I’ve been on the receiving end lately of some internet “dog trainers” who apparently know better about what I should be doing with my dogs than I. I mean, clearly a snapshot of a moment in time gives strangers who have never met my dogs or me a better picture of what’s happening than real life. Unsolicited advice online is my favorite. It’s been everything from training to feeding and my personal favorite: exercise. I was recently questioned on taking my 10 month old GSD, Punk, for a run with me. While I find it incredibly rude the way people will publicly bash someone else based on a picture, and question one’s commitment and concern for the welfare of their own dog, that’s not the subject of this blog post. My question is: are we coddling our dogs?
In this day and age, dog obesity, fur mommies, and unsocialized asshole dogs are running rampant in the pet world, and that’s a topic in and of itself for another day. But even in the “dog snob” world of those who consider themselves more educated and in the know, I see just as many problems. While in the past decade alone there have been major leaps made through better food, advances in training, and products in general for dogs, I think with that has come a culture of being over cautious and even babying our dogs. I am certainly guilty in some aspects; I allow my dogs on furniture, some sleep in bed with me, and I’ve been known to put coats on my GSP’s in the winter. Those things are all pretty innocuous, but I think some coddling has potential health repercussions. In some cases we are over supplementing, over medicating, in some facets undertraining, and in my opnion, under-exercising.
Slowly more research has emerged demonstrating that hip dysplasia is much more complex and multifaceted than just a genetic disease. Environmental factors are also at play. Some of the more obvious are diet and nutrition, and dog weight. Of course putting more weight on the joints puts more strain thereby much greater risk for breaking down of joints. That’s a big DUH. Overweight dogs are bad all around for health and in my humble opinion a form of animal abuse, yet continues to be an epidemic in the pet world.
On the other end of the spectrum is the belief that exercise is harmful. This is what I have a problem with, and where I think logic has gone out the window. So many dog people have developed this belief that exercise before the dog is a year old is unhealthy and steps are bad and I guess you should just put your dog in bubble wrap and do nothing with them? People who truly believe this have not owned a high drive, hunting or working line dog. They certainly have not had a high drive GSP. Little exercise before they are a year? Good luck with that. Here’s my high drive hunting line GSP with no exercise for ONE day at 9 months old. Please tell me more about how little I should exercise him (insert eye roll.)
I think a lot of this belief is rooted in a study that looked at environmental factors linked to the incidence of HD. What the study actually found was that light daily exercise decreased the incidence of HD, while daily use of steps increased the risk. What people forget is this study was in dogs up to THREE MONTHS OLD. Nothing in this study points to exercise under a year = very bad and causes HD. Nor does it say that dogs under a year should not go up stairs as I do often see people advising others.
More common sense is what’s needed in the dog world. Now should I be running 10 miles a day with my 10 month old GSD? Probably not. Is a 2-3 mile run at 10 minute miles going to hurt her and cause HD? Highly doubt it. If anything I think it will be good for her and help build her stamina and athleticism. Holding back on conditioning and exercising these high powered dogs and then expecting them to perform is irresponsible and failing our dogs. They need stamina and strength to do a lot of the training we ask of them, whether it be obedience, bitework, or field work. Watching out of shape dogs with big hearts and a lot of try attempting to do more than they can really pisses me off at the owners for failing their dogs. Not conditioning them and then expecting them to be weekend warriors and do these short bursts of work likely puts more strain on their joints and bodies as a whole than moderate exercise that will strengthen joints and build muscle.
I’ll keep on keeping on, and working my dogs as I see fit. It’s worked out fine for me so far. My first sport dog, though he now lives with my ex, is one of the most titled GSP’s in UKC and is now over 15 years old. He gets around better then dogs much younger than him despite all that horrible running and stairs he had early on in life. Haters with their fat low drive dogs: hate on.
If you’ve been paying attention to the current affairs of dog ownership, then you are well aware that the “overpopulation” of dogs in this country is a fallacy sold to the public and one that is far from true. The fact of the matter is that there is a shortage of pet dogs out there. Sure, there are pockets in the US that have higher populations of unwanted dogs, but those are often shipped into areas where shelter numbers are low or nearly nonexistent. This has set the stage for humane relocation, not just within the US from state to state but also unregulated imports of dogs from other countries as well. However, that’s a whole different can of worms outside of what I’m talking about today. I’m talking about purpose bred PET dogs. Where have they all gone?
Dog breeders have unfortunately been given a tarnished image to the general public thanks to the animal rights movement’s manipulation of the overpopulation story and the begrudgingly genius coining of the term “puppy mills.” Dog breeders have been so vilified and pushed back by the animal rights movement that as a result, they are much more selective and protective about their breeding programs than ever before. We talk about unintended consequences all the time in regards to legislation; dog breeders, as a result of improving their breeding programs, breeding less and more selectively, and narrowly screening buyers, have created their own unintended consequence of a shortage of purebred pet dogs.
