On Expectations And Disappointments: Love The One You’re With

On Expectations And Disappointments: Love The One You’re With

About two and a half years ago, in February of 2014, I brought home my very first show puppy.

He was twelve weeks old, and perfect in every way.  A handsome blue merle Sheltie, the pick boy of a lovely show litter with beautiful movement and a strikingly gorgeous face.  I drove 12 hours round-trip to pick him up from his breeder in North Carolina on a cold, windy day.  He slept curled in his crate in the back seat the whole way home, and I could hardly tear my eyes away from him to watch the road.

To say that I was excited would be an understatement.  Embarking on any new adventure requires a great deal of research and preparation, and I was ready – for months beforehand, I had been reading up, watching videos, and asking advice from everyone I knew who was involved in conformation showing.  Gatsby and I attended classes every week, learning to gait and stack for the judge.  I bought his first show lead (after much deliberation about the color!), and amassed an impressive array of grooming tools so I could learn how to primp and fluff correctly.

With any show pup, there are a myriad of things that can go wrong.  Despite great genetics and lots of early promise, things can happen – bites can go crooked, ears can fail to tip correctly.  A well put-together youngster can grow into an awkward, ungainly adult.  But in Shelties, size is the greatest heartbreaker of all – dogs must be between 13 and 16 inches to show, and adult height is notoriously difficult to predict in puppies.

We measured faithfully as the weeks went by, but he was a wiggly puppy and it was difficult to be exact.  And in any case, everything else was going wonderfully – we were coming together as a team, becoming more confident every day and having a great time in our handling class.  I sent off our first show entry in May with a mixture of trepidation and giddy excitement, ready to show off our hard-earned skills at last.

On the morning of our big debut, walking through the fairgrounds to set up, I got my first inkling that something was wrong.  Some of the other two-dozen-odd Shelties that were entered were also milling around with their handlers, and they looked… different.  Smaller, lighter, more petite than my lanky teenage pup.  Not a huge difference, but definitely noticeable.

My sense of unease blossomed into full-blown worry when a friend who also had Shelties stopped by our set-up to chat.  Her eyes lingered on Gatsby, standing proudly on the grooming table as we practiced our stack.

“How old is he?”

Just turned six months, I told her.  Our first show.

She was silent.  Looking at the size of his paws, the length of his nose.  All a bit larger than expected.

“He’s… a big boy, isn’t he?  Lots of bone.”  She was choosing her words carefully.  Very diplomatic, very kind.  “What does he measure?”

The million-dollar question.  I told her he was around 15 inches, maybe 15 and a half?  In truth, I wasn’t sure.

She nodded.  I’m sure she knew better, but like the good friend she was, chose not to belabor the point.  “Well.  He’s very handsome.”  She scratched his ears and gave me a last, half-pitying wave before moving on.  “Good luck today.”

As we entered the ring with the 6-9 month puppy class, it became painfully clear that there was a problem.  Next to other pups his own age, the difference was impossible to ignore – he towered over the others, a hulking giant in comparison.  We did our very best, and Gatsby strutted his stuff like we’d practiced so many times – gaiting around the ring like a Westminster winner, stacking and posing for his piece of cheese with a happy, wagging tail.  The judge placed us last in the class with barely a glance.

It wasn’t hard to see why.

I have a very vivid memory of sitting alone in the car after the show, blinking back tears.  The grooming table and show lead were folded up and stowed in the back, along with my newly acquired assortment of brushes and shears in their gleaming tackle box.  The smart little suit jacket and armband I’d been so proud to wear, draped forlornly over the passenger seat headrest.

The drive home was long and quiet.

A visit to his breeder two weeks later for a hands-on evaluation confirmed what I already knew: at six months old, my beautiful puppy’s career in the show ring was over.


Disappointment comes in many different forms.  Every new puppy owner has hopes and expectations for the future, and it can be a bitter pill to swallow when the dream doesn’t work out.

