Toby is Ten!

Happy birthday to Toby, who turned 10 today!

Four weeks old

Toby at Four weeks old

He is now officially a Shiba elder, and he celebrated his status by doing what he likes best:  nothing much at all.

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Often I take the birthday dog for a ride to get a burger at a drive-through, but today I had a puppy class, and was in town already with Zora, so Toby had to forgo his birthday ride.  That’s ok:  Toby is rather….um….portly, as it is, and I didn’t think I needed to add to his quest to be World’s Largest Shiba.    He did, however, have a bully stick, and got lots of attention.   In some ways, Toby has kept his puppyish figure, and his interests have remained much the same too:

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Toby then….

though these days, he takes up a lot more space:

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Toby at 9.5 years old

Oh, Toby did have a slim period, but that has long since passed:

Toby and Bel in better days

Toby and Bel in better days

(Bel was a puppy in that photo, and Toby was around two years old).

Mostly, Toby seems to be returning to his youth in some ways.   As a puppy, while he didn’t exactly enjoy other dogs, he seemed to be able to tolerate being around them:

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Toby and Gideon were puppies together.

But his middle years were difficult.  His friendship with Gideon went sour and Toby seemed to lose every fight he started:

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Toby’s war wounds

Toby's Neckerchief

Yeah, I lost, but I got this cool neckerchief…

Of course, the fight(s) with Bel were the worst, and in 2008, we nearly lost him.   The damage she did was so great, Toby’s liver began to fail.  But thanks to the best vets ever, and to Toby’s fighting spirit, my heart dog pulled through.

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After 6 weeks at the vet, I brought my boy home

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Wounded by still smiling!

Toby has seen a lot.  Of course, he has scars, both physically and emotionally.   Toby was very scared and reactive with other dogs ever since then–and who can blame him?  Every interaction he’d had with other dogs seemed to go very badly indeed, and in the years afterwards, Bel tried to attack him every chance she could.  Finally, it was too difficult trying to keep them separated in the house–Bel was masterful at getting through doors and knocking down dog gates.  Toby got his own room,  the sun room, which had also been his recovery room.

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Toby in his room

I don’t think he minded.  He had his own chair, and privacy, and big windows, and he seemed to feel safe in his room.   He came into the rest of the house when the other dogs were outside and he slept in the living room at night, but he would happily run back to his room in the morning.   I did worry that he was lonely, as he had no dog friends, but since he’d had such bad luck with other dogs, I think he was more comfortable on his own.

There were some hard times there before Bel died.  There are always mistakes when you have to manage dogs that don’t get along, and we had some too.  Once Toby slipped outside when the others were already out, and I suddenly heard a very aggressive barking.  I ran outside and what I saw was horrible:  Toby was running towards the house, with three others dogs (Oskar, Bel and Leo) in pursuit.  But Toby isn’t fast, and Oskar knocked him down and bit him, and Toby was on his side, screaming, and Bel attacked.  I don’t know how I did it, but I managed to pull two dogs (Oskar and Bel) off Toby and shove them into the car which was the closest place for me to put them (thank god I’d left the doors unlocked!)

Toby had run, crying, back to his room and was on his chair when I got there, and Leo, sweet Leo, was rolling on his back in front of Toby, as if to say, “look, I’m harmless!” Thankfully, Toby was ok, and there was only one minor puncture wound to treat.  But I still feel guilty about that:  it was my fault, as I hadn’t locked the door to Toby’s room, and during the night the wind blew it open, so it was slightly ajar and he was able to go out.   Seeing him on the ground, with the other dogs attacking him still makes me teary:  my old fat boy, wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, but they went after him the moment they saw him.

Something did good out of this though:  after seeing Leo make appeasing gestures, I wondered if perhaps Leo and Toby could become friends.  So very slowly, over the course of year, we began to test it out.  I took them for walks together.  We let them sleep in the same room, with Leo in the crate.  Leo is the perfect dog for rehabilitating a reactive dog:  he reads other dogs well, and he is nonthreatening.   A lot of those early walks involved the two dogs not looking at each other all, or sniffing near each other, but with no eye contact.  Polite dog behavior.  Then we let Toby loose in the yard with Leo on the leash, and then the two of them loose in the yard together, where they continued to politely ignore one another.  They weren’t friends yet, but they were getting along, something which I thought was amazing progress.

And then Bel died, and the dynamics in the house changed dramatically.  The relief in the house was palpable:  Toby knew his tormenter was not there.   He started to relax.   And he and Leo became friends for real.

