Friday, 28 September 2012

a tennis ball award a dog might have loved

I reckon Penny would have liked to visit this art exhibition by Nicholas Gray at the Melbourne City Library.

Here's what I think would have been her favorite piece.

I liked most of the works, but particularly the shiny box in this corner

with the magnifying glass embedded in the top.

Of course I looked in. Who wouldn't? It was like looking through a kaleidoscope.

 Here's what the artist said about this enjoyable exhibition:
An exhibition of paintings, collages, sculpture and installation. I've called my exhibition "Apt Experimental Art" because I have no particular style. I am greatly attracted to plastic and glue but I am not recycling. Rather I have a wish to repair the broken. With the spirit of a bowerbird I am a colourist and I love rainbows, colour wheels and optics. If you spin a colour wheel it goes 50 shades of gray, like my hair. Likewise, you can mix colours opposite on the colour wheel it produces gray. I once taught tertiary art students about colour. They said they had been told nothing previously, so using optical effects I am to create enduring pictures that are a pleasure to see on a blank wall. That's what I do. I hope you like these. "I became an artist because I shouldn't be Napoleon."

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

brain plasticity and dogs

Lassiter Chase and Benjamin commented on my last post that they, too, would have taken time to choose a toy from a toybox if they could have any one of the toys.

This got me thinking about brain plasticity. If you haven't come across the concept, it's the idea that what we do with our brains directs the way those brains develop ( 'use it or lose it').

I'm wondering  how the brain of a household dog would compare with that of a wild dog. Penny, for instance, has a life rich in experiences, and, importantly, rich in choices.

She took a long time to select her prize from a box of previously unseen toys. She mouthed a few, quite gently, but didn't choose them. The other two dogs in the class had looked in, seized the one they wanted, and moved off with their humans to the next activity. As I said in the previous post, I eventually picked up a toy I thought Penny would like and shook it around so that she wanted it.

I think the pause for reflection showed that Penny was thinking about her options. Of course, I don't know that. Perhaps she was just enjoying the scent or feel of the toys.

I wonder how much choice a dog in a wild pack would have. How does it compare to the choices Penny can make each day?

For instance, she has three formal places to sleep - on her Snooza Pet Futon on her dog bed in the lounge room; on the couch if her special doona is spread out to keep the couch clean (but not if the doona isn't there); in her crate near the bedrooms.

Oh, I just remembered she sometimes sleeps on her green mat.

Or in the paper box.

She might sleep near the front door, and I'm beginning to suspect that's on the night when Aussie Farmers Direct deliver our milk and bread in the middle of the night (once a week).

Occasionally we challenge her to offer us a trick or a behavior. Her choice. We stand with a treat in our hands and wait to see what she'll do. She thinks for a while and then offers a variety of sits, drops, spins, or back away, or does a little bark. We randomly reward the one we like.

In a study on rats, it was established that an enriched environment, involving 'friends' and 'toys' led to greater brain growth than a standard or impoverished environment. The report says:
The objects were changed two to three times a week to provide newness and challenge; the frequent replacement of objects is an essential component of the enriched condition.
Poor rats. I always feel sad when I read these kinds of studies. The ones who lived in the impoverished environment must have suffered. One day we'll learn that we don't have the right to make our fellow creatures suffer.

Of course, there haven't been similar experiments on humans. Not ones that anyone would own up to, at any rate. However, analysis of brains of dead humans comparing life-style to brain size have come up with similar results. Interestingly, novelty and challenge are important aspects of our life experiences.
The basic finding of dendritic growth in response to environmental stimulation appears in all brains studied to date. It would appear that newness and challenge are important for the human cortex as well as for that of animals.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

dogs don't pretend

This morning Penny completed a set of six training sessions with Jill at A Perfect Spot (great fun and we're going to enrol for the next six sessions). Penny, like the other dogs, was a 'winner' in the last activity and she was allowed to choose a toy from the box.

Well, she took so long selecting that I kind of pushed her in the direction of one I thought she would like. I waved it around a bit and of course she thought it was the most exciting one.

When we got home I put it in her toy box, wondering if she really liked it. If she'd been a human she might have pretended to prefer it, just to make me happy. But dogs aren't into pretence.

But she does like it and here's the evidence. I've picked it up and put it away in the box three times this afternoon and every time I see Penny she has it once more. Here she is guarding the house from possible intruders,  her toy at her side.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

We want Oscar's Law to be implemented fully

I'm feeling wrung out, because I've just watched all the video clips on the Oscar's Law site. It's a site devoted to the fight to abolish the cruel trade of puppy farming.

Today I attended the Oscar's Law rally on the steps of the Victorian Parliament.

After listening to the speakers, I gathered that there has been a law passed in Victoria, but there have not been any prosecutions. (I'm not entirely sure I've got that right, but I did understand from all speakers that the government has not followed up on their promises with either money or resources.)

When I forced myself to watch the videos, I was disappointed to realise that we haven't ended the conditions in which dogs are starving to death, dying of preventable cancers, going insane, suffering endlessly.

I thought the suggestion in the following clip sounded helpful  - that puppies should have to come with certification that says the breeding facility has been inspected by the RSPCA and is suitable and humane.

