Purebreds VS Rescues

Purebreds VS Rescues
Please note that this post is geared mostly towards those looking to adopt or buy a puppy – not an adult dog.  I am also using “rescues” to generally refer to dogs of unknown history and breeding – not necessarily purebreds who need a new home or end up in shelters.

As with almost every other subject, people can get very defensive, and downright mean, when it comes to purebreds versus rescues.  So, just in case anyone is curious, here are my two cents on the subject:


And here’s why: each owner’s needs, and each dog’s purpose, is different.

I love rescues.  They come in all sorts of cool and sometimes funny looking combinations.    I grew up with Dingo, a “pound puppy” who was mostly Golden Retriever and a little bit of who-knows-what-else.  We had her for nearly 16 years and loved her dearly.  As a adolescent, I never dreamed I’d ever grow up to own a purebred dog.  After all, I’d had a great rescue, rescues are cheaper (initially, at least), and there are a ton of them available.  So, how did I come to a place where I now own two purebred dogs?



I love purebreds.  They may be cut from a relatively similar cloth, but they are all still individuals.  I ended up with my first purebred dog, Tucker, because I volunteered to be his Puppy Raiser for Leader Dogs for the Blind.  When he was career changed at a year and a half, they gave him back to me.  During this time, I also had the privilege of becoming good friends with a couple who train Search and Rescue dogs – all of whom just happened to be purebred German Shepherds.

Then I became a dog trainer.  As my business grew, my Labrador (who is atypical in my opinion) decided he didn’t want to have to work every day.  He’s mellow and he’s lazy.  He didn’t seem to enjoy being the one and only demonstration dog or training assistant.  So, we began thinking about our next dog.  And although a working dog will always also be a family dog in our home, our business needs were a huge priority.  I needed a dog with a great work ethic, a confident personality, and a good temperament.  The more time I spent with my search and rescue friends, the more I fell in love with the qualities of the German Shepherd Dog.  And now we have Ellie the Warrior Princess.

Tucker and Ellie

Ellie and Tucker


So, if you’re looking for a dog, and you have friends on one side yelling, “adopt, don’t shop!” and friends on the other side yelling, “you don’t know what you’re getting!” how on earth are you supposed to decide what to do?  Here are a few things to consider:

  • Health
    • Most people have heard the statement, “mutts are healthier than purebreds.”  In my experience, that has been true to a point, but not 100%.  My parents currently have a rescued German Shepherd mix and she has had very few health issues so far.  Dingo, however, had poor hips and allergies, and was on arthritis medication for roughly 8 of her 15.5 years.  Tucker is a mess of weird health problems – acid reflux, irritable bowel syndrome, poor tooth structure – while Ellie, thus far, hasn’t shown any issues other than a birth defect in her eye (which doctors say isn’t necessarily genetic).  When you rescue a dog, you don’t know their health history.  When you buy a dog, you can (and should!) look at their lineage and health history, but it isn’t a guarantee.
  • Physical Characteristics
    • Some people like big dogs and some people like small dogs.  Some people live on 50 acre farms and some people live in one bedroom apartments.  The size of dog you have, and their other physical characteristics (such as their fur), can have a great impact on your life.

      My dad took me to the pound and let me pick out Dingo all on my own – at five years old.  I wanted a “golden colored” puppy – that was my only requirement.  My parents had no idea how big she would or wouldn’t get and what her temperament would be like.  Newsflash y’all – rescues organizations and shelters GUESS at a dog’s breed to the best of their ability, but when they don’t have any history on a puppy, they are guessing in the dark based on the physical traits they can see at a young age.  Thankfully for us, we had the space and finances to handle what turned out to be a 70 pound Golden Retriever mix – not all families have that luxury.  Another example:  I worked for a wonderful veterinarian for a few years who will readily tell you that guessing a puppy’s breed is not her best skill.  She currently owns an 80 pound hound dog because her son brought home a stray puppy that she thought was a Beagle pup…

      While size is an important factor, another important one for a lot of families is the coat.  If you know a family member is allergic to dogs, you may not want to invest time and money into a rescue who MAY be hypoallergenic when you could buy a specific breed known for that quality or even one who has already been tested and proven mostly hypoallergenic.  And besides that, some people just don’t want to deal with fluffy tumbleweeds floating around their house!

  • Purpose
    • To me, purpose is one of the most important factors to consider in this debate. If you’re looking for a family pet, a companion, or a walking buddy, you may not care exactly how big he gets or what his level of trainability might be for advanced commands.  If you’re looking to train for a specific task or skill, or you need certain physical characteristics because of your environment, you may be wary of adopting a rescue puppy when no certain history is available.

      And do you know what I think?  I think that is perfectly acceptable.  I don’t think either of these sides should be judged too harshly.  After all, if you believe as I do that a dog is a long term commitment, you want to be sure that you’re committing to something you can handle and that serves its intended purpose.  Now, there are always exceptions to the above thoughts.  There are organizations who are willing to take the time to comb through shelters and pick out dogs with certain characteristics to train for high functioning jobs – and that’s awesome.  There are breeders/shops who are in it for the money, who are irresponsible, who sell dogs with horrible health and temperaments and who contribute to our shelter dog problem – and that’s repulsive.

      At the end of the day, you should think long and hard about your decision to adopt OR shop and make the choice that will be best for you, and the dog, in the long term.  Don’t let someone bully you into rescuing a dog with a laundry list of issues that you don’t have the money/time to handle.  Don’t let someone bully you into going to the most expensive breeder in town because they think a dollar sign is the only qualifier of worth and value.  Seek out people on both sides of the road, do your research, and make the decision for yourself.

      Mixed breeds and Purebred dogs

      Between my parents, sister, and myself, we have two rescues and two purebreds.  They are all dearly loved and serve their purpose well.  My sister’s dog Harley, who is a who-the-heck-knows-husky-mix?, fits in well as a patient big brother to my nephew and cuddle buddy for my sister/brother in law.  My parents’ dog Kalli, a shepherd mix, lives a happily introverted life with two empty nesters and has amazing mole catching skills.  And then there’s my kids – the German Shepherd Dog who cries when she doesn’t get to go to the office and the lazy Labrador who enjoys sleeping next to kids at the elementary school while they read.  They all have purpose – they are all valuable – and they are all exactly where they need to be.  



Categories: Adopting a dog, Blog, Buying a dog, dog training, Mixed Breeds, owner encouragement, Puppy, Purebred dogs, Rescues | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

You Matter!

Yes, you!

You matter.  You are important.  And, dare I say it, you are more valuable than your pet.

I know this concept is taboo in today’s society, but I believe it to be true.  Our society has taught us to believe that our dog’s happiness far exceeds the value of our own.  I simply do not agree.  Yes, we should care for our animals and ensure that they have proper food, water, shelter, medical attention, and socialization (and training!).  That does not, however, mean that they get to rule the home and do whatever they please at your expense.

I have several clients who start to look anxious at the very mention of going to the park.  They’ve had so many horrible experiences because of their dogs’ behavior that they experience a stress trigger just thinking about it.  Even the ones who aren’t experiencing that level of stress usually say, longingly, “I just want to be able to go to the park again.”

While there are always exceptions to the rule, I have found that these dogs can typically make vast improvements with a little boundary setting and self-control.  In the image below, you will see my Labrador, Tucker, and a client’s dog, Archer, walking side by side at the Greenway.  We did a few lessons at my shop and then ventured to the park.  Archer’s owner had become very wary of taking him out as he had become very dog reactive and somewhat aggressive.  While at the park, Archer not only walked happily with his new buddy, Tucker, but was able to pass by other client dogs we ran into with much more composure.  It was the first time in a long time that his owner had felt in control enough to walk him around other dogs.


Tucker and Archer walk side by side at the park.

Interestingly enough, while checking out kennels in my area this month, I saw Archer and his brother at a boarding facility.  Upon telling the kennel owner that I knew him and why, she said, “I just told his owner yesterday that he’d been so much better behaved this time.  Now I know why!”  Boundary setting and teaching self-control can have an effect on so many areas of your dog’s life – and can reduce the anxiety that is often the root of the poor behavior.

So, don’t disregard your own happiness and quality of life.  If your dog is making you miserable – do something about it!  Don’t let our society tell you that setting boundaries and rules makes you a bad owner.  We always want to treat our dogs humanely and with respect, but that doesn’t mean letting them run the show at your expense.  Yes, your dog matters – but YOU matter, too!


Our dogs are going to have bad days and they’re going to do ridiculous things at times, but that doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t still be enriching your life.  If you’re stressing more than laughing, find a trainer and make a change.  [Picture – me laughing after one of puppy Tucker’s “oops” moments – 2012 – photo credit Beth Anne Ho.]

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Common Puppyhood Injuries

Puppies, like children, often get sick or have accidents.  And while some of these sicknesses and accidents are unavoidable, there are some things we can do as owners to attempt to reduce visits to the vet.

The AKC recently published an article about the top puppy injuries they see come through their insurance program (yes, doggie health insurance is now a thing).  You can read the full article by Clicking Here.

Two of the five most common items they discuss are ear infections and ingestion of a foreign body.

In Puppy Preschool, we discuss the importance of first aid and proper grooming, which includes regularly checking your puppy’s ears and knowing how to properly clean them when they become dirty.  Some breeds are more susceptible to ear infections than others, such as breeds with floppy ears and/or a lot of hair in the ear canal.  Ear infections can be quite painful, and at times costly, so it’s important to utilize preventative strategies when possible.  Even so, ear infections can still occur, so owners would do well to familiarize themselves with the early symptoms so they can receive medical treatment before the infection worsens.

Anyone who has ever owned a puppy also knows that they explore the world with their mouths.  That means that anything within a puppy’s reach is often fair game for mouthing and/or ingesting when unsupervised.  Puppies can often make quick work of certain household objects, so best practice is to crate your puppy when it is unsupervised.  If you are crate training properly and helping your puppy understand that the crate is his safe space, crating him should not cause undo stress.  Even if your puppy doesn’t love the idea of going in his crate while you go to work or run an errand, his safety (and the safety of your belongings) should still be prioritized over his feelings.  As the mature adult, it’s your job to make decisions for him – he’s just a baby!

Even diligent owners who move objects to higher ground and utilize a crate can still find themselves with a puppy who has ingested a foreign object.  While some objects may pass through your puppy’s digestive tract without causing harm, other objects can either leech toxins or become stuck along the way.  When in doubt, call your veterinarian.  He or she may want to take x-rays to identify and locate the object in order to create an appropriate treatment plan.


Don’t forget that “all natural” objects can become a problem, too!  Puppies who swallow large chunks of wood, rocks, or even large nuts could end up with a digestive issue.  Supervision is always key!  




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All About Food!

Happy Thanksgiving!

While we hope that people spend today reflecting on thankfulness and blessings, let’s be honest – most people are thinking about FOOD!

What about your dog?  Have you given much thought to what he/she will eat today?  Or any other day for that matter?

I’ve had the pleasure of working with several different veterinarians in my teens and early twenties.  Clients would often ask them what they should be feeding their dogs, and their response was usually something to the effect of, “whatever works well for your dog that’s a decent quality.”

There’s a lot of ambiguity there – and I can understand why.  The number of feeding options available for your dog is immense – and knowing what to choose and why can be difficult.  It is also worth noting, as the veterinarians did, that each dog is an individual, so what works really well for one might not work at all for another.

