Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Dogs don’t generalize

Does Fido sleep all day in the recliner but wouldn’t dare climb on to the couch?
Maybe Lassie won’t go near the stairs at the back of the house, but doesn’t think twice about tackling any other staircase?
It can be really hard for humans to wrap their heads around this, but dogs don’t generalize.
People do.
Let me explain the difference.
Humans organize things into categories. A fork is anything shaped like a fork, no matter it’s design or what it’s made of. Put it together with spoons and knives and you’ve got yourself a set of silverware.
A dog would never understand this.
The plastic fork would be different than the metal fork, and even forks of the same material would be differentiated by how they’re scratched or how they smell.
Nothing is the same to a dog.
He might have two identical tennis balls for toys, but they’re different to him.
This also makes the recliner vastly different from the couch. The dog doesn’t think, “It’s all furniture.”
You know he doesn’t use the stairs at the back of the house because he tumbled down them when he was a puppy. When it happened, you remembered worrying that he would have a problem with all staircases. You were surprised when that wasn’t the case. And now, you understand that it comes down to generalization.
The staircase in the back of the house is its own individual thing to the dog, completely unrelated to all the other staircases in the world that, in a human’s eyes, are practically identical.
Understanding that dogs don’t generalize is pivotal in training a dog.
Tomorrow, I’ll explain why that is.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A De-capper

If there was money to be made in removing bottle caps, our dog would've made us rich by now.
I don't remember the first time we gave him an empty water bottle or pop bottle as a toy.
I do remember that in the beginning, he savored the plastic containers far beyond just removing its cap.
Sensi would tear around the room with his bottle, crunching his teeth into it and making all sorts of racket.
He'd chew off the caps, the plastic ring beneath it, take off its plastic wrap-around label and continue ripping through the bottle until it was thoroughly mangled.
Over time, he lost interest in chewing up the bottle. Then I noticed he was leaving the plastic labels on.
Perhaps it was because - since Brent and I were confident he wasn't eating the plastic pieces - we overloaded him with plastic bottles.
The amount of water bottles I go through is horrendous, and since we have no avenue for recycling where we live, I've always thought that we were doing a good thing by at least recycling them as dog toys before they hit the landfill.
Nowadays, Sensi still looks forward to his empty bottles. He keeps a close eye on me as I take the last swig from a bottle, recognizing the sound a near-empty bottle makes.
I can feel him hoping that instead of going to the fridge and refilling the bottle, I toss it his way instead.
After six years of chomping on water bottles, though, Sensi is fixated on doing only one thing: taking off the cap and plastic ring.
He picks up the bottle by its cap and runs around playfully, his tail wagging in excitement.
Then he promptly lays down, holding the body of the bottle between his paws.
In one swift chomp with his back teeth, he pops the cap off and spits it out beside the bottle. Then he pulls the ring off with his front teeth, and flattens the bottle's neck.
Just like that, he's done with the “toy” and leaves it lying on the ground, waiting for someone to pick it up and throw it away.
I don't know why he has this fixation with the bottle's cap. I've often wondered if it has something to do with him watching us operate bottles, taking the caps on and off to drink from them.
Does he think he should do the same?
I'm not sure, but one thing is for sure: if there was a business that needed thousands of bottle caps removed, Sensi would be glad to sit on a production line.
I imagine he'd be faster at it than a robotic machine.
If anyone knows of such a business, please give me a head's up.
We'd be glad to put our dog to work!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Caught on camera: funny faces

Another hobby of mine is photography and ever since I got my first digital camera years ago, I’ve been driving people nuts with it.
No one seems to want to have their picture taken as frequently as I want to take pictures.
But the dog can’t say no.
During the past six years, I’ve amassed more pictures of Sensi and his friends than anything else.
By always having my camera on the dogs, I’ve managed to catch the dogs making all sorts of whacky facial expressions.
The two pictures posted here are of Sensi and his favorite little mix, Sammy.
Sammy is the perfect playmate for Sensi. He’s a tiny little guy, but he’s half jack russell and that terrier in him leads him to play with all the same extreme energy that Sensi has.
The photo of Sammy was taken during a photoshoot I did of the dogs decked out in Fourth of July gear. It was for a contest, and much to my dismay, I did not win.
Sammy is my greatest success of training dogs to pose for cameras. I have a technique of training dogs to the sounds the camera makes, and Sammy just loves seeing cameras nowadays.
I’ve heard from his owners that he gets excited every time he sees a camera now, putting himself in front of the lense and waiting patiently to get his photo taken.
I’m not sure what was bugging Sammy in this photo, but the shot sure made me smile.
As far as the one of Sensi, I’m pretty sure he was sneezing as I snapped the picture. It definitely looks more like he’s laughing, though.
Enjoy the photos — I hope they make you smile too!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Those are for my dog?

