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Laurelin

Evaluating a shelter dog for sports potential?

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Oh that is very sad. I definitely remember you and Kit and have wondered how you guys have been and what you've been up to. She was a neat dog.

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For those who have gone through this process before, I'd be curious to hear what you'd do differently (if anything) than last time. If you chose your shelter/rescue dog with sports in mind, did you get what you were looking for? If not, what were the subtle signs that you missed but should have picked up on? How exactly did you evaluate the dog (actions, not just criteria)? What tests did you perform on the dog, and/or what tests should you have performed? I'd like details because I'll be doing this in a few months. Also, anyone in the Southern California area who would like to help, please keep an eye out and contact me if you know of a sports prospect in need of a home. Thanks!

 

For what it's worth, here's Kit's adoption story: As I said before, I did not get Kit with sports in mind, but all the right signs were there, if I had known what to look for. I called ahead, so when I got to the shelter, they brought her out on leash. She was *so* excited to meet me - like utterly out of control bouncy. She insisted on licking me all over. Once she got over the excitement of meeting me, she barked her head off at a man behind a fence. I thought for sure she hated men and this was fear/aggression, but it turned out she was barking to get his attention - he was her friend and she was asking him to come play. At the suggestion of a shelter employee, we went on a leash walk. She had no idea how to walk on a leash and covered at least 5X more ground than necessary to get from point A to point B. But that was because her focus was on me rather than on her surroundings - she was literally bouncing circles around me. Once we reached our destination, a grassy field, I pulled out a frisbee, which she chased with gusto (on leash). I pulled out treats and she went nuts. We were both covered in mud when we got back to the shelter. Because of her insanity, it took me a whole week to commit to adopting her, and I spent the next 6 months getting her to a point where she could go out in public. Admittedly, though, she was my first dog, so I really didn't know what I was doing.

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To be 100% frank and honest, no I didn't get what I was looking for in a lot of ways. I DID get a fantastic dog who is changing basically all my training methods and forcing me to be a better trainer and handler. But as a sports dog he is hard. And as a pet dog he is hard. I would do it again for sure. I am very very glad I pulled him and he wasn't put down (a real possibility) but on the other hand, I am also adding a puppy next year. I knew going into getting Hank that a puppy was also likely to happen in a couple years. Hank will be about 4 when puppy comes home. He's 2 1/2 now.

 

The good of him:

- He's very talented. The most athletic dog I've had. He learns SO fast it's unreal. He is FAST. Border collie fast when he's on. Clocking in around 4.5-5 yps with stopped contacts. He is hardy. Perfect size. His energy level is absolutely perfect for me. I call him my turbo powered lazy dog, it's great. He's game for a lot- lure coursing, barn hunt, nosework, agility, obedience. He likes it all (except Frisbee). Very food motivated and moderately toy motivated. He loves people. Loves to cuddle.

 

The bad:

- He's very hot or cold. He overstimulates very fast and is very high arousal. I think I didn't have a good grasp on arousal vs drive. Hank is more arousal than drive...I think a lot of people miss this in him and it took me a good year+ to realize.

- He's kinda intolerant of dogs. He will fight in some circumstances. He does not diffuse situations at all.

- He's food obsessive/possessive

- He is headstrong and not very handler oriented at all. He's very much not biddable especially compared to like a BC. (or papillon)

- He is environmentally focused almost completely vs handler focused

- Exceptionally high prey drive

- Climbs trees/can escape

- Stressy in new situations

- Spooks randomly at things (can't figure out what and when he will)

- motion reactive

- can't be off leash. No off leash hiking with him at all.

 

Quite frankly, I don't think I am a terrier person. I like ACDs a lot but I really am thinking I'm a BC and papillon person and after Hank I may well only have those two breeds. ACD x terrier is imo a pretty hard combo. I've always loved the hardy sport mix types and he's a lot like them. But I think moreso in other people's hands....

 

The biggest issues are recovery time, not enough drive to overcome stress, and the dog-dog issues.

 

I tested him by playing ball with him in the shelter. He played but kept going back to fence fight. <--- sign there of a few things. I got food out and he lost it. Flailing and so excited. I think the strength of his response was a sign that he might be too food obsessed and would be possessive.

 

If I did it again I'd A) be only looking at pure herders (ACD, ACD x BC, or BC). B) probably go through a rescue with evals. C) Go for something a bit more toned down. I'd put more emphasis on a dog that is really paying attention to me vs energy and excitement over toys and food.

 

I think we'll get there. He's still young. Basically the point I'm at now is he could do anything IF I could have his toy on me in the ring. Then he will drown out the noise of all the stressy stuff. But right now he really can't perform without the toy.

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I'm so very sorry to hear about Kit. It was a shock to loose a dog fairly suddenly at 9. I can't imagine 7 :(

 

I got my Kenzi through rescue with SAR in mind. I was looking for bomb proof as my other two at the time had some fear and reactivity issues.

 

Good news - she's pretty bomb proof/go anywhere. And she has certified for SAR work. Loves everyone.

 

Bad news - she's a weird combination of pushy and soft. Drove.me.nuts for years. And it's why she didn't cert for SAR work until she was 6.

 

She also had more arousal than drive but I didn't really see that at the time. I've shaped it a lot and she's got nice working drive now. But it was a journey.

 

She's highly competitive so much of what I saw was competition with another dog vs. drive.

 

Looking again, I'd be wanting to see actual hunt drive in a variety of situations. I'd want a dog that was more into me or the toy vs. the spazzy happiness.

 

I'm glad I have her and she's taught me a LOT. But one if the things she's taught me is what to look for more specifically going forward :D

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I want to hear more about arousal vs. drive. You both mentioned it, but I don't know the difference and therefore don't know what to look for.

 

Also, Laurelin, it's interesting that you say next time you'd want a pure herder. One thing I liked about Kit is that she was very clearly a herding x hunting cross. The two breeds really balanced each other out, IMO. I can see how terrier x ACD could just multiply things, though.

 

A few things that I loved about Kit that I'll be looking for again: Extreme food/toy drive. Confidence. Intensity. Loved all people, ignored most dogs. Bomb proof. Handler-focused. Great off leash. Goofy.

 

And a couple of things I'd change about Kit if I had a magic wand:

1. The shedding. OMG, you wouldn't think a smooth coat could shed that much.

2. Separation anxiety. It was mild, so I don't have much to complain about, but it caused me some worry.

3. Physical structure could have been better, quite possibly due to early spay (~5mo). Never caused a moment's trouble, though. Also would have preferred about 5lbs smaller (she was 40lbs).

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I've done it both ways (shelter and breeder) and if I was specifically looking for a sports prospect, I would go to a breeder.

 

It is really hard to evaluate a dog in a shelter environment (speaking as someone who did two 1 year stints as a volunteer in a municipal shelter). Of the hundreds of dogs that I had contact with, there were probably only a handful that I would even consider adopting as a serious sports prospect (although there were many that I would adopt as a pet).

 

If I had to have a rescue dog, it would be a dog that was in foster care for awhile. And then you are relying on the opinion of a rescue volunteer, who may not be very knowlegible about sports or someone who may be stretching the truth to get the dog out of their home. I know that there are people out there who have acquired great sports dogs from breed rescues, but I have yet to encounter a rescue that I would trust in this regard.

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Drive has a focus and intensity about it. Arousal can be spazzy and sporadic.

 

Arousal will be "OMG, Toy! Oh look, squirrel!" It can be a bit tough to sort out at first. Aroused dogs are easily excitable, which looks like drive in the beginning. But they switch excitement from one thing to another. They go "over the top" pretty quick in exciting environments.

 

Driven dogs also get excited, but they're able to keep their wits about themselves better. And they don't bounce from one excitement to another.

 

The other tricky thing is that misplaced drive can look like arousal in a shelter environment.

 

Re: Hunting/Herding crosses - they can be great, they can be super spazzy/aroused. I knew one that was, well, a bit nuts. It all depends on what genes the dog inherited and what the parents were like.

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FWIW, there are a couple of FB groups that focus on sport/working prospect dogs. I generally see a dog every couple months that I'd really want to check out further if the timing was right. Several of these dogs are being fostered by sport dog people who have a better than average understanding of what sport/working dog people are looking for.

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If I was specifically looking for a sports prospect, I would go to a breeder.

I appreciate this perspective, and most of the sports enthusiasts I know would agree. However, I am committed to go the shelter/rescue route now and into the future. Here's article listing some good reasons why: http://teamunruly.com/?p=3399. I'm fully aware that a similar article could be written from the opposite perspective. That's all I'll say about why - I'm more interested in having a conversation about how.

 

Several people have said it's difficult to evaluate a dog in a shelter environment. I'm curious to hear perspectives on false negatives vs. false positives. In medicine, if you get a test for some disease, there's an error rate associated with the test. If you have the disease and the test comes back negative, that's a false negative. If you don't have the disease and the the test comes back positive, that's a false positive. The developers work hard to minimize the rate of false negatives, even if that means a higher rate of false positives, because it's worse to have a disease and not know than not have it and think you do. I'm wondering if this might apply to the task at hand. Shelters are stressy places. A lot of dogs aren't going to be themselves there. You might get a lot of false negatives - dogs who fail your temperament test but actually do have the temperament for sports. But I don't think you'd get a lot of false positives - dogs who pass your temperament test but actually don't have the temperament for sports. In other words, if they can hack it in the shelter, they can hack it anywhere. Thoughts?

