Pup links!

A meditative mutt. Photo by Winnie Au.

Dog-related links from around the Web this week:

Your Complete Guide to the Diamond Pet Food Recalls. If you read any pet blogs at all, you’ve surely already heard about the big fiasco with Diamond Pet Food’s recall of a whole host of kibbles infected with salmonella. I was dismayed to read about it, because I had kind of decided to feed our future dog Taste of the Wild, which is one of the brands included in this voluntary recall. Were any of you affected by the recall? Will you be switching brands because of it? (Poisoned Pets)

Lure and Clicker Training to Teach Sit: Advantages and Disadvantages. Patricia McConnell discusses the pros and cons of using either a lure or a clicker to teach a dog how to sit. She also wonders if anyone is a combination trainer, perhaps using a mix of both techniques? (The Other End of the Leash)

Dogs Are Born to Run. Interesting citation of a study that claims that dogs, like people, can experience a “runner’s high.” (The Bark blog)

Four Easy Ways to Eliminate Tag Jingle. Some tips and tags to prevent the constant jingling of tags. (*Although I sometimes like noisy dog tags, in that they can always tell me where the dog is in the house…) (Unleashed Unlimited)

Ted Recommends Stagbars. Ted the long-haired chihuahua likes these particular stagbar chews and thoughtfully explains why. (Tinkerwolf)

Film: Badlands (1973). M.C. reviews Terrence Malick’s beautiful film Badlands and the dogs who play a role in it. I’m looking forward to seeing this myself, as it’s one of my husband’s all-time favorites. (The House of Two Bows)

The Long and the Short of it. I love these old-fashioned/woodblock-print-like key fobs and tags, all printed with a variety of classic breeds; would make a nice gift for a particular breed devotee. (Under the Blanket)

Rosie’s Bloopers. This is the goofiest pointer ever! These photos are hilarious. (Paws on the Run)

His Face Every Time I Catch a Fish. This is… so good. This man’s hound makes the exact same expression of curious bewilderment whenever there is a fish in the boat. (Full Pelt)

OK, and now, one of my new favorite animal Tumblrs is Animals Talking in All Caps. (It’s exactly what it sounds like.) Some of my favorites that include dogs:

WOULD YOU GUYS STOP ARGUING ABOUT POLITICS
AUGH! NO, NO! THIS IS GIN!
SEVEN YOUNG LADIES STAND BEFORE ME…

Brisk winter day at the SPCA

After a regrettably long hiatus, I went back to the SPCA yesterday to spend my morning walking the dogs. Boy, were they ready to get outside!

Amigo.

I started my morning out with this bro, Amigo, who was easily twice as strong as I am. He was also terrible on the leash and aggressive toward every single dog we passed. He was exhausting. I found myself getting frustrated and even angry with him. I tried stopping to see if he’d respond on the leash; he just kept dragging me forward. It took all my strength to stop him–or prevent him from lunging and snarling at every other dog. He was a good reminder of the futility of frustration with a dog. My welling anger with him wasn’t helping the situation, and I’m sure it was only exacerbating it.

Finally, I just resolved to make it through the walk. I had a ton of others to attend to, and not much energy or ability to help him at that time. I wish I’d had more patience in the moment, but I confess that I was really ready to just get him back in that kennel and move on to someone else. I feel guilty admitting it, but that’s how I felt. Am I the only one who gets totally blinded by frustration by a stubborn and unresponsive dog? I hope not…

Blair.

But then I got to spend some time with Blair, who was a doll. Blair is a dude, actually, and he’s very strong himself–barrel-chested like a pit bull or boxer–but he walked politely (most of the time) on his leash. How pleasant it was to take a walk without being dragged everywhere, pulling out your shoulders in the process. Also unlike Amigo, Blair was very playful and probably dropped a play bow in front of every other dog we passed. He was dying to get some play time. After talking with a more experienced volunteer, we determined that he and a lab-mix puppy, Marsh, may make good playmates, so we were able to put them in a big run together and watch them romp their hearts out. That’s always one of my favorite things to witness.

I also spent a lot of time with another volunteer, wrangling the hounds. As I’ve mentioned before, our SPCA is overrun with hounds, because we apparently live in an area of irresponsible hunters. We always have dozens of scenthounds looking for adoption, but they often linger for a long time, because they’re 1) not especially attractive, 2) somewhat large in size, and 3) not very responsive to humans. But they do make great house pets, despite that; hounds just want to lounge around on your sofa.

