Thursday, March 31, 2011

Breed Differences- Part I: A little history

This seems like a good day to begin an introduction to you of my introduction to dogs. I had started this as a prelude to the "breed differences" post.
I thought a little background might be helpful. My father was given a Springer Spaniel named Jim, by his father as a wedding gift.  Jim was an excellent hunter and so he was a meaningful gift, and the first dog of my memory.  We had a series of mutt dogs. Since dogs ran loose and were largely unvaccinated the fact that they survived long at all is a wonder.  Still, a lovely little girl named Ginger was the first dog I actually remember interacting with.  She was an unrestrained femme fatale, who had litter of puppies sired by the neighborhood roustabout, Freddie. From that litter we kept Red, Son of Fred.  Red was THE dog of my youth, a companion and partner for exploring the hundreds of acres of timber plantation surrounding our home.  He was, as his name implies, red in color.  He was a short-coated handsome dog, medium sized and he lived outside in a doghouse built under the eaves of the house. He was a clever dog, and never insulted a porcupine or a skunk.  In fact, we would feed him in a large metal dish on the back porch and in winter added meat drippings to hot water and I recall looking out the back door to see Red sharing his meal with a skunk.  To this day, I am amazed that he was not sprayed! Red was the darling of my childhood.

 In my teens, apparently influenced by television, I decided I wanted a German Shepherd Dog. No "Lassie" for me; I wanted Rin Tin Tin!  There must have been a miscommunication, because my father brought home a series of German Shorthairs.  While attending college, I was given a Shepherd-Doberman mix, a very sharply aggressive female. I had no skills in training, and all her responses were natural.  When prepared to moved to Appleton where I would live with another officer until I could find a place of my own, I read the animal ordinances and did not feel I could safely keep "Sable". I left her with another family.  She was a bright dog, saddled with a sub-novice owner. I sometimes wonder what could have been accomplished, or changed, with the dogs I have owned, if only I had known more at the time.
My next un-Shepherd, was a stray bite-case that came into the Department; a scrawny cream and black female with ears the size of satellite dishes.  I named her Radar.  Radar was a sweet dog, but shy dog. She was well behaved on basic obedience commands but did not enjoy the commotion of classes.  Then came my opportunity to add a REAL German Shepherd! Friends I had met through the dog club had a litter of puppies! A pure-bred, AKC registered, black and tan male named Baron von Linden. I called him Bear, because he looked like a fuzzy little bear cub. And yes, I realize the I lacked originality. The breeders were very supportive and helpful and because of them I took Bear to obedience classes.  Granted, training has come a long ways since then, but I found that I enjoyed training. I attended fun matches and conformation shows with the breeder and learned more about the activities available to me.  When Bear was approximately 4 months old, another friend observed him running and pronounced him "dysplastic."  I knew nothing of this, and denied it.  After all, this was a registered dog!  However, when Bear and I traveled to Minnesota to compete for our Novice title, we earned one leg before Bear came up so lame that I left the trial and returned home to take him immediately to my vet.  My friend had been correct.  My dog was so horribly dysplastic that it was amazing he could walk, and he was clearly in pain.  He was euthanized.

You would think that I would be turned off by German Shepherds with that experience. Quite the opposite was true.  Bear's breeders had invited me into a world that I had not known previously, and I liked it.  In fact, it was Dennis who took me (and Donna Matey!!) to our first schutzhund trial, at the Northern Illinois club!

My mission became to start a K9 unit for our Department.  I did some research and found that the prices for police dogs were quite expensive, far beyond what I had as disposable income at the time.  I don't remember how we had even met, but Sandee Filo offered to help me find a dog I could afford.  In fact, that was quite a generous offer since the dogs I couldn't afford were theirs! As it happened, a Milwaukee police officer who bred dogs (Bob Hanus) had some dogs for sale and Sandee took me to evaluate them. One caught my eye.  He was distinctive, to be sure; he had one ear that had been nipped off.  As a puppy, he had apparently misbehaved to the extent that his own mother bit the top of his ear off! He had a perfect half moon scoop from the top of one.  His registered name was Exx vom Heiliger Huegel. 

This dog had been returned to the breeder when he became too much for the owners.  Untrained behaviors that are cute in a puppy are not so in an adult, and relieving boredom by attempting to press past them and out the door, or sneaking along the fence in the yard and suddenly leaping up and barking at the neighbor, lost amusement value.   To me, he had that sparkle in his eyes and joy of life that called to me and I bought him. The breeder had nicknamed him "Eros" and that is what I called him.  Some time later, after his initial police dog training, I contacted the previous owners to tell them what he had accomplished and they said "he never gave us any indication of that." Those words have stuck with me.  They had surrendered him when the axle broke on the trailer he rode in (to visit their cabin "up north") and it was either fix the trailer or get rid of the dog. They got rid of the dog. Yet another thing caught my attention, however; they had called the dog Bear!  It was meant to be!   I do think we receive "signs" when things are meant to be, and this helps you to understand how I felt about Marco.

Eros opened another world to me, one of police dogs and also schutzhund.  We attended our initial police dog training at the Alabama Canine Law Enforcement Officers Training Center in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  Together we traveled to Germany where we spent three months training at the Landes Polizei schule fur Diensthundfuhrers, honing our skills. We competed in the Police Dog Championships several times, and I made life-long friendships through him. Some of the saddest days of came when Eros retired and I had to go to work without him.

I owned a number of German Shepherds after Eros, but never made the same connection with them.  They moved in and out of my life. Nice dogs, but not the right dog.   They were, however, the "right dog" for other people and went on to become the special dog for those families. 

When people come to me, having already made the choice of a less-than-suitable dog, I know how they feel.  I also know that if I turn your back to those people, I may lose a wonderful supporter of the sport or excellent handler or simply made an emotional choice.  It is unlikely that dog will be their last, so my obligation is to prepare them for better choices in the future and help them find fun in training positively.  When people have physical issues, I know the heartbreak of having to make a choice to spare a dog pain but also how a big heart can carry a dog through physical disabilities.  I can try to educate people, but I cannot fault them for learning via mistakes, as I did.  Believe me, not every is so smart or blessed to have that first dog be the perfect specimen for everything you want to do and you may need to adapt to what the dog is capable of.

In another post I will tell you how the striped dogs, Dutch Shepherds, entered my life and became a life-long love!