Tuesday, 29 January 2013

a heroic pit bull

I know I'm not amongst the first to hear about Sergeant Stubby, the pit bull hero of World War I, but I can't resist posting a link to a site where he is celebrated as the Badass of the Week. It's so amazing that at first I wondered how much of it was true. (Lots of swearing in the report, but what a humdinger of a story!)

I came across the reference to Stubby on The Pet Museum, where there's also another link, to an analysis of his story, on McSweeney. This second article seems more measured, as it explains some of the seemingly unbelievable exploits of Stubby in terms of known dog behaviours. For instance, the capture of a German spy near the American trenches may have occurred because Stubby, in making his rounds to look for wounded allied soldiers, smelled the fear on a disguised German soldier, and thus attacked him and held him for capture.

He saved many lives, it seems, through his superior canine senses. He could warn soldiers of incoming shells, by racing back to the trenches when he detected the high-pitched whine. He also warned of gas attacks before the humans could smell the mustard gas.

The McSweeney article has lots of other fascinating information about the role of dogs in war.

Monday, 28 January 2013

the evolution of dog's dogs' diets

I've seen mention on Slavenka's blog about a recent study looking at the genetics of dogs and grey wolves.

Basically, what I gather from the reports, especially one in The Los Angeles Times, is that there are certain genes in dogs that enable them to digest starch. This would suggest that, like humans, they changed in their eating habits when agriculture developed. Here's a short quote from the article:
Taken together, the data fit with the fact that dogs eat more starch than wolves, Axelsson said. He added that this adaptation would have allowed the first dogs to get more goodness out of the waste food they were drawn to at early farming settlements."It makes perfect sense that the most efficient scavengers were the wolves that could cope with this starch-rich diet," he said.
Still, dog domestication may have happened long before humans adopted an agrarian life about 10,000 years ago, said Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at UCLA who wasn't involved in the Nature study.
Perhaps dogs evolved through hanging around hunter-gatherers so they could feed on leftover carcasses of the mammoths and mastodons our ancestors killed, Wayne said. In that scenario, the starch-tolerant changes would have cropped up only after dogs were domesticated, just as genetic changes that help break down starch evolved in human beings after we adopted a farming life.

And here's a little of what Patricia McConnell on The Other End of the Leash (one of the most informative and useful blogs on the internet, in my opinion) has to say about it:

 This is obviously of great interest to geneticists and evolutionary biologists, but also to those of us who are feeding domestic dogs on a daily basis. As you all are well aware, some argue that wolves primarily eat meat, raw meat at that, and we should use the diet of wild wolves to direct the menus of our companion dogs. At the risk of stirring the pot (so to speak!), about ideal diets for dogs, we would be wise to use the study above to remind ourselves that dogs evolved as omnivores who ate a little bit of just about everything 10 to 12,000 years ago. That does NOT mean that individual dogs do not do better on a particular diet. There is no question that some dogs do better eating “A,” and other dogs can’t handle “A” and do better eating “B.” I’d say the take away messages are to 1) know your dog and 2) don’t be seduced into claims that a new dog food is best for your dog because “it replicates the diet of a wolf.”

The research casts a new light on the daily question we face, as to what is best to feed our dogs. I'll look forward to seeing how the mega-corporations try to jump on the bandwagon on this one! They'll all be saying we should feed their products.

I'm still of the opinion that a raw diet is the best for Penny, together with some commercial foods to make sure we give her the needed  supplements, and then also a dash of home cooking  - and even more home cooking.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

a welcome visitor

There's been strange activity in our backyyard the last few nights, and Penny has been in and out to see what's going on; but we couldn't figure it out.

Now we're wondering if it might be because we have an interesting visitor to our garden. It's a tawny frogmouth.

The other day we found a dead rat on the path, but Penny showed no interest in it. (Perhaps she only likes live ones, so she can hunt them).  It had a chewed tail, but showed no sign of what had killed it. We don't know enough about tawny frogmouths to guess whether one could kill a biggish rat, but I'm going to ask around and try to find out. And if it did, why didn't it eat the rat? All very mysterious.

Oh, wait a minute... Here's  an article in The Daily Mail about these gorgeous birds - they eat 
cockroaches, spiders, beetles, mice, lizards, centipedes, scorpions, snails and slugs. 
Okay, that's also going to be helpful in our garden. But I doubt the bird killed the rat.

When we spotted this welcome visitor in our agonis flexuosa tree, we all hurried out, cameras in hand, to photograph it, but Penny wasn't interested, and the bird was unfazed by all the activity a couple of metres below its perch.

Maybe it will do a better job at scaring off nighttime fruit thieves than our plastic owls did. The night diners have scoffed nearly all our apples and most of our apricots, and now they've started on our nectarines.

By the way, I've just visited the Australian Museum site  and read that these birds are not actually owls. They are more like nightjars

I"d better go now. I want to pop outside and see if the tawny frogmouth is still there!

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

socialising a puppy

When Penny first came to live with us, we were fortunate that we were told to introduce her to as many new experiences as we could, before she moved out of the critical age where she would be receptive to new experiences and learn not to fear them.

We travelled on the local trains, looked at ducks in the park, trained next to fast-moving cyclists, walked through our busy local shopping centre - amongst many other experiences. We always included lots of fun training and play in our schedule.

It was an age when everything was exciting and interesting:
a milk carton...

a doggy mat...

even a box of tissues.

I was browsing the Net today and came across an article suggesting that one of the differences between modern wolves and dogs may relate to that earliest period of socialisation. An evolutionary biologist at the University of Masscahusetts, Kathryn Lord, conducted a study that seems to show that wolf pups begin to explore their environment while they are still deaf and blind, whilst dog pups stay inactive until they have developed sight and hearing.

