Happy 8th Gotcha Day!

It’s hard to believe how much time has flown by. Eight years ago today, we brought home the amazing Miss Dahlia. She came home a sweet dog lacking confidence and has grown into a sweet dog with the confidence to tackle everything from moving houses to agility to silly tricks to being able to go outside during a thunderstorm. She’s just the best.

So, this year I bring you, 10 things Dahlia has learned this year. It’s been quite a year for our girl!

1. That sharing my house with another dog is really not as bad as I thought. It might actually be kind of fun.

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2. That having another dog to play tug with is kind of awesome.

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3. That even though my Mom was told not to shove toys in my face to get me to play, I will try that with my brother. Sometimes it even works!

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4. That having my own yard is kind of awesome.

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5. That barking at the dogs in the yard behind me is the best.

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6. That I don’t really mind (that much) when my brother leaps at my head.

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7. That I can share my toys and treats and even the same bowl of water.

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8. That I am still the best fun policing dog around.

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9. That the “wait and come game” is even more fun with a friend!

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10. That nothing gets me down, not even vestibular disease.

From this...

From this…

...to this.

…to this.

She’s one of the seven great dogs (there are only seven at a time, you know) and I hope for many more years to come for my girl!

Conversations with River

 

IMG_1900-2Today, while I was asking my girl River a question for around the 20th time on our ninety minute public outing, I was thinking about how freaking boring our life together would be if we didn’t have an ongoing flow of conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I do not mean that I stand in a park and talk to my dog like some crazy dog lady (I would… never do that… ) but we do indeed have a back and forth stream of communication. Here are a few things I posed to her today; in long written word here, but we worked through them with body language and a few single words only:

1. “Would you like to enter this fenced park to go swimming in the lake? There are other dogs off leash there, and I know that can be uncomfortable for you, so I’ll let you decide.”

She chose to take a short walk around the area first so she could take in the environment and then pulled me towards the entrance. Once off leash, she ran to the lake and waited for the toy to be thrown without even glancing at another dog. Remember folks, this is my “extremely dog reactive” cattle dog bitch I’m talking about.

2. “That five month old puppy is approaching you. You know you have to ability to not react, and if you quietly lay down and wait for me to deal with the situation you can get back to the toy throwing sooner. Oof. She just stole your toy… Please stay there and I will get it back for you and be very, very happy with you.”

She did exactly that. A very sweet but slightly foolish Doodle puppy stole River’s toy less than a foot away from her feet not once but TWICE and River let it happen. She has learned over the last several years that I can help her handle these predicaments; she does not have to use her teeth or other scary displays on strange dogs.

Heel position right next to the water's edge: a very difficult thing to ask a swim-obsessed cowdog!

Heel position right next to the water’s edge: a very difficult thing to ask a swim-obsessed cow dog!

3. “I know it’s hard for you to think while swimming, but I would really like to do some Rally-O proofing exercises with you and reward all of your brilliance with toy throws. Can you work with me this close to the water and new strange stimuli and I’ll promise to make my other criteria lower?”

She responded with near excellent fronts, finishes, and short steps of heeling less than ten feet from the water! Rally exercises are still pretty new to her, so I was asking a lot, but she gave me her best.

You’ll notice that I never gave her a traditional command during these exchanges. In fact, during our actual verbal communication I did not give her a single cue word other than our Rally practice cues. Leaving other dogs alone, down stays while I got her stolen toy back, and her focus on me versus the humans and dogs in the park were all given. I let her choose what she wanted to do every step of the way and each action of mine was directly in response to her. If she hadn’t pulled me towards the entrance of the park, I would have kept walking down the trail and waited to visit the swimming area until others had left with their dogs. If she had made a move to react negatively towards that puppy (which, honestly, would have been warranted!), I would have moved us much further away and possibly left the area. If she hadn’t been able to focus on me enough in that environment to practice Rally moves, I would have abandoned the idea of difficult proofing until another time with fewer distractions.

These are just a couple of examples from one day, but the list goes on and on; I try to make me and my dogs’ time together one of mutual enjoyment whenever possible. I try to give them as many choices about their life as I safely and sanely am able to. Life with dogs is just far more interesting and rewarding when you treat them as a thinking being with thoughts and feelings about the world. Three years ago, I never imagined that my “super reactive” cattle dog could swim in a fenced dog park with other dogs around without having a complete fit every five seconds. But she did indeed play for over an hour today, with! other! dogs! around!, and I have the photos to prove it. All of our hard work towards building our relationship, trust, and teamwork is paying off. I haven’t needed to teach her any new cues lately. I have never used punishment based training methods for her dog reactivity, and I have never forced her to do anything around dogs she absolutely did not want to do. I did not flood her, I did not strap an e-collar on, she never wore a pinch or choke chain, I didn’t have to train a ton of commands and throw away all of her choices to follow them, and yet… I have a dog I can take to a public lake off leash without huge reactions. Her recall is pretty stellar, her focus is lovely, and she is a mostly happy (I won’t lie: there is still some level of stress around strange dogs and sometimes she can still get a snark in if it’s needed!) little dog who once tried to bite the face off every single strange fellow canine she came across. We constantly improve together thanks in large part to the talks we have like the ones we had today.

So: next time you’re out for a walk, try having a conversation with your dog. You might be surprised how much you can communicate and learn from them without ever opening your mouth.

House hunting and moving… with dogs

Note: This post was written before we adopted Ben.

Back in July 2014, my husband and I got the good news: we’d be able to purchase a house the following year. Our lease was up in June (we were able to weasel out as early as April) and so we had plenty of time to figure out where we wanted to live and what kinds of things we wanted in this new house of ours.

You might remember the way I went about adopting a dog with my list of things I had to have, things I absolutely could not deal with, and the things I was willing to bend on. This served me well yet again as we started to list those things we wanted in a house.

Now, plenty of those things had little or nothing to do with our dog (or future dogs). We had to have space for my husband’s books. We had to have a guest room and preferred it on the first floor as his father had trouble with stairs. We really wanted a dishwasher because…well…that one should be obvious! So I won’t say that every single thing about the house was thought of in conjunction with dogs, but there were certainly things that we considered that did have to do with dogs.

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Examples from Trulia. The house we were considering vs. the house we bought. Just look at all that red! Yikes!

1. The neighborhood. There were many questions that we had about the neighborhoods we looked at. At the top of the list was: Is it safe? Obviously this is not just about our dog, but there are certainly reasons why the two are connected. I have to walk her before work, often before it’s even light out. I take her out to pee at night. I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder and being afraid that someone might come after me when out for a walk. My go-to site for crime statistics for particular houses I was looking at was Trulia. Trulia gives you a general idea of how many crimes and what type of crimes have been reported in the area surrounding a particular address. One house we really adored we decided not to look closer at because the area was a higher crime area. And this was driven home rather well when it was discovered that not only was a house fire a few blocks away intentionally set, but that it was set by a man who was literally an ax murderer! The neighborhood we chose was “low” in the crimes list and those crimes that happened were relatively benign (no ax murderers living in our neighborhood, thank you very much!).

