Recently, I learned that there can be major differences within a breed depending on the purpose for which a dog is bred. Of course, dogs are bred to be companion animals as well. More on those differences can be found here.
It does make sense to me. After all, many families want dogs with a calm temperament, show dogs need to be a perfect physical example of their breed, and a hunting or herding dog may need very strong instincts. It doesn’t mean a dog with field lines can’t be a wonderful family companion, but I could see it influencing a dog’s personality, mental and physical exercise requirements, and training needs.
Nellie, my dad’s redbone coonhound and our former foster, needed no training when it came to treeing animals, can find a treat thrown into a hay field (Needle in a hay stack? Child’s play!), regularly invents new sounds, and is a very intelligent dog. I’d never met a dog with such strong and purposeful instincts before Nellie.
We suspect that she’s a purebred, and if not, I’d bet she’s mixed with another scent hound breed. However, the white markings on her otherwise copper coat are too large for her to meet the breed standard. Her lineage would probably consist almost fully of field-bred dogs. Need a good hunting dog? There are often shelter and rescue listings for purebred hounds and hound mixes locally – redbones, treeing walkers, blueticks, black and tans, plott hounds, and beagles.
Gambit, who we’re pretty sure has a bit of hound in his breed mix, doesn’t have Nellie’s stellar hunting instincts although he is also extremely intelligent. However, he does still try to point when he sees a squirrel run up a tree – in his case, only with his nose and the way he holds his body, since that curly tail won’t go straight out. While he doesn’t sing like Nellie or bay, he comes up with some pretty interesting noises that he uses to talk to us.
On walks, he has difficulty concentrating if he sees a squirrel or bird. The saying that when a hound’s nose hits the ground, it’s brain shuts off absolutely applies to Gambit. If he’s on a trail, listening to voice commands is extremely difficult. Between his brain shutting off and his ability to identify the moment a 50-foot lead is dropped, off-leash recall has been a struggle with him. Probably not very desirable if a dog was bred to be a family companion, right? Thankfully, his favorite spot to be at home is curled up right next to his people.
I’m starting to think that Eddie, a Labrador mix, has some field or working bred dogs somewhere in his lineage as well. He wants very badly to hunt the bold groundhogs that live in the back yard. At the same time, if he’s not watching groundhogs, he’s so quiet and laid back at home that we have to remind ourselves to give him attention!
Since we aren’t able to train him in hunting, we’ve been throwing around the idea of teaching him pulling of some sort. He’s great while running downhill or in a flat area, but thinks it’s his job to pull his running partner uphill – and no, it doesn’t seem to be a dominance thing for him. If it’s a job that he’d enjoy, maybe it’s time to harness that desire into something productive for him.
Agility training and nose work are well-loved in the foster blog community, but has anyone harnessed their dogs’ instincts in other ways? We don’t have the resources for full out training classes, but if there’s something we can do at home it would probably be worth a shot.