Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Behavior Modification or Time to Rehome?

This past week has been a slice of h*ll.
Between my health, including a very negative physical reaction to a new medicine, topped off by people and dog guests, the routine and peace of our home took a big hit. Normally I wouldn't mind that. But as they say, crap trickles down. Gracie has become even more protective of me. This week she started guarding me from the other dogs in the house and when she and the Chi man had a disagreement about this, the poor little Chihuahua got bitten in the face.

As if that were not bad enough, Gracie seems to have decided that the Chihuahua should no longer live here. Of course, that isn't her choice to make. And now I have to step up my game to remind her that I decide who lives here and who doesn't and the tone and limits of behavior. My extended family is worried that this is too much stress for me, given my ongoing health issues. I've waivered.

This morning I had a mini-epiphany.
Before I get to my insight though, I thought it would be a good idea to review the differences between times when a dog is in need of behavior modification/further training and when a dog may need to be rehomed.


First let us also clarify - some behavior isn't necessarily modifiable to a safe point. When a dog has a strong prey drive for example, that dog may never be totally trustworthy around smaller animals that make a sudden movement. I would argue that there is a difference between the instincts that are wired into a dog and the behaviors that a dog is trained for; some of the hardwired stuff is difficult to train around and some of the hardwired stuff may always come out, no matter the level of training a dog has.


There can also be a conflict between a dog's natural personality and training. Regardless of their respective levels of training, a nervous dog who lacks confidence is going to be more reactive than is a confident dog, or a mellow dog. If one ends up with a dog whose personality doesn't fit into their living environment, then even training may not make the fit between dog and human a good one. I've seen this with dogs who were too dominant for their handlers, and dogs who were overwhelmed by handlers who were too dominating for a gentler spirited animal.

Now let's turn to Gracie as an exemplar of where the line might be between training and rehoming.
Gracie has a strong personality, which is actually one of the things I love about her. Early on I recognized that one of my weakness as a dog handler is my low tolerance for dogs that tend to cower. While I can work with them in short bursts, it takes a lot more of my energy to be the low key, quiet person they need. I'm much more comfortable dealing with stubborn dogs than with dogs who flop over on their backs the minute one looks at them. Personality wise then, Gracie and I work.

Next to consider is prey drive, since the 'issue' in our home isn't just how Gracie and I get along but how she does with other animals. Gracie has moderate prey drive. All terriers do. It was bred into them, as all the terrier breeds were designed to hunt something, and some were then bred to be more aggressive in an attempt to get them to fight each other; prey drive varies by breeds generally and individual dogs specifically. Gracie's prey drive, for example, is much lower than her 1/2 sister's was. I discovered this when we temporarily fostered her sister, who would have happily killed our pet rabbit, while Gracie was content to gently sniff noses with the rabbit.

If Gracie had a very strong prey drive, my concern would be that she sees the Chihuahua as an item of prey and that she was going to kill him if she had an opportunity. There actually is a difference between a dog fight where the smaller dog gets hurt, and a dog who starts out with the intent to kill. If one is living with a dog who will kill, then one should not attempt to keep what that dog views as prey, as a pet. That isn't fair to the other pet; not only are you placing them in danger but you're also placing them under stress. Animals have a pretty good sense of when a predator is eyeing them up and that's a harsh way to live.

I've had two large concerns over the last few days: 1) Gracie was creating too much tension and fear for the senior dogs in the house, 2) Gracie was too worried about me to enjoy her own life and was becoming a tense ball of growing aggression.

Confession - I am seriously considering if Gracie would be calmer and happier as an only dog in another home. I'm also considering: would the senior dogs in our house be safer and calmer if she left?

Even while one considers though, one must live in the moment with the dogs under one's roof and care. So while I've posted an ad to tentatively explore rehoming Gracie, I've also adopted new training and handling routines. Gracie is learning to wear a basket muzzle while sitting quietly, not because she will need to wear one often but because she needs to remember that other animals can be around without her reacting to them.

 She is on a leash which I hold when she isn't in her crate or outdoor run. This reminds Gracie that I'm in charge, that she is to look to me before acting, while also requiring her to move when I move. This disrupts her pattern of deciding when she will nap and when she will charge around the house watching out the windows, or deciding who should be allowed or excluded from the room.

