The Puppy Master

I’ve been unemployed for several months. But fortunately, Onchu has a job. He is a puppy master.

Just like his predecessors Clipper and Tag, Onchu  has excellent canine skills. Witnessing his interaction with other dogs is like watching a live action Turid Rugas* tutorial. When an impetuous young dog gets too pushy, Onchu turns his head slightly away. If the other dog doesn’t get the message, the next head turn is more pronounced. When necessary the head turns progress to growls.

Onchu’s responses are also adjusted according to the age and size of the puppy. Onchu would still stand patiently while my neighbor’s JRT mixes, at 11 months old, climbed on him and hung onto his long fur. Another neighbor’s mastiff puppy doesn’t get off as easy. At eight months old the mastiff is bigger and heavier than Onchu, so Onchu’s discipline to him is quicker and fiercer.

We regularly get phone calls or emails from a puppy kindergarten instructor asking if Onchu can come to puppy class to model good doggy manners. Many puppy classes incorporate a few minutes of off-leash play time. As the weeks of class progress, of course the puppies are growing older and testing the boundaries. When a puppy begins displaying pushy behavior, Onchu is there to show them how to play nice.

In addition to Onchu’s great natural temperament, we were lucky to have a good network of sociable dogs when Onchu himself was a puppy. Opportunities to play nice with others is one of the best skills you can provide for your dog.   

*Turid Rugas is the Norwegian dog trainer who documented and wrote the book on “Calming Signals in Dogs” 15 years ago. 

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New Dogs

Everyone has different ways of dealing with loss and grief. It doesn’t seem to make a difference whether the loss is unexpected or anticipated. A neighbor with a large breed dog, with a life expectancy of 8 to 10 years, started looking at other breeds when her big guy reached 9. When he did die, she had a new dog, a 10-pounder, within a week.

Another neighbor lost her retriever mix suddenly at the age of 11. He was gone in a day. She also had a new dog within a week, another retriever mix she spotted at the local shelter. That impulse proved unfortunate and she ended up returning him to the shelter a few months later. She now has a little “poo” mix.

I guess during our dogs’ lifetimes we forget that we are aging the same number of years. The perfect dog when we’re 30 and running the agility floor, is probably not the best fit when we’re 55 and considering knee surgery.

Good Night, Sweet Friend

My beautiful Tag died this year. I know everyone here has stories about one special pet in their life…my heart pet some people say. Each animal coming into our lives teaches us their own unique lessons.  Tag showed me how nature and nurture interact.

He had a difficult experience in his first home but it was his fundamental nature, the genetics, that shaped how he reacted to that bad experience.  

Tag was by nature worrier. His first home taught him that there were good reasons to worry. Another dog; a different breed; a few months older;  and the scary stuff might not have been so scary. I think, though, that even with the most dog-savvy home, Tag would have always been a little tentative about new experiences. A cautious canine.

Thank goodness that Tag was produced by a “good breeder”, someone who accepts responsibility for all of the creatures she puts out in the world. As a result, she reclaimed Tag when the problems became known. Tag came to live with me at two years of age. I could tell at our first meeting that he would be a “project”. I had no idea, though, that the project would go on for nine years. Tag eventually learned to trust me and believed that I could keep him safe to the extent that he was loath to leave my side. I used to joke that Tag believed he and I were con-joined twins.

Tag had good dog skills s he taught me that I could trust his judgment. People often marveled at how calm their supposedly reactive dog behaved with Tag. He was also the perfect role model when I brought Onchu home as a puppy.  An animal communicator said Tag had a gentle spirit.

Tag’s breeder told me that the opportunity to bond with me was the greatest gift I could have given Tag.  That’s what gave me peace as I said farewell to my sweet, sweet friend.

 

Dog Training My Way

Here is a well-trained dog.

http://www.idodogtricks.com/index_flash.html

 Not much personality, though.

Good Natured

I know so many people with really great dogs. Usually, the people and dogs just seem to fit together; as if that dog was never meant to live in any other household.

I was talking to a woman at the dog park today about choosing a breed. She was there with a bearded collie, their family’s second beardie. But a few months ago her college age daughter decided she would like to get a small dog. The daughter was interested in a terrier but when checking out the various terrier rescue groups, many of them advised “don’t get a terrier unless you are experienced with the breed.” That advice could apply to a lot of breeds, couldn’t it.

As an adult, my first dog was sort of an impulse match. I was seriously thinking about getting a dog but in my mind it was to be something medium-sized, like a boxer or a golden. In the meantime a friend’s sheltie had a litter and after three months one puppy remained. “Please come and take him” my friend pleaded. It was an easy sell because he was my favorite of the litter. I expected he would have been the first to go. But at 13 weeks he was still there, waiting for me to realize he was the one. He may have been a small-sized dog but he had a big attitude.

Fourteen years later, my son said “This time I really want something bigger.” We each made a “top ten” list of breeds we found interesting. Then we melded the two lists into one. It was not hard to do since we only had a few variances. Then he started the research.

He checked out genetic concerns, grooming requirements (bye-bye standard poodle and airdale) and other special needs. Then we set off for a benched, all-breed show to talk to breeders.

We did not get a good vibe from the breeders of his #1 choice. After about an hour of talk and questions, he set off in search of breed #2 on our hit list.

The courtesy and attention from that group of breeders underscored a strong sense of community. “I’m getting a collie” he declared. And within a month we had our first smooth coated collie, Clipper.

Last year, when I started thinking about getting a puppy I thought long and hard about what kind of dog to get. Large, medium or small? High performance or couch potato? Over-attached or independent? A fellow dog training instructor, who has always had goldens, noted that of all the dogs that have come through her class over the years, she has developed a high regard for shelties.

So should I go back to my “roots” as it were?

Nope, I decided, it would be another collie. As I told my neighbor, “you don’t have to be on their ass all the time.” Collies are sensitive enough that they usually “get it” pretty quick. They’re not likely to have any who’s-the-boss issues.  They adjust themselves to your lifestyle – as long as they are part of it.

Collies are not dogs to ignore, left out in a yard or kennel day after day. Neither are they “needy” constantly seeking reassurance that they’re still loved. They approach everyone with an open mind (as well as an open, barking mouth!) They are sensible and know their limits.

Yup. Collies suit me.

Your Turn

Take my survey to tell me about the last dog who joined your household.

Puppy Time

A friend of mine just got a new puppy. She emailed an update the other day, chronicling house breaking progress, the senior dog’s reaction and chewing mischief. Oh, how I can relate!

My puppy, Onchu, joined our household just six months ago. It’s been 24 years since I’ve had a puppy. Every new dog during that time has been a rehomed adult. My youngest foster was with me from age 11 months to 14 months. While she still had the untrained behavior of a puppy, her personality seemed well-established.

Now, with Onchu, I am completely responsible for shaping the way he approaches the world.

I thought long and hard before getting a puppy – two years worth of thinking. I’ve known people who have applied all sorts of criteria and reasoning to their puppy choice. Time of year, cost, gender and appearance are probably the most common considerations. The “dog people” look at the parents’ performance records or the accomplishments of other dogs from that line.

The first thing to think about was – what breed? Was this the time to add a small dog? I’ve noticed a lot of people are staunchly big dog people or little dog people. I generally like small dogs, though I’m pretty sure I could never live with a terrier. I’ve met some hard-working, stand-up toys. I really admire the hounds, but without a securely fenced yard, that could be a disaster. Nope, I finally decided. I’m sticking with my collies. They suit me.

Collies are easy to get along with and willing learners. It might be fun to attract the attention that rare breeds get, or earn kudos from other trainers for being successful with a “difficult” breed, but I don’t want a dog that drives people away. A collie looks familiar and trustworthy to the general public.

Now I suppose most of you realize that selecting a specific breed pretty much directs where you go to get your dog. Of course you can browse the shelters hoping to hit the purebred jackpot. But more than likely you’ll either go to breed rescue or to a breeder. This is the part that was most difficult for me.

I’ve fostered almost 20 collies and been involved in the process, through transport and home visits, for several more. I always recommend breed rescue to people. So why not just adopt one of the foster collies?  Well, I guess that’s a discussion for another post.

Is it Nature? Or is it Nurture?

The Boys in the title refer to my collies, Tag and Onchu. (The cats are girls.) Before Tag, there was Clipper. And in between, lots of foster collies. Observing them over the years got me pondering a lot about what factors contribute to an individual dog’s behavior. How much of it comes from breeding, the family genes – Nature. How much of it is a result of experience and environment – Nurture.

I hope to use this log as a way for me to ponder out loud. It doesn’t matter whether I find a definite answer because just like life, it’s all about the journey.