Retrieving is uncertain work.
Fetch him bright fragrant feathers dead,
He grins and pats his gratitude.
But barf a scented toad beside his bed,
He screams, slams doors and me.
A still warm, gay and bloody duck,
He kneels and gathers like a grail.
But bring up week-old possum warm,
His voice goes grim; his face turns pale.
It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.
Balls or bumpers, birds and toads,
I think it should be none or all.
Last night I urped a knot of tennis net;
Picky bastard won’t ever get the ball.
I’m keeping the next duck too.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Dog poems = always good for a Friday laugh. But it’s also catalyst for a bit of reflection: Isn’t it interesting how vastly our perceptions of appropriate/inappropriate vary when compared with our dogs? It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.
I don’t know about you, but we’re always on the hunt for high-quality, small-sized treats for daily training and practice. We’re perpetually working on leash reactivity, and so we try to always have some good reinforcement on hand to rebuild those neural pathways.
Let’s have a brief and simplistic history lesson of the purebred dog, shall we?
Dogs have been around for a long time. When they were bred in the past, they were bred for function. Dogs that were good at herding were bred to other good herders; dogs that were good at hunting were bred to other good hunting dogs. And then you had sheepdogs and hounds. Their appearance probably varied greatly, but they were prized because they could get the job done.
But around the turn of the century, eugenics started to become popular. Maintaining the “purity” of races was all the rage (and we remember how that turned out, in the form of Nazi Germany). Victorian England decided to turn its racial purity sights onto their beloved dogs, and they created the Kennel Club in 1873 and with it, the notion of a “pure”-bred dog. Dog shows and an invented breed standard allowed wealthy dog owners to breed their pets into status symbols.
Kennel clubs exist all around the world today, and the typical purebred dog is bred to meet a breed standard, determined by a kennel club. This breed standard is determined by the breed clubs, and it is based on a somewhat mythical (and changeable) notion of what the “perfect” example of its breed should look like. Dog shows are strictly beauty pageants. Dogs have to meet an arbitrary, human-defined standard of beauty to be declared fit to be bred. And therein lies the problem.
When we make appearance the primary criteria for choosing a dog, we do a great disservice to the health and welfare of dogs everywhere.
These are the two main problems with making beauty the only thing that counts when breeding dogs:
Genetic diseases skyrocket. Among humans, it’d be gross/totally taboo for a grandfather to procreate with his granddaughter. But in the purebred dog world, this is completely common and even encouraged, especially if that sire is a ribbon winner. Naturally, this makes inherited disease vastly more common. As a weird/gross factoid of how far we’ve taken this, Imperial College London found that the approximately 10,000 pugs in the United Kingdom are equivalent to only 50 genetic individuals.
Anatomy gets screwed up to meet a capricious breed standard. Again, the breed standard is completely invented. There is no good reason for dachshunds to have one-inch-long legs anymore. There is no good reason for German shepherds to have back hocks that almost touch the ground. There is no good reason for bulldogs to be unable to respirate normally because of their squashed snouts. The dogs are bred this way to meet a breed standard, which is completely made up. And we are destroying their bodies in the process.
Didn’t your mother ever tell you looks don’t matter? It’s what’s on the inside that counts? And what’s on the inside of many purebreds, especially snub-nosed (brachycephalic), breeds is royally effed up, thanks to kennel clubs and breed standards.
I always get a lot of hate mail/negative comments when I express this opinion—that bulldogs and pugs are desperately unhealthy and over-bred—but I feel so strongly about this issue that it rolls off my back like water. I also have science on my side, so that helps.
Here’s a great summation of many of the physical problems with pedigree dogs, via following infographic from the RSPCA:
If you have a pug, French bulldog, English bulldog, or pekingese, or any extremely over-bred/deformed purebred, I know you love your dog. I know your dog loves you. They’re little fighters. They suffer and they don’t complain.
I know it’s not directly your fault that your dog can’t breathe or reproduce naturally. It’s the fault of generations of eugenics inflicted on canines to fit a wholly arbitrary breed standard.
But what is terrifying and depressing now is how registrations of brachycephalic dogs have soared over the past decade. Pugs and bulldogs are extremely trendy right now. They appear in tons of marketing and ad campaigns, and it’s “hip” to have a dog with a squashed face, especially in big cities. French bulldogs and pugs are small and relatively “lazy” (largely because they are incapable of too much exertion because of their anatomy), and so they appeal to many city dwellers.
I see so many pugs and bulldogs on the street, and I feel crushed a little every time I do. If you even know the slightest bit about canine anatomy, you can observe how much these dogs labor and struggle to even walk or trot short distances, especially on hot days. My hair stylist’s 5-year-old English bulldog dropped dead in the park one summer day because his heart simply gave out. Her vet said she’d seen it happen multiple times with bulldogs. I grow sad when I hear owners laughing about how their pugs or bulldogs “snore” or grunt so much. It isn’t really funny; your dog snores so loudly because she actually can’t get enough air. It’s heartbreaking. Dogs deserve better than this.
