Saturday, March 29, 2014

"How could you BUY a dog?!"

As a professional in the dog world who decided to buy a puppy from a breeder instead of rescue one from a shelter/rescue group, I did have this fleeting thought during the process -- "Yikes, I bet I'm going to piss off someone by doing this!"  And sure enough I have.  I've received a few emails, nothing nasty or rude (I do want to point that out!) asking why I chose to buy and not adopt.  I actually haven't responded to the emails as of yet and so thought I'd send this as a message hopefully to help others understand and also ease anyone that has the possible guilt of buying instead of adopting.

First of all I want to say this: Everyone has a reason for everything they do. Everyone has their own lives and things going on that others have no clue about. Making judgments on any issue is wrong at best, harmful at worst.  So before jumping to conclusions you should get facts and know all the details of the situation at hand. Sure, easier said than done.  But I digress ...

...Now onto the actual subject matter -- Why did I buy a puppy from a breeder when so many are in shelters? We recently bought a puppy from a responsible breeder.  Let me reiterate the adjective I used before the word "breeder" -- responsible.  There is a lot that goes on in finding a responsible and very reputable breeder. I researched and asked all the right questions. I did all my homework and lucky for me I know exactly what questions to ask a breeder before buying.

Over the past 12 years I've owned 6 dogs, including the new puppy we have now. Of those six dogs two of them were rescues and four were "bought" from breeders -- two were not reputable breeders and two were highly reputable and excellent breeders.   I slowly learned how to ask the right questions and do my homework.  And that can often involve a lot of work, and it should.  If you are going to go the buy-a-puppy-route you need to know exactly what you're doing and where your puppy is coming from.  A bad breeder can be a disgrace to the reputable breeder community. Bad breeders are indeed contributors to the too-many-pets-in-the-shelter problem we face today.

Now, don't get me wrong -- buying a dog from a reputable breeder doesn't guarantee a quality dog for health or temperament. However, the chances are greater that you will have these things on your side if you did get the dog from a good, well-rounded and reputable breeder.

On the flip-side, rescuing a dog doesn't mean you'll be guaranteed problems either.  There are many excellent dogs in rescues/shelters that are absolutely amazing dogs that live a fully, happy, healthy and behaviorally-balanced life.  However, in my experiences (and this is just my experience but it's been 15 years of working with rescue dogs and "breeder's" dogs from all angles) rescue/shelter dogs are more likely to have some behavioral and/or medical issues.  I've also worked with loads of rescues and I know that they are often a crap-shoot both medically and behaviorally.

So does this mean I'm against rescue dogs? Absolutely not!  I work with rescues day in and day out. I also work with full-bred dogs too from reputable and responsible breeders as wells as from backyard breeders and puppy mills. One of my current dogs is a rescue as well. The facts are that reputable and responsible breeders do most often produce sound dogs.  There is a reason they are reputable and responsible.  If it weren't for these types of breeders we wouldn't have dogs at all.  They aren't the problem, contrary to what you may believe.  (Read this great piece here on this topic.) ... More on breeders  later in this post ... Keep reading.

So, why did I choose to buy instead of adopt? Well, my first response to anyone who really wants my answer -- it shouldn't concern you.  Ok. But it does. Because I'm in the dog profession. I'm not just an average person with a dog. I work with dogs in rescue all the time. I work with rescue groups and shelters all the time.  I know loads and loads of wonderful people who volunteer countless hours, blood sweat and tears in rescue. I cannot tell you how much I commend these people. It's unimaginable how much hard work, dedication and tireless hours rescue people put into what they do.  I can't even begin to describe some of the things they have seen, been part of or done; and I commend them all for their work and efforts.

I have the highest respect for anyone and everyone involved in rescue in any way. It's a grueling part of life that I find will sadly probably never go away.  I am pretty certain that we can make a difference but sadly there will always be people abusing animals, neglecting them and all the in betweens of that.  

But here is the thing.  That has nothing to do with me.  I am not the person neglecting dogs. I am not the person abusing dogs. I am not the person dumping dogs at the shelter, or worse.  I am a responsible dog owner, to say the very least.  I am not contributing to the dog over-population problem/dog dumped in shelter problem/dog being abused/neglected problem.  My breeder would have sold my puppy to another person if she hadn't sold her to me.  My breeder also takes any puppy of hers back at anytime during the dog's life, anytime, no matter what. Her contract states that should I need to re-home her I have to give her back to her, and her only.

This means my breeder isn't contributing to the pet over-population/dumped/abused/neglected problem either.  This also means that all responsible and reputable breeders aren't contributing to the pet problem.  No, they aren't.  Where do you think dogs started from?  Where do we get all these wonderful breeds to choose from?  Responsible and reputable breeders preserve a breed. They make them what they are and what they should be.  They breed for betterment of that specific breed.  If you had a Border Collie that didn't herd you'd have a very bad specimen of a Border Collie, no?  If all breeders ceased to exist there would eventually be no dogs. Of course this would take decades to do however,  realistically if no one ever bred dogs ever again dogs would become extinct.

