Friday, February 01, 2008

My Dog Lick Dog World

I got a question about what kind of dogs I have from someone thinking about getting dogs.  The images here are clickable if you want to see them full sized.  I kept them small for sanity's sake.

The thing about dogs is that they're the most wonderful animals in the world if you get the right one.  So far all my dogs have been the right one, sort of.  Bear in mind that I base the
 following stuff on my experiences.  There are others with far, far more experience and education than me and I may be dead wrong on some points.  Also dogs are individuals and breeding doesn't define everything about who they are.

We have two Great Pyrenees crosses.  Finn is more lab-like, and Brian is more golden retriever-like.  Since they're brothers, it's likely that mom was a Great Pyr and had an interesting night out around the fields, though the story given to the shelter was that she'd been with a golden retriever.    These dogs are my favorite dogs, but Great Pyrs tend to roam and if they get out they could be gone for hours or even days.  They're bred to be very independent.  They make their own decisions and can decide, if given a command, to not obey if they think it's in the best interest of whomever they've bonded with.  They're livestock guardians and are born to roam with herds of sheep over thousands of acres.  They'll stay with and defend wounded livestock (or you) and are very courageous.  They're gentle and nurturing, but if they're disciplined physically they will learn that physical punishment is okay when warranted and will of course then decide that they can physically punish someone or something else for transgressions.  Great Pyrs are best handled by experienced dog people.  Our cross breeds are not as aloof and independent as a full blood and are somewhat more obedient, especially if there's food involved.  They've run off before, which is terrifying.  But they are probably the most loving, beautiful dogs I've ever owned.  They need lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of space to run.  We have a large run for them and it's not big enough in their minds.  In their minds, about a five mile radius is a good run size.  They also are better outside than inside dogs.  There isn't a house big enough in the world for them and they will play in the house until the house falls down around them.  They also overheat easily.  A full blooded Pyr likes temps around 20 degrees F.  Our part bloods are happiest around 30-40 degrees F and wilt in summer.  Living in a year-round hot climate wouldn't be good for them.

We also have an airedale terrier mix named Beast.  This is another
 hard-headed stubborn dog (why am I attracted to the stubborn ones?)  He's a rough-and-tumble, sturdy guy who will forget that anything in the universe exists if he catches wind of a deer.  Since we're in deer country, when he gets out he'll run for miles.  Once when our dogs escaped, Brian came home, probably thanks to his love of comfort and his more people-loving golden bloodline.  Finn and Beast, on the other hand, were gone for five days.  Finn might have come home sooner, but I suspect that Beast either fell in the ravine or he got so caught up chasing the deer that he couldn't quite remember his way back and Finn of course would never, ever leave a friend stranded.  (I suspect that Brian will abandon a friend if the friend is being stupid, hence Brian being missing only until it started getting dark.)  Finn led the way home when they came back.  He probably knew the way all along but Beast probably didn't figure out that he should follow him until, well, five days had gone by.  If Finn hadn't been with Beast, I'm not sure Beast would have found his way back by himself.  Airedales are born to run and I think they are more beautiful to watch than a greyhound when they're on the chase.  They're extremely intelligent and will learn obedience and tricks quickly--and not just tricks you teach them.  Beast learned to lift the gate latch on his own just by watching us.  They will generally listen to you (unless they smell something good) but they'll think about it and take their time getting around to sitting or coming or whatever it is you ask them.  They need lots of space and are a terror in the house when you first let them in because they want to explore everything all the time.  Once they're settled they're fine, until they decide it's time to explore yet again just on the off chance that a deer or rabbit has found its way inside since the last time.

Nikita is our german shepherd.  She is the most amazing dog in the world.  They're one of the most popular breeds in the world, and for good reason.  In my opinion it is unnecessary and even dangerous to train a german shepherd to be a watch dog, and irresponsible to train them as an attack dog.  Believe me, they will watch and attack without any training whatsoever.  If you're nervous, they're nervous.  They're very responsive to their owners and it's easy to bond with a german shepherd.  They're also naturally territorial and usually will not roam and will fiercely defend the fenceline or threshold.  The challenge is to teach them to trust strangers and to wait for you to decide if a situation is dangerous or not.  They need lots of love, and they need to feel safe.  Once they're there, you will have an excellent companion for life.  These dogs can adapt to most living conditions but if they're in an apartment, especially when they're young, they need lots of exercise.  If they don't get it, they (and you) will pay for it in health problems later.  As they age they'll slow down like our Nikita and will sleep for long hours in a semi-alert state.  Until they go deaf they'll wake at any disturbance and bark until the problem is gone for several minutes or until you tell them it's okay.  For this reason some people have problems with their german shepherd, especially if the dogs are left alone, because they will bark non-stop for hours and hours if there are constant disturbances or simply because they don't know where you are and they're calling to try to get you to come to them.  BTW disturbances include neighbors working in the yard, cars driving by, people talking on the phone next door, etc. so this is not an animal you can leave alone unless you live on large acreage and even then only if you have forgiving neighbors.

