Dog’s Eye View: You had me at “woof”
November 5, 2015
The headline quote lives on my refrigerator as one of my favorite sayings. And it's true. Most of the time, we fall in love at first sight with the puppy or adult dog that lives with our family. Sometimes, we know exactly where they arrived on planet Earth, and other times, it's a guessing game.
The problem with love at first sight is that we are not always prepared to take on what the dog comes genetically programmed to do. There is much talk about a dog is a dog is a dog. How can we lump them all together and consider a one-size-fits-all characterization of who they really are?
An understanding of the ancient history of where dogs came from is important, but it's really more about how humans genetically influenced the different breeds to perform specific tasks. That's a lot of power to provide to humans, considering where we might be heading as a result of that initial evolutionary advancement.
So, humans have decided to breed for specific characteristics. "We saw, we liked, we made more." Now, there are so many subdivisions among the different breeds it takes a book to choose which characteristic you desire.
I love springer spaniels and have been blessed to have them in my life. But if I wish to add a new springer to my life, I need to select between "show" and "field."
The beautiful show coat of a springer can be very problematic in cocklebur country. I spent many hours pouring cream rinse over my springer's ears to pull those nasty burrs out without ruining her beautiful long ears, so if I choose a "field" springer instead, then I don't have that problem.
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Now I need to think about energy; springers, in general, have a lot of it. They were bred to work with the hunter, ranging out to about 40 yards and casting back and forth to flush or "spring" game. I've heard the field spaniels have double the energy. What do you do with all that energy in a typical busy family? How do you contain or direct that energy if you happen to live a sedentary life?
I use the springer spaniel as an example, but any breed or combination of breeds comes to us with specific traits and needs. They have preprogrammed traits and exhibit those traits at different times throughout their lives.
To do right by the dog you choose, it's important to research the history of the breed. Why did we "make them" in the first place? What job did we genetically program into that breed? In choosing a particular breed, it's important to plan how you will enrich the dog's life using the skills he or she came to us possessing.
Last, but not least, is early development. Those of us who adopt a dog of questionable background will need to observe and help this dog catch up with skill development. We need to environmentally socialize these dogs carefully and observe them with awareness to head off problems.
We can't "make" them become something they are not any more than I can become the goalie for the Colorado Avalanche.
Laura Tyler is a certified professional dog trainer with more than 25 years of experience. She has earned associate certification through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and owns Total Teamwork Training LLC here in Northwest Colorado.