She is no longer allowed upstairs - that is the senior dog zone. This is not a ghetto for seniors; they still come downstairs regularly, but they also have entire rooms to hang out in where Gracie isn't allowed. Jenny's favorite room is actually upstairs and now Gracie can't interupt her long peaceful naps there.
At the same time, when I decide to sit down and work on my laptop, Gracie can either be in her run, or on the couch next to me - no more independent wandering around the house. And just the two of us take walks, as her energy level is different from the other dogs and I want her to keep moving, not casually strolling, or stopping to sniff a lot.

In fact, it was early this morning that my mini-epiphany struck me. The rest of our quiet little village still seemed to be asleep, as we walked down the middle of the side street we live on and Gracie bounced happily along watching the world. Then she began grumbling and snorting as a single other person crossed the street behind us. Gracie looked a bit funny, walking sideways, snorting and moaning but she didn't bark or growl, and continued on with me. The other walker and I both smiled at how silly she seemed. Right about then, I realized I hadn't actually been for a walk in the past few days. I hadn't realized how much I had started to let my physical discomfort and weariness draw the edges of my world in.

The other dogs enjoy strolls but Gracie benefits from a brisk walk. Actually, it's almost a fast march. The other dogs are fairly easy going, low maintenance. Gracie is not. Or when she is allowed to 'fly under the radar' too long, she seems more likely to act out. Chi chi and Jenny both have medical concerns and are aging rapidly. Gracie is healthy and likely at the midpoint of her life. She has years left and they can be good or bad, pleasant or not. Gracie is not a simple dog to live with but we understand each other. That's when I realized: I need Gracie because Gracie needs me.

  • Gracie needs me to get up and walk her and I won't get up and walk unless someone needs me to; it's too uncomfortable so otherwise I will put it off. Her need motivates me, my own does not.
  • Gracie needs me to remember to take my medicine so I can function well; I was drifting towards indifference, tired of the side effects but now I'm reminded how important attention to these details are. 
  • Gracie needs me to be alert so that she doesn't have to be so vigilant. When I slack she's eager to help and she can't be left to her own devices in running our household.
  • In the wrong home Gracie could be a bully or bullied. She needs me to provide the balance that both keeps her in line but also recognizes how sensitive she is. 

Gracie needs me and that is what I need right now, that is really what I've always thrived on, a dog that saves me by allowing me to feel that I'm saving them.

Saved by dogs - funny how after all these years I'm yet again reminded why I chose that title for this blog.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Chihuahua: Mighty Personality on Petite Legs

Fiona - Save me Rescue, ON

Chi Chi - adopted as a disabled senior

It recently occurred to me (about five minutes ago) that while I've talked about Chihuahuas I haven't done a breed profile focused specifically on them. In honor of our household's Lord and Mayor, that seems like an injustice that must be righted.

{For those not familiar with Chi Chi, I will explain that this is less a real 'injustice' and more along the lines of a potentially perceived injustice. Chi Chi's current belief system includes the idea that he is and ought to be at the center of my universe.}

wiki commons - black and white Chihuahua

In the interests of disclosure, I should also mention that there have been years in my life when I was A Big Dog Person and could not imagine ever living with a Chihuahua. In hindsight this may have been an instinctual insight into my own personality, rather like a person with an addictive personality instinctively knowing they should never start drinking. Not only do I now live with a Chihuahua, I openly admit I would willingly live with more Chihuahuas and even probably more than one at once (although not in my immediate lifetime.)

Those who have happened upon this blog in the past, or who even have been so bold and daring as to follow it, know that my personal life has included some health concerns. (This is also my excuse for being such a gosh darn unreliable blogger these days.)  I now realize that someday I will probably need a service dog.
Jenny the Collie, Chi Chi, and Lil the Labrador

Currently, I get by using a cane and an emotional support dog. And yes, the opinionated little Chi Chi is that support dog. When I must travel, and I am uncomfortable (the two now go together) having the little dog with me provides both physical and emotional comfort. When I had to spend a full week having tests and procedures done at the Mayo Clinic, it was the Chihuahua who waited quietly and patiently for me in the hotel room, and leaned gently against my aching joints when I returned at the end of the day. In fact, it was his outstandingly good behavior on that trip which won him a new and unexpected convert to his ever growing fan base. Not previously an admirer of the breed, my father now says of Chi Chi, "There's just something about him."

