An expectant look

Halloween buddies. #germanshepherd #guionlookslikeabaldwin

Although I won’t necessarily call this a “look of love,” I think the expectant way that Pyrrha is looking at Guion here is very sweet. Their relationship, as you know, is a constant work in progress. We’re always celebrating the little things she does to show that she’s not still terrified of him.

The other night, while I was working in the kitchen, Pyrrha went straight up to him with her bouncy toy and invited him to play with her. She didn’t even glance at me first. They played together for a few rounds of fetch, which is about her normal stamina for the game. This is such normal behavior for so many “normal” dogs, but in our house, it’s a cause for celebration! We enjoy the small signs of progress in this quirky family.

Meanwhile, life continues to be insane, but I hope things will settle down soon. There are promising things on the horizon! Updates to come!

Hope you and your pups had a fun and safe Halloween and a happy weekend to come!

Progress with Guion

Pyrrha graduates from Canine Campus
Guion and Pyrrha.

Thanks to everyone for all of their advice about how to improve Guion and Pyrrha’s relationship, particularly with the issue of her refusing to go outside with him. You have all been such an excellent resource to me, in this journey of raising our first dog, and I can’t thank you enough!

I am very happy to report that we have got this issue–Pyrrha being afraid to go outside with Guion–pretty much LICKED.

And I think this was the trick: I went out town for a long weekend and left the two of them together to sort things out. We got some great advice from our trainer and put it into practice. I think the key for Pyrrha was giving her a sense of choosing to go out and having a safe place to retreat to if she ever felt too scared or trapped.

We talked with our trainer the night before I left, and I think she gave us some really great advice. She recommended that Pyrrha needs to always have an “out.” Forcing her to go outside only pushes her over her threshold. Instead, she needs to be able to “choose” to go outside with Guion. Plus, being with Guion should always have tons of positive associations (i.e., load up the hot dogs!).

How did we manage this? The night before I left, Guion fed Pyrrha her dinner outside in the sunroom, which leads out to our fenced-in backyard. I stood in the living room and didn’t get involved at all. To our excitement, she followed him out there willingly. Guion put the bowl down and then walked away, leaving the door to the house open. She ate her meal quickly and happily out there, totally unconcerned.

Before we went to bed that night, Guion asked her to come outside with him. This is where she normally balks and runs to me or into her crate. This time, I hung back and didn’t get involved at all. He opened the door to the sunroom, having already propped open the door to the yard, to give her more freedom. To my surprise and delight, she followed him when he called her. She hesitated over the threshold, but then she went outside on her own volition! Guion left the doors open and then came back inside, to give her the choice to come in when she wanted. She did her business and came in.

I left for my trip feeling very positive about their progress. Guion reported to me that she went outside with him the whole weekend without a single moment of hesitation. I was thrilled! I honestly didn’t think she was going to make that much progress so rapidly. Now that I’m back, he can ask her to come outside with him, and she does! This is huge. (It also relieves me of all of the potty duties, which I was previously having to shoulder.)

Guion was disheartened, I think, that they hadn’t made MORE progress while I was away, but I’m counting this as a sizable victory. I think he expected them to become BFFs 4 Ever in my absence. I wish this was the case, but, as with most shy dogs, Pyrrha moves a lot more slowly than your normal, well-adjusted pooch. I’m proud of her for overcoming her considerable fear of Guion asking her to go outside. I see this is as a big step toward a better, stronger relationship for the two of them.

Maybe I should go out of town more often…

Pup links!

Mmm, cherry blossoms. Click for source.

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

Friendship. Does your dog know that you love her? A thoughtful post on our relationships with our dogs. (Denise Fenzi)

Dog Scribbles. Fun, quirky doodles of dogs from one of my favorite bloggers/artists. (Ulicam)

Things I Can’t Live Without #6: Rolled Leather Collar. Do any of you use a rolled leather collar? I’ve never heard of the notion that regular, flat collars can damage the guard hairs/fur around the neck, but now I’m curious… (Batmanimal)

Thunder, Fireworks, and Noise, Oh My! An adult dog who has developed a thunderstorm phobia… How do you help them? Certainly caught my attention, because while Pyrrha isn’t bothered by storms or fireworks now, I wonder if she could be in the future? (Reactive Champion)

Focus: Riley and Lexi. Britt Croft is doing a series of photos on her two yellow labs, Riley and Lexi. I love these shoots and how often these dogs participate in mirroring behavior! They are hard to tell apart! (The Daily Dog Tag)

