When you live with dogs medical emergencies can and do occur. Last week, Corey had an health crisis that required me to put my “emergency plan” into action.  It worked pretty well so I thought I’d share it with you.



Friday morning I gave Corey some medication and followed by a treat as a reward. Rather than swallow it, Corey choked on the treat. I knew instantly that it had gone into her airway.

1. Confine other dogs.  As soon as Corey gagged, the other dogs came running.  The puppy was licking Corey’s face and the other two dogs were milling around nervously. I quickly locked them away. Their behavior is normal for dogs but not helpful.  Dog fights are not unusual at times like this.  A sick dog may be frightened or in pain so may lash out. The healthy dogs may be confused by the sick dog’s behavior so may attack. It’s best to separate them to keep the situation as calm as possible.

2. Prioritize problems.  Years ago, I was taught the following priorities for human medical emergencies that I also use them for my dogs:

a. start the breathing

b. stop the bleeding

c. treat for shock, and in the case of dogs, bloat

If they cannot breathe, I cannot stop the bleeding, or they are showing signs of shock (pale gums, shallow breathing, withdrawing) or bloat, we head immediately to the vet.

3.  Think about how your dog’s history might affect the situation.  While I was observing Corey, my mind was thinking about her health and temperament.  She’s a 12 ½-year old golden retriever so she is a senior citizen.  Two years ago, she had major heart surgery to remove the sac around her heart.  She’d bounced back easily but I knew her heart was not normal.  As I watched her struggle with the cookie, I was debating about the risk of pneumonia or a heart attack.  However since she is a friendly, stable dog, I wasn’t worried about her becoming aggressive due to fear, pain or handling.

4. Assess the situation.  Since Corey was able to breathe, I watched her for 15 minutes.  She was getting air but her breathing was ragged.  She began shivering.  I could hear her stomach churning.  Suddenly, I saw her stomach expanding.  Within minutes we were in the van on the way to my vet. Why did I leave then, not earlier?

a. Breathing.  Since Corey could breathe, I was willing to wait to see if she could cough up the treat.

b. Pain.  Dogs rarely whine or cry from pain.  Instead they shiver just like they are cold.  Corey’s shivering showed she was in pain but I was still hopeful she could cough up the treat, which would fix the situation.

c. Bloat.  When Corey’s stomach began to expand, I feared she was on her way to bloat from pain and fear.  Bloat (gastric dilatation) is when the dog’s stomach fills with air and on occasion twists (gastric volvulus).  Bloat is a dire emergency for any dog.  If this is happening to your dog, do not pass “Go,” do not collect $200.  Go directly to your vet (or a closer one if your dog is showing severe signs).

5. Call the vet sooner rather than later.  I have my vet’s phone number memorized but also have it in my cell phone in case I forget in moments of crisis.  I had already called to let them know what was happening.  Once Corey’s stomach started blowing up, I let them know we were on the way.  Between the two calls, they knew what was going on so were ready for us.

Otterkill Animal Hospital

Corey’s regular veterinarian

6. Know where to go and how to get there.  You can’t call 911 for dogs so it’s up to you to know where to go during emergencies.  We ended up at the emergency clinic on Saturday so I was grateful I had done some prior planning.  Prior to Corey’s emergency, I had:

a. discussed emergency options with my vet at an earlier visit

b. Googled the clinic he recommended, looking for information and reviews

c. driven by when I was out doing errands.

d. called to get some key information

e. put their phone number and address in my cell phone

Vet Specialty Center of the Hudson Valley logo

My Emergency Clinic

Thus, when Corey and I headed to the emergency clinic on Saturday, I knew:

a. how to get there
b. how long it would take
c. they had veterinarians and technicians on 24/7
d. they accepted my credit card for payment but they needed a large deposit before any treatment

7.  Have accident and injury pet insurance.  Years ago another Corey crisis inspired me to get pet insurance for accidents and injuries.  Although I save money for my dogs’ routine care, I know how fast emergency vet bills can pile up.  Within 15 minutes, I was looking at a $1200 vet bill for a tiny little cookie.  Knowing that Pets Best would pay over $800 of that made it much easier for me to approve Corey’s treatment plan.

Thankfully, Corey is resting comfortably and should recover from her Cookie Caper within a week.

What is in your emergency plan for your dogs?


March 8, 2013 — 3 Comments

This past weekend, I launched a very exciting new venture, Avidog International LLC (www.Avidog.com).  With two of my friends, I have started a business focused on inspiring and empowering dog breeders and puppy owners to raise fabulous dogs.

Taking questions in Ottawa

Taking questions in Ottawa

Avidog’s first project was a two-day seminar that I presented for the Ottawa Valley Golden Retriever Club last weekend.  The first day was on “Transformational Puppy Rearing” and covered the period from before a bitch is bred until her pups go to their new homes.  We discussed using nutrition, care of the dam, and physical, social and mental puppy development programs to rear terrific puppies.  On Sunday, we focused on “Transformational Puppy Evaluations” to match the right pup to the right home so that dog and owners will thrive.  During this discussion we had fun watching videos of the Avidog Puppy Evaluation Test (PET), which we have developed to evaluate temperament.

The breeders and owners in Ottawa were a fabulous group, asking great questions and sharing fascinating stories.  They were the perfect gathering with which to launch Avidog!  Despite travel challenges and severe sleep deprivation, they made my weekend wonderful and very interesting.

Why was I so sleep deprived?  Well, it wasn’t due to too much partying!  I will blame it on Peach who held off giving birth to the Max litter until the wee hours of Friday morning, hours before I was flying to Ottawa.  For three days, we had been watching and encouraging her, thus not getting a lot of sleep.  In the end, she gave us eight beautiful pups, six girls and two boys.  Sadly, we lost one tiny little girl on Saturday but the rest of the litter are doing wonderfully at a week.  You can see them at gaylansgoldens.blogspot.com.

Puppy paw

I am very excited about Avidog since it combines my love of teaching with my passion for breeding and raising puppies that can enrich people’s lives.  My next adventure is presenting more of our puppy-rearing systems at the Penn Vet Working Dog Conference in St Louis, MO in April.  There I’ll be talking about the Early Scent Stimulation (ESS) work we have been doing for eight years with our pups.  I’ll let you know how it goes!

It has only been in the last 15 years that I have begun to question commonly accepted beliefs regarding dog care and breeding. What should dogs eat? How should they be vaccinated? When should they be castrated or as we more delicately put it in the US, spayed and neutered? Yesterday, my growing concerns about the spay-neuter status quo were supported by a top American research institution. Here is my story.

How do we make the best decisions for our dogs?

How do we make the best decisions for our dogs?

Early in my career in dogs, I believed that spaying and neutering went hand in hand with responsible dog ownership. Like other loving owners, I assumed that castrating my dogs would protect them from cancer, ensure they were not aggressive towards people or dogs, keep them from roaming, and generally provide the best possible life for them. As important, I would also not contribute to the dog overpopulation problem. Like any responsible breeder, I sold my pet puppies on spay-neuter contracts that required castration at 6 months of age. I felt guilty not spaying my breeding girls, fearing that requiring them to have babies was shortening their lives.

In 1988, I moved to Germany for three years. The only castrated dogs that I met in Europe were owned by Americans. Not a single German dog was spayed or neutered. Yet the dogs were healthy and well mannered, played together without incident, joined us at cafés, and met politely on city streets. There were no packs of sex-obsessed dogs roaming the streets. Nor were shelters filled with homeless puppies. In fact, about the only dogs in the Karlsruhe shelter were those dumped by Americans before returning to the States.

When I got home to the US, my 5-year old dog developed a uterine infection and was spayed. “Not to worry,” her vet told me, “She won’t change at all.” Within 6 weeks, this very high energy dog went from eating 10 cups of Eukanuba a day to only 2. Prior to spaying, we had never worried about maintaining her weight. Now we began a lifelong effort to keep her lean yet still satisfied. Within a year, my previously wash-and-wear dog developed a horrible coat that mildewed…literally. Despite regular grooming and bathing, the stench was so bad that we had to shave her so all of us could be in the same room.

By 1998, I was seriously questioning the party line that spaying and neutering were best for all dogs. How could all of Europe not castrate their dogs if it was essential to their health and mental well being? Why were my breeding dogs living into their teens while some of the pet dogs that I sold dying of cancer before 10? Why did my retired, spayed girls suddenly turn into hairy, chow hounds, looking for food everywhere and anywhere while I attempted to keep them slim and clean?

