How important is it to know your dog's breed? Should your training style be based on breed? Discovering the results from my dog's DNA test changed how I look at breed profiling when training your dog.
I developed the PAW Method of dog training many years ago to achieve one goal: keep it simple, keep it engaging, and keep it relevant to every dog and pet parent. Piloting, Activity, and Work: that's all it takes to having the balanced relationship you want with your dog; always based upon trust and communication rather than force or domination (or bribery with neverending treats).
But does the PAW Method hold true for all dogs, regardless of breed? I was about to find out.
A few weeks ago I had Arwen's DNA done to find out what breed(s) she is comprised of. As I've mentioned in previous blog posts, I got Arwen earlier this year from someone who purchased her from a backyard breeder in Amish country. Most likely a puppy mill. They purchased what they believed to be a full bred Border Collie However, given the nature of puppy mills combined with the fact that they never met the parents led to some skepticism on my behalf. Besides, even if her parents were full bred Border Collies, there is always some...gentle massaging of breed standards when it comes to backyard breeders and puppy mills.
Sure, Arwen looks like a Border Collie, but there were just a few things that were off about her.
When you think of a Border Collie, who do you automatically think of?
Rex and Fly from Babe. They are the quintessential Border Collies!
Border Collies come in essentially two types of fur styles: simply put, long hair (or rough coated), which is what Rex and Fly were, and short hair (or smooth coated) which is how Arwen's hair is...mostly. And while there are quite a bit of colors recognized by the AKC, black and white is always the Border Collie trademark to me.
While Border collies can have blue eyes, amber colored eyes are most common, which Arwen has. And while most Border Collies have ears that are erect, Arwen's are not. As the FI Team wrote:
According to the American Kennel Club, the breed standard description says, “Ears are of medium size, set well apart, one or both carried erect and/or semi-erect (varying from one-quarter to three-quarters of the ear erect). When semi-erect, the tips may fall forward or outward to the side.”
Also, Arwen has an exceptionally keen sense of smell. She tracks with incredible dexterity when we play our little games of "find it" to alleviate her need for some mental work. While my pit bull, Ellis, uses his nose, Arwen seems to use it almost to the exclusivity of her other senses.
So in short, there was plenty of things about Arwen that were Border Collie, but just didn't seem Border Collie. Hence the DNA test to see where she truly belonged on the spectrum.
What I discovered was rather a shock.
I used Wisdom Panel (Hint: on sale 35% off with this link) While it was supposed to take up to three weeks, I got Arwen's results in only 2 weeks.
Dog Breeds: What was I expecting?
Well, based on the fact that she came from a backyard breeder, along with the location she was born (southern Ohio), I figured part Coonhound. Her ears, her tracking, her really long legs: they all signified hound to me. Others mentioned part lab or even pitbull.
Honestly, given how goofy she is, I expect she's slightly inbred. Some days I thinks she's her own aunt. Judgement free zone: Cleopatra married her brother.
Dog DNA Results.
Arwen came back as 100% Border Collie. *gasp*
There were some interesting genetic traits listed as well.
- Short hair likely, longer hair possible
- Heavy shedder
- Genes for average to long snout
- Brown or amber eyes
- Floppy ears
Training a Border Collie: What's Changed?
Well, to be honest, nothing. Let me explain why.
About a year ago, my daughter Robynn and I took a DNA test to find out our ancestry. I was told growing up that I was 1/2 Slovak, as my father is pure Slovak. I was also told that my mom was of British & German descent. Let's just say that turned out to be only partially true. I was all over the place!
Robynn was even more of an enigma: She's very fair, with light blonde hair, pale skin, and blue eyes, but while mostly Northwestern Europe she came back with East Asian DNA, and Sub-Saharan African.
My husband and daughter River (Robynn's 1/2 sister) recently found out they had are 3 and 4 generations (respectively) from a grandparent who was Ashkenazi Jewish.
So what does all that mean for my children and my husband?
I married a man named Michael, who is very good at programming, and not so very good at putting his shoes away. He's handsome, with gorgeous green eyes, and dark hair.
My daughter River is still a firecracker of a girl, with a wicked sharp sense of humor, and a keen sense of justice. She's got a messy bedroom most of the time, but has a 4.0 GPA.
My daughter Robynn is still a programmer, just like her dad. She composes music and hates playing MarioKart, but does it to appease River and me.
Don't confuse culture and heritage, with genetic traits. I was raised with Eastern European culture and heritage, which makes me part of who I am. Having dark hair and eyes, that's just genetics. Same with your dog: their heritage is dog...their genetics might be mixed or pure Dalmatian, but it's the individual dog that's important, not the genetics when working with your dog's behaviors.
Training the Dog and Not the Breed
When training your dog, let's bear in mind what breed has to do with it:
I didn't change how I was raising my children when their DNA tests came back differently than expected. I'm not going to change how I train Arwen, which is not at all.
You don't train kids; you don't train dogs. The PAW Method of working with your dog's behavior is designed to take into account their uniqueness and work with it, rather than molding them into some stereotype of what a dog should be because the AKC has set a mandate.
Sure, Arwen's got a lot of energy, but I already knew that. That's why I have so many tools in my Activity tool box to wear her out. And yes, she's a show off when it comes to learning new tricks, and needs a lot of mental Work, but truth be told, Ellis, my pit bull, picks up tricks faster than Arwen does.
If you live and die by breed standards, it's easy to miss the beauty of the individual dog's quirks.
Now hereditary traits are different, and yes, hip dysplasia and cherry eye are indeed something that travel along hereditary lines, but personality is different. Your dog's individuality should be first and foremost when building a communication-based relationship with them.
Knowing that Ellis requires less physical Activity than Arwen, but more mental work, is what makes for a strong connection, not reading up on what breeds they are.
Are Border Collies easy to train? Harder? Stubborn? Eager to please?
Bah. Instead of using those phrases, just ask yourself how much Piloting money each of their questions costs. Some questions cost more for Arwen than for Ellis, and learning to be cognizant of individuality in our dogs can prevent a chaotic and combative relationship.
Know your dog, not the AKC's version of who your dog should be. So what if you've got a purebred lab who hates water. Such a huge weight to bear, those breed standards. I much prefer my Arwen, an individual with quirks and endearing (and not so endearing) traits, over something so oversimplified and categorized as a "Border Collie".
So at the end of it, dog breeds are fascinating, but overall meaningless unless you take into account the who before the what. And my derpy little dog is true to her own breed: Arwen, and it's one of my favorites.
Dog Training vs. Dog Life
By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.
But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.
Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.
Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.
Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?
Dog Training and Puppy Training
Greater Cleveland Area
This post contains affiliate links, but I think you already knew that ;)