Thursday, June 27, 2013

Why people buy from BYBs (Part I)

So much blame is put on breeders as the reason why people end up buying dogs from less-than-reputable sources.  But is it really the breeders' fault?

I recently spoke with a person who was interested in purchasing a Doberman puppy from a responsible breeder.  I was cautiously optimistic until she mentioned that she wanted a male puppy... but currently had another male dog.

I'm not sure how many of my readers are aware of the level of same-sex dog aggression (henceforth called SSDA) in Dobermans.  It's deeply-rooted in the breed, and the only dobes that seem to have fewer instances of SSDA tend to be dogs in rescue.  This is not to say that rescue dobes never have SSDA, but the chances of getting a male dobe that's fine with other males is more likely through rescue than it is through a responsible breeder.

To some of you, this may seem 'backwards' - after all, shouldn't "good" temperaments be found in responsibly bred dogs?  The issue here is "easy temperament" versus "correct temperament."  My theory on why you see more SSDA in well-bred dogs is that it is linked to other temperament traits that are correct and desirable for the breed.  In fact, here is the breed standard for Doberman temperament:

Energetic, watchful, determined alert, fearless, loyal and obedient. The judge shall dismiss from the ring any shy or vicious Doberman. 
Shyness: A dog shall be judged fundamentally shy if, refusing to stand for examination, it shrinks away from the judge; if it fears an approach from the rear; if it shies at sudden and unusual noises to a marked degree. 
Viciousness: A dog that attacks or attempts to attack either the judge or its handier, is definitely vicious. An aggressive or belligerent attitude towards other dogs shall not be deemed viciousness.

Note the bolded section. An aggressive or belligerent attitude towards other dogs shall not be deemed viciousness. Dog aggression is so common, so deep-rooted, that it is even mentioned in our standard as something that should not be penalized.

So you see, a "good" temperament in a Doberman is different than a "good" temperament in a Golden Retriever. Dog aggression isn't bad in some breeds. It does make them more challenging to own, but it doesn't make them bad dogs, and doesn't make their breeders bad either.

Of course, training and socialization can lessen a male Doberman's reactivity towards other males.  A well-trained, well-socialized SSDA male Doberman will appear completely friendly in most situations, but the owners are able to read their dog's body language and are constantly vigilant for signs that their dog is going to react aggressively toward another dog.  For example... in the photo below, at least one of these dogs is SSDA, but you wouldn't know it by looking at the photo. 

 So in this instance, the person I was talking to wanted a male Doberman that did not possess one (or many) of the breed traits associated with the breed.  I gently explained why she would not be able to purchase a male Doberman from the particular breeder in question, and warned that she would have difficulty finding any other responsible breeder to sell her a male. She quickly became upset.  She insisted that she didn't want a rescue dog, that she knew more than I did about SSDA (despite never having owned a Doberman, and never having any direct experience with SSDA) and that she'd have to go 'elsewhere' for a puppy.
I predict that this person will end up buying a puppy from the first backyard breeder (BYB) that will sell her a male.  After all, BYBs are so focused on profit that they are willing to place puppies into inappropriate situations. Is this the fault of the responsible breeder?  No. Was rescue suggested to the person, only to be shot down as an 'insulting' suggestion? Yes.  
In an ideal world, people would get their dogs from responsible breeders.  There would be no irresponsible breeders, so rescue organizations would most likely begin to be phased out.  However, this is not a perfect world.  People will still go to BYBs and pet stores, simply because responsible breeders care too much about their dogs to put them into unfit homes.  The real problem here is that not everyone is a good pet owner. Not everyone should own the animals they insist on owning.  People know what they want, and will go to great lengths to get it... even if it means supporting a backyard breeder, mill, or puppy broker.  
But that is not the fault of the responsible breeder.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Hot Dogs, Hot Cars

It's that time of year again, folks - the time of year when social media is inundated with images like this:

Images like this spur people to proudly announce that they'll break windows, steal dogs, vandalize property, etc. if they see a dog in a vehicle on a hot day.  I used to be one of those people.  While it's a good message and people mean well by it, it's not entirely accurate in every situation.

Over the years, I've realized that it's not always possible to leave a dog at home, or bring a dog inside with you on a hot day.  In a perfect world, no dog would ever have to be in a car on a hot day... but in reality, there are times it just can't be avoided.

