Wednesday, December 12, 2012

What kind of dog owner are YOU?

In response to an inquiry about German shepherds as pets, picking an appropriate dog for your lifestyle, and what does 'working' breed mean, Dr. Ken Shiarella, V.M.D. of the Western Animal Clinic has the following to say:

There are two types of dog owners, each is perfectly fine: There is the "casual dog owner" and there is the "dog enthusiast." 

The "Dog enthusiast" is the person who interacts with their dog by putting themselves in the dog's shoes. The activities with the dog are centered around the quest to see what the dog wants to do, is bred to do and what it can do. These are the people who do agility, dock jumping, hunting, obedience, fly-ball, rally, scent tracking, racing, herding, lure-coursing, and similar but less formal home activities. 

These people live in the dog's head, so to speak. Some of that comes naturally, but a lot of it takes work and research. 

The "casual dog owner" love their dogs just as much as the enthusiast, but is more oriented along the lines of the dog fitting-in with their household as it is. The attention the dog gets is more in the context of human activities like camping, and picnics, playing with the kids while they play, barking when they hear something outside at night, getting petted on the couch while movies are playing, etc.

In this scenario, it is up to the dog to live in the heads of their human family.

Really, the only difference between the two is the preferred orientation of the owner and most breeds of dogs can do either very well. 

However, there are some breeds that tend to do better in one type of household over the other. 

And some very popular breeds can do both equally well (labs, poodles, etc.). 

In my honest opinion, the German Shepherd Dog is not one of those dogs. I think they do better in "dog enthusiast" homes and I see just too many problem scenarios when the dogs find themselves in the "casual dog owner" homes. 

The German Shepherd Dog is a very versatile dog but it has a core of needs that, if not met, can lead to disasters. The German Shepherd is a dog with a high "disaster quotient." It is a popular breed that gets messed-up all too frequently by owners who "leap before they look." 

In general, I have a good formula for the prospective breed owner to keep themselves and the dog out of trouble:

The NEEDS of the dog are greater than the WANTS of the family. 

If that is the priority, then you are in good shape. If you are not familiar with the breed, then it falls on everyone in the family who wants the dog to do their research. And that could be the bargain, if they want the dog, then they have to do their research to familiarize themselves with the dog's needs and commit to the time required to meet those needs. If they won't even do this, then the dog is probably not for them anyway and you are saving the whole family a lot of grief.

 The sentiments expressed above by Dr. Shiarella ring very true for me as a trainer.  And this applies to many of the herding and working breeds - Border Collies, Malinois, Dobermans, Rottweilers, Australian Shepherds, and Heelers come immediately to mind.

Too often I find myself working with families and dogs that are not a good match for each other.   And while this doesn't automatically mean the dog should be re-homed, it DOES often mean a complete change in lifestyle for the dog owners...much more than they bargained for when they decided they couldn't live without a certain breed.

Hopefully this provides some food for thought, whether you are thinking about a new dog, or are just assessing the training needs of your current pets.

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy and Horsetooth Whippets. She can be reached at

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Dog Problem or People Problem?

That's right's time to play the new game that's sweeping the nation:

"Dog Problem or People Problem?!!!"

Ripped from the headlines (or really, case studies) of actual cases we have seen at Front Range K9 Academy...

Here are the scenarios:

Set-up #1: An unsuspecting person purchases a puppy outside a large box store, from the back of someone's car in a parking lot. The seller tells the buyer that the puppies are 8 weeks old. When the buyer takes her new puppy to vet, the vet tells her he is only 5 weeks old, and shouldn't have been separated from his mother and litter mates this young. However, she has no contact information for the seller, and decides to keep the puppy. Her problem, as stated to a trainer is..."The puppy keeps peeing and pooping all over the place. It needs to be potty trained immediately or I will have to give it up ."

YOU DECIDE: Is this a dog problem, or a people problem?

Set-up #2: A young couple adopts a dog from a local shelter. The shelter had no good history to give the new family, as the dog was left in their 'overnight kennels' - a place where people just abandon dogs. This young couple lives in an apartment. They each work 8 to 10 hour days. The dog they just got is a medium-large, high-energy breed mix who is having serious dog aggression issues.

While training may help, with no background on where the dog came from, and close living quarters with other dogs, the situation is very dicey.

YOU DECIDE: Is this a dog problem, or a people problem?

Set-up #3: A well-known, highly respected local dog trainer purchases 3 lbs of raw hot Italian sausage links and 1/2 lb of mozzarella cheese and LEAVES IT IN THE CAR with 5 adult dogs - unsupervised, while taking 2 of her new puppies in for their shots. When she returns...the sausage and cheese have been pretty much completely consumed!

YOU DECIDE: Dog problem, or people problem?

Yes, that last one was on me....

Just to remind you all that there is no such thing as a perfect dog, and no such thing as a perfect dog owner!!!!

However, when I arrived at my car to find a bit of raw sausage still in the casing, and a bunch of plastic and paper all over, I did not say one word of reprimand to my dogs. Why not?

If you can answer THAT one, you get the gold star for the week...ready....set...go!

Jennifer Hime is the owner of Front Range K9 Academy and Horsetooth Whippets. She can be reached