“Bad Dog” “My guard dog killed a chicken” “badly bred” “disappointment” “enemy’ “my guard dog hates my white chicken” “failure”
Those are all words that have been used to describe a young female Maremma sheepdog puppy in the last two months or so. The puppy is now NINE MONTHS old. The person calling this PUPPY those horrible names is her owner, a prominent social media figure, with over half a million followers. I am the breeder of that puppy and I can assure you she is none of those things. Her parents are Livestock Guardian dogs on my farm, successfully guarding all of my livestock, including baby goats and poultry. She has siblings on farms all over the USA, also successfully guarding livestock. The puppy was born on my farm and properly socialized with goats, horses, chickens, ducks, geese, barn cats and other dogs from the day she was born. She lived with these animals, her siblings and with my other Maremmas 24/7, since she was born. She was mentored by several adult Maremmas, in addition to her parents, and by my dairy goats and other livestock, who are more experienced at training puppies than her new owner is. She was trained only with positive reinforcement training methods, including Puppy Culture and KPA Clicker Training. She was not yelled at or “corrected” for her normal puppy antics. Instead she was encouraged to make the right choices and rewarded when she did. She is a normal, healthy LGD puppy, who is behaving in a perfectly normal way for her age, and for how she is being managed and “trained”. (My definition of training is apparently different than Abby's owner's.)
Now before I say more about the puppy and her owner I will address the elephant in the room. I’ll try to be brief because that’s not the focus of this post. It’s no secret that the puppy’s owner is very unhappy with me. He has been making derogatory videos of me for a few months now. Whereas his first videos of me were glowing with praise and calling me an ethical breeder, his latest videos have devolved into calling me a puppy mill. I'll just say there are a lot of facts he's leaving out of his videos and you can read about those in this post:
The True Story of Abby
This post is not about how Abby came to be on a farm in Vermont or about hernias and breeding rights and such things. This is about how "entertainment" can have impacts that the producer may not have even thought about, and why that matters.
Obviously Abby's owner is frustrated with her. He spends a lot of time comparing her to his first dog, who was "so easy" to train. I've been there myself. My first several Maremmas were very easy to train and it wasn't until I had been in the breed several years and both bred and trained several of my own puppies and bought dogs from several different breeders that I encountered dogs that frustrated me the way Abby seems to frustrate her owner. A lot of the problems I had with these dogs had to do with how they were socialized (or not) and trained by their owners as puppies. Some of those dogs were so difficult that I will never again buy a puppy unless I'm absolutely sure the breeder raises their puppies the way I do mine, nor will I stud out my dogs to someone who doesn't share my training style. But I discovered that even dogs from breeders who do everything "right" can be a challenge occasionally. They're not bad dogs. Just a bit too full of energy for their own good sometimes. A little too much tendency for the zoomies. But I know that these kinds of dogs often mature into the best LGD's, so it's worth being patient with them. Every dog has its strengths, if you're willing to look for them. Abby's groomer saw it when she remarked at how much more affectionate Abby is than her predecessor. (Of course her upbringing here had a lot to do with that, as did her breeding, which apparently isn't so bad, after all.)
I have really learned a lot from working with all these different dogs from different breeders and backgrounds. I have a strong commitment to always keep my dogs and puppies with livestock and with a working dog partner, every minute of the day, but some of these dogs were very challenging. This one chases horses, that one harasses goats, the other one eats chickens (eats them!) and a couple of them fought with almost every dog I had. One would pick fights with adult dogs twice her size! There were a couple of dogs in particular from the same breeder that were so difficult I almost placed them in pet homes, but yet I couldn't just give up on them. I couldn't sell them as they were because that would just cause more problems for them and their owners, so I just had to weather the storm. So I just persisted, trying them with this dog or that, this stock or the other, bit by bit moving to more challenging (flightier) stock. And over time these dogs have made progress, mellowed and matured. They aren't ready to guard baby goats and they may never be, but they are getting better every day.
What I didn't do and would never do, is go out and make a video labelling these dogs as "failures", "disappointments", "bad dogs" or even "chicken killers", even though some of them did kill a lot of chickens. They aren't bad dogs. They aren't failures. Some are dogs who didn't get the kind of start I consider "proper" from their breeders. Some are dogs that got a great start but, like some children, just have more energy and a wicked sense of humor. (One dog used to love chasing my ducks until they flew around the pasture, but yet she matured into a dog that would literally nurse a baby goat.) It would be highly unfair of me to compare one of them to my easy "perfect" Polar. Polar is a dog I bred and trained and she has literally never so much as chased a chicken, even as a puppy. She is my most trusted LGD, even above her parents, who are great LGD's. Of course I wish the other dogs were more like her, but they aren't her. They have their own strengths and I try to find and appreciate those.
Abby's owner has not learned to do this, or doesn't see why it matters. More and more in his videos, as his frustration with Abby grows, he compares her to his "perfect" first dog, who was "so easy to train". He's gone from saying Abby is "full of energy" to "she has a bad temperament". But she does NOT have a bad temperament! In fact, she was the most mellow, most biddable puppy in her litter and even the owners of the more rambunctious or headstrong puppies in the litter have never complained about them. (There were 8 pups in the litter.) Of course, here on my farm Abby spent her time running free with other dogs and puppies, as well as goats and horses and (under supervision) poultry. At her new home she's locked up by herself in a small kennel most of the time. At my farm she was trained only with positive training methods. Her new owner seems to prefer electric fences and lots of yelling, from what I've seen, though there may be other things going on off camera that I don't see. The truth is that Abby's owner simply doesn't have the skills or experience to handle an "average" LGD puppy, like Abby. He needed a really easy puppy, like Polar, or one of her puppies. But I didn't realize that and trusted that he would either know how to train any dog, or would seek help and advice from me, since I give lifetime support to my puppy owners. He did not. Not once.
What I see in the videos (when I can bring myself to watch them, but I feel I owe it to Abby to keep tabs on her) is an owner that's becoming more and more frustrated and seems to be taking it out on Abby, and on me. His videos get meaner and more negative each time. He says he's going to keep Abby, even though she's a "failure". I'm not sure why someone would keep a dog they deem a failure other than for two reasons. They really, really love the dog, or they are making a lot of money off of her, selling "bad dog" videos. And since I can't fathom making such a video about any of my dogs well....
When Abby's owner posted the first negative video about her I immediately contacted him and offered to buy her back, plus reimburse him for all expenses and pay all expenses to ship her back to me. It was easily a $10,000 offer. He told me he was going to keep her but I could pay him $4000. I'm not sure why he thought I owed him $4000 or how he thought me paying him would help him or Abby, but I declined. Now in two months he's gone from calling her a "disappointment" to a "failure". What will he call her next, and when will he finally say enough? I would like to state, for the record, that my offer to buy Abby back still stands, and will stand for the rest of her life. Maybe if he gets frustrated enough he will send her home and he can buy a new, easier dog. Hopefully it will be before it's too late for Abby. But if he truly loves her and wants to keep her for that reason then I can respect that. I just wish he would do two things. Hire a PROFESSIONAL LGD trainer like Cindy Benson, KPA CTP, to help train Abby. Cindy offers Zoom training so she could work with Abby and her owner remotely. It would make a huge difference for both of them, I'm sure, and would make everyone happy.
And I wish he would stop painting Abby, this wonderful 9 month old puppy, as a failure. Not just because Abby deserves an owner who loves and cherishes her enough that he would only speak respectfully and lovingly of her, but because of the impact these videos will have - are having - on other puppies and dogs just like Abby. Perfectly normal, high energy, rambunctious puppies, teenaged LGD's. Ones who sometimes chase goats and maybe occasionally kill a chicken or two (it really doesn't doom a dog), and who frustrate their owners with their antics. What Abby's owner doesn't realize is that a lot of people consider him a "expert" in LGD's, even though he's only trained one very pliable and easygoing LGD before getting Abby. Some of his fans even seem to consider him a god. And when their god says his perfectly normal 9 month old LGD puppy is a "failure" a lot of them are going to look at their own perfectly normal puppies and dogs and decide the same thing. Only maybe they can't afford to keep a "failed" LGD as a pet. So instead they will cut their losses and get rid of their dog so they can start over with a "better" one. They'll dump their puppy at the pound, on the street or sell it to the highest bidder on Craigslist. And we all know where fates like those lead. You mark my words, if Abby's owner continues to paint her as a failure rescues will overflow and innocent dogs and puppies will die.
