video shared with the owner’s permission

Breeders of Norwich Terriers have been long aware of a seizure disorder in the breed. Some feverishly insist on calling it epilepsy, while others cling to the word “cramp”. The first published mention of the condition in the veterinary literature was in 1984 in a letter by R.M. Furber published in the Veterinary Record (UK), entitled “Cramp in Norwich Terriers”. The name “cramp” bore close resemblance to a disorder found in Scottish Terriers.

In referring to the Norwich seizure disorder as either “epilepsy” or “Norwich cramp” breeders have been pronouncing their opinion not so much about the pathology but about the inheritability of the disorder. The “cramp camp” has been implying an environmentally triggered disease, not necessarily inherited, speculated to be metabolic in nature and addressed by diet alongside Vitamin E and Selenium regimen. The “epilepsy camp” has been pouring over pedigrees of seizure prone dogs, mapping clear genetic ties between affected Norwich Terriers and focusing on the apparent genetic component. A nomenclature war has been raging, to the point that some breeders have refused to participate in recent research into the condition in the UK, because the words used to describe the proposed study did not say “epilepsy”. It is a real pity, because science has a way of revealing the truth.

As for the words to use, we might need to learn some new ones. The first scientific paper on Norwich seizure disorder, penned as the result of the aforementioned recent study in England calls it Paroxysmal Dyskinesia. I will add my own preference here to call it Atypical Seizure Disorder, a name used interchangeably with Paroxysmal Dyskinesia when describing the disorder in other breeds.


1. The Norwich seizure disorder is not the Scotty cramp

What Norwich Terriers suffer from is not a Norwich version of the “Scotty cramp”. The condition affecting Scottish Terriers is a hereditary neurotransmitter defect: a problem in serotonin metabolism causing its deficiency. The fact that both Scotties and Norwiches remain conscious through an episode is the only similarity. The Scotty disorder, which has a recessive mode of inheritance, can be verified in a diagnostic test.

Pharmacological experiments found decreased levels of serotonin in the central nervous system in affected Scottish Terriers following an episode. When amphetamine or parachlorophenyalanine was administered, the severity of the clinical signs increased. Also, a serotonin receptor blocker methysergide increased the clinical signs in a dose-dependent manner and has been used as a test to diagnose the condition. It is a reliable test, even though the method of using a drug to increase severity of symptoms in order to diagnose the condition is controversial.

2. We have no genetic breakthroughs so far

Immediately after the separation of the Norwich and Norfolk Terrier Club into two separate breed clubs in 2009, the new Norwich Terrier Club of America (NTCA) focused on addressing the seizure disorder in the breed. We teamed up with Dr. Gary Johnson’s lab at University of Missouri collecting samples of affected dogs for their Canine Epilepsy Network (CEN). In spite of several announcements of incremental breakthroughs in mapping epilepsy in other breeds, the Norwich Terrier genome did not yield progress in mapping epilepsy.

Then, the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation (CHF) announced a major research project of canine epilepsy co-funded with a number of European institutions and with a very large government funding from European Union. We threw our wholehearted support behind the project, led by Dr. Hannes Lohi at the University of Helsinki in Finland. The NTCA donated generously to the study. We arranged for a collection of Norwich Terrier samples and for sample-sharing between CEN and the European project. Dr. Lohi’s team worked with DNA samples from several breeds alongside those from the Norwich Terrier: Lagotto Romagnolo, Australian Shepherd, Vizsla, and Finnish Spitz, among others, and they found mutation LGI2 responsible for canine epilepsy in Lagotto Romagnolo dogs. So far no correlation has been found in genetic studies comparing any of the suspect regions in other breeds of dogs suffering from epilepsy with the Norwich Terrier genome.

3. A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy is a catchall description, not a positive diagnosis

Many Norwich terriers suffering from seizure episodes have been diagnosed by veterinarians and veterinary neurologists as having “idiopathic epilepsy”. Idiopathic means there is no underlying cause, while “epilepsy” is a general term for neurological disorders that are characterized by recurrent seizures.

A diagnosis of idiopathic epilepsy does not answer the question of the causes of the disease, nor its pathology. When we say that the Scotty cramp is not a form of epilepsy we are referring to the fact that Scotty cramp has been proven to be a metabolic defect of serotonin. What we know so far is that Norwich seizures are completely distinct from the “Scotty cramp”, and so the use of the word “cramp” to describe the Norwich seizure condition is fallacious. However, DNA analysis has not yet identified a gene or complex of genes associated with seizures in the Norwich Terrier. Thus, when a Norwich is diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy, it means that the precise nature of the disorder has not been well described and classified in the veterinary literature, and therefore the dog is diagnosed as having a recurrent seizure disorder (epilepsy) of unknown causes (idiopathic).


1. British study on Paroxysmal Dyskinesia

The first scientific paper on the seizure condition affecting Norwich Terriers was a result of data compilation based on owners’ questionnaires and other records submitted by the owners of affected Norwich Terriers. The owners of Norwich terriers born since January 1, 2000 were invited to complete a questionnaire aimed at identifying affected and unaffected dogs and investigating the clinical characteristics of their seizures. Additionally, pedigrees were studied.

To quote the study results:

‘The questionnaire was returned for 198 Norwich terrier dogs. Of these, 26 (13%) were classified as affected by paroxysmal dyskinesia after revision of the questionnaires and after obtaining videos of the episodes, veterinary medical records, and telephone interviews with the owners. All dogs were neurologically normal between episodes. No significant abnormalities were detected on diagnostic investigations. Mean age at the first episode was 3 years. The episodes were characterized by sustained muscular hypertonicity in the pelvic limbs, lumbar region, and thoracic limbs, impairing posture and locomotion without loss of consciousness. Episode frequency varied both between and within individuals. Stress, anxiety, excitement, and variation in daily routine were recognized as episode triggers in 13 dogs. Episode duration generally was from 2 to 5 minutes (range, from < 2 to 30 minutes). The majority of affected dogs were related.
Conclusions: Paroxysmal dyskinesia segregates in an extended pedigree of Norwich terrier dogs and thus is potentially an inherited disorder in this breed.” [De Risio L., Forman O.P., Mellersh C.S. and Freeman J. (2016), Paroxysmal Dyskinesia in Norwich Terrier Dogs. Movmnt Disords Clncl Practice, 3:573-579. Doi:10.1002/mdc3.12334.]

For the first time ever, this recently published study by Dr. Luisa De Risio and her coinvestigators offers us a classification of the disorder by calling it Paroxysmal Dyskinesia and confirms a genetic component suspicion.

2. Labrador study at University of Minnesota

A study at Canine Genetics Lab at University of Minnesota might be helpful to us in understanding what Paroxysmal Dyskinesia is. After 20 years of compiling medical records for Labrador Retrievers and Retriever/ Poodle crosses diagnosed with idiopathic epilepsy, the researchers have recognized that a significant proportion of Labrador retrievers present with atypical events where the dogs remain conscious and the seizure is focal movement rather than convulsions. They labelled them Paroxysmal Dyskinesia or Atypical Seizure Disorder.

“Some Labradors with these atypical seizures simply stagger and look dazed or confused for a few seconds or minutes and then recover, without ever falling over. Others have a 2 to 5 minute episode (occasionally longer) where they appear anxious and are unable to stand erect and walk but they will attempt to crawl to their desired location. Some dogs will experience either uncontrollable trembling or increased muscle tone during an episode and a few simply develop a head tremor or trembling while they remain abnormally quiet and recumbent. Affected dogs maintain consciousness and appear to be visual, able to recognize their owners […] Affected dogs are normal between these episodes which occur suddenly, without warning. Systemic evaluation for metabolic, neoplastic and infectious causes of seizures is negative and repeated toxin exposure is unlikely. Related dogs may be similarly affected.” 

Where it gets really interesting is the data on the efficacy of various treatment protocols and the progression of the disease over time. Those two factors favor the nomenclature of Atypical Seizure Disorder.

“In support of this Labrador disorder being a seizure disorder, we have determined that many affected dogs will have a dramatic decrease in their episode frequency when treated with chronic oral anticonvulsant therapy and some affected dogs also develop more classical generalized tonic-clonic seizures later in life.” [study’s webpage]

3. Reports on successful treatment protocols and seizure presentation in a voluntary data submission by owners of affected Norwich Terriers in America

After publication of the British paper, which was based on owner reports, I embarked on a similar, much smaller scale project of my own. I asked owners of affected Norwich Terriers in America to voluntarily submit a list of treatments and their efficacy as perceived by the dog’s owner. I made my request on two online yahoo groups for Norwich owners with combined membership of 972 dog owners. I received 26 responses from the owners of affected dogs, three of them being from owners of dogs known to be Norwich Terrier mixes. Some respondents answered my question about treatment protocol used, while others supplemented that information with extensive descriptions of the seizure history, videos and pedigrees.

The affected dogs whose pedigrees were sent to me (unsolicited) all showed common ancestry. The most common type of seizure reported was a movement seizure with the dog remaining conscious, however there were 4 dogs reporting seizures that involved the whole body, eye rolling, bowel movement and loss of consciousness. One of those dogs was a Norwich mix with a Cairn Terrier confirmed through a Wisdom Panel test, a DNA test showing breed genome.

The treatments varied from diet change to anticonvulsants. Diet change involved either refraining from certain kind of protein, or protein rotation between single-protein foods. 14 dogs responded to Vitamin E and Selenium supplements. The regime varied greatly from the lowest dose being Vitamin E, 50 units and Selenium, 12.5mcg every 4 days to a protocol of Vitamin E 400 units twice daily and Selenium 50 mg twice daily. All owners noticed a reduction in seizure frequency and sometimes in severity as well. All owners used a limited protein diet or protein rotation alongside the vitamin/ mineral protocol. One owner was giving her dog a high dose of Vitamin E only and noticed a reduction in episodes before learning of Selenium being a part of the protocol as well.

Treatments with anticonvulsant drugs included Phenobarbital and Bromide, Levetiracetam, Valproic acid and Zonisamide. The drug reported by the dogs’ owners as having most notable decrease in seizure severity and frequency was Zonisamide. Dogs with a movement seizure (twitching, stiffening, wobbly walk or paddling while the dog remains conscious) responded well to anticonvulsants, as did the dogs with a more severe presentation of seizures, including consciousness loss. This is very important information because it confirms epilepsy as an underlying pathology.

Therefore, we might be dealing with two seizure disorders, one being convulsive form of epilepsy with tonic-clonic seizures and the other one Atypical Seizure Disorder (Paroxysmal Dyskinesia). However, it is more probable that we are observing varying degrees of dogs being affected with the same Atypical Seizure Disorder, just as it is found in the Labrador Retriever, where some dogs with Atypical Seizure Disorder develop tonic-clonic seizures.

The time has come to put one thing to bed: inheritability. The disorder is genetic. I hope that we can move towards organizing a study of Atypical Seizure Disorder, shift our attention away from hoping that the idiopathic epilepsy studies will give us a DNA test, and concentrate on further study of the atypical characteristics of the seizure disorder in Norwich Terriers that puts it in the paroxysmal dyskinesia category. And finally, let’s stop breeding dogs with any concentration of affected ancestors in their pedigrees, or a cluster of ancestors that have been proven to carry the disease (as they may produce affected progeny).

Note: If you have a video illustrating a seizure episode in a Norwich Terrier and would like to share it in my blog I would be very grateful. Visual representation of various seizures would be most illustrative.

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Why We Need To Pay Attention To Calcium In Dog Diets


Dinner prep assistants in my kitchen (photo credit: Vanessa Andrews)

Dog Food Industry Is Revising Calcium Requirements

From Pet Industry blog post by David A. Dzanis, DVM, PhD, DACVN: “After eight years of deliberation and somewhat contentious debate, the revisions to the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) Dog and Cat Food Nutrient Profiles have almost made it through all the hoops. Assuming the recommendations of the expert panel (having now passed out of the Pet Food Committee and the Model Bills and Regulations Committee) are accepted by the board and approved by the full AAFCO membership at its annual meeting in August, the revised Profiles will appear in the 2016 AAFCO Official Publication”.

What is the change Dr. Dzanis is taking about? Minimum calcium requirements in dog food have been adjusted up. Before you panic about how badly your dog might be calcium deficient, let me remind you that there is a very wide range of quality in dog food. Chances are that readers of this blog are not using low grade pet food that barely meets the skimpy minimum requirements. Even as the current calcium profile is understood as inadequate, hopefully your dog’s food exceeds that failing minimum standard.

Still, there is a legitimate concern over snowballing effect on generations of dogs. Over the years, has the dog population fed commercial food been receiving inadequate calcium? And more to the point was the form of calcium used easily absorbed, or just passing through the dog? Wouldn’t bio-availability of calcium be something we also have standards for? Let’s take a look at the facts.

How Is Dog Food Industry Regulated?

Actually, it isn’t. Not the way you expect it to be, with legal regulations. In the USA, the only regulatory body for pet industry is voluntary and is formed by the industry itself. You heard it right. AAFCO is a voluntary member association of pet food industry. From AAFCO website: “AAFCO does not regulate, test, approve or certify pet foods in any way. AAFCO establishes the nutritional standards for complete and balanced pet foods, and it is the pet food company’s responsibility to formulate their products according to the appropriate AAFCO standard.” (emphasis by the author)

The pet food industry created an organization to set standards, to provide in their own words “a level playing field of orderly commerce for the animal feed industry”. Forming industry standards is not a bad thing, but having them be the only rules is bad. You can easily see the steepness and glistening of that slippery slope, where quality is destined to slide down under the weight of profit goals.

AFFCO voluntary industry standards are being perceived by the public as solidly fact based and enforceable. They are not. The nutritional profiles have been deficient (pun intended), and there is zero compliance enforcement. I am not even going to start discussing fillers and questionable ingredients. What is in your dog’s bag of kibble depends on the manufacturer’s voluntary honesty, while the nutritional value of the food is set to less than ideal requirements. Even with loosey-goosey accountability , AFFCO felt compelled to revise the calcium minimum.

How important is calcium anyway?

Calcium Is A Big Deal


Truman (Dignpop True Gentleman), a pup fed fresh balanced diet

You know about the bones, the teeth, the nails, the whole skeletal thing. If you are a breeder you know about calcium’s role in pregnancy and whelping. But did you realize there is no heartbeat without calcium? Muscles cannot contract without it, cells cannot communicate, blood cannot clot, nerves cannot function. Indeed, calcium is a big deal and keeping its levels within optimum range affects the functioning of the entire tail wagging engine.

When the only organization that establishes pet food standards  revises calcium requirements, which they set among friends,  we’d better pay attention. Those of us who prepare our dogs’ meals need to pay attention as well.  Were we told our dogs need less calcium than they really do? The simple answer is yes.

I am not the type to be attracted to conspiracy theories, and I certainly do not want to create one. But I am asking myself whether inadequate calcium intake has been at least partially responsible for higher rates of difficult whelping (especially uterine inertia), rampant dental disease  and increase in skeletal issues in dogs. Of course we have a stronger culture of seeking  specialist veterinary care for our dogs’ illnesses than decades ago, and so we have more reported cases of various diseases that could be linked to chronic calcium deficiency. Still, even if you take that cultural shift into account, there is an exploding number of cases of skeletal, dental  and whelping problems. The trend is eerily coinciding with the switch to commercially prepared dog food in the last decades. Food that over years might have been shortchanging our dogs on calcium, among other things.

