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A deal breaker

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http://owceimanowce.blogspot.com/2017/03/and-what-is-deal-breaker-for-you.html

I wrote this post on my blog, and I am copying it here:

 

 

Among the English-speaking working border collie people (I know that’s a heck of a long noun phrase), I often hear or read that there are some things about a dog that are considered “a deal breaker.” It may be the dog quitting on the handler, a dog running too wide, a dog with a vicious and/or dirty grip, or a dog that cannot be useful on the farm. When the deal breaker occurs, the dog is often passed on to a new home. I understand that. I really do. There are practical considerations that one has to take into account when you have a working dog that is essential on the farm in its working capacity. And I would be the last to pass negative judgement on people who find good homes to dogs that didn’t make the grade as a sheep dog.


But,

 

I find this expression very interesting linguistically. Why is it a “deal breaker” and who is breaking the deal? The dog? The handler? And who made the deal in the first place?

 

My third border collie was very hard to train (and that an understatement), and she still has quirks and wrinkles in the way she works. But my biggest problem with her is that she may jump up at people she considers strangers, which means everybody but me and my husband. And no, licking is not her object.

 

At some point, I shipped Darinka to a trusted dog trainer to try and improve on this problem for a few weeks. Unfortunately, her season started just then and in that very multi-dog household it was not feasible to keep her long enough to accomplish anything. So we cut her stay short and went to pick her up. She showed moderate enthusiasm upon seeing us. She showed moderate enthusiasm upon arriving at home. Life went on.

 

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A few weeks later, I called her and told her to get into the car, since we were going to our field the long way by the road with a bunch of stuff for sheepdog training. She refused. I insisted. She insisted back. Being in the habit of out-insisting my dogs, I picked her up and put her inside. Knowing it was a lost battle, she climbed underneath the passenger seat. The entire 15 kilo of her.

 

Once in the field, I opened the door and called her out. Nope. She wasn’t coming. I wasn’t having it. I took her out. She jumped back in. I took her out again, and closed the door and went on about my business. Sort of.

 

Because Darinka was everywhere. If I stopped, she sat on my feet. If I bent down, she was there in my face. When I was tying down the tent on my hands and knees, she was there - her body under my torso and her head between my arm and neck. Needless to say, the task took longer than I had expected.

 

When I was done, Darinka jumped into the car immediately, and we went home without a mishap. It was later that evening that I realized this had been our first car trip, since I had sent her to the trainer’s. She was scared I would take her away and leave her somewhere. Forever.

 

And that would have been a real deal-breaker. Not the patience I was so very short of in her training, not the needless pressure, not the breaks in training for weeks on end as a result of "a series of most unfortunate circumstances."


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The only deal that a dog makes with us -- without thinking it through, or planning, or looking at our pedigree -- is to be our dog. We yank them out from among their siblings, take them away from their mother to a new, strange place, and they only want to be our dog and us to be their people. That’s the deal they make.

 

 

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Yes, I like your post too. Because some of my 'deal breaker' dogs are here with me still. Because they chose me and I honor that. If I find the perfect home for them, I might let them go if they are younger. And they still work....but often they have specific jobs that are suited to them.

 

But

 

I do not breed them.

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Maja - I don't just "like" this post, I love it.

 

Beth

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Thank you for all the positive comments. I was a little afraid that I might be misunderstood.

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I have one of those "deal breaker" dogs. he was sold to a man for herding purposes but after 2yrs, the man thought he was too soft and sent him back to the breeder. the breeder worked with him and offered him out again on a limited basis. they thought with his speed and agileness, he would make a good sport dog. I was looking for a sport dog at the time and had sent out feelers to friends. I was told about the dog now known as Hobbs. went to see him, fell in love, took him home. he excels at agility.....until you get in the ring. then he gets anxious. he is too soft for corrections and will shut down. I am currently at my dog limit (3) and know I will not be getting another agility prospect for hopefully many years. my husband has said, move him on, get some other dog you can work with. but that is not the deal. it is not the deal I make with my dogs and it is not the deal they make with me. he loves hangin on the couch and being a love. that's how he'll spend his life. you hit the nail on the head Maja, thanks.