Let me tell you about the dog show last weekend.  When I arrived at the fairgrounds at 6am (with three dogs in tow) it was already 79 degrees Fahrenheit. Despite the heat, the sun wasn't completely up yet so the temperature in the car didn't rise above 75 degrees or so while I set up the ex-pens.  I had run the air conditioning on the way to the show, so the air inside my vehicle stayed cool for quite some time.

From 6am until about noon, the dogs were out in their ex-pens.  They had water and a sun-reflecting shade screen covering their pens, so despite it being 95 degrees they didn't even start panting until 11:30am.  At noon, we put the dogs back in the vehicle and started the air conditioning.  I put up a reflective sun screen in my windshield and re-positioned the sun shade to reflect the remaining sunlight.  For nearly six hours, I had four dogs in my vehicle on a 95-100 degree day.  We checked on them often to make sure the air conditioning was still functioning, but I knew that there would be a risk of having my windows broken by some misguided soul who would assume the dogs were "in distress."

We did this again when we went out to dinner, and again for much of the next day.  Mid-afternoon on Sunday, the temperature had dropped to around 80-85 degrees.  There was a storm rolling in, so there was a decent breeze and the sun was behind clouds most of the time.  When we went to lunch that day, we elected to not run the air conditioning at all.  Here was our solution:

1. parked in the shade, under a large tree
2. rolled down the front windows about 5"
3. popped the back windows
4. popped the rear sunroof
5. put up the reflective sun screen in the windshield
6. filled the water buckets with water
7. put large battery-operated fans on each of the crates

The dogs were fine for over an hour... in a mostly closed vehicle, on an 85 degree day.  I should also note that the dogs in the vehicle are well-conditioned, in their prime, and accustomed to the summer heat.  When we got back to the car after lunch, they weren't even panting.  They were fast asleep, and not "in distress" in any way.

Afterwards, we went on a multiple-mile, multiple-hour hike over semi-rough terrain.  The dogs were fine.  None of them developed heat stroke.  None of them died, or even got close to dying.

There are other dog activities (such as protection sports) where crating in a vehicle during the day is commonplace and expected. Thousands of us make it work every day.  Being contained in a vehicle on a hot day is not necessarily a death sentence, no matter how much some people like to think it is.  The ingredients for success are as follows:

1. Shade. If you can't park in it, make your own.  If you can park in the shade, still consider making your own.  Sun-reflecting window shades and vehicle-covering screens can keep a vehicle nice and cool.
2. Ventilation. Do everything you can to maximize air flow. Open windows as far as you can, and use fans if you can't get enough ventilation from windows alone.  Invest in a ventlock.
3. Hydration. Make sure your dog has access to water. Pails work better than stand-alone bowls because they're harder to spill.
4. Supervision.  Check on your dog often.  Even if you have the air condition running, be sure to check your vehicle to make sure cold air is still coming out of the vents and that your car is still running.
5. Conditioning.  We're talking about the condition of your dog in this case.  Make sure your dog is in good condition and is used to higher temperatures.  Sick and/or elderly dogs (or very young puppies) cannot handle the heat as well as athletic, well-conditioned, healthy adult dogs.

Hot cars can be (and often are) deadly.  However, don't assume that all situations call for breaking windows and "rescuing" the dog inside.  Use good judgement, and use your brain before you use a brick.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Dog Safety Presentation

My regular readers will remember this post.

The city council knows I'm involved with dogs, so when the local elementary school contacted the city about a possible dog safety course, they suggested that the school give me a call.  I jumped at the opportunity to help teach the kids in my town about dog safety, and enlisted Aryn's help since the plan was to present to all classes individually. I believe they wanted to "keep it local" since the town has been inundated with outsiders attempting to "butt in" on the city's response to the fatal dog attack in April.

On May 29th, Aryn and I spent the entire day at Prairie City Elementary.  We talked to each class individually, which meant tailoring our presentation to preschool through 5th grade audiences. It was a great experience, though we were all very tired by the end of the school day.  Kaylee and Ruby were great, and even did a few tricks to entertain the kids.

