TOP #19: Don’t Judge a Dog By His Bark ft. Richie Camden

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Many of us judge not only books by their covers, but dogs by their barks. However, canines – and especially shelter dogs – are not always what they initially seem. When you see a dog that barks a lot and paces frantically in his shelter kennel may actually be a very quiet and well-mannered house pet, and today we'll talk about how this works.

Animal shelters are often seen as an overwhelming environment with different smells and sounds that most dogs aren’t familiar with, which is one of the reasons for their behavior changes. Thankfully, there are people like sled dog musher Richie Camden who understand this and take the time to get to know the dog before passing judgment.

In this Theory of Pets podcast, Richie tells me a story about his pack of rescue sled dogs, which I sincerely hope will inspire you to shelter pets in a whole new light. He explains how his dogs – all 14 of them – aren’t just for work, and are part of his family. For more from Richie, follow his Breakaway Siberians sled dog team.

Listen to the episode in the video above and find the full podcast transcript below. For more, visit this episode’s post on the official Theory of Pets website.

Why You Should Never Judge a Dog By His Bark
(raw podcast transcript)

Don't Judge Dog by His Bark

* Scroll down below to read the interview.

Hey everyone, welcome back to Theory of Pets, my name is Samantha. This week I am speaking with Richie Camden who has a really interesting story, I wanted to talk with him a little bit about sled dogs because he raises sled dogs.  But his story is so much more than that, Richie and his wife actually take in rescue dogs, and that's what his sled teams are made of, they rescue huskies and then they give them kind of an outlet for their energy.

The husky is a very energetic breed so a lot of times Richie and his wife were finding that huskies would be turned in to shelters because they were being destructive or they were maybe not great with children, things like that, and it's actually just because they are a working dog, they're bred to work, they're a very energetic dog so they're getting turned back to shelters because they're living in small homes or they're not getting enough exercise and that pent-up energy is then being turned into different kinds of behaviors, maybe jumping on children or destroying your personal property.

So he was finding these huskies being turned in to shelters and he and his wife started to rescue huskies and he got into sled dog racing and it's just a really cool, very unique story.  So I wanted to talk to Richie and share his story with all of you.

I do have to apologize for the very beginning of the interview, Richie was not getting the greatest cell phone signal so it's a little bit choppy just for the first minute or so, but it does clear up after that. But you'll notice that in the beginning of the interview.

Interview with Richie Camden

Samantha: Thank you so much again for being here again and agreeing to the podcast. So can you just tell me a little bit about…you filled me in a little bit about, but just for our listeners, about what you're doing with sled dogs.

Richie:  Yeah.  So we have…I guess we have 13 Siberian Huskies…together if you count our…the family.  But yeah, so it turns out our first Siberian… we got him from a breeder and he just sort of changed my life, he was just so motivated to be a sled dog because the people  at the…or the breeders said his dad was a weed dog.  And so every time I take…out for like a run or exercise, as soon as we'd get back he'd come right back into our living room, climb up on the back of our coach and stare out the window like he wanted to go back outside.  And his exercise and energy level was just like insane, off the charts, I think he was like kind of an abnormal husky with how much energy he had.

I decided to go back to school to be a doctor…to school to be a doctor, the partner required us to work in shelters and with rescue groups and stuff, so I was volunteering with a few rescue groups at times, doing assessments of a dog.  It just got me to thinking like there are so many dogs that have…you know good dogs that lost their homes for various reasons and I kind of started researching on Pet finder…like taking a look at Siberian huskies who had kind of lost their homes and stuff.  I mean if you just go on there there's like 20 to 50 pages of dogs on there that have lost their…are being rehomed for whatever reason.

And that was just kind of like the final straw, it's like man you know, like it'd be so cool to not only give their dogs a great home but also give them an outlet for their energy that they have because with huskies I mean that's generally the reason why they get rehomed is they're getting destructive, they're running away, they're not good with small kids, they jump and they… so I kind of start telling people like my family and friends and stuff.  And no one really took me seriously simply because it's okay you're talking about…and what not.

So I started kind of reaching out to some rescue groups to see if we can adopt and we were …I got rejected at first because so many of them had such restrictions about like how far away you can live when they adopt out.  And finally we were able to find a rescue group that made an exception for us.  Indie Homes for Huskies was the first place we adopted from, and they made an exception to their rule.  I think their rule is like you have to live within an hundred and 50 miles within Indianapolis, and obviously we are in St. Louis so we were quite a bit past the hundred and 50 miles.

But you know it ended up working out really well and we were able to adopt so we adopted two more times later, like years later and stuff, and now we've grown to the point where a lot of rescue groups will call me and they'll be like “Hey you know  like we have a dog like crazy high energy, super long legs, pulls on a leash like crazy, he loves a run, friendly with dogs, are you interested or can you add another one to your pack?”

And unfortunately right now you get to a point where there's only so many you can afford financially to keep up the level of care of heart worm prevention and just regular shots and maintenance and what not with the dogs.  So unfortunately as of like right now we're at a financial limit, but it's just been a really fun journey and it's weird like with each one we adopt it's always like okay…once we got to four it's like “Okay this is probably all we'll ever have,” and then after we kind of get settled in, it's like “Okay we can probably afford another one.”

So then we'll adopt another one and then let everything get settled in.  Like one, you're letting the dog get settled in and adjust to a new family like a new routine and stuff; and two, you're also kind of financially like budgeting and stuff, and it just kind of continued to grow, and now we're up to…we have 14 dogs in the family, 13 huskies and one Pomeranian.  So yeah, that's kind of how we got to where we're at today.

Samantha:  Wow!  No I think it's great that you mentioned the budgeting aspect because I think that's something that people that either first time adopting an animal or even if they've adopted before and they're just getting a second or a third they don't really stop to think about how important that is, that it's not just the adoption fee and the food and the collar and the leash but you have to think about heartworm prevention, flea and tick prevention, all the yearly shots that come up and all of that stuff, emergency vet care.  So I think that's really important to touch on that, you know budget does play a huge part of that.

Richie:  Yeah exactly.  And that's one thing we've always tried to be aware of and like we also want to leave some wiggle room in case like, you know like you said an emergency did happen, you want to kind of have like a little cushion as a worse-case scenario in case you have a huge back bill you have to pay off and what not.

So that's always our top priority is always just making sure that you're providing a happy and healthy home for the dogs, and so unfortunately money plays a great part in keeping up their health and their care and stuff.  But yeah so it's always kind of how we've ran things to make sure that each dog can get the proper amount of care and stay up to date on shots and flea and tick and heartworm and all that.  It's not fun when the vet bill comes but it's worth it, it's definitely worth it.

Samantha:  Of course.  Yeah I know, we have three dogs, which is not anywhere close to 14, but definitely it does add up and it's always heartbreaking on both sides when dogs have to be returned to shelters or rescues because it didn't work out financially.  It's hard for the dog, it's hard for the people, it's just not a good situation, so that's great.  And Genelle mentioned too that all of your dogs live in the home with you, they're all pets first and work dogs second I guess.

Richie:   Yeah yeah they definitely yeah.  They all do live in our home and it does…it sounds…I know it sounds crazy but oh my God, 14 dogs living in the house.  But not only it's 14 dogs, but like it's 14 high-energy dogs.  The only time it's really like troublesome or like a little hectic or crazy is after sled dog season is over and the dog…you know like right around now it's starting to get to a point where our season is almost done, the weather is warming up, it's 70 degrees and getting warmer and what not, and once the season ends the dogs are all in…they're in peak condition, they're ready, they're conditioned to run like 40 miles, they can do 40 miles.

So they've got all this energy and it's too hot to take them for a run and all they have for their release is doggy day care, and even with a full day of doggy day care it's still not the same as like running 40 miles and like working and stuff.  So like when they come home during that one month we call it like a withdrawal period where they're just like…they kind of revert back to like the naughtiness or like they're getting destructive, they're digging in the yard and chewing on their crates and chewing on our drywall and chewing on our door chair, and like all the bad things.  But it's very short-lived, usually it only lasts for about two weeks and then they kind of like understand like…and then it gets like just so hot where it's like okay they start to mellow back out…

Samantha:  Yeah, they adapt to it a little.

Richie:  But for like, I'd say like 95% of the year it's like shockingly normal like we come home from work and you know the dogs all have their own area throughout the house, you see them in the bedroom, you see them lay on the living room floor, some of them will lay on the coaches, others like to just go to their crates, and there's a few that we have because we adopted them so late in their age with potty training issues we do just put them in their crate because they will… if they're out free during the night they'll go in the house, and so if they're in their crate they'll actually hold it during the night and stuff.

So, but yeah, no it's actually for the most part, I mean surprisingly normal.  I guess you just sort of have to be a little more aware of where you're stepping at night to make sure you don't like bump into a dog or anything cause we have a few more than most people do laying on their floor and so.  But yeah, other than that I mean like we come home, they eat their food and go outside, they go to the bathroom and then they come back in and just…they mostly just sleep, so they're…it's just like a regular house pet, I mean you hardly…I mean we hardly even notice that they're there some of the times, and it's just so common for us.  It sounds like really crazy but actually…when you're there it's not as crazy as it seems.

Samantha:  Yeah, I mean we're…I'm in Maine like I said and so sled dog in our area is kind of popular and I know you kind of almost always tell when you drive by someone's home if they have sled dogs because most of them are outside and they stay outside year round and they have really nice kennels and dog houses and all that stuff, but they are outside dogs and then once they get old and they're tired they become house dogs.  So thinking about all of those dogs in your house is just…for somebody that's not used to it, I'm sure you must get a lot of people say “Oh my goodness you're so crazy!”  But you do get used to it after a while I'm sure.

Richie:  Yeah yeah.  No we definitely…have like most people think we're like joking when we say that, cause especially being in Missouri like when we meet new people like we…it's obviously not like the first thing we bring up, and once we get to know someone then we kind of like say like “Yeah we have 14 dogs,” and they're like “Yeah, right. Like no one has 14 dogs,” and then the next question's like “Oh my God!  Like where do you keep them?”

Like “Whoa, they live in our house with us.”

And they're like, “Okay yeah.  Right. No way.”

Like “No, they do.”  So we definitely do get that aspect of things.  But you know once people…a lot of our friends when they actually come over there's obviously the initial like first five minutes where the dogs are like crazy excited cause they see a new person in the house, but after that they calm right down and everyone’s very like surprised like “Oh my gosh…” like “I can't believe they're  sleeping all night…”

Samantha: It's not what you think it would be.

Richie:  My friends when they actually come over there's obviously the initial like first five minutes when the dogs are like crazy excited to see a new person in the house, but after that they calm down right down and everyone's very like surprised like “Oh my gosh!” like “I can't believe they're just like sleeping all night

Samantha:  It's not what you think it would be, yeah.

Richie:  So…but yeah it's like I said, it's surprisingly very normal, for us at least.

Samantha:  It's so different here because between sled dogs that are fairly common and hunting dogs are very popular around here too and a lot of people will have a whole pack of hunting dogs, and again 90% of the time they're outdoor dogs, you know people might have 10 or 15 dogs but they live outside.  So here it's not so different to hear of people having numerous dogs, but definitely living in the house is a little different. But that's great, and it's amazing that you make both things work that they're pets and then they also have that working mode.  Like you said that a little bit of time off but then they get back into work mode when it's time to be sled dogs again.

Richie:  Yeah.  Yeah it's always something, you know like when I first started, like I said it was always to have like pets.  Pets be first was always like the top priority, and so the biggest thing was like for the athlete part of things, that's more so…it's more so just like your common exercise that you take for a regular dog, like we…when we take them out running with us it's not for like…I'm trying to think of a right word, it's difficult to explain but like…since they're huskies they just develop more of a conditioning, and so like the racing part has never really been like super serious or like our main like priority, it's always been like giving them a well-balanced life where they're happy and they can have like a regular house life because before mostly like for 90% of our dogs are adopted like they're not easy dogs if they're not getting exercise, like they can be very…

For one, they can be very stubborn; two, they can be very destructive, and it's not really a good combination to have if they're not getting their exercise.  And once they get their exercise like they're happy, they like listen, they're too tired to want to …they've already had their energy released so to have that home life, for them I can tell it just makes them so much happier where they're getting like their home….like their regular home life and getting all that exercise at the same time.

So like I said you know the races aren't like a huge deal, like if we never got to do another race again it wouldn't be like, “Oh my God I'm devastated,” like it's just like okay you know.  We do the races more so the dogs can run in the snow and like have a different trail and stuff.  And from my perspective like it is kind of cool to do the races, cause it's like okay I am curious to see how we match up against like other teams that have…you know the Alaskan Huskies or other Siberian Husky teams, it is kind of cool like I do want to know like how much of a difference there is between our dogs and their dogs.

So that part of it is kind of cool for me, but like I said our top priority has always just been like giving them a well-balanced life where they're getting socialization by going to work with me and playing with other dogs, they're tired and relaxed at home, they're like happy, and then also like during the winter time when it actually is cold, they're getting to do what they're originally bred to do.  So it's just kind of a cool little like triangle that they get to have and it's fun being a part of it.

Samantha:  Yeah definitely. And do you just do the races in like a local area or do you travel with the dogs?

Richie:  No, we travel and we travel pretty far.  One year we went up to Montana to do the… it's a race called the Rodeo Run, and there was a eight-dog race, 22 miles a day for two days, so it's a 44 mile race.  And we drove…I think it took us 28 hours to get there and 32 to get home.  That was…it was not fun.  The race was amazing, like it was so incredible and like so much fun and the dogs were like just so in awe because …I mean I was in awe too cause you're like running through mountains, there's just like picture perfect you could ever imagine.  Like to this day that's been by far the most beautiful race we've ever done and like just totally awestruck for us and the dogs.

But the car ride and like…we were constantly having to stop to take the dogs out and let them go to the bathroom, water.  Yeah, and so it was just too much, and so we try to keep the trips much shorter now.  And so we typically stick to … we go to Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan.  And so from there you're looking at…on the close side of things it's nine to ten hours; and then on the far side you're looking at 13/14 hours away.  So it's really not nowhere near as bad as 28 hours and 32 hours.

Samantha:  Yeah.  Certainly the dogs must get a little stir crazy too being in the trailer for that long.

Richie:  Yeah definitely, yeah.  Well most of them actually ride in the car with us.  We have our U-Con and it's like we've moved everything in it…

Samantha:  Oh my gosh!

Richie: …it's stages and stuff, but there are a few…you know now that we have so many  there are a few that we do have them in the trailer and stuff but we try to enjoy keeping them all as close to me as possible and stuff.  So most of them are actually in the car.

Samantha:  That's cool.  No, it's neat.  And then in the Summer time do you condition…when you're in Missouri like you said it's sometimes too hot to do it but do you do it with carts on wheels to keep them conditioned through the off season?

Richie:  Yeah.  Once it gets like over 70 degrees, or usually actually around 65 through there's so much humidity here, that's when our season is over and we really don't run from that point.  Like usually once it's like May, June, July and August, like those four months like we're lucky if we're able to get out once, and it's like on a super…you know we're getting up at 3:00 in the morning because…at 4:00 in the morning it's supposed to be like 55, and you know…so maybe we can get one good run in there.

But no, we actually train pretty much all year round on carts because we just have no snow here.  Right now I mean we don't have a drop, an inch of snow or anything, I think all the snow we gotten this entire Winter has been scarce, even for us.  I think maybe we got like a half inch dropping earlier this year, or maybe a inch, but that's all we've had, it's just one day of snow and it was not enough to take the sled out.  So pretty much all our training is on a cart or a small wheeler depending on where we're training at.

