Puppy fever!

You may have puppy fever if you

– Check your favorite breeder’s whelping box page every morning. And every afternoon. And sometimes you refresh it three times in a row in case the breeder has just happened to update it with a fabulous new litter in the four seconds since you last refreshed it.

– Visit every other breeder’s website. Think hard about whether that anticipated litter would be what you want. Close the window. Open the window back up again. Measure the dam’s shoulder angle with your fingers. Shake your head. Close the window. Open the window back up again. Repeat across at least fifteen websites.

– Curse every breeder who does not have a blog and therefore does not give you the instant, daily updates that you crave. Consider offering to build a blog for your favorite breeders. Consider locking your favorite breeders in a closet until they do the breeding you believe to be crucial to your lifelong happiness.

– Obsess over the idea that somewhere there is a breeder who has never made her presence known on the web, but has an entire yard full of amazing dogs who are just waiting to hop into your arms. Tell yourself that this breeder probably doesn’t even know what she’s got. Spend hours poring over Nationals results and cross-referencing with the AKC store site to see if you can find an unknown but unneutered gorgeous brother of that BOS winner living in the next town over.

– Happen to step into your pet supply place when you are stopping to get pizza. Hang out in the collar and leash aisle wondering if bright pink or baby blue is prettier, and then spend 30 minutes reading labels over in the food section, just in case a new dog can’t tolerate what the others are eating. On your way out, swing by your trainer’s facility and read the schedule for puppy kindergarten.

– Know instantly what your puppy’s first show weekend would be if he was born right this second. Be able to adjust by two or three months in either direction without having to think too hard.

– Work complex mathematical algorithms involving which gender and color would be the best to add to the pack. These must involve plans of at least two or three generations in the future.

– Make wild plans to buy three puppies at once. Scrap them. Make wild plans to buy two puppies at once. Scrap them. Make wild plans to buy one puppy and add five additional kennel spaces for all the flawless keeper puppies that will be born from the amazing pairings you will make with your puppy.

– Realize that you haven’t checked the breed club’s breeder referral page in the last three days. Leap to do so. Sigh in frustration when there are no new breeders listed, or squeak with glee when there’s a new one and immediately add them to your cyber-stalking list.

– Go into a restaurant and, when you are asked if you want a table or a booth, you think “Booth… that’s a pretty good name for a puppy. Kennelname Phantom Tollbooth. OH MY GOSH IT’S GENIUS. BIS, multi BISS, MACH Kennelname’s Phantom Tollbooth, CDX, RAE. I can hardly wait for the parade of champions!” Hardly notice what you’re eating because you’re doodling rosettes on your napkin. Absentmindedly order liver as a side dish.

And you may REALLY REALLY REALLY have puppy fever if you…

– Are completely jazzed because you got to be “there” (at least via gmail chat) when Lizzie had her first puppy. Congratulations, Lizard, because this is going to be an amazing litter. And thank you for letting me have a little piece of that joy.

Videos and DVDs for new dog owners – what do you like?

Please DON’T stop commenting on the leasing post, because I am definitely still looking for information, but I want to help Bethany out.

Hi Joanna, this is off topic, but i am wondering if you have any good videos you could recommend to a future (pet) dog owner (that would be me. :) ) I suddenly have a lot of time on my hands due to a back injury. Thanks! ~B

First of all, OUCH! I am so sorry.

Second, I am going to ask the Internets to help with this one because I know a few but I do NOT know all.

The one that I have watched that’s a sort of a Puppy Kindergarten in a box is Jean Donaldson’s Perfect Paws in Five Days. It’s the stupidest name ever because it is NOT five days. It’s more like five or six weeks. But I guess they wanted to say that the five days equals the five puppy kindergarten meetings that you attend with your puppy (the first one is usually just you). Anyway, a good introduction to teaching basic puppy manners.

I like Sirius Puppy Training Redux by Ian Dunbar as well. Especially good is the idea of rewarding the dog and then letting it go again, so the puppy does not think that coming to you means the end of play. When a trainer told me this I noticed a huge benefit in terms of the recall obedience of my own dogs.

One note on these: Donaldson and Dunbar train in a very specific way, and the people who are passionate about that type of training will tell you that there’s NO OTHER WAY TO DO IT AND EVERYONE ELSE IS CRAZY AND ABUSIVE and a lot of other all-caps.

I totally disagree.

I think that you can be a GREAT trainer and use many different methods. Personally, I wouldn’t know how to raise a puppy without having a clear negative signal for when the dog is failing, and I do use (gentle) physical aversives. But I do use tons and tons of treats and positive methods and shaping methods for training specific behaviors. So while I love Dunbar and Donaldson’s methods for puppies and I want any puppy K class I attend to be very similar to one of their classes, I find it much more effective to train house and kid manners in more of a classical “no,” “off,” “What are you, crazy? We don’t let dogs on the counters” method.

The way I do it is not the only way or the right way for you. The important thing is for YOU to find a method or combination of methods that work to get your dog happy and stable and obedient.

So I would also recommend that you watch The Dog Whisperer, but NOT for Cesar’s corrective methods. He’s a good dog person but most people can’t do the leash corrections well. Watch it for his emphasize on exercise, for his body language, for the way the show demonstrates good dog-to-dog communication.

Also see if you can find Monks of New Skete books and DVDs; again what you’re looking for is those aspects of the method that you can see working for you. If you say “Oh, yes, I totally understand that and of course it works,” that’s something you can probably implement in your own life pretty well.

The only trainer in public view I really can’t stand is Victoria Stillwell (It’s Me or the Dog). WOW. She’s the kind of trainer who gets dogs euthanized. I’m watching her “assess” a big bully-breed puppy right and she’s freaking out because the dog has chewed on stuff, and she’s talking about how a dog who chews on furniture is going to bite people. That is nonsensical, wrong, and completely idiotic. It’s like saying that a baby who breastfeeds is going to grow up to suck people’s brains. TOTALLY different instinct and totally different needs. The puppy is just critically underexercised, needs appropriate chew toys, and needs somebody to tell him what he should do. She’s also HUGELY anti-breeding, talks about a desire to breed dogs as though the owner has basically announced that she’s going to go out and knife someone, and blames every problem on an intact dog’s testicles. I could go on and on (she’s anti-crating, she can’t read dog body language for beans) but suffice it to say that I start yelling at the screen every time I watch the show.

Moving away from training, Turid Rugaas’s DVD on dog calming signals is amazing. I know that there’s some controversy in the highest circles of dog behavior as to whether what she’s capturing is a deliberate signal or not, and a few other nit-picky things, but the fact is that she TOTALLY changed the way we look at dog behavior and she absolutely changed my life with dogs.

Rugaas helps us correct this:


It’s a huge moment when you realize that dogs have been talking ALL ALONG, have a rich and deep language and are having “conversations” ALL THE TIME, with us and with other dogs. We’ve just been too oriented on verbalizing or on our own primate-oriented behaviors to notice.

My final recommendation is a program that Animal Planet sometimes shows, called Wolf Within. If you have TiVo or a DVR, search for it periodically; it’s a good one.

OK! That’s my little list of recommendations for new owners; I own more that’s what you’d call “advanced,” but I never had tons of titles. I am hoping LOTS more recommendations come in so I can build my library as well.

Mini comment roundup, featuring Leptospirosis vaccination, Orijen, splenectomies in dogs, and a really crazy dog-washing box

OK, I totally know how much I have sucked lately at answering comments. I am REALLY SORRY. I have no excuse; I get behind and overwhelmed with them and then I hide in a corner under a box with my fingers in my ears and pretend they don’t exist. 

But these two can’t go unanswered:

1) can you please give me ammo on why not to use lepto (here in NH)? And any of the other needless vaccines that vets promote? A friend just lost her adored 8yrRidgeback (benign spleen removal, died 24 hrs after. clinic error possibly part of it) and will get a puppy someday and I want to expose her to the latest in vaccine protocol options). She feeds raw.
Also – why did you choose Orijen? I like it, still feed raw, but keep grain-free kibbles on hand for treats and bribes and I- forgot- to- thaw lapses. There are quite a few grain-free now which is great, if the great american public would only pay attention, but it’s hard to figure the best. I heard that Wellness (Core) got sold so am suspicious. I always apprieciate your knowledge & candor.
Have you had any spleen experience? My Tuza (RR) lost hers last year, is fine, after some on-going slightly mysterious off & on symptoms. And the sire of the dog that died lost his last year and is fine. Sre splenectomies epidemic??? I’m sending out heads ups to other related puppy buyers.
When is your ETA for new house? You must be so excited at the thought!!!!
All the best -Sandra

On this very special episode of Blossom, Joanna gets to answer questions from Sandra, who is one of my fave dog people of all time and who knows more about dogs than most DOGS do. So this is quite a moment ;).

OK, first, Lepto. Lepto is honestly one of the ways I choose my vets: If a vet gets red in the face and starts talking about the fact that every dog needs lepto vaccines and how it’s our duty to protect our dogs against this terrible disease and how a puppy they saw six months ago died of Lepto, the chances I will re-book an appointment are about zero. Lepto is a disease we have PLENTY of information about, and vets have no excuse for not knowing their stuff.

Leptospirosis itself is a very icky disease. There is no question about that. I am not someone who thinks that dogs should just be allowed to get sick and get over it because that’ll help their immune systems or something; if one of my dogs was diagnosed with advanced Lepto I would go into an incredible freak-out panic and she’d be at Tufts in ICU before you could spit. Lepto tends to attack the liver and kidneys and if it is not caught in time it can be deadly. Fortunately, it is treatable with antibiotics, but the disease is rare enough that even very good vets can miss it and it can get very advanced before it’s treated. 

The nastiness of Lepto is what makes vets insist on vaccinating for it. They’ll tell you that you need to do this for the sake of the dog, just like we do shots for distemper or parvovirus. But Lepto is NOT a virus, and that’s why the vaccination picture is so unclear. It’s a bacteria. It’s actually a spirochete, which is a long skinny bacteria shaped like a twirly candy cane. Unfortunately, it’s not very sweet in what it does. 

Vaccinations against viruses are something doctors and scientists have figured out how to do REALLY well. As long as the virus is relatively stable, they can knock out a very effective, often life-long, vaccine in a few months or even weeks. Even for viruses that change frequently, like flu, they can do a surprisingly decent job of creating a rotating vaccine series. 

Viruses for bacteria are MUCH, MUCH harder to create. Bacteria are easy to kill, hard to vaccinate against. This has to do with factors that would require me to go back into my notes from Cell Biology and Immunology, and those notes THANKFULLY burned up (one of the few things I’m glad are gone, so they don’t stare at me from the shelf and mutely accuse me of things relating to the fact that my degree is currently being used to wipe dogs’ feet at the door), so I am going to condense it into “It’s really tricky and prone to failure whenever you try to vaccinate for a bacteria.”

And, frustratingly, even when you do come up with a decent bacterial vaccine, it only works for a few months. In the case of Leptospirosis, the vaccine definitely lasts under 12 months, possibly under six.

So that’s the first problem: The vaccine only works for a few months.

Second, and this is one of the other problems with bacteria, there are lots of strains of Lepto, and the current vaccines lag behind what’s actually causing outbreaks.

Outbreaks of disease tend to play leapfrog with vaccinations. What often happens is that there will be a Big Bad Situation, and into that outbreak will come our heroes, immunologists with red spandex suits and “I” on their chests. They’ll test a bunch of dogs, find that strains A and B of the Big Bad disease are causing it, and spend years developing a good vaccine against A and B. They fly back in, vaccinate a ton of dogs, and A and B will largely disappear from the population.


But… with the absence of A and B, strains C and D have lots of room to stretch their legs and have a dance party. And before you know it there’s another outbreak, this time of C and D.

Back fly our heroes, test the dogs, develop a vaccine, and everybody gets vaccinated for C and D.

