New CERF exam

At a show a few weeks ago, Kunga had his CERF exam updated.  Happy to say the big blue boy still has great eyes, and certificate to prove it!

We had an interesting talk with the doctor there about eye problems in Danes.  There appear to be about 12 disorders they find in our breed, everything from Microphthalmia with multiple ocular defects associated with partial albinism to retinal atrophy.  They recommend that dogs with these two defects, or glaucoma or cataracts, NOT be bred.

CERF (Canine Eye Research Foundation) has kept statistics of the Danes they’ve examined for the decade from 1991-1999 and from 2000-2008 (the latest year for available numbers), and it’s interesting to see some of these results. Significant cataracts occurred in about 10% of the dogs seen in the decade of the 90s; that has fallen to 6% in the first decade of the new century. Rates of entropion eyelids (lower eyelid folded inward) have remained constant but the percentage of ectopion eyelids (eyelid folded outward) have more than doubled. Cartilage anomaly/eversion of the third eyelid has more than tripled in the same time period. The good news is also that retinal atrophy has fallen off over time.

I think all of us who breed–any breed of dog–should consider eye health and do the appropriate testing.

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Stud owner’s responsibility

The owner of a stud has it much easier than the owner of the bitch in a breeding: no puppy feedings, no ungodly hours, no poop clean-up.  Of course we miss out on the puppy breath and the joys of puppies as well.

But I wonder, what are our responsibilities as stud dog owners?  I think the first one is to be sure that a breeding is with a health-tested bitch belonging to a responsible breeder who is trying to improve the breed, not just make money.

In addition, I have an interest in those pups even if I don’t have control over them.  I sure don’t want to see them in abusive homes or in rescue.  So I include a clause in my stud contract that attempts to force the owner of the bitch to do their best by the little ones.  I don’t know how enforceable or practical it is, and I probably wouldn’t breed Kunga to someone that I thought would violate  this clause.  But for information purposes, here it is:

“Bitch Owner represents and warrants to Stud Dog Owner that this breeding is being done with the intention of producing sound animals that follow the standard according to the American Kennel Club and Great Dane Club of America.  Bitch Owner shall not sell or give any puppy from this breeding to any puppy mill, non-qualified owner (defined as any owner who has been found guilty of any animal cruelty or who has refused to sign an agreement with Bitch Owner agreeing to return the puppy to Bitch Owner if at any time the puppy owner is unwilling or unable to provide a safe and healthy home), or to any breeder or other person who has been censured, fined, or suspended by the American Kennel Club or the Great Dane Club of America for poor practices in breeding, raising, showing, or ill treatment of any animal.”

So far, I’ve been lucky, and Kunga’s puppies are all in great homes!

One of Kunga's pups

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Picking a pup

A friend posted a question on Facebook: how does she choose a show puppy from a beautiful litter?

It’s a given that you start with a responsible breeder that knows the breed and can help with evaluating the puppies.  Presumably both parents were health-tested. And with luck they have produced some healthy pups with good temperaments.

Personally I’d always prefer a puppy with a bit of attitude.  They may be naughty puppies, but if they’re confident they have the potential to be charismatic as well, and to show well in a place filled with noise, distractions, and strangers.

Then there are the conformation tradeoffs: do you want great angles at the expense of a great head, or vice versa?  How important is topline to you?  If they have terrible feet will that bother you for the puppy’s show career?

There are so many things that can go wrong when you choose a show puppy, the least of which is that they don’t turn out as perfectly as you hoped.  There are a lot of puppy evaluation systems out there, and I think they all involve a certain degree of magic and hope.  Which is not to say they don’t work, just that they’re not foolproof. But injuries, unexpected illnesses, and bad first experiences can all end a show pup’s career–and then you have to make a decision whether to re-home (or return to the breeder to be re-homed), or whether you love that pup enough to make it part of your family forever, no matter what.

For this to work, I think the puppy has to have a say.  I think Kunga chose me as much as I chose him.  I was already partial to him from his pictures, but when I met him at 7 weeks old, we seemed to reach a mutual decision to be together.  It helps that I bought him as a pet, and only later decided to show him, but after the first few weeks with him I knew I could never give him up.  So I told my FB friend: go with your gut.

Alxe meeting Kunga for the first time, at his breeder's in FL

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Baiting

Kunga was never treat-motivated, which posed a problem for us in the ring.  I could bring primo steak as bait to get him to pop those ears and lift his head, but he would ignore it completely in favor of looking around at all those pretty girls outside the baby gates. I was always a little jealous of people like my friend Liam, who told me that his boy Gus would eat a piece of paper if he Liam waved it in front of him!

Friends suggested a squeeky toy for bait, but that didn’t much help either.  I tried everything: cheese, liver, hot dogs, but nothing caught Kunga’s attention.  Not until he won a blue stuffed animal at a sweepstakes did I finally find something that he would really take an interest in.

Yes, Mom, I WOULD like that, please!

So we began to practice with his stuffy and the command, “ears!”  until he began to give me the look I wanted.  Then I began to tuck a treat into the tummy of the stuffed toy, and he associated the treat with the command.

This training eventually got him to bait.  The only bad thing is that when I want to give him a treat, I have to say “ears!”  My dogs now think that means “cookie.”

What tricks have you used to get your dog to take an interest in bait?

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Vacation Plans

We are lucky to have friends who pet-sit our dogs right in our house when we leave on trips.  (Good thing, most kennels won’t take Kunga as an intact male.)  But a lot of folks have to make other plans when they take a vacation.

If you have to leave your dogs behind, here’s a new service, detailed at http://dogvacay.com, which helps you locate homes in your area that will take care of your dog while you’re gone.  Prices seem to vary both by location in the country as well as how much space and how many amenities are available–you’ll pay the most to have a professional trainer with a big yard take in your dog.  Could be nicer than a kennel arrangement, depending on how much you trust people to take care of your dog.

If you’re going to bring your dog along, they can fly on their own airline! Check out http://www.petairways.com, where the dogs are loaded into the main cabins of specially-equipped planes and flown around with their very own flight attendants.  The only bummer is, you have to get there on your own, you don’t get to fly with your pet.  Considering the conditions in baggage, where a lot of dogs get loaded, that may not be such a bad thing.

There’s help for you if you’re planning to bring your dog along in your car, too. A site called http://www.dogfriendly.com lets you find accommodations in each state and city that will accept dogs, rent cars that can take even big dogs, and points out places where you can take your dog hiking and walking. Lots of information broken out by location–I think this is pretty helpful for traveling show dogs, too!  I’ve found parks near show locations that I wouldn’t have known of without some of this guidance.  A similar site, http://www.petswelcome.com, is specifically for finding hotels that will accept pets.  Again, a useful thing to know as you’re traveling to show sites and get derailed due to weather or car trouble–you can hunt through this site and find a place nearby that will take you and your dogs in.

Are we there yet?

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Equal Time

To one of the judges from the weekend show:

I have had some fairly half-hearted examinations of my dog in the past, but this marks the very first time that I have not even been permitted to stack my dog, either by hand or free-stack. I regret that we didn’t provide sufficient entertainment for you to spend any time actually judging him, which is what we were all there for.

Sure, you like having movement first, and we went around the ring as soon as we entered, as instructed. But you were on my dog’s head for the teeth exam before we had fully stopped, and told me “don’t bother stacking him, I can’t see his legs anyway.”  Really?  Then how did you plan to make any kind of informed decision on what he looks like?

When we did the down-and-back, I looked up to see you facing in the opposite direction, checking out the next ring.  Getting bored with your own ring, were you? When we approached you and slowed for a free stack, you told us to go around right away instead, without stopping. And as I did, you pointed to the other dog in the ring as your choice.

This was one of the most blatant examples of lack of professionalism I have ever experienced in the show ring.  I have a piece of paper on my wall at home certifying my dog is a champion; he is not some mediocre pet dog that you can dismiss out of hand.  Yet you barely touched him, twice refused me the opportunity to stack him, and couldn’t be bothered to watch him move at the trot.  I spent my money, drove for hours, and stayed in a cheap motel in order to get your opinion.  I think I have the right to it after appropriate consideration of my dog against the standard, not an off-hand glance or two and a cursory touch.  Behavior like this is what drives people away from showing.

As I left the ring area, a bystander, clearly not involved in the show world, asked to pet my dog.  She looked up as she was scratching him and asked: “How come you didn’t get to stand your dog in line for the judge to see, like the other dogs?” What an excellent question, and how sad that even someone uninformed about ring procedure picked up on this.

Your preferences, you’re entitled to.  Your rudeness, you are not. My letter of protest is on its way to the AKC.

Sincerely, a competitor

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Puppies/Adults

Last week National Puppy Day resulted in an outbreak of adorableness on Facebook.  People posted photos of their puppies, past and present.  It was a good day, since there is almost nothing cuter than a pup.

Kunga at about 3 months

I must say, it’s always sweet to see photos of puppies, whether for puppy day or as I watch friends’ litters grow.  And I know there are people who jones for puppy breath.  But all I can think when I see these little ones is how much work lies ahead for their owners!

Whether show dog or not, puppies take a lot of time and effort to socialize, train, feed, exercise, and love on.  I never understand how people can “get the kids a dog” and actually expect that (young) kids are really going to do the work to make this animal part of the family.  I’m sure that’s the reason there are so many unhappy, lonely dogs chained outside for hours at a time; no one has the time to play or exercise them.

As for me, I like pups, but I enjoy my dogs the most when they’re grown, after about 1 year old.  Their chewing and destructiveness is mostly gone; they don’t poop in the house (except in emergencies); and they know how to behave around food, people, and on walks.  Then I can heave a sigh of relief and just enjoy them.

Kunga at about 3 years

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International Championships

The best known kennel club in the U.S. is the American Kennel Club (AKC), but there are others as well, including the United Kennel Club (UKC), which also holds sanctioned shows for conformation and performance events like rally and obedience.

Then there is the International All Breed Canine Association (IABCA), which holds conformation shows based on a European model of showing.  The classes are the same as for the AKC, but the judges give written evaluations of your dog as well as placing them in a class.  Generally the IABCA holds 4 shows over a weekend, 2 each day, and if your dog receives an “excellent” mark in 3 shows, it wins its championship.  (If you win best of breed, they give you pretty little gold medals, and your dog goes on to group competition, just like the AKC.) Kunga did this about a year ago.

In the show world, the IABCA is looked at as a kind of cheap championship–most dogs do get their title in a weekend of showing–but I still think this can be a useful exercise.  For one thing, the judges are generally the same ones you see on the AKC/UKC circuit, so you can get some exposure to them in a pretty low-key environment.  But I think the best aspect of the shows is the written evaluation.  It’s one person’s opinion, just like in any other show, but at least the judge has to justify her placement in writing, and many of them go over the evaluation with you ringside.  We are all a little “kennel blind,” and this is a good way to hear in detail about your dog’s good and bad points. If you’re starting out in showing, I’d recommend this for you.  You can learn more from their web site: http://www.iabca.com.

Happy showing!

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Love me like my dog?!?

Maybe you’ve heard that song from Billy Currington called “Like My Dog”?  A guy sings that he wishes his lady loved him in the same way his dog loved him.  Without reservation, without complaint, without cost.

Now I have to admit it’s pretty great to have our dogs go nuts over us whenever we come home.  When we came back after a few days away recently, I thought Lucy was going to turn inside out with joy to see the Wise Man.  They don’t criticize us (though they DO express certain opinions, especially as to the advisability of sharing whatever food is on the kitchen counter), and they don’t make demands.

But I hope no one ever loves me like my dog does, uncritically and without reservation.  We think we want that–but only because we’re lazy and don’t want the real challenge of opening our hearts to someone else, with all their faults and needs and human failings. Dogs excel at forgiveness because they have no ego and nothing to prove.  We’re bad at forgiveness because we have both.  We can learn something from our dogs, but I hope we’re not crazy enough to settle for that from the people we love and who love us. Sometimes I need those furry kisses even when I don’t deserve them, but it makes me a better person to have to earn the human smiles with decent behavior.

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Teeth

I can’t say I was ever interested in dog teeth before I started showing.  Now that I’ve been in the ring with several judges who actually counted teeth to be sure they’re all there, I’ve decided to take a look in Kunga’s mouth.

I’ve discovered that dogs are supposed to have 42 teeth, 20 on the upper (maxillary) jaw and 22 on the lower (mandibular) jaw.  On the top, there should be 2 molars on each side, 4 pre-molars on each side, 2 canine teeth, and 6 incisors.  On the bottom, there are 3 molars on each side, plus all the rest.

The Dane bite is supposed to be like a scissors, with the teeth of the lower jaw fitting just behind those of the upper jaw.  The teeth are supposed to be strong, clean, and all there.

I know of at least two grand champion Danes, lovely animals, that are missing some of their teeth.  No accidents; they were just born without them.  I understand that this is a bigger issue in some countries than it is here, where the judges are REQUIRED to count the teeth.  Many in the US seem to check the bite but don’t spend much time looking at the dentition, despite the standard.

Of course every dog has its faults, and missing teeth might be the least of them.  In light of the fact that this says something about the length of the jaw and head proportion, though, perhaps this should not be quite so overlooked as it is?

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