Archives For Breeding Dogs

Avidog!!

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

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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.

References
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).