Saturday, 29 December 2007

are retractable leashes safe for dogs?

We were in the habit of taking Penny for a walk on a retractable leash. At first we used it only when we were going to the park and wanted to keep her nearby. But eventually we started using it in the street also.

However, when she suddenly took off down a steep hill (as I posted on 25 December), I began to realise that the extending lead didn't give me enough control.

At Dog Chat there is a discussion of the pros and cons of this type of lead. The general conclusion is that they have some use for dogs that behave well on lead, but they're not for everyday use.

The Dogster forum also has a range of responses from members about use of retractable leads and most replies are negative.

Jabari's mum told me she doesn't believe in extending leads. In one email she said:
I personally do not like extensible leads for large dogs as I feel that there is not sufficient control over the dog. I use either a long and strong nylon type lead or make my own extended lead. I use a fine leather lead with an extension made by attaching (water) ski rope to the end of it. Ski rope is great as it is waxed so it does not give rope burn should it slip through your fingers. It is water proof so you can allow it to drag along the ground behind you if you want and move it in and out as the dog moves. You can roll it up to hold the dog on short lead when needed. When it is old and dirty you can replace it. Though I have not replaced mine for about 6 years. It is also useful for making very long tracking lead.
She also told me that waterski rope would be okay to use when Penny is swimming in the river up in the mountains. Since Penny gave me a terrible scare by running up from the river and across the busy highway, I haven't trusted her to swim there. If I had a long lead on her I would feel safer till I regain my confidence. Jabari's mum pointed out that this type of ski rope is designed to float.

She showed me how she makes her leads. She holds the ski rope firmly and pushes a section together so the weaving comes apart.

She then pushes the free end of the rope into the loose weave.

And, finally, she pulls the rope tight. The woven-in end doesn't come out when she pulls.

Friday, 28 December 2007

more re dogs eating grapes or onions(bad) - and carrots(good?)

In regard to Penny or other dogs eating grapes, as I posted on 25 December, Amber-Mae made a comment that I’d like to include here, because not everyone may see it in the ‘comments’ section.

She added a couple of things to her original comment, so I’ll include them in square brackets. (Thanks to Amber-Mae’s mum for allowing me to repeat what she said.)
“Actually, grapes are not THAT dangerous as we all keep saying... My hoomans went for a Nutrition talk few weeks back & this famous lady from Australia said, that you CAN feed fresh grapes BUT must peel off the skin. It's the skin that is dangerous, not the flesh. [Not Australia, but America, Amber’s mum says, and her name is Jill Cline. She's a researcher & a nutritionist from Nestle Purina.]

She also said that one dog ate one whole kilo of onion rings & did not die! We doggies can't die that easily from eating these stuff but raisins are dangerous becoz the skin is dried on it & maybe when it's dry, the bacteria on the skin is much more dangerous, I don't know why. My hoomans still avoid feeding us those two & of course chocolate too. Anyway, we don't like eating them anyway! So... hehehe! Not to worry..

“Oh, she also mentioned about carrots. She said raw carrot is not really working for your eyes unless it's cooked. She said that the minerals, vitamins or something like that will only work if it's boiled. I felt really pity for those hooman kids who have been eating raw carrots for years, hehehe."
I'm interested in the info from Amber-Mae's mum about carrots because Penny loves them and I feed them raw as a treat to chew on. I also mash them in a juicer called the Champion and then add the juice back into the pulp,because I heard that dogs can't absorb the goodness from raw vegetables and fruit unless the cell walls are broken to release the nutrients. The Champion is sold as a 'masticating' juicer, which is supposed to release more goodness from the fruit and vegetables (for humans).

At BNET research center I found an article that seems to bring together these two ideas about carrots. It says that cooking partially dissolves the cell walls of carrots and makes the nutrients more readily available (for humans, I presume), especially if the carrots are served with a meal that provides some fat. However, it also says that juicing can achieve the same effect.

It wasn't quite clear to me what the authority was behind the BNET article, but another at The Journal of Nutrition was a peer-reviewed authoritative source and it concluded that
Results from this study suggest that processing vegetables with heat treatment and pureeing may enhance provitamin A carotenoid uptake from these foods considerably...[and] approaches that address how carotenoids may be made more bioavailable from the food sources, through the processing and preparation methods used with these foods, deserve further investigation.
So... I'm going to keep checking on the grapes growing in our backyard and maybe hope the birds steal all the fruit as they usually do. And I'm going to continue 'masticating' carrots in our juicer. (Not that Penny gets carrots very often, because we humans love them too!)

Thursday, 27 December 2007

dogs, intelligent birds, chocolate and 'New Scientist'

When I travelled to New Zealand in January this year (2007), Penny stayed at home with my family. I had two main ambitions - one was to climb a glacier - which I did, and very scary I found it! (The photos is misty because my camera fogged up in the cold.)

My other ambition was to see the famous Keas, arguably the most intelligent birds in the world. I didn't see them in the wild, but did have a chance to enter their aviary in a wildlife reserve and watch them for as long as I liked. Here is some of what the Parrot Society of New Zealand says about them:
The Kea is essentially a ground bird or that is certainly where they prefer to spend the majority of their time often entertaining any humans present with their sideways hopping. But when airborne, they are magnificent fliers.
The Kea is a very bold and inquisitive parrot and is certainly not afraid of people. They are notorious for making themselves "welcome" at ski lodges and I'm sure that their ancestors must have been car converters judging by the way they attack motor vehicles in particular rubber and plastic appendages such as the wipers, vinyl and windscreen rubbers to mention a few.
They also love to get inside buildings via any way possible (including chimneys) and once there nothing is sacred - if it can be chewed it is fair game!!!
Outside they are very entertaining - they enjoy aerobatics especially in a strong wind, they love rolling around in the snow and bathing in puddles of thawed ice
An album of photos taken by Bernard showcases these fascinating birds.

Therefore I was sorry to hear that Keas, like dogs, are susceptible to poisoning by chocolate. There is an article in this week's New Scientist that looks at the reason many animals cannot eat this food.

The article says that just 240 grams of unsweetened dark chocolate can kill a dog the size of a German shepherd. We, as dog owners, can protect our companions from this danger but keas are wily foragers and steal food from tents, backpacks, garbage bins and will even try to get into cars to see what might be edible.

The fact that dogs are especially vulnerable to chocolate poisoning has prompted scientists to investigate the possibility of selectively poisoning coyotes in the US. The article says:
After testing the toxicity of several different types of chocolate, Johnson came up with a mixture of theobromine and caffeine that killed coyotes quickly and with minimal distress.
I must say, that makes me even more wary of chocolate around Penny. It sounds as if it would be quickly fatal.

Tuesday, 25 December 2007

raisins and grapes are dangerous to dogs

We don't allow Penny to eat grapes or raisins. (Well, not knowingly. She's an expert at snapping up tidbits on our walks and we have to be super alert to spot food before she does.)

But, as far as possible, we avoid these foods because, as I posted on September 19, they can be dangerous to dogs.

Jabari's mum has sent me a report by a vet in the US of a dog dying from eating half a canister of raisins. It makes scary reading and is a reminder that if we let dogs live inside our houses it's our duty to keep toxic foods safely locked away.

We've just come home from our Christmas dinner with a big slice of Christmas cake filled with dried fruit. I'm going to get off this computer right now and collect the cake from the shelf and shut it into a cupboard.

merry Christmas to all the dogs and humans

Merry Christmas, everyone, from Penny and me.

when to let go of the dog's lead

Penny and I walked in beautiful Darebin Parklands, this evening, having a break from the Christmas rush. As we were strolling up the artificial hill that sits in the centre of the park, many people were in the shops in the midst of that last panicked buying spree before the shops close at 6 pm.

Penny was on the extending lead, because I'm not quite sure if the hill is on-lead or off-lead and I thought I'd better be extra careful because there are kangaroos in the park again.

As she's done so often lately, she took me by surprise. One minute she was at my side and a moment later I could feel the lead rushing through my hands at literally breakneck speed. No, she wasn't off after a kangaroo. Though I suspect that is what would happen if I weren't quick enough to spot one before she did - so far she has never seen one and I can't predict her reaction.

No, she was racing down the hillside after her ball, which had rolled down the slope.

I instantly let go of the retractable lead and it went bounding and leaping down behind her. Luckily it didn't catch on anything and drag her to a sudden halt. Remembering my fright when she raced towards the highway the other day, I called 'wait!', and felt enormously reassured to see her drop to her haunches and sit there as I clambered down the path to her.

I thought I'd post the pictures in a small size. If you'd like to see them larger, just click on a picture.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

helping your dog to cope with a visiting dog

Penny had a visitor today. A strange dog, probably a red kelpie cross, stayed for about five hours. I had come across the dog, who I now know is called Rocky, strolling along the busy street amongst the shoppers. My friend Sue always carries a spare dog lead so we were able to make sure he came with us. After traipsing up and down the street for ages, calling into each shop, "Has anyone lost a dog", we rang the Ranger, who said to take him home and she would come to look at him.

Thank goodness for microchipping. The Ranger checked him and we discovered he lived a couple of streets away. The owner didn't answer her phone, so we decided he could stay at my place, overnight if necessary.

Last time a lost dog stayed overnight, it was rather nightmarish, as Penny spent hours snarling at him - if I hadn't witnessed it I wouldn't have believed she could hold a snarl for most of a night. She must have had a tired face the next day!

I've had some advice from more experienced dog owners since then, so I decided to make sure this time that Penny did not feel her home had been invaded. We allowed Penny to meet the new dog on the front porch , the nearest we could manage to neutral territory. He was led in by my friend, rather than coming in with me. Then we took him out the back and, since he was too big for the doggy door, Penny could come in an out but he couldn't.

In October I posted some info on dog body language, including an article on calming signals by Turid Rugaas. This evening, it was fascinating to see the two dogs using yawning, licking and turning away of the head to calm each other. There are many other signals mentioned in the article and I believe I saw them too, in the interaction between Penny and Rocky.

Friday, 21 December 2007

highly successful canine brains

Penny's had a very boring time today because it teemed most of the day and she couldn't get outside much. (Well, there was one definitely non-boring moment when she jumped into the raging creek on our early morning walk, chasing a ball that I stupidly threw too far. What is it about me this week? I can't seem to do anything right. Looking on the bright side, it was a good physical workout for her, swimming across the current to reach land, and a good workout for my heart as I raced along the bank.)

