- Play with me, now. (Cognitive Canine)
- Is a Clicker Necessary? (Ken Ramirez)
- Enrichment for Dogs in Shelters (Best Friends) – applicable to all dogs!
- People Mistakenly Think Anxious Dogs Are Relaxed Around Baby (Companion Animal Psychology)
- The Magic Diet Pill Dog Training Method (Nancy Tanner)
- Using Play In Training: The Dog Toy You Should Ditch to Build Better Focus (Collared Scholar)
- Throw Me a Bone! How to Give Your Dog Effective Feedback (Dr. Jen’s Dog Blog)
- Relaxed Criteria with Increased Arousal (Denise Fenzi)
- Puppies and Emotional Maturity (Cognitive Canine)
“[…] When a sperm and an ovum combine into a zygote, they establish the genotype: all the genes that the developing person has. Creation of a person from one cell involves several complex processes to form the phenotype – the person’s appearance, behavior, and brain and body functions. Nothing is totally genetic, not even such obvious traits as height or hair color, but nothing is untouched by genes, not even behavior such as voting Republican or Democrat, working overtime or not at all, wanting or refusing a divorce (Plomin et al, 2013).
The genotype instigates body and brain formation, but the phenotype depends on many genes and on the environment, influenced from the moment of conception until the moment of death through “the organism’s encounters with its prenatal and postnatal environments” (Gilbert, 2010, p26). Most traits are polygenic (affected by many genes) and multifactorial (influenced by many factors).”
The Developing Person Through the Lifespan, 9th Ed., Berger
This passage came from the textbook for the Lifespan Psychology course I’m taking at the local community college. It got me thinking about the relationship between nature and nurture: gene expression is affected by the environment and the dog’s response to their environment is affected by their genes. You can’t have one without the other and you can’t change one without changing the other.
This is was a reminder for me to think globally in terms of both behavior and physical development on a lifetime scale. As a breeder I choose the genes to some extent and I also have a lot of influence over phenotype (behavioral and physical development) during the first 8-9 weeks of my puppies’ lives. Puppy owners have even more control over phenotype since they have the puppy from 8 weeks until death and as a result can influence gene expression over the lifetime. Interesting thought, isn’t it?
Epigenetics (changes in organisms caused by modification of gene expression rather than alteration of the genetic code itself) is a fascinating topic and I suspect it’s going to have a large influence on both dog breeding and dog training in the future. There is evidence that a learned response may alter gene expression and that those altered genes may in turn be inherited by offspring who will exhibit a similar response. Another study showed that something as simple as a diet change in the pregnant mother could alter gene expression in offspring to eliminate the deleterious effects of a gene. You may not be able to change the gene itself but you can change its expression – which is just as good.
What does this mean to me? There is a great deal more plasticity in both the brain and in our genetics than we have traditionally thought. As a breeder this encourages the application of genetic preservation principles. Over the decades there’s been a trend toward breeding very few and very specific individuals but as Dr. Carol Beuchat points out this leads to inevitable inbreeding and loss of genetic diversity. Some breeds, terriers in particular, are in danger of going extinct due to miniscule breeding populations with very little genetic diversity. Would our breeds benefit from broadening the gene pool? How can we avoid extinction and improve the genetic diversity of our breeding population? These questions will need to be addressed at some point in the near future and I don’t think the answers will be popular or easy.
It also leads me to reconsider the idea that “you’re stuck with what you got” when it comes to the genetics of a puppy. The power of epigenetics means that phenotype has the potential to change as the effects of the environment alter gene expression (i.e. training, care, chronic stress). This has limited applied use since we don’t know which genes will be altered but it can be a powerful boost for folks working with difficult dogs. Rehabilitation is often primarily about behavior (phenotype), but it could have an effect on gene expression which in turn will effect behavior. It also highlights the importance of thinking holistically about the care and keeping of your dog for their mental and physiological health.
In the end breeders, owners, and trainers are in the same fluid relationship with gene expression as the organism is with nature-nurture. We can influence behavior and gene expression through breeding and training knowing the consequences can be multi-generational genetically and global phenotypically. There is a sense of freedom and exploration here that pushes the boundaries of what we think we know.
- The Debates Swirling Around Microchipping of Animals (Dr. Jean Dodds)
- Advocacy (Denise Fenzi)
- Click to Be Fit: Fun Canine Fitness Training (ClickerTraining.com)
- Why Relationship-Based Training Sucks (Pack to Basics)
- Falsifiability or Falsehood in Dog Training? (Part 1) (EileenAndDogs)
- Electing to Consider the Dog (Cognitive Canine)
Females in heat have a bad rap but, honestly, heat cycles are no big deal. It’s mildly inconvenient but if you don’t have any intact males it’s only mildly inconvenient. If you do have intact males you have to live with a squeaky boy who can’t sit still and won’t stop harassing the poor girl, which is mostly really annoying.
Since Ava and Rory have both finally come into heat, and I have a friend who was dreading the prospect of her Rottweiler puppy coming into season, I was inspired to share.
Learn Some Stuff
First, go read this article by Nancy Tanner on the female canine reproductive cycle. She describes the timing, signs, behavior changes, and management strategies.
For the abnormal and non-average, read this article.
You can also talk to your vet or breeder. Vets will know more about the physiological side (of course) whereas breeders will have frontline experience. Most vets have little experience with breeding dogs themselves.
Buy Some Stuff
Your girl needs panties, and don’t you dare subject her to the hot mess known as off-the-shelf panties. Instead do yourselves a favor and get custom made panties. They’re more expensive but they fit exceptionally well. That means she’s comfy (as much as a dog in underwear can be) and you don’t have to worry as much about them falling off. Consider them an investment in her happiness and your sanity. You should buy at least 3 pairs. I got mine from Shari Walliker at MuttsButtsDog Diapers.
Buy regular ladies panty liners that don’t have wings; dog specific ones are a waste of money.
Buy baby wipes. Sometimes they pee their pants (especially puppies) or just need a little tidying.
Depending on your situation and dog, create an airlock. This is a secondary barrier to prevent escapes through open doors, so a baby gate or x-pen would do nicely. If you have multiple dogs you may need additional gates to create separate spaces. This portion of Grisha Stewart’s BAT 2.0 book describes airlocks.
- Panties are not chastity belts. They can and do fall off or get pulled off. I suggest putting sheets/blankets on furniture and using your backup sheets on your bed. This also means you can never leave her alone with an intact male or unsupervised outdoors, particularly when she’s in oestrus.
- Let her run around the house naked to prevent chafing and peed pants. My girls run naked while we’re at work and wear panties the rest of the time.
- Stay at home. This prevents any snarky behavior from her or from other dogs. Intact males are obnoxious and determined, even if she’s not receptive.
- Be patient and empathic; females in heat act remarkably similar to women on their periods.
- Bathe her after her cycle is finished. This will remove her sexy scent and prevent other dogs from harassing her, plus she probably needs it anyway. Wash all bedding, sheets, and blankets as well as her panties.
You have no idea what you’re in for. I hear ya, you read all the books and watched all the DVDs, maybe you’ve even delivered human babies. You still have no idea what you’re in for. People think it’s two months of roly poly puppies full of adorableness, and that part is wonderful, but there’s more to it than puppy breath.
Preparing for the Breeding
They make it sound so easy, what with progesterone tests and vaginal cell smears. “Just wait for the progesterone peak and two days later you should breed her.” You’ll be constantly worried that you missed her progesterone peak and wonder, hmmm, spend money on a probably unnecessary test or sooth my worried brain? When did she come in? Why is this taking so long? So you do the test and it’s a big fat “not yet.” Ugh. You’ll email the stud dog owner every other day with meaningless updates as you try to figure out when to drop your leave chit at work so you can roadtrip to the stud. If you’re breeding her to an in-house male you don’t have to worry. Yet.
Your female will not enjoy this, in fact she might hate it. It’s not something that dogs do for fun and it’s painful for the female so she’ll probably whine or even shriek with pain. There’s also the chance that they just won’t be into each other, and some males have lousy libidos. If they do tie she’ll probably try to get away and might even try to bite him — this strange dog is hurting her in strange ways! Since that would be really painful for the male you are the cruel person who whispers sweet nothings while restraining her. It can be traumatizing for both of you. And you get to do it three times over the next few days. You’ll feel like a terrible person.
You bred her, woohoo! But, is she pregnant? You won’t know this until halfway through the pregnancy and even then there’s the chance of fetal reabsorption. There’s also the possibility that she didn’t take and it was all a false pregnancy. Skip the ultrasound and get an X-ray a week before her due date so you know how many puppies should be born. I say should because she could miscarry or have stillborn puppies. This sounds all gloom and doom but the worry is real!
Oh em gee, your bitch made it full-term and is showing signs of labor! Rent a few movies and order takeout, this could take a while. You’ll think she’s about to start pushing and then she’ll take a nap. Chances are she’ll keep you guessing for two days before finally starting real labor at 4am after you’ve been awake for 36 hours. This is actually the scariest part because you want to help but you’re not quite sure how to do it safely. Don’t pull to hard or you might hurt the puppy, but don’t wait too long or they might suffocate. Has it been too long between puppies? What do I DO???? This is when you freak out if you don’t have an experienced person with you.
First Two Weeks
You thought it was going to be easy sailing after they were born, but no. For the first two weeks puppies can’t regulate their own body temperature, see, or hear and they need to eat every 1-2 hours. Even though you’ve been up for 48 hours you’re going to hover over the whelping box making sure nobody gets accidentally suffocated, they’re warm but not too warm, and holding puppies up to the nipple every 10min. Now you’re a helicopter parent who obsessively checks the heating pad and critically examines how mom jumps in the whelping box to see if you can make it safer somehow. You’ll fret over the runt, making sure they’re still alive every chance you get and holding them up to the nipple every 2min just in case. Are you sure you’re not hungry? Buy a webcam because eventually you do need to return to your day job or at least leave the house, but this way you can spy on them.
This part is sad — these are your babies! It’s also terrible because as soon as one puppy leaves the others realize that the group dynamic has changed, and they start fighting viciously. This will scare the crap out of you in addition to being highly inconvenient, so it’s best to have them all picked up on the same day. After the last puppy leaves you’ll feel like a bear coming out of hibernation as you ease back into “normal” life and wonder how to fill your suddenly empty days. Even though you once thought “I wish I could keep them all!” now you’ll be thinking “phew, glad that’s over.” Six months later you might find yourself thinking you want to do it again.
My point is that your first litter is going to be trial by fire, probably much like having your first human baby. Now I understand why so many breeders are retired or don’t work outside the home! Is it a ton of work? Yep. Is it worth it? Yes! It’s a wonderful privilege to watch your puppies develop from birth and know that you had a hand in creating these amazing little creatures.