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Why not a Puppy?

By: Gary Wynn Kelly

We get many calls from people wanting to adopt dogs. One of the most common calls I get is the one that begins with, “Do you have any puppies?”

I usually explain that we are a non-profit, tax exempt rescue organization, and only rarely get puppies. I may ask why the caller wants a puppy. I have done this enough to guess the answer most often given by the next caller when I ask yet again–”Why do you want a puppy?”

The most common answer is that the caller wants the children to grow up with a puppy, and the kids to have the experience of watching a puppy grow and develop. When asked about the ages of the children, the response most often is that the children are under the age of 6, and the caller wants a puppy to “bond with the children”.

The consistency of the responses has motivated me to write about this issue. Too often the caller will hang up before discussing the topic further, and I hope that some of those persons will read this, or hear from those persons who do, and perhaps listen carefully.

It is true that we do not usually get literal puppies in rescue. Fewer than 1 in 10 dogs can fairly be called a puppy. We do get many young dogs, as our average dog is between the ages of 1 and 3. Since northern dogs do not mature until age 3, a 1-2 year old dog is young indeed!

Those puppies we do get are mostly 4-6 month old pups. Sometimes, we do get a 9 to 12 week old puppy, but this happens no more often than twice a year typically. Some other rescue groups do receive more puppies, but these are mostly of a mixed parentage.

There are good reasons for this. An individual who gets a puppy may sometimes find that it is beyond the family resources to actually manage and raise that puppy. Perhaps the person bought the pup at a pet store, which most often will *not* take the pup back, or possibly from a “breeder”. I put “breeder” in quotes because a breeder who will not accept a dog back is running a business difficult to distinguish from that of a puppy mill. All truly reputable breeders of integrity will require a contract of sale, in which they specify that they must be given the option first of buying the pup back at no more than the purchase price. No breeder who loves the dogs they breed could stand to think of a dog from their breeding being on the street, or in a shelter.

The other source of puppies to rescue is that from the unfortunate young bitch who comes into rescue pregnant, or who has just had puppies. Mostly these pups are the result of the poor management of the mother, and her becoming pregnant by whatever male dogs got to her when she was available.

Most people do not realize that the bitch in heat ovulates over several days. Thus, a bitch may conceive a litter that has 2 or more fathers to the pups. Perhaps male #1 impregnated the bitch on the first or second day of her heat, and successfully fertilized 2 or 3 eggs. On day 3 or 4, another male, #2, manages to successfully fertilize the newly ovulated eggs, to be the father of those pups. This can be repeated possibly a third time, resulting in 3 males fathering pups in the same litter with the same mother.

It can be quite difficult after the fact, to guess at the parentage of a pup or young dog. One knows who the mother is, if she is still with the pup, but otherwise, it is a best guess. At ADRTC, we do our best to accept those dogs with known northern characteristics into rescue, and avoid those where we may not be qualified or able to provide either accurate or helpful advice on socialization, training, or later handling.

It is our practice at ADRTC, to not place a young pup with a family who has not already successfully raised a pup. Generally we consider the ideal candidate for a pup to be a responsible person who has considerable dog experience, and a successful track record at raising, socializing, and training high energy and difficult dogs. We prefer that the person already own another dog that can act as mentor to a new pup.

Many states have laws allowing a breeder to sell pups at 8 weeks. If a breeder is selling dogs at less than 8 weeks, and allowing those dogs to leave the mother; it is a violation of law, and should be reported.

The truth is that 8 weeks is still far too early for a pup to leave its mother. The reason is that while the pup is weened, it still requires weeks of careful instruction from its mother or an “auntie”. This is *especially* important when the dog is a northern breed puppy. Anyone taking even an 8 week old puppy into a home, without another willing and capable dog to mentor that pup is running the risk of creating a disaster.

At 8 weeks puppies are learning to use their teeth, and northern pups are also often learning to use their claws–for important tasks like digging, scratching, and pulling things apart. If these activities are not mentored successfully, the pup will not learn to *inhibit* the degree to which it engages in these activities. The result can be a dog that is a destructive chewer, digger, or both.

The puppy goes through enormous emotional development during these early weeks, just as human children do in their early years. If the puppy is with one of its own kind, the result can be a stable and emotionally mature dog. The resulting young dog, and later mature dog, can be a model of poise, focus, and a socially aware canine. Conversely, if this emotional support is lacking, the result is too often a hyperactive young dog that has difficulty being trained, and lacks in all socially appropriate behaviors.

Perhaps this sounds all too much like that dog that your friend/neighbor/relative had back when… Too often people feel it was the fault of the owner, and feel that they could do it better if it was only their pup. The truth is, the deck is already stacked against the puppy when it was taken from the pack at too early an age for complete pack socialization, and forced to live among alien humans, who do not make the best mentors in what a dog should know when learning to live among humans. The best teachers for that are dogs who have already demonstrated considerable success in doing so.

The majority of the young dogs we see in rescue are the result of a scenario not very different from what was just outlined. Some person or family got “a puppy for the kids”, and got it maybe at 8 weeks, and possibly tried to raise it in isolation to its kind with disastrous results. Possibly the family did not know that most northern dogs physically grow up quite quickly. They are generally full grown in stature by 8 or 9 months. Many people are shocked when they come to me to adopt a dog, and find that a 12-15 month old dog is not going to grow any larger.

These northern dogs are aliens to us–they do not grow and develop like children. They grow and develop like dogs. This should not be a surprise, but it seems to be to many people.

What does this mean? At 4-6 months, these pups lose their puppy teeth. Those sharp little razors are now replaced with bright new teeth that apparently tingle and motivate the dog to chew on almost anything, just to relieve the urge. Unless their has been very good mentoring before this time, the pup will tend to bite too hard, and chew up many items the owner would prefer to have unchewed.

Even when a puppy is acquired at 8 weeks, it will only be small a very short time. By 8 months, the cutest puppy is nearly at full adult size. In 6 short months, the puppy has grown from puppy to adolescent dog size. What child under 6 will ever remember this 6 month period later with any clarity or appreciation?

I have witnessed too many children who became traumatized to dogs during the puppy to adult transition. The pups have no manners, and children develop fears as quickly as they learn to appreciate a dog. It is no kindness to young children to inflict a rude and challenging puppy on them, and no kindness to the puppy to have children who are not yet responsible, to attempt to handle a puppy with whom they may well be displeased.

Many other problems can result from a pup growing up in an environment of aliens, with no proper mentor. Dogs may become food aggressive, develop severe separation anxiety, or become escape artists. A strong pack provides the young northern pup or dog with a sense of security, and hours of instruction in how to use those teeth and claws properly, as well as diversions for that high intelligence with which each dog comes well endowed.

Humans can be enormously egotistical. One would be hard put to find human parents willing to let primates raise their baby, but nearly all those parents believe themselves fully capable of raising an 8 week old pup to be a well behaved dog at maturity. They are so confident of their own ability, that they bet hundreds of dollars on it when they buy a puppy from a pet store.

Mostly, what happens is that the pup grows up far faster than the new human parents can believe it will. In the first 2 months the pup more than doubles in size and weight. It starts getting adult teeth, and it will again nearly double in size by 6 months of age. In 4 short months, the pup has gone from a dog one could comfortably hold in one hand or arm, to a dog nearly 80% of its adult size. During those 4 months, the human parents just found that with work, children’s activities, and family commitments, the dog just did not get enough training. But, it is still young, and they resolve that in the next 6 months, they will get all that training done they intended to do.

Most people remember that old cliche about one year in a child’s life being 7 years in a dog’s life. Few ever try to scale that to a day, a week, or a month. Each day that one misses training and handling a puppy is a week in that puppy’s life–a week gone forever. Each month is 7 months of lost time–almost an entire school year, and one in which the puppy failed to learn critical skills when it was most important to know them.

In the years that we directed CCNDR we average 50-60 dogs in rescue each year. That is approximately one dog a week that came from a family that failed to fulfill their good intentions to raise a northern dog to be a good citizen in the community. Yes, there are exceptions–about 10% each year come to us trained, and well socialized for other reasons than that the family failed. Sometimes these dogs came as the result of a medical misfortune, or relocation of the family and an inability to take the dog along.

This means that approximately 90% of the dogs we see in rescue are young dogs–between the ages of 1 and 3 mostly, that need considerable training and socialization before they can be reasonably placed in good homes. I sometimes call these “heathen dogs”.

I take these dogs and put them through a rigorous socialization and training routine. Each dog has to learn to live in a well socialized pack run by a mature alpha female, our Akamai. We sometimes call this boot camp. I take each dog out every day for training until it has basic obedience and leash skills. Each dog is crate trained, and each gets regular grooming so it can be handled for brushing by a new owner.

During this time, the dog is spay/neutered, and receives all of its necessary vaccinations. We come to understand it as an individual dog, and we test it in a wide variety of community situations to identify and work through potential problems to living in urban neighborhoods. By the time a dog is “adoption ready”, we know what kind of family in which it will thrive, and what limitations to placement remain, if any. We come to know its individual personality, and we have identified many of the dog’s preferences and dislikes.

When a family goes to buy a puppy, very little is known of that pup’s personality, as it has not yet matured enough to evidence those characteristics it will have later. The family will make decisions that will help mould the pup, but not necessarily through understanding nor with the assistance of skilled mentors who do know what the pup needs.

The result can be a dog with a personality quite different from that the family imagined the dog should/would have. I have seen this at the back end–when the family calls rescue, and wishes to know if we can take the dog, because with the new baby and all, they just cannot handle it. It has so much more energy than they imagined, and the children no longer can play with it, as it is too rough, and too strong. They have tried, and spent a lot of money on this dog. They took it to 8 lessons in obedience, and those were 45 minute lessons, costing $XXX.

Nature clearly intended the northern dog to live in a pack. The purpose and point of a pack is that it takes a pack to raise a pup successfully–sort of the northern dog equivalent of “It Takes a Whole Village…”.

That pack works hard, and that pack works full time–full time as working with the pup for every waking moment during those critical months when time flies, and puppies grow so terribly fast. Once Mom has finished nursing the pup, there are “aunties” to take over, and they play and teach puppies with structured games, and often harsh discipline. When the pup is a little older, the males take up instruction, and then the games do get rough. But the pup grows to be gentle, as it learns what adult teeth and adult size means, and how to control its assets. A gifted martial arts instructor could not teach a youngster so well as nearly any well bred and nurtured dog teaches puppies.

Northern dogs *are* pack dogs. That is their beauty and their curse. Given time to mature properly with pack instruction, as Nature intended they should, these dogs become some of the most amazing companions a family will ever know. Raised outside of a healthy pack, they can become willful, unresponsive, frustrating, and more difficult to manage than any owner imagined a dog could be. Some unfortunate cases become biters, fence jumpers, destructive chewers, or simply unable to respond any longer to humans in whom they have lost faith. Even the gifted pack at CCNDR/ADRTC has its limitations. When we see those, we leave them to die at the shelters, or decline to accept them as owner surrendered dogs.

As for bonding… A pack dog has been gifted with a genetic endowment that ensures each and every dog has the ability to bond with a pack, and become a good member of that pack. This mechanism is so strong that we can often take an extremely and wayward dog, and have our pack bring it around to becoming one of the happiest and well adjusted dogs in the community. Humans should have such incredible mechanisms for achieving mental health even when they came from an environment unfavorable for such a balance. Thus, the northern dogs we have placed were able to achieve a strong bond with a new owner–not always the first owner, but the right owner. I have had a dog fail with one owner, to become the outstanding good citizen and companion of another. Most of our adopting families claim that a northern dog adopted as an adult, makes a better family companion than any dog they ever owned. We say that a rescued dog never takes a good home for granted, and is so intelligent that it knows how to keep the good “pack” it now has.

If you are a gifted person with considerable time and talent, and have the resources to raise a northern dog pup because you do know and realize the responsibility in doing so, please *do* raise another puppy or two! We want the next generation to enjoy these dogs as thoroughly as each of us has who owns a pack today. Contribute your time and talent to ensure that smiles will break out on the faces of hundreds of people who will come to know your mature good canine citizen tomorrow.

If you have limited time, knowledge, resources, and face many other responsibilities in living in a tough world, please come to us, and adopt a mature dog first–one that can give you the gift of companionship in a way you never knew was possible, and from whom you may, if you are humble and perceptive enough, come to know a beauty and spirit that will transcend your dreams, and prepare you so that one day, possibly one day, you can help to raise a puppy for your grandchildren.

Copyright© 2002, 2007 by Gary Wynn Kelly. Please respect the copyright.
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