Tuesday, 24 January 2012

dogs and wolves DO follow paths!

I'm feeling pleased with myself for noticing Penny's path-following behaviour. As I said in my recent post on this topic, I had contacted the Wolf Education and Research Center to ask a question, and here is the answer that came a couple of days ago:
Absolutely, wolves nearly always use trails to navigate through their territory. The behavior is well documented among both wild and captive wolves, and wolves often mark trails (with urine and feces) we believe to assist in orientation to their territory. The behavior of using trails is likely to conserve energy as is takes far less energy to walk a path than to bushwhack. It also helps them conserve vital energy during the winter/snow months by using a beaten trail versus struggle through deep snow. I have personally witnessed captive packs break through deep fresh snow to use a trail after several feet of snow just dropped over the trail. In other words, they either have their common trails memorized, or can some how detect them under several feet of snow (possibly through olfaction--hence the urine and feces deposits?). Some breeds of dogs, such as bloodhounds, have been "trained" through husbandry to not do such trail use behavior so they can better scan the landscape for scent.
Hope this information helps. Let me know if you have any further questions. By the way, good observation on canine behavior!


I'm really grateful to be able to ask questions of an expert like this. Isn't the internet wonderful and aren't people generous with their knowledge and time?

The Wolf Education and Research Center has a great site, with lots of interesting pages, but the one I've enjoyed most is Wolf Behavior 101. Now I know why Penny always shakes the water off after she has a swim. (I'm not going to reveal the answer. You'll have to go over there and find out for yourself, lol.)

Friday, 20 January 2012

dogs eating a varied diet

We've prided ourselves for years on feeding Penny an 'interesting' and varied diet. Now I'm having second thoughts, because of something I've just read on Fully Vetted.

This is the problem. If a dog is suspected to have developed a food allergy, then you need to feed only a novel food for quite a length of time, in order to rule out all the foods the dog has ever eaten. We had exactly this problem when Penny developed skin problems last year. The skin specialist asked us to think of a food - an available one! - that she hadn't ever eaten. Kangaroo? She has that quite often. Duck? She's had it once or twice. Camel? She's even had that! And so on...

Fortunately, the specialist decided the problem most likely wasn't a food allergy. Since then we've been very careful about bothersome plants, like the ubiquitous and horrible Wandering Trad, and we wipe her 'private areas' after we come inside, with baby wipes. Worth the trouble, to keep her from licking herself raw!

The article, written by Dr Jennifer Coates, says that this problem of people giving their dogs all sorts of foods means that vets have to prescribe special dry foods. She says:
Veterinarians do still have the ability to prescribe limited antigen diets made from protein sources that have been hydrolyzed (i.e., broken down into such tiny pieces that they don’t stimulate the immune system). To avoid confusion, I’m starting to turn to these more than the novel ingredient foods that I have used in the past.
Now, at last, I understand why our vet had Penny on the seemingly boring special diet last year, before he sent us to see the skin specialist.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

dog walking groups

Two Pitties in the City has an interesting guest post about the value of group dog walking. I take Penny on group walks with Cindy, and have observed that these walks enhance Penny's social skills with strange dogs met in local parks.

One thing that I hadn't considered, but which happens in Cindy's group, is that initially the dogs need not greet each other. Very interesting post about this on a link from Two Pitties' page.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

following paths is serious business

Penny usually follows trails and paths rather thean setting out across grassy areas or pushing her way through shrubbery. She will wait a a junction of the path to see which way I'm intending to go, and then head along that track. She seems to perceive paths and tracks as serious business - going places, in other words.

Grassy areas, on the other hand, are for play. (So are puddles, of course.)

I wonder how much of this trail-following behaviour is instinctual and how much is training. After all, when she is on lead, we are usually walking on a path.

And when she's out with groups of dogs and humans, we usually follow paths.

Trying to find out a bit about this behaviour, I came across an interesting site called Wolf Behavior 101 where you can send in dog behaviours and get some information about how they relate to wolf behaviours. I've put in a query and now I'll wait and see whether I get a reply.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

puggle runaways come visiting

Penny was spending a few quiet days in the Upper Yarra Valley recently, but her peaceful time was disturbed by two unexpected and uninvited visitors.

