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It’s Not How They’re Raised, It’s How Dogs are Managed That Matters Most

How many times have you heard someone say about a dog, “It’s all how they’re raised”?  Probably a lot. If you own a pit bull dog, probably a lot more.

I hear pit bull advocates saying it all the time, as a way to defend our dogs. I hear other saying it as a flippant remark about dogs in general.  This phrase gets tossed around all the time, but no one seems to be aware of what they’re really saying….and how damaging it can be.

This saying does have a kernel of truth  in it, of course, but “how they’re raised” is just one of the factors that contributes to who our dogs are. It’s not the whole story. 

When people believe that “It’s All How They’re Raised”, there are some real-life consequences for the dogs. So we need to check ourselves. 

Here are a few ways our words hurt:

People refuse to adopt adult dogs. This idea, that how they’re raised determines who a dog is, makes adopting out adult and senior dogs a real challenge. Why would adopters take a chance on an adult dog, who has been raised by someone else, when they could adopt a puppy and raise it “right” themselves? Some folks really believe this. Seriously, shelter workers are constantly confronted by this way of thinking. It stinks.

Shelters won’t place victims of cruelty up for adoption. If a dog has survived an abusive or neglectful situation, such as dog fighting, animal hoarding, puppy mills, etc., then it is known they were “raised wrong”. Some organizations use this as proof that the dogs aren’t safe or fit to be adopted out.The same thing goes for dogs that are suspected of surviving these situations. If the assumption is made that a dog with cropped ears has been fought, that assumption of their past may wind up costing the dog his life if policies dictate that fight bust dogs are not adoptable because they were obviously “raised wrong.”

Responsible dog owners feel like failures. People who have raised their dogs since puppyhood beat themselves up when they’ve done everything right, but despite their very best efforts, their dogs still have behavioral issues. I hear from a lot of you through DINOS because you feel ashamed and guilty about your dog’s issues, despite having raised your dogs right. Let me just say it now: it’s not all how a dog is raised that matters. You guys have to stop beating yourselves up (even if you’re a dog trainer).

Here’s the reality – dogs are who they are due to many factors: training, breeding, socialization, management, genetics, and environment. All of these things influence who our dogs are.

A dog’s past is a chapter, but it’s never the whole story. Let me show you:

“Raised Wrong”

Some dogs, neglected and abused their entire lives, are well-adjusted, social dogs. Anyone who has worked in rescue has met countless dogs who were not raised in the best circumstances, but despite this lack of early socialization or care (or worse) they turn out to be safe, family dogs. Many of us share our homes with dogs that were raised in less than ideal conditions, but are still wonderful pets.

One example of this scenario are the dogs rescued from fight busts or hoarding situations. Despite terrible beginnings, many of these victims of cruelty are ready to leave the past behind and enjoy family life. They may need training and structure to get used to living with a family in a house (what dog doesn’t?), but some of them are able to adjust to family life with relative ease. Their past didn’t help them do this, you dig?

Meet Jagger, the handsomest dog on earth! Visit his Facebook page to meet this sweet boy.

Meet Jagger, the handsomest dog on earth! Visit his Facebook page to meet this sweet boy.

“Raised Right”

Some dogs, purchased from responsible breeders and socialized properly from puppyhood, still wind up with behavioral problems. Many responsible dog owners, who have raised their dogs since they were puppies and did everything right, still find themselves with dogs who have a variety of behavioral issues. These dogs were “raised right”, but are still struggling, sometimes due to genetics.

One example of this is illustrated in an article written by a dog trainer who shared her problems with her own dog. Despite her very best professional efforts to train and socialize him, aka raise him right, he has significant behavior issues which may be caused by a medical condition. It’s not how he was raised that’s causing the problem. Read it here.

Puppies. It's not just how you raise them.

Puppies. It’s not just how you raise them.

In both of these cases, the common denominator that is actually determining the success of these dogs as family pets and their safety in the community isn’t how the dogs were raised: it’s responsible management.

Whether they were raised “right” or raised “wrong” in the past, no matter what behavioral problems a dog does or doesn’t have, when owners recognize their dog’s individual needs and provide them the right care and management tools, dogs have a chance to succeed in our crazy world.

More Present, Less Past

So, it’s not “how they’re raised” (what happened in the past) but rather, “how they’re managed” (what’s happening in the present) that needs to be our focus, if our goal is to help our dogs and  also create safe communities for us all to enjoy.

We can look to their past for clues and guidance, of course. I don’t mean ignore it all together. But we do more for our dogs when we look at them right now, without the haze of a bad (or good) past fogging up our thoughts.  Who are they right now? What do they need to succeed today?

Whoever they are, dogs always exists and act in the context of human beings. They don’t live in a vacuum. They live with us. We need to recognize dogs as individuals, then determine what they need from us in order to succeed in the world.

What this means is that when dogs are properly managed by a human, a dog with or without behavior problems has the opportunity to be a safe, family dog. Dogs may need a variety of management tools, depending on what behavioral issues (if any) they have.  Beyond training, various management tools might include: space management (crates, gates, etc.), muzzles, leashes, fences, proper supervision, etc. I’d also include medication in this category, if it’s necessary. When these tools are used, owners are setting dogs up to be successful.

This also means that any dog that is not managed properly can be a nuisance to the community or a danger to others. We see this often in the case of dogs that are running loose in neighborhoods. The dogs may be friendly (or not), but by allowing them to roam the streets or chase other dogs, their owners are setting these dogs up to get into trouble. They are not managing them. They are setting them up to fail.

side note:  This is why I’m such a stickler for obeying leash laws. It’s a management tool.  I just wish the laws were enforced.

leash sign


I think that dogs are only as successful and safe as humans set them up to be – no matter what their past may be. When a dog gets in trouble or acts dangerously, somewhere along the line, a person has failed to make the right choice. But that’s not the same as “how they were raised”.

How they’re raised may be one factor that influences dogs, but it doesn’t determine the whole being of a dog. Perpetuating this idea only winds up hurting dogs with less than perfect pasts and shaming people who own dogs they’ve had since puppyhood.

The truth is that it’s how we currently manage dogs that determines how any dog interacts with the world. When we focus on managing them in the present, based on their individual needs, we can set dogs up for success despite what may have happened to them in the past.

So can we trash “its all how they’re raised” once and for all? It’s such a drag for dogs and their owners.

Let’s replace it with the truth:

It’s all how they’re managed. Dogs are only as successful as we set them up to be.

PDF version here: It’s Not How They’re Raised

  1. Thanks for this post…I’m a GSD mom and am just really beginning to realize that training with such an active and intelligent dog is part of daily life, and not just a class or two. Just tonight I felt guilty bc she didn’t do something I asked her to do immediately…but if owners begin to think of training as lifelong learning or daily management, then we can let ourselves (and our dogs) off the hook as failures and move forward. I also needed the reminder about keeping her on a leash…why do we feel guilty about that?

