clue, Dog Behavior and Training, General, Juno, Mystery puppies, Responsible Ownership

Don’t buy a corgi

"I managed to teach him when it was OK to bark by smacking him in the face every time he did it unnecessarily." 

"I am squirting her in the face but she keeps barking."

"Where can I find a groomer who can shave down my dog, because the shedding is killing me."

"We're getting rid of the dog because she nips the kids. They can't go anywhere without her biting their feet; she's out of control and dangerous."

"Every time I walk with her to put out the garbage, she keeps getting in front of me. I try kicking her, but she still won't move."

Every single quote up there is (with names removed) real. 

Every single one is recent.

Every single one resulted in a dog being punished, rehomed, or euthanized.

I don't think it's any secret how much I love Cardigans, and my affection extends to Pems due to the brotherhood of short-leggers. I won't breed Pems because of the docking issue, but I think they're great little dogs. But perhaps in my enthusiasm for them I have not been clear about a few things. 

1) Corgis are supposed to bark a huge amount. 

Note that I don't just say "Corgis bark a huge amount." This is not a problem that you're supposed to solve by training or punishment. The constant barking is not a trick your dog is trying to pull on you. The chaos every time they hear a leaf fall is not a sign of rebellion. Hypersensitivity to things being out of place is a trait that was deliberately cultivated for hundreds if not thousands of years in these breeds. And since barking is just a sign of emotion that crosses a certain threshold, hypersensitive dogs bark. 

Clue is sitting on the couch about three feet from me right now. In the five minutes I've been writing this, she has barked 44 times and whined ten times. As I type this she is listening to Doug take the recycling out and is letting me know that he's out there by staring and woofing softly. As he turns toward the house, she whines and jumps off the couch, goes to the door, and whines again. 

Clue is a very quiet Cardigan. 

I really do mean that – as Cardis go she has a very low barking level. She's always modulated her tone for indoors and she'll go a couple hours at a time without barking. But still. Forty-four barks in five minutes. 

Clue's daughter Juno, on the other hand, has not yet learned how to filter any kind of stimulus (she hasn't learned which things are worth barking at) and she has an extremely high-pitched bark. She barks more and more as she gets more excited and happy and occupied, and the only thing that quiets her down is being completely exhausted.

We spend a LOT of time exhausting Juno.

If you are bothered by excessive barking, or you are in a situation where a lot of barking – and remember, "a lot" of barking means a level substantially above 44 barks every five minutes – will be annoying to your family, neighbors, community, animal control officer, or spouse, please DO NOT BUY A CORGI.

2) Corgis are supposed to herd things.

I think maybe people hear this and think "Oh, how adorable, those little legs running after stuff!"

Here's what falls under a dog "herding":

– Pausing, anticipating where your wife is going to be five seconds from now, and then running full-tilt and hurling himself into her ankles. While she's on her way out the door to work wearing new clothes.

– Trotting beside you, and then the moment you stop moving, jumping up and biting your love handles. Hard.

– As you carry hot coffee and two muffins balanced on top of each other, repeatedly slamming into your legs and trying to trip you.

– Running beside your walking feet, biting you repeatedly on your feet and ankles. 

– As your ancient and beloved Poodle totters across the lawn, bolting out and diving into her midsection.

– When your sister's kids, who are scared of dogs, come over, standing braced and barking in their faces as loudly as he can, then running and tackling them when they scream and flee.

Some of these behaviors you can adjust – I certainly don't stand by and laugh as my dogs tackle tiny kids – but every single one is natural to corgis and every single one is going to be attempted and attempted repeatedly. If you don't work very hard to adjust them they will become habitual. And even when you do manage to communicate to the dog that he shouldn't herd people, he's not going to generalize that to other dogs, golf carts, cats, horses, groundhogs, your neighbor's prize chickens, etc. He's still going to try every single one of them with each of those things. 

If any of the above would be a reason for you to dislike a dog, DO NOT BUY A CORGI. 

3) Corgis are supposed to shed. 

