Responsible Breeding

Bullying in dogs

Oh, you say, yes, of course. I do know some dogs who seem to get in other dogs’ faces too often.

Well, my lovelies, in this case I’m talking about bullying “in dogs.” The people, not the dogs themselves.

Do you know a bully? It’s come a long way from the recess yard, but not so far at all.

Bullying is a relationship that takes advantage of a perceived imbalance of power, and works that imbalance to the bully’s advantage. Bullies work really hard to feed your perception of the fact that they’re powerful and you’re weak. They flip back and forth between setting themselves up as your only friend and then tearing you down so you stay near them. They want you to think that nobody else will “save” you, which gives them continual power over you. Sometimes the main target is actually someone close to you, so that you’ll drop your relationship with that person and become more closely attached to the bully.

Bullies are the ones who will sell you a dog and then break majors to avoid letting you finish that dog. Bullies will insist that you breed to their dog and then tell you that none of the puppies are worth keeping… oh, except maybe I’ll take this one home with me, as a favor to you, to see if maybe by some miracle I can finish it for you. Bullies will offer you “chances” and tell you that nobody else ever would – the “chance” to finance one of their breedings, the “chance” to sponsor a special, the “chance” to whelp a bitch for them – all of these are legitimate relationships as long as the partnership is equal. You know you’ve been bullied when it’s your pocketbook that’s empty and they’re the ones with the show pick, the breed points, the puppy buyers. If, five years down the road, nobody knows that you had anything to do with it – you’ve been bullied.

This happens in dogs ALL THE TIME. It’s a topic that’s near to my heart this week because one of my friends – NOT IN CARDIGANS; THIS IS NOT A “BLIND ITEM” THAT TARGETS A CARDI PERSON – spent years doing what she thought was cultivating a relationship with an extremely high-profile breeder. “Chances” and “favors” trickled out regularly – your bitch is awful, but you can breed her to my special. I’d never breed that dog, because he’s terrible, but you should enter him in the specialty to make points. Be sure to get in your fee for this show, because the judge will be sure to like your puppy… oh, I’m sorry, I couldn’t make it at the last second; did that break the major? Every time my friend got fed up and said “That’s it, I’m out,” the high-profile breeder would be back, with some delicious favor, a rekindling of the love, compliments and puppy party invitations. YEARS invested in this “mentorship” and in the end all my friend has to show for it is an uncomfortable feeling that she’s been had.

It’s absolutely vital to find mentorship in any breed. You DO start at a lower level, and you MUST be humble enough to take advice. But a mentor sees you as an equal, just an uneducated one. Nothing makes him happier than when you take a dog into the ring and beat his dogs. A bully never wants you to get that far – you can succeed, as long as you don’t come anywhere close to outstripping or even equaling them.

Good mentors encourage you to listen to everyone. Just like every dog, even the worst, always has at least one wonderful thing about them, a good mentor will tell you to find the one or two good things that are being taught even by their mortal rival. Think of it like a basketball coach – you may “hate” your rival team, even have contempt for their coaching, but your coach should be having you watch the plays over and over to learn from them.

Good mentors want you to be different from them. They want you to find your own voice.

Good mentors are thrilled when you succeed, and they brag about you to others.

Good mentors are fans of your dogs. They encourage, while keeping you aware of what you still need to work on. They should make you feel like you’re half-way up the hill, not in a pit at the bottom and the “mentor” is the only one holding a rope.

Good mentors know that they’re one of many. They never use language like “Nobody else would give you this chance” or “Nobody else would breed to this bitch, but I’ll let you use my dog.”

I am nowhere near strong enough in this breed or any other to be a mentor. I have this blog because I am a nut about research and I can answer some of the simple questions, and because I have the ability to read and apply scientific studies. I never – and you can smack me if I ever do – want to be thought of as presenting myself as an authority on Cardigan breed type. There’s a reason I so rarely post stacked pictures of my dogs or talk about their type; I know perfectly well that I know zip, and anything I do “know” is because fifteen people have agreed that yes, that is a strength in your dog, but that is a weakness. None of them are my own brains. Ask me in twenty years and MAYBE I’ll say that I have something to contribute. In fact, the longer I go the more I realize that breed type is exactly as slippery and artistic as the ancient breeders have always said. Soundness is an engineering problem. You can “get” soundness almost instantly. Breed type is an art degree, and even an art degree doesn’t qualify you to teach art.

I am very fortunate in that my mentors have been fantastic, and have not minded me coming at them with seventy-six thousand questions and then keeping the puppy they told me not to keep. I am even more fortunate to have friends who are honest and encouraging and hysterically funny, and who will tell me that I have a dog with a hideous head and I absolutely suck at evaluating quality x, without expecting me to buy a different puppy from them. I am far too sentimental a breeder to go as far as my mentors have; I fall in love with the wrong dogs and I keep deadwood dogs and I breed because I get so attached to one particular feature that I can’t see anything else. So please, realize that I am not speaking as an authority; I write to myself every time I write a post. But I have seen what it’s like to be happy in dogs and I’ve seen what it’s like to be frustrated and sad in dogs, and I want you to be as happy as I have had the opportunity to be.

