Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Must read: Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson

Culture Clash: Buy it
I just realized that I've never formally reviewed my most-cherished dog behavior book in this space.
My apologies for that.
I have, however, referenced this book a number of times. I've also given it as a gift to dog-owning friends of mine at nearly every Christmas since I first read it years ago.
First published in 1996, Culture Clash should have changed the world. And perhaps it is, one reader at a time.
Donaldson wastes no time identifying the major problem in the human-dog relationship — the way humans view dogs.
Donaldson calls it the "Walt Disney dog" or "fuzzy-wuzzy" model.
The gist of it is this: We approach our dogs as though they are little, four-legged humans wearing furry suits.
Seriously, we do.
We reason what they do and why they do it from the human perspective. Did the dog tear down the blinds while you were gone? He must've been mad you left him alone for so long. And yesterday, when he tore off after a rabbit, he blatantly disregarded your command to come despite the fact that he knows to come when called. He knew better and he ignored you, right?
We never take a step back from the way we think. Every thing we reason about our dogs is colored by our own experiences as humans. It's only natural, but that doesn't make it right or helpful.
Worse yet, we've come to measure our dogs by human standards.
Ask a dog owner, anywhere, how intelligent dogs are and you will hear never-ending tales of just how smart, human-like and cleverly manipulative dogs are. It's as though they have to be smart like us in order for us to justify loving them as members of our family.
An additional problem, Donaldson wrote, is that in our approach, we've ascribed to them morality. Not only did the dog know it was wrong to tear down the blinds, but he did it on purpose to spite you.
Now consider that's not the case. How are you ever going to solve the problem if what you think is the problem really is not? Worse yet, might you be inclined to inadvertently make the problem worse?
"As soon as you bestow intelligence and morality, you bestow the responsibility that goes alone with them," Donaldson wrote. "In other words, if the dog knows it's wrong to destroy furniture yet deliberately and maliciously does it, remembers the wrong he did and feels guilt, it feels like he merits a punishment, doesn't it?"
She continues: "We set them up for all kinds of punishment by overestimating their ability to think ... The fuzzy-wuzzy model gives dogs problems they cannot solve and then punishes them for failing."
Here's the bright side: Dogs are amazing in their own right.
Donaldson leads you through truths we know about dogs — how they learn, what motivates them, instinctual factors and their own amazing doggy abilities.
"I find it disturbing that my dogs' value is based on myth and exaggeration, as though their reality wasn't good enough," she wrote.
The value of the book does not end there.
Donaldson gives you the information you need about dogs to start tackling the most difficult of behavior issues, like a step-by-step exercise to rehabilitating food guarding.
She goes beyond that in her "Nuts and Bolts of Obedience Training" chapter to give you a clear-cut plan to achieving those training basics, from a sit-stay to pulling on leash, with stellar results.
The book builds on itself.
First, you learn what a dog really is — the essential building block for everything that follows. Then, she gives you a well-defined plan for everything from basic training to modifying bad behaviors.
I have often said that if I ran the world, every person would have to read this book and be tested on it before being allowed to own a dog.
Of course I realize how ridiculous that is. But it is still my opinion that if you currently own or are planning to own a dog, you should read this book.

Monday, February 27, 2012

New television network intended for a dog audience

A story about a new TV network developed exclusively for a canine audience piqued my interest recently.
Lots of dog owners (and cat owners, and bird owners too) will leave on the television set for their dogs while they're away, or a radio. Generally, the reason given is less about dogs liking to watch TV and more about background noise intended to keep them company.
This, of course, is not really achieved. Noise can never fool a dog into thinking he's got a companion when he is all alone.
Anyhow, this new TV network is based on the premise that with the advent of digital television, dogs can now enjoy TV with us.
This is true; at least up to the point of saying they may actually enjoy it.

Here's the video report on the new doggie TV network

Interestingly enough, I had just finished reading about dogs, their vision and how it affects canine TV viewership (if you guessed I was reading Alexandra Horowitz's Inside of a Dog, you're totally right) when that story popped up.

