Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Not a biscuit eater

Some years ago George and I came across a movie called "The Biscuit Eater". Originally a short story, it was made into a movie in 1940, and remade by Disney in 1972. The 1940 version was so full of stereotypes it made us cringe, but the curious title stayed with me. Despite the definitions currently available for "biscuit eater" when doing an Internet search, in the movie the term was reserved for a dog that ate and took up space in the kennel but didn't perform the work it was bred for, which in this case was competing in field trials. A quick review of the short story reveals "A biscuit eater wouldn't hunt anything except his biscuits and wasn't worth the salt in his feed."

I confess upon occasion I have teasingly referred to Lark as a biscuit eater because when compared with her over achieving mother, Lark has seemed rather lackadaisical about retrieving in general. It look me a long time to realize that Lark has both talent and drive for fieldwork, she was just waiting for me to put the work in, which I finally started to do last fall. Then she whelped her second litter on April 2nd of this year so we only had two weeks to train for the WC at the BYC after her litter left. This was not quite enough time for us to prepare and she went out on the first mark. However, we trained hard this summer and I'm pleased to report that Lark qualified in the WC on Oct. 6th at our National Specialty in Syracuse, NY.

Lark's work in the WC was very nice. She marked all of her birds very well, and picked them up without a fuss, returning directly to me. I was especially impressed with her work on the second land mark, as I saw a lot of dogs appear to run right over it and hunt far and wide of the fall. During Lark's second mark on water it was raining so hard I could hardly see her but she came through.

Lark's WC completes her requirements for the Rusty Jones award. She joins her mother June and littermate Eta in earning this award. Lark has informed me I may never refer to her as a biscuit eater again, but that should not be confused with a lack of desire on her part to eat biscuits.

Monday, September 30, 2013

The girls are really in charge...

First off I must confess to "borrowing" the gist of the title for this post from Laura Waudby's blog, "The Dogs Are Really in Charge". She's a dog trainer in MN who currently has a Corgi and a Toller and is training a Labrador Retriever to be a service dog. She writes about many different dog related training and trialing experiences and has a lot of interesting observations to share.

I've recently come to the conclusion that June and Lark are in cahoots and working together to maintain the current status quo. They don't want to see another addition to the pack any time soon. I had my suspicions when Lark's second litter consisted of all male puppies, just like her first litter. Due to our small setup, so far I've resisted adding an intact male (especially one so closely related) to our pack. And then earlier this month Lark came in season, not an unexpected event, but 2-5 months earlier than anticipated, causing me to put any breeding plans for her on hold due to a project at work that would likely conflict with her due date.

So for now the girls continue to enjoy lots of individual time and attention. I can only hope they throw me a bone or two at the Specialty this week to make up for the severe puppy-itis I'm sure I'll experience in the presence of so many adorable Toller puppies.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Kermit the frog prince

The best thing for me about this year's BYC was the opportunity to visit one of June's sons. I hadn't seen him since he left our house in August of 2011. Pictures were exchanged in the interim. The last ones I received were around the 13-15 month mark, and revealed a gawky but promising youngster.
Imagine my surprise when Erin opened her front door and out came Kermit (Zephyr's Going Green at Macfield) charging across her yard at just under 2 years of age.


Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Too good for a pet home

Lately it seems a number of Toller breeders have been producing whole litters they feel are “too good for a pet home”. Sometimes it’s in reference to structure; the breeder is convinced all of the puppies belong in show homes. Sometimes it’s in regard to drive; the breeder thinks all of the puppies belong in hunting homes or at least some kind of “serious” performance home. Sometimes it’s a combination of the two. As a fellow breeder I can certainly understand the sentiment. We spend a lot of time researching pedigrees, obtaining health clearances and putting titles on our dogs to promote their worth. Raising puppies is a lot of work and we want the best for all of our pups. However, since all of our Tollers are pets first, and whatever else they turn out to be second, I have a hard time wrapping my head around the concept of breeders who won’t sell puppies to people who "just" want a pet.

Some of the most wonderful homes we have placed our puppies in over the years are "just" pet homes. These homes are wonderful because they made their Toller an integral part of the family and provided excellent opportunities for socialization, as well as both mental and physical stimulation, though sometimes by less traditional methods than hunting. Tollers can be great therapy dogs, jogging companions or kayaking partners. Although most Tollers thrill to the sight of a duck or the sound of a shotgun, what's most important to them is active, supportive engagement in a caring household.

