Grain-Free Food. Is It Safe?

For four years now, there has been a debate raging about the safety of grain-free foods. In 2018, the FDA opened an investigation into an apparent surge of Dilated Cardiomyopathy (DCM), a heart disease in dogs. The following year, 2019, they “updated” their investigation with zero new evidence, no published report on their findings, and no conclusive link between grain-free dog food and DCM. Since that time, however, you have seen practically nothing new about this. No new information. No published report. Nothing for the grain-free-condemning folks to hang their hat on. The reason? There is simply not enough evidence of a link to even warrant spending the money on a study! Keep that in mind as you read.

The History

Commercial grain-free dog food has been around since 1995. Since that time, it has become a huge phenomenon, garnering over 45% of the market share (in dollars) of dog food for America’s 77-90 million dogs (depending on whose number you use). Because grain-free food is much more expensive than grain-laden kibble, it is not 45% of the dogs eating grain-free food, though. It’s estimated to be just over 10% of the total, or about 8-9 million dogs eating grain-free food.

Most of the major grain-free brands have been around for over 20 years, and did not change their formulas in that time. That’s important to remember as you read this information.

The Accusation

The charge is that grain-free food that is loaded with peas and legumes as carbs, rather than corn, wheat, soy and other grains (those three are the worst ones, and the most commonly used in commercial kibble), creates an inability in dogs to produce enough taurine, a chemical in the body. Lack of taurine can result in DCM, which can be fatal. DCM can also be caused by a genetic predisposition, and that cause is more common than a suspected dietary link.

Dogs Are Dying!  

That was the constant refrain back in 2018-19. A surge in cases of DCM in dogs began to be reported by vets in 2018, and was reported to the FDA, which proceeded to open an investigation, that can be found here, on the FDA’s web site. If you read this entire government post (and I encourage you to, because it actually supports what I’m saying) you will find out all the ingredients they looked at, the diagnostic testing, etc., etc., ad nauseum. It’s all there, but they reached no conclusion! The truth is, they DID reach a conclusion, but they didn’t announce it like they trumpeted the “investigation”. I will post just one of the many bar graphs in the government article, because that alone gives even the casual observer the answer to this question that they are looking for.

Yeah, but… Dogs Are Dying!

This graph clearly shows the numbers of affected dogs that we are talking about here. A quote from the paragraph with this graph from the FDA: “Between January 1, 2014 and April 30, 2019, the FDA received 524 reports of DCM (515 canine reports, 9 feline reports). Approximately 222 of these were reported between December 1, 2018 and April 30, 2019 (219 canine reports, 3 feline reports).
So, let’s do the math. Let’s “follow the science”! For the sake of argument, we’ll use the lower number of total dogs in the US, approximately 77 million. Of those 77 million, just over 10% eat grain-free kibble, about 8 million dogs. In the five years of the most vigorous reporting by vets and pet owners, there were 524 reports over a 5-year period. At its height, there were 320 cases reported in 2018. It has significantly declined since then. We see then, that all cases reported in that five-year period represent sickness (not death) in 0.0066% of dogs eating grain-free food. That’s simply getting the disease. The death toll from this supposed link was 19 dogs! That’s right. 19 dogs out of 8 million! That is 0.0051%, in other words, one five-thousandth of one percent! In still other words, it’s about one in every 421,000 dogs, assuming there actually IS a link, which is highly questionable at all. Even if there actually IS a link, you’re dog has WAY more chance of dying from virtually any of the cancers and conditions that your breed is susceptible to. Your dog has much more likelihood of dying in an accident in your car, or drowning in your pool, or getting hit by a train. Seriously.

Folks are going to battle over a “suspected” and unproven link between grain-free food and lack of taurine production, when that condition is also genetic. And they’re doing it based on a death-rate of 0.0051%. It’s absurd on its face.

But wait, there’s more! In a capitalist society, which ours still has the last  remnants of, the market always responds to new developments quickly (as opposed to government entities), so they don’t lose market share. The grain-free food industry has done the same thing, and immediately started adding taurine as a supplement in their kibbles in 2019. The reports of DCM being reported in the last 2 years is nearly zero. But there are still “experts” and vets claiming that grain-free food is dangerous! This author has written a great piece that “follows the money” and offers a rational explanation for the continued warnings, despite the lack of evidence. It also links to dozens of experts that hold the same position as I do.

Folks, it’s pretty obvious to the most casual observer, that if grain-free food actually was killing dogs, there would be an FDA update, there would be warnings being blasted everywhere, and the FDA would definitely be posting the sickness and death numbers from 2020 and 2021. Those are nowhere to be found.

Back to Basics

Waiting for their treat of frozen chicken gizzards. All natural, raw treats!

Let’s go back to basics here for a minute, folks. Dogs are carnivores! There are those out there that like to claim that dogs are omnivores (will eat anything as part of their regular diet). But they are not. They are classified as “Facultative Carnivores”. In  short, they can and will eat plant matter (but not insects and such, as omnivores do), but they do not require it, and they obviously do not prefer it. That’s an easy one to prove. Set a nice plate of veggies and corn and wheat and soy down on the floor next to a nice plate of raw meat. Is there any question about which which plate ANY dog would polish off in a few seconds, and which plate would remain untouched? I rest my case.

To further this argument, here is another article on the science of dogs’ dietary needs, based on their own biology. Dogs have the type of jaws and teeth created for tearing and grinding meat. They have the salivary enzymes in their mouth to break down meat, different from the enzymes in the mouths of herbivores and omnivores. They also have an intestinal tract that is designed to break down and process a load of meat as opposed to grains or herbs.

The fact is, commercial dog food was developed as a way for farmers to sell corn that was not fit for the human market. Prior to that, all dogs everywhere were simply fed from the family’s store of food and scraps. If we follow the money, we can see that there is plenty of politics to go around, even in the dog food business, and the FDA actually jumped right into it.

This article (also linked above), called A Canine Controversy: Dueling Reports on the Safety of Grain-Free Dog Foods is a must-read on this “controversy”. in this article the author lays out the money trail of the protagonists in this debate, the ones claiming that grain-free food is killing dogs. In July of 2019, the FDA produced a list of actual brand names of food that were being fed to affected dogs, as part of the update. They named brand names, and did significant financial damage to those brands, with zero proof of a connection whatsoever! This article shows the financial incentives that certain entities that were furthering the “danger” narrative had, to report the way they have. Yes, politics. Even in dog food.

Make no mistake, we’re plenty political over here, as any of you that follow us on Facebook know. But not about dog food. No.

Mastador puppies getting their first meal of grain-free kibble at 4 weeks old.

The Bottom Line

The best diet for your dog, by far, is raw feeding. Many people lack either the time or the finances to feed raw, as it can consume a lot, both in cost and food prep time. If you have the financial ability, there are freeze-dried, ready-made meals from many different vendors now, the choices are endless.

Nearly any grain-free food is going to be better nutritionally, than the most fancy and expensive food that is loaded with corn, wheat and soy.

At Covenant Farm Puppies we start all of our puppies out on grain-free kibble, and use 4Health, the store brand of Tractor Supply Co. Our adult dogs are not on an exclusively grain-free diet, because legumes (especially peas and pea flour) contain phytoestrogens, which mimic female hormone in bitches, and can cause temporary infertility. We discovered that the hard way when we tried to move all the dogs to a grain-free diet. We use a feed that has no corn, wheat or soy, but does contain some oats and barley, and no peas or pea flour. It was a compromise I had to make as a breeder.

Our web site has a page called Care & Feeding, that has all kinds of info on food, treats, meds and other useful stuff to check out.

As always, follow us on Facebook, and check out out our web site, Covenant Farm Puppies.


This will be a fairly lengthy post, as this is a complicated subject. Aggression in large-breed guardian dogs (in this case, especially focusing on Mastadors) can have several different causes or sources. We will attempt to delve into each one. How you deal with it relates to what the cause is, how long it’s been since it started, and how you’ve dealt with it up to this point (or just hoped it was a passing phase that would go away over time). Let me add that I am not an expert on dog training, but I rely on several professional trainers for advice and referral.

Overall Philosophy of Training

Mac, son of Lorna Doone & Charlemagne

People are fond of saying “dogs are people, too!” And refer to them as “fur babies” and “my kid”. But they are absolutely not. If you try to apply human or child psychology to dog training, you will fail miserably! Dogs do not react based on human emotions of love, anger, jealousy, etc. That’s why you can’t understand “why my dog is acting this way.” Your dog responds to things based on two aspects of his or her life: primal instinct and training, and how that causes him to react to any given stimuli. For instance, we call it “jealousy” when one dog comes up to you for attention, when you’re giving the attention to another. It is, technically, but it is not childlike jealousy. Canine jealousy is an instinct that attention from you is rewarding, and seeing another animal or person getting it, triggers the desire for the attention in his or her own primal interests. It’s actually quite different than a “feeling”, it’s a primal reaction or response. Some dogs respond to that “jealousy” more radically than others.

I know that folks hate this kind of direct assessment of dog behavior, but it is critical to understand when dealing with a serious behavioral issue like aggression. We have a funny saying here about this subject: “Don’t anthropomorphize your dogs. They HATE when you do that!” 

Onset of Aggression

Don’t put off dealing with this! The point at which the onset of the aggression happens will often steer you into the correct method of dealing with it. It is very important to assess this as quickly as you can after the very first signs. These would be growling or snapping at people or dogs that he or she already knows (including siblings), or with strangers; or showing that behavior on walks or at the dog park, when it was never a problem before. An aggressive dog can be scary when you have little ones in the house, and you start feeling that there is a possibility that it could get dangerous. 

To try to make this easily understood, I’m going to break this down into just two categories. The first is male dogs at the age of puberty (in Mastadors it is from 9-14 months of age, and aggression occurs in 20-25% of them). The second is male or female dogs at any other time in their lives.

Aggression in Female Dogs or Male Dogs Not Near Puberty

Female Mastadors or English Mastiffs rarely ever show signs of aggression. Males at any other time of life but around puberty, is also uncommon. When they start showing aggressive behavior, it usually has one of two causes, either environmental or medical.

Environmental: Have you just had any major change or upheaval in your life and circumstances? A new move can generate significant stress in a dog, and some don’t handle it as well as others. Having a stressful or chaotic home life can really jeopardize your dog’s feeling of safety and security, putting him or her in a “wary” state of mind, ready to jump into action at any perceived threat (whether you understand why it’s a perceived threat or not). I have seen aggression in a home that became a daycare, and had a half-dozen 2-4-year-olds creating a chaotic, high-stress environment their sweet dog just couldn’t handle. It’s happened with a couple whose marriage was disintegrating, and the toxic environment in the home deeply affected the dog to the point of aggression. A new environment without that stress level was the beginning of a new life for that dog. It wasn’t the owner’s fault, it’s just the way their dog handled that level of stress.