    November 20, 2012
  2. seriously great post!

    November 20, 2012
  3. lnwoods25 #

    THANK YOU. Thank you. thank you for this post.

    It’s true – I have raised my dog from a teeny little pup to a handsome, blocky-headed dude, and this guy has so much love in his life it’s ridiculous. But, due to some scary run-ins with off-leash dogs, and due to his maturation, etc, my dude is now a DINOS. Which is cool with me – I love him however he is, stinky breath and all. I just have to manage any situation that I choose to put the two of us in.

    Responsible management equals setting our dogs up for success. You word this so well in every post.

    November 20, 2012
    • You’re welcome! The best part of what you’re saying is that as your dog changed, so did your management style. That’s really key: know your dog, see them as they are right NOW (not how they were or how you wish they were) and come up with a good game plan, so that y’all stay safe and happy together!

      November 21, 2012
    • I understand you so well. I also have had my dog from a tiny pup and trained her a LOT- she is super smart too, and yet she is reactive to other dogs (not aggressive thankfully, more like a resource guarder with me being the resource). She’s also frightened of children due to some negative experiences I could not control. I have, and will continue, to set her up for success. And yet I’ve been accused and/or judged because of not bringing her out into the world and public enough according to others anyway.

      I also volunteer at BARCS and see adult dogs and dogs with scars or cropped ears get overlooked because they MUST be former fighting dogs or “bait” dogs. How I hate that word and those assumptions. If you didn’t see it, if you don’t know if for a fact? Please don’t assume it. I would never judge a person by their scars and yet that is exactly what we do to these dogs. Some of the most docile and sweet dogs I have ever met have been large dogs with cropped ears.

      **steps off soapbox** Thanks so much for this article. I love that you thought and wrote it and that it was so good.

      November 21, 2012
  4. LOVE THIS. I will share this with all the people who continually say this to me! Love your blog!

    November 20, 2012
  5. Great post! I especially like the point you make about setting your dog up for failure. The assumption that because you were the one to raise them, the dog can’t possibly have issues is terrible. It would make any issues your dog does develop seem like entirley your own fault, and something that you couldn’t possibly fix yourself. My dog has never counter-surfed (begged, sniped dropped food, BEGGED, licked the bottom of my bowl, yes… surfed… no), but the way we see it in our house is “yeah, he’s a great dog, very well behaved. Let’s keep it that way”, and we refrain from leaving temptation just out of reach. I also really like Patti Smith’s comment – “think of training as lifelong learning or daily management” – because i’ve met a lot of dogs whose interest in listening to their owner is exactly ZERO, whose owners believe that the puppy socialization class they took 5 years ago ought to be enough for their adult dog to be a star of obedience.

    November 21, 2012
  6. Meredith Sterling #

    This is SO true and frequently misunderstood and, then, mis-applied. I work in a psych hospital for children & adolescents and the same truths apply to them; every person is an individual and that is a total (greater than the sum of its part, by the way 🙂 of many many things including and not limited to: genetics, past and present living situations, outside peer and mentoring influences, medication/effects or lack of, etc.

    There are so many instances of children experiencing difficulties in their behaviors and relationships whose parents did everything ‘right’ — and vice versa. None of this is one-dimensional and much can be changed and improved regardless of the current starting point.

    November 21, 2012
    • I love hearing your perspective Meredith – thanks for sharing this. And “greater than the sum of its parts” is such a perfect way to illustrate this concept, whether we’re talking about people or dogs.

      November 21, 2012
  7. Fantastic post. So many factors get left out in so much well-intended advocacy. We have come a long way, but have a long way to go. This aspect is one of them- and like you said, is one of the reasons people won’t adopt an adult dog. Well done.

    November 21, 2012
  8. Reblogged this on barefootandprimal and commented:
    Very cool article!

    November 21, 2012
  9. THANK YOU. my dog has been nothing but loved and sweetened since puppyhood but showed major stranger danger and has a bit of a bite history. every time i heard “it’s all in how they’re raised” i just became so frustrated because since he was 8 weeks old he was raised just like any other cherished family dog. i finally just had to accept he’s not Lassie and restructure the way i introduce him to people and become OK with the fact that it’s up to me to make him a safe and friendly dog to be around.

    now whenever i hear that tired old “oh we want a puppy so we can raise it right” i just shake my head and tell them my story. some dogs are just differently equipped. whether you get a puppy, a teen, an adult, or a senior, be prepared that you’re making a commitment and some dogs just plain need you to adjust WITH them.

    it’s so much more rewarding now though knowing my DINOS (from people, luckily our run ins with off leash dogs have been uneventful except for me fuming at the owner and trying to politely clue them into the danger in which they’re putting their dog, themselves, and everyone around them) has come so far instead of being perfect from the outset. totally sharing this post.

    November 21, 2012
  10. Much like people, there are many factors that go into an individual’s behavior. It’s the old Nature/ Nurture argument basically. And obviously, behavior may change depending on a given situation. That said, ALSO like people, it is impossible to ever predict behavior with 100% accuracy. I definitely see your point about how assuming a dog is “damaged” by their raising can be damaging, but I would guess the shelter people who may refuse a rescue dog from a fight situation are only erring on the side of caution.

    Perhaps a good compromise would be for them to only release dog s raised in violence to households that are not only thoroughly vetted for competency, but have no small children, just to be on the safe side. I love animals a great deal and tend to be sympathetic towards your cause, however, as the parent of a toddler (and a dog bite victim myself) I also know it only takes a second of bad behavior to do serious damage.

    November 21, 2012
    • Hi there ARQ, I definitely get what you’re saying and, of course, I want everyone to be safe. If a dog is evaluated and they’re deemed unsafe for adoption, that’s fair.
      But their past shouldn’t be an excuse to skip the evaluation and condemn them on sight. And any dog can bite – even if they were raised right. The past alone doesn’t determine future behavior.

      Luckily, there are shelters that fairly evaluate dogs rescued from abusive situations, such as dog fighting. If the dogs are deemed safe, they are placed in homes that suit their individual needs (sometimes with kids, sometimes with other animals).

      Five years ago many of the Vick dogs made history when they began their new lives as family pets. Today they, along with others like Jagger (seen here), remind shelters to expand their circle of compassion and fairly evaluate ALL dogs, no matter their past. You can meet some of the Vick dogs here:

      November 21, 2012
      • Oh I agree… they should be evaluated fairly… maybe just a bit more extensively, given their circumstances. In a way, if you think about it, it’s like the birth of a serial killer. Many come from bad backgrounds, but there are some that had perfectly unremarkable childhoods, yet still ended up violent and twisted. Like you and I both basically said, it’s way more complicated than just one factor or another. Although it is hard to ignore correlations (at least in humans) between experiencing violence in childhood and adult perpetration of violence, as they say “correlation is not causation.” ….Damn, I’m a nerd.