For show or sport dog owners, these goals are often very clear and quite specific.  A handler who runs her dogs in high-level agility competition knows exactly what she wants, and chooses her puppy accordingly – her dog needs to be confident and fast with lots of working drive, intelligent and biddable.  He also needs to be conformationally sound with good structure, to minimize the risk of injuries over years of running high-impact obstacle courses.  Being highly food-motivated and at least somewhat toy-driven is also a plus.

With her list of must-haves in mind, she does her research and contacts a breeder.  The litter that her puppy comes from is filled with solid performance prospects – the sire and dam are both titled in agility and obedience with beautiful structure and stable temperament, and the breeder is well-known for producing quality puppies that perform well in a variety of sports and activities.  When her new pup comes home, she spends their first six months together taking him everywhere she can and introducing him to new environments, new surfaces, new dogs.

In short, she does everything right.

But the reality is this: all of her research, her pedigree analysis and temperament testing and even her intensive socialization program in no way guarantees that her puppy will be the agility champion she hopes for.  The sum total of nature and nurture for every individual dog is always something of a crapshoot, despite our best efforts – there are things we can do to improve our odds of getting a puppy that suits our goals, but dogs are not appliances and cannot be custom-made to order.

And the conundrum is, of course, that we wouldn’t want them to be.

The very fact that each dog is a unique individual, with his own personality and character traits and unpredictable physical features, is a huge part of why we love them – we see in them the same unmistakable singularity that we value so much in ourselves.  Every puppy at eight weeks old is an adorable bundle of unlimited potential and a thousand question marks, no matter how carefully selected.  This is the half-terrified thrill of driving home with a new show prospect (or agility, or obedience, or working dog hopeful), and I can honestly say that it never gets old.

So what about pet dog parents, you might say?

If you’re like most dog owners, you may have no particular interest in competition sports or working titles – you just want a canine buddy to snuggle on the couch with, or a hiking partner on the weekends.  No lofty aspirations or dreams of blue ribbons, and no specific list of needs.  Nothing fancy.

In short, a companion – the oldest and most important role of all.

Does this mean that it doesn’t matter how your pup turns out?  On the contrary – here, if anything, the stakes are even higher.  This is your life together, day in and day out.  Every puppy owner looks into the future and sees their ideal dog; the specifics may be different, but the universal experience of anticipation and unbridled optimism is something that all of us have felt.

So too, is the unavoidable sense of loss when things don’t go as planned.

An example:

Some time ago, I had a student in one of my classes with a two-year-old golden retriever.  She was a lovely person, very nice and well-intentioned, and she loved her dog very much.  Her golden was a great dog in many ways – very smart, and lots of fun to work with – but he had been somewhat reactive towards other dogs on-leash since he was an adolescent, and could be spooky and unpredictable when meeting new people.

Despite these issues, his owner had an unfortunate habit of allowing him to approach and interact with other dogs in class, with predictably poor results.  She also often encouraged people to say hello and pet him, sometimes holding him in place by the collar while her poor dog tried everything he could to avoid the greeting – slinking backwards towards the floor, averting his gaze, and occasionally growling defensively as strangers approached.

We had talked with her on several occasions about managing her dog’s personal space and recommended avoiding these types of interactions, but they continued to occur with troubling frequency.  At last, after a particularly difficult week, she stayed after class to speak with me.

I could hear the frustration in her voice as soon as she began to talk.

“I just don’t understand why he acts like this!  My last golden, Jack, was never this way – he loved everyone.  He was great with dogs, people, kids!  Never met a stranger.”

She went on to tell me, with real emotion in her voice, that she couldn’t understand what she was doing wrong.  Jack had always loved to meet everyone, everywhere they went – she was doing all the same things with her current dog, but it didn’t seem to make a difference.  Finally, she confided that she was planning to train him as a therapy dog and hoped to pass their certification test later that year – so it was really very important that he get used to greeting everyone he met, as soon as possible.

