Tuesday, February 28, 2012

My Glory

I was asked to write an article for our club website. It features the story of a member's dog each month. I was excited to do this, but the big decision was, which dog? I've had dogs that have touched my lives in so many ways. I grew up with dogs that inspired me to continue in training. I had aussies that made me fall in love with the breed. I've had dogs that took me to big titles, dogs that gave me an education. This is the story of a dog that has been my teacher and my friend.

Loyal Spirit Be My Glory CGC MX MXJ OF GS-E RS-E JS-E-OP

There are dogs who let us learn on them, and dogs who insist on teaching us whether we asked or not. Glory has been a dog that insists on teaching me. She wants me to be a better handler, a smarter trainer, and quicker at dispensing treats. In return ,she pours enthusiasm and heart into everything we do.

A breeder friend was planning a litter and asked me if I might want a pup. I was still young in the breed, planning and dreaming. I was gathering dogs that would be my competition partners, as well as the future of my breeding program. I looked at her plans, pedigrees, and pictures, and put my bid in. I told her I’d really like a blue merle bitch. Yep, I was one of THOSE buyers. The one that not only asks for a certain color and sex, but wants a BLUE MERLE FEMALE! The litter was born and there was ONE beautiful blue female in the litter. I got to hold her in my hands as a newborn and hoped she would be mine. I waited and watched, and returned to get my perfect blue girl 8 weeks later. We bonded from day one, she was stuck to my side.

We spent her first week playing with a clicker and a dumbbell in my kitchen. She was highly food motivated. (still is!) In just a few days, she was retrieving a dumbbell to my hand. I knew she was a smart girl and was driven to learn new things. I put her in a puppy class where she spent the playtime running from one obstacle to another on the puppy agility equipment, while the other puppies chased each other and wrestled.

She brought home some nice wins in conformation from the puppy classes, became a junior handling dog for a friend, and trained in agility. Agility was, and is her passion. She quickly moved up through the classes in both AKC and ASCA. She’s a demanding partner, running with drive and passion . She barks. I mean she BARKS through the whole course. It’s not stress or frustration, it’s pure joy. I never have to rev her up to run, nor calm her down. She walks on the course like she owns it, and runs with me because she loves it.

She never gives me an easy run. She runs at a distance, which requires perfect timing and communication on my part. She’s sure to let me know when my cues aren’t clear, are late, or are just WRONG! It’s never her fault when we mess up. She doesn’t run to please me, nor make a mistake to spite me. We run as equals, both for the love of the game.

Sometimes a dog is just a great dog. And sometimes they are your friend, your partner. You have those special dogs in your life that teach you to be better. They love you and cuddle with you, and then push you to be a better trainer, handler, person. Glory is that dog.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Two weeks of new life.

It's time to check in on the litter. They are two and a half weeks old, and a lot has happened since I shared their birth story.
The first two weeks are always one of my favorite times. The mom is content to snuggle and nurse her babies. They sleep quietly most of the day and night. They stay in one place and really don't make much of a mess at all. We change their towels once a day and that's all of the maintenance their area requires. The mom keeps them clean and manages their toiletry needs.

One would think the first two weeks are quite boring. Actually, these puppies have been through some amazing adventures already! After surviving the harrowing experience of birth, they were rubbed and licked and pulled and rolled. Some even got to swing head-down to clear their airways. What an introduction to life! They were deaf and blind and knew nothing other than to smell their way to mom and nurse. They couldn't walk but pushed around with a swimming motion, shoving their heavy head in front of them. Soon they were able to lift their heads, climb over siblings, and sleep in creative positions.

The first few days of life included a trip to the vet. This is my least-favorite part of being an aussie breeder. The puppies need their tails and dewclaws removed, and need it done in the first few days of life. I always supervise this, although I hate hearing them squeak. Honestly, they yell more about being restrained by the tech than the actual procedure. As soon as they are back in the box they snuggle in and go back to sleep. I'm not sure who is more relieved when this is over, me or the mother dog. She checks over her babies and cleans all of the vet cooties off of them. They nurse and sleep and forget all about it.

We leave them alone the following day, but then it's right back to their education. Besides tons of holding and fondling, we do ENS. That's Early Neurological Stimulation. It's also called "Super-dog Program". There are five exercises that are performed on the puppies that are shown to stimulate brain function. They include holding them in different positions, touch stimulation, and thermal stimulation. This conditioning has been shown to produce puppies that are stronger, healthier, and more resistant to stress.

We also begin to introduce different surfaces. The puppies have crawled on towels, linoleum, wood floor, and several types of fabric. They have been carried and held in different positions, smelled many different smells, and slept in our laps. They have had their nails trimmed and mouths pried open.

As they reached the 2-week mark, their eyes and ear began to open. Now, just a few days over 2 weeks old, they can wobble around on all four legs, even climb up on the piggy rail in the whelping box. One puppy had to show off and walked all along the length of one rail. They can bark and growl. They are beginning to play and wrestle with each other and one even tried gumming a puppy toy tonight.

I can already see personalities developing as I watch them greet the world and interact with what is around them. In just 18 days of life they have gone from helpless little beings, to wobbly, curious little puppies. I watch in awe as they develop daily into the dogs they will be come. In another 2 weeks they will be bouncing around, bringing chaos to the house. Just 2 weeks after that they will no longer need their mommy. And yet just two weeks later, they will leave us, ready to take on the world and live their lives.

Their 18-day lives have already had an influence on who they will become. They are innocent, but I dream of what lies ahead of them. A great group of people wait to find out which puppy will join their families. These individuals have big dreams, I have great hope. Take your time growing up little ones, let us enjoy you for a while.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

What is it about dog shows??

What is it about dogs shows that makes us do crazy things? Why do we willingly get up at 5 am on a weekend, when we could turn off the alarm clock and sleep in? Why do we spend weeks of planning, days of packing, and countless hours of grooming and bathing, just to get ready. We spend our hard-earned money on the best dogs, dog food, and grooming supplies, while we dress ourselves in Goodwill suits and shoes from Walmart. Every extra penny goes to entries fees, while we use a discount code to stay at the cheapest Motel 6 we can find. We purchase our vehicle based on the amount of crates it can hold, amusing the car salesmen with the tape measure we pull out of our pocket. We drive hundreds of miles, spending hours on the road in all types of weather. Showing dogs is a huge time commitment and a test of spirit. It takes dedication and passion to seriously show dogs. To succeed is to sacrifice other areas of your life.

What drives us to this sport? Perhaps it's the love of dogs. We love spending time with our pooches and a dog show seems like a good way to get away and focus on our best canine friends. Perhaps it's a competitive nature and the dog is just the tool. Maybe it's the challenge of the training, to set a goal and accomplish it. Or maybe it's the camaraderie, the enjoyment that comes from spending time with people who have similar interests and understand why you make the sacrifices just to get to the show. I'm guessing it's a combination of it all.

They made a movie called 'Best in Show' that poked fun of our sport. I'm waiting for them to make a movie about crazy stamp collectors or people who build miniature train sets. (Do you have any IDEA how much those little trains cost??!!) There are hundreds of hobbies that draw people in. Some people train and run marathons, others collect antique clocks. They gather at conventions to scrapbook, dress like their favorite characters in Star Trek, or trade guns from the Civil War. People scour EBay for rare books or spoons from around the world. They donate their time at their church or volunteer for community projects. The Internet has become a network to meet and communicate with people who share the same hobbies and interests.

No matter what the hobby, sport, collection, convention, or network, it gives us a purpose. Beyond the 40 hour work week, bills, and responsibilities, we need something to set our minds on. We look forward to the next event or correspondence. We plan and practice and squeeze out any extra money and energy for this passion. The passion that gives us a purpose beyond everyday life, the passion that defines who we are.

Over the years I've done sports and horse shows. I've run a half-marathon and played in a band. Through trial and experience, I've picked my hobby. I'll take dogs shows. I'll get up at 5 am after a late night of bathing dogs and packing the van. I'll take my discount suits or running outfit to a show or agility trial, and celebrate that my dogs ate premium food and have the best care possible. I'll sacrifice going out to eat for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at a dog show. I'll skip having extra free time so that I can train my dogs. I'll plan and dream and write my goals. I'll hug my dogs and rejoice in each success we share. I'll enjoy the time I spend with them, the time with my best canine friends and best dog show friends. I'll come home exhausted to loads of laundry and a long to-do list to catch up around the house, only to think ahead to the next show. It's my hobby, my passion, my dream. I don't know what it is about dog shows, but count me in!

Friday, February 3, 2012

The Beautiful Babies Arrive!

I both fear and enjoy the birth of a litter of puppies. There is something amazing about watching new life come into the world. You watch the mother work diligently to bring forth her babies. You watch instinct guide a first-time mom to chew a cord, break open a sack, eat a placenta, dry and stimulate a puppy, and nurse a baby. She never read a book or watched another bitch go through this. It's completely God-given instinct. It's beautiful. Late Friday night, February 3, 2012, we watched Ellie, one of our Australian Shepherds, give birth to her first litter.

Thursday was day 60 for Ellie. (Gestation period for a dog is 59-65 days) She didn't eat her dinner that night and I knew her time was drawing near. I went to bed with the video monitor near my bed and woke several times during the night to check the monitor. She slept peacefully most of the night, but woke twice to scratch at the floor near the back door. Around 8 am she began shivering. By 10am, she began panting and became very restless. She wanted to go out to potty and then right back to the whelping box. A few times she again dug near the back door and tried to lay down in a small spot near the utility sink. At noon, she threw up, mostly water and bile.
Soon after this, she settled down and took a nap. Eventually I got tired of waiting and worried that she might be avoiding labor. I took her outside for a walk and potty break. She ran around, feeling pretty good. She pottied several times, but not the repetitive squatting that is triggered by pressure. She came back in and labor seemed to be going again. She went back to the whelping box and continued digging and panting. We continued this pattern over the next several hours. She was being a typical first-time mom, taking her sweet time.

Finally at 10:30 pm, her water broke (back end is wet and dripping) and she became much more animated. She dug and pulled at the towels and asked to go out several times. Just before 11pm, I finally began to see hard contractions. She would stop panting, squint her eyes, and wait for it to pass. She stayed very calm, preferring to lay down. Soon she began to push, stiffening and grunting with each push/contraction.

At 11:06pm, the first puppy arrives and Ellie stands and turns to it. There is a gush and a mess at the puppy delivers with the placenta and quite a bit of amniotic fluid and blood. The first puppy is often the messiest. Ellie, like all moms, goes directly for the cord. The moms are obsessed with the cord, and will continue to fuss and trim it until they are satisfied with the length. They cut and chew the cord with their side teeth, as far back in the mouth as they can get. These teeth work to crush and clamp the cord, cutting down on blood loss. The act of pulling at the cord actually stimulates the puppy, particularly the breathing. While Ellie was fussing with the cord and trying to eat the placenta, I moved it and cut the sack over the puppy's face, giving him a chance at his first breath. I could have waited for Ellie to get to this, but it's very nerve-racking to watch and wait, especially when a puppy starts to gasp. This first puppy is a blue merle male, weighing in at 15.5 oz.
11:18pm, Ellie quickly delivers another puppy, jumping up to clean this pup. This is another blue merle male, weighing in at 12.6 oz. He was born already out of the sack, and without much fluid. Just a puppy that dropped out. He starts breathing immediately.
Ellie takes a short break and then starts contractions around 20 minutes later. This is pretty normal for puppies to come in pairs, and then the bitch rests as two more puppies move down the uterine horns.
As each puppy is born, they instinctively work their way to mom to nurse. They can neither see nor hear, but they can smell and feel the warmth of mom. The act of nursing helps release oxytocin in the uterus, stimulating contractions and helping the remaining puppies come down the uterine horns and into the birth canal.
At 11:45pm, puppy #3 is born. This is another blue merle male, weighing in at 13.1oz.
She's still working on #3 when #4 arrives just five minutes later at 11:50pm. This is another blue merle male, 14.4 oz. He is born breech but this doesn't seem to give Ellie any trouble. I watch her give an extra push or two and he comes out. Sometimes breech puppies need extra stimulation to breath or must have amniotic fluid cleared from the airway. This puppy doesn't need either.
At this point we are seeing a theme. Every puppy is blue merle, and they are all BOYS! Poor Emma is anxiously waiting for a girl or two! She gets our pick pup from this litter and is desperate for a female. She doesn't care about color, just needs a girl.
At 12:12am, Emma finally gets her wish. Another blue merle is born and as soon as I get the chance to check, I find we finally have a girl! I can feel and hear a rattle in this puppy. She has fluid in her airway. I rub her vigorously, clear out her mouth/nose, and swing her. Holding the puppy carefully, I hold her head down and give her some strong swings to push the fluid down and out the mouth and nose. I repeat this is a few times and she is cleared out and breathing fine. Emma is thrilled and helps rub the puppy dry. She weighs 13.4 oz.
At this point the box is getting a bit crowded. Ellie is trying to satisfy the puppies that want to nurse as well as dry the most recent puppy and check the cords for any bleeding. In the meantime, she must stop now and then to deliver another puppy. Busy girl! She has delivered 5 puppies in just over an hour! This usually signals that it is a good-sized litter, the uterus is in a rush to push them out.
Finally the contractions stop and she settles in to care for her babies. An hour passes and Madie and Emma have wandered off to watch a movie. I finally send them to bed. I've palpated Ellie's sides and I don't think she's done. She still feels and looks pregnant. (flank hair is turning out, and I can feel a lump on each side) After two hours, I decide she's rested long enough. I tried giving her cottage cheese, but she's not interested. This is another sign that she's not done. I take her out for a walk. She potties several times, squatting repeatedly, again showing me that she still feels pressure. Not long after we get inside, the contractions start up again. Poor Ellie looks up from where she is laying and nursing puppies with a look on her face like "not again!" The contractions increase and she begins to half-heartedly push. I can tell she is tired. Her pushes and grunts are soft and short. I made her get up to let gravity help a little.
At 2:15am, she delivers puppy #6. It's another blue merle female! She comes still in the sack, which I again cut open. I notice the puppy is a bit limp. When you rub a live, but limp pup, they will stiffen, stick out a leg, or open the mouth. As long as you know what you are doing, you can easily stimulate these puppies and get them going quickly. If you rub a limp puppy and get no reaction, you may have already lost the pup. There is still a chance, but often these already passed during labor or delivery.
Again I have to swing, rub, and stimulate this puppy. Due to the delay in labor, she's lethargic and it takes a while to get her going. I pick at her and irritate her until she is squealing and growling. I like them a bit mad at this point, they will fight to live. She quickly perks up and starts crawling and nursing. She's 14. 6 oz.
At 2:27am, Ellie delivers her last puppy. It's a blue merle male. He weighs 13.2 oz. He comes easily and cleanly and starts breathing and crawling right away.

At this point Ellie visibly relaxes. She lays with her babies and cleans and fusses over them. Her sides are now sunken and soft. The panting stops. I change the towels in the box, take Ellie out to potty, and give her some meat and cottage cheese, which she gobbles. After observing the happy family for a while, I wander off to bed around 4:30am, my face right near the video monitor. I love the soft sound of the happy puppies squeaking.

I'm thrilled and blessed to have a healthy litter of puppies and a perfectly healthy mother dog. We didn't loose any puppies. They all came without much fuss, the bitch was not harmed and handled the delivery perfectly. Their weights are good, are all nursing. They are beautiful puppies, destined to become the loving companions, performance competitors, and show dogs that they were bred and born to be.