        November 21, 2012
      • I wouldn’t think a “no families with small children” rule would be appropriate, not only because dogs are individuals and should be evaluated as such, because also because dogs trained to fight are specifically bred and trained for dog-aggression but not human-aggression.

        I think really good evaluation of every dog, with maybe some extra attention given to dogs with problematic backgrounds, would be reasonable. I also think disclosing to an adopter as much as you know about the dog’s background is appropriate. For example, my husband and I fostered a dog who was thought to have been a bait dog (though her scars were nowhere near as bad as Jagger’s, so she may also just have gotten into a couple fights as a stray). Knowing that that was a possibility led us to be very careful in introducing her to other dogs.

        Personally, I’d want adopters to have as much information as possible, even if it’s not anything bad. “The dog has never been around little kids,” or “The dog was trained as a hunting dog and shouldn’t be anywhere near your pet bunny,” or “The dog was picked up as a stray in Ruralville–don’t be surprised if he’s confused or scared by city traffic and noise.” None of these things mean a dog is unsafe or dangerous–they’re just useful information to help you figure out how to manage the dog, especially while you’re getting to know them and don’t have enough info of your own to go on.

        November 21, 2012
        • Agreed – no information should be hidden, but I think that applies to all dogs, right? Just as importantly, all the information you pass on must be accurate, even if that means saying “I don’t know.” Speculating about what a dog might have experienced in the past is just a guess and in some cases, that guess can cost a dog their life. For example, being labeled a “bait dog” can carry an automatic death sentence in some shelters. So rather than guess that your former foster dog (thanks for fostering, btw!!) might have been a bait dog, why not say only what you know for sure: we don’t know her history, we don’t know where the scars came from, and we encourage slow, careful inroductions with new dogs. That’s good, solid advice that sets ALL dogs up to succeed (slow dog intros never hurt), even when you don’t know much about them. So it’s accurate, advises good management, but doesn’t make assumptions about an unknown past.

          November 21, 2012
  11. Karin #

    Excellent blog and about time someone addressed this in a clear and constructive way. It will take some time for society to “get it” but hopefully the result will be fewer rehabable/adoptable dogs killed due to stigma and more risky dogs better managed so there are fewer bites.

    November 21, 2012
  12. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I hope that this blog entry gets the attention that it deserves, because this info has been a long time coming.

    November 21, 2012
  13. Kristine #

    This is exactly what I have been trying to say for a long time. Thank you so much for laying it out so well and putting it better than I could. I know I am going to be quoting that last line a lot from now on.

    We don’t know anything about my dog’s past other than she was found as a stray. Despite all that we were able to work with her behavioral concerns and have managed to keep her from putting herself or others in danger. Once I learned how to set her up for success, everything changed for the better.

    November 21, 2012
  14. Great post. I see this same argument crop up with horses quite a bit too; people sometimes get it into their heads that if a horse has a bad experiences or a less than ideal upbringing that’s resulted in unwanted behaviors, you just have to learn to work around them rather than just addressing them… it’s almost like they think those experiences get coded into their genetics or something, like a stain you can’t get out. It frustrates me almost as much as the idea that “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” I’ve worked almost exclusively with training wild horses and there are tons of people who think you literally CAN’T train them past a certain age, and usually it’s a very young age, like 5 or 6 years old. (Horses can live upwards of 30-40 years if they’re well cared for.) That’s an awful lot of great animals being written off purely on the advice of a really stupid adage.

    With my own dog, he came from a shelter and although his behavior gives me some clues now and again to how he was brought up, I really couldn’t say for sure… and I’m fine with that. I know next to nothing about his life before me, but that’s not important, and not knowing is almost easier because that way the past can’t bear too much weight in your decisions. What’s important for my guy now is that I have clear expectations, a plan for what and how I intend to teach him, and that I offer him consistency in everything so he knows what to expect from me, too.

    November 21, 2012
  15. Rumpley #

    I really like this article as it touches on something rarely discussed in dog ownership. It’s simply not enough to own the dog as it is to manage it’s needs on a day to day basis.
    To be honest, the thing I was expecting more from this article was to also talk about the genetics of a dog and how that influences the “final product.” Genetic coding is something concrete and can’t be changed. I really believe it’s all about genetics and conditioning that make the “whole dog.” It also falls into this category of “how a dog is managed” because it also effects dog ownership in that you can raise a dog perfectly right, but if it has bad genetics, your dog may never be as stable as you’d like it to be. For example: a terminally shy dog won’t ever blossom into an outgoing dog if the shyness is genetic, even with the right training, management and perfect owner. On the flip side, dogs with stable genetic temperament can survive horrific hoarding conditions and abuse, and yet thrive and be “normal dogs” once put in the right environment because the dog is sound, and the genetic coding is right. You can’t change genetics. You can change conditioning and management.

    November 21, 2012
  16. Wow! I just felt a weight lift from my shoulders. I have 2 DINOS in my life- both I’ve had since puppies. They have been spoiled and loved all their life so I’ve often wondered what I did wrong. My GSD has always been in need of space- ALL people and many dogs. However, my Boxer/Bulldog mix has at the ripe old age of 6 decided he has had enough of socializing. He LOVES people but not other dogs. The GSD was born to a service dog organization so he was quickly released & I adopted him until he and my Boxer got into a brutal fight and I got caught in the middle. So he want back to the organization and protects the many acres there. I am his only puppy sitter though so he comes to see me quite often. It’s a juggling act to keep the Boxer and him apart but I adore them both. I manage them. All in the middle of this is a little rescued female Boxer who was tied to a gas meter behind a house when she was no longer a cute puppy. She’s very weird LOL but not a really a DINOS. All this being said. We don’t do the dog parks or much socialization any more. My GSD runs with me when I have him. No one will bother me with a 115 lbs black GSD on my arm. As a single girl, I actually like having dogs that will provide a particular level of protection. That being said, it’s like having a firearm, you better know some gun safety and you better know when to fire.

    Mamma Heartbeat

    November 21, 2012
  17. Caitlin #

    We’ve just passed the one year anniversary for rescuing our DINOS. He’s scared of people coming up suddenly, scared of most everyone (he dropped to his belly last week when a 90-something sweet man came to say hello), is extremely head-shy (especially with other faces, for some reason–even I can’t kiss his face, though I can pet it), can’t be near animals other than ours, has raggedy ears, eyes that won’t stop weeping, and is still 105 pounds in spite of being an adult male Great Dane who can free feed (his barrel chest never grew and his back legs are shorter than his front, so I think the starvation I know happened was when he was developing).

    And you know what? He is still a very good dog. He’s loving, clueless, and sweet, he can’t sleep very well without touching someone all night long, he thinks he’s a lapdog and therefore sticks his bony butt on people, and he prances when he gets up in the morning. I love him.

