Once hunters and protectors, today's dogs have been promoted to family members. here's how to choose, train and love a dog
Stacey C. Rivera
From the Print Edition:
Kevin Bacon, May/Jun 00
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Cocker spaniels may develop eye disorders while dogs like dalmatians and German shepherds may become aggressive. According to AKC Director of Special Services David Roberts, no particular line of dogs suffers negative effects more than another, and in general, inbreeding can be a sound practice that brings out the positive genetic traits of a line. Buying a puppy from a breeder allows you to predict the temperament of a dog because you can meet its dam (mother) and, in many cases, the father, and observe their adult behavior. You can also observe whether the pup was raised in a healthy, caring environment that won't leave lasting behavioral or health scars.
Mixed-breed dogs will usually have the disposition of the breed that is genetically predominant, and therefore be fairly predictable. According to Hawk, "There are no disadvantages to having a mixed-breed dog. It may actually give you something better."
Utmost in importance is that you buy from a reputable breeder or pet store. Check the references of the breeder or pet shop that you are considering with the local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been made against it. Breeders do not have to be licensed, but their facilities must be inspected by a local or state agency. When buying a dog from a pet shop, you need to be especially concerned with the origin of the puppies. Many pet shops still sell dogs that come from puppy mills, where they are carelessly and quickly inbred for the purpose of sale. Puppy mill dogs often have genetic disorders, which can lead to violent behavior and an inability to be trained. Many of these animals end up being put down.
Whether you choose a mixed or purebred dog, many authorities suggest adoption. "What we have to do as a society and as a community is to think in terms, not unlike we did with aluminum cans, of recycling our pets and think the shelter first," says Hawk. "It is kind of a cold word--recycle--but it is the concept. If you can't find what you are looking for, OK, but at least try."
Shelter adoption does not remove the possibility of acquiring a purebred animal. "Each of the clubs that is a member of the AKC has a rescue association and we do recommend rescue. Rescue is a great way to get a purebred dog," Roberts says. An estimated 25 percent of dogs in shelters are AKC-registered purebreds. Many people are put off by animal rescue because shelter adoption can be time-consuming and for some, depressing. "A shelter is not always the most enjoyable place to go and a lot of people can't emotionally handle it," Hawk says.
The ASPCA began an affiliation last year with Petfinder.org, an Internet pet shelter site that went national in 1998. With sponsorship from Petopia's Million Pet Mission and hundreds of animal shelters across the country, www.petfinder.org has become the Internet's largest searchable directory for homeless pets. By this May, Petfinder is expected to have more than 1,000 shelters nationwide online.
"What makes the Internet such an attractive thing," Hawk says, "is that it gets the two main objections that I think people have to visiting shelters over with. They can visit with no emotional, heart-wrenching walk through the shelter and seeing all these sad faces looking at them. Most people know what they are looking for and Petfinder will do it for them, so it is convenient. You search from your home, it is fast, it is easy, and you don't have to drive all over the city."
To search Petfinder's site, you input a dog breed (or mixed breed); the desired age, size and sex; your location; and the maximum distance you would like to travel to obtain the dog. Within seconds Petfinder pulls up all of the dogs that match your criteria. You can then see a picture, read a brief description, and find out the dog's name without leaving your home. Hawk hopes that Petfinder will make a huge difference in the lives of shelter animals and move the United States towards becoming a no-kill nation, where no adoptable pet is put down because of overcrowding or feeding costs.
The woodwork in your house is completely ruined and there are gnaw marks all over your furniture. You don't want to give up your dog, but it is costing you a fortune in home repairs. To make matters worse, your neighbor has threatened to call animal control if your pooch doesn't stop barking every time he goes to the car. It wasn't supposed to be this hard.
Dog trainer Bash Dibra, author of Dog Speak: How to Learn It, Speak It and Use It to Have a Happy, Healthy, Well-Behaved Dog, teaches his clients (which include celebrities such as Sarah Jessica Parker, Martin Scorsese and Mariah Carey) that if you understand the basics of dog behavior, you can train a dog to be the perfect companion, at any age. As a child, Dibra befriended vicious dogs that guarded the Yugoslavian prison camp he lived in with his family after they escaped from Albania. His innate ability to be in tune with a dog led to his development of "dog speak," a kind of language by which dogs communicate with each other and humans using territorial behavior, aggression, vocalization and chemical smells.
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