Monday, April 27, 2009

Summer Fun in April!

Yup... it's been hot enough to break out the kiddie pool. And while I'll post about the rest of the gang and their heat preferences, I just had to let you know that our morph-into-a-maniac-when-the-hose-is-present Pinot is still with us.

And you thought it was a puppy thing! Ha.

The Pinot Girl had a great time trying to "kill" the big bad ugly nozzle spray. Oh, and the "gentle shower" setting on the nozzle wouldn't do; no... it had to be "sharp stream" (yes I turned down the water pressure a bit, but she never knew the difference).

Silly girl.

What's the same as last year?
  • Pinot cannot, and I mean cannot, let the hose nozzle (where the spray is) escape the pool. If it does, she hops right out and brings it back in.
  • She still thinks if she digs hard enough at the pool bottom maybe she can bury it and make it stop!
  • It's impossible for me to use the hose to spray down the deck if Pinot (and Tuc) are out there with me: they both love chasing and biting at the stream.
  • She is still incredibly adept with her paws (they're almost like hands -- she uses them like her dad, Ridge).

So what's different this year?
  • Pinot pooped out much sooner.
  • She preferred laying in the pool chewing on the nozzle to digging in the stream.
  • She seemed oblivious to any stream-setting other than "sharp" stream.

I'll have more for you tomorrow. Gotta run.

'Til next time,

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Comment Q & A: Regarding Breeding

Over the past few months RRs have asked a few questions about Labs and breeding that I thought the broader readership would appreciate seeing answered. So, I'm taking today's "Q & A" entry to answer those for you.

As in previous Q & As, this post is primarily informational (warning: boredom risk). Some of you, however, may find these interesting.

1. Why do we breed our Labs? The short answer? We love the breed.

The longer answer this: in our region most of the Labs bred here are bred for show (conformation). It's incredibly difficult to find a good, healthy, hunting or agility Lab here -- one with strong athleticism and even stronger retrieving instincts -- that's equally wonderful with affection, people-orientation, eagerness to please, intelligence, etc... That's sad.

Because we love the breed, and because no one within 90 miles of us is committed to breeding athletic, retrieving Labs (while keeping an eye on conformation, personality, and temperament) we thought that maybe we could do our small part to preserve the best of what a Lab should be (those traits that otherwise seem to be being lost or bred out with the breed's popularity).

2. How can we justify breeding, even just one litter a year, when so many pure-bred dogs (including Labs) need rescuing or are waiting in shelters for homes?

This is very good question (one we've wrestled through) but is a little more complicated to answer. It breaks down this way.

  • First, we're trying to provide people in our region an alternative to the many puppy mills found in Lancaster (yes, sadly, Labs too sometimes come from puppy mills).
  • Second, we're trying to provide an alternative to pet stores who (in most cases) purchase their pups-for-sale from puppy mills.
  • Third, some people just will not adopt a previously-owned dog. Period. They won't consider a shelter or rescue dog or one from the ASPCA, even if the dog appears to be pure-bred because of the risks involved (unknown histories, reasons for rescue or placement, etc). We're trying to give those people an alternative to puppy mills and pet stores.
  • Fourth, some people won't consider an older dog, or even an older puppy. They want an eight-week-old. We figure the 8 or 9 pups we sell a year are 8 or 9 less pups for the puppy mills to make money on (puppy mills make money breeding; people like us don't).
  • Fifth, while any dog comes with risks, a pure-bred Lab with a known heritage from a responsible breeder is more likely to be predictable in health, temperament, and trainability ("pure-bred" doesn't always mean well bred -- you have to look at the breeder, too). That's why people still look to responsible small breeders or professionals for their dogs. We want to offer dogs that will be predictably "Lab" -- that is, representing the best of the breed's temperament, intelligence, people-friendliness, athleticism, zest for life, and retrieving instinct.
  • Lastly, we don't believe eliminating all breeding is the answer to the unwanted dog problem; we believe it's eliminating irresponsible breeding. If no one bred Labs (responsibly) we'd lose the breed.

