For most, 2020 has been a tribulation. Many have lost family members and friends. A sense of isolation has affected everyone on this earth in one way or another. Our family in France, reported that hotels and restaurants are closed completely so that finding accommodation for guests has been a mammoth undertaking. New Year’s Eve had a curfew of 8:00PM! Street scenes for New Years’ Eve in almost every country showed desolate and empty cities except for New Zealand and Australia where the virus has largely been contained. Our family and friends in both of those countries say that life is getting back to normal – although a new normal since international travel is restricted.
Re-calibrating lives had its positives, too. Our dogs, Kit, Zeta and Bonk, adjusted quickly to life at home. As long as they have play and training time and lots of toys and treats, life is a blast! Finding joy in simpler activities for us humans took a bit of an adjustment. In time, gardening, long-overdue work on projects and outings with the dogs to track and train have brought enrichment that we had taken for granted BC – Before Covid19. Years ago, I enjoyed cooking and baking and have, albeit gradually, begun to enjoy puttering in the kitchen again. Of course, the dogs think home-cooked treats and meals are just fine, too.
We realize that our lives will continue in this quiet style for awhile longer as the vaccine, the seemingly only way out of this mess – is taking some time to get to us. The dogs don’t care! So – we will take our cue from them and find joy in simple things. A winter of romping in the snow, warming ourselves by the fire, reading books. Time ahead to help others where we can, knowing that some of us are facing challenges and hardships. Be kind. Be generous. A smile given even to a grumpy face – especially to a grumpy face! A gift to a charity. Be there for others when we can.
So – as I go forward into the new year, I remind myself to follow my dogs’ lead in finding joy daily in simple activities.
We and the dogs wish you happiness, contentment and well-being.
Like so many others, we have re-calibrated our lives during the Covid19 pandemic. ‘The Girls’ as we refer to the daughters of Axel vom Steffen Haus and Blackthorn’s Desta were ready for tracking certifications and doing well in their obedience training when the March shut-downs hit. We chose the conservative and safest route and that was to stay close to home and away from groups. We did achieve the American Kennel Club virtual titles of Rally Novice and Trick Dog Novice on three dogs so not all has been put on hold.
As we approach the new year of 2021, we are hopeful that we will get back to some kind of normal and back to training and titling progress.
Here is a broad overview of the girls in photos from puppy-hood to recent photos.
I’ve been editing old videos from our trips to Germany so I’ve been reminiscing a bit. The video link at the bottom of this post is a portion of a regional SV (Verien fuer Deutsche Schaeferhunde – the German breed organization) show in 1989 near Vernheim, Germany. If you are unfamiliar with the SV style of conformation showing, it may seem endless! There is a good reason for long periods of movement because dogs with structural weaknesses will break down and lack endurance over time. But this post is not explaining conformation showing. We can do that some other time.
At minute 8:38 you will see two German breeders, Hans Engels of West Germanien and seated next to me, Walter Martin of Weinerau. I first met Walter Martin in the early 1980’s when he was speaking in the US – and I wished I could remember where! But no matter, at the time he discussed many topics in the seminar as well as later when a small group of us went out for dinner. This began a cordial relationship as we ran into Walter at SV functions in Germany over the next years.
Of the many subjects discussed at this first meeting, I particularly remember Walter discussing how to develop a breeding program, something that I was considering embarking upon. He advised building relationships with the most successful breeders but not to expect getting one of their best dogs or most promising puppies since you had no experience at breeding and no evidence of success. According to Herr Martin, that was okay. He advised buying a dog/puppy from the best kennels knowing that it was not the ‘first pick’ and prove yourself by breeding that dog to partners who would correct whatever faults the dog had. As he explained, this dog shared the ‘blood’ or genetics of the better dogs in the litter and one could build upon those genetics wisely. This way, you would prove your merit as a breeder and that would open the doors to the best puppies and dogs from the best breeders. It is just good sense that a successful breeder does not want to have their most promising dogs lost with an inexperienced novice.
This should make sense to breeders of purpose-bred dogs since we expect our dogs to prove themselves in order to breed them. People also must prove their ‘breed-worthiness’ and ability to combine dogs and families that will produce high quality.
Walter also addressed questions about faults in dogs. He, like most Germans I met over the years, was practical and candid about strengths and faults that were present in dogs – their own dogs included. As he explained, there were no perfect dogs and a breeder’s responsibility was to objectively analyze their dogs and know what their weaknesses were. Building knowledge and experience by going to shows and working trials would provide an understanding of pedigrees and what those pedigrees carried. Understanding bloodlines was critical in making wise choices when breeding. Walter believed that creating one’s kennel ‘type’ and standard of quality was a life-long project, not something that magically happened in a few litters.
In 1996, Walter and I once again sat together on a bench at
a German show. He mentioned he was irritated that he was stuck sitting because
he had a sore foot. He then asked me why
I had never come to him to buy a dog. I answered honestly that the caliber of
dog I would wish would be beyond my financial abilities. At this, he replied
that I was wrong, and he had watched what I had done with my dogs over the
years. He kindly said that I had a natural dog sense and had proven that I
could produce very good dogs. He also said it was important to him that we
brought our dogs to Germany to continue to train and compete. He offered that
he would gladly help our training and showing in Germany with one of his dogs. As
we chatted, I remembered his advice from the seminar all those years before when
he discussed the importance of proving one’s abilities by the dogs one produced.
I have to admit that I was just a little pleased that Herr Martin of Weinerau
kennels had approved of what I had accomplished.
That evening when I relayed this to my husband, Peter, we agreed we’d plan a visit to his kennel in a future trip to Germany. As we both agreed: Why not?! One never knows how something will work out unless you try. We also agreed we would not visit him the upcoming Sieger Show since he would be swamped with visitors.
Walter Martin passed away in August of that year from sepsis from his foot injury. It was a shock to the German Shepherd world and was sad that at a time he had achieved so much success that he was taken from what he loved.
The Martin brothers are now commonly paired together – very often in criticism. I interacted with both brothers although admittedly more with Walter. Hermann and Walter were very different personalities from each other. Those who knew them well admitted they were very competitive with not always the chummiest relationship. Breeders in Germany largely respected Walter’s talents of having a natural eye for dogs and success as a breeder. They also believed Walter’s strengths were as a breeder and not as SV President even with the immense knowledge he possessed of the breed. Hermann was more of a businessman and ran the SV powerfully. My opinion and one that was shared by many others was of the two brothers, Walter had more innate talent as a dog fancier.
