So your Facebook friend is looking to get a dog…

[Dear TU readers: this post started as a comment to an actual Facebook friend of mine, and then I thought, "Man, I write some version of this comment SO OFTEN: wouldn't it be helpful if I just had a post to link to?" So I wrote one! I'm going to guess that a whole bunch of us have had similar experiences on Facebook, right? If so, feel free to link this sucker to your heart's content. You're welcome!]

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Dear Facebook friend,

Hi there! It’s been a while since we’ve talked! Perhaps you’re an old friend from high school; maybe you’re an aunt’s-cousin’s-neighbor; maybe you’re a good friend who lives far enough away that we don’t have a ton of time to talk dogs in person. Whatever it is: hello!

Here’s the deal: you just posted a comment on Facebook about how you were thinking about getting a dog for the first time, you’d like to rescue, and you’re wondering what breed to get. You may also have said some of the things you’re hoping your future dog will have. Maybe you want them to be good with kids. Maybe you want a dog who doesn’t shed. Maybe you think you only want a small dog. I know I don’t normally write big giant comments on your posts, but here’s the thing: I have a LOT of opinions about dogs, and I’d rather write a big long comment on Facebook about dogs than do the dishes right now! So here you go.

The first piece of advice I’m going to give you is this: don’t focus so much on breed.I know, I know: there are so many dogs out there, and thinking about breed helps you focus your search. I get it. But here’s the thing: first off, there’s no breed that’s inherently good with kids (or cats, or whatever). There just isn’t. There are dogs who are bred to be companions, some dogs who are bred to be a little more tolerant of nonsense, etc. However, within those broad breed types, you have a lot of individual dogs with a lot of individual personalities and a lot of individual feelings on kids (or cats, or whatever).  Second, if you’re going through a shelter or non-breed specific rescue, you’re usually going to be dealing with some very fuzzy breed designations that are almost certainly incorrect. This is not because the rescue people are trying to trick you; it’s just that they legitimately don’t know the dog’s background and they’re trying to make a guess based on what the dog looks like. Most rescues hate having to guess breeds for dogs, because they KNOW it’s a guess: the thing is that most shelter software (and Petfinder) requires you to list a breed or breed mix for dogs in the system, so the shelter people have to make a guess whether they want to or not. LOTS of studies have been done about visual breed IDs and those studies find, without exception, visual breed IDs of mixed breed dogs are nearly always inaccurate. If you want more information on this, the National Canine Research Council has a great page here that you can read: here’s one set of pictures from that page that I think really sums it up!

Picture one: a purebred Basenji and a purebred Cocker Spaniel

parents of hybrids

Picture Two: Their Babies

Scott and fuller F1

So, TL;DR–the cute little dog at the shelter or on Petfinder who is listed as a Lab/Pomeranian cross is probably definitely not that (or anything close to it.) If you look at that dog and say, “Ooo, a Lab mix! That means he loves kids, because Labs love kids!”, you are compounding the error.

There’s also no breed of dog that won’t shed–some dogs, like poodles, shed into their undercoat rather than dropping hair, but the flip side of that is that they need to be groomed on a very consistent basis or they’ll turn into a giant mat because the shed hair has nowhere to go. One of the biggest pieces of incorrect information floating around about dogs is the idea that if your dog is a poodle or poodle cross, they won’t shed. First of all, the dog you’re looking at is likely not a poodle cross: see above. Second of all, this!

So really: breed is not the best criteria to use when you’re picking a rescue dog. If you are really really really focused on breed, then go to a breed-specific rescue. However, if what you’re looking for is a nice, fun, family dog, you are unnecessarily limiting your pool by looking only at purebreds. Also, let me say this right now: sure, you can find purebreds in rescue and in shelters, but those purebreds are not the carefully-selected dogs who have been bred thoughtfully with an eye towards temperament and structure that you’re thinking of. The purebred dogs in rescue or in shelters are almost exclusively from crappy breeders, BYBs or mills. This is because good breeders do not let dogs they produce end up in shelters, period. All good breeders will stipulate in their contract that if a dog cannot stay with the family who bought them for whatever reason, they must be returned to the breeder (or the breeder must be involved in the selection of a new home): that is one of the very few iron-clad rules of ‘what makes a good breeder’. Now, are there occasionally examples of carefully bred, purchased dogs who get dumped in shelters in violation of the puppy buyer’s contract? Sure. But usually those dogs are chipped with information leading to the breeder, and usually somewhere there’s a breeder fighting like hell to get that dog back. The breeders whose dogs end up in the shelter and stay there do not, by definition, care where their dogs end up. These are also typically breeders who don’t care about other important stuff, like health testing and temperament. The long and short of it is that if you’re getting a purebred dog from a rescue or shelter, you are not getting a dog who’s any “better” than the mixed breed dogs in the shelter (in the sense that you have any predictability about things like their health or temperament).

