Thursday, March 28, 2019

What Is Bad Breeding? A Lack Of Ethics

Quality, ethical breeders make my heart sing with joy. They produce puppies with vibrant health and longevity from health-tested, titled parents. Good breeders and their good dogs make the dog world a better place.
There are bad breeders out there, however.
So what makes a breeder unethical or "bad?" Well, there are many variables.
First of all, almost every breeder of so-called designer dogs is automatically an unethical breeder in my opinion. Someone who crosses, for example, Cocker Spaniels to Poodles to sell “rare Cockapoo” or “Doodle” dogs is a designer dog breeder, and I find that unwholesome and unethical.
Part of what makes a breeder unethical is anyone who lies about their dogs, no matter what dogs they produce. The designer dog breeders I've met sling so many lies to sell their puppies it really makes me sick; they make purely ludicrous claims! They will often say designer dogs are hypoallergenic. Or that Poodle crosses are always non-shedding. They'll claim designer dogs have hybrid vigor and never get sick or inherit genetic problems. Or they claim that they aren't mutts but “new purebred breeds.” I even saw a breeder of Schnauzer x Poodle mixes (she was billing them as "Schnoodles") telling potential buyers that their puppies are immune to getting fleas and ticks.

All of those are blatant lies.

These breeders lying about the puppy means the buyer can’t make an informed decision. It is completely acceptable for someone to decide that a breed or individual dog isn’t the right choice for them! Liars will lie to sell dogs because they are more concerned with the immediate sale than making sure the dog is the right long-term choice for the buyer. This places those dogs into situations that sometimes aren't ideal for them, or aren't ideal for the owner who got swindled, and all too often these dogs end up alone in shelters (or worse) because they just weren't the right fit.
Breeders who readily tell me the truth about their dogs earn my trust, because I can rely on their honesty.
Breeders who lie to sell dogs are unethical, period.

Most good breeders also put titles on their dogs, either in conformation showing or in a dog sport. While it's not inherently unethical to breed a dog without titles, it's generally accepted that if a dog is worthy of breeding, they should have a title. But since not all quality dogs get titled, it's not a complete deal-breaker for me if a dog lacks a title. Though I must admit, I'd expect to hear a very good reason why that step hasn't been taken. It doesn't need to be conformation showing either...I grew up with German Wirehairs who were bred primarily for their skill as a hunter, and when we were looking for our current dog (a Brittany) we were looking for a dog with field trial champion ancestors.

What about companion breeds who were never bred to hunt, or herd, or guard? There are events for all dogs, such as obedience or agility. At the very least, those dogs to be considered for breeding should be getting certified as a Canine Good Citizen. It shows some effort and dedication on the part of the breeder to prove that their dog(s) have qualities worth passing on to the next generation.
Another thing that makes a breeder unethical is knowingly breeding dogs who have not been health tested. I strongly support health testing for all dogs who are going to be bred, even though not all defects are heritable and not all health testing is simple pass-or-fail. 
From my own experiences, most breeders who don’t bother to health test or screen their dogs for defects usually fall into two types: first, people who just want to breed puppies from their beloved but haphazardly bred pet dog and may not realize that health screening even exists, and second, breeders who honestly should know better but who don’t actually care about the health or longevity of their dogs. Either way, I cannot call either of them good breeders. Not by a long shot.
It should go without saying that taking a dog to the vet and getting a health certificate does not qualify as health testing. More and more puppy buyers are becoming educated on how to make the right choice when it comes to selecting a breeder, and some are starting to ask potential breeders about health testing. I've seen a lot of designer dog ads lately where the breeder is claiming they have been "health tested," but upon questioning, the dog only has a health certificate from a vet. The certificate certifies nothing except the dog isn't currently sick. This is yet another deception from these unethical breeders, and I do not like it. It shows how dishonest they really are.

Something I mentioned earlier is that plenty of unethical designer dog breeders claim their mixed breed dogs have hybrid vigor. While there may be some good crosses, there are plenty of health problems that afflict many different breeds. I always point to hip dysplasia as a complaint with Doodles, as I've known many who have struggled with painful, dysplastic hip problems. After all, any breed of dog can have bad hips! As an example? My little three pound Chihuahua mix had atrocious hips!

I've known far more designer dog mutts who have genetic defects than I have quality, health tested purebreds. Sadly because of the popularity of these fad mixed breed mutts, their unethical breeders are cashing in...for example, hip defects rarely show up until the puppy is maturing into an adult. By then the breeder has already profited and has moved on to selling more flawed dogs to more unsuspecting buyers.

Now, it bears mentioning that there are actually ethical crossbreeders out there! With the competition world being so challenging, some people have begun to breed sport crosses to excel in the performance arena. However, these ethical breeders who crossbred never call their dog a "new breed" or pretend they're purebred, and they do extensive health testing and titling before breeding.

Frankly if all designer dog breeders would health test, title, and prove their dogs, I'd be thrilled! It would give them legitimacy in my eyes. It just so rarely (i.e., never) happens.

Before anyone claims I'm only against designer dog breeders, let me state here and now that there are plenty of unethical purebred breeders, too. In fact, the majority of purebred dogs I've groomed over the years were not bred by good, ethical breeders. Many were produced by people who have a bitch and decide to just make puppies, because they love their pet and want other people to enjoy similar pet puppies. It's not a bad sentiment, but they are still unethical if they do not utilize at least basic health testing. Others who breed purebreds unethically are as bad as designer dog breeders: just looking to churn out puppies to make a profit with no concern for the life or well-being of the dogs they produce.

Now, those unethically bred puppies can't help how they were born, and unless they are temperamentally unsound, they are often very good companions. That doesn't mean they should be bred, though!

In my area there's a Shih Tzu breeder who produces absolutely awful dogs. They're sweet and friendly, but they all have the same atrocious elbows and bad knees. We are talking dogs who have legs so crooked they literally limp. Clearly they are not an ethical breeder since they are producing dogs who can't live a pain-free life! Plus those particular Shihs tend to go blind very young, between five and ten. That is totally unacceptable for a dog who could live well into their teens! They're purebred, and registered with the AKC, and completely and unequivocally unethically bred.

I had a Cocker Spaniel that a client gave to me who was a great dog, sweet and kind, with a heart of gold. He had a beautiful soul, and I loved him dearly, but he had awful conformation. His knees and elbows weren't good and his hind end was badly put together. I cannot tell you how many people asked to breed their dogs to him because of his gorgeous markings, lovely full-length coat, and sweet, soulful expression. I did my best to educate people that, while he was a wonderful and beloved companion, he could easily pass on his badly built legs to any offspring he'd make, and that it's not fair to produce a puppy who is so likely to struggle to get around. And you'd be amazed how many people told me they didn't care if he was poorly built or haphazardly bred, they wanted to breed to him anyways because of his attractive markings.

I repeat, people would actually tell me they do not care if the puppies he'd have sired would have bad limbs and possibly suffer for it, because they'd be a very pretty color. That is the height of unethical!

It's just not fair to bring a puppy into this world who can't live a pain-free life, purebred or not.

Speaking of color, there are more and more unethical breeders who breed only for color, usually a color that isn't acceptable for the breed. I will delve into this in a future blog, but for the moment suffice to say that I have yet to meet a breeder who breeds for rare (i.e., off-standard) colors on purpose who is doing so ethically.