Unfortunately, this scenario is all too common – it can be hard to see what’s right in front of us, if we want very badly to believe something different.  This lovely young golden had lots of great qualities, but he was not Jack.  He was much more selective in which dogs and people he wanted to interact with, and needed plenty of personal space to be comfortable.  In human terms, he was more of an introvert than a gregarious social butterfly – and there’s nothing wrong with that at all.

But for his owner, it was deeply disappointing to realize that her dog was not the sunny, happy-go-lucky extrovert she had tried so hard to make him.  And unfortunately, that he was not a good candidate for therapy work – not because he wasn’t trainable, or because he was “naughty” and needed to be taught better manners, but simply because he was never going to enjoy the constant greetings and interaction with strangers that came with the job.

These qualities aren’t good or bad.  They just are.

But if we were hoping for something different, that doesn’t make acknowledging them any less painful.

The truth is, we all have desires and expectations for our dogs – secret hopes for our future together, things that we want them to be.  And regardless of what our goals are, it’s human nature to feel sad and frustrated when they don’t work out.

So if you’ve been there, don’t beat yourself up.  It’s okay to be disappointed.  It’s okay to grieve a little, in your heart of hearts, for the dog you thought you had.

But once you’ve done that, the best advice I can offer is this:  Love him for who and what he is, and learn to accept what he isn’t.  Find out what other things you might enjoy together instead.

Because at the end of the day, this is your dog.  The dog you have right now.  Not the dog your family had when you were young.  Not your neighbor’s dog that you like so much, or the dog you saw on TV that first sparked your interest in a puppy.

Your dog.  Warts and all.

And honestly?  I would be willing to bet that your dog – the dog you actually have – is pretty great in his own way.

My boy Gatsby is not a show champion, and he never will be.  Accepting that was hard for me at first – and occasionally still is, when I watch him move out at a smooth, easy trot in a wide open space and think what a spectacular show dog he would have been.

But as it turns out, he has lots of other talents in his genes.

We’ve spent the past two years training in agility and obedience, and he’s been an amazing partner… a precise and thoughtful worker, and he tries harder at any task I give him than any dog I’ve ever had.  And more importantly, he makes me smile every single day – he does joyful figure-8’s in the bathroom and rubs his ears against me like a cat first thing every morning, plunks himself down with self-satisfied gusto directly on top of my face when he wants to snuggle, and insists on carrying his favorite blanket outside every morning to potty.

He has his faults, to be sure… but then again, so do I.  He doesn’t hold mine against me, so I try my best to follow his example.

We do the best we can together.

And whatever your dog’s job might be – working dog or couch buddy, or anything in between – that’s all any of us can ask.

63 thoughts on “On Expectations And Disappointments: Love The One You’re With

  1. This is fantastic. I do Happy Tails Therapy dog evaluations. I wish more people would understand this. Sharing now. Thank you for such an insightful well written article.

    1. You’re very welcome! Therapy dog training is a great example of something not all dogs are suited for – and there’s nothing “wrong” with the ones that aren’t, it just isn’t their thing. But it can be hard for owners to accept, if they had their hearts set on doing therapy work.

      1. When we got my dog as a puppy, I had wanted her to be a therapy dog. Nope. She’s more of an introvert and like the golden described above. (Her father is a therapy dog…). We are getting into nose work instead. And while I don’t think she’ll ever be great at it, we both have a good time.

  2. Your blog is so great Jen! We’re back in Charleston now and I’d love to get together with you some time! 🙂

    1. I would love that too! Send me a message on FB sometime, and we can find a time to get together 🙂

  3. This is an excellent article. Although I didn’t have show aspirations, I must admit that I was disappointed that my sheltie grew to the size of a small collie… and he lacks the thick sheltie coat. I learned the value of finding a reputable breeder. Anyway, he’s turned out to be a devoted companion and has 4 titles now with hopefully more to come! I tell him every day that he’s the best boy a mom could ever have!

