Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Neutering is not a lobotomy.

I hope that I can deliver this information in a sound and informative manner.

Atlas, my pit bull puppy is 10mos old. He has displayed some behavior that I now understand to be due to over stimulation. I've now had three people ask me if he still has his nuts, why haven't I neutered him, and won't neutering fix the issue.

Let me just put it all on the table.

  • I have absolutely NO intention of breeding Atlas. He is an HUU carrier (bladder stone issue) and it is my firm belief if people stopped breeding carriers we could get rid of some of these issues. Also, while I love him to bits he has not shown me anything that says he is worth breeding. 
  • Just because he has balls doesn't mean he will have babies. People can have intact dogs and be responsible. 
  • They are finding that it is healthier for dogs to remain intact until they are fully mature around the age of 2yrs old. Here is a study that talks about the health risks associated with keeping a dog intact vs altering; Long Term Health Effects of Spaying and Neutering in Dogs
  • This study based off of an owner survey suggests that spaying and neutering dogs not reduce aggression in dogs: Aggression and neutering/spaying dogs 
  •  I know of a few people who have seen success in neutering their male dogs in terms of behavior. But I also know the dogs in these instances were being actively worked with on training and behavior modification so I think it is a stretch to say that removing the hormones completely cured them, if anything the continued training and behavior modification probably makes the most difference. (this is my opinion). 
  • If a dog is having behavioral issues due to hormones, yes, neutering WILL make a difference. But it is extremely hard to determine what is hormone related vs what is just the dog's behavior.
  • I have owned three different dogs who were all altered that marked outside. Altering will not stop a dog from marking. If your dog marks inside the house that is a training/behavioral issue and is not related to having hormones.
A lot of people see spaying and neutering as a cure all for unwanted behaviors. If your dog is displaying behaviors you don't want it is very likely a training issue and has nothing to do with the hormones at all.

Another link to check out:
Neutering and Behavior
"There is at least the potential for some behaviors to worsen after castration.  Testosterone is known to affect anxiety behaviors; for example, hypogonadal men with lower levels of testosterone are more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression disorders.  Treatment with testosterone alleviates these symptoms.   Preliminary studies in mice were performed where mice were presented with stressful situations and their ability to process this fear with both contextual (same environment) and cued fear (an audible stimulus preceded a shock) were tested before and after castration.   The results were mixed and showed that castration did inhibit contextual fear memory processing, supporting the fact that the processing of contextual fear memory within the hippocampus area of the brain is testosterone dependent.  It is established that men tend to develop post-traumatic stress disrorder less frequently and of a less severe nature than women due to this inhibition of contextual fear memory inhibition3. "

Due to some of these study findings I am hesitant to neuter my dog until he is done growing, and even then, I may not do it at all. Atlas is my first intact male dog. Back in April before he turned 8mos old he started to display what I initially thought was aggressive behavior, he would greet people by barking and would nip at them at my house. We don't have a lot of people come over often so I don't think his age or timing has much to do with it. He has always been reliable in public places. The same weekend he nipped at someone I showed him all weekend and he was completely fine being touched by a stranger and was social with people he didn't know. It seemed at the time to be more of a territorial response. Long story short I've talked with friends and trainers and his behavior seems to be more of an over stimulation issue coupled with a stress response. I am working on passive socialization, having him work in proximity to people but not interacting. I am also working on how he greets people, especially people he knows. He now has a "four on the floor" rule and he's not allowed to put his mouth on anyone.

He has also shown a little bit of uncertainty and fear - possibly a phase, but I am concerned if there is fear involved that neutering him could make that even worse.

I am not anti spaying and neutering. I have a 12 year old dog who is and always has been healthy that was spayed at under 20 weeks. I think that because people choose to not be responsible it is something that is necessary. Not everyone is equipped to deal with a dog going into heat, and not everyone even wants to deal with it. I don't fault people for altering their dogs out of convenience. But I do think with new research coming out it is important to educate yourself on the subject and maybe look at things differently. I always said I would never have an intact female, I was very pro-altering. It's only been within the last couple of years I really opened my eyes and saw things differently. I do think it's healthier for dogs to be intact at least long enough to fully mature. When we alter dogs at 6mos of age and younger they are babies and they aren't anywhere near done growing. The differences between a dog altered at 6mos vs a dog altered at 2yrs is huge in terms of development. In the "old days" I remember occasionally hearing people say they didn't want to neuter their dog because they wanted the dog to fully develop. I used to roll my eyes, but it is SUCH a thing! Atlas has changed SOOO much since he was 6mos of age and I think if I would have neutered him his head and body would not have developed as it has, and he's not even done!

