I recently conducted an experiment that I suspected would go badly, and that some of my trainer friends suspected would go badly – and it did. I didn’t test any new training equipment, and I didn’t test any new method of teaching dogs to do a particular behavior. What I did was invite humans to a workshop on how to find the best dog for their particular lifestyle. There was absolutely no financial incentive for me to hold this workshop. In fact, the proceeds, had there been any, were destined as a donation for one of the local shelters in my area that is building a new state of the art shelter, Cape Ann Animal Aid, and that fact was openly disclosed in public service announcements about the workshop.
Given that it’s holiday time, I really didn’t expect a large crowd, but since I know that some families will NOT heed the advice we trainers often give about the inappropriateness of bringing a puppy home for Christmas, or giving a puppy to someone else as a gift without the person’s knowledge, you would think that a few hardy souls would decide that they could learn a bit before signing on the bottom line. Nope. The one attendee was a loyal client of mine, who got her dog from a local rescue organization, attended multiple classes, and ended up with a great dog already suited to her lifestyle. Still, I gave the complete workshop for her (never let it be said that my clients don’t get their money’s worth) and she actually reported to me that she learned a lot, even though she’s not a first time pet owner by any means. I did this knowing in my heart that if I built it they still would not come, and that left me puzzling about why. So, I’m appealing to those newbies in the dog owning world who see this blog post to tell me.
What do we trainers have to do to get the word out to you BEFORE you make errors that are so easily prevented? What do we have to do to get you to understand that you are not “rescuing” anything when you buy a puppy at a pet store, and that you could, instead, be damning a breeding female to a lifetime living in a cage, only to be dumped at the shelter when her breeding days are over? Is that a system you really want to perpetuate when we could have provided you with a referral to a reputable breeder, no matter what breed you were interested in?
What do we have to do to keep you from buying that beautiful Australian Shepherd when you have three children under the age of 8 who will become the unintended victims of his desire to herd and gather, and who will use a well placed poke or nip to enforce his rules because you are too busy with the kids to train him, or you just thought he’d “grow out of it?”
What do we have to do to keep you from purchasing a “teacup” or that “somethingdoodle” from an Internet puppy mill, and then becoming heartbroken when you find that miniaturizing dogs, or inappropriate random breeding can sometime lead to devastating health issues that can result in huge vet bills after your 72 hour “health guarantee” expires (reputable breeders *always* provide a lifetime guarantee).
What do we have to do to dissuade you from getting that livestock guardian breed when you don’t have sheep, but you do have kids, whose friends may be viewed as “intruders” by the dog, even if he’s the most affectionate dog on the planet with your family?
What do we have to do to stop you from getting a bully breed that is banned from some cities and towns, or apartments, or by insurance companies, before your lifestyle is stable enough (to insure that he won’t be looking for a home in six months or a year when your situation changes so that he won’t end up with the hundreds of others in “open admission” shelters across the country waiting for homes that there simply aren’t enough of)?
What do we have to do to get you to bring your new puppy to class at age ten weeks instead of ten months when they suddenly become doggy teenagers and you can’t take the barking, chewing, digging, or nipping for another minute?
What do we have to do to prevent you from paying through the nose for a “designer dog” whose breeder didn’t bother to show the parents, work the parents, or even have them tested for genetic disorders so that YOUR puppy would have a reasonable chance at a healthy long life and that he would be able to fulfill the dreams you have for him even if the dream is to have a great companion dog?
What do we have to do to prevent you from choosing a behaviorally unsound shelter dog because you felt badly for it cowering in the back of its run?
What do we have to do to convince you to call a professional for advice *BEFORE* you shop for your next puppy or dog?
What do we have to do to get you to ask us before you bring home a male Boxer from unknown lines to live with your little male Jack Russell terrier and then they don’t get along when the Boxer matures and turns out to be dog aggressive?
What do we have to do to get you to read the advice in the “What’s Good About ’em, What’s Bad About ’em” pages, rather than in the notoriously awful dog breed info sites that are populated by ads for large scale breeders of puppies that are nothing more than livestock to them? After all, you still don’t have to take our advice when we give it, but we certainly could save you one heck of a lot of heartache in a lot of cases if you do. You might even learn about a new breed that you didn’t know about before that would be perfect for your family! Maybe a Lagotto Romagnolo or a Flat Coated Retriever. Maybe just a Big Fluffy Dog.
Sadly, John and Jane Q. Public, I invited you to my party and you didn’t come. What do we trainers have to do to get you to accept our invitations? We care about your dogs more than you know, and our hearts bleed daily for the ones that ended up, through no fault of their own, in the wrong home. What do we have to do to help you get the best dog for your lifestyle, so that he or she has a “forever home” with you?