Monday, April 26, 2010

The Miracle of Growth

Ever heard the expression "the miracle of birth"? Well, I'm sure that there is something miraculous there, but really, I think the real miracle is the miracle of growth!

The puppies are 10 days old today, and yesterday I took this picture of Zeva resting her head on her sister Zena's flank during their nap time. They are changing so rapidly! Part of that is pure physical growth - they have doubled in size from their birth weights, and their features are beginning to look distinctly like puppies, rather than more generically like (choose one) potatoes or rodents.

But what inspires the most awe in me is their rapid neurological and motor development. You can literally see the puppies' nervous systems developing during what is known as "activated sleep", in which they twitch, tremor, and move. It's one of the things we watch for - a pup laying perfectly still in sleep is in trouble, and should be evaluated, because it's not normal...Fortunately, all of Emmy's pups are quite active sleepers! ;)

Their eyes should open by next weekend, perhaps a few days before. Ears will not open for another full week or so. Their motor skills, however, are already increasing. While they can't yet truly walk, they are using their legs much more fully to propel themselves, boost themselves up onto and over each other, and lift their little behinds up in the air.

They are becoming more vocal as well. No barking at this age, but a real repertoire of grunts, whines, squeaks and a sound that a friend described as "tribble-like" from the tribbles on Star Trek.

And amazingly, their personalities are already starting to show - the puppy who beats everyone else to the nipple, even pushing others out of the way, the puppy who hangs back a bit and excels more at cuddling than getting his own way. It's not an accident that Zeva was resting her head on top of Zena - she's often at the top of a pile of puppies...

In between watching, holding, cleaning, petting, and generally marveling at the puppies, I'm reading The Breeders' Guide to Raising Superstar Dogs by Jerry Hope, Another Piece of the Puzzle: Puppy Development by Pat Hastings, and bits of How to Speak Dog, by Stanley Coren, who does a fabulous job talking about dog-dog communication....their first language.

And of course sitting with my feet up in a soft chair, with a sleeping puppy up against my neck, feeling my own heartbeat slow and blood pressure drop...

It's a very sweet time!
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Sunday, April 18, 2010

New HeavenScent Puppies - New Strategies for Raising Them!

On Friday, April 16th, my Basset Emmy delivered seven healthy Basset puppies - four girls and three boys. She was quite considerate about it...delivering the first at 1:30 in the afternoon, and the last at 9:05 at night. I had the whelping box linens changed and the first of what will be many loads of laundry running by 10 PM. Only experienced breeders will recognize what a welcome, and highly unusual, timing this all represents. Usually deliveries occur late at night, often after 24 hours of panting, pacing and generally looking like things are about to start but then don't....;)

Emmy is an excellent mom - she immediately recognized her puppies (this is not always the case with a first whelp), and got down to taking care of them by cleaning, nursing and trying to get their umbilical cords down to a length she approved of. Here, we disagreed. I won initially, but I believe she fixed things to her liking while I had my back turned as she was nursing ;)

Today, the puppies are three days old, and I'm starting on a program called the Bio Sensor or "Super Dog" program. It's a series of five exercises done daily with each puppy - each lasting initially only 3 seconds and later 5 seconds, so each puppy's exercises take no more than 30 seconds a day. It's done from day 3 to day 16, a period in which their eyes and ears are not yet open, but they can perceive thermal, positional, tactile and movement stimulation.

According to Dr. Carmen Battaglia, a noted dog writer, breeder and judge, the US military developed the Bio-Sensor or "Super Dog" program for their working dog breeding program. These Bio-Sensor exercises create brief, manageable stress that encourages rapid development of the puppy's neurological system.They found that dogs exposed to Bio Sensor stimulation have long term benefits.

Benefits include:

  • Improved cardio vascular performance
  • Stronger heart beats
  • Stronger adrenal glands
  • More tolerance to stress
  • Greater resistance to disease.
In addition, puppies who received Bio-Sensor stimulation were more active and more willing to explore new things that their littermates who didn't receive the stimulation. They also were less stressed in learning and test situations, such as obedience work or new environments, and made fewer mistakes.

So each puppy will experience five exercises daily:
  • Stimulation with a q-tip between the toes,
  • Being held head upright,
  • Being held head down,
  • Being placed on their back and
  • Being placed briefly (3 seconds initially, up to 5 seconds towards two weeks of age) on a cold wet washcloth (and given freedom of movement so they can crawl off if they want).

