Jessica Hekman: Welcome to the Functional Breeding Podcast. I’m Jessica Hekman, and I’m here interviewing folks about how to breed dogs for function and for health: behavioral and physical. This podcast is brought to you by the Functional Dog Collaborative, an organization founded to support the ethical breeding of healthy, behaviorally sound dogs. FDC’s goals include providing educational, social, and technical resources to breeders of both purebred and mixed breed dogs. You can find out more at www.functionalbreeding.org, or at the Functional Breeding Facebook Group, which is a friendly and inclusive community. I hope you have fun and learn something.
LISTEN TO THIS EPISODE
Jessica Hekman: Hi friends, I have here with me today four people who have different perspectives on dogs and their owners. We’re going to talk about the expectations we have of dogs and whether they are reasonable, the limits of training to manage dogs in the wrong environments, and the ethical dilemma of dog keeping in an increasingly urban world. We also touched on how our relationships and expectations of dogs as pets are influenced by larger social issues. My guests are Jacqueline George, who works with people seeking puppies to help match them to the right breeder, shelter, or rescue. Sammy Hyde, a dog trainer in the Boston area. And Laura Sharkey and Carolyn Kelly, the founders of the Copilot Pet Dog Breeding Cooperative, both of whom have experienced breeding dogs for pet homes. These four women have a lot of fascinating experience and insights. And I hope you enjoy their conversation as much as I did.
JH: Hi, everybody. Welcome to the largest episode we’ve ever had, in the sense of- We have a panel of four separate people, which I’ve never done before. It is turning out to be a bit overwhelming. So we have here… Let’s start out with introducing Sammy Hyde. Sammy, can you just say hi and your name and pronouns? And how many dogs do you have?
Sammy Hyde: Hi, my name is Sammy Hyde, my pronouns are she/her and I have one very spoiled dog at home. (Laughter)
JH: And then Jacqueline George.
Jacqueline George: Hi, I’m Jacqueline George and… she/her and I have no dogs at this point.
JH: And we will talk about why that is later because you love dogs. Carolyn Kelly.
Carolyn Kelly: Hi, I’m Carolyn Kelly. And my pronouns are she/her and I have five dogs currently.
JH: And that right there is why we’re not all introducing all of our dogs. That, and also Laura Sharkey.
Laura Sharkey: Hi, I’m Laura Sharkey. And I also have five dogs, and I’m expecting a litter of puppies in two and a half weeks.
JH: So there will be more.
LH: There will be more. (Laughter)
JH: Alright, so I’m going to get this started. I mean I figured this conversation can go any number of places. But I’m going to get it started by talking about what we think people’s expectations are of dogs and how dogs are going to behave in our houses. And whether any of you have seen any problems with sort of mismatches of expectations, and what people actually get. So I thought, Sammy, as a dog trainer in an urban area might be a good one to start out with how she feels about that question.
SH: Yeah so I teach puppy classes, and I do private sessions with puppy owners. So I definitely see a lot of people at the beginning of getting their dog and what they expect. And I’d say on average, there are a couple of things that most people are expecting and/or desiring in their pet dog. The first big one is: sociable. Most people who get a dog want a dog who is social. They want a dog who is going to like other dogs, and like other people. They imagine having a dog that they can go to the park with and who would play with other dogs and would want to say hi to other people. So I think sociability is a big one. I’d also say that the average dog owner is looking for a dog who is more on the medium energy side. I’d say like the average dog owner that I work with wants to spend about 30 minutes to an hour, most, a day exercising their dogs. And I think some people might say they want a higher energy breed. But if we’re quantifying what we mean, I would say that 30 to 60 minutes of exercise is what most people want to dedicate. And then other things. A big one nowadays, everybody tells me, “I want a dog that doesn’t have separation anxiety.” That is on pet owners’ brains a lot right now, is wanting a dog who is going to be comfortable being home alone. Not destructive. People want dogs who, when they’re in the house, are going to be low key and they’re not going to destroy everything they love and everything they own. And then an obvious one, people don’t want an aggressive dog. I guess you could maybe talk about that on the sociability spectrum. But people want a dog who is not going to bark and lunge, and of course, try to bite other people. So those are the, like, main things people say when they come to me with their puppy, “These are the things that I want or that I don’t want, and how do I get them?”
JH: So why don’t we have everybody else sort of say what they see expectations are, and then we can jump into whether we see problems with that. Carolyn, you want to go next?
CK: Yeah, so I’m a breeder of companion dogs. And I get, I have sort of probably a slice of what people want, which is the people that reach out to me interested in puppies. And what I see is people with families and kids, lots of times young kids or expecting babies or planning on starting a family, and wanting dogs that are going to be safe and great family dogs to raise alongside their children. That’s the biggest one that I think a lot about. How we can make sure we’re meeting that.
JH: Laura is another breeder who actually works pretty closely with Carolyn. Laura, do you want to also give your insights?
LS: Yeah, I’m a breeder. But I’m also primarily a trainer and I came to breeding through training.
LS: And so I would agree with everything that’s been said. I think one of the biggest issues we have is that a lot of clients want the dogs to be perfectly behaved, sort of yesterday. Even if they’re getting a puppy. The desire to have the problems fixed is out of sorts with true life. So the expectations are that the dog will take six weeks or something like that to, you know, grow up into an adult dog and be perfect like their last dog. Who of course, maybe lasted till it was 10 or 12, and was perfect at that point. Everybody forgets. I think having a puppy is a little bit like giving birth, you know, you forget how hard it was. And so you’re more likely to do it again. And, you know, the idea that… The expectations that I have is that the dog is going to be perfect, it won’t take very long, it won’t take very much money, and it won’t take very much time. So I think that’s one of the biggest things that, you know, we see, especially with new puppy owners, or new owners who have acquired an older dog.
JH: Yeah, fair enough. All right. And Jacqueline helps connect people who are looking for dogs. So Jacqueline, what about you?
JG: Yes, so I think everyone’s kind of already said the main pieces. But I think there’s also some implicit things that people are expecting that they don’t know how to verbalize. And those things come into play I feel like an example of that is that they want to feel emotionally attached to their dog, and they want to feel needed by their dog. I think there’s a lot of attachment stuff that’s happening for people when they get a dog. And so they have an expectation that this dog is going to be looking up to them as their person and that kind of stuff. And I think expectations are funny because people adopt, you know, street dogs all the time. And they feel needed by that dog because of their high level of fear, oftentimes, and that is actually fulfilling an expectation for them that you wouldn’t ordinarily think. Like, you know, you want to create, as a breeder, a dog that is confident and all these things but that’s not actually what people are often looking for, in a weird way, or when what’s fulfilling for them necessarily. So it’s not that people you know, get a confident dog, and then they don’t like that dog. It’s that they try to find a dog who is going to make them feel a certain way. And I think that’s part of the expectation as well. It’s a little bit different from what one might assume. And I’m in an area where we have almost no shelter dogs and very few bred dogs. And so most people end up with an import street dog from around the world. And so this is a big part of our community and I think most of those people will feel that they’re highly fulfilled by this dog that they have in their life, but they don’t match any of the things that we would normally think someone might expect in a dog. So, just wanted to add that component. But I do see that there is such a mismatch of what people think a dog is and what a dog actually is. And so, you know, a dog is a– I don’t feel like this sounds weird to say, but it’s true. A dog is a living entity and a sentient being who wants to feel good mental health, but… Where was I going with that? I lost my track of thought.
JH: We can open that part up but so a dog wants to feel good. So how does that conflict sometimes with what the owner wants? Is that not where you are going?
JG: That is where I was going but I don’t exactly remember what. Sometimes I have problems with my memory. And that’s probably what’s happening when I go on tangents… But anyone else can feel free to jump in if that’s triggered something for you.
CK: It did trigger something for me. But I had a thought about what Jacqueline was saying, which is, I think it’s really interesting and pertinent what you said about people really wanting a dog to need them. I think that’s really true. I think there’s a lot of emotional needs that people are looking to dogs to fill. And one of the things that fascinates me as a breeder, is the way that people think differently about bred dogs and rescue dogs. And there’s so much emotion and stuff that goes into rescue. And the idea that a dog has a tough background and, you know, needs to be saved, and that I can save this dog and it will be grateful. And you know, that’s all wonderful. It’s really, really wonderful. But it’s interesting, like you mentioned. I think it often lowers the expectations of the dog, or makes it so that the dog gets a lot more leeway as far as behavior. And when people are looking to purchase a bred dog, they are looking to order a dog that meets their specifications. And that’s something that I’ve thought a lot about recently. And it’s not a criticism either way, it’s just kind of a fascinating dichotomy.
LS: Yeah I think… This is Laura. You know, as a trainer, one of the things we always always do when we’re meeting with a client and a dog is trying to figure out: who is this dog. Because like we said before, a lot of people want– they want a cuddly dog, or they want an independent dog, and they get a needy dog. Or they want a needy dog, and they get an independent dog. Or they say, “Well, I got a Lab because I wanted it to be gentle.” Or a Golden Retriever, and their Golden Retriever is growling at kids, and it doesn’t meet the stereotype of that dog or that breed or it doesn’t meet what they had in mind if they’re going through rescue. And what I tell everybody is you have to meet the dog you have where they are, you know, and I think that’s such an important point. Because, you know, as we were saying, dogs are individual sentient beings. They have their own wants, their own needs, their own internal personalities. And accepting the dog you have for the dog that it is, is a huge part in forging the bond between the people. Because I think when you… You know, expectations can lead you down a path of woe because for whatever reason, that dog isn’t what you had in mind. But if I can get a person to understand who their dog is, and then meet them there, it tends to open up a whole new world of possibilities for people. And it’s one of the best parts of my job.
CK: That’s great. Very good point.
SH: Yeah I would, I would agree. I think that people often, I mean, people in my own life think that my job must be 99% teaching a dog to do a trick, right? Getting a dog to do a certain behavior. But it’s actually been surprising for me, especially early on in my career to realize: oh, no, I’m kind of like a family therapist here. But not just people. It’s the people and the dogs’ relationship and so much of my job and a good part of my first, you know, session with people when they do privates is normalizing their dog’s behavior. Helping them better understand their dog’s behavior and why their dog might behave in a certain way.
SH: And helping them adjust their perspective. And yeah, no, I agree that is a huge part. And it’s nice, you can make a big difference.
LS: It’s huge. It’s so much fun too.
SH: You can change the situation drastically with just that. Like, I don’t even have to touch the dog. And I can drastically improve the situation, just through helping change their perspective and helping them just better understand, right?
LS: Well, also I think having people understand that management is just as beneficial as training, you know. And sometimes you can give people permission to be like, “No, you don’t have to do that with your dog, you can just put up a baby gate.” Right? And they’re like, “Really, is that okay?” I’m like, “Yeah!” Like Amazon will have the baby gate to them tomorrow, and their problem is solved. And they thought, “Well, the right way was to train the dog not to do the thing.” And I’m like, “Well, you could do that too. But first, let’s manage the problem.” And then we can solve so many problems that way.
CK: My theory has been that people don’t really need– most people who want to pet dog don’t really need to have a trained dog. They need to have a dog that fits in with their life and does the behaviors they need to live with the dog peacefully and enjoy the activities they want with the dog, whatever that means. And that doesn’t mean sit, stay, you know, run an agility course, do tricks. And it doesn’t have to be one way. There’s lots of different ways to fit your life together with a dog depending on the dog you have. And to me, that’s what most people are looking for. I thought of a question when you guys were talking about that idea of reframing with new dog owners or puppy adopters or buyers. What do you think? Do you think there are things the breeder can do to help prep people for that, or to set up that relationship differently so that it doesn’t necessarily require so much reframing that you see in your role as a trainer?
SH: Definitely, I think that the breeder is a really great first line for educating owners, right? It’s their, if someone’s getting a dog from a breeder, it’s the first contact with a professional that they will have when they get that– before they get that dog. Specifically, what? I mean I think that probably this is going to sound funny, but I think that the most common thing is just like some of the little stuff. Like, yeah your puppy will probably cry when you leave the room when they’re only 10 weeks old. You’ve got to desensitize them to be by themselves. It’s a gradual process. Things like, “Yeah, your puppy will bite.” You don’t have a problem, you have a puppy. I think Denise Fenzi said that once, “You don’t have a problem, you have a puppy.” Like, yeah, they’ll bite. Redirect them. I think maybe as professionals… I’ve realized this about myself. I think I assume too much. I think that based on my knowledge and experience, I just assume that other people… Like the things that seem so simple to me, I will easily assume that the average owner will know and that’s wrong and that’s dangerous to assume. Just because it seems like a simple thing to me doesn’t mean it is and doesn’t mean it’s common knowledge. And so maybe we just have to do that step one. Take a step back and think. What do we think is common knowledge? Because maybe that’s the stuff we’ve got to introduce early on and educate them about because it probably isn’t common knowledge for them.
LS: Yeah, when we talked to people about the puppy mouthing phase, I tell everybody it’s a phase to be survived and endured. It is… (Laughter) Right? because people are like, they always list it on their top things, “He needs to stop biting.” He is not going to stop biting. It is a puppy, they are mouthy. Most of them. If you’re lucky enough to have one that isn’t. You know I try to use big language to my advantage. And so, you know, so I’ll say, you know, “It’s survive and manage and eventually by, you know, five months it’ll ebb.” Or when, you know, people say, “Well, how long do I have to use food?” My common answer is forever. Right? Like and I try to disarm people with this so that in the event that maybe they had an idea that you know, this would be over in six months? I can use some language to help them understand that no, no, that’s a misconception and we need to think a lot longer, a lot bigger. It tends to work, especially if you use humor. But I think a lot of this has… You know, this goes into the whole breeding thing, you know. Can we breed dogs that are better companions for people in what they want. You know? That meet those criteria that Sammy said in the very beginning, right? Those should be… Those should come standard in a puppy. Right? Non-aggressive, no separation anxiety, some sociability, you know, and obviously sociability is a sliding scale, you know.
JH: And destructive is a sliding scale when we’re talking about a puppy, but once it’s an adult, I think we could specify that, you know, after true maturity, perhaps they shouldn’t be, they shouldn’t be destructive at that point, except for perhaps the occasional mistake where they thought it was a toy.
JG: As the anthropologist in the room, I’m always interested in looking at systemic causes that also influence our expectations of dogs. And we know that people generally conceive of themselves as being above dogs, above animals in a hierarchy. And usually, that comes from different belief systems. And not every belief system around the world has that, but Judeo Christian belief systems, which are the primary ones in the Western world and adopters and puppy buyers and breeders that we work with. There definitely is a hierarchy there. It could be argued that there shouldn’t be, but there tends to be in the way that it’s interpreted. And that, I think, influences the foundation of how we relate to our dogs. We expect them to respect us, whatever that means, we expect them to listen to us, we expect them to obey us, like straight out of the womb. Like somehow, you just need to have respect for me. And we do that to a certain degree with children so it’s not entirely just about animals. There’s hierarchies, you know, between men and women as well. And so there’s this implicit kind of perspective that we have of ourselves as deserving and being entitled to a dog listening to us and a dog respecting our commands to them. And I think that is so pervasive, especially because it’s reinforced by TV trainers, who say that if your dog isn’t- You know, if your puppy is biting at you, you need to cause them to submit to you. Which is very sad, but very real. And I think, when I encounter people, I always start with, like, all the things that you’ve been told about dogs needing to obey you and respect you, let go of that. Just… It’s okay to stop believing that because it seems like a huge burden. I think as much as it helps people or they feel that it’s good for them, it actually creates this framework that puts everyone on edge all the time. That you have to be forceful, that you have to be the leader, whatever, to get them to listen to you, to be a good dog. And that’s a lot of– that’s so much pressure when people are out in the world, and their dog starts pulling on leash or walking in front of them. Even like these things that we’ve constructed as signs of a dog’s goodness, or our human goodness, even. Because if our dog’s not good, then that reflects on us, as a leader and a person. And so I always start by telling people like, these things, these constructions, they’re not really real. Or they don’t have to be. And kind of– it’s freeing to a lot of people. Especially people who find themselves kind of on the bottom end of things in the world and society. People who don’t have money or are marginalized. And for them to reframe, and to really explicitly look at our assumptions about who is on top and who’s on the bottom, between humans and dogs. And it opens up this whole new way of being with dogs, I think. And so then for me training, teaching them how to train their dogs becomes very different. Because they’ll be like, “Well, he needs to walk beside me while we’re walking.” And it’s like, why? Why do they need to walk beside you? Like, would you walk all the time beside you if that was your friend? And if every time you didn’t walk beside them, you’d get in trouble for that? Like, is that the relationship you want with your dog? And so that’s a big philosophical kind of way of looking at how people’s relationships with their dogs are formed and therefore also what their expectations are of dogs. And I just find so much joy in kind of releasing people from that perspective. Because it opens up not just their relationship with their dog, it also opens it up with other people. And they can view the world in different ways. And if you’ve read Karen London’s book about seeing the world through how a dog trainer sees the world, this is a big part of her thing. And, you know, I came to that conclusion just…
JH: Treat Everybody Like a Dog, I think.
JG: Yeah. And I came to that with my own experience and struggle. And learning that dogs don’t want to dominate our world. And we learn together and we learn in mutual relationship. And how much that changes so much in terms of what you expect from them. And, you know, getting a dog and then that dog turns out to be fearful, let’s say. And that was not your expectation. It helps you transition into a place of just being with them for who they are. And I think that’s so vital to help them on the rest of their journey. So when I talk to people now about expectations of having a puppy, I don’t tell them, you know, “The puppy is going to bite, it’s going to be this and that.” I tell them, “Like, what would you expect if you met a person?” They are going to be a certain way and they have their own lives and their own choices and things that they want to do and their own preferences. And we’re just there to share that life with them. And we can influence them to live the healthiest life that they can live. But you don’t have to worry about forming them into something, because people will judge you. And they will judge you. Every time my dog pulls on the leash people are like, “Well, who’s walking whom?” And I want to say all sorts of things. (Laughter) But I don’t and instead I try to model talking to, I just keep talking to my dog in a positive way. And you know, I laugh with him about it. I’m like, “Where are you trying to get? What’s so exciting about over there? Okay, I think you’re smelling something interesting.” And I think people hear that and they… It impacts people, because it’s not the way that we normally interact with dogs in many ways. At least not in our culture.
