Sharing our lives with dogs, ducks and a few other animal friends
I am excited to watch these guys grow up and learn more and more how to fit into their dog/human pack. The experience of watching the larger part of a litter grow up together is an opportunity that I have never had. Every day the interactions between the puppies and the adults get more intricate as relationships are formed. I spend far less time (almost none) training the puppies and far more time watching what they learn on their own from us and from the adult dogs. They still spend very little time wearing a leash and a collar and lots of time running and playing in big, open spaces. They are learning to hunt small animals, bouncing through high grass covered with snow. They are learning how to interact with the cats and to interpret all the noises of our household and those coming from outside. But their favorite thing is still playing with each other and running hard. Maia is able to participate fully again although her leg is still not as strong as the others. Here are some pictures of a recent play session at our local park.
They will be 5 months in one week and it has been a long time since I've had time to write. This is in part due to Maia's recovery from her tibia fracture which required some individual and very gradual exercise. Fortunately she is healing very well now and we expect her to have normal use of the leg soon. She does not have any exercise restrictions any more and is running around and playing with the other puppies. She still tires a little faster than the other puppies because her leg muscles are not fully built up again yet.
All of the puppies are physically mostly grown. Abby is 18 in and 23 lbs., Mulan is 18 in and 23 lbs., Maia is 18 in and 21.6 lbs. and Strider is 19 in and 30 lbs. But emotionally these guys are still babies. They are sweet, affectionate, very playful and looking to the adults (dogs and people) for guidance. Today they were running in a large field with high grass and instinctively stayed within about 100 yards of me. They must be able to smell the coyotes as well as the deer everywhere.
4 puppies is just enough, together with our other 5 dogs, to have a pack and it is a lot of fun to see them develop their relationships. Unlike what many people think, puppies do not develop a clear hierarchy but rather take turns in holding leadership roles. Strider, because he is significantly bigger, tends to push all the girls around and while Maia welcomes any confrontations and stands up to him, Mulan and Abby rather avoid getting beat up and retreat to a crate or run to me for protection on walks. All of the puppies love to chase and retrieve balls and a soft dog frisbee but because of the cold and wet weather we have not had much of a chance to get them used to a lure. The one time we tried there happened to be large seed pods under the trees that made much better toys.
We continue to experiment with new foods. After Thanksgiving we were able to get a good deal and turkey backs and fed them raw. While they all liked them they got cold eating outside fairly quickly so we will probably discontinue any further whole prey feeding until the weather gets warmer again. I just can't see myself serving raw meat on the kitchen floor.
At least once a week we visit wit a nice group of dogs at a local off-leash park that is big enough for dogs of different sizes and play styles to have a chance to play and socialize but also to have space to move away if necessary. This is by far the best off-leash dog park situation we have encountered and I have yet to see an aggressive dog there. It helps that the park is not fenced in so dogs that don't listen to their owners call are not usually taken there. During the last few weeks all the puppies have gained enough confidence and social skills to be comfortable with most dogs that look and act very different from them.
We have also spent some more time at our favorite coffee house and taken one puppy at a time, gradually introducing them to quietly lie down while we read or talk. We use frequent food treats to reward quiet and relaxed behaviors and keep the sessions short at first. Mulan and Abby seems naturals in this environment, Maia and Strider don't want to sit still for very long.
Buddy, our black pointer-mix is 9 years old but he continues to act like a puppy, inviting the puppies to play with him and letting them climb all over him in a way that the adult whippets would not tolerate.
The pictures are from when the puppies were about 4 months old, shortly after Maia's cast was removed.
Three puppies have left for their new homes. The remaining 4 we are keeping: Maia, Mulan, Strider and Abby. We had originally planned to keep only 2 puppies out of this litter but changed our mind for several reasons.
We had significantly overestimated, based on our previous experience with rescue dogs, how much work four puppies who are litter mates would be. While they make a little more mess during the housebreaking period they play with each other and keep each other amused most of the time.
Taking them all out for a run is not much more work if there are 2 or 4. In the house even 3 month-old puppies are generally couch potatoes. They go through quick spurts of energy and play, then settle down for a nap. Since I work from home mostly, this is easy to accommodate. They learn to relate to other dogs and people together with mom and the rest of the litter first.