 

Thanks for the thoughts on drive vs. arousal.

 

Re: Hunting/Herding crosses - they can be great, they can be super spazzy/aroused. I knew one that was, well, a bit nuts. It all depends on what genes the dog inherited and what the parents were like.

It occurs to me that our definitions of the perfect sports dog might differ. Most people would describe Kit as "a bit nuts". In fact, a friend of mine liked to call her "your psycho dog". But she was nuts in all the best ways and none of the worst ones.

 

Maralynn, can you share the names of those FB groups? Or PM me if you don't want to do so publicly.

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Well, I do SAR so I'm exposed to many different nutty dogs :D some of them I'd take in a heartbeat, some I wouldn't touch with a 10ft pole.

 

There's a Lab on my team who is nuts in a good way. I'm not a Lab person but I'd take this one. Unflappable and a searching machine. He's a lot of dog, but he has really nice drive.

 

Other ones are nuts in that they get over the top aroused and they're reacting more than anything. Even when they can get things done there's a level of stress and anxiety in their actions that I wouldn't want. They're more obsessive than driven.

 

Adoptable Sport And Working Dogs and Adoptable Performance Dogs are the groups on FB.

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If you are hell bent on adopting a shelter dog then I suggest volunteering at your local shelter or working with a rescue on a foster to adopt situation (been there, done that, was lied to about the last foster dog).

 

As a volunteer at a shelter, you will have exposure to potentially hundreds of dogs.

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There's some good facebook groups where they get dogs and post videos, etc of evaluating the dog. High drive dogs is another.

 

I agree with the arousal vs drive thing mentioned above. Hank is over the top a lot. Most of it is over environmental stuff and it's often not usable really. The trainers and people I work with often classify him as very high drive but I don't think he is at all. Like I said, took me about a year to get a grasp of what was going on.

 

I am glad I got my shelter mutt but no, not always an easy sport dog. But I also think he's a great dog and I do honestly think we'll get there one day. We will see. I think getting any dog is a risk to some extent.

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There's some good facebook groups where they get dogs and post videos, etc of evaluating the dog. High drive dogs is another.

Excellent! Looks like the majority of posts in this group are in CA, and many in southern CA, which is perfect! I currently live in Santa Barbara, so my new addition will get regular trips to the beach. My search officially starts on August 13th.

 

ETA: Stumbled upon this video. Very helpful!

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I appreciate this perspective, and most of the sports enthusiasts I know would agree. However, I am committed to go the shelter/rescue route now and into the future. Here's article listing some good reasons why: http://teamunruly.com/?p=3399. I'm fully aware that a similar article could be written from the opposite perspective. That's all I'll say about why - I'm more interested in having a conversation about how.

 

Several people have said it's difficult to evaluate a dog in a shelter environment. I'm curious to hear perspectives on false negatives vs. false positives.

 

I have an example.

 

I was given the task to evaluating a dog in a shelter back in 2010. Granted, I was not evaluating her for sports, but if I had been, my assessment would have been, "no way, no how".

 

In the shelter the dog was completely shut down. She froze like a wild animal at the back of her kennel and would not interact with me in any way.

 

I ended up bringing her home as a foster, and I knew that as much as I liked her, she could never live the life of a sport dog.

 

She and I earned her CPE C-ATCH a month ago. She earned her Intermediate Musical Freestyle title in WCFO back in November. I have accomplished more with her than with almost any of my other dogs in sports.

 

Point being - there was absolutely no way to know, based on the shelter evaluation, what sport potential she had. That would have been a big "false negative".

 

Flip side, when I met Dean Dog in rescue, I assessed him as being extremely suitable for sports. It was not possible to detect the noise phobia and anxiety disorder that held him back as a sport prospect because those issues didn't actually manifest in him (which is typical for what he has) until he was closer to two years old. So, huge "false positive". I do grant that in Dean's case, there may well have been signs I could have detected at that point had I known then what I know now. But, I didn't - I was looking at his interactions with dogs and people, and at his energy levels.

 

Personally, I would say that if you want to rescue, do so. Realize that it's a gamble, regardless of what you see in an initial evaluation.

 

If you want to get a dog from a responsible breeder, do so. Realize it's a gamble, regardless of the best you can do in evaluation of the parents and health testing, etc.

 

I've done both now multiple times, and I have "struck out" both ways (from a sport prospective, not a life one!) and I have hit the jackpot both ways.

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In my experience, one of the most telling clues that show the difference between arousal and drive is the dog's ability to return to a normal state of mind from that state.