One major factor to the shortage of purebred pet dogs is less dogs being bred overall, as a result of more selectivity through breeding mainly dogs for functional purposes. Breeding dogs without any titles to their name has become taboo, and so to be considered a “good” respectable breeder only dogs with show or performance titles are used for breeding. “Pet quality” has become a derogatory term and are the dogs that are deemed not good enough for the breeding program, sold on limited registration and spay or neuter agreements to pet homes. Breeders have done this with nothing less than good intentions of doing the right thing and bettering their breed. It’s become part of the standard to be considered a responsible breeder. What has unfortunately developed are the unintended consequences that gene pools are shrinking, frequently used sires are becoming pervasive, and there are less dogs available in general, particularly to the pet owning public. While it’s become very taboo to breed a dog without a show or performance title, breeding for temperaments just for pet homes has become virtually non-existent. I’m not saying that breeders are not breeding for temperament but often the temperament being bred for in a working dog is not suitable for a pet home. Not to mention that spay and neuter has become so overwhelmingly the norm that an intact dog in a pet home is almost unheard of. The family with the lovely, even-tempered, pet Golden Retriever who decides to have a litter with the neighbor’s pet Golden down the street doesn’t happen anymore due to spaying and neutering pet dogs, breeder screening and contracts, and limited registration. This is not a stance one way or another, just an observation of facts that is contributing to the shortage of purebred pet dogs.
Breeders have also justifiably become very guarded about who may purchase dogs from these few selective breedings they have worked hard to achieve. When you put years into training and titlng and health testing dogs, not to mention the money that goes into all of this, to finally have a litter, you want to ensure that these dogs are going to the right homes. Depending on the breed, often these dogs are not suitable for pet homes. My breed for example: I hope to stud my young male Sue in the future, and may be part of the foundation for my own breeding program should I find the right female down the road. This dog could NOT live in a pet home. His drive and work ethic are far too much for an average pet owner. He is perfectly suited to the kind of things I ask of him: working a field searching for birds at an all-out run, doing an independent 20 minute swimming search for a downed duck, and driven to retrieve all day long. He HAS to work everyday, and by work I do not mean a leisurely walk around the block. His temperament, drive, and energy level are certainly not conducive to a pet home. When I breed him someday it will be very selective, and would be to dam owners who have the same vision as I and will sell pups to working homes, at the very least avid hunters. It would honestly be irresponsible otherwise. A dog like Sue in a pet home would very likely end up back with the breeder if the owners follow protocol (which all too often does not happen) or would end up dumped at a shelter due to behavior issues (the REAL reason for many dogs in shelters, not overbreeding as many believe).
The truth is, the average American pet dog owner doesn’t really care about show or performance titles; those letters, as much as they mean to us purebred dog people, are essentially meaningless to most pet owners. They want dogs that are easy to live with; easily trainable and easily managed. To me this translates to low drive, low energy, and high biddability. Many want little or easy grooming. Somehow all of this has given “doodles” the corner on the pet market because the public has been sold a story of easy dogs that don’t shed and are allegedly healthy because of being hybrid (all of this is untrue—being half poodle does not make them 100% non shedding and putting two breeds together with health problems does not cancel out their health problems and in fact compounds them). But these breeders have an edge on the market because these dogs are being bred and marketed SOLELY for pet purposes. Whether they are actually fulfilling that role is certainly debatable, but they are some of the few types of dogs being bred simply to be sold as pets.
What is the solution? Breeding for pets in many breeds and types of dogs outside of the companion breeds has become a shameful undertaking in the purebred dog world. Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate and re-think purebred dog breeding. Breeding for the pet market might be vital to keeping some of these breeds alive. If someone is breeding healthy pet dogs, just because they aren’t show champions or field trial winners does not make them wrong. People need pets! Just as importantly, we need to re-think our attitudes about commercial breeders because many are doing just that. The pet market still wants purebred dogs that we are not providing; the commercial breeders CAN and ARE. If we want a future with purebred dogs in it and as a part of the general public we might need these commercial breeders to help fulfill the pet market need.
