RETIREMENT HOMES FOR SHOW DOGS
If you have been around the dog show scene for any length of time you know that show dogs are frequently “retired” after they have finished their show careers. Some people take offense to this and question why or how someone could rehome their dog just because they are finished being shown or possibly bred. Non show people accuse show breeders of just “using” the dogs or discarding them after they are “done” with them, but this isn’t really the case. Let’s take a look at what retirement means for a show dog.
First, let’s talk about what “retirement” means. Generally, retiring means that one is no longer working or at their job. To humans, most of think of retirement as the time in our lives that we look forward to having more free time, not having to work and having the time and ability to do more of what we want and enjoy our lives that much more. This is what we spend our lifetimes working for, right? So, it begs the question, why is it wrong to want retired show dogs to have a wonderful retirement in a home where they are a cherished pet? More on that later.
A show dog’s life
What a show dog’s life looks like varies from dog to dog. Some dogs are owned by an owner handler who goes to a couple of shows a month but is basically also their pet. Maybe they do other dog sports or activities with their dog. In this scenario, the dog may be living in a home with another dog or two, or may be the only dog. Their owner may just be getting started in showing and have no plans to get into breeding but are just trying out showing or fulfilling an obligation to the breeder.
Some dogs, particularly those that are being campaigned, meaning that they are out being shown by a handler and are at shows nearly every weekend traveling near and far. Generally, for a dog to be really competitive, they have to be enjoying it. They have to have the stamina to be shown often and they need to have a strong relationship with their handler.
There are also dogs that do a little bit of both. Maybe they start out being handled by their owner, but then do so well that the owner gets a professional handler and the dog does a bit of traveling but they are still seeing their owner often, even being delivered to shows by the owner.
Someone who only has one or two dogs is much less likely to place their dogs in retirement homes because they have the time and ability to give the dogs they have the time they require. Someone with a successful breeding program likely has much less time to spend with each dog.
When does a dog retire?
When a show dog retires depends entirely on the situation. Some people want to finish their dogs (obtain a championship) and that’s it. There is nothing wrong with competing mainly at the breed level. Some people just want to finish their dogs, but find a dog to be extraordinary and they decide to special the dog. Specialing a dog means to continue to show the dog after it is a finished champion in order to compete for national rankings and high wins like group wins, Best in Show wins and specialty wins.
A dog that is a highly successful show dog and is being campaigned will be retired at different times for different reasons. Some people retire a dog after a particularly big show win. Sometimes a dog will be the top dog for a couple of years and is retired after that. Sometimes a dog just stops showing like he used to and is retired because he doesn’t seem to enjoy it anymore.
Many breeders will show a dog to it’s championship with the intention of breeding the dog after it is finished. The dog may be rehomed after the dog has been bred or may be brought back out to show more or may simply live out his or her life with the breeder. Many times it depends on the individual dog and if the breeder has many dogs but the dog in question would be happier in a home with less dogs, the dog will be rehomed. Or, perhaps the breeder has a friend who has been wanting a dog of that breed, but doesn’t want a puppy? Or sometimes, the breeder simply wants to continue their breeding program and cannot do that if they keep every dog they ever show and breed. There are many reasons why a breeder may decide to place a dog and as the breeder I would hope that they know what is best for an individual dog.
Another thing to keep in mind is that some dogs really love going to dog shows or just being with their owners. If the dog is no longer being shown, but may not be able to go and this can be frustrating and stressful for some dogs. Why not put that dog in a home where he can be someone’s constant companion and CAN go most places? Why shouldn’t breeders share the best they have produced? These are the dogs they deemed good enough to breed. These dogs are the cream of the crop, why shouldn’t they end up being a cherished pet? Retirement is not a bad thing!
Let’s face it, most people do not have the luxury of keeping more than a handful of dogs. With city ordinances and number of dog limits it can get very difficult to continue a successful breeding program if you never rehome any of the dogs in your breeding program.
Finally, it should be noted that while many breeders will rehome retired dogs, most keep more than they place. I can’t think of any breeders I know that don’t have a few senior dogs toddering around the house. For all of us there are some individuals that you could never, ever let go. The decisions can be tough to make, but the goal should always be putting the dog in the best home possible.