I'll be interested to see whether the puppies raised with this program will be particularly adaptable to challenges they face - whether in the show ring, in tracking or other performance sports, or in their day to day lives as family pets.

I'll also be curious to see what I learn about the puppies' individual personalities through their reactions to these exercises. I know, for example, that Zelda, who was born first, REALLY doesn't like being put on her back. That was evident from day 1, when I had to briefly put her on her back to tie off and clean her umbilical cord. In contrast Zorro, born last, has gone along with pretty much everything I've done very easily!

One of the greatest joys for me in raising a litter is learning about their personalities, watching their interactions, and seeing their social skills develop from a very young age in the pack that is their litter and the adults in the household - first their dam, and later the other adult dogs who play with, mentor and sometimes correct them!

Every litter is a new learning experience - I'm glad to have these new-to-me tools to try with this one!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Is three only one more than two?

I hang out on an email list for people who show dogs, and another member of the list is in turns hilarious, wise, thoughtful, knowledgeable and just a generally all around nice person. She's also a really good writer, so she's a pleasure to read. You should check out her super blog on dogs here:

The other day, she was asked by a family what breeds might fit in well with their existing two dogs - an easygoing Doberman and another somewhat dominant dog. She said in her post to the email list we frequent that she thought the ability to fit into a pack was really more about the individual dog than the breed, and wondered what others thought.

Like the kid in class who FINALLY knows the answer, I hopped up and down (virtually) and waved my arms back and forth and then shouted out my answer. It comes out of a number of years of involvement with both my own Bassets and with multiple fosters/adopted Bassets. And it's also informed by my experience in a purebred dog rescue organization for many years, where I get to talk to people rescuing other breeds on a regular basis.

Note: this was posted to a list of people who are "in dogs" - they train, show, raise, breed, and otherwise arrange their lives around their dogs. Unless their dogs are female, at which point they train, show, raise, breed and otherwise arrange their dogs around their bitches. It's just a term - like a cow is female and a bull is male. You'll see it here from time to time...

There are definitely breeds that are going to live more comfortably in a pack - and three dogs is going to qualify as a pack. Many of the hound breeds, and in particular the scent hounds, were bred to live in quite large packs and can do so quite successfully if their owners are observant of the individual differences and uses some caution about who to house and exercise together. Contrast this with a breed developed to guard livestock, or as castle-guardians, and you're *usually* going to have an easier time integrating a pack-oriented dog into the household described.

However, "usually" is the key. There are certainly, within even "pack" breeds, great varieties of personality. Some are more dominant, others more laid back, and even within those personalities there are differences.

In my Bassets, I have a very dominant bitch (10 years old, on the left in the picture) who rarely lifts her lip. She does it all with a look. God, she's good ;)

Another dominant bitch in the pack (who will probably take over top-spot when my top bitch "retires") is developing her skills. When she first arrived, she would often pick fights. However, she appears to be learning from her elder, and is more likely to use blocking, looks/stares and low growls now if she wants to make a point. I hope she continues to refine her approach as she ages (she's 2 1/2)

However, my top bitch's "enforcer" (this is a third bitch in the pack, 8 years old, on the right in the picture), will physically put another dog in their place in a nano-second if she takes offense at something they are doing, but would *never* challenge the top bitch. So to the casual observer, if she and the top bitch were alone in the home, she would seem "very accepting", but in a pack, she certainly stirs the pot!

So I would say that both individual dog and state of their maturity/development does trump breed to some extent.

Add to this two other factors that are important for the family who originally sought advice...

1. They are seeking a rescue dog. Which I think is great. But it has an effect when adding a dog to an existing pack. The level of knowledge of the foster home, not only about the individual dog, but about pack dynamics, is going to be important. Assume that the rescue starts with very limited information. Even if they have been given information about the dog, in most cases owners relinquishing will either downplay problem personality traits, or exagerrate them, depending on the situation at the time the dog is given to rescue. If it was a stray, all bets are off in terms of background of the dog.

If the rescue/foster home is savvy, and the rescue dog has been with them a while, they may be able to advise on whether it's got the potential to be a good match or not. But by "with them a while", I mean about 2-3 months. Less than that, and you still don't have a good idea of the dog's personality, because everyone is still on "guest manners". If the foster home is not experienced, or if they choose to go directly to a shelter, it could be very iffy. If they go the rescue route, they should make SURE that they have an agreement that if the placement is not working out they can return the dog, no questions asked, no resistance.

2. They are adding dog three into the pack. The existing pack dynamics will almost certainly shift, and they can't be sure of how.... The "very accepting" five year old Doberman may be very accepting of the current dominant dog, but might end up being that dog's 2nd in command in relation to the newcomer. On the other hand, that Doberman might decide to be Omega to the new dog. If the new dog also wants to be the Omega, it may not lead to fights, but can lead to two really miserable dogs. I did have a foster once who wanted to be at the bottom of the pack order. Problem was, I already had a resident Omega dog. She was completely thrown by having a foster dog come in who wanted to submit to her - it had never happened before, and I could tell throughout that foster's stay how miserable it was for my existing bottom girl....It was actually fairly amusing to watch, because they could not bring themselves to fight, but there were all sorts of maneuvers they tried to keep themselves where they wanted to be....

Adding dog number three is not just a linear progression. It's really a leap into new territory in living with dogs for most folks. The wonder of living with a pack is watching it all unfold. There is so much to learn there, so much to enjoy. But we have so much less control, I believe, than we like to think we have. Except to keep everyone safe, and if needed, make sometimes hard decisions about who needs to stay/go for the greater good if they can't work it out.

PS. Someone else posted to the list later, pointing out that sex can also make a big difference. And they are right. In many, if not most, breeds, dogs are easier to keep in a pack than bitches. They settle things between themselves more easily and usually pretty quickly, while bitches who take a dislike to each other will often keep a grudge and keep coming back to the conflict. With less experienced owners, I usually recommend two dogs as the easiest to keep together, followed by a dog and a bitch, and finally two bitches together if the family is up for a challenge!

Thursday, March 4, 2010


So sorry for the delay - Ranger was found by Margaret, his owner, 10 days ago - after 2 1/2 weeks out on his own. This counted as pretty much a miracle, because he was out in an area with a lot of coyote and cougar activity. He's healthy, lost about eight pounds and is now gradually putting this back on, and is settled back at home.

Someone asked me what was most helpful in locating Ranger.

We got SO much good advice that was helpful. I contacted dog email lists, and Margaret did a lot of web research...What seems to have helped was:

* Putting out a lot of flyers at mailboxes (can’t do it in the mailbox, but we folded them and slipped them between the flag and the box) in the areas that Ranger was seen in. This generated calls, usually for about 2 days, from people who saw him. But the flyers had to be “refreshed”, or they lost impact.

* Putting up BIG very simple signs – got this from the Missing Pet Partnership page – see here: for an example. We used neon poster board – LOST DOG at the top – REWARD at the bottom, and a flyer of Ranger in between. People had to stop to read it, but the LOST DOG/REWARD got their attention. We flyered at major intersections and the top of the road leading down to where he was spotted a lot.

* Walking the area where he was missing and talking to people. Margaret, Ranger’s owner, visited these neighborhoods and with the rock quarry he was hanging out at extensively. The rock quarry folks called *everytime* they spotted him, and so we knew basically where he was hanging out. Alas, they also tried to catch him one time, and he quickly moved on. Here we were VERY lucky, because he was traveling a power line right of way, so it took him to a natural outlet behind a housing development about 30 blocks distance away.

* Being open to accepting help that was offered. Several people offered to come help look, and came and walked the area. Two friends with dogs came to try to track Ranger, and to try and create an "attractive activity" that would draw him in. People in the neighborhoods where Ranger was spotted got out for more walks with their own dogs in an effort to spot him. People who helped included friends and complete strangers who saw postings here and on craigs list. The outpouring of support and practical help was very moving, and kept Margaret going on the darkest (and often the wettest - it's February in the Pacific Northwest) days....

* Using satellite maps. Margaret was able to pinpoint where to look by studying the satellite map and figuring out where Ranger would end up if he kept going along the right of way that he was on. She knew that he didn’t really like to get around people, they were scaring him, so she figured he might be back of there. And that’s the next place she started flyering and postering (by this time, I was out of the picture, first sick and then in NYC). Again, she got sightings reported to her as a result of the flyers and of conversations she was having with people.

* Persistence – Margaret went to the area he was last seen in every day for 2 ½ weeks, only changing the routine when his location changed. Even when there was no sighting for four days, she kept going back. She also put out food every day, in one particular spot, to try to draw him in. She missed only one day, near the end of the time he was out, because the lack of sighting just got to her emotionally. The next day, we were scheduled to go out together and refresh flyers, and she went out earlier and that’s when he came to her car while she was out looking for him. I believe that her daily visits created such a scent pool that eventually it got through to him that she was there and that’s when he came out.

We both also tried to make contact with animal communicators. Many did not even return calls. Some did and said they didn’t do lost dog work. I was so glad I was warned about that, because I wouldn’t have expected it otherwise....But one called Margaret back, said she did not do lost dog work, and explained why – she said she couldn’t get the kind of “map like” images she felt she needed to be helpful. But she offered to try to make contact with Ranger, and did – she said he was frightened of the noises (and he is a noise sensitive dogs, but Margaret had not said anything about that...), and that he had found a solid shelter, and was eating in the early mornings, mostly from garbage cans. We were pretty sure that she was right about the shelter – lacking that, the coyotes or cougar would have gotten him before that...

Margaret and the animal communicator talked, and she sent the simple message “go to the people, they will help you”. I don’t know if that finally helped. I’m a pretty linear person, and so the whole animal communication thing is out at the edge of my beliefs in some ways – but there are things that the rational mind doesn’t grasp, maybe it did help.

If I were talking with someone who lost a dog, I’d say:

* LOTS of flyers, distributed *frequently* so that the memory of the lost dog is refreshed constantly.

* Neon big posters.

* Being willing to collar people, talk to them, make yourself visible in the community. Margaret said she was starting to feel like a stalker in the neighborhood she was in, and I know she worried about that – but she also got a lot of help pinpointing his location, because people saw she was really serious and did get out and take more walks, looked around more, opened their eyes and called her.

* Being willing to accept help - there are a LOT of dog lovers out there - and many of them want to help...

What a long ride this was! What a delight to see Ranger's sweet face again!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Help Find Ranger - Please link/crosspost widely!

This is a dog lover's worst nightmare - despite secure fencing and lots of watchfulness, a Basset that I've been dogsitting for a friend got out of my yard yesterday about 11 AM. He was spotted in the area about 4:30, so may be sticking close, but my house and the house across the way both back up to hundreds of acres of dense woods, swampy land that's hard to get through for a person (but perfect for a dog with a good nose), and is criss-crossed by fast-moving rural roads.

We were out looking all afternoon yesterday, and have signs up. But please, if you read this, please cross-list, link and cross-post widely - particularly if you know anyone in the Olympia, WA area.


Ranger is a sweet and gentle boy, and he'll come to friendly voice. He's wearing a collar, tagged and microchipped. His mom REALLY wants him home. His picture above, is very reflective of his usual posture - nose to ground, tracking the good stuff. He did not get the short-legged gene, so he looks a lot like a Bloodhound puppy, and acts just about as goofy.

Please help us find him...Thank you!

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It takes a village

It takes a village, some people say, to raise a child. I think that's right. Although parents are, and should be, their children's primary source of support, guidance, nurturance, young people do not reach adulthood without the need for additional adults - as role models, teachers, mentors, guides and friends.

It takes a village, I think, to keep a dog as well. A dog's owner should be the primary source of support, care, attention to health and socialization. But it's a rare dog owner who can go through a dog's life without the need for support in their care.

Behavior or health puzzles exceed our scope of knowledge - we need advice, perhaps not just from a competent veterinarian, but from others in dogs who have more or different experience. We need the support of reputable breeders, owners of our own breed or another breed, people who have lived with multiple dogs, blind dogs, dogs suffering from arthritis, dogs experiencing stress - people who have learned how to help dogs manage all the multitude of challenges that they might face during their lives.

Or life changes, and we have to travel more, work longer hours, take on other responsibilities - and need the support of neighbors, friends, family or paid caretakers to keep the dog on an even keel, allowing them to be at home or cared for safely while we are gone.

Ill health or even death comes calling, and our dogs must find new homes in which to live out their lives. If we've been thoughtful about the possibilities, we have made arrangements for those homes, left instructions that are clear, and have made a plan that allows them to have an orderly transition that minimizes their loss and hardship.

Do you have a support system in place? Do you know who can help you with information and skills to keep your commitment to your dog throughout its life? If something happens to you, is the information about who to call readily visible? Do people know, and are they committed to, their roles in relation to your dogs?

