I didn’t intend my Dane to be a show dog until he was about 8 months old, and until that time never clipped his toenails to the stubby show length that’s considered preferable.  In fact I’d never clipped dog nails before!  Our dogs always had plenty of outdoor time on both grass and concrete sidewalks, and wore their nails down naturally. It was a revelation to me–and to Kunga–when we began clipping his toenails.

Most breeders I know start clipping puppy toenails somewhere between the first and third week of life.  Apart from sparing the nursing dam those little pin needles in her tummy, it gets the pups used to the idea of having their feet handled and nails clipped. Some of my breeder friends also start dremmeling: the use of an electric device to smooth and shorten the nails.  If they use the dremmel, they seem to start later, after about 3-4 weeks.

My early attempts to clip Kunga’s nails were a struggle.  The best place to do it was in an elevated tub at my local grooming shop, where I took him for show baths.  The tubs had clips for a short leash and high sides, both of which restrained Kunga as he thrashed away, trying to pull away from my clippers. If I wanted a nicer job, I had to take him to my friend Carol’s place, where I could hold the dog and she could wield the dremmel.  I didn’t realize that the filing action of the dremmel caused the nail to get hot; often Carol has to work back and forth on a couple of nails to prevent a burn.

Now Kunga is resigned to the whole nail thing, though he is still not especially cooperative. I plan to start my next dog on nails much earlier (show or not), so this doesn’t become a battle.  Oh, and my Bloodhound, Lucy?  She SCREAMS when I pull out the nail clipper, though never in her life have I nicked a cuticle or injured her.  I didn’t know dogs could make that sound.  I gave up on her a few years back (she’s not a show dog), and now the few times she has to have her nails trimmed I take the coward’s way out and bring her to the groomer at my vet’s office.

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Nationals without a dog

I spent the end of last week at Great Dane Club of America Nationals in Topeka, KS.  It’s where many of the best Danes in the country  gather to show themselves off, where you take your dog to be seen.

This year, I went without Kunga.  It was very strange to drive without him, and stranger still to be near the rings without him dancing on the end of a lead. I love to show off my boy, and we always have a good time.

But this year Kunga stayed at home while I went just to look, to meet, and to play.  It was an entirely different experience.  For one thing, if you don’t have your dog, it’s not as likely you’re going to be subjected to some of the viciousness in our sport.  Who’s going to gossip about you if your dog isn’t there?  For another, I could spend zero time managing Kunga’s need to walk, potty, and socialize, and instead concentrate seriously on seeing what’s up in the world of the blue Danes. I love seeing all the colors–and there were some fabulous examples of them all there–but I was particularly happy to see the number and quality of the blues this year. There were a lot of different types represented, lots of head styles, lots of variation in substance. Slowly, it seems, the blue breeders are diversifying the types available, partly by importing from abroad and partly through mixing lines with black breedings. And at least this year, one owner-handled blue made the cut from his Best of Breed group: Aileen Brida with her boy Justice’s Bare Necessity, “Baloo.”

Another fun aspect to being there this year was meeting so many of my Facebook friends in the flesh (or in the fur)!  I was delighted to match real faces to people whose id photo on FB is of their dogs.

me with Richard, Aaliyah, and Trace Cm

It was especially gratifying to see the juniors who showed in the competition before BOB. These folks are the future of our sport and I was, as always, impressed by the level of their ability to show off their Danes with professionalism.  Here’s hoping we see even more of them in future Nationals.

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More on end of life

Last week I mentioned a “pet ethics” specialist, Jessica Pierce,  in a piece about hard decisions on the end of your dog’s life.  Now I hear that she has published her book on the subject, called “The Last Walk: Reflections on Our Pets at the End of Their Lives.” It’s on Amazon at

Pierce looks at practical, moral, and medical issues surrounding the end of a pet’s life.  I think anyone who casually adopts a puppy for the family ought to read this or something like it, so that they can be prepared for the inevitable.  Perhaps it would encourage people to think of their dogs as “whole life” dogs, not simply “until ___ happens” (moving, babies, etc.).

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The Hard Decision

All pet owners have faced it: the decision about when the time is right to euthanize your animal.  I have never yet heard of an instance when this decision was easy.  How do you know when the right time comes?

I’ve had people say–and said myself–your pet will tell you. But there are some things to consider as you weigh whether the message you’re getting is a true one.

For example, many dogs are put down because their pain becomes obviously unbearable to them.  But have you made sure that the dog is getting enough pain medication? An authority on veterinary ethics was quoted in the NY Times as saying that many dogs are treated ineffectively or given pain meds for too short a time or in too low a dose. (Sept. 23, 2012) It might be worth re-checking this with your vet before you make the decision to put your dog down.

