"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.
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!