Sometimes, “maybe” means ‘no’ but implies yes.

This new guy is kind of fell into our family today. He was slated to be put down because of biting a kid but he has lots of potential if handled correctly. More will follow. Promise.

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The Shy Litter.

Of all the traits we could have expected from Moxy and Epic’s puppies – and all the ones we hoped would show up – there is one that we particularly didn’t want. Both Moxy and Epic are hard working, focused dogs. They both have excellent feet and good coats. They are both non-aggressive, although Moxy is not afraid to snap at her partner on the gangline if they are misbehaving, a trait we have used to help train unruly or ill-mannered dogs in the past. Moxy is as tough in the head as she is in the team: there is not a lot that is going to upset her as long as she is working and Epic seems to be headed the same way although he has yet to be really tested. Epic is a friendly, personable and often goofy dog but Moxy is not. She is a shy and suspicious dog. We have had her for six years, I have fed her twice a day for six years and I have harnessed and run her for six years and still she will not abide a pat on the head or a scratch under the chin. The only time I can be near Moxy and have her come up to me is when I have a harness in my hand. Only then will she grudgingly let me touch her. Jenn does somewhat better with her, but it is clear Moxy wants human contact as infrequently as possible.

The musher we bought Moxy from had several dogs that were shy. It is a trait that has somehow been transferred to a particular line or lines of dogs in this guy’s kennel. I am certain he is not the only one with dogs that exhibit this trait, though. And I think it is important to point out here that Moxy was in no way mistreated by her previous owner. She did not become shy because she was beaten or improperly socialized. In fact, when I first approached this particular musher about buying some dogs he asked me point blank: “Do you beat your dogs? Because I won’t sell you any if you do.” I had to have a mutual friend vouch for my treatment of the dogs we already had. It’s just a ‘thing’ with some lines of sled dogs.

Back to Moxy and Epic’s puppies now. Jenn and I have always liked Moxy and her attitude towards being a sled dog. Her drive, focus and ability are quite likely the best in our yard; top three, for sure. We were always hesitant to breed her, though, because of her shyness and because a match for her lineage was never available to us either. Recently, however, a stud with a similar background became available to breed and we sent Moxy away to the stud’s kennel for breeding two winters ago. Despite our misgivings about the shyness, we thought that the trait was not likely to show up in the litter but, if it did, it would be slight. We never got a chance to find out as the breeding didn’t take. We spent the next year alternating between “it’s for the best” and “too bad it didn’t take: she’s a really good dog” so when she came into heat late this winter, we decided to breed her again. The stud we went to two years ago is getting older and we wondered if that, combined with the stress of being in a new kennel with new dogs and new people affected the breeding. Epic is a good dog and just happens to be an offspring of the stud we liked so we thought that if we were going to have any success with a breeding, he was going to be our go-to stud.

This has been a long way to say: “Wow. It’s unbelievable how much that shyness trait gets passed on.” When the puppies were born, almost from Day One, they were skittish and afraid of everything. Noises in their house caused them to scurry – as much as new puppies can scurry – to the farthest corners of the whelping box and hide. They would often recoil from being touched, especially when their eyes were still closed. I was very surprised at how strong a trait this was. To be so nervous at such a young age… It has become a big undertaking now to make sure that these puppies are as normal and outgoing as possible. We have had to change almost everything about how we socialize them.

We take the puppies away from their mother as much as possible so that her behaviour doesn’t become imprinted on them. If Jenn or I would be home all day, the puppies would be away from their mother for the whole time. We even began feeding them kibble (ground, soaked and mixed with milk replacer) at two and a half weeks. But, because both of us work, and there is nobody to take care of them during the day, the puppies spend the day with Moxy and we bring them in the house in the evening when we come home. They spend the night in the kitchen on a mat they have claimed. Our practice of making loud noises and moving objects around has been greatly reduced. Even the squeak from a chew toy sent them running into a huddling, shaking ball a few weeks ago. We introduce things to them much more slowly but have found that food is a great equalizer. If we have food or treats, they will be more apt to cover greater distances to come to us, to tolerate being touched by a squeaking toy or overcoming some other obstacle. Ginger, our little mutt house dog, has proved to be a great asset, too. She is very affectionate toward the puppies. She plays with them and encourages them to play back. They seem to take reassurance from her and look to her to see if what just happened should be run away from or is just an everyday occurance; she manages to get them to go farther beyond their comfort zone than we would be able to, even with food.

They have been a very difficult litter in many ways: cautious handling, taking care not to scare them accidentally, slow progress. They are showing a great improvement, though. Before, they would run away when we’d come into their pen, just like their mother, but now they mob us like normal puppies. They seem to be coming around and provided they can continue on this path they may end up being like normal, everyday sled dogs that like a scratch ‘just because’ or a good massage after a hard run.

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This was taken not a week ago and already the puppies are too large to pile all into one basket.

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The puppies were only a few weeks old here – maybe three – and this was their daily fare from us: ground kibble, milk replacer and water.  For the amount of time they spend with their feet in the dish, one might think that they absorbed the nutrients through their feet.

 

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Another picture of the puppies crowded around the food dish.  Always an encouraging sight.

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Still more hungry pups.

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Tubby, full Dan getting some water.  We had to put collars on them because they have been pretty difficult to tell apart, except for one.  Prior to the collars, we had to look at their noses to see how much pink they had on them and then lift them up to inspect their undercarriage.  The break-away cat collars work better.