Which… you guessed it… leaves room for A and B to come roaring back.

This tends to happen over a timeframe of several decades. And eventually somebody creates a vaccine with A, B, C, AND D in it, which will be hailed as a breakthrough and given to everybody, and all will be well, until a few resistant A bacteria mutate into E and F.

Where we are at with Lepto right now, as I understand what I am reading, is the recurrence of A and B, which had not been seen for years. All vaccines except some of the Fort Dodge lepto vaxes are currently only for C and D. Fort Dodge has ABCD, so that’s the only one anyone can currently recommend, except for…

The third major problem with Lepto vaccines, which are that they are associated with a TON of side effects.

Lepto vaccines have killed thousands, probably hundreds of thousands, of puppies across the country. Severe reactions are seen most often in the toy breeds but nobody’s safe. The vaccine is strongly associated with anaphylaxis (a severe and fatal allergic reaction) and you can lose whole litters to it. It’s not great for adults either but they seem to be able to tolerate it at least marginally better.

The fourth problem with Lepto vaccine is not actually a problem; it’s a good thing. And that is that Leptospirosis is a rare disease and the majority of the country has zero cases per year.

The upshot of the whole thing is this:

If you are in a state that has a current Lepto problem, and your dogs are likely to be exposed  (Lepto is spread in rat urine, and some dogs are just simply never going to encounter that), the only “right” way to vaccinate is AFTER 12 weeks at an absolute minimum, using a vaccine with ALL FOUR STRAINS, and repeating EVERY SIX MONTHS. 

Has any vet ever told you that you should use a different brand? Anbody ever told you that you’d have to come back in six months for a Lepto booster? Nobody’s ever told me that. They just push the super-combo vaccine, without telling me that the Lepto they’d be giving would be largely ineffective right off the bat and would be totally ineffective in a few months. 

Bottom line: Vaccine protection against Lepto is an illusion AND it’s dangerous for your dog. If you are genuinely concerned about it and are willing to risk the vaccine, you will need to be your dog’s own best advocate and insist on frequent re-vaccination and on brand selection for all four strains.

Personally, even though there IS Lepto in Massachusetts, I won’t vaccinate for it. I keep the disease in the back of my mind and I know the symptoms (vomiting, fever, jaundice, kidney function decline). In the same way that because I live here I am very, very quick to suspect tick-borne disease, I would also be quick to ask for a Lepto test if I had a hot and vomiting dog. 

Moving on to Orijen: I have a better selection of foods around here than most, but there are still some I can’t get. I have relatively easy access to Nature’s Variety Instinct, Orijen, Taste of the Wild, Wellness CORE, By Nature canned, Solid Gold Barking at the Moon, and B.G. (Before Grain). I can’t get EVO, the new Canidae grain-free, Artemis, Acana, and some of the others. 

I rejected Taste of the Wild and By Nature simply because I don’t like their parent companies – Taste of the Wild is made by Diamond and By Nature is made by Blue Seal.

I tried Solid Gold Barking at the Moon and Clue seemed to react badly to it; my best guess is that she can’t tolerate the high proportion of potato. So that knocked off Solid Gold, B.G. (which has both white and sweet potato very high in the ingredients list), and Nature’s Variety Instinct (which doesn’t have potato but uses TONS of tapioca which is also a root starch).

That left me with Wellness CORE and Orijen. I just happened to grab the Orijen first and I’ve been very pleased with it and so I haven’t even tried the CORE yet. I think CORE is a good food and I really like the fact that they don’t want you to feed it to growing puppies. Most of the other brands are like “Sure! Feed it to anyone!” and it’s VERY hard to feed a growing puppy correctly if you’re going grain-free. The foods are so nutrient-dense that they can very easily cause growth that is too fast; in order to keep a puppy appropriately ribby and slow-growing you have to feed such tiny amounts that the puppy is going to feel starving all the time. I’d only feed a puppy a true raw diet, not a gain-free kibble.

I will say that I think the feeding recommendations on Orijen are insane. I’m feeding literally a FOURTH of what is recommended for adult dogs my dogs’ sizes, and Clue is already getting too fat. Ginny is a picky enough eater that she’s not fat, but she’s definitely more padded than she’s EVER been. I have had Bronte up at the recommended amount and she’s putting on 1-2 lb per week. Which for a dog who should be 35-ish pounds is a LOT. She still needs a couple of pounds but I can already see that I’ll have to cut her way back within a few weeks. 

Spleens: Sterling and I actually talked about this a few years ago and yes, I do think you are on to something. I’ve heard of far too many dogs with splenic torsions and blood disorders that end up getting splenectomies. The Dane I bred and sold whose owners lost him to immune-mediated hemolytic anemia should have had his spleen removed but he died; the vet dropped the ball on that one in a pretty major way and the owners were already thousands deep thanks to improper diagnoses and I didn’t want to push any harder than I already was for them to get ultrasounds and go in for surgery. But I still think he maybe could have made it if they had checked and probably removed the spleen. 

I am not sure if we’re seeing MORE spleen things or if it’s that animal medicine and owner expectations are catching up with human medicine and expectations. Used to be that a dog would just look poorly for a few days and then die; dogs died all the time so nobody thought too much of it. Now we are very unprepared to accept that and we push very hard for diagnostics, and we are supported in that by animal ultrasound centers and referral surgeons and so on. There’s no question that I’m hearing a lot more about immune-mediated and autoimmune EVERYTHING lately (Addisons, Cushings, IMHA, thyroiditis, etc.), but I honestly can’t say if that’s a sign that the diseases are increasing or that our awareness of them is increasing. 

But yes, I would definitely say that I’m uncomfortable with the fact that it seems like so many dogs are losing body parts on a routine basis. 

HOUSE: The downstairs is gutted and the electric is done. Most of the plumbing is done. Insulation was supposedly done yesterday and drywall will go in over the next week. We’ve encountered the usual difficulties with subcontractors (why are they so crazy? Is it like a requirement of being a subcontractor that you FORGET THAT YOU HAD TO PULL A PERMIT or that you SIT IN YOUR VAN ALL DAY SMOKING and then bill us for it?) but our general contractor is a great guy with an extremely high level of moral indignation – he figures that if he’s working like a dog there’s no way he’s going to tolerate anyone else slacking off – so the bad ones have been tattled on and replaced and I think we’re honestly doing very well. 

Once the major stuff is done, the work will slow down dramatically as the detail work (mud and tape, sanding, painting, an enormous amount of powerwashing, floors and doors and windows and so on) is done and the fixtures go in. We also have the major hurdle of money; when the job is 50% done we have to have a bank inspector come out and verify that it’s been completed and then release the next half of the building money. Our experience thus far has been that the gap between approval and actually getting the check is between three and four weeks. Our contractor can go into the hole to a certain extent if he knows he’ll eventually get paid, but if it goes over about ten or fifteen thousand (and we’re already at about three or four grand) he’s going to stop working. So we’re still thinking September 1 as a best-case scenario and September 15 or October 1 as worst-case. 

The VERY good news is that there’s been minimal disaster-findage. We really didn’t know what was going to be behind the walls, above the ceilings, etc. A true nightmare, for example, would have been termite or ant damage, because we’d HAVE to fix it and the insurance company wouldn’t have done anything for us. Ditto for existing rot or foundation damage. So the fact that none of those things has been discovered has been really a great blessing. We’re beginning to have at least a little bit of hope that we’ll come in relatively close to budget, which leaves nothing in our pockets but at least we’re not having to go around and beg for more money.

The dogs should be in there long before the humans are – as soon as the kennel room is up and functional (in another couple of weeks, we hope) they’ll be over there most days so they can get some exercise and sunlight and schmooze the carpenters. I’ll be over there too, acting as the painting subcontractor once the mudding and taping is all done. It won’t save us any money, because we’ll be paying me (and losing my freelancing income) but I like painting and I’ll be out of my mind with happiness to get out of this tiny shoebox charming apartment.


Erin wrote:

I totally thought of you when I saw this. I love perusing Time’s photos sometimes when I’m looking for inspiration. I wish I could find the story behind it because it looks, um… iffy as it is.


which is this photo:


And yes, I DO know what’s going on in the pic. Come ON. I KNOW EVERYTHING.


Is a video of the strange box with the sudsy dog, and it’s just as bizarre as it sounds.

I guess if you want to spend $20 to have your dog sprayed with a soapy hose and then rinsed for thirty seconds (!) more power to you, but (as should now be obvious) I don’t think it’s a great grooming job. You can do a lot better by yourself and I think a normal bath-and-blow-out by a groomer, which will be twice as much but will be sure to actually rinse the dog and includes skin-out brushing, is a much better value. 

But in terms of hilarious videos… seeing the dog wash guy naked in the machine was worth a lot.

Puppy care shorts: Recommended reading

Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

Oh Behave! by Jean Donaldson

Don’t Shoot the Dog by Karen Pryor

After You Get Your Puppy by Ian Dunbar (free PDF)

When Pigs Fly by Jane Killion

On Talking Terms with Dogs by Turid Rugaas

Canine Body Language by Brenda Aloff

Bones Would Rain from the Sky by Suzanne Clothier

ALL the Clothier articles here – requires registration but totally worth it

Dogs Make Us Human by Temple Grandin


These are all positive-focused. They are the best books to start with as a beginner but they are not the whole story. If you want my honest advice on training, I’d say put away all the actual training books for a few months. Read Rugaas and Aloff’s books on body language and read everything you can get on dog behavior and pack techniques. Dunbar, Donaldson, Pryor are great at teaching about motivation. But if you only read them you will (I am convinced) only get part of the story. You should also read the Monks of New Skete and all the classic ones from trainers long since gone to their reward. Read Bones Would Rain From the Sky. Read Katz. Read books on border collies (not because you’d be teaching herding, but because the best herding training is all about shaping natural and joyful behaviors), and I would very highly recommend reading several books on Schutzhund. Even if you own a beagle or a maltese. Schutzhund researchers understand drive, and how handlers increase, decrease, mishandle, and screw up drive better than anyone else.

You need to read everyone because nobody has the whole story. The pure researchers who focus solely on motivation miss the boat because they are so careful to never attribute any behavior to anything but the self-interest of the animal. For a bonded dog-human pair, that’s like analyzing a marriage and ignoring anything that isn’t the result of self-interest. Dogs DO love, and they DO feel jealousy, and they DO object to inequity, and so on. The behaviorists who determine that no aversive signals can ever be given forget that dogs themselves communicate in aversives. The behaviorists who object to food rewards forget that candy tastes good, and so does liver. And if you want candy you do stuff, and dogs do the same thing.

If you read EVERYBODY, and watch your dog(s) for a long time, you’ll start to build an idea of what’s true. Then you’re ready to go back to actual trainers and throw out what you know is false and keep what you know is true. But above all else, the DOG MUST TEACH YOU. If you are doing anything without the dog “agreeing” with you–if the dog is showing confusion, anger, fear, anxiety, etc.–I don’t care how gold-certified the technique you’re using is; stop it. That’s why I think you must start with the body language books (and videos/dvds if you can get them); you have to know what your dog is communicating before you can continue with the training.

Puppy care shorts: Socialization

The socialization window closes at 12 weeks. From eight to twelve weeks is when the puppy learns what things are happy, friendly, normal, and fun; anything else gets a big “Danger!” sign on it. That means every noise, texture, sight, smell, person, animal, event, and challenge is going to be perceived as a possible threat if they do not encounter it before twelve weeks.

The way you set the puppy up for success in life, and create a dog who approaches every challenge with bright optimism, assumes every person is wonderful, and communicates well with every dog, is to expose him or her SOLO to everything the dog can reasonably expect to encounter in its life. And it MUST be done before 12 weeks. If you have multiple dogs in the household, you need to make sure you’re doing this with the puppy only; older dogs should be left at home when you’re working with the puppy.