But Chi Chi is not an exception to his breed.
Chihuahuas are more than small dogs devoted to their people. When trained and handled like real dogs, capable of learning real things, their true personalities have a chance to shine. I recently saw an online video of a woman who had trained three Chihuahuas to heel, dance, and work with her, all at the same time and all doing exactly what was expected of them. And I just love the pictures from the Calmont Chihuahuas' Website, one showing one of their Chis competing with the big dogs in an obedience event and another of multiple Chis all taking part in a prolonged stay exercise.



Chihuahuas come in both long and short coat varieties, a range of colors, and their size, according to breed standards, is typically between 4 - 6 pounds (1.8 - 2.7 kg). In real life, i.e. outside the show ring, I've seen people advertizing dogs as small as 2 pounds and oversized Chihuahuas with larger frames can be 8 - 10 pound (3.6 - 4.5 kg). Sometimes people assume that a larger Chihuahua is a mix breed but there is actually a 
considerable range of size even among purebred dogs. This is a breed which has been significantly negatively impacted by backyard breeders and puppy mills. If one is interested in the breed but has concerns about the potential temperament of a dog, than I advise working with a rescue which takes time to learn about the individual dogs in their care.


This is also a typically long lived breed, with an average age of 15 years and it isn't uncommon for a Chi to live to be 17 - 20 with good care. They can have dental problems and may need to have teeth removed as they age. They may have weeping eyes, particularly the very 'apple headed' dogs whose eyes bulge.

Big Dog People don't typically think of the Chihuahua's size as an advantage, but when it comes to traveling or living with an emotional support animal, there's something to be said for a dog who can sit in a person's lap, without interfering with the person's ability to breath or move (I'm thinking now of my Labrador who would happily be a lap dog and who "squishes you with love" as my nephew's say.)

There are an unfortunately large number of Chihuahuas in shelters and with rescue groups waiting to find new homes. Many are euthanized each year for lack of homes. In the U.S. the homeless Chihuahuas are second only to pitbulls in shelter numbers. Today I will include pictures and web addresses for a handful of these little giants who happen to be in shelters in the U.S. midwest and Ontario, Canada - believe me, no matter where one lives, there is a Chihuahua out there waiting to be adopted. Full of love, loyalty, and very trainable - if you want a big dog personality in a small package, the Chihuahua is a breed worthy of sharing your home.

Midget - Fox Valley Humane Society, WI

Peanut - Copper Country Humane Society, MI

Lena and Lola - Humane Society of Muskegon County, MI

Ashley - Ruff Start Rescue, MN
Babee Girl - Heartland Animal Shelter, IL
Eugene - ALIVE Rescue, IL
Edgar - Happy Tails Animal Shelter, IL

Bobby and Baby - Lincoln County Humane, ON
Buddy - JR's Pups-N-Stuff, WI
King - Home for Endangered and Lost Pets, IL

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Samoyed: From Sled Dog to Bed Dog


Cheerful, friendly, only sometimes stubborn, and the perfect companion for winter activities Samoyeds have always happily made the transition from nomads and sled dogs to household and bed dogs, often in the same day.


As one can imagine of a breed that originated in Siberia, this is a tough, hardy dog that none the less was happy to adapt to being a beloved housepet. In fact, it is said they were traditionally used to keep people warm at night, after a day of carrying packs, pulling sleds, or herding reindeer. This is a breed that while needing to be capable of independent action, has always worked and lived with people.

Their thick coats require grooming and washing to fight the yellowing process that can happen when the coat is left natural and exposed to elements. A well groomed Sammie looks dazzling with their fluffy white fur. It is said the smile they are famous for is also practical; a non-drooping mouth ment no icicles forming on their mouth in the winter.


An intelligent, independent breed, Sammies are perhaps best suited to people who are easier going, versus those who require strict compliance. Not to say they are difficult to train but like any breed that was originally developed to have common sense and survival instincts, a Sammie isn't going to blindly follow anyone's commands.


This is however, also still a breed capable of working and thrives with a job to do whether that be herding livestock, pulling a sled, or carrying a pack. Pacific Crest Samoyeds are just one example of a kennel that still raises working dogs.


