All dog people read the same sets of blogs, and this week all anybody is reading or commenting on is Patricia McConnell’s blog, because she’s considering rehoming her young puppy (a puppy who is already her second one in the litter – she returned the first puppy she bought very quickly).
This has highlighted what I think is an important concept, which is when you buy a dog to do a job, failure at that job means they leave.
It’s common for breeders to rehome dogs who are never going to finish or who needed to be neutered for some reason or who cannot be bred or who are done producing puppies. Their role is over in the household, so they leave. We breeders like to assign nice words to it, but that’s what’s happening.
Those who are serious agility competitors or performance competitors will rehome dogs who are not ever going to meet their expectations.
Field (hunting or other working) breeders rehome those who cannot reach success in that venue.
Service-dog owners rehome dogs who wash out of the program.
And so on.
I don’t personally have any problem with rehoming; I think it’s usually a great blessing on all sides. As you know, we’re currently looking for a place for Bronte, so I obviously don’t think that changing homes is bad for dogs. Where I start to feel uncomfortable is when the job that’s been assigned is beyond the reach of the dog, so failure and rehoming become almost inevitable.
When people buy a dog “for the kids,” the dog is going to fail, and the dog will leave. It’ll either be rehomed or thrown in the back yard or basement. When people buy a dog to be a child, the dog will either fail or, if it’s such a fantastic dog that it tries to shape itself into a child, be spectacularly twisted into something that’s not really a healthy dog anymore. Either way, it will leave (or check out). In both of those scenarios the failure is a foregone conclusion.
In McConnell’s case, her puppy’s job was to nurture and feed the emotional identity of her older dog, a dog who has had a huge number of issues and who is emotionally frail. He is obviously loved in the way that we tend to love frail creatures, with more than a bit of pity and protectiveness. The puppies she’s bringing in do not feel pity and protectiveness toward this weak creature; they just steal his stuff and run off. Dogs are nothing if not realistic about the ability of another living creature to stand up for himself. And so she replaces the first puppy with the second puppy and is now probably going to replace the second puppy with (something?).
I have Feelings about whether it’s a good idea to buy a dog for a dog, but the fact is that regardless of whether I think it’s a good idea or not, the dogs are failing, and they’re very likely to continue to fail. She looks at her older dog and sees the whole swirl of what he was and how hard she worked and how much better he is and how he’s really almost normal now, and feels that protectiveness and that pride and the affection for everything that he is. That’s entirely natural and normal and the way we all feel toward something we’ve pulled back from the brink. There’s nothing wrong about how she feels. Unfortunately, another dog looks at him and only sees a “kick me” sign.
That’s never going to change; dogs are almost impossible to fool. If at some point she comes across a dog who is so incredibly forgiving and undemanding that he never takes advantage of that weakness, I’ll be amazed but happy for them. But amazed. She’s not doing anything “wrong” – she treats the dogs beautifully, the rehomed puppies come beautifully trained, and so on. I in no way want anyone to think that I don’t respect her as a dog owner. I just don’t think in this case she’s going to ever get what she’s looking for.
I’ve made this mistake, by the way. I try to never write about anything I haven’t failed at. The job I was looking to fill was to replace Lucy, my Dane-of-all-Danes. She died young and it absolutely broke me. I kept looking for her in her daughters and her granddaughters, and I had a very hard time separating my emotional response to them from my emotional response to HER. Any way in which they resembled her was good; any way in which they did not was bad. I sold the wrong puppies from litters because I would try to keep the one that was most like her, even when I had a better emotional connection with a very dissimilar puppy. I was fumbling toward something that was never going to succeed.
What snapped me out of it was Clue, a puppy we bought because the kids were bugging me to get a little dog that could sleep on their beds. I had it all worked out that this funny-looking little thing could be the family house dog and the kids could show her and play around with juniors and so on while I kept my focus on the big dogs. I had just had a couple of major losses and was incredibly discouraged (heck, I’d been discouraged for years) but I was getting ready to send a deposit overseas to import a dog who was closely related to Lucy, to try one more time to get her back.
Well, I think you can guess the rest. Clue came out of that shipping crate and looked at me and all the bushes around us spontaneously flowered and pink-haired unicorns twirled around while Rick Springfield rose up out of the lawn and sang. And she was, ahem, not the kids’ dog.
If and when Clue goes to her notable reward, she’s taught me not to look for her.
I would never want anyone to think that they MUST keep a dog. In fact, if you can smell failure I’d rather have you rehome the dog soon, while it is still young and will easily and happily adjust to its new home. But I hope we can maybe shape ourselves to give them jobs they have at least a decent chance at succeeding at, give them a fighting chance to stay, so when another decision is made it’s for the happiness of both sides.