Saturday, October 25, 2008

More bitchy talk!

Dogsdeservefreedom left a good comment on my last post, and reminded me of several things I forgot to add about managing an intact female dog.

The first, and most obvious, is that although I emphasized how important it is to keep an intact male dog at home I didn't specifically mention that about an intact female. Probably everyone reading this is already knowledgeable enough to know this already... but if not:

All the time, even if you think she's not in season. Sometimes it can be difficult to tell for sure. And basically, if your dogs run loose sometimes - for whatever reason - you absolutely MUST have them all sterilized. It's not only the responsible thing to do, but will save you lots of headaches and even lots of money in the long run!

Other points to consider:
If she is in season - if you even THINK she might be in season - then it's not just a matter of keeping male dogs away from her, but also being considerate and not taking her places where she will be an undue distraction for any male dogs. The example of taking your girl to be groomed is a good one.

Also, most training classes don't allow bitches in season to attend class - if necessary, talk to your instructor about having a private lesson or two so that you don't lose too much ground for the weeks your girl is in confinement. Or, just go to the class without your dog. That may sound weird, but that way you'll see the lessons being covered and then you can practice those same things at home. Training classes are more for teaching the PEOPLE anyway - you learn how to teach your dog to do something, but your dog actually learns that lesson best at home in a quieter environment.

At the very least, if you think she may be in season talk to your groomer or your instructor and follow their advice about if or when to bring her to them. If they say it's OK to bring her, then be sure to put diapers on her so she doesn't drip on their floor or in the class area. Be sure to keep her away from other dogs if at all possible, or at least warn other dogs' handlers that she is in season - if they have an intact male, you SURE don't want her getting too close and enticing him! And remember that SHE may be abnormally cranky toward other dogs, and even if she's normally a sweetheart she may snap at inquisitive dogs when she's in season. So keep your distance.

As for showing - bitches in season are NOT allowed to compete in any performance events. That includes obedience, agility, tracking, herding, field trials, lure coursing etc. The only AKC event that does allow a bitch in season to participate is conformation. Even though she's allowed at the show, again be considerate of other handlers while you are waiting to go in the ring. Keep her diapers on her until just before her class is called, keep her to one side and away from other dogs as much as possible, and tell other handlers that she's in season so they know to keep their dogs away. Once you're in the ring, it's a good idea to tell the judge she's in season also. Some bitches show just fine when they're in season, but some won't. She may be abnormally fearful or resistant, or not want the judge to touch her hindquarters or tail. If she "acts up", remember that in this case it really isn't a training issue. Don't scold or punish her - if she seems really unhappy just ask to be excused from the ring and keep her home until she goes out of season again. She'll be back to her normal self once she's out of season.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is your bitch in season?

Well, is she? If you have an intact (that is, unspayed) female dog, you'd better be able to tell!  Living with a spayed female dog, or a neutered (castrated) male dog is easier than living with an intact one.  But it's perfectly possible to be a responsible pet owner, and not spay or neuter your dog.  Being a responsible pet owner - among other things - means not letting your pet breed accidentally.  Breeding dogs is something that should be done using only the best and healthiest dogs possible, and only after some thought about how to select the best possible mates, to produce the best possible puppies.  Although there is no shortage of well-bred, purpose-bred dogs; the shelters ARE full of the results of "oops" breedings.  These happen when someone's intact male dog gets loose, or someone didn't realize that their female dog was in season and didn't know how to protect her.

I have NO problem with people who don't want to spay their female dog or neuter their male dog, as long as they are willing and able to prevent accidental matings. Managing an intact dog really isn't THAT difficult. But if you're debating whether or not to spay or neuter your dog you should realize that there ARE some inconveniences involved in responsibly keeping an intact pet.

And I've talked to a lot of intelligent people lately who have had basically no idea how to properly manage an intact male or female dog.

So let's cover a few of the basics. This is doggy sex ed 101. (THAT should get a few interesting search results!!! Ha!)

Let's talk about the boys first since they really are easier. The most important thing to know about keeping an intact male dog is:

If he's an escape artist and digs or jumps out of your yard every now and then, or if he successfully manages to bolt out of your front door... or if you just think that it's "good" for dogs to roam free now and then - you definitely SHOULD sterilize your boy!! Even if he's just 4 or 5 months old - that is the age of puberty for many dogs!!

If you don't want to castrate him, you can have a vasectomy done on him. That way if he's really young he'll still have his testosterone for normal growth and development, but he won't be siring litters all over your neighborhood. He'll still want to roam in search of a lady friend, but at least he'll be shooting blanks.

Now, if your dog escapes or bolts out the door or runs away you ALSO need to do some training! Neutering alone won't stop all those problems. But this post is about preventing accidental breeding which is part of the responsibility of owning a pet.

Now for the girls...

Although bitches do have a bloody discharge when they're in estrus (in season or in heat) it's a completely different type of cycle from a human female's menstrual cycle.

On average, a young bitch will come into estrus the first time when she's about 5 or 6 months old, and stay in estrus for 3 weeks (about 21 days). She will repeat this approximately every six months for her entire life - bitches do NOT go through menopause.

Just like in humans, there can be a huge variation in the schedule from one dog to another. Some will have their first heat cycle as young as 4 months - others won't have their first one until they're about 18 months old. Some will have 3 estrus periods in a year, others will only have one. If you have a puppy bitch, the best predictor of when she'll first come into season and how often she'll do it thereafter is to know what her mother/aunt/grandmother's cycles were like. If you can't talk to her breeder to find out, then plan for the worst. Be ready for her to come into season the first time at about 4 months of age, and be ever vigilant after that time.

