Friday, 28 September 2007

"my dog can do that" game

On 23 September I wrote about games to play with dogs and one of the links led to a game called "My dog Can Do That".

Today Jabari's mum lent Penny and me a copy of the game. Of course, Penny, a keen game-player from way back, insisted on opening the box and getting started - even though it was nearly midnight and I'd been out socialising and was ready for bed. But Penny's a party animal and always ready for some fun. She scanned the rule book when I put the game on the table and we were all set to play.

By the way, here's review of the game.

The first card we turned over was a tough one:

As you can see, it was a breeze for her. She scampered past the row of treats on the floor (see them in the photo?), as soon as she was given the signal. Then it was off to bed for her, leaving me to burn the midnight oil recounting her success (on this blog).

Thursday, 27 September 2007

guide dogs

When I see blind people walking with their guide dogs I often wonder what such a life is like for the animals.

Recently I was on a busy city railway station and noticed four people and two dogs. Two men seemed to be learning how to move around with the help of young guide dogs. Each dog and man had a woman with them, giving instructions about how to navigate a steep set of stairs. I thought what a wonderful thing it must have been for the vision-impaired people to be starting a new life with the puppies.

But I wondered how it will be for the dogs.

However, I must say that the puppies' tails were wagging like windmills, so they were certainly enjoying the experience that day.

A few days later I came across a moving piece of writing where George Salpietro gives an insight into the relationship between a guide dog and its human. I found this article by follwoing a link from Dr P's Dog Training

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Playing with the Pooch Ball

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Because Penny is still resting her sore paw we are not walking, so I bought her a new toy today to keep her occupied. We actually had this one previously but it's disappeared, probably buried in the backyard somewhere. That is the highest praise Penny can give a toy.

It's called the Pooch Ball and I like it because it interests Penny but it doesn't involve food.It consists of a soft but tough plastic tube with an ordinary tennis ball in it. She can usually get the ball out after working at it for some time. Then, of course, I come by and meanly put the ball back in the tube and she has to do the job all over again.

Monday, 24 September 2007

the evolution of dogs

I stayed up late last night, unable to stop reading a fascinating article about the genetic origin of dogs. It was published in July 1999 in The Atlantic Monthly.
The reference to the article came from a comment made on A Dog Blog.
The particular post is called 'Dog Genetics - The truth About Dogs'.

The writer of the article in The Atlantic Monthly begins with a discussion of whether humans domesticated dogs or whether dogs adapted to hanging around human settlements because of the survival advantage.

His general thesis is that dogs have found humans to be incredibly useful because we are gullible enough to believe in our anthropomorphic view of them as loving, protective, obedient, amongst other traits.

I must say, it doesn't seem important to me to discover why Penny lives agreeably alongside the human inhabitants of the household. If she's got totally alien thought processes, who cares? After all, she's a canine and I'm just a slightly evolved Great Ape.

The discussion in the article moves into a lengthy look at the results of a century or more of breeding from limited gene pools.

As the owner of a 'mutt', I liked the concluding paragraph!
We can take some reassurance, too, from the fact that mutts, owned and unowned, will always be with us. Despite the efforts of neo-eugenicists to ostracize them, mutts constitute a vibrant reservoir of canine genetic diversity. Mutts tend to be healthy dogs, because of hybrid vigor. They also tend to be good dogs. And in a very real sense mutts today embody the evolutionary heritage of the True Dog—that animal that evolved with us, that adapted to and exploited our society, and did so largely on his own terms. Defiant of human fashion and whim, selected only in accordance with the ancient evolutionary dictate that demands nothing more than an ability to get along with rather gullible human beings, mutts are really what dogs are about. If worst comes to worst, perhaps they will set us straight, just as their ancestors so ably did—at least for 99,900 of the past 100,000 years.

Sunday, 23 September 2007

Playing games with your dog

Playing games with your dog has many benefits, one of the main ones being the development of a strong bond between the two of you.

Because Penny is supposed to be resting her sore paw for a few days I’m looking for things to do that don’t involve her usual rushing around. Yesterday and today she rested completely, but from tomorrow I hope we can do some gentle activity. I had a look around on the Net for games to add to our current repertoire and came across ‘Games to play with your dog.’ No only is the article full of interesting activities but there are also links to a variety of other sites.

One that looks fascinating is 'Games Dogs Love'.
These sites have so much info and so many links to lead me into further exploration of fun games that maybe I won't have time to play with Penny. She might just have to entertain herself during her recuperation.