3. What steps do we take to ensure we're not contributing to the unwanted-dog overpopulation?

  • We're committed to our dogs for life. Anyone who gets a pup from us can return the dog at any time for any reason (housing change, family crisis, care-taker health, relocation... anything), even years down the road. We'll either keep the returned dog here or re-home the dog ourselves.
  • We take great care to breed healthy dogs and to produce healthy pups. We guarantee our dogs against all hereditary disease or defect through the first 30 months (if anything is going to show up, it will by 24 mos, and the extra six months gives owners time for diagnostic tests if they're necessary). In this case, we a offer complete refund of the purchase price of the dog.
  • We can do both of the above because we're very careful about the health of our dogs, about their own health histories, ancestry, and pedigrees, and because we don't over breed.
  • We stipulate in our sales contract that if one of our pups (or older grown dogs) needs to be given up for any reason in the future, and the owners cannot (or do not want to) find a suitable new home for the dog, the new owners contractually agree to return the dog to us. To get a pup from us, the buyer has to sign a contract saying that at no time will a dog purchased from us be put into a shelter, rescue or the ASPCA.
  • We take great pains to socialize our dogs well and to eliminate behavior problems before they start. No, we can't do it perfectly in just the first eight weeks, but we can do a great deal. The pups are raised in my kitchen, handled from birth, and are my full-time job while they're growing up (I put my freelancing on hold while puppies are in the house).
  • We place our pups. In other words, while we honor requests about coat color and gender, we select the dog for the prospective buyer (the buyer doesn't come and pick out a dog). We try very hard to match the temperament and strengths we see in a pup (and we can see a lot by the time the pups are about 6.5 weeks old) to the living situation where the pup will be placed. Some people have kids; others live alone; some live on farms; still others want a hunting dog, while others want a couch potato... every family is different. And we know our dogs better than anyone. We ask that our buyers trust us to make the best decision for them and the dog, which then makes it more likely that the pups will find forever homes with their first families
  • We routinely (by default) sell our puppies with limited-AKC registrations (meaning that the pup is AKC registered, but the pup's litters could never be registered with AKC, hence the added incentive to have the pup neutered). All of our buyers so far have had their pups neutered/spayed.
4. How do we ensure we're not weakening the breed?
  • We thoroughly screen (medically) any dog we're considering for breeding. They've got to be good-to-go with eye certs, and hip and elbow clearances.
  • We don't make a decision about breeding ability in our dogs until they've physically matured (reached at least 2 yo) and have cleared their screenings. We want to know what they look like and how they're temperaments are developing before we breed them.
  • We've carefully researched our gene pools (don't have genetically related dogs as far back as we can see in their pedigrees). That's why Tuc came from AZ, Ridge from a PA breeder, and Elsie and Kenya from a VA breeder (from different family lines within that breeder's stock). No in-breeding here -- which means lesser risks for congenital issues.
  • We neuter any dog that turns out to be substandard. Take Baxter, for example. He was our first potential stud. He, however, developed a significant malocclusion (huge overbite), had very little retrieving instinct, was pretty lazy (great couch dog!), and he completely outgrew the breed standard (was way too tall and way too long). Yes, it hurt financially (he was an investment), but we realized he wasn't going to contribute to the breed's strengths. So we took him out of the gene pool (hehe... he got lopped). We love him still. In fact, he was MY bud until dear daughter moved to Maine where he was needed far more than he was needed here. Oh, and in case you're wondering, yes, Ridge's DNA is on file with AKC.
5. What kind of breeder are we?