Before I ever sold Abby to her owner I was warned by the head of the largest Maremma rescue in America that her owner could adversely affect the breed. Here is what she told me: "This dude is an unknown with an unregistered dog and half a million followers.... This is a time bomb to me after all of these years of educating folks on the rescue page. I had 70 people ask to join the rescue today. (After his first video of Abby came out.) Also remember - this is his first Maremma." and then she added, "And the information he disseminates can really help us or mislead people - you know how vital experience and knowledge is. These dogs are not for everyone."
At the time I thought she was wrong and was harshly judging Abby's owner. Now I wish I had paid more attention to her words. She knew what I didn't understand. That a man with a following like his truly could hold lives in his hands. That is a responsibility that even he may not realize. Maybe it really hasn't occurred to him how his videos about Abby could affect dogs like her. My hope is that he will come to realize it and will change his message. Will use his talents to truly educate people and advocate for Abby and dogs like her. That he will realize that Social Media Figures, no matter how big or small, have a great responsibility to those they serve. And they do serve others, after all. These people are giving their time to their favorite YouTubers, TikTokers or whatever. Those social media figures need to be held accountable.
And that's the other side of the coin. If your "god" says or does something you don't feel is right, such as calling a puppy a "failure" then hold them accountable! Challenge them, question them, tell them how you feel. Tell them the impact their words and videos are having and if you're not ok with it let them know. If they are deserving of your time and attention they will listen and do what's right. And if they are not, there's a simple solution. Unsubscribe, unfollow, unlike. You do not owe your celebrity anything. They owe you everything. You made them and you can unmake them, and don't ever let them forget it.
NOTE: I am no longer taking comments on this post or defending my position. Since the “Spilling the Tea” video Abby’s owner put out I have been inundated with hundreds of comments to my blog and social media as well as by phone and email. Many were kind and supportive but many most definitely were not. I have been called every name in the book and even been told to kill myself. I have been threatened and harassed relentlessly. I have also had countless people try to argue with me and convince me that I am wrong or must not have watched the videos. In fact I did watch them several times, and I know a lot of background information that the viewers don’t know and I can’t share for legal reasons or because I’m protecting the privacy of certain people.
I also know perfectly well how to use quotation marks but was trying to put emphasis on certain important points. More like “air quotes”. But since that bothered a lot of you I fixed that. The ones I left are actual quotes.
Another thing the fans keep insisting is that I started all this. That is 100% false. This was started by Abby’s owner with the “Our Puppy Had Surgery” and it progressed from there. Go read the comments in that video if you don’t believe me. The fans had some really choice things to say about me and their leader let them do it. That was the point of the video and with each video after that he continued to push his narrative that I had somehow cheated him and that Abby was badly bred. (An insult to any breeder.) I truly tried to ignore it and wait for things to settle down but there came a point when I could no longer do that. That point was the video in which Abby’s owner called me a puppy mill and placed “Failure” next to her photo. I know it was clickbait, but it was not ok with me for him to do that, and I spoke up.
The fans keep insisting that Abby’s owner has a right to his opinion and a right to share his opinion, while simultaneously saying I do not have the same right. That double standard is ridiculous. I have the same right to free speech that Abby’s owner does. Just because some people don’t like what I have to say that doesn’t mean I should not say what I feel needs to be said.
I have spent a lot of time defending myself to his fans, trying to explain my position to the people who disagree with me and want to defend their star. Obviously I’m not going to change anyone’s mind and I am done trying to do so. People just keep asking me questions I’ve already answered and arguing the same arguments over and over. It’s not helping anyone: not me, not Abby, not her owner and not her fans. It’s pointless and we all have better things to do with our time. At least I do. So as of now we will just have to agree to disagree. If you have kind or constructive things to say you’re welcome to contact me privately. I’ll be happy to discuss the matter with polite people. But if you just want to argue or be nasty I will delete your comments and block you. I’m done letting hateful people ruin things for everyone else.
Author Hi I'm Kim. I love all animals but goats and dogs are my favorites so I built a business around them, breeding miniature dairy goats and Maremma Sheepdogs. I love sharing my passion and knowelege of these amazing creatures with others.