Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Comprehensive Corgi Guide- A Resource for New and Future Owners


Table of Contents
CTRL+F the number to skip to that section.
01.   A Brief History- Touches upon the origin of the Pembroke Welsh Corgi
02.   The Tail of Two Corgis- Describes the general differences between the Pembroke and Cardigan Welsh Corgis
03.   So I Heard You Like Herding- A discussion on how the Corgi’s historical purpose affects its attitudes, personality, and habits
04.   A Short Dog’s Shortcomings- Describes the health issues one should be prepared to deal with in a Corgi
05.   A Hairy Situation- Shedding and grooming are briefly described
06.   Final Rebarks- Closing this massive document


A Brief History- 01
Pembroke Welsh Corgis have been around since 1107 AD in some way, shape, or form.  They certainly didn’t look how they look today, but there are historical records describing a short-legged dog used for driving cattle in ye olde Pembrokeshire, Wales.  Though the origins are murky, it is suspected that the Pembroke came about as a result of the Cardigan Welsh Corgi allowed to interbreed with Flemish Spitz-type dogs.  Despite the Pembroke’s antiquity, the breed was not recognized by the AKC until 1934, and the older Cardigan was not AKC recognized until 1935.  Prior to the AKC distinction of the breeds, the two were allowed to interbreed freely.  If you are interested in seeing how the Pembroke Welsh Corgi has changed since the early 1900’s, please check out Corgis of the Past.

The Tail of Two Corgis- 02
The two Corgis are similar in appearance in that they both are low, deep-chested dogs, but they have their differences.   Of course, the most obvious difference is that the Cardigan is tailed, and the Pembroke has a docked or natural bob tail.  However, in many places outside of the US, the Pembroke also has a long, luxurious tail.  How is anyone supposed to tell the difference if both dogs have tails?  In general, the Cardigan is a larger dog—taller, heavier in weight, and heavier-boned.  The Cardigan is also rounder, sporting rounded ears and “round” feet, where the toes are all the same length.  They have a much wider range of acceptable colors, too.  In regards to personality, the Pembroke is the more friendly and social of the two, while the Cardigan tends to be more aloof.  For ease of comparison, their most noticeable differences have been charted below. 


Height
10 to 12”
10.5 to 12.5”
Weight
Dogs 27-30 lbs; Bitches 25-28 lbs
Dogs 30-38 lbs; Bitches 25-34 lbs
Colors
Red, Sable, Tricolor
Red, Sable, Tricolor, Brindle, Merle, Black
Ears
Pointed
Rounded
Feet
Oval
Round
Expression
Intelligent and interested, not sly
Alert, gentle, watchful, and friendly
Temperament
Bold, kindly
Adaptable, loyal, affectionate, even-tempered
Impress your friends, neighbors, and strangers when you inevitably have to tell them the difference between the two Corgis! 

So I Heard You Like Herding- 03
There is something about Corgis that draws people to them.  Perhaps it is those wonderful stumpy legs, that bunny butt, or even those huge satellite-dish ears.   Most people who fall in love with Corgis fall in love with how they look—and that’s okay!  But, adopting a dog based solely on looks can have serious consequences for all involved.  Corgis often surprise uneducated owners because they do what they were bred to do, and that does not usually coincide with the owners’ expectations. 

Corgis are herding dogs.  They were bred to herd cattle and they take a hands-on approach to doing so.  Unlike Border Collies, which herd sheep by eyeing and stalking, Corgis herd by biting and barking until they can get the cattle to move.  This behavior is instinctual and, for some Corgis, manifests itself in the home; Corgis will herd you, the cat, other dogs, and especially children.  This means that they nip and bite in an attempt to get you to go where they want you to go.  When you bring a Corgi home, you must prepare to deal with such behavior.  Warn your children and your guests, and have a plan in place to teach your Corgi that such actions are unacceptable inside the house. 

The herding instinct also manifests itself in play through barking at things that move, aren’t moving, or in general aren’t doing what the Corgi wants them to do.  If quiet is a concern inside or out, you may want to consider a different breed, or be prepared to stop play when things get out of hand.  At the dog park, a Corgi may run around and bark at other dogs playing, seemingly policing their activities.  A Corgi will almost certainly bark when playing soccer with the family, or when doing any other activity that may simulate herding.  Corgis are watchful dogs, too, and they will bark when they feel it is necessary to alert the family.  Doorbells, keys, and movement outside are all typical barking triggers.  In a similar vein, Corgis are very vocal when nothing is happening!  They often “talk” to express any number of feelings, a trait considered endearing by many.

