In Memory of Gideon, Who Left Us Too Soon

“She…buried that old dog Gideon…”

 –Emmylou Harris, “Red Dirt Girl”

I said there were some changes I would have to report on, and we’ll start with the saddest one first.  Gideon, my friend M’s German Shepherd Dog, had to be put to sleep. He was only 8 years old, so unlike the song he was named after, he was not an old dog.   It’s a pretty sad story,  and it has a cautionary note, because of why he died.  Note to everyone:  be very, very careful about what kind of landscaping materials you use in your yard.

But let’s start with the happier things.  Gideon was a lovely dog, and he was born just 25 days earlier than Toby.  I picked up in Dallas from his breeder–she delivered him to the airport, and I carried him on the plane and brought him home.   He also went with us to pick up Toby from his breeder in Colorado, so they were puppies together, though true to form, Toby, at 7 weeks of age, took one look at Gideon and decided he did not like him much at all.   They tolerated each other for a while:

Puppies together

Though eventually, they had a fight and could not be together anymore, as is the case with Toby and almost every other dog he’s met.

Gideon was a sable German Shepherd (which according to one dumb comment, meant that he’d “be all black when he grew up” which is of course not what it meant it all!)  He was from a great breeder who does not appear to be breeding anymore, but he was from Czech working lines, and was larger than typical “AKC” type GSDs, and did not have a sloping back.  She raw fed all her dogs too, and a lot of them went into Schutzhund or Personal Protection Dog training.

Gideon, however, was a sweet, silly boy, who would not hurt anyone (even his fight with Toby happened because Toby pushed and pushed him).   He got  along with the birds, and he was a good foster-father to M’s border terrier, Truman.  Except for Toby, all my dogs were friends with him as well.

One of my favorite stories about Gideon is something M. told me:  one day she heard him making a sound to alert her that something was not right.  She came in to find that he was herding something very carefully between his paws, like he’d done on occasion with the birds.  It was a mouse.  A wild mouse that had gotten in the house, and Gideon had a look on his face like, I guess this is a new pet, so I better be careful with it!  That was typical Gideon behavior!

Gideon’s passing was both unexpected and really stressful.  He seemed ill, and because our regular vets were out of town,  M took him to another vet.  I went with her that first visit, and to say there were incompetent would be putting it mildly.  The vet had a list of things she needed to give him (a wormer, something for the diarrhea he didn’t have) before she even examined him, because she’d heard “raw food diet” and made assumptions.  They eventually “diagnosed” him with a UTI and sent him home.  He didn’t get better, and we noticed he looked disturbingly bloated.

He was.  Because his abdomen was filling up with blood.  Once M. got him to our regular vets, they were able to come up with a diagnosis, which, quoting M, was:  “He has a stomach 1/2 full of rocks, stomach lining torn, battered bladder wall, rocks in his intestines, and blood and pus (peritonitis) surrounding his intestines and most of his organs–and that’s just some of it.”   And yes, it was something he ate, but it was not his raw chicken:  Gideon had been eating the lava rocks used for landscaping in the backyard.  It was these lava rocks that killed him.  He was diagnosed on Friday, and on the following Monday, we had to make that last trip to the vet with him.  It was utterly heartbreaking, and everyone cried, including our vets.

(Cautionary note:  lava rocks are very abrasive and if ingested, can kill dogs.  Gideon was a poop eater–he was probably eating the rocks with feces on them.  But any dog might find them appealing to chew.  Also, another popular landscaping mulch is made from cocoa, also deadly to dogs.  Please be super careful about what you use in your yard, if you have dogs.  You never know what they’ll eat.)

Gideon, of the many names:  Sensitivity Wolf, Pencil Toes, Gideon Xmayal, Very Large Array, you are sorely missed.

In memory of Gideon, GSD extraordinaire, I am reposting Toby and Gideon’s correspondence from 2007.  This was probably the last time Toby and Gideon got to spend any time together, after they got in a fight (instigated by a certain Shiba….and not Bel, though she did jump right in).

Gidion, you weren’t a good writer.  But you were a wonderful dog, and even Toby misses you (if only a little).

email one:

Gideon here. The Lade who lives here says I need to right to u. She says u got hurt real bad when I bit u the other nite. She says I o u an apology. So here it is.

I’m sorry. The Lade has a bird–u no her, Rube is her name–and sometiems she says Sweet Bird Sweet Bird over and over. Both the Lade and the bird say this Sweet Bird Sweet Bird. Anyways, lately the Lade and that other Lade who lives with u r talking about how sweet u r. So when u came over I thought that meant u’d want to play with me. But the Lade I live with talked to me and said Sweet doesn’t mean Play. Sweet means Bite. Like the bird would bite if I tried to play with her, just like u bit or wanted to bite but I bit first.