The first symptom of a bitch coming into heat is usually some swelling of her vulva. She may lick it more than usual. The vulva and the skin around it may turn pink or reddish. Then a bloody discharge will start - in some bitches this can be a heavy flow, in others it is hardly noticeable. If you think your girl might be coming into season, one quick test is to fold a clean paper tower or kleenex and dab her vulva. If you see pinkish or bloody looking spots, then she's starting to come in season.

 Some bitches also have personality changes at this time - she may be more affectionate, or more cranky. She may not tolerate other dogs very well.  I had one young bitch who became very destructive when she was in season.  Your other dogs - even females or neutered males - will be more interested in her and want to sniff her rear. She may get tired of this and start to get snippy - you may have to separate her from all other dogs while she's in season to prevent fighting.  Don't punish her for any behavior changes during this time, just don't let other dogs bother her, and don't expect her to do her normal work (training, showing etc) during this time if she doesn't seem to be willing to do it.

After a few days - up to a week or so - the bloody discharge will taper off and you'll see a clear or pinkish discharge.

This does NOT mean that she's going out of season!! Rather, she's probably about to ovulate and is entering the most fertile time of her cycle.

BUT - and I cannot emphasize this enough - unless you do hormone testing you CANNOT predict exactly when during her cycle the female is fertile.


This means no contact from the INSTANT you even THINK she might be coming into season.

This means no contact at all - dogs CAN and HAVE managed to copulate through a chain link fence, baby gate, or during a 3 minute phone call when the owner wasn't paying attention.

This means ANY male dog - even her father, her brother, her uncle, her son. Dogs do not have sexual taboos, and do not recognize or understand the concept of "incest".

This means keep her on a leash when you take her out to potty, and don't take her off your property.  A loose running male dog can and will mate with her while she's on the end of your leash!  Only let her off lead in an absolutely securely fenced area, and even then only after you've checked to be sure no male dog has managed to get into the area. Even then, keep your eyes on her. Don't leave her unattended outside AT ALL.

This means you must keep her in the house even if she's normally an outside dog. It IS possible to build a kennel secure enough to keep out an amorous dog trying to get to a bitch in season, but it's expensive and difficult.  It MUST have a secure roof unless the walls are 8 feet high and absolutely un-climbable.  It should be enclosed within your property fencing, so there is a "buffer zone" around it.  It also must have a barrier buried around the edges to prevent a dog digging underneath.  It's much easier to just keep her inside.

This means separating her from male dogs for at least 3 FULL weeks (at least 21 days) - she may still be able to get pregnant just when you think she's going out of season.

Inside your home, her discharge may be messy.  You can keep her confined to a crate, pen or room covered with washable blankets and bedding, or you can teach her to wear a dog diaper (Seasonals are a good brand, there are lots of others) to keep her from dripping all over your house. I start teaching female puppies to wear diapers when they're 3 or 4 months old, I just put them on for a few minutes at a time when they're about to eat a meal which will distract them. Gradually increase the time they wear them, and by the time they have their first estrus cycle they won't mind wearing their "panties". Get several pairs, and wash them frequently. If your girl has a heavy flow, you'll need to put an adhesive menstrual pad inside the diaper - but be watchful that she doesn't remove it and try to eat it!! The absorbent materials in sanitary napkins can cause an intestinal blockage. Usually I find that the diaper itself provides enough protection. I change them at least twice a day.

I know this sounds like a lot, but even managing an intact bitch really isn't THAT difficult. Keep her inside and away from male dogs is really what it boils down to when it comes to preventing accidental breeding.

Do you think you're up to it?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Responsible pet ownership

There has been so much discussion lately about this everywhere, it seems. And many attempts by municipalities to legislate responsibility. But sometimes the definitions are a bit vague.

My definition of responsible pet ownership may be different from yours... here is what I believe:

A responsible pet owner

1. ...takes good care of his/her animals.
This includes all the basics like plenty of wholesome food and fresh water; appropriate medical care; plenty of exercise and socialization and clean living quarters.

2. a good neighbor.
This means not letting your pets annoy, frighten or inconvenience other people and includes not letting your dogs bark excessively (and like it or not, the person who best defines "excessively" isn't you, but rather the neighbor who is trying to get some sleep); not letting your dogs or cats run loose; keeping pet waste picked up in your yard so it doesn't smell or attract flies; not letting your dogs rush the fence and bark at your neighbors when they are walking by just a few feet away.

3. ...doesn't expect the community to help take care of his/her animals.
This means planning ahead so that - barring something really catastrophic - you never have to surrender your pets to the local pound, shelter or rescue; not letting your pets breed accidentally or indiscriminately; not breeding at all unless A. you already have good homes lined up for all the offspring, B. you can give plenty of support to the new owners so the placement will be successful, and C. you can take back any offspring at any time if the home doesn't work out.

4. ...doesn't ever have so many pets that he/she can't meet the above requirements.

Notice that I DIDN'T include "a responsible pet owner spays/neuters his or her pets". That has become a major part of the responsible pet owner creed for many people but it isn't absolutely necessary. There is no doubt that it is much, much more convenient and easier for a pet owner to keep sterilized pets - especially where the requirements listed in #3 above are concerned. But if a pet owner can meet those requirements without spaying or neutering, more power to them. It IS possible, it just takes more effort and more knowledge.

Having listened to so many pet owners over the years who are totally clueless about animal reproduction ("But she's his SISTER/MOTHER, they won't mate, will they??") I do believe that the vast majority of pet owners are better off if they do spay or neuter their pets. Especially if they have pets of both genders in their home. And ANYONE who lets their pets run loose at any time MUST spay or neuter that pet, period.

But it is totally possible for a responsible pet owner to keep intact pets. That's my take on things anyway - what do you think?