But I'm kind of getting off track. I hope if anything this post helps educate those who think that neutering is a cure-all. I hope this opens the door for people to research and educate themselves on altering and when to do it, or not do it.



Friday, April 21, 2017

The year of the Malinois

I started this blog to document my adventures in living with a Belgian Malinois.

I did a really terrible job of keeping this blog up to date and a big part of that is that malinois ownership was not nearly as chaotic or terrible as I had expected.

I used to think that I could never be enough for a Belgian Malinois. I thought that I would not be able to commit the time or effort to exercise or train such a high energy and high drive breed of dog. I was also extremely concerned about the handler aggression that the breed can be known for.

I met Stuck at a French Ring seminar. My good friend has her full sister who is a very stable and driven dog. At the seminar they handed me her leash and we did some bites and outs. Initially what I liked about her was that she didn't try to eat me. I had to grab her harness a few times and she didn't get weird about it. I can be an impulsive person but I also just had a very good feeling about her. In handling her I felt like her energy was something I could handle.

As it turns out she ended up being perfect for me. Don't get the wrong idea, Malinois are a lifestyle. I feel the same can be said for any other intense breed of dog. I had to make a commitment to this dog to give her proper exercise and mental stimulation.

Stuck has a very solid temperament. She has a good off-switch and can settle on her own. She is generally friendly with new people and I can take her into public places and she will socialize with strangers. She is neutral/submissive with other dogs.

I generally exercise her for at least 30mins everyday of hard exercise which usually consists of throwing the ball or chasing the flirt pole. I also run her on the carpet mill for 10 minutes multiple times a week. I work on obedience 1-2 times a day. Length of time varies depending on what we are working on. I can take a sick day but she does get antsy. Luckily for me she is not destructive and can handle having an 'off' day. As the weather gets nicer I will start taking her for bike rides and letting her play on the spring pole. I have to make time to do these things and she needs exercise and brain stimulation daily.

I have had to change a lot of the ways that I train. I am not one to beat my dogs but I have been heavy handed before. I don't even have to be outwardly mad at her, just a slight spike in my blood pressure and she gets stressed out. I will admit that I have lost control a few times and have been unfair, luckily for me she does recover and forgives me. We may suffer fall-out for a few days after whatever it is happened, but she recovers and moves on. A lot of our stress has revolved around her lack of food drive. I believe a lot of high drive dogs have issues with food drive, but she is particularly strange. If she is stressed she will not eat at all and she is picky about the foods she will work for. We have had a lot of ups and downs and struggles with tracking because of her food drive and I've been spending the last couple of months trying to repair our relationship when it comes to food.

She's really taught me a lot as a handler. I have had to become a lot more patient and think about how I will handle things. I've had to do a lot more problem solving in trying to figure out how to teach things differently. In obedience training I've hardly used any type of correction and she has never worn a prong to work OB. I have started using an e collar in bite work but she works on a low level (12 out of 127) and usually after one or two corrections (usually for losing focus) she doesn't need another one.

I enjoy that I can usually show her how to do something once or twice and she gets it, where other dogs I would need to do multiple reps. But I will say the sensitivity is a major buzz-kill and can be really hard to work around.

A lot has changed in the year that I have had her. When she first arrived she would not come into the house willingly (especially if it meant she had to go back in her crate). She would steal toys and play keep away. I taught her to hold a down-stay on a dog bed in the house. She spent time outside in a dog run when I couldn't supervise her outside.

Stuck willingly comes back into the house after being outside. She doesn't play keep away with her toys. She no longer has to keep a down-stay in the house unless I send her to her bed. She hasn't spent any time in the dog run.

In the year that I have had her she went to two dock diving competitions, she earned one leg towards a rally 1 title with a score of 93, one leg towards a CD with a score of 195, and she got her BH. She also got her UKC conformation championship, she is the first dog I have ever shown in conformation.

I think what I really enjoy about Stuck is that she is my partner. I can always count on her to show up and be there. With Seppel I never really knew what I was going to get. I loved that dog and it breaks my heart that he is gone, but I could not always count on him to be on the same page with me. Stuck never lets me down when it comes to training or doing something.(Well, except maybe tracking. Another post for another day haha).