Hounds are also extremely sociable with one another, which is something I was reminded of yesterday. They adore the company of other dogs, especially fellow scenthounds, and you can pretty much trust any of the hounds with any other dog (for the most part). In the huge fenced-in run, we usually have four or five scenthound friends in there together, romping around for an hour or so before we put them back in their kennels. They just love each others’ company. It’s always sweet to see.

Gallery of hounds

Can you tell that I’m very partial to sighthounds? I adore them and yet they are extremely mysterious to me. I feel like I don’t understand them at all, but I want to. Some years down the road, I’m quite serious about adopting a former racing greyhound. Reading Tales and Tails also makes me believe that it would be possible for two such divergent dogs as a German shepherd and a greyhound could happily and peacefully coexist.

(Click on a photo to be taken to its source.)

Borzoi

Borzoi

Gypsy Rose Lee and her Afghan hound

Afghan hound

Greyhounds

Greyhound

Saluki

Saluki in the snow

Irish wolfhound

Irish wolfhound

Poem: “This little Hound within the Heart”

Model with a borzoi. Source: Mr. Harris Tweed

What shall I do–it whimpers so–
This little Hound within the Heart
All day and night with bark and start–
And yet, it will not go–
Would you untie it, were you me–
Would it stop whining–if to Thee–
I sent it–even now?

Emily Dickinson

SPCA Day: The joy of Pooch

I confess that I went to the SPCA for my day of dog walking somewhat reluctantly this past week. The weather has been brutally hot here and last Saturday was no exception. The heat index on Saturday was showing something like 102 degrees Fahrenheit for the majority of the day. Even though I was sweating my face off, I was happy, because the dogs are always happy.

Pooch

My most memorable dog of the day was Pooch, a young male pit bull. Pooch was one of the last dogs I walked on Saturday. Unlike most of the dogs, he didn’t jump or bark at me when I stopped at his kennel to take him out. He quietly sat by the door and just watched me, somewhat shyly. I crouched down and put my hand out for him to sniff. He ducked his head in an anxious way when I put his leash on, but as soon as I turned around to walk, he bolted out of that kennel like a rocket. The kid was ready to GO!

Like most pits, Pooch used his low center of gravity and strong pulling force to drag me all over the trails. I wasn’t much use trying to calm him down, so I took him to one of the enclosed “agility” areas. As soon as I snapped his leash off, he went wild with excitement: Racing in circles around the perimeter, looking for things to chew and balls to chase. He was especially enamored with a stuffed lamb toy that had been left in the pen. To amuse himself, he would toss it up in the air and then jump and catch it. I was delighted to just sit there and watch him play. If I wasn’t engaged in the activity, however, he was sure to let me know that he wanted my full participation. If I sat down after throwing the ball, he would charge up to me and impatiently throw his paws on my knees, grinning the whole time.

Pooch taught me a few things on Saturday. First, that dogs can behave very differently depending on their environments and situations. Pooch was shy and still when in his kennel, but as soon as he got out, he was like a totally different (and energy-packed!) dog. Second, Pooch reinforced that many pits and pit mixes have almost boundless energy. Compared with the different breed mixes I’ve met at the shelter, it’s the pits who seem to be the most gregariously energetic. And third, Pooch reminded me of what a thoroughly delightful thing it is to just watch a dog play. It’s encouraging to find the dogs at the shelter who are able to maintain their play drives to such a happy extent–despite their circumstances.

I hope Pooch finds a great home of his own very soon.

Beauty

I was also taken with Beauty, a sweet-faced female hound of middling adult age. We have a ton of hounds at our shelter. I’d never seen so many in my entire life. This is because of the area in which we live, where there are many hunters and who go out with packs of hounds. These hunters don’t always take the best care of their hunting dogs, who may often get separated from the pack or breed with each other without any regard for what will happen to the bitches or their puppies.

I don’t know Beauty’s back story, but I do know that she’s a quiet and lovely soul. Many of the hounds I’ve met show little to no interest in people. I don’t know if this is because this is a “hound thing” or if it’s because of the way they’ve been raised, but it’s often hard to get a hound’s attention–mainly because they are usually following the scent trail of something that’s about a hundred times more interesting than I am. Beauty was an exception to this aloof, uninterested hound trait.

As we walked, she paused every so often to stop and just look me straight in the face. Not in a challenging way, not in a fearful way–but a look that communicated calm attention. I’m anthropomorphizing here, but to me, Beauty’s look also communicated gratitude. Every time she stopped to watch me, to follow my eyes, she seemed to be saying, “Thank you.”

I don’t know what she was actually saying, but I’m going to believe that for a while longer. She deserves a family who will appreciate and cherish her gentleness and goodness. I hope she finds them soon.

