Category Archives: Breeding

“It’s all in how you raise them”

How often do you hear this phrase uttered? As a pit bull owner, it’s one I hear all the time, and it drives me crazy. Because it’s not true.

Well, it’s partly true.

Luce's secret: She was adopted from the shelter as an adult.

Luce’s secret: I was adopted from the shelter as an adult.

A dog’s temperament and behavior are based on a variety of things. Genetics do play a part. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have all the different breeds we have who perform the wide variety of functions that they do. We have breeds who were designed to be protective. We have breeds who were designed to hunt and kill vermin. We have breeds who were designed to retrieve birds without damaging them. We have breeds that were bred specifically to be companion animals. In order for these different types of dogs to breed true, to be predictable, there needs to be at least some genetic component to temperament.

But that’s not all there is to it. While genetics might dictate a range of traits your dog might display, each dog is an individual, and socialization and training can help dictate where in that range your particular dog will fall. A dog who is genetically prone to being shy might not ever be a social butterfly, but with careful socialization, he can learn to be braver than he would have been if he’d been kept at home and not exposed to anything else in the world.

Socialization starts on day one. Where your dog comes from matters! Being raised in a home and exposed to all the hustle and bustle, the sounds (tv, doorbell, vacuum cleaner), the people (of all ages and genders please!), and the experiences of everyday family life will result in a different puppy than one raised in a cage or a barn, segregated from real life, rarely handled, and not exposed to all the different parts of the world they are going to encounter later on. A good breeder provides all different kinds of stimulation– different surface textures, different toys, different places. All of these things will contribute to a pup who is more accepting of a wide variety of circumstances later on.

Once your pup comes home, it is important that you continue that socialization with all different kinds of people– men, women, children of all ages, men with facial hair, people wearing hats– anything you can think of. You want them to experience different textures under their feet. Different places. Different (known, healthy, puppy-safe) dogs. Puppy class can be an absolutely unmatchable opportunity for all of this, but you need to make a concerted effort to continue all those things outside of that one-hour-a-week class. You also want to choose a puppy class in which vaccines are confirmed as being up to date for all puppies.

The important thing to remember with socialization, though, is that it needs to be safe and happy for your pup. If you’re stressing and scaring your puppy, you are working against him. Do not force him to do things he’s afraid of. Take his individual personality into consideration. Reward him heavily for accepting new things. Have strangers feed him tasty treats. Be upbeat and happy so that he will follow your lead and be less likely to worry. You don’t want to give him the impression that the world is a scary place– you want to teach him that the world is a really cool place where weird and unexpected things sometimes happen.

Dave: a pup who was raised right.

Dave: a pup who was raised right.

The puppy socialization window starts to close around 18 weeks. After that point, socialization is harder and pups are less accepting. But all hope is not lost! It is just a longer, harder process. Even adult dogs can learn to be more accepting of the world around them, of things they find scary. But it is so much easier to do when you’re starting with a baby puppy.

Training is another part of the puzzle, and how you train your dog matters. Dogs who are trained using heavy-handed corrections and punishment are frequently more aggressive than dogs trained using reward-based methods. Well-respected veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin has a couple of really nice books available with a positively, dog-friendly approach both to starting your puppy off right as well as for dogs of all ages. These methods are based on the science of learning, but don’t let that scare you! They’re user-friendly and practical and both books are very easy to understand and apply.

I hate the labels “good dog” and “bad dog” as dogs are just animals and behavior is just behavior, but often times the difference between the two is the owner’s ability to recognize a problem early on and their willingness to seek help from a professional before things progress to the point of, say, biting. A puppy who tenses up and holds his head over a toy or a chewie (or his food bowl!) when you approach is a dog who could turn out to be a biting resource guarder in the future if the problem is not addressed or if the problem is addressed with punishment. Resource guarding is a completely normal behavior in animals! But it is not appropriate in our pet dogs, so we work on changing their response to being approached.

Owners who learn to recognize the signs of stress in their dogs are given a fantastic tool in heading off problems before they start. A good trainer will be able to teach you what to do after you recognize that your dog is stressed, and how to change his reaction to that stressor, but not if you don’t know enough to seek help.

Dogs are so much a product of everything– experiences, socialization, training, and genetics. No part can be discounted, and no part can be fully blamed. “Good dogs” are born and raised and responsibly owned. No part exists in a vacuum.

Need more proof? Look at the dogs who were rescued from Michael Vick’s notorious Bad Newz kennel back in 2007. Those dogs were bred to fight. They were raised in the ways that would make them the “meanest” and the “baddest”. They were not nurtured or loved or cared for like a pet dog would be. And yet a number of them went on to become certified Canine Good Citizens; several of them are even certified therapy dogs! Something about them was right even when all was wrong in their worlds. And they were fortunate enough to end up in the hands of people who were willing to help them bloom.

Learn how to help your dog bloom. Learn how to understand him, how to work with him, and how to help him be the best that he can be.

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Posted by on January 30, 2014 in Behavior, Breeding, Dogs, Puppies, Training


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Websites you should know about.