I know it’s not much. The Lade made me do it, right this when I don’t really feel so sorry because u’ve never been Sweet to me, u’ve always been meen. Mostly I’m sorry because the Lade says I’m costing her more munny than she has right now, but she’s glad u’re okay. She says I can’t see u again.

Little Jezebel was here, and she didn’t get any popcorn or other sheebs, so maybe that’ll make u feel better.

That was the first one.

Then he sent number two:

I forgot to tell u. Last nite some humans came over to have “inappropriate touching.” I didn’t see the humans touch that way, but Little Jezebel got inappropriately touched, I’m sure of it. The Lade I live with had Jezebel up on her lap and was rubbing and rubbing the Little’s chest and belly, and the Little didn’t look happe. Then later this boy named Jonathan tried the same thing and Little wasn’t having none of it. And when I tried to play with the Little, the boy named Jonathan got mad at me and shooed me away. Everybody’s mad at me cuz of what I did to u. So there. But at least u didn’t get inappropriately touched. And the Little didn’t get any good snacks. The humans were eating these teeny cupcakey things and Little got hold of two of the cupcake papers and ate them even tho they didn’t have cupcakes in them. U didn’t miss nothing. I would have liked to be inappropriately touched, I have just the chest for it, but no 1 loves me, they love u. I don’t no y. U’re a meenie sheeb. But I’m really sorry u’re hurt. I’d hate it too if I had to wear a necker chief and have a Lade stick a syringe in my draino.
P.S. Y do u like to right? I hate to right. It’s hard.

Then this, because he is too stupid to figure out I might not want to reply to him:

I hate righting. I don’t no y u and the Lades like it so much. I keep pacing back in here to check email and see if u’ve written me and u havent. U r a meenie. Either that or u feel really bad and can’t even get up to check your email, but I don’t believe that. ANyways, the Lade says sheeb isn’t right, she says Sheepa Sheepa Sheepa, those other dogs r Sheepas. Now I really don’t no y u care so much about loosing a little fur if u’re a Sheepa u’d get sheered anyways. Please right back to me and tell me we’re okay Tobe and then I’ll leave u alone for all time.

Then this, which I was finally forced to respond to:

Tobe, I’m mad at u still. The Lade told me I hurt u, but it’s nothing like the way I hurt. I’ve ritten and ritten and nothing. Nothing nothing nothing. If u can’t right back now surely u could make that Little or the Lade u live with right back. U no I’m sensitive, u no I’m the sensitivitewoof. I’ve been pacing and pacing and annoying the Lade here who’s trying to right, I don’t no y cuz it’s so boring and her paws are almost the size of mine. She tells me settle down. She tells me be patient. She puts me in a down stay and when that doesn’t work she puts me outside. I go outside and bark and bark and try to tell all the dogs to carre a message to u that u need to right back or at least bark back your message. To no a veil. It’s just footile. Tobe if I can’t never see u again u could at least tell me u’re all right. Stooped sheepas. The lot of u lack all German concern. Couldn’t u just once suck it up and right back? Or maybe tell Kite the other German dog who’s coming to live with us in March for a little wiles to right me and tell me how u r. At least he’s got morals. Some 1 needs them in your house.

So here was my response:


SHE tells me I must write back to you, even though I
don’t want to. I don’t see why I should. I see no
apology here, just lots of insults, and besides that,
you can’t spell and you write badly.

I can’t believe we are the same age, though of course
you are of such an inferior breed I suppose I
shouldn’t be surprised. Even the German who lives
with me–Kai, no Kite–is smarter, though. Now I
really understand why the humans call you a galoot,
which is a human word for really really stupid.

Yes, I am hurt. I have to wear a neckerchief, which
is actually quite dashing, and lets me stand out from
inferior dogs. I think of it as a badge of honor of
my war wounds, for these are what these are. And this
war is not over. While I admit that this is a defeat,
I do not feel ashamed, because I still fought bravely
and hard against you, and if I was your size, well,
I’d already rule the world, opposable thumbs or no.
Not that you know what that means. In fact, I doubt
you will understand any of this. Get your human to
explain it to you. She is smart, even if she does
have bad taste in dogs. Well, I suppose that golden
dog is ok, though something is seriously wrong with
his ears.

Gideon, you should recall that after the fight I put
you in your place–a down stay. You should recall
that I would not have stopped fighting had the humans
not stopped us, and no doubt I would have eventually
got the best of you. And I am unimpressed with your
“pain.” You show no pride whatsover. I am a stoic
little dog–er, big dog–and I went to the horrible
place and had shots and had things poked in me, and I
fell asleep there and woke up in pain, and I never
once complained.

but of course, I knew you were an inferior dog from
the moment I met you and had to take your chicken from
you. Just because you are larger and can occasionally
get the better of me from sheer size–well, that is

I have nothing more to say. this was simply one
skirmish in a longer war, and I have scars to prove my
dedication to the Shiba–not sheepa you idiot–cause.

