Tuesday Topics 13 - Luck of the Draw

When you bring a puppy into your home, whether as a family pet or a service dog in training, it's a crapshoot. You can research the breed, observe the litter, meet the sire and dam, read reports from the kennel/shelter--but who really knows what your dog is going to be like, what idiosyncracies will show up, what fears might be lurking in their heads. Puppy raisers get even less choice. At GDB, we can choose the gender and color, but the rest is left to chance. We don't even get to pick the name of the puppy!

Tonight is the end of our puppy swap. At our puppy meeting, Persia will go back to her raisers, and we'll bring Cabana back home with us. The swap was very good for our family--and for Persia, too, I think. I haven't heard anything about Cabana, so I will find out how she fared tonight. Hopefully, she didn't drive the other raisers too crazy. Cabana has the reputation of being the most difficult pup in our group, and I suppose it's an accurate one. Cabana wants to engage headlong with everyone and everything. Her personality is fun and infectious--but can also be a lot of work at times.

To say we took a liking to Persia is an understatement. My husband particularly. Persia is easygoing. She doesn't demand much attention, she willingly flops down and entertains herself, and she is super responsive to commands. Having Persia has helped me to see where we need more work with Cabana.

Seeing the differences between the two dogs makes me wonder how much of their personalities are nature vs. nurture. Of course, there's no "right" answer to this topic--it's a multi-faceted subject and a bit rambly in my mind, but it is something that I have pondered from the start of our puppy raising experience. Basically, do you "get what you get" or do you transform what you were given? And what makes you feel more connected to some dogs and not as much to others? What is the dynamic that makes some relationships between dog/human extra special?

Having no other dog experience to compare with, I naively thought my bond with Cabana was one-in-a-million--but now I see how limiting that would be. That's actually a good thing. One-in-a-million means that we would not be able to be happy with another dog and that Cabana would not be able to be happy with other humans. Now I know we can (quite easily) love and enjoy another dog, and hopefully, Cabana was as resilient as Persia this week in loving and trusting other humans. It's especially comforting, since Cabana will be going through a lot of transitions in the next year--going back to the kennels at Guide Dogs, working with trainers, and hopefully being partnered with someone who needs her. As the old song lyrics go, "If you can't be with the one you love, honey, love the one you're with." Although not as touching as having Cabana reserve her love only us, I hope Cabana will always be able to love the ones she's with. I'm quite certain she can.

Madison and Butler  – (May 26, 2009 at 10:42 AM)  

I think about this quite a lot. Especially when getting a new pup. With CCI there are pups that will pass no matter what, there are those that won't pass no matter what, and then there are a small number that could go either way. When CCI asks me which pup I want I feel as though I'm determining my future just by picking a puppy. Will I pick this one and the other will graduate. What I was trying to get to was that most of them have the path already paved for their future and you are just there to guide them along. There are those few who need a little help paving the path. It's hard to tell what you got. I always try to remember that I'm raising the dog I was given by CCI to be the best it can. But luck of the draw is really the best way to put it! :)

Poppy The Puppy  – (May 26, 2009 at 11:05 AM)  

I agree with Madison. Probably 95% of these dogs will either do it or not do it based on who they are. A handful of these puppies are on the fence personality-wise. Those are the dogs that our molding of them can change the outcome.

Most of what we do is make their future partner's lives easier. Teaching them good behavior and exposing them to many public situations makes life easier for that partner.

By the way, Cabana was allowed to swap. One is the group was not allowed to swap because of her behavior... I think she now takes the cake for hardest puppy in the group ;)

raiserally  – (May 26, 2009 at 11:47 AM)  

This is a tough topic! /grin/ I don't know that Iverson would have graduated for sure. He was very smart, a happy worker and such but his behaviour was almost a deal breaker. He was put on a number of special protocols, had numerous food switches and had chronic ear infections. His behaviour was difficult, to say the least. He was very high energy and had some quirks that required extensive work with our CFR. We worked hard with him and at a number of points while in our home career changing was discussed. He ended up graduating, though, and all the trainers loved him...

Now, Eola /grin/ She's been an absolute pain for her other raisers (she's had three already at 7 months) and they say she's a "spaz" and uncontrollable on leash. She does pull on leash with me but I'm not afraid to use a head collar, she does have more energy than Eclipse but less than Iverson, I just make sure she has chew things rotated through and she's fine with toys and an outing or walk most days. If she'll make it, I'm not sure. At 7 months she has very extreme separation anxiety. Due to nurture, not her nature. The fact that she's been in so many homes at such a young age made her attatch herself very strongly to me. She's a good, strong worker though and we hope that we can capture that nature and get past what the nurture has created and see her succeed as an SD /grin/

I could go on but that's certainly long enough!

Taelor and Pilaf  – (May 26, 2009 at 12:03 PM)  

Having just read what all of the other raisers have said, I think if I said anything ese it would be redundant. Basically I agree 100% with everything. But it is kind of a tough question. whether they were born to work, or born to be a pet,our job is to help make them the best that they can be. =]

OSU 98  – (May 26, 2009 at 12:29 PM)  

I loved this post. I am a definite believer in balance in this case, that there is a component of nature and nurture to our dogs' personalities. My friend's 10 yr old golden ret guide is nearing retirement - as puppy, she loved things she was not supposed to get to and as a near retired guide, she still loves things she is not supposed to get to. Nature or nurture???

I love reading all your blogs. Although I have a 7 year old pet dog, I still like to hear all your training tips and tricks to help Chelsie (and my future service dog in training...one day!) be a better behaved dog.

Hobbes Dogs  – (May 26, 2009 at 1:36 PM)  

As someone who is very interested in genetics - great topic!

Paraphrasing a quote that was brought up in a nature/nuture debate during a psychology class at school, "Trying to determine how much of a trait is due to nature and how much is due to nurture is like trying to determine how much of a field's area is due to its length and how much is due to it's width ... you can't really have one without the other."

For guide/service pups specifically, I lean more towards the 'you get what you get' in terms of whether the pup will eventually grow up to be a graduate or not. (Standard disclaimer - not to say this is always the case, but for the most part).

Certainly, this appears to be true when looking at people who have raised a number of puppies. You would assume that these pups' environment has been similar, yet the pups themselves are often as different as night and day (I know mine certainly have).

That's not to say that we as puppyraisers have no purpose. I know I read about some study that compared puppies raised in kennels to those raised in foster homes, and the fostered pups were much more successful in formal training and working with a partner. I do think we play a big role in teaching our pups manners, and agree with Poppy that what we do with our pups can make their eventual partner or family's life much easier (or harder).

As for your other questions, I wish I knew why certain pups 'connect' differently than others. I guess it's just the same as between any two people.

Carrie and Waffle  – (May 26, 2009 at 2:08 PM)  

I think I grapple with this topic more now that Lani has been selected to be a breeder. She was chosen to be a breeder in a large part to gentics and who she is as a dog. But I have to say that I had much to do with that. She is who she is. I certainly showed her the appropreate ways to interact with humans and the rules of living in a house, but her size, personality and calm nature she came with. From day 1 she was a winner. I could see the difference in behvior from my two previous dogs early on, and I thought 'ah ha!' this is what the other two were lacking. We've raised all the dogs pretty much the same, but none of them went on to graduate. Now Lani in a sense has graduated. The qualities she came with put her over, I just polished them up a bit.

Lisa and Ellie  – (May 26, 2009 at 6:45 PM)  

aw, what a nice post! I think about this too. Although, I kinda like not being able to pick which puppy I get though... takes off some of the "pressure to get it right". Then I can focus on giving her the best "base" I can - socialization, obedience, etc.

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