The truth is that breeders aren't the problem. Irresponsible dog owners are the problem.  Plain and simple.

The people contributing to our too-many-pets-in-the-shelter-problem are the result of lack of education, understanding, training and/or compassion for animals.  For those extreme cases of abuse and neglect, that's an entirely different problem. People who are actually harming and neglecting dogs have a problem that goes far beyond irresponsible dog ownership. Those people have an underlying mental health problem of some kind. That's a whole other topic that I will not discuss.

If you want to help keep dogs in homes and out of shelters adhere to these tips:
  1. Don't get a dog if you are not able to afford it (or make your own sacrifices to afford it!) -- I get it. I am not rich by any stretch. But I do what I can to make it work because when I get a dog I get the dog for life regardless of what comes along the way.

  2. Don't get a dog if you cannot commit to it for the dog's entire life. -- Although I do agree that there are some circumstances that do warrant re-homing a dog. If this happens the responsible thing is to find a home for it, not dump it at the shelter or with a rescue. That does in fact add to the problem.

  3. Learn to understand canine behavior and body language and get your dog trained as soon as you get it! -- One of the main reasons dogs are over-crowding shelters is because of a behavior issue. You'd be surprised at what some people define as a behavior issue.  It ranges from jumping on guests (insanely easy to train polite greetings!) to biting people and/or other dogs.  So no matter what, as soon as you get a new dog (any age!) hire a highly qualified training professional and get started on the right path.  And don't stop training your dog. And if you see something come up later re-hire your trainer and get the issue addressed immediately. Nearly all problems are able to be helped with appropriate training. 

  4. Don't give up a dog because he's become an inconvenience. -- If you find that having a baby means "we just don't have time for the dog" then think this thru before having a baby and actually getting a dog.  You cannot believe how many people give up dogs when a new baby comes into the home. It's ludicrous. This goes back to #3 --> find a highly qualified trainer that understands families, babies and dogs.  They even have specialized programs for this exact thing (Family Paws Parent Education). There are really no excuses on this one.  Maybe the baby thing wouldn't even apply to you.  Maybe you're just tired of having a dog. I really don't care what the reason your dog is an inconvenience to you is.  

  5. Don't breed your dog if you are not a responsible and reputable breeder. -- Oh so your dog is gorgeous and has a great temperament.  It doesn't matter unless you plan to health test the dogs for all genetic diseases.  You also have to take back any puppy your dog produces at any time if the owner cannot keep it, whether the dog is 4 months or 12 years old.  You should show your dog and get points in confirmation at the very least. These are only a few of the things responsible breeders do, just a few.  I don't want to list them all, this is a good read if you think you want to breed your dog.  And don't say I want to have "just one litter".  How do you think litters get in shelters? Half of those dogs were part of a "just one litter" thought by someone who never should have bred their dog. Do not breed your dog if you aren't an established, responsible and reputable breeder. Period.

Now you may still be wondering -- so, why did you buy a puppy? You never answered that. You're right I didn't. I am not going to answer that. I don't owe anyone an explanation. I chose to buy a puppy. That's my right. I am a responsible dog owner. I'm highly educated in dog training and behavior. My puppy will never be bred. My puppy will be a respected and well-trained dog in the community. My puppy will not ever be in a shelter or on the streets.  The reason I chose this path is mine and mine alone.  

If we all actually followed the above 5 steps we'd have no problem with too many pets in shelters.  That's a fact. Seriously. If every single one of my above steps was followed by every single dog owner there would be no problem. Simple as that.  Wanna help? Wanna learn more? Wanna get to training your dog or learn how to educate others about it?  Let me know, because contrary to what you may be thinking I'm very much an advocate for getting dogs out of shelters. I'm all for responsible dog ownership, as this alone would solve our problem.

Here is my follow up blog post, "So your thinking about buying from a breeder..."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Get Along Little Doggie ...

So you all know now that we've had our new Beagle puppy here for a week (9 days to be exact). She's fabulously fun and I'm going to be doing a one week post on her next. First, I wanted to address a question I've gotten many times since she arrived -- How are your other dogs liking her?

The answer is: I don't know. They haven't really met her yet.  See, it's my professional and expert opinion that any new dog (puppy or adult) that comes into a home with an existing dog (or dogs) should never just be tossed in with the mix right up front.  Actually they shouldn't physically mingle for several weeks, ideally several months. I understand that for the average pet home that's just not going to happen.  Either people don't agree with that or they think it's too much of a pain or ... I don't know they have some reason of their own.  But let me tell you why I choose to do this.

Contrary to what we like to think as humans about our dogs we need to understand a few things that are often hard for us to understand.  We don't think like dogs regardless of how hard we try. However, we need to run a household that runs smoothly and peacefully and to do this we should really stop putting human emotions on our dogs.  

Dogs don't necessarily need a canine buddy.
I see this a lot especially when a 2-dog home loses one of the dogs.  The common thought is that Fido misses Fluffy as they were such good pals. So they bring home a new dog for Fido.  Now he's got a new pal and this should ease his sadness of not having Fluffy anymore.

