Monday, January 21, 2013

100 things #35: The Fun Police

Even though Dahlia is not the main focus in this photo I love it for how much of her personality it shows.  Dahlia is a "fun police" dog.  When other dogs get into wrestling or playing bitey face, Dahlia runs up behind them barking and tries to split them apart.  Here she is chasing Ruskin and Gracie, who were having a great rousing game of body slamming bitey face.

Sony A580 | Minolta 135mm f/2.8 | f/4.5 | 1/1250 | 135mm

100 things #34: The severed arm

Dahlia found part of a toy in the park.  I couldn't resist getting her attention long enough to get this shot.

Sony A580 | Minolta 135mm f/2.8 | f/4.5 | ISO 400 | 135mm

Thursday, January 17, 2013

What's gone wrong at Dogster?

I've followed Dogster, both on Facebook and on their website, for years.  I have a profile set up on their site for both Dahlia and Teri (my parent's dog), as well as profiles for dogs who have passed on.  I have communicated with others in their forums.  I get their e-mails in my inbox. And I actually read them.

Dogster claims to be "The #1 site for dog lovers on the Internet."  With over 111,000 likes on Facebook and over half a million members on their website, that may very well be true.  I cannot deny that a lot of people follow them and, hopefully, learn from some of the great articles they have had there over the years.

But lately there seems to be a turn the site is taking, with articles that are inflammatory in nature.  The first one I took issue with was a reprint of an article by Megan Segura called If You Bought Your Dog, I'm Judging You.  The article is exactly what it says it is.  In it, she lists the reasons she believes people choose to buy a dog instead of going to a shelter and for each one offers up several judgmental remarks about what she thinks of these people.  Her face "gets hot," her "stomach drops" and then "the rage begins."  

On Dogster's philosophy page, they list their values.  One of those values is "We champion adoption. And we support responsible breeders" (underline not added by myself).  If so, why post an article against that value?  As one commenter on the article pointed out "Judgement of anyone for any reason is ugly and has no place whatsoever in animal rescue."  There was simply no reason for alienating so many people and going against their own values.  Around here, we call that "hypocritical."

 The latest article, though, was not only inflammatory but wildly inaccurate and wholly offensive.  Dogster defends their posting of this article with the following: “Doghouse Confessionals” are intensely personal stories from our readers about life with their dogs. We recognize that ALL dogs need proper training and socialization and welcome your viewpoints in the article comments...We also understand that the experience shared by the author of this "Confessional" may not be that of all of our readers.

The article in question is called We Adopted a Pit Bull Mix -- Who Turned Aggressive on Us.  In it, the author of the article details her adoption, issues, and subsequent return of Marley, a supposed pit mix.  There are many things wrong with the way the author speaks of and dealt with Marley during his time with her.

She went to the shelter to adopt a large mixed breed dog like the one she had recently lost, an admirable thing to be sure.  The dog she fell in love with was Marley, a 12-week-old puppy who she was told was a Mastiff mix, even though she "knew he was probably not a Mastiff as he did not have the wrinkles."  Here's the first, fairly minor, quibble with this article: mixing breeds of dogs means you may remove certain aspects of one breed or the other.  My dog is likely mixed with Golden Retriever, yet there is nothing "golden" about her.

But then her concerns began: The dog had been neutered before the vet-recommended 5 months (a common thing at shelters who will often neuter dogs as young as 8 weeks old). The staff came to check multiple times on the puppy and one occasion they said "They all have those eyes," indicating they believed the dog was a pit bull mix.

In reality, is the dog in question a pit mix?  It's possible, but based on the photos it's also possible the dog is a mix of Sharpei, Great Dane, Mastiff, and many other breeds.  Without knowing a dog's specific origin, it is impossible to say whether or not a dog really has pit bull in him.  It's impossible to say what breeds are in any mix unless the parents are known.  I call my dog a Border Collie/Golden Retriever mix based on what I know of canine genetics, her looks, and her personality.  But she was a stray, parentage unknown.  Someone I know calls her a "hairy black farm dog."  That may be even more apt.