Anyway, back to the boring aspect of the day... I try to include some interesting activity for her each day, because, as I've said before, I believe it's a case of 'use it or lose it' in terms of developing her brain power. On Boing Boing I read two of the "10 Habits of Highly Successful Brains "by Alvaro Fernandez, co-founder of cognitive fitness firm SharpBrains.
Number One is: Learn what is the "It" in "Use It or Lose It". A basic understanding will serve you well to appreciate your brain's beauty as a living and constantly-developing dense forest with billions of neurons and synapses.
I'll have to think what the 'It' is that I don't want to lose, and then consider what 'It' would be for Penny. Perhaps mental flexibility?
Number five is: Thrive on Learning and Mental Challenges. The point of having a brain is precisely to learn and to adapt to challenging new environments. Once new neurons appear in your brain, where they stay in your brain and how long they survive depends on how you use them. "Use It or Lose It" does not mean "do crossword puzzle number 1,234,567". It means, "challenge your brain often with fundamentally new activities."
It's lucky for Penny that she lives in an environment where there are so many interesting and challenging activities available to her. I'm thinking doggy dancing, agility, tricks, and, best of all from her point of view, a walk up the main street where the outdoor diners drop so many fascinating food scraps. It's a wonderful challenge for her to snaffle as much as possible without the accompanying humans noticing what she's up to.

I went over to SharpBrains to have a look around. The points are great for us humans to keep in mind, but I think number seven would also apply to our dogs:
Explore, travel. Adapting to new locations forces you to pay more attention to your environment. Make new decisions, use your brain
Now I've got a justification for going to interesting places with Penny.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

don't assume you can always predict what your dog will do

I was horrified yesterday by the sight of Penny racing down the hill to answer the recall. Normally I’d be pleased by her enthusiasm – but not on this occasion.
It all came about because I assumed I knew how she would behave in a familiar situation.
When we spend time in the mountains east of Melbourne we go across the highway to the river so she can have a swim. We’ve done it dozens of times. Yesterday I took her across for a swim because she’d had no exercise that afternoon - we were taking it easy because she’d had a cortisone injection the previous day to relieve the irritation of the rash she got at grooming.
I didn’t take a ball – or even the new Wubba – to throw in the water, because I wasn’t sure she’d want to go in with her sore rear end. She did jump in, though, and waited for me to throw something interesting to fetch. I searched the bank of the river and could only come up with a couple of small sticks. Not good enough, apparently, because she unexpectedly jumped out of the water and headed up the little rocky stretch of roadway that leads towards the highway.
That was when I made my first mistake. I waited for her to turn back – because she has never gone far away when we are out walking.
When she didn’t reappear at my side in a minute or two, I felt a little clutch of worry in my chest and hurried up the path to the open area at the top. No Penny.
Then came my second misjudgement. She has never gone back to the house without us, so I searched along the river bank. My worry had turned into fear. Calling, I searched amongst the trees and the bushy undergrowth. Still no Penny. She just wasn’t there. My brain told me she couldn’t have vanished in four or five minutes. (It felt like a century but I knew it was only a few minutes.)
Could she have been bitten by a snake? Surely it takes some time to lose consciousness after a snake bite. Could she have tumbled into the river from a steep part of the bank? But she’s a strong swimmer. Could she have been taken by someone? I had heard a couple of cars go by on the highway while I was waiting in vain down near the water.
And only then did it occur to me that she might have gone home and that I shouldn’t be shouting out a recall command.
I turned to look and there she was, enthusiastically bounding down the hill towards me. I looked left and saw a car racing towards us on the highway. Penny and the speeding car were on a collision course.
All my information about how to behave in a crisis went out of my head. I know that if you want your dog to obey a command you give it in a normal tone of voice. I know that Penny will obey the command ‘wait’ at a distance. But what did I do? I raced to the road shouting ‘Stop! Stop!’ in a high-pitched panicky voice. I haven’t even trained her properly with the ‘stop’ command, so I don't know why I thought she would stop.
Thank goodness the driver of the car, seeing a wild woman racing onto the road shouting and waving, put the brakes on.
It’s still a blur as to what actually happened. I only remember the young guy in the car waving cheerfully to me as he accelerated off. I remember trying to control my panic enough to reward Penny with a pat for her great recall. I don’t remember whether she actually crossed the road or whether I crossed to her.
I’ve learned something. The ‘stop!’ command isn’t useful to me, because in a crisis I won’t do it right. I’ll still try to teach it but I won’t depend on it.
It was only afterwards that it occurred to me that she had already crossed the highway to go back to the house.
I am resolved never to assume I know what Penny will do when we are out walking.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

communicating with the dog groomer

Penny went to a new salon yesterday because her usual groomer only works on Saturdays now and it's quite difficult to get an appointment. I'm used to just dropping Penny off and knowing that Michelle (the usual groomer) knows her well. (In fact, Michelle knew Penny before I did, as I bought her from the clinic where Michelle works.)

I didn't think to discuss in detail how she would be groomed and I was surprised to find that her face had been clipped more closely than I had expected. She no longer has the long fur hanging down on each side of her face. It looks quite nice, just not what I expected.

Her rear end had also been more closed shaved than Michelle usually does.

When we got home, she dropped into one of her favorite resting places, the box where we keep paper for recycling. She seemed unhappy.

Today she has been miserable all day. We went to training class but Cindy suggested we go home, as Penny wasn't enjoying it.

