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.

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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.

Posted in Early Scent Introduction, Puppy rearing | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

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 | 128 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 WordPress.com 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.

Posted in Dog Shows | Tagged , | 1 Comment

What Might Surprise You About Vaccines

I’m overhearing a conversation while in the waiting room at a vet’s office.

“Spot is going to a boarding kennel tomorrow and they require his yearly shots to be up-to-date. Oh, and a kennel cough vaccine” says a dog owner while looking at her cell phone, clearly in a rush.

The receptionist is responding with an explanation that this vet practice requires a vaccine visit 2 weeks before a planned boarding of a dog.

”What’s the difference? He’s here now,” says Spot’s owner, her voice betraying annoyance.

In my mind I chalk her ignorance up to a superficial interest in her dog’s well-being. Bringing the dog to a vet is just one of the things to check off on her to-do-list before she goes away, and vaccinating just a boarding kennel requirement. How the vaccines work is not even remotely on her mind. Request for multiple vaccinations, repeated yearly, shots given right before boarding a dog in the kennel; all this spells lack of knowledge.

When I get home I forget all about Spot’s owner but I just happen to read a post in an online breeder forum that brings that memory back. I am surprised with the connection. A breeder who is taking a great pride in properly socializing her puppies is bragging about an enriched environment she created for her pups, with various surfaces to walk over, a home-made mobile, a wobbly board. Here is a person who cares and invests energy into her dogs. She shares photos of the setup – in a spacious exercise pen outdoors, and adds that she just vaccinated her 6-week old puppies the day before so that they could enjoy the outdoor playground.

Time out! As a breeder, you should know how vaccinations work.

How Vaccine Works

Merriam-Webster defines vaccine as “a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms that is administered to produce or artificially increase immunity to a particular disease”. In plain English, vaccine is used to stimulate the production of antibodies.  Those antibodies will provide immunity against a disease, an injected substance will not work on its own. Vaccine is not a magic potion instantly protecting against disease.


When you are injecting a vaccine into your dog’s body, you are injecting a substance that needs time to stimulate your dog’s immune system to start producing antibodies. Depending on the kind of vaccine and on the dog’s immunity this process can take from 1 to 3 weeks. For example, when you travel to Europe with your dog you will be required a rabies vaccine administered at least 3 weeks prior to entering EU. Those 3 weeks reflect the time needed to develop antibodies to a rabies vaccine.


Let us not forget that a vaccine is “a preparation of killed microorganisms, living attenuated organisms, or living fully virulent organisms”. That’s some scary sounding stuff. Actually, the body perceives it as such and goes to battle against it. The process we intend to cause, namely production of antibodies, means taxing the body with an event simulating a disease. Following the injection of a vaccine an immune system is going through a process similar to having a disease. A lot of energy is devoted to the production of white blood cells, which creates a temporary deficiency in immune system’s ability to respond to something else. This is not the time to bring your dog to a dog show, or a boarding kennel, or a young pup to physically stressful or pathogen rich environment. Both Spot’s owner and the loving breeder who set up a wonderful playground for her very young pups outdoors were oblivious to those facts.

Vaccine Protocols

A lot of discussion surrounds various vaccination protocols for dogs as if they were solid rules to be picked between. Not enough discussion illuminates the process of acquiring immunity against a disease. Understanding the process would help breeders and dog owners to make informed decisions about when to vaccinate and with what vaccines (in other words which protocol is best suited for their dog). There is really no “one size fits all” answer when it comes to something as individual as an organism producing disease fighting cells. Just think about it. There are no two identical dogs in this world. It comes to reason that the way they build immunity will be very individualized.

American Veterinary Medical Association has two protocols for vaccinating puppies. One is for puppies of “unknown history”, the other for a healthy pup with known origins. This distinction reflects the fact that vaccination is a process, with one of its components being the immune system of the puppy and its mother.

When the American Animal Hospital Association formed a task force to review the most current scientific data on vaccinations and to develop vaccine guidelines for veterinarians, its chairperson Dr. Michael Paul had this to say at the conclusion of the committee’s work: “The guidelines should not be construed as dictating an exclusive protocol, course of treatment, or procedure. They serve as a guide for developing vaccine schedules for individual patients”.

One of the foremost authorities on the process of acquiring immunity to disease through vaccination is Dr.Jean Dodds, founder of Hemopet, an animal blood bank and specialty diagnostic laboratory (as well as a retired racing greyhound rescue). Dr.Dodds’ vaccination protocols are often favored by breeders.

To make an informed decision about which protocol to choose for your dog, let us look at a few key facts.

Puppy Vaccination

One of the most misunderstood facts about puppy shots is why we vaccinate puppies two or three times, and what factors influence the optimum time to administer those shots.

The answer is the strength of puppy’s dam’s immune system and receiving colostrum after birth.


Right after birth a puppy nurses on so called “first milk”, or colostrum. I like saying that it is a true toast to health, as colostrum contains all the mother dog’s antibodies for diseases. A newborn’s stomach wall is porous to allow for his dam’s antibodies to pass through its holes directly into the bloodstream. We now know that this “window of opportunity” is open for only a few hours after birth. The stomach wall closes as early as 6 hours after birth.

Antibodies are large proteins. If ingested even next day, they will not make it into the puppy’s bloodstream. If the puppy is able to nurse on colostrum after birth, he is receiving what is called Maternal Derived Antibodies. MDAs will be protecting him for up to 14 weeks from the diseases his mother is immune to. What is more, it will protect him against even killed viruses, you know, the thing we call vaccines. So in order for a puppy vaccine to work, meaning stimulate the production of antibodies, MDAs cannot interfere.

Here is our first “if”. If the puppy received colostrum (nursed right after birth), he will most likely not be able to mount a response to a vaccine for at least 9 to 10 weeks, or even longer. MDAs will block the vaccine. Vaccinating such puppy at 6-8 weeks is almost certain to be too soon. If, on the other hand, the puppy did not receive colostrum, vaccinating at week 6-8 makes sense. What if the mother dog was not a healthy individual and did not have a strong immunity towards disease? That is another “if” we need to consider.

Every puppy vaccination protocol, whether it advocates three or two vaccines, whether it advocates the first shot to be administered at 6 weeks or 10 weeks of age, aims at delivering the vaccine (that killed or weakened nasty stuff) at the time when the body will start producing the antibodies. It is literally a guessing game when that is. The more is known about the puppy and its mother, the more informed that guess is.

I think the most common misconception is that a puppy needs more than one shot.  It doesn’t. All vaccine protocols were devised to cover the period when MDAs wear off so that one of the vaccines is sure to be administered at the right time. Once it works, a vaccine received afterwards is no longer useful. In other words when we vaccinate puppies two or three times it is only one vaccine that creates antibodies. Only one of them! We do two or three to hit the right time with one of them when MDAs are not so strong that the vaccine is interfered with, but not so weak that the puppy might be unprotected.

The protocol for shelter puppies with unknown origins comprises of 3 shots starting very early, at week 6, then at week 10-12 and then again at week 14-16.  The AAHA protocol of administering shots at 8 weeks/12 weeks/16 weeks is based on very broad averages of “reasonably healthy” puppies and their mothers.

Breeders, who know that their mother dogs are healthy, and their puppies nursed properly and received colostrum are best suited by Dr.Dodds protocol. She recommends vaccinating healthy puppies at week 9 and week 14. Only two vaccines. They cover the entire optimal period when MDAs from a healthy inoculated mother stop interfering with puppy vaccines and right before a puppy is unprotected.

What’s coming in the future is rather than trying to “hit” the right time blindly, we could first run a blood test (titer) on the puppy’s MDAs and then vaccinate when the numbers are in the optimum range with one vaccine. The technology exists, but availability of lab service and cost effectiveness is what is coming, when running a couple of titers would be less expensive than vaccinating more than once.

All puppy vaccine protocols agree on a booster at 1 year old. After that you can check the protection against disease by running titers every 3 years, as Dr. Dodds recommends, or vaccinate every 3 years as per the current AAHA guidelines. All recent studies confirm longevity of vaccine protection spanning as much as the dog’s lifetime, certainly lasting longer than a year. Annual vaccinations could become a thing of uninformed past.


Another important consideration is what vaccines to administer. Again, that depends. That is a conversation to have with your vet. A dog that will actively hunt might benefit from some non-core vaccines. For most pooches sharing our sheltered lives core vaccines are all they would need. Dr.Dodds recommends vaccinating only with Parvo and Distemper vaccines, without any additional components. For example Adenovirus has not been recorded in over 15 years in North America.


Rabies is a vaccine legally regulated by state laws. The law compliance overrides medical considerations, but when permitted puppies should be vaccinated no earlier than at 20 weeks old and again with boosters as required by state law. One important consideration for rabies is to use a vaccine that does not contain thimerosal (mercury), for example Merial IMRAB TF (TF stands for “thimerosal free”).

I doubt this article will ever reach Spot’s owner, but I hope that responsible breeders and concerned dog owners will choose optimum timing for vaccination that suits each individual dog and situation. There is an overwhelming proof that over-vaccination is harmful, but judicious vaccination saves lives. As with everything else, human knowledge has an expiration date, so please do check up on new research about vaccines periodically.


  • Parvovirus and Distemper at week 9 and at week 14 of life
  • Parvovirus and Distemper at 1 year old
  • Titers every 3 years afterwards
  • Rabies at 20 weeks or later, then boosters per local laws
  • Non-core vaccines as appropriate for the location and dog’s risk of exposure to disease
Posted in Dog Breeding, Puppy rearing, Vaccinations | Leave a comment

Losing a Puppy. A Heartache of Breeding.

A show dog breeder’s life is not glamorous, but it does evoke a response of “aww… puppies!” However, a breeder’s daily routines are more “eww…” than “aww…”

Everyone imagines the deliciousness of being surrounded by fluffy cuteness on comically unsteady legs. The real comical moments, though, are dosing off sitting upright and drooling into a whelping box after a few sleepless nights holding vigil over newborn puppies. Then, stepping into warm poop inside your favorite slippers at 4 AM because the mama dog also held a vigil over her babies and did not want to leave them to go potty outside, even as it would have been just a couple of steps to the doggy door, the grass, and back. Moments like that, or any number of their variations, are known to every breeder.

Breeders are experts at a “fill in the blank” game shared with other breeders. Stepping in (fill in the blank: poop, pee, vomit), finding a chewed up (fill in the blank: silk dress, iPhone, legal document), unending ( fill in the blank: potty break shifts, prevention of dog fights). You get the gist. It’s not all fluffy puppy cuteness.

However, we all take the “eww…” and “oh-no!” moments, even lots of them, in strides. They are worth the “aww…” moments.  Not only with puppies, but with our beloved adult dogs too. We love dogs. That is why we do what we do.

What is really hard, and I mean really, really hard is losing a puppy. No heap of dog vomit on my pillow has ever made me think of quitting. Losing a puppy does.

Losing Leelu

It took me two weeks of digesting the experience and grieving to be able to write about losing one of the newborn puppies.  I lost Leelu at day 10 of her life and it hurt so much I found it difficult to get back to covering that litter in the blog. However, I would be deceiving you if I wasn’t including the heartache part of dog breeding.

The litter was born a few days early. The most fragile, critical first few days were not without challenges but I seemed to manage all the little crises well. Moxie got a little hypocalcemic, then two of the puppies developed diarrhea, but I dealt with it and all seemed to be good. Then, one of the puppies, a little black and tan girl Leelu got colicky.


Colic is not uncommon in newborn puppies. It’s an awfully draining experience for all involved because the puppy is in pain and screaming. The puppy is miserable, the mother dog frantic, the breeder worried and suffering with the puppy.

Leelu was responding well to gentle belly massages and being held in a “colic hold”, clasping my hands around the puppy and holding it almost upright, with about 30 degrees tilt forward. The puppy’s chest rests in a palm, while the other hand supports the butt. Any gas pockets in the belly have room to move more freely. The puppy usually settles immediately. I was also giving Leelu tiniest drops of simethicone baby tincture. She was responding well and immediately, but the second I would put her back in the whelping box, she would cry again.

I suspected that she was not voiding properly, so I tried stimulating her to poop. Nothing was happening. The puppy was obviously constipated. I used warm water enema and Leelu started birthing little poop rocks. She seemed to feel much better after voiding. Now my concern was to keep her fed, hydrated and warm. Unfortunatley, Leelu would be OK for a little while and would start crying again. Holding her and helping her to poop helped every time, but not for long.


That went on and off the entire night, then during the day she was better. However, she was not nursing more than for a minute. While her siblings nursed vigorously Leelu would start and then fall off the nipple. I was torn whether I should be bringing her to my vet and risk exposure of a weak premature pup to pathogens.  I decided to play it by ear and not visit a vet yet.

Moxie sweetly cuddled the puppy and always made sure she was either trying to nurse or was kept warm. But Leelu was getting increasingly less interested in nursing, so I had to start supplementing mother’s milk.

Moxie cradling Leelu under her chin while Willa and Chester are nursing.

Moxie cradling Leelu under her chin while Willa and Chester are nursing.

Tube Feeding

Tube feeding is a common practice when a newborn puppy, for whatever reason, is not getting enough mother’s milk. The equipment used is a special sterile tube with small holes at its blunt edge, sized appropriately for a given puppy breed (I use size 5 French feeding tube for newborn Norwich pups).

DSC_6231First, the distance from the mouth to the stomach is measured and marked on the tube. The mark tells me whether the tube reached the stomach. Puppy formula, warmed to 100 degrees F, is drawn into a syringe. The puppy is put on a warm towel on a table, end of tube dipped in milk and then offered to the puppy. A hungry puppy starts swallowing the tube. First time breeders should always practice with someone experienced in tube feeding before attempting it, but it’s a relatively easy procedure. Once the mark is by puppy’s mouth, indicating the proper length of tube reached the stomach, you hold the tube and puppy’s head together with one hand and push the plunger of the syringe with the warm milk with the other hand. Once done, you just pull the tube out without any resistance, because the swallowing mechanism protects entry of objects only in one direction. You have to have the pup’s cooperation in swallowing the tube, getting the tube out takes a split second.

Tenuous Improvement

Leelu was tube fed for 3 days and nights and she was getting much better. She started nursing with vigor: kneading Moxie’s tit, nursing for a long time, having a good suction, finding another nipple fast when bumped off by a sibling. However, soon after she’d nurse she would start with colic and being constipated. Again, I switched to tube feeding round the clock.

By day 9 of life Leelu was gaining weight well and she was not colicky. However, she still had trouble with constipation. I was making sure she was hydrated and warm, adjusted the milk formula, but Leelu needed enemas to poop.  Every time I hoped to get her to poop by stimulation only, not much was happening. However, once she pooped she seemed well. Her temperature was normal and she appeared strong and content. I was hoping the worst was over and her voiding would improve soon as well.

At day 10 of her life, in the very early morning hours Leelu started crashing. She was weak, almost listless. I made the terrible mistake of tube feeding her. She threw up what I fed her less than a minute later. I knew instantly that she might have aspirated her vomit because she started to gasp for air. I grabbed her and brought her to my fabulous vet with years of experience with newborns. After examining Leelu, taking x-rays and an ultrasound Dr.B confirmed that Leelu had some liquid in one lung and that she was terribly constipated.  We decided together to end her suffering.

I did not find a conclusive answer to what caused Leelu’s digestive problems. She was severely constipated, but no deformities were found. Someone suggested that it could have been hydrocephaly, but my vet claims that although he did not examine Leelu’s brain, he would have seen hydrocephaly on x-rays. She also did not have any other symptoms of it.

Statistically, puppies born prematurely are ten times more likely to die before 2 weeks of age than puppies born full term. Their lungs and digestive tract are especially vulnerable, as they have to start functioning before being fully developed. I will never know for sure if there was anything else I could have done to save Leelu, and whether not tube feeding her on the morning when she was crashing would have avoided her demise. That question will haunt me.


The last photo I took of Leelu, when I thought she had turned around and was going to be OK.

A Toll Every Breeder Pays

After a few sleepless nights, punctuated with joy of recovery a sudden turn for the worse is an impossibly hard blow. For everyone enjoying their dog bred by a responsible breeder, please thank them every chance you get. The joy of having a healthy, well adjusted, well bred puppy comes at a great emotional toll. I hope to never lose the dedication to every life in my hands, and never to be calloused enough to shrug off a loss of a puppy, but the emotional toll it takes is really high. Every well bred dog had tons of love poured into her.

Hug your incredible puppy today.

Posted in Puppy rearing | Tagged , , | 17 Comments