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We’re friends, but I still get all the toys.

It was a pretty amazing change for an old dog.  They are easy together, and lately, I’ve been thrilled to see Toby even greets Leo with a polite sniff and tail wag.  They’re even comfortable enough together to chill out on the sofa together:

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And perhaps the bigger miracle is this:  Toby even tolerates puppy Zora!  They’ve been loose in the yard together several times now, and while Toby will give a warning growl to get Zora to keep her distance–no puppy play for Toby!–he also doesn’t seem to be threatened by her.   I’m hoping this will continue as she gets older, too.  It would nice for Toby to have a big protector too, like Leo has with Oskar.

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Polite greetings with puppy Zora in the background

So my old boy has learned some new tricks, and I think he’s happier having some friends, or at least knowing that most of the dogs he lives with will not hurt him (he still can’t get along with Oskar, but two out of three isn’t bad!)

Toby may be 10, but he’s a Shiba, so I hope he has many more years left–Shibas are relatively long lived dogs.  He’s not as healthy as he could be, as he is hypothyroid and probably is in the early stages of Cushings disease.  He has always had mild luxating patella, but his age and weight are starting to take a toll, and that leg is getting a bit worse.  And while Toby has long wanted to be the World’s Largest Shiba, I would very much like him to lose some weight, though the various diets we’ve tried haven’t taken much off.  He’s getting hard of hearing–sometimes I can call and call, and when I go in front of him and he sees me, he’s clearly startled:  he didn’t hear me.

But I love my old fat boy like crazy, and am so thankful to have had these past 10 years with him, ten years in which we both had to fight hard and struggle against enormous odds.  We’re both a bit scarred, a bit less trusting than we were ten years ago, and a bit more tired, but also wiser, and we’ve learned to value true friends and simple pleasures.

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So here’s to Toby, who is 10, my first Shiba, and my favorite fat boy in all his splendor, and with all his nicknames:    Toby Toby, Toby Soprano, Pope Toby the Only, Fatboy Slim, Toblerone, Devil Dog, Bobo.  May we have many more years together, and you’ll always be my best boy.

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Toby as Best Man

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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.

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Toby says “I’ve had enough!”

Toby’s State of the Shiba Address

Toby here.  I haven’t checked in for awhile, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been reading and thinking.  I have.

And a lot of what I’ve seen distresses me.

The state of the Shiba is not good.

I have to admit that even I, in all my magnificence, have had some better times.  I got bit by the little crazy bitch dog Bel way back in the spring, and my fur still hasn’t grown back, so while I’m still a very handsome Shiba of course, I have looked better.  And I also have to admit that it may be time to rethink my goal to be the world’s largest Shiba.  All this weight is making it hard for me to run around, and I’m not even enjoying my walks that much these days.   I think I may have to leave the World’s Largest Shiba to someone younger, with more stamina.   I am not only magnificent, but I am magnanimous, and am willing to pass the title on to someone else.   And don’t tell my person, but I don’t actually mind my “spa diet” she feeds me of fish and veggies.  I was also getting too big for the sofa (but I’ve lost some weight since then):

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But my real concern is not with me.  I’m concerned for the state of the Shiba in general.  Those of you who know me, know that years ago, when I was a young, innocent puppy, I wanted to send to Japan for more Shibas.  Well, of course, that went bad wrong with Bel, but she wasn’t from Japan anyway.  These days, I think the Shiba might be too popular.

Because too many are coming from places like where the little crazy girl came from.

I’d heard my human talking about mills before, and saying the “squirrely girl” as She calls her, came from a mill.

I didn’t know what that was, so I decided to look it up, and I read some terrible things.    Some of these Shibas never get out of their tiny cages.  They don’t know what it’s like to walk on the ground, even, and they certainly don’t get to lay on the sofa or have their own nice chairs like I do.  They don’t even have names–they just have numbers.  I read how some Shibas were injured because they left a bunch of Shibas in one cage and they fought with each other.   This shook me up, because I know what it is to be scared of other dogs.  I don’t like to be around any other dogs because of how Bel has hurt me, and it scared me just to think of being locked up in a cage with other Shibas!

I know my human gets very frustrated, because I hear her talking to her friend (the one with the tasty looking birds), about how some people try to justify their puppy mill purchases.  She says even after hearing about how unhealthy these dogs can be, and how badly the dogs are treated, they don’t care, which I find that hard to believe.  No one who loved Shibas would want to support a place that is so cruel to Shibas, would they?

