Monthly Archives

January 2013

Responsible Breeding

Cardigan puppy socialization

If you look at the Cardigan breed across the entire world, let’s be honest with ourselves. They’re a spooky, shy mess. They can’t stand still on the table, they flinch when you reach for them, they hide in corners when you walk in the room. They get a panicked note in their barking when they see strangers.

I believe, ONE HUNDRED MILLION PERCENT, that this is NOT genetic. I believe it’s because most Cardigan breeders don’t socialize their puppies the way you have to socialize a super smart, sensitive, incredibly intuitive, vibey herding dog like a Cardigan.

Socialization has never been preached in the Cardigan world the way it has been in other breeds. Maybe it’s because they’re more rare, or because they’re small enough that a spooky one can be safely managed at home without hurting people. Whatever it is, I see far too many entire litters of puppies kept in ex pens in the corner of the kitchen until they’re five months old and the breeder finally decides to get one or two of them out. There might be a flurry of activity in the week around the puppy party/evals, but after that the puppies meet nobody except family for weeks and weeks on end.

OK – here’s how it should be done, based on every scrap of evidence and data on behavioral success:

Read this link. Now read this link (Chapter 3 is the one I am talking about – the whole thing is well worth reading, but the section that basically addresses “How your breeder should have raised your puppy” is the most important for this discussion).

From the first:

…socialization with an average of 100 different people, of all ages, sizes and shapes, before they go home… daily woods walks from six weeks on… beach walks… swimming…

From the second:

How to Select a Good Puppy
Your prospective puppy should feel thoroughly at ease being
handled by strangers—you and your family. The puppy should
be fully desensitized to sounds before he is four weeks old.
Likewise, his housetraining program should be well underway,
his favorite toy should be a chewtoy (stuffed with puppy chow),
and he should happily and eagerly come, follow, sit, lie down,
and roll over when requested. If these are not so, either your
puppy is a slow learner or he has had a poor teacher. In either
case, look elsewhere.
An essential ingredient of puppy husbandry is regular (several
times a day) handling, gentling, and calming by a wide variety of
people, especially children, men, and strangers. These exercises
are especially important during the early weeks and especially
with those breeds that are notoriously tricky when handled by
strangers—that is, several Asian breeds, plus many herding,
working, and terrier breeds: in other words, most breeds of dog!
The second most important quality in any dog is that he enjoys
interacting with people, and specifically that he enjoys being
handled by all people, especially children, men, and strangers.
Early socialization easily prevents serious adult problems.
Please remember, the single most important quality for a dog
is to develop bite inhibition and a soft mouth during puppyhood.

I have done the above programs for all of my Cardigan litters so far (I did it with the Danes before that). IT IS A FULL-TIME JOB. I am not exaggerating; I found it completely incompatible with working. In my last litter, a family situation kept me from having people come visit puppies. I had to bring every single puppy out with me and find 100 people before they were eight weeks old. I did it (thank God for the holidays), but it about killed me.

It’s also impossible to do solo, once the puppies hit eight weeks and should be experiencing all the things by themselves rather than with their litter. It is killer difficult to find a hundred people – there’s no way you can find four hundred. You’ve GOT to get the puppies out of your home and into new homes or socialization placements (Amanda, Brittany, Bri, and the others, you know how much I adore you).

I cannot do it well and be a great show breeder. I’m third-tier at best and I’ll never be above that. Cardigans cannot be well evaluated at 8 weeks because of the weird growth of a dwarfed dog and because fronts and turnout will fool you. There’s no reliable “puppy puzzle” type eval for Cardigans. You get some idea at 8 weeks, more at 12, and the final decision might be made at six to twelve months. If you get them out the door, you can’t keep them long enough to evaluate a bunch and keep only the one who is going to go great guns in the ring.

But, I would strongly argue, our ambition to be better show breeders MUST take a back seat to this need. There’s nothing wrong with our dogs; it’s our fault that they have this reputation. When are we going to have as much peer pressure to socialize and consistently produce friendly, confident dogs as we do to finish our dogs in the ring? Because until we do, we’re not going to shake this, and it’s bad for our dogs. They don’t live as happy life as they should if they’re meeting every activity with an immediate fear reaction. If it has to be an either-or choice, either socialize well or consistently succeed in the breed/group/BIS ring, which is our responsibility?

Responsible Breeding

How short for dog toenails?

I asked this on Facebook, but I am going to ask here as well because I would love to get opinions.

I usually tell puppy buyers to keep puppy nails “hidden in the hair,” meaning that no part of the nail shows when the dog is standing normally. Cardigans are so vulnerable to their feet getting flattened and turned out (and nails are a big part of that) that I am super careful about length.

But recently I began to wonder if I was saying the right thing, or putting it correctly. After all, there are some that have very fluffy feet and some whose owners think that as long as some part of the nail is hidden it’s OK. What’s the best way you’ve been able to impress on your owners that nails MUST stay short?

Responsible Breeding

Is the dog fancy at a tipping point?

Meriscan 1

This blog post is making the rounds, and is being passed along from person to person on Facebook and so on. It makes some good points, and has some decent advice, but I think the attitude is totally wrong. COMPLETELY. Because it’s one more post talking about how fantastic we all are and how we’re being victimized by the evil animal rights movement that doesn’t understand us and they’ve turned the public against us.

Dude, the public understands us a little better than anybody would like to admit. And when (or if) the dog fancy goes toes-up in twenty years, the fingerprints on the knife will be OURS. So is the dog fancy at a tipping point? Absolutely. The problem is, most dog breeders are standing on the heavy end screaming at the people trying to cling to the light end that they’re abandoning the cause.

Let’s look in the mirror, people.

1) We’re insufferable snobs.

The last time somebody showed you their new puppy, that little yellowish beagle mix, did you feel, with every bit of your heart, the squeee of happiness that you’d feel if somebody showed you the offspring of two BISS winners?

You know you didn’t. Now why?

Don’t say “Because I’m so concerned about health.” PLEASE. That beagle mix is going to live longer than virtually 100% of show-bred Goldens, going to have a lower chance of autoimmune disorders than any show-bred Portuguese Water Dog, going to have better back health than my Cardigans.

Don’t say “Because I’m worried about the breeder not being a good person.” You know perfectly well that you hate Sharon’s GUTS and think she should BURN on some VOLCANIC ACID and she pimps out her stud dogs like a NUTCASE and you wouldn’t ask her for water in a DESERT. At least that’s what you told your friend ringside last week.

Heck, we’re so terrible that the last time you paged down your Facebook feed, you saw a beautifully bred bitch puppy with a white face (or substitute any mismark or cosmetic “automatic pet” thing that works for your breed), and you said in your heart, “Oh well, too bad.”

You, my friend, are holding a bag you got in a special advance advance lookbook show at Hermes, after which you side-hugged Esteban and both of you made happy little mouth shapes at the new lining this year; isn’t it wonderful what L. is up to this season? … and, right now, while your fingers are sliding just a bit up and down the stitching, somebody just showed you a Walmart clutch and asked you to say nice things about it. Or you see somebody holding an “irregular.”

We’re AWFUL. We need to stop loving our incestuous little group of perfect dogs and JUST FRELLING LOVE DOGS. We can still own dogs, still show them, still breed them. Go to Hermes and bring home the bag that your heart dreams of. But for pete’s sake, high-five somebody who has a different bag. Talk about how fantastic it is that dogs exist, their great souls, their beauty. Tell that person that you’re picking them up next week so they can visit Rally class. Tell them that  there’s a tracking club in the county. Help them feel their baby’s belly and write down the right worming medication. Give them your business card and tell them to call you anytime. And if you feel tempted to point out to them even one single thing that’s “wrong” with their puppy, SHUT IT.  If you can keep it shut for a full year, I guarantee you’ll see that owner in the vet’s office and her puppy will be neutered and she’ll be planning her next puppy (probably from you). But don’t just do it because it’s good for the fancy – shut the heck up because you have no right to disvalue her dog. You’d go in a cage match to defend your BISS winner’s honor – give her the same respect.

2) We hate science.

We HATE IT. We are the worst set of knowledge-phobic fundamentalist crackpots you’re ever like to meet.

The basic attitude of the entire dog fancy is that if it was current science in 1890, it’s still acceptable now. Anything else must be thrown out because it threatens our ability to breed dogs.

So Dogsteps? Fabulous. Still called “cutting edge,” 130 years after the technology of gait analysis was developed. Freaky German breeding legends like male-line grandfathers to granddaughters being great breedings? Eaten with a spoon. Color genetics? Don’t upset me with facts; I only believe what I was told. Hip dysplasia beyond the OFA view? Fingers in the ears. Population ecology? How dare you even mention the word.

I’ve never had people get as frothing-mouth furious at me as when I post a peer-reviewed study reference. I honestly think I could put up a picture of me naked and eating a live rabbit and I would not get the total and utter fury I get when I DARE to say that scientists have been looking at this over and over and over again for the last 40 years and every single study says we’re wrong.

WE MUST HAVE THE COURAGE TO BE RESPONSIBLE TO THE TRUTH. We are being absolutely ridiculously asinine about this. It is NOT going to hurt our ability to breed good dogs to say that we have stuff to learn from research. All it’s going to do is HELP US. We won’t waste so many breedings, we will create dogs that live longer and healthier, we will have happier and longer relationships with our owners.

3) We hate each other.

Oh my GOSH do we hate each other. The behavior I’ve seen this year in terms of personal attacks and even outright threats in public forums (not even mentioning private ones) is horrifying. I’m not going to take any more time explaining this one, because any dog breeder reading this should know what I am talking about. If the dog fancy spent even one percent of the time in public outreach that it spends trying to insinuate without ever mentioning her name that Judy’s dogs produce bad underjaws, we’d be the most beloved group in the US.

4) We’ve kept breeding dogs a rich man’s game.

Everybody in the dog world except show breeders understands how wrong this is. That’s why dog parks, dog playdates, dog coats and clothes, groomers, and a hundred other facets are thriving, while we’re dying and withering and growing old and fat. Everybody I know spends more on their dogs than I do, and everybody that I know spends less on their dogs than I do. I can’t buy the cute coats, the new beds, the nice crates every year… because a single show weekend costs so much that one more time, the bed goes in the wash instead of in the trash. Think about every breeder you know – most are close to penniless. Most show crates are rusty. They skimp on dog food and buy the crap stuff so they can enter next weekend. Meanwhile, their town just effortlessly raised two million dollars to make a dog park, and every vendor in town will be there with samples.

This is utterly upside-down and backwards. Dog shows began as a hobby for the idle rich or gentleman farmers who were selling pet puppies to an eager middle class. If you want to build an organization on that assumption (and we did, and we named it AKC), fine, but it needs to change when the breeders are now the middle class and the pet buyers are invariably better off. The AKC is convinced the solution is to make us pay MORE – make us Breeders of Merit if we promise to register every puppy. Give us new titles and new shows so we will enter more. Is that the right way? Or are we going to continue to shrivel?

Here’s the end of my story:

I am the person who sighs at the white-headed bitch.

I am the person who barely manages to smile at the beagle puppy. Of course I am.

But I am going to try like all-frelling HELL to stop being that person. I want my fingerprints off the knife.


Happy 2013

Hello, my friends!

I know the blog has been woeful for 2012, but that’s honestly fine with me. 2012 can BITE ME ON THE WEEN. It was an incredibly sucktastic year and I am not sorry to see it go.

Let’s do a roundup-slash-Christmas-letter, and then I am going to leave aught-twelve behind like a bad habit.

Doug is still looking for work (he was laid off at the end of October, after 14 years at the same company), but we’re very hopeful and we’re working hard on getting him a new career direction.

I started a new job in September – I’ve always worked, and always worked full-time, but I’ve freelanced. This is my first job away from the family in many years. This has been a huge transition for our family and WOW was I exhausted for the first three months. It’s a REALLY REALLY good thing, though. I had forgotten what it was like to have weekends and sick days and vacations, a steady and predictable paycheck, and (bless God) health insurance.

Meriwether is a sophomore in high school, still homeschooled (as she has been for all her schooling). She’s the nicest teenager in the world, except when you tell her that she has to stop writing and get going on her algebra.

