Responsible Breeding

Cardigan puppy socialization

If you look at the Cardigan breed across the entire world, let’s be honest with ourselves. They’re a spooky, shy mess. They can’t stand still on the table, they flinch when you reach for them, they hide in corners when you walk in the room. They get a panicked note in their barking when they see strangers.

I believe, ONE HUNDRED MILLION PERCENT, that this is NOT genetic. I believe it’s because most Cardigan breeders don’t socialize their puppies the way you have to socialize a super smart, sensitive, incredibly intuitive, vibey herding dog like a Cardigan.

Socialization has never been preached in the Cardigan world the way it has been in other breeds. Maybe it’s because they’re more rare, or because they’re small enough that a spooky one can be safely managed at home without hurting people. Whatever it is, I see far too many entire litters of puppies kept in ex pens in the corner of the kitchen until they’re five months old and the breeder finally decides to get one or two of them out. There might be a flurry of activity in the week around the puppy party/evals, but after that the puppies meet nobody except family for weeks and weeks on end.

OK – here’s how it should be done, based on every scrap of evidence and data on behavioral success:

Read this link. Now read this link (Chapter 3 is the one I am talking about – the whole thing is well worth reading, but the section that basically addresses “How your breeder should have raised your puppy” is the most important for this discussion).

From the first:

…socialization with an average of 100 different people, of all ages, sizes and shapes, before they go home… daily woods walks from six weeks on… beach walks… swimming…

From the second:

How to Select a Good Puppy
Your prospective puppy should feel thoroughly at ease being
handled by strangers—you and your family. The puppy should
be fully desensitized to sounds before he is four weeks old.
Likewise, his housetraining program should be well underway,
his favorite toy should be a chewtoy (stuffed with puppy chow),
and he should happily and eagerly come, follow, sit, lie down,
and roll over when requested. If these are not so, either your
puppy is a slow learner or he has had a poor teacher. In either
case, look elsewhere.
An essential ingredient of puppy husbandry is regular (several
times a day) handling, gentling, and calming by a wide variety of
people, especially children, men, and strangers. These exercises
are especially important during the early weeks and especially
with those breeds that are notoriously tricky when handled by
strangers—that is, several Asian breeds, plus many herding,
working, and terrier breeds: in other words, most breeds of dog!
The second most important quality in any dog is that he enjoys
interacting with people, and specifically that he enjoys being
handled by all people, especially children, men, and strangers.
Early socialization easily prevents serious adult problems.
Please remember, the single most important quality for a dog
is to develop bite inhibition and a soft mouth during puppyhood.

I have done the above programs for all of my Cardigan litters so far (I did it with the Danes before that). IT IS A FULL-TIME JOB. I am not exaggerating; I found it completely incompatible with working. In my last litter, a family situation kept me from having people come visit puppies. I had to bring every single puppy out with me and find 100 people before they were eight weeks old. I did it (thank God for the holidays), but it about killed me.

It’s also impossible to do solo, once the puppies hit eight weeks and should be experiencing all the things by themselves rather than with their litter. It is killer difficult to find a hundred people – there’s no way you can find four hundred. You’ve GOT to get the puppies out of your home and into new homes or socialization placements (Amanda, Brittany, Bri, and the others, you know how much I adore you).

I cannot do it well and be a great show breeder. I’m third-tier at best and I’ll never be above that. Cardigans cannot be well evaluated at 8 weeks because of the weird growth of a dwarfed dog and because fronts and turnout will fool you. There’s no reliable “puppy puzzle” type eval for Cardigans. You get some idea at 8 weeks, more at 12, and the final decision might be made at six to twelve months. If you get them out the door, you can’t keep them long enough to evaluate a bunch and keep only the one who is going to go great guns in the ring.

But, I would strongly argue, our ambition to be better show breeders MUST take a back seat to this need. There’s nothing wrong with our dogs; it’s our fault that they have this reputation. When are we going to have as much peer pressure to socialize and consistently produce friendly, confident dogs as we do to finish our dogs in the ring? Because until we do, we’re not going to shake this, and it’s bad for our dogs. They don’t live as happy life as they should if they’re meeting every activity with an immediate fear reaction. If it has to be an either-or choice, either socialize well or consistently succeed in the breed/group/BIS ring, which is our responsibility?