Fun trivia about dogs, vision and TV viewing
The rate at which any living being with eyes sees the world is called the flicker fusion rate. Horowitz defines the flicker fusion rate as "the number of snapshots of the world that the eyes take in every second."
The flicker fusion rate for humans is 60. For dogs, it's between 70-80.
Think about the old-fashion film reels to understand how this works and what impact it has your dog's TV watching capabilities.
Because the human flicker fusion rate is 60, films are generally shown at 60 frames per second. This makes the series of still images appear as one fluid moving image to us.
If the old-fashioned film reel were to slow below that rate, we all know what happens. We start seeing the black space between the frames. It would be really hard to watch a film this way — no doubt, we'd feel like we were watching a bunch still images in a choppy slideshow type format.
That is exactly what the dog sees watching non-digital television, which projects at 60 frames per second.
"This — and the lack of concurrent odors wafting out of the television — might explain why most dogs cannot be planted in front of the television to engage them," Horowitz writes. "It doesn't look real."
Digital television fixes this problem, which is what opened the door for this new canine-oriented television network.
But the question remains, will dogs start liking TV now?
We must remember that to the dog, the world is first and foremost a world of scents, not sights. Vision is secondary to that all-important dog snout.
The chances that our television sets can become babysitters for our dogs like they so often are for our children is not likely, I think.
"So, you mean to say they need to invent a scratch-and-sniff television for dogs?" asked my coworker Charlie Crumm, who grins and bears my never-ending dog anecdotes on a daily basis.
Yes. Scratch and sniff might just work — but then, you might also come home to a broken TV set.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cute pic of a cute dog trick

A former coworker of mine, Andrew Dupont, shared this photo of himself and his dog Dexter on Facebook last week and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to share it with all of you.
The tongue-in-cheek caption Dupont posted with the pic said: "Having a conversation with Dexter about the way he sits around the house." Adorable.
Andrew Dupont with Dexter
Dexter is a 4-year-old Shih-Poo, a Shih Tzu and Poodle mix.
"He only sits like that when he's on the couch with me," Dupont said. "We've taught him several tricks, including how to sit 'up' but everywhere besides the couch he extends his hind legs.
"We thought it was really funny the first time he did it, so I rewarded him."
Now, whenever Dexter thinks his owner might have a treat or toy for him, he'll sit like that.
"He will stay upright like that for about 30 seconds or so," Dupont said.
Get ready for the most adorable part: "If he starts to lose his balance, he will extend his 'arms' like he is trying to grab onto something to brace himself."
From a behavior perspective, this is a perfect example of the positive consequences rendered from rewarding behaviors you like in your dog as they occur.
Rather than thinking about dog training from the perspective that you're going to take your dog to a class or set up defined "sessions" in which you train specific commands, think instead how any ol' minute can serve up a good training opportunity.
Do you like it when your dog lies nicely by your feet? Reward it. Catch your dog doing something really adorable off the cuff? Reward it.
Give your dog positive feedback for the things he does that you like and who knows? Maybe you'll end up with a photo this adorable too. And if you do, please share them with me!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Must read: Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz

Alexandra Horowitz. Photo by Vegar Abelsnes
Buying me a book about dogs is no easy task; shelves are overloaded with dog books nowadays, not all of their pages filled with quality information.
At Christmas, my friend Allison demonstrated just how well she knows me when she brought me the gift of Alexandra Horowitz's Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell and Know.
I mentioned the book briefly in last week's posts about eye contact, but the book merits more attention than that.
The first clue that this was going to be a great read was Horowitz's credentials. She teaches psychology at Columbia University and went through a graduate program studying animal behavior.
It was the prelude, though, that really gave away how good this book was going to be.
Horowitz wrote about how, while going to graduate school and being part of research groups studying highly social creatures, she spent a lot of her down time with her dog Pumpernickel at dog parks.
Buy it
"I learned the science of careful observations, data gathering, and statistical analysis," Horowitz wrote. "Over time, this way of looking began seeping into those recreational hours at the dog park."
She continued: "I never saw Pumpernickel — or any dog — the same way again. Far from being a killjoy on the delights of interacting with her, though, the spectacles of science gave me a rich new way to look at what she was doing: a new way to understand life as a dog."
Though not in graduate school studying animal behavior (though I would be if I won the lottery), it was when I began researching canine behavior years ago that transformed the way I see dogs.
It was not what I read in the journals and books, but how I saw that knowledge come to life in watching dogs — particularly dogs around other dogs — that gave me a whole new perspective of the four-legged creatures we share our homes with.
One of my most memorable vacations I refer to as the dog weekend. We went up north with a bunch of friends and four dogs.
The four dog weekend, clockwise: Rona, Ruger, Sensi & Maggie
There was never a dull moment dog watching — from how the lift of one dog's head out of a leisurely nap under the picnic table affected the rest of the napping dogs to how body language indicated which dog would actually get retrieve the ball even though all four were chasing it, to how they manipulated each other to get the toy they actually wanted and not least of all, how one dog was able to keep the peace when two others were having a disagreement — it was a constant flow of communication that I could hardly keep up with.
Just as we yammer on endlessly around our friends, so do our dogs.
As amazing as it can be to watch and understand a group of dogs communicating amongst themselves, it's what that insight brings to the dog-human relationship that can be downright life-changing.
Suddenly, communication with your dog becomes a two-way street. And anyone who has ever lived with a dog would agree that being able to understand what's going on in that canine head has value that quite simply makes life easier.
Fortunately, it's not difficult to learn what you need to know — especially when the world has given us people like Horowitz and Jean Donaldson (author of my all-time favorite dog book, Culture Clash) who are both well-informed and engaging writers.
So, pick up a copy of Horowitz's Inside of a Dog. Read it, then head to the dog park and see all that knowledge come to life.
One last quote from Horowitz's book: "I've gotten inside of the dog, and have glimpsed the dog's point of view. You can do the same."
It's true. You can.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Dog gulps water too fast, won't eat food: what can I do?

