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.

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.

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.

Open thread: Breeder/buyer

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

I’ll start…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then I got a letter in the mail…

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

I think my mouth hung open for about five minutes. 

So what about you? Tell tell!

Breeder Etiquette

(Added last: So for some reason this text looks GIGANTIC in my RSS reader but normal size on my browser. If it’s doing the same to you, just go to the actual blog and it should look normal. I’ll fight with the formatting after I get some sleep.)

I promised a breeder etiquette post weeks ago, but I have been putting it off because I didn’t want to get people mad at me. But I can’t get it out of my head, which usually means that I NEED to write it, so I am doing so. It’s taken me like five days to write, which is why I haven’t updated in so long.

Let me begin by saying that my personal convictions are the result not of having done everything right, but of incredible difficulty and heartbreak. My last Dane litter was such a nightmare (not with the buyers, with the other owner involved) that I still, seriously, have the cold shakes about it. Because of my complete inability to make things work with another person, I feel that I let my puppy buyers down and I know that I was unable to stop one dog from going into a place that I am fairly sure was not the best home for it. 

I’ve also put a couple of puppies into homes that turned out not to be suitable for that dog, and those lessons are reflected here as well.

So trust me, what is below is not “Here’s how I do things that are so awesome,” it’s “Here are the things I totally whiffed and if possible I’d like to not have anyone go through what I did.”

And, of course, I’ve been a puppy buyer more than a few times. I know what it feels like to have your whole world focused on whether a website was updated that day or not.

So here goes. As always, this is my opinion only; feedback is always welcome.

1. Please be free and open with information.

a) Return phone calls and e-mails, at least with a boilerplate response. 

It’s super easy to get completely snowed under with puppy inquiries. You can spend hours a day returning phone calls and e-mails, which is par for the course as the puppies get older but when the puppies are tiny babies you just CAN’T spend all that time away from them. But puppy inquirers feel bereft or ignored or take it very personally when an e-mail or call isn’t returned.

After several litters of people getting ticked at me, I set up my answering machine to say “Hello, you’ve reached… If this is a puppy inquiry, please visit us at our website, which is …. and read through our information. If after that you’re interested in getting to know us better, please send us an e-mail and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.”

I also set up four or five e-mails that I could copy and paste and send to inquiries with very minimal changes. One was “I am so sorry, but we are not taking any puppy inquiries at this time; thank you so much for your time and good luck in your search for the perfect puppy.” Those went to the inquiries that I had a bad feeling about. The second was similar, but listed half-a-dozen breeder names and numbers at the bottom and advised the buyer to contact one of these breeders. That one went to people who sounded good but I really just didn’t have a puppy for. The third was a “Thank you for your inquiry; let me tell you more about the litter” information dump. It was very long, introduced the dogs, talked about what kind of person is a good owner for these puppies, told about my expectations for buyers, and included as an attachment a copy of my questionnaire. The last one was a “So you want to take the next step” e-mail that went to people who had submitted the questionnaire and who had passed my initial screening; it had my contract attached and talked about the specifics of the contract requirements. 

I also sent out a CD to every legitimate inquirer. I HIGHLY recommend this. My first litter I printed out a 15-page packet with pictures, pedigrees, and all kinds of information. It cost about $5 each and HOURS to print out. If I burn a CD, I can put a hundred times as much on it – I put in links to every good web article I can find, I put in tons of training information, health, vaccines, you name it. I’ll add historical and informational pictures and, as my digital cameras have gotten better in quality, more and more puppy pictures with each litter. It ends up costing me about $.75 for each CD, including printing a nice label for it, and I don’t feel any worry about not having enough or about spending so much money that I can’t just give them away. I’ve even brought some (very general ones, with no specific breeding mentioned but all the useful info) to shows and handed them out instead of business cards when people inquire about puppies.

