Monday, January 26, 2009
All that is gold does not glitter
Retrieverman is mad.
Retrieverman thinks that anyone else who loves the golden retriever breed should be mad, too.
My first dog was a proper golden retriever. Sassy, lithe and athletic, and would have chewed off her own foot before she bit anyone. Shannon was born in 1974; pre-Liberty. Ante-deluge.
I've been saying it for years.
You got a Rottweiler that is biting people, you got a training problem.
You got a golden retriever that is biting people, you got a genetic problem.
And folks, we have got ourselves one doozy of a genetic problem.
Retrieverman postulates that breeding for "calm" goldens has caused them to become biters. I am unconvinced. Calm dogs of other breeds are not psycho biters. And the dumb blond show dogs he dislikes are not, to my eye, "calm." Lumbering, yes. Squinty-eyed, sure. But being too fat and hairy and possibly hypothyroid to enjoy life is not the same as "calm."
Here's a theory I heard from a veterinarian about ten years ago. She bred golden retrievers herself. No, I do not remember her name. Dammit.
She told me that in the highly competitive golden retriever show ring, certain things were rewarded consistently:
Up on its toes.
Every dog in every ring was the first three, to the point where they were effectively identical. What she meant by the last was, judges were selecting dogs that were "on" -- stiff and alert, head and tail up, projecting what passes for "charisma" in the pageant world.
What that meant in terms of the dogs that were beating the competition was that -- they were dogs that wanted to beat the competition. Into a bloody screaming ragdoll. They were dogs who were highly aroused and on edge in the presence of people and other dogs.
Select rigorously for "winners" who are pissed off just looking at a stranger or another dog, make more just like 'em, continue for ten or fifteen generations, what you gonna get?
Last time I checked, the golden retriever standard for temperament did not read: Stiff, tense, and snarky towards humans and dogs; resource-guarding, dominance aggression, and psychotic attacks on neighborhood children are highly desirable characteristics.
But a quick review of my files for the last five years or so reveals something really extraordinary.
Well over half of the purebred golden retrievers I've worked with in recent years, privately or in class, come to me with a serious aggression problem.
I've handled a couple of pups, one of which was alarmingly lethargic, and one nice adolescent who needed manners. A young male who seemed to have both cognitive and affective deficits, but was certainly nonviolent. Oh, and there was the "golden retriever" puppy that I did a single consult for, much of which consisted of trying to convince the owner that the puppymiller had, indeed, sold her a husky. (Pointy erect ears - - check. Red-and-white plush fur -- check. Mask -- check. Curly tail -- check. This is not a hard call, ma'am.)
The only breed with a higher proportion of genuinely aggressive individuals in my training practice (I exclude breeds with an n<3) style="font-style: italic;">in my entire career, have been biters. The one that didn't bite had OCD. Cocker mixes -- also biters.
I see a smaller proportion of German shepherds, Rottweilers, Jack Russell terriers, and Dobermans that are aggressive. Much smaller.
I have never worked with an aggressive "pit bull." And I'm known as a pit-friendly trainer, so I see a fair number of them. Mostly for destructive chewing and general manners.
Back to goldens. Scariest dog I ever trained, most dangerous, longest rap sheet: golden retriever.
I've only told three clients flat out to put the dog down, that it is too dangerous to share surface space on this planet with the rest of us. This dog was the first.
Let me preface this by saying, if I encountered the same situation today, I would call CYS and report the parents. And this is the case that prompted me to use a sternly-worded contract for all aggression cases, and charge a lot more, and require the money up-front.
Anyway, this golden had a bite rap sheet into the double digits when the owners called me. He specialized in nailing neighborhood kids who came over to play with the owners' children. Owners had never been sued, and I still don't grok that. The owners' own children feared and disliked the dog. (There's your sign.)
Dog tried to kill me at the first session. Oh, did I mention he also had seizure disorder? But he had to be well-bred, objected the owner, "His breeder was a minister's wife!"
Every session, the female owner would announce, in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, that the dog was "100% better than last time." Then I'd repeat my lecture to the owner about not giving the dog free access to leg o' toddler, since none of my management requirements were in place, then the dog would spend an hour thinking about how much he'd like to kill me if he could get the damned collar and leash off.
My final CTJ conversation with the client, which was also when I fired her, was over the phone. It went something like this:
Me: Your dog has not improved one bit with training. You don't seem to be willing to do any homework or change a single thing about the way you manage him. He's a very dangerous animal, and you have two young children over whom you also have no control. You need to put this dog down.
Client: Don't you know of a farm in the countr ...
Me: No. You are not hearing me. This is a very dangerous animal. He is escalating his attacks. In my opinion he is not neurologically normal. I know that your vet has told you exactly the same thing I am telling you. This dog is not safe to have around people, period.
Client: You don't think he'd bite my kids, do you? (This sentence verbatim. Exactly what she said.)
Me: (What I should have said) You delusional self-absorbed hateful bitch! It's fine for this psycho dog that you refuse to control to chomp down on other people's kids as long as yours are unperforated?! What the hell is wrong with you? Did the same bad nanny drop you and the dog on your heads?
Me: (What I actually said, more or less) Yes. Yes he is going to bite your kids. And he will bite them much more badly than he's bitten all the other kids, and your husband, and his other victims. Your kids are going to be bitten, and they already know it.
What happened was this.
The owners never spoke to me again, and never spoke to the vet (who had told them exactly the same thing after exhausting the medical angles) again.
They moved away. But, as it turned out, not very far.
About a year later, I was meeting with a new client who had a rather challenging Samoyed puppy, one that was getting pushy and dominant at quite a young age.
As I outlined the responsibilities that come with having such a mentally powerful dog, I mentioned the moral and legal liability in a neighborhood such as hers, which was crawling with free-range children.
And the client started telling me about the family that had moved into the neighborhood that year, and their dog had bolted out the front door and bitten a kid who was playing in the street, unprovoked.
This time, the parents of the victim reported the bite, and called the police, got a lawyer, and generally raised a stink.
And while the dog's owners were objecting that the dog was perfectly fine, and had never done anything like this before, and was a golden retriever for chrissakes...
I interupted her story. Named the dog. Yes -- that was the dog's name -- how did you know? Named the former client -- yes, that's them.
"Which of their kids did he bite?"
The boy. Didn't bite him. Mauled him. Then they killed the dog. Never made the papers. After all, everyone knows that golden retrievers are great family dogs.
(FWIW, the owner of the Sammy was a great client, did a wonderful job with her pup, and he's long since grown into a dignified, lovely companion.)
Now this is a great story of owner enabling and denial. But the fact is, owner neglect did not make this dog dangerous; it just supplied him with a bottomless bucket of tender juicy white meat while he indulged his abominable genetics with aberrant experience.
And this is not, by any means, the only one.
Here's a modest proposal to fix this before it becomes -- as I suspect the American cocker already is -- unfixable:
• Any golden retriever that lifts a hostile lip at a human being loses its gonads. Every. Single. Time.
• Any golden retriever that starts fights with other dogs loses its gonads. Every. Single. Time.
• No golden retriever gets to use its gonads before age four (bitches) or six (dogs).
No exceptions. Don't care if the cur won Westminster. Don't care if it's a field trial champion, either. No swimming in the gene pool for mean goldens. Problem solved.