Death before Dishonor,


Then I had to write again, even though I didn’t want to:


One more here too, though don’t mistake this for me
liking you.

I am interested in what happened to the little Shiba
bitch. She came back smellng of chocolate, and she
looked very happy, and went waltzing around the house
(waltzing is a human term for leaping and jumping,
which of course you wouldn’t know. I am stunned that
one dog could be so ignorant. What do you DO all day
while your human is gone? Obviously you don’t use
your time wisely, as I do, by studying and learnign
about human technology).

She did not say she had been touched inappropriately,
but she likes to be petted more than most dogs. That
is because she is a bitch.

And I must remind you, she is MINE. My bitch. I may
not always like her, but she is still a Shiba and
still MINE. Stay away from her.

Of course Jonathon pushed you away, and of course the
humans are mad at you. They love me. They are MINE.
Even your human liked me best–she recognized me
immediately as a REAL puppy.

And writing is not that hard if you apply yourself.
Of course you wouldn’t understand that. And of course
you don’t have lovely little paws like me.

I am going to continue to study human technology,
something YOU won’t do. Eventually I am sure I will
learn how to drive one of the human moving boxes, the
things they call cars. And when I do, I will come
down and bite you.

I want to bite you more than the grey bird.


After that, I got this, which I never responded to, because really, why bother?
Sheepa in u, haha!
The Lade walzed me in here to check the email but nothing. Nothing and nothing. She told me her email’s been bad latele cuz she’s getting things late, but I don’t no what that meens. Anyways, it took hours b4 your reply got here. I’m still thinking what I want to say. U’re crool. Not cool. Crool. Don’t go thinking Britney Spaniel Spears shaved her haed just cuz u did. ANyways, I spent all day watching the Lade tiperight. It’s hard. She hardle moves her paws, just her claws, and I can’t do that yet.
P.S. Is Snoopy your righter hero?

Gideon 1-1-04 to 8-17-12 RIP sweet boy!

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

The human contingent of the House of the Fox Dogs has been on vacation, visiting U’s family in Germany. It actually looked like I wouldn’t be able to go at first, because we had an unexpected canine health issue: One month after his neutering, Oskar suddenly developed a rather large hematoma in his scrotum. It was, well, rather noticeable, since I took a look at him and thought wow, he looks like he was never neutered. The scrotum had filled up with blood.

So off the vet we went, where it was aspirated, but unfortunately, it filled right back up again with blood. This meant Oskar needed a procedure I am unfortunately all too familiar with from various dog injuries: the vet had to put in drains, and a pressure bandage. Obviously, this is not the easiest place to bandage, so as usual, my vets got creative, and Oskar ended up with a very interesting outfit:

Oskar's outfit

Granted, that wasn’t all the vet’s doing.  Oskar’s bandages wouldn’t stay up so we sacrificed a pair of U’s boxers and put them on Oskar.  It did help to keep everything in place, but as you can see from his dropped tail, he wasn’t happy.  He had to wear that ensemble for about a week, and his drains had to be flushed at least once a day, a procedure that I simply could not do by myself (imagine trying to hold down a 110 pound dog and squirt betadine into his nether regions.  Not a one-person job, and U. had already left for Germany), so Oskar went to the vet daily.

Poor Oskar!

Luckily for me, the drains came out two days before I left, and there were no more complications, so I was able to leave Oskar and the Shibas with our lovely housesitters, and go to Germany.

(I should add that the complications with Oskar’s neutering are rare.  This kind of swelling does sometimes happen in dogs that are too active immediately after the surgery, but it is rare indeed for it to occur a month later.  My vet said he had not seen it happen so long after the surgery in his 30 years in practice.  We’re not sure what caused it, and it was probably just a fluke, but given that Oskar has had a few other odd issues with bleeding–a broken toenail that bled on and off for two weeks–I’m going to have him tested for von Willebrand’s Disease, which is a hereditary clotting disorder.  While it seems unlikely that he has it, as he did not bleed excessively during surgery, we decided that it would be good to know for sure, so he’ll be tested for this soon.)

German Dogs!

I spent a lot of time in Germany looking at dogs.  Of course,  I am terribly interested in all things canine, anyway, but there was another reason:  I don’t speak German.  So during gatherings of family and friends, I was often left to my own devices.  I like to imagine that my understanding of German is something like the way dogs understand any human language.  This is what I understood:   Blah, blah, blah, dog!  Blah, blah, blah chocolate!  Blah, blah, blah beer!  Of course, like a dog, I perked up noticeably when I understood those key words.  I also perked up when I heard my name.  I imagine if I had ears that pricked forward they would have done so, and if I had a tail, it would have wagged.  Other than that, I spent a lot of time observing dogs.

