Why we do what we do, and…
Updated: Jul 4, 2020
HOW WE GOT HERE at AWE Border Collies.
FOR THE LOVE OF DOG: In all the years of living with our beloved animals, we were taught many lessons. Whether rescues or purebred, we could not see ourselves without them in our lives. They bring us joy. They bring us understanding without words. They teach us patience, and they bring us happiness in times of sadness. We grieve for each one as they pass from our lives in much too short a time. They become our best friends as well as our family. They even teach our children essential life lessons, like trust and compassion. In exchange for growing old with us, we aspire to give back to their lives. Even our mistakes made us grow and learn. All those lessons brought us to where we are today.
IN THE BEGINNING: I grew up in a cat owned household (yes, owned), with an occasional stray canine visiting. My husband grew up with dogs due to family allergies. When we married, he got my first purebred dog as a wedding gift. (By the way, still the best gift ever!) That changed my life, and I discovered my love for dogs. Our Old English Sheepdog, Charlie, was our “firstborn” until many years later, felt ready for a human challenge. She lived with us newlyweds in remote Alaska, traveled with us on all our adventures, showed us how to herd sheep (not on purpose), and brought us into the world of raising our first puppy litters. Our Golden Retriever, Gates, grew old with our young human children. Our rescue Lab/Border Collie mix, Buddy, went to college with those same kids. Today, our “empty nest” Border Collies (our adult kids call “spoiled”), fill our lives with laughter, love, and surprises.
EARLY SOCIALIZATION: I must say the rescues taught us the most. First: Rescues take a unique human with unending patience and understanding. They often require a canine behavioral expert to open up the “baggage” they bring with them. “Baggage” where only love, understanding where they came from, and their past experiences, can free them from it (even if for a fleeting moment). Last: Sometimes, it’s too late to make changes. That little one for us was Hailey, an 18-month-old BC mix rescued by Black Dog Rescue. She grew up in the mountains of Washington State with a dog hoarder (31 dogs), no human socialization whatsoever, except for the man who fed them. She was afraid of almost any human who looked her in the eye, and she had an exceptional fear of men. Even living on our 5-acre farm with our family, she never rose free of her past. She chose me to be her protector. For her happiness, I wished she had experienced a kind and nurturing early life. (This is why we do so much with our puppies from birth to 8 weeks old).
POTTY TRAINING DREAD: Every time we brought a new puppy home, we felt some “buyer’s remorse” when it came to potty training. Most of our puppies came from farm environments where they lived in a barn and went whenever, and wherever, the urge struck. They didn’t know the difference between carpet and grass, so we faced a challenge at the front door. If we scolded them for going potty indoors, the lesson they took away was, “Okay, then I’ll just hide behind the sofa and potty there.” If we caught them in the act and raced toward them so we could rush them to the outdoor area, the pup would sense our urgency and run from us, peeing all the way. Just like with a human toddler, we knew they didn’t really understand and showing our disapproval felt cruel in their confusion.
Even with the excitement we felt to bring a new puppy into our family, this was the worst part of those early days. I understood, in the wild, they just “go” wherever. Still, I wondered if we could do something less ambiguous to help this smart, domesticated animal become a better family member from the beginning. (Yes, there is a way, and we found it raising our own Border Collie puppies. This experience is why we utilize the “Misty Potty Training” concept, which incorporates the puppy’s natural instincts to not “go where they sleep.”)
GIVE HEALTH A CHANCE (HEALTHY PUPPY BEGINNINGS): When we brought home our puppies at around 8-9 weeks old, we trusted the previous owner (Breeder or Owner) took vet care seriously. We made sure we got all vet/health records with vaccine dates and deworming routine. A healthy new puppy is not a given, even from a reputable breeder. We had a healthy puppy change into a sick one within days of becoming our new family addition. With our own vet exam, we found the puppy had Giardia and intestinal worms. This gives the potty training a whole new direction for puppy and human, not to mention an additional unexpected vet bill. Roundworm can kill a puppy (one of our early lessons we’ll never forget). Worms can be transmitted to human children (as well as Giardia). The sad lesson in this is that deworming is the simplest and cheapest prevention a breeder can do for the health of a puppy starting at two weeks old. Even treating mama-dog prior to whelping is an additional safe solution for a healthy litter. Prevention is the answer.
DNA DOESN’T LIE: We’ve all lost our family pets from old age (best way to go) or a breed-specific genetic disease. It hurts to our core, and we’d do anything to prevent the pain of going through that ever again. Back in the day, our purebred dogs seemed pretty healthy and lived a long dog life. Even our Golden Retriever lived to be 14 years young. Unfortunately, with any breed of dog, those unseen recessive genes can become a dominant factor. When two dogs are bred, and the result is some of the puppies are affected by a genetic disease, it’s heartbreaking, and sometimes doesn’t show up until later in their lives. Today, welcome to the new world of DNA testing! Now we can do DNA testing before choosing a breeding pair to make sure none of those testable breed-specific genetic diseases can be passed on to their puppies. Not all diseases can be tested, but the most common ones can be. So, if you could be sure your new puppy would be as genetically healthy as possible, would you do DNA testing? Of course, you would…But you don’t have to. We did that for you by testing all of our mating pairs before breeding takes place. We have a Health Guarantee to back that up. (I wish we could check for everything, but whenever a new test is available, we’re testing).
VACCINE vs. SAFE SOCIALIZATION BALANCE: We’ve never had to deal with a puppy with Parvo (or any other vaccine-preventable diseases), but our daughter has. She adopted a Parvo survivor from a litter where only one puppy lived. How does a puppy get exposed to Parvo? [The parvovirus is a particularly resilient virus. It can survive indoors at room temperature for at least two months and is resistant to many commonly used cleaners and disinfectants. Outdoors, the parvovirus can survive for months, and even years, if protected from direct sunlight.]
Early vaccination is a responsible and smart action to avoid potential risk factors. Due to vaccination schedules, safe puppy socialization is a fine line to walk when a puppy vaccination series isn’t complete. (Vaccines are given in 3 doses 8, 12 & 16 weeks.) Of course, our puppies always go home with their age-appropriate vaccinations. They just aren’t totally protected until after the 16 weeks. Nevertheless, we still face the issue of early socialization against incomplete vaccinations.
SAFE SOCIALIZATION vs. VACCINATION BALANCE: Why is socialization important before vaccinations are completed? Early socialization takes advantage of early imprinting. Learning that a canine puppy’s brain development is at its peak from birth to 16 weeks old, gave us pause. Anything a puppy learns or is exposed to within this timeline is “hardwired” for life (negative lessons as well as positive ones). It takes only 1-2 training sessions for a puppy in this developmental period for lifetime learning. After the “window” has closed, at around 16 weeks, lessons can be learned, but it takes up to 5 times the exposure. Have you ever had a dog that cowers at tall males wearing baseball caps? How about thunderstorms or vacuum cleaner sounds? Even exposure to people with hats, glasses, beards, and masks before the critical “socialization” timing is key to a “bomb-proof” adult dog. Those first 8-9 weeks are usually up to the breeder that brought these pups into our world. I wish I’d known all this back when we brought our puppies home. Now we have the “burden of knowledge,” and there’s no going back. This is where the change begins, and we’re dedicated to our jobs as your breeder.
Safe socialization continues at your home, but it actually starts at our home. From human interaction, household noises, music, thunderstorms, unique people, to smells and toys that make noises, we do what we can to create a strong foundation in a totally safe environment. That safe socialization we start before their first fear imprint stage (at 5 weeks old) creates confident enrichment seekers for life, and that’s a good trait. (See our link for more details).
TO CRATE or NOT TO CRATE: (That IS the question). I used to think forcing a puppy into a “cage” was outright cruel and totally unnecessary. I couldn’t understand why anyone would think anything different… until I thought different. Well, I actually learned it from one of our first Border Collie puppies, Nash. Now I’m the strongest advocate and remind everyone, “It’s not a Crate-it’s a Cave.” It’s natural canine instinct to go to their safe place when feeling threatened or to sleep without fear of being attacked by predators. Mother dogs even give birth in their caves (dens). Of course, as with any conditioning for an impressionable young puppy, the first experiences need to be very positive.
