Originally posted May 2013
A professional dog trainer sees a lot of stupid mistakes over the years, but probably the most common one is the mismatch of dogs and people. On a friend’s Facebook page recently, I got into a discussion with a rescuer who insisted that any dog slated to die was a better option than a well thought out, carefully placed and carefully researched puppy. Her reasons for her point of view had to do with being empathetic to the dog who might otherwise die, but she equated the puppies produced by careful thoughtful breeders to the puppy mill puppies who often end up dumped in the shelter.
I see mismatches all the time. I see mismatches of giant powerful dogs partnered with people who are physically unable to handle them. The bull mastiff who was matched with the young, slight girl in her first year of university comes to mind; she wanted a big dog who would protect her. She had never had a dog before, and she didn’t feel she had the time or experience for a puppy. She did not sign up for the dog who physically dragged her on his head halter all over the neighbourhood. She hadn’t anticipated the ramifications of living with a dog who was heavier than she was and chose the dog was attractive to her, instead of the one who would suit her life. I once trained a boxer as a service dog for a lady in Guelph. The dog did a great job, but boy did he suffer in the winter. And then there is the jogger I know who got a greyhound and was saddened by his dog’s lack of interest in jogging, especially if it was raining or wet or cold or snowing or too hot or windy or at night or in the daytime. In short it was a mismatch because the dog didn’t enjoy the steady rhythm of the run, and would refuse to go out in any but the best weather.
|Here is a mismatch of a dog to his walker! Copyright: <a href=’http://www.123rf.com/profile_awesomeshotz’>awesomeshotz / 123RF Stock Photo</a>|
I greatly admire Great Danes. I think they are beautiful, majestic, compelling dogs. I like winter camping, swimming, canoeing, cross country skiing and riding my horse. Great Danes have thin coats and they don’t enjoy things like winter camping. When I was first involved with dogs, I flirted with the idea of getting a Great Dane and did some research into the breed and discovered that it was not likely going to ever be a good match for me. They are not active enough, they are not interested enough in training, they are not into bad weather, they are not great swimmers, and they take up a lot of space in a canoe. Luckily for me and a non-existent puppy, I figured out that we would be a mismatch before I invested in a dog who wouldn’t have made me happy.
In fact, when I first got into dogs, I spent a solid month reading every single breed standard that the CKC then recognized. It was perhaps the best early education that a dog trainer could have. I learned that the Boxer had not enough coat, that the Golden Retriever had more coat than I was interested in, that the whippet was too fragile, and that the Kuvas was too independent. I narrowed my choices down to three breeds; the Labrador Retriever, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever and the German Shepherd. I chose the German Shepherd and for the most part, shepherds have been a part of my life ever since and a pretty good temperament match for me. Now I have also lived with two Chessies and honestly, they are an even better match.
Thinking about what I need in a dog is a great way to start, but there is a second entity in the equation; the people who provide the dogs. I have seen a lot of breeders who live very successfully with their breed of choice but who give little thought to the ability to cope of the families who purchase the pups they produce. When you are breeding dogs who are of the right type to fit into the military or police work, then they are not necessarily going to fit well into a family who spends most of their time sitting around the TV. Dogs like that are dogs who want to work and work hard, every day. Likewise, if you are breeding low key spaniels with the hope that they will make great family pets, then selling that puppy to a farmer who wants a dog to bring in the sheep is not going to work out well for anyone.
I have puppy buyers who have told me that it is easier to adopt a child than it is to purchase a puppy from some breeders and my response to that is always the same; you have stumbled upon a breeder who really cares about their dogs and where the dogs end up. Sadly, the amount of information that a breeder often wants sometimes turns off the puppy buyer and then the puppy buyer goes on to purchase a puppy from a less reputable breeder.
Ideally, I would like to see puppy breeders approach breeders in a slightly different way. If you were to approach a breeder by saying “I am interested in learning more about your breed before I decide if it will be a good match for me and my family” then the breeder has a chance to meet you and your family before you are entagled with a potential financial agreement. That also allows you to meet the breeder and find out about who they are. If you are already familiar with a breed and you are approaching a breeder for the first time, you may want to approach them in a different way that still allows you to get to know one another without the pressure of a sale.
I am very familiar with the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and I am in the market again for another puppy. When I approach a breeder, I will probably do it at a dog show where I can talk to them about the dogs that are at the show and the types I am interested in getting. When I approach a breeder about an upcoming litter, I will share what I am interested in, what I have done with my current dog and what I am planning to do in the future with my next dog. If the breeder isn’t interested in selling me a dog he or she can step back and indicate that they likely won’t have what I want without the pressure of money on the table.
When puppy clients call a breeder and start out by telling the breeder what colour dog they want, and how much they want to pay, they are setting themselves up for a mismatch. When breeders talk to puppy owners and they don’t find out about the way that that family lives with their dogs, then the breeder is setting their pup up for a mismatch. Sometimes mismatches work out, such as the mismatch between my friend Seanna and her Welsh Terrier Cooper, but sometimes mismatches really don’t such as the mismatch between my client who was the first year university student and the bull mastiff. The thing is that in the case of Seanna and Cooper, Seanna was willing and able to change her expectations to match who her dog was, and modify the activities she did with them so that they would be able to live harmoniously together.
At the end of the day, it is easier to live with a good match than a mismatch and if you have found a breeder who wants to know all about you, thank your lucky stars that you have found a breeder who cares that her pups don’t make a mismatch at your expense. With the right puppy in your home, and puppy class before 12 weeks, you have a much better chance of having the right match, the first time, and that match will make you both happy for the rest of your dog’s life.