Call Your Breeder!

​​Republished from the Ruffly Speaking Blog December 28, 2009 by Joanna Kimball

I was tooling around the Interwebs reading general dog blogs (not the savvy breeder blogs) today and saw the following questions: 1) My puppy just arrived from his breeder and has an undescended testicle. What should I do with this defective puppy? 2) My breeder says I should wait until after my dog is eight months old to neuter; should I believe her? 3) I just found out that my puppy has coccidia and so do the other puppies from the breeder. Is this a bad breeder? 4) My puppy is biting other puppies a lot and I am not sure why she is so aggressive.

The answers given to these concerned owners veered from decent to wildly inaccurate and harmful. The one aspect they all shared was this: Not a single one advised the puppy buyer to call the breeder. In fact, several were outright anti-breeder, with the undescended testicle one being the worst. That one got responses like “Well, what do you expect from a breeder who ships you a puppy that you bought over the Internet?” and (this one from a vet) “He needs to be neutered right away; testicles that aren’t down at eight weeks never come down and they develop cancer.”

In every case by at least one answerer the owner was given the impression that the issue was in some way, slight or heavy, the breeder’s fault.

I get VERY VERY nervous reading responses like that, and I think most breeders would agree. Those are questions to which there is not only one right answer, and they are ALL issues that breeders have much, MUCH more experience in than anyone else, including (maybe even especially) vets.

Why don’t people call their breeder? I think it’s a combination of things – they feel stupid that they had this issue; they don’t want to bother the breeder, despite the breeder’s insistence on calling with any problem; they’re mad at the breeder; someone has made them think that the breeder is not trustworthy. And sometimes it’s just plain old ego – they think they don’t need the breeder’s help and that somehow the collective wisdom of dogster is going to get them a better answer than picking up the phone.

And sometimes they have a point. There are times when it is NO FUN calling your breeder. If you call me with an issue, something has gone wrong. It’s either my fault or your fault or the dog’s fault, and ninety-nine percent of the time it’s not the dog’s fault. So you’re either calling me to say that I did something wrong, and I have to jump to it and make it right; or you’re calling me and I’m going to tell you that you’re doing something wrong, and then you’re going to feel dumb or get defensive or have to spend money fixing it. And remember, I’m on the dog’s side, not necessarily yours. It’s not that I don’t like you a huge amount or that I don’t want to be friends; my dearest friends are people I have bought dogs from, sold dogs to, or showed dogs with. I sincerely hope that we get to the point that we go on picnics together. But when the rubber hits the road, I’m bending over backwards for that DOG. So it’s going to be not so much waving grass and checkered tablecloths and “There’s nothing you could have done”; it’s going to be “You need to change this and change this fast.” Or, if the problem is my fault, I’m going to get off the phone and yell a lot and go kick holes in the grass. It probably won’t be a lot of fun for either of us.

However, that doesn’t matter. You HAVE TO CALL YOUR BREEDER. You have to call whoever is the most experienced with that breed and that pedigree and who is going to get you the best answer for the good of the dog, even if that answer puts some human in a tight spot.

Here’s why:

1) Many problems are breed-specific and the solutions are breed-specific too. That puppy with the undescended testicle? Turns out he’s only ten weeks old and he’s a toy breed. Small breeds often don’t have their testicles descend, or they can yo-yo around, until the dog is four or five months old. You can help them stay down by very gently manipulating them into place and you can also give supplements to help. Very obviously, the vet who so glibly gave that information had no real idea what she was talking about but figured the faster the nuts could get cut off the better. I don’t know what ended up happening to that poor puppy, but my guess is that he didn’t get the intervention he actually needed.

I once had a vet tell one of my owners that their puppy was severely dysplastic, based on palpation at eight weeks. Thankfully they called me right away, which allowed me to say that in Danes there is often a positive Ortolani sign in young puppies and it means nothing. I know this because of conversations with other breeders who remember when puppy hip palpation was all the rage a few decades ago, and entire litters were being put down based on that “clunk” in the hip joint. It wasn’t until a few survivors (who the breeder could not bear to put down and kept with the idea of having it as a pet for its whole life) turned out to have perfectly good hips that the horrible mistake was realized. That’s a very specific, very narrow piece of information of the sort that floats around in the collective consciousness of the breed fancy but isn’t taught in vet schools and most people would never know.