Rescue is a valuable resource. But we should be a valuable *last resource*, not a first stop. Dogs are not things. They are living beings with, we hope, good long lives to live. Think through what it will take to travel by their side throughout those years, to help them grow, develop, learn, age, and ultimately pass on. Connect with other dog lovers in your life to make a plan for your dog's secure future - and that of the dogs you care for in your extended family and friend circles. Become part of the village. Your dog is counting on you. Your neighbor's dog is counting on you too.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

It's foster puppy time!

We've had a foster puppy in the house for the past couple of days. I say "we" because even though I make the decisions on my own about whether to bring foster dogs in, it's really the canine pack that has to live with that decision on a minute-to-minute interactive basis. It's a team effort to manage the transitions involved in bringing a dog in for a while and then let it go successfully.

This foster is a puppy. The owner who relinquished her believed her to be five and a half months old, based on the birth date that she was given when she bought the puppy over a month ago. It's clear, however, that this puppy is only about 3 months old or so, because she has had no break-through of adult teeth. I can just now feel one starting to push through the jaw, and that generally happens at about 3 months or so.

What this means for this puppy is that she was separated from her dam (mother) and littermates at about six weeks of age - way too early for positive development. Between six and ten weeks, puppies usually learn good dog-manners. They learn bite inhibition (not to bite too hard, or for foolish reasons), appropriate submission to older/more dominant dogs, and how to initiate play and play properly. The most effective teachers for these lessons are the pup's dam and its littermates - who teach the lessons organically, in the day-to-day interactions. As humans, we are poor substitute teachers.

Amazingly, this particular puppy is doing really well in her dog interactions. She's been schooled twice by Luna, the pack leader of my dogs. Both times involved a big rush at the puppy by Luna, a LOT of screaming from the puppy, and my quick realization that the adult dogs had never laid so much as a lip on her, let alone a tooth. With the other girls, the puppy has been playing a lot. She's a self-confident little pup, but not brash. She approaches her elders pretty much correctly - although Emmy would like it if she would stop trying to grab onto her side, and has told her so... And the girls are good with the pup - they roll over on their backs so that she can "win" some of their play sessions, and are willing to leap and run and tussle with her pretty much any time she asks.

I don't know how this family managed to raise such a well-adjusted little pup away from her pack, but they did a good job on that front. In her family she lived with six children between the ages of 2 and 14, and apparently was great with the kids. And she's fitting very nicely into the pack life here. I'm grateful to them for that beyond what I can express, because I know the alternative - a dog that cannot be socialized because she missed early socialization, who ends up bouncing from home to home, or in a shelter euthanized because she can't be safely placed. It can happen in any breed. It does, sadly, sometimes happen to Bassets.

On the other hand, they clearly didn't understand the first thing about puppy health. After a single vaccination by her breeder, her family did not follow up with shots of any kind. As a result, I haven't let her feet touch the ground outside the house since she got here, because her risk of infection with parvo or distemper is really high. At her age, puppies don't maintain immunity from shots for more than about 3 weeks or so, so repeated vaccinations are usually given to keep immunity working until the puppy's body can maintain the immune response - usually around 18 weeks. The pup was vaccinated the day after she got here, and in another couple of days, I will feel comfortable with her interacting with the outside environment, but right now, she's still at fairly high risk if she encounters these viruses.

She was also never wormed, which explains why I can see her ribs clearly, and she's ravenous but then had poor digestion. She was wormed yesterday, and is now actively shedding her worm load. Not the most pleasant sight, but I'm still delighted to see it, because it means that soon, she'll be putting on weight and thriving.

I fault the family somewhat for not taking her in to their vet for a well-puppy check - where they would have found out about the need for vaccinations and for worming. But more, I fault the pup's breeder for not educating the family on her continuing care needs. It's the breeder's responsibility to make sure the family buying a puppy they have produced knows what's needed for the puppy to grow up healthy - actually, in the case of vaccinations, even to stay alive! Of course it's hard to do a good job of educating when you meet the buyer in a parking lot to hand over the puppy in exchange for cash. And if you don't follow up after the puppy goes to its new home, it's easy for the new owners to decide not to take the pup to the vet, because after all, you said it had had a set of shots...

But this little girl has dodged the bullet and ended up in a safe haven full of big dog beds and routine (which puppies love) and big dogs who play with her - at least if she remembers to approach the right ones! Tomorrow, she'll be visited by a couple that hopes to adopt her. They've had Bassets for over 50 years, and their vet was delighted when I called for their reference. Their last Basset lived over 14 years, and passed peacefully in her sleep. I'm hoping the same for this little pup.