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Feng Shui for Beardies

by Linda Aronson DVM

I gave a friend a book for Christmas called Feng Shui for Dogs. For those, like my friend, who have been living in a world of their own for the past couple of years, Feng Shui (pronounced ‘ung-shway) is Chinese for wind and water. More specifically it refers to arranging the environment to be in harmony with the forces of Nature and the Universe so that they work for you. It has also been referred to as the "Art of Placement". Now the book was actually full of cartoons, but in this column I would like to address something very important, which is the art of placement of the beardie puppy, so that he and his owners will be able to develop a good, sound bond and live in harmony and happiness for the time that they are given to be together - so Feng Shui for Beardies.

First most of us recognize that much though we love and enjoy our Beardies they are definitely not the right dogs for everyone. While there will always be exceptions to any generality, Beardies tend to be rambunctious, noisy, mud and water trackers. They are also opinionated, too clever for their own good (or ours) and some at least are escape artists of a class that would put Houdini to shame. So if you meet anyone looking for a Beardie who is house-proud; noise-sensitive; frail or lacking in a warped sense of humour, you would doubtless be doing them a favour is you direct them to another breed of dog – in some cases a stuffed critter might best meet their needs. Beardies tend to be of a sensitive disposition so heavy handed disciplinarians should also leave the field. Anyone looking for a push button obedience dog? - let’s just say this is not the breed for you (if we can croak the words out amidst out titters of laughter.) To me the right sense of humour – consider it somewhere between whimsical and warped - is far more important in any would-be Beardie owner than whether or not they possess a fenced in yard. If you would own a Beardie (or be owned by one) you must be prepared to share.

Whatever you have is their’s. Whatever they have is also their’s. However, most Beardies are accommodating and will share with you most of the time. On the Beardie list we also hear a lot about the counter surfing Beardie. There is a cure that you will learn eventually, especially if sharing is not your thing. Put things away, preferably behind trebly locked doors if they are not for canine consumption or playtime. Beardies have an almost inexhaustible ability to amaze us with their ingenuity. Certain individuals can open virtually any door (including crate doors) out there. Some I have heard can pick locks although to date mine have never shared this ability with me – maybe because I keep my credit cards on my person at all times. If you are fortunate some Beardies have the courtesy to shut the doors after them too. Ghost as a puppy showed that he was far more talented than most human adults and could open any bottle of medicine equipped with a child safety lid, without resorting to using his teeth. Fortunately he was not inclined to eat the contents, some Beardies are not so fastidious.

In fact they have been known to consume a vast number of things which probably shouldn't’t be mentioned (especially in a family newsletter) but if surgery for removing items of underwear, toys, matches, turkey carcasses (sometimes with the whole Thanksgiving bird attached) or other items doesn’t appeal; or pumping their stomach or watching anxiously as they are treated for consuming drug or poison; then keep it and the Beardie separated by at least two well-locked doors, or never let the item out of your sight – don’t even blink. Some Beardies have well-developed consciences. None of mine steal (much – Ghost used to love leather and sheepskin, Ruffian paper). As far as I know this is not readily apparent in the 7- or 8-week old puppy temperament tests. Escape may be another area in which owners and Beardies fail to reach consensus. Many Beardies look upon this as an intellectual exercise. They will pile up dog bones to shimmy along the drainpipe and drop over the 10-foot high fence with barbed wire across the top and an alarm hooked directly to the local constabulary, and then ring the front door-bell to be get back in. Others of a more exploring bent set out to conquer pastures new, and may never be seen again because they often don’t do well in traffic etc. Again conscience can be invoked with some Beardies. Xipe wouldn’t cross a piece of string if you explained it was there to enclose her, otherwise she saw no purpose in respecting any gate, fence or other barrier, including dog crates. Conscience is something you learn about over time, and does not appear to be inherited - as a dominant trait at least.

OK so maybe I have applied a little license here (anyone else see Best in Show?) However, if you read the true story about the Beardie bitch in England who terrorized the dominant male in the household by bursting - or even threatening to burst - a balloon, in order to get him to leave her his yummy meaty bone, you will recognize the truth behind these statements. BeardieS ARE DEFINITELY AN ACQUIRED TASTE – AND NOT FOR EVERYONE.

I always cringe when I read one of those books with titles like "The Perfect Puppy for You". If you’ve looked at them you will see that Beardies are usually described as "easy", good for first-time dog owners and wonderful with children. It is true that some Beardies might be, but they are probably not in the majority. Yes, they don’t fight over every little detail in life like certain breeds, but a bored Beardie will find ways to keep his paws busy and you can bet they are not ways that you will necessarily approve of. Sensitivity (yanking by children, loud noisy households, being stomped on by careless feet); trainability; obstinacy; tenacity; independence; willfulness; escape artistry; interior redecoration; landscaping; biddability; shyness/boldness are all traits that vary considerably within the breed. So too do activity levels; need to bark; herding instinct; excitability etc.

Having lived with and closely observed the puppies for their first weeks of life the breeder should be in a unique position to tell would-be owners (who have passed the general entrance exam as "suitable Beardie owners") which puppy would best suit their needs and lifestyle. If the breeder just tells you, "Here they are, pick whatever you want;" be worried, be very worried. It behoves the puppy buyer to be very clear what he is looking for in a Beardie. It is extremely important to be absolutely truthful with the breeder as to your family’s needs and lifestyle as well as being up-front about why you want one of her puppies in the first place. Do not fudge and claim vast experience with dogs if you shared house space with lots growing up but Mom or Dad was responsible for their health, happiness and well-being. An owner who is keen to learn is a god-send to a breeder, who will be happy to answer even the most trivial or ridiculous question, day, night or on Christmas, provided it enhances the welfare of one of her "babies." Novice owners need to have the laid-back easy going puppy that is willing to forgive and forget minor transgressions in the gross scheme of family harmony and fun. They do not need those individuals who will push buttons, question everything and then go and do it their way anyway. All Beardies will push limits; all will get out of hand once in a while. This is to be expected, and builds character in their owners. (Should you fail to take the upper hand these Beardies will still be sufficiently amenable to give you a semblance of respect.) If you have not already established yourself in the role of fearless leader in your own mind, having a pushy Beardie who knows she is the boss will only confirm you as her life-long slave. It isn’t a pretty sight. Remember the Weimeraner in Best in Show?

A word about temperament tests; there are a number of variations on this theme, but in general they are conducted at about 7-weeks of age and attempt to score the puppy on such traits as fear; dominance; intelligence; obedience potential/trainability; activity level etc. However, they represent the puppy at only one moment in time. Maybe he has a very full tummy and is very sleepy, maybe he just had a long romp with his brothers and sisters or maybe he’s been stuck in a boring crate all morning just waiting to be let out to get into mischief. The breeder has observed the puppies 24 and 7, she knows which are the ones that are dominant and which are laid-back, she knows which will blossom in a quieter home and which will thrive on noise and chaos. Puppy temperament tests have not held up terribly well as predictors of future temperament in the adolescent or adult dog. Breeder observations are generally more reliable, the more puppies the breeder has seen the better equipped she will be to make predictions, however, no one is completely infallible, nor can all traumas to a dog’s life be predicted.