Calcium and Phosphorous – The Perfect Match

Before you rush to buy calcium supplements, consider this. Too much calcium is as dangerous as too little. Kidney stones, heart problems, hip dysplasia, you don’t want to go there.

What your dog needs is the sufficient calcium intake and the perfect balance of calcium and phosphorous (C:P). The perfect ratio of those two minerals regulates the absorption of calcium. Guess what? The perfect C:P ratio is the one found in diet with animal bones, animal cartilage, egg shells, whole small animals, in other words calcium sources our dogs evolved on. What the food industry is learning from research is that calcium derived from sources foreign to natural dog diets throw the calcium/ phosphorous balance off. It is not enough to provide calcium to our dogs but to provide the right, bio-available calcium source that includes phosphorous.

When comparing foods, or calcium supplements, do not look just for calcium content. Look for both calcium and phosphorous, and their ideal ratio of 1.2 calcium to 1 phosphorous in the overall diet, or close to it. For example, Bone Meal has that ideal mineral pairing. Beware of heavy metals in Bone Meal though, and look for products tested for lead and other heavy metals.

I should add a disclaimer that the ideal C:P ratio is slightly different for puppies and aging dogs, but for the purpose of this article I am talking about an adult dog’s nutritional needs)


Typical dog meal I prepare includes cartilage, ground egg shells and is supplemented with Bone Meal

Natural Calcium Sources

I had mentioned in my earlier articles Dr.Pitcairn’s Healthy Powder, as my supplement of choice. One of the ingredients is calcium derived from ground egg shells, a wonderful source of C:P perfect dance. Raw meaty bones, chicken necks, whole fish, are other examples of a match made in heaven for C:P balance in canine nutrition.

Milk products have also both calcium and phosphorous but cow’s milk products are less ideal for another reason. In their book Canine Nutrogenomics – The New Science Of Feeding Your Dog For Optimum Health,  the authors Dr. Jean Dodds and Diana Laverdure warn against protein in cow’s milk, beta-casein A1, which some dogs do not tolerate. Instead, use goat’s milk and goat’s milk products.

Incidentally, an NIH study published in September 2015  (Sebely Pal et al) also linked cow milk intolerance in people to A1 beta-casein, widening our understanding of cow’s milk intolerance syndrome in addition to the usual suspect – lactose.

I believe that optimum nutrition is paramount, which means constant learning and improving my dog food prep skills. And who knows, maybe the fact that my girls consistently have smooth natural births in a breed plagued with uterine inertia is in some part connected to my obsession with proper nutrition. In this case calcium that is absorbed and utilized in the body. “Bio-available” is the word of the day.


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Early Scent Introduction

DSC_7328I got an interesting question from a prospective puppy buyer. Do I use Early Scent Introduction (ESI) protocol with my litters? I never have but heard lots about it and am truly excited to experiment with it.

ESI was developed by Gayle Watkins, a long time breeder of Golden Retrievers and co-founder of Avidog, a breeder education forum. The long term results of ESI were studied in a 7-year breeding test. Success of puppies trained in ESI compared to a control group was remarkable! In their adult life they achieved scenting titles much earlier ( years earlier!), accumulated more titles overall and their abilities were more complex. ESI has since been used widely by breeder enthusiasts involved in scenting disciplines and the protocol has been endorsed by the American Kennel Club.

ESI is used in conjunction with Early Neurological Stimulation (ENS), a protocol I described in detail in my earlier post from last year. I have been using ENS for years, ever since my very first litter. However, this is my first litter trained with Early Scent Introduction concurrently with Early Neurological Stimulation.

A puppy is introduced to a stimulus of a strong smell for about 5 seconds. The puppy is unrestrained and allowed to move freely. Its reaction is recorded as neutral, positive or negative.

The photos above show a clear positive response to a fresh basil leaf. This was the first time (day 4 of the exercise) when I recorded a response in all puppies of this litter and it was unmistakable. Watson reacted to the scent here by moving closer and sniffing it.

Meanwhile, Hudson clearly showed a negative reaction to the basil leaf.

DSC_7421 (2)DSC_7422 (2)DSC_7423 (2)

What was thrilling that day was that the reactions were apparent. The first 2 days of the ESI the puppies showed no response at all, marked as neutral response in the records. On day 3 Holmes responded positive to a flowering cherry branch, while his siblings remained neutral.

So far the puppies have been introduced to the following scents:

Day 1 (day 5 of life) pine needles           all neutral

Day 2 (day 6 of life) orange peel            all neutral

Day 3 (day 7 of life) cherry blossoms    Homes positive, Watson and Hudson neutral

Day 4 (day 8 of life) fresh basil leaf       Holmes and Watson positive, Hudson negative

Day 5 (day 9 of life) garlic                          all negative

Day 6 (day 10 of life) rich dirt                   all positive (very positive!) – TERRIERS!!!

