Monday, December 19, 2011

Teen Toller

I had the opportunity to spend some time with Tobago this month. While he did not fare very well in the breed ring against his more mature looking contemporaries, I think he looks as he should for an 18th month old "teen" Toller.

He has nice movement from the side as well as coming and going. He's definitely still very leggy compared to most other Tollers showing right now, but I remain confident he will grow into his leg as he matures. He has lot of filling out to do over the next few years.


He is fortunate to live with talented and dedicated trainers who are already beginning to bring out the best of what he has to offer in just about every venue imaginable. Tobago is currently active in disc dog events, and in training for rally, obedience, agility and field.  

He is a super social dog, though currently to the detriment of his one Rally Novice performance. Best of all he is a real lover of a dog, and quite content to be held like a baby in anyone's lap, just like his cousin Lark. Of course, as he's larger than Lark it's a bit more than a lap full for me.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The king of reserve gets his first major!

Finn (Zephyr's Fine By Me) was the top conformation pick in my Dux ex Tilia litter from 2010. He resides with a wonderful family and is quite a spoiled and happy guy. He has people walking and cat herding duties to keep him busy. Finn is a sweet charmer of a dog with rich red coat and flashy white markings. He is also a bold and unapologetic counter surfer and outright stealer of food of the unwary but it's hard to stay mad at him when he wags his tail and flashes his golden eyes at you after an exploit.

Before last weekend, Finn had been in the ring a total of nine times. Six of those times he went Reserve, and at least two of those reserves were to majors. He earned his first point at the Rockford-Freeport Kennel Club shows on Oct. 1st, going WD, BOW and BOS. Last weekend he surpassed my expectations by going WD and BOW for a 5pt major at the Skokie Valley show in Rosemont, IL on December 10th. There was a large entry of almost 20 Tollers, half of which were class dogs. I was simply hopeful he would place in the Open Dog class since he just turned 18 months at the beginning of this month.

I'm doubly amazed when I consider his shenanigans last fall during his first conformation class with me. About 20 minutes into the class he threw a full blown puppy temper tantrum, throwing himself to the floor and screaming the Toller scream - as if I was beating him instead of asking him to stand and gait nicely on a leash while feeding him tasty treats. We've come a long way since then and I rather think he's starting to enjoy the show ring a bit. He still has some maturing to do, both physically and mentally, but we are in no hurry and I am enjoying my time in the ring with him.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Steadying June

As a breed, Tollers have been known to lack impulse control. June is an on again, off again poster child for this trait. I have worked especially hard to steady her in agility because she is lightning fast and I often need a good, solid lead out in order to set her up correctly for a course. I must have been feeling overly confident about her start line stays last November when we competed in Ohio, though it could have been the long ride out there or the extra restraint she had to exhibit as a house guest. Regardless, our first run of the weekend was an Excellent Standard run that was best managed by leading out from the first few jumps and calling her over. At least that was my plan. June had other ideas. She was over three jumps and had her nose and a paw in an off course tunnel before I even realized she had broken her stay. I will say this for June, she has excellent brakes and steering, and came off the tunnel immediately though it was too late to salvage our run. Obviously we went back to emphasizing start line stays in our training after that. I also find it helpful to remind her of my presence by doing front crosses, especially during our first courses of a trial weekend, to stress the importance of taking direction from me while running a course. In our Zen agility moments this isn’t necessary, as June directs wonderfully from behind and running her in this manner is definitely a less breathless endeavor for me.

Steadiness is an issue for June in field events as well. In fact this is the main point holding us back from attempting the higher levels of fieldwork, as steadiness is a requirement in the higher stakes. June finished her SHR title last fall and I can now confess my arm was sore after that weekend from holding onto her as I sat on a bucket, waiting for the birds to hit the ground. No judge’s comments regarding June will ever say “lacks enthusiasm”.

