Tough or Weak: It’s your dog’s life based on your choice.

If you ever go to Kansas in November to hunt pheasants, there is something you should know. There are two types of pheasants; pen-raised and wild. You can kill pen-raised pheasants with bird-shot normally used for much smaller birds. To kill wild pheasants, it takes bigger balls. Why? Wild pheasants are toughened up by the environment. Pen-raised pheasants are wussies, by comparison. This is not an isolated example. One type of pine tree in Yellowstone won’t open up its cones to drop seeds if the tree isn’t exposed to extreme heat – like a forest fire. No forest fire, no replication. By fighting forest fires, a natural event, forest service workers have limited the population of those trees.

The point is that Darwin never said, “Survival of the fittest”. Even if he did, he would have meant that the species ‘fit’ a niche. The needs of a species are not always predictable based on human perceptions. Some of the things we do to our dogs are based on what we like rather than what they need.

Norwegian Elkhounds won’t grow a full undercoat unless they live through at least one cold winter. House dog? Crappy winter coat. Large breeds originally intended for hunting that never do anything that requires a strong physique? The result is long term weakening of the physiology of the breed. Never stress a dog? Expect behavioral overreaction to small things. Do we think that wolves and coyotes freak out during every thunder storm and run willy-nilly away from their family group, trembling all the way?

Our current attitudes about training and behavior depend on the idea that never stressing a dog is a good thing. Then we spend money on psychotropic drugs and tedious processes to ‘desensitize’ them to normal living. If you raise a puppy in a protective bubble you better keep them bubbled-up for life. If you learn to apply stress in an environment that is rich with new things, fun things and positive training that leads to structure you have the best formula to create a behavioral hardy dog. If you don’t, I have job security.

13 thoughts on “Tough or Weak: It’s your dog’s life based on your choice.

  1. Very well said. Could easily apply to the way many of today’s children are raised. Trophys for everybody? Grew up in the 50s hunting pheasants with some of those hardy labs and goldens most of which spent the bulk of their time outside in rural northern Illinois even in winter. I was amused the other day when there was a very angry exchange on Facebook when a woman expressed a preference for keeping her dogs outside here in California and it was equated to child abuse.

  2. I can’t agree with this post enough!! I adopted an approx. 8 month old lab/Shep mix, we named Thor in April of 2015. He was under socialized and apparently been wrapped in bubble wrap his entire life as when he managed to escape from his previous owner, he was so fearful that she couldn’t catch him. I’ve been spending the last 8-9 months trying to undo the damage with successes although its slow. I spent the first two weeks I had him trying to get him used to going on a walk with me without freezing up or trying to bolt at every little thing. It was a month before he’d take a treat outside my front yard. Even though he’s made great progress and acts pretty normal now even to the point of calmly pulling a loaded cart through town during rush hour, he still doesn’t rebound as quickly or cleanly from a startle like my other guys do. He so sensitive to the point of a slightly raised voice means the end of life as we know it. Its probably a good thing I don’t know who owned him before I got him from the shelter as I’d be tempted to smack them a good one. I’ve NEVER had a dog of mine that I’ve raised as a puppy be this flighty with such senseless fears and I took mine everywhere it was legal to take them as they matured. My elderly carting dogs wouldn’t flinch if you ran freight train with a brass band by them inches from their noses yet this one would try to run like his tail was on fire…

  3. This is an excellent post. I have long advocated not treating your dog like it belongs under a glass jar on my own blog and plan to tackle this issue again tomorrow. Do you think any part of breeding plays into the equation? Wild birds are usually bred from wild birds so the hardiest survive to reproduce. (It is true what you say about wild vs. pen raised birds although we have found that some of the pen raised birds are more aggressive than others depending on where we hunt.) When selecting a working dog, we look to pedigree with attention to soundness and temperament. We do not want a timid hunting dog.

    • Breeding undoubtedly has an influence, but breeders may or may not cull defectives so ‘natural selection’ doesn’t really happen any more. I think you have to work with what you get. 🙂

  4. People ask me why my Dogs are so chill and well behaved, I say they’ve met over 3000 people and do 100’s of different things, they’ve been guided to problem solve and think flexibly.

    I really liked reading this, you’re an awesome man.

    Dogs First
    Mush Love ❤

    • Someone told me I was “cruel” for walking my dog on Halloween evening, when huge crowds of people were swarming my neighborhood in Halloween costumes.

      Most likely, part of the reason my dog is so good with all humans, known or unknown, isolated or in the midst of crowds is the fact that we do stuff like that.

  5. This excellent piece of writing reminded me of something you once posted, a list of everything a puppy should be exposed to early on. With a new puppy, I’d like to read that again. Can you direct me to it? Thanks, Nancy

  6. I adopted an American Staffordshire Terrier mix a few months ago. She was being used as a breeding dog for a fighting group and was rescued when her owner was getting ready to dump her in the desert to die. No socialization at all and scared of everythingIt’s taken a lot of hard work with our trainer and adopting a senior, very confident male to get her where she is now. She’s not perfect but she’s so much better that she’s not the same dog I adopted!

  7. Hi, I’d like to know which service dog program hired positive trainers to revamp their methods, if you can provide that. Thanks!

    • Lisa,
      Why would it matter which school attempted to fix their broken reputation by attempting to swing the polarity of their training according to ‘scientific’ methods? An examination of the issue would require more than just a name to be fair to everyone there. Suffice it to say that if you look up Morgan Specter he uses the event as a credential – while admitting it failed. The other guy does chicken camps – THEY are the story, not the school.

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