Over the years a rather common question asked of me in the course of puppy inquiries is, “do you sell to pet homes?” While I can’t speak for other breeders, my own response to that question is, “well of course we sell to pet homes!” I go on to explain how in our experience a litter of puppies tends to be like children within a family. Although they will have many similar characteristics, they may also have different interests and abilities. Some will excel at sports, others at math, while some may be content to coast a bit more through life. To offset this, we try to get a mixture of people on our waiting list for puppies who have different interests and expectations. It is our job to match each puppy to the right home. So far this model has worked well for us.

This is not to say we never have puppies we hold back or wish to consider only for a specific type of home. However, if I feel that way as a breeder, I believe it is my responsibility to keep and nurture the puppy until the right home comes along. Sometimes I am fortunate enough to find a local home to place the puppy in where bringing out the special qualities I see in the pup becomes a team effort.

If a breeder is unwilling to consider pet homes for any puppies within a litter due to the stated drive of the puppies, it begs the question of whether there is a proper emphasis on producing puppies who meet the breed standard in regard to temperament. Our standard states, "He is affectionate and loving with family members and is good with children, showing patience."

Friday, May 31, 2013

The trouble boys

In just over a week Lark's current litter will be headed for the their new homes. I am thoroughly enjoying them but life will definitely be quieter and a lot less trouble after they have departed. Earlier this week Aristotle figured out how to climb out of a 24" ex-pen. He continued to repeat his feat over and over until this morning, when I replaced the 24" ex-pen with a 30" one. Fingers crossed, so far he remains contained. Plato also managed one up and over yesterday, but I believe he was extra motivated due to it being supper time.

I think this ability shows gumption and I confess I have an extra soft spot in my heart for any of our puppies who manage this feat. Grandma June was the first climber we ever produced, so these boys are simply following one of the (very odd) traditions here at Zephyr Kennel.

Today I took this picture of the trouble boys:

Then I realized I couldn't see their water dish. This is where there water dish usually is:

This is where it was:

Note to self. I really must put a puppy cam up for subsequent litters so I can see what actually transpires while I am away.

What will they come up with next?

When success breeds incivility

While I feel fortunate to be in a breed which can still be successfully owner-handled, and among fanciers who generally work together for the betterment of our breed both in regard to health and structure as well as building points at local shows; as in every breed we do have a subset of fanciers who only seem to consider their own perceived best interest.

I have both experienced and heard tales of being run up on or crowded in the ring and exhibitors who position their in-standing-heat bitches right up against the ring gates while class males are showing. I have witnessed an exhibitor smack the nose of another dog with a pin brush because the dog dared to sniff hers, after she had moved her dog into the other dog’s space. I have seen a handler in our breed storm off to the superintendent’s table after the dog she was showing was not put up by the judge. I have heard of exhibitors muttering very un-sportsman-like comments while either in the ring, or at ringside, close enough for other exhibitors and even the judge to hear. Happily, these events are relatively few and far between in our breed.

Based on my own observations, those most likely to exhibit these behaviors are either big winners or have an expectation of winning. Basic common denominators in regard to the perpetrators are an attitude of entitlement coupled with an aversion to accountability. It is unfortunate these exhibitors perceive success achieved by someone else as translating to their failure. I recognize to a degree this is a broader cultural failing. There is an unhealthy emphasis on winning that permeates down to all areas of our society, including children's sports. I also acknowledge there is an addictive component to winning that is very likely a contributing factor. Who hasn't experienced an adrenaline rush over a big win and longed to repeat the feeling? However, I still believe we should strive for civility, both for the benefit of our breed as well as ourselves.
Toller fanciers still comprise a relatively small circle and most of us at least know of each other if we do not know each other well. A good reputation is of great importance, but reputation is more than how many champions a breeder has produced or how many BIS awards a particular dog has won. Reputation has to do with how you treat people when you are winning, but even more importantly, how you treat people when you are not winning. The next time you are tempted to lash out in an uncivil manner, try following “Thumper's law”. “If you can't say something nice, don't say nothing at all”.
I recently came across a reference to the "Three Pillars of Civility" which I think are worth noting here. These pillars embody some life skills worth mastering, and are applicable to all areas of life, not just the pure bred dog hobby world:
  • The ability to be respectful of other people while expressing an opinion.
  • The ability to acknowledge and appreciate the fact that opinions differ among people.
  • The ability to engage with other people to constructively move discussion forward.
Those who have not yet mastered these skills should perhaps consider another less emotionally volatile hobby. As for those of you who have witnessed or borne the brunt of uncivil behavior in one form or another; it may be helpful to remember that those who appear most uncivil tend to be most insecure.

For more on a similar topic, check out: Are There Dog Show Bullies?

