What Dogs Want. This might be one of the best things I’ve seen on the Internet. Cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt shows us what dogs really want: To chase pigeons with hot dogs in their beaks. A tennis ball bride. A house made of old fish. (The Hairpin)
Dog Walking Bliss. Karen London reflects on why it’s always good to take a walk. (The Bark)
Is a Half-Hour of Exercise Just Enough to Make a Dog Hyper? Professional dog walker Lindsay shares her experiences and thoughts on the topic that a typical walk may be enough just to rev your dog’s engine–not to wear him out. This makes me feel guilty for thinking my 20-minute walks with the SPCA dogs are enough to sate them for a few hours. If only we all had more time! (That Mutt)
The World of Dog Walking: 5 Surprising Facts. Another professional dog walker shares some interesting bits of new research about walking dogs. For instance, dogs tend to act more aggressively when they are walked by men. Interesting… (The Hydrant)
Sleeping Dogs Lie. A collection of photos of sighthounds sleeping in piles. (DesertWindHounds)
The Welcome Decline of the German Shepherd. Quoting from Susan Orlean’s new book, Rin Tin Tin, which I just finished, this blogger reflects on why it might be a good thing that the GSD is not as popular as it once was. (The Hydrant)
I Got to Get Better. One trainer’s ambitious and inspiring list of her goals to become a better dog trainer. (Raising K9)
Diversion Dog. That is one crafty beagle. Have you ever seen a dog pull a stunt like this? I think I have… Just proof that dogs know how to get what they want! (Animals Being Di*ks)
Anthropologie’s Pet Project. One of my favorite clothing stores, Anthropologie, is hosting a pet adoption/shelter supplies drive around the country. Check it out and see if there’s an event near you! Unfortunately, there aren’t any drives in Virginia. Would give me a good excuse to shop and donate… (Anthropologie)
Producers, Take Note. This writer wants to see a production of Waiting for Godot with an all-dog cast. Beckett would have loved it. I’m in! (The Hairpin)
Self-proclaimed “dog whisperer” Cesar Millan is arguably America’s most well-known dog trainer, thanks in large part to his TV show, “The Dog Whisperer,” on the National Geographic Channel. I have watched his show many times myself, interested in seeing how this well-known man was purportedly rehabilitating problem dogs.
When I started my project of researching dogs, many people told me that I should read Cesar Millan’s books and watch his show. I see dog owners making that “pssh” sound and poking their dogs in the side like Millan does on his show. The general dog-owning public seems very fond of Millan and his methods.
But I’ll be honest. Based on what I had seen from his show, I was reluctant to read his books. This is because I didn’t really see Millan as a trainer. I couldn’t divine what his actual training techniques were, apart from physical corrections and murky statements about “calm, assertive energy.”
Having started my dog research among other positive training books, I quickly realized that Millan is not held in high regard among behaviorists and positive trainers. The more I watched his show, the more I realized that they were right. Millan, while well intentioned, advocates negative reinforcement and physical punishment techniques to an untrained general public.
I decided to read Cesar’s Way because I felt that I should at least read what he had to say before I completely dismissed him. My friend Liz gave me a copy of his book. I read it quickly, as it was not difficult to get through.
On the whole, I was impressed with Millan’s rags-to-riches story. He came to America as an undocumented immigrant and worked his way up from a car washer to a dog trainer. He got his big break when he was picked up by Jada Pinkett Smith, who sought his help in rehabilitating the family rottweilers. It is a nice story and as the reader, you are pulling for him to succeed and beat the odds. He certainly did.
The one other thing I liked about this book was Millan’s emphasis on exercise. Americans themselves don’t exercise nearly enough, and so it’s a no-brainer that our dogs probably aren’t getting any exercise, either. Cesar’s Way devotes a whole chapter to the importance of “The Walk” and the daily communion with your dog outdoors. I am a huge proponent of this idea and the notion of walking your dog being a time of companionship and communication certainly resonated with me.
But my admiration for Millan’s training recommendations ended there.
One of my main issues with Millan’s philosophy is that he is constantly comparing dogs in America to dogs in Mexico. Dogs in Mexico roamed free in packs, leash-less, without any training. I don’t deny that that sounds like an ideal life for any dog, but that kind of lifestyle is simply not feasible for canines in 21st-century America. We have leash laws. Dogs need to be neutered. They need to be trained how to walk on streets and greet people in public. Millan’s Dog Psychology Center in California is a nice idea, but it is thoroughly unhelpful to anyone who doesn’t live with a roaming pack of 30 dogs (which I imagine is most people). It’s nice that he’s able to make the dogs get along in a massive pack, but that is not how those dogs will be living on a daily basis when they get back home. Trying to make American dogs into Mexican dogs is not the solution. But that is what it seems that Millan keeps trying to do.
My second issue with Millan is his unabashed use and promotion of negative reinforcement training and physical punishments. In Cesar’s Way, he acknowledges that he is unpopular among positive trainers for his reliance on these dated methods, but he insists that they are effective. He even devotes a section of the book that recommends doing an “alpha roll” on a dominant dog, which absolutely floored me. I thought this medieval form of punishment had disappeared in the dark ages of dog training, but apparently not. This is one of the real dangers of Millan’s popularity, in my opinion. I’m not the only one who thinks so. Dr. Nicholas Dodman, famed veterinarian and writer, had this to say about Cesar Millan:
Cesar Millan’s methods are based on flooding and punishment. The results, though immediate, will be only transitory. His methods are misguided, outmoded, in some cases dangerous, and often inhumane. You would not want to be a dog under his sphere of influence. The sad thing is that the public does not recognize the error of his ways. My college thinks it is a travesty. We’ve written to National Geographic Channel and told them they have put dog training back 20 years.
— Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the Behavioral Clinic at Tufts University, Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine
Another issue I have with Millan is his reliance on the old-fashioned paradigm of dominance and pack mentality. Millan would have us believe that our dogs are out to get us and always looking for an opportunity to usurp us. I simply don’t believe this is true, and I’m not the only one. Cognitive researcher and animal behaviorist Temple Grandin wrote directly about how Millan’s techniques are outdated and simply wrong in her book Animals Make Us Human. Dogs do not live in packs, Grandin points out, and it’s a misinformed way to think about a dog’s social unit. Rather, like wolves, dogs live in families where parents care for the pups in a partnership. Treating dogs like they are obsessed with dominance is a grave injustice to our canine companions. For more on this, I highly recommend an article published in 2006 in the New York Times by author Mark Derr, “Pack of Lies.”
The good thing I will say about Millan is that he has been successful in raising awareness of how we have failed our dogs in training and teaching. The bad thing is that the methods he advocates are archaic, cruel, and generally unhelpful to most people. But don’t just take my word for it: See a collection of qualified opinions about how we need to move away from this “Dog Whisperer” at the website Beyond Cesar Millan.
What do you think about Cesar Millan? Is he awesome? Overrated? Misunderstood?
This past weekend, my husband and I house/dog-sat for some friends of ours. Kendra and Ehren have a 7-year-old black lab/border collie mix named Zoe. Guion was excited that they had a piano in the house; I, naturally, was way more excited that they had a dog.
I’d met Zoe once before at a crawfish boil that Kendra and Ehren hosted. I was extremely impressed by her calmness and tolerance. She patiently submitted to having a grabby 10-month-old baby stick his hands into her mouth and ears. I was anxious about it, but Kendra was right there and assured me that Zoe would be fine. And she was. Zoe rolled her eyes up to look at Kendra, as if to say, “Look how patient I am. This baby is trying to gag me and I am letting him. Because I am a very good dog.”
And she is.
Understandably, Zoe was pretty anxious about what we were doing in her house on Saturday night. She is extremely submissive and doesn’t really have much desire to protect anything. She rolled over on her back continuously until we were able to calm her down. We spoke softly to her, slipped her a treat, and soon she seemed much more at ease about our brief residence in her home.
On Sunday mid-morning, I took Zoe on a long walk around a circle of pretty residential streets. She pulled a lot at first, but once she figured out that we weren’t going to move until there was some slack in the line, she calmed down and was an excellent walking partner.
Going on daily walks is actually one of the things that I am most looking forward to about getting a dog. (I may not say this after we have the dog, especially in brutal January, but still!) I eat well, but I do not make time for much physical activity, and I am looking forward to having to care for an animal who requires a good amount of daily motion.
There is also something very soothing and meditative about walking with a dog. There is no need for conversation; you merely listen to each other, observing nature and feeling your bodies relax and refocus. I love walking dogs and I wish I could do it all day long.
The other thing that Zoe reminded me of is the calmness of touch. I’m reading Suzanne Clothier’s book Bones Would Rain from the Sky right now, and in it she talks about how she was impressed by famed horse trainer Linda Tellington-Jones’ injunction to always use “soft hands” when working with animals. Remembering this charge is a great way to prevent yourself from lashing out in anger or impatience.
While Guion was out grabbing lunch, I sat on the living room floor with Zoe. She crawled over to me and put her muzzle up against my leg. I started slowly massaging her back and neck. She seemed to like it, and so she rolled over, inviting me to do her underside. If I paused for a second, she urged me on with her nose, as if to say, “Don’t stop now!” We continued this session for a good 15 minutes and it was very peaceful. I was reminded of a scene in the documentary “Dogs Decoded” that talked about how petting a dog releases a similar burst of the “happiness/bonding” hormone oxytocin in both the dog and the human.
It made me wonder about dog massage. In April, the New York Times ran an article about dog massage that sparked my interest: Dog Massage? Isn’t Petting Enough? I saw that Modern Dog Magazine also ran a short, illustrated piece about how to massage your dog. I’d like to learn more. Has anyone ever tried this before? Do you practice it regularly with your own pooches?
Overall, the long weekend with Zoe just increased my already burgeoning desire to have a dog. It was a good exercise in canine parenting and Zoe was a wonderful and patient teacher. I look forward to getting to see her again soon.
What I learned this week: Don’t walk a dog down an extremely crowded pedestrian mall on a 95-degree afternoon.
I should have thought more carefully about this one. Even though it was very hot, I was enjoying my weekly walk with Bo on Saturday. We usually walk through the downtown mall–a bricked walk through a row of shops that runs seven or eight blocks–and so I wasn’t thinking very clearly about it as I crossed over the bridge.
When we reached downtown, I was wondering why it was so crowded. Then I remembered that the big photography festival was concluding and all of the lectures and galleries centered around the mall. That’s why the streets were packed.
Poor Bo was a good sport for most of the walk. He was greeted by a friendly Frenchman, who whispered to him in French. He sat politely when a little girl came up to him and kissed him. He even voluntarily sat down–as I’ve trained him to do on our walks–when he saw other dogs approaching.
However, as the heat wore on and the crowds pressed even closer, Bo had had enough. I paused for a minute to greet a friend and when I turned around, Bo was lying on the ground, head between his paws. He looked at me imploringly, as if to say, “Do we have to go any further?” Poor thing. He was not going to budge. I stroked his head, spoke kindly to him, apologized for putting him through this hellish afternoon. But he didn’t care; he was done. I felt kind of terrible and tugging on his leash wasn’t accomplishing anything. The dog weighs almost as much as I do and there was no way I could carry him home.
Thankfully, I remembered that I still had a liver treat in my pocket (something that was not lost on him) and thankfully, this was a dog who was highly motivated by food. I pulled it out, waved it briefly in front of his nose, and he looked up and slowly picked himself off the ground to follow me. In this manner, we successfully made our way out of the mall and back to his home.
Overall, Bo handled the afternoon well. He is a submissive dog, but not shy; he wants to greet everyone and every moving thing. However, I think the noise and pressure of the crowds, plus the heat, were overly taxing even for this friendliest of all pooches. I was also worried about the hot asphalt on his paw pads, so we tried to take the most shady and grass-lined routes. All in all, not our most successful walk, but he’s an extremely forgiving companion, as far as I can tell.
I couldn’t help but wonder, though, what people do to exercise their dogs in sweltering climates. Even though I’m sure it was good for him to have an hour-long walk, he didn’t seem to enjoy it very much because of the heat. Do you live in a humid, hot climate? If so, how do you keep your dog fit and physically happy in the summer? I’m all ears!
Some of the pretty (and adoptable!) faces I spent time with this weekend:
I spent about 8 hours this weekend at the shelter and my body is TIRED. I have so much respect for the full-time staff at our SPCA; they work really, really hard every day. I got home and I was so worn out. But I had a great time.
Some thoughts about what I learned over my two days with the lovely dogs at the Charlottesville-Albemarle SPCA:
Penny and hyperactivity. Penny (see above) is a dog that most volunteers don’t enjoy walking. She can launch herself above your head and is packed full of energy. The second you open her kennel door, she throws herself against your body and starts nipping at every inch of you. She’ll bite your thigh, your fingers, your jacket, anything she can get her mouth on. I quickly realized that none of this nipping and biting stemmed from aggression; it was simply overwhelming excitement. Penny is the kind of dog who probably speaks exclusively in multiple exclamation points and all caps. “OH MAN, SOMEONE IS TAKING ME OUT!! I CAN’T WAIT!! I CAN’T WAIT! MUST BITE SOMETHING!! MUST JUMP SIX FEET IN AIR!” She is stressful. But once she’s finally outside and she’s calmed down a bit, she’s quite sweet. It’s not great to live your life in a kennel. Penny’s hyperactivity is certainly aggravated by her lifestyle at the shelter. But when you have 70 dogs in one building, kenneling is the most reasonable option; there is no other alternative. I hope Penny will find a home soon. I believe, with the right person and the right channel for her boundless energy, she would be a great dog. She sits perfectly on command. She’ll even sit beside you for 10 full minutes and just let you pet her–but only after she’s torn around the fenced in enclosure for a while.
Balking. I encountered a sweet little dog this weekend who gave me some challenges. Abe (not pictured) is a darling border collie-spaniel-corgi mix. He looks like a shrunken border collie or a miniature flat-coated retriever and he is just precious. He was very shy when we got him out of the kennel, but as soon as we were outside, he perked right up and was wagging his tail all over the place, delighted to crawl up into my lap and smile at me. Suffice it to say, I quickly fell in love. And yet Abe was very difficult. He was perfect on the walk, but as soon as we approached the door to return to the kennels, he stopped dead in his tracks. He began to whine and refused to budge a step further. I was able to lure him down the hill with some liver treats, but he soon figured out my strategy and stopped responding to them altogether. A more seasoned volunteer saw that I was struggling with him and came over to help me. She also tried luring him to the door, but he wasn’t having any of it. We finally decided that we were just going to have to carry him inside. Thankfully, Abe is only 30 pounds or so. I couldn’t help but wonder what we would have done if he had been any bigger! I don’t know why dogs occasionally balk when they’re on leash, but I’ve encountered my fair share of dogs that do (usually smaller ones and often terriers). With Abe, I think it was a combination of fear. With other dogs, it’s usually pure stubbornness. Have you ever encountered a dog who balks? Any advice?
Sassy. Sassy (see above) is a new dog at the shelter. That’s not a great picture of her, because she’s actually very regal and lovely; she looks like a German shepherd-Siberian husky mix and looks a lot like a wolf-dog when she’s stalking around in the woods. Sassy, despite her unfortunate name, is actually quite shy. I really enjoyed my walk with her because she’s unbelievably good on the leash. Sassy is extremely attentive to humans and despite displaying some potentially troublesome fear issues, she seems very intelligent and highly trainable. I hope she will go to a good home soon; I was half-tempted to sneak her into our tiny apartment myself…
Vivian and joy. Vivian (see above) was the last dog I walked on Sunday afternoon. She’s a slender and graceful fawn-and-white pit bull and she’s always smiling. Vivian is also shy, frightened of hands and loud noises, and she moves like a stray dog–slinking down to the ground, always attentive, always watching. Vivian is extremely attracted to other dogs and so it was somewhat difficult to get her out to the trails, since she was constantly leaping and launching herself at every dog nearby. I could tell she had a lot of pent-up energy, so I took her to one of the many fenced-in enclosures on the SPCA property. As soon as I snapped her leash off, she started tearing around in circles around the perimeter of the fence, mouth open in a huge grin, having the best time. It made me really happy. I think that’s what brings me the most joy from my time at the SPCA: Getting to see dogs act like dogs. I was delighted to spend time with the effervescent Vivian; she made me remember why I was there in the first place.
That’s what I learned this week. Can’t wait to go back soon!