Monday, October 28, 2013

"It's All in How You Raise Them"

I'm sure you've heard many a breed advocate utter this phrase: It's all in how you raise them. Meaning, vicious dogs are made, not born.

As an obvious Doberman advocate, you might be a little confused when you read my answer: That isn't necessarily true.






See, behavior has a genetic component as well as an environmental/socialized one. Breed an unstable dog, you have a high change of getting unstable puppies. Breed an aggressive dog, same thing. There's also the unfortunate situation when a reputable breeder did everything right. The parents are both of sound temperaments. The health tests are all in a row. The followed the rule of sevens for puppy raising. And then one of the puppies....just isn't right. Maybe just fearful, and that's a thing that can be managed with hard work and training, sometimes medication as well. But sometimes, one ends up with an aggressive dog, just out of the blue. Nothing to point at and say "This. This is what happened to that dog."

But that's just it. Reputable, responsible breeders try their hardest to stack the decks for their dogs. They want healthy dogs, physically and mentally. They pay attention to these things.

People who breed dogs for dollar signs don't. They throw two intact dogs together and X time later  put 'em up on Craigslist or Kijiji (or advertise the litter on the AKC classifieds, if both dogs happen to have papers), "fully dewormed", maybe first shots if you're lucky. Genetic roulette, and also temperament roulette. Overbred, inbred, carelessly bred dogs are lined up in the shelters and caged in pet stores. And families don't know what they're bringing home.

This is a problem that transcends breed. Many, many people are frightened of pit bulls. And Dobermans. Rottweilers. Part of that is the size of the dog, part of it is breed image. They've been the Big Scary Mean Dogs in movies, the cultural doggie boogey man. A lab, though, if it decides to bite, can do just as much damage. Or a Golden Retriever. These are "friendly" breeds in the public eye, but bad breeding does not exclude them from temperament issues. Chihuahuas and Dachshunds too, but those little dogs can't do much damage, can they? Isn't it cute when they think they're big dogs? Funny story, bites from even small dogs can require a tetanus shot, cause nerve damage, or get infected.

No dog bites are funny. Bottom line. And a dog who lives his or her life fearful and anxious is not funny. An aggressive dog is scary. And owners sometimes have to make hard decisions regarding these dogs. I don't think anybody euthanizes a dog just for being fearful (I don't think. I obviously don't know), but a fearful dog can become a fear biting dog, and euthanasia frequently results from that. True aggression can be a nightmare to handle, and as a pet owner, who wants that? Constant management of a dog, for the "just in case"? I don't envy anybody that position.

19 comments:

  1. What a good article! I agree with everything you said. Temperment and health, those are key to a good dog.

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  2. Ah, yes, nature vs nurture, or, rather, nature & nurture. Both matter equally. Even two well-bred dogs (health or behavior, or both) can create a not-so-well conformed dog or a not-so-well-tempered dog. Genetics is truly a roulette, indeed. :)

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    1. I can remember the discussion of "nature vs. nurture" in college, as though they hadn't realized behavior had a genetic component. I'm not really sure why that was.....

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  3. I totally agree. And for that reason I think the "all pets are worth saving" movement is scary as well. As an animal control officer I see it. I've had people surrender their pets because they no longer trust them with their kids, even after trying to do everything right (though sometimes I wish they'd just euthanize the poor dog). And THEN I'll see the same dog on the adoption run two days later! When I ask why the answer is because he's cute, or a purebred, or was already neutered, or the family he had for years just misunderstood him. Some of those dogs are a law suit waiting to happen. I've SEEN shelter big-wigs knowing put these unstable dogs up for adoption to pad their live-release numbers. And don't ever think that there isn't BIG money in the no-kill movement.

    Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying kill them all. I'm very much for second chances of stable, healthy dogs. I just don't think all dogs are adoptable. And sometimes there are legitimate behavioral reasons for why they are surrendered to a shelter in the first place.

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    1. "All pets are worth saving" is a scary statement. Unfortunately, not all dogs (or cats, or or ) are worth the time, effort, and funds they would require in order to save, especially when compared to animals who would be much "easier". There are also some, sadly, who cannot be saved.

      I agree. Not all dogs are adoptable, and I think shelters really need to be able to behaviorally evaluate the animals they have in their care. Of course, the shelter environment can also be very bad for what is essentially a good dog. It's got to be so hard.

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  4. I agree, it sure is a big responsibility humans have to try to ensure we make it as well balanced, confident dogs who can just enjoy life and share the love with our families :)

    Wags to all,

    Your pal Snoopy :)

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    1. I guess the best we can do is try!

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  5. I have a friend who recently had to put down his 9 y/o dog because he suddenly attacked and almost killed their smaller dog after years with no problems. His wife is pregnant and he didn't want the dog to go to a new owner where he might attack a child or another dog.

    Even the mildest dog can be set off by something humans don't understand.

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    1. Oh wow, that's scary and heartbreaking :( Sometimes there's a medical component (easily found or otherwise) to a sudden attack and sometimes it really does seem to be completely out of nowhere, with no discernible source. Your friend did the responsible thing, I think, but that's so hard. I'm sorry for them.

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  6. So true. I don't think I ever fully understood this concept until I started reading various dog blogs and getting to know some rescue folks. Some dogs really are just "off" and no amount of training and/or medications will help a dog like this.

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    1. I'm not sure I did either, a couple of years back. But add it to the list of things I didn't know 4 years ago, right?

      There is an owner on the Doberman board who had to put a dog down who by all rights should have had a rock solid temperament. Reputable breeder, titled and tested sire and dam, etc. etc.

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  7. Indeed. Silas is a case (largely) of genetics and early life gone bad--we did almost all of the right things with him as a puppy, and he's still what he is. I take full responsibility for a few of his issues, but the rest of them just . . . came up, even when they "shouldn't" have. Like, his problem with the neighborhood noises, in the house he's lived in since he was five weeks old.

    This is why I say, not flippantly at all, that I will never rescue another puppy. I want the deck to be stacked in my favor, even though it isn't a guarantee. I'll either rescue adult dogs, with established temperaments, or I'll be supporting a really great breeder.

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    1. It's funny, isn't it, how many people absolutely want a puppy no matter what? I think rescuing an adult dog is something I'm absolutely willing to do in the future (especially when I think about housebreaking). I love your Silas, but yes, his issues are something that you just figure HAVE to come from his question mark genetics.

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  8. Such a good postie. Yups, sadly not all dogs are 'right', and no amount of help can change what is wrong. No ones fault. Not theirs. Not yours. Just is.
    Ma says I'm not her fault either....WHAT?! Very funny Ma!!! Geesh. I thinks peeps aren't 'right' either!!! Just lookie at Ma!!! See got you back! Pfffffft!!!
    Okays, gotta go....
    Kisses,
    Ruby ♥

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  9. I heart you right now! This post hits close to home. I think what makes it more poignant for me is that we have a dog who is a poster child for what not to do and another who is the stellar opposite about what you should do. I live in fear that one day we will have to make a hard decision about Morgan's "unsoundness." Honestly, I don't feel right passing her off to someone else to deal with, but sometimes, I feel so exhausted by trying to manage her and do what's right for her. If she lived somewhere remote, with no other dogs and a person who had time only for her, I don't know if she would be different or not. I often feel that I'm failing her, but I also can't give up on her.

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    1. I think sometimes Morgan really lucked out landing in your household. Your dedication and love of your dogs must be fantastic for her, even with her issues. I hope that you'll never have to make that decision about her, based on her temperament, but if you do...I trust that you'll make the right one.

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