Monday, December 26, 2011

Nature VS Nurture

Nature VS Nurture hasn’t worked out too well for me in the past as far as dogs are concerned. 

For example, this beautiful dog…….


was lost to his “Nature.”  My Nurture could not overcome it.  We adopted this “lab mix” from the animal shelter at barely 6 weeks old.  He was such a sweetie!  We took him to obedience class, for car rides, on long walks.  We named him Gus.  My daughter showed him at the county fair and he did great! 


Gus loved his family with a fierce devotion.  But although he spent his entire puppy hood going to weekly classes and meeting lots of new people and other dogs, at the age of 9 months, he became so territorial and aggressive to strangers that we had to put him to sleep.  We consulted with our trainer.  We consulted with our vet.  Everyone agreed.  He was too dangerous.  Nothing about Gus’s life experiences led him to this behavior.  It was just in him.  (The vet thinks Gus was part Chow because of his color and the fact that he had a blue spot on his tongue.  We had no idea.  He certainly didn't look Chow at all to us.)

And Gus is not the first dog we’ve lost to Nature.  Many years ago we adopted a mixed puppy of unknown breeding that also became aggressive to our children at about the age of nine months and had to be put down. 

Then some years after that, we purchased a purebred Doberman of the highest quality.  He was a surprise gift from my husband – a puppy for me to train and compete in obedience with.  I LOVED him!  He cost a fortune – shipped all the way from New York state from a breeder who was also an AKC judge and obedience trainer.  We named him Moses.

Moses started puppy classes at 8 weeks old.  He was valedictorian.  At the end of our last class, the trainer said to me, “You’re going to have some trouble with him.  I can see it in his eyes.”  I got a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach.  It couldn’t be true.  My sweet puppy had just won valedictorian of his class!  He was so well behaved! We continued our training, going to weekly classes for many months.  My puppy was very obedient.  He was crate trained.  He was socialized.  He was AWESOME!

And then it happened….. Moses growled.  At my son. Who was just sitting next to him watching TV and eating a bag of chips.  Moses was nine months old.  We took immediate action.  Consulted with his breeder, our current trainer and the vet.  Worked with him daily.  Put a muzzle on him just for safety’s sake.  But his behavior only worsened and the time finally came when we realized that this dog would not ever be safe in a house with children.  We had to ship Moses back to his breeder, who gave us a full refund after admitting to us eventually that he came from a line of “sharper” dogs.  That breeder couldn’t refund me all the love and time I had put into that dog.  He couldn’t heal my broken heart when I finally said goodbye to Moses at the airport. 

Moses’ Nature won.  My Nurture lost.

Not all of my dog stories have ended like this of course.  I’ve raised  many puppies over the years and very successfully: two rough collies, two male bull mastiffs and two Anatolian shepherds mixed with great Pyrenees.  I’ve raised a miniature poodle and a beagle X basset mutt and a chocolate Labrador. 

All of these dogs turned out just fine.  Some were adopted as pups.  Some purchased from breeders.  Some found on the street.  All have been loved and well cared for.  All have been trained obedience to varying degrees. And all turned out just fine.  They had been Nurtured well.  But also, they had great Natures!

So now I have two new puppies…..six weeks old…..of unknown, possibly (okay probably) Rottweiler breeding……adopted from the same animal shelter where we adopted Gus several years ago.  They were found wondering the street.  No one ever claimed them.


I didn’t plan it.  I just saw them in this kennel and took them home.  I did want puppies.  I had been thinking about finding puppies again since I lost my Bo to cancer in August.  But I hadn’t planned on these puppies.  I just saw them and took them home.  I shouldn’t have done it.  I should have done the safe thing – safe for me anyway.  That would have been to look for puppies from a breeder that I knew would have a certain Nature……maybe puppies whose parents had proven themselves to have the kind of Nature I am looking for in an adult dog.  At least that's the advice I always give to others......

But then….what would happen to these guys if everybody looking for a puppy did that?


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To be completely honest, I wish these puppies didn’t exist at all.  I wish that people didn’t breed dogs together unless there was a really good reason with purpose and plans for each puppy produced.  I wish that people didn’t want to own or breed a certain type of dog just because it is tough or cool or tenacious.  I wish people were more responsible and had their dogs altered before unwanted puppies were produced.  I wish people who had puppies didn’t dump them on the street to be picked up by the animal control officer or worse, to be hit by a car, starve or die of disease. 

But since none of this is the case, what do we do with these guys? What do we do with puppies like these with completely unknown heritage who could turn out to be the best dogs we’ve ever owned, or..……..not. 

No one knows what their Nature will be like as they mature into adult dogs or weather that Nature combined with my Nurture will produce an adult dog that will be a successful fit for our family (or any family for that matter).  Maybe my old trainer would be able to “see it in their eyes.”  I know I can’t.  It’s a risk - a risk for them and a risk for me.  Adopting any puppy involves this same risk but adopting stray pups of completely unknown parentage and history is a much bigger gamble.  My Nurture may mitigate their Nature, but it won’t eliminate it.

I've lost three beloved dogs to tragic, unpreventable early death, one just recently.  I've lost three over the years to their aggressive, inborn Nature. I am definitely gun shy.  The fact is, another broken heart (or two) could be just 7 1/2 months away and that fact weighs heavy on me.  But I do have hope.  I know that I can give these guys a chance and one of the best chances they have is with a responsible owner who is willing to do the work while they are young and raise them right.

So, here I to work with my new puppies with my treats and leashes....and also some butterflies in my stomach that I know won’t go away entirely until they are grown.  I shouldn’t have done it.  But I did.  And I’m glad…even though I’m scared. 

Post script 01.06.2011: Sadly, Ranger passed away of unclear causes today.  Sniper is healthy, but lonely.

Post script 12.28.14:  I've been very blessed indeed!  Sniper turned out to be one of the best dogs we've ever owned, a truly beloved family member and trustworthy with all people and pets.  We adore him and are SO glad we took the chance and adopted him.  We'll never know how Ranger would have turned out, and as Sniper grew, I came to believe that he and Ranger were not actually litter mates.  They were just too different in every way.  I believe things happen for a reason and that Ranger was just not meant to be part of our family.  Sniper is the Bomb and I am madly in love with him!  And he with me!  

Sniper at 3 years old.  Most awesome dog ever! 

Please, have your cats and dogs spayed and neutered so that other people and innocent animals don't have to bear the negative consequences caused by your irresponsibility.  Very few dogs are of good enough quality to justify allowing them to reproduce.  Please.  There are too many dogs and cats in this world already and consequently, more then enough suffering.  Try your best to eliminate some.  Don't be one of those who adds to it.  And if you can, adopt a stray or abandoned dog.  Take the risk.  Give them a chance.  

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