Here's a rough outline of our presentation, in case you're curious:

Usually if a strange dog approaches you, it's because they're curious. If you run or scream, the dog will think you're something that would be fun to chase. If you stand still, stay quiet, and don't look at the dog, the dog will most likely get bored and go away.  (We called this "pretending to be a tree" and had all the kids practice their tree skills.  We had Ruby and Kaylee apprach the "trees" to show the kids how dogs are generally not interested in people that don't move or look at them. It worked very well!) 
- Don't run
- Be very quiet
- Don't look at the dog
- If you're holding a toy or food, drop it (don't throw it)
- If you get knocked down, curl into a ball and cover your head with your arms 
 If you see a dog with its owner and you want to pet the dog, always ask before getting too close. If the owner says you can't pet the dog, don't be sad - the dog may be shy, or the dog might not be trained to be polite around children.   

Most dog bites involve dogs you know.  This can include dogs that belong to a neighbor, a friend, or a relative. Even your own dog could bite, even though he or she love you very much.  Dogs don't bite because they're mean.  There are many reasons for a dog deciding to bite.  Dogs bite because: 
- They have a toy or treat, and are afraid you are trying to take it from them
- They are uncomfortable with how close you are to them (personal bubble!)
- They are hurt or sore, and you accidentally touch them in the place where they are hurting
- You run, and they think it's fun to chase you (dogs' instincts tell them to chase "prey")
(Note:  Aryn helped the kids understand personal bubbles by asking for a volunteer, then invaded their space and asked if they felt uncomfortable.  This helped the kids understand how dogs feel when their personal bubbles are invaded.  Also, keep in mind this is a presentation for young children - some of the items mentioned in the next section are ok for adults, but unsafe for kids.) 
To be safe around dogs, including dogs you own, remember: 
- Do not hug, sit on, or lie down on your dog... but it's OK to sit next to them and gently stroke their chest and side of their neck.
- Do not play "chase me" games with  your dog... but it's OK to play hide and seek as long as you don't run when your dog finds you!
- Do not play tug with your dog... but it's OK to play Fetch!  Use two toys, so you can trade one toy for another.
- Do not lean over or step over your dog... but it's OK to walk around, or ask an adult to move the dog.
- Do not bother a dog who is sleeping, eating, playing with a toy, or chewing on a bone... but it's OK to wait for a dog to come to you for attention.
- Do not pull on your dog's neck, ears, legs, or tail... but it's OK to stroke them gently on the "safe zones" (We discussed this as a dog's chest, side of the neck, and shoulders.  We advised never to pet a dog's rear end, since you can scare them if they don't know you're back there.)- Do not poke your fingers into a dog's crate, or stare at him through the bars. Do not tease dogs behind fences or on tie-outs. 
(We were able to get into dog body language with the older kids.  The younger ones really didn't have the cognitive capacity to understand it.)   
Dogs can't speak like we speak, but they do have their own language. Instead of speaking with their voices, dogs speak with their bodies... sort of like sign language.  Dogs tell us to leave them alone by: 
- Turning their heads and/or bodies away from us
- Avoiding eye contact (sometimes you can see the whites of their eyes when they do this)
- Putting their ears flat back on their head
- Yawning when they're not tired
- Licking their lips when there isn't food around
- Walking away
- Hiding from you
- Putting their tail very low, even between their legs 
It's a bad idea to touch a dog when they are focused on something.  Dogs tell us they're concentrating on something by: 
- Standing tall, with their ears facing forward and tail up
- Staring at what they're concentrating on (this could be a squirrel, or a cat, or another dog, or even a person walking by)
- A tense body
- A slow, choppy tail wag

The visit went very well.  We even got to spend some time with the brother of the little girl who was killed by the dog in April. Initially he was very afraid of the dogs, which is sad but not surprising. He did warm up to them though, which is fantastic because without positive experiences with dogs now, there would be a huge chance of him being deathly afraid of dogs for the entire rest of his life. I was sure to tell him that if he ever saw me in town with a dog, that he could come up and ask to pet them. It makes me sad to hear adults admit that they have a fear of dogs, stemming from a bad experience they had when they were young.

The school issued us certificates of appreciation:

And the local newspaper featured us on the front page!

I hope we're invited back next year. I applaud my town for pursuing education instead of legislation, and I an grateful that the school was trusting enough to let us bring Kaylee the "El Diablo dog" and Ruby the "wolf" into the school to help kids learn about dog safety.  

A couple thoughts / observations...

One of the questions I asked every class was, "How many of you have seen a loose dog in town?"  Every kid raised their hand.  This is unacceptable, especially since Prairie City has a leash law.  As a community, we need to make sure our dogs are not running at-large.  It's the law, and it keeps our kids safe.  