Remember that even though it’s one of many to you, it’s the ONLY one for them. I completely suck at this and I really need a kick in the pants every few days to remember to post new pictures (even though to me they just look like gerbils and are not interesting appearance-wise at ALL yet), to update the website, to gush over each litter like it’s my first. 

b) Don’t set people up to fail

There is a bad thing that happens in a lot of breeders’ minds where after a while there’s almost an “us versus them” feeling about prospective buyers. You set up situations or questions that can only be navigated or answered correctly if the buyer comes in with a ton of “inside information.”

The main idea here is that there are a set of correct answers to a group of accepted questions, and you immediately reject any puppy buyers who don’t answer every question correctly. Questionnaires are a GREAT tool; I would never want anyone to think that I’m criticizing the idea of a questionnaire. What I’m talking about is the difference between “Do you have elderly or disabled living in your home?” and “What are your feelings on putting a puppy in a crate?”

The one is designed to help the breeder put the right puppy in the home; that’s a critical fact for the breeder to know. The second is purely a way of hoping that the owner completely hangs himself. An “insider” will answer using the boilerplate that we all “know” – it’s an excellent way to housetrain, that it’s not cruel, etc. Most uneducated or outsider puppy inquirers will react more viscerally, and will say “Oh, wow, that’s horrible. I would never do that.”

And then you say “Ha ha ha ha, you idiot” and chuck the application.

I understand this, believe me; I’ve felt it myself. But it’s not either healthy or fair. And I am not convinced that it WORKS. Asking questions like how they feel about crating, or who the dog will be taken care of by (the only “correct” answer being both adults in the house) and then rejecting applications based on the uneducated answer, diagnoses nothing more than whether the buyer has read enough websites that they know the politically correct breeder-approved answers to the questions. 

The two placements that I’ve done that have failed the most spectacularly had exactly “correct” answers to every single question of that type on my questionnaire; one, I later found out, had given those same perfect answers to two other breeders and was busy collecting dogs. The other had given me every right answer but had zero intention of actually acting in the way they had indicated.

The ones that I am most proud of were pretty universally owners who were brand-new and who came into the transaction completely clueless but eager to do it right. 

So I’d ask breeders to be aware of the difference between Internet research and true intentions. Don’t speak Dog and then criticize people who don’t know it yet. 

Some questions are absolutely essential to ask. Some only provide good information about how much the buyer does or does not know. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t try to figure out the person’s intention for the dog. I’m just saying that if the answers are wrong, provide tools and reconsider. If they say they might like to breed the dog, there are hundreds and hundreds of good articles on exactly what breeding entails. Heck, invite them over so they can see what’s involved; meet them at a show so they can see what that is. If they strike you as mentor-able, why not sell them a show puppy? If they (as most will) say wow, not in a million years would I ever want to do this, they’re a lot less likely to sneak off and breed the dog than someone who wrote down the right answer but thinks that you are keeping some kind of secret about how much money you can really make on puppies.

c) Explain the weird stuff

Good breeders insist on doing certain things that seem CRAZY, either super-hyper-controlling or actually victimizing of the buyer. We say “You are going to give me a check for an amount that could buy a used car, but I’m going to name it and I’m going to control it and I’m going to microchip it in MY name and I’m going to prevent you from breeding it and I’m going to visit your home to check on it.” 

It’s no wonder that people start to feel like breeders are out to rip them off or pry in a completely unnecessary way into their lives. It can feel like the breeder is trying to suck all the fun and benefit out of owning a puppy. Can’t NAME it? Isn’t that a little nuts?

I think as breeders we owe them a clear and reasonable explanation, and a chance to fully understand what’s going to happen LONG before they send a deposit or pick up a puppy. If you are honest about the fact that it IS going to sound weird, and here’s why we do it, you’ll get people on board and not make them try to figure out how they can wrest the most control over the dog away from you.

2) Please socialize the litter until they leave for homes. If you are going to keep the puppy beyond eight weeks, socialization (COMPLETE and SOLO socialization) becomes your responsibility.

