No More Yearly Vaccinations!

I’m hoping that this year, I’ll be able to keep up with the blog a bit more regularly, so I’ve decided to keep myself motivated by writing some posts on general topics related to canine health and behavior.

I’ll start this with yet another story of why I love my vets.  I went in with Toby to run some tests to see if he had Cushings syndrome (the answer?  Probably yes.  But that will be another post).  As we were there, my vet said in passing, “I notice that Toby has not been vaccinated for almost 2 years.  Toby is almost 9.  I see no reason to vaccinate this dog again, except for his rabies vaccination which is required by law, but I wanted to tell you that if you need to board him, you will not be in compliance, so this is just so you’re aware of his status.”   I was delighted not to have argue about my decision not to continue to vaccinate my adult dogs.  I thanked her, and we went on with the exam.   My vets, in case anyone wonders, are old-school in the extreme.  They don’t even use computers.   They are hardly out there on the fringe.  But they’ve been practicing for over 30 years, and they’ve seen and learned a lot.  They do not feel that animals need to be vaccinated every year.

A few days later, I came across a great link on vaccinations on the Shiba Inu forum, posted by an alert forumite.   This is a great video about vaccinations, over-vaccinating, and immunology.   It is an interview with Dr. Ronald Schultz, of the University of Wisconsin, whose speciality is immunology.  Dr. Schultz is not “out there” or part of the fringe of veterinary medicine; he is a doctor, teacher and scientist who has been working in this field for 29 years.   And he firmly believes that we are hurting our animals by over-vaccinating them.  (Coincidentally, my vets both went to vet school at UW.  They may well have worked with Dr. Schultz at some point!)

You can watch the whole interview, which is excellent, below.  It runs about an hour.

If you’d like to read parts of the interview and watch it in shorter chunks, this link has the interview broken up and has important points summarized as well:   link to interview with Dr. Schultz.

There are several important points to this, and it’s worth your time to watch the video, but I’ll try and summarize some of the things I found most important (and note, I’m simplifying this, and any mistakes below are mine):

  • There are core vaccinations that every animal should have.  For dogs, these are the so-called “puppy shots” of distemper, parvo, rabies and adenovirus.   (There is a lot more in the video about how and when to give these shots, but no one argues that these are important).
  • After the puppy shots, one adult booster is useful.
  • Beyond that, most dogs do NOT need more vaccinations, but one year after the adult booster, it would be good to titer test the dog to see how much immunity they still have.  If it is low, you may revaccinate (see below), but if it is not, you do not need to revaccinate.  (Note the video goes into much more detail on how titering works).
  • According to Dr. Schultz, the MOST anyone should vaccinate their dogs is every three years.  To do more is not to make them any “more” immune (as that is not possible) but it is possible to compromise the dog’s health with over vaccination.
  • Both vets agreed that any dog who has had a reaction to a vaccination should NOT be revaccinated using the same vaccine, and probably should not be revaccinated at all (watch for more details on what to do in cases where the titer test suggests an animal may not have full immunity).  This is especially the case if the animal gets a lump at the vaccine site.
  • Both vets believe that over-vaccination is hurting our animals, and it may be one contributing factor to a rise in autoimmune disorders in animals (there’s more to it than just vaccinations, but this is one component they believe), as well as other problems.

There’s a lot more to the interview, but those were the important points I took away.

I should note that Dr. Schultz is not the only one who believes we are over vaccinating our dogs; so do many vets, and finally some bigger organizations are following suit.  From this article (scroll down to the postscript, though the whole article is interesting), I discovered that “World Small Animal Veterinary Association now advocates a minimal 3-year interval between core ‘booster’ vaccinations.”  (Note three years is the “minimal” interval, and note that the producers of the vaccines do not agree with that.  Now I wonder why that would be? Could it have something to do with money?)

I wanted to start with Dr. Schultz, because as far as I can see, no one much argues with his conclusions, which are drawn from years of research.  (He started recommending in the late 70’s that we stop vaccinating animals every year, noting that the vaccinations are supposed to create life long immunity, as many vaccinations do in humans).

I’ve long also been a fan of Dr. Jean Dodds, who is a specialist in canine health (especially thyroid issues) and who has long recommended a minimal vaccine protocol.  Some people do see Dr. Dodds as being a bit more on the fringe, and some conservative vets get up in arms even at the mention of her name.  (My vets are a husband/wife team, and the husband is not a fan of Dr. Dodds, even though I note that his thoughts on vaccinations are almost exactly the same as hers!)