Parents seem to think it's ok to not supervise kids and dogs. I know it's easier to assume a dog would never do anything to harm a child, but that's not something you can bank on. Also, there is nothing cute about a kid sitting on a dog, or riding a dog like a pony, or hugging a dog's face and pinning the dog to the ground.  That's a recipe for disaster, folks... even with dogs that are generally good with kids.  Think of dog/kid supervision like a seatbelt - you always buckle your kids in, even though 999 times out of 1000 a car ride doesn't result in an accident.  That one time in 1000, you'll be happy you bucked your kid's seatbelt.  

Kaylee's CAA Title Run Photos

I finally got Kaylee's CAA title run photos. I hadn't brought a camera (I know, I know... crazy!) so I'm glad there was a talented professional there to capture her CAA run.

This photo is very similar to the one we got in Des Moines. Kaylee levitates at the Tallyho...

For reference, here is the photo from Des Moines:

Ok, I promise I'll write about our dog safety visit tomorrow!  I just needed to get these photos posted!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Evaluating Dog Breeder Websites

Recently, a group of people have begun conducting peaceful protests in front of a couple Iowa pet stores that sell puppies from puppy mills. I've never been to any of these protests for the following reasons:

1. 85% of my dogs have been from responsible breeders... which could get awkward with some of the protesters.
2. I'm not really the type to picket much of anything.  I'm not really "protester material."
3. My views on adoption vs. breeders are far too complicated for me to be able to do something as simple as picketing.  
4. My weekends are hopelessly booked with other dog activities.

However... I do think their message is important.  Buying a puppy from a pet store is... well, it's utterly repugnant.  It funnels more money into a system that:

1. adds to the overpopulation of poorly-bred dogs in shelters and rescue
2. provides a hard, sad, hopeless life for the sires and dams of those cute puppies in the window
3. is more focused on quantity than quality
4. doesn't care who buys their "product" - the only requirement is that the buyer can pay the purchase price

I could go on, but I'm already getting away from what this post is supposed to focus on.  While reading about the protests, I saw some internet hecklers argue about whether or not the mill where the puppies come from is actually a mill. Slick websites can make even the slimiest operations look legitimate.  That got me thinking about responsible breeders' websites, and how - to the untrained eye - it can be difficult to tell whether or not a breeder is responsible or not.

Let's talk about aesthetics...
Most breeders do not have degrees in web design.  Some breeders are lucky and know someone who will do their website for cheap, but that's not common.  Most breeders are more willing to put their money into showing, trialing, training, health testing, and actually breeding good litters than pouring money into a fancy website.  After all, they are not selling a product to the masses... they are breeding to improve the breed. Along the same vein, breeders are probably more likely to spend time working with their dogs than they are updating their website, so some information may be out of date.  There is nothing wrong with a breeder website that looks like it was "homemade."  If you need an example, here is a link to one of the most responsible and ethical Doberman breeders in North America.  

Health Testing
Listing the results of health testing is a great sign that a breeder is doing the right thing. Look for "named" tests and certificates, such as OFA, PennHip, CERF, etc.  These are highly respected, independent organizations that issue and/or keep track of test results. 

If a breeder doesn't have health testing on their website, it doesn't necessarily mean that they don't test.  Contact the breeder and ask.  As I mentioned before, they may just be a bit behind in getting health results listed on their website.  Some breeders don't feel the need to list health testing if it can be found on an online database (such as OFA.)

You will notice some dogs have CHIC numbers, issued by a special database sponsored by the AKC Canine Health Foundation and OFA.  CHIC issues certificates for dogs that have had a full battery of health testing as defined by each breed's parent club.  Keep in mind that this doesn't mean that the dog passed all tests, but it does mean that the dog's owner and/or breeder did go to the effort of having the health testing done. 

Information on the breeder's ADULT dogs
It is very rare for a puppy mill or commercial kennel to list detailed information about the dogs they use for breeding.  Therefore, to see evidence of a breeder's pride and hard work in their adult dogs is another way to tell if a breeder is responsible.  Now, many backyard breeders will feature pages dedicated to adult dogs, but they won't list titles, health testing, show results, etc.  Look for evidence that the breeder is proud of their adults, and that their adults do more than just sit in cages.  Here's an example of one of my own dogs, as listed on her breeder's website:

Looking at this, it reminds me.... I need to update my breeder's website to include Kaylee's new titles.  I also need to update it to list new health testing on some of my breeder's other dogs.  See what I mean about breeders being too busy with their dogs to fuss over a website?  ;)

Geez, that's a lot of dogs!
Some breeders (mine included) have websites that feature dozens of dogs.  In most cases, that's okay.  Of the 41 dogs featured on my Doberman breeder's website, only five actually live with her full time.  Others listed on the website either belong to other people on co-ownerships, or are deceased and we can't bring ourselves to take them off the website.  Don't automatically assume the breeder is overdogged.