So what are you supposed to look for if not breed? Realistically, the best way to find a dog who you’re compatible with is to think about two things: the dog’s personality and the dog’s energy level. You can consider size too, to a certain extent: bigger dogs, can, of course, accidentally knock a child or an older person down (though smaller dogs can trip people!) However, size is usually not as helpful of a metric as the dog’s energy level. My personal go-to dog for families with kids is usually a sweet, lazy old pittie (who are medium to large dogs) because they tend to be very tolerant of kid nonsense and they tend to have low exercise needs. Small dogs are not inherently calm dogs.

So, let’s break those categories down a little bit. First, personality:

-As first time dog people, especially if you have kids, you’re probably going to want a dog who’s tolerant, patient and can handle a lot of novel stimulus (a lot of times, when rescues say ‘no kids under 12′, that is code for, “this dog is not that patient and is going to snap at a kid who’s handling her incorrectly”). Rescues will have a lot of different words to describe this–easy-going, go-with-the-flow, low-key–and will almost certainly be able to point you in the direction of a dog who fits that description. 

-It is nice to have a social dog–who doesn’t want their dog to like hanging out with them?–but be a little careful here. That dog who is totally, 100% focused on you when you meet her? The dog who stares at you the whole time when you take her out on a walk? The dog in the run who makes a beeline over to you and hangs out with you the whole time instead of interacting with her runmates or things happening outside? The dog who prompts people to say, when telling the story of her adoption later, “She picked us!” That may be the perfect dog for you, but that might also be a dog who gets really stressed out when you leave her alone or a dog who has a tough time finding something to do on her own when you’re occupied with something else. My pick for an average, busy, new-to-dogs family is not the super social dog who wants to be with you 100% of the time: it’s the dog who comes over and checks in with you regularly and then wanders off to smell an interesting smell or play with a toy.  You guys are probably busy people, and the dog is going to need to have some capacity to amuse herself; really social dogs tend to suffer a little bit when they’re alone, and they can often have a hard time making their own fun.

Next, energy level:

-For an average busy family, I’d look for a dog with low-to-moderate exercise needs. A high-energy dog is not a dog who’s going to be satisfied with playing chuck-it in the back yard, neighborhood walks and the occasional weekend hike. Lots of dogs have vestiges of our agrarian past, when we needed dogs to help us work 10-12 hours a day, imprinted in their DNA. Herding dogs, little terriers (bred to be independent workers who killed invading critters), and hunting dogs are all on this list, and they often don’t adapt well to being casual family pets. Yes, this includes Labs. I know a lot of people in this comment thread are saying “get a Lab” [TU readers: feel free to amend this if everyone's telling your Facebook friend to get a different breed, but let's be real: it's probably Labs, right? Labs or some kind of doodle-something?]  Sure, there are some lazy Labs out there, but Labs are bred to be high-energy working dogs and often are:  my local shelter and most of the shelters I’ve worked at are lousy with busy, energetic teenage Labs who were too much for the families who got them thinking they’d be sweet, easy pets. 

-You know who are frequently going to have those low-medium energy needs I talked about in the previous point? Older dogs. Yes, I know–you are looking for a dog between 1-2 years old, a dog who can grow up with your kids, etc. etc. That’s the dog everyone thinks they want: past puppy stage, but still young and fun. However, here’s something to consider: in my opinion, that’s one of the most difficult ages for dogs, behavior-wise. Dogs all tend to mature at different rates, but usually, they go through teenagerhood somewhere between 1-3 years old. This, not coincidentally, is a very very very very common age for dogs to be surrendered to shelters; teenage dogs, generally speaking, are usually a combination of lots of energy, a clumsy body that they don’t know how to use appropriately yet, a puppy brain, and a selective memory for things like manners and the cues they learned when they were puppies. They do eventually mature, but, like humans, teenagers are teenager-y. Dogs also frequently start getting choosy about other dogs at around three years old (that’s a rough estimate, but it’s a pretty common timeline). As such, the super fun, play-with-everyone two-year old you adopted can turn into a three-year old who doesn’t want to go to the dog park and is yelling at other dogs on the street. Think about the way you made friends when you were kids (“You have a red bike; I have a red bike: WE ARE BEST FRIENDS!”) and the way you make friends as an adult. You’re choosier, right?  Similarly, dogs often get more selective around other dogs as they age: it’s very common occurrence and certainly modifiable with some training. That said, if you opt for a somewhat older dog, you will likely find a dog with a personality that’s a little bit more stable: the dog knows what he likes and doesn’t, and has developed some coping skills around the things he doesn’t like. If it’s really important that, for example, your dog get along with other dogs, you’ll get better information from a six year old dog than you will from a one year old dog. That’s nice information to have when you’re adopting! And even if you get a six year old dog, you’re still going to have that dog for a good long time, likely the better part of a decade.