In addition to crime, we worried about noise, especially with a Border Collie mix (and future Border Collie) and how busy the neighborhood is. We were moving from a college neighborhood (read: drunken parties until the middle of the night) and wanted something far more peaceful. We found a nice suburban neighborhood that is essentially cut off from other neighborhoods. That means about 99% of the traffic that comes down our street is from people who live in the neighborhood. It’s quiet and not crime-ridden. Exactly what we wanted!

The yard is not pretty (yet!), but it's ours...and it's fenced in!

The yard is not pretty (yet!), but it’s ours…and it’s fenced in!

2. The yard. This one is pretty obvious. For my husband and I, personally, a yard is not a big deal. He wants to plant a small garden. So having a lot of space was not really necessary. But for our dog and for any future dogs? We had two requirements in a yard: (a) A decent sized yard that enabled me to set up some agility equipment and play some good games of fetch, but that was not so large that we would need a riding lawn mower to take care of it and (b) fenced in. The latter was something we could have bent on, but I really didn’t want to. Fencing is expensive. And as we’ve discussed before, many rescues require a fenced in yard, and if they don’t require one, they would really really like you to have one. Having a fenced in yard means there are more rescues we can adopt from.

3. House size and layout. The former was really far more about my husband’s stuff (read: 1000+ books), but the size of the house and the layout of it were fairly important when it came to dogs. Right now we have one dog. In the future we would like to get a second and there were things we took into consideration for future dog. The two most important things for us were (a) space in the bedroom for two dog beds, one on each side of the bed (we got it!) and (b) a comfortable room that we can close one dog up in if necessary. I will admit, I’m not big on crates unless there is a really major reason to use one (e.g. housebreaking, dog is more comfortable in the crate). I like giving Dahlia the run of the house when we’re gone. She’s not destructive (unless we leave some sort of food item out…*ah hem*…butter thief), she’s housebroken, and mostly she just lays around and sleeps all day. If future dog is not destructive and housebroken, then I want future dog to have that same benefit. But I admit, I’m a bit of a nervous nelly. I hate leaving two dogs together because I have constant fears that I’m going to come home to something really horrible and am always relieved when I come home to find them laying around and just chilling. So I can well imagine that I’m going to want to separate them when no one is home, especially at first, just for my own sanity. But I don’t want one dog to have someplace comfortable to lay and the other one be stuck in a tiny room. So that was all taken into consideration when looking at houses. The house we bought has a 240 square foot room that my husband is using as his study. It’s comfortable, has some nice chairs in it and plenty of space. It’s certainly a good place for future dog to hang out in.


 

So what about the actual move? Moving can be really tough on dogs. Everything is being packed up, things are being discarded, their routine is being disrupted. There were a handful of things we kept in mind as we were preparing to move with our dog.

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Not only is the layout of our living room very similar to the old one, but the couch, recliner, dog bed, and rug all made the trip to the new house with us. (The dog did too, of course…you might notice her comfortably lounging on the couch!)

1. Keep something the same. When my parents moved back in 2007, they made one huge mistake. They got rid of everything but their clothes and some kitchen things. And I do mean everything. They got all new living room, bedroom and dining room furniture, all new decorations. They even tossed out their dog’s old bed and bought her a new one. When their dog (Teri) came over to their new house for the first time she was frantic. She spent three days pacing. You could almost feel the panic coming off of her. When are we going home? She did finally settle, but it took longer than my parents would have liked. So when it came time to moving for us, we kept almost everything we owned. We ditched our bed and bought a new one. But our living room and dining room furniture was the same (including the area rug for the living room). And most importantly, we took Dahlia’s old bed and the blanket on top of it. We didn’t even wash it. We wanted it to really smell of her.

We also kept her routine the same. The shape of the house may  differ from the apartment we lived in. We might have had to send her to the living room to eat around a corner instead of straight down a hallway, but the routine of where and when she got fed, where and when she got treats, where she slept, has all basically been kept the same.

She adjusted much quicker than my parent’s dog. Was there stress? Of course. In fact, I’d say that only now, a month or so after the move, has she become completely free of the moving stress. But she was much more comfortable in the house than I think she would have been with all new things.

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Mom, what’s happening? Dahlia’s last trip to a mostly empty apartment was confusing.

2. Find a safe place for your dog(s) to go during the move. Moving is a lot of hard work. Doors have to be kept open. People are running in and out of the house carrying 40 boxes of books (ok maybe that’s just us). It’s confusing even for the humans involved. The last thing you need is for your dog to escape the house and be lost or for your dog to be injured because she is underfoot. I’d even say that it would be unfair to the dog to crate her in a separate room where she can hear all the noise and then be let out only to find out all her things are gone and nothing looks the same. Imagine how disconcerting that would be to a dog!

We sent Dahlia off with my mother for the day of the move. She trusts my mother (in fact, my Mom came to pick her up and Dahlia didn’t even look back when she got her into the car!). She knows my mother’s house and her dog. She was happy to hang out in her kitchen (we don’t call her “the food lady” for no reason!) and follow her around the house. It made the move far less stressful for us and for her.

Dahlia soaking up the sun in our front yard during my week off.

Dahlia soaking up the sun in our front yard during my week off.

3. Take some time off. I know this probably isn’t possible for everyone. It certainly wasn’t for my husband as we moved in the middle of the school year and he’s a professor. But it was for me and so I scheduled a whole week off of work. We moved on a Saturday and I spent the next week with my dog in and out of the house. That meant she always felt safe because she knew her Mama was there with her. Her Daddy left and always came back to the new house! She got to explore a whole new area and her Mama always took her back to that same place. By the end of that first week, she would turn toward the house as soon as we got near it. She knew it was her house, even if she wasn’t 100% comfortable there just yet.

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The best reward of all, so says Dahlia!

4. A lot of rewards. I’ve never been skimpy with treats for my dog. I make no bones about that (haha bad dog pun…get it?…not that she really gets bones or anything…anyway…). But I gave her even more during those first weeks in the house. You came down stairs? Oh boy, rewards! You headed toward the house after a walk? Oh boy, rewards! You came into the kitchen? REWARDS! I wanted her to associate every room in the house with something awesome. I wanted her to be happy to go into the guest room or the study or our bedroom or even the bathroom (which has now become her safe space during storms).  Dahlia has had threshold issues in the past. In our previous apartment she wouldn’t go past the living room and so we had to coax her into the dining room and the kitchen and our bedroom. This time she had much more confidence but I wanted to make sure everything was as awesome as it could be for her.