Herding requires a certain level of intelligence.  The dog must be able to work independently of its handler, determine the best course of action in a constantly changing environment, solve problems, and accomplish goals as a team, among other necessities.  Corgis have the intellect to do all those things and then much more. They know what they want and they know how to get it, and are very stubborn as a result.  They can’t be pushed around—indeed, you must make a Corgi think something was their idea before they will submit to it.  They will learn from you even when you think you aren’t teaching.  They will boss you around if you let them.  Worst of all, they make well-thought decisions, and then they act on them.  With a dog this smart, you need to be one step ahead at all times.  Obedience training is a must for Corgis, or else they will get the best of you.  Intelligent dogs can be challenging for any dog owner, but patience, understanding, and willingness to compromise make things significantly easier on both parties.  

In addition to contributing to the mental state of the Corgi, their herding heritage contributes to their physical state.  Many people see a Corgi and think of it as a small dog that has little exercise needs, and they classify it as being an “apartment dog” based on its size.  This is false in many ways.  For one, a Corgi is a medium sized dog with no legs, not a small dog.  Secondly, herding is a physically demanding job, and Corgis are able to fill it.  They have high energy requirements in a seemingly small package and do no better in a big house than they would in an apartment if they do not meet those requirements.   Third, their short legs often deceive people into thinking they are slow, lumbering movers, when any Corgi owner could tell you that they are dogs built like bullets with a speed to match.  What good is a herder if they cannot even keep up with their herd? 

High energy combined with lots of smarts lends itself to disaster when the dog is not properly cared for.  A bored dog, no matter the breed, will find a way to reduce its boredom—typically through destruction of the home.  It’s imperative that Corgis receive appropriate amounts of exercise to avoid this outcome.   A tired Corgi is a dog that is not causing problems, be it destruction, barking, herding of children, or any other undesired behavior.  Activities to work the Corgi’s brain are also a requirement.  After all, a mind is a terrible thing to waste!

A Short Dog’s Shortcomings- 04
Although some people may consider their herding-derived behaviors undesirable, a dedicated owner can minimize their effects by being mentally prepared for the tasks that their Corgis will pit them against.  There are, however, numerous physical problems that no amount of training can ever correct, and that you really can never be truly prepared to deal with.  However, “not ever being truly prepared” is never an excuse for not being informed!

Unfortunately, the height of the Corgi causes more than just an adorable outline; what makes a Corgi short is also the root of most of its health problems.  Their short legs are the result of a genetic mutation causing achondroplastic dwarfism, or chondrodystrophy.  The mutation alters the growth and development of cartilage, while also causing an early breakdown of it, throughout the body.  As such, Corgis are prone to a number of skeletal issues.

The growth plates that cause bones to grow are normally thick, producing bone systematically until sex hormones trigger growth to stop.  In the Corgi and other dwarfed dogs, the growth plates are very thin, reproducing incorrectly and sporadically and then maturing much sooner than normal, therefore producing a gnarled, shortened bone.  The fragile growth plates lend themselves to easy injury.  An injured growth plate is at risk for causing one bone to stop growth while the rest continue, producing a twisted or bowed limb that can be painful and is certainly not sound.  How does a dog injure a growth plate?  Overexertion.  High-impact activities such as running or jumping can crush the plate.  It’s very important to limit such activities until the Corgi is fully grown at around 1-1.5 years.  Don't stop your puppy from running and playing, but do stop your puppy from jumping off of furniture, don't take your puppy jogging, and avoid strenuous agility work.

The joints in a dwarfed dog are very different from the joints in a standard dog—like the rest of the dog’s skeletal system, they are deformed.  In fact, if the same joints were on an average dog, they would certainly be considered dysplastic.  In a Corgi, these types of seemingly dysplastic joints are normal and allow easy, pain-free movement.    But, as in standard dogs, dwarves do have varying degrees of joint quality and are capable of coming down with hip or elbow dysplasia.  The Orthopedic Foundation for Animals, or the OFA, evaluates the joint health of any breed of dog.  All dogs should be OFA tested and pass with “excellent”,  “good”, or "fair" evaluations before being bred to reduce the occurrence of crippling joint disorders in the offspring and, ultimately, the population at large. If you have questions about the OFA status of your dog's sire or dam, you can search offa.org with the AKC registration name or number in question.  If the tests were done through OFA, the results will show on the website.

The rapid cartilage degeneration in a Corgi is the most painful and most dangerous ailment afflicting the breed.   Cartilage is a connective tissue that cushions joints as well as holds them together.  Because cartilage wears down faster in dwarfed dogs, osteoarthritis may develop at an early age—particularly in areas with small bones, such as the wrist or feet.  Spinal arthritis is almost guaranteed at some point in the Corgis life, occurring much earlier than it typically would in a standard dog.  Finally, the Corgi is at high risk for a condition called intervertebral disc disease, or IVDD.  In dwarf dogs, the normally squishy disc between the vertebrae in the spine hardens prematurely and severely reduces spine flexibility.  When the discs are forced to compress or stretch, the disc can rupture and what squishy insides that are left can put pressure on the spinal cord and surrounding nerves.  IVDD has various degrees, from mild back pain to complete paralysis.  It’s very painful and, worst of all, can strike early.  All Corgis have imperfect spines, but to what degree?  The amount of degeneration in the spine depends on several factors, including history of jumping, amount of intense exercise, rough handling, and obesity.

Obesity for Corgis is more than just a cosmetic problem.  It can be a death sentence.  The extra weight pulls on the spine and aggravates the joints, precipitating problems that otherwise may not have occurred.  Corgis are nothing if not motivated by food, but it is essential that weight is carefully monitored.  It’s very easy for a Corgi to gain weight.  A good exercise regime and appropriate portions of food are quite necessary for a Corgi’s health.  If you notice your Corgi getting fat, step up the walks and cut back the food.  A Corgi with lightly padded ribs and a tucked loin is a Corgi that is going to live a longer, happier life. 

At the twilight of a Corgi’s life, obese or not, there is one last problem owners need to worry about: degenerative myleopathy, or DM.  DM is an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the nervous system, causing progressive hind-end loss.  The age of onset is typically 8 and above and, when noticed, typically means a dog has 6 to 12 months to live as the paralysis works its way up the spine.  It’s also completely painless.  There is a DNA test which identifies at risk dogs; currently, 60% of Pembrokes test “at risk” for the disease. Most “at risk” dogs do not come down with DM, which indicates something else is afoot in the onset of the disease.  Until researchers identify what that “something else” is, DM is best avoided by caring for your Corgi the best way you can and hoping it doesn’t strike.  All things considered, DM isn’t the most terrible way for a Corgi to end its life provided both you and the dog have the proper support you need

Two other diseases that are routinely tested for in breeding stock are progressive retinal atrophy (PRA) and Von Willebrand’s disease (vWD).  PRA is just what it sounds like, a progressive loss of function in the retina that leads to eventual blindness.  Corgis begin showing signs around the middle of their life span.  The Canine Eye Registration Foundation, CERF, will evaluate the condition of the Corgi’s retinas.  Von Willebrand’s disease is a bleeding disorder common to many breeds and can be avoided by a simple genetic test.  Thankfully, due to testing and appropriate breeding, the occurrence of these diseases is rather small in the Corgi population. 

If you notice your Corgi acting stiff, losing hind limb function, limping, or otherwise in pain without an immediate source, take your dog to the vet.  It could be a sign of musculoskeletal stress, and with these sorts of injuries, quicker attention to the problem means better results on the path to recovery.

A Hairy Situation- 05
The Corgi has a wonderfully made double coat that keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer.  The quality of the hair is just right so that after a day of moving cattle in muddy fields, no bath is required—the dirt will fall right out as the coat dries.  The coat is truly a marvel to behold, but it comes at a price: shed hair, everywhere.  No surface, food, or drink is immune to the scourge of the Corgi coat.  No amount of brushing, blow drying, bathing, Furminating, or any other sort of grooming will stop the encroachment of shed hair into your life.  The amount they shed is phenomenal. 

Imagine, if you will, the greatest amount of hair you can feasibly foresee coming off an animal.  Now, imagine two or three times that amount.  That is a rough estimate of how much Corgis shed, and probably an underestimate at that.  If you are not okay with a dog shedding its weight in hair every month, a Corgi certainly is not for you.  This warning may seem like a gross exaggeration of what should be a minor part of everyday dog ownership, but it is something many cannot comprehend until they experience it first-hand—and by then, it is too late.

