As someone who has spent a considerable portion of her life at dog club, training dogs, and observing trained dogs the very idea that training was not a friend of the GSD breeder isn’t something I considered until I decided to take a break from the competitive aspects of the German Shepherd after 25 years of intense involvement.
The non competitive me started to think about and consider ideas that the old me never had time to consider. I recently wrote down some of these thoughts in a Facebook Post.
Additionally, training got better, a LOT better as more and more trainers became skilled in using more modern methods in their training.
And I realized that teasing apart the traits of the dogs, the ones they will pass on to their offspring, from the behaviors their trainer taught them was getting increasingly difficult and further that good training was masking many serious problems of character and temperament in our breed. An additional problem is that many of today’s younger breeders in the USA don’t have skilled mentors, and may be relying on other trainers for their learning of the breed and it’s standard. This rudderless learning leads to an undue influence of those who have very little understanding, or even passion for the breed.
Breeders need to be able to identify when a problem is due to a mismatch of traits with the environment, when they are due to ineffective training, or socialization, and in each case when the problem stems from an undesirable heritable trait. Breeders cannot manage the learning and environment of their puppies once they are in their forever homes, but they CAN manage heritable traits and work hard to produce dogs with traits that both meet the breed standard and meet the standard needs of their clients.
Puppy buyers need to be able to evaluate dogs and not the effect of training on dogs. While watching a great training performance is fun for novices, and inspiring for everyone, it doesn’t help pet dog seekers to predict if those dogs are going to produce the traits they need in a companion. We tell puppy seekers to meet and visit the parents of any puppy they are considering, but often what they meet is a dog under command, who is showing the training and not the native traits of that dog. Puppy seekers need to change their lens and focus on meeting and interacting with dogs who are ”free” of cued or commanded behaviors, free of leashes and collars, and able to show who they are truly. Only then can we expect those visits to have meaning. Puppy seekers need to understand that training skill doesn’t produce genetic traits in dogs, that well trained parents doesn’t equal easy to train puppies, or good companion puppies. In our breed we have so long enabled the competitive trainers, coaches, and handlers to have more influence in our breeding selections than those who actually end up buying and living with our puppies. We assume that ”pet people” will ruin our breed and that breeders selecting for pet friendly traits will enable this ruination. But indeed the opposite is happening, the fads of both the show ring and the trial field are increasing incorrect traits in our breed, from over built, heavy, butt-headed show dogs, to over angulated, hackneyed, trim lines who look for all purposes like a Belgian Shepherd mix, and act the same. The breed left to the wants of competitive voices, with no checks, has never veered so far off course.
What we need in our breed is exactly what the SV has designed in the Breeding Predisposition Test as the original parent club for the breed has recognized that companion and non-sport dogs are actually the backbone of the breed, necessary for it’s preservation, whose needs are equally important to those who love the breed for it’s value in competition. A non sport dog breeding track, free of influence of the sport dog and show dog constituents, where dogs can be evaluated for their adherence to the standard, and correct instincts, character, and temperament instead of the work of a trainer.
For breeders this means we need to value the off field traits of our dogs more, we need to give these ”lifestyle” traits more thought and apply selection pressure more intensely for easy to live with traits over podium friendly traits. Because if we are honest with ourselves, only a small percentage of the puppies we produce will make titles, and even fewer of those will make top sport titles, but they should all live in a loving home, in society at large, and be of benefit there first. This can only happen if we breeders can recognize heritable traits as separate from influenced behaviors.
Training is fun! For humans and dogs and gives dogs the skills they need to live in our world.
For breeders the skill lies in looking beyond the effects of training, to the natural dog beneath, and using only those inherit traits in our breeding plans. Working hard to produce dogs that meet the standard for temperament and character as well as meeting the needs of the majority of our puppy buyers, even if the majority are going into companion homes and not working homes.
Producing dogs for working homes that do not exist is not responsible breeding practices nor is it preserving our breed, especially when working traits in style at any given moment may be contradictory to the standard.
Recently I posted my thoughts on Facebook on the increase in genetic (versus learned) dog reactive and dog aggressive behavior in the German Shepherd Dog. This post cause quite a range of emotional reactions and hopefully triggered some self reflection on the part of the breeders who read it.
I remember when I got my first German Shepherd, Quinta v Westfork, in the early 1990s. Quinta was everything a German Shepherd should be, as were many dogs in those days. While there were some problems with temperament one thing we didn’t regularly see was reactive behavior or aggressive behavior towards other dogs. Over the decades I have seen a steady increase in various levels of dog intolerance, especially in the working line dogs. Even more concerning is that far too many younger breeders are excusing this type of temperament problem as being ”normal” for the breed.
Breeders have a responsibility to ”do no harm” to their breeds and ideally breeders have the insight to recognize where improvements are beneficial to a breed, and the skill to improve those problem areas.
While working line breeders have put considerable effort into “improving” traits, behavioral and physical, that increase talent for high scores in dog sport, and move the GSD closer to the Belgian Shepherd in build and character they have largely ignored, or even excused, the faults of structure and character that have occurred alongside these performance motivated changes.
Breeders owe it to their breed to Do No Harm, this means undesirable traits must be identified, called out as incorrect, and then changed to align with the breed standard by placing selection priority on those dogs who exhibit the Natural, Good Natured, and Self Assured, traits the standard describes and deprioritizing dogs who exhibit incorrect character or temperament in regards to their natural instinctive dog social nature. The German Shepherd is not a hyper social dog, they don’t need to enjoy the local dog park, but there is no excusing dogs who are incapable of tolerating benign behavior from novel dogs, or living in multi dog environments. Only when breeders, and puppy buyers, stop tolerating these incorrect traits will the GSD return to the stable, good natured, confident, enjoyable companion they are meant to be.
This is how we know who is truly guarding and preserving a breed, and who really just enjoys what a breed can do for them. One of these loves a breed and can be entrusted with it’s preservation, the other loves an activity and should not be In the drivers seat of a breed.
I’m seeing way too many people justifying incorrect temperament and faulty character in the GSD. These justifications by BREEDERS lead to an increasingly difficult and unpleasant breed to own, one that is a risk instead of benefit to society, and that is the exact opposite of the “helper” type of dog the founders of breed intended and further it’s the opposite of what modern owners need and what modern dogs need to live happy and rich lives.
The GSD breed standard for character and temperament never mentions this breed should be aggressive towards humans, dogs, or anything else. Nor does it mention sport traits, or complicated and difficult temperament.
This breed should never require intense management, or butt tons of equipment to prevent harm to it’s bonded family members (human or otherwise), to protect the dog from itself, or to protect society from the dog.
What it does mention specifically is the GSD must be:
Well balanced with strong nerves
Attentive and willing to please.
“The German Shepherd Dog must be well-balanced (with strong nerves) in terms of character, self-assu- red, absolutely natural and (except for a stimulated situation) good-natured as well as attentive and wil- ling to please. “ WUSV/FCI standard
They must posses:
Instinctive behavior (we would call this drives, herding drive, prey drive, defensive drives, social drives)
Why? In order to be:
A good companion (yes this is first!)
Protection, service, and herding dog.
*Notice “sport dog” isn’t even mentioned.
“He must possess instinctive behaviour, resilience and self-assurance in order to be suitable as a companion, guard, protection, service and herding dog.” WUSV/FCI standard.”
When breeders begin justifying faults of character they will include such undesirable dogs in their breeding program with NO attempt to improve the fault and bring future generations back in line with the standard. They come to believe that the faulty temperament is normal for the breed and if enough breeders are influenced in this way it causes the entire breed to shift.
Further damage is done when novices who don’t know the standard and who don’t remember when GSDs wasn’t an aggressive sh it show are influenced, and they in turn buy these incorrect dogs and impact society with them, damaging the breed’s reputation and if they become breeders perpetuating incorrect temperament and faulty character.
To be clear, the GSD should never require a neck full of devices to be a pleasant companion, they should never require a muzzle to take a walk in the park, they should never need a four figure training package and a lifetime of “tune ups” to be manageable as a companion.
Owners should never fear their GSD injuring or killing some random dog that rudely runs up on them in the park, they should not be afraid of their dog or what it might do if life happens.
Such dogs are a burden to their owners and a danger to society, the exact opposite of what this breed should be. We should never accept this as desirable.