“Keen-see.” The sweet relationship between a toddler and her very tolerant bulldog, Kingsley. (Rockstar Diaries)

Foundation Fun. I don’t really know what these dogs are doing, but they are having so much FUN! I love it. (The Elite Forces of Fuzzy Destruction)

Catch O’ The Day. That is one BRAVE dog. I cannot believe he just plucked that awful-looking, gnarly fish out of the water. I am so impressed. And his expression looks like, “Eh, no big deal. I do this all the time.” (Wootube)

Bliss Paws Collapsible Travel Bowl. I like the look of these travel bowls (although I wonder how big they are?). I’m not overly thrilled with the ones we bought Pyrrha, as they’re crushable cloth and not nearly as waterproof as they advertised. Do you use a travel bowl that you like? (Dog Milk)

How to Make Car Rides with Dogs a Breeze. Helpful tips on car travel with dogs, which will be useful to me this weekend! (Go Pet Friendly)

Truckin’. More honest, helpful advice on taking a long road trip with one’s two beautiful, active Aussies. (Raising Ivy)

As you might have divined from those last three links, Pyrrha and I are taking our first road trip together tomorrow! We are driving the 5 hours together to my parents’ house, so I can help my sister with her wedding plans. Thankfully, Pyr rides very well in the car, but we’ve never taken her in the car for longer than 45 minutes, so this will certainly be an experience! I’m bringing lots of water and soothing music for both of us. Stories to come!

Pup links!

Floppy, cuddly German shepherd puppies. Click for source.

In rescue news, the anticipation is killing me. I applied too early, I think, because the groups have been super-responsive and they’ve all told me that nothing can really happen until our home visit. Even still, I obsessively check the postings of dogs up for adoption (like, several times a day), which is really just making me more anxious. I need to stop. I need someone to block these rescue groups’ websites and Petfinder and the SPCA… for my own sanity!

Anyway. Here are some happy and interesting dog-related links from around the Web this past week:

Crufts Show Dogs Disqualified. This has been the big news in the dog world this week. While I don’t want to open a can of worms, I’m curious what you think: Are independent vet checks a good idea at dog shows? I don’t know anything about the show world, but I am all for improving the breed standards of many purebreds raised only for their looks. I hope that that will eventually be the outcome of this controversial decision. (The Bark blog)

Dog-Friendly Yard Work. Advice from Maureen Gilmer, horticulturalist and dog lover, about dog-friendly plants and other projects for your garden this spring. I’m happy to know that dried rosemary can act as a flea repellent; we will be inheriting a huge rosemary bush with our new house. (The Bark)

Mudley. Part of me has always wanted a big, slobbery Newfoundland… (Shirley Bittner Photography)

Ollydog Mt. Tm Running Belt and Leash. This looks like pretty serious gear, but I can imagine that it would be really great to have while hiking or running. (Dog Milk)

Cheap and Easy Training Treats. Kristine shares some of her ideas for inexpensive, make-at-home treats. I will definitely be trying some of these in the months to come! (Rescued Insanity)

Impeccable Style. I actually really like this line of preppy/nautical-looking dog products, from the company Milk and Pepper. (Under the Blanket)

Canine Comforts. A beautiful suite of dog beds and bags from Cloud 7. The photography for their ad campaign is also beautiful–so natural-looking. (Design Hunter)

Guess the Genotype #56. I was going to guess that the breed was a mini-borzoi, but that’s kind of what it is: Has anyone heard of the silken windhound before? Despite the goofy name, I’m intrigued… (Musings of a Biologist and a Dog Lover)

Why Calling Her a Pit Bull Matters. A thoughtful and well-expressed post about why a pit bull mama calls her girl a pit bull, and not an AmStaff or other breed euphemism. (Save the Pit Bull, Save the World)

My Other Best Friend. One blogger’s reflections on her relationship with her dog, Bodhi. (Elephantine)

Charlie at Home. Our wonderful wedding photographer shares some photos of her sister’s sweet dog, Charlie. (Meredith Perdue Photography)

Review: Dogs Never Lie about Love

Dogs Never Lie about Love.

