I’ve been in the dog world for eight years now, and there’s something trending lately that’s driving me crazy. It’s people getting dogs because they’re cool, trendy or popular on social media. Dog trainers and dog owners alike are both guilty of this.
I remember back in 2010 when I met a Belgian Malinois for the first time. It was a police dog in the back of an officer’s cruiser. The officer took his dog out to potty her, and I asked, “Is that a German Shepherd?!” The officer told me she was a Belgian Malinois. At that time, Belgian Malinois and Dutch Shepherds were dogs nobody in the US had really heard of. At least not your average Joe. We all assumed they were German Shepherds.
Fast forward several years, and the world finds out that Cairo the Belgian Malinois took down Osama Bin Laden. I cried inside when the news broke- the breed had just met its demise. Suddenly breeders came out of the woodwork. Demand was high. Everybody wanted a Malinois. It took about a year for the breed to go from being an elite working dog to an overbred, nervy mixed bag genetic mess. Nowadays Malinois rescues have sprung up everywhere to take in the dogs that people can’t handle or don’t want anymore.
The same thing is happening for the Dutch Shepherd. It was a few years behind the Malinois in terms of popularity and didn’t get the same instant stardom, but now it’s popular nonetheless.
Then there’s the working line German Shepherd. People have used and abused that dog for years. They get a working line dog because they like the look or think they can handle a high drive dog. I can’t tell you how many working line German Shepherds I’ve worked with that are now aggressive and reactive.
The bottom line is: When you get a high drive dog, whether that be a Malinois, a Dutchie, a Shepherd or any other working breed, you need to level-up. If that dog’s skills and needs far exceed your abilities, you’re going to be ruining a perfectly good dog.
But people don’t take that into consideration. They want a Malinois because it’s that famed Osama Bin Laden dog. It’s trendy. Or they want a pointy-eared pup to add to their pack because everyone on Instagram has one. They want a high drive dog because they saw one do cool stuff on Tick-Tock. Whatever the reason, fads fade away and trends move on.
Consider the commitment
ANY DOG is a 10-15 year commitment. A working line dog is an even bigger commitment. They need at least an hour of your undivided time and attention each day for training alone. Working dogs want to do CHALLENGING work like detection, tracking, bite work and search and rescue, and they need to have their needs met almost daily.
You’re looking at a minimum of 3,650 hours of time if the dog lives to be 10. And that doesn’t factor in the time, energy and expenses spent growing as a handler/trainer so you have the skillset to work a high drive dog. I spent 1,000s of hours learning how to train dogs before I got my first high drive dog.
Trainers get Mals, Shepherds and Dutchies because all the other trainers have them and they want to look cool. They may have the skills for a high drive dog, but do they have the time? More often than not, no they don’t. I have one very high drive dog, and that’s enough for me!
Dogs aren’t fads. They’re living, breathing creatures who have wants and needs just like we do. If you want to get a dog, get the RIGHT DOG for you, your family, your home environment and your lifestyle. Don’t let social media and trends (“Here today, gone tomorrow”) sway you into getting the wrong dog for the wrong reasons.
It’s truly sad what’s happened to the working dogs I’ve come to know and love. It’s so hard to find good breeders these days. I came across a Malinois breeder the other day who specializes in “low drive Malinois.” That’s a crying shame. The dog was made to be a versatile working dog, not a couch-bound pet.
In the right hands, a high drive dog is like a sports car. My dog, Havok, is super fun. In the wrong hands, however, a high drive dog is a nightmare.