I’ve received lots of helpful advice from members of my HRC training club on steadying June. Unfortunately almost all the advice involves some type of positive punishment, from shock collars to riding crops to running out and scaring June away from the bird when she breaks. I simply can’t bring myself to employ these suggestions. They just don’t feel appropriate for a dog who lives to run and retrieve. What I have been focusing on, and what I believe will be the answer in the end for June, is a form of negative punishment (,  When she breaks, I take away her retrieve. She’s a smart dog and has been catching on, though it still is a long, challenging process. As always, most of what’s holding her back is my lack of consistency and effort as a trainer. I’d better work on that!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Eta the beautiful and talented

It's been a busy year for Eta. She completed her  AKC CH, WC, CD and RN titles. This made her eligible for the NSDTRC USA's Rusty Jones and Versatility awards. We are very proud of Eta and very grateful her co-owners Mike and Mary have put in the training time to allow her to shine in so many areas. This fall Eta also completed three JH passes, only one more to go! These are some of the photos Eta's owners have sent me of her recent exploits in the field.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Part monkey - all Toller

Or as my friend Amanda would say, "that's how we breed 'em at Zephyr Kennel!"

We've now had four litters in a row where one or more puppies have managed to scale their expen. Pictured below is June's daughter Pond (soon to be known as Zoom). As June was our first climber, it's only fitting that a puppy from each of her two litters to date has followed suit.

I confess, she's only scaling a 24" gate, but in the past when we've raised this most of the puppies have simply risen to the challenge and had further to fall once they hit the top.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Breeding – Balancing faith and actions

Although we have no way of knowing what she’s really thinking, June gives every appearance of being a proud and contented new mother, belying her situation a few days prior to when this photo was taken, when a prolonged labor ultimately resulted in a c-section and the loss of two puppies she was not able to whelp normally.
This is litter number seven for our small Toller kennel and the first time we’ve ever had to use oxytocin to help a labor along or resort to a c-section. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering whether there was something I should have done differently that might have saved June’s other two puppies but I will never know for certain. No matter how much planning and preparation is done, whelping a litter is still a precarious balance between an act of faith and knowing when (and which) action is necessary. I am fortunate I live in an area where I have access to a number of excellent veterinarians who helped to guide our decisions along the way.
June’s official due date was June 19th, as that was 63 days from her first breeding. But I know the 63 day mark is really from ovulation (I’ve read Myra Savant Harris's books in which she stresses this repeatedly), and we did not know precisely when ovulation occurred as the lab result on the last progesterone test we did was invalid due to how the sample was submitted. Still, I was nervous, as I don’t recollect ever having a bitch go past 63 days.
June's temperature started to drop the next morning, on day 64. Even though I knew we could still be 24 hours out from whelping, I called my vet in the afternoon and they calmed my fears. Sometime during the late afternoon I started to see some beginning signs of labor, but it wasn’t until after noon the following day we saw a watery discharge that made me think puppies would be imminent in within the next few hours. When nothing further transpired and labor didn’t seem to be progressing I called my vet again. We went in and had a physical exam and an x-ray done and checked calcium and glucose levels as well. Her levels were normal and there were no puppies in the birth canal so we went home. We went back one more time before they closed to ask for an ultrasound to see if we could locate five heartbeats to match the five pups we knew she carried. We thought we could, so went home again to wait.
Between 7:15 and 8:30pm that night June pushed out three puppies on her own, and then acted like she was finished, though I knew better thanks to the x-ray. About 2.5 – 3 hours after the third puppy had been delivered I called the emergency vet. They recommended I wait another hour and call them back if nothing had changed. As nothing changed, we found ourselves packing up June and her three newborn pups, arriving at the emergency vet around 1am. Calcium and glucose levels were checked again and found to be in normal range. Two shots of oxytocin were administered at ½ hour intervals. The first shot didn’t appear to do anything and the second shot not much more. Poor June simply looked exhausted to me, and I weighed my options with the vet on duty. I decided against a third shot, opting instead to take her home and ride out what was left of the night. The next morning my regular vet called me to find out what had happened. When I explained, she bluntly told me to return to the emergency vet and have a c-section done as she didn’t believe those puppies were going to come out on their own, so that is what we did. Unfortunately, the remaining two puppies were not viable.
I was a bit of a wreck the first week after June’s c-section, worrying she would rip out her sutures, that the incision would become infected or that I wouldn’t be able to keep her quiet (it is June after all!) for the 2-3 weeks necessary for soft tissue healing. My fears were all unfounded. June recovered quickly from her surgery. We are back to our full walking regimen with plans to resume other activities in a few more weeks.
As with her first litter, June is an excellent mother. From day one she has been very attentive to their cries and thorough in both cleaning and nursing them. Perhaps because there are only three, the puppies all seem quite special. I’m very pleased they will be going to equally special homes who have all had puppies from us before.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Fielding Toller puppy inquiries