At the same time, I saw the cancer rate in golden retrievers climb. My gut told me there was a connection between our diligence in spaying and neutering all pets and the rates of hemangiosarcoma, lymphosarcoma and osteosarcoma in goldens. By 2000, I stopped requiring Gaylan’s pets to be spayed or neutered. By 2008, I made my warranty contingent on the dog remaining intact until at least 2 and preferably beyond. I started talking to my performance and pet owners, asking them to never neuter their boys and to only spay the girls after 4 years. In most cases, these loving owners were caught in a battle between me and their vet. Me, a lowly breeder, begging them to leave their dog intact and their vet telling them their dog would die of cancer if they did.  Most followed their vet’s advice.

My performance owners were also caught between the American Kennel Club and me. Although a dog breeding registry, the AKC only allows bitches in season to compete in bench shows and tracking tests. Once in heat, girls must be withdrawn from all other events, often with no reimbursement of entry fees as if the owner had made an egregious error. I have lost thousands of dollars over the years because of this regulation. Many of my owners have spayed their girls rather than face not only the financial loss but the disruption in their competition schedules.

Flyer in agility

Due to AKC regulations, performance owners must choose between leaving their girls intact and showing them

Over the last 10 years, a trickle of research has hinted that dog owners have been sold a bill of goods regarding the health benefits of spaying and neutering.  Despite the efforts of these researchers, the veterinary community has ignored or even hindered the publication of these studies.

Yesterday, the most mainstream and compelling evidence thus far was released! A team of prominent University of California at Davis researchers published the results of a study on golden retrievers supporting my fears. They compared three categories of dogs, those neutered early (before 12 months), neutered late (after 12 months) and left intact (never neutered), across a number of orthopedic diseases and cancers common in goldens. Neutered animals had higher rates of EVERY DISEASE studied except hemangio in males, where the rates were equal! Here are just a few of the other results:

  • Hip Dysplasia. Ten percent of early-neutered males were diagnosed with hip dysplasia, double the occurrence in intact males.
  • Cranial Cruciate Ligament Tear. There were no cases of cranial cruciate ligament tears in intact males or females, but in early-neutered males and females the occurrences were 5 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
  • Lymphosarcoma. Almost 10 percent of early-neutered males were diagnosed with lymphosarcoma, three times more than intact males.
  • Hemangiosarcoma. The percentage of hemangiosarcoma cases in late-neutered females was about 8 percent, four times more than intact and early-neutered females.
  • Mast Cell Tumors. There were no cases of mast cell tumors in intact females, but the occurrence was nearly 6 percent in late-neutered females.

Read the study yourself at Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers. My gratitude to PLOS ONE and the authors for making this entire paper available for free to all of us!  As a result of this paper, I will continue to challenge the status quo and raise money to fund quality research like this into dog health.

What do you question most about the care of your dog?

Spay-Neuter References

Farhoody, Parvene and M. Christine Zink. 2010. Behavioral and Physical Effects of Spaying and Neutering Domestic Dogs (Canis familiaris), accessed at http://www.vizslacanada.ca/SNBehaviorBoneDataSnapShot.pdf.

Sanborn, Laura J. 2007. Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs.  Accessed at http://www.naiaonline.org/pdfs/LongTermHealthEffectsOfSpayNeuterInDogs.pdf

Torres de la Riva, G., B. Hart, et al. 2013. “Neutering Dogs: Effects on Joint Disorders and Cancers in Golden Retrievers” PLOS ONE.  Available at http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0055937.

Waters, David. 2009.  A Healthier Respect for Ovaries, accessed at http://www.gpmcf.org/respectovaries.html.

Waters DJ, Kengeri SS, Clever B, et al: “Exploring the mechanisms of sex differences in longevity: lifetime ovary exposure and exceptional longevity in dogs.” Aging Cell October 26, 2009.  Article available at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2805875/.

Zink, M. Christine. 2005. Early Spay-Neuter Considerations for the Canine Athlete: One Veterinarian’s Opinion.  Accessed at http://www.caninesports.com/uploads/1/5/3/1/15319800/spay_neuter_considerations_2013.pdf


Puppies are as different from dogs as caterpillars are from butterflies

Puppies are as different from dogs as caterpillars are from butterflies

Do you look at a newborn puppy and see a little dog? Not me! For their first three weeks puppies are as different from adult dogs as caterpillars are from butterflies. They have different digestive tracts, metabolisms, senses and more. If you consider puppies as just small versions of their adult selves, you are likely to focus on their limitations. However, if you recognize puppies as a different state, you can see them as perfectly designed, fascinating, milk-seeking missiles.