We were lucky to get an appointment at the vet and he checked her over. He suggested she is suffering from 'clipper rash' and said it's not necessarily a reflection on the new grooming salon, as it can develop if the dog is clipped too closely and isn't always noticeable at the time. He gave her a cortisone injection to relieve the symptoms that seemed to be driving her crazy and she is more relaxed now.

I had a look on the Net to check out this condition and found a preview of an interesting-looking book called Grooming Manual for the Dog and Cat,by Sue Dallas, Diana North and Joanne Angus. There's a big slice of the book to look at and page 33-34 says that clipper rash can occur if the blade becomes too hot or if it is dragging through the coat or is blunt. The rash can also be caused by a blade that is too fine for the dog's skin.

There's an article by a professional groomer that I found interesting, in Bartow Buzz Magazine. The writer, Lisa Drummond, says that she considers it most important that pet owners communicate successfully with groomers. She says that if a client were to phone her and say that a dog was scratching and bleeding after grooming, she would suspect clipper burning or chaffing. The feedback would allow her to take note that in future that dog needs a longer blade.

She also says that she would be able to advise the client how to deal with the problem. She would suggest using Neosporin or triple antibiotic, Vaseline or a good re-moisturizing conditioner/lotion.

However, I'd be wary of using Neosporin, as Wikipedia says it tends to exaggerate the pain of abrasions.
My vet prescribed Neotopic-H.I think it sounds better, because it has local anaesthetic properties as well as having a wide range of antibacterial activity.

I'm convinced that Lisa Drummond's discussion makes an important point. We need to talk to groomers and give them feedback so that our pets get an ever-improving standard of care.

Monday, 17 December 2007

ice-cream for dogs

Penny and I went on a walk in the streets today and it turned out to be longer and warmer than I predicted. I felt bad that she was panting by the time we arrived at our destination.
If only we had been in Japan she could have had a nice doggy icecream. I read about these on a German blog about new gadgets, so I apologise if my schoolgirl German got the story wrong, but it seems that in Japan they sell icecream in nice little bone-shapes.Unfortunately I can't even guess what it says on the Japanese site, but all the pictured dogs look rather happy. I Googled™ the brand of icecream and came across a mention of it (in English, thank goodness) at the blog ofPercy the Parson Terrier, where it says there is a US brand of icecream for dogs called Frosty Paws. I found an amusing review of this tasty treat at Flak Magazine. I'm not sure if I'm gullible in believing that the writer's friend (human) tried the product and ran to the bathroom to throw up. Seems a main ingredient is 'animal fat'.

By the way, Percy the Parson Terrier is going to taste-test tripe. I'll be interested in the report. (Percy hasn't blogged since 17 October, so I hope he is still on the job.)

PS Couldn't resist putting in the Trademark sign for Google™, since I've heard they are actually trying to restrict the evolution of the English language by trying to stop an online dictionary using the word 'google' as a verb with a lower-case letter and no trade-mark. Interesting!

Sunday, 16 December 2007

adding apple cider vinegar to the dog's drinking water

In September the vet suggested to us that we add some apple cider vinegar to Penny's drinking water, in order to help her joints. (She seemed to be limping.) We tried it but decided to discontinue it because she wouldn't drink it.

I'm thinking that I might give it another try, because I've been reading about the benefits of this addition to the diet. There's an article at Earth Clinic that quotes Wendy Vollhard:
"...If your dog has itchy skin, the beginnings of a hot spot, incessantly washes its feet, has smelly ears, or is picky about his food, the application of ACV may change things around. For poor appetite, use it in the food - 1 tablespoon, two times a day for a 50 lb. dog. For itchy skin or beginning hot spots, put ACV into a spray bottle, part the hair and spray on. Any skin eruption will dry up in 24 hours and will save you having to shave the dog. If the skin is already broken, dilute ACV with an equal amount of water and spray on
Earth Clinic says:
Every home with dogs should have apple cider vinegar. It's a remedy with multiple uses for dogs: alleviating allergies, arthritis, establishing correct pH balance.
Another article on this subject was at AnimalHouse.Co, the home of a business in Pennsylvania in the US. This site has a feast of information on all sorts of subjects relating to dogs.

By the way, I loved their Trivia page. For instance, I learned that in the early 1940s, Swiss inventor George de Mestral came up with the idea of velcro™ after he went on a walk with his dog and noticed that his pants and his dog's coat were covered with cockleburrs, which have a natural hook-like shape.

We have a plant in our park that has burrs and it seems to me that I spend ages getting them out of Penny's coat after a walk. What a pity that velcro™ has already been invented. I could get rich...

Saturday, 15 December 2007

feed your dogs human-grade meat, says a warning

I feed Penny human-grade meat for a lot of reasons. One is that since I prepare her meals in our kitchen I don't like the possibility of unhealthy food near my own. However, the main reason is that I don't really trust meat sold as 'petfood'.

I thought I would pass on a warning I read today on Itchmo about the dangers of preservatives in pet-quality meats.

even more about home-made dog toys

Seeing Penny enjoyed the cylinder toy I described yesterday, I went to the hardware shop to see what I could find to make more interactive toys. I picked up a few sections of pvc water-pipe and just pushed them together when I got home.

After I popped a ball in it, Penny was raring to go. She loved it.