Last but not least we have our wonderful Dakota who we fondly refer to as a miniature Irish wolfhound, meaning she's only 83 pounds thanks to the labrador retriever in her blood.
  Although they were bred to run down large game (and destroy wolves) unlike the terriers wolfhounds will not by choice run after other animals to the ends of the earth.  You can successfully call them off the chase without having to override their biological programming.  They're great house animals, despite their size, and become very inactive, even lazy when confined to an apartment.  They should be taken out for long walks to keep them from turning into complete slugs.  If they're left outside they adapt to outside life well, but they are one of the most human-needy animals I've ever owned and want to always be near their people.  If they're not, they easily become depressed and lonely.  Dakota is a very quiet dog.  She seldom barks, and her warning bark is one lone, sharp bark that is seldom followed by a second bark.  She prefers to watch rather than listen for problems, which probably explains why she likes to stay close.  She wants to keep an eye on things.  If she can't see it, usually it means it's not her problem, so she doesn't bark at cars or trucks, nor does she concern herself with other animals.  If she hears people making undue noise or pain sounds she immediately investigates and makes certain there's no hanky panky.  Rory has really been restricted to how much he can tickle or tease me now that we have Dakota.  She tells him when she thinks I've had enough with a long, level stare and we've decided we don't want to make her feel like she has to overcome her loyalty to Rory and intervene more stridently--that would be terribly stressful for her.  

My advice to anyone planning to adopt a dog:
Think long and hard before you get a purebred, especially a rare purebred.  Purebred dogs are often (not always) afflicted by problems that mutts usually don't have.  Depending on the breed they can have problems with hip displasia, skin allergies, food allergies, problems with hearing and eyesight, heart problems, digestive system problems like intestinal torsions, etc.  Some are more prone to attract fleas or are allergic to flea bites.  Some get worms readily.  Some have coats that require a professional groomer.  Dogs with very floppy ears combined with floppy skin are more prone to yeast infections and ear mites, and so on.  Most of all, I firmly believe that every family pet should be spayed or neutered, and if you own a quality rare breed animal you're essentially taking it out of the gene pool and if that gene pool is very small your adoption may endanger the breed further.  If you decide to keep the dog intact, you end up with all the problems and responsibility of a viable animal including heat, roaming, marking, territoriality, etc. and you get the added bonus of, when breeding, having additional vet bills and dealing with strangers and their animals.  If you do get a pure bred animal, become educated before investing in the breed.  Often there are wonderful purebred societies you can contact for information, and animals that were born outside standard requirements that make terrific pets.  Usually the breeder will have them spayed or neutered before selling them, and you'll get more info than you ever wanted about health risks and probably get a recommendation for a good local vet.  Educate yourself about puppy mills and try to avoid them.

When getting a dog, whether it's a mixed or pure bred, I hope folks will consider going to their local shelter or contacting a rescue society before going to folks who are gaining financially from breeding puppies in their house or worse, letting their animals roam and then getting away with their irresponsibility by foisting off their puppies on people who may or may not take very good care of them.  Many of these puppies end up in the shelter after new owners decided that they couldn't handle them anyway, so you'll be adopting the same animal you'd get in a newspaper ad.  It's important to talk to the shelter staff about your living circumstances and to allow them to guide you to an animal that they think would be a good fit for your household.  Shelter employees get to know their animals very well.  They know which ones are quiet, which ones are great with kids, which ones get along with other animals, and which ones might suit your personality.  Then spend at least an hour with your animal, whether it's at the shelter, at a breeder's location or in a private home.  It's very easy to get attached to the 'cute' one or to all of them, but try to be objective.  You may love that the little darling is chewing on your fingers, but remember that a chewy dog may chew long after teething is done.  The playful one that barks at you may be a very barky dog.  The shy one may be quiet and sweet, or it may have health problems.  

In general, look for a dog that is attentive toward you.  If the dog wants to please you, it will be much, much easier to train.  Look for a healthy, active animal that isn't frantic or wild.  Try to avoid fearful animals.  Nikita was a very fearful puppy who hid from us when we first met her.  Although I love her I know she's a biting risk due to her paranoia, so I'm very careful with her around strangers. 
 Although I adore puppies (like everyone else) consider adopting an older puppy or young dog.  The advantages are huge.  Often you don't have to house train the dog.  You'll have a better idea of the dog's disposition.  You'll have a much better idea of the dog's adult size.  Brian and Finn were both just under seven pounds when we adopted them.  (They were extremely malnourished and sickly.)  They're now just under 90 pounds, and no, they didn't have big paws until they were older (they're only a year old so they'll probably put on more weight and chest.)  Best of all, older dogs are past the teething stage so you can tell quickly if you're going to end up with a chewer that will slowly eat your couch down to a toothpick while you sleep.  Our latest adoptee, Dakota, we took in when she was 11 years old and it feels like she's always been here.  I don't miss raising her from a puppy at all.  