CK: I do. I talked to my dogs all the time. (Laughter)
JG: Exactly. And I’ve come to… I run a Facebook group for my local community on dog and cat behavior. And our entire thing is just about learning who dogs are, who cats are, and what their needs are and how we live with them, rather than to form them into something. And it’s so much fodder for people to start to explore more about dogs and really dig into who they are and how we formed them to be who they are. Because definitely this idea of, you know, humans being above dogs, has been bred into them as well. We’ve changed their genetic makeup so that they are more likely to do what people want. Anyone who has cats knows that’s not how cats operate. And it is actually why research shows that people who are more controlling, people who are less open to experiences, they don’t like cats. Because cats are harder to manipulate. And I think that’s a fascinating conversation and I think, often the place where I like to start when I’m talking to puppy owners, we philosophize a little bit. And I think oftentimes it opens up kind of an emotional bridge of talking about, like, what do you want your relationships to be like? And yeah, I find it a very– kind of having them engage with human emotion as a way of understanding their dog, I think is often the best way to reframe these expectations rather than telling them, you know, you shouldn’t expect this of your dog. It’s unreasonable… Which is still true.
LS: And I think that leads into the… There has to be some sort of balance, right? Because you know, I think we’ve talked in this group a little bit about, like, how much off leash time can a dog get, you know, on a daily basis? And in some urban areas the answer is almost none, you know. And yes, it’s great to meet your fearful dog where they’re at but if you can’t go to work, or you can’t leave your house, or you can’t have friends over… You know, all of these things can be very, very difficult for the average pet owner to deal with. And so there has to be this balance between accepting who the dog is and modifying your expectations and how you envision interacting with your dog. And then having a dog who can also naturally thrive in that environment.
CK: Yeah, and that’s why I–
JG: And I think that’s why I turned to… You know, I’ve worked in sheltering, I’ve worked in behavior, but now I’m more working on breeding related things, because for me, that’s the key cornerstone of that conversation.
CK: I would jump in there and say that, like you’re talking about having a dog and changing the dynamic so that you’re not thinking you have to get the dog to obey. It has to walk a certain way on the leash. It has to, you know, that it’s your job to be the boss. And it will be embarrassing, if you’re not, you know, and don’t have an obedient dog. And I 100% agree that, you know, that’s an unrealistic and probably a setup for failure in your bond with the dog. But there has to be– I mean, we brought dogs into our homes, and domesticated them to some extent and they are not wolves. They are, I mean, the reason that we can own a dog and keep it in our house, theoretically with our toddlers and our, you know, family and sleeping on our bed is because there is some expectation of the dog that it is a compatible species to live in our human environment. And so there’s a balance there between– And that’s where, you know, as a breeder, that’s where my mind goes to. When you’re talking about, you know, learning to accept and deal with the dog that you have, the perfect thing is to have a balance between a dog that can reasonably comfortably live in the environment that you have, and your expectations of the dog. So that it doesn’t have to be a battle to bring one closer to the other. And as a breeder, the goal is to try to figure out ways to, you know, find the genetics that give us that dog that can tolerate the world we live in and be in our spaces without biting toddlers, and being aggressive and doing things that are just really too much to ask.
JG: And that’s so perfectly said I think everything you said there is so key. I would add to that, that the problem nowadays is the environment. And so we’re bringing them into environments that are not suitable for them as a species as they are.
CK: Well but you’re also–
JG: Primarily, as most dogs are.
CK: You’re also talking about, though, that you’re dealing with a lot of people who are adopting street dogs, right? So there’s an environment and then there’s also a dog that wasn’t, theoretically, wasn’t purposely bred for living in the environment that it’s been brought to, right? And it probably started its life, not being socialized to that environment. And now it’s having to adapt. So the environment is a problem, but you know, it’s also a question of matching the environment to the dog. No?
JG: Exactly. And I would argue that there aren’t enough dogs that match those environments right now to feasibly allow people to get them.
SH: Right, but–
JH: I’d be curious to hear from Sammy, who actually did hear. Who was just about to speak up. But I’m curious to hear from Sammy about what her experiences are working with people in the city. And what kind of enrichment they can get their dogs? Like, how their dogs are able to cope with that environment?
SH: Yeah. So I think that one of the things that I see a lot with city dogs, I think it’s– well first, I think it’s important to note that my perspective is going to be bias because while I do teach some group classes that are just, you know, foundation, pet obedience, and some puppy classes, most of my work is private sessions, one-on-one with owners. Those are usually behavior consultations. And I teach a couple of behavior specific classes. So I am seeing the problem dogs. Because most people do not pay me to come to their home when everything’s perfect. Occasionally! Occasionally, they just want to learn a fun thing with their dog and maybe we do agility in the backyard. But I think it’s important to note that I don’t usually see a lot of the dogs who are thriving in the city. So we are focusing on the dogs who aren’t thriving in the city. In my experience, it is often a mismatch between their early experiences– so those first three months of life, that socialization period– and their current environment. And it can also be adult dogs, if we’re talking about you know, people adopting free living dogs, right? People getting dogs from, you know, Korean meat farm dogs. We get tons of those here in the US now. I’m seeing more and more of that. So usually I’m seeing that dogs are coming from… The environment that they were raised in was not an urban environment. Right people are getting breeders from rural areas. And when I talk to these people one-on-one, these are my behavior consult clients. You know, we talk about, you know, who was your breeder? Where was the dog raised? What experiences did the breeder expose those– what situations was that puppy exposed to? A lot of the times it’s “Oh, they were just raised in the home.” Do you know if they worked on anything specific that was going to get them used to busy environments? To lots of sounds of the city? Construction, cars, people jogging by you? I had a client today who I’ve been working with for a while, who was raised in a rural area with a breeder till 16 weeks. That’s when the owner got him. And now he’s in the city and he barks and lunges at his reflection, at people running, bicycles, joggers, squirrels, like any type of wildlife. And it’s not fear, he’s not actually fearful. It is over-excitement, over arousal. Like it is– he wants to get to these things and every time he walks out his door, he is turning around and redirecting on his owner. Biting the owner and biting the leash. He’s mouthy. And I see so much more of that in the last few years. Dogs who, again, whether it be that they were from a rural breeder, and they’re getting to the city later.
CK: That’s not right… As a breeder, what jumps out at me is that I– you know, a dog that’s acting like that… There are dogs that you can raise till 16 weeks who won’t be that bad, first of all. So there’s a huge, you know, variance in. We know that early socialization is important. It’s critical. And the environment that they’re raised in is critical. But it’s also true that a lot of that is genetics. And it really depends too, on how old the puppy is when it’s being placed. I am in a rural area, and I raised puppies in my home and I do all kinds of things to expose them to lots of noise, and people, and motors, and sounds of fireworks, and all these things. As much as I possibly can do. But until I find a reason that they need to stay with me longer, my theory is to get them into the environment. And I do a lot of education with the buyers about how important that next month and a half or two months is. And you know, that’s critical for them to be thinking about- What does socialization mean? It doesn’t mean quantity of experience, but it means exposure in a positive way. And thinking about all the things that they’re going to want to do with their puppy and trying to have those experiences in that next month. And we do a lot of talking about that.
SH: And I think that’s the key thing. And that’s… I love that you talk about like- Like even with the right genetics, early environment isn’t– I love that you talk about genetics, right? Because behavior is a complex interaction between genetics, environment, learning, right? And so it’s not just one of those things, right? You need to think about all of those things and how they’re all going to contribute to behavior. And definitely, early environment is one of them. And yeah, I think that we could talk about right now that it’s important for people to ask questions of their breeder of what the puppies’ early environment… Because this dog- This dog is an extreme example, that there was not much happening. This was, you know, this… There wasn’t a lot happening in terms of socialization before he left the breeders home into the owners home, right?
LS: So, Sammy, I have a question. Do they know anything about that dog’s parents? Because I sort of agree with Carolyn in a way. That dog’s problems could not have been addressed with the best amount of socialization. I think we have taken this socialization thing and are looking to socialization… And I’ve read the entire Scott and Fuller study. I think we’re looking at it wrong. I think we’re looking at socialization to solve these problems that are not socialization problems. You know what I’m saying? Like Sammy, do you know anything about those puppy’s parents? So because that’s a genetic thing. It’s not a socialization thing.
SH: So, yeah. I think that it absolutely is both right. Like I don’t think you get cases like this… You don’t get severe behavior from one aspect of behavior, right?
LS: Absolutely right.
SH: However, he did come from, you know… For all intents and purposes, I have not talked to the breeder. I’m getting secondhand information from an owner and that’s always hard. But she was able to meet the parents. The reason he was adopted out late is that the breeder was going to keep him. She was going to keep him. And turns out for, you know, whatever purposes, she decided that she didn’t want to actually breed him. So she adopted him out. And that’s why he left later than his littermates. I will say, though, this dog has done boarding with another one of our trainers at our facility outside of Boston– she lives in a rural area– for a couple of weeks. He is a much different dog when he doesn’t have all this stimulation. So I think you’re right that this is not only a socialization thing. But, you know, there is something to be said, I think that this city is a busy, stimulating place. And, you know, the one thing he’s really struggling with right now is, you know, bicycles going by and stuff. And it’s, I mean, he didn’t leave the breeder’s home, really. He was going to just be one of her dogs. If he never saw a bicycle coming straight at him on a bike path, which is what happens in the city, right? Like they’re right next to in the bike lane right off the sidewalk. That is a very novel situation. Basically a lot of stuff is really novel for him.
CK: And so right, but we really should be– we, meaning folks like Laura and I, and breeders who are trying to breed pet companion dogs, you know, we should be breeding dogs that can deal with novelty. I mean, I’m not saying you’re taking a dog and keeping it in a locked room by itself and never meeting a human until it’s six months old. Obviously, that’s not good. And all of this stuff helps. But you know that saying, as a breeder, I have to assume that everything is genetic up until the puppies are born. And then I have to assume that everything is environmental. I mean, that’s very true. But if I had a dog, I mean, I just… A dog that exhibits that kind of extreme behavior with novelty is not… Those parents aren’t good breeding candidates.
