem scenarios when the dogs find themselves in the "casual dog owner" homes. 

The German Shepherd Dog is a very versatile dog but it has a core of needs that, if not met, can lead to disasters. The German Shepherd is a dog with a high "disaster quotient." It is a popular breed that gets messed-up all too frequently by owners who "leap before they look." 

In general, I have a good formula for the prospective breed owner to keep themselves and the dog out of trouble:

The NEEDS of the dog are greater than the WANTS of the family. 

If that is the priority, then you are in good shape. If you are not familiar with the breed, then it falls on everyone in the family who wants the dog to do their research. And that could be the bargain, if they want the dog, then they have to do their research to familiarize themselves with the dog's needs and commit to the time required to meet those needs. If they won't even do this, then the dog is probably not for them anyway and you are saving the whole family a lot of grief.

 The sentiments expressed above by Dr. Shiarella ring very true for me as a trainer.  And this applies to many of the herding and working breeds - Border Collies, Malinois, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Australian Shepherds, and Heelers come immediately to mind.

Too often I find myself working with families and dogs that are not a good match for each other.   And while this doesn't automatically mean the dog should be re-homed, it DOES often mean a complete change in lifestyle for the dog owners...much more than they bargained for when they decided they couldn't live without a certain breed.

Hopefully this provides some food for thought, whether you are thinking about a new dog, or are just assessing the training needs of your current pets.

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy and Horsetooth Whippets. She can be reached at