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.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Stuck got her BH!


My club was struggling for trial entries and on a whim I decided to enter our fall trial this past weekend. The AWMA was able to send me a score book right away which made everything possible. I did not have much prep time, we did go to a practice the night before but I literally had only been teaching a recall two weeks prior and she learned to finish from a front in 3 days.

Here is the BH video with judge's critique at the end:

Stuck came to me with very good foundations in all three phases of IPO. Stuck came to me with good engagement and a nearly finished heel. I've spent the last six months working on teaching her a finish to the left, a left about turn, and heeling with some duration. However the BH was the longest I have ever heeled her without giving a reward. She does get flat at times in the video but perks right back up. At the end when I go to leash her she thinks I have dropped a toy for her :p.

While I cannot take credit for the heeling I am extremely proud of myself for stepping up to support my club and I am proud of the relationship I have built with Stuck. I don't believe she would have performed as well for me if I hadn't invested the time that I have to try to train and work with her. I can take credit for her awesome recall and her turns (which aren't too bad actually.). I am proud of myself for last minute entering a trial because I have really bad performance anxiety and it would have been easier not to do it, especially since we didn't have much time to prep.

I honestly couldn't be happier with our routine. Seppel's routine was nothing like this one. This BH with Stuck is probably the best obedience routine I have ever had and it was super cool to be in between two trainers I really respect and be included with them in a really nice critique. It felt amazing.

I'm hoping to try for our IPO1 in the spring. We have no protection routine, no send out, and no retrieves. Hoping I can pull it together by then and be decent enough that it is worth trialing. After this past weekend I know the dog can do it and I know we can be a good team.

It's hard for me to believe this is the dog that I felt like I couldn't train. We are currently working on the jump for the retrieve and I think teaching the exercise will be a breeze. I finally feel like we are starting to understand each other and it is super awesome.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016


A post a month is okay right? Haha. I have been super busy and because things have been very up and down I haven't felt like posting.

Stuck's food drive or lack thereof has been a BIG struggle. It is hard to teach her simple things like perching for our Relationship & Engagement class when she refuses to lure. I guess 'refuse' isn't the word, she might try but if it is 'hard' she doesn't have the food drive to want to keep trying.

It's also been difficult because she bit a bee in tracking and will no longer track for food. I honestly was panicking this past weekend that I was going to have to give her back to her breeder. Initially I thought she had a personal problem with me and tracking but my friends that I train with watched her and the issue mostly seems to be food/food on the ground. My training director from club showed us how to start tracking for a ball. Stuck's entire body language changed, she was actually excited to do it and completely loosened up. If I ask her to track for food she goes into complete avoidance.

I was mostly panicking because long-term deprivation is not something I want to do. I can't tell you how many times I've left from training her and come home crying lately because of this whole issue. I just have no desire to continually starve my dog to get them to do something be that food or attention. It made me start questioning if I was really cut out for this sport - if that is something I have to do to participate. But it's actually not. I mean for some dogs and some trainers, yes, but it's actually not the whole of IPO to have to do these terrible things to your dog to make them work.

When I saw that she could track for the ball it made me feel hopeful and after thinking and talking with a close friend I decided this was something I wanted to continue with. Initially I was very torn because Seppel was my project dog and Stuck was supposed to be my IPO dog, but I also felt if I couldn't train her how could I train another dog? Other dogs will have challenges, training is hard, IPO is hard, if I can't get beyond this challenge, how will I get beyond others? That thinking isn't entirely realistic because low food drive is a very hard problem to have, but a big part of me was like - if I can't do this, how can I train another dog?

This is not the first time I've struggled with thinking of giving Stuck back. A few weeks ago we went to a seminar with Forrest Micke and I contacted my training director and friend for some advice. She suggested sticking with it but also getting a second dog to take some of the pressure off of Stuck.

I got Stuck to help take pressure off of Seppel and to also have a "real" IPO dog. Now that Seppel is gone all of the pressure is on her. I don't want to jinx it so I won't go into detail but I am getting a second dog hopefully in October. When it happens, if it happens I will definitely share more info because it's not set in stone yet. For IPO Stuck is my primary focus, the second dog will be training relief - so I can rotate between the two, and is also for my personal mental health.

Some realizations that I have made:
  • I know that Stuck is capable of getting an IPO title but it is going to be a challenge and take a lot of work. If it gets to be too stressful we will just focus on OB and protection, we can get titles in just those things and that is okay. My next dog can go all the way.
  • Stuck fits my lifestyle well especially for her breed. I took her to the fair for dock diving this past Sunday and she handled the crowds super well. She was touched by multiple people and was super chill being in such a crowded venue. I was super impressed by how well she handled everything. We did some OB in the crowds and she was awesome which made me feel fabulous. 
It was suggested to me because the conflict was with the food in tracking to feed Stuck on scent pads only. It took 5 days(I almost gave up!) but Stuck is finally eating off of the scent pad. She's done it two days in a row. I am trying not to hold high expectations so if she doesn't eat I am not disappointed. Yesterday she did it without hesitation so I am feeling really good that this is repairable.

This has truly been a ridiculous emotional roller coaster and I've struggled a lot but I am finally feeling really good about everything. Things can only go up from here and I'm ready to actually be part of Stuck's journey. I am still battling some emotions over the loss of Seppel but this is a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders.