Puppy Mills

Remember Snoopy,  Charlie Brown’s mostly faithful, sometimes adorable, but always interesting pet beagle? Well, he had a backstory: his point of sale was a puppy farm,  specifically the fictional Daisy Hill Puppy Farm, a place so benign that Snoopy often wrote them to see how they were doing since his departure.

These days, when you hear about places like these, they’re instead called “puppy mills,” and that’s not just a politically correct rebranding. When you buy a puppy now, especially from a pet store, its point of origin is more often than not a facility that can hold up to 1000 dogs of various ages and types. The difference these days is the maximization of profit at the animals’ expense: puppies are bred constantly until the mothers are nearly dead, with no regard for congenital health problems and disease, in cages barely large enough to move in stacked like crates in a warehouse,  then sold to an unsuspecting general public.

If you’re expecting the law to step in and do something about this outrage,  think again. Thanks to a loophole in federal law, only mills that sell directly to customers need to meet health guidelines, which means that most of these operations conduct themselves with impunity. Merely being licensed to sell puppies carries with it no guarantee that these animals are being bred humanely. Worse, puppies that have “papers” are simply those who know where their parents are from. It’s not a symbol of purebred origin,  much less humane breeding.

So what can you the consumer do? First, adopt a puppy from a shelter,  which are actually much more likely to be healthy and well-behaved than those in a pet store,  and you’ll be saving a life in the process.  If you want a purebred dog and can’t find one at a shelter, contact a rescue group for the breed you want or meet face to face with a reputable breeder, one who also checks you out to make sure his offspring are headed for a happy home. See where the puppy comes from,  not only his point of origin but hus actual parents. Never buy a puppy online under any circumstances. And if you want to take a more active role, find a shelter with mill survivors and buy one, literally saving a dog from the horror.

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Dog Training

Dog owners are forever looking for the magic phrase, product, or method that’ll reward them with the perfectly behaved pet, but that ironically ignores the fact that animals are all individually different. It’s what we love about them, after all! Like humans, they run in groups but have their own unique personalities. Like humans,  however, simple interaction and communication is enough to establish a relationship with your canine friend, and like your human friendships, it’s a simple matter of establishing what’s acceptable behavior and what isn’t.

One of the main reasons dogs are more  easily domesticated than, say, cats is because canines have been domesticated longer than any other animal: for about ten thousand years, we’ve taken the dog’s natural tendency to follow an alpha male and transferred that power structure to a human owner. Your dog,  especially if he’s still in the puppy stage,  is already hardwired to do what you say. What he doesn’t carry around in his DNA is the ability to know what humans like and want. Dog training is simply a matter of assuming control of a pack of one,  and leading it through a strange new landscape.

The only way to do this is through repetition and structure. It’s as important for you to be absolutely rigid in your schedule and your rules as you want your new pet to be. This is not to say you should be angry or abusive!  In fact, you’ll get much better results by treating your dog pleasently and with respect. Your canine friend wants to be good and follow the rules, but if he isn’t clear what the rules are or what the consequences for breaking them entail, he can’t be blamed for being a “bad dog.” Just because you know what that is doesn’t mean he will, and just as with any new relationship, what’s important to you is never going to be as obvious to him. Certainly not right away!

Set clear guidelines for good and bad behaviors, teach those lessons every day by establishing a clear and unchanging routine, and most importantly, have the patience to see it all through. Often it’s just when you get used to having a routine that your pet will catch on; by the time you stop noticing it, that’s often just when your dog will begin to see the pattern!

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