My personal opinions of the Herman Martin years of
leadership are thus. I believe the emphasis on breed uniformity did not serve
the breed well. By choosing a limited gene pool to accomplish this uniformity,
the breed lost many valuable dogs that could have proven important in future
generations. The Uran Wildsteigerland and Quando Arminus concentration without
a bounty of other lines was a dangerous direction. Not because there was
anything wrong with these dogs but because limiting the gene pool so
exclusively is always dangerous.
There also developed what many called at the time, The Mafia. These were breeders and judges who aligned themselves with this development and carried out judging decisions and breeding choices to support this uniformity. When I discussed the direction that Hermann Martin was taking the German shepherd, many fanciers agreed that breeding to the chosen bloodlines was the only way to win in the ring.
Walter was not one of these followers even though many people assume he was. He was focusing on creating what he envisioned for the breed and his kennel type. There was a time where his dogs were not winning the top positions at Sieger Shows and other Regional shows while his brother ruled the SV. It was rumored Walter often felt over-looked by his brother and believed his dogs were not receiving their fair share of consideration. It was only when he bred Zamb and Vanta that the quality could not be ignored any longer. I wonder what Martin family holiday celebrations were like during those times!
The changes in standards made under the Hermann Martin presidency for protection work at shows ultimately was an improvement although the transition was difficult. Show dogs had a history of poor training and preparation for Schutzhund. The owners prepared them for conformation shows and that does require a great deal of conditioning and training. But the owners and handlers of show-line dogs very often slapped working titles on their dogs without proper training. It was also considered a demonstration of the dog’s strength in protection for the dog to be out of control and have no ‘Out’. Sort of a macho thing: “My dog is so strong it won’t come off the sleeve.” Many a handler would make a spectacle of trying to get their dog to release the sleeve as the crowd would laugh and cheer.
Then when mandatory ‘Outs’ were phased in and requisite for achieving high ratings at the Sieger Shows, these same dogs who were reinforced for not releasing found themselves in what must have seemed a confusing position. Many show dog breeders were not of the highest caliber Schutzhund trainers. So, sadly, instead of training an ‘Out’, many dogs received almighty thwacks on their heads to ‘train’ the release. This led to obvious reactions of fear, cowering in anticipation of being hit or running off before they would receive the anticipated wallop. Some dogs showed reticence to bite the sleeve at all as they were so confused as to what was expected of them. There were some sad sights at training clubs and the Sieger Show and humans, being typically arrogant humans, blamed the dogs. There were some very nice dogs – not Bundes-Sieger participant level – but fine dogs who endured this mis-training and subsequent criticism. I felt badly for those dogs and didn’t like their handlers much.
Walter Martin began his career in German shepherds focused not in the show ring but in the working and obedience venue. This perspective provided a base for how he judged his dogs’ characters. Sure, not every dog he produced was spot-on in structure and temperament but then all breeders, if they are totally honest, would admit to not hitting the high mark every time. As he also acknowledged, breeding to develop one’s kennel type is a work in progress. It doesn’t happen over-night and it doesn’t happen easily. There are steps forward and there are steps laterally. He did believe that Vanta was one of his best dogs that also achieved high rankings and admiration.
The reminiscences that I share about Walter Martin came from conversations I had with him and from a few of the talks/seminars I attended of his. This isn’t meant as a biography but merely, my sharing memories of my life.
When What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren was first published in 2013, I read the many reviews with wonderment. Each reviewer interpreted and described Solo’s character, sometimes with bewildering portrayals. I penciled various versions of a blog post about Solo but always ended up shelving the undertaking. Stories of redemption are most moving when the starting point is as dire as can possibly be. So – I accepted that, to be of the most interest, people would interpret Solo’s adolescent character as terrifying.
It wasn’t. He wasn’t. Solo was an unruly, full-of-himself adolescent
working breed male who pushed the limits and once trained for a job, he matured
into an awesome dog. A dog who applied himself splendidly to his training and
service. He was a good dog and good friend to his humans and even to his
eventual new puppy friend who joined the household later in his life.
Redemption at its finest!
With the publication of the Young Reader’s Edition of What the Dog Knows, I looked forward to the new crop of reviews believing these would be of a friendlier nature. After all, the book was geared toward young people and had lots of pictures and illustrations of appealing dogs! After reading this edition, I was pleased with the in-depth information that young readers would glean from the book. I sensed many young readers would connect with Solo’s story as they themselves are working out relationships with their peers and likely feeling some of the similar conflicts that Solo displayed. Knowing that an adolescent dog could find meaning and accomplishment with a job well done could motivate some adolescent human to aspire for similar.
One day as I meandered through online notices and reviews of
the young reader’s edition, I checked Goodreads. There, a reviewer with a side
bar full of accolades, published the review I have displayed at the end of this
I read this review with astonishment that Vita, Solo’s mom had produced “over 20 litters”. This was news to me! This would be news to veterinary theriogenologists! (Veterinarians who specialize in the study of reproduction) Of course, this wasn’t true. Vita had one litter: Solo’s litter of one pup. Vita lived a long and happy life after her one litter of one pup with a dear friend who had had 3 of our dogs over our many years of friendship.
When doing the math required for producing “over 20 litters”
in the average life span of 10-13 years for a German Shepherd dog, I was
surprised that any adult human would consider this possible, let alone a self-described
librarian at a medical library. Methinks, this person should have enrolled in
fewer library science courses and more basic biology classes!
For simplicity’s sake, lets consider that a bitch’s first estrus would be at 6 months of age. My females typically didn’t begin their first estrus until 12 months but, as I say, for simplicity’s sake, let’s place it at 6 months. Also, for simplicity, we’ll assume an estrus cycle every 6 months. With this scenario, if Vita had a litter every single estrus cycle from her first estrus, she would have to be at least 10.5 years old when she whelped Solo! The reviewer states that she understood the “poor momma” to be young. Ha! Time to get those little gray cells working, I’d say! Ten and a half years of age in a breed that typically lives to 10-13 can’t be considered young.
I hope that readers of this review had their little gray cells working because they would have understood this proposed scenario was an impossibility. There is a lesson here, though. When a person’s biases are so entrenched that they interpret, however incorrectly, the words in front of them to rationalize their own prejudices, almost anything – however preposterous – is possible: even a ‘young’ 10.5-year-old German Shepherd female whelping “over 20 litters”! Additionally according to this reviewer, there was no mention of giving ‘poor momma’ a rest. Did this reviewer believe that Vita would carry-on at 11, 12 or even 13 years of age popping out litters of puppies? Where’s the Guinness Book of World Records when you need them?? I’ve got to write to them!
Service dogs are being trained and utilized in ever expanding
ways. Dogs’ wide-ranging abilities will ensure that humans will need service
dogs for a long time to come. It seems there is hardly a thing that a dog can’t
do! There is a reason why organizations develop their own breeding programs or
rely on other’s well-developed breeding programs to source their dogs from. Genes
are tricky little devils. Science is
understanding genetics more all the time but generations of carefully monitored
breeding dogs remain the most reliable source for service dogs. Organizations who
supply service dogs don’t have the time or resources to raise and train dogs of
unknown and potentially unreliable health and behavior. Dogs from shelters and rescues are also a good
source for various kinds of service work and trainers are evaluating and
training rescue dogs more and more. That’s all good! Sourcing dogs from
breeding programs and rescues/shelters is not mutually exclusive. There is
enough work for all.
This reviewer’s ignorance of basic canine reproduction along with her prejudices against purebred and purpose-bred dogs make this review a dubious source for judging one’s reading choices.
For ease of reading, here is the review copied/pasted. I have highlighted parts of the review to point out the offending misrepresentation.
“What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition: Scent, Science, and the Amazing Ways Dogs Perceive the World by Cat Warren is currently scheduled for release on October 8 2019. In this young readers edition of the New York Times bestseller, Cat Warren and her canine companion, Solo, teach readers that the nose knows no bounds when it comes to working together, being persistent, and helping others. Solo has a fine nose and knows how to use it, but he’s only one of many thousands of scent-detection dogs all over the United States. That’s a group that includes cadaver dogs, tracking, trailing, and apprehension dogs; dogs that can locate unmarked graves of Civil War soldiers; and even dogs that can find drowning victims more than two hundred feet below the surface of a lake. All these dogs love to use their noses. They think their job is simply the best, most interesting game they’ve ever played! What good working dogs can do may seem magical or mysterious, but What the Dog Knows shows the science, the rigorous training, and the skilled handling that underlie these amazing abilities.
What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition is a book that interested me on a scientific standpoint, but I have to admit that the very beginning made me very sad. Solo was not a rescue- rather from a breeder. His poor mother had already had over 20 litters and no mention was made of letting the poor momma rest after having this litter of one- although letter she is referred to as young.. I am not saying that all breeders are necessarily bad, this one is labeled as a reputable breeder and the descriptions of some of the things she did for the dogs sounded wonderful, but my heart broke for the momma dog- and for the dogs losing their lives in shelters every year. The authors description of what she wanted from a dog also sounded like it could have been fulfilled by many different types of dog- aside from the bonus idea of winning in the obedience ring. I also found the expectations she had for the new puppy to be a bit selfish and naive. I will get off my soap box now and get on with the rest of the book.
Once I got past that
initial set up, I found the research into the science of olfactory nerves, the
history of cadaver dogs, and the training methods to be very interesting.
I found the informational parts of the book to be thoughtful, well researched,
and accessible. Reading about working dogs, how they work and train, and why
they are good at what they do was engaging and interesting. It was only when
the book verged into the author’s wants and issues that I would catch myself
skimming instead of reading. I think it is more because of our difference
in opinion on why and how add an animal into a family, rather than anything
else. It is a personality conflict, which does say something about how well she
infused the story with her own voice and personality- which is something not
everyone can do well. I would have liked to see some further information in the
endpages- suggestions for further reading, resources for those interested in
training or working with dogs, and so on.
What the Dog Knows Young Readers Edition is an well researched book, and would be a good read for middle grade and older readers that are interesting in working dogs and everything about them.”
I had been monitoring Vanda’s temperature for days and when the significant drop in her temperature occurred, she and I traveled to the veterinarian for her final c-section. Two female pups were delivered, one weighing 14 ounces and the other, a diminutive 8 ounces. The vet advised me that he would prefer the pups stay at the hospital a few hours to be sure they were nursing well.
As I drove into the city that evening to pick them up, I was eager to see these last of the Vanda and Falk off-spring while filled with some trepidation. Trepidation because of the fragility of life in the first several days of puppies’ lives and with Vanda unable to have more pups, these two little girls were precious.
The first hours
with a litter are usually spent reveling in the beauty of newborns as they
greedily seize life. Tiny personalities emerge even though eating and sleeping
are all they do. As we watch them, their appearances inspire names to match
their emerging personalities.
the technical staff had not put the pups on to nurse. We raced home and settled
Vanda and her small family with fresh blankets in their box. Five hours after
their arrival into this world, I began to rouse these sluggish pups to nurse.
One would begin to suckle only to fall back to sleep in moments. Hours went by
as I worked with them, coaxing them to grasp onto life. A certain terror was
overtaking me when they, unlike our usual pups, were too lethargic to feed.
I was too worried about their listlessness to appreciate their sleek bodies, wrinkly muzzles and that wonderful smell of puppy. Names were out of the question. I could only think, “Nurse! Just nurse, please!” The stimulation during birth spurs newborns to search and grab onto their mother’s nipples. It is a natural process. That fine line between life and death can so easily be crossed during and just after birth. Since these pups had had no feeding for more than 5 hours, they were in even more jeopardy.
Hours into this
struggle, the bigger of the two girls was discovering the joy of nursing. She
became more determined as she nursed. Celebration! We were making progress.
The surgeon had
expressed concern about the smallest girl. Was she properly formed? Could there
be an unseen problem? Her vital signs had checked out properly, but he was
worried about her size. She must eat and eat well, he counseled me. I massaged
her, stroked her head, waking her frequently reminding her to suckle. Vanda,
the quintessential mother, worked just as hard. Licking and cleaning to wake
this little ‘mole’ up.
