Cropping and docking part 2: Docking

Yesterday we looked at cropping (ears). As you may have seen from the comments, there’s a much stronger feeling against cropping than there is against docking.

This is really interesting, considering that docking actually removes more tissue, bone, and of course a whole bunch of the dog’s spinal cord; cropping just removes skin (and tissue and nerves and so on). Please don’t think I’m minimizing cropping; but in terms of physical trauma there’s no contest.

The reason, I think, that we tend to accept docking much more easily and even anti-cropping people will still dock their puppies is simply because it happens so early.

Docking is typically done when the puppies are just a few days old. Some breeders bring the puppies to the vet but most experienced breeders will dock the puppies themselves. This is done for the same reason that private croppers do ears – because very few vets are as much an expert on the breed as the breeder is, and experienced breeders are MUCH better than their vets at predicting growth. Several breeds are flattered most by tails that relate to the size of the adult dog – for example, that the tail end as high as the head, or in a specific proportion of the height of the dog. I was once in on a discussion of poodle tail length and it was like listening to an algebra class – the length of the tail and the size and shape of the tail pom in proportion to the dog’s body length, height, the rest of the groom, etc. is considered vital not just to the look of the dog but to the entire type and “poodliness” of the dog. It takes an experienced breeder to translate the fractions of an inch of a newborn puppy to the size and shape of the adult dog and to adjust each tail a centimeter up or down to meet the size and shape of the eventual dog.


Another reason breeders usually dock tails themselves is that even if the tail doesn’t relate to the size of the adult dog, tails in the show ring go through fads and fashions in the same way that grooming or markings do. These differences are usually completely invisible to a layperson but to breeders they are like a neon sign. A breeder can say that tails seem to be a half-inch longer or shorter this year and adjust the docking to meet this.

Vets usually dock tails surgically – by cutting. Depending on the breed a suture is placed in the end of the tail or it is glued or it is just left alone. Breeders who dock generally either tie off the tail (put a length of suture material or string or elastic or dental floss, depending on what they prefer, around the tail and then tying it tightly to cut off circulation to the tail) or band the tail (use a very strong, tight rubber band and an elastrator tool). Some cut the tails, others crush and twist them off; there are as many methods (and people firmly devoted to theirs as best) as there are breeders.

So WHY is this “no big deal”? I would imagine that if you were walking your adult Irish Setter around and someone walked over and cut off his tail (an inch from his anus) with a branch lopper, you would not think it was a minor event. But we’ve all bought the idea that it doesn’t matter because we’re cutting off such a little teeny thing.

Ask breeders who dock tails how they justify doing something so traumatic to the dog, and you will invariably get the same response: it doesn’t hurt them. The puppy’s nervous system is too immature to feel pain. The puppies barely squeak. They nurse and go to sleep right away. It’s over in a second. They will either follow this or preface it by saying that it’s in the standard, it’s the historical look of the dog, the dog just looks better this way, I love the little bunny butt, and so on.

I think that in addressing this we have to leave the aesthetics alone for a while, because they’re very much an individual thing. Some people think no tails are adorable, and it’s not like I can say “No they’re not!” Even if I believed that, appearance is pretty much by definition an “eye of the beholder” quality.

And I think that most people would agree that aesthetics only get to rule in a situation where there is no harm either way. I think short hair is attractive, I cut it. I think no nose is attractive, people would get a lot more heated about that.

Unless, of course, everyone thought that removing the nose was painless and harmless as long as you did it before the baby was a week old.

That’s pretty much exactly where we are in dogs. We may not like the idea of docking on a philosophical level, but we’re not going to make a big deal about it, because it “doesn’t hurt.”

Well, this is very tragically wrong.

Let’s look at the evidence for “it doesn’t hurt” one piece at a time. If you need specific studies referenced, let me know and I’ll give you my bibliography, but for the sake of time and flow I’m just going to write it out here. I promise that nothing I’m going to say is not backed up VERY CLEARLY by peer-reviewed studies.


1) The puppy’s nervous system is too immature to feel pain.

False. In fact, puppy pain response is so well established that it’s one of the tests used to determine whether the puppy is fit and vital. A study comparing traditional injectable, short-acting, and epidural anesthesia methods for performing c-sections on bitches demonstrated that short-acting was safer than injectable and epidural was safer than inhaled in no small part because the puppies’ PAIN RESPONSE was intact and immediate on the epidural bitches, acceptable in the short-acting-anesthesia bitches, and sluggish in the injectable-treated bitches.

Another argument is that the myelin around the puppies’ nerves is not fully developed, so they do not feel pain.

Again, this is false. This is the argument that subjected countless human babies to major surgeries without anesthesia, a practice that has (thankfully) ended now as we better understand the way nerves work. Myelin insulation makes the nerve impulses move faster, but its absence in no way prevents the animal, human or otherwise, from feeling pain. Human babies have pretty poor myelinization, but anybody who puts a baby into a bath that the baby thinks is too warm or too cool knows EXACTLY how well those skin receptors work. Even extremely premature human babies can feel and learn to anticipate heel sticks, which are not terribly traumatic.

Puppies know when they’re hot, cold, hungry, they know enough to want to put their heads up on something to feel more comfy when they sleep. An extremely light touch near a puppy’s nose will trigger rooting and sniffing. If they can feel when you move one of their whiskers, how on EARTH could they not feel it when you cut a third of their spinal cord off?


2) The puppy barely squeaks.

Again, this is no evidence. Vocalization is not just “I feel pain” or “I don’t feel pain.” Newborn animals, and this includes humans, will often react to pain by stopping a vocalization. When Zuzu fractured her skull, she barely cried. But there’s no way I’m going to say that based on that experience skull fractures don’t hurt. When the pain is sharp or shocking, baby animals will actually withdraw, quiet down, stop moving around, as their brains look for a way to deal with the pain and get comfort.

Which leads to

3) They nurse and go to sleep right away.

This is a CLASSIC example of a self-comforting behavior, a defense mechanism. Babies that are hurting nurse and sleep. An experienced mom can tell the difference between the frantic nursing of a hurt baby and the quiet and relaxed nursing of a content baby, but could you see that difference in a newborn puppy? I don’t think I could. But as an experienced human mom, I can tell you that the times that my kids have been in the most pain – Zuzu with her head, the time Tabitha fractured her tibia, and the time Honour put a tiny upholstery tack up her nose and the ER doc couldn’t get it and kept pushing and prying for over an hour and made her nose swell and bleed like bonkers (lesson to all moms: MAKE THEM PAGE THE ENT DOCTOR, who will get it out in less than two seconds), once the initial crying was over all three of them did nothing but nurse and sleep. They slept limp and hard; they were difficult to rouse. They slept on the x-ray table, every single one of them.

I tell those stories because I think the moms out there know this and recognize it in their own kids, not because I think dogs are humans. But can we generalize it to dogs? I think, demonstrably, yes. Many studies show that nursing and sleeping are a displacement mechanism across the animal kingdom, used as an adaptive behavior when the baby animal is in physical pain.

4) It’s over in a second.

This is the one that is the most poorly understood. We think that once the tail is gone, it’s gone. The pain is over.

But here’s the thing: You’ve removed a body part that is packed tight with nerves. When you cut those nerves, they do not just seal themselves off and sit there happily. They “know” where they’re supposed to go and how long they’re supposed to be, and when the cut ends try to heal they form massive, swollen tangles called neuromas. Neuromas are one of the causes of chronic amputated-limb pain in humans, and one of the reasons that many humans with amputations never really feel healed.

Neuromas have been studied pretty extensively in relation to the animals that are routinely killed within a few months of being docked – sheep (tails), pigs (tails) and chickens (beaks). In lambs, neuromas are found in the tail area even six months after docking (when the lambs are routinely slaughtered for food). In pigs, neuromas are present in the tail at full-market-weight slaughter. In chickens, neuromas are found when the chicken is a year and a half old, even though the beak was cut back when the chick was a day or two old. There are only a few small studies involving neuromas in docked dogs – because, of course, we don’t slaughter dogs – but the one study that examined three docked dogs euthanized for behavior problems found neuromas in the tail of all three, though they had been docked years before.


We can’t ask dogs whether they hurt. But we can say that we see neuromas associated with pain in humans, who can be asked, and we can say that docked dogs have neuromas that persist for years. Dogs are VERY stoic about pain, and they do not complain until the pain is pretty major. So while I’d never say that docked dogs remain in terrible pain forever, I think it’s quite plausible that they always have a bit of an ache, an itch, a twinge, far more often than we’d imagined.

So this is the situation. We have an aesthetic choice being made because it doesn’t hurt the dog. If we can demonstrate pretty clearly that it DOES hurt (and I think that’s inescapable) and there’s a strong possibility that it CONTINUES to hurt, at least a little, then how can we justify it?

This is where people start talking about the other reasons for docking, so let’s look at those:

5) Because it’s the historical appearance and meets the breed standards. And I agree with them! I am totally a traditionalist when it comes to purebred dog standards; I believe in them and I don’t want them changed for any but the most dire of reasons. I will defend the Pekingese club’s right to a short face until the day I die. But the standard MUST bend, I think it really must, when it comes to clear evidence of pain. You’ve GOT to rethink things when it’s not just the one in a hundred that hurts a leg because your breed is heavier than average, it’s 100 percent of your puppies having to be injured and then arguably feeling that injury for years to come.

In terms of historicity… that’s really a pretty poor argument. The dog must have existed before you started docking it, so (obviously) at one point, before it was docked, it was undocked. So not docking is earlier than docking. Going back to not docking is truer to the very earliest existence of the breed.

6) It prevents injuries in working dogs. This one is the argument I always cough into my hand at – to prevent injuries, we deliberately inflict an injury? And that’s OK? Carpenters usually have hands that look like they’re a complete mess, tons of cuts and scratches. Should we amputate their hands to prevent those injuries? This argument also falls on the grounds of the hundreds of thousands of working dogs who KEEP their tails – Border Collies, the livestock guardian dogs, Australian Cattle Dogs, Catahoulas, the list goes on and on. If tails are such a clear and present danger to the dog, then they should be gone on ALL dogs. The Border Collie people should be begging for vets to dock their dogs; the ACD breeders should have been yelling that their dogs’ tails are a liability in the stock pen. They’re not, so I have a bit of a problem with the idea that having a tail on an Australian Shepherd is really going to make it an unfit herding dog.

7) If you don’t dock, the dog gets caked with feces. OH MAN DO I LOVE THIS ONE. You hear it over and over and over again. It’s absolutely ridiculous immediately and it gets more ridiculous the longer you think about it. First, GROOM YOUR DOG. Any owner who lets his dog’s hind end get caked with poop has far greater issues than a tail removal would solve. Second, if Old English Sheepdogs are supposedly going to be walking around with three pounds of feces on their tails, where on earth is the Briard? Drowning under his own poo? And yet Briards get to keep their tails, but OES are supposedly super unhygienic if they have more than a single vertebra left. Third, GROOM YOUR DOG. Fourth, Yorkies would, according to one person I read, lose their current national popularity if they had tails, because they’d all be full of fecal material all the time. Oh, you’re RIGHT! That’s why Shih Tzus are so far down the list… at number 10. And that’s why Shih Tzus have rocketed up from number 23 ten years ago. And that’s why the -doodles and -poos are so universally hated… Oh, wait, what was your point? Hmmm, not really getting it. Fifth, GROOM YOUR DOG.