Day 7 (day 11 of life) rat bedding              all positive (very positive, including the dam!) –                                                                                      TERRIERS, TERRIERS, TERRIERS!!!

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All three puppies were  very interested in rat bedding (photos above). You see my hand in one photo as I was spotting Watson not to fall off the blanket stretchered across on my lap when racing to the rat bedding. Can you tell they are terriers?

So is ESI intended for dogs that are going to have careers in tracking or hunting? No, this is for any puppy! The idea behind these exercises is to stimulate the areas of the brain primed for development spurt.

Canines perceive the world predominantly by scent and scent memory. Our human perception of the world around us is predominantly visual. Very much the way we introduce mobiles in our babies’ cribs to stimulate their development, strong scents offered to puppies in neonatal period stimulate their brains and form neural connections for scent memories.

But hey, priming these pups for future success in tracking, barn hunt and earthdog will be a lovely bonus.

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Hip Dysplasia: Can a Shape and Surface of Whelping Box Prevent It?

Hip Dysplasia – Nature/Nurture Side of Things

Hip dysplasia is one of those conditions that all dog breeders are very well aware of and have been making considerable efforts to eliminate. Almost every breed’s parent club recommends screening breeding stock for hip dysplasia. HD is the reason why Orthopedic Foundation For Animals (OFA) was founded.

However, with all the effort that went into monitoring the inheritance of the disease, with incredible accumulation of data spanning over 50 years, the consensus is now emerging that the causes of  hip dysplasia are only about 20% genetic and 80% environmental. You can mate two parents with excellent hips and get dysplastic offspring, or mate two dysplastic parents and get pups with normal hips. Some scientists go as far as to say that hip dysplasia is predominantly a bio-mechanical process, with genes playing a very limited part.

Theories that describe HD as mostly a bio-mechanical condition point to the fact that HD affects breeds with higher ratio of weight to height, and secondly that research has shown overweight individuals within the same breed to be twice as likely to develop the condition.

OFA data lists Bulldog and Pug as the two most affected breeds and Italian Greyhound and Whippet as least affected. Talk about compact weight juxtaposed to light, lean body!

In a study that compared Lab puppies on restricted diet to those on control diet, the results were striking  (Vanden Berg-Foels et al 2006). By the age of 6 years puppies fed a restricted diet had 40% less evidence of HD than the controls, with heaviest dogs affected the most.

Chubby puppies are very cute, however their risk of developing orthopedic problems is almost twice as big (pun intended) as for lean puppies. But before you measure out perfectly controlled portions of food for little gremlins you can do something else to reduce environmental risk for hip dysplasia.

The Whelping Box and HD?

Indeed, there might be another environmental factor we are overlooking- the whelping box! When you have a chance to watch some videos of wild canines, you will notice how the den is shaped like a bowl. Its surface is compact dirt. When the pups are nursing they have great traction under their feet. They do not use knees and bellies to crawl as much as pups in a flat whelping box are forced to do. The concave shape informs blind and deaf newborns where “up” and “down” is, and they all pile at the bottom of the den, forming a thermally efficient little gathering.

What is remarkable about the differences between a natural den and a man-made whelping box is that it just may explain why all puppies are born with normal hips and develop dysplasia afterwards, and why wild canines do not suffer from hip dysplasia. Does the damage happen sometime after birth in a man-made environment?

In multiple studies puppies were shown to have normal hips at birth and show signs of laxity in hip joint by the age of 2 weeks (the head of the femur does not fit tightly into the acetabulum). Joint laxity is a key risk factor for developing hip dysplasia. So what happens in those 2 weeks? Now if you look at newborn puppies nursing in a whelping box you will see feet flaring about looking for traction, or puppies putting their weight on knees and hips. Both over-flexing the legs and putting weight directly on knees and hips put undue stress on the hip joint and can result in luxating that joint.

Can some easy adjustments to a whelping box make a difference? Here is a simple experiment I did. The first photo shows my litter nursing in a flat whelping box lined with a Sherpa blanket. The next photo was taken after I put a rug pad under the blanket. The pad changed the traction on the bottom of the whelping box. Notice how the weight distribution changed from knees and hips to feet.



Again, same two images side by side. I could not believe the difference!

To go a step further in creating traction I put a rug pad over the blankets and all of a sudden the puppies no longer looked like cute blobs we are used to seeing but more like their wild cousins, lifting weight up on all their limbs.

Hudson on rug pad

I also videotaped the result in how the puppies moved. Watch this video here.

Are we on to something here? After sharing this experiment with friends on facebook I got some great tips on the surfaces with traction. One can buy Sherpa pads with rubberized backing! Who knew? Or use a bathroom rug that has rubber grips on the bottom.

I am also experimenting with creating a concave den. For now I’m using my whelping box. I have padded the outer rim with towels and once I got the shape curved inwards from all directions I laid a rug pad and then a Sherpa blanket over it.

Here is what my typical whelping box environment looked like prior to this experiment.



And here are the same puppies after I made the concave den for them.DSC_7343

I believe that a den curved inwards, with surface that has good traction might be a very good idea. I am going to design something more permanent than a pile of towels for my next litter, but I think that this trio likes their new makeshift nest.

Posted in Hip Dysplasia, Puppy rearing, whelping box | 92 Comments

The Right Home for A Puppy is EVERYTHING

After a few months long hiatus from writing this blog I am sitting again at a whelping box hovering over newborns and receiving many requests to document this new litter. I am going to do that, especially as I am adding some new protocols and polishing the old ones. However, before I can embark on that journey I feel that I need to put my work in perspective.

This is a shout out to a loving dog owner!

A puppy spends a very short time at a breeder’s place. Most of the dog’s life will be shaped elsewhere. Yes, science tells us that the early weeks of life have life-long effects, making the breeder’s influence disproportional  to the time spent with the puppy. Still the point remains that majority of the dog’s life is shaped by its owners.

There is a distinction between a predisposition/ temperament and character. A character is a result of the interplay between the puppy’s temperament and its environment. The environment being in the most part the dog’s owners, because they shape every minute of the dog’s life. No matter its inborn predispositions, the character of a dog left alone for long hours each day and interacted with as an afterthought will be markedly different than a character of a dog that has a clearly spelled out role in the family and whose emotional as well as physical needs are considered daily.

One of the most difficult and yet one of the most rewarding aspects of breeder’s work is choosing the right family for each pup. Puppy buyers have different ideas on what their day to day life with a dog will be. They have different emotional expectations that will affect how they raise their dog. And the dog’s entire life will be doomed, blessed, or fall somewhere in between. No reprieve. A choice of the right puppy buyer is everything.

There is no overstating the gratitude that great dog owners deserve. I would go as far as to say that a successful breeding program relies on collaboration with wonderful owners. I cannot say enough about the caring, loving effort that buyers of my puppies have shown. I feel deep gratitude for knowing that all the pups I brought into this world have full, emotionally rich lives.

I thank each and every one of you with a Dignpop dog! I think of you as my extended family and I love you! So many of you became close friends sharing other aspects of our lives in addition to our shared passion for dogs. Each owner of a puppy that was born at Dignpop kennel has been a stellar example of a great owner.  You bring out the best in canine-human relationship and are a shining example for others. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

I do my best to give the puppies a great start. Where they end up is a credit to their owners.

For those who have followed my last year’s litter featured in this blog here is an update on the lives of those four boys. Their lives are fabulous, because they have wonderful owners.

Rolo (formerly Nugget)







They say a picture is worth a thousand words.

Photos and updates of Rolo’s life are always depicting fun: learning, exploring, playing. Rolo is being trained for an agility career to follow in the footsteps of Ace, the other Norwich in the family.

He is IMG_0412also attending an obedience class and already skipped ahead a level. I always feel so pumped up with pride when I hear how easily Rolo learns, how enthusiastic he is to try new things.

I can’t say which of Rolo’s photos are my favorite because I love them all, but probably if I was to use one photo to show confidence in a young pup it would be this one. It is showing a 7 months old Rolo holding a fabulous sit-stay next to a giant blow up dog, in a place new to him. This was taken at Eukanuba national in December.

A little pup looking confident and poised while holding a stay, with the whole big world round him!

Such a visual metaphor for where he is headed. Watch out the world!

Digby (formerly Banzo)

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The red pup we called Banzo, our Garbanzo Bean, a poster pup for cuteness, was renamed as Digby.

Digby moved to picturesque Alberta in Canada, where he enjoys a charmed life. All the descriptions of his adventures bring to life the confident pup I knew him to be through and through from the beginning.

His owners reported on Digby’s successes in puppy kindergarten classes,  Puppy Obedience and Intermediate. I’m told he passed each course with flying colors and is now attending Advanced Obedience classes. unnamed

These are such thrilling news for a breeder.  I love receiving colorful stories about his friendly interaction with all humans and animals he meets.

In his spare time Digby’s hobbies include greeting everyone he sees, finding every sunny spot to claim as his own, digging in his very own sandbox (yes, you heard me!) and helping with house chores, especially laundry.

I smile every time I get an email from Digby’s owners in anticipation of joy that reading of it is sure to bring.



Derby is my buddy. He goes to work with me and is my constant companion.

We are playing with some puppy steps in dog sports. Derby in the office1Derby has been learning some basic obedience, without a formal class yet, and we have started nosework. We took one outdoor nosework class together in the fall and trained at home in the winter. I also plan to show Derby in conformation in a little while.

Occasionally, while in the office with me Derby takes his work duties  a bit too seriously as architectural critic…

He brightens my every day.

Pete (formerly Primo)




Pete went to live with his dam’s breeder in Michigan, with a show and stud career planned for him.

I am told that he is the sunshine personality I saw in him as a pup. He loves everyone and is unfazed by anything, the consummate optimist.

Pete is lucky to train for a show ring with  junior handlers. He is crazy for his young trainers.

He will debut in the show ring later in the summer, probably about the same time when Derby will be ready to take his first steps in the show ring.


