Monday, 29 September 2008

dogs in the squirrel patrol

Penny is now a member of Rusty's squirrel patrol. She's been waiting for weeks for her human to show off the lovely certificate that proves she's a member but a little 'technical problem' has held up the works - how to turn the certificate the right way round. And then, today, in a stroke of brilliance, her human noticed a little arrowy thingy that looked as if it might do the trick, and it did!

Hmm... then there was the new technical difficulty of finding where the turned graphic had hidden itself. Let's think... could it be in the folder called 'downloads'? Yep, there it was.

Oh, no! It had turned itself around again!

Okay, never say die - import it into iPhoto, export it out to the desktop and, hey presto! there it is.

But one important thing - Penny will be practising on possums for now, until squirrels arrive in Australia.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

should dogs go to heaven if they won't 'give' to their humans?

Right after I blogged about Penny being in disgrace for refusing to give up her smelly stocking, I came across a funny spoof debate on Bark Blog about whether dogs can go to heaven if they've been naughty - actually, it's about whether they can go to heaven at all.

The church-sign generator looks like fun. Here's mine:

dogs learning to 'leave it' or 'give' it to their humans

Our neighbours might have wondered what was going on in our backyard tonight, because they probably heard my increasingly desperate commands to Penny to 'leave' a delicious tidbit she had found, or to 'give' it to me.

I got so worried I shouted for someone in the house to come and help me wrench it from Penny's mouth. But no-one heard - a lesson that our houses are so soundproof that shouts for help might not be heard. Scary thought.

She was recently on a course of antibiotics for a week because the vet thought she had a bowel inflammation. It was only after I came home from that vet appointment that I had a horrible thought, too scary to even write about here. I remembered that in mid-August, I had lost a nylon stocking whose toe was stuffed with cabana, cheese and other smelly treats.

Why would I have such a strange thing? It was used to lay a great-smelling track for Penny to follow.

Why would I forget where I had put an object so dangerously tempting to a dog? I don't know.

I've had a niggling worry for weeks as to whether she had found it and eaten it. My friends must have got tired of me asking them whether they think a dog would eat something like that; whether it would go through her digestive system; whether it would show up on an x-ray; whether I should ask the vet; whether she would be still pooing if she had a nylon stocking in her gut.

You get the picture? I've been driving everyone crazy by mentioning it every time I start to worry.

Well, tonight I learned the answer: yes, a dog WOULD eat it if she happened to find it, even if it were so old that it had turned into a disgusting slimy mass.

Yes, she would absolutely refuse to give it back and would try to swallow it as quickly as possible if she thought her human was trying to steal it.

Yes, the stocking would start to tear apart if the human tried to pull it back out of her dog's oesophagus.

When I look at the photo and see how far into her mouth the stocking had gone - you can tell the part that is damp - I thank heaven that some intuition made me leave my dinner and go outside to investigate what she was doing outside at a time when she's usually keeping an eye on her humans while they eat.

Top of my to-do list is to be shown once again how to force a dog's jaw open. The vet did show me but in the dark and in the stress of the moment I couldn't do it.

One great result of tonight's fright is that now I can stop worrying about where the stocking is. It's in the rubbish bin and out in the street for collection.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

poisonous plants and dogs

Penny was watching from inside the front door as I weeded the front garden this afternoon; she doesn't get out the front because we don't have a fence along the street. I was pulling out a plant that looked like choko and I wanted to make sure I wasn't discarding a useful plant, so I took a well-earned break and searched on the internet 'plant with milky sap looks like choko'.

I'm glad I did, because this plant definitely has to go. It is poisonous to animals and harmful to people. A Weed Fact Sheet from the New South Wales Government says,
It is suspected to be poisonous to cattle, poultry and dogs. The sap can cause skin irritation and severe allergic reactions in susceptible people.
I guess I'm not a susceptible person, because I've pulled out heaps of these plants, in our own garden and on weeding sessions in Darebin Parklands. Confession time - I'm really, really silly, because I sometimes garden without gloves.

After I read the scary stuff I washed the sticky gooey stuff off my arms and hands and donned gloves. The Fact Sheet says to dispose of the seed pods by bagging them and 'disposing of them safely', so I thought I shouldn't put the plant in the green waste bin. I put the whole thing in the rubbish bin.

Now, it may be a weed, but what's a weed after all, except a plant that we don't want to see growing where it does? I know Peter, the Ranger in Darebin Parklands, hates this particular weed and the Fact Sheet certainly shows what a pest it would be in our lovely bushland oasis.
It is also becoming more widespread in southern Victoria, particularly in and near Melbourne...
they reduce indigenous biodiversity. They do this by degrading the homes or habitat of indigenous plants and animals, thus
contributing to the extinction crisis both locally and globally.

