Monday, November 22, 2010

Rescues, Rescues Everywhere Till Not a Dog in Sight

For anyone that is considering making a dog a part of their family, the question of where to get the dog is bound to come up. They will have undoubtedly considered a breed and thought about finding a good breeder, they possibly have taken note of the cute faces in the pet store and no doubt have also considered heading to the pound or shelter. Now, they must choose between the many options available.

I’ve already written a bit about what to consider when deciding to get a new companion but now I want to spend a bit of time discussing so called “rescues.” In considering how to approach a subject like dog rescue, it is important to recognize the potential for controversy regarding the facts and the conclusions one might draw from those facts. It is with this thought in mind that I write. I acknowledge the risk that the points I am trying to make might be misinterpreted and therefore will start by clearly stating that I admire and respect those who dedicate time and effort to dog rescue.

When addressing any topic where passions are high, one can be sure the feelings that are touched lie just below the surface. In fact, as I will discuss later in this article, it is these very passions that are sometimes played with, manipulated and preyed upon in driving an agenda that is very much anti-dog.

While I generally support the work of many rescue organizations, I do have concerns with how some operate. Not all rescue organizations spark the same concerns in me and some are definitely better than others – but a partial list of my concerns that have arisen over the years is:
- An attitude of save 'em all at any cost
- Poor utilization of scarce resources
- Bad matches resulting in the wrong dog placed with the wrong family
- Agendas driven by idealism that interfere with effective and efficient operation
- Animal Rights proponents infiltration, taking over the cause, re-framing the issues and driving the agendas.

Many, if not most, of the issues on that list are connected to some degree though they manifest in different ways. Those who participate in rescue are understandably passionate about saving dogs. Some would say "All Dogs" - even those dogs that are unsalvageable and cannot safely be “re-homed.” With the growing move toward “no kill” shelters and rescues, some dogs are simply being locked away indefinitely at a very high cost. Sometimes already tight budgets are getting stretched to the breaking point. The fact is, you cannot save them all and in trying to do so, pressure is being allowed to build up within the rescue/welfare system that helps fuel the concept of a “crisis.” It is this concept that is then used to fuel and support some of the anti-dog legislation and agendas.

For some unscrupulous folks, people's concern for animals is something that can be exploited and the rescue concept can be used as a political and/or a business opportunity. Not long ago, two young dog owners contacted me to help train their dog Nikki. Nikki is a handsome, medium sized dog of unknown mixed parentage. His owners, a young professional couple report, “Nikki is a wonderful dog, he just has a few issues we must get under control.”

As it turns out, Nikki had a propensity to get into fights with other dogs, ran off any chance he got, stole stuff, can be very destructive and was almost impossible to walk. His owners informed me that they got Nikki through a rescue organization in the mid-western USA…and that he got there from someplace in Mexico. Noting my puzzled expression, they explained that even though they know there are dogs available locally, they wanted to contribute to a larger cause and help a dog from more difficult circumstances.

Nikki is not unique in my experience. I've had clients tell me of the hundreds of dollars they paid for a Bouvier that was “rescued” from a “puppy farm” in Quebec – they got him by arranging to meet some guy on the side of the highway. The dog was then transferred from his van to their car and the deal was sealed by them handing over a considerable - previously agreed upon - sum of money “to help defray expenses.”

Another example is the Chihuahua obtained from someone's basement in Toronto for several hundred dollars. They were told the place was a foster residence and the money helped cover “costs” – they were also told they could pick any kind of small dog they liked and the foster residence could get it for them. They believed the story that all the dogs were rescues and therefore they were doing a good thing.

From the dogs reportedly rescued from the puppy mill in northern Quebec to the side street operations in Toronto, it is becoming more and more common to see “rescue” dogs being shipped far and wide…sometimes with exorbitant price tags attached. It seems clear to me that at least in these instances, the public good-will and desire to help is being exploited.

Every year millions of concerned citizens mistakenly believe they are helping, to take care of pets in need, by donating millions of dollars to Animal Rights organizations (some posing as animal welfare groups). The fact is that while most front line rescue groups have almost no money, very few resources and rely on donations from patrons within the community to survive, outfits like HSUS have their coffers full and very little ever finds it's way back to actually helping the animals. What do such groups use the money for? While I don't have access to their budgets and can't give a full accounting, there seems to be plenty of evidence that a good portion of it goes to fund political activities which promote the animal rights (AR) agenda. Some of the money goes directly into funding unreasonable restrictions on dog ownership, dog care, reproduction and various other anti-dog type laws – all with a view to first restrict and ultimately eliminate the ability to own and enjoy the company of a dog.

