Tuesday, 28 October 2008

dogs recognise human laughter

When we were at K9 Kompany today enjoying the K9 Kup - our mini Melbourne Cup - I noticed that the dogs were excited and more active than usual. I thought Penny was trying very hard and watching me more closely than usual - and it seemed to me she was working for the reward of my laughter as much as the treats that she gets intermittently.

I feel sure dogs know what human laughter is.

I remember enjoying a cup of tea in a friend's house and taking no notice of the family labrador, who was lying under the table. He suddenly leaped up and barked to announce the arrival of a latecomer, and we all burst out laughing because we thought he'd been lazy about not announcing the other six people who had already arrived.

I might be guilty of anthropomorphism, but I would say that dog was humiliated by the laughter. He slunk away with his tail between his legs. (He cheered up pretty quickly.)

But the laughter today was different. It was silly laughter, fun laughter. Cindy, our teacher, was wearing a 'beautiful' hat, as one must if attending the Melbourne Cup, and we were enjoying the over-the-top competitiveness of it all. The dogs were leaping around and racing full pelt over and through the obstacles.

Science News, in 2001, published a item about the sounds dogs make when they are having fun - if you listen to the audio clip, it does sound different from normal panting. I'd love to think Penny was laughing too, as we raced around.

Dogs also can celebrate the Melbourne Cup

Today at K9 Kompany we competed in the K9 Kompany Kup, in celebration of the upcoming Melbourne Cup, our famous horse race.
And Penny won!

Here she is sitting proudly with the precious goblet.

Then she decided to check it out to see if there might be a treat in it.

And there was one - what a great reward for a wonderful effort.

Though perhaps I should admit that there were only two dogs in the races and that Penny has been attending K9 four times longer than her competitor. But dogs haven't heard of 'the level playing field' so we can celebrate without any qualms.

Sunday, 26 October 2008

can snakes and dogs share a garden?

I'm wondering whether I'm attracting snakes to my garden by setting out multiple bowls of water for wildlife. I've started to worry over the last couple of weeks, as the weather warms up. A couple of days ago the nesting blackbirds in our back garden got very agitated, chattering loud warnings and racing back and forth along the top of the fence. Seeing they are quite tame - underfoot, actually, when I'm gardening - I knew it wasn't Penny or I who was causing the uproar. I couldn't see a cat around, and Penny can generally sense a cat immediately it approaches our property.

There's also the fact that Penny spent ages sitting near that corner of the garden staring fixedly at the messy pile of old flower pots near the shed. Luckily I had fenced it off in case the blackbirds' babies fell out of the nest.

Our suburb has the unenviable reputation of being rife with snakes.

I'm most appreciative of a warning sent to the dog walkers this weekend about snake activity in Darebin Parklands, which is at the bottom of our street.
The warning came from Peter, the ranger. He included a map of snake sightings in the last two weeks.

Ten different locations. Wow! Scary!

Peter warned us that snakes are becoming active in this season and that only tiger snakes have been seen. He reports that no eastern browns have been sighted for over 25 years. That's useful information, if reporting a bite to the vet.

He said that because tiger snakes like to eat frogs, they are likely to be near the waterways and wetlands, especially at dusk and at night. They're less likely to be around the leachate ponds, as the water is not suitable for frogs, though I do notice one of the snake locations is smack in between the leachate ponds.

He warns us to beware of snakes sunbathing anywhere during the day and that they are slow to get away at this time of the year. That might be why Penny and I had a super scary encounter with a snake that didn't move off the path in May last year - a day that was so cool I was unprepared to step over a snake. We had a a less traumatic one last November.

The thing I really, really appreciated was information about how to become aware of a nearby snake. Amongst other things, Peter said to look for constant localised chattering of birds - the birds will have the snake in immediate sight. And of course, the traditional warning we all listen for - movement and rustling of clumps of grass.

Hmmm... that sure sounds like what was going on in the corner of our garden last week.

