Blog

A Goldendoodle's Purpose

Today I heard from one of my puppy families.  He sent me a text with a picture of his girl Daisy.  Daisy is about 8 months old, a beautiful 4rth generation Fountain Falls English Goldendoodle.  We texted back and forth a few times and then he called me.  "I just thought it would be easier to talk to you," he said.  "I want to tell you about Daisy.  My wife is not an animal person and never will be but now she is a Daisy person.  Daisy waits for her to come home because she knows she will get a good ten minute belly rub.  Then off they go together while my wife changes from work.  No one can believe she has been won over by this dog, at least until they meet Daisy." 

"A goldendoodle can win over just about anyone"I said. "They are amazing aren't they?"

There was a pause before he continued. "I don't know if I told you but my daughter died this past year.  Daisy has been such a comfort.  My doctor wrote a note declaring that she is my service dog.  I take her everywhere I go. I can't tell you what this dog has done for me. "

We continued the conversation for awhile, said goodbye and promised to talk again soon.  I sat for awhile.  I had so much paperwork to do, a vet appointment to make, a dog to transport to Asheville and many other things that it takes to raise these precious pups.  Sometimes I get caught up in the details.  I wake in the morning and my first thought is how to prioritize all that needs to be done.  Some days there is much less to do than others.  Other days I wake up early exhausted after an all night litter delivery or saddened terribly by a puppy that didn't make it.  

But then I'll get a call or email. An email like the one from  a mother of a chronically sick  child that says her constant companion Sully, seems to have such wisdom and comfort in his amber eyes. "It's like he is saying to me,  'I know, it's really hard sometimes, but I'm here by your side'. How can one dog be such an important part of my life.  I don't know how I ever did without him." 

 I get such wonderful pictures like the one of Frisco's son Johny, dancing with his family at a street festival in New York City.   I love the ones of my pups on family vacations surrounded by kids, swimming in pools, riding in a kayak or a plane, running on a beach, piled on a bed with their families, sitting in an owners' lap by a campfire or wearing a silly costume. Sometimes they have mud dripping from their fur or a torn up shoe in their mouth but always with a light hearted comment. "If he wasn't so cute I might be mad at him". These tell me the story of their lives . They tell me that what I do matters. The long hours, the sometimes long nights, the hundreds of miles driven, the sadness when no matter how hard I try I can't get a new born to take that first breath, it's all worth it.

I pick up warm milk satiated little two week old bodies and smell their puppy breath while mom calmly watches my every move.  I see her gaze shift to the doorway and see puppy daddy Calhoun peaking around the doorway, curious to see what takes so much of my attention.  Mom has already let him know that he is to keep his distance, at least for now. He sits patiently waiting for me to have a seat on the sofa so we can have his afternoon snuggle. "In a minute I say, a little more paperwork, one more email"  I return to work only to have something furry lay on my foot. Hmmm, I guess there is always tomorrow to finish that litter registration.

fullsizeoutput_30ed.jpeg

Traveling with Calhoun and Frisco

My husband and I bought a new RV this Spring.  I was determined to take the Summer off from breeding.  It took a year of skipped litters and arrangements but I finally made it happen. We looked for a long time for the right RV and took Frisco and Calhoun with us to make the final decision.  After all, they would be traveling with us and we wanted to make sure it was the right fit.  We are home now after traveling to 26 states in six weeks.  It was wonderful!  Before I've always been ready to come home after a week or two.  I think having my two little buddies with me made all of the difference.  They were great travelers and were very little trouble.  Their rough housing in a small RV was sometimes overwhelming but we managed.  What was hardest for us was having to put on the leashes and walk them every time they needed to go out.  At home the come and go as they please, through the dog door to 5 acres of underground fence. I always had a poopy bag on my person, sometimes with poop and sometimes without!  We shared wonderful experiences from Maine to the Colorado Rockies.  We met lots of wonderful people and dogs.  Two girls  came into heat but with the help of fellow breeders I was able to arrange breeding while we were gone. There were calls for Frisco and Calhoun but I told people that they were on vacation too. I told everyone that called about reserving a puppy to wait till I got home.  Its a lot of work to carve out time for a vacation but it sure was worth it. 

Now we are home and the calendar and puppy wait lists are filling up fast.  We will have three litters of puppies before Christmas.  I can't wait!  I miss our days on the road but treasure our beautiful 20 acre farm and look forward to the birth of our 11th grandchild.  Calhoun and Frisco are looking forward to "getting back to work" producing adorable puppies. I'm so looking forward to seeing Calhouns first litter!  Stay tuned for more doings at Fountain Falls Goldendoodles. This is a picture of Frisco and Calhoun at Great Sand Dunes National Park in CO.