'Clan Duncan Shelties' has simple games that I haven't seen anywhere else. They sound like great fun and some are so gentle that even an old sick dog could be comforted by the familiarity of these bonding exercises.
I loved this anecdote on the Clan Duncan funnies page:
"Look!" is a great training aid--and also goes a long way toward helping you communicate with your puppy. Start by using objects that the puppy is going to be interested in anyway, like a Milk-Bone. Say, "Look!" before you show it to him. Then say "Look!" again, and show it to him for a couple of seconds before you let him have it. Point at it with your finger. Gradually move from giving him things to pointing out interesting things of all sorts. How many times have you said, "Look, Fellow!" when you want to show him something, only to have Fellow fix his eyes upon your pointing finger? It's a great comfort to have your Sheltie understand what you yourself are actually looking at. I really enjoy showing things like toads and caterpillars to my dogs, and having them understand what I want them to see. Years ago Duncan was with us at a marine research station in Mexico as we searched for brittle stars for a certain project. "Look!" we said, showing him a wet, wiggly brittle star. Duncan "got" it, and soon began searching on his own and barking whenever he found a brittle star. It was a way for him to understand what we were doing. My favorite "Look!" story is also about Duncan. Late one evening at the university, several graduate students were examining specimens under a microscope. One student suddenly shouted, "Look!" --and pushed back from the table so we could look through his scope. The first one to hop up there and have a look was--you guessed it--little Duncan.

Saturday, 22 September 2007

when to take the dog to the vet

If your dog is limping, when should you take her to the vet?

The decision about making a vet appointment comes up in our household each time we think Penny is not well.

When she eats grass we wonder if it’s just part of a natural dog lifestyle.
When she throws up on the kitchen floor we ask ourselves whether it’s her way of keeping her digestion in order.
When she limps across the lounge room to her favourite mat we hope her canine resilience will assert itself and she’ll be fine the next morning.

Sometimes, however, we just have to make the call that something is definitely wrong.

Yesterday, after a more-than-usually energetic outing to Ruffey Lake Park, Penny developed a limp. At first we had trouble deciding which leg was the problem, but an examination of her paws had her wincing when we touched her right front foot.

Today, she seemed fine - until the time when the local vet clinic closed for the weekend. Then she seemed to be in pain once more. So, we went off to the Lort Smith Animal Hospital.
It's years since I was there and I was pleasantly surprised to see how inviting and modern it is now.

The vet who examined Penny found a problem with her right front paw so we’ll have to rest completely for a few days and see how it goes.

In my search for information about whether we should head off to the vet, I came across lots of forums where dog owners had posted questions to online groups. I can't really see the point of this because there can be such a time lag in getting an answer.

However, I thought this article at PetEducation had a useful general discussion of limping. also has an overview of limping and what to check before deciding to go to the vet.

Dr Roni Hines has an extensive discussion of all the reasons why a dog, cat or even a ferret might be limping.

Friday, 21 September 2007

Spinning yarn from dog hair

Spinning with dog hair? Sounds weird, but we’re going to try it when we have enough of Penny’s hair. My sister is studying for a Diploma in textile-related arts and recently at a garage sale we bought a spinning-wheel.

So, seeing we’ve been collecting Penny’s hair after grooming for the last three years, we only need to learn how to spin and we’re off and... well, I guess, spinning... How hard can it be, after all? I'll admit I was a complete failure at spinning when a friend tried to teach me, but we'll have to hope my sister is a more able student.

We figure it won’t be a non-allergenic yarn, that’s for sure. It makes me sneeze just thinking about it.

This was an idea that we came up with ourselves and we thought we were on the edge of ‘strange’, but, surprise, surprise, there are Net sites devoted to this craft. Here are a few:
VIP Fibers, Inc

Here's the explanation given at this site:
Chiengora (pronounced she-an-gora) is the name people are using for dog hair. Chien is French for dog and gora is from angora, the fiber the hair most closely resembles. Dog hair is now considered a luxury fiber along with mohair and cashmere (goat hair), and angora (Rabbit hair).

for the love of yarn

The article at this site is by Kathy Fellows in Massachusetts. She'll spin your dog's hair for you. This would be great for us in case the mysteries of the spinning wheel can't be conquered but I don't think the Australian Quarantine Service would be too keen on people sending pet hair out of and back into Australia.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

dogs using enrichment toys

Dogs need activities that involve problem-solving. I am a firm believer in the 'use it or lose it' theory. If you want your pet to be intelligent, then you should give her experiences that extend her problem-solving capabilities.