First, there was Gina, who belongs to my brother-in-law.  Gina was the first German dog I met:

She was good-natured, and I was never able to figure out what breed she is, or if she is a mix, but she does slightly resemble a Gordon Setter, and is even more like a black and tan Hovawart, a breed that originated in Germany. (Gina looks a lot like this dog).  We took her on quite long walks, including to an outdoor museum, and she was always well-behaved.  Until we saw other dogs, when Gina turned into a maniac, jumping at the end of her leash, snarling and barking.  Clearly Gina is a reactive dog!

Gina in repose

Dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere in Germany it seems.  Gina was welcome at restaurants, though we only ate at outdoor beirgartens with her, where she laid under the table quite happily.  We did not take her with us when we went to the retirement home to visit my husband’s 95-year-old grandmother, but there was another dog there, also laying calmly under the table while the family had coffee.  We also saw a young pup there that looked–and acted!–like a Shiba puppy; it was leaping about and biting anything that came within reach, a crazed little ball of fur.   It was not a Shiba, but the owners told us it was an “island dog” whatever that means.  I would have asked more questions if I could have spoken German.

I am fairly certain Gina has food allergies.  Her stomach is almost completely hairless and freckled and she was almost constantly scratching and licking at either her belly or her paws.  I suppose my brother-in-law’s family was spared a long talk on diet and food allergies because of the lack of a common language.

On the first day in Germany, with a bit of translation, I was made to understand that the neighbors had a Shiba.  Except that it was a big Shiba. But it was a puppy.   I immediately suspected that the “big Shiba puppy” was a Japanese Akita.  The neighbor was invited to stop by on his walk for us to meet the “big Shiba puppy” and one morning the doorbell rang, and we met this dog, who is almost a year old:

Japanese Akita

While he may have seemed a bit cautious in this picture, it only took a few moments for him to become a typical, young Akita.  He jumped up to try to lick our faces.  He mouthed our arms and hands.  He grabbed onto U’s shirt and started tugging.  While his looks are quite different from an American Akita–in much of the world the Akita is split into two breeds, American and Japanese–his mannerisms were very similar to Oskar’s.  We enjoyed having a visit with him, and I was delighted to have met my first Japanese Akita.

The next canine we met was in the small town where my mother-in-law is from.  We went to see her brother and the farmhouse she grew up in.  When the family came outside to greet us, they brought a little dog with them that at first I thought was a pug, but then I recognized those bat ears; it was a little French Bulldog.   I’m not a fan of the flat-faced breeds, usually, but in the 20 minutes or so we spent there, this little dog thoroughly endeared herself to me.  She was clearly not interested in everyone there–she barked at my mother-in-law–but she came up to me immediately, and tilted her head and looked at me as if she was trying to decide if I was worth her attention or not.  Apparently I was, because she licked my hand, then set to sniffing me with a great deal of interest.

French Bulldog

She was, apparently, visiting while her family was on vacation.   She was quite a self-possessed little dog, who followed conversations by watching everyone with a grave, and slightly affronted look, as if she wasn’t sure approved of the conversation.  I found her quite charming!

On Sunday, we ventured into nearby Bavaria for a trip to Germany’s most iconic castle, Neuschwanstein, pictured below.

Neuschwanstein, Aug. 2011

After our visit, we had coffee with one of U’s school friends, who had accompanied us on our tourist jaunt.  He and his wife have a lovely house they had designed themselves (she is an architect), a lovely daughter, and of course, a dog.  I thought the dog was a greyhound, so I asked (they both spoke some English), but as it turns out he is not, though he does resemble one:

Delgado, a "windhund"

I was told that Delgado is a “windhund,” which I understood to be a category of dog.  With the help of a dog book, I was able to say that, yes, the equivelent of “windhund” is probably “sighthound.”   This still did not explain Delgado’s breed, however, and the book that included his breed was only in German.  I understood that his type of dog came from Spain, and his breed is related to greyhounds.  I thought that perhaps he was an Ibizan Hound, only because it was the only Spanish sighthound I could remember, but once I looked in the book, I saw this was clearly not the case.  When I got home, I was able to figure out that Delgado is a Galgo Espanol, a type of Spanish Greyhound that is not closely related to the English Greyhound.

Delgado is a Galgo Espanol

Delgado was quite sweet, and content to lay on his bed, until the cakes were brought out, and then he quickly positioned himself where he could not-so-surreptiously put his head on the table and sneak a treat.  When he was shooed away, he settled his head on my lap for a bit, but I was not fooled….it was not me he was interested in but my cake!  I learned that Delgado does not like having his picture taken (and he turned away as soon as the camera came out!), that he is quite a thief, and that he loves to sleep on the sofa, but will only do it if no one is in the room with him.  Our hosts admitted that they struggled with teaching him to stay off the sofa, then finally decided that the battle wasn’t worth it, and Delgado has apparently slept on the sofa ever since.  I’ve always been fond of sighthounds, especially greyhounds, and this Spanish greyhound was no exception.