Still, she’s the go-to doctor for information on a more minimal vaccination protocol.  This page includes Dr. Dodds vaccine protocol.

In addition, here is a link to an article by Dr. Dodds on vaccinations (it’s pretty technical, but has a lot of useful information):

I got interested in this because Toby had a bad reaction a vaccination about 5 years ago.  He seemed very ill immediately afterwards, and was lethargic and off his food for a couple of days afterwards (which you all know is NOT like Toby at all!).  I’d already heard of many people recommending less vaccinations, so I started reading.

While I didn’t find any information about Shibas, I did find that Akitas are a breed that is considered predisposed to vaccine reactions, so I was very careful with vaccinating Oskar.  I also suspect that ALL the Japanese breeds may have this problem–it’s only that Akitas are popular enough in the US to have this been taken note of.  (This is just a theory of mine, but there is much overlap in conditions in the Japanese breeds, hence my supposition).

Here is a link to breeds predisposed to problems, and what those problems can be, and it includes a discussion of Akitas.

Dr. Dodds notes the small orignal gene pool of the Akita as a possible reason for predisposition to problems (as well as other inheritable conditions) and I think that would also be true of other Japanese breeds.

This next page includes many links on problems with vaccinations, particularly rabies, and it discusses adverse reactions to the rabies vaccine.   It cites many sources, something I particularly appreciate.

So I will continue to follow Dr. Dodds protocol and be conservative in vaccinating my dogs.  I wish I had learned this a lot earlier, but at least Oskar and Leo will have the benefit of my new knowledge, and Toby and Bel will not get any more vaccinations, except for the rabies, which is required by law.


Toby says “I’ve had enough!”

Snow day, Snow Dogs

The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country. The earth lay white under the night sky. —Snow Country, Yasanuri Kawabata

When I was a kid growing up in southern California, my mother and I would  “go to the snow” as people in California sometimes say.  That meant driving up to the mountains outside of LA, to Idyllwild, or Big Bear.  I loved the snow as a kid–in those years before we moved to Alaska and it became commonplace–and I could spend hours upon hours outside in it.  Snow made the world magic:  everything cloaked in white and made unfamiliar, sparkling, and new.

After the snow

I was reminded of this today, as I took Toby for a walk.   The House of the Fox Dogs is situated in the Sandia mountains, and this year we’ve gotten a lot of snow.  According to local news, Sandia Peak ski area, which is just a few miles and  a couple thousand feet higher than us, has 47 inches of snow, the most in the state right now.   Just down the mountain a bit, we’ve definitely got our share of it.

Snow days

These days, I’m reminded that my dogs are snow dogs, that their breeds come from the snow country of Japan.   They revel in the snow.  Oskar, the Akita, would probably not come in at all, unless we made him.  He goes outside and runs and runs, ears back, face full of joy.

Snow Dog!

He runs, snatches mouthfuls of snow in between his leaps, then collapses in the snow to rest.   I’ve never seen him so happy, so animated.  It’s as if the world makes sense to him, finally, and I suppose it does–this was a dog bred to hunt in the mountains, in the deep snow, and he is in his element.

Even Toby and Bel seem to enjoy it.  Toby can be fussy–he doesn’t like to get his feet wet–and Bel is just flat-out crazy–but they are also built for the snow, with their thick double coats, and neither of them mind being out in it, and neither seem to mind the cold, either.


Some days, I have to be reminded of the magic and wonder in the world.  It is what we lose as we age, along with our innocence, and perhaps rightly so–we live in a world where innocence is so routinely abused that to be innocent is to be in danger.   Still, I miss that sense of wonder, and it’s something over the past few years I’ve tried to recultivate:  I’ve had a string of difficult years, and one thing that got me through was my dogged attempts to find beauty and wonder in the world, regardless of the ugliness that I (and all of us) witness.  I used to play a game with myself:  today I will find three magical things.  My magical things were invariably things of the natural world:  the Japanese maple on campus turning scarlet, the raven croaking from a utility post.