A little post scriptum story about the name Digby

This is the third pup born here that was named Digby. The first one was named so by me and registered as Dignpop Digby. The “original” Digby is owned by a lovely couple of dog sport enthusiasts from Virginia. Their Digby has accumulated a super impressive list of advanced performance titles in three dog sport disciplines in his 8 years of life. His name now reads Dignpop Digby CD BN RE MX AXJ NF. The letters after the name stand for titles in Rally, Agility and Obedience. Imagine the dedication of his fabulous owners.

The “second” Digby was named by me Big B. His registered name is Dignpop Big Bang. His owner renamed him to a similar sounding name Digby. Because it was a second Digby from Dignpop, she calls him Dig for short. Again, this Digby was born under the lucky stars. Dig is only 3 years old and is walking in the footsteps of the “original” Digby. So far, although still very young he is already Dignpop Big Bang BN RA. BN is an obedience title and RA is Rally Advanced, his second title in Rally (more advanced titles replace the lower ones in the official title used after the registered name).

When Banzo’s owners told me that they loved the name Digby and would want to rename their pup I told them he will have a lot to live up to. And guess what? They had already planned to train him in Obedience! 

To distinguish between the three Digby boys when my husband and I refer to them we say “Digby”, “Dig” and “Digby-eh” (our Canadian Digby).



Posted in Puppy rearing | 2 Comments

2015 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,800 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 6 trips to carry that many people.

Dear Readers,

Thank you very much for taking this journey with me! Wishing you and your human and canine family members good health and much happiness in 2016!

Hugs to All,

Magda Chiarella

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Montgomery And Trading Oranges

Every year terrier fanciers flock to their most important show of the year: Montgomery. Right now, as I type these words people all over America and in other parts of the world are packing their bags as they prepare to make their pilgrimage to Montgomery next week.

I just came upon an old article I wrote years ago describing a memory of my very first time at this most prestigious terrier event. At the time my husband and I were looking for a family pet and I really, really wanted a Norwich or a Norfolk Terrier. This is admittedly an old memory, but honestly the spirit of Montgomery has not changed a bit.


Convincing my husband Michael that a little terrier was the perfect dog for us was a piece of cake.  I wore him out with just a second dozen of arguments. To take care of any residual resistance I dragged him to the biggest terrier show: Montgomery County Kennel Club dog show.  Think “terrier Mecca”.

Montgomery 002 Montgomery 017

I was expecting Snobville.  What I found was nothing short of extraordinary. It was like a trip into a different dimension in the universe, a day in a foreign country without having to cross any geographical borders. I was always aware of the existence of dog show world, with its die-hard breed fanciers, intense competitiveness and what I disparagingly perceived as “froo-froo” culture.  My idea of it had as much to do with its reality, as do Guinea pigs with Guinea, or with pigs for that matter.

There were white tents, and show rings, stretching as far as an eye could see, with thousands of people and gorgeous dogs milling around.  There were rows of fine vendors, smiles and nods, clinking of real china and glasses in a lunch tent, set up for a sit-down meal on white linens, the atmosphere of festivity and gentility at the same time.  Michael and I had an unmistakable look of the outsiders, tourists gawking at a foreign spectacle.  Our casual, non-dog-show clothing stood in contrast to Barbour coats, suits and ties, plaid jackets and skirts, ladies’ hats, hand-made leather boots, and the ultimate in dog show essentials: dog motif jewelry. You could tell a person’s association with a given terrier breed, either by the obvious fact that there was a certain terrier at the end of a show lead they were holding, or by looking at their tie pins, brooches, pendants, rings, earrings, or embroidered towels, director’s chairs, hand painted bags, purses, umbrellas, grooming bags, etc.  Ad nauseum!

The interesting thing was that although some of it was tacky individually, collectively it was not.  There was certain Gaudi-esque opulence in everything screaming a terrier theme, but somehow it all went together and belonged.  In a funny way it was like finding Barcelona in a British countryside. It was lovely. The air was crisp, the sky blue.  You could see the first touch of red in leaves of maple trees, a prelude to a symphony of color the North East is famous for.

I did not know at the time that Montgomery County Kennel Club’s show was the most prestigious terrier event of the year in North America.  While standing in line to buy a show catalog, I exchanged some pleasantries with a man speaking with an Australian accent.   “What is bringing you to the USA?” I asked. He looked at me with dismay and answered “Montgomery”.

But of course! Forget the televised all-breed shows.  Montgomery is the real McCoy for a terrier fancier.  It stands in stark contrast to the glitz indoor shows, piped to TV sets in living rooms of bored house-wives, with breaks for commercials in order to sell cars and diarrhea pills. Montgomery is held on the real grass, under a real, often leaky October sky, with no camera crews pressuring for fake smiles. At Montgomery you will meet many terriers that will be chasing rodents, or digging holes in their owners’ back yards when the show is over.  This is a display of a wide and authentic cross-section of each terrier breed recognized by the American Kennel Club.

My head was spinning as I was trying to understand the rules of AKC championship shows. It is all quite democratic, fair to a fault.  Fault being a complicated set of laws aiming at leveling the playing field, especially a point system for becoming a champion, which takes into consideration even differences in popularity of each breed per geographic area. Huh?  These are not rules you glance at, and instantly understand.  But what a spirit of good sportsmanship! What seriousness applied to a sport of walking a dog on a lead around a ring! Oh, yes. Show dogs have leads.  Pets have leashes.  Speaking of vocabulary, where else can you say That’s a pretty little bitch”, as if you were describing a flower in your mother’s garden?

