Thursday, April 30, 2009

Catch 'em in the act

Your dog is getting in the garbage when you’re not home. Or maybe he’s peeing on the carpet when you walk out of the room.
Perhaps he’s shredding the toilet paper while you’re away, tearing down the window treatments or chewing on the couch.
You know that yelling at him hours later, when you get home and find the destruction, doesn’t work because you’re not actually catching him in action. Therefore, he can’t make the association between his action and a negative consequence.
So what are you supposed to do?
How do you punish a dog for something he does when you’re not around?
Get creative.
Before you read on, I’ll warn you — most people aren’t willing to put this much time and effort into correcting their dog’s behavior.
You may be one of them, but before you stop reading, think about this: It will take you less time and effort to properly correct a behavior then to spend the entire life of your dog coming home day after day to clean up after him.
When your dog is doing things when you’re not around, there’s only way to correct the problem: set him up.
Sensi had a bout of garbage digging for a while, and there are few other behaviors that are quite as disgusting and create such a wretched mess.
I wasn’t going to allow this to keep happening.
I armed myself with a glass jar full of pennies — a trick I learned from the guy in our office who has a service dog. Shake that jar while charging toward your dog and he’ll think the world is coming to an end.
Then I casually led Sensi into another room, and once he was out of sight, I set up the garbage can. I put a little barbecue sauce on edge of the bag to tantalize him, and hung a few pieces of cheese over the edge.
We let Sensi back in the living area and immediately started preparing to “leave.” We put our shoes on, grabbed our coats, I slung my purse over my shoulder and we gave Sensi our usual goodbye — a couple pats on the head while we said, “We’ll be back, be good boy.”
Brent and I left the house, but we didn’t really leave. While Brent tinkered in the garage, I stealthily hid myself outside the house in a place where I could see through the sliding glass door and watch my dog, but he couldn’t see me.
It took about 20 minutes, and believe me, my patience was wearing thin.
I watched Sensi as he laid down on the couch and thought I might be hiding in the bushes all night.
But in the end, his nose led him to the garbage can. Just as he began licking the barbecue sauce, I burst through the sliding glass door shaking my jar of pennies.
Sensi was so terrified and shocked. Panic stricken, he ran and actually hid in a closet — I’d never seen him do that before.
I had to coax him out of the closet and cuddle him until he stopped shaking. I felt bad, but the set up worked.
Sensi has never again touched the garbage can.
It’s up to you. Be creative, devote some time and test your patience, or just resign yourself to cleaning up garbage strewn across the floor for the rest of the years you spend with your dog.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

The next training challenge

Who says old dogs can't learn new tricks?
I'm banking on being able to teach my old dog a new trick. It might be the hardest challenge I've had yet.
In the past, Sensi's lived with Brent in rentals often shared with other young men who have no interest in maintaining gardens.
The first house had some ugly bushes, the second one had some ugly bushes and neglected perennials that dutifully struggled upward every spring, through unraked leaves and weeds to bloom a few sickly flowers.
The bushes and perennials faced another challenge too — living through a male dog lifting his leg on them.
And then, because Sensi prefers to hide his poop, they had to live through a dog who developed a habit of backing his rear end into the bushes.
Piles of poop could often be found a foot off the ground, suspended in the branches of the bushes. We found it comical at the time.
But now we have our own house, and a long stretch of garden beds in front of it.
When we moved in late last fall, the homeowners had been living out of state for a year. Grass and weeds were growing two feet tall in the neglected gardens.
Between the long grass to lift his leg on and the many bushes to hide his poop, Sensi immediately saw the area as the perfect doggie toilet.
Now I can't keep him out of the gardens. He thinks it's his designated potty spot.
As the first spring at our new house is coming around, Brent and I have plans to take out many of the neglected and overgrown bushes.
I want big flowers, and it'll probably cost a pretty penny to make the gardens look nice again.
And when they do, I won't have Sensi killing my daylilies.
I expect that teaching him to stay out of the gardens is going to be tough, but it must be done.
Wish me luck, and I'll keep posting about our progress — or lack thereof.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Horse, cow, pig or pit bull?

What animal gallops like a horse, grazes like a cow and when laying down, can be mistaken for a pot bellied pig?
Why, it’s my dog, of course!
As my husband and I discussed our dog’s grazing habits this weekend, it dawned on me that for years we have been comparing him to farm animals.
The dog totally earns these comparisons. Here’s the rundown:

1) How is my dog like a horse? His gait. Sensi’s clumsily-formed body gave him giant paws, a huge chest, and a small little butt. He’s off balance and when he runs, it shows. His front paws hit the ground with a thunderous roar, all the weight of his drooping chest propelling him forward. Indoors, the entire floor quakes beneath him as he lumbers around. Don’t be mistaken — he is not like a thoroughbred. More like an adolescent Clydesdale who hasn’t yet mastered a graceful gait.