At four weeks, puppies undergo a dramatic transformation, going from fully capable nursing machines to young dogs. Although most people think that is when we can start developing our puppies, there four important things breeders can do to develop their newborn puppies during their first three weeks:

Most mother dogs know when to sit up to nurse, increasing their pups strength and coordination

Most mother dogs know when to change nursing positions to increase their pups strength and coordination

1. Support Mom. Good dog mothers know more than we ever will about how to care for and raise puppies. They can provide all basic care that a newborn puppy needs for its first three weeks–nutrition, warmth, cleanliness, and appropriate stimulation and challenges. Breeders walk a fine line between allowing the mother to raise her babies and ensuring the pups stay safe. This requires respecting the dam’s instincts, even if we do not fully understand them. For example, although it looks rough, when mothers lick and clean their fragile newborns they are stimulating their pups in important ways and forming a bond through taste and scent. Most mothers know when to nurse lying down, sitting up or standing. Through these mom-imposed struggles during these early weeks, puppies grow and develop critical coordination and strength.

Beyond caring for and supporting their mother, breeders can help puppies develop to their full potential in three ways:

2. Developing Scenting. Seven years ago, I developed Early Scent Introduction (ESI). Daily from Days 3 to 16, each pup is presented with a different object to smell for 3 to 5 seconds. Since our dogs are primarily hunting dogs, I offer the pups game birds, such as pheasants and ducks. I also include natural materials, like dirt, wood, leaves, grasses and mosses. I avoid most foods but will let pups sniff fruit. Finally, I offer household objects made of leather, plastic, and metal. Puppies as young as 3 and 4 days show clear likes and dislikes. Most of my pups bury their noses in the pheasant and snuff loudly while a lemon slice evokes head-twisting avoidance.

Handling newborn pups helps them develop in many ways.

Handling newborn pups helps them develop in many ways.

3. Stressing Through Touch. Even newborn pups should be handled every day, if not multiple times each day, while they are weighed, examined and cuddled. Gentle handling causes healthy stress and imprints pups on people. Handlers should include others, not just the breeder and her family. Once my pups are a week old, I invite sensible friends to help with weighing, cleaning and cuddling. I usually have many volunteers!

4. Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS). ENS is a structured program of six exercises for baby puppies–four positions, foot tickling and a cold surface. Video of Mr Green, Early Neurological Stimulation and Early Scent Introduction. Although I have found no research to support it, I have found that ENS makes puppies easier to handle. Even high energy pups are more relaxed for everything from cutting toe nails to giving medications to safely holding them in your arms. Since golden retrievers are relatively cold impervious, you can see that I use a pie plate that is kept in the freezer.

Battaglia, Dr. Carmen. Early Neurological Stimulation, AKC Gazette, May 1995.

Newborn pups have their limits but are not helpless.

Newborn pups have their limits but are not helpless.

I am always surprised when people, dog breeding books and even veterinarians describe newborn puppies as “helpless.”  Although newborn puppies have limited abilities, they are anything but helpless.  Just ask anyone who has tried to convince a day-old pup to nurse on a particular teat or moved a pup away from its dam.  These tiny babies know what they want and will do everything in their power to get it.  And it’s darn hard to change their minds!

I suspect we consider neonates helpless because they do not have the senses that we humans depend most on—sight and hearing.  Newborn puppies are blind and deaf at birth since neither their eyes nor ears are fully developed until between 10 and 20 days after birth.

Furthermore, young puppies cannot control their own body temperature internally so need environmental help to survive.  However, even puppies only minutes old regulate their body temperature by moving towards or away from heat sources.  They are known as thermotropic.  If they are cold, they crawl toward their dam, littermates (forming what are known as a puppy pile) or other heat sources.  If they are hot, they move away.  If they cannot find the right temperature, they become very cranky.

Hot puppies cry constantly and move around a lot. Cold puppies may or may not be noisy but usually will not nurse.  Happy puppies at the right temperature are quiet and nurse contentedly.  A quick way to tell if pups are too hot is to put them in the bathtub.  The coolness of the tub will quiet them within a minute if heat is causing the problem.  Similarly, to see if they are too cold, put them on a heating pad.  If they immediately become quiet, they need a warmer spot.

The safest place for newborn pups is next to their dam.

The safest place for newborn pups is next to their mother.

