What to Look for When Searching for a Teaching Dog of Your Own

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What to look for when searching for a teaching dog of your own

So maybe you’ve decided to begin the search for that perfect dog to
complement your business model. Where do you go frst? When it
comes to acquiring a dog, you’ve got two great options: purchasing a
dog from a reputable breeder or adopting a dog from a shelter! Both
have advantages and disadvantages.

Seeking out a shelter dog

In today’s society, adopting a dog from a shelter is very en vogue.
In fact, according to the latest American Pet Products Association Survey, 37% of owners who acquired dogs in 2015-2016 adopted them from a shelter, compared to 34% of owners who acquired their dogs from a breeder.

The arguments for adopting from a shelter are plentiful. For one,
when you adopt a dog from a shelter, you are effectively saving at least two lives in one shot: the life of the dog whom you took home, and the life of the animal (or animals) who was able to occupy the kennel after you took your dog. You’ll have great adoption stories to share with your clients. Who doesn’t love having that unique individual dog that will turn heads wherever you go?

Fancy a specific breed? Good news for you: 25% of dogs who enter shelters each year are purebred. And get rid of the notion that all shelter dogs are “broken.” According to a recent Petfinder study only 3% of dogs who were surrendered to shelters were surrendered due to biting. While owners might not always report less serious behavior issues at the time of surrender, the study also showed that 96% of dogs surrendered had no formal obedience training. Therefore, we can deduce that with a bit of obedience work, we can turn these pups into outstanding canine citizens.

And, with the advances in behavior enrichment and evaluations that have happened in shelters in the last 10 years or so, chances are, you will be able to chat with someone who works with or volunteers at the shelter who can give you a good idea of the personality of the dog you are considering.

So, what should you be looking at if you decide to adopt a potential
teaching dog from the shelter? Here are a few considerations:

• Behavioral history and assessment. Many shelters complete behavioral assessments on their dogs. While you will never know the complete picture until you get that dog out of the shelter environment and comfortable in your home, a behavior assessment may give you some insight about things that are great qualities for you to have in a dog. For example, many
behavior assessments can tell you if the dog is dog friendly, selective or aggressive toward other dogs. This will be important if you choose to use your new dog for socialization purposes in your business. A behavioral assessment may also give you insight regarding how your dog accepts touch and restraint, and handles people encroaching on his personal space. If you are looking for a dog at the shelter, ask the adoption counselors if they are able to share notes about the dog’s evaluation. Or better yet, ask if the person who did the behavior evaluation is available to talk with you. Ask questions! And by all means, if you sense a red flag, walk away.

Toy and food drive. While evaluating dogs in a shelter, know that they will undoubtedly be behaviorally suppressed, understimulated, overly excited for human contact, and overall not in the best frame of mind to work in the moment. But checking a dog for food or toy drive is not out of the question. Simply pack some treats with you or grab a toy to see if the dog is willing to engage with you for them. As a caveat, beware the dog who is so worked up by toys or treats that he can’t focus on anything else. You may end up with a dog who has a hard time channeling his impulses or one with compulsion issues.

Sociability with people and other dogs. Again, when evaluating a dog in a shelter, many times you are dealing with a dog who is somewhat behaviorally suppressed. However, if you are looking for a dog to act as your working partner, you will likely want a dog who is sociable with people and other dogs. Simply sit in a room and ignore the dog and see how he is attracted to you. You are looking for the balanced dog who comes up to you and solicits attention, but isn’t so demanding that he never stops, or becomes over-stimulated and escalates into inappropriate behaviors when you interact with him.

Leave your emotions out of the decision! We’ve all heard that old adage: There are plenty of fish in the sea. Well, in this case, replace the word fish with dogs, and sea with shelters. When 6 to 8 million pets are surrendered to shelters and rescue organizations each year, there are, in fact, plenty of dogs in the shelter! And while we humans are emotional beings, and having a connection with a dog will undoubtedly play a large part in your deciding which dog to adopt, I’ll caution you to make the most informed decision possible without letting your emotions get the best of you. If you get a gut feeling about a dog, or his behavioral or physical history is spotty or
questionable, then really think twice about the commitment level that goes along with adopting this dog. And don’t get sucked into feeling like you need to save the world by adopting a dog who is “on death row.” In the shelter system, any dog you adopt helps a cause.
There are enough nice dogs out there that you can get the dog you
want from a shelter.

Purchasing a bred dog

While adopting a dog in need of a home from your local shelter is certainly noble, for some individuals, the decision to purchase a bred puppy is an appropriate one. If you are considering acquiring a dog with the notion of that dog becoming a part of your business operations, and the following factors are of consideration to you, then you should think about obtaining a dog from a well-established and reputable breeder instead of going through a shelter or rescue.

Is the look or breed of the dog important to you? Many people have a “type.” I, for one, am partial to herding dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs and Border Collies in particular. (I’m a dog trainer after all…why not pick a dog who makes me look like a genius?) And while I can fnd those individuals in
a rescue, it is more diffcult to fnd purebred puppies of these breeds in shelters. And if having a puppy is important to me, this leads into my next point…

• Is genetic control important to you when raising a puppy?
While a huge percentage of a dog’s behavioral traits are learned through his environment, you should not discount heritability. Heritability is the amount of variation in a trait that’s related to genetic variation as opposed to environmental variation. Heritability varies between 0 (entirely not inherited) and 1 (entirely inherited), but because behaviors are complex traits caused by both genetic and environmental factors, heritability
for behavior traits rarely gets near a score of 1. There’s always a lot of environmental variation.

If you answered “yes” to these questions, then you’ve probably decided that you will be purchasing a bred dog. And you think you know what breed you would like to work with. What should you be asking your breeder?

What tests and clearances have they done? What you will need largely depends on the breed. Each breed has both physical and behavioral issues that it is susceptible to. You can usually find out what is important by checking with the breed club (or searching the scientific literature if you’re a real dog nerd). Some of them are complexly inherited, like having bad hips, for instance, but there are genetic tests for others. AKC Canine Health Foundation has a list of available genetic tests.

• What kind of enrichment have they been giving the pups?
Breeders have the opportunity to make a dramatic impact on their puppies’ personalities. The critical socialization period for puppies happens between birth and 16 weeks of age. And what happens in this time period sets the stage for the rest of the puppy’s development. And since half of that time is actually spent with the breeder, it’s important for you, that puppy’s
companion for the next 14 years or so, to fnd out what kind of socialization games, enrichment activities and exposure they’ve had to the world around them.

How have they socialized the pups? You should be looking for what the breeder has done in regards to both active and passive socialization. Your breeder should be able to cite instances and exercises that have contributed to your pup having a healthy dose of both types of socialization during their 8 weeks on this earth.

• Active socialization involves things that we purposely introduce our puppies to, like obedience training, visiting new people and rides in the car.

• Passive socialization is what the puppy comes across in his own time, like exploring the plants in the back yard, walking on new surfaces or being corrected by their bossy cat for coming too close. Your breeder should be striving for a happy balance: raising a puppy who is cautious and one who has the confdence to accept and explore new things.

What have the pup’s parents achieved? Sometimes it’s diffcult to wade through the alphabet soup of dog titles. There’s AKC, UKC, CGC, CDX and so on. What are you to make from it? Alas, there is no Consumer Reports magazine that can help you base your decision on whether or not you’ve found a reputable breeder. You’ve got to do some research yourself, and
it starts with knowing what these titles mean.

Reputable breeders are people who are truly interested in bringing out the best in their chosen breed. They are involved in showing, have champions and have years of experience under their belts. Their reputation depends on the puppies they sell, so they are very careful about the pedigrees of their litters and the health testing done on the sire and dam. They have a lot of money invested in their breeding stock, and take excellent care of it. Not only do the dogs look good, but a good breeder can tell you a lot about a puppy’s temperament and what they expect the pup to grow up to be. Serious breeders dedicate their lives to having the best of the best in a particular breed, and the wait lists for their puppies will likely be long.

So look back on a pup’s lineage to see if his parents, grandparents and siblings have titles behind their names. If these pups come from a long line of obedience champions, chances are they were bred and socialized well at an early age, and they will be primed to learn once you get them home.




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