Is balancing the complicated behavioral traits difficult for breeders? Of course, everything about breeding is difficult.
Does that mean we should justify these faults? Absolutely not, a willingness to bite unprovoked, along with weak nerves (and yes, if your GSD is unplugged emotionally because a mini golden doodle tries to kiss it at the park or because “dogs exist” they have weak nerves) is an exclusionary fault for our breed.
Dogs with minor faults can and should be included in our breeding programs, we can and should be striving to improve these faults and not ignore them, and for the love of the breed we should never ever justify them.
This breed should be natural, self assured and resilient, not an insecure, over reacting, bite risk.
A popular meme that travels round the social media that says that the reason there are “bad” breeders (Here is what I mean by Bad Breeder) is because the puppy buyers support them by purchasing their dogs. And of course there is some truth in that, because if any breeder cannot find homes for their dogs they cannot breed more dogs. This is a truth that applies to all breeders, and a core strategy of the anti-any-dog-breeding animal rights extremists (who have tried for decades to convince companion dog owners that owning any dog not purchased from a shelter or rescue is all kinds of wrong) so it’s not new.
The unfairness of this ”blame the buyers” mindset is that good breeders are really hard to find, and vastly outnumbered by substandard breeders (who are easy to find). This is even more extreme when we consider what the anti breeder crowd has decided are “good” breeders, which is most often competition oriented (show & sport) breeders, one of the least common demographic of breeders. How ironic it is that we blame those seeking a puppy for their inability to find a good breeder when the entire “Good Dog Breeder Community” brags about how hard to find they are, how they never advertise, and when they do it’s only to each other (and judges), how rarely they actually breed, and how few puppies are available to ”pet” homes.
So not only have we in the dog community allowed those who are basically anti breeding to set the standard as to what a “good” breeder does but we have ourselves internalized this and promoted it to puppy seekers. How unfair that we blame puppy seekers when the very group we have decided are the ONLY breeders worthy of supporting often don’t advertise, don’t breed very often, prioritize puppy placement to other competition homes, and while competition breeders obviously enjoy being labeled as the ”best” breeders they are simply not able to produce enough dogs to meet the needs of companion dog seekers, even if they as a group wanted to.
I’m not going to go into the ”why” of this problem yet, I’m saving for a later day why I think breeders have gotten it so very wrong in the area of who is really the best breeder for a companion puppy and how the present idealization of competition breeders hurts our breeds, our breeders, and the entire purebred dog community.
Today I want to follow up my last blog and another previous blog on finding a good breeder from what is really the most important angle. How are puppy seekers supposed to find these good breeders?
Advertising is only evil when it advertises evil things
First, let’s start off by understanding that breeders are often conflicted about breeding dogs, after all, we have been told for decades that breeding dogs is basically bad and we should all be ashamed. Breeders who have internalized this shaming are some of the most vocal about how evil it is to advertise, which is ironic, because many of these same breeders spend thousands advertising their current string of show dogs in show magazines. This money is spent to make sure judges and other show fanciers recognize their dog (and handler) and how amazballs the dog is. But advertise to those seeking a companion puppy? Gasp, that is just wrong. Lots of this emotion has it’s roots in the very anti-breeder movement that decided only competition breeders were worthy of existing, because along with convincing people that only the smallest subset of breeders was responsible they also convinced us that advertising was wrong and a sign of a ”bad” breeder. The implication was of course, that without advertising really good breeders would still be able to find more than enough puppy seekers for their puppies and to a degree this is accurate because competition oriented breeders are not breeding very often these days (though they certainly did in the past) and they strive to put puppies into competition homes within the small tight knit fanciers community.
The reality is that those very people who want to see an end to purebred dogs have convinced purebred dog breeders that reaching out to the public via advertising is wrong, and so breeders pulled back, many breeders now don’t even have a website, or if they do have a website their website only really speaks to others in the show/sport fanciers community.
This has all been part of a deliberate cycle to decrease the number of purebred dogs by first shaming breeders for producing them, shaming people for purchasing them, and creating an ”out of sight out of mind” drop in even the interest in purebred dogs among the pet owning public.
Of course the one type of advertising still considered ”ok” is advertising to other fanciers and judges via show magazines, show websites, and breeder websites that ONLY feature photos and info about competition (not very appealing to the average puppy seeker) which further creates the false impression that purebred fanciers and breeders are elitist, out of reach/touch with the general dog owning community, and only interested in winning.
Of course this is just silly and so bad for our breeds because if we spent half as much time and effort advertising our breeds to companion puppy seekers more people would fall in love with our breeds, get a well bred puppy, and live happily ever after. Our breeds would benefit from being reinserted into our communities, our community would benefit from an influx of fantastic dogs, new fanciers, and the purebred dog world would benefit by the good will that occurs when people know and love firsthand wonderful purebred dogs.
Advertising is the first step in generating interest in our breeds, it’s not a dirty word, we should not feel icky for doing it. It is long past time to take back the dialog and the tools we need to promote our breeds.
As breeders we need to stop thinking of advertising as a dirty word, and we need to stop feeling icky about promoting what we do.
If we consider that advertising (aka marketing) ourselves not only makes us easier for those seeking puppies to find thus increasing the number of breed suitable prospects for us to choose from, but also provides an example of what a good breeder does and looks like, and promotes good information about our breed, we can start to see just how important it is that we actively promote ourselves, our dogs, our community, and our breed. Our dogs are wonderful, so let’s get out there and show everyone!
If it helps, think of advertising as marketing yourself, your breed, and your breeding program. One of the easiest and most effective ways we can reach people is through content marketing. Instead of focusing on selling an individual puppy marketing focuses on building relationships with ourselves, our dogs, and our breed. While advertising is a one way communication from a breeder to prospective puppy seeker, content is a two way communication focused on building our reputation through education. Puppy seekers need to learn about our breeds, what they need to be happy, what they are like to live with without all that breed standard ambiguous jargon, and who makes a suitable owner for a breed.
These puppy seeker needs are perfectly met by the expertise of the breeder and the best way a breeder can advertise is by using content marketing tools and practices to promote their breed and program. In the age of easy to build and update websites and plentiful options for real time posting to social media there is every reason for breeders to focus on high quality content as the core of their marketing strategy.
But what if I have a puppy or litter I need to find homes for? Can’t I just advertise THAT puppy?
You bet and there is nothing wrong at all with letting people know you have a puppy or litter available, and these efforts will yield more high quality, suitable, prospects if those same people are already following you! Reaching out ”cold“ will waste far more time as you wade through large number of impulse inquiries and prospects not suitable for your dogs. Remember, we want to attract the BEST prospects! Those who are ready, willing, and able to give our puppy a happy lifelong home.
Tips for featuring an individual puppy: Help people get to know you first!
1. Focus on the journey, share content about the puppy from birth onward. 2. What is puppy doing right now? Share video, photos, of what puppy is learning. 3. What type of home would allow this puppy to flourish? 4. How can you show that number 3 looks like? Feature ideal owners? Share photos, videos? 5. What traits do you expect in the grown puppy? Who needs these traits?
Don’t be afraid to feature a litter or puppy when you are still building a list of prospective homes, and do work just as hard to develop a base of followers. Remember, your followers, families, and family community are an important source of information you need for your program and generate good word of mouth to help good families find you!
Want to talk more about finding amazing homes for your puppies, and being brave in your marketing? Join us in the coming weeks on our podcast where we will be talking with our own Rebecca Pinkson on her search for a beagle puppy!
As part of my new podcasting project I kicked off with how I define a Responsible Breeder and Substandard Breeder I’ve detailed out the Ethical Breeding Standard we use ourselves and I’m presenting it here for you in visual and PDF form. I find the Breeder Standard to be a vastly more functional way of identifying breeders I want to support and work with than most other such resources out there, because it’s focus is on core values, relationship building, and mutual understanding.
The Breeder Standard also cuts through the general fog on this subject that occurs when we obscures what really matters in favor of things we have been taught are more important than they really are.
Primarily what I mean by this is the blanket assignment of ”good” applied to breeders producing dogs for competition (show/sport) and the blanket ”bad” applied to breeders who do not breed dogs primarily for competition but instead for companion homes. This age old “find a show breeder” advice just misses the mark and has led to so many problems in the dog community that it’s long past time we move to something more meaningful.
