Summer of (Leo)Lovin’

Splash Barkley on back porch

Splash and Barkley finally take an exhaustion break from playing in the mud.

We’ve been lucky enough this summer to get visits from a couple of Splash’s brothers and also her special friend “Ekho”.

In May (April?) Bugsy and his brother Bowie (unrelated to Splash) came for a week visit and the house was total hair for the week!  Bowie is the shaggiest Leo I’ve ever seen and he loves to be in laps – so much for clean pants.  Bugsy is, man, Bugsy is… utter sweetness; kind and gentle, serious and thoughtful, and even shows some altruism – very unique dog.   Bugsy played kissy-face with Skimmer and so Skimmer adores him (there’s a theme to this… let me think…).

In June 2014, “Barkley” got to visit for nearly a week.  Must have killed them to leave Barkley for that long but from our side of things, it was a wonderful week – Barkley and Splash played non-stop until… well… until they had to stop from exhaustion.  Barkley was sweet and gentle with our kitties and sucked up to Skimmer as if he were King of the Forest.  Needless to say, Skimmer loves Barkley too, in a “as long as you keep telling me how great I am then we’ll get along fine, kid” sort of way.  I even took Barkley for a mini water-rescue practice to see if he had any talent for it.  Talent – some… yes – but not exactly enthusiastic about swimming.   Just as well since I wouldn’t be able to work with him (he is, after all, someone else’s dog – darn it).

Then just a couple weeks ago “Ekho”, a lovely 20mo Leo girl, and Splash’s BFF girl friend, came to visit for a week.  Ekho, too, said those magic words “Skimmer, you are wonderful!” and so of course Skimmer fawned over her, kissing her ears and teasing her with his tennis ball.  Splash and Ekho chased and body-slammed for hours at a time and barely stopped for sleepin’ at night.  Ekho was so sweet with our kitties that they took to her immediately (and that’s saying something!). All these pups pull at my heartstrings when they go away.

Summer is nearly over and there are no visits planned… darn.

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Skimmer and Splash made their TV debut today:

I suppose really it was their debut and encore and closing number because we’re likely not to be on TV again for… ever.  But it was fun and they definitely enjoyed the attention.

Splash almost didn’t make her debut.  In the TV studio reception area she was being her splashy self, screaming at everyone at the top of her lungs, “HEY, WHAT’S THIS PLACE!??  WHO’S IN CHARGE AROUND HERE AND WHY AREN’T THERE DOG TREATS ON EVERY TABLE!!  I’M SPLASH AND I WANNA TELL  YOU …” and on and on.   This, of course, is a TV STUDIO…  where people are ON THE AIR, Splash! …you’re supposed to be QUIET!   I seriously considered dumping her back in the truck but it was close to show-time; my Leo-friend Lisa Gilford offered to hold Splash and at first peep in the studio she’d haul her out of the room and that would be that.

Off we went.

Splash was… well… awesome, wonderful Splash, my girl who takes a little time to consider the situation… but then finds that things are OK and maybe yelling at everyone isn’t the best way to win friends.  She calmed down and looked beautiful, giving out kisses to everyone who, in turn, said “wow, she’s such a calm dog!”.  Why, you sneaky little girl, Splash…

Skimmer was wonderful throughout and gave kisses to tall and small … literally… the newscaster pair consisted of a 6’3″ man and an ~ 5’0″ woman.  He loved ’em equally and made quite a hit.

Now, about the show…

I had no idea what it would be, not being a TV watcher myself, but I was surprised just how quick it went.  I’m not sure why everything has to be a soundbyte nowadays but that’s what it was… “here are some Leos, they’re great… back to you, Lois Lane!”   I was hoping they would at least mention some “responsible ownership” items, but although Kevin Fitzgerald came close, it ended up just being a “because they’re large they need a lot of … well, Marsha’s good with them… they’re a wonderful breed”.  Uh… yah…  OK.

So let me tell you here since they didn’t:

  • Leos are not a dog you can expect to grow up and become good citizens all on their own.   Some do, some seriously do not.  It’s those “do not” that can cause a boatload of damage.

That’s it.  Show’s over, my tiny rant is over.  It was a fun day for all involved and we are all sacked out.

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Work it, Karma!

Skimmer walks off the boat to save me.

Skimmer walks off the boat to save me.

I trained 2 dogs in water rescue training this summer: Skimmer (my 4 yo male Leonberger) and Karma (a friend’s 8 yo female).   Each dog tested my patience and training abilities in unique ways…

Skimmer: I actually started out only training Karma; as far as Skimmer, I figured that I would spend the whole summer teaching him that jumping from the boat is fun.  Last year, Skimmer could do all the advanced Water Rescue Dog (WRD) skills except… jumping.  He’d dance, kiss the rower, hunker down on the platform, cry and thump his tail, but he simply refused to jump.

