Thursday, December 31, 2009

Indoor Dogs, Outdoor Dogs

I did my radio show yesterday (you can hear a podcast at - look for PetSmith), and a caller comment brought up a question -- what does someone mean these days when they say "indoor dog"?
"Outdoor dog" generally still means just that, a dog who spends his or her life outdoors and is not brought into the house. But surely an "indoor dog" does go outside, right? Well, maybe in my world, but what about the world of 100-story apartment buildings? I'm not so sure about that. Do you get a small dog and just use piddle pads or those little enclosures of artificial grass and never actually take the dog outdoors (except maybe when you're carrying it as a fashion accessory)?
The caller said they were getting an "indoor dog" and had narrowed their choice down to a Chihuahua, Jack Russell Terrier, or Beagle. They also said they had four children. Unless they keep their children indoors (which would be truly strange here on the Olympic Peninsula), I can't imagine the dog not venturing outside. So I think what they meant was that the dog would be WELCOMED indoors, not relegated to the yard. So that would make an indoor dog a good thing. But how do you know what someone means when they say those words?
Like so many things in the world of dogs, we struggle with definitions and understandings. The four-part reinforcement/punishment box (positive/negative punishment, positive/negative reinforcement) may work for the realm of psychology, but it messes up communication between dog behaviorists/trainers and the general dog-owning public. Shoot, I know dog trainers who don't understand it!
An even worse problem exists when it comes to animal welfare/animal rights. One still aims for the humane treatment of animals, the other has gone over the edge into being pro-abolition of pets. But does the public know the differences or which organizations are which? In general, no.
I have no idea how to resolve any of this. I try to consider terms carefully and understand what they mean and in my writing, make it very clear what I mean when I say something. But I'm not always successful. And I'm certainly not always successful at understanding what someone else means when they use a particular phrase.
On the radio show, I don't have time to conduct an in-depth interview to parse exactly what someone means, I just have to try and answer their question as best I can (I recommended the Jack Russell from their choices, by the way). For written terms, I usually can't question the author. At conferences, I try and get any questions answered. . . but how many conferences can you attend?
I hope dog "authorities" are not going the way of other fields, trying to make their specialty as arcane and mysterious as they can to make themselves feel superior. But sometimes I wonder.

Monday, December 28, 2009


No, this has nothing to do with sleeping dogs (or with letting them lie). It is actually a rather serious matter of an increased incidence of theft of dogs.
The AKC noticed an approximately 50% rise in theft of owned dogs in 2009 compared to 2008. A spokesperson appeared on Good Morning America to talk about the rising problem. A bill was introduced in the Texas legislature which would have made it a state felony to steal a pet, with prison time if convicted. California and Delaware have tried to regulate roadside pet sales to combat trafficking in stolen pets. (I can get behind that effort -- I hate having to see the pickup with Lab puppies in the back, and people holding a sign about "Puppies for Sale." It doesn't have anything to do with stolen pets -- almost certainly backyard breeding -- but at certain times of the year, they appear on several corners I have to drive by, and cause my blood pressure to rise.)
There was a report from Idaho of an 11-week-old puppy being taken right from the arms of a 5-year-old girl who was sitting in a park. They got right onto the media, and the puppy was found living at someone else's home. The alleged thief was charged with a misdemeanor possession of stolen property, the only charge available.
The AKC recommends a lot of things I have been telling people for ages --
Don't leave your dog unattended in the yard (I get tired of reciting my "the yard is not a good babysitter" mantra).
Be cautious with information about your dog. Yes, we're all proud of our dogs, but don't tell strangers how much your dog cost or what a rare breed he or she is.
Don't tie your dog outside a store (well, duh!).
Have some sort of permanent ID on your dog, be that tattoo or microchip.
Don't buy pets from roadside trucks or vans, at flea markets, or from unknown sites on the Internet. Be cautious of buying dogs through newspapers ads -- those that can't spell the name of the breed are a good indication that they aren't responsible breeders.
It seems that some people see other people's dogs as a way to either make money or procur a pet for their own family, so be careful out there. I can't imagine my reaction if my dog suddenly went missing!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Gift Almost Nobody Wants

Dear Abby had a question some time ago from a person who walked their dog in the neighborhood, picked up the dog's poop, sealed it in a baggie, and deposited it in the nearest trash can. Not a public, municipal trash can, but some homeowner's private can, put out at the curb for collection. Abby thought that was a perfectly acceptable practice, but she got called out by her readers. They pointed out that many trash companies merely yank the large trash bag out of the can, and anything smaller falls on the ground or back into the can. One acknowledged that people can be territorial about their trash cans. Another said depositing your trash of any kind in someone else's can would get you fined and told to clean it up.
It would never have occurred to me to deposit my dog's doo in someone else's garbage can, but apparently some people think that is accepted practice. I can just see someone, somewhere, sometime, being shot over this.
I do have a problem when cities or counties provide parks and trails, but no way to be a responsible owner and clean up after your dog. . . i.e., no trash can. When the Olympic Discovery Trail was begun here some years ago, people were jumping to donate to have benches installed along the trail with plaques in memory of family or friends. I endowed a garbage can in memory of deceased dogs. At the time, it was the only garbage can on the trail for miles. Now, thankfully, there are others. I don't mind carrying a poop-laden baggie to reach a can, but if I'm miles out on a trail, I don't want to have to carry it all the way back and then put it in the car to take home. That seems like an awful lot to ask!
I wonder if anyone will ever do a survey on the poop disposal habits of those who walk with dogs. It might prove interesting. Meantime, I would advise against dropping your poop, even if it is securely bagged, in the trash of strangers.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Homeless People and Pets

This is a topic I've had a hard time wrapping my head around. On one hand I worry that people who can't take care of themselves very well can't take care of a pet. On the other hand I certainly understand how much a pet can mean in times of trouble. So I have never mentally resolved the dilemma of homeless people having pets.
It came up again with a recent report on the groundbreaking for a veterinary clinic in Eugene, Oregon, to treat the pets of people who are homeless or living in poverty. Pro-Bone-O clinic has been open twice-monthly for free veterinary services, but they can't provide surgeries or take x-rays, and they have to operate on a lottery system because they can't treat everyone in the few hours the clinic is open. They now have a modular classroom donated by the local school district and a piece of property, and hope to have a summer opening of a full-time clinic.
Kate Joost used a pooper scooper to break ground, and noted that during her 5 years of homelessness her now-17-year-old dog Maggie helped her through the ordeal. Seventeen! Dogs in posh mansions don't live that long.
So I guess I have finally decided on the side of the homeless. I well remember how I rushed to acquire my first dog as soon as I moved out of my parents' house. The mayor of Eugene must have felt pretty much the same way, as she said at the groundbreaking that her parents never allowed pets but she hasn't been without one since being on her own.
If you see a homeless person with a pet, maybe you can afford to buy a spare bag of dog food and give it as a holiday gift. I know I will.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Back to Those California Chihuahuas

Look back a couple of blogs for my comments on the prevalence of Chihuahuas in California shelters. Well, I apparently made the mistake of taking an AP news release at face value.
I've since talked to a friend who is a toy dog specialist, and she says that though the problem is real, it has been greatly overblown. She has seen photos of some of the shelter "Chihuahuas" in question, and says they are no more Chihuahuas than your average Beagle! Some indeed, look nothing like Chihuahuas and are far too large to be even a bad representative of the breed.
This points up a common problem with shelters -- breed identification. Around here, pretty much everything in the shelter is a Lab, Pit Bull, or German Shepherd or crosses thereof, according to their descriptions. The specific breeds may vary in other areas. But you'll generally find a pretty narrow range of breed descriptions in any given shelter. And DNA testing is revealing that even those of us who think we're pretty good at identifying what has gone into a mixed breed can be lead astray by appearance. Behavior is a much more reliable indicator, but of course you have to get to know a dog (and often away from the shelter environment) to see their true behaviorals colors.
So California probably did see a spike in Chihuahua, they became one of the popular shelter breeds, and now "anything under 50 pounds" as my toy friend says, is being dubbed a Chihuahua.
It doesn't change the fact that people are getting dogs for the wrong reasons and abandoning them for no good reason. . . just the breeds that may be involved.

By the way, for anyone wondering, Nestle's surgery went well. I don't have biopsy results yet, but our vet said it looked like a nonmalignant fatty tumor. I still have my fingers crossed, but I'm breathing a little easier.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Amid all the furor over the health care bill and banking bailouts, did you know that there is potential legislation affecting pet owners. . . and in a good way for a change?
Representative Thaddeus McCotter, of Michigan, has introduced the HAPPY Act (Humanity and Pets Partnered Through the Years). If passed, it would allow pet owners in the United States to take a tax deduction for pet care expenses up to $3500 per person. It defines a pet as "a legally owned, domesticated, live animal," which would seem to cover not just my dogs and cats, but my sheep and llamas and chickens as well.
A tax writeoff is certainly appealing, especially as I just paid nearly $500 for Nestle's surgery for a tumor (which we hope is just a benign fatty tumor, but we are waiting for the biopsy results). And there would seem to be some reasonableness behind this, as so many studies have shown that having a pet reduces doctor visits among senior citizens, improves the health and longevity of heart attack survivors, improves mental health, and on and on. These has even been talk from time to time of "prescribing" a pet cat or dog. There are now a growing number of autism service dogs to go along with the growing problem of autism.
I doubt that the bill will get anywhere. Government at every level is seeking ways to generate more income, not give it back. But it was a nice idea, Representative McCotter. Kudos to you for the thought.

Friday, December 11, 2009

"Society" Could Learn Some Things from Dogs

This is a small item from the AP in yesterday's paper:
"California has more Chihuahuas than it can handle, and it has Hollywood to blame. There are so many Chihuahuas at shelters in Oakland, they have started shipping the dogs out of state. They have sent about 100 to Washington, Oregon and Arizona. Chihuahuas make up 30 percent or more of the dog populations at many California shelters. Experts say pop culture is to blame, with fans imitating Chihuahua-toting celebrities like Paris Hilton and Miley Cyrus, then abandoning the dogs. The problem appears to be specific to California."