Montgomery County Kennel Club show is held yearly, usually first Sunday in October, in Eastern PA, a short drive North-West of Philadelphia.  The kennel club hosting the famous show started as a small group of dog fanciers.  The first shows were so intimate they were held at places like a country inn, a fire house, and a small hotel.   There have been over 80 years of this, now famous, terrier extravaganza. The first Montgomery of 1929 must have been a howling success. The club put on the show every year after that, with the only event able to put it on hold being World War II.  It is pretty much permanently attached to a first Sunday of each October, with the exception of one lonely Wednesday show, and only a handful of years when it was scheduled for the 2nd Sunday.  Just to keep its fans on their toes; true terrier style.

When the shows grew a bit in popularity, and outgrew the first couple of venues, they moved to a farm, and later an estate, of one of its members, G. Harrison Frazer, Jr. They were still very personal and cozy in scale.  The Fraziers are credited with the atmosphere of Eastern Pennsylvania country estate hospitality, which Montgomery miraculously retained in spite of its ballooning scale.

When my husband and I were absorbing its magic for the first time, the show was held at a campus of Temple University in its 20-something year at that location.  Less than ten years later, due to its forever growing popularity, and increasing difficulties with parking space, the show was moved to the grounds of Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania.  As big and prestigious as the show is, it is still by and large a terrier fancier secret. Shhhh….

Contrary to my initial misconceptions, the show is so much more than a canine beauty pageant. The essence of Montgomery is a gathering of people, who genuinely and deeply care for their terriers; people whose lives are defined to a great extent by a hobby of breeding them; people whose main focus is to preserve and improve their beloved breeds. Sure, there is judging, and winning, and trophies; big and bigger egos. But first and foremost, it is a breeder’s showcase.  Most people come to Montgomery not so much to win a ribbon, but to show off their dogs to other breeders, to see other dogs, to catch up on the whereabouts of old friends, and to bore all the outsiders with fine points of the game.  I know it will sound plain, but the show is really about terriers. A win at Montgomery is an icing on a very sumptuous cake.

It was easy to see a genuine affection dogs were showered with. Most of the terriers visibly enjoyed the excitement of seeing the crowd of people and dogs, of spending a day with their humans, of getting attention from others.

I was so enchanted, that if anyone was to predict I was never to skip a single Montgomery from that day on, I would have not batted an eye.  I instantly absorbed its magnetic appeal.

IMG_2052It was an unforgettable experience in no small part because that was where we met Norwich and Norfolk terriers in flesh for the very first time.  On your first encounter Norwich Terriers can be noisy, hyper and scream for your attention with all they’ve got.  They will wiggle, “talk” to you, jump up and run circles and, if only given a chance, shower you with doggy kisses.  What is there not to like?  I will tell you what – lots of that every day, every time you were absent, no matter for how a ridiculously brief moment.  You have to be a person who would enjoy that.  Of course I missed all the warning signs.  I was hooked.

I knew that if I was to be successful in getting the little scruffy dog I had to make some concessions.  I decided I would be happy with either a Norwich or a Norfolk terrier; boy or girl; red, grizzle or black and tan.  Michael was still mentioning a bigger dog, and when speaking of terriers he was gravitating dangerously too close to an Australian terrier ring. I had to hustle. Now I had the little dog under my skin.  It was burning me with unyielding desire.

At Montgomery we made contacts with breeders, who were all pleasant and generous with their time. We petted many terriers, and returned home with a strong resolve. Mine was to convince some breeder to entrust me with a Norfolk or a Norwich Terrier, Michael’s was to find an Australian Terrier puppy for us.

After a letter and e-mail writing campaign, and a couple of strong endorsements from friends involved in dog breeding and dog rescue, I finally got in touch with a Norwich breeder willing to sell me a dog.  I was getting a male puppy.  I was warned that he was exceedingly shy.  To the breeder, my interest in getting involved with dog sports seemed like a good match for the puppy that needed to be coaxed out of his shell. In my own thoughts, my interest in having a high drive puppy became instantly secondary to euphoria of being promised any Norwich at all.

I swallowed hard when I heard the price.  In my mind I quickly translated the cost of owning a Norwich Terrier into a 5-day Caribbean vacation for two.  It was also equivalent to two thousand pounds of Navel oranges, or the 52-piece fine China dinnerware, which for weeks I had been window shopping for. I stuck with the oranges in my mind.  Who needs two thousand pounds of oranges?  I was going to be perfectly fine without the ridiculous amount of citrus.

baby Biskit

baby Biskit – my first Norwich Terrier

It was a trade I never regretted.

Post Scriptum in photos:


A win at Montgomery is a huge thrill to a terrier fancier. This is Dash, my home-bred Winners Dog at Montgomery, expertly shown by Lori Pelletier in 2008.


A friend snapped this photo of me while I was showing Holly in a bred-by class at Montgomery, probably in 2006. The absolutely biggest joy is showing a dog that enjoys being shown.

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