What else did I learn about German dogs?  I learned that they are welcome many more places than dogs are in the US, and while the vast majority of the dogs I saw walked politely on leashes and were content to lay under tables while their humans socialized, I also noted that there were plenty of spats between dogs who were not so pleased to see other dogs.  In a way, this was reassuring:  I was not seeing a nation of perfect dogs!  I also noted that I never once saw a dog walked with just a collar:  every dog I saw was wearing a harness, which I know is better for the health of the dog, as it does not put pressure on the trachea and neck.  And while I saw a number of types of dogs, I never once saw a German Shepherd Dog, called Schaferhund in German.  I did, however, see a German TV documentary that bemoaned the failing popularity of this national breed, noting that their numbers were consistently falling in Germany, though the channel was changed before I could find out why that was.

All in all, it was a good trip, but of course, I was delighted to come home and find my three hounds healthy, happy and well-cared for.  I learned that they all had new nicknames:  Bel was Bella Loca, a nickname so good it will stick; Oskar was Baby Beluga; and I suppose Toby’s new nickname says something about how he must have behaved when we were gone, because he was just “the little asshole.”  Oh Toby.

The Search for an Akita (Choosing a Good Breeder, part 2)

Note:  I wrote this in May, but the end of the semester caught up with me, and I didn’t have time to edit it or post it.  Since then, I’ve been involved in many discussions on where to get a dog, as people on the Shiba forum have tried to educate people about puppy mills.  This post is focused more on my experience choosing a good breeder; people looking for more basic advice and information on puppy mills might want to look at my first post on the topic.  I will also probably do another post, at some point, about puppy mills specifically.

The Search for an Akita

Awhile ago I promised there would be a part two to “choosing a good breeder” so here it is:  instructive lessons from my search for an Akita breeder.

I decided I wanted another large dog last winter, when it was clear that my handsome German Shepherd Dog, Kai, was not likely to make it through another year.  He was 10, and had hip dysplasia as well as severe arthritis in his spine, and in January, he was also diagnosed with osteosarcoma (bone cancer).  Kai was a wonderful dog, a rescue, who had I adopted from a vet in Michigan.  He was one of two surviving pups from a large litter that an irresponsible breeder  had let die of parvo; since he didn’t bother to vaccinate his dogs, or pay his vet bills, the vet who managed to save two of the pups offered them up for adoption.  I took Kai, and he was a wonderful dog who endured my education and missteps in training, as well as endured living with Shibas later in his life.   We lost him on May 22, 2011, just a few weeks after his 11th birthday.  Rest in peace, glorious boy.

Kai in April of 2010

I began looking for an Akita in the winter of 2010.  At first, I was fixated on getting an Akita Inu (Japanese Akita).  I loved the idea of a dog that looked like a giant Shiba.  Through some contacts I’d made on the Nihon Ken forum, I contacted a couple of breeders, but one had a very long waiting list, and another had an adult dog available, but no litters planned at that time.    I’d pretty much decided Toby would not tolerate any other dogs, so what I needed was a companion dog for Bel, who has never been an “only” dog and who was very bonded to Kai. What was most important to me was temperament.

I started with rescue, because I really liked the idea of giving a needy dog a home.   My experiences with rescue were good and not quite as good.  The local rescue, New Mexico Akita Rescue Group, was a pleasure to work with.  By this time in my search, I’d composed a rather long summary of my experience with Akitas and Shibas, as well as a description of my home (yard and fence size), and I also explained that I had a difficult situation with my Shibas (that they were kept separate) and that I was looking for a companion for my female Shiba.   I got a friendly email back very quickly,  and was told that they did occasionally get dogs that might fit in with my complicated household, so I could submit an application.   There were no dogs available then, but at least I wasn’t rejected.

Because rejection, from both breeders and rescue, became the norm.  Another told me that Shibas and Akitas were a bad mix, and that I would have to wait til my Shibas had passed on to adopt a dog from them.  (Please do not take my rejection as a negative:  I respect rescue’s right to make the best decisions for their dogs.)  This was actually something I heard quite often.  A number of breeders told me they would not sell a pup to me because of my Shibas.  Most of the breeders and rescue groups who rejected me were quite polite, though I did have a couple of very snippy responses about how I was an idiot to try to mix those two breeds, and that their Akitas would kill a Shiba.   Good information:  what it told me was that I would not want to buy a dog from those people anyway.

There’s a couple of important points in this:  first, when you’re searching for a good breeder, it saves everyone time if you are clear about your experience with the breed and your overall situation from the beginning.  If they don’t think their dogs are a good fit with your for whatever reason, it’s best to move right along.  Second, I absolutely do not believe Shibas and Akitas cannot get along, and I find this kind of blanket statement problematic overall.   Caution is recommended, but obviously, it is possible.  It would have been nice if some people hadn’t immediately leaped to the assumption that this combo is unworkable, but in the case of some of the breeders, I felt like it told me something about the temperament of their dogs if they rejected me outright because of the Shibas.