JH: Can I ask you about another factor in this? Aside from genetics and socialization, both are obviously super important. But the other thing I’m wondering about this dog is how much off leash relaxing exercise he’s getting. And that, for my Border Collie, he similarly is very reactive to noises. And when he gets enough relaxing, decompressing exercise, he becomes much less reactive to noises. And so not to say that it’s the only thing but I’m just wondering if that could be a factor too.
SH: Yeah, which I think brings us into something that you asked earlier, I believe. Which is definitely something you could dive into. Which is, I think the biggest problem for city dogs is… For dogs who are reactive, right, or really would just benefit– which, any dog is going to benefit from time to just get away from all of the city noise and stimulation and people and movement and sounds. And move their body freely in nature and sniff all the things. It is a huge problem in the city. And this dog doesn’t get a lot of that. And this is something I run into and I think is one of the things that I find so tough working with city owners is that I work with a lot of owners who don’t have cars. So you can say, “Oh, why don’t you just drive your dog out of the city and go for a walk in the woods.” I have lots of owners who don’t have access to cars. And so what they are doing, which this also I think will address your question of like, what can city owners do? Waking up early in the morning, and like real early. I’m not talking like 8:00am, I’m talking you get out before the sun’s coming up so that you can have a park or other you know, green space to yourself with your dog and get them on a long line and see if we can just explore this park when it’s not filled with a bunch of other people and dogs and bicycles and the things that your dog is reactive to. Right? So he… This is a lot of what she’s doing. Early in the morning, late in the evening taking him out. I will say she, this trainer– sorry, this owner is incredibly dedicated. And she is working really hard and he’s getting much better. Today we did walk on a bike path and he is doing so much better and able to see the bicycle. See the dogs. See the runners and let them go by without barking and lunging. He still has his moments but yeah. He’s not getting a lot of it. And this is something I run into a lot with owners. If they don’t live in an area, if they live in a really urban part of the city and they don’t have transportation, they might be really limited to even the green space even if they did wake up early in the morning. Where are they going to take their dog?
JG: Yeah, I think this is the hill I’m going to die on is the hill of like, not what I call like, under socialization necessarily, because I very much agree that socialization and exercise isn’t the key to a good dog. The key is the combination of all of those things. The personality traits of the dog, the environment, the early socialization and exposure. And so if you move any one of those variables, you like, mess up the system. And so you can have a dog that’s very resilient, was well socialized, well exposed, and then you put them into a city environment where they never get off leash time, but they’re also high drive, highly motivated, and they’re very friendly, want to see everyone and you’ve created a hyperactive tornado of a dog that is very friendly, but frantic, and the mental health is not good. And you can take those dogs and you can, you know, give them some off leash time. But by the time their brain is formed, it’s so… The sensitization of the brain to stimulation, it’s kind of messed up I’m going to say. So you’ve exposed them to too much, sometimes, early on. And that’s what I’m seeing a lot of is this, “You need to socialize your dog.” Well, that is so true, conceptually. But how that is actually happening is a very different story. And I know that for me, personally, I had a high drive dog in the city. And I didn’t know enough about behavior when that happened. And I was told I just needed to take him for lots of walks, because somehow that was going to solve everything. And I exposed them to everything by the time he was like 12 weeks old. And it was way too much. And I didn’t- I couldn’t see it, in the moment, that he was overwhelmed because he was a Golden Retriever, and he was friendly. And his way of overwhelm looks very different than what one stereotypically expects of what looks overwhelming. And so for him, it was arousal. It was, you know, biting at the leash, that kind of stuff. And the poor dog. I messed up his brain with socialization, to a large degree. And, you know, he– I know some littermates of his, and they have their own arousal issues. And that also, I think, comes from the wrong environment, even though those people had- they were suburban and they had yards whereas I didn’t have a yard at all for this dog. Like he was constantly on-leash until you walked to the dog park. And, you know, I knew more than the average owner. But I still didn’t know enough of this extreme nuanced, you know, need to understand how socialization actually works. And I love the work of Dr. Kathy Murphy, if you guys are familiar, she is a neuroscientist, and she looks at puppy development. And she would, she’d be the first to say like, “Oh my gosh, stop telling people to expose their dogs to stuff,” because that is probably detrimental depending on their genetic makeup. And so if you have a dog that is high drive and high energy and really motivated and really friendly, when you expose them to so much novelty, without an ability for them to calm themselves down in that situation, you’re only creating that tornado. Like they need to… And this is what I focus on with people now when they tell me, like, “What should I do with my puppy?” And I basically just say, you know, be gentle. When they experience something, make sure you are there with them. You check out how they’re doing. You allow them to experience things. And you allow them to decelerate themselves in that situation. And so take one step at a time. Start really easily. It’s really, the world is an exciting place especially for really friendly exuberant breeds. But focus more on the ability of that dog to calm themselves in that situation than anything else. Because that regulation is important in people, regulation is important in dogs. And there is a study of dogs in Bali, of which Marco Adda did, and a couple of other people. Where they looked at what free ranging dogs in Bali were like. And then if they got adopted by people in Bali, like what that looked like. And so they had a population that was closed and so it was– these dogs were all kind of related to each other. There wasn’t a breed variable. But they had some dogs that grew up in people’s homes because people in Bali adopted them off the street. And they live like most dogs live here with lots of leash walks and that sort of stuff. And then there was the free ranging dogs and comparing them. The main variable that’s very different is excitability and hyper, frantic behavior. Those are the two things that are very different. And there’s more chasing in dogs that are in captivity, let’s say, than there is in free ranging dogs. There is more calmness in the street dogs than there is in the home. And so I definitely am convinced that the wrong type of exposure leads to considerable issues. Even with dogs who are normal, let’s say, genetically. And, you know, if my dog or– I see quite a few, like retriever-type breeds. Some doodles because doodles are so common, and they can come from the same genetic background where they’re really friendly and excitable and have energy. And if they grew up on an acreage, they’re a different dog. I always said like, if my dog had an acreage, he would literally be the happiest dog in the world. And he had zero needs because his needs were so highly environmental. Like he wanted to sniff things he wanted to run around and just smell stuff, which seems like such a simple, genetically simple dog to have. But in that environment, where he was constrained from doing those things, turned into one of the most frantic dogs. And you know, eventually I was to become a behavior specialist. And so I managed him impeccably, and people were always like, “Oh, your dog’s so great.” And it’s like you have no idea what is behind all the commands, and the like operationalized things that he knew how to do. And his mental health wasn’t good I would say.
CK: Were you trying to keep him from being like running around zooming? Or were you trying to… Was he aggressive? Or what would you…
JG: Never aggressive. This dog didn’t growl once in his 10 years of life. He was a frustrated greeter. I think that’s a common behavior we see in the doodle population as well. So his way of conflict resolving when he was feeling conflict… Like let’s say the leash restraint, that was conflict to him. The way of dealing with that was to become hyper-appeasing and to redirect with his mouth onto something because he was a retriever and his natural predisposition is to put something in the mouth. If he was frustrated that he couldn’t go across the park to the other dog over there, when he was younger especially, he would put the leash in his mouth right away. Like it was a compulsive behavior. And so, yeah.
JH: Jacqueline, we promised that we would talk about why you don’t have a dog now.
JG: Yeah, so I learned my lesson. My environment hasn’t changed, really. I still live in the city. I always will. And I work exclusively on an outreach basis with people who live in the city and who can’t afford behavior support generally. So I provide free support, and provide free educational materials that they can learn themselves about dogs. Like I run that group I was talking about, that is just about learning what dogs are. And people can use that foundation to understand what their dog is doing without me having to micromanage their interactions with their dogs. I’d rather teach them to fish, so to speak. And so I see the scenario that I experienced with my dog everywhere. And I see it, especially amongst people who are well to do, educated people who’ve worked really hard to find the “good breeder.” Who, you know, was on the breed club listing and they went to those clubs, they spoke with breeders, all health testing was done. And then they bring these dogs and we have these expectations that these dogs because they are “well bred,” are going to be a certain way. But then they find themselves in a similar position to me, where they cannot fulfill the needs of the dog in the environment that they’re in. They’re over exposing their dogs. They are exposing them to situations that are chronically stressful. For example, if you walk out on my street, you will likely encounter within one block another dog that’s reactive to you or your dog. And so you’re walking through this crazy space when you think about it with your puppy or with your dog. And you’re avoiding, you know, pieces of the sidewalk and going across the street because there’s a reactive dog there and there’s a reactive dog there. Which in itself tells you a little bit about city life. And like, what dog can possibly deal with that, like it… I am amazed by breeders who can find a genetic base that does well with that level of adversity in any way. So it’s not just–
CK: I have a Lab. My foundation Lab, the reason I started breeding was because of her. And she’s by no means perfect, I don’t believe there are perfect dogs. But she doesn’t care about that stuff. She just will ignore it because it’s boring and she wants to to sniff, and if other dogs are barking or acting ridiculous or running up to her and jump, and she’s like *scoff* please. So silly.
JG: Yeah, I mean, I worship you for building neutrality into your dog.
CK: I didn’t build it. See that’s the thing. I get no credit.
JH: No, but you but you identified it and you’re passing it on.
CK: I’m trying to. (Laughter)
JG: Neutrality is an underrated feature in dogs.