Now she’s underfoot.

All the time.

But I wouldn’t have it any other way.

If you play your cards right, your dog might quickly look like this!

If you play your cards right, your dog might quickly look like this!

So have at it folks. Have you picked out a house with your dog(s) in mind? How did you acclimate your dog to their new home? Come share your words of wisdom with your fellow Team Unruly readers!

Introducing Ben!

Pepper, my childhood dog

Pepper, my childhood dog

I grew up with dogs…or rather, a dog. One at a time only. My parents did not want the added expense and nor did they really have the time for more than one dog. So we had Pepper. And then we had Teri. And they were content with that.

Ever since I got Dahlia in 2008, I’ve wanted a second dog. I’ve spent ages imagining that two-dog life, looking at dogs, thinking about what I wanted.

And then hesitating.

We weren’t in the right place. We lived in a duplex in the city. We had no yard. Our landlord wouldn’t allow two dogs. He barely allowed one. We had to talk him into it and even then I think he caved because (a) he was too old to care anymore, (b) the place was falling apart around our ears (seriously, our new landlord, who bought the place in 2013, redid the bathroom while we lived there and we found out the toilet, which was sinking into the bathroom floor, was sitting on about half an inch of rotted wood), and (c) he was guaranteed to have people living there for a number of years instead of the constant turn-over of drunk college students (serious about this, Princeton Review named the university the top party school in 2014-2015 — WE’RE #1!!).

So a one-dog family remained for over 7 years.

Until things started to change. This April we bought a house. One major stipulation I had for the house was that the yard had to be fenced in. I really wanted to adopt a second dog and having that fenced in yard would make it easier to do so.

But then I hesitated some more.

There was a lot to set up in the house. Dahlia had been an only dog for so long, how would she react to another dog in the house all the time? Especially a younger, more active one. And then there were the financial concerns. Buying the house actually set us up better than it did before. Besides tax write-offs (yay!), we also are paying significantly less per month in mortgage/taxes than we were in rent and by bundling we dropped our car insurance by about $1000 a year. So we’re in a much better place to afford a second dog.

And so on June 23, I bit the bullet and just did it (with my husband’s permission of course). I sent in an application to Glen Highland Farm. Yes, the same Glen Highland Farm that we have vacationed at for the past three years. I wanted a Border Collie or maybe a Border Collie mix. To be honest, at that moment, I wanted Ben.

Ben's petfinder picture

Ben’s petfinder picture

I had seen Ben on a Petfinder page perhaps a month or so ago. He was cute as a button and just looked like a great dog. He, admittedly, reminded me a little bit of Dahlia. But he was located in New Jersey, just a little further than we really wanted to travel to meet a dog, especially if we had no idea how he’d fit in with our family. So I let that one go, just another one of my “petfinder dream dogs” who I knew would go to another home. And who was, a short while later, listed as adopted.

As it turned out, Ben was adopted. He was adopted out to a family who was supposedly very active recent retirees who had former Border Collie experience and who turned out to be anything but that (late 70s, medical issues that meant the man in the couple had trouble walking, not active at all, and they had never owned a Border Collie). Needless to say, Ben was snapped back up by the people who had been fostering him for the shelter.

At that point, it all gets a little odd, like this was fate. Which is not surprising considering Dahlia’s entrance to our life seemed to be the work of fate as well (two transports I was supposed to be doing got canceled/postponed and I was freed up to do Dahlia’s). Ben’s foster family had adopted dogs from Glen Highland Farm. They ended up calling them up to see if they could somehow list him on the courtesy part of their website. The decision was to list him on the main site with their contact info and a note that he could be brought up to the farm if someone was interested in him.

And then Glen Highland Farm, headed up by the amazing Lillie, and the foster family, decided he would flourish at the farm and were going to bring him up.

Enter: Us. I chatted with a lovely woman from the rescue on June 25 to clarify some things on my application and make sure that they knew what we were looking for. And then I chatted with the ever amazing Lillie on June 26 about potential dogs. One of the ones suggested: Ben. She asked the foster family if they could come up Saturday with him and then asked if we could meet them there at 12:30pm.

We did, and fate just came together. While we did meet one other dog, it was clear from the beginning that Ben was meant to come home with us. Dahlia and he trotted around and sniffed things and peed together. They looked remarkably alike. They didn’t play but they seemed pretty comfortable around each other.

Ben bears a striking resemblance to Dahlia.

Ben bears a striking resemblance to Dahlia.

So he came home with us. And suddenly we were a two-dog home.

Dahlia has gotten used to his presence fairly quickly. There have been a few warnings from her telling him to back off, which he heeds and then spends the next little while ingratiating himself to her. He has not once given her any warnings.

Birds!

Birds!

Ben very much takes things as they come, bonding quickly and loving pretty much everything. He is a very positive dog, with no fear (not of walking over grates or thunderstorms or children or other dogs). Everything is “the best thing ever!” to Ben. He loves watching the birds in the trees and squeaking his toys and can entertain himself for long periods of time with those things.

Ben and Dahlia

Dahlia and Ben play a bit of chase

And he loves enticing his big sister to play. That’s right, there have been games of chase that Ben initiates almost every day since he came home, something that brings tears to my eyes. He’s bringing some more fun to Dahlia’s life!

He’s incredibly smart, fairly  driven, and just a joy to be around, even if it means our lives have changed quite dramatically. It’s strange having a young active dog in the house when we’re used to a dog who takes short walks and then relaxes for hours on end. Dahlia sleeps through the night, doesn’t want to bother going out until 8am or 9am, and is so easy that sometimes I simply forget she’s there. Ben does not allow that. He does have an off switch, but he needs the proper exercise and mental outlets to get to that off switch. He is definitely not the dog for everyone, but he fits in with our family like he’s always been there.

Ben on his first night with us.

Ben on his first night with us.

Ben starts agility training soon and I can’t wait to see how this little man does. He has the potential to be a really amazing agility partner and an even best friend. Like we keep telling Dahlia, we aren’t splitting our love for her; we’ve just opened our hearts up to more love. And I think Ben is slipping right in there with great ease.

Welcome home Ben. We look forward to many happy years with you!

 

Two dog home

Two dog home

So You’re Thinking About Surrendering Your Dog!

No loving pet owner ever wants to think that they might be forced to relinquish their dogs. But it does happen, and it can happen to anyone, so let’s talk a little about what to do if you’re confronted with the difficult decision of whether or not to surrender your dog.

1. Making the Decision

The first question is always: Is it really necessary to rehome the dog?

Whenever possible, the first and best option is to see if there’s any way to keep the dog in its current home. Generally, surrender comes down to whether an owner is both able and willing to rectify whatever problem is threatening the dog’s home.

There are usually options available if the reason for rehoming is due to temporary external hardship. If it’s an emergency homelessness situation (such as a family displaced by fire or flooding), organizations like the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team may be able to help. If it’s financial hardship, many shelters and rescues (and some homeless assistance groups) maintain food banks of donated kibble and canned food for needy owners. Soliciting donations over Facebook or Kickstarter to fund vet care might feel uncomfortable, but it’s better than giving up a dog because you can’t afford necessary medical treatment.

If the owner’s contemplating surrender over a behavioral or training issue, then the question gets more complicated.

Training and management should always be the first option — the sooner, the better. Good professional trainers don’t come cheap, but having a happy and harmonious life with your dog is well worth the investment up front. Many dogs are surrendered for nothing worse than adolescent rambunctiousness that the owner doesn’t know how to control or channel. Teaching the dog some self-control and providing a structured outlet like dog sports can solve the problem and, beyond that, take the dog-human relationship to a whole new level.

Additionally, it’s important to rule out potential underlying medical causes. A difficult-to-housebreak dog may turn out to be suffering a medical problem such as a UTI or spay incontinence. Treat the medical cause, and the “behavioral problem” disappears.

Not all scenarios, however, can be addressed via training or treatment. Some are more complicated, and the owner may not be in a position to safely handle them (as with a fear-aggressive big dog with zero bite inhibition living in a home with small children). Sometimes an owner undergoes a life crisis, or a precipitous drop in health, and simply cannot care for the dog. And some solutions are arguably less humane than rehoming — if there are two adult females who fight constantly, then super strict crate-and-rotate may be the only way to keep them from getting at each other’s throats, and even with that regimen, the level of stress and anxiety in the home might be so high that rehoming one of the dogs is actually the better and kinder option for everybody. (Patricia McConnell has a good and thoughtful blog post about these scenarios, and it’s worth reading if you or someone you know happens to be in this circumstance.)

Every dog deserves a home in which he can live safely and with as little stress and as much joy as possible. If you’re either unable or unwilling to provide that home, then perhaps it’s kinder to help your dog find another home that can. Dogs are resilient. A healthy and adaptable dog won’t die of heartbreak upon being rehomed. In fact, most of them bond very strongly to their new owners within weeks.

At the same time, it’s necessary to be completely, brutally honest about whether rehoming is truly the most responsible choice. By rehoming a dog, you are asking someone else to take that dog into their family. Please consider — truthfully and candidly — whether that’s fair, responsible, or right. If you, the owner who loves and has a bond with this dog, are not willing or able to adjust your life to accommodate the animal’s needs, how likely is it that someone else, without such a bond, will do so?
If the reason you’re contemplating surrender is because the dog is genuinely dangerous to himself or others, or because the dog has such severe and intractable medical problems that there’s no realistic prospect for that dog to live a happy life elsewhere, please consider whether it’s ethical to ask someone else to take on that burden. Is this really a dog that has the capacity to flourish in a new home? Or is this a situation where euthanasia would be the kinder choice? If the latter is true — and you’ve had professional evaluations to make sure of that — then have the courage to be there for your dog. Don’t surrender your companion out of cowardice.

2. Practical Considerations: Who Will Take the Dog?

There are basically three ways to go about rehoming a pet.

One, you can surrender the dog to an open-admission shelter. These are usually affiliated with a city or county and have an animal control contract for the local municipality. Legally, they’re required to accept any animal that is surrendered at the door or brought in by animal control officers; they can’t turn anyone away.

Because they’re open intake, these shelters are prone to overcrowding and often have to euthanize current animals to make space for new arrivals. Sometimes a dog’s maximum stay is dictated by local ordinance. Other times, the dog might have as long as the shelter can give her. Either way, however, euthanasia is a very real possibility at any open-admission facility.

However, for some dogs in some locations, going into a shelter may actually result in pretty good odds of landing in a decent home. A healthy, behaviorally sound dog that is anything other than a pit bull or pittie mix has a very good chance of being adopted quickly in a major East Coast city. In other regions, however, every dog may be at risk — no matter how cute, sweet, or adoptable. (Pitties, unfortunately, have terrible odds across the country. It doesn’t matter where you are, their chances are not good.)

The second option is to try to get the dog into a no-kill shelter (limited admission) or foster-based rescue. Here, a dog does not face euthanasia for space (although an animal may still be euthanized if its physical or behavioral health problems are so severe that the animal’s quality of life is significantly damaged).

The tradeoff here is that no-kill shelters and private rescues can only take a small number of animals, and the better ones will generally restrict intake to animals that they can expect to move in a reasonable timeframe, since every animal that sits unadopted in a kennel or foster home turns into a money drain, contributes to volunteer burnout, and prevents that organization from saving more animals. On top of that, a foster-based rescue is limited to accepting animals that it can find foster homes for. A dog with severe behavioral or physical problems isn’t easy to foster, and the rescue may not be able to find a safe, qualified placement for such an animal.

What this means for the owner trying to surrender a dog is that you might hear a lot of “no”s from these groups, particularly if the animal in question is likely to prove difficult to foster or difficult to place. A highly adoptable animal is likely to get a better reception from such groups.

A third option is private rehoming — keeping the dog in your home while trying to network the dog through friends, family, and any other means at your disposal (such as posting the dog on Craigslist).

In general, my feeling is that if you do not have much experience screening strangers on the Internet, it may be advisable to partner up with a good rescue and ask them to post a courtesy listing on Petfinder and possibly help screen prospective homes, with you as the “foster” owner getting the final word on where the dog goes. This allows you to piggyback off the rescue’s network for greater exposure and help with responsible placement.

Many rescues will be happy to help if you ask politely. Some may require a nominal fee (for example, the rescue that I currently volunteer for charges a $25 application processing fee from prospective adopters) or ask you to help out with occasional volunteer duties in exchange. However, if you can’t find a good local rescue to help out, it’s certainly possible to do just fine on your own. Online resources for foster homes can be helpful here.

No matter which option you choose, honesty is paramount in these interactions. The shelter or rescue needs to know exactly what they’re dealing with, good and bad, as do prospective adopters.

3. Emotional Considerations: Guilt, Honesty, and Relief

Making the decision to surrender a dog is difficult and emotionally fraught. It’s normal to feel guilty and unsure about whether you made the right choice. If you didn’t feel that way, you probably wouldn’t be a very good owner.

However, if you made the right choice out of concern for the best interests of the dog, then it’s okay to let that guilt go. Life happens. People fall into unexpected circumstances. Some rescues and shelters understand this; some don’t. If you’re unlucky enough to run across one of the latter type, that can be emotionally bruising too. The important thing to remember here is that you did what was right for the dog.

A word about honesty: In order to make appropriate choices and lasting placements for the dog, honesty is paramount. The shelter, rescue, or prospective adopter needs to know exactly why the animal was surrendered. If the dog was just too unruly and excitable to live in a home with young children, that’s okay. You can — and must — tell that to the rescue. Otherwise there’s a real risk that the dog might be placed in the wrong home and wind up right back in the rescue, but now with added confusion and stress and possibly even the black mark of a bite on his record. No matter how difficult it is to be candid about the reasons for surrender, honesty is crucial for ensuring the animal’s well-being. Lying or hiding those reasons can only hurt the animal.

And, lastly, a word about relief: Just as it’s normal to feel guilty about making this decision, it is also normal to feel relieved. Quite often, people don’t realize how stressful it was to live with an ill-matched dog until the dog is out of their homes — especially in scenarios where the dog wasn’t getting along with a person or another animal in the family.

Feeling relief at having that stressor removed does not make you a bad person. It only means that you were correct in your judgment that the situation really wasn’t working out. Very probably, the dog was stressed too, and is also feeling a kind of relief at having the opportunity to move on to a life without that worry.

I Have a Really Cool Job: K9 Bed Bug Detection

Meet Leanna. She is a 3-and-a-half year old black Labrador Retriever. She came as a “career change” dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind. She didn’t make it as a Leader Dog because she loves people so much – it’s really hard for her to focus when there are people around who might want to love on her and rub her belly. Her puppy raisers taught her wonderful manners, and she is your stereotypical Labrador.

Leanna

What makes Leanna so special? She’s trained to sniff out bed bugs. And I am her handler.

I work for a multi-national company that has multiple operations, but we work in pest control. To date, Leanna and I have been working together for a little over a year. She lives with me and my personal dogs. For all intents and purposes, she is my dog, except for being a drain on my bank account; I always joke with my clients that I get all the benefits with none of the bills.

Yes. She and I spend our days looking for bed bugs. Let me tell you a bit about this really cool job.

First, What Are Bed Bugs?
bed-bug-on-handThis is important, because yes, bed bugs have a smell, or odor (scent detection dogs are trained to look for an odor – it’s training semantics). Bed Bugs resemble a flat apple seed when fully grown, but they are a small, pale yellow bug when they are first hatched. They go through 5 life stages before becoming a full grown apple seed-like bug, and they eventually turn a reddish brown from the iron in our blood.

Contrary to popular belief, bed bugs do not only come out during the night. They are a hiding bug, and want to hide most of the time. Most people get bit during the night because that’s when they are sleeping and are the most still. If you were to work midnights and sleep during the day, they would come out to eat during the day while you are sleeping.

No, bed bugs do not jump or fly. Like I said, they want to hide, so if you see bugs crawling around, it’s likely you have a bigger problem than just one or two bugs. (Honestly, I’m more worried about bringing fleas home with me than I am of bringing home bed bugs.)

This is where Leanna and I come in.
Sometimes we’re called in to check a building as a precaution. Leanna and I have some accounts that we do on a monthly basis to make sure that there are no bed bugs being brought in – hotels, libraries, foster group homes, hospitals, etc. Other times, we’re called in because someone saw a bug, and they just want to make sure that there are some or none, or no more after the building had been treated.

Leanna-sniffing

Leanna searching for bed bugs in a hotel room

So, how do Leanna and I do our job?
Resident nose work instructor Sarah has already posted a fantastic overview of nose work that is worth the read. While Leanna and I essentially do the same thing, we were trained in a slightly different way. Our trainer is a former military K9 handler and customs officer, having handled narcotic and explosive detection dogs. Leanna was trained in the same manner as these military/police K9s, just with a different odor: bed bugs.

We are always training. On days that we are not scheduled for jobs, I am placing training aids (live bugs in vials) around different places – including open grassy fields, lobbies of various buildings, warehouses – and we are always “skills building.” When we are working, I am still placing training aids so that Leanna can be rewarded, whether we find bugs or not. If she isn’t finding bugs, she doesn’t get rewarded, and she will eventually just stop looking because she isn’t getting paid. You probably wouldn’t do your job without a paycheck, would you?

A couple videos of us doing work in a library. The descriptions of the videos, as posted on Facebook, give a basic breakdown of what I am trying to do with each hidden training aid.

Even having worked together for a year, Leanna and I are still a young team. We are always working to better ourselves; I am always working to make finding those bugs harder for her, because it’s not always easy out in the real world. I work for a great company who supports us, and I am lucky to have a wonderful trainer I can turn to for help.

Feel free to post any questions you might have. I will do my best to answer them – I am sure between Sarah and myself, we can answer any question you might have!

Canine Conformation 101

About 4 years ago, I drove to Virginia to pick up Jax, the first dog that would teach me about the conformation show world. In those 4 years, he’s taught me a lot, but what has also taught me a lot about canine conformation is being able to stand ring side, talk to different owners, handlers, and breeders about all of the different breeds, and being able to talk to the judges who judge our dogs and interpret the breed standards.

Conformation isn’t just about pretty dogs trotting around the show ring. Correct conformation is important for sound structure and a healthy dog. Each breed is different, but I will describe a breed that can be pretty straight forward and many of the traits can be applied to many other breeds and mixed breeds: The German Shorthaired Pointer.

The dogs in the following photos have all been bred by the same breeder, and she has kindly given us permission to use them in this post. If you’re not already familiar, now might be a good time to brush up on your conformation vocabulary!

aleclines

The lines drawn on the dog show the angles that a breeder or dog show handler looks for when looking for correct conformation. These lines should flow and create a picture of balance.

The line from the withers to the pasterns (down the front legs) should be straight, with all points – withers, elbow, pasterns – lining up on that line.

The triangle on the chest shows the angles of the shoulders. The top line from the point of the withers to the point of the chest shows the layback of the shoulders; the shoulders should not be too steep or too flat.

The next two lines show the length of loin – this is measured from the point of the last rib to the first point of the hip. The above dog is male, and so he should have a moderate length of loin, in proportion to the body. Bitches will have a longer loin, but still in proportion to the body.

The hind end assembly is important, and you’ll often hear people talking about a dog’s angles in this context, meaning their rear angles. There are two important points here: the curvature from under the tail to the hock, and from the hock straight down to paws meet the floor. A dog should not be over-angulated, meaning that curvature shouldn’t be overdone. On the flip-side, a dog shouldn’t be straight in the rear, either.

