Originally posted September 15, 2010

The tabloid type expose of the underbelly of the world of purebred dogs would have you believe that every purebred dog is going to die of a horrid disease or be subjected to the whims of vanity of the well heeled owners who purchase these dogs.  As with the “Baby born to two headed woman” type of headline, there is usually more to the story than meets the eye.  Yes, there are well heeled owners who are purchasing dogs who will match the sofa and yes, there are people who will dispose of a wonderful, valuable animal just because it no longer suits them.  There are also thousands upon thousands, perhaps even millions of people who are devoted to breeding healthy examples of their breed.

The progenitor of the purebred dog is a smallish, motley character called a village dog.  The village dog is usually a smooth coated dog between fifteen and forty five pounds.  This is the pariah dog, the dingo, the village dog still found on the streets in remote towns today.  This is the dog who like the raccoon in North America, often makes a better living by scavenging our leavings than he might by actually hunting on his own.  He may be any colour, and he often has spots.  His ears will be somewhat floppy, or even tulip shaped (not actually tulip shaped, but in truth, with strongly cupped cartilage and smallish pointed flopping flaps), his tail will often curve upward, perhaps even extending over his back.

This dog is typical of the village dogs found in middle to northern Ontario.  Her structure and coat allow her to be a very successful scavenger.  After she was removed from her feral existence, she struggled initially with apartment living, but went on to be a successful companion.  This type of behavioural flexibility is quite typical of village dogs.
This dog is typical of the village dogs found in middle to northern Ontario. Her structure and coat allow her to be a very successful scavenger. After she was removed from her feral existence, she struggled initially with apartment living, but went on to be a successful companion. This type of behavioural flexibility is quite typical of village dogs.

The village dog is indeed much less likely to suffer from the genetic conditions that strike down many of his purebred relations.  He will never suffer from the breathing and eye problems that plague the short nosed or brachiocephalic breeds.  Hip dysplasia will not likely strike these dogs; they are structurally efficient animals.  Skin rashes, allergies and gastro intestinal problems are unlikely to hit these dogs.  They are usually free from heart problems and progressive retinal atrophy.  The village dog, being much closer in type to the ancestral dog, is often calm in the house, active out of doors, a careful eater, and may be aloof from strangers and other dogs.

The village dog is the way he is because he evolved to follow us around, and live in our shadow.  The village dog is the way he is because evolution culled and indeed continues to cull members of his tribe who cannot keep up to our niche.  Village dogs were once the most common dogs in the world.  They evolved to be efficient in following us, efficient scavengers, efficient at avoiding getting close enough to get into trouble.  Historically, the life of a village dog would have necessitated being picky enough about his food that he would avoid eating things that would make him sick, but voracious enough that he would be willing to eat a wide range of things.  He would need to be tolerant of the person throwing out the remains of their dinner or the night’s slop jar, but not so friendly that he would be injured by an intolerant person kicking his ribs.  He would need to be agile enough to thwart efforts to keep him out of the garbage.  His sight and his hearing would need to be acute enough to tell him when trouble was coming.  Village dogs without these traits could not make an efficient living.  Simply put, village dogs come from hardy stock.

We don’t see many village dogs in North America.  When dogs are found in our urban dumps, we trap them, we “rescue” them, we shoot them and we poison them.  We don’t let them hang out at the dump, eating refuse.  We don’t allow them to live stray in our cities, and when a family of them arrives, efforts are made to prevent them from being successful.  If a family of village dogs is hanging out near a farm, they need to be very shy in order to survive; farmers are well within their rights to shoot a dog who might be a threat to their livestock.  They are here though, just not common.

The common myth of the purebred dog holds that it is the progenitor of the mixed breed.  Not entirely so!  In fact, the purebred is the result of selection from the progenitor dog; the village dog.  First came the livestock guardians, and then the hunting dogs, and eventually, the wide range of breeds we have today.  Generally dogs are divided up into one of seven groups.  The sporting dogs are those dogs who are used to hunt game with a gun.  The terriers are those dogs used to kill vermin.  The hounds track and trail with eyes and nose and lead the hunter to the quarry.  Some of them do make kills, but this is the exception not the rule.  The toy breed dogs are the dogs bred as pocket companions, sometimes used to attract fleas from their person, or perhaps to keep the person warm in the winter.  The herding dogs gather flocks of sheep, goats and cattle and move them from place to place.  The working dogs do things like pull carts and sleds, guard and go to war.  And then there is the miscellaneous group of all the dogs who otherwise defy classification such as the Bichon Frise and the Dalmation.

Purebred dogs got to be purebred because humans used the talents of their ancestors in particular ways.  Within any population, there are individuals who will be better suited to one task than another will.  If you lived in a village with village dogs, and a particular dog followed you around, you might feed him.  If his talents as a tracker made you more successful as a hunter, you would feed him more, making it more likely that he would pass along his genes.  If you gave the most talented of his pups to your son, who was also a hunter, you would be making the first tentative steps towards becoming a geneticist and creating a breed.  If in your family, fathers often gave the best pup from their best hunting dog to their sons, it would not take long for a pure breed to develop through artificial selection.  The “best” hunting dog is fed the most and will have the most pups.  The “best” hunting dog may not be successful as a hunter at all; he is just the best at helping you to be a better hunter.

Suppose for a moment that the hunting dogs in your family all had a black coat and a white bib, with long floppy ears, and a broad head, a long, square muzzle and large nares.  Suppose that your dog could find game more effectively than any other dogs in your village, and suppose that your dog had pale brown eyes.  You might breed this dog to every other female dog in the village regardless of her talents.  And yellow eyes might begin to show up more commonly in the dogs in your village.  Now suppose that yellow eyes happen to be common in dogs who also have a heart problem.  As a hunter in a village, you wouldn’t have the tools to determine if your dog has a heart condition.  If your dog dies when he is five by falling off a cliff, you wouldn’t know that he had passed on a heart murmur because it had never caused him any significant problem.  You would not even necessarily make any connection between your favourite hunting dog and the fact that the dogs in your village tend to die before they are ten years old; young for a village type dog.  You would in effect have created a closed gene pool.

Closed gene pools, where only particular members of a species get to interbreed tend to show the problems they carry more prominently than do open gene pools.  Thus, we see more Labrador Retrievers with Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA) than we might see in any given population of village dogs; the village dog gene pool is open and the Lab gene pool is closed.  Because the numbers of individuals that carry the gene for PRA is greater in general within the Lab population, more PRA will show up in Labradors.  If you counted all the dogs in the world, and included Labs in that count, and screened all of them for PRA, the overall incidence of PRA would not be higher because of the higher prevalence in Labs; that effect would be offset by some other closed gene pool that did not have an especially high incidence of PRA.

Your hound dog, the black one with the white bib might go on to become the progenitor of the White Bibbed Black-Hound and over generations become emblematic of the type of dog found in your area.  From time to time, a stray might appear in your area from another area, and add his or her genes to the loosely defined “breed” of your region.  As trade and commerce become more sophisticated, White Bibbed Black Hounds (WBBH) might be heard of and sought in other districts.  Around 1850, breed organizations began to form in a manner recognizable by us today.  Consider the WBBH; perhaps in the 1850’s the descendents of your original foundation sire might number in the hundreds.  A small, fairly stable population, of black dogs with white bibs, not terribly long lived, with light brown eyes, wicked at finding the small game that has evolved into the hallmark dish of your region.  Ten villagers get together and form the WBBH hunt club for the promotion and preservation of this special dog.  They decide that they will write down all the names of all the known WBBH’s, and from then on, only dogs whose names are on the list or who descend from dogs whose names are on the list will be considered to be “true” White Bibbed Black Hounds.  A standard description is written, outlining how tall these dogs should be, how heavy they should be and what makings, ear shape and tail set are considered optimal.  Now, the loosely described dog of your region has a registry and a closed gene pool.  They are no different than they were yesterday.  They now just cannot be considered to be WBBHs unless they are registered with this group.