Besides almost constant brushing to keep the shedding low, the coat needs little maintenance—bathing more than once every couple of months is unnecessary unless the Corgi in question has become unspeakably disgusting.  In addition, the coat should never be shaved, as it compromises long-term quality of the coat.  The Corgi’s short stature also lends itself to more coat maintenance on rainy days; when a tall dog would normally get just his feet wet, a Corgi’s whole underside will be soaked.  In terms of other grooming, Corgis need care just like every other dog—nails trimmed and teeth cleaned. 

Final Rebarks- 06
Like all dogs, Corgis need to be socialized very well or they can develop serious aggressive issues.  They require basic obedience using consistent, positive methods or they may become very unruly.  They need a lot of exercise and mental workouts to keep them out of trouble, quiet, and in tip-top shape.  Without proper care, Corgis can become very difficult to manage.  You must be dedicated to these dogs in order to make it work out, but they will become dedicated to you in return. 

When you get a Corgi, you are gaining a member of the family.  They are not dogs that you can “set and forget”—they thrive on human interaction.  They don’t need to be constantly entertained; simply being with the family is enough.  They are incredibly loving, wonderful animals, and no amount of hair will make any loving Corgi owner regret their decision.  If you are seeking a somewhat challenging, intelligent, sensitive, bold, vocal, and very social animal, a Corgi is it.

Remember, all dogs are individuals and may not conform to breed standard.  To maximize the chances of getting what you want out of your Corgi, and to minimize the occurrence of health problems, seek responsible, reputable breeders.  Never buy a dog from anyone or anywhere else.  If at all possible, rescue your pal from a local shelter or Corgi rescue organization!  For additional help in deciding if, what, where, why, and how to adopt, please feel free to browse my other posts.

Thanks to the members of Mycorgi.com and Corizma Corgis for helping me to write this article, and thanks for reading.  My next post will be about owner responsibilities outside of the home.  

17 comments:

  1. Hi there,

    This is well done. I've linked to it from The Daily Corgi's "buying a Corgi" page:

    http://thedailycorgi.blogspot.com/p/aspca-breeder-guidelines.html

    Thanks for helping people to understand everything involved in responsible ownership. There is a lot to know, and it's better to be educated than sorry.

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  2. p.s. Your writing is clear and concise. I hope you decide to start the blog again. If you do, drop me a line: thedailycorgi@gmail.com.

    Thanks!

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  3. As a Corgi owner, I really appreciate your post here! I was wondering where you got your information in the section that started with "the joints of a dwarfed dog...". I am curious to learn more and to keep some information on hand. We were told that our puppy has hip luxation (loose hip joints) but after talking to a relative with Corgis she said that she had heard somewhere that Corgis are built a little differently and have looser joints and that our vet may have just not had enough experience with Corgis to know that yet.

    Overall, I thought your post was very insightful and helpful and also very easy to understand! Thank you for putting all this together! :)

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    1. Thank you, I am very glad you found this post helpful! I aim to educate.

      Unfortunately, I don't have a particular source for that section. My breeder passed that knowledge onto me foremost, and I've seen it mentioned by Corgi breeders and bloggers around the internet. I'm trying to find a first source for this info (medical textbooks, journal articles, etc) but am having a hard time. In lieu of an article full of medical jargon, here is a Cardigan website that explains hip dysplasia as it relates to Corgis specifically: http://www.cardicommentary.de/PDF-filer/Cardigans_HD.pdf I believe it will elaborate on this issue for you!

      If you want to know more about hip dysplasia in general, Woodhaven Labs has an excellent write-up about it here: http://www.woodhavenlabs.com/chd.html

      My own Corgi (a Pembroke) was diagnosed with HD by the VAMD College of Veterinary Medicine. I got a second opinion by my breeder's vet, who does X-rays for OFA evaluation on my breeder's breeding stock, and his hips are actually fantastic. He knew exactly how to set my dog up for an X-ray and was skilled at reading it. Perhaps you can ask your breeder (if you got your dog nearby) for a vet recommendation so that you can get a second opinion from an experienced veterinarian.

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    2. Great article--very helpful. I have to disagree with your statement about buying from breeders, though. PLEASE look at your local rescue agencies and humane society. Breeders are increasing the pet population, and thousands and thousands of great dogs are already homeless. We got our sweet Cardigan from a rescue. It can take patience to find a corgi up for adoption (they're such great dogs!), but it is very worth it. Save a life!

