Thursday, 30 July 2009

lovely rain, blue-tongue lizards and doggy dancing

The sun shone warmly all morning and I should have taken Penny for her walk. But I didn't. And in the afternoon it rained. Hooray for the lovely water! Yesterday both major newspapers ran frightening predictions that next summer will bring even more danger from fires than last summer, and today there were articles about the fact that Melbourne is now the driest capital city in Australia.

But, at least it's raining this afternoon. And we're so unused to rain now that I've chickened out on a wet walk, so we had to entertain ourselves with some doggy dancing in the kitchen. Here's our first little routine:

Then we tried a longer routine, and Penny did very well, despite the fact that her silly human mixed up the verbal commands for clockwise and anti-clockwise circling! But... the wonderful thing is that, for the first time, we conquered the sideways step - at the end of the routine.

And then, to make the wet day even more interesting, we had a visit by a blue-tongue lizard at our front door. I don't know what it was doing out in the middle of winter. After we had a look at it and took some footage, I put it in the bushiest part of the front garden (where Penny's not allowed to go, and hopefully no neighborhood cats will find it).

what does pee-mail have to do with ancient Rome?

Well, nothing, actually, unless we consider the fact that those ancient dogs used to send each other pee-mail on the bottom of the Corinthian columns. Or did the Romans have Doric columns? Or maybe both?

But this post is actually an unashamed try at getting some visitors to my other blog, where yesterday's walk, with Penny checking for any pee-mail, got me thinking about V-mails and e-mails.

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Virginia the dog goes blind but still chases squirrels

I just read an interesting post on Boing Boing by a man whose dog, Virginia, has gone blind. His description of how Virginia adapted, even to the point where she can chase squirrels, is a lesson to us all that dogs are not people, and that they have skills we could never hope to equal.

Monday, 27 July 2009

scavenging for duck poo on a lovely riverside walk

Yesterday Penny and her human strolled along the river path beside the Upper Yarra River and enjoyed the scenery:

The horses - Penny gets a reward for calm behaviour!

The big birds - maybe geese? Penny watches quietly.

The river lookout - Penny is bored, her human is entranced.

The swim with the ducks - Penny chases a thrown stick, the ducks mill around in hope of being fed.

Then a nice roll on the wet stick to absorb the smell.

And, just to cap off a really good walk, some (a lot of) scavenged poo, green and delicious-looking, before Penny's human wakes up what's going on.

And later that evening, the black, tarry poo that leads to the lengthy bum-wash, and the semi-sleepless night as the human waits for Penny to show signs of ill-effects.

But, so far, no bad effects, thank goodness.

Saturday, 25 July 2009

young babies can understand dog barks and body language

Humans and canines have lived together for hundreds of thousands of years and we understand each other pretty well. It's surprising, however, to find that babies just six months old can look at photos of angry or welcoming dogs and match the pictures correctly to recorded barks, snarls or yaps.

Dogs were chosen for the experiments at Brigham Young University, reported in the Journal of Developmental Psychology, because they are a species that communicates with body language and with sound - as we do.

Here's a quote from a report at
In the experiment, the babies first saw two different pictures of the same dog, one in an aggressive posture and the other in a friendly stance. Then the researchers played - in random order - sound clips of a friendly and an aggressive dog bark...While the recordings played, the 6-month-old babies spent most of their time staring at the appropriate picture. Older babies usually made the connection instantly with their very first glance.

I'm glad to have come across this Physorg site. It looks interesting.

Friday, 24 July 2009

Penny ate a little bit of chocolate

Penny believes every walk is a foraging expedition. And when she finds something, she has to swallow it quickly, before her humans steal it.

We've just returned from a walk around the block, during which she nabbed some chocolate from a neighbour's driveway. I'm used to the sound of chop bones being crunched - you can usually grab them out of her mouth. I'm used to the disappointing snap and pop of cooked chicken bones going down her gullet before I can retrieve them. But who expects chocolate?