The fact is many people have never even seen a well-bred, ethically produced purebred. The purebreds they see are usually haphazardly bred pets who beget more health testing, no concern for well-being, just more puppies to breed even more puppies. And I hear it all too often! "I want to breed my dog," they'll tell me, and ask if I know a dog of the opposite sex for them to mate their dog to. Needless to say I politely decline. I can't stop them from pumping out a litter of haphazardly bred dogs, but I sure don't have to be a part of it.

Really breaks my heart, too, seeing so many unsound, unhealthy dogs! It also really makes me appreciate good breeders all the more.

To be fair, I don't think it's inherently unethical to breed pet dogs. But I would hold them to the same standard I do show breeders: they need to health test, and temperament test, any dog they plan to breed. And it should go without saying that only sound dogs should be bred. If a pet breeder did these things, I would be okay with them producing puppies. I just haven't ever seen any pet breeder take the necessary steps to be ethical.
In a strange twist of logic, some people claim that a breeder who makes a profit is automatically a bad breeder. I wish I didn’t have to address this, but it’s such a common misconception I feel need to discuss it.
Most breeders do not make a profit; many breeders barely break even or are constantly in the red. Raising puppies, breeding dogs, health screening, day-to-day maintenance, all of that costs money. If you add the costs of showing, competing, or field trialing the dogs, the costs skyrocket.
However, there are some good breeders who make a profit selling their pups. Why is this seen as bad? Since when is the word “profit” a four-letter word? It makes no sense to me. If a good breeder makes a profit on their dogs, more power to them for finding a way to make money doing something they love! You cannot judge the ethics of a breeder solely based on what they do or do not earn through breeding.

Frankly, I wish more ethical breeders were able to turn a profit from their dogs.
Lastly, I want to address an issue I've seen debated online: that all breeders are inherently unethical because we still have stray dogs in shelters. Many of the rescue-only crowd point out that there are purebreds in shelters.

I can say with confidence that it's a rare occasion indeed that a puppy from an ethical breeder sets foot in a shelter or rescue. If the puppy doesn't work out, the overwhelming majority of ethical breeders will take the dog back. The purebreds you see in shelters are invariably from breeders who are mediocre at best. These poorly-bred dogs are rarely good examples of their breed, both in terms of health and conformation. All too often they also lack the traits that define their breed.
For example, I know of a few people who wanted German Shorthair Pointers as their next hunting dog, but who balked at the price of a well-bred puppy when I put them in contact with the breeders I used to know (who've sadly passed away since then). Three of those people "adopted" a purebred German Shorthair from shelters. 
All three of those people have expressed deep regret to me for their decision.
None of the shelter-Shorthairs ever succeeded as even a passable gun dog. You see, not all pointing breed dogs have the instincts or sense of smell needed to become a useful hunting dog. Many poor-quality, poorly-bred German Shorthairs can’t smell a bird until they are on top of it, so they end up flushing the birds instead of pointing them, or worse they miss the bird entirely. Many times I've seen Pheasants hold their ground, or try to slip away by running instead of flying; I've also seen Woodcock you could practically pick up because their instinct is to hide, and only fly as a last resort. If the dog doesn't have any nose to speak of, all those birds will easily escape. Plenty of low-quality pointers also “creep” on point; when a pointer points, they are expected to hold perfectly still. None of the shelter-Shorthairs would hold, they'd never lock into that gorgeous breed-defining point. One of them just couldn’t figure out how to point at all, period.

Those three shelter Shorthairs? All three also had truly awful behavior problems, which was probably why they ended up in the shelter in the first place. I recently found out one of the three was returned to the shelter...and another one ran away, never to be seen again. The third, I've lost contact with the owners...we were friends through our love of hunting and they seem to've given that up, probably because their neurotic dog is a total embarrassment in the field.

Years back my dad bought a Shorthair, but he purchased the dog from an ethical breeder, who made sure to pair him up with a dog that had a near perfect nose and strong pointing instincts. My dad didn't do too many field trials with this dog (instead utilizing him as a gentleman's hunting companion), but the few competitions he did enter him in, the dog placed well or outright won. My dad once entered a multi-day trial, and just didn’t show up for one of the two days. This means his dog didn’t get a single point for half of the competition. Yet his Shorthair did so well on the single day he was competing that he was awarded second overall. My dad was pleased…I was really angry, because had he bothered to just show up for the first day, it would have been a big win!
Moreover, ethical preservation breeders are the guardians and stewards of priceless genetics. If all good, ethical breeders stopped breeding, in just one single generation the best and purest bloodlines would disappear. The world needs less Doodle-breeders, sure, but the world desperately needs every single good breeder. Without them, there will be no good, high-quality dogs left.
Without good breeders, the only people who will be left to produce dogs will be uneducated and unethical breeders. The overall quality in dogs, all dogs, will decline. How is that for the “betterment” of dogs?

This blog entry was originally posted on Jan 28, 2014. It has been re-written and re-posted here for posterity.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Discussing Tail Docking In Dogs

Recently the Alberta Veterinary Medical Association voted to stop performing what they consider "unnecessary" surgical procedures on dogs, including tail docking. Frankly, this is absolutely ridiculous and stupid.

The choice to dock (or not to dock) a dog's tail should rest firmly in the hands of the people breeding traditionally docked breeds. Yes, there are many breeds that should be docked, and with good reason! Tail injuries are a very real thing. This is especially true of hunting dogs who will be at risk of tail injury both while working in the field and at home.

I'm a dog groomer, and I witnessed firsthand a catastrophic tail injury in the salon I worked at. The dog was in for a de-shedding treatment and afterwards his beautiful white coat literally sparkled. As I was walking him to the front entrance so his owners could take him home, he whacked his happily-wagging tail on the leg of a grooming table.

And knocked off nearly two inches off the tip of his tail. Flesh, bone, and all.

It was horrifying. He just kept wagging his tail, his owners were trying to hold him still, and I was desperately trying to hold onto his tail to wrap it to stop the bleeding. Blood sprayed absolutely everywhere...fellow groomers grabbed dogs off their tables and ran to keep from getting splattered. Afterwards I had to wash the blood off the floors, the walls, the window, and the ceiling. I apologized profusely to his owners, but they reassured me it was okay. They told me this wasn't the first time he'd knocked a chunk off the end of his tail.

The absolute grossest part was after they left and I was cleaning up, and I had to pick up the bloody chunk of dog tail meat. Bone in it and everything. It was absolutely horrifying.

Worse yet, it kept happening. Every so often they'd cancel a grooming appointment because they were on their way to the veterinarian again, due to yet another tail injury.

Eventually that poor dog had a tail injury that got infected and was affecting his spine. The vet had to amputate the whole tail to save him, to the tune of several thousands of dollars. Since the whole tail had to be taken off right at the pelvis, he was also at risk of incontinence due to peri-anal muscular damage.

Every time people complain about tail docking I think of that poor dog. He endured years of pain, roughly a dozen emergency vet visits due to tail injuries, nearly died because of an infected tail injury, and then had to endure the pain of complete surgical amputation. All that pain, all those vet bills, all of that could have easily been saved if his breeder had just docked his tail as a puppy.