    1. I think your boy is amazing 🙂 He does a great job with everything you guys do, and he’s such a sweetie. A good breeder definitely helps, but life throws curve balls sometimes even if you do everything right… there are no guarantees with dogs!

      1. I agree. A good breeder can get/check all the clearance on both sides and look back over lines for several generations. But Mother Nature will throw the occasional curve ball on what should be reasonably expected.

        1. Yes, indeed! Gatsby’s breeder was wonderful – knowledgeable, very dedicated, and does everything right with her puppies. Very kind and supportive, and she did her very best to place a puppy with me that would be great for the show ring. But there are never any guarantees… Mother Nature always has the last word! 🙂

  4. Wonderful article, Jennifer! We try to match up puppies and people for maximum success of each placement and feel that this is critically important as the role of a responsible breeder. We wouldn’t, for instance, send a high energy pup home with an older couple who had a rather sedentary lifestyle as it wouldn’t be a good “fit” and that pup would very likely wind up in a shelter because he/she was “too much dog”. I’ve “guided choices” many times and of course we always insist that the dog be a house dog ( when the family goes in for supper, so does the dog) and has early socialization and obedience training ( ideally in class situations for confidence building.)
    I’ve shown for years in conformation and obedience and understand all too well what you are writing about. We bought a daughter of the US Grand Victor years ago from a prominent judge and breeder with such hopes for setting the ring on fire. She turned out to be a pretty dog who earned her CDX but never had the hindquarter angulation favored by American judges. She did have remarkable tracking ability, too, and we learned about that aspect of training through her.
    Keep up the good work – I’m so proud of you!

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I think that breeders can help tremendously to increase the odds of success when pairing pups with their new families, by doing all the things that you do. Lots of heartache can be avoided by starting with an appropriate puppy for your lifestyle in the first place!

      And yes, what a great example with your show girl who didn’t quite turn out, but did so well with obedience and tracking. It’s always fun when following your dog’s interests and talents leads to new sports and new challenges that you both enjoy 🙂

  5. This really resonated with me — but it would, of course, because I also have an oversized male sheltie from North Carolina bought for a specific purpose who later went through a career change! (Talk about finding your ideal audience, right?)

    In my case, I got Indi as a service dog prospect for myself. He was the perfect puppy in every possible way and with the exception of him breaking his leg as a puppy, our first year together was absolutely glowing.

    He learned his skills beautifully, but when I thought about plans to graduate him to full working status, I would get a funny feeling in the back of my mind. It never felt like time to start looking at that option more closely. We’ve been training for over two years, and at every milestone where I evaluate his progress, I find myself saying, “Not yet.”

    A few months ago, I finally admitted to myself that what I’m actually saying is “Not him.”

    I love my dog. He is brilliant and capable and enthusiastic. He has a goofy sense of humor and knows how to brighten up the darkest day. He knows his tasks and he performs well when I ask him to. But he finds absolutely no joy in public work. At all. None. He would rather be home on the sofa — public access work (where I need him the most) is something that I am finally admitting he will only ever tolerate, not like, and definitely not love. My previous dog lit up with joy every time we got in the car to go somewhere. Indi sighs. And I’m not willing to make his life harder in the name of making my own easier.

    As it stands right now, he’s career-changed in everything but name. I’m actively looking for a successor and when I find a new prospect, Indi won’t be my service dog in training anymore.

    You know what he’ll still be, though? In addition to being my best friend, he’s also one hell of a sports dog — especially for a dog who was meant to be on the lower end of the energy-and-drive spectrum. At age two, he has his trick dog championship, his coursing ability title, his canine good citizen, his intermediate parkour dog title and he’s about to move up to the #4 sheltie in the world at Barn Hunt. He’s currently training in rally, musical freestyle and nosework, with plans to start agility soon. And he LOVES it.

    When I look at videos of Indi playing barn hunt, I see a dog who is THRILLED that he’s not at home on the sofa. I think I will always secretly wish he still felt that way about the service work I had planned for him, but now that he has shown me where he’s happy, I’m going to give him every possible opportunity to shine where he wants to shine.