So how do you go about finding a dog with a personality and an energy level that works for you? There’s no way around it: you’re going to have to go look at a bunch of dogs. There’s no real online substitute for that. Take an afternoon or three, go to shelters in your area and/or email some local rescues about meeting some of their fostered dogs. Do you want to know how to make a shelter person love you? Go in, and instead of saying “I want this dog I saw on Petfinder because he looks cute” or “I want this dog who looks like a Boxer because I had Boxers when I was a kid and all Boxers are great”,  go in and say, “hey, this is our situation: we’ve got a young kid, we are new dog owners, who do you have that might be a good fit for us?” Shelters and rescues generally loooooooove it when people do this, because they know the dogs really well and can make good solid recommendations for dogs who will fit your lifestyle. There is always some dog at a shelter who all the shelter workers adore, and they say, “It is so crazy he hasn’t been adopted yet!” to each other every time they go by him. Sometimes that dog isn’t the flashiest one in the row, or sometimes he is sweet and mellow and is overlooked, but I guarantee you that dog will still be cute and awesome (because all dogs are cute and awesome.) The people at the shelter are dying to show you that dog, I promise. You also might look to see if your local shelter has any programs in place like the ASPCA’s Meet Your Match program: these programs are designed to match people with compatible pets based on personality, and they have very high success and adopter satisfaction rates.

In addition, some trainers will also help you pick out a dog as one of the services they provide. Look around at the trainers in your area and see if you can find anybody who explicitly offers this. If you don’t find this immediately, call around: track down a local positive reinforcement trainer (the Association of Pet Dog Trainers website has a good database) and ask them if they might be able to help you. There are lots of benefits to this approach. First, you’ve got a second pair of (professional) eyes helping you make the decision, and second, you’ve also made a nice connection with somebody who can help you when your new dog starts displaying issues (which most dogs will do at some point in their lives). Just as you wouldn’t wait until your baby was really sick to start researching pediatricians, it can be helpful to make some contacts with local trainers early: they can often point you towards some good classes to take with your new dog, and if your dog does end up with some quirky behaviors, you already have a nice person in your corner who can help you work on them.

Finally, a quick word on where you should get a dog if you’re looking to adopt. First, if you’re looking to make a real, immediate difference with your adoption, consider starting at a kill shelter. Yes, these can be emotionally draining places to be, and yes, you will look at a lot of dogs and not be able to take all of them home, and yes, you are helping dogs no matter what organization you adopt from, but if you go to a kill shelter, you are literally, immediately saving a life: that’s the reality of it.  There are a zillion awesome dogs at your local pound, I promise. If that’s too emotionally taxing (no judgement!), go to a no-kill shelter. No-kill shelters are very frequently pulling dogs from the local pound, so they help ease the pressure on pounds and decrease the euthanasia rate. The dogs at the no-kill shelter are, generally speaking, safe, so you aren’t faced with the same pressure when you’re choosing one dog over another. Often, no-kill shelters have programs in place for assessing and training the dogs in their care, so you may get a dog who’s had some work put into him!