Finally, another favorite moment of the day was with the tiny beagle mix puppy that I got to cradle for a few minutes. (I don’t have a picture of him, which probably means that he got adopted!) He was in a small carrier on the floor while his kennel was being cleaned and the poor baby was just crying his heart out. I was in between shifts of walking and I couldn’t help myself when I heard him. I stopped, sat down on the ground, and let him walk out of the carrier toward me. I didn’t want to reach in there and grab him, as he already seemed very frightened and confused. He cautiously approached me and I picked him up. He had brilliant blue eyes and those sweet, velvety beagle ears. I held him for a few minutes and spoke softly to him.

I could have sat there all day, but there were big dogs who needed walking and so I reluctantly put him back. My wish for him is that he will find a family who will raise him well and give him a long, happy life in one household.

I’m looking forward to my next volunteering weekend and to all of the new things that I will undeniably learn!

(Also: Some exciting news about Penny, the hyperactive dog that I thought no one would adopt: Apparently, she was adopted by the DEA to be a drug enforcement dog at the airports! I’m excited for her and I hope this job will provide a great channel for her boundless energy.)

Breed love: Borzoi

Borzoi just waiting for you to take his picture. Click for source.

The borzoi, also known as the Russian wolfhound, is an undeniably fashionable dog. They are scattered throughout the portraits of the rich and famous in the early 20th century. These shaggy, elegant giants were especially popular among wealthy women in the 1920s, because they looked fabulous with every ensemble. At the very least, you would attract a lot of attention with a pair of borzois at your side.

These gentle and quiet-natured sighthounds were once used by the Russian royalty to hunt wolves, although it would be quite unlikely to find a borzoi hunting today. Today, you’d be most likely to meet one in a show ring. They are still quite rare in the United States and you would pay a pretty penny for a purebred borzoi.

Borzoi
Racing borzoi. Source: Flickr user wolfhound

Borzois, like other sighthounds, are not known for being champions of the obedience ring. In fact, many owners will find them very difficult to train. This is not because, as Stanley Coren posited, they are unintelligent, but rather because they are uninterested in learning what you’d like to teach them. Unlike the highly trainable herding breeds, hounds are notoriously stubborn and sighthounds in particular are famously aloof.

Despite the challenges to training, borzois make great house pets and probably won’t give you half the trouble that one of the highly trainable breeds, like border collies or Australian shepherds, would. They are clean and quiet and almost catlike in their affectations. I’d be open to owning a borzoi one day if the opportunity ever presented itself.

Borzoi links:

Breed love: Irish wolfhound

A pack of Irish wolfhounds (although some look kind of Scottish deerhound-y to me). Source: Flickr user Pixilista

I fell in love with a dog at the shelter a few weeks ago who was described on the SPCA website as an “Irish wolfhound” mix. Like Irish wolfhounds, this dog was quite tall and lanky, but that was where the similarities ended. I found the description a bit humorous, since it’s not like there are a ton of Irish wolfhounds roaming the countryside and impregnating strays. These dogs are still fairly rare in the United States, even though most people could probably correctly identify one. Wolfhounds don’t look like a lot of other breeds.

The Irish wolfhound’s claim to fame is that of the tallest dog breed. They don’t necessarily weigh the most, but they are very leggy. With this height, unfortunately, comes a tragically short lifespan. Your average wolfhound will live to be seven or eight years old.

A lounging Irish wolfhound. Source: irishwolfhoundpuppiesblog.com

Like many giant breeds, Irish wolfhounds have a history of being very gentle and mild-mannered indoors. They can be spirited puppies, however, and prospective owners are cautioned about keeping breakable items scattered around the house. I love the look of this breed, but its comparative rarity and short lifespan lead me to think that it might not be the best for us at this time. But how great would it look to have one of these gorgeous giants on your hearth? Or waiting for you at the farm gate? I can imagine it now…

Irish wolfhound links:

Breed Love: Saluki

saluki Atreyu owned by Laurie
Graceful and beautiful saluki. Source: Flickr, user hawksview

My lifelong dog obsession began when I was 8 or 9. Since that time, I have been enamored with the saluki. I mean, just look at these dogs! They are breathtakingly beautiful. I could look at pictures of salukis all day long. (I think when I was a child, I fancied that salukis were my “spirit animal.” I found this written in a diary by my 10-year-old self. I don’t know what it means, but there you have it.)

The saluki, the royal dog of Egypt, is one of the world’s oldest dog breeds. These fleet-footed sighthounds were used by the ancient Egyptians for hunting. Today, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a saluki hunting. Rather, I’d imagine you’d find these regal dogs lounging on beds of purple velvet stuffed with goose down. Simply put, salukis are still very rare in the United States and you’d be paying thousands of dollars for a purebred puppy.