Heavy sigh. First, why would anyone want to emulate Paris Hilton, who abandoned her own Chihuahua when it got too big? (Not to mention the zillions of other reasons to aim a bit higher.) Second, shipping small dogs to other shelters mean that the small dogs get adopted, leaving more of the big dogs facing a very uncertain future. As someone who is a confirmed fan of larger shelter dogs, that really rubs me the wrong way. There's nothing wrong with small dogs -- there's one in the house with me, though she's a bit bigger than a Chihuahua -- but we don't need to be importing them to Washington state or anywhere else, when we have more shelter dogs than we can handle already.
So just what is it that makes society so screwed up regarding such matters as this? Myself and all my dog trainer/behavior friends preach constantly to be sure you understand what adopting a dog entails. If you just want something pretty to look at, get a stuffed toy. If you want a being who will offer you unfailing loyalty (though not always on your terms) and are willing to hold up your end of the bargain, then check out what sort of dog will suit you best. Don't run out and get a Chihuahua (or anything else - I'm not trying to pick on Chihuahuas, more the people who tote them around as fashion accessories) because Miley has one.
But of course the people who listen probably didn't need to hear it from us anyway because they had more sense, and the people who need the advice the most don't listen. It gets very frustrating, and has led several of my best-known trainer friends to get out of the business. It's hard banging your head against a wall, trying to get the same message across year after year. I often feel like I'm writing to the wind, that my words (sometimes repeated now for 20 years) fall on deaf ears or no ears at all.
"Society" could use some growing up. I was stupid when I got my first dog. I was lucky that she happened to be a Keeshond who could teach me what I didn't know, and I dedicated myself to knowing a heck of a lot more before I got my second dog. But it seems that some people repeat the same mindless behavior, including acquiring and then disposing of dogs, over and over. For them, I wish coal in their stockings and some event that will awaken their slumbering brain cells. I'm getting tired of having to try and do the awakening.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Do Dogs Comprehend Seasonality?

Full disclosure -- I have no answer to the above question, only observation and conjecture.
Last year during November and December I faced some rather dire circumstances with a cancer diagnosis. I had surgery in November and was consequently in and out of emergency rooms and hospital stays through November and December. My dog was usually in the car when I went into an emergency room and disappeared into a hospital for 5 to 7 days.
In December, Nestle started having pretty severe separation anxiety in the car. He would get into the front, into the wheel wells, and chew up whatever he could reach, including the rubber pads on the pedals, a water bottle in the car door holder, the knobs on the radio, the plastic things to hold the floormat in place, the cover of the 12-volt plug, and a couple of times part of the dashboard.
I wasn't feeling up to doing much until March, but then I started working on a long desensitization program to get Nestle comfortable with being left in the car again. It was a LONG road, but by September we were starting to do pretty well, and the last couple of months we were finally able to leave him in the car with him staying in the back and not drooling all over himself.
Then we had a cold snap and the first dusting of snow this last week. (It was quite cold and sometimes snowy last year at this time.) And all of a sudden I came back to the car to find Nestle trembling on the floor under the steering well, the top chewed off my water bottle. Yesterday I was IN the car with him while my roommate went to a doctor's appointment, and he was leaning on me and trembling.
As far as I know, nothing bad has happened while I was away from the car. So I am forced to wonder, has the weather triggered this? Is he "flashing back" to last year because the weather is now the same? I can't think of any other possible reason, but I'm not sure if this is a capability that has ever been established in canines.
In any case, I am now starting again on desensitization. I guess this time it's to the season as much as the car. Sigh.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Skill Learning and the Brain

I saw an article today on what actually happens in the brain when animals (including humans and dogs, one presumes) are learning a new motor skill. The researchers, studying mice being trained to reach through a slot to get a seed, observed that new synapses in the motor cortex formed rapidly during learning. So the brain was actually remodeling to incorporate the new skill. The new synapses were still there four months later, when the mice were again asked to perform the seed-reaching activity. However, other already-existing synapses were selectively eliminated so that the overall density remained the same.
This seems to prove the old adage that "you never forget how to ride a bike," unless of course those paticular synapses are replaced by some other more newly learned motor activity. There was no mention of how the brain decides which connections to delete.
But this is an excellent recommendation for the idea that keeping a brain working helps to keep it active and helps prevent cognitive loss in older age. So when you're training your dog, consider that you may be helping both of you (as training is often somewhat challenging for the trainer as well as the subject)! I can testify that due to cold and snowy conditions here in the northwest, Nestle and I spent the weekend mostly indoors. He demands exercise, so though we played some tug games, we also worked on some training, and it left both of us happily tired. As my co-author Mandy Book and I are working on a new edition of our clicker training book, Quick Clicks, it looks like Nestle is in for somewhat more training than usual. He gets so excited when I pick up a clicker that I always feel guilty that I don't indulge in teaching him more new things. But we're including lots of new behaviors in the book, so his repertoire is about to increase. We're looking forward to our brains expanding!

Thursday, December 3, 2009


There was a report a couple of days ago about two or three dogs testing positive for the swine flu virus in China. I don't put too much stock in reports out of China (after all, they're the country who gave us melamine in our dog food), but it's certainly plausible. The article even pointed out that the dogs probably contracted the virus from their human caretakers, and that the virus appeared able to spread between dogs.
There's an odd thing about zoonoses -- those diseases that can be shared between humans and other animals (and pronounced without any "zoo" in case you care). You only ever seem to hear the news talking about diseases being passed from other animals to humans. . .sometimes with dire consequences for those other animals. I mean, Washington state gets absolutely hysterical about bird flu every year, waiting with bated breath for the first confirmed case to appear. Even though, much like swine flu, this is NOT a disastrous disease for humans by any stretch of the imagination. Was pretty bad news for horses until they developed a vaccine, but pretty much just your run-of-the-mill case of the flu for everyone else.
Now we have swine flu and yes, it was impressive how quickly it spread around the globe. But that shouldn't have been surprising to anyone, given how many people travel via air every day. Calling it a pandemic may have been correct vocabulary-wise, but it didn't help keep a lid on the anxiety at all. Certainly it should be watched for any sudden increase in virulence, but so far it's killed far fewer people than the regular old annual flu.
And did you know that it's just as common, if not moreso, for our animals to catch diseases from us? The swine flu is far from the first or only instance of dogs being sickened by diseases their humans are carrying. The dogs just don't complain and carry on so much.
The concept of "One Medicine" has been gaining steam amid medical personnel and researchers both in the veterinary and human medicine communities, so maybe we'll see a more balanced outlook someday soon.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

St Louis Airport Adds "Dog Parks"

I actually heard this on overnight news while I was half awake, and then wasn't sure if I had dreamed it. But no, I looked into it and found out it is indeed true.
I don't know exactly when this was implemented, but it couldn't have been too long ago, as it only made the news last night. The St. Louis Airport has added two tiny dog parks to its terminals. I don't know if each is 400 square feet, or if they total 400 square feet together -- what I read was unclear -- but I hope it's the former.
At the Main Terminal, outside Exit MT-6 there is a fenced area with synthetic turf. At the East Terminal, outside baggage claim, there is real grass and a tree! Both areas have benches, fire hydrants, and plastic mitts for owners to use to clean up after their dogs.
What I heard and read suggested that dogs could "romp" and called them dog parks, and I think meant that dogs could be off-leash. I would certainly want to see how very secure that fencing is before I would let a dog off-leash at an airport, but at least it's somewhere to take a dog for a potty break before or after a flight. I don't fly my dogs, but I know people who do, and that's often a big problem.
The airport spokesperson said that other airports have made similar improvements, though he didn't give any details. So I don't know if this idea has come to an airport near you, or one to which you'll be traveling, but it's a step in the right direction. I mean, Seattle-Tacoma airport has a meditation room. A dog park doesn't seem like such a wild idea.

Monday, November 30, 2009

More Canine Police Work

I continue to be fascinated with this topic. I mean, who could be a better partner than a dog? Not only are they loyal and steadfast, they bring skills that the human partner just can't match to the equation.
I just found out via a brief article in our local paper that there was another round of accreditation testing in our area - seven teams, from Clallam, Grayes Harbor, and Kitsap counties, participated in state Police Canine Association testing on November 18. All seven teams passed.
Now, this may not sound too impressive until I add that November 18 was the day we were on the coast watching one of the wildes storms to hit Washington in years. So the police/dog teams were doing obedience, off-leash control wor, tracking, evidence recovery, area searches, and building searches in high winds and lashing rains. It must have been a pretty miserable day for all involved. But not one team washed out (pun intended).
This makes me more excited than ever to attend the K9 Nosework to take place in Seattle in January. I have asked if I can bring my dog who can't be crated, and hope that the answer is yes. (It's a long story - I did teach him to crate after we finally formed a bond, but something happened at a camp while I was away from the crate and he was a total wreck, and would not get back into a crate after that. I didn't have the heart to go through it all again.)
Do you let your dog exercise his wonderful scenting abilities? We were tracking, but as the tracks got longer it became a bit much for this cancer patient who was doing it on her own. We still have fun dabbling with it from time to time. We play three-cup monte (with a ball under one cup). And I follow along on our walks as Nestle noses around, and sometimes am rewarded with surprises -- yesterday, it was a set of bear tracks.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Happy Holidays

Yes, I know I'm a day late. I was busy doing many things yesterday . . . one of them making my first-ever roast in lieu of a turkey. I think the dogs enjoyed the change!
So I hope you had a happy holiday. And of course Christmas (or Hannukah) is just around the corner.
One of the things about which I'm always curious is "are your dogs included in your holiday celebrations"? If you traveled to friends or family, did your dog go with you? Is he or she welcome in the homes of others? If people traveled to your home, did you extend the invitation to include their dog?
When my mom and dad were still alive, and we got together at my brother's house along with my niece and her husband, the gathering included my brother's Aussie, my niece's Rottie, and our two dogs. Their presence meant that we spent some time outside, letting the dogs play, while we chatted about anything and everything, rather than plopped down inside in front of a television. Because we live in the country, that also meant wildlife observation of one kind or another, often including feeding my brother's pond trout. By the time everyone went inside, we were all relaxed (including the dogs) and ready to eat.
My brother's dog begs at the table (he sanctions such behavior), but all the other dogs laid down somewhere and ignored the festivities until the leftovers made their way into the kitchen. Then they were on red alert! (The kitchen is where dogs get handouts in both my house and my niece's.)
So it can certainly work. It does pay to have some training under your collar, of course. And to know not to hand out much in the way of turkey and fixings. Or any grapes or raisins or macadamia nuts or chocolate or raw onions. (Gee, that seems like a long list!) If your dog is a chocoholic (as mine is), then carob dog treats are a must-have. I'm definitely not against giving my dogs table scraps, but turkey is rather hard on their systems (I can't tolerate too much myself!), and too much can lead to pancreatitits, a life-threatening condition.
So again, I hope your holiday was happy, that you're surviving the madness of post-Thanksgiving shopping, and looking forward to Christmas. We are busy wrapping the presents that have to be shipped all across the country.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Is the Law Out to Get Dog Owners?