If you have a chaotic home life, it will affect your dog, because they are usually fairly sensitive creatures. The question is how they will deal with it. Some are easy-breezy and can just handle anything. Some will go off to a remote place in the room or house to escape it. Some will be very stressed, and that stress can build, waiting for a trigger.

Medical: A show of aggression can be the expression of persistent pain and discomfort, oftentimes not detectable by any other signs. If you cannot determine any other cause for the late onset of aggression, it would be wise to bring your dog to the vet, and have a blood panel done to see if there is anything obviously amiss. This kind of aggression is an easy fix, if the medical problem can be dealt with.

If your dog is not near puberty, is showing signs of aggression, and none of the above conditions apply to him or her, then the next step is to approach it the way I will describe below.

Aggression in Male Dogs Near Puberty

About 20-25% of male Mastadors will start to show aggressive behaviors at some point during or right after puberty. This is simply due to the genetic predispositions of the English Mastiff side of the family. English Mastiffs are a guardian breed, and they were bred for that job for centuries. There is no need to panic if this happens, but it also something you should NOT ignore, or think of as a “passing phase”. It rarely is. If you deal with it early and consistently, you can usually curb the behavior fairly easily. The longer you wait to deal with it, the more likely it is that you will need a professional trainer to get a handle on it.


I love positive reinforcement training as an option for nearly everything. Except aggression. Positive reinforcement training involves incentive and reward for good behavior. This is great for teaching commands, and controlling most behavior. It works well for general obedience, and for pesky stuff like jumping up on folks and for learning commands. It is probably superior in most areas of training.

Aggression though, is triggered by something in their genetic makeup and breed history. When it is triggered, commands are not heard or heeded many times, there is just a following of their primal instincts which have existed in their breed from the beginning. It is rare that positive reinforcement training can fix aggressive behavior. You generally have to provide a negative reward to get the desired results. I am aware that there are many professional trainers that are “positive only”, and criticize all training that involves negative stimulus. but they will nearly always tell you they may not be able to help with aggression. I use professionals that came from a background of training dogs for military and law enforcement, and who give guarantees concerning correcting aggression. The following are my suggestions to try chronologically, as they increase in intensity as you progress through the necessary steps.

Find The Method That Works

Starting with the least dramatic, these are the steps I recommend . You may luck out, and have the behavior disappear after the first level of attempt.

Muzzles are available as metal, nylon or leather and combinations.

Important: Safety First!  If your dog is already at a stage where he has growled or nipped at people in your own household, or friends that are frequent visitors, or on walks, it’s really important that you take danger out of the equation. Invest in a muzzle! I know, muzzles have a bad connotation to them. But they are an excellent tool to use, both in your training and whenever you can foresee a possible scenario that might trigger aggression, like a walk in the neighborhood or dog park, or folks coming over to visit. Get a proper-fitting one and use it!

There is a professional trainer that works with the outfit I mention below, who also owns one of my purebred English Mastiffs, Caesar. I have used Caesar as a stud for my Lab female. I will be posting an article from him soon (and linked here) all about the benefits and uses of a muzzle for training. It’s a great tool!

[Our trainer, Carl Griffith of Off Leash Canine Training, recommends e-collars by E-Collar Technologies.]

Spray Bottle: I keep an adjustable-tip spray bottle of water under the sink to this day, to deal with some of my girls growling at each other over food bowls when they’re in the house. Adjust the nozzle to a medium spray, not a stream, and not a mist. A good soaking spray. Spray directly in your pup’s face, accompanied by your verbal correction. If your dog doesn’t respond to this, or treats it like playtime, change from plain water to a solution of 2 parts water to 1 part distilled white vinegar. It is completely harmless, but will momentarily sting your dog’s eyes and get their attention.

Important: No touching during correction!

Your touch is always viewed by your dog as a positive thing, and therefore a reward. If you are trying to calm your dog down by touching him, petting or stroking while you talk to him, whether in a forceful or kind voice, your dog will view this as approval of his behavior! So each time you do that, you are actually rewarding your dog for his bad behavior, thus reinforcing it, rather than curbing it. You cannot hold your dog’s face and reason with him about his behavior, You have just done the opposite!


Training with an e-collar.

And electronic collar is the next step. This is not a “shock collar” which is what is used for electric fence systems, although they are sometimes erroneously referred to that way.  They have many levels to pick from, starting with just electronic tones, to a buzz or “nerve stimulation” (in adjustable levels). You may correct the problem without ever getting to the buzz level. I have had one of these collars on me, and jacked it all the way up. It was very uncomfortable. I would not call it “pain” but it reacted with my nervous system in a way that immediately got my attention without inflicting true pain or any kind of damage.

The internet is loaded with info and training videos for e-collars. It is extremely important to use these the right way. I personally have never used them, but you must use it correctly, or you could do more harm than good, as far as your attempts at training are concerned. Professional trainers that specialize in correcting aggression always use these. It will require patience and diligent consistency. Every episode with your dog needs to be responded to, and responded to in the same, consistent way.

Don’t be put off by internet pages showing grisly photos of injured dogs with burns. There is no way those injuries can ever happen with responsible use of these collars.  EVERY kind of training collar can cause damage by abuse. Use all the standard precautions, and there is no risk to your dog. For a really good, brief explanation of what these collars do, and how they work, check out this page.

Professional Training

If the spray bottle and educated use of the collar have not worked well enough, you will need to seek out professional training. You need to find someone who specializes in aggression, not just in behavioral training. The recommended route is to use their boarding/training program, which is usually two weeks long. I have recommended Off Leash K9 Training for many years, and watched several families get their loving dog back. These particular trainers have offices all over the country, having started here in Virginia years ago. They do guarantee their work, and will come back for extra training for both you and your dog, if the success is short-lived, and the behavior quickly returns.

Confidence training for an aggressive dog, in public.

The most important thing to understand about any training, but especially this specialized training, is that you MUST be consistent in doing the things, and using the commands that your trainer has taught you, consistently. It’s all about consistency! Once you get your dog home from professional training, and you are shown your dog’s new obedience and behavior, success or failure from that point on is almost entirely on you.
The most common reason for long-term failure of professional training comes from owners not applying everything the trainer taught them, and applying it daily and consistently.

It is a rare thing that an aggression problem cannot be straightened out. In 15 years of dog breeding, I have only seen professional training not work twice, once in a Lab, and once in a Mastador. Since I give lifetime support to all my puppy owners, I require that folks contact me before re-homing a dog, or whenever there is an issue I can advise on. I don’t ever want one of my dogs to end up surrendered to a pound or shelter. I will not re-home a dog that has bitten people, unless the adoptive person is fully knowledgable about the aggression AND has some experience dealing with it successfully.  In the case of both of these dogs, it was the vet recommendation to put them to sleep, and a neurological problem was thought to be the reason training did not work. In a case like that, it may well be the only option. 

Won’t neutering fix aggression in males?

This is a common misconception, though oft-repeated by some veterinarians. The answer is a simple “maybe”. My health guarantees are tied to a requirement that your dog not be spayed or neutered until they reach 24 months of age. This requirement is explained in another blog post. Puberty is too young to de-sex a dog, and given the possible side effects of early spay/neuter, is not worth the risk unless you’re in a last-ditch effort and the methods explained above are not working.

In my own experience doing one-on-one counseling folks dealing with aggression in a pup they got from me, of the ones that went ahead and neutered before 24 months, the aggression was curbed in less than half of those cases. I have approved neuter at 18 months (without sacrificing my genetic guarantees), as there is less than 10% of growth yet to come, and the danger is minimized at that age. Neutering is NOT a “silver bullet” for aggression. I don’t recommend it for puberty-age aggression, except as a truly last resort.

This maybe sounding to you that I have had “lots” of aggressive dogs come from my program. But considering that we produce an average of 100 puppies a year, and been doing that many for over a decade, it’s a fairly  small percentage. It is enough, however, for me to feel responsible to educate folks before they buy, and help them afterwards, should they run into any issues.

As I said, I am not an expert, and I welcome any comments, additions, or corrections from anybody more knowledgeable than I am, and will revise this post as appropriate. This is written to give owners of dogs that are showing aggression, a place to start.

Getting Through a Female Heat Cycle

The Dreaded Heat! I am often asked about when and what to expect regarding female puppies and dogs going into heat. I normally give an explanation to all of my customers getting female puppies, because I require that my puppies be kept intact until they are 24 months old. You can find a full explanation of why that’s necessary in my other post on that topic.

Lola is an F2 second generation Mastador, seen here at 7 months old, and 95 lbs. She is the daughter of Chachi (son of Charlemagne & Lorna Doone) and Sassa.

When & How Often?

In large or giant breed dogs like Mastadors, a female puppy will have her first heat at around 9 months old. That’s a strong average. But it’s possible for a female to go into her first heat as early as 6 months, or as late as a year or more. After the first heat, they come roughly every six months. That fluctuates a good deal as well. My lasses range from 6-8 months in-between most of the time. But I tell folks that they should expect to go through three heat cycles by the time they reach 24 months, and can be spayed if desired. At right is our Lola, who had her first heat at 9 months, with her second due at 15 months (April 2022), and the third one due at 21 months, approximately.

How Do I Tell? How Long Does It Last?

The heat cycle is 20 days long, and can normally be spotted by some obvious signs. First,  your lass will start to drip spots of blood when her heat begins. Also, her vulva will appear swollen. But either of these can sometimes not appear, or be so mild you don’t detect it for awhile. We’ll deal with that in a minute. Another sign is any other dogs in close proximity will be humping her, or she will mount them.  If you see that behavior, check your lass for a swollen vulva, and get a clean white cloth and dab her vagina to

Chachi (M), with his concubine Sassa (black F), who is flagging him. The big puppy is their daughter, Lola.

check for secretions, especially blood tinge. Always use the first day you are certain, as Day One of your 20-day count.

Approximately Day 11 is ovulation time, when she is fertile. It is also where most females will stand for any male in proximity. When she is near a male she will start “flagging” him, that is, she will stick her tail straight up and come in close to him. This is of course, the most dangerous time, in terms of avoiding pregnancy. Despite the really small window of 48 hours or so of ovulation, you must assume that your lass is at risk for impregnation at any time during the 20-day period. As unusual as it is, some females have become pregnant from ties that occurred in the first few days or the last few days of a heat cycle. You always have to assume the risk is there, for the entirety of the heat cycle.

Protecting Her From The Lads

This handsome mutt we dubbed The Wayfaring Stranger. He impregnated our Lab with one puppy, while the rest of the pups in the litter were sired by our Lab.

It is important to keep your female absolutely protected from the lads! Make no mistake, males can literally detect the scent of a female in heat, and track it, as far as three miles away! They will perform extraordinary feats to get to her. I have had my lads tear apart wood privacy fence, chew through welded-wire fence and chain link panel, dig a hole so deep, a 130# dog can get under the fence. Do not underestimate the power of female hormones! [I hear men mumbling “Amen” under their breath as they read].

We have had three accidental litters over the years, that were sired by dogs that wandered onto our farm in the middle of nowhere. Nobody had ever seen these males before or since. We gave them names. The first one was The Traveling Salesman. The next year we had a handsome fellow we called The Wayfaring Stranger, and the third was called The Wandering Minstrel. In each of these cases, we missed the signs of heat, because our lasses were outside all day long, and some were at night, as well. Our males were contained.

Behavior During The Heat

Your lovely lass can be an angel or a demon during her heat, or both. She is likely to be more clingy with you, more desirous of your attention and affection. She may be that way with other dogs in your house as well… or not. If you have other dogs in the house your lass could turn into, let’s say, a Raging Bitch! It’s ok to say “bitch”, cuz I’m a dog breeder. I’m not cussin’. I have had a few dog fights over the years between my lasses, nearly always when one or both are in heat. Be wary of this. It doesn’t happen all that often, but it is one of the things that you could face during a heat cycle. 

Your girl may also have a significantly diminished appetite during her heat cycle, and that may also extend to other dogs in your home. If you think the dogs are simply not eating enough, you can always add some canned mackerel to their food for a couple of weeks. That will guarantee they eat more. You may want to offer treats more often during this time as well.

The Mess

Your lass will likely be spotting blood for most of her heat. If she doesn’t it’s no cause for alarm, nor does it mean the heat is over with! Most of the time, the girls will clean up after themselves, licking up the blood off of hard floors, and keeping themselves clean. But there will still be cleanup to do. There are both disposable and washable doggy diapers available for this very thing. I have not used them, as we have hard floors, and just clean up, but my puppy customers prefer the washable kind over the disposables, by a wide margin. These are readily available in larger WalMart stores, or on Amazon.

Silent Heats And Other Anomolies

It is possible for your female to miss a heat, or have a “silent heat”, which are not the same thing. How each lass behaves and shows symptoms of her heat season can be very different from one to another; in some it is obvious and very pronounced, while in others, it can be hard to tell. Some females do not change in behavior or temperament during their heat cycle at all, and may have only a very light discharge with little or no swelling of the vulva. This is perfectly normal for some females. This doesn’t mean that your lass is necessarily going through a silent heat, but simply that her seasons are very asymptomatic.

A silent heat is a genuine season characterized by a nearly total lack of symptoms. This can make it pretty confusing for an owner. But if you take your lass out on walks, any unaltered lads will be making a beeline for her! If you see dogs you have never seen before, hovering around your property, there’s a good chance there’s a heat going on.

I cannot emphasize enough, the need for adequate protection from the lads! The safest course is to keep your lass in the house during the entire heat, and walk her if you do not have a fenced yard!

Mastador Coat Colors

Charlemagne of Covenant Farm, our 1st Generation Mastador stud.

Today we’re going to look at where the myriad color combinations in the Mastador breed (English Mastiff x Labrador hybrid) originate. It all has to do with coat color genetics between the two breeds. I will try to make this as non-technical as possible.

First, a simple introduction to coat color genetics is in order. You need to get this before the rest makes any sense. Both Mastiffs and Labs have recessive coat color genes. Recessive genes (like blue eyes in people) require that the gene be present in both parents, in order to show up in their puppies.

The Labrador Retriever has a very simple coat color genetic. There are three colors only: black, yellow and chocolate (all other colors are variations of one of those three). Black is the dominant color, while yellow and chocolate are recessive. That means, in order for chocolate or yellow to show up in puppies, the color must be present in both parents. As a result, 1st Generation Mastadors (where the parents and Mastiff and Lab, not two Mastadors) are usually the dominant Lab color, black, as the other two colors are cancelled out, by not being present in both parents. It is the strongest color gene between both breeds. That is why you get all black puppies from a yellow Lab and any kind of English Mastiff. About 90% of the time, 1st Generation puppies are black, some with white markings on the feet or chest.

Ancestral Markings

St. John’s Water Dog, from which the Labrador Retriever and the Newfoundland Dog were cross-bred. The last one died in 1982.

Ancestral markings are color anomalies that you do not normally see in a purebred dog. Ancestral markings in Labs are usually represented as white “blaze” on the chest, or white toes or sox. When the Labrador Retriever was developed as a cross-breed, one of the foundation breeds was the St. John’s Water Dog. This was a black dog with white chest blaze and white socks. While the white has been bred out of the Lab, the genetics of the white spots are still in the DNA, so they come out from time to time. In English Mastiffs, white blaze or toe tips is a common phenomenon, so the gene from the Mastiff hooks up with the ancestral gene of the Lab, and produces blaze and white sox.

As an interesting side-note. The St. John’s Water Dog was also used as a foundation breed for another new breed, The Newfoundland Dog. The Newfie was actually the cross between the St. John’s and the English Mastiff! So, the genetics between these two breeds has proven to be very compatible over the last 150 years.

Shelby, our reverse brindle Mastador puppy.

The English Mastiff has very complex coat color genetics that still have genetic experts trying to lay it out in a way that can be understood, but they are an ancient breed, with so much involved in their development over more than a thousand years. As recently as World War II, the English Mastiff was down to only six breeding females. In order to save the breed, one of the owners of the females bred them to the Great Dane, and the other bred them to the Bullmastiff. The English Mastiff never lost its “purebred” status, despite being cross-bred.

There are basically three English Mastiff colors in modern times, fawn (light, off-white color), apricot (red) and brindle (striped). In brindles, there are dogs with fawn (sometimes looks like silver) in the stripes, and others with apricot in the stripes. But there is so, so very much more possibility in Mastiff coat colors that are latent genes, just looking for an opportunity to express themselves. The expression becomes possible, apparently, with the pairing of the Lab genes.

Black & tan, an ancestral Mastiff coat color in a 2nd Generation Mastador.

Between 1883 and 1916 there were Mastiffs registered with the AKC as Blue Brindle, Black and Tan, Cream, Chocolate and White Spotted, according to one source I looked at. Eventually, standards were imposed by AKC and The Kennel Club (UK) and many of these color variations were bred away from. So, it makes sense that any color variation seen in the Mastiff world could still be expressed in a modern English Mastiff, as we see ancestral markings in Labs. That, in turn, most likely explains how a small percentage of 1st Generation Mastadors can come out in any number of variant colors and markings. There is some genetic piece in Lab DNA that occasionally finds a match with one of the ancient color gene possibilities of the Mastiff, and it comes out in the puppies.

Our own stud, Charlemagne of Covenant Farm is just such a color anomaly. He is tri-color, apricot, black, and tan, and comes from a fawn English Mastiff dad, and a black Labrador mom with chocolate markings on her legs.

Chocolate 2nd Generation lass with cinnamon sox and muzzle, colors of both Lab and Mastiff.

Breeding into the next generations

In the second and third generations of Mastador breeding, the huge plethora of available color genes start showing up in every litter, often with various color combinations that outnumber the black puppies. The possible combinations are nearly endless, because of the color genes of the Mastiff, previously explained. How many of these colors will still be here a century from now is anybody’s guess, just as so many of the original Mastiff colors are no longer seen. On the other hand, ancestral colors and markings of the Mastiff that are now showing up in the Mastador, may well see a revival because of the genetic makeup of this new breed!

Figuring Out Skin “Itchies”

Does your dog scratch, lick obsessively or chew? There are a lot of reasons your dog or itchy_puppuppy may be itchy. It can be tough trying to narrow it down. If you run to the vet right away, it can also be pretty expensive, and you still may not get the answer. Why? Because vets do not learn nutrition in vet school, a fact they will readily admit. So if your pooch’s itchies come from a food allergy (an easy fix), you won’t get this treatment advice from a vet.

But there are several possible ailments that bring on itching and scratching of the skin. For this article, I assume you have already checked for fleas. This is what I recommend to figure it out by process of elimination. I suggest you start with the “path of least resistance” and work your way down this list.

1. Switch your dog to a grain-free or raw diet. By far the most common source of persistent itching of the skin is an allergy to grains. Your dog should be on a grain-free diet anyway, because it is a carnivore, not an herbivore, and the grains are associated with a large number of ailments in dogs, including cancers, diabetes, GI tract issues and seizures (but that is another post).

Start right out with a recipe that does NOT include chicken at all. The reason is that some dogs have a chicken allergy as well. Perhaps it is not even that they have a chicken allergy, but rather, a soy allergy. Soy is one of the few feeds whose properties will transfer directly to the animal or person that eats the meat that it was fed to. It’s a horrible feed, but most poultry is fed with it. So start right out with either a red meat or fish-based recipe.

2. Add coconut oil to the food every day. Start with about a teaspoon for a Lab-sized dog or larger. After a few days, increase the amount until you have reached about a tablespoon dollop. You can find organic coconut oil at Kroger, WalMart, Costoco and Sam’s Club.

Both the elimination of grains and the addition of the coconut oil should kill an overload of candida yeast in your dog’s system, which could cause systemic itching.

3. Avoid any kind of chemical based shampoos. A natural oatmeal-based shampoo will help soothe your dog while the healing is taking place.

4. If the above has not helped or if there is any loss of fur, do all of the above, BUT bring your dog to the vet for a skin scraping to check for mites and mange. There are several very effective natural remedies for this. We recommend EcoManage by Vet Organics. It will treat both sarcoptic mange and the dreaded demodectic mange, which is “technically” incurable.

5. If none of these things has helped, it is possible that your dog has an allergy to something itching-dogenvironmental. The way to to check for this cheaply (but only generally) is to give your dog Benedryl at a maximum dose of 1 milligram per pound of body weight.  If it brings relief, then it is probably an environmental allergy.

It is only at this point that I would see the vet and have them do blood work to screen for allergies. If you take the dog to the vet before this point, you could be unnecessarily subjecting your dog to chemicals and pharmaceuticals to treat symptoms that are permanently corrected by a change in diet, supplementation, elimination of yeast or natural elimination of mites and the mange they cause.

6. If your dog also has a mysterious limp that seems to disappear and reappear, along with chronic itchiness, he may be infected with one of the tick-borne diseases such as Lyme or erlychiosis. There is one test that checks for all of them, and it’s inexpensive.

If none of these things fixes your pooch’s itchies… well… I don’t have a clue!

Picking the Right Puppy

Everybody loves puppies!  One of the greatest insults folks jokingly make when they are describing someone they don’t like is, “he probably hates puppies!”.  Lots of folks call me up, eager to get on the waiting list for a new puppy, ANY puppy.  Quite a few are turned away, either permanently, or for the litter that I have available. Why?

Raising a puppy is no easy task. It takes epic_12dedication, lots of time and attention, proper training and a willingness to give him or her the quality of diet and medical care that will keep them healthy and bring long life. The cute, fuzzy puppy doesn’t last all that long!

SHOULD YOU EVEN HAVE A PUPPY? That’s the first question to ask. Here’s a good rule of thumb, and one of my basic requirements for placing a puppy in a new home: There must be human companionship for the puppy throughout the day. If both adults work, and the pup will be left home for 4-8 hours a day, you should NOT get a puppy. If folks are away 3 or 4 hours a day, I will make an exception if the puppy will have the companionship of another dog or puppy.

Puppies are far too social and needy to be left home alone for long periods of time. They will get bored and usually destructive with chewing and such, and with nobody around to consistently train that behavior, it only gets worse. Then when the owners get home (and pick up all the destroyed books, paper, shoes, and examine the chewed furniture), the pup is a neurotic basket case that is actually not that much fun to be with, and is out of control.

puppy_destructionI can’t tell you how many times I had puppies returned to me back in the early days when I did not screen buyers as carefully as I do now. I would take back puppies that were said to be “out-of-control” and “untrainable” and “destructive”. After one week of being here at the farm with us, playing with the dogs, and doted on by my family members, they were like new dogs! Those dogs are all grown now, with never a complaint ever heard from their new owners, who were carefully screened.

So, am I saying that working folks shouldn’t have a dog? NO! I’m saying they shouldn’t have a puppy. Those families are excellent candidates for adult dogs that are fully past the puppy stage and can take being alone without going nuts. Even then, you need to find a dog that has lower drive and calmer temperament. I have adopted out some of my retired breeding dogs to such families, and it works out really well.

I have also found that older couples of retirement age have a high rate of puppy return. They often are convinced they have the energy to raise a puppy, but it turns out to be a bit more than they realized it would be. I have had three such returns in the last two years. I have also had some very successful situations involving retirement-age couples. I don’t necessarily refuse them, I just want them to strongly consider the work load and commitment involved, and make sure they are up to the task.


Our American lass, Cami. Always playing.


This is an important question. If you want a dog that is primarily a house pet and will lead a fairly sedentary life, you definitely don’t want an American Lab! Field Labs have a high drive that is easily trainable, but MUST be trained, or you will have a serious troublemaker on your hands. They are very affectionate and intelligent, but they are always looking for something to do. If you lead a very active life, have a yard at your home, love to take your dog to the water, they have opportunities to run and play often, the American Lab is perfect for you. You will find their companionship to be the most satisfying type. If you are looking for a hiking, running or hunting companion, perfect!


Our yellow English stud, Rob Roy

English Labs have a tendency to be lower drive, some with very little drive at all, virtual couch potatoes (after they are past the puppy stage). That sometimes makes them more difficult to train, because they are not as eager to do stuff, and to please you. But they are often better behaved as house dogs for that reason. They also have a tendency to be larger in size. Some are actually very agile and love high activity, but are still of a much calmer demeanor than filed Labs.

English Mastiffs make great house pets or outdoor pets. They aren’t necessarily great running or hunting partners, but hiking and walking are great for them. They love to be physically close to you, even touching you, so they make great therapy dogs and mobility assistants.


Harvey, a Mastador

Mastadors are the best of both worlds (if you can find them) They are more agile and playful than Mastiffs, less high-drive and rambunctious than Labs. They love the water, love to run and play, love to lay around and just be near you.

The perfect puppy for you may be not be any of the dogs I breed. Perhaps you need something smaller or hypoallergenic. But I urge you to carefully consider all of these things before you are just plunge headlong into puppy parenting because of the super cute pictures on a web site.

This is a 10-15 year commitment on your part. Keep that in mind right up front.

The Launch of The PuppyMan Blog!

B&B_blogWell, I’ve procrastinated long enough! My Facebook friends and puppy owners have been encouraging me to start this blog for two years, and it’s finally launched.

There’s not much up here to look at yet, but I will try to post something every day or two. Something useful. Something interesting. Something challenging. Something you didn’t know.

So much of what I have learned about puppies and dogs, caring for them, using natural remedies to help and cure everything from parvo virus to seizures to skin allergies, has been virtually lost in old Facebook posts I will never be able to find again. So I begin the job of putting down everything I have learned in this blog so it can be accessed and shared easily.

Some folks (kindly) call me an “expert”.  That’s overstating the case. I know a lot and have learned a lot, but I’m always still learning, and always running up against issues I have never seen and have no clue to deal with. As I encounter those, I will share that info with you. Think of me as a “resource” rather than an “expert”.

But besides the useful information about care & feeding, behavior and such, I want to have some fun here as well. So hopefully there will be some chuckles along the way, especially in the “Puppies” category.

I encourage you to ask questions and respond to my posts, and feel free to request blog posts on topics of particular interest to you.

The True Source of “Honest Business Practices”

We periodically receive accolades in one form or another for our “honesty”. It has been noted that folks are wcfp_logoilling to drive in their cars over 1,000 miles to come get a puppy they have never seen  (except in photos) or have a puppy they have only seen photos of, shipped clear across America. People trust us this way because we have built up “a good reputation”. But why? And how?

I want to take this opportunity to point you all in the direction any discussion of this topic needs to go: God’s Word, the Holy Bible holds specific business principles and rules, which if followed, will always result in “honest business practice”. If you practice them, you will ALWAYS be thought of as a business or person with “honesty” and “integrity” who can be “trusted”.

Most people are not aware that God’s original covenant (the Old Testament) contains specific instructions regulating business behavior. Many Christians erroneously ignore or avoid the Old Testament as being “no longer in force”. But this is serious error, not just doctrinally, but in every other way. The Bible has instructions, guidelines and rules for the conduct of EVERYTHING we do in our lives.

Some of our staunchest defenders (at those odd times when we come under attack) are actually folks that have had a problem with a puppy they got from us. That is because we see the value in running towards a problem in business, and solve it to everyone’s satisfaction, rather than running away from it. Running away from responsibility is human nature, and God’s Word tells us we need to fight and put off that natural tendency, and adopt His rules of behavior.

When I post here about topics that are perceived as “religious” I often get private (or public) comments from some of my friends and puppy owners that, “we are here for the dogs, not for the politics or religion. We would prefer not to see that here”. What you don’t understand is, the very thing you like about us and our business is BECAUSE of these very things you think you don’t want to see or hear!

Everybody knows folks that profess to be Christians, but are not honest in their business dealings. That in NO WAY reflects on Biblical principles, it only reflects on the people who profess Christ, yet are disobedient to His word. When you meet an honest non-Christian businessman, you will find that he is honest because he is following Biblical principles, whether he knows he is or not.

So folks, you will hear this stuff from me from time to time because I would be remiss and derelict in my responsibility to YOU, if I did not say the things which must be said.

The bottom line: You like me and my business because we follow Christ and His word, and run our business according to its precepts, whether you realize that’s the reason or not.

Spaying & Neutering

Early spaying & neutering: DON’T DO IT!

Now that I have your attention, and you realize that I have probably contradicted your vet’s advice to have it done at 6 months, let me tell you why.


Hermione, daughter of Shelby & Rob Roy

The sex hormones of both males and females are responsible for bone density as well as joint development, during their maturing years. When those hormones are absent, the risk for joint failure (especially ACL/CCL) is dramatically increased. The chances of seeing a degenerative bone condition arise is also increased. On top of that, the risk  of three types of cancers goes up pretty dramatically as well.


There are a couple of reasons. And I am not trying to disparage any vets here, I really like and respect the three vets I regularly use, though I disagree with them occasionally. But these things are admitted by some of the vets themselves.

First, there is pressure by the whole shelter/rescue lobby to have dogs de-sexed as early as possible to avoid “overpopulation”. In other words, you are not responsible enough to care for your puppy to keep him or her contained, therefore you need to have them de-sexed. It’s not about the health of the dog. It’s about politics.

The second reason is a little cynical. Some vets schedule puppies for surgery at 6 months right away when you bring your pup in for the first exam and shots. That’s because most folks don’t make regular plans to visit the vet once the 4 rounds of vaccinations are done. They want to make sure they get that surgery income early on in their relationship with you, lest they lose it to someone else later on.

Some, to be honest, really do believe there’s nothing medically amiss about it. All I can say is that they have not truly kept abreast of the research if they believe that. The evidence has actually been there for many years, but you have to dig out those studies, and the results are very unpopular with the shelter/rescue folks!

This article is from the AKC Canine Health Foundation citing a study by a team of researchers at the University of California at Davis. They found a direct connection to ACL and CCL rupture (these are joints) and hip dysplasia to spay/neuter before one year old. They also found an increased risk of cancers: hemangiosarcoma, lymphoma, mast cell tumors. This is a synopsis of the study from the UC Davis web site. This study is also quoted in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The UC Davis synopsis notes that, “Dog owners in the United States are overwhelmingly choosing to neuter their dogs, in large part to prevent pet overpopulation or avoid unwanted behaviors. In the U.S., surgical neutering — known as spaying in females — is usually done when the dog is less than one year old. In Europe, however, neutering is generally avoided by owners and trainers and not promoted by animal health authorities”.

OUR HISTORY OF THIS: We have produced nearly 1,000 puppies since we began in 2007. We have seen three puppies diagnosed with hip dysplasia inside of our 3-year guarantee. All three were neutered at 6 months of age. We have had seven pups require ACL (knee joint) surgery between three and six years old.  All seven were de-sexed at about 6 months of age. We had one pup develop a degenerative bone disease. He was neutered at 6 months of age. We also had a 6-year-old Lab develop osteosarcoma which necessitated amputation of the leg, and a CCL failure in the same dog at about the same time. He was neutered at 6 months old.


Beau, son of Sadie & Rob Roy after ACL surgery.

Can I say that early spay/neuter was “responsible” for all of these cases? No, of course not. There is no way to know for certain. But even if there was a genetic predisposition in the pups, it may never have shown up, if all of our care & feeding recommendations were observed and they were not de-sexed before full maturity. But the early de-sexing very likely threw those genetic predispositions (if there were any) into overdrive, making it a virtual certainty.

OUR RECOMMENDATION: Based on the research we have read, we recommend avoiding spay or neuter until maturity. That is different with different breeds. For Labs, I would wait a minimum of 20 months. For Mastiffs, I would wait 2.5 to 3 years. For Mastadors, 24 months. We have altered our genetic guarantees to reflect this science.

We recognize that this can be a burden, especially for females as they go into heat, drip blood and attract all the lads in the neighborhood. But if you are truly concerned about the health and longevity of life of your dog, you will give this serious consideration. Joint blowouts are very painful and very expensive to repair. Some vets charge $3,500-$6,000 for the surgery. Cancers are life-threatening and life-shortening. So much of that risk can be mitigated by a little extra work on your part, and some time to let your pup fully mature.