Why? Why is the ”find a breeder who titles their dogs” advice damaging to the dog community?
First, time has proven that there are just not enough competition breeders producing enough competition bred puppies to meet the demand for companion dogs. Why this is now the case is a subject for another day.
Second, the assumption that competition bred dogs by default make easy companion dogs for the typical pet dog owner is flat out wrong. Breeders of competition dogs are selecting and applying selection pressure for structural and/or behavioral traits that are important to them, traits that help them win to be honest, which may or may not even be in the best interest of the breed. These traits may or may not include traits that enable dogs to be easy companion.
Third, Competition breeders really never asked to be saddled with the responsibility of producing pets for everyone who wants one. While this community undoubtedly has enjoyed being considered the ”best” it does not follow that they want to do the work needed to produce enough puppies to meet demand, or to prioritize companion friendly traits over the traits needed to garner enough points to be considered successful. If the competition community really wanted to carry this responsibility they would be breeding more dogs and not attacking other breeders for breeding more dogs.
On the flip side, there are a growing number of breeders who WANT to specialize in breeding companion dogs and they are prepared to do this work. We need to stop demonizing them and start working with them.
Companion focused dog breeders are focusing on traits that enable dogs to be easy companions for the typical pet dog owner, this community is the foundation of our dog world and they deserve attention and respect. Companion focused breeders are happy to provide this.
Companion dogs breeders have chosen to breed for companion dog owners, they want this responsibility, and are producing the dogs to fill this need.
Instead of cultivating hostility between these two large groups of breeders we need to work together to ensure we are preserving our breeds historic type, increasing health when possible, producing enough dogs to meet the needs of the typical dog owner, and placing these dogs responsibly so they are an asset to their owner and community.
Now, before the universe shakes with the ”screams in points” of the show community, I am absolutely not saying that competition breeders are not a viable place to look for a companion puppy, or a delightful adult dog, I am JUST saying that we need to stop assuming someone is a good breeder simply because they compete with their dogs, or that if we are looking for a companion puppy our only responsible option is a competition oriented breeder (spoiler: it’s not).
If you are looking for a puppy for competition these judgements and choices are much harder for you, because if you want to succeed in your venue(s) of choice you really should only be considering breeders with a record of producing dogs that do well there. So, finding a breeder that shares all your core values may have to take a backseat to those competition goals, you won’t know until you are well into the breeder interview processes and have a good idea of the landscape of availability, time frame, contract stipulations (which can be wack), and all the other considerations when investing in a puppy for competition.
The following system for considering breeders focuses on three main areas: Valuing the dogs, valuing the puppy seeker, and valuing the breed.
One of our goals for 2022 is focus on the many positives of breeding, and helping as many breeders and breeder curious people as possible. To that end we are starting the year considering how to prepare for that most exciting, and stressful, first litter. I hope you will join us on this year long journey exploring many of the practical facets of breeding.
One thing is certain, we cannot have the dogs we love, and need, without responsibly producing them. We cannot fulfill the needs of dog lovers to own the healthiest, most well adjusted, companion dogs or preserve our historic and important breeds without our breeder skill, talent, and work effort.
So, here you are, embarking on what I hope will be a lifelong journey into the world of dog breeding. Ideally you are fully prepared in the basics of how to build a responsible breeding program, have selected, raised, and trained your foundation dog(s) who have now completed all necessary health testing and whatever optional pre breeding requirements you have for them (ie titles, accomplishments, work credentials, etc). Your foundation female is bred and confirmed pregnant and you are getting ready for the arrival of the puppies.
First a word of warning and a disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace working closely with your veterinarian on the care of your dam and puppies. There are many potentially fatal things that can go wrong during pregnancy, whelping, and gestation. Puppies can become unwell and die in an instant. Always work closely with your veterinarian!
A complete whelping kit and a whelping box are the “core” items anyone needs to deliver a litter in a safe and clean manner. Below you can find visual and printable PDFs with some basic whelping items, you can also find a list of items available on Amazon in my Whelping Supplies Idea List, I will try to keep this list (it’s an affiliate list, so yes, we might make a few cents if you purchase something from the list, but you won’t pay more) updated with as many of the items listed below as possible to optimize your shopping time. You can also follow my main Amazon Profile to find all my dog lists. Many of the items are available at your local box box store or feed store as well. Be sure to visit the Revival Animal Health website for an abundance of whelping supplies, blogs and they also have an excellent You Tube channel and their own list of helpful whelping supplies.
The whelping box is a vitally important piece of equipment for the breeder. The design of the whelping box will vary considerably based on the size of the dam, so we will be discussing German Shepherd sized dams. If you have a toy or giant breed ask in a breeder group what those breeders us and like.
For decades (two actually) I used a simple wooden square (4×4 feet) and this was perfectly adequate. This box cost me less than fifty dollars, was easy to clean, and worked well.
A simple wooden whelping square is a great option for many breeders.
1. Inexpensive to construct. 2. Easy to customize to fit your space. 3. Can be easy to store.
1. Heavy. 2. Needs to be constructed. 3. Can be difficult to store. 4. Low sides require higher sides to hold in warmth, privacy, etc. 5. Can be very hard to sanitize and clean, even when well sealed. 6. No bottom, so a bottom must be provided to contain mess. 7. Puppies will climb out sooner, around 2 to 3 weeks.
Our current box is a Durawhelp, this box is larger by nearly 2 feet and has several nice features. It’s very light, being made of corrugated plastic, folds up easily and stores in the box it came in right under my queen size bed. The box has a bottom of the same material, so my floors are protected, there is premade bedding I use for the top layer, easy to remove and clean pig rails, and a hop out for the dam. I enjoy how easy to clean it is, and the high sides help hold in warmth. This box was a nice upgrade and after nearly ten years of use it’s still in excellent condition. There are a wide variety of whelping box brands and styles, one of the most popular is to modify PVC Flower/Garden beds from Costco! So, spend some time in breeder groups asking what other breeders us, especially those with dogs of similar size to yours, before you purchase a high dollar box. Other popular boxes are: Jonart, EZ Whelp, just to name a couple.
After a place to have her puppies, the next thing the breeder will need to consider is a whelping kit to help the dam safely deliver her puppies. For a low risk whelping from a robust breed you may find a few items are used most often. Every whelping I use: a rectal thermometer, rags and towels, a bulb syringe, hemostats, umbilical scissors, unflavored wide dental floss, and a heating pad. These are the tools I need to clean up the puppy, clear the airway, dry and warm the puppy, and clamp, tie, and cut the cord. So, these are the most important tools in my kit.
I also have supplies that I rarely use, but like to have on hand for emergencies or urgent use. Once such example is keeping sterile bandages and a baggie on hand just in case a puppy is born with it’s intestinal organs outside the body, something most breeders may never encounter, but if you do encounter this you will be glad for having the appropriate wrappings on hand to transport the puppy to the nearest ER or your vet for surgery. Breeder groups are a good place to inquire among breeders what items they find most useful and what they like to have for unexpected things.
I keep my kit in a small storage tub made for craft supplies, but breeders use lots of different things, so find a storage container that fits your available storage space.
Once your puppies are born you are faced with neonatal care. Ideally your neonates will need nothing more than a warm, safe, environment and a skilled dam to thrive. But occasionally puppies require anything from a little help to emergency veterinary care. Having a few items on hand can mean the difference between survival or death for some puppies, so while it’s vitally important you are in contact with your veterinarian if a puppy fails to thrive or needs medical care, it’s also important to have a few items on hand to support puppies who may just need a little help. While there are many more neonate care options out there, from incubators, oxygen support, and tube feeding, we will not be touching on any of those options here. Instead we are just considering basic supportive care supplies (warmth, hydration, nutrition).
In my 30 years breeding German Shepherd Dogs, and whelping over 70 litters I have found the supplies listed here to be all I have needed for my At Home whelpings. As a new breeder nobody ever helped me figure out what basic items I needed, I learned through experience and self education. My hope is that by providing these supply lists you will have the equipment you need to have a successful whelping and healthy neonates.
If you want more detailed support Contact Us to schedule a breeder consultation.
You can also subscribe to our Newsletter, and listen to our brand new, soon to be released, podcast where we will be discussing in detail how to use these supplies, the basics of whelping a litter, and raising neonates.
