Farm dogs

We (sans dogs) recently attended a three-year-old’s birthday party, which was held at a large, beautiful farm in the nearby countryside.

Leah's 3rd birthday party

The young farmer brought out some baby goats and lambs for all of the kids to pet, which was a huge hit with the little ones. It’s fun to be reminded that most tiny children instinctively love animals — and that they also have no instincts on how to be gentle. Watching those toddlers maul those baby goats made me grateful that (1) the goats were very easygoing, and (2) the goats do not have sharp teeth. While I loved fraternizing with the babies and the baby livestock, my attention was naturally drawn to the dogs. Of course.

Leah's 3rd birthday party

First, I got to meet the actual sheepdog, this handsome 3-year-old border collie. He was soft and sweet, but very agitated by all of the toddlers, so he had to stay on leash. I mistakenly judged him for an English shepherd first, because I think the ticking and brown points on his coat threw me off.

Leah's 3rd birthday party

Then, in the barn, there was a pair of precious, adolescent Great Pyrenees. Here’s my friend greeting them:

Leah's 3rd birthday party

They were so gentle and friendly. These big pups were also great with all of the little kids who wanted to come stroke their noses. Having two high-strung dogs always makes me marvel at these dogs who have this natural calmness, who seem unperturbed by everything, just take it all in stride.

Leah's 3rd birthday party

Leah's 3rd birthday party

And then, there was THIS fellow! Guys. Totally mystified by his breed. He is all white, and I guess he could be a Great Pyrenees, but have you ever seen one with hair that grew like that? I haven’t. But he was so cute and muppet-y.

A shaggy sheepdog | Doggerel

It’s fun to see dogs in their working environments and to be reminded that dogs fulfill so many purposes, even now, in 2014. It’s easy to forget when you’re raising two dogs in the city.

I wondered what our dogs would do if they met the farm animals. Some of you live on farms, I think, but have your dogs ever encountered livestock? How did it go?

In which Pyrrha has an uneasy “play” date with Silas

Sunday delivered the most beautiful spring weather. We spent the whole day outside with Pyrrha, mowing the lawn, tending to our plants. We ran a brief errand and bumped into our friends James and Sara and their Great Pyrenees mix, Silas. We told them about Pyrrha and said we’d be hanging out all day in the yard if they wanted to come over and bring Silas.

Pyrrha in the freshly mowed lawn

Pyrrha, sitting in the freshly mowed lawn.

At this point, I knew that Pyrrha reacted fearfully toward other dogs on lead, but I’d heard from her foster that she was great with them in open spaces. I figured that this would be a good interaction, especially knowing that Silas was super-calm and steady. Enter my first dog-parenting misjudgment.

We were in the backyard with Pyrrha when James, Sara, and Silas showed up. As soon as she saw Silas, she EXPLODED. Snarling, barking, growling, hackles up, teeth flashing everywhere. Thankfully, James and Sara are as calm as their dog is. I didn’t know what to do, but James encouraged me to lead her to the back of the yard and then let go. He then released an unleashed Silas and I held my breath.

Silas, I love you

Silas, being his wonderful, chill self.

Pyrrha did not lunge at him, which I was afraid of, but just started slinking around him, sniffing him. If he ever faced her, however, she started snarling and growling again. But Silas was SUCH a champ. He was the perfect dog for her, because he refused to respond to any of her bitchiness. He’d just saunter away and let her do her thing.

Dogs, coexisting

The dogs, somewhat coexisting.

After about 10 minutes of Silas studiously ignoring her, she started to calm down and they began to coexist together. They certainly weren’t going to play with one another, but they were happy to be side-by-side and even face-to-face for the rest of the afternoon.

What I Learned: I definitely underestimated how Pyrrha might react to a new, big, strange dog in her new yard. Silas was THE best possible dog to meet her like this, however. I think he may be a critical part of her rehabilitation. And James and Sara were awesome, too; they didn’t take Pyrrha’s behavior personally and knew that she’d get over it. Which she did.

Dogs and James

Silas relaxes; Pyrrha sniffs out James.

