Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Dog Trainers Make Me Happy!

When I picked up little eight-week-old Jackson to bring him home, one of the things to which I agreed was that I would take him to obedience school. I happily agreed, partially because even though I had lived with dogs my entire life I had not had a puppy in fifteen years, and partially because my breeder was in the process of becoming the person in the dog community who I respected and trusted above all others. However, in the back of my mind, I thought, "Well, it will be a nice refresher but I'm sure I know everything I need to know to train this puppy!"

Oh, how wrong I was about that!

You see, my hubby and I could have trained Jackson to sit, lay down, stay, come when called, and walk nicely on a leash without help. I think we could have pulled it off on our own and we would have raised a nice dog. I mean, we haven't had a class on raising the human kids and they're all turning out ok.

The thing is, though, why try to wrangle dog training on your own when there are these extraordinary people roaming the world, looking like normal ordinary people, who are really magical wizards or fairy dog-mothers with a vast understanding of your dog's brain and body, who can teach you how to give your dog the best possible life ever? 

I seem to write about the importance of working with a professional trainer each and every time I sit down to write a blog, and there is a reason for that. I firmly believe that dog trainers can help owners solve a massive amount of the issues that lead to owner surrenders. Not to mention, not only is the dog owner happier when their dog is nicely trained and knows the rules of the house, but the dog is happier when she knows what is expected of her and how to approach each situation!

You see, the whole reason we love dogs so much is the same thing that makes some people throw up their hands and think that life with that particular dog is impossible: they cannot speak English, and their brains work differently than ours. It is the proverbial blessing and a curse.

Honestly, aside from the fact that they are furry, adorable, walk on four legs and don't have thumbs, what really sets them apart from humans is that they live in the moment, they are not afraid to show complete and utter joy when happy, they never "get in their heads" or lie, cheat, steal. And while that is all part of what makes us love them, it makes it so that a lot of humans have a hard time teaching them things. But dog trainers know how the canine brain works, and their superpower is acting as a translator between humans and dogs to help everyone get on the same page!

What I love the most about watching dog trainers in action, at least the ones who use a positive reinforcement, reward-based approach, is that they are so calm and easy going and make training your dog seem so easy, and how it really can be that easy if you just follow their instructions! In fact, the inspiration behind this post is that last weekend I was "booth-neighbors" at a local dog rescue fundraising event with a trainer from the same facility where I trained both Jackson and Tinkerbell. As we ran our booths in the vendor area, I spent much of the day chatting with the trainer and basically eavesdropping on her conversations with the dog owners who were attending the event, and I realized just how happy I am to watch a trainer in action.

One family was having some sort of issue with their 3 small dogs when someone comes to the front door. I missed the first part of the conversation but I watched as the trainer so easily explained a solution in which they could train the dogs to all run to their kennels and get rewarded with treats every time the doorbell rang, so that it would break the cycle of the dogs doing whatever unwanted behavior they did at the front door. I listened as she explained how to do this, how to practice it by ringing the front door and going through the whole series of events a few times a day, and that pretty soon the dogs would just associate the doorbell ringing with running to their crates and getting food, so that they would begin to view the ringing doorbell with happiness and joy. She was so fun to watch, so relaxed, so confident in this answer and I watched as the owners had a visual "ah-ha" moment just like I have had before when working with a trainer, thinking, "Oh my gosh, that is so simple yet so genius!"

As the crowds thinned and we waited for the official booth tear down time, I laughed as I told her some of the things that my super smart Jackson had taught himself based on some of my puppy rearing practices. For example, when Jax was a puppy and he would get into stuff that was off-limits, I would tell him a firm "no" and then redirect his attention with a toy or antler, and shower him with praise and affection.

Jackson to this day remembers that sequence of behaviors, and will intentionally jump on the sofa, grab a contraband item, look at me to make sure I see him, and then start to destroy the item until I jump up, tell him "no" and watch as he wags his big thick otter tail with a mischievous doggie grin on his face, and grabs a toy for me to play with him. He has been doing this for seven years, and only touches contraband items when I am present and in the room. I can leave him in the room as I go about other activities, and he never touches a thing. It is 100% for my benefit and to get me to play.

Jax grabbing the contraband Love Laugh Woof
Jax grabbing the contraband

I have also noticed that every time the dogs play a round of Zoomies and Bitey Face, that after they are done, Jax runs to the back door and stands there to go outside. Every. Single. Time. For the longest time I thought he really had to go outside to go potty, but then I realized (when he just stood on the deck and looked at me) that he was still going through the sequence of events that we used to do when he was a puppy and we were house-training him, when the rule was that every time he got done playing, it was time for a potty break.

The funny thing is that we trained Tinkerbell exactly the same way, teaching her which items were hers and which were not, and using the same house-training method, and she learned the lessons but not this exact sequence of events. This is why we call him "Sheldon Cooper smart" because he is such a stickler for routine and absolutely the most intelligent dog I have ever met in my life. I tell him all the time that he needs to be more dog-like, but he just snorts and walks a dog.

Love Laugh Woof Blog
"Come on, Momma, come and get me!"

But back to my fabulous fangirl day watching a dog trainer at work, as I relayed the stories of Jackson's odd habits, I told her that I was trying to break the first behavior by simply ignoring him with the hope that if I did not reward him with playing, that he would stop snatching up my magazines and the remote control for the TV, but it was not working. She calmly and quickly offered up the suggestion to insert another behavior in between those 2 things, so to correct him, then have him go through some commands like sit, down, etc, and it would break the association between stealing stuff and getting momma's attention. Um...GENIUS!

I have watched other trainers in action with someone's dog who they have never met, and I just love how calm they are, how their mannerisms are so simple and yet the dogs hang onto their every word and movement and immediately seem to trust them as their leader. Just like human educators, I think these are some of the professionals who need to be paid about 20 times whatever their current salary is, because they are in possession of knowledge that can literally save the lives of dogs who were taught the wrong things early on in life or whose owners are at their wits end and about to surrender them to a shelter.

The next time you are around a dog trainer, hang back and just watch them in action, and you will see what I mean. And make sure you tell them thank you for what they do for dogs because they truly have magical powers.




Love, Laugh, Woof is sponsored by the Nimble Wirless RV Pet Safety Monitor

Love Laugh Woof RV Pet Safety Monitor
Photo by Aaron Barnaby on Unsplash
Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

“But I Don’t Need a Show Dog” an article by Terri Lewin Gilbert

This article by Terri Lewin Gilbert provides an excellent explanation of why professional breeders who participate in conformation events are recommended for puppy buyers who are looking for purebred dogs as pets.

But I Don't Need a Show Dog by Terri Lewin Gilbert

Identifying and Choosing a Responsible Breeder
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Identifying and Choosing a Responsible Breeder

If you have decided that a purebred puppy is the right dog for you, there is still a considerable amount of research to be done to ensure that you find a responsible breeder who is breeding dogs for the right reasons and with a professional level of knowledge. Buying a purebred puppy from a breeder is more than a sales transaction, it is the start of a relationship with someone who can and should be a resource for you for all of the dog's life. This article contains sixteen important qualities to look for when finding the perfect breeder for your purebred puppy. 

1. Requires an Extensive Application Process: 

Good breeders will require an extensive application to be submitted by potential puppy buyers to ensure that their puppies are going to forever homes where they will receive the appropriate care, socialization, training, affection, and exercise. Responsible breeders care about each and every puppy that they bring into the world and work hard to ensure that they will be treated with the same love, care, respect and attention that they would have provided themselves.

Our application for Jax was multiple pages long, including questions about our philosophy on dog training, books we had read, our experience with dogs, what had happened to other dogs in our life, and a variety of other questions. Click on the following link to see an excellent example of the type of application that you should expect to be required:

2. Offers a Lifetime Return Policy: 

This means that the breeder will take the dog back at any point in its life and dictates that the owner is not allowed to surrender the dog to a shelter or rescue under any circumstances at any point in the dog's life. Some breeders (including ours) will also ask to be the backup contact on the dog’s microchip for life and ask to be included in the owner's will if something happens to the owner(s) while the dog is alive. When a breeder offers a lifetime return policy, not only does it mean that you will have someone to take your dog if something happens to you, but it also is a sign that the breeder has a lifelong commitment to all of the puppies that he or she produces. This is another indicator that the breeder is breeding for love of the breed and a love of dogs and not simply for financial gain.

3. Only Offers AKC Limited Registration: 

Many show/hobby/professional breeders will only sell dogs with a Limited Registration, meaning that the dog itself is fully registered with the American Kennel Club but any puppies that he or she produces cannot be registered. This protects the bloodline and also means that puppy buyers cannot sell registered puppies from their dog. This is done to deter would-be backyard breeders by taking away some of the monetary value that they could receive for puppies, which is the motivation of unscrupulous puppy farm operators and many backyard breeders.

4. Has a Demand Before Creating the Supply: 

Responsible breeders wait for a demand for their puppies before they create a supply. Many only breed a litter when they want to keep a puppy for themselves, and the chances are high that you will be on a waitlist in order to purchase a puppy from them.

Jax was already in utero when we found out about him and we honestly got lucky. Our breeder was referred to us by one of my husband's co-workers after our Dutch passed away. There was one spot left for a puppy buyer when our application was approved; otherwise, we would have been on a waiting list for the next litter which was planned for the following winter. Jax was born in March, meaning our wait would have been nearly a year.

If you look at the Past Litters page of the German Shorthaired Pointer who won Best in Show at Westminster in 2016, you will see that they average around one litter per year since 2002.  You will also see that most of the females were only bred a few times, which I address further on in this article. This is indicative of a very responsible dog breeder who is committed to not contributing to the pet overpopulation problem as well as one who is not breeding for financial gain. 

5. Includes a Mandatory Spay/Neuter Clause

Many breeders require their puppy buyers to spay/neuter their dogs within a certain time period. This also helps reduce unwanted litters, both intentional and accidental. This is a dual purpose in helping decrease the pet population and potentially reducing the risk of certain cancers for both male and female dogs.

Another common practice is for show/hobby/professional breeders to only allow co-owned dogs to be kept intact and able to reproduce. A co-owned dog typically lives with the puppy buyer full time and is their dog for day-to-day life but is only bred when the original breeder permits a breeding to occur. Tinkerbell's mother is co-owned by her family and our breeder. She has had two litters and spent that time at the breeder's home delivering and tending to her puppies for the first eight or so weeks of their lives, but other than that is a beloved family pet and hunting champion happily living the life every Labrador Retriever deserves.

6. Promotes Rescue and Shelter Adoptions

Of course, purebred puppies from a breeder are not going to be the right option for everyone, and there are plenty of incredible purebred or mixed breed puppies and grown dogs waiting for their forever home in shelters and rescue organizations everywhere.

Responsible breeders are usually extremely supportive of dog adoption and rescue and will send potential puppy buyers to these resources if they do not have litters on the way or when they think that a buyer might do better with a grown dog or a different type of dog. Responsible breeders are dog lovers and dog advocates and are just as upset by the rampant dog overpopulation problem and heartbreaking euthanasia of healthy, innocent dogs as other dog lovers.

7. Is an AKC Breeder of Merit

The American Kennel Club Breeder of Merit program identifies breeders who have a history of five or more years of involvement in AKC events, have earned AKC titles in Conformation, Performance or Companion events on at least four dogs from AKC litters that they have bred or co-bred, perform the recommended health tests and obtain certifications that their dogs have passed these tests, and are members of an AKC club. All of this is done to distinguish responsible breeders from puppy factory operators and backyard breeders. 

From the AKC site: AKC Breeder of Merit Participants demonstrate a commitment to the AKC Community, dedication to their breed(s), and actively promote the sport of purebred dogs. The AKC is proud to recognize AKC Breeders who are dedicated to breeding beautiful purebred dogs whose appearance, temperament, and ability are true to their breed. These breeders are the heart of AKC.

Breeders will usually proudly display this designation on their website, or you can search the AKC website:

8. Performs Health Tests for Common Breed-Specific Health Issues

Every dog breed in the American Kennel  Club has a parent club that maintains the breed standard, or the guidelines for correct appearance, temperament and movement of all dogs registered as that breed. These guidelines are more than just ensuring that the dog looks a certain way for aesthetically pleasing reasons; because all dog breeds are bred for specific functions, these guidelines ensure that the dogs are able to perform these functions. For example, the big thick otter tail of the Labrador Retriever is not just because it is visually appealing, it acts as a rudder when the dog is swimming so that the dog can maneuver in the water more easily.

Unfortunately, many breeds also have common health problems and responsible breeders work hard to keep those problems from afflicting their dogs and puppies. Using our example of the German Shorthaired Pointer breed again, if you were looking for a GSP puppy, you would look for a breeder testing parents for hips, elbows, heart and eyes. Of course, this does not guarantee that one of these issues will not be passed onto a puppy by a dog who has received good test results, but it helps decrease the likelihood as well as identify breeders who are considering these issues when choosing which sire and dam to use for a planned litter.

Here is a link to the AKC list of suggested tests: If you look at champion German Shorthaired Pointer CJ, you will see test results listed right at the top of his sire information page:

9. Does Not Overbreed Their Female Dogs

Dams should have active, happy lives as beloved pets, show dogs, or performing the activities for which they were bred. Puppy mill females live a tragic existence in cages their entire lives and give birth to litter after litter after litter. A responsible breeder will sometimes only breed the same female a few times, and when she is not pregnant or tending to her puppies in a whelping pen, she is living a full and happy life. You can sometimes research how often a female is being used for breeding by searching Past Litters and Planned Litters pages on a breeder's website.

Jackson's mother is my breeder's "heart" dog, meaning she is one of the most special dogs that my breeder has ever raised with an extra special dog/human emotional connection. Just like Tinkerbell's mother, she has had a few litters in her life, lives on a large piece of land that I like to call Labrador Retriever Utopia with a pond in which to swim and plenty of acres to explore. Now spayed, she is happily sleeping on the breeder's bed, playing with the other dogs, and generally living a happy, healthy life.

10. The Dogs are an Active Part of the Breeder's Life

Seeing language that is overly sales oriented is a red flag that the breeder is seeking to make a substantial profit by breeding a lot of puppies instead of breeding in order to bring new dogs into their program to keep for themselves. Look for breeder websites that focus less on sales and how much you should want one of their puppies and more on how the dogs are an active part of the breeder's life.

When my husband received a suggestion to check out our breeder, the most notable thing about her website was the detail about each dog listed on her site. She included vivid detail about their successes, their personalities, how they were as puppies and how they are as grown dogs so that it seemed as if we knew them. Each dog has their own page on her website, filled with photos of them competing or just playing with the breeder. Her Brags page was an extension of those individual pages, with more stories of what each dog had done with her over the years, whether they were competing in hunt tests, conformation, or agility. I could see that each dog was a beloved family member and not just "breeding stock" with the purpose of producing puppies.

11. Readily Displays the Sire's and Dam's Pedigrees

Look for breeders who willingly offer the pedigree of all of their breeding stock. Not only should the pedigree be something of which the breeder is proud to display, but it also offers you the ability to research and Google the dogs whose DNA has contributed to your future puppy. Responsible breeders often know each other from dog shows and from using each other's stud dogs with their own females to prevent inbreeding. Here is a great example of a Labrador Retriever breeder that displays several generations of their dogs' pedigrees:

12. Does Not Breed for Odd Colors or Markings

Coat color is part of a breed's standard, and responsible breeders typically breed for standard coats. Breeders who encourage new colors or unique coat markings raise a red flag that they are breeding specifically for color rather than other qualities like temperament, intelligence, and adherence to the breed standard. This can have a negative impact on the puppies in the form of health problems, diminished intellectual ability and a different temperament than puppy buyers might expect.

A good example of this is the Labrador Retriever. Labrador Retrievers come in three colors: yellow, black and chocolate. Yellows can range from so light that they appear white and so dark that they appear almost red. However, they are all still yellow. Some breeders will focus on breeding specific hues of yellow and advertise "white" or "fox red" Labrador Retrievers. Additionally, there is a controversial "silver" color that is the subject of much debate, with advocates claiming that it is a version of chocolate and opponents claiming that this color comes from breeding Labrador Retrievers with Weimaraners.

13. Does Not Sell Puppies Through Online Puppy Brokers or Pet Stores 

Top dog breeders do not sell through online puppy brokers or pet stores. As mentioned above, it is common for a breeder to have a waitlist for their puppies because of the infrequency of their litters. They do not need to advertise to sell puppies, and they will not be willing to give up control over who purchases their puppies.

14. Will Not Ship Puppies

Look for breeders who will not ship puppies to their future homes. You can purchase puppies from breeders who do not live near you, but you will need to travel to pick up the puppy in person. This is dual purpose so that not only does the breeder get to meet you in person and see how you interact with the other dogs on the property and your new puppy, but to also ensure that the puppy is transported home safely and never in the cargo area of an airplane.

If you fly to pick up your new dog, make sure that the puppy will be small enough to comfortably fit in a travel crate that can go under your seat in the main cabin. Otherwise make arrangements to drive to pick up the puppy, as relegating puppies to the cargo area is unacceptable and cruel. 

15. Discusses Socialization and Training on Their Website

Look for breeders who stress the importance of socialization and training on their website. Responsible breeders will introduce puppies to new experiences in a positive way before they are ready to go home to you. Some will also start to train the puppies on very basic commands. Jackson and Tinkerbell, along with their littermates, were both trained to sit and wait for their food before they came to us at eight weeks old. We also received extensive documentation on various puppy rearing topics to help us navigate puppyhood and prepare them to fulfill their potential as incredible dogs.

16. Is Someone You Like

I mentioned in the first paragraph that buying a puppy from a purebred dog breeder is far more than just a sales transaction. Your breeder should be a resource to whom you can turn for questions and guidance at any point in the dog's life. I am friends on social media with our breeder and I truly feel like she is part of my family. I love reading stories about Jackson's mother, I cry when some of the older dogs at the breeder's house pass on to the rainbow bridge, I fall in love when she breeds a new litter and shares photos of the puppies that she keeps for herself. I worry about her and all of the dogs when I see storm warnings in the summer in her area.

As the human dog mom to two of her puppies, I feel a connection to her. By facilitating the breeding of my two dogs, she has changed and improved my life forever. It is an honor that she felt that I was worthy to raise these magnificent dogs that she helped bring into the world.  It is important to choose someone who you like and who you feel comfortable reaching out to with your own questions as you raise your own puppy into an adult dog and for all the days of your dog's life.

I have provided a PDF file with a checklist that you can use when you are researching particular breeders.  You may also find the attached Excel template useful if you are researching and comparing multiple breeders.

Identifying and Choosing a Responsible Breeder: Checklist.pdf

Breeder Comparision Workbook.xltx

The Problem with "Rescuing" Pet Store Puppies: Saving a Life or Creating Open to Buy?
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

The Problem with “Rescuing” Pet Store Puppies: Saving a Life or Creating Open to Buy?

The Problem with “Rescuing” Pet Store Puppies: Saving a Life or Creating Open to Buy?

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

The Problem with "Rescuing" Pet Store Puppies: Saving a Life or Creating Open to Buy? Sometimes it seems unbelievable that I am still writing anti-puppy mill content in my mid-forties, since I first learned about the horrific practice of commercially breeding dogs in puppy “mills” all the way back in high school in the 1980s. With the speed at which information is relayed today through the internet and social media, and the number of people we can reach through a single post, it seems like certainly we dog advocates would have successfully gotten the word out about the hell that is commercial dog breeding.

Yet at this very moment, as I am typing this, someone who is doing some Christmas shopping at your local mall has stopped in the pet store and is falling in love with a puppy in a baby crib, making a purchase, and creating an economic demand for a new puppy to be born at a commercial puppy mill.

Before I was a dog blogger, I was employed at the home office of a large retailer. As a result, I understand very well how retail inventory works. And so, when a fellow dog lover with a big heart tells me that they just purchased a puppy from a pet store because their heart was breaking at the thought of that puppy not finding a home, I know that what that purchase did was to open up what is known as “open to buy” in the world of retail.

So why am I talking about retail practices in a dog blog?

Here’s the deal: retail stores have sales goals. In order to meet those sales goals, they need to have sufficient inventory to sell to their customers. There is a lot of analysis that is done to figure out how much inventory they need, and how much money they need to budget to purchase that inventory. That budget is called their Open to Buy. The easiest way to define Open to Buy is this: “Open-To-Buy (OTB) is merchandise budgeted for purchase by a retail store during a certain time period that has not yet been ordered.” 

When a store sells something that’s in their inventory, they need to replace that inventory with more products that they can sell to keep meeting their sales goals. For example, if you buy 8 cans of soup from the grocery store, they need to bring in 8 more cans of soup so that they can keep selling soup to the next customer that comes into the store.

Understand where I am going with this?

Pet store puppies are viewed as inventory for resale, and puppy mills are the manufacturer creating that inventory. To you and me, to refer to puppies as being manufactured  sounds awful, and it is awful

Buying a puppy from a pet store is not like buying a can of soup from the grocery store. The grocery store simply orders more cans of soup from their supplier and puts into motion a whole series of events that creates jobs for a variety of people, from the people growing the vegetables to the person driving the delivery truck. Buying a puppy from a pet store is a purchase that kicks off a series of events that perpetuates the miserable life of puppy mill breeding dogs, and that is why we are still pleading and begging with people to stop buying puppies from retail stores. 

You and I  know that a puppy is a living, breathing, sentient, intelligent animal that deserves to be born into a loving environment, not mass-produced by unfeeling humans from dog parents who are tortured, miserable, riddled with genetic defects that they pass on en masse to their offspring, and who never lead a regular life as a healthy or even remotely happy dog.

For the puppy mill operator point of view, they are simply creating a supply of puppies to be sold on a purchase order to a pet store or puppy broker. As long as there is a demand for their puppies, they will keep producing puppies.

Having the conversation with someone who has purchased a puppy from a pet store or other source supplied by puppy mills is not an easy task. They feel attacked, as if they did something wrong or that they are being told that their puppy is not as worthy of love or is as valuable as a rescue puppy or one from a very responsible professional/hobby breeder. I know, because I have offended more than one friend in this way.

While many puppy mill puppies have substantial medical issues, whether infectious diseases or genetic defects, they are still worthy of love, they still could grow into great dogs with patience and training, and they will still be beloved family members. The reason I beg these owners not to get any additional puppies from a pet store is not that their dog is “bad” in any way, shape or form, and not that the dog owner is a bad person, but simply because their purchase will perpetuate the cycle of misery by creating an economic demand for more puppies from the puppy mill operator. 

To dog owners who have their dogs for the right reasons, to rescue and adoption advocates, and to responsible breeders, dogs are a miracle with paws and a wet nose. They are our lifeline, our therapists, our exercise buddies, our best friends, our constant companions, our heart dogs.

To puppy mill operators and the more unscrupulous backyard breeders, they are simply a product to be sold for income, and the easiest way for the average citizen to help stop them and their cycle of misery for the breeding dogs is to minimize or eliminate the demand for their puppies by not shopping at pet stores and from puppy brokers who sell mass-produced puppy mill puppies.



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The Right Way to Add a Dog to Your Home at Christmas
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

The Right Way to Add a Dog to Your Home at Christmas

The Right Way to Add a Dog to Your Home at Christmas

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

The Right Way to Add a Dog to Your Home at ChristmasIn our last blog, The Christmas Puppy Problem, we talked about the problem with Christmas puppies that are purchased on a whim by humans who have not considered the lifetime commitment and the work involved. We discussed how the adorable puppy in a baby crib in that mall pet store can end up being euthanized at a shelter or living a dismal and lonely life because a family or individual has realized too late that they were not prepared for that puppy to grow into an adult dog that depends them for its very survival and happiness. And finally, we talked about the Christmas puppy in our society and how the concept is promoted through photos, films, and even catalogs from merchants. As I continue to focus on this important topic all throughout the month of December, today we are going to present the flip side to that scenario and explore how to bring home a puppy or adult dog the right way during the holidays.

Taking Advantage of School and Office Closures

As much as people seem to be super busy at Christmas time, some people find themselves with extra time off of work, which puts them at an advantage in terms of puppy rearing. In my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner, I write, “I strongly recommend taking vacation time from work the first week of your dog or puppy’s arrival home, like a canine maternity leave.”

When Jackson was a puppy I was able to take some time off the first few days he was home and then either work from home or take additional days off whenever my husband had to also work, to ensure that someone was always home with him the first two weeks. By the time we had to have a dog sitter start coming to let him out, he was essentially house trained and able to hold his bladder a bit longer than when he first arrived. Once Tinkerbell joined the family, I was already working from home, so I was able to be with her all the time. She was house trained even faster than Jackson, and her puppyhood was much easier as a result.

For the simple purpose of house training alone, being with your dog 24 hours a day, seven days a week the first week or so should shorten your puppy’s learning curve dramatically. In addition to helping speed up the house training process, you will appreciate being able to nap during the day when the puppy sleeps. After all, they are infants and they usually wake up several times a night to go outside which of course means that you are also awake and heading outside. Finally, the first few days of a puppy’s life in their new home should be as calm and positive as possible with essentially just the immediate family. They are figuring things out, getting comfortable with you and with their surroundings, and there is a considerable amount of bonding happening. It is good for you to be with them instead of having them left alone in the house just days after leaving their mother, their litter mates and everything they ever knew in their young life.

If you have been planning on getting a puppy or a rescued dog, you know what you are getting into and the lifelong commitment, you are not traveling or hosting any huge gatherings for the holidays, and you work for an office or school that closes for all or most of the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, then over the Christmas holiday might be a great time to get a dog, particularly from a rescue organization or shelter.

Most responsible breeders will not plan a litter of puppies around the holidays so are set on a certain breed you may not be able to find an available dog from a top breeder at Christmas time, but the sad fact is that rescues and shelters take in pregnant females on a regular basis and those puppies are desperately in need of homes. A purebred puppy is not necessarily the right choice for everyone, so unless you are set on a particular breed, you can find amazing mixed breed puppies at shelters and rescues who are ready to grow up and be your best friend. 

Rescuing an Adult Dog

Puppy rearing is not for everyone, and adult dogs will bond with you just as much as puppies. My late Babe became my dog when she was two, and she was my best friend and constant companion. She and I had the same exact type of love and emotional bond as I do with Jax and Tink, who both came home to me at eight weeks old. Our late Basset Hound, Maggie, had been abused before my husband rescued her, and she was the most affectionate and snuggly of any of our dogs.

In fact, I have a theory based on my own personal observation and experience that some rescued dogs are often more affectionate and attached to their owners because they know what it is like to not have a safe and loving home, to be scared and alone, and they are so happy to finally feel love that they want to be near you all the time. Some people will say that dogs do not think about the past, and although it is true that for training purposes they live in the moment, I believe that they still remember their old lives.

It was not just Maggie who showed this behavior, but also my fosters Kodiak and Destiny. Kodiak had been found as a stray and while I was fostering him he would not leave my side. At night we would watch TV as a family and I essentially had a giant Labrador/Great Dane mix as a living, breathing blanket as he napped completely on top of me, his back paws down by my feet, his front paws and head on my chest. Destiny had been tied to a tree in the woods and left to die before a good Samaritan found her and saved her. Even while she was learning to trust me, she was virtually attached to me, and within weeks was snuggling with me as if she’d known me her entire life.

With Christmas as a time of love and giving, what better gift to give than to give a dog a safe haven and forever home to live out the rest of its years. There are so many amazing adult dogs that are waiting at shelters to be your best friend, particularly if you do not care about finding a specific breed. If you simply want a best friend, you can spare yourself the part-time job of puppy rearing (because it is indeed a part-time if not full-time job) and find an amazing best friend in an adult dog. And if you do want a specific breed, there are breed specific rescues in every part of the country with dogs who need homes. Giving one of them a home will open up a spot in that foster’s house for a shelter dog to make it further through the adoption process. And just like with puppies, to have extra time off of work while your new dog is adapting to his or her new home will only help the bonding process and help your dog become more secure in his or her surroundings.

Involving the Kids

No matter the age, it is never too young to start teaching children about the fact that dogs are living breathing creatures that rely on us for their survival. Instead of surprising the child with a puppy under the Christmas tree and reinforcing the belief that the puppy is a toy like a doll or basketball or some other inanimate object, consider wrapping the supplies that you will need for the puppy or dog and unwrapping them as a family.

After the gifts are unwrapped, you can explain that you have thought about it for a long time and that it’s the right time to bring a dog into the family and that you bought the puppy’s gifts in advance so that he or she has everything they need when it comes home. You can tell them that after Christmas is over, you are going to all pick out the puppy or go get a puppy that you have pre-selected, and that everyone in the family is going to need to work together to make sure that the puppy grows into a nice, well-behaved adult dog.

By fulfilling your child’s wish for a dog this way, you avoid the mindset that the puppy is a toy. If you have experienced Christmas with kids, you know that often they receive so many new toys and gifts that they are overwhelmed by the bounty, and some things get pushed to the side and never played with. The last thing you want to do is to include a puppy in that category. By introducing the puppy as a family member after the excitement of the holidays is over, you start your child’s view of animals off to a healthier start that will carry through their adult lives and in turn help them be responsible pet owners when they are grown.

It is extremely important to add that if your child wants a dog, but the adults do not really want a dog, you should not get a dog. Period. I also cover this in my book, and it may sound harsh, but it needs to be harsh because a dog’s life is at stake, and at the end of the day it is going to be the parents who are responsible for the dog for its entire life.

Kids can learn to be responsible dog owners by watching their parents and by helping their parents under close supervision. I have spent probably as much time teaching our kids how to act around the dogs as I have spent teaching the dogs how to act around the kids. As a result, now that they are teens, I can trust them to check the gates when they take the dogs outside and to stay out there with them and ensure that they are not getting into mischief.

I do not believe in putting kids in charge of a dog no matter how responsible they are. Between school, activities, friends, and all of the things on their minds, it is too easy to forget a feeding or to give medicine or how long it has been since the dog went outside. They will learn to be responsible pet owners by watching you and by you explaining what you are doing and why you are doing something, but it is too early in their lives to be in charge of an animal’s life.

Watch for the next blog, in which we address winter weather considerations when caring for puppies.

Travel With Your Dog!

The Christmas Puppy Problem
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

The Christmas Puppy Problem

The Christmas Puppy Problem

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

The Christmas Puppy ProblemI was browsing through Facebook several days ago when I came across a video from our local Fox affiliate, Fox 32. The first sentence of the story was, “If a dog or puppy is on your holiday shopping list – be careful.”

“Are you kidding me?” I said out loud in horror.

“Let’s just go ahead and promote the notion of puppies as Christmas gifts to all of the Chicagoland area!!!!” I fumed some more. 

I promptly sent a message to their Facebook page that read, “As a dog blogger who is on a mission to help prevent owner surrenders of dogs, the lead into your article about the puppy FB scam is disheartening. Puppies are never gifts, those of us who promote responsible pet ownership work hard to get this message through to the people who buy puppies as gifts with as much thought as they give a sweater or handbag. Please don’t undo our work as you report the news!”

To date I have not received a response or have any evidence that they’ve read my message.

The rest of their story was warning potential puppy buyers not to fall for scams involving puppies for sale, which is definitely important. Of course, they did not go into detail on how to successfully find a reputable breeder or look at rescue or shelter pups or grown dogs, but the advice to not purchase puppies from random strangers in a Facebook group is certainly something that many people need to know.

Let me explain why I was, and still am, so upset by that one short sentence that was broadcast to their entire viewing area: puppies are living breathing creatures that require a lot of time, patience, training and work. They do not belong on a “shopping list” like a cashmere sweater, a toolbox and an X-box game.

Unfortunately every year these living breathing, feeling creatures do indeed make it onto a Christmas list.  Puppies are then purchased through pet stores or backyard/amateur breeders as gifts either on a whim or to fulfill heartfelt requests to Santa from children who want a puppy.

In other scenarios they are an impulse buy as holiday shoppers wander through the mall pet stores and are wooed by the siren like pull of the adorable, fluffy puppies in baby cribs that downplay the fact that puppies are a different species with different needs than a human and that there is a learning curve for novice dog owners who are tackling puppyhood for the first time. The shoppers fall in love at first sight with these puppies with designer “breed” names like Cavachon and Huskimo, and take them home without thinking about the fact that they have just committed to anywhere from ten to fifteen years of caring for an animal that will need them for every aspect of their survival.

Many of these puppies are then abandoned at shelters just days, weeks, or months later after the adults realize that a puppy was not on their list of responsibilities that they were ready to handle. Other puppies end up living the majority of life in crates or in the back yards of owners who feel too much guilt for what they’ve done to abandon or re-home the dog but have no idea how to handle a dog that quickly went from adorable fluff ball to a wild, untrained, and seemingly unmanageable dog. That life is almost as tragic as landing in a shelter; it is in fact no life at all for a dog to suffer like that, alone and unloved.

As a culture, we love Christmas and we love puppies, and so it is understandable that when you put them both together, the idea of a Christmas puppy seems genius. I mean, seriously, what is cuter than a puppy with a bow around its neck under the Christmas tree? And when you are the person presenting this gift, either to your children, to your significant other, or to a parent, in that moment you are the hero of gift giving. You are like a rock star only better! You are not handing over a new gaming system or some piece of jewelry that every other person has bought, you are literally bestowing new life and the promise of unconditional love on the recipient…whether they want the accompanying responsibility of that new life or not.

Movies, TV shows, catalogs, all show endless photos of happy Christmas puppies. These images are all over our culture. Google “Christmas puppies” and you will receive pages upon pages of results. Do the same search with “movies about Christmas puppies” and you will receive another robust list of results. It is no wonder children ask Santa for a puppy or parents finally concede to their child’s pleas to get them a dog over the Christmas holiday. Our culture is full of the idea of puppies at Christmas time, under trees, in boxes, in Christmas stockings, complete with bright red bows to make the gift complete.

Just today I received a catalog from my beloved retailer L.L. Bean with a fluffy Golden Retriever puppy on the front, snoozing away under the Christmas tree with the other holiday presents with a red bow around its neck. The puppy looks perfectly angelic in the photo, but as a lifelong Labrador owner, I can tell you that it takes one hell of a lot of work to achieve a sleepy puppy for a photo shoot, and the moment that puppy wakes up, a human will be telling him “NO” and removing his little razor-sharp puppy teeth from the lights on the tree, the bow wrapped around the box, and even the box itself.

I can forgive L.L.Bean for this, because their products at least promote the outdoor, active lifestyle that is suited for a Labrador or a Golden Retriever, so their customers are slightly more likely to own the boots, hats, gloves, and parkas that will be needed to house train the puppy in the middle of December and into January. But that is one photo among thousands of other images and sources that glamorize the puppy as a holiday gift.

Personally, I obviously love dogs and I definitely love Christmas, and I love them together, in real life and in photos. I adore puppies, and I loved raising my own puppies into big sturdy dogs, even the moments that had me close to tears because Jax was a hard sell on the “no bite” concept or when his energy level was at a 14 on a scale of 1 to 10 and my own was a 3 from lack of sleep. I love looking at them now and thinking about how tiny they were, how I could pick them up and they would fall asleep on my chest, and how I taught them day in and day out all of the things that they would need to know as dogs in our household.

I equally love to look at them and think about all of the things that they have taught me in return, about dog ownership and about life. I love how I raised them from puppies to adults and how close we are as two separate species who went from being total strangers to sharing a special bond. So when I talk about the work that lies ahead for puppy owners, it is with the firm belief that the work is worth it, but I would be doing a disservice to other puppy owners to minimize the work that it takes to go from puppyhood to adulthood, because trust me. There is a lot of work ahead.

Before I had my own dogs, I helped my parents with their dogs. My freshman year of college, my parents acquired our Labrador Retriever Jake the weekend of Thanksgiving, so we have tons of adorable puppy pictures of him around the Christmas tree. Jake’s puppyhood is also how I know that the adorable puppy under the tree will also be the same puppy who is trying to eat the lights, steal the ornaments, and chew on all of the gifts immediately after peeing on the carpet and trying to drink the tree water. I don’t make these things up when I am blogging, I’ve lived life with many puppies and know that that’s what puppies do. One minute they are adorable balls of fluff with liverwurst-meets-Starbucks scented puppy breath; the next they are like a tiny little ball of destruction wreaking havoc in your home. 

Are all Christmas puppies abandoned at shelters or destined to living life in a crate or a back yard in an unprepared owner’s home? No, of course not. I have personal friends who have brought home puppies at Christmas and who would never dream of abandoning them; those dogs are as beloved and well cared for as my own dogs.

As someone once told me when they were attending a training class where I used to work, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” That applies 100% to new puppy owners who have big hearts and great expectations but simply have no idea what they are getting into with an eight week old puppy and the work that lies ahead for at least the next few months to go from adorable Christmas puppy to well-behaved, socialized dog.

As a result, during the month of December, the Love, Laugh, Woof blog will focus on the idea of puppies and Christmas, to help reach people who are contemplating getting a puppy as a holiday addition to their families. From winter specific considerations, to how to do a holiday puppy or grown dog the right way, conversations to have with the kids, and other important topics, we will focus entirely on spreading the word that dogs are a lifelong commitment, not something to be bought on a whim.



How Many Dogs Should You Have?
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

How Many Dogs Should You Have?

How Many Dogs Should You Have?

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

How Many Dogs Should You Have? One of the most frequent questions that I am asked after explaining that I blog and write about dogs for a living is, “How many dogs do you have?”

“I have two,” I always reply.

“Oh,” is the frequent response as if the person asking is disappointed that I do not have a house overflowing with dogs like the ending scene of 101 Dalmatians, or perhaps the scene when the Dalmatians look like black Labradors from running through the coal bin.

“I want to make sure I give them the best life possible, so I make myself limit our dog population to two,” I will often add, which is true, but it is also important to point out that the right number of dogs varies for everyone.

Before Jackson and Tinkerbell and before my late Dutch and Maggie were in my life, it was just my sweet black Labrador Babe and me. With a one-to-one human to dog ratio, she went everywhere with me. When my mom passed away and her German Shorthaired Pointer, Dutch, joined Babe and me, the transition was extremely hard on all of us. It took at least six months to acclimate to having two dogs and to get myself to the point where I could enjoy walking both of them at the same time and taking them both on adventures together with me.

How Many Dogs Should You Have?
Babe on a beach adventure

A year later I met my husband and when we joined his household, we suddenly had three dogs. Then as Babe and Dutch headed deeper and deeper into their senior years and each of them passed away at the age of 13, we felt utterly lost with only one dog and started to rebuild our dog family with the addition of Jackson and then Tinkerbell.

The decision of how many dogs to have in your own home is entirely personal based on your lifestyle and the relationship you want to have with your dog or dogs. I have one friend who easily manages five Labradors and Labradoodles, another friend who at one point had over ten dogs without being in a hoarder situation, and many friends who have a “human plus one” relationship with their dog.

My husband, the kids, and I all like to talk in both of our dogs’ fake human voices on a pretty regular basis. When Tinkerbell is pestering big brother Jackson to play with her by squeaking her favorite toy into his face for ten minutes without stopping or she is mounting him to try to get him to play, we often joke “I would have been ok as an only dog, Momma, seriously. I would have been fine, but NOOOOO, you thought I needed a playmate!”

Ninety seven percent of the time he eventually takes the bait (or simply gives up resisting) and starts to play with her, and the other three percent of the time he goes to his kennel and plops down with a huge sigh. At the end of the day, though, they are a truly bonded pair and he would be lost without his crazy little sister.

So why are we 100% set on sticking with “just” two dogs? Why not give Tinkerbell a second option as a playmate for those times when Jackson is not interested?

Our local dog ordinance is a big reason. It dictates that each home in our town can have a maximum of two dogs and two cats. We did live with one “extra” dog for the first few years that we lived together as a result of blending my 2 dog household with his 1 dog household. We would never have given a dog away, but after Babe passed away in 2009 at the age of thirteen, we knew we would remain a law-abiding two dog household because I had been very stressed about breaking a law that could affect my dogs’ actual lives.

A second important reason for limiting ourselves to two dogs is related to our budget. When we brought home first Jackson and then Tinkerbell, we committed ourselves to a lifetime of food, veterinary care, treats, toys, and all other dog related expenses. It would not be fair to them to stretch that budget by taking on another dog and then potentially not be able to care for all of them properly.

So would we get a third dog if we did not have a two dog ordinance and if money was not an object?

Probably not.

How Many Dogs Should You Have?
Babe, Beau, Jake and Dutch

If you have seen the iconic movie Gone With the Wind, you might remember the scene with Scarlett O’Hara eating barbecue with a large group of suitors. “A girl has but two sides to her at a table,” she flirts with them as they hover in a group all around her, attending to her every need. When Babe and I used to dog sit for my mother when all three of her dogs were alive and she was actively going on scuba diving trips in tropical locations, I would sit down on the floor and essentially let all four of them (Mom’s three plus my Babe) wriggle their way in to get petted, to give me kisses, to lay across my lap, and generally be a 350 pound mass of squirming dogs all around me. Just like Scarlett flirting with the boys at the barbecue, I loved every moment of it, but it was impossible to give all of them an equal amount of attention.

I loved when we went outside and all four of them followed me around, everyone making eye contact with me when I said that it was time to go inside or if I offered up a biscuit. I loved bedtime when I squeezed into bed with all four of them and each dog found their spot to sleep. I loved it when I would wake up in the morning with my arm around one, another’s paws pushing into my spine, a third dog’s head on my feet, and a fourth dog laying on my pillow. I loved feeding time when I prepared four bowls and set them all out in their own spot, one at a time. I was in my dog lover glory with four dogs around me.

At the end of the day, though, just like a Southern Belle eating barbecue at a table in the old south, there are but two sides of me. Two hands for chin scratches, two hands to hold leashes, two hands to rub tummies.

When you have gone through a dog’s entire life cycle multiple times with different dogs who you all loved as heart dogs, from puppyhood through the senior years, you know exactly how quickly that time goes and you want to do everything that you can to make the most of the time that you have together. For me that means plenty of one-on-one attention with both of my dogs.

For being in suburbia, we have a nice large yard for potty breaks and playtime. It is perfect for games of zoomies or fetching a ball, but other than that it is not very interesting or mentally stimulating, at least not day after day. For the dogs to go on adventures we have to go to parks or forest preserves, and it is much easier to do so with two dogs instead of three or more.

How Many Dogs Should You Have?
Jackson & Tinkerbell

Although I can and do take both of them together, I really prefer to take one of them at a time so that we can have a very special one-on-one bonding experience as well as so I can make sure that nobody is snarfing down contraband items that humans or nature left behind. With two dogs I can alternate who has that experience with me; if we were to add a third or fourth dog it would reduce the number of times any dog would go off on a fun adventure with me.

This also holds true for snuggle time. Most evenings end up with Jackson laying across my husband’s lap getting ear rubs and tummy scratches while Tinkerbell lays the entire length of my body on top of me on our recliner and gives me kisses and gets an ear rub. If my husband is not home, each dog can take one side of me. When we have had fosters in the house, someone was always being pushed aside or left out during snuggle time.

When our big chocolate Labrador foster named Kodiak was in the house, Jax was the one pushed aside, usually literally. Kodiak was a huge friendly dog who I think was part Great Dane based on his size and the structure of his hips. He loved to snuggle and took up most of the sofa when he laid in my lap for affection. When foster dog Destiny was with us, Tinkerbell pulled back from me entirely because of all of the attention that Destiny was taking from me. In fact my husband pointed it out that Tink was subdued and actually depressed and I did not realize it until after Destiny had gone to her forever home and my sweet happy Tink was back in my lap again.

This does not mean that people with more than two dogs are not giving their dogs enough attention or love, or that my limit of two dogs is the right thing for everyone. My friend/breeder who brought Jackson and Tinkerbell into the world has around eight or so Labradors and she has a special heart-dog relationship with each and every one. She is also a professional trainer with a large piece of land and a pond and an indoor training facility that she owns and operates, so she can handle all of them easily when they go to their favorite beach and offer them much more fun and excitement than a large rectangle of fenced in grass right in their own backyard. My friend with the pack of five Labradors and Labradoodles also has a large piece of property that offers plenty of fun and games and new smells without going into suburbia for something new to sniff or see.

At least once a day I receive a note from someone with a wonderful dog in need of a home. “You love dogs, you need another one!” the message will say. Believe me when I say that there are many times I am tempted to throw all of our logical reasons for staying with two dogs away and adding to our dog family. But I always hold firm and try to share the information with other potential dog owners who can give the dog the one-on-one attention that it deserves while my dogs get the attention that I promised them when they were both little pups.

I do love dogs, without a shadow of a doubt. I love dogs so much that I have committed my life, my profession, my everything to caring for my two dogs, to getting the most out of every precious moment together, to giving them a healthy life that gives us more days than we might otherwise have, and reaching out to the world to help other dog owners create a happy, healthy, holistic lifestyle for their forever dogs. And it is that same love of dogs that forces me to stick with two dogs.

At least for now.



Teaching Children How to Act Around Dogs
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog, Safety & Emergency Prepping, Surviving Puppyhood

Teaching Children How to Act Around Dogs

Teaching Children How to Act Around Dogs

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

Teaching Children How to Act Around DogsLast week another cringe-worthy video came across my social media news feed because someone thought it was cute. I suppose if you did not know a single thing about dogs, it might be cute. After all, what could be so awful about a curly-haired, resourceful toddler wearing just a diaper, climbing on top of his Basset Hound’s head and spine in order to reach into the refrigerator to get something?  The dog patiently stood while the child climbed on his back and the video was being shared as an “awe, look at this boy and his dog” moment. Teamwork, right?


First of all, stepping on a dog’s head and standing on its back is a perfect way for that child to get bit when the dog tires of the game.  Second, the long back and short legs of the Basset Hound make it prone to back problems and damage to their vertebrae without a child standing on its spine. Standing on any part of any dog is wrong, let alone a Basset Hound! 

Our own late Basset Hound Maggie was only saved from a death at a young age by a clinical trial at the Purdue University Veterinary school after she became completely paralyzed from the upper back down to her back legs and tail. She became paralyzed because the overall design of the Basset Hound is flawed and like other dogs with long backs and short legs, she became paralyzed simply from everyday running around and playing. I cannot imagine letting our kids stand on her spine! After surgery she went through six months of physical therapy and kennel rest while we taught her how to walk again.

Six months of kennel rest to a dog whose life lasted twelve years is like over three years of recovery for a human whose life is eighty years. Some Basset Hounds and other breeds with a long back never recover once they are paralyzed like that, so to have a child stand on their spine using it as a step-stool could be deadly to the dog.

This is not the only video that’s gone viral by people who think that it is “cute” when those of us in the dog world view it as downright animal abuse. I have seen videos of babies and toddlers walking on dogs, stepping on their bellies and rib cages, riding them like horses, chasing after them and hitting them while the parents film the activity and laugh along at their poorly behaved child and their beleaguered, stressed out dog. I even saw one with a dog backed into a corner and snarling while the child hugs him, with the caption that the dog is smiling. The dog is not smiling, it is giving a warning that he does not like what is going on, and his next move is to bite to protect himself.

Teaching Children How to Act Around Dogs
Do you see the dog leaning away from the hug?

I personally have been chased down the street by children who did not have their parents with them, running at me screaming “Can we pet your dog??” This has happened with every one of my dogs in every town in which I’ve lived. The most recent time I was chased and followed by two young boys on bikes who wanted to pet my dogs and after I replied, “Sorry, not unless your Mom or Dad is with you,” and they rode off and yelled, “I’m going to kill your dogs!”

I have a firm rule when I walk my dogs, whether it is one dog at a time or both of them together, that kids may not approach or pet my dogs without their parents present. The reason for this is that I have seen far too many children whose parents have never taught them how to act around a dog. And while I have never had a dog who I ever felt would bite a human, my dogs approach the world with a happy, dopey look on their faces with their mouths open and their tongues hanging out. Yes, I tend to err on the side of neurotic caution, but I never want any sort of misunderstanding.

Teaching Children How to Act Around Dogs
This dog looks more stressed out than happy.

Fortunately I have also heard parents stop their children from charging up to me, yelling at them to stop and correcting their child by saying, “You do not run up to strange dogs! You have to ask their owner first if you can pet them and walk up slowly!” In that situation, I am happy to put my dog in a sitting position and give them the “say hello” command while the parent tells their child how to greet my dog.


Like I point out in nearly every blog: dogs are amazing creatures who live in harmony with we humans, but at the end of the day, they are a different species. They cannot speak in English or in words, so they must rely on body language when they are trapped into situations that they do not like or that scare them. And yes, they get scared! They are living, breathing, feeling creatures.  Instead of saying, “hey, back up, you are too close and I am kinda freaked out right now” in words like we can, they can only lean away, walk away, turn their head, and if they must, growl or bite.

Here are some basic things that all parents can teach their children to do and not to do when around their own dog or dogs who belong to strangers:

  1. DO NOT climb on top of dogs, whether standing up on them, riding them like a horse, or stepping on their bodies.
  2. DO NOT hit or smack dogs.
  3. DO NOT hug dogs.
  4. DO NOT grab the heads of dogs for kisses.
  5. DO NOT get up close to the face of dogs.
  6. DO NOT wrestle with dogs.
  7. DO NOT grab something out of the dog’s mouth.
  8. DO NOT pull ears, tails, floppy skin, jowls or any body parts.
  9. DO NOT run up behind the dog.
  10. DO NOT run up to strange dogs.
  11. DO NOT corner dogs where they have not exit.
  12. DO NOT reach over or lean over dogs.
  13. DO NOT teach your dog games in which they chase you.
  14. DO NOT pet dogs on the top of their heads.
  15. DO NOT go into fenced areas in someone else’s property without being invited.
  16. DO NOT approach strange dogs who are tethered or tied up.
  17. DO pet dogs under the chin, on the chest.
  18. DO stroke dogs gently along the shoulder.
  19. DO NOT make eye contact with strange dogs.
  20. DO stand at a forty-five degree angle to let the new dog approach.
  21. DO hold your hand out just slightly with the back of your hand facing the dog or with your hand in a loose fist.
  22. DO always ask the owner if you can pet their dog.
  23. DO teach the dog to drop their toys in front of you if they want to play fetch.
  24. DO honor the dog’s decision to walk away and decide when the encounter is done.
  25. DO be calm and confident; dogs can smell the biological changes that occur with stress and fear and may also feel that stress or fear as a result.
  26. DO back away slowly if the dog shows signs of fear or aggression.

There are some things on the list that your own dog might let you get away with even though it is rude in their world simply because they know and trust you. My dogs let me kiss them and are frequently close to my face. I have raised them from puppies and I would never do this with a stranger’s dog or even other dogs that belong to family or friends. As your dog’s owner your dog may let you do things that your own children cannot. Our Maggie was fine if my husband or I held her close to us, but if the children tried to hug her she would give a warning growl, as if she recognized that we moved slowly and were not a threat and they were louder and more rough and tumble and not allowed to hold onto her as tightly. I recommend always watching babies, toddlers and even younger children with your own dogs until you are sure that they understand the rules of living side by side with their canine family members.


Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog, Surviving Puppyhood

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience Class

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassThe last few weeks have been a seemingly endless stream of stories about dogs that are both frustrating and heartbreaking, including dog bites, re-homing requests, and frustrated owners with 8 month old puppies who are still not house-trained. Sadly they all have a similar theme because all of these could have been prevented or could be fixed by one thing: training. 

I have talked to a lot of people who have never taken a class with their dog or who look somewhat confused when I suggest that they take one. There is also the response “Oh, I’ve had dogs my whole life, I don’t need to take an obedience class.”

I think that sometimes there are misconceptions about what an “obedience” class is all about and what an owner can gain from attending a class with their dog, especially for people who have had dogs before or feel like they have a lot of knowledge about dogs. Actually, until Jackson was born I had never taken one either, having grown up with dogs who came to me rescued and pre-trained like my late Babe, or who were trained by my father.

Dogs have been companions to humans for so long that it seems like it should be second nature for us to live together. The reality, though, is that no matter how harmoniously we are able to live together, at the end of the day they are still another species and we can both use all the help we can get at learning how to understand each other and communicate across our separate and very different species.

Dogs are very different from humans. Their bodies are different, their minds are different, their communication methods are different, their learning requirements are different, even the structure of their brain is different as they are blessed with a whole extra area to analyze scents. Things that are acceptable in our world are rude or aggressive in theirs, similar to someone from another country in another part of the world. Just like trying to speak to a fellow human who speaks another language or has different social norms than we do, we need to learn how to speak in a language our dogs understand, learn how to understand what they are saying to us without words, and understand their cultural norms.

However, despite my analogy comparing your dog to someone from another culture in a different part of the world, a dog is also an entirely other species than we are. They are a very special, precious species that deserves to be treated well, loved for all the days of their life, and considered to be a family member, but they are not a small furry person.

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassDog obedience school or dog training classes are first and foremost about teaching humans to teach their dogs the rules of life in a human household. In most beginner obedience classes you will learn to teach your dog how to sit, come when called, look at you when you say their name, stay, lay down, settle and start to walk nicely on a leash. Usually around six to eight weeks in duration, the beginner obedience class is just the very tip of the proverbial training iceberg!

When you find a really good dog trainer, you learn so much more than how to teach your dog how to perform those commands. Don’t get me wrong, those are the must-know commands that can literally save your dog’s life, particularly the stay or come command. But the best dog trainers teach owners about how a dog’s mind works, the importance of repetition and patience, the benefits of positive reward based training, and how to understand your dog despite being two very different species and get your dog to understand you.

The first night of my Basic Obedience class with Jackson the trainer spoke to us with made-up, random words that might not have even been actual words. Her words made literally no sense at all.  There were no dogs in the room, the first session was a human-only orientation.

She said it again, only louder. Then even louder. Then with a raised voice and anger, and asked why we could not understand her, she was speaking English! What was wrong with us that we could not understand what she was telling us?

As you might expect, this exercise was to show us what it is like to be a dog with humans randomly saying words to them and growing impatient when they do not instantly understand. It may sound silly, but that was one of the most impactful moments of all of the classes in which I participated and is something that has stuck with me during every moment working with and living with our dogs.

Different trainers have different nuggets of information and different methods that will stick with different people. Add in the fact that every dog is slightly different in terms of what motivates them, how easy or difficult they are to train, with different backgrounds and life experiences, and you arrive at the same suggestion for all dogs: that every human needs to take every one of their dogs to at least one training class and ideally several additional classes after they graduate from beginner.

Dog training classes are really about training owners to teach their dogs. Most of the class time is spent learning from the trainers, and most of your actual training time with your dog is outside of the classroom. In fact, when you do practice the commands in the classroom it is the owner who the trainer is really watching and correcting rather than the dog because the class is to train the owner how to train the dog.

When you find a good trainer you will understand how to take your training beyond basic obedience because you will know the concepts behind teaching your dog. Once you can teach her sit and stay, it’s not a far stretch to teach her other commands, to teach her tricks, to teach her games. Learning about how your dog learns will help you with socializing her, with teaching her not to bite (bite inhibition), with a variety of situations that you might encounter during your dog’s life.

Why Every Dog Should Go To Obedience ClassNot only will you forever have the skills to teach your dog and future dogs, but you will have a go-to resource should something pop up in the future. I often wonder how many dogs would not be re-homed if their owners had a relationship with a trainer so they could easily reach out when a life change happened like a new baby or the introduction of another dog into the house.

Training your dog can be a lot of fun for you and the dog as long as you are patient and realize that the fun part is for you and your dog to be learning together and to build an incredible bond together. In fact I often look for additional classes to take just for fun and I am strongly considering joining a local dog training club so that one of the dogs and I can go once a week and practice their skills, be around other dogs and dog owners with similar goals, and to continually learn from some of the amazing dog trainers that we have in our area.

If you are looking for a professional dog trainer, check with your veterinarian for recommendations.

Also check out these websites:

Association of Professional Dog Trainers (ADPT):

Karen Pryor Academy:


Owner Surrenders: When Dog Owners Give Up for All the Wrong Reasons
Blogs, Compassionate Pet Owner, Love, Laugh, Woof Life, Planning for a New Dog

Owner Surrenders: When Dog Owners Give Up for All the Wrong Reasons

Owner Surrenders: When Dog Owners Give Up for All the Wrong Reasons The other day I was at a business networking event and I ran into a woman who volunteers in dog rescue in addition to owning her own business. She told me that she had read my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner and also bought a copy for the rescue organization with which she volunteers. I was delighted to hear this and we chatted for a bit.

As we discussed my book and dogs in general she mentioned that Chapter 4: Are You Ready for a Dog? REALLY Ready? was very intense and might actually scare away some potential first time dog owners. She was not being critical, just sharing her thoughts on the book. For the last several days I have thought about her input and wondered if I should have toned down that chapter a bit. I mean, I am from a long line of outspoken women from New Jersey, but I also do not want to risk any dog not having a home because I scared the owner away from life with a dog with my book!

Was the chapter too intense? Was it too much to talk about the hair, the mud, the slobber, the gross things in which they scent themselves, the dead animals that some bring to you like children bringing home a trophy? Was it too much to talk about house training, obedience training, to share that my dog care bill for a 10 day vacation is $500 and that’s on the inexpensive side in our area? Was it too much to share the reality of having a senior citizen dog, that when we had three senior dogs at once my entire paycheck seemed to go straight to the vet every payday and we had a drawer full of medicines like a canine nursing home? Is it fair to tell them all of the harsh realities that can happen with dog ownership to try to desperately avoid the owner surrenders that happen as a result of unprepared humans getting dogs on a whim?

I mean, of course I follow-up those negative things, the sharing all of those downsides, with the beautiful relationship that we create with our dogs, the miracle of having a best friend and constant companion who is more loyal than any human could ever be. I share that I would die of a broken heart without a wet nose waking me at 6 a.m. every single day of my life, without Labrador hair to vacuum every few days, without a 70 pound Tinkerbell stretched across my lap daily.

I was not offended by her critique; getting feedback is part of being a writer and putting your ideas and words out for the world to consume. When you put strong opinions out into the world, you must have a thick skin to go along with those opinions. But I really, honestly worried that perhaps I had been too honest.

Photo credit:

Then I came across a post about a German Shepherd puppy on Facebook from another blogger who shared that the reason of the owner surrender was that “they just didn’t want her anymore.” Now, we all know that everything you read online or on Facebook is subject to being completely wrong or made up, but the reality is that I have no reason to doubt that blogger because this is a reason dogs are surrendered all the time

For some dogs their crime against humanity (insert frustrated sarcastic tone) is that they shed too much, that they got too big, they had too much energy, that they ate too much. One poor dog pooped too much for his owner and ended up being abandoned at a shelter, wondering when his family was ever coming back.

I don’t know what these owners expected; if they wanted a big stuffed animal, they have realistic versions at Amazon that won’t eat, shed or poop and are perfectly huggable. And that is not a joke, I would recommend a snuggly fake dog to them. Any living breathing creature is going to do these things. We humans do, too! My husband snaking the drain of our shower every few months is testament to how much we shed! It is absurd to adopt a dog and think that she will not shed, poop, grow, or want to play and release their energy.

For the dogs who get adopted into happy homes, their owner surrender was probably the best thing that could have happened to them when it is all said and done. For the ones who are euthanized, though, the people who gave up on them for absurd and preventable reasons killed them as if they had murdered them in cold blood. Unfortunately when someone surrenders a dog to a shelter, there is no way to guarantee which fate the dog is going to meet, the happy ending or the tragic loss of life. 

I shared the post about the German Shepherd puppy on my personal Facebook page and a friend of mine who I met while volunteering at a rescue group commented immediately. She works at an animal clinic and she replied, “Your chapter is 100% spot on and I couldn’t agree more. Believe me, I’ve actually wanted to throw your book at people and tell them to read it. Around March/April I start getting calls at the clinic asking if I know a rescue that will take their puppy because they had no idea.”

When you follow as many dog related organizations, businesses and dog lover friends as I do, you end up seeing horrific stories about animal abuse. Sometimes I cannot bear to read another and I have to take a break. In fact that was one of the most beautiful things about watching April the Giraffe for all of those weeks; the wait for “Baby G” was a nice respite from political news and tragic stories that make up social media and the regular TV news.

It is extremely important to point out that there are sometimes valid reasons to re-home a dog. My late Babe came to me because her owners, who were not extremely old when they got her, both suddenly declined in health at the same time with extremely serious and debilitating issues. In the blink of an eye they went from recently retired and looking forward to ten or twelve more years with their beloved young Lab to being completely unable to care for her. I am in no way shape or form talking about situations like that, or extremely dire financial circumstances or life threatening allergies in a child. I am not commenting on situations in under-served communities with extreme poverty. My disgust is directed at people who simply didn’t bother to prepare themselves or look for a solution. 

There is a solution to a dog who has “too much energy” in the form of training, walks, exercise, dog games, interaction with the humans.

There is a solution to shedding, in the form of frequent brushing, good quality food, regular grooming appointments.

There is a solution to “being too big” at least in terms of what I can imagine would be the issue with size, like leash pulling or accidentally knocking things and people over, again in the form of obedience training, walks, exercise, dog games, structured playtime. When trained correctly a huge dog should be as easy to walk as a small dog. A big tired dog will curl up to nap just like a small tired dog after a mentally and physically engaging activity with his owner.

There is even a solution to pooping too much, in the form of finding a better quality food. If you feed a dog a 600 Kcal/cup food you feed half the amount as if you feed your dog a 300 Kcal/cup, which equals less poop with which to contend.

At the end of the day, I stand by Chapter 4 of my book. Someone who wants a dog badly enough is going to say “Ok, dog hair, no problem, vet bills, I’m signing up for pet insurance, puking at 3 am, geez I hope not, but I’ve got my cleaning supplies!” I can only hope that someone who is iffy and perhaps at risk of making a decision about a dog on a whim will read those things and think, “Whoa, I had no idea it was like that!” and either prepare themselves or decide not to get a dog at that time.

It takes hours upon hours of work and patience to go from puppyhood to this!

If I can help even one dog be saved from going through an owner surrender, then it will make a difference for that dog and for the one who will be saved by the opening at the shelter that the first one did not fill. As I write in my book,

“I had to lay out the negatives, every last one of them. It would be unfair to dogs to do any less. Those cute puppy dog eyes are a blessing and a curse for many dogs, like the dogs who are bought on a whim because the owner is caught up in the cuteness and novelty of a dog, but not ready for the reality of one and then casts the dog aside without any regard for the fact that it is a living, breathing feeling creature whose heart will break once he or she is abandoned in a shelter to fend for him or herself.

If you are ok with the negatives, if you go into dog ownership prepared for all of them, the cost, the mess, the inconvenience, the responsibility of another life, then you are ready for the positives, because when you are ready to be a dog owner the positives make up for any amount of dog hair and early morning potty breaks.”

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Spay/Neuter Awareness Month: Reasons to Not "Fix" Your Dog
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Spay and Neuter Awareness Month: Mythbusting Reasons to Not “Fix” Your Dog

Spay/Neuter Awareness Month:  Mythbusting Reasons to Not “Fix” Your Dog

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

Spay/Neuter Awareness Month: Reasons to Not "Fix" Your DogI did not neuter Jackson until he was a little over two and a half years old. I spent a good two years running into issues when I wanted to take him to training classes, dog parks and other areas. “He’s still intact because he’s competing in conformation shows,” I would explain, “Not because of ignorance or any other reason.”

On Jackson’s first birthday I sent several photos of him to our breeder as well as a Happy Birthday message to his litter mate who she had kept. She messaged me back and said, “Jackson is turning out to be spectacular, if you want you can hold of neutering him and try him out in a few UKC (United Kennel Club) shows and then depending how he does maybe we will change his AKC registration from Limited to full and think about using him as a stud dog.”

I cancelled the appointment I had already made to have him neutered, registered him with the UKC, and started training with him on the skills he would need in a dog show. We practiced gaiting and stacking, and I envisioned him going all the way to Madison Square Garden and being on TV representing his breed in Best In Group and being the Labrador to finally win Best in Show. I found hot pink dress pants to pop against his black fur, put on functional shoes and we were ready!

In reality we did three dog shows. We earned a few Best of Breeds and a third in the Gun Dog Group, which is the UKC version of the Sporting Group. Each time I laughed at myself as we drove to shows that took place in warehouse type spaces in industrial parks in suburban Illinois, a far cry from Madison Square Garden.

At the third show we won Best of Breed and headed to the group competition. There were a ton of dogs there that day, far more than the first few shows. Jax was more interested in playing that day and tried to befriend the Golden Retriever…in the middle of the competition. When the judge came to inspect him, Jackson rolled over on his back with all four paws in the air. Then we ran out of bait and I lost his focus entirely. As he tried to jump on top of the Golden again, I politely took my dog and left the ring. I wasn’t angry, I wasn’t upset, I doubt it was proper etiquette, but I just did not want to be that person whose dog was distracting the other well-behaved dogs.

“Well, big man, I think that is the end of your show career, what do you think?” He nuzzled my face and snorted, which is one of my favorite Jax signature moves. “Come on, let’s go home to Daddy and Tinkerbell. I’ll get you a puppacino on the way home, my handsome boy.”

A few weeks later I made the appointment to neuter him and spay Tinkerbell, who was coming up on seven months old, the same day. Had I hired a professional handler, I’m sure Jax could have had a stellar show career; the reality was that he already had a full-time dog job: to be my best friend and companion. I would never be the person to send him off with a handler, on airplanes and in strange places without me, just for him to be a champion.

After the procedures, Jax was my same quirky and special boy and Tinkerbell my same crazy girl. Literally nothing about their activity level or temperament changed, at least once they healed. Of course you have to keep them calm and on kennel rest while they heal, but after that they were the exact same dogs.

Jax was still a typical boy, peeing on every single tree, light post and mailbox (if I’d let him) on our walks, somehow able to ration his urine to make it through a long walk and still be able to claim every single vertical object as his own. Tink was still insane with endless energy, running zoomies as fast as her legs could carry her and then snuggling sweetly with us every night.

Too often I hear some interesting reasons for not spaying or neutering a dog, usually online in various groups and forums and occasionally at pet expos. It goes back to the Woof in Love, Laugh, Woof. Woof means celebrating the differences between our species and understanding that your dog is a dog and not trying to push human feelings onto them. Let’s take a look at some of the wrong reasons for not spaying/neutering a dog:

Females need to experience giving birth to a litter: Emotional regret over not having offspring is entirely a human thing. Although I love to celebrate a mother dog’s love for her puppies, your dog is not staring out the window wondering why she never had puppies. That doesn’t mean a dog doesn’t have a strong maternal instinct, but it kicks in after she is pregnant. Dogs live in the moment, your dog is perfectly happy experiencing other things besides giving birth to puppies. Take her on adventures instead, she will love you even more for sharing such amazing bonding experiences and it will never cross her mind that she did not “get” to have pups.

Still a big boy, happily neutered!

Neutering makes males less male: Well, if you’re talking about moving mountains to get to females in heat, embarrassing dog erections for no reason, or marking your furniture, yes, neutering will change that. But in terms of the good parts of a boy dog, there is no difference. Your male dog does not care that he lost his testicles. That’s a human hangup. Although the procedures are definitely different, your male dog is still just as male as a man who has a vasectomy. All that’s changed is their ability to have an heir. Unless your dog is the King of England, he doesn’t need an heir. Period.

“Fixing” a dog makes them fat: Just like we humans, too many calories and too little activity makes dogs fat. If you see them gaining weight, adjust their calories. I promised a “no fat Labs” promise and have kept to it. Jax and Tink weigh exactly the same as before they were spayed and neutered.  You are in control of how much you feed your dog, how much exercise he or she gets, and ultimately how much they weigh, intact or sterilized.

Children should experience the miracle of life: I call BS on this. I am a parent, there are books for that, they take classes on that in health class. There is no logical reason for a child to learn about the miracle of life by bringing innocent puppies into the world. Parents who really want their children to see the process can view a variety of births on YouTube. It is miraculous, I once sat and watched a professional breeder’s dog give birth via webcam for an entire afternoon; I was not going to submit Tinkerbell to that just for the experience.

If you hear friends talking about breeding their dogs, please have the important conversation with them, asking them to reconsider and ask them not to become a backyard breeder. If none of the arguments above are sufficient, there are 1.2 million other reasons not to breed, in the form of dogs who are euthanized each year because a home was not available to them.



National Prevent a Litter Month: The Importance of Spaying and Neutering
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

National Prevent a Litter Month: The Importance of Spaying and Neutering

National Prevent a Litter Month: The Importance of Spaying and Neutering

by Lynn Stacy-Smith

National Prevent a Litter Month: The Importance of Spaying and NeuteringEarlier this month I blogged about Responsible Pet Owner Month and how virtually all of the special dog days in this month all tie back into the idea of being a responsible pet owner. It makes sense that February is also National Prevent a Litter Month, a time for us to talk about the importance of spaying and neutering. Unless you are a professional/show/hobby breeder, it is my belief that to allow your female to become pregnant or your male dog to father puppies is among the most irresponsible things that a pet owner can do. 

According to data from the ASPCA Shelter Intake and Surrender page, 90% of the dogs who enter a shelter, as strays and owner surrenders, are intact and able to create a litter of puppies. Also according to their data, “the average number of litters a fertile dog produces is one a year; the average number of puppies is four to six.”

If 3,900,000 dogs enter shelters each year, that means that 3,510,000 are not spayed or neutered. If we were to imagine that half are females, that means 1,755,000 dogs able to produce approximately 7,020,000 puppies a year. That is the equivalent of one puppy for every single resident of the state of Washington. 

In my blog, Understanding the Different Types of Dog Breeders, I wrote about responsible breeders and that they require that their puppies be spayed/neutered and that the owner submit proof that the procedure has been performed by a certain date. Some responsible breeders include in their contract that they can take the dog back if the puppy buyer fails to have their dog neutered or spayed. Additionally, responsible breeders sell their puppies with Limited Registration instead of full AKC registration in order to keep puppy buyers from breeding AKC registered dogs on their own.

Shelters and dog rescue organizations also require that their adopted dogs be spayed or neutered and usually the procedure is done before the dog is available for adoption. So if responsible breeders are requiring that puppies be altered and so do rescue groups and shelters, how are so many dogs living their life intact and able to create more dogs?