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I had one of those "deal- breaker" dogs for awhile. Maid was slated to be shot by her owner for being a wash-out at stock work. She came through a couple of sets of hands and parked herself on my feet one day and wouldn't leave. (literally - she had to be dragged away.) She was being "test walked" by a man who was looking for a pet. (He didn't take her) So I bailed her out of a rescue where she was being offered.

 

The deal I have with dogs is this: You show me who you are, what's important to you, and if I can't give you that I'll do my best to get you to someone who can. I took Maid for a couple of sessions with a herding trainer. Her evaluation was that the dog had talent and drive. A couple of months later I found a home for her. She's taking care of 40 goats now. She's happy. She's useful. And I'm out a swell dog. Does that make me a deal-breaker? Her?

 

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I really liked that dog. She was wonderful. But I could see that she needed something I couldn't offer her. So I found some one who could - someone who needed the dog's skills as much as the dog needed to exercise her abilities. Could Maid have been happy running agility courses? Maybe. But she was a working dog at heart. To keep her from that would have been a real deal-breaker.

 

YMMV

 

PS. I recently had a Chihuahua foster dog. I didn't want a Chihuahua, but there he was. He needed help in a big way. I thought he would be great for my dog-walker, who was down to one dog. But my dog-walker said no. So, since he got along well with my other pets, I decided to give him a home. Two months later, my collie's infatuation with him wore off. His Chihuahua-ness began to wear on my nerves.

 

Then the doGs smiled on us. I got sick. My dog-walker took him to take care of until I got well. During that week he (the dog-walker) decided the Chihuahua was all that after all. So he kept him. He loves teeny dogs. So who's the deal-breaker in this scenario?

 

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To me it's a case of things will go right if you let them. The trick is to pay attention and eschew guilt. Guilt is about as useful as a sneaker full of puppy poo.

 

Again, YMMV

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Many years ago, I had a life partner I adored, and who one day came home with an injured border collie picked up on the highway. I paid for the vet. Less than a month later, my partner abandoned both me and the dog and left very suddenly to be with someone else. I kept the dog. She was a good dog, smart and biddable and friendly and beautiful, but I found that try as I might I could not love her. I liked her a lot, but I couldn't seem to bond with her. It worried me a good deal. I wondered if maybe I had been so damaged by my partner's leaving me that I couldn't bond with anyone any more, not even a perfectly good dog.

 

A year and a half later I was living in a very remote place alone with the dog. A man broke in to the house one night and the dog never barked. I needed to have a dog who would alert me if something like that happened. And I still did not feel bonded to the dog. So, I offered her to a couple the dog and I had met while living in Mexico, who had fallen in love with her and told me that any time I decided to give her up they would want her. I drove her down to California to be with them and she lived out her life being adored and pampered and going hiking in the mountains and swimming at the beach.

 

It all turned out well and later I got Jester and we bonded just fine and I loved him a lot and had a great time with him until he died last summer. Sometimes, I think, a dog will come to you in order to get to someone else. Cheyenne would never have met the couple who adored her for the majority of her life if she had not first come to me.

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. Does that make me a deal-breaker? Her?

 

I offered her to a couple the dog and I had met while living in Mexico, who had fallen in love with her

 

In my post, I wrote, "I would be the last to pass negative judgement on people who find good homes to dogs that didn’t make the grade as a sheep dog" and later I added "or for some other important reason" - to clarify.

 

And I really mean it. And while I understand the need to give away a dog that is not a good sheepdog, I also think that sometimes you should give the dog away.

 

I think that when they do make the deal with us, it is as I said - "I'll be your dog, and you will be my people".

 

But they are living beings, they understand a lot, and sometimes they see you can't make that deal with them, or sometimes they can't make that deal. And making that deal takes time too. Particularly dogs that are rescued, they don't take it for granted that this is to be their home. Life is a complicated matter, and the most important thing is to try and truly see what is best for the dog - within what's in our power to do - truly look at that.

 

I think doing the right thing does not always give the nice fuzzy feeling, sometimes it hurts.

 

The reason I wrote this post is that the "deal breaker" semantics seems to indicate that the dog is somehow partly responsible for the situation, when in fact usually, we alone decide to take a dog, buy it, train it, and things fall apart sometimes. And then, I think we owe that dog a real honest think-through.

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What I see here in all the posts really warms my heart. Everyone is talking about it being a two-way relationship instead of one-way. It's about taking the dog's feelings and needs as seriously as our own, whether the result is that we keep a dog that might not be easy to train or even workable but that we love, or we let a dog go through our hands to a home where its needs will be met by a human looking for exactly that kind of dog. I love the "aha" moment of the first story, where the light goes on that the dog was not wanting to be sent away again -- the awareness that the dog has a take on what happens to it, that it's not just the human who has preferences or feelings. And all the other stories, no matter the outcome, seem to be about the same kind of respect for the dog's side of the equation. In addition, everyone has written about their experiences so movingly that it's literally beautiful to read. I also really appreciate that nowhere here was the issue of financial expediency raised as a "bottom line" reason for making decisions -- one that replaces compassion and relationship. In no post was a dog a commodity. I know this adds nothing new to the conversation. I just felt moved by your posts and wanted to say so, and say why, and say "thank you."

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When I was starting out with these dogs, I read "A Way of Life." In it, Glynn Jones wrote about moving dogs on if they didn't work out, and how it could be better for the dog to be someplace where it was the right fit rather than where it was not. I thought, "what a cop out." Now, I'm there.

 

I actually think that it's more like an apprenticeship than a solid deal when I start working as a team with a dog. I think it's my responsibility to do everything I can to FAIRLY teach the dog what I need from it and give it opportunities to fulfill that role. That is my part of the deal. The dog also has its end of the deal.

 

There are some traits that are "deal breakers" for me. These are things about the way a dog works or learns that are a bad fit for me. I used to try harder, and longer, with these dogs. As time wears on, I've learned to let go of a dog sooner, when I know for sure that we don't match up well. These dogs can definitely go on to be successful with a person who does not have the same needs and preferences that I do. Also, working endlessly on changing an innate quality in a dog can saddle that dog with a lot of needless baggage. Somebody is not going to give a hoot about that sorry outrun or predatory approach to baby lambs.

 

Generally, though, a dog moves on from me NOT because of a working trait (like too much eye, bad flanks, no natural outrun, etc.) but because I have come to the conclusion that it does not want to try to be on the team with me. If a dog is eternally working for itself and consistently failing to care about my input, I will ultimately let that dog go.

 

Often, a threshold is crossed where a dog will never go away from here no matter what. For me, it has to do with a shared history, a special bond formed by working through some difficulties, or simply an emotional attachment. There are dogs here right now (on the couch, in fact) that do nothing for me except be who and what they are. We are permanent members of the same tribe. This is not a "deal" that I make with a dog when I get started with it, though. It develops, or it doesn't.

 

All of that said, I start out with a level of commitment. I believe that dogs can sense when we are not committed and often respond by giving less.

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Good on you Maja. Interesting and rewarding thread. I tend to think that those who have working dogs tend to have a different perspective. They know that a stock dog, no matter how good, has a working life that is often a good bit shorter than it's life span. Some, like Julie P. and others, keep their retirees - using them for work a little, and just letting them hang out with their family otherwise. Some find them pet homes. Some put a bullet behind their ear. I do not presume to quarrel with any of them. ( I can even see that for some dogs, the bullet would be preferable to growing fat on a sofa.)

 

The dogs I worry about are those who have been purchased or adopted by humans who have bought into some gospel about "how a dog should live."

 

Dogs are all different. It takes effort to step outside the clamor of one's own political correctness and hear what the dog is telling you. Or just to admit that you don't have real love for a given dog. If you find yourself in a space of "if only he were X, Y, or Z," There's a good chance that dog would be better off with someone else. Does that make you a bad person? Only if the dog is trapped in a place where it knows it doesn't belong.

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The dog also has its end of the deal.

My question is when did the dog make that deal? And the honest answer in my opinion is "it didn't".

 

The deal is made by us with ourselves, not with the dog: "If this dog does not work out, it will have to move on," as per agreement between me, myself, and I ;) . The dog was not there to agree to it or not. I am fine with this deal, and I understand how this works, but let's not kid ourselves - the dog is not the deal breaker, because he was not the deal maker.

 

It does not mean that I think everybody should hang on to every dog the buy/get for dear life, definitely not. I just think seeing this deal as one-sided as it is, is more fair to the dog. But I would not want anyone trapped in the concept that "I bought/got the dog, I made this deal, so I have to now be stuck with it forever". And what you wrote about the dog not wanting to be part of the team - this is very important, because it is up to the dog somehow, in the "I'll be your dog, and you will be my person" part.

 

Geonni banner, you touched on a different topic concerning dogs that have kept that deal - however one-sided - and have been a darn good working sheep dog and now there is time for them to retire. And selling these dogs, I do have a problem with.

 

These are not young dogs that are just forming their bonds with the handler and the packs, these are dogs have grown into the farm, the pack, and the handler and with great devotion and loyalty earned their keep trying their darnest. To me this is a different thing. In Poland, where KC bitches have to be retired from breeding by the age of 8, there are some breeders that sell them on retiring. At the very least, I see it as bad business practice. It's like firing a worker two days before due retirement.

 

Dogs are all different. It takes effort to step outside the clamor of one's own political correctness and hear what the dog is telling you. Or just to admit that you don't have real love for a given dog. If you find yourself in a space of "if only he were X, Y, or Z," There's a good chance that dog would be better off with someone else. Does that make you a bad person? Only if the dog is trapped in a place where it knows it doesn't belong.

I absolutely agree with this.

 

All of that said, I start out with a level of commitment. I believe that dogs can sense when we are not committed and often respond by giving less.

Very true.

 

And Laura, you wrote that now you tend to let go of the dog sooner. I think this is when you free yourself from the guilty conscience and look at things for what they are and thus give the dog a better chance overall.

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Dear Ms. Maja,

Although I don't sell my trial dogs upon retirement there are good reasons to do so.

 

1. The look on the retired dogs face when I'm loading up to leave without him.

 

2. The education such a dog can provide for a novice handler.

 

3. The love and attention and importance that dog will have as he ages.

 

Donald McCaig

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My question is when did the dog make that deal? And the honest answer in my opinion is "it didn't".

 

The deal is made by us with ourselves, not with the dog: "If this dog does not work out, it will have to move on," as per agreement between me, myself, and I ;) . The dog was not there to agree to it or not. I am fine with this deal, and I understand how this works, but let's not kid ourselves - the dog is not the deal breaker, because he was not the deal maker.

 

Yeah, this. How often is the dog consulted about whether or not it wants to come and live (and work) with us?

 

Only one of my dogs ever really chose me. And I know there's the occasional dog who shows up on someone's doorstep and refuses to leave. But how often does that happen in the context of this conversation about working dogs?

 

The truth of the matter is, as Maja so penetratingly understands, is that we rarely, if ever, ask the dog if she or he wished to join in this deal together.

 

What astounds me is that so very many of them choose to do so willingly and wholeheartedly without ever having been asked. They deserve to have us live up to our side of the bargain and do our vry best by them . . . always.

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Although I don't sell my trial dogs upon retirement there are good reasons to do so.

 

1. The look on the retired dogs face when I'm loading up to leave without him.

2.. The education such a dog can provide for a novice handler.

3. The love and attention and importance that dog will have as he ages.

I definitely agree that these are very important factors. But they they look a bit too easy to become an excuse, a rationalisation rather than a real reason.