A lovely example of a White Bibbed Black Hound.  Or not!  this is a picture of a dog that would fit the description I imagined for the breed.  When talking about purebred dogs keep in mind that each of the parents must also be of that breed, and that the characteristics of the breed must be passed along down the line.  Copyright: dragonika / 123RF Stock Photo
A lovely example of a White Bibbed Black Hound. Or not! this is a picture of a dog that would fit the description I imagined for the breed. When talking about purebred dogs keep in mind that each of the parents must also be of that breed, and that the characteristics of the breed must be passed along down the line. Copyright: dragonika / 123RF Stock Photo

Initially, nothing will change for this breed of dog.  But without the occasional influx of genetic material, there will be no new variation available to offset any problems that crop up.  Now, instead of culling dogs that don’t hunt, all of the registered dogs will be kept and many of them will be bred regardless of their hunting ability.  Where once the criteria for breeding was solely functional, now the criteria are determined by the written standard.  That these dogs were black with white bibs was incidental to the fact that they were good hunters.  Now, being a good hunter is incidental to having a black coat and the right amount of white bib.  Traits will begin to drift.  Light coloured eyes, once described as characteristic of the breed will soon become defining of the breed, along with that old heart defect that came along for the genetic ride.  Over time, the ability to hunt will be so rarely used as the criteria for breeding that it will erode and disappear.  Eventually the White Bibbed Black Hound will become a large goofy dog, typical of your region, lumped in with the other hounds, but not particularly known as a good hunter.  He may however become some graduate student’s gravy train to academic success when that heart murmur is found to be linked to light eyes, and the breed club can argue about trying to breed the heart murmur out, if having light eyes is the defining characteristic of the breed or if they need worry about this at all.

So village dogs evolved into purebreds, but where do the mixed breeds come from?  In North America, there has been a long standing battle between the perception of status associated with having a purebred dog, and the salt of the earth mongrel dog.  With the known mixed breed dog, you can have the best of both worlds.  Breeding a Cocker Spaniel to a Miniature Poodle will give you a smallish dog, likely friendly with most people, likely fairly biddable and likely with a coat you can clip off or leave long and groom as you like.  What you won’t get is a dog who is any healthier than his parent were.

Genetics is not like mixing paint.  If you mix yellow and blue paint, you get green; an intermediate between the two originating colours.  If you mix a Poodle and a Cocker Spaniel, you will not get a dog who is midway between both parent breeds.  You will get puppies with a variety of traits; some intermediate and some more like the Poodle and some more like the Cocker Spaniel.  And if either of the parents had genetic problems, those problems will be passed along; you won’t necessarily get a moderating effect from the non affected parent.

Taking the Cocker Spaniel and Poodle mix as an example, consider that epilepsy is a fairly common problem in Poodles.  If the parent who is a Poodle has a genetic form of epilepsy, he will pass that along to some of his offspring.  Lets suppose that fifty percent of his off spring will get epilepsy.  If the Cocker Spaniel parent is free from epilepsy, that won’t dilute the effect of the Poodle’s genes.  50% of the puppies will get epilepsy and 50% won’t.  It won’t mean that 100% of the pups will get a watered down version of epilepsy.

Several years ago, I got a call from a family who had a mixed breed dog who had terrible problems with resource guarding, being handled and going to the vet.  The family had spent over seventeen thousand dollars (Canadian) on their dog’s health over the five years they had him.  He was a Shit-zu/English Bulldog cross.

The family had wanted a purebred Bulldog as this is the dog that the father had grown up with.  In phoning around to breeders they were being grilled by breeders who wanted to know so many things about the family; how many children did they have and how many did they want?  How many other pets lived in their home?  Did they live in a house or an apartment?  How much time would they spend training the dog and how much exercise would he get?  Kyle and Melissa, my clients, felt they were being hassled, not that the breeders were screening for the best possible home for a puppy.

After speaking with several breeders they happened upon someone who wasn’t harassing them, but who did tell them that she was breeding her Bulldog bitch that very week.  She invited them to her tidy home in the country where they met Kisses, a sweet and friendly Bulldog bitch.  She had a shining white coat with a brindle patch over her left eye, and random brindle markings all over her body.  Kisses wanted nothing more than to sit at your feet, leaning on your leg and look adoringly up into your face.  Kyle fell in love instantly, immediately connecting Kisses affectionate behaviour to the behaviour of the Bulldogs he had lived with as a child.  The lady gushed over how wonderful Kisses was and how expensive she had been; four thousand dollars for this dog, she informed my clients.  My clients were a little taken aback at the number, but Kisses was obviously a wonderful dog.

This bulldog has so much extra skin on her face that she will likely at some point require surgery to prevent ongoing skin infections.  If this dog is bred, she will pass along the extra skin and her puppies will suffer the same fate, even if she is bred to a dog of a different breed.  This is the kind of face that Sneaker's mother had.  Keeping in mind that this is a single trait, and does not define the whole dog, we can understand that selecting good healthy parents for our puppies is essential to producing the kind of dog we want to live with.Copyright: razoomgames / 123RF Stock Photo
This bulldog has so much extra skin on her face that she will likely at some point require surgery to prevent ongoing skin infections. If this dog is bred, she will pass along the extra skin and her puppies will suffer the same fate, even if she is bred to a dog of a different breed. This is the kind of face that Sneaker’s mother had. Keeping in mind that this is a single trait, and does not define the whole dog, we can understand that selecting good healthy parents for our puppies is essential to producing the kind of dog we want to live with.Copyright: razoomgames / 123RF Stock Photo

Kisses owner began to tell them about the problems associated with Bulldogs.  As a brachiocephalic breed, Bulldogs are prone to heat exhaustion-Kisses had been in to the vet for that very reason earlier that year when she had been running around the yard and fell over, unconscious.  “Two days in intensive care at the Ontario Veterinary College hospital” cooed the lady.  “Nothing is too good for Kisses.”  “Many Bulldogs have to have eye surgery for a condition called Cherry Eye” she went on.  “Kisses had to have that in both eyes”, she said.  And after she had her puppies, the owner was going to get a special operation to help alleviate her snorting; she has an elongated soft palate, and it flops around in the back of her throat, making it hard to breathe.  “I want to breed her first, though”, the owner said.

My clients, sitting looking at Kisses were becoming more alarmed by the moment.  This didn’t sound like a healthy dog to them.  She oozed charm, but maybe Kisses wasn’t what they were looking for.  As they began to make noises about this, Kisses owner got up and opened the back door.  In swaggered an over sized Shih tzu.  “I know that Kisses has a few problems” said the lady.  “And I know that mixed breed dogs are healthier than are purebreds.  For that reason, I am going to breed Snuffles here to Kisses.  You can have all the things you like in a Bulldog without the health problems.”  Kisses owner went into a long discussion of how Snuffles would mitigate all the problems that Kisses had.  Snuffles stood in the room about ten feet away from Kisses, and stared hard at my clients.  He looked alert, but rigid.  Energetic, but restrained.  The best part was that the lady would only charge my clients $1800.00 for the puppy.

