Thursday, 31 January 2008

punishment and dog training

Tonight I told Penny off for misbehaving. It rarely happens, partly because she is obedient and partly because I don't believe in 'punishment' anyway - though I do believe in consequences - as a teacher of young children and as a dog owner. If a child breaks a toy then that toy isn't available for play; if a dog doesn't give the ball back to the human then the human can't throw it again.

I told Penny to get in the car. She took one look at me, turned away and dashed off, tail low, to try to grab some food I'd thrown out for the birds. (She always holds her tail low when she's trying to get away with something.)

She'd been outside for hours looking longingly at the food, unable to get out of her fenced area to reach it. And now she saw her chance. However, she'd miscalculated. She ran into a dead end. Aha!! I strolled after her, picked her up, marched her angrily back to the car and set her down by the open door. This time, at the command 'In the car' she positively dashed in. Lesson learned...until the next time the temptation to disobey is too strong.

I didn't see any way to deal with this behaviour except anger, because there didn't seem to be any positive way to deal with outright disobedience. So, I guess I did 'punish' her, even though it was mild.

However, I am totally opposed to aggressive punishment of dogs. So it is reassuring to see that the AmericanVeterinary Society of Animal Behavior has released a set of guidelines for American vets on what is acceptable in punishing dogs. It's an interesting read and says, in part:
Even when punishment seems mild, in order to be effective it often must elicit a strong fear response, and in such cases, the fear response can generalize to things that sound or look similar to the punishment. Punishment has also been shown to elicit aggressive behavior in many species of animals. Thus, using punishment can put the person administering it or any person near the animal at risk of being bitten or attacked...
Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons to use punishment sparingly is that punishment fails to address the fact that the bad behavior is occurring because it has somehow been reinforced—either intentionally or unintentionally. That is, owners tend to punish bad behaviors some of the time while inadvertently rewarding these same behaviors at other times. In this way, they accidentally set their pets up to receive punishment repeatedly by sometimes unintentionally rewarding the bad behavior, which is how the behavior was learned in the first place. This inconsistency is confusing to the animal and can cause frustration or anxiety. Punishment also fails to tell the animal what it should be performing instead. Without an alternative appropriate behavior the animal may have no option but to perform the undesired behavior. A more appropriate approach to problem solving is to determine what is reinforcing the undesirable behavior, remove that reward, and reinforce an alternate desirable behavior instead. For instance, dogs jump to greet people in order to get their attention. Owners usually provide attention by talking or yelling, pushing them down, or otherwise touching them. A better solution would be to remove attention by standing silently and completely still and then to immediately reward with attention or treats once the dogs sits. This learning-based approach leads to a better understanding of our pets and consequently to a better human-pet relationship.

I came across the news about these guidelines when reading a most interesting blog called Dolittler that discusses the issues that come up in the daily life of Dr. Patty Khuly a vet in Miami, Florida, in the US.

Dr Khuly refers to the "aggressive techniques and dominance-based methods of “Dog Whisperer” Cesar Milan. Now I'm wondering if I wasted my money recently buying a set of DVDs by him. I haven't watched them yet. I guess when I do I should keep an open mind about his methods.

Tuesday, 29 January 2008

cuts of meat for dogs to eat

I called in at the local butcher's yesterday, looking for some meat for Penny. When I asked him exactly what a brisket bone is, he folded his arms, leaned back against the wall and said, "Well, where's your brisket?"
I stared at him. No idea. It did occur to me that the word sounds like 'breast' - but no way was I going there...
"People these days just don't know their cuts of meat," he said."Come on, think about it. Where would your brisket be?"
The other butcher grinned at me from behind him, but I thought she seemed sympathetic, so perhaps I'm not the only one to get the 'treatment' from her boss.
It was all beginning to seem a bit hard. I only asked about the brisket because I'd been told it's a soft bone. I'm obviously still stressing about the fact that Penny broke a tooth on a bone (we think) and had to have it extracted. (The tooth, not the bone.)
Of course he had a chart on the wall, didn't he? Determined to educate the uninformed member of the public, he showed me the brisket bone, laughing at my naive suggestion that it might perhaps be a rib. I don't feel quite so dumb not knowing, because he told me a brisket isn't a bone at all. It's cartilage and connects the two sides of the chest. That would account for wiser dog-owners having told me it's safe to eat.

But when I looked on the Net, the mystery deepened, because The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as "The chest of an animal. 2. The ribs and meat taken from the chest of an animal." That might explain why, the last time I asked for a brisket bone, I got a whole heap of rib bones. The Concise Oxford Dictionary says it's the "breast of a beast".
At there's a list with photos of a range of cuts of meat and there's a boneless brisket, so I guess that's where the brisket bones for dogs come from.

Monday, 28 January 2008

hamsters can do agility just like dogs can

Penny would love to see a hamster learning to do an agility course, as I saw in a video at Itchmo. (Of course, Penny would love the hamster for a different reason than I would. It looks just the right size to go down her throat without chewing.)

I think I once read that most if not all of the domesticated hamsters in the world are descended from one pregnant female who was brought from Syria early in the twentieth century. The Louisian Veterinary Medical Association site suggests that this is true, though from reading it I'm not sure whether other species of hamsters have been bred into the line over time. It seems that they would be incredibly inbred if they all descend from one litter.
Another site about hamsters, in Washington, says that most laboratory hamsters are descended from that one litter but refers to Chinese,
European, and Hungarian, Russian or Siberian hamsters.

Sunday, 27 January 2008

shaving dogs' fur

In December I posted about Penny's last grooming session, in which I was taken aback to discover her belly had been shaved. Yesterday we discovered another disadvantage of this practice (apart from the days of pain she endured from the apparent clipper rash). She was chasing a ball and suddenly yelped. Of course, the dreaded thought "snake bite' crossed our minds, so we were actually relieved to discover she had run into a patch of blackberries and torn her belly on the thorns.

However, it made us realise the value of belly fur. I don't think I will let her be shaved again. Browsing the Net I came across a report from the point of view of Oscar, a dog, of being clipped short over most of the body.

When Penny's belly was bleeding we realised we don't have any dog ointments here (at a holiday house) and made a resolution to make sure we always have a dog first-aid kit with us. So, it was interesting to read that Oscar's injuries from the grooming were treated successfully with Rawleigh's ointment, a human medication that we have in the house. Oscar's owners said they used Antiseptic Balm and the Medicated Ointment.I think it used to say on the Rawleigh's tin that the ointment was good for treating problems with cows' udders, so I suppose it is an all-round mammalian cure!

I'm not convinced that shaving a dog will help keep her cool, anyway. (That was the explanation given to me for Penny's lack of fur on her belly when I picked her up.)I've read many times that fur acts as a general insulation, cooling in summer and warming in winter. This opinion is expressed on a site called, in their section on grooming tips.

Having made the decision to bath Penny at home in future, maybe it's time to try to get a handle on clipping. Oscar's site has some advice on doing that and, as they say, it's only by practising that you can improve.

Thursday, 24 January 2008

bathing dogs in a hydrobath

Penny just had the first try of her new hydrobath and it was a great success, from a human and canine perspective. Penny loved it because she seemed to enjoy the massage effect of the strong jet of water. However, the main thrill was eating all those treats designed to help her remember that she likes baths. Here she is having a look at the 'cameraperson' to see if there is another nice dog biscuit on offer.

The bath is quite deep and I had to bend more than I expected. I could buy a tray that fits into the bottom and raises the level but then Penny would be able to scramble out, perhaps.

I managed to wash most of her, remembering to hold her ears pressed shut, but I'm still not sure how to do the face area. I was worried that the strong jet would hurt her eyes so I covered them with my hand also but this was the only part she didn't seem to like. I hope some readers who've had more experience than I have might give me some helpful comments!! (I'll ask Jabari's mum, of course, when we go for a walk.)

The fantastic thing about it is that it uses so little water and even that small amount can be run off into the garden. We used about a bucket and a half for the wash and another bucket of water to wash the soap off her.

Wednesday, 23 January 2008

hydrobaths for dogs

Penny has a new bath! Finally I've decided to spend the money to buy a hydrobath from Melbourne Dog Centre and the guy delivered it today. So far Penny has jumped in a couple of times to get a treat. I thought we might as well take it slowly to get accustomed to it, as I don't know what experiences she's had being bathed at dog grooming salons. It'll be fun trying it our when I'm not quite so busy with work.

Monday, 21 January 2008

dog training and zoo management

When we first brought Penny home we knew nothing, zilch, nada about dog training. To illustrate our abysmal ignorance, I'll reveal that I brought her - an eight-week-old puppy - home on the Friday of a long weekend so that we'd have three days to get her settled in and trained. Then we'd be back to work on the Tuesday with our guard-dog looking after the house.

Quick fast-forward now through chewed up socks, annihilated tissues, massacred seedlings.

Luckily for Penny, I had fixed in my head the idea that it's important to train dogs and the only club I knew was the wonderful Kintala club, one of the earliest clubs around to use only reward-based training.

I've been thinking about how fortunate we were in stumbling across 'gentle training', because the question of training philosophy is part of an unpleasant issue that has erupted at our local zoo. The Melbourne Zoo has been accused of abuse and neglect of some of the animals in their care. The particular incident that saddens me is that the elephant trainer has been accused of stabbing a 13-year old elephant with a marlin spike. I'll quote a little of the article by Royce Millar and Cameron Houston in The Age, our local Melbourne newspaper:
Former and current zoo staff say the stabbing and other incidents reflect an outmoded disciplinary approach to animals...
It seems to me I still hear all too much about 'dominating' and disciplining animals - including dogs. (Of course, I realise it's necessary to set limits to the behaviour expected of our canine companions in our households and in public.) I also believe that, as a society, we need to review all our attitudes to animals - food animals, pets and the wildlife that shares our environment.