So, what are you to do, if you really like the look of pugs or French bulldogs? Here are a few ideas.
Alternatives to a pug/French bulldog/English bulldog
Puggle. Pug + beagle = dog who can breathe!
Pit bull or pit-type dogs. Still the squashed face that may appeal to you, but a much healthier build. And there are TONS of wonderful, happy pitties in shelters all around the country who are desperate to find happy homes.
Any mixed breed! Really. Breed is not a great determinant for personality. And modern purebreds, especially brachycephalic purebreds, tend to be genetic disasters.
But it’s time we spoke up for purebred dogs, who can’t speak up for themselves. Start demanding better breed standards from local breed clubs. Urge the kennel club in your country to take stronger measures to ensure that dogs are healthy and free of genetic disease.
The most important thing is to resist the urge to buy a puppy that’s bred to extremes. If we stop demanding snub-nosed breeds, the supply will decrease. Just say no to pugs and bulldogs. After all they give us, dogs deserve better, healthier, longer lives. And we have the power to give it to them.
We’re always training our dogs, even when we think we aren’t.
I should repeat this line to myself daily. Dogs learn through repetition and reinforcement, and they are probably inadvertently training us more than we are training them. Because I allow myself to be inattentive and lazy, I have permitted our dogs to practice some less-than-great household habits.
Here are some (undesirable) things I have unintentionally trained our dogs to do (or: A Lesson in How Not to Train Your Dogs). Pyrrha and Eden have learned to:
Claw at the outside door because it means that Abby will come open it quickly and be grumpy about it, because we’ve scratched all the paint off and the door now looks like someone was murdered outside it, and she just can’t take it anymore
Come running when they hear the sound of plastic packaging being opened
Expect help with a trapped/lost food toy when Abby comes in the room
Whine for assistance when a beloved ball is lost under the sofa for the millionth time
Flip out when the coat closet door is open, because that is where the leashes live
Flip out when a particular cabinet door is opened, because that is where the food lives
Bark at the neighbors because it’s super fun and makes Abby really irritated and yell-y
So, consider this my promise to myself, and to Pyrrha and Eden, that we are going to team up and start working to erode these oft-practiced behaviors with some switching up of routines, preventing these bad habits from being practiced in the first place, and teaching some incompatible behaviors with tons of positive reinforcement.
What have your dogs unintentionally learned? What have they trained you to do or expect?
An important question for anyone with a dog to ask is, What is my dog’s genetic heritage? In other words, what was my dog bred to do?
Knowing what your dog was bred for is a helpful way to learn what activities will best engage your dog. And all dog breeds, believe it or not, were created to serve a function. We often lose sight of this in our 21st-century approach to dogs, in which the majority of purebreds are created for (a) their looks, based on rather arbitrary breed standards, and (b) for companionship. But many breeds still retain their instincts to work and fulfill specific purposes.
Some breeds’ functions are (etymologically) much easier to guess than others. For instance, retrievers were bred to… retrieve. Shepherds were bred to herd sheep. Sighthounds (greyhounds, whippets, borzois, etc.) were bred for their keen vision in and speed in chasing small game. Other breed names have become misnomers because of ruinous breeding practices. Your modern bulldog, for instance, is certainly incapable of baiting any bulls (much less walking down a sidewalk without having difficulty breathing).
Even if you have a mixed-breed dog, you can probably make some educated guesses, based on your dog’s interests. Does he love to bark and chase and corral moving objects, people, or animals? He could have herding heritage. Is she obsessed with smelling everything? She might have some hound in her background. Does he adore digging holes? You might have a terrier type on your hands.
We have two German shepherds, and so I am often thinking about what they were bred to do. The German shepherd dog (GSD) was created at the turn of the century by German cavalry officer Max von Stephanitz. Inspired by the English ardor for purebreds, Stephanitz sought to standardize the herding dogs used in Germany and used this dog as his model:
Shortly after the creation of the breed, Stephanitz founded the first schutzhund (protection dog) club, which is still in existence today. From his model, shepherds have a lineage of herding (believe it or not) and protection (whether of people or property) and working very closely with humans. Stephanitz wanted a dog that looked like a wolf but unlike a wolf, was highly motivated to work with people. Today, German shepherds are most commonly seen in the public eye working with law enforcement, military branches, search and rescue, bomb and drug detection, and cadaver search, just to name a few.
German shepherds are a strong, intelligent, sensitive, versatile, and demanding breed, and therefore, they can be a big pain for us normal people who decide to keep them in their homes. If you’re not going out every day and searching for bombs with your shepherd, how else can you keep her happy and busy? Here are some ideas.
7 Ways to Keep Your German Shepherd Busy If You’re a Normal Person
1: Puppy-play dates
This is not exactly a canine sport, but I think free time with other dogs is especially vital to the health and well-being of a German shepherd.