    I’ve lived with my disability without the help of an SD for years. I can handle it for another two years while I train his successor if it means the difference between a dog who wants to be there and a dog who doesn’t.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to leave such a beautiful, thoughtful comment – you’ve nailed it exactly! 🙂 And yes, what similar experiences we’ve had… I wonder if our dogs may have come from the same small circle of breeders in NC?? What fun. My other two Sheltie boys are from that area, as well.

      Indi sounds like an awesome dog – and that’s the difficulty, isn’t it? When we want so badly for them to be great at what we have planned, but it turns out that they’re great at something else instead. Very bittersweet. Gatsby really likes agility and we’ve dabbled in obedience and rally but haven’t started competing yet. And we recently went to our first herding lesson, and it turns out that he’s a natural with sheep! So you just never know, LOL. We will do whatever he enjoys.

      Your pup sounds like he’s going to have an amazing life with you, and what a list of accomplishments already! Best wishes with your future endeavors with Indi, as well as his SD successor.

  6. This is amazing. It is so similar to the thoughts that I put down about expectations, disappointment and coming to terms with each. I love reading things that are on the same page 🙂 Here’s the blog I wrote a little while back on the same topic showing how similar we think (hope it’s OK to share in the comments – I’m only sharing because of the similarities we expressed in our blogs) http://www.dogcharming.com.au/blog/on-dogs-disappointment-dilemmas-and-decisions

    1. Completely fine to share the link – I read it and very much enjoyed it! A very similar experience, I agree. With things like assistance dog training, the requirements for the job are so specific that I imagine it’s not uncommon for a puppy to not work out, even with careful breeding and lots of early training and socialization. Definitely lots of mixed emotions for the handlers and trainers involved!

      Thanks so much for sharing your post, and for stopping by to comment 🙂

      1. Phew! I’m glad that was OK 🙂 I checked the boxes below comments to “Notify me of new comments via email” but for some reason I’m not getting any emails. I have to come back and check manually. If you have any ideas why this might be happening, please let me know. But I’m getting your blogs, so not an emergency yet *giggle*

        1. I will see if I can sort out the problem! I’m not the most computer-savvy person in the world (to say the least, lol), but let me do some checking… if I find a solution, I’ll definitely let you know!

  7. Loved it thank u
    This works for children too actually
    Expectations are high in kids, partners, dogs the list goes on but at the end of the day when things don’t go according to plan you just need to get on with it
    Fantastic blog post thank you ?

    1. Yes! This seems like it would be very true for children, as well – sometimes, a sports-loving family may find that their son loves chess and doesn’t care much for football. Such is life, and as you say, all we can do is accept it and be supportive. Dogs and kids both have definite opinions about what they enjoy and what they don’t! 🙂

  8. Great article! I was afraid that I was going to read that Gatsby got placed in a pet home due to his size. So glad to read the happy ending.

  9. Great post. Appreciating the individual dog for his/her special traits, and not whether they fit our specific expectations, allows us to enjoy them for who they are. Maybe some people would be less prone to abandoning their dogs if they understood this.

    1. Yes! Dogs have their own personalities and opinions about things, just like kids – there’s a lot of joy in discovering who your dog is as he/she grows up, although it can be a bit bittersweet if they don’t fit the mold you thought you wanted. But oftentimes, what you get is even better – you just have to be flexible 😉

    1. What a great video! And yes, that’s a great example of a career change that worked out wonderfully for everyone 🙂

    1. They do often lead us in unexpected directions, don’t they? And often, it ends up working out even better than we might have hoped! 🙂

  10. Great article! Thanks for reminding me that my Aussie is a great dog, just not a great agility dog. Putting expectations on your puppy isn’t fair to the owner or the dog. Neither one will be happy if it’s a role the dog isn’t suited for.