My parents’ dog, Kalli, does really well on the PetSmart brand – Authority.  As a puppy, my parents really struggled to find a good food for her that didn’t upset her stomach.  I believe they were quite surprised when that brand ended up working the best!  My dog, Tucker, on the other hand, is a different story.  He has IBS and acid reflux issues, and he did not do well on ProPlan, which is what Leader Dog was feeding when he was in their care.  I switched him to Wellness Core Original, which is grain and gluten free, and we have spent far less time in the vet’s office with explosive diarrhea!

I was recently made aware of a new dog food guide prepared by  Using a variety of different criteria, they have come up with a guide to the best dog foods available.  Even if their top picks are out of your price range, the questions they raise and research they present may prove quite useful in evaluating the foods that are possibilities for you.  Hopefully, this page will make you take a closer look at the ingredients in your dog’s food!  It appears they have genuinely taken an unbiased look at over 3,000 formulas using their research driven methodology.

Link: Dog Food Guide

Side note:  Tucker and Ellie eat Wellness: Core Original and Wellness Complete Health Grain Free Puppy.  In the original post from, Wellness was excluded from their list because of associations with recalls when under different management.  In this new, updated guide, I cannot find their specific formulas, but I think they would both have been eliminated in the “garlic” round.  All I can tell you is that for Tucker, this food has been a big improvement on his quality of life and he’s had enough blood tests done in his few years that I am not currently concerned about any potential side effects from the garlic.

So enjoy your Turkey Day feasts, but don’t forget to evaluate your dog’s menu, too!


This will forever be one of my favorite “Thanksgiving” pictures of me and Tucker.  Leftovers, cuddles, and proof of what good training and boundaries can allow!






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Accidental Training

Ordinarily, when you think about your dog learning a new behavior, you think about actual training – specific, planned instruction to elicit the response you want.

What few people realize is that your dog is constantly learning – not just when you’re actively teaching.  Dogs are masters of association.  Have you ever marveled at how your dog sometimes seems to know what you’re planning to do next before you do?  For example – I pick up the dog toys in our living room each time before I vacuum.  Well, as soon as I start putting toys away, Tucker goes to his bed to get out of the way and prepare for the entrance of the vacuum cleaner – and the vacuum isn’t even out of the closet yet.

This same principle is at work when we teach “auto” commands.  If you habitually ask your dog to sit as you approach a cross walk, odds are high that he will eventually start sitting at cross walks before you even ask.  He has learned that certain actions from you warrant a certain response from him.

Because dogs are creatures of habit, love associations, and pay attention to every little detail, it can be very easy for us to “accidentally” train behaviors.  Allow me to give you a funny example.

When Ellie was a small pup, I didn’t trust her to be out of my sight for more than three seconds.  She was notorious for getting into things and even more likely to have an accident in the house – housebreaking was not an easy task for her.  I spent a lot of time with her corralled in the living room so I could sit on the couch and work on my computer while still monitoring her playtime.  Well, when I needed go to the bathroom, I would pick her up and take her with me to the closest one, our guest bathroom.  As she got a little bigger, but still no less mischievous, I would entice her to come into the bathroom with me with a toy.  At the time, my only thought and concern was that if she was closed in the room with me, I would at least be able to see if she had an accident instead of missing it and stepping on a spot of soggy carpet later in the living room.

Fast forward several months.  Ellie is now more trustworthy and no longer has accidents in the house.  And yet, nearly every time I walk into our guest bathroom, regardless of where she is and what she’s doing, she follows me!  Without meaning to, I convinced Ellie that when I go into our guest bathroom, she is required to come with me.  Now, she is a shepherd, which means her desire to keep an eye on me is fairly high.  So, how do I know that the behavior is accidentally trained and not just a virtue of her breed?  She only does it with our guest bathroom – never the master bath.

As she gets older and the behavior isn’t reinforced, it will likely fade.  But for the time being, she seems very convinced that I either need moral support or a bodyguard when I go to the guest bathroom!