As the milk
flowed, ‘Little Mole’, as I was beginning to call her, suckled with increasing
persistence. Well after midnight, I stole into the kitchen to prepare a cup of
tea. Exhaustion is not an unusual experience for the breeder with worry
following along in the shadows. The beauty of these two perfect little girls
began to unfold to me and the terror eased somewhat. The bigger of the two
would be called ‘Cascha’ but what would I call the little mole? I delved deep
into her illustrious pedigree to choose a dog I admired as much as my dear
Vanda. She would be the namesake of her maternal grandmother, Cora, after Cora
vom Haus Jacobs. Cora was perhaps the strongest, most solid bitch I had met in
German Shepherd Dogs and a major reason I purchased Vanda. I prayed that this
indomitable spirit would help this tiny mite to survive, no – thrive. Survive
was not enough for these girls, they would thrive!
Mornings come early in June. I awoke from my brief night’s sleep to the rhythmical suckling of our pups. That is a sound sweeter than any music but this morning, a complete orchestra would not have sounded as glorious! Cascha and Cora were winning in the toughest competition of all: Life!
Each day they gained weight. They vigorously crawled about their whelping nest. Cora was more vocal and agile than Cascha. In fact, Cascha’ s favorite past-time was fast becoming ‘eating’. With only two pups, it was like having a twenty-four-hour banquet. Cascha ambled her way up and down the awaiting faucets, taste-testing from each. Cascha looked like she was becoming a ‘swimmer’ where a pup eats so much that laying on their stomach with feet splayed out is the norm. This flattens the rib cage and extreme cases can be very dangerous. I rolled towels to cradle her and keep her on her side as she slept. Ever adamant, she would refuse to sleep on her side. She would roll back onto her tummy and fall to sleep. I learned to sneak in when she was fast asleep, shift her gently onto her side and ease the rolled towels around her. She slept!
After a week of
steadily gaining weight, Cora was nursing well but one day went by without
weight gain. When the second day proceeded with no weight gain, I prepared a
formula for her to nurse from a bottle. Nothing doing for her! One would think
I was forcing bitter-apple into her mouth. My folks had read about a litter of
Rottweiler pups that had come several times a day to our neighbor’s goat farm
and nursed from their goats. The mother had been lost while the pups were
young. The pups had thrived on fresh goat’s milk. I called and heard the
unhappy news that the goats were past milking. The farmer did have some milk
frozen and would be happy to let me have this.
I held my breath as I offered a bottle of warmed goat’s milk to Cora. Initial annoyance at having a baby bottle pressed into her mouth gave way to noisy sucking when she tasted the milk. This was good stuff! Another week of supplementation with goat’s milk while her weight increased and her appetite for her mother’s milk re-established.
was Vanda’s last litter, she had been spayed during this c-section and her milk
supply dwindled as weeks went by. The girls suckled for the social interaction,
but nutrition was increasingly supplied by their formula. Cascha was always the
first in the bowl (and ‘in’ is not a misprint!) and the last to leave when
every molecule was lapped up.
these girls included a lot of competitive games. Fortunately, we had wonderful
adult dogs that patrolled and diverted their focus from each other. They each
had such strong characters, that both refused to compromise in their contests.
Most pups learn to win and lose in games and tussles. Important lessons that
serve them well later in life. With just two in the litter and both being
dominant, resourceful and persistent, it was clear that these girls needed to
spend quality time away from each other by the time they were just a few months
old. I would not part with either of them, so we, the dogs and I, built our
days around these precocious girls.
accompanied me everywhere possible, going to training clubs, shows and trials
as well as visits to friends and family.
indomitable and commanding with a strong personal presence. She never doubted
herself or her prerogative. Cascha expressed her strong opinions quite freely.
Everything was a competition to Cascha – to be won, never tied, certainly never
lost. She assumed that victory was her birthright. Her adolescence showed her
to be highly talented, motivated and single-minded. That single-mindedness could
be daunting. She would become one of my greatest teachers as well as one of my
most trying students.
Cora was the more tractable of the two. She was also cunning and lightning fast figuring out how to influence others. Cora learned at a very young age to size people up and have fun with teasing. Her sense of humor showed itself early on. She thought it very funny when visitors would squeal with surprise if she goosed them. When they turned to look at the offending pup, Cora twinkled her eyes triumphantly with not the least amount of remorse. Perhaps when your only sister is the controlling type, one learns other ways to have fun – and influence people.
Alas, we are
getting ahead of ourselves. There is much living to do before I discover the
full import of these girls’ personalities. Stay tuned to learn more of Cora and
her sister, Cascha!
“I think we have a baby raccoon!” This was something I
whispered often to myself during the first few weeks.
Yes – puppies are full of energy. They run and play until
they drop – kerplop – into a deep sleep.
Except for Kit! She was like a race car. She went from 0 to
60 rapidly! And continued to wind up her motor until her gaskets blew up. She
just didn’t know what to do with all her energy. She is a good-natured personality,
but things would get ugly and fast.
In real terms, she contended with two issues. She was easily over-stimulated, and she was unable
to self-settle. Some pups may have an innate ability to self-settle that can be
reinforced with practice. That’s ideal! If they don’t have much ability to
self-settle, there are methods that can help teach a dog to ‘chill’.
With my litters, I begin immediately with cradling each pup in my hands. Very young pups are stimulated when touched. How easily and quickly a pup settles gives clues to their temperament. Patterns become evident over time. When a pup settles while cupped in your hands, it will give a big yawn or sigh and sometimes a stretch before relaxing. This process also helps them to settle – even at this young age. We all know how good it feels after a strenuous day to fall into bed and allow our bodies and minds to unwind. Settling feels good to a dog, too. It’s tough on a dog who can’t self-settle.
As a pup matures, the ability to self-settle helps them
focus on their training. Since they are not overwhelmed with over-stimulation,
they can think about their lessons.
There are several steps to teaching a dog to settle. We help
them discover that calming feeling when their minds and muscles relax. The
first approach is to have the pup or dog stand or sit next to you and place the
outstretched palms of your hands gently and firmly on the sides of their
shoulders. Firmly and supportively – this is not punishment or control! The
moment they show a relaxing signal like yawning or licking their lips, release
your touch, allowing them to soak up that nice feeling – saying nothing.
Eventually, you will move your hands for a bit of a massage, still using the
palms of your hands and a slow firm touch. This isn’t petting. This is closer
to massaging although it isn’t quite that either. Think of ‘thunder-shirts’
that are used to settle and calm an anxious dog. The thunder-shirt exerts a
firm, all-encompassing ‘cradle’ around the dog. Our hands can have a similar
effect once the dog associates relaxation with our handling.
As the pup learns to accept this handling knowing that it helps them unwind, they welcome this. It may take awhile for some pups. It surely did with Kit! She was so easily over-stimulated that her mouth went into over-drive with any kind of touching. She wasn’t nasty. She quickly wound-up and grabbed onto whatever was close – very often one of our limbs! And – it was the smallest of things that sent her into wild and crazy land. The only way that she could settle was to be crated. Initially when she was crated as a pup, she flung herself around the crate until she flopped with a great sigh and fell to sleep. Generously sized areas only allowed her to work up a lather until she was beside herself with edginess.
I felt sorry for her. It was like she had too many cups of
coffee – All. The. Time!
One often hears, “A tired dog is a good dog.”. While this is
true, the more one exercises a dog, the more exercise the dog requires. Puppies
also need to learn to take it easy. “A dog who is appropriately exercised and taught
to settle is a good dog!”
Our play and train sessions were brief with frequent ‘Settle’
breaks. We incorporated the relaxation handling into our sessions, so she
learned that touch could be calming. Each session would have focus games, an assortment
of games preparing for future obedience cues and games that motivated her brain.
Hiding toys and food in and outside the house was a favorite. She learned to ‘Wait’
while I hid the toys/treats. Waiting was really, really challenging for her but
since she loved looking for these hidden treasures, she willingly learned this ‘impulse’
control’. Impulse control games were
never ending for Kit whether waiting for treats, meals, entering/exiting doors
and crates. Almost everything in her life was based on her learning to calmly
focus and pause.
Kit and I practiced ‘Place’ – when the dog learns to lie
down, not in a formal obedience down position, but in a relaxed down. If they
chose to chew on a chew toy, that’s great. If they wish to snooze, that is
great, too. ‘Place’ became our morning, noon and nightly training along with
our play games and other activities. A rug was provided for her to lie and
small treats dropped between her front paws, frequently at first and then on a
variable schedule. Often enough so she expected a treat but not so often that
she lost interest if a treat wasn’t dropping from heaven often.
As the weeks turned into months, she liked practicing her ‘Place’ behavior. When she began initiating ‘Place’ on her own, I knew she was learning to chose to settle. ‘Choosing to settle’! That was big!
A fluff ball, for sure! Kit was born August 15, 2015 and at
eight weeks of age, she came home to live with us.
For several years, I
thought I was finished with breeding and training German shepherds but seeing
friends having fun with their puppies whet my appetite and I couldn’t resist
finding a pup to join our lives. My Framheim dogs were all but gone. A senior
male, Zen was the sole Framheim dog with us. After more than thirty years with
breeding shepherds, I was starting over.
Studying pedigrees and researching breeders, the focus was
finding the kind of pup I wanted and a pedigree that might be a good match for
our Axel vom Steffen Haus whose frozen semen we had retained. Axel was born in 1987 and had been an exceptional
dog, competing in Germany and the US successfully. He had also produced dogs of
outstanding character and health. An Axel litter would be my final chapter of a
life with shepherds.
So – considering the many characteristics I hoped for, this
little piece of fluff held the future I wished for.
In the coming blog posts, we will discuss Kit and our journey of relationship building from when she joined our family in 2015 to where we are today in 2019 as she celebrates her 4th birthday. It’s been an adventure!
Let’s Play – or maybe not
Puppies are magnets for learning! Everyday in every way,
they are learning to be dogs in a human world. The first few months after a pup
comes home with their new family are critical in building the kind of
relationship you want. The foundation of the human and dog partnership is forming
during this time.
I teach pups with games when they are young. We begin with
toy tosses and when puppy brings the toy back towards me, I have another toy
ready to toss. Wiggle the toy, when puppy drops the toy they have in their
mouth, quickly, I toss the next toy. The pup learns to retrieve and is not put
‘in conflict’ of giving up their prized toy since another toy is thrown
immediately. We turn this game into a ‘Recall /Come” game with treats, too, but
the pup eats the treat, obviously. It’s
all Fun! Pup is learning she can trust this new human – critical for a solid
Within the first few days with Kit, I discovered she was not a puppy who followed – ever. Whereas most young puppies naturally follow people and older dogs, she didn’t. She ran off in every direction other than where we were going.
Never fear! We were armed with pockets of treats, toys and irresistible games like Hide and Seek, Run-away Recalls and Round-Robin recalls. Run-away recalls are pretty obvious: you run away, and puppy runs after you for loads of treats, toys and playtime. Round-robin recalls are with two or more people calling the pup to come for more treats, toys, play and affection. It’s a game that puppies love. Well, most puppies!
When I introduced these games to Kit, she scrutinized me with a calculating eye and trotted in the other direction. Time to appeal to her prey drive so toys on strings were wiggled and waggled. She scurried off grabbing sticks, stones, whole clods of dirt and grass, even grabbing mouthfuls of bark from tree trunks and proceeded to play with those. She tried to eat everything and anything! Those little black eyes gleaming at me as if telling me that I was of no consequence. She didn’t need me or my silly toys. She had a world of playthings of her choosing. She only had to grab a stone or stick and it was ‘Game on!’ I had the distinct impression; she was scoffing at my enticements to play. For a pup so young, there was something uncanny about this pup and her dark intensely calculating eyes.
Just a few days after her home-coming, she looked peaked.
One gets to recognize the serious from the not-so-serious sickly looks. This
was serious. Peter had just driven away with our one and only vehicle. In
retirement, we hoped we would require only one car. I called our vet and they
were prepared for us. As I feverishly dialed Peter’s phone, I collected
necessities to take to the veterinarian. Peter has this aggravating tendency to
not answer phones or check messages. I rang repeatedly until a slightly annoyed
Peter answered with, “Why are you calling me over and over? I am driving!”
When he heard our urgency, he swung the van around and was
home quickly. We raced to the vets.
The veterinarian returned to our exam room with baby Kit and
showed us x-rays. Her intestines were filled with pebbles and stones. The vet
announced that, “This little girl has been eating inappropriate things for a
very long time.” We were given a special canned diet and warned to watch her
carefully for the next 10 days to two weeks to be certain she was passing the
small quarry she had collected inside. If she stopped eating or had more
incidents of feeling sick, they might have to surgically remove these stones.
Kit was already dragging a leash or long line everywhere
because of her independent nature. Now, we had an even more urgent need for her
to be supervised every minute: What she considered a funny game of playing with
‘nature’s toys’ could kill her.
She survived – with her recalcitrant demeanor intact. It was
time to up the act. We instituted something similar to Nothing In Life is Free
(NILF). Obedience trainers develop training methods and like to assign snappy
names to them. There have been various versions of NILF. In a nutshell, the dog
performs a behavior in exchange for something it wants. Going in and out of
crates, kennels, doorways; waiting for meals and treats – everything was
preceded by Kit being asked to give a behavior. It could be ‘come’, ‘sit’,
‘down’, ‘wait’ or a trick – anything, just so she learned to comply with her
human’s requests. It is all accomplished with a smile and merriment on the
human’s part. The point is to make the
human relevant to the dog. “You, my dear dog, depend on me, your significant
human, for everything in life. Aren’t you lucky!”
Kit loved being busy so more things to do with the NILF program was fun to her. That was exactly what I had hoped. She still gave me her evil eye and exploited every chance to follow her own wishes but we were making progress. I was also learning this was going to be a very long process. Her exceptional intelligence combined with her wily and determined nature meant that every interaction with her had to be purposeful.
Kit and I were just getting to know each other. This was going to be an adventure! Stay tuned as Kit and I travel a sometimes bumpy road together…..Well, mostly together!
V Falk vom Mons Tabor SchH3 KKL-1a
21 Times First Place in Conformation
Multiple Landesgrueppen Sieger in Germany
1983 German Sieger Show Youth Class: 26th Place with 265 entries
We have collected many hours of analog videos of dogs over the years. Converting these to digital is a stroll down memory lane – and an excellent project for long winter days. Being old analog videos, the quality doesn’t come close to current digital movies but these have value as illustrative of their era.
Our Falk vom Mons Tabor was born in 1982. He was typical in structure, especially in his angulation and top-line, for dogs of this era in Germany. Thinking back, Dingo Haus Gero who was VA in 1983 and born in 1978 and widely acknowledged as one of the great movers had moderate angulation. Dogs of that era generally had strong and straight backs flowing from long, high withers to a slightly sloping and long croup – without a noticeable break.
Falk as a young male Falk at 6 years
Falk – around 2 years
Indeed, the photos below of Dingo show this correctly balanced anatomy with moderate angulation.
What is angulation? The angles of the front and rear assemblies are largely determined by the length of the running bones. Short running bones equal strength. Long running bones equal reach and speed. For a breed known for its trotting, it is a balance of strength and speed that gives efficiency and endurance. The German Shepherd Dog is not meant to be a sprinter. In its capacity as a tending dog, a German shepherd can easily cover many miles each and every day. For this work, the trot is the most efficient.
Very short running bones may be strong but they are also stodgy. (Cute – but still stodgy!) Not going to keep up with sheep, for sure!
Very long running bones lose strength – and endurance – through instability. The German Shepherd Dogs in the American specialty rings of the 1980’s being prime examples of very, very long running bones.
So – here is a converted video of our Falk gaiting on our front road. He moves efficiently and would have moved even better had he not had me as an anchor attached to him. I have copied and slowed a portion of the video to better see his movement. Click on this link to watch the video on youtube:
I will not write a treatise on angulation, structure and trotting because there are already excellent articles covering the subject. What I am reminded as I convert analog video from decades ago, is there were excellent trotting dogs who could cover ground swiftly, efficiently and go great distances – all with moderate – and harmoniously balanced – angulation.
One reason why the trot is such an efficient gait is that moment of suspension where the feet are off the ground. That is why one often hears of the ‘flying trot’. Reach, extension and that moment of being ‘air-born’ all create this economical gait.
You can see this well in the video of VA Dingo Haus Gero. Watch closely, and you will see that suspension.
Below is a snapshot from the video of our Falk. Not quite the perfect photo but it almost captures the moment of suspension. A split second later (and a better camera) would show that suspension. You can see this suspension occurring especially at the letter ‘F’ – which I sadly cannot remove from the converted movie.
And another showing that moment of suspension. Look closely at the ‘9. 2’ to see the rear pad reaching and off the pavement with the nearby front paw obviously off the pavement:
One more snapshot taken from the Falk movie showing various stages of the trot:
Of course, movement is influenced by more than ‘angles’ and running bones. Fluid, ground-covering movement is created by a harmonious structure where all parts support each other. If even one structural component is unbalanced, the overall gait lacks efficiency since other parts of the anatomy strive to fill in the deficiency.
Other sources that are interesting on movement and structure:
This would be a rather polite exchange between puppies. Puppy interactions range from raucous to industrious, bossy to collaborative, primarily joyful, always instructive with never a dull moment for humans and canines. Even when sleeping, puppies are not dull.
Puppies discussing their next game.
When I designed our home, I purposefully designed our bedroom to be above the puppy nursery. When the builder learned that puppies would be below our bedroom, he suggested a generous amount of sound-proofing between floors. “Oh, no!” I adamantly replied, “I want to hear the puppies.” He is likely still scratching his head in bewilderment.
A breeder learns the safe and contented sounds of interaction. Even the loud bits are relaxing. A hint of danger wakes me up from the deepest slumber.
At 1 week, even at this age, lots of development is occurring.
Puppies’ eyes open around 10 days of age but their vision continues to develop over several weeks. When eyes first open, it is common for pups to sit nose to nose gawping bleary-eyed at each other. They have smelled and felt each other in their nest but these foggy stares are their first glimpses of their own species. Wicked little canines as they are, their mouths open wide to toothlessly crunch on the other nose. Lack of coordination overcomes these early attacks as they thud gracelessly on their own nose. (Yes, it is moments like these that make rearing litters worth the effort!)
I’ll get your nose!
My ‘L’ litter was a singleton male, Lars. As serendipity would have it, a friend whelped a singleton female pup 2 days later.
As the two pups approached their 5th week, I transported the little female, Uzzi to our home. Lar’s dam was the perfect mom for accepting an unfamiliar baby since she had retained her inner child throughout her life. She frolicked through life in a continual state of delight! She welcomed Uzzi without question and encouraged her suckling, cleaned her, played with her – all with great tenderness.
When we introduced Uzzi, we anticipated some lively play to break out with the two pups. Lars and Uzzi didn’t seem to even see each other, let alone interact! Both pups would play with our adult dogs – even side by side while bumping into each other – and not notice each other. They were like ships passing in the night – with lights out! This continued for 2 days.
Lars was generously proportioned as eating was one of his favorite hobbies. Uzzi, the quintessential female German shepherd, ate when necessary since she had many projects and experiments to tend. The evening of the second day, while Lars was nursing with his tail erect and wagging, Uzzi spotted his tail. Not knowing this tail was attached to anything of consequence, she only saw the potential for fun. She followed his tail with her eyes and readied herself to attack. She leapt and subdued the tail while Lars whipped around in horror. There was shock on both of their faces when they – for the first time – actually noticed each other!
This interaction was fascinating since they studied each other for some time and gradually, over several days, began experimenting with play. In a week, they played like they had been litter-mates from birth.
Partners in crime!
From the earliest contact, pups negotiate with each other. They provoke, pacify, tease, threaten and even hurt each another. They learn to take the rough with the smooth, generally to forgive and always to carry-on with fun. They invite others to play; they accept or decline invitations to play. They learn to share, they learn to hoard, they learn to warn and respect warnings from others. Facial expressions (eyes, ear set, mouth, whiskers, direct or indirect bearing of head), posture (and posturing) – myriad small and large gestures signal intent to other dogs. This information flow avoids most quarrels.
During the first months of life, puppies are defining themselves, their world and everything they find in it. A good analogy easily understood would be how eyes (yours, mine, dogs’ even fruit flies) actually ‘see’. Signals sent from the eye to the brain rely on the brain to interpret these signals. The brain has filed away everything an individual has observed. As new signals are sent to it, the brain searches to find matching files.
This is why a crime can be witnessed by 10 people and the subsequent testimony will be 10 variations of what happened.
Puppies exploring their world.
Thinking of Lars and Uzzi and the fact it took over 2 days for them just to notice each other with another week for them to interact with play, imagine what goes missing with a singleton pup that misses out on a litter experience altogether. In their almost 5 weeks of life prior to Lars and Uzzi coming together, their brains had not filed away images of like-sized individuals or the many signals puppies send to each other the initial 5 weeks of life . Interaction between puppies and adult dogs does not have the experimental messaging and subtleties of puppy-to-puppy communication.
A serene family scene.
Pups are born with a genetic blueprint for their temperament. Their personalities are fine-tuned by their litter-mates and their environment. The reactions of puppies and the eventual adults they develop into are based on the experiences (or lack of experiences) they have had throughout their lives. The foundation of puppyhood and litter experience mark a dog forever.
Of course, just as each individual has a personality so does each litter. The collection of individual temperaments shapes a litter’s personality and, in turn, the litter’s personality molds the individual’s character in a circular evolution. Most breeders value an ‘even’ litter, meaning the spectrum of temperaments (as well as conformation) does not vary widely. We evaluate the phenotype we see in pups and litters, compare it to the extended pedigree to ascertain the genotype. And this is a discussion for the future!
When I wrote the piece that Cat Warren posted on her blog, What the Dog Knows/Cat Warren I described how the function of the German Shepherd Dog formed the breed’s character. The breed’s function has broadened from tending and all-purpose farm dog (yes, farm dog as uncomfortable as that makes some people!) to police, military and assistance dog beginning with leading the blind to now, assistance and service dogs for a wide range of purposes. A breed’s function always forms its temperament in an ever ongoing evolution. Herding breeds that work closely with humans generally have acute awareness and social skills. Herding is a sort of ballet with dogs, humans, stock and the environment.
Over the almost half century that I’ve lived with German shepherds, (that’s a frightening thought!) I’ve tried at various times to create a list of adjectives for the breed’s character. The list is always long – and always lacking.
The qualities of general awareness and, in particular, social acuity hold much fascination for me. These qualities can also make the breed a bit challenging to raise and live with! I wonder if the shepherd owners who have trouble with their dog compound their difficulty because they don’t appreciate just how perceptive their dog is of the environment, other dogs’ body language and not the least, humans’ unfortunate habit of miscommunication. Alas – that is another blog post for the future. Let’s get back to our shepherd character.
Zen at 7.
Living with dogs so attentive to their surroundings has helped me notice more. Recently when Zen was trotting down the hall where a tiny bit of leaf had dropped from my husband’s shoe, he turned his attention – mid-trot – to look and sweep his nose close to get a sniff. Now, our home is not pristine, believe me, so this is not the only bit of stuff on the floor! But – it was a new bit of stuff.
I’ve had fun placing new items in my shepherds’ environment to see how much they notice. A small rock on our walkway that I place the night before is noticed by my dogs as they race each other outside to chase the deer and squirrels away from their fence the next morning. A rock! Only a couple inches in diameter that is placed among all the sticks, toys – other rocks – is noted and smelled while they are competing with each other at a full run! Hilariously, this can cause a temporary log-jam as they briefly inspect this new imposter and, with typical German shepherd attitude, give permission for it to remain!
How many of us notice new or altered details as we go about our daily routine to this extent or even close to it?
Herding was a hobby that I participated in for more than 10 years. I was not a great trainer and I did not have dogs achieving high levels of titling in herding. I did work with many dogs, though; titling to test levels and testing numerous adolescents with sheep. The one thing I did learn was to read sheep and dogs; the subtle signals they recognize in each other.
German shepherds are loose-eyed dogs – meaning they don’t stare intensely at the stock to control them. It’s a good thing, too because most German shepherds embody a high power level not only with their personality but their overall appearance. Sheep notice German shepherds!