Every year, a corgi grows and then sheds out several million undercoat hairs. These hairs are very soft and light, like down, and they're kinked, which means they float on the air and then, when they land, burrow themselves into your boucle jacket and refuse ever to be disunited from it. Sweeping these hairs just throws them up into the breathable atmosphere. They stick to everything, instantly, and resist any attempt to vacuum them off. They accumulate in mysterious drifts above your china cabinet. They are found in the backs of your drawers and cupboards.

Clipping the dog short doesn't do a thing except allow them to shed shorter hairs with sharper ends. Now they're everywhere and they're prickly

It has been my experience that feeding a raw diet keeps the shedding to those times each year when the coat is letting go. So the shedding is confined to a week or two every four to six months. On the other hand, I now have six dogs, all on a different coat-blowing schedule. That means I'm pretty constantly dealing with obscene snowdrifts of corgi hair. 

The charming thing that nobody tells you? Every dog will spontaneously shed both hair AND SKIN when they get nervous. That means you can spend sixteen straight hours cleaning your house for your mother-in-law, and the moment she steps in the house your dog will dump three pounds of hair and big flakes of dog dandruff all over the couch. 

If the thought of cleaning up, eating, drinking, apologizing for, endlessly vacuuming, and transporting to work lots and lots of dog hair is a negative – DON'T BUY A CORGI. 

The tragic consequence of people getting corgis when they should not is that all of these behaviors become reasons to define the dog as bad and punish her. And they'll get endless sympathy from people saying "Oh, my, what a bad dog."

Corgis are many things, but they are GREAT dogs. It's OUR fault that we are asking a herding dog, a dog who was beautifully constructed to renew its down jacket every time it got raggedy, to live in a situation where they can't act like themselves without it being labeled "bad." 

The ideal situation is for people who can't live with barking to not get a herding dog or other dog who relies on barking to do its job. The second best, which is still acceptable, is to sympathetically work WITH the dog to minimize barking and minimize punishment, knowing that you're the weird one who can't have normal behavior, not the dog. There are lots of ways to do this, most of them involving praise and distraction and lots of exercise. I'm also very much in favor of debarking when it's done by an experienced vet, because debarking allows the dog to behave normally (bark a huge amount) without being punished or distracted.

What I think is not acceptable is labeling barking – or herding or shedding – as some kind of rebellion or bad behavior; saying that the dog "just won't be good." You'll get a ton of sympathy with that attitude, but it's not the right one to have. You are the one who bought a herding dog and who lives in an apartment or in a subdivision; you've chosen a lot more unnatural an existence than the dog has. So while we may work to change a dog's behavior in order to live in the community we've chosen, we should do so with a bit of apology in our hearts and try to make the rest of his life as much like his soul wants it to be as possible. 

 

 

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If this was helpful to you and you'd like to help us rescue and foster dogs, here are Amazon links to the books and tools mentioned in the article – and thank you so much!

– Joanna

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19 Comments

  • Reply Erin July 24, 2010 at 9:37 pm

    Wonderful post! Brava! Corgis are the best little dogs (notice I say they’re the best little dogs, not the best dogs, because, gotta love me some Aussies!). The reason I think they have the potential to be the absolute best pet dog ever is because you get that wonderful herding dog temperament and ability (which for me is the only kind of dog I could ever want) in a very convenient, portable package. I think where people mess up is seeing that they are cute and little and mistaking them for something akin to a toy breed or a cocker spaniel. They are most definitely not those kinds of dogs. And I, for one, would never want them to be. My corgi has zero problem keeping up with and kicking the Aussies’ butts, but that doesn’t surprise me because I knew what I was getting into when I got a herding dog, even a short one. My little 20 lb Lyla is tough as nails, bossy, and would do a job all day long, preferably one chasing things, if I let her. Maybe if we just tell people to think of them as short, slightly less neurotic BCs? =)(Note: I would change the shedding if I could, but I’ve learned to live with it. It’s a small price to pay for my wonderful dogs, and adds an interesting “accessory” to every piece of dark clothing I ever wear.)

    On a side note, about herding, since starting herding lessons with Lyla, I have been noticing a lot more “funny behaviors” as herding instinct. Like how she bites the side of the giant beach ball while simultaneously chasing it. I notice that as griping which is a vital part of getting the sheep to take her seriously when they’re being little jerks. It’s funny how much natural herding instinct I can see in her now that I know what I’m looking for. She’s a cool little dog!

  • Reply Crystal (and Maisy) July 24, 2010 at 9:50 pm

    I guess I can have a corgi, then! 🙂

    My current dog is half corgi, and boy do we hear about it when things are out of place. I totally recognize that hypersensitivity that you describe. Herding behaviors? Yup. Again, we’ve worked on that, and it’s mostly under control, but when she gets excited (ie, when I get home from work) she jumps up and grabs at my shirt. I find it mostly cute at this point. And shedding… well, let’s just say that I’ve been told I no longer need to bring anything to the office pot luck. If you know what I mean, lol.

    It’s kind of amazing that we can love these dogs so much, but they ARE great dogs. 🙂

  • Reply Stephanie July 24, 2010 at 10:28 pm

    I love your blog in general because you’re so honest, but this post is really a keeper — every breed has flaws and things that are challenging to live with, and each owner should realize what they can and cannot deal with.

    As an example, I could not deal with a herding dog’s barking. Could not. Couldn’t deal with the herding either. This is why I don’t have ‘true’ herding dogs, only one German shepherd mix who could consider counting if she weren’t so lazy.

    Knowing what you do and do not want is the way to have a good relationship with a dog.

  • Reply Courtney Keys July 24, 2010 at 10:30 pm

    Yeah the hair is out of control and the barking sears my ears … But I adore my girl!!!!

  • Reply Sherilyn Curti July 24, 2010 at 10:49 pm

    I had a gal complain to me that her dog was digging holes all over her back yard and she didn’t know how to get the dog to stop digging….I said, you bought a Scottish Terrier and didn’t expect it to dig? Its a terrier, from the root word, terra, meaning earth. You bought and earth dog that was bred to go to ground after vermin. The dog is doing exactly what it was bred to do…she said, “oh”.

  • Reply Kathy J July 24, 2010 at 10:59 pm

    Bart the corgi got a pass on the shedding for years because he lived in a house with collies. When I spent 5 months with no collie the true scope of the corgi hair thing became apparent.
    On the barking front. Bart is not a big barker, however he is a manipulator of other dogs. He will be laying down in the vestibule and for no apparent reason give out with one woof, I KNOW he does this to mess with the minds of the collies, he has been messing with collie minds for 12 years now. And just in case you have forgotten – no matter what other dogs there are in the house ALL the toys belong to the corgi, if he lets you play with them it is only because he is being magnanimous.

    Corgis are super little dogs but they will totally use cuteness and smallness to sucker you in to giving in to your demands. To his credit Bart and I only had one “conversation” about who the toys and food REALLY belonged to (me) and he has been a darn good dog ever since. I actually got him because his breeder wouldn’t sell him to a first time dog owner because he was such a poop as a young puppy.

    Honestly dog hair is why they make expensive vacuum cleaners and heavy duty washers – everyone knows that.

  • Reply Taryn July 25, 2010 at 6:12 am

    Wonderful post, Joanna! I live by the mantra “A tired dog is a good dog”. And, boy, with this HOT weather curtailing activity, I can sure tell that lately my boys are NOT tired. The alert barking is up, they are rowdy in the house, Jimmy never shuts up…..And, yup, we vacuum Every.Single.Day!

  • Reply Red Dog Mom July 25, 2010 at 9:03 am

    Sounds like you have a page for the Yankee club website 🙂 Yes, to all the things you said. Every breed has its behaviors and, as a responsible owner, you need to know what those behaviors are and if you can live with them. A note on debarking…Two of my dogs are debarked – both have had the bark come back but at a much more tolerable pitch. It’s not a cruel and terrible thing to do to dogs, especially if it means the difference between being able to keep your dog with you or having to rehome him or her. I wouldn’t do it just to do it but with a particularly barky dog it can be the answer.

  • Reply Claire July 25, 2010 at 9:45 am

    When folks ask me what Cardis are like, my standard reply is “They bark and they shed-otherwise they are perfect.”