We as purebred breeders have fallen just as victim to the fallacies sold by animal rights by vilifying commercial breeders and even referring to them by the emotionally coined term “puppy mills”, shutting them out of our elite world. It makes me cringe to see fellow breeders using that term. I think it’s time to get off that elite high horse. If we want to see a future with purebred dogs in it and defend ourselves against the bombardment of anti-breeding legislation, we need to support and EDUCATE each other. This is not to say I don’t have a problem with someone crossing basic pets and marketing them as something they are not, such as unproven GSP’s being marketed as hunting dog, because that makes me crazy. But if a breeder breeds and markets them as pets? I’m thinking we need more of this. I’d rather see two healthy well tempered Golden Retriever pet quality dogs being bred rather than someone making Goldendoodles from poorly bred Goldens and Poodles, or worse, bringing a rescue back from Mexico with who knows what diseases and parasites. So long as healthy dogs are being bred in safe, humane, clean conditions, and just as importantly, HONESTLY marketed, isn’t that preferable? To keep purebred dogs relevant and wanted and part of American culture, I think pet breeders are a necessary part of that future.
I’ve gone through many different phases and methods of dog training over the years, running the full gamut from compulsion, old school, force obedience training all the way to trying out purely positive. I’ve come out on the other end learning from all of them and finding some use or lesson from each. I consider myself to be a well-balanced trainer with a vast toolbox of various tools at my disposal to help me TRAIN THE DOG IN FRONT OF ME.
My first dog training experience was in 4-H and doing obedience classes with my Doberman/Rottie mix in grade school, under a compulsion trainer. What I have learned from compulsion training was primarily a lot of what not to do. I don’t believe in training a dog by pure pressure, and not necessarily because of the discomfort a dog might face, although that is a valid concern, but because I don’t think a dog learns the desired behavior as well as they do from positive reinforcement. With force based training, the dog trying to shut the pressure off, doing so hurriedly because of their discomfort and not necessarily thinking it through. I don’t think these lessons learned sink in quite so well with these methods. However, corrections are sometimes necessary once the dog understands the behavior asked of them, and compulsion trainers have taught me about timing those corrections, and to how use them judiciously.
Later in life, I met some truly amazing disc dog trainers who introduced me to purely positive training and got me into the sport of disc with my Australian Cattle Dog Carly. I think there is a place for this, but I have never been 100% on board with this. While I went through a phase of using no “aversives,” I have never eliminated telling my dogs “no.” I have learned a TON about operant conditioning, and again, proper timing. Timing is equally important in dog training in BOTH rewarding correct behavior and in doling out corrections. This is why training is so hard for many pet people and even many trainers: timing on both corrections and rewards are hard to perfect. I gained a lot of knowledge from working with various positive trainers and still call myself a mostly positive trainer. I use operant conditioning and a lot of clicker work in introducing behaviors and laying foundations. I firmly believe dogs learn so much better with operant conditioning, whether it be through shaping or luring. Behaviors are learned in smaller increments and chaining, and the dog thinks more, puzzles out what is being asked in order to get the thing they desire. More thinking, reasoning, and logic is involved to help truly imprint the behavior. Once those behaviors are understood and well-practiced is when I will employ corrections to ensure they continue and to further perfect the behaviors. This is where my aversives come into play.
For a while, I really wanted to prove that pointing dogs can be trained and finished without e-collars, using mostly positive methods. This came about because the pointing dog world seems to be the last to come on board with recognizing and using positive reinforcement. I got so much opposition I became stubborn about it, and lost sight of really getting things accomplished with my dogs. I still think it can be done, but takes more skill, time, and patience than I have. I have still laid much of the foundation work with Sue with positive work, more so than traditional bird dog training. But I have changed my views on e-collars and finally own one. I’ve come round to see I shouldn’t dislike the tool itself, because it’s all in how the tool is used. I personally don’t think an e-collar should be used to the point it’s causing a dog actual pain and crying out, but I see it all the time in the bird dog world. ALL. THE. TIME. It pisses me off and it is everything that gives the tool a bad rap and turned me off from using one. If a dog is blowing off a correction on an e-collar, it’s pretty likely that your training is lacking and something in the chain has been missed by the dog. Putting the dog into pain is not going to fix that miscommunication between handler and dog, but may actually damage the relationship and trust.
But, so too can any other tool. I’ve seen dogs hit the end of a check cord to be jerked so harshly the dog flips on its back hard enough to have the wind knocked out of it. Hell, I’ve seen a clicker used as punishment—a “trainer” paired the clicking with physical corrections! Any tool can certainly be abused, but I daresay an e-collar has the greatest potential for misuse. A trainer loses his or her temper and all they have to do is turn it up and hit a button and they can unleash as much pain as kicking or hitting the dog. An e-collar holds a lot of power and requires self-control on the part of the handler, and more trainers should be mindful of that power they hold in their hand. We ask a lot of self-control and restraint from our dogs, we owe them that same courtesy.