  1. My husband’s 11yo Kelly gets stiff but she goes on and does the chores with him unless she falls asleep too hard, and then when she sees she missed it, she looks injured. I get this look from my still young Bonnie, who is going deaf, when she sees I am taking my other dog. She wants to go, and she feels she has somehow failed me. Should I now confirm their fears and give them away on the strength of this look? Take them away from everything they know and love, the place where they have lived what would for a human would be 40-60 years? I would not.
  1. As a tutor for a novice handler – so the dog is too old to do any chores on the farm, and yet is sprite enough to work for the novice handler. Presumably because the novice handler is too green to know better, so he runs around and does a lot of work for the dog e.g. long outruns, since – remember -- the dog is to old to do any work on the farm, and spends his days looking on wistfully as other do all the work. Hmmm, I think there is a problem somewhere ;)

However, joking aside, I agree with you Mr. McCaig that these points are valid, and a dog may have a wonderful life with someone else, but only as long as they they are indeed true, honest to God reasons, not excuses, and as long as the loyal worker has some say in it. I think they earned that right.

 

A friend of mine bought a mature border collie, he liked him so much he kept going back many kilometers to visit him. In the end the owner finally sold the dog to him, because the dog too liked the man very much. It was a novice handler and an open dog.

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My question is when did the dog make that deal? And the honest answer in my opinion is "it didn't".

The deal is made by us with ourselves, not with the dog: "If this dog does not work out, it will have to move on," as per agreement between me, myself, and I ;) . The dog was not there to agree to it or not. I am fine with this deal, and I understand how this works, but let's not kid ourselves - the dog is not the deal breaker, because he was not the deal maker.

I appreciate your post and don't fully disagree with it, but I am being honest, and I am not kidding myself. I'm also not anthropomorphizing; I certainly don't think that my dogs came to me and signed a contract, or that they are effectively comparable to special needs children.
Who are we to say that an individual dog would hate to be in a different home than the one I am providing for it, and that they will experience that the same way that you, as a human, experience rejection? Some dogs, maybe. Other dogs - life is an adventure, they are opportunists, bring on the better deal. The better deal that they did not actively seek ... or maybe they somehow did. Because the older I get, the more amazed I am at how some dogs seem to find the right places for themselves in their lives.
That said, my dogs and I have symbiotic relationships; I have expectations, even of pets. It's my responsibility to communicate these to my dogs through training, and the interaction and environment I provide.
My respect for dogs, especially those that come into our lives bringing some kind of partnership, has increased monumentally since I started working with sheepdogs. I believe that we are really selling these dogs, and our relationships with them, short when we choose not to accept them as sentient beings.
This is not rationalization or excuses, though I believe you will perceive it as such.

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I appreciate your post and don't fully disagree with it, but I am being honest, and I am not kidding myself. I'm also not anthropomorphizing; I certainly don't think that my dogs came to me and signed a contract, or that they are effectively comparable to special needs children.
I agree with this SO VERY MUCH! My first working collie, I bought as a three year-old. His owner had imported a male and she needed to move along this dog as he didn't have a role in her breeding program. I felt grave injustice on my dog's behalf, and made it my mission to prove her wrong, to show her she sold the wrong dog. She would rue the day she tossed my dog for that fancy import blah blah blah. The thing is, the dog didn't care. He adapted to his new life quite well, first living with a friend, then with me. He was always happy to see his original owner, saving especially large tail wags for her, and getting excited when he heard her whistles. When I tapped my side, though, he left her very willingly.
Fast forward, I'm on my third purchased sheepdog. We just got back from Bar's home state of Missouri, where he got to be spend time with his first owner (who had him for almost 1.5 years) and another guy who trained and ran him for a month or so. He was glad to see them too, and I do not doubt that he recognized them, but again, he was clearly my dog, and as soon as I got up to leave, he was at my side.
Not saying that some dogs don't attach keenly to their people. However, this idea that we are betraying them or breaking a covenant when we sell them on has not been my experience. I know that my three purchased sheepdogs did not suit their sellers for numerous reasons, and that they suit me just fine. Not sure how this is a bad deal for the dogs.

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I'm a pet owner and treat my own dogs as such but I totally agree with Donald McCaig, Laura Vishoot and airbear where working dogs are concerned because I've seen it work and been convinced that romantic notions of the inseparable dog and owner don't necessarily apply unless that's what the human wants out of the relationship.

 

I do agility with mine and wouldn't rehome a washout because no dog is born with the need to do it. Pets first, sport dogs second. Quite different from creating a dog with a strong working instinct.

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