The internet has become a wonderful resource for many things over the past decade. There is bad information out there for sure, but there is also good, helpful, and timely information. Here are a few websites that might be useful to you.

klwindowThe Indoor Pet Initiative from The Ohio State College of Veterinary Medicine is an extremely nice and informative website packed with information about how to enrich your indoor pets’ lives. This began as a cat-only project, and they are only just now beginning to flesh out their site for dogs, but the cat information is absolutely invaluable. It has information about why cats are the way they are, what they need to be mentally healthy, and how to solve some common behavior problems. Dr. Lauren frequently recommends this site to clients with indoor kitties.

Petfinder. Looking for a new family member? Petfinder allows you to search for a suitable new pet available from a shelter or rescue in your area . And they don’t just limit themselves to cats and dogs. They have listing for everything from horses to hamsters to birds. You can refine your search by species, breed, size, and age to help you locate pets who might end up being The One.

Looking for a good dog trainer? Check out the Association of Professional Dog Trainers’s Trainer Search. This is not an exhaustive list of trainers, but of members of the organization, which is one of the foremost professional training organizations around. They also have a nice page on how to choose a trainer.

Having behavior troubles with your cat? The Cat Behavior Associates website is a wealth of good information on dealing with issues at home as well as when to contact a professional. There is also a really nice tutorial on how to give your cat medication, which is something that can be a very tricky thing, depending on the cat.

For lots of general information and entertainment, check out the Dogster and Catster websites.

Another good source of general information, largely health-related and veterinarian-approved, check out Vetstreet. They also have a nice overview of dog breeds and cat breeds.

cooperlaneNot sure what breed of dog is right for you? Try out Animal Planet’s Dog Breed Selector to help narrow down your choices. They have one for cats as well.

The ASPCA offers a great resource for poisoning, including a thorough list of plants that are toxic to pets, and their Poison Control for Pets hotline in case of emergency.

The American Veterinary Medical Association offers an up-to-date list of pet food recalls, which is worth keeping an occasional eye on. We have definitely seen an increase in pet food recalls over the past several years. This website includes treats as well, which is nice.

Interested in breeding or considering buying a purebred dog from a breeder? Health is of major importance! The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals (OFA) website provides information on a wide variety of different genetic concerns, from hip and elbow dysplasia, to thyroid and cardiac screenings. They offer a records search, so you can look up individual animals who have been tested, and see what their results were, as well as the results of their relatives. Anyone considering breeding or buying should know what health issues are a concern in their breed, so that they can make sure that dogs are being tested for the correct things to help increase the odds of producing sound, healthy puppies.

And last but not least, some very helpful information for owners of pets who have been newly diagnosed with diabetes. Diabetes can be an overwhelming disease, especially at the beginning. It can take awhile to get pets stabilized, and you have to learn to give your pet an injection twice a day! Here is the website for cats, and here is the one for dogs.

Hopefully you’ll find some of these resources helpful to you, whether now or sometime out in the future, and that this post will prove to be a valuable resource.

Do you have any favorite websites about pets? Please feel free to share in the comments! We’re always looking for new information to hand out to clients when it will be helpful.


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Tips for finding a good breeder, part 2: Where are they?

It is so depressingly easy to find a not-so-good breeder, the people who don’t really care about what they’re doing or what they’re producing. They don’t do anything to try to ensure the health of their puppies, and provide no significant guarantee. Once that pup is out the door, it is out of mind and not their problem anymore. And there are lots and lots of perfectly good dogs in this world who have come from breeders like this, but there are also dogs who are unhealthy and poorly tempered, and no fun to live with. Genetics are tricky- it is possible to breed a dog with certified good hips to a dog with certified good hips and end up with a dog with lousy hips. We don’t know everything about the contributing factors of hip dysplasia, and environment and upbringing play a role too. But by choosing a breeder who is contientious about health testing, you are doing what you can to stack the odds in your favor. And by choosing someone who stands behind their puppies, you are going to have support if something does go wrong.

Several weeks ago we talked about some things to research before looking at breeders. This week we’re going to talk about where to actually find a breeder.

Look at National Registries.

The AKC is usually the organization that people think of when they think of dogs, but there are also other reputable organizations out there (The UKC is another reputable multi-breed registry that is more focused on hunting breeds and also on the American Pit Bull Terrier). All of the AKC Breeds have National Breed Clubs, and most of them have websites and breeder referral programs. Breeders listed on these pages are members of the breed club and have generally agreed to a Code of Ethics. These things do not guarantee that the breeder is a good one… but it gives you a place to start. An breeder involved in their breed club is much more likely to be an active and engaged breeder, not just someone producing puppies for cash.

Local Breed Clubs

The AKC offers on its website a very nice Club Directory. On it you can search for anything from Obedience Clubs to Conformation (breed shows) Clubs in your area. Here, for example, is the website for the Lancaster Kennel Club. They have a breeder referral hotline (both phone and email) and can help connect you to a local breeder. They also list their events! This is great, because going to events is a fantastic way to get out there, see some nice dogs, and meet the breeders.

Which leads us to the third suggestion: Go to events!

