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Doing It All: Losing Sylvia

Sylvia TDX and I enjoying our success.

We lost Sylvia at sixteen and a half, which has put me in a reflective mood.

Conformation breeders focus time and effort on the dogs with good show potential. So did I. I would have a litter and keep good show prospects, placing “pets” as they washed out because of faults that would reduce their chances of winning in the conformation ring. Sylvia was a washout. She was bred as a show dog, but as she matured, she became a girl with traits I decided not to exhibit or breed. I decided to place her at 5-6 months of age, but I didn’t have any calls seeking older puppies. So, I held onto her.

I decided to place her at 5-6 months of age, but I didn’t have any calls seeking older puppies. So, I held onto her.

During early puppy and adolescent months, it was my habit to teach all puppies I kept the basics in order to open lines of communication, and build confidence and teamwork. So, while we waited for a call, I began training Sylvia, thinking, of course, that a trained puppy would have a wider appeal. She loved to retrieve and started tracking well. I did Basic Obedience with her just to make life easier for me and her future owner; she enjoyed that too. Meanwhile, no suitable calls came.

losing sylvia
Baby Sylvia

As Sylvia matured, she became irritable, snapping at any males for getting close to her. I was sure this behavior was associated with an upcoming heat cycle and ignored it. I decided I would go ahead and spay her after her cycle, but as she neared two she still didn’t cycle. I gave up and spayed her, asking the veterinarian to take note of her anatomy and tell me what may have affected her lack of an estrus cycle. He found nothing weird as I’d expected, but thought it appeared she was showing early signs of her first season. Of course!

During the time I waited to spay her, we had become very close. That closeness was going to make it difficult to place her as she had become a one-person dog, unlike most Labradors. She didn’t really show much interest in anyone other than me. So, now what? I kept females to show, breed, and work, but this one struck out on two of the three reasons for her to stay. It was decision time. Sell her, feelings be damned, or keep her and follow a new path for my homebred? I gave up on placing her, and let her take me on a life path different than my others. I have never regretted that decision.

losing sylvia
There’s nothing greater than retrieving ducks.

I gave up on placing her, and let her take me on a life path different than my others. I have never regretted that decision.

Throughout our months and years of working together, Sylvia exposed me to lots of new challenges I would have otherwise missed. I learned a great deal about dogs with personality quirks like hers and ways to manage her in a pack. I found that choosing an all-performance career for one of my dogs rather than primarily conformation was different, but fun too. I met and became friends with many people more skilled than I in field work, learning a lot of tricks of the trade to help me train and exhibit a shy, stubborn girl like Sylvia. I am a better performance trainer today because Sylvia made me think outside the box. I miss Sylvia, but will be forever grateful for the things she exposed me to and the adventures we had together.

losing sylvia
Sylvia loved tracking, dragging me through the snow to find all her TDX articles.

In closing, I encourage breeders and dog owners to consider trying new things with your dogs. We are very fortunate to have many options these days in the canine sports world. Your little show dog or that “washout” may be the best dock diver in the world, but how do you know if you don’t try? Each and every dog in the breed ring would benefit mentally and physically from a job that gives them some responsibility and gives you a new perspective on that amazing critter. Dogs should be more than a specialty winner to live a full and rewarding life. It’s also a great and enriching experience for owners.

losing sylvia
Good old Sylvia, never far, rests at my feet.


Doing It All: Losing Sylvia
Featured photo: Sylvia TDX and Sandy McMillan enjoying their success.


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