I had intended to make this a two part series, but I had so many requests to include the difficult subject of Boomerang Dogs (dogs who leave for new homes, but then come back) that I decided to add just one more part to the When Bad Things Happen To Good Breeders series.
It has become so accepted (and rightly so) that breeders have an open door policy towards all the dogs they place that we have now moved into the dismissive stage of this subject.
Now we hear calls of “get the dog back” or “return the dog” whenever relationships between people (breeder and buyer) or people and dogs (buyer and their dog) hit any rough patch.
But lets be clear, unless there is a very good reason for a dog to loose it’s home we should not be flippant or causal about it.
Are there some cases where it is in the best interest of the dog, or owner, for the dog to be returned? Absolutely. Here are some examples from my own program that I’m sure other breeders have experienced as well, that are simple and uncomplicated.
1. Owner is financially unable to provide for the dog (for any reason, but job loss is a common one). 2. Owner has lost access to dog friendly housing (after divorce for example). 3. Owner has passed on, or is so unwell that caring for the dog cannot happen. 4. Owner is caring for an unwell family member and the dog’s care is suffering. 5. Someone (a child, unwell adult, relative) has moved in and there is conflict in the home such that the dog is suffering from chronic stress or anxiety.
Are there cases where things are not so black and white? Of course, puppy blues are one, where the new puppy is actually causing so much distress and depression that everyone is suffering. Interdog conflict in the home, undesirable behaviors on the dog and human side, changes in work schedule. In these cases the job of the breeder is to tease out if the problem has a potential solution that benefits everyone (dog and humans) such that happiness is restored and everyone’s needs are met.
We should never take the loss of a home lightly, or even recommend it lightly, because it’s hard to promise the dog that the new home will be better for them, and indeed some dogs just don’t transition well, and a dog who was a good companion in one home may find adapting to a new home difficult, even impossible. These are decisions that deserve everyone’s best and most thoughtful work.
The Nuts and Bolts: Be ready, and hope you never need to be.
1. Breeders need to think about and decide upon their return policy, and all the ramifications of that, before their first litter is bred. Can’t take dogs back? Don’t breed dogs, because the breeder is the dog’s safety net in all times.
2. Budget funds for return. Some returned dogs will come in perfect health, others may not, be prepared for both.
3. Line up health experts to help you. Discuss the health ramifications of returning dogs with your vet, focus on contagious diseases especially those that may kill puppies (herpes, distemper, parvo), or destroy your entire breeding program (brucellosis) as well as the more common and less dangerous pathogens like internal/external parasites, viruses like kennel cough, dog flu, mange mites, and etc. Discuss quarantine options, costs, and etc.
4. Line up a behavior expert to help you. Find a credentialed behavior expert to help you. Breeders are not by default behavior experts, so unless you are a credentialed professional behavior specialist find one to advise you and evaluate dogs for you. This professional may be the key to keeping a dog in the current home, or helping you determine what would need to happen for this dog to be placeable once returned.
5. Make a list of options to help you: Dog transporters, trainers who can take dogs for evaluation or board/train, kennels that offer quarantine boarding, and etc. You may need to quickly get a dog from point A to Point B, You may need a professional to evaluate what needs to happen for the dog to be transitioned to a new home, and finally, dog may need to be quarantined while necessary health evaluation/treatment is done. Be ready, and hope you never need to be!
1. Accept that you may be too emotionally invested to make good decisions (this is where your team of professional advisers can help you).
2. Detach your EMOTIONS about the situation from your ACTIONS. You may have very strong feelings about the situation, those are yours, don’t share them with the client and absolutely keep such talk off social media, save that venting for your closest friends and advisors.
3. Keeping number 2 in mind: Always treat your client with empathy, kindness, and respect. This is very difficult for breeders. Being a breeder does not mean we are expert in emotional intelligence, or have expert level communication skills. But, treating our client unkindly in any way increases the chances the dog will NOT have a great outcome. If we create an unsafe environment for sharing things that make US uncomfortable then our clients won’t share with us and that is really bad on many levels.
4. If you know that you struggle with conflict resolution, customer service skills, or empathetic listening and instead tend to let strong feelings lead to defensiveness and aggressive language towards our client then consider it part of your basic breeder toolbox to learn how to communicate with clients in an effective and professional manner.
5. Don’t assign fault. Don’t blame the client for the problem, don’t blame yourself for the problem, this isn’t helpful at all in the moment. Once the situation is fully resolved, FULLY resolved, and you have access to lots and lots of information then you can do detailed break down of what (if anything) went wrong, why it went wrong, and how/if this could be prevented in future. Remember if you decide the fault was the client’s, remember to give yourself a fair share of that blame because you CHOSE that client. Whenever we decide the client is at fault, we need to take a hard look at our placement interview process and criteria, reaching out to mentors, and even better (as they are not emotionally invested either) skilled legacy breeders for advice. If you find yourself tempted to assign fault with the client, without detailed reflection and data collection it’s very likely you are acting from a place of emotion, and trying to make yourself feel better. But feeling better may not teach us anything we can use going forward. Breeding dogs is really hard, to do it well we need to be tough, and that very often means being willing to be uncomfortable within ourselves as we learn. Always remember, life happens, there may not be anyone at fault!
Below you can find a visual of our potential return flow, this chart helps us determine if it’s possible to keep the dog in the present home, and steps to take to facilitate that, or if it’s in everyone’s best interest for the dog to leave it’s current home, and how to facilitate that. Each block could be a blog on it’s own, and of course not all possible outcomes (such as the dog moving directly from the present home to it’s new home) are covered here. You can download a copy below the chart!
Interested in more discussion on this subject, or any of those in our When Bad Things Happen To Good Breeder series? Be sure to sign up for our newsletter, follow us on Facebook, look out for our very own podcast (premiering soon with this very series!), and let us know how you handle these tough aspects of breeding.
When I looked at the x rays, up there on the screen, my heart sank as did any remaining hope I may have had for salvaging an entire bloodline group in my breeding program. This was the end of the road, so to speak, for a new bloodline I had brought into my program with the greatest of enthusiasm, after months of pedigree analysis and research and as such it was a sad day. For this dog had given me gifts, some were pleasant surprises such as excellent temperament and overall health, but others were the wrong kind of gifts, such as the elbow dysplasia that was staring me in the face from that screen.
Because we value growing and learning, and addressing even the most challenging situations head on, we have decided to focus our continuing education and growth mindset efforts for the month of September on facing some of the difficult situations we have experienced in the last couple years, breaking those down into great detail, and learning everything we can from those situations. We want to continue that learning, and expand it, by including our colleagues, clients, and friends in the conversation too. So we will be blogging on these subjects first, and then starting a podcast where we can share these conversations with everyone.
Those who know me know that we have well established core values in our breeding program, and the first is to value, respect, and honor the bloodlines entrusted to us by those who bred before us. I am a believer that every bloodline, and every dog, has potential value in maintaining and protecting my breed, until proven otherwise.
In the past I have observed decades in which dogs were excluded from the breeding pool without thought, over the most minor faults, and I have also watched as breed populations shrank, all while the most popular sires influence increased leading to bottle necks, fewer options for breeders, and decreased genetic diversity.
Oftentimes breeders only realize how important genetic options are when there aren’t any left. This lesson has not been lost on me, nor has the irony that many of today’s breeders have not yet learned this lesson and they happily chuck dogs out of the breed pool, left and right, over the stupidest things, things that do not cause any harm to the dog, don’t affect quality of life, and don’t break owner’s hearts. Without any thought to potential future ramifications of such unwise shrinking of breeds and without considering other options. It’s become a “knee jerk” reaction of the novice breeder, as a way of signaling to everyone that they are a “good” breeder….because see how many dogs they exclude.
Instead of showing the wisdom needed to know when a dog, or line, should be excluded, and when further evaluation is warranted.
However, dogs who bring unwanted genetic gifts, the kind that cause suffering and decreased quality of life for dogs and their owners, simply cannot be moved forward in pedigrees, and I know I am not alone in this. In the GSD we don’t have as many genetic options as people think, we have popular sire bottle necks in most bloodlines, and we have self imposed walled off bloodlines as well, where breeders have chosen to try to keep bloodlines “pure” by isolating them from other bloodlines within the breed. In Germany the long stock coat GSD can no longer be bred to the origin stock coat lines causing even more walling off.