BUT... it's so beautiful if you open the fruit.
I know I'm not the only one who thinks so, because I found a flickr member who took a picture of the beautiful seeds, one that captures the iridescence of the hairy tops, as I couldn't do.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

home hairdressing for dogs

This evening I visited a friend who has a maltese with beautiful silky white hair. My friend showed me how she trims her dog's facial hair between grooming appointments. It seemed simple enough, so when I got home I recruited help to feed Penny treats and hold her steady while I took my first tentative steps towards trimming her at home.

We decided to give it a go because her hair is always across her eyes and we think it must be annoying her. Also, my vet said he doesn't like hair that can touch a dog's eyes.

Here's Penny before the big event. She wasn't feeling too good when this was taken, as it was last week after the annual vaccination that might (or might not) have made her sick.

And here she is after her amateurish haircut. We'll have another look at it tomorrow and trim a little more - maybe.
It was surprising to see how calm she was about having me wave scissors around her face. I guess that's the payoff for all the work we've put in since she was a baby to make her like being groomed - treats, treats, treats! The road to Penny's heart!

We did use blunt-ended dog grooming scissors, by the way, and held her muzzle gently as a mother dog would hold her puppy.

There's a good series of video clips on grooming dogs at Expert Village.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

lumps, bowels and doggy illnesses

Penny's been keeping us on our toes lately. She had her annual vaccinations last week, one of which which should protect her from distemper, infectious hepatitus and parvovirus; the other from bordetella brontiseptica and canine parainfluenza.

Well, I think that's what they were - the teensy tiny stickers on her health record are hard to read, even with my glasses on!

That evening she threw up five times. I rang the local animal hospital and the vet said to keep an eye on her and gave me the phone number of a local all-night clinic. However, she slept through the night okay.

We didn't, though.

In the morning my own vet examined her and he thought she was more likely to have vomited because she had a bowel inflammation. (She had been having jelly-like material in her poos on and off over the last few weeks.)

He put her on antibiotics for a week, which are nearly finished now.

It's hard to know what to do for the best for our beloved animals. There are lots of internet sites with scary stories of pets' reactions to vaccinations, and I did check out lots of such sites when I posted last year about the concern that we over-vaccinate in Australia.

I thought Dog Owners' Guide seemed to have a reasonable overview of the question. Basically they referred to vomiting as a severe reaction, but said we should still have the vaccinations with the proviso that the dog might need to take antihistamines or the leptospirosis part could be omitted.

They discuss (but not in detail) recent research that suggests we should vaccinate less frequently.

As I write this, Penny is frantically licking her paws. She tends to have a problem with her paws, so it's not a new issue, but I feel sure she's doing it more these last couple of days. So I'm interested in a site that suggests paw licking can be a reaction to vaccinations.

And to top off our worries, when I got home from the vet after the vaccination, I noticed Penny had another lump - this time on the top of her head. It's not long since she had one removed from her chest.

The vet said it would be safer to remove it, but not to worry about rushing into it. I'm fairly sure it is getting smaller every day. At first it was as big as a pea, but I think it's only pin-head size now. Here's hoping!

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

dog owners work together as a community

It infuriates me to see dog poo lying around on our streets or in our parks. People who don't pick up after their dog are lazy or dirty as far as I'm concerned.

When I see someone who is ignoring their dog's defecation, I ask myself whether they haven't noticed or whether they just don't care. If they look approachable, I might say, 'Would you like a bag?' if I have a spare one with me. But mostly I don't say anything if I'm alone.

I'm wondering how I would go if I lived in the villages of Denny or Dunipace, in the UK. They've set up a Green Dog Walkers project, in which volunteers will approach pet owners to ask them to sign a pledge to clean up after their animals. If people join the campaign they'll wear an armband that says they are green dog walkers.

I can't really see it working here in Melbourne, but I ask myself why it shouldn't. I think it's because we are such a big city and there's a creeping sense of anonymity in my area. I used to know everyone in my street but now most people don't even make eye contact.

Yet dog walkers do.

Maybe it could work...

I read about this campaign at the blog of Dogs Life, our Australian dog magazine. I've been reading it for years but just now realised it has an online component.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

dogs on leads in busy streets

Even though I'm an advocate of the necessity for dogs to walk off-lead beside their humans on an everyday basis, I certainly don't mean to suggest a busy street is a place for that freedom.

Today was full of excitement - of a kind I could do without.

In the morning I took three dogs out for an on-lead street walk because their owner is not well - they were Bonnie, an elderly mutt who is a regular visitor to our house; and two gorgeous West Highland terriers who don't know me. All went well until I looked down and realised one of the westies, Scruffy, was wandering along beside us not attached to his lead. He had backed out of his collar.

I think I might have stayed calm if we hadn't been near one of the busiest roads in our neighbourhood -Bell St in Heidelberg. Scruffy danced away from me and raced towards Bell St. What to do? I hurried the other dogs to their home, on the corner of that road, grateful to a man who was dashing towards the busy highway to try to head Scruffy off. I thrust them inside the gate and was surprised to hear the other man say, 'Well, that's okay, then.'

What? I looked around, and there was Scruffy with the others. He had darted inside when I opened the gate.

It took me a long time to stop shaking and realise that all's well that ends well, but eventually I drove off towards Reservoir.

As I stopped for the lights at the massive intersection of St George's Road and Murray Road, I was horrified to see two little 'white fluffies' - probably maltese crosses of some kind - playing in the middle of the traffic.

Not straying near the traffic - PLAYING in between the masses of cars and trucks that were travelling through the intersection. The two little devils were chasing each other between the vehicles.

( I took the photos of the intersection at St George's Road after the two little dogs were safe, so they're not in the picture.)

So I parked my car as close as I could, grabbed a leash and checked my pockets for doggy biscuits.

But they weren't going to be caught. They were having too much fun. I got the council ranger's phone number from a nearby business and called for help.

An hour later it was safely resolved, thanks to the help of a passer-by who played with them and fed them my treats in the - unfenced - front yard of a nearby house.

Guess what? The ranger knew them. They've been out before. As far as I'm concerned, some people don't deserve to have a dog. I'm not going through that intersection again if I can help it. I don't want to see a little white body in the gutter.

What a day! It would be a relief to go for a walk at relaxing Gardiner's Creek with Penny and her friend Jabari. I headed along busy Manningham Road towards Blackburn.

And there he was - a THIRD dog roaming off-lead near a busy street. A black labrador. I zoomed to a halt in the car park of a nearby school and fumbled for doggy biscuits. Lucky I'd restocked my pocket.

Once again, no way was this dog going to let me near him. Worn out by the stresses of this doggy day, I rang Jabari's mum and poured out my story to her.

'Is he on the road?' she asked.

'No,' he's near some fences.' By this time he was barking fiercely at me.

'Okay, get in your car and leave,' she commanded. 'That's the sound of a dog on his own territory.'


'He's not lost. You can't help.'

She was right. As I plodded towards my car and the patiently waiting Penny, the dog slipped through the palings of a fence.

Today has convinced me. The days of groups of carefree children roaming the streets with their dogs are gone. Our streets are too dangerous.

All the more reason to value those places where dogs and people can stroll along together, safely distant from traffic. We need to make sure our community developers plan for off-lead walking areas for dogs and their humans.

Monday, 15 September 2008

a war on dogs?

During the weekend I read a feature in The Age newspaper's Good Weekend magazine. It was by Frank Robson, who with his partner is sailing Australian waters, accompanied by their dog, Lucky. I've previously posted about the book he wrote about Lucky. I enjoyed it and recommended it as a light-hearted read for any dog lover.

In this feature article he's mainly recounting the misadventures they had while sailing, but Lucky gets a mention once again; I was struck by the following section:
Twice a day, whatever the weather, we take Lucky ashore for toilet breaks. We always clean up after him, but refuse to be cowed by Australia's official war on dogs: if all the no-go zones were observed, dogs wouldn't be seen anywhere except sulking in backyards, which is crazy.
I'd say, from reading blogs from around the world, that the question of no-go zones for dogs isn't just an Australian issue. It seems as if the whole world has begun to believe that the only safe dog is one on a leash, walking at most half a metre from her owner's leg.

I think this is partly due to the increase in motor traffic, but to me it's also a result of the culture of over-protection.

When I was growing up, it was usual for dogs to ramble around the streets with groups of children, all having fun together. Nowadays, you're not likely to see either the children or the dogs. The kids are 'safe' inside their houses, cocooned in a sedentary lifestyle that is probably going to cause massive health issues in the decades to come. The dogs are lying around waiting for the magic moment when their people take them on an outing, all too often a boring promenade over hard street surfaces in a haze of car exhaust fumes

There seem to be two issues: one, keep the dog on lead to save her from danger; two, a dog on lead will be less of a danger to passing humans.

