Sunday, December 15, 2013

Journey of the Mini-Mes

The Mini-Mes are ready for take-off. Safe in their tiny tube, they float like underwater astronauts, sound asleep in a state of chilly hibernation. Insulated in their cooler, bouncing and swaying all the way from Tennessee to Indiana, they move onward from Indiana to Connecticut.  Along the way they are scanned and tracked, dropped at a sorting facility and zipped away again on a conveyor belt to their next destination.
These are single-minded creatures on a mission and the clock is ticking!
The mini-mes are Hudson’s; a handsome & masculine stud dog and our Quinn’s amant. She was bred by AI in the beginning of December, with hopes that love would bloom.
However, science and technology can only do so much. Mother nature can be capricious and willful. So we sit and wait.
I pull out the fertility statue, long since packed away and given to me sometime between baby #2 and #4. I rub her belly eight times for the eight puppies I hope Quinn will have. Then one more time for good luck. Superstitions die hard. I close my eyes and try to come up with other options to appease the deities. Maybe Anahit, the Armenian goddess of fertility, birth, beauty and water can help. It is especially cold here, so perhaps Haumea, mother of Pele and the Hawaiian goddess of fertility and birth, will heat things up. A little fire & ice couldn’t hurt!
December is a magical time of year; full of darkness and dreams.  Sometimes in life you have no choice but to believe.

Merry Christmas & A Happy New Year to All!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Wings To Fly

It is often said that the most important thing we can give our children is roots to grow and wings to fly. Nature teaches us this lesson everyday. Born under our deck are three baby birds getting ready to leave the nest. They have their game faces on. They are quiet and stoic as they wait patiently for just the right time to make their solo flight. They have grown plump over the past few weeks and now barely fit in the nest. Mama bird scolds me when I get too close or turn on the outdoor silcock  to fill up the watering can. The heat from the sun is oppressive this time of year, but she was smart and picked the perfect home under the deck. Every year she returns, ( I like to believe it is really her!) back to her summer cottage to start a new family.
However, in the midst of this idyllic place lurks danger. Her nest lies in the middle of the dog enclosure. These are not just any dogs but RETRIEVERS!  Dogs trained on pheasant wings & bumpers. The first time one of my male goldens caught a mourning dove mid-flight, my jaw dropped. What  precision! 
I am torn between admiration for my dog’s instinct and empathy for a mother’s devotion. 
So here the story ends. In my dreams, I see them spread their wings and fly free but I know I cannot control the future. Some things are better left to chance.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Secret Garden

"Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring- it was peace."

-Milan Kundera

In July, the gardens at Aquinna are in full bloom. The black & white of winter is replaced with a brilliant, intense color. When the thunder clouds roll across the ridge, the yellow mass of Stella De Oro daylilies, Gold Barberry & Purple Plum tree look photoshopped on a carpet of green grass.
We have finally reclaimed the northwest corner of our property. Gone are the bramble bushes that made it impassable. The June 2011 tornado took away several large oaks, and in exchange gave us dappled light & sun. Hidden behind a rainforest canopy of crab apples I could see possibilities, where before there were none. At the base where the thorny bushes once stood, I planted soft kentucky bluegrass. To anchor the steep sections of land, I planted Blue Star, Blue Rug & Dwarf Procumbens juniper. I chose a pastel palette of pink, purple and blue; Hydrangea, Perfect Pink Glory & Stephanie Returns daylilies, Astilbe, Wine & Roses weigela, PJM , Purple Gem & Olga Mezitt rhododendron, Veronica Speedwell & Nathan Hale mountain laurel. For tranquility, I planted Elijah Blue fescue and Gracillimus maiden grass. For the open gaps and gentle breeze the tornado left behind, I hung a Bali wind chime on a low branch of crab apples. At the top of the hill, overlooking a canopy of ancient oaks, I will put a teak bench someday. Then, I will sit with my dogs up there on the hill and for a brief moment in time, we will be back in Eden.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Nose Knows

A dog makes sense of the world around him, through his nose. Inside his nose are 125 to 300 million olfactory receptors. The nerves in the nasal membrane travel to a specialized olfactory lobe in the brain. In addition to that, in his nasal cavity, above the roof of his mouth behind the top incisors, is Jacobson’s organ. This is a vomeronasal organ that communicates to the hypothalamus and can detect pheromones.
One of my male goldens, Beckham possess scent discrimination that is impeccable and acute. He is the one that find treats in my pockets, where I thought there were none. He can detect a female in season, 5 days before there is any evidence. The resident doctor, he examines every dog in our home, looking for the most obscure hot spot. He can detect the tiniest tick under the thickest golden coat- I have finally learned to stop doubting his abilities. Anything out of the ordinary-- a small cut or skin rash-- he will find and "tend" to. He would be a great dermatologist! Other times, I envision him as a parfumeur createur; blending citron with bay rum & bergamot. Better yet, as an enologist with a glass of chardonnay that has,"pineapple and citrus notes-- buttery with toasted oak bouquet." He has turned perfect sniffing into an art form!
If you have never had the opportunity to watch the scent discrimination exercise in Utility, make it a point to do at your next show. How amazing is it, that the dog can find that one article with the owner’s scent on it, in a pile of metal & leather?
Like a pilot learning to trust the instruments, we as dog owners need to trust the dog. After all, the nose knows best!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pay It Forward

"In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those for whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody."
                                                               -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Scotland is the ancestral home of the Golden Retriever and Sir Dudley Marjoribanks (Lord Tweedmouth) is the gentleman credited with creating the breed. From the stud book & notes he kept to record each breeding, we know that in 1868, he initially bred Belle, a tweed water spaniel to Nous, a yellow wavy-coated retriever. His goal was to create a versatile hunting dog and 145 years later his dream still lives on. What would he think of today’s Golden? More importantly, how can we ever thank him? We can start by ensuring that this sporting breed endures. We can preserve and protect the golden legacy by giving to organizations that foster this. The Golden Retriever Foundation & the Gala-Top Twenty Competition at the annual National Specialty, raise precious funds for canine research.
Other notable organizations include the CHIC DNA Repository & The Broad Institute at Harvard & MIT. My girl Quinn, has generously donated her blood to both groups. As the owner, I am responsible for updating them with any new health problems.
This is a win-win situation for all, since both dogs and human share many of the same illnesses (cancer, diabetes, eye & thyroid disease). What we learn from one, helps the other. For our goldens, the goal is to reduce the incidence of inherited disease in dogs through research & new genetic tests.
Each generation of humans and dogs pays it forward. Most certainly, Lord Tweedmouth could never have imagined a future like this, for his beloved "yellow retrievers!" To learn more and find out what you can do to help, please click each organization.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Spring Forward

Daylight savings time begins today. The vernal equinox is right around the corner. We still have a foot and a half of snow on the ground here at Aquinna, but the longer daylight in the evening, brings more opportunity to train outdoors. Just wanted to share one of our indoor, winter training drills that works great at keeping our goldens primed for Spring.
Find the biggest room in your house. We have a 56 ft. long space that runs from the great room to the kitchen. Gather together the following: 1 or 2 bumpers, pheasant wings, a dumbbell & a thick winter glove. You will also need a clicker and a plastic container of sliced hot dogs or Jones Braunschweiger. If you have more than one dog, you will put the other dogs in a down-stay while you work the first one. Have the dog set up in heel position and give the stay/wait command. Start with the dumbbell and walk as far away as you can. Place the dumbbell on the floor. Walk back to the dog and return to heel position. Wait 5 seconds or so and then send your dog to retrieve it. When he returns, click and treat. You won’t be throwing any of the objects. Instead, you can hide them or move them to different parts of the room. Keep it fun! Repeat the exercise with all of the objects. Rotate the dogs from honor position to working dog.
Your goal should be to reinforce good manners- try adding more distractions as your dog improves. You also want to make sure that your dog understands that he cannot return to you unless he has found the object and then must deliver it to hand.
The next session, try using a large wooden spoon or a Dokken dead fowl dummy as one of the objects. Be creative! By the end of the winter, your dog should be able retrieve just about anything.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Nature vrs. Nurture

What plays a bigger role in the success & well-being of a dog? Is it nature or nurture? When choosing a puppy, do you focus on pedigree or environment?
The golden retriever world has long pondered this question and the result is a landscape that is exquisitely diverse. Conformation breeders focus on the health and genetics of their lines. Temperament, longevity, bone, coat and hips are all viewed through a genetics lens. Popular sires become popular because they possess highly desired attributes, that will hopefully be passed on to their get. The breeder must hone the traits that will help them succeed in the conformation ring, while balancing health & well-being. A juggling act extraordinaire!
On the flip side in obedience, there is a focus on behavior. What is the best way to train a puppy? We concentrate on shaping the behaviors we want and debate the merits of positive vrs. negative training methods. We view puppies on a level playing field with the same amazing potential. The puppy is a tabula rasa waiting for us to mold him! When you get to the national level, we consistently see the same kennel names show up. The obedience breeder knows the importance of genetics. She selects the qualities that embody a good obedience prospect over many generations. Drive, biddableness and intelligence take center stage.
How does this all relate to field bred goldens? What may phenotypically look great on a conformation golden, may seem like a burden to the field breeder. Open flowing coats & an overdone appearance lack purpose for a dog that must hunt in thick cover & navigate cold water. Form follows function. Drive, endurance, and tractability-the "willingness to work," are essential elements to a good field dog. The genetic traits found in the field pedigree are what make a golden a good hunting dog.
Lastly, we see the role that environment plays in Rescue work. All dogs rescued from shelters, puppy mills or family circumstance, have the potential for rehabilitation. With the right nurturing, veterinary treatment and proper training the golden puppy can be a happy and loving companion. The rescue worker focuses on finding the right home for the adopted puppy. Family dynamics and training move to the forefront, as genetics fades to the background.
The Golden Retriever Breed Standard, contains all the elements of the ideal golden. So how did they come up with this blueprint? By balancing both genetics and environment! Best of luck finding your perfect puppy.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Time Is Relative

Happy New Year!  Three hundred & sixty-six days have passed in what seems like a week.  The new golden puppy that was born in Jan. 2012, is now a gangly teenager. Your 7 year old can now compete in the Veteran class in the breed ring. Your 10 year old is entering his twilight years. In human years, it would be unthinkable to lose a 10 year old but for those who love dogs, life is compressed. The clock starts ticking from the moment the puppy is whelped. There is so little time to teach, to love, to share. As dog owners we are willing to risk that heartache, for the gift of joy and devotion. I got to thinking about the many ways that time is relative in the world of dogs.
To name a few: Adolescence- imagine if your golden were human.  He would be a trash eating, counter-surfing, recall avoiding teenager until the day he was old enough to leave home. That would be a very, very long time!
Puppyhood- the stuff we complain about, passes in what seems like the blink of an eye. Imagine if as a parent, you only had to change diapers for a few weeks or months?  Housebreaking doesn't seem so bad now, does it?
Long Stays- Why does the one minute sit-stay in the Novice A ring feel like an hour's detention in the principal's office?
Daylight Savings Time Ends- time stands still for a dog on this day.  Nothing is worse than this- not even the out-of-sight stays in Open.  The one hour wait seems like an eternity.  If your dog could talk he would say," take me to the vet, take away my bumpers but never, ever mess with my feeding schedule!"

Wishing you the gift of time in the coming new year.  Make every moment count!