    One of the reasons I started following DINOS on FB is that I think it’s terrible I somehow need to make excuses for the fact that my dog is scared and explain his story (especially to MDIF people!). He stays leashed and apart from strangers everywhere because that’s how we manage his issues and that’s what is best for him. He’s not somehow a worse dog for his past. He is what he is right now, and what that is is a trooper.

    So thank you for making this point. I agree wholeheartedly.

    November 21, 2012
  18. Lucy's Mom #

    Bravo!! Well written and comprehensive as always!

    November 21, 2012
  19. Janet Wager #

    OK I just could not resist this, Thank you for this article. I have felt very badly and wondered what I had done wrong with my beautiful apricot standard poodle. Arriving at three months I was sure that I had done everything possible to socialize her with people but it would seem that this was not nearly enough. The trainers at the local kennel club feared her snarling personality when we started there at 7 months and as treat trainers they gave her a treat every time she growled at them. Now I really had a problem. I was lucky enough to find a trainer in the area (training with flat leather collar, love, praise and firm expectations that I must learn how to manage my dog) who had worked with police service dogs for 35 years and we have worked with him for the last three years. Training and management of my dog is the key. She is not an extrovert but an introvert. She does not like to be approached and I am getting good at fending off people who want to handle a dog who does not want their attention. She now sits quietly at my side as she knows I will not put her into a situation she can not handle and we will continue to work on her people skills for as long as it take.

    November 21, 2012
  20. This could not be more true, I have 3 pits, 1 that is around 10 yrs old that was severely malnourished, skin issues, broken teeth and has hip problems, we just adopted him about a week ago but he is the sweetest dog even though he obviously did not have a good life before us. 1 that is around 3 that we adopted about 18 months ago, she came in as an owner surrender they used her to have puppies and then discarded her, she is also very sweet, loving and calm. Then we have our 18 month old that we got when she was 12 weeks old, we socialized her with other dogs and she was fine until about 6 months old and now she does not like other dogs, mainly dominant females, she has since had training and still needs more but has improved. We never put her in a situation that could be harmful to her or to another dog, as far as people go she has not met one yet that she does not love

    November 21, 2012
  21. Link #

    I completely agree, I rescued my dog when she was 2yrs old, She was really REALLY badly abused. As a result at the start she had behavioral problem but that was only because she had never been socalised. She was also quite vicious when I got her and was recommended by the vets that I have her put down, but I had all the time in the world to work with her, and within about 2 months her whole attitude started to change, all it took was time, patience alot of TLC and to build up her trust in me. It’s been 3 years now and I trust her with all my heart to be around other people, children and all other animals. She is proof that even some of the dogs they deem to be too much of a risk can also be saved. I did notice (and I feel a bit mean even thinking it… but) that by adopting an adult dog (who also needed alot more care at the start) it took me alot longer to fall in love with her than it would have if i got a puppy, but the reward of saving a life and the fact that she is the funniest dog, with a huge heart makes every difficult/painful moment worth it. I wish I had the space and money to take in more wee guys in need. What a rant!

    November 21, 2012
  22. Excellent article and thank you very much – you did though, overlook ex-racing greyhounds who often also fall foul of breed stigma, their histories and perceptions of how they must have been raised. Lots of them can and do live happily with large and small fluffy animals, and shelter policies that state they cannot be rehomed with small dogs or cats severely limit their chances of adoption. We test all our dogs with small dogs and cats and some pass straight away – others need a little work, but we do battle with the general public (and some shelters) views that because they have raced they are not safe to be rehomed. Nothing could be further from the truth. They make fabulous pets

    November 21, 2012
    • Hi Eileen, thanks for that great reminder about greyhounds. When working at a shelter, I had the pleasure of caring for quite a few greyhounds and loved getting to know each one of their distinct personalities. We sent many home with cats and other dogs. I think what folks need to remember is that ALL dogs are individuals and deserve to be evaluated fairly. Relying only on stereotypes, past history, or breed to make guesses about how a dog will behave in the future is doing dogs a great disservice. we need to get to know the dogs in front of us!

      November 22, 2012
  23. What you are saying is exactly true. Here are a couple of points that I thought about while reading the article.

    I think I would avoid using the term, “It is all about…..” for anything about dogs. Dogs are extremely complex animals with a many needs, emotions and desires. To say “It is all about….” is just further grouping all their complex behaviors into a single group.

    One of the reasons I no longer buy purebred dogs from breeders of any type is because exactly what happened with the St. Bernard in your example, and I have seen that exact same thing happen over and over and over. Breeders constantly claim, “If you breed two great dogs, you will get great puppies.” I have known that was “hooyie” for a long time. A person is given a false sense of security: “If I pay a lot of money from this “responsible” breeder, I will get a great dog.”

    Instead, what I have done for over 30 years is to adopt dogs who are at least six months old from shelters or rescues, and I pick the dogs that have the personalities that I want: outgoing and happy and friendly toward humans and animals. I actually intentionally choose dogs who have been “to hell and back” and still come out smiling and happy and friendly. Those dogs are the ones who can handle the stresses of everyday life and come out wanting more. That does not mean that don’t need structure and training and patience, because they do.

    What you are describing is why so many dogs become homeless. People think, “If I just do all these things that I am told to do, I will get a great dog.” When the dog comes out less than desirable despite all their perceived efforts, they surrender the animal, get a new puppy and try again until they get the dog that fits their specific lifestyle.

    November 23, 2012
  24. Nancy Woodruff #

    I really love this article, especially because I am “one of them”. We’ve had our collie since a puppy and he has what we call “issues”. We had another collie before him, too, with no behavioral problems. So what did we do different this time than last time? Nothing, and they turned out different. Our neighbors have 2 dogs, a brother and a sister, since they were puppies. She is very friendly, he is very cautious. She doesn’t care about fireworks. He is scared to death. Yes, how they are raised is just part of the equation.

    November 23, 2012
  25. As a Pitbull foster and promoter I hear a lot of “it’s all about how they are raised”. Usually this is people just trying to come up with SOMETHING to say in response to hearing about my passion for pitbulls. I understand that they are trying to say something nice, but they definitely don’t realize how harmful and completely un-true that belief can be. Thank you for the great post!

    November 23, 2012
  26. Awesome post! So true!

    November 24, 2012
  27. You make a great point! Caesar Milan has said the same too about those who know of a dog’s past need to stop treating them as if they’re still in it – the people have to move on so that the dog can.

    Your post also points out the difference of raising a dog and managing a dog – ‘raised’ is more final where ‘management’ is ongoing. Dogs definitely need ongoing training and mental stimulation.

