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It’s a Misnomer That Only Pure Breeds Make the Best Dogs

Dogs have made fabulous companions for generations. Some are protective, some are energetic and some are athletic. Regardless of type, size or color, any well-tempered dog can be a loyal and loving friend for you and your family. While some people are convinced that purebred dogs make the best companions for them, there are plenty of reasons that you might want to consider a mixed-breed (or “mutt”) instead.

First and foremost, purebred dogs are extremely expensive. Certain breeds can cost upwards of one thousand dollars. The reasoning behind this is that a purebred has been (supposedly) genetically tested. The breeder’s dogs have may have been in dog shows and won a number of ribbons for various traits (which unless you want to do the same, only serve as bragging rights and mean absolutely nothing about the disposition of your dog). A breeder also practices selective breeding – which is a process that is used to eliminate certain undesirable aesthetic traits, which in the majority of cases results in physical problems for dogs – thus extremely costly vet bills for you. Examples are hip dysplasia, extreme neurological problems, breathing and overheating issues, seizures and spinal problems.

A kennel dog will cost fraction of the price of a purebred dog. When you buy your pooch from a pound, you don’t have to subsidize any of the costs of shows or genetic tests. Many pounds are run by the city too so they receive funding from taxes and donations – which means they don’t need to charge you a bundle for your companion. Better still – you will be able to choose from a variety of different dogs and choose the personality, size and age of dog that suits you and your family best.

A breeder can supposedly tell you the personality of their breed. However, the personality of a dog can have so much more to do with how it is handled as a puppy. Only certain personality traits are passed on through genetics. When you buy a puppy from a breeder, you are only guessing based on the breed’s reputation that the dog will turn out as you hope. The breeder runs a business of selling puppies, so she probably doesn’t spend much time getting to know the dog that you end up taking home.

When you adopt a dog from a shelter, he has already interacted with staff, volunteers and other dogs at the shelter. They will be able to tell you all about him – whether he is good with other dogs, has a dominant personality, likes kids, cats and other dogs, etc. Many mutts are just so desperate to have a home that they will love whoever wants to give them attention.

Mutts are typically heartier than purebreds. Purebreds often have genetic defects, which are passed on from generation to generation. With such a limited gene pool, inbreeding is almost inevitable and can cause huge problems with the pups. Breeders want to pass on only the most desirable traits, but such desirable traits are not necessarily the traits that make a dog a good companion (but they might make the dog a good showpiece). Often dogs from breeders end up with kennel cough, and other health issues that require immediate attention.

Over the life of a dog, mutts turn out to be much healthier dogs over pure breeds.

When you choose a dog from a shelter, you could be saving his life. There are an unfortunate number of unwanted cats and dogs in the world, and not enough room to house them in shelters. When shelters get overrun with animals they are forced to euthanize the least healthy. Many mixed-breed dogs have heartwarming stories, have led difficult lives before ending up at a shelter. So many of them just need to be loved and find a good home. Purebreds do not share the same problem.

It is becoming all too common to read about breeders whose ethics and breeding practices are far from above board. Think about it. It’s a money making endeavor. Rarely are people truly in it for the opportunity to hand down champion traits, because the majority of people aren’t showing their dogs, but use them for bragging rights. And for every dog you buy from a breeder, you are potentially letting a shelter dog to be euthanized because a home won’t be found for him.

And at the end of the day, when Sasha comes barreling down the hall to greet you, love you and lick your face all over, will it have mattered whether she is a purebred costing you $1000 or a dog whose life you rescued?

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Bringing Murphy Home From The Shelter

Adopting a dog at the shelter is almost as exciting as bringing a new baby home from the hospital, almost. Murphy is one of those dogs. Your eyes met, and boom, you were hooked! Falling in love with her is easy. Finding out how old she is going to be more difficult because the shelter wasn’t able to keep record of her exact age. Unlike babies where age becomes apparent immediately, dogs have a unique way of hiding their age behind layers of fluffy fur. While Murphy looks full-grown and middle-aged to you, who knows? What if she turns out to be more of the puppy persuasion? This is where the Vet comes in.

Murphy’s First Trip to the Vet
You quickly pack Murphy in the car for that tail wagging, head out the window ride to the Vet’s office. The Vet performs several noninvasive tests on Murphy’s physique to try and pinpoint her age.

These tests include examinations of her:
• Coat
• Teeth
• Eyes
• Muscle Quality

The Quality of the Coat and Overall Tone
A dog’s coat can prove difficult when determining age because different breeds come with all sorts of furry exteriors, each with different textures, lengths and degrees of fluff. A good rule of thumb is that younger dogs generally have soft, fine downy-like fluff that proves irresistible to snuggle against one’s face. As a dog ages into adulthood, they lose that baby softness and their coat becomes bushy and coarser, like that of a Jack Russell. Along with a thicker coat comes a higher degree of oiliness in the layers of fur.

Examining Your Canine’s Canines
Examining Murphy’s teeth is one of the best ways to determine just how old she is. Like people, Murphy is not fond of having their teeth examined. The following is a pretty good run-down that can help determine Murphy’s age.

6 Weeks
At six weeks of age dogs have all their baby teeth. These appear to be small, sharp and brilliantly white.

3 to 7 Months
Somewhere between three to seven months of age, dogs start getting their adult teeth. This set of teeth will appear larger and have more of a grayish tone. By seven months all their adult teeth will have erupted.