Or I watched my dogs.  Their joy in the world is effortless and amazing.   Every day is a great adventure to them, and they do not get tired of their world, this little half-acre, as far as I can see, though they are also joyous when they get to go somewhere new (Bel aside–Bel doesn’t really like going new places).   These snow days–days when we are forced to stay home by the nature (and the unaccountable schedule of snow plows), I’m able to watch them, and rekindle some of my wonder.

Oskar grabs a fallen icicle and runs with it, joyously, with delight at this new, melting toy.

Oskar with icicle

Bel forgets her fearfulness for a moment, and runs through the snow, with a rare (for her) Shiba smile.   Toby forgets to be fussy and trots into the snow, then poses for his profile shot.

Toby on the deck

And watching them, I remember all the wonder in the world, and remember those long ago days when my mother took me to the “snow country” of California.  And I remember to enjoy unplowed roads, the forced time out in my life.

Today,  I measured 15 inches of snow on the deck, which is from the heavy snow last night, and from the snow of the past few days.   And since our neighborhood, and our road, is low priority for the county snow plows, many of the roads in the neighborhood, including ours, have not been plowed.  Someone had driven down our road, so when Toby and I ventured out to get the mail today, we had a path to walk in, and larger roads below us were cleared.   But when we came home, we turned onto another road, and we were able to walk a ways in the tracks of a truck, but then, apparently, no one had ventured out of their homes (or perhaps into them!) for after that, the road was a vast expanse of untouched snow.  Do we turn around?  Go back the way we came?  Or go forward?

I thought of the spirit of the girl I had been, so many years ago in California, and remembered how in those days, I’d seek out the new snow, where no one had gone, and I decided to follow that kind of spirit today.   I’m older, wiser, I suppose, and certainly it’s harder these days to hold on to my childlike wonder or even optimism.  But I’m also a Sagittarius, and I have never entirely lost my inner child.  So we struck out down the road in the new snow.  It was above my boots in places (when I got home, I measured, and my boots are 13 inches tall), but I kept going.  Toby plowed away through it gamely, though the snow was up to his chest, sometimes up to his neck, and he looked like a Shiba swimming through snow.

But he was smiling.

And when the sun hit the snow, it was like a field of diamonds.

It was magical.

Oskar says "come play in the snow!"

And I was reminded of how much I’d loved the snow as a child, and I remembered, too, the harsh beauty of those short days and long winter nights in Alaska, when the snow blued as evening came on, and sometimes the aurora swirled above in otherworldly ribbons of light.   There is great beauty in this season.

House of the Fox Dogs in Winter

So all of us at the House of the Fox Dogs wish you a magical season, whichever holidays you celebrate this time of year, and we thank you, too, for reading.   Updates have been few and far between, as the mistress of the House of the Fox Dogs is working full-time and in school too, and sometimes I simply don’t have time to write.   But we appreciate every one of our readers, and thank you for following our adventures.

We’ll have more to say in the New Year, but in the meantime, and in the coming year, may your lives be filled with magic and wonder.   Just follow the dogs–they always know where to find joy.

Keeping Toby Safe (Plus Shibas, Snakes and Spiders! Oh My!)

Keeping Toby safe is not an easy thing.

Because he insists on doing things that are not safe.

And sometimes, I help that along.

This is a story of how difficult managing reactive dogs can be, because any mistake–and there will always be mistakes–can be dangerous.

Today’s mistake was relatively minor, thankfully.  Though it could have been very very bad.

The first lesson of managing reactive dogs is this:  Always stick to the routine.  A set routine means mistakes are not as easy to make.  Our routine involves making sure doors are always closed and latched, and dog gates are also latched  in place.   It means double checking to make sure we know where all dogs are before letting a dog in or out.  And it means having a schedule.

Toby’s schedule is like this:  he is in his room most of the day.  He goes for a walk most days with me to the mail boxes and a bit beyond.  He is let outside to run around in the yard several times a day.  He has dinner at around 8, and because Toby is a creature of routine too, he likes to go out and poop right after dinner, though he usually doesn’t stay out long (his door is always open when he’s outside, and most of the time, he goes back in his room relatively quickly).  Bel and Oskar go to bed at around 11, Oskar upstairs, and Bel  in Oskar’s big cage in the living room.  Toby comes in then, to spend some quality time with me (which mostly involves him sitting on the back of the sofa watching me read).  He gets to sleep where ever he wants downstairs, and in the morning goes out, then back to his room, before U. leaves for work.

Welcome to my room.

Toby seems content with this schedule.

So today, I broke the routine.  I let Bel and Oskar out, made coffee, heard Toby scratching at the sliding glass door to come in from his room, and thought, why not, even though I never let him in at this time of day.  Today I did.  He settled on the back of the sofa. I had more coffee, got ready for my day.

A few hours later, as I was getting ready to go to work, I thought, well, Oskar’s at the door, and I need to get him and Bel in so I can leave, so I opened the door and let him in.  He ambled in, then froze in the living room.

Because of course, Toby was still in.  I’d forgotten, because that’s not the routine.

Oskar approached Toby on the sofa, and I was right behind him, but before I could intervene, Oskar was sniffing Toby.  I could tell he was anxious:  his ears were forward and his body was stiff, but he wasn’t growling or snarling.  Until Toby went into full Toby cave troll mode:  snarling and snapping.  Then everything happened very quickly.  Did Toby bite Oskar?  I don’t know, but he was close if he didn’t.  I went to grab Oskar’s collar, and Toby jumped off the back of the sofa still snarling, and I did see Oskar bite Toby’s leg.   I grabbed Oskar.  Toby jumped off the sofa.

Then we were stuck.  I was holding a 110 pound Akita who refused to move.  Toby was a safe distance away.  I started to pull Oskar to another room, and yelled at Toby to go in his crate, but of course, the little cave troll would not back down, so instead of going away from us, he came forward again, growling.  Oskar pulled towards Toby, but thankfully, Oskar is biddable and was unsure of the situation; he was looking to me for guidance, so I was able to pull him into the other room.

Toby was holding up one paw and limping.  After a quick examination, though, I found no puncture wounds at all, though there was a bit of saliva on his leg.  Still, Toby was limping and carrying the paw, so I ended up missing my class as I waited to see if he would need a vet visit.  Answer, no.  As soon as I stopped paying attention to him (to check on Oskar who also had no wounds), Toby stopped limping.  He was fine.  He’s just a drama queen, like all Shibas.

In fact, the only one injured was me:  Oskar stepped on my foot and his toenail scratched me deeply enough to draw blood.  And I also seem to be the only one shaken up by this.  Oskar was puzzled, and a bit excited, but calmed down quickly.  Toby seemed totally unfazed by the whole thing, though he did puff out his chest a bit.  He thinks he’s a bad ass.

Ruler of all he surveys

I’m aware this could have been a disaster.  If Bel had come into too.  If Oskar were dog aggressive, or not so soft-mouthed.  (Oskar was clearly warning Toby, not trying to hurt him).   Frankly, it scared the hell out of me, especially because there was no one to blame but myself.  I broke the routine.  And then I forgot.  And I risked my dog’s safety because of it.

But Toby is a hard dog to keep safe.  That’s not making light of my mistakes; it’s just a fact.  Once I had talked to a dog psychic about Toby and Bel (it was interesting, if not my best use of money).  She said she didn’t think Toby would live a long life because he was such a daredevil and always putting himself in dangerous situations.  (She also said Bel would soon find a home with a blonde woman in the mountains.  Well, Bel does–still–live in the mountains, but none of us are blonde).    There is some truth to this.  Toby is fearless*.  In pretty stupid ways.

He always goes for other dogs immediately.  He is always on the offense, and that offense is pretty, well, offensive!  His reaction to another dog is always snarling snapping growling….imagine the Tasmanian Devil cartoon and you have Toby.  (Or a imagine a cave troll–Toby’s favorite thing is to menace other dogs from behind something or from a crate).  He doesn’t care how big the other dog is–he’s going to immediately launch an attack.  He usually won’t bite unless the dog gets too close, as Oskar did, but he sure makes a lot of noise.  And if he manages to avoid a fight, as he did today, he’s usually pretty eager to jump right back in and get it started again.

But it’s not only that.  After the incident today, I took Toby for his walk, because it looked like his leg was ok.  It was.  He pranced and whiffled with excitement, as usual.  But here’s more of his “dangerous” behavior:  every time a car passed, I try to pull him over to the side of the road and get him out of the way.  And every time, he tried to bolt out into the road.  Or he just froze in the middle of the road, and I had to drag him out of the way.  This is not new behavior; he’s always done it.