I’m currently using an e-collar on Sue to reinforce his retrieve, and on his flank to get him steady on birds. The level on his flank is so low that I can’t even feel it when tested on my wrist. But the pressure is there to tell him to stop; the pressure stops when he does. In both instances, I introduced and taught the behavior using positive reinforcement. I trained a retrieve using a clicker, so he’s never been what I would call “force fetched.” He has had a trained retrieve. He was taught the behavior using a clicker, and once he fully understood fetch and hold, has had pressure and corrections to reinforce those commands. Same with “whoa.” Also with heeling—that was introduced through shaping and luring; now that he understands, I use a prong collar to reinforce and also to perfect his heelwork.
Now is this the case for every dog? Absolutely not. A good trainer must read and train the dog in front of her. I would never put a prong or an e-collar on my Australian Cattle Dog Carly; she doesn’t need it and would probably shut down under pressure. She’s incredibly food motivated and so eager to learn and work. At the same time, her work is very different than the primal driven work of a bird dog. Bird dogs we are asking them to work off of primal instincts hardwired and bred into them, but at the same time we ask them to show a lot of self-restraint and control to be steady. To get that control we have to override their incredibly strong motivation for prey: for the most part nothing we have is going to rank higher than wanting birds. No cookies, no toys. So, here is where pressure is needed. Not pain inducing pressure, but pressure to maintain control and assist the dog in restraint. Whoa work with Sue is a prime example. NOTHING ELSE is going to get him to restrain himself and stop when a bird flushes in front of him and is shot. He’s not going to reason that out and think, hey, if I stand still through this I will get a cookie. He doesn’t WANT a cookie. He needs that pressure to learn the lesson that bird flying = stand still. Some pressure is the only thing that will override his prey drive to chase the bird in front of him because that’s all that is in his brain at that point. No cookie or other reward can top that.
As a trainer, I am continually learning. Any trainer who thinks they have all the answers and it’s their way or the highway is delusional and not someone I want to train with. We should all be open to learning new methods and working to find the best ways to train each dog as an individual. That is one of the key factors to remember: each dog is an individual and a good trainer not only has a vast toolbox of methods and tools available to them, but is skilled in reading dogs to tailor what will work to bring out the best in that individual dog. It’s not the tools themselves that matter so much, but the ability and talent of the trainer holding those tools.
Watching Westminster last night, the “sporting” group in particular, and my subsequent post on Facebook about it along with the ensuing arguments and comments, really got me thinking. When I get to thinking on things dog like this it inspires me to write, and I have a lot of thoughts on the so-called “sporting” dogs that paraded around the ring on television last night.
As I am clearly very passionate about German Shorthaired Pointers, the “sporting” group is my favorite, but last night I was very disappointed by the group overall. I keep putting “sporting” in quotations because I didn’t see a whole lot of dogs that looked very sporting to me. There were so many extremes and vast divides in breeds from field to what was in the ring last night. The Labrador was grossly obese and looked like it was tired and out of breath after a trot around the ring—a far cry from the working retrievers that are fit athletes built to go all day through harsh conditions on endless retrieves. The Golden had better hair that most beauty pageant competitors, hair that would be an absolute nightmare in either water for duck retrieves or the woods and fields of upland work. The setter breeds were caricatures of their working brethren who are kings of the grouse woods and masters over field trials. Including the Reserve Best in Show winner, the Irish Setter, seen here: flowing locks hanging from a long giraffe neck, sloping topline, and over angulated rear. OVERDONE, in my humble opinion. Irish Setters are RARELY seen as actual working hunting dogs any more, and when you do come across one in the woods or at a trial, they are called Red Setters because: 1.) their owners don’t want them lumped in with the dumb non-hunting dogs the breed has become and 2.) they have crossed in hunting line English Setters to bring back instinct and ability. Oh and then the American Cocker spaniels…I don’t even know where to start with this “sporting” breed. When was the last time they were ever used to hunt birds? They couldn’t make it 10 feet into the woods with those coats; hell apparently they aren’t even allowed to poop on regular ground for fear of messing up their lovely coats and have to go on grates.
Now, I am not saying EVERYTHING in the “sporting” ring was non functional. There were some very nice dogs in there, like my own breed, that you cannot discern from just looks as to how functional they actually are. The GSP, GWP, Spinone, Welsh Springer Spaniel, Irish Water Spaniel, and the Wirehaired Vizsla to name a few, all looked balanced, not overdone, and like dogs you might see working. However, I saw very few with any hunting or any kind of performance titles. I fully understand these dogs may have titles with other venues therefore not shown on their AKC registered name aired on TV. An example of this is the Wirehaired Vizsla (which was a lovely dog and my personal favorite in that ring) who has titles with NAVHDA and CKC. I am fairly certain that NAVHDA titles are now recognized by AKC and I would think that in campaigning a dog primarily in AKC, you want to make sure that the title was added to the dog’s name. But I looked a few others up at least in NAVHDA as I was watching and came up empty. Dogs like the WV are unfortunately the exception and not the rule when it comes to dogs showing at this level earning hunting titles.