    1. Agreed! It can be hard to let go of what we thought we wanted, but it’s so rewarding to see them blossom when given the chance to do what they enjoy 🙂

  11. I recognized myself and my dog in this article: I thought I wanted a calm, confident dog and that we might do agility together just for fun with the emphasis on accuracy and teamwork. Mostly she was destined to be my dearly loved companion that I could take anywhere and do just about anything with. Apparently, Fiona didn’t get that memo, lol! My little English Cocker Spaniel came with all of her drives intact. She has much more drive than I anticipated and is super busy. Nobody told her that she came from show and not hunting lines. Early on, I had to make the choice of either finding a way to occupy her or she would find things to amuse herself and I would always be dismayed with her. What Fiona knows is that when mom gets the toys and the training collar that it is time to do FUN stuff. I am working hard to bring my training skills up to my dog’s drive levels. She is curious, adventurous and bold. Having never done formal training before, I feel like we’ve fallen down the rabbit hole as there is a lot to learn. Again, a miscalculation on my part–there is much more to this dog training thing than I thought. Several people at our training club have told me what a terrific competition dog she will be. Again, this was not the plan when we started out. From what I managed to glean, she is the only one in her littler that is like this. The upside is that her antics make me laugh out loud at least twice a day and I am getting a lot of exercise and I wouldn’t trade her for anything as I love her dearly. So maybe it turned out I got the dog that I was meant to have.

    1. Your girl sounds like a firecracker – what fun! 🙂 There are some really great English cockers running agility in my area. They’re really neat dogs, I like them a ton.

      The dogs that challenge us, and are perhaps a bit above our skill level, are the dogs that often teach us the most. I’m so glad that this little piece resonated with you, and I’m delighted to hear that you and Fiona have found your niche. I hope you both go on to do great things!

    1. There are some definite advantages to adopting an adult dog, just as there are also advantages to choosing and raising a puppy – this is definitely an option to consider! Thanks very much for your comment.

  12. Love everything about this. I have a shy Shellie who will never be really fast in competition., but we have fun with NDAL. She likes it, won’t be the fastest dog out there but runs like she’s having fun. And that’s the best for me!!

    1. Yes – that’s exactly it! If both of you are having fun, then that’s the most important thing. And it’s such a rewarding thing to see a shy dog blossom and learn to be confident with agility, isn’t it? More than makes up for anything she might lack in speed 😉

  13. Such a wonderful article! And thanks for the permission to grieve. Doesn’t mean we don’t love our dogs, aren’t proud of them or would even trade them in for the “perfect” dog. It’s taken me a long time but finally stopped trying to “fix” this awesomely imperfect dog of mine!

    1. Yes! Grief is a very real feeling in these situations, as much as we wish we didn’t feel this way. But just like you, I’ve made peace with the things that aren’t going to happen and love my “imperfect” boy more than anything. Goodness knows I’m not perfect either, lol!

  14. Love this. I thought my corgi would be a great agility dog even though she hates the weave poles. What I’ve learned now is that she is powerful and strong and an inspiration to thousands of people who follow her journey through and beyond cancer. She has taken me to places I never even knew existed.

    1. She sounds like an amazing girl 🙂 And yes, dogs have a wonderful way of doing that, don’t they?

    1. I’m glad you enjoyed it! I think that many, if not most “dog people” have experienced this at one time or another.

  15. I’ve owned three Labs, all as different as could be. I’ve learned to start over each time and let them show me who they are and love them as I find them.