We are expecting a litter soon and I am currently fielding calls and emails from prospective puppy people. I fret a great deal about matching each puppy to the correct home and take the process of vetting prospective puppy people very seriously. Some people have only two questions; “Do you have any puppies available?” and “How much?”. While these are both valid questions I am prepared to answer, if they are the only two questions I am asked they don't do much to convince me the person is a great puppy prospect. We are deeply vested in our puppies, as are most Toller breeders. Producing a litter takes a great deal of effort, from researching pedigrees to honestly evaluating the structure and temperament of your breeding prospects, to obtaining health clearances, to caring for the dam during pregnancy and the puppies and dam after whelping. We hope to place our puppies with people who either have or will develop a strong passion for the breed, regardless of whether they are looking for their next field or performance dog or simply a family companion. It is very rewarding when I am contacted by a person who has done their research and asks discerning questions.

When communicating with prospective puppy people I don’t generally go on about how wonderful Tollers are. I imagine I might even sound a bit curmudgeonly as I take pains to explain how they are different in temperament than Golden Retrievers, the breed they are most often compared to. I am prepared to discuss the various health issues which challenge our breed, as well as answer any other questions about Tollers. If the person is in the area or willing to travel, I encourage a visit, though note our “kennel” is our home. I also have questions about the person’s interest in Tollers, expectations in a puppy, past experience with dogs, household routine, and even thoughts about vaccination and feeding.

Last year I received a call from a woman who asked me if I would consider breeding a dog who did not have their championship. I was quite surprised by her question but responded “yes” without hesitation. I sensed she was disappointed by my answer and our conversation was not long. I hope she found the puppy she was looking for. While my goal is to produce Tollers who meet the breed standard and are capable of finishing their championship, not all the Tollers I consider for my breeding program possess that title. Sometimes the owner lacks interest or resources, sometimes the dog simply doesn’t enjoy the sport and it shows in how they conduct themselves in the ring. As I was mentored, I look at the whole dog; health, conformation, temperament, working drive/desire/bidability. All are important but must be considered in balance.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Riley at the BYC

Over the Memorial Day weekend I traveled to Michigan for Region 2's supported entry. Known as the "Backyard Classic", this annual event has existed longer than Tollers have been recognized by the AKC. The BYC is always a combination of conformation and field events at a minimum. It is a great chance to catch up with Toller people both inside and outside of our region, to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances as well as make new ones.

I asked Riley's owners if I could bring him along to show as a Special and they readily agreed. Riley is June's only sibling. He is a handsome dog who (pardon the cliche) literally leads the life of Riley with his wonderful family the Eggers. He has not been shown since he finished his championship, but I thought it would be fun to take him out. To my surprise he was awarded Select Dog at the BYC's supported entry. This gives him the first five points towards his grand championship. His beautiful and talented niece Eta was awarded Select Bitch in the same show.

