How can the colour of a dog have any impact on the methods, or techniques used to get him or her trained?
After years of training black and yellow labradors, I took on my first Chocolate lab ‘Rachael’ last spring.
It is proving to be an interesting experience.
Whilst the differences I am observing are not ’caused’ by the colour of Rachael’s coat, there is actually a link of sorts between coat colour and temperament, due to recent breeding practices.
For many generations, the liver colour, or chocolate as we like to call it nowadays, was considered quite undesirable in a Labrador. Many liver Labradors were culled and people did not want to buy liver coloured puppies. Perhaps our change in heart has something to do with the change in name. Maybe chocolate is more appealing than liver…
Whatever the reason, the colour chocolate became desirable in the latter part of the last century and people started breeding chocolate Labradors, largely for the pet dog market. And to some extent for the show ring.
Ne’er the twain shall meet
At the same time, working Labradors and show ring Labradors were becoming ever more separate. Matings between the two types became fewer and further apart, and the ‘dual purpose’ labradors of the 40s and 50s, began to decline and all but disappear.
The chocolate colour became ‘stranded’ on the show side of this division, and so was subjected to many years of being bred for certain characteristics. These characteristics did not include those favoured by the field trial community, supreme trainability/biddability, speed and nose. But rather included the conformation favoured by show enthusiasts and a robust, easy going, temperament.
Check out Labrador characteristics for more information.
This does not really mean that Chocolate Labradors are stupid, though this has become a bit of a cliché But, if you are used to working type Labradors as I am, then there are aspects of the temperaments of some chocolate Labradors that may require a slightly different approach.
With my own puppy Rachael I have found her to be more sociable, but a little less persistent than my other labs.
A more sociable dog
Rachael is hugely enthusiastic about meeting people (and dogs) and prone to be over-friendly. Whilst we certainly don’t want an aggressive or unfriendly working gundog, this extra-friendliness makes the dog more prone to distraction by humans and other dogs.
I am therefore having to spend a bit more time ‘proofing’ basic obedience than I would with one of my yellow or black working bred labs. And I have to make a special effort to ensure that she is not allowed to interact with visitors until she is sitting calmly.
On the plus side, I have had to spend less time socialising Rachael than I would with a field bred lab. As she takes everything in her stride.
Rachael is an interesting dog to train. She is actually very ‘biddable’ and quite sensitive to my tone of voice. But she is inclined to give up very easily, and this means I have to take things more slowly.
If I withhold a reward in order to get her to try something new, she may try once more, then sit back on her haunches, throwing me a solemn look, as if to say ‘you have to help me now’ whereas my other dogs seem more persistent, more likely to keep trying.
Whether Rachael will have the persistence necessary in the field to complete complex or difficult tasks remains to be seen. She will change as she matures. But I will certainly endeavour to keep her confidence up by setting her up to win as much as possible.
As we progress in our training I am sure that more differences and similarities will come to light. Of course it is not reasonable assume that Rachael is a typical chocolate Labrador, in fact she probably is not, because she does have some working genes.
We cannot say for certain which, if any, of the characteristics of any dog are colour linked, and which are not, but it is fun to speculate.
If you are interested in finding out more about Rachael and my chocolate Labrador training adventure, you can follow her story: Rachael’s Journey on my gundog site.
If your chocolate Labrador is more interested in playing with other dogs and people than listening to you, a common problem in many friendly pet dogs, you might find it helpful to read our articles on proofing in the Training section of this website.
This article was written by Pippa Mattinson. Pippa is the author of Total Recall and the Gundog Club’s graded training guides.
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