I bought another piece, which I will join on with a bit of straight pipe to make it more interesting.

Friday, 14 December 2007

home made dog toys for intelligent interaction

I made the toy that I posted about a few hours ago and it is great! It took about two minutes to make and Penny is wild to play with it. The surprising thing is that she got the idea immediately. I put a bit of peanut butter on the cardboard 'slider' but she was more interested in the smell of the treat inside the tube. I think she got the idea so quickly because of having played with the great Aussie Dog toy that I mentioned on 20th September..

dog toys for intelligent play

Penny enjoys the mental stimulation of playing games that involve looking for things. Yesterday I locked her in the house and went up the side path to hide a piece of venison liver about the size of my thumbnail. I was surprised that she could bound out of the house, down the stairs and across the lawn, and find and gobble the treat, before I could even get down the stairs!

I'm particularly interested in the role of play because I've been a primary teacher (elementary teacher) for more than thirty years and I know that play is a powerful learning tool for humans - and, I assume, for canines. I'm reading a book by Stanley Coren called Why Does My Dog Act That Way? in which he says that dogs never lose their love of play. (I've got the paperback out of a local libray but I notice it's available as an e-book.) He says, on page 27:
The technical term that describes dogs in relationship to wolves is neoteny, which refers to the fact that certain features normally found only in infants and young juveniles persist into adulthood. In essence, our domestic dogs are the Peter Pans of the canine world. They are perpetual puppies...The most obvious physical differences are the dog's somewhat shorter muzzle, wider and more rounded head, somewhat smaller teeth, and floppy ears (which are seen in wolf pups but never adults)...One demonstration [of the dog's puppy-like behavior compared to the wolf] the dog's life-long desire for play.
I thought I would browse the Net to see what toys there are that are designed for intelligent play.

On a German site I came across a wooden toy called something like Dog Solitaire (I'm not quite sure of my translation). I think it looks interesting, because it involves the dog looking for a treat under one of a set of colored pegs. However, I thought it would be possible to play this game without buying specific equipment, so I looked further around the Net.

Therefore, I was pleased when I found that two people have set up a site called It's mostly in German, but there is a welcome page in English that suggests if you browse their site you can learn from the photos. The great thing about it, I think, is that there are heaps of ideas for making your own stimulating toys and games from items around the house. I LOVE the picture of the dog playing with the plastic cash register! (Or some type of pop-up plastic toy, not sure what it is, but I'm off to the op-shop tomorrow to look for second-hand children's toys like this one!)

By the way, from the photos it appears that the play is always with a human - the toys don't seem suitable for unsupervised play.

I also noticed they put grapes in a Kong - as far as I know, it is not good to feed dogs grapes.

They also have the wooden solitaire toy but I can't quite figure out the instructions. Given that the other toys are so good, I'll get my German dictionary out and try to work out how the dogs are supposed to play.

The one that I'm going to make straight away is the one where you take a cardboard cylinder from a paper towel roll and cut a slit. Then you put a piece of paper through the slit so it blocks the middle of the cylinder. You balance a treat on the paper, hold the cylinder vertically and when the dog pulls on the paper the treat falls to the ground. They suggest that if your dog doesn't show interest in pulling on the paper, you can put peanut butter on the paper. If you make the first piece of paper very narrow, any movement will let the treat fall down. (If this explanation sounds a bit weird, the photos make it clear.)

They've published a book that I think I will buy ( in English) called Playtime for Your Dog: Keep Him Busy Throughout the Day.

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

floating dog toys that don't...or do

Penny loves swimming to retrieve toys. That's why I am always on the lookout for ones that she can grab in the water without having to open her mouth too wide - after all, she does have quite a short muzzle and it's not as easy for her to do this as it is for long-muzzled dogs.
Her absolute favorite is a ball, any ball. When I see the cheap, brightly-colored ones in the supermarket, I stock up, even though when she swims with these she has to have her mouth open quite wide.

Another one that is very successful is the JW Whirlwheel Squeaky Rubber Flying Disk. The only minor problem with this one is that it has a squeaker in it that is gradually coming loose - it fell inside the toy but we've pushed it back into place. Because it doesn't come out, we feel that it is still safe for her but there is the problem that the whole thing can sink if it fills with water. (Actually, on checking the link, I see that it isn't advertised as able to float. Oh, well...)

Recently I came across a toy that seemed perfect - a small floating disk about 5 cm in diameter (two inches) - just right for her size mouth. It wasn't cheap but it seemed worth it. Well, it wasn't. I tossed it into the creek and that's the last we saw of it. Splash, sink, gone. I've kept the packet to remind myself it's always a good idea to test floating toys in a bucket before heading out into the big wide world.

Ever since Noah the Airedale blogged on 19 October that they had a great new toy called a Wubba I've checked the pet stores for them and today I saw heaps of them, all different kinds. Even...a floating one!

Tomorrow is predicted to be hot so I think we'll mosey on down to the creek and try it out.
But, since my faith in advertising is shaken, first we'll test it at home!

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

do we really know when our dogs are in pain?

At times this year Penny seemed to be limping slightly. The vet said that he felt a slight 'click' when he manipulated her leg. We watched her in many different situations and couldn't quite see whether the limp had disappeared but we decided to err on the side of caution and kept activity to a minimum for some time. She has also been taking 'joint' supplements. I think she's okay now...

