Wednesday, 27 July 2011

not complaining about all the recent rain

No, I will never again complain about too much rain, after all the years of drought we've had.


it sure has rained a lot recently. It's got to the stage where it's hard for a somewhat older dog walker to keep her footing. Most of the best places around here are along the Yarra River, or along local creeks, because that's where the public open land is, and they are swampy and muddy places.

But great for a dog who has part-poodle heritage. (I was quite surprised to realise the word "poodle' is a derived from the word 'puddle' and that poodles are water dogs.)

Of course, having wandered through every puddle as I minced around the edges, Penny had a delightful layer of mud up to her belly.( I thought it would involve a third dunk in the bath for her - two recently - but luckily it brushed out easily later at home.)

It rained most of the time we were out, and the clouds threatened even heavier rain.

So, of course, we and one other lone woman with dog were the only silly billies tramping through the slush. But wait! As we walked along the edge of the golf course, what did we see? The other type of all-weather people - golfers.

We headed back to the car past the tennis courts, and took note of the sign on the gate that should stop any complacency about the current rain. After so long without rain it will take more than one wet season to restore nature's balance.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

dogs, humans and emotions

I know that Penny can have different moods.

According to Professor Mark Bekoff, formerly of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado in Boulder, most people agree that dogs experience emotion. He says:
I often begin my lectures with the question: “Is there anyone in this audience who thinks that dogs don’t have feelings—that they don’t experience joy and sadness?” I’ve never had an enthusiastic response to this question, even in scientific gatherings, although on occasion a hand or two goes up slowly, usually halfway, as the person glances around to see if anyone is watching. But if I ask, “How many of you believe that dogs have feelings?” then almost every hand waves wildly and people smile and nod in vigorous agreement.
Here are a few pictures of times when I felt sure I knew what Penny was feeling:






I came across an article on the Animals Australia page by Professor Bekoff and found it interesting. I thought I would quote a few parts of the article:
In scientific research there are always surprises. Just when we think we’ve seen it all, new scientific data appear that force us to rethink what we know and to revise our stereotypes. For example, spindle cells, which were long thought to exist only in humans and other great apes, have recently been discovered in humpback whales, fin whales, killer whales and sperm whales in the same area of their brains as spindle cells in human brains. This brain region is linked with social organization, empathy and intuition about the feelings of others, as well as rapid gut reactions. Spindle cells are important in processing emotions. It’s likely that if we seek the presence of spindle cells in other animals we will find them.

When I first began my studies centering on the question, “What does it feel like to be a dog or a wolf?” researchers were almost all skeptics who spent their time wondering if dogs, cats, chimpanzees and other animals felt anything. Since feelings don’t fit under a microscope, these scientists usually didn’t find any—and as I like to say, I’m glad I wasn’t their dog! ...

Part of the challenge in understanding the behavior of a species is that they look like us for a reason. That’s not projecting human values. That’s primatizing the generalities that we share with them.” [Quote from Professor Robert Sapolsky, a world-renowned ethologist and neuroscientist and author of A Primate’s Memoir] No matter what we call it, researchers agree that animals and humans share many traits, including emotions. Thus, we’re not inserting something human into animals, but we’re identifying commonalities and then using human language to communicate what we observe. Being anthropomorphic is doing what’s natural and necessary to understand animal emotions...

What we have since learned about animal emotions and empathy fits in well with what we know about the lifestyle of different species—how complex their social interactions and social networks are. Emotions, empathy, and knowing right from wrong are keys to survival, without which animals—both human and nonhuman—would perish. That’s how important they are. The borders between “them” (animals) and “us” are murky and permeable.
Professor Bekoff was speaking in relation to the use of animals in science, but I think his words have an important truth for us as dog owners. I'll finish with one last quote:
Our relationship with other animals is a complex, ambiguous, challenging and frustrating affair, and we must continually reassess how we should interact with our nonhuman kin.
MARC BEKOFF has published a book called The Emotional Lives of Animals: A Leading Scientist Explores Animal Joy, Sorrow, and Empathy—and Why They Matter (New World Library, California, 2007).

Saturday, 23 July 2011

the dangers of commercial pet foods in Australia

When Penny was eating a commercial dry food as part of a hypo-allergenic diet to deal with skin issues, I was unhappy, because I prefer not to feed her that kind of food. I can't see that a monotonous diet of one product could possible be healthy. I was relieved when we went to a skin specialist who told us to discontinue the diet.

