Why We Choose To Lose Our Hearts to A Breed With Such A Short Lifespan….

Why We Choose To Lose Our Hearts to A Breed With Such A Short Lifespan….

Great Danes are truly a beloved breed. Everywhere you go, people are drawn to them, even those who are afraid of dogs in general, or those who aren’t dog friendly. I once met an elderly woman at the strip mall a few minutes from here who had been afraid of dogs her entire life; she seen us standing outside of the pharmacy, approached me and asked if she could meet and pat Luke. She was almost in tears at the end of the meeting; it seemed to be such a momentous occasion for her. In situations such as that one, I have no problem whatsoever stopping and allowing them to meet my boy.

Another time we were just out for a nice afternoon stroll on the next street over, when we came across an older gentleman who crossed the street to talk to me and of course, meet Luke. It turned out that he had once had a blue female Great Dane, whom he’d adored, and throughout his telling of the story, the emotion this man displayed for a dog that had been gone a very long time, was incredibly touching. I stayed there for quite a while chatting with him and just letting him soak up the opportunity to be near a dane again.

One of the most common things I hear though, or read online when I’m in my dog forums, is people who say they would love to have a Great Dane one day, but feel they could not handle the short lifespan. The risk of pain so early in the dog’s life, the knowledge that they will grow incredibly close and bonded with the dog, only to lose them in a short amount of time, is too much for them to risk. I can understand and sympathize with that sentiment completely. It is after all, the bane of a Great Dane owner’s existence. That whisper in the back of our mind…what if we only have a year, five years, ten years?

Perhaps that is why for so many of us who live and breathe these dogs, we don’t “sweat the small stuff”. What owners of other breeds, breeds that are known to live a lot longer under the right circumstances, take for granted, we never do. We don’t fret as much about the little misbehaviours, or the mess they make when drool goes flying, when it’s shedding season or when the giant paws track muck through our house so that it ends up looking like a barnyard. Most of us, at least from what I’ve witnessed, tend to be the odd balls that stand by with a smile on our face and just pray that we will have many more opportunities to clean up after those paws. God knows, that whether we are blessed with two years or ten, there simply are not enough of those moments.

There is little doubt that living with and loving a Great Dane can bring us incredible pain, as well as the most intense joy. Ask anyone who has shared their life with more than one, who has rescued, bred, or grew up with the breed, and I’m sure you will be able to hear it in their voice or read it in their words. You know going into it, that unless you are very lucky, you will have to say goodbye too soon. It is that I think, that makes our relationship with our danes that much more intense, more powerful….more…memorable.

I remember all the teasing I received from Patty and my mother about the huge amount of pictures I took of Luke from the day I brought him home. It’s simple really. For one, I don’t have a very good graphical memory. I remember in emotions not pictures, so it is incredibly important to me that I document my life with Luke as much as I can while he is with me, so I have those pictures to help bring his physical memory alive to me later on, when God forbid, I must go on without him. I want to remember every single facial expression, every bit of body language, every new experience he had that I managed to catch on camera. I want to re-live those moments over and over again until the day we meet again, if that’s possible. Because I know me, and I know that it’s going to damn near kill me to lose him. It is a dread and a pain that I hold in my heart every single moment of every single day, and have since that first meeting with him. Yet, it is that very fear of losing him that makes our bond so strong makes each moment that much more special to me than any I’ve ever had with anyone or anything else before in my life. I don’t want to waste a second. I actually find myself getting angry if I am sick or tired and I think I may be wasting valuable time with him. Every minute with him is precious to me.

I pray more now, over him, than I’ve ever prayed in my life. Every night I thank a God I’m not sure I get along with most of the time, for giving me this wonderful gift, for making my dream come true. I pray he will be merciful and give me many more years to share with Luke. Lord knows I can’t even stand the thought of one day without him now, let alone the rest of my life. He is truly the other half of my soul. Not many people “get” that. To many, I am the crazy dog lady and he’s “just a dog”, albeit a handsome, special one, but a dog just the same. Not to me, never to me. He will never and has never, been “just a dog” to me.

I can’t really explain what it is about these dogs that make them so much more than other breeds, what makes them so special and unique. It just IS what it is and you have to have lived with one to understand it. There are some who do have a Great Dane who still don’t seem to “get it”. That much is obvious when I hear horror stories of so many being dumped, or worse, abused. But many of us out there around the globe, do indeed understand, and I think it’s why no matter how different we may be when it comes to all other aspects of our lives, that one thing brings us close together….our intense bond with and love for the breed that only we can really comprehend.

I have the utmost respect for those out there who have rescued and rehabilitated countless danes over the years. Who have loved and lost one after another, always getting back up after the great fall and doing it all over again with a new dane. I know I couldn’t do it; because as much as I know that the pain is worth it, there will never be another Luke. I’m just different that way. I can’t bring another into my life and live with them, knowing they can never be him. I wouldn’t be able to stand the guilt of that. But for those who can, and do, I commend them with all of my being because they truly do take selflessness and unconditional love to a whole new level.