My clients looked at Kisses and pulled out their cheque book.  This puppy would be a lot less expensive than a purebred, and they thought they would be avoiding all the health problems of a purebred too.  Four months later, they picked up Sneakers and brought her home.  A couple of days after arriving home, they took Sneakers to the vet for her check up.  The vet listened to her heart, and looked at her eyes and down her throat.  “Well, you know that all the brachiocephalic dogs have breathing issues” sighed the vet.  “Yes”, my clients agreed; they knew that when they chose a Bulldog.  “I suspect it will be sooner rather than later that we will have to do surgery to remove some of the tissue associated with her soft palate” said the vet.  “She has an awful lot of tissue down there, which will make breathing hard for her.  You are going to have to be very careful in hot weather to keep her from exercising to exhaustion or she will end up in the hospital.”

It was less than a month later that they ended up exactly where the vet had predicted.  It was not a terribly hot day, and Sneakers had recently learned to chase a Frisbee.  Kyle took her out in the yard to play and after six or eight throws she refused to chase.  He took her in the house, and went back to his desk.  Ten minutes later, Melissa came upon Sneakers, collapsed on the floor with her tongue protruding, semi conscious.  They did not make the connection between the exercise, the warm day and the collapse; they thought that Sneakers had been poisoned.  At the Ontario Veterinary College, they figured out very quickly that Sneakers had over heated when they took her temperature.  Sneakers was a very sick dog, and spent four worrisome days in intensive care.  While there, the surgeons had a good look down her throat and recommended that she have surgery to remove the excess tissue in her soft palate as soon as possible.

Three weeks later, barely five months old, Sneakers had the first of seven surgeries she would have in her first year.  She had the tissue removed from her soft palate and then had her nares enlarged; the holes where air goes in the nose were just not big enough for her to breathe normally.  She had three separate operations for cherry eye and entropion, and then she had another operation to remove some of the excess skin on her face as she was getting chronic infections in her nose wrinkles that were interfering with her eyes.

By the time I was called, Sneakers was not a very pleasant dog to be around.  She had hip dysplasia, requiring her to take Metacam on a daily basis for the pain.  She had gastric issues, necessitating a special expensive diet.  She had had several surgeries beyond the ones she had as a youngster to correct knee issues and to remove a sock she ate that got stuck in her intestinal tract.  She had allergies and lived on Vanectyl-P for nine months out of twelve.  And on top of that she guarded any stolen items she could lay her paws on, and would not allow her Kyle or Melissa to touch her anywhere other than on the top of her head.  Kyle and Melissa kept Sneakers strictly separated from their children, a four year old girl and a two year old boy for fear that Sneakers would either inadvertently knock them over or intentionally bite them while guarding a stolen item.  Sneakers was nothing like the Bulldogs of Kyle’s childhood!

When I arrived, I was faced with a stocky, wire haired, ginger coloured dog who barked at the door and then stood back about ten feet and stared hard at me.  On questioning, it turned out this was something she did with all new people.  Sneakers was suspicious of new people and I was warned that she would bite me if I pressed her.  I sat in the living room and took a history, learning all about the many medical issues and surgeries that Sneakers had been through.  Aside from the fact that Sneakers had a plethora of health issues causing her to protest being handled, she also had a serious resource guarding issue.

Resource guarding is the condition that exists when an animal has an item and guards others against theft.  This is a normal behaviour in the context of ensuring that you get to keep your food if you are making your living as a hunter or a scavenger.  This normal behaviour can create huge problems though if you are trying to live with a dog in your home.  Sneakers would not let anyone near her dish when she was eating, near her bed if she was resting or near any toy she had claimed.  She was especially aggressive when she had something like a tissue that she has stolen.  Importantly, resource guarding is a trait often seen in lines and families.

Admittedly, some of Sneaker’s behaviour problems could have been mitigated with early puppyhood training.  Resource guarding in particular is a behaviour that responds well to training.  Over time, Sneakers learned to allow the adults in the home to take things from her and to add things to her food bowl.  Although training was carried out with the children, safety measures were set in place to prevent the children from interrupting Sneakers with toys or food.  Sneakers never had the flexibility of behaviour that would allow her family to completely relax in the protocols or training that we developed.

Sneakers temperament is the sum of her genetics, her early puppy experiences and the environment she currently lives within.  Snuffles, her father, was a tense little dog; stand offish with strangers and not friendly.  This could be due to not being introduced enough people as a puppy himself, but there was likely something that he passed along to Sneakers.  Sneakers mother, typical of Bulldogs had a lot of health problems.  Here is a live case of genetics not working like mixing paint.

In retrospect, Sneakers health and behaviour problems could have been entirely avoided if Kisses and Snuffles had not been bred.  Breeding an English Bulldog to a Shih tzu was asking for trouble.  Like Bulldogs, the Shih tzu is prone to cherry eye, excess tissue in the soft palate and stenotic or small nares.  Shih tzu have back problems  and luxating patellas, and Bulldogs have hip problems.  By the time I saw Sneakers, instead of avoiding health issues, she had suffered from many of those of the Bulldog as well as some relating to the Shih tzu.

Careful breeding, breeding that takes into account that the offspring are going to have to live with the genes they inherit is the least we owe to our dogs.  Choosing dogs that come from healthy stock is entirely possible and reflects the least that our dogs deserve.  Choosing a dog who is ill, committing to their veterinary care and supporting the industry of selling these dogs should appall puppy buyers.  Puppy buyers need to be willing to ask the hard questions; there future dog deserves not only the best of food and the best of care during their lives, but also the best genetic potential BEFORE they are born.

German Shepherds are the breed that I prefer.  Before purchasing my last puppy, I met both of his parents and observed them doing activities like this.  If they could not successfully clear a wall such as this one, I would not expect that they would produce puppies who could do that either.  Know what you want from a dog, and select parents that meet those criteria and when they are bred they will produce puppies that will also fulfill those criteria!  Copyright: mazurik / 123RF Stock Photo
German Shepherds are the breed that I prefer. Before purchasing my last puppy, I met both of his parents and observed them doing activities like this. If they could not successfully clear a wall such as this one, I would not expect that they would produce puppies who could do that either. Know what you want from a dog, and select parents that meet those criteria and when they are bred they will produce puppies that will also fulfill those criteria! Copyright: mazurik / 123RF Stock Photo

Purebred dogs are not the only good dogs available.  There are many, many dogs of unknown or random heritage available.  The key to finding the dog who is healthy, from healthy parents is to find people who are breeding dog on purpose.  The whole point of the dog show industry was originally to put dogs on display so that breeders could choose the best and most optimal mate for the dog he or she had.  Placing the dogs in rank order in theory gives the savvy breeder information about which dog is closest to the breed standard.  Breeding the dog closest to the breed standard is probably a good idea; it is the dog who is most like the breed ought to be.  With dogs of unknown breed, it means that the person in charge of breeding that dog has greater responsibility when it comes to choosing which dog is bred to which.

German Shepherd Dogs are my breed of choice.  I have lived with a half dozen or so and known scores more.  When I am choosing a puppy, I first choose a breeder.  The breeder I chose most recently, Robin Winter of Narnia Kennels breeds dogs that are frequently used in police and military work.  She imports beautiful, fit and healthy dogs from Europe to improve her stock and she has a well developed breeding plan for her kennel, stretching generations back and projecting generations out.

What impresses me most about Robin’s dogs are that they can all pass what I call the four foot fence test.  The four foot fence test refers to the dog being able to do the work that he is bred to do.  A German Shepherd ought to be able to easily navigate a four foot fence.  Few will be able to grab air over top; most of them will use the top rail to push off, but four feet should be no problem for a healthy German Shepherd.  My dog’s father, a dog named Val was competing in Schutzhund at the age of nine.  Schutzhund involves being able to navigate a six foot A frame and jump a one metre jump without touching the top rail.  His mother was only three, but she too could do this work.  German Shepherds were bred to work in three disciplines; obedience, tracking and protection.  Eco’s parents were both titled in all three disciplines.  This demonstrates that they are trainable and willing to work with people, and that they have an ability to solve problems.  This is another “four foot fence” that Eco’s parents cleared.  And it is no surprise that Eco is able to navigate a four foot fence, he is highly trainable, he solves problems and he likes working with people.

