Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Fall in love with dogs

I have been asked many times about how one gets a start in doing dog training or dog breeding or some other dog-related career. I really don't have a good answer for that other than, Go out and do it; fall in love with doing it.
Thorn's CDX, 1994
I started with dog training classes and reading about dog training when I was 10 years old. As soon as I finished college, I bought myself a German Shepherd puppy and moved to Oregon for grad school, and I took more training classes and went to seminars and trained with friends and new people and went to competitions. I trained in tracking with a friend, using Glen Johnson's book for a guide. I took agility classes and obedience classes from the local clubs. I competed in AKC obedience and found a schutzhund club and did a CD, then CDX, then a BH with my first dog. I found a ringsport seminar, and I visited anyone who would let me come bother them and went to any competition I could find to watch.
Thorn - 1996 North American Sch3 Championships, Maine
When I moved back to Virginia, I lived in Yorktown, and I trained with several local groups and would drive up to DC on Saturdays to go to a DVG schutzhund club. More seminars, more classes, more training my own dogs. I moved to the Charlottesville area, I took more classes and trained with a club first in Rustburg VA and then one in Leesburg and then one in Berryville, and then another one in Front Royal area. I drove a lot. I went to competitions. I trained my own dogs. I read everything I could get my hands on. I put a Sch1, 2, 3 on my first dog, and a CD and a Sch1 on my second dog. I drove even more. I put a Sch3 on my 3rd dog, and we traveled and competed.

Nike's Sch1 (2000?)
I drove to Leesburg and back 3 times a week for several years - that's 12 hours of driving to training each week. I bred my first litter, bought my first young adult dog, drove all over the US for competitions -- Texas, Alabama, Maine, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina. 
Frostbite v Pantara, Sch1; Blackthorn's Ashen (Sch3) and Blackthorn's Asa (Sch2)
 All along, I worked at whatever job I could find that would pay me -- nothing related to dogs. I was really broke a lot of the time. I drove to NC to watch the 1995 Sieger Show with $20 to my name (Adrian Ledda bought me lunch, a kindness I still remember). I was a temp worker - a kiosk rental manager, a secretary, a computer helpdesk operator, a data entry peon, a call center operator. And finally, an editorial assistant - that job, I picked up and ran with it, and I've been working as an editor of some sort for 24 years now. 
Nemi's BH
Even today, what I do with dogs is my passion, not my career. I am a freelance editor -- I don't train dogs for anyone other than myself. I breed because I love the dogs. If I didn't breed dogs, I'd live an easier life with fewer expenses and more time for training. I live where I live so I can do the things I love -- in the country, with lots of space for the dogs. The things I do for fun tend to revolve around the dogs, too. I've met literally thousands of people this way and many have become lifelong friends.

Mjolnir vd Liebenburg, IGP3

Mjolnir vd Liebenburg, IGP3
How do you get started in dogs and dog training? Go out and do it. It will be a struggle; it will cost you. You will fail. You will fail yourself, and you will fail your dog. But keep doing it. Love the struggle; love what you learn from each failure and each success, from each dog. Love the journey, because there is no destination. Love the dogs, because they are why you’re doing it.
Xan, 2019 - grand-daughter of Nike

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Early Puppy Socialization, ENS, and "Puppy Culture" - What does a young puppy need?

This is a post I wrote up for Facebook, but I decided to share it here, too, to preserve it and to perhaps make it more accessible to those interested.

I am frequently asked about what I do with my puppies and about puppy socialization and whether I do ENS or Puppy Culture. The answer is -- I do a lot, but it always varies.

Addressing "ENS" (or Early Neural Stimulation) specifically, this is something I researched and looked into and tried many years ago, in my first litters. I did it with several litters and then with several other closely related litters, I didn't do it. And I found that it made no difference for my dogs. With more research, I found that no one could share or link or find the original story that it was supposedly based on. But I did read that it was supposedly created for puppies raised at Lackland Air Force Base -- these pups were born in concrete kennels and only saw people maybe once a day and were not regularly handled. So, of course, if a young puppy has no other interaction with humans, the ENS stimulation and it's specific activities and ways of handling would make a difference. But I don't think it's needed or even beneficial (but nor is it harmful) if the pup is handled daily and has regular, daily, human handling and interaction. Some researchers reached the same conclusion (and check out their References list for more):

Evaluating the effect of early neurological stimulation on the development and training of mine detection dogs
Adee Schoon and Terje Groth Berntsen
Journal of Veterinary Behavior Clinical Applications and Research 6(2):150-157 · March 2011 

Early neurological stimulation (ENS) has been proposed to enhance the natural abilities of dogs. This kind of stimulation involves subjecting pups aged between 3 and 16 days to mild forms of stimulation leading to “stress,” and is said to lead to faster maturation and better problem-solving abilities later in life. ENS resulted from a U.S. Military program called Bio Sensor, and is currently being used in some other working dog programs. It has been part of the breeding program for mine detection dogs at the Global Training Centre (GTC, part of Norwegian People’s Aid) for 4 years.To investigate the effects of ENS on the basis of a previous study (Battaglia, 2009, J. Vet. Behav.: Clin. Appl. Res. 4, 203-210), 10 litters born since the spring of 2008 at the GTC were randomly divided into the following 2 groups: (1) those receiving ENS, and (2) those receiving the same amount of human attention without being subjected to the ENS exercises. Developmental parameters were monitored by the kennel staff. The pups were subjected to testing at approximately 10 weeks of age by investigators who were blinded to treatment. Their careers as working dogs were monitored.There was no observed effect of ENS on either the development of the pups when compared with those who were exposed to the standard GTC stimulation program within the same age range or on the later training results of the dogs in their careers as mine detection dogs. This lack of effect could well be the result of the very rich standards of the GTC socialization program that is given to these dogs.

I handle puppies daily and expose them to scents and sounds and different surfaces. As they get older, they spend more time outdoors if the weather is good, and they learn to engage and explore their environment in a natural--not induced--way. I find that exposure to the world of grass and trees and birds and airplanes flying overhead and FedEx trucks driving up and down the driveway and dogs barking and the smell of grass and dirt and rain and everything else in the "real world" creates an explosion of mental growth -- they learn so much on their own just by being in this open environment. My goal is to keep them safe and comfortable while giving them exposure to the world outside.

Q litter, born in 2011, at about 4 weeks of age.

As pups mature, I do more to familiarize them with crates, but I don't shut them in crates for long solo periods starting at 4 or 5 weeks. In fact, I think it important that puppies not be left isolated until they are older and more at a stage where they are ready for individual exploration and development. I start crate training at meal times with 2-3 pups together in a crate, in a familiar environment, so that the confinement itself is the only thing they are trying to get used to (location is familiar, crate is familiar, food is familiar, companions are familiar). They are not ready, in my opinion, to face stressors by themselves until they are closer to 8 weeks -- and really, more like 9 weeks. That doesn't mean that taking them out one-on-one is bad -- but in those cases, a human is stepping in and playing the role of the puppy's companion(s). Which is exactly what happens at 8 weeks when puppies go to their new homes.

More and more frequently, potential puppy homes are "requiring" that the person they get their pup from does "Puppy Culture" -- this is a program that puts a lot of the socialization and exposure ideas into a methodical program. And my response is that I don't do PC for two reasons -- one, I was doing many of the ideas and activities in PC before it was ever developed into a marketed program that is available for purchase. Two, it actually encourages and reinforces some things that I actively *do not want* for my own working prospects. In particular, something PC calls "Manding" -- sitting and making eye contact to request anything. This behavior may be very desirable in a puppy going into a pet home that only wants a calmly behaved companion, but it is *not* ideal for someone who wants a scent detection dog or a bitesports dog or an agility dog or a SAR dog -- I very much don't want my pups to default to sitting and staring.

A typical outdoor adventure

However, the idea of teaching this default behavior to a companion pup is a great one -- so I encourage people to do clicker training and manners training at home -- here's a video that shows the default behavior that I'm talking about.

This doesn't mean I think PC is bad or wrong -- I think it can be invaluable for someone who is getting started in breeding and/or folks who want to try some different/new things with puppies. And it's great for getting some new ideas to try, even if you're an experienced breeder. But in general, I don't find much value added -- to me and my pups -- from following someone else's plan for raising pups -- especially one not designed for my breed or for the type of working dogs many of my pups will grow up to be.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Available older puppies - Tanqueray and Jinx

Jinx (6 months)
This blog has been severely neglected, so I will start with an apology. I am still actively breeding and online. The Blackthorn Facebook group has been the best way to stay in touch with information about me and my dogs. I have a few people petitioning me to take some of my Facebook posts and make them blog posts, so perhaps they will show up here in the near future.

Tanq - 8 months

Jinx (6 months)
 Today, I want to write about two gorgeous young sable girls that I have available -- Tanqueray and Jinx (click on their names for pedigree information). Tanq is 8 months old and Jinx is 6 months old. Both are house trained and crate trained and travel well. They have been raised in the house (and were not raised together -- they have both spent time living as house companions).

Tanq - ready to go, wherever that may be
Tanq (born Nov. 2018) -- energetic and loving with a good foundation in tracking and some basic obedience work. DDR & Czech bloodlines. At this age, she is not interested in doing ragwork or bitework (she is more interested in being social with the helper). She could be a really fun dog to work in various sports or SAR. She loves to swim and train for food. Good with other dogs -- she's been around large and small dogs and cats. Reliable in the house while supervised. Not a couch potato, but she settles nicely in the house if given some interaction and exercise. 

Tanq has her mom's (Nemi's) joyful and open approach to life -- she will keep you laughing every day and will be up for almost any activity you are interested in. She is available to a sport or active companion home.

Jinx (6 months)
Jinx (born Jan. 2019) is from working German, Czech, and DDR bloodlines. She has been started with some obedience imprinting and is showing promise in doing drivework/ragwork with a helper. She loves to train and is a wonderful companion in the house or out being active. She enjoys swimming in the pool and is very neutral with dogs she knows (and is OK with small dogs). She can be very crate reactive with other dogs and would do better with a handler who has some experience with GSDs. She is a dog who goes forward when startled or worried, so she's not going to be a marshmallow.

Jinx is available to a working/sporting home only -- but not to a kennel situation. Possible co-ownership with the right home. She's a gorgeous girl with a lovely temperament to match.

More pictures of both girls can be found here.

Both girls will be available only to situations where they will be companions first -- no kennel situations. They will be sold with my standard puppy contract (breeding rights only after xrays and performance title/certification). Price will reflect the foundation training and care that has gone into them, so they are not available for less than puppy price. Shipping not available for either girl -- you have to come pick them up in Virginia.

If you are interested or want more information, email me at

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Happy 3rd Birthday to Journey and Pirate!

Three years and 4 months and some days ago, I was planning to do a breeding using frozen AI. At the same time, a female GSD I had been a fan of for a few years was scheduled for an AI with frozen semen. Over the years, I have tried for four litters from frozen semen, and only one has worked -- this one three years ago. And of course, this other female GSD got pregnant too!

And that is how I ended up with two lovely girls who couldn't be more different in looks or behavior or attitude, but just four days apart in age -- Journey and Pirate.

Journey turned 3 on Jan 13 and Pirate on Jan 17 (today!), and so I took a few portraits of them to share how they have grown up.

Journey is red sable, compact, small (about 58 pounds now), and lovely in temperament and looks. She has a streak of mischief to her, but her sweet personality and natural love and gentleness with children mean she's a heart stealer.

Pirate is intensely bonded, affectionate, intensely interested in pleasing me (as long as that doesn't mean she can't jump on me), often silly and joyous, yet with a serious side, and no hesitation to let me know what she wants. She's solid black, tall, square-built, about 68 pounds, most of the time. She's got her dad's sweetness and her mom's no-nonsense approach to the things she wants. She's taken a while to grow into her legs, but I think she's finally starting to fill out now that she's three.

Pirate was NOT at all happy with having to stand still for a stacked picture.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

November 2017 - IPO Trial

In late November, I trialed Hammer and Xan for their IPO2 and IPO1 titles. Hammer had some significant bobbles in obedience and didn't pass, but Xan got her IPO1 title! I got some fun pictures, though, so I thought I'd share! :)

Hammer, obedience

Hammer, obedience

Maintaining my poise during the critique. It was NOT our day!

It was Xan's day!

Xan and Armin

Xan and Armin

Xan and Armin

Xan and Armin

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


In German Shepherds, a "bicolor" is a tanpoint dog -- where the tan doesn't extend beyond the typical "points" that you see in many breeds. The masking gene and the black recessive are what make a tanpoint GSD be marked differently from, say, a tanpoint rottweiler or doberman or Manchester terrier or black-tan coonhound.
Blackthorn's Coal, BH
In GSDs, you can tell a bicolor dog from a dark black and tan (blanket back) by the following characteristics:

  • toemarks
  • tarheels
  • no tan around the barrel of the chest
Blackthorn's Jedi (full brother to Coal)
Some bicolor GSDs carry the black recessive, which causes heavier black coloring, some carry modifiers for heavier masking.

If a dog has fewer modifiers for masking, the tanpoint/bicolor dog might have tan eyebrows, tan points on the chest, or tan cheek marks.

In order to get the saddle pattern (seen in beagles as well as GSDs, for example), you need to have at least one copy of the "creeping tan" gene, a modifier gene that causes the tan areas of the dog to expand as the dog matures. The tan continues to "creep" throughout the dog's life, so that a 10 year old will have less black coverage than a 1 year old.
Blackthorn's Bright Heart, CDX, Sch3, CGC
A regular tanpoint GSD with 2 tanpoint genes (no black recessive) and no modifiers might look similar to Hunter. 

Blackthorn's Hunter, JHD
Note that Hunter has toemarks and tarheels and no tan around the barrel of her chest.


A tanpoint with 1 copy of the creeping tan gene with no black recessive might look like Nike. She had 1 copy of the modifier gene -- she produced saddles/blanket backs (Jubilee) and bicolors (Hunter, Coal, Jedi, among others) -- but never a solid black puppy.

"Nike" - Ike v Del U Haus, Sch2, and "Quin" Hellequin v Eichenluft, Sch3
Nike = tanpoint/tanpoint, 1 copy of creeping tan
Quin = tanpoint/black, 1 copy of creeping tan
A tanpoint with 1 copy of the creeping tan gene with the black recessive will look like Xita or Jubilee or Xan. These are often called "blanket back" black and tans. Notice how all of these dogs have no tarheels or toemarks--and they all have some tan under the barrel of their chest. Other typical features are shaded-tan areas on their cheeks and tan behind and inside their ears.

V-Xita vom Ludwigseck, IPO1, Kk1a
Notice how Xita gained more brown/tan as she matured.

Blackthorn's Jubilee, CD, HS, RA, JHD
Blackthorn's Xanthippe

A tanpoint with 2 copies of the creeping tan gene will have a saddle pattern, even if the dog carries the black recessive. Usually, this will be a darker saddle--less than a blanket back, but more than the most common saddle pattern. It can be hard to tell the difference between bicolor and a "blanket back" black/tan dog when they are puppies.
Jubilee at 8 weeks old -- toemarks starting to fade.
A puppy with the black recessive may have toemarks as puppies and they won't always have much black on their face. The toemarks may remain until the dog is as much as a year old--but they will fade once the dog is an adult.

Bicolor and saddle-back pups at about 10 weeks
Here are some examples of bicolor and black/tan pups at about 7-10 weeks old.

This girl grew up to be a bicolor.

Both of these girls grew up to be bicolors.
Black-tan (blanket back)
This dark boy lost his toemarks and is a "blanket back" as an adult.
Baby Xan - "blanket back"
This girl looks like a "blanket back" at 2 years old,
but I think she will end up looking like her grandmother Nike.

The degree of masking will also play a big factor in how dark any of these dogs will be. Note that a tanpoint with 2 copies of creeping tan (so, your typical saddle-back dog, with a small saddle that doesn't cover the shoulders) will never produce bicolor because every one of his/her pups will carry at least a single copy of creeping tan.

I am pretty sure that a black dog or a sable dog can carry the creeping tan modifier. I have had sable dogs who produce no black dogs, but only bicolor when the pup inherits black from one parent and sable from the other. Danca produced sables and bicolors, never black pups when bred to my Coal (who was tanpoint with the black recessive).

Danca v Leibnitz, Sch1 - she had light tarheels and toemarks.
Dance produced my M and L litters out of Coal -- the pups were bicolors and sables.

Lynx and Musket
A sable who carries "saddle" tanpoint will have a saddle-like pattern and will not have toemarks.
Frostbite v. Pantara, Sch1, KK2

A homozygous sable (sable/sable) will usually have toemarks, but I haven't seen enough to know whether they always dog. These dogs will only produce sable pups (when breeding "standard" color GSDs).

Acky vd Neuen Lande, SchH3
homozygous sable, very richly pigmented.
I think he had very faint toemarks, but my pictures are of poor quality,
and it's hard to tell.