I grew up with bird dogs and our dogs were always docked. But I've seen other hunters have dogs injured in the field from so-called "natural" tails. Until you've experienced it, you can't imagine how awful it is.

Some breeds of dog have thick, muscular, well-attached tails. Some breeds have thin, delicate, whippy tails that are very easily damaged. You can't compare the tail of a German Shorthair to that of a Labrador...the German Shorthair's tail is very delicate while the Lab's tail is very solid, appropriately otter-like.

Tail docking on puppies is usually performed within the first week of life, and is performed by either ligature, or surgically cutting it with sterile scissors or a scalpel. When I raised concerns about it (yes, a while back I briefly bought into the idea it was a terrible thing to do to a puppy...hey propaganda can be very compelling!), I was invited to watch a breeder dock a whole litter of puppies...these pups happened to be working terriers. It wasn't the bloody nightmare I had imagined or been led to believe by the anti-docking crowd, in fact there was almost no blood at all, even though they were being docked with a scalpel. More importantly, about half the litter basically slept through the procedure. I was amazed. It must not have been painful since it didn't even rouse some of them from slumber! The puppies were three days old and not at all sedated, most gave one tiny yip when picked up (before the docking even happened) and the puppies were returned immediately to their mother to nurse. I've since also watched videos of ligature/banding of tails, and it is similarly pretty painless.

A quick, nearly painless procedure within days of birth, compared to the agony I've seen from severe tail injuries. And now Alberta veterinarians want to ban docking as "unnecessary?" Absolutely unacceptable.

Back in 2007, Scotland unilaterally banned tail docking. Well-meaning people thought it was unnecessary and cruel, and enough public support helped push it through even though most hunters opposed the ban. So, for nearly a decade, no hunting dogs were docked in Scotland. As a result, tail injuries skyrocketed, with some studies reporting more than 50% increase in injuries to tails of breeds that used to be docked as puppies. It became so common for working field dogs to have tail injuries (some very severe) that the ban was actually lifted in 2017, though only for dogs expected to be working/hunting dogs.

That is still pretty absurd, since tail injuries on thin, delicate tails can happen anywhere. The gruesome tail injury I experienced in the salon? Was on a dog of a hunting breed who should traditionally be docked, and it happened in the salon. That dog was a pet who never set one foot in the field. Plus you cannot look at a whole litter of puppies and know within the week of their birth which will have a career as a hunter, and which will have a life purely as a pet.

While I am unashamedly pro-docking, I don't have a problem with a breeder who opposes docking and leaves their dogs with full length tails. I would never purchase from such a breeder, but nor would I judge them or look down on them. Every ethical breeder must choose for themselves what is right for the puppies they breed. I have a huge problem with that choice being taken away!

Before anyone chimes in about "natural tails," let me remind you that nothing about the domestic dog is natural. We have selectively bred these glorious creatures so far away from their wolf ancestors, that to claim that anything about them is natural is hilarious. Wearing collars or being micro-chipped is wholly unnatural, yet they are both responsible and undeniably beneficial to our canine companions. Trimming nails is unnatural, after all nobody goes around trimming wolf nails, and yet to neglect this most basic dog maintenance task is literally cruel, as long nails can harm a dog and deform the foot. There is no such thing as a natural tail in domestic dogs.

If docking is unnatural, what about naturally bob-tailed dogs, like some Pembroke Corgis or Australian Shepherds? What about dogs with curly tails, like the Pug? Or tails that curl over their back like a Siberian Husky? None of those tails are natural either. One could argue if it's cruel to dock a dog's tail, it's cruel to breed a Basenji who's tail curls in an unnatural shape. The fact is, it isn't cruel at all to dock a tail, if done properly.

While I'm on the subject of what isn't natural, let me point out that most anti-docking persons are totally fine with spaying and neutering, often supporting even pediatric alteration. Properly done, tail docking has no negative lasting effects on a dog, but ripping out hormone producing gonads through fairly invasive surgery sure does! The gonads of a dog affect the growth plates when the dog reaches sexual maturity, and dogs who've been spayed or neutered before this occurs are at a much higher risk of joint problems such as hip dysplasia. Here in North America we've been inundated with propaganda that pushes the notion that the only way to be a responsible dog owner is to have our dog's gonads chopped out as early as possible. The anti-docking people claim that shortening the tail is harmful, yet they are silent on the issue of pediatric spay/neuter, which is far more invasive, painful, and harmful over the course of a dog's life.

I've also read that some people believe that tail docking damages a dog's ability to communicate with other dogs. This is laughable at best! First off, I've always had docked tails on every dog I've ever owned except my Chihuahua mutt, and none of those docked dogs ever had an issue socializing with other dogs! Secondly, if someone opposes tail docking due to the myth that it harms their social communication, why aren't anti-docking people in favor of ear cropping? Droopy ears are, by that logic, just as likely to cause communication defects. Sounds absurd, right? The reality is that dogs aren't only communicating with their ears or tail, they use their whole body. Really, people need to give their dogs some credit! Dogs adapt socially all the time to different tail types. Furthermore, all research on the subject of docked dogs and communication deficits have been criticized for being inherently flawed and biased. There is zero real, peer-reviewed, empirical research to actually support this "docked-tail equals bad-communication" theory.

Others have theorized that the tail is necessary for balance, and that dogs without tails can't balance properly. This is just blatantly wrong. I feel like anyone who says this has never met a single Australian Shepherd in their life, which is a very agile, athletic breed! My own experiences as I've said are with docked-tailed bird dogs, and they are superbly agile and have excellent balance. To be perfectly honest I have many clumsy dog groom clients with full length tails; just last week I had a four year old Golden I was picking up from his home who couldn't figure out how to jump into the passenger side of my car without assistance. Poor thing is extremely clumsy and has terrible balance! He needs to be lifted onto the grooming table because he can't jump up on his own without losing his balance and toppling over. This isn't uncommon, either! Compare that to our docked Brittany, who can run at the vehicle at a full gallop and leap directly into his small travel crate situated five feet off the ground in the back of the truck without touching one foot to the truck itself! He can spin on a dime at top speed and leap over any obstacles in the field. I've never seen him lose his balance once! His docked tail hasn't affected his balance at all.

The reality is that people who oppose tail docking just aren't informed about the procedure, it's lack of long-term effects if done properly, or the risks of tail injury in some breeds who've been traditionally docked.

Some people claim it's all about aesthetics. I always ask what? It's a pretty harmless procedure that has no long-term effects. So what if people who love docked tails appreciate the aesthetics as well as appreciating the benefits it can have? I love the look of a cute, nubby tail! I love how fast they wag, and I love the way a short tail looks when a docked dog is beautifully stacked. Why is it a bad thing to want my dogs to look their best, especially if it isn't harmful to them?

At the end of the day I support the right to choose. I believe it's unethical and unacceptable to take this choice away from breeders and dog owners.

As a post script, this is a pretty good read: Silvasheen Weimaraners

Friday, March 22, 2019

It's Not A Beauty Pageant: The Truth About Dog Shows

I was texting with a relative today, and she said she was watching a recording of the Westminster dog show. She asked me how they judge the many breeds of dogs against each other when many are so wildly different. She has a perception that it's a beauty pageant. I didn't have time to answer her right away, but I promised to write to her with an answer soon; I realized she may not be alone in her curiosity so I've opted to make the answer public.