One of my more astute dogs, Sascha (Serena vom Framheim HT, PT, TD, OFA G/normal (h/e)) educated me tremendously. She did use eye and while she was still inexperienced, the effect was more powerful than she or I could often handle. We worked it out though. The end result was a dog that understood her power and used it effectively. One of the exercises was to allow the sheep to graze while she maintained them in a group. To be honest, even though it was a worthy exercise, it allowed me to catch my breath!
Sascha learned to position herself in just the right spot so she could control the sheep. She also learned to use her eye to advantage – being careful to look ‘past’ the sheep while they were stable and content. She taught me to recognize the very, very tiny change in a sheep’s expression (yes, sheep have expressions!) and body posture when a sheep was thinking of departing. A small shift in her eye towards the recalcitrant sheep and that was the end of that notion. The sheep decided the grass was just fine where it was!
Serena vom Framheim HT, PT, TD, OFA G/normal (h/e)
Dogs fine-tuned to such an extent that they seem to read minds! German shepherds, in general, show remarkable finesse in reading their surroundings as demonstrated by Sascha (and any number of herding dogs) in anticipating a sheep’s intention – not an actual movement – but an intention to move! To balance this acuity, a German Shepherd Dog requires a sound and stable genetic temperament as well as an upbringing rich with variety to enhance this keenness. We can assume that this discernment does not end with sheep. Our dogs study us and they have plenty of time to do so. What must they see in us especially since we have largely dulled our abilities with body language. What an incredible breed – keenly aware yet robust and resilient.
And I promised to talk about a particular little pup in the earlier blog post, didn’t I? Patience – we will get there! Next time I’d like to chat about shepherd puppies in general. (And who doesn’t want to talk puppies!)
A few weeks ago, I shared a session of a Waldorf Morning Garden with our 3 year old grand-daughter. With years of observing canine kids developing social skills, there were some real parallels watching this group of 2-3 year old toddlers as they experimented with peer-to-peer social interaction.
“…. the teacher nurtures the children’s power of imagination particular to the age. She does so by telling carefully selected stories and by encouraging free play. This free or fantasy play, in which children act out scenarios of their own creation, helps them to experience many aspects of life more deeply. When toys are used, they are made of natural materials. Pine cones, wood, cotton, silk, shells, stones and other objects from nature that the children themselves have collected are used in play and to beautify the room.”
The gatherings encourage ‘free play’ where children interact with each other. I noted lots of staring at each other with small gestures offered cautiously. Gestures encouraging sharing of toys, interactive play as well as establishing possession of toys or space.
One little boy scurried under a small table covered with a scarf providing a secret hiding spot. A little girl stood nearby watching. He parted the scarf a trifle whereupon the little girl gave a delighted hop with wide eyes and a giggle. The scarf quickly closed and remained closed for awhile as she waited with great expectation. The scarf parted even more tentatively with the little boy sneaking a quick peak. Jubilation by the little girl! Thus started a game of sneaking peaks and giggles galore. Toddlers don’t tire of games easily so this continued for some time until the little girl garnered sufficient boldness to crawl under the table, too. Silence…..the little boy parted the scarf but, alas, no giggling little girl greeted him. They both looked out and were disappointed to find there was no one waiting to play peek-a-boo.
The little boy crawled out from under the table; the little girl parted the scarf and Game on! Giggling and (anticipated) amazement each time the scarf parted!
I am sure whole PhD’s could be written on what was happening during this interaction. Invitation for social interface, sharing of roles, empathy, adjusting behavior for the ‘greater good’ so the game could carry-on!
A little girl sits in a wooden boat-shaped rocker about 3’ wide by 4’ long. There are three slats for sitting inside. Another little girl holding a couple dolls climbs in on the opposite side. Slowly and subtly the little girl with the dolls moves into the middle seat as the original occupant looks over to her. No eye contact is made; no overt domination just an understated yet powerful establishment of ownership with this move. The little girl with the dolls shifts her legs over the middle seat closer to the other toddler. A few moments later, the original occupant departs the rocker to seek entertainment elsewhere. A display of nimble control especially for a youngster.
So – why in a supposedly dog-centric blog am I writing about grand-kids?
The parallels of development are striking. The last tale of establishing territory is often seen with dogs and pups. We call this, ‘power’ when we see this in dogs and puppies! The sheer strength of self-confidence empowers possession of space. Ironically, we like this with our dogs but tend to discourage such conduct in our human kids.
I’ve had pups that make a great drama possessing the water bowl while a self-possessed, confident pup strolls up and has a drink. No quarreling, no display and no question who has the inner core of steel! That early peer-to-peer interaction solidifies or modifies the genetic temperament of an individual. Humans and canines alike learn to communicate – what, when, how, and how much – to achieve one’s objective. (And there always is an objective – no matter which species!)
It’s getting clearer where I am going with this, I bet-
This is our Solo, the subject of the book, What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren
A BLOG! My website comes with a blog! The world population is 7 billion people and there must be at least twice that many blogs. Being realistic here, who is likely to read one more blog? My husband, of course (unless he fancies preparing his own dinner), our kids and their spouses (they’re perfect) and my mom (Ooh, let me check that I have ‘approve comments’ activated!).
My dogs would read my blog. They have an uncanny understanding of language although somewhat limited to their special interests. Reading, though, has not caught on with them. They prefer to watch their media: TV and computer with an emphasis on nature programs. They searched a long time for the wolverine kits that ran off the screen while watching PBS Nature. They were convinced the wolverines ran into our bathroom which is just around the corner from the bedroom TV. Zen searched the bathroom with his every cell ready for the Great Wolverine Encounter. He’s now past this and onto the Great Deer Encounter as the deer reassemble in our gardens, studying which of our plantings they will graze upon next.
As my husband and I stretched deer fencing around the most vulnerable of these plantings, he suggested we post venison recipes to discourage the deer. So – maybe the deer will read my blog?
After my few decades of training dogs in general and breeding, rearing and training German Shepherd Dogs in particular, I suspect this blog will be dog-centric. I have been lucky to live with a variety of shepherd personalities, observing and participating in their social network. Dogs are amazing creatures. They still teach me much and I suspect I have lots more to learn from them.
Let the fun begin!
(While I learn this new ‘technology’, excuse the inevitable mistakes!)