    1. Yes! It’s amazing how different dogs of the same breed can be, isn’t it? I have three Sheltie boys, and they all have very distinct personalities and interests. You never know exactly what you’ll get 🙂

  16. This article really struck a chord with me. After wanting a dog ALL my life my husband and I finally made the commitment this year and got a beagle puppy. We did loads of research on the breed and thought we knew what we were in for. We were well aware that beagles could be stubborn and difficult to train so we got a trainer on board even before we brought our pup home – since I had never owned a dog I was really conscious of starting off on the right foot. We went with a reputable breeder so we thought that any health/behaviour issues were unlikely. After a few weeks with our pup we realised that there was something wrong… he was so good and loving most of the time, but at times he would go absolutely crazy, biting us aggressively, barking and whining non-stop, scratching at the floor/furniture – it was like he became a different dog and he’d often go on for hours at night so we wouldn’t get to bed until after midnight. Luckily our trainer was amazing at supporting us and helping us through – many others including the breeder dismissed it as normal puppy behaviour or due to a lack of stimulation/exercise/food (which it definitely was not!). To make matters worse we also discovered that he had an undescended testicle – although we weren’t planning on showing him this was disappointing as we knew it would mean a more extensive operation to have him neutered and it just seemed like another thing that was wrong with this puppy we had paid so much money for. I spent so many nights in those first few months in tears (sleep deprivation didn’t help!) – this was not what I had imagined having a puppy would be like, and I actually felt at times, as much as I loved him, that he was ruining our otherwise very happy life. He still displays this behaviour and we continue to try lots of different things to try and work through it, but I think I’ve become a lot more accepting of the situation now than I was in the beginning. Yes his behaviour can be challenging, but I probably made it harder on myself by having expectations of a “perfect dog” in the first place. I love him with all my heart and I have had to learn to let go of the picture I had in my head of what he was going to be like and accept him for what he is, even with his issues. I now try to find joy in the good moments we have together like when we’re out walking or driving around and just find ways to deal with the not-so-good moments knowing that they will pass.

    1. Thanks for sharing your story! It sounds like you’ve definitely had a rough road with your boy. And yes, you’re exactly right – you did everything you could to tip the odds in your favor for having an “easy” dog that matched your hopes and goals, but fate had other ideas. And maybe it all turns out for the best in the end… we get the dog we’re meant to have. I do think the more challenging dogs have a lot to teach us, and sometimes the bond can be even stronger for all the adversity and effort that it took to get there 🙂

      Best wishes for you and your boy, and thanks again for your comment.

  17. Lovely story, and I’ve been there too with my Cavalier. Mind, you although like your boy, she towered over the minor puppies (and some of the open bitches!) as a baby, she did at least stop growing at just a bit big for the breed standard, and once we got out of Junior so all the other dogs in the class were also full grown, she did start winning. We tried some obedience and found out how trainable these little dogs are, and we now also do rally obedience. And we had success at the shows particularly in later years – her structure and movement made the all rounder judges forgive her size and less than perfect head. She has in fact qualified for Crufts 5 years running as a veteran, and at nearly 12 years old is still competitive in both shows and rally. She is the mother of an AKC champion and a rally champion, and the grandmother of a very promising puppy. And of course she is my dearly loved shadow and best little girl ever!

    1. Wow! Your girl sounds like she’s had a very successful career, in addition to being a special pup in her own right 🙂 I love Cavaliers – they’re such sweet, happy little dogs, and very trainable. Thanks so much for sharing your story.

  18. Right on target. Considers breed ring, dog sports, and therapy dog work. Yep, no matter how well researched, the puppy thing is crap shoot. I am considering a young adult as my next agility dog, easier to assess than an 8 week old puppy and may even have the chance for a trial period at home. My youngest, 20 months, was bred at my request for agility. He’s lovely, but went over in height (showing preferred) and does not eat. There is only so much I can shape with a ball. I’ve done my grieving, and learning how to train the dog I have. There is NO way I could send him back. I love him.

    1. There are definitely some advantages to a young adult! I did eventually get another show dog about a year later – my 2.5 year old boy, Clint. I got him at 11 months old from his breeder, when he was already a finished champion and more than halfway to his grand… I still wanted to show, but I knew that three dogs total was my limit, so decided not to take a chance with another puppy!