It is human nature to take for granted things in our lives; people in our lives who we assume will be there forever, or at the very least, for a long time. It’s kind of like how, you hurt the ones you love the most because you know they will always stick around, always be there no matter what. When you know going into it however, that they won’t be there forever….it makes you act differently. Feel differently, do things differently. You are much more careful about what you take for granted and what you are careless about. It makes relationships more intense somehow, when you already have an estimated end date. It’s sad that as people, we know this, yet still instinctively do it. You’d think that we would learn from those that we do lose early, to never take anyone or anything for granted, to always treat every person in our lives, every pet, everything that matters, as if tomorrow they could be gone and every second is an important one. Maybe that is one lesson we learn from living with and loving our Great Danes. That each second is precious. Not to be taken lightly. That the muddy paw prints are blessings, not something to curse about. When you know that there will soon come a day when you will wish with all of your heart and soul that you had just one more day to sweep up the hair, one more day to clean the drool off the walls…you realize that even the hassles are blessings in disguise.

I never go to bed, no matter what mood I’m in, no matter how rotten my day has been, without making sure Luke gets his loving and attention. He wouldn’t let me now J I go above and beyond to make sure that I never take my frustrations about my life out on him. He is my sanity, my light in a world full of darkness. He is the smile on my face and the laughter in my heart when otherwise there would be none. He is the reason I give thanks when it seems I have little else to be thankful for. He is not just a dog, and I know without a shadow of a doubt, that when the day comes that we are forced to be separated, no matter how my heart will break, no matter how much I drown in pain, I will forever be grateful for every single moment I have had with him. Because no one, and nothing, has given me in my entire life, what this big black dane has given me in just one day of his time with me. Oh I will hurt, more than ever before or again, but I will never look back and say it wasn’t worth it, or wish I hadn’t have opened myself up to that hurt. Because nothing has or ever will be again, worth it like Luke has been worth it.

The “New” Way versus The “Old” Way of Raising a Dog

There is little doubt that the world of dogs and dog ownership has changed drastically over the years. With the advent of online forums, blogs, training articles and television shows that focus on training Fido to do behave properly; the amount of information out there available to anyone who’s looking, at just a click of a mouse, can actually be quite overwhelming for many.

Whether you are looking for information on what to feed your dog, or how to potty train, the vast amount of opinions is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Many are left wondering, “Why does it have to be so complicated?”.” How can there be so many answers to one simple question?”, and “Which answer is the right one for my dog?” Each area of raising a dog is fraught with debate from so many experts and training guru’s, that it’s little wonder that the vast majority of average everyday pet owners just throw their hands up in the air and go with whatever they have seen work in the past. Even if those methods are not what we today call “the right way” of doing things.

For those of us who are active in the online dog world, who interact daily with hundreds of fellow dog owners, many who are highly experienced in anything from general dog behaviour to professional levels of training, it can be easy to forget that we are not the majority. No matter how large our numbers, we are still the minority when it comes to dog owners around the world. The vast majority of average pet owners are not spending hours reading up on training articles, nutritional studies, breed profiles and breeding practices. They are not spending hundreds of dollars on professional training classes, agility courses, and other dog sports. It would be safe to say I think, that the overall majority of dogs in this world know only the basics, IE: “sit”, “come”, “stay” and “paw”.

I would be willing to bet a good amount of money, that if I were to walk through the streets of my city, polling the general public to see how many know who people like Ian Dunbar, or Patricia McConnell are, they wouldn’t have the slightest clue. Yet go online, into any of the hundreds of dog forums out there, and you’ll see those names touted often in regards to the behaviour and training of our dogs.

I already know for a fact that most people I run into while walking Luke, haven’t a clue what Orijen is, or what breeding practices to look for when buying a puppy. Most have no clue as to what health issues are common to their breed of dog, or what a clicker is. Yet, if I ask them who Cesar Milan is, they can tell me in a heartbeat. And the vast majority of those who know of him think he is brilliant, and that his methods are THE way to train a dog. Go online into one of those forums however, and you will see a totally different story.

There is a good reason for this. Human nature plays a huge roll for one thing. We live in a society of “we want it all, and we want it NOW”. The easiest path and the method that gets us to our destination the fastest is generally the most popular choice. We also live in a society where the more something is advertised, the more bombarded we are with certain images and ideology; the more apt we will be to follow it. If it’s on TV, on commercials, if it has a cute little jingle or it makes the least bit of sense, and if the method is easy and works fast, you have a winner. Cesar’s methods seem to do just that. They make sense, and work fast with relatively little effort. So it SEEMS. There is little understanding among the general public on what negative effects can be seen from training dogs in the manner in which he does things on his show.

People are busy today. We have families who have to work long hours in order to make ends meet. Time is a luxury. Anything we can get to make that time more efficient, allow us to do more than one thing at once, is gold. All you have to do to realize this fact is take a look at the technology we have at our disposal now. We have Iphones and Ipads, gadgets that can do anything we want or could ever need them to do at just a push of a button, so we have more time to focus on other things. So, it makes total sense then, that so many people are going to take the path of least resistance when it comes to dog training doesn’t it?