Every breed has a “four foot fence”.  In fact, every non-breed has a four foot fence.  The village dog’s four foot fence would be to negotiate the complex life of a village; he would need to be able to find food, to avoid being kicked by intolerant people, and to be confident enough to approach people emptying their garbage.  If the dog cannot do this, he is not a village dog.

When looking for a purpose bred breedless dog, you can choose what your four foot fence will be.  You can choose if you want an athletic partner to run and race with.  You can choose if you want a small lap dog who will be calm and quiet in the house.  You can choose whatever you want.  The key to finding the parents of a breedless dog is going to mean a lot more looking around than if you chose a purebred dog; there are few if any organizations that will be devoted to your choice.  If you are looking for a German Shepherd or a Labrador, you will be able to find dozens if not hundred of clubs that can help you to find the pup of your dreams.  If your four foot fence requires that your dog be breedless, you are going to have to do the leg work to find a breeder that will fill your needs of being caring and careful of the dogs they produce.  But your dog deserves to have parents that can clear your four foot fence.



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=’’>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.

Is this your puppy?  Breeders want to know what you intend to do with your puppy.  If you want to play ball with your pup, tell your breeder.  If you have found a good breeder, they will choose the puppy who is most likely to do that with you.  Good breeders are invested in great placements for their pups.  Image credit: ksuksa / 123RF Stock Photo
Is this your puppy? Breeders want to know what you intend to do with your puppy. If you want to play ball with your pup, tell your breeder. If you have found a good breeder, they will choose the puppy who is most likely to do that with you. Good breeders are invested in great placements for their pups. Image credit: ksuksa / 123RF Stock Photo

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.



Originally published May 2013

With our new puppy program we have been hearing from more and more puppy owners and a surprising number of them are bring home their pups at six weeks of age, often without their first set of shots.  Puppies from pet stores may be older when you meet them, but may have been taken from mom as early as four weeks of age.  Many of the people who are getting these puppies have been told by the people producing them that six weeks is the age at which they have always sent their puppies home.  While this may be true, we have had studies since the 1960’s that show us over and over again that puppies need to stay in their litter just a little longer.

This bulldog puppy is shown at one day, one week, two weeks, three weeks, and four weeks of age.  Image credit: Copyright: <a href=’’>Cole123RF / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

Before the studies done by Fuller and Scott in the 60’s at Bar Harbour, almost everyone brought their pups home at six weeks.  Then we started to look at the best time for puppies to come home based on how their behaviours develop.  Puppy development is a fascinating topic that we know a lot more about now than we ever have before.  One of the things we know is that puppies who stay in the litter until they are 7 weeks do better than those who leave before then.  8 weeks is often the standard and is really a better time for most puppies.  What do I mean by “do better”?

Let’s start with bite inhibition.  Puppies who stay with the litter until 8 weeks of age have better bite inhibition.  They are more careful with their mouths, possibly because they have had the chance to learn from their littermates and mom that when they bite hard, they lose the chance to do things they want to do like play.  Bite inhibition training must continue once the puppy gets home, but if you have a puppy who hasn’t learnt from mom to bite gently, your job is going to be much tougher.

Puppies who leave the litter too early are also much more easily frustrated.  When faced with things they want and cannot get they are more prone to temper tantrums, barking, and throwing themselves around.  This in turn is frustrating for the people who have to live with the puppy.  Impulse control, or the ability to disengage from one stimulus and re-engage with another is often difficult for these dogs and that may manifest as frustration too.

Leaving the litter early may also impact your dog’s ability to interact with other dogs.  These pups often did not have the chance to learn about being a dog from their siblings and mom.  We see this in play sessions where the pup who left the litter early may not read the metasignals that the other dogs offer.  When a puppy yelps and asks the other puppy to stop biting, the pup who left the litter early may not recognize this signal and may continue to bite or harass the other puppy.  The result is that the normally developed puppy may behave defensively.  These puppies are often described as the underdog by their families; always being the victim of the other dogs in the dog park.  Often this underdog role is the result of not listening to the more subtle signals that are offered.

Reactivity is an issue for these puppies too; they tend to be more reactive and harder to settle down.  This means that when sudden things happen, they don’t cope as well and they may even be anxious.  Signs of anxiety include things like over grooming, licking things like people and floors, and circling or staring at shadows or reflections.  Anxious puppies can grow up to be anxious dogs.

The biggest issue we see in our puppy classes with these dogs is handling issues.  When pups leave the litter too early, they often have more difficulty with things like veterinary examinations, nail clipping and grooming.  When restrained they are more prone to wiggling and struggling and may bite when you insist on handling them.

These problems are even worse in pups who are brought home even earlier than six weeks.  Possibly the most behaviourally damaged dog I ever met had been pulled off a dump at 2 weeks of age and raised alone.  They could not introduce him to other dogs due to disease risk-they did not know if he was healthy enough to expose.  They did not know if he was carrying something that other dogs could get.  His eyes and ears were not open at all.  He was a very reactive, needy dog, with serious separation anxiety and was dangerously aggressive even to his family.  More and more we are seeing puppies pulled off beaches in the Caribbean, off garbage dumps in the far north in an effort to control local populations, and placed in homes local to us.  The resulting dogs that grow up are not completely normal.

So what should you do if you brought home a puppy before you should have? If the puppy is under six weeks, take it back as soon as you can to mom.  If you cannot do that and you know that the puppy is healthy, try and cross foster it with a litter the same age.  There is nothing we can do that will equal the experience that mom and the rest of a litter can provide.  We can try, but we will never be as good as what nature intended.

If your puppy came home from the breeder at six weeks, and you cannot return him there to stay until he is seven or even better slightly older than seven weeks, then there is a lot you can do, but it isn’t going to be easy.  First, your pup is going to need a tonne of sleep.  Don’t worry if your pup seems to wake up, be really active and then after twenty minutes, crashes into sleep where ever he lands.  He may do this for 20 or more hours a day and that is just fine.

Your puppy is going to need to be fed four times a day.  He should be getting a moist puppy diet because his digestive system cannot handle kibble well.  Consult your veterinarian for information on what the best alternative might be, and make sure his food is soaked so that it is mushy.  At about seven weeks you can start letting it get a little harder, and he should be able to handle kibble by about 9 weeks of age.  You need to feed frequently for a couple of reasons.  Firstly, he has a very short and under developed digestive system, so transport time isn’t very long for him.  This means that he will need to have food more often in order to be able to get the most nutrition out of his diet.  Do not free feed however; mushy food goes bad quickly and if you make up a bunch of mushy food and leave it out once a day you could make your pup sick.

Very young puppies need to eat soft food more often.  If you have a six week old puppy you will need to feed him soft mushy food, four times a day.  Image credit: laures / 123RF Stock Photo

Next you are going to have to provide the kind of play, feedback and support that mom and his littermates would have supplied, at least four times a day.  This means getting down on the floor with your puppy when he wakes up, and playing with him with your hands.  You can play fairly roughly but any time that your pup grabs you hard with his mouth, you will need to squeak and then stand up, walk away and pretend to do something without him for between 15 and 90 seconds.  Then you have to go right back to playing again.  This feedback is going to help your puppy to learn bite inhibition which is his best bet for growing up to have a safe mouth that won’t hurt people.  Do NOT pin him, grab his mouth or do any other behaviour you think a mother dog might do if he is naughty.  You are not a dog and you will not be able to do it nearly as well as another dog would do it.  If you have an older, proven to be safe with puppies dog who can help you to amuse the puppy, so much the better, but remember that the older dog is not mom and will not have the hormones she would have to help her to modulate her behaviour towards the pups, so always supervise.

