Monthly Archives

August 2010

Bramble, Friday

Poor Bramble

Friday’s in heat now too; she turns 15 months in a couple of weeks. The timing of first heats in this group is shockingly similar; every one has come in at the same age.

Fri will be going out to Camp Kate for a few months this fall while we deal with new puppies, so I’m glad to get it over with now. But wow, Bramble is going to be exhausted by the end of it.

As an aside, Bramble is absolutely fascinating to me. He was neutered at 5 months, but he has NO IDEA. He is as keyed in to heat cycles as I’ve ever seen a stud dog be, and he knows when they are ovulating, and he does all the courting behaviors like ear washing and so on. (And – close your eyes, sensitive ones – he can breed and tie.) He’s incredibly useful – Clue is now on day 10 and, unlike last time, I am in no hurry to get her in for progesterone testing because he says she’s not ready, and because he’s neutered I don’t have to separate them. He gets all the fun and none of the paternity testing!

buying a puppy, Responsible Breeding, Responsible Ownership

My dog is better than your dog

I discovered this delightful piece of hard-hitting journalism when I was looking for show-dog ads; every once in a while I root through Dog World online to see who’s making ripples. Dog World is a bit like Playboy – reading articles isn’t really the point.  So I’m never all that surprised when there are problems with the writing, but this one really takes the cake.

To paraphrase: Don’t adopt from a shelter, and don’t advise anyone else to adopt from a shelter; show-bred dogs are better.

The writing is absolute crap – dogs bred on street corners? Really? Is it the 1940s? – but I thought the underlying message is important to consider.

Are show-bred (or carefully bred dogs of any ilk) “better” than shelter dogs?

ABSOLUTELY NOT. The only thing well-bred dogs are is more PREDICTABLE.

This is a little bit like the elementary math problem that asks you to flip a series of coins, helping you conclude that the probability of ending up heads four times in a row is very small, BUT the probability of any one toss being heads is still 50%. Even after it’s landed heads 100 times, the probability of the 101st flip landing heads is still one in two.

Carefully breeding dogs skews the problem in the direction of falling heads more times in a row. Looking at a large group of them, there is comparatively little variation in size, shape, temperament, ability, and so on. However, when you’re comparing one individual dog to another there’s no way I’m going to tell you that the shelter dog loses.

If you want to BREED dogs, if what you’re crafting is predictable appearance, ability, and temperament, there’s only one way to go – with the well-bred dog. If you are looking to WORK dogs, if you really need the highest probability that a certain piece of instinct will be combined with a certain work ethic over multiple dogs in a row, you should be choosing a well-bred dog.

But if you are looking for one individual dog who will be all the miraculous things a dog can be in your household, the well-bred dog is NOT automatically better.

As I’ve said many times, if what you need in a dog is just a “good dog” – bonded, affectionate, cute, empathetic – go to a shelter, preferably one that really needs you. I and my puppies do NOT need you. My puppies have a built-in safety net for their entire lives and are never going to be in real danger; that cannot be said for many others. Go rescue one. You will almost certainly end up with exactly what you need in your family.

Come to me, or come to another good breeder, only if you need predictability beyond the natural goodness of all dogs. If you need to work a dog, show a dog, or breed a dog; if you need the kind of intense support that a good breeder can provide, THEN buy one. But do it for the right reasons, and never do it if rescuing a dog is an option. I NEVER want to take a place that you would have been just as happy to fill with a rescue dog.

(By the way, the very worst of all? The poorly bred purebred or designer dog. Not only do you not get any predictability or support, you increase the homeless dog population either directly – when your dog isn’t fitting well but the breeder won’t take her back – or indirectly because the siblings, parents, and offspring of your dog fall through the cracks.)

Thankfully, the views in the Dog World article are very rare, at least in my experience in show dogs, and the few people that hold them are not the ones you want to know. Most show breeders are pro-dog as a whole; we’re just as happy to see a homeless dog get back on his feet as we are to see one of our dogs take a Best of Breed, if not more so. And we get incredibly mad at bad breeders not because they are our competition but because we see dogs suffering because of them.

Personally, nothing would make me happier than one of you telling me that your rescue dog is better than any other dog on earth, including my show dogs. Bronte just got up on the chair and ate all my popcorn, so it’s probably true!

Family, Friday, Ginny, Juno

Meeting and greeting and finding doors

Today we packed up four kids, three dogs, two adults, a giant pot of chili, two loaves of homemade bread, and a stick of butter and headed down to Fitchburg.

We were supposed to meet Tiffany, Dawn, Sarah, and all their dogs at a dog-friendly state park nearby, but it was raining buckets and so we set up chili on a grooming table and everybody stood around and ate and watched Juniors and Working Group and talked dogs. I didn’t have anything entered; I find the venue (a small and very crowded hotel convention center) super stressful and I didn’t think it would be good for either Friday, who has taken to telling me lately how much she dislikes indoor shows, or Juno, who had never been to a show at all.

I ran Friday in and out quickly, trying to show her that even if you go inside a big loud smelly place it’s OK because you can go right back out again, and then grabbed food and Juno and went back in, trailing children and bags of shredded cheese like malformed ducklings behind me.

Ginny gets the starring picture in the blog post today because when Honour brought her in to the show she (Honour) began to feel overwhelmed very quickly. Too many stressed dogs everywhere, too much noise, too many people, too much everything. Ginny not only knew what was going on before I did, she offered grounding behaviors that let Honour get calm enough to tell me that she needed to leave. Honour told me that she didn’t know where the door was, and she didn’t know how to get out. I told her to ask her dog where the door was, and Ginny picked her way through the grooming area past about fifty dogs and got Honour to the door – NOT the door we’d come in, but the closest open door, then got her to the car, where we tucked her in with an iPod and Friday.

Honour later told us that Friday was having issues with gas exchange and burped so much the whole time she was out there that she wondered if she should have stayed inside the convention center, because the air inside of the car was basically dull orange by the time we came back out again. However, chicken burps aside, it was an amazing job by Ginny. She’s really starting to initiate behavior and is making choices that are very complex. We’ve been working on “find the door” based on her going to the end of the leash and putting pressure on it, but today when she was asked she refused to go out to the end; she stayed next to Honour and moved slowly, never going more than a step ahead of her. I, who was walking right behind them keeping an eye on everything thought she was disobeying, honestly. I was feeling like it was a failed command on Ginny’s part until I realized we were at a door, an emergency exit that someone had propped open. Staying beside Honour was a better choice, because we were threading through so many people and dogs, but it was not anything we’d ever trained.

Anyway, back to the show site. After dogs had been gaited, chili had been eaten, and Zuzu was having a major meltdown at the entrance to the Ladies Room, we got out of Dodge with two crying kids and a very tired puppy.

And did we go to the park anyway, despite the downpour?

Oh yes we did!

We not only went, we let the kids swim in the lake (you’re already soaked, might as well) and Honour and I took the dogs out far enough into the woods that we could slip their leads and let them run.

And sniff.

And crash into each other and try to brake in mid-air to avoid running up Ginny’s bottom.

And bite each other’s faces.

And trot around.

And get really wet.

I know that I haven’t been posting a lot of Juno lately, because she was SCARY ugly for a while there, but she does exist!

And she’s actually getting kind of pretty!

By then Ginny was soaked and miserable.

And Juno was tired.

And so Ginny and Honour and Friday ran back.

(Ginny says: Double-suspension gallop THIS, bitches!)

And Juno and I sat and watched the rain on the lake for a minute, and then headed home.

The end.

dog diets, Dog Health, raising your puppy

When should I switch my dog off puppy food to adult food?

Answer: He never should have been on it in the first place.

This question is one of those “If I had a nickel” ones. It comes up pretty much daily on general-interest dog boards and breed discussion lists.

The problem is this: the whole idea of “puppy food,” which is just a higher-calorie (often vastly higher-calorie) formulation of kibble, is based on two flawed assumptions and one major marketing truth. Assumptions first:

1) Puppies need to be “supported” in rapid growth; just keep them from getting fat.

2) Rapid growth is better than slow growth.

And the marketing truth:

People love to feel that they are doing something special for their new baby. I’ve seen discussions on pet-food marketing boards about this, because numbers one and two up there are well known in the industry. They know perfectly well that there’s no reason to feed puppy food.

But people WANT it. They clamor for it. When it comes to a puppy, even those who are going to feed Ol’ Roy or Pedigree (the sales of which, by the way, so completely dwarf all other brands that it’s staggering) will pay the extra two bucks a bag to get Pedigree Puppy and Ol’ Roy Puppy.

Up at the higher end of the scale, you have companies whose main product is the typical chicken-based food in a carefully low-key high-end bag suddenly breaking their two-color-press rules to feature pictures of tiny puppies  so you’ll know they’re the right choice; even hipsters go mushy for baby dogs.

Even companies who will TELL you you don’t need a puppy food (like Innova) still make one. They lose huge wads of people who go buy a competitor’s product because it has the picture of the Golden puppy on the front if they don’t.

Here’s the truth:

After puppies are fully weaned, they need to grow as SLOWLY as possible. Slow growth is strong growth.

Slow-growing dogs have a dramatically lower rate of joint issues, including hip and elbow dysplasia, OCD, and so on. Part of this is because the growth of the bone doesn’t outstrip the growth of its tendons and muscles, and some of it is because slow-growing dogs are lighter dogs and don’t put as much strain on developing joints. Both are good reasons to keep a puppy growing for a long time rather than a short one.

Puppies will use every bit of food they’re given to grow. Puppies don’t get fat unless they have so many calories dumped on them that even their incredible metabolism is overwhelmed. You can’t judge whether a puppy is getting too much food by whether he or she is fat.

Puppies are not cows. You’re not finishing them for market before they’re a year old. They should not look adult or have anything close to an adult weight until they really ARE adults. If your puppy has 95% of his adult height and weight at six months – and many people consider this to be normal and expected – you’re following the principle of fattening a lamb for slaughter, not growing a dog.

In a wolf pack, which is how your dog’s body evolved and how its metabolism still works, when puppies are eating EVERYBODY’S on a low-calorie diet and the puppies are on the lowest of all. The size of the pack is indirectly related to the number of calories consumed; when there’s a litter growing up (and in wolves this is until about 18 months old, when they leave to form their own groups) everybody’s skinny. After the regurgitation phase is over, puppies are not given anything close to the choicest bits. They’re supposed to survive on what they can get their heads in and grab. That’s a very good rule of thumb for growing dogs as well; 18 months is when you should see full growth and (close to) full weight. Males in particular will often put on a little bit more later, but you should be able to visibly tell between a 12-month-old and an 18-month-old.

In my experience this also translates to a much later maturity in other ways; I don’t get first heats in the girls until they’re well over a year old. Calories are given first to maintenance (living), then to growth, then to reproduction. If the calories are low enough to limit growth, they don’t get put into reproduction until growth slows. This follows the wolf rule as well, and protects everybody. Bodies shouldn’t be reproducing until the structure can support them, and a first heat at 15 months is a breedable heat and the bitch will be fine. (I haven’t even bred on a first heat, before anybody freaks out, but at that age I would not hesitate to do so from a health standpoint; she’d probably have an easier time of it than most!)

So what should you do?

In all breeds but the toys, if you’re not feeding raw you can wean right to an adult food and keep them on an adult food their whole lives. And there’s no magic in a single brand, either; go ahead and mix six of ’em if you want to.

The toy breeds, which are prone to hypoglycemic crises, sometimes need a more nutrient-dense food for a few more weeks so that every bite has enough calories to keep their blood sugar from dipping too low. But even the toys can go on adult food as soon as that danger period is over.

Whatever you feed, if you have a normal healthy puppy who eats eagerly, you should NOT be feeding to satiety. The puppy should not be walking away from food. A good healthy puppy should be lovingly licking the bowl or the floor for a few minutes after he or she is done, wishing for more. If your puppy is not a good eager eater, you may need to coddle them a bit more, but don’t fall into the trap of feeding too much just because the puppy only takes a few mouthfuls at a time.

Your puppy should be smaller than the other puppies his age at the dog park or training class. Since most people ARE going to be feeding way too much, your puppy is going to look small and wiry and they’re going to look big and sleek and beautiful. Don’t feel bad! Your puppy is going to be much better off in the long run.

What’s thin-but-not-too-thin?

One of the most often misunderstood directions for dog weight is “can you see a waist from the top.” You can ALWAYS see a waist from the top. Very few dogs, even the tremendously obese ones, have no indentation where the waist is. Heck, I have a waist and I’m (mumble mumble bad number). What you want to see is that there is a clear sinking in behind the bulk of the BONES OF THE ribcage (the top arrow up there on Juno, who conveniently stretched out so I could show you) and then a clear widening where the BONES OF THE pelvis and femur come out (the bottom arrow). Not “the big mounds of fat vaguely associated with the bones of the ribs and pelvis.” A proper “waist” is relatively long and rather square.

Juno was 19.8 lb yesterday; she’s almost 7 months. If I was letting her grow as fast as she wanted this would be a DISASTER, because it would mean she was going to top out at 22 lb or something. But since I know she’s going to grow for a long time I’m not at all concerned. Juno’s never going to be big, which is exactly what I wanted, but she’ll make her mom’s size (typically 26-27 lb) just fine.

A small, hard, wiry puppy? Great. A skinny puppy? No. If you’re looking at a puppy you should not be able to see the bones of the individual ribs or put your fingers between them. You should not be able to see the bones of the hips or put your fingers between them. The femur should be surrounded by good strong muscle, and you shouldn’t be able to grab any bone ends. When the puppy breathes or runs, you should see the trailing edge of the ribcage and (on short-haired dogs) count the last two or three ribs. You shouldn’t be able to count all the ribs unless the puppy is a sighthound.

On the typical 9-point scale, which is commonly used by vets to characterize body condition, I like to see a puppy at about a 4 and that’s where I keep my adult dogs too. I’ll bring them up to a 5 to show in order to smooth out the topline a little, but that’s about it.

Clue says: I can hardly wait until my puppies are eating; that is my favoritest time ever. Also, I am NOT at a 4 right now. (Sigh; true! I am anticipating that she’ll get really sick again this time so I’ve brought her up to about a 6, the heaviest I’ve ever let her get. She’s about 29 lb now and she looks weird and bad to me.)

News on the home front: Clue is taking her sweet time. She’s beginning to get super affectionate and mushy with the other dogs, and spends long minutes carefully grooming Friday and Juno. She’s not very enthused about Bramble yet; she is flagging but I have learned to completely ignore that as a signal for her, the hussy. She still barely looks in heat, so I am guessing she won’t really do much until next week. Last time we bred her days 16, 17, 19, 20 and the 19 was the magic one. If that holds true this time I will ONCE MORE be shipping semen over a weekend. Geez. If you want convenience, don’t breed dogs!

General

$135 for Hartford!

Just wanted to send a public thanks for the note I got in my mailbox today and for the PayPal donation. Husband has been prepped, crate is set up. I am guessing we’ll go down after we do the breeding; things will probably get very complicated here next week and I want that out of the way. Getting a dog typically takes two trips, one to pick out the dog and one to pick him or her up when the quarantine period is over. If I can get a dog whose time is already up, which is what I’d prefer, it’ll be just one trip (that’s what we did for Sparky and Wilson). For Ginny we made the two trips, since I had put my name on her because I couldn’t stand to walk away, but had told them to only call me if she was still needy at the end of her ten days. She was, and we went back down, and best decision ever and all that.

Here’s the link for those who want to keep track of which dogs are available. The list will typically change every couple of days; the ACO down there is AMAZING about getting dogs out before their time is up. Despite the fact that the dogs are euthanized in ten days, Hartford manages about a 90% adoption rate. A lot of that is thanks to the fact that dogs can be pulled for $5 and fostered, which is what we’ll be doing. There’s a huge network of smaller dedicated rescues and individuals that keep an eye on the shelter and grab dogs whenever possible. I’m very privileged to be a tiny part of that.