Review: Training the Hard-to-Train Dog

Training the Hard-to-Train Dog, by Peggy Swager

This slim, colorful little volume is a helpful and basic guide for people who have “difficult” dogs. Trainer Peggy Swager divides dogs into several categories, including those who are naturally very stubborn, independent, controlling, or shy. From these categories, Swager gives advice on how to train dogs with these specific temperaments.

I was relieved to find that Swager is a strong proponent of positive reinforcement training and she often pointed out that the dominating, physical punishment-based methods of training often backfire with shy, controlling, or stubborn dogs. Unfortunately, it is often these “hard-to-train” dogs who receive the most aversive and negative training techniques. But Swager emphasizes that gentleness and respect can go a long way with these difficult personalities.

Swager herself is a long-time parent and trainer of Jack Russell terriers, who are notoriously hard to control and train. I’ve worked with a few JRTs myself and experienced them enough to be thoroughly convinced that I don’t think I could handle one myself. She is a certified trainer and speaks with calm authority about the “problem” dogs she’s encountered.

Overall, the book’s advice skims the surface of the challenges of working with difficult dogs. Swager provides factual but elementary advice on training basic commands. While this information is helpful, I think the guardian of a truly difficult, hard-to-train dog would probably need to look elsewhere for more in-depth counsel. In any event, Training the Hard-to-Train Dog is a great place to start for any person with a shy, controlling, or stubborn pooch.

Breed love: Borzoi

Borzoi just waiting for you to take his picture. Click for source.

The borzoi, also known as the Russian wolfhound, is an undeniably fashionable dog. They are scattered throughout the portraits of the rich and famous in the early 20th century. These shaggy, elegant giants were especially popular among wealthy women in the 1920s, because they looked fabulous with every ensemble. At the very least, you would attract a lot of attention with a pair of borzois at your side.

These gentle and quiet-natured sighthounds were once used by the Russian royalty to hunt wolves, although it would be quite unlikely to find a borzoi hunting today. Today, you’d be most likely to meet one in a show ring. They are still quite rare in the United States and you would pay a pretty penny for a purebred borzoi.

Racing borzoi. Source: Flickr user wolfhound

Borzois, like other sighthounds, are not known for being champions of the obedience ring. In fact, many owners will find them very difficult to train. This is not because, as Stanley Coren posited, they are unintelligent, but rather because they are uninterested in learning what you’d like to teach them. Unlike the highly trainable herding breeds, hounds are notoriously stubborn and sighthounds in particular are famously aloof.

Despite the challenges to training, borzois make great house pets and probably won’t give you half the trouble that one of the highly trainable breeds, like border collies or Australian shepherds, would. They are clean and quiet and almost catlike in their affectations. I’d be open to owning a borzoi one day if the opportunity ever presented itself.

Borzoi links: