July 24, 2011

Raising a puppy ~ Training a dog

Posted in dog ownership, dog training tagged , at 1:47 pm by Angie Hilbert

What do Cesar Millan, Tamar Geller, the Monks of New Skete, and John Bradshaw all have in common?

Not as much as you’d expect!

If you think raising and educating children is a complex and divisive subject, just look at the diversity of advice on raising and training a dog! It is very easy to get confused, not know who to trust, and throw it all away in frustration and just try to muddle through on your own.

But don’t.

There is a story about an unusually thoughtful, remarkably intelligent, and uniquely compassionate young American college student. He spent a summer seeking enlightenment in a zen temple in Japan, living, working, and meditating with the monks there. After a few months, he went home depressed and even suicidal.

When the abbot was asked about it, he said simply that the young man had become depressed when he discovered that he was actually quite ordinary. He left his study in confusion and discouragement, deciding he was too far from enlightenment to ever reach it in this lifetime.

He had stayed long enough to realize there was nothing unusual, remarkable, or unique about him at all. But he didn’t stay long enough to discover that was an important step bringing him closer to enlightenment.

So what has this to do with preparing for the arrival of my furry bundle of joy? If you have read more than one book on dog ownership, you already know.

There are as many philosophies on raising a puppy as there are puppies. There are as many training methods as there are dogs. Finding good advice is both incredibly easy and profoundly difficult.

Cesar is all about dominance and leadership. Tamar Geller is the queen of anthropomorphism. The monks profess to follow the natural order, and John Bradshaw offers scientific information that raises more questions than it answers! Yet I have learned much from each of them.

Sometimes they contradict one another, other times they simply organize the same philosophies in different ways. Like the young American college student in the zen temple, if I had stopped too soon, I would have been depressed. If you read enough dog books, you will quickly arrive at the realization that none of them are ultimately “right.” (some will even directly or indirectly disparage one another.)

But it is in the persistence of learning and reading that each author starts to make their own sense within their own interpretation of the dog’s world. Each under the influence of their personal experience as dog handlers and as human beings.

Cesar raised himself up from his boot straps to a successful and respected “alpha-dog” in his profession against incredible odds. Tamar’s insight to the hearts of her dogs comes from her personal experience walking in a dog’s paw-steps as an abused second-class citizen. The monks find meaning and purpose in their own trusting and obedient relationship to God and find their dogs also experience love in a relationship based on trust and obedience. And John, as a man of science, has tirelessly explored everything science can tell us or explain to us about how our beloved dogs perceive and interpret the home environment we share.

I have studied them all long enough to be confused by the contradictory advice and competing philosophies.  But unlike the discouraged college student despairing of ever finding enlightenment, I have stayed with them to make sense of their separate wisdoms and hope to apply it appropriately and compassionately to my relationship with Paka.

Don’t blindly follow a single philosophy of puppy-rearing and dog training. Fill your well of knowledge with everything you find. The more you learn, the more discerning you will be and the more information you will have to draw from in meeting the needs of your new family member.







July 4, 2011

Protecting Paka

Posted in dog ownership, dogs, pets, Tamaskan Dog tagged , , , at 10:56 am by Angie Hilbert

It may come as a shock to devoted pet-parents that pet insurance is not a form of health insurance at all. It is a form of property insurance.

Since I think of myself as a pet-parent and not a pet owner, that is a difficult idea to grasp. Legally speaking, my precious girl will be nothing more than chattel. Fortunately, though the law fails to protect or even recognize the “rights” of a pet, there are still legally binding ways of protecting our darling.

The cost of insuring precious property starts with the monetary value of the property. Then it considers the risks to that property. This cold-blooded calculation completely ignores how precious our dogs are to us personally but the protection against difficult financial choices and legal support if the “property” is threatened can be invaluable!

Much is made of the fact that pet insurance for pedigree dogs is more expensive than that of mixed breed dogs. The usual conclusion drawn from this fact, is that mixed breed dogs are so much healthier than pedigreed dogs. Actually, it’s not that simple.

Mixed breed dogs do incur far fewer vet bills. But it is not because their health is so much better. What makes the difference is that owners of pedigreed dogs are statistically more proactive in addressing the health of their pets  than the owners of mixed breed dogs.

This is not to say pedigreed are loved more or that owners of pedigreed dogs are better caretakers. That is clearly not the case. Instead it is a socioeconomic issue. Owners of pedigree dogs tend to have more discretionary income than owners of non-pedigreed dogs. Pedigreed pet-parents also tend to view vet care as “protecting their financial investment.” (back to that “property/chattel” thing again.) Indeed, many pet insurance companies also insure the dog for burial expenses, recovery expenses and even cover claims against a canceled vacation due to a dog’s needs! Pet insurance is not simply “health” insurance at all.

Seeking out and obtaining a pedigreed dog requires more time and money than visiting your local pet shelter for an adoption. Pedigree breeders usually strongly recommend (and a few may actually require) that prospective owners of their pups insure their dogs. Breeder sales contracts also often stipulate that certain health care and tests must be done to contribute to the breed health databases or else the sale is voided. It can be an intensive and expensive thing getting a pedigreed dog from a reputable breeder.

All this means that the pet-parents of mixed breed dogs are, statistically speaking, more likely to be in a lower income range than pedigreed pet-parents. The costs of more expensive treatments for canine illnesses tend to be farther out of their reach.

One of the biggest differences is in the risk of owning an “intact” dog. Sadly, the pet-parents of pedigreed dogs are statistically far less likely to have their dogs “fixed.” There is a rationalization that since the dog was so expensive and comes from such valuable blood-line, they should keep the dog intact “just in case” his/her genes are “needed” in a breeding program. There is also the lure of earning a quick stud fee or always being able to sell a few papered-puppies for a little extra cash if needed. There is little to tempt the owners of mixed breed dogs to keep their pets intact.

Shelter pets and mixed breeds are far more likely to be spayed or neutered. This not only dramatically reduces the risk of developing canine cancer, it makes a dog of either sex far less likely to escape, roam, get into fights or be involved in a car accident. (Why did the doggie cross the road? To get to the mating opportunity on the other side!)

And since pet insurance will limit or exclude coverage for genetic or inherited conditions any way (unless you pay a substantial additional fee, of course) there is little argument for the price difference in pet insurance premiums being because of the genetic superiority of the beloved mutt.  Add to that how pet insurance often covers claims for expenses involved in the recovery of a lost or stolen pet you can see how recovery is far more protracted and difficult for pedigree holders. Pedigreed dogs are far more likely to be reported lost while mixed breeds are more likely to be reported found. (Another good argument for microchiping your pet!)

The final, and darkest reason for an increase in pet insurance costs for pedigreed dogs is: puppy mills. The severe and unhealthy and stressful practices involved in milling dogs with the appropriate papers but without the appropriate health screenings are well known to cause most of the health problems attributed to pedigreed dogs. It’s not genetics. It’s unhealthy breeding practices.

Unlike a reputable breeder who participates in strict genetic testing and health screening before producing a single litter, the for-profit enterprises will invest nothing in health testing. The indiscriminate mating between untested dogs in squalid conditions are responsible for the reputation for unhealthy pedigreed dogs.

Sadly, many people seek a pedigreed dog based on price and convenience. The puppy-mills and turn-a-buck backyard breeders are happy to supply them to individuals and pet stores. This means a great many pedigreed dogs are actually imunosupressed, unsocialized, neurotic, relatively cheep and readily available. There is no way for a pet insurance company to discern between a pedigreed dog from a puppy mill and one from a reputable breeder so it drives up the cost of treating dogs that should never have been bred.

When it comes to our pedigreed Tamaskan Dog from J&J Kennels, Wayne and I are very lucky! We know the diverse blood lines of our pup’s parents, the results of the health testing, and the conditions our little Paka will be born into. So we are assured of her health and stability. But even though she will be a pedigreed dog, the Tamaskan is not yet recognized by the American Kennel Club. This means we can enjoy the mixed breed price break on her insurance while the Tamaskan breeding program in the USA becomes more firmly established. Who says you can’t have your cake and eat it too?

May 10, 2011

Who can you trust?

Posted in dog breed selection, dog ownership, dogs, pets, Tamaskan Dog tagged , at 8:43 pm by Angie Hilbert

Wayne and I fell in love with the Tamaskan breed of dog only to discover they are extremely rare with only 3,000 of them registered world-wide. Just to make things even more interesting, most of them are in Great Britain. There are only about 600 registered Tamaskans on the North American continent. Compare that to well over 60,000 registered golden retrievers in the USA alone and you begin to get an idea of how challenging it is to find one of these furry gems.

I spent several days researching breeders and kennels but the information was contradictory and confusing. The National Tamaskan Club of America and the American Tamaskan Club disavow one another and even the wikipedia notes page is a battleground. How does one sort it all out?

Fortunately, the Columbus All Breed Dog Training Club held it’s anual obedience trials recently. I went there to learn about showing and competition and just watch some great dogs. It was the perfect opportunity to talk to breeders and dog enthusiasts and ask their advice.

Sara Jenkens has bred Shetland Sheepdogs for over 20 years. In her opinion, “once you put a dog on the ground, as an ethical breeder, you are responsible for it the rest of it’s life.”
That means that if you can’t keep a dog, for whatever reason, most breeders will want “first response” to take the dog back before you try to re-home it or bring it to a shelter. She also suggests asking a breeder what he or she does for a living. Breeding the right way (keeping the mother healthy) and for the right reason (improving the breed overall) means the price of the pups will only subsidise the endeavor. Breeders don’t make a living off the breeding program. Sara warns that if you are talking to a breeder that breeds dogs for a living, you are probably talking to a puppy mill.

Even experienced breed enthusiasts find it challenging to find a good breeder.

“It’s difficult” says Janet Doerer, who shows “Chase” a champion Belgian Malinois. “You want someone with a lot of experience with your breed. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut. I almost made a mistake and got a dog from a puppy-mill.” She described the warning signs. “[The breeder] was pushy to make the sale, she had dogs on the ground with no waiting, She wanted to ship the dog to me rather than have me come get him.” Though another tactic is to let you come pick the dog up only after you have already sent all the money and can’t back out of the deal.

When I asked her the best way to find a good breeder she suggested I go through a rescue organization.
“Every breed has a rescue and the rescue organizations really know the breeders. You can trust them to guide you to a good one.”

And you can expect to wait. A good breeder will limit the number of litters and timing of litters from a dog to be sure she stays healthy. It takes a lot of consideration to select a stud dog that will help produce strong healthy pups that embody the desirable traits and characteristics of the breed while minimising any breed weaknesses and diversify blood lines. Ethical breeders struggle over these considerations and value judgements, weighing the pros and cons and wading through conflicting priorities to arrive at the best decisions for their dogs and the breed.
“I waited two years for Dash.” said Miranda Sykes. She was on the adoption list for a pup then had a change of life circumstance so she passed on the first litter. By the time the breeder was ready to breed her dogs again, it had been another year.

“You just have to go with mother nature.” She says.

But Miranda didn’t waste the time while she was waiting. To become familiar with the needs of the breed, she fostered dogs for the rescue organization while she waited.
Armed with the information from my new friends from the dog trials. I returned to my search. This time, I reviewed the Tamaskan websites and history again in light of what I had learned at the obedience trials. This time, it started to make sense.

The ethical breeders emerged and the puppy-mill I had considered showed it’s true colors just by the numbers of dogs of several breeds immediately available.

Even the agendas of the conflicting organizations became obvious once I started reading them through the lenses of breed history and watching for signs of general proliferation vs. breed stewardship.

I am confident now. I know who to trust. I am sending two email inquires. Let’s see if Wayne and I can get just a little closer to bringing home our baby girl.

May 3, 2011

Now Hiring!

Posted in dog ownership, dogs, pets tagged , at 9:28 pm by Angie Hilbert

Most people will think long and hard about what they want in a dog but few will consider what they have to offer. Why would a dog want to come live in your home with you? How can you make it worth a dog’s while to chase your frisbees, return your balls and alert you to the arrival of the mail?

Try this exercise:

Think about the conditions your dog will have to tolerate in your home. Will he have to wait in a cage while you work eight hours a day? Tolerate ear and tail pulling from small children without nipping? What can you offer to make these challenges worth her while? What perks and benefits come with the job of being your dog? What do you want your dog to do? Protector, Athlete, or entertainer, what will be your dog’s role?

Now that you’ve got that figured out, write a want ad calling for applications. Make it good. You want to attract the best candidates to choose from. But be careful, this is the foundation of the contract. Your applicants will expect you to follow through with the compensation and benefits package you describe. Don’t make any promises you can’t keep. Here is my “want ad” as an example.

Wanted: One dog to join our family

Stable mature empty-nesters seeking dog for the role of surrogate child. Pet-friendly apartment complex situated on sprawling grounds including a lake, green spaces, rocks and mature trees for interesting walks. Windows are dogs-eye level with a view of a lake with heavy deer traffic in the morning and geese all day long. Mom works from home and controls lunch and break time to insure regular attention, walks and potty schedule throughout the day. Dad comes home at 5:15 for an additional walk and rough-housing.

