Genetics are a thing. Really.

A friend of mine posted a meme today that boiled down to “it’s all in how you raise them”, about dogs in general, and of course featuring a picture of a pit bull.

It’s simply not true, and I am so frustrated by the perpetuation of this myth, especially when it comes to my heart breed.

Dogs are a product of their genetics as well as their environment.

That’s why we have breeds in the first place. That’s why Border Collies are working sheep, not Dalmatians. That’s why the military is full of hard-hitting Shepherd breeds like the Malinois, not Golden Retrievers.

That is why I bought a Border Collie instead of an Australian Cattle Dog and adopted pit bulls instead of Chow Chows. Because they’re all so very different, completely apart from how they are raised.

I feel like, with pit bulls especially, we set both dog and owner up to fail when we insist that if you raise a dog right, you can mold him into anything you want him to be.

Helo is eight months old now, and he’s well-socialized with both dogs and people. He goes to doggy daycare and occasionally to the dog park. Right now he loves to play with other dogs. He’s a social little butterfly.

 

And I will completely unsurprised if and when that changes, because I know that pit bulls are genetically inclined to be aggressive toward other dogs. If he’s the oddball, that’d be great, but more likely he will become less social as he matures.

I expect it. I watch carefully for signs of trouble.

I know that all of the socialization and good experiences in the world cannot overcome genetics. They can influence where on the spectrum he falls, certainly! It is not all for nothing. But it is also not everything.

There are so many stories of people who are shocked when their pit bulls grow aggressive toward other dogs, and it both angers and saddens me.

People feel like they failed their dogs, when that is not at all true. I have seen so many online posts over the many years I have been involved in the breed where people did everything right and their pit bulls grew up to hate other dogs. They are confused and heartbroken. They blame themselves for failing.

And that is so unfair.

The American Pit Bull Terrier was selectively bred for many generations to fight other dogs. They are quick to fire up, slow to simmer down. They are strong and they were designed to have the drive to never quit, to never back down, to never give up.

It’s part of what makes them such great dogs, that tenacity, that fire, that determination.

But it’s sure no good when that gets turned onto a harmless, rude dog at the dogpark and the owner is shocked and caught entirely by surprise, because that’s not how she raised her dog to be.

We need to be honest about our dogs. We need to respect that they are a product of both breeding and environment. We need to do our research and make wise choices that suit our lifestyles, not just follow our bleeding hearts.

Bootstraps and bullshit

Two celebrities have taken their own lives in the past week, and while neither death really affects me, my Facebook feed is full of posts on suicide. Hotlines, ways to reach out for help, and all types of good things, but if I see one more post about suicide being “a longterm solution to a short term problem” I am going to scream.

I was hospitalized for depression and suicidal ideation for the first time when I was 14 years old.

I will be 40 next month.

And in those years I have been hospitalized a dozen or so times in three different facilities. I have been on an extensive laundry list of medications of all types in a cookbook of combinations. I have been through a generous handful of therapist, and have a diverse and impressive list of diagnoses.

I have seriously attempted suicide three times. The last time I totaled my car and could have killed my beloved dog who was riding in the front seat.

This is not a short term problem.

Not for me.

Not for a lot of people.

Depression is an insidious disease. Mental illness is many times a lifelong struggle. And sometimes it kills you.

So if you think that depression is a choice, that people need to just pick themselves up by their bootstraps, get more exercise, think about how lucky they are, there’s the door.

That’s not how it works.

Science tells us that is not how it works.

Doctors tell us that’s not how it works.

I have fought long ugly battles for my life. I have been in ugly places.

No one, given the choice, would choose this.

So here’s to you, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, for your suffering. For all the time you spent trying. For all the days you chose to live.

I am sorry you couldn’t find a way through it. I’m sorry that sometimes, despite all the medical advances out there, sometimes the disease still wins.

To unleash the dogs or not? Thoughts on hiking.

Off leash dogs are a constant point of discussion and debate on every hiking group I have ever joined. There are folks who believe every dog needs to be leashed at all times, no matter what or where. There are others who unabashedly flaunt all “Dogs must be leashed” signs wherever they go, because their dogs are somehow special and no one should ever complain.

I am, as in many things, soundly in the middle.

My dogs, Steve especially, love to hike off leash, and I love to be able to give them the freedom.

There are rules, though.

Recalls are a must.

We only off-leash where we are unlikely to meet people, and I recall and leash dogs whenever we see someone. Steve’s not likely to run up to a stranger, but that stranger doesn’t know that. Just because I trust my dog doesn’t give me any reason to trust anybody else’s dogs.

I don’t want to negatively affect anyone else’s experience, so I leash. Easy.

I just find it respectful. Unfortunately there are too many people out there who are unable to recall their dogs who are just thoughtless and rude.

I like my dogs. That doesn’t mean I like all dogs. That especially doesn’t mean I want your wet muddy Golden jumping all over me. I don’t care how friendly he is.

And if I ask you to call your dog, I don’t want to hear that it’s ok, he’s friendly.

Call your dog.

And if your dog doesn’t have a reliable recall?

Keep them on a leash. It’s not that hard.

Catch me up.

So it’s been a minute.

My old blog was lost to unpaid hosting services, so here I am with a blank canvas.

By way of reintroduction:

Me: Katie. Former vet tech, current doggy daycare and enrichment program counselor. A little crazy. Constantly broke. Overdogged. Hiker. Geocacher. Writer. Dog-sporter. Previous service dog user. Cookie-pusher. Full of opinions.

Steve: Border Collie. Gettin’ to be an old guy. Former flyball start dog expert. Titles in flyball, agility, obedience, rally, and trickdog. Enjoys fetching, hiking, spinning, and destroying toys. Not so good at obedience go-outs.

Hambone: Feist. 6 already. Grayface. Runner-awayer. Rat-sniffer. Enjoys hiking, snuggling, chewies, duck-watching, and barnhunt. Terrier-brain.

Tweak: 3 year old Chihuahua. 7 pounds. Owner went to jail for murder. Sass-panda. Mountain climber with a 4000-footer under her belt. Lap dog. Lots of bark. Thinks most people are stupid.

Helo: 8 month old doofy pit bull. Dog-social. Daycare dog. Destroys all the things. Future obedience rockstar. Enjoys scampering, hiking, drinking the entire bowl of water and peeing all over the house, chewies, splooting.