But today I kept thinking about how much time is spent keeping Toby safe:  keeping him away from the other dogs.  Keeping him away from strange dogs as we go for walks.  Keeping him out of traffic.  And he doesn’t make it easy, you know?  I was cleaning out his room the other day and found a big spider (which I later caught and put outside).  He tries to catch the spiders in his mouth.  Not a good idea, Toby!

This spider was in Toby's room before I caught it and put it outside

When he was a young dog, he used to climb up on the roof, and I finally had to put up a railing on the deck so he couldn’t get up there anymore.   One of his first interactions with an adult dog was him snarling and snapping into the face of an adult Rottie.  Toby was 7 weeks old, and thankfully, the rottie just melted and licked him.  She was charmed.

Toby, you are a daredevil.  But you’ve never had very good judgement.

On a more serious note, I know that the real way to keep Toby safe is not to keep him at all, but to rehome him.  When I talk about the difficulties of managing my reactive pack, I know that it is easiest to rehome the best behaved dog, and Toby would be a wonderful only dog.  He’s smart, and he’s great with people.  He’s sweet (with people) and doesn’t need or demand a lot of attention or exercise.    And of my three, he’s the one that doesn’t get along with the others.  Bel may be crazy, but she and Oskar are mostly fine together.

But…Toby.  I can’t give up my Toby.  Perhaps that’s selfish.  Perhaps I don’t have very good judgement either.

So I’ll keep trying to keep Toby safe.  He won’t cooperate.  But I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, trying to do it better.  Managing dogs that want to kill one another is not easy.  I can’t really recommend it to anyone, though it is possible, if you’re vigilant.  I’ll keep working to keep Toby safe, so I have  many more years of joy and aggravation with him.

And I’ll try to remember this lesson:  never break the routine!

Toby chillin' in his chair

* Toby is not really fearless.  I’m very aware that he is actually a cautious, somewhat fearful dog, who masks his fear of other dogs with instant aggression:  I’m going to get them before they get me!  Many reactive dogs are also fearful dogs.

Bel’s Hunt

This part could probably be called “keeping Bel safe” because this was kind of scary too.  While Bel won this round of Shiba vs. Snake Deathmatch, I don’t like these encounters  because I’m fairly certain Bel doesn’t know the difference between a rattlesnake and a rat snake, and I worry that one day she will try this with a poisonous snake and get bit.  But as is often the case, Bel finds the snakes before I can rescue them.

I had already rescued this particular snake moe than once.  Bel had cornered it a few weeks earlier, but I managed to get her and Oskar in on that day, and the snake went free.  Another day,  U. asked me why scrub jays were gathered down around the propane tank.  Indeed there was a little gang of  jays circling something.  The something was a largish snake (maybe 3 and half feet long?), probably a gopher snake.  They were trying to peck at it, but it kept striking at them and hissing.   The snake was in between the propane tank and the dog’s water….and it was a very hot, dry day, and my theory was it had gone to get some water and found its way home blocked by angry birds.  So I got out the broom, let the snake coil around the handle, and carried it carefully over to a big rock with a hole under it, where I’ve seen this snake before, and let it go.

I like the snakes.  They eat mice and rats, and we can always use that.  They don’t hurt anything.  I felt ok about saving that snake. Twice.

But I couldn’t save it the third time.

I was inside and heard Oskar barking.  His bark was his soft “woof” which he does when he’s either excited or concerned about something.  He does it when Bel has something to eat he doesn’t.  Or when she’s into something:  he did it when she got the cookie container off the counter last week and ate all the dog cookies.  Oskar’s a tatttle-tale.

So I heard his bark, then heard Bel snarl like she does when she is frustrated.  Sometimes that leads to her biting whatever dog is near her, so I ran out to intervene.

She had the snake.

Bel has a snake!

I couldn’t save it:  by the time I got out there, Bel had bit the snake on the neck and was whipping the body around so quickly it was clear she’d already seriously injured it.

Mortally wounded

I wish I could have gotten a video; it’s pretty interesting to see Bel in hunting mode, and this is not the first time I’ve seen her kill a snake.  She goes in for quick sharp bites at the neck, and she leaps back after she bites, out of striking range (not that this poor thing could even strike by the time I saw it).  She does the snake-whip routine, shaking the snake fiercely, then letting it go, so it flew across the yard.  Then she caught it again and carried it over to the driveway.

Bel with snake

Bel bites near the head

She finished off the snake pretty quickly.