Vilmos Csanyi, in If Dogs Could Talk, says,
Dogs are very conscious of having a leash, and for them this is not a form of restraint or a symbol of slavery as is believed by enthusiastic liberals who know nothing about animals.
To a certain extent I can see what he means: Penny loves her lead and seems to think it's her way of making sure she's got her person coming along behind her.

But I also see how she quivers with joy when we reach the part of the park where she knows she can go off-lead.

Terry Ryan and Kirsten Mortensen, in Outwitting Dogs, discuss the leash from a dog's perspective:
To a human, a leash is a device to manage a dog - to keep a dog nearby; to prevent a dog from running off after (or away from) a car, bike, or critter...for a dog a leash is a sensory experience - it's what causes pressure on the dog's collar or harness...this leash sensation doesn't mean anything inherently.
One thing I'm sure of - I get more exercise if Penny is walking off-lead beside me, because she races to keep up with me. But if she's on lead she wants to investigate everything we pass.

I don't think she's deliberately being contrary, because dogs just don't think that way. But it sure seems like it at times.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

working together in Darebin Parklands

Penny sniffed our legs when we got back from the Darebin Parklands today, checking where we had been. She was probably wondering whether we would head back with her, but she was out of luck. We were worn out from all our work there and she'll have to wait till tomorrow to see how many native plants we put in this afternoon.

However, one lucky dog came walking past during the afternoon and of course I took the chance to slack off and say hello.

Every time I go planting in the park I learn something new. Today I reckon I saw the best garden implement ever. Peter, the park ranger, has made a contraption that goes on what I think is a chain saw motor. It has an auger on the end of a metal pole - and it digs holes in hard, dry ground! Fabulous doesn't even begin to describe it - with drought an ever-present reality, gardening has become more back-breaking than ever it was in the past. (And, sad to say, I'm not young any more.)

After the working bee (or should I be more modern and call it 'park care day'?) there was a party to celebrate thirty-five years of community action by the Darebin Parklands Association.

It began with a welcome by Uncle Reg Blow, an Aboriginal elder, member of the Darebin Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Council and facilitator of the Darebin Parklands Spiritual Healing Trail. (It was his son who led the group of pilgrims around the spiritual healing trail on 11th July).It was a highlight of the afternoon listening to the thrum of the didgeridoo against the whisper of eucalypt leaves and the chatter of rainbow lorikeets.

On a more mundane note, another highlight was the dee-licious cake that was the centrepiece of the celebration party.

dogs and building bridges in Darebin Parklands

Penny stayed at home today while her humans went down to her favorite spot - Darebin Parklands, our wonderful urban bushland area.

We weren't there literally to build bridges; we were actually planting native flora, as we've done before. But, given the distressing argument that's still going on, about the future of off-lead dog-walking in this area, the day was also an exercise in bridge-building.

If you were to look at this picture, you would see a community co-operating to achieve wonderful outcomes for the future.

However, amongst the people working alongside each other there were very different viewpoints about the future of the Parklands.

Some want dogs limited to an area that I consider inadequate and destined to cause enormous conflicts. They think dogs are a danger to the habitat values they've worked for over the years.

Others believe this is an unreasonable reaction to the presence of off-lead dogs in the park and want a wider-ranging area for off -lead walking.

All too often I've heard the saddest word of all used in this argument. The word is they.

In my opinion there's only one word that really counts - we. We all love this area with a passion and that passion is the fire that keeps us all fighting to see out viewpoint win.

But when the decision-making process is finally complete and our local councils hand down a ruling, it will be time to work together, as we did today, to continue to protect this wonderful open space for our future and that of generations to come.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

seven week search for a missing dog

Penny is lying safely in the kitchen as I follow the online diary of the seven-week attempt to capture a Bernese mountain dog that ran off in a panic in Washington in the US. I'd sure hate to think of Penny terrified and alone in the bush like that dog.

I found the link to this amazing story of persistence at Bark blog

It's a gripping diary of events as they happened, with video clips that had me on the edge of my seat.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

origin of the dog name fido

Penny was named after the copper coin that is no longer in circulation in Australia. It took three of us a nice long hotel dinner and a lubricating bottle of wine to come up with this name, based on the fact that she was a red-head when she was six weeks old.

Now we think she's a strawberry blonde, but we still love her name. And we don't make blonde jokes about her - well, not when she's listening.

Newspaper editors seem to love using the name Fido as a a short-cut in headlines about dogs.. But I've never actually met a dog called Fido. Except for the giant sculpture near Fairfield railway station in Melbourne.