There are just four kinds of breeders:
  • Puppy mills: these mass-produce dogs without consideration for the health and well-being of their animals nor for their long-term placement. Profit is their primary (sometimes only) motive. Avoid these at all cost.
  • Backyard breeder: these are usually pet-owners who think it would be fun to breed, but do not do so responsibly or carefully, nor with an eye toward improving the breed, nor with the necessary health clearances or necessary dam and litter vet care (sometimes these are "ooops" litters that result from carelessness). The motive is usually profit and fun. They are rarely committed to the dogs for life, rarely provide any guarantees, and rarely work hard at socialization. While you might stumble upon a nice, inexpensive pet this way, be careful.
  • Hobby breeder (this would be us): this is a small-scale breeder, often with only one or two litters per year, who treats breeding professionally and responsibly, but who does it as an avocation (they don't make money breeding -- it's not their primary business/work). They go to great lengths to ensure health and well-being of their animals, to improve the breed through responsible breeding practices, to properly and carefully socialize their litters, and to carefully place their puppies in suitable situations. They properly screen and certify their dogs, they guarantee their puppies' health, and are often committed to their dogs for life.
  • Larger Kennel/Professional breeder: Dogs are their business. They're professional, careful, and responsible, but larger scale. They carefully select their breeding stock, they do not overbreed, they guard the health of their dams, they breed to improve the quality of the breed itself; they provide all proper certifications, guarantee the health of their pups, properly socialize their pups, properly match/place their pups with the right situations, and are often committed to their dogs for life. They can offer multiple litters per year because they have a large and varied breeding stock. They often also breed for their own competition stock, trying to produce the ideal competitor for field tests, hunt trials, obedience, and conformation. They often board and train other dogs, too.
Our recommendation is to go with a responsible hobby breeder or larger-kennel/professional breeder. Yes, you'll pay more than you would for a pet-store dog, a puppy-mill dog, or a backyard-bred dog, but it will be worth it in the quality of the dog you receive.

6. How much money do we make breeding? Bottom line: nothing at this point. Because we've been committed to getting sound dogs ourselves (our dogs have been quite an investment themselves; Kenya alone was $2000), and because we're committed to proper preventative health care (good food -- needed supplements -- good equipment -- safe whelping and litter set-ups -- good health care), strong socialization, getting proper health screenings and such, and providing new owners with all they need to get started (our puppy kits alone cost over $125 per dog), we still operate at a loss. Last fall's litter's veterinary bills for parvo treatment killed us (another breeder would've routinely put the whole litter down to save the expense -- and other vets would have put them down, too, to have been spared the hassle). But we feel like if we're going to do this, we need to do this right, and that means investing the money for responsible veterinary care, too. Every litter comes with risk, and we have to be prepared and willing to handle the worse-case scenario if it happens (and last fall it did). It's just part of being responsible. Most hobby-breeders don't make money doing this; we do it for the love of the breed.

I suppose that's enough for now. I hope that answers some of your most nagging questions (believe me, we've wrestled with these, too -- before we decided to start breeding).

We'll do another Q & A as your questions come up. In the meantime, if you have any further questions about this stuff, feel free to comment. You know I always welcome your input. You've raise excellent questions that deserve thoughtful answers. That's what I've tried to do here, and hope I've succeeded in doing so.

Thanks, as always, for your interest and support.

'Til next time,

Friday, April 24, 2009

Fun! (aka, sunshine and a tennis ball)

Now that the rains have passed, I'm getting the canine crew out for more fun and exercise. What follows are just a few random shots of the kids enjoying some tennis-ball play. You can see how they eventually tucker out, but only after at least 45 minutes of hard, continuous retrieving. :o)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Look Who Came to Visit!

RR knows that my DTS (Dear Twin Sister) has been navigating an unwanted divorce for over a year now, and as part of that process she's recently had to put her house up for sale (something she did not, nor does not, want to do - but must as part of the divorce settlement).

You know what putting a house on the market means: said abode has to be ready to show at a moment's notice: i.e., clean, staged (these days), and free of dog hair.

DTS owns a Golden Retriever, named Gracie, who happens to be shedding (and I thought Lab hair was bad).

Well, guess who's been hanging out at our place while people oogle over my sister's house (we wish they were oogling... and bidding... but no such luck yet).

Yup, the Gracie Girl.

Gracie (aka Poopsies) is a sweetie pie. And Gracie loves our gang.

But Gracie, who is an only canine in her family, sometimes needs space from the pack...especially when we give them all treats, like smoked knuckle bones.

