Making Room for my Personal Values in my Breeding Program
I don't advocate for a one-size fits all life experience. People are different. Breeders are different. Trainers are different. Breeding programs are different. Breeds are different. Dogs are different. If we don't acknowledge that then we've perhaps lost sight of the big picture, or maybe never understood it in the first place.
This is why while I admire and support puppy rearing programs such as Puppy Culture and Avidog, there are times that I feel a vague distaste that they are at times presented as the one true way. Both have valuable content and at some point I will get to reviewing, comparing, and contrasting the programs. However, just because a breeder doesn't do them doesn't make them bad. I know so many breeders who have my unwavering respect that don't use either program.
And while this is true in life in general, so often in the dog fancy I see the: it's my way or nothing. I do what I do because with my research and experience, this is what I have found works best for me. And I try to be eminently flexible. One dog might not do well on an e-collar and I shape everything. Another might get terribly frustrated guessing what I want and I lure everything. Similarly, one person might not have a fenced yard but they hike daily with their dog and take agility and scentwork and flyball classes weekly. While another doesn't have a fenced yard and their dogs never even see the outside. Circumstances matter. Individuals matter.
But what I don't see talked about very often is the fact that the breeder, for all that they are subject to certain responsibilities when raising puppies and vetting owners, is still a person and still has needs that have to be met.
I'm a hermit with huge social anxiety. It's hard to see that because I hike a lot and in general keep very active. I love dog events and dog world people. I express myself well through the written word, so I have a wide variety of educational materials available. But take me out of my elements and I'm a socially anxious mess. I hate talking on the phone. I hate not knowing what to talk about with a stranger. I'm honestly pretty quiet and do a lot of observing.
And I hate having people over. Because they will inevitably have expectations I'm not prepared to meet. I don't mind clutter on my coffee table. I don't mind dog toys strewn across the floor. And while lots of people won't mind that, the thought of being judge by people who do mind makes my anxiety kick in. After college, I lived with friends from high school for two years. More days than not, we had friends over. Now, I liked these friends a lot, but I was constantly emotionally drained. As soon as I moved out, that emotional stress completely went away.
Even before the COVID pandemic, we rarely had people over. It's absolutely a piece of socialization I've failed to touch on extensively with my own dogs. But when we do have to have people over, we manage. My dogs stay on their place. Or in their crates. Or in the other room until they are comfortable to come and interact with our guests. To me, it's not important for my dogs to be friendly with people entering my home because I don't want people in my home in the first place. This is yet another reason why Azawakh suit me perfectly. I don't want to have a revolving door policy. There's absolutely nothing wrong with having an open door policy for the neighborhood (when there's not a pandemic), but that's not right for me, just like it's not right for most Azawakh.
But simultaneously, I will have owners who wish to have visitors come over to their house and it is partially my responsibility (in addition to their owner's) to prepare puppies for this experience as best as I can.
So how do I balance these two necessities? That answer will always be something that I'm working on. But my adult dogs do have people that they trust and will allow in the house with no fuss or stress. Those are the people who will be helping me with my puppies - people my dogs know and trust. Because if my adult dogs are stressed, the puppies are going to pick up on that. Additionally, I want people to meet the puppies, but I plan to do that off site as much as I can, both to aide in socialization breadth and to keep my anxiety at a low.
What else must I balance between my personal life and my responsibilities as a breeder or a trainer? Communication is a big piece with both jobs. And one thing that I absolutely hate is making phone calls. Don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly capable of doing so. With COVID I've become downright resigned to the necessity of phone and Zoom calls, but they still kick my anxiety into gear so when I can avoid them I do. I do much of my communication through email. I appreciate that it is a less urgent format overall, but I also text or use Facebook messenger quite often. All of these mediums give me time to deliberate what I need to say and respond in my own time, something that phone calls do not. Additionally, they give me a written record to refer back to should I need it.
I think that people who judge breeders for not welcoming every potential new buyer into their home might be missing some of the reasons why not everyone does so. I think people who love phone calls because of their personal nature might be missing why another might prefer email. However, I do think that allowing breeders and allowing trainers to find a method that works best for them, but still means they can accomplish what the need to get done, is an important piece that is rarely discussed.