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.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Dogs in Religion - Saint Roch

I am a non-religious person myself, but the subject of dogs and religion is endlessly fascinating to me. I'll be revisiting it from time to time in this blog.

In general, dogs tend to get a pretty bad rap in most religions. Muslims claim that their holy texts label dogs as unclean, and hence devout believers don't tend to keep dogs as pets. The Christian Bible doesn't have a lot to say about dogs (presumably they were aboard Noah's ark), and when it does mention them, it's usually in derogatory fashion. Hinduism and Buddhism are both kinder -- they pretty much have to value all life, as that cur in the street just might be the reincarnation of your deceased grandmother.

I recently stumbled over mention of Saint Roch (also known as Saint Rocco), the patron saint of dogs. I hadn't known there was one.

The story goes that Saint Roch was born into a French noble family in 1285, but that he had an affinity for the poor and the sick rather than the well-to-do. When he was orphaned at age 20, he proceeded to give his fortune to the poor and take the road of a mendicant pilgrim. In his travels, he stopped to minister to victims of the plague, and is supposed to have affected several miraculous cures by making the sign of the cross over the sufferers. But he himself contracted the disease and took himself into the forest to die. Instead, a dog cared for him, bringing him food stolen from the table of the dog's master, and licking his wounds. Saint Roch recovered and returned home, only to be charged with spying and thrown into jail. He was jailed for 5 years and never mentioned his noble connections, and died in prison in 1327.
His Feast Day is August 16.

I've known a few dogs named "Rocco." I don't know if their owners were aware of the patron saint of dogdom, or if "Rocco" just sounded good with "Rottweiler." But I'm glad to know that dogs have a patron saint.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The President and the Poop Bag

Finally, the Associated Press has provided an update on presidential pup, Bo. It seems he has made a few typical puppy transgressions, chewing up a magazine and even launching an attack on the president's gym shoes. But his trainer has also been busy, and Bo knows the basic social cues, as well as a few tricks. His days sound quite well managed.
First, Michelle takes him for early morning walks around the White House grounds. Then his day is filled with eating, playing with the Obama girls, and just lying around (though a 10-month-old Portuguese Water Dog probably doesn't do all that much lying around). The president gets his turn at the end of the day, taking Bo for his nightly walk around the property.
"I'm the guy with the night shift," Obama told a tv reporter. "We go out, and we're walking, and I'm picking up poop -- and in the background is the beautifully lit White House. It's quite a moment."
It's heartening to hear that even the president of our country wields a poop bag! And Obama says that the nightly walks are a highlight of his days, helping him to unwind. Good job, Bo.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Where Should Dogs Live?

Amazingly, this is a topic I've never written about in all my articles and books about dogs. Perhaps that's because the answer seems to clear to me, but it obviously isn't to everyone, or at least everyone isn't arriving at the same answer.
Dogs are a social species. They want to be with others of their kind. But we often make that impossible by having only one dog. So the second best option becomes being with their humans. And that means living in the home with the people. Indoors. In the living room, kitchen, dining room, bedroom. . . wherever the people may be.
Yes, I acknowledge that there may be some reasons for excluding the dog from a particular area. People with allergies are often instructed not to let the dog sleep in their bedroom, so that at least a third of their time is spent away from the allergy-causing dog. But I just don't see it. I myself am allergic to dogs, and I much prefer to live with a stuffed-up nose than to ban my dog from my presence.
Then there are those people who get a dog solely as a "watchdog" and tie the dog in the yard so he can keep an eye on things. Well, he may be keeping an eye on the yard, but if he's never allowed in the house, why should he protect something in which he has no stake? Dogs have a well-developed sense of "property," and if they haven't lived in it, chewed on it, or marked on it, it likely isn't considered theirs.
And don't get me started on the clean freaks. A clean house is nice. I wish mine were cleaner. But I'm not going to exile the dogs to achieve that level of cleanliness. Yes, there is dog hair serving as a door sweep under some of the interior doors, and the doggie dust bunnies behind the bathroom door are truly impressive. And sometimes there are muddy footprints or food dropped on the rug or burrs and twigs carried in from outside or even (horrors!) the occasional accident. None of it is going to kill me. In fact, studies have shown that children kept in super-clean environments have a much greater tendencies to develop allergies than those kids who are reguarly exposed to dirt and, presumably, germs.
Dogs outside on their own can get into too much trouble, bring down the wrath of your neighbors upon you, and generally lead an unhappy life. Dogs belong in the home. . . with their family. . . who chose to have them in the first place. So no excuses.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Dogs and Archaeology

Before I get into the real subject today, a little mea culpa.
I meant to note before the weekend that I rarely turn my computer on over the weekend. Apparently I'm one of the last few troglodyte holdouts on this issue, but there it is, so don't expect posts over weekends.
Then, as it turns out, I was quite ill Sunday night and didn't sleep, so was in a total fog on Monday, and didn't post here. (It probably wouldn't have made any sense if I did.)
So I'm not even a week into the new blog, and I've already broken my promise to post regularly. Sigh. Just goes to show that I'm only human and not up to the faithfulness standards of dogs. But I'll continue to try to do my best.

Anyway, as for archaeology and dogs. . .
I'm continually amazed at the many things dogs can do for us, a large proportion of those tasks relying on their infinitely superior sense of smell. I'm well acquainted with police work (I'll write more about that in a future blog) and medical alert dogs and dogs sniffing out poop of various kinds for environmental work and dogs sniffing for termites or mold in houses. But this was a new one on me.
Here in Port Angeles we had a rather large snafu a few years ago when some Port of Port Angeles property along the Strait of Juan de Fuca was selected for fabricating parts of the replacement for the Hood Canal floating bridge. It was a multi-million dollar project, supposed to provide nearly 200 jobs to Port Angeles (which always lacks for jobs of any kind), and so, I think, was rushed through just a bit. You see, the archaeological assessment done before the work began showed no artifacts of any significance. Except that within a couple of days of beginning to dig, not just artifacts but human remains began turning up on a regular basis. Work was halted, then restarted, then halted, until the local tribe finally said that's enough, these are our ancestors you're shoveling out of the ground, and the project was scrapped.
It cost millions of dollars in preliminary work, followed by millions of dollars in moneys paid to the tribe, the port, the city, and the work was taken elsewhere (along with the jobs).
Now talk is livening up about what to do with the former Rayonier mill site, also on the Strait, on the other side of town. As with the first site, if anyone had bothered to really ask, there is plenty of local oral history to indicate that there was once a thriving native settlement here.
But the new wrinkle in the works this time is that there has been some discussion of bringing a special dog team here to sniff for archaeological evidence. . . specifically human remains. Now, I've certainly well aware of cadaver dogs, but these dogs would be attempting to find burials that are hundreds of years old, and the handlers assure everyone that the dogs can do it.
I don't know if the authorities will actually hire the dogs and handlers or not. The matter was raised, made the paper for a day, then disappeared from public discussion. But if these dogs can do what their handlers say, it would certainly save a lot of time, money, and grief for all involved.
Hurrah for the fine canine nose and for the innovative people who have put it to such good uses.