Because of the difficulty of being absolutely sure Penny is moving freely I was interested to read a posting by Dr. Patty Khul, known as Dolittler, a vet whose blog is subtitled A veterinary blog for pet lovers, vet voyeurs and the medically curious. She says she feels frustrated by clients who won't take her word for it that their pets are in pain - she finds that she often has to actually cause the dog to whimper or squeal before the owners will realise the pain is real.
The posting is an interesting take on the vet's view of these situations, and also has comments by others.
This site is worth a visit just for its own sake, but it also has a wealth of links to other interesting material.

Monday, 10 December 2007

why do we teach dogs tricks?

This evening I was at A Perfect Spot dog training with Jenny Pearce, and each person was showing off a new trick their dog had learned. I demonstrated how Penny is going with a trick Cindy at K9 in Lilydale showed me.

Penny has mastered 'paws up', where she puts her front paws up on either my arm or another object.

In the new trick,I turn my back on her and she jumps up to put her two front paws on my arm, which is behind my back. The idea is that I will take a few steps eventually and she will follow, keeping her paws up.

When one of the group said she's not interested in tricks and neither is her dog, we started to discuss why people teach tricks to their dogs. Some said they like tricks because they are just fun, others because it raises the level of behavior generally. I agree with both of these opinions, but my main motivation is that I believe it increases Penny's intelligence.

Having taught human children for many years, I am convinced that it's a case of 'use it or lose it', Children who grow up with a stimulating environment develop a higher level of ability than those who do not.

In an article about raising children in an enriched environment, Dr. Spencer Kagan & Miguel Kagan say:
In classic studies, brain scientists have raised rats in different types of environments. The enriched environments were filled with toys and other rats. The impoverished environments were solitary, with no toys. Can you guess which rats were smarter? You guessed it. The rats that were raised in enrichment environments. They could figure out the twists and turns of a maze faster and better than the deprived rats. Perhaps even more important was what happened to their brains. Scientists found a number of changes to the structure of their brains. The brains of rats raised in the enriched environments were much more fully developed and actually weighed more!

Recent brain research on primates and humans confirms the principle of neural plasticity. That is, following enriching experiences, our brains become more fully developed. What this means is that we can actually grow better brains in our children by providing them with enriching experiences

Likewise for dogs, I believe. They, too, are primates mammals, with brains that are made for learning and stimulation, brains that will grow according to the input they receive.

Kagan and Kagan describe a variety of resources you might use to enrich your child's environment and finish with this advice:
Reviewing the list of resources you might think, “I already have a lot of this stuff.” If that’s the case, great! Your child’s living and learning environment is already well-equipped. If you are missing some resources in the key categories of intellectual development, you may want to take this imbalance into consideration as you select your next gift or plan your next investment in your child’s education and brain development. Many of the suggested resources are available at little, and some even at no cost.

Remember: the most important element in raising a smarter child is altering his or her experiences within his or her environment, not merely altering the environment itself. It’s what your kids do and what you do with them, not what they have.

How true also for dogs! In my opinion it's not a matter of buying a Kong toy and wondering why your dog just chews on it, or leaving a tug toy lying around for the dog to play with. It's a matter of you interacting with the dog in a play or learning situation and making the best us of the toys and other resources you have.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

human behavior from a dog's point of view

Penny has learned to participate in a home where there are few routines. Her walk might happen any time from early in the morning to just before midnight. Her meals generally come twice a day, but can vary up to six or seven hours as to when. Household members disappear for days on end without warning.

When we first got her, we read a piece of advice that I think is sensible. If you have a household where schedules tend to get unpredictable at times, then don't create an artificial air of predictability for the puppy - teach her to adapt to the usual 'chaos' of the household.

Sometimes when she's waiting calmly to see what weird thing we'll do next, I'd like to read her mind. I can't do that, but I did enjoy reading an article written by ‘dog scientists’ to explain to puppies what they'll be in for if they live with humans The introduction says:
This study was developed to help puppies prepare for entering the mysterious and frightful world of the Human. By better understanding these vile creatures and the motivations behind their bizarre and unpredictable behaviors, puppies will hopefully learn to accept their fate and enjoy long and relatively happy lives in peaceful coexistence with their oppressive “masters”.
The whole article is an enlightening introduction to the world of the dog scientist, and well worth a read, but here are a couple of my favorite bits:
While accompanying Humans on “walks” outside the immediate area of the Den, the Dog frequently experiences the need to mark or eliminate. Random marking is usually tolerated by the Human, except for the marking of certain Human made objects. Some humans seem to place a great deal of value in the Dog’s eliminations, which are sometimes gathered in small, translucent containers and deposited in circular treat receptacles. It is not clear what becomes of these deposits, but Dog scientists theorize that they are re-processed to manufacture some type of food or treats for other Humans...
Dog scientists specializing in Human behavior suggest that Dogs seek out the older females with white fur on their heads for the most promising Human food sharing opportunities. Mastering eye contact from a “sit” position, with a slightly bowed head and uplifted eyes seems to be the most effective strategy to pursue. Dogs should not, however, expect Humans to offer pre-chewed food or to regurgitate partially digested food for the Dog. This perfectly normal behavior is for some reason discouraged by Alpha Humans during Human feeding rituals

A good fun read, with lots of underlying truths about the role of dogs in human households.