Calhoun and Frisco at Great Sand Dunes CO

Choosing a puppy

How to choose a puppy:

Eight months ago I had the hard but fun task of choosing a puppy to add to my breeding program.  This was Annies' last litter.  Annie is a fabulous chocolate phantom, a color I wanted to continue in my program.  I was hoping for another chocolate phantom and sure enough I had a little girl that would turn out to be just that.  As I raised the litter I kept in mind our one special needs family and my own needs as a breeder.  I kept watching the personalities emerge and although one puppy had the color I wanted, she also had the personality that would best benefit a veteran with PTSD.  At the same time I kept being drawn to a white puppy with a black head. The day came when I had to make a decision.  White puppy won out with me.  My chocolate girl went on to become the constant companion of the veteran.  White puppy, now Tallulah Rose has turned out to be the perfect breeding choice and is happily living with her guardian family.  She just passed her final health test so will be joining our breeding program. 

My whole point is this.  Let the breeder help you choose.  Don't let color or gender be the determining factor.  They will all be beautiful goldendoodles.  Size, coat type, and most importantly temperament are the most important things to look for.  Only your breeder knows the personality of these puppies.  At least that is true of me.  I spend every day with these pups until they go to their new home.  

Puppy season is starting to rev up.  Two breedings this week then off to my last vacation for 6 months.  The break was nice but Im ready for some puppy kisses!

What was I thinking?!

Its a good thing me having a puppy. What you say??? You have lots of puppies. Well its been over five years since I had a new puppy of my own. A puppy that came from another breeder that has different puppy raising protocols. Housebreaking has been a challenge. He wants to chew everything. Needs to go out in the middle of the night. If I say to myself, he just wants attention, he leaves me a nice prize in the crate and is in need of a bath.Thank you Calhoun for reminding me the trials of raising a puppy. Thanks for the cuddles, the kisses, and the cuteness. Thanks for trying your best to communicate with me. Sorry its taking me so long LOL. But we will get there. You will come when I call, learn to wait, to drop it (instead of running away wanting me to chase you) not pull on Friscos ears or chew holes in my sofa pillows. Will you ever learn not to dig up cat poo, not to track dirt into the house after digging up my newly planted flower bulbs. I doubt it but thats ok. You will make me smile many times in a day, give me that doodle look, comfort me when Im sad and offer me countless other joys.

Its not all in how you raise them

IT’S NOT “ALL IN HOW YOU RAISE THEM”: THE ROLE OF GENETICS IN BEHAVIOR

IT’S NOT “ALL IN HOW YOU RAISE THEM”: THE ROLE OF GENETICS IN BEHAVIOR

 December 19, 2016  Jsummerfield8 Comments 3 Comments

If you’re a dog owner, I’m sure you’ve heard this refrain.

Conventional wisdom says that young puppies come to us as blank slates.  Full of promise and limitless potential, ready to be molded into your ideal companion as long as you do your part – provide lots of love, the right amount of discipline, and appropriate training along the way.  If you’re a caring, responsible pet owner, there’s no reason that your puppy should not grow up to be a model canine citizen.

“Bad” dogs are the fault of bad owners, right?  After all, it’s all in how you raise them.

********

As always, in the world of behavior – it’s not quite that simple.

There are few myths in the field of dog training that get under my skin quite as much as this one.  Perhaps it’s because I’ve seen so many kind, committed owners with deeply troubled dogs break down in tears during a behavior consultation, certain that they have done something to cause their dog’s crippling anxiety or aggression issues.  After all, they’ve had him since he was a puppy – so clearly, something must have been lacking in his upbringing.

Or perhaps it’s the countless number of fundamentally mismatched dog/owner pairings that every veterinarian and trainer sees on a regular basis.  The gentle elderly couple, with the adolescent field-bred Lab.  The busy young professionals with three children under the age of five, with the spooky English Mastiff who doesn’t like kids.  Or even the lovely middle-aged woman who wants to do therapy work in a local nursing home, with her aloof and introverted Chow.

What all of these situations have in common, at their core, is a lack of understanding combined with an unfortunate and excessive sense of optimism – an unshakeable faith in the notion that any dog can be molded into the perfect pet for the owner’s particular lifestyle, as long as they’re “raised right.”  That every eight-week-old puppy is a formless mass of behavioral clay, ready to be imprinted with whatever characteristics and personality traits are most convenient for their living situation and the wishes of their new family.

Unfortunately for all involved in the examples above, this is utterly and emphatically not true.

But wait, you might say!  What about socialization and training?  Can’t we influence our puppies’ adult characteristics through exposure to the things we want them to be comfortable with?  Can’t we teach them early on how we want them to behave, thus preventing any problems later on?