When a wolf pup explores at first, it may be frightened of a sound, but becomes accustomed to it. Later, when it begins to see, it may be frightened all over again by the sight of something. So, as each new sense comes into play, the wolf pup has to learn to cope with new experiences.

Dog pups, on the other hand, go through this period of accustoming themselves to things - like humans, horses, even cats, for instance - all in the one period.

I guess this has interesting implications for taming wolves.

I wonder if it would apply to dingoes also?

Saturday, 19 January 2013

did humans suckle wolf cubs

Curator on The Pet Museum blog  has posted a report from some centuries ago that women in Naples were employed as wet nurses for rich ladies' lapdogs. I got to wondering if that was likely to be true, and looked around the Net.

I came across this interesting argument about whether early humans routinely nursed wolf cubs at the  breast as part of a domestication process.

I've blogged previously about one theory of where dogs originated but I didn't read anything about breast feeding at that time.

dogs having fun during a soccer game

Slavenka has posted a link to this funny clip of two dogs romping around during a soccer match (football match).

I love the joyful dogs and I love the way they are treated by the players. I wonder what happened afterwards? I presume the voice speaking is Turkish.

Friday, 18 January 2013

red tennis balls grow on trees

The red tennis balls (aka plums) are ripening on the tree.   Penny has collected one to keep.

Fortunately, she doesn't eat the plums. She just likes to have them around, perhaps regarding them as toys.

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

physical therapies in the treatment of dogs

PetMD has a great article today on physical therapy for pets.

When Penny damaged her cruciate ligament, I searched for reliable information about what to do, and I would have loved to have read this article.

Eventually we settled on a traditional repair of her cruciate ligament damage, and were happy with the surgery, but the vets did not emphasise the necessity for follow-up therapy. However, from research on the Net we decided it would be helpful.

I'm glad we did, because I don't believe Penny would have recovered as well as she did, without the underwater treadmill, swimming and canine physiotherapy. We followed it up with a long period of home therapy, using exercises given to us by the canine physiotherapist, from Dogs in Motion. (And I'm excited to see that Dogs in Motion now has a blog!)

Dr. James St. Clair's home therapy booklet was a godsend also, and it became our bible for more than a year.

Penny still swims regularly, but looking back through my blog to compose this post has alerted me to the fact that perhaps we should also be doing ongoing home therapy. I'm going over right now to check out the Dogs in Motion blog.

Friday, 11 January 2013

summer - or drought once more?

This morning, in our summer routine for hot days, we set off early, when the parks are pretty much deserted, except for dog walkers. The sun was brassy in the sky, and already hot at 7:45 am, but bearable because of the clouds.

As usual, Penny made the walk interesting, stopping to draw my attention to a good smell on a rock...

and on a post.

The grass on the sportsground is still green, thanks to watering from the storage tanks.

But it's frightening to see how the environment is drying up elsewhere, now that it hasn't rained for so long.  The cracks in the earth beneath our feet are a warning of how fragile our hold on life is, in this dry Australian continent. I have water tanks to hold 8000 litres, but two out of three tanks are empty.

I hope we're not slipping back into drought.

Summer comes crashing in

Penny doesn't read The Age, but I think she might have been interested in Wednesday's cartoon by Michael Leunig. Here's a link to the cartoon, but I'm not sure if newspaper links stay around for long, so I'll quote a section of the text:

G'day, G'day. Beg your pardon
I am here to wreck your garden
Tongue is cracked; claws are hot;
I've got prickles in my bot.

The words are accompanied by a picture of a creature with fiery breath and flaming backbone. A small human cowers before the monster, holding a hose with water trickling out onto a patch of ground near a home.

These days Penny comes home from most walks with prickles in her 'bot' and mostly everywhere else too! I don't know what the little plants are that have these horrible spiky seeds, but they are everywhere. We search through Penny's fur after each outing, not only to protect her from discomfort, but also to avoid the seeds ending up in our garden.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

out in the wide, wide river

Penny hasn't built on her recent success at fetching two toys at once while swimming in the Yarra. It must have been an accident, because she doesn't appear to remember how she did it.

Yesterday she was, as usual, swimming in the river for her Whirl Wheel, but she absent-mindedly took one with her when she went for the other.

So, a problem. How to bring them both back to shore? She's a determined  dog, and swam in circles, trying to figure out how to do it, gradually drifting further and further downstream.

We weren't worried. Well, not yet. But she was starting to flag - we can usually see she's tiring when she sinks a bit in the water.

Here's a clip of how she solved it. You can hear us calling her to head back to shore with the first one. After all, we didn't really care if the second toy floated down the river and out into Port Phillip Bay, as long as Penny got back safely to shore. But as you can see, she wasn't going to give up. (By the way, the birds chirping in the background are bellbirds.)

After all that effort, it was time to shake the water off...

and roll on the toys.

Friday, 4 January 2013

dog walking in every kind of weather

Living with a dog is a great way to get in touch with nature. We've found that we have a greater interest in the weather forecasts since Penny came to live with us.

In winter, we need to know whether there's going to be a break in the rain so we can head out and not come home soaked.

But it's in summer that we really keep and eye on the forecasts. If it's going to be a stinker of a hot day, which has been the case lately, we need to walk and be home before about 8a m. It was about 30º C this morning by that time. That's about 80º Fahrenheit.

Lately we've been getting less exercise ourselves, because if we leave it a bit late to walk, we simply take Penny to the river. She swims while we sit around.