In his own good-natured way, my husband, Guion, likes to make fun of my obsession with dogs, including my ferocious appetite for dog books. He especially likes to tease me about the goofy names that dog writers often give their books. Dogs Never Lie about Love is certainly up there as far as cheesy, sappy titles go. (Guion also made a lot of fun of the title Bones Would Rain from the Sky, which is totally fair, but I actually loved that book.) I was reading this book while killing time before a wedding and I made sure to hide the spine and cover from any passersby, to save myself from any outright judgment, looks of concern, and the like.

Goofy title aside, this book reminds me of Stanley Coren’s work and the one Jon Katz book I read, as they can be categorized as “emotional quasi-science” books. Emotional quasi-science books like to sprinkle in lots of little studies and research among the body of heart-grabbing stories of canine wonder and relationships. They can tend to the gimmicky, but I admit that I like them just the same.

I am perfectly content reading a book in which Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson keeps describing the ways his three dogs interact with each other. In this way, I, the dog-less one, can live vicariously through Masson and his furry trio. (I told Guion that I would totally watch a reality TV show that just filmed dogs playing in their living rooms. No drama, no medical emergencies, no training nightmares. Just dogs being dogs. It would be the most boring and unprofitable television show ever, but *I* would watch it. Again, cue loving husband’s teasing laughter.)

That said, I don’t know if many people would actually enjoy this book–that is, people who were lucky enough to already have dogs of their own. I myself had already read about the majority of the research that Masson cites. The book is split into chapters that cover a dog’s basic emotions. And while I enjoyed this overview, I’m not sure if I learned anything new.

However, if you’re like me and you just like reading about the inner world of dogs, even if you’re not learning anything exciting or new, Dogs Never Lie about Love might be the book for you.

Review: Bones Would Rain from the Sky

Bones Would Rain from the Sky, by Suzanne Clothier

Suzanne Clothier is a dog trainer, but Bones Would Rain from the Sky is not a dog-training manual. Rather, this book is Clothier’s lovely and heartfelt guide about how to have a more intimate relationship with your dog.

The book’s title and premise of “deepening our relationships with dogs” sounds hokey, but Clothier does provide some very practical and hands-on advice about communicating and living with canines. Her stories are insightful and her calm, holistic approach to training is refreshing to read. She doesn’t get hung up on doing the exact right thing; she doesn’t seem to fret about all of the things we might be missing. Instead, the constant mantra of this book is to slow down, listen, and try to understand your dog a little bit better.

I was most struck my Clothier’s gentle and extremely humble tone. I’ve found that dog trainers, like most self-proclaimed “experts,” almost never admit to making mistakes. So many dog trainers would never share their errors with you–or even admit that they were capable of making mistakes (cough, cough, Cesar Millan). It’s easy to think that these great dog trainers don’t ever mess up. Clothier is quick to point out that this is not the case. She graciously shares the times she lost her temper with foster dogs or made a hasty decision based on incorrect information. Rather than diminishing her credibility as a trainer, these disclosures strengthened my trust in Clothier as a wise dog parent.

Overall, I really enjoyed this thorough and philosophical approach to human-canine relationships. I would recommend this book to people who were already solid in their knowledge of positive training techniques and didn’t really need a step-by-step training manual. I think it would be a fantastic addition to the more knowledgeable dog parent’s repertoire of canine reading.

Clothier is a graceful and wise trainer and caretaker and her dogs are very lucky animals. I hope that I will be able to eventually exude the same peace and confidence with my future dogs.

Thoughts on “Dogs Decoded”

Dogs Decoded, PBS Nova documentary

The other night, Guion was out for a poetry gathering and I didn’t really feel like reading Muriel Spark, so I decided to watch the PBS Nova documentary, “Dogs Decoded,” which is conveniently on Netflix instant view.

Because I’ve done so much reading about recent dog research, I’d already heard about many of the studies and stories included in this 53-minute documentary (like Betsy the border collie, the fox breeding program in Siberia, and the research of Duke University professor Brian Hare). But it was really exciting to get to see some of these dogs in action, meet the Siberian foxes, and watch Hare and other researchers demonstrate how dogs followed humans’ visual cues–in a way that chimpanzees couldn’t.

In short, I LOVED this documentary. I want to watch it again right now and I especially want Guion to watch it with me. There were four stories in particular that grabbed my interest.

First, the discovery that dogs look to the left side of our faces. This seems like an uninteresting detail. Yet, scientists have found this to be incredibly significant. By studying the facial expressions of humans, researchers concluded that we do not show our feelings symmetrically on our faces. Rather, the left side of our face tends to show a more accurate depiction of our emotion. (Sounds really odd, but the film shows composite photographs that demonstrates how this is true.) The connection that is fascinating is that when dogs look at a human’s face, they almost always tend to look at our left side first. What’s so unusual about this is that dogs don’t do this with other dogs, other animals, or objects: it’s just with people. This indicates that dogs have developed a unique ability to read the emotions of humans–an ability that surely advanced the dog’s ascent as one of the oldest and most trusted domesticated animals.

Second, Betsy, OMG, Betsy. Betsy the unbelievable Austrian border collie. Betsy got worldwide attention before Chaser, the South Carolina border collie who was trained to recognize an astounding 1,000 words. Betsy’s verbal repetoire is perhaps not as advanced as Chaser’s, but we found her first. “Dogs Decoded” visits Betsy’s home in Austria where her owner, a woman who prefers to remain anonymous, shows us Betsy’s ability. Like Chaser, Betsy can correctly identify objects by name–much like a 2-year-old human child–without any verbal or physical cues from her handler. I’ve seen dogs do this before and it still blows my mind every time–but what absolutely knocked my socks off was what the visiting researcher asked Betsy to do. The researcher wanted to know if, like a toddler, Betsy had the ability to understand that a photograph of an object was a two-dimensional representation of a three-dimensional thing. Betsy’s owner said she’d never tried this before with Betsy and didn’t think it would work. The researcher holds up a picture of a black-and-white chew toy to Betsy and the dog looks at it intently. She gives her a command to find it and off Betsy goes–and brings back the object from the picture. That’s amazing. I think I cursed out loud when I saw it; that’s how impressed I was.

Third, I was fascinated by the study done by eastern European (Hungarian?) researchers who raised puppies and wolves from infancy. Drawing from the premise that dogs and wolves are 99.98% genetically similar, the scientists wanted to know if you raised a baby wolf as a dog if it would then become like a dog, i.e., domestic. First, the scientists hand-raised puppies. The puppies lived in their homes, slept in their beds, etc. After they raised a litter of puppies this way, the researchers raised a litter of wolf cubs in the same way. At first, the wolves didn’t seem much different from the puppies. The wolves snuggled up to them when they took them outside, their play seemed to resemble the play of puppies, and so forth. But by the time they hit seven or eight weeks, it became clear that these wolves were not going to magically become dogs.

One of the most striking examples of this difference was a test with puppies and wolf cubs of the same age in a controlled environment. In separate rooms, the puppy and the wolf cub are both introduced to a foreign object (a robotic toy dog that barks). The puppy is curious and goes up to sniff it; the wolf cubs shrink back in fear and try to claw their way out of the room. Next, the researchers test to see if the puppy and wolf cub will respond to a human’s physical cues. The puppies make eye contact with the humans and seem to easily follow the human’s hand signal to a cup on the floor. The wolves, however, never make eye contact with the humans and try to run away. Later, the film jumps to one of the researchers with an adolescent wolf in her home. This animal is a total menace–leaping on counters, trying to knock her over, totally unresponsive to her correction–and can hardly be trusted indoors, even though he was raised in the home with this woman. Wolves are not dogs and dogs are not wolves; don’t try to treat one like the other (ahem, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas!).

Fourth, I’ve read many times about the decades-old silver fox breeding program in Siberia. I loved being able to actually see these foxes and the dramatic changes in their appearance over time. I think this is one of the most fascinating studies ever. When the program started, researchers decided to selectively breed foxes for friendliness toward humans. In the first few litters, only 1% of the fox cubs didn’t react aggressively or fearfully toward humans. This 1% became the foundation of the “tame” breeding program. Tame foxes were bred to other tame foxes and so on.

By the eighth generation of tame foxes, some very interesting changes started to occur. Coat colors began to change dramatically. The originally black and dark gray foxes started developing white patches, spots, and stripes. Some cub’s ears never perked up but stayed floppy. Limbs were shortened. The foxes were physically adapting to domestication; they were evolving to be cuter, more appealing to humans–just like the domesticated dog. This totally blows my mind. If you’re interested, you can now apparently order your own tame fox from this Russian breeding program for a mere $6,950.

I loved this film and I highly recommend it to anyone with even a basic interest in dogs. It will make you look at your dog in a totally different and appreciative way. If you don’t have Netflix and you want to watch this film, mark your calendar for November 15, 2011, when it’s airing on PBS.