Doing this correctly as a new puppy owner is practically a full-time job. Every single day you have to think “Who can I take this dog to see; where can we go; what smells can we smell; what textures can I put under her feet.”

The only place you shouldn’t be taking puppies is high-dog-traffic areas like the floor at the vet’s office, dog parks, and pet supply stores (those should wait until 12 weeks if you’re using Recombitek vaccines – which I strongly recommend – or 14 weeks if you are using normal vaccines). If you don’t know all the dogs on your street, don’t even put her down on the sidewalk. Carry her into houses and schools and so on. But she MUST get out of your home.

So don’t go to the dog beach, but DO go to your aunt and uncle’s beach. Don’t go to the dog park, but DO go to puppy kindergarten or puppy playgroup as long as the instructor requires that every puppy begin vaccines before attending. DO take walks in the woods, in fields, on college quads. DO go to schools, preschools, retirement homes, churches, banks, restaurants, and every other venue you can think of. DO make sure your puppy has met multiple people of every age (dogs cannot generalize, so a two-year-old is a VERY different creature from a seven-year-old and also very different from a teenager), gender, clothing style, facial hair, ethnic group, etc. Seek out sounds – garbage trucks, semis, golf carts, airplanes. Animals – sheep, goats, cows, horses, chickens, geese. Again, remember that dogs cannot generalize. Meeting friendly chickens does not mean that ducks are also safe; ducks are aliens. You need to go after every single species you can find.

Socialization issues are REAL, they are quantifiable, they are often tragic. They are often the result of well-meaning breeders and owners who are worried about disease exposure. But, as one researcher I read said (very wisely), “Parvo kills in a few days, but the behavioral issues caused by lack of socialization will kill them in a few years.” Dead is dead; there’s no “win” there. So you be as cautious as you possibly can be, you avoid dog-trafficked areas, you keep the dog-to-dog contact limited to friendly, vaccinated dogs at home or in a puppy K. And you push the dog socialization VERY hard once the 12- or 14-week shots have been given. You do NOT keep the puppy safe and concealed in the living room with you and your other dogs, unless you want to risk some very nasty behavioral problems.

The undersocialized dog may be OK, perfectly well and happy in your home, where it never encounters anything other than what it has already seen, heard, smelled, and felt before it turned three months old. But if you go to a friend’s house and the doorbell sounds different or the recycling truck is at a different pitch, or the new home has sheep and horses and yours didn’t, that puppy is substantially less able to react to those challenges in optimistic, confident ways. If your puppy sees people he or she doesn’t recognize as safe, that puppy’s fear may lead it to behave in ways that you are very unhappy with (and it is no fun for the puppy either!). If your puppy doesn’t think that other dogs are friendly and want to go meet them, the incidence of poor communication behaviors (in lay terms, fighting or attempting to fight, reactivity, etc.) is going to be much higher.

And remember… You have, AT MOST, four weeks to make this happen. Its importance cannot be overestimated.  

Puppy care shorts: Vaccines


The first and foremost rule is DO NOT allow your vet to bully you into more vaccines. Most vets don’t breed dogs and even fewer raise them naturally. Puppies have a tremendous vulnerability to vaccine damage, as documented by studies, and any vaccines must be carefully considered.

Vaccines are given on the basis of being a) safe and b) effective. How you feel about them depends on how true you feel that statement is. Many vets fall into the totally safe and totally effective camp. Vaccines are believed in to the point of ridiculousness, even when every study on outbreaks of disease show that there are many, many vaccinated people or animals that get the disease (sometimes even to the point of outnumbering the unvaccinated). They also believe that they are totally safe, though it is undeniable that documented side effects are many and serious.

Then of course there are those who are totally anti-vax, who believe that they are neither safe nor effective. However, in this case they are also ignoring evidence, that vaccines prevent some diseases very well, address some others pretty decently, and lessen an outbreak’s effect in most cases.

I tend to fall somewhere in between. What I try to weigh is the chance of a vaccine reaction, either short- or long-term, against the chance of my dogs actually getting the disease, and how serious the effect would be in each case. So, for example, I will not vaccinate for the mild, self-limiting diseases – corona, kennel cough, parainfluenza. I also won’t vaccinate for diseases that the vaccine is largely ineffective for and for which the vaccine is known to be very hard on the puppy with major side effects – leptospirosis and Lyme disease. That, for me, leaves parvo and distemper, adenovirus and rabies. These are the “core vaccines” that every puppy should get.

Your puppy got her first vaccines at 7 weeks. She should get her next shot at 9 to 10 weeks.

She was vaccinated with Galaxy modified live virus (MLV) vaccine. The proper vaccine to use for the next shots is either a similar MLV or (what I prefer) a recombinant vaccine. Recombitek by Merial is my first choice right now. 

Your puppy can either alternate between single shots of parvo and distemper every two weeks, so he will get parvo at 9 and 13 and distemper at 11 and 15 – that means a total of four shots – or you can use the core combo shot (parvo/distemper/adenovirus) at 9 weeks and at 12 or 13 weeks. If you are using Recombitek vaccines, you do not need to keep going after 12 or 13 weeks. If you are using MLV, you may wish to hedge your bets by giving an additional shot at 16 weeks or so.

Then you will wait as long as you possibly can for the rabies. My goal is twelve months. So while I’m not asking you to break the law, I do ask you to wait as long as you can.

After twelve months the immune system is mature. Any vaccinations given after that point should be effective for the life of the dog, so after twelve months you will give one more distemper and one more parvo (or one more core-combo). That’s all the vaccines, aside from rabies, your dog should ever need. If you are pressured to give more combo shots, remember that there is NO shot that is legally mandated except the rabies. Rabies vaccines are the tough ones, of course, since you are supposed to have them done regularly, even though there is NO data to indicate that revaccination is necessary (trust me, I’ve read the studies). Ask your vet if he or she can do a titer test on your dog, an antibody check that measures circulating antibodies to rabies. If the titer is adequate, your vet should write an exemption letter, stating that the dog is immune, and your town hall will accept it. There are also holistic vets who will write exemption letters even without titers—if your vet is uncooperative I will do my best to find you another one. However, you shouldn’t have to worry until the dog is at least two, since the first rabies vaccine is done at age one.