Well, I think if people just knew about these places, they would not buy from them.  So here’s some things I read:

ShibaScout Rescue on the mills

TriState Shiba Rescue at the dog auctions

Those two are rescue organizations, by the way, and if you have any extra money after making sure your dogs get lots of food and toys for Christmas, you should send some money there!

I also found this blog about puppy mills, (by someone who has a Shiba and a funny looking non-Japanese Shiba with short hair.  My human says that other dog is NOT a Shiba, but a Basenji, whatever that is, but I just don’t believe that):

Shibasenji on puppy mills

And of course, I live with one of these dogs from one of those places.  And she’s crazy, and she nearly killed me, and she’s sick a lot of the time!  When I said I wanted more Shibas, I never thought my human would get a Shiba who would almost kill me.  And I never thought humans would be so cruel as to treat other Shibas so badly.

It makes me sad.

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Toby says NO MORE mills!

On a lighter note, though, the human got this other dog that she says came from Japan.  Or his parents did or something like that.  (My father came from Japan too, of course, and he is very handsome indeed, like me!).   I don’t hate this dog, because when the other dogs tried to attack me, he didn’t.  I don’t like him, but I don’t hate him.  But he is by far the ugliest Shiba I have ever seen in my life:

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His tail does not curl at all, and he’s too long, and he has funny stripey fur.  The human says he is a Kai Ken, whatever that is, but like I told you, I don’t believe everything she says.   Next time I am at the other human’s house, I’ll take a quick peek in her dog book and see if I see such a thing.

Ok, that’s my State of the Shiba address.  Toby out!

Happy Birthday, Toby!

Today Toby is 8!

In honor of his birthday, I thought it might be time for a Toby retrospective.  Toby, this is your life!

Four weeks old

This may be the cheeriest he ever looked, and honestly, we’ve debated…is that really Toby?  Did he ever look that innocent?  (That was a picture the breeder sent).

Toby quickly developed the typical grumpy-buns Shiba puppy face:

Puppies together

Or maybe he just thought, what am I doing here with this Not-a-Shiba?

Of course, Toby’s interests and hobbies developed early:

And you may also notice, when you look at later photos, that his overall shape has not changed much either!

Well, that’s not entirely true.  Toby did have a svelte phase as a young dog, and he even had a phase when he got along with Bel (before she went all psycho on him):

(And wasn’t Bel a pretty puppy?  Shhh…don’t let Toby hear me say that.  This is really all about him, after all!)

Some of you will remember that when Toby first came to live with me, he was very concerned about the fact that there were not enough Shibas around, and he felt the need to call to Japan for some more.  He was initially at least sort of happy to have another Shiba in the house, though he knew all along that Bel was not from Japan, but from Nebraska, which in his mind, explained a lot about her.  I’m sure he would like me to say that he quickly got over the idea that there should be more Shibas, and now he believes that there are entirely too many dogs in the house.  And possibly in the world.  Because of course, he should be the ONLY one.

Soon Toby entered into the darker days of his misspent youth.  There was a lot of fighting.   Many of these fights he started.   Unfortunately, he didn’t win any of them, unless by winning we mean who got the most scars and vet visits.  There was the battle between Toby and Gideon that ended their friendship.  Toby started that, of course, and while Gideon would forgive and forget to this day, Toby has a very long memory indeed.

This was not the first time, nor the last, that Toby got an “outfit” from the vet to cover the wounds he had from a fight.  This was, perhaps, the most dashing of his outfits!

Then there were many “Very Large Array” outfits, in which Toby imitated a giant satellite dish:

And here’s what he looked like after coming very, very close to losing his life to Bel’s murderous attack:

It was quite an outfit, but as you can see, Toby still kept his spirits up, with the help of some Liberty Ale.  Oh wait, I guess I drank that!  This picture, by the way, was after he finally got to come home from his five-week stay at the vet.  We really did almost lose him, but as my vet sometimes jokes now “only the good die young” and we all know Toby is NOT a good boy!

Of course, Toby has had some other types of outfits too.  Not all of them were medically necessary.  The Toby Soprano look, for example:

Or  Toby as the Great Pumpkin:

Of course, Toby looks good in everything, and he knows it.  Even a sweater with the tag on it just accentuates his rugged good looks!  (And he really does prance around whenever he wears something).

After the attack by Bel, Toby never really did tolerate any other dogs again, and he still doesn’t.  In his life, he only had one true dog friend, and that was Kai, his foster father.  This is a picture of them together, not too many months before we lost Kai to cancer:

Yes, Toby has faced many challenges in his eight years, including baths:

Toby says "I hate this"

But he is always magnificent:

Even if, like so many of us, he’s grown a bit more plush with the years.

After all, he still has his same hobbies–foraging, sleeping, foraging some more.

Happy birthday Toby!  You’ll always be the dog closest to my heart.   I hope we have another 8 years together, and you become the old crotchety Shiba we all know you’re destined to become.

PS.  Toby was watching TV tonight, and has been inspired to write a “State of the Shiba” post.   Stay tuned for that!

Bel’s Birthday: the Bitter and the Sweet

Today is Bel’s birthday.  She’s 6 years old.  Forgive me if I have a hard time mustering up some enthusiasm for this event, but I might as well admit it, as much as I love Bel, she’s often a hard dog to like.

Bel:  A Retrospective

It seems an apt time for a review of Bel’s life so far.  I got her when she was nearly four months old from a place I now recognize as a puppy mill.  I’ve talked about this in other posts, so we won’t go over her early life, but besides being not particularly well-bred, Bel was not socialized much as a pup.  I didn’t help things much when I got her:  she was fearful and I was busy, and I didn’t even take her to the puppy classes that I took the other dogs to.  I thought her being with my dogs and my friend’s dogs was enough.  It wasn’t.

Bel as a puppy

It might not have made a great deal of difference in her behavior:  she has a number of health problems and a fearful temperament.  Maybe I could have made things better with more socialization–certainly I know now it would have been worth the effort.  But I doubt it would have fixed her.

In 2008, when she was not quite three, she had a series of minor squabbles with Toby which ended in her suddenly attacking him at the door.  I couldn’t get her off him.  When I did, finally, manage to separate them, Toby was seriously injured.  He nearly died, and was at the vet for 6 weeks.  At that point, I decided to try to rehome her, and went through Shiba rescue, but honestly, who wants a dog who is that reactive, and who is also afraid of people?  A couple of people inquired about her.  Some even came to see her (she hid).   After six months of having her listed with rescue groups, I decided to just keep her, as I was used to keeping them separated by then.  That’s how it’s been ever since:  Bel and Toby are almost never together.

In the fall of 2009, she was attacked by coyotes (through the fence)  and bitten badly on the head and neck.  She had some eye damage, which healed, and who knows what else happened in her little brain.  She’s never been a particularly predictable dog, and this didn’t help.

Bel after the coyote attack

Bel after the coyote attack

After that she started to have a lot of “episodes” for lack of a better word, in which she would run and run along the fence, eyes blank, sometimes not recognizing me.  She’d done this on occasion before, but it got much more frequent after the attack.

In late 2010, she had a full on seizure.  The first I’d seen, but my vet and I suspect her “episodes” might be petit mal type seizures, which include periods when she “blanks out” in the house, for 30 seconds to a minute, and when she comes back she is fearful and confused.  Her crazed running outside seems almost like a fugue state.  Also in December of 2010, her luxating patella required surgery and she shredded her ACL, which readers of this blog know she had surgery for in March of this year.

She’s not been an easy dog.   She’s almost feral.  She is afraid of most people–sometimes even us.  She doesn’t come when called.  She runs away instead, and now can’t even be off leash in the main yard because she’ll hide out there and won’t come in, or she’ll run and run like a crazy thing til she does further damage to her legs (she’s already reinjured the leg we did surgery on, though luckily it doesn’t appear she tore the ACL again).

But before she attacked Toby?  It used to be lovely to watch them together….the way she followed him and watched his every move.  She taught him how to play–he never played before she came to live with us.  They used to run alongside one another in the yard, shoulder to shoulder, like a team, and they’d turn their heads at the same time as if they were one unit.  She was still fearful in those days, but she was funny and sweet too.  And then she wasn’t.

Toby and Bel in better days

Bel Today:

Bel can be very sweet.   She can be a charming, silly dog.  She likes to be petted, and she indicates this by standing up on her hind legs, and placing one paw gently on my arm to get my attention.  If I don’t pet her, she paws me a bit more.  She likes to have her chest rubbed, and she turns her head away as I do this, and leaves her paw resting on me to remind me that this is my duty–to pet her.  She is playful and she likes to steal things.  She taught me to always keep the bathroom door closed, because if it’s open, she’ll find the toilet paper roll, no matter where it is, and steal it and drag toilet paper banners all over the house.  She is smart, and loves clicker training, and took to it faster than any of the other dogs.