Bel has quite a strong prey drive, and is so motivated and fast I think she could have made a good working dog if she didn’t have so many other problems.

And what did Oskar do while all this was going on?  Other than alert me  (“Hey, mom, she’s got something!  Come see!”) Oskar didn’t do a whole lot.  He sniffed the snake once, but he was not at all interested in it.   He does have a prey drive–he took out a family of bunnies earlier this summer–but I think he is (rightly) cautious about the snakes, and he kept his distance.

As for Bel, I let her have her snake for awhile, and then managed to get it away from her when she went for a drink of water.  While I’m sad we lost one of our resident harmless snakes*, it sure was interesting to see Bel in action!

Proud Hunter

In any case, poor snake.  Another warning:  Snakes, stay away from the Shibas!

* I’m not sure what type of snake it was.  From my field guide, it looks to be either a gopher snake or a glossy snake.  I’ve  rescued snakes like this before that did hiss very loudly and strike, which makes me think it was a gopher snake, but this one wasn’t nearly as loud, so I’m not sure if it was the same kind of snake or another kind.  It does look a lot like this gopher snake.  It is probably not a glossy snake, though it looks somewhat like the darker version of this one, as it looks like glossy snakes tend to be nocturnal and also tend to live below 6000 feet (House of the Fox Dogs is near 7200 feet in elevation).

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!


He’s my Akita

Yesterday I took Oskar and Bel for a ride as I was running errands.  I was stopped not once, but three times by people wanting to comment on Oskar and inquire about his breed.  (Poor Bel!  No one even asked if she were a fox, like they usually do!  She was entirely ignored on this trip, but hey, I suspect she likes that).  I was telling M. about my day later, and she said that perhaps I should write about how Oskar has been mistaken for several things, including a medicinal plant.  So here goes!

The first confusion occurred when I took Oskar on outings as a pup.  Granted, not everyone is up-to-date on dog breed characteristics, especially in young pups, so I wasn’t really surprised when people saw this:

Oskar at 8 weeks

and then asked me if he were a husky mix or Malamute.  I think he looks like an Akita pup, but I wouldn’t blame someone who made a mistake.

But the day in question, M and I had taken Oskar to a local cafe that allowed dogs on the patio.  He was maybe 9 or 10 weeks old at the time, and everyone made much of him, and wanted to pet him, and the waitress even took a picture of him.  A couple of people came over and exclaimed over what a lovely Akita pup I had, so it wasn’t all about mislabeling.

But there were also a couple of really funny identification errors.  One was as we were leaving, when a couple stopped us and the guy said, “that’s a really cute……Ikea?”  He stopped, and said, “That doesn’t sound right…” and the person with him pointed out that Ikea was a furniture store, not a breed of dog.  At least these people recognized their mistake.  Earlier, a man had stepped up to Oskar, peered down and declared him to be an “echinacea,”  before stalking away without further explanation.   I was very puzzled.   Because does this face:

8 weeks old

at all resemble this?


Image by sramses177 via Flickr

Poor Oskar, so young to be so misunderstood.

Of course, now, at 11 months old, Oskar is very large–106 pounds last time we checked–and looks like nothing so much as what he is, which is a very lovely Akita boy.  Yesterday, the first people who stopped me as I was getting into the car just wanted to tell me that Oskar looked very much like their female Akita, who had died, and how happy they were to be reminded of their dog.

The next person who stopped me, by waving her arms rather frantically as I tried to exit the post office, also was reminded of a dog she had lost, and she was actually quite a sweet elderly lady, so I didn’t mind stopping to talk to her, and I was glad that Oskar made her think of her beloved dog, though honestly, I don’t think my boy looks anything like a wolf-husky cross, not with his big bear head and blunt muzzle.

What was interesting to me with this second interaction was Oskar’s response.  Oskar is a cautious dog.  He likes to size up a situation before deciding what to do.  That was clearly what he was doing while I talked to this woman.  He saw a stranger approaching the car. He dropped his head a bit, in what I think of as his “I’m an Akita, don’t mess with me” pose.  He didn’t bark or growl, and seemed content to watch, until the woman approached a little closer to the car.  This was clearly a problem for him, and he wanted to do what he does when he’s a little worried about me:  he wanted to get in between me and the stranger, but he couldn’t because he was in the back seat and I was in the front.  Instead, he shoved his big head as close as he could to my window, and I could see his gaze change from happy dog to watchful, protective dog.  Then he turned to look at me, and I thought it was clear he was trying to get cues for how to act.  I was calm; he remained calm, and we drove away.   I was glad the friendly lady hadn’t come any closer to the car, to test him, but I thought about how Oskar really is developing his sense of judgement as he gets older.

