The Dark Side of the Force: Why it draws the potential dog owner

This was written in 2005 for the old Sheltie Pacesetter Magazine.  It is based on a talk I offer to breeders and rescuers about why we lose buyers and adopters to pet shops.  I still offer this talk in a more updated version.  Let’s flash back to 2005.  Also note, I am a nerd, I gave this talk with a Yoda doll and overheads that were very nerdy.  🙂

Yoda -credit Clipartsheep

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Having a hard time placing puppies or adult dogs even though you let club members/breeder referrals know you have dogs available? Are your adoption numbers slacking off? Have you thought about reasons why?

For years, I talked with dog owners and clients about why they chose the source of their dogs. As I submit this, one of my former clients purchased a Cairn terrier from a pet shop. She knew better but said she had a hard time finding a breeder or rescue (and getting callbacks). She walked past a store, saw the pup and bought it. This woman went through various levels with me, is far from the average dog owner and a friend of a current client of mine. She is a prime example of why I am writing this!

Many people I spoke with over the years got their pups from newspaper ads, online free lists, or pet shops. Less than half went through some form of pound or rescue. Few went to what many refer to as a “show” or “good” breeder or a purebred rescue, although many more had tried. When asked why those who went the pet shop or “back yard breeder” route chose that source, the answers were eye opening. What is even more of a concern is the increasing number of clients intentionally purchasing designer mutts from breeders as opposed to purebreds from “show” breeders or crosses from rescues. Why do good dog people or rescues loose buyers or adopters? This article is based on a talk I gave to both the Granite State Shetland Sheepdog Club of SENH and at the 2004 Akita Nationals, on behalf of Western New York Akita Rescue.

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As people in the dog fancy, we must look at why the DARK SIDE (pet shops and less than ethical breeders) is so appealing and why the dog owner was drawn or driven to it. Let us look at some more common reasons given as to why the Average Potential Dog Owner (APDO) went to the Dark Side. As you read this, remember the APDO will relay his experiences to others, further compounding the issue. Remember that

“The dark side is quicker, easier, more seductive,” Yoda.

Vader credit Clipartsheep

I went to a dog show/adoption fair and the people I spoke to were rude/aloof/made me feel ignored. Dog shows are very stressing for humans involved. That stress can be projected at innocent people if we are not careful. The APDO does not deserve the sharp end of our stress-stick. The wrong tone, the wrong word, the wrong attitude can send the APDO fast to the Dark Side. The masses will judge the whole on the actions of the few. The first few seconds the APDO interacts with you can make all the difference.

I have seen similar treatment of potential adopters at adoption fairs. Yes, these events are hectic and mind-blowing. I adopted a critter through one. I put on one years ago when doing rabbit rescue. However, if the APDO feels blown off, you risk losing an adopter.

“Use your feelings… and find him you will,” Yoda.

What treatment would you want if you were the APDO seeking guidance? Treating the APDO like anything else risks a loss.

I called the breeder/rescue and felt like I did not matter as a possible owner. Personal experience: I was looking for a large dog with hope for integration into my dog safety program. After months of attempting to find a rescue to fill my goals, I called a great breeder. I briefly explained what I was looking for, how I planned to work a dog some way and how recommended she was. She very rudely snapped she could not talk, call back and hung up.

Attitude is a major complaint I hear from those who eventually went the Dark Side. Some have been so turned off they will never seek a good breeder or rescue anymore for future dogs. The caller has no idea what is going on to cause our reaction. Other APDOs complained that the breeder/rescue seemed distracted or were being rude such as eating while talking on the phone, etc. Poor people skills are bad for dogs.

“Fear is the path to the dark side…” Yoda.

Anything making the APDO fear or feel uncomfortable with us may force them to the Dark Side.

I tried to contact the club/rescue but the email/phone number was down/incorrect/person not involved with the club/rescue anymore. Whoever is responsible for your website, media contacts, etc., must keep things current. I am webmaster for three Sheltie Clubs. I speak from experience. Yes, technology is not perfect or the media does not always update listings when asked, however, it is still your responsibility to do what you can.

On the other side: clubs/rescues, if the webmaster or your media contact asks you for current data, please provide it promptly! We cannot do our job if there is no backup from the club or rescue.

“Try not.  Do, or do not.  There is no try.” Yoda.

The APDO cannot reach us if the path is not clear. He will choose the path of least resistance.

I had a good home check and there was no follow-up. I tried to contact and no calls/emails were returned. Sadly, this is another frequent APDO complaint with rescues and breeders, even after they were told to make a couple contact attempts and give a week or so for a reply.