Saturday, 8 December 2007

dogs skateboarding

I've been searching eBay for a cheap skateboard because Penny is learning to skateboard at K9 Kompany in Lilydale. I'm goingto ask around my nephews and nieces to see if any of them have 'grown out of' their old skateboard.
So far Penny can only put her paws up on a skateboard and walk along as I gently push it. However, she doesn't know what's in store for her after I saw this video clip!

choice of raw meats to feed dogs

When I visited a vet recently to discuss why Penny is 'scooting' around on her behind, he checked her anal glands and her rear end. He said she seemed fine and to stop feeding beef so I can check whether she is allergic to this meat. She eats a lot of chicken already and seems to react badly to kangaroo, so I was wondering what to feed as an accompaniment to the chicken.

I remembered that I had the lovely (super expensive) frozen rabbit that I was intending to feed anyway, so I thawed it out, chopped it into manageable pieces and fed her a leg. She crunched it up and seemed to love it.

Half an hour later it came back up.

We did think of leaving it to see if she had another go at it but, in a fit of tidiness, cleared it away in to the rubbish bin. So, the dilemma was... Should I try her out on the rest of the rabbit?

At first I surfed the Net. One site I visited was Wilmington Animal Hospital. I was pleased to see a vet recommending raw diet, as many vets seems mistrustful of this way of feeding dogs. In part this discussion said:
It is easiest to feed chicken as the meat and bone source if you are preparing the meat fresh. Chicken backs and thighs are cheapest. As discussed in the "Concerns" section, you can chop up the chicken before feeding it to your dog. After purchasing the chicken, wrap each piece individually and freeze it. Defrost it overnight, and then chop it up in the morning. Defrosting the chicken for approximately 9 hours allows it to become slightly soft, but not rubbery, and therefore easiest to chop.
Varying the meat sources from time to time is a healthy, natural way to provide a variety of nutrients to your dog.
I still wasn't sure whether to keep on with the rabbit, so I went to a wonderfully helpful yahoo group, Rawfeeding for Dogs and Cats.

I posted my question and settled down to wait for a day or so - I'm used to the fact that Aussies have to wait till the rest of the world gets out of bed! - but, amazingly, three answers appeared within hours. All of the answers were great. In short, they said
  • maybe Penny's stomach reacted to the novel food and threw it up;
  • perhaps she swallowed it too quickly and if I had waited she might have come back to eat it;
  • I could try holding the rabbit leg and slow down her eating so she crunched it up properly;
  • I could feed her a little meat off the bone, mixed with her usual food and see how she got on.
I was encouraged by all these positive suggestions and gave it a go.

First I cut off a little meat and fed it with the soaked grain mix sold in Australia as Vet's All Natural. She ate it and was fine.
An hour lated I held a rabbit leg and invited her to eat it. Not very successful, because she politely licked it and waited for me to give it to her. So I gave it to her and waited while she crunched and smashed it up.

Two hours later I decided it was a success.

I think I've learned two things. The first is, don't give up on a new food too easily. The second, and definitely more memorable, is - 'slime and swallow'. This wonderful expression so exactly described how she ate it!! I did a search of this evocative phrase on the Yahoo Rawfeeding site and discovered it leads to lots of discussions of what to do with a dog who will gulp down meat instead of 'grab, reposition, crunch, mash, smash, slime with saliva, swallow'.

I will have to remember to visit the group more often. It's a bonanza of information and has a great sense of community. When I first started to raw feed Penny as a puppy I used to lurk around the group all the time. Now that I've de-lurked I'll visit regularly.

The Vet's All Natural site mentioned above also has lots of fascinating information. There is a members section and you can see some free articles before joining. Of course I zeroed in on the one called What Meat Should I Feed My Pets? (Wow, how appropriate is that?) There is a discussion of a range of meats and I was disappointed to see that rabbbit meat does not get a good report because rabbits are now a 'farmed' meat in Australia because of the calicivirus, which was deliberately introduced to the wild population to try to reduce the plague of rabbits. Dr Bruce Syme, the vet, doesn't believe in farmed meats for dogs because of ethical issues and because of the low quality of the meat.
However, my meat comes from a 'biodynamic' butcher, so I think it would be okay ethically and physically.

The Vet's All Natural summary of meats goes like this:
1. Kangaroo - very, very good – the perfect 10/10.

2. Tripe - also very, very good. Its difficulty in sourcing sees it score
3. Offal - if obtained correctly, an important part of the diet – 8/10

4. Sheep - very good, the best of the farmed meats – 7/10

5. Beef - next best of the farmed meats – 6/10

6. Fish - only if purchased fresh, then it is good, owing to
inconvenience and price – 5/10

7. Rabbit - excellent if from wild rabbits, owing to extreme difficulty in
procuring – 5/10

8. Chicken - still better than canned and processed, as long as it is fed as part of the diet only and is purchased and stored frozen. It’s related health and ethics issues see it rate poorly against all the other good meats on offer. It is cheap though – 3/10

9. Pork - the least suitable and not recommended at all – 0/10

Thursday, 6 December 2007

dogs and scent discrimination

Penny and I love playing tracking games around the house - especially on these hot summer days when we don't want to go out. I tell her to 'wait', after holding something for her to sniff. It's usually food, but sometimes my car keys. Then she follows my trail around the house - I've noticed she generally tracks where I went rather than just heading for the food itself. I assume what we are playing is somewhere in between tracking and scenting. I'd love to learn more about scenting.

Therefore, I was pleased to find a couple of great links on Johann's blog. One is to an article called How to Train Scent Discrimination for Obedience Competition. It's at Karen Pryor's clicker training site.

The point is that you are teaching the dog to choose amongst scents, not just to track. In part, it says:
There are a number of ways to introduce your dog to the concept of making a choice based on scent. Remember that this is something the dog tends to do anyway. You can start directly with your own scent, or you can use something more potent and obvious, such as cheese or vanilla extract. The purpose of the more potent starter is not to teach your dog to use its nose, but to give you the ability to perceive more accurately what your dog is doing, and to respond to it.

It reminds me of a science game I've played often with young children, where there are two sets of small jars with cotton-wool in them, impregnated with scents. The children briefly open the jar, sniff the contents, and match up the pairs. I remember that vanilla was one of the scents we used. I've never known a child who didn't love this game - which maybe goes to show that we're not so different from our dogs.

Johann also mentions the K9events site that has a heap of links about retrieving and scenting. It's a feast of information. Given the weather we've had lately, with the hot days starting even before spring had finished, I think we're in for a long summer, so I'm really looking forward to trying these activities. If it's shady outside I think we could play out there without Penny getting overheated.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

dog cartoons

Penny was resting beside me when I visited a site called Slavenka and Obi where there was a cartoon I loved about doggy affirmation - I must remember that dogs, too, need affirmation - though I think Penny gets enough without resorting to technology!.

Slavenka has a cute little dog called Obi. There's another one called Niki, also.

I went to the site of the cartoonist, Mark Parisi, where there are lots of dog cartoons, which are good fun if you can ignore the annoying flashing popup at the top of the page.

Monday, 3 December 2007

the joy of a dog's companionship

Yesterday we walked with Penny along the Little Yarra River in the mountains east of Melbourne. If we'd been walking without her we would probably have enjoyed the vista of mountains and trees, but we would have missed the detail...

When she was playing in the water we looked at the coarse-grained sand on the tiny 'beach' and focused on the myriad canine footprints - obviously a favorite place for local dogs. I'm convinced that the stream bed was scattered with gold dust (all this area is gold country) but my friend Geraldine is adamant that it will only be 'fool's gold' (pyrites). Next time Penny stirs up the bottom I'm going to take my gold panning equipment!

When she nosed around a massive old log, we were fascinated by the sheer size of the fallen giant. It's sad to think how many hundreds of years it must have taken for this forest giant to grow - and then it was cut down and left to lie for decades. This area is home to eucalyptus regnans, the tallest flowering plant in the world. It is also called the mountain ash. It seems likely to me that this giant log is a mountain ash.

Snakes are a danger to dogs, especially small ones like Penny who don't have the body mass to survive for long after a bite, so we had to scan the low vegetation - the rule of thumb for humans is, 'Don't walk anywhere that you can't see your feet,' but Penny doesn't obey this rule. Consequently we took more notice of the lovely feathery grasses along the ege of the path and enjoyed the elegant lines of the eucalypt leaves scattered across the mown grass.

On a more prosaic note, we also came across a piece of litter that we photographed for one of my favorite flickr groups, Faces in Place


Sunday, 2 December 2007

dogs needed in order to save an island paradise

Penny isn't a hunting dog. Well, she seems to have killed a rat recently, which was a relief to me, as I knew rats were eating the skins off the lemons on our tree and I couldn't bring myself to set a trap. And she did grab a blackbird that had stunned itself by flying into a window. But, other than seeking out tennis balls, she doesn't generally hunt.

However, trained hunting dogs are needed in our neck of the woods.

Macquarie Island lies about 1500km south-south-east of Tasmania, about half-way between Tasmania and Antarctica. The main island is approximately 34km long and 5.5km wide at its broadest point.It was World Heritage listed in 1997 because of its exceptional natural beauty and unique geology that contains a record of life on earth.It is home to 80 breeding pairs of grey-headed albatross, the species' only breeding site in Australia. They are at risk of extinction because of nest-destruction by rabbits.

(This information came from an article in The Sunday Age and was sourced from the WWF and World Heritage.)

The article reports that:
Since rabbit numbers exploded on the World Heritage-listed Macquarie Island over the past couple of years, massive landslips - caused by overgrazing and tunnelling by the 100,000 bunnies - have sent entire hillsides falling into the Southern Ocean, killing king penguins and wiping out crucial albatross nests. At the same time, a living carpet of rats and mice have been feasting on the eggs in penguin and seabird colonies.

The plan is to poison the rats and mice, but the rabbits will have to be killed off another way, so hunting dogs are needed to kill the rabbits without harming the birds and other protected wildlife. Seeing it takes about two years to train a dog to work off the leash sniffing out rabbits and yet ignoring the other prey, it will be a while before it gets under way. It seems sad to have to poison animals but I guess this kind of plague can't be dealt with in any other way.

It's amazing the things dogs can be trained to do. I was also reading about two English springer spaniels who have learned to sniff out termites. They are keeping the wooden pillars of Korea's palaces safe. I read about this on the Active Canines blog. It had been posted by TheresaQ.