Given that we're a household of chocaholics, we've done well to make sure Penny has never scoffed any chocolate in the house. (Well, there was that huge packet of sweet biscuits that disappeared from the inaccessibly high kitchen table when Penny was a puppy...)

After we arrived home I drove back to check it was milk chocolate, and then I hurried home to look on the Net for information about the symptoms of poisoning. I''m feeling more relaxed since I read a report that says a dog her size (33pounds/ 15 Kilos) would have to eat 33 ounces of milk chocolate to be in danger.

At Net.Pet Magazine I got more details. The half-life of the dangerous ingredient - theobromine - is 17.5 hours. (I like that, because it sets a time limit on my worrying.) Milk chocolate has 44 mg of theobromine per ounce of chocolate. Therefore the toxic dose for a 50 lb dog would be 50 oz of milk chocolate. I don't quite understand the maths of that, but it comes out to the same amount as the other site.

On the other hand, following a link from Dolittler, my favorite veterinary blogger, I arrived at the ASPCA and read:
Chocolate contains large amounts of methylxanthines, which, if ingested in significant amounts, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, panting, excessive thirst, urination, hyperactivity, and in severe cases, abnormal heart rhythm, tremors and seizures.
Wait a minute! I've just got my head around one big word. What is this 'methylxanthine'?

And then, on a medication guide for humans, I discovered that theobromine is a type of methylxanthine, which solved that little mystery!

At a site for vets to share information I was interested to note that dogs may, however, show symptoms at a much lower dose, as low as ten percent of the fatal dose. However, the vet says the danger from milk chocolate is very low.

But, by my calculation, that's only 3.3 ounces. So I'll be keeping an eye on her. She's barking up a storm at the front door at the moment, but I think that's just her usual reaction to next door's cat being in our front yard.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

the final day of K9 Kompany

Tonight Penny and I went to the get-together to celebrate all the good times we have had at K9 Kompany in Lilydale. I won't put a link to it this time, as I've done so often...because it no longer exists!

K9 Kompany, the wonderful place where we learned so much, and laughed and relaxed together, has been closed because the parent organisation, Coldstream Animal Aid, can't afford to maintain it. They spent so much time and money on helping animals in the February bushfires that they can no longer afford to subsidise the K9 Kompany.

I feel sad at the closing of this uniquely special training venue, where we have done canine freestyle, agility, flyball practice, tricks and even some basic film work. It was simply fantastic.

But life goes on. One great thing is that Cindy, our teacher, is setting up her own business. At the moment she's concentrating on dog training, pet minding and dog walking, but I've got my fingers crossed that she might set up her own agility and tricks training classes in the future. She intends to set up her own site, so I'd suggest local dog owners might want to check it out regularly to see whether she has it up and running.

We are going to join her social walks group in the meantime.

Penny was quite surprised, when we arrived at Lilydale tonight, to see all the rules had been relaxed and she could roam around the area freely. However, she stayed close to me most of the time, so it was easy to keep an eye on her.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

cleaning dog hair off carpets with a Grip-It brush

I was brushing Penny's long hairs off my pants today, using a Grip-It brush that we bought for removing pilling from woollen clothes, when I suddenly had a thought...Would it work on the carpet to remove Penny's long hairs, and would it be even better than the damp cloth I've been using?

The answer is...yes, and yes.

We've had this Grip-It for a long time, and I can't remember where we bought it, but in searching for the link above I discovered it's possible to buy them online and that replacement pads are available - though I can't figure out how to take the old one off and put on the new one. However, I feel sure we'd be able to do it if we had to.

Monday, 20 July 2009

playing doggie online games instead of walking in the park

Penny might have to nudge me a bit harder if she wants to go for a walk, because I've come across an addictive little doggie game.

It's here. I read about it in an email from my local library's Web 2.0 site.