As a first time Malinois owner Stuck fit into my life perfectly. I couldn't ask for a better dog and feel like she is just enough dog for me. I think for anyone looking at this breed it is important that you find a good breeder who is producing the type of dog you are looking for. If you are looking for more of an active pet I would strongly suggest looking at show lines over working lines. I think it's important to meet dogs that the breeder has produced. In my situation a friend had Stuck's full sister and other friends had half-siblings so I had an idea of temperament in her line. Her dad was brought up here for breeding and I had an opportunity to meet him (he's 10!) and her mom lives locally up here as well so I was able to see what she was like (she's 10 too!). Both of her parents have aged well and her mom had her litter at the age of 7 which I feel is a great accomplishment.

This year has had a lot of struggles for both of us, especially for me because I have had to really grow as handler and trainer. I am also extremely thankful for the dog club that I am in and the training friends I have made. If it weren't for the support of my club I would not have Stuck, and if it weren't for my club and training friends I would definitely not be where I am at now. I have learned so much and still have so much more to learn and I am so thankful for everything that has happened in the last year - good and bad. I am very excited to see the things that we will accomplish this next year and in the years to come.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Titles on both ends.

Happy new year!

Today I want to talk about titling dogs on both ends.

You heard me. I'm talking about putting conformation titles on your working dogs and putting working titles on your conformation dogs.

Last weekend I took Stuck to a big UKC cluster show. They had 7 out of 8 judges who could judge Belgian Shepherd Dogs and Stuck actually finished her UKC Championship!

If you know me, you know conformation isn't my thing. I value working titles over a conformation title any day, but I do think a truly balanced dog has titles at both ends of their name. I think it is important for a dog to be close to breed standard and be able to also perform either what they were bred to do, or perform in some type of sport work. 

Conformation puts a sour taste in my mouth because of the political aspect. In the conformation ring it almost becomes more about who is showing the dog rather than the dog itself. I chose to show my dog in UKC because they are far more laid back than AKC. They also do not allow professional handlers.

Here is what UKC says about itself: 

"UKC prides itself on its family-oriented, friendly, educational events. The UKC has supported the "Total Dog" philosophy through its events and programs for over a century. As a departure from registries that place emphasis on a dog’s looks, UKC events are designed for dogs that look and perform equally well."

 Generally speaking UKC focuses on form but also on function. Don't get me wrong, there were definitely fat show dogs at the show and to show Stuck I did put an extra 3-4lbs on her, but she is fit and still ended up with two best of breed placements and two group placements. I was also complimented on how fit she was. The point system is also different than AKC, you get points even if there are no other dogs in your class. You need 100 points and three competition wins to finish your UKC championship. A competition win can be winning best female/male in your breed, winning best of winners, winning best of breed, or getting a group win. It sounds pretty easy, but it can be hard if you don't have enough people showing in your breed.

I think it's important for breeders to put focus on more than just performance, just like I think it's important for breeders to put more focus on more than just conformation. We're dumbing dogs down and physically wrecking some of our breeds. A really good example is the labrador retriever. The conformation dogs are a wreck, flat footed and obese. But the field retrievers are being bred with no regard to standard. Some are ridiculously tall, some have horrible rears which make them prone to cruciate tears, not to mention some of them are bred with so much off the wall energy that they can only be out hunting or locked in a kennel because they are so driven they cannot do anything else. There should be a happy medium. A dog who fits a breed standard but still has the ability to do the job it was bred to do. 

It seems conformation titles are actually looked down on in the sport community. I'm not going to lie, I've been in that camp. But there is nothing wrong with having a dog who fits into the breed standard and can still do its job. I actually wish more people who worked their dogs would attempt to show them. I think that sometimes people get so focused on performance that they completely ignore form. But if we want our dogs to have long sport careers, they need to be built well! 

Anyway, we had a really fun weekend. Even if we hadn't actually been as successful as we were we met a lot of nice dog people and had a good time overall.  I thought for sure I would be chasing the last competition win that we needed for forever. I was already looking at a show to take Stuck to in February! I was pleasantly surprised and quite frankly shocked that we got Best of Breed and two Group 1 placements. We placed BOB over a really nice bitch who was owned and handled by a professional handler. It was a huge compliment to place over them both. The days leading up to that day we got one best of winners and two best females, I really didn't expect to get a BOB or group win at all. 

Here are some pictures from the show:

Our first BOB
I believe this was where we got a best of winners.
Picture taken by: 

Sport will always be my main focus and mean more to me than any conformation title I could get. But I do feel that a balanced dog can be successful in both arenas and I do think that it is worthwhile to try to show our sport dogs, especially if they are built well and good representations of their breed. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Purpose Bred Dogs

Today I wanted to talk about why I have chosen to purchase purpose bred dogs vs taking on a second hand dog or rescue.

I want to start this post by saying that up until I purchased Stuck this year, I had never actually paid for a dog before - not even in adoption fees. Every dog I have had has been given to me. Every dog that I have had until this year has either come from a rescue or has been acquired secondhand.

My issues with rescues and shelters are as follows:

The No Kill Movement - Most shelters have moved to "no kill". While no kill does not mean that euthanasia doesn't happen, it does mean less dogs are being killed. That said, dogs with poor temperaments are taking up house in shelters and even rescues, they are not being euthanized, they are being adopted out to people. People are adopting a story and putting up with dogs who have horrible personalities.

Shelters warehouse dogs - I'm sure you have seen the posts "This dog has been in the shelter for 2 years, find her a home!" I'm sorry, you've been warehousing a dog for 2 years and you don't understand why the dog isn't getting adopted. I can tell you that it is either lack of exposure, a severe behavioral problem, or the shelter is too picky about the person adopting the dog. There are dogs rotting in shelters for years while other shelters are EMPTY!

Importing dogs from other countries - How is it that we supposedly have a pet over population problem here, but rescues and shelters can accept dogs from Spain, the Middle East, and Mexico?

Not keeping dogs long enough - So I know I just complained about dogs staying in shelters for too long, but here is the other issue I have. Shelters do not keep dogs long enough! Rescues aren't keeping them long enough either! We all know the general two week rule. "Generally" it takes two weeks for a dog to start feeling comfortable in a new home. However if you've had enough dogs come through your house you know that it can take much longer than that. But it's a minimum of two weeks for you to start seeing the dog's true colors. Many shelters are only required to hold dogs a maximum of 3-5 days before putting them up for adoption. I scanned in paperwork for a dog that came from my local humane society who had been there for a total of 9 days, from intake to adoption! That is simply not long enough to determine a dog's personality and where the best fit is.

Lack of support - I've seen multiple situations where people have purchased dogs from shelters in particular, and when the dog has severe behavioral issues - such as biting- the shelter offers no support. In one scenario a shelter worker told a friend of a friend that the dog could be taught not to bite when it had gone after the woman multiple times over a ball. The advice did not go beyond that and the woman ended up returning the dog. The dog was listed almost immediately again with no mention of a bite history on the petfinder ad.

We are not doing dogs any favors by randomly placing them with people. More often than not it is a bad match and the dog will end up in another shelter or will be rehomed via craigslist.

Another blogger said it best (I wish I had a link, this post was excellent!) that shelters should be the place you go to pick from the best of the best. They should be weeding out dogs that require mass amounts of behavior modification and training in favor of dogs who just make good all around pets. If you choose to take on a challenging dog - good for you! But the truth is average joe dog owner is not prepared mentally or financially to deal with a dog who has severe behavioral issues. And in my opinion, you should not have to become a dog trainer to have a dog. Yes, you should research getting a dog and you should expect to take it to a basic dog class, but you should not have to pour thousands of dollars into training nor should you have to go above and beyond just to have one.

What I like about responsible breeders:

They health test- Responsible breeders health test. While it is no guarantee checking hips, elbows, eyes, heart, knees, etc help stack the odds in your favor that you will have a healthy dog who is long lived and has a body that can keep up.

They know their genetics- If you go to a breeder who has been in their breed for a long time they should know a lot about the lines they are breeding. Especially a breeder who has an established line.

They are supportive- If you are dealing with a health or temperament issue a responsible breeder should lend you support. Most breeders will guarantee health and if your puppy/dog has a serious problem, offer a replacement or in some cases a refund. If you are dealing with a temperament issue they should be able to help guide you on what is normal and what is not for your dog.

They evaluate their puppies- This is especially important for those of us who do sports. A responsible breeder will watch their puppies closely to determine which puppy should go to what home. Not every dog in a litter will be a sport prospect and depending on the breed not every dog in a litter will be a good pet. They should expose the puppies to weird surfaces, loud noises, and basic handling such at trimming nails to help determine who should go where.

They take them back- If for some reason you cannot care for your dog or it is a bad match, a responsible breeder in most situations will take them back.

