Wednesday, December 2, 2009

How could they?

This coming weekend I'm going to be doing a transport for three Aussie puppies. Two are only 8 weeks old, the 3rd is all of 7 weeks old. Three tiny little puppies.

1. Puppy one cannot hear.
2. Puppy two cannot hear and is visually impaired.
3. Puppy three cannot hear and is visually impaired.

They all deserve a chance at life. In fact, the first two were going to be taken to the vets to be killed by their breeder because they were, essentially, defective. Why were they defective? Why did one litter have two dogs with hearing and vision problems?

Because of the breeder. The merle coloring, that lovely flecked coat so many people admire in Aussies (and Border collies and some other breeds of dog) comes with a gene for deafness and blindness. When two merle dogs are bred together, some 25% of the puppies are born with these defects. It comes with a variety of names, from Double Merle to Lethal White (many of these dogs are put down before they ever have a chance to live) to much more technical terms.

Any way you look at it, it's caused by bad breeding. No good breeder would breed two merles together. But people looking to make a quick buck will do so and not feel any sadness over culling the innocent deaf and/or blind pups they brought into the world.

Two of the puppies on the transport were part of a litter that was being taken to an open air market to sell to whomever wandered by (good breeder? I don't think so). The deaf and blind ones were going to be taken to the vet to be put down. Luckily someone else got to them first and they're going to be coming to rescue. The pups were only 5 weeks old when this stellar example of dog breeding was going to sell them.

It's just so disheartening to think people continue to breed in such a way. To date, I've transported five deaf dogs. These will be numbers 6, 7, and 8.

Some resources, for anyone who finds themselves with a dog they didn't know was deaf or is considering adopting a deaf dog.

This is pup #3 for the transport this coming weekend. Cute, isn't she?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Old Dogs

Last night we were out on our walk and Dahlia was sniffing around when I noticed, back toward a house, a dog tied out (to the tree). I told David to watch out as the dog started to come toward us. It moved slowly though and seemed interested in Dahlia. The strange thing? Dahlia didn't rush the dog. Usually when she sees a dog she gets so excited she has to run right over to it, sometimes a bit faster than she should. Sometimes she does a sort of border collie crouch and freezes and then rushes the dog (I'm trying to work on that one!).

But this time she went up slowly and the dogs touched noses and met very nicely. The dog was very calm and didn't rudely sniff Dahlia or anything. He just wanted to come say hi.

I noticed as he came into the light that the poor thing was missing patches of hair all over his body and some hair looked like it was growing back in. He looked like he might have mange or something along that line.

The owner then pulled in (her friends had let the dog out and were keeping an eye on him from inside the house -- I could see them in the window) and came over to talk to us. It turned out that the dog was named Zeke. He was a Newfie/Shepherd mix and he was 17 years old! She said he didn't have mange or anything like that, "he was just old." She had had him since she was in high school and just adored the dog.

And the really amazing thing? He still wanted to play. And Dahlia wanted to play too! She started play bowing in front of him and gently coming up to him with her play/growl face on. She would sort of dance around out of his range and then come up to him slowly and jump back. He even play bowed a couple times and ambled around her. It was like two dogs playing in slow motion and it was really awesome to watch.

At one point, Dahlia play bowed and jumped back out of his range. He came over to her and simply reached out a paw toward her. It was so incredibly sweet. I wish I had a photo of that moment. It's an image that will stay with me forever.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Be careful of who you go to training for

Many people nowadays are out there looking for a trainer to help them with their dog. Either they have a "problem dog" (resourcing guarding, varying degrees of aggression, or something more mild like house training issues or jumping up on company and generally being unruly) or they adopted or bought a dog they want to learn how to train.

There are many trainers out there and sometimes the search can be quite daunting. Who do you trust? Who is going to give you a way to work with your dog that gels with what you want? And even more importantly, who is going to give you methods that work and that are humane and that help to build a bond with your dog?

Because this can be so overwhelming, many folks find someone who has advertised in their area and because their website "looks good" they jump at the opportunity to work with that person. But people must look closer. People must question these trainers before they even meet with them. Do not ever simply attend training with the first person you find online. Do some research, check out many people and training facilities, and find the one that is the most successful and most positive-based you can find.

Things to beware of:

1. Websites that do not give any real information on how they train dogs. Many of these sites show a "before" and "after" video and claim that the proof is in the video, but they do not show how they got from point A to point B (and if, indeed, they were the ones who even got the dog from one point to the next). I find, if you delve further into things by writing to the person, you find their methods are often aversive.

2.  Any site that says they always use a certain training collar. This includes choke chains, prong collars, and shock collars. All are aversive techniques that cause pain.  Studies have recently shown that using aggressive training techniques results in more aggression. You cannot treat aggression with aggression and end up with a solid, balanced, happy dog. And for dogs who have more milder problems, who you're trying to teach sit, stay, and come, these collars can create more problems, especially if you have a soft dog who shuts down at the first sign of pain.

3.  Any site that makes use of an aversive tool without ever using any positive methods first.  Take Fred Hassen and his "Sit Means Sit" site. He promotes and solely uses shock collars in training dogs, even on small puppies.  There are no alternatives, there is no "this is a last resort" message.  This is the very first thing trainers in the "Sit Means Sit" franchise go to.  A trainer that promotes shock collars without even considering other, more humane methods, shows a complete lack of understanding of psychology, canine behavior, and (in my personal opinion) a lack of humane treatment of animals. Is this really the kind of place you want to take your dog?

4. If you are comfortable using an aversive method, be wary of how that method is being used.  While I am not a supporter of shock collar usage to train a dog, there is a right way and a wrong way to use this tool.  Putting one on an untrained dog and shocking it until it somehow manages to offer the behavior you want is not the correct way to use a punishment-based tool, yet this is how the "Sit Means Sit" franchise uses it.  Others use this same method with choke chains and prong collars.
Always do your research. I cannot emphasize this enough. You find a website. All looks good. But then you spend a little time finding reviews from people who have experienced that person's training or seen that person's demo and you find out that all is not as it seems.

Take Sit Means Sit again. A little searching on some dog forums found a rather lengthy description from a dog trainer who attended one of his demos.  Unfortunately the original has been removed, but the description consisted of Hassen putting dogs (and even a wolf hybrid) up on a high table and parading them back and forth across it shocking them until they urinated and defecated out of fear.  No matter how many positive reviews are out there for his franchise, something like that would make me leery enough to avoid the place.  A place where something like this might happen, or did happen, is not a place I would trust with my dog.