JH: Oh, for sure.
JG: And, you know, I think we have… The day of reckoning has come because, you know, 80% of the streets are doodles who are not generally neutral to their environment. They can be bred that way, but.
LS: I’m outside of Washington, DC, and we have tons of doodles. And the vast majority of them are very well bred and are doing really, really well. I see a lot of the commentary about doodles, and I’ve no idea what people are talking about. Because I don’t see any more frantic hypervigilance, hyperactivity, hyper-appeasing behavior in doodles than I see in any other breed. And I think one of the things we should be talking about is the vast majority of dog breeds are bred to do some crazy amazing things. Like take your herding dogs. Take a Kelpie that walks on the backs of sheep–
JG: That was the example I used in the recent thing that I wrote. (Laughter)
LS: If we can breed a dog to do that, you’re telling me we can’t breed a dog to deal with bicycles?
CK: We can.
SH: That! (Laughter)
LS: We can! This is the thing. I want to bring this around to like… I think it’s been kind of a negative, downing conversation. We can build a better–
JH: That’s why you’re here Laura, to be the optimist.
LS: Okay. Which is crazy. I– That is not.
JH: No that’s not true. You’re very optimistic. Go! Be an optimist. (Laughter)
LS: Yeah. All right. But my thing is, like if we can breed a Border Collie, who can listen to a farmer from two miles away on a toot of a whistle, which is different from its neighbor Border Collie whistle? I mean, we can do this. Dogs are amazing creatures. They are so malleable. We can–
JG: It’s absurd. It’s absurd that we can’t create a dog who has a lower need for or, has that lower frustration tolerance and stuff like that.
LS: Of course we can. But I mean, dogs were bred specifically for purposes that people needed in the past. And now society as a whole has changed over the last 100 years dramatically. And there is absolutely I mean, there are breeds out there right now who can do a lot of what you’re saying, right? It’s not that they aren’t out there, they just have…
JG: They just are not healthy. The Cavaliers…
LS: They are not healthy, right? Look at the Cavalier King Charles. What a wonderful, wonderful dog, it’s generally a neutral dog. It can handle– doesn’t need a high exercise needs and blah, blah, blah. Well, if they didn’t die from heart disease and brains too big for their skulls, they might be perfect. And so we can take what we do have and what we do know. And what is wonderful about dogs. And we have been the architects of these breeds, there’s no reason– in fact, there are a million reasons that point to: we can do this. To breed dogs who can tolerate the environment.
JG: And I think that’s why I champion doodles because here’s the thing. And it sounded like I was down on doodles. But that’s not what it is at all. I’m down on the people who breed those doodles because they bred them to, you know…
JH: You’re down on specific people.
CK: I have to say one thing. I think a good reframing for thoughts about doodles. Okay. Doodles are lots of different things, first of all. They are not one thing. There’s a huge variety of doodles. A lot of them include mini poodle, most of them include working breeds, a lot of those are from field lines. So it’s not a uniform entity: doodles. Doodles are the most commonly bred pet dog in the United States. They are what is filling the gap between what show breeders, who only breed tiny numbers of litters every year, and hold that up as a point of pride. And in fact a qualifying criteria for being a reasonable and responsible breeder is that you can’t breed too many dogs. And then there are puppy mills, and other types of… Some high volume breeders are not all bad. Not every high volume breeders a puppy mill. I don’t mean to say that. But home breeders, mostly women, mostly stay-at-home moms, casually breeding pet dogs. Some of them are wonderful. Some of them are kind of nuts. Most of them are well intentioned. It’s not that hard to breed a decent doodle, it’s a lot easier than a Siberian Husky mix, or a Pit Bull Chow mix, you know, to come up with a dog that at least won’t bite the kids most of the time. And I don’t mean to be breed discriminatory, I really don’t, because I know there are wonderful dogs in those breeds as well. But doodles are just an opportunistic– it just happens to be what people are breeding who are breeding casually.
JG: But I think–
CK: It’s nice that they kind of shed less than some of their working dog components. They’re very cute. They have a lot of appeal. You know, they can be very cute. They’re fluffy. And so when you say, “The people who breed doodles”, I guess that’s what I want to speak… Those are the casual pet breeders who are breeding for the pet market.
JG: Yes. Definitely I framed that really poorly.
CK: No that’s OK.
JG: I champion doodles precisely because they are one of the only large dogs that are permitted to be bred as pets. You know, if someone comes to me, and they say they want the Golden Retriever attitude, I always tell them to get doodles. And that’s because in the Golden Retriever standard– which is what most people who do health testing and that kind of stuff follow– they’re not… They’re hunting dogs. They’re not generally pets. It’s looked down in that community on creating a Golden Retriever, who is an ideal pet. And so the restraints of the standard constrains them to creating certain Golden Retrievers who are doomed to fail in a lot of these complex new environments that originally when they were designed in Scotland, they didn’t have to deal with. And there are definitely Golden Retrievers who are pet bred, as it’s said, and those people, those breeders, there’s nothing wrong with those. It’s just that the stereotypical well-bred world of Golden Retrievers lives in this standard which requires a certain amount of energy and drive in these dogs that just for the point of getting a puppy, I have very low luck in trying to get puppy buyers a Golden Retriever puppy from one of these lines. That number one, the breeder will even sell something to them because they’re in an apartment and they don’t have a car and all of these things. And so I am so happy that doodles exist because they don’t live within– well, not yet– within a standard. And that constrains them to these working roles that are antiquated.
CK: Two things about that. I mean, you know, show line Retrievers, they really are not, a lot of them don’t have the same energy needs. And they’re not really working lines. So I mean, there are dogs out there. Golden Retrievers and Labs that are bred, like, for service dog temperament and are, you know, they don’t have as much drive or high exercise needs. But I think really part of what you’re touching on, and this is a really good point that you brought up, is accessibility. Because one of the reasons that so many people own doodles is because you can find a doodle. And you can– And the doodle breeder might be friendly. And answered the phone. And doesn’t have a 16 page application. And maybe isn’t as selective about owners. And maybe isn’t doing as much screening as far as making sure that it’s, you know, a perfect placement in the city. And so city folks and people in urban environments who want a dog are looking for what’s accessible. And doodles right now, in the current situation we’re in, they’re available.
LS: I would– I have so many things to say. First of all, I would venture to guess that 95% of Golden Retrievers bred in the United States are not bred for hunting. And retrieving ducks, right? They’re being bred as family pets. The other thing… Whether that’s right or wrong, I mean, maybe with the high drive retriever background and a close studbook that’s not going to work for a lot of people. The other thing, which I’ve completely forgotten. Ouf, Carolyn, what were you just saying?
CK: I was talking about doodles being accessible?
LS: Ah, right! The number one reason doodles are so darn popular is the people love them. Their owners adore them. They have become so popular because their owners love them. That’s why everybody wants a doodle.
CK: Why? Because they’re genetic dumpster fires, Laura. Why would you love one?
JH: That was sarcasm for those who didn’t know by the way. Just to be clear. (Laughter)
LS: So anyway, I think I think a lot of people are a little bit back on their heels about doodles because they’re a little jealous.
SH: Can I say as somebody who teaches puppy class that I, in my experience, I think you hit the nail on the head that one of the big things is that doodles are popular. Right? So yes, I think that, you know, if a breed is super popular, there are going to be less qualified breeders out there who are going to make puppies, and we see those puppies and we go, “Oh, look at them. They’re terrible.” But in any given puppy class, I get a lot of breeds. There are definitely breeds that are more common [than others]. But I see behavioral variability in all of them in the same puppy class. I literally last week had two Golden Retrievers. Delightful, sweet little pups. One of them was pretty shy. Didn’t really want to go out into the middle play area. Was kind of more interested in hanging out with mom. And then I had one who came out to the play session and was like, “Alright, y’all my best friends right now. Let’s throw down. This is the best day of my life.” And I will also see that type of variability with the doodles as well. I don’t– again, and this is opinion, this is anecdotal, but I see just as much variability. I will get a Havanese who’s super scaredy, and the next day, I will get a little Havanese puppy who’s like “I’m taking on the world. Let’s go.” Like there is behavioral variability. I mean, we could talk about, you know, does puppy temperament predict adult temperament but like looking at just that, there’s so much variability.
JG: Yeah and it’s a game of math, right? Like, I always tell people that, you know, 90% of doodles that are out there right now are probably bred in less than ideal conditions, because of the popularity of the dog. The other 10% can be better than any other dog because the standard permits for that to happen. And in another– in an actual breed, like let’s say people get Portuguese Water Dog or something, instead, which is what sometimes people go to, the chances of hitting a 10% of ideal pets within that population when those dogs are bred to their standard? It’s just that the math game is just, doodles are the thing that makes it possible to have these dogs bred specifically to think about, you know, what are they going to be like when they walk around New York City? And other breeds, there’s just not a lot of thinking about that kind of space. And so oftentimes, when I say, you know, when we refer to the doodles that are out there, we’re often talking about the 90% that during the pandemic puppy boom, came as a result of exploitation of people wanting to sell these dogs. And so there is that’s a whole different ball game, then–
LS: I mean, the numbers, the numbers, I mean, 90% is awfully high.
CK: Also I don’t… I’m not sure. I’ve been, you know, I kind of have had quite a bit of exposure to the doodle breeder community. And I will tell you that it is mostly women. Stay-at-home moms trying to do something that they love.
JG: I don’t think that’s where these dogs are coming from.
