Today I did something I have never done before. I returned my puppy to her breeder. After 6 days at home. She was 17 weeks old. I have advised clients to do this very occasionally, but I have never done this myself, and I am battling loads of guilt and self doubt, and just plain sadness, pain and heartbreak. I’m writing this to help others know that there is no shame in returning a puppy or dog to a breeder or shelter or rescue. It doesn’t mean the puppy is “bad”. It doesn’t mean that you are “bad”. Sometimes it’s just the placement that is bad. There is such a thing as the wrong home for a dog, and there is such a thing as a better home for a dog.
I loved my puppy. Our family loved our puppy. Especially my husband, whom she especially loved right back. She was a Turkish Boz,, Nehir, which means river in Turkish. She was beautiful, smart, well put together, soft and loving with people, and eager to learn new things and experience the world. Her head and ears were covered in soft downy fuzz, and she enjoyed having those ears rubbed. Her body wiggled like a big spaghetti when she saw someone coming to pet her. She was a huge puppy, around fifty pounds. She was social and appropriate with our 13 pound dog. However, she hated our Collie, Merlin, from the moment she saw him. The first time they met, on a walk, he avoided her, looked away, curved his body away, she stiffened and air snapped at his flank. Things escalated from there.
I am a professional dog trainer, and a professional behavior consultant. This is my job. Though I am constantly second guessing myself when it comes to my own dogs, I do know what I’m doing, of which I was reminded by my husband, and many of my professional colleagues. I’d like to thank all of them for their support and guidance.
Our puppy did great riding in the car, walking on a loose leash, hand targeting, relaxing on a mat, meeting and watching new people, playing games, coming when called. She was an escape artist, though. She got out of the 10 x 10 dog kennel, and slipped a harness 3 times, and a collar once. She did not like to be contained at all. She did not like to be separated from her people, and made it known. We worked on that, and things got better. But her interactions with Merlin didn’t. All of my skills, all of the ways I know to change a dog’s behavior toward another dog, (and there are many!) did not work. She escalated her aggressive behavior toward Merlin. it got worse as the days went by. When she got loose, she went to the patio door to stare in and growl at him. On Day 3 we had lots of growling and snapping while on our walk. On Day 4, as he walked toward the house after our walk, she stiffened and held him in one spot. He tried to stay still, but I stupidly called him, and she grabbed him. They had a scuffle, from which Jacob and I had to drag them away.
The next day our puppy went with my husband, to meet another pup. She did very well. She was soft and appropriate. I was excited and thought maybe we’d had a breakthrough, meeting multiple dogs, maybe deciding that dogs were okay in general.
This morning, as soon as our puppy saw Merlin, she started yodeling, snarling, lunging at him. This was moments after a nose to nose greeting with our other dog. She was so frantic that we were unable to distract her, and could not take her on our walk. She took a long time to settle back down. Jacob had to remove her to another area by the outdoor kennel, and I knew when I had to text him from the driveway, to ask if he had her contained, that management was not going to work.
Why did I return my puppy? This was a bad placement for her, and for us. We all tried. We did all kinds of training. She did all kinds of learning. Her breeder advised. But in the end, she and Merlin have a personality conflict that is not going to go away. She is going to be an enormous dog, and one open gate could mean someone’s life. Is she a bad puppy? No, she is a smart, beautiful, engaging puppy, who happens to hate my resident dog. Is he a bad dog? No, but he triggers her ire in some way that is a mystery to me, so I certainly can’t change it, at least not in a reasonable, safe, period of time. I know that we need a livestock guardian dog that we can put in place, who will see our resident dogs as just more of their flock, and I know that she could not concentrate on that job if finding and eliminating Merlin is her biggest distraction. I know that management will fail in our home. A gate left open, a door ajar, a low fence. The more people living in a home, the sooner management fails. Then tragedy ensues. It was clear to me that despite intervention, the behavior escalated, instead of decreasing. I have a responsibility to my resident dogs to keep them safe in their own home. Merlin is going to be 10, he deserves to live his elder years in peace, not fear. I don’t want Nehir to bond to us any more than she already has, or us to her. I want Nehir to have a home where she can achieve her greatest potential. That is why I returned my puppy.