  • Reply Liz Powell July 25, 2010 at 11:20 am

    Joanna,
    Your post was right on. This is also a breed that has made us laugh until our sides hurt. They have entertained us, loved us, taught us. They have really changed our lives for the much much better. So bring on the hair and the barking, and herd us all you want!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Reply Michele Tripp July 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

    I think dogs should have the right to return owners when they suck so bad. Dogs should have rights over people. This is where people who are buying from pet stores and back yard breeders come in to play where they know nothing about the breeds and are purchasing them and then taking them to the shelters. If they were buying from breeders, they would know all these things up front about the breeds.

  • Reply Laine July 25, 2010 at 7:16 pm

    Yeah, it took me a while to realize that a husky’s job it to run away from me for a really long time. But once I realized that, my husky/shepherd mix (shelter dog, almost 15 now) and I got along a lot better. And once after brushing her during shedding season in the yard my landlady called me to find out if a coyote had killed something. That was the last time I left the fur for the birds to take for their nests.

  • Reply Carla July 25, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    This response is sort of a reaction to this post but also to your reply on a recent mycorgi forum discussion which I can only assume (correct me if I’m wrong) this post is a response to. So forgive me if I somewhat conflate the two discussions.

    In regards to the first point on barking, I think the distinction between what is a “natural”/”innate”/”bred” and what is appropriate/inappropriate is one that needs to be made explicitly clear and I don’t think you are successful in doing that.

    Natural/Innate/Bred as a concept is biological. It’s an internal drive that, as you say, has been cultivated through years upon years of breeding to serve a purpose.

    Appropriate/Inappropriate or Necessary/Unnecessary as concepts are value-judgments. It’s an opinion formed and subsequently transformed into a boundary between what is accepted and what is not.

    Let us be careful not to conflate an understanding of what is “natural” for an animal to do, with what is acceptable.

    Further to this, just because a dog has a drive to do something, doesn’t mean it’s an acceptable behaviour in all forms, whether amongst humans or amongst dogs (you yourself have addressed this in a past post, and I have personally seen dogs correct other dogs for unacceptable barking – this actually suggests that identifying an appropriate level of barking is a natural behaviour, although where that boundary falls is personal preference). You make this point clear at the end of your second discussion on herding, but completely neglect to address it when discussing barking. No behaviour in excess is desirable, and it is only up to those directly involved (be it dog and owner, or dog and dog) to determine what level or degree of that behaviour is acceptable.

    Indeed, “a lot” of barking is NOT anything substantially above 44 barks every 5 minutes – that is only your OPINION of what “a lot” of barking is. Others may determine “a lot” of barking to be a higher or lower threshold point and it isn’t up to you to make that decision for them. You certainly can refuse to sell a dog to anyone who doesn’t conform to your perspective on what an acceptable level of barking is, but again, that’s opinion, not fact.

    • Reply rufflyspeaking July 26, 2010 at 1:13 am

      Yes, you’re basically making my point for me. What WE consider unacceptable does not at all follow the line of what’s natural for these dogs. And what THEY consider unacceptable generally does. My dogs will punish another dog for barking THEY consider unacceptable, meaning barking they consider to be unnecessary or an overreaction. They can hear and smell and sense a heck of a lot better than I can, which means they punish for stuff that genuinely doesn’t make any sense. I – or most owners – punish for stuff that makes a great deal of sense to the dog but we’re too dumb and brick-like to smell, hear, or sense it.

      If I have to shut down barking, and I sometimes do, I need to be very careful not to define it as some trick the dogs are trying to pull, or some form of disobedience. I need to do it because I, dumb brick-like human, decided to live on two and a half acres instead of two thousand, and because my entire community of dumb brick-like humans has decided that dogs barking isn’t a normal sound (whereas the train that is currently going by, for example, is).

      By “a lot,” I mean that when corgi breeders tell you they bark “a lot,” they have a very broad sense of what “not a lot” is. I think “not a lot” is 44 barks every 5 minutes, and I think most corgi breeders would agree with me. So if I tell you that they bark “a lot,” you need to know where that comparison stands.