CK: Well, OK. Maybe not…
JG: In my community, a high percentage of new registered dogs are doodles. Like literally everyone has one. And yeah, we have a particular source.
CK: Okay, well, you may have a particular source.
JG: I know what that source is.
CK: Okay. Well…
JG: That is what creates that population.
LS: Then you’re talking about a close gene pool again, right? Or a very small gene pool and only one group.
JG: So it’s important to talk about the populations of these breeds, not the breeds in themselves. And that’s why we had that study recently that was done. Sadly, not communicated very well, that showed a high number of behavior problems in doodles. And they were talking about like, “Is it because of the poodle? Is it because of this?”
CK: That’s not what it is. That’s not what the study showed.
JG: What happened to be in this population has nothing to do with the breeds.
CK: That’s not what the study showed. That study, if that’s the one you’re talking… I think it was really just comparing. And it was a slight increase in certain things in Goldendoodles, over the parent breeds. But it really… I wouldn’t characterize that study as showing a large number of behavior problems in doodles. Not that there might not be. There may very well be, but I haven’t seen a study that showed that.
SH: I mean, I think one thing to consider is or that I always think about is that, like we just talked about, like doodles are super popular. In any given puppy class that I teach, it’s almost a guarantee I’ll have one doodle puppy of some variety. Like they’re super popular. So if they’re one of the most popular mixes out there right now, then people like me are probably seeing a lot of them. And does that not bias your experience? You’re like, well, doodles must be so problematic just by nature, because I see so many of them. But am I seeing so many of them because doodles have problems? Or am I seeing so many of them because they’re a popular breed? And also, I mean, I think the most interesting thing to me in my head right now, this whole conversation, is we’ve gotten really into the nitty gritty and we’re really like, pulling apart, you know, genetics and early environment and learning and stuff. And it’s so complex, right? That, okay, some dogs are just going to, like we can’t always, even with good socialization, even with good genetics. I think we’ve talked about before. I think my dog is a great example of why behavior is so complex. And we can’t assume that doing this or this is going to guarantee us a great dog. Because my dog was… Her mother was from a hoarding situation, was being held by animal control while the state tried to get custody. Accidentally got pregnant in the shelter. She accidentally conceived. Didn’t know that she was pregnant till she whelped the puppies. So arguably, probably not great genetics, but who knows? Definitely bad maternal environment. Not a great early environment. And you know what? She is actually a really resilient solid dog. (Laughter)
LS: That’s awesome.
SH: Like she… Oh also, she was separated from her mom and littermates at five weeks. This is the reason she came to me. Because the assumption was, well, this dog is going to be a hot mess. And she has some problems, but I would not consider any of her issues out of the ordinary for an average dog. So like, sometimes behavior…
JG: Do you think there was selection pressure, like natural selection pressure on the population of dogs so that if she had not been resilient, she would have not been alive?
CK: No, because–
SH: No, they adopted them out really quickly. I got her because she was separated from her littermates at five weeks. She was in foster for like two weeks. I got her seven weeks. This was a really less than ideal situation. And like, people were like, “Well, what did you do when you had her?” I was like, “Nothing that I think would have caused her to be as resilient as she is.” I think I got lucky. And I think it’s a great example of, you know, flipside. You can do everything right and have a dog who has issues.
SH: And she had nothing going well for her, and she is still resilient. So sometimes, you know, we just have to, we just have to accept that we are not all knowing beings that can just pick and choose ingredients to make the perfect dog. I think we’ve talked a lot about things we can do better. And definitely, we can definitely breed for a dog that fits the modern lifestyle better. And there’s definitely things we can do better, to, you know, set up their environment. So they’re successful. But I also think at the end of the day, there’s only so much we can do.
LS: The more I get into breeding, the more my mantra becomes we know nothing. (Laughter)
SH: That’s my mantra the older I get in general with everything. Just every day that passes I’m like, I don’t know anything! (Laughter)
LS: Right? We know nothing.
CK: I think that people who aren’t, you know, in super knowledgeable reading or have never done it– not that everyone thinks this. I don’t want to caricaturize. But some people have the idea that there’s a recipe. That if you just do it, right, you know, you “breed them well” and that there’s some answer to how to do that. And that, you know, if you’re in the secret club, whether it’s the AKC, or you have a mentor, or you do this, or you read the studies… Then you will know how to consistently produce the amazing dogs that you intend and a…
JH: A well-bred dog.
CK: A well-bred dog!
JH: Yeah, well bred dog. And I’m like, because that’s a guarantee then for sure. Right? This is sarcasm again, people. A guarantee that every puppy in that litter will be exactly what it was meant to be.
CK: And it will be well-bred. And if it wasn’t a good puppy, and if it didn’t do what it was supposed to do, then it obviously wasn’t well bred. And the person didn’t follow the recipe or read the right book or whatever.
LS: Ugh, so ridiculous.
JH: And is a jerk as well.
CK: And is a jerk. And they are irresponsible and clearly don’t care and just want money.
JG: Yeah, someone asked me to find them a well bred Corgi the other day, and I was like, “Mm, I feel like that might not be what you want.” (Laughter) Let me find you–
JG: A random person who has two corgis who do well when they’re walking around outside–
CK: Well one– as a breeder, one of the things that I’ve thought about a lot when I’m placing puppies, there’s a certain… I mean, I have a certain hope that folks that get one of my puppies– because I’m attached to them and care about where they go. That they will have a certain willingness to be open to happy accidents, or maybe not have too many specific– I don’t mean that they’re going to be fine if the dog is aggressive or that if it’s a terrible match, they’ll just deal with it. I don’t mean any of those things. But you know, that they will be forgiving and open to the dog as an individual. And ready to greet, you know, whatever the experience turns out to be. Because it, you know it can be a wonderful thing. Even sometimes when a dog changes your life, you know, or you have to adjust your thoughts to deal with where the dog is. That’s part of what’s great about owning a dog.
SH: Yeah, I mean, well, this might go back to the question at the beginning. What can we do to help dog owners? Right, like, what can we do to set them up? Maybe this is it. We normalize that behavior is super complex. That there isn’t a recipe you can follow to get the perfect dog. You can do things to stack the odds in your favor. Absolutely. But there’s no guarantee in preparing– like I am looking in the next couple of years to get a dog. I have been looking at breeders. I have found some breeders I really love. I’m really hopeful that this puppy is going to be awesome. But I also, in the back of my head, behind all the excitement and all the plans and all my expectations, I am trying to make sure I keep hearing the voice going, “Be prepared if it doesn’t turn out the way you think it’s going to, because it might not.” So maybe that’s what we do with puppy owners. We’ve just got to normalize that they’re not robots, you can’t just program them and send them off to their new home and they’ll be perfect.
JG: I feel like though, the puppy seekers curriculum would not be okay if that’s what was said. So like, I want to push back on like, “What do we say then?”
JH: Well, there’s… well but she’s saying you can stack the odds, right?
JG: Yes. So what’s your odds? Like, what do you stack? What do you tell them to look for?
CK: Well yeah, I mean, that’s a very complicated question. “What to look for? How to decide what’s a good breeder?” is a, you know, a whole other probably big topic. I mean, my number one thing is, “How did the dogs get treated?” The number one thing I want people to avoid is getting a dog from a source where the parents are living in a nightmare. I really think that we need to normalize that being the number one priority. It breaks my heart to see these pictures of female dogs, you know, whelping puppies in horrible conditions where they’re stressed out all the time. I can’t imagine that’s good for the puppies’ resilience. Their cortisol system has to be screwed up. And it’s also just not right. You know, it’s an animal welfare issue to get dogs from a situation that’s not humane. After that…
JG: What do you mean it’s a nightmare?
CK: How do I know?
JG: How would the owner know that’s what the situation looks like?
LS: They should go and visit the breeder.
CK: They need to see the puppies in the environment they’re raised in with the mothers.
JG: That’s the tough part.
CK: And they need to be prepared to back out if they get there and it’s not what it should be. And that’s hard.
JG: And that’s really hard for them to do.
LS: But hang on, it doesn’t have to be I’m going to be an optimist again.
CK: Yay! (Laughter)
LS: What if we had enough good breeders in all of the environments that people are looking to get puppies, where you either know someone who could go to the breeders house, or the breeders facility because I am not against large volume breeders as long as they’re doing it well. It can be done. It’s not that hard.
JG: I agree with you in principle, but when I’ve tried this, because this is my bread and butter and what I do.
LS: Oh I–
JG: And I actually have gone to breeders’ homes for people who live far away and I live near the breeder and I’ve used this for years now. And it’s really hard to get breeders– so there’s the ideal situation where you contact a breeder and you’re like, “I’d like to see- I’d like to meet the parents or whatever and you know, I’m not near you, but my good friend is and and she was hoping to come by.” You’re probably not going to get a response from a lot of breeders when the market makes it very competitive to get a dog. We’re in a weird situation right now, where all of a sudden it’s a puppy buyers market. Because weird situations with the pandemic. And so during the pandemic, we were also in a weird situation where the market was insane. And then you know, before that it’s still definitely a breeders’ market in terms of… At least in the populous areas where I am on the west coast. Where you cannot afford, as a buyer, to ask a lot of questions. And that is real. And that is… That messes up everything. Because you want to ask questions. Like, I have… I contact breeders for a living to ask questions on behalf of pet parents. And the amount of non-responses I get is like 80%. So 80% of the time I don’t get a response. And then as soon as I do get a response and push something, like, for example, “Do they have hip tests?” Or anything like that- And I know how to speak with these people because I’ve been doing it for years and I’m diplomatic. And it’s just as soon as, like… And this is what every puppy seeker will tell me when I interview people with their stories. Which I’ve interviewed hundreds of people is, “I just couldn’t afford to ask a question if I wanted a dog.” That’s the scenario. That is the real scenario of what it actually looks like when someone wants to go find a dog. And when you’re in the dog world, like we all are, it’s different. Because we know people. And so we know other breeders. They know us. Sometimes we’re friends. And we have this network that is a completely different ballgame. And we have the privilege of knowing which breeder does what tests and who breeds what kind of lines. Field-y, non-fieldy, pet, whatever. And that is all knowledge that they’re not privy to. And even when I’m helping them as a person who is in that world, I have these statistics somewhere, and they’re very sad, so I’m going to be the downer again. But like I do breeder referral, and of all of my clients, maybe 5% of people get a dog that I would call well-bred as a result of breeder referral. 5%. And that’s them having help. And so what we’re generally looking at is, they’ve gone to import rescue. I would say 50% of people end up getting a street dog instead. And these people live in downtown condos. And then, because they simply can’t get a dog and those dogs are easy to get. Some of them, a lot of them will find rehoming. So I would say another like 20% of that will find a dog that’s being rehomed. An adult dog like on Craigslist. Which is not always a dog being rehome. Some of those dogs come from situations that there’s actually money being made there. And then you have this, what was it, 3% left over? And of those people, the majority still will go for anyone who has availability. That is key. So anyone who has a dog available. And in the last year, people who have dogs available are that source that I was talking about. And they are breeding popular dogs. And so the system literally is very ugly.
JG: And so you have… There’s like this tiny little portion at the end of the day of people who’ve actually reached out to me and actually listened to me for the most part. And they still don’t get it. And I and I try to help them compromise. And I’m not telling them, “You need to go to only this breeder, and they need to have these tests.” I say to them. “So here’s a few options. There’s going to be some breeders that have immediate availability. How important is that to you?” And they will all say “I need a dog in the next six weeks.” That’s about as much as they will wait. And so that reduces my options for them by almost everything, right? Because there’s a waitlist, generally, for dogs. And unfortunately dogs that have availability, not necessarily right now, but oftentimes breeders that have availability have availability because those dogs are coming from a different kind of source. And so it funnels the system. And this idea that the biggest factor in how puppy seekers get dogs, is indeed availability, and breed. Those two things. And I know that that actually makes sense, because when I look at regions across North America that have more dogs being bred, including states and provinces where puppy mills are legal. There’s actually more good dogs coming into the system there. Because the available dogs… There are just more of them. And so when you’re in an area that has a very constrained market like mine, I’m in Vancouver primarily, where there’s a lot of people wanting dogs and very little people breeding dogs. And puppy mills are not legal. And so it constrains the market into finding a dog that is almost always going to be bad for them. So people don’t like to wait and I understand that and so my job then becomes mitigating the result. And so I see–
LS: That is crazy.
JG: I see people directly being like, “We would like a dog.” And they’re like, “Tell us where to get a dog. Who has one available?” Which is what they want. And then I’m like, “Okay, here’s some places that have availability.”
LS: This is an education problem, then. I mean, the environment has changed. And I think there’s some reeducation that needs to happen in terms of how long you might have to wait. I mean, you know, I mean, during the pandemic we were able to adapt to the fact that toilet paper wasn’t available. So we might need to adapt to the fact that you may not get a puppy, and you may have to start planning ahead quite some time. Or suffer the consequences.
JG: Yeah, but they won’t. I mean, they will.
LS: Well they will. (Laughter)
JG: So yeah, I walk this road with people every day.
LS: That’s really hard.
JG: And so I see them from the point of like, “We want to get the dog and we want to make sure it’s well-bred. And the welfare is good.” It’s always what they want. Which is great, great motivation. And then I tell them, “Okay, like, what’s your timeline? Is there any way we can move that timeline? Here’s some consequences of not moving the timeline.” And it’s always like, “No, we’d really like one by Sunday…”
LS: Wow. (Gasp)
JG: …and so that is–
JH: I have to say, just to give some perspective on this, because I’m, I’m also listening with horror and thinking like, well, people should be willing to wait six months. But I would just like to say that my personal story of when I bought a dog, a puppy from a breeder, is that I had two dogs. One of them was elderly. He died. I hadn’t known when he would die, right. But he died shortly before I was about to start writing my thesis. And I was going to be at home. And it was a perfect time for me to have a puppy. And my other dog was now alone and she was shy and really liked having another dog in the house. And so, I mean, I happened… It was a different time, right? This was 2016. And I was able to navigate the world of breeders I think much better. But it is just more complicated now, even though it hasn’t been all that long. And so I was able to get a dog who I’m quite happy with. It took me a week and a half to get him. And so I just want to say that while we’re all feeling horrified about people are doing this, I did it.
CK: I’m not. I’m not feeling horrified. And I’ve done it too. The lab that I was telling you all about earlier, who’s so resilient and everything? That was during my divorce. I was really down and I decided one weekend that I really wanted… I’ve had dogs before. I didn’t have a dog. I was like, I think a dog will make me feel better. And it was divine inspiration. And I found her in four days. And I went and picked her up. And she’s the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me as far as dogs and so it doesn’t… I mean, I agree that impulse buying is not ideal. I get that. But luckily this was, you know, a home-based breeder that happened to have a leftover puppy that someone had backed out. And it really was a pretty good situation. I live in a pretty rural area. It’s not a depressed area, it’s pretty… It’s not a, you know, not a lot of… How do I put it? There’s a lot of breeders. I mean, there’s a lot of people that casually breed in Michigan, particularly in my part. It’s a lot of farms, and it isn’t all bad. It really isn’t. You know, a lot of it is people breeding their pet dogs. Some of them are purebred. Some of them aren’t. But I think if you’re in New York or you know, a big city, it’s a much different perspective on how easy is it to get a dog from a good source.
JH: It’s harder and I think the message I’m trying to get across is that it’s not unreasonable to want to get a dog quickly. People have a lot of reasons for that. It’s not unreasonable. But I very much hear what Jacqueline is saying is that while it may not be an unreasonable desire, it is very difficult. Again, things have been different this summer. But throughout the pandemic, it was certainly true that that reasonable desire conflicted with reality in a pretty serious way.
CK: And it puts people at risk of getting a dog from a source that’s not a humane source, right?
JH: Correct. Correct.
CK: Because they’re…
JH: Which I think we all agree is like just the number one- Like it’s bad for the dog’s parents, it’s bad for the dog, and it’s probably bad for you because the dog’s probably not going to have a great…
JG: Yeah, and the costs are often higher. And so the original purchase price is often very high. People think that people are just getting cheap dogs. No, these people are paying $6,000 for a dog that’s, you know, being shipped into the country from another place. So the thing that is, like, as an anthropologist too is really hammered down to me how much demographic differences make a difference in this, when it comes down to it. Because dog overpopulation is correlated with political systems, economic systems, social systems in the place where they are. That’s the main factor that influences whether or not a region is going to have lots of stray dogs or whether there isn’t any. And when the political system is a certain combination of factors, you’re going to have dog overpopulation. You’re going to have a lot of availability in shelters, you’re also going to have more people randomly breeding dogs, you’re going to have a better chance of finding a family dog out of that population. And then you have places like I am. The western most liberal portion probably in North America, potentially in Vancouver. Nobody’s breeding dogs, because it’s not okay to breed dogs. That’s the message. And so there isn’t really people randomly breeding dogs. There is a market that has popped up that is an illicit market of dogs. But Vancouver isn’t alone in that, there are a lot of cities which have… The progressive politics of the cities have influenced the existence of dogs being bred. And so when you go over to Quebec, which is the place where puppy mills are still legal, and where most of them come from in Canada, you have a lot of choice as an owner who wants to get a dog. Even during the pandemic, I spoke widely to trainers across Canada, very detailed, like “What are your dogs like in your classes? What are the issues you’re seeing? What breeds are you seeing? Where are people getting these dogs from?” And Quebec is like, “Everything is great. We’re getting lots of great dogs! All the dogs are doing awesome in classes.” And it’s the place that has all the puppy mills in Canada. Like no puppy mills and it’s a numbers game. What it tells me then at that point, because people who want a dog now can get a dog now and their chances of hitting an okay genetic base in that dog are higher than people in Vancouver who are like, “I want dog now.” And the only sources they have are very…
JH: The internet. Yeah.
JG: …very constrained. And so like, we’d like to think that people have the option of asking breeders questions and all this stuff. But like the real world, in some places, and the most populous places… Generally the cities can be very different. And so when I say like, “Oh, it’s really hard for them to find dogs and visit the dog.” In Vancouver, you can’t visit a dog breeder.
LS: But that’s because we’ve we’ve spayed and neutered ourselves into a corner
JG: And that’s part of the progressive politics. That’s what happened, right?
LS: And I wouldn’t call it progressive because it’s short sighted.
JG: Yes. Yes, I agree.
CK: It is the culture of, you know, adopt, don’t shop and it is bad and evil and wrong to leave your dog intact. And God forbid, you should breed a dog.