It's easy for non-dog people to look at the seemingly endless parade of breeds of every shape, size, and color and wonder how anyone could compare, say, a Neapolitan Mastiff to a Pomeranian, but the reality is pretty straightforward: they aren't judged against each other at all.

Each breed of dog has a written standard which details what that breed should look and act like. It's essentially an impossible-to-attain description of what the perfect dog of that breed would be. Each dog in a breed is judged against the same standard, and the dog that is closest to that written perfection wins. The best dog of each breed moves on to compete in groups.

Every show group is comprised of breeds who have a similar purpose. For example, dogs that hunt by sight or scent are generally in the AKC Hound group, while terriers, large and small, are in the Terrier group. The only group that differs is the Non-Sporting group, which has become kind of a catch-all for breeds that don't really fit into any other group.

When dogs of different breeds are being judged in the group ring, they are still only being judged against their own breed's specific written standard. The judge is tasked with deciding which dog is the closest match to his or her description of perfection.

So why doesn't the same dog always win? The answer is because perfection is actually somewhat variable.

Show judges have to take the written word and envision it as a fully realized perfect dog in their minds, and thus what one judge sees as absolute perfection within a given breed, may not be perfect to another judge. This doesn't mean one judge is necessarily better than another, it just means their interpretation of perfection is somewhat different.

Another variable is the dogs themselves! If you ask a show judge why they put up the winning dog, often they'll say the dog "asked for it" or that the dog "wanted to win." Attitude in the ring can tip the scales in the dog's favor. This is because the written standard also describes the ideal temperament of each breed, and a dog displaying that temperament in the ring may have a better chance of standing out. This is why so many of Westminster's Best In Show winners over the history of the event have been terriers. Those plucky, alert, self-confident little (or not-so-little) terriers often strut around the show ring like they own it! Conversely, sometimes a dog just isn't having a good day, and thus a dog who's a great example of the breed might be overlooked that day...the dog just wasn't performing very well.

I happened to witness this firsthand once. Years back I was at a show and I ended up chatting with an exhibitor about her Sheltie while waiting for judging (it was briefly delayed, I forget what reason). She told me her dog was having an off day and she didn't expect him to place well, even though he was a gorgeous example of a Shetland Sheepdog with many wins already under his belt. Sure enough, that day he slunk around the ring and wouldn't stack at all. As his owner predicted, he did not win.

You have to remember that dogs can't talk to us. Maybe he had a headache, or had an upset stomach, or just wasn't in a good mood. These are living creatures after all!

But when a dog is "on," look out!

I should mention that in North America, there is not one, but three legitimate and honorable registries that you can show dogs in. Most people have heard of the American Kennel Club (AKC), but there is also a Canadian Kennel Club (CKC) and the Michigan-based registry, the United Kennel Club (UKC). Not all breeds are accepted by every one of the three, and not all written standards are the same across each registry. Your mileage may vary!

This actually goes for many different species, too. If there's a domestic animal, there is a fancy for them, and thus conformation shows! Everything from cats to cows to fancy mice are shown in conformation events! I actually breed and show rabbits...and yes, people are always asking if I'm being serious when I say that. I am a dues-paying member of the American Rabbit Breeders Association, as well as several regional clubs. I breed Zwergschecken, also known as Dwarf Papillons; they are a small but not-genetically-dwarf breed that places heavy importance on the rabbit's markings. Obviously we don't trot/gait our rabbits around the ring like they do at dog shows (although some breeds of rabbit are judged while running across a table), but the basic principle of conformation judging is the same. Each rabbit is judged against a written standard of perfection, to determine which rabbit is the best example of his or her breed. Like dogs, each breed is shown individually, then the winners of each breed compete for Best In Show.

This brings me to my next point: the purpose of showing is to judge the quality of breeding stock. This is why the dogs in the show ring are intact (not spayed or neutered). Showing isn't just a fun way to spend time with your dog (although it IS a lot of fun!), it's a method to gauge suitability to breed. A dog who consistently doesn't place well at shows may not be the best choice for breeding. Now, some species can be shown altered, such as cats. But dogs in conformation showing are usually intact.

I should reiterate, dog shows are fun...actually all animal conformation shows are fun! In addition to dog, horse, and rabbit shows, I have gone to chicken shows, cattle shows, even a pig show once. And I'm planning to go spectate a cat show sometime in the near future. I love going to shows. For some events you must bring your own chair (I keep a folding canvas chair in the back of my SUV) but often there are chairs or bleachers available. I especially enjoy attending the UKC Premier dog show, which happens to be held every year in my home state. Not only do they have conformation showing, there's all sorts of canine sports being run at the same time! The last time I attended I got to watch dock diving, agility, barn hunt, and competitive obedience. And there's usually a lot of vendors with cool products and breed-specific things!

I highly encourage everyone to go to a show, any show, and experience it firsthand!

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Was The Silverhall Seizure Necessary?

This is in reference to the recent seizure by animal control of eighteen Silverhall Cocker Spaniels. The Silverhall Cocker Spaniels and the Pikes (the owners) are AKC Breeders of Merit, and giants in the show world with over 250 champions to their name. In 2018 they were inducted into the Cocker Spaniel Hall of Fame. They were also Breeder of the Year in the sporting group that same year. Needless to say it is shocking that their dogs were seized.

Just to be up front and clear, I think it's absolutely ridiculous that animal control seized ANY of the dogs. None were abused or neglected, and the animal control officers have emphatically stated as such. They were definitely being fed and cared for. The dogs were in kennel runs at the time of the seizure and the kennels in question were being cleaned twice daily by Mr. Pike, as Mrs. Pike had suffered an ankle injury.

What was the complaint? The room the dogs were kenneled in smelled of dog waste.

I've got some news for you: unless you are having your dogs poop directly into a plastic bag to be immediately discarded, dog waste smells. The grooming salon I used to work in had a kennel block in the back, and we'd often each be working on up to three dogs at a time, to a total of about 20 dogs at any given moment. And let me tell you, if one single dog pooped we would all know about it!

On days where I couldn't take my little Chihuahua mutt with me to work, I'd keep her in a glorified exercise pen with pee pads. Trust me, one half-pound puppy poop was enough of a stink that if she defecated while I was out, I would know it the moment I stepped through the door.

It's absolutely unreasonable to think that a kennel area will never have an odor.

Plus the animal control officers showed up just before the afternoon kennel cleaning, when they knew it would be the at the worst possible, odor-wise. Had they shown up any later, the kennel room would have been pristine.

So what terrible crime led them to believe that all of the dogs were in danger, and thus had to be removed? Well...the dog poop smell. That's literally it. The Pikes have been charged (CHARGED, not convicted, CHARGED) with one single count of animal cruelty. Why they had eighteen dogs seized but have one single legal charge is beyond me. It's absurd. The authorities have been pretty adamant that there was no abuse. Some sources claim "neglect" but don't elaborate further, and these days people toss that word around so casually I don't know if I believe it. I honestly don't know what exactly the charge is for.

Which brings me back to my original sentiment: why were the dogs seized at all? I've spoken to animal control officers in my own hometown, and they always stress that taking the animal away is the last thing they want. They would rather come to some kind of solution so the owner can keep the animal. They insist that animal seizure is the last thing they want. Yet it seems like in the case of the Silverhall Cockers, it was pretty much the first thing they did. So much for being a last resort!