      And yes, a dog that’s not very food-motivated is definitely a challenge in training. There is some definite grieving when you realize that the goals you had in mind are probably not attainable with this particular dog. But I’m the same way – I love my boy and wouldn’t give him up for anything. We just had to change our plans and go in another direction instead 🙂

  19. This was the right article at the right time for me. 6 years ago, after a careful search for a dog that was physically and temperamentally sound, I got a 2nd small poodle as a companion to my older poodle, with aspirations for him to become an agility champion. He did become an AKC agility champion – 3 times. And while he clearly enjoys it and is quite good at it, he does not have the passion and drive for the sport like my older dog. He’d just as soon be sitting on my lap. He has huge separation anxiety and is fairly aloof to anyone he doesn’t know really well. He cannot stand being crated. He shut down at 2 National Championships because the huge, noisy environment scared him. I will never put him through that again. This was so hard for me to understand because my older poodle is relaxed, joyful, and loves everybody. He has many awesome qualities, though. He is good at therapy dog work with seniors and children, though he never takes his eyes off of me. He is also (unlike my older poodle) very obedient and willing to please. He will do anything I ask of him. And he loves Nosework! And I have finally come to the realization that I need to stop training/re-training and trying to shape him into what he isn’t. Wish I would have wised up earlier. He is my funny, crabby, obedient, loving Jeeves, and I am proud of who he is and thankful for him every day.

    1. Your Jeeves sounds like quite a character – what an awesome boy! 🙂 I do think that it’s especially hard, sometimes, with two dogs of the same breed. It’s impossible not to have expectations and make comparisons based on your first dog, but it’s amazing how different two poodles (or Shelties) can be from one another. My three boys are all quite different, despite being from the same breeding lines. They all have their strengths, and things that are harder for them – the challenge for me is to learn how to work with each of them the way that they need. And let them do what they’re good at, even it it’s not what I had in mind.

  20. So sad, people who pride themselves on their knowledge and expertise yet are totally ignorant of critical basic knowledge. A litter of canine puppies should exhibit a range of phenotypes. If it doesn’t then this gene pool is headed for longer-term non-viability and extinction. Human selection in breeding has done irreparable harm to so many breeds, chronic health problems being just one indication. Why is a range of phenotypes essential, particularly in canines? Canines occupy a precarious position in the web of life as a higher level predator and so they must be particularly adaptable in the short term as well as the long term. This is why in history were able to develop hundreds of distinct breeds. But then insisting on a tight standard is essentially a mandated attempt to eliminate a variable phenotype. But variable phenotype is essential to survival. Take a look at the Gray Wolf, there is no settled color. Some are black and some are white and the proportions change according to conditions and environment. If a pack is preying on very large game the average wolf size will be very large, as much as 100 Lbs, but if the big game disappears then within three generations the typical wolf maybe less than half this, because they now need to be less like a bear and more like a fox in order t hunt and survive. Attempts to breed this variability out will end in degradation of the gene pool and its eventual demise.

    1. An excellent discussion point – thanks for bringing it up! 🙂

      You are correct that in a wild population, there is selection pressure towards versatility and a more variable phenotype. This is why feral dog populations tend to gravitate away from extremes in size and appearance, and converge towards a 30-40 pound, brown, nondescript sort of dog.

      The difference, in relation to purebred dogs of various breeds, is that domestic animals are not subject to the same types of selection pressure that wild populations are. Our pet dogs do not, in fact, occupy a precarious position in their ecosystem – their needs are met and their safety is ensured by virtue of being pets. This is why Afghan hounds, and chihuahuas, and Great Danes can exist quite comfortably – these phenotypes would be incredibly impractical in the wild, but that’s really irrelevant to the discussion, because they don’t live in the wild.

      Good breeders actually contribute a great deal to the health of dogs in general. Breed clubs help to fund and promote important research into health problems that are prevalent in their breed, with the resulting benefits being available to all affected dogs – many of whom are mixed breeds. With living beings, nothing is ever 100%… but carefully planned breedings, with consideration of the entire pedigree and proper health screenings of the parents, remain the very best method that we have to produce reliably healthy puppies with predictable physical traits and temperament.

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