Thursday, October 30, 2008

On Good Breeding

((cue sound of soapbox dragging...))
I was all set to start this post with a horrible "purebred kuvasz puppies for sale, WILL SHIP ANYWHERE!!!!!" ad and then go on a rant about backyard breeders and puppy mills, but I couldn't find one, which reminded me why we chose a kuvasz in the first place. But there are plenty of ads for other popular breeds and mixes, like labradoodles, goldendoodles, puggles, etc.

The New York Times did a piece on designer dog 'breeds' last year, which mainly highlighted the designer mixes v. purebreeds controversy, which is really the subject of another post or three. Although the same issues come up with extra poignancy with the designer 'breeds', this post is about the importance of good, careful, and ethical breeding.
Just because a puppy is "purebred," "registered" or has "papers"means very little, and the pup may not end up much like the breed it's supposed to be. They could have serious temperament issues, congenital physical problems, or just be irrational. Back when I didn't know any better, I got my 'purebred-with-papers' American Eskimo from a backyard breeder who had posted an ad in the paper. Boo cost me all of $90 and the breeder sent me home with his "papers" (including a record of all his shots to date) and a couple of cans of puppy food.

Don't get me wrong, Boo was a great dog and we had 16 great years together. But he definitely had his issues, including recurring worms and fleas as a pup. His shiny little black nose faded to brown within a few years, he had a bit of pink in his lips, he was not very well-proportioned, and his coat was pretty thin with a slight wave. His mom had a wavy coat with no undercoat at all, which is not the breed standard. More problematic, Boo also had some physical and psychological issues - he would vomit ALL the time, especially when stressed out or excited. And he was ALWAYS stressed out or excited, because was afraid of squeak toys, plastic bags, water bubblers, and lots of other things. His eyesight was terrible even as a young dog, his hearing started to decline when he was a middle-aged dog, and his teeth were prone to terrible tartar buildup even as a young dog, despite our attempts to brush and give him good chews.
The process of getting Biggie took us through two breeders, the national breed club, lots of questions and research, dog shows where I saw lots of kuvasz and met more breeders, and almost a year of waiting for the "right" pup and breeder to come into our lives. We considered adopting a young rescue kuvasz, but having researched the breed carefully enough to understand that even a well-tempered kuvasz in New York City would be a challenge for first time kuvasz owners, we opted to wait. We knew we had found the right breeder because the breeding parents' temperament and health were paramount to her, and she would not have bred dogs that were likely to have health or temperament problems.
The first things Biggie's breeder sent us - before the puppy or parent pictures - were the puppies' pedigree and their parents' health clearances. Eyes and joints all screened and ok; no inbreeding or recurring parents/grandparents/great grandparents, great-greats, etc. on either side. In addition to both parents being shown to championship (picture above of Biggie's pop winning a Best in Specialty Show, which was part of getting him to Westminster), both parents had competed in obedience, which showed us that a) Biggie's parents were trainable and had decent temperaments; b) the breeder was active in developing the best characteristics of the breed; and c) the breeder was very involved in the lives of the dogs.

Turns out we were right in all respects, and this seems pretty common in the kuvasz community. Because it is small, all the breeders know each other so there is little room for backyard or unscrupulous breeders, though it still happens on occasion. At 8 weeks, Biggie came paper-trained and litter-box trained, and crate-trained. He already knew to sit politely for his dinner in the crate. He was also clicker trained, which made teaching new commands a breeze. In addition, Biggie came with a clicker, some clicker basics, a great pamphlet about being a strong leader with positive reinforcement, a "cheat sheet" of tips (what Biggie ate and when, and behavior, training and temperament suggestions), and a 2-week supply of Biggie's then-current food (holistic and human grade).

Oh, and Biggie's breeder stayed a co-owner and committed to taking him back at any time, no questions asked, if he didn't work out, and answered all of our questions about training, temperament, the raw diet, you name it.

