Franz Schubert, in this life, is six weeks old in the body
of a chocolate-brown labrador who reminds me that risk
is extra life when he takes my hand easily in his
mouth and leads me through new teeth and a snowfall blanking town.
I think this snow must be able to lift two children, who
are fighting, out of their argumentative skins and make
a day so bright, it winces. What is ever this willing?
This vibrant dog with me, loving my hand as if it could
delay his life a little, makes me want to be him and
his newborn smile: play-ferocious on the way to heartbreak.
Reaching it back to the perfect wet arc of young bone
that forces itself into the roof of Franz’s mouth, my hand
follows my body and enters him. It is summer
again in the canoes. The man I come to when he calls,
approaches, first on a wrinkle of water, then as
himself, and we are ready to go. Franz, good dog, inside
me this is life I did not choose and you have yours, ready.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Happy holidays and merry Christmas from our pack to yours! We hope that your winter holiday season is merry and bright.
Eden was our belated Christmas present to ourselves last year. The day before we left for Christmas vacation, I received a brief, excited email from the vice president of the German shepherd rescue that we fostered for (and from whom we adopted Pyrrha). She knew that we were looking for a friendly, confident young dog to add to the family — as a companion for Pyrrha, who thrives in the company of other dogs, and as a reward for Guion, in a sense, for so patiently abiding with a dog who feared and disliked him, through no fault of his own.
“I think I have a puppy for you,” she wrote, attaching a photo of a smiling 4.5-month-old Edie (then named Eva) sitting between the legs of an older man. We were instantly smitten and told her we’d “foster” the puppy for a few weeks and decide if we wanted to keep her. “Everyone who has met her wants to keep her,” the vice president wrote, “but I want you guys to have first dibs.”
Eden was purchased as a puppy from a Maryland breeder (specializing in West German imports and schutzhund) by a well-to-do young family, with three small children. The family, although they took good care of the puppy, was unprepared for the level of insanity and energy that a working-line German shepherd entailed. Instead of being returned to the breeder (which struck me as a black mark on the breeder’s record), she was surrendered to the rescue.
She was first evaluated to see if she’d be suitable for police work, owing to her immense amounts of energy, but she failed that test, as she lacked focus and would rather jump on and kiss the handlers instead of completing the task at hand.
Cassie, our rescue contact, brought her to meet me at the same Petco where we met Pyrrha, on a very rainy, gross day at the end of December. Eden bolted through the automatic doors and ran right up to me, ready for pets. We sat on the wet floor of the Petco and talked for a while about the puppy’s background. The family who gave her up sent her with a box of expensive toys, deer antlers, high-quality kibble, and a pricey collar.
“She has just one physical defect,” Cassie said, gently opening Eden’s mouth. Panting happily, I quickly saw the issue; this puppy was missing a good chunk of her tongue. “Apparently, they had her in doggy daycare, and she was attacked by an older dog,” she said. “But she doesn’t seem bothered by it at all.” Indeed, she didn’t seem the least bit frightened of other dogs, who kept coming in and out of the Petco as we talked. Eden seemed to see them all as potential playmates.
She got along with Pyrrha easily from the first day. As you can see from the photo above, she was immediately respectful of Pyrrha’s space. But as she got more comfortable in our house, she became more gutsy and bold and started getting testy around her food bowl (when Pyrrha approached, never with us). We started working on that from Day 1, and I’m happy to say that her resource guarding issues are greatly diminished.
Truthfully, the girls are probably not the most ideal pairing of dogs. Don’t get me wrong — they get along beautifully 90% of the time. But they are not in love with each other, like Ruby and Boca, for example. They are both stubborn, strong-willed, and relatively high-strung bitches. But when they play together in the morning, racing in wild loops of tag games and tossing out play bows with abandon, it warms one’s heart considerably.
Eden also likes to kiss Pyrrha’s mouth in the morning, after breakfast. Sometimes, she sticks a good part of her muzzle into Pyrrha’s open jaws, as if hunting for treasure (food remnants, more likely). It seems like a dangerous gambit — someone’s going to lose an eye! — but they enjoy this ritual and observe it regularly.
She LIVES to PLAY. Play is just about the only thing that matters in her universe. She has a devotion to fetching that parallels a retriever’s, and her athletic, acrobatic displays in catching items mid-air have become spectacular.
To keep everyone sane, Guion has been wonderfully faithful about morning Frisbee games with Eden. This, naturally, has made him her favorite human, which was part of the goal in adopting her in the first place, so that poor Guion could have a dog of his own.
If Guion doesn’t move fast enough for her liking in the morning, she begins to emit a series of excitable whines and cries, often seeming to mimic an aboriginal song, with moans and ululations. She prances around him, singing and shrieking, until he pulls his boots on. And then: Silence. GAME FACE.
A few months after we got her, she started dropping weight and not gaining it back, to a dangerous degree. She had dipped to a mere 43 pounds by the end of January. The vet ran all sorts of tests; nothing was conclusive (no worms, no giardia). I was convinced that she had the debilitating disease EPI (exocrine pancreatic insufficiency), which is common in shepherds. But we ran the expensive series of tests for that and those also came back negative. Finally, the vet tried a more intensive version of the giardia test that we’d done earlier, and there we had it: Little babe was riddled with giardia. She then passed it on to Pyrrha, and we spent about two-and-a-half (very expensive) months getting them healthy again. I am happy to report that she is now healthy and stable and weighs in at 56 pounds, which seems just about perfect for her.
Eden is bold with eye contact. She wants to stare deeply into your eyes and hold you there in her gaze, unblinking. Pyrrha cannot handle this kind of intense eye contact, even with me; it is too much for her. But not Edie. She wants to look deep into your soul and learn all of your secrets.
She loves to bark. To announce her presence! To inform the neighborhood that she is large and in charge! It’s not usually a protective bark. (The protective bark we’ve heard from her a few times, and that is a distinctly different, dangerous timbre. She actually sounds frightening when she pulls that one out.) But her typical bark is far from scary. It’s heraldic, joyful, self-important.
Eden is growing sweeter, I think. Just as a teenager gradually becomes less self-absorbed and starts to recognize the presence of other beings around her.
She is especially docile and cuddly in the evenings. It is my favorite time with her. She is a positive terror in the mornings, so much so that I almost never have a peaceful breakfast, but when the sun goes down, she is ready to be a placid dog. She wants to sit at your feet, or lean against your chair, or hop up on the sofa and put her sweet little head on your shoulder. I think she is saying, Here I am. Right here. Don’t forget to love me.
Sometimes it seems as if a dog can sense
One’s thoughts more quickly than a human can;
They know the moments that are dark and tense—
When worries have upset life’s general plan.
And I have seen them gazing into space
At such a time, as if they almost knew
That any gesture would be out of place
Unless one asked for it. How very few
Of all the wise and learned of earth possess
This strange, uncanny power to understand
Man’s deepest moods of utter loneliness,
When naught but silence meets the heart’s demand.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Love that last line.
Hope you have pleasant weekends ahead! Hard to believe that autumn is already upon us.
I’ve been thinking lately about what I’d tell someone who said they wanted a German shepherd puppy.
Obviously, I’ve become a fan of the breed, even though I never intended to become one. German shepherds just kind of happened to me. But in my time raising Pyrrha, fostering German shepherds, and now rearing our new GSD puppy, I feel like I’m beginning to learn about the many nuances of the breed.
So, here are 11 things that I’d tell someone who wanted a GSD:
A GSD is not a golden retriever. Sometimes I feel like many people assume that a lab/golden retriever is just the default “dog personality” (e.g., gregarious, every person is their best friend). Obviously, this is not true for every GSD, but shepherds tend to be “one person” (or “one family”) dogs. Your shepherd doesn’t think that every person she meets is her best friend, and that’s part of her heritage. Shepherds are a bit suspicious of strangers. Also be prepared for your shepherd to pick someone to be her person in your family. (In my family, Pyrrha unequivocally picked me. Guion almost doesn’t exist in her universe.) This can be saddening, but it’s also a trait of the breed.
Beware the land sharks! GSD puppies have earned the moniker “land shark” for their mouthiness. It comes from somewhere deep in their herding heritage, I suppose, but these are very bitey puppies! For this reason, a GSD can be a trying breed with young children, who often become unwitting targets for playful biting. Start teaching your puppy right away that biting humans is inappropriate behavior and channel that mouthiness into heavy-duty chew toys and games that don’t involve tasty human hands.
Be watchful for signs of shyness. Many GSDs, especially American-line dogs bred for show/companionship, tend toward shyness and anxiety. If not addressed, this shyness can transform into fear-based aggression. For this reason, socialize that puppy from the minute he comes home with you, and don’t stop throughout his lifetime.
Expect a dog who wants to know your business all the time. If you don’t like having a dog follow you everywhere, even into the bathroom, perhaps reconsider getting a German shepherd. These dogs are busybodies, and they want to know where you are and what you are doing at ALL times — in the event that your actions could compromise the security of the house and the family. They’re just doing their jobs, you know. 🙂
Hope you love dog hair… everywhere. There’s a reason people call them “German shedders.” Enough said! GSDs have a double coat, which equals twice as much fur all of your floor, your sofa, your clothes, etc. You also can’t win with your wardrobe; if you end up with a classic black-and-tan German shepherd, they have black, brown, tan, and sometimes white hair on them, so no color of clothing is immune!