I’m listening to your majority opinion now, and I think all of you are right: Pyrrha still just needs more time to calm down and adjust and grow in confidence. There will be plenty of time for doggy play dates. For now, we just need to work on some basic bonding and training. But the afternoon wasn’t nearly as disastrous as it could have been, and I daresay she was almost disappointed to see Silas go at the end of the day. I think Pyrrha and I both learned a lot. So, a thousand thanks to Silas and his wonderful humans; you guys deserve dog socialization medals.

I am going to take it slow with Pyrrha for now and politely decline any future, well-meaning invitations for play dates. However, I feel like the fact that she was able to happily coexist with Silas after some time bodes well for her future. She can get there eventually, but for now, we’re going to start with some more basic bonding work instead of rushing her into the presence of new dogs.

Those of you with shy dogs, how did you gradually introduce them to other dogs? What are some of your recommended techniques?

Pup links!

Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and their poodle. Source: LIFE magazine.

Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Shivapuri National Park Trekking. My crazy and adventurous little sister traveled around the world for six months, mainly in Nepal and India. While in the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal, she hiked in Shivapuri National Park. These are some of her photos. I include her post here because she said that she was followed for hours up the hike by the sweet village dog featured here. I love it, because it strikes me as a simple and beautiful testimony of the undying magnetism between dogs and people: We just want to be together. (Como Say What?)

Too compassionate? A young farmer reflects on being judged for leaving her dogs in the car for just a few minutes. The attached Portlandia sketch (“Whose dog is this?”) is totally hilarious, too. What do you think about this? Is it possible to be “too compassionate”? (Cold Antler Farm)

Moleskine Passions Dog Journal. My brother-in-law gave me this journal for Christmas and I, of course, am totally excited to get to use it! (Dog Milk)

Icons & Dogs: Marilyn Monroe. A collage of photos of Monroe with a variety of dogs. I just watched “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes” for the first time this weekend, so this post piqued my interest. (Miles to Style)

Lobster Dog Biscuits. These are totally cute. And made from beets! (Classic Hound)

My Favorite Leash. A post about the biologist’s favorite leash, a multi-use convertible leash with two snap ends. Looks cool. Does anyone use one of these? (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)

The 12 Most Adorable Presidential Dogs in U.S. History. Do you agree with this list? Fala is pretty precious. (Best Week Ever)

Fact: Dogs Are 100% Ready for Adventure. A funny–and, I think, true–statement about the gung-ho nature of dogs. (Dogblog)

Staring Contest. This Great Pyr is having none of it. (Animals Being Di*ks)

Gallery of working dogs

A collection of photos of my favorite working dogs, the beasts and guardians of the dog world. The working breeds are often quite intimidating on first glance, and then once you get to know them, they’re just overgrown cuddle monsters. My father grew up with dobermans and has always adored them. In the back of my mind, sometimes I think I wouldn’t mind having one myself…

(Click on the image to be taken to its source.)

Anatolian shepherd

Anatolian shepherd puppy

Bernese mountain dog

BernerBernese mountain dog puppy

Doberman pinscher

Doberman pinscher

Great Pyrenees

Great Pyrenees puppies

Leonberger

Leonberger

Newfoundland

Newfoundland

6 types of people who shouldn’t get dogs

Being friends

Pyrrha and our friend.

In all of my reading and all of my hours spent volunteering at the SPCA, I think one of the main lessons I’ve learned about dogs is this: Many people should not get a dog.

That sounds like an extreme statement. Let me qualify it.

The more I learn about dogs, the more I take them seriously. I used to think dogs were easy pets to have. Just grab a puppy anywhere, bring it home, and it’s your best friend for life! Turns out it’s not that simple. Dogs are complex animals who require a great deal of love, attention, and training. Temple Grandin’s book Animals Make Us Human even made me seriously question whether I should get a dog. Her recommendations for dog ownership are somewhat extreme in this modern age. Grandin seems to wish that all dogs could roam free around the neighborhood, like they used to do a few decades ago. Otherwise, she asserts, dogs are not enjoying a joyful life as they are locked up in a crate for 12 hours a day. She has a point.

A cultural misunderstanding of a dog’s complexity is why we have so many truly incredible dogs waiting in the emotional wastelands of our shelters and humane societies. Granted, the shelters are doing the best job they can with the resources that they have–but not even the best shelter can provide a dog with all of its emotional needs. Only a human family can do that.