This is not an option, and far too many breeders treat it like it is.

Until eight weeks, group socialization within the litter is perfectly acceptable. You MUST provide lots and lots of different people, different surfaces, textures, heights, games, toys, and so on. But you can do it within the group, where each puppy is learning both from the environment and from the other puppies.

Within the group is also where the puppy learns the fundamentals of bite inhibition, so keeping him or her within the litter until as close to 56 days is always the best idea. 

Where a heck of a lot of breeders fall off the job and put the future of the puppies in real danger is that they do not switch from a litter socialization to solo socialization from eight to twelve weeks.

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

The way you set the puppy up for success in life, and create a dog who approaches every challenge with bright optimism, assumes every person is wonderful, and communicates well with every dog, is to expose him or her SOLO to everything the dog can reasonably expect to encounter. And it MUST be done before 12 weeks.

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

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

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

So my strong message to breeders: If you are keeping a puppy until ten weeks, you’ve left the owner just two weeks to get all that done. Is that reasonable to expect? Is it even physically possible? I’d say no, so you’d better be busting your hump to socialize the puppies from eight to ten weeks.

And if you’ve kept a puppy until twelve weeks, as so many do, that puppy is completely shaped by what you have done. You are delivering a handicapped puppy to its new owners if you have not undertaken a complete – and again I capitalize SOLO – socialization of that puppy. That dog may have been able to grow up perfectly well and happy in your home, where it would never encounter anything other than what it has already seen, heard, smelled, and felt before it turned three months old. But if you sell it and it goes to a new home and the doorbell sounds different or the recycling truck is at a different pitch, or the new home has sheep and horses and yours didn’t, that puppy is substantially less able to react to those challenges in optimistic, confident ways. It’s just not fair to ask the new owners to overcome that kind of a deficit. 

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

3) Please remember that you’re selling a dog, which is a piece of property. Your responsibility as a breeder is to provide a puppy that has the best chance to succeed in THEIR house, not yours.

This goes back to socialization as well, but it touches on the big-picture ideas of ownership and your responsibility versus the owner’s. Breeders, where they get “impolite” about this (since this is supposed to be about etiquette), tend to do so at either end of the spectrum. Either they do not support the owners enough or they become “helicopter parents” (heck, I know a few who are more like Black Hawks!) that try to micromanage every aspect of the puppy’s life.

None of us really like being reminded that they’re just property, because it seems to contradict what we feel about our dogs, but if we move the dogs in our homes out of the realm of property and into the realm of anything else – companion, child, long-term tenant – we lose the ability to do much of the good we do as breeders. You don’t have the right to tell your tenant who to have kids with; you don’t have the right to expect that your companion will sleep in a cage at night, or pick up that duck and bring it back to you. 

The contracts we ask puppy buyers to sign are good and necessary and mine is ridiculously long and scary, but we have to realize that all the contract gives us is some (slim, usually) grounds on which to sue someone. Are you going to sink tens of thousands of dollars into a lawyer and probably fail to win because a puppy buyer disobeyed you? I think most of us would if the dog was actually in danger, but would you do it if the dog was being fed the wrong thing? To a great extent, once they leave our homes they leave anything but an illusion of our control over them.

When it comes to selling (especially pet) puppies, think carefully about what you can succeed at; figure out where you’re willing to fail.

This is up to each breeder and there’s no one right answer. For me, personally, I am completely unwilling to fail at providing a puppy who has the structure to live a normal life, go up and down stairs, run after kids, chase sheep and cattle. It also has to have some personality or behavioral basics that will enable the socialization efforts of the new owners to work well. I am completely willing to crash, burn, and explode in noisy pieces when it comes to color, coat, whether the tail curls. I am somewhat willing to fail when it comes to herding instinct and bone/substance and head type. 

So my decisions on breeding will focus on making sure that I come the closest to reliably succeeding (in EVERY puppy, not just the show puppies) on those things that I feel I must provide as a “product.” I will place high but not highest priority on the things I want to be there.

