Sometimes the doggy stuff happens faster than blogging every two weeks can keep up with, and they pile up over at my Wordplay blog. But this time there are puppies involved, so it’s totally worth putting two of those blogs together. Liiike…this!
In Search of Puppy Breath
Puppy breath. Slightly sour, slightly tangy, a hint of skunky. No kind of smell that a person would normally crave.
At least, not until there’s a puppy in your hands and you suddenly realize how much you’ve missed that very thing.
I’ve always timed my puppies carefully, according to the age and need of the current pack. I stay aware of who’s breeding the sort of dog I like, occasionally reaching out here and there with the intent to wait if there’s something perfect to wait for. (I waited two years for Connery, for instance…)
I most recently started serious puppy-planning about five years ago, but things got…complicated. And a little bit Fate-ish.
The pack itself had been ready for a puppy for a couple of years, but a series of major relocations kicked my precarious health into the basement. So by the time I reached out to an online friend about her small breeding program of accomplished performance dogs, I was a little behind the curve. And still not ready, but one starts solid planning a year or so ahead. Not unlike planning books, if I say so myself. Shortly after that, we made it onto my friend’s puppy list.
Shortly after that, I got a localish nudge.
Dart’s Breeder: Got a pup here who’s perfect for you.
Me: Aurgh. OMG. Temptation. But…too sick for a pup right now. Also, on a list for a ~year from now.
(A couple of months pass. Belle Cardigan retires from performance. Connery is not well.)
Dart’s Breeder: Seriously, this puppy is meant for you.
Me: Temptation! Wah!! Still sick! Wah! Already waiting for a puppy! Wah!
My Online Breeder Friend: I don’t know how to tell you this, but [insert personal tragedy]. There will be no breeding, possibly ever. (We cry together for what she’s going through.)
Me: Deep breath, self. Connery is unwell and I have no idea how that’ll turn out. And while I wanted a puppy for all sorts of reasons, the most of which being how important it is to lay performance groundwork in this highly intelligent, independent breed…it is time to be smart.
Me: Dearest Dart’s Breeder, is that puppy (ten months now) still available? (O humble)
Dart’s Breeder: Why, yes he is, because his needs are so clear to me and he cannot go to non-performance home. What took you so long? Did I not TELL YOU THIS WAS YOUR DOG?
And he was.
(Note: It is official that she can remind me of this on a regular basis. But I can’t truly second-guess myself…I knew I wasn’t well enough for a puppy when he was first available, and on looking back, I know I was right.)
That very weekend, little Cubbie Beagle come home for a month try-out. Three weeks later he earned his CGC certification (Canine Good Citizen) in spite of tremendous transition issues driven by his intelligence and emotional nature. He was renamed D’Artagnan and nicknamed–you know this is coming, right?–Dart.
It turns out that Dart is the kind of scary-smart dog who needs all that groundwork in the most critical way, because by ten months old he considered his world completely defined (and to his own standards!). His potential is off the chart, but we still have a lot to overcome and no certainty that I can do it, though he does continue to tease with incredibly exciting glimmers of what might be.
I did know it would take about three years to fully housebreak him (it did) and until he was five-ish to hope for consistency in performance (he just turned five and I’m seeing those glimmers). And because of those things, I knew we wouldn’t be ready for a puppy in the optimal time frame (when Dart was about four), and we weren’t.
So when we lost Belle last April (‘13) and Connery was still struggling behind his uber-bawhsome cheerfulness, we didn’t consider puppy-hunting in spite of my commitment to a baby “for the next one.” Instead, with perfect timing, we became Rena Beagle’s new home.
Rena was already five years old (Connery was nine, Dart was four), already had some training. And she was a princess. She was perfect. Of course, neither her past mom nor I realized that the trip here would trigger lurking health issues into one crisis after another.
I pushed myself to an emotional limit before an injury a year later turned into Rena’s final vet visit. I was emotionally crushed, physically exhausted, deeply grieving, and full of guilt for failing to meet Dart’s needs along the way. In spite of the hole in our pack, I dove back into supporting the two Beagle boys full time and mentioned to Dart’s breeder that we would love to be considered for a puppy…in a year or so.
You know. This time DETERMINED to get an actual puppy!
Which brings me back to that little whisper in my friend’s ear last spring, and the news that Dart’s sister Tyra was bred in early November, and the weeks of waiting to see if she’d taken, and the more weeks until they were born, healthy and beautiful, and the weeks of visiting as often as possible to meet them and play with them and assess them…
And that brings us to next week, when we bring home the first puppy breath to grace this household since Connery came home.
Now the question is…
Puppy Breath: The Choosing
Waiting is the hardest part.
Choosing is the second hardest part.
But I’ve been really, really lucky. I’ve had that opportunity to choose. That’s a whole ‘nother blog and one I’ve got half written, but for now, just trust me. It is an honor and a rarity to have a choice—never mind first choice—in a show-bred litter.
Not that I’m just waltzing in, grabbing a pup, and going. I’ve been a regular visit to the puppy pen since they were born in early November, and I’ve had pictures along the way. Right from the start, I’ve had a pick.