There's a most informative article about snakes in our area written by Raymond Hoser, who runs Snake Busters and obviously respects and likes these reptiles. In part he says:
These snakes tend to live on the ground and rarely stray from the ground to climb.
The two circumstances where the snakes will climb are as follows:
To catch birds in a nest in a tree or other high structure.
The snakes are generalists in that they feed on any vertebrate and even in the wild state will eat pieces of discarded meat and chicken as dropped by a human.
Tiger Snakes are a deadly species and their venom attacks the nervous system.
While they are slightly slower moving than the average snake, they can still move fast when warm and agitated. Bites commonly occur when people try to catch and kill them.
Decapitated snakes may still bite the person attacking them.
As a rule, Tiger Snakes will attempt to bite if cornered or an attempt is made to kill them. In this regard they are one of the more aggressive species, hence the advice to lay people not to deal with them
Maybe the blackbirds were reporting a hunting snake - the next day their nestlings were all gone from the nest. The optimist in me hopes they are safe somewhere in the garden...

There's a tiger snake photo at another site and some advice about removing water from around the house in order to discourage reptilian visitors.

But I'm not going to take away the water. It's so dry now that I think the birds and small creature would suffer if the constant supply of water suddenly dried up.

However, I will clear away that pile of old plant pots. Carefully!

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Australian leader of the opposition is a dog blogger

Since I started Penny's blog I've found lots of interesting people who like to write about life with a dog. It was a surprise, though, to see a story about a prominent Australian dog blogger on page one of mx - a daily paper designed to be read on the evening train commute by people who've lost half their wits during a long, tiring day at work.

Malcolm Turnbull, the Leader of the Opposition, was accused of updating Twitter posts about his dog blog during Question Time in Parliament.

Of course I took a look around the Net to find his dog blog. Call me easily influenced, if you like, but this is one of the few times I've warmed to a politician. I really liked the posts I read.

I particularly liked the one about Embarkation Park. Jojo the dog (aka Malcolm Turnbull, or whoever writes it - can't quite get rid of the cynical attitude to politicians, unfortunately) quotes one of my heroes in the fight to protect the millennia-long bond between dogs and humans - Clover Moore, whom I've written about previously when she proposed a bill to ban the sale of dogs in pet shops. On Turnbull's blog she is quoted as saying
"regular off-leash exercise helped dogs socialise and release pent-up energy, reducing nuisance behaviour such as uncontrolled barking."
Recently there has been an endless, fraught debate about the use of some of the local Darebin Parklands for off-leash exercise of dogs. Seeing the vital role of off-leash exercise mentioned on the blog of the Leader of the Opposition gives me heart that this issue has some powerful supporters.

Friday, 17 October 2008

dogs and cats living together

This last week has had a cat-flavor to it - not literally, thank goodness - Penny hasn't eaten any cats.

Penny gets excited when she sees a cat, and I have always worried a little that she might jump on one (especially the next-door cat, who likes to stroll around our front garden and tantalise Penny, who can't get out the front).

When we were at training last Tuesday, at K9 in Lilydale, I was interested to hear from Cindy, our teacher, that the Coldstream animal shelter runs cat-desensitisation programs for dogs. I suppose it's mainly for the shelter dogs, but I might ask whether Penny could also have some training. I told Cindy that I sometimes pat the next-door cat near our front door while a family member rewards Penny in the house for watching calmly. Cindy warned me to never hold a cat in that situation, as I might get some serious injuries if the cat suddenly panicked.

I was talking to Cindy about cats because a friend who was visiting me that morning had just received a sad phone call from her daughter, who had been minding a friend's dog. The visiting dog suddenly lunged away from her (inside the house, and on lead) and grabbed her cat by the head. In the ensuing chaos, the dog bit her badly and the cat ran off and hadn't been found, last I heard.

It's possible it will be a tragedy for both the dog and the cat.

Today we visited the home of our GSD friend, Jabari. A cat lives there, and Penny was in the room with the cat for about fifteen minutes before she noticed it. I drew her attention away from the cat and towards me about five times and rewarded her for quiet behaviour near the cat. When it looked like the cat was sick of having a big doggy face peering up at her - and seemed to be getting ready for a sudden swipe with her claws - Jabari's mum took the cat out.

I've read an article at Dog Owners' Guide about teaching dogs to live with cats. I think it has some good advice but it involves holding the cat, which I wouldn't do. Also, having heard how quickly a dog can leap on a cat, I'd be wary about having the dog in the room with the cat unless the cat was up high (which Jabari's cat was), or behind a barrier like a baby gate, or in a crate.