And I try to realize that the raw product (the eight-week-old puppy) has a higher chance of failing in the home if I’ve made success difficult to reach. Hence the structure that can (hopefully) withstand stairs, or the temperament that is as receptive to training as I can make it. 

Now, trust me when I say that I do my absolute best to scare new puppy owners to DEATH. We have a 60-minute “Come to Jesus” conversation over my contract and my recommendations before I bring the puppy out into the dining room. But the fact is that once they close the door and walk away, it is their puppy, not mine. 

4) Please keep the money where it belongs

If you sit at a table with a bunch of breeders, they will discuss dogs with joy and glee and respect; eyes light up and hands start waving around. They will discuss other breeders with more or less focus on whether they think that breeder is succeeding where they’ve decided a breeder should succeed, or they’ll tell stories of road trips or show mishaps or that show puppy that got away. They can get catty and gossipy, but it stays reasonable.

Where blood pressures go through the roof and horrible names are called and dire warnings about EVER associating with that person start to come out is where a breeder has lost even one dollar, one puppy, one litter, to another person “unfairly.”

The stories about this are rampant. “I put her on as a co-owner and the next thing I know she’s in New Brunswick and I never saw that dog again.” “I told him he could have a puppy from that litter and he came in and took my pick boy, just walked away and now look, that dog’s in the top 20 and is my name on it? Nooooo.” “Yeah, she said that I could take Pepper as a replacement for that dog who failed his hips… then Pepper started winning. She shows up at my house and says that by rights Pepper’s litter should be half hers, but she’ll be ‘nice’ and just take two pick puppies back!”

My personal story is one that I don’t want to talk about in specifics because the dog and the owners are still alive, but it ended with someone standing on my lawn screaming at me, and then flatly refusing to sign litter registration papers. I believe that what I did that caused so much ire in that situation was not only right, it was the ONLY right thing to do, but it caused a storm of fury and retribution that ended up hurting a ton of people and made me feel horrible for months afterward. 

All these have led me to the following conclusion:

a) Co-owns are the devil. 

I should clarify, of course. Co-owns that are a “legal” (at least according to the vast file cabinet that is the AKC) reflection of an existing partnership are totally appropriate. I will co-own Bronte with Kate because both of us will tell you that she is a dog with two moms. I also co-owned a bunch of prior dogs with another breeder because I felt it reflected the real situation; she was supporting me a great deal with help and advice and travel and so on, and putting her name on their papers was a sign that I knew who the real brains of the operation were. 

Co-owns as a way to exert force or coersion upon a dog owner, be they pet or show, causes SO much pain and resentment that I really think the vast majority are not worth it. 

Look at why we do them: We keep co-owns on bitch puppies so the owner can’t breed her without our permission. But it doesn’t REALLY do that, does it? All it does is keep them from registering the puppies with AKC. It doesn’t put a chastity belt around her or prevent them from breeding her half a dozen times and selling the puppies as “purebred no papers,” which in my area gets you a full 50-75 percent of the registered puppy price. And the whole process of refusing to sign the papers causes so much blackness and hatred that it’ll take years off your life.

If you think the bitch isn’t breedable, you can sell her on a limited registration. That way the owner has only the AKC to blame for the lack of papers. If she is in fact a show puppy and you sell her on a co-own, you’re either adding an extra layer of complexity on to the paperwork for a person who was never going to do anything without asking you anyway, OR you’re only “protecting” the bitch from a bad breeding in terms of the breeding ending up on AKC paperwork. You’re not preventing the breeding in the first place.

And it is very important to realize that the AKC can be horrifyingly capricious about granting registrations without the second signature. When I tried to approach them in my situation, they said “Forget it; without the second signature you’re completely out of luck.” But in the SAME MONTH an acqaintance of mine who had bought a puppy, and had not been given the registration slip because the breeder had registered the litter but routinely held the individual slips until proof of spay/neuter, called AKC up and was told that they WOULD issue a slip to her because the breeder had already registered the litter. 

DO NOT LOOK TO AKC to save you. If you don’t trust the person you’re selling the dog to, don’t sell them a dog on full registration. If you DO trust them, save them the pain in the neck of mailing things back and forth to you, and just sell them the dog. 

b) Never let a financial arrangement ruin a friendship; never let a financial arrangement form the basis of a friendship.

The dog is the only thing that matters. If the welfare of the dog is at stake, heck yes you abandon friendships. But if you’re really going to chuck ten or twenty years of happy friendship over who gets to show a puppy that is worth a thousand bucks, you need to move cautiously. Similarly, don’t assume that your stud dog owner is going to run with you through a field of bluebells; being excited about a breeding is not the same as sharing the breeding when the rubber hits the road. If one of those puppies is diagnosed with a heart problem, don’t get resentful if the stud dog owner is suddenly  as far from the bluebell field as she can get. Being ticked off because a person who you handed a check to isn’t acting like your best friend is just going to lead to horrible stress and resentment on both sides.

c) Prepare your pet puppy buyers for the financial reality of ownership.

Be very clear about your financial/return/refund policy; do not let the puppy leave your house until the buyer has agreed that he or she understands it. If your contract includes these aspects, make sure you also address what can and will happen in the event if dissatisfaction with health, temperament, etc.

There is nothing worse than a buyer assuming that what you will do is what someone has told him “good breeders” do, or a buyer being scared to come back to you because they don’t know how you’re going to react, or a dog falling through the cracks because you and the buyer have a disagreement.

The classic conflict arises when a puppy buyer has wrecked a dog, it’s now three years old and biting everyone, and they want their money back. If that’s what you offer as a breeder, then you need to pony up. If it’s not, you needed to be very clear about that three years ago. On the other end of the spectrum is an owner who is demanding a replacement puppy but won’t bring the original one to you, and you don’t find that acceptable because you’re pretty sure that something very hinky is going on. 

My own policy (and, again, this is not the only right one) is that I never sell a dog twice. If a dog or puppy is returned to me and it is able to be sold – that is, if it is not a rehab job – I will gladly return to the first owners every penny that I get for the dog the second time around, less my expenses on travel and/or vet. On the other hand, if I have to not only give this dog away but put in hundreds of dollars on trainers and behaviorists and vets before I can do so, I do not refund money. I try to encourage people, therefore, to act sooner rather than later. If they are coming to believe that this isn’t working, it’s in everybody’s best interests to have the dog come back to me quickly.

My health return policy (after the normal five-day or seven-day no-questions-asked refund) is that I will replace the puppy as soon as possible, but I do not promise a cash refund, and if the owners have fallen out of touch I want to see the sick or unhealthy dog. If it ever came down to a real-life situation, I’d be more than happy to (rather than give them a puppy from the next litter) sell “their” replacement puppy and give them refund money, but I don’t promise it in the contract because there are just too many ifs. I don’t want to write down what I cannot deliver.

Like I said, what I do is not more correct than what you do. You can do more, or less; you can have the most bizarre contract or weird expectations you want. You run the circus. Just make sure the buyer knows exactly what is going on and has read the entire contract and discussed every clause with you before they walk away.

5) Please remember that far more unites us than divides us.

We are all passionate about dogs. We are all trying to make their lives the best we can. We all spend (according to the rest of the world) far too much time, money, and energy thinking about, training, grooming, hand-feeding, and obsessing about dogs. The infighting can get so vicious that we forget that we have a lot more in common with that horrible person who stole our handler from us than we do with 99.8% of the rest of the world. It is not a bad idea to take a deep breath and ask “So what are you feeding now?” and remind yourself that they care just as much about the answer as you do. 

White spotting cont.