WARNING: the video segment is very sad and disturbing.

Here are a few photos from the rally:

Saturday, 15 September 2012

a dog eats grass after vomiting

Penny was in luck today - she had three walks. The last one was an impromptu stroll down the overgrown laneway running between two local streets. I've asked the council if they would refrain from spraying poisons there and, wonderfully, they don't. They mow it four times a year. We wouldn't be happy to walk there in snake season, but this early in a still-cool spring, it feels safe.

I was struck by the beauty of dandelion seedheads and crouched to take some photos while Penny wandered further along the lane. Silly me. Penny never goes far away unless there's food involved. Well, she would call it food. We're more inclined to refer to her favorite snacks as disgusting rubbish.

So, I'm busy enjoying the beauty of nature:

Then I notice Penny, also, is busy enjoying something.

Oh, yes. Some delicious mouldy bread.

I race down, we have a brief tug of war, after which Penny graciously (not!) surrenders the rest of the bread and we move on.

Of course, Penny throws up. Thank goodness for that. The bread was disgusting.

Why do our neighbours think it's a good idea to toss discarded bread into the lane?

And then Penny starts eating grass. Definitely after she'd thrown up.

I've previously seen her eat grass before throwing up, but this is the first time I can definitely say it was post-vomiting and that she didn't subsequently throw up again.

She seems okay now (about five hours later) after a small meal, mainly cooked rice. Here's hoping her own system has dealt with the revolting snack.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

pet dogs can help prevent allergies

There's an interesting article in The Age newspaper today. It says that having a pet dog that comes inside the house can protect very young children from developing egg allergies.

I've often heard it said that owning a dog can strengthen children's immune system, but this is the first time I've read of an actual research project that shows it's best if the dog lives in the house with the family.

Here's a quote from
Allergy experts from Melbourne's Murdoch Childrens Research Institute studied more than 5000 babies and found those with young siblings and infants exposed to a dog inside the home were less likely to develop an allergic reaction to egg...

Lead researcher Dr Jennifer Koplin said the risk of developing a food allergy seemed to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

She said the immune system evolved at a time when people were exposed to more bacteria in food and the water supply, and infections through crowding and larger families.
Dr Koplin said it was possible developing infants were now not exposed to the right environmental factors to teach their immune systems how to react appropriately.
"They are reacting inappropriately to something that they should be able to tolerate which is in this case, food allergens, or food proteins," Dr Koplin told AAP.
The research suggested the protective effect of a family dog on egg allergy could be due to exposure to endotoxin, a type of bacteria.
Dr Koplin said endotoxin stimulates the immune system to attack bad bacteria and in doing so, is distracted from attacking harmless things in the environment like foods.

How great to read that we can benefit from treating our dogs as they'd wish - letting them live inside with the pack, instead of leaving them to languish in the backyard away from the family.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

do dogs eat bananas?

Because I'm writing a post on my other blog about bananas, I wanted to write here about Penny eating bananas.

She loves them and begs for a little piece every time someone has one, which is quite frequently. I thought I'd better check my facts before posting on this topic.

There are lots of sites on the Net saying it's okay for dogs to eat bananas, but also some isolated mentions of their being toxic.

The ASPCA lists it as non-toxic.

Lowchens Australia (an amazingly huge and detailed site) includes bananas on its list of plants that are non-toxic to dogs.

I looked in a couple of books on my shelf and two books include banana in recipes.

Dr Sasha Herbert, a vet at Lort Smith Animal Hospital, in her pet cookbook nibble munch chomp, has the following delicious-sounding recipe for fruit muffins for dogs:

preparation time
 Medium: 15-45 minutes to prepare 

1 1/2 cups plain flour
1 cup rolled oats
1 cup oat bran
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 egg lightly beaten
1/4 cup honey
3 tablespoon vegetable oil
3/4 cup milk (low lactose)
1/2 apple grated
1/2 banana mashed 

Preheat oven to 200°C (390°F).
Line muffin tins with baking paper.
Mix dry ingredients.
In a separate bowl mix the egg, honey, oil and fruit.
Add the milk to the dry ingredients and blend well.
Add the other wet ingredients into the batter and mix well.
Distribute the mix evenly between your muffin tins.
Bake for 15-20 minutes.

Served cooled.

Cooking For Your Dog, by Ingeborg Pils, includes this recipe for banana chips:

12 oz (350g) whole wheat flour
3 fl oz (100 ml) skimmed milk
1 egg
1 pureed banana
1 tablespoon golden syrup

Mix all the ingredients into a dough. Roll our the dough on a floured surface to 1/2 inch (1 cm) thickness and cut into small cubes. Preheat the oven to 300°F (150°C).

Cover a baking sheet with baking parchment and place the cookies on it. Bake in the hot oven for about 30 minutes.

Penny would think she had gone to heaven if I served up either of these to her, as we don't feed her wheat products or milk. Note I didn't say she never gets them. She usually manages to haul us toward fallen food on the street and has had her share of muffins, bread, hamburgers in a bun, sandwiches, cakes...just about anything you could imagine, actually.