JG: Yeah, it is. Pretty much. And there’s pros and cons to that mindset, right? Like, so I never want to say it’s all bad, because the reason that there are no stray dogs running around Vancouver is for good reason, originally. And, for example, we don’t have any doodles coming into shelters now. Even though all shelters are full, we have like 10 pitbulls, and a couple of Huskies. And, you know, I actually went through the SPCA, which runs the most shelters across the entire province of British Columbia. And they have 72 dogs in the system. In the entire provincial system. Only two of which were rated as okay with children. So that gives you an idea of it. So the shelter market I think forecasts breeder market in a way. So the less dogs you have available overall, because every dog is such a high commodity. That, you know, if you think that there’ll be lots of doodles coming into the shelter because of behavior problems, but the market is still so hot in these places, that they just get switched over to different families. So it’s not unusual…
LS: Right, and sometimes that’s a good thing, right?
LS: A dog that doesn’t work in one family can work really well in another family. But the whole thing about spaying or neutering ourselves into a corner is now we have to correct for it. Because the fact that there aren’t dogs is allowing puppy mills to thrive.
JG: Yes, I know. When I said 90% of doodles have issues that is actually true.
CK: And you’re talking about doodles from a source that you know and is a mill.
JG: Like if you take an average puppy class–
JH: In your area?
JG: – yeah, in my area. think your average puppy class in my area. The majority of dogs, like 80-90%, are doodles of some kind. And then it’ll be like one shelter dog. Or something like an important rescue or something like that. So then within that population… My trainer friends have had to quit doing classes in person because the dogs were not prepared to be meeting one another and to be meeting people because the behavior issues are not appropriate for that kind of setting for them. So, and they can all be traced back to like three different sources that they come from. And those sources are a particular link on Craigslist. And it’s… I don’t know if you guys know how puppy mills really work. Puppy mills are not like a farm somewhere where there’s a puppy. Puppy mills are a broker who posts something to Craigslist. And the person will say, “Yeah, I want one of your doodles.”
CK: Well there are barns and farms. I mean we have them in Michigan. But they don’t sell them at the barn, they sell them through a broker.
JG: Yeah so the person on Craigslist will have a house in East Vancouver. And you can go there. And you can see dogs that they bring in from other brokers who then do the brokerage of bringing puppies from farms, sometimes individual homes, so you can also get, you know, a random assortment of dogs in that, that space. So it’s a brokerage of puppies is a better way to put in. And so in a community, often they’ll be a prime kind of broker, but they’re all getting their dogs often from the same sources, where they’re coming from.
CK: Yeah, yeah.
JG: And so it’s a little bit of a crapshoot. So you can get a great puppy, but you can also get, you know, something awful. But every one of these puppies is coming through the guise of a home raised dog in this one home in East Vancouver.
JG: So people never think that they’re getting a dog from a brokerage, because it’s being presented to them through this front. And so people are always like, “There can’t be that many puppy mills.” It’s a system that like… Just like when you’re buying something off of Amazon, it’s mostly coming from the same place, and how it’s getting to you and where you’re buying it from is largely kind of like… It’s just that the price is just different. And how it’s presented.
LS: Yeah, we have the same situation on the East Coast, right? I mean, the East Coast: Pennsylvania, Ohio. It’s like puppy mill haven. Okay? And everybody thinks they’re getting a puppy from a nice Amish couple. Who is just raising puppies on their spare acre in their spare barn because they love dogs they want… Of course that’s how it works. Right? I mean, it’s the same. It’s just this market.
JG: And that’s the educational piece, right?
SH: And that’s why I–
LS: You know, it’s a huge market. And now it’s time to look at how we move forward. Because in the past, it didn’t work. You know, we had stray dogs running all around uncared for, you know, starving, mangy. That obviously, the spay and neuter has solved that problem, thank God. And now we need to look forward about how we’re going to do this, because the problem we have created isn’t that much better.
JH: Yeah, and I just want to address before we move on to that I want to pause to address something that you guys were talking about, because I’m going to get comments about it, if I don’t. And so basically, I want to summarize that I think that what Jacqueline was saying about doodles with behavior problems, is that in her area, there is a pipeline of dogs coming out of puppy mills. Because so many of the doodles in her area are coming out of puppy mills, she’s seeing a large proportion of them with behavior problems. Which is not due to their being doodles, but due to them coming out of puppy mills, and that Carolyn and Laura are seeing different things in their areas, because they are seeing a greater proportion of doodles that are not coming from– or that are coming from breeders that are basically doing a better job. Would you guys all agree with that?
JH: I’m going to say it explicitly.
LS: Yeah, I would say 90% of the doodles I see are wonderful.
SH: Yeah. And I’m in a different area. And I also see a different thing. Like, I would say that, like, I see doodles who are- I see variability in doodles that are… It looks like similar range of variability to other breeds. So I think depending on where you are, and I think Jacqueline, especially if you’re in an area that it’s very restricted, the pool of dogs, then it is more likely that they’re all going to come from a similar area, and then they are probably going to be more similar. And unfortunately, they’re similar in not the ways we would want.
CK: I see a wide range of this, I see a wide range. I don’t see that doodles are always great, but I think there’s a lot of variety.
JH: For sure there is. And I liked that someone said earlier that doodles are not all one thing. They’re not all one thing.
CK: Not at all
JH: Right. So we definitely need to start wrapping up. I think Laura brought up the question of where do we go from here? And I think that would be a great, maybe… if we could just not more than like another five minutes, but we could sort of touch on like, what’s the way forward?
JG: Can we each have like a: what our way forward is?
JH: Yeah, how about we do that to wrap up? How about each of you talks about your way forward, and then we’ll try not to re-engage with each other too much during that. We try to just each have our way forward wrap up. So let’s do it the opposite of how we introduced. So I think that has us starting with Jacqueline.
JG: So the way forward, I’m very optimistic. I’m an idealistic person, even though what I’m saying sounds kind of dark. But it’s important to understand the realities that are behind these systems and how they are systemic. And how the solution is a systemic solution to all of this, which is that poverty alleviation, paying attention to things like economic racial injustices are the foundation to changing all of the scenario. Because when those things change, overpopulation changes. And then we can finally address things from a less contentious perspective of looking. Now that we have that stuff under control and we have- Our system has worked to get rid of dogs, essentially, that are stray, how do we build a base now of healthy dogs to replace that. And I think because the whole “adopt don’t shop” thing kind of detracts from all of this. But if you’re just looking at the breeding community, I want the breeding community to equally know that because there’s a lot of breeders still who say, “We can’t breed for pets.” And that is part of the problem. And so they need to understand where overpopulation comes from. And it doesn’t come from breeders breeding for awesome pets who thrive in urban environments. So I want people to understand how the system operates, why there’s overpopulation, where shelter dogs fit into the system, where breeding dogs fit into the system. Because ultimately, I think that is what’s going to change the basis of what the landscape looks like.
JH: All right. And next is Laura.
LS: Um, I think we have society in general, North America. We have to come to grips with the truth about where puppies come from, what we expect from them, and we need to move forward into a space where we are breeding enough nice dogs for the people who want them. And I think we can do it. I think this is a watershed moment. I think the pandemic brought it along faster than– I think we would have waited longer. But the pandemic has really focused our attention on something that most people didn’t know. There’s still a huge number of people in the United States that think we have an overpopulation problem and we don’t. So I think it’s a… I think it’s time to move in a different direction. And I’m excited to be part of it. And it’s the entire reason I started breeding. And I’m super excited to work with you and Carolyn, and taking some big steps forward in that direction.
JH: Yes, it will have another podcast episode all about that. Very soon. Yes. It’s going to be awesome. All right, Carolyn.
CK: Yeah, I think I agree with Laura, well, that we need to truly align the way that we breed dogs with the way that we live with dogs. And modernize the entire dog culture around breeding. And that is going to require a lot of transparency. And some changes in the way that we think about how breeding gets done. And what we expect from dogs and what we expect from breeders. And it’s not going to be easy to do, because there’s a lot of entrenched stuff there. But it’s certainly an exciting prospect to think that we can make people and dogs live together easier and better.
JH: Yeah, genetics and socialization right? It’s what we need. Alright, and Sammy?
SH: Yeah, I think a lot of the things that everybody else has said, but I think we got a stack the odds in our favor. Which means genetics and socialization, like you just said, early environment, maternal environment, learning–
JH: And decompression walks. (Laughter)
SH: Yes, for everyone. Both ends of the leash benefit from those walks. And I think that we need to be working like, professionals, we need to work together. I think that this is not something that just breeders are going to solve or, you know, just better research on socialization is going to solve. I think we all need to work together. And I think that pet owners should lean on professionals to help them navigate the process of stacking the odds in their favor. There are clearly people, everyone on this podcast, who is really invested in that. In helping stack the odds in the favor that we can have great pet dogs. And then I think that we need to- If things don’t go as planned, and our recipe doesn’t bring out the perfect puppy, that we take a breath, and we address it, and we move forward. Because even once we’ve done all these things, and done the hard work, there will still be times that there are going to be situations where a dog might not be thriving, and we can work together to help them live more comfortably in their environment.
JH: Alright, so to wrap up, I want to read a quote that calls back to a lot of the stuff that you guys were talking about that I really loved. Those of you who have read The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell are going to recognize this quote from Henry Beston. Because it’s at the beginning of that book. It says, “For the animal shall not be measured by man, they are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendor and travail of the earth.” So thanks so much to everyone. This has been fantastic.
Thanks so much for listening. The Functional Breeding Podcast is a product of the Functional Dog Collaborative and was produced by Sarah Espinosa Socal. Come join us at the Functional Breeding Facebook group to talk about this episode or about responsible breeding practices in general. To learn more about the Functional Dog Collaborative, check out www.functionalbreeding.org. Enjoy your dogs.
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