These problems hobble breeders more than they realize and lead to fewer good options for all. So, losing a bloodline is never something we celebrate, even when it must be done.
So, as my co breeder Rebecca and I sat down and discussed the list of gifts (good and bad, some annoying and some that affected quality of life) this line had bestowed us with, in a very small number of breedings, and compared the percents affected with our breed’s typical percent affected, and then our program’s percent affected, we confirmed that indeed while this line was producing about the same percent of affected individuals as the OFA and SV stats tell us is “typical” for the HD and ED in the GSD breed, this was many percents higher than our own in program statistics (breeders should always keep both sets of stats, what is normal for the breed, and what is normal for their program) and the dogs affected were more severely affected. This, along with an accounting of some congenital defects produced, led to the easy, but sad, decision to remove this entire bloodline from our program, something we hadn’t had to do in our program for decades.
Another core value in our breeding program is transparency, we believe that our clients, colleagues, and students should have insight into what it’s like to breed dogs, including the bad stuff.
Transparency is hard, it’s a double edged knife that cuts both ways. Knowing what and when to share and to whom to share such information with is something you only know in hindsight. In the moment of decision, breeders work blind to the ramification of bringing people in to an area where a lack of understanding is common.
Breeders have every reason NOT to be transparent, because most people, even dog fanciers, have no idea how complex and difficult breeding dogs is so their judgements are aplenty. The breeding community has a big problem with subconscious self loathing, and conflicted feelings about breeding that stem from decades of being vilified by basically everyone, so breeders often attack other breeders as a way of coping with their own conflicted feelings and desire to be “good” and not be associated with “bad”.
When we are transparent we open ourselves up to both positive and negative feedback, we run the risk that by admitting when there are failures as well as successes potential clients will come to believe that we produce sub standard dogs and we will miss out on great homes for our puppies.
However, we do deeply believe that in order for people to recognize breeding dogs as a valuable, complex, skill that require practice, that we must be transparent about what we do and why we do it. Our hope is that this will increase respect for the work done by the breeders who produce the dogs people want to share their lives with while decreasing the expectation of perfection that so permeates the world of dogs.
So, Once the decision was made to remove the line, how do we move forward while standing by our core values?
1. We only removed this bloodline after careful consideration and after consulting with several trusted breeder friends. We first considered and even tried ways to breed around, then breed out, the problems we were seeing before deciding that was not an effective option. 2. We notified everyone who had a first degree relative and explained the situation, we extended our usual 24 month orthopedic warranty to a lifetime orthopedic warranty, and did our best to allay fears, and offer preventive suggestions. 3. We sterilized all dogs from this line, including those in guardian homes.
But, are there other options? Of course, breeders have a wide variety of tools at their disposal for reducing unwanted traits in their breeding programs. Removing a line is the option of “last resort” because it’s irreversible and it also takes the least skill of those in the breeder toolbox. While removing an individual or entire bloodline group might be the best path forward, there are other options available to breeders.
1. For simple recessive traits for which there is a DNA test (such as DM) breeders can use DNA testing to identify Homozygous Normals, Homozygous Affecteds, and Carriers and then very easily (in the GSD) arrange breedings such that Affected aka At Risk puppies are not an possible with a pairing. This requires very little skill or understanding of genetics, but that does not negate it’s value! Now, this DOES require skill when a breed has very few homozygous normals available (which is why small breeding populations, bottle necks, and Popular Sire Syndrome are risky) because in this case breeders must choose between loosing most of the breed, or breeding some carriers to affecteds. This is tough work that takes skill. Free genetic counseling can be found here, and Embark offers extensive breeder education as well.
2. For traits with an unknown mode of inheritance and polygenic traits breeders can follow the OFAs Best Practices (and take advantage of their E Book: The Use Of Health Databases and Selective Breeding) and breed dogs who appear normal to other dogs who appear normal, with majority normal first degree relatives, and normal pedigrees. This is how breeders have reduced the rate of hip and elbow dysplasia. So when a problem crops up and a particular dog produces MORE affected dogs than typical the dog can be bred to a bloodline know for improving upon this trait, such as “hip improvement dogs” or “hip Improvement lines” and then over multiple generations select breeding dogs from only the litters with majority normal hips, gradually decreasing the percent affected and increasing the percent normal. This is the model used by breeders in the early days of the GSD, when HD normals were only about 10% of the breed, and over the span of 100 years breeders gradually improved hips until normals accounted for more 80% of the breed. This is a very old, and reliable, model for improving traits over generations using the skill of pedigree analysis and data analysis. Every breeder should know how to do this, but in some cases it’s impossible because data is not available. Breeders may choose not to share data, or information may have been lost when a breeder died, or because too many relatives have never been bred so information on how they produced for a trait will forever be unknown.
3. Breeders can use test breedings to try to evaluate if a trait is heritable and how, and while this has become far less common in the age of DNA testing breeders should still understand how this works, when it’s warranted, and what is done with the information discovered. Before the age of DNA testing test breedings were how breeders found out if a trait was a simple autosomal.
4. Breeders can also choose to do a less risky pedigree analysis for a trait, following it through generations and identifying affected and carrying individuals. With this information the breeder could more easily breed around, or improve upon, the trait.
5. And of course, breeders can identify if a trait is expressed due solely to genetic factors, or if environment plays a role. An environmental role does NOT free the breeder of responsibility for the heritable part of the equation, but it should trigger careful evaluation of the breeder’s own environment, dietary choices, chemical exposures, and the careful selection of the new home where ongoing environmental challenges will occur.
6. Finally, breeders and buyers must understand and accept that no dog is ever perfect and that no matter what we do, or how careful we are, that some dogs are going to have problems, health problems, temperament problems, the lot. We do not judge our work against a standard of perfection, but instead against the standard of “dogs in general”. We are not trying to produce dogs that live forever, but we are trying to produce dogs that live a typical lifespan for “dogs”. Don’t fall into the trap of expecting perfection, and throwing away bloodlines without careful consideration when imperfection occurs.
We considered each option, but one by one ruled them out. Because the problems we were seeing could decrease quality of life and had no simple mode of inheritance, we could easily rule out several options as just not being that helpful. Much of the pedigree analysis had already been done as our pre purchase research, and on paper this dog should not have been producing these problems, so further pedigree analysis would not be productive. We could have accepted that a percent affected that was very near to the OFA percent affected was good enough, but since our program typically runs much better this was also not acceptable. Finally, we had a variety of other options to meet our goal of bringing a new bloodline into our program.
So, with much thought we made the decision, notified everyone involved, and have now moved on with our program. We have since brought in two new bloodlines, but it’s early days and we don’t know yet how these dogs will produce for us and that’s ok, because that’s what breeding dogs is about, making the best choices you can and then always moving forward.
I leave you with this, breeding dogs isn’t easy, it becomes only more difficult the longer you do it, the more curious you are, and the more you know. So don’t assume the worst of a breeder when things go poorly, instead accept that the standard of perfection isn’t real, it’s an illusion, life is imperfect and that is part of what makes it wonderful. So while we might judge a breeder harshly for failing to meet the basic best practices of responsible breeders we should not judge them harshly for doing their best and finding that in some cases the outcome isn’t what was hoped for.
“Susanne, this could be catastrophic” those were the words I heard through the phone. I had called my vet, at home, on a Sunday, as I returned home from Animal Emergency Center without my 6 week old puppy. Live-wire had developed a high fever, and intense malaise that morning and by afternoon parvovirus had been twice diagnosed and little Live-wire had been admitted to the ICU for overnight care and monitoring.
I was chilled to the bone by the words of my normally cheerful and optimistic long time vet, though not surprised, parvo virus is a fear that every breeder with common sense carries with them. All breeders fear things that can kill their puppies, and parvo is high on that list. We still have a generation of breeders and vets who remember when parvo was a novel virus, without a vaccine, and it killed dogs of all ages from the youngest to the oldest, from the infirm to the healthy in huge numbers. Thanks be to the scientists who developed a vaccine, and the veterinarians who have given them to millions of dogs. Despite this work, parvo virus is a crafty virus that has eluded most attempts at eradication. So I needed no reminder of the potential danger to my 12 6 week old puppies, or the potential cost for their treatment (parvo hospitalization can easily run $1000 per day for a single puppy and indeed Live-wire’s 12 hours of supportive care topped $1000). So my fear was two fold, would my puppies suffer and die, and would I be able to afford treatment costs that could in a worst case scenario climb well into five digits?
As Rebecca and I drove home, and with the help of our amazing vet, we formulated a plan for moving forward. Because breeders don’t have the luxury of taking time to breath and ask “why” and process thoughts and emotions when infectious disease is involved. There would be time for the How and Why later, but now was the time to act.
I’m writing about this now as we enter a new monthly theme project. This project is part of our professional growth initiative designed to ensure that as breeders and trainers we are not becoming stagnant but instead pushing ourselves to explore, learn, and consider a variety of subjects related to all aspects of our lives with dogs.
Because this project is designed to help us evaluate what is happening in our professional lives, we have chosen to focus for the month of September on Moving Through Difficulty In a Growth Mindset (Yes, I know it’s controversial). As breeders we have experienced several difficulties in our breeding program over the last few years, we have been evaluating how we have responded and will respond to such problems in the future. We wanted to share this process with our many friends, breeders, trainers, and dog lovers as part of our commitment to transparency and because breeders don’t exist in a vacuum, we learn from each other and we teach each other and that is how we all get better at our craft.
Our plan, coined Parvo Sucks, involved the following: Please note, we worked very closely with our veterinarian and his techs, we were in daily contact with the hospital and never acted without having a conversation with the vet. The following is what OUR vet recommended for OUR situation and it may not be what your vet recommends for you. Parvo is a serious disease and you simply must work with your own vet.
Step 1:Evaluate every puppy for signs of active infection: Monitoring temperature (every 8-12 hours), appetite, energy, hydration, and stool consistency. This step turned out to be the key to our success because we were able to identify a puppy and start treatment promptly, before the vomiting and diarrhea started. Step 2: Until we could confirm that the bulk of the litter had been infected all infected puppies would be isolated. Once we knew the exposure had already happened we reunited the litter. Step 3: Increase disinfect measures to include isolation protocols. Step 4:Prepare for the spread of the virus from the Index Case (Live-wire) to the other puppies despite all these efforts, because it was most likely all puppies were already exposed to the virus. Step 5: Gather all supplies we would need to treat mild to moderate levels of sickness at home. We purchased Pedialyte, parvo test kits, Fluids for subQ administration, Kaolyn-Pectin, Science Diet ID canned and dry and changed puppies over to this diet, and our good friend and client Melinda Luper DVM sent us a case of Proviable Forte for every puppy to have with every meal.
Together with our veterinarian we stocked up on medicine we would need to give puppies as soon as they developed any symptoms of parvo. Each puppy was taken for a medical assessment the first business day following the development of symptoms (and for a while I was at the vet every single day) and if the puppy experienced dehydration inducing vomiting and diarrhea the puppy would be checked into the hospital for IV fluids and supportive care.
The treatment protocol was started at the moment of the first symptom (for our puppies this was fever over 102F) and involved.
1. Long acting antibiotic injection given by the vet to prevent pathogens from leaving the compromised digestive system and causing sepsis. 2. Prescription anti nausea medicine to prevent vomiting. 3. Sub Q Fluids for any puppy showing any indication of dehydration. We offered one bowl of water and one bowl of pedialyte and the puppies drank the pedialyte over the water for the duration of their sickness. Once a puppy was well and healed they would prefer to drink water. If we did not witness a puppy drinking we made a note of that puppy and monitored every hour for signs of dehydration (which we could address through Sub Q fluids). If a puppy did not respond they would be admitted to the vet hospital. 4. Science Diet ID (canned and dry) was the sole diet during this time and puppies were fed meals in crates so their eating could be carefully monitored. The food was soaked in water to increase fluid intake and the Proviable was added to every meal. 5. Any puppy with moderate or severe sickness would be taken to the vet for evaluation asap, this meant I was often at the vet daily, or two to three times daily, having puppies evaluated for in hospital care. One puppy required in hospital care, Faraday, who became moderately ill and anorexic.
How things Shook Out.
I won’t lie, the following month was really hard, but it could have been So. Much. Worse. (after all, we didn’t loose any puppies). After the index case (Live-wire) we went three days with no more sick puppies before another 2 puppies broke with fever and started treatment, then 2 days later 8 of the 12 puppies broke with fevers (1 puppy never developed any symptoms at all!) and at that time every puppy was started on treatment. I wasn’t petrified every day until the last puppy was past symptoms……
Live-wire, the index puppy, actually had only very mild symptoms and after spending one night at the ER (for a tab of $800) getting supportive care his regular vet released him for ongoing care at home. He never developed any further symptoms except a single bad poop. One puppy, Colt, never developed any symptoms at all. One puppy, Faraday was very ill, with bloody vomit and diarrhea, and was hospitalized for 5 days of supportive care, and didn’t eat a single bite for 10 days! Faraday did fully recover, after giving us quite a scare. The rest of the puppies exhibited the following symptoms: Lethargy for one or two days, fever for no more than 1 day, a few puppies missed a meal or two, some never stopped eating. Most puppies had one or two days of bad poop, some shed their intestinal lining and this was obvious from their stool, others did not and had just loose stool. Aside from the window of sickness, averaging 24 hours, this litter had outstanding stool quality (which I found quite odd and credit to the Science Diet ID and Proviable Forte).
After 1 month from first to last puppy showing symptoms, and another month of recovery, all puppies were tested for parvo via tests I bought and administered at home and no puppies were still shedding the virus when tested and were released by our to go to new homes.
This delayed send home from our usual 9 weeks to 13 weeks of age. Despite being in the middle of a pandemic we were able to schedule weekly visitors for the puppies once they were well to ensure they had adequate socialization. We continued the Puppy Culture protocols which are already designed to extend through 12 weeks.
No puppies died, or had severe sickness (even as sick as Faraday was he was still classified as moderate), and all recovered quickly and completely. No adult dogs became ill, and all were current on vaccinations (meaning they had received a parvo vaccination sometime in the previous 3 years).
All puppies went to their amazing and supportive families by 3 months of age, and our feedback on the litter is all positive to date, with no ongoing problems related to the illness, treatment, or delayed send home. This litter is now over a year old and as healthy and happy as we could have hoped.
Happy Puppies, Happy Breeder
Interesting things I learned, good sources of info, and about my case in particular:
1. No matter what you do don’t force food on an anorexic puppy. When puppies are sick with parvo their gut loses it’s lining and pathogens move easily from the gut to the abdomen, causing sepsis. Puppies instinctively know when they should not be eating, so undue encouragement to eat can actually make them sicker. I learned this from a fellow breeder and remembered it whenever I was tempted to try to “get” puppy to eat something. Instead I focused on keeping every puppy hydrated.
2. My puppies mild case and full recovery was most likely due to inherited maternal antibodies still being present at the time of infection. I assumed that maternal antibodies PREVENTED infection, but they don’t always, instead when an infection does occur they help the puppy mount a rapid and effective immune response. So my annual vaccination schedule for breeding females was likely the reason this case was so mild overall, the puppies still had maternal antibodies.
3. Sources of info on infectious diseases in dogs are plentiful, but many are not evidence based nor do they reflect the consensus view. When I traced many of the common things I had heard about parvo to the sources of good evidence based information I found a LOT of what I thought I knew about parvo to be untrue or partly true, this included information I had heard from veterinarians, or read on websites and authored by veterinarians and of course tons of things I heard from breeders. I opted to only use a small number of reliable sources for information, I ran these by my vet for confirmation: This resource for Cornell, this one from Revival Animal Health who have a wide variety of educational resources and products, along with experts to help you know what you need, and I contacted UWM to see if nomographs would be part of our moving forward plan (spoiler, they are not) and to get feedback on our vaccination plan moving forward now that our location was highest risk (spoiler: I was told to vaccinate early at 4 & 6 weeks with a parvo only vaccine before moving to a traditional vaccination schedule of 9/12/16 weeks- this is a standard vaccination protocol for endemic parvo areas and one widely used by breeders, but it was nice to have a leading infectious disease expert tell me this was the best course of action.
