I have the pleasure, the honor, and the privilege of working with some of the finest dogs in the world. This is not due to their famous pedigree, their multiple distinctions in competition, or the titles that they have earned at their masters side. They are the finest because they have owners that play with them, work with them, care for them, cry for them, cheer for them, and when the day is done, they are fed nutritious diets. And when those details are fulfilled, those dogs get belly rubs until they are satisfied. The following post was conceived over several years of friendships with people that keep dogs as pets, partners, helpers, and therapists. I have seen every level of what is described here in those people. Best to worst.
While this particular story involves a German Shepherd, it can apply to nearly every breed of dog. Having a dog of any kind requires work and sacrifice on the part of all members of the family. Dogs deserve to be treated in such a way that their God-given purpose is fulfilled. Hopefully, readers will be able to see themselves without bias, but in a way that will prevent your dog from neglect, either physical or mentally. While it is written to affect your thinking, it was not written to discourage. But there are too many homeless dogs, or worse, abused by neglect dogs. This post is dedicated to all of the dogs that are loved and cared for by great families, and offered as Hope that every dog will find one of their own.
The Smith family is nearly delirious with the new family member that they will welcome home today. They are driving to a breeding facility of healthy, happy, lovingly cared for German shepherd dogs, where their puppy is waiting. Their appointment is still an hour and a half away, but the family has been preparing for weeks. Dad and Mom agreed some years ago that their children would have the experience of having a dog, a soul that would teach them responsibility, and maybe other life-lessons worth having. They chose a well-known and reputable breeder, and went thru a process of suitability as owners. And though a busy, career-minded family, the breeder thought them a suitable prospect. The wife was soon to be a stay-at-home Mom. Perfect for a new puppy. The children, were, by age, 13, 11, and 5. Old enough to care for the responsibility of a dog, yet energetic enough to keep up with the tireless activity of a puppy.
“Ya’ know honey, there’s a lot of things that a dog like this can do! Scent work, agility, and that funny sounding German thing, what was it? Schnutshound? Snootshund, or something like that?” The husband informed his wife with certainty.
“I’m not sure I want a puppy learning to bite people on purpose, dear. Remember, we have young kids around the yard all the time. That kind of training is just asking for a problem. Or a lawsuit.”
“Yeah maybe…but knowing that the house and the kids have a protector seems like a good thing.”
“That’s true, I guess. But doesn’t that require a lot of special training?”
“Some, I guess. But that’s why there are trainers out there. To help us. It can’t be that big of a deal. We’re not talking about teaching the dog to fly an airplane or something. And dog-trainers are a dime-a-dozen. Isn’t “ABC kennels & training” just a mile or so away from the house.?
“I’ll be happy with a dog that just sits by my feet near the fireplace. And the kids just want a dog that plays fetch…It’ll work out just fine. You’re right dear, it can’t be that hard. Besides, we’re getting a pure-bred German Shepherd. All that obedience and protection stuff is bred into them. It’s natural.”
The back seat of the Suburban suddenly came to life as Sophie, the 5 year old girl with a ponytail, screeched. “Mommy! Trevor keeps making faces at me! He’s a creep!”
“I did not! You just want to get me in trouble for no reason…You’re just a spoiled baby…” retorted the 11 year old.
“How long is this going to take?” snarled Dillon, the eldest sibling, slumped in the seat. “I’ve got soccer practice at 5 today. I’m tired of being in this truck…”
“Oh come on, Dillon…we’re doing this for you. The least you can do is show some enthusiasm.” corrected Mom. “I have a House Showing later today too. We’ll be home soon enough.”
“And I need to finish the yard work later.” said Dad. “…Have plenty of day left.”
Up front, Mom opened her tablet and pored over the photo’s that the breeder had posted of their puppy. “Oh my God, what a beautiful puppy!”
“Lemme’ see Mom! Lemme’ see!” the children surged forward.
The visit went well. The breeder was an experienced hand, and lead the family, or at least Mom, thru the whole program. It all seemed so simple. In her real estate agent thinking, this puppy was a “Turn-key” situation. Almost…If this farm- woman can keep eight fully grown German Shepherds happy and healthy, and watch over two or three litters at a time, it can’t be too tough. I’ve got a Masters degree!
The first week after puppy’s homecoming went as most such situations will. The puppy was cute, comical, and a ball of “Go, go, go” wrapped in a fuzzy coat. Everyone fell over each other trying to feed the pup, pet the pup, and play with him. They finally decided on the name “Spike” after the puppy found a large nail in Dad’s workshop. But there were the little problems that inevitably happen as well.
“Honey! This puppy took a dump in my office! Get in here and clean it up! I’m working on something!” yelled Dad.
“I was getting ready to leave! I’ve got an appointment with a home buyer!!” She replied as the two older children ran out the back door as fast as possible. “Oh FINE! I’ll do it for the five hundredth time! I thought a puppy quit doing this by four months old! This whole house is going to stink!”