One summer I, did four homes checks and “cleared” three for adoption. My reports were emailed within 24 hours with verification of receipt (follow up email). Of those three good homes, two called me back over the next few weeks to state there were no further contacts from the rescue.   They contacted back and nothing.  No reply at all!  After several more weeks of waiting, the two went elsewhere.

The third expressed his displeasure with rescue as a whole. This was not the first rescue he tried to work with and been approved to adopt from. He was so frustrated with the lack of response from rescues after the home checks that he was set to give up. Sadly, this rescue never contacted him either! In the end, he was looking at the Dark Side for a purebred pup.

“Clouded this boy’s future is,” Yoda.

Even if there is no suitable dog at that time, you still owe it to the APDO to call and be in contact. The same holds true for breeders who fail to contact the APDO.

The breeder ignored my calls. I know I had the right number, as there was an answering machine with XYZ Kennels on it. This is more common that many of us want to think!

I knew a great breeder with available pups in a breed several APDOs contacted me regarding. I knew the contact information was correct for her. I also learned she was not returning calls or emails to APDOs.  I learned this after a few contacted me back to verify information or just to complain. (Weeks later for some!) Later the breeder would email asking if I knew of anyone wanting a dog as she had several puppies and retiring dogs available. When asked why she did not return calls to the people I sent to her, she replied she just forgot.

“Good relations with the Wookies, I have.” Yoda

If we do not develop relations with our Wookies, we risk losing them to the Dark Side.

I really was interested in this breed but no one would tell me why I was not ready for it so I found one online/at a pet store. This is a double-edged sword. I know one breeder in a rare breed who refuses to educate people about why she is turning them down. She claims buyers can take this info to another breeder and know how to answer the questions. I get variations of the above scenarios more than I care to think of.

Many APDOs want education and need more than they can get from a website or book found at a local pet superstore. Yes, some may take the info and use it to get a pup from another breeder, but many want good and compassionate educating. Just shoving them away will send them to those who tell them what they want to hear about a breed.

“Only a fully-trained Jedi Knight, with the Force as his ally, will conquer Vader and his Emperor.” Yoda.

We must train the APDOs so they can make educated decisions.

I was unable to find a breeder or a rescue. I did not know where to look. We are often taught that good breeders do not advertise in newspapers or bulletin boards, as they have no need to. However, many APDOs are unaware of breed specific clubs or rescues. Yes, even in this day of technology! (Remember the original date of this was 2005!) The APDO generally searches for what he wants: breeder or rescue. Frighteningly, many breeder sites that come up are less than ethical breeders and less than ethical rescues.

An idea for clubs/rescues would be to take out ads in the pet sections of regional newspapers or local magazines (where the APDO often starts a search aside from online). Save on costs and team up with several clubs or rescues for one ad! Also, look to local pet festivals and expositions. Group up if money is a concern, take out a table or booth, and highlight all your breeds. (Many expositions will donate space to non-profit rescues.)

Another idea is to send information to local veterinarians or trainers regarding local clubs and rescues. Many APDOs contact them for information. Never assume a good APDO will find you, sometimes we need to get the feelers out.

“Your overconfidence is your weakness.” Luke Skywalker

We cannot be overconfident and assume that the APDO will find us first without us putting out our own light.

I thought I was getting something special and healthier in this Belgian Chocolate Herdy-hound. The APDO does not realize that hybrid vigor does not exist in the world of domestic dogs. In fact, Dr. George Padgett wrote on the number of hereditary issues found in crossbred dogs. Lies and myths based on lack of research and a desire to sell puppies drives greed. Alternatively, the breeder will tell the interested party this cross in well in its way to becoming a new breed with the American or United Kennel Clubs and the pup can be registered. When the owner learns the truth, they are often shocked.

However, the attitudes of “show” breeders often was what drove them to a designer crossbred as well as the impression that purebred dogs are inbred messes and sickly. Better education and outreach is needed to help stem this advancing tide. There are many people jumping on the designer crossbred breeding bandwagon.

“The boy is dangerous.” Obi Wan Kenobi

Obi Wan - pinterest

As I talk with Average Dog Owners, I often find that many had tried to work with a good breeder or rescue and ended up headed the other path. As people involved with dogs in any capacity, we must remember we represent the whole. A bad experience with one of us could sour the APDO to the rest. We must be kind and sometimes gently firm with the APDO. We must educate without making them feel belittled. We must not do anything to make them feel as if they must go to the Dark Side, even if we refuse them a sale or adoption. Our attitudes and efforts can make the difference between success and failure.

Trust in this: the Dark Side knows what to say to turn the potentials from us. Moreover, when we do anything to back up those lies, the Dark Side wins. Look inside yourself. No one is perfect but maybe we have to be better than we are.

“Already know you that which you need…” Yoda.

© Karen Peak, West Wind Dog Training 2005

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