Ellie’s example is a funny one, but sometimes, we can accidentally train behaviors that we don’t like.  As you’re evaluating your dog’s behavior and trying to figure out how to stop a certain action, ask yourself if you may have accidentally taught it or still be reinforcing it – it might give you some insight into how to fix it!


This is Ellie’s self-appointed “spot” when she follows me to the bathroom.



Categories: Behavior, dog training, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Puppy, training tips | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

When the Lights Go Out

Boone experienced an incredible amount of rain yesterday, which led to flooding and power outages.  At not quite seven months old, this was Ellie’s first power outage.  She did not understand why our living room suddenly went dark or why it was eerily quiet in our house (except for the storm outside).

She whined, she “boofed” (my word for the sound that isn’t quite a bark and makes the lips puff out) at every noise – including my stomach growling as dinner approached – and was most amused when I started lighting candles.

“What are “candles” and why am I not allowed to touch them??”

Puppy and Candle

Our power wasn’t out long, but the storm served as a good reminder that we should all be prepared for such events – even when it comes to our pets!

Just as you should make sure you have plenty of non-perishable food and drinking water on hand before a storm hits, you need to make sure you’ve accounted for dog food and water for your dog(s) as well.  We try to make sure we have several extra bags of dog food on hand before extreme weather hits.  I certainly don’t want to have to explain to Tucker or Ellie why they’re hungry if we get snowed in for a bit!


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How Many Lessons?

How long will it take to train my dog?  How many lessons will I need?

I get this question almost every time I meet with a new client.  And it’s a valid question – people want to know how much time and money is going to be required for their dogs to reach their goals.

My typical answer is this:  It’s up to you and your dog.

Every person is different.  Every dog is different.  Every situation is different.

And yet, I think I can say with relative certainty that those who consistently put in the time and effort and do their best to maintain good training habits typically reach their goals faster.

But it takes two to tango – and your dog is the other half of the training equation.  I had a client, now friend, who called me for help training her two dogs.  They were not related, but both were Miniature Pinschers mixes.  The same owner, using the same methods and equipment, experienced two different rates of success.  Her female dog was a pleaser and very eager to learn.  She figured out the “heel” command with a high level of consistency in just one lesson.  Her male dog was a stubborn guy and not eager to have to follow rules.  He figured out the “heel” command with some consistency after about two weeks of practice.

As the owner, your part in the equation is commitment to practice, consistency, and patience.  Some dogs/breeds will learn faster/slower than others, but no dog is going to learn quickly if the owner cannot effectively take the lead in training.

Bottom line?  Do your best, do right by your dog, and be patient in the process.


Ellie, June 2017

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Protecting Your Dog

You are your dog’s only true advocate.  If you won’t protect him, who will?  He will, that’s who.

Most aggression comes from a place of fear and insecurity.  Sure, there are some dogs who are just plain aggressive – but they are in the minority.

Even if your dog doesn’t show aggressive and/or fearful tendencies as a general rule, all dogs have teeth, all dogs can bite, and all dogs have a breaking point.

Part of your job, your responsibility, as a dog owner is keep your dog out of compromising positions.  Today, I’m going to address that thought by harping on dogs and alcohol.

I have spoken with multiple clients whose dogs have had poor experiences involving intoxicated humans.  In each case, the owner had chosen to take the dog to an event or place where large amounts of alcohol were present, and in each case, the owners neglected to remove the dog from the situation once things started getting tense.

In one scenario, a drunk man grabbed a dog by its head and pulled it up into his own face.  The dog tried to back away, but the man persisted in holding his head right up to his own.  The dog bit the man on the nose.  While some dogs may have been able to keep holding on to hope of rescue, this dog had clearly reached the point where he believed his only option was to try to rescue himself.  Who is at fault in this scenario?  The owner – who stood by and watched the whole thing happen.

Don’t let your dog become another bite statistic because you made the poor choice to put him in a bad situation.  Be responsible – if you take your dog to a party and things get a little more “exciting” than you anticipated, be the adult and take your dog back home.*

Show your dog you are worthy of his trust, will do your best to protect him, and really do have his best interest at heart.  

*Do not drive your dog home if you have been drinking.

Note:  I may live in a college town, and colleges may be notorious for alcohol related incidents, but the example given above did not involve a college student.







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Monsters are Everywhere – When You’re a Puppy

The world can be a big and scary place if you’re a puppy!  As you’re socializing your puppy and taking him/her to new places, keep in mind that things that seem completely normal to you can be very frightening to a young pup.

If your puppy suddenly seems afraid of something, try getting down on his/her level to see if you can understand (A) what they’re actually afraid of and (B) what they find scary about it.  A statue in a park might not seem scary to you or me, but if you get down to a puppy’s level and look at it from that height, you may find it more intimidating than you realized.

Such was the case with Ellie the Warrior Princess earlier this week when I took her with me to get the car inspected.  As we were leaving, Ellie began to growl and bark towards the road.  It wasn’t immediately clear what was upsetting her, so I had to get down to her level and track her gaze.  That was when I realized that she had spotted a bright red fire hydrant way up on the hill by the road.

When your puppy is panicking over something you deem silly, it may be tempting just to walk away and avoid feeling like you’re causing a scene.  In reality, it goes a long way if you can help your puppy overcome that fear instead of just leaving it to linger in the back of his mind.

So, how does one help her puppy overcome a fear of a fire hydrant?  You walk up to it, crouch next to it, and pet it like a dog – all the while encouraging your puppy to come check it out with you.  I may have looked quite silly petting it and trying to introduce my puppy to a fire hydrant next to a four lane road that day, but it’s worth it to make sure she continues to gain confidence and overcome her fears.


A few tips on overcoming fearful objects:

  1. Say hi to it yourself!  If you look like you don’t want to touch it or get near it, why on earth would you puppy want to do that?
  2. Do not coddle your pup.  Resist the urge to hold, cuddle, and coo to your dog as he backs away or growls.  Speak confidently and calmly, and make sure you convey to your pup that it’s really no big deal.
  3. Practice!  When you’re out and about and see something weird, encourage your pup to check it out, sniff it, and say hi even if he hasn’t actually noticed it yet.  Get ahead of the weird fears and suspicious thoughts – lead the charge and say hi first!

If your puppy encounters a fearful object and you aren’t able to work through it all in one sitting, try to return to the spot or object again later to continue practicing and working through the anxiety.  Avoid the temptation to drag your puppy up to something and try instead to encourage independent forward movement by making it look fun!



Prince Tucker had to learn how to meet weird new objects all the time as a Future Leader Dog puppy, too!

Categories: Behavior, Blog, Ellie the Warrior Princess, Fearful dogs, Puppy, Puppy Socialization | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Puppy Teeth – do they all fall out?


I go over some basic oral hygiene tips in my Puppy Preschool classes and I often find that first time puppy owners aren’t totally sure they understand those pointy little needles in their puppy’s mouth!

Yes, just like human children, your puppy has a set of “baby” teeth and yes, they will all fall out!  The good news is that your puppy will lose those sharp baby teeth much faster than a human kid.  Somewhere around four months, your pup will start replacing those baby teeth with adult teeth.  Even though the puppy teeth won’t be around long, do yourself a favor and go ahead and get in the habit of routine teeth brushing!

Dental care is extremely important for your dog, and it’s never too early to work on your dog’s tolerance for it.  Get in your practice with that awkward doggie toothbrush with teeth that will fall out anyway!

It’s also very important to remember that, just like a human kid, your puppy NEEDS to chew on things!  Make sure your pup has plenty of appropriate items for the teething stage – and don’t be overly alarmed if you see a little blood once in a while as teeth get loose or fall out.

We are currently going through the teething stage in our house – and we chew on a lot of nylabones and ice cubes!  You can check out the images below to see where Ellie has lost a few of her front teeth.  And before you ask, yes, those super sharp canine teeth are usually some of the last ones to go!




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