“Don’t worry, dear. I’m downloading some plans for a dog house…”
Several weeks went by, and the little German shepherd now had perfectly pricked ears, and an ability to entertain himself. When the children were home, they usually played with him for an hour or so, or until their devices went off with friends wanting their attention. Then they would put his collar on him, and attach him to the dog house that Dad had dutifully built for the puppy. Mom watched from the kitchen window, as the children left him alone. She sighed deeply. Well, summer will be here soon. Then they’ll spend more time with him. It’ll be fine.
In the mind and body of a German Shepherd puppy, certain things are inevitable. Teeth develop and grow. The desire to test and use those teeth, follows closely behind. And that’s exactly what happened. “Spike” soon learned that the way to gain attention, a reaction from anybody, was to place his new teeth on unwelcome places.
The crying from the backyard sounded like someone had fallen off something high. Dad ran downstairs to find Trevor at the backdoor with blood running down his left arm, dripping onto the concrete. “What Happened!? How did you…?” he was frantic.
“Spike bit him Dad! They were teasing him with the ball! Spike went crazy!” tattled Dillon. The young teen had stopped playing with the dog several weeks ago after deciding that he was afraid of the growing dog.
“Where’s he at now? Chain him up while get Trevor taken care of…” Dad ordered, as he lead the boy into the house.
Four hours later, Mom arrived home to find the aftermath of the incident. “TELL ME what happened! Is Trevor alright?”
“The bite was superficial, nothing really!” Dad explained. ” I checked him over and he’s fine. He’s got some nasty bruises though…”
“Why did Spike suddenly get aggressive?!”
“It wasn’t aggression. They were playing “keep away” with his ball, and the dog just did what was natural…We didn’t go to the Urgent Care because it’s nothing deep. I cleaned Trevor up, and he’ll know not to play with the dog that way again. And we could get into trouble with the dog warden…we don’t need that.”
“Well, we can’t wait another second. We need to get that dog into some training by a professional. We’ve waited almost a year…if it’s too late…” she felt anger more than anything else.
The search for training the nine month old German Shepherd started the next day with a phone call to the closest facility. It also ended that day after inquiries to a total of seven different trainers.
“I can’t believe how much these crooks get for basic training of a dog! Look at this! The cheapest one is a hundred bucks an hour, with an agreement for five total hours minimum!” Dad explained to Mom.
“That’s more than daycare for toddlers…that’s unreal! We can’t afford that!”
“Yeah, but we also can’t ‘Not’ afford it…this dog is still doing his business in this house! Not to mention we can’t even walk him on a leash without going for a nice, restful, DRAG!”
Their discussion was interrupted by a frantic voice from upstairs. “Mom!! Spike has ripped a big hole in my bed!! There’s stuffing all over my room!”
“That’s ENOUGH” now Dad was barking. “Put that dog outside in his house! He’s finished in here.”
“But Dad…It’s raining outside!”
“Better that he be wet than destroying everything we own…Out he goes!”
And that day, Spike went outside. For good.
He had shelter. Barely. He got food brought to him. Which often got soaked, or dumped on the ground by the chain that kept him secured. The parents went about their daily lives, work, soccer practice, the usual. The children spent the summer enjoying the pool, bike riding, playing sports, band camp. Kid stuff. Spike, spent his summer tethered to his dog-house. He usually had enough water to drink, but once in a while somebody would forget for a day. Or so. No one tossed his ball. Most of his time was spent digging large holes in his territory, which was about twenty feet across. The rest of it was spent laying on the hardscrabble dirt with despair in his eyes. This used to be green, lush grass, comfortable and clean. Spike’s pacing at the end of a chain brought that to an end within weeks.
When someone happened to approach him, with food, or an attempt at engaging him, Spike usually responded with barking, snapping, and rearing up on his back legs. No one but the wife of the family could feed him or change his water bowl. And her mood when caring for him was one of disgust, sadness, or pity.
One early winter day, when Spike was almost two and a half years old, she could no longer bear the sadness attached to that chain in the yard. Dad was off at work, the children were in school. She had to get rid of the nagging knowledge that the idealized life they had dreamed of for Spike was never possible. They were too busy, under informed, and maybe just a bit dismissive of what it takes to really train a dog. She needed to get the large German Shepherd into her car, God Help me get him into the car without dragging me down the street! And please, please, please don’t let him piss in the seat . Excited at the prospect of doing something, anything, after months of nothing, Spike went ballistic as soon as the leash was attached to his collar. The powerful dog might as well been a Ford truck with the power he displayed…The young mother didn’t have a single chance to control the dog. Spike bolted, leash trailing, and headed toward the four-foot high decorative fence like a trident missile. “Stop! Stop! Down! Get Back here!!”
Never having had a moment of training, Spike had no idea what the concept of the sound of her voice meant or required. As for having a relationship with this frantic human, well, Spike had no desire to stay here for another frozen moment. He ran, jumped the fence like a steeple-chase champion, and blindly crossed the nearby road at flank speed. The sound of an air-horn mounted on a dump truck meant nothing to his dog-brain either. But it did end the frantic running, the boredom of being tied to a tree, the grief of watching his humans laugh and play without him. The young wife carried the guilt of not understanding what a dog needs to be happy for the rest of her life.