Let's examine another trainer, Kevin Salem (sometimes written as Kawain, Salim, or any combination thereof) of "Real Life Dog Training." His website ( touts his great abilities (he's the dog "prodigy," one step up from Cesar Millan of "dog whisperer" fame) and a book (that is still yet to be published) as the be-all end-all of dog training.  At first glance, the website seems good, if a bit on the egotistical side.  But a closer look shows multiple pages disparaging anyone who uses positive training methods such as clicker training or rewarding with "cookies."  Salem uses a method he calls "diverse training," which sounds like a good idea (diversity is always an excellent thing, isn't it?), but the site gives you little information on what is diverse about is (the site is, after all, called "dog secrets").   Instead he offers up some videos of himself "training" dogs.  The videos feature Salem with the untrained dog who he is dragging around by its collar, often quite roughly.  Then, quite suddenly, the scene changes and it's Salem walking the now well-behaved dog.  What you don't see is what worries me: How did the dog get from point A to point B?  He doesn't want to reveal his "secrets" of course, so it's up to you to take your dog to him to find out just what those secrets are.

Unfortunately, to the laymen, these dogs in the "after" portion of the video look calm and well-behaved but a close look at their body language shows otherwise (just as they do in the "after" videos of Hassen and on Cesar Millan's TV show). A fearful dog is not a trained dog. Like Fred of Sit Means Sit, he also touts quick results for owners who have little time to train their dog.. Here's a hint: doing anything correctly takes time; you cannot teach your child to read in an hour and neither can you train your dog in such a short period of time.

So now you've looked at his site.  You think that things look pretty good.  Diversity is a plus.  The dogs look trained.  He has great "customer testimonials."  This is the point at which you need to take any website with a grain of salt.  No trainer is going to put negative reviews on their site.  No trainer is going to say anything less than positive about him/herself.  So you need to look further.

For that, I turn to looking for reviews of a particular trainer.  A quick google search turned up reviews in various places. lists 9 reviews of "Real Life Dog Training."  Of them, 6 are positive.  So just by going by sheer number, that sounds not so bad.  But it's the content of the bad reviews that might make one leery.

Review #1 of "Real Life Dog Training"

Review #2 of "Real Life Dog Training"

Along with not training their dogs, these people say he's returned them filthy, aggressive, and even injured.  One person mentions a review that has since been removed because both she and this other person have been threatened with lawsuits for stating their experiences.

A continued google search brings up a couple news articles:

Illegal Dog Training Kennel Has Moved  This would be the explanation for all the personal and business name changes.

Amazingly Training Boarding and Training Academy.  Yes, that's right.  Another name for the same business.  If a business consistently changes its name to avoid bad reviews, there's probably something wrong with it.

This gives you the full picture.  You get the websites, the positive reviews, and the negative reviews.  It's up to each individual to weigh the pros and cons and decide if Sit Means Sit or Real Life Dog Training are places they want to take their dog.

I would also add that this person has found this post and has been harassing me for well over a year in order to get it removed.  He's taken to writing fake reports about the dog training business I do not have, paid money to dig me up on the internet, and written nasty misogynstic messages to me since September 2009.  I have given anyone who reads this the opportunity to see the good reviews and the bad.  They're out there for anyone to find.  Would you really want to board your dog with someone who harasses others for reviews they didn't even write?  Please note that none of the reviews above are mine.  I simply looked up his name and found them all.  A google search brought me there.  If they were untrue, do you think he would be so desperate to get this post removed?  Think about it.

After checking out Sit Means Sit and, reading their claims about themselves and their customer testimonials, after seeing reviews both positive and negative, I can honestly say the cons far outweigh the pros with both of these places.  I would not be taking my dog there.

Again, I reiterate. When looking for a dog trainer, do your research.

1. Look for reviews of that particular trainer or training facility.

2. Talk to the trainers and find out their philosophy about dog training and how they go about training. Also find out about their experiences with dogs similar to yours. Many trainers deal with basic obedience issues (sit, stay, come), unruly behavior (jumping on guests, puppy mouthing, house training issues), and some mild aggression (resource guarding), but those who have dealt with true aggression are few and far between. If your dog is truly aggressive (human, child, or dog aggressive), you will want to first see a vet to rule out medical issues and then, if there are no medical problems, find a good behaviorist who knows what to do to rehabilitate an aggressive dog.

3. Talk to people who have gone to this person for training. A good trainer will often find ways to connect you with people who are willing to tell you about their experiences. You can also often find people on your local Craigslist or other sites devoted to dogs and dog training who will share an honest opinion of the trainer.

4. Ask the trainer if you can come observe their class or a training session. Any good trainer will be happy for you to come and watch a class (sans dog) to see if they are someone you want to work with. If a trainer refuses, I would personally worry about why. I have once in my life gone against this and ended up paying for a class I walked out of due to their cruel training methods.

5. And mostly, trust your gut. If something feels off, it probably is. If you feel uncomfortable, then they are not the right trainer or training facility for you. Remember, this is your dog and you are the one who has vowed to protect him and keep him safe. Be careful!

Good luck in your search for a good solid dog trainer. There are some fantastic ones out there.

A good place to start might be the International Positive Dog Training Association, which provides lists of positive dog trainers in many areas.

5/14/19: Edited to add
I see today that because of the latest fiasco with Kevin Salem either losing or killing someone's dog, that hits on my post have gone up something like 5200%. Welcome all!

I should have done this a long time ago, but I want to share a couple more posts I made that reference his and his reaction to this post. After I made this, Kevin Salem spent some 3 years sending me harassing e-mails. He threatened me with lawyers and fake court documents, even going so far as to harass my husband through Facebook and trying to get my home address and phone number from the domain that hosts this blog (lucky for me, they sent ME that information and I was allowed to ignore it).

These posts reference the harassment I experienced at his hands:

On harassment, misogyny, and what is slander, really?

A post I didn't want to make 

I'm happy to discuss any of this with anyone! I have never met this man face-to-face, but the online harassment went on for far too long and he took things too far. I only wish that more people would stay far away from him and his "training school."

Book Review: The Pit Bull Placebo by Karen Delise

Title: The Pit Bull Placebo: The Media, Myths, and Politics of Canine Aggression
Author: Karen Delise
Year published: 2007

Like the pharmacologically inactive sugar pill dispensed to placate a patient who supposes it to be medicine, eradication of the Pit Bull is heralded as the cure for severe dog attacks. However, a placebo is administered to appease a person's mental duress. In the present day climate of fear and misinformation about Pit Bulls and dog attacks, eradication of the Pit Bull is the placebo administered solely to appease the public's mental anxiety.

And so it goes. The Pit Bull: locking jaws, biting and holding while grinding, the dog that attacks like a shark. These are all media myths designed to demonize one particular dog breed.

