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.

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.

Falling off the turnip truck

As you know, I am a tiny new baby breeder, and really not much better in Danes. I don’t think you really get there until you’ve been breeding and showing long enough that your third or fourth generation dies of old age. My first are now veterans (sniff!) but I cut and run, and when I did so I asked the owners who had the last puppies on full registration to spay them. So there will be no more. I am thrilled that dogs from my breedings got titles and recognition and that the breeding I decided to do will go on because of wonderful owners like Sue G., who put Gr. Championships on the dogs she bought from me, and her boy became part of some very nice pedigrees and her efforts with him live on. I am in some ways even more proud of the TDI dogs, the obedience dogs, the “just a really good dog” pets.

But the fact is that I barely got going in Danes and now I am a baby again in Cardis. And I am still just feeling my way, acting on my convictions but in many ways groping forward with very little idea of what’s next. I am still hurt by every tiny setback, still putting all my eggs in one basket, still building air castles. 

None of those things are particularly great, which is why I don’t tend to talk about my breeding plans (because I am stupid and very much still guessing) and do tend to talk about behavior or philosophy or responsible breeding, where I feel more at ease and have many more years to back me up. I bred my first animals (show rabbits) almost thirty years ago, and since then I’ve showed everything from zucchini (no, I’m not joking) to horses. I am not sure I’ve ever done anything without competing with it, in fact – from crabapple jam (first prize!) to Nubian and Saanen goats (one of the few things I rescued from the burned house was a bowl with “Highest Butterfat Production” engraved on it). 

I’ve been told I’m incredibly naive because I still think that showing is fun and I still trust people. I even had someone yell – and she was genuinely mad – “That’s not the way it works!” when I told her that I had asked a competitor about a problem with my dog. She said that every “real” exhibitor knew that you never reveal a fault, never let them touch your dog, and (I am not exaggerating) never let them know YOUR REAL ADDRESS. Because in the real world, as soon as you look like you have a decent dog they’ll try to wreck it or poison it or throw rat bait over your fence. And every group-winning dog has her tail fixed, or is secretly spayed, or whatever.

I don’t live in that world of constant suspicion and expectation that people are in a steady state of trying to screw me. And that’s not because I’m inexperienced – it’s because since I was seven years old and given a copy of the ARBA Standards of Excellence and somebody set up a Dutch rabbit on a grooming table and showed me what a cobby body is and why cowhocks are bad, I’ve had SO MUCH help. From polo players who taught me how to pick a stall to the ADGA judge who showed me what a good medial suspensory ligament is to the dog people who clucked over my dog and not only immediately helped me fix her but hugged me when she finished and I cried, I have not only been impressed by the generosity of animal people, I’ve been OVERWHELMED. 

So let me tell you how amazed I was, one more time, at the help we had with Bronte and her puppies. And how much care and consideration was shown to a pair of brand-new breeders. And let me be honest and set myself up to be screwed by saying that I’m worried about Bronte, because she seems to have taken this pregnancy hard, and I am always, perpetually, constantly worried that the puppies will thrive. For the next twelve years I’ll be looking for that e-mail or that that voicemail or that instant message that will make me go over to the couch and put my face in my hands. 

All of which is a very long intro to the fact that I am still new enough to breeding and to dogs that I can have major epiphonal moments where a thousand cogs in my brain all of a sudden fall into place. I think, at least for me, a lot of showing and breeding is like that. You read and talk and watch videos and go to shows and read and talk some more, and then you go to Nationals and actually see sixty dogs gaiting in a row and movement suddenly makes sense. You talk and read and e-mail your mentors and put your hands on all the dogs you can, and it all builds up in your mind until you have your first litter. And then the light finally turns on and you understand how toplines mature and why they affect how the dog moves.

That’s why in some ways I have gotten more out of the non-regular classes at the various Nationals I’ve attended than I get from breed – seeing the Stud Dog class at my second Dane nationals turned on a major lightbulb when I saw how clearly it showed what that dog consistently improved and what he could not improve or even made worse. Watching Veterans teaches you more about structure than most classes – which dogs are still moving easily and consistently at age eight or nine? Which were huge winners in their youth but now can barely trot? 

One of the very cool things about having showed so many animals is that when those pieces fall into place they do so across a bunch of species. Why are cowhocks bad? Because they don’t leave any room for the udder and bang against the mammary tissue (goats and cows). Because they can’t get out of the way of the animal’s own manure (rabbits). Because they destroy the efficiency and power of movement (dogs and horses). A well-laid-back, well-blended shoulder is the same thing in rabbits and sheep and goats and horses as it is in dogs. A long loin is a weak loin in every single animal. A narrow ribcage with very little space between the ribs is penalized in every single standard of every species I ever took in a ring or put on a table. And so on. Structure is structure is structure is structure. Movement is movement is movement. Proportions are astonishingly consistent; what makes an attractive head or a strong front or a functional croup is very much the same across most of the mammals. 

Which is why it was such a delight, a new moment of wonder and clarity, when I was able to go over Bronte’s puppies. Forcing my brain to adjust from Danes to Cardigans has been extremely difficult and I was not sure I could do any kind of a job of understanding those puppies. And I still know I have EVERYTHING to learn about “type.” But the structure… it was all there. It felt under my hands like it was in miniature (I’m used to 25-lb eight-week-old puppies, not 7-lb!) and having all that hair takes some real getting used to, but shoulder, topline, ribspring, second thigh, tailset, all there.

It was an abrupt and very dramatic mind-change for me, too. I all of a sudden understood why established breeders enjoy having multiple breeds around, why it’s a virtue that Pat Hastings has bred 28 different breeds. It’s honestly a huge kick to find the truest and best structure hidden by the various superficial differences between the dogs. I wanted to go home and touch a whole bunch of puppies. I DID go home and watch six hours of Crufts, trying to see if I could see rears under the Lhasa’s hair (no, not good enough yet) or shoulders in the sporting dogs (getting there). 

It made me feel that maybe the scent of turnips is a tiny bit behind me now – not very far (I can still see the tire tracks) but I’m at least a tiny bit more prepared to make good decisions.

We’re home

Apologies to the puppy buyers who are going to see a very messy apartment tomorrow, because I just unloaded the car and dumped it everywhere and now am going to fall face-first into bed.

This was 2,000 miles, 42 hours of driving over five days. Four kids, six dogs, a two-day migraine, and a heck of a lot of Wendy’s wrappers. Tomorrow I have to try to clean the rental car before we return it.

Last leg of the trip

After a few hours of sleep we’re getting ready to head south from Vermont to MA. Traffic is going to be horrible, so we will be home sometime tonight.

The puppies are doing beautifully – they made the horrible trip yesterday with surprising ease (Zuzu was a lot more of a challenge than they were) and they are very, very happily running and playing here. This has definitely been a “trial by fire” for them in terms of kid-safety, since they all of a sudden have six kids (my four and their cousins) in their faces every second. They’ve been absolutely wonderful.

As much as I have hated all the driving, getting to know the puppies better has been a real treat. Stella is a pretty pretty princess and she knows it. She bounces everywhere and barks at everything, but she thinks about it – she sounded the alarm an hour ago when Zuzu tried to wander off the lawn into the woods. She’s constantly head-up tail-up watching watching watching, of course when she’s not biting my shoes and licking everyone’s toes.

Scout is SUPERB with other dogs. She has actually made Ginny unbend enough to play with her. We always know where Scout is – rolling around and having a great time with one of the adult dogs. She reminds me a lot of Bronte in that way – B has always just adored other dogs. Scout is the first to learn a new skill; immediately figured out drinking from a sports bottle (which is how I watered six dogs for the 14-hour trip to VT), the first to figure out the new doors, etc.

Fergus is just melt-in-your-mouth sweet. The kids LOVE him. His face is SO pretty that you can’t stop looking at him. He’s full of fun and he is completely willing to go along with everything we do. Very relaxed about all the changes. Very typical boy in that he looked at that sports bottle and went “Ummm… that makes no sense to me and therefore I will think very hard about how it does not exist.” And of course I caved and ended up watering him out of my palm for the whole ride :D.

Susan, Nancy, and Stephen (i.e., their new owners): does Tuesday after lunch work for you to come get them? I realized that because I’m just delivering them and Kate had all the hard work of interviewing and going over the contract and whatnot, I don’t need to do my usual schedule-each-person-at-least-two-hours thing. Any time you’d like to come by after lunch would be fine. Let me know if you need directions again.

They are just GREAT puppies. I will be proud to hand them off and know they’ll do very well in their new lives.

Fabulous fergus

Fergus is the third puppy up in front for no other reason than because the others got grabbed first. He is a totally great puppy.

I always fall in love with the boys because they are so sweet. Fergus is definitely one to remember. He NEVER stops grinning. Pick him up, grin. Put him down, grin. It’s all about what game can be played next. Where Stella is fizzy and Scout is mellow, Fergus is ball!play!tug!kiss kiss kiss! Tug!