Many months ago I bought a toy with great potential - the 'Home Alone' toy from the Aussie Dog company. It's a ball on a springy elastic hanger. In the ball there's a marble, which makes an interesting clacking noise as the ball swings around. (I sure hope the neighbours think it's a fascinating sound...)
The dog has to figure out how to obtain treats that are placed in the ball. So, not only is this toy intellectually stimulating but it also provides physical activity.

I spoke to the maker of the toy at a Pet Expo and he guaranteed that it would interest my dog. Well, it's taken a while, but Penny does play with it. She's evolved her own way of using it. She leaps up and pushes it around so that the treats I've inserted in the ball spring out and scatter on the ground.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

dog diet -grapes and raisins are dangerous

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Because Penny was the first dog to live in our household, we received lots of advice from more experienced owners. For which we are very grateful. Keep the advice going, Geraldine, Liz and others!

We were told to watch out especially for chocolate. Being a household of chocoholics, we have been very careful. Discovering that even a tiny puppy can mysteriously 'disappear' a whole packet of sweet biscuits from the middle of an unreachably high kitchen table - never solved that mystery! - made us even more paranoid about chocolate, so it's always locked away in cupboards.

But I've met many people who feed their dogs grapes and raisins. Yet, as far as I can discover, it's also very dangerous. I was browsing a site with delicious-looking dog recipes (food FOR dogs, not made of dogs, of course) and found a warning and a link to a pdf about the danger of grapes, written by a veterinary toxicologist. I investigated and came across a similar warning at 'beagles and'.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Appropriate food for dogs

Penny received a lovely treat on Sunday from Bernie and Pat, who visited us. Bernie came with a packet of yummy treats she'd bought in Hampton at a shop called 'year of the dog.' I liked the fact that the biscuits were made from human-grade ingredients and contained no artificial colours, flavours or preservatives.

I'm not sure that Penny was impressed that I made her work for her treats, by asking her to 'say your prayers' or that Bernie used the bow from the gift-wrapping to give Penny a hair make-over, but I guess it's just a dog's life.

When I read about the chemicals that go into modern dog-foods I wonder how canine systems can cope with these unnatural foods. Of course, the same could be said for modern human diets, but at least adult humans have a choice about what they eat.

On the other hand, Penny maintains a certain level of choice in her diet, too. There was the flattened rat mummy she scoffed in the street when she was a few weeks old. I did manage to wrestle most of it from her mouth, but she got some of it down.

Over the last couple of years I've demanded she give up deliciously smelly dog-poo, dead birds, cooked beef-bones, sliced ham, and,in my opinion, the worst of all - cooked chicken. She's generally faster than we are at spotting discarded chicken take-away in the gutters and parks, I have to admit. And, disappointingly, we haven't had what I could call success with the command 'give!' when it involves food in the street. It's one of my most un-favorite things to stand in the middle of the shopping-centre squabbling with my dog over garbage.

So far she hasn't suffered any ill effects but it's pretty stressful for her human family each time we realise she's eaten chicken bones.

There's an interesting article at this site, about dogs who steal cooked chicken leftovers. The general advice is that there's no use panicking if the dog has eaten cooked chicken bones - but careful monitoring over the next few hours and days is vital.There's quite a list of comments added by people whose dogs have had this experience.

Many people recommend feeding RAW bones to dogs and Penny has many raw bones. I realise there is always a possibility with any food of problems arising, but the work of Dr Ian Billinghurst and others has convinced me that the benefit of raw bones outweighs the possible drawbacks.

more about dog-trick - 'shy'

We went to K9 Kompany today and had lots of fun. I was telling Cindy, our teacher, about Amber-Mae's great idea for the 'shy' trick and she knew this way of teaching it. She suggested placing a 'stick-it' note exactly above Penny's eyebrow so that Penny would position her paw over her eye.

Who would have thought that Penny would ignore it?
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Maybe I should have suspected what would happen. Some months ago, when we were at A Perfect Spot training, taught by Jill and Jenny, Jill suggested a similar approach. Each class member gently draped the lead across their dog's muzzle and we stepped back, clickers in hand, ready to reward the moment when they pawed at the annoying thing on their nose. They didn't. They all sat beautifully still, waiting patiently for some clue as to why their 'people' had done such a strange thing. It was one of the most hilarious moments I've had in dog training. The dogs were equally perplexed to see their people roaring with laughter, but they still sat there waiting.

We just gave up at that point.
This may be one trick that isn't for Penny...

Monday, 17 September 2007

Dogs and snakes in Melbourne - in September

I was down in Darebin Parklands weeding today - without Penny, thank goodness - and had a close encounter with a snake. It was down on the creek bank on the Rockbeare Park side. That's the Ivanhoe side, where dogs aren't allowed off-lead anyway. It was about a metre long and took off towards the water when I approached it.

Given that Penny and I had a really scary, very close encounter with a frightened snake on May 2, also down along the creek, it seems that in future we will have to live with snakes for nine months of the year. Most sources I've consulted on snakes in Melbourne (and probably around Australia in general) predict that these reptiles will be regular denizens of suburbia because they will come close to habitation looking for water.

I was interested to hear a reptile expert say last year that the venom flows through the lymphatic system of a mammal's body. That's why it's important to keep the dog still if bitten. If the muscles don't move, the venom will not spread so quickly.

I've been collecting information about snake-bitten dogs because I want to recognise the symptoms in an emergency and I want to act as quickly as possible for the best outcome. You might realise by now that I'm one of the all-time great worriers...

The best site, I thought, is at Pet Alert , a voluntary organisation aimed at reuniting lost pets with their owners.

Dr Julie Summerfield, a vet in Sydney, has written a clear and helpful article on snakebites in pets and how to deal with them. She says basically that you should carry your pet immediately to the nearest vet. Restrict movement, keep the pet calm, apply a pressure bandage but not a tourniquet. Don't wash or clean the wound in any way, because at the vet hospital they might be able to work out what venom is on the wound site.

Another interesting article is at Petalia.

Here's one written by a person in Perthand another by the
University of Melbourne.

A more technical discussion of veterinary treatment is written by the Australian Venom Research Unit.

dog-trick - 'shy'

Amber-Mae, a lucky dog who lives an obviously rich and interesting life in Malaysia, sent Penny a video clip on how the 'shy' trick is taught. Amber's blog is here.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

canine personality

Liz has sent me a link to All About Dogs, where you can assess your dog's personality. I thought I'd share it for those who, having found that their dogs have the IQ of a genius, now want to tap into their best learning styles.

It's based on the work of Jack and Wendy Volhard. Their Motivational Method is based on an understanding that a dog's behaviours are motivated by prey-drive, pack-drive or defense-drive. You'll get a different reaction from your dog in training depending on which drive she is in.

Thanks, Liz. It's a big site with lots of pages, and very interesting.

dog tricks - 'say your prayers'

At a Pet Expo a couple of years ago I saw a dog doing the ‘say your prayers’ trick and since then I’ve wanted to teach it to Penny. The dog crouched beside a little bed and lowered its face down onto its paws. I couldn’t figure out the sequence to teach the behaviour until Cindy at K9 Kompany showed Penny and me.

The way we are approaching it is that Penny does a sit and then stays there. I use the command ‘wait’ rather than ‘stay’, because we use the latter to mean she has to freeze in one position while I go away from her and then return. With ‘wait’, I don’t have to come back to release her.

So, Penny sits and waits.
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I place a chair (or a box, or a very low table) close in front of her and give the command ‘paws up’, which means put your paws up on whatever I am indicating.
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I then use a treat to lure her to sit down without removing her paws.
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That’s as far as we have gone yet. The next stage will be to get the behaviour without a lure – I’ll give a treat as a reward after the behaviour. When we’ve got it happening reliably I’ll give the behaviour a name – I guess it’ll be ‘say your prayers’ - or maybe, just 'prayers'.
On the Net there are some good descriptions of this trick. The best explanation I've found is this one. The author, Pat Miller, says:
Use your clicker to lure-shape a trick your dog might not offer spontaneously by starting with small parts of the trick, and then building to the full behavior. “Lure-shape” means using a treat to show your dog what you want him to do, and then clicking and treating for any small bit of behavior that moves you toward the final goal. I lure-shaped my Scottie, Dubhy (pronounced Duffy), to “say his prayers” by sitting, putting his paws on a chair, and then lowering his muzzle between his front legs. This is his favorite trick and always a crowd-pleaser.

Here’s how to teach your dog to pray:

From the Bottom Up
1. Sit your dog in front of a sturdy bench or chair.
2. If he can shake, ask him to lift a paw. Click! – treat. If he can sit up, ask him to raise both paws. Click! – treat. (If he can’t do either, try lure-shaping with a treat to get him to put his paws up, or proceed to From the Top Down.)
3. Repeat several times, encouraging him to move closer to the bench, until...
4. …one or both paws occasionally touches or rests on the bench. Be sure to Click! those, and give him a Jackpot! – several treats, one after the other, to make a big impression.
5. Continue to Click! – treat when he puts his paws on the bench while sitting, until he holds the position.