 

Arousal is going to cause chemicals to release in the dog's brain that will change the dog's state of mind, and the dog will not snap back from it immediately. You can see this in a lack of ability to carry out known cues, or lack of ability to settle, or sometimes even in displacement behaviors.

 

With drive, the dog will be able to snap back right away, respond to known cues, settle down, and just return to a normal state of being.

 

Sometimes arousal and drive can look the same on the surface. Example - dog stares intently at a tennis ball. But . . . can the dog disengage from the tennis ball to carry out a task in its presence? That sort of thing will help you to see the difference.

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In my experience, one of the most telling clues that show the difference between arousal and drive is the dog's ability to return to a normal state of mind from that state.

 

Arousal is going to cause chemicals to release in the dog's brain that will change the dog's state of mind, and the dog will not snap back from it immediately. You can see this in a lack of ability to carry out known cues, or lack of ability to settle, or sometimes even in displacement behaviors.

 

With drive, the dog will be able to snap back right away, respond to known cues, settle down, and just return to a normal state of being.

 

Sometimes arousal and drive can look the same on the surface. Example - dog stares intently at a tennis ball. But . . . can the dog disengage from the tennis ball to carry out a task in its presence? That sort of thing will help you to see the difference.

Interesting. Scrolling up, I think I see a difference of opinions here. Previously, drive was defined as focus and intensity, and arousal as bouncing from one thing to another. Here the definition is nearly opposite - drivey dogs disengage from an object more readily, while aroused dogs don't. Or maybe I'm misunderstanding?

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I would think of it more in terms of the ability to disengage from things properly.

 

Drive is focus and intensity, but it doesn't completely take over the dog's brain and ability to function.

Arousal can be intense - think "hyperfocus". It can manifest as bouncing around, too. It depends on the dog. But, regardless, there is something not quite right with it.

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Arousal, IMO, can actually prevent a dog from really focusing on a task, thus the description of bouncing around. My easily very highly aroused dog will just frantically shift her attention from one thing to another and another without really being able to focus on any of them for more then a second or 2 when she's aroused. She really can't function in any meaningful way when she's like that.

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Arousal = reaction, often uncontrolled and without thought process. "SQUIRREL!!!" mentality.

 

Drive = focused action. Intense, with high desire. But a measure of control to it all. A calculated move to get the squirrel rather than a mad barking rush at it.

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For me, while this definition is imprecise and not entirely inclusive -


If I look at the dog and see *frantic* and/or stressed (stressing high is stress), it's arousal or over arousal, not drive.


That's not meant to help anyone else necessarily, but it's how I draw the line personally.

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I think I'm getting a clearer picture. Kit had very high toy drive - at 7mo (when I got her) nothing would make her disengage from a ball. It took me months to teach her that the ball was her reward for other stuff, and it was only hers if she could focus on something else and perform in its presence. She was not easily aroused, though - she was confident enough to ignore just about any kind of environmental trigger, and was especially good at doing so if her focus was elsewhere (toy, food, me). Starting this search is breaking my heart all over again, because it's making me realize just how special she really was.

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I'm sorry for your loss, Kit was obviously a special girl. And I applaud your wish to go the rescue route again! Definitely watch the two FB pages that Maralynn mentioned, I've seen super nice dogs show up in both.

Are you committed to just looking at shelter dogs? Or a dog from a rescue would be ok, too? A foster parent will have a good idea if the potential dog has the attributes you're seeking. For example, last July I adopted Slider, a BC puppy from a rescue in Texas, and he'd been in foster for about a month. Besides getting photos, I corresponded with foster mom and asked a ton of questions about him. I was looking for a few things: confidence (#1), drive (energetic, playful), good temperament, toy/food motivation, good with other dogs. Since my retired agility dog is noise sensitive, I also asked if she'd noted any issues like that, and at 4 months old, he wasn't showing any noise sensitivity so far. Nothing is a guarantee of course, but you get a little bigger picture than just a shelter evaluation. And so far, he is totally living up to my expectations. He's sweet, bold, confident, drivey and we're making good progress in herding and agility training.

Having said that, just to hear how shelter dogs could go... My retired agility dog was adopted from a shelter. I didn't even see him there, someone pulled him for me. I adopted him without any evaluation at all, and he turned out to be an awesome sports partner and my heart dog. :wub: Alex went on to get championships in flyball and agility (and that was with ME as a handler, I imagine he could have excelled even more with someone competent LOL!), and we dabble in herding, as well. He is 100% the perfect dog for me, and I lucked into him entirely.

So, none of that is particularly helpful, but the bottom line is there are lots of great dogs out there. I'm sure you'll find one!

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Have you looked at the ABCA registered BC currently listed in the rescue section of the boards?

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