While of course taking on a pup or a rescue is a leap of faith, finding a well-bred pup can significantly reduce the chances of fatal temperament defects or chronic health problems. Biggie's only issue, if one can even call it that, is that he is very guardy and protective. But that's true to breed type and he is a classic kuv, and we were well aware this would be an issue in NYC. To date we have yet to find any health or psych issues (irrational fear, aggression, etc.) in our sweet doofus. As for his looks - while they are not that important since I think this breed is beautiful in general - if I had a dollar for every time anyone stopped in their tracks to admire him, or said "Beautiful dog!" or asked to visit with him, I could probably quit my day job and blog full time.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

More reasons weekends are better

As if all that unbridled play and humping and general dog-piling with dogs my own size half my size weren't enough, I also got to spend some time this weekend with one of my favorite little buddies, Bowie the Maltese. Bowie prefers I play gently with him, because otherwise he gets caught underpaw and then he makes a lot of squeaky noises sort of like my plushy toys at home.

First, Bowie got my Achilles heel and took me down.

Ouch, Bowie! Quit throwing your weight around ... all 7 pounds of it!

"MWAHAHAHAHAHA!!!! I have conquered The Big One! I plant my paw on his ear to show my superiority!"

"ummm. Biggie, now can you please stop mugging for the camera? Try to look seriously dominated by me, ok?"

"Fine. If you're going to ignore me, then I will just have to push you around like a tugboat." 

"Hmmm. Doesn't seem to be working..."

I had a great time with Bowie. We tried out some Howl-o-ween costumes too. I am considering being a dalmatian, while Bowie seems to be considering a disguise as a shih-tzu. It's amazing what a little slobber and dust can do!

Monday, October 13, 2008


Ho hum. I hate Mondays, because I have to come down from weekends like this last one. I made new friends with a rescued white Siberian husky named Timber. Timber's been with his forever home for about 2 weeks now. The last time I saw him at the dog run he had only been rescued for 2 days and we didn't get along so great. I was all like, Hey buddy, why so tense? Dontcha wanna play? And he was like, Play? Who has time to play? I don't know what to do with all these dogs because if some food shows up who's going to get to eat it, so I better act real tough.

I could definitely see where he might be worried about that 'cuz he's only 42 pounds and he's a year old! This time, though, we became great buddies right away, and this young girl boxer wanted to get in on the act too. I think she has a crush on Timber.

Timber and Lexie decided that since together they might add up to one of me, they would gang up on me.

Hey! Easy on the Biggie butt!

I love it when they chew on my ears. They are helping me with my polar bear costume.
Hot video action - watch for a tumBiggieweed through the middle of the video, and some more surprise friends at the end. This big white dog doesn't discriminate. If you'll play with me, I will play with you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fish Lottery

Sigh... I was all set to tell you how I won the fish lottery last night - my grocery delivery came and instead of 6 lbs of fish tails and bones, I got 6 pounds of fish cubes - tuna, salmon, swordfish, sea bass. JACKPOT!!!! I LOVE FISH MORE THAN ANY OTHER MEAT EXCEPT MAYBE RAW LIVER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Until Stanislaw and Big Pupi (excuse me Pupi, but is it pronounced like "puppy" or "poopie"?), my friends who also eat raw, told me about Salmon Poisoning Disease. This Salmon Poisoning Disease sounds like a real bummer: it comes from eating raw or undercooked salmon, can be fatal in dogs if left untreated, and doesn't seem to affect other animals the same way.

But... I love me my sushi, so I had to do a little more research on this Salmon Poisoning Disease to see what it was all about. Here is a good discussion of SPD and its symptoms and risks:

Freezing (at least, the freezing one can do with a home refrigerator) doesn't seem to kill it. Cooking it does. But it does seem limited to wild-caught Pacific salmon. Momma breathed a sigh of relief because my raw salmon is farmed Atlantic salmon. So, no risk of Salmon Poisoning Disease. Yay!

On the other hand, Atlantic salmon is higher in PCBs (boo) and farmed salmon has a whole host of nutritional and environmental drawbacks, like higher Omega-6 and less Omega-3 oils, and much more carcinogens and antibiotics, not to mention the coloring that gives farmed salmon its salmon color. See this link for an overview.

So what's a sushi-loving pooch to do? Well, given all the commercial dog food recalls, the risks from eating salmon still seem relatively small. Being extra cautious, Momma is now familiar with the symptoms of Salmon Poisoning Disease (thanks Stanislaw and Big Pupi!), so just in case a wild Pacific salmon jumps in my mouth, Momma will know what to look for.