After the show, our friend Brad took some pictures of Riley for me.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Resource Guarding in Tollers

Resource guarding is a normal but generally undesirable behavior concerning something the dog considers is in his possession. Guarded objects may be food, treats, toys, bones and furniture, or may even be a person, since a person can be a valuable resource to a dog. The “guarding” may take the form of a stare or growl, or it may be a more serious response such as a bite. If your dog exhibits resource guarding behaviors but has not yet shown a proclivity to bite, I highly recommend the book "Mine! A Guide to Resource Guarding in Dogs” by Jean Donaldson as an excellent resource for owners who seek to understand and mediate these types of behaviors in their dogs. Your breeder may also be a good and knowledgeable resource, and should be contacted if you notice signs of resource guarding. However, if your dog exhibits resource guarding behaviors and has already shown a willingness to bite, please seek the help of a qualified professional. The Association of Pet Dog Trainers is a good place to locate a qualified trainer:

Resource guarding is not unique to Tollers but I do believe it is more common in our breed than in some others. For this reason, we incorporate resource control into the socialization work we do when raising a litter. Some examples of resource control exercises we practice are:
  • Trading toys and bones or other desirable chewing objects with puppies
  • Being present during the puppies mealtimes and adding tidbits to their bowl so they associate the approach of a person at mealtime as a positive event
  • Turning away from puppies who are too pushy in demanding attention and deciding when to focus attention on a puppy
When the puppies leave for their new homes the groundwork to mediate resource guarding has been laid but is not complete. In fact, it is something that should be incorporated into your training throughout the life of your Toller. To remind new owners of this and to facilitate the learning process, we send out a handout to our puppy people which includes exercises to continue in the puppy’s new home, even when no resource guarding behavior is present.

Here are some additional links you may find helpful:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Tobago the wonder Toller

"Helping" around the house
I do believe his family coined that phrase, but I wouldn’t dispute it. As the puppy formerly known as “Oak”  closes in on his first birthday he has provided much wonder and joy for his owners.
He won over his “older sister” Toller housemate Trini within minutes of their first meeting and has helped her bloom socially. He has wowed the neighbors and just about everyone else he has met with his buoyant personality. Since he left for his new home he has been in training for conformation, field, obedience, rally, agility and frisbee. He recently obtained the first point toward his AKC championship with his owner Amanda on the other end of the leash, much to her surprise and excitement. The pictures I’ve seen show he is maturing nicely. I’m looking forward to seeing him again at this year’s BYC.

Hey, what happened to my stick?

Am I swimming yet?

The pictures here are just a few of the many wonderful photos his owners have sent throughout the past year.

Frisbee dog!

Not a puppy anymore!

Saturday, March 26, 2011

More on names

Rosie – Rosie came to us as a 3.5 month old pup from Evelyn. We couldn’t imagine calling her anything other than the name Evelyn had chosen as her puppy name. It turned out Evelyn had chosen her registered name too – Lonetree’s Just My Style. It was a name that suited her, though if it had been left to us we were ready with Lonetree’s Jalapeno Rose, after her sweet and spicy personality.

June – Naming June was an involved process. She was the only female in a litter of two, born on June 1st. We had been calling the puppies Johnny and June (after Johnny Cash and June Carter) and I decided the name June would suit her. But how to match that up to a registered name starting with “D”? I was at a loss. Then I came across a reference to a poem by James Russell Lowell that seemed a perfect fit:

And what is so rare as a day in June?
  Then, if ever, come perfect days;
    Then Heaven tries earth if it be in tune,
      And over it softly her warm ear lays.
      -  from The Vision of Sir Launfal (
And so June became Zephyr’s Day in June.

Lark – Another puppy name that became permanent. As I had not originally intended to keep something from the Breaker ex June litter my joke is that I kept her “on a lark”. As for her registered name, early on I had determined if I were to keep anything from this litter, the registered name would be Zephyr’s Evelyn Echo. A not very subtle homage to the breeder of my two original Tollers, Gem and Rosie, and especially appropriate because Gem’s much more famous brother Sailor is both the paternal grandsire AND the maternal great-grand uncle of this litter.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

All about June

June has been a pistol from the time she popped out of Ghillie’s womb. The only female in a litter of two, she left her brother behind – literally! – when she began scaling the puppy x-pen around 6 weeks of age. I raised it once, from 24” to 30”, but decided not to raise it further as all evidence pointed toward June continuing to climb her way to freedom with simply a bigger drop to navigate after reaching the top. Curiously, she only seemed to attempt this when I was home. It was this combination of agility, determination and social attraction that made me want her to stay.

As a puppy, June’s most often employed nick name was “the devil”. She was a force of nature, as one of my friends put it. She greeted visitors like a freight train and used the living room furniture like a training ground for a future possible assent to Mount Everest. This was not encouraged, of course, and on the many occasions when June could not settle herself she earned some time in her crate. I generally crated her in the bedroom, same as her nighttime accommodations, and her vocal protest was clearly audible three rooms away. We endured her displeasure with gritted teeth, knowing that to let her out while she was vocalizing would only serve to strengthen her remonstration. I worked harder with June as a puppy than any other dog we have had so far. I remember walking her down in the backyard to enforce the concept of a reliable recall. From puppyhood, I drilled in a wait and release command for her supper. Always happiest in motion, June’s greatest struggles in obedience revolved around the stationary exercises; sit, down and stand stay. We worked at these for nearly a year before she achieved any degree of reliability.

At 5.5 years old, June has settled some but remains the most animated, provocative Toller I have ever owned or bred. She is mainly handicapped by my ability as a trainer/handler. Not only does she want to work, she needs to in order to be a contented member of the household. Thrilled as I am with her performance potential, I realize her high drive and exercise requirements would make her extremely challenging at best in most households. The same traits I treasure make me very careful when considering potential studs for June. While I’m not looking for a couch potato I do seek to temper June’s drive with a dog who takes things a little more in stride. Breaker was a good choice for June’s first litter. Two puppies have their AKC Championships and a third is only a point away, two of them have multiple agility titles, one has a WC, CD and RN and two are hunted over. All have much of their mother’s spirit but are tempered by their sire.  I’m confident my second choice for June will produce similar results, and I’m looking forward to her planned litter for 2011.

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Through a combination of hard work and good luck, I've recently had the pleasure of witnessing two milestones in our Tollers. The first is Gem. She turned 16 on February 21st. Considering the average lifespan of a Toller is 12-14 years this is significant. Gem has survived her littermates and other canine contemporaries and even some of her puppies. George and I feel very fortunate she is still with us and doing so well for a dog of her age. Some of it is good genes; I've been told it is not uncommon for Tollers in this line to live well beyond the average expectancy. I imagine some of it is luck as well. While overall Gem has been a very healthy dog, she has had a few illnesses along way though so far we've been able to successfully combat them all. Most recently, a few weeks before her birthday, she was diagnosed with old dog vestibular disease. When she couldn't get up on her own I feared the worst. We drove her to the emergency vet shortly after digging ourselves out of a record blizzard. As I held her in my arms I thought, if it was time, the best thing I could wish for her would be to go in my arms before we reached the vet. But as usual, Gem surprised us all and a few weeks out from her diagnosis is getting around almost as well as she did before, only occasionally leaning a bit to one side and still needing a bit of extra help on the stairs. She still comes to the breakfast table for a piece of banana and some yogurt from me and a piece of cereal from George. She knows when treats are forthcoming and unless she is deeply asleep never fails to make an appearance for hers. While we know we won't have her forever, we are grateful for the time we have had and continue to enjoy, our shared experiences, and all she has taught us.