Saluki Bitch
Pretty lady in the show ring. Source: Flickr, user neil_e_lloyd

For that reason alone, I don’t think I’d ever actually get a saluki. Add their rarity and cost to the fact that they’re highly independent and cat-like, and I think the chances are slim that we’ll be buying a saluki anytime soon. But that still doesn’t stop my lifelong admiration for this breed. It’s one of my life goals, I think, to actually meet a saluki. I need to find some dog shows…

Saluki links:

The unconditional love of dogs

Elizabeth

On Friday, I volunteered for the Charlottesville SPCA during an adoption promotion event on the downtown pedestrian mall. It was the 35th anniversary of the mall’s creation and the streets were packed with people. I was helping walk dogs (including Elizabeth, featured above), handle kittens, and talk to people about adoption.

When I got there, I was feeling kind of uneasy about my role as a volunteer. My husband walked me over there and as we walked, he mentioned that one of our mutual friends harbors some disdain toward me for my dog obsession (OK, that’s fine; it is a bit out of control) and for being a volunteer at the SPCA. This person thinks that pets are frivolous and unnecessary and that people should never own domesticated animals. Accordingly, this person believes that it is silly and wasteful for me to give my time to dogs at the SPCA.

Naturally, I disagree, but I couldn’t help but feel a little guilty as I went over there. Should I be volunteering at the homeless shelter instead? Serving food at the soup kitchen? I do believe that people are more valuable than animals, but I’ve never felt called to work with the homeless. I don’t think I’m gifted in that kind of ministry. Thankfully, there are many people around here who are capable and motivated to work with the many homeless people in our community. I’m just not one of them.

Somewhat troubled in spirit, I arrived at the SPCA’s table and was handed the leash of a large, placid lab/hound named Thurgood (not pictured, because I think he was adopted this weekend!). Our area was mobbed with people, especially parents with children. Animals act like magnets to most kids. The cat pen was packed with little kids who were squeezing kittens and the three dogs that we handled were constantly being hugged, petted, and ambushed. Thankfully, the shelter staff made a good choice by bringing Thurgood and Elizabeth. Elizabeth is a senior hound who is extremely patient and slow-moving; she’s friendly to everyone, especially those who smell like food. Thurgood is a youngish, steady lab/hound mix and I worked primarily with him for a few hours. He was stubborn, but very gentle and submitted to the attentions of every type of person who rushed up to him.

The dogs were showing signs of exhaustion and stress–especially the third dog, Benny, who was unable to cope with the crowds and had to be walked away from everything–but they never showed signs of irritation or aggression. This alone taught me a lot about patience. I think I would have snapped at someone if I had armies of squealing children sticking their fingers in my eyes and mouth. But the dogs took it all in stride.

One of the biggest lessons the dogs taught me that day was about unconditional love. As I’ve already mentioned, our table was very popular with all of the children on the mall that day. But I also noticed that we drew a steady crowd of homeless and mentally handicapped adults. These people were more or less ignored by the other booths. It was assumed that they weren’t capable of supporting any of the neighboring causes or even carrying on a rational conversation about a business or a fundraising campaign. Other people would just look right past them when they approached, as if they weren’t there at all. No one paid them any attention. Except for the dogs.

The dogs treated them like everybody else. These socially marginalized people found attention, respect, and love from these animals, who did not discriminate against them based on their appearance, mental ability, or class. I will particularly remember a mentally handicapped woman who stayed at our table for almost half an hour. She kept stroking Thurgood’s head over and over, bending down to hug his neck, and kept excitedly saying to me, “Look, he likes me! Look how much he likes me!” I reassured her that he did like her. Because dogs don’t lie.

If I ever had to give an answer as to why I love dogs, I’d tell this story. The unconditional love of dogs is one of the primary reasons why they matter. It’s the motivating reason why I think we should do everything in our power to give these homeless dogs the best life possible. They have done so much for us and we have done so little for them. Just watch a dog lavish love on a complete stranger. I think that should be proof enough that dogs are valuable.

A dog’s bill of rights

A majestic collie. Source: Flickr, user KerrieT

Anthrozoologist John Bradshaw, author of the new book Dog Sense, recently posted a thought-provoking “Bill of Rights for Dogs” on The Bark blog. I quite enjoyed reading it this afternoon.

Bradshaw joins the likes of Patricia McConnell, Temple Grandin, and Alexandra Horowitz, who are actively promoting their important research on the relatively new science of canine behavior and psychology.

Much of what we are learning about dogs is that they are far more intelligent and attuned to the human world than we previously thought. Many widely perpetuated myths about dogs are also being broken down, like the repeated assertion by people like Elizabeth Marshall Thomas that we should think of and treat our dogs as wolves.