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Looking good for a veteran

June finished her AKC Championship on May 4th by going WB/BOW for a 3pt major. This is an extra special accomplishment since some time ago I convinced myself she would never finish and pretty much stopped showing her except maybe once a year to help build points for an entry. When I did this last December the judge confounded all of my expectations by not only giving June BOW over the dog I was trying to build a crossover point for, he then proceeded to award her BOB over three male Specials! It was at that point I thought, well maybe… Of course June blew her coat soon after so any additional show plans were put on hold until recently. A few weeks ago she picked up 2pts by going WB/BOW at a show in Fond du Lac, WI. Still, that wasn’t the coveted second major we required to finish. When we entered the ring on Saturday I tried to empty myself of any expectations. I was confident she looked good, but the other class bitches were nice too, and it can be difficult to predict what a judge is looking for, and whether your dog embodies it. Happily for us, June did that day! When we had our win shot taken with the judge, he commented to me that "she had the cleanest movement both coming and going". His words meant a lot to me as a breeder because movement is something I tend to focus on, probably because in my younger days I was as stuck on horses as I am now stuck on dogs.

The championship completes June's requirements for the Rusty Jones award, an NSDTRC USA award which showcases the versatility of Tollers by requiring a breed championship, a CD (obedience title) and a WC (field title). In true June fashion the WC was the first title she earned, around 2 years of age.

What’s most amazing to me is that June will be turning 8 in less than a month, so has been eligible to show as a Veteran for almost a year. I've always thought Tollers are a slow maturing breed at their best, so it's pretty special to me that at an age when many breeders are retiring their bitches, June seems to be just hitting her stride in many ways.


Sunday, April 14, 2013


I took the girls outside for the last time around 11pm Friday night. Lark was on a flexi-leash as she has been showing a proclivity for digging since she whelped her litter on April 2nd (gotta have an extra den ready for the pups, just in case!). Everything was proceeding as normal until June alerted to something I couldn't see and Lark chimed in. At first I assumed it was a late night jogger or someone walking home from downtown after an evening out. June tore off toward the back of the yard to investigate and Lark lunged on her leash, longing to follow, but thankfully was held in check. Because June raced straight to the back of the yard instead of along the side of the fence line which parallels the street, it then struck me she might have fixed on a critter vs. a person. As she disappeared behind the big fir tree I shouted "June!" but it was too late. In moments, June was racing back with a snoutful of skunk so strong it smelled more like industrial strength burnt rubber than the smokey, musky smell we more often associate with skunks.

Lark REALLY wanted in on the action but I kept a firm grip on her leash. June made a move as if she was going back for another pass so I told her, "June, NO!" and thankfully she obeyed. I hustled Lark into the house, asking George to keep an eye on June until I could put Lark back with her puppies and whip up some de-skunking formula. This formula is made from common household ingredients but it is important to note it cannot be prepared ahead of time. It is described in detail here:

Once I was back outside I confirmed June had taken the blast of skunk spray full in the face. Her eyes were red and puffy and she was foaming a bit at the mouth. Although a few of our dogs have been skunked before, no one has ever been hit as hard as June was that night. I wiped down her head and neck with the de-skunking solution, being very careful to avoid her eyes, nose and mouth as this formula is somewhat caustic and can cause pain and even damage to her eyes and mucous membranes. After I had done as thorough a job as I could we went inside. Unfortunately, June was still in so much discomfort from her encounter she began rubbing her muzzle on the kitchen rug and parts of the kitchen floor. She was also rubbing quite a bit at her eyes. A quick search on the Internet by George had me heading to the bathroom cabinet for saline solution. We used this to flush out her eyes as well as her nose and mouth and it seemed to help quite a bit. Soon after that I put June in the tub to rinse off the de-skunking solution. By then it was obvious to me there was still some on her lips and mouth so I did some additional flushing of that area with water.

By the time we had June, the kitchen and ourselves cleaned up as well as we could that night it was past midnight. We put June in a crate as she still seemed somewhat stinky despite our best efforts. About 1am we realized she had thrown up in her crate. Although most dog/skunk encounters are smelly and annoying they aren't generally life threatening, at that point I started to get a little worried because we had read that skunk oil ingested in large quantities can be toxic, causing lethargy, vomiting, seizures, anemia and liver damage. Her gums had color and her energy was good so I didn't think we needed to rush off to the emergency vet, but I decided to spend the rest of the night closer to her in order to better monitor any additional symptoms. Needless to say, no one slept well that night though June did not vomit again and seemed none the worse for her experience. I did dose her with some milk thistle in the hope of combating any potential liver issues.

In the morning we went out to buy additional cleaning supplies, then spent 3-4 hours doing laundry and deskunking the back steps and the kitchen.