It loads quite slowly but it's fun to help the little dog get the bone. (Don't click on the advertisement for Bubble Buster that comes up while you're waiting , if you want to play the doggie game.)

Sunday, 19 July 2009

wandering the laneways with a dog

Penny and I often walk along the local laneways, enjoying the quiet pace of life off the main roads.

A few days ago we decided to explore some of the laneways that have not been "developed" as walking tracks, the ones that are mostly unused.

I suspect it's the existence of these often overgrown, hidden tracks that explain why our area is Snake Central! I'll be on the alert once more from October to May, and we won't be wandering so carelessly up these lanes. Also, I think there must be a population of foxes roaming them, too, to judge by the number of animal bodies we came across as we walked.

I think the first one was a ring-tailed possum.

Then we saw two dead birds - magpies, I think.

It's sad to see these dead bodies, but I guess they are part of the cycle of nature. Certainly, their bodies were decaying into the soil, and it seemed as if something had eaten them away.

But it was good to see a live magpie. And even though it's still the middle of winter, this bird was building its nest, so we'll be looking out for swooping magpies in the future.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

bones of pre-conquest dog found at Cambridge in England

A hoard of historic finds, including Roman pottery, medieval remains and the bones of an 11th-century dog have been found at the heart of Cambridge University during an excavation to mark its 800th anniversary.
In our twenty-first century suburban household, Penny works hard for her keep. She brings us joy by making us laugh; warns us of approaching visitors or strangers; makes sure the possums stay up in the treetops; maintains our fitness levels by taking us for a long walk each day; keeps us young by making us go to classes for agility, canine freestyle and sometimes tracking; teaches us how to rest and how to stop to smell the roses (well, smell something along the way).

Dogs have always earned their keep. I've posted previously about how they changed the history of Tasmania by assisting their convict owners to hunt kangaroos without guns. And there are countless ways in which dogs assisted past societies to make ends meet.

In Cambridge in England, in the heart of the ancient University, the skeleton of a dog has been found, along with boundary markings and signs of quarrying, all proof of a vibrant Anglo-Saxon settlement before the Norman invasion.

Richard Newman, site director with the Cambridge Archaelogical Unit, believes the dog would have been a valuable ally for the self-sufficient family that owned it.

He said:
"It would have been a working animal and an essential part of the household at the time, used for tasks such as catching rabbits. A dog would also have given people security, it was useful when it came to protecting your possessions, and it was cheaper than a lock!"
If you'd like to read more, go to News for Medievalists. It's a fascinating blog for those interested in medieval history around the world.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Penny's sense of smell and the petrol leak

Reading Noah's post from a while ago about the day his car burst into flames - thank God no-one was hurt - I thought I might mention again the Great Petrol Leak saga that played out with Penny and me as main characters, over about five months.

Penny just wouldn't get into the car. I posted about it after I found what the problem was. At the time I consulted all sorts of people more experienced with dogs than I am, in order to solve the mystery. I came up with two conclusions: either she hated the 'ping' of the overhead monitors on the Tollway, or she was unhappy with the long trips we were taking regularly to K9 Kompany and Melbourne Canine Freestyle.

So, I tried: calmly putting her in the car, on lead; handing over treats every time the electronic 'ping' sounded; giving her an enormous biscuit when she was in the car; praising her for calm behaviour in the car.

And the eventual solution to the mystery, as I said in that post, was that the car had a petrol leak. I have to mention that I did take the car a couple of times to the mechanic because of the petrol smell, but he couldn't find the problem - until the day the leak became so massive that the RACV guy wanted to call the Fire Brigade to siphon out all the petrol and hose the area down!

Penny gets into the car happily now.

And it's a win-win for her, because she still gets the enormous biscuit each time we go on a long trip. I don't have the strength to resist the big puppy-eyed begging look.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

when a dog loses his best mate

Scruffy and Harvey were best mates. Scruffy hadn't spent one day away from Harvey's company and would pine if Harvey left the house even for a trip to the vet.

