CANINE MYTHS & MYTHOLOGY

By Anne McCormick

(Reprinted from The Wonderful World of Bouviers,

4th Edition, Alberta Bouvier des Flandres Club)

Lately, I've been working in a local veterinary clinic, and one of the most interesting aspects of the job has been the general public's questions and misinformation about animals. These questions have really opened my eyes as to what an insular group the dog fancy is. Knowledge we assume "Joe Average" has, does not exist. Even people that come to classes are motivated to learn. But in the clinic, here I'm talking about questions that are asked only when it's too late. With this in mind, I want our club members, who are knowledgeable dog fanciers, to make more of an effort to clear up these misconceptions. Don't assume that your neighbor has the information, INFORM.

So with this in mind, I will periodically write a column on what I like to call canine mythology and the true facts as I know them. Feel free to correct me if I indulge in my own form of mythology. The following questions and the importance of canine population control made it obvious what our first topic would be.

SEX AND THE SINGLE DOG

Have I got your attention? Here are some of the calls I've been getting: A lady phoned to say that her bitch who was a bit overweight was lying on the porch not feeling well. She couldn't be pregnant at just a year could she? Yes, I said she could and told her what to check for. An hour later she phoned back to say that she had just produced two puppies, one dead, one alive, but surely she couldn't have any more being so young? In the background at that moment I could hear "Mommy, here comes another!" Well, she got the answer to that question quickly enough!

So here is a synopsis on canine reproduction. The average bitch can come into her first heat anywhere from six months on. Time between heats will vary from four months on, the average again being every six months. This is why veterinarians like to spay a bitch at five or six months, to avoid this first heat. The onset of a heat, or proestrus begins with the first appearance of a blood-tinged vaginal discharge and/or vulvar swelling and ends with the bitch's first acceptance of mating. Estrus is the period during which the bitch will allow mating, the average duration being nine days. Often the vaginal discharge will lessen or become clear and this is where people make a big mistake, thinking that their bitch is no longer in heat, when in actuality, this is the time that she is most receptive to mating. The bitch will also stand with her tail flagging or twisted to one side when ready for breeding. A heat lasts approximately twenty-one days, estrus usually lasting from day nine until day fifteen. Don't depend on these numbers as two of my own dogs have been target tested and they ovulate on day seventeen. To be safe, my girls are kept under lock and key for four weeks even though the average heat is supposed to be twenty-one days. Diestrus is the two month stage following estrus, the period of pregnancy in a bitch that has been successfully bred or in a bitch that hasn't been bred it can be characterized by varying degrees of pseudopregnancy. Anestrus follows diestrus; this is the period where the uterus recovers, regenerates and prepares for the next cycle.

Unless you are a breeder, in the best sense of the word, please spay your bitch. Not just to prevent unwanted puppies but for the health benefits. Spaying eliminates the possibility of serious, sometimes life-threatening uterine infections and reduces the chance of mammary cancer. Spaying frees you from blood spotting on carpets, annoying and unwanted suitors, and unwanted litters to care for and dispose of. It is expensive and time consuming to properly raise puppies. It's no fun having to get up every two hours to tube feed a sick puppy, and cleanup duty for a large litter is a never ending job. If you're an obedience competitor, a spayed bitch is for you, as your training schedule needn't be interrupted by heats and the ups and downs of the various cycles. One of my dogs is always really down after a heat and is no fun to work with. A friend's shepherd does not eat normally for two months, remember the diestrus! That girl is being spayed soon so they can get on with training.

Now on to the male dog. Neutering will reduce the chance of injury due to fighting or misadventure by roaming. The chance of cancer of the testicles is also eliminated. Urine marking of territory, aggression towards other males, also the dog's tendency to mount people and inanimate objects; all may be reduced. A male dog can be neutered from six months on.

A few other myths to deal with:

Neutering and spaying does not cause obesity. Too much food and a lack of exercise does.

A litter of pups does not make a bitch more mature and settled, aging does that.

Mother/son, daughter/father and siblings will breed. Dogs do not have laws regarding incest.

Size difference between the stud and a bitch doesn't pose a problem (except when you are trying to breed your top show dog to a special brood bitch - then Murphy's Law comes into play).

A bitch accidentally bred by a mongrel is not ruined in her future ability to produce purebred offspring.

A final note. I had a call from a lady asking if it was possible for a coyote to breed a dog. She had tied her bitch up while she was in heat so she couldn't be bred, and lo and behold two months later . . . a litter of pups! She had seen a coyote with her. Could it have been that animal? If so, should the puppies be destroyed if this could be determined? DNA testing anyone? Yes, dogs will cross with wolves and coyotes. In the Ottawa valley area they have a major problem with dog/wolf hybrids decimating the deer population. In my area we have a problem with large wolf-like dogs who do not behave like normal animals. Coyote crosses? Who knows.

Major problems are being created due to indiscriminate breeding. Let's try to stem the tide.