Here's the way I see it:
Labs don't have to be therapy dogs to be the nation's most beloved breed. Poodles don't have to compete in agility to get ooohs and aaahhhs from all the ladies. In fact, there's a Pomeranian that doesn't have to do anything but have a crazy haircut and the world goes nuts about him. (I find him incredibly creepy, but you may find him cute. Check out "Boo" on Facebook or YouTube.)
I think there are 7 basic ingredients to having a good pibble, given that you have the time and resources to serve ANY dog.
1. Lot's of love and attention. Love is sometimes tough - you have to love your pibble enough to correct that cute little puppy when it chews on your shoe. You have to restraint to withhold your attention when it would be harmful to the dog - such as petting them when they jump, nip, etc.
2. Play time. Play time is important. It's a great bonding experience, and it helps you teach your dog basic obedience in a fun environment. Make things like sit, fetch and "go crazy and freeze" into a game. Your dog will be happy to oblige for his favorite toy, a treat or praise.
3. Training time. Here's where things leave the playground and get serious. During training, you should use a business-like tone. You can't coo your dog into obeying you. You have to be business-like to show him you're pack leader, and it's time to listen to you. Even if your dog will never be more than your house pet (which is a lot!), your dog should know the following commands and follow them without fail:
- Watch Me
- Take it/Leave it/Drop it
- Sit for greeting
These are basic obedience commands that you should use to create positive experiences for your dog in otherwise awkward/unpleasant/new circumstances. Sit for greeting should be used for every time the dog greets you or another person. Down/Stay should be used for meeting unfamiliar dogs on walks or wherever you go. Take it/Leave it/Drop it can be a lifesaver if your dog picks up a pill you have dropped that could be fatal to him. Watch Me teaches your dog that it's not only okay to look at you, but it is PREFERRED that he ALWAYS look to you for guidance and do frequent "check-ins."
4. Time for basic needs. Your dog is like any other - he needs to eat, sleep, poop and exercise. Make sure you feed your dog good, quality dog food. Use www.dogfoodadvisor.com as your resource for researching and choosing the right dog food for you. Your dog needs a good place to use the bathroom - a fenced backyard is preferable, but not always feasible. If you don't have a place to let your dog out on his own, make sure you take him out frequently and clean up his waste. You don't want anyone complaining about that "pit bull poop." Exercise every day! See above play time/training time.
5. Spay/Neuter. I remember when we first got Otto and Axle...we were hesitant about neutering them. We were so stuck on how much we loved them and enjoyed them, and thought they would basically make little clones of themselves for us to enjoy all over again. I'm so very glad we came to our senses, because we would have been part of a growing problem, rather than the solution. Yes, if everyone in the world spayed/neutered, the dog population would indeed die out. That's not what I'm saying. I'm pushing for a breeding reform...you shouldn't breed just any dog. You should only breed to improve. Check this out http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/item/476. It's one of many breeding checklists that give you an idea of the requirements you should meet before deciding to breed.
6. Good health. Make sure your dog is update on all of his vaccinations. Minimally, he should receive all of his core vaccinations as a pup, then an annual booster along with his rabies shot. He should also be on a monthly heartworm and flea/tick preventative. He should have a yearly examination to check for any new problems.
7. Research. Never stop reading/learning about your dog and other dogs. Reading and researching dogs is a great way to learn more about your dog, dog behavior and other important pieces of information.
All in all, you can have a great dog whose greatest feat is getting off the couch to greet you in the afternoon. You don't have to have a therapy or otherwise trained dog to have a great family pet that will be a beacon for pibble advocacy.
Yes, the therapy dogs and the pibbles competing in sports are making headlines for being the "unexpected pit bull," but a loving family pet that knows how to greet a stranger sends just as powerful a message.
Peace, love and pibbles!