But things change. It’s a sad truth that not every puppy lives. And it’s tough to assess personality and conformation when they’re wee bitty blobs who can’t see or hear or truly even interact with their world!
On my side, I had years of being whelper helper and auntie to litters of Cheysuli Cardigan Welsh Corgi pups. Conformationally, of course, the breeds are nothing alike…but still, one absorbs a certain sense of how Pup X grows to be Adult X.
On my breeder’s side, all that plus doing it with the actual breed in question, plus watching her friends’ litters grow up, too!
For both of us? A background in horses, where conformation vs use and soundness is highly scrutinized, and carries higher penalties when ignored.
So when the three boy puppies were born, I received cell phone pictures and of course I quickly saw a favorite. The smallest of the bunch at that time, but to my eye the most balanced. All of a piece.
But the others were also beautiful puppies. Quite beautiful, in fact. And one does not pick a puppy from a single blurry photo at birth!
The first visit, I got to kiss and handle and schmoozle them. They were between 2-3 weeks and all still beautiful. “My” pup was still all of a piece, if less visibly so.
Then I held them for nail clipping. That can tell you a lot! One pup was easy, one squalled fiercely, and one squalled even louder to start with but then said, “Oh well, whatever.”
That one was “mine.” And I liked that he had an opinion, but that he could think through it.
Still, it was not only way too early to choose, but…
I have a severe jinx about this sort of thing. I don’t, I won’t, say some things out loud until the moment is truly, actually official. It’s a learned jinx and you can’t talk me out of it, so don’t even try.
At the next visit, their little puppy eyes were open but not really able to focus. The pups were quite fat, the three of them thriving on mom’s milk. There hadn’t been much opportunity for additional growth either in body or personality. BUT.
One of the pups, as I held them, looked me directly in the eye. And you know those cliché little zings of electricity that occur in fiction when two characters lock eyes? Yes. It happens. It is real.
It was “my” pup again.
At this point, I started second-guessing myself. Surely I was just inclined to see the best in my early favorite. I mean, seriously!
After that, I brought my tracking/training friend along. Her eye is tuned to Border Collies, but with a quick Beagle primer AND her extensive background in horses (notice a theme here…), she was in grand position to weigh in with a fresh eye. All of the pups were lively, interactive, toy-oriented, and responsive to voice.
One pup was fancy, fancy handsome—which actually translates to a little short in the back for handiness on an agility course. And while amiable with humans, he had already taken to kicking turf after pottying. At five and a half weeks. o.O
The second pup was lankier with tremendous reaching movement for his age (he reminds me utterly of Dart)—and he was clearly a sharply intelligent pup who was actively exploring options to Get What He Wanted, discarding what didn’t work, and moving on to the next effort. Hmmm. That can be awesome in a performance dog! Or…it can be a constant battle.
The third pup had smooth, floaty movement without quite as much reach but so, so lovely. His angles were balanced, his back a good length but a touch longer than the fancy puppy’s, his drive was forward and not up. He had opinions but didn’t cling to them. He fell asleep in my lap.
Yeah, you know who it was.
Last weekend we found them blossoming into incredibly active little people. They all played tug and chase and responded to puppy calls. The first pup looked even fancier, and had an anti-gravity front end—there’s the effect of that short (for Beagles, utterly beautiful) back, but it’s not really the best for agility (weaves are hard, tight turns are hard, driving forward is hard. Connery faces this to some extent). This one’s gait is fancy, his head is fancy, and he’s going to have attitude up the wazoo in the show ring.
The second pup still has his amazing reach of stride. He’s going to be a wonderful athlete! And, once he’s decided to bond, a wonderfully loyal friend. He’s also still a tough-headed little dog, already knows what he wants and isn’t going to hold back when it comes to getting it. The pack troublemaker!
The third was…
All of a piece. Beautiful floaty movement (chills again), opinionated without fighting about it. The pup who avoids the quarrels of the others but doesn’t back down when bullied. Not the fancy of the first and not the athletic reach of the second, but to my eye, the balance of everything in a litter of unrelentingly outstanding puppies.
So finally, Saturday arrived. Official assessment day. They’re quite nearly eight weeks old—that magical time when it’s possible to see into their physical future. (Half a week later and it’s all about the puppy uglies!) Three breeders and me, all taking a good close look. Because while I had my favorite, in truth it’s been a joint venture. But in the end, we all settled on the same little guy as being the best prospect for a combination of show and performance.
So Saturday was the day I brought home the pup who caught my eye in the very first picture—no matter how I admired the others in an effort to keep myself from being “kennel blind.”
I guess sometimes we really do know!
Welcome home, Albedo’s Song of Self! Your call name is Tristan, and we already love you!
Doranna’s quirky spirit has led to an eclectic and extensive publishing journey across genres. Beyond that, she hangs around outside her Southwest mountain home with horse and beagles who compete in agility, obedience, and tracking.
She doesn’t believe in mastering the beast within, but in channeling its power. For good or bad has yet to be decided…
Doranna’s ongoing releases include Nocturne paranormals and joyful new indie efforts–like the special BVC release of the Changespell Saga, and reader favorites like Wolverine’s Daughter and A Feral Darkness. Whee!
Not coincidentally, Doranna’s latest release at BVC has DOGS in it!