Mongrel Heart

Mongrel Heart
David Baker

Up the dog bounds to the window, baying
         like a basset his doleful, tearing sounds
             from the belly, as if mourning a dead king,
and now he’s howling like a beagle – yips, brays,
         gagging growls – and scratching the sill paintless,
              that’s how much he’s missed you, the two of you,
both of you, mother and daughter, my wife
         and child. All week he’s curled at my feet,
             warming himself and me watching more TV,
or wandered the lonely rooms, my dog shadow,
        who like a poodle now hops, amped-up windup
            maniac yo-yo with matted curls and snot nose
smearing the panes, having heard another car
           like yours taking its grinding turn down
               our block, or a school bus, or bird-squawk,
that’s how much he’s missed you, good dog,
         companion dog, dog-of-all-types, most excellent dog
             I told you once and for all we should never get.

Working on their relationship

The progress of a fearful dog can often seem imperceptible. For me, one of the primary ways I am able to detect progress with Pyrrha’s myriad fears is by hearing guests say, “Wow, Pyrrha seems so much calmer/more interested in me/less anxious.” Without this external confirmation, I am often incapable of noticing her improvements on my own.

Guion and P

She has never been a fan of Guion. In many ways, she still doesn’t totally trust him. She brings a lot of baggage to the table, but I also think his personality is just one that she’ll never totally warm up to. He is expressive, animated, and loud, many of the traits that Pyrrha abhors in people, especially if they happen to be male. Pyrrha has warmed up to a few men in a noticeable way (my father and my brother-in-law), but their personality types are quieter and they seem to engage with her in a way that she wants.

Guion and P

However, since adding Eden to the household, we’ve both noticed a small shift in Pyrrha’s comfort level with Guion. She boldly begs from him whenever he is eating — a behavior that our trainer said to allow, because Pyrrha is expressing bravery by approaching Guion — and lately, she’s even been seeking attention from him.

Guion and P

He told me that the other day, when I wasn’t home, she came up to greet him, sniff him over, and lean on him for pets. This sounds like such a small, insignificant thing, but in the Pyrrha/Guion relationship complex, it’s huge! It’s doubly so because I wasn’t home; my presence is usually a prerequisite for any voluntary interaction between them.

Inter-species communication #germanshepherd #doglife

After two years together, they are still working on their relationship, but I am proud of them both. And always happy to observe progress, however slight.

If you have a spouse/partner, do your dogs interact differently with the two of you? In what ways?

Don’t be an idiot; don’t use shock collars

While renewing my commitment to training our dogs and brushing up on the literature, I am reminded of a few simple dog-training truths. You know all of these things already, but I am scribbling these principles here as a strong reminder and encouragement to myself.

Rudd Weatherwax training Lassie. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Dog training is hard, you feel me?

Good training requires a lot of commitment.

People are lazy. Myself included. This is why we have dogs with behavior problems that don’t seem to improve. This is why our dogs frustrate us and we feel like neither party is clearly communicating with the other. This is why young dogs are getting adopted out and then returned to shelters a few weeks later.

The truth is that we’re always training our dogs to do something, even when we think we aren’t. Successful training requires a lot of commitment, awareness, and conscientiousness on the part of the dog owner.

You have to be intelligent to be a good trainer.

Time to be offensive!

If you want to be a positive reinforcement trainer, intelligence may be a prerequisite — or at least a mild level of intelligence. The less intelligent or less patient among us resort to shock-collar training because it’s easy. This may seem like an extreme statement, but I don’t know of any great positive trainers who aren’t also very intelligent. I also don’t know of any people using shock collars or physical or psychological intimidation who know much (if any) canine science.

Lately, I’ve become increasingly enraged by the success of a shock-collar “training” organization in my area. The “trainers” are not certified by any national training organization, at least according to their website — because why would they need to be? All you need to know is how to push a buzzer to shock your dog in the neck. Small children can be “successful” shock-collar trainers.

I’m very dismayed with the rescue that we got our dogs from, as they have become increasingly involved with these shock-collar trainers. Whenever the rescue gets a slightly difficult German shepherd, they ship them off to “board and train” with the shock-collar folks. They love posting before and after videos of these dogs (in fact, the incisive Eileen from Eileen and Dogs has sampled from their videos in some of her excellent posts against shock collars). The rescue’s presence on Facebook and constant promotion of their “training” techniques is actually one of the main reasons I got off Facebook; I couldn’t take it anymore.

In their videos, you see a similar pattern: In the “before,” we get an energetic dog, with the trainer in the background saying stuff like, “As you can see, Roscoe isn’t trained at all, and he is crazy,” while the trainer yells “SIT!” at the dog when the dog is looking at someone else or playing with a toy on the asphalt. And then we get the “after”: All of the life in Roscoe’s eyes is gone. He now walks slowly and tensely next to the trainer, who is gripping the shocking device, and Roscoe now does everything the trainer asks him to do. The trainer exclaims, “See how well he heels now! Look how calm he is!” Yes. And see how you’ve utterly crushed his spirit. That is not a calm dog; that is a broken dog.

Just watch some videos of people working with clicker-trained dogs and compare. There is so much JOY in a positively trained dog. The positive dog is having fun with her human; they are strengthening their bond as mutual trust and encouragement is exchanged. The shock-collar-trained dog? No joy — and of course there isn’t! Would you be happy when you were working with someone who electrocuted your throat at various intervals? There is compliance, yes, but at what cost?

I’m not saying you need a PhD in animal behavior to clicker train your dog. But you do need to understand the basics of canine behavior and psychology, to understand why and how you need to do certain things. Otherwise, you will create very serious problems for yourself and your dog in the long run.

People. Be kind to your dogs. Learn some basic canine behavior and science before you start shocking them in the name of obedience training.

First day of school at Canine Campus

A poor photo of me working with Pyrrha in her first class, back in 2012.

How do we break the pattern of laziness, and thus the appeal of shock-collar training?

I’m just as lazy as the next person. If I hadn’t been welcomed into this dog blogging community and found Patricia McConnell before Cesar Millan, I might have resorted to intimidation-based training tactics. I understand why physical and psychological domination appeals to so many dog owners. But knowing what I now know about dogs, it chills my blood to see those techniques used on dogs.

What aspects of dog training do you wish more people knew? What reminders about dog training do you need to hear yourself?

 

The understanding of a dog

underneath-the-southern-moon:  Obie / / Alexa Lindh

(c) Alexa Lindh.

Understanding

Margaret E. Bruner

Sometimes it seems as if a dog can sense
One’s thoughts more quickly than a human can;
They know the moments that are dark and tense—
When worries have upset life’s general plan.
And I have seen them gazing into space
At such a time, as if they almost knew
That any gesture would be out of place
Unless one asked for it. How very few
Of all the wise and learned of earth possess
This strange, uncanny power to understand
Man’s deepest moods of utter loneliness,
When naught but silence meets the heart’s demand.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Love that last line.

Hope you have pleasant weekends ahead! Hard to believe that autumn is already upon us.

Dogs in the wedding

We took a weekend trip, with both pups in tow, to attend a friend’s wedding. It was a lovely outdoor affair, and the couple are a happy, athletic, dog-loving pair. They have a pair of Brittany spaniels, named Eolus and Maple, who are their heart and joy.

At the rehearsal dinner, each table had a paper silhouette of one of the family dogs on it, which naturally warmed my heart. During his toast at the rehearsal dinner, the bride’s father said he knew that she was in it for life when Matt, her groom, bought her a dog (little Maple). And then, after the ceremony, both dogs were brought in to get family photos with the bride and groom. Here is a poor photo I snapped of Maple, the younger spaniel, giving her mama a kiss:

Maple gives her mom a happy wedding kiss #cheers2thechisholms

Although the dogs didn’t participate in the ceremony itself, they were certainly important members of the family. And I think this was rather an ideal way to involve pups in a wedding. I don’t know many dogs who would actually enjoy being in a wedding, but I’m sure they wanted to be around for at least part of the fun. Maple and Eolus had a handler assigned to them during the reception, and so they got to hang out for a bit and mingle with guests.

Did you/would you have your dogs in your wedding? We didn’t have dogs when we got married, but I imagine we’d certainly want them around to be included in the photos, as our friends did.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Meanwhile, our dogs had a nice vacation with my parents. They both get tons of exercise when my dad is in charge of them, and so they are always very happy and content. As you can see, they are both very devoted to him:

Ever devoted to grandfather Jak #germanshepherds

We got some more off-leash practice, including some romping at the shores of a lake, in the afternoons. They both did quite well, although they seemed especially excited to be FREE and were a little less attentive to us than they were on our recent hike.

Hanging out in Davidson #germanshepherd #babygurrrrl

How were your weekends?

Review: Primal Venison Lung Puffs

Primal lung puffs review | Doggerel

We’re big fans of limited-ingredient treats over here, and so we were excited to try this offering from Primal: Venison Lung Puffs. (The name makes me laugh a bit. “Lung puffs” sound like what a baby dragon might do when learning how to blow smoke…)

Primal lung puffs review | Doggerel

The treats are dehydrated and come in a variety of sizes and chips, but they are easy to break up (without excess dust or crumbs).

Primal lung puffs review | Doggerel

I’m not sure if the dogs have had venison before, but they were BIG fans! This is purely anecdotal, too, but they really seem to go crazy for treats that are solo ingredient (i.e., just meat), much more than the ones that have grains or other fillers in them.

Ingredients list? Venison lung and ascorbic acid. You can’t really beat that!

Additionally, these treats offer:

  • Venison raised in New Zealand without antibiotics or added hormones
  • Single-source protein
  • No preservatives
  • Grain and gluten free
  • No added salt or sugar

Primal lung puffs review | Doggerel

These treats are currently on sale for $6.99 a bag at Chewy.com. We will be adding these to our shopping list for future treat purchases!

Do your dogs eat limited-ingredient treats? If you don’t make them yourself, what are some of your favorite sources/brands for these kinds of treats?

Disclosure: We were provided with a bag of these treats by Chewy.com in exchange for our honest review.