One hospice care hospital for animals has posted a “quality of life scale” on their web site:  They suggest you rate your pet on a scale of 0-10 on a number of different factors, from whether the dog is eating and walking to whether s/he seems happy.  There’s not a rule of numbers: they don’t suggest that when you get 10s on some of the factors, it’s time to do something.  But this does at least offer a means of assessing your dog before you make your own decision.

I think it’s true that your dog tells you when it’s time to go.  But I want to be sure I’m listening to the dog, and not to the emotional pain that I’m feeling at the loss.


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Pet dog/show dog

While we were walking last week, a gentleman stopped to admire Kunga and began asking questions about him.  Of course I had to brag a bit and tell him that Kunga’s my champion show dog boy.

“Really?” he said.  “What’s the difference between a show dog and any other dog?”

That’s one of the more interesting questions I’ve had about Kunga, and it made me think a bit before answering.

Let’s see…a show dog requires all the same basic obedience training that a pet does: they have to be house-broken, learn to come when called, walk nicely on a lead, and behave around the house. They still need all the same equipment any other dog does: dishes, beds, toys, collars.  And of course they need the same vet care.

But a show dog has probably been better bred than a mutt, and selected for beauty, health, good temperament, and ability to perform.  The show dog had better be very well socialized to people and other animals, as well as used to loud noises, strangers petting him in intimate places and looking at his teeth, and long car rides.  The pet dog may not have to have the patience of a show dog, who has to endure apparently endless hours in a crate waiting for their turn, then run around a ring several times, which must seem incredibly pointless to the dog. If the dog is showing in agility or the other performance events, he had better be well-trained and in terrific physical shape. If they’re conformation dogs, they have to learn to stand quietly for an exam and run smoothly with a handler upon demand.

But other than that?  My show dog lolls around in the sun most days, and is just as good as any other dog at getting muddy or wet and tracking it all into the house.  Both my show boy and my non-show girl demand a lot of ear-scratching and tummy rubs and regular meals and walks. And I brag about the astonishing abilities of my non-show Bloodhound as much as about the achievements of my boy.  After all, she’s smart, he’s just good-looking.

So next time I’m asked, I’d have to say the differences are: not much!

My “fancy show dog” asking when I’m going to get out of bed and feed him

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Bailey and the breeder

Before I could bring Kunga home, I had to sign a contract with my breeder.  In it, I promised that if ever I wanted to or were forced to get rid of him, I had to bring him back to his breeder.  Since I didn’t have any experience in the dog world, I asked why that clause was in there.  The breeder explained that she never wanted a dog she had brought into the world to go to a bad home or be dumped in a shelter; instead she would bring him back to her kennel or place him with someone else who wanted him.

It makes sense: as a breeder you don’t want your reputation to be damaged by someone who doesn’t want the dog or can’t take care of it; as a human you don’t want that precious being to be harmed by the stupidity or carelessness or misfortune of its humans.

But how many breeders really expect to take a pup back after the first few months?  Recently a friend got a call from a buyer who took one of her pups from a litter bred in 2003. (For people like me who can’t count, that’s about 9.5 years ago.)  Through heartbreaking life circumstances, the buyer could not take care of that now old girl named Bailey, and wanted to find her a new home.  My breeder friend didn’t hesitate for an instant: when and where shall we meet, and I’ll pick her up from you, she said.

Now my friend already has a houseful of animals, including 3 grown Danes.  She’s not rich, she doesn’t have a farm with huge amounts of space.  But she immediately and without question took back this older, probably unplaceable Dane, who is no longer cute, has not many years left in her, and requires some vet care. Why? Because it’s what responsible breeders do.  They will give home space to any animal they’ve bred, ever, for any reason.  It’s the right thing.

If your breeder isn’t prepared to do this before you put down the deposit on your puppy, better think again.

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Win Pictures

Everyone likes to have a photo of their dog with the judge after winning a ribbon.  There’s always a show photographer at every AKC show I’ve been to who memorializes every moment.  These folks can do literally hundreds of dog pictures per show.

Predictably, there are some mistakes, and I’ve been on the receiving end of some of them. When Kunga got his first point, the photographer didn’t adjust his camera for a dark-colored dog in a dark arena, and the photo came out both blurry and badly exposed. (I ordered a version with me cropped out anyway–hey, it was my first show dog’s first point!) When Kunga finished with a major at a huge show, the photographer was nearly incoherent with the number of photos he had to do, and managed to mess it up big time: he didn’t put up the board saying “new champion,” and managed to capture a moment when Kunga began to sag back into a sit, making my poor dog look like he was collapsing in back.