But for any pooches who are indulging in salmon sushi, especially out West, make sure your humans know where the salmon is coming from, and make sure they know the symptoms of Salmon Poisoning Disease:

lack of appetite
swollen lymph nodes

Pass the tuna please. I need some mercury.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Teaching a kuvasz not to guard - is it possible?

"He doesn't look like much of a guard dog."

People, a good guard dog is not a dog who is aggressive and mean to everyone; they are not "fighting" dogs, and they are not necessarily dogs that will attack on command! If I had a dollar for every time someone said that over the past 14 months, we would actually have enough money to pay for Biggie's dinners for a month. We also call him Digital Dog, because he is either the sweetest, happiest, playful oaf, gentle with puppies, kittens, babies and rabbits, or else he is going Cujo - all 100+ pounds of him lunging at the end of the leash or standing over 6 feet tall up against a fence, sound and fury signifying a guarding instinct that has been shaped by hundreds of years of breeding. Remember that puppy aptitude test? Biggie was the fat lazy one who was just as happy sneaking off to a corner to nap while his littermates played.

At "his" dog runs, Biggie has decided he must guard everyone in the run from anything that he deems threatening. This includes Port Authority and construction workers, to homeless people dragging carts along the sidewalk, to bicyclists, male joggers and rollerbladers. The problem with just ignoring it is that the behavior gets positively reinforced: he barks, they leave (eventually), he thinks he's chased them away. Negative reinforcement, by saying "eh!" or "no" doesn't work either; these dogs were bred to ward off wolves and many were killed defending their homes to the death from the Nazis, so an "eh" or "no" isn't going to stop a full-on guarding behavior.

BUT... a combination of a strong leader acknowledging the threat, plus a lot of positive reinforcement, does work:

We start with a calm but authoritative "leave it" or "it's fine" (as in "I hear it, thanks for telling us it's there, now I'm in control of the situation and I deem it NOT to be a threat"). For minor threats, this works really well - he stands and gives his thousand-yard stare, but doesn't escalate to going Cujo. He just watches. This allows him to guard, but teaches him that he can guard quietly, thus keeping us in good standing with the neighbors.

If he's standing quietly and just watching, I'll place a calm hand on his shoulders or pet him, which helps to reinforce the quiet guarding. And as long as he's being quiet, he gets petted and praised.

Biscuits are the American Express Card for kuvasz walking. When I see a potential Cujo trigger approaching, I walk up and say hello in a cheery voice and start shoving little pieces of biscuit in Biggie's mouth. [**DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME IF YOUR DOG DOESN'T HAVE GOOD BITE INHIBITION!!!**] Saying hello shows him that I think this person is not a threat, and it's hard for Biggie to bark if he's munching on a biscuit. The idea, of course, is that eventually he associates the trigger with a positive event (biscuits), and rather than barking, will look to me for a treat instead.

When he is able to look at the "threat" without barking and then looks to me, he is ready for the last step, which is to sit for the treat. If I can cut through the guarding instinct to the point that he can listen to a sit command given once, then he clearly doesn't think this "threat" is much of a threat any more. At this point, the next time he sees this type of "threat," he may break away from his playing to run up to the fence to look at the person, but just as soon will run off and resume his play after he's had a good look.

Here he is taking a good look at 8 months - still not something you'd want to tangle with:

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


A man stopped us while I was walking the Canine Good Citizen this morning. He was admiring Biggie and I thought he was going to ask to pet him, or what breed he was, etc. Instead, our conversation went like this:

"Do you know of an animal doctor around here?"
[looking around for sign that man is harboring a small animal on his person] "uh, no... There may be one on 44th or 45th St., but I take my dog to a vet on the other side of town."

"Can you tell by looking at a dog if he's fixed?"

[is this a trick question? a new pick-up line? Biggie is now doing the dog equivalent of a kid shifting his weight from side to side, impatiently waiting for us to continue walking to the playground]
"um... he has nuts?!"

[I still do not know why I blurted out "nuts" as opposed to some other euphemism, I also wish I could see my face when I answered him, because I was silently adding "you moron" at the end of my response.]

"If you have a dog, would you recommend that he be fixed?"

The man nodded thoughtfully, said "Kthanksbai," and walked on.