In other words, a perfectly socialized and well-trained puppy should be a foolproof bet to turn out the way we want – right?

Well… the answer, as they say, is complicated.

Don’t get me wrong – socialization and early learning are very powerful things.  (See my previous posts on these topics here and here for a more complete discussion of how they influence puppy development, if you’re interested.)  There is a lot we can do to set our puppies up for success, and also to address possible problems or behavioral red flags early on.  This is the “nurture” side of the nature-and-nurture paradigm, and it’s incredibly important – but it’s only half of the equation.

So what does nature have to say?

We all know intuitively that behavioral characteristics can be inherited.  After all, this basic notion is the reason for thousands of years of selective breeding in the dog world – it’s why we’ve been able to develop specific lines of dogs who are consistently driven to retrieve things, herd sheep, guard our homes, or track rabbits without any formal training at all.  Why, then, does it surprise us that other types of behavioral tendencies can also be passed from parents to offspring?

The truth is, your dog’s genetic background plays a tremendous (and often under-valued) role not only in what inborn skills he might have, but in who he is – whether he is friendly or reserved with strangers, tolerant of other pets or not, a high-drive athlete or a snuggly couch potato, easily startled by loud noises or relatively “bombproof.”

Since the 1940s, studies in canine behavioral genetics have consistently shown that traits such as fearfulness, impulsivity, problem-solving ability, working drive, and even tendencies toward aggression are strongly influenced by breeding.  Socialization and early learning can certainly help to sway things in one direction or another, but these forces are operating on a pre-existing genetic blueprint.

Is behavior moldable?  Of course it is – to a point.  You can only modify what you already have, not create the dog of your choosing from scratch.  So if you have specific goals for your pup or need a dog with a certain personality type, it pays to make sure that you’re getting a temperament you can live with!

Please note that none of this should be taken as a defense of breed-specific stereotyping or discrimination, on the theory that certain breeds are bound to be aggressive or otherwise “bad.”  There is a tremendous amount of genetic variability within every breed – so much so that it’s not possible to make any reliable predictions about behavior based solely on breed identification.  It’s much more valuable to look specifically at the parents and littermates of a particular puppy, or at a certain line of dogs within a breed.

So, what can we do with this knowledge?

If you have specific personality traits that you need in a dog, don’t choose a puppy based on looks or a cheap purchase price and assume that you can “make it work” – this rarely goes well, in my experience.

Instead, I would strongly encourage you to look into getting a puppy from an excellent breeder, with a good track record of producing dogs with the traits that you want – this is your very best chance of ending up with a dog that will be a good fit for you and your family.  Many owners need a dog that is reliably gentle and tolerant with kids, or with low prey drive because of smaller pets in the home, or easygoing and low-energy because they are elderly or disabled.  Getting an adult dog from a trusted source who knows the dog well (such as a breeder, or a good rescue group) can also be a great option.

This kind of predictability may not be important for all owners – which is fine!  Many of my clients don’t have any specific plans or goals for their dog, and their lifestyle is flexible enough that a wide range of personality types would fit into their household with no problems.  If this describes you, then you could absolutely open your home to a puppy or older dog with an unknown background and see where life takes the two of you.  There are many such dogs who desperately need homes, and the relationship that you have with a dog like this can be extremely special.

By the same token – if you are thinking about breeding your dog, or if you already have an active breeding program, please carefully consider temperament in your breeding decisions!  Most good breeders know this already and are very selective about which dogs they choose to breed, but this idea can be surprising to many owners who are new to the process and aren’t aware that personality traits can be inherited.  Excessively fearful or aggressive dogs should not be bred – period.  These issues should be taken as seriously as hereditary physical problems like hip dysplasia or degenerative myelopathy, as they are every bit as devastating for both the puppy and his/her new family.

And finally, if you have a pup from an uncertain background (or a known, not-so-great background) who is struggling with a behavior problem despite your best efforts, don’t beat yourself up!  For many of my clients, it comes as a relief to know that they have done nothing wrong – the misplaced guilt that comes with having a much-loved dog who is also severely aggressive or fearful of everything can be crushing.

It helps to understand that you can only play the hand you’re dealt; all dogs come with their own personalities and behavioral tendencies, for better or worse.  We can do a lot to help these dogs live safer, happier lives with training and careful management – we can build their confidence, teach them better coping skills to handle stress, and strengthen their bond with their owners – but we can’t change who they are.  And usually, that’s okay.

So if you have a dog like this, to paraphrase the famous Serenity Prayer – I would encourage you to work on the things you can change, and accept the things you can’t.

The trick is learning to know the difference.