Just a little complaint this week...for all of you out there that insist on using the word "runt." Let's start with a strict definition. From the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, calling your attention to item 2:   


Pronunciation: 'r&nt
Function: noun
Etymology: origin unknown
1 chiefly Scottish : a hardened stalk or stem of a plant
2 : an animal unusually small of its kind; especially : the smallest of a litter of pigs
3 : a person of small stature
- runt·i·ness /'r&n-tE-n&s/ noun
- runt·ish /-tish/ adjective
- runty  /-tE/ adjective

    Unusually small...focus on that first word. In all the litters I've raised, I can honestly say that I only remember one or two puppies that at the age of 8 weeks were unusually small. The rule of thumb, according to my vet, is to expect Golden puppies between 5 and 8 weeks to weigh about a pound to a pound-and-a-half for each week they've been alive. So the average weight of an 8-week-old is 8-to-12 pounds. That is a HUGE difference in a puppy that is also about 8 inches tall. If you have an 8-pound puppy stand next to a 12-pound puppy, they are going to look like the proverbial...


  Would that make the 8-pounder a runt? No. How about a puppy weighing 7-1/2 pounds? No, not really. In fact, probably anything in the 7-pound range would be considered on the small side of normal.

    So how come people looking at a litter of puppies automatically ask, "Which one's the runt?" Well, the reason is that there is an old adage: "There's a runt in every litter." You will also find lots of advice from well-meaning dog writers about staying away from the runt, avoiding it when you are choosing a puppy. So conscientious puppy buyers are doing the best they can to find a healthy, normal puppy -- avoiding the runt because of the fear that it may be suspect in other ways as well.

    It is true that a really abnormally small puppy may have other issues (I'd be particularly concerned with heart problems or -- if I didn't know the breeder -- parasite infestations). But if you are one of those people who automatically dub the smallest puppy a runt, you are a victim of faulty logic.

    It doesn't take a brain surgeon to realize that every litter is going to have a smallest puppy. Puppies are all going to be different weights (remember, we are talking about ounces here, not pounds!). If you have 10 puppies, you may well have weights of 7, 7.1, 7.5, 7.8, 8.0, 8.2, 8.5, 8.6, 8.8 and 9 pounds. Again, visually the 9-pound puppy is going to be a monster compared to the 7-pound puppy. But is he a runt? Does his size make him questionable in any regard?

    NO! No, no and again no. It's also not a predictor of how big he will end up being as an adult. In a large litter, there is lots of competition for food, first with mom's milk and then in the feeding pan.

You have to expect that some puppies are going to be more aggressive with their meals and end up on the chunkier side. But I can't tell you how many times the smallest puppy in a litter has ended up the biggest dog, and vice versa. People often ask me "how big do you think she will be?" when looking at a 6-week-old puppy. My reply goes something like this:

Males 23-24 inches in height at withers; females 21 1/2-22 1/2 inches (although one inch
above or below that size would still be normal). Length from breastbone to point of buttocks slightly greater than height at withers in ratio of 12:11. Weight for dogs 65-75 pounds; bitches 55-65 pounds.

Of course, that's a slightly modified version of the Standard for the Golden Retriever, and it is the only thing I care about in terms of what size my dogs end up being. I don't mean to be a wiseguy when I reply to people, but the truth is I never know if the puppy you are considering will be one the large or small side of the spectrum. All I can say is that it would be unusual for any dog I breed to not meet the standard. It could happen, but it would be a surprise.

    I leave this topic with a request. The next time you start to use the word "runt" when describing a puppy, please think twice. Just because he's small doesn't mean he's less. In fact, that tiny bundle may be just the dog you've been dreaming about, perfect in every way!

Deborah Blair-Muzzin