Teaching dog structure to puppy buyers – help a bitch (me!) out

I am working tonight, so I can’t do the conditioners-silicone post I promised. Which I am mad about. But no mun equals no fun, so I’ll do the work and be glad I have it.

So my alternate question for you all tonight is about how we can teach puppy buyers to be wise consumers of dogs. 

As you know, one of my big soapboxes is that the BUYER is the one who can save the world; the buyer controls demand, and if demand for poorly bred puppies stops production will stop. It doesn’t work the other way around; if we try to legislate breeding and slow the production, but the demand is still high, production will continue underground or (even worse) price will skyrocket and horribly bred puppies will become the next Wii.

(Not that we don’t love Wii, Emily 🙂  ).

I think that mainstream puppy buyers do get some messages, very strongly. They understand that breed means something, which is why people who rescue are often SO obsessed with figuring out which breed(s) their dogs are, and why bad breeders don’t just breed “mutts.” They “create new breeds” or “design dogs” or ” make the best of both worlds” and other completely nonsensical statements, but they always tie it to some form of breed = predictable and desirable characteristics.

Mainstream puppy buyers care a great deal about looks. That’s not a bad thing; we do too. Right now they’re often stuck in the realm of fluffy and round eyes and light color being desirable, but they DO recognize a beautifully put together dog when they see it, even if they’ve never seen one before. Just like someone can say “That’s a beautiful house” without knowing that it’s beautiful because of its balance and angles and proportion.

Mainstream puppy buyers also care, pretty deeply, about how long their dogs live and are healthy. And at least a significant minority are beginning to do stuff with their dogs; dogsport is moving out of the realm of the few (breeders and hunters and sportsmen/women who use the activities to put food on the table or prove that their dogs are worth breeding) to the many. This move is a GREAT thing.

So I think it is more than past time that puppy buyers understand what good structure is, and specifically how good structure leads to beauty, long life, and the ability to do fun things. 

What I am looking for from the collective genius of the Interwebs is how on earth we actually teach this to people. The basic rules aren’t that hard – the dog’s elbows should be in a straight line from its shoulders; the angle of the stifle should equal the angle of the shoulder; the neck should come up and not out, the topline can be straight or a little roached, but can’t sway, stuff like that. The rules of biomechanics and what makes a structure that can withstand stress and aging apply across all breeds. 

What I don’t know how to do, and can’t imagine how to do, is to get that message across to puppy buyers in a way that is simple, memorable, and visually striking. It needs to almost be “viral” in terms of the idea, in the same way that all everyone “knows” that it’s really stupid to buy a Zune instead of an iPod, or that mobile homes are less sturdy than custom-built, so if they’re the same price you’re an idiot if you buy the mobile home. I think puppy buyers need to have the feeling that they’re shooting themselves in the foot if they take home a puppy that has crappy structure or whose parents had bad structure.

Startle me with your awesomeness!

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7 thoughts on “Teaching dog structure to puppy buyers – help a bitch (me!) out

  1. Illustrated standards that take each piece of a breed and explain how it works the way it does and why would be really helpful. I know such things exist, but to have them more easily available to the average joe would be nice.

    Otherwise, to a layperson, a breed standard is just a load of text that they don’t understand that doesn’t translate into a coherent picture of a dog in their minds.

    I know in horse forums you can find people who will draw the angles and lines on top of a clear conformation picture, and compare different individuals and break down their conformation strengths/weaknesses, explaining how each angle and part influences movement.

    I think if breed clubs had such things posted on their sites, it would be a great educational tool for people. Perhaps even videos where things are slowed down and explained.

  2. As a layperson — formerly an only-shelter dogs owner, looking forward to someday owning a pedigreed dog since I’ve been enlightened by you, Joanna — I can tell you that it’s laziness. It’s so easy just to google “labradoodle” or something like that, and find that you can have one on your doorstep in 10 minutes. You can walk into the shelter and have a dog in an hour. Why wait for the “perfect” dog from the “perfect” breeder when I can get a decent, cute, nice dog from a shelter or a website, rapidly?