When I spotted them frolicking around on our driveway, I hurried outside to say hello, because we are right on a busy country highway. Seeing they were friendly, I just opened the gate to our fenced yard and they dashed in to investigate, not noticing for ages that I had closed the gate behind them.

Penny was mightily unimpressed and went in through her doggy door to keep an eye on them from inside the house.

Presumably they don't have the same kind of doggy door at home, because they couldn't figure it out.

And that was the end of MY peaceful day, because I had great trouble finding where they'd come from. It beats me how come people don't know anything about their neighborhood. I tramped up and down streets sayaing I'd found a beagle and a pug, but either no one answered the door or most people didn't care that two dogs were loose. Eventually I came home again and set off in the car, and finally came across the person everyone needs to find when they're trying to solve a mystery - a young boy. He and his little sister were playing the front yard and knew the dogs. (I'd taken a few photos of them to show people.) Mum came out when they called for her and she rang the owner, who was at work forty kilometres away and would come and get them when she finished, later in the day.

'No rush,' said I. 'The yard's fenced. She can come when she likes."

My heart sank at the reply. 'They're escape artists. They can dig out of anywhere.'

Ohmidog! Off to the car. (1) I don't want them showing Penny how dogs dig under fences. (2) They'll be out on the highway again.

Race home.

ONE dog in my fenced yard. The beagle-looking one (the female) was in next door, playing with the dog who hates Penny and shouts at her through the fence every time we go out.

Grab a towel from the house, put it under her belly, haul her over the fence into my place. (And now I know why I'm sitting here with a bad back!) Open the door to our decking and they both cheerfully accompany me to try again if they can figure out how to get into our house.

I've got visitors of the human variety, and they come out to see how I got on with my search. The dogs rush into the house. Penny's even less impressed. I herd them out, they're locked onto the decking where they can't dig out. Relax at last, have a cup of tea with my very patient visitors.

Time for the visitors to go. What's this? Only one pug-like dog on the decking! And his lady friend exploring the outside world. But, thankfully, hanging around because her mate couldn't jump like she could.

Hang onto the one on the decking and the wanderer comes in to say hello. Hmm... it's going to be a long afternoon...

Thank goodness they were rather tired by this time, and settled down to have a sleep.

Penny showed her disdain for them by lying with her back to the doggy door at this stage.

And then a new visitor. Their owner had been so worried she couldn't stay at work. Was I ever glad to see her!!

And the first surprising thing was that they are both the same breed, puggles. Pug and beagle.

The second surprising thing was that the usual escape artist is the one who looks like a pug.

I made sure to get the owner's phone number. I MAY be seeing them again, I reckon.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

mystery of river levels in the Yarra

Today the Yarra was low.

As we walked along we were astonished to see a big branch sitting on the muddy bank, exposed from tip to tip.

Usually it looks like this. As it did yesterday.

Seeing we were at one of Penny's two favorite swimming spots, she headed on down to the water and swam happily for a stick, but we didn't like to see her slogging through the deep, soft mud, given that she had surgery on her cruciate sixteen months ago.

So moved on to the other spot, where the strangely low water has exposed rocks, not mud.

Melbourne Water has been working for months to rebuild the old weir at Dights Falls. Their site says:
The Waterways Alliance, on behalf of Melbourne Water, is completing works to replace the ageing Dights Falls Weir and build a new fishway on the Yarra River in Abbotsford.

The new weir will be similar in shape, location and height to the existing structure and continue an important role controlling water levels in the river.

A new fishway will allow fish to swim past the weir, benefiting 11 species of native migratory fish and unlocking vast reaches of the Yarra and its tributaries upstream.
A temporary diversion of the Yarra has been set up at Dights Falls to allow the construction of the new weir and fishway. The diversion will be in place until the new weir has been constructed and will cause river levels for up to 16 kilometres above the weir to temporarily drop below normal levels on occasions.

The drop in river level will cause sections of river bank, usually under water, to become exposed.

So that seems to be the answer to the mystery.

Friday, 6 January 2012

the last day of Christmas

We believe Christmas is over on the 6th of January, because twelve days of Christmas have gone by, so we're taking the decorations off the Wollemi pine that was our Christmas tree this year. Of course I started singing the old song about the Twelve Days of Christmas as I did so.

I was wondering why we sing 'four colly birds', when most people these days sing 'four calling birds', and discovered the word colly means black and so the song's about blackbirds.

