What That Pet Store Puppy Represents

I am a great believer in found families and I’m not a great believer in blood.

Joss Whedon

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A few weeks ago I was chatting online with a friend of mine.  He wanted to know what I thought about a certain “breed”of designer dog.  His wife wanted one for the family, and she had fallen in love with a friend’s new puppy, and they wanted one, too.  He told me that the puppy was from a well-respected “breeder”.  They got the information on a breeder website….as in, “We breed schoodles, morkies and shih-poos…”.  As soon as I saw that, flags went up.  This wasn’t a breeder – this was a puppy mill.

I tried to explain to him that respectable breeders didn’t advertise online.  Nor did they specialize in more than one breed, let alone claim to be breeders of dogs that aren’t even a breed.  Unfortunately, it all fell on deaf ears.  They proceeded to purchase a puppy.  I don’t believe they even set foot in a shelter.  Rather than rescuing a new family member, they attempted to purchase a designer label.  But at what cost?

Puppy Mills

We all know the horror behind-the-scenes of a puppy mill.  We’ve seen the numerous dogs who were rescued.  I’ve worked with dogs who were saved from years spent in a tiny 2′x2′ crate, giving birth to litter after litter in squalid conditions.  These dogs are no more than livestock, there as a commodity, conditions be damned.  Each one of those viable puppies is worth between $800-$1000.  Unfortunately, those chasing after the supposed prestige that comes with having a purebred dog usually don’t want to pay purebred prices.  So they buy a knockoff.  Unfortunately, just like knockoff Prada, someone always pays the price, usually behind the scenes.  Child labor in sweatshops or abused and neglected animals. Both victims of the “designer” label.

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If you buy from a real breeder, you should feel as if you are applying for the CIA.  Background checks may be involved.  These are their lives’ work!  A breeder’s dogs are more like a family dog/work of art/live’s mission all rolled into one.  They will never let ou pick a dog from their litter – they interview you to find out which one of their puppies’ personalities will fit best in your household.  In other words, they have dogs, not investments. They aren’t a money making device!  Breeders typically don’t breed their dogs more than a handful of times in the dogs entire life!  According to Animal Rescue Corps., dogs in a mill have a much different schedule:

“Females are bred repeatedly, usually twice a year, every year, until they can no longer produce puppies. This is incredibly stressful on their bodies but they are viewed as moneymaking machines, as disposable property, not as individuals with inherent worth. Female dogs are commonly bred before it is safe to do so because the earlier they start, the more puppies they will produce in a lifetime. Puppy mill breeding dogs are often given hormones and steroids to try and increase the number of puppies they produce. These drugs can cause extreme pain and serious side effects – all in an attempt to increase the number of puppies for profit.”

But at least you got your cute puppy.

Designer Puppies

I just got a new niece. Her mother is Chinese, and her father is a mix of Finnish and Irish.  The baby is beautiful.  However, I am intelligent enough to know that she is one of a kind. I can’t recreate her, no matter how hard I try, even with parents of the same ancestry.  She will always be unique, from her looks to her personality.  My own children don’t even look like they’re related to each other, and their personalities are about as polar as they can be.

River and Eric at their favorite ice-cream shop.

River and Eric.  Or as my husband and I call them, Machete and The Professor.

So why are you trying to recreate your neighbor’s adorable puppy, who happens to be a something-poo?  Your inability to realize that you can’t recreate a living being is disturbing to me.  I can understand having a type…. I personally prefer Am-Staffs (or pitties). I also love Shepherds.

Yes, Orion.  Papillons too.

Yes, Orion. Papillons too.

But here’s the thing:  I can rattle off why I love those breeds:  I love how fun-loving and goofy pitties are.  How they are desperate to have a rollicking good time and want nothing more than a good snuggle, followed by more fun.  I love how Shepherds are always so desperate to learn something new, and how absurdly stoic they can be.  I love how Papillions are such lively little creatures who are really too big on the inside for those tiny little bodies.  I love how they are just as rugged of a dog as a Coonhound or a Lab.  I understand that each dog in a specific breed will always have its own personality, it generally falls within a certain area.  If you’re going with a purebred, finding out breed standard for that specific breed is a very good start to having a wonderful companion rather than a chore, or even worse, an owner surrender to the local shelter.