Bradshaw has this to say on the topic:

Wolves, which have generally been portrayed as vicious animals, constantly striving for dominance over every other member of their own kind, have been held up as the only credible model for understanding the behavior of dogs. This supposition leads inevitably to the misconception that every dog is constantly trying to control its owner—unless its owner is relentless in keeping it in check. The conflation of dog and wolf behavior is still widely promoted in books and on television programs, but recent research on both dogs and wolves has shown not only that it is simply unfounded but also that dogs who do come into conflict with their owners are usually motivated by anxiety, not a surfeit of ambition. Since this fundamental misunderstanding has crept into almost every theory of dog behavior, it will be the first to be addressed in this book.

Like this debunking of the wolf construct, I presume that these canine Bill of Rights emphasize some of these key points from Bradshaw’s book. I found them interesting and encouraging. Here are a few of the points that I particularly liked:

2.          We assert the right to have our perceptions of the world taken into account, especially where our senses are superior to yours.

I think this is a fascinating assertion, especially for its wording. I often forget how much keener a dog’s sense of smell and sound are than mine. As an example of this, I was once walking Bo and we were working on heeling on the downtown mall. I had left a small liver treat in my closed left hand and had forgotten it was there. Bo, however, clearly had not. A few minutes later, he startled me by biting at my fingers. I recoiled and was about to reprimand him when I remembered that he was simply wondering what I was doing, constantly waving that camouflaged treat in front of his highly sensitive nose. “Is this for me?” I can only imagine him thinking. “You keep waving it in front of me while you walk. I assume it’s for me. That’s usually where the food comes from.”

This assertion helps me remember one of the primary things I’ve learned about dogs this year: If a dog does something “wrong,” it’s MY fault for not properly training or guiding him. Which leads me into the next point…

6.          Our language is rich and sophisticated. We assert the right to be comprehended, in the same way that we attempt to comprehend you.

The best books I’ve read about dogs have been ones that emphasize new research on canine communication and behavior. I enjoyed every minute of the books by McConnell, Grandin, and Horowitz, and I look forward to reading more from these three eloquent and respected scientists. I learned so much about the basic ways that dogs communicate with each other and with humans and I feel like this new knowledge has dramatically improved the way that I interact with dogs.

Having acquired this knowledge only makes me wish more dog owners had read these books. I cringe when I see people shouting at dogs for something the dog did an hour ago. I heard a shaken shelter volunteer complain about a shepherd mix named Shakespeare who had attacked another dog that she was walking past him. Half an hour later, she walked by the run where Shakespeare was kept and stood there and yelled at him for what he did. “Bad dog! You’re a very BAD dog, Shakespeare!” The poor dog cowered, totally confused as to why this human was verbally attacking him out of the blue. I feel sorry for the dogs whose people get frustrated because the dog can’t understand their babbling, confusing commands (“Here boy, hey, Max, come here, Max, no, over here, Max, sit. Max! Stay. Why aren’t you paying attention to me? Max, bad dog…”) My heart sinks when I hear people talking about jerking their dogs around or wrestling them to the floor to “show them who’s boss” and establish “pack leader dominance.” It makes me want to carry around copies of The Other End of the Leash and Inside of a Dog to give to every dog owner I meet on the street.

9.          We are individuals, each dog with its own personality. We therefore assert the right to be judged on our own merits, and not according to the reputation of breed or type.

The distinct personalities of dogs are one of the features that make them so deeply appealing to me. Like people, no two dogs are exactly alike. Yet we forget this from time to time. I even admit that I’m prone to stereotyping dogs based on their breeds. Volunteering at the SPCA has taught me a lot about this particular point. For example, I’ve worked with some extremely gentle pit bulls and some fearful, snappish hounds. I’ve met beagles who are unusually attentive to people (instead of SMELLS, smells, OMG, smells!). Every dog is different. They all have their quirks.

Understanding this helps wean me off my specific breed biases. I loved our Aussie Emma, but that doesn’t mean that I will love all Australian shepherds. I’ve met some Aussies that are nightmarish. The reason my husband wants a German shepherd is because he fell in love with a wonderful one in Ireland named Reuben. Reuben was an exceptional dog, but that doesn’t mean that all GSDs are going to be exactly like him. They may share some fundamental GSD traits, but their personalities will be very different.

I like to think that there’s a dog out there for me, whether a puppy who hasn’t been born yet or a young dog who is being regrettably shuffled from place to place. I hope I will do him or her justice, respecting these rights of dogkind. Clearly, I can’t wait.