From the (very good) comments:

From Chris: One thing interesting about collies verses their cousins, the shelties, is that for the past 60+ years, blazes in collies have been frowned upon and thus have largely been bred out (or at least minimized to near invisability). The vast majority (90%+) of collies have solid (no blaze) heads. Even the white collies (i.e. color-headed whites, not double dilute whites) tend to have solid colored heads or discreet blazes. Collie breeders just HATE big blazes (I know – I had a blazed collie, my late great Pablo, and at the nationals, some folks recoiled as if he sported a big scar on his head instead of just some white hairs. I kept my eyes open for other “strongly blazed” collies and found 5 others – that year the nationals had a entry of IIRC 800).

I don’t believe the “white-eared mismark is found in collies. I’ve never seen or heard of one in modern times.

I remember an interesting discussion about breeding white shelties and a comment was made that it should be discouraged as it tended to produce deaf dogs. I was surprised as color-headed white collies hear just fine (I’ve had two including my current sable-headed white, Fawkes). My pet theory on why white collies don’t have hearing problems is due to the lack of blazes in the breed. In contrast, blazes are widespread in shelties and so breeding two white factored shelties with blazed faces might well produce pups with excess white on the head and the increase possibility of deafness. My theory may be totally bogus but I like it for now.

Chris – I have definitely noticed the blaze preference. The interviews I’ve seen with the Weatherwax people about choosing the official Lassies (which have never been AKC registered and are hardly show quality, but are purebred) seem to focus entirely on picking the one puppy that has the big fat blaze people think of Lassie having.

I think the science supports you on head white. Breeds with very strong head color can sustain piebaldism for generations upon generations without a lot of color-related deafness; look at the Papillon.

Having said that, deafness has many, MANY causes in dogs, and blaming it only on color leads to lots of (legitimate) objections. Color around and over the ears is a fine rule of thumb, but we shouldn’t automatically think that every white-headed dog is deaf because of lack of color, and we shouldn’t assume that every deaf dog that has head color must somehow have white hair inside the ears or something. For that reason, and because even the whitest of white-spotted breeds doesn’t produce only deaf dogs, I don’t personally like attempts to justify color disqualifications based on deafness; there are too many inconsistencies. I DO think it’s a good idea for breeds who have an existing definition of a spotted color to try to avoid the temptation to go whiter and whiter and whiter. That trend is something you can see in a whole bunch of breeds, because we tend to see whiter dogs as flashier. Encouraging breeders and judges to keep the correctly marked but darker dogs on an even footing with the lighter ones makes sense.

I should also add that I am not sure it makes much sense to treat color-related deafness like it’s a gene. You have recommendations in a bunch of white breeds to not breed unilaterally deaf dogs, because the deafness “may be passed on.” It’s not the deafness that’s being passed along, it’s the COLOR (or lack thereof). You could perfectly responsibly breed a deaf dog as long as the breeding partner had a lot more color, and two hearing dogs can certainly make a bunch of deaf puppies if the parents produce a lot of white. Treating it like it’s a separate gene from the color-related ones doesn’t do the dogs any good because it falsely penalizes (or falsely elevates) breedings that may give you completely different results than the parents show.

From Carolyn: One clarification: “mismark” generally indicates a dog with too much white to be (easily) showable, such as a half-mask or white-headed dog. The Pem and Cardi standards differ: any body white above a horizontal like from the elbow back is a “mismark” on a Pembroke. In Cardigans we generally label this a “splash coat”. Only dogs with over 50% body white are to be faulted. Likewise on the head, white ears are permissible in Cardis but not in Pems.

It has been generally accepted for quite a while that head white and body (excess) white were not related. We had our own early experimentation: our first bitch Julie was a plain male x a white-headed bitch. There were no mismarks in either of the litters they produced. For Julie’s first litter we bred her to a half-mask. Result was 5 normally-marked heads, 2 half-masks, 1 white-headed. We lost an additional normal face, half-mask, and white-head at birth. No extra body-white (piebald/splash coat) on any puppy.