Also, when adopting a dog, if you know the house is going to be empty ten hours a day five days a week, consider getting two.  Dogs are pack animals, and a single dog at home alone is a stressed dog.  Not only will the dog be lonely, but there's a higher chance that it will develop behavioral problems due to stress.  Two aren't necessarily double the trouble, and two dogs definitely give more than twice the love.

I was going to try to keep this post short-ish, but here we are pages and pages later.  I hope folks found this information helpful.  For more information, take a snoop around the web.  There are even places that help you profile your lifestyle to help you choose a breed that's right for you.  Happy hounding!

Dogs in order of appearance:  Finn (facing the camera) and Brian age 1 year, Beast age 5 years, Nikita age 15 years, Dakota age 11 years, Sadie Sue (Kristi's gorgeous purebred miniature aussie shepherd) age 3 (?) Frey age 8 (and proof that having a mixed breed doesn't spare you from health issues--he was a very healthy puppy that developed food and skin allergies, early arthritis and died young) and Finn and Brian age 9 weeks.  Another aside--when you look at Finn and Brian's puppy pics they look healthy, right?  You have to touch the puppy you buy.  They weighed about half of what they should have at that size, less than our smallest cat, and felt like loose skin over dry bone.  Don't adopt a weak and underweight puppy unless you plan to give it full time care, access to puppy formula and/or high nutritional value puppy food, close vet supervision, and are willing to put up with lots of accidents, diarrhea, and sleepless nights worrying about your precious babies.  Thanks for reading!


Hunde Haus said...

What a wonderful article you've written!

*clap clap clap*

Every potential adopter of a dog should read it.

Nakita is beautiful! ( I have 3 GSD's ) So are your other dogs of course! :)

Kami said...

Thank you! And thanks for visiting my blog. I love the eyes on your dog in your icon. You can really see the intelligence there, the thoughtfulness, and depth.

heh. What a contrast to Beast. He's very smart, but when you look into his eyes, all you can think is what a brainless fool. He always looks like he's tracking butterflies or has recently been whacked with a hammer and is seeing stars.

Kai Jones said...

Great post! The last time I picked out a dog (Coco, a 12-year-old black lab from the shelter), I found more than one set of instructions online for evaluating a shelter dog, including behavioral tests. Like, if you play with the dog and a toy (ball or rope) for a while, then put the toy away, does the dog pay attention to you or try to find the toy? And that everyone in the home should meet the dog at the shelter before you decide, because some dogs fear one sex and others don't like kids.

The web can be a wonderful resource.

Carissa said...

We love Beau, and I'm still amazed that we found him at the shelter. He's a great dog.

Warning, though, we thought he wasn't a barker at all because he was so quiet at the shelter and the first month or so after we got him. Turns out that he was just really stressed and nervous and now that he feels at home and relaxed, he liked to talk to us and to other people and dogs. Not a constant yapper, thank goodness, but about 90% more vocal now than when we first go him, which goes to show that you just can't always be certain what they'll be like when they are relaxed, where there is a great deal of stress on them. Most of the time, however, they'll be at their worse at the shelter because of the stress, so if anything more comes up, it's just who they are.

And ditto Kai about the whole family meeting the dog. And ditto Kami older dogs versus puppies. While I often wonder what Beau was like as a puppy, he's still puppy-ish at just around two years old, but without all the chewing and peeing and training. It's very nice.

Oh, and if you have cats and are getting a dog, a lot of shelters, if they have both, can check for you to see how the dog will behave around cats. That was a worry for us (small house, two resident indoor cats). Beau was scared of them, as in going around the far side of the room to avoid them, so that worked for us. He's not as shy now (and occasionally chases Apollo in a show of dominance), but he's still not a threat to them at all. They are rather like siblings, now.

Great pics, Kami. I miss Frey, the big bear.

Carole said...

Great post and wonderful pictures! I wish I could have met Frey. To me he looks like he liked the people world. Nikita is still my favorite of yours.

I miss dogs *sigh*.

Kami said...

We used to say that Frey was the love child between a bear and a ball of lint. You pegged him, Carole. He thought he was a person. He sat on the couch like a person, hung out with people and thought the rest of the dogs were idiots. The poor guy had a lot of health problems that snowballed and he died of a heart attack. I sure miss him.

He had a bad knee and moving out here was the best thing we could have done for him. My fondest memory was how he ran (well, more like galumphed) for the very first time a few months after we moved out here. He hadn't done more than hobble for years before that. We also buzz cut him at one point. He looked weird, but he was much more comfortable.

We believe Frey was a chow/pit bull mix. He was a study in the fact that sometimes breeds won't tell through. Chows can be snippy. Pit bulls tend to have problems with other animals. Frey had the disposition of an old (human) man his whole life and never bothered, or was bothered by, anyone.

RekovaryRoad said...

Adoption I applaud greatly! Enjoyed the personality descriptions very much. All the best in the road ahead.

Kami said...

Thanks rekovaryroad, and I appreciate you visiting my blog.

I just reread that sentence and I think I'm using really bad English, but I'm too tired to figure out how to fix it.

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