GSDs like to play rough. Shepherds have a tendency to rough-house with both people and other dogs. They’re intense animals! They don’t have the “soft mouths” of retrievers or the delicate playfulness of smaller breeds. Dog owners with other breeds have told me that it took them a while to realize that our shepherds were playing with their dogs — and not trying to kill them. In my experience, even in play, shepherds like to go for the throat and get into some heavy-duty wrestling. Supervise their interactions with other dogs, and help your shepherd take lots of breaks and time-outs so that the play doesn’t get too overwhelming.
Get ready for negative public perceptions. Thanks to the media, history, popular culture, and surely many mishandled dogs, German shepherds don’t exactly have the best public image. If it hurts your feelings that some people are automatically scared of your dog, a GSD may not be right for you. If you have a GSD, let this motivate you to make your dog a great breed ambassador and help change negative stereotypes.
Be prepared for a potentially vocal dog. GSDs also have a tendency to be vocal. We’ve had some dogs who were just whiners; they whined for a variety of reasons (excitement, unbridled joy, stress, to get attention, to get food). Other dogs were more bark-y, especially at strangers walking past our fence or at other dogs. Pyrrha is an uncharacteristically quiet GSD; but our little Eden loves barking, barking just for the fun of it! Barking can be a very difficult behavior to curb, especially if it’s woven into a dog’s lineage, as it has been with shepherds for a while now. Be aware of this issue, and be prepared to start training your dog when and how to be quiet.
Consider the large number of health issues. German shepherds are famous for their litany of health issues. On a range from more benign (allergies) to life-threatening (osteosarcoma, hemangioma), shepherds seem to have them all. The breed even has predispositions to diseases that seem to occur exclusively within the purebred line (e.g., degenerative myelopathy, which was once called “German shepherd neuropathy.”) It’s heartbreaking, but it’s a reality if you want a shepherd. Find a good vet (preferably one with shepherd experience), and start taking measures to keep your shepherd trim and healthy.
Start brainstorming now about how to keep your puppy’s brain engaged. Otherwise, you are going to have a little terror on your hands. German shepherds are large, active, athletic, and highly intelligent dogs. What this means is that if they get bored, you are going to seriously regret bringing this fuzzy monster into your house. A smart dog with no job to do = a mischief-making tornado. Try obedience classes, agility, flyball, schutzhund, herding, nose work, etc. Shepherds can excel at many canine sports and activities!
If you want a purebred puppy, do your research about the difference between working-line and show-line GSDs. You may be surprised to learn that there’s a large difference within the GSD breed between dogs who are bred to work and dogs who are bred to win show ribbons. This can be a touchy subject for some, but in general, I feel that the bottom line is this: Working-line dogs are sounder and healthier, because they are bred to do a job. Show-line dogs are just bred to look pretty and meet the sacred “breed standard,” which has morphed into requiring these horribly exaggerated hocks and back lines, which puts strain on the hips and wreck the dog’s gait. This post is a great introduction to the topic of working-line vs. show-line German shepherds, and it’s an excellent place to start. There’s also working-line breeder Christine of Blackthorn Kennels, whose shepherds even compete in herding. The downside of a working-line dog is that they are INTENSE, and they can be unsuited for a quiet urban or suburban lifestyle. Start researching now to determine what kind of GSD suits you and your family.
Breeders aside, I’m a huge advocate for RESCUE. Obviously. Both of our (purebred) girls are from a rescue, and we’d encourage anyone who wanted a new dog (or a puppy) to look at a rescue first. We adopted from Southeast German Shepherd Rescue, which covers North and South Carolina, Virginia, DC, and parts of Tennessee, Georgia, and Maryland. The only downside of rescuing a purebred is that you have no health guarantees and no knowledge of their parents (or often of their backgrounds).
Pyrrha, for example, appears to be an American-line shepherd bred for companionship by a backyard breeder. The fact that she has surprisingly straight hocks and a level topline makes me think she wasn’t bred to win show ribbons, which I am thankful for. Eden, on the other hand, is a German-line shepherd whose parents were imports titled in schutzhund. They were also show dogs, so she has a more sloped topline than Pyrrha and slightly more exaggerated hocks.
Here’s a listing of German shepherd rescues by state. German shepherds still rank no. 3 in popularity in AKC registrations, so there are lots of German shepherds all over the country, and thus lots of beautiful, great dogs who need forever homes. Consider it!
Truthfully, a German shepherd puppy isn’t going to be that different from any other puppy. ALL puppies require hard work, devotion, and lots and lots of patience. But the joy they bring? That’s hard to reduce to an 11-point list.
I’ve been quiet on the blog front because I’ve been sick for a week and cannot seem to shake this lingering cold. Or whatever it is. Ugh! I am functional, but just barely.
The house seems so quiet without monster puppy running around! I think Pyrrha might even miss her. She does really love having a live-in playmate. Meanwhile, she’s continuing to attend her reactivity class and class graduation is next week. Pyrrha is doing well, but we humans have to be better about practicing in the real world. It takes a lot of coordination and effort to get this “Pavlov machine” behavior down on a walk. Thankfully, she is a patient animal. We just want to do right by her.
Hope that you have peaceful, illness-free weekends! And now I want to get back in bed…
This brilliant, sharky, sweet little puppy is on her way to a happy life with a young family!
I am happy to report that Trina (soon to be named something else, probably) went on trial with a family who has a 9-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old lab mix, Belle.
The meeting went quite well; Trina was nervous about Belle at first, and kept barking at her, but within a few minutes, she was her typical wiggly puppy self, and did her best to make Belle love her. (Belle wasn’t so sure, but she seemed tolerant, kind of like a mannerly dowager.)
As you can see, I think our crazy little girl has found her happy ending!
Semi-related life update: Because we recently learned that our landlords are selling the house we’re living in (BIG sad face), our housing situation is kind of up in the air right now. So we’re going to take a hiatus on fostering. I’m sad about this, but this is the best decision for us right now. We’re hoping that the stars will align so that we could buy our first house — and then, of course, we could keep fostering easily — but everything is uncertain right now. I’ll keep you posted!
Hope you all had nice weekends! I’m still basking in that fuzzy feeling after seeing another foster happily adopted. It’s such a nice, intangible reward.
You guys. We are in trouble. I think I really, really want to keep this puppy.
Here’s the story: Friday night, this little lady got dropped off with me; I was volunteering with the rescue on our pedestrian mall, where we had a table and were passing out information about the rescue, raising money, etc. Brynn (who is called “Trina” by the rescue, officially) showed up in the back of an SUV with a bunch of kids, just wagging her tail and looking around. I thought that being on the mall would be way too stressful for her, but she hung out there for three hours and was a total rockstar.
We put that cute vest on her and, naturally, drew tons of attention to the booth!
She met tons of people of all ages, shapes, and sizes; children, whom she happily kissed and showed no anxiety about; and other dogs, spending most of her time playing with Titan, the rescue VP’s bombproof sable male.
We wore her out at the event, and then brought her home to meet Pyrrha.
The introduction went perfectly, and the two of them have been playing beautifully ever since.
Brynn ADORES Pyrrha and wants to be with her every second. Pyrrha tolerates this puppy love with admirable patience, but she also seems to genuinely enjoy playing with her in the backyard.
As you can see, they also love wrestling together.
Based on her size (38 lbs.) and the vet report, we think she’s about 4.5 to 5 months old.
She was dropped off at a shelter in Gastonia, NC, by her owner, citing conflict with his/her insurance policy. And that’s all we know about her. Based on her outgoing personality and general looks, she seems to have been well cared for. Her lack of shyness also makes me think she was somewhat well socialized (although it could also just be that she has a great personality, which she does).
Brynn walks beautifully on the leash, and we’ve been taking her out on strolls every night since we got her. Her only (SLIGHT) fear seems to be moving cars (she just trots away from them), but we’ve been practicing some behavior modification to help her with that. (And, frankly, I’m kind of OK if she doesn’t want to get near moving cars!)
She looks very sound to me, and her vet check-ups didn’t show any cause for concern. As with all rescue German shepherds, you’re pretty much not going to get a well-bred animal, but she looks really great, all things considered. I particularly like that she does not have a sloped topline or those exaggerated hocks, and her face is also very nicely proportioned.
Why do I care about all of this for the foster puppy? Well, because I want to keep her. As you may recall, our motivation for fostering was to find a great puppy to add to our family. Our qualifications were a happy, outgoing, bright puppy with no shyness (to balance out Pyrrha’s more extreme anxieties). We were also looking for a mixed-breed male, which, clearly, Brynn is not. So.
Here are my internal pros and cons for keeping Brynnie.
Outgoing and confident
Gets along wonderfully with Pyrrha
Super with children (was briefly fostered with them before us)
Great with other dogs
Of essentially unknown origin
Land-shark-y (but aren’t all GSD puppies at this age??)
Not “bombproof” necessarily (e.g., was a bit wary of a toddler on our walk last night but was fine with tons of little kids coming up to her on the pedestrian mall)
(As you can see, my “cons” side is weak!)
Guion (husband) wants to spend more time making this decision (because he is rational and not as swayed by puppy breath as I am), so we’re going to give it another week before we make the final call.
But what do you think? Should we keep her?? Or should we keep waiting?