    November 27, 2012
  28. BethNYC #

    Excellent article and something I’ve said many times as well. As someone now only peripherally involved in rescue (I volunteer at the NYACC aka “The Kill Shelter” when time permits. I have a Terrier/Chi mix who is people aggressive. He is not unpredictable, I know his triggers and manage them every minute of every day when he is around people. He was from an abusive home where the kids as well as the adults used to hit him with his leash. He is food aggressive and I’m sure he was beaten as a puppy for resource guarding. However, his issues are not abuse related. They are temperament related without question. it took me a long time to realize this and as I became more educated about dogs, this became clearer and clearer. All interaction is on his terms even with me. Once I realized this and stopped using negative training techniques on him for his aggression, he relaxed and has become much more trusting but it took years to get him to this point. I solely use positive or neutral techniques and I never let my guard down when he is being petted by people he loves and now allows to touch him but I ask them to stop before he decides he’s had enough. I made a commitment to him rather than euthanize because he wasn’t unpredictable and it is a commitment I take very seriously because his life depends on it.

    November 28, 2012
  29. EXCELLENT post!

    November 28, 2012
  30. BLESS YOU for writing this. As a dog training apprentice, I’ve been on both sides of the fence. It can feel like a betrayal when the dog that you’ve sweated, cheered, and worked with to the point of being fabulous suddenly . . . attacks your mother’s dog and puts 7 stitches in her over an empty peanut toy.

    Now I work with clients with the first-hand knowledge under my belt on how to help them and their dogs learn calming signals and thoughtful, realistic management techniques, and I can help them get through the shattering of the illusion that their dog is a Disney character and come to appreciate their dog as the living, breathing, thinking (and sometimes reacting!) organism it is.

    They watch my dog rock through agility, obedience, and show off for the crowd with tricks, and they go “Mika? Really? She tried to eat your mom’s dog?”

    And sometimes, for those people struggling to accept that their dog needs some space, she sets a good example that regardless, with intelligent and realistic management, your dog and you can achieve anything you put your mind to.

    December 3, 2012
  31. Ken #

    This is a very interesting article and you make a lot of very good points, but I do feel you are underplaying the vital importance of socialisation. Loving a puppy isn’t enough, you HAVE to socialise them properly and this takes a huge amount of work. This is all part of raising them right – it does make a HUGE difference for the vast majority of dogs. Unfortunately, finding a breeder who takes this issue as seriously as they should can be a huge challenge, and if you are getting puppies from a pet store or a newspaper ad you are taking a serious risk that their early developmental socialisation is either non existent or negative.

    I have worked with severely abused dogs (I am a pet photographer), but the dogs I work with who have the biggest issues are from pet shops or newspaper ads, and likely started out life in a puppy factory, and their negative socialisation pretty much condemns them to a life of fear. And its fearful dogs who are most likely to bite.

    Your points about ongoing management and training are spot on, all dogs need this whether socialised or not, and your point that even well socialised dogs who are also well trained can still have issues is also spot on, but to have the best chance of a well balanced non reactive dog you should get a puppy from a responsible and educated breeder, work hard at doing the correct socialisation (Dr Ian Dunbar writes best about this), and enroll in training classes immediately.

    Its interesting how many people who have rescued dogs are convinced they have been abused, because they are nervous around new people and new places and other dogs. Chances are they just haven’t had the right socialisation, this is exactly how under socialised dogs behave. Unfortunately too many dogs in this situation STILL aren’t trained properly, as their new mums and dads feel sorry for them because of their ‘past’ – your point about not living in the past is excellent!

    I am a huge believer in rescue initiatives, we financially support many rescue groups through our photography, we have a rescue boy (with dog reactivity issues unfortunately) and we will always get rescue dogs, but unfortunately novice dog owners should understand the risks they are taking. Only if they are willing to manage/train their dog and get over the likely poor socialisation issues should they take on a rescue dog. To truly help these dogs we need to take an honest and realistic approach.

    So getting a dog in order of safety;
    1. reputable breeder who understands socialisation (safest)
    2. reputable rescue organisation who do proper behavioral assessments by trained staff
    3. anywhere else (most dangerous). Never buy from pet shops or newspaper / internet ads!!!

    December 12, 2012
    • I think what you are describing is one of the oldest and untrue myths that exist: The difference between paying a lot of money from a breeder or adopting a dog from a rescue or shelter.

      First, I never use the word “rescue” as a noun to describe a type of dog that was not purchased from a breeder. I only use the word rescue as a group that adopts animals. My dogs are adopted, and remain dogs, rather than calling then a “rescue,” which actually categorizes and stigmatizes them, which I don’t agree.

      “but to have the best chance of a well balanced non reactive dog you should get a puppy from a responsible and educated breeder, work hard at doing the correct socialisation (Dr Ian Dunbar writes best about this), and enroll in training classes immediately.”

      This is the number one myths that exist in the dog world. I can give you ten stories off the top of my head where dogs from so called “responsible” breeders still came out with intense fears and behavioral problems, even with all the best socialization in the world.

      The second myth is that if somebody does all the right things doing all the socialization and going to classes, they will rewarded with a great dog. Those chances are not higher in any way.

      The third myth is that if a dog is not purchased from a “responsible” breeder, and raised in less than perfect environment, the dog will turn out less than perfect. For several decades, I have adopted only dogs from shelters and rescue groups, except for a single dog purchased from a backyard breeder in the early eighties, who did have a fabulous temperament. Every single dog has had a fabulous temperament, with both people and dogs, except for a single dog with dog aggression problems, which developed after I got her. It was not a total fluke that I adopted these dogs. I intentionally look for dogs, doing standard temperament testing, that have the outstanding qualities I am looking for. One dog I adopted from Thailand, who I only saw in photos, has the most outgoing temperament with people and dogs. Knowing what this dog had just been through to end up in the shelter, she was still happy and outgoing in the photos to a total stranger holding the camera.

      An example I have for proof of these beliefs is my dog, Dino. He was an owner surrender at San Francisco Animal Control at the age of nine months. After getting him as a puppy from a backyard breeder in the San Joaquin Valley, poor Dino, then named Spooky, never left his backyard and was chained the whole time. They turned him into the shelter because “too many kids and not enough time for the dog.” The shelter deemed him unadoptable because they thought he was “untrainable and out of control.” The private shelter next door turned him down, and he was scheduled for euthanasia. Luckily, the rescue group, Grateful Dogs Rescue, believed differently, and actually said he was friendly and very excited when they visited him in the kennel. They had him for three months when I found him posted on while looking for a young, male, herding mix. After doing a temperament test on him and finding him extremely friendly and outgoing, I adopted him shortly thereafter. When he came to my home, he had a small abscess on his hip from a nick from another dog in the foster home. That led to a massive abscess in three days. He then had surgery and had drains and an e collar on him for four weeks while it healed.

      Even though Dino had everything go wrong for him for his first year, he went on to a very outstanding career in the Obedience, Rally, Conformation, Weight Pulling, Racing and Tracking, with some of the highest titles earned by a Mixed Breed.

      I don’t think Dino’s situation is rare, but actually quite common. If raised in the right hands AFTER getting into a great home, no matter what happened prior, they can still be great dogs. I don’t consider myself an experienced trainer, but I am experienced in knowing Dino and understanding his individual needs and potential.

      I have a personal saying, “Great dogs are not bred or born. Great dogs are created.”

      I would rather adopt a dog from a shelter or rescue group before ever paying a breeder a dime for an untested and unproven puppy.

      December 12, 2012
    • Thanks for your comment and for your commitment to working with rescue dogs. Having worked at a shelter, caring for countless rescue dogs, I have to say – I’m so sad to read your comment, because it’s exactly what scares the public away from adopting a rescue dog. There is such a wide variety of dogs available for adoption and they are homeless for so many reasons, that to suggest that it’s a risk to adopt or that rescue dogs need more care/training/management than other dogs is really misleading. I’ve cared for countless rescue dogs that were well socialized and well adjusted, but still wound up in a shelter (think divorce, moving, death of an owner). And just as many pure bred dogs purchased from reputable breeders who are properly socialized, but due to genetics they are a mess! Every dog is an individual – and every single one needs an owner willing to manage them properly, no matter how they started off in life. For more on the genetic component, you might enjoy reading this:

      December 12, 2012
      • Agreed Completely!

        Here is another article I recently saw:

        Why Dogs End Up In Shelters

        Pet Health, Inc. conducted a new comprehensive study and has uncovered the real culprit for dogs winding up in shelters – the owners themselves. This study used data from 800 animal welfare organizations and more than a million dogs in the U.S. The study found that 86 percent of the reasons for relinquishment were owner specific. In it’s report Pet Health said that not one dog-specific reason ended up within the top 10 reasons.

        The top 10 reasons for relinquishment were:

        1. Too many pets.
        2. Unwanted or incompatible.
        3. Moving or deployed
        4. Stray/Found/Abandoned
        5. Inability to care for
        6. Financial or Home Insurance Policy Restrictions
        7. Euthanasia request
        8. Unwanted litter or pregnant female
        9. Allergic to animal
        10. Family health or death of owner.

        Pet related issues which, as it turns out, are not the primary reasons for relinquishment were; health issues, aggression, and hyperactivity. The last reason most likely, because the dog’s exercise needs and relief from boredom were not met – an all too common problem with modern dog ownership.

        This study helps dispel the common myth that the primary reasons for relinquishment are a dog’s behavioral problems.

        Source: Why Pets Wind Up in Shelters: The Reasons are Largely Owner Specific Survey Says., by Betty Liddick, Cummings School of Veterinarian Medicine at Tufts Univer- sity, Your Dog Newsletter, Column: News & Views,
        v. XVIII,N. 8, Aug. 2012, p.2.

        December 12, 2012
  32. alexdecampi #

    Thank you for this. I own a senior pit who we adopted when she was circa 10-12 years old, and whoever said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks is full of shit… or never owned an old dog. This girl was a cruelty case at a high-kill NY shelter, skin and bones, overbred, bad skin infections. Got her home and over the course of a month she lost her fear towards my other dogs, then she lost her fear/reactiveness to strange/passing dogs. She also learned to swim (which she LOVES), fetch, and about 10 commands. Also, she’s never destroyed anything, and she’s never had an accident in the house. She’s the snuggliest, dearest old girl.

    February 13, 2013
  33. Jessi #

    I have a GSD/rottie/lab mix I adopted at 10 mos. He’s going on 10 years this summer. We did classes every day for two tears, he went to dog daycare daily with me for two years. He went everywhere with me for four years and was exposed to everything.
    He has separation anxiety (maybe taking him everywhere wasn’t a good idea!) and noise phobias. He can’t be around other non-resident dogs without trying to start fights. But I wouldn’t trade him, or his quirks, for anything. I manage his environment as best I can, and I manage him. Sometimes that means sedating him so he doesn’t hurt zz himself (4th of July & NYE). It’s just part of being his person and I’m happy to do it because it means I still have my slumdog

    February 13, 2013
  34. Love this, I have 2 pit girls and I constantly hear from ppl its all about how they’re raised. We’ll I didn’t raise them, they were both very abused. So it’s not about how they’re raised, it’s about how they’re loved now.

    February 13, 2013
  35. ala #

    I haven’t even read the whole thing yet but THANK YOU. I write this all the time and was considering writing an entry on it. I may still but seriously- one of the best things about pit bulls specifically is that they come out of the worst situations and are still the best dogs. They were bred to be resilient, to deal with people doing terrible things to them and to never retaliate. The perfect irony of this dog is that because dog abusers/dog fighters and gangsters are inherently cowards, they bred a dog that would deal with the horrors they inflict and never defend itself. The cruelest people have produced the kindest dogs.

    February 13, 2013
    • Thanks for reading! I agree that there are a ton of pit bulls out there that have seen the worst of humans and still turn out to be loving, safe dogs. That being said, pit bulls are just like any other dog – some of them make it through the abuse without a lot of baggage and some of the don’t. There are many victims of dog fighting that couldn’t bounce back after what they endured and needed to be let go so that their suffering ends. It’s not a poor reflection on the breed if they’re damaged by their past, just an honest reminder that every dog is an individual first and we need to evaluate them that way.

      February 13, 2013
  36. Kimm Bilisko #

    One thing that might help is if more shelters would do pet evaluations like you see on some of the shows on Animal Planet. I think that would help assure potential owners that the dog isn’t dangerous. I adopted an abused fully grown Chocolate Lab and I’ve never regretted it. I don’t have children but whenever we’re out hiking kids are drawn to her and she loves them! Just a thought.

    February 13, 2013
    • Im sure every shelter would love to have an animal behaviorist on staff.. but most of them are lucky if they can afford to
      vet all the animals 😦

      February 13, 2013
      • Fortunately, there are evaluations that any shelter worker or volunteer can be trained to do, such as the ASPCA’s SAFER evaluation. When I worked in a shelter, I was taught this simple, short eval and it was a useful tool.

        Evals won’t tell you everything you need to know, but used in combination with other sources of information (past history from owners, observation by staff and volunteers during interactions, etc.) they can help give you an idea of whether the dog is safe to adopt out or if behavior mod is necessary to help them get ready for the adoption floor.

        February 13, 2013
  37. I adopted my dog when she was 6 years old and she was in the shelter’s program for dogs with severe behavior problems. She had lived on the street and had been at the shelter for 3 months before I came along, and the only reason they let me adopt her was because I was a trainer. It took us 2 years to overcome her multitude of issues, but it was well worth the hard work. Now she works as a service dog for me and is a model citizen. She helps me train in my obedience classes, helps kids overcome their fear of dogs (she used to hate kids and would snap at them), and helps socialize other dogs with behavior problems (she used to hate other dogs too). There is always a light at the end of the tunnel if you are willing to get down to the root of the problems and be diligent in your dog’s training.

    February 14, 2013
    • That’s wonderful Jessica! I would just add that there are some dogs that due to medical or genetic issues, can’t necessarily be helped by diligent training alone. Like the example I posted in the “raised right” category, some dogs may need medication (or other options) in order to be safe and sound.

      February 14, 2013
    • Nancy Woodruff #

      Jessica, maybe you can help me since you’re a dog trainer even though we’ve had about 6 trainers so far. How do I stop my dog from going from a full sleep to raging red zone barking because he heard a dog a block away bark? This is one issue we haven’t been able to overcome and when an 85 pound collie goes from sleeping to barking and scrambling to get up and run to a window it’s very irritating. How do you stop it when a dog goes from sleeping to a red zone?

      February 14, 2013
      • Kate C. #

        I, too, am a dog trainer, and it sounds like you may have an underlying anxiety/medical condition. Have you had blood tests done to make sure there is no contributing medical condition (such as a thyroid disorder)?

        I also might recommend trying a Thundershirt and/or a Comfort Zone plug-in with DAP (dog appeasing pheromone) to see if that helps. My dog is far less reactive to other dogs when she has her Thundershirt on and it really helped to speed up her training. We used to use it on every walk, but now she only needs it if we are going to be an area 1) with a LOT of dogs, 2) with dogs for a long period of time, or 3) in very close proximity to dogs (under 10 feet). I hope that helps!

        February 17, 2013
        • Nancy Woodruff #

          Kate, thank you so much for your suggestions. I don’t think he has any underlying medical conditions, but think he has anxiety. I actually want to take him for Reiki treatments, but my husband thinks it’s a waste of time. I think it’s possible that his problems came from birth. The breeder stopped breeding his mother a few litters after our dog was born because she was having problems giving birth. Cheyenne was from a litter of only 3, where the 2 other dogs had litters of 7 or 8. He’s hard to figure out. He gets along fine with most other dogs, to the point of ignoring them after being with them for a few minutes. I say “most other dogs” because there are a few in the neighborhood that for whatever reason he just doesn’t like. If the doorbell rings he just goes to the door and whines a little. We have 4th of July fireworks 2 blocks from our house and he is oblivious, just lays in the yard in a cloud of smoke like nothing’s going on. But if you cut your fingernails (there’s something about “metal” sounds) or if he hears a dog bark a block away he is running and barking like crazy. Sometimes I feel like I have a “special needs” dog!

          February 18, 2013
  38. This is so true, when I was 4 years old my Dad and I went to the local Rubbish Dump with a load of rubbish. While we were there I saw a little dog maybe 12 months old who was scavenging, dirty and fearful. My Dad being a sucker for animals, draw him out and eventually caught him. We took him home, fed him, cleaned him up and gave him a home. He begged for food, chased cars, was fearful of brooms, woofed down his food like it could be his last meal, he sat at the school gate each afternoon and waited for his kids to come home, and was the best dog a kid could wish for and he was with us for 12 years. Best dog I ever had!

    February 14, 2013
  39. As a rescuer, pit bull advocate and most importantly, a Mom to 4 rescued dogs…… A-Effing-Men!!!

    February 16, 2013
  40. Kate C. #

    While I don’t feel that we should *entirely* trash the “it’s how they are raised” concept (as a trainer, I see WAY too many people set their dog up for failure because their vet told them not to let the dog out of the house until he/she is 6 months old), I am constantly correcting people saying that how they are raised IS NOT ALL that matters. Dogs are a combination of how they are bred AND raised AND other factors we cannot control. I have met numerous people (including other trainers) with DINOS that did, in fact, “raise them right,” so even though I was originally taught that the socialization period is EVERYTHING, I have learned that that certainly isn’t the case. I adopted a 1 year old DINOS (little did the foster home know since they never walked her…..), and through a LOT of training and management, she now even enjoys coming into work with me, even though she knows there will be dogs there – all because I can manage the situation. Thank you for your article!

    February 17, 2013
    • Kate C. #

      I worded that strangely, I am constantly correcting people who say it IS “ALL how they are raised,” and *I* have to tell them that it is NOT “ALL how they are raised,” though that is still an important factor with the puppy they currently have.

      February 17, 2013
  41. Dave Pavelka #

    Great post. Reflexive behaviors are brought on by their antecedents, and operant behaviors are maintained by their consequences. There are factors from the past (genetics, raising) that impact conditioned reflexes, understanding of contingencies of reinforcement, even what is reinforcing, but classic and operant conditioning never stop. The question is if/how we control it.

    February 17, 2013
  42. Amen.

    February 17, 2013
  43. Shannon #

    Excellent article! Thank you so much.

    February 18, 2013
  44. Beth-Ann #

    This is so nice to hear…I recently had my doggy companion pass away suddenly. I felt guilty that I hadn’t given her the fullest life possible, thinking I was overly cautious with some serious behavioral issues she had outside of our home. I had rescued her from the streets when she was around 10 months old and could tell she already had a shady past. But I had her for 5 years and even with obedience training couldn’t figure out why some of her issues were never fully tamed or what I was doing wrong. Now I know I didn’t do everyhting right with her, but it is nice to know that I was helping her by putting necessary barriers between her and trouble/harm. Thank you for this post!

    March 14, 2013
  45. Thank you for this article! I think alot of us use the phrase “raised” because we have had our dogs since birth or shortly after…maybe it is that we want to take the credit when we “raise” a good dog,I don’t know, We used to go out of our way to get “pure” bred dogs,until we realized all the dogs that are in shelters that NEED loving homes.Our 10 year old female Dobe/Pit is wonderful, we adopted her at 8 weeks from a rescue,and our 2 year old Pit/Mastiff is a loveable “Moose”…he still gets SO excited when he comes in contact with people AND dogs, but we restrain him because we don’t know how these other dogs are going to react(he is kind of “large”….)they LOVE our children and grandchildren,and it is sad to see people act afraid when they first meet them, because of stereotypes….it is really what we “teach” our dogs that makes them responsible “citizens”, isn’t it?

    March 18, 2013
    • remus #

      I am an old military brat who moved around a lot as a child. We had dogs but they were adopted out to other military people when we had to move. The breed my father always had was a boxer. The last one we had was 40 years ago and I don’t remember where that one went. They all knew commands and were trained as to what corner of the yard to poop in. This was all reinforced daily. I learned a lot about it but added my own twist that works for me.
      I like bull breeds – APBT/AmStaff/Staffy/Bull terrier. Though I have only owned one – I am disabled and he was my companion dog until recently – I found it to be the perfect breed for me. My dog was bred from two dogs sired by a notable AKC (big deal) champ and two different dams who are name dogs as well. In the end, it made them pretty but they had to be raised and trained. I got my dog at 8 weeks and spent hours with him everyday for two years until I was disabled – then I was with him every day. If you have an intelligent dog you can have as much fun as you could with any child; sometimes more. I taught that dog all of his commands and then to understand them by hand signals that were inconspicuous and of my design. He could wag his tail and bark by signaling to. I live near large rivers, creeks and the Chesapeake bay so he always had a place to swim. He loved for me to throw objects in the water for him to fetch and would bark at me to do so. I taught him to swim on command. He would paddle out 50 – 60 feet and come back. We did this kind of stuff every day for 11 years. I managed him well because he was that one dog you remember all your life. I can’t attempt to remember all of the things we did. He liked the floor of the Jefferson memorial as it was cool marble. He was perfect on a leash and i found I could stop him instantly in his tracks by giving a little tug on his leash and say “No, Sit”. He would do so and wait for whatever I wanted. I just wanted his attention on me. I managed him as I tried to anticipate everything before it happened. Other dogs running out of nowhere in full attack mode is not cool and I carried a big stick for that. I didn’t want my dog fighting – though he had to a few times – so I fought for him. He knew it and let me.
      As for fighting – a big Akita bursting through bushes at you running full speed isn’t fair if you try to hold your dog’s leash. The Akita didn’t want me, he wanted my dog. (If it were a little dog it would have been instant death on behalf of both dogs) He had to fight and not impeded by me holding him. It comes to that especially when jumped like that. I didn’t like it, grabbed the other dog, hurting at this time, and threw it into it’s owner’s arms. I calmed my boy down, took him home, bathed and cared for his wounds which weren’t as bad as I anticipated. I managed as best I could. I managed him until he died of old age years later.

      March 21, 2013
  46. colliebird #

    Unfortunately there is also the question of genetics, and a puppy learns “in the nest” with it’s mother and it’s siblings for the first 7 – 8 weeks of it’s life. If it’s with an aggressive mother, it will learn from her. (just like humans who learn bad behaviour from their parents!!)

    April 4, 2013
  47. Lucille #

    An epiphany. Finally seekers who were smacked upside their head by either Nature or Nurture when they asked for answers, can realize that their questions and observations were valid, and they can get on with the important matters- building a framework in the present to be able to use what they know to have a life with their dogs.

    May 7, 2013
  48. Reblogged this on the balanced pack and commented:
    Dog’s live in the present, only. It is us who hold on to ‘their past’
    I promise if you start each day with an expectation and a calm, assertive attitude you can do miracles. I have done miracles in the under 2 weeks I’ve had my anxiety ridden, leash aggressive Collie from the HS. Good, strong leadership and management are key. Any shelter pet is confused and they display it in several ways. Seperation anxiety, jumping in the air, barking, hiding in their kennel. That is their past as soon as they leave and it’s your responsibility to make the world as clear and concise as possible for them to be ablemadjust to a new, healthy, balanced life.

    May 14, 2013
  49. You just to give the dog some structure in its life. No shouting required. You will have to show them that you are the leader of the pack. By doing this your dog will almost instantly start responding to your commands.

    October 18, 2013
  50. rose mitman #

    THANK YOU for bringing this issue to the forefront,i have a nearly 13 yr. old Am Staff. spayed female I purchased as an 8 wk. old pup. she was the result of an accidental breeding (RED FLAG)!after her 1st heat she became VERY dog selective & got in trouble on several occaisions @ dog shows,cutting her show career very short! long story,,,short,said breeder proceeded to blame me,saying I spoiled this dog,,,well ALL of my dogs are spoiled! but they know who is “pack” leader,my previuos breed was Sberian Huskies whom earned C.D titles, & this is my 4th Am. Staff,the others earned C.D.X/CGC,TT,& TDI tiles, does that sound like some one who doesn’t know how to “raise” a dog to be a well mannered member of society? this person did really make me question myself & my abilities to do so!!!! why is it that instead of “owning it” some choose to make some one else feel inferior? this dog has been w/ me all of these yrs. & is a wonderfull companion,i love her dearly,but in those yrs. I felt I was unable to introduce another dog to my house hold so I have been unable to show in Obed. all those yrs. I have just recently decided to add a new puppy to my house hold,i am SO excited to possibly be able to attend training classes & get back in the performance ring,buit now I have to deal w/ the doubts this person planted SO many yrs. ago!! however I am DETERMINED to succeed!!! for my puppy & more for my own well being!!!

    October 30, 2013
  51. Jeannie Bailey #

    Great article! I own two dogs. One I “raised” from a pup. The other was a “troubled” five-year-old when he joined us. A stern voice and look from me, and the “troubled” dog became a huge pleaser. He is sweet, loving, submissive and well behaved. The one I “raised” should have been named trouble. He knows the rules, but just figures they only apply if someone is looking, and maybe not then. Same house, same rules … one that followed them from baby and the other who got his start somewhere else. Different dogs. You make adjustments as you need to. The same way that you do with people. They aren’t machines, programmed to give a predetermined response.

    October 30, 2013
  52. OH HALLELUJAH .. someone else that GETS IT…
    just wish you would have touched a little more on breeding and genetics…
    dogs are bred to do specific jobs,, you want you kid around a dog bred to retrieve?? herd?? or kill things?? its pretty simple…

    October 30, 2013
    • While genetics plays a role (there’s a good link in the blog to a piece on that part of the puzzle), they don’t make things “simple.” In the end, we have to still have to know our individual dogs and manage them properly – whatever their breed may be. Too many people think they can guess whether or not a dog will be aggressive based on the dog’s breed and make bad choices based on those assumptions. Dogs are complex creatures that are influenced by many internal and external factors – breeding and genetics are just another slice of the pie. Rather than basing management choices on what a dog may or may not have been bred to do in the past, we can set them up to succeed by seeing them for who they are right here, right now.

      In other words, if I have to put a kid around a dog, I’ll choose the dog that’s good with kids and then supervise them. I won’t make my choice based on what the dog was historically bred to do in the past and assume that will make the dog safe or unsafe around kids. Focus on seeing the dog for who they really are, in the present, then make good choices to help them succeed.

      October 30, 2013
  53. I’m not sure how to deal with a particular issue, and would love some more input about it. My dog is very well behaved except for selective aggression and it progressively happened recently between my girl and other household pets, but is not directed towards all other pets. I have gotten some advice from others, but I am not satisfied. If you think you can offer a helpful suggestion or two, please message me and I will complete our history and current states of the contributing factors.

    July 19, 2014
    • Hi Alix, I’m not a trainer, but even if I was, it’s nearly impossible to accurately assess a dog without observing them in person. So I highly recommend contacting a local trainer and having them meet with your dog so they can observe the dynamic between her and the pets she’s having issues with (it may be that the other pets are causing some of the tension!). In the meantime, keep your pets separated when you aren’t able to monitor them, so that they can’t practice potentially harmful behaviors.

      July 19, 2014

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