If you can train a dog to walk on lead properly within a few minutes using the prong collar, why not use that? Why take time we don’t have, trying to train a dog that pulls and yanks us down the street, to walk properly using positive only methods, methods that may take weeks of repetitive and frustrating attempts when it can be done almost instantly? When you’re pressed for time and you have a family to raise, kids to get off to their various sports and school functions, a nine hour work day; most people just do not have the time to spend taking multiple baby steps when one big one will do. Even if those smaller, longer steps might lead to a happier, healthier and better behaved dog in the end, time and patience is always a big factor in our lives these days.

There is no doubt about it: the culture of dog ownership is changing every day. The amount of accessible information is staggering. Education is only a tv remote or mouse click away from our fingertips at any given moment. There are enough books on raising dogs on the market now that it would make your head spin. More and more obedience classes and other types of dog training and fun activities are being opened up in cities and towns across the globe. Yet…there still remains a vast amount of the population who see dog ownership in much the same way they did fifty years ago or more. Even my generation, when looking back at how our family dogs were raised, can see a dramatic shift in the thinking behind how we raise and train our dogs.

Dogs were not furry people. They didn’t require play dates and dog parks, nor did the owners go into emotional meltdown at the idea their pooch might not like every dog in the neighbourhood. Behaviorists and trainers weren’t called upon and paid fifty bucks an hour to evaluate whether the dog had fear issues or to fix social problems. They didn’t need to meet a dozen new furry friends a day in order to be happy, fulfilled dogs. Many slept on the floor of the home with no expensive dog bed or even a blanket in some cases. Many slept outside the home altogether. They weren’t fed organic, holistic blend kibble costing an arm and a leg. Owners didn’t spend hours online or at the pet food store reading labels and studying ingredients on the back of food bags. The dog ate scraps from the kitchen table if it was lucky; otherwise the cheapest bag of kibble, which could change weekly, was thrown into a bowl without a second thought as to the nutritional value. Nobody worried about allergies and cancer, whether Fido was getting too much or too little exercise or none at all. Building six foot privacy fences just to keep him secure was probably unheard of. Vets were for emergencies and maybe a few vaccines if that.

Pedigrees and researching breeders was something only a very few worried about. If you wanted a dog, you got one for free at the neighbour’s house when they’re dog happened to have pups. Or you came across a sign on the side of a road somewhere, saying “free pups”, and stopped to pick one. There was no waiting two to three years and signing contracts more complicated than getting a mortgage for a home, to get a pup. There was no worrying about back yard breeders or puppy mills or genetic health testing. Today to not do all of these things is to be considered an unworthy owner. If your dog isn’t involved in some sort of activity, exercised at least an hour or two a day, trained to do a dozen tricks, and socially adept with all other dogs and people, you are considered a failure to Fido.

There is little doubt that with all the new information out there, positive changes are taking place in the dog owners’ community. We now have a much greater understanding of a wide spectrum of issues; like the topic of breeding for instance. We have more insight into how health issues are perpetuated in the lines of breeding stock, how temperaments are genetically passed on. We now understand why some dogs behave in ways that prior to these past few years when behavioralism started to become popular, were just passed off as the actions of a “bad dog”.

Yet….as with so many other areas of our world where we are in possession of so much more knowledge, we still make so many mistakes. There are still so many problems that you would think, knowing what we now know, we wouldn’t have. It seems though that nowadays every second dog we see or hear about, has some sort of behavioural issue. Excessive barking, biting, chewing, digging, separation anxiety or severe fear issues, are just a few of those issues. It would appear, that now more than ever before, dogs in general are having more problems, despite all the hundreds of methods we can use to train them, all the scientific research to explain why they behave the way they do; the more understanding we have, the worse the dogs behaviour gets.

Perhaps this is why it is so difficult at times, to convince people that the new ways are the best ways. Scientific research and results are great, but they have little value when set against anecdotal evidence or previous experience the person we’re trying to educate may have. If Jane has raised a dozen dogs before, none of whom had any of the behavioural problems she is now seeing in all her neighbour’s dogs, dogs who are being trained with the “new ways”, it’s going to be pretty hard to convince her that her ways are wrong isn’t it? It’s like going to a person who’s never been sick a day in their life, telling them that the lifestyle they lead is unhealthy; all the while the person preaching is running to the doctor’s office every week.

It’s hard to convince people who have owned and raised the farm bred mutt their entire lives, dogs who happened to live long, healthy lives, that spending thousands of dollars on pure bred, health tested dogs from “reputable” breeders is the best way to go. Especially when every pure bred dog from those top of the line breeders they’ve ever met or come across in their life has been dead by the age of 8 or 9, racked up thousands in vet bills; while their Heinz 57 lived to 15 while seeing the vet only for emergencies or vaccines. It looks good on paper, or online in dog forums, but harder to convince those who’ve lived long enough to see years of anecdotal evidence to the contrary. This is why education can only go so far. Experience counts a lot more to most people than words on a page in a magazine or in a forum online. Even if those words happen to be actually true.
To be continued……………………………….