Twice a day, you should practice gentle but firm restraint and handling and you should groom your puppy with a soft brush all over his body.  You should look in his ears and open his mouth and check his teeth.  Handle his genital area and look under his tail at his anus every day; you want to teach your young puppy that handling is a normal part of his day and that he has nothing to fear when you do so.  Don’t be surprised if he resists at first; be firm and gentle and teach him that wriggling and squealing won’t end the activity.  If you let go when he is tiny, he will learn that when he is frustrated and squealing, he can get away from you.  Also teach him to wear a muzzle so that if he needs one, it isn’t an unpleasant surprise when he is sick or injured.  You can do this simply by taking a small cup or plastic container and teaching him to take treats out of the bottom of it.

And then there is toilet training.  A six week old puppy will go to the toilet pretty much where ever he is.  He doesn’t have muscular control over his bladder and bowels yet and if he were in the litter mom would be teaching him to take it outside.  The drill of take the puppy out on waking and when he has toileted, play with him works well with eight week olds, but not as well with six week olds because they just don’t have the control over their bodies that older puppies do.  Ideally, you would provide an absorbent organic surface such as a boot tray with wood chips, or a piece of sod for the puppy to use.  They will often choose absorbent surfaces when they can get to them, which means that if you turn a six week old puppy loose in your home, the living room carpet is often a first choice for toileting.  Substrate preference or the understanding of what to pee and poop upon develops before 20 weeks, and really develops even earlier, so you want to avoid providing that Persian Rug as the puppy’s first experience lest he develop a preference to use that over outdoor surfaces.  Chastising a young puppy for toileting on the rug is an exercise in frustration and futility, so just don’t do it.  The only result you will have is a puppy who either pees in fear when you approach or who hides to toilet and then toilet training becomes nearly impossible.

If a very young puppy toilets in front of you, name the behaviour, and then clean it up.  6 week old puppies don’t have much control over their bladders.  Image credit: alexeys / 123RF Stock Photo

There are many recipes for providing an environment for a six week old puppy to live in and explore but all the good ones have a few things in common.  First, they must be safe for the puppy.  A three metre by three metre area is more than large enough, and can contain everything the puppy needs.  He should have a shallow pan of water available at all times.  Don’t give him a giant water bowl because if a tiny puppy got into it, he might drown.  I like ceramic ramekins such as you might use to bake custard in; they are not deep and if a puppy gets all the way into one, he can get all the way out.  He should as mentioned before have an organic toileting surface available to him.  He should have dozens of toys to play with, and they can be rotated every day.  Ideally he should have two or three mirrors in there so he can see another dog moving around and so that he isn’t surprised the first time he sees a dog he doesn’t know.  These mirrors have to be secured in such a way that they won’t tip and break or break if he crashes into them.  The flooring should be easy to clean and disinfect, but should also incorporate different surfaces in them.  PVC lattice work laid down over a towel can provide an easy to clean obstacle, as can a towel rolled up and covered over with a rubber yoga mat.  Ideally you should have a low platform for the puppy to get onto, and a small dog crate or cat carrier for him to get into.

As a final note, if you have a puppy who is eight weeks old, but who had the misfortune to be very ill shortly after coming home, all of the above advice will help you to help him to be as well socialized as possible.  If you have any specific questions about supporting a young puppy or an older puppy who is ill please post questions to the blog and I will respond to them.  We can make life better for these pups even when they are at a developmental disadvantage.

Raising a younger puppy can be rewarding, but it is a ton of work.  This is part of what you are paying for when you purchase a puppy at eight weeks.  When people sell pups at 6 weeks, a big part of why they sell them at that age is to save themselves the time and the money related to the final two weeks of properly raising a puppy.  If you thought that you were going to save money by buying a younger puppy, you have to understand that the saving is going to cost you somewhere else.  If you want to do it right, keep your puppy with his litter and his dam till he is eight whole weeks old, and either way start puppy class at eight weeks for the maximum benefit as an adult.



Originally posted April 2013

Probably the toughest question you get as a dog behaviour consultant is “why does my dog have this problem”.  Regardless of the problem, aggression, anxiety, fears and phobias, separation anxiety, everyone wants to know why THEIR dog has a behaviour problem.  This is important to people for a variety of reasons including but not limited to the genetics of the dog, how he was raised and where he lives now.

When I saw Dr. Ian Dunbar speaking in Guelph several years ago, he made the point that the only time we can prevent a genetic problem from coming up is before the puppy is bred.  Once mom and dad have done their thing, whatever they pass along is expressed in the puppies.  This implies a very big responsibility on the part of the breeder, but also on the part of the puppy buyer.  In every class we take a moment to ask people about their choice of puppy and the responses are interesting.  They range from the serious dog enthusiast, like us who spends years meeting dogs they like, and visiting shows and breeders to select the best possible parents for the puppy and then selecting the offspring of those puppies, through the asinine.  Our most unusual rational behind getting a puppy involved a lady who went into a store looking for a potted plant for her sun room and came out with a Belgian Tervuren.  Not a terrifically easy Terv either.

If you are going to take the time to add a dog to your home, consider meeting at least mom first.  Meeting mom and dad should happen when mom is not being bred and there is an important and poorly kept secret about best practices in breeding.  If mom AND dad are on sight, it is unlikely they are a great match as breeding partners.  Sometimes, but not usually.  Usually, if you own a breeding bitch, you select a male or dog from someone else’s kennel to augment your breeding program.  If you are breeding dogs on purpose, you should have a goal in mind and once you have bred your brood bitch once, if she whelped or “threw” what you were looking for, you would keep one of the pups back to breed in a couple of years.  Often a reputable breeder will have a mom and a daughter on site, or even a granddaughter.  Normally the breeder might be breeding one of these dog in a year, but it is not common that a breeder would be breeding these dogs repeatedly.  There are exceptions; service dog organizations might be producing multiple litters, or kennels that provide dogs to the police and military might produce many litters, but in general, people who are serious about their breeding keep mom on site and take her to dad for breeding.

You don’t want to meet mom when she is in heat because she will be hormonally all over the map.  For the first while she will be very cuddly.  Then she will be somewhat stand offish.  Then she will be flirty, but not receptive to attention.  And finally she will only be interested in breeding the closest male.  When you do meet the bitch, you should be looking at her in terms of how she behaves.  Is she polite?  Is she nervous?  If she is behaving aggressively will she call off when the owner asks her to mind her manners?  Is she timid?  Is she a dog you could live with?  If she isn’t a dog you could live with, tomorrow, without any other training, then do you really want to live with the puppy she produces and teaches for the first eight weeks?

You don’t want to meet the sire of your litter on site either.  You should be visiting him separately from the bitch and you should be able to approach him and handle him.  If the stud is not a gentleman, do you really want one of his pups?  Probably not.  Once you have met the bitch and the sire, recognize that breeding is not like mixing paint; if you breed a tall dog to a short dog, you will not necessarily get a medium sized dog.  You probably won’t get any dogs who are as tall as their tallest parent and you also probably won’t get any dogs who are as small as their smallest parent, but you also are unlikely to get a litter of dogs all exactly the same size and all exactly mid way between the parents’ heights.

