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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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 http://www.kolumbus.fi/haywire/

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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

Sterlingbluelupine

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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?

HERE’S WHY IT MATTERS: BECAUSE IT HURTS THE DOGS. And NO DOG deserves to be hurt.

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.

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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.

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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.

FALSE. AND SERIOUSLY NUTLICIOUS.

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:

http://www.thedogpress.com/Columns/Editorials/09052-Crop-Dock_bj.asp

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.

Assess-A-Pet animal behaviors, cont.

PLEASE NOTE: Because I am using screen captures of a website that is not my own, and also because even having this stuff on here skeeves me out, this post will stay up for 24-48 hours and be made private.

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Because this was so striking to me, I wanted to show the Internets what I am seeing in the Assess-A-Pet behavior “identifications” and why they disturb me so much.

It is VERY VERY obvious to me that Sue Sternberg is afraid of dogs. Specifically, big or muscular dogs. I am not sure if she’s actually afraid of the dog per se or if she’s got a sort of PTSD after the many and inevitable failures that the testing has produced (because it’s absolutely ridiculous and impossible to say that a dog will not bite in any adoptive home) and all she sees is the possibilities for this dog to rip someone’s face off. Either way, the body posture and the wording of the descriptions is incredibly evocative.

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Thanks to my handy-dandy screen grab, you can see what I don’t think she even knows herself (these are all Sue Sternberg in the pictures).

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In this illustration we learn that “whale eye,” which every normal behaviorist in the world knows is a sign of uncertainty and tension, is in fact the dog CONTINUING TO LOOK AT YOU EVEN WHEN HE’S TURNING HIS HEAD AWAY. Wow, this dog REALLY wants to eat her, doesn’t he (or she)?

It makes no difference to her that the white in this dog’s eye is on the completely wrong side of the eye for him to be looking at her, which I guess means he wants to eat the camera person.

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OK, first, the tapetum is what make a dog’s eyes glow in certain angles of light. It’s across the whole back of the eye, so unless the dog’s eye is completely closed you can see it if you’re at the right angle. But it’s a scary word and it sure sounds scientific-y and reliable, doesn’t it?

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Such a rich subtext in this one. See how many words you can find – the dog is “denying access” (which is very different from “avoiding touch” or “is unsure how to react” or “attempts to initiate play,” any of which could be substituted if you’re talking about a dog grabbing a leash).

The shelter dog is immediately identified as NOT a pet dog. That is a clear signal, so pay attention. Shelter dogs can be destroyed without guilt because they are not pet dogs.

There’s a whole cluster of fear words, not just fear words but interpretive fear words, in the next line. See how the dog, who is a SHELTER dog and has just denied access to himself, is now climbing up the leash toward the tester’s innocent hands? Of course it’s “unsafe,” because the leash is “the only point of control” over this dangerous animal.

Looking at the hand position and leash tension in all these photos, it’s super clear that she does really believe that the leash is the only thing saving her.

At this point she seems to send the red and white dog off to be put down (I guarantee you that pretty dog up there was dead within hours of the photos being taken – look how many poor behaviors he or she illustrates), and (the next day? She’s changed clothes, so either it’s the next day or the red and white dog touched her with his anus too many times and she got “disgusted”) brings in a little fawn pit or pit mix.

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Poor little boy pit is scared to death, but his actions are being interpreted as a possessive mating attempt, especially since they’re combined with (gasp!) whale eye!

I could go through the whole site, and could take screen grabs of her book as well, and illustrate this fifty or sixty or a hundred times, but it’s all the same. Every single behavior that is not incredibly soft, submissive, and (this is key) performed by a small, non-working breed, is labeled something to be scared of and a reason to be put down.

She really has devised and written (and teaches in person) a series of tests that you can use to fail any dog you choose. She even does this herself, according to testimony from her workers – if a dog doesn’t object to having its mouth grabbed and pulled open, and she thinks the dog is dangerous, she will repeat the mouth grab as many times as it takes for the dog to object. (I just tried this with Clue, by the way, who has been trained to show her bite since she was barely weeks old – the magic number for her is six times before she starts to whine in confusion and when I let her go she buried her head in my leg. Aggressive! Denying access to herself!)

As you may be able to tell by now, I find this method, this effort, and this woman not only profoundly disturbing but the fate of dogs being put through this unsympathetic and paranoid testing just heartbreaking.

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: http://www.thewholedog.org/artDemodex.html (ignore the brand name recommendations)

http://www.gdhfa.org/ImmuneSystem.htm (skip down below the thyroid stuff to vaccines and nutrition)

Open thread: Assess-A-Pet Shelter Assessments

As a spin-off of the last few posts, I was googling around and found this:

http://www.animalsforadoption.org/00ethogram.html

It’s a list of behaviors, defined, in the same way that, say, Brenda Aloff’s book has photos and defines behaviors.

The list above is Sue Sternberg’s. She’s the person who pioneered a program called “Assess-a-Pet,” which tells shelters which dogs should be put down.  All of the behaviors on that list are ones she defines as either pass or fail behaviors.

To give things away a little bit, I’ll give you a hint, because I’ve read portions of and skimmed all of her book.

The pass behaviors are:

Soft Eye

Sociability

Bow (IF the tail does not go above the body)

In some circumstances the throat-showing behavior is OK. In some others it is not.

Every other behavior in the list, if offered at any time, for any duration of time, is a sign that the dog is unsafe and should probably be euthanized.

Unsafe behaviors not in that list include:

Turning away from another friendly dog

Mouthing hands without licking when given affection

Whining while trying to reach a child OR pushing a child with the nose OR trying to come between an affectionate adult and a standing child (these, specifically, are instant fails because it’s a “highly predatory behavior” that indicates that the dog wishes to cut off, bring down, and consume the child)

Please read every link over in the left-hand bar, then come back and comment here.

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.

Success! 

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.

OK, onward to the CRAZY DOG-WASHING HOO-HAH:

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.

http://www.time.com/time/potw/20090430/potw_06.jpg

which is this photo:

potw_06

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

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/03/26/earlyshow/living/petplanet/main608959.shtml

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.