Oops, time for some stacked shots of Miss Fern. Looking through my picture file I only found "fun pictures" of her, but that's OK too, since our dogs are Fun Dogs a lot more than they are Show Dogs! Although we only keep a new dog with the intention of showing it, the dog also has to be a good "fit" for our household, and Fern is turning out to be just that. I've kept and later placed several young Dals over the past few years, waiting for the right one to come along and fill the vacant slot in my household.
When I bred Ch. Pauli to Ch. Louie, I was looking for a puppy bitch to keep. Or female puppy if the word "bitch" makes you uncomfortable, but remember that show people refer to "dogs and bitches" (males and females). Sorry, it's automatic! Anyway, sometimes there are options, but in Pauli's litter the only brown-eyed bilateral hearing female pup with complete trim was Fern. Her sisters were lovely dogs with terrific personalities and are doing wonderfully well in their pet homes, but one of them has unilateral hearing and the other has a blue eye. Unis are fine for showing, but harder to breed as they have an increased risk of producing deaf puppies. The same is true of blue eyes. They are fine according to the American Dalmatian standard and I don't mind them at all, but blue-eyed dogs are more likely to produce more blue eyes, and there is a genetic relationship between blue eyes and deafness. We had no deaf pups in the litter, but that's always a risk, and breeding from unis and blues increases that risk. (Yes, we keep and breed from really exceptional uni bitches, but it limits our options when picking a stud dog.)
Fortunately, Fern was always my favorite pup. I admired her stylish good looks and sound structure, though I was not real pleased with how "white" she was as a pup, especially the enormous lightly marked ears. My dogs tend to be more colorful, and Fern was decidedly more "open marked" than I was used to. But she stayed, and I set about making a good companion and show dog of her.
Fern was NOT the easiest puppy to raise! She was easy to crate train and housetrain, and very non-destructive, but she was more vocal than I liked, and inclined to startle and bark. A very reactive personality, so she would see something new, startle, bark, and scare herself. Not an unusual personality in some breeds, but not at all what I was used to. We did our puppy obedience class and she did well until the night we played "pass the puppy" and she got spooked by people grabbing at her. I saw her getting stressed, but stupidly did not step in to "rescue" Fern until she was thoroughly frightened. Me bad! By then the damage was done, and she was very uncomfortable with strangers. One more thing to deal with, and because soon afterwards I broke my hand, puppy training was put on hold for awhile.
THEN she started to pace. Rather than trotting normally, Fern moved with both legs on the same side moving at the same time, like camels and pacing horses. It's an "easy" gait for dogs since there is no interference between the front and rear legs - normally the front foot lifts off the ground just an instant before the rear foot on that side hits the ground in the same spot. "Timing" can be an issue for young dogs who then pace, sidewind, or straddle to avoid the interference between front and rear foot. In Fern's case, her short body, hard back, and lots of angle made it difficult for her to manage her very long legs! I was also concerned that she may have hurt herself slipping on the ice, but nothing showed up on a chiropractic visit, so we decided we would wait it out.
So Fern was just raised as a pet. She went to another puppy class, went many places for extra socialization, and I concentrated on raising her to be a confident, well adjusted companion dog. By then we knew she was a "keeper" because even though showing was on hold, Fern was already an excellent companion dog, and she was lovely as well. Going through her first season helped a lot, as we had hoped, and Fern developed more confidence as she grew up. We covered many miles on leash giving Fern a chance to "work on" her trotting, and she eventually began to trot more than pace as she developed foot timing and grew into her legs.
Last weekend was our test and Fern passed in style. She was friendly at ringside - a bit too friendly perhaps as she mugged many ringsiders - nothing startled her, and she was perfect on the exam. She only won her class the first day and did a few "happy bounces" when she gaited, but no pacing at all. On Sunday we finally felt like a team. Fern went Winners Bitch for her first major, got lots of compliments, and the judge told me later she'd considered Fern for Best of Breed. Good dog, Fern! It was a Cheeseburger weekend for sure!
It was definitely worth all the work, and we finally filled that vacant spot with a dog who is both a beautiful show dog and a wonderful pet.