So after a couple months of “happy jumping” he was looking good and in mid-August I thought I’d give the Sept. trials a shot. I turned in my entry form.  About then we had some doggy guests stay with us (Yay for awesome GSPs Penny & Pepper!) and since Penny loved chasing a tennis ball I spent much of their visit throwing the ball in the backyard.  Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I’m pretty sure that doomed Skimmer in the water; after Penny’s and Pepper’s visit, Skimmer decided that, since I was throwing him the ball on land, he could ignore jumping off the boat and there’d be no negative consequences.  He stopped jumping… nada.  I’m 3 weeks from the test and he won’t budge!

What to do!?!  Time for the big guns, no more playing.  With the help of Newfy friends we did a crash course in mandatory jumping: 1 – 2 – 3 and off the boat you go, Skimmer!  With just a couple days left before the test I still wasn’t sure.  My little boy came through, jumping like a … ok… not really good jumping but he at least did it, and passed his test with a near perfect performance.  Phwew!

Karma:  and then there’s Karma… Karma of the “I’m old enough to do what I want when I want” age.  Karma was perfect by the end of the summer and the only thing I was nervous about was land exercises – she would look for her real owner and give me the cold shoulder.  Surprisingly, it wasn’t the land that gave us fits – it was the Drop Retrieve.  The first two days she would bring the cushion within 5′ of me and drop it… and give me a dirty look like “nope, I want to stay in the water, it ain’t coming any closer”.   After the test the judge gave me some insights: be softer with her, don’t give too many forceful commands.    Alright, worth a try.

Last day rolls around.  The judge was right: this last day, I was nicer and happier in my commands and Karma brought that lifejacket so close, so temptingly close, and dropped it about 1/4″ from my hand.  Aaaarrrggghhhh, so close – time for “anything goes”:  I cajoled, I hyped her up, I commanded, she’d pick up the lifejacket and get it caught on her paw and it would slingshot back to the ground… it seemed like forever… one last try “take it! Karma”… she picked it up and I snatched that jacket so quick she didn’t have time to drop it.  The judges call?  PASS!  And with that, and one minor scare with Take-a-Line, we passed the rest of the test.  I was exhausted and out of breath and happy as could be.  Karma earned her title but she worked it!

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Skimmer is a very excellent Leonberger

Skimmer - Rally Entry

Skimmer takes Rally in stride.

I thought I’d posted this ages ago but apparently I didn’t…

Odd title for a post, I’ll admit, but it does have an extra meaning.  Sometime back in June Skimmer passed Rally Advanced; as I think he got a whopping 70 on his final pass – the lowest passing score possible – I may have subconsciously wiped this from my memory from sheer embarrassment.   However, since he (clearly) wasn’t ready for Rally Excellent, I entered him in a 4th Rally Advanced class for the extra ring time, and  he passed that entry too with a respectable 90-something.  4 legs for the win!

So about that very excellent Leonberger: I’m 99% sure that with Skimmer’s RA title, he how also gets the “VLX” Versatile Leonberger eXcellent designation – Minimum 3 titles, one of which must be advanced.  With this new designation, I believe his name is:


Skimmer von Stutensee, CD, DD, WD, RA, VLX

But even if I’m wrong, he’s still a very excellent Leonberger! and a great friend)


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Have-a-little-lina Scare!

So now that I can breathe again I can relate a big scare a few nights ago…

Skimmer and I were down in Green Valley, Arizona last week to visit with family, and one night he woke me up ~1am and had to “go”. Ugh, well – he had to go and that’s that. We walk across the street to an open area, he pees, and suddenly we hear scuffling in the rocks… o – k – … waving my light into the open space I can barely make out what looks to be a coyote or fox; “great, it’ll run away”, I think, and I pull Skimmer across the street to give it room. As if to confirm, I hear scuffling on the other side of the street, the spot I’m walking towards, where an alley between the houses leads out to the desert. Good, it’s running away. Then it happens: Skimmer starts lunging and screaming… it’s not running away… it’s coming towards me… a loose dog that is happy to see us maybe?  Suddenly it, no wait… THEY…  suddenly TWO grunting havelinas are charging us!  Skimmer is screaming, I’m angrily yelling, the havelinas are still running at us and all our commotion is doing zippo to stop them.  I have one last idea: as they reach a point ~15 feet from me I throw my ever-so-pathetically-undersized flashlight at the lead havelina and …yes, a break… they both do a double-take and stop to look at it. As fast as I can, pulling a lunging, screaming 140-lb Leonberger, we get through the house gate and slam it shut. Ahhh… we’re alive!

I watched those darn animals sniff and nudge my little flashlight for 10 minutes and almost decided that my $1.99 mini-lite was not worth my life… but I finally decided I could drive my truck out the 15 feet needed to retrieve the light.  NO WAY was I going out on foot to get that flashlight.

I shudder at how close to disaster we came: had I had Skimmer and Splash with me I probably could not have held them both back, had I been 20-30′ further on the street they would have been between me and the house, had I simply not had that teeny-tiny dollar store flashlight they would have overtaken us about 10 seconds later .  I seriously doubt even 2 healthy 100+ lb. Leos could survive an encounter with 2 scrappy Havelinas.  Those horns, those nasty little horns!.  Once I saw those distinctive horns on their snouts I realized what a horrible mis-identification I’d made.  What would a fight between a Havelina and a human and dog be like!?!?

A couple days later I was chatting with a lady from Tucson and she mentioned that Havelina moms had babies on the ground right now.  This may have explained why they were ultra aggressive against a clearly larger foe (I didn’t say stronger or better, I simply said larger)… or… it may be that they were just plain mean.

I will never, ever venture out far away from the house down there at night.  And pepper spray and a Magnum Mag-Lite will be standard issue… maybe 2! :)

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Best puppy and … Best Puppy

Splash - filthy and wet

Splash in her natural state – wanna help groom her for a show?

Little Splash, at 4 months old, took “Best Puppy in Show” at our Leonberger National Specialty in Vancouver, WA in April.

She has 2 pretty, and pretty big!, ribbons on the wall now: 1) Best Puppy in AKC Specialty Show and 2) Best Puppy in Leonberger traditional show.   Not bad for a squirrelly little girl.

I’ll be putting Splash into the show ring as much as possible over the next several months to get her used to it and keep her happy.  One of the mistakes I made with Ripple was to *not* show her early on in life – then when I did start showing her at 2-3 years old, she wasn’t very comfortable in the ring.  Maybe I can get Splash a little more comfy.


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Skimmer rallies!

Sat Feb 16th, Skimmer passed his last leg for Rally Novice certification at the Rocky Mountain Cluster (RMC) shows.

The first day of the show, Thursday, Skimmer was fresh and the air was cool and the show was running on time; Skimmer flew thru the exercises crisp and sharp and pulled off 94, a 1st place! So you’re thinking, like me, that Saturday we might have a chance. Maybe, maybe not… but it looks good.

Ah, fate changes as quickly as the weather in Colorado…

Dog obedience show schedules only list the start of classes and then you have to predict how long it will be before your dog enters the class. It’s usually not too hard but the RMC schedule for Sat., was an absolute cluster-f!!! You’d think they have this stuff down by now but one page said 11:55am, another page said 1pm, and it looked like there was only one judge for all the classes! What?!? In the end I decided to go at 2:30pm and if we missed class… k-sera-sera. At 2:30pm we showed up an the judge hadn’t started even the 11:55am classes! It would be hours! And so we sat… and sat… and Skimmer melted and slept and sighed and snored… ugh.

We *almost* left, but it was our last chance for a long time, so we gutted it out until after 4pm and decided to play. What a drag, or more accurately, I dragged Skimmer around the course.  He nearly fell asleep on the Down-Walk-Around-Dog station: he slouched to his side, flailed out his big body to get cool, and start to breathe heavily. Slowest Rally entry in recorded history, perhaps? In the end he pulled off a 90 but what a horrible run.

You’d think I’d learn but, no, we’re gonna give Rally Advanced and CDX a try.  Not gonna wait that long again though – that was too much.

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In memory of Ripple

Ripple and her 5 pup in Dec 2012

Ripple’s was the best mother ever, to the pups, to me…

I usually try to stay light-hearted in my WaterDog Blog posts but I can’t do that this time…

Ripple died on Jan 18, 2013.  Her death was sudden but fortunately pain-free as far as we could tell:  she was sleeping on her back, let out a long 10-12 second “yowl”, and by the time we reached her to give comfort (we thought she was having a bad dream) she was dead.

As I’ve said many times before, Ripple was my “perfect dog” – she loved me completely and (I hope that) she felt complete love in return.  I think she did.

I want to tell a little story that exemplifies Ripple’s love of her family and, in this instance, me in particular:

On Nov 14th, 2012 Ripple birthed a litter of 5 pups and, over the next 8 weeks, cared for those pups with patience and devotion so extreme that it can only be classified as “motherly”.  She even gave a little warning growl when someone she didn’t know got near the pups – something I’d never seen Ripple do before and was, quite frankly, a little startled to see.  It wasn’t a fear or dislike of people; it was an expression of her devotion to those pups and, from the first time it happened, we had to be cautious when new people arrived at the house.

On Dec 23rd, just one day after I’d started my holiday vacation (figures!) I got violently ill.  Some sort of stomach flu or food poisoning may have been the cause; regardless, I was vomiting and delirious.  Occasionally I would “wake up” for a few minutes and, every time I did, I noticed that Ripple was laying against my back.  This went on for about 3 days until I finally felt better.  Afterwards, I was told that Ripple would check on her (sometimes crying) pups, look them over and decide they could wait, and then hop on the bed to be with me.  Think about that:  Ripple chose me over her pups – she took care of the pups when they absolutely needed it but understood that I was in worse circumstances and chose to take care of me first.

I’m crushed.  I’m absolutely despondent over this – my dog chose me and – somehow –  I missed whatever signs she gave me to indicate her impending doom.  I didn’t take care of her completely and she died.  I know down deep… I’ve been told over and over… there is nothing I could have done, and she didn’t show any symptoms.  Yet, still,  I somehow didn’t show the respect and care she deserved to keep her with us.

I hope I never have to write a post like this again.  Next time, if there is a next time, we’ll have doggy checkups and bloodwork done routinely throughout whelping and weaning and afterwards.    We have Splash now – Ripple’s daughter – and I so want to keep this beautiful line going.  I’m head over heels in love with Splash and terrified to breed her ; yet, if she turns out good enough I know that we’ll want to continue this line.

Goodbye perfect Ripple – you made a Splash and then left.   I’m honored that you were part of our family.


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Skimmer the Draft Dog

Skimmer’s a workin’ boy for sure – he added a new title last weekend: Draft Dog.  This involved a maneuvering course and a freight haul, along with some general obedience and harnessing skills for me (the lucky handler).  Skimmer passed with ease.

Skimmer backs up during Draft test

Skimmer does a perfect “back up” – even wags his tail too! (picture by Megan Gold)


I’ll get a pic up soon; right now it’s time to focus on Ripple, who just had her first litter of… well, whaddaya think?!… Leolets!


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The Leonberger has lost a great friend…

Last week I and the entire Leonberger world lost a great friend and advocate – Waltraut Zieher died, succumbing to the spread of cancer. I only knew Waltraut for the past 10 years or so, and only really got to know her in the last 6, but in that short time I came to understand that I’d been lucky to know one of the greatest Leonberger advocates  of my time.

Waltraut was outspoken and direct; two experiences that sum up my relationship with her…
1) In 2005 I had a Leonberger that I very much wanted to breed.  “Gala” was beautiful, 100% sweet, with an awesomely calm, smart, playful temperment.  I had only chatted with Waltraut a few times but I knew she was a BACL examiner* and so I asked her to critique Gala.  Ever so …bluntly… Waltraut said “don’t breed her – she has entropion”.  No two ways about that statement, no “…but what if…”, I got the point.  She must have sensed my disappointment and hurt and backed off a little, adding “…double-check with an eye specialist, I could be wrong…”.  Of course, I did, and Waltraut was right so puppies were not to be.
2) by 2010 Waltraut I’d gotten to know her more and love her directness.  She never ceased to make me laugh at the unflinching way she pointed out problems… no mincing words… no easing into subjects.   At the Sacto, CA Leo Specialty I was showing my girl “Ripple” in the ring on a hot, hot, very hot, day – as I came out of the ring Waltraut said “Ripple did good but you didn’t show her very well”.  I burst out laughing.  She was absolutely 100% right, and in the midst of the usual “good job!” comments her comment stood out for it’s honesty.  I smile still every time I think of that – it was pure “Waltraut”.

I find it incredibly poignant and appropriate that Waltraut died of one of biggest problems she spent the last decades fighting in Leonbergers:  cancer (and specifically, it had spread to bone cancer).   It made her seem to *be* a Leonbergerwhich I think is a great honor. She got lots of Leonberger community awards but I sure wish she could have gotten the Grey Muzzle award**.

Ripple will hopefully have puppies soon, continuing on Waltraut’s Von Stutensee line.  I hope I am able to remember everything Waltraut taught me as this litter comes to life.

You got Best in Show, Waltraut, good girl!

*Before LCA became affiliated with the AKC, there were BACL examiners who determined the breeding quality of Leonbergers.  It was a sad IMO when we lost that… but that’s another story for another day…
**Grey Muzzle awards are issued to Leos which live 12+ years, an extra long life for a breed whose typical lifespan is 8-10 years.

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