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  4. Thanks for your post! I just got a 9 week old corgi and this is very useful information

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  5. Thanks for the info. I wished I would have read it before getting litter mates 3 years ago. They are a challenge! I especially fell short in the socializing department. My dogs are aggressive to all other dogs which breaks my heart. I was so afraid of them getting parvo as puppies I failed to have them interact. They're good dogs I just wish better for them.

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  6. This was a very good and useful article, even for a longer term dual-corg owner like myself. The part about the insane, supernatural amounts of shedding made me smile. When I was selecting a breed to adopt, I considered shedding, but breed descriptions did not really do their shedding justice. It's not anything near enough to being a deal breaker (I actually adopted another one, after having experienced a blown coat, which is an experience in and of itself), but it IS crazy. You did a good job describing it. Very nice job!

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  8. I'd like to add to your health concerns. Corgis are also thwarted by their short legs and big ears when it comes to plastic bags. If they go snooping into a potato chip or cereal bag they can get their noggins caught inside and then can't reach with their short legs to get the bag off. They of course panic and suffocate. Corgi owners should be extra cautious about keeping their pantries closed and such bagged items out of reach. Years ago our corgi snuck into our pantry while we were out and he met his demise with a bag of cereal. Another friend told us they lost a corgi to potato chips. It is an issue few other breeds encounter. Please be aware of this bizarre danger!

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  9. Cattle dogs also seem to desire to cover themselves in poo poo. I guess if they roll in cow dung the cows wont freak so much since they smell familiar.

    My Corgi appreciates the fine nuances of various decaying animals, cat poo, and of course, any dog doo anywhere. He come back to me wearing it proudly.

    I really suppose cattle dogs would do best outside the home in a kennel, but that is too hard for us. Our boy is a wonderful part of the family.

    Overall, we chose a Corgi for the smile and the easygoing way they have. If you walk them at least twice a day and don't over feed them, they are the best dog of all. Always buy from a reputable source and look over the tests. They can do a lot now and although mine has hip displaysia (minor), he is double recessive for IVDD.

    And not only do they bark at doorbells, they will scratch the heck out of your door and frame if you are not home!

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  10. I feel I failed. I was stupid. Now my best little friend is in intensive care, we thought he had a stomach ache...vet put in for overnight.n next morning...he had lost the use of his rear legs....took him to surgery today. They said his disc exploded..they gave him a fifty fifty chance to walk again.....after reading this I suppose it will not happen..Feeling regretful and very sad

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  12. Great post. As an owner of a 14 year old Cardigan Corgi named Jacques, I thought I shed some light on a concern not mentioned here. My Corgi, around 11 and a half began drinking a substantially large amount of water. We noticed this after moving into an apartment. After a visit to the vet, and a diagnosis of pre-diabetes, we began to consider options. I spoke with my mother and she suggested it might be the water softener, present in almost all apartment complexes' water. After filtering the water, we noticed a dramatic decrease (almost back to normal) in Jacque's water consumption. But he was still consuming a lot of water. We then looked at the food. For dry food to stay edible, it needed a preservative, only what we were feeding him had very limited nutritional info on specific preservatives. On a whim my wife and I decided to revert Jacque's adult diet back to his puppy diet; home cooked brown rice, sardines (in fresh water only!) and babe carrots. His health improved almost overnight! He's as lively as he's every been. Almost 3 years after changing his diet he's the healthiest he's ever been. No signs of bone degeneration, no cataracts, clean shiny coat, and no arthritis! It's my opinion that cooking for your animal can dramatically improve their quality of life. Eating food preserved with salt, in old age, can dramatically change your pet's health. Consider a similar diet. Also, limit stair use, VERY bad for Corgi's!

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  13. Seriously with the hair! We had German Shepherds and Jack Russells growing up. I figured I knew about dog hair. NOPE! My corgi baby really does put SO MUCH hair everywhere. You can't keep up. I adore her, but don't underestimate the crazy-making of all the dog hair.

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  14. I have a rescue Corgi mix. At the time we got her, we also had a yellow lab, Lady. I thought all of the hair was her fault. We lost Lady last year to congestive heart failure. It was sad and we miss her terribly!. But, is the hair problem over? Nope! Wasn't Lady after all. Our sweet, precious Bitzee (Corgi) is the culprit! But would I trade her to have a clean house. Not for all the money in the world!!! Thanks for the great info!

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  15. Very accurate. Nice job. Every potential Corgi owner should read this.

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