5. We now use Rescue to disinfect everything indoors.
6. And none of that would have helped prevent my puppies from getting parvo. You see my puppies were infected with parvo during our state’s Safer At Home lock down due to COVID-19. This means we were not leaving our property, or if we did we did not leave our car, at all during this time. So it’s almost impossible that we brought the virus home on our shoes or clothes. We also have a fenced yard, so free roaming dogs bringing the virus on the property is unlikely, and while we do have game in our area there is no evidence they ever enter our yard. We do however live in a rural area with a large population of free roaming and unvaccinated dogs, and we have insects. In our case the likely vector of the virus was actually flying insects and in particular flies, that carried the virus from infected dogs in our area to our puppies when they were outdoors on their puppy patio. So, while we are certainly disinfecting constantly now, to kill what virus remains, or is brought onto our property, it was a hard lesson that you can literally do everything right and STILL have bad things happen. Oh, and LOL, our puppy patio which was easily disinfected was not screened for flying insects, and yes, screening it in is definitely on the “to do” list.
We chose to handle the transparency aspects of our summer of parvo with full disclosure via our Facebook page and private client group for the puppy buyers of that litter. While we did get a bit of push back, mainly “about us” and not “to us” the overwhelming response from our colleagues, clients, and friends was overwhelming support.
We asked for, and received donations to help with the cost of treatment, while I was really uncomfortable asking for help I’m glad I did because this really helped to relieve some of the stress of buying supplies and treatment costs for the puppies.
We updated everyone almost daily, including how the sickest puppy, Faraday, was responding to treatment.
We reached received so much support from fellow breeders, from kind words, to advice, to the daily check ins I received from our good friend Christiana at Kaos Farm Goldendoodles that kept me focusing on the good things of the day, and prevented me from getting mired in the mud of dread, our long time friend Dani at Avid Aussies helped with practical advice about disinfecting that helped my sleep deprived brain grasp what I needed to do right then and who suggested contacting Revival to get supplies asap. Of course my ever patient vet, Dr. Patrick Grogan at VCA Woodland East and the entire staff of the animal hospital, were endlessly kind and understanding and undoubtedly saved my puppies lives.
Our Austerlitz Family was, as always, wonderful and supportive. Many of our clients who are veterinarians reached out to see if they could help, Dr. Melinda Luper in particular answered so many questions, and sent me the Proviable Forte that so helped my puppies gut heal up. Every family was able to take home their puppy, and that made us all just so happy.
But I don’t want to gloss over how hard it is for breeders to share the “nuts and bolts” of breeding dogs, because it’s hard. For decades breeders have been demonized for breeding the dogs people want to share their lives with, this never ending drum beat has been so constant that breeders themselves have too often internalized it. Breeders who believe that breeding dogs is “dirty business” feel guilty, and make a big show about how IMPORTANT their breeding programs are because champions, and titles, and “improving” the breed. Breeders who have internalized the shame of breeding are also aggressive towards other breeders they deem are not “pure” enough or good enough, and so they go out of their way to show everyone how they are not “that type of breeder” by attacking them, bullying them, and demeaning them in the name of “educating”.
So breeders are vulnerable at every turn. They are a target for the Animal Rights Community, the Adopt Don’t Shop Community, the Dog Snob Community, and the “I’ve Never Bred A Litter But If I Did This Would Never Happen To Me Because Breeding Is Easy” dog fancier community, and so breeders have every reason to be defensive and closed up.
I feel this too, don’t kid yourself, and I’ve been on most sides of ugly behavior in my life. But they say as you get older you get both wiser and more radical, and I hope that I’m both. Either way, I’m not afraid of what others might think of me at this point in my life.
Breeding dogs is much more difficult than most people realize, Mother Nature is a killer and she’s out to end most puppies if she had her way. The natural order of things is that most litter born animals die before sexual maturity, the only thing that stands between this outcome and our domesticated animals is human intervention. That is the breeder and their veterinarian, they are the ones standing between nature and puppies.
So, next time a breeder shares some difficult experience they have had, instead of trying to find a reason The Thing Happened, or think that it could not happen to you, instead reach out and offer support and encouragement. Instead of throwing out all manner of social signals to tell everyone how responsible a breeder you are, try offering support and encouragement. Basically, be kind, empathetic and assume others are competent, do these things visibly so that others will see good behavior and model it themselves. Be the one that makes a safe place for transparency.
Next Up: When bad things happen to good breeders, Part 2: Hip, elbow dysplasia and birth defects.
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One of the most common questions we get is how, when, and why we select puppies for each family.
First, the reasons we believe it is important for us to choose puppies for our families.
1. We have decades of first hand experience with the dogs in our pedigrees, many of whom we raised from puppies themselves. This means we understand the traits present in our dogs, and what traits are expected in a particular litter.
2. We have decades of experience working with puppy owners and their puppies, both those who have puppies from our program and those who take classes with us through Clickety Split Dog Training.
3. We have spent hours and hours of time working with our puppies. This means we know each puppy and have lot of observations about their behavior and personality.
4. We know our clients, we have put considerable effort into getting to know our clients so we can best understand their needs in a German Shepherd Dog.
5. Ultimately we are responsible for our puppies for LIFE, while puppy owners may relinquish responsibility and return the puppy to us, the buck stops with us, and so in the end we are responsible for the choices we make, or allow to be made, for our puppies.
This means that there is just no comparison between our methodical and information based system of puppy placement and the emotion driven choices made by well meaning puppy seekers flush with puppy fever, but very little experience or knowledge.
Second, the system we use to make selections.
1. Screening at the website level. We have designed and written our website to act as our first level of filtering. We provide an abundance of information about all facets of our program and we place responsibility for exploring that information on the puppy seeker. This weeds out impulsive puppy seekers, and those who have little interest in investing their time and effort into their puppy.
2. Screening at the contact level. We have designed our contact flow system to answer common questions, provide links to necessary information, and again, to discourage impulse puppy seekers and those who think puppies are easy.
3. We know that the GSD is not an easy breed to live with. These dogs need considerable commitment from their owners, so each step of our selection process is designed to filter out those who are unlikely to “put in the work” with their dog. This means even before we send out the questionnaire we are thinking about how to encourage good prospects while discouraging high risk prospects.
4. Program Level Screening. Once we have the New Client Questionnaire in hand we immediately screen out those who are just not right for our program. This doesn’t usually mean they are not right for the breed, just that our program doesn’t best meet their, and our, goals.
5. Litter Level Screening. For those clients who are right for our program our next task is determining if a particular litter is right for their needs. While our traits are pretty uniform (as any good breeder’s should be) this doesn’t mean that there are not subtle differences from litter to litter. Our job is to do our best to recognize the needs of the puppy seeker, and match those to the expected traits in a particular litter. When those don’t match up, it’s our job to communicate that to the puppy seeker and shift them to a future litter.
Finally, as we are raising the puppies we are making the final puppy placement decisions. This is never done impulsively, or carelessly, but instead is done using our decades of experience with our families and our bloodlines and our new knowledge of the needs of our families. Here are a few of the things we consider.
1. Sex: Sex is a very important consideration, especially if there are dogs in the home, as most dogs do best in opposite sex pairs. Sex also affects size (males generally being about 20 pounds heavier than their sisters) and for some owners the size is important.
2. Mouth Skills: A puppy who tends to have a “hard mouth” will usually outgrow this trait, but during that time these puppies can be really hard on small children. So we need to consider this.
3. Prey Drive: Some puppies have more, or less, “chase and bite” instinct, and while it’s true that the puppy biting stage only lasts a few months, these puppies will chase and bite more and so again, we need to be sure we find unflappable and experienced owners for these high prey drive puppies because we know those types of owners do best with enthusiastic chaser biters.
4. Structure: Structure is most important for puppies who will be living a physically demanding lifestyle. Adventure buddies, sport dogs, service dogs, and farm dogs, often move the most and from an early age and traits such as flat feet, short underlines, imbalanced degree of angulation front to back, while harmless and unnoticed in a typical companion dog can make for long term soundness problems for hard working dogs.
5. Color and Coat: While these traits are cosmetic they are occasionally very important to our puppy owners and we want to respect that. So these are traits we also have to consider as we make placements. There are two coat types for our breed (that are commonly seen) and our program produces three colors (sable-all shades, black and tan- all shades, and solid black).
Now, to the things we rarely if ever consider because while these things may be present in puppies they are transitory and NOT a good way to predict which puppy will flourish in which home.