2) How is my dog like a cow? He grazes, and the amount of interest he has in grazing has vastly increased each year.
Some people say dogs only eat grass if they ate something bad and need to throw it up, or if they’re lacking a nutrient in their diet. For Sensi, neither of these applies. I am completely convinced he just enjoys having an endless supply of food.
He never throws up from it, and if you hold grass in your hand, he begs for it like it’s a treat. A couple years ago, I started noticing that on our walks, he kept stopping to eat the grass. Over the weekend, he was content to graze on our lawn for about an hour.
Sensi just meandered around, grazing — just like a cow.

3) How is my dog like a pig? He looks like one. Seriously. When Sensi lays down on his side and his big chest bellows out, followed immediately by a jolly tummy, he truly looks like a pig. All he needs are hooves in place of his paws and some minor changes to his face and I’ve got myself a pot-bellied pig. The markings on his stomach, a swirl of white and black with sparse hair, also help create the illusion.
We call him our pot-bellied pit bull.

Brent and I have always wanted a farm, but for the time being, I suppose we can just be glad to have a dog that is like three farm animals in one compact pit bull package.

Monday, April 27, 2009

An excellent online tool

My husband’s a Michigan fan, and much to his chagrin, I’m a State fan.
I have good, solid reasoning for why I love State. And it’s completely unrelated to sports.
I’m not much of a sports fan at all.
But I am passionate about two things: journalism and dogs.
Michigan State University is, in our state, a true leader in both those areas.
Their journalism program is probably the best in the state, and so is their veterinary program.
Chances are, if your pet has an issue that needs some genius minds to fix it, you’re going to be headed to Lansing.
I was so pleased when one day, years ago, I stumbled across a great canine behavior and training resource online that is hosted by Michigan State University.
The articles are so helpful, insightful, interesting, and dead-on right.
You can read about simple things like how to housebreak a dog, read debates on crate training, browse a plethora of behavior articles and — here’s a big winner — learn about operant and classical conditioning and the use of positive reinforcement and negative punishment in animal training.
Operant and classical conditioning are the two ways in which dogs learn.
If nothing else, we should at least understand how our dogs learn. After all, if you don’t know how your dog learns, how are you supposed to teach him to behave?
Here are quick descriptions of these learning methods:
Classical Conditioning: Think of Pavlov’s salivating dogs — we’ve all heard the story. It is conditioning a dog to respond to a stimuli by teaching it to make associations.
Operant Conditioning: Teaching a dog to form associations between behaviors and consequences.
And for those with fearful dogs (I can commiserate, this is a big issue for Sensi), the Web site offers golden advice.
So whether you’re a Michigan fan or State fan, give this Web site a good look. It’s an excellent resource to begin understanding your dog.
Click here to visit it now.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Pit bulls aren’t sent by Satan

Any time a child is killed — by a dog or any other means — it is a tragedy.
That is not lost on me, but the recent killing of an 11-month-old boy in Eastpointe by the family’s pit bull has again stirred a controversy about the breed that is so close to my heart.
The boy’s uncle told the press that pit bulls are “sent by Satan” and he urged everyone to get rid of them.
Let’s get one thing straight: pit bulls are not sent by Satan.
All dog breeds were developed by humans. If you want to point fingers, point them in the mirror because, in more ways than one, we humans are responsible for the transgressions of both the breed and the individual dogs we bring into our lives.
A Detroit News article reports that there were no previous complaints on this dog, who the family had owned since it was a puppy and said it had never showed signs of aggression.
These are always the type of statements that come out after maulings. It makes you believe that this dog was an angel who suddenly and unexpectedly turned evil.
But the report also says the dog wasn’t licensed. That’s never a good sign.
And, the first night I saw this tragedy reported on a TV news program, a neighbor put herself in front of camera telling the press that this was a scary dog, and she was scared of it.
So what is the case? How did this angel of a family dog who never showed aggression scare the neighbors?
It doesn’t add up.
No one wants to admit they put themselves or their children in a living situation with a dangerous animal. No one wants to say that there were signs the dog had behavioral issues, because then, aren’t they responsible?
The truth is, at least in my mind, we are responsible for our dog’s actions.
And dog owners who take that responsibility seriously start behaving accordingly before they even bring a dog home. They research the breed and make sure it’s a good fit for their home. They research breeders to make sure they’re bringing home a healthy puppy that comes from parents with good temperaments.
For people who decide to own pit bulls, this is such an important step.
You don’t want a pit bull that comes from a shady character who won’t let you visit up close and personal with the dog’s parents. You don’t want a pit bull that comes from someone advertising the puppies for their size and strength and toughness.
My pit bull came from a home where his parents were fully accessible to us. They licked us and wanted our attention, and they lived in a home with children ranging from toddlers to teens.
Pit bulls aren’t for everyone. In fact, they need a special type of owner.
They need someone who will spend time socializing them with other dogs, children, small animals and all the situations they may encounter in life. They need an owner who will give them daily exercise and training to keep them stimulated.
One thing I do want to note is a common problem among pit bull owners. Many times, young men go out and get a pit bull as a sort of status symbol, heralding their own toughness.
They don’t think about things like socializing their status symbol with children.
These young men grow up, meet women, fall in love, get married and years later, have children. Their pit bulls are aging and now, they are suddenly sharing their home with children.
If the pit bull has never been around children before, this can be dangerous. In fact, it can be dangerous for any dog who has not been socialized with children to be around them.
But in the right home, pit bulls can be fantastic family dogs.
I could go on and on about the greatness of pit bulls — how they used to symbolize America, how Helen Keller and different presidents owned them, how they were heralded as great war dogs and great Hollywood actors.
But I won’t.
I would like to add, though, that dogs do not suddenly turn on their owners.
In the 1980s, there was a myth that Dobermans — the “pit bull” of the ‘80s — had brains which at some point in their life would swell larger than their skulls, causing them to suddenly “turn” and kill their owners.
It was a myth, and it is also a myth when people, like in this situation, say pit bulls can’t be trusted because they will do just that — ambushing their owners with sneak attacks because they’re inherently bloodthirsty.
As a culture, if we encouraged people to learn about their dogs rather than expect their dogs to learn about them, we wouldn’t have these sorts of tragedies.
Dogs are dogs, be it a pit bull or a poodle or a mutt.
And my pit bull is proof that the breed can produce great pets who are worthy of being called, “man’s best friend.”
The photo, by the way, is of my pit bull hangin’ with his pal Ruger, a Britney who climbed all over my dog as a puppy. They don't look very Satanic, do they?

Thursday, April 23, 2009

My mantra

I love dogs. I have a tremendous amount of respect for these animals.
They bring me joy, I find them to make good friends, I love their capacity to learn and their need to be part of a social group.
But let’s get one thing straight: dogs are not intelligent.
Not in the way humans are. They don’t analyze situations. They don’t plan what they’re going to do tomorrow or next week. They don’t dwell on the past. They don’t study the world around them, wondering what makes the grass grow or what type of plants deer eat or why some animals live in groups and others live alone.
This is what separates us.
We do study the world around us. We have all sorts of knowledge about other animals. We know that elephants can recognize themselves in a mirror, that female lions are the primary hunters in a pride, that a bear mother gets very aggressive when she senses a threat near her cubs.
We know so much about the behavior of the animals we share this planet with.
So my question is, why don’t we know anything about our dogs?
We bring a dog into our family, our household, and we expect “man’s best friend” to learn about us. And sometimes, some of us don’t even give them training, which is the least we can do to help them assimilate into our human packs.
The majority of the dog owners I meet know little to nothing at all about canine behavior. They don’t know how to properly greet a dog, they have no knowledge of body language — which our dogs are constantly using in an attempt to communicate with us.
They can’t see the signs of a dog who is distressed, scared, or seconds away from biting.
Over time, we may learn a little about our dogs as individuals.
“Buddy jumps up and down by the door when he wants to go out,” someone observes of their dog.
That’s great. Your dog has learned a behavior that catches your attention. He is trying so darn hard to communicate with you.
But meanwhile, you still know nothing about how your dog communicates naturally.
I urge everyone to learn a little something about canine behavior.
Start with body language. There are plenty of books. Go to a dog park and observe dogs interacting with eachother. You’d be amazed how quickly you can start understanding your dog.
After all, as the more intelligent species, shouldn’t the onus be on us to learn about the animals we bring into our lives?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pride in dirty tennis balls

Sensi had a fantastic weekend.
With all the rain we’ve had the past few days, it’s almost difficult to remember that Friday and Saturday were absolutely gorgeous days. And I happened to have both of them off work.
I set my sights on cleaning out the basement and also burning some of the brush and leaves we’ve accumulated since the fall. I left the basement door open and, thanks to the beautiful weather, spent more time outside burning than I did inside cleaning.
I hooked Sensi up on a very long chain, giving him access to the better part of the backyard. He had a blast.
Since it got cold so fast after we moved in, he really hadn’t spent much time in our new backyard.
He sniffed around the field grass by the barn, winded his way through thick brush by the swamp, rolled in the green grass and bathed himself in the sun.
The previous homeowners also had a dog, a black lab. And apparently, that dog had some tennis balls.
On Friday, I watched Sensi emerge from the brush prancing, his tail proudly wagging. He was carrying something black in his mouth.
“Whatchya got?” I asked him, and he pranced around me.
I could see a hint of greenish fuzz and realized he had found an old, rotting tennis ball in the woods.
It was definitely gross. Disgusting might be a better word.
But never, NEVER, would I take away from him something that is both harmless and was definitely a dog toy at one time, and something that he was taking so much pride in.
All day long, he played with that tennis ball. Our yard slopes downhill from the house, so every time he dropped it on the ground, it rolled away from him. He loved it, pouncing on it like a cat would. He batted it around, tossed it up in the air, chased after it relentlessly.
Everyone once in a while, he carefully set it down to take a drink of a water.
On Saturday, he found another and even grosser tennis ball. Between the two, he was simply elated.
I thought about bringing some of his not-so-disgusting balls outside, but I knew he would just ignore them in favor of the blackened, rotting tennis balls.
These nasty things were extra special to Sensi because he found them. A toy from his overflowing basket of toys just wouldn’t compare.
By the end of Saturday, Sensi must’ve spent almost 20 hours playing with those tennis balls.
He was so enthralled with them that he didn’t even notice the herd of deer cross the swamp a mere 20 or 30 feet in front of us.
I’ve never seen him so proud of toy.
Leave it to a dog, though, to take that kind of pride in the most disgusting tennis balls I’ve ever cross across.
The tennis ball in the photo is not from this weekend ... Sensi was actually a puppy in that photo.

Monday, April 20, 2009

What is a Portuguese Water Dog?

With all eyes on the Obama family’s new pooch, a Portuguese Water Dog named Bo, it’s likely the popularity of the breed will skyrocket.
All prospective dog owners should research the breed they’re thinking of bringing home to determine if it’s the right fit for their family’s lifestyle.
So, what is a Portuguese Water Dog?
One of the most important things to remember is that this breed is classified in the Working Group by the American Kennel Club.
It was originally used along the coast of Portugal to herd fish into nets — yes, I guess that’s possible — and to retrieve lost tackle, broken nets and do other water-related work.
Its coat is curly or wavy and waterproof, and yes, it’s true — the dogs don’t shed and they are nonallergenic.
As with most breeds that are in the working group, these dogs are intelligent, active athletes. The AKC recommends not just daily exercise, but vigorous daily exercise.
“His profuse coat is hypoallergenic, but requires regular maintenance,” reads the AKC’s profile of the breed.
The dogs range in weight from 35 to 60 pounds and its fur can be black, white, brown or combinations of the three colors.
Though the breed is said to respond well to obedience training, the issue of exercise should be forefront on a prospective owner’s mind.
This is not a dog who will be content to lay around for most the day.
Want to learn more? Follow the link to see the American Kennel Club's profile of the breed.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Learn a lesson from 101 Dalmations

Remember back in 1996 when the movie 101 Dalmations came out?
So many families rushed out to get their children a Dalmation, not knowing or caring much about what the breed was like. The dogs entered homes that were not prepared to give it proper daily exercise, which is badly needed to keep this athlete of a dog out of trouble.
The same thing has happened to border collies and huskies, two breeds that thrive even less well in the normal family setting than Dalmations.
These two breeds are bred to work, and both are extremely intelligent. Think about it: a border collie can work all day on the farm, happy to herd cattle from dawn to dusk. And huskies can run for miles and miles, hour after hour, on the frozen tundra, pulling dog sleds.
Who in their right mind would think these dogs would be happy to lay around in the living room all day?
These dogs need jobs, a mental and physical workout, or else their energy and intelligence will be funneled into trouble-making and obsessive behaviors.
It’s not something that busy families in suburbia with working parents and little children and small yards can always provide. So the dogs develop bad behaviors and before long, are dumped at the dog pound.
Now the Obama’s have brought home a Portuguese Water Dog, and no doubt, the nation’s attention has been drawn to this uncommon working breed.
I’m sure the President's dog will have its needs met, but I worry about the nation’s reaction.
“I heard they don’t shed, and they’re nonallergenic,” a wife will say to her husband. “Maybe we should get one for little Susie.”
In a matter of a year or so, I foresee news reports telling of how our country’s shelters are being overwhelmed with Portuguese Water Dogs.
Not that the breed isn’t a good one. I’m sure it is.
But just like Dalmations and Border Collies and Huskies and pit bulls too, the dogs require more from their owners than just a food bowl and fenced in yard.
Check this Saturday’s pet section to see a profile of the breed. I’ll include information that will help you determine if the breed is a good match for your household.
I’ll also post the blog online Monday.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cheap vaccinations this weekend

Michigan has the worst unemployment rate of all the states, and Oakland County isn’t faring much better than the state.
My dog’s annual trip to the vet, to update his vaccinations, usually costs upwards of $120.
If my husband or I were to lose our job, paying that would be a real burden.
On the other hand, taking preventative health measures for your pet is the best way to protect your wallet from vet bills that result from sickness or disease.
Not vaccinating your pet is taking a real risk, both to your pet’s health and to your wallet.
So if you’re down on your luck in the job and cashflow department — which many of us Michiganians obviously are — take advantage of the low-cost vaccination clinics scheduled right here in the county.
One is coming up this weekend, and here’s all the details.
It’s from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 18 at the Centerstage Rental Hall & QTMC, Inc., 586 N. Perry in Pontiac.
For $10, your dog — so long as it’s older than 6 weeks — can get a distemper/parvo vaccine.
Dogs and cats older than 3 months can also get a 1-year rabies vaccine. That’s the big one, really. You need it to license your pet and it’s protection against one of the nastiest diseases that can hurt both our pets and ourselves.
For the same price, kittens and cats 6 weeks and older will also be given a distemper vaccine.
At $10, that’s a really good deal.
Got a dog or cat that’s recently given birth? Bring the whole litter down and get them all vaccinated for just $25.
The clinic is open to pets from any corner of Oakland County, and Pontiac residents can also pick up 2009 dog licenses.
It’s pretty easy to find Centerstage too. If you’re unfamiliar with Pontiac, here’s some quick directions. Take I-75 to exit 81 for Lapeer Road, or M-24. You want to go south on Lapeer Road, toward Pontiac.
Once you cross Walton, you’ve entered Pontiac and Lapeer Road becomes Perry Street. It’s just a few more miles south to find the rental hall, which will be on the left between Martin Luther Kind and Wide Track.
The clinic is put on by The Animal Care Network, Centerstage & QTMC and the City of Pontiac. Let’s thank all of them for helping us keep our pets healthy!

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Crying wolf

Sensi is a fearful dog; something that has created a lot of issues for Brent and I over the years.
The lighter side of his fearful temperament is watching him get scared of the most mundane things — a large rock, a tree branch swaying in the wind, a paper bag laying on the floor.
We laugh and coax him into sniffing the items, getting him to realize it’s nothing to be scared of.
When he goes outside to go potty, he’ll bark if the wind howls or blows leaves around. It seems like he’s always finding something that he’s scared of.
For Brent and I, it’s like he’s crying wolf.
Of course, we know he really is scared, but we also know that he gets scared when there’s nothing to worry about.
Generally, we write off his fearful barks as meaningless.
Which begs the question, how do we know when they’re not?
This morning, I let Sensi out to go potty as usual. Not surprisingly, he started barking after just a few minutes of being outside.
I let it go for a second, and then opened the door and leaned out.
“Sensi!” I scolded. “Shhhhh!”
He paid no attention to me and instead trotted forward in the direction he was barking, toward the side of the house.
I closed the door, in too much of a hurry to go get him and bring him back in.
As I finished making my lunch, he was still barking. I went back to the door and this time, he was standing on the porch but still facing and barking in the same direction.
I let him in, and instead of joyfully running toward his food dish, he cautiously walked inside and to the back of the living room to look out the doorwall in same direction he had been barking.
Odd, I thought.
I put food in his dish and called him. He ate a few morsels and walked back to the doorwall. A couple seconds later, he walked back in the kitchen and looked up at me.
“Arrrr-woof,” he barked quietly. It was very odd.
He finished his breakfast and immediately went back to the doorwall, staring outside.
Before I left, I looked in the direction he was staring but didn’t see anything. I wrote it off as nothing — perhaps he saw a deer or a dog or some other animal.
But as I walked to the truck, I couldn’t help myself from wondering, what if he wasn’t crying wolf?
And if he wasn’t, what the heck did he see on the side of our house?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Does my dog know it’s Saturday?

Both my husband and I occasionally work Saturdays.
It’s not the norm for us, but happens usually once every month and a half or so.
This weekend, we both worked Saturday. Which, by the way, made it feel like there was no weekend at all. We went from working on Saturday to sleeping to cooking on Sunday to eating with family and back to sleeping again.
Anyhow, I’ve always wondered what dogs know about our schedule.
From what I’ve learned, dogs live in the moment. They don’t think ahead, they don’t analyze. They are simply focused in the present.
Going off that theory, dogs should have only a minimal understanding of our schedules.
When I get up in the morning and the sky is gray and I rush around, are those signals to my dog that I’ll be leaving soon?
And when I sleep in until the sun is centered high in the sky, are those signals that I’ll be hanging out at the house?
Based on how dogs live in the moment, I would think that would be about their greatest understanding of a schedule.
Which means they have no concept that we work five days a week, then are home for two days, then back to work for five.
Sometimes, though, I’m not sure ...
As a calm old dog, there’s not much that gets Sensi riled up anymore. When we get home, he wags his tail and stands at our feet, smiling and licking our hands. He might grab a toy or ask for dinner, but generally speaking, he welcomes us quietly and then goes back to his business of finding the most comfortable and available spot in the house to sleep.
On Saturday, Brent was gone until about 6:30 p.m. and I, having a little Easter grocery shopping to do on my way home, didn’t walk in the door until about 8:30 p.m.
Brent had fed Sensi and let him out and was finishing up his paperwork when I got home. Sensi was sitting beside Brent on the couch, leaning on his shoulder.
And then I sat down. Sensi moved over, practically sitting on top of me and giving me what we call the, “Sensi hug.”
This is where he sits in front of us, scooting as close as possible to us, and resting his head on our shoulder. And he didn’t want to move. I must’ve hugged him for ten minutes.
For the rest of the evening, he stuck to us like glue.
He was so needy for attention, and it’s not as if he acts this way every day that we’re gone for hours at work.
So it made me wonder, did he realize it was a Saturday and we were supposed to be home all day with him?
Probably not. But maybe.

Friday, April 10, 2009

The canine-friendly car

A story on the Petropolis page today highlights a new version of the Honda Element tailored specifically to dog owners.
My reaction to this is similar to how I feel about putting hoodies and sweaters on our four-legged friends.
It’s just a little over the top for me.
Here’s a description of the features: cushioned pet bed with safety restraints, spill-resistant water bowl, a fan, folding ramp, pet carrier, machine-washable seat covers, rubber floor mats that have a toy-bone pattern and paw print emblems on the side and back of the vehicle.
Paw print emblems on the side and back of the vehicle?
Give me a break. That’s what I want on my car, cutesy little paw prints to let everyone else on the road know I’m ridiculously obsessed with my dog.
Maybe next I’ll get a picture of my dog printed on a t-shirt and baseball cap, put my dog in a pink sweater, stick him in a stroller and walk him down the road like he doesn’t have four legs of his own to walk on.
Or get one of those “baby on board” signs, but scratch the word baby and write in pooch instead.
Here are the things about the element that I would find useful: the folding ramp, machine-washable seat covers and rubber floor mats, but only if they DON’T have a toy-bone pattern.
Who is the toy-bone pattern for anyhow? I’m pretty sure the dog doesn’t notice.
I know that to be truly safe, we’re supposed to be restraining our dogs in the car in case of an accident. But I’m old school.
I remember teaching my dog, as a puppy, to find his, “car legs.”
And I know that we’re not supposed to let our dogs hang out the window for safety purposes, but I just won’t deny my dog a cracked window. And I don’t believe he’d prefer a fan to an open window.
A water bowl? My dog would not consider taking a drink in the car.
And a cushioned pet bed? Are the seats not good enough for a dog? I don’t know about the rest of you, but if furniture is good enough for me, then it’s luxurious to my dog.
This vehicle might be perfect for people who work with dogs, like trainers, breeders, even rescue workers.
As far as I’m concerned though, $21,000 for a vehicle that makes me look a bit eccentric is too pretty a penny to pay just so my car-window-lovin’ pooch can puke all over the pet bed and climb his way to the front seat.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Bullmastiffs & Divorce

One of my coworkers alerted me to an unusual story when I walked into work this morning.
He said, “Karen, I have two words for you: dog sperm.”
"What did you just say?" I replied.
Laughing, he told me to search the wire for a story about dog sperm. So I did.
The story’s title, as it appears on our screen, was, “DogSpermDispu.”
I laughed and checked it out. Here’s a quick recap:
According to the Associated Press, a judge presiding over a divorce case experienced a fight over dog sperm.
The divorcing couple had apparently bred Bullmastiffs, and though they divided up the six dogs they owned without issue, they’re now fighting over who owns the sperm from three of their dogs that’s being stored at a center.
After reading it, I turned to my co-worker and told him I wasn’t surprised.
“Bullmastiffs are expensive dogs,” I told him. “I think they usually cost a couple thousand dollars.”
He was surprised, so I thought I’d pass along a little information about these monstrous and gorgeous dogs.
My Aunt and Uncle have had two Bullmastiffs in the past. From my experience, they’re very majestic dogs.
According to AKC standards, the dogs should max out at about 130 pounds.
But my Aunt and Uncle’s last one weighed closer to 200 pounds. The size of its head dwarfed my own.
Both of their Bullmastiffs were expensive, both to purchase and to keep healthy.
Their second dog had a massive growth spurt when he was still a puppy that was quite costly. He put on more weight than his bones were ready to handle and had to have surgery to repair his shoulder.
The bottom line is, Bullmastiffs aren’t for everyone. They’re big dogs, and like many big dogs, their sheer size makes it more expensive to maintain good health — from the amount of food they need to the amount of vet visits they’ll need.
Personally, I’ve always wanted a Bullmastiff. One day, maybe I’ll be well off enough to own one.
I imagine that breeding Bullmastiffs is pretty lucrative. The cost that breeders put into the dogs is certainly reflected in the steep price that can be charged for a puppy.
So is it really a surprise that a divorcing couple would argue about who owns the dog sperm?
No.
But it is funny.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Our dearest deer

OK dog lovers, I hope you like deer too because that’s what today’s blog is about.
Growing up in northern Oakland County, deer weren’t an uncommon sight. I watched herds feed in my parent’s backyard and run down the paved roads of our subdivision.
For all the years I’ve watched deer, I’ve never seen anything like what I saw take place in my front yard at dusk last night.
When we moved in last fall, there was a momma doe and two fawns who crossed our yard each morning and evening. As the fall turned to winter, more and more deer joined them. My dad tells me that the deer travel in larger packs in the winter for both body heat and ease of traveling.
More hooves on a path means the path is more wore down, I suppose.
This large herd, about 12 deer, comes in from our backyard and walks to our front yard, usually crossing the road at the end of our driveway. Many of them are still on the small side; yearlings, perhaps.
In our front yard, there’s a row of 19 mailboxes along the private drive for our neighbors. A row of tall bushes was planted behind them for privacy.
As I was preparing dinner, I looked out my front window to see the entire herd — apparently in a frisky mood — hanging out in our front yard.
One deer was eating from a low-hanging tree branch, another was grazing on a bush that had been toppled to the ground by the snow. The rest were standing curiously by the mailbox bushes.
I watched them for a few minutes and was amazed to see one of the deer rear up on its hind legs to munch on the bushes by the mailboxes. Then another did it, and then another.
Meanwhile, one of the deer began heading toward the fallen bush. The little guy who was eating from it wanted it all to himself, apparently. He turned around and reared up on his hind legs, kicking at the newcomer, who then ran back to the mailbox bushes.
A large deer walked in, carrying his head low. I thought he looked rather menacing, and I was right.
He reared up and fought with two deer — one after the other — in our driveway.
Despite all the commotion, the mailbox-bush-eating deer continued feeding undisturbed. Apparently, they’re pretty comfortable on their hind legs.
I’ve never seen such behavior from a herd. I’ll watch for them again tonight, and if they’re as entertaining as they were last night, I’ll take some photos and video to post on here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Just a dog

One of my co-workers sent me a link to a New York Times blogger who writes about his struggle with cancer.
The blog she wanted me to read, in particular, was called Life lessons from the family dog.
It was a good read, and it provoked quite a few comments from readers.
In one of the comments, a reader posted something that was e-mailed to him in one of those e-mail chains. I thought it was quite poignant, so I’m reprinting it here.

Just a dog
From time to time people tell me, “Lighten up, it’s just a dog,” or, “That’s a lot of money for just a dog.”
They don’t understand the distance traveled, time spent, or costs involved for “just a dog.”
Some of my proudest moments have come about with “just a dog.”
Many hours have passed with my only company being “just a dog,” and not once have I felt slighted.
Some of my saddest moments were brought about by “just a dog.” In those days of darkness, the gentle touch of “just a dog” provided comfort and purpose to overcome the day.
If you, too, think it’s “just a dog,” you will probably understand phrases like “just a friend,” “just a sunrise,” or “just a promise.”
“Just a dog” brings into my life the very essence of friendship, trust, and pure unbridled joy.
“Just a dog” brings out the compassion and patience that makes me a better person.
Because of “just a dog” I will rise early, take long walks and look longingly into the future.
For me and folks like me, it’s not “just a dog.” It’s an embodiment of all the hopes and dreams of the future, the fond memories of the past, and the pure joy of the moment.
“Just a dog” brings out what’s good in me and diverts my thoughts away from myself and the worries of the day.
I hope that someday people can understand it’s not “just a dog.”
It’s the thing that gives me humanity and keeps me from being “just a man or woman.”
So the next time you hear the phrase “just a dog,” smile, because they “just don’t understand.”
Author Unknown

Monday, April 6, 2009

The bark is back

I watched the news last night, caught the weather report, knew the snow was coming ... though it was still quite a shock to look out the window this morning and see a white yard.
At least I had the benefit of knowing it was coming.
Sure, Sensi was sitting there on the couch with us when the news came on. Not that he understands.
The only time Sensi pays attention to the TV is when it’s making dog sounds.
He had no idea there was snow on the ground until I opened the front door to let him out for his morning potty break.
I clipped the chain to his collar and sent him outside.
As soon as he had all four paws on the porch, a strong wind whipped snow in his face. He immediately recoiled, practically coming back inside.
With the door still cracked, I consoled him, “Sorry bud, but you’ve got to go potty.”
It was a matter of minutes before I heard him bark, wanting back inside.
“Arf!” he let out his one, resounding bark that is his clear sign of distress.
I was putting my lunch together and needed another second to finish up.
“Arf!” he barked again, his voice sounding more desperate.
In an earlier blog, Some like it hot: part two, I describe how Sensi’s single bark is his own little distress call that he uses only in the winter.
On Saturday, I let Sensi out to go the bathroom and he was out for probably a half hour, sniffing around in the afternoon sunshine. I had to call him to get him to come back inside.
But when there’s snow on the ground, he calls us.
“Come and get me!” the single bark conveys. “It’s cold and I need inside NOW!”
For today, at least, the bark is back.
I hope it’s the last time we’ll hear it until next winter!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Breed all about it

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with horses and books.
My mother would take me to the library every Thursday night. I always tried to pick out only as many books as I could read in a week, but I usually overloaded myself.
One book that I consistently checked out was a very large, hard cover book that was an encyclopedia of horses. It showed all the different breeds, explained each one’s history, strengths, weaknesses, sizes, colors, etc.
Horses quickly took a back seat in my life when Brent and I brought puppy Sensi home.
A year later, on my birthday, my mom got me one of the best birthday gifts I’ve ever received. I recognized it as soon as I saw it.
She had found the encyclopedia of dogs, the same book and format as the one I used to study on horses years earlier.
That was five years ago. Incredibly, this book is now a sort of feature for friends visiting my house.
Brent and I, and our friends, reference this book so frequently that, of the many wonderful books I’ve collected, this is the only one to have a permanent place on the coffee table.
It seemed impossible for one of Brent’s friends to keep his hands off the book when he came over, so one year, we bought a new edition of it for him on his birthday.
He has reported back to me that at every family gathering since then, the book has become the center of attention.
Want to check it out?
The book is properly titled The New Encyclopedia of The Dog and is authored by Bruce Fogle.
I’ve always purchased my books at Borders; I like being able to place an order and pick up a book on my way home. I will say, though, that the prices offered by Amazon.com are more competitive.
You can also probably find it at the local library. Check it out one day and watch as people in your house start congregating around it.
One note to the reader: Use the index. It’s at the back of the book and allows you to look up dogs by the name of the breed.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Overcoming generalization

Training a dog in a variety of environments is important.
It helps the dog overcome his tendency to generalize, strengthening his understanding that the command you’re teaching applies whether he’s inside, outside, around other animals, etc.
I usually train Sensi in my living room. The most recent command we worked on was, “Head down.”
In this exercise, Sensi must not only lay down, but he must also rest his head on the floor.
Once I got him doing this in living room, I moved to the kitchen. Then the foyer. Then the hallway. Then the bedroom. Then in his bed in the bedroom. Then on our bed. Then on the deck. And then we went outside.
It took probably about a half hour to practice in all these places.
The key is, I started in the usual spot. Once he got the hang of it, I kept the momentum going but moved around.
He realized, in the living room, that this game was all about putting his head down. Rather than stopping and letting him forget about the game, I just moved the game around.
Sensi dutifully followed, ready to put his head down in exchange for a treat no matter where he was.
I take all opportunities to practice his commands when elements of the environment change.
When friends come over — especially his doggie friends — I make him run through the commands. When we bring him to a friend’s house, we do the same.
By having already exposed him to completing the command in a variety of environments, it makes distractions like new places or having other dogs around easier to overcome.
The rule of thumb here is, if you taught your dog to do something only in your living room, don’t expect him to do it anywhere else. You have to work with him in each environment.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

How generalization affects training

Let’s put it this way: Your dog’s inability to generalize prevents him from learning commands completely.
I think we can all relate to this next scenario.
You teach your dog to roll over and you are so proud of him, you just can’t wait to show your friends.
Your friends are visiting one night for dinner, hanging around the kitchen as you keep an eye on the food cooking on the stove top.
Your dog meanders in and you’re excited the instant you see him because you’ve just remembered, he has a new trick to show off.
“This is so cool. I’ve never actually had a dog that could roll over before. I can’t believe he figured it out,” you say to your friends.
Then you look at your dog, treat in hand.
“Roll over,” you say.
The dog is still sitting there, looking up at you. He offers you a paw instead, a trick he’s done a million times.
“No,” you say, and then try it again. “Roll over!”
Out of frustration, he barks and then lays down, his eyes still fixated on the treat.
“I don’t know why he’s doing this,” you say to your friends. “He must’ve rolled over like a million times the other night when we were practicing.”
Your friends are nice and more than that, they really don’t care what silly tricks your dog can do. Some of them don’t even like dogs that much. But even so, you feel a bit humiliated.
Let’s examine this situation a bit. Is the kitchen usually where you do all your training? Probably not. It’s kind of a distracting area of the home for dogs. Maybe the living room is where you do most of your training.
I’d make a solid bet that the dog will perform every trick by the book, perfectly on command, in that living room. I’d also bet that he wouldn’t respond at all in the kitchen, bedroom, basement or yard.
This is all thanks to a dog’s inability to generalize.
It’s not just every thing that’s different to a dog, but every situation is different too. Every environment is different.
So what are you supposed to do? I’ll explore that tomorrow.