What’s in a title? Well, whether it be a hunt test or trial it tells you that dog has at least some natural ability and instinct. The higher the title, the more significant, and higher titles also speak to the trainability of that dog. Some will argue titles can be meaningless if you can test a dog over and over and over to get passes, blah blah blah. While that may happen, overall the testing systems and trialing are evaluations of instinct and ability and tells you at least a little something about the dog on paper. When I brought up the fact that there were few dogs with hunting titles in the “sporting” ring, some posters responded with arguments that dogs can be fantastic hunters with no titles. Of course they can. But how does that preserve the pedigree and future for you? With no hunting titles on the dog, what will that tell people about the dog generations from now when reading pedigrees? All well and good for the present and for locals who can see the dog work in person, but it doesn’t put anything on paper for the future. I say if your dog has the hunting ability and instinct and you want to help preserve the breed, get out there and prove it for the future through some titles. Those who poo-poo testing and titles are typically those who either have never done it with their dogs or CAN’T. I’d even say some testing venues ask more of a dog than they might actually do in the field. I’ve seen some great working hunting dogs that can seriously find birds that couldn’t pass a basic hunt test due to various factors—disobedience, not steady, can’t mark fallen birds, and/or won’t retrieve. These requirements in hunt tests are not just for shits and giggles—they are part of game conservation. I can’t stand when people lose shot birds because of shitty dog work.
On the flip side, I do have to say something about some field bred dogs when it comes to conformation. They can go far to the other extreme. While I’ve seen a lot of wonderfully put together athletic dogs in the field, I have also seen some absolute atrocities. Dogs that are so messed up in their build they are getting around purely on heart, but likely suffering in pain and early arthritis from poor build like wide fronts, elbows turned out, little angulation in the front and rear, and pasterns down on the ground. It’s why we need a balance, why both worlds of conformation AND function are equally important. But, the world of conformation needs to be brought more into reality for all breeds and groups with a stronger idea of function in mind in evaluating every single breed, rather than fads and popular looks.
Is there a solution? I don’t think there’s an easy fix. Some of these breeds are too far gone to be reclaimed to their original purpose and function, like the American Cockers. Perhaps they should be re-classified into another group. Other breeds, such as the English Setter and the Labrador, are so vastly divided, I don’t know how to bring them back to a happy medium. The field people won’t bring their dogs to the ring and most of those show bred dogs aren’t going to hunt. Then there are breeds such as mine that don’t have an obvious physical divide. Breed clubs control the breed standards, but I’d like to see AKC putting pressure on them to push more performance, hunting, and function. That’s at least a step in the right direction.
UKC is far from perfect, but they do have a Total Dog program, where dogs showing in conformation are awarded for performance as well. Total Dog Best in Show at Premier is the pinnacle of the weekend. For those unfamiliar with Total Dog—dogs must have a conformation win and also a performance qualifier to obtain the award. At Premier, a hunting title is a buy-in now for performance as there are no hunt tests at the event. I’d LOVE to see AKC adopt a similar program and award. It would be a huge step in the right direction in putting the “sporting” back into some of these hunting breeds. Ideally, I’d love to see performance or hunt titles eventually as a pre-requisite to becoming a CH or a GRCH, though we are a long long ways from that. But a girl can dream.
I’m going to take a departure from dogs here and write about Prois, a company that makes a line of hunting clothing for women. But it’s so much more than that.
I have a clothing addiction and am a clothes snob. In my life outside of hunting and dog stuff, I LOVE fashion; it’s definitely a form of expression for me. Female hunters have very little to choose from out there when it comes to real, functional hunting clothing. I’m not talking about that gimmicky pink camo stuff. And don’t get me wrong, I love me some cheesy pink camo, but not for real use. Women either have to wear men’s stuff that makes us look like giant bag ladies and makes me want to vomit, or wear crappy women’s stuff that’s shoddily made or not functional in most cases. Prois has been the exception.
I got into Prois a little over a year ago, when a fellow female bird hunter recommended me as hunt staff with them not so much for my hunting, but for all the bird dog hunt tests, trials, and other competitions I do with my dogs. I have been hooked from the beginning! Yes, some of their stuff can be pricey, but you get what you pay for. When you are out sitting in a duck blind at 5 am and it’s 25 degrees out and raining, do you want the cheap crap or the better quality clothing that keeps you both warm and dry? If you’ve been out there in the cheap stuff you appreciate the good stuff so much more. Not only is Prois clothing super functional but it is made for women and fits wonderfully. Why shouldn’t we look good while outdoors doing what we love? Fit isn’t just important for looks either, but for functionality and comfort as well. Prois is changing the look of the female hunter. No, we don’t want to be those dumbasses posing in bikinis with shotguns and fishing poles, but I for one appreciate still looking respectably feminine while being comfortable. When I’m hunting, I want to focus on the dogs in front of me and not be distracted by discomfort or shitty clothes.