From the Top Down
1. Stand your dog in front of the bench or chair.
2. Use a treat lure to invite him to put both front feet on the bench. Click! – treat.
3. Repeat several times, until he eagerly puts paws on bench.
4. Ask him to “Sit.” He may try to remove his paws from the bench. Use your treat to lure him forward, and Click! – treat for any bending of the hind legs while his paws are on the bench. He will gradually bend his hind legs more and more, until he’s finally sitting with his paws on the bench. Click! – Jackpot!

It may take a combination of “Bottom Up” and “Top Down” to get your dog to finally remain seated with his paws up. When he does that, he’s ready to “pray.”

1. Sit him in front of the bench with his paws up. Click! – treat.
2. Hold a treat in each hand. With one hand, lure his nose up. Let him nibble that treat while you slip your other hand under and between his front legs, near his chest.
3. Lure his nose down with the first treat, engage his nose with the second treat and let him nibble. Click! – treat.
4. Repeat until he performs the entire sequence easily. While he’s nibbling the second treat, lower it slowly until his muzzle is between his legs. Click! – treat. He’s praying! When he can do the whole sequence say, “Let Us Pray” just before you cue the behavior. Soon he’ll happily pray when you suggest it!

For anyone who's not sure what a 'clicker' is, the granddaddy of all clickertraining sites is I don't actually use a clicker these days. I use the word 'yess!", but the theory is based on the idea of using a clicker to mark an exact behavioural moment and to let the dog know she's done just what you wanted her to do.

There's another description of 'say your prayers'here.
However, I think the best view of the trick is a short clip on YouTube. It's a little dark, but clearly shows the sequence of the trick.

I notice that the other dogs actually lower their noses below their paws. We'll have to work on this.

Friday, 14 September 2007

canine intelligence test

Apropos of the discussion Jabari/Liz and I were having about dominance in dogs and how it relates to intelligence, I found this interesting site where you can assess the IQ of your dog. Great fun!

Actually, Penny is part of an ongoing research project - forget which local institution, think it might be RMIT - where humans living with dogs fill in a canine personality assessment a couple of times a year. The researcher is trying to discover whether humans can in fact make a consistenly accurate assessment of this kind. To be in it you have to have two people who live with the dog and then the two fill in the personality assessment without consulting each other - so as not to be influenced by what the other thinks. I'm looking forward to hearing the result of the study a couple of years down the track.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

agility at K9 Kompany

Penny and I went to K9 Kompany for training today. Cindy, our teacher, had set up an agility course. Jabari, Penny's particular friend, was there also. Liz, Jabari's owner, wondered if the two dogs, used to romping energetically in parks, would be able to settle down to training in the same session. But it seems to be going well.

Penny is working on using the see-saw safely and confidently. Cindy says it is important to make sure the dog uses her own weight to make the plank tip down as she comes to the centre of the see-saw.
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So I sometimes give Penny a treat at that central spot as she steps forward to tip the see-saw down.

At this stage the see-saw tips down only as far as a box that is placed under the end. A few weeks ago we progressed to letting it tip to the floor under Penny's own weight but we did it once too many times and she got over-enthusiastic. It hit the ground with a thump and startled her. So Cindy says we should go back to putting the box under the end until she is confident again.

Both Jabari and Penny enjoyed the command 'over!' and leapt towards us enthusiastically across the series of jumps.
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The session, as always, ended with a 'settling down' time. Each of us sat on the floor with our dog and relaxed together.

dominance in dogs

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Bonnie visited us today. She is an older dog of unknown breed - well, she probably knows her breeding, but she isn't telling. She's been a regular visitor since Penny was very young.

When Penny was smaller than Bonnie it was logical that she would defer to the older and wiser visitor. However, to the human observer it seems odd that Penny still sees Bonnie as more important in the scheme of things.

Bonnie's arrival is the signal for Penny to follow her around the house and out into the backyard, energetically trotting around her in circles, getting twice the exercise that Bonnie gets. If Bonnie wants to sit on Penny's mat, that's quite okay. Penny will wait patiently for the visitor to initiate some activity.

It seems to relate to the concept of 'dominance', but not quite in the simplistic way that some references define it. I think the discussion at 'Showdogs' is one of the best explanations I have read of what may be going on. For instance the author says:
"Alpha" does not mean physically dominant. It means "in control of resources." Many, many alpha dogs are too small or too physically frail to physically dominate, but they have earned the right to control the valued resources. An individual dog determines which resources he considers important. Thus an alpha dog may give up a prime sleeping place because he simply couldn't care less.

I'm not sure whether this might mean that Penny doesn't care who lies on her mat - ie she is alpha; or whether Bonnie is alpha and Penny has to let her lie there.

I have always been interested in the work of the Coppingers, who believe that domestic dogs are not descended from wolves, and this particular site quotes from them in its discussion of dominance.

Monday, 10 September 2007

looking after Darebin Parklands

Penny eagerly followed me around the house as I did the usual pre-walk things; put on the old clothes; tied up the laces of my walking boots; and put the cloth bag on my shoulder. But, alas, she wasn't going with me. I was heading off to do a bit of weeding in one of the loveliest parts of Darebin Parklands, the Hidden Valley.

There were three of us weeding; it was great to see that even though many of the young plants from last year were overgrown with weeds, they were still struggling on. Some of the weeks were nearly shoulder height but we yanked and pulled and cleared around each young Aussie native.

After I got home I took Penny back to the park to see what we had achieved, even without her help. Well, actually, I was showing off to my sister. Penny had to stay on lead in this section of the park because it is on the Banyule side, where off-lead walking is not allowed.

Penny enjoyed sniffing around the lovely scented native mints that are doing so well.
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And she soon discovered a poor suffering wattle seedling that was still buried under weeds. 
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So we rescued it.
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Saturday, 8 September 2007

swimming and bellywhacking into the water

Penny has enjoyed the water ever since she was a tiny puppy. I can remember being in the park one literally freezing morning, just after a winter's sunrise. Penny was about six months old. We were walking towards the Darebin Creek across the glittering frost that covered the grass and I was wondering if her little paws were getting chillblains. Then she was off to the creek and into the water...

And that set the pattern for our walks. It's rarely that she doesn't wade into the creek and look hopefully back at me as if to say, 'Well, aren't you going to throw the ball/stick/toy?'

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It all changed when we went on an excursion with the Kintala Dog Club to the Kepala Canine Country Club. In the pool there Penny learned to do bellywhackers. That's why I feel sure she would love the Dockdogs sport - or, Jettydogs, as they call it in the UK - if it ever got going here.

The trouble is, my heart is in my mouth every time we wander along the banks of an unfamiliar part of the creek or the Yarra River. I'm alert to make sure she doesn't take a sudden dive off the edge into the water. I remember my Mum's admonitions to never dive into unfamiliar water - too much risk of landing on an underwater branch. My Mum always referred to these as 'snags'.

herbicides and dogs

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We were walking along a path in the evening sunlight today in Darebin Parklands. Penny had been for a swim in the surprisingly clear waters of the creek and looked like a drowned rat - but a clean one.

Then we passed one of the many patches of dead grass scattered around the park lately. I had actually seen the rangers spraying about ten days ago. They had put up a sign on that day warning that they were spraying weeds but since then there have been no signs. I was just wondering how long herbicides last on the vegetation and suddenly Penny sat herself down in the middle of a dead patch.

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So I decided to take no chances and gave her a bath when we got home. I really must think about that hydrobath that I emailed Melbourne Dog Centre about. They did get back to me and the one I'd like would be about $1100. It seems a lot but when I'm kneeling on the bathroom floor getting a sore back and a soaking-wet front it seems a good idea. And I think of the water that is going down the drain...

I checked the website of Darebin City Council, one of the two councils involved in the management of Darebin Parklands and they have a policy of the least possible use of herbicides.

There's an interesting discussion of the effect of herbicide spraying on dog health at a Canadian site called Animal Health Care.

Friday, 7 September 2007

Dogs swimming

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Had a great walk in Ruffey Lake Park today. Met Jabari, Liz's GSD and also Pam with her GSD Kara. I reckon those two dogs must be related somewhere along the line, because they look so similar. All the dogs had a great time leaping into the lake - Jabari and Penny swam out but Kara doesn't seem confident to go beyond her depth yet. She likes to keep her feet on the bottom.

Penny loves to leap into any body of water. I think she would be a natural at the sport of Dock Dogs but I haven't seen this sport in Australia yet. At the moment I'm trying to make sure she walks into the water at a sloping spot because I'm not sure her left elbow is okay and I don't want her scrambling out a a steep spot. I've noticed that she tends to come out of the water at the same spot she entered it.

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We were followed briefly by a young black lab who ignored his owner's recall. Eventually we turned around and walked directly away from her, which gave him the choice of going with us or returning to his owner. He set off after her - presumably he caught up to her.

Thursday, 6 September 2007

Dogs scaring off birds

I was sitting in the beautiful sunshine today in my garden. I know I shouldn't be liking the sunny days, because we need rain, but I figure I can't make it rain so I'm going to enjoy the fantastic weather. Penny was lying nearby basking in the sunshine and contemplating the really beaut rubber ball she had 'fetched' a while ago.

I noticed a dove land fly down and land near her. She didn't see it at first. Then she did, and wandered closer to investigate. Just when I was starting to worry that she might leap on it - she's pretty fast - it flapped up into the tree with a clatter of wings. It made me think about an article I read today. Apparently some scientists in NSW have studied the effect of dog-walking on the movements of birds in the bush around Sydney. Partly it said:

The researchers looked at 90 woodland trails a few kilometres north of Sydney, half regularly used by dog-walkers and half where the animals were prohibited.

Dogs were walked, on leads, along the 250m-long (820ft) trails, followed 20 seconds later by an observer who counted the birds seen and heard. The experiment was repeated for walkers without dogs and for a control scenario where there were neither walkers nor dogs.

Dr Banks said: "The key finding is that dog-walking certainly does have an impact on birds - and we were quite surprised by the magnitude of the impact."

The team found that dog-walking was causing bird numbers to drop by an average of 41% at each site and the numbers of species counted fell by 35%.

The results were similar in sites often frequented by dog-walkers and those where the practice was prohibited, suggesting that birds did not get used to the dogs' presence, despite frequent encounters.

It's a vexed question, in my opinion. I'd like to see the study replicated before I'd be convinced that birds are more disturbed by dogs on lead than by groups of humans walking around. Anyway, I reckon the birds' instincts might not lead them to the conclusion that humans are the more dangerous, with their guns and rubbish and destruction of habitats. I don't know of too many dogs that have levelled forests or contaminated creeks and rivers.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Toys to enrich a dog's life

Tomorrow Penny will be home alone for a while. Normally she she has people here all day, but when she first came to live with us as a tiny puppy she had to cope with being alone for a few hours every day. She's comfortable with her own company and I think it is because from the first we always left her with something to entertain her. Now when I leave she doesn't even bother to accompany me to the door if she's got her treat-filled toys. One of the best, I think, is the Kong.

At first I thought the Kong was just something to throw around, or a chewing toy. Then I realised it's supposed to be stuffed with food. I started out with the recipes on this site but now I usually push banana to the bottom, then some soft food, for instance 4-Legs pieces, or a layer of beef, and finish up with a skerrick of peanut butter or even a tiny smear of Vegemite. Sometimes I shove a bit of biscuit in as hard as I can. If I do a good job of all this, it can take her nearly an hour to lick the Kong completely clean.

Other toys she loves are the plastic ball that has a small hole that allows dried food to fall out as she rolls it around the floor, and the bottom-heavy container that tips from side to side and dispenses treats.

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Another great entertainment are the toys form Aussie Dog. She's got a 'Turbo Chook' for playing tug games with us and I sometimes link it through the 'Home Alone' toy that is set up on the back patio for her. I put dried treats in it sometimes.

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

dog leads and collars

Yesterday Penny and I didn't get out for a walk until nearly sunset. Seeing I knew we wouldn't be out as long as I wished, I decided to make a virtue of necessity and slow the pace of the walk down. I wanted to see if putting Penny back on the 'Gentle Leader' head collar would remind her that she should walk beside me unless she has been permitted to roam away from me.

It's been months since we used this training headcollar. At the time, she didn't much like it but stopped pulling ahead when we were walking. We didn't use it for more than a couple of weeks.

What I like about this collar is that it comes with a short DVD that shows how to use it effectively.I can't stand seeing people whose poor dogs are being yanked around inefficiently and harshly on training collars. As far as I'm concerned, they are a learning tool that is used for a short period of time in a dog's life. If the dog learns how to walk nicely on lead then they've done their job. If not, then put them away because they aren't the right tool for teaching the dog.

Well, yesterday Penny surprised me by heading off quietly beside me all the way to the park. She didn't seem to mind the collar at all. At the park I took it off, of course, and we had fun chasing balls. Well...I stood around and Penny did the chasing. We didn't use the head collar on the way back but I did think she was walking more calmly than she has been doing recently.

We seem to be accumulating quite an array of leashes and collars.

I've now got the extendable lead for walking in the park in the on-lead areas, the normal one-and-a-half metre lead for street use and two new short leads for training work. They are useful in agility work where I want Penny to be free to move without the danger of tripping over a trailing lead yet want to be able to control her if an unexpected situation arises.

I bought one at K9Kompany in Lilydale. It's called a 'snub lead' and it's made by Black Dog Wear. It's about fourteen centimetres long, with a knot at one end, which makes it easy to grab, even with her long fur.

The other one I got at A Perfect Spot training. It's a bout forty centimetres long and can be clipped back on itself to make it twenty-five centimetres.

I'm looking forward to trying out the two different leads and seeing how they compare.

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Monday, 3 September 2007

Playing and learning dogtricks

Penny and I are working on a new trick.

I began Penny's original training at my dogclub, Kintala in Heidelberg - check out their great site - but the training time is Saturday morning and I usually work at that time. So I'm going to two other places for dog training, both of which are heaps of fun.

One is with Jenny Pearce's company, A Perfect Spot Dog Training. (Love that name.) It's on a Sunday morning - at the crack of dawn, as far as I'm concerned - 9am in the Preston area. Often Penny won't do any activities that involve putting her bottom or belly on that cold, wet grass. But with the drought seeming ready to take hold again, I guess dampness won't be a problem for a while...sigh... Anyway, she just loves training there - we probably don't look too efficient as a training partnership when she drags me from the car to the training ground. I guess we've got a bit of work to do on 'walking nicely on lead'.

The other training is at Lilydale, at K9 Kompany. They're associated with Animal Aid in Coldstream. It's here that we are in the early stages of learning 'say your prayers'. At this stage Penny's learned to sit with her paws up on a chair. I was surprised at how many weeks we've taken to learn this. Next we'll move on to her lowering her face onto her paws, the way a child puts her face onto her hands when kneeling beside her bed to say her evening prayers. I reckon it would look super cute if I could find a little bed for Penny to do it on.

Apart from our 'formal' training - that's agility and tricks - we love playing games together. A book that I've found useful is one that is published by Barron's. (I think it was originally in German, but I'm not sure.) It's called 'Fun and Games with Your Dog'. Just to give you an idea of what's in it, some of the topics are:
Learning Life's Lessons through Play
Making Light Work of Training
Indoor Fun and Games
Make Your Yard into a Canine Paradise
An Obstacle Course in the Yard

I've found the section on indoor games helpful. It's designed for those days when it's too cold to go outside, I guess, but here in Australia it's also great for those days that are too hot.

Saturday, 1 September 2007

Bathing the dog

I've just taken Penny for a walk with my sister in our favorite park in Melbourne, Darebin Parklands. If you've never walked there you should try it. There are some areas where it's necessary to have the dog on lead to protect the native wildlife but it's possible to walk a circuit that lasts about forty minutes. It includes swimming holes for the dogs, grassy hillsides to romp and chase balls and winding bush paths amongst the native vegetation. Here's a link to the park's wonderfully informative Darebin Parklands website.

The ranger has been spraying in the park recently, along the creek. Of course, just as we were leaving Penny decided to roll in the poisoned vegetation. So we decided she needed a bath asap.

I've been thinking about buying a dog hydrobath for quite a while but I wasn't sure I wanted to spend so much money. However, I've decided I'm going to do it. I've just finished washing Penny and I seem to have used half a bottle of shampoo and conditioner, as well as seeing litres of water go down the plughole. That's not to mention the wall-to-wall water everywhere after she jumped out unexpectedly and raced around the house to get dry. Liz, Jabari's 'mum', showed me one day how to use a hydrobath and I was amazed that it only uses a bucket of water and very little shampoo. I think it was only something like a teaspoonful.

I'm going to contact Melbourne Dog Centre to see how much it will cost to have a hydrobath delivered. I realise it will be costly but it might be worth it in terms of water saved and also in saving time spent kneeling on the bathroom floor and bending over the bath to wash Penny.

Penny looked gorgeous after her bath tonight. Before that she looked like 'Harry the Dirty Dog'. He's a character from Gene Zion's book of that name. Harry hated having a bath but learned his lesson when his human family disowned him because he looked like 'a black dog with white spots' instead of their dog, who was 'a white dog with black spots.'