Whole Dog Journal's Blog September 23, 2012

High-Octane Dogs Need Special Homes

Posted at 05:08PM - Comments: (9)

I just finished reading a book about the life – and death -- of a special dog, a much-loved Border Collie. Of course, I cried like a baby at the end of it, knowing how hard it is to lose such a very special dog. I have to say I haven't cried like that in a long time, and even as I think about it now . . .

Somehow it really hit me especially hard, since the description of the dog reminded me so much of my dog DeeDee, who I still always think about. The dog in the book was independent, didn't care much for cuddling, kept her own counsel, but always aware of her owner’s presence, whereabouts, and predicaments, and always wanted to work. DeeDee always wanted to be with me, though she, too, was not crazy about hearing sweet nothings. And when I took her to try out some sheep, she made my jaw drop; she knew exactly what she was supposed to do without having any prior experience. And yet, she wouldn’t work with the sheep and the instructor unless I was in the ring. Once I entered the ring, she was ready to get to work. When her time was up, she ran over to me with the biggest grin on her face that I had ever seen, albeit an exhausted grin! She didn't get to work with sheep for a living, but she was a lucky dog in that she got to live on six acres with a swimming pool that she took great advantage of, other dogs that she got to harass, and enjoyed lots of games such as obedience and agility. She was also lucky in that I had the luxury of not needing to work 40-plus hours a week, loved to go running and hiking, and loved doing pretty much anything with her. 

Both of these dogs were very lucky to land in the homes they did. I wonder how they would have survived if they had been adopted into a suburban or city pet home, occupants busy with work, kids, social lives. It really makes me sad when I see dogs who end up in circumstances that just don't work for them, don't meet any of their needs, and yet they try so hard to adapt, having no other choice. Their people try to make it work:  condition, desensitize, habituate, DRI, DRO, extinguish, shape, Premack, reinforce, punish, chain, bridge, medicate, and so on. Sometimes everyone comes to a middle ground, it works to an extent, everyone continuing to work hard, yet the fit is never really right, the haunting existence of a whole different life somehow being missed. DeeDee would not have been the right fit for so many. My family was often amazed and puzzled by her level of intensity, and never would have wished for it. I loved her beyond compare.

I have seen these intense dogs become neurotic, exhibiting behaviors that are anything but normal. The behaviors come up out of necessity, as a side effect of a life not fulfilled, because they are jammed into an existence that has no way to meet their needs. I have seen it with some of the sporting breeds as well as the herding breeds. Their owners then have to try to get help for issues that percolate up because due to the mismatch. It’s not unlike kids placed in the wrong adoptive environments, the situations that have no connection to their needs. They, too, are often medicated to try to make them fit where they just don't.

I always hope that breeders and rescues are sensitive to the results of their placements. I also hope that people searching for a dog understand that, although they had a young Brittany pup many years ago, and had the energy to tend to its needs, at a later point in their lives, it might make sense to look for a dog with less horsepower.

Tricia Breen has been involved with horses and dogs for most of her life. For the past five years, Tricia was the Director of Animal Care and Adoptions at Marin Humane Society, always keeping an eye toward helping dogs and volunteers with shelter life. She recently left this role and went back to assisting people with their dogs to build relationships, consulting with behavior and training issues. She can be reached via www.trishking.net as a new partner in this endeavor. 

Comments (9)

This article couldn't have come at a better time for me. I've recently come to terms with something I've known all along, that my rescue of 9 months is very high energy. She starts pacing at about 2:30 in the morning to see if I'm awake. My husband and I both work and he is at his wits end with being woke in the middle of the night. She is super intelligent and I love her to death, but I seriously need to find an outlet for her to be her high energy self. I'm committed to doing whatever is necessary to give her a great life, so I'm just trying to figure out what that is. I love what Elizabeth had to say about having a high energy dog enriching her life. I believe this is the potential I have. Anyway, I found the article and comments to be very helpful. Thank you to all.

Posted by: RFaulbaum | September 27, 2012 11:31 AM    Report this comment

What was the book you read??

Posted by: Donna H | September 26, 2012 5:25 PM    Report this comment

Whenever people stopped to ask about my English Bull Terrier, we would discuss the usual~ "handsome, witty, comical..." but I made sure to emphasize "lots of very strong energy" so that everyone impressed by his looks wouldn't run out to find a bully of their own~ of which they would quickly tire. When you are looking for a dog, try to imagine the dog that's looking for you. Now that I'm older I don't feel up to running around the neighborhood every day. I'm no longer on an active dog's wishlist and I know it. Those bully years were amazing, though. I'm glad I dove in when I did.

Posted by: aa | September 25, 2012 7:32 PM    Report this comment

Beautiful! And I know the book....I cried my eyes out, too. Our two-year-old Border Collie keeps our 14-year-old Australian Shepherd younger than she might be at this stage - competing for the frisbee and keeping a hearty appetite. Special dogs...

Posted by: Robin Chaffey | September 25, 2012 4:29 PM    Report this comment

Having a high energy dog is interesting, to say the least. While it will not be a good fit in many homes, sometimes such a dog IS so special, it changes the lives of those who own it.

You SEE that the dog is high energy & often coupled with that, is high intelligence. It NEEDs to work; MUST have a job (or jobs). In some cases (such as ours) the owner decides to channel that energy into as many avenues as possible. (For the betterment and survival of all, in the household.) Both lives become more interesting, more fulfilled and enriched by the various activities, classes, other dog owners/dog people met, etc.

You may reach a point where you & the dog are one at moments, when you work together so often. (Of course that might happen anyway) but in having a breed that is naturally versatile (able to point, track & retrieve) we were introduced early, to the concept of doing multiple activites (per week) with the dog, IN ADDITION to providing a great deal of aerobic exercise. I had a mentor 28 years ago explain to me & demonstrate (within a couple of moments) how easy it was for her Lab to go from; show lead, to obedience lead to tracking lead. Both the equipment & the body postures changed and the dog took it all in stride, never missing a beat. (We were sold, and never looked back.)

I think we have enjoyed the dogs (and our lives) so much more by doing so much with them, yet if our first hadn't been super-high energy & the most intelligent dog we've ever owned, we might still just be casual pet owners, today. In my opinion, so many dogs (if they got even a portion of such time and activity) would be so much better off. There are so MANY activities out there for dogs, some with titles (if you want them) some not, but I often encourage people to TRY doing more with their dog, regardless of breed.

Posted by: Betsy | September 25, 2012 1:42 PM    Report this comment

Our beloved Border, Meg's way of showing love was working her tail off for me. Whether it was learning tricks or just retrieving, she loved it. But nothing brought out her job skills like taking care of our rescue Max, a big 70# Red Merle Aussie...who had special needs. Meg herded him in the house, from counter cruising, and was his ears when I called for him, and his eyes as he started going blind in his old age. When she died he was lost, and literally lay down and died. All our love and attention couldn't replace his beloved Meg.

Posted by: SANDRA M | September 25, 2012 1:35 PM    Report this comment

So true! You have put into words beautifully what I have so often thought.

Posted by: Carolyn M | September 25, 2012 1:04 PM    Report this comment

Thanks for once again bringing to light the needs of high-energy dogs. It can NOT be said enough times & your personal stories always make for an interesting read : - ).

Posted by: didalpf | September 25, 2012 12:43 PM    Report this comment


Posted by: kccasanova | September 25, 2012 10:41 AM    Report this comment

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