I strongly suspect that the reason is because those are eighteen purebred, probably wonderfully bred and beautifully tempered Cocker Spaniels that the animal shelter would love to sell at a premium as rescues to pad their own wallets. Or, they're looking to make a mountain out of a pile of dog poop to tarnish the thundering reputation of some amazing Cocker Spaniel breeders. Perhaps they want to send a message that they will harshly and unfairly punish ethical breeders who show. Lord knows rescues these days can't seem to tell the difference between ethical, good breeders and the unethical people who just churn out puppies for cash and think nothing of health or longevity!

So now there are eighteen Cocker Spaniels either in shelters or foster homes, and I am willing to bet that they are not receiving the care and attention that the Pikes lavished on them. There's no guarantee they are being fed right, or brushed, or (and this is the ironic part) cleaned up after. The local shelter near me that operates with animal control in my area has kennels cleaned once daily, if that. They've been complaining of drainage issues they can't afford to fix for years now which leaves their kennels flooded with pee. How do we know the shelter the Silverhall dogs went to isn't similar to that awful shelter? If they are lucky, they will be fostered during this process and then reclaimed by their rightful owner, but I'm not holding my breath over here.

I think it should go without saying this is a gross overreach of power by animal control. I dearly hope that the Pikes are able to fight this and recover their dogs. Otherwise it sets a very dangerous precedent. Imagine if animal control shows up at your house and they justify taking away your dogs because of dog poop! After all, every dog poops. If a dog poops while in a kennel run, is that really considered neglect?

Friday, March 15, 2019

A Frank Discussion About Designer Dogs

I'd like to tackle the subject of designer dogs, also known as Doodles.

For those of you who have somehow managed to avoid these things, a Doodle is a Poodle crossed to usually but not limited to a Labrador (Labradoodle), or a Golden Retriever (Goldendoodle). However there are also Doberdoodles (Doberman x Poodle), Aussiedoodles (Australian Shepherd x Poodle), Boxerdoodles (Boxer x Poodle), basically whatever-doodle (insert-any-breed-here x Poodle). For some reason, some Poodle crosses just get "Poo" stuck on the end (har har!), such as Cockapoos (Cocker Spaniel x Poodle) and Pomapoos (Pomeranian x Poodle).

They are sadly very trendy and in demand, for reasons I cannot fathom. Unfortunately in this day and age, many people are focused more on being trendy than anything else, and this has spread to society's view of pets.

First, let's talk about how this trend in crossbreeding and adding a portmanteau name began.

Many years ago a man named Wally Conron from Australia bred the first on-purpose crossing of a Poodle to a Labrabdor. Not a terribly good idea, but he meant well when it happened. You see, he wanted to create a dog that would be capable of leading blind people, but also be hypoallergenic so that blind people who are allergic to dogs can still benefit from a guide dog.

There are some problems with his thinking, though. The first is that no dog is actually hypoallergenic. Trust me, I'm allergic to dogs and I certainly have had reactions to dogs who are non-shedding, as well as hairless dogs. The actual thing most of us who are allergic to is dander, which all dogs produce, or saliva, which all dogs produce. Now, some breeds may cause less of a reaction to those of us with allergies, and hairless or non-shedding dogs may improve the situation by not shedding dander-laden fur everywhere. But they are still by no means hypoallergenic! The second issue is Mr. Conron's belief that Poodles cannot guide for the blind. I personally know many Standard Poodles who are excellent service dogs! Poodles are intelligent, trainable, tractable, biddable, and highly attached to their owners. These traits make them excellent service dogs to mitigate many disabilities, including leading the blind.

Plus, when you crossbreed Poodles with shedding breeds like Labradors and Goldens, you may end up with a dog who's going to shed worse than all three of those breeds put together. Some of the puppies might be non-shedding, but honestly it's a complete roll of the dice. I can tell you that as a dog groomer, the Doodle mutts I've worked on who don't shed are actually very few and far between...but I'll discuss their coat maintenance in a bit.

Anyways, if Mr. Conron had been ethical and reasonable, he'd have just utilized Standard Poodles as guide dogs. They are truly non-shedding and thus a good choice for someone with allergies.

The organization Mr. Conron worked with relied on foster families to raise their puppies, and while people were more than willing to foster a Labrador or Golden, the organization had a tough time getting people to foster the mutts he'd bred. The organization's PR team decided to call them Labradoodles and claimed they were a newly invented pure breed of dog.

This is honestly evidence that they were acting unethically. That's not how a type of dog becomes a "new breed." Right from the start, they lied about the puppies they produced.

Unfortunately people believed the lie that these crossbred puppies were a just-invented new real breed, and soon they had people lined up to foster them.

Just for the record, Mr. Conron genuinely regrets what he's done. He admitted in an interview that if he knew what he was starting, he would have never bred that first Poodle/Lab mutt litter. He further stated that "I released a Frankenstein. … People say ‘aren’t you proud of yourself?’ and I say, ‘not in the slightest. I’ve done so much harm to pure breeding.’"

Clearly he regrets what he started.

Anyways, with how popular the guide organization mutt puppies were (even though Doodles generally do not actually make good service dogs), it didn't take long for unethical people to want to cash in on the new fad. Pretty soon unethical breeders were popping up all over the place, using poorly bred purebreds to churn out as many mutt puppies as possible, all to sell them for more than quality, health-tested purebreds.

Now, there are people in Australia who are actually trying to make Labradoodles into a legitimate breed. They are NOT breeding first-generation mixes any longer and they've outcrossed to other breeds (such as Curly Coat Retriever and the Cocker Spaniel) so they aren't just Poodle x Labrador mixes any longer. I've been told they promote health testing and they have a written standard, and they freely admit their dogs are a work in progress. So somewhere, in Australia, there are dogs who may be considered to be part of a true new breed of dog. But they have many generations behind them, and many more generations to go before they will truly be a breed. I do give them credit for doing things ethically though!

Everyone who thinks you get a "new breed" by simply crossbreeding, however, is simply wrong. The Australian Labradoodle may be being bred ethically, and eventually reach real breed legitimacy, but people all over North America are churning out Poodle mutts without breeding ethically and without any goal in mind other than making money hand over fist.

And heaven forbid you call their dogs mutts! Somehow this deeply offends them. Since when was owning a mutt a bad thing?

When I was a kid, a mixed breed wasn't considered a "new purebred," they were just mutts. And back then there was no shame in owning a nice mutt dog. Nobody lusted after expensive designer mutts. Nobody felt offended that their mutt wasn't a "new pure breed."

Before I was born and before he fell in love with purebreds, my dad's first dog was a Cocker Spaniel x Springer Spaniel bitch. No shame in that! If someone asked him what kind of dog he had, he'd say a Cocker, Springer mix. Not a Cockaspring. Not a Sprocker. Just a Cocker/Springer mix. Or sometimes, he'd say just "a spaniel mutt."

I owned a Chihuahua x Dachshund bitch for just shy of nine years. I loved that little dog so much, and I miss her every day. Like many designer dog mutts, she had major health issues that ultimately shortened her life and took her far too young. I usually called her a Chihuahua mix, or just my tiny mutt. I never called her a Chiweenie, and I never pretended she was a purebred. It doesn't mean I loved her any less than all of the quality purebreds I've owned.

