Thursday, May 03, 2007

New Puppies

In February I wrote about the homecoming of Princess, the dog I bought from Susan Butcher seven years ago. Though a little thin, she came to Henry’s yard in good health and in very fit condition after having run the Kuskokwim 300 in January. Henry immediately put her in lead position for training runs with young dogs, and she did beautifully. We decided to breed her as soon as her next heat cycle occurred; no one knew when her last heat had been.

Princess has had two previous litters. Both times she was sent back to Butcher’s kennel in Fairbanks for breeding; the sire of both litters was Riker, Butcher’s top-choice stud dog (who commands a stud fee of $500). He is a smart, tough-minded lead dog whose litters are known for a high percentage of leadership potential among the pups. Princess’s first litter had six pups, the second litter had seven. Each litter had one almost totally white dog with a few black markings (not albino); the rest of the pups looked very much like Riker: gray/black/brown fur with very little white. Those two litters were born a year apart, and by the time they were grown it was difficult to tell them apart unless you knew them well. They all looked very much alike, and very much like their dad.

It can be very difficult to tell when Princess goes into heat. She has what is known as a “dry” heat cycle: there is very little bloody discharge. The vulva becomes somewhat swollen and moist, but this is difficult to notice due to her tail carriage. Princess’s tail does not curl up and over her back like many sled dogs; it is only slightly curved and she tends to carry it down, often tucked between her hind legs. This position obscures the vulva completely. Princess also tends to have widely spaced heat cycles; they occur every nine months instead of every six, like most bitches.

The main way to tell when Princess—or any other female—is in heat is by the attention of the males. They are all suddenly intensely interested in her, sniffing and licking her genital area, licking up her pee, peeing all around her (sometimes on her). When this behavior is going on, a quick check under the tail usually reveals the reason. A moist, swollen vulva indicates her estrus cycle.

The heat period usually lasts about three weeks in dogs. For the first ten days the bitch in heat will produce a scant bloody discharge. If she is fastidious, she may keep herself quite clean, and the only noticeable change is that she is licking herself a lot. During this time she may be flirtatious, but she will not accept the male for breeding until the discharge shifts to a creamy pink. Then she is in full standing heat, which lasts about a week. Her readiness can be tested by seeing if she flags: pat her strongly on the hips just above her tail a few times; if she drops her hips a bit into a crouch and holds her tail to one side, that’s flagging, and she’s ready.

Most bitches will breed three or four times during that week. When the male achieves full penetration, a bulb-like structure in the base of the penis swells to an impressive size, which makes him unable to withdraw. This lasts for nearly a half hour after the coupling, and is known as the “tie.” A single tie is adequate to conceive a litter of pups, but two or three ties are desirable. If a female ties with more than one male during her heat, the resulting litter may have more than one sire.

Princess came in heat in late February. Riker was not available to sire another litter, so we bred her to one of his offspring, a handsome dog named Sitka. She was at the end of her heat by the time we brought them together, and they only tied once. Fortunately, once was enough.

Gestation in dogs is about 58 days. Princess was bred on the first day of Iditarod, March 3rd, so her puppies were due on May 1st. I took some photos of her on the 1st, and her belly was so big it looked about to pop. She waddled restlessly around her circle and had that anxious look they get when they are about to whelp.

On May 2nd, Henry called me in the late afternoon and said “She did it! There’s lots of puppies, come look!” So of course, I did.

She has six beautiful puppies. One is white with a few black markings (of course!), one is tan, one is a sable gray much like Princess, and three are almost all black. One of the black pups is male, the other five are female. All are healthy and about the same size, and all were nursing vigorously. She looked tired, but every bit the proud mom. I sat at the door of her house, petting her and talking to her for a while, and admiring her beautiful pups. She did a great job. Now the fun begins!



Anonymous wolfbaby said...

I love the puppies... they are to adorable;)

Friday, May 04, 2007 11:58:00 AM  
Blogger The Tundra PA said...

wolfbaby--haven't heard from you in a while...glad to know you are out there lurking! Thanks for commenting!

Friday, May 04, 2007 7:15:00 PM  
Blogger Pete & Mary said...

Precious! And how perfect that it all started the first day of the Great Race?! Sounds like they have a good mamma and people to help them grow up big and strong and FAST. Enjoy!

Sunday, May 06, 2007 8:57:00 AM  

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