Next, there’s private rescue. I want to be frank about this: there are awesome private rescues and there are also private rescues that aren’t so great. There are some private rescues who have a dedicated network of tireless volunteers and foster parents who work very hard to match animals with great homes. There are also some private rescues that pull cute fluffy dogs from the pound and then resell the dog for many hundreds of dollars (well beyond the price of the dog’s care). There are some rescues where the dogs are in the best home of their lives; there are some rescues that are indistinguishable from hoarding situations. There’s no independent accreditation for rescues, so do your homework beforehand and make sure you’re not adopting from the rescue equivalent of a puppy mill.  In addition to this, there are some private rescues who are excited to match up people and dogs quickly so they can bring more dogs into their rescue; there are also some private rescues that make you feel like an axe murderer for having the temerity to try to adopt one of their dogs. We’ve talked about this before on TU, and if the comments on that post are any indication, the feeling of being rejected by rescue is pretty common. I don’t want to sound completely snide about that second type of rescue, because I’ve been on both sides of it–I’ve been a foster parent for rescue before, and even though I believe strongly in the concept of open adoption, I found myself immediately clamping down on my foster dog. She MUST go to a home that was interested in pursuing agility or another dog sport, I told myself. They MUST have an active interest in training and be physically active themselves. I turned down so many good adopters because I had The Perfect Home in mind for my foster dog. So really, I can see how rescue people drift into feeling like “most homes are terrible, our dogs are great, we’re going to be super super super picky about where our dogs go”. But what that turns into is all these stifling blanket requirements: you must have an eight foot tall privacy fence, your home must be [x] size, somebody in the home needs to be home with the dog 100% of the time, dogs can only be adopted by a married couple, no adopters under 25, etc etc. Statistically, those kinds of strict requirements do not keep dogs in homes, nor do they increase adoption rates–there are studies! What they do do is make people feel discouraged that they’ll ever be ‘allowed’ to adopt, and then they turn to puppy mills/BYB/Craigslist and other places where they don’t feel judged for being imperfect/human.

So, Facebook Friend/Future Adopter, here’s my last piece of advice: if you run into a rescue who makes you feel terrible the minute you put in your application, don’t waste your time with them. Go to another rescue, go to a shelter; the world is full of awesome dogs, and lots of them are a fit for your family. All you have to do is go out and meet them.

 

Do’s and Don’ts for getting a sport dog from a shelter

It’s no secret that we here at TU are big fans of shelter dogs as both potential sport partners and awesome pets. We’ve written several posts on the subject before: here’s Ten Reasons Why Your Next Sport Dog Should Be a Rescue, and here’s Jen’s post on how rescues and shelters should go about marketing dogs for sport homes.  Michelle has also talked about going in with a plan when you’re going to adopt from a shelter.  However, it occurred to me recently that while we’ve always encouraged shelter adoption, we’ve never actually given any practical advice on how to go into a shelter and come out with an awesome sport dog.  We’re going to correct that right now with a short list of do’s and don’ts for people who are looking to adopt their next sport dog.

Don’t lead by saying you’re looking for a dog to do agility* with.

*or your sport of choice

Here’s the thing: most dog people don’t do dog sports. It’s easy to forget this if your weekends are wrapped up in trials and training and classes, but truly: dog sports are a niche thing. You’d be surprised how many dog owners have never even heard of dog sports. As a shelter worker myself, I will tell you that shelter workers are no exception: even when they are familiar with, say, agility, they may not have enough specialized knowledge to know what makes a good sport partner. When you say “I’m looking for an agility dog”, what your average shelter worker may hear is “I’m looking for a super high-energy dog”. If you’ve spent much time in shelters, you probably know that most shelters are chock-full of super energetic teenage dogs who have a surplus of anxiety and a surfeit of manners: these are the dogs who are surrendered because the owner “just doesn’t have enough time to meet their needs.” If you come in asking for an agility dog, you will often be introduced to a dog who is bouncing off the walls with shelter stress and pent-up energy. Captain Wall Bouncer might be a terrific sport partner; however, it is also possible that he’s just an anxious dog who had a bad start and who is going to need a ton of remedial work before you can even think about, say, developing toy drive or handler focus.

Do go in with specific criteria in mind.