However, I really can't tell you how many people tried to convince me she was a fancy new purebred. And many of the suggested I should breed her. They didn't care that she was struggling with numerous heritable genetic defects, they only saw vicarious dollar signs.

In my area, I've seen so-called Chiweenie mutts sell for thousands of dollar. I should add I got her from a rescue organization, for just $50. Thank goodness because due to her health issues, she ended up costing me many thousands of dollars more than any of my other dogs, in veterinary bills.

It really does bother me, because most people who produce designer dogs are doing so in extremely unethical ways. They often skip even basic health testing, and since reputable breeders won't allow them to use quality purebreds (for what should be obvious reasons), most designer dogs are bred from extremely haphazardly bred purebreds. They all too often end up with many health issues.

Many of the designer dog breeders also heavily lie to sell their dogs; often they make such ludicrous claims that I wonder how anyone believes them!

And shockingly they often sell untested mutt puppies for more money than actual real purebreds from ethical breeders.

One of my former Doodle clients was purchased from a very disreputable, unethical breeder for $5,000. I remember his purchase price because his owner made sure to frequently remind me how expensive his dog was, as if that meant anything. When the dog began showing signs of hip problems, I asked if the parents had been screened or health tested for orthopedic issues. That poor dog's owner said that the breeder he bought from told him that Doodles don't need health screening or testing, claimed that they have hybrid vigor, and that whenever you crossbreed you prevent all health problems.

For the record, his mutt was a Poodle, Labrador cross. Both Standard Poodles and Labradors can suffer from hip problems. Without health screening, his breeder had bred two dogs who probably had awful hips, producing pups with more awful hips. That $5,000 Doodle? Ended up having to get bilateral surgery due to his severely deformed hips.

Hybrid vigor is a thing, but you don't automatically get it just by breeding two different breeds of dogs together.

Also, I've noticed that Doodle mutt owners are hyper-defensive about their dogs. The need to have everyone around them validate that their mutt is a purebred seems to be a driving force for them. As a dog groomer I want to please my clients, but I'm not going to lie to appease them. A mutt is a mutt. Again, there's no shame in that, so I don't understand why it so offends people who own Doodle mutts. I can only guess that it threatens their sense of value...after all, who would pay $5,000 for a mutt? There are plenty in our shelters and rescues, for far less money.

The salon I used to work at had a computer system where you couldn't add breeds of dog, you could only select from a drop-menu. This wasn't ideal because many actual real purebred breeds weren't listed in the drop menu, which meant we often had to put purebreds in as some other breed that was somewhat similar for pricing. It also meant I couldn't make up breed names the way unethical mutt breeders do. I can't tell you how grossly offended many designer mutt owners got when I told them no, I can't put their, say, Pug x Beagle mix in as a Puggle. I can only enter it as a Pug Mix or a Beagle Mix. Even when I explained that the drop menu is limiting, they'd be angry. Heaven forbid you mention that their mix is not purebred! They'd sometimes storm out in a fit of rage. Can you imagine?

But what about the dogs themselves?

As a professional dog groomer, I have had plenty of purposely and unethically bred designer dog mutts on my table. I've found that, unlike the many mutts I've groomed from shelters and rescues, these designer dog bred mutts tend to be the most unpredictable, in terms of temperament. I just don't enjoy them. Amid all the myriad of intentional badly-bred mixes, I'm especially un-fond of Doodles, though. Specifically, Poodle x Lab or Golden.

Poodles are amazing. I simply love Poodles. Labs...well, I'm personally not a fancier of the breed, but there are plenty of great Labs out there. I'm on the fence about Goldens; the Golden I owned was amazing, and when I scaled back my grooming to 40 pounds and under I grandfathered in many quality Goldens that are a genuine pleasure to work with. However, I was also badly mauled by a Golden and I have been badly bitten by many temperamentally-unstable Goldens; designer mutt breeders don't have the whole market on unethically producing puppies. But all in all, Labs and Goldens are usually good dogs.

I really don't know why, but when you cross a Poodle to a Lab or Golden, the temperament blend isn't very good. It doesn't make sense, they're all water retriever breeds, but it's true in my experience anyways. They are just terrible, awful dogs. I hate to call any dog stupid, but it's the only word for it. They're brainless dogs. I'm not alone in this...many dog professionals (from groomers, to dog walkers, to veterinarians, and even professional trainers) dislike working with them.

Furthermore, they are all too often owned by people who do not adequately train them or exercise them enough, so in addition to their naturally obnoxious temperament, they are also always bouncing off the walls (sometimes literally; there were a few dents in one wall in the salon I worked at, where a Doodle kept slipping off his leash, running at the wall, and smashing into it head first. Repeatedly.) and they can't ever seem to focus on anything. Trying to convince a Doodle to hold still for grooming is nigh on impossible. Even Doodles I'd groomed since puppyhood could never learn or behave or hold still, and grooming a constantly moving target is difficult to say the least. In fact it can be downright dangerous, for dog and groomer alike.

What I hate the most about them, though, is their coats.

OH GOD, THE COATS. As I said before, most Doodles are not non-shedding; you can't cherry-pick genetics, after all. Worse yet, it rarely comes off the dog. The Poodle-like qualities of the coat (crimp and curl to be exact) hold the dead, shed-out hairs in, and that leads to matting.

Doodles are, by and large, the Perfect Storm of grotesquely matted coats on a dog. I just can't sugar-coat it. I have never met a single Doodle who had a coat over an inch long who wasn't sporting mats so thick you can barely get a clipper blade under them. Almost every single Doodle I've ever worked on, at every appointment, had to be naked-shaved due to matting. Their coats don't come off in clumps, it's more like shearing a sheep: the matted pelt comes off in one or two large pieces, usually. Sadly this isn't just a cosmetic issue, as there's often damage to the dog from the matting, too...mats pull on the skin and can cause all sorts of issues, from mild bruising, to full on ulcerated mat-sores full of pus and maggots. No, I'm not kidding. Maggots. Exacerbating the issue is that it seems like every person who owns a Doodle won't properly use a brush or comb, so their dogs end up matted like you wouldn't believe. And inevitably they want their matted Doodle to be long and fluffy! I've had people cuss me out because I refused to "just brush out" their totally matted Doodle. The fact is brushing out a matted coat is horribly painful for the dog, and even though I do not like Doodles, I am never going to torture any dog. That's what brushing out a badly matted dog is: TORTURE.

I feel very comfortable stating that Doodles, particularly Goldendoodles and Aussiedoodles, are more high-maintenance coat-wise than purebred Standard Poodles.

When I left the salon and began grooming independently, I made a decision early-on: NO MORE DOODLES. I hate grooming them. They're too stupid and obnoxious to work with, their coats are awful, their owners aren't a whole lot more reasonable than a box of hair, and they simply take too long to be worth the effort. Every groomer under the sun undercharges Doodles, I swear. I simply don't want to ever lay hands on another one as long as I live.

It's been about two years since I last groomed a Doodle and I can tell you right now, my health and sanity are better for it. My back problems are gone because I'm no longer struggling to hang onto a dog who refuses to hold still or who's constantly trying to leap off the table. I haven't gotten bit by a dog in those two years either. My life is just better off without these terrible designer dogs.