I hope June has learned her lesson about skunks but I rather doubt she has, knowing June. And of course now that we are past the work and worry we can't help but wonder if June did this to get our attention. It's been a tough couple of weeks for her what with Lark and her pups getting the bulk of our attention.

Do I have your attention now?

Larkie's boyz take 2

What is it with Lark and male puppies? On April 2nd, we welcomed Lark's second litter of three boys into world. As before, mom and pups are doing great. Everyone hit 2lbs or above on the sixth day, beating her first litter, which achieved that mark on the eighth day.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Waiting for dokkens

Amanda sent me this photo earlier in the week and I asked if I could post it here.

Apparently, Tobago did this while "waiting" his turn when Amanda was outside doing some field training with her other Toller Trini.

It is an excellent illustration of what I mean when I say Tollers sometimes lack impulse control, though we love them anyway.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Positively impacting the health of your Toller

Since we believe we'll soon be welcoming our newest litter, lately I’ve been spending a lot of time talking about the things we can do to positively impact the health of our Tollers. I recently came across an article which does a great job of summing up many of the things I’ve been saying for years: Much of this is included in the information we send home with our puppy people, but I thought it  worth reviewing here as well.


What you feed your Toller has a direct impact on his health. We feed our Tollers a raw diet and advocate the same for our puppy people, but will recommend quality dry food options for those uninterested or unwilling to make this change. Rather than reiterate points other authors have already made, please review the following link for a relatively balanced review of raw diet pros and cons:

Here’s another good article on the benefits of raw feeding:

If you want to commit to a raw diet but don’t have time to do it all from scratch, there are many options available. Our dogs are mostly fed Bravo and have been for some years: Please note not all of Bravo’s offerings are balanced; some should be considered building blocks you will need to balance with additions. Another raw diet option we have used with success is Steve’s Real Food:

This is a great list which discusses raw and cooked canine diets: Or you can hire the list owner to formulate one for you: She also sells books which teach you how to balance diets on your own.


We generally come off as “unconventional” (a nice word for oddball) on this front compared to what most people are used to hearing when they talk to other breeders or vets who often encourage spay/neuter between 6-12 months. Some breeders may even  require it contractually though we do not, even if you never intend to show or breed and are just looking for a pet. Studies done in recent years show that hormones play an important role in health, and spaying or neutering your Toller (or any dog) at an early age can have a negative impact. In recent years we’ve been encouraging our puppy people to wait a minimum of 15-18 months before taking this step, and would prefer you wait until they are at least two years old. We figure if we’re going to trust you with one of our puppies in the first place, we also trust you to be a careful steward of their reproductive system.

Want more information? Read on!

Don’t Neuter Your Dog YET:
Long-Term Health Risks and Benefits Associated with Spay / Neuter in Dogs:
Golden retriever study suggests neutering affects dog health: (detailed study results are here:


We believe in minimal vaccinations for Tollers. This is a breed noted for a higher than average frequency of auto immune diseases, and vaccinations are one thing we believe can trigger an auto immune reaction. We vaccinate our puppies with a parvo/distemper/corona combo as close to 9 weeks as possible. We recommend you do not vaccinate again until your puppy is 13 weeks old. Approximately four weeks after the second set of vaccinations (so around 16-17 weeks) we recommend you run parvo and distemper titers on your puppy vs. getting a third set of shots. Somewhere between four and six months you will be required to have your puppy vaccinated for rabies. We recommend the rabies vaccination be administered during a separate visit from the other puppy shots.

WSAVA Vaccination Guidelines:

Dr. Jean Dodds vaccination protocols (we actually do a bit less than this currently):

Taking the risk out of puppy shots:
Learn about titers:

Why we don't recommend the leptospirosis vaccine:

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

June in flannel revisited

This picture is from January but I haven't had much time to blog in the past few months. Lark is also lounging on the bed but notably NOT underneath any of the flannel bedding. One of them is also responsible for the flipped back covers and rumpled comforter. That will teach us to keep the bedroom door closed. Okay, it probably won't. Someday I'd like to see exactly how June goes from freshly made bed to being ensconced in flannel.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

June's Rap Sheet

This post requires a bit of explanation. It's actually an adaptation from a page on one of my web site's previous incarnations in 2006.

Wasn't June a cute puppy?

The victim, one Chester chipmunk. Found in the state pictured 10 minutes after minor surgery to repair a torn ear and head abrasion.

The perpetrator, one June, AKA Zephyr's Day in June. Approach with caution. Do not be fooled by her wagging tail. She will take your toys, food or anything else that catches her fancy. And if you happened to be a small stuffed animal she will shake you mercilessly and rip the stuffing out of you.

Approach with caution. She can sometimes be distracted by throwing a toy or treat.