Alice and Hunter obviously each carry both the head-white and the body-white genes.

Boxers and some other breeds have restriction to the piebald gene which mimic Irish spotting. I’m wondering if Irish was completely eliminated from the boxer/Pembroke cross descendants.

Carolyn – What I should have said more clearly in what I wrote earlier is that Little’s divisions of “irish,” “piebald,” and “extreme piebald” aren’t supported by DNA evidence.

Cardigans aren’t actually irish spotted, not as we’ve traditionally defined the term (as being on the “s” locus as a kind of minimal piebaldism), and there aren’t just three types of spotting in the MITF-spotted dogs.

Instead, we need to come up with a new term for herding-spotted (which also may be Bernese spotted and Boston Terrier spotted), and differentiate it from the MITF.

And we need to understand MITF better; one study I looked at thought that MITF actually encompasses a huge spectrum of color, from very minimal white to entirely white, depending on how many copies of the mutation were being passed along. This would make sense when you look at spotted breeds.

If this is in fact the case, one scenario that would make sense is that in Bull Terriers and Boxers and Danes, what’s been trapped in the breed is the ends of the spectrum and nothing in the middle. So you have, for example, 2 copies of the mutation (plain dogs) and 20 copies of the mutation (white dogs). When bred together they balance and create a dog with medium white (the flashy or mantle-marked dogs). You can’t make the medium white “stick” because the components are 2 and 20.

In terms of how Cardigan mismarks work, we do now have a good idea how piebald Cardigans end up in litters (both parents have a copy of MITF with some number of mutations). We don’t know how the head mismarks work. As of yet, we don’t have any evidence for a half-mask or white-head gene within the herding spotted gene, because we have no idea even what the herding spotted gene is. Even the fact that I’m calling it herding spotted is my own invention and I’d have to be very ready to abandon it. Breeding-based evidence is not a bad thing, but (as we find with a whole bunch of Little’s stuff) it often bows in the end to different data once the genetic basis is discovered.

We also have to learn which color characteristics are not genetic – we know that some are developmental and are not the result of genes, at least in cats (cloned cats can be different colors and have different eye colors from the original cat). White chest spots in solid breeds are probably the result of this kind of random developmental event.

 As an example of this phenomenon, Dalmatians as a breed have a big problem with uric acid; they have a gene that prevents them from breaking it down and excreting it. Dalmatians have been bred to Pointers to attempt to create Dalmatians with normal uric acid metabolism. This experiment has been a resounding success in terms of cutting the rate of the bad uric acid mutation, and the “new” Dalmatians with some Pointer blood look like perfectly normal Dals and are of high quality in all respects. All, that is, except for the sacred spots. Dalmatians with normal uric acid production have smaller spots than the Dals with high uric acid. The low-acid dogs don’t have the half-dollar-sized perfectly round spots that are the holy grail of Dalmatian color; they’re more dime-sized. You can see this beautifully illustrated in the “I” litter here. So what’s going on? Is the uric acid gene also a pigment-controlling gene? Or does a higher concentration of uric acid in the dog lead to larger spots? Can breeders push the low uric acid dogs to have larger spotting without abandoning the positive health effects?

All of these questions (Dals, Cardi heads, etc.) are COMPLETELY open at this point in time. We just don’t know how it works, and the genetic research has shown that the picture is actually incredibly complex. What I find just riveting about this kind of stuff is that it turns out that so many different gene mutations can cause the exact same changes in appearance. Who knows how many different mutations we’ll eventually find leading to white spotting and other colors, some of them isolated in just one breed and some widespread.

Oh, and I have no idea whether the Cattenach (Steynmere) dogs have retained a more stable white spotting pattern than their cousins. I’ve been following his dogs for years, but he doesn’t usually post pictures of whole litters so I can’t tell what the spotting has done. I know he does have white dogs.