Many people have come to us across the years saying something like, “I have this smart family pet (GSD, Mal, Lab, etc) that I’d like to have trained as a working dog (protector, drug dog, therapy dog, etc).”
Red flags are already flying! Right away, we recognize that this person has limited knowledge of working dogs: both in selecting and training true working dogs. It’s probably no fault of their own. Hence, this article may help to clarify some issues in selecting a working dog.
First off, pets aren’t working dogs. Working dogs can make great pets but pets almost never make good working dogs. If you want a pet, choose a pet. If you want a working dog, choose – first and foremost – a working dog. Pets should be raised/trained as pets and working dog prospects should be raised/trained as working dogs. There are many distinct differences between the two. Other articles within our DogBlog help to educate owners on this issue.
Working dogs will require definite qualities if they are to succeed at the job you have slated for them. DRIVE is one of those necessary qualities: prey, defense, and retrieving. You can have a great pet without these qualities but, for a working dog, these are an absolute MUST.
Second, be selective for the job at hand. Therapy dogs will need to be confident. A shy pet will not make a good therapy dog. Therapy dogs must work around strange noises, smells, sudden movements, etc. They must be chosen for a confident temperament. They most likely will not require much prey, defense, or retrieving drive. They will be more laid back but must be confident.
A personal protection dog, on the other hand, must display prey, defense, and retrieving drives as well as be extremely confident. Admittedly, these qualities can be enhanced in training. However they must inherently be there in the first place or no amount of training will overcome that deficiency. The dog either has it or he doesn’t. Genetics will play a crucial role in this.
Third, the bottom line is…choose your working dog according to the needs of the specific work you have in mind, not merely as an after-thought. This will spare you much disappointment and probably much expense as well.