In other words, I love these dogs based on more than how I think they look. When I asked my friend why they were heading towards the designer “breed” they had in mind, the response was, “he’s cute”.  Seriously, they’re basing living the next 10-15 years with a dog on nothing more than “he’s cute”.  Temperament is merely an afterthought.  As is exercise requirements and how much Piloting the dog will need.  It is imperative to come up with a list of wants vs. needs when choosing a new dog, whether it be from a shelter or a breeder!

Remember that a mutt (which is what your designer dog is) is a dog that can not be reliably bred to have a certain standard.  In other words, if I were breeding Golden Retrievers, I can with a high degree of certainty state that the next litter will contain pups who will grow to be a certain size, with a very predictable temperament (fun, easy going, eager to please, and friendly).  Same with Poodles:  I can reliably breed very intelligent and active dogs of a certain “look” who, while easy to train, want to know why they should be listening to you and not following their own orders.  (For that reason, I generally steer families with small children away from poodles.)  Now, let’s breed a Golden and a Poodle together.  What do you get?  Just about any mix of all these traits.  Anywhere from a dog who looks exactly like a Golden but acts just like a Poodle (and vice versa), to a complete blending of the two looks and temperaments.  In other words, a mutt.

Mutts are awesome, but just like every other dog, they must be judged on an individual basis before you decide to buy/adopt. Judge the dog on who they are, not what they appear to be.

You Blew Your Chance to Save A Life

Seriously, Robin.  Don't be a douche.

Seriously, Robin. Don’t be a douche.

Let’s not forget the biggest reason to adopt rather than shop. Or rather the 2.7 million reasons to adopt.  That’s the number of dogs and cats euthanized each year.  Yeah, sure, you can argue that you can only rescue one,and what’s “one” in the face of such a large number?

"Just one" is the most important number Boise can think of.  He only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.  Check out Boise, who's up for adoption, at the Cuyahoga County Animal Shelter.
“Just one” is the most important number this little guy can think of. He hopes it’s his, because as a pittie, he only has a 1/600 chance of making it alive out any shelter.

To be truthful, I had high hopes of convincing my friend not to shop for a puppy, especially not from a place that hit every single hallmark for being a puppy mill. I’d like to say this hasn’t changed how I view my friend, but there are only so many matted, filthy dogs I can help rehabilitate before it becomes personal.  Only so many dogs I can work with who are afraid of everything, who’ve never been outside their breeding box in the 2, 3 or even 8 years they’ve been on this planet, before I become judgmental and angry, even with longtime friends.  There’s a finite number to the dogs I can say goodbye to, and take them for their last long walk and few moments of fetch, before their time is up before it gets personal.

Yes.  It is personal.

Keep calm and pilot on

 

 

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio

 

Separation Anxiety – Five Steps to Help Your Dog Past Their Fear

Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.

- Khalil Gibran

Brittany Graham Photography

Brittany Graham Photography

Separation anxiety.  I hate those words so much, because those two short words encompass such fear and terror, inadequately describing the mental state of a dog who is experiencing the condition.  I personally believe that “separation trauma” or even “separation madness” may be better descriptions of this condition, even if only marginally.  Because after all, in order to work with a behavior, an adequate understanding of the emotions of, as well as empathy for, the poor creature experiencing the condition, is absolutely necessary.

First, understand that dogs and wolves are virtually the same creature.  Running parallel along the same course, if you will.  Obviously there are some minor differences (appearance, not the least), but even the rather un-wolflike Cocker Spaniel can breed with a wolf, that’s how closely aligned they are. Humans can only procreate with other humans.

Now, there are a few differences between dogs and wolves that need to be address.  Namely, that dogs are essentially wolves that are mentally adolescent or younger their entire lives.

Some are mentally more immature than others.  Not stupid; nor backwards in any way.  Just not mentally matured to that of a wolf.  To put it in human terms, think of a Lab as a 5-year old child.  They ask a lot of questions, but mostly of a benign, if not mildly annoying nature. Think of the types of questions a 5-year old human may ask:

“Can I have cake for dinner?  Can I play in the mud?”

Nothing dangerous, just merely annoying.

Think of your typical Beagle as more of a 12 year old kid. Definitely more money in their Piloting Piggy Bank, and the questions may not be as constant, but are starting to take a little more Piloting to answer them. They won’t just accept your answer “just because”, and their questions are a little more difficult:

“Can I nip you if I don’t like your answer?  Can I make this intruder you call ‘Grandma’ go away?”