When you are meeting the parents of the litter you are interested in, the best thing you can do is to ask the breeder and the owner of the stud what they are aiming to produce in their litter.  They should be able to give you some really good information about what they are aiming for and why they think that these dogs will produce that.  if you don’t think you could live with either of the parents, most likely you are not going to be able to live with the offspring and the only time you get to make a genetic decision about a puppy is before he is bred.  Once mom and dad have bred, the genetic potential is set.  As a consumer, you get to make another choice though and that is to not purchase any puppy whose parents temperaments you don’t like.  For more information about choosing a good set of parents you can visit my blog called “Good Breeders Few and Far Between?” at

Once you have chosen great parents and a fantastic breeder, the next place you can directly influence behaviour problems is when the puppies are born.  This is what I call the “Miss Manners” stage.  It is everything that happens from the time the puppies are born until they are about 6 months of age when all the major social milestones have passed.

Ideally, puppies should have the opportunity for Early Neurological Stimulation in the litter before their eyes and ears open.  You can find out more about ENS at Neurological Stimulation gives your puppy the best chance at having great bounce back at avoiding anxiety issues and at overall better health.  If you are visiting breeders, take a copy of Dr. Battaglia’s work with you and ask them if they know about it and if they are doing it.  If they are doing “our own version” and are not willing to talk about concrete data and results, then they are not doing ENS; they may be giving the pups a lot of advantages, but then again they may not.

 Spider Pups Enriched Environment
Here is a great puppy den.  Look at all the surfaces and textures and toys, and everything is very clean.  This is what your puppy’s nest should look like when he is creeping and crawling from about four weeks till about 6 weeks when the litter can move onto bigger and better things.

When the pups begin to creep and crawl, they should have wonderful opportunities to climb, carry things around with them, explore and find things and generally develop the best brains possible.  If a breeder is sending out litter pictures and there are no images of toys and the pups are housed on flat newspaper, then they are going to have much more trouble as they develop learning about things like carrying items and climbing.  The person who does this the best in North America in my opinion is Suzanne Clothier.  Duckhill Kennels in the US does a fantastic job getting their little guys ready to go home and they do incredible stuff with their older dogs too; their Youtube video is well worth the watch if you want to know how to really do it in style;   Developing confident out going pups who are happy and eager to work is a lot of fun and is the least that a puppy deserves.

Then the puppy goes home and it is up to whomever had your pup between 8 and 16 weeks to introduce him safely to everything and everyone he will meet in the world.  If every puppy were carefully socialized during this period of time, there would be far fewer problem dogs in the world.  You can fix a lot of problems from the genetics department if you know what you are doing at this stage.  Not every genetic problem is fixable, but many of them are.  This means a great puppy school, and a great family who will help that pup to get where he needs to go and feel safe about doing it.

Before your pup hits 6 months, he also needs to learn things like not to jump up when greeting and not to drag you down the street to meet people, and not to snarf food off the table.  In short he needs to learn to be mannerly and to ask politely for the things he wants.  If you do your homework diligently at this age, before he gets huge, before he is able to knock you over, and before he is an adolescent, then adulthood is much easier.  If you have put everything into place before this stage, and he has good genetics, then you are ready for what might happen in the event that your puppy encounters a War Zone.

War Zones are what I call the horrific situations that dogs end up in that we wish they would not.  A car crash can set a nice dog seriously back if he is not resilient enough to incorporate that into his experience and look at it as something that happened just once.  Living in complete chaos is another kind of war zone that many dogs experience, and those resilient dogs are those who do just fine, even though they don’t live in an optimal situation.  It is also important to understand that what might be normal for one dog, may be unreasonable for another to cope with.  Labrador retrievers should not worry when guns go off suddenly and unexpectedly.  A working herding dog such as an Australian Shepherd should not be frightened by gunfire, but also should be concerned for the flock if he is hearing a lot of it.  When a dog goes through a War Zone, his ability to cope is going to depend on his genetics, which cannot be changed once he is conceived, and what happened between birth and six months, the “Miss Manners” stage.

There are four conditions here to consider.  There is the dog who as great genetics and who had a wonderful puppyhood.  This pup may be frightened but is likely going to bounce back and cope once the crisis is over.  These are the dogs who experience bad things and take the experience in stride.  These are also the dogs who sometimes seem not to worry about anything, no matter how crazy the situation is that you put them in.  These dogs also cope with unpleasant experiences by changing their behaviour, not by having a meltdown.

Then there are the dogs who have really, really sound genetics, and but didn’t get a great start in life.  Often these dogs cope just fine with war zones, but they may not always respond as predictably as we would like for them to respond.  They may behave quite outrageously or with a lack of inhibition.  They may be explosive in their responses.  Their bounce back from crises is not as fine tuned as their cohorts who got what they needed from birth onward.

D’fer as a puppy.  He has terrific genetics and had as perfect a puppyhood as I have ever seen.

Then there are dogs who got rolled the crummy genetic dice, but who had great puppy hoods.  These dogs may learn to cope with war zones, but they are never as good at it as those pups who got great genes.  These pups really ought to be in the hands of people who recognize problems early and who know what to do about it.  The sad fact is that these pups often end up in the hands of beginners and without a lot of support and luck, they end up in difficulty.

Next we have the dogs with decent genetics, but a really crummy puppyhood.  This was probably the situation that best describes how I ended up as a behaviour consultant; I had a dog who was genetically okay, but not fabulous, but she had a very difficult puppyhood.  We didn’t know as much as we do now, and I flooded her with all the things that frightened her believing that I was socializing her.  I was told to take her to the market, and the park and to let children give her treats.  I tried really, really hard, and looking back I can see that I frightened her.  Puppy classes were not available at that time and I did what I thought best.  I introduced my pup to people and when she showed that she was afraid by hiding behind me, I would put her in front of me and when she wouldn’t take treats, I would get frustrated and sometimes angry.  She was moderately fragile in her ability to cope to begin with and when I overwhelmed her as much as I did, she finally figured out that biting would make the scary thing go away.  The way that I over socialized this pup left her without good coping strategies as an adult.  This is the most difficult situation of all for the people, because when we look back, we feel overwhelming responsibility.  Looking back, I can see all the errors I made and when she became aggressive towards strangers, I eventually had to euthanize her.  Rest in peace Newtie; never again.  Now I help people to understand why this strategy is a bad idea.

D’fer has great genetics, and we were aware of the potential for overwhelming him.  Here he is in the bathtub for the first time.  You can tell he is not confident or happy because his brow is furrowed, his ears are dropped back and his eyes are quite large.  Realizing he was uncomfortable, I got in with him!

Finally we have the dog with both crummy genetics and a crummy puppy hood.  These dogs are fragile and don’t have any coping skills.  These dogs are the ones who present as frightened and withdrawn and overwhelmed or as over confident and defensively aggressive.  A lot of these dogs have a great deal of bravado but when faced with someone who comes back at them will back down and sometimes flee.  In an acute war zone, such as a home invasion or a car crash these dogs are extremely frightened and cannot escape their fears.  These dogs will often exhibit all sorts of behaviours that demonstrate their anxiety.  When they live with people who recognize the signs of their anxiety and can protect them from frightening stimuli, they can sometimes cope, but when they live with people who don’t recognize their anxiety, they really struggle.  When these dogs live in chaotic situations where stress is a part of day to day life, these dogs are often very overwhelmed and their people even if they are well meaning may not recognize that they are over threshold because these dogs don’t act out.

If you are looking for a stable pet, you need to start with good genetics.  Once you have found the genetic picture you want to live with, then make sure that your pup is raised to the standards of Miss Manners. He will need a great puppy class where the instructors are able to help you to recognize when your pup might be approaching threshold and help you to address that, while gently expanding your pup’s horizons.  Finally, avoid war zones with your pups.  If you have a herding dog, recognize that traffic may be over stimulating for them.  On the other hand, if you share your life with a retriever, getting upset that he is picking up everything that is within reach is just frustrating for both of you.  Choose carefully, expose to society with care, and avoid placing your dog in crises.