And then I came across a couple of references to collie dogs, so naturally I couldn't resist having a look at those sites. It seems the breed might be named for the black-faced sheep they used to herd in Scotland, or maybe they are named because the dogs themselves were black.

Here's a quote from The Border Collie Museum:
Combe goes on the say that "some say that the collie, or colley in its [early] English spelling, got it's name from the breed of sheep it herded." She posits that the black-faced sheep may have been called "coaley" for black. This idea is also promoted by the often quoted reference in Chaucer's Nonnes Tale "Ran Colle our dogge...", the implication being that he was a black dog, and that's why his name was Colle (like "Blackie").

Merriam-Webster online dictionary seems to agree with Combe. Their entries for "colly" and "collie" seem to support the idea of a coal-black origin

Monday, 2 January 2012

frozen food and tricks

Now that the hot weather has finally hit, it's time to think of some entertainment in the house.

For one thing, I've frozen half a can of food for Penny to eat tonight. (My favorite brand is ZiwiPeak, from New Zealand.

And I made a discovery. I just can't throw anything out, and those little tinfoil patty pans that Christmas mince pies come in looked as if they might be useful. I was planning to try putting them around seedlings because I've heard that snails don't like sliding over the metallic feel of aluminium foil. But in the present heat I think the reflected heat would cook the little plants.

But the foil pans are just the right size to cover a half-used can of dog food.

And I think it might be just the weather to practise some tricks in the house instead of being outside in the heat. I don't know if we could conquer such a demanding one as Johann's 'suitcase trick', though.

safe throwing toys for dogs

Out again early this morning to beat the heat, we met a couple of lovely black dogs (and their human) at the dog friendly park along the Yarra River. They had a couple of Safestix, which their human had purchased online.

We were wondering whether Penny might try to nab one of the lovely orange sticks, instead of her boring old piece of wood (which I'm holding in the background), but she swam quite happily for the ordinary stick.

The dogs with the Safestix had to learn to watch carefully when the toy was thrown, because it momentarily sinks and then bobs up again.

Now I want one for Penny. Of course.

I can't find an Australian supplier listed on the Safestix site, so I've emailed my favorite pet supplies store, Murphys, to see whether they might have them or might get them in. Otherwise I'll order from either the UK or the listed New Zealand shop.

The Safestix seems to have a similar use to the Aussie Dogs Slapathong, which is also a floating alternative to a stick.

By the way, we never throw a stick for Penny on land. I've heard many people mention the dangers of tossing sticks for dogs to fetch, but I don't need to be warned of the possible consequences, because I once saw a man with a stick embedded in his face. He lived, but it was one of the worst things I've ever seen!

Sticks are dangerous.

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Happy New Year to all

Who would be up early on the morning of January 1st?

Dog walkers, of course, if the predicted temperature is 38 degrees (about 100 Fahrenheit).

But most other people must have been still in bed, to judge by the freeway traffic:

Which usually looks like this:

However, Penny tracked down some signs of life in the park:

Sure enough, there had been revelry in the park overnight. And there still was!

We thought it must have been a well-organised party, because they were all still having fun, having been there all night, and there was no mess. The river was barricaded off with tape so people wouldn't fall in, but no one seemed to mind us ducking under the tape so Penny could have a swim.

Oh, and you might have noticed dog-walkers weren't the only ones out exercising.

Christmas Eve

Penny has been happy during the holiday season. We had a fairly quiet time, just enjoying the rest and the special week.

On Christmas Eve, she was out in the garden scouting around for intruders and found this cheeky possum. It was right in the act of leaping from the agonis flexuosa - fine for possums, a nice home - to our apricot tree - NOT okay!!

Did it care about Penny woofing around the base of the tree? No.

Did it care about me standing close enough to touch it? No.

I shone a torch right on it to take this photo but it still wasn't bothered.

Though it wasn't very happy about a flash photo.

I didn't want to scare it so much that it fell to the ground, because a wildlife carer told me ringtail possums have such a delicate ribcage that they will die if grabbed by a dog. (I can't find anything about this on the Net, though.) So I left the adventurous marsupial to pinch our apricots. I hope it didn't take more than one. What an optimist.

By the way, Penny got bored with the whole thing and went inside without me. She does like to find possums and tell us about them, but isn't interested in actually hunting them, thank goodness.