When considering the very limited resources some rescues are faced with, it always amazes me to see some of the spending choices that are made. Excessive numbers of man-hours and finances are sometimes dedicated to a single project resulting in even less to go around to those other equally worthy dogs that remain. It's not just a case of poor financial choices either. I've seen many cases where rescue organizations, crying they are overcrowded, refuse perfectly good homes because of some questionable idealistic criteria they are holding to. Multi-page questionnaires complete with reference requirements, home-visits, contracts limiting ownership, requirements and restrictions concerning what training is permitted and even the physical structure of the home are often cited as reasons an adoption was refused. Some rescue groups criteria would rival that of any child-adoption agency.

Earlier, I gave an example of a “long-distance” rescue that happened to be a problem dog. Of course not all long distance rescues are problem dogs – many are just “normal” dogs with nothing to distinguish them from any other dog found in any other place. Many, if not most of the problem dogs ending up in people's homes (coming through rescue) come from local rescues.

It has been my experience that some rescues are much better than others at screening out dogs which should either be placed very carefully or not placed at all. For example, one rescue that comes to mind has repeatedly placed dangerous dogs in the homes of unsuspecting families. Zealously operating from a viewpoint that suggests all dogs must be saved, they will place dogs with serious bite histories in a succession of homes (taking it back after every incident and then re-homing to a different unsuspecting household).

All the concerns I've noted so far represent challenges that can be overcome by knowledgeable individuals that are committed to strengthening the dog-owner relationship and are dedicated to this cause. Unfortunately, these difficulties are also proving to be fertile ground for the much more sinister agenda of the Animal Rights movement.

“When an enemy tells you he is going to kill you believe him.” This quote, attributed to Congressman Lungren, is based on a holocaust survivor (when questioned about what he had learned) replying, “When your enemy says he will exterminate you, believe him.” When exploring the efforts of those that would see us loose our right to own and train our dogs, it is worth keeping this thought in mind and not minimize the intention and efforts invested by such individuals.

The Animal Rights movement has been both insidious and relentless in their efforts to successfully infiltrate and distort the principles of animal welfare. Rescues, shelters and pounds have not been immune from this onslaught. Indeed, many of the initiatives and legislative pushes (behind restricting and/or eliminating dog ownership) are the result of these well meaning groups vulnerability to exploitation and manipulation by an underlying Animal Rights agenda.

It would be impossible to fully discuss the Animal Rights agenda in an article such as this – indeed whole books have been written on the subject that I'd encourage each person to seek out and read for them self. Briefly stated, however, the AR movement seeks to end all use of animals and/or ownership in any form. They'd like to see the extinction of any animal that is domesticated or “man made,” and with respect to our pets and companion animals…they would sever that relationship entirely.

If this is indeed their agenda, what factors (within the shelter movement) might they distort and exploit? The most obvious is the “overcrowded” conditions and lay the blame for it at the feet of the dog fancy. They also use their own peculiar take on this to push for the mandatory sterilization of dogs. Their hope is to slowly drain the gene pool until it is dry. Recently they have become emboldened in their attacks against those breeding and showing their dogs – painting all as “puppy millers.” All “man made” breeds are at risk as they push for creative ways to first limit breeding and ultimately ban it altogether. They use everything from pushing mandatory spay/neuter laws, to laws that outright ban or at least unreasonably restrict breeders and they couple this with the liberal use of the “puppy mill” label. In their use of these initiatives, they use every opportunity to pit those involved in rescue against those who participate in the dog fancy.

The fact is however, that of the millions of dogs that end up in the shelter/rescue system, very few are purebred dogs, produced by responsible breeders, within the dog fancy. Indeed, among the reasons most often given (for turning dogs over to shelters and rescues) are significant behavioural issues.

The following is quoted from the “Dog Owners Guide” an online magazine for pet and show dog owners ( A bit of research reveals that numerous articles support these same conclusions. To illustrate the point, here then is the quote taken from the introduction of the above noted article:
“Several years ago, the Humane Society of the US initiated a “voluntary breeding moratorium” to urge dog breeders to stop producing puppies until all dogs in shelters were adopted to new homes.

“Until there are none, adopt one,” the slogan said.

“Thoughtful and caring dog breeders were put on the defensive, pet stores were vilified, and all commercial kennels were lumped together as “puppy mills” no matter how they provided for their animals.

“A new study that examined the reasons dogs — about two million each year — are surrendered to animal shelters has shed new light on the problem. The main reasons dogs are surrendered is that owners fail to obedience train or have unrealistic expectations of their pet; the dogs at highest risk of surrender are those acquired at low or no cost, especially those that do not visit a veterinarian regularly.

“Gary Patronek VMD, PhD, one of the principle investigators on the study, presented the results at the NAIA Purebred Rescue Symposium last March. The work was published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association on August 1, and is corroborated in another study reported in the August 15 issue of the Journal.

“Patronek and his Purdue University colleagues concluded that dog owners who pay more than $100 for a dog, take him to a veterinarian more than once a year, and participate in obedience classes are more likely to provide a long-term home for the animal.