Honour is a freshman in high school, also homeschooled. She had a pretty heroically awful year as well, which is sort of a best-not-talked-about thing, but things are looking MUCH better for this year.

Tabitha turned eight this year. She and Honour form the team of awesomeness known as “the Reds” (for their hair) and are best friends.

Zuzu turned five and started to listen to the good angel on her shoulder at least a bit more than the bad one. I hope. There are still days… She still hates clothes, loves messes, and protects her spot in the family with fierceness.

OK – the ones you are actually here to find out about: DOGS!

CLUE: Will be a veteran this June. Can you believe it? She’s amazing. Still looks like a six-month-old puppy and acts like one too. She’s spayed and retired, though we may bring her out for some Veterans Sweeps.

DAISY POPPY: Retired and loving it. Oh my gosh, LOVING IT. Our sweet house dog who never goes outside except to use the bathroom and who is horrified by the craziness in the dog yard.

FRIDAY: Still gorgeous in every way. We tried to breed her in 2012 via chilled AI and she didn’t conceive; we’re going to give her another try this year naturally and hope it works better.

Juno: Clue’s daughter with Ch. Pecan Valley Draco. Gave us a beautiful litter of five in 2012, a litter where I made good on my promise to not announce litters. I loved the whole experience and plan to continue it. She’s now done with her job and is retiring.

Milo: Daisy Poppy’s gorgeous son, who we retained here with the goal of him being our next show/breeding prospect. Unfortunately when we did his prelim hip x-rays we decided that was not going to be his destiny. He’s on his way to an amazing family to be trained as a service dog, which I am so, so happy about.

Sammy: Honour’s Tibetan Spaniel service dog. The last crappy event of 2012 was finding out that she had nail bed cancer (a type of bone cancer) in one back toe. Thankfully she should be fine; I’ll update as soon as she has her surgery to remove that toe. Sammy was already in semi-retirement and, depending on how the surgery and recovery go, may need to move to full retirement (or, if a miracle happens, may come out of retirement a bit).

Godric: Honour’s Papillon service dog in training. We’re making the very painful decision to career-change Godric. He is a flawless SDIT who can be command-trained to do anything, and who will happily work all day long… who doesn’t want to independently alert to Honour’s metabolic or emotional needs. We’re considering a different service home where he can work with adults (he alerts to MY mood changes, the goof, but he is not concerned about Honour’s) or we may change him to a family dog either here or elsewhere. Stay tuned.

Bramble: Our Jack Russell – Dachshund rescue. Still THE WORST DOG IN THE WORLD. Happily awful and cuddly and hilarious. I can’t believe he’s been here for almost five years.

That means I get to introduce the newbie: SONY DSC SONY DSC SONY DSC

This is Rory (Blacksheep Wolfwood Heavens to Murgatroyd), Juno’s daughter and the first red ever born at our house. She’s Honour’s new service dog prospect; Honour was willing to try another Cardigan and she and this baby have bonded very tightly. I have high hopes that she’ll work; Rory is VERY bossy, very verbal, and is already insisting that Honour go to bed on time and that she sit and lie down when she gets stressed. These pics are a few weeks old, but they’re all you’re getting for a little while because she got UNBELIEVABLY UGLY. She’s about three feet tall and all easty-westy legs and ears right now and I have to keep reminding myself that she’s not my show puppy and it’s none of my concern if she doesn’t “turn out.” I really hope she does, though, because she did get (and has kept) the head and neck that I’ve been reaching for and working toward. I’d be willing to accept a little leg if she can consistently give me that :).

If you look at the list above, it should be obvious that if I want to keep breeding and showing we’re in for a huge transition year. We plan to bring in at least one show prospect puppy if Doug gets a job, and of course we’re going to be praying hard that Friday can conceive. Thankfully, I am not alone in this; one of the few really good things that happened in 2012 was that Sarah (Wolfwood) and Addy (Squirrel Ridge) and I have teamed up this year to expand our prospects and combine efforts. I also have a couple of amazing co-owners who will be bringing out puppies this year as part of the team. Being part of a like-minded group instead of trying to continue to make a go of it all by myself been an enormous, enormous blessing.

That’s it for the moment, and let’s send 2012 off with the giant raspberry it deserves.