Puppy temperament tests do not take into consideration the conditions under which the puppy has been raised, and temperament is a composite of heredity and environment. Certainly as with small children the more stimulating the milieu in which a puppy has been raised the more curiosity, stability, intelligence and lack of fear he will show. Having lived with a pack of puppies he will have learned to inhibit his bites because they can hurt, and if you bite too hard you’re left to play by yourself. Mom will have taught him a lot about correct dog etiquette too, when and how to show submission, how to greet other dogs, how to deflect aggression. Early separation from his litter-mates and mother leads to puppies that don’t quite know how to be dogs, they may not settle in well if introduced into families with other resident canines or adapt if further dogs join the family later. Equally important the puppies need to learn to cope with normal family life. If the breeder has no resident children she needs to import some on a regular basis. Puppies learn about vacuum cleaners; lawn mowers; kitchen appliances; yelling, running kids; watching out for human feet; mine versus yours; TV; stereos; and telephones. They learn that human hands hold love and good touching, but firmness. That it is never OK to nip a human hand, that even when you don’t like what is being done to your body – whether it’s grooming, nail cutting, hair dryers or baths – you learn to tolerate it. It’s an added bonus if puppy has also learned about crates and going outside to potty, but breeders have lives too, so don’t expect miracles. Look for puppies raised in the midst of family life, with lots of toys, maybe a few jungle gym-like toys (tunnels, boxes, paper sacks, ramps, ropes and tires) in their pen. Overlook the dust bunnies under the furniture and the slightly demented look in the eyes of the breeder; she’s not gotten much sleep since these bundles of joy arrived. Try to arrive with a complete indifference to such inconsequential details as the colour or sex of "your" puppy. Having gotten to know the potential owners as well as the puppies over the preceding weeks the breeder should be able to narrow down the puppy or puppies that will do best with that family. If you respect your breeder - and if you don’t you should look elsewhere for a puppy, this will be a member of your family for the next 12 or more years and you need to get it right the first time – do not try and change her mind (although you can ask her reasons). If you do have a choice of two or three puppies then ask her what she feels are their potential strengths and weaknesses, particularly with regard to becoming a member of your family. Sometimes temperaments can be pretty uniform in a litter, but rarely is this the case with Beardie litters.

Show puppies – words to strike fear and dread into the hearts of the masses. I do not want to get into a debate about the attributes that make a good show dog, although I would point out: 1. That a dog has to want to show (have the right temperament) as well as have the right conformation; and 2. It is very rare that a litter has more than one or two "show quality puppies". Clearly, many more dogs can be shown and can even finish, but whether they should be shown or -even more importantly - bred is dubious at best. This does not mean that the "pet quality" puppies are inferior; often it means that they make much better pets. The dog with the right temperament to show needs to be very self-confident and feel the world should bow at his feet. This can be a very difficult mind-set to live with. So don’t say you want to show if you aren't sure. If you think it might be fun to try, ask the breeder to tell you her expectations for a show home. Find out what it costs to show to a championship, to special a dog; and learn all you can about the politics and dirty tricks that may make showing a misery for you. Even if the breeder offers to show the dog for you, you will be expected to keep up with the grooming, make him available for show weekends, and pay the entries and maybe other expenses. Find out about other activities that you might enjoy with your Beardie – agility, herding, tracking, obedience, flyball, Frisbee and therapy work. If these appeal to you, again tell the breeder so she can find you a puppy that’ll share your enthusiasm for these pursuits. Breeders can’t always predict the outcome of their placements. Even when owners are completely honest and up-front things may change unexpectedly – family death, loss of work, divorce, an allergic child. Many breeders finally give up their breeding program. Sadly these are often the most conscientious ones. They have become disillusioned by duplicity and let down by false promises. Although it is impossible to detect every liar and con artist, the more time the breeder can spend on the phone or better yet in the company of the potential buyer the better she will be able to catch the inconsistencies and doubts. Fortunately relatively few potential buyers are out to con the breeder. Most people want to have a happy well-adjusted puppy to complete their family. It is up to us as breeders to give them the time and information they need to make this happen. Even if we convince them that maybe this isn’t the right time for them to add a new member to their family, we have saved the possible disruption of a young dog’s life. The more time and effort we put into making our potential puppy buyers our friends and allies in giving our puppies the optimal environment in which they can flourish and reach their full-potential the better. They will be more likely to call us up if there is a problem, even if the puppy is now 13- or 16-years old and the problems are sad, we should be there to share in death as well as to rejoice in life.We cannot guarantee that every Beardie will live out his or her entire life in a wonderful home. There will always be a need for Beardie Rescue and the Beardie Connection, but with a little Beardie Feng-Shui (and it’s not too late to employ these same rules when placing the rescue or re-homed, in fact it may be even more important); if we as breeders are totally honest about the strengths and weaknesses - both mental and physical - of our puppies; and we as buyers are totally honest about our needs, aspirations, strengths and deficiencies as owners – there will be fewer sad stories and many more Beardies and owners living in harmony (at least most of the time!)

Copyright © 2000 [ Linda Aronson DVM].
All rights reserved 


© Bearded Collie Club of Canada 1997 - 2010
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Last revised: November 11, 2010