The second milestone is I finally finished my first Bred By Exhibitor champion, Lark. To my amazement she finished with four majors, which is quite an accomplishment when most of us are thrilled to simply obtain the necessary two. At present, Lark is now known as UAGII CH Zephyr’s Evelyn Echo RN NA OAJ NF. That Lark is my first BBE champion is very fitting. She was named for my mentor in the breed, Evelyn Williams. And Lark’s pedigree is something of an homage (echo) to Evelyn. My foundation bitch, Gem, is a littermate to a much more famous dog in our breed, Sailor (Lonetree’s G Parklake Sailor). Lark is the result of breeding a Gem granddaughter back to a Sailor son. The result has been a very special litter of pups. I finished Lark’s sister Eta (CH Zephyr’s Eta Carinae CD RN WC) two days after finishing Lark. Because of how hard Eta’s owners have worked with her in the field and obedience ring, Eta's championship finished her Rusty Jones award requirements. Guess it's time to get out in the field and obedience ring with Lark and catch up.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

A lack of affinity for water

Gem’s attitude toward water has always measured only slightly more positive than the average cat. As a puppy she would follow our Lab into the water, never going beyond the point where she could touch bottom. She would wait patiently for Zephyr to swim out and retrieve the bumper or water toy, stealing it from her in the shallows more often than not and presenting us with her prize. We thought she was very clever at the time and only aspirations of passing a hunt test with her at some point caused us to look at her behavior with a more critical eye and note the underlying truth – Gem had no inclination to swim.

In fact, Gem did not actually swim until we acquired our second Toller, Rosie. I believe the age Gem finally kerplunked her way out to retrieve her first bumper was somewhere around the 2.5 year old mark, and I remain skeptical she ever would have taken the full plunge without the competition of another Toller in the household. Despite her seeming capitulation the fact remained, Gem did not enjoy getting wet. Every time we entered a test I worried less about her ability to mark and bring back the birds than about whether she would deign to swim that day.

We entered a number of tests over the course of a few years and sometimes came quite close to passing. It wasn’t even always water that did us in, sometimes it was a mark, but without any qualifying ribbons as a benchmark of success I grew frustrated, and begged my friend Sue to see what she could do with her. Gem went to “Big Sue Boot Camp” for a few months for some additional instruction on fetching up ducks (yet another part of the field she wasn’t always consistent about) as well as some water education. Sue’s method was simple. Since she knew Gem could swim and knew what was expected of her, if Gem chose not to go in the water Sue would put her in. This seemed to make an impression on Gem, as she preferred to enter the water on her own vs. having someone else “place” her in it. Sue recommended I pre-soak Gem if possible, though it wasn’t always. However, I definitely saw improvement after Gem’s time away at boot camp.

One particular test that stands out in Gem’s long string of “almosts” involved a trek to Kansas City, MO some years ago. A local Golden Retriever club was running their own hunt tests and had agreed to judge Tollers under the NSDTRC USA’s rules. Gem passed the land marks easily and I was heartily congratulated by fellow Toller folk who were present. In many cases a dog is less likely to pick up birds on land than in water, so they all thought we had the test in the bag. I thanked them but inside I was cringing. They didn’t know my dog and her proclivity for water avoidance. As it turned out my fears were well founded. I remember standing on the bank for the first water mark. I let the judges know we were ready and they signaled to the gunner. The bird was thrown, a gunshot followed. The bird hit the open water and one of the judges called “dog”, my signal to release Gem. She took a few steps forward and stopped, after which no amount of cajoling, pleading, bribery or threats moved her. After an interminable amount of time it was obvious to all she had failed. I ask the judges if I might, very gently of course, put her in the water. The judges allowed this so I picked Gem up and rolled her out into the water. I can only imagine how it must have looked to the gallery of spectators but I didn’t care. If we couldn’t pass a test that day at least Gem could learn I too would put her in the water if she decided not to go in on her own. On the way home we stopped at a Stuckey’s and bought a small suction-cup sign for the car. It read “If you can’t run with the big dogs, stay on the porch”. It made me feel better though I doubt Gem cared in the least.

Gem eventually passed the NSDTRC USA’s BRT and WC as well as the UKC’s SHR, but as with everything, she did so in her own way, in her own time.