Where the work almost quadruples is when it comes to socialization and training. Each puppy needs to be treated as an individual as well and learn to be away from their litter mates. I take individual time with each puppy for socializing, training and walking and expose them to new environments and situations frequently. The puppies are now making the transition from looking to their mom for help and support to looking to their human family more and more, although the other 5 adult dogs in the house also contribute in teaching the pups a lot.
Another reason for keeping 4 puppies is that if we want to breed again in the future it helps to have several females to choose from and at this age it is virtually impossible to decide who would be the the most worthy of breeding. They all are beautiful in their own way and some traits may not show up until they are adults.
Right now Maia is the smallest and fine-boned, but also the most playful and energetic of the litter. It is probably in part this combination of traits that got her into trouble about 2 weeks ago when she broke her left tibia while I was walking her in the park. All it took was her jumping up and slipping on gravel on the landing while on leash. Fortunately it looks like her fracture is healing well and if her next X-rays look good and all goes well she will be free of her cast in about 2 weeks. In the meantime we are making sure she gets just leash walks and limited activity.
Mulan is turning into a very beautiful girl in spite of the fact that her ears are standing more than they are folded back at the moment, She has a very fine coat and is the most cold-sensitive. She is also more pain-sensitive and ends up being the most submissive and the least involved in play-fighting. More than the other puppies she is paying attention to human affection, in particular touch. She also figured out first how to sleep under the covers.
Strider is the only male we kept and he is big, tough and fun-loving. He looks more and more like his mom and has inherited her temperament. He has overcome his shyness of a month ago and enjoys playing with other dogs of almost all sizes and shapes. Abby is his favorite playmate and those two hang out together all the time and engage in wrestling games.
Abby is physically tough and the biggest of the girls. She is calmer than Strider and has inherited Sky's personality and looks. She looks like she can run fast but it remains to be seen if she wants to. I can see Abby turn into a total couch potato but she could also be a great athlete.
Now that all the puppies are going for individual walks every day I have less time to post here. These pictures are from when they were almost 12 weeks old and show how much fun they are having running as fast as they can.
They are starting to go on walks in groups of 2 with me and one of the adult dogs. We are starting a little bit of leash training although they still get to run off-leash most of the time. They are starting to respond to their names and are learning to anticipate food treats whenever they smell them.
Soon some of them are leaving for their new homes so I'm trying to take as much time with them as possible while they are here. Mulan and Finn are still available.
These are the latest photos:
This would be quite embarrassing for someone who runs regularly although not terribly fast. But given that they are Sight hound puppies it is to be expected. So when I tried to get them to run I just made sure I got a head start of 20 to 30 feet and then called them: "puppy, puppy" and heard 28 little feet stomping over the recently harvested Palouse wheat field where we took them for their exercise.
Thanks to my gifted daughter who has been gaining quite a bit more experience in taking pictures of fast-moving objects recently, we got some beautiful pictures both of puppies running but also of the rough and tumble play fighting which is preparing them for their adult life.
I hope you enjoy the pictures with me.
Well, actually not wearing a collar and leash is more natural for a dog! This becomes immediately obvious when we think about the fact that dogs are not born with collars and few other species of animals, even domesticated, routinely wear collars.
I started thinking about this when I took the puppies with mom for a real walk in a huge, harvested wheat field, off-leash of course. This worked fine because there was nobody else around and no traffic nearby. I did have Dancer, the mom, on a collar and leash because I knew that the puppies would follow her and if she decided to take off at over 35 mph... well, I did not want to have the puppies spread out all over the field, even if they would not get lost.
Of course I don't doubt the need that most people have to use a collar and leash for their dogs at least occasionally and in most cases fairly regularly. The exception would be someone who owns many acres of land or has access to lots of land.
Unfortunately collars and leashes in all their varieties can do a lot of damage to dogs, in particular to dogs as thin-skinned and fast as a whippet. Generally speaking the thinner the collar the harsher it is on the dog's neck when someone pulls on it. This does not even take into account collars that are intended to cause discomfort or pain when pulled on like prong collars or choke collars or activated like shock collars.
But even a standard buckle collar can cause severe damage to the dog's neck, in particular if used with an extendable leash or long line that lets the dog build up significant speed by the time it hits the line.