According to additional data on the ASPCA site, 28% of owners acquire dogs from breeders, 29% from rescue groups and shelters, and 43% from family and other acquaintances. Unfortunately the site does not specify what type of breeder they include in the 28%, but unlike responsible breeders, backyard breeders and puppy mill operators are unlikely to require that the puppies be fixed or that the puppy buyers are educated about puppies and ready to assume responsibility for the dog for life. 

In the family and other acquaintance category you will find those owners who either intentionally or accidentally created a litter of puppies and now have the difficult task of finding homes for the puppies. It’s a common scenario: someone’s intact male found his way to someone else’s fertile female and created a litter of puppies. They are free to a good home or inexpensive to cover the cost of their puppy shots, and the owner of the female is desperate to find homes for them all. They do not know how to screen a puppy buyer and they don’t have a way to demand that the puppy be spayed. Both scenarios present the same two problems: too many puppies and not enough of a screening process to ensure that those puppies do not end up in shelters or as strays. 

When you look at the reasons for owner surrender of dogs to shelters, 29% of owners cannot have pets in their home or apartment. Behavioral issues, divorce/death, and not enough time are all equal at 10%, and other issues make up the final 41% of owner surrenders. All of those named issues, even death, are part of comprehensive screening of potential owners by both responsible breeders and shelter/rescues. That means at least 59% of those owners would have been asked:

  1. What is your training philosophy? Where will you take the dog for training issues? How will you handle behavioral issues? What books have you read about training dogs?
  2. When will you spend time with the dog? What activities will you do with the dog? Who will take care of the dog if you are called out-of-town or have to work late?
  3. What will happen to the dog in the event of divorce or death?
  4. What is your current living situation? What will you do if you have to move? How will you ensure that you will live somewhere pet friendly?

Spaying and neutering not only prevents overpopulation of dogs and cats, it also means that unprepared owners are not in a position to deal with litters of puppies. At the end of the day, just because you find a home for a dog does not mean the dog is safe from being abandoned as a stray or at a shelter. Responsible breeders and rescue groups typically work extremely hard to filter out the bad homes, the people who are getting a dog on a whim, all to make sure their dogs go to loving, capable forever owners. Spaying and neutering is the most effective way of preventing the pet overpopulation problem and the tragic and unnecessary death of 1.2 million dogs each year.  






Blogs, Compassionate Pet Owner, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Love, Laugh, Woof Life, Planning for a New Dog

Ten Traits of Responsible Dog Owners

Ten Traits of Responsible Dog Owners

By Lynn Stacy-Smith

Ten Traits of Responsible Dog Owners The month of February has quite a few different awareness events and in the end, all of them fall under the umbrella of being a responsible pet owner. In fact, that is what Love, Laugh, Woof is all about: being a responsible and forever owner from the moment your dog steps their first paw into your life until the last breath that they take by your side. So while every single month is Responsible Pet Owner month in reality, let’s take this opportunity to share ten traits of responsible dog owners:

Jax is everything a lab stud dog should be…we neutered him anyway! No puppies from this boy!

1. Responsible owners spay or neuter their dogs: Responsible owners leave the breeding up to professional/hobby/show breeders who already have a demand for their dogs before they create the supply. By spaying your females you never have to worry about them going into heat (as messy and miserable as it is for human women) or having unwanted canine suitors lining up outside your fence to get to your female like Scarlett O’Hara at the barbecue. In the same way, neutering your male means that he can focus on being your best friend instead of searching out a mate and acting like a testosterone driven dog. Let’s face it, there’s a reason we refer to overly promiscuous men as “dogs”, right? Take that desire off your male dog’s mind and let him just be your best friend; he does not need a female dog to be his friend with benefits.

2. Responsible dog owners provide good medical care: I once had a vet who told me “thank you” for choosing to go with more elaborate tests to seek a diagnosis for my now late German Shorthaired Pointer Dutch. “Why are you thanking me?” I asked, legitimately confused. Dutch was my dog, a part of my heart and soul, why wouldn’t I do everything possible for him? “Not everyone goes this far to try to keep their dog healthy,” was their answer.

What an eye-opening lesson that was! In my mind proper medical care was a given. A sick dog went to the vet, period. You did everything in your power and budget to help them.

Responsible pet owners provide basic care like annual exams (or even better, twice a year), heartworm pills, and vaccinations. They also know how their dog looks and behaves when healthy, notices changes like acting lethargic or a change in appetite or lumps and bumps that appear, takes them to the vet, pays for testing and treatments and follows the vet’s orders for home care.

Dogs on the sofa? Totally!

3. Responsible owners create a comfortable living environment: Today I shared via Facebook a heart wrenching video of extremely young puppies covered in flea bites, scabs and a horrible skin disease. All they had known was disease, misery, pain, suffering and filth for the few weeks since they had been born, and they were so young that they were not even ready to leave their mother. Luckily they had been rescued after their owner literally dumped them off somewhere. There was no sign of their mother and my heart breaks even more wondering what her fate is.

Responsible owners provide a clean, climate controlled, bug and pest free, safe, comfortable environment for their dog in their residence. Dogs are pack animals and want to be with their humans. They should live inside the family home with the human family, whether it is a family of one or ten, and be with the humans when they are home or safely in their own secured, climate controlled spot with access to water when the humans are away.

4. Responsible owners train their dogs what to do: Imagine being hired for a new job. Nobody tells you what to do, what they expect of you, or how to do it. When you try to do it your own way they yell at you for doing it wrong. That is what it is like for a dog who does not receive training. Although we are able to create loving bonds and incredible friendships across our different species, living in a human world does not come automatically to a dog. Training them what to do is responsible and gives them the confidence to go about their day-to-day lives with you with joy and the relaxing knowledge that they are pleasing you.

5. Responsible owners are calm, fair, kind and compassionate: Good leaders do not need to yell and use aggression to motivate and lead people. This is the same with dogs. Your dog needs you to be their leader, establish rules and be firm, but they also need you to be calm, fair, kind and compassionate. Anything else will just scare and confuse them and break their trust in you. The fact of the matter is that dogs living in a human world need you. Their entire life revolves around you, for love and companionship, food, water, and every basic need. Any good leader respects her team, and it is quite possible to respect and honor your dog while still being their leader.

6. Responsible owners provide quality nutrition: You don’t have to be able to afford the most expensive food on the market for your dog, but providing a good quality food made with safe ingredients is important. Dogs are like computers: garbage in, garbage out, and the better the food your provide the healthier your dog should be. If you are on a super strict budget, try to avoid anything with the words “animal” or “by-product” and the controversial menadione. Dog Food Advisor is an amazing website that can help you research particular brands of food.

7. Responsible owners exercise with their dogs: Whether you participate in an official dog sport like agility, or if long walks are your thing, responsible dog owners make sure their dogs get plenty of exercise and enjoy getting exercise together. There is a mind meld that you get with your dog when you are out exploring the world together.

Tink going on an adventure

8. Responsible owners make time for their dogs: Obviously life happens and sometimes you have to work long hours or go to human only events, but spending time with your dog is the whole reason you got them. One of the cruelest things you can do to a dog is to ignore them or stick them in a kennel or room away from their humans. Dogs are fun, they are comforting, and they are some of the best friends I know I’ve ever had, and all they ask in return is for our companionship. Even when I was a single dog owner with a full time job and an active social life, I made sure I carved out substantial and frequent blocks of time that were dedicated just to my dog Babe.

9. Responsible owners are their dog’s rock solid support system at the end of their life: I have lain on the floor of the vet’s office with four different dogs at different times in the last twelve years as the veterinarian gave them the two injections to end their lives. All four times I held my own self together, not showing my fear or my grief or pain until they had all passed on to the Rainbow Bridge. It was only after the vet told me that each of them was gone that I let myself howl with grief, finally able to let my own pain out. Why? Because I did not want to stress them, worry them, scare them, or have any sort of negative energy around them during the final moments of their lives. My job was to be their rock, after all of the times that they had been there for me, it was the most important moment for me to be there for them. There are no excuses to not be there with your best friend, I don’t care how hard it is or how painful. It is an unwritten promise that we give to them the moment we accept them as our dog.


10. Responsible owners are forever owners: From the moment your dog steps their first paw into your life until the final breath that they take with you by their side. Forever. Responsible owners do not surrender their dogs to kill shelters, let them loose in the woods and drive off to let them fend for themselves, list them on Craigslist or anywhere else “free to a good home,” tie them to trees, tape their muzzles, or any of the other truly evil things that have been done to innocent dogs to “get rid” of them. They do not give up on them or harm them in any way. Period. And if extenuating circumstances happen, they reach out to every rescue group until they can find a no-kill option, pay the surrender fees, and make sure that their dog will find a new, loving, forever home.

Please share this with anyone you know who is considering getting a dog or who is a new dog owner. Irresponsible pet ownership is, in my opinion, the primary reason for the massive pet overpopulation problem in this country. It is my mission to help educate owners to become forever owners to help reduce the number of innocent dogs who are surrendered and euthanized each year.

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How Responsible Dog Breeders Help Prevent Pet Overpopulation
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

How Responsible Dog Breeders Help Prevent Pet Overpopulation

How Responsible Dog Breeders Help Prevent Pet Overpopulation

By Lynn Stacy-Smith

How Responsible Dog Breeders Help Prevent Pet OverpopulationAs I wrap up our three part series during Westminster Dog Show week, here are some ways that hobby/show/professional breeders help prevent their dogs from ending up homeless, abandoned or in shelters:

1. The application process: Good breeders will require an extensive application to be submitted by potential puppy buyers to ensure that their puppies are going to forever homes where they will receive the appropriate care, socialization, training, affection and exercise. Our application for Jax was multiple pages long including questions about our philosophy on dog training, books we had read, our experience with dogs, what had happened to other dogs in our life, and a variety of other questions.

2. Lifetime Return Policy: This means that the breeder will take the dog back at any point in its life and dictates that the owner is not allowed to surrender the dog to a shelter or rescue under any circumstances. Some breeders (including ours) ask to be the backup contact on the dog’s microchip for life and will take the dog back if the owner passes away.

3. Limited Registration: Many show/hobby/professional breeders will only sell dogs with a Limited Registration, meaning that the dog itself is fully registered with the American Kennel Club but any puppies that he or she produces cannot be registered. This protects the bloodline and means that puppy buyers cannot sell registered puppies from their dog, which would take away some of the monetary value that they could receive for puppies and reduces the likelihood that they will breed the dog.

4. Having a Demand Before Creating the Supply: Responsible breeders wait for a demand for their puppies before they create a supply. Jax was already in utero when we found him and we honestly got lucky. There was one spot left for a puppy buyer because his mother was pregnant with one “extra” puppy. Otherwise we would have been on a waiting list for the next litter which was planned for the following winter. He was born in March. Of course if we had not come along he would have simply stayed with the breeder just like his brother.

If you look at the page of the German Shorthaired Pointer who won Best in Show at Westminster in 2016 as of today it says, “We are sorry but at this time we have no litters available.” The Planned Litters page indicates that two litters are planned for the spring and that potential buyers can join the waitlist. This is the same with the Labrador Retriever who won Best of Breed last year and is indicative of a very responsible dog breeder who is committed to not creating dogs without a list of puppy buyers waiting to take them into loving homes.

5. Mandatory Spay/Neuter Clauses

Many breeders require their puppy buyers to spay/neuter their dogs within a certain time period. This also helps reduce unwanted litters, both intentional and accidental. This is dual purpose in helping decrease the pet population and potentially reducing the risk of certain cancers for both male and female dogs.

6. Co-owning Unaltered Dogs

Another common practice is for show/hobby/professional breeders to only allow co-owned dogs to be kept intact and able to reproduce. A co-owned dog typically lives with the puppy buyer full time and is only bred when the original breeder chooses.

7. Promoting Rescue and Shelter Adoptions

Of course purebred puppies from a breeder are not going to be the right option for everyone, and there are plenty of incredible purebred or mixed breed dogs waiting for their forever home in shelters and rescue organizations everywhere. Responsible breeders are often extremely supportive of dog adoption and rescue and will send potential puppy buyers to these resources if they do not have litters on the way or when they think that a buyer might do better with a grown dog or a different type of dog. This type of breeder is an overall dog lover and is just as upset by the rampant dog overpopulation problem and heart breaking euthanasia of healthy, innocent dogs as other dog lovers.

Rather than pointing the finger at responsible hobby/show/professional breeders who love their dogs and care about what happens to each and every puppy that they produce, we should continue to work on the extremely important work of stopping puppy mills, encouraging the adoption of both purebred and mixed breed dogs from shelters and rescue organizations, educating about why it is so important to spay and neuter all dogs who are not going to be bred by responsible breeders, and to teach current and future generations that dogs are a lifetime commitment, not something to be picked up at the mall or from a classified ad with the same amount of consideration as a sweater or a new handbag.

Understanding the Different Types of Dog Breeders
Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Understanding the Different Types of Dog Breeders

Understanding the Different Types of Dog Breeders

By Lynn Stacy-Smith

Understanding the Different Types of Dog BreedersToday is the second day of the Westminster Kennel Club show, a prestigious event that celebrates breeding stock of purebred dogs and my favorite sporting event of the year. With a pet overpopulation problem that results in 2.4 million innocent and healthy dogs and cats being euthanized each year, there are sometimes critics who say that we don’t need anyone breeding dogs and bringing additional animals into the world. I disagree, though, and feel that our purebred dog breeds are all an important part of the dog world that should be preserved for future generations.

To make that assumption that all breeders are responsible for homeless pets is unfair, and I think it is important to educate people that not all breeders are the same. In fact there are vast differences between responsible breeders and puppy mill operators. This is a topic that I cover in detail in my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner in Chapter 5: Breeder or Rescue, Where to Get Your Next Dog. Rather than re-write the wheel, here is an excerpt from my book:

“The words ‘dog breeder’ can elicit some very negative responses from individuals in the dog community. The truth is that there are a variety of different types of dog breeders ranging across a wide spectrums of levels of care, and it is neither fair nor accurate to lump them all in together. Some breeders love their dogs as if they gave birth to them, and they put care and love into each litter. Others are unscrupulous and inhumane to their dogs and help contribute to the pet overpopulation problem in two ways: producing more dogs than they have a need for and not sufficiently screening puppy buyers to ensure that they are committed to caring for the dog humanely for its entire life.

Unfortunately, too often good breeders are lumped in with bad breeders, but the fact of the matter is that there are many wonderful breeders who operate in such a way that if everyone who bred dogs followed their lead we would not have the heart wrenching pet overpopulation problem that we do in this country and across the world. While I agree with the ‘don’t shop, adopt’ concept, it is important to note that good breeders of purebred dogs are important to the world of dogs and to maintaining the breed standard of the breeds that we love so much.”

Here’s the difference:

Large Commercial Breeders: Large commercial breeders breed and house puppies in a manner similar to raising livestock: in large quantities in cages. These operations are known as “puppy mills” because they breed in large quantities. There are many horror stories of puppy mills in which dogs are undernourished, dehydrated and kept in cages too small where they bred over and over and over again. It is not uncommon for puppy mill dogs to never touch grass, run around or live a normal life.

These puppies are usually sold through pet stores. Because of the lack of attention to care, genetic issues, temperament or socialization from the puppy mill operators, many puppy mill puppies have substantial health issues. Adding to the tragedy is the fact that most pet stores do not full screen buyers sufficiently, if at all, to ensure that they are making a lifetime commitment instead of an impulse buy.

Backyard Breeders: The term “backyard breeder” typically refers to people who breed their own dogs but do not offer the same health guarantees and health checks as Hobby/Professional/Show Breeders. Some backyard breeders will breed just one litter because they have a beloved female dog and want one of her puppies to keep for their own, or because a friend or family member wants one of her puppies. In this situation it is quite possible that the parents and puppies are well-loved, quite healthy, and receive the utmost care and socialization.

Other backyard breeders are less scrupulous and breed their dogs for profit without the same high quality care and treatment. Backyard breeders who fall into this category often neglect their dogs and simply view them as a way to bring in income, similar to puppy mill operations but on a smaller scale.

Photo source:

Hobby/Show/Professional Dog Breeders: Professional dog breeders, sometimes called hobby or show breeders, breed for love of the breed and usually possess extensive knowledge of genetics, their bloodline, and common health problems of the breed. They are dedicated to maintaining the breed standard in all areas: health, appearance and temperament.

Professional breeders will ensure that all of their stud dogs and dams pass the standard tests for their breeds with the OFFA, also called the OFA, which is the Orthopedic Foundation for Animals. For example, with the Labrador Retriever, you should look for breeders who test for hips, elbows and eyes. Their females lead regular happy lives and only produce a few litters in their lifetime before they are spayed and retired. Some hobby/show/professional breed multiple litters a year and rely on that income and others breed just once or twice a year or when they would like to add another dog to their own dog family.

This type of breeder is the type involved in conformation shows like the Westminster Kennel Club show. They also participate in common sports and activities for the breed. For example, our friend/breeder from whom we purchased Jackson and Tinkerbell is actively involved in Hunt Tests, Conformation, Obedience, works professionally as a dog trainer and runs a boarding kennel in her community. One of her labs is in agility and another has worked as a reading dog, going into classrooms where children read to the dog to help their confidence and reading skills. Her dogs all live in the house with her and are beloved pets. 

What type of breeder can make it to Westminster? 

Often the Westminster coverage includes information on the day to day lives of some of the dogs in the competition. To debunk the myth that show dogs are only “good” for shows, many of the dogs who compete also participate in the sports and activities for which they were bred. For example many of the sporting breeds also hunt birds and have other jobs outside of the show ring as well as being beloved pets and companions.

The Westminster Kennel Club Show website has a great page called Find the Right Dog for You and includes this paragraph,

“As we have for many years during our televised broadcast, The Westminster Kennel Club will continue to make the following announcement: “If you are planning to add a dog to your life and have come to look over the best of the best, please note, no dog you have seen here (yesterday or today) came from a pet shop, or was the ‘product’, if you will, of a puppy mill. If you want a dog, go to the people who care – the dedicated specialty breeders who have made dogs like those you see here – a lifetime effort. Talk dogs with dog people who care and understand.”

Watch tomorrow for a related blog about tactics professional/show/hobby breeders use to help prevent pet overpopulation. 



Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Watching the Westminster Kennel Club Show: Dog Show Basics

For some it’s the Super Bowl that is the Holy Grail of sports, for other’s the Stanley Cup Finals. Other people live for the NBA Playoffs, and some (especially here in the Chicagoland area last Fall) are all about the World Series. For me, though, the sporting event of the year is hands down the Westminster Kennel Club Show. 

I’ve been watching Westminster for over twenty years and every February I circle the dates on the calendar, pointing out that this is as serious to me as the Walking Dead finale is to my husband and that we shall not talk over the announcer or have other such interruptions. Westminster is serious business, particularly Night Two when the Sporting Group gaits and stacks for the judges. 

For those of you not familiar with the world of dog shows, they are known as Conformation because dogs are judged to determine how they conform to the breed standard as set forth by each “parent club” of the breed. The Westminster Kennel Club, the host of the show, is part of the American Kennel Club (AKC). Labradors who enter the show are judged against the breed standard of The Labrador Retriever Club, which is the AKC parent club of the breed. The breed standard dictates everything about how a Labrador Retriever should appear, from their height and weight to the shape of their eyes, the color of their coat, their temperament and many, many other criteria. There are other kennel clubs with different parent clubs and breed standards, like the United Kennel Club, or UKC.

Labrador Breed standard from Erlastyn Kennels website

Sometimes criticized as being nothing but beauty contests, dog shows actually are intended to evaluate breeding stock in order to continue to produce puppies who meet the breed standard. The breed standard exists for functional and health reasons even though many of the traits are things that we love so much about our dogs because of their appearance. For example, the shape of a dog’s head can help or hinder him when hunting because it will impact their eyesight. The right or wrong build for shoulders and legs can impact how they move in the water or on land.

If you are a Labrador Retriever owner like me, that big thick otter tail that knocks glasses and knick-knacks off of your coffee table is actually so big and thick to act as a rudder when the dog is swimming. The double coat that sheds so much is designed to insulate the dog in cold weather or cold water to maximize the use of calories so that their energy is spent on the task at hand rather than staying warm. The webbed feet that pick up mud and track them into the house each spring are designed to help make them more efficient swimmers for their original purpose of helping fisherman with nets and hunters retrieve birds.

Westminster is my favorite show that is televised because they provide so much information on the dogs. Although I will always miss the signature voice of the late Roger Karas, the announcers usually do a good job of pointing out things to viewers like the fact that dogs who are meant to run a lot have large deep chests, and dogs with big floppy jowls and ears like Basset Hounds and Bloodhounds use those to pick a scent that they are tracking.

On Monday and Tuesday during the day, individual breeds will be judged together with the winner of each breed being dubbed Best of Breed. You can watch the live streaming online on the Westminster Kennel Club website. The coverage on TV each evening is of the Best of Group category.


Because each dog is judged against the breed standard and not each other, it is quite impressive that the judges are able to retain such vast knowledge of each breed standard in their group. Judges are incredibly experienced within the dog show world in order to be able to judge this category. Of course most viewers, myself included, root for their favorite breeds. I would love for the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and German Shorthaired Pointer to take spots one, two and three in that order, but so far that has not happened. That’s ok, though, because I have the best male and female example of the Labrador Retriever in my own home, at least as far as I’m concerned.

Tomorrow I will share information about the different types of dog breeders and how responsible loving breeders are too frequently lumped in with puppy mill operators. That topic is also an important part of my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner. Also check out this page from the Westminster Kennel Club called Find the Right Dog for You. Finally, if you haven’t yet, I invite you to read my blog from last year’s show, called Not Just Another Pretty Face: Researching that Show Dog on TV. 

For more detailed information on how dog shows are judged, click here:

Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Dogs as Gifts? Dos and Don’ts of Getting a Dog During the Holidays

In my last blog I wrote about the right and wrong way to bring a dog home for the holidays. In this second part I share the dos and don’ts of getting a new dog or puppy over Christmas and New Year’s:

Image from

DO NOT purchase a puppy on a whim from a backyard breeder or pet store. Maybe you have wanted to get a dog forever, but wanting is not the same as researching and analyzing. Those puppies who look adorable in their baby cribs at mall pet stores may look like adorable little balls of fluff, and don’t get me wrong, they are. But they also need house training, obedience training, bite inhibition training, veterinary care, food, water, physical exercise, mental exercise and a lot more for ten, fifteen, even as long as twenty years. If you want an honest account of what being a dog owner is like, read Chapter 4 of my book.

DO NOT purchase a puppy or dog for someone else. Choosing a dog for someone else is not ok, unless it is a very specific situation like a service dog who is matched with a person with specific needs. For the everyday pet, though, never buy a dog as a gift. Once again, a dog is a living, breathing, feeling creature who will depend on their human for as long as twenty years. Becoming a dog owner is a decision only the owner can make.

I recently saw a post on Facebook in a dog owner group about a woman whose dog had recently passed away and her grown son decided to get her another puppy to cheer her up. The woman was distraught because as a responsible dog owner, she had very specific thoughts on when another dog would be right for her, what type of dog she wanted to get next, and she was not ready to just move on yet, but was suddenly responsible for a new dog based on someone else’s idea of what they thought she would want.

DO take advantage of a long break from work to bring a new dog or puppy home only after careful consideration and analysis of your lifestyle and budget. There are some situations in which bringing a new dog home at the holidays could be ok. For some, the time over Christmas and New Year’s is insane with holiday gatherings and places to go, people to visit. If this is your situation, this is not the right time to get a new dog. However, if you have done the research about the right dog, given an honest assessment of your lifestyle and if a dog fits into your life, reviewed your budget and living situation to make sure that you will not find yourself unable to pay vet bills or unable to find a suitable place for you and the dog to live, then taking advantage of a long break from work over the holidays might be a good time for a new dog to come home if you are planning a long and home based break.

I am a big fan of taking at least a week off of work when a new dog or puppy comes home, and some adults like teachers or people who work in corporate offices that close over Christmas might find that this time is perfect for bonding with a new dog, working on house training and getting your new family member acclimated to your home and life as long as you do not need to travel or be out of the house attending to other commitments. It is important for the first two or three days of life with your new puppy or dog to be quiet, calm, stress-free and positive for your dog, so if you are the type to spend Christmas week in your PJs at home, you and your new dog could develop the start of a beautiful new friendship over your break.

DO INCLUDE YOUR CHILDREN in the entire process. Surprising kids with a puppy under the tree with a ribbon around her neck is not a good learning experience. How often do kids get bored with their new toys within a month or less after Christmas? Ours certainly did when they were little.

Instead of surprising kids, have this conversation instead, “Instead of us getting you a bunch of presents this year, we have been thinking about this for a very long time, and the time is finally right to go to the shelter or rescue and pick out a dog and give him or her a new forever home with us. We are also going to give a donation to the shelter to help the other dogs who are still looking for their homes.” Of course you should adjust this based on the age of your children, but even little kids can understand the basics of giving a homeless dog a warm and loving home.

Part of my book focuses on the importance of training human children and how they need to be taught how to act around dogs as much as your dog needs to learn how to act around them. By explaining to them the thought process that you went through before adding a dog to your family, by teaching them how to act around the dog, and how important it is that you train the dog to understand the rules of their home, you are setting them up to be amazing dog owners when they are adults.

DO NOT cave to your kids’ pleas to get a dog if you are not ready. Please do not do this, I beg of you. This has disaster all over it, just the same as getting a dog to teach kids about responsibility is not fair to a dog. You can teach your kids how to care for a dog by having them watch what you do or guiding them step by step through the process, but turning over all of the responsibility to a child or teenager is not fair to the dog. If your kids are very young, they are too little to care for a dog on their own. If they are older, chances are they will go off to college while the dog is still alive. Either way, if you do not want a dog, don’t get a dog, because you are going to be the person caring for it and it is not fair to have a dog and view it as a burden or an afterthought. A dog should only be brought home as a cherished and beloved family member in order to receive the best treatment and care that it deserves.

For additional information on bringing a new dog into your home, check out my one-on-one owner coaching and workshops Preparing for a New Puppy or Dog and Surviving Puppyhood.

Blogs, Creating a Happy, Healthy Life, Planning for a New Dog

Dogs as Gifts? The Right & Wrong Way to Bring a Dog Home During the Holidays


Christmas is just 11 days away. In our house, we are enjoying nightly Christmas movies on TV, Labradors sleeping in front of the Christmas tree, and counting the number of Star Shower Motion Laser lights in our neighborhood.

Of course all of the commercials during the Christmas movies are also holiday themed, and I had an educational conversation with my 13 year old daughter recently when we were watching a commercial in which a puppy was given as a Christmas present.

“Just for the record, dogs are NEVER a Christmas present,” I scornfully trash talked at the TV.

“Why not?” she asked, a little annoyed with me.

“Well, because it’s a living breathing creature that should only be brought into your home after a lot of thought and consideration to the fact that it is likely to be with you for the next 10-15 years and will need tons of time, training , money and attention. Plus people should pick out their own dogs, AND because most of the holiday puppies that are purchased are from pet stores who are selling puppy mill puppies. And if you’re not familiar with what a puppy mill puppy is, it’s a puppy born onto what’s basically a dog farm where their mothers and fathers are kept in cages their entire lives, the mothers give birth to litter after litter without a break, they never get to run and play and they are treated quite cruelly. So no, dogs are NEVER a Christmas present,” I answered.


I continued to explain the circumstances in which getting a dog around the holidays would be ok. “Now, if a family or a couple has thought through all of the things that a dog needs, decided that their schedule is suitable for a dog, their lifestyle is suitable for a dog, their budget is ok for a dog, and that they understand that they are making a lifetime commitment, what they could do is tell the kids that instead of buying them as many presents as other years, that they are all going to go to a shelter and choose a dog together to give the dog a new home for Christmas, then that’s a whole other story. Then they can involve the kids in the process and share with them the very special and important decision that they are making.”

After that, she was on board with what I was saying. In fact, because she attends most of my dog events with me as my helper, she is very knowledgable about the plight of dogs and the incredible responsibility involved in owning a dog, probably more than other thirteen year olds. I know that her initial annoyance with me was because she was thinking that any dog would be lucky to get a new home at Christmas, probably picturing happy families and furry puppies in a utopian scenario of love and commitment, without realizing that many of those Christmas puppies are purchased on a whim and end up in shelters after the new year because the owners did not think through what they were doing.