The safest place for new pups is next to their mother.  There they are more likely to be warm, well fed and clean.  To encourage this, I adjust the nursery room temperature until mom and babies stay together.  I want it cool enough so the pups seek out their mom but warm enough that they can nurse.  For my golden retrievers, that is usually 70-72°F but may be a little higher for dogs with less coat.  Unlike some breeders, I do not put a heat source on one side of the whelping box because I do not want puppies choosing between milk and warmth.  My goal is to have their mom provide both of those life-sustaining essentials.

Though limited, baby puppies are very capable of meeting some critical needs–finding their mother and her milk. Neonate puppies can crawl and cry, both often quite strongly, and they have two powerful senses, they can smell and feel.  As soon as they are born, puppies can find their mother by scent and touch.  Once they have found her, they can locate her abdomen and then a teat. Within a short time, they can identify it as a milk source and start to suckle. 

Though they can only crawl, puppies can move many feet and even yards, typically in every increasing circles, to find their mother or a littermate. And, when lost, they can make their situation known through a variety of vocalizations, including a “lost-puppy” cry that most dams respond from the time the last pup is born till they are about three weeks old.

They can identify their dam by smell and touch, identifying which parts of her are important to them, and which are not. For blind and deaf creatures, they are pretty amazing and quite determined.

Through these two important canine senses–scent and touch–that breeders can start developing their puppies’ brains soon after birth.  Next post I will discuss the exciting new ways that breeders can make healthier, smarter pups!

I just sent Ivy’s puppies to their new homes and am starting preparations for Peach’s upcoming litter. As a result, I have been reviewing what I do as a breeder during the 8 ½ weeks the pups are with me.

Cute but also very busy developing day-old puppies

Cute but also very busy developing day-old puppies

Although that time is brief, I have long believed that it is the two most important months in a dog’s life, making my job as a breeder pivotal to the lifetime health and happiness of each Gaylan’s dog.

During its first eight weeks of life, each dog experiences the majority of his brain[i] and social skill development.[ii]  In these first few months, his brain undergoes 85 percent of its growth in complexity and size.  He figures out who will be in his social world—dogs, cats, people, strangers, horses, sheep, ducks and more.  His body develops to match these brain and behavioral skills since his muscles, nerves, eyes, ears, nose and internal organs are all changed by his brain and social development.  Therefore, these early life experiences, or their lack, will have large, lifelong and almost irrecoverable effects.  In many ways, they will define him once he is an adult.

By then, we are in love.

By then, we are in love.

Our challenge as owners and breeders is that most 2- or 3-month old puppies look the same.  Barring extreme abuse, all young pups are cute, happy creatures with wagging tails and quick tongues.  Some are reserved and others are bold, some have spots and others do not.  We cannot tell from looking at them which have had good developmental experiences and which have not.  In fact, it will be months or even years before developmental deficits appear.  Fearfulness, environmental sensitivity, stranger aggression, poor social skills and bite inhibition, lack of natural working ability, and poorly developed senses do not begin to show until 5 months, a year or even five years later.[iii]  By then, we are in love.

Two months, eight weeks, fifty-six days, 1344 hours can make or break a puppy’s future!  How exciting is that?

[i] Raymond Coppinger and Lorna Coppinger, Dogs: A Startling New Understanding of Canine Origins, Behavior & Evolution (New York: Scribner, 2001) pp. 111-115.

[ii] John Paul Scott and John L. Fuller, Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog: The Classic Study (Chicago, The University of Chicago Press, 1965), chapter 5, “Critical Period.”

[iii] Ian Dunbar, Canine Reproductive Behavior & Physiology for Veterinarians & Breeders Seminar (Bedford, MA, 2012).

Tessa is Back in Action!

September 27, 2012 — 1 Comment

Tessa has been out of commission since we discovered a serious sore on the front of her carpal (wrist) joint, right under the bottom strap of her prosthesthic. Marit kept an eye on it to see if it grew, which by Friday it had. The team at Orthopets told us to do no work with the prosthesis over the weekend while they examined the photos and videos we had sent them.


Tessa starts again learning to use her prosthetic leg

When we put the prosthesis on Tessa on Monday, it was as if we were starting all over again from the beginning.  Both Marit and I were stunned at how far Tessa had regressed in only two days.  She was not using the new leg at all, simply dragging it behind her. I was back to moving it forward with each step. Marit and I were cheering each other up but I know I was feeling very disappointed and frustrated.