A couple of other incidents are tied to that.  Oskar likes to sit on the landing of our second floor deck.  From there, he can watch the entire yard, the gate, and the house quite well.  He’s not much of a barker, so he is usually fairly quiet up there, just watching.  There are good and bad elements to his silence.  One day, the UPS man came while Oskar was out there.  I wouldn’t have known anyone was there if Bel had not also been out, because she started barking.  I went out to get my package, wondering where Oskar had gotten off to.  Well, I found out.  He launched himself down the stairs and at the gate when the UPS man reached over the fence to hand me the package.  No barking.  No growling.  Just a running leap, and even that leap was controlled….what he wanted to do was make sure he was in between me and this stranger leaning over the fence.   He gave the UPS guy a bit of a hard stare, but that was it, and while the sight of a big Akita hitting the fence must have been rather startling, Oskar made no move to snap or growl at the man–he just watched him, and in the end decided that if I wasn’t worried about a strange man handing a mysterious box over the fence, then he wasn’t going to be worried about it either.

Last week, I got to see him in full watch dog mode for the first time.  I was on my way to work when I realized I’d left something in the house.  Instead of going back in through the front door, I decided to go in upstairs.  So I trotted up the outside stairs and across the deck.  I wasn’t even in the house when I heard Oskar’s very deep bark.  Since he’s usually such a quiet dog, I was a bit surprised that he was barking.  And there was nothing tentative about it:  this was a full on alarm bark, and I was just stepping into the house when I heard him galloping up the stairs, right towards me.  He was impressive:  over a hundred pounds of dog charging forward,  and the look on his face was like nothing I’d seen before–he thought a stranger was entering his house and he was pissed!  Again, no snarls or growls, but he looked damn serious.

Until he saw it was me, and then he turned into wiggles and wags and the hard stare softened to his goofy puppy face.    If I’d ever had any doubts about Oskar as a watch dog, they were all gone–a pissed off charging Akita is a sight indeed!  (He was accompanied by a small, but fierce Shiba girl.  One thing I’ve noted about Bel is that she is also quite a watch dog, but she’s small and cute, so no one takes her seriously.  There is some irony to this, as for a long time, she was probably the dog that was the most likely to bite someone in these kind of situations, while my German Shepherd, who people were afraid of, would have likely welcomed burglars into the house as long as they threw the ball for him).

The other thing I’ve discovered about Oskar is that he is a mimic.  Like his tendency not to bark, this has good and bad aspects.  Good, because he’s learned things from watching the other dogs.  Bad, because he’s watching the Shibas, who are mostly doing bad things.  Sometimes it’s just funny.  Last week Bel was moth hunting outside the big living room window.  I call Bel “the little Bug Eater” sometimes after a Kitsune in Kij Johnson’s book The Fox Woman, and the little Bug Eater was in full hunter mode:  leaping and snapping at the moths with abandon.  I noticed Oskar standing near by, watching.  Then he tried it.  But he’s large and slow, and what he managed to do was to crash into the window with his mouth open.  He stopped to watch her again, and tried it again, this time managing not to hit the window, but I don’t think he really managed to catch any moths either.  It was very funny, and instructive, to see how he learns from another dog.

And I had another, less fun, example of that yesterday.  Bel, like many Shibas, is notorious for not coming when called.  She has a particularly annoying habit of coming up to door and standing just out of reach when I’m trying to get her in the house.  Nothing will lure her in if she’s not ready.  Well, yesterday, I called her and Oskar, and both ran to the door.   Oskar raced right in for his cookie, but Bel stopped just outside the door.  Oskar stopped.  He looked at me.  He looked at Bel.  Then he ran back out the door, and stood with her, and wouldn’t come in.  I called him again, and showed him the cookies, but he’d seen Bel refusing to come in, and he’d learned something.  It was as if a light went off in his head:  “oh, you mean coming when called is optional?”

