Choosing a Dog for Training

First things must come first and one cannot train without a dog. And if you have hopes of any success in any branch of dog training you don’t just want a dog, you want a dog trainable for the purpose you have in mind. This I consider as important, if not more important, than the training itself. It is possibly true to say that there are more mediocre trainers who have been successful with good dogs than there are good trainers who have been successful with bad ones.

The three questions most commonly asked in this connection are ‘Should I buy a puppy or an adult dog ?”What is the best breed to train?’ and ‘Should I have a dog or a bitch?’ Although not the most important questions, we shall start with these three.


This is one of the few questions I answer differently now than I would have done twenty years ago. At one time I always advised people to start with a young adult dog in preference to a puppy. But a good deal of scientific research has been done on the mental development of dogs. Quite a number of trainers, including myself, have studied these reports and allied them to our own observations. It now seems fairly certain that a dog’s mental characteristics can be influenced even before its eyes are open. What is quite certain is that the treatment a puppy receives from weaning at six weeks will influence its whole future behaviour. My wife has, in fact, always believed this and is now in the enviable position of being able to say ‘I told you so’.

I now feel that the chance of eventual success is probably greater if you start with a young puppy than if you start with an adult dog. The reason is not because the puppy will become more attached to you than an older dog. If you and the dog are compatible it will become attached at any age. Twice I have acquired Alsatians at nine years old and both have become devoted to me. No, the reason you may be better with a puppy is because you should be able to ensure that it is brought up properly. You will also have a much better selection of young puppies to choose from compared with adults. And they won’t have any bad habits, which is nearly always the case with adult dogs looking for new homes. Later on I shall deal with picking a puppy or adult for training.


To this I usually answer: ‘No breed is best. It is the individual that matters.’ This, however, is only partly true. Before answering the question one must decide what one wants to train the dog for. If you have ambitions to run in PD Trials there is little point in starting off with a Miniature Dachshund puppy! On the other hand, don’t get the impression that the breeds most usually seen in trials are the only ones capable of being trained or that they are easier to train. It is interesting to note, and somewhat ironic, that the Airedale, the breed first used as guard dogs in World War I, is a popular police dog in Germany yet rarely used in this country. Speaking generally, the breeds which are best for training are those which have recently been used for working. Again speaking generally, these belong to the herding and gundog groups.

I have had great success with first crosses (not to be confused with mongrels) and only once had a failure. In all branches of livestock breeding except dogs it is an accepted fact that a first cross often produces the good qualities of both breeds. It has also been found that first crosses have what is known as hybrid vigour. And I believe this vigour to be mental as much as physical. This does not apply to mongrels and I would only have one if it had proved to have some outstanding qualities.


At one time the question of whether to keep a dog or a bitch required much more consideration than it does now. This is due to the fact that over the past twenty years much more has been learned about the effect of castrating dogs. I first brought this controversy out into the open in a column I wrote for Our Dogs for many years. Tam, therefore, pleased to note that what I thought at the beginning has been proved correct. Practically all the arguments against castration are based on prejudice and/or ignorance. At the time of writing all my own dogs are castrated and, unless I wanted a dog for breeding, I would never dream of keeping an entire. So far as training is concerned, a castrated dog is little different from a bitch.

I must, however, warn against castration too soon. Some veterinary surgeons will advise castrating a puppy at four or five months old. Others will refuse to carry out the operation at all, saying that it will result in a creature devoid of character and liable to obesity. The fact is that dogs castrated before maturity are nearly all devoid of character and liable to obesity, but this does not apply to dogs castrated after maturity. Therefore the veterinary surgeons who refuse to operate are merely being guided by their own mistakes.

Apart from having owned and worked many castrated dogs (probably more than anyone in this country) I have made a careful study of the subject and have come to a number of definite conclusions.

Castration does not change a dog’s character in relation to his human master. It does not weaken any of the useful instincts — hunting, retrieving guarding or herding. It does weaken the sex instinct, which is only necessary in a stud dog and often conflicts with the useful instincts. Because it weakens the sex instinct it does in the case of some dominant males weaken the pack leader instinct. It can in fact turn an untrainable dog into a trainable one. For the same reason it can reduce the tendency to fight, especially if a bitch in season is around. But this only applies to the dominant dog which fights for supremacy. The habitual fighter which has developed a liking for fighting is unlikely to be improved by castration. Likewise the nervous fighter which gets its hackles up and goes rigid at the sight of any other dog is almost certain to do the same after he has been castrated.

Unlike the castrated dog, the spayed bitch does not change at all. The only advantage, therefore, is that she will not come in season and that, of course, can be a very great advantage.

Here again a word of warning. There is very considerable evidence to show that it is very inadvisable to spay a bitch before she has been in season at least once. Unfortunately there still seem to be some veterinary surgeons who have not caught up with this evidence and who will spay bitches at three or four months with the same disastrous results as with dogs castrated at a similar age.

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