When we lose one of our beloved companions, sometimes a person will say, “Hey, it’s just a dog.” Those of us who have had dogs in our lives look at that person as if they’ve lost their mind.
How can you say this is just a dog? He was a part of my life, and sometimes my only friend through both good times and bad. He would look at me with soulful eyes and wag, or just sit there quietly, waiting until I moved.
Those of us who breed and compete with our dogs have the privilege to develop a special kind of relationship that most people don’t have with their pets. We get to learn how the canine mind works and how we can work with our dogs so that they can step into the limelight and shine.
I’m not saying that the folks who don’t show or breed their dogs don’t have a special relationship with them, just that those of us who share our world with a newborn baby puppy and help develop it into an adult dog experience something beyond having a pet.
In planning each breeding, we research pedigrees and health records for hours and hours, look at pictures, and finally find that right combination in the hopes of continuing the best our breed can be.
Once that little life emerges from its mother, we get to touch him and listen to his first sounds, hear his cry as he takes his first breath, and see his wiggling feet, head, and body as he tries to understand where he is. He is blind and deaf yet settles in our hand, somehow knowing we will keep him safe and warm. We watch as he snuggles and “snorkels” against his mother and siblings. We are beside the whelping box like a sentinel to make sure the air is warm and the bedding clean and dry. We spend hours listening and not sleeping, just in case his mother moves wrong and he cries out—only to rush in and find that he’s already moved to a safe place.
We watch when he takes his first steps, when he plops over and gets back up to try again, and when his eyes and ears open. We see when he is startled for the first time and when he tastes his first baby food.
Then comes teaching him how to stack and walk on a lead. There’s the first trip out of the house with the lead and crate, and the sights and sounds as we socialize him. Socializing is one of his most important lessons; it makes him strong and sure of himself.
We are experts in understanding and visualizing our breed standard. As our puppy grows and plays, we are always watching him, studying him. We evaluate his structure, movement, and attitude against the breed standard. It is our responsibility as stewards to continue breeding toward that standard that was designed and agreed upon by our peers in the breed.
As our puppy grows and matures into that shining example, our excitement pushes us into working to get him ready to compete. When he reaches 6 months, we are ready to take him into the limelight. We are proud because we have willingly invested our time, love, joy, sadness, pride, and experience to continue breeding the best we can.