Answering their questions with a “because I said so” isn’t going to work.  They are a little more mature mentally, and require good answers.

Finally we have dogs like the Akita.  I hate that these guys get such a bad rep.  They aren’t bad dogs at all, they just have a lot of money in their Piloting Piggy Banks.  They are like a 17 year old.  They can take care of themselves.  Are they fully mature?  No.  But are they going to take any answer you give them?  Not unless you have have a better reason why they should? (Hint: it should never involve violence nor pain!) In other words, they will love you and be loyal, but they definitely aren’t your minions.  You have to earn their respect, for they don’t give it away willy-nilly.

Now, this is a very simplified explanation.  I prefer to know who a dog is as an individual, rather than what their breed is.  I’ve seen a mentally “5-year old” Akita, as well as Labs that mentally, were like wizened, sage old creatures.  But it’s a rough outline of where to start with dog behaviors.  “Mental age” is one of the first things I use to determine who your Fido is; breed is one of the last.

That being said, if you are at an amusement park with your five-year old child, and they suddenly get separated from you and lost, how is that child reacting?

Not very well, I daresay.  The world is big and scary, and they have questions.  Who will take care of them?  Who will keep them safe?  It’s pure terror until you’re reunited again.

Let’s move on to that Beagle.  If you get separated from a 12-year old kid, they’re a little frightened, but they are mature enough not to immediately hit the panic button, and will most likely be able find an employee of the park to ask an adult how to handle the situation. Still scary, but not absolutely terrified.  They are still a little panicked, but can think rationally. They can cope.

But then we have the 17 year olds, like the aforementioned Akita.   What happens when they get separated from you?

Back to terror. Wait, huh?  I thought they were mentally more mature, you may ask.  Yes, but they may have so much money in their Piloting Piggy Bank that it’s more than yours.  Meaning they’re terrified for you.  Who will protect and care for you while you’re separated.

Ugh.  It can be a vicious circle!  A dog who’s mentally too immature will be scared for itself.  A dog who’s mentally more mature is terrified for you.  How to fix the issue:  a frightened creature who is shredding their bedding and their crate just to get out so they can shred your couch.  Crying, whining, drooling, even urination and defecation in their crate. It’s horrible, and as I said, all driven by fear.

Well, I’m not going to say it’s easy to fix.  As a matter of fact, it’s one of the most difficult behaviors to work with when addressing issues with dogs.  But it can be treated.  Never cured, for that fear will always be under the surface, but it can be managed.  Here’s how.

1) Become Pilot.

I don’t care how much money your dog has in their Piloting Piggy Bank, you need more.  If your dog has $5.00 in their Piloting Piggy Bank (most pitties), then I want you to have $2 million.  If your dog has $100 (most of my Jack Russell Terrorists Terriers) then I want you to have at least $5 million dollars.  In other words, you have so much money in your Piloting Piggy Bank that they start to accept that you answered the last 25 of their questions well (read: nobody died and they are now calm) that the next question they ask will most likely be answered well by you; calmly, with love, but firmly.  You need to make sure you have a buffer of Piloting money, in other words.  Remember, working with separation anxiety doesn’t start when you leave Bella the Boxer to go to work.  It’s an ongoing, non-stop thing.  You’re working on it every time Bella asks if she can jump on you (we call that behavior…well, find out here, and it includes barking at you, nipping at you and trampling you, among other things).  In other words, any questions you Pilot your dog through adds to the money in your Piloting Piggy Bank.

Now, each question is worth a certain amount of money.  For instance, if I drop food on the floor, my Sparta will ask if she may have it.  I need precisely $0.02 in my Piloting Piggy Bank to answer her question.  My Orion, though, will ask the same question, but it’s worth more to him.  I need about $10.00 in my Piloting Piggy Bank to answer that question.

It’s all good, though.  Because I’m rich.  I have millions in my Piloting Piggy Bank.  Enough to cover almost any questions my dogs may ask, including “Am I going to die if you leave me home alone?”  My answer?  No, honey, you’re not. “Are you going to die if you leave?” No, I’m a big girl with lots of money in my bank.  I’ll be safe.”

So start saving that money!

 

2) Make the Abnormal into Normal

Think about the times when you put your dog into the crate: when you leave and when you go to bed.  Both times you are separated from your dog, the thing they hate the most: separation.  So that crate has become a trigger for them.  The Worst Thing Ever is about to happen.  It energizes them, and not in a good way.  You haven’t even left yet, and they’re already starting with that anxious behavior.