There's just something about savoring something yummy all by yourself, and that's tough to do when you're one of six canines in the same room.

No worries, though. Gracie is adept at finding hiding spots. This time her favorite was under the kitchen table:

And to boot, our gang left her alone (will wonders never cease)!

Granted, they had their own knuckle bones to keep them occupied, but that usually doesn't stop them from tasting everyone else's (like a room full of 2-year-old humans).

Call me crazy, but I think they knew Gracie missed her mom and needed space -- so they gave it to her.

I'm always amazed at Lab intuition with humans -- their ability to read our emotions and then respond in kind. But I think they can be intuitive with other canines, too -- beyond just reading the body language of dominance or fear or play, etc. The "get" each other, our gang included.

And that makes our house a fun, safe place to which Gracie can come whenever she needs to. Her hanging out here gives DTS a break on cleaning, makes DTS's house more readily available to show, provides Gracie loads of exercise and canine interaction, and it gives us all a change of pace -- a nice change of pace at that.

Gracie is welcome at Camp Esherick any time. :o)

Now if only I could get our gang to figure out when I need space.

'Til next time,

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cheat Sheet (Picture Guide to the Gang)

The Relationships Between Our Labs - a Diagram

Okay, so I know it's tough to keep track of who's who in the LabTails gang, so I created this little chart to help you see their relationships (just click on it to enlarge it enough to read).

Note that the only connection genetically is between Pinot and her parents Ridge and Elsie. Everyone else is unrelated (Baxter was a nephew of Ridge's, but Baxter is no longer ours -- he belongs to our daughter and son-in-law and lives in Maine).

Here's how our current five stand in relationship to each

  • Ridge: unrelated to all but Pinot, his daughter from 2007 litter.
  • Elsie: unrelated to all but Pinot, her daughter from 2007 litter.
  • Pinot: only related to her parents, Ridge (sire) and Elsie (dam); unrelated to rest.
  • Note: Elsie and Ridge are not related to each other (do I hear banjo and guitar?). :o)
  • Kenya, completely unrelated to all.
  • Tuc, completely unrelated to all.

Hopefully this chart (remember, you can click on it to enlarge it) will help you visualize how they connect, and who's who (sorry about no images in the chart; couldn't figure out how to do that). I've also noted from whom we've gotten each of our Labs -- the only one of our gang that originates with us is Pinot.

FYI, here's where we're lining up on planned future litters:

  • Kenya-Ridge (should be whelped late this summer or early Fall - 2009): this will be Kenya's first litter and Ridge's last. We plan to keep one female from this litter (then we'll be at our planned maximum of six Labs on site at one time).
  • Elsie - Tuc (after May 2010)*
  • Pinot - Tuc (after May 2010)*
  • Kenya - Tuc (2011)*

*These future matings depend upon Tuc and Pinot coming through their health certs with flying colors (Pinot will be tested this fall, and Tuc, next spring after he turns 2 yo).

That's how it stands. Does that help?

My next post will be another round of questions (from comments) answered, especially regarding this recent episode with Ridge and Tuc.

Thanks again for all your support and encouragement... it means a bunch!

'Til next time,

Friday, April 17, 2009

Boys Will Be Boys

Now, tell me...

Could you, in your wildest dreams, ever imagine that a face like this...

or like this...

or this...

...could be even remotely capable of this?

Yup... you got it. We experienced our first male-to-male conflict yesterday, and it wasn't pretty.

You see, for all our Labs, we've never had two, in-tact, adult (for all intents and purposes) males together on the premises. Ridge is our sire, so he of course is in tact. But Baxter was neutered, and every other male dog we've had here has been an immature puppy. We've never faced testosterone competitions before.

Then Tuc, as he should, grew up and realized he had a pair.

Tuc is 11 months old now -- perfectly capable of siring litters (if we'd allow him, but we won't until he's two years old and clears his screenings). Oh, yes, he's still a puppy; but when it comes to reproductive maturity, he's fully grown.

I forgot.

Or maybe I just wasn't ready.

Or maybe I just wanted Tuc to stay my sweet baby bud forever.


He's all male now. And he's sowing his oats.

He finally seriously challenged Ridge for Alpha status (it had to happen I suppose).

And Tuc won (it could have been worse):

So what happened?

I was throwing the Kong with the gang. That's all. And because of where I threw it, Old Man Ridge got to it first for a change (Pinot and Tuc are much faster than he). And when Tuc arrived and tried to take it from Ridge, Ridge growled (he doesn't like "the kid" taking his toys).

The next thing I saw was Ridge's head clamped in Tuc's mouth, both of them snarling and growling like wild dogs, Ridge struggling to get away, Tuc's vice grip not budging, then Ridge rolling on his back in surrender, but Tuc still growling and not letting go.

Now everything I've read and been told is that humans should never enter a dog fight. Never, and I mean never ever, put a human extremity between two fighting dogs (they'll grab you without knowing it's you). Ignoring everything I knew, I still sprinted to them from across the yard in a flash (mind you, that's a fat-middle-aged-woman flash - but a flash none-the-less -- adrenaline helps).

Since I knew not to touch them (see, I did remember something!), and I didn't have a broom or something handy to stick between them, the only thing I could think of to do was give a command.

So I yelled, "Tuc, LEAVE IT!" (our command for leaving something alone -- "drop" would have been better since Ridge was in Tuc's mouth, but 'leave it' was the first one that popped into my head).

Ridge's head is definitely not an allowed chew toy.

And you know what?

Tuc let go, and came wiggle-waggle over to me like he was Mr. Happy Dog.

It was like Jekyll-Hyde. I was astounded. Ridge was scared and humiliated (gasp... the kid won).

So I brought Tuc and Ridge in, crated Tuc, examined Ridge and saw the gash above his eye (didn't discover the puncture wound on Ridge's lower jaw until we were sitting in the waiting room at the vet's) -- butterfly bandaids would definitely not do. I washed the wound out, then left Ridge in the kitchen while I examined Tuc in the kennel room. Other than a little slobber on his jowels, Tuc was fine.

Tuc was definitely the victor -- came away unscathed. Ridge came away with a 5-staple gash above his eye, a bloodshot eye (no damage), and puncture wound. Yes, those are staples holding his wound together in the pictures above.

Both are fine now; both are happy campers; and Tuc is back to being puppy-imp. Ridge is his big-baby self, happy to hang out with his people like he usually does. Impressive gash, though -- he could look scary. Nah.... just look at that face, even with the gash. Silly old man:

It's a wake-up call though: boys will be boys (as in, in-tact-males will act like in-tact-males).

And Tuc's testosterone, like in any adolescent, is running wild.

Lest you think Tuc is a monster or aggressive by nature or anything of the sort, let me clear this up right now: he's not. He's just a male dog responding to testosterone, doing what his instincts tell him to do.

And he's Mr. Submissive Sweetie Pie with us, and with the girls, and usually with Ridge. Well, Tuc at 11 months old has been here with us nine months, and there hasn't been a hint of this kind of thing - no real aggression at all. This was our first real fight. And, did you notice, Tuc immediately obeyed my command, even in the midst of the fray? Good boy. He listened. I'm still boss. And he's still my Tuc. :o)

We'll be careful with the boys now for a while (won't work them together or let them play unsupervised together).

And once Ridge mates with Kenya (her next heat cycle, which should be June), we're planning to have Ridge neutered -- he's retiring as our sire, and King Tuc will start his reign next year.

Then we won't have the two-in-tact-male-issue anymore.

I'll tell ya, I could easily live the rest of my life without seeing any of my dogs go at it again.

Absolutely terrifying (I still have a knot in my stomach, and it's the next day!).

Yes, it's a wake-up call, and a lesson learned (about in-tact males and territory). But it doesn't, in the least, change how we feel about or view Tuc and Ridge. They're still wonderful, sweet Labs, with wonderful Lab temperaments who happened to act like dogs for a change.

Amazing what testosterone will do. I guess boys will be boys after all.

'Til next time,