1 to 2 Years
As a dog matures, yellowing and wearing of the bottom middle incisors sets in. A cardinal sign that a dog has reached age one or two is a yellowing of the front teeth and signs of tartar buildup on the front teeth will also appear.

3 to 4 Years
In order to determine if a dog is older, the Vet examines the dog’s level of tartar buildup. A dog that is three to four years old will have tartar buildup on most of their teeth. (After all dogs don’t actually remember to brush after every meal). In addition to the yellowing, the Vet looks that the top middle incisors and may notice that they have begun to wear and become more rounded. By this age a dogs eyes might also have lost the brightness they once had. A healthy middle-aged dog has defined muscle sharpness in the leg and shoulder area. Once ages set in they tend to become bony and frail.

5 to 7 Years
By age five, a dog has considerable tartar buildup on all teeth, including those in the very back. Tooth color appears to be dark yellow or brown. The canine teeth now look rounded and the incisors appear smooth and worn. By this age many dogs have also lost several of their teeth (must be all those missed trips to the dentist). Older dogs usually develop cataracts, which appears as foggy clouds in the iris of the eye, making it hard for them to see clearly, or at all. Like people, older dogs also develop a graying beard around their muzzle, which continues to engulf their face as they age.

Murphy’s Age
After examining her teeth, coat and general tone the Vet tell you that due to Murphy’s strong muscle definition, yellowing of the front teeth, mild wear and on her bottom adult sized teeth coupled with her thick dark coat that Murphy is around two to two and half years old. Now the fun of training comes in!

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Adopting the unadoptable

What makes a dog “unadoptable?” When does a dog “need” to be euthanized due to its behavior? Under what circumstances do owners, shelter workers or veterinarians decide that a dog is unable to be rehabilitated?

The term “red zone dogs” was coined by the Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan. A red zone dog is a dog that is dangerously aggressive, unpredictable and thought to be a lost cause. Often these dogs have bitten humans and sometimes they have hurt of killed other dogs.

Think of the expression “seeing red” when we talk about a person seeing red, we mean that they are so angry, they can’t see clearly or think rationally. Getting into the red zone indicates that a dog has crossed over or “snapped” and is no longer him or her self. Sometimes these dogs end up in shelter situations because owners can no longer manage them or are fearful of them; sometimes these dogs are euthanized.

One problem with a dog that has been labeled aggressive or “red zone,” is that dogs are notoriously difficult to evaluate when they are in the shelter environment. The shelter environment may exacerbate any tendencies toward fear-based aggression, or may have an opposite effect. Even in a safe and supportive foster home, it can take months before a dog shows its true colors. During a settling in period, dogs may be more reserved, and more wary; they may also be more food or toy aggressive while they attempt to stake out their claim and boundaries.

Once labeled “red zone,” aggressive, dog-aggressive, or not recommended for families with young children or other pets, the potential pool of adopters shrinks. In a busy, overcrowded shelter, this is a real problem. In addition, in crowded conditions, one “red zone” dog can traumatize other dogs, creating a ripple effect throughout the shelter of anxious or poorly behaved dogs.

Some shelters manage this problem by creating a separate room or area for dogs that have been labeled aggressive or red zone. Some shelters give these dogs a shorter amount of time in which to be adopted before they are euthanized. Other shelters manage by determining in advance through various types of assessment techniques which dogs are deemed “behaviorally adoptable.” Those that are not behaviorally adoptable are euthanized.

Is There an Alternative?
According to some experts, once a red zone dog, always a red zone dog. The dangers and risks of an attack, bite, or worse, outweigh the possible good to come from being rehabilitated. Others stress that becoming a red zone dog is a process: owners, through ignorance or cruelty, create red zone dogs and that training and proper care can heal them. What all experts seem to agree upon is that the level of expertise involved in healing a red zone dog is far beyond what most dog owners and most trainers can address.

The first step in determining whether or not to proceed is always to assess. Aggression can be complex and easily misunderstood. For example, a young male shepherd mix was pulled from a shelter having been labeled “dog aggressive.” He did well in foster care, with no aggression issues detected at any time, neither toward people nor dogs. He was adopted by a family with young children, and after two months in the new environment, the family contacted the rescue organization indicating that he was “aggressive, frightening and had ‘gone after’ the baby.” After a visit by a seasoned trainer familiar with herding dogs, the verdict was that the dog had engaged in some very typical herding behaviors: nudging and “hip checking” and had done some “rude barking.” One man’s aggression is another’s man’s boredom.

Some breeds are notorious for being “nippy.” A firm and confident owner can easily work with these dogs do develop a safe and pleasant environment for both the dog and anyone who might interact with the dog – from neighborhood children to the parcel delivery guy – but an owner who is not ready, able or knowledgeable regarding managing such behaviors could end up with a real problem and a dog unfairly labeled “aggressive.”

Safety First!
Any owner, any dog, any situation that involves biting warrants thorough professional assessment. And any dog that has been considered unadoptable, red zone, aggressive or dangerous needs a level of professional intervention beyond the expertise of most owners or trainers. Truly understanding what you are dealing with is always the first step. What comes next could well be years of work, and years of stress, as you keep both dogs and humans safe.