8 ) I’m going to close with one that was so gloriously crazy that it HAD to come from a Rottie breeder (and it did – now I love all you Rottie people, and I adore your breed, but right now a whole bunch of your club has their heads so far up where the sun don’t shine that it’s shocking they can appear in public): If Rotties had tails, they wouldn’t be able to trot anymore. The heavy tail would destroy the dog’s center of gravity and breeders would have to breed a super long, low croup because that’s the only way to hold up this heavy, long, did I mention heavy tail. The dog’s topline would get longer and longer and longer to support the long croup that has that elephantine tail behind it, and before you know it the dog can barely move.

Number one, somebody’s got a serious case of tail envy. I have never, ever in my life seen a dog’s tail that would actually be unsupportable by normal dog anatomy, but I guess in this breeder’s mind Rotties are the Dirk Diggler of tail growers, the five-legged wonders who can barely stand up under the weight of twelve more inches of tail.

Number two, if you have a tailed breed, don’t you feel kind of insulted by this? That the Rottie is the only true “endurance trotter” and the key to endurance is no tail? All you with undocked Pointers, with Goldens, with Danes, Beardies, Cattle Dogs? Did you realize that your dogs don’t have endurance? Oh, yeah, you German Shepherd breeders, did you realize that your dogs can’t trot?


That’s entirely too snarky a note to end this on, so let me just say this: We have to know where our preferences can and cannot rule. We have to draw a line beyond which we are no longer doing things in the best interests of our dogs. This has nothing to do with animal rights; it has nothing to do with being liberal or conservative; it has nothing to do with wanting to change breed standards to conform to some kind of “new” rule. This is one hundred percent about loving dogs. It’s about remembering that the dogs didn’t ask to be born and didn’t ask to live with us. We are living out our desires by producing, owning, training, showing, and manipulating dogs. That’s a high and sacred thing, and I can think of no better way to spend far too much time and money, but we have to know where our wish-fulfillment reduces quality of life for the dog.

I would strongly argue that docking and cropping are doing nothing for the dogs and they’re causing harm; they are not necessary to the proper production of the dog as a breed; and for all those reasons they are ripe to be discarded.

For an absolutely lovely gallery of undocked Pembrokes, visit


All images are Wikimedia Commons. For credits, contact me. Please do not copy them from here and post elsewhere; go back to Wikimedia and download them with attributions.

As promised: Cropping and docking controversies



Someday, if I am both very blessed and very smart, I’ll have a dog as nice as these two above. However, unless I lose my mind and start showing Pembrokes, I won’t be able to do what these dogs did.

The first is Lupi, Ch. Sterling’s Blue Lupine, the first Dane in the US to finish a championship with her ears. The second is Dutch, Ch. Friendly Dutch Isjven, the first Rottweiler to finish in the US with his tail.

Lupi finished in 1980; in 1998 Jerry Rice became (I believe) the only living Boxer at that time to have finished with his ears. Dutch finished in 2006. We’ve come a long way, baby, but there’s still a long way to go.

Ears and tails are an incredibly, almost flabbergastingly, huge issue in the traditionally docked or cropped breeds. When Dutch finished, the Rottie boards hosted some of the ugliest exchanges I’ve ever seen. (I have the worst of them saved, so if anyone wants a private glimpse I’ve got it, but don’t ask me if you don’t want to see a VERY dark side of dog showing). There was talk of lawsuits, of blackballing judges, of disbarring members. The Rottweiler club narrowly passed a measure forcing “education” on all approved judges; they sent every judge a letter asking that any undocked Rottie be excused, with “tail does not conform to standard” written in the judge’s book. (This found some traction with some judges, but got incredulous laughter from a refreshing number of them – every dog has some part of their anatomy or conformation that does not conform to the standard, and by asking them to excuse dogs for this reason the club was effectively ordering them to excuse every dog in every class.)

A few more examples of sheer nuttiness: A few years ago the Old English Sheepdog people (I am not saying the parent club because I honestly don’t know who was in charge of this effort) refused to let any OES with tails be on view at the Eukanuba National Championships “Meet the Breed” booth – despite the fact that Eukanuba invites international competitors and OES have not been docked in Europe for years.

At a large Australian Terrier show, the judge ostentatiously withheld a ribbon on a dog and made a huge deal about it because he was not docked. He WAS docked, just with a longer tail than most. But he goes down in history as being ostracized for still owning his tail. (By the way, on the prior day both WB and WD had ACTUALLY been undocked.)

More than one handler of an uncropped Dane has been told by one judge in particular (and the Dane people know who this is): “Don’t you dare bring that dog in my ring,” despite the fact that uncropped ears are specifically listed in the standard as acceptable and are NOT to be faulted.

And of course this legendary article, which practically defines wackadoodle behavior, is the most recent entry in the contest to see who can be the most biased against parts of the dog that he was born with.

This kind of behavior would honestly be nothing more than a curiosity, a reason to look back in twenty years and chuckle at all the arm-waving, were it not for the fact that the sheer viciousness of the few who believe that they speak for the many has convinced several successive generations of dog breeders and owners and exhibitors that going against the flow is just too dang hard and they won’t do it, or won’t do it more than once.

My friends and I have, many times, wailed with frustration when a beautiful exhibit finishes with his body parts and then every single litter he sires is deprived of theirs. Or a bitch will come on the scene and make a huge splash, finish with ears or tail… and then every single show puppy from her one or two litters is cropped or docked or both. The breeder may leave the pet puppies alone, but they invariably use phrases like “I couldn’t leave him natural – he was too nice.” or “I couldn’t not crop her; she deserves a chance.” And so the wheels keep spinning in the mud because ONE MORE TIME the perception is that only pet-quality dogs keep their parts, that if you are proud of a dog he “deserves” to have his ears cut in half.