The GSP in the example photo above has good rear angulation. The following two photos are to compare-and-contrast, and are of American Bullies. The first shows a dog who is over-angulated in the rear, and the second photo shows a dog which does not have enough angulation, but is not quite straight, either.

AB-over

American Bully/APBT, over-angulated. Photo courtesy of Jamie Lower

AB-straight

American Bully/APBT, under-angulated. Photo courtesy of Jamie Lower

The front assembly of the dog, in addition to the angles of the shoulders, the toes of the dog should be pointing forward, and they should not toe-in or toe-out.

Poppy has a beautiful straight front structure.

Poppy has a beautiful straight front structure.

Frank is a good example of "toeing-out"

Frank is a good example of “toeing-out”

The topline of a dog is also something to take into consideration, and this will also be important. In general, the topline should not be arched (or over-arched for those breeds that should have a slight arch to their topline). Likewise, the dog should not sway-backed. The topline should be straight and level*.

*It is necessary to keep in mind that all of these rules will not apply to each and every dog or breed. For example: while a Golden Retriever should have a fairly straight topline, an American Pit Bull Terrier should have a slight arch to their back. This is why we have a written standard for each breed, and why a good judge will always refer to these standards if they’re not sure.

Combining all of this will equal a dog that moves properly. “If you’re not built right, you won’t move right.”

Banemovementlines

The lines in this photo demonstrate the balance of movement. The top line shows the balance along the topline of the dog – the spine. Ideally, the nose should be balanced with the spine and along the tail, but in this photo, the handler may be lifting the head a bit with collar. In a video, we may see the nose actually does fall in balance, which is also why photos can be deceiving.

Phoenix, an American Staffordshire Terrier, gaiting with co-owner Valerie Piltz

Phoenix, an American Staffordshire Terrier, gaiting with co-owner Valerie Piltz

When gaiting, or “moving out,” the front and rear legs of the same side should meet – that is to say, the back foot should fall where the front foot is leaving from (as shown in the photo of Phoenix, above). Both pictures above are also beautiful examples of “reach” and “drive.” Reach is the description of the front legs, while drive is the driving force of the back legs. A dog should not over/under-reach, nor should a dog over/under-drive.

Lastly, all feet should be level on the ground, as shown in the first gaiting photo of the German Shorthaired Pointer. The line along the ground shows us that all feet are level; next, looking at the photo of Phoenix the Am Staff without lines, you can clearly transfer that visual to his feet as well.

Now, you should be able to take away this information and better watch a conformation class. Westminster will be held on February 16th & 17th, with Best in Show being held on the 17th starting at 7:30pm EST. It would be a great time to put your new-found knowledge to the test!

**It is important to note that these traits will not be the same for every breed – especially breeds like a Corgi or a Dachshund. These can be mostly be applied to “boxier” breeds, but all breeds should follow their written breed standards.

BAG BRAINS!!: TU Goes Lure Coursing

Late last summer, TU’s Danielle and I got together with our assorted fuzzy miscreants and went out to a lure coursing fun run hosted by the Hilltown Dog Club Lure Coursing group. It was the first time that either of us had done it, and neither of us knew whether our dogs were going to like it.

Lure coursing, for the uninitiated, is a dog sport wherein your dog chases a plastic bag tied to a string that zips around a big grassy field, going through a certain number of turns, for several hundred yards. The number of turns and the length of the course vary depending on your dog’s breed, size, and (sometimes) experience or competition level. There are breed-specific trials, mostly geared toward sighthounds, but at fun runs and non-breed events like the AKC’s Coursing Ability Test, any dog can play. In most cases, your dog is not racing against other dogs, but just trying to beat a fairly forgiving standard course time. If your dog’s in good health and interested in the bag, this isn’t a difficult game.

Not every dog, however, wants to chase that bag. I’m no expert, but from what I’ve seen, lure coursing seems to break down into a pretty binary, black-and-white yes/no as to whether your dog is going to enjoy it. This is 100% instinct, so there’s not a whole lot you can train in or out. Dogs that don’t have especially high prey drive, and/or are easily spooked by the noise and smells of the generator used to power the lure, tend to be unenthusiastic about the experience. (Also, and I’ll totally admit I’m biased on this one because My Dog Pongu is not a lure courser, but I think some dogs are like “pfft that is a plastic bag, you think I’m falling for that? That is not even close to a cat. Go catch your own stupid bag, I’ll see you in the car.”)

Dogs that do have the instinct to chase things, though… weeelllll…

…they will knock you off your feet with their screaming, rearing, laser-focused-totally-insane enthusiasm.

With Dog Mob, I got one of each reaction. Pongu thought lure coursing was super dumb: the generator was scary, the bag was obviously fake, and if we weren’t going to be doing any heeling exercises then he was Not Interested.

Crookytail, on the other hand, was a howling, raging, bug-eyed maniac for that bag. The first time he got a chance to go after it, he yanked me off my feet. I put him back in the car when his turn was over, and he went so crazy watching the other dogs chase the bag that he jumped out the half-rolled-up driver’s side window and bounded to the field. I put him back and rolled the window even tighter, and he got stuck with his head and one arm sticking out.

Finally I had to borrow a secure crate from Danielle (who, thank god, had one to spare) and stick Crooky in Doggy Jail, because he could not hold his brains in his head on his own.

The only way to keep Crooky from gate-crashing when it wasn’t his turn.

Eventually he got a second try and was, for a glorious 60 seconds, the Happiest Dog On Earth.

Danielle Here!
On our fun run outing I also got one of each reaction!  The ironic thing about lure coursing was that I thought that Perri would absolutely love it, and that Molly would be too lazy to care.  (In fact, I actually drove away from home without Molly, stopped, turned around and went back and got her. !!!)  Dog Reaction #1: Perri was mildly interested in the bag, slightly disturbed by the generator and absolutely, “Screw you guys, I’m going home!” when the coursing line was rude enough to not just touch her leg, but move against her leg.  For Perri, lure coursing means ‘bark at the bag, generator and coursing line, all from the safety of the snow fencing holding you inside of this terrible place.’

Dog Reaction #2?  When I told the owner of the coursing equipment that I thought that Molly would be too lazy and uninterested she laughed and told me that she had yet to see any pitbull that did not love lure coursing.  She was right!

Molly very impatiently waits her turn to Course!

Two important things in Lure Coursing: Proper cool down procedure and a LOT of laughing at your dog!

A couple of months later, Danielle and I met up again to take Molly and Crookytail to an official, AKC-sanctioned Coursing Ability Test. (Perri and Pongu, being decidedly less enthusiastic about the whole “run like a maniac after a plastic bag” thing, did not participate.) This event is open to all breeds; the only requirement is that your dog must be at least 12 months old, and you must prove your dog is able-bodied by gaiting her back and forth before the scribes’ table prior to doing your run. (Also: wiping her lady parts with a tissue.  No bitches in heat will be flying under the wire of the coursing ability test screening!)

It works pretty much like a fun run — the dog chases the bag for a course of several hundred yards — and after collecting three legs, your dog earns a Coursing Ability (CA) title. After ten passes, your dog can get a Coursing Ability Advanced (CAA) title. 25 passes, and you’ve got your Coursing Ability Excellent (CAX). Since there’s basically zero training involved and the dogs have a blast chasing the bag, this can be a great way to have some fun at a dog event and get your feet wet in that environment without the pressure of having to perform in a more competitive field like agility or obedience.

Plus, you get spiffy ribbons. Who doesn’t love ribbons?!

Crooky picked up two legs toward his CA that day, and I’ll likely take him to a trial to finish off that title sometime this spring. He’s not much for formal training, my Crookydog, but he sure does love chasing that bag. And I love watching him, because it’s so much fun to see how excited he gets about playing this game.

If you want to try a dog sport purely to watch your dog go out of his mind with exhilaration, lure coursing should definitely be on your short list.

Seeking for hidden treasure: Geocaching with dogs

Over the summer, I discovered this delightful game called Geocaching.

Basically, Geocaching is using our fancy GPS technology to search for tupperware in the woods. (Well, and in towns and cities, too. They’re everywhere.)

People, it’s like searching for hidden treasure! It’s fun. It gets you outside. It’s cheap. You can (usually) take your dog. And you never know what you’re going to find.

To get started all you need is a GPS-capable piece of equipment like a smart phone or an actual GPS and a free membership to Geocaching.com and an app for your phone (I use c:geo/ which is free, but there is also an official Geocaching app). You type in the location where you’d like to go searching, and it gives you the GPS coordinates and some details on all the caches in that area. There are traditional caches which are just a container (tiny or large) hidden at the given coordinates.

Large! Google "Raiders of the Lost Cache" for the full awesomeness of this cache.

Large! Google “Raiders of the Lost Cache” for the full awesomeness of this cache.

Or tiny. And tricksy.

Or tiny. And tricksy.

There are multi-caches that include searching for multiple containers, often containing coordinates that lead you to the final find. There are mystery or “game” caches that can involve solving a code. There are even virtual caches which require you to go to the location and report back to the cache owner what you find there. (Some of these are super cool.)

A very traditional tupperware cache.

A very traditional tupperware cache.

Also needed: a curious mind, a sense of adventure, and a little bit of frustration tolerance! Some of these suckers can be hard to find!

This one hadn't been found in a year!

This one hadn’t been found in a year!

That’s it. Simple, right? Yes. But not always easy. You may be at the coordinates, but you’re still looking for something hidden. And that hidden thing may be the size of your thumbnail. Some cache-hiders are absolutely devious and evil. But that’s part of what makes it so much fun. They are so creative! Once you finally “see” and the lightbulb goes off above your head, it’s like a rush of amusement and joy.

This guy was a bit more creative.

This guy was a bit more creative.

Caches are rated on the website both by difficulty of terrain and difficulty of the hide. Obviously, it’s best to start out simple until you get a feel for the game. Another good tip is to always check the log before you head out, especially if you’re having to travel any significant distance, to make sure the thing has been found recently. It can be really annoying to travel half an hour only to get to a cache that nobody’s been able to find in the past 8 months.

Now to bring dogs into it. Safety first! Caches should be marked on the website if they are not dog-friendly but be sure to use common sense as well. Remember, if you are out in the woods, to carry appropriate safety equipment and water both for you and your dog. Personally I find a convertible leash to be super useful because it lets me easily tether my dog to a tree or a post while I search or write in the log of a cache I’ve found. And since many caches are hidden in areas that allow hunting, be sure to wear orange and dress your dog in orange if you’re going to be out! As with any hiking, if you’re going by yourself, always let someone know where you’re going and when you’ll be back. Safety first!

All business, holding down this tree while I search.

All business, holding down this tree while I search.

I hope I can get least a few of you out into the woods searching for hidden treasure. It’s addictive and it’s fun. I think a lot of us need more fun in our lives.

Pediatric Neutering and the Performance Dog

INTRODUCTORY DISCLAIMER: I am not a veterinarian and I do not play one on TV. I am not an expert in canine sports medicine, either. What follows in this post is Just My Opinion based on some amateur Internet research, personal observations, and kicking around the dog sports world for a couple of years. Here be anecdata, beware all ye who navigate these seas.

Having said that, here’s my opinion: pediatric neutering sucks, especially for performance dogs. Pongu was neutered at almost exactly 16 weeks old, down to the day, and as we start transitioning out of Rally and obedience into the agility phase of his career, I find myself wishing more than ever that he’d been allowed to develop normally. He wasn’t, and I am concerned that it’s going to cause us some problems down the road as we move into a more athletically challenging sport.

I’m well aware of the many, many reasons that shelters and rescues choose to enforce a mandatory across-the-board policy that all dogs must be spayed or neutered before adoption. I don’t really have a huge problem with that. I’ve seen more than my share of irresponsible pet owners who really, truly needed to have the choice taken out of their hands, because there was no way they could be relied upon to successfully manage intact dogs in their households. It’s often the least responsible people who get the most adamant that they can handle it, too; I feel like it’s got to be some kind of Dunning-Kruger variant in effect there. I am, accordingly, totally sympathetic to the position of rescue volunteers and shelter workers who argue that the best option is for people to have no option.

But!

While Pongu’s pediatric neutering is pretty far down the list of his handicaps in dog sports (as far as Pongu the Insane is concerned, his mental problems drastically outweigh his physical limitations), it sure doesn’t help. If I were looking to adopt a sport dog in the future, I’d steer far away from rescues and shelters that enforced mandatory pediatric speuters, and that’s a near-universally held view in the dog sports world. As far as dog sports competitors are concerned, pediatric speutering is frequently a dealbreaker, and that’s not great, because it means that some of the best homes in the world are closed off to dogs in organizations that have those policies.

The argument I want to make here is twofold: (1) To the extent that our mutual goal here is to get dogs into the best possible homes, it might not be a bad idea for shelters and rescues to be a little more flexible when dealing with adopters who are knowledgeable, responsible, and have legitimate, carefully considered reasons for wanting to delay speutering until their dogs are fully mature; and (2) to the extent that shelters and rescues want to adhere absolutely to their policies and not make any exceptions, they would be well advised to consider the opposing point of view and the research substantiating that position, so that they can articulate to those prospective adopters why they feel that the benefits outweigh those drawbacks. In other words, if you’re going to say “no,” best make it an informed and reasonable “no,” so that those prospective adopters don’t go away feeling like the shelters and rescues are just being ignorant and intractable.

There’s really no reasonable dispute that pediatric neutering causes dogs to develop differently than animals that are left intact until after reaching sexual maturity. Regardless of breed or mix, you can spot pediatric neuters at a glance. They’re abnormally leggy and gangly, the males tend to have “bitchy” appearances and more finely boned features, and their muscle development is impaired, particularly in males. (As an interesting historical sidenote, castrati — 17th and 18th-century male opera singers who were castrated before puberty to preserve their singing voices — were also widely recorded as having similar alterations to their physical development. They, too, tended to be unusually tall and leggy.)

Tall and leggy and kiiiiind of a giant nerd: that’s my Pongu!

There’s likewise no dispute that speutering has a number of effects on dogs’ health, although here it’s a bit of a mixed bag and the correlation/causation distinctions are sometimes unclear. A 2007 survey of over 50 peer-reviewed veterinary studies found that rates of osteosarcoma were significantly higher among speutered dogs, particularly pediatric speuters (which is not surprising, considering that one of the developmental effects of pediatric speutering is significantly elongated bones), and also found higher rates of hemangiosarcoma and hypothyroidism, among other serious issues. However, speutering also had some positive health effects: it reduced certain behavioral issues, reduced the risk of perianal fistulas among susceptible breeds (a point of particular interest to me, since GSDs are my favored breed and they are notoriously prone to perianal fistulas), and eliminated the risk of pyometra, a potentially lethal problem for intact bitches.

Another study that focused specifically on Golden Retrievers found significantly higher rates of hip dysplasia and lymphosarcoma among pediatric neuters and, interestingly, a spike in hemangiosarcoma rates among females that were spayed as adults, but not among intact females or females that had been given pediatric spays. Of particular interest for performance people, this study found a much higher rate of cranial cruciate ligament tears among pediatric speuters than all other dogs; it is hypothesized that this finding might be linked to the effect of neutering on the dog’s growth plates.

Yet another 2007 survey of veterinary studies observed the higher incidences of osteosarcoma and CCL tears among pediatric speuters, and suggested that the increased rates of those problems was likely connected to the elongated bones that pediatric speuters develop. The same study observed higher rates of urinary tract infections among female dogs that were spayed before puberty, and suggested that this might be caused by the fact that female puppies spayed before reaching sexual maturity never develop adult genitalia.

However, the JAVMA survey also noted that speutering of pets may be a realistic necessity for many shelters and rescues dealing with the pet-owning public, because compliance rates for people who sign contracts promising to spay or neuter their adopted pets are dismally low (less than 60%, according to that source, which seems reasonable as an average of what I’ve seen across different regions. In the Philadelphia area, I’d expect that number to be significantly higher; however, in the Southern rural areas where most of my fosters originate… well… let’s just say I’m not surprised if some of those homes would drag the nationwide average down to way below 60%).

So what does all this mean?

It means, if you’re into performance sports, that your pediatric speuter is going to develop into a substantially different form than one who’s left intact until after puberty. Your dog may have an increased risk of hip dysplasia and is significantly more likely to get injured over the course of his or her career. Your dog will have longer legs and finer bones. He or she will have trouble building and maintaining as much muscle as a normally developed dog would.

If we’re talking about challenging, high-level sports, these are not trivial considerations. I’m not yet at a point where I can make any reasonable prediction as to whether Pongu’s gangly proportions would affect his top speed on an agility course (and honestly I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to determine that, given that my dog is a nutjob and his assorted anxiety problems slow him down much more than his janky legs ever could), but it surely wouldn’t surprise me to find out that they do.

I don’t have serious competitive aspirations for Pongu in agility. I can’t; it wouldn’t be realistic for him. We’re mostly just out there to have fun and learn how to play this sport together. Also, he’s crazy, so it’s not like having one more problem on our giant mountain of Issues makes a huge difference.

But I still don’t want to see him get hurt. Additionally, it’s very likely that I will have serious aspirations for my next dog, and in that case, pediatric speutering would be an absolute dealbreaker for me. I’m not doing anything that would ding my Imaginary Future Dog’s chances at having a long, happy, injury-free career. And the scientific evidence pretty clearly supports my own observations and anecdata that pediatric speutering would very much hurt those chances.

For a pet home, this might very well not matter. There are still some potential health risks, but they’re mostly in the realm of “might” and “maybe”: increased risks for some things, decreased risks of others, no ironclad guarantees either way. Plus, the shelter/rescue does have a strong and legitimate interest in ensuring that the dog doesn’t breed, and that someday-in-the-future speutering doesn’t get lost in the swirl of kids and jobs and family commitments that can sometimes knock a pet dog pretty far down the priority ladder.

But for a sport home? Nope. The difference in physical development is guaranteed, and that alone makes it a total no-go.

And, frankly, it’s more than a little annoying to me when I get the simplistic Speutering 101 “herpty derp it will solve all your behavioral problems and have zero health drawbacks! In fact pediatric neutering is better because they heal faster!” canned explanation from rescue and shelter volunteers on this subject.

I’ve been in rescue for years, and I’ve been in dog sports for years, and I kind of want to just grab their shoulders and yell “DUDE. STOP. Not your target audience for that spiel.”

There are people who need to hear the spay/neuter message. It’s an important message; I am in no way claiming otherwise. There are many, many communities and audiences who still need to be sold on that one.

But there are many others where that message is ten to fifteen years behind the times.

This is a subject on which a diversity of opinions exists. That’s a good thing. We’re all in different places in our lives and we all have different goals and priorities. But I do think, on pediatric speutering particularly, it’s important to recognize that the diversity of opinions among informed and educated dog people exists for a really good reason: because there is no one clear-cut right answer for everybody. There are, in fact, a lot of awfully legitimate reasons that someone might not want to neuter their future sport dog at 16 weeks old.

I wish I’d known enough to understand exactly what I was agreeing to back then. It wouldn’t have changed anything — that shelter has an ironclad, non-negotiable policy on speutering before adoption, and there is no way that I would not have adopted Pongu, because that little goober was destined to be My Dog — but I do wish that I had known what it meant to neuter a dog at four months old. I think it’s important to know, and that it’s a real disservice to both dogs and owners that this complicated issue so often gets reduced to its most simplistic dimensions.

Should my dog have been fixed? Absolutely. There is nothing about him that warrants breeding, and as a first-time owner I didn’t need to try wrangling an intact dog in a city condo. (Next time around? Sure. First time? No thanks. I know some of my limitations.)

But should it have been done when he was four months old?

Not if I’d had my choice.