Lauren's mom with Sophie (black fur) and General Sherman
I got a question from a reader, Lauren, about some issues with her mother's dogs.
The dogs are brother and sister poodle shih-tzu mixes. The brother appears to have gotten more of poodle genes, being a bigger dog, while the sister looks more like a shih-tzu.
Why does that matter?
Lauren said that the female dog has no problems drinking, but the male has a tendency to gulp his water down quickly and she's worried about bloat.
Could the bowl be too low for the male dog?

Her second question was about food, as the dogs are now eating a special diet.
The female dog "has to be on a special urinary control dog food," Lauren wrote.
As with most multi-dog households, it becomes easiest to have both dogs on the same special diet rather than try to keep different foods for each.
"However, neither dog likes this special food, and now brother won't even eat his," Lauren wrote. "I can hand feed sister a few pieces of her special food, but only if she sees her brother eat them too, and then it's more of a 'me too' kind of thing."
Lauren wrote that she was concerned treats were given out too freely and now the special food has no appeal for the dogs.

Here's my response, and I welcome any outside input that could help Lauren figure out these issues. I could especially use some help on the height of food dishes — I've heard some people say a raised bowl reduces a dog's chance of bloat and others say exactly the opposite. I'm not honestly sure what the correct answer is, so I welcome some insight on that matter.

 I'll try to answer your questions as best I can; keep in mind I'm not a veterinarian.

Bloat is most common on deep-chested dogs and I've heard pros and cons to adjusting the height of water/food bowls for dogs. With a dog as big as a Great Dane, it is standard to have an elevated bowl. For your case, I'm not sure what would be the best to recommend in terms of height.

I do, however, support your recommendation of a segmented bowl or putting something in the water bowl to slow down the gulping. This is probably the best way to fix the problem and can be achieved regardless of bowl height. It's also a relatively cheap fix as bowls like this can be found for a reasonable price at most pet stores.

On food, this is really something I'd like you to discuss with the dog's veterinarian because the sister dog does have a medical issue. I can tell you that I have had this issue with my own dog. He has allergies and has been on a variety of specialty foods over the years, not all of them very appealing to him, and we have had food strikes.

Fortunately, because I've known for years that my dog has food allergies, his palette has not been given the chance to become snobby as he is on a very limited diet and always has been. He thinks a raw carrot or frozen green bean are among the greatest treats in the world. If my dog refuses to eat a new kibble, I know I can add things like chopped carrots (allergy tested and approved) to get him to eat it.

My concern for your mother's dogs is that whatever gets added to the food needs to be approved medically as an item that will not impact her urinary tract issues.

Since tasty treats are standard in the home, you might want to ask the veterinarian about some of those specific items the dogs really like. I have, at times, hidden a treat in the bottom of the food bowl to get my dog to eat. Important to making this work is 1) Showing the dog a treat is being inserted into the food bowl, and 2) Making sure it is well-covered with the kibble so that the easiest course of action for the dog is to eat his way to the treat.

But please do seek veterinary approval for any food items like that. Your mother should be discussing what treats are acceptable given the female dog's health anyhow — a special diet will achieve little if dietary adds like treats are hurting the cause anyhow.

One more thing: Once the veterinarian does approve a treat- or food-add to her diet, remember to take that treat out of the dog's daily treat allowance! If this becomes a regular daily add to get the dog to eat, those calories will keep on building, so make sure you're reducing the dog's non-mealtime treat intake by the same amount to keep the dogs fit and healthy.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Waterford Labrador Marley has leg amputated, cruelty investigation ongoing

You may have seen the story in the news earlier this week about a 10-month-old Labrador puppy named Marley who had to have his leg amputated.
This sad story out of Waterford Township appears as though it will have a happy ending.
Police first saw an injury on the dog's leg while at a home for another reason on Jan. 26. In the police report, the injury was described as missing flesh on a lower leg, "leaving nothing but exposed bone."
The dog's owners were ordered to seek treatment for Marley.
They did not, and when police returned on Feb. 10 for yet another reason, Oakland County Animal Control was called in and emergency surgery was done.
Just days after his surgery, Oakland Press videographer Doug Bauman visited Marley.

It's clear from the video that this is one lovable dog, and I don't predict there being any challenges in finding him a loving forever home.
A cruelty investigation is ongoing. While I do have faith in animal control, I also tend to think our punishments for such crimes are not tough enough.
What this dog had to have gone through amounts to torture. Anyone who can reason away their responsibility to do something about such an awful injury just baffles me.
We shared this story on our Oakland Press Facebook page and heard a lot of people suggest what the punishment should be.
Not surprisingly, several took the eye-for-an-eye approach.
Our justice system obviously doesn't work this way, but I would like for Carrie Reilly's suggestion to be made a reality.
Reilly wrote: "It seems like they should never be able to have another animal since they have no idea how to care for one."
Eve Pickman had an interesting suggestion too. She recommended that "A national animal abuser registry, just like the sex offender one," be started.
What do you think about that?

Friday, February 17, 2012

More on eye contact and dogs

Buy it: Inside of Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
"There is a final, seemingly minor difference between (wolves and dogs)," writes the insightful Alexandra Horowitz in her New York Times Bestseller Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know.
That difference is eye contact.
Wolves avoid it, as I talked about in my last post, Bad dog training advice: the staring game.
Dogs don't.
In my last post, I also mentioned how a stare between two dogs signifies a threat of aggression. Don't be confused; this is true.
"Though they have inherited some aversion to staring too long at eyes, dogs seem predisposed to inspect our faces for information, for reassurance, for guidance," Horowitz writes.
The point I want to make is that dogs should want to read our faces and look into our eyes. This is a huge part of what makes a dog a dog and not a wolf.
Horowitz writes about how dogs became domesticated over a span of thousands of years. An early version of the dogs we know today may have had a better chance at building a bond with humans — and getting benefits, like food — if it was able to make a connection with humans. And for us, meaningful eye contact is a huge bond builder.
This again drives home the point that a dominance-based theory of training — a theory mostly rooted in the belief that we should treat our dogs as though they were wolves — is worthless.
Our dogs are not wolves.
Anyone wanting to learn more about domestication should check out the breeding experiment on silver foxes that has been taking place for decades now in Russia. The gist of the experiment is that when selecting for traits that make a dog more compatible to living with humans, tons of physical changes take place.
Let's say it again in a point-blank phrase: When selecting for behavioral traits, physical changes follow suit.
And one more time on this: Our dogs are not wolves.
We have no good reason to try to teach a dog that making eye contact with humans is a bad thing. It's far too easy to teach a dog this, given its inherited aversion to long stares, goes against what thousands of years of domestication have improved, and has only negative consequences to both the human and dog in the relationship.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bad dog training advice: the staring game

If you ever come across a dog trainer who tells you to stare into your dog's eyes until the dog looks away, run like hell and never look back.

This longheld myth about dog training does have its roots in canine behavior, but like many training tactics, it's been distorted into something harmful to the dog-human relationship.

Here's where it comes from — prolonged eye contact between two dogs is like a stand-off, a threat of aggression to come. The dog who looks away first is the submissive one, the dog who wins the staring contest is the dominant one. If neither dog looks away, a physical dogfight ensues.

Over the years, dog trainers who operate on the dominance model have used this tactic, reasoning that the dog must be taught it is submissive to humans and this is just one tool used to achieve that end.

What you're really doing, however, is teaching the dog that this canine behavior of not making eye contact except to give the threat of aggression applies to humans as well. This has dangerous implications.

The best-case scenario is that you wind up with a mildly fearful dog who does not make prolonged eye contact with humans. The next-best-case scenario is that you wind up with an extremely fearful dog who does not make prolonged eye contact with humans. The worst-case scenario is that you wind up with a dog who reacts aggressively any time a human makes eye contact with him.

Either way, you are teaching the dog that the same dog rules about eye contact apply to his/her interactions with humans, and meanwhile, humans are exactly the opposite. Our inherent body language, language we are hardly conscious of, moves us to make eye contact with other living beings. So why not teach your dog that when dealing with humans, eye contact is a good thing?

Dogs are entirely capable of this. Most of them do it with us anyhow — learning over the years that staring into our eyes with just the right precious look can earn them rewards like treats or attention. And they'll do it with their dog friends on occasion too, breaking the rules of doggie communication because they feel secure that no real threats will materialize.

So, instead of staring into your dog or puppy's eyes until he or she looks away, do just the opposite. Call your dog's name, hold a treat to your face and encourage eye contact. Gradually extend the amount of time your dog has to stare into your eyes until you give the reward. This teaches your dog to focus on you when you call his name, and teaches him that dog-human eye contact is a positive thing that earns the dog good things, like treats or attention or toys. This is the type of behavior you want in an adult dog, who will no doubt come across tons of people in his life who will want to make eye contact with him. And when they do, your dog will respond in a way to make you proud.

Worried that your dog will think he's the dominant one if you allow eye contact with humans? Don't be. Dogs spend their whole lives learning about how to communicate with humans. The more you can help them do so, the better off their life will be, and yours for it too.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

You don't know enough about dogs if ...

How much do you really know about man's best friend? Well, here are some signs that you may not know enough.

You probably don't know enough about dogs if you've ever ...

Muttered the phrase "Don't worry, all dogs love me." 
The answer here is simple: No, all dogs don't love you. It's impossible. If you truly believe that you're some sort of dog wizard, incapable of receiving anything but love from any dog you come across, you really (and let me emphasize, REALLY) don't know enough about dogs.

Said, "Oh, he/she is just trying to make friends" to explain why your dog is misbehaving
I see this most commonly with people whose dogs are not good at meeting others, usually barking or lunging at people or other dogs.
Even if we're talking about a friendly dog, barking/lunging/growling/jumping/snipping/peeing or insert some other bad behavior here, is never a dog's way of demonstrating he/she would like to make friends. It may be a display of extreme excitement or anxiety or just plain ol' poor communication skills, but trying to explain the bad behavior as your dog's way of making friends just isn't accurate.

Told someone your dog did something to spite you
No he didn't.
I'll give you credit that most people do make this assumption about their dogs, so you're certainly not alone in making this mistake, but that doesn't make you right either.
No dog spends his day plotting and planning against his owner. There are lots of good reasons why a dog might be motivated to do something like rip down your blinds or chew up your couch, but spite is not going to be one of them. And just because he has a guilty look on his face when you come home doesn't mean he knows he did something wrong — the only truth is that he knows certain scenarios add up to "bad things are going to happen to dogs." For instance, blinds on the ground plus human returning home usually equals bad things for dogs. What type of look would you expect your dog to have in that situation?

Ever defended your dog biting someone or something
I know, it sounds totally asinine, but it happens. Honest to God, it happens.
Unless your dog is defending you, himself or his home against a real threat, there is no excuse for this. You have failed in teaching your dog to behave properly, or failed in managing your dog's poor behavior around others, or both.

Disagree with me? Leave a comment with your point of view.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Royal Oak Doberman will be muzzled, not euthanized

Heidi, the dog at issue
Last week, I blogged about a dog owner in Royal Oak who started an online petition to "save" her Doberman after it allegedly bit a man.
The dog owner was saying the city was forcing her to choose between euthanizing her dog or relocating it outside of the city, according to earlier reports.
The city contested that, and it appears the city was right — on Monday, the dog owner agreed to muzzling the dog at issue and in exchange, the dog is allowed to stay with its family.
Happy ending.
If I were the judge, I wouldn't have been so kind to toss out the fines related to her dog not being licensed, though.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The world does not belong to your dog

Are you one of those people who think the world belongs to your dog and rules don't apply to you?
You make my life so hard.
I had some bad experiences this weekend ...

On Saturday, I was starting to feel sick but determined not to let it get the best of me; not with such beautiful weather on tap. I took Sensi to my favorite park, Addison Oaks. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot, I spotted two dogs off leash.

I jumped out of the Jeep, the dogs (I had Sensi's little pomeranian girlfriend with me) still in the backseat, and approached the couple. Getting closer, I realized the dogs were kinda on-leash ... Kinda. The couple had what looked like a 30-foot training lead running from one dog's collar to the other, so the dogs were connected to each other, but no one was holding on to them.

"Excuse me," I called out; the couple turned around and looked at me, puzzled.

"I have two dogs with me too, and one of them is not very friendly. I see your dogs are off-leash. Can you make sure they don't approach mine?" I said, biting my tongue to avoid calling them out on breaking the park's "All dogs must be on a 6-foot-leash at all times" rule.

They looked at me quizzically, and then the man said, "We're heading out anyway." And they continued down the Buhl Lake trail with their dogs running 20-feet ahead of them, not restrained in any way except being connected to each other.

Luckily, we didn't run into them on our walk. But I was so perturbed that these people had the nerve to treat Addison Oaks like it's a freakin' dog park. You know what, folks? Oakland County has provided you with a spectacular off-leash dog park. If you think your dogs deserve to be off-leash at all times, please take them there. I really see no excuse for breaking leash laws, regardless of how wonderful you think your dog is.

My husband went to Oxford's Seymour Lake Park to play a round of disc golf the same day. He came back with two off-leash dog stories.

He ran into this guy who identifies himself as a retired Navy Seal for the second time. The first time he ran into this guy, last summer, he watched this guy's dog bite another older disc golf player on the next hole up and the dog's owner became irate at the victimized disc golfer, blaming him for the bite because he was throwing a disc and the dog wanted it. Hello? That's the whole point of disc golf — throwing discs — and the last time I checked, Seymour Lake has a disc golf course; not a dog park. Anyhow, in that incident, my husband and his friends had to step in and protect the bitten disc golfer from this man's threats of violence.

On Saturday, the guy's dog tried biting my husband as he was squaring up to putt the disc into the basket — the dog, obviously, wants the disc and has not been taught proper teeth restraint during play. Again, the dog's owner became irate at my husband after he asked the man to control his dog. Knowing this man's unstable temperament, my husband didn't press the issue and they waited for the man and his off-leash dog to give them some distance before they resumed playing.

Then, on the back nine, they came across an off-leash Mastiff accompanied by two older people walking the course. This dog also wanted to chase the discs, my husband said, and the older couple had a hard time getting the dog in control.

Seriously, people — the world does not belong to your dog. If your dog is so wonderful and well-behaved that it can be off-leash, this does not give you license to break rules requiring that your dog be on a 6-foot leash. Especially considering that I have yet to meet one off-leash dog that is so well-behaved that it asks its owner before approaching an on-leash dog, which is an entirely dangerous situation regardless of the temperaments of the dogs involved, both on- and off-leash.

Take your wonderful dog to the wonderful dog park, and if you're too lazy to make the drive and want to walk your dog somewhere closer to you, use a leash. Please use a leash.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Controversy surrounds Doberman biting man in Royal Oak

Heidi, the dog at the center of the controversy
Interesting story today out of Royal Oak, where the owner of a Doberman has alleged that the city is "requiring (the dog's) destruction or removal from our family" after the dog bit a man.
According to the family's website, the man's nose was broken after he leaned down to pet the dog at the same time she popped up to greet him.
The man alleges his nose was bitten and broken in the process — the city attorney says photos clearly show puncture wounds on the man's nose and below his lip.
The city is also saying that the family's claim the dog will either be destroyed or removed from the city is inaccurate — that other solutions have been presented.
And oh yeah, the owner is also facing fines because her dogs are not licensed.
What do you think of all this?
As the owner of a less-than-perfect dog, I have to put the burden on the dog owner here. You have a dog breed with an often poor reputation to begin with, and I'm sure she is a great dog — my dog is a great dog — but a dog can be great without being perfect.
The burden falls to the dog owner to make sure his/her ownership and management of the dog is as perfect as can possibly be.
This dog may even be generally friendly, but even generally friendly dogs aren't bomb proof. And as the owner of the dog, you need to be the one know that. You need to know all those little situations where your dog might screw up and protect your dog from doing so.
Pay the fines, learn your lesson and see your dogs for exactly who they are — dogs. Less-than-perfect but still great dogs who need a super vigilant owner.
As for being unlicensed, that is purely irresponsible.
There's no excuse for having an unlicensed dog. Get it done or understand that if your dog does do something wrong and you wind up in a similar situation to this dog owner, the decision to not have your dog licensed is going to cast a shadow over your side of the story.

Last but not least, my favorite reader comment on this issue comes from Michael Rusing: "Owner should be fined but not put the dog down. As the owner of an easily excited large dog, I don't put myself in that situation."

Thank you, Michael, for knowing your dog and being a responsible dog owner.
(join the discussion on The Oakland Press Facebook page)

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Old dog wisdom

If old age brings with it greater wisdom, I'd argue the same is true for dogs.
My dog — impeccably trained, if I don't say so myself — has been disagreeing with me lately. Or perhaps manipulating me is a better way to put it.
Almost 9 years old now, he knows more words and commands than I can keep track of. He knows my habits and routines and all sorts of little signals. And in his old age, he is making some demands.

Take, for instance, the Buster Cube — the food dispensing cube that I usually give half his breakfast in. Last week, I was too busy to fill it up in the morning. He skipped breakfast on a couple days, watching me fill his bowl and walking away from it. When Monday came around on week two and still no Buster Cube, he flat-out boycotted food.

He wouldn't eat his breakfast. At dinner time, I moved his food bowl into the living room — sometimes, the novelty of eating in a different place is enough to get him to eat. Instead of eating, though, he started gingerly grabbing his blankets and putting them over his food bowl, trying to wrap the bowl up and hide the food. And then he'd dig at it playfully and eat up whatever little morsels came flying out. This whole blanket thing is very reminiscent of our hide-and-seek games, where I'll hide treats and toys around the house, wrapping them up in blankets and under couch cushions. He thinks it's a wonderful game.

Point being, he wanted to play with his food. He was mad about not getting the Buster and wasn't going to eat unless he got a little game out of it.

The following day, I gave him the Buster Cube at breakfast. And what would you know, he ate like a charm. The old man is demanding his Buster Cube and launched a hunger strike to get his way.

Yesterday, after our walk, he was tired and tried telling me he was too tired to jump up in the back of the Jeep. What he was really trying to say was, "Let me in the front seat where I can climb up."

See, Sensi's back legs are spindly little things that aren't very good support for his heavy front end. He's never been a jumper; not comfortable supporting himself on those little back legs of his. So getting up on to things is usually a matter of carefully climbing, one step at a time, rather than jumping.

He prefers to enter a vehicle in the front, where he has the most space to get his two front legs up on the floor. Once that is complete, he climbs on to the seat while getting his back legs onto the floor.

But he was covered in mud after yesterday. No way I'd be letting him the front seat.

I told him to get up and he just stared at me — his way of politely declining my offer.

"Get up, Sensi," I re-emphasized. Get up is one of those phrases he knows like the back of his hand. And nothing. More staring.

I do realize he's getting old. He's not as strong as he used to be. I wasn't going to hold him to jumping up. But I did need to get him in the Jeep and the only option left seemed to be lifting him up.

I took a deep breath and leaned down. "You ready for this?" I asked him as I wrapped one hand under his belly and another around his chest.

Now, I've lifted some pretty heavy dogs before. But my dog, 85 pounds and awkwardly arranged, is not easy to lift. Not for me. He doesn't care if my husband tries to pick him up, but balks when I reach for him.

He jumped out of my embrace and gave me another look. Then sighed. Then jumped into the back of the hatch.

If he could talk, I'm sure he would've told me: "No way, Ma. Don't kid yourself. I'm old enough to know you're not strong enough to lift me. I'd rather do it myself."

Smart enough to try telling me he wanted to use the front seat, and smart enough to know that I can't lift him.

Got any old dog wisdom stories to share? I'd love to hear them.