Thursday, 10 October 2013

The accidental dog breeder (Part 1)

Sassy came to us because Fred needed a companion. Fred is a boxer shepherd cross we bought because our other dog, Billy, a Maltese poodle cross was getting very old.

They got on surprisingly well and cranky Billy even let the little pup sleep in his basket.

When Billy passed away Fred was about 12 months old and still very puppy like in his play and general outlook on life. Fred changed overnight. It was as though Billy had said to him, “I have to leave now and you’re in charge”.

Fred grew up and matured quickly but he missed his old friend badly. We worked from home and the dogs were always restricted to the living area. Fred would sit in the kitchen and cry endlessly. He wasn’t happy if one of us was there, he wanted both of us with him all the time!

This wasn’t going to get our work done and we agreed he needed a companion and found a local Belgian Shepherd breeder that had a litter of puppies ready for new homes.

Sassy at 6 weeks
Although we knew nothing about the breed, we fell in love with the black ball of fluff and her bright eyes. Fred was in heaven and Sassy became his shadow. He was also her favourite toy!

Our fluff ball grows into a beautiful girl
 About 12 months later the breeder suggested we show our girl and invited me to attend a show with her to see what Sass’s temperament was like. It was a dog show held in conjunction with an agricultural show. I walked her around through the crowds with all the noise of the carnival rides. She looked around with interest taking in all the sights, sounds and smells but never concerned or worried.

“With a temperament like that, you’re crazy if you don’t put her in the show ring”’ I was told. “What! Me run around the ring like that?” I was assured by everyone that it was easy.

So we decided to give it a go. 

I got conflicting advice from all and sundry on how to show my dog, confusing explanations about how the judging works and no one would let me into the ‘secrets’ of grooming. But that wasn’t the hardest part.

We always taught our dogs to sit when they were getting any food. They were quick and eager to learn. Sass was particularly smart.

A common practice in the show ring is to ‘bait’ a dog. This means standing in front of the dog with some tasty morsel. The dog is expected to stay in a ‘show’ (stand) position until the judge passes-by, and then they get their reward. Our challenge was teaching our smart girl NOT to sit for food but to stand.

Poor Sass was so confused. We’d be sitting at the table and they’d both sit next to us waiting expectantly. I’d stand up in front of her, slowly take a step back and gently telling her to “stand”; hoping she would step forward for her treat and that I would be able to give it to her before her bum hit the floor again. It took several goes but she finally got the idea.

It amuses us that when a friend or acquaintance wants to give one of our dogs a treat they naturally tell the dog to sit. Our show trained dogs just stand there with all four legs square in a perfect ‘show’ position and a quizzical look on their face as if to say “why won’t you give it to me?”

The other funny thing is that when dogs are given the command to stand, Fred parks his bum on the ground – he was never taught to stand.

More about how we progressed from dog shows to breeding soon.

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