I stood near that statue some weeks ago handing out leaflets to promote discussion about the pros and cons of dog off-lead areas in our local parklands and I got to wondering why it's called Fido. Turns out it stands for Fairfield Industrial Dog Object! Seems it was erected in 2000 to represent the dog-loving community. Well, if the latest plan to restrict dog off-lead walking in Darebin is any indication of the Council's attitude to dogs, then I think they should re-name it. But that's another story...

Back to Fido as a name. As far as I can discover, the most famous dog of this name was Abraham Lincoln's dog.

I take a more in-depth look at this name in my new blog about the fascinating language that surrounds us and helps us make sense of our world.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

dog learns the hold it trick

Penny tried a new trick today at K9 Kompany - pulling along a cute little toy cart of toys. But we didn't have any luck.

The idea was that she would use her mouth to grab a ball on a string attached to the handle and as she pulled it the cart would move behind her. However, I realised she had forgotten the trick we practised last year called 'Hold'. If she doesn't get the idea that she has to 'hold' the ball as she comes towards me, then she'll let it go as soon as she feels the weight of the cart.

So, tonight it was back to basics in our 'kitchen training' schedule. I used a clicker as my marker instead of the more usual 'Yess!" because I found it difficult to mark the exact moment when she was still holding the object.

(By the way, the thing she was holding was a strong, flexible toy made by Aussie Dog - I think it's probably manufactured from fire hose, but I'm not sure. We've had ours for years and it's as good as the day I bought it.)

Monday, 8 September 2008

Intelligent games for dogs

I believe it's a case of 'use it or lose it' in terms of intelligence for dogs, as it is for us humans, so I try to keep Penny thinking. Today I came across a link on a German-language blog to a dog toy I haven't seen before. It's called Dog Spinny.

I wrote many months ago about the fascinating toys for dogs available in Europe, but couldn't find anything similar in Australia. (One of the links in that post no longer works, but the fascinating Fun for Dogs still does.)

On YouTube there's a demo of the Dog Spinny. It looks great, though I wouldn't leave a dog to play it alone.(As far as I can work out, most of the European intelligent toys are intended for interactive play between humans and dogs.)

On AOL there were more clips of interesting toys by the same manufacturer, Nina Ottosson.

The problem for me here in Australia is the cost of postage of a heavy wooden toy. So, I was pleased to see that there's a plastic version. I'll contact them and see if it can be posted to Oz.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

dogs tracking

Today Penny took part in the last of the current series of tracking lessons run by Jenny Pearce of A Perfect Spot. We have moved from setting out a short, straight track to a longer one and then, today, a track with two right-angled turns.

Here's a picture of her with her nose to the ground last week. Have a look at her tail - obviously she's loving it.

She's just passing one of the socks that I placed on the track; she's a bit off to one side of the sock because the wind changed direction after I laid the track.

Jenny taught us to lay the scent with the wind behind us. I forgot why that was, but I've just revised the reason at the page of the Golden Retriever Club of Victoria. We don't want the dogs to 'wind scent' with their heads up, which they'll do if the wind carries the scent to them; we want them to have their noses to the ground. And that's another reason I'm proud of this picture of Penny.

Jenny Pearce photographed the studentsl so we could check our progress. The dog's doing well - but I'm not so sure the handler has much of a technique! I'll have to practise with these long leads.

We had to keep the tension on the lead but not pull the dog back when she was on the track. I must say, I still find this quite tricky.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

the humane treatment of dogs

Having Penny living in our household makes us smile and feel good. I guess you could say she works for us, by increasing our health psychologically and by making us fitter. ( She sure needs a walk every day!) And how could we not enjoy romping in the park with this hairy enthusiast?

I read an article in The Age newspaper yesterday about a study into the working conditions of farm dogs. I can't find a link to the actual article, perhaps because the staff of the newspaper were taking industrial action at the time.

Following the trail of the study on the Net I arrived at the site of Melbourne University and read that their Animal Welfare Science Centre believes there are two important principles in human management of pets and livestock:

“These are, on the one hand, management to comply with the objectives of human profit, benefits or pleasure, and on the other hand, management responsibilities under a duty of humane care of animals.

“The vision of the Animal Welfare Science Centre is that animal welfare and its constant improvement are societal and cultural norms...”
But I wonder - is it the norm in our society to believe that we should constantly improve the welfare of animals? We seem to have two opposite views of animals. We love our 'pets' and integrate them into our households. But 'food animals' are treated as if they have no intelligence and no feelings.

I'm looking forward to living in a world where all animals are treated well.

By the way, I got the link to the journalists' strike from Mark Lawrence's blog post, Shame, Fairfax, Shame!