We need to change the ritual.  Put them in the crate when you’re home, anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 hours. Yes, I know you feel badly for doing that when they’re already crated so much while you work.  Too bad.  I don’t care how you feel: I care about getting your dog past their horrific fear.  You feel bad.  They feel like they’re having a panic attack.  So just deal with it.  It will be okay. I promise.

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 3) Red Light/Green Light

In order to recreate a behavior, such as calm in the crate, we need to catch the behavior and give it either a positive or a negative.  Now, let’s set the game rules.  The object of the game isn’t to have your dog sitting calmly in the crate.  The object is to catch moments when your dog is just a little bit  calmer than they were a moment ago.  Respond to that with positives.

So you’ve locked your dog in the crate, and they immediately start going bonkers.  Walk away.  Not out of the house, but out of sight.  There will be a moment when the barking, while not stopping, lessens.  Or even a split second where the barking stops.  You seize those moments to slowly move closer to the dog (the positive here).

If your dog’s energy picks up, you will be responding to that with calm, gentle negatives.  Initially, it will be turning away from your dog when they start barking again, perhaps going into the other room.

Keep working at catching each of these behaviors.  Red light (walking away, going into another room) when your dog has increased their energy.  Green light (moving closer to them in a calm manner, and eventually giving them a treat, and or releasing them) when your dog is calmer. Initially the red light/green light will be pretty fast.  But pretty soon they start to understand what behavior gets them released from prison and brings you closer.  Start to up the ante.  Put them in the crate and walk out of the house. Walk right back in.  Red Light/Green Light your dog as necessary, but adding very little of your own energy.  This should be the most boring thing you’ve ever done, according to your body language.

4) Remain Calm and Bored

This goes for everything from greeting your pup to saying goodbye to your pooch.  Everything is boring and normal.  We, like dogs, are gregarious creatures.  We meerkat, as I call it.

We look around at what everyone else is doing.  If nobody else looks panicked, then we don’t panic.  But if you’re in a crowd of people, and suddenly, 2 or three of them start meerkatting, you start doing it, too, because you want to do know what the big deal is.

When it comes to your dog, the answer is nothing.  There is no big deal.  I want you to put your dog into the crate the same way you put your pizza rolls into a microwave. You don’t assure the pizza rolls that everything will be okay.  You don’t act differently, and meerkat before you put them in there.  You just, well…put them in there.  And then walk away.

See!  Homer isn’t worried at all!

5) Remember the Seriousness of the Situation

Your dog isn’t out to get back at you.  They don’t destroy things because they’re angry.  They are legitimately terrified. They have a phobia of being left alone without you.

Think of your phobias.  For me, ironically, it’s a fear of heights.  

Being six feet tall, I don't fail to see the humor in my phobia

Being six feet tall, I don’t fail to see the humor in my phobia

Being afraid of heights is legitimate to me.  Maybe you’re afraid of spiders.  They don’t bother me.  Live and let live, I say.  But the thought of a spider in your bedroom may render you unable to sleep in that room.

I may not be able to empathize with your fear of spiders, but I can empathize with the fact you have fear.  I won’t mock you, nor will I think you’re being a baby.

Now imagine your fear of spiders, and every day, I lock you in a cage with a spider for 8 hours.  Yes, it’s that serious. So rather than blaming the dog, or even worse, ourselves, we can start to empathize with the fear, and help Fido manage the fear.  Be constructively, actively working towards that management.

I’m still afraid of heights.  I get woozy on the second rung of a ladder, and I white knuckle it over the Valley View Bridge.  Every. Damn. Time.

But recently, say in the last year or so, I’ve been able to drive over the Valley View Bridge in the far right lane.  It may not seem like such a big deal for you, but it’s huge for me.  I no longer feel the need to race across the bridge just to get it over with.  I still hate it, but I’m no longer almost incapacitated by fear going over it.  I’ve successfully Piloted myself past my one huge phobia: heights. My fear isn’t gone, but it’s still with me, but it doesn’t rule me anymore.

Let’s not let it rule your dog anymore.  Time to Pilot them through their fear.

Keep calm and pilot on

Kerry Stack
Darwin Dogs
Dog Training in Cleveland, Ohio