Duties include: insisting on long frequent walks and outings to keep the human family members in shape and active, playing well with the grandchildren, and weekly participation in the local all-breed dog training club including obedience training and rally trials (agility a plus)
Must have stamina for weekly hiking trips in good weather and tolerate the presence of other humans, dogs and wildlife living in close proximity.

Benefits include “off-lead” dog parks close to home, 1.5 and 10 miles away. veterinary insurance and veterinary care provided from the same doctor that cares for the Pilot Dogs of Columbus and the Pickerington police K-9 unit. Microchiping, licensing, room and board.
Specific food and feeding schedule will be negotiated based on the needs of the successful applicant. Special diets can be accommodated.
Spring vacations every year as a family to a dog-friendly cabin in the Hocking Hills. Activities may include hiking, canoe trips, exploration and off-lead running.

The ideal candidate will be a puppy 8 – 10 weeks old with potential for growing into a large breed dog with wolf-like appearance and a friendly “working breed” attitude upon maturity. Variations in age and appearance gladly considered provided the applicant presents a strong candidacy for the over-all role.

. . .

Whatever you do, be honest. Don’t say “I want an unsocialized adult dog rescued from the dog-fighting circuit” or “I want a sick puppy-mill reject to nurse back to health at astronomical expense” just because you wish you were that noble of a human being. If you are not honest with yourself about what you want and what you can handle, you won’t be honest with your dog. And even the unsocialized fighting dogs and sick puppy-mill rejects deserve better than that.

And here’s a thought: At the AKC obedience trials Saturday, I learned that the breed rescue organizations were founded by registered breeders and pedigree holders. These people are passionate about their dogs and strive to insure no unfortunate relative is left abused and homeless. These experts in their breed know best how to work with and socialize the “difficult” ones and foster them until they can find them permanent, loving homes.

So there you have it. The right match between you and a dog just might help you become the better person you wish you were!

So what would YOUR want ad look like? Let’s see it!

April 30, 2011

Wanted: Best Friend

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , at 10:31 am by Angie Hilbert

When I was a small child, my parents brought home a puppy for a family pet. His name was “Buzzy” and I was much too young to know where he came from. I think he was black and had curly hair. I have a vague memory of going to see a new litter of pups born in the garage of my Sunday school teacher so maybe he came from there.

Later in junior high, a friend’s spaniel mix had pups in the corn crib and I tricked Dad into accepting one for his birthday. (He thought Mom was in on it, so he let us take it home.) By the time Mom got home, shocked when a strange dog greeted her at the door, it was too late. He had a bowl, collar, leash and most importantly a name; Jasper. And he was ours.

My next dog was  a wedding gift from my first husband. We got married a week before he went off to basic training leaving me pregnant with our little “accident” and holding another breeding “accident” from a kennel that raised and trained hunting dogs. The mother was a black lab and the father was a golden retriever. That pup, Katie, was a friend to me, a nanny to my children and a solace to my x-husband after our divorce. She was special. Though we never exchanged a civil word after the ugly and bitter divorce, he called me years later, when Katie was 14 and in pain and had to be put down. We cried on the phone together. It was the kindest moment we shared in over 15 years.

My fourth dog, Ripley, was a mess of crazy rescued from the animal shelter where I volunteered with my kids. He had been originally owned by a young woman looking for a guard dog. But as he grew, she was too afraid to handle him so off to the shelter he went. We watched him get adopted twice and twice returned. So we took him as our own for good. All heart and no brain, he slowly went from an out-of-control machine of brick and muscle to a tender and devoted giant. He reminds me of “Lenny” in Of Mice and Men. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body, just clumsy and oblivious to everything but play. My youngest daughter took him with her when she moved out on her own. And I’m glad she has such a devoted protector. I guess Ripley’s life has come full circle.

So I have been without a dog over a year now. My apartment is clean and quiet. My husband, Wayne and I have traveled, sailed, cruised, hiked, camped, got new furniture, redecorated the place and did all the nice things couples do when the nest is empty and freedom beckons. Now we are lonely. We long for a little puppy of our own to raise up in a loving home.

We are going to try something different (for us any way.) We have come to a mature and deeply contemplative stage of our lives. This time, getting a dog is not going to be an accident of fate, serendipity or whim. We are entering into this thoughtfully and with discernment. We are looking for the dog that will be perfect for our situation, our lifestyle, and our interests. More importantly, we are looking to become people that will be perfect for our dog. Welcome, to the journey. I hope you will feel free to interact, advise and admonish as I explore the important decisions and frivolous details as we prepare to make the leap from “pet owners” to “dog enthusiasts.”

How about you? Where did your pet come from and how did she/he come to join your family?