The Pit Bull Placebo traces the media's coverage and the reality of dog bite attacks from the end of the 19th century through to today. Drawing on real cases and quoting from the newspapers' accounts of these cases, Karen Delise makes an incredibly simple case: There have always been dog attacks, some severe, some fatal. But it is the media's focus that has twisted the public's perception of the Pit Bull.

The Bloodhound was the original bad guy. Hyped up through plays based on Uncle Tom's Cabom in which the dogs chase down an escaped slave and her newborn child, these dogs were vilified and people were supposed to be frightened of them. But media reports, which did feature the dog's breed, generally focused more on the cause and effect aspect of the dog attack. They gave their readers a true picture of what caused the attack. It did not begin and end with the words "Vicious Bloodhound."

Then it was the German Shepherd Dog, which had two major saving graces: police work and Rin Tin Tin. While many substandard owners obtained German Shepherd Dogs for guard work and left them chained outside with little human interaction, many people recognized them as great, noble creatures.

The Doberman, which is still sometimes viewed in a negative light, followed on the heels of the German Shepherd Dog. The Doberman acquired its super-predator status through both reality and myth. The image of the Doberman used by Nazis was strong within people's minds. It was hard for them to see the dog as a gentle creature, a canine like any other, and so borne out of the harsh reality of life as a Nazi dog was the myth that Dobermans' heads were too small and their brains would outgrow it, thus leading to headaches that would cause them to snap. The Doberman had no saving grace like the German Shepherd Dog and only fell from this super-predator label when the Pit Bull emerged to take its place.

Through each of these decades, when the Bloodhound, the German Shepherd Dog, and the Doberman, were at the height of their turns as the supposed aggressive dogs, the newspapers continued to report dog bite attacks in a fairly realistic light.

It wasn't until the latter part of the 20th century when the media would begin to twist things to suit their need to always shock their audience. A good example of the media's twisting of the facts lies in their describing a dog that attacked as the "family dog." To most people, this description brings to mind Rover resting at the feet of his master while his master reads by the fireplace or Rover fetching the newspaper on Sunday morning. It brings to mind a well-socialized, friendly, family pet. What it does not bring to mind is a dog chained out back with a heavy logging chain, ignored for the most part, fed occasionally, often starved, beaten, or neglected. The latter cannot, in good conscience, be described as a "family dog." Delise, instead, describes it as a "resident dog." This is a more accurate term. But the media's use of "family dog" aids in leading people to the conclusion that these dogs will eventually turn on their owners.

There is just no basis for this claim. In fact, few, if any Pit Bull has turned on its owner without some sort of provocation.

Perhaps the best demonstration of the media's twisting of events can be seen in one particular case Delise outlines.

The media report can be summed up as: A 6-year-old girl was mauled to death by the family's pit bulls. The dogs were friendly, had been raised with the girl since they were puppies. In essence, they "turned on her."

The reality of the situation? The dogs (one male, one female), which belonged to the woman's recently-deceased boyfriend were intact and young. They had been confined to a basement of a vacant house while the mother and her daughter moved. They were underweight, starving (no food was found in their stomachs), and had ingested rat poison, nails, and rubber bands in an effort to feed themselves.

It sounds a bit different when they're described as they really were. Unsocialized, starving, and sick animals vs. family pet.

Delise makes the case that in order to truly understand dog attacks, one has to look at the people involved and the situation itself. Divvying up attacks by breed tells us nothing. Dogs that attack have often been chained out and neglected, are starving, have been abused, and are often intact.

Instead of looking at the real situation, the media has maligned an entire breed for sensationalism. And this has led to politicians taking up the cause and enacting breed bans.

Denver is often sited when discussions of Breed-Specific Legislation is brought up. They first enacted a ban on pit bull "type" dogs in 1989 and recently reinstated it. Their seven points in regard to why pit bulls needed to be banned were based on media sensationalism, twisted facts, contradictions, and "scientific" articles in such esteemed journals as Sports Illustrated. They brought in pseudoscience and anecdotes and called them facts. Even worse, this ban was enacted due to two incidents that happened three years apart: one fatal, one not.

What has happened to the Pit Bull has been a horrifying witch hunt that, just like the witch hunts of Salem, has no basic in reality. The Pit Bull is and can be a wonderful, real family pet if raised the proper way...just like any other breed of dog. To think that in less than 100 years human beings could create a monster of dog with anatomy unlike any other canine, is not only the height of arrogance, but is also ridiculous.

Unfortunately, this vilification is not likely to change until people start to think with a little bit more logic and the media starts to disseminate facts instead of twisted facts and sensationalized accounts that don't resemble reality.

The Pit Bull Placebo is now available online for free. Please download it and pass the link alone. This is an important book and Pit Bull owners everywhere would like you to see it.

Book Review: Bringing Light To Shadow by Pamela S. Dennison

Title: Bringing Light to Shadow: A Dog Trainer's Diary
Author: Pamela S. Dennison
Year published: 2004

You can't rehabilitate an aggressive dog using positive training. You must show the dog who is the alpha in order to gain respect. And besides, positive-based trainers won't even take on aggressive dogs.

I cannot count the number of times I have heard a combination of these statements. Add to them the usual glorification of Cesar Millan, and you have the complete picture. According to these folks, he rehabilitates "red zone" dogs, the dogs others have given up on, the ones the positive trainers won't work with because they don't have the guts/know-how/calm assertive energy to rehabilitate them. These positive, rewards-based trainers are handy for training tricks, but that's it.

Except...that's not quite true. Bringing Light to Shadow proves those statements wrong. Pamela Dennison, who already had a houseful of dogs (a border collie mix, a border collie, and a sheltie), decided in a moment of craziness to add a 4th dog to the mix: a rescued border collie named Shadow. She did not know, at the time she brought him home, that Shadow was human-aggressive. As with many aggressive dogs, most of his issues were based in fear. He was a dog who, under different circumstances would have been put down. He was a dog who, under the "rehabilitation" of Cesar Millan, would have lashed out or shut down, leaving him living in a sort of hell.

Instead, Shadow ended up in the hands of positive trainer Pamela Dennison. At the time she had little experience working with aggressive dogs. She had been training dogs for agility, obedience, and herding work. But Shadow became a project of love and she stuck by him through thick and thin.

The book is written in journal format and are the actual entries Dennison made in her journal about Shadow's progression (and sometimes regression) toward becoming a "normal" dog. Included within the pages not only are her moments of looking back and pointing out what she did right and what Shadow did right, but also those moments where she made a wrong move and caused Shadow to regress a bit.

This book is truly insightful and should be on every dog trainer's bookshelf. If you have a dog with aggression issues, this book can make you feel hope. And mostly, it can make anyone realize that positive training can WORK with an aggressive dog. In 18 months she turns Shadow from a human-aggressive dog to one who passes his Canine Good Citizen test. 18 months may seem like a long time, but at the end of the book he was only 2 1/2, so there are many more years to come.

