Today whilst walking the dogs I met a lady who had two lovely pedigree rescue dogs. She confessed that these dogs showed no behavioural problems and had become calm happy household members with enough exercise at last. "The trouble is" she said, "people desperately want these dogs and will tell whatever lies necessary to the breeder in order to get them".
They are home all day. They have researched the breed. They have huge gardens. Breeders have to be lie detectors. Some breeders of course don't care as they are just in it for the money and or status, with no thought at all for the dogs wellbeing. Every breed has its own breed club, and I would suggest that breeders who refuse to take back unwanted puppies from homes they have vetted, should be expelled from both breed clubs and stripped of Kennel Club membership.
I want to breed from my beautiful and sweet tempered Hungarian Vizsla. I've agonised over this decision and have spoken to every expert I can find. I want to breed from her because I adore her and want to see her genes continue. What scares me most isn't the genetic minefield (we are being tested for every genetic fault under the sun, from dyslexia - or is it epilepsy? to blindness and saggy ears), but its the worry of finding the right owners that is putting me off. I'd give them away free if I were certain of decent homes, but at least the price rules out a large section of those not dedicated enough to part with a grand.
Dogs have never been so popular. The dog industry is one of the few bucking the recession trend. We may have no more dogs than a hundred years ago but they are treated like beloved spoilt children in some cases like never before. Grooming parlours thrive and extraordinary designer clothing for dogs is churned out by salons across the country. Dogs want to explore and be free, not crammed into little pink jumpers. Designer cross breeds are everywhere too. There is endless variety, miniature huskies, cavapoos, dogs from all walks of life, not necessarily cut out for city life and the deluge of activity and stimulation which turns some into nervous wrecks.
Most rehomed dogs have been visited by a trainer prior to rehoming and a lot of rehoming comes from a lack of understanding. There are plenty of trainers out there and a huge range of qualifications which mean very little, mine included. I took a course in Canine Psychology to give owners piece of mind, but knowing dogs doesn't come from reading books it comes from reading their body language, seeing from their point of view and knowing them, earning their trust.
A lot of trainers see dogs as robots. A dog can be bribed or it can be bullied, but only for so long and you wont be getting the best out of him. A dog who trusts you and has a mutual respect will do anything for you. My dad's border collie taught me that. Bonnie was one of the happiest and best behaved dog I have ever known, I don't think my dad ever owned a lead. My dad took a lot of tips off local sheep farmers in Scotland. They have an understanding of dogs and a relationship built on trust. I love watching sheep dog trails. It's like going to the Ballet for me.
Where some people see a grubby farmer and a flea ridden mutt in a field, I'm bought to tears, in awe of the tenderness, trust and beauty. Sheep dog farmers have a bad name because some are at times cruel, but the best ones simply have the trust of their dogs or the relationship would not work. The idea of training qualifications would have made them laugh.
Whatever our dog, we like to believe it comes from a nice 'one litter breeder' enthusiast, but the reality is that its very rare. Research is crucial and the kennel club and other dog organisations need to be doing more to prevent heartbreaks and disasters that a misplaced puppy can bring. I genuinely think that were there a dog licensing system, the problems could be better managed, and rescue centres would be far less busy.
My vizsla was infact a rescue dog herself. She spent most of her days alone, muzzled, crated in a kitchen in a small flat, until I met her and took her home as a six month old neurotic. As a result, Gonzo cannot be left alone, and I wouldn't ever distress her by trying it. Dogs can learn to spend some time alone, but in her case it would simply be too traumatic.
As a dog walker, I am fully supportive of dog ownership not being a tethering of man to beast 24 hours a day. Dogs enjoy the social life and variety they get with us, and the owners enjoy peace of mind, knowing their beloved pets are happily engaged while they work and socialise.
On the flip side, Battersea dogs home coined the phrase "a dog is for life, not just for Christmas". This is quite right of course, but this statement deters many people from rehoming dogs that they simply cannot cope with. The owners need educating before they buy puppies, not afterwards. Deterring rehoming just subjects the dogs and their owners to extended misery.
Most dogs are rehomed at the adolescent stage, which is sadly a crucial stage of development. The shame attached to rehoming dogs is a stigma most will put up with all sorts to resist. Of course this is in some ways an important plus, but pre puppy owners should be warned more fully of this dilemma that can face the owner of an adolescent dog.
I recently met a lady who owned a frankly dangerous (in her hands) large breed. It snapped at children, attacked other dogs. She became so afraid of taking it outside her home that she lived in isolation with this dog whining and pacing about her. It takes courage to admit you made a mistake. This dog needed to move to a home with a breed expert who could understand and control the confused and frustrated creature. She simply lacked the physical strength and the forceful personality this dog needed in an owner.
More needs to be done to educate the potential owner at the pre puppy stage. Breeders should be held to account for homing dogs recklessly or with pound signs in their eyes. Why is it anyone can own a dog? This industry seriously lacks regulation in every way. Which is strange given how saturated this country is with "dog experts". May be there is no point legislating. We would be left with a toothless tiger because there is neither the money nor the resources to police the dog industry. Hence the amount of dog walkers ambling around our parks with ten or more dogs per person. Perhaps Einstein was right when he said that one day man kind will look back and be appalled by the way we treated our animals.
And with that I return to my 'breeding Gonzo pros and cons list' . Your opinions are more than welcome.
Follow Annabel Burn on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@gonzogonzo1