If you have a dog with serious behaviour issues, there are really three major sources of problems.  The genetics may be a problem.  He may not have had all the advantages of Miss Manner’s upbringing.  Or he may live in his equivalent of a war zone. Most likely though, there are elements of all three issues.



First Published September 19, 2013


I am starting a new section on the blog where I am going to feature people I know who breed dogs carefully and thoughtfully to help people to learn a little more about who breeders are.  Breeders often get a bad rap, but often they shouldn’t.   I would like to share with people some of the questions that I think are important to ask breeders and get some answers from the breeders themselves.  If you know a good breeder who consistently breeds nice dogs and who cares about where their dogs end up and what they dog throughout their lives, feel free to recommend a breeder to me.  I will consider breeders of both purebred or mixed breed dogs as long as the breeders are the kind of caring folks who produce nice dogs and carefully select the families they go to.  When families have options to get a nice dog and they keep that dog in their homes for the life of the dog, then we have a situation where dogs don’t get into shelters or rescues, and that is what I hope to achieve by helping people to better understand the process of breeding and raising great family dogs.

Dianne Mackie is a client who also breeds Soft Coated Wheaten Terriers.  We have had a half dozen of her puppies in our classes, and we always enjoy them.  They are delightful dogs who are great clowns and lovely pets.  Here in her own words are Dianne’s thoughts on her breed!
What breed do you breed, and what do you love about your breed?


I have been loved and owned by Soft-Coated Wheaten Terriers since 1988.  After much research, I chose Wheatens because they are a medium-sized, active dog originating in Ireland (where I grew up) and a good natured, all round family pet. They were an all purpose farm dog; owned by the poor – not a dog for the Gentry. I can say I made the right choice for myself and my family. Exuberant and enthusiastic are two words used to describe Wheatens. Full of character and personality, Wheatens are sweet-natured, affectionate and very people oriented. They thrive in homes where they are part of the family and are included in daily family activities. They are renowned for their beautifully soft, non-shedding coat which is a warm wheaten color. Wheatens do require regular brushing and grooming. Most people would not choose another breed once they have been loved by a Wheaten.

Piper, Willow and flor outside 5

Three of Dianne’s dogs!  I have met these dogs and they are all friendly and easy going with people!



What is the biggest drawback to living with your breed?


I thought about this for a long time, and really could not come up with an answer. For me, there are no drawbacks but Wheatens are not a dog everyone, especially those who would like a little less enthusiasm and spirit!



What do you do with your own dogs?


I show my dogs in conformation. Flora, (aged 11), Will (9), and Maggie (5) are Canadian Champions. Shamrock, the youngest is ½ way to her championship. All our dogs have been to Puppy Socialization Classes followed by at least 2-3 levels of Obedience Training. My daughter enjoys taking Shamrock to Rally ‘O classes at our favourite training school -‘’Dogs In The Park’’ and she hopes to be ready to compete soon. My daughter and Shamrock love the weekly off leash walks also run by “Dogs In The Park”. The dogs get a long daily walk in the neighbourhood and take turns in accompanying us on trips and outings. Going to soccer games were one of the favourite evening activities when my kids were young. Flora always found a dog lover nearby who would pet her for the whole game, her head on their lap. When Maggie was 8 months, she travelled with us by car to PEI. She was a delight to travel with.


Here Dianne is showing one of her dogs in the sport of conformation.  This sport is intended to help breeders to compare their dogs to a known and agreed upon standard.  This is more than a beauty show though; the judge looks at the dogs and makes certain that they move normally compared to how the breed standard says they should move and does a preliminary health check.  Males who have retained testicles are disqualified for instance because that is a heritable trait that can lead to significant health issues in the offspring.  By eliminating those dogs who carry the gene for monorchidism (the veterinary term for a retained testicle), healthier dogs will be produced. Champions are dogs who have competed against a number of other dogs and earned points.  When they earn enough points, they earn their Championship.  In Canada the Canadian Kennel Club governs this, and in the United Stated the American Kennel Club governs this.  If you look at a pedigree and it says CAN AM Ch before the dog’s name, then the dog has earned a championship in both countries!



What do you hope your puppy owners will do with their dogs?


First of all, my new puppy owners will have their puppies signed up for Puppy Socialization Classes before the pups leave my home. I can’t stress enough how important these classes are for everyone to get off to a great start. I encourage at least 2 levels of basic obedience training and more. It is a great bonding activity and can help manage a problem early before it becomes more serious. I want the pups to be a cherished family member and join the family in their activities. If introduced early to water, Wheatens love to swim and have enjoyed riding in a canoe and even surfing. Wheatens are becoming more involved in herding activities as they did round up the cattle in Ireland. I hope puppy owners will join our national Wheaten Club: The Soft-Coated Wheaten Terrier Association of Canada.  (I am the Regional Director for South Central Ontario). There’s lots of great information in the 4 times/year publication and is a great way to connect with other Wheaten owners and activities.

Proud Mother Maggie!

Puppies need lots of chances to explore and play and learn.  These pups are too young for puppy classes, but they will learn and explore even more in a good puppy socialization class!



If you could give any advice to people who are considering purchasing one of your puppies, what would it be?


Do your research on the breed. Go to dog shows. Talk with many breeders.


Find a breeder you like, respect and feel comfortable and who has time to spend with you. Ask lots of questions and you should expect the breeder will ask you about your family, lifestyle and how much time you have for a pup.


Then get on their waiting list. You may have to wait for your puppy but it will be worth it. A good breeder will be there for support and advice for the duration of your dog’s life.


Buying a puppy is not like buying a can of soup!  A good breeder often has a waiting list and will match the right pup to the right family.  A waiting list is one sign of a good breeder.  Find someone who can work with you over time.  If you are able to get to know the breeder ahead of time, then you will have a lasting relationship that will help you to be successful with your puppy throught his or her life.



What advice do you have for families with children who want one of your puppies?


First, I want to meet all the children to see the family dynamics, how they behave and interact with dogs. Parents need to have time and energy for the pup and the amount of work a small puppy involves. Having a puppy is almost as much work as having a new baby.


I want to make sure they understand that, though it may be Johnny’s puppy, the majority of responsibility needs be theirs. I want to know that the children will be involved in Puppy Socialization classes and the dog’s training classes if they are old enough. Children should sit down to hold a puppy. The puppy’s teeth are needle sharp. Just like children,  puppies put everything in their mouths. Children should hold a toy in their hands while playing so the puppy bites the toy, not fingers.  Look at your home from a puppy’s viewpoint to see what is safe and what dangers puppy could get into. Anything on the floor can be a hazard for the puppy. Puppy needs a safe place (crate) of his own where he can rest and not be disturbed.

Char and Maggie

Wheatens are family dogs!  Charlotte and Shamrock train in Rally O and are getting ready to compete.



Do you have any advice about living successfully with your breed?


Keep them stimulated physically and mentally. Have rules. Be firm but fair. Love and cherish their unique personalities. Lots of positive reinforcement and praise. They just want to be with you so do not leave them alone for long periods. Make provisions for them during the day if you are working outside the home. Small puppies should not be left alone for more than one period of 2-3 hours in a 24 hour period.



Understanding that each dog is an individual with unique likes and dislikes can help you to find interesting things to do with your dog.  This Wheaten loves the water and is playing in a pool in the yard.  Enjoy the clownishness of your dog and he will reward you with ever more creative activities.