“Veterinary care and obedience classes may reinforce the bonding of pet and owner,” the researchers wrote “. . . by allowing the owner to experience and appreciate the positive aspects of pet ownership such as companionship, affection, entertainment, and security without overreacting to or being distracted by disruptive or unwanted behavior.”

“Their conclusions challenge the assertions of activists that breeders directly and indirectly produce an “overpopulation” of pets and provide testimony for early intervention through education, a solution that breeders, breed clubs, kennel clubs, and the American Kennel Club have promoted for years.”

Let me stress that most of the dogs going through the rescue system are trainable, loveable dogs and can make great companions. It is important to remember though that if one of the main reasons that dogs are surrendered to shelters is behavioural issues, the odds of encountering a behaviour problem are higher if one gets a dog from a rescue versus from a breeder. Fortunately, most of the so called “behaviour problems” will respond nicely to a well balanced training approach. Regardless of where you get your dog, one of the first things you should be doing is finding a good trainer that has shown they can produce reliable, effective results in a timely manner. If you discover the dog you are considering making your next companion has any serious issues, you must also be prepared to decide what your “Cut ‘em loose” point is before you have too much invested in to the relationship. A good trainer can help you with this as well.

If well trained, mannerly dogs are way more likely to remain happily in their homes and out of the shelter system, why is so much emphasis placed on neutering and very little on training? I can think of a few possible reasons:
1. The AR movement is not likely to promote strategies that are more likely to succeed and are at odds with their agenda and basic views.
2. Poorly mannered dogs help create an overall negative view of ALL dogs in the eyes of the public. This negative image can then be used to support and promote all sorts of anti-dog legislation.
3. Related to number 2 is the concept of “Untrainability.” In researching what (if any) kinds of training various AR groups might support, I found the sorts of training declared “acceptable” are those shown to be among the least effective. These so called acceptable kinds of training are those that the most difficult and or dangerous dogs are unlikely to respond favourably to. If they can “show” training to be unreliable (and/or cruel) they can maintain the overall negative view of keeping dogs.
4. The “spay and neuter” campaign is largely a propaganda war in which the goal is ultimately to replace all potential progenitors with sterile dogs. Couple this aim with the elimination of “breeders” and within one or two generations, very little is left of the domestic dog.

Several days ago, I watched a documentary on a project designed to eliminate the sea lamprey from Lake Huron. I found the story fascinating and went online to read more about this program. Perhaps you are wondering why I'd mention such a program in this article. Here's what was so interesting...they are planning to eliminate the lamprey population by sterilizing large numbers of the lamprey male population. Rather than catch and kill or trying to find some other means to directly eliminate the population now swimming around in the lake, they are catching large numbers and then chemically sterilizing and then marking them before releasing them back into the lake. The neutered stock then competes with the rest of the population. They are using lampreys to eliminate lampreys – genetically dead stock to slowly decimate the genetically healthy population. If one looks, parallels can be drawn between this strategy and that which is being pursued via the AR movement.

If we humans are to maintain our relationship with “man's best friend,” a relationship that has survived for thousands of years, we must do something to effectively address the problems of unwanted and abandoned dogs. We must line up squarely against the AR movement and not yield any further ground. It’s up to us to provide the care and training that will allow dogs to remain in their homes and a welcome part of society. We must insure that our dogs stay out of the shelter and rescue system and we must remain vigilant to insure that system is not exploited by those pushing a cause or pursuing the profit motive - all on the backs of animal misery.

It is especially important that we not allow ourselves to be sucked into the emotionally laden arguments of the AR zealots – arguments that are designed and dedicated to ultimately end this valued relationship. Instead, we must be prepared to offer a wide array of solutions that work. Education and training top such a list of solutions. Much ultimately hangs in the balance and our friend is counting on us. Let’s not let him down.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Whatever Happened to the Master?

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, things were quite different for dogs. Not necessarily better but definitely different. Generally speaking however, I think the dog had more things going for them than against. It is my belief that if one were to compare the family dog of yesteryear to the “fur-kid” of today's “pet-parent,” yesteryear's dog comes out on top because he was happier whilst enjoying a more balanced and fulfilled life.

As I recall the community in which I grew up, there certainly were plenty of dogs; some were pure-bred, far more were of unknown parentage. In that community every child knew all the dogs living there and at some point would have played with most of them. All the dogs were loved and lived in family homes – though many of them could be found at times just about anywhere in the neighbourhood. A few were tied up but most were not. Very few people had an actual fence and those who did only put up the small decorative picket variety around a garden.

Dog food (if owners chose to feed what has become today's standard fare) was supplemented liberally with furnishings from the family table, and dogs were generally quite healthy. Trips to the vet were few and far between – usually for a very sick animal. One seldom saw a fat dog, as most were active and well exercised. Formal dog-training (“puppy training”, “basic,” “advanced classes” etc) was pretty much an unknown...however almost all the dogs could be described as mannerly. Also worthy of note, as I recall almost every dog had either a master or mistress.