If one wants a loving, cheerful family member though, a dog that is happy to go where the family goes and do what the family does, then this is a breed worth considering. This is a breed that requires a moderate but regular exercise routine and will not be happy if left alone for long periods of time. These are people loving dogs who also tend to get along well with other animals.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

"New" Dogs in the AKC Book

This year the American Kennel Club has recognized four new breeds for the purpose of eligibility for shows. These are breeds that have long been established in other countries but now have enough individual dogs/fanciers in the States to be shown - and thus bred - here in the U.S..


From South Africa we have a member of the Mastiff family, the Boerboel. An impressive dog that has, like most Mastiffs, been used primarily to guard his home and people this is a powerful, large breed, with males getting as large as 28 inches at the shoulder and from 150 - 200 pounds (71 cms, 90.7 kg).

This breed is designed to be loyal to its family and aloof with strangers.  Physically many members of the breed were agile enough to also be used hunting; their specialty was to help bring down large game.

wikipedia commons

I've noticed that in the States people are docking tails, and sometimes cropping ears, which hopefully will soon fall out of favor; this is a breed that is obviously well balanced with a tail and there should be no excuse that judges will not place a dog with a tail at a bench show. Of course, some people are docking and cropping to add to the fierce looking appearance of the breed - entirely unnecessary when dealing with a dog this big. Anyone who is going to charge past a 200 pound dog isn't going to be stopped by their stub tail.

The next two breeds are both Italian in origin.

wikipedia commons
The Bergamasco is a herding breed and may remind viewers of the Hungarian breeds the Puli and Komondor (Bergamasco are slightly larger than Puli and considerably smaller than Komondor). Breed history says that this breed traveled into the Italian Alps with nomadic herders originally from the area of Iran. The breed as now known however, was rescued from near extinction after WWII by an Italian breeder.

akc photos

As with herding/livestock guarding breeds that needed to work at least part of the time independently and part of the time with shepherds, the Bergamasco is trainable but independent. This breed can think for itself even though it also becomes very devoted to both the people and animals it protects and herds. And yes, this breed will herd children just as willingly as it will  herd sheep.

akc photos
The Cirneco dell'Etna may remind viewers of the more familiar (in the U.S.) Pharaoh Hound; they share a common ancestor and origin but the Cirneco is the smallest member of this branch of the hound family (which also includes the Ibizan.) As with other hounds, these have been used to hunt; the Cirneco has arguably maintained its working roots longer than its cousins who are mainly found in shows and as pets. It may take those of us in the U.S. not from Sicily a while to remember that their name is pronounced cheer-nek-ko.


The Cirneco is slighter in build than its cousins the Pharaoh Hound and Ibizan, as well as slightly calmer and more mindful that it often still has a job to do. They are however, gaining in popularity as housepets due to their smaller size and limited grooming requirements, not to mention their relatively calm and affectionate personalities. They do however, have an athletic nature and a need to get out and move.

akc photos
The fourth entry into the 2015 AKC book is the Spanish Water Dog (SWD).  Putting aside the breed's name, the appearance of members of the breed gives a strong hint of what they were primarily/originally used for. Dogs with rough coats and solid physical stamina but not overly large build generally were used for herding. The SWD proved to be very multi purpose though and so, their people found additional uses for the breed.

SWD club uk
This breed proved useful not just for retrieving from the water; it is said they also were used to help tow small boats to shore.
Obviously a trainable and energetic breed, it is strongly recommended that the SWD live with people with dog experience. With their intellect and prowess they otherwise will soon be running the family. And yes, this is another breed that is willing to herd children. But it's probably best if you don't let an SWD raise your child.

akc photos - Cirneco in field trial 

With the addition of these four breeds the AKC now recognizes 184 breeds of dogs.
And I will again remind readers, every single one of these breeds has volunteers working to rehome members of the breed who for a variety of reasons, are not able to stay with their original families.

Barbet free images - SWD working

As I also always like to remind people, don't add yourself to the list of people who need to rehome a dog by obtaining a breed that isn't suitable to your lifestyle and expectations.

Mizpah Butch, an influential Boeborel easily scaling a fence

While these are all lovely breeds, none of them are particularly suited to first time dog owners. Their exercise needs and/or potentially dominate personalities will do best with people who approach the relationship with experience training, meeting exercise needs, and dog-behavior knowledge.

A working dog - Silver Pastori Bergamascos 

Each breed will however, certainly be fun to watch in shows and field trials and I look forward to encountering them in increased numbers, in the right homes.