    Unfortunately most people don’t realize why they should care about breeds. That stereotype that mutts are better abounds, as does the one about all pedigreed dogs being severely inbred (and therefore more likely to have diseases!)

    I know it sounds insane, but this is what laypeople (like me) think.

    I just wish that breeders were more mainstream. Just like Cesar has made exercise and obedience more mainstream, I wish there were some publicity on breeders. Honestly, if I hadn’t wandered on to the Pets subforum at MDC, I never would have “met” you and learned about raw feeding and breeders and exercise! And now Dustin, my husband is making rumblings about how a Cardi would be a better fit for our family than a SP when the time comes to purchase a dog!

  3. Agility, schutzhund, herding (and to a lesser extent, obedience and conformation) videos. 🙂 (Or the Dogsteps book and DVD, but sports are more fun to watch) – Seriously!

    Getting to see dogs in motion as they run and jump (especially if you can find some the agiliity bloopers videos where they put things in slo-mo for dramatic effect- lets you see how different dogs’ structure lets them jump, corner, and run more (or less!) efficiently. It’s a visual thing. I would LOVE to see breed clubs having a youtube presence with video of their breed in motion- gaiting, jumping, competing in all their different venues. It’d be a FANTASTIC resource for folks to learn about dog movement in general AND specific. (I know I had a HECK of a time trying to find reference photos and video for drawing a running OES – I wasn’t sure if they only paced at a slow gait.) Conformation is probably easier to evaluate dogs against one another, but it’s a LOT easier to spot a dog interfering with themselves or being unable to corner closely when they’re running – not just trotting.

    Getting them to care? Can’t help you there. 😛 I’d probably go with the ‘if it moves okay, they’re less likely to injure themselves (has anyone correlated straight rears with ACLs and gotten data to back it up?) and hopefully, generally, not going to have horribly malformed joints. (And yes, I know, you can’t diagnose bad hips from looking and plenty of dysplastic dogs move fine, but I suspect the reverse ISN’T true, which means if they can spot good motion, they can rule out at least SOME dysplastic dogs.)

  4. http://www.dog.com/dog-breeds/welsh-corgi-cardigan/

    That is an interesting web site – the site itself isn’t great (a lot of misinformation), but the AKC videos are wonderful – one thing I like, they show *bad* examples of structure as well as good, which, for a beginner like me, is a wonderful learning tool. I posted the Cardi page, but I have only looked at a few of the terriers, so I cannot rate the Cardi video for you (and I don’t know enough about Cardis anyway!).

    I also have to agree with Erika though, I think a lot of people want a puppy NOW – they do not think about the dog they are getting that they have to take care of for the next ~15 years. I don’t know what the answer is, since even if you explain structure and why it’s important, even if you discredit the “hybrid-vigour” myth, even when you discuss the trains of good breeders, people still want that fluffy little puppy in the pet store window.

  5. I’d say “Everyone needs a Wii”, but that’d be a lie, since there’s only one Wii, and Pig-Wii lives with me!

    Though anyone can have the gamesystem. They’re welcome to that. I don’t own one of those, nor do I hold much interest in those sorts of things ;0P

    In seriousness, with all Kiwi’s problems, I agree with you that puppy breeding doesn’t need to go underground, and responsible breeding, and owning needs to be promoted, and encouraged. The rescue ‘knows’ who bred Kiwi, and the fact they sold to her horrible first owners, is deplorable.

    Most Kiwi’s problems stem from the ‘steller’ people she was sold to, before she was surrendered to the shelter when an AC officer followed up with a complaint. Ick! Did you know, a 5 month old puppy shouldn’t be left in snow without shelter, and should be shot at when it misbehaves? According to her original owners, this is the way to raise a puppy……

  6. i know structure is important, and you know structure is important but most people don’t care- I agree with Erika- people want a puppy now. They also will fall for the pitiful- in rescue for example a sickly, malformed pup will quite often be adopted before it’s healthy (probably black) littermate. Really.

    But Money talks in the end for most people. And I do think that if people found out that if the puppy walks funny or has a hunch, or a twisted leg, it could potentially mean extra vet bills….

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