From here, the story takes a hard turn.  The dog begins to show fear issues (though the author mislabels them as "dominance" issues, thus perpetuating yet another myth): spooking at the sudden appearance of other people, barking at other dogs, their dogs getting into a fight (which, despite their "going for each other" she blames solely on Marley and says he wanted to kill the other dog).  After an incident of his showing extreme fear after being surprised by some people on holiday, they clearly would have done a few things: take the dog to the vet to make sure his health was in order (was he losing his vision? thyroid off? were his hips bad and causing him pain?) and if his health was fine, they'd start a program with a good behaviorist to work on his fear issues: LAT (Look At That), BAT (Behavior Adjustment Training), counter conditioning.  There are many ways to work on fear in a dog.  They would "crate and rotate" so that Marley was neither locked away nor let loose around other pets. They would walk him alone and work on his issues while out in the world.

Unfortunately, this is not what happened.  The dog was chained to their camping van for the remainder of their holiday (research has shown that chaining dogs increases frustration and fear and that many chained dogs become aggressive) and the author became afraid of him.  I'll give them credit for at least trying a few things, but when dealing with a dog who has such intense fear issues, unless you are a trained behaviorist, you simply cannot do it on your own. I know a fair bit about dog training, but I would never attempt to work on such severe issues without professional help (granted, they never would have gotten to that point with me as I would have begun working on them at the first sign of problems). They never even spoke to the shelter of the issues they were having with Marley.  Often the breeder, rescue, or shelter you get your dog from is a great resource for any issues you might be having, both major and minor.  Sometimes they have their own trainer on staff.  Often they can advise you as to what to do and who to go see about your dog. They are a resource that anyone who adopts from them absolutely should make use of.

In the end, they did finally get together with a trainer, one who used shock collars (something any behaviorist worth his/her salt would recommend against for a dog with fear issues).  They gave him one day to fix the problem and Marley "behaved" for the shock trainer.  But as soon as he was gone, he went for their other dog again, and that was it for Marley.  They returned him to the shelter, a shelter who had no idea that there were so many problems happening with this dog.  She said of this, "We did not enquire what happened to Marley afterward, but his prognosis was not good under the current legislation. I’m sorry, but I preferred not to know."

She preferred not to know.  Surely she must know what became of this dog.  If someone turns in aggressive dog here, the dog is immediately euthanized.  Sometimes they're euthanized even if they're not showing any aggressive tendencies, but it's done solely on the owner's statements.  I seem to recall one awful story in which someone stole their neighbor's dog, turned it into the shelter claiming it was their own and it was aggressive, and the dog was euthanized before the neighbor even knew what happened.  At any rate, Marley is dead.  I can guarantee you that much.  And saddest of all, Marley died surrounded by strangers in an intense state of fear.  If you have tried everything, if you have a dog who has such fear issues that you do not believe you can live with the dog or rehome him, if you feel that his quality of life is so poor that the best thing for him is to end his misery, then you take your dog to the vet, you be with him as they end his life, you allow him to be surrounded by those who supposedly love him instead of strangers.  But the author of the article could not even grant her dog this final kindness and instead turned him over to the shelter to let them do it.

Now after the author wrote this "confessional," do you think that the ultimate result was her taking responsibility, advising people to see a behaviorist or trainer before it's too late (According to Dogster, it's up to us, the readers, to educate, and not their site), being up front with the shelter or rescue, getting your dog in to a vet to evaluate him for possible physical causes of aggression?  No.  Ultimately, the author blamed the shelter for adopting her a pit bull mix when she had a multi-animal household.

The shelter is blameless here.  They adopted out a puppy of unknown origin to someone who claimed she understood dogs and wanted a large mixed breed puppy of "bully breed origin." They never knew of the issues she was having with him until she returned him at the end.  And moreover, she blamed his breed.  If she had only known, she would never have gotten a pit bull mix as, according to the author, pit bull mixes do not belong in multi-dog households.

The entire article left a bad taste in my mouth and I can't help but wonder why a site that bills itself as a site for dog lovers would actively promote BSL by posting it.  Dogster, of course, denies that the article is doing anything to promote the pit bull hater's agenda ("I disagree that this article is spreading misinformation about pit bulls.").  Rather than admit that perhaps they were wrong in posting the article, they have instead battened down the hatches and written to anyone critical of the article to warn us off posting on Dogster.

In fact, yesterday evening I received an e-mail from one Vicky Walker, managing editor of Dogster entitled "Please consider taking a break from the Dogster discussion today" and warning me that if I continued to post, I would be given a "time out" (in fact, Vicky has since banned me from posting anywhere on Dogster).