This spring, she’s been injured, so some of the things she enjoys (running, twirling, leaping, and hunting birds) haven’t been possible.  I have to keep her on the leash.  She’s been pretty mellow overall.  She was off phenobarbital for awhile (because of the liver problems she had in the spring), but she started getting fearful again.  She developed a fear of thunder last year, and now she’s added fear of wind to that.  A couple of weeks ago, she started to get fearful as it got dark.  Not full dark, but at dusk.  Every night as it gets dark, she starts to panic.  Her fearful behavior is the same for all these things:  she paces and pants.  Her tail is dropped.  She tries frantically to get outside.  Then she tries to climb up on me.  She wants to climb up on my neck like a dog scarf.

Bel doing her fox stole imitation (she wasn't in full on panic here)

After a few weeks of this, I put her back on the phenobarbital.  She wasn’t having seizures per se, but her behavior was erratic, and she was having brief “blank” periods again, so I thought it would help regulate her behavior, and it seems to have done that.  She was calmer.   So much so that I got complacent.

Bel and Toby:  A(nother)  Scary Incident

Since she has to be on the leash all the time (to keep her from further injuring the leg she had surgery on), sometimes I take her out in the yard when Toby is loose. (This gives Toby the freedom to interact with her or not as he chooses). Lately, they’ve been playing together, and even doing something they used to do when they were young and got along: they walk along shoulder to shoulder, like a little Shiba team.  She’s on the leash, and Toby comes up and initiates play, or walks closely to her.  They’ve been fine.

Sometimes I even walk them to the mailbox together, sometimes on separate leashes, and sometimes on a leash coupler.   I decided to do it on Monday.  I was overly optimistic: I thought maybe they were going to get along now that they are a bit older, calmer.  I’d heard of that happening with feuding dogs.

So I leashed them up with the coupler and walked down to the mailbox. On the way I saw someone jogging with an Anatolian shepherd and I thought, this is a bad idea. Seeing another dog may be too much for them.   By then it was too late. They saw the other dog, and both growled at it, and once Toby growled, Bel turned on him and they started fighting. Of course I could hardly separate them because of the stupid leash coupler. Bel grabbed him by the scruff and would not let go.   Then Toby slipped his collar (probably the only time this is a good thing) when she let go a bit because I pulled her by her back legs.  I usually leave their buckle collars on and put a martingale collar on to walk them, and thank god I’d done this, because I was able to grab Toby by his other collar.

Then I had two dogs, one leash, both dogs still snarling at each other.   Each time Toby growled, Bel went berserk again; I could barely keep them apart.   I managed, somehow, to get them to our fence, tied Bel to it, and took Toby around to the gate then into the house. Luckily he’s got a ton of hair and a roll of fat on his neck, and was not badly hurt.  There was no blood, but he was so scared! He ran in the house and hid, and wouldn’t come out from under the table for almost three hours, and he was panting with stress, poor boy.   And I felt awful.

Lessons:

There are some things I learned from this:

  1. NEVER become complacent with reactive dogs, and never underestimate what they can do.  Both Shibas have a low threshold for stimulation, and the excitement of a walk together was probably enough to be dangerous, but seeing another dog sent Bel over the edge.
  2. Leash couplers are a bad idea for reactive dogs, possibly for any dogs.  They simply don’t have enough room to get away from one another, and if there is a fight, as I experienced, then it’s hard for the person handling the dogs to get them separated.
  3. Know how to separate fighting dogs.  The first things to try would simply be noise to startle them, or try to get something in between them (even the mail, as someone suggested!).  Water is another good thing to use–spray them with a hose or dump water on them if needed (this has never worked for me to get Bel off Toby, but it will work for some people).  The wheelbarrow move, which I used, is something to be tried if other things don’t work.  Grab the dog’s back legs and lift them off the ground–they lose their balance and in theory, will let go (which did work for Bel).  One person who told me about this found some information about it on the Leerburg GSD site*, and this site suggests holding the dog’s back legs and moving in a circle so the dog can’t snap back and bite you.  It’s worth a try.  Some people have said it could be bad for a dog with a luxating patella, like Bel.  I agree.  But I also knew this was a matter of life and death:  she would kill Toby if she could.  I’d rather risk the injury than lose a dog.  Don’t do what I stupidly did out of panic, which was to try to separate them by pulling on their collars.  They simply got more agitated, and I was lucky I wasn’t bitten.  (You just don’t think about these things, in the heat of the moment,  though).
  4. Bel is crazy and can’t be trusted.
  5. I did a very stupid thing, and it was a stupid thing that put Toby’s life at risk.
The Aftermath 