These are not the worst stories I’ve heard: one friend got a picture with her mouth open in a yawn as she stood behind her group-placing dog; another friend’s dog was placed so that her front feet were obscured by the fake flowers.  The tales of picture woes go on and on.

I have some sympathy with the photographers, who are often harried from ring to ring, trying to get the pictures in at breaks in the action, dealing with recalcitrant pups, and hoping that both dog and handler manage to smile at the same time.  Most of the time it’s no big deal if something goes wrong with the picture, but I admit that having a messed-up championship photo rankles me.

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The Hidden Dog

Generally I think I know my dogs.  I think behavior follows from motivation, and there are only a few motivators for them: food, sex (well, for Kunga anyway), protection, play, and companionship.  As long as I can understand what’s motivating them, I can pretty much predict their reactions.

But sometimes they surprise me.  A Lab-sized dog off-lead charged up to Kunga a few days ago and began sniffing him.  I thought there’d be blood, but Kunga took it with a bemused sideways look and a warning growl that made the Lab back off.  (I was the one who reacted furiously to the Lab’s owner.)

Then there’s the mysterious behavior that I can never quite figure out: Kunga will sometimes turn a circle before eating the food from his dish; Lucy will suddenly race to the picture window and bark at nothing, furiously; Kunga will stare at a place in the rug as though the pattern will jump up and bite his nose.  For all that we think we know our dogs, I think they will always surprise us with their hidden sides.

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Remind me about the fun

Though I was working on Saturday, I had the chance to enter Kunga to show on Sunday this past weekend.  I wasn’t sure of the judge (though she’d liked Kunga as a youngster and gave him Best in Sweeps back then), and I knew that there was going to be some heavy competition, not least from our club members’ dogs.  We also had a well-known bitch from California competing, so I didn’t really expect that Kunga would win.

Every time I’ve gone to a show without him, Kunga has wailed in frustration and sadness, even long after I’ve left.  My husband hates those weekend mornings when I have to leave at an absurdly early hour and Kunga won’t settle down back to sleep.  Instead he pokes and prods at my sleepy husband, trying to convince someone to get him to the show.  Clearly an egregious mistake has been made, Kunga thinks: why would you go to the show without your dog?

So today I got up at 4:30 am and put on the fancy togs and we drove to the show.  From the moment we hit the grounds, Kunga was standing in the back of the van, furiously sniffing and whining with excitement.  I took him out to get some exercise, and he wouldn’t lift his head from sniffing the grass, even when he nearly toppled over while peeing. He had to circle the area to get a good whiff of everything, investigate the outdoor ex pens to see who he could get to start barking.  When I dressed him up for the ring, he nearly danced across the grounds at my side.  He growled at a big Dane male in an ex pen who dared to try to stare him down, and curiously sniffed the back of a whippet, trying to get it to play.  He smelled every tree available, and most of the grass.  When we got into the ring, his tail wagged full time as he stacked. He went up and back and around briskly in the cool morning air. He didn’t get a picture opportunity with the nice judge who petted him, though he did get a big hug from mom.

He reminded me of the best part of showing: the sheer joy of watching him have so much fun. He’s finished his championship, and has nothing more to prove to me.  But I think I’ll have to keep taking him into the ring occasionally just so we can party down together.

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Dangerous dogs…or people?

My husband was out walking our Bloodhound, Lucy, when two dogs from a home near a public trail charged off their property and attacked Lucy.  He managed to get hold of one, and Lucy was holding off the other, when some cops appeared and hauled off the attacking dogs and got them put away in the house.

It turns out that the cops were there to investigate the woman living in the home, who seems to be mentally ill.  She has had several complaints lodged against her for other reasons, and had just had a fight with her boyfriend, which is why the police were at the address.  She claims that her dogs are always in the house, never loose.  Well, they were loose enough to attack last night!

The officers asked my husband if he’d like to file a complaint against the dogs.  He hesitated and said no, because he didn’t want to see the dogs suffer.  He believed that the problem (as is usually the case) was with the owner. Why should the dogs be torn away from their home and put in a shelter, and possibly put down, because their owner was irresponsible and nuts?

I think we will file a complaint, though, to try to save the next unsuspecting person walking their dog on the trail from danger. But I think the underlying question is a good one: why do our animals have to pay the consequences of human irresponsibility? Maybe the jurisdictions considering breed-specific legislation against “dangerous” breeds should instead be persuaded that it’s the OWNERS who should be tested and licensed, not the dogs. From now on, when I sign petitions and join protests against BSL, I’m going to suggest this alternative.

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