They look like baby’s clothes, except they’re missing bottoms and hanging in the pet aisle rather than the children’s department ... yes, they’re dog clothes.
Dressing your dog nowadays seems to be all the rage.
Everything from raincoats to hoodies and shirts with silly sayings are being sold for dogs.
Let’s own up. How many of you dress your dog?
To be completely honest, I don’t think I know a dog that hasn’t worn something at some point. Among Sensi’s friends, I’ve seen the Pomeranian in a hoodie, the little terrier mix in a winter coat, even a pit bull in a t-shirt boasting a goofy saying.
Long ago, Brent told me that I would absolutely not be dressing Sensi in anything silly.
“He doesn’t need clothes. He has fur,” Brent would tell me.
Like many pit bulls though, Sensi loves to wear stuff. He has barely any fur on his underside, and he seems to understand that clothes keep him warm and protected.
I’ve yet to purchase any clothes specifically made for dogs. A part of me thinks that even an extra extra-large wouldn’t fit around his giant chest.
I did sew an old zip-up fleece to fit snugly around him. He wears it mostly in the fall when we have bonfires and I know he’ll be laying on the cold ground.
Sensi waits so patiently for me to put each paw through the sleeves and zip-up the jacket. His tail even wags when he sees me bring the fleece out of the closet.
Brent’s not crazy about the baby-blue colored fleece, but he can’t help himself from being amused when he sees Sensi excited to wear it.
One other item of clothing Brent OK’d for Sensi: Brent's work shirt.
I put it on Sensi one day, a long time ago, just for fun. It made for some good photos, and even got Brent laughing.
What has your dog worn lately?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rainy days

My dog and I are pretty set in our ways, and our morning routine doesn’t change much.
After I’m dressed and ready to leave for work, Sensi and I walk down the hallway and make a right at the foyer.
I open the door, hook Sensi to the chain and send him outside to take care of his business.
I make a sandwich for lunch while he’s outside, and when I’m done he’s waiting by the door. As soon as I unclasp him from the chain, he runs full-speed toward the laundry room and waits eagerly by his food bowl.
After I feed him, I make myself coffee while he eats. Then he watches me with big sad eyes as I put my coat on and walk toward the door.
“You be a good boy today,” I say, patting him on the head before leaving the house.
Today was different though, and I knew it would be as soon as I saw Sensi staring out the bedroom window.
It was the noise of the rain that prompted him to jump down from the bed and look outside. He didn’t like what he saw.
Sure enough, as we exited the bedroom and got to the front door, I doubted he would go outside.
“Are you gonna give it a go?” I asked him, hooking the chain to his collar.
He peeked his head out the door and immediately backed up, stepping further into the house and looking at me with this, “No way am I going out there,” expression.
I unhooked his chain. There’s no point in forcing him. He won’t step off the porch when it’s raining.
So he had breakfast instead, and apparently, the bathroom wasn’t going to wait. He begged to go outside.
I shook my head at him, “It’s still raining outside pal.” But I let him out anyhow.
While I was watching, he didn’t step off the porch. He must’ve ventured into the rain at some point though, because when he came back inside, he was wet and absolutely full of piss and vinegar — throwing himself on the carpet and rolling around violently, trying to get himself dry.
Is this normal or am I the only dog owner out there whose dog hates the rain so much?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