But what kind of human family should get a dog?

It’s a difficult question to answer, and clearly, everyone has to make that decision for themselves, but I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately. I’m always dismayed by the number of people I meet who seem fundamentally unsuited to caring for a dog–the people who abandon that briefly loved dog a few months later. I probably see a disproportionate number of these people because I’m a part-time shelter volunteer, but I still think it’s an important issue to address.

It always breaks my heart when I hear about people giving up their dogs. I understand that, in this economic climate, many people can no longer handle the financial burden of a dog (or cat, or gerbil, or what have you). In this respect, it is wise to give up one’s dog to someone who may be better equipped to care for him. However, I am generally appalled by the pet ads on Craigslist from people who are abandoning their animals. These are common excuses that I see:

  • “We don’t have room in our apartment anymore for our Great Pyrenees.” No, duh. Maybe you should have considered that before you brought that white fluff ball home. That sweet, cuddly pup that looks like a stuffed animal is going to turn into a 130-pound yeti in a matter of weeks.
  • “We have to get rid of our dog because I’m allergic.” I understand that some people may not know they’re allergic to dogs before they bring them home, but test this one out a bit. Ever stayed at someone’s house and felt congested from their pet’s dander? Maybe dog ownership is not for you. Spend some quality time with some dogs before you commit to bringing one home.
  • “The puppy is nipping at my children.” Yep. That’s what puppies do.
  • “We’re moving and so we have to get rid of our dog.” I understand that there may be extenuating economic circumstances, but in general, I think it’s cruel to abandon your dog because you’re moving. I myself wouldn’t dream of moving into a place that wouldn’t allow me to bring my dog with me.
  • Or, the most infuriating: “We just don’t have time for her anymore.”

Frustrating Craigslist posts aside, here’s my amateur’s vision of the types of people who shouldn’t get dogs:

  1. People with young children who want a dog–or worse, a puppy–to be a playmate/guardian for their children. These people really make me the most anxious. I see them come into the shelter with their little kids and ask if we have any puppies available. My guard goes up instantly. There is nothing wrong with getting a dog so your kids can enjoy canine companionship. However, many young parents seem to underestimate the commitment that a puppy demands. It’s kind of like having an infant all over again. And your kids are not going to raise and train that dog for you, no matter how much they beg and plead (trust me. I was that kid once! My mom was the primary caretaker for our dog, and she wasn’t really keen on having that job in the first place). Parents buy a puppy for their kids and then realize a week later, “Oh, crap. This creature needs a lot of attention that I’m not willing or able to give it.” And the dog or the puppy ends up at the shelter, confused and bewildered.
  2. People who travel a lot for work or are never home. A dog will not have a high-quality life if she lives the majority of it in a crate. Dogs are social animals. They need our daily companionship and interaction.
  3. People who don’t have a clue about a dog’s emotional, physical, and mental needs.
  4. People who won’t take the time to train their dog or think that training is “cruel” or somehow makes the dog less happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. A well-trained dog is a happy dog, because she knows where she belongs in the family order. A well-trained dog is mentally balanced, content, and a respectable member of society.
  5. People who will neglect the physical health of their dog. The more reading I do about dog food, the more I am appalled at what we’ve been feeding our pets.
  6. People who won’t spay or neuter their dogs because they think it’s unkind or depriving. Unless your full-time job is a reputable breeder, please, please spay and neuter your dog. The world is filled with unwanted dogs who are the result of irresponsible humans. I see their sweet faces every day at the shelter. Think of them before you hesitate to spay or neuter.

I hope this doesn’t come across as judgmental or cynical, even though it probably does. This post stems from my deep wish that people took dog adoption more seriously. I think dogs in America would be so much better off if their humans took the time to do a little more research. I’m always very encouraged when I do meet other dog owners–like many of the incredible dog bloggers that I link to on my site (on the right sidebar)–who understand, even better than I do, the tremendous commitment we must make to our dogs. I hope I will carefully and judiciously consider all of these elements before my husband and I bring a dog into our home. It’s not a decision to be made lightly. And that’s the main thing I’ve learned.

How about you? What kind of people make the best dog owners, in your opinion?

Pup links!

Grace Kelly and an equally glamorous poodle. Source: B for Bonnie

Dog-related things that have interested me on the Web this week…

Can Virginia Be a No-Kill State? My local SPCA, where I volunteer, was featured in the Virginia Dog magazine for its inspiring work in establishing a no-kill shelter. (SPCA Community Blog)

Safe Harbor Prison Dogs. I think programs like this one are just incredible. Safe Harbor sends 100 dogs from high-kill shelters to the inmates at Lansing Correctional Facility, where the inmates train and care for the dogs. What a wonderful idea for rehabilitation for man and dog. These photo portraits of the pairs are very moving. (Dog Milk)

Find and a Dog Who Looks Just Like You! Doggelganger. I haven’t tried this yet, but this sounds hilarious. (Pawesome)

Look Alikes! In a similar vein, do you think these people look like their dogs? Or are they just skilled at imitating canine body language? (Pawsh Magazine)

DIY $5 Rope Dog Leash. Remember that really expensive rope leash I fell in love with? Ammo’s mama shows you how to make one for $5. Sweet! Will be trying this. (Ammo the Dachshund)

A Skill that Could Save Your Dog’s Life: Leave It. A dog trainer explains how to teach this important command. (Dog Training Secret)

Jonathan Adler Dog Collars and Leashes. Posh! (A.G. Out Loud)

Going Camping. My dad loved bringing Emma on our family camping trips, and I think Emma loved coming along, too. This post certainly made me antsy to go camping with my own future pooch. (Miles to Style)

Morning on the Hill. These are such deep, lovely photographs of a quiet morning with a Great Pyrenees. S/he looks so loving and gentle. (La Porte Rouge)

Also, I’m officially a member of the Pet Blog Directory!

Breed Love: Great Pyrenees

delicious

This is the late Emma, who was the guardian of a flock of goats at a friend's farm. She was the sweetest and most delightful bear of a dog. Source: My sister

Great Pyrenees are incredible. Just look at the photo of that white, wooly bear! That dog was Emma, a family friend’s gorgeous and loving Pyr. Her job was to watch over the flock of goats in a beautiful wooded pasture, although as she aged, I think it might have been the goats who were watching over her. Apparently, when she died, she quietly walked off into the distant woods. Later that evening, she was found curled up in a grove of trees, as if she were sleeping peacefully.

I loved hanging out with that dog. She was one of the most cuddly and affectionate dog giants I’ve ever encountered. I often wished her owners kept her indoors, though; she loved people so much that it seemed unkind to keep her outside with only ornery goats for company.

In earlier years, I’d seen a few Great Pyrenees walking around town or camped out in fields, but Emma was the first Pyr that I got to spend some quality time with. Her sweetness and gentleness certainly won me over to considering the breed.

Big Puppy Paw

That face! Come snuggle with me. Great Pyr puppy. Source: Flickr, user: Sonka

Pyrs belong to the AKC working group and they exhibit traits that are markedly different from the herding dogs. Even though these groups may both hang out with sheep all day, they serve different functions. A dog like an Aussie or a border collie would be responsible for keeping the sheep in line, as per the shepherd’s orders, but a Pyr would be the great white guardian of the flock. A representative Pyr should be gentle and affectionate toward people, but territorial over its flock when it needs to be. They are quite independent dogs and tend to be bred for the ability to make decisions on their own. Because of this tendency, they are not as extremely trainable as your average herding breed.

That said, here’s a list of the qualities that I love about this breed, and the qualities that I’m not so sure about.

Great Pyrenees pros:

  • Very sweet-natured.
  • Generally laid back.
  • Great guard dogs, especially for children and livestock.
  • Adoring.
  • Gentle.
  • Contented natures; don’t necessarily need a ton of exercise.

Great Pyrenees cons:

  • Not easily trainable.
  • Independent and often stubborn.
  • SO. MUCH. HAIR.
  • Having one would be like having a small Arctic bear in your house.

I’m not sure if I’d get a Pyr any time soon, mainly because of their considerable size, but they’re definitely at the top of my list once Guion and I get that farm we keep talking about…

Great Pyrenees links: