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.