The team at Orthopets was trying to figure out what was causing the sore so needed yet more videos–standing, walking toward the camera, and walking by the camera.  Do you know how hard it is to sit on the ground and get a close-up video of a golden retriever as she walks by? Very hard because she ends up in your lap each time!

Here are a few outtakes:

Tessa, Outtake #15 (She’s still in our laps)

Take #2, Tessa says, “I will NOT use my leg.”

But finally we got them–a video of her standing and walking!

YAY!!! We finally got her walking by!

Standing wasn’t too hard to videotape

Once the Orthopets Team saw the videos, they sent us our new marching orders:

  • Rather than fasten the top strap first, start at the bottom. That one change has helped a lot all ready.
  • Do only short sessions–10-15 minutes–multiple times each day.
  • Use cold laser on the wound to get it to heal. (Huge thank-yous to Kay Scott and Barry Rosen for lending us their cold laser!)
  • Keep Tessa from licking the wound. She has been pretty good so far but we are putting a sock on it at night so she doesn’t sneak in a scrubbing session or two while Marit and Lars are sleeping.
  • Start using the carpal brace on the other leg (though I have no idea how we will do this without the prosthesis).
  • Connect with a local rehab specialist to get some guidance on both devices.

We are off and running…well, at least walking slowly…again. Please send good wishes Tessa’s way so we get a quick rebound and she is back to making progress again.

It’s Flyer’s Birthday!

September 25, 2012 — 4 Comments

Today is Flyer’s birthday so although she died four years ago, I wanted to share a little of this wonderful dog with you.  For those of you who knew her, I hope it makes you smile to remember her.  For those of you who didn’t, I hope it gives you some insight into this amazing dog.

Flyer with a Pheasant

Trumpet’s Gaylan’s Butterfly CD JH AX AXJ WCX OD VC CCA on her eighth birthday

I got Flyer while I was in graduate school in California and Andy was stationed in NY.  After watching her dogs succeed in hunt tests, I contacted Flyer’s breeder. When I heard she had a litter that was linebred on the famous CH. Pepperhill Gldn Pine’s Trumpet CDX SH WCX OD, I went to visit the puppies and at 6 weeks of age, brought Flyer home with me.

Flyer’s Puppyhood: Fur and Fowl.  Flyer may have been a goofy looking puppy, but she showed her mettle at 8 weeks of age at her first field lesson. Although the cock pheasant the trainer threw was bigger than she, Flyer grabbed that bird and ran, making us tackle her to get it back. That moment began our lifelong passion: me for Flyer and Flyer for hunting.

During her first year, Flyer continued to develop as an avid retriever and hunter.  Alas, that was also the year that the drought broke in CA. The lakes around Stanford University filled for the first time in five years drowning hundreds of wood rats that had made their homes in the lake bottoms. I had few places to walk Flyer off leash so we were stuck with the ponds and the rats–yuck!  I reminded myself that at the outset, goldens were hunters of both fowl and fur. Like a good trainer, I graciously accepted everything that was brought to me (although I did take to wearing plastic gloves on our walks).  Although it was a challenging few months, Flyer thrived and earned her Junior Hunter from the AKC and a Working Certificate from the GRCA by the time she was 14 months old.

Her First Pups.  At that point we moved to NY so I could join the faculty at West Point.  Soon after, Flyer had two beautiful litters: the Lunar Litter Dozen and the West Point FIFTEEN.

Gaylan's West Point Litter Puppy Walk

Flyer at the West Point Litter Puppy Walk. That’s a lot of puppies!

Flyer was a phenomenal dam, whelping and raising puppies with aplomb. She was unaffected by large numbers or high demands of pups. She was a practical mother so as soon as her pups were raised, she was back to hunting again.

Flyer in agility

Flyer in agility

Time to Play. After these litters, Flyer and I got hooked on agility. She debuted in 1999 and finished her Novice, Open and Excellent titles in four months. Unfortunately, the day she earned her first Open Agility leg, she slipped and fell on a practice jump. She took second in the class and went on to finish her other titles in short order but she was losing confidence in jumping. I took her to multiple vets before we realized she had fractured a lumbar vertebrae in the fall. Her agility career ended with nine Master Excellent and four Master Excellent Jumpers legs. Close but no cigar.

We then turned to obedience where Flyer earned her CD with a Dog World Award and three blue ribbons. Her second leg was earned in a snowstorm at an OUTDOOR show. Despite the snow falling around her during the long stays, Flyer was unfazed. Her back injury kept us from going on to Open and Utility but she still loved to do the work so we trained as if we would someday enter the ring.