Recently there has been a report in a newspaper in Queensland, raising serious doubts about the levels of sulphur dioxide in some commercial pet meat products. I sometimes buy these sorts of products, but avoid the ones where there is an extremely long use-by date, because I'm wary of the effects of preservatives on Penny's health.

We do buy 4Legs products, because they say they don't use any preservatives. It was a 4Legs email that sent me the link to the newspaper article, so I guess they are wanting to reassure pet owners that their product is not involved in this problem. On their site they have this to say about pets fed exclusively on pet mince, pet meat or food rolls.
The Australian Veterinary Association (AVA) has warned that pets fed exclusively with pet mince, pet meat or food rolls that are high in preservatives may suffer fatal health problems. This is because these products often contain high levels of sulphur dioxide. Known as Preservative 220 – 228, sulphur can inactivate the vitamin thiamine (Vitamin B1), which is vital for brain development. Degeneration of brain function can quickly lead to paralysis, seizures and death.
In one way this is scary stuff, but on the other hand I don't think anyone would feed their dog exclusively on these products. I think it's more likely that an owner might choose one dry food product - which I think is equally questionable, as I said at the start of this post.

a great dog training post

Jaana, the winner of Honey's Dancing With the Doggy Stars competition, is presenting a series of posts about her training methods. I recommend that you head over there for a look if you're at all interested in dog training.

I must admit there's such a lot in the latest post that I have saved it to my computer so I can re-read it at my leisure.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

mother dogs teaching their young how to behave

Further to my last post about the book by Professor John Bradshaw, I was particularly interested to read the latest post by Sue, who writes The Portuguese Water Blog.

She relates some stories about a mother dog deliberately teaching her pups to play with certain toys and sticks. I found it interesting, given that Professor Bradshaw says we need to look at how dogs behave in packs and stop thinking they behave as wolves do. The pups in Sue's story are four years old and still living with their mother, so I think it's a most interesting blog.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

do dogs relate to humans more than to other dogs?

Slavenka has posted recently about a book by Professor John Bradshaw, called In Defence of Dogs.

I followed the link in her post and read an article at I agree with everything I read.

For instance, I have observed that Penny:
will sometimes sniff other dogs but doesn't like being sniffed;
likes humans more than she likes dogs;
is concerned that the 'pack' stay together on a walk;
is relaxed about her humans leaving the house because she trusts, from experience, that they will return;
Is not concerned about dominance;
loves to win a tug of war game but does not change her behavior because she has won.

Some aspects of the short article were new to me:

He says:
"People have been studying American timber wolves because the European wolf is virtually extinct. And the American timber wolf is not related at all closely to the ancestry of the domestic dog."

Bradshaw's hypothesis is that domestic dogs were descended from more sociable wolves but that "whatever the ancestor of the dog was like, we don't have it today". The wolves alive now are unreliable specimens, necessarily rough diamonds, who have been able to "survive the onslaught we have given them". And here is the rub: new research – including work with Indian village dogs – shows that dogs "do not set up wolf-type packs. They don't organise themselves in the way wolves do"
He writes about love (science plays safe and calls it "attachment") but in answer to the question: does your dog love you? replies: 'Of course!" The positive hormone, oxytocin, is triggered by love: "Dogs experience a surge of oxytocin during friendly interactions with people."
I think I will have to buy this book and read it!

Saturday, 16 July 2011

native wildlife and dogs in Lorne

When I was in Lorne recently, I went for a walk along the street that parallels the main beach street, and I was concerned to see an off-lead dog wandering across the road in front of me. In a strange town you're never sure whether to try to catch a loose dog, because it might be the local custom to let dogs roam more freely than they do in the big cities. However, I bent down to see if it had a collar, and did a double take...

Frantically I tried to unzip the pocket of my raincoat - yes, it was raining - to reach for my camera. And this is what I managed to get, as the 'dog' scurried away from me:

Overseas readers might think it's an everyday occurrence to see a koala in Australia, but let me assure you, it is not! Not for city dwellers like me, anyway. And most of us live in cities. Here's a quote from Encyclopedia of the Nations:
Australia's population is mostly urbanized, with about 88 percent of its people living in an urban area. Sydney alone has over 20 percent of the country's people.
Once the koala was in the tree it relaxed and I had all the time in the world to photograph it.

It eventually got a bit tired of me staring and staring at it, and turned its head away.