My own experience with rehoming
I am not a big time breeder. I recently bred my first litter in 14 years and with a new breed. I have not had to do much rehoming of breeding dogs because I don’t breed very often. This doesn’t make me better or worse than a breeder who has bred a lot more than, it is just my situation.
I had a longhair Dachshund named Fiona. She was one of the best Dachshunds I have ever had. She was finished to her bench championship and her field championship. She was bred once and I kept a bitch and co ownership on another bitch. One of those girls finished but was never bred. I fully intended to breed her again and even had arrangements made for the breeding. Unfortunately, I could see that the relationship between Fiona and my other, older longhair Dachshund Winnie was volatile. They had been in physical fights. I worked with them to the point they were no longer fighting, but the tension was obvious. Sadly, I decided to rehome Fiona. I had Winnie longer and simply couldn’t let her go, but I also don’t want to live with dogs that don’t get along. I don’t believe the anxiety it causes the dogs, myself and my husband is worth it. So, I let Fiona go. She went to a wonderful home where she was doted on until her 15th year. She was adored and got her owner through many significant life changes.
I had a smooth Dachshund named Lola. I finished her easily and bred her once. She had to get a csection and was spayed after her surgery. I adored her and never planned to let her go. I had a woman contact me who was desperate for a dog. I had several dogs and she had none and I decided to let Lola go to her. She loved her, but after a year and a half she had a major life change and couldn’t keep her, so she came back here. When she came back it was clear she liked being an only dog. At the same time, someone contacted me who had a recently adopted rescue dog who had become dangerously aggressive and had to be euthanized. I placed Lola with them and they had her until her death well into her teens. I loved Lola and I always wanted her, but when I found someone that needed her more, I let her go.
Fast forward to today where I sit on my couch typing this with ZeZe, my longhair Dachshund tucked neatly under my knee. ZeZe came to me for training as a 5 month old puppy. She had been imported from England and was a bit overwhelmed by city life. I worked with her for a week and fell pretty hard for her. I followed her career with her owners who are friends of mine. When she finished her championship she was offered to me. They knew the connection that she and I had and while they still wanted to breed her, they wanted me to have her. I adore her and she will live with me always, but she will go back to have one litter for her other owners before retiring with me permanently. She is my wonderful pet and companion and I can still compete with her in field trials. She is and has always been destined to be my dog.
When breeders decide to let a dog go it is in an attempt to the dog right thing for the dog. Personally, when I have rehomed a dog it was because I felt like the dog was not getting everything that animal needed in this home. Food, water and shelter isn’t enough and some dogs need more attention and one on one than others. In my own home I have dogs who are independent and others who are extremely attached. It can be difficult to make time for everyone if you have too many dogs that are very needy of a lot of attention.
As I look around the room filled with occupied dog beds and the couch covered with dogs, I look around and think about the different personality types. ZeZe is extremely needy and attached. Just petting her isn’t enough, she needs to be inside my skin. Cannoli, my female Lowchen, is the opposite of needy. She is independent and entertains herself easily. The beauty is in the balance of living with a group of dogs of which some require a LOT of my time and those that don’t. They all get me, every single day, every one of them, but there are some who simply demand more.
What does the retirement home look like?
A retirement home is simply a home as a dog that is now a companion, no longer being shown or bred.
Many successful breeders have a waiting list of people waiting for one of their dogs. Frequently, these are repeat homes where the breeder already has a relationship with the home. Wonderful homes that are desperate for a healthy, sound, beautiful purebred dog, but maybe don’t want a puppy. How is this not a win win for everyone, including the dog?
There are some cases in which the relationship and bond that develops between the dog and handler cannot be broken. In those cases, the handler keeps the dog after the dog’s career is over. Frequently these dogs continue to go on the road while the handler shows other dogs and the dog gets to continue the life he or she has come to know.
Sometimes, like with ZeZe and I, someone just falls in love with a dog and they are meant to be together. The point is that dogs deserve to be in the home that is best for THEM. Sometimes we even have to put our own feelings aside to ensure that we are doing the best thing for our dogs and not for ourselves. Don’t feel sad when you hear about a show dog going to a retirement home, be happy that someone put the dog’s needs ahead of their own to give the dog they produced the best possible future they can.