Do you have any additional comments you would like to share with new puppy buyers?


If you want a good night’s sleep, then place the puppy’s crate in your bedroom at night. When the puppy hears your breathing and movement, it won’t feel alone and abandoned. This way, you will only be up once in the night when the puppy needs out vs.  listening to a lonely, distressed puppy crying all night in the kitchen.


Do you have a website?


No, but check out the website of our national club for the newly revised “Puppy Buyer’s Guide”.

It has lots of information for those looking for a puppy:







Originally posted July 2013


We have recently seen a spate of puppies who have been coming home at 13, 14, and 15 weeks of age.  People have a variety of reasons for holding off on getting their pups, and most often we hear that they don’t want to go through the early puppy training.  They wait a little longer in the hopes of getting a puppy who is less needy than a young pup or who might be toilet trained.  There are some issues though, including diminished socialization and substrate preference.


We know that the bulk of socialization for a puppy is finished by the time the puppy is 16 weeks.  We like our puppies to meet between 200 and 400 people and between 100 and 200 hundred dogs.  Is that overkill?  Yes, but If your puppy has trouble with meeting people, this will ensure that you have your bases covered.  The easiest way to do this is to count out 600 kibbles, and put 200 of them in one bagggie and four hundred in another.  Every time your puppy sees, interacts with or plays with another puppy or dog, feed him one kibble from the bag of 200.  When you have used up all your kibbles you know your pup has met enough dogs.  Do the same with people using the 400 kibble baggie and when you are finished that, you know you have connected with enough people to ensure that your puppy is well socialized.  




The name of the game is to get rid of all your kibbles before your pup reaches 16 weeks.  If you get your puppy at 16 weeks, then you cannot do this preventive exercise because you have run out of time.  If you get your puppy when he is 15 weeks, then you have a week to get rid of all 600 kibbles.  That is a lot of work.  If you get your pup at 14 weeks, you have two weeks to get rid of 600 kibbles or 300 greetings in two weeks.  13 weeks translates to 200 hundred greetings a week, 12 weeks translates into 150 greetings a week, and 11 weeks translates into 125 greetings a week.  Ten weeks means 100 greetings a week, 9 weeks means about 75 greetings a week and 8 weeks means 50 greetings a week.  Fifty greetings a week, means about seven greetings a day.  7 greetings a day is a whole lot easier than 90 greetings a day which is how many you would need to do if you got your puppy at fifteen weeks.  


Even though everyone likes a puppy, they are not going to all line up at your door step when you get your older pup home.  The closer to eight weeks that your puppy comes home, the more likely it is that you will be able to get all these friendly folks to come and gently visit your puppy!  Image credit: logoboom / 123RF Stock Photo



Aside from the number of people and pups your dog will need to meet, there is also all of the handling, grooming and veterinary procedures you will have to practice.  When the puppy is young, it is very easy to gently introduce handling to them.  You can work with them when they are tired and they will often accept handling readily.  By twelve weeks though, your pup will be a lot more active, and wiggly and may not accept handling and grooming very readily.  If the puppy hasn’t been handled much at the breeder’s, you may have your work cut out for you.  The more that the pups have been handled before 12 weeks the easier this will be, but we are seeing more and more pups who have never really been handled before going home and these puppies may be very difficult to restrain, groom, pat and take to the vet.  Ideally, puppies are handled daily at the breeder’s from the day they are born, and by an increasing number of people as the time to go home approaches, and then by as many people as you can get to handle the pup before he is 16 weeks.  Getting a cheap stethoscope and playing veterinarian with everyone the puppy meets can pay big dividends later on when you go to the vet.  If you are trying to squeeze that activity in between weeks 12 and 16 along with the dozens of people you need your pup to meet each day, you are going to have a tonne more work to do each day than you would if you were going to spread these tasks over more time.


Between 8 and 12 weeks pups do a lot of resting.  At about twelve weeks, puppies often “wake up” and become significantly more active.  This means that instead of a puppy who konks out after twenty or thirty minutes, you have a puppy who will regularly stay awake for two to four hours at a time.  The advantage to having a pup when they are younger is that you can set boundaries and rules while the puppy is awake, and then when he is naughty you can put him down for a nap and take a break.  Older pups are generally awake and active for longer periods of time, so they have more chance to make mistakes and then you have to have a plan to get them to do something else.


The final big thing that happens with older pups is that they are often sent home before they are toilet trained.  If your pup was at the breeder and not getting out to socialize with new people, or handled, the chances are pretty good he also didn’t get the advantage of early toilet training.  Toilet training in dogs is somewhat like toilet training in people.  If you have never seen a toilet before you are about three or four years of age, you may have difficulty using the standard equipment; not because you cannot, but because you have learned that something other than a standard toilet is the place to go.  Dogs are just like us, except they need to learn what is a toilet before they are twenty weeks.  If your puppy was in a kennel until he was 13 weeks, all of his experience will be on cement.  If he has been in a home, but hasn’t been taught to go outside, he is going to think that carpets, tile and hardwood is the right place to go.  You have time to fix this, but you will have to put in the work to get your dog to understand that outside is the right place to toilet.  Due to his age, he is going to be awake for longer periods of time, and have a longer digest tract to fill up and empty.  A longer digestive tract means that you can go outside with him and he may not go when you want him to.  If you are pressed for time and you bring him in, you may end up with a puppy who still needs to go but who doesn’t need to go urgently.  My general rule for older pups is that if they don’t perform outside, they get to go back to their crates and try again in a half hour until they go.  Once they have gone to the toilet where I want them to, THEN they get breakfast, to play in the house or to go on a walk.  If they haven’t gone in a timely manner, then they go back to their crate for a half hour and try again.  Every time your older puppy has an accident indoors, you are setting him up to think that toileting indoors is just fine.  If you have lots of mistakes, then by twenty weeks, your dog will happily toilet in the house whenever he needs to go.


Older pups should be at least on their way to being toilet trained.  If they are not, the breeder has not done their job.



There are reasons that a breeder might hold a puppy back.  To start with, the pup may be immature in some way or another.  If this is the case, then a good breeder will be doing everything that you would do with an 8 week old puppy.  The pup would get to go for car rides and to meet new people and would have supervised house time to learn what is permitted and what is not.  He would get toilet training and meet lots of people and other dogs in different contexts, with someone who is experienced enough to know when her pup is overwhelmed and needs more time or space.  Some breeders will keep several pups till they are 16 weeks old so they can get a better idea of which pups will be worth breeding before she sends her next breeding dog away.  Again, this breeder will be putting in the work to make sure that the pup gets everything he or she needs.  Sometimes not every pup in the litter gets sold in a timely manner.  The breeder should still be doing the work that will turn out an exemplary puppy.


A breeder may choose to keep a puppy back if she thinks he might grow up to be a good breeding prospect or if she thinks he might have potential in dog sport.  If she does this, and then at 12, 13, or 14 weeks, she should be selling a puppy who is well socialized, has had a good amount of handling, who may have been to a dog show or two, and who is already toilet trained.  If a breeder keeps a puppy back for any reason and he is coming home without the basics, you should be prepared for lots more work than it would have been had you purchased your puppy when he was eight weeks of age.  Image credit: reddogs / 123RF Stock Photo



If you are purchasing an older puppy, you need to know about what has been done with the puppy from birth to eight weeks ( see “How Much Is That Puppy In the Window?” at, and also what has been done between 8 weeks and when you got your puppy.  Raising a puppy properly takes time, effort and excellence, so if you want to skip that, you need to make sure that the older puppy you get has had everything you want them to have.  Your puppy deserves the very best, not just of what you can give him, but what the breeder gives him too.