As I said, Toby spent the rest of the afternoon and evening really spooked and I can’t even begin to tell you how bad I feel about this.  He trusts me to keep him safe, and I failed him.  Everytime he looked at me, I felt awful.  I know this incident reinforced his reactivity:  for him other dogs are dangerous, and therefore he needs to react as if his life is threatened every time he sees another dog:  he needs to go on the offense.  Or so he thinks, and it’s not an unreasonable supposition on his part.

Bel was fine, of course, but hyped up like crazy.  I took her into the vet that afternoon for her regularly scheduled appointment, and she could not settle down (she still hasn’t.  She’s still hyperactive, and she “stalks” Toby from inside the house when she sees him outside, and she’s tried to force herself into his room.  It’s scary).

I told my vet what happened as she was examining Bel’s leg.  And my vet told me this:  they had a fox terrier who was very like Bel, and though their dogs had had several fights (none with big injuries) they still let her interact with the other dogs, because they misjudged how bad the situation was.  One day they left the terrier bitch and another male in the car briefly while they ran errands.  When they came back, she’d killed the other dog.

I was astounded, and heartbroken.  Both my vet and I were petting Bel at that time, who was sitting on the chair like a little princess, acting as sweet as can be.  My vet said “So I understand about dogs like Bel.  And I’d understand, with all her health issues and her craziness, if you decided she was too much to deal with and decided it was too much to put your other dogs at risk with having her in the house.  I’d understand, and wouldn’t blame you.”

We didn’t say anything for a moment, though of course, Bel’s life hung there, for a moment, in the balance.  I asked my vet what happened with the Fox terrier bitch.  “Oh, that was five years ago,” she said.  “She’s 9 now, and still evil as can be to other dogs.  We just keep her separated from the others, and they know not even to get near her crate.”

 We both looked at Bel.  “You’ve been managing all this time with her, and you’ve done a good job.  Be careful, and don’t beat yourself up for a mistake.”

I brought Bel home.

This is hard to say, but  it is the truth:  there days I really do think of giving up.  I think about how she’s only 6 years old–barely middle-aged for a Shiba, and I think of the mistakes and near misses that occur at least once a year, and I wonder if I’m selfishly putting Toby’s life in danger by keeping her.  I think about her seemingly endless health problems, both mental and physical.  I wonder if life is ok for her, as fearful as she is, and as limited as she in activities lately–she can’t even get out and run and play now, as it risks more damage to the leg she had surgery on.  She has LP on the other back leg too, and her constant carrying of the leg she had surgery on simply puts stress on her other back leg–eventually she may not be able to walk on either leg.

But I’m not ready to give up on her.  Giving up means one thing:  euthanasia.  She’s not a dog I could, in good conscience, rehome. Right now, I can live with her, even though, to be honest, she scares me.  I don’t know what goes through her head when she looks at Toby, but I know it’s like a switch is flipped, and she’s homicidal.  She’s never shown a bit of aggression toward a person, but she’s so unpredictable.  I’m not really afraid for that, though. I’m afraid of her unpredictability with other dogs, and though she’s only done this to Toby, how do I know she won’t turn it on Oskar someday?  Or some other dog?  I don’t.

But then there’s Bel.  Sweet little Bel, who comes to me when she’s scared.  The little girl dog who lays against me on the sofa as I read.   This silly, beautiful, fucked up little dog, who also trusts me, who is lucky to have someone like me who doesn’t give up easily.   And I know there may come a time when it is all too much, and her bad health and bad temperament overwhelms everything else.  If she every hurt another dog badly again, yes, I think it would be time.  But this is not that time, not yet.  I’ll keep going, keep the dogs separate, be more careful.    And I’ll keep enjoying the good days, and hope for more of them.

Happy birthday to Bel, my little crazy girl.  I hope there are better days ahead for us all.

Bel's a bad girl! (But this kind of bad is just cute!)

*Re: the Leerburg site.  I agree with almost none of this breeder/trainer’s philosopy, but I do think his method of separating fighting dogs is a good one, and so I mention it here.  Google the article if  interested.

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!

Truman!