When I finally did narrow down my choice to two breeders I was interested in, part of my enthusiasm for them was because they both had Akitas and smaller breeds.  The two wonderful breeders I spent a lot of time talking to (and highly recommend!) were Liberty Akitas and Hoka Hey Akitas.   Donna and Mike at Liberty also breed whippets.   Katie at Hoka Hey has basenjis and there used to be a great picture on her website of a Basenji curled up on top of an Akita; that picture really sold me on her dogs!

Most people suggest meeting the breeders in person, and seeing their kennels.  This is a good idea, but often the search for a dog takes you too far afield to be able to practically do this.  I did have the pleasure of meeting Donna and Mike from Liberty Akitas at a dog show in May of 2010.  After meeting them and their dogs, I had no hesitation about buying a dog for them, and would have ended up with a Liberty Akita, if it were not for the fact that the planned pregnancy didn’t go according to plans!  Donna and Mike are wonderful people, and the dogs I met were sound in temperament, healthy, and gorgeous! Their dogs made me fall in love with American Akitas all over again.  I still hope to get a Liberty Akita some day, and I was particularly taken with Bugatti, who was just a pup himself when I met him.  Maybe I will  have the opportunity to get a pup from him some day!

I met a number of breeders at that show, and got to see a lot of Akitas, and I was able to narrow my choices in breeders down fairly quickly.  All the Akitas I saw were beautiful, but I noted that some very good breeders had dogs that did not seem like they would work for me.  When I saw dogs showing aggression towards other dogs in the show ring, when they should be on their best behavior, I had to suspect that these dogs would have a temperament that would not work for us.  I needed a “soft” dog rather than an assertive one, and while it’s possible that these breeders also would have produced dogs that would work, I decided if I saw a lot of sharpness in a breeder’s dogs, I should search elsewhere.  Liberty’s Bugatti, for example, was a sweet  and friendly pup who seemed more interested in playing than anything else, and that’s what I was looking for in a dog.  I also really liked that Donna was able to tell me which of her dogs might not produce pups with the temperament I was looking for.

I would encourage anyone looking for a good breeder to get out to dog events: shows, agility matches, etc, to meet a variety of dogs and their people.  I wasn’t able to meet Katie before I went out to Oregon to get my puppy, simply because of distance, but we “talked” a lot via email (in fact, I’m sure I drove her crazy with my questions!), and she’s been active in the breed for many years and is highly respected.

Some of the things I liked about both breeders I was interested in was that they were upfront about health issues in the breed and had their dogs’ OFA information ready.   They are both active in showing, which tells me that they are serious about the betterment of the breed (a good breeder might also be interested in hunting, agility, or some other dog-related activity, not just conformation, but they should be active in some dog activity).   They had questions for me, too, and detailed puppy applications (beware someone who only wants to talk about price–I didn’t even get to the issue of price in my initial conversations with breeders).  There were other good breeders out there, but I only contacted those who had litters planned, who were in driving distance, and who talked about health concerns on their web pages.

Once I narrowed my choice down, the waiting began.  As I said, I had pretty much decided on Liberty Akitas, and was waiting for one of the females to come into heat.  Except, she didn’t.  And then Hoka Hey had a litter.  At that time, we still had Kai, and I didn’t want to submit my old boy to a puppy, so when it looked like he was going to make it through the summer, I decided not to go ahead with trying to get a puppy.  But Kai’s decline was sudden and quick:  he developed a high fever we couldn’t cure, and within a few days, he was gone.  I contacted Hoka Hey about a puppy again.

One tip for those waiting on a puppy:  you must learn to be very patient.  It had never occurred to me that there was so much uncertaintity in it all.   Will the female get pregnant?  How many pups will there be, and what sex?  Will there be pet quality pups available?  I hadn’t realized that it would be awhile before the breeder could make judgements about show vs. pet quality, and sometimes potential puppy homes won’t know till very close to 8 weeks if they will be getting a puppy or which puppy they will be getting.  The whole “pick of the litter” thing doesn’t really happen much, and shouldn’t–the breeder should know their dogs well enough to make a decision on which pup should go where, especially to pet homes.  I didn’t know which puppy I was getting until about 10 days before I left to get him!

So this means that things like color choice are not important.  I love a brindle, and was hoping to get either a brindle pup or one of the flashy black and white pinto pups, but of course that kind of flash often ends up in the show ring, and I was only looking for a pet.  While Oskar’s coloring would not have been my first choice, he is perfect for us:  sweet-tempered, calm, and biddable.  And now, of course, I can’t imagine having another dog.  And anyway, who could resist this:

Oskar at 4 weeks (photo from Hoka Hey Akitas)

So what are my suggestions for choosing a breeder?

  • Start researching well before you plan on getting a dog.  A year in advance is not too far ahead.
  • Try breed specific rescue first.
  • Look for breeders who are active in dog activities and who discuss health issues openly, and can give you information on tests from OFA, CERF, etc.  Then follow up and check that information on the websites.
  • When you first contact a breeder or rescue, tell them about your experience with the breed (or why you are interested in this breed), and about your living situation and any other pets you have.
  • Do not ask about price and/or color only.  This will mark you as someone who hasn’t done the appropriate amount of research.
  • Expect questions from the breeder.  This is a good thing, even if it may seem a bit intrusive.  A good breeder wants to know they are placing their dogs in the best possible home for them.  A breeder who has no questions for you and only wants to talk price is someone you should avoid.
  • If you can visit the breeder before making your decision, do.  This is ideal.  You might also want to get references and perhaps meet other people who have dogs from them.  I was able to meet a Shiba from the breeder I got Toby from, for example.
  • Many breeders require a deposit; others do not.  Make absolutely sure you’ve done your research before turning over that check, though, because deposits are often nonrefundable.
  • When you buy a puppy from a good breeder, you are entering into a relationship with this breeder.  They should be a resource for you, so you must feel comfortable with this person.  If you’re not comfortable with them for whatever reason, they may not be the person to buy a dog from.
  • Try to get advice from people who have more experience with the breed, and get their opinions on good breeders.  If they tell you a place looks like a puppy mill, listen to them, and stay far, far away.
  • Be patient.
Some other good suggestions from our discussion on the Shiba Inu Forum.  I modified them a bit for this post:
  • Is the breeder a member of the breed club, such as the Akita Club of America?
  • Does the breeder insist on spay/neuter for a pet quality puppy?  They should, and most good breeders do, though you may need to discuss with them when this will happen (I personally prefer not to spay/neuter before 1 year of age, but other people may feel six months is ok)
  • Do they have a policy regarding lifetime returns?  Most good breeders are serious about their dogs, and they want them back if for any reason you cannot keep them.  I recently heard this from a Border Terrier breeder:  she said she wanted him back “even if he is 15 and needs surgery and you can’t afford it. I’ll take him back.  Under any circumstances.”  That’s what you want to hear!
  • Do they have more than two litters of puppies available a year?  While some good breeders might, most do not, and a lot of litters per year often indicate a backyard breeder or worse, a puppy mill.  This is especially true if they have many different breeds of dogs available.
  • Do they have a waiting list?  Are puppies placed before they are born?  While these things may mean it will take awhile to get your puppy, it also is a sign that the breeder is serious about finding good homes for their pups.  Even great breeders will sometimes have puppies available unexpectedly, but often, you’ll have to wait.
These points are meant as guides, not absolutes.  Not all good breeders will match up with all of these points, and some not so good breeders, or even puppy mills, may comply with some of the things on these lists.  Good breeders may still produce dogs with unexpected health problems.  Still, the more you ask and the more research you do, the better off you’re likely to be.
A Final Note
 A few weeks after I wrote this, I accompanied my best friend to the dog show to watch the Akitas, to see the three Shibas entered, and to look at terriers, as she was thinking of adding another dog to her household, and we were interested in Border Terriers.    She insisted she was only information gathering, but as these things happen, we met a breeder who had a litter of puppies, and a week or so later, my friend had a Border Terrier.  Her experience was the exception to the “be patient” rule.  But her experience also illustrates some of these points:  we just happened to meet a wonderful person who is is active in confirmation and Earth Dog trials and other canine activities.  The breeder did everything right:  she told us about the health testing that had been done on her dogs, discussed health issues with the breed, came and did a house check to make sure my friend’s house looked terrier safe, and it’s so clear that my friend will have a wonderful advisor and resource in her pup’s breeder.  That’s how it is supposed to be.
And Truman, as she named her pup,  is wonderful!


A Special Plea from Toby (and Bel)

Toby here.   It has come to my attention that something terrible has happened in my country of origin.  Ok, not exactly my country of origin.  I was born in Colorado.  But my sire’s country of origin and the original homeland of all Shiba.  Japan.

I found my human all weepy and sad in front of the computer, so of course I had to check it out myself.  I learned there was a horrible earthquake in Japan and many people and animals–and even Shiba!–are hurt, dead, missing, or homeless.

First, I watched this video:


It’s about a dog who refused to leave his injured friend behind, and I had to admit, it even softened my hard little Shiba heart a bit, and made me sad that I don’t have a dog friend like that.  (Ok, it’s true, I don’t like other dogs.  But still!  And it did make me miss the German dog, Kai,  a little, because he was loyal like that, and if I had been hurt, he would have stayed with me.)