Like many intelligent and observant breeds, GSDs have a tendency to be touchy. If they are not socialized throughout their lives (particularly when they are puppies), their ability to get along with other dogs can be seriously undermined and lead to unchecked territorial behavior and anxiety-induced aggression.
If you have a fenced-in yard like we do, invite other stable dogs that you know and like over for a play-date. If you don’t have a fenced-in yard, try to find a secure area for your dog to interact off leash with other dogs. I personally find dog parks a little risky, but if you have one nearby that you like and trust, go for it! I think this activity is one of the most important for our shepherds.
Schutzhund is a German dog sport that was initially created as a suitability test for German shepherds. Today, all breeds can compete (although the field tends to be dominated by GSDs, Belgian malinois, and other large, working breeds) and the sport tests a dog’s ability to serve as a protection dog. Schutzhund competitors have to perform a series of tasks related to tracking, obedience, and protection.
Eden’s parents are both West German imports, and accordingly, both were titled in schutzhund. Her father, impressively, had achieved the Sch3 title (the “master’s degree”), which I think partially explains why she’s so intense all the time. Ha.
Schutzhund is not personally appealing to me, but I know that many greatly enjoy the sport and the bond that they develop with their dogs through it.
Yes! There is a resurgence of interest in German shepherds going back to their roots and herding sheep.
It takes a bit more effort and dedication to train a GSD to herd than it might for the typical border collie, but it is possible, particularly if your dog has a working lineage and the proper temperament. To get started in herding, you would want to have your dog assessed for herding instinct by a herding trainer in your area.
I think Eden could be a capable herder if we ever wanted to try. Pyrrha’s hunting instincts are too strong, I think, for her to overcome, and she is also not very confident in general. But it’s certainly a sport I’ve thought about for Edie.
4: Nose work
Nose work refers to trials in which dogs essentially play hide and seek with smells. It can be a great confidence builder, especially for shy dogs.
Pyrrha is very scent oriented, and I’ve thought about taking some nose work classes with our trainer, who offers a few levels of this canine sport. She is a shy butterfly, and I’ve love to see her excel at a sport that was just her speed.
Shepherds can be great disc dogs, as our little Eden has shown us. Eden LIVES for the Frisbee. It is the only thing that matters in her life.
If your shepherd has a fit build and an interest in chasing and retrieving objects, you have a Frisbee dog on your hands!
For more about teaching your shepherd how to catch (and return!) flying discs, see my post about how to train your dog to be a disc dog.
Your GSD may never be an agility all-star like a border collie, Australian shepherd, or Jack Russell terrier, but it can be a perfect canine sport for the active and motivated shepherd.
Again, because of her Frisbee-related jumping skills, I think Eden could really enjoy and excel at agility. I may have to coerce my husband to build us some little jumps to practice with in the backyard.
7: Therapy work
Do you have a particularly gentle, people-oriented shepherd? If so, consider therapy dog certification.
I think therapy dogs are some of the most beautiful and touching examples of how species can care for one another, and dogs are uniquely designed to lavish affection on people. Therapy dogs can serve a wide range of people and needs, and I am constantly impressed by their versatility.
Pyrrha is a gentle dog, but she is truthfully not a great candidate to be a therapy dog (probably because she still needs so much therapy herself), but under the right circumstances, she is extremely sweet with people, especially with the elderly.
These are just a few of the many, many activities that shepherds can enjoy, based on their lineage. It is a pleasure to have dogs who are so willing to work with people and learn new things.
How do you keep your dog active and engaged, based on his or her genetic heritage?
While wandering around Three Castle Head in Ireland this summer, we were venturing among the foggy cliffs when we saw a sudden movement in the rocks.
A border collie had crouched down, with a stick in front of her, and was eagerly awaiting our presence and potential to play fetch with her.
We weren’t able to get much closer, because a young family appeared shortly thereafter, and the kids were engaged in playing with her, to her intense delight. One of the many enjoyable things from our European summer was how often we ran into delightful free-range dogs like this collie.
As we settle back in to our normal life, the girls are pleased to know that we’re resuming some reviews of products from Chewy.com. We are not paid for our opinions, and we only review things that we feel comfortable about recommending. We are provided with a free sample and asked to write a review, which Pyrrha and Eden are only too happy to help with.
(*Note that is a pinecone between them. Not something… untoward…)
They are big fans! I have been using broken-up pieces of these strips to entice Pyrrha while I apply some antibiotic spray to her in the morning (she has an ongoing minor issue), and it certainly helps distract her from any small unpleasantness.
Do you have a favorite type of treat that’s currently in rotation at your house? Do share!
In exchange for our honest opinion, we were provided with a bag of these treats from Chewy.com. I was not paid for my opinion, and I only feature reviews of products I am comfortable recommending to good friends.