Given that there are leash laws and too much traffic in most locations puppies need to learn to accept the restraint of a leash. The best options for young puppies are in my opinion either a piece of soft cloth tied around their neck, a simple buckle collar that's as wide as possible (I like at least 1 1/2 inches for whippet puppies) or a harness with very wide straps that does not interfere with movement of the front legs, all for short periods of time and without a leash attached. This should be done one on one without other puppies around that might tug on the collar and give the puppy a bad experience and it should always be supervised. It should also be done in a fenced-in area without other dogs or pets. Most puppies will scratch a little because of the new sensation but quickly ignore the collar. Only once the puppy is completely comfortable with the collar or harness can we try to attach a short (4-6 feet) light-weight leash and then let the puppy lead US around for a while. They will still experience the sensation of a pull on the collar sometimes when we don't keep up fast enough but it should be a fairly gentle pull. It helps to encourage the puppy to move a little with the help of food, toys/play or touch.
Once puppies are very comfortable with both a collar and leash and show no fear or resentment we can start using the leash as a restraint. The idea is not to ever pull the puppy toward us (as this would teach them negative associations with coming closer to us and is unnecessary discomfort) but only to limit forward movement by stopping. Most puppies will learn quickly that they can't go any further, but a few will start to struggle at the restraint. This is a sign that we have moved past their fear threshold and it's time to back off by removing the leash quickly and distracting the puppy. We want walking on a leash to be a positive experience for the puppy, not a fearful one. There is no reason to be in a hurry about leash training but much to gain by being patient, like in all areas of animal training. If approached gently and slowly, wearing a collar or harness out of a soft, comfortable material can even be soothing to a dog, much like wearing a blanket or scarf would be. Given the fact that whippets love soft surfaces why not give them an extra-wide harness or collar that feels good against their short-haired skin. There are some great models out there that even have sheep-skin or deer leather lining. Just don't let your whippet eat them for breakfast.
The puppies have been learning so many new things this past week. They have been tugging on our pant legs, learning their names, gone for their first car ride and to a local park, eating new foods like salmon and some green veggies. As of last night they all are asking to go outside to go potty and any accidents in the house are purely due to my not getting them out fast enough. This is true in particular when I'm slow to wake up and take them out. Some of the puppies have figured out how to climb on the lawn furniture and were found reclining on it instead of in the grass today. Only one of the puppies, Abby, enjoys the little kid wading pool in our yard. All the other ones show no fear of it but climb out right away if I put them in, even if the water is comfortably warm. Tonight we gave all of them access to the living room (which is carpeted) for a little while. They could immediately tell by the smell where the other pack members usually rest or sleep and explored everything.
All the puppies are still nursing when mom lets them, usually 3 or 4 times/day. Dancer seems to be a little more ambivalent about a mob of puppies that between all of them now weigh more than she does and are coming at her like a freight train when they first see her after several hours. She has to work hard to maintain her balance at times and also to discipline any puppies that dare to use their teeth at all.
This coming week we will get the puppies used to collars and harnesses and a leash a little. I will post picture about what we do to get them all comfortable. We will also teach the puppies to go into individual crates while until now they had shared one big crate for all of them to sleep in during part of the day with the door open.
The puppies got to explore a new area in our yard, too, that we call it the puppy jungle because it is a little maze of tall plants like sunflowers, corn and milo that are providing lots of cover, things to chew and interesting noises when they run through them. This is where we took the photos for this week.
I have thought long and hard about whether I should even write this blog post. The reason is that as soon as we say we like something people often automatically assume that we don't like something else that is very different from what we like. So if I say I like Whippets people may think I also mean that I dislike Bulldogs or German Shepherds. But that is far from the truth. In fact, if I only had the choice to have one dog and I could not choose the breed I would probably still want that dog.
Another reason why many whippet fanciers do not like to sing the praises of their breed too loudly is that they know that with popularity of a breed always comes a decrease in quality because people start breeding for money and profit rather than for the improvement of the breed. This happened with many breeds that were popularized through media over the last 50 years and has almost destroyed some breeds.
But Whippets have so many qualities that make them ideal companion animals that I think more people deserve to know about them. I am partly speaking as a dog trainer and behavior consultant who has seen many people-dog relationships go sour over the years because people made uneducated choices about the kind of dog breed or breed-mix to get.
Given that there are so many choices there are some breeds that I believe are much better suited as companion animals than others. When I say companion animals I mean what most people call pets. But the term pet often limits the expectation that people have to something warm and fuzzy that enjoys being petted. But companion dogs are so much more than that. The word pet also has a negative connotation as in "pet-quality" being something less than "show quality" or "pet owners" being less desirable for breeders to place their dogs with than "show" or "performance" homes.