Then I saw these photos, one of a Shiba who had gotten lost in the earthquake and then was reunited with his human, here. My hard little Shiba heart softened a bit more.

Then this one, which my human tells me is a Shiba being checked for radiation. I don’t know what radiation is, but it doesn’t sound good, and I’m glad we don’t have to be checked for it.  By this time, my hard Shiba heart had melted like a puddle of the cold cream.

I am a  mature Shiba, and even when I complain, I know how lucky I am to have a home (even if I have to share it with other dogs).  And I’m mature enough to admit how scared I’d be if I was lost without my human and my home.  So I hope you will help the scared animals of Japan and donate to their rescue.   My human is participating in The Japanese Dog Owner Earthquake/Tsunami Relief Challenge, and I hope you will too.   That website, The Misanthropic Shiba (don’t you just love that name?) has links to a number of places to donate, including my personal favorite, The Shibal Inu print fundraiser.  If you buy a Shiba comic print from their Etsy store, all proceeds will be donated to ARK (Animal Refuge Kansai) to help animals in the area.  I told my human I want one of those prints, so she is going to get one.

So for now, I’m going to let FAT Shibas slide as my chosen cause.  While I believe in F(eed) A(ppropriate) T(hings) to Shibas, and will come back to it, right now, it’s more important that Japanese Shibas (and other dogs) have something to eat at all and have a home to go to.  So I’m going to give money to some rescue organizations.  Ok, I’m not giving money, because I’m a Shiba and don’t have any.  But I am going to paw and stare at my human until she does.

(Pawing and staring usually works when I’m at the door and want to go out or in.  Last night, though, I tried it repeatedly on the refrigerator door, and my human laughed at me, but SHE did not open the door of the cold treasure box–ie. the fridge–no matter how hard I scratched and how much I pointedly stared at her.   Sometimes humans are just not very smart.)

Ok everyone, donate to some of these worthy causes.  Even if it is only a $5 or $10 dollars.  Every little bit helps.

Oh the little Jezebel is pushing her way over here.  Ok, ok, I’m going to let her type a little bit.

Hi!  I’m Jezebel!  I’m pretty and I used to be able to jump and twirl but now I can’t because something bad happened to my leg!  But I am typing!  And I heard Toby typing (he also talks out loud when he writes, so I knew what he was writing about!)  And I thought about it, and I know what it is like to be scared, because I am scared a lot of the time.  The world is scary!  I can’t even think how scary it would be if my house fell down and I was lost and hurt without my humans!  I don’t know where Japan is, but I bet those dogs are scared and that makes me sad!  So I’m joining in with Toby to ask everybody to donate a little bit to help the dogs in Japan.   (It’s the only thing me and Toby have agreed on for years!).  I told my human I would give up my food for a week and send it to the scared dogs, but she didn’t think that was a good idea, but she said she’d send a donation from me instead.   I would twirl for that if I could!  And Oskar, who is my giant puppy, who doesn’t have any clue what is going on, says he agrees with me too!  (But he always agrees with me.  And he doesn’t know how to write, and anyway his paws are too big for typing!).  Ok, mean old Toby is pushing his way back in.  Bye!

Toby here:  See what a good Shiba I’m becoming? I even let the Little Bit(ch) type.

More importantly, remember to donate to help Japan, land of the Shiba Inu.

Toby out!

The Return of the House of the Fox Dogs

This is my new House of the Fox Dogs blog!  I plan to write about dogs–what else?–and specifically about my Nihon Ken (Japanese dogs), my two Shiba Inu (Toby who will be 7 on the 25, and Bel who is 5) and my American Akita, Oskar, who is 7 months old.  I plan to write about behavioral issues and health issues I’ve struggled through with my dogs, as well as write about canine nutrition and raw feeding, and, well, anything dog related that catches my fancy.

I started this blog many years ago in different circumstances, when, frankly, I knew less about dogs than I do now.  I’ve decided to keep my old blog entries, which are mostly from the (imagined) point of view of my dogs.  They still amuse me, so I hate to get rid of them.  But there are a lot of things I know now that I didn’t know then–like how the theory of dominance in dogs has been disproved, and more.  I expect to discuss some of the things I’ve learned in the upcoming blog entries, as well as talk more about the health issues my dogs have faced, and what I’ve learned from those experiences.

So if you go rummaging around through the older entries, understand they come from a very different perspective, and perhaps they can be a document of my journey, of how much I’ve learned while living with dogs that have challenged me, always, to learn more.   And also, I wrote about Kai, my German Shepherd, who crossed the bridge in May of 2010, not too long after his 11th birthday.  Much love to Kai, who had to live with Shibas.

For now, here are some photos of the current canine occupants of the House of the Fox Dogs:

Bel and Toby in a rare moment of truce:

Oskar at 4 weeks:

Oskar at about 5 months, at the Jemez River: