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Saturday, 21 December 2013

A Dog Is For Life, Not Just For Christmas


It's coming upto Christmas & it's a time when the old saying "A dog is for life, not just for Christmas" becomes ever more important. Children up & down the country are no doubt pleading for a puppy for Christmas - just as I did every year to my parents!

So as people no doubt rush out to purchase their latest Christmas present & impending family addition, there's some real serious issues that need to be considered when it comes to entering  the 'Dog World'.


"We're just not getting it right" - that was the very clear message which rang around the room during the last John Rogerson course I attended.

The UK has - according to John Rogerson - rapidly climbed the league table, but sadly it is a league table of shame & not the football FIFA ranking table!

We now sit embarrassingly at the top of the tree for having the most frequent number of dog attacks in the world. (I am trying to find some statistics to back this claim up)


The stats I have found, don't exactly cover the 'dog world' in glory. Here are just a couple of them. . . .

  • 100 people each WEEK are bitten by dogs leading to 999 emergency calls
  • Statistics from the Health and Social Care Information Centre show that there were 6,302 hospital admissions between 2012-13
  • In 8 years - 17 people have been killed as a result of a dog attack
We can't hide from this fact - It's not great reading at all. There's no better nation than the UK at developing aggressive & anti social dogs - and that is a fact.

Don't just think that it's pitt bulls, Staffies and such like - make no mistake about it, some of the worst 'behavioural' cases involve many other breeds of dogs other Staffies etc.



Yet here we are at a time where the 'dog world' is growing in popularity. The numbers of dogs now in the UK has reached 8 million.

So how can it be that with more & more 'dog trainers' & 'dog behaviourists' etc entering 'The Dog World' - more & more of our dogs are displaying such anti social behaviours? 

Coincidence or not, one message is very clear - whatever we're all doing, we're just not getting it right (& I put every single 'dog person into that statement - myself included)

As with dog legislation, sadly I nor anyone else seems to have come up with something effective & the same can be said about the situation we, as dog lovers, now find ourselves in - & lets not kid ourselves, we're suffering an epidemic of poor dog behaviour right across the UK.

I don't have the exact answers to the problem - nor do I have a magic wand that can suddenly decrease the number of dog attacks etc. There are however, some interesting areas we need to consider to try & establish why the UK has suddenly accelerated itself into pole position within the Doggy Hall of Shame.

It's hard to know where to start & for the purposes of keeping the Blog short & readable, I'll cover just a small part of what I believe is a problem.

Breed Selection

Probably the most talked about subject in the dog world centres around breeds of dog. Conduct a Google search of "breed specific legislation" & you're inundated with results - mainly centering on pitt bulls. 
The problems in the 'dog world' haven't just come from the influx of pitt bulls.



As I said, there's so much talk around breeds of dogs & it is without doubt the most talked about topic when it comes to dogs, but what has happened to our historic breeds of family dogs?

What do people actually look for when they chose to own a "family" pet dog? A dog who is going to come & live in your family home, who will become a friendly companion for the family, a dog who is well mannered, well behaved & 'safe' to be around other family members & friends.

Going out & getting a dog is not just about simply giving into a children's plea for a puppy for Christmas. There's so much to consider before you even make the decision to buy a dog. However, once the decision is made to get a dog the next step is to chose the 'right' dog for your family & your day to day family life.

Character & temperament of dogs takes more than choosing a dog which simply looks 'nice'.

For example, who would want a dog which could display characteristics like these?:-
  • The breed are very needy dogs & do not like being alone - often leading to separation anxiety
  • The breed can be dominant
  • The breed can be easily stressed
  • Requires many hours of grooming & brushing PER WEEK
  • Highly energetic leading to boredom which turns into mischievousness
  • Their intelligence can turn into stubbornness
What do you think? Would the traits above make for a perfect family pet for an inexperienced owner?

Guess what - I've just described the possible traits you could get in the UK's latest 'Designer Dog' . . . . . the cockerpoo or as it was once known . . . . . a mongrel.



Would anyone really want a dog to become part of the family which is described as the above? Would this dog suit a 9-5, 2.4 family?

Here's the interesting thing.How does a dog with these traits sound for a family dog?:-

  • Highly affectionate, playful, extremely patient & eager to please
  • Good with children & other dogs - not shy about socialising with large dogs
  • Adapt quickly to almost any environment, family & location
  • Very versatile dog & great with people of all ages
  • Enjoy cuddling up on a lap or cusion
  • Regards all strangers as friends
Personally, I would suggest that the dog described above has the PERFECT temperament & traits to become a family dog. What do you think?

Surely a dog described in such a way would be a dog every family would be clamouring over to get?

The dog described above was in fact . . . . . a cavalier king charles spaniel. When was the last time you saw one of those being walked?


Sadly the effect of breeding in the 'Show World' meant the Cavalier started to develop serious health issues, which I think put people off buying dogs like the Cavalier.

The distressing report on Cavalier King Charles Spaniel health issues can be seen here. It doesn't make pleasant viewing.

So despite having seemingly perfect 'family dogs', here we are in today's world surrounded by families going out to purchase a whole host of different sounding, but more importantly, different looking dogs.

The Cockerpoo, labradoodle, sprocker, mocker, locker, hobbydoodles & pollymolly's - the list could go on - & yes obviously the last few were made up, but then again so were the first, second & third!

The nation has gone crazy over buying mongrels which sound great & look like nice dogs. 


We've gone the full circle! Back in the early 'pet dog' days nearly everyone owned mongrels, yet a very clever marketing company generated the obsession with 'Pedigree' dogs. Anyone guess which company started the 'Pedigree' obsession . . . . . Spratts. Their very first employee was called Charles Cruft & the rest, as they say, is history.



At that point everyone wanted to get a 'Pedigree' dog, yet here we are now in a situation where some more clever marketing has generated a new national obsession . . .the 'Designer Dog'. Even Crufts have now recognised the phenomenon & came up with Scrufts.



A mongrel is no longer know as a mongrel or cross breed, it's now known as a Cockerpoo or a labradoodle etc.

We've moved away from making sensible, informed decisions about the breed of dog we want as a family pet & are now heavily influenced by the latest fashionable name of mongrel - without paying any attention to the behavioural traits of each breed which makes up the whatever-a-doodle dog.

There doesn't seem to be any consideration for the characteristics, temperament & more importantly the genetics of the dog families want to bring into their homes.

Why would anyone who's looking for a nice family pet, not consider having something like a King Charles Spaniel? I just don't get it.



Genetics

I'm no expert on genetics etc, however it's vital that when you're selecting a dog that not only the breed is considered but also the genetics & characteristics/temperament of the dog.

It's impossible for a dog trainer or dog behaviourist to change the colour of a dogs coat - because it's down to genetics.

If someone turned up at a dog behaviourists with a black dog & the family wanted a white dog - guess what . . . . the behaviourist won't be able to help!

Are you ever going to stop a retriever from retrieving? Could you ever change a whippet from being very sight orientated?

In exactly the same way as it being impossible to change the dog's colour - it's impossible for a dog trainer or dog behaviourist to change the genetic behaviour of dog. 

And here is the crucial part - who can ever 100% identify whether the dog is displaying poor behaviour or in fact being controlled by their genetics?

How much research into genetics, temperament & bloodlines do pet owners really do? Do people really understand the breed they are taking on & the history behind the breed? Is there enough help & guidance for people looking for a dog? 

Like I said at the start, I haven't got the answers & judging by the stats nor has anyone else. If we had the answers the UK wouldn't be the experts in developing dogs with poor behaviour. 

Let's not forget - we really are the best at developing anti-social dogs.

I'm going to pick on a dog to highlight the point about genetics & whether we can truly ever know whether genetics are taking over a dog's behaviour.