I wonder how well dogs and koalas co-exist in Lorne? I did notice the house beside the tree had a notice saying 'beware of the dog'. I suppose it might be like our own garden, where Penny goes out each evening to see if she can find any ring-tailed possums on the ground. They're always high in the tree, to her great frustration and my great relief.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Tennyson's poem about the sea

When I wasn't taking pictures of dogs at Lorne - missing Penny and thinking how much she would have liked to be there - I was photographing the cliffs and the rocky outcrops.

The coast along The Great Ocean Road is a photographer's paradise!

The rocky part of the shore made me think of the sad poem by Alfred, Lord Tennyson that a long-ago teacher made me memorise. (I'm glad to have had such a tough-loving teacher!) It's called Break, Break, Break.

visiting Lorne without Penny

I've been to Lorne for a few days, leaving Penny at home with her other humans. I had a great time there, and saw lots of dogs enjoying this magnificent beach, which is located along The Great Ocean Road.

There were signs at each town saying dogs had to be on lead within the township, but I saw many dogs romping on the beaches along the coast, so I think it must be okay to play on the beach in winter. I had a look at the Cheeky Dog site, and it certainly suggests that this area is a great place to take dogs, so perhaps Penny will come with me on my next visit.

Most of the dogs I saw were racing around on the sand, and a few were in the water, near the edge, but there were signs around that even the clumps of seaweed had interested at least one canine.

I'm fairly certain dogs wouldn't be allowed on the beach in the middle of the day in summer, when there would be more people around than in this photo.

But on the other hand I wouldn't want to be walking with Penny in the heat of a summer's day anyway!

We met a couple of people with a most gorgeous blue staffy, and they said they were staying at Separation Creek, in dog-friendly accommodation called Surf Shack. From the look of the website, it seems lovely indeed.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

positive thinking and dog training

Jaana, in Estonia, the winner of Honey's Dancing With the Doggy Stars competition, has begun writing about her training methods. I read with interest her post about the need for the human partner to think positively.

I've learned in the past that if I get stressed about what I want Penny to learn, it goes badly. My reason for trick training with Penny is to give her a chance to use her intelligence and to have fun, so I agree with what Jaana has said.

Friday, 8 July 2011

a multi-lingual dog toy

Penny has been missing one of her humans, who was travelling in France. But now she's back and Penny's happy to have the pack all together.

You can read about the travels of this human on her own blog, if you wish.

No humans received a gift on her return, but the important family member did. Here's the toy for Penny.

Penny liked it and settled down to enjoy it, and perhaps, clean her teeth on it.

And we could have the pleasure of practising our language skills by trying to read the label!

Thursday, 7 July 2011

you never know what's around the corner when walking your dog

We often walk in Yarra Bend Park, because it's an interesting place for both dogs and humans, and has been organised to be very dog-friendly.

A couple of days ago we explored a little further and found the place is even more amazing than we had realised. We crossed a bridge, turned a corner, and found a huge new area.

This photo is taken from our usual side, looking across the creek (in the dip) at the large grassy open spaces of the new area.

Not only were there open places to run, and hills to climb and descend

but also clumps of vegetation with winding paths to explore.

We found ourselves in an area bounded by houses, and a fellow dog walker told us it's a good area to walk in the evening, because the street lighting illuminates the part near the street.

We did have to walk alongside a busy road to get back to our starting point, but that's fine as long as we're careful. And of course, Penny is on lead there.

Monday, 4 July 2011

a letter for Penny

Great excitement! Penny had mail today.

A letter from Honey the Great Dane.

And what was in it?

It appeared to be a sheet of paper. And something else.

Thanks, Honey! Thanks for arranging the wonderful Dancing With the Doggy Stars, and thanks for the certificate and prize!

Friday, 1 July 2011

a great day for dogs in Victoria

Today in The Age newspaper I read that animals here in Victorian pounds or shelters do not have to be killed if they are still in the institution after 28 days. Thank goodness! The article says they will have as much time as necessary to find homes.

The Victorian government, after consultation with major stakeholders and with the public, has ruled not only to remove the 28-day limit, but also that:
Animals can be fostered for a variety of reasons, such as for veterinary or behavioural rehabilitation, if they are juveniles, or if they require short term care to provide respite from the pound or shelter environment. Animals can be fostered for any time period, as long as it is done in accordance with the written foster care agreement.
Severely injured or unweaned animals will no longer be automatically killed on admission. (I didn't know about that rule!)

Puppies and kittens must be inspected more frequently than older animals.

A new enrichment, exercise and socialisation section offers guidance on improving the environment and welfare of shelter animals, particularly those housed in the long term. This includes the ability, under certain circumstances, to exercise dogs off premises, or to be socialised in groups.
The government announcement sure is welcome!