I’m between washing off the sweat and dirt from worming our lambs and finishing my talk on Play in Toronto (got some great new video!), but I couldn’t get on the plane without adding a few more words about Hope, Willie and the comments that have come in. I know that many readers don’t read the comments, so I thought I’d address some of the questions that came up after my last post about Hope and Willie.
If you haven’t read yesterdays post, I wrote to alert readers that it is not yet clear to me that Hope is the right dog for Redstart Farm. He’s only 5 months old, and I won’t decide what is best for me, him or Willie until he gets older, but I wanted to let readers know that there are some red flags rising, so that you wouldn’t be blindsided if I decide he’s not a good fit. I didn’t write the post for me, I wrote it because I’m aware that many readers become attached to my dogs–I will be forever grateful for the hundreds of sweet comments written when Lassie died. I’ve posted lots of pictures of Hope and Willie playing well, but I realized that I wasn’t presenting the whole story, and that wasn’t fair in a way to not alert you to the possibility of problems down the road. There is one thing I wrote yesterday that needs amending. I wrote: “And so, here I am, in the process of deciding whether Hope is the right dog for Willie.” What I should have written is: “.. whether Hope is the right dog for me, for Willie, for Redstart Farm, and if we are the right home for him.”
Ironically, one reader commented that it seemed I was uncomfortable with uncertainty, so perhaps I shouldn’t have gotten a puppy. I’ve always said, in numerous writings and speeches, that you can never tell how well one dog will do in an environment until they’ve been there for awhile. That’s doubly true with puppies, and so when I got a puppy I was, and am, perfectly comfortable knowing that I can’t know if it’s a good match until it some time passes. That’s especially true of working herding dogs–you simply can’t know if their style will match yours until they are 10 to 12 months of age. I’m fine with that, although of course I’d much rather not be seeing some potential red flags. It’s traditional to “audition” working dogs, to see if you and they are a good match. It’s not only commonly done, it’s considered responsible. You bring in a dog with potential, work together once they are old enough, and if you are responsible and wise, only keep the ones that match your own style and temperament and find the others a better match.
If Hope’s style of herding doesn’t match mine, that’s what I’ll do, for his sake and mine. If Hope and Willie end up being two males in one household who are always vigilant and anxious, I’ll find Hope a great home and be proud of all the time and energy I’ve put into giving him the best start possible. I’m perfectly okay with that, but I know that some readers are not.
There are two ways I could go here: Stop writing about my own dogs, and limit my posts to information about behavior and training. I’m fine with that, there’s so much of interest to talk about, and I love this international inquiry we all are in together. I’ve written about my own dogs as part of the blog for a few reasons, the most relevant being that I’ve always believed it is helpful to others to see how people who are considered experts handle real life. And real life is not black and white, it’s not always a happy movie, and it’s full of complexity and uncertainty. I’ve been reading an interesting book, titled Wrong, about the problems inherent in both research and pop “experts.” One of the author’s points is that the public wants experts to speak in absolutes, whether they are accurate or not, while scientists are often ignored, because the issues they are discussing are complex and can’t be understood in a 15 second sound bite. Although there indeed some black and whites to dog behavior, there are a lot of colors in between, and I will always be drawn to the golds and midnight blues of real life, and want to write about them.
But for now, since I have been writing about my dogs, know that I’m going to make a decision about Hope based on my responsibility to ensure that the dogs in my care live healthy, happy lives. If worst comes to worst (and I’m NOT saying it will, it’s much too soon to say), forcing dogs to stay together, even if they are anxious and uncomfortable when trapped in the same house, is not responsible, loving or kind. I have seen client after client who had 2 dogs who clearly were miserable living together, but the client could not bear to do what the dogs needed, which was live apart. If our herding styles don’t mesh, then I’ll find him a place where he can work sheep and be a loving and beloved member of the family. It’s a lovely egocentrism to believe that each one of us is the perfect home for every dog, and that if we just try hard enough we can fix anything, but every behaviorist in the country will tell you that’s not true. My decision will not only be made on whether Willie and Hope play well together (I might have emphasized that aspect of it too much in my previous post), it will be made on what is best for me, Jim, Willie and Hope. I’m comfortable that as time goes on I will know what I need to know to make that decision.
Eeeps, gonna miss my plane if I don’t wrap this up! One last point: I love that many of you have suggested an older female as a buffer. Great minds…. if I had $100 for every time I’ve said “If only Tulip were still alive,” I’d retire!
Here’s a photo to make us smile, smiling is a good thing, isn’t it?