Why does it matter? Why should we care? After all, it’s just a look that people like, right?


I’m only going to address cropping a little bit because everybody knows that cropping hurts like hail and they’re lying if they say it doesn’t. Even the shortest easy-care crops cut off one of the most sensitive parts of a puppy’s body and require anesthesia at an age when it should be avoided at all costs. If you’re not in the cropped-breed show world, you may not realize this, but a TON (sometimes I honestly think the majority) of dogs getting show crops are not getting them from vets. The “private croppers” or “home croppers” are considered by many to be the only way to get an attractive show crop. These private croppers are breeders who arrive at your house with a stash of illegal narcotics, usually acepromazine and ketamine, and they anesthetize your puppies and cut the ears on your kitchen counter. Stitch them up and leave the puppies on your living room rug to wake up.


This is my Dane boy, Mitch, when he was maybe five months old. He was cropped by a private cropper; I know that breeder’s name and where he lived. So trust me when I say that I am not making this up. Mitch has an extremely beautiful crop, one of the best I’ve seen, FAR better than the vet crops I’ve seen in my area. I know exactly why his breeder did what she did. He was cropped at six weeks old and I taped those ears every day of his life until he was fifteen months old. He actually had an easy time of it, compared to many Danes I know; he didn’t get massive ear infections or adhesive allergies that burned a hole in his skin; he didn’t open up the suture lines. All he did was run and hide under the table, every three days, as soon as he heard me get the tape out. And every three days, I dragged him out and held his shaking head between my hands and I retaped those ears.


He was gorgeous – oh my gosh was he gorgeous. The win pic here is from when he was barely 17 months; by the time he was three I wanted to bronze him. But I felt like I was selling my soul for those ears and I am firmly convinced that one of the reasons we don’t have him today (I found him an amazing home soon after I retired him from showing – he was shown seven times, went winners twice and reserve twice, and lost 15 lb over the two weekends. I couldn’t do that to him and I took him out) is that his naturally soft and worried personality was very hurt by having his favorite human rip stuff off his ears every 72 hours, without fail, during his entire development.

Nobody in their right mind can really argue that cropping doesn’t hurt. So I’m going to just quickly address the crazy stuff in that article and then move on to docking, which is a much more commonly defended process.

1) Cropping makes a dog healthier by preventing ear infections.

FALSE. The cropped breeds already have lots of air circulation into the ear canal; they have medium to high ear sets and the ear bells away from the head when uncropped. The breeds with extremely low, close-to-the-head sets (the ones that really do have circulation issues) are the spaniels and hounds and setters and so on – and yet (gasp!) not only are they uncropped, the long ear is treasured and seen as a vital part of breed identity.

If you have issues with ear infections, CHANGE YOUR DOG’S DIET. If the yeasts and bacteria no longer have anything to feed on, it doesn’t matter if air circulation isn’t optimal, you still won’t get infections.

2) If we stop cropping, we can’t sell any puppies. Breeders will drop out of clubs; the AKC will collapse.

FALSE. AND CRAZY. Seriously? Look at the hottest dogs out there right now – the doodles and uggles and biffles and boffles. All of them wagging long tails and shaking their long ears around. There’s no reason to think that abandoning the surgeries won’t actually INCREASE demand for puppies.

This argument was already tried in Europe. The governments of the individual countries banned cropping and docking anyway. Ten years later (in most cases; in others it’s substantially longer) the same breeders are breeding and showing the same bloodlines, with equal success… except that now nobody thinks that Old English Sheepdogs are somehow born without their tails.

3) My personal favorite: Long ears soften expression, so dogs will become spooky and soft.


Longer ears are perceived to soften expression for the sole reason that we assume that they do. We’ve somehow equated unnaturally sharp narrow ears in a set that is not found in nature with a hard or working expression. All it takes is an examination of a good Kuvasz, a good Border Terrier, a good Catahoula, to see that down ears do NOT equal a soft or melting expression. SERIOUSLY, PEOPLE. You can’t tell the difference between a down ear and, oh, THE ENTIRE STRUCTURE OF THE DOG’S HEAD?

Good GRIEF, look at a Kerry Blue. Anybody think that they’re spooky or soft?

Temperament and working ability is in no way found in the ears. If you can’t figure that out as a breeder, you shouldn’t be breeding. If you can’t see that as a judge, you shouldn’t be anywhere near a ring.

OK – DOCKING! But not tonight. I’ve got to get some sleep so I can plan and make food tomorrow. We’re going to a barbeque featuring…wait for it… grass-fed lamb. LAMB! Who cooks a giant and extremely expensive lamb on the Fourth? Seriously! I’m totally intimidated because I was going to bring the usual fireworks-themed foods like potato salad and jello, but roast lamb? That’s way over into side dishes like roast fennel and handmade pumpkin ravioli. Dang! I wonder if I can get away with smashed cauliflower. Maybe if the cheese is Dubliner? Help!

I’ll be back tomorrow, probably with a still-full dish of smashed cauliflower.

28 days later… Bronte update

Bronte got her last dose of doxycycline this morning, which means her Lyme/anaplasmosis treatment is over.

The good news: Her weight is totally back to normal and she’s starting to put muscle back on. Her underline is getting tighter too.  She never lost the tremendous muscling in her neck and rear end (she is a total brick house) but she had lost the fill between her front legs and around her rib cage. So it’s great to see that coming back in.

She’s completely cycling her topcoat, so she looks like a scary snake right now but what’s coming in is thick and glossy and black. She should get all her coat (which was gorgeous) back in the next few months.

She is moving sound again, with no obvious pain/limping.

She’s SUPER HAPPY. She’s confident and pushy and plays all day and barks at everything and has a permanent silly grin on her face.

The bad news: Her stifles are still a mess. She’s basically standing with her knees locked in the rear, so her butt looks super high. If I do heat and massage she moves them decently again but when she’s just getting up from sleeping she will move only from her hips and won’t flex the stifles at all. Her hocks don’t go beyond vertical before she takes another step forward. This is a bitch who used to have pretty good drive in the rear and the difference is VERY obvious.

You can also tell that they’re very stiff because she has to work and walk her way into a squat to pee. It’s been odd to watch her. I’ve always been taught that if a bitch basically falls into a complete sit to pee, you should watch for bad hips. She has the exact opposite problem – the hips are tight and well muscled but she doesn’t want to move what’s lower down. She has to walk her way into it and she shifts position several times as she urinates. (TMI, I know, but interesting in terms of how the joints work.)

She’s also very iffy in one wrist (front leg, paw and the structure above it) in particular – again, it seems like she feels weird and stiff and she re-steps and shifts her weight on it often. I can’t really tell on her elbows/shoulders – she looks odd to me but I can’t tell if that’s just lack of muscling.

Conclusion: I’m going to give her the summer to recuperate, keep up the joint supplements, and in the fall I’m going to get some films of her stifles and probably also her elbows/wrists. I strongly suspect that we’re going to see inflammation and arthritis, especially in the stifles. It may be that once we get back in the house and she can run around the yard all day long that she can break down some of the stiffness but we’ll see.

The goal is still to finish her, though pessimistically I think the days of her supported entry wins are over. All she needs are a few singles now, so we’ll work on picking those up once she gets some hair back. Otherwise we’ll just keep on trucking and see how she does. We can always look at Adequan injections in the future if she needs them.

And who knows – it could be that as the weeks go by she’ll continue to recover and next year I’ll look foolish because she is completely back to normal.

So there you go. Once I get a decent camera again I will try to get some pictures for you all.

By the way, lest anyone have a panic attack, this is BY FAR the worst case of Lyme damage I’ve ever seen or even heard of. I read somebody’s blog last year that said that their agility dog couldn’t compete anymore because of some tick-borne disease but I don’t know how bad that was. The vast, overwhelming majority of the time the dog barely shows symptoms in the first place and the antibiotics take care of it completely. My guess is that she had the perfect storm – Lyme bacteria in her joints, anaplasmosis lowering her platelet and white blood cell count so her body couldn’t respond well to the Lyme bacteria, low appetite because of the anaplasmosis, and she was nursing puppies.

However, while I’m on this train of thought, I read recently that Lyme infections are associated with hypothyroidism in humans. This really started my brain churning, because in Danes we were seeing a real epidemic of odd thyroid results in the Northeast. We’d been blaming a popular stud dog who had thyroid disease, but I wonder if the situation was substantially worsened by the fact that the affected kennels were also having a lot of dogs test positive for Lyme.

Possibly the craziest crop/dock article I’ve ever read

I normally like what I read at Dog Press, though it’s far more Page Six than it is anything else, but this one actually made me laugh out loud more than once:

Read and enjoy, and I’ll be back later today to comment.

By the way, the NY bill did NOT pass (more’s the pity, honestly) and almost certainly will be abandoned for this session. So ignore any mention of the bill actually passing.

Demodex in puppies (demodectic mange)

There’s a lot of crazy information about puppy demodex floating around, and so I thought it might be a good idea to address it since Kate’s puppies are all hitting the age where it’s normal to find one or two tiny spots.

I’m going to start with a couple of little illustrations that have nothing to do with puppies or mange:

A very long time ago (as in decades) my sister’s dog, a young black Lab bitch, got hit by a car and broke her hip, and then ran into the woods or under the garage or somewhere we never really did figure out (my parents figured she was dead) and hid there. She came back out after more than a week of not eating. She was taken to Angell in Boston and had surgery to pin the hip. After the plate was taken out, the hair over the surgery site and where the pain patches had been grew back completely white. Over the months that followed, black hair gradually replaced the white and she ended up looking normal. I remember her skin looking absolutely horrible during her recovery and she may actually have had some mange there too, but I was a lot younger and stupider at that point and my parents paid $10 for a 40-lb bag of kibble, so take that for what it’s worth.

Not so very long ago, Clue also got hit by a car and also was gone for more than a week. After she came back, she shed for six solid months. It honestly looked like she was a chemo patient; if you pinched her hair anywhere on her entire body, you could pull out the entire tuft with no effort. Her hair was never more than an inch long and most of it was substantially shorter than that. She also grew no undercoat. It’s only in the last few weeks that she is beginning to look like a normal Cardigan again, with some length of coat.

Bronte’s major Lyme infection, combined with the physical demands of nursing and probably also the stress of the house fire, literally turned her hair (the topcoat) white. She had lost her undercoat weeks ago and what was left was the straight, hard black hairs of her topcoat. But those were not black anymore. If you parted her coat over her back or sides, the inner two-thirds was dead white. She had multiple small white spots where the bleaching had reached the tips of the hairs. After three weeks on doxycycline, her body is completely cycling the coat – I strip out piles and piles of hair every day, all of it bleached. She has zero ruff or tail left, but what’s growing in is soft, glossy black straight to the skin.

Besides the obvious lesson that wow do I need a vacation from traumatic things happening to my dogs, what does this have to do with mites? The answer is that when the body is stressed, when the immune system is focused elsewhere, when the dog is in recovery from a disease, when there’s been nutritional demands beyond what the dog could handle, the dog’s body is very wise. It abandons non-essential systems (skin and coat) to focus on maintaining heart, digestion, brain, etc. The skin and coat are pretty much the first to go, and body doesn’t throw resources back into the skin and coat until the other stuff has recovered.

That’s exactly what happens when a puppy gets mange.