My inspiration: part 2

Did you ever watch someone interact with their dog and think, “I wish my dog behaved like that.”
Growing up, my Uncle and his Golden Retriever, Rose, set that type of example for me.
“Hey Rose,” he’d say nonchalantly from his chair at the kitchen table.
Rose would run to him, standing in front of him with a smile on her face.
“Rose, why don’t you get your baby,” he’d tell her.
She’d look around the room for her stuffed animal and, not finding it, she’d return to my Uncle.
“I told you to get your baby Rose,” he’d say. “Did you leave it in the hallway?”
Rose would trot down the hallway, checking for her baby. She’d return again, not finding it.
“Well Rose, where’s your baby at?” he’d tease. “Go look in the living room.”
Again, Rose would make her way down the hallway. Finding her baby in living room, she’d scoop it up and run proudly back to my Uncle.
My Uncle never seemed to give Rose a command. He was always just having a conversation with her, and she listened. The way she understood my Uncle was uncanny.
Coming from a family of avid hunters, Rose was naturally trained as a bird dog and my cousins and I were frequently taken out for walks in the woods.
This was what Rose lived for. She loved being out in the woods, and my Uncle never used a leash for her. Rose would let her nose lead her far off the trail, and I’d start to worry about her after a few minutes went by without a glimpse of her.
But my Uncle never worried. He’d let out one whistle, and Rose would appear in a split second, running to him with a smile on her face.
She was always smiling at my Uncle, just happy for him to cast a glance her way.
The way the two of them seemed to converse and understand eachother was what I wanted in a dog. I’ve tried hard to accomplish that with Sensi. I’ve learned, along the way, that it’s not all about training a dog to respond to commands.
It’s more about the bond cultivated between a dog and his owner. While training helps, it’s just one small piece of the puzzle.

Monday, March 23, 2009

My inspiration

Since I never had a dog of my own as a kid, I was quick to latch on to other kid’s dogs.
The other kids never seemed too interested in their dogs. I’d always try to incorporate their dog into whatever game we were playing; they’d look at me strangely and yell at their dog to go lay down.
Fortunately, I had a cousin who lived nearby and liked having her dog Rose around.
Rose was a sweet tempered Golden Retriever who, like most goldens, was very food motivated. She’d do just about anything for a treat.
Armed with our little hands full of dog treats, my cousin and I would set up obstacle courses for Rose. We’d make her jump over stuff, army crawl on her belly under stuff ... it was bonafide kid-designed agility course. Only we didn’t focus so much on the agility as we did just getting her to do the different things.
Rose always obliged. She tried hard to figure out what we were asking her to do, and she never let us down. There were, after all, treats in our hands.
We were effectively using a positive reward training method, but as kids, we didn’t know that. In our eyes, we were just bribing her to do stuff and kept it us from boredom. I did learn, though, that it was a good way to train a dog — nevermind the terminology.
As much as I enjoyed my relationship with Rose, I always longed for the kind of relationship she had with my Uncle.
It was the way that my Uncle interacted with Rose that really set a precedent for me.
I wanted to have that type of bond with a dog. More than a decade later, I still haven’t forgotten that.
Read more about my Uncle and his dog tomorrow.

Reality check

I love talking to people about dogs. As a reporter, I get to talk to a lot of people about a lot of stuff all day, every day. But not usually about dogs.
I recently wrote a story about a couple who were facing foreclosure on their home. A lot of people who face foreclosure become renters, and a lot of rental places don’t accept pets.
The husband had mentioned he had a dog and I asked him if he was worried about what would happen to the dog if they had to find a rental.
Hesitating, he told me that, no, he wasn’t worried about the dog.
His black lab, he explained, had already exceeded the average age for Labradors. The dog was turning 14 this year and was starting to have a lot of health problems.
The man was basically telling me he didn’t expect his dog to live for much longer, and I could hear the sadness in his voice.
“What bothers me more, losing my dog or losing my house?” he said. “I’ve put a lot into the house. But the dog, he’s family.”
Thinking about his dog seemed to help him put his situation in perspective. A reality check, so to speak.
No matter what you lose in life, the greatest losses are those which are not material. As much as a home can mean to us, a dog is a life, a family member, a friend.
I thought it was rather profound the way a dog’s mortality evoked a bigger-picture perspective for this man.
I also think that everyone — dog owner or not — can apply this perspective to their lives.
Let’s follow this man’s example and remember the big things, the important things, in life — our families, friends, and of course, our pets!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Easiest command to train

When it comes to training your dog different commands, some things are easier than others.
Sit is easier than lay down, lay down is easier than roll-over, roll-over is easier than stay.
Sensi knows so many different words and commands that I long ago stopped keeping track. The day I realized that he was picking up on words without me doing any training was the day I stopped counting his commands.
But of everything I’ve taught him, there’s one command that sticks out as by far the easiest to teach.
What is it? Speak, of course.
I scratched my head a bit thinking of how I could train him to bark, and then I had one of those true light bulb moments.
“When does Sensi usually bark?” I asked myself. “I know! When he’s frustrated!”
So I made a simple training game that basically involved frustrating my dog.
I took his favorite toy from him and held it up high in the air. When he jumped for it, I pushed him away and scolded him, “Bad dog!”
If Sensi had a thought process, it would’ve been, “Jumping isn’t working, so I’ll try sitting nicely for my toy.”
I felt bad as I dangled the toy high the air, teasing and taunting him with it despite his well-behaved sit.
For quite a while, Sensi went back and forth between jumping and sitting. Eventually, he gave up and laid down, looking very depressed.
As mean as this sounds, I knew I had to keep him engaged, so I teased him even more. I waved the toy in front of his face and then ran off with it. As he ran after me, thinking we were going to play, I came to a stop and again waved the toy just out of his reach, then lifted it above my head.
“Arf!” Sensi barked, now clearly frustrated.
I immediately gave him the toy, played for a few seconds, and then went back to the keep-away game.
Within a matter of minutes, Sensi was barking each time I lifted the toy away from him. I started interjecting the word speak, and voila! The dog learned to “speak” on command.
It doesn’t get much easier than that.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Happy Birthday Sensi!

That’s right, today is my dog’s sixth birthday.
According to the old adage that each dog year is equal to seven human years, that means he turns 42 today.
I hope I’m not as gray as he is when I turn 42.
Sensi is aging so rapidly. I know I’ve written about his white face before, but I can’t help myself from mentioning it again.
Earlier this week I got a good look at the hairs around his mouth as I brushed his teeth. Every hair rounding the corner of his mouth is officially white.
He is definitely graying faster than the average dog. I’ve often wondered if it’s because he was born with that white blaze down the center of his face. Is it just expanding now as he gets older?
When I was younger, I used to have a neighbor who paid me more to come over and hang out with her dogs while she was gone than most people paid me to babysit their kids.
She and her husband decided not to have kids and focus on their careers, but she also had a nurturing side that needed an outlet. Hence, the dogs.
So the dogs had a babysitter (me) and all the spoils this world has to offer domestic dogs.
Their birthdays were celebrated as a grand affair — professional portraits of the dogs graced the invitations mailed out to all family members and friends. A special trip up north was made to ensure there was enough doggie-safe ice cream for all the four-legged birthday goers. Presents piled up on the table just as though it was a kid’s birthday.
I’m not saying I’m opposed to all that hoop-la, but it’s a far cry from what Sensi gets.
Tonight, I’ll give Sensi some wet food — a real delicacy to him — and won’t make him do any tricks for treats. There’s a new fake bone being shipped to our house, and in the meantime, he’ll get a stuffed animal to rip apart.
Not much of a celebration, but I wouldn’t dare forget the most important thing — telling my dog that I’m glad he’s my dog, even though he won’t have the slightest clue what I’m saying.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

What would you miss more?

Last Tuesday, March 10, our paper ran an item in the police blotter titled, “Dog named Zeus, gun, laptop taken from home.”
The dog was listed as the most valuable of the three items at $2,500. The gun was worth $1,000 and the lap top worth $1,500, the police report said.
But is that dog really worth $2,500? I have never met or talked with the dog’s owners, but I’m willing to bet that dog did not cost $2,500. Of course it’s possible, but unlikely.
I can’t imagine what these people must have gone through, trying to put a value on their dog. When it comes down to it, our dogs are priceless.
If someone stole my dog, and some other pricey things, I couldn’t imagine telling an officer my dog was worth just $200 — the price we purchased him for. Certainly, he’s worth much more than that.
Do I add in the vet bills? I could probably get that value up to $4,000 with vet bills included.
I wouldn’t be able to stand seeing him valued at $200 while I list a computer and other items worth more.
What it comes down to is, what would you miss more?
Would you miss your flat screen TV more than your dog? Your lap top? The iPod? Your boat? How about the car?
I like my TV. I love my laptop. I wish I had an iPod. I don’t know what I’d do without a car.
But I’d figure it out. I’d eventually get another TV and laptop. Maybe a cheap car if insurance didn’t cover my loss.
But my dog? He is irreplaceable. Sure, I can get another dog, but not another Sensi.
I feel for these people who had their dog stolen. I hope there is a miraculous recovery of this dog and that he is reunited with his owners.
What if you came home to find your house trashed, your valuables stolen and dog gone too? What would you miss the most?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Sledding Sensi

In my previous post, I wrote about not finding a butt-surfing dog to be funny (read it if you haven’t).
There was one time, though, that Sensi did a butt-surfing maneuver that sent me into fits of laughter.
It was wintertime and Sensi was at my parent’s house.
On the side of their yard where the sod ends, there’s a steeply sloped drop off into the woods.
Sensi decided that area was his favorite potty place. One day, after he had finished taking care of business, he decided to wipe his butt on the ground.
The only problem was that the ground was covered with snow, and it was the kind of snow that had been sitting on the ground for quite a while.
Cold temperatures had hardened the snow, making it both compact and slippery.
As I watched my dog from the window, I saw him drop his butt down on the top of the hill and start dragging it on the snow.
“Oh great,” I said sarcastically to my mother. “Time to express those glands.”
Before I could complain any further though, Sensi lost his footings.
He started sliding down the hill — his butt still planted on the snow — and quickly picked up speed.
When he finally came to a stop at the bottom of the hill, he jumped to his feet and looked around. I swear, he was checking to see if anyone saw him.
He caught my eye through the window, the expression of bewilderment and embarrassment written all over his face.
Sensi bounded back up the hill, ran up the deck stairs and came to the door.
His rear was covered in snow, which I had to brush off before letting him in — laughing all the while.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The world’s worst smell

I’m always confused when America’s Funniest Home Videos shows a clip of a dog dragging it’s butt on the carpet. The dog’s owners are always laughing hysterically in the background.
“Don’t they know why the dog is doing that?” I ask my husband in disgust.
Dogs usually drag their butts around when their anal glands are too full.
Anal glands are located in the butt and carry the strongest, most horrible smelling liquid to emanate from any living thing other than a skunk.
A minuscule droplet accompanies each pile of poop. In the wild, this is like a scent-booster that helps mark a wolf’s territory.
Dogs can also release some of this scent when extremely stressed or frightened. Sensi tends to do it whenever a vet tech tries to shove a thermometer up his butt (I don’t blame him).
If you’ve never experienced the smell before, be warned. It is not only wretched, but it sticks around. Sensi will smell for hours afterwards. Some very smart veterinarians keep doggie perfume (yes, there is such a thing) on hand to help cover the smell.
When your dog is dragging his butt around on a regular basis, it’s time to “express the anal glands.”
This is so gross.
Before doing it yourself, have your veterinarian show you how it’s done properly.
Basically, you have to pinch your dog’s butt. The explosion of yellowish-colored liquid is downright pukeworthy.
Gloves are necessary, and so is an outdoor setting. I also suggest having a second person around, and a bucket of ice — you’ll need someone to throw the ice on you once you’ve fainted from the grossness and horrid stench.
I bet you won’t be laughing the next time you see a dog dragging his butt around.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Don’t forget about us!

The dogs always know when we’re getting ready to go up north.
The duffel bags, flurry of movement pulling out tents and coolers from closets and basements, the packing and loading and running around ... all that commotion doesn’t go unnoticed by our dogs.
Sensi waits, laying down, watching us and panting nervously. He’s waiting to see if his stuff gets packed. As soon as he hears the jingle of chains going in a bag, the doggie fly spray being thrown in a bag and his food being dumped into a travel container, he’s on his feet. For the rest of the time, he plods along faithfully at our feet, smiling from ear to ear.
Where we used to go up north with our friends, the dogs were generally kept off-leash. The property was mostly surrounded by state land and the only neighbors we usually saw were deer.
Just as when we’re getting ready to go up north, the dogs also notice when we’re getting ready to go home.
Going home is even busier. More vehicles, more people, more tents and coolers and cleaning up camp takes place. All around the camp site, truck doors are left open as we re-pack the vehicles to head home.
On one trip, the dogs wanted to be sure that we didn’t forget them.
Ruger, the most worried of two dogs, jumped into one of the trucks first. Sensi sat outside the door for a while, and then decided he’d follow Ruger’s lead and hop in the truck too.
For a long time, we were too busy with cleaning and packing up to notice our dogs had set up camp in one of the trucks, patiently waiting for us.
And they did wait. For hours, the two dogs sat in truck just as the picture shows.
At some point, one of our friends took notice and word spread quickly. We were all laughing as I grabbed my camera to document the worried dogs.
“Don’t forget about us!” they seemed to say, and their message was unmistakable.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I really did cry

I cried watching a documentary about wolves, and if that makes me a dork, I’m OK with it.
My passion for dogs goes far beyond what is average. For instance, one of my favorite things is having all of Sensi’s friends over so I can watch the dogs communicate with each other.
Being so interested in canine behavior naturally leads me back to wolves.
Years ago, I caught a portion of a documentary on TV called, “Living with Wolves.” I was instantly fascinated.
When my sister asked for birthday ideas for me a couple years ago, I asked her to get me this DVD. She did, and I watch it every now and then.
The DVD is the result of wildlife videographer Jim Dutcher’s work to find out more about the social lives of wolves. He and his wife, Jamie Dutcher, got a permit to set up the study in a remote area. They lived with the wolves for years.
The wolves were all introduced to the enclosure as puppies. The Dutchers raised the puppies until they could be released, but they didn’t coddle them.
Their goal was to form a wolf pack, but have the wolves trust them enough so they could document their social behaviors. What they were able to document was amazing.
One of the parts that makes me cry is when the leader of the wolf pack approaches Jim as he sits in the woods. The wolf raises his paw to Jim’s hand. This, I know, can be a sign of submission, benevolence and respect.
Another part is when the Dutchers revisit the pack after having released them to tribal grounds. Though a year later, the wolves remember and greet and Dutchers warmly.
Watching this documentary gives a good look at the beginnings, the roots, of canine behavior. It is fantastic, and I highly recommend it to dog lovers.
To find out more, visit the Living with Wolves web site.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Gel pen disaster

Sensi was a little more than a year old and for the first time in his life, he was alone during the day.
Brent was living in Rochester Hills, sharing a house with a friend. The house was old and the two guys set about making some upgrades.
One of the first things they did was to get new carpet. A light beige color went in the living room, dining room, den, stairs and hallway. A bluish-gray Berber went in their bedrooms.
About two weeks after the carpet was in, I got a phone call.
“My roommate called, he stopped by the house and there’s a problem,” Brent told me. “Sensi apparently chewed a gel pen and got ink all over the place.”
Brent, who was at work, begged me to pick up some supplies and clean the carpet. His roommate was livid about the new carpet.
I spent $30 on bottles of carpet cleaning solution and headed to their house. What I found I will never forget.
That darn dog chewed the pen in the living room, right near the entry. There was a pool of black liquid about the width of a soccer ball.
But it didn’t stop there. The ink had gotten all over his paws, and those paws walked over every inch of the house.
There were circles in the living room, paw prints randomly spattered across the dining room, in paths through the den. I followed them up the stairway, into both bedrooms and onto to Brent’s bed.
The paw prints were in every place the new carpet was.
I learned a few things from this experience.
One, gel pens make a much larger mess than regular pens do.
Two, no cleaning solution — not even a steam cleaner — can clean a mess of that magnitude.
Three, don’t leave pens on coffee tables.
Four, don’t buy new carpet with a young dog.
And five, Meijer’s has a decent selection of cheaply priced rugs.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The great debate

The scenario: Your dog pees on the carpet while you’re gone. You return home and open the door to find your dog sulking, with his tail tucked and wearing the best sorrowful eyes he can muster.
The great debate: By displaying the sulking behavior, does your dog “know” he did something wrong?
I remember walking Sensi with a friend of mine and her dog when the sticky issue came up.
Like Sensi, her dog has some fear issues. Unlike Sensi, she also has some anxiety issues that flare up when she’s left alone.
This dainty lady, a likely shepherd-pit bull mix, would frequently take her anxiety out on the vertical blinds covering the door wall. My friend would return home to her find her dog in the foyer, tail tucked and looking guilty.
“When I find her like that, I know she did something,” my friend said. “I say, ‘What’d you do? Did you do something bad?’”
There’s no debating with my friend — to her, the answer is clear. Her dog is always happy and waggly when there’s been no incidents. And every time she sulked, my friend walked farther in her house to find some sort of mess. The dog knows, she swears, and the record of behavior proves it.
“But you’ve got to understand, in order for a dog to make a connection between a consequence and a behavior, the consequence has to be immediate,” I argued. “She doesn’t ‘know’ that what she did was wrong, and punishing her at that point doesn’t do anything to address her blinds-destroying habit.”
I do believe that dogs may make an association between a situation — like blinds being on the floor — and being punished when their human gets home. The guilty look, then, isn’t guilt at all, but anxiety.
The dog is anxious about their human arriving home because they have an association between blinds on the floor and human walking in the door angry.
It doesn’t mean they understand their action — be it ripping down blinds or relieving themselves on the carpet — was wrong.
I usually never win these arguments with people.
What’s your take on the great debate?
Leave me a comment, share your experiences and maybe I'll be persuaded.
Does your dog know when it does something wrong and what makes you believe he/she knows?

Monday, March 9, 2009

If I could rename him

Did you ever realize, years down the line, that you gave your dog the wrong name?
Brent and I think we did just that.
In My first baby, I wrote about my first encounter with Sensi — you know, the one where he wouldn’t wake up. I even propped him up on all fours, and he just slid back down to the floor.
Sensi’s grogginess and deep affinity for sleep never went away. Perhaps during his adolescent stage he was a little less preoccupied with sleep, but it was always important to him.
Another thing he’s never lost is what I call the, “Precious Moments,” eyes. So often, his eyes just look sad and full of longing.
He’s also fairly grumpy and rather animated about his mood.
Sensi makes all sorts of nearly noiseless and eerily human vocalizations — namely his big, heavy sighs.
On the average night, he’ll approach Brent and I on the couch, resting his head on the cushion of the ottoman. He looks at us with the best “Precious Moments,” eyes he can muster.
This is how Sensi begs for his favorite spot, which is on the ottoman, between Brent and I and on top of the microfiber blanket (all the elements have to be in place or else he won’t beg, he’ll just go find another spot).
If we say no, Sensi intensifies his sad eyes a little bit, cocking his head at us as if to say, “But why? Why do you have to be so cruel?”
Then he’ll turn away, shuffling over to another spot and when he lies down, he looks back at us and lets out the biggest, most exasperated sigh to ever come from a dog.
“Geez Eeyore,” Brent will say. “Such a big deal that you had to lay somewhere else on the couch.”
And this is where we think we went wrong.
Eeyore is a much more appropriate name, given Sensi’s personality. We tease him, calling him Eeyore pretty often.
Sleepy, mopey and grumpy would’ve worked too.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Check out Monday's blog

Just a note:
I won't be blogging on Friday, or through the weekend, but look for a new entry Monday.
Monday's topic should be fun ... it's all about names.
Ever felt you gave your dog the wrong name, or that if you knew what his personality would be like grown up, you'd have named him something else?
That's what Brent and I go through every time Sensi sighs ... Read more Monday!

One more reason to neuter

Brent was so proud of little Sensi, growing up so fast.
There’s just something about a man and his dog.
Part of that something, for Brent, meant balking at the thought of neutering Sensi. Brent was just full of compassion and empathy for Sensi when we talked about it.
“It’s just not right,” Brent said often.
We decided that we would wait until Sensi was a little closer to adulthood to give him the snip.
About the time Sensi was seven months old, we started noticing some hair loss on his tail. When we went to the vet, they gave us some pills for it. The pills didn’t work, so I went back and they gave us a cream for it.
The cream didn’t work, but they told us to stick with it and give it some time.
In December that year — Sensi was nine months old — we made the appointment to have him neutered.
I asked again about his tail.
“Hmmm,” the vet said while he rubbed the hairless spot, the skin cracked and dry. “I just don’t know. Do you want me to take a biopsy?”
Biopsies are expensive, and we had just spent quite a bit of money to get Sensi neutered. We declined.
A few months later, a friend convinced me to try her vet and I set up an appointment.
When the vet came in the exam room, I explained my dilemma to her and how the other vet seemed to have not the slightest clue why his hair was falling out on that two-inch-long spot on his tail.
“Oh that?” she said incredulously. “That’s nothing to worry about — it’s just stud tail.”
“It’s what?” I asked.
“Stud tail,” she said. “When the dog begins sexually maturing, they have a hormone gland right there on the tail that often swells. In many dogs, the swelling can cause hair loss and dry skin. It’s really quite common, not a big deal.”
Thanks to our decision to wait on neutering Sensi, he had time to sexually mature and became one of the many dogs to have a “Stud tail.”
If we had neutered him before he matured, the gland would not have swollen, the hair would still be growing and the skin would be healthy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Don’t swallow that!

Dogs naturally want to chew and shred things. It’s ingrained in them.
Domestic dogs are not chewing on animal carcasses to feed themselves though, as they their predecessors in the wild do.
Instead, they’re chewing on plastic bones, squeaky toys, stuffed animals and rubber balls. The stuff is not edible.
Sharp pieces of plastic can puncture the dog’s insides. Squeaky toys can get stuck in the stomach, creating a blockage. Stuffed animal stuffing and rubber balls can do the same.
Worse, a dog that is used to eating things may go for non-toy items.
A co-worker of mine spent thousands of dollars in the emergency room after her golden ate a pair of pantyhose.
I think the pantyhose and sock ordeal is a pretty common one for dog owners. Unfortunately, these habits are as dangerous to your wallet as they are to your dog’s life.
Items like that can twist and knot as they travel through your dog’s intestines. Inevitably, they’ll create a blockage.
Blockages are life-threatening. If waste can’t come out the rear, it’s got to come out somewhere. As the toxic bile spills in reverse through your dog’s body, it can do some major damage.
If the dog cannot pass the thing he swallowed, surgery is the only answer. It’s usually not something that waits for a routine visit either, and we all know how much more the emergency room costs.
Brent and I wanted Sensi trained to chew things up, but not swallow them. I felt that allowing him to chew, rip and shred was important. He is a dog, and these behaviors are natural to him.
Plus, we wanted to be sure he knew that toys he could chew on, but furniture, shoes and other things he could not. As a puppy, when he reached for something that was not a toy, we told him no and gave him a toy instead. That worked quite nicely.
When we found out that Sensi was severely allergic to beef products, it became even more handy that he knew not to swallow items. We had to take all real bones and rawhides away from him and replace them with fake ones. He knows not to eat the plastic pieces he scrapes off the fake bones, and we’re thankful for that.
It’s easiest to condition these behaviors when the dog is a puppy, but it certainly can be done with a dog of any age. The trick is to be watchful, diligent and consistent.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Building blocks

Lots of people teach their dog to sit, some to shake a paw and a lay-down command is usually attempted too.
If you really want to make your a dog a well-mannered canine guest in your home, though, you need to accomplish a lot more than just these standards techniques.
Sit, shake and lay down are pretty basic as far as training goes. You work on getting them to do it, they do it, and voila! training is complete.
So much of training, though, is done in layers. One command is merely a building block for another.
Oftentimes, when people ask how I trained my dog to do this or not do that, they get a long and complicated answer. They are usually overwhelmed and unwilling to attempt this themselves.
Suit yourself. But trust me, if you put in the work, you will reap the reward.
For instance, my dog has been taught that ripping up toys is OK, but swallowing the pieces of them is not.
Before we could train him that swallowing was unacceptable, though, we had to train him a drop-it or release command.
Once he was good at that, we tackled the chew, shred and swallow full force.
Unlike a sit command, training this type of behavior is more of a conditioning than a command and it requires the utmost diligence on the human’s part.
Every time Sensi had a toy, we watched him out of the corner of our eye. We’d discreetly be paying attention as he ripped off a piece of the toy.
If he didn’t spit the piece out on the floor, we swooped in.
“Bad dog!” I’d say. “Drop it!”
If he spit the piece out, we also swooped in — this time with treats that we kept close so there wasn’t a delay in our response time.
“Good dog!” we’d coo, giving the treat.
If we couldn’t get him to stop swallowing pieces from a particular toy, it was taken away. After a couple hours, we’d give it back to him and repeat the process.
There are so many very good, very money-related reasons to teach your dog not to chew, shred and swallow.
Read tomorrow to find out why.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Terrific terriers

There’s so much to like in a terrier.
They’re lively, energetic, clownish and an all-around source of entertainment. They’re quick learners, and their tenacity and determination cannot be understated.
It doesn’t matter the packaging — whether it’s the tiny, silky-haired Yorkie or the bullish Staffy — they’re all these things.
I will never be without a terrier. There are other types of dogs I want, but I’ll always keep a terrier around.
I remember when Sensi was a puppy. He went from being a tiny guy who needed sleep all the time to a clumsy puppy who spent each waking hour playing.
He was my tireless companion. We’d walk. We’d play. We’d train. We’d go places. Whatever I was doing, Sensi was ready and willing at my side.
Nothing’s changed.
Sure, my old dog is turning 42 (in dog years) this March. Sleep has once again become supreme in his life. His face is graying so quickly that I almost can’t stand to have people see him anymore.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t believe how white his face has gotten since the last time I saw him,” my mother said on a recent visit.
I say back, “I know,” but it does nothing to convey how I feel.
The comments stress me out. They remind of his rapidly graying face, which is a constant reminder of his rapidly aging body. It’s a kind of crisis for me. I can’t bear to think about life without Sensi — he is my first dog, my first baby.
But that terrier in Sensi uplifts me every day.
No matter how white his face is, his eyes still twinkle like he’s a puppy.
When he comes in from outside, he explodes into “zoomies” like a little puppy. He runs as fast as he can around the house, picking up a toy somewhere along the way and inviting whoever is around to play.
And if there’s no takers, he plays with himself, tossing the toy in the air so he can chase it.
Sensi still never turns down a walk, no matter how much it pains his arthritic knee.
At heart, Sensi is a still puppy and that’s what is so terrific about terriers.
They never seem to grow old or let go of that enjoyment, exuberance and intensity with which they live life.