Category Archives: Dog Selection

The Joy of an Uncomplicated Dog

Mischief is an amazingly uncomplicated dog. This worried me when I adopted her. Would I be bored? Would the anxiety issues of my other two dogs create issues for her? Would living with Layla be fair to her? And again, would I be bored?

Photo by Laura Caldwell

I’m very used to fixing dogs. Putting together behavior plans, working on carefully structured protocols, and keeping track of triggers and threshold distance have become second nature for me. I love special dogs. Reactive dogs, fearful dogs, anxious dogs, excitable dogs, aggressive dogs, and misunderstood dogs of all sorts have a special place in my heart. An uncomplicated dog? A just-plain-doggy dog? Now that was confusing!

And yet, I’m kind of getting used to the idea of not fixing. Of just… being. This isn’t to say that Mischief is perfect. She can be environmentally sensitive, and still struggles with mild separation and light-chasing issues. However, these aren’t issues that require more than the tiniest bit of management and awareness. Issues that a normal pet owner could readily deal with. Issues that, well, aren’t really an issue.

Mischief is uncomplicated. She’s sweet and joyful. She likes dogs and people. She likes my other dogs. She likes me. And I kind of like all of this.

I just dropped her off at daycare. She was happy to go – she enjoys hanging out with the other dogs. We walked calmly into the building. She checked in with me every few steps, just a little glance, a wiggle, and a quick wag of her stump. She kept her leash loose after one reminder, a quiet “this way” on my part. When she was let in with the other dogs, she greeted everyone calmly and sweetly with polite sniffing, then settled beside an elderly Golden Retriever. No drama, no fuss. Just… easy.

I love Layla and Dobby with all my heart. I love them for who they are, flaws and all. But I’m finding that I also love Mischief for her simpleness. Everyone needs a little lightness and joy in their life. Not worrying is liberating. An uncomplicated dog isn’t boring after all, but rather relaxing. Like a cool breeze on a muggy summer day, Mischief is just what I need.

Photo by Clara Yori

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Filed under Choosing a Dog, Dog Selection, Mischief, Rescue

Listening to Your Heart

I recently adopted a puppy.

I wasn’t looking for a third dog. I have my hands full with Layla and Dobby, who both have behavioral issues that require a large amount of training and management. In fact, there were a lot of really great reasons why I shouldn’t have adopted this dog, and I argued with myself about them for weeks. And yet, somehow, she ended up staying.

That’s right. Not only is this puppy nothing like my other dogs in personality or appearance, she’s also a female. Layla doesn’t have a problem with female puppies, but often dislikes adult female dogs. And yet, somehow, I kept this puppy anyway. Where many, many foster puppies have come and gone, she came and stayed.

I’m not generally an impulsive person. I have a life plan, a careful budget, and definite “rules” about when I felt I would be ready to bring a third dog home (hint: it wasn’t for another five years or so). Mischief came home and turned all of this upside-down within a few short weeks. Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine life without her. She smoothed into our household as if she’d always been here.

Was keeping her the right choice? I don’t know. Only time will tell. However, I do know that I haven’t felt this depth of connection since I met Layla. I felt the same instant, inexplicable tug with baby Layla, and couldn’t imagine my life without her. Layla’s brought me on an incredible journey. It certainly hasn’t been easy, and there have been times where I’ve felt like I was in over my head. I cared for Dobby from the start, but it took nearly a year to develop that deeper connection with him that happened instantly with both girls. I can remember looking at Dobby as he snuggled in my arms one morning months after I’d adopted him and thinking, “You’re my dog now.”

So’s Mischief. She’s my dog now, and so far the four of us are getting along splendidly. Here’s hoping that my heart was as smart as my head. I’m not used to listening to it, but when it spoke up so strongly I could do nothing else.

Welcome home, puppy.

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Filed under Choosing a Dog, Dobby, Dog Selection, Layla, Mischief, Rescue

Introducing Layla’s dog, Dobby

A couple posts ago, I wrote about the possibility of adopting my current foster dog because Layla loved him. It’s official – Dobby (formerly Boots) is now a member of the family! I wanted to share how I went about the decision-making process, and what’s in store for the future with my expanded canine family.
This certainly wasn’t an easy decision, and I really agonized over what to do. My biggest two concerns were whether Layla would continue to love this dog so much as he matured, and whether he would really be happy living with us.

 

Whether the dogs will continue to get along is still a concern of mine, and I believe it’s a valid one. This is almost entirely due to Dobby’s age – somewhere between 12-18 months. In other words, not completely mature. It’s not uncommon for dogs, especially Terrier-type dogs, to become more dog selective as they age. This is a possibility I have to face with adopting a younger dog. However, my other option (a puppy from a breeder) was no more likely to continue to get along with Layla than Dobby was. Actually, since Layla has never liked another dog this way, I would say that the possibility of a great match was actually worse with a puppy than with Dobby. At least with Dobby, we had a solid foundation to start with. If Layla’s past behavior with foster puppies is any indication, she would absolutely hate a puppy to begin with. She would likely grow to accept the puppy and even begin playing with him on occasion, but her default would be bare tolerance. Here at least, the two dogs have a history of affiliative behavior to build from.

Whether Dobby will be happy living with us was another concern of mine. Frankly, I’m not the best home for a fearful dog. I foster other dogs. I take my dogs everywhere with me. I’m a complete clutz, and frequently trip on things, stub my toes, cut myself, fall over, and sometimes yell or swear while doing it all. My dogs don’t have the luxury of hiding in my house and yard and never leaving – they’re exposed to multiple environments through dog classes, hikes, friend’s houses, seminars, and trials.

However, I think Dobby can handle this. He has come out of his shell during his time with Layla and I. He’s still fearful, and is actually becoming more reactive as he becomes less shut down. But he’s trying. He tries so hard that my heart hurts for him sometimes. Unlike Layla, who’s completely out for #1, I feel like Dobby actually does want to please me. He desperately craves praise and is easily crushed if he feels I’m displeased with him. He’s butter-soft, but he’s also willing to try over and over again if I ask him to. This is both good and bad. It’s oh-so-easy to reward him, because even a smile has reinforcement value for him. On the flip side, I have to be careful not to allow petty disappointments or frustration to travel down the leash when things don’t go as planned, or he becomes frantically obsequious.

I’ve been surprised at how very attached I’ve become to this little dog in such a short time. His relationship with Layla has something to do with it. I will never get tired of watching the two of them play or curl up and nap together. Layla has never had a dog friend like this, and I love to see her so joyful and content. She’s like the cat who got into the cream – self-satisfied to the point of gloating. Dobby can do things to her that no other dog would get away with, and the two of them have a wonderful relationship. There are the usual hiccups of any relationship – some mild guarding, the occasional snark when play gets too rough – but for the most part, these two dogs are pals.

Not all of my relationship with this little dog comes from his ties to Layla, though. I’ve discovered that Dobby is earnest, soulful, and affectionate. He snuggles himself into an impossibly small little ball on the bed, as if afraid if he takes up too much room he’ll get in trouble. (Layla, on the other paw, takes up as much space as possible, and is not afraid to use her sharp toenails as “incentive” to push her bedmates aside if she feels she’s not getting her fair share of the space.) In the mornings, he looks at me with the softest, happiest eyes and snuggles in closer, sighing in contentment.

Photo by Megan Nelson

When we train, he tries so, so hard to figure out what I want. He’s thoughtful and careful during shaping, in total contrast to Layla’s wild gyrations. He still flinches sometimes when I move too quickly or speak too loudly, but is learning to enjoy touch. He no longer flattens to the floor or urinates in fear, and can move through doorways without crawling. He’s still terrified of new men, but has made friends with my father and a guy friend of mine and desperately wants to connect. His initial contact with new people is often done crawling on his stomach, tail tucked, but he initiates the contact in spite of his fear.

So, where to next?

I’ve decided not to have any expectations of Dobby, beyond being a good pet. I want him to be happy with Layla and I, and I want him to be well-trained enough that he is a pleasure to be around. Beyond that, it’s his call. We’ll dabble in dog sports to see what he likes – weight pulling, disc, agility, CFF freestyle, and rally are all available to him if he so chooses – but whether we ever compete is his call. I’ll keep insisting (gently) that he expand his horizons by taking him to new places and introducing him to new people, but if he never becomes a social butterfly that’s also okay by me. We’ll work on his reactivity issues, so that hopefully someday I can walk him and Layla together (I think they’d both really enjoy that). I haven’t discounted the possibility of anxiety meds for him, and if we hit a wall we’ll discuss the possibility with our vet. For now though, he’s making progress and doing okay.

Welcome home, little Dobby. I think you’re going to like it here.

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Filed under Choosing a Dog, Dobby, Dog Selection, Layla, Other Dogs, Rescue

Lessons from Luke: Why the “No-Kill” Movement Hurts Dogs

[In respect of the privacy for all involved, names have been changed.]

I want to tell you a story. This is a true story, and it is not a nice one. But it’s a story that needs to be told, and we owe it to Luke to tell it.

Luke (name changed) is a two-year-old mixed breed. He was adopted from a rescue a year ago by his family, Ann and Joe. Ann and Joe are a young couple who wanted to do the right thing and give a loving forever home to a homeless dog. They met Luke and found him to be cute and friendly, so they adopted him.

Right from the start, there were some red flags. The groomer told Ann that Luke tried to bite her when she was brushing his hind end and trimming his nails. She recommended that Ann get Luke in training right away. At home, Luke guarded food and bones. After asking around, Ann found my business on a co-worker’s recommendation. She signed Luke up for Beginning Obedience classes, and she and Joe worked with him religiously. Luke proved to be an eager learner, quickly picking up not only basic obedience commands but several adorable tricks. He loved the clicker, and was both cute and smart – a winning combination! The family graduated from class easily.

Two weeks after graduation, Luke had an upset stomach. When Ann went to clean some diarrhea off his hind end feathering, he whipped around and bit her, breaking skin. She was frightened by this sudden change in his behavior, and didn’t know how to respond. Hurt and upset, she grabbed Luke and forced him onto his back, telling him “no.” She held him there until he stopped trying to bite her, then cleaned her wound and emailed her obedience instructor.

The instructor advised Ann to hire me for a private consult. Together, Ann, Joe, and I came up with a plan to avoid provoking Luke in the future. We discussed what to do in the event of a slip-up (and bite) – Ann felt horrible about rolling Luke, and understood why that wasn’t the appropriate response. She and Joe began working on desensitization exercises with Luke, teaching him to allow them to touch his hind end, tail, and feet without becoming upset. They hired me to groom Luke whenever he needed a bath or toenail trim.

I found Luke to be a challenge to groom. After one bite to the meaty part of my hand which broke skin and bruised severely, I began using an e-collar (aka “the cone of shame”) to groom him. Because Luke did not give much warning prior to biting (he would freeze for less than half a second,t hen whip around), the cone allowed me to feel safe working with him without freaking him out like a muzzle would. The cone would block his access to my hands and arms. During grooming, I gave Luke frequent food rewards for good behavior and frequent breaks. He learned the rule structure, and we were able to keep everyone safe.

During one grooming session, I noticed a round growth just below Luke’s eye. I advised Ann & Joe to get this checked out, and it was ultimately removed and biopsied. The growth was not cancerous. Luke was a difficult patient and had to be completely sedated in order to have the sutures under his eye removed.

Over the course of several months, Luke’s behavior grew more and more concerning. He bit several people, and his triggers could not be identified. Sometimes he bit when touched on the head or neck. Sometimes he enjoyed being touched on the head and neck. Sometimes he bit when a hand was just moving near him. Sometimes when he was touched on the hind end. Sometimes after several minutes of petting. Sometimes immediately upon being pet. Sometimes before he was pet. Oftentimes, these bites happened after he solicited petting. His body language would change in an instant from soft and wiggly to stiff and threatening, and he continued to give little to no warning (just that half second of stiffening up/freezing) prior to biting. Other than these occasional bites, Luke continued to be lovely – very affiliative, funny, cute, and playful. He loved to show off his tricks and had a blast with his family in a Beginning Agility class. 99.5% of the time, he was a great little dog.

Unfortunately, that other 0.5% of the time, Luke was a very unsafe dog. Due to his hard bites, lack of warning, and lack of definable triggers, he was a ticking time bomb. After sending Joe to the ER with a severe bite to the hand (which happened when he was snapping Luke’s leash on, which had never before been an issue), Joe and Ann made the difficult decision to euthanize Luke. They had worked with him religiously for a year. They had done everything right. They had been patient, fair, and done their homework. They had provided boundaries in the form of the “Nothing in Life is Free” program and had spent hours training, walking, and playing with Luke. Luke was not placeable in a new home as he would be a danger to any new adopter, and Ann & Joe were planning to have a child in the next couple years. My vet came to their home and Luke died at the age of three. He was dearly loved and he is missed. We all cried over him. The vet’s comment to me was that Luke was “a scary dog,” even with sedatives on board. 

Luke’s story, while devastating to his family, is sadly not unusual in our area. Luke is just one of many examples I have personally seen. While I am a huge supporter of rescue organizations, Luke and dogs like him are the reason that I do not support “no kill” shelters or rescues.

The idea of a “no kill” shelter is a great one, on the surface of things. However, many of these organizations do not assess the dogs they place prior to adopting them out. Not all dogs should be placed, and I believe it is the responsibility of the rescue to be every bit as humane to the community as they are to the animals they rescue. Luke’s issues were such that they would have been discovered on any one of the many behavior evaluations available to rescuers. These issues were there from the start, and the adopters were not responsible. Yes, they made mistakes as well, but they did everything they could to fix a problem they should not have faced to begin with.

Here’s the problem with not assessing dogs, or adopting out dogs with known issues. If we adopt out unsafe dogs, all shelter dogs ultimately pay the price. People need to feel that the very best place to go to get a wonderful dog is their local rescue or shelter. This will only happen if the rescues and shelters are adopting out safe, friendly animals. When rescues adopt out borderline dogs (or worse, truly unsafe dogs like Luke), people talk about it. The adopters’ friends and family comment on how much trouble they have had with that “horrible” dog they got from XYZ Rescue. When these people then decide to get a dog, they go to craigslist, internet puppy mills, or people who advertise litters in the newspaper, because they don’t want to “risk” getting a rescue dog. They have seen how much their friend/relative struggled with that rescue dog, and don’t want to go through the same heartache.

Manny is still being offered for adoption after severely injuring another dog. How many resources will be spent on him when behaviorally healthy dogs in our area impounds are still being euthanized for space?

How many homes do we lose to rescue for each borderline dog who is adopted out? How many backyard breeders do we drive people to? How many wonderful matches between homeless dog and adopter are lost? How many professional dog trainers with no kids and no other pets do you really know who are looking to take on a “project” dog?

I’m not saying that shelters should kill all dogs who don’t present absolutely perfect on assessment. Many, many issues are very workable. By all means, get that dog into foster care with an experienced foster family who will work with it! But please, don’t adopt out a dog who’s known to be unsafe. Please, assess all dogs prior to offering them up for adoption. Yes, even puppies. Yes, even that quiet senior who does nothing but sleep. There are lots of great formal assessments available to shelters now: SAFER, Assess-a-Pet, Blue Dog, Amy Marder’s assessment. Pick one. Use it. Ask yourself, “Is this a dog I would want to live with?”

As rescuers, we owe it to the public to be as humane towards them as we are towards the animals we serve. Luke’s story is not unusual in our area, but someday maybe it will be. Just imagine how much better the world would be if our community believed that the very best place to go to get a dog was the local shelter… and if they were right.

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Filed under Choosing a Dog, Dog Selection, Other Dogs, Rescue, Training

In Which Layla Wants a Dog

I should know never to state things as absolute, since the universe has a habit of making me eat those words.

You may recall me posting, “It’s very clear to me that I am not getting a dog for Layla. She doesn’t want a dog. She wants to be The Only Dog and continue in her role as Queen of the Universe.” a few months back.

Yeah, about that.

Well, Layla has decided she does want a dog. In particular, she wants to keep my current foster dog, Bootstrap Bill Turner (Boots). How do I know this? It’s been a long time since I’ve seen her this enamored of a dog. The first day Boots came, she played with him for over three hours off and on, which is longer than she played with my previous foster, Manny, total, the entire time he lived with us. Their play was lovely, too. It never got too ramped up, and they took frequent, appropriate breaks. Their play style is highly compatible, with lots of “tag” type play and gentle mouth wrestling.

Since then, things have only improved. They play on a daily basis, and their play continues to be lovely to watch. They frequently lie together on the couch, stretched full out, with just their heads moving as they gently mouth wrestle. It’s incredibly rare for Layla to be this relaxed with a dog. There are very few instances of resource guarding between the two, and when things get a bit tense (such as when Boots accidentally hurts her infected ear, or when Layla gets guardy over a tug toy) they are able to work it out without intervention from me. Most telling to me is the fact that Layla chooses to spend most of her time hanging out with Boots. This is a big deal, because Layla is a very independent and private dog who usually chooses to be in a different room from the rest of the household. I would venture to say that she likes me quite a bit, but even with me she doesn’t spend a lot of time just hanging out by my side. Right now she and Boots are curled up on opposite ends of the couch like little bookends. This morning when I came home from work, Layla was sleeping in her open crate, right next to Boots (who was closed in a crate).

Below are some videos of Layla & Boots interacting. The first video (outside) was taken the first afternoon he arrived. The second (inside) was taken this morning.

So, what’s the problem? Frankly, I like Boots too. But I don’t think he’s the right dog for me. He’s profoundly neophobic, and I don’t think it will be fair to him to ask him to do dog sports. I don’t think he’d enjoy himself.

So, let’s review what I’m looking for in a dog, as it compares to Boots:

  • Male. Yes. Boots was intact when he was pulled from the pound, but has since been neutered.
  • 12-45 pounds. Yes. Boots is between 25-30 pounds.
  • Short haired. Yes. Boots has a lovely soft, short, silky coat.
  • Strong preference for sighthound or terrier type dog. Yes. Boots is a mutt. I’m calling him a Lesser Patagonian Pouncer. He may have some Boston Terrier, Whippet, or even Pit Bull in his background. Behavior-wise, he has many terrier traits.
  • Moderate drive. Yes. While he has quite a bit of toy drive, it is very easily channeled and he is quickly learning to “out” on cue. He has less food than toy drive, but can switch back and forth if I use high-value treats. His food drive is increasing as he’s learning that food isn’t available to graze 24/7. He has lots of play drive, and will play with or without a toy around. I find him easy to motivate without being over-the-top.
  • No strong preference as to age, except in the case of a rescue dog with an unknown background in which case he should be at least 2 years, preferably 3 or older. No. Boots is young, probably 10-18 months. I also believe that he will mature to be dog selective, as I see glimmers of dog selectivity in him now (and he is still quite young).
  • Good with people, especially children. No. While not aggressive, he is very fearful of new people. This is not a dog I would take to busy public events, as he wouldn’t enjoy himself.
  • Good physical structure for dog sports. Yes. He’s gorgeous!
  • Outgoing and confident. No. He is profoundly neophobic and startles easily.

Six out of nine yes answers sounds promising, but do these categories have equal weight? I don’t believe so. For example, a short coat is less important to me than a dog who is good with people and easily managed around other dogs.

Boots self-stacks

What are the pros and cons of keeping this particular dog?

Pros: Layla hearts him!  He is built well, and is unlikely to have chronic pain issues related to his structure, even with more intense physical demands such as dog sports like disc or agility. He is a breed type I enjoy, and is easily focused and engaged in training games. He learns quickly. He is easily motivated. Once given time to acclimate to an environment, he bounces back from stresses quickly. He is able to relax and be quiet at home. He is easy to interrupt and redirect when needed. He can be handled all over his body and shows no resource guarding. When frightened, he chooses to freeze or move away rather than to aggress. He has appropriate dog-dog play skills. He is statistically less likely to have genetic health problems due to his mixed breed hertiage.

Cons: He is very neophobic. It often takes 5-10 minutes in a new environment before he is able to eat, because he is initially too stressed. He is frightened of new people, especially men. He can be hand-shy, especially with new people. He will likely mature to be dog selective. Layla may not always love him as much as she does now, depending on what he grows up to be like with other dogs. Because he is shut down in new environments, it’s impossible to tell at this time what sort of reactivity issues may develop down the road. He is currently reactive to dogs and people behind barriers (my fence, the window) and slightly reactive on leash. He may be a candidate for anxiety medications, but I may not be comfortable having 100% of my dogs on meds long-term. He may look too Pitty for my landlord, who discriminates against certain breeds (this could likely be fought with a DNA panel, but these are expensive).

Moving

As things stand right now, I am going to continue fostering Boots and see how his concerning behaviors progress with some training and counterconditioning. He is currently taking a Beginning Obedience class and I am focusing on taking him out on several field trips a week, where we watch people from a distance and he eats treats. Regardless of my final decision about him (which I am putting off until I see his progress), I am confident that he will leave my care more prepared for the world at large and will be made more adoptable by his stay with me. I am still on the waiting list for a puppy from a breeder next summer.

So, what would you do? Would you adopt a dog for your dog? Would you adopt a dog who did not completely fit your lifestyle, knowing that said dog would still have a good life but may encounter added stress?

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Filed under Choosing a Dog, Dog Selection, Layla, Other Dogs, Rescue

The Minnesota White-Toed Chipmunk Dog

(Note: As I reread this prior to posting, I realized that it may sound bitter to those who don’t know me. So if you’re reading this and are not familiar with me, please read this post with the feel of barely-contained laughter and a good dose of sarcasm in your mind!)

The Minnesota White-Toed Chipmunk Dog

Let’s talk about breeds!

Specifically, let’s talk about a brand new breed, the Minnesota White-Toed Chipmunk Dog.

The Minnesota White-Toed Chipmunk dog (henceforth referred to as the MNWTCD to save my broken hand), is a medium-sized, high-drive breed who was established for the purpose of chipmunk control. The official breed standard is below.

General Appearance  The MNWTCD is an intelligent working dog of strong predatory instincts. She is a loyal companion dog with the stamina to work all day. She is well balanced, fine boned, of medium size, with moderate muscling all over. She is attentive and animated, lithe and agile, with a fine, smooth coat that repels dirt. Her tail is carried high over her back, and her overall expression is one of vibrant intelligence and curiosity.

Size, Proportion, Substance  The preferred height for males is 18-20″, females 17-19″. Weight should be 30-35lbs for males, and 27-32lbs for females. Quality is not to be sacrified in favor of size. The impression should be of a well-balanced, square dog. Length from forechest to buttocks equal to or slightly greater than height at withers.

Head  Keen, alert expression, full of life and intelligence. Eyes: round or oval in shape, not protruding. Dark in color. Ears: Small “V”-shaped drop ears of moderate thickness carried forward close to the head with the tip so as to cover the orifice. Fold is slightly above the top of the skull. When alert, ear tips extend to be even with the eye. Skull: of moderate length and breadth, fairly wide between the ears, narrowing slightly towards the eyes. Stop should be well defined but not prominant. Jaw: powerful, without coarseness. Nose: must be black and fully pigmented. Teeth: of upper jaw should fit closely over teeth of lower jaw, creating a scissors bite. Teeth should be white and strong. One lower incisor to stick out slightly, in such a way as to benefit chipmunk ‘snagging’. Faults: weak or coarse head; light, blue, or yellow eye;  missing teeth. Disqualifications: prick or hound ears. Unpigmented or underpigmented nose leather. Overshot or undershot mouth.  Lack of protruding lower (“chipmunk-snagging”) incisor.

Neck, Topline, Body  Neck: long, clean, strong, and muscular, widening gracefully into the top of the shoulder. Topline: strong, running smoothly from the withers with a slight natural arch, not too accentuated, beginning over the loin and carrying through over the croup, with a slight dip behind shoulder blades. There is a definite tuckup of the underline. Brisket moderately deep, reaching nearly but not quite to the elbow. Ribs: well sprung but with no suggestion of barrel shape. Tail: long, carried level with the topline when at rest and over the back in a gentle curve when alert. Excessive curliness of the tail or low tail set to be considered a disqualifying fault.

Forequarters  The elbow should point neither in nor out, but straight back. Forelegs straight, giving appearance of strength and substance of bone. Joints turn neither in nor out. Both front and rear feet must be well formed. Nails strong and of moderate length. Front dewclaws should be present, strong, and positioned close to the leg. Dewclaws should be well connected to the leg, and should not be loose or floppy.

Hindquarters  Strong and powerful. The thighs are broad and muscular, smoothly molded, with long flat muscles that carry well down toward the hock. Feet as in front. No rear dewclaws.

Coat  Short, close, smooth and firm in texture, slightly thicker over the spine and along the tail. Any other coat shall be a disqualification. Old scars and injuries, the result of work or accident, should not be allowed to prejudice the dog’s chance in the show ring.

Color  Seal, black, or copper, with small white markings on the chin or chest permissable. Back toes should be white (to aid in spotting the dog from a distance in dark environments), front toes should be solid (to hide the appearance of dirt from digging up chipmunks). Faults: white markings on front toes or lack of markings on back toes. Excessive markings on chin or chest. Disqualifications: any color not listed, total lack of white markings on feet.

Gait  Free moving and animated, with reach in the forequarters and strong drive in the hindquarters. A tireless ground covering trot. The action is straight in front and rear.

Temperament  Keen intelligence and an independent spirit are hallmarks of the breed. It is in the MNWTCD’s nature to be loyal and loving with her family, but reserved and discerning with strangers. Alert, vigilant, devoted, and curious. Highly territorial, serving as a responsive companion and natural guardian. Very vocal, persistent, tenacious. Faults: extreme shyness, viciousness. Note: this breed is naturally reserved in new situations and around new people, and this trait should not be considered shyness.  

Self-stacking

Other than me, who would want this dog? Note that the official standard doesn’t mention the pre-disposition towards allergies or urinary incontinence issues that runs in this breed. There is no mention of health testing, or of working trials. How do you know if your MNWTCD is a good chipmunker? Well, function follows form – if you believe the breed clubs who write the standards. If your dog has white on her back toes but not on the front, and the chipmunk-snagging lower incisor that sticks out, and is the right size with the right ear set… then by god, she must be a good chipmunk hunter!

Of course, this is all absolutely ridiculous. 

Or is it?

Wait, isn’t this exactly how we judge every single breed at AKC conformation shows? How is this not crazy? What am I missing? And who wants to be added to the waiting list for a Minnesota White-Toed Chipmunk Dog puppy of your own?

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Filed under Breeding, Choosing a Dog, Dog Selection, Genetics, Layla

Choosing a dog… for Layla?

I’m still planning to post on choosing a dog from a shelter, but wanted to talk a bit more about my own personal search for a dog, and how that will likely impact Layla. This is a subject that has a large part of the blog-reading dog community in an uproar right now, due to Patricia McConnell’s recent posts about her dogs Willie and Hope (which you can read here and here).

Layla and her friend Gentle Ben. Ben was probably the best companion dog for Layla to ever live with us.

Layla is not the ideal dog for a multi-dog household. In fact, I think if asked she would much prefer to be the only dog for the rest of her life, thankyouverymuch. She’s pushy, a resource guarder (food, toys, and locations), and quick to spark up. When she gets into a fight or goes after another dog, she tends to break skin, although she doesn’t do major damage (small scratches or a single small puncture are typical). She does a lot of posturing, her play skills have deteriorated over the past few years, and her back/neck issues (most likely caused by two herniated discs) put her at risk of re-injury during a scuffle or wild play. Easy to match up, she is not. That said, she is fairly easy to manage provided I listen to what she’s telling me and provide plenty of structure.

I’m not an easy owner to match to a dog either. For one thing, I’m not immediately attracted to the best prospects. Broken dogs fascinate me. Show me a 12-year-old, three legged, one-eyed, epileptic Pit Bull who obsesses over window blinds and has fear issues with people touching his tail, and I’ll slap the money for an adoption fee down right this instant. I want to save the world, and I have a special place in my heart for seniors and dogs with medical issues who no one else wants. On top of that, I find behavior fascinating, especially abnormal behavior. Did I mention that I also want to do dog sports and have a strong bias against biddable breeds? You see where there could be a problem here.

Looking at my situation, I decided to write up two lists. First, I made a list for Layla. If Layla could choose our next dog (and remaining an only dog wasn’t an option), which qualities would she require and which would she want? Then, if I didn’t have Layla and could have any dog in the world, what qualities would I require and which would I want? Our lists looked something like this:

Layla’s ideal dog: must be male, preferably intact. Would prefer an older adult or senior. Needs to be medium-sized: toy or teacup breeds could be in danger due to her high prey drive, and large or giant breeds could put her more at risk for re-injuring her back. A calm but very self-assured dog would be best (a natural leader). Must not be confrontational about resources. A dog with a similar play style (chase and be chased) would be best. Breed-wise, Layla prefers Pit Bulls, likely because she was very well socialized to Pits as a young dog. She also seems to like most sighthounds we’ve met. She prefers not to be touched by other dogs.

