Pup links!

Actress Donna Drake and her cocker spaniel. Source: LIFE Magazine Archives.

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

The Furry Ties That Bind. A beautiful post that reflects on what it is that makes us dog people, tracing the deep connection that children often feel with dogs. (City Dog/Country Dog)

You Don’t Have To… This post by trainer Tena is a great reminder that there are multiple alternatives to any given technique or method. It’s relieving to read. I’ve had lots of people tell me that I HAVE to use a prong/choke collar if I get a German shepherd, that I have to use physical punishments, etc. As Tena would say, “You don’t have to.” There are other alternatives. Don’t do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or uneasy when it comes to training your dog. (Success Just Clicks)

Hierarchy: These Are a Few of Her Favorite Things. A ranked list of Elli’s favorite toys! This was fun to read, and a nice place to start for good ideas among the overwhelming cornucopia of dog toys. (Identity: V+E)

Conflicting Gestures of Affection. Why declaring a “National Hug Your Dog Day” might not be the best idea. (The Bark blog)

DIY: Liver and Potato Grain-Free Dog Treats. This sounds like a (fairly) easy recipe to make homemade treats. (The Hydrant)

AKC’s Top 11 Dog Breeds by City. This is an interesting report: Do certain cities prefer different breeds? It seems so! What breeds do you think are most popular in your city? And what does that say about your city? I think Charlottesville probably has a higher proportion of setters and spaniels than most cities; they seem to complement the landed gentry image that is somewhat prevalent around here. Here’s the more complete 2011 AKC breed report by city. (Woof Report)

Run, Doggy, Run. Laura Benn shares some great pointers on how to prepare yourself and your dog to run together. (iRun)

Review: Dog’s Best Friend

Dog's Best Friend, Mark Derr

Dog’s Best Friend is perhaps the first “academic” dog book I’ve read (it was actually published by the University of Chicago Press, first in 1997, with the second edition coming out in 2004). The book is a hefty survey of the historical relationship between dogs and humans, spanning from the dawn of time to the present day. I picked it up from the library, because I recognized the author’s name from a 2006 piece he published in the New York Times, lambasting Cesar Millan for the incredible damage he has done to Americans’ perceptions of dogs and dog training.

The title seems to be a bit of a joke, for if anything, this book highlights how poorly we often treat dogs. Although humans are responsible for the incredible evolutionary success of the dog as a species, modern people have not done very well by the domestic dog.

As an example of humankind’s mistreatment of the dog, Derr devotes an entire chapter to the atrocities of the AKC and purebred breeders. He explores the genetic and behavioral problems we have introduced to dogs through vigorous inbreeding, purely for the sake of creating an animal that pleases the eye or tickles our fancy. Derr also writes extensively about the shady and often elitist practices of the AKC and other breed registry clubs, who are inclined to consider dog shows a “sport” for the wealthy to create dogs with no regard for the dog’s physical or mental well being.

Derr himself has two Catahoula leopard dogs and his preference for “primitive” or unregistered dog breeds is apparent throughout the book. I enjoyed reading about his adventures in the American wilderness–often in the South–with people who still bred and raised dogs for distinct purposes, but did so without any regard for bloodline or breed purity. If the dog can hunt, it is a hunting dog, regardless of its parentage, and so forth. It’s a world that seems very far removed from my own, and yet I often see many of these types of dogs (often indistinguishable hound crosses) at our local SPCA.

I liked the book and yet it was very unsettling to me. I found myself very swayed by Derr’s arguments about the absurdity of the AKC and the ridiculous promulgation of breeds who would, if left to nature, quickly die out (for example, bulldogs, other brachycephalic breeds, and most toy dogs, who would not last if not artificially sustained by humans). The main point that I got from this book was that we should not seek dogs who are on either extreme of the size spectrum. Both Great Danes and chihuahuas are bred to an unhealthy extreme of size. Dogs should not only be able to live six or seven years, because their hearts cannot sustain their enormous size. Likewise, dogs should not be bred so small that they develop severe anxiety issues and cannot protect themselves from the weather.

Derr’s point, again and again, is that we need to be called to a higher standard with how we raise and breed dogs. Have some respect for the dog’s well being, lifespan, and genetic soundness. Don’t breed dogs just because you think they look funny or pretty if that breeding makes them unable to live a long and healthy life. This argument is why Derr himself has repeatedly turned to “unregistered” and largely unrecognizable local dog breeds; the dogs are purportedly healthier and saved from the reaches of the breed enthusiasts. Essentially, Dog’s Best Friend raises a lot of the difficult ethical questions that we must face if we are people who, like myself, are inclined to desire purebreds.

Pup links!

Matching your outfit to your dog? Awesome. Source: Miss Moss

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

All Exercise Is Equal, But Is Some More Equal than Others? Patricia McConnell, who has quickly become one of my favorites in the dog book world, reflects on the different types of exercise that we provide for our dogs and how some expeditions are more beneficial than others. Worth a look! (The Other End of the Leash)

In Defense of (Some) Breeders. As an SPCA volunteer and a part-time purebred aficionado, I have a lot of inner turmoil. There are plenty of dogs in the world; we don’t really need to breed more–and yet, I admit that I want a purebred Aussie puppy. I feel guilty about this. But this thoughtful and carefully expressed article allayed some of my anxieties. If you’re caught in this dilemma, I recommend this essay. (Pawcurious Vet Blog)

Goodnight, Sweet Blue. A sad post about a fostered pit bull who had to be euthanized; thoughtful and moving. (Love and a Six-Foot Leash)

Neighborhood Watch. Our wedding photographer’s handsome lab Orvis keeps an eye on the neighborhood. (And Unlimited)

AKC Welcomes Three New Breeds. Meet the American English coonhound, the Finnish lapphund, and the Cesky terrier! (Ohmidog)

Balls Are Overrated. Indeed! Cheeky ad campaign to urge people to neuter their dogs. (Under the Blanket)

It Literally Sucks. It’s the simple things in life, corgi. It’s the simple things. (Pawesome)

Sparks. We’re going to take portrait photos like this one day. You betcha. (Awkward Family Pet Photos)

Trick Video Reveals Happy Dog. This dog blew my mind. And its trainer, whoever he or she may be! This makes me really happy and really impressed. (The Bark Blog)

Breed Love: Great Pyrenees

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.
  • 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:

Review: The Puppy Report

The Puppy Report, by Larry Shook

I picked up this somewhat unknown little book at our local library because it sounded interesting and it was very short. It is now out of print and you can buy it on Amazon for a penny, but I think it was worth reading, even if its information is now somewhat out of date.

Shook opens with a tragic story about his misguided attempt to buy a purebred Irish terrier for his family. Those in the dog world would have seen red flags going up on all sides when he picked this puppy out (it was the most dominant in the litter; the breeder wouldn’t let him meet the mother because she was “unfriendly;” this particular breed is known for its tenacity and for not being excellent with young children). His puppy turned out to be no small terror. Despite Shook’s repeated attempts to train his dog–including an unfortunate and cringe-inducing visit to a dominance-oriented trainer who tackles the aggressive terrier to the ground and puts him in a choke hold–nothing could be done for this ill-fated puppy. The dog was eventually euthanized for its overwhelming aggression toward people.

Shook set out to write this book in an attempt to figure out what had gone wrong with his Irish terrier. His conclusion is that the purebred dog industry in America is deeply flawed. Citing examples of the rampant spread of puppy mills and the misguided rules of the American Kennel Club, Shook prevents shocking and disturbing evidence of careless breeders and the thousands of structurally and behaviorally unsound dogs they produce.

Australian Shepherds are my favorite breed, and so I was particularly interested in his brief account of the fight between Australian Shepherd breeders and the AKC. At the time Shook was writing, in 1991, the Australian Shepherd was not an AKC recognized breed and the Australian Shepherd Club of America (ASCA) wanted it to remain that way. As Shook puts it, the ASCA knew that the purity of the breed would deteriorate as soon as Aussies became a part of the AKC. Breeders would start breeding for looks only and the working and temperament characteristics would start to fall by the wayside. The AKC pulled some very shady political moves to lay claim to the Australian Shepherd and, to Shook’s and the ASCA’s apparent dismay, the breed was officially recognized by the AKC in 1992.

Overall, the book is worth reading for anyone who is considering a purebred puppy. The Puppy Report will convince you never to buy a puppy from a pet store or a puppy mill and will arm you with a series of helpful questions for any prospective breeder. A good rule of thumb is that a reputable, respected breeder will ask you just as many questions as you will ask him or her. A good breeder will also be up front about the breed’s known health and temperament issues and provide you with any necessary health documentation.

I’d recommend this book, even though it is hard to find, to anyone who is interested in a brief but important history of the decline of the purebred dog in the United States. The Puppy Report is a succinct warning for overeager people who just want that cute, glossy puppy they’ve seen in the magazines. Take it from Shook: You might be getting a whole lot more than you bargained for.