Stacey asked via comment: “It’s interesting to think about the differences between Fern and Gel. I know many differences in stock dogs are attributed to their breeding, but how much of a difference do you think raising and training had in your dogs’ current working styles? If you had the knowledge that you have now, if you had raised and trained Gel in the same way you did Fern, how different do you think he would be? And how does this affect your thoughts on future dogs?”
First of all, even though Gel is Fern’s father, they are two very different dogs. I got Gel at six and a half months old. While he had been raised well, he was raised as a stock dog, meaning a lot of the foundation I put on Fern, wasn’t done with Gel. He had basic manners when I got him, that’s it. I quickly brought him up to speed, but I think the first few months that you work with a puppy makes a huge difference in the adult dog.
Gel is a bit quirky, most people would not have gone as far with him as I have; they would have given up, like the woman I bought him from did. I am not a good or an experienced trainer, Gel is really the first dog I trained. What you see in Gel today is due, in part, to his breeding and natural ability, but also to his willingness to do what I ask of him as well as my tenaciousness. Gel was the result of an accidental breeding (as is Fern). Gel’s mother was (she is now deceased) a well-bred imported bitch, but I understand she was quite quirky as well. Gel’s father was from westen ranch dog lines. He was purchased by a lady in North Carolina to train to do goose dog work. I understand he wouldn’t work and was placed as a pet. That’s all I know of his father.
If you breed two solid working dogs together does that mean all of the puppies will work as well as or better than their parents? Maybe, maybe not. I do think the early upbringing plays a part in how they turn out as adult dogs; perhaps not so much in stock work because it is instinctual, but I look at the whole dog. As I’ve said before, you can put up with a certain amount of quirkiness, phobias, etc. when the work that the dog is doing is instinctual vs. shaped or trained. Quirkiness and phobias are harder to deal with in sports dogs.
I’ve worked with Fern since the day she was born. I believe the early neurological stimulation and all the environmental and surface work I did with all of the puppies before they were seven weeks old and all I’ve done with Fern since then has made her essentially bomb proof. Like Gel, Fern is the same dog no matter where she is. Because of this, I don’t know that I could buy another puppy from another breeder unless they did the early neurological stimulation, etc. I’d opt instead to breed Fern and raise the puppies as I did with her litter. Not that I have any intention at this point in time in breeding Fern, but I’m leaving my options open because down the road I will want to get another dog.
Fern’s mother, Midge, was well-bred and it looked like she was going to turn into a nice stock dog. She worked very differently from Gel and the wonderful thing with Fern is that I can see both parent’s working style in her. It’s as if Fern got the best attributes of both parents. She’s also inherited chronic disease symptoms from both parents. I see a bit of the rabies vaccinosis symptoms I saw in Midge and she’s got Gel’s poor appetite and tendency towards constipation. The symptoms are less severe in Fern than they are in Gel (and were) in Midge.
I regress here, but I believe I mentioned this before, the homeopathic remedies that I’ve responded best to are ones that are commonly used to treat rabies vaccinosis. The remedy I am on now is Lyssin which is a homeopathic nosode made from the salivia of a rabid dog. This is interesting to me because I am so sensitive to and despise the symptoms of rabies vaccinosis. I cannot tolerate it in a dog. If it cannot be treated homeopathically, I will place the dog. That is one of the reasons why I decided to sell Midge and why I placed the puppy I bought off a breeder in Connecticut a couple of years ago now. I see more rabies vaccinosis symptoms in the two puppies from Fern’s litter that I still see than I do in Fern. Fern’s symptoms are really quite minor; which is likely due to her homeopathic treatment. A raw-fed, minimally (or non) vaccinated animal is going to respond better to homeopathy than one that is fed commercial food and vaccinated.
Has what I’ve learned from Gel helped in my training Fern? To some extent. I’ve developed a lot more stock sense than I had when I first started out with Gel. I have a better idea of what the finished product is supposed to look like and how to get there. But that Gel and Fern are so different in their working syles means that I’m going to have to train Fern differently than I did Gel. The things I did learn with Gel is that I’ll start driving with Fern a lot sooner than I did with him, but I am not sure that would have made a difference with Gel. Some dogs take to driving better than others. Gel is likely never going to be a good driving dog; he’s a strong gathering dog. Fern is probably going to be a good driving dog. I will start Fern on whistles right away instead of waiting like I did with Gel. Putting Gel on whistles has made a huge difference in how he works.
It’s all a learning experience and I firmly believe that the day you stop learning should be the day you die.