Now, I want to take a moment to state that, while I deeply love and prefer quality purebred dogs, I don't actually hate all mutts or crossbreds. But I have a huge problem with unethical breeders churning out mutt dogs with questionable genetics and poor temperaments just to make a quick buck. Clearly, they don't have the health or best interests of the dogs at heart, and that I think is the worst part of the designer dog craze.

This blog entry was originally posted on November 23, 2014 @ 02:10. It has been re-written, re-worded, and re-posted here for posterity.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Was Your Dog Abused? Probably Not.

People who get dogs from shelters or rescues are usually nice, kind-hearted people who want to help an animal in need. They want to feel like they are saving that dog from a terrible fate. They want to feel good about themselves, they want to feel like a hero to their new pet. That’s fine; it's no secret that many of our dogs view us with awe and adoration!

However, most dogs in shelters and rescues have never been abused.

As an example, I tell people about the little dog I used to own, a very small Chihuahua mix I named Cricket. She had a lot of health problems, among them a bone density issue. As a rambunctious and delicate little puppy, she had many bone fractures and breaks. She had broken both front legs before her first birthday, though thankfully not at the same time, through what would in any other puppy be normal play activity.

One of her broken legs healed very well, with only some minimal long-term nerve damage.

The other broken leg (which happened on a holiday weekend) was set by an emergency on-call vet who later admitted they didn’t know how to handle a dog with legs so very tiny. Her leg muscles contracted within the cast, and her leg healed very, very badly. The radius and ulna overlapped and fused in a twisted mockery of a leg. Her paw ended up on sideways, and the leg was a whole inch shorter than the "good" limb. That's significant for a dog who only stood six inches at the shoulder.

Add to this the fact that my dog was friendly with family members but also very reserved with strangers. She grew up underfoot in the salon I used to work at, meeting dozens of new people and dogs daily, so she found most people boring. So unless a stranger had food or a toy to offer her, she was just not interested in meeting new people.

I cannot count the number of times I was told by total strangers that all of that was evidence she'd been abused.

It always made me laugh because my little Chihuahua mutt never endured a single moment of abuse her entire life. Her whole litter was dumped in a rescue the day after she was born. She grew up with love lavished on her, in the home of the lady who oversaw the rescue. She then was entrusted to my care, and I loved her, flaws and all, for her whole eight years of life.

No person ever hit or abused her. No person ever neglected her needs. No human being did anything unkind to her in her whole life.

And people wouldn't just ask, "was she abused?" No, they'd often tell me, with a sense of authority, that she must have been beaten and tortured. These complete strangers would act as if I knew nothing about my own dog, or her history.

Because of her twisted little legs all cocked out at strange angles, her funny awkward limp, and the fact that she never fawned all over strangers as if they are a long lost friend, almost everyone who met her immediately assumed she had a history of abuse.

Not all reserved or shy dogs were beaten. Not all disabled or differently-abled dogs were abused.

Some people tout certain "tests" to determine if a dog was abused, such as if you raise a hand threateningly as if you are going to strike them. The assumption is that only dogs who've been beaten will flinch. I've followed this theory, and (with advanced permission of owners) every dog I've gestured threateningly at have flinched. And I can tell you for a fact that the dogs I've tried this "test" on had never been hit. The fact is dogs are masters of reading our body language and even though a dog may not have been beaten, they surely understand aggressive body language!

To recap, every dog I've ever gestured threateningly at has flinched, even though they've never been hit before. Clearly this "test" that many people use isn't effective, accurate, or helpful in determining a dog's past.

I think part of the reason that people so often assume any rescue dog is an abuse case is because less-than-ethical rescues seem to peddle these sob stories to get dogs adopted. Especially if a dog has a behavior issue they can blame as evidence of abuse.

Another "test" I've seen is to give a dog food and if they eat rapidly, the assumption is they have been starved or neglected. The flaw with this logic is that many dogs love food and many dogs, if given a chance, will wolf down their food at great speed. I grew up with pointing breed hunting dogs, and believe me when I say every bird dog we've owned has been absolutely obsessed with food. In fact we just purchased a slow-down feeder for our Brittany because he is prone to eating so fast he bloats. He's a very well-bred field-style Brittany who has spent his whole life being treated like the valuable, cherished pet and hunter that he is. He's never been starved or denied nutrition a day in his life, yet the way he eats you'd wonder if he's ever been fed before!

It is almost a trend now, to claim any rescue dog must have been neglected or starved or beaten, often all three. Shy dog? Must have been beaten. Flinches when you make threatening gestures at it? Beaten for sure. Gobbles down dinner at speed and begs for all edible things? Beaten AND starved.

The truth doesn't seem to matter, either, once people have it in their mind that a dog was abused or neglected.

Are some dogs in shelters legitimate abuse/neglect cases? Yes. My tiny Chihuahua mutt was never abused, but her sire and dam (who were also dumped in the rescue with my dog's whole litter) were mistreated so badly they were behaviorally unstable, and as such the rescue decided they will be “lifers,” at the shelter for the rest of their whole lives, as they are a liability and cannot be safely adopted. I met them both, and I must say, they were spooky and neurotic, but fundamentally nice dogs. They were simply so desperate to avoid abuse they’d snap if they felt threatened, and a snapping/biting dog isn’t one the rescue can safely send to a home.

But to claim every dog in a shelter or rescue is the victim of human cruelty is shortsighted and false.

Furthermore, this assumption of abuse can actually do more harm than good. I have seen some awful behavior problems from shelter or rescue pets, and instead of addressing the issue to improve or resolve it, the owners simply dismissed it. For example, "he bites when you touch his feet because he was abused," is something I have heard far too many times! Instead of trying to improve their dog's behavior, they just shrug it off as a symptom of cruelty.

Another issue with the claim of neglect is pets grossly overfed. I've seen dogs so obese they struggle to even walk, yet their owners keep pouring food into their dog because the dog acts hungry. They claim the dog was starved at some point in their life and they never want the dog to go hungry again. The pain and misery that genuine obesity causes our pets cannot be understated!

The fact of the matter is that the majority of dogs who end up in shelters have never been intentionally abused a day in their lives. Many who land in shelters were lost pets, abandoned, or simply dumped by irresponsible owners who couldn't cope with their dog's behavior problems.

Unless a dog was witnessed being beaten, or was seized by law officials for neglect, the chances are actually very slim that a shelter dog was abused at all.

This blog entry was originally posted on Jan 27, 2014. It has been re-written, reformatted, and re-posted here for posterity.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Weighing In On Weight Pulling

I once saw someone comment online about how awful weigh pull is. They had it in their mind that the dogs are forced to pull, that it's torturous or painful, and thus cruel to participate in.

None of that is even remotely true, mind you.

I first learned about canine weight pulling while watching a documentary about dogs (though not about weight pulls specifically) where a dog owner was talking about how he had American Bulldogs, and he stated that the dogs were used in competitive weight pulling. They had a short video clip showing some of his dogs pulling weights in a competition, and the clip satisfied me that the dogs loved it...I saw a lot of eager, excited dogs who could hardly wait to put the harness on and get going! Plus, let's be perfectly honest, if you want a dog to pull, your best bet is to get a dog who wants to do it. In this way it's like any other canine competition, the winners shine because they wanted to win!