While still around today, the term master (or mistress) is rarely used in relation to dogs any longer. Instead a number of substitute terms have been adopted to describe the relationship one has with their dog(s). In thinking about this, I wonder what (if anything) the significance of this fact is. How might this fact be reflected in the dog-owner relationships of today?

It is noteworthy that there is even a certain level of discomfort associated with use of the word when referring to oneself in relation to one’s dog. Indeed, some of the words used instead have been employed to try to fill the void left as the terms “master” or “mistress” seemingly fell out of favour. At first the terms used were words such as, “Alpha,” “leader,” “pack-leader,” “boss” or simply “responsible dog owner.” More recently even those terms have come under fire by some (who question the essential nature of the dog-owner relationship) to be replaced by very politically correct words such as, “guardian,” “pet-parent” and “fur-child.”

Corresponding to this trend, we note the changing of other terms as well. The term for giving direction to the dog used to be “command” which has been gradually abandoned and replaced by, “cue.” What was once referred to as, “praise and corrections” has been largely replaced by “rewards and punishments.” Note that “cue” is a much softer, less demanding term than “command” while “rewards” is seen as a more appealing term than “praise.” On the other hand, “punishments” which has a decidedly more negative connotation than “corrections” has been selected. Even the term “obedience,” (when used) has been moved away from the literal meaning it once held toward a more generic meaning and, when possible, has often been replaced by terms such as “trained” or “conditioned.”

When terms are changed, the language selected is often used to help influence attitudes and actions. I believe this is the underlying motivation for changing so many terms that had been used by the dog owning, showing and training world for so many years. Indeed, the whole “politically correct” movement, that has become so entrenched in our culture, was instituted as part of a larger social engineering effort. I have come to the conclusion that unfortunately, dog ownership has not escaped the same motivation.

So why get rid of the master and mistress? What idea or principle did these terms help anchor that some within the progressive movement might want to break loose and change? Both words have a number of different meanings but the two I’m primarily interested in have to do with: 1) owning or keeping animals and 2) holding or taking a position of authority, control or ownership.

Among the stated goals of the Animal Rights movement is the intention to severely restrict and/or eliminate the ownership and keeping of animals. Attacks to further their cause come in many different forms – some extreme and some far more subtle. So in addition to pushes to eliminate meat-eating and the wearing of fur we see efforts to have “owners” replaced by “guardians” and pets referred to as “fur-people.” As part of their agenda, the idea of owning or keeping animals can be more successfully attacked if they can effectively get rid of concepts such as “master” or “mistress.”

As this progressive ideology has gained hold, the focus has been expanded to include training, controlling or working with the animals within our (guardian) care. It has long been demonstrated that well-trained dogs are very easy to live with, can provide invaluable services to man and are a joy to own. This bond is so solid and has such strong roots in our history that it must be first weakened before it can be openly challenged. One way to do this would be to undermine the training, redefine all associated terms and persistently promote the idea of “pets as people.”

This is in fact what has been happening. Witness the growth of the so called “Positive Dog Training” movement, in which adding or removing rewards is the only accepted means of addressing behaviour. Along with this, there has been condemnation of any form of compulsion, force or correction and a strong push to restrict and/or eliminate training tools that have been demonstrated to be both effective and humane when used properly and responsibly. Working and service animals that have long held a special place in our society – having been regarded with great esteem - have more recently been repackaged to be described as enslaved and exploited. As ineffective training (what remains of “training” after effective control and correction has been removed from the process) begins to fail the dogs in our care, we see dogs without control, limits or direction getting into trouble. Once this occurs, can restrictions on dog ownership be far behind?

Master or Not - You Must be in Charge

In recent years we have seen a number of efforts made in an attempt to address what has been going wrong in the dog-owner relationship. We’ve witnessed efforts to address the lack of discipline, structure and limits which leads to so many problems. Attempts have been made to help people see the dog for the pack animal he is – and what that means in terms of his needs. Terms have been drawn upon such as “Alpha,” or “pack-leader” to try to help people understand how important it is to STOP HUMANIZING THE DOGS. Owners must begin to start treating and appreciating their dogs as the creatures they are and then, most importantly, see the need for taking charge in their dogs life.

Watching a four to five month old puppy running out of control, solely motivated by something akin to, “I want, I want, I want,” is truly disheartening. Lacking in boundaries and discipline, permissively raised puppies face a truly dismal prognosis. It is the role of the responsible owner to set those limits, provide the necessary discipline and teach the dog to behave in such a way that they will always be welcome in our homes and in society. It is time to take another look at being your dog's master – you both will be happier for doing so.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Breeders Support Pet Store Puppy Sales

Is it possible? Say it ain’t so. How dare I even think – let alone suggest – that such a thing is even possible!

Just this past week a gentleman, with a couple of Golden Retrievers, contacted me to arrange for some training. As we talked, several things came to light - factors that I have run across numerous times in recent years. Dog owners, like this gentleman, are often quite well off, well educated, have done their research, know what they want, and have purchased pet store puppies...sometimes for considerably more than it would cost them for a dog from a “reputable breeder.”