This was not a discovery I wanted him to make.  Fortunately, Oskar is easily motivated:  I gave up on the cookies, but I got down his favorite squeaky toy (I like small ones for training purposes and he seems to favor them too):

Oskar's favorite squeaky toy

One squeak and he was through the door, happily, targeting my hand with his nose, as I’ve taught him to do, for his squeaky toy reward.  Bel, of course, would not come in at all; she’s not motivated by food or toys–the allure of being outside and hunting is always more exciting for her.  She does, however, like to go for rides, which is how both her and Oskar ended up in the car with me as I ran errands.

The most recent issue of The Whole Dog Journal has an article on “observation without direction” which is about watching your dog and learning what they like to do when they are on their own.  As in the article, I’ve learned that Oskar is a mimic, and learns well by watching.  This is really useful training information, as he also watches me carefully for cues to behavior.  And overall, I’ve noticed he’s a steady, watchful dog, who is developing good judgement, and a calm, but protective nature.

After all,  he’s an Akita!

Oskar with tulips

Oskar is a Teenager: Dealing with Doggie Adolescence

Where has my sweet puppy gone?  I imagine I’m not the only dog guardian to ask that question.

It’s easy to see how far Oskar has come:  my little pup who could sleep in his food dish is long gone, and now I have a nearly 8 month old Akita who is just over 100 pounds, but whose brain hasn’t caught up with his body yet.  I know that.  But still, it’s a surprise sometimes when it hits.

Earlier this week, we went for a walk. Epic walk fail.

Oskar has been in two puppy classes, and he’s always  been pretty good about walking on the leash.  He didn’t too much leash pulling.  We’d even gotten to the point that he’d heel….only for a minute or so at a time, but he’d do it.  About a month ago,  he’d started to tug on the leash a bit, but nothing I couldn’t control, and mostly, he’s just a polite and sweet dog.  I did get him a no-pull harness–we settled on The Freedom Harness after trying a few types–and he was doing ok.  (Here is the  Freedom Harness)

Not on Wednesday!  His head was whipping around like he’d never seen so much interesting stuff ever.  He pulled–hard–to get at all the other dogs in their yards, and since he’s so damn big, of course he can almost pull me off my feet. He tried to chase cars. He acted as if he had never been on a leash walk before. We got, maybe, half a block from the house, because I had to keep stopping and walking the other way to get him to walk on a loose leash, which he’d do, but for maybe 20 or 30 secs, then back to crazy pulling. He even pulled the leash out of my hands and ran off down the road, but thank god, when I called and crouched down he came running back to me in delight (thank god he’s not a Shiba–the Sheebs just run off!).

I knew he was approaching adolescence, but this is the first I’ve really seen it manifested. Now I’m noticing that if he is in the yard, and I call him, he just ignores me. (he’s still eager to learn and good in the house, but obviously, no distractions there). Also, his interest in other dogs has just tripled….and while he’s not growling or anything, he does his excited “hop” when he sees them, and then tries to pull me over to them, and of course, he’s 100 pounds. He can easily pull me.

He’s not neutered yet, and I’d prefer to wait til he was a year old, for health reasons that I will discuss in another post.  I haven’t ever had an unaltered dog of this age, so I don’t know if he’s any worse than any other dog at this age–certainly I remember my (neutered) GSD being suddenly impossible at this age. I also think Oskar may SEEM particularly bad now because he was such an easy puppy. I didn’t notice the Sheebs adolescence because they were such holy terrors as pups that really, what could be worse?  So Oskar probably just seems bad in comparison to how usually good he is.  And Oskar is not showing any of the other issues that appear sometimes in unneutered adolescent dogs:  no marking (he doesn’t even lift his leg yet!), no humping, no aggression.  Like I said, he’s a good boy overall.

My plan of action with him is to go back to basics on training.  His biggest problem is focus:  he just can’t seem to manage it.  He’s a good boy overall, and still wants to please, but he just can’t get seem to get his little overexcited brain to focus on one thing.  So we’re back to doing attention exercises in the house (Look at Me, the Name Game) and we’re practicing walking on a loose leash in the yard and the house, rather than trying it on an overly exciting walk.  He also needs more exercise:  and while we can’t go on walks, we can play in the yard.  (Oskar, unlike many Akitas, LOVES fetch, so that’s a great game to get him tired).

I found these articles on Dogster that deal with canine teenagers.   They were very useful!

Dogster on canine adolescence

And here’s a pic of the big boy (with Bel looking very small beside him):