Many of you may have noticed there's no lack of puppies in the Texas panhandle. They're everywhere. I also know for a fact that very few of them come from reputable breeders. The term “reputable breeder” in and of itself often makes me cringe. I know they exist somewhere but the truth of the matter is (as an associate of countless thousands of people) that in real life, I know ONE. ONE girl breeding English Bulldogs gets the mother sonograms, has papers on lineage, makes sure they're fully vetted, takes the time to properly socialize them, makes sure they're housetrained, and has homes lined up for them before they're even born.
I honestly can't scream loud enough about the importance of having your dogs spayed and/or neutered. “But we want little Jenny to experience the miracle of birth!” Well, it's not so much a “miracle” as it is a scientific, chemical reaction. If you have a female in heat who is allowed to be outside, supervised or not (which is against the law in Amarillo and many other places, by the way), chances are, there's a male out there somewhere with testicles who is going to do anything he can to get to your precious little girl. He may or may not be friendly about it. He may or may not be size-appropriate (think German Shepherd vs. Yorkie). If you have a male with testicles who seems to keep running off, he's very likely running off to get some sexy time with that floozy up the block. You may or may not care about puppies if they aren't on your property, but I guarantee that car coming up the street doesn't care why your dog is out, or whether or not he's friendly. Street pizza isn't much fun to explain to little Jenny either.
I understand that with all my ranting 'till I'm blue in the face, people are still going to have puppies... ignoring the fact that there are literally thousands coming through the doors of our shelter every year. (Keep in mind the entirety of this may not be applicable in other states. Some states actually have a shortage of puppies – such as Colorado and New York – but I'm talking about Texas, and specifically the panhandle. It's a very real and very BIG problem.) Having said that, I shall implore the general lot of you that if you're going to do it anyway, do it right.
I've lost count of the number of dogs I've worked with who were aggressive, fearful, or downright socially retarded whose owners told me they got them from a “breeder” at somewhere between 4 and 6 weeks of age. That right there tells me they got lied to. Where these dogs really came from was someone who didn't care to get their dogs fixed and most likely had an “oops” litter, so we'll just pretend we weren't careless in the Craigslist ad and meant to do that. Or they're of the ilk, “Well, we just wanted Old Blue to have a litter before we got her fixed because someone back in the 40s said that's what was best for the dog.” Also not true. Your dog does NOT need to “experience the miracle of birth” to be a perfectly well-adjusted dog. Most times when these people DO wind up with a litter of 8-10 puppies running around their house, chewing on everything imaginable with their razor sharp teeth (including your hands and feet), urinating and defecating in every spot available, they realize puppy formula and food can get expensive real damn quick (not to mention the irritation of having to wake up every two hours because they're screaming for food), and they decide to get rid of them early because puppies – especially in large quantities - really are a pain in the ass. Even fewer still are those that take the time, effort, and expense of getting those puppies to a vet to get them started on their shots.
I know this may come as a surprise to some of you but dogs don't speak English. Dogs communicate through their body language (eyes, ears, tails, posture) and, failing that, with their mouths. They learn dog language from their mothers and siblings. There's a very critical period between 4 weeks (when they get their teeth) and 8-10 weeks (when they're usually placed elsewhere) that they learn bite inhibition. With any dog, it's not a matter of IF they'll bite, it's WHEN. Learning how much force to use when that happens can be the difference between a tiny nip (that may or may not touch your skin – or another dog's for that matter) and serious puncture wounds on down the line to mauling with multiple punctures and muscle tearing. When puppies play too roughly with their siblings or bite them too hard, that sibling goes away. If they bite mom too hard, she snaps back at them to teach them what is and is not appropriate.
I worked with a dog last week who came from an “oops” litter in Canyon; he was about 10 weeks old, and probably a boxer mix. He's a playful, cute little guy who most likely doesn't have any ill intent. But when this dog bit me trying to take a treat from my hand, I screamed words that I don't like to say in front of new clients. I checked the palm of my hand, certain I was about to start bleeding. Luckily, I was wrong and just badly bruised. It was then I told my clients that I suspected he'd been taken from his litter too early. Not only did they get him from the “breeder” at 6 weeks of age, as soon as the puppies could see (at 2 weeks), they were separated from each other. The person told the new owners she'd done that to keep the puppies' feelings from getting hurt when they were eventually re-homed. She couldn't bear the thought of those puppies being sad and missing their brothers and sisters. Instead, what she managed to do was create socially retarded little monsters with ZERO bite inhibition.
Now, before you light the pitchforks because I “used the 'R' word” let me explain that I mean it in the literal, dictionary sense. Adjective: characterized by a slowness or limitation in intellectual understanding and awareness, emotional development, academic progress, etc.
Dogs who are robbed of the opportunity to learn how to effectively communicate with one another often show signs of aggression towards other dogs, usually based in fear. Then there's the whole biting thing to top it off.
In addition to puppies socializing with other puppies (mainly littermates before 8 weeks) and older dogs (once they're fully vaccinated), it's also critically important that they're socialized with a multitude of people. All too often, puppies are only exposed to one or two people until their adolescence or adulthood. Puppies need to meet all kinds of people - tall people, short people, skinny people, thick people, light people, dark people, people with glasses, people with hats- because this dog WILL encounter a person not exactly like you somewhere during its lifetime, and if it hasn't already built a positive association with that particular type of person, they will most likely be fearful of that person (especially men and children). They may growl, bark, lunge, or even bite. For this reason, it's a good idea to look into having puppy parties. (I'm looking at you here, too, fosters!!) Your window for socializing your puppy to new and different people comes to a pretty tight close at about three months of age, so BEFORE that happens, invite them to your house! Have your lady friends over for a make-up party (or whatever it is that “normal” girls do – speaking of socially retarded... *ahem*). Get your bro-dudes over for a football game. Everyone gives the puppy a treat (one at a time, guys, don't freak them out). Everyone picks the puppy up. Everyone cradles the puppy. Everyone fidgets with the puppy's ears and feet. (Don't forget the back feet!) Then you pass the puppy along to the next person on the couch, or whatever. If you don't know anyone else who isn't exactly like you, you should probably leave your house more often. Go talk to your neighbors, at the very least. Your puppy will be better off for it, and you will, too.