      • Reply rufflyspeaking July 26, 2010 at 1:44 am

        Oh, and I should add that the difference between correcting herding behaviors and correcting barking is also one of natural and artificial. If they were out working, they would get severely corrected for coming in that close and trying to nip, and it wouldn’t be by the human. The cow or the sheep would correct them in a way that would be extremely painful and effective, and they wouldn’t do that again. Normal/effective herding behavior is somewhat symbiotic, with the animals coming to an understanding of what a balanced or imbalanced response is and moving toward function. I adjust herding behaviors too, but I don’t perceive herding behaviors as the dog being a jerk or TRYING to be annoying, which a lot of corgi owners seem to do. Punishing barking has very little to do with whether the barking is imbalanced, because we’re stupid and have very little by which we sense the world. We’re not making a functional decision about the barking; we’re making a convenience decision about the barking. And when that’s your criterion, you need to be a little more apologetic about it and recognize that it’s your oddness, not the dog’s, that’s forcing this intervention.

    • Reply Carla July 28, 2010 at 1:13 pm

      I’m a little late to the party, but here’s a response anyway, for what it’s worth.

      What I’m trying to get at is that statements such as these:

      “I managed to teach him when it was OK to bark by smacking him in the face* every time he did it unnecessarily.”

      and

      “When he does bark unnecessarily, we are very consistent in letting him know this behaviour is not appropriate by squirting him with water and/or firmly saying “Enough”.”

      …do not indicate in any way that the author is unaware of the nature/innate drive of a Corgi to bark. Simply pointing out that the dog barks “unnecessarily” or “inappropriately” is not the same as neglecting to account for, or failing to recognize, the biological imperative to bark. I don’t think it’s reasonable or fair to jump to the conclusion that the authors of these types of phrases are missing this piece of information – in fact, it’s not possible to know whether or not they are aware of that, because, as I tried to address in my previous comment, there is a very clear difference between the biological imperative and the value-judgement of necessary/unnecessary.

      What I’m getting at is: when someone says that their dog barks inappropriately, the reasonable response does not seem to be a description of the fact that it’s natural for Corgi’s to bark. These are two different conversations – one about a value judgement, the other about a biological drive.

      So, for example, if someone said “I don’t understand why my corgi barks so much, my other dog (insert non-barking breed here) doesn’t” or something else along those lines, a totally appropriate response would be to say: “Corgi’s are bred to bark, so they’re going to bark a lot more than other, non-barking breeds. You’re an idiot for getting a dog without researching their natural characteristics.”

      BUT, if someone says something like: “My dog barks at inappropriate times” or “I’m training my dog not to bark unnecessarily,” responding to them by talking about the biological imperative seems very out of place. They are not talking about the imperative; they are talking about their own value-judgment about what is and is not appropriate. In this case, a more reasonable response than saying “Corgi’s are bred to bark” which implies that they don’t know that fact (which, based solely on the quotes above, you actually don’t know and thus can’t say) would be something like “It is foolish/naive/unrealistic to expect a dog that is bred to bark to not bark” – and even this phrase is probably overzealous, because, again, based on the quotes above, you have no idea what the boundary between appropriate/inappropriate or unnecessary/necessary is for that person. Maybe it’s a totally reasonable boundary, like: unnecessary = more than 100 barks in a minute when a leaf dropped to the ground, or something like that.

      *I’m only addressing the identification of necessary/unnecessary as boundaries here, not the use of face smacking techniques. That’s another can of worms.

  • Reply Cait July 30, 2010 at 6:06 pm

    Admittedly, my Cardi experience is only the dogs I’ve lived with, but NONE of my guys were barkers. The occasionaly bark in play, sure, and if someone was at the door. But not at all difficult to teach not to bark.

  • Reply Jen June 29, 2011 at 12:49 am

    my corgi doesn’t bark much and doesn’t herd LIKE THAT. she does shed a lot and that’s fine :).

  • Reply The perfect lap dog... Go! - Page 4 July 16, 2013 at 7:28 pm

    […] A corgi really isn't a good idea in this case. A lot of people buy them thinking they're cute little fluffers, but in reality they're a herding dog just like a border collie and have a similar drive. Unless you're experienced with herding dogs, a corgi might not be the best option. They have EXTREMELY high energy and tend to bark, bark, bark. This article sums it up pretty well: Don’t buy a corgi | Ruffly Speaking […]

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