Sometimes I get calls from potential clients who are either not in my working area or who have a dog with issues that I am not currently taking on that I need to refer to another behavior consultant. When I offer a referral I am told that they only want to work with me because I have Dachshunds. They are worried about working with a trainer who doesn’t have Dachshunds and feel that I will be a better match for them because of my expertise with the breed. So, the question is, is it better to work with a trainer that lives with your particular breed? My answer is, not necessarily.
I have lived with and competed with a wide variety of breeds. I have consulted and trained many more than that. I don’t believe that simply because a trainer lives with a certain breed that they are necessarily the best match as a consultant. First of all, dogs are dogs before they are Border Collies or Rottweilers or Yorkies or any other breed and all of their behavior is canine behavior. If a trainer understands canine behavior and is skilled in modifying behavior and the are a good match for you personality wise, then why does it matter if they live with the same breed as you? There are always exceptions and all dogs are individuals, but as a trainer I know the common breed characteristics of most breeds. I also know that the similarities in the breeds within a specific group. In other words, herding breeds are more likely to be like other herding breeds, than say toy breeds. And, toy breeds are more likely to be like other toy breeds, than say, working breeds. I do believe it is important that a trainer have a general understanding of the different groups and of their general traits, but I don’t think that they have to have lived with that breed to be qualified to successfully work with that breed. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun to work with someone who has your breed. It can be fun to exchange stories and know that you share a love for a particular breed in common, but that might be as beneficial as it is. The most important thing is whether or not the trainer is skilled at training dogs and modifying behavior.
When I make the decision to refer a client to another consultant what I am going to look at in deciding who to refer to is that particular consultants expertise in the specific behavior problem that client is having with their dog. In other words, someone could have owned, bred and lived with German Shepherds for 30 years, but if they are not experienced in dealing with separation anxiety cases, I am not going to refer clients with dogs who have separation anxiety to them even if they have a German Shepherd. The trainer or consultant needs to be experienced, knowledgeable and skilled at working on that particular behavior problem in order to be able to help the client. Having extensive knowledge of a breed will not help you work through a behavior issue that you are not equipped to handle.
I suppose the only real advantage to living with a breed and having a huge amount of interaction with that breed is that, in a way, you become very skilled at reading their body language easily. Some dogs are easier to read than others and living with a breed can make you very sensitive to how they communicate. Once I had another trainer ask me about Pekingese as she was about to work with one and knows that I live with one and have fostered many others. Since it was an aggression issue I let her know that because the way a Peke is constructed it can be challenging to read some of their more subtle body language signals. She hadn’t thought of that and so it was helpful to her to have that insight. She then went on to work with the dog with no problems. Other trainers and owners of specific breeds have been able to offer that type of insight to me as well. It isn’t that the information was necessary to help the client, just helpful to file in the back of your mind.
So, when is a trainer or consultant not a good match when it comes to the breed you have? My main answer would be if the trainer has any negative biases about that particular breed. If a trainer absolutely cannot stand a particular breed and finds nothing redeemable about them, that is probably not someone I want to work with my dog. Another issue that I have is with trainers who make say things like, “all Labs love to eat”, or “Greyhounds can never be allowed off leash”, or “Beagles can never learn a good recall”. Even though a generalized comment may be accurate much of the time, they are dangerous blanket statements because there are always exceptions to the “rules”. There ARE Labs that aren’t foody. There ARE Greyhounds that do fine off leash. There ARE Beagles who come when called. There are no absolutes. I want to know that a trainer is aware and knowledgeable but I don’t want a trainer to go in there with a bunch of preconceived notions about a dog that they have never even met. There are many true generalizations but a good trainer or behavior consultant looks at the dog as an individual. As Dr. Susan Friedman would say, “They are all a study of one”.
The bottom line is, a good dog trainer or behavior consultant is knowledgeable about different breeds but is highly skilled in reading body language, building or modifying behavior, communicating with the client and producing results.