Club Affiliations
Look for indications that a breeder is involved in organizations that support their breed and/or their involvement in dogs.  Look for parent breed clubs, training clubs, performance clubs, and all-breed kennel clubs.  A breeder doesn't necessarily have to be involved in everything, but it's good to see they're involved in some way.  Clubs like this generally have an application process that weeds out the irresponsible folks. Click here to see an excellent example of a responsible breeder's involvement.  

A word on Breeder of Merit status... while it's great to see a breeder listed as a Breeder of Merit, lack of such a designation in no way means a breeder is not responsible.  It's a program that must be applied for, and not every breeder is interested in "tooting their own horn" in that way.

Many responsible breeders will also have sections of their website dedicated to breed education and/or useful breed-specific information.  They may also have a questionnaire or application.  Lack of these types of pages doesn't mean a breeder is bad, and doesn't necessarily mean a breeder is good either.  I personally love to see puppy questionnaires, but plenty of fantastic breeders don't have them.  This could be because they want to do all of the interviewing in person, or they simply don't know how to add a questionnaire to their website.  

A responsible breeder's website will not...
- have online purchase/paypal options
- have breeding dogs with disqualifying faults
- several breeds available 
- several litters constantly available

I'm sure I'm forgetting something - or several things - but this is a good start.  If you have anything to add to the list, feel free to leave a comment and we can discuss!

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Bird Fiasco

I don't really get along with birds.  Apparently my buddy Jess doesn't get along with birds either, but I'll let her tell her own bird story on her own blog.

I let the dogs out this morning around 10am. I heard some alert calls echo through the trees but didn't give them much thought.  A few minutes later I heard what could only be described as the bird equivalent of a fight on the Maury show.  I went outside to investigate, and quickly noticed something sitting on the tallest stump in the yard.

... a feathery, gangly, bewildered something.

I got closer to confirm it was indeed a young robin. Presumably, it had tried to fly and only got as far as the tall stump.  Realizing its own limitations, it was just sort of sitting there.

I decided to rescue the damn thing.  I don't know why, but my brain didn't really make the connection that perhaps it would have been wise to put the dogs in the house before I attempted said rescue.  I think you can see where this is going.

The dogs hadn't noticed the young robin yet.  As I approached the stump in an effort to move the bird outside the yard, six adult robins decided that I was up to no good and started dive-bombing me.  This enraged my valiant protector (Jayne) and he threw himself at the birds.  He quickly dispatched two of the dive-bombing bird terrorists by grabbing them out of the sky.  This only served to make the remaining four robins even more mad.

In the meantime, the young robin decided that he would attempt to hop/walk/bumble his way to safety. Of course, he figured squeaking the whole time would heighten his chance of success.  All he succeeded in doing was to draw attention to himself.  Poison and Talla decided he was a squeaky toy and started following him around.  They weren't touching him - just following him with interest.

So imagine this.  I am crouched down as low as I can to avoid being pecked to death by four enraged robins.  Jayne is running around the yard like a Viking Berserker - attempting to add more robin kills to his name.  Adolescent robin is hopping around, squeaking, while two in casual pursuit.  It was a total disaster.

Since I was unable to move, I decided to take a few photos.  

Eventually I was able to grab all three dogs and drag them inside, but not before Jayne  killed two more of the adult robins.  Once I had a chance to check everyone over for injuries, I went back outside (wearing a hat made out of a cardboard box) to see if I could locate the poor retarded teenage bird.  I scoured every inch of the yard but he was nowhere to be found.  He either:

A.) escaped through under of the gates
B.) was somehow eaten in the fray
C.) got into the garage
D.) miraculously learned how to fly more than 18" off the ground.

I'm assuming A and C are the most likely scenarios.  I wish him a long and prosperous life, and hope he's learned a valuable lesson... that my yard is not a safe place for his kind. Especially when Jayne the Terrible is in full bloodwrath mode.  I'm sure the robins will tell stories of him for generations to come.