Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Anthropomorphize This!

Those who claim to know things tell us we mustn't anthropomorphize when discussing dogs.  Yeah, well, there's an argument against picking your nose in the car while waiting at a stop light.  Both no-no's have a purpose.

Presumably the good and useful purpose of nose picking need not be explained at length.  Let's proceed to the matter of anthropomorphizing a dog's behavior.  Consider the shy dog.  Like the shy person, the shy dog generally approaches social encounters one of two ways: retreat or attack. 

In retreat mode, the dog and the person avoids the social encounter to spare themselves the ordeal that shyness can be. The dog hides in the basement while his owner entertains in the living room.  The person declines an invitation and stays home.

The alternative reaction is attack mode or just plain being aggressive.  For the dog this may involve growling, showing teeth, or even biting.  For the person it may involve obnoxious jokes and bombastic soliloquies.  Sounds like overkill, no?  That's why anthropomorphizing can be effective to explain dog behavior.  Now we can understand why the dog is bearing his teeth or snapping- he's shy and afraid!  Just like the person who talks too loud at a party.  He's self conscious and is overcompensating by being a loudmouth jerk.

It turns out that anthropomorphizing is a good old common sense way to explain dog behavior.  Understanding makes it easier to help.  Shy dogs, like shy people, can learn to handle their shyness.  That awful feeling probably never fully goes away but it can be controlled.  Who hasn't felt the fear and done it anyway- and lived to tell about it?  We can help our shy brethren to feel the fear and do it anyway too.

The retreating shy dog is best left to his own curiosity or desire for companionship.  Leave the door open.  The dog can come up from the basement and peek into the living room on his own.  Ask your guests not to make a fuss over his presence.  Little by little the dog will join in.  Like the shy person who sits alone on the sofa at a party, he puts himself in the mix.  Eventually somebody will sit down and share in a pleasant conversation.  Slow and steady wins over the shy.

The attack style shy dog can be encouraged to join in the fun in the same way.  One coveat:  be sure the  guests understand the importance of giving the dog some room.  Rushing up to the dog and cooing, "oh aren't you so sweet!  Don't be shy!" and getting in the dog's face is not going to help and may get somebody hurt.  What's needed is the same treatment other party guests give the loudmouth shy guy.  Ignore.  He eventually realizes the pushy strategy doesn't work and tries something else.  Hopefully he goes with the be yourself method, that's a winner.

Shyness is an uncomfortable feeling.  Ask a shy dog.  He'll tell you about it.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Victorian Charm, Part 2.

My brother dubbed her "Nonny".  I had no say in the matter, mainly because I hadn't been born yet.  Nonny was my maternal grandmother and was, frankly, a bit of a prude.   Nonny's sensibilities ran toward the Victorian.  Though she was willing to say words such as "leg" or "tinkle", she would never say words like "gam" or "pee".

Nonny had a Pomeranian named Tinker.  Tinker knew where the Designated Elimination Area was.  It was outside.  "Do you wanna go outside?"  If she had to "go", Tinker knew a couple of barks and a quick pirouette would get the back door opened.

Once outside the order of business was, "do your dirt".  Rolls off the tongue nicely, doesn't it?  It is quaint and clean and rather enchanting.  I still use that command for my own dogs.  Call it a family tradition.  Every puppy I house train is taught "do your dirt". 

I may cuss under my breath while waiting for the dog to get on with it in a downpour but the "it" will forever remain "do your dirt".

I wouldn't have it any other way.  Thanks Nonny.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Victorian Charm, Part 1.

Got to hand it to the Victorian era.  Imagine being so very decent as to require euphemisms to describe anything remotely indecent.  These proper folks must have been a major factor in the huge number of synonyms present in the English language. 

A very nice customer brought this theory to mind.  Ms. Customer was away for a few days and asked me to take care of her cats.  For over a decade, it has been a great honor and joy to be entrusted to look after these two delightful brothers.  As the boys are getting along in years, they have been experiencing bladder challenges.  Or, as Ms. C. described it, "increased activity in the litter box". 

Indeed, Ms. C. left me a note saying she has doubled and sometimes tripled daily visits to the box in order to keep up with the additional activity therein.  Therefore, she would understand (and pay extra) if I too, felt the need to visit more than once a day to maintain the desired cleanliness level.

Now, even somebody like me, whose conversational style leans toward the free wheeling, sometimes vulgar side can appreciate the exquisite propriety evidenced in that litter box discussion.  And because I like Ms. C. and love her cats, I stepped up my efforts to adhere to the exemplary conditions expected in the boys's toilette in spite of a larger presence of material due to heavier traffic.

I may be a salty broad but I know a sweet gig when I have one, even if it means I must inhale a little more organic substance than I'd prefer.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Breed Profile: Soft Coated Wheaten Terrier

First of a new regular feature!  Dog Breed Profiles.

The Wheaten is a medium sized squarely built dog of the Terrier type.  That is, he has that jaunty spring to his step and that fabulous strait up tail and the overall body style also present in the Kerry Blue Terrier, the Irish Terrier and the Airdale, among others.  The Wheaten weighs in the range of  30-45 pounds and is 17-20 inches in height (at the shoulder).  Life expectancy is 12-15 years.

The Wheaten differs from other terriers in coat type.  Touch the coat of a Cairn or Welsh Terrier.  You will find it wiry not soft.  These coats must be stripped (a fancy way to say tediously pulling individual hairs out) to maintain the wiriness.  The Wheaten has a single coat of soft silky hair.  This coat is maintained by combing it out (brushing makes it fuzzy, like my hair on a humid day).  Many choose to trim the Wheaten shorter on the body and leave beard and bangs on the head.  This haircut makes the Wheatie look rather like a blond Schnauzer.  But it does relieve the owner of all that stressful combing.

The best way to understand a breed is to look at what job it was originally developed to do.  Terriers are vermin catchers. Members of the Terrier group range in size and shape based on which vermin they pursue.  Consider the Dachshund. (Though not a terrier, it has terrier qualities and is a great visual). Long narrow bodied and short legged - the better to fit down a critter hole.  Taller terriers like the Wheaten can chase down a rat and other unwanted pests like snakes or fox.  In Ireland, where the Wheaten was first developed, he was not just a pest control expert but an all around farm dog who worked as a guard, herder, hunter and companion.  Today the Wheaten still has the urge to chase vermin. So if you have a pet rabbit or guinea pig in the house, take care to protect them from the very real chance of their falling victim to the Wheaten's innate prey drive.

The typical Wheaten is self confident and cheerful.  They like children but will not tolerate rough handling.  Wheatens are reasonably intelligent and not particularly easy or hard to train.   While usually amiable with other dogs, the Wheaten prefers to be with people. One of the biggest complaints about Wheaties is their exuberant tendency to jump upon and kiss most everybody they meet.

The Wheaten Manifesto 
Sure, I'm slightly goofy and quirky, it's part of my charm. 
Yes, I know that sleep is important but we can do that later.  First let's do something fun.
Squirrels are meant to be treed.
Let's sit on the couch together so close that we are practically melded.

Next Breed Profile:  Greater Swiss Mountain Dog!

Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds   by D. Caroline Coile, PhD

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Trespassers will be Treed

It is clear to me now why dogs so enjoy chasing critters up trees.  I treed a cat!  In all honesty it was inadvertent.  Admittedly, I am but a novice treer.  Nonetheless, due to my actions, an animal fled up a tree and stayed there (at least for a time).  Thus, it qualifies as a treeing.

The usual morning routine around here is when Lois and I return from our walk the other dogs join us in the backyard.  I then put a cup of seed in the bird feeder which hangs from the Maple tree.  On this day however, there were trespassers in the yard. Three cats were skulking around under the Maple tree.  One of the cats was that enormous clay colored cat that is a frequent visitor.  His companions were a dark brown medium sized cat and a juvenile pale calico.  When I saw them I lunged in their direction and uttered something along the lines of, "yaah!"

They scattered.  The big cat and the brown cat slipped into the next yard, presumably under the fence where it meets a raised concrete area.  The youngster went in the other direction and finding no way out, went up a tree.

My neighbor is not an enthusiastic weed puller.  This results in weeds along the fence line.  Some of these weeds grow into trees.  It was one such tree up which the cat youth found himself.  He clung tightly to a branch and his eyes revealed what you might euphemistically call concern.

Meanwhile, the local birds who are familiar with our morning routine, had witnessed this occurrence.   Sparrows perched in a group on the Weiglela.  Pigeons waited in a row on the phone line.  Mr. and Mrs. Cardinal hung out in the Forsythia.  A Blue jay squawked from the Red Maple in the neighbor's yard.  After I put seed in the feeder, the birds descended.

The adolescent cat loosened his grip on the tree branch and looked around, weighing his options. He could climb down the same way he climbed up.   Or he could move out onto a branch and leap onto another branch then into the shrubs.  But he would need squirrel dexterity to pull that off.  His remaining option was to jump onto the neighbor's roof. 

Some birds pecked at the seed in the feeder and some on the ground while the cat remained in the tree.  A Blue jay perched in a branch at eye level to the cat and jauntily cawed, "in a bit of a bind, aren't you, Bucko?"  A half a dozen Sparrows clustered in the Pussy Willow tree and gazed smugly at the captive kitty.  "Nah, nah.  Bet you wish you had wings, eh Pal?"  Mr. Cardinal perched at a discrete distance while his mate used the feeder.  He cheeped, "hey, Young Fella, you ever hear of  karma?"

Nature can be cruel.  But it isn't every day that it's playground taunting cruel.

Before long, the big cat and the brown cat returned.  They stood on the neighbor's front lawn.  Because the Forsythia bushes blocked the view, we can only assume that they were talking junior down.  Indeed, the kid jumped from the tree onto the roof.  For some time, he moved from side to side of the roof.  Cautiously, he would lean over an edge and peer down.  One imagines his mentors on the ground advising, encouraging their protege'.  Pretty soon the lad leaped onto the awning over the porch than plunged some ten or twelve feet onto the lawn. 

He must have made it.  A peek around the Forthesia hedge revealed no cats in the grass.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Not Scared, are you?

Most of us know a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms.  I once had a dog named Esther.  During storms she would hide under my bed shivering and panting.  There was no consoling her.  She would not come out from under the bed even to enjoy the distraction of say, a rawhide chew or a let's go for a ride type positive experience.  The dog was just plain scared out of her wits.

If the lightening and thunder show occurred during the night, I would lie on my bed feeling the vibration of Esther's trembling beneath me. This is the only time it ever crossed my mind that the bed frame might give way and collapse under my weight.  It was as though Esther's irrational fear was contagious. I was unable to sleep, not only due to the crashing storm outside and the sound of Esther panting and the unrelenting movement of the bed as Esther quaked but because my mind would not let go of the stupid idea that suddenly just as Esther lay vulnerable beneath the bed- it would crush her. This experience convinces me of the power of association.  Let's call it the Esther Effect.

We're told by experts that a dog who is afraid of thunderstorms can be reconditioned from a fearful reaction to a positve (or at least neutral) reaction. Buy yourself a recording of a thunderstorm and play it softly while feeding the dog treats or playing.  Little by little as the dog grows more nonchalant, turn up the volume of the phony storm.  The theory is that in time, the dog will not be afraid of thunderstorms because he's been having fun during the formerly scarey business of driving rains and flashes of light and boom boom thanks to a positive simulated storm experience. 

Sounds great, doesn't it?  You can redo an unpleasant reaction into new improved blase' courage!  Trouble is, you make some progress in your desensitizing then a real live storm comes along and you're back to square one.  Oh, well, slow and steady wins the race.  Don't give up!  Try try again!  It'll be OK!  You can do it!

In my household, roughly half the residents are afraid of storms and half are indifferent to them.  The scaredy cats run to The Handsome One for comfort.  It's done quite casually, we just sort of loiter in the general vicinity of THO and the other brave ones here at Bad Dog Ranch.  We hang around hoping that something will rub off.  You know, the Esther Effect.

Fear takes its toll.

Esther (on the left) as she appeared on sunny days.  Her companion's name was Heather.  It is not known whether or not Heather was afraid of thunderstorms.