My favorite piece I’ve gotten so far has been the Galeann Rain Jacket. Super super light weight but still surprisingly warm. Cut to skim the female figure in slender fit, but you can still flayer underneath. So, it’s lightweight to wear early season but you can layer and stay warm, and more importantly, DRY, when it gets colder. Hell, I just wore it a few weeks ago in JANUARY in Michigan on a long hike in the rain with my pups. It is impervious to the wet. The hood is super roomy to fit big hair or hats underneath. The jacket stows away in its own pocket. It’s available in solid, non-camo colors for streetwear for non hunters as well. I HIGHLY recommend it.
But Prois goes beyond the clothing. There’s a posse. I was welcomed into a group of women, a tribe of hunters, who support and empower each other. We are from all over the country and all genres of hunting, all walks of life, but we all share a passion for the outdoors and conservation. I can count on our posse of bad ass women to give me daily laugh; the wit and humor in this group is right up my alley. The collective hunting accomplishments amongst these women is astounding, and I am proud to be a small part of it. I never thought so much would come from supporting a line of hunting clothing.
So many people are absolutely losing their minds over this video of a German Shepherd being put into a pool during filming of “A Dog’s Purpose.” I just don’t have this same visceral reaction to it quite frankly. Maybe I’m in the minority, but every single piece of viral news or clickbait makes me super critical and asking questions. Too few people in this day and age of instantaneous information question what they see and read. The video itself is not bothering me but the knee jerk emotional reaction I’ve witnessed by so many IS. Several people have messaged me about this asking my opinion. I’m not sure that the opinion of this keyboard cowgirl matters but here it is.
First of all, if this dog was actually in danger or the person who has released this was truly concerned for the dog’s welfare, why are they just now sharing it? Why not at the time it was happening? Why not report this alleged abuse to the authorities? PETA has sure latched right onto it which immediately makes me suspicious—attaching the name PETA to anything just discredits it for me. PETA is urging people to boycott the film, and I’m saddened to see many fellow dog owners and trainers sharing this PETA sentiment. PETA is opposed to merely owning a dog so they are opposed to everything we are about. The fact no one reported this when it happened makes me seriously question the validity of their concern for the dog. This video is being shared not to improve the dog’s situation but to make someone look bad. The clips shown are only a portion of the real story, I’m sure. It’s essentially impossible to make an actual judgement of the situation with only what whoever has released this wants you to see.
My opinion on the clipped snapshot we are given: it is bad training. The dog should have been better prepared and acclimated for the situation. Perhaps another drivier animal should have been used. However, we are only given a snippet of what’s going on here. Dogs ARE animals and maybe, for whatever reason, he wasn’t feeling like doing it that day when he normally would. To be quite honest, I have seen dogs far more stressed out at dock jumping events. I’m not talking about the regulars or real competitors, but speaking more to events where the public can come try it and they bring their pets who hardly even leave the house and expect them to be Michael Jordans. I’ve witnessed super obese pet dogs that live on the couch being forced up the steps to the dock exhibiting way more stress than this particular dog. I’ve seen people dragging dogs on the ramp into the water, practically choking them, trying to force dogs into water who have never even swam before. People who think that their dog splashing in a kiddy pool in the back yard somehow translates into fearlessly leaping into a pool of clear water. Are these people abusive? Probably not. Complete and total morons that I want to bitch slap, yes, but abusive, no.
And this may sound harsh, but what is wrong with some stress and discomfort? Why is there this disillusioned idea that dogs should exist in a perfect world of sunshine and rainbows? It goes to the same notion that all dogs should be friends with all other dogs all the time. (These are typically the same people who refer themselves as pet parents to their fur babies. I just threw up in my mouth.) I find it fascinating that the people who tend to have these ideas are the people who anthropomorphize dogs, but they do so very selectively. They want to humanize dogs only when it comes to the things that make us happy but not when it comes to the reality. No humans love every single other human: why should we expect the same of our dogs? Nor do we live lives without any discomfort or stress….again, why should our dogs? We all have to sometimes do things we don’t want to, or not get what we want; this goes for dogs too.