Here’s what’s going on:

1) Every dog has demodex mites. They are a completely normal part of what lives in and on the dog. The mites live in the hair follicles and eat all the delicious things that are on dog skin – skin flakes, fungi, sugars, etc.

2) Most of the time the dog’s immune system keeps the mites under control. However, sometimes the dog’s immune system is directed elsewhere – when the dog is dealing with a vaccination, a bacterial infection, etc., OR the dog is stressed by a poor diet or vitamin deficiency – and it battens down the hatches and the skin isn’t supported. When that happens, an overpopulation of the mite can occur and a puppy will get a small hairless spot, usually on the head or paw, where there’s a mite overgrowth.

(The puppy can also get other skin stuff, by the way – when I was raising Dane puppies they all got “puppy pimples” at this age, which is a staph infection for the exact same reason – staph is common on skin, and it takes over during the times when the puppy is growing fast and dealing with vaccines. Never seen a Cardi with puppy pimples, but Cardis get demodex pretty frequently.)

3) If the puppy’s immune system is CRITICALLY poor, for example if he or she has Addisons or Cushings, or if the nutritional lack or environmental stress has been extreme, the mite can take over the whole body. The dog’s skin becomes naked, red, swollen, and cracked (some of this is the mites and a whole bunch of it is the bacteria that colonize the small wounds in the skin) and the dog is absolutely miserable. Generalized mange in shelter populations where overcrowding and poor food are the norm is extremely common.

4) One or two puppy demodex spots are COMPLETELY NORMAL. They seem to occur at four or five months, right around the time of the puppy shots, which is also when the puppy is growing the fastest, and they are a good hint that you have to support the puppy nutritionally but they are absolutely nothing I’d ever worry about.

5) Do not treat isolated demodex with dips, salves, or ivermectin. Not only is there no need, you can actually make the problem worse. If you hit the puppy with a whole bunch of ivermectin you’re opening him or her up to genuine problems (autoimmune is the biggie here –  adding ivermectin to a taxed immune system is a bad thing) and there’s absolutely no reason to kill mites that are supposed to be there in the first place.

6) Only treat a dog with generalized mange if they are not recovering on their own with increased support and nutrition. At LEAST give them a few weeks before you dump them in an amitraz bath. It’s much, much better if the dog can recover on its own.

7) I would say that every dog with mange should be on a raw diet. Of course, I think that EVERY dog should be on a raw diet, but it helps control mange because it lowers the level of sugar and yeast in the skin AND because it encourages a good strong immune system.

8 ) If you would like to treat the spots at all, the only thing you have to worry about is a secondary bacterial infection getting started because the skin is a little bit cracked. So you can wipe it with a little tea tree oil or a skin-safe grapeseed oil or something. No need to do anything else unless the area under the spot becomes red, swollen, or infected. In that case he or she may need some keflex or similar antibiotic, but antibiotics have nothing to do with mange. They only keep the skin under the mites from becoming infected.

9) It’s a great idea to support every puppy around the time of growth and vaccination. Berte’s Immune Blend is a very widely used product that gets a lot of great reviews, but it’s certainly not the only good one. You definitely want a B-complex in there and some vitamin C.

10) If you or your vet feel strongly that the localized version MUST be treated, or if you know that the puppy isn’t going to be able to mount an immune response quickly (for example, if you’re dealing with another illness at the same time), use Revolution (selamectin) rather than injectable ivermectin or amitraz (Mitaban). Revolution is a lower dose of an ivermectin type medication and it does seem to be effective.

11) You MUST BE PATIENT. It can take months for the localized patches to completely disappear. Just keep up diet and supplements and keep an eye on it. There’s no need to restrict the puppy’s activity or avoid contact with other dogs; localized demodex is not contagious (because the other dogs already have mites, almost certainly).


One of the biggest questions about mange concerns whether or not a dog or a puppy who has ever had mange should be bred. I’ve heard some truly WILD statements about this.

Here’s the deal: USE COMMON SENSE. The immune system is not like a pretzel, either whole or broken. It’s a living thing and there are times when it is in great shape and times when it’s not, and those have nothing to do with whether the dog is genetically normal and fit.

You want to remove animals from the gene pool if they have a genetic immune problem, not if the animal was just sick with something else, got a spot of mange because it was sick, and went on to completely recover. The RECOVERY is what is critically important.

If the animal, properly supported with diet and supplements and (if necessary) antibiotics to knock down the secondary skin infection, takes back its own skin and makes a complete recovery, that’s an immune system WIN. That dog’s immune system is functioning well.

If the dog could not recover, even when optimally supported, or if a well-maintained dog has mange as an adult, then you start to look at systemic immune problems. But don’t forget to see the forest for the trees – the mites are a SYMPTOM, not a disease. Don’t treat the mites; find the cause of the blow to the immune system and solve THAT. If the cause of the immune problem turns out to be Cushings, Addisons, or another autoimmune disease, then (obviously) the dog is not a candidate for breeding. If it turns out to be Lyme, a bacterial infection, or something treatable, solve it and the dog should get rid of the mange on its own.

Some articles for you to read: (ignore the brand name recommendations) (skip down below the thyroid stuff to vaccines and nutrition)

As promised, a post where Joanna makes a colossal mistake


See that, right up there? That’s an outcome I did not deserve and a major example of screwing up.