I really enjoyed this book and it's one I'll keep on my shelf and keep referring back to over and over again.

Buy Bringing Light to Shadow by Pamela S. Dennison

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On dogs and freedom

I'm reading Patricia McConnell's latest book, Tales of Two Species: Essays on Loving and Living with Dogs. It's a collection of the articles she wrote for The Bark magazine (she still works for them).

In a section discussing what dogs have lost and gained by being housebound and not let out to roam the neighborhood all day, she says "What we can do is be mindful of how often our dogs have the freedom of choice. How many walks has your dog taken in which he got to decide where to go? How often does your dog get to decide when to stop sniffing? Ever let your dog choose the direction to follow at the dog park? These are good questions to ask ourselves as we exercise our dog's minds and bodies at dog parks and agility trials."

We always try to give Dahlia a bit of freedom. Not only do we allow her off leash in safe places as often as possible (and I'm very thankful we have a nearby park where we can do this frequently), but we also allow her to choose her own direction to go in on leashed walks. I often stop at the sidewalk and ask her which way she wants to go. I let her choose until I feel her choice is going to take us too far from home and make the walk back tiring for us both. But ultimately she gets to shape our walks. Sometimes she takes us on familiar walks we've done many times. Other times she takes us to new places or on a different route through the neighborhood, doubling back and following unexpected paths. We let her stop and sniff and spend all the time she wants taking in the "pee-mail." I'm sure some would think it indulgent and still others would consider Dahlia the "alpha" in the relationship. I'm glad to see that Patricia McConnell agrees with our choice.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Book Review: The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller

Title: The Power of Positive Dog Training
Author: Pat Miller
Year published: 2001

I think this really is the go-to book for learning about positive training and how to implement it with your dog. I've never beaten around the bush with indicating that I'm very pro-positive training and I think Pat Miller is one of the best.

The book begins with a little bit about Pat Miller's history of training, namely that she was a "traditional" trainer at one point, which many were. Traditional trainers focus more on aversives and punishments: leash pops, choke chains, and the like. It tells briefly of her discovery and switch to positive methods. I think this is important: it says that anyone can do it, no matter how they trained beforehand.

From there, the book is divided into three main sections.

The first outlines the ins and outs of positive training: how it works, why it works, why it builds a better bond with your dog. It explains a little bit about how dogs think and learn and outlines some basic training tools you'll need with your dog.

The second gives instructions on how to get your dog to do some basic obedience: sit, down, stay, come, etc. She breaks each of them down into easy steps to achieve them and gives suggestions on common problems people might encounter when trying to teach their dog the particular command. At the end of each section, she gives "bonus games" which are basic tricks you can teach your dog. She stresses, time and time again, that this should be fun: both for the human and the dog.

The third addresses common behavioral problems, such as housetraining, separation anxiety, aggression, socialization, and what to do when there's a baby on the way. Each of these sections can (and are) books on their own, so in the context of a fairly short book they're somewhat glossed over. Miller is, at every turn, careful to note that if your dog has some more serious issues that finding a good positive trainer who can work with you and your dog in person is most important.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to get started in obedience training with their dog. They'll end up with a really well-behaved dog who loves to work for them.

Buy The Power of Positive Dog Training by Pat Miller

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Book Review: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend by the Monks of New Skete

Title: How to Be Your Dog's Best Friend
Author: The Monks of New Skete
Year published: 2002 (revised updated version)

Part II in my "Know Thine Enemies" series.

I know...this sounds strange. Monks? Non-positive dog trainers?

Well, I found a bit of a conundrum in this book. I wanted to like what they had to say. I wanted to gloss over the stuff I didn't agree with and look to the good stuff. But I had to look at the book as if I knew nothing about dog training and nothing about dogs, as if I were the kind of person who would turn to this book for advice. And therein lies the problem.

There is a LOT of positive stuff in this book. It's the 2nd edition of their book, so the Monks are more up to date with modern dog training ideas than they were in their previous installment. They talk a lot about the human-canine bond and how deep and strong it can be, about how you can learn and grow as a person because of your dog.

Their sections on specific training give various ways of accomplishing each goal. For instance, in teaching the sit they discuss luring with a treat as well as positioning your dog using the collar and a hand on the dog's rump. The major problem with their methods is that they first suggest old-style methods using more force, but then say "a sensitive dog might not respond well to this." I'm not sure why one should begin with force and then retract it if the dog does not respond well. A more positive way would be to begin with luring and move onto something more physical if needed (I don't believe it generally is). They especially advocate the more positive approaches with puppies, but these can easily be used for older dogs as well, both ones who are even-tempered and ones who are more out of control. Clicker training (which they mention briefly) has done amazing things for many dogs of all temperaments.

They point out several myths around house training (push his nose in it, etc.), which I was glad to see. They don't make a huge deal out of dog's living in the moment, but it's a strong part of their training methods.

So all this sounds decent, right? It all falls apart in Chapter 10 on discipline. I found myself scratching my head in amazement as I read this chapter as it takes one far away from the building of a good human-canine bond that they reference many time in this book.

They describe two major methods of discipline: the shakedown (which requires the handler to grab the dog by either its jowls or the skin on the neck, lift their front feet off the ground and shake them while saying "NO" in their face loudly) and hitting the dog under the chin. To the latter, they say How hard do you hit the dog? A good general rule is that if you did not get a response, a yelp or other sign, after the first hit, it wasn't hard enough. That's right -- hit your dog until it yelps. And only then it will understand that it has done something wrong. Not only are these methods potentially dangerous (a dog who is a fear biter or has the potential for aggression is likely to snap or bite in these situations), they are also very detrimental to the human-canine bond the Monks seem to stress so highly. In fact, they mention how the dog may be shaken up mentally and physically and will not approach its handler after such a correction, which is not entirely surprising. Physical punishment is a surefire way to damage the bond.

I do agree with the Monks that a well-placed correction can be valuable feedback, but many dogs respond to a verbal correction. A quick "eh-eh" and my dog freezes and returns to what position she needs to hold.

I was glad to see them retract the suggestion of the alpha roll, though their reasoning for it was a bit off. Yes it's dangerous to owners. There is no doubt there. But it also does not work as discipline, though they seem to think it does and likely still use it in their training.

They also recommend "leash pops" using a training collar (generally a metal or nylon choke collar), which is a quick yank and release type of correction. If used correctly, it's not dangerous (though it is in the hand's of someone doesn't know how to use it), but neither is it a good method for corrections. Dogs who are jerked around are often frustrated and the fact that it can damage their windpipes is enough for me to recommend against them!

So all together, there are some good things here, but also some bad. If you can walk away from it with just keeping the positive stuff in mind while ignoring Chapter 10 and the other more negative, correction-based ideas, then it's not a bad book. But otherwise, I suggest a book more geared toward positive training, like Pat Miller's The Power of Positive Training or a more developed book on the human-canine bond, like Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash or Suzanne Clothier's Bones Would Rain From the Sky.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Book Review: The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

Title: The Plague Dogs
Author: Richard Adams
Year published: 1978

This book is not an easy book to read, not by any way you look at it. It tells the story of two dogs, Snitter (who once had a master) and Rowf (who never did and is therefore known only by the sound he makes, a great big "Rowf"), who escape from an animal experiment research place (called, amusingly enough Animal Research, Surgical and Experimental -- yes, that spells out A.R.S.E.). The stories of their tortures at the hands of the scientists and of the torture of other animals are all too realistic as they're based off real experiments, many of which are simply not necessary and are done "just to see how the animal reacts." That is part of what makes it difficult to read. The other part is some of the dialect. I admit, the dialect of the tod (a fox) was so hard to get through at first that I came close, more than once, to putting down the book.

I'm glad I didn't.

After a time you get used to it and it helps to really solidify his voice in your head.

These two dogs in their travels are first chased off and later pursued by farmers for killing sheep and hens and raiding dust bins. The press gets involved, bringing the public's attention to these two dogs and after finding out that there were experiments going on regarding the plague at A.R.S.E., concocts a story in which the dogs might or might not carry the plague. Either way, the public outcry for the deaths of the two "plague dogs" is overwhelming.

What ensues from here on out is a media circus and manhunt of the worst kind.

I won't spoil the ending, because I was surprised and amazed. Despite the sometimes emotional difficulty of reading about the experiments done not just on dogs, but on many other animals as well, and despite the difficulties of reading the tod's dialect, I will say this book was VERY worth reading. By the end I couldn't put it down and I was in tears.

Besides the plot and the twists therein, I found the book a rather telling commentary on the media and just what they can do to the public's perception. The way the media twists the facts, creating a story just to sell some more copies, is astonishingly accurate.

Buy The Plague Dogs by Richard Adams

Friday, February 20, 2009

A musical offering

The first time David pulled out his banjo and played a tune on it, Dahlia rushed out of the room and hid in the bedroom. This is, of course, the reaction any sane being might have to a banjo being played. But as neither David, nor I, are completely sane and as we both love the sound of the banjo, this was somewhat worrying.

She had never been exposed to such a noise before and she wasn't sure what to make of it. I watched as she carefully stuck her neck out and around the corner, nose active, ears back, a clear look of what did I get myself into? written all over her face.

David put the banjo away.

Dahlia came back into the room.

David and I were heartbroken. Our new dog, so wonderful in so many ways, was afraid of the music.

He later tried the fiddle with much the same reaction. She didn't run as far this time, but she did step away from the sound and peer carefully back at it. Is it going to harm me? What is that thing? Obviously her "people" before us were not musicians.

A couple weeks later we had company over to our little cottage on the lake and, as we all like Sunday morning folk-outs (or in this case, Sunday afternoon folk-outs), David pulled out his octave mandolin and played some tunes on it.

Dahlia carefully strode away and sat just inside the door to the bedroom. Still cautious, she stared at David with a curious look, head cocked slightly to the side. David continued to play. I watched Dahlia.

When David left to go check on the grill, he set his octave mandolin carefully down on the couch. Dahlia, of course, followed David out to the kitchen. After all, there might be yummy things there that have her name on it. David, in good "daddy" form, pulled out a biscuit, asked her to sit, and handed it to her. She carefully took it in her mouth and rushed back into the living room.

Usually at this point, she would head over to her bed to eat it. But not this time. This time she paused inside the room and moved toward the couch where the octave mandolin was laying. She carefully set the biscuit down in front of the instrument, touched her nose to it, and retreated to her bed where she lay down with a sigh.

Was this a peace offering? An acknowledgment that if she were to share her abode with these strange instruments, a truce should be called?

The biscuit remained in front of the mandolin for much of the evening and we all marveled over the musical offering.

Of course, later in the evening Dahlia retrieved her biscuit. You could almost imagine her saying, "Well, if you don't want it, I'll eat it."

She has never had a problem with any of the instruments since that moment. I think, though, that she has a particular affinity for that octave mandolin. When David pulls it out to play, she comes to rest on the couch next to him, watching, and listening intently to the melodious sounds of the instrument.


Book Review: Bones Would Rain From the Sky by Suzanne Clothier

Title: Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening our Relationships with Dogs
Author: Suzanne Clothier
Year published: 2005

I've read a lot of dog books and I think this book is one of the best. Clothier writes in a way that I find it very easy to connect to.

Ultimately, this book is the complete opposite of the one I read by Cesar Millan. The basis of the book is respect, love, compassion, and understanding. Clothier draws on her experiences with her own dogs and with her client's dogs to tell stories that illustrate each of her very well- explained points.

I think the main point of the book, what the book was trying to tell the reader from the beginning and through to the end, came on page 222 with one simple phrase: See the dog. It's something Clothier points out a lot of people don't actually see. They see something that has to be pushed down and dominated. They see a human in fur clothing. They see a bundle of unconditional love. But they don't actually look at and see the dog itself, the dog as a dog. And through that, a lot of miscommunication happens.

She also focuses on dogs as spiritual beings and believes that we can learn a lot from them, from the way they interact, from their body language. At one point she tells a story about a friend who got angry at her and was berating her, shouting at her, and how she wanted to walk away, shout back, get angry back. And then she stopped, imagined her as a dog snapping at her and growling, and realized that a lot of her friend's behavior was based around fear. And she stopped, listened compassionately, and allowed her friend to relax. A lot of people get irritated when people compare animals to humans, but I think the way Clothier does it works really well.

I've read a lot of dog books, read a lot of dog websites, and one thing that has always confused me is the amount of behaviorists and writers who disagree with the alpha/pack theory of dogs but at the same time talk about being a leader. I never could quite figure out how to reconcile the two and it's something I've been struggling with. Clothier, finally, seems to manage to do it and do it well. Again, she compared leadership in a dog/human relationship to leadership in a child/parent relationship. You have to be the leader with your children. You have to give them rules and boundaries. You have to pull them away from things that are bad for them. But at the same time you have to be benevolent, always showing them the way and correcting them when they're wrong without getting angry and lashing out. And in this same way, you should be the benevolent leader for your dog(s). Kindness and compassion mixed with rules and boundaries. Too little of one or the other and your relationship with your dog will suffer, not because the dog is going to then become the leader and the dominant one, but because the dog doesn't know how it fits in, what's expected of it.

And one final point about this book, and it was something I really liked. When you read a lot about these various trainers and their relationship with their dogs, you always have the impression that they do all the right things, that their dogs are great because the trainers know what to do, that they never make the mistakes a lot of us do. Clothier very carefully shows some situations in which she acted all too human with her dogs, where she got angry with them and acted out in that anger. She tells the story of Badger, a dog whose owner could not control him and who she agreed to take in. One night, shortly after he arrived, she got up to let the dogs out and when she came back, he was sprawled on her bed. She wanted him off, in his crate, and he wouldn't go no matter how much she cajoled him. She grabbed him by the collar, which results in his showing his teeth, and then, in an all too human move of frustration and anger with a dog, she smacked him on the muzzle. Soon after she realized how blinded with rage she was and calms down and things resort to normal. But the point she made here was that we all make mistakes, no matter how much training and knowledge we have. We're all human and all prone to the same human mistakes. While it's sad to read of someone smacking their dog, it's comforting to hear we all do make mistakes and we can recover from them.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in learning more about their relationship with their dogs.

Buy Bones Would Rain From the Sky by Suzanne Clothier

Check out Suzanne Clothier's blog here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Walking the dog

I hear people talk, quite frequently, about how their dog wakes them up in the middle of the night or early in the morning.  I can't count the number of times my mother has complained of their dog, a curly-haired white little mutt named Teri, awakening her at 4:00am in the morning to go out.  So when I got a dog of my own, I expected to have a snout in my face early in the morning.

This, however, is not exactly what happened with our Dahlia.

A couple months ago, my routine looked a little something like this:

6:00am: I get up.  Some days I get up at 5:00am and this all starts an hour early.  I either take my shower or wash up and then wake up by checking e-mail.

6:30am: By this time I am sufficiently awake enough to get my butt off the chair.  I get myself all bundled up and then go to get the dog.  "Dahlia!" I say in a whisper. She eyes me balefully.  "Do you want to go for a walk?"  This is the point at which a dog is supposed to jump up with a big grin that says Of course I do mom!!  Dahlia rolls over, stretches out her legs, and rests a paw against my chest.  I rub her belly and then stand up.  "Come on Dahlia!  Let's go for a walk."  This is louder than before because I'm pretty sure she didn''t actually hear me the first time.  She can't have.  After all, aren't all dogs are raring to go when their person mentions the much-heralded walk?  I think dogs on the dognet are always blogging about the wonderful things they smell on walks (Today there was...CAT SHIT!!).  By this point, David is waking up due to all the noise and production.  He joins in the excitement.  Dahlia eyes him and rolls over.  Now there are two humans to pet her belly.

This is clearly not working.

David gets out of bed and joins me in my efforts to get her out of bed and moving.  She finally decides to get up and follow me out to the living room.  Once out there and near the leash and the door, she suddenly shows the excitement that had been missing before.

6:45am: We head out on our walk.  What had been planned to be a half hour is now shortened to only 15 minutes.   Luckily, David is home because he takes her out for a longer walk later in the day.

About a month ago I found a work-around for this.  At 6:30am, I bundle up and head into the kitchen.  I open up the refrigerator and grab the packages of Fresh Pet sausages.  I crinkle it loudly as I pull out a sausage.  When I turn around, what should my eyes fall upon but dear Dahlia, tail enthusiastically wagging, mouth open in anticipation of that lovely sausage.

Yes.  My dog is a food hound.  And this has been what my morning routine has become.

But this morning, miracle of miracles, I was getting my boots on around 5:40am and looked up to see that Dahlia had crept in (she's almost silent when she doesn't have her collar on) and was quietly sitting across the room watching me.  When she sees that I've noticed her, her tail starts to wag and she stands, moving closer.  Mom, are we going for a walk? her body language is screaming at me.  I scratch behind her ears, rub along her sides as she leans into me.

"Dahlia...tell me you want to go for a walk?"

And we're off for our jaunt to the great outdoors.  I don't believe for a moment that her new routine will consist of her rising from bed when I do.  But one can hope.

Book Review: Cesar's Way by Cesar Millan

Title: Cesar's Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems
Author: Cesar Millan
Year published: 2006

I need to start with a bit of a disclaimer about this one. I read this book as a sort of "know thine enemies" thing. I have seen enough of Cesar's show and read enough about his techniques to know I don't agree with him and I find his ideas about dogs sometimes old and out of date, sometimes simply wrong, and sometimes dangerously wrong. But I opted to read the book to give myself a more complete picture of his techniques and so that I'm more informed when it comes to refuting those techniques I disagree with. I did, however, approach it with an open mind and made sure to take notes on the things I agreed with, as well as those things I didn't agree with.

So all that being said, here are my thoughts on the book.

The good
One of the major things that Cesar advocates is exercise. Dogs need exercise. They need to walk or run, to explore, to get out of the house. A lot of dog owners seem to forget this, especially during the harsh winter months (I can't tell you how many more dogs I've seen out walking since the weather turned milder the last couple days). So yes. Exercise. But not the way that Cesar seems to want one to. He has this idea that it's "migrating" that dogs need. Dogs do not migrate. Dogs need to explore the world, generally with their nose. He tells people to get out and not let the dog sniff, keep their head up and walking, only allow them to sniff occasionally when YOU want them to. This means the dog is missing out on all the mental stimulation of the walk and leads to the people I once saw who practically choked their dog if it so much as put its nose down to sniff.

He also makes a point of telling people that dogs live in the moment. It's a common theme throughout the book and that is accurate. I wish he went more into it, like mentioning that because they live in the moment, shoving a dog's nose into their pee, shouting at them, and hitting them, when you come home from work to discover it does not do anything except make the dog scared of your coming home.

Dogs are not human beings is another common theme throughout the book and like the last one, it's absolutely accurate. He talks about people who baby their dogs, carrying them everywhere and who treat them like babies with fur. He specifically cites Paris Hilton, which amused me. And he points out that doing such things can create an imbalanced dog. I'm sure many of us have seen the little dog that growls and snaps at people and is picked up by its owner and babied. He's talking about this sort of thing.

Other good points: Dogs need boundaries and rules. A dog without them is out of control, though for different reasons than Cesar cites. Fearful dogs often escalate into aggression which is why people need to nip that fear in the bud before it gets worse. When choosing a dog, people need to pick out a dog that matches their lifestyle and energy otherwise they can create problems for their dog. And he makes a point to tell people to work on getting their dogs used to the sorts of things they'll endure at the vets and groomers. I think if more people did this, there would be less issues at both places.

Also on the good side, he comes out against dog fighting and breed-specific legislation.