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16 Comments

  • Reply Nancy October 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Thank you for this!! (“nuff said…)

  • Reply Erin October 28, 2010 at 1:22 pm

    Nancy took the words right out of my mouth… thank you.
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  • Reply Tiffany October 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm

    What a great blog post! Thank you for posting this!! I think that you really nailed it on showing how important it is to have great mentor who has nothing but good intentions for you and your future with the breed(s) of your choice. Someone who’s in it for the long haul to help set you up for success. A person who inspires you.

    As someone who is very new to Cardigans, I have to say that I have learned so much from my mentor. She has been so helpful and encouraging. In addition to that, she also has showed me how to figure some things out on my own (love those AHA! moments/light bulb moments). If I just ran to someone for answers all the time, I will never truly learn. When I am given the challenge of figuring something out on my own, I feel that that’s when the information truly clicks and that’s when I will truly understand it. I feel that with their guidance, I will be set up properly towards achieving all the goals that I have set out for myself — whether it be in the breed ring or performance.

    I feel pretty lucky that in the short time that I’ve been on this earth, I’ve had some phenomenal mentors/coaches. I am forever thankful for my mentors in the world of horses, fitness, and now dogs. They have taught me so much and I continue to look forward to learning more from them each day. It truly is so great to meet a person who inspires you in what ever your hobby may be. And at this moment for me, it would be in the world of Cardigans =)
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  • Reply Susan and Stella October 28, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    This is a great post Joanna. Can be applied to just about everything.

  • Reply puppynerd October 28, 2010 at 5:46 pm

    Completely tangential to the points about dogs, I thought your definition of bullying was one of the best I’ve seen.

    So often bullying seems like a ‘know it when I see it’ thing, but you really nailed the words to it, and consequently made it easier to see where I wasn’t expecting to.

  • Reply Tammy Kozoris October 28, 2010 at 6:30 pm

    fanfreakingtastic post!!!!!
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  • Reply Kathy S October 28, 2010 at 7:03 pm

    Great post, Joanna!

    I don’t think anyone should underestimate the importance of the mentor relationship. No matter how long we are “in dogs”, we all need someone- or a select group of people- to guide us and keep us focused.

    I particularly enjoy watching the novice people that I have mentored develop and grow into responsible and ethical breeders! I realize that it is part of a huge circle of relationships: the wonderful mentors that I have had become mentors for them, as well, in time!

    Thank you for another excellent topic!

  • Reply Heather October 28, 2010 at 9:04 pm

    Excellent post once again!

    Never underestimate a great mentor!

    I am very lucky for my mentor, I was a young kid with a very difficult dog and knew no one at my first show! I thought I could “do this myself” with no problem!

    I was offered lots of help on handling classes and showing and grooming tips. My dog also got a lesson or two – he was on tour with her for no charge to a National and other specialties where I wouldn’t otherwise be able to go. She did it selflessly to help me and my dog succeed.

    I learned so much, my brain was like a sponge. I acquired another dog shortly after who is the foundation of my breeding program.

    My mentor also is a great friend and training partner. I am still learning lots, I don’t think it will ever stop.

    Good mentors are so important to new people in ANY breed.

  • Reply Kathy J October 28, 2010 at 9:09 pm

    Supportive people are what make performance venues fun as well. My little group of training buddies all have dogs that we love but dogs with “issues”, my dog is being a butt head for example. But when I come out of the ring do they tell me my dog was a butt head – no, they tell me about a time THEIR dog was a butt head and it makes me feel better. We cheer when one of us does well and comment on how cute the dog is when they do badly. Makes me want to come back for more!!

  • Reply Carol Teal October 29, 2010 at 1:06 am

    Always enjoy your posts…Thanks.
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  • Reply Liz October 29, 2010 at 9:42 pm

    Joanna,

    Your post reminded me of a great quote I found not long ago, out of frustration with a bullying boss…

    “The true teacher defends his pupils against his own personal influence. He inspires self-distrust. He guides their eyes from himself to the spirit that quickens him. He will have no disciple.” ~Amos Bronson Alcott

    Great post, and I am currently feeling very blessed as I think I may have found my dog training mentor. 🙂
    Liz recently posted…Not-Goals… YetMy Profile

    • Reply rufflyspeaking October 30, 2010 at 7:20 am

      Old Bronson always sneaks in there somewhere, doesn’t he?

      It’s good advice – though I do recommend that you disregard his beliefs on diet in the wintertime :).

    • Reply Sarah Davis October 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm

      Love that quote!

  • Reply Alison December 30, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    Well said!
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  • Reply Carra January 1, 2012 at 9:37 pm

    If the person you discribed is in Pembroke Corgis, I know EXACTLY who they are?

  • Reply Sue Ann February 20, 2012 at 2:20 am

    Having dealt with a breeder very, very much like you describe, I’m so happy to have read (and shared) this article! Thank you for writing it; hopefully it will open the eyes of many folks dealing with such a bully.

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