This has been the year of the German Shepherd Puppy at the kennel. Although we do occasionally get young (less than 6 month old) pups for a few days, this year we have had five different purebred Shepherd puppies through, almost always for unusually long stays.
I have had increasing interest in German Shepherds as I have gotten more involved with wilderness medicine and EMS, especially in their role as Search & Rescue (SAR) dogs. Although I spent a few futile months teaching my laconic ridgeback to track, she doesn't have the drive to make a working dog. Because of this, I have paid more attention to the Shepherds we get through the kennel than many of the other breeds.
The first was a pup named Hank. Hank's person had gotten him just a month before getting a job offer to work on the north slope. North slope jobs are two-week-on, two-week-off deals. He was told that arrangements would be made for his dog to accompany him once he got through a training period. We got the four month old Hank, with the expectation that he would be joining his person permanently after a few two-week cycles with us. For two weeks, we worked with Hank on puppy skills and basic obedience. He was a great puppy. He had a super personality, learned fast and was eager to please.
A few days before Hank's scheduled pick-up, his person called. He would not be returning for Hank. Instead, a woman from a local rescue would be picking Hank up the next day. The company had gone back on their word, and Hank would need a new home. I fielded a few calls with the rescue coordinator, and when I came to work the next day the sweet puppy was gone.
This spring, a new Shepherd pup came through. She was a terrified little girl, cowering in the back of her run. She wouldn't let anyone touch her, trembling and trying to hide whenever we got near. After a few days, she warmed up a bit. She started following at my heels and laying under my chair whenever I sat down to do paperwork. I started working on 'off,' 'down' and 'sit' with her. Within five minutes, she would sit for attention instead of bowling me over. And she didn't forget. The kennel owner and I talked about how unfortunate it was that such a sweet, smart dog (who was going to be a big girl!) was not being socialized appropriately. Although she was great with other dogs, she fell to pieces when anyone new came in, or anything unexpected happened.
At the start of this month, I came to the kennel to find her back. For good. The owners, on finding they were expecting a baby, realized that this pup was more than they could handle. They asked the kennel owner, whom they trust, to find a new home for her. Knowing her issues, and being curious about Shepherds in general, I offered to take her home at night for a few days to see how she did and try to work on some of the obedience and socialization she would need to find a good home.
Things did not go well. When Peter came home just after we arrived, she scared us both by into a classic German Shepherd guard-dog bark-snarl routine, trying to keep him away from the house. Then she decided she was terrified of him and nearly tore our kitchen apart trying to get away from him, then from both of us. Later that evening, she managed to slip out the door and lead me on a merry chase around our neighborhood for an hour. When I took her for a run with a friend of mine the next morning, she scared us both with her inappropriate guard-greeting, then later by nearly taking my friend's hand off. Although she was still an angel when it was just the two of us, she became a terrified destroyer when anyone else entered the picture.
I have to admit that somewhere not too deep down and against all logic, I was hoping that this sweet little girl would turn a corner and be the Shepherd I am still hoping for; a great all-around dog with a SAR temperament, smarts and work drive. But the signs were none too obvious.
Since my hours were ramping up at the tour company, I knew I wouldn't have the time I needed even to foster her. We decided she would stay at the kennel until a home was found. I took off for the Little Tour Co. training trip, and the kennel owner started working with state-wide rescues to find her a home. She was shipped down to Anchorage this Friday, and we know there are at least four qualified families vying for her. I wish her new people well. She has the potential to be an incredible dog.
Nyssa has been a spectacular dog, and she is the perfect dog for us now (as much as she hates our current sub-arctic home.) I am so glad I got her when I did, and have learned to much from her about dogs, hounds and ridgebacks. I know we will have more dogs someday. But working at the kennel has made me hard-hearted. I can walk into the puppy room and the pound, glance at the sweet little beasts and walk out without harboring a single fantasy - something I was not previously capable of. I see lots of dogs every day with every possible temperament, and I see how much work goes into keeping different dogs engaged and content. I have a much better idea of what kind of dog I want, when we do take that big next step. I don't know if it will be a SAR Shepherd, sled dogs or a herding dog mix, but I do know that it is not a decision I will make with my head in the clouds. (Like the time Peter and I brought home a pitbull-airdale puppy - the first picture in this post - from the pound for a night. I am so thankful we were cold-hearted enough to take him back.)