Science Daily reports a study at Tel Aviv University that concluded cats and dogs can learn to read each others' body language, despite the differences between these two species, but it did involve adopting the cat before the dog and also bringing them together when they are young.

The routine suggested in VeterinaryPartner seems sensible, and takes weeks to get the two animals used to each other, which seems to me a to be a realistic time-frame.

Of course, this advice is for people intending to have a cat and a dog live together, which I can't see happening here. However, I'd like to think we could progress to the stage where Penny was neither a danger to cats nor in danger from them.

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Today is blog action day, dogs included

I was reading through the 88 Ways to DO Something About Poverty Right Now and I've chosen number 52, which is to visit the Hunger Site every day for the next month and click on it.

We are also going to have one meat-free evening meal in each of the next four weeks and donate the price of a meat meal to Oxfam (one of my favorite charities because it helps people to help themselves and because it often works with women). Seeing Penny's going to be in it also, we'll have to put our thinking caps on - perhaps we can come up with a meal for her involving eggs.

Friday, 10 October 2008

dogs and jigsaw puzzles

We give Penny as many activities as we can to keep her brain active, but it's also good to find things to do to keep our own brains going. So when I received a newsletter from About Seniors today, I followed the link to puzzles and discovered a possible new addiction - online jigsaws.
There are lots of topics but of course I tried out the dogs topic first. Here's one that I think looks a bit like Penny:

Click to Mix and Solve

There are hundreds of puzzles and you can set the number of pieces or the shape of the cut.

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

picture of Penny on Slavenka's blog

It was a lovely surprise to come across a picture of Penny on Slavenka and Obi's blog today. I read their blog every day and usually get a good laugh. Though today I was saddened by the post about Terry Pratchett's illness.

However, the one about the family with dog watching the scary movie is fun, and so is the wonderful dog-walking umbrella.

Penny's clustrmap after one year of blogging

Penny doesn't know how many people have visited her blog in the first year of its existence - and, let's face it, maybe she doesn't actually care all that much. Life is satisfactory as long as her bowl has interesting food in it; walks have lots of places to sniff; humans dispense treats from crinkly plastic bags; and the squirrels (whoops! must have been indoctrinated by Rusty - I meant possums) stay up in the trees.

However, I'll admit I love looking at the red dots on my map. I study the far-flung dots and wonder what it must be like to live in those places.; I look at the nearby ones and memorise the dogs so I'll recognise them if I see them. (Now, that's really dreaming, from someone with a memory like mine!)

[Thursday 9th: I woke up a couple of minutes ago in the middle of the night and thought, 'What was I talking about in that post? You can't memorise dogs when you're looking at dots!]

So I feel a bit disappointed that my red dots have to be archived after a year. Maybe one day I'll be so experienced that the archiving of my red dots will be a ho-hum moment. But not yet...

So, I've included my old map on the right-hand side of my blog, below the new one.

dogs with blogs and blog action day

It's only a week now until Blog Action Day. This year's topic is Poverty and I can't think of a more important theme in this unequal world.

There's a guy who busks in the underground passage that leads out of one of our main city railway stations and he always has his dog with him. He probably thinks I like his singing, but in fact I always make sure to contribute something so that he can afford to look after his dog. I don't know whether the man is living in poverty, but I guess singing in a cold concrete tunnel wouldn't be his first preference for a job, so I assume times are hard for him.

I ask myself whether blogging about poverty can make a difference, but I've decided to join the Action Day, because the more we talk about the injustices in this world the more we become alert to ways in which we can make a difference.

I care a lot about dogs, but I also care about humans.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

sick humans and comforting dogs

Penny's been on sick-room duty this week, because one of her humans - me - succumbed to a virus and needed a comforting furry body to lie on the bed with her. It's lucky that dogs can't catch human viruses. I went to the doctor last week and he basically said I had a viral cold, which just had to run its course. It has been a pretty mucky course, I must say, but Penny didn't seem to mind the towering hill of tissues that grew beside the bed. Thank goodness she seems to be growing out of her love of strewing tissues all over the place.

Here's a picture of how she comforted another member of her human family last year.