I'm not anti any breed. I'm a dog lover, a dog enthusiast. I'm certainly not anti bull breeds. My parents have a 14 year old Staffordshire Bull Terrier & my views on breed specific legislation are well documented. However, for the purposes of highlighting the point regarding genetics & temperament, I'm going to use an American Bull Dog.



This is why it's vitally important to not only select the right breed of 'family' dog but to also ensure that we understand a dog's history & what it was 'originally' bred for.

So lets briefly consider the history & genetic make up of the American Bull Dog, but specifically the John D. Johnson type American Bulldog. Taken directly from a website:-

"The Johnson American Bulldog is a breed of dog unlike any other; their sheer strength and courage coupled with their undying loyalty and devotion make them the ultimate breed of dog. 

Dogs resembling today’s American Bulldogs were used in Europe, specifically England, as "butcher dogs" and guardians. These dogs were by no means pets, but rather utility dogs bred and raised for specific duties. These duties included baiting unruly cattle and swine along with guarding property against thievery. These tasks required a dog that feared no man or beast alive.

These traits still exist with the Johnson American Bulldog."



"These traits still exist with the Johnson American Bulldog" - that's a really powerful closing line. 

There are dogs being bred to retain the traits described above. Traits which made Johnson American Bulldogs such brilliant "butcher dogs". They can also be described as "catch dogs"

The dogs were used to catch big livestock like boars. Catch dogs physically take hold of the boar. Once the catch dogs have physical control of the boar, they will hold it down by the head indefinitely until the hunter arrives.

Dogs are still being bred to retain characteristics to enable them perform this sort of role. Would you really want a dog as a 'family pet' which could potentially display such behaviours?



So what are some of the traits of an American Bulldog?

  • It is not uncommon for an American Bulldog to require a high level of attention due to their highly emotional personality
  • They are capable of jumping in excess of seven feet vertical due to the dense muscle build of the breed
  • The goal of the breed was originally to produce a working farm utility dog that could catch and hold wild boar and cattle, kill vermin, and guard an owner's property
  • As livestock dogs, catch dogs use their weight and teeth to immobilize live animals
  • A dog that is designed to bite a bull on the face & not let go
  • A dog that can weigh in excess of 55kg - not far off 9 stone
  • A breed who 'tolerates' children providing they are socialised well

I struggle to understand the real reasons for people's choice of dog breeds? Whatever happened to picking a dog that would fit in with family life?

Why would someone want a family pet which only 'tolerates' children providing they've been well socialised - especially when you could have a dog who is described as being good with children, highly affectionate, playful, extremely patient & eager to please?

Don't get me wrong, I've met some absolutely beautiful, friendly & great American Bulldogs. My friend has one & we occasionally bump into a couple in our local park. But how would you ever be 100% confident that it didn't have the some of genetics/temperament listed above?



Are people even aware of the history of a dog breed & the importance of their genetic make up? Will we ever breed a retriever not to retrieve - & could we ever breed an American Bull Dog which didn't somewhere have the chromosome for one of the traits listed above?

If a family with 3 children wanted a nice family car, they wouldn't go out & buy an Audi TT - because it wouldn't fit in with their family requirement. The same needs to be considered when we're looking for our family pet.

It's easy to pick out the good temperamental features of a dog breed - these won't cause you & your family an issue. It is the flaws & faults in a breeds temperament & genetics which will cause you the problems - sadly not all flaws & faults can be fixed by training. 

So when we say "A dog is for life & not just for Christmas" could you really cope with a dog for the rest of it's life that displays the flaws in the temperament?

Jack Russells tend to be extremely intelligent, athletic, fearless, and vocal dogs. It is not uncommon for these dogs to become moody or destructive if not properly stimulated and exercised, as they have a tendency to bore easily and will often create their own fun when left alone to entertain themselves.

Could you cope with the vocal issue? Could you cope with destructiveness if not properly stimulated? 

Are we really doing enough to understand the dog we're introducing to our family?

I'll leave you with this thought . . . . 
"22% of parents are happy to buy a puppy . . . . ONLINE!"