How many dogs does it take to change a lightbulb?


Doggie Dialogues
By Doris Dressler, CPDT-KA  

The canine version of the lightbulb joke is an excellent lead-in to this month’s topic, breeds and instincts.

  • Border Collie: Just one. Then I’ll replace any wiring that’s not up to code.
  • Rottweiler: Make me!
  • Lab: Oh, me, me! Pleeease let me change the light bulb! Can I? Huh? Huh?
  • Dachshund: You know I can’t reach that stupid lamp!
  • Malamute: Let the Border Collie do it. You can feed me while he’s busy.
  • Jack Russell Terrier: I’ll just pop it in while I’m bouncing off the walls.
  • Greyhound: It isn’t moving. Who cares?
  • Cocker Spaniel: Why change it? I can still pee on the carpet in the dark.
  • Mastiff: Screw it yourself! I’m not afraid of the dark …
  • Doberman: While it’s out, I’ll just take a nap on the couch.
  • Boxer: Who needs light? I can still play with my squeaky toys in the dark.
  • Pointer: I see it, there it is, there it is, right there!
  • Chihuahua: Yo quiero Taco Bulb?
  • Australian Shepherd: First, I’ll put all the light bulbs in a little circle…
  • Old English Sheepdog: Light bulb? That thing I just ate was a light bulb?
  • Basset Hound: Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz …
  • Westie: Dogs do not change light bulbs—people change light bulbs. I am not one of THEM so the question is, how long before I can expect my light again?
  • Poodle: I’ll just blow in the Border Collie’s ear and he’ll do it. By the time he finishes rewiring the house, my nails will be dry.
  • Golden Retriever: The sun is shining, the day is young, we’ve got our whole lives ahead of us, and you’re inside worrying about a stupid burned-out bulb?
  Doris Dressler defines instinct as “an innate, typically fixed pattern of behavior in animals in response to certain stimuli.” Understanding the concept of instinct is important because many behaviors dogs exhibit have been bred into the dog and are often behaviors that cannot easily be “trained” away.
Humans and dogs teamed up at least 15,000 years ago, possibly longer. Scientists speculate that tamer wolf/dogs were the first to frequent human camps looking for food. Humans began altering these canines, breeding one to another in an attempt to maintain desirable traits and inhibit less desirable traits. This process is called neoteny, where an animal’s development is arrested to retain juvenile traits even as an adult.

Wolves stalk, chase and encircle game. They will bite and slash the game to weaken it and then pull it down to kill and eat. The process of neoteny has resulted in dogs that no longer slash, kill and eat game but still may stalk and chase game. Labrador and golden retrievers retrieve but do not kill or eat the game.

Doggie Dialogues Belle
Belle is a 4-month-old miniature Australian shepherd. Working Australian shepherds are bred to herd sheep and are wonderful additions to active families. Photos of dogs by Doris Dressler

Breed groupings and traits
The American Kennel Club recognizes seven different breed groups: sporting, hounds, working, terriers, toys, non-sporting and herding.

The sporting group consists of pointers, retrievers, setters and spaniels. These dogs were bred not only to detect and alert their human to game but also retrieve it. Many dogs in the grouping have soft, round mouths. This explains why pet retrievers, for example, often mouth when excited and always seem to be carrying something in their mouth.

Hounds are the oldest of the breeds and consist of basset hounds, bloodhounds and greyhounds. These breeds find and pursue game by sight and sound. Sight dogs are typically tall and fast (greyhounds or Afghans) where scent hounds (bloodhounds, basset hounds) are slower and have shorter legs, so their nose is closer to the ground. This is why beagles are often more interested in smelling than walking nicely next to you.

The word terrier is derived from “terrain” or “tera,” which means earth. Terrier ancestors were bred to hunt and kill vermin, explaining why dogs in the terrier group typically like to dig after and chase small animals.

Doggie Dialogues Leaps
Leaps is a 1-year-old golden retriever. As a breeding dog for Canine Assistants, Leaps’ propensity to carry objects in his mouth will make his offspring excellent service dogs.

Herding dogs fall into two categories: herders and heelers. Herders (such as border collies) were bred to circle, gather, hold and direct the herd using their eyes. Heelers (such as the Australian cattle dog) were bred to nip and push at the herd’s heels to guide them in the proper direction. This is why non-working herding dogs often create a job for themselves by attempting to herd the family children.

Working dogs include sled dogs (malamute), guard dogs (Doberman pinscher), livestock guarding dogs (Great Pyrenees) and rescue dogs (St. Bernard). It’s not uncommon for dogs bred to be guard dogs to become overly protective of their homes and family members.

Toy breeds were bred to be “pocket pets” for royalty, which explains their inclination to be lap dogs. The non-sporting group – whose members include the chow, Dalmatian, French bulldog and poodle—is a catchall category whose members exhibit their own unique instinctual behaviors.

How to deal with instinctual behaviors
The key is to be aware of instinctual behaviors with which your breed (or mixed-breed) dog was born. Herding dogs will nip; guarding dogs will protect; and hunting dogs will chase. Anticipating the behavior and being proactive by developing a plan of action is helpful in managing most of these behaviors.

Doggie Dialogues Willie
Willie is a 4-year-old Great Pyrenees who takes his job guarding the homestead seriously.

If your retriever mouths visitors’ arms in excitement when they first enter your home, consider teaching your dog to retrieve a toy out of his toy box to carry in his mouth when the doorbell rings. If your guard dog becomes overly protective of you, make sure you have established yourself as the benevolent leader, so your dog doesn’t feel the need to be so protective. If your herding dog attempts to herd your running grandchildren into the kitchen, set your dog up for success by discouraging running in the house and redirecting his chase behavior to something more appropriate, like chasing a ball.

Happy training!

Doris Dressler is a CPDT-KA (certified professional dog trainer, knowledge assessed) with over 16 years’ experience training service dogs and family pet dogs. She also volunteers her time training rescued dogs at Big Canoe Animal Rescue.


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