I’ll tell you why I changed my mind about crates. Nash, our first Border Collie puppy (and father to 3 of our awesome first litters), came from a mid-west farm. I think there were no real “rules” for him. He was smart and active but would get himself so wound up in his frustration he would nip at the kids (they called it free piercings). Once he got beyond the point of no return (you know that state when the kids are so tired that they become more energized), you couldn’t even hold on to him. He became a wild animal in your arms. We nicknamed him the Tasmanian devil. Cute, but painful. We found the only way he would calm himself was to be put in his crate with a blanket over it to stop all outside stimulation. Of course, he didn’t like it at first, but soon we would find him putting himself in “time out.” Although, as an adult, we have no need to close the crate door (but if we need to, he’s okay with it). Nash is almost 9 years old, and he still goes there to retreat from our world.
Other dogs of ours used their cave for night time potty training (remember the “don’t go where you sleep” instinct?) or to stay safe when we had to leave them alone for short times, and even when traveling across the country on road trips. Bella (our female BC) had to be crated to wait her turn with her Canine Nose-work Training. She loved her cave and was happy to comply with the rules. (Dogs really love that special chew treat-reserved for cave dwellers).
Our puppies are introduced to the crate (doors open at first) around 4 weeks old. There’s no fear at this age, and remember, everything they are exposed to in those first weeks is part of their lifetime learning. At 5 weeks old, we start giving them their meals in the crates (each having their own) and closing the door. All of this is positive reinforcement. By week 6, those puppies are racing into the crate when they hear us preparing their meal. By lengthening the time in the crate after eating (as long as they are still comfortable), the puppies eventually stay and even choose to take naps in the crates at their will. (It’s also excellent preparation if they need to be crated at the vet’s office).
MISSING IN ACTION-MICROCHIP SAVES LIVES & LIES: We’ve all had those “Houdini” dogs that can get out of anything no matter the challenge. It’s just a part of that enrichment seeking Border Collies’ agenda. Even our two-day-old puppies, without sight or hearing, have gotten out of the whelping pen. One of our past puppy families had their puppy escape the fenced front porch. He was horrified but knew that his little pup had been microchipped and registered before arriving at his new home. He called in his missing little guy to AKC Reunite, and an alert was sent out in his area. A neighbor found the puppy, but it could have turned out differently.
My personal worst scenario would look like this: “Hey, that’s a beautiful puppy!” a stranger walking by your fenced in yard says to you. You proudly reply, “Thanks! That’s my new Border Collie puppy, Riot”. Later, you let your new puppy out into the yard and run in to get his dinner ready. When you come out and call “Riot,” there’s no sound, and you quickly realize he’s gone. But that same stranger is casually walking your puppy down the street on a leash. When you holler to him and say, “Hey, what are you doing with my puppy?” He replies, “This isn’t your puppy, it’s mine. Prove it!”
You can prove it with that registered microchip we feel is as vital as his vaccines. (That’s why we microchip all of our puppies at their 8-week vet check as part of their health screening. It’s that important to us.)
FINAL LESSON of LIFE
MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN: All of these lessons (good or bad) led us to a history of success, one puppy at a time. What you put into your puppy, will build into a well-balanced family member for life.
One Awe Border Collies family said to me, “I feel so lucky to have one of your Awesome Puppies.” And my reply was, “It’s not luck. You were chosen by being the right family”. Our success begins with the time taken to pre-approve our new families, matching up families with our pups, thus setting everyone up for success.
We brought these little Border Collie lives into this world, made sure they were warm and loved, enriched their early weeks, had sleepless nights because of them, and eventually celebrated their new lives as they went to their forever homes. Each one of our Awe BC puppies grew into our hearts and deserves nothing less than a great life. We can’t do this job forever, but in the meantime, our goal is to leave the Border Collie world a better place than we found it…one puppy at a time.
Check out some of our Happy Families