Today’s post is a Guest Post by my dear friend and mentor, Shelby Anderson. I will let her introduce herself, but if you are interested in getting in touch with Shelby for training or for a puppy (and I highly, highly recommend both her and her dogs), her website can be found here.
Parts 1 and 2 of this series can be found here:
Choosing the Right Breed for the IPO Newbie
My name is Shelby Anderson and Jessica is a client and friend of mine. I have had the distinct opportunity of watching her grow and learn this past year. Her dedication and drive is admirable and her unique background as an equestrian coach has given her the advantage of understanding animal behavior. She has asked me to write a guest blog about how to pick the right breed of dog for you.
But first, a little about myself. I have been training animals my entire life. I started as a horse trainer and switched to dogs over ten years ago. In that span, I have trained hundreds of dogs of various breeds. I have won every title available in Schutzhund/IPO and titled numerous dogs in the AKC obedience ring. My heart has always been drawn to the power and drive of working dogs and their amazing ability to learn anything you can put in front of them.
As the years have gone by, I find myself drawn more and more to helping people achieve the things they had never thought possible with their dogs. To push the boundaries of what they even dreamed was possible with a dog. To show people how amazing a real relationship with a canine companion can be. And in turn, it brings me great joy to watch a dog and handler team learn new things, overcome training roadblocks and achieve success. There is no greater joy than seeing that team come together to become an unstoppable force, absolutely in sync with each other. Nothing even comes close to that beauty.
But as with everything, there is also a frustrating and heartbreaking side of this job. And nothing breaks my heart more than seeing a handler who has all the skills, all the drive and all the passion, paired with an unsuitable dog. A dog who doesn’t have either the genetic or mental ability to do the job in front of them.
Because what people often forget is that dogs are individuals just as humans are. We are not all rocket scientists and likewise we are not all meant to be Michael Jordan. We, like dogs, have our distinct talents and abilities. And yes, we can learn new trades, but inherently we cannot be successful at everything. Nor should we expect a Golden Retriever to be able to do bitework as well as a dog bred for the task.
But how you ask, do you go about finding a dog that is suited for your needs?
In all honesty, it’s not easy. Some of it’s pure chance – sometimes you can find a diamond in the rough. Sometimes a very skilled handler can make a dog into something more than they might otherwise be. But we shall call those instances rare and talk about a more reliable method of finding the right dog for your needs.
For the purposes of this article we shall assume you are looking for a working breed.
Within that category you have a few different options. The most popular breeds within the sport tend to be German Shepherds, Belgian Malinois, Rottweilers, and Dobermans. That’s not to say I haven’t seen other breeds do a fantastic job of working, but these are the most popular four within the sport of IPO, and so they are the four that I will be discussing for you today.
Your first task is to look at yourself and your lifestyle critically.
Are you honestly able to devote time EVERY SINGLE DAY to training this dog? Can you take weekends off to train and trial?
Are you open minded enough to accept criticism and take defeat with grace?
Because nothing – ABSOLUTELY NOTHING – will keep you more humble than training dogs. And that is what you will become – a dog trainer. Because in this sport there is no halfway. You’re either all in or all out. This is a lifestyle and a passion not for the faint of heart. You must come into it with a competitiveness that is unbreakable.
Your best bet, to begin, is to go to a local club or trial and watch. Ask where they got their dogs and who they recommend. Watch dogs work! I can’t emphasize that enough. Ask to see titles and health tests for yourself. Ask to see the dogs work. Any good breeder who has a passion for working dogs will love to show their dogs off. And please, please, please go to the OFA website and look up the names of the dogs for yourself.
So now you have an idea of where to find a healthy dog suitable to the sport, which breed do you choose?
In reality this is a very personal decision but there are things you should know about each breed beforehand.
I myself grew up with Dobermans, and they hold a special place in my heart. However, I ultimately chose the German Shepherd. This decision for me was based on the aesthetics of the Doberman. Because, back then, all Dobermans had ears cropped and tails docked. And I wasn’t personally wanting to deal with that. Now days more and more Dobermans are natural, as well as Rottweilers.
I’m going to speak very generally here because there are variances among each breed.
I will say a little about each breed and what I see as their strengths and weaknesses.
The German Shepherd: Of course this breed is my passion and I have devoted years to creating a breeding program. This breed, as with most working dogs, has been split in two. On one side is the show lines and on the other is the working lines. Both sides hold pros and cons depending on what you want from the dog.
Show lines tend to be more of the traditional black and red saddleback color that many prefer. They tend to be better suited for family homes as they are often calmer and have less drive than the working lines.
Working lines can vary in color from sable to solid black. They are bred with the main purpose being to work and can therefore be more active and require more attention.
Both lines are usually wonderful family companions and easily trained. Shepherds tend to be very protective of their home and their person. They can be very possessive of toys and are often “one person” kind of dogs.
Belgian Malinois: These dogs were created to be working dogs. Period. They need a job and someone devoted to giving them one. If left to their own devices, as with any working breed, they will find their own job that you most likely won’t appreciate. They are kind and loving dogs in general and very social.
Dobermans: A regal and loyal companion. No dog I’ve known is more loyal than the Doberman. They hold their own in working sports, though they tend to be lower drive than other working dogs. They can also make great family companions. They are, however, riddled with health issues – specifically heart issues. So, as with any breed, be sure you do your research on breeders.
Rottweilers: The silly and fun loving breed. Again, as with all of the above breeds, find a good breeder who places importance on temperament. As they are a guarding breed, they can become very territorial and protective of their home and owner. Not all bad, but it must be kept in check. Very loyal to their family and great companions and family dogs. Lower drive than the Malinois or Shepherd, but still very capable of doing IPO.
Again, I want to emphasize that this is a very brief analysis of each of the most common breeds used in IPO.
Perhaps the most important part of the equation is to be really honest with yourself about your level of time and commitment to the dog.
If you take a hard look at yourself and your lifestyle and you realize you only have a few hours a week to devote and occasional weekends, then I’d tell you to lean towards a Rottweiler or possibly a Doberman.
If, on the other hand, your competitive side is screaming at you and you really want to train every day – I’d say try your hand at a working line German Shepherd.
As you can see there are many variables to consider when searching for the right breed to get started in IPO.
Ultimately it comes down to a very personal decision.
I’ve seen newbie owners get high drive Malinois and it work out great. I’ve also seen very capable owners get what they thought was a perfect dog for IPO and that dog is not mentally capable.
In the end, all you can do is try to stack the odds in your favor by researching breeders, watching dogs work, and asking lots of questions. Questions to not only breeders and clubs but to yourself on your capabilities as an owner. To do anything less isn’t fair to yourself or your future IPO dog.
Best of luck in your search and may the IPO gods be ever in your favor!
I am so grateful to Shelby for taking the time to share her knowledge about common working breeds! Now, since I know that not everyone works a traditional breed, I will be having a future guest post from someone that has successfully worked and titled a breed very much outside the norm, so look forward to that.
Additionally, later this week I will be discussing finding the right breeder, regardless of breed, as the next entry in this series, so be sure to check back soon!