Ruby was carrying seventeen puppies, and here are the big mistakes I made:

1) She had too much calcium. I was feeding her chicken backs because they are cheap. That’s fine for all dogs except pregnant bitches. She should have been switched to a much more muscle-heavy raw diet in order to support her uterine contractions. Because she had too much calcium in her diet, her parathyroid had trouble liberating calcium from her bones, which led to an extremely prolonged labor. I was trying to follow “the rules” and didn’t want her to go more than three hours between puppies, leading to my second major error:

2) I managed the labor with oxytocin. I did it in a way that I thought was savvy, using tiny injections of 1/10 cc every hour or so to keep her contractions going, but I now know that it’s almost impossible to safely get multiple puppies born with oxytocin. The stronger contractions that even TINY bits of oxytocin create cause the puppies’ placentas to separate before the puppies get up to the birth canal, and they suffocate before they’re born. The first nine puppies were born live over a period of 22 hours, and then she stalled out. I started pushing the oxytocin at that point. I lost five puppies of the remaining seven, who were born over the next 18 hours, and I had no idea why. I figured they’d just been in the uterus too long, or were too small. I found out how completely wrong I was when she had the seventeenth puppy – THE NEXT DAY. A full 48 hours after the first puppy had been born. Alive and wiggling and just fine. I am absolutely sure that I took away whatever (good or slim) chance those last puppies had by insisting that she contract and have puppies on a certain schedule.

That experience completely changed how I think about labor. It prompted me to do a boatload of research into the role of hormones and calcium in canine labors and there were lots of moments when I had to go pound my head against a table when I realized what I had done wrong. At this point I won’t use oxytocin AT ALL, except as a cleanout shot or to help deliver a deceased puppy who is already at the birth canal but not coming out, IF that is for sure the last puppy. If I can’t keep the labor going with calcium (Cal-Sorb or the new Oral Cal Plus), she gets a c-section. No questions asked. I never want to end up with a mom who is as exhausted as poor Ruby was, a breeder who is as frantic and panicky as I was, or puppies losing their lives because I was trying to be so “smart” about managing the labor.

By the way, the babies that you see up there were quite small for Dane puppies, averaging 12-14 oz when a smaller litter typically ranges from 22-30 ounces, but they did beautifully. I weighed them around the clock for two full weeks and they stayed small for my other litters at those ages but they gained very well. Once they were on solid food at 2.5 weeks they just took off – at 8 weeks they were 18-25 lb, exactly where I’d expect a normal Dane puppy to be.

Here’s a little taste of them at about six weeks:


Oh, and by the way, no, they’re not supposed to be so many colors. You can see black, fawn, blue, and the guy up in the corner is a blue fawn (fawn with a blue mask and overlay instead of a black mask and overlay). We knew the dad could produce fawn but the mom’s last fawn relative was six generations back. So we figured we’d get all blue and black puppies, which is what we wanted. Instead we got this amazing rainbow, which makes me a bad breeder but I did LOVE them. Sigh. They were an awfully pretty bunch.

Postpartum weight

I don’t claim to be anything close to an expert on breeding. WOW, trust me, no.

But I did do one thing pretty well, I think, purely because nobody told me what was “supposed” to happen. So this isn’t really a brag; it’s more of a “what can happen when nobody told you it was impossible” story. I will be happy to tell you all the “Joanna makes colossal mistakes” stories later ;).

When I had my first Dane litter, I didn’t know or remember that bitches were supposed to look bad during or after nursing. So I just fed pounds and pounds and pounds of raw food, four or five times a day, and I kept on feeding. Every time the mom dog walked by me, I handed her food. I put a can of evaporated milk in every bowl of water. I poured heavy cream over her food. I made her hamburgers and crockpot stew and canned food and anything else I could put into her mouth.

And it worked. It really worked. She was weighed when the puppies were eight weeks old, when I took the litter in for vet checks, and she was two pounds over her pre-pregnancy weight (she was 142) . She shed like crazy but her muscle tone was fabulous.

When the puppies were eleven weeks old, she looked like this:

luwinwhtfeather-3I had my two keeper puppies at that show (Fitchburg, I think?); they were actually nursing before she went in for Winners.

Her next litter was extremely hard on her; there were four dead puppies in the uterus and it set up a huge infection. She had an emergency c-section to get out the last few puppies and, as the vet said, several pounds of decomposing tissue. The picture I have of one of the puppies (she carried 11; six survived) when they were eight weeks old is actually the last one I have of her; she died four weeks later when we had her spayed.


Despite how sick she was and her c-section, she was never below her normal body weight and she was always muscled out the wazoo. I remember vividly how she looked in the yard, eating half a deer (yes, half a deer – that was when we lived in WV and we could get tons and tons of game and meat, so they ate deer and giant parts of cow), with her nursing belly swaying from side to side, pausing to turn and casually growl at one of the other adult dogs so they would not even THINK about taking some from her. She also got entire cow stomachs and would eat, gosh, ten pounds of tripe in a day.

Two years later her daughter, Ruby, came to me to have a litter for her (wonderful) owner. I got her a week before her due date and she stayed until they were seven weeks old.


This is Ruby between two and three weeks after whelping seventeen puppies (12 survived – that’s a story for another post). I chose this one because on the counter behind her you can see the tools of the trade – the weight chart for the puppies, a bottle for supplementing (which I had to do VERY little), a pint of heavy cream that had just been poured over Ruby’s food, and my coffee mug that was never empty. What you see there, with Ruby looking muscular and sleek (she’s sitting weird and was always a little narrow in front, so ignore the chest), is how she looked through the whole lactation.

I used to make Ruby huge pots of cereal and meat – I’d cook oatmeal in whole milk and mix in pulped vegetables, raw ground beef and evaporated milk. She’d eat a quart at a time, twice a day, and five or six chicken backs for the third meal. I am exhausted just thinking about it!

But, you know, that insanity worked. She went back to her owner when the puppies were 7 weeks old and she looked GREAT. Shiny, tons of muscle, and close to 140 lb.

I went looking for my other litter pics but it seems that they’ve been lost – I’m actually surprised I found these, since we lost most of the computers and of course all the data CDs in the fire. But it was a routine I followed for all my mom dogs and it really did work.

It’s not going to do long-term damage to your nursing bitch to get skinny. The overwhelming majority do end up looking very, very thin and they recover beautifully. Nursing moms are built to put everything into their milk and then recover that weight and muscle once the puppies are weaned. The way I did it is hardly the only right way to have a nursing mom. But if you want to minimize the weight loss, if you want her to go back to the ring quickly (not really possible for the coated breeds because they lose all the hair, but very possible for the short-haired breeds), it IS doable. It’s a crazy huge effort, but if you push the calories in every mouthful it can be done.

Ivomec heartworm

I did heartworm preventative on all the dogs today, which reminded me to post the recipe I use.

I get cattle Ivomec and dose at about 1/100 cc per 10 lb once every 30 – 45 days. I was a little bit late this time, right at 45 days, but I was getting them all tested for heartworm (which I do once a year) and was paranoid about somehow masking the infection. They’re all negative and so the preventative begins again. Ivermectin is actually effective for close to 60 days; the 30-day dosing on the Heartgard box is so that if you forget a month your dog should still be OK. If I were in the South I’d probably go closer to the 30-day recommendation.

Obviously, it’s very hard to draw up 1/100 of a cc of Ivomec! So I use a tuberculin syringe and get 1/10 cc, then draw up 9/10 cc of saline solution. Take off the needle, tip the syringe back and forth ten or twenty times, and dose about 1/10 cc per 10 lb of dog. I tend to go over just a tiny bit, so Clue gets the dosage for a 30-lb dog, Ginny gets it for 15 lb, Bronte gets it for 35-40. 

That’s about it! Ivomec makes a lot of sense when you have multiple dogs, as long as you make sure the medication is very well mixed with the saline or propylene glycol or corn syrup or whatever you use. I think it’s a lot of needless mixing for just one dog, and I don’t DIY for puppies either. 

Ivomec can seem to be astoundingly inexpensive if you divide it out; one $40 bottle will dose a corgi once a month for something like a hundred years! But remember expiration dates; Ivomec on a typical feed store shelf has a couple of years before expiration. For one dog, that means that Heartgard (which is $5/dose from my vet) is actually less expensive than using the incredibly tiny amount of Ivomec that you’d need for those two years, and then throwing away a mostly full bottle.



Edited: Now that I’m home and not posting from my phone, I thought I’d add a little more info.

CERF (for those who are not familiar) is an eye exam that looks carefully at the structures of the eye and the eyelids and lashes. Because of the way the eye grows and changes, a CERF evaluation is only “good” for 12 months. Some breeds require CERF pretty constantly; Goldens, for example, are supposed to get them every six months when they’re puppies because of the particular types of eye issues in Goldens.

In Cardigans, the only common (and thankfully not very common) eye problem that would change as the dog ages is PRA; fortunately there are relatively few Cardis with anything to worry about in terms of PRA now that testing is so universal. It’s arguable that the other eye issues that CERF would typically pick up are so rare in this breed that not every Cardigan “needs” a CERF. For me, though, since these are not my lines and I want to make absolutely sure I am tracking every issue that could possibly come up, I wanted to get her checked out.

The dog has to have its pupils dilated, so the first step is drops in the eyes. You get to sit around for ten minutes or so while the drops take effect, which is roughly (during a CERF clinic) like sitting ringside before Group. Beside me was a person with two Chinese Cresteds, across the aisle were a couple of Goldens, two Poodles had just finished, and a beautiful black and tan Coonhound bitch was on her way in. It was all breeders, so of course you swap stories of health issues and breedings, snark about a particularly nasty handler, sneak in a brag about the big win you just had, and admire the lovely dogs all around you.

The exam itself includes two separate views of the eye by a vet ophthalmologist. She uses a magnifier and looks first at the shallowest layers of the eye to make sure there are no injuries, membranes, or ulcers; she looks at the lids and the lashes to make sure everything fits properly against the eye. Then she puts on a piece of headgear that looks like it belongs in a Dr. Seuss book about nighttime warfare, and also holds a magnifying lens in one hand (so she’s effectively creating a little spyglass), and then looks at the deeper structures in the retina and interior of the eye. The whole thing is very cool for a veterinary junkie like me, and I wish I could sit around for a few hours and stare at dog eyes. 

The vet today was absolutely lovely, the whole thing was run beautifully (mad props to the Yankee Golden Retriever Club), and Clue was totally convinced that the entire thing was a huge party in her honor and wiggled and kissed people and had a glorious time. 

Bronte had a normal CERF earlier this year, so we’re two for two in happy eyes. Not too shabby!

Joint supplement update (Ramard Total Joint Care for dogs)

Yes, I put a brand name in the subject line, but that’s honestly just to a google search will pick it up. I’d do the same thing if I was seeing negative results or none at all.

Thankfully, what I am seeing is VERY positive. I am seeing some real resolution to the subtle signs of stiffness and end-of-day aches and pains that were bothering Clue from that pretzeled pelvis of hers.

She is now jumping up on the bed multiple times a day, often just for the heck of it.

She’s climbing higher on the furniture, often choosing to go up on the cushions or even hang herself over the arms instead of curling up on the seat.

Her topline is much, much better than it has been for weeks; she is no longer popping up her loin to keep the hips from moving around.

And her movement is smoother, longer, silkier. She’s always been a natural trotter (one of the things I love about her structure) and now she’s settling in and really extending again. I took her for a long walk yesterday and I could actually HEAR the difference; instead of pad-pad-pad-pad it’s pad-tiny pause-pad-tiny pause-pad-tiny pause as she suspends mid-stride. 

These are SUBTLE – they’re things I saw (and now am seeing leave again) because I am so used to not just looking at her but assessing her daily. It’s not like she went from a sad sick dog to a marathon runner. But they are very definite changes and I am thrilled by them.