Layla and Pugsley Hill take a breather during a play session. Pugs was a great friend for Layla, but would not have been a good housemate as he resource guarded food from other dogs.

My ideal dog: would be female. I like confident, outgoing, and very intelligent dogs, which usually also means a dog who is a bit pushy, manipulative, and quick to take advantage of a situation. I prefer dogs who think for themselves rather than waiting to be told what to do, and who have a sense of humor (even if that sense of humor means that I am often the butt of a joke!). The dog should have pretty high food, toy, and chase drive. While Layla is not a cuddly dog, I’m very tactile and love dogs who melt into my lap. I like unusual dogs and don’t want to be another person who gets a clone-copy Border Collie to do dog sports with. It’s important to me that my next dog be safe around all people (including children) and will be tolerant of other dogs on leash, as I would like a dog who I can use for dog training demos. I do NOT want to have to do major grooming, so need a dog who is wash’n’wear. I prefer smaller dogs simply because they’re cheaper to feed and vet, but do not want a dog who is so small that I worry about stepping on it or having it fill up too quickly when using food rewards for training.

After looking at these lists, I was able to better put together a list of the qualities that my next dog should have:

  • Male (Layla wins this one. I strongly believe opposite-sex pairings are safer and less likely to have issues down the road.)
  • 12-45 pounds (We agreed on this point!)
  • Short haired, may consider rough wire-type coat if not overly heavy (Layla has no preference to coat type that I know of, and I don’t want to groom. This was an easy one.)
  • Strong preference for sighthound or terrier type dog (Layla and I both like sighthounds. I like terriers. She likes Pit Bulls, but my landlord’s insurance doesn’t allow them. Honestly, both sighthounds and terriers can be more likely to spark back at a dog, so I could be getting myself in trouble here by choosing a breed type less known to be tolerant of other dogs. This is where a careful evaluation of the individual dog, thoughtful integration into my household, and a dose of luck will come in.)
  • Moderate drive (Too high drive increases the likelihood of resource guarding issues between the two dogs, but I also need a dog who can be motivated for the sake of training. With the Premack principle on my side, as well as knowledge of the principles of shaping, I would hope that I can increase my chosen dog’s drive for food/toys if that becomes necessary.)
  • No strong preference as to age, except in the case of a rescue dog with an unknown background in which case he should be at least 2 years, preferably 3 or older. (Dog-dog tolerance levels tend to change as a dog matures, and a younger dog could mature to be less social than originally thought. Many game dogs do not really “turn on” to other dogs until eighteen to twenty-four months. There is likely a genetic component to this (although socialization experiences also influence the final result). The last thing we need is for the dog to mature just as dog-selective as Layla!)

It’s very clear to me that I am not getting a dog for Layla. She doesn’t want a dog. She wants to be The Only Dog and continue in her role as Queen of the Universe. She doesn’t like fostering either, but I ask her to allow me to foster dogs on occasion. That said, I think that she does enjoy hanging out with certain other dogs, and there are even dogs who she enjoys playing with. We recently fostered a hound mix puppy who she really did seem to enjoy after the initial 48-hour adjustment period, and she seemed a bit depressed after he was adopted. She has also successfully lived with Duke, whose dog skills are very deficient, as well as fosters of different ages (although adults have always been males). If I didn’t believe that she would adjust to a second dog, I may not consider adding to our family.

What about your canine household? In what ways do you take your current dog(s) into consideration when planning to add to the pack? Do you and your dog(s) agree about which qualities you would prefer in another dog, and if not, in what ways do you compromise? I still plan to post about what I personally look for in a shelter or rescue organization, but may also write more about managing our canine household (including my views on fostering and how foster dogs are different than Forever dogs) or Layla’s specific dog-dog tolerance level if they’re topics that interest people.

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Filed under Breeding, Choosing a Dog, Dog Selection, Layla, Rescue