I don’t think the dog’s welfare was ever in any danger. Even if he did slip under water the pool was surrounded by people to jump in and pull him from the water. Is it tantamount to abuse? No. Is it super shitty training and handling? Absolutely. But anyone calling this abuse is doing the entire world of dog training a disservice. If that’s abuse, then what about prong collars or e collars? What about restraining a bird dog on a check cord? Let’s not even get into what happens to birds in bird dog training. Look closely at my picture above of Sue on point: he’s in training to be steady on birds, and has an e collar on his belly. Abuse to some who don’t understand it, appropriate use of a training tool to others who do understand. (And for my friends who don’t know how this is used: I tested the stimulation level on my own wrist before putting it on Sue and it was such that I couldn’t feel it. At all.)
My point is, this is opening a very bad door to a very slippery slope if people want to jump on the train that is making a snap judgement and labeling it abuse. Dog people need to take a breath, step back, and look at this logistically rather than emotionally reacting and contributing to the forces that would classify much so much dog training as “abuse.”
I recently added a working line German Shepherd to my pack, and am slowly learning the breed. What is clear and evident to even the most novice dog person is the vast divide within the breed between showing and working dogs. I fear that German Shorthaired Pointers are heading in the same direction. It’s not yet so evident to the naked eye, i.e. not as clear in appearance as it is in the GSD, but like any breed divide, has just as much potential for damage to the breed. Look at so many other gun dogs with the divide: English Setters, Irish Setters, English Pointers, Labradors, English Cocker Spaniels, just to name a few, look like two different breeds from field bred to the show ring. It’s not just looks either that are vastly different, but temperament, drive, natural ability, instincts, and work ethic.
Focusing on one aspect of a dog breed, in my opinion, does it a great disservice. That goes to both sides of the coin. Speaking specifically to GSP’s, we are developing several types in the US: show bred, field trial, German bred (Deutsch Kurzhaars), and what I will call the versatiles. Now, I am sure there are exceptions in every type, I am just generalizing what I have seen overall firsthand in my experience. I’m sure many will disagree and get butthurt but this is MY blog for MY musings and opinions. These are my personal observations on what I see happening to my breed that I am extremely passionate about. A breed that has not been ruined yet by extremes as so many others have, and we need to maintain that vitality.
Let’s look at show bred GSP’s first. Show bred German Shorthaired Pointers can be beautiful dogs. These dogs are bred to the show judges’ interpretations of the breed standard and most are bred solely for looks: correct angulation, flawless movement, the right color that’s trending, etc. The part of the breed standard they are most often sorely lacking however, is the working ability. Many show bred dogs never ever smell an upland bird, much less actually hunt one or retrieve. In my view, this is just as bad as breeding a bad bite or straight shoulders. Just recently seeing the list of the top 50 AKC GSP’s illustrates this. One or two Master Hunters and some Junior Hunters. I don’t hold much stock in a JH title, I could probably put a JH on my Australian Cattle Dog. The GSP was created, first and foremost, to be a versatile bird dog. Form follows function, and when you lose sight of function, form also gets skewed. That’s what I see with a lot of show dogs: too much unnecessary angulation, big dogs with too much substance, and worst of all, FAT or soft dogs that wouldn’t last too long at any kind of work. This is an embarrassment to one of the most athletic breeds, one of the jocks of the dog world. In fact I can’t even wrap my head around how this is accomplished. I find it hard to keep weight on my boys and they are both very muscular and toned with not a ton of exercise. Another downside I’ve seen, and this may be just my personal experience, is some nasty temperaments on show bred dogs that I don’t see in hunting dogs. I think the increased prevalence for this is because a nasty temperament will not work in the field, either with the humans OR working with other dogs.
Field trial dogs are the opposite end of the spectrum. These dogs are bred solely for performance and sport, and very specific performance at that. While they are bred solely for function, the form is often very off. I see a lot of poor conformation in field trial lines: wide fronts with elbows turned out, weird snipey heads, and teeny tiny dogs well under the low end of the breed standard. It has always amazed me that these dogs can do well with such poor conformation, it really speaks to heart in these dogs. These dogs are bred with so much focus on winning, meaning they need to run big, be super fast, and beat the upland specialists that many have lost sight of breed type. So much so these dogs often look like diminuitive cousins of the show bred dogs. This type has experienced the heaviest illegal influence of English Pointers into our breed over the years too. EP’s dominate the field trial world, and it wasn’t hard to slip some winning EP blood into the GSP field lines. It’s quite apparent in their appearance and build, and is the reason for the lemon colored GSP’s that crop up from time to time. This is another downside to breeding to extremes: not only has breed type been lost, but the breed is diluted by underhanded cross breeding.