Because she lives in a family that values the life of animals, she doesn’t realize how many people do not value their lives. The older she gets, the more we fill her in on the things that happen to far too many dogs because of cruelty, neglect, and sometimes people simply losing interest in a dog they brought home on a whim.

Until recently I don’t think she knew how many shelter dogs never make it back out of the shelter. We go to so many rescue and adoption events that I think she thought all dogs went to new homes, and she was horrified to find out that millions of them do not and that they are put to death for no fault of their own because of the vast pet overpopulation problem.

I am going to cost lots of money in food, training, vet visits, toys, treats and other supplies for as long as 15 years. Are you ready for me- (4)In my book I talk about how being an adorable little puppy is both a blessing and a curse to far too many dogs, because those fluffy little bodies and kissable puppy faces cause some humans to lose all logic and purchase them without a thought to what the puppy will need for the next ten to twenty years of their life. They might have gone to the mall for a sweater and a sale on bath products; instead they brought home a living breathing creature that they are not prepared to raise.

Puppy mills are manufacturers and do not deserve the name breeders; they create the supply of puppies to stock the cribs and cages of the pet stores who sell them. In the same way that if you purchase a pair of jeans from a clothing store, the clothing store will replenish the supply of jeans that were sold, the puppy mill will continue to keep dogs in misery producing more puppies to fill the demand that the purchase of that puppy created. This happens regardless of whether or not the puppy that was purchased stays in its home forever or is surrendered to a shelter a month later because it was “too hard” to care for.

Truly responsible breeders have a demand before the female is even pregnant, because they do not ever want a puppy that they bred to be in danger or be put to sleep unnecessarily. Breeders like this are dedicated to making sure that each and every puppy that they create is loved, nurtured and cared for his or her entire life. They are actually unlikely to even have a litter of “Christmas puppies” available because their dogs are forever dogs, not something selected on a whim, not something given as a gift or selected as if it were the season’s hottest toy.

Watch for Dos and Don’ts to Bringing Home a New Dog at Christmas

in the next Love, Laugh, Woof blog.





Blogs, Planning for a New Dog

Not Just Another Pretty Face: Researching That Beautiful Show Dog On TV

Last night was my favorite night in televised sports. It has been on the calendar for months, a night when my family knows that they should not plan on anything other than my favorite event being on the television. Last night was night two of the Westminster Kennel Club show.

Night two of the Westminster Kennel Club show always starts off with the Sporting Group. If you  are not familiar with the different groups of a dog show, this group includes breeds who have been bred to assist bird hunters in various ways like finding birds, flushing them from tall grasses, or retrieving them from fields and ponds for the hunter.

I grew up with Labrador Retrievers and German Shorthaired Pointers because my father hunted waterfowl and upland game, so our dogs were beloved pets all week and hunted with Dad on weekends. While they loved snuggling in bed with us, playing games of fetch and swimming with us, they were never happier than when they were out in a marsh or a field with Dad as the sun rose on a Saturday morning, waiting for their chance to fetch some ducks or quail. They would come home later in the day and crash in front of the fireplace, sound asleep, paws twitching as they ran in their sleep and most likely dreaming of their next hunting trip.

Dutch as a puppy

Dad always gave me his issues of Gun Dog magazine when he was finished reading them because he knew how much I loved to look at the puppy photos that readers had sent to the magazine. Although I had no interest in actually going hunting, I loved reading the articles about the different types of dogs, how they worked, the connection between dog and hunter, and how using a trained dog helped preserve wildlife because they insured that each bird that was killed was brought to the hunter instead of lying un-utilized in the field. Each bird that Dad and our dogs brought home ended up on our dinner table.

As a result of a lifetime of browsing through Gun Dog magazine, I have vast knowledge of the breeds of the sporting group and they are my “favorite” types of dogs. Watching the Sporting Group at Westminster is like sports fans watching their teams advance through the playoffs; first and foremost I am team Labrador, with the German Shorthaired Pointer as a very close second.

One time one time when my mom and I were out for a hike and met a woman who was walking a medium-sized reddish dog with white markings. I had just read about the “toller” who has a very unique job of luring ducks closer to the shoreline. “Oh my gosh, is that a Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever?” I asked, bursting with excitement. “Uh, no, it’s a mixed breed of some sort,” she responded as both she and my mother looked at me as if I had gone crazy. “What?” I asked Mom as we walked away and she was laughing at me, “I read Dad’s hunting magazines all the time.”

As a three-year old German Shorthaired Pointer named CJ won Best In Show last night I stood in my living room cheering the same way we cheered the years Chicago BlackHawks won the Stanley Cup. I missed my own late German Shorthaired Pointer Dutch as I watched CJ gait around the ring and then stack up for judging, such a perfect example of the breed with his speckled coat, the regal lines of the dog’s perfectly muscled body,  and the piercing intelligent eyes.

And then I had an “oh no” moment. And that “oh no” moment was followed by “what if?”

The “Regal Jester”

The “regal jester” as the GSP is nicknamed is a magnificent looking dog that houses a whole lot of energy and, to quote the great Margaret Mitchell in Gone With the Wind, “a passion for living.” Or as I like to call them: crazy dogs.

What if people went out and bought German Shorthaired puppies based on seeing this beautiful and unique looking dog win Best In Show and did not do their research to find out what the breed is really like? How many of those puppies will end up surrendered, or locked up in kennels and crates as punishment because their owners don’t know what to do with their energy? How many puppy mill and backyard breeders would increase their supply of GSPs to keep up with a demand that “good” breeders would be smart enough not to respond to?

In the late 1990s animal shelters around the country reported an alarming increase in Dalmatian surrenders following the release of the live action 101 Dalmatians movie. This was a result of parents purchasing Dalmatian puppies because of the way the dogs were portrayed in the movie without doing their research about whether or not the breed would be a good fit for their family. Conversely, a 2004 study of Best In Show winners from 1946 to 2002 showed that winning Westminster did not cause an increase in the popularity of the winning breed, but that study is now 12 years old and was done before social media became a factor, so I would personally be interested in the authors of the study doing an update.

As a result of my “oh no” and “what if” moments, I came up with some suggestions on watching the Westminster Kennel Club show or browsing the descriptions of different breeds and how to translate some of the descriptive phrases about each breed into regular everyday language.

“And with enough exercise, he’s well suited to family life, too.” This was on the Westminster Kennel Club website to describe the German Shorthaired Pointer and I had to laugh, wondering if they wanted to write, “This breed is insane and full of energy.” Every German Shorthaired Pointer I have ever known has had endless energy and was full of silly antics. Dutch took games of zoomies to an entirely new level and showed no signs of slowing down even in his senior years.

When Jackson was a puppy and full of youthful Labrador energy we met a neighbor with a GSP puppy the exact same age, so of course we visited a few times for puppy play dates. Little Banelli would run circles around my Jackson and tire him out so much that I had to carry him the few blocks home because he was too tired to walk. Before their play dates I would not have believed it was possible to wear out my sweet and energetic puppy, except that I had previously had my own GSP and knew how much energy was contained in that regal looking body.

Active family: This means ACTIVE, in all caps, bolded and in italics. Active like interested in hiking or taking long, long, LONG walks and spending plenty of time outside playing fetch and other games with the dog. Couch potatoes need not apply. A dog who needs an active family will drive you crazy if you are not truly active and 100% committed to taking time to exercise with your dog. A quick walk around the block is going to be insufficient and unfair to such a dog. Without an active family the dog will be bouncing off the walls, getting into “trouble” though no fault of his or her own, all because a potential owner did not understand how active the dog needs to be.

Keen intellect: Dogs with a keen intellect will be eager to learn. However, if you do not train your super smart dog, he or she will find something to do with that sharp mind, and it probably will not be something you like or want your dog to do. If you cannot make a commitment to putting a lot of time and energy into training a dog who has a keen intellect, as well as doing lifetime continuing education with the dog, you and your dog will be equally miserable. Dogs with a keen intellect will excel in a job like a therapy dog or a fun dog sport with you by their side. Once again, this is a warning to owners who want a dog who is happy chilling on the sofa and simply spending time with their humans.

Not a Breed for the First Time Dog Owner: I heard this used to describe a large breed from the working group. What does this mean? This means that you will need to be a firm (but humane and fair) leader to your dog to ensure that your dog knows the rules of the house and that you are always in charge. Training will be critical to your dog’s future as well as your own; training is not something that can be skipped or taken lightly.

With Strong Character and Extreme Stubbornness: These go along with the above listed, “not a breed for the first time dog owner” and should be taken seriously. Unless you are an experienced dog owner with the ability to put in the time and train your dog correctly, including proper socialization and temperament training, some breeds are just not for everyone. No matter what sort of gorgeous coat or unique look that they have, if your dog is in control of you (instead of vice versa) and unwilling to obey the rules of living in a human house, you will do both of you a disservice by adding him or her to your home.

Fortunately there are many dogs who are described as “easy to train”, “easy-going” or “gentle nature” who are great for new or less experienced dog owners whether you are going with a purebred dog or a mixture of breeds. There are also plenty of dog trainers available to guide you every step of the way since no matter the breed description, raising a healthy and happy dog will always require patience and continual training whether they are extremely stubborn, keenly intellectual or easy-going.

Some great resources for researching a particular breed of dog include:

Westminster Kennel Club:

American Kennel Club:

Pet finder:

Most importantly, if you find yourself set on getting a purebred dog, definitely check with breed specific rescue groups. Sadly millions of purebred dogs are abandoned by owners who did not do the research needed before acquiring a dog and you can give one of those dogs a new life and the loving and committed home that every dog deserves.





Blogs, Planning for a New Dog




The Reality

Dogs are messy, hairy, time consuming, needy creatures. They are often stinky, they love to eat and roll around in the grossest things. They bring you disgusting things, sometimes alive, sometimes not.

Most of them shed. A lot. Count on vacuuming multiple times a week. Your vacuum will smell like dog. You yourself will shed. You will have lint rollers in every room, in your desk, in every handbag. People who drop in unannounced will likely see dog-hair tumbleweeds drifting across your hard surfaces if you haven’t vacuumed in a day or so.

During puppyhood you will go in and out of the house at least every twenty minutes while they are awake, at least for the first few weeks. The first few days home you will likely be outside with them at midnight, 2 am, 4am, 6am. You will be so tired you want to cry. You will follow them around keeping them out of trouble and teaching them the word “no”. You will say “no” more than you ever thought possible.

You will spend the first six to twelve months training them, for hour upon hour. I’ve heard it said that it takes 100 hours of training to form a well behaved pet dog. Those fun and carefree walks you dreamt of? You will spend months walking just a few feet at a time teaching loose leash walking and heel before you get to that point.

When they are senior citizens you will carry them up stairs, lift them into your vehicle, pick them up when they fall down. They will require medicines, many trips to the vet, expensive tests. They may develop incontinence problems that make them feel such shame that you cannot scold them. They may revert back to naughty puppy behaviors, their bodies failing them but their minds still going strong and no way to keep themselves entertained.

You will not be able to leave the house for more than 10 to 12 hours at a time without arranging for a pet sitter. Add the expense of a kennel or pet sitter whenever you want to travel for work, for vacation. Say goodbye to after work drinks with friends unless someone is home to let them out. You will have just enough time to run into the convenience store for a gallon of milk on your way home, because you are playing beat the clock with their bladder. You will need a midday potty break for them when they are puppies, when they are seniors or if you work long days or have a long commute.

Dogs will eat grass, lots of it, and then puke it up on your floors. There will be middle of the night trips outside for upset bowels. You will have a special section under your sink just for pet cleanup supplies. You will have puddles of water and slobber in your kitchen, where you will step in it and get a wet sock. You will have random slobber marks on your clothing from where they laid their heads on you.

You will get up far earlier than you would like, every day of the week, every week of the year that your dog is in your life. Dogs don’t know it’s the weekend. They just know that their stomachs are empty and their bladders are full, and both need to be remedied immediately. If you are lucky you will master the art of falling back asleep after you have cared for your dog’s needs. You can also add at least a half hour to your morning routine as you will no longer be the only one who needs attention each day before work.

When you take a dog into your home you take on an expensive, time consuming and life long burden in which you are 100% responsible for the safety and well being of another creature for life, anywhere from 10 to 20 years depending on the breed. It is a huge responsibiilty, nearly as much as having a human child You are the center of your dog’s universe. And you chose that role. They had no choice.

I know this because this is my life. I am a dog owner. My dogs are forever dogs. And I wouldn’t want it any other way. The mess, the expense, the “inconvenience”, the lack of sleep, the slobber on my pants, the hair nearly woven into my favorite sweater, the doggie nose art on my windows…I cannot imagine my life without my dogs. They are part of my soul. They are a part of who I am.

Not everyone goes into dog ownership knowing the honest truth of what is involved. And that is the reason why so many dogs end up in shelters, or maltreated and tossed aside like a piece of trash. Not everyone understands the work, the monetary cost, the dedication that it takes to be a dog owner. Not everyone understands it is forever.

The Bottom Line

The bottom line: if you do not think you can handle the reality of dog ownership, do not do it. Period. Visit other people’s dogs, volunteer at shelters, or find a way to have periodic contact with dogs, but do not get one unless you are fully prepared to be there for life. It is simply not fair to the dog.

Dog ownership carries the same dedication as marriage vows, for better or for worse, in sickness and in health, as long as you both shall live. The difference? If you want to separate from your dog, they cannot be self sufficient. They must find a new home, and those homes are not always easy to come by. If you want to separate from your dog, it is often a death sentence. A death sentence that you can avoid by really thinking through if your life is right for the tremendous and amazing responsbility of sharing your life with a dog.

The Reward

If you are ok with all of the negatives that I have listed, then you will love the positives. The sweet loving eyes, wagging tails, and warm greetings when you get home. The silly antics, playful spirit, the games of fetch and their uncomplicated friendship and companionship. The snuggles, the love in your heart when you catch them dreaming with paws twitching and tails wagging. The look that says to you, 365 days a year, that they love you, that you are their world, their human, and that they too cannot imagine their life without you in the same way that you cannot fathom a world without them. The long walks, the expeditions, the car rides, the you-and-me-against-the-world mind-meld.

If you are ok with the negatives, then you are ready for the positives, because they sure do make up for any amount of dog hair and early morning potty breaks.