 If your vet wants to know the name or the source of your vaccine protocol, let me know and I will forward you lots of literature. What I recommend is not freaky or odd; it’s the newest best-practice protocol from top (mainstream) vaccine researchers. So don’t be ashamed of sounding weird to your vet – you’re in the right on this one.

Puppy care shorts: Heartworm and worming


Flea/Tick Preventative

If desired, use Frontline or Advantage every four to eight weeks. Four for ticks, eight for fleas. If you are in an area where there are ticks OR where Lyme disease (or anaplasmosis or ehrlichia) is prevalent, make sure to have Frontline (not Advantage) applied BEFORE tick season starts (April) and be faithful until the first hard frost. If there are not ticks or tick-borne diseases in your area, you may not have to ever use flea preventative unless you actually see a flea on your puppy. Do not use anything but Frontline or Advantage without checking with me first. Do not use an over-the-counter product like BioSpot or Zodiac or similar, and do not use ProMeris. We recommend none of the tablets (Sentinel, Program), as the flea or tick must bite the dog before it dies. These products do not prevent tapeworm or flea bite dermatitis (hot spots) the way a direct flea-killer like Frontline does. Revolution works by putting a potent pesticide into the skin and blood, so unless the dog has mites we recommend against its use.

Heartworm Preventative

We do not recommend a year-round heartworm treatment if you are in an area with good hard winters. That is because the medicine in monthly heartworm medications, ivermectin, is chemically harder on the dog’s system than one of the “gentle” wormers like strongid (pyrantel). For that reason, in New England we recommend a heartworm test (which will also screen for Lyme and the other tick-borne diseases, so you should do the test even if you’re not worried about heartworm) in April or May and preventative from May to October or November (the last dose should be given after the first hard killing frost). Before that point and after that point the temperature is too cold for the heartworm larvae to mature inside the mosquito’s system and your dog is not in danger. DO NOT (and I cannot emphasize this enough) use the six-month heartworm medications or ANYTHING besides Heartgard, Heartgard Plus, or Interceptor without checking with me first. 

The effective time of each preventative is 45 days (six weeks). Therefore, don’t panic if you miss the 30-day dosing. 

In warm climates where there is not a killing freeze, it is safer to give heartworm preventative year-round. 

If your dog tests positive at any time, contact me immediately.


Your puppy was wormed periodically from two weeks of age. You should plan on checking a stool sample sometime around ten to twelve weeks, or anytime if your puppy develops a “wormy” appearance, with ribs showing but a full belly (a “potbelly”). Worms do not indicate that you have not cared for your puppy or that your puppy is not otherwise healthy—they go into the puppies via the mother’s blood supply and through the milk even when she is herself free of active worms. They are simply an annoying problem in the first months of life and hopefully never thereafter. A stool sample is important because there are several types of worms and not all medicines kill them all. DO NOT buy “supermarket” piperazine. Strongid (pyrantel pamoate) is what should be used for roundworms, which are the only ones your puppy is likely to have. Panacur (fenbendazole) can be used for a resistant infestation. Do not fall into the trap of “more is better”—some vets will push for Drontal, which also contains a medication for tapeworms, when the puppy doesn’t have tapes. Ask for a stool analysis and then worm with the gentlest and simplest wormer you can.

There are simple ways you can prevent the reinfection of your puppy with worms. Make sure her crate and surrounding area are kept clean and that messes are promptly cleaned up and disinfected. Don’t feed her in the same area that she eliminates in. Don’t allow her to eat feces (many puppies go through this stage). And pay attention to the signs she is giving you—if she starts to suddenly grow more slowly, loses her appetite, vomits more than once or twice, or develops a potbelly, take a stool sample to the vet.

If your puppy is on certain heartworm medication, she does not also need to be wormed. Heartgard Plus contains the same medication as is in Strongid and will worm the puppy automatically.

Puppy care shorts: Crate training and housetraining

Crating and Housetraining


Your adult dog should be in a crate no shorter than his or her body. Cardigans don’t need a very tall crate, but the bigger adults do often need an Intermediate (or “300” size) crate. You can get away with a Medium (200 size) crate for several moths. 

Most puppies can go right into a large crate and learn in one of them. If, however, the puppy eliminates in one end of the crate without whining to come out, the crate is too big and you should size down. Your puppy has been sleeping in a crate for days or weeks and is already learning to “hold it” when in a crate, so as long as you are sensitive to his or her needs and signals you should have no problem with crate training.

VERY IMPORTANT: I recommend that every puppy be crated “naked” – with no collar or harness or coat on. Collars are VERY DANGEROUS when a puppy is unsupervised. They can get a foot in it, get their jaw hung up on it, or hang themselves on any small projection in the crate. Put the collar and leash (or slip lead) right next to the crate and snap it on every time you take her out. 

The Safe Room

It is very important that the puppy be allowed to be with you as much as possible. We know you can’t imagine letting this puppy off your lap for more than a minute right now, but in a few weeks when you have a big rambunctious puppy who demands a huge amount of energy and time and isn’t content to sleep all day, it’s really going to cut into your free time and your housework time and your spouse time and your kid time.

Many owners fall into the trap of putting the puppy “away” (kitchens and laundry rooms are the classic places) for the majority of the day, and then wonder why their puppy is wild and undisciplined when she is allowed in the rest of the house.

A puppy cannot learn to respect what she never has contact with, and she cannot learn to interact well with you if she isn’t with you. For that reason, you should plan on puppy-proofing a room that you are likely to be in most of the time you are home. Living room, den, kitchen, wherever you tend to gather and will remain for several hours at a time.

Take up rugs, tie up dangling electric cords, remove breakable objects, and put things that are particularly valuable to you (great-grandpa’s rocking chair) in another room. Ideally, there shouldn’t be anything in the safe room that you’ll cry if it gets teethmarks in it. This is where the puppy’s crate will be, and this is where she will be allowed to be out for several hours in the morning, noon, and evening (mandatory), and as often as you are supervising her at any other times. Baby gates across doorways will easily separate the area from the rest of your house.