The bad
Cesar's entire book and indeed his show and life are based on the idea of dominance. If the person is not the "pack leader" then the dog will become the pack leader and then you have a very unbalanced dog. This was a fairly common theory back about 20 years or so ago after a study on wolves showed that there was an alpha who everyone deferred to and because of this, there was harmony in their pack. Except...the study was flawed. Seriously flawed. It was based on a captive group of wolves who were not from the same pack (a wolf pack is generally made up of relatives -- mom, dad, a few other relatives, and the pups) and who is the leader is very fluid. It changes from one activity to the next, depending on each wolf's strengths. And so the conclusions drawn were simply wrong and later studies show a different pack structure. Unfortunately, Cesar has bought entirely into this.

The other problem with this, of course, is that dogs are not wolves. They're closely related genetically, but they're not the same. Wolves grow and mature into adults. Dogs remain as if they're perpetual puppies. Wolves are wild animals. Dogs are not. They've been domesticated for thousands of years.

Because Cesar believes dogs are always trying to be the dominant one, he labels everything as dominant: when your dog jumps on you when you come home, he's being dominant (or maybe he's just happy to see you and has a lot of pent-up energy from being cooped up for a time); when your dog puts her paw on you, she's being dominant (or maybe she just wants some reassurance or is asking for petting); when your dog wakes you up at 5am to go out, he's being dominant (or maybe, since you've trained him to go outside to pee and he has to pee, he wants to be taken outside because he knows he's not supposed to go in the house). I'm amazed at the amount of things that are labeled as the dog being dominant and unbalanced.

Back on the exercise thing, Cesar talks a lot about "mastering the walk." What he means by this is that you walk at a brisk pace with the dog either at your side or behind you. The dog is not allowed to sniff unless you stop, allow it to for a moment, and then continue on. The dog can never ever be in front of you, even if it does not pull, because that means the dog is, of course, being the dominant one ("the pack leader does not follow"). I find a lot of issues with this. For one, I like to be able to see my dog. If she's behind me, I can't know what she's doing. Is there a chicken bone or a piece of cat poop on the ground that I didn't see (which I wouldn't see because, of course, I'm walking tall with my chest puffed out and looking straight ahead like a good "pack leader" should) that she scooped up to eat as we walked? Is someone coming up behind me that could threaten her in some way? walking along side me is fine, but I never ever want her behind me. I also find a lot wrong with his not allowing the dog to sniff and here's where I think he goes really wrong. Physical exercise is important. There is no doubt of that. But mental exercise is just as important. He doesn't really bring up the idea of mental exercise until page 228 and even then it's glossed over. He looks down on the idea of obedience training (it won't bring balance to your dog/show them who's leader/teach them to be "calm submissive").

Cesar believes that in order to have your dog balanced, you have to give the dog exercise, discipline, and affection. Three very good things, but he believes that it should be 50% exercise, and 25% each of discipline and affection. And to push this even further, he says you should give the dog them in that order. In other words, exercise the dog first, then give it discipline, then finally give the dog affection. He thinks that new owners should not give affection to their dog for the first two weeks they have it, that somehow the exercise is enough for a bond. I really heartily and strongly disagree with this. Affection IS important. The other two are as well, but I think they're all equally important. Giving a dog affection before exercise is not going to create an unbalanced dog. All things in moderation, including exercise.

There are some more minor things that he gets wrong, though some of those are common miconceptions, like the "don't comfort your dog during a storm; it'll make her more fearful" thing (for a good description of why that is wrong, check out this article by Patricial McConnell).

The ugly
Some of Cesar's techniques are downright dangerous, not just merely irritating or against what is natural. Two of the most controversial are the alpha roll and flooding.

The alpha roll is a technique where you take a dog that is acting "dominant" (or, to put it closer to what he really does, aggressive) and force it down and onto its side or back. The idea here is that a dog showing its belly is submitting to the pack leader and in order to show the dog who's "boss" one has to get it down into that position. If a dog is "too dominant" and will not do it, then it is up to you to force the dog into the position where, Cesar believes, they will then become a "calm submissive" dog and accept your leadership. I saw him do this once on an episode with an aggressive dog. He did it by grabbing the dog by the leash, pulling it up until it was hanging with its front feet in the air, and then shoving it down and onto its side. At the end, he said "see, calm submissive dog, ta da!" Except it wasn't. It was a dog who had shut down out of extreme fear (and who was most likely fearful to begin with). I'd be scared too if someone hung me and then shoved me over. This whole alpha roll idea came, again, from that study of captive wolves and is as flawed as the study was. In nature, a more dominant wolf does not force a dog into submission -- submission is granted (for a good example of what really happens, see this video of a wolf submitting to a higher member of the pack). The alpha roll is dangerous to the dog's emotional state -- an aggressive dog is likely to become more aggressive. And it's also dangerous to the human attempting it. He claims it should be used only by trained professionals (which, mind you, he is not), but then in the epsiode referenced above, he teaches the dog's owners to do it as well.

Flooding in a concept wherein if a dog is afraid of something, you flood them with it in order to somehow make them more comfortable with it. In one episode, which he discusses in the book, he forces a Great Dane who is scared of shiny floors across one. He drags the dog onto them and forces him to stay there. Then, when the dog "submits" he calls it cured. Unfortunately for the dog, he had simply shut down out of extreme fear. Flooding is not a technique anyone in psychology would recommend. Imagine if you were afraid of snakes being forced to have a bunch on you. Would that cure your fear? I think it would make mine worse if I were afraid of something. I know it would with my particular phobia. Counter conditioning works much better in these matters than flooding, but Cesar stands by his stance on flooding and on how the dog reacted.

He also advocates the use of a treadmill for exercise if you can't get out and walk the dog enough. Yes. He's talking about putting your DOG on a treadmill. This can work in certain situations and some people use them. But the way he uses them is downright dangerous. First of all, he ties the dog to it with a leash. If one is going to do this, it would be best to put a harness on the dog so that the dog cannot choke if anything happens. Then he says that once the dog is used to it, you can leave him alone on it for short periods of time. No. Never. It's an electrical piece of equipment that your dog is tied to with what could easily turn into a noose. It's a BAD IDEA to leave the dog alone on it. And then there's the issue of this being proper exercise for a dog. Dogs need to sniff and explore and a walk is great for this. Just running in place on a treadmill is not. I'm surprised that he advocates this after he was sued for damages to a dog who was slapped on a treadmill with a choke collar on.

Right in the beginning of the book he talks about how he walks into his dog pack (30-40 dogs he keeps at his "Dog Psychology Center") and shows he is the pack leader by looking away, not meeting their eyes. That meeting their eyes is a sign of weakness. Unfortunately for Cesar this is pretty much the absolute OPPOSITE of how dogs really work. A dog who is confident is one who is leaning forward on his front legs, ears forward, eyes staring into the eyes of another dog. A dog who is deferential turns his face and eyes away. Cesar is giving off the complete opposite of the signals he claims he is. He also allowed his very young, toddler-aged, kids to walk through the pack all alone. He's very lucky nothing happened to those kids.

Cesar, really, is not a master of reading dog body language. I suppose this is because he believes it's about his energy and so he's never devoted his time to reading dogs. At one point in the book he shows a picture of a very frightened pit bull: tail down, head down, fearful set to the face with the mouth pulled back. The dog IS clearly in a fear position. But I've seen other dogs show that same body language on his show and he calls it "calm submission." Hint: he's right about it in the book, wrong on the show.

The weird
Cesar talks a LOT about "energy" and how dogs can feel your energy. If you're not projecting "pack leader" mentality, the dog will know it. Not by reading your body language, but by your energy. He gets far too New Agey in much of this book and sometimes I kept thinking "is he going to tell me my dog can read my aura next?" Dogs are masters of reading body language, theirs AND yours. It's not about energy. It's about how you move and what the look on your face is or where your hand is positioned.

Cesar: How to Write a Book with So Many Contradictions that No One Should Take it Seriously
It's hard to believe a person could contradict themselves so often in just 320 pages. Here are some of the contradictions I noted:

1. Dogs do not want to be the leader. They do not want to be the dominant one. But they're always looking for weakness in their humans and trying to become the dominant one. Either they want to be leader or they don't. Pick one and stick with it.

2. He says that you cannot blame a dog's breed for the way it is acting, but then goes on to talk about shutting off a dog's "pit bull genes" and talks about how a Siberian husky is not a good city dog because it needs to roam. Either the breed is important or it's not.

3. Dogs must always walk behind the owner or next to the owner, but never in front. But then he goes on to say that he allows the dogs in front sometimes. Does that mean they become the pack leader in those moments?

4. Dogs must always walk behind the owner or next to the owner, but never in front. But then he goes on to say that dogs who are guiding the blind must be out in front, yet the person walking them is in charge and they know it. So why can't a dog who is out in front of a seeing person know the person holding the leash is "in charge"?

5. He talks about a dog being submissive a lot, "calm submissive" (which he touts as being the ultimate state of mind for a balanced dog), but then goes on to says that submissive dogs are weak and have low self-esteem.

6. He talks about wearing your dog out from exercise. He thinks that the ideal amount of exercise is 8-10 hours! I'd be in great shape if I could walk that much, but I think my dog, who loves affection, might not be too happy if we walked THAT much. But then he eventually says that you should walk your dog twice a day, ideally for 30 minutes each time. That's not very long at all and isn't enough to exhaust a dog.

7. You should position your dog's collar high up on their neck, where it's in the most vulnerable place on their neck. Keep their head up on the walk and give a correction when they put it down (I've seen someone doing this before -- it's not pretty). A couple contradictions here: According to him if you just exude the right "calm assertive" energy the dog should naturally follow and a dog should be walking with its head down because that shows a "calm submissive" state instead of a dominant one.

In conclusion
Cesar ends his book with this: I sincerely hope that, with this book, I have helped you find a place to begin in your quest for a better, healthier relationship with the dogs in your life.

I do believe he believes this. I do believe he is sincere. Unfortunately, this book contradicts itself too often and when the advice is clear, it is not anything based on the reality of dogs. It is based on a flawed study about captive wolves. You can get some common sense things out of this book (exercise, boundaries, etc.), but you can get those from any book on dog training or psychology. I really recommend against this book and would suggest, if you want a book that is more positive and gives you some good idea on what to do with dogs, check out Patricia McConnell's The Other End of the Leash.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The butterball returns!

Tonight Dahlia wandered into David's study.  David turned to me and said "She keeps going in there looking for something."  And then Dahlia came out of the room with something in her mouth. 

David said, "Oh she hid one of her things in there."

I said, "Uh oh."

As she headed away from us, I noticed that the thing in her mouth was a sort of yellowish-white colour.

And misshapen. 

She came around into the dining room and laid, right there in front of me, the same freaking thing of butter that she had yesterday.

David said, "How did she get that? I put it on the kitchen counter."

Yes.  He put it on the kitchen counter.  Then went out for a couple hours.  And while she had the house to herself, she somehow got the butter down off the kitchen counter and hid it in David's study.

Clearly she was better at hiding it last night than she was yesterday's afternoon as we never found it until she brought it out to us.

The butter is now in the trash...where it belongs.


Dahlia says "Awww, Mom...I thought you left it out just for me!!"  Really, how can one be angry at that face?  It's just simply not possible, especially when her buttery ways are all our own fault.

Our little butterball

Yesterday David had to leave Dahlia alone for a couple hours while he went out to a meeting.  As is typical for us, everything that a dog might be interested in was not put away beforehand.  We're still getting used to having a dog around and for the first few months we had Miss Dahlia, she was an utter angel and didn't get into anything. 

When David arrived home after his meeting, he found a very happy Dahlia and the bread that had been on the table on the ground.  It was still in the plastic bag I had put it in.  All was well and good then as Dahlia hadn't eaten a bit of it.


All was indeed not well and good.

I arrived home around 4:30pm, also to a very happy Dahlia.  After spending some time playing with her, David and I decided to go out for a little walk with our girl.  I plucked up my boots, coat, hat, and other paraphernalia needed in order to go for a walk in these frigid temperatures. 

I went to sit down on my recliner in order to put said paraphernalia on.  And what do I see sitting there, tucked partially into the crack between the seat and the arm of the chair?  That's right...a partially chewed up stick of BUTTER.

And then it became clear to me.

The bread was simply in the way.  The butter was what she was after.  She got that, chewed on it, and then hid it in my chair.  Well, she sort of hid it.  She's not very good at hiding her things.  They're usually sitting in plain view, but clearly supposed to be hidden from our eyes. When it's one of her things (a bone, a large biscuit, etc.) we just pretend we can't see it and go about our way.  Since this was indeed not one of her biscuits, it had to be removed and subsequently thrown away.

Now mind you, this is not the first incident of butter hiding our little girl has done.  This fall we found a stick of it, again partially chewed up, in the bottom of David's closet.  At varying other times, she has plucked the butter wrapper off the table and licked it clean.  Another time she took the cardboard container (sans any butter in it) from our recycle bin and nonchalantly walked past the table with it as we ate.  And perhaps best of all?  The day we got her she ate almost an entire stick of butter at the foster home.  She climbed up on the table and her foster mom found her there finishing it off.  Yes, this had an adverse affect on her digestion.  We spent much of the trip home with her with the windows down as our lovely new dog farted up a storm in the backseat.  What an introduction!

Our dog, it would seem, is obsessed with butter.