1. High Drive/Low Drive: These labels are just not real, they don’t describe real traits we can identify in a puppy.
2. High Energy/Low Energy: Again, while a puppy may be busier or more laid back, this type of behavior is transitory and often the “laziest” puppy in a litter will mature out to be just as busy as it’s siblings and the reverse is just as true.
3. Dominate/Bossy or Sumissive/Shy: Again, while a puppy may be quite a pill with the litter, be quite bold, and another may be picked on, or slow to explore, these traits are common and often a single puppy will exhibit ALL of these behaviors during the first 9 weeks. Our years of experience and knowledge also allows us to recognize if a puppy is not behaviorally typical, and just like for a true runt, we do not place puppies that are not behaviorally normal and typical.
4. Larger/smaller: Within the bell curve of normal size for a puppy there is considerable variation. A puppy may be larger or smaller due to the quality of it’s placental attachment, crowding within a uterine horn, or a slow to come along suckle reflex but these sizes rarely hold true. Generally puppies within a litter will mature out within a few pounds of their same sex siblings. Note: Runt is often a term applied to a small, but normally sized puppy, and that is not correct. An actual runt is a puppy so extremely small it’s well below the small end of the bell curve for size/weight, these puppies can have (but don’t always have) congenital defects that might affect their health later on. We do NOT sell true runts, but instead either keep them and grow them out, or place them with trusted friends, so we can determine as they mature if they are healthy. Thus far, our program has produced only 2 true runts, one was our beloved Vespa (not healthy or normal as an adult) and the other Portia (completely normal sized and healthy as an adult). Again, we would never sell any puppy that is not typical in size, health, and behavior.
5. Show Quality/Working Quality: While these labels are often used by breeders to bring a higher price for one puppy than another, we really do not believe this is ethical. There is NO WAY for a breeder to evaluate the show or working potential of an individual puppy. Yes, structural assessment can be done, but those are of little use if testicles don’t drop, the bite goes off, or any other DQ fault, or structural fault develops. Yes, there are lots of Puppy Aptitude Tests that breeders love to use, but the research on such tests (which is extensive) proves that there is NO PAT that accurately predicts adult behavior, yet alone talent for show or sport. We have placed lots and lots of show and working titles on our home breds, and none of those showed any special shiny label that guaranteed their talent. Purchasing a puppy for show or sport is a crap shoot, and boils down to pedigree knowledge coupled with the talent and work ethic of the new owner much more than anything we can see at 9 weeks.
So, to sum up, we choose puppies for our families because we are responsible for each puppy we produce, and nobody is better qualified than the are to choose a puppy for your family. Not only do we have the experience and skill to do this work, we value each and every family that chooses to get a puppy from our program and it is our sincere effort to do our best by our puppy and our client.
You may have also noticed, that picking individual puppies is FAR FAR less important than choosing breeding program carefully, because in the end the talent of the breeder and the quality of the pedigree is the really important part.
Nuts and Bolts
1. We will select the puppy for each family, with input from the family based, and on our observations and skill.
2. For those families who can attend Puppy Parties, we also take our observations from these days into account.
3. Puppies are selected between the age of 7 and 9 weeks. We usually know by the 8 week Puppy Party who is going where.
4. Do NOT get attached to certain puppies simply because they are more photogenic than other puppies. Try to observe all the puppies as we post about the litter. Remember to keep your mind open to all the puppies and not to get fixated on a particular one.
5. Placement decisions are usually announced at the 8 week puppy party.
In the end, the dog your puppy grows into depends far less on which puppy from the litter you bring home, and more on the breeder you choose, and your own hard work, care, love, attention, and skill as your raise your puppy.
When it doesn’t matter: If you are not getting a puppy from a program like ours, it may not matter if the breeder picks your puppy for you. The breeder may house their puppies in a kennel and not really know each puppy very well. The breeder may not be very well educated in puppy raising, or breed traits, pedigree, learning theory and etc. The breeder may have purchased (instead of bred) their breeding stock and really not know the dogs or traits in the pedigree very well. The breeder may have lots of puppies on the ground at once and not have time for spending hours with each litter. The breeder may not do any interview process, or may not know what questions to ask. The breeder may be hoping that Puppy Aptitude Testing will give them a crystal ball into the puppy’s future (it won’t). None of those things are “bad” they just reflect different priorities for different breeders.
In such cases it probably doesn’t matter if the breeder, or the client, chooses the puppy. The breeder may use a “first come” process or charge more for “first pick” (don’t pay more for first pick unless you know enough that your pick is meaningful) and that’s fine. When this is the case don’t get hung up on who chooses, because it likely doesn’t matter.
10 tips to help your new puppy settle in to your home without the drama.
So, you are bringing your new puppy home soon, or maybe your new puppy is already trundling around your feet at this very moment! Congratulations on the newest addition to your home, the next week is going to be a roller coaster of puppy and human emotions, so buckle up, keep your hands and feet inside the car, and prepare for the ride!
While ups and downs are normal and expected you have some control over these highs and lows, even the ability to level things out for you and your puppy. With just a few tips you can by pass the roller coaster and take a scenic drive instead.
Tip 1: Plan beforehand. Before you bring your puppy home sit down with all family members and discuss the training, management, feeding, schedules, rules, and all the other minutia involved in a new puppy. Write things down, make lists!
Tip 2: Purchase and collect supplies. Puppies need a LOT of stuff, just like babies do, it’s really difficult to manage a puppy without the needed supplies so source these items before your puppy’s arrival date.
Tip 3: Talk to your breeder about how they have prepared the puppy for transitions. Be sure to ask the breeder how you might leverage this work into a smooth transition week. You can review our Easy Transition series for ideas!
Tip 4: Prepare your management plan and set up all areas. Puppies need a variety of types of management. Baby gates and playpens can keep a puppy in the same room as caregivers. Closed doors keep puppies out of places they should not be or cannot be supervised. Start teaching children (and some adults) to keep stuff up, and to put stuff away, before the puppy comes home. If toys litter your living space now, they will once the puppy arrives and this will mean extra work for parents and conflict in the family. Make keeping possessions put away when not in use a priority.
Tip 5: Keep things quiet and low key upon arrival and for the first week. Your new puppy will be under a great deal of stress, and even distress, due to the change in location, loss of known humans and their canine family, and the new humans and pets already in the home. Don’t make this stress into distress by “throwing everything” at your puppy at once. Using management and this awesome Dog and Puppy Survival Guide carefully and gradually introduce your new puppy to your other dogs. Use this Pandemic Puppy Podcast episode to help you make the first week a happy one.
Tip 6: Use confinement to your advantage. Crate training and confinement training is where things can really go wrong fast. Use a program like our own Crate School to help you navigate this training in a positive and productive way.
Tip 7: Use a solid house training plan from day 1. When everyone in the house is on the same page with house training things go better for everyone. Pick a plan, such as our Poop School, and stick with it. Be sure the plan you choose does not involve depriving the puppy of freedom to move, excessive confinement, or restricted access to water.
Tip 8: Prepare Children: Children (and adults!) often have unrealistic expectations about what having a puppy is like. Prepare children for the puppy by reading to, or with, them some good books about living with dogs. Visit the Family Paws website a vast array of resources and help on this subject.
Tip 9 Connect with other puppy parents! There is a great sense of support in a community with those also raising puppies. Take advantage of our FB group devoted just to puppy raising. You can find free resources in the guides, everything from detailed house training plans, to webinars on socialization and biting/mouthing. Curated by a group of professional trainers and puppy raising experts, this group is a great place to get real time answers to the abundance of questions that come up when raising puppies, or just getting support.
Tip 10: Keep that puppy close. Puppies who have just moved to a new home will easily experience separation distress, so stick close to your puppy at first. Sleep the puppy in a small crate right on the bed with you, set up their playpen very near where you work so the puppy can see you. You can even sit right by the pen and work on a laptop, to help soothe a sleepy, but distressed, puppy. Then using a plan such as Crate School you can gradually get the puppy used to you being further and further away as the puppy settles in and moves past the stress of transition week.
In closing, remember, that puppies grow into dogs fast, and dogs don’t live very long compared to humans. So cherish every moment of your puppy’s early life, in a moment those days will be gone. Have realistic expectations, take lots of photos, get support and good advice, and ENJOY your puppy!