Leaving the litter is a BIG adjustment for the puppies. They are closely bonded to their littermates and sleeping away from home will be quite hard for the first few nights. It would be unusual for a puppy not to cry and yelp under those conditions. However, once you give in the first time, the puppy will yelp twice as long the second time—and if you bring her on the bed, she’ll expect to be there for the rest of her life. So a happy crate-training experience depends on you being just a little hard-hearted and probably not getting a lot of sleep the first night or two.

Before bedtime (and this should be a reasonable time, when you go to sleep, not at seven in the evening—plan on the puppy’s night being eight hours at maximum), take the puppy out for a last romp and piddle. She must piddle, and hopefully do both functions, during this time—it’s cruel to put her in her crate if she’s got a full bladder or bowel. If she doesn’t “go,” you’ll need to put off bedtime until she does. Now let her come inside and freshen her water bowl so she is encouraged to take a small drink (the water bowl should always be full, so she won’t drink a lot). Give her a little snack if you’d like, but not enough of a meal to make her have to poop soon. Make sure there’s something to play with (a soft toy) and something to chew (a hard rubber bone is fine, as is a fresh knuckle bone, dried beef trachea, or bully stick) in her crate, then say “Go in your crate!” (or “Go to bed!” or whatever command you will be using consistently) and put the puppy in the crate and shut the door. Then walk away. You don’t have to go out of sight, but you do have to basically pretend that the puppy doesn’t exist. Don’t look at her, don’t speak to her, don’t open the door again. She will probably go nuts, crying, scratching on the crate, yelping and barking. Harden your heart and ignore her.

In three hours, reappear, calmly take her out of her crate, and hurry outside. Try to be quiet and businesslike. This is not playtime, this is piddle time. Many people carry their puppies outside for the first week or two until they can hold it long enough to get out the door—remember, as soon as she steps outside that crate every surface is free game and it’s your fault, not hers, if she makes a mess. Let her eliminate, wait a few minutes to see if she needs to poop. Be boring—don’t talk to her except to praise her for piddling, don’t play, just stand there and let her do her thing. When she is done, back inside, little drink, and then repeat the command and put her inside the crate.

Another three hours go by and you’re heading in to do the same thing. Then two or three hours later you’re up for the day, and so is she. Again, EVERY time she comes out of the crate it’s an automatic out to piddle.

The three-hour routine should last through at least the first four or five nights your puppy is home. By that time, she should not be whining at all in her crate when she goes in. When you reach the point where she is happy to go in her crate and seeks it out as a refuge, you can start letting her tell you when she needs to go out. Let her sleep until she wakes and whines to be let out, then go in and put her out. Within a couple of weeks she should be sleeping through the night. If AT ANY TIME she either starts whining more often than three hours and then seems not to need to go—in other words, she’s figured out that she can whine and get to play—or eliminates in the corner of her crate instead of whining to be let out, go right back to the three-hour schedule for a few nights.

During the day

You’ve been selected as puppy owners partially because of your ability to come home at lunch and care for the puppy, or because one or more members of the family are home all day. This is really a must for any puppy or adult dog—even a dog several years old finds an eight- or nine-hour wait extremely frustrating. Plan on coming home for lunch—or hiring a dogwalker or responsible neighborhood teen—as long as you have a Cardigan.

If you work, you should let the puppy have the run of the “safe room” (with several outs during that time) for at least an hour in the morning, and longer as she becomes more able to hold it. Interact and play with the puppy, run outside with her, encourage her to expend energy. Feed her at least a half-hour before you need to leave so that she has a chance to poop before being put in her crate. Make sure fresh and attractive water is available during that time. One last “out” before you leave, and then she goes in the crate—always with something to play with and something to chew.

At lunchtime, carry her out—she’s probably just about bursting. Encourage her to play for a few minutes, then feed her about a half-hour before you need to leave again. After feeding, slow calm walks until she poops, then safe room time or gentle play time until it is time to leave. One last two-minute out, and then back in the crate.

Once you get home, she’s going to need some real attention. Remember, she’s been pretty bored for two loooong stretches today. Plan on spending a couple of hours with her, either in the safe room or outside. Encourage activity. Suppertime at about the same time as yours, then a slow walk until she poops. Most puppies will then naturally sleep for a while, and then you’re almost up to bedtime, when you can follow the instructions above.


You’re going to be using crate training to housetrain your puppy, so this section is pretty short. However, we did want to emphasize a couple of things.
Puppies do not have bladder control until they are ten to twelve weeks old. When they need to go, they need to (and will) go. Don’t be frustrated if things seem to go really slowly until then—you’re fighting a battle that can’t possibly be won. Crating will keep the accidents to a minimum by encouraging the small amount of control puppies do have, but you’d be a very unusual puppy owner if you weren’t cleaning up a mess or two a day.
If you are crating, any mess the puppy makes is your fault, not hers. Puppies at this age are not rebellious and they usually don’t even realize they’re going. They only have the urge to control themselves within the very small space of the “den” or crate. Anyplace else, including the floor two inches outside the crate, is fine, according to a puppy. That’s why it’s so important to get her out the door quickly and into acceptable territory. If you let her out of the crate and then turn away for your keys and the leash, there’s going to be a puddle on the floor.
“Trigger words” can really save you a lot of time. We train with “piddle” because it’s not a word we use at any other time. Other people say “hurry up” or another phrase. Puppies learn it very quickly and it will quickly become one of your most valuable commands.
Designated pee and poop areas are absolutely fine. If you want your puppy to only eliminate in one area of the lawn or on a small patch of gravel you spread for her, bring her there (carry her in the early days) immediately when you get outside. Don’t let her leave until she’s done her business. In a few weeks, you’ll have a dog that runs to that patch as soon as she’s out the door.
The times that your puppy needs to eliminate are predictable: A few minutes after eating, immediately after waking from a nap, every hour or so when awake, and whenever she is placed in a new situation. This last one is funny—I don’t know why they do it, but if you have had the puppy in one location for a while and you bring her into another, she’ll usually piddle. You can take advantage of this; puppies will often piddle immediately when they’re put on the grass from inside. So make sure that you’re paying attention when you’re moving her around—if she takes a car ride to a friend’s house, for example, piddle her in the grass before you go inside even if you just did it before you left, because otherwise she will almost always go as soon as she hits that strange carpet.

One note on water: If you are having little or no success with housetraining and the puppy seems to be peeing very often (and the pee is very clear), sometimes it can be that the puppy is drinking way too much. It’s not uncommon. In that case, offer water four or five times a day and let her drink her fill, but do not leave water out all day.

Puppy care shorts: Miscellaneous care and health

Miscellaneous Care

Care in Emergencies
Almost everyone has a “place” where they keep their legal documents, will, and other important information in case they are unexpectedly taken ill or in an accident. Please take a few minutes and put my name, address, and number, with brief instructions to take the puppy or adult dog to me if something were to happen to you, in that pile. If you have specific wishes after that point, like the fact that the dog should be taken care of by a particular friend or family member, put it on the instruction sheet as well. Many times dogs left behind by a tragedy are euthanized when the breeder cannot be found and no one wants to take the dog in. So please make sure that your family knows that the dog should come to me.

Things that look serious but probably aren’t

Occasional diarrhea

Diarrhea is the first sign that something is not quite right. A change in water, or in food, a little bug, getting into the cat food—all of these change the consistency of the stool. Your puppy will probably have diarrhea when she comes home with you, because she’s just been wormed and because of the change in water and environment. The important rule is to watch the puppy. If she is perky and healthy otherwise, is eating and drinking well, it’s probably nothing to worry about. You can help firm the stool by feeding canned pumpkin and by giving Fastrack gel, or by feeding yogurt daily.

Vomiting of something just eaten

I wouldn’t expect your puppy to do this, because by the time they come to you they will have weeks of experience eating nice big bones, but occasionally a raw-fed dog will wolf its food too fast and bring it right back up again. It’s obvious when this happens, because the food basically looks just like it did before it was eaten. Let the dog clean it up herself—she’ll chew better this time!

Reverse sneezing

Sometimes Cardis make a pretty scary-sounding repeated snort sound, which sounds exactly like the name, sneezing backwards. It can be distracting to the dog, who sticks her neck out and snorts again and again. Owners tend to think the dog is choking or having a heart attack, but it’s not serious at all. Getting the dog’s attention usually works—a short walk, pinching the nostrils shut for a few seconds, etc. Think of them like really dramatic hiccups.

Worms in poop

Trust me, I get as “ewwww”-ed out about this as anyone. But just about every species of worm is easily combated. If you see worms in the poop, DO immediately make a vet appointment, because it indicates a heavy load. But don’t panic. Roundworms look like angel hair pasta, while tapeworms look like moving grains of rice or like tiny flatworms and actually move around for a few minutes after they are shed.

Things that are serious

Persistent diarrhea

Especially if the dog seems sick, this can be a sign that something is wrong. Persistent means for more than three or four days OR any diarrhea that is combined with low appetite or weight loss or refusal to drink well.

Tan/yellow diarrhea, sometimes with blood in it

This is classic coccidiosis, a disease that occurs when the puppy becomes stressed and the normal coccidia population in the gut goes crazy. Also keep an eye out for diarrhea that is particularly mucusy or tarry black. Call the vet immediately, and keep a sample no more than 24 hours old of the diarrhea for the vet to check.

Diarrhea, frequent, with blood and a very foul smell

While we’ve made every effort to make sure your puppy is protected from parvo, no vaccine is 100%. If you suspect parvo, get to the vet IMMEDIATELY and request a SNAP test. If you treat with Tamiflu AND fluids AND supportive care within the first 24 hours, the survival rate is quite good. After that point things start to look grim. It’s a good idea to make sure your vet knows about the Tamiflu plus supportive care protocol (the link brings you to an abstract; download the PDF) and is prepared to start it immediately upon a positive result.

Open thread: Breeder/buyer

Now that I’ve gotten all bossy about both sides of the story, I’d love to know what you’ve experienced, both good and bad, and how you handled it or wish it had been handled.

I’ll start…

First, as a buyer: I’ve bought Danes from more than one breeder, but only one has stayed “my breeder” in my head. And yes, you know who you are :). She has been known to work a full shift and then drive hours down to my house to hold my hand during a bad whelping, and she will tell me if a dog I’m considering has the crappiest rear she’s ever seen and I need to stop getting seduced by his head. 

I have had a significantly bad experience with someone else (breed and timeline not to be revealed). I was sold a dog who ended up having some major temperament problems and, when I approached her, she said “Oh, yeah, that sounds like his dad. Your puppy is actually here because his dad ripped up a fence and raped the bitch on the other side. She ended up needing a transfusion because he hurt her so much, but don’tchaknow she actually ended up with a nice litter out of it.” 

That was delivered with a perfectly straight face; there was not a hint of guilt or worry in her voice. 

Thankfully, she did take the dog back, and I was able to walk away significantly lighter in pocket but far happier. 

As a breeder: I’ve alluded to my real nightmare one, which was with a co-owner (by the way, we did at least get the puppies registered, but it was MONTHS and only with both of us consulting lawyers; it was AWFUL). My worst episode of being completely befuddled was this one:

It was coming down to the wire on a litter; they were two days short of eight weeks. I had every buyer scheduled in a row over the next few days, every puppy was assigned, everybody set to go. 

Then I got a letter in the mail…

“Dear Joanna: I am so sorry to say that I cannot buy Princess from you at this time. I did not tell you when we visited and talked that I have cancer. I believed that it wouldn’t affect my ability to buy the puppy, but recently my Spirit Guides have told me that this is a poor time to get a dog.” 

I think my mouth hung open for about five minutes. 

So what about you? Tell tell!