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9 Comments

  • Reply Beth January 19, 2013 at 2:00 am

    I have Pems, not Cardis, so the temperament is quite different, but I really do believe in the great importance of socialization and once walked away from a potential pup because it sounded like the litter hadn’t been socialized that much. One reason I chose our breeder is because she stressed that she had lots of visitors AND took her pups out in the car as soon as it was safe.

    I suppose it was a mix of genetics and how he was raised, but when I brought Jack home and put him on the ground he promptly trotted around the corner of the house and was ready to go up the street to explore.

    The first weekend we had him, I took him out very early on a Sunday morning to potty. The National Guard was doing one of their weekend drills. I hears some shouting and looked down the hill to see a couple dozen big men in camo running up the hill near our house, many of them yelling encouragement. I thought “What will my ten-week-old puppy think of THIS?” I looked down to see Jack doing a full-body wag, clearly saying “Hooray, all these nice men are running up the hill to visit me! I’m a lucky boy!” I was impressed with what the breeder had done, both in prepping him and in choosing his parents.

    He is genetically a bold dog and that of course helps; he was only a few months old when he was out at night to potty, heard a noise in the bushes in the dark (probably some small animal) and started to run towards it, barking a low bark. And of course I socialized him within an inch of his life once I got him home. But those early weeks at the breeder meant the world and it’s one of several reasons I am hoping she’s still breeding when it’s time for my next pup.

    Maddie came to us from the same breeder fully grown (retired show/brood bitch) and is equally well socialized, though she’s an entirely different temperament than Jack. She is confident, cheerful, and outgoing, but is the type who will let others meet real threats, thanks very much (she’s a naturally more submissive dog).

    • Reply Anne May 18, 2013 at 4:53 pm

      Beth, What kennel did your dog come from? If you are willing to share, please do. My Mom is on the hunt for a wonderful pem since she lost her beloved pem recently and her previous breeder is no longer breeding. Any help would be appreciated. Anne

  • Reply Beth January 19, 2013 at 2:06 am

    I should have devoted more time to Maddie! She did have a transition period when she came to us (she was over 4 and had only had one home since she was born, so I think it was a bit of a shock to her) but once she settled in she was lovely.

    We were in the park a few weeks after we got her and the ROTC was there in their full fatigues, with lots of big guns, lying down on their bellies, sneaking around trees, and peeking over hilltops. I’m usually very careful with the leashes but somehow I dropped hers and she went bounding over to a cluster of men and women doing their practice drills and went wagging from person to person, wondering if anyone was going to feed her or give her belly rubs.

    So it is possible to have a successful show dog who is also a well-socialized family pet. It must be a ton of work though and I don’t know that I could do it: we have two dogs and a cat and that’s as much as I can manage; I could never have five or six and keep them all happy and raise a litter and socialize puppies and truck off to shows and interview puppy people all at once. Bless all of you breeders who do it well; you make our jobs as owners so much easier.

  • Reply Tegan January 22, 2013 at 6:23 am

    Another fan here for all the socialisation in the world! I just completed an 8 week series describing everything I do with puppies before they go. Yes, it is a full time job!
    Tegan recently posted…Puppies 2012 – The Eighth WeekMy Profile

  • Reply Jennifer February 10, 2013 at 6:07 am

    I’m shocked to hear this, but I shouldn’t be. When I was meeting our breeder (Steve Porter of Aldergate Kennel) he confessed to me that, “You are asking all the right questions, but the answers I have for you are more complicated. All I care about is temperament, and frankly I wouldn’t breed to about 7 of the top ten Cardis in the nation right now.” And true to his word, our Sasha has a temperament of gold, thanks to our’s but especially his breeding and socialization program. If her hips give out or her back goes wonky in the next ten years, I’ll be sad, but not as sad as I would have been if she’d bitten the baby when the baby fell down on her, or if she’d snapped at my folks’ new puppy. She has a good tailset, and she trots everywhere she goes, but mostly, it’s her temperament that wins everyone over; she lies down so that toddlers can manhandle her more freely, and she’s made friends with the dog parks’ biggest bully. She’s her own best argument for a well-bred dog.