Samantha:  Yeah we actually…up here sometimes in the Summertime you'll see people on bikes, on bicycles that the dogs will be pulling them or…they almost look like scooters, I'm not sure exactly what they're called, they have like bigger tires to go on like bike trails and kind of off-road trails and you stand on it and every once in a while up  here in the Summertime you'll see people going down the side of the road, cause I live in a rural community, or if you're on like a hiking trail or a biking trail you'll pass people running dogs with those.

Richie:  Wow!  Yeah that's awesome.  Yeah that's exactly what we do here and it's all Winter long and we've had people that's a little more out of the ordinary.  So we get a lot of strange looks, we get some cool compliments, people asking us to stop and take pictures and thinks like that.

Samantha:  Do you know anybody else in your area that does sled dogs?

Richie:  Yeah.  Yeah, there's quite a few people who do it.  There's like a club here that does it too, the Gateway Sled Dog Club, and they're like a group of…I don't know exactly how many members are in it but it's pretty big and like each person has like one to four dogs or so, and they get together and meet and stuff.

And then I actually have a good friend who lives probably about two or three hours away and he has a kennel of his own, Lucky Fox Kennels, and they do a lot of kennel cross runnings where they train like to go up North for just like one to two dogs, but then they also have a sled dog…all of them run as a sled dog team as well. His top priority is trying to train for like the world championships for kennel cross and distance running with his dogs and stuff.  But yeah…no it's actually a lot more popular than you would think being in a more southern state or a warmer climate area and stuff, but yeah, we're definitely not the only ones who do it.

Samantha:  Awesome, that's really great.  It's cool to hear from somebody who's in a different climate than here because it is more of a popular thing here and you wouldn't really expect it where you are, but it's really cool.  It's nice to know there are people everywhere that enjoy working with sled dogs.

Richie:  Yeah, it definitely is.

Samantha:  And as for the rescuing aspect of it, I think that's something that as dog lovers we kind of all advocate for is rescuing and I think like you said, huskies are one of those breeds that kind of they're known for being high-strung and when they get turned in to a shelter or surrender to a rescue somebody might say they're destructive or they're not good with kids or whatever the case may be, and it's not necessarily that the dog is destructive or the dog doesn't like children but just that they have so much energy and then they get labeled as such and then other people don't want to adopt either.  So it's cool that you take a breed with so much energy and kind of funnel that into sled dogging and give them something… a way to burn all of that.

Richie:  Yeah.  Yeah definitely…that’s one of the biggest things as working as a dog trainer here and I work at a local animal hospital and I do a lot of evaluations on dogs and a lot of times they come in and they have this label on them like they're not good with dogs, they're not good with kids, they're destructive or something, and we evaluate them and then we…if they good, if they pass the evaluation behavior assessment that we do, they get into doggy day care and then you know once they're in day care like you can almost immediately see those issues like disappear because they're…they've just got so much energy.

And you know it's not just exclusive to huskies, so many other breeds that…pretty much any breed can end up with high energy dog and it doesn't necessarily mean they're a bad dog, they just need a little more exercise than what your normal dog would need.

Samantha:  Yeah.  It gives people something to think about when they're thinking about rescuing a dog, just because they're labeled a certain way in a shelter or something like that it's not always the case, once you get them out of the element and give them what they need.

Richie:  Yeah, exactly.

Samantha:  So how have things changed for you guys from when you started doing all of this until now?  Obviously your team has grown and you're getting more notice from different companies and things like that.

Richie:  Yeah.  Things have changed quite a bit for us, like in the beginning it was just me and my wife Leah, we were doing like all the training and everything ourselves, like it kind of consumed like all our free time, like it was just me and her doing everything.  And then eventually after about our second year of doing it we were able to start finding people, like good volunteer to help us out and like we ended up meeting like…I mean we've met like so many incredible people who have helped out with the team and like just been able to help us out in like numerous ways.

And now our story has seem to like kind of grow and we've had a few stories done on us with like the news and stuff.  It seems like with each little thing like more and more people like want to…they'll talk to us and like reach out to us, and now like as I mentioned before, rescues they'll call up and say like “Hey we've got this dog here, can you take a look at him?”  Or like “Do you have space to add another dog?”  So that part has changed.

And then the other part too is like sponsors are kind of starting…have been helping us.  This year has been incredible for us, Diamond Pet Foods is sponsoring us.  We put out a post on Facebook like…with all our dogs sitting on our most recent order of dog food and kind of reached out to them, and I honestly didn't know what to expect back from that, and they ended up responding to us, and it's kind of crazy.

Again, like I said, I didn't know what to expect from it and we just kind of continued to talk for like a six-month period and then we were able to reach an agreement where they were going to sponsor us for this year. And so it's just been an incredible experience working with them and our other sponsors.  We have as well Alpine Outfitters and…Animal Hospital, it's just been a help in every way possible to have all of them helping us out along the way and sharing our passion for what we do and it's just been cool, like each new person we meet has been incredible.

Samantha:  Absolutely.  Making some great connections, especially of course Diamond Pet Food is a very popular pet food supplier, we've a couple of articles on our website, Top Dog Tips that talk about different kinds of Diamond Pet Food, so a huge sponsor like that definitely is a big thing for somebody like you that kind of just getting into the sponsor aspect of things.

Richie:  Yeah.  Yeah definitely, and as I said, like I…we didn't really know what to expect when we had posted the picture, we were just hoping for a response and we really had our sights low that like it wasn't going to be a disappointment if they didn't respond. And then they did and like I think I said this before with…like on a…I'm sorry, I think I mentioned this before like on a Facebook post I wrote on our team page, but like if they had never responded like I mean we would have never known any different and just continued to feed their food, since that was…

I mean we were still happy with their product and the fact that they reached out back to us and like responded was like…I mean for me it's like a lot of other company, and like  that they were so passionate about our story and sharing our story and like everything that we do like it's been like a huge honor to have them with us along the way, it's like it's been such a cool experience for me and Leah and all the dogs too that are getting to do like extra things now because Diamond has been helping us so much.

Samantha:  Yeah absolutely, I think you're right, it does say a lot for the company I mean when they're obviously proud of the product that they put out and they are passionate about sharing stories of dogs that eat their food and that benefit from their food, I mean you guys are certainly a pack of walking spokespeople, I mean your dogs have high energy, they burn a lot of calories, they're working dogs so  the fact their food provides your dogs the nutrition that they need that's definitely a benefit for them.  But also like you said I mean huge benefit for you as well, so that's really great.

Richie:  Yeah.  Yeah definitely.

Samantha:  So again I just want to thank Richie so much for being part of the podcast.  What a great story, and certainly inspiring and I hope it inspires some of you to maybe think outside the  box if you're thinking about adopting a dog from a shelter or a rescue.

They maybe have some quirks while they're in a shelter atmosphere but remember that things like barking, things like destructive behavior, things like jumping up and issues like that can sometimes be…they don't even need training or any kind of discipline to get rid of those behaviors but all they need…all the dog needs is some exercise and maybe a different environment, a shelter is a very overwhelming place for a dog, different smells, different animals, so they're not going to act they way that they would act when they're in a home environment.

So certainly if you're thinking about shelters and rescue organizations for adoptions, be sure to reach out to them, have a conversation with them, most of them are very open about the animals they have and the issues that they have and certain things that maybe would change outside the shelter environment.  So ask questions, meet the dog, spend some time.

PREVIOUS PODCAST: Why You Should Become a Foster Parent to Dogs

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Samantha’s biggest passion in life is spending time with her Boxer dogs. After she rescued her first Boxer in 2004, Samantha fell in love with the breed and has continued to rescue three other Boxers since then. She enjoys hiking and swimming with her Boxers, Maddie and Chloe.