The truth is that Fido may have loved Fluffy. He may have actually been best buds with her.  However, that doesn't mean he's wanting a replacement.  It's like replacing your best friend. Sure you may get another friend and they may be a great person but they aren't going to be able to replace your BFF.

Also, dogs base just about everything with other dogs around resources.  For dogs the most common resources are: food, toys, sleeping areas (beds), crates (or safe areas), and their beloved humans.  When another dog comes in they can become quite reluctant, if not aggressive, about sharing any or all of these resources.  Dogs are not hard wired to share.  They are not like humans at all in this regard.  Teaching a dog to share is even more challenging than teaching a toddler to do so!  (However when they do understand sharing it's fabulous! And not all dogs don't share, some are ok with that.  All dogs are different.)

So, bringing Fido a brand new pal to replace Fluffy actually can do more harm than good if it's not done properly.  Fido will start to realize he has to now share all of his resources with Gidget, and Gidget is not Fluffy.  He and Fluffy already had long established who got what and when and how.  They did that years ago.  But Gidget, she's new. She doesn't know. What if she's going to steal all the food? What if she's here to get all the attention from human-mama?  Fido is now stressed out and isn't all too happy about you bringing home Gidget.

So, you're saying having more than one dog is not good? Adding a new dog is bad?!  
No. If you can do it properly and with good training and low-stress then it can work out beautifully.  Sometimes it doesn't work out and we may need to see if the dog was a poor fit to the home and/or other dog(s) in the home.  Also some dogs just don't want another companion, plain and simple. Some dogs are totally fine being the only dog in the home.  We have to respect that. Not all dogs need friends, and some do not want them!  You need to know your dog(s) very well and understand what will be best for your dog(s) and your home.

Signs your dog isn't happy about the new addition.
Your dog can show signs of stress in many,  many forms.  We often think if they didn't break out into a dog fight then all is well, right?  OR If they just have a few non-eventful squabbles every now and again that's ok. Well, not necessarily.

Here are a few common signs of stress with any new addition:
  • Regression in potty habits and/or marking starts to take place.
  • Becomes possessive of things that s/he didn't before.
  • Seems to be "stubborn" and won't listen to cues s/he knows reliably.
  • Becomes distant, doesn't sleep where s/he used to, goes and lies alone in other places.
  • Barks or vocalizes uncharacteristically and/or randomly.
  • Starts new poor habits (jumping up, barking, potty accidents, etc.)
  • May have some new medical issues pop up "out of the blue".
  • Shows signs of what humans would call "jealousy".
If your dog is doing any of the above after adding in a new dog it's likely that some steps backwards need to take place. If things are going rather poorly you need to hire a professional to come and assess the situation. Your dog may be with the wrong dog or may not be able or wanting to live with another dog.

Older dogs don't often like puppies.
Another thing is that adult dogs often completely dislike puppies and their annoying antics.  Some adult dogs do marvelous with puppies while others think they are too old and wise to deal with the spryness of a youngster.

Puppies bond quickly.
Puppies bond quickly to whomever spends the most time and engages with them the most.  If you have multiple dogs and your puppy gets to hang with them, it's likely she'll hang with them more than you.  Afterall, her canine housemates speak dog and you don't!  So it is very easy for a puppy to bond to a dog.  However, this can hinder your relationship with the puppy and will show through lack of what will look like "listening skills" and "disobedience".

It is vital that the human bond with the puppy and let the other household dog(s) come in later!

So, what do you do then?!
I keep all the dogs separated for several weeks.  Ideally for several months.  Yes, months.  They don't have to be completely isolated. At my house the puppy's crate is in our bedroom just like our other dogs'.  They all see each other come and go.  My two boys are out and moving about as normal and the puppy is in her crate and visa versa.  We also rotate who goes in the yard. My boys will go outside without me and hang for a bit but the puppy is taken out and supervised as we are still working on potty training (must go out to praise the potty in appropriate places!)

So,  here is a typical morning at my house over the past week.  
6 am - puppy goes out to potty, other dogs stay in our bedroom (I carry her outside)
She gets put back into crate after potty break and sleeps until I get up with my kiddos about 7:30-8 am
8 am - take her out again, leave my dogs in bedroom
Then I bring her in and put my dogs outside.
8:30 am - feed all dogs - my dogs eat in their crates, Charlotte currently eats in the kitchen with me via a puzzle toy and/or using the food as training rewards
I play with her for 15 minutes and train her some as well.
9 am - back out to potty then straight to crate for down time
I then let my dogs out of their crates and they hang with me while I then feed all my kids!  
Then rinse and repeat for the most part.

We added another dog and it went fabulous!
Remember, this doesn't apply to all dogs, nothing does. However, I don't throw caution to the wind when it comes to dogs. It's not fair and when/if things go south it's not going to be fun trying to back pedal!  So, it's best to take this approach with a new dog just to ensure less stress, more happiness and no surprises!

What if we want to add another dog, how should we do it?
If you are considering another dog or a new puppy to add to your house with a current dog (or dogs) then contact me or another trainer in your area to help you with the transition.  It will be some work and commitment in the beginning but it will be so worth it in the long run!