But Harvey was older, and Harvey had a heart condition...and last Wednesday Harvey's life came to an end.

So Scruffy goes everywhere with his human right now, to help him deal with his bereavement. And today he visited us for the morning.

I took Penny out into the street, because she isn't always welcoming of newcomers to the house. We 'met by accident' out there and passed and re-passed each other a couple of times, with praise for quiet behavior. And then we came inside.

Scruffy was timid at first and wouldn't leave his human, but then he loosened up and explored a bit; eventually he even went outside on his own.

Penny begged him to play, with puppy play-bows and woofs, but he's not up to that yet. Maybe next time.

The third little dog in the video is Bonnie, our regular visitor. She's old, too, and nowadays just wanders, deaf and mostly blind, from place to place, thinking her own doggie thoughts.

Monday, 13 July 2009

the sad death of the pompeiian dog

Penny had a quiet day at home today while her humans visited the Melbourne Museum to learn about A Day in Pompeii.

I hadn't reckoned with the impact this exhibition would have on me, not realising how the tragedy in Pompeii in the year 79 AD would echo the terrible bushfires here in February. The sight of the body casts of the poor dead people was upsetting; the dead body of the dog who had been left chained up to suffocate in the rain of ash and pumice was also awful.

I thought of what chaos it must have been, for the people to forget to take the dog with them. It must have been a terrible time. I guess one consolation is that most people did escape and, if the ownership of pets was high, most of the dogs probably escaped with their humans.

Monday, 6 July 2009

why is a dog a dog and not a hound?

When I was browsing the archives of A Word a Day, one of my favorite language sites, one that sends me an interesting mail each day, I came across this snippet from 2004:
Our seven-year-old daughter Ananya has developed an interest in etymology. Often she'll interrupt her play in the backyard and peek in my downstairs study to ask about whatever word comes to her mind. Some time back she barged in with, "So how did the word dog came about?" I explained to her that the word dog came from Middle English dogge which came from Old English docga. Satisfied, she went back to her play.

I had completely forgotten about it when a few days later I overheard her talking to her grandmother on the phone, "Amma, we got a dogga." I was puzzled and later asked why she said dogga instead of dog. She patiently explained, "You know, Amma is old. That's why I used Old English with her."

That got me to wondering about all the things we call our canine friends: Dog - well, I'll accept the explanation above, for that one. But what about the word hound?

But I guess this is not a subject for this blog, which after all is supposed to be about Penny, and she doesn't care what we call her, as long as we call her for dinner. (Couldn't resist that terrible joke.)

I'll save my thoughts about these doggy words for my other blog, Words All Around.

Friday, 3 July 2009

helpful video clip of training a great dane in canine freestyle

I've just come across a Youtube clip by Honey the Great Dane showing how she learned some moves for her dance routine. It was fascinating to see the development of the routines from beginning to polished result. I was particularly interested in how Honey learned to go 'around' a cane. I'm inspired to try harder with Penny!

free canine training equipment from the roadside

As I've posted before, I love examining stuff on the roadside rubbish collections. Recently I noticed this great yellow pole, one of the poles I used in my canine freestyle training in yesterday's post. It's the bottom part of a lamp.

Here it is with my increasing collection of useful poles.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

training for cane work in canine freestyle

Sue, at Melbourne Canine Freestyle, has been teaching Penny and me the early stages of working with canes in canine freestyle.
We started with Penny going 'around' a pole.

We moved to making a figure of eight around the pole and around me.

Next Penny wove around me and around the two poles. I confused her a few times with my poor hand signals, but she's used to the fact that in canine freestyle she's smarter than I am, so she coped.

After a while I tried putting my hands on the tops of the poles, because if I were to work with canes I'd be holding them.

Here's a clip of Richard Curtis using an umbrella instead of a cane in a routine.