A better approach than saying, “I want a [sport] dog” is to tell the shelter worker who’s helping you that you do dog sports, and you’re looking for a dog who has [x] qualities. This means, by the way, that you should have a sense of what qualities you’re looking for before you go in!  What you’re looking for will depend on several things, most notably what specific sports you play; if you’re looking for a nosework dog, you might go in looking for a dog who likes to work independently and is into find-it games, but if you’re looking for an obedience dog, you might be more interested in a dog with a lot of handler focus.  Your list of criteria will be specific to you, the sports you play, and your lifestyle!  However, there are also some basic qualities you can look for that can help set you and your future dog up for success in sports: when I polled the TU members in preparation for this post, here are some of the criteria we came up with:

  • Confidence: is the dog comfortable in new environments? How do they do when presented with new distractions and challenges?
  • Biddablity/handler focus: is the dog interested in you (in the absence of treats and toys)? If you engage them in basic training or play, are they interested in engaging back?
  • Structure: there are a lot of good books and websites that will help you get a sense of how to evaluate a dog’s physical structure. Here’s a post on Susan Garrett’s blog that will give you some preliminary pointers.  For me, I tend to look a lot at shoulder and rear angulation, gait and topline, but everyone’s got a different list of things that matter to them.
  • Drives (food, play, hunt, toy): you won’t get a perfect picture of this in a shelter setting, but if you’ve got some time to play with the dog you’re interested in, you should be able to get some sense of how they respond to food, toys, find it games, tag and so forth.  The shelter workers can give you good input here: remember, they’ve known the dog for longer than you have, and they can probably tell you if he’s generally into toys, treats, etc.
  • Ability to recover: if the dog is startled or if something happens that she doesn’t expect, does she bounce back quickly or does she stress about it for a while?

Don’t go in looking for dogs of a specific breed

When I’m looking for dogs, I’m personally much more interested in temperament and personality than breed. That said, I know there are a lot of people who like particular breeds and breed mixes and specifically seek them out when they’re looking for dogs: to each their own! However, thinking about breed can actually get in your way if you’re looking for your perfect sport dog at a shelter.  If you’ve spent any time at all in shelters or browsing Petfinder, you probably have figured out that a) most (though certainly not all) shelter dogs are mixes and b) the stated breed on the Petfinder listing or kennel card is usually just somebody’s best guess. Some shelters are better at guessing than others; that said, I have worked at several pretty great shelters, and still, I can tell you that in my experience, breed designation usually goes down something like this:

Scene: Several shelter workers stand around squinting at a random medium-sized brown dog who’s just come in.

Shelter worker #1:  He’s got kind of a …. Labby-looking head, right?

Shelter worker #2: Sure, why not?

Shelter worker #3: He’s kinda short, though. Let’s say Lab-dachshund mix.

Shelter worker #2: Sure, why not? [*writes it down]

If you go to a shelter, you will usually see a ton of dogs listed as lab mixes, shepherd mixes or pit mixes: the National Canine Research Council did a study that indicated that these are the most commonly designated mixes across shelters in the US.  However, the NCRC also did a bunch of blood-based DNA testing to see how accurate those breed guesses are, and whoops, not so much: it turns out that on average, they are only right about 18-20% of the time.  Here are some interesting posters the NCRC put out after that study was released: they show dogs who were identified as lab, shepherd or pit mixes and what the DNA testing indicated they actually were. [Note: these files are PDFs]

Lab
Shepherd
Pit bull

[Side note: my shelter has these posters hanging up all over the place, and we are still like, “Yup, looks like a pit mix to me!” when new dogs come in. Sigh.]

Anyway, the point of all that is this: if you go into a shelter and you say, “I am looking for a border collie or border collie mix” instead of saying “I am looking for a dog with [x] qualities”, the shelter worker is not going to think “OK, this person is looking for an intelligent dog with herding instinct who is handler focused and good at teamwork”.  The shelter worker is, instead, going to start making a list of every black and white dog in the shelter, and you are going to see a bunch of black and white dogs rather than a bunch of dogs who have the characteristics you want.  If you say, “I am looking for a dog with [x] qualities”, the shelter worker may bring you a border collie; they may also, however, bring you some awesome little non-black and white muttsky who has all of the characteristics you’re looking for and who you never would have seen if you’d asked to only see border collies.

Do bring toys and treats along when you’re meeting dogs

Bringing along toys and treats is a great way to test if the dog you’re looking at is biddable and wants to engage with you. If you’re a person who uses tug toys a lot in training, it will be useful to bring a tug along to see if the dog wants to play with you; it’s not a perfect metric, as some dogs are too stressed by the shelter environment to play, but if a dog gets excited about the tug right off the bat, that’s something to put in the plus column. Same thing with treats: lots of times, if you have good, tasty/smelly treats, you can do some basic luring and shaping with the dogs you’re looking at, and that can give you some good information about the way the dog learns and how motivated she is by treats. Note–bring the good stuff along: if you bring some dehydrated liver or some string cheese, you’re probably going to have better luck than if you use the stale Milk Bones that the shelter has sitting around.

Here’s a caveat, though: before you bust out your toys and treats, ask the shelter workers if a) the dog is a resource guarder [some extremely sweet dogs get verrrrrry intense about new toys, and this can really be exacerbated in a shelter environment] and b) if the dog has any food intolerances [nobody will be very pleased with you if you feed a dog a treat and later on they come down with hives]. Better to be safe than sorry!

Do try playing/working with the dog in as many contexts as you can.

Shelters have different policies on how potential adopters are allowed to interact with their dogs, but by all means, try to interact with them in as many different contexts as possible.  Take them into a quiet side room if one is available; take them on a walk; play with them in a fenced yard; interact with them near other dogs; walk them through a people-filled lobby and see how they do.  The shelter I work in right now is very liberal about the things potential adopters can do with our dogs: they can go on car rides, they can go on outings and hikes, they can do sleepovers, etc. Other shelters I’ve worked in have let potential adopters ‘check out’ a dog for a few hours and take them on a hike.  Find out all the things the shelter is willing to let you do, and then try to do all of them! Knowledge is power: the more information you have on how your potential dog acts in new situations, the better you’ll be able to determine if the dog is the right fit for you.

Any other do’s and don’ts you would like to add? Do so in the comments!

Adopting From a Shelter: Go in with a Plan!

chloe

Chloe, a former shelter dog on her way to a new beginning.

You have finally made the decision.  You’re going to get a dog!  The first place you head out to is the local shelter and there you are confronted by dogs of all sizes and shapes.  Any one of those amazing dogs could be yours just for the asking!

A tiny older Chihuahua huddles in the back of his kennel, looking up at you with big eyes.  “That one!” you think.  “I would love a small lap dog.”

In the next kennel, a young pit bull jumps up against the bars when you get close, his whole body wiggling with energy, his tail going a mile a minute, flashing you that great big bully smile.  “That one!” you think.  “I love his energy.  I’d love to come home to that sort of excitement.”

In the next kennel, a small Border collie mix is turning in circles, barking madly.  She hasn’t even noticed your arrival.  “That one!” you think.  “She’s beautiful and has so much energy!”

In a kennel further down sits an old Lab, her muzzle grey, her eyes rheumy.  “That one!” you think.  “She’s so sad.  She needs me.”

Each of those faces, so very different from one another, are just some of the dogs you’re likely to come across in a shelter.  There are dogs of every size, breed, and mix in shelters in America.  There are purebreds and mixed breeds, puppies, adults, and seniors alike, all looking for a great new home, all hoping you’re going to be the one to take them home and love them for the remainder of their lives, whether it’s 16 years or 6 months.

I will say this about shelters: It is very easy to fall in love there.  But it is also very easy to fall in love with the wrong dog.

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Normal Ain’t Easy: How My Dog Got Her CGC

Yesterday an event that has been preoccupying me since, oh, early 2008 finally took place. Yesterday my dog Lucy earned her Canine Good Citizen certification. High five, buddy.

Hello world! I’m a genius!

Now, in the grand array of potential titles available in dogdom, the CGC is actually a pretty minor thing. It’s a test that the AKC runs to test what are essentially basic manners: the question is not so much “is your dog special?”, it’s “is your dog normal?” Can your dog live in the world as it’s currently structured without too much hassle or annoyance to anyone else? While the test is foundational for going on to do therapy work, competitive obedience, etc, it is, on paper, not very hard to get. Many dogs get it right out of the gate, and indeed, at our test last night, there were several confident, sassy little dogs just out of puppyhood who sailed through the test with no apparent problems. For a variety of reasons, my dog was not a dog who was ever destined to sail through it, and in fact, our path to the CGC took the better part of four years. In that time, I have learned a tremendous amount, and what I have learned was not simply how to train my own personal dog to pass a test: I have learned a lot about the complexity of what we ask of modern dogs, the complex stigma that surrounds dogs who, for whatever reason, do not easily adapt to the way we live now and the ways in which we both drastically and subtlety shape the fates of animals whose lives intersect with our own. I have also learned a tremendous amount about fear: how it presents, how to vector it off in the direction of more positive emotions, and how we make it worse. I’ve learned to how to respect the emotional life of a member of another species, and I’ve learned, in a rudimentary way, how to speak another language. And when I look at the little blue and yellow dongle on my dog’s collar, that is what I think about. But more on that in a minute.
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