I have owned mastiff breeds for over 10 years now. these types of dog have been bred to very quickly work defensively and to be wary of strangers. Unfortunately, this causes a lot of us to accept behaviours in our dogs which we shouldn’t. Well socialised dogs should be friendly or at least neutral to strangers and friendly or at a minimum tolerant of other dogs.
We manned the Discover Dogs stand at Crufts five or six times with our girl Kitty until she died last year. DD, for those who don’t know, is one of the most popular parts of Crufts among the general public who visit. Hundreds of individual breeds are represented and it’s purpose is for owners to educate the public about their breeds.
During my time with Neapolitans, and at DD, I have heard many “gems” of wisdom from owners and breeders about these dogs. One guy proudly boasted that his male NM could stand strangers and was anchored in his garden with two heavy chains and that he couldn’t take his dog out in public or have anyone pet his dog. This unfortunately plays into the bad boy image of the breed and makes them prizes for status dog seekers.
My journey into behaviour was hastened by my use of metal collars on Kitty and Bosco and my subscription to the notion of pack theory. In my ignorance and inexperienced, I effectively trained both my dogs to be react to other dogs.
It took us seven months to get Kitty used to other dogs to the point she would play with them. She was extremely reactive to other dogs and I was then able to use her as a stooge dog a few years later with dogs I was working with and her dog-dog communication skills became excellent.
In her later years, she became increasingly wary of strangers in general and specifically people walking past the property. We continued to work on this not only because it’s the right thing for the public but also because it reduced her stress levels and in return would increase her life expectancy. Reactive dogs are stressed dogs and stress causes illness and an decreased life expectancy.
Some breeders unfortunately play a role in this. Many have been breeding for so long and giving the same flawed behaviour advice that it has become gospel within the breed. Breeders are experts on breeding but most know little or nothing about behaviour. I don’t give breeding advice because I don’t know enough about it and I don’t think breeders should give behavioural advice.
Within any breed you can have the super friendly, easy going, well adjusted, pleasure to own dog. Our dogs can be like Labrador and goldens, it might just take a ton more work and a much more proactive approach on our part. They can be fit and active and well trained. It’s just more work on our part. Proper proactive socialisation and a shed load of classical conditioning are in order. We don’t need to accept that border collies stalk and chase cars, Akitas aren’t friendly with strangers and Staffordshire Bull Terriers can’t get on with other dogs. I worked with a couple last week who had read on a border collie forum that you can’t get border collies not to chase cars. Maybe the author of the post couldn’t but we did. It took about 30 minutes by redirecting the dog’s focus onto a ball on a rope. the couple need to practice the behaviour with loads of work but we did the “impossible” in 30 minutes. I don’t say this to brag or boast, just to illustrate what is achievable within a little time and with a little knowledge.
I looked after a friend’s dog this weekend. He is a big friendly Dobermann and his social skills with other dogs are excellent. Since Katie got him, she has done the work, asked the questions, read loads and implemented it straight away. This dog doesn’t react to other dogs even when they show aggression towards him. He’s a dobermann, a so called “devil dog” by the press. He was a pleasure to look after and I imagine is a pleasure to own.
Don’t settle for breed stereotypes. You owe it to yourselves and your dogs.