Then we have the German bred dogs, the DK’s. There’s a lot of good to these dogs, and what people are trying to accomplish with them in the US is admirable. These dogs have FCI registration and straight German pedigrees. They follow the strict German requirements: dogs have to pass hunt testing standards and have hips certified before they may be bred. I believe they have some sort of conformation evaluation but I honestly don’t know much about it. All of this is well and good but I have a few issues with it. The complete closure of the studbooks is limiting. Unless DK breeders continuously import new dogs the gene pool will quickly shrink, which is never a good thing. I have a hard time with the fact that even if my German Shorthaired Pointer passed their testing system and had excellent hips, he doesn’t count because he doesn’t have an FCI/German pedigree (even though you go back just a few generations and it takes you right to Germany.) This is short sighted and close minded and limiting. And don’t even get me started on the name and the sense of superiority these people have with it. You meet one at a training session and here’s what ensues:
Me: “That’s a lovely GSP.”
DK owner: “He’s not a GSP he’s a DK.”
Me, walking away biting my tongue: “Mkay.”
In my head: “DK is German for GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER. Calm your tits. We aren’t in Germany–is your dog AKC registered as well as FCI? Then it’s listed as a GERMAN SHORTHAIRED POINTER. Same goddam thing, stop being a pretentious cockpocket.”
**There are many DK and DD owners I love, but y’all deserve getting a hard time for your pretentious brethren 🙂
Finally, we have my personal favorites: the versatiles. These are dogs tested in the NAVHDA system, which I am clearly a huge proponent and supporter of. In my humble opinion, it’s the best thing available to American GSP’s to keep them true to their origins. It’s based off of the German testing system, in fact created by Germans and adapted for what Americans were doing with the dogs. Another way it’s Americanized is there nothing REQUIRED about it. It’s something for breeders to strive for and not forced upon them. It tests dogs for both upland and waterfowl, with a physical exam for basics included as well. Critics of testing commonly state that one of their problems with testing system is that dogs may take several times to pass before obtaining a title. These critics are typically people who have never tried the testing or have had dogs fail. Testing multiple times and hiding it may be an issue in other venues, but one of the things I love so very much about NAVHDA are the public records you can use to make wise choices about breeding. You can look up a dog not only to see how many times they tested before passing but you can look up each test specifically to see the breakdown of how the dog scored on each portion. Don’t know how many other testing or trialing systems have such an amazing tool available to them.
What NAVHDA lacks is a conformation aspect. I would not want them to try to add conformation because that’s not what the organization is about. However, I would love to see them team up with a registry, specifically UKC, to recognize dogs that title with NAVHDA and finish in the UKC ring. Why UKC? Because it’s the only venue I see in the US where working dogs are truly recognized. Not only that, all the less common NAVHDA breeds, such as the Munsterlanders and Pudelpointers, are recognized by UKC and likely do not want AKC recognition. It is FAR from perfect, and I am sure I will still struggle with showing a working line GSD in UKC. But, where she would get essentially kicked out of the ring in AKC there ARE judges in UKC that refuse to reward the extreme show line dogs and reward function instead.
Both of my GSP’s are what I would call versatile bred. They come from a breeder who breeds for function. He is a lifetime NAVHDA member, and hunts intensely all over the UP of Michigan, Canada, and the Dakotas every fall. Our NAVHDA chapter trains weekly on his property and he dedicates not only his land but his time to training weekly. He’s never shown dogs. However, he adheres to the breed standard and maintains type, and I’ve been able to pretty easily finish both of my function bred versatile GSP’s to Grand Champion. They’ve even both won Best in Shows and beat some winning AKC Grand Champion crossovers. This is what I strive for with my GSP’s—dogs who both excel at what they were bred to do while maintain breed type without falling victim to trends. Further, they aren’t meant to be specialists, they are more jack of all trades but master of none. If you want an upland specialist, you might want to consider an English Pointer or a Setter; if you are a serious duck hunter you might want to go with a Lab or a Chessie. You want a dog you can duck hunt in the morning in October and go out and grouse hunt with in the afternoon? GSP all the way.
Now what of people who have no desire to hunt whatsoever but just love the breed, want an active pet, and still play other games with them? I have mixed feelings on this. I myself am guilty of this with my first GSP. He is what made me fall in love with the breed, and he got me addicted to dog sports. This dog did not lack in activity; I traveled the country with him competing in dock jumping. But seeing his drive and heart made me feel guilty I did not get him into hunting. Later in life when I got my second GSP, Ozzy, that I jumped full force into NAVHDA with, I did finally take Oskar on a preserve hunt. However, the difference with Oskar is that he was neutered. I never intended to breed him. GSP’s are fine for pets in ACTIVE homes, but I don’t think dogs who are not contributing to the improvement of the WHOLE breed standard, both form AND function, should really be bred. I’m sure many will disagree, but that’s my personal philosophy. Breeding dogs who cannot prove their ability to do what the breed was created for and still used for, does nothing to preserve and maintain the breed. It is imperative to keep the bird in bird dogs!