There was a post on a list recently about a woman allegedly stopped while driving. The state patrol officer stopped her because he saw the dogs in her (capped) truck, and proceeded to say that they were being mistreated because they didn't have water, didn't have ventilation, etc., etc. The way the report was given, the cop was allegedly acting like an agent of the Gestapo and the lady was innocently on her way to a dog show and taking fine care of her dogs.
There is no documentation given to support this allegation. And in one paragraph it says that the cop asked for her entry forms if she was going to a show and she said that she didn't have any because she was going to enter at the show. Well, I don't know what sort of dog show she was attending, because any one I've ever been involved in has a closing date for entries well ahead of the show date. So that was one red flag.
But whether or not the incident itself actually happened, the website where the account is posted goes on to shrilly advise readers to carry their rabies certificates at all times lest their dogs be yanked away from them while traveling, and generally fomenting agitation.
At this point, I am tired of both sides of the animal rights debate. I'm sick of celebrities throwing their support to PETA without really knowing what they stand for, and I'm tired of the other side overreacting and making mountains out of molehills (or even nonexistent hills).
Can we all please try to agree that what we are actually after is animal welfare? We want our ainmals, be they pets or livestock, to be treated well, and we want the right to keep a reasonable number of them in a kind and beneficial manner. It doesn't seem that hard.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Fascinated by Police K9 Work?

If you are (and I certainly am), then you may be interested in a new up and coming sport, K9 Nosework. Like tracking, this allows dogs to use their phenomenal scenting ability. But unlike tracking, it doesn't involve tramping around fields laying tracks and then running them. Instead, K9 Nosework is a lot more like "junior police" training.
By the way, did you know that there are several kinds of "police" dogs? I don't mean German Shepherds versus Belgian Malinois. I mean that there are sniffer specialists and there are patrol generalists. The sniffer dogs find drugs and/or explosives and possibly evidence, but they don't track suspects and they don't go into buildings ahead of officers. We have had both kinds in our local departments, but now they have all adopted the generalists.
Anyway, K9 Nosework has various levels of scentwork. In the first level, the dog has to find a scent amid a line or two of cardboard boxes. So that would be the sniffer dog police dog sort of work. In higher levels the dog has to perform a car search for a scent, then a room search for a scent. And there are different scents that are used.
You can google K9 Nosework to read more about it. Scentwork has been rising in popularity, and this avoids a lot of the walking that seems to keep some people from taking part in tracking (well, and some people just don't have an appropriate place available to them). You can do this sort of scentwork in any decent-sized room or outdoors.
You really should take the opportunity to let your dog use his or her nose. Dogs seem to delight in the activity, and it can be quite eye opening for the human part of the team.
K9 Nosework is having a seminar in Seattle in January, and that's near enough for me to make the trip!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

More Sad News from Housing Authorities

The anti-dog discrimination continues, and this time it isn't the military, but New York City public housing. Those in charge have declared a new policy prohibiting ownership of any dog exceeding 25 pounds. Officials say the policy is designed to remove dangerous dogs from the city's 178,000 public housing units, and that they are specifically targeting Pit Bulls, Doberman Pinschers, and Rottweilers. Service dogs are excluded (wasn't that thoughtful of them).
The mayor's own Alliance for NYC's Animals expressed outrage at the ban, but it took effect nonetheless. New York City Housing Authority spokesperson Howard Marder said "our responsibility is the safety of our residents." He went on to say that so far no one has been required to leave an apartment because of an oversized dog. He didn't say that somewhere between 1500 and 3000 dogs have likely been surrendered to avoid that eviction.
So here we are again, blaming all dogs -- this time of a size rather than a breed -- for what a few have done. Perhaps some residents only felt safe because they had a large, imposing dog living with them.
It is truly sad that a society supposedly based on "innocent until proven guilty" continues to promulgate such unjust legislation.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Dog and God

No, this isn't the little song on YouTube. I've already posted about that previously. This is about an Associated Press short bit that was in my paper not too long ago. Accompanied by a photo of a woman carrying a long-haired Dachshund into a church hall, the text read as follows:
"Donna Merz with her dog, Gracie, attend services at Covenant Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. The 30-minute worship service, complete with individual doggie beds, canine prayers and a tray of dog treats for the offering, is intended to reinvigorate the church's community outreach while attracting new members who are as crazy about God as they are about their four-legged friends."
I will admit I am not a religious person, so I don't understand exactly how this will reinvigorate the church's community outreach. But I can see some people more willing to spend time sitting in church if they could have their dogs sitting (or lying) with them. I mean, when we know we are going to the theater at night, we make an extra-special effort to give the dogs a great outing during the day, so they will be tired and not miss us for the four hours or so we are gone. I know most church services aren't that long (though some I have attended felt like they were), but still some people feel guilty about leaving their dogs, and some may be facing separation anxiety problems.
I don't know if this is a trend or not. But anything that helps to accept dogs more fully into society stands to be a good thing.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Science and Dog Training

Here is quite a long article posted at, on the fact that sicence is on the side of positive training and not the "dog whisperer." That's not news to those of us who have been preaching positive training, though the number of scientific studies cited in the article is impressive.
But the article also raises a point I have been trying to address for some time: positive does not mean permissive. I think those who have declared themselves "purely positive" have done a great disservice to the effort to move dog training in a positive direciton. It has simply added fuel to those who criticize positive training as being "permissive" and "without boundaries." One person commented on a dog-oriented list that she no longer attends a specific positive dog training event because the many dogs there (presumably positively trained) are not under control. And that is a truly terrible thing.
I have never claimed to believe in purely positive. I have always said that I use clicker training and lure and reward training and, when necessary, negatives or, if you prefer, punishment. I have pointed out that because my training is based in positive methods, my negatives are very mild compared to what is commonly thought of as "force training." My dog reacts to a simple "att" as if he were being beaten. . . and that's not because I have repeatedly flicked him in the neck, a la Cesar Millan, before uttering the "att." It seems to be a cross-species inherently negative sound, and it has the desired effect. No need for choke chains or tossing the dog on his back or any of the other less-than-wonderful variations of punishment.
By using a small measure of punishment, my dogs understand that there are consequences for not following the rules. The rules exist mainly for the safety and well-being of the dogs, and occasionally for my sanity. (For example, I work at home, and I simply would not tolerate a dog who barks whenever I pick up the phone.) They are mostly benign (you may not jump out of the car until released to do so) and easily complied with.
My dogs behave so well in public that I have been told (by people who should know better) that I am an over-anxious owner and there's nothing wrong with my dog's confidence (he and I both know a lot better than that). I don't put him in circumstances he can't handle, and he trusts me to provide that measure of safety for him.
So if anyone reading this is a trainer or speaks to dog owners about training, please consider the point -- purely positive is not the name of the game. Teach first so the dog understands, then add consequences for misbehavior. That is the path to a happy, well-behaved dog and a tight and pleasant human-canine bond.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Microchips Aren't Magic

For years now, most of us dog writers have been recommending that people have their dogs microchipped for the most secure identification. So it is extremely disheartening to read a report in the November 1 edition of JAVMA (the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Assocation) stating that many pet owners have their animals microchipped but then never register the microchips with a registry. Maybe some people have the mistaken impression that a microchip is some sort of homing device, like a GPS constantly tuned to their home address?
The report stated that a survey of shelters turned up 1,943 animals that were microchipped, but only 58.1% of those animals were registered so that the owners could be located and contacted. For 9.8% even the veterinarian who had implanted the chip had not reported to the registry.
So obviously veterinarians need to do a better job on two fronts: First, they need to register the microchip when they implant it, and second, they need to impress upon the animals' owners the importance of registering their own information. Without the appropriate information given to the registry, the microchip is useless.
And not only does the contact information have to be given to the registry, it has to be given afresh any time it changes. So if owners move, they have to contact the registry and update their information. That seems like an easier one to forget. Is all your contact information current for your microchipped pets?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Vacation Snapshots

As promised, here are some snapshots from our trip to the coast.
The first is Nestle enjoying some off-leash freedom at one of the big cedar trees. (Yes, I know he doesn't look like he's enjoying himself -- he doesn't like having his picture taken.)
The second is some of the sea stacks at fabulous Ruby Beach. This was the day we actually made it onto the beach. The next day the sea was running way too high.
And finally, those are some of the cabins at Kalaloch Lodge.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Home Again, Home Again

Well, we are back from our vacation, all to a greater or lesser extent happy, drowned rats. If we wanted storm watching, we got all we bargained for and then some.
Wednesday was sunny and we toured the forests and some of the beaches, took our time on back roads, and checked in to our cabin in mid-afternoon. They presented us with two ceramic dog bowls to keep (part of their Four-Footed Friends package). The dogs approved of the cabin -- the floor was tile, but not the slippery kind, and the couch was a favorite of Nestle's. We had brought a chicken dinner with us, so that was met with great favor.
Nestle didn't like the fire in the woodstove too much, as the door on the wood box had to be left slightly ajar for the fire to draw enough oxygen, so he heard the occasional pop. But he was dealing with it. It wasn't until we decided to make chestnuts that things went south. Making chestnuts, at least the way I was taught to do it, can get a little smoky, and we set off a smoke alarm we didn't even know we had. Well, Nestle lives in fear of our smoke alarm at home, and this one was no different. It took hours for him to settle back down. Sigh.
That night the storm arrived, and it felt and sounded like the weather was trying to get into the cabin with us. If the door hadn't had a deadbolt, it would surely have blown open. There were sporadic ice storms, high winds, torrential rain. I half expected my car to be perched on the cabin roof in the morning.
The waves the next day were running very high, so we were cautious about the beaches. We did get onto Ruby Beach, one of the most scenic in the park, but couldn't stay too long, as the tide was coming in. We used viewpoints only for the other beaches. But we visited big cedar tress in the forest outside the national park, and the dogs adored being off leash in the forest in the wind and rain. Diamond, the 16-year-old, went running off on her own adventures several times, sending us running after her. But she was so invigorate and puppy-like, that we just kept running to keep her with us rather than putting her back on leash. Nestle was sniffing all there was to sniff and exploring the huge cavity inside the massive cedar. We were taking pictures.
That night we couldn't keep a fire going because the wind was down drafting in the chimney so much. Score one for Nestle. But later that night we had thunder, another one of his non-favorites. The wind had died down a bit, but the rain still came in sheets. The restaurant packed up our dinners so we could eat in the cabin -- very obliging. We both bought lovely lined rain jackets after being soaked to the skin in an ice shower.
We all slept a lot last night. But as soon as we picked up car keys, the dogs were still right there, ready to go. They are really great travel or home companions.
I haven't downloaded my pictures yet, but I'll try and post a couple next time I blog.If you ever travel to Washington with your dog(s), I can recommend the Aramark string of hotels at Kalaloch, Lake Quinault, and Sol Duc.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Life Returns to (sort of ) Normal

It's now almost a year ago that my second cancer diagnosis landed me in the hospital. . . and out of the hospital and back in the hospital. . . for what seemed like years. It actually was the better part of two months. The collateral damage from that was my mentally fragile dog, Nestle, had what seemed to be a sort of doggie nervous breakdown. He had always been the perfect gentleman in the car. Now, after I repeatedly disappeared into emergency rooms and didn't return home for a week at a time, he couldn't stand being left. He ate Christmas presents, he repeatedly chewed the rubber covers off the brake and gas pedals, he chewed the knobs off the radio, he removed the plastic doo-hickeys that hold the floor mats in place. He chewed the cover off the 12-volt plug-in.
He couldn't help himself. And I understood. But as things started to normalize. . . or at least not require hospitalization. . . it got hard to deal with not being able to leave a dog in the car. I mean, I take the dogs practically everywhere, and this was seriously crimping our style.
We worked on it as if it were separation anxiety (which it was, only centered on the car). We gave him a new verbal cue. We gave him a Greenie as a visible indicator. I consulted my vet, who runs a mixed practice, and he started Nestle on two Chinese herbal formulations that are supposed to help calm.
For months and months, nothing really worked. We got to where we could leave the car for a few minutes and Nestle would stay in the back, but his whole front would be covered with drool when we returned, and he looked like a crazed meth addict.
But time rally does seem to heal most wounds, though in this case quite a lot of time. Last month a change finally started. If we left for a few minutes, he wasn't in such a terrible state. He still wouldn't eat the Greenie while we were gone, but he would snatch it up the second we returned. He seemed more settled. So I have gently increased leaving him, and occasionally increased the time, and he is doing well, I'm very happy to report. I may soon have my old trustworthy dog back.
And I have to wonder, how would this have ended for the run-of-the-mill dog and dog owner? I mean, I'm a trainer and a dog writer, and I'm pretty invested in what happens with my dogs. I know a lot of other people are, but I know a lot aren't. I wonder how far thigns could have gone before the dog ended up never being taken for a ride again, or even surrendered. Ah well. If that were the case, Nestle would have been surrendered long ago, as he was a total basket case when I adopted him.
Anyway, we are about to enjoy several days of long car rides and visits to national park beaches.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Even the Germ-phobic Like Dogs

I got a surprise when I tuned in to the latest episode of "Monk" on Friday. The show featured a dog, and not just as a walk-on, but as the essential piece of evidence in solving the case.
For those of you who may not know, the lead character, Adrian Monk, is a bundle of neuroses, and he's afraid of elevators, milk, a zillion other things, and germs. So when a murder leaves a dog without a home, he isn't a likely candidate for taking the animal in, but they set it up nicely so the animal control person essentially signs a death sentence for the dog (I think her name was Shelby), and Monk ends up with her.
He leads her around his apartment on leash, telling her the kitchen is off limits, the couch is off limits, the bedroom is off limits, and opens an umbrella upside down on the floor in the entryway and tells her that's her corner. Of course as things progress, Shelby is welcome in more and more of the apartment. Mr. Monk wears heavy gloves that almost look like falconer's gloves to touch her, but touch her he does. He calls a vet emergency line when she goes off her foot and is panting a lot and is told it sounds like she is delivering puppies. And sure enough, she does, with pretty much the whole cast present. The puppies, being tailless, are supposedly evidence that Shelby mated with the chief suspect's Australian Shepherd, and I won't go into the whole issue of THAT actually working as a plot point.
I was thinking, as this is the final season for Monk, that perhaps they were going to provide him with a dog for companionship. That would have been nice. But no, Shelby and her puppies go off with some lady and her daughter, conveniently introduced in this episode, who have 3 acres and can take them all and keep the family together. Mr. Monk has visiting rights, and says 2 pm every day.
I'm sure they will now completely forget about Shelby and we will never see her again, but it was nice to add a bit of humanity to Mr. Monk and make him a little happier for a time. At the end of the show, he even took off his glove and petted Shelby bare-handed.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

National Parks

Any of you who travel with your dogs probably knows that national parks are not the friendliest places on earth, canine-wise. But there are exceptions.
I was delighted when, upon hearing that Olympic National Park (just about out my back door) was building a new trail behind park headquarters, I asked about dogs and they said yes, dogs would be allowed on the new trail. They are also allowed on an older, longer trail also departing from behind park headquarters. So those are two great walking opportunities just up the hill.
I remember touring the park with my parents before actually moving here, and noting that my dogs would not have been able to accompany me to any of the places we went, other than the parking lots. I was especially sad to think that they wouldn't be able to join me on the many beaches.
Well, to my shock and delight, I have just decided on a short break to the coast (where Olympic National Park has its "coastal strip"). Not only does the lodge have a "four legged friends" package, but the National Park Service website informed me that dogs are allowed on all beaches in the Kalaloch area. With a little further checking, I found that meant from Ruby Beach to South Beach, a distance of more than several miles. Ruby Beach was the actual beach I was on with my parents while thinking my dog wouldn't be allowed to set foot there. So this was a lovely surprise.
Now we're all looking forward to the trip with great anticipation. If it's stormy, as it has been for days, the lodge and cabins are perched on a bluff overlooking and Pacific, a perfect spot for stormwatching. We will be bringing cameras and art supplies to keep ourselves occupied (no phones or tvs at the lodge). And if the weather is fine, or even bearable, I've scoped out plenty of sights to visit.
But mostly, I am happy to see that at least one national park has loosened up a little when it comes to dogs. Maybe more will be on the way.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Animals in Disaster

So I went to the local animals in disaster meeting and surprisingly, it turned out to be something of a bait and switch. Though the person from the Emergency Services dept. and the veterinarian did present a short slide show, mostly what they wanted was to get interested people in the room and get their contact information. You see, there currently is no plan, and they want to develop one, and they want those of us who turned out to be the development committee. That is actually pretty funny, as I have twice volunteered to serve on the animal issues advisory council and twice was rejected. But this is another group, and they seem open to working with people.
Animals in disasters is a particularly thorny issue for us here on the Olympic Peninsula, as any major disaster such as earthquake or wildfire is likely to cut off our one highway access on and off the Peninsula. An earthquake could also potentially take out our shipping docks and our airport. So we would likely be well and truly on our own for some time. So almost all resources for housing and feeding people and their animals will have to be local for several days at least. And the fact that we are semi-rural, and have many large animals as well as dogs and cats to consider -- plus a game farm and raptor center -- complicates matters further.
It was heartening to hear that the local hospital already has a plan for the workers who will be doubtless called in to work many overtime hours in the event of disaster to bring their companion animals with them to a prearranged area of the hospital. That was surprisingly forward looking of them.
But we all probably remember Katrina and people refusing to evacuate because they couldn't take their animals, or the dog Snowball being ripped from her young owner's arms.
So I'm happy to take part in trying to formulate a plan. I've already take the USDA course on animals in disaster, and made several suggestions at the meeting last week. But with the many complications involved, and the painstakingly slow pace of anything to do with regulation, I wonder if we will actually derive a workable plan before some disaster befalls the area. At least they are trying. And they do have some good programs already available, such as "map your community," where you and your neighbors get together, a facilitator comes to help, and everyone details what animals they have that will need rescuing, or health problems that require electricity in the event of a blackout, phone numbers where people work, etc., to try and be a little pocket of self-sufficiency. And of course everyone is urged to have a disaster kit prepared and ready to grab.
So it was a worthwhile thing, though not what I thought going in.
Is your area prepared to account for animals in the event of a disaster?

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mixed Breed Identification

Ever since I attended the lecture at the AVMA conference that tested the whole room on their ability to identify the breeds in mixed breeds (from video clips), I have wanted to have my own dogs analyzed. I am fairly certain that I know what Nestle is, based on his behavioral tendencies rather than his appearance. But our small dog, Diamond, remains mostly a mystery. She was listed at the shelter as a Maltese/Poodle, and while I can buy the Poodle part, the Maltese part doesn't seem to fit at all. This is a little surprising, as she came from an entire litter that had been surrendered, and you might have thought that the irresponsible people who had let the puppies be created might have known the mother and father involved.
Anyway, I've been toying with the idea of doing genetic breed analysis, and now I think I really am going to take the plunge. It's pricey, but hey, I can write it off as a tax deduction because I intend to write about it. And I would like to prove myself right or wrong in Nestle's case and discover the mystery of Diamond's heritage while we still have her (she's 16 and a half).
I will be using the Wisdom Panel, as they cover the largest number of breeds and only involved a cheek swab rather than a blood draw. Cheek swabs seem to be realiable, as that is what every CSI program shows being done routinely.
This is a pretty new area in the world of dogs. I wonder how many mixed breed people are opting to have their dogs' DNA analyzed, and if it will have any far-reaching results, such as proving that a dog is NOT part Pit Bull. (Wisdom Panel does include Pit Bull, I think, but I would have to ask them if they are meaning UKC registered Pit Bulls or something else.)
Would insurance carriers accept the results of a DNA analysis and allow a "banned" breed to stay in a home and still let the owners keep their insurance?
I think this is an area that will have some significant ramifications for legislation regarding dogs in the future.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dog Licenses

I live in a fairly rural county. The latest estimate I saw said that a mere 10 percent of dogs in the county were licensed. The county commissioners, at the behest of the sheriff's department, recently uncoupled the license from proof of rabies vaccination, hoping that would encourage more people to license their dogs. The area veterinarians were firmly against this move, but it went ahead anyway.
As I see it, the problem is a bigger one on a lot of fronts.
My current dog is unlicensed for a peculiar reason -- before I got Nestle, the rules on licensing were that if your dog were neutered, microchipped, and had a CGC certificate, you could pay a one-time fee and the dog would be licensed for life. This was an excellent reward of positive behavior, and I licensed my dog at the time. But by the time I acquired Nestle, they had taken away all the benefits. Now the only break is for having your dog neutered, and everyone has to license the dog every year. This represented a huge step backward. I'm sure they're doing it in an effort to increase revenue, but they lost my dollars in the process. I don't like having my rewards taken away.
But the more general problem is general lack of responsibility. Dogs run loose all over the county. I've picked up several turned them in to vets or the shelter or whatever was available. I think one found her way back home via the vet.
I've seen people park on the street next to a lovely shady park, open the car door, and let their dog out to do his or her business, with no intention of picking it up, and no control if the dog should decide to charge off somewhere or attack someone or something. I've even been at a yard sale where a lady was walking around with her small dog on a leash, letting it pee on merchandise and starting to walk away after the dog pooped (I smiled, handed her one of my poop bags, and said "don't you hate it when you forget your poop bag." She glared at me for forcing her to pick it up.)
I wrote recently about the loose-running dogs killing sheep and goats.
Despite pretty much everything in life having changed, people seem to hold relentlessly onto the notion that in the country it's okay to let your dog run loose.
I will be attending a meeting on animals in disaster later this week. I'm approaching it with some trepidation as to what the local authorities think comprises responsible measures for animals during disasters.
Will write about that later this week.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Singin' in the Rain

We are in the midst of our first big rainstorm of the fall/winter season. And that brings up a thought -- do you still take your dog for an outing when the weather turns foul?
Well, living on the Olympic Peninsula as I do, if the answer to that question were no, I'd have some mighty antsy dogs by the time spring rolled around! So yes, of course we venture out into the weather. It just makes the consideration of where to go a bit more involved.
Today, I would love to go to the beach. I actually like walking on the beach in the rain. I like the patterns on the water and the sound raindrops make hitting the sand, and it tends to mean the beach is deserted. Unfortunately, in the fall/winter season, the low tides generally occur after dark. So I can't vist our two closest beaches because there would literally be no beach. I would have to drive farther west, to where the beach is wide enough to provide walking surface even on a high tide.
Walking in the woods is good in the rain. Everything looks so clean and fresh. But quite a few of our favored woodland trails suffer from muddy patches once the rains come. I don't mind the dogs getting a big muddy, but I don't like the hazard of slipping and sliding.
A good choice is our Olympic Discovery Trail. It runs for many a mile, with some pats graveled and some parts paved, so it stands up to rain well. And rain does cut down some on its use, though it seems to be the favored choice for dedicated dog walkers and dedicated runners. Because it is so long, we can choose a different segment for a different visit, so it stays fresh and exciting.
What makes us venture out into the weather just so our dogs can have some exercise and entertainment? That's one of the terrific things about dogs -- we do things we might not otherwise do.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wells Fargo and "Jack"

I'm sure you've all seen the Wells Fargo stagecoach used in their ads. But you may not know that there's a dog that goes along with the story as well.

As the story goes, Mr. Wells and Mr. Fargo built Wells Fargo offices in mining towns to exchange gold for money ( aswell as to receive mail). Their stagecoaches made shipments between the mining towns and the cities. John Q. Jackson opened a Wells Fargo office in Auburn, California. A puppy befriended him in the street one day, and he took him home and named him Jack. Until he grew up, Jack just greeted people in the Auburn office. But once he was a full-grown dog, he went with Jackson to pick up gold shipments and deliver them to San Francisco.

They traveled to towns such as Yankee Jim's, Rattlesnake Bar, and Whiskey Bar, delivering packages and adding gold to the strongbox on top of the stage. One day a bandit on horseback stopped them and demanded gold. Jack jumped down and rushed at the horse, spooking it and scaring off the bandit. After that, Wells Fargo trained dogs to ride on their stages and guard and strongboxes.

There is a photo from 1894 of Jack sitting atop a Wells Fargo strongbox. He looks much like an American Bulldog.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Nose to the Wind

We are having the front edge of our first big storm of the season right now. My home is in a sort of low spot, so I didn't realize until I drove out to run errands just how windy it was. Cancel the mentally proposed trip to the beach, which is windy on a calm day. Instead, Nestle and I took a walk around a pond. Even though it's a bit protected, the wind was stiff, and stopped us in our tracks once or twice.
I have a terrible sense of smell. One reason is I'm allergic to dogs yet choose to live intimately with them. But I do try from time to time to get some sense of how it is for a creature who lives through their sense of smell. So I did my best to face into the wind and breathe in what it was bringing me.
The maple leaves (the big leaf maples are in almost full autumn color) didn't seem to smell like anything. But the small pine branches that were down smelled distinctly of pine, of course, but also sometimes something more. My sense isn't nearly sharp enough to quantify whatever it was, but Nestle found it fascinationg, so I conjecture that it is animal in nature. Eagles, hawks, and herons all hang out regularly around the pond, so perhaps that was it.
I got some dust from the gravel pit operation on a hillside facing the pond some distance away. . . something I'd never noticed via smell before. I got spurts of whiffs of livestock down the hill. It was an interesting experiment.
Can you imagine what life would be like if we had half the scenting power of our dogs?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Dog Art

Okay, contrary to how I view dogs (not as "furbabies," but as wonderful exquisite animals), I am way over the top when it comes to dog art. I have a vast general collection, but a couple of subspecialties: crate labels featuring dogs, Rie Munoz art including dogs, and dogs on snuff bottles.
The crate labels I think is the most fascinating. Crate labels in general have become sought-after pop art. Some of the artwork is quite high quality, and you can still purchase most of them for $100 or less. Most are much less, but some of the best are now exceeding $100.
A couple of my treasures are Collie and Greyhound depictions, both, I believe from the San Dimas Lemon Growers Association (I'd have to go upstairs to check, as they hang in my bathroom up there). I'm still on the lookout for Ruf'N Redy Lemons from the Upland Lemon Growers Association, depicting what looks to be an Airedale (I have a tiny magnet image) and Shepherd from the La Habra Citrus Association, featuring a Rough Collie. (For some reason, the citrus growing associations seem to do the best artwork.)
I used to collect mainly on ebay, but it's gotten very annoying there, as the segment has been taken over by people making cheap copies of original labels and selling them as "art prints." You have to wade through a lot of that to find a couple of genuine labels.
The Rie Munoz collection started with people who know of my collecting affliction giving me gifts. I think I now have a baker's dozen of her works or more, most with either her iconic black dog or a section of Alaskan Huskies, one an Old English Sheepdog, and one a tan dog.
The snuff bottle collection is small -- good snuff bottles can be quite pricey. It started because I worked on promoting an expensive book on snuff bottles (not dog related) and thought they were lovely.
I also have a variety of cigarette cards. There used to be whole lines of dog breed depictions placed in packs of cigarettes, with descriptions on the back. I have some framed and some in their original collection booklets. Again, the artwork is quite good, and seeing how breeds used to look is interesting.
You could choose to collect by breed. Scotties and Greyhounds are popular, Keeshonden and Portuguese Water Dogs are relatively hard to find. Or by form -- metal sculpture, ceramic, stuffed, mechanical, plastic. Or by era -- Victorian, occupied Japan, whatever.
There aren't a lot of good references for anything other than fine art (thanks to William Secord for that much, at least), and that's a shame. Most people can't afford to plunk down thousands of dollars for one picture, though many do.
But the vast variety of dog art out there certainly speaks to the dog's long-time place in society.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

When Dogs Attack

We had an incidence lately, reported in the local paper, of two neighborhood dogs attacking and killing livestock. The dogs were a Pit Bull and a Great Dane, and they killed two sheep and one llama, and injured a third sheep so badly it had to be put down. They were running loose in their own neighborhood, and apprehended because they ended up in another person's house and charged her when she tried to get them to leave. Their guilt was fairly well proven because they both had blood from the livestock on them.
The Great Dane was a repeat offender, having killed a llama near his previous home in the next town over. The owner had him put down by the local humane society, which was holding both dogs. The fate of the Pit Bull has not yet been decided. The owner has the option of keeping the dog, but as a known "dangerous dog," with a plethora of legal restrictions. The dog will have to be kept in a kennel complete with floor and ceiling and will have to wear a muzzle whenever out of the kennel. The owner will have to carry liability insurance for the dog.
We live in a fairly rural area, and livestock is common. When we first moved here, before even acquiring sheep, a local free-roaming pack visited our property several times. Each time I went out after them, whooping and waving a stout stick. The apparent pack leader, a Siberian Husky or mix thereof, appeared to consider challenging me, but decided against it. After the third chase, I never saw them again. I don't know if the husky was hit by a car (a common occurrence with loose-running dogs, was surrendered, met some other fate, or just decided to visit someone less serious about defending property. But by the time we did have sheep and chickens, we were not being visted by any dogs.
Would I shoot a dog that was attacking my livestock? Possibly. The sheep and llamas are my pets, too, not just wool-bearing creatures. And it would be legal. But could I really pull the trigger on a dog? I'm just not sure. I hope I never have to make the choice.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Should Labs Have Toys?

This was the subject line on an email I received today. Being a thoroughly doggie person, my immediate mental response was something along the lines of "What? Who in their right mind would be against giving their Lab a toy?" But when I looked a little more closely and saw that this email was from Science magazine, it became a little clearer. We're talking laboratories here, not Labrador Retrievers.
Still, it raises a thorny question. In recent years, laboratory animals have been living improved lives due to environmental improvements. Mice have nesting materials and objects to graw and sometimes even outright toys. But now the question is rearing its head -- is this variability on enrichment details between labs leading to confounding results in research?
This is another tough one, akin to the Supreme Court case of free speech versus banning video depictions of dog fighting (which is now being heard, by the way -- and the justices seemed disinclined to abrogate free speech on this subject). Of course laboratory animals should be treated kindly and given ways to comfort and entertain themselves. . . but. . . they still are laboratory animals, and the reliablity of results obtained from their use is vitally important.
So what's the answer? Maybe there need to be specific guidelines for all labs to follow, so that all lab mice receive the exact same environmental enrichment. That would seem to be a simple answer.
And how does this relate to dogs? Well, as I've mentioned before, dogs are now often serving as research subjects because they naturally are afflicted with many of the same diseases as humans. And that research is made even more applicable because dogs share our environments, in all their variations. So the really far-out response to the question of enrichment for lab animals may be to make them non-lab animals, and place them in the homes of researchers as if they were pets. I realize that this is hightly impractical, as the numbers of mice in research are still astonishingly high. And I suggest it with a heavy dose of sarcasm. But in the constant balancing act of research versus animal welfare, thinking outside the box rarely hurts.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

You Eat What You Are

The subject of canine nutrition can be a contentious one. Though I would agree that commercial dog foods are not perfect, the quasi-religious fervor of some of the raw feeders frankly scares the bejesus out of me. And claims made on pretty much all sides reach quite a bit beyond the scientific. But what I find interesting is if you truly start to look at dogs at what they have eaten/been fed down through the years.

We can probably all agree that dogs did descend from wolves, but to take that heritage and make it the basis for how to feed a dog is beyond bizarre. I mean, we descended from proto-humans, who ate their meat raw and just harvested whatever nuts and berries were available. Would you like to base your own diet on that?

It is more instructive to look at dogs after they became dogs. For example, some rustic farm breeds in Europe were regularly fed on stale bread, milk, and eggs, because that's what was readily available on the farm. Even some of the current breeders of these breeds say that that makes an ideal meal for their dogs, as they have developed to use it to maximal advantage and may not cope as well with a more meat-based diet.

Feral dogs (or village dogs or dump dogs, as you prefer) have been studied quite a bit by Ray Coppinger, and he has found that they regularly dine on discarded spaghetti in dumps or human waste in villages. They do not attack and eat the village chickens, though they exist right alongside them.

Before the advent of commercial dog foods, the family dog was regularly fed solely on scraps from the human meals. Of course, that was also before the popularization of fast food, so scraps were a lot more nutritious.

The whole area of nutrition is extremely convoluted. I mean, the number of times we have been advised to eat/not eat eggs is enough to make your head spin. And researchers pay more attention to the human diet than the canine one, and we still don't really seem to know what we're talking about.

So it comes down to this - if your dog is in good health, maintains a trim weight, has good energy and a gleaming coat, you're probably doing something right, whether you're feeding a bag of kibble, raw, or a home-cooked meal. And don't let anybody tell you otherwise.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Old Dogs

I am dog sitting my brother's dog today, so as I work at my desk I am surrounded by the furry presence of
Diamond, a 16-1/2 year old poodle/bichon mix
Ollie, a 14 year old Australian Shepherd
Nestle, an 11 year old border collie/sighthound cross
They all have their afflictions to bear. Diamond is close to deaf and takes gingko biloba to help ease the effects of doggie Alzheimer's. Ollie has incontinence problems, also eased by medication, is hard of hearing, and is getting wobbly in the back end. Nestle is getting hard of hearing and his badly built back end gets achier as we head into fall.
Yet they are happy. (Well, Ollie would be happier if her master weren't away in Canada.) They seem to note their shortcomings and move on. Diamond now is more conscious of keeping Nestle in view, so she can use him as her guide dog. Nestle is more conscientious about visually checking in.
They still celebrate wildly at the prospect of an outing, and a visit to the beach is still occasion for much sniffing and eating of crab parts or seaweed, and racing in the waves.
As I am still trying to adjust to the realities of my life post my second form of cancer, I wish I could be as accepting of the challenges. Just another time I should be learning from the dogs.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

AKC Canine Partners Program for Mixed Breeds

Well, it's here at last. After much discussion, and some decisions that could have been better, the AKC has at last officially announced their program to allow mixed breed dogs and their owners to compete in agility, obedience and rally.
Unfortunately, the competitions have to be stand-alone events. . . that is, not connected to a dog show. That's okay for agility, as there are plenty of agility stand-alone competitions, but not so much for obedience and certainly not for rally. I don't know where I'll ever find a stand-alone rally event within a three-state radius of my home.
But it's a step in the right direction. And the benefits of joining aren't too shabby. For becoming a Canine Partner (and paying the $35 enrollment fee) you not only get a number that will allow you to compete, but a lifetime enrollment in the AKC CAR Pet Recovery Service, the collar tag to let everyone know your dog is a CAR dog, a yearlong subscription to Family Dog magazine, a certificate and a decal.
CAR is a good program that has always been open to mixed breeds as well as purebreds, so it was a nice touch to include it in the benefits package.
My last three dogs have belonged to the UKC simply because I wanted to support their acceptance of mixed breeds, not because we really wanted to compete. My current dog did compete in agility, but had to retire due to bad hips. So I can't take him in to AKC agility, with its higher jump heights. We would compete in Rally, but as I said, chances of finding an appropriate rally trial within driving distance are slim to none.
Still, I will probably sign him up, again just to support the concept. I hope that this new program percolates out into the public conscientious and encourages more mixed breed owners to get into dog sports with their dogs.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Big News -- Dogs Are Good for Us

I was in the car, driving home from doing my radio show, PetSmith, when the news came on. So I couldn't write down who funded the study, and have forgotten, but results of a study just came out that . . . wait for it. . . pets are good for us!
Whatever they paid for this study, I would have done it for half. Probably, you would have, too.
Though it's great to hear a report about some of the good things that dogs and other companion animals do for their people, it's hardly news. I'm sure there was a better use for whatever monies were spent on this study. . . maybe something to conquer some of the diseases we share with our dogs?
Some of the earthshaking results were that people who owned dogs were more successful at losing weight than those without dogs. Well, duh. Ever try to ignore your border collie mix when he hasn't had his walk yet today? It doesn't matter how many deadlines I'm trying to conquer, we're going for a walk, and it better be a long enough one.
Also, people with pets tended to be happier. Again, duh. They have a nonjudgmental ear to pour their troubles into. Something even well-meaning human friends and relatives don't always provide. They have the comfort of touch. They have another being who mostly wants to go through life having a good time. What's not to like?
I haven't seen the study yet in today's news reports, so I don't know anything else about it. But coming right from doing my radio show, where I answer questions from the audience along the lines of "my wife broke her leg at the dog park when she was run over by ten dogs, now who's going to exercise our Australian shepherd?", listening to the "news" that pets are a pretty essential part of life gave me a pretty rueful head shake on the state of the "news."

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

One Medicine

There is a concept in medicine gaining in popularity and power. I first started hearing about "One Medicine" probably 3 years ago at veterinary conferences. Now I am hearing about it pretty much anywhere I go in veterinary circles. And in medical circles. It is the simple concept that we should not think of things as "veterinary medicine" and "human medicine." There is one medicine, and it applies to all of us.
Researchers have known this for quite some time, as the crossover between animal and human medicine is quite astounding. The sad fact is that many therapies are developed in animals (yes, some of them dogs), approved for humans, and then never taken through the regulatory hoops to be approved for the very animals in which they were developed. Vets use such therapies "off label" (meaning without official approval).
Mostly, the dogs used for such studies are actually suffering from the diseases being studied. They are not laboratory dogs, but owned dogs living in regular homes like yours and mine, but suffering from some disease that has a current study. Dog owners living close enough to the researcher, or able to conduct trials long distance, or willing to travel enroll in the studies. The dogs generally receive the therapy under study, plus some variety of tests.
The very first cancer vaccine was developed in dogs. The last I heard it was in human clinical trials.
The drug Restasis, for humans who don't produce enough tears, was developed in dogs, particularly the University of Georgia mascot, Uga (I forget which number Uga).
A therapy restoring sight to blind individuals was developed in dogs (Briards, I think) and has been used with a small number of humans.
Cancer researchers in particular are very prone to using canine study subjects, as our dogs share nearly all of our cancers with us.
The human and canine genomes are being constantly compared to find genetic markers for a wide variety of diseases.
So if, heaven forbid, your dog should ever develop some dire health problem, inquire if there might be a study that suits your circumstances. You never know who you might be helping in the long run.

Monday, September 28, 2009

We Should All Behave More LIke Our Dogs

It has been a somewhat sad week, as a professional organization to which I belong is currently being torn to shreds over an attempt to achieve transparency and competency. Though this is a national organization, it is far from large in the scheme of things and only really has any importance to its members. Yet the board has been torn apart by threatening behavior from those no longer in power, and it is right now unclear whether or not the organization will continue to exist.
Years ago, I swore off ever being on another board anywhere at any time because of how I was treated as the president of a small, local, inconsequential dog club. A process server was sent to my house on a Sunday, after a meeting was held illegally (my best friend, the secretary of the organizaiton, was not informed of the meeting). Similar things are happening now with this national organization.
And so I have to ask - can't we learn anything from our canine companions? Both of the organizations I am referencing have to do with dogs. Yet some people involved with them appear to be incapable of showing any deference to leadership, having a brief spurt of snarlng and then letting bygones be bygones, or working for the collective good.
Contrary to what some "trainers" proclaim, dogs don't wake up each morning plotting to take over the household. If the leadership is doing a good job of providing the food and goodies, a soft place to lie, and an entertaining outing or two, the dogs are generally pretty content to be followers. Once in a while, if the leaders have been a bit lax, a dog may push for more attention or exercise, and that is a good thing. We can all use a reminder now and then. But when the leaders are doing their job well, the dogs pretty much go along for the ride.
The efforts my dog makes to communicate with me are quite extraordinary at times. And it shows me that I could put more thought and effort into my communication efforts with others.
The joy he shows when words or actions let him know that an outing is in the offing is so pure, I wish I could attain it on such a regular basis. I'm getting better at that one, but still have a long way to go.
He is at times, I'm sure, disappointed in me, but he rarely complains. He usually goes and chews on a hard toy or tears up a stuffed toy. I've gotten fairly good at that one, but this latest organization flap is really testing my endurance.
I could go on, but I'm sure you get the point. We are a flawed species with an inflated self-opinion. We could learn a lot from our dogs.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Is It Coincidence that Dog Spelled Backward Is God?

This is an English language happenstance that often gets remarked upon - "dog" and "God" being perfect reverses of one another. It seems like just a simple coincidence. . . until you start looking a bit into folklore.
In the Native American traditions, dogs figure largely. My favorite is a creation story from the Kato Indians of California. They tell of the Great Traveler, who was going around the world creating things. He took a dog along for company. Note that he didn't create the dog. . . the dog coexisted with the Great Traveler. It was simply unthinkable that there shouldn't be a dog. It was probably a dog similar to those the Kato kept - small, with a pointed face and short hair, looking much like a coyote.
The Jicarilla Apache do believe that their creator, Black Hactcin. made the dog. It was the first creature he made, taking some yellow from the sunset to make a patch above one eye and some white from the morning sky to put a white stocking on each paw. These marks signified that the dog would protect people forever, both morning and night. Then Black Hactcin made man as a companion for the dog. When man laughted, the dog was very happy and ran around in circles.
The Yurok believe that people descended from dogs.
A Seneca chief is quoted as saying "It is most true that whenever a person loves a dog, he derives great power from it. But if you do not love a dog, he has the power to injure you by his orenda" (the holy, mysterious, unknowable forces of the universe). And the Hupa, Yurok, and Papago all believe that the dog has the power of speech, but chooses not to answer because to do so would portend a great calamity. The Papago, in fact, believe we would all turn to stone.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

What Makes a Doggie Dog Person?

I get asked this question a lot, often on my radio show. I'm very involved with my dogs, I talk about them on the air, and I confess how I often adjust my own life to make things better for my dogs. But I do stop short of where some other people go. So where is the dividing line?
Well, a recent article in our local paper helped with one answer to that - "Dog matrimony draws a crowd." This was about a canine "wedding," complete with bridesmaid dresses and tuxedoes. Granted, there is some ulterior motive, as the owner of the bride and groom makes and sells pet clothing. But this is somewhere I would never go with my dogs. I find it somewhat humiliating just reading about it. So here is where I think the dividing line lies.
I will bend over backward, adjust my schedule, rework my home to make my dog's life the best dog life it can be. But note that I am talking about a DOG'S life. I do not view my dog as my child or human companion or anything other than a dog. This isn't to say that I don't greatly value our association. I do. I think I would have a much sadder life if I didn't live it in the company of dogs. But they are still dogs.
So I don't dress them up, I don't perform human ceremonies for them, and I don't call them my "fur-babies," or whatever other supposed terms of endearment are floating around out there. They are my dogs. I own them. They answer to me, but at the same time I am responsible for keeping them safe, in good heath, and happy.
I think the failure to treat another species AS another species is lamentable. Dogs are wonderfully forgiving, so humans get away with doing things such as holding doggie weddings. But I don't believe it is good for the dogs, or really for the humans. We can get a lot more value out of observing and attempting to emulate the finer qualities of dogs than we can by trying to make them into small furry humans.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Dog Fighting, Videos, and the First Amendment

Okay, this is a very tough one for me. I absolutely detest dog fighting and the people who are involved in it. But at the same time, as a quasi-journalist, I treasure the free speech protection of the First Amendment.
So a newspaper article "Brutal videos protected?" about Robert J. Stevens, convicted of violating a ban against trafficking in depictions of animal cruelty, is a hard call for me. He was convicted for selling videos on the "history and status of pit bulls," including dog fighting. He was not involved in the dog fighting, I don't think was even present at any of the fights, but he did collect and publish video of them, with his own commentary attached.
The 1999 law was enacted originally against "crush" videos showing mainly women crushing small animals with their own feet.
Stevens' conviction was overturned and the law struck down by a federal appeals court. It is scheduled to be heard before the Supreme Court.
Is video of dogfighting so vile that it should not be protected under the First Amendment? Should it be allowed for educational purposes only, or as a profit-making venture? And where do you draw the line? Is a brief clip enough to initiate a lawsuit, or does dog fighting have to be the main subject matter of the video?
IN my own "I wish this were how things really are" world, this wouldn't be an issue because no one would ever consider buying a video of dog fighting. But that's far from a real world solution. Apparently Mr. Stevens has been making a fair amount of money from his video efforts, which also include dogs hunting wild boar.
Are there any parallels to be drawn between this and child pornography? If you allow one, do you have to allow the other? If you ban one, does that have any impact on banning the other? I know there are people out there who rail against public outcry over cruelty to animals, saying that we should save our concern for our own human species. Well, I certainly don't buy into that one.
If I were sitting on the Supreme Court when this was brought forward, what would I do? I think I would have to search deep in my soul and, in the end, rule for First Amendment protection. I don't like that choice particularly, but I find it very difficult to draw lines between degrees of heinousness. And I would hope that karma would have something to do with the lives of anyone benefiting from dog fighting, be it with live dogs or via video.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Dogs in the Yard

Let me say right off the top that I don't believe the yard serves as a good dogsitter, even a nicely fenced yard. That said, dogs can and do spend a lot of time in yards in the company of people, and the people often seem to have a lot of questions. I've written a book on the subject you may or may not be aware of - Dog Friendly Gardens, Garden Friendly Dogs.
I am in the process of putting together a companion book, and would love to hear from dog people with their questions about dogs cohabiting with yards and things you do with dogs in yards and any related issue. Please feel free to pass this along to other doggie people.
I am currently thinking about, should I ever have enough spare cash, putting in a section of artificial lawn on which to put my agility equipment. I need to do more research, but it's an appealing idea. What technological innovations attract you - plastic fences? tennis-firing gizmos? dog doo digesters?
I keep up on all the natural nontoxic product solutions to lawn problems such as insects and weeds, so that will receive good coverage. If you have any particular favorites or tips, I'd love to hear them.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Dogs in Popular Culture and Update on Military BSL

The AKC and AOL's PawNation site have teamed up to try and get an idea of the most popular dogs in pop culture. There will be a poll on the PawNation site each week. The first one is up now and features cartoon dogs. You can find it at
I haven't been there yet, but I hope that Ruff Ruffman is included among the choices! He gets my vote paws down.
Future weeks will feature dogs in music, literature, movies, and TV.
That last one brings up something I've been puzzling about - where have all the tv dogs gone? There is hardly a series that includes a dog in more than an occasional shot of someone walking a dog down a street. Dogs are more popular than ever with the populace, but they have disappeared from the tv population. Granted, there are more reality shows and fewer series offerings, but the series that are out there are remarkably dogless.
Has anyone else noticed this? It certainly seems strange, especially given the popularity of dog-themed movies (there were certainly quite a few of those in the past year). The ones that I have seen in the last few years were throwaways, seen in one or two episodes and never mentioned again. Grissom of CSI was suddenly a dog owner in one episode, despite the fact that he was apparently never home. Carlos of Desperate Houewives acquired a guiding dog in a remarkably short time, and then they showed the dog growling at Gaby, and then the dog was gone. Things are not looking good for dogs in tv land.

On a separate note - the saga of the ban on breeds on military bases continues -- In a test case, the military brass have decided to have ASPCA Safer program certified assessors go to Parris Island, South Caroline, to asses 130 dogs who fit the ban criteria on that base. Future procedure at other bases will be based on the results of this "mission." The SAFER program is a temperament assessment, and does not rely on training as the CGC does. The assessors will also be providing information on dog care and bite prevention. Here's hoping it goes well.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

BSL (breed-specific legislation)

I heard from a couple of friends this morning - one a trainer, one in charge of the Canine Good Citizen program - that they are trying to work with the military in various ways to mitigate their sudden adoption of BSL. In case you hadn't heard, the military now bans breeds and mixes of Rottweilers and Pit Bulls from all of their military housing. So a military spouse who was relying on the family dog to provide companionship and possibly protection (or at least a feeling of protection) while the soldier or sailor was posted overseas is now told that he or she has to give the dog up.
This apparently met with some pretty stern resistance, as the military has now amended their position to allow these dogs to stay if they have passed the CGC (Canine Good Citizen) test.
So my trainer friend has started an accelerated CGC course for folks on a nearby military base, because no time limit has yet been stated, and no one knows if the dogs are legal and allowed to stay while they are training to pass the CGC.
The director of the CGC program has written to the upper brass of the military, pointing out that while the CGC is a fine program, plenty of dogs make excellent family members without benefit of the training necessary to pass the test.
This is just one of the latest examples of a non-thinking knee-jerk reaction to one or another incidents with dogs biting or attacking people. Of course the dogs being mentioned are large and powerful and can do serious damage if they should turn their teeth to humans. But much smaller dogs are actually more likely to bite -- Cocker Spaniels and Chihuahuas are noted as two of the breeds responsible for most bites to family members and veterinarians.
But this is more an individual issue than a breed issue. As citizens of the United States, we are supposed to be assumed innocent until proven guilty. But this concept certainly goes out the window when it comes to dogs. Entire breeds and beyond (Just what is a Pit Bull mix anyway? Half the dogs in our local shelter are labeled as part Pit Bull.) are legislated against as a result of the actions of a few. And those few often did what they did as a result of human involvement.
Politicians are fond of ranting about slippery slopes and the thin edge of the wedge and the camel's nose under the tent. . . all presumably meaning that one particular form of injustice will quickly lead to a wider spread. So here is this perfectly evident example of total injustice, and yet a large number of ill-informed politicans are all for BSL.
And insurance companies, ohmigod! They each have their own lists of banned breeds, at least one of which includes Keeshonden. Thirty-five pound fuzzballs of affection! It has gone quite beyond insane. Dog lovers everywhere owe it to their charges to protest against BSL wherever it rears its ugly head. Make sure your insurance company does not practice it. Contact your local politicians and try to make them understand "it's the deed, not the breed."
Don't sit back and let it go because it's not affecting you. It might, and someday soon.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Taken Outside Yourself

The story I'm about to tell doesn't feature dogs. But it does highlight one of the many things that our dogs do for us, and that's take us outside ourselves. It's really essential to see the world not just through your own ego, and animals are very good at helping us to do that. Here's what happened this morning.
My office window looks out over the sheep/llama pasture, pond, and approaching driveway. It isn't unusual to see one or more of our feral cats crossing the pasture. It seems to be part of their route. So I watched as Kate wandered around, but then went back to work for a moment. When I looked back up, Kate was sitting near the fence, looking up at a gray heron who was perched on a birdhouse on top of the fence post. Kate carefully stalked closer. The heron looked down. Kate froze. Kate got to the base of the slat fence. The two looked at each other for a while, then both casually looked away. Kate stretched up to claw the top of the lower fence slat. The herson looked down and Kate froze. Kate sprang for the second fence slat and the heron rose off in slow flight. Kate climbed up and sat on top of the birdhouse. I took photos of the entire series. Kate is a small cat, and it's quite ridiculous to watch her stalk a heron. But the whole time it was going on, I wasn't thinking of anything but the drama unfolding in front of me. And that's a very valuable part of each day.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Training on Television

I've just proposed a program to Animal Planet. Odds are tremendously against it ever seeing the light of day, but I had to try. After yesterday's post, I don't want anyone to think I'm bad mouthing positive training. I love the simplicity of lure and reward, and I love the power of clicker training. The rusty choke chains from my former days are only used to hang planters now.
So this show is based in positive training. It's reality television, because that seems to be what's hot right now, and because it can get the message of positive training across in an entertaining fashion. I laughingly nicknamed it "American Idol Goes to the Dogs."
If you would like to see more positive training featured on television, now would be a really good time to let Animal Planet know that. Because if this goes, I get to help choose the trainers and the judges, and believe you me, they will be some of the best in the business. In fact, I might even be asking for suggestions in this blog and through the IAABC and APDT.
In the meantime, don't forget to train your dog, have fun together, and take time to take a good deep breath.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Purely Positive Training

Okay, here comes another topic that may well get me in trouble with some of my friends.
I was there at the very start of positive training, back when clicker was first being introduced by Karen Pryor and Gary Wilkes, when Ian Dunbar was popularizing puppy classes, and the first feeble thoughts of forming a trainers' group were in the air. And since then I have trained many a dog with clicker or with lure and reward. And the results are great. And I will continue on this path. But. . .
There are a number of people out there who claim to be "purely positive," using no punishment of any kind. And here I have to take a stand. Because I don't see punishment as a bad thing. In fact, I see punishment as completely necessary, in its place and done correctly.
By punishment, I don't mean smacking the dog or using electric shock or throwing the dog on his back or any of the old-school forms. In fact, I have found that using punishment only when necessary allows you to use a much lower degree of punishment than if you were using it all the time. A slightly raised voice will absolutely crush my dog, and is all the punishment he requires. But make no mistake, it IS punishment.
Without punishment, there are no consequences, and all those people who claim that positive training doesn't work if you don't have a cookie in your hand have a point.
A low level of stress actually increases learning and improves performance. So being aware that punishment may happen for non-performance may also increase accuracy.
It's all a balancing act, as with most things. Initial learning should take place in a positive atmosphere. It's silly to punish for non-performance of some act a dog doesn't yet know should be performed. But once a behavior is trained, what are you going to do if you ask for it and it doesn't happen? Without some consequences, the behavior could eventually disappear.
Rewards and consequences both have a place in the world.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Police K9 Seminar

I promised in passing that I would talk about this, and the time has come.
I was delighted on being accepted as a ride-along for a day to view the action of the 2007 Washington State Police K9 Association Fall Seminar.
These seminars take place twice a year. A police dog handler needs to host a seminar to achieve master status. It took local K9 officer Kevin Miller and Forest Service K9 officer Chris Fairbanks (since tragically killed in the line of duty) a year and a half to plan this event.
The tests were sometimes breathtaking. Sniffer dogs had to find explosives in a room baited with a zillion tennis balls and the leftovers from the previous night's salmon dinner. Patrol dogs had two search scarnios at a school, one with a quarry hidden in a room and one with the suspect fleeing. Miller noted that the handler has to understand how scent works. . .such things as cold air draws scent, so in a room scent may go up and down walls. Outdoors, a fleeing person may run along aridge top, but the scent will be drawn down into the ravine. After a few unnecessarily strenuous searches of descending into thick brush in the ravine only to ascend back to the ridgetop, handlers learn to have their dogs check the ridgetop and follow scent there if possible.
The hardest test of all was again for the patrol dogs. The officer approached a parked van, one person got out and ran, and the driver refuses to show his hands or get out of the van. The dog is sent from the patrol car to "take" the driver. Naturally, the dogs want to chase the fleeing suspect, but for the safety of their human partner, they have to follow directions and take the driver. Dogs were having a hard time with this one.
Kevin noted that of patrol dogs nationwide are composed of about 35 percent Malionis and the rest German Shepherd. He didn't recommend Malinois for a first-time handler because he considered them wired, ADD-type dogs. He also noted that almost all the police German shepherds come from Europe, and that in the U.S. we get their castoffs.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Origin of Dogs

There is an article in today's New York Times claiming that dogs were first domesticated in China, solely for a food source. And before you get your dander up (I felt mine starting to rise as I began reading this), this research contradicts prior research that indicated a number of different domestication events and separated dogs into groups based on those events. These is even current ongoing research that contradicts this report. So take it with a definite grain of salt and without the dog meat.
Whatever the value of this report, the domestication of dogs remains a topic of fascination. Ray Coppinger's theory that wolves domesticated themselves, scavenging at human garbage dumps, seems plausible. And presumably the humans quickly realized the advantages of having wolf dogs around (alarm barking is often cited, though wolves rarely bark, so keeping the settlement cleaner and relatively free of vermin may be more likely, plus the "three-dog night" warmth of furry bodies). Co-hunting and alarm barking probably came later, as wolves morphed into dogs.
The current study investigated only mitochondrial DNA. Other studies surveyed a wider spectrum of DNA and so probably have more validity. But it remains an open question and research is ongoing. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 7, 2009

How I Labor for My Dog

Given that I often write about all the wonderful jobs dogs do for us, you might have thought that would be my subject on Labor Day. But I decided to turn things around a bit and give some thought to the effort I put into my dogs. It isn't a one-way street after all.
Nestle is my first at least part herding dog, and that meant I worked quite a bit harder than I had with my previous retriever-type dogs. As a youngster, he had energy to burn. . . constantly. There was no way I could keep up with him. So I worked very very hard on his recall (he's also part sighthound, and I figured I was going to have to fight visual stimuli pretty hard) so that he could enjoy some off-leash freedom. And I took considerable time to get him over his fear of water -- he wouldn't even step in a little streamlet of water at the beginning. Then we used our many local beaches, where high bluffs blocked most avenues of exit, and he could run through the sand and burn up energy. He began to herd waves on his own, running along the curl and barking at the end where it broke. That became one of our regular sources of entertainment and energy outlet.
We took up agility to help boost his confidence, and I had to engage in a lot more training (though it was fairly enjoyable) and more work to get him over his many fears. We even competed a bit, though that was never the point.
We learned the basics of herding and, because my wool sheep were big and heavy and didn't more very quickly, I bought Barbados blackbelly sheep specifically for Nestle because they run like antelope. He enjoyed them!
I labor daily to earn the money to pay for the very high-class food my dogs consume, and the regular visits to the vet for laser therapy to keep Nestle's dysplastic hips and surgical knees operating well. But I still carve out time nearly every day for an outing, whether it's just up the road to my brother's pond walk or an hour's drive in one direction or the other to a speical beach or waterfall walk or whatever.
At home, the heavy Plexiglas saloon doors of the dog door have to be scrubbed regularly, the front floor-to-ceiling window has to have the nose prints wiped away, the dog hair has to be vacuumed out of every nook and cranny, the dog beds have to be washed and freshened, poop has to be picked up, nails have to be trimmed, teeth have to be brushed. The list goes on and on. I also feed Nestle's companion dog, Diamond, who at over 16 years of age has to be reminded to eat, and doesn't just get a bowl of food put down.
Do I begrudge any of this time? Well, maybe the vacuuming. Nestle is a heavy shedder, even though his coat isn't long. But generally, it's a small price to pay for the companionship of dogs.