Clearly Dogster has spoken.  It is the #1 site for dog lovers unless you own a pit bull or pit bull mix or defend those breeds.  It is the #1 site for dog lovers unless you believe in taking responsibility for your own actions instead of blaming everyone else for your own failings.  Then you better forget getting on the site to defend the breed you know so well against the accusations that the author of the post in question made and you better forget trying to educate people on what went wrong in the story and how things could have been handled differently.  Well, no worries Dogster.  You have lost multiple people due to your posting of this article and your subsequent actions.  In time it seems this site will be as highly regarded as the now Cesar Millan-driven "Dog Breed Info" site is by real dog lovers.

What a shame. You have a huge audience and you have squandered your chance to reach them. Perhaps you should rethink your strategy a bit, as well as rethinking the type of reactionary and inflammatory people you hire to be "managing editors" on your site.

Edited to add: It appears that Vicky Walker, the "editing manager," is a friend of the author's.  And a long-time friend at that.  She says in one comment: "And speaking as Vicky's editor: I've known her for over 25 years."  Perhaps Dogster might have done better to allow an editor who did not know the author handle the editing, posting, and moderating of comments.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone!

I've been thinking a lot about what typically happens around this time of year: New Years Resolutions.  I'm not much for resolutions, those make it or break it types of desperate goal-making so many do as they head into the new year.  Instead, I tend toward goals, those things I'd like to achieve, those things I can strive for and work toward.

So here are some of my dog-related goals for 2013:

1. Learn to relax at trials and stop babysitting obstacles. Dahlia doesn't need the babysitting.  She will take the jump even if I don't stand near it and coax her anymore.  In fact, she finds this somewhat confusing.  So I will practice running at trials like I run at class.  If she misses a jump so what?  We may forfeit the Q, but we can continue to work on getting her to TTFJ (Take The F'in Jump!).

2. Get to more trials.  Well, maybe not more trials, but I would very much like to go to more two-day trials.  I enjoy having my Sundays to relax, but I think it would work better for Dahlia and I if we could settle into the trial atmosphere a bit more by being there both days.

3. Get Dahlia her Level 2 CPE title.  This may not be possible but I'm going to work toward it nonetheless!  We have two Q's toward the full title (Wildcard and Colors), but have a long way to go (14 more Q's, with 4 of those being in Standard).  Since Standard at this level includes all obstacles, it's going to be a bit rough going.  Dahlia can weave pretty well, she gets the teeter sometimes, but her dog walk is falling apart. At the very least, I hope to get her titles in Fun (Full House and Jumpers), Handler (Wildcard and Colors - we're halfway to this one!), and maybe even Strategy (Jackpot and Snooker).  If we can obtain those three I'll consider it a good year for us!

4. Work on Dahlia's dog walk issues.  This one is somewhat tough as we don't own a dog walk and we can only work on it in class. I'm hoping our instructor will have another "Happy Hour" drop-in class or another contacts and weaves class.  We definitely need one!  So what is Dahlia's dog walk issue?  She blows past it almost every single time we get to it.  Sometimes if I take her back and show her it, she'll get on it.  Sometimes she runs right by it time and time again. I'm starting to wonder if she even sees it. I read this article about how dog's color vision affects them in sports. It says, of equipment, "This way, if a dogwalk sits on a dirt brown surface, the yellow contact zone may be harder for the dog to see, but the rest of the dogwalk's up ramp will be easily seen."  Our dog walk does sit on a dirt brown surface in a building that is not all that bright late at night. It's possible that at speed it just blends into the ground and she doesn't see anything there at first.  She has also tried to jump up onto it from the side, again hinting that she may not be able to see the end of it as well as the blue part up above.  It's obviously something we need to work on, but I'm not sure how to work on it just yet.

5. Get in better shape.  Yes, this is related to dogs and agility! As Dahlia picks up speed, I need to be able to run better. I'm terribly out of shape and it hasn't much mattered until recently.  I'm not always able to beat my dog to where I need to be and we've had some crashes in class and some problems with my falling behind and not being able to tell her where to go next.  So I need to start to work on getting in better shape...for my dog!

6. Work on rear  crosses.  Coupled with #5, I also need to work on getting Dahlia understanding rear crosses.  As she starts to get more comfortable getting out in front of me, I need to be able to "steer from behind" on occasion.

So those are my goals for the new year.  Do you have any dog-related goals?

I'll leave you with a picture I took of Dahlia in Vermont on New Years Eve.  Every scenic photo is improved by the addition of a dog, don't you think?