2) Remember that almost all vets are no more experienced at dog ownership than you are, and they are clueless about breeding. Most vets are dog owners the same way you are – one or two dogs at a time, whether adopted or purchased, virtually always spayed/neutered, probably not particularly well trained. There are many breeds that they see no more often than you do; chances are a vet is going to see a Scottish Deerhound twice in her life, and a Swedish Vallhund exactly never. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that – vets are under no obligation to be breeders – but it means that you need to let them be experts in what they are trained in, and not consider them as some kind of dog gods.

Vets do not generally raise litters of puppies. They care for individual puppies but they do not raise litters. This is also true of many other dog professionals, trainers included. Most of them are not also breeders. So they are not necessarily going to know that, for example, all puppies have coccidia (the question is whether they get it badly enough to show symptoms, which is usually because of the stress of travel or a new home or new food) and the best thing to do is go find some Marquis paste (horse) or Baycox (pig) and knock it out. The trainer is going to tell you that it’s associated with dirty breeders and the vet is going to put the puppy on Albon for weeks on end.

3) People who cannot see your dog in the situation you are describing are always going to think the worst. The description of the puppy biting other puppies could be a real warning sign – or it could be a puppy playing in a completely normal way with other dogs, and the problem is that the owner doesn’t know what normal puppy behavior is. Maybe it’s a terrier, and it makes horrible noises and shakes the other dog by the neck while it’s doing it, and the owner has never seen that kind of interaction. The responses they got, which ranged from the puppy needing major interventive training because a puppy being aggressive that early is a sign of true mental illness all the way to send the puppy back now and if it were mine I’d euthanize it, would (of course) terrify them and make them convinced that the dog was abnormal and a huge risk.

A call to the breeder in a situation like that is (hopefully) going to get you a response that is based on years of experience with normal behavior for that breed and that litter in particular. It’s very likely that she’d say “Oh, yeah, the two that I still have at home are doing that exact thing” or “Yes, all Kerry Blues play like that” or “That’s a warning that you need to get more serious about your control of the food – sounds like you’re letting things get loosey-goosey and Malamutes are not a breed that can tolerate an open bag of food in the kitchen and a bunch of dogs underneath it.” They are very UN-likely to run around in a panic and talk about euthanizing your baby dog.

One more thing: Call your breeder, AND CALL EARLY. What seems to happen most often is that the owner has a concern – let’s say the puppy hates having his nails ground. The owner will mention it to his sister-in-law, who will come over and see the dog flailing around biting at the nail grinder. She’ll say “Wow, that’s pretty bad.” The owner then mentions it to a friend of a friend who knows a groomer. That person will tell the owner to put the dog up on the grooming table and put the noose up really high so the puppy can’t get his head down to bite. Puppy then hangs himself and blacks out. Owner goes to the vet, who offers to sedate the puppy for grooming. Owner pays for this three times, then gets fed up and calls the breeder, and says that he has to have the dog knocked out every four weeks and strapped down to a table and muzzled to get his nails done, and he thinks that this is an improper temperament for the breed.

This entire situation – which is NOT far-fetched – could have been cut off months before if the owner had just called the breeder. If you call me about nails, or about nipping, or about pulling on the leash, or about separation anxiety, or about ninety other things that are very common in puppies, yes, I will probably say that you’re doing it wrong. And I know you won’t want to hear it. But trust me that I’m not magic. I’m just sadder but wiser. You name an issue and I promise I did it wrong for years, and finally figured out (or was told, or was beaten over the head) how to do it right, and I’m honestly just trying to save you and the dog from some hideous stress.

If you buy a puppy from a good breeder, and I have had this pleasure several times now, you can’t get away from them without an hour-long lecture. Heck, I get the lecture even now, and I’ve had show dogs for a long time. Good breeders sit you down, either individually or at a puppy party or over the phone, and they go through a whole bunch of information from vaccines to worming to behavior to feeding. That’s our job. But we do NOT expect you to memorize it, and we do NOT think we could have possibly covered every conceivable situation, and we KNOW that there will be concerns later. So please, PLEASE, do not drive away with your puppy and call us only as a measure of last resort. We would all much rather have the owner who calls three times a week asking about a dandruffy toe than the owner who leaves and never calls again. You’re paying for a good breeder, so please use what you paid for.