I've noticed a lot of pet owners who don't compete in dog sports have expressed concern over the well-being of the dogs who compete in any event, and weight pulling has drawn a lot of criticism from self-proclaimed animal rights activists. The general sentiment I've read from them is that they are concerned the dogs are forced to compete against their will. Their concern is that the dogs aren't enjoying themselves.

This worries me because some of those people want to ban all canine sports due to misplaced concern for their well being.

The truth is that if a dog doesn't want to compete, they often simply won't participate. It's the dogs who genuinely love what they do that tend to win! Because of this, most owners won't bother competing with a dog who isn't having fun.

I've had a dog in my own lifetime who was like this. He was our first, last, and only Retriever, a beautiful dark red Golden we named Copper (like a copper penny, owing to his dark colouration). The idea was that our pointing dogs would point, then flush the birds, and our retriever would bring the downed birds back to us.

There was one flaw in this plan: our Golden, Copper, hated the feel of feathers in his mouth.

He would playfully fetch any object, except for birds.

Clearly this meant he had no future as a hunting dog, either in field trials or on gentleman's hunts. Instead, he lived out his days as our pet, living well into his teens, playfully fetching only a thrown ball or Frisbee. We could have forced him to retrieve birds, and I'm sure if we had gone that route he would have become a very mediocre field retriever, but he'd have never excelled at it. He certainly wouldn't have enjoyed any of it. And to truly succeed at any canine sport, the dog must love what they are doing. Anything less isn't very likely to work out well.

We have had several pointing breed dogs, usually German Pointers, but right now we have a Brittany. Unlike our Golden who couldn't stand feathers in his mouth, our Brittany lives to hunt! He loves it. He doesn't just point and flush the birds with great zeal, he actually loves to retrieve, too. Clearly feathers taste fine in his opinion! We keep his hunting gear in a small blue duffel bag, and just the sight of his duffel sends him into fits of joy, whining eagerly, tail nub wagging at warp speed, and happy dancing! He loves to hunt. He has to be commanded to stop when the day is done...left to his own devices, he'd run and point and fetch birds until he dropped.

Now, he's a talented dog with good training and a keen nose, but what really makes him a success in the field is his passion for hunting. It's what he was bred to do and he is the best hunter we've ever had because of it.

Lately we can't even clean a shotgun or re-arrange our hunting gear without the dog going nuts with delight, because he thinks any time we touch hunting gear we are taking him hunting. I felt so bad when I last cleaned and oiled our shotguns because the dog looked so betrayed when I put them away when I was finished!

Dogs who love what they do are the very best competition dogs. I would almost say it would be cruel to keep them from doing what they love to do!

So, back to weight pulls.

Back when I saw that unrelated documentary (which may I remind you was several years ago now and I can't for the life of me remember it's name) I was made to understand that the dog's breed is a secondary choice for the average weight pull competitor, and it's the dog's desire to pull stuff that was the primary thing. Satisfied, I tucked it away in the back of my mind as a legitimate dog activity for dogs who like pulling. I was not shocked to find that Pit type dogs excel at it; they have a strong desire to do fun stuff with their people and they're usually pretty strong.

Recently I've seen an outcry against canine weight pulling, by people often claiming it's just a precursor to dog fighting.

I thought, maybe the sport has changed. Maybe things are different now. So I've done some research into it and watched a lot of recent videos of recent weight pulls.

To be honest I'm just not seeing it. A lot of the Pit mixes in the weight pulls I've watched? Are not the little "game bred" fighting dog type. The reality is that most fighting dogs aren't big, they aren't super-broad-chested or big-headed, they are a lot leaner and shorter than you'd believe. I don't know a lot about weight pulls, but the videos I've watched are showing the Pit mix type (aka Bully Breed Mix) that I know and love: people's pets, not fighters.

No, I am not an expert on Pit mixes, but as a dog groomer, and before that a bather, I have handled well over a thousand Pit mixes over the years. I have also looked at many different styles and trends within bully-type my area they are plentiful, and they tend to be bigger than the fighting lines. Also they tend to have nicely chunky heads with charming smiles. However, I have also groomed fighting-bloodlines dogs. How did I know? Well, some dogs I've taken on as groom clients were seized from a fighting ring and rehabilitated. One in particular, gosh I liked that plucky little terrier bitch. She was short and squat and, ugly home-cropped ears and plentiful scars aside, pretty dang cute. She couldn't be trusted around other dogs, but was friendly and sweet-natured with humans.

I'm rambling, sorry. Back on track.

In this day and age, when so many people are literally loving their dogs to death by grossly overfeeding them, it's actually refreshing to see a group of people who enjoy a sport that basically turns their dogs into lean, muscular, fit canines. Oh my stars, these dogs in these videos of weight pull competition? It's lovely! There isn't a fat dog anywhere. Also, the dogs can't lie. A good piece of advice is to let the dog speak for itself, because a dog will never tell you a lie. If a dog is grossly obese and gasping for air, I will know that the owners are not feeding the dog appropriately or taking five-mile-hikes daily. The people, they can lie all they want, the dog will tell me the truth. Likewise, if a Poodle owner says "I brush my dog every night," and the dog has six months worth of matting complete with plants growing out of it's disgusting pelted coat, I know the owner is lying. The dog cannot lie. A neglected or abused dog cannot lie and pretend they are okay.

These weight pulling dogs are telling me a story. I know it to be true because a dog is the most honest creature on this wonderful earth. Their bodies tell me the first part of the story: These dogs are sleek and shiny, with bulging muscles. That tells me that they are being fed appropriate food and that they are also fed an appropriate amount. It tells me they are clean and meticulously cared for. It shows me that these dogs are beloved and valued companions and competitors. Their attitudes and actions tell me the second part of the story: I'm seeing wagging tails, eager expressions, an obvious desire to get into the harness and start pulling. They want to do this. It tells me they love what they are doing, they enjoy it, and they aren't being abused or hurt or forced. The way they gaze lovingly at their human partners is more than enough to tell me these people are letting these dogs do what they want to do. What they love to do.

To be perfectly honest, I suspect the reason so many Pits/BBMs excel at weight pulling is because it's fun. They get to do something physical, which is a good thing for terriers (for that is what a Pit is: a terrier) who really love a physical activity or challenge. And because they get to do this with their loving owners. Moreover, while a lot of the dogs in the videos I saw are Pit type dogs, there's a smattering of American Bulldogs, a number of straight up mutts, some Dalmatians, a number of Malamutes, and a few Alaskan Huskies as well.. I'm pretty sure I saw a Rhodesian Ridgeback too! Probably my favorite was a little Chihuahua; he was so focused and so good, it was a genuine pleasure to watch him compete. It isn't just for bully-type dogs!

I'm starting to think that the outcry is more than just concerned pet owners who don't understand. I suspect the animal rights activists, who's agenda is to eradicate all domesticated animals, are pushing the rhetoric against weight pulling. It's really sad, too, because this sport seems to have gained a lot more traction and legitimacy of late. We in the dog community really need to come together and stand firm in our support of all legitimate dog sports, because they won't end at weight pull bans. They'd love to see canine agility, flyball, bench showing, and all the rest die out as well. We cannot in good conscience let that happen.

This blog entry was originally posted on May 17, 2015. It has been re-written and re-posted here for posterity.