Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Ankle biter dogs and their untrained yappy owners.

As background, I'm a painting contractor and often work in peoples' homes. I also get to know many dogs this way.
About five weeks ago I was bitten by a Dachshund named Rudy - hard enough that he left a red mark on my shin, biting through my jeans. I showed up to give an estimate. Homeowner opened the door holding a toddler and the dog just lunged at my leg. "Oh, you OK?" asks homeowner. "He does that. Usually I put him in the kitchen when I answer the door because he's so protective. Sorry." Protective my ass.
I ended up doing the job, and Rudy barked hysterically every time I walked through the door. Bear in mind, these people had two toddlers and she was pregnant. I'm guessing Rudy was good with the kids - I sure hope so! These little dogs were bred to go after badgers, they are tough little dogs and capable of damage.
Last week, I went to another job. The homeowner peeked through the door - "Hi! Hang on, let me put the dog in another room." When I went in, I told her having a dog around didn't bother me. "Well, she's a pitbull..." That's fine, I said. I like dogs, as long as she's OK with me. Lola was a very nice, well behaved dog who did that cute submissive smiling thing. Owner told me her neighbors hadn't spoken to her for six years, since she brought the dog home from the shelter, but the dog was excellent with her grandkids and she'd taken Lola to many obedience classes so she would behave. Poor owner took pains to make her dog well behaved, and just expected people to be afraid and hostile because of the breed.

Clearly not all Dachshunds are ill trained and snappy, and not all pitbulls are sweet. This just illustrates a common difference in attitude and care between responsible owners with a larger "bad rep" type dog, and the millions of people with poorly behaved, untrained "cute little" dogs. I could relate tons of anecdotes like this. The main difference is training.

One more - see if you can spot how many dumb mistakes the owners made with their dog. Last November I spent a week painting for a very nice, childless couple with a much doted-upon, three year old Miniature Schauzer.
Every morning when I showed up, someone would have to hold the dog while he thrashed and barked like a mad thing, with Doting Parent cooing and shoving treats in his face. "There, there. It's OK. You remember her. Shhh. Good dog, have another treat." Well duh. Of course the dog is going to act like an idiot, they're training him to do exactly that.
Day one, I'm putting dropcloths down on the kitchen floor. Schatzie is sniffing around, then trots out of the kitchen and he's left a big puddle of pee on my dropcloth. Now if I'd caught him in the act...I called out to the guy, Schatzie peed on my drop cloth! He came in and told me I mustn't use water to clean the floor, only this special floor cleaner, handed me the cleaning supplies and walked out. Excuse me??
Lunch time, they fixed me a sandwich and we all sat down to eat. Schatzie was leaping up and down like a ping pong ball, actually trying to grab food out of our hands. Doting Parents merely handed him bits of food in response. They were like sweet, dumb Golden Retrievers - clueless but easy to train, and that smart little dog sure had them trained. I asked him to sit for a bit of my sandwich (when in Rome and all that...) but was told "oh, he doesn't do tricks." Tricks? "Sit" is just basic obedience and manners - this dog was three years old and had been taught nothing! Tricks is balancing food on your nose like a trained seal.
Day two, both humans left for several hours and asked if I wouldn't mind taking the little terror out to pee. But, they said, make sure he's always on his leash, because he runs away and won't come when called.
When they left, I had some fun. Man, was that a smart little dog and he loved to learn! I taught him to sit and down for a treat in about two minutes flat. We played recall games on his flexi leash outside. Just for fun, I taught him to jump up, off and over the ottoman. For the next several days I worked in that house, Schatzie ignored his humans and followed me around, delighted to show off his new "tricks" whenever I asked.
Doting Parents kept joking that not only was I painting their house, I was training their dog. I told them how smart he was, how much he enjoyed learning and tried to get them to do the same with him. Clearly, they never would. Poor little doggie. He had so much potential and spark, but was relegated to a boring life of being coddled and indulged. He'd forever be an ill-mannered little dog, never given the chance to really have fun. Because his owners "loved" him and thought it was mean to ask anything of him, I guess. Poor little doggie.
A well trained dog is a happy dog.
An untrained, snappy dog is a less happy, fearful dog.
It's not the dog, it's the owner. Duh.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Maybe I found a dead body today, and saw the first beaver of spring.

Well, I don't know if I actually found a dead body - my imagination wanders off by itself sometimes.
Took the dogs to run at the river park at daybreak. I was thinking of pleasant, pastoral little things to write. About how nice it is for dogs to be able to run and roll in grass and charge through stands of muddy bullrushes. About the first beaver of spring, plowing through the wide water and slapping her tail. Wondering if I should be careful of the dogs finding a Canada goose nest - there's a pair there every morning. The orange sun lighting up the bare trees and wide gray river, the redwings - harbingers of spring - the ducks, the frozen ponds.
Walking down the trail, a pair of crumpled jeans on the path. Then an aqua terry sweatshirt. And a substantial, rolled up baggie of pot, wrapped tightly with a blue elastic band. Daphne was near the bushes, blissfully rolling on - what? Goose poop? skunk pee? Or (cue "Jaws"theme music, da DA da DAdaDAdaDADADADA....) - something more....sinister? Daphne stood; started barking with her hackles up. I called the dogs to me, leashed them. Thinking of all the "woman walking dogs discovered the body..." news stories I've seen.
I had my cell with me, so called 911 - actually felt a bit silly - surely it's just the scene of some Friday night druggie fight, whatever. They asked me to wait for a cop, so I did. The whole place was deserted, so I walked the dogs back to the park area and let them run. Twenty minutes later, a cop pulls up, I told him what I'd seen and where. He took my phone number, asked a few questions, said thank you and drove off down the trail. I left, dropped the dogs off at the house and drove back along the river about twenty minutes later, curious.
Cop car was still there, lights going bloop, bloop, bloop. Go figure - half the murders here don't even make it to the news. So maybe there really was a dead body in the bushes, or in the water. It's a deserted area; I've found (sniff) dead mangled pitbulls dumped along there. Fucking lowlife crackhead dogfighting trash people here. And what does it say about me, that I'm more sad about dead dumped pitbulls, than a (possibly) dead lowlife human?

Well, that was more interesting than writing about beavers or happy dogs. Which I'll no doubt do later.

Friday, March 24, 2006

How cats and dogs get along.

Here's Cooper, Elvis and Daphne.
I have read - and observed - that one component in successful dog-cat harmony is the dog regarding the cat as a Higher Being. In other words, somewhat higher in the pack order than the dogs. Pack order is fluid, of course and not as cut and dried as some make it out to be. A dog may relinquish food or a bone to another household dog, yet not allow head-over-the-withers or dominant humping. Dogs seem to work out these rules and come to respect each other, for the most part. Dogs being social animals learn to get along just fine with other species.
I have watched my dogs, over the years, stand back and wait respectfully if the resident cat is eating something at floor level. Even though a 100lb dog can quite easily push or scare the cat away from the food. Smart, dog-savvy cats rule, and they know it. An unconfident cat won't command the same respect from most dogs, and a cat who runs away shrieking will usually trigger a prey response.
This isn't to say all dogs get along with cats. Terriers and sighthounds are often cat-aggressive by immutable nature. Most of the dogs I've owned will regard a strange cat as an interloper that needs to be killed - or at least chased away. They have to be taught that the cat is part of the house pack. For this to work, they also need to have absolute respect for the human in charge. The cat is my property, not theirs. Just as books, furniture and shoes aren't supposed to be chewed up, nor is the cat!
A wise cat also learns limits from the dogs. Elvis has learned not to go near either dogs' head when they're eating or enjoying a particularly nasty chew bone, or he gets a warning growl and lunge. These are not intended to harm although it looks scary; just to warn. An honest dog will warn first and escalate threats as needed. Most Rottweilers are very honest dogs.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Sexy beast.

A photo of Cooper taken two weeks ago, and one of my current favourites.

I wrote an award winning book about feeding dogs.

I wrote Raw Dog Food.
Available through Dogwise, Sitstay, Jeffers, Amazon, Borders and anywhere else that sells books. You can even order it through Walmart online. Although I do not approve of Walmart and suggest you not give them your business. Just sayin'.
It won the Dog Writers Association of America's 2003 Maxwell Award for Best Book Under 100 Pages, and I got to go to their awards banquet during the 2004 Westminster dog show. Which was extremely cool and fun! I was so honored.
Anyway, I'm not terribly good at self promotion. The book is still selling very briskly and appears to have excellent reviews all over the place, so umm, I think y'all should go buy lots. :) I've had people send me copies to sign. They get the book back signed both by me and one of the dogs. (A pawprint in the paint color of your choice.)
I also have an insanely high volume and helpful yahoogroup. Tons of very friendly, knowlegable people discussing dog nutrition and just about everything related to dogs.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Meat, meat - it's what dogs like to eat!

What does one feed their dogs, if not pellets?
I think pellets are a strange and unatural food. But I'm not going into the Evil That Is Kibble - there's plenty of that online. Most dogs do OK - most well, some poorly, on pellets. However, people who feed a raw- or mostly raw, or even home cooked - find their dogs do absolutely marvellously. No doggie odor, no bad breath, awesome coat, brilliant teeth, fewer allergies and skin problems and improved muscle tone. Oh - also little, practically odorless poops!
I have it on good authority that the 2006 Westminster BIS "Rocky" is on a raw diet. Many of the people I know with show and working dogs feed raw.
People who had pretty healthy pellet-fed dogs are usually astonished at the overall improvement when switching to raw. I was.
Meat. Biologically, dogs are carnivores and opportunistic scavengers. They do very well on a grain free diet of mostly meat. Or at least, minimal grains, though most raw-feeders feed none. Yes, dogs are quite able to eat and digest raw bones - it's cooked bones that are terribly dangerous. They can also handle a much higher bacteria load than humans can. I know many people - both online and in real life, who have fed a raw diet for years, even generations of dogs. I've fed this way for over five years. One dog is five and been raw fed since little puppyhood. I just had him in for a dental because he was getting the tiniest bit of tartar on a few back teeth. Otherwise they are brilliantly white. The vet proclaimed his teeth and gums perfect and scraped off a couple of microns of tartar. My other dog is about six, and I can't find a spot of yellow on her teeth.
What is in the refrigerator dog bin right now? A couple of pounds of ground rabbit. It's ground whole - bones, guts and all, and I get it from these excellent folks. A mess of organic pasture raised chicken. I get that in bulk for pretty cheap from a local poultry farm. And a tub of beef liver mixed with well cooked leafy greens and a few other random veggies.
Dogs need to have vegetables pulverised in a blender or cooked to properly digest them since they cannot break down the cellulose - they're not herbivores! I read in Dog World mag of a recent study showing that Westies (a breed prone to bladder cancer) fed dark green leafies several times a week had significantly lower cancer rates. Further studies are under way to see if this had an effect on other forms of cancer.
Some people never feed vegetables and their dogs do fine. I do; my dogs like them and they clearly have some nutritive benefits.
In my freezer - more chicken and rabbit. A case of beef heart. A bag of beef knuckle bones, because the dogs like to chew on those. Tubs of the cooked veggie mix. I make a big pot-full and freeze it in small tubs. I am taking delivery of 40lbs of green tripe and organ mix next week, which the dogs think is doggie crack. It's also very good for them, with a wide spectrum of probiotics and lots of raw enzymes. I also have a couple of packages of pork neckbones in there. And I need to get down to Utica to pick up more lamb because the dogs really like that too.
What else. Raw eggs. Sometimes I freeze them to make eggsicles. Good protein and lecithin. I keep cans of jack mackerel on hand too. They don't get supplements except for fish oil capsules sometimes - we share since I take those. They also get human leftovers and pizza crusts and such.
I could do it for way less $$ if I didn't buy pricier things like tripe and rabbit. It's still not that much more expensive than premium kibble, plus I have extremely healthy dogs who really enjoy their food much more than any dog enjoys pellets!
My vet back in Colorado - an old country vet who was used to seeing country dogs who often scavenged deer and elk carcasses without any harm done - thought it was just fine. He did raise a valid concern about puppy Cooper getting the correct amounts of calcium for his growing bones. My guide was a knowlegable Rottweiler breeder, I followed her diet. My current vet had no problems with it, but worried a bit about food-borne illness. Four years later, he's relaxed about that and acknowleges the dogs are in great condition. A former vet tech of his also fed raw to her three dogs.
Some people feed a combination of raw and good kibble, that's good too. My cat Elvis eats some raw (he really likes the ground bunny), some canned cat food and a little kitty kibble.
Here is an excellent, informative website on dog nutrition, raw and otherwise.
Got meat? Woof woof!
You can see photos of my dogs (and the cat & various other things) here. Just so you know I'm not making it up about them being in great shape!

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Old, overgrown dog cemetery.

A dog cemetery dating back to the 1920s was uncovered by a developer who bought a large tract of land to build a subdivision. The centerpiece is a huge solid granite memorial to War Dogs. The memorials range from ornate polished granite headstones to concrete stepping stones with the dog's name and date of death. Difficult to estimate because so many were overgrown - but there had to be at least 200 dogs buried there. Strange thinking of all those remains under my feet....the day I went was grey and cold. A typical late winter Michigan day appropriate for tromping around an old cemetery.
Adjacent to a busy road with traffic whooshing by, in the woods, and all overgrown with ivy and grass. The most recent headstone I saw was dated 1978. One - for Blacky - sported a sad sprig of weathered purple silk flowers - someone must still be paying homage to Blacky all these years on. He must have been a WW2 war dog. His headstone reads:

GERMANY 1950 - DETROIT 1964.
Memories of you will always live with us.
The Ainhorn Family.

Ivanhoe-Huntley Homes kindly decided not to bulldoze over the old cemetery. In the backhoe photo, the war dog memorial stone is just visible in front of the cab, way back in the trees. The old cemetery takes up about a half acre and is backed by a large swamp. Funny, I've driven right by this place many times - not many people know about it. I was only clued in by a small blurb in the local paper.