Over a similar time frame, I've also become more aware of (and been uncomfortable with) certain trends I've seen evolving within the community of those who refer to themselves as “breeders.” When I put these two sets of facts together, it is possible to see a possible cause and effect relationship and thus arrive at the conclusion stated in the title of this article.

In order to more fully explore the conclusion I've come to, please carefully consider some questions which are integral to the process:

1. Should an individual have the right to purchase and own a dog?

2. Do you believe sales and purchases are (generally) subject to the laws of supply and demand?

3. Do you somehow think those laws (supply and demand) somehow get suspended when it comes to the purchase of a dog?

If a person does indeed have the right to buy and own a dog, just how complicated should that process be AND is it up to someone calling themself a breeder to decide who should be excluded from that right? I've had friends, colleagues and customers attempt to find a “good breeder” and purchase a dog. Very quickly into the process they've run into reams of roadblocks, puzzling “rules” set by individual breeders, and enough conditions on ownership to make one wonder if the dog will ever actually belong to them! I've had colleagues tell me they had to jump through more hoops trying to buy a dog than they did when going through the process of adopting a child!

I do understand the desire to find good homes for the dogs and certainly some dogs would be better suited for some owners over others. I do understand the need to do some screening and educating. Aside from the practical considerations in matching dogs and owners however, ofttimes the process has been taken over by an ideology bordering on the extreme. Wanting to uphold the ideals of what they've been persuaded to believe constitute a “responsible breeder,” I believe we are actually seeing folks responding and bending to animal rights ideology.

Let me mention a few of the “hoops” through which some breeders expect the general dog shopping public to jump:

- Trying to even find a breeder, many of whom do not believe it proper to advertise their puppies in media readily accessible to the dog shopping public.

- Lengthy, poorly thought out and intrusive questionnaires

- Excessive prying into personal life and home matters (fencing, home visits, new owner's personal life style etc.)

- The belief common amongst some breeders that they have the responsibility and right to decide who can own a dog.

- The belief that someone should be willing to wait for ridiculously long periods of time while they decide if/when they are going to have puppies again.

- The idea that they the breeder must find a “forever home” and have the right to come in at any time the owner violates one of the breeders rules/values, to take the dog back.

- A sort of vague notion that the dog will never really be theirs – even though it has been bought and paid for.

When we first began showing and breeding dogs, many ways were used to let the public know where you were and what you had to offer. Basically we advertised using a variety of mediums. Recently however, advertising has become more and more frowned upon in politically correct circles and those who do use many of the public mediums are being labelled as “puppy millers.” The prevailing attitude seems headed toward the idea one should severely limit the number of litters they produce yearly, not make any money and expect the “good prospects” to somehow find them after undergoing a long and difficult search.

Once the prospect has found them, many breeders seem to think it reasonable to insist on having a multi-page questionnaire (full of very personal information) completed. Then, in some instances, there is an insistence on home visits, requirements on property and fencing etc, before the client is asked to begin signing contracts limiting most of their rights as a purchaser. Once they have cleared all those hurdles, there is the expectation that they (new potential owner) will willingly languish on a waiting list for many months or even years. Of course if the new prospect did not pass the individual breeders scrutiny, there is an implied belief that they will simply give up on their quest to get a dog and/or if someone else sells them a dog, both buyer and seller are somehow diminished. Frankly, at some point, a responsible breeder should be promoting responsible dog ownership which includes passing on ALL the responsibilities of ownership to the new owner, offering education throughout the process and then providing reasonable access to help when requested.

Breeders need to begin to realize that in the scheme of things, they are simply a very small part of the supply side of the “supply and demand” formula. Yes, they get to decide who gets one of their dogs but they do not get to decide who gets to own a dog. Certainly the Animal Rights groups understand the supply side role breeders play (often better than the breeders themselves do) and they have been quite successful in starting to pinch off that source of supply. Their goal is to stop all breeding and in addition to some full frontal assaults on breeding, showing and competing, they have subtly proposed many ideas that breeders have gradually bought into which, in the long run, can have the same desired effect – cut off supply.

So the new dog owner (representing the demand side of the equation) seeing the quagmire that has become “buying from a breeder” finds another source to meet his demand – is it any wonder? More importantly (to my mind) what role might this be playing in the overall trends we see evolving within the dog fancy? Like most concerns, there is often more than one cause or contributing factor and this is just one piece of that puzzle ... but it's worth asking ... “Might breeders be inadvertently contributing to the demise of their own registries and all the attendant activities?”

Registries, Shows, Standards and Performance Events

In the discussion thus far, I have simply focused on where individuals are likely to get their puppy. I'd now like to look at some other possible consequences and associated trends which I find quite alarming.

Traditionally, most breeders of pure-bred dogs promoted the concept of breed improvement through thoughtful selective breeding practices, independent judging of breeding prospects and screening to eliminate known genetic problems within their breeds gene pool. Based on a concern for the continued improvement and viability of their breed, the slogan, “Buy from a breeder” was actively promoted. The foundation of (what was sometimes referred to as) “the dog fancy” was formed by breeders and supporters who shared these values. The pure-bred puppies that were produced were “papered” and here in Canada they were registered by a national registry. Most of the new members of the dog fancy (the life blood of any organization) were first introduced to it by their breeder. It was in this environment, rich in priceless experience and knowledge, that they would begin to learn the importance of breed standards, training, performance standards and critical evaluation. Not only were members of the public strongly discouraged from buying their dog from pet stores, but most breed sponsored clubs specified their members were not to sell their puppies through pet stores. All this was to help improve the lives and quality of the dogs while encouraging direct breeder to public contact for all of the educational and support issues already noted. While this system was not perfect and had/has it's critics, it still held up standards and ideals that were superior to anything else available – then or now.

Possibly you are one of those who still believes in those principles I've just outlined. If that is indeed the case, the odds are that you were born prior to 1965. In recent years it is starting to appear as if the dog fancy in general and dog shows in particular are in decline. In looking at those participating at the shows and holding to the ideals, clearly the population is ageing and very few young people are getting involved as the value of community is becoming lost. Not only is this the case but it also appears that breed registries and competitions are being rendered as largely irrelevant.

In recent years we began to see more and more of the so called, “designer breeds.” These mix-breed mongrels were often a poodle mix but more recently designers have been working overtime coming up with cute names for a whole variety of mixes involving two or more pure bred ancestors. These mutts are often sold for as much (or more) than pure-bred puppies. Those producing these mutts are being held to absolutely no standards – None, Zero, Zip, Nadda. Their design and production represents almost pure profit with absolutely no responsibility.

Traditionally these sorts of questionable practices could not gain a foothold because of strong national registries supported by breeders and the dog fancy. These mixed breed puppies could not be registered and could not be represented as pure-bred. At first, the way around this obstacle for such nefarious puppy producers was to make numerous false claims such as, “a new breed” or “in the process of kennel club recognition” and this one, “soon to be registered.” Some enterprising folks even began making the claims of “purpose-bred” for their doodle mixes; claiming the dogs were being developed as more desirable for service work. Such claims were, of course, never demonstrated to have any substance. While there was a niche market for such mixed breed puppies, typically it was very small and the puppies were often sold at barely more than cost.

The need to utilize many of these false claims essentially ended when a “registry” was formed in the southern United States to exploit this shady money making opportunity and began to offer (for a price) “papers” to these mutts. Taking on the same acronym as a national dog registry in Canada, this outfit sought to further gain the appearance of legitimacy by seeking to partner with established dog focused groups such as the IACP (International Association of Canine Professionals).

These days it is not at all unusual to have a new dog owner explain that their puppy is a “Malti-poo” for which they paid many hundreds of dollars. The unsuspecting public is frequently being tricked into believing these mutts – with their papers – are or will become the next wave of pure-bred dogs. In the past the dog fancy along with the legitimate registries were able to challenge such claims and prevent such practices from gaining a wide spread foothold. Unfortunately, these days, in their greatly weakened state, the once vibrant pure-bred dog culture seems unable to take an effective stand against them and instead is faced (in some instances) with a struggle for their own survival.

Along with the obliteration of almost all dog-fancy standards, there has been a corresponding change in what constitutes a dog professional for both conformation and performance purposes. While far from perfect, pure-breed dogs do have a conformation standard for each breed and can be judged against that standard – this is the basis for dog shows. Breeds were originally designed for both a purpose (to perform some task) and a look. Breed judges are supposed to hold these facts in mind as they judge the dogs before them. Judges must qualify for their position and meet certain standards within the profession. No similar standards exist for mixed breeds or “designer dogs” and pet store dogs can be whatever someone claims they are.

On the performance side of the equation the same is unfortunately true. Within the world of dogs, there are/were measurable standards for whatever work or activity the dog was expected to perform. From hunting to herding to leading the blind, if the dog was trained to perform the task, there are standards against which the dog and the training can be judged. Many such “trials” are held by national registries (either breed registries or working registries) and aside from the competition aspect; there is also a very practical value in holding to national standards.

Such is the case for companion animals as well. No job is more important than that of the family companion and for a great many years the training standards established by the various Kennel Clubs were the standards most training programs used as the basis for their training curriculum. Aside from the competitive aspect, there remains a well recognized measurable set of standards in place to judge the training of any dog presented for assessment. Most all-breed shows held obedience trials in conjunction with their conformation classes (some still do) and titles based on performance (not simply competition) could/can be earned. In keeping with this fact is the original stated purpose of obedience trials.

The Canadian Kennel Club states:

“The purpose of obedience trials is to demonstrate the usefulness of the purebred dog as a companion of man, not merely the dog's ability to follow specified routines in the obedience ring. The basic objective of obedience trials is to produce dogs that have been trained to behave in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs, in a manner that reflects credit on the sport of obedience.”

Other Kennel Clubs that sanction obedience trials are on record with similar statements.

This is not to diminish the role or importance of the individual trainer who has made their primary purpose that of addressing certain specific behaviours or problems. However, a well-balanced training program utilizing the standards I've just referred to, will go a long way toward preventing or solving a great many problems. These recognized national testing standards suffered a major hit unfortunately, with the emergence of so called, “Pet Dog Training” which has succeeded in largely marginalizing and ignoring those measurable standards and replaced them with no recognized standards at all. These days we see far too many so called professionals who can only lay claim to such vague qualifications as, “I've been around dogs most of my life” or, “I've always loved dogs and got along well with them.” Many of the training associations like the APDT (and various national 'APDT' incarnations), the previously mentioned IACP plus various other “training and behaviour” groups are replete with members who have never actually achieved any nationally recognized standard nor demonstrated the ability to do so. Yet despite this fact, many of these same individuals want to set themselves up as “experts” and be seen as the “go to” people when it comes to defining what training is and how it should be governed. Kind of like an individual who has never passed a literacy test (let alone shown an ability to read) insisting on being the one to dictate how reading is to be taught in the schools.

So what's at stake? As we see the dog fancy overtaken by breeders who have bought into the emotionally laden pseudo-logic pap which has been encouraged by an animal-rights mentality, we observe a culture in decline. As we watch the abandonment of breed standards in favour of “cute” or the sacrifice of training standards to whatever the current trainer says they are, we must ask if dog ownership itself is ultimately on the line. Certainly a dog's place in our society is becoming more and more at issue. Take a moment and look at your dog. Now ask yourself if there might not be a time coming when you could not own this animal or keep him at your side. Is it possible? And you wonder about my concern for where I believe the current trends are taking us?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Effective and Humane

There is a new post on Dog Training Canada that begins:
"Thinking back through the mists of time to when we first decided to sign up for a dog training program, I recall there were some very specific things that were important to us. Our motivation was simply that we wanted to address and change certain behaviours so that we could enjoy our dogs more. It was important therefore that the training program we signed up for had to be effective where (up to that point) we had not been.

The next thing to consider was that the training had to be humane. We loved our dogs, as did everyone else in the class, and would not for a minute consider anything harmful, cruel or inhumane. What we saw emerge from that class was a group of happy dogs and owners that had learned their lessons well and were now much happier together. Classes each week had come to be something to look forward to and we all were sorry when week ten arrived because it meant the lessons were over.

I'm willing to bet that things are really no different for today's dog owner. They are looking (just as we were) for solutions that are effective and humane. This fact would seem to be so obvious as to not even need stating - it fits within the realm of, "common sense."

Unfortunately some troubling trends have emerged in recent years that make it important to state these very facts..."

The rest of the article can be found here:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

A Welcome and Growing Trend

In the past few months we have seen a very welcome trend emerge as common-sense trainers, offering a balanced approach to training dogs and resolving behavioural issues, began to come together to form a humane dog training movement. While there already are several associations for dog trainers (to which some within the emerging group still belong) others have felt it necessary to dissociate from these organizations.

What makes this movement unique is that rather than focus on 'corporate self interest' and association growth, its focus is on the training needs of the consumer and the gaps in what often is currently being promoted in the name of "dog training." Because of the cancerous growth of the positive dog training movement (sometimes referred to as the pure positive or pp movement) dog owners have lost sight of effective training, limit setting that works, the need to teach "NO" and how to truly be an owner and leader.

This is all good news for dogs and their owners because unless we begin to demonstrate effective training and put the brakes on some of the undesirable behaviours, our very relationship with "man's best friend" may be strained past the breaking point. Anyone reading this and wondering who to contact for help in training their dog should really look past the rhetoric of the Ideologue and search for a balanced humane trainer that focuses on reliable results. Look for real dog training you can live with.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


It’s been said, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” This statement is fundamental to understanding what so often goes wrong and how we sometimes manage to derail the best made plans for our canine buddy. Despite our intention to properly train him (or if there is already a problem, do “whatever it takes” to get him back on track) we ofttimes simply don’t follow through. In this section I want to examine what makes it so hard to succeed even when we know what needs to be done.

When the owner desires to train their dog or solve a problem, it would seem all that is needed is the right information combined with the correct application. “How to” advice is available from a variety of sources and in all kinds of media. For every endeavor there exists reams of sound and useful suggestions. Knowledge alone isn’t enough. It is not unusual for a new client to tell me what they need to be doing but ‘something’ (they are not always sure what) has prevented them from applying that knowledge. For some of those answers, I encourage owners to look inside themselves, to what makes them “tick.”

The following case illustrates some of the more common traps owners can fall into:

B.T. is a fourteen-month-old, very active and assertive Belgian Tervuren. Margaret is an easy-going woman in her mid forties. They had been to class when B.T. was just a puppy for some very basic puppy training exercises and socialization. About a year later I had occasion to become reacquainted with her, her husband and the dog.

This was not one of those occasions which all trainers enjoy when someone drops by to say how wonderful everything has been going; this was a much more serious occasion. B.T. had inflicted several bites on his owner, a few serious enough to require medical attention.

When this puppy had been obtained at 7-8 weeks (from a local first-time breeder) they had every good intention of raising him right and turning him into a great companion. They heard socialization is critical and so from the time they got B.T. they took him everywhere with them.

Margaret had heard dogs make better companions if they are trained and so she arranged to bring him to my beginners training class when he was 3.5 months old. The dog caught onto things very quickly and demonstrated a keen working ability. It was also in the context of the class that I could see (and pointed out to his owner) the potential for serious problems in the future.

Margaret is an intelligent person and grasps most concepts without difficulty, yet she was having a lot of difficulty training B.T. He pulled her all over the place, didn’t pay attention to her and ignored any attempts she made to set limits. Her generally permissive style and the fact that she always seemed prepared to lavish affection upon him, saw B.T. continually gaining the upper hand.

When I met with her to address some of the problems, she admitted that even though she knew she needed to, she just didn’t seem able to assert herself when it came to dealing with B.T. She had a hard time setting limits and saying NO and tended to make excuses for maintaining the status quo, rather than look at the changes she needed to make.

As bad as things had become, I likely would not have heard from her had it not been for her vet urging her to call me. The vet was very concerned that she had a serious aggression problem, was not willing to acknowledge it and, therefore, was not dealing with it. The staff at the vet clinic were becoming intimidated by this dog’s behavior and, as already mentioned, he had already bitten the owner a few times.

According to her all the bites occurred when she was running to get to the ringing telephone. In addition to this however, she noted the dog (who is never confined in their home) often blocks their ability to move freely about the house. He challenged the husband once and got kneed in the chest for his trouble; since then he has backed right off when the husband gets firm with him.

Despite the seriousness of the situation, Margaret remains exactly as she was when I met with her a year previous. She was still far too permissive with B.T. She was still resistive to changing how she interacts or to setting limits with the dog. She still was making excuses for his behavior and even though he could behave himself quite nicely with her husband, he would not listen to her. Though a treatment plan was agreed upon and put into place, it will not be easy for Margaret, but the outcome very much depends on her ability to stick to it.

On an intellectual level Margaret knows what the problem is and what steps must be taken to rectify the problems she is having with her dog. She readily admits that she needs to change if she is to have any hope of getting things under control with B.T. On an emotional level however, she is having some difficulty taking those steps. Certain feelings she is having are clearly interfering with her effectiveness. For example, she speaks about feeling guilty if she corrects B.T. and fears he won’t like her (rejection) if she imposes limits. She also becomes anxious when contemplating asserting herself and the possibility of a confrontation. Ultimately, what is stopping Margaret from succeeding is the same thing that all of us stumble over from time to time - personal inertia and resistance to any changes which requires us to operate outside our comfort zone.

While everyone has their own unique personality style, it generally encompasses common elements which others can identify with and share. Our own personal style will contain traits and sub-traits that, when combined, determine our comfort zone. Generally changes within that zone are fairly easy to accommodate but being required to operate outside that zone will be experienced as uncomfortable and is usually resisted.

Even when willing to do so (and convinced of the necessity of operating outside that zone) energy and conscious effort are required. Depending on our state of mind and the length of time required, this can be quite draining and anxiety provoking. Anytime we are tired, stressed or operating on ‘autopilot,’ we tend to revert to old comfortable patterns. This is something to be watched for and guarded against because, while we can adapt and learn many new skills, our core will remain as the place we are most likely to go to when pushed hard enough.

Let’s use Margaret as an example: she is an easy going woman with the personality traits of patience, persistence, thoughtfulness and friendliness. What she needs to practice more to correct the imbalance in her relationship with B.T. is assertiveness (expressed through the sub-traits of efficiency, self-motivation, independence and self-confidence). These qualities need to be utilized when B.T. is pushing her, testing her limits and resolve and when he is most stimulated. Once he calms and is more accepting, she can then calm as well and move more into her comfort zone - but always with the understanding that she would move back into the “more assertive Margaret” role whenever necessary.

In order to be able to move into this role, Margaret would have to work on developing those sub-traits she was currently lacking or low in, i.e.,. Could she do it? Yes. Would she do it? That depends on how much she is committed, motivated and willing to change.

The examples of both Mocha and B.T. help illustrate that whatever changes are being sought must be worked for. In order to effect a change in each dog, the owners also had to make some changes. The metamorphoses of both dog and owner are often connected, with the changes evident in the dog reflecting those in the owner.