  • Reply Janine August 17, 2013 at 2:28 am

    Wow, not only a Cardi fan, but a terrific article on socialization. BTW I also really enjoyed your discussion on conformation.

    We bought with our hearts – not our relatively uneducated heads – when we picked our Cardi boy some years ago. He was already 8 months old, kennel raised, with little socialization. He went through a tough couple of months coming to grips with things, but seemed to just throw his trust into our hands at some point and started cruising through life. He’s my loyal and loving companion, and if needed a fierce protector.

    I love watching him at dog shows. No matter where the applause comes from he’s convinced it’s all about him and he gets rather puffed up and proud. You are right about these dogs being very intuitive and robust thinkers. He’s a biddable dog, and we’re grateful he turns his energy to pleasing.

    We watched him escape an x-pen one day by ever so gently stretching the bungy cords attaching it to the kitchen cupboards. He was totally frustrated baby sitting a Belgian Shepherd puppy, and quite satisfied with himself when he squeezed through to freedom. Thankfully he likes “her craziness” as we sometimes call our Belgian we well enough now, and he’s one fit Corgi from racing to cut her off at the pass.

    I don’t know any breeders who go to the lengths you do to socialize their puppies, so kudos to you and I’ll bet the people who own your digs are thrilled.

  • Reply Shelley Camm August 25, 2013 at 6:11 pm

    I agree that many of today’s temperaments are “iffy” but I am going to totally DISAGREE that it isn’t at least partially genetic.

    I have been raising this breed since 1989. My temperaments are stable, calm and loving. I have never known any other type of temperament. I have had a couple of “sharp” males when breeding with dogs from outside kennels, but that is as far as I would say temperament “issues” have gone. I would trust any of my dogs anywhere with people, children, off leash, in noisy situations, etc.

    I have never, and will never, subject an unvaccinated puppy to 100 strangers. I will expose them to visitors to my home, the vet, and a few other places where I feel it is safe for them. Yet, other breeders who have purchased dogs from me have nothing but praise for the outstanding temperaments of the puppies they have gotten.

    I have only once ever gotten a puppy back for temperament, and that was a shepherd person who felt he was too soft, and he was rehomed in a family home where once again there was nothing but praise for his temperament.

    So how can I be raising sane, sensible, well-socialized puppies who have made outstanding family pets, without putting them at risk, if it isn’t somewhat genetic? I agree with many of the other comments made about raising puppies in the middle of the household, exposing them to sound and other stimuli, but it just doesn’t make sense to me to put their health at risk when there is no need to.

    • Reply Joanna Kimball August 26, 2013 at 4:55 pm

      Let me be clear that I would never risk my puppies by letting them be handled as much as I do. And yet I continue to encourage a TON of handling by, yes, 100 strangers. Why? Because the risk is small to non-existent, and MUCH smaller than the risk of an unsocialized puppy being sold. The only disease you’re really talking about is parvo. Distemper is (thankfully) extremely rare – to the point that most vet have never seen it in an entire career – and the other things that dogs could possibly be exposed to are not covered by puppy vaccines. I request that people coming to visit not come from a pet supply store, and that they wash their hands. But even without those precautions, Cardi puppies (and any puppies that are not from a breed with genetically low parvo response) should be well covered until 8 weeks by maternal immunity. After 8 weeks any that are not still covered will have been caught by the first vaccine. The second at 12 catches any that need it. Between 8 and 12, they are being exposed in small doses naturally, which is exactly how immunity is supposed to develop.

      http://www.apdt.com/petowners/articles/docs/RKAndersonLetter.pdf is a good example of the current veterinary advice.

  • Reply Kathy Deutsch August 26, 2013 at 4:23 pm

    Great post! I have done chihuahua rescue and currently have 3 dogs, 2 of whom are rescues from the Humane Society. None are Cardigans, but the info from the post rings true for any breed. Our Humane Society does a lot of work with socialization, which I continued once the gals came here to live. It IS a full time job.
    If you hope to place a dog permanently they MUST be comfortable knowing and understanding their place in the world. Some never will, but I think most can.

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