Insomnia Thoughts

So last night I was up quite a bit with the puppies (some nights they’re quite active and vocal and because I am sleeping right beside the whelping box if they’re up, I’m up). As I’ve said before, they’re big and strong and active now, but they still can’t see (any day now!). So they’re able to get themselves into jams on occasion, like the ones who insist on trying to sneak around behind Alice to get an unopposed teat, who then end up shrieking when Alice lies down and traps them behind her under the pig rail (the pig rail is the white plastic you see around the sides of the box, this is to help stop a puppy from being crushed between mom and the side of the box).

If you’re watching the puppycam you will also see me moving puppies around on occasion, as much as I try to let them do their own thing most of the time, if I have some who are big gainers and some who are small gainers, I will try to give the smaller gainers some prime nursing time so nobody falls behind. Would they all end up where they should be? Most likely. But why not make sure of it?

I was thinking about my policy (for want of a better word) for how I place puppies. I don’t do things the way many breeders do, many breeders put you on a list and then once the litter is born they say whether they have a puppy for you or not and then either let you choose or choose for you (and I’m not saying that’s better or worse, it’s just different from what I do, and I have to do what I am comfortable with). And truthfully that’s probably the most “fair” way to do it, because the limbo I leave some of y’all in sucks, and I know it sucks. I usually wait until the puppies are old enough for me to see what their personalities are like, to decide who fits where. Which unfortunately means that even if you’re a home I’d love to send a puppy to, I may not have the right puppy for you in a given litter. If you want an agility dog and I have only mellow puppies I’m not doing you OR the puppy any good by placing a puppy with you. If you want a quiet family pet and I have only “delightful assholes” (as one of my puppy buyer husbands terms them), I’m not doing you OR the puppy any good by placing a puppy with you.

This is also why I try not to talk too much about individual puppies here, why I try to be gender neutral with collar colors (even though it ended up being more or less traditionally gendered this time, the collar colors are rainbow colors in birth order, so if a male had been born last, he’d have had the pink collar), why I try to be neutral with whelping box names, etc. Because in the last litter when I had a puppy who was struggling for the first little while (Popcorn) and wrote about it here, of course everyone wanted Popcorn. She was the one who had a “story”, she was the one they heard about the most. She was the one they fell in love with. So even if you’re glued to the puppycam, don’t fall in love with a puppy such that you’d be disappointed if that puppy isn’t “your” puppy. You don’t know them yet, heck *I* don’t even really know them yet and I’ve been with them 24/7 and even before they were born! We have a tendency to gravitate to the one that seems different or special (and I am no different in this regard, I loved Popcorn fiercely, I stayed awake for 72 hours trying to keep her alive, but I didn’t keep her, she wasn’t “my” puppy – I apply my placement rules to myself just as stringently as I do to y’all), but that doesn’t mean that that puppy is really the right one for us.

I feel that my first obligation is to the puppies, to find them the best possible home for them. It’s been the case in the past that I had a home that I was SUPER excited to place a puppy in, because I knew that puppy would have an awesome life and get to do all kinds of things. But the litter I had at the time just didn’t have a candidate in it that I felt would thrive in that home. Not because it wasn’t a great home, and not because I didn’t have nice puppies in that litter, but because the match wasn’t there. I told that owner (a very experienced dog person) that I didn’t think this was the litter for her, she appreciated my candor, she waited two and a half years for my next litter, and THERE was her puppy. And now that puppy has gone on to make breed history multiple times. That owner was Jan Robles and that puppy was Lobo (Alkemi Beowulf del Roble LS). Lobo (and his niece Cora now too) is thriving with Jan. Would he have been happy in a true “pet” home? Maybe, he’s a pretty stable and easy-going dog, but he wouldn’t have been living his best life, and he needs a job to do and someone who is willing to find ways to let him do a job. My obligation when I bring a new life into the world that otherwise wouldn’t have been here is to give that puppy the best possible life for it. So if I don’t have a puppy for you, that doesn’t mean I don’t think you’d be a great home, it means I don’t have a puppy that I think would be a good choice for you.

You don’t really start to see what their personalities and energy levels and tendencies are like until they’re a few weeks old. I mean right now I can see that some seem more mellow and some seem more busy, but this stage of their lives is not like any other – they can’t see or hear yet, their entire world is about eating, sleeping and having their mother stimulate them to urinate and defecate. They might walrus around the box but they’re not really exploring the world yet. The active puppies now might be the chill puppies later when they can see and hear. So it’s not about where you are on the list, it’s about what your home and lifestyle are like and what the puppies I have turn out to be like.

There is a tendency to think that “a dog is a dog”, and while dogs have many qualities in common, even within a given breed, they are also individuals. You may think you want “a Vallhund”, because you met one and loved it, or because you think they’re nice looking dogs, or because you think they’d be a good fit for your lifestyle, or any and all of the above. But within “Vallhunds” are individual dogs, with individual energy levels and drives. And one thing my mentor, Ulla Gamberg, told me that has always, always stuck with me is this: always trust your gut. Ulla and I do some things the same way and some things differently, but Ulla has forgotten more about Vallhunds and breeding Vallhunds than most people will ever know. And I absolutely trust that advice. So sometimes my gut (going by what I see in my whelping box) is going to tell me that I just don’t think this litter has your puppy in it. And if I tell you that, please believe me that it’s not that I don’t understand how much you want one, and it’s not that I don’t think you’d be a great home for a puppy (unless I tell you that), it’s that I think the puppy and you would be better served by waiting for another litter, or maybe I will refer you to another breeder who might have something suitable for you.

To my mind one of the biggest risk factors for a puppy not working out in a home (and since I take responsibility for my puppies for their entire lives, this matters!) is a mismatch between what the puppy needs and what the owner needs and can offer. You can’t make a high drive puppy into a low drive puppy, you can’t make a high energy puppy into a low energy puppy. And you need to be honest about what your lifestyle is like and what you can offer. I try to breed dogs with a work ethic, this isn’t what everyone wants in a dog! And there’s no shame in admitting that that’s not what you want in a dog.

So hopefully you understand that if I don’t have a good match for you, it’s not that you aren’t a suitable home, it’s that this litter doesn’t have a good match for you. I know these days, especially with COVID, it seems like everyone wants a puppy. But a Vallhund should be part of your family for well over a decade or even over a decade and a half, and I think it’s worth waiting for the right puppy, not just the right now puppy.

One Response to “Insomnia Thoughts”

  1. Rachel Bay Says:

    While your approach may not be the most widely accepted version of “fair” for owners, and yea the limbo can be stressful, your method is what’s fair to the dogs. When we were researching breeds and breeders I actually only reached out to those who favor match over contact order. Yea it means I’m a ball of anxiety for weeks but I would rather that then get a dog who really would be better suited for a different family. Sure I’m hype to go shopping and buy all the cute things now, but I was prepared to have to wait till January to find out and I would have been ok with that because it means that you were sure that you had a puppy that worked for us – or even didn’t. Breeders who just play the “you get a puppy and you get a puppy” game stress me out more than the limbo. Dogs aren’t shoes you can sell of Facebook marketplace if they don’t fit. So I’m fully in favor of the fit matching. It’s what’s most fair to everyone in the long run. At the end of the day it shows you care more about the puppy than my feelings and that’s what I want out of someone who’s responsible for giving us our next family member.

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