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Even dogs within same breed are unique individuals

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First thing this morning, I heard the usual wake-up call coming from our barn, so my wife and I gathered the dogs, grabbed our coffee cups and headed for Donkey Lane. I don't think I've mentioned it before, but we have four miniature donkeys that are the most wonderful, loving creatures you will ever meet. However, when it's time for breakfast, they can be very vocal.

While we pitched the hay and scooped the barn, I was thinking about a phone call I received yesterday from Marvin, a very confused dog owner. He loves springer spaniels, and when his first beloved English springer, "Max," passed away, he immediately went to the same breeder and selected a puppy that he named "Max II." That was four months ago, and he is mystified by the behavior of this little one. Max II barks at birds and chews everything in sight. He jumps up on the furniture every chance he gets. When I told Marvin that sounded rather normal to me, he quickly retorted, "But my other dog didn't do that!"

And just as quickly, I said, "But this isn't your other dog!"

You see, so many people mistakenly think that all springer spaniels have the same temperaments, just as they believe that all German shepherds, Chihuahuas and American Staffordshire terriers are about the same within their particular breeds. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Dogs within the same breed tend to have similar characteristics. Some breeds are considered high-energy, just as some breeds are considered more retiring, and so forth. But even so, each dog within a breed is unique, just like children in the same family are different. And isn't that wonderful — that these creatures are not cloned personalities but rather special individuals with their own actions and reactions.

This, of course, means that you should not expect that a second or third dog of the same breed will be the same as the first. It also means that you have to communicate with each dog based on his or her unique temperament, not on your own expectations or the experiences you had with previous dogs. If you do, you can expect to create problems, not solve them.

And that was Marvin's problem. He was actually creating more doggy problems than he was solving because he expected Max II to be a duplicate of Max. Marvin understood his problem immediately and was eager to know what to do. Of course, the first thing was to identify his puppy's temperament, so we did some tests while he was on the phone. Max II is high-energy, nonaggressive and easily distracted. And he has to be trained based on these characteristics.

Marvin doesn't think he can handle the task, so I recommended that he find a qualified trainer in his area who will work with owner and dog at Marvin's home, where the problems occur. I suggested he select an experienced professional who does not use bribes or intimidation but rather love, praise and affection along with excellent skills. Of course, I reminded Marvin that he must work with his dog between sessions and that they both have to learn together. And now that this dog owner is not viewing his puppy as a duplicate of his previous dog, the prospects for a happy life together are very good.

If you expect your current dog to be like your other dog, forget it! He is not your other dog. He has a wonderful personality all his own. You have to recognize it and communicate accordingly.

Dear Uncle Matty:Please advise Dee Dee to get her poodle checked for diabetes. The same thing happened with my cairn terrier (suddenly urinating in the house) who was the same age (4 years old), and she was diagnosed with diabetes. She has been on insulin for the past three years and is holding her own. When we have accidents, her sugar level is too high. —J.A., Shingle Springs, Calif.

Dear J.A.: Thanks for your e-mail. Any time a dog's elimination habits suddenly change, take the dog to a veterinarian to rule out a medical problem before tackling the behavior problem. And don't forget your dog's annual physical.


—Uncle Matty

Dog trainer Matthew "Uncle Matty" Margolis is co-author of 18 books about dogs, a behaviorist, a popular radio and television guest, and host of the PBS series "WOOF! It's a Dog's Life!" Send your questions to dearuncle.gazetteunclematty.com or mail to Uncle Matty at P.O. Box 3300, Diamond Springs, CA 95619. © Creators Syndicate Inc.