The term companion dog makes me think of an animal that is a family member and close friend. Someone who trusts us and who we trust. Someone we truly treat like family and who treats us like family.
And for this last part it matters what the dog's emotional make-up and social intelligence is like.
I think that dogs that relate well with people, pick up their body language and emotions and respond to it with sensitivity make far better companions. And this is an area where in my experience many Hound breeds in general and Whippets in particular excel: They are sensitive, responsive, friendly, affectionate, enjoy touch, are playful without being aggressive (ok, apart from puppy mouthiness) and I would venture to say they are one of the least likely of all breeds to seriously bite people. They can adjust easily to people with different needs (seniors, children, people with disabilities). They can be very exuberant in play when outside and very calm and quiet couch potatoes in the house. They are happy go lucky without being in your face. All this adds up to Whippets being one of the breeds that are both highly intelligent and easy to train, two traits that don't often go together, because breeds that think for themselves make it hard for the average pet owner to influence them. Hounds are bred to live and hunt in groups and they have been selected to relate well with others.
Whippets, in particular racing-bred whippets that are bred for function much more than for looks, are a very healthy breed compared to most other breeds of dog. This may be in part related to their lean and well-muscled body type. Orthopedic problems, heart problems, eye problems, autoimmune problems of various kinds and allergies are fairly rare.
Because of their short and smooth coat Whippets shed very little and some people have made the experience that my whippets cause them fewer allergy symptoms than the so-called "hypoallergenic" breeds. Their coat is also extremely easy to take care of. Bathing a Whippet takes 5-10 minutes to wash and dry and brushing is not required making any professional grooming appointments unnecessary.
Because of their short coat whippets like to curl up on furniture and beds, in particular with their owners, but they leave very little hair behind.
I personally love Whippets because they are so athletic. They share this with many other breeds, including many hunting breeds and herding breeds. But as medium-size sprinters whippets do not need miles and miles of exercise. My Pointer mix and my Beagle have always wanted many miles of exercise a day. My Whippets get off-leash in a large field away from traffic once or twice a day and run hard for about 5-10 minutes (a little longer for youngsters). We have also participated in lure coursing, flyball, agility and frisbee in the past. They also love to go on hikes with us.
One last point that matters to some people more than others: I find Whippets to be one of the most beautiful and elegant breeds of dogs. But that is of course a matter of taste. You can't argue about beauty.
I was tempted to add a picture to the end of this post, but want to encourage the reader to create a picture in their mind of the dog they find most beautiful inside and out.
The puppies have gotten very playful, and are often seen wrestling and pulling on each other. They all have names now - the girls are Maia, Mulan, Milly and Abby. The boys are Rohan, Strider and Finn.
Maia is our warrior princess, strong, dominant and fearless. She loves winning games and playing with her siblings. Similarly, Mulan loves playing, (and winning) but is also very sweet, and loves running around the yard.
Milly is a small, adorable little snuggler: However she's just as tough as the rest of them, and puts her brothers in their place when they get too rowdy.
Abby is possibly the calmest, and most affectionate girl out of the litter, and is very food-motivated, taking after her human family.
Rohan is the biggest of the boys and also fairly mellow, but still loves playing and wrestling.
Strider loves to spend time with people, and loves to he held and snuggled and he also very agile.
Finn is the most playful boy, (and possibly the most dominant boy) and his favorite pastime is wrestling with his sisters.
We recently sent in the test for Myostatin deficiency, a condition that causes double muscling when inherited from both parents. When inherited from only one parent It produces non-affected carriers for the double muscling which can pass this gene on if ever mated to another carrier. This is why carriers of the gene should only be bred to non-carriers or spayed/neutered if they are going to be pets/companions. If anyone has more questions we are happy to answer these individually.
The puppies received their first parvo vaccination yesterday and they will get more vaccinations in the coming week.
We weighed the puppies yesterday and here are the weights for each:
Maia female brindle/white 5.8 lbs
Mulan female fawn/black mask 5.8 lbs
Milly female fawn/black mask 5.4 lbs
Abby female fawn/black mask 6.4 lbs
Rohan male light brindle 6.6 lbs
Strider male blue brindle 6.4 lbs
Finn male red brindle 6.2 lbs
We hope that sharing this information will help some of our puppy buyers decide who are concerned about whether our puppies will be within the height breed standard for whippets in the US which makes a difference in what competitive events dogs are allowed to be entered. Height is not a significant consideration for dogs who will be companions only.