Outstanding Dam and Grande Dame.  Flyer was honored as an Outstanding Dam by the Golden Retriever Club of American after the Lunar and West Point litters were a few years old. She went on to have two more litters: the Flying litter in 2001 and the Golf litter, consisting solely of Una, in 2002. Although the GRCA’s Outstanding Dam requires only three qualifying offspring, Flyer ended up with more than a dozen, including conformation Champions, Master Hunters, Agility Champions, Tracking Dogs Excellent, and Utility Dogs.

For over 13 years, she reigned here at Gaylan’s. She retired from hunting when she turned 12 ½ and her body could no longer hold up to a day in the field.  Six month earlier, she had picked up 60 (!) pheasants in one day at a tower shoot but now the light was gone from her eyes when we took her out. Something was clearly wrong so I went looking for the cause.

We planted a dogwood tree in Flyer's memory

We planted a dogwood tree in Flyer’s memory

Flyer had Cushing’s disease.  Sadly, in our attempts to treat it, we accidentally destroyed her adrenal glands giving her Addison’s disease. We struggled to get the Addison’s under control but could not.  In July 2008, I realized that her quality of life was gone and this majestic creature, so full of life and passion, was asking to move on.  Andy and I held her in our arms on our lawn on a beautiful summer evening, surrounded by the dogs and people who loved her, as her spirit slipped away.  I miss her still but love watching the growth of the dogwood tree we planted in her memory.

Flyer’s Legacy. Flyer was an unusual dog, different from many of today’s golden retrievers. The stories about her are legendary and most are true. She was an incredible hunter, having caught every sort of game bird, as well as squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, turkeys and a fawn. She loved skunks because they did not run away and would go after any beaver that she could find in the water. She moused all winter, teaching the rest of the pack how to find and catch the little rodents in the snow.

Flyer did not live solely to please human beings.  She saw me as her peer not her master, and agreed to work as my partner but not my employee. I have no doubt that she could have easily survived on her own in the wild and was honored that she chose to live with me instead.

Flyer at 13 1/2 years

Flyer at 13 1/2 years

Flyer’s confidence, in herself and her abilities, was legendary. She was mentally steady and physically sound. There was nothing that concerned her and she always handled herself with self-assurance and calm. However, this also meant that she most trusted her own mind, and did not depend on her people. If you confused Flyer for a little person in a fur suit or for a baby, she dismissed you as an idiot. Rather, she was a confident, glorious, adult of her species, more than capable of surviving on her own, raising a family and conducting her own business.

She had a huge amount of energy and drive that was primarily focused on retrieving.  At the Flying Litter puppy walk, despite having nine pups to raise/nurse, she chased the ball from morning till night. Even at 12, she would chase a tennis ball or ducks/geese for as long as I let her, repeatedly swimming the length of huge lakes and ponds. I always wore out before she did.

She was my teacher and guide during an amazing journey of discovery into what dogs are supposed to be, not what our fairy tales say they are.  It was a gift to have known her so intimately, to have her children, grand-children and now great-grandchildren in my life, to see what a confident hunting dog is supposed to be, and to have had her connect me to so many wonderful people.

I hope you get a Flyer in your life some day.  Thank you for letting me remember her on this beautiful fall day.

Rub spot on Tessa's leg

The rub spot on Tessa’s leg, just under my pointer finger

Skkkrrreeeeccchhh!!  Alas, that is the sound of Tessa’s rehab screeching to a halt.  She had been doing so well since she got back home with Marit, Lars and Loki after our trip to CO.  Until Friday, she and Marit were practicing daily with her new leg…going for long walks, hanging out at home and even swimming in my pool.  She was wearing the device nearly 8 hours a day without problem and was walking miles in it.

Then potential disaster struck.  Marit found that the hair was missing from the front of Tessa’s paw, underneath the lowest strap on the prosthesis.  The spot is pretty good sized, perhaps the size of a quarter, and though it is not a sore yet, it looks like its on the way to one. Darn!


The rub spot with the device on but not strapped

We took some photos and mailed them off to Brook, our case manager at OrthoPets.  As soon as she saw the photos, Brook put all of Tess’s rehab on hold until she could discuss it with the OrthoPets team today.  I just spoke to them and they are still deliberating about the next steps we should take.

Skin wounds were the biggest issue we were told to keep an eye out for as Tessa learned to use her new leg. Although the device is made with lots of padding to avoid sores and wounds, apparently they do happen.  And left untreated, I guess they can cause big problems.

So Tessa is getting a little vacation while her human team makes some plans.  She probably does not mind but the rest of us are pretty disappointed.

As I continue to recover from the thousands of miles I logged since June, I wanted to share Part 2 of my Top 10 Tips for Enjoying Traveling with Dogs!

6) Stay at dog-friendly places.  Some hotels wanted my business this summer, some gave us a lukewarm reception, and others made it clear we were not welcome. I always plan ahead to find a pet-friendly hotel while on the road.  Two websites that I use to find hotels are Dog Friendly and Pets Welcome.  I often use Google Maps or Mapquest to get an aerial view of the hotel to make sure there is room to walk the dogs on the property.


An aerial view of a terrific Best Western Plus. You can see there is lots of room to walk the dogs. They also provided dog cookies and poop bags upon check-in and did not charge a pet fee.

Be sure to check online listings or call the hotel to find out if there are limitations or extra fees for pets. Pet fees can be insanely expensive, so be sure to ask before you commit.

7) Train before (and while) traveling. A little obedience training before and during traveling goes a long way. For me, trips are opportunities to train my dogs a minute or two at a time. The three critical behaviors my dogs need for traveling are:

a. Come. I am extra cautious at out-of-town dog parks and rest areas, since a lost dog in an unfamiliar area is a recipe for disaster.  But no matter how careful you are, there is always a chance your dog will get away from you. This summer, I fell while walking the dogs when they bolted after a rabbit. The leashes came out of my hand and both dogs were loose in a parking lot. I cannot begin to tell you how relieved I was when they came when I called them. Calamity averted!

b. Stays at doors. Traveling is all about ins and outs–in and out of cars, in and out of hotels, in and out of dog parks. Dogs that wait at doors will be much safer than those who bolt through any opening. I teach this first at home and then use trips to reinforce it with lots of treats. These skills only take a minute to train but pay huge dividends while traveling.

c. Quiet. Quiet dogs are a pleasure while barking dogs are incredibly stressful for all concerned when traveling. I teach a “quiet” command at home and then reinforce it during a dog’s early trips so by the time they are a little older, we all travel in peace. If your dog barks a lot, consider a bark collar before an upcoming trip since they are much more effective than we are at delivering perfectly timed corrections for barking.


We once stayed at a hotel that had an alligator pond! Holy cow!!

8) Think safety. Just because a place allows dogs, does not mean it is safe. In my travels, I’ve experienced a range of dangerous situations from stray dogs to rat poison to an alligator (!) pond right outside my hotel room door.

When I check into a hotel, I always leave my dogs in the van while I check the room. I turn on the air conditioning, put bed sheets from home on the hotel bedspreads, lower toilet lids in case there are cleaning chemicals in the water, pick up trash cans, and check under the furniture for items my dogs might discover. I fill a water bowl and put my dogs’ toys, chew items and mats in the room before bringing them inside.

9) Bring the dog’s stuff, too. We traveled a lot when I was a kid since my dad was in the Army. My mom always packed special things for the trip—fun games, favorite books, yummy treats. I do the same for my dogs so in addition to the normal stuff–food, bowls, leashes, collars–I bring things to make the trip fun and comfortable for them. Here are some extras that I bring along:

a. Toys—I stuff a shopping bag with old favorites and a few new toys

b. Chew items—I bring a variety of these and many more than the dogs would get at home so they can while away the hours in the car and have something safe to occupy themselves wherever we are staying. I bring marrow or knuckle bones, bully sticks, pigs ears, stuffed Kongs and more.

c. Training treats—since trips are great training opportunities, I keep treats at hand in the car, hotel rooms and my pockets

d. Sleeping mats—I use packable sleeping mats to make new places more familiar and comfortable for my dogs

e. Water—I bring a few jugs of water from home to help my dogs transition to the taste of water on the road

Dog in Mountains

Traveling with dogs is the BEST!

10) Have fun! I love traveling with my dogs and hope that you will to if your dog enjoys the car, exciting places and new people. Although traveling with dogs requires some planning and forethought, you can easily fit it into your plans if you follow these tips. I have taken my dogs (and cats) all over the US, Canada and Europe. Sharing these adventures with my dogs has been a gift!

What is the most exciting place you have been or plan to go with your dog? And what is your best tip for making the trip more fun? Send me a comment below.