Stuck, my Malinois, is the first dog I have ever paid for. Stuck came from a breeder who health tests and actually does IPO with their dogs. They are breeding for working ability and sound temperament and body. Stuck is everything I could have asked for in a dog. She can turn it on for working but she can be a reasonably decent house dog. I can take her to public places and trust that she will be on her best behavior, she is reliable off leash even in the presence of prey. She is healthy, she has passed her OFA hips & elbows as well as a cardiac and eye exam. Stuck is an extremely stable dog. I couldn't have asked for a better Belgian Malinois, especially for my very first one!

I mentioned in an earlier post that I was going to likely be getting a puppy. Meet Atlas!

Atlas is the epitome of why I push going to a responsible breeder. He is super environmentally sound:

He loves people and so far I haven't found anyone or anything that has actually scared him. He is fine around loud noises, he has been on the treadmill. He is super food driven so he will do anything for food.

I got into contact with Atlas' breeder the night before his mom whelped him. His breeder contacted me when the puppies were on the ground and sent me updates as they grew. I was specifically looking for a male and was given the opportunity to have pick of the three males that they had. Every week they sent me videos and pictures and kept me updated about each boy's personality. They exposed them to weird loud noises, different locations, crates, car riding, and general handling. When I went to pick him out we met at a location they hadn't been to before which was awesome because I could see their personalities in an unfamiliar place. I chose Atlas because he was the only puppy willing to go through an agility tunnel - by himself without coaxing - and he was super chill even though he was in a weird place. His other brothers were fine too, but one of them was more laid back than I wanted and the other was too intense.

Working pit bull litters just don't happen. Most pit bulls are chain warmers in the backyard. Atlas' dad has his IPO1, his grandfather on his dad's side is a weight pull champion, his great grandsire on that side almost finished his weight pull championship and had a mondio ring brevet. Further back there is an IPO3 dog, two SchhB dogs, and multiple conformation dogs as well as some dogs with AKC OB titles. While his mom's pedigree is not filled with performance dogs she was a good match pedigree wise.

We drove to Michigan to pick Atlas up and he did great the entire trip home. He was super easy to crate train and is good for his nails to be trimmed. He takes everything in stride and loves any and all people. At this point I couldn't ask for a more stable puppy. Even if he isn't great at IPO he is a great dog to have around. I don't personally feel that I could have found a puppy like this in the shelter, especially not a pit bull. Given the state of the no kill movement a lot of the dogs in our shelters/rescues here have poor personalities. A dog with poor nerves is not going to be successful in IPO, period.

To get back to the main topic of this post, I will probably always choose to go with a purpose bred dog. It isn't that I will never have a secondhand dog again, if the right dog found me I wouldn't say no, but I do not feel guilty about going to responsible breeders to find dogs who can do the sports that want to do.

While I do feel that there are definitely rescue dogs out there who can do performance sports I think for high level competition they can be hard to find. There is so much to be said for good training foundations in puppies. I found this out when I was training my previous pit bull Seppel. He was a great dog and he tried his hardest to do the things I asked him to do but we played a lot of catch up because he did not have a good foundation for the sport we were doing. He also did not have quite the temperament that Atlas has, he had some hangups that I think were mostly genetic. There are a lot of pit bulls out there with sub-par nervous temperaments in shelters. In my opinion they should not be adopted out because they are not how the breed should be.

The breed standard says:
"The essential characteristics of the American Pit Bull Terrier are strength, confidence, and zest for life. This breed is eager to please and brimming over with enthusiasm."

Pit Bulls should not be nervous or fearful. They should not be a bite risk to people. Unfortunately a lot of the pit bull type dogs in shelters are dogs with anxiety and nerve issues. At least this is my experience here on the West Coast.  

Another issue as well is dog aggression. While I did it once before bringing Seppel home I was very leery of taking a shelter or rescue pit bull type dog into my home. My biggest worry was that the rescue or shelter would not be able to determine level of dog aggression and that I would bring a dog home who would kill my cat or seriously injure my other dogs. Seppel just fit in so perfectly into my house I have a hard time believing I could have that again. He was high drive but he got along smashingly with everyone in my house.

Once again to go back on topic and then bring this to a close - I could not be happier with my decision to go to a breeder for both of my purebred dogs.

***No judgement to those in support of rescue. I know that there are many shelter and rescue dogs who have been successful in sports, I've done sports with my own dogs who don't have pedigrees. I mostly just wanted to share why I chose to go with a breeder instead of going with a shelter dog and to share my issues with the shelter/rescue system. This is based off of my own personal experiences.