There are all kinds of events out there– dog shows large and small, meet the breed days, agility, retrieving, and obedience trials, hunt tests, flyball tournaments– and knowledgeable dog people are going to be attending all of these. The Harrisburg Farm Show Complex hosts multiple large dog shows every year that are open to the public. The 2014 Agility, Obedience, and Rally Obedience National Championships will be held in Harrisburg this coming March (very exciting for dog nerds!). Here is a quick primer on attending dog shows— it can be a bit intimidating to someone unfamiliar with that world, but many exhibitors are more than happy to talk to you about the breed and about their dogs if you know how to catch them at the right time (hint: not when they’re about to go into the ring!) These people love dogs. They devote a lot of their time and money to showing and breeding their dogs. They want other people to love dogs, too.

Hopefully this will give everyone some idea of where to start looking for a breeder. It does take time and effort to do the research, but it is worth it to find someone producing dogs who are going to measure up to what you are looking for and to have a person who stands behind the puppies they produce, someone who will have your back if you run into difficulties. It is a very different experience than the cash-and-carry of a petstore or a Craig’s List ad. It is so much better.

In the next post in this series we’ll look at how to decide whether a breeder is a good one or not. Looking forward to it!

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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Breeding, Dogs, Puppies


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Tips for finding a good breeder. Part one: Doing your homework.

This is a question we get asked frequently: in an area with so many puppy mills (which we all know are bad news!), how do I find a good breeder from whom to purchase a puppy? It’s a complicated question, and it takes some patience and some work on your part to do the research and make the contacts, but buying a puppy from a truly good breeder who is breeding to create better dogs and who stands behind her dogs for their entire lifetimes is something well worth the investment.

And more than anything, how do I find the right dog for me?

Step One: Do your Homework

Is this the right breed for me? With so many different breeds and mixes out there, make sure you are choosing a breed that fits with your personality and lifestyle. Are you a fairly sedentary person living in an apartment? No matter how little and cute they are, a Sheltie- a highly active breed that loves to bark- may not be the best choice. On the flip side, if you’re looking for a jogging partner, a smoosh-faced breed prone to overheating is probably not going to fulfill your needs. Sit down and discuss with your family what characteristics make up the ideal pet for your household and go from there, instead of choosing a breed on looks or because somebody you know has one and loves him.

What health issues are common in this breed? There are so many different health issues out there afflicting our purebred dogs. The good thing is that there are screening tests for many of them, and these are tools that a good breeder will be using. Many results are available to the public, and a breeder that you are talking to should always be able to provide you with proof of testing. The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals provides a searchable online database for dogs who have been tested for a variety of health issues from Hip Dysplasia and Elbow Dysplasia to Patellar Luxation (loose kneecaps) to Sebaceous Adenitis, a skin problem that primarily affects Poodles. It also provides an overview of which breeds are the most affected by each disorder so that you can know if it is something that you should be worrying about. Looking for a Rottweiler? You should know that they are ranked third highest overall for Elbow Dysplasia and you want to look for a breeder who screens for this. Looking for an American Pit Bull Terrier? You should know that 24.4% of dogs tested had dysplastic hips. Health testing does not guarantee litter outcomes, but it is a valuable tool that helps breeders play the odds in their puppies’ favor as much as possible.

For dogs prone to eye issues such as Collies and Cocker Spaniels, the CERF Certification database is also searchable and will give you results for any individual dog who has been recently tested. It’s another good thing to know about. And last but not least there is the CHIC Database. This one can be valuable not only to search for individual dogs, but because each breed club has decided and listed what health issues in the breed they find to be the most significant. This is an easy way to find out what you should be asking questions about of a breeder.

In what area does this breed excel? Some breeds are frequently used for the sport of obedience or agility, some are primarily conformation dog show dogs (think Westminster), other breeds are used for hunting and retrieving, some make great therapy dogs and love to go into nursing homes to visit the elderly. Why is this important? You want to look for a breeder who is Doing Stuff with her dogs. If that’s floofing them up and trotting them around a show ring in front of a judge in order to judge their physical structure or retrieving ducks or herding sheep, a good breeder is going to take a strong interest in her dogs and getting them out and comparing them against other dogs to see what she is doing right and what she could be doing better in her breeding program. It is easy to take a male dog and a female dog and make puppies, but with that type of random breeding with no goal other than make money or make “nice pets”, you’re doing nothing to guarantee that you’re going to get a healthy dog with a good temperament. And shouldn’t that always be the goal?

I know a lot of people say “I don’t need or want a show dog”. Most people don’t. But I do think that most people do want a dog who is going to stay healthy for as long as possible, who is going to be friendly and tolerant instead of skittish and bad-tempered. Nature and breeding are not everything- socialization and training are also big factors- but a dog’s potential can very much be shaped by the genetic baggage he is born with, or by the genetic gifts he was given by his parents. Good breeders want to test their dogs in the real world, and frequently want to have them judged by some third party, so that they can get a better idea of what they truly have instead of just the rose-colored image in their hearts of the dogs they love. They want to produce the best puppies they possibly can.

So, some places to get started. <a href="; target="_new"Next up? How do I find these breeders and how else do I know that they’re good?

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Posted by on September 5, 2013 in Breeding, Dogs, Health, Puppies


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