In a follow-up article the next day it was reported that
The zoo stressed that all animal "conditioning" (training) was built on positive reinforcement, not punishment.
I was discussing the issue with Jabari's mum today and she commented that she has seen this type of positive reinforcement in action at the Melbourne Zoo. She said that the elephants 'work' in the morning by bringing out their hay and putting it up in the trees ready for the day and are then rewarded for this task. (The newest elephants arrived from Thailand in the last couple of years and were accustomed to working there.) I laughed when she told me that the pygmy hippo used to be rewarded with vegemite sandwiches. What a true-blue Aussie!

The report on the problems at the zoo is enhanced by an in-depth discussion (by the same two writers) of the ethics of zoos.

Sunday, 20 January 2008

climate change and dogs with short noses

Penny likes to stick her nose into anything that might contain food - which could be a problem if there was no-one around to help her out of a tight spot!

When we first got her, thinking she was 'merely' a shih tzu X maltese, we thought she would have a short muzzle. However, her nose, like everything else, grew longer than expected. After reading yesterday's edition of The Age newspaper, I'm kind of glad of that. It contained a report by Peter Munro.

The article predicts that, with global warming affecting Australia already, there will be more days of extreme heat and that dogs like bulldogs or pugs, with their short noses, will have trouble breathing. However, lovers of these types of dogs are quick to point out that most pets will be where their humans are - namely, inside out of the heat.

Friday, 18 January 2008

the five random facts include two about my dog

Penny doesn't know it, but I’ve been tagged and challenged by Stacey at ispirato

Here are the rules for this challenge:

Link to your tagger and post these rules on your blog.
Share 5 facts about yourself on your blog, some random, some weird. (Well, I'll do five, but seeing this is really Penny's blog I'll include two about her.)

Tag 5 people at the end of your post by leaving their names as well as links to their blogs.
Let them know they are tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
So here are five odd facts about me and Penny:

1. I once shook hands with Prince Charles. He landed at Coolangatta airport in the 60s and in those more relaxed days walked around shaking hands with children in the crowd that quickly gathered when word went around that he was there.

2. I've walked on a glacier.

3. I was sea-sick on an ocean liner before it had even sailed out of Sydney Harbour. (Yep, I was sick for the whole cruise.)

4. Penny might be a Tibetan Terrier cross. Or, perhaps she might be a shih tzu X maltese. Or, on the other hand, she might be some sort of lhasa apso. There's a rumour that her aristocratic parent met a cute guy in a Mcdonald's carpark. And the rest, as they say, is history...

5. Penny likes tennis balls.

I'm tagging two humans:

Slavenka in Croatia, whose jokes and funny videos lighten my day

Wayfarer Scientista in the US, who gives me the chance to experience the beautiful natural environment far from home

And three canines:

I was going to tag Amber-Mae in Malaysia, a solid-gold dancer, but she has just completed a similar challenge, with SEVEN facts. So I guess we can just read them and consider the challenge answered!

Sparky in Canada, a little dog with big dreams

Noah in Australia, who has just given his human family health scare but thankfully is well again.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

can dogs count?

When Penny was 'herding' her two bouncy balls in the creek today, it occurred to me that she can count. She'll swim around in the water till I start worrying she'll exhaust herself, trying to bring both balls back to shore. And if we throw one ball around on the grass for a while, she'll head back to the spot where the second ball is, before we leave. (Well, usually...)

It's not surprising that she can count a small number of objects. Many animals can do so. For instance, in the 1970's Pamela Egremont observed that cormorants used for fishing in China could count to at least seven.

Marc Hauser, a Harvard Professor of psychology, has conducted studies that show monkeys can count to four. In the Harvard University Gazette it says:
Additional tests by Hauser and other researchers reveal that monkeys can count up to four. The human ability to count to higher numbers apparently came only after we evolved language and developed words to describe quantities like 25 and 1,000.

Some human cultures still don't use large numbers. The Hadza people, hunter-gatherers in Tanzania, for example, have words only for "one," "two," and "three"; anything more is "many." They are aware that a picture with 30 dots displays a larger number than one with 20 dots (as are monkeys), but they have no words for the precise numbers of dots
An article in New Scientist, called Lab tricks show dogs can count, says:
Dogs can count, new work on mongrels reveals. Dogs are descended from wolves, which not only have a large neocortex - the brain's centre of reasoning - but live in large social groups. So their mathematical ability could, in evolutionary terms, have been useful for working out how many allies and enemies they had in a pack, the researchers think.
The experimenters repeated a technique that shows human babies can count. They put out objects, then hid them behind a screen, adding or taking away some of them. If they manipulated the results to be untrue (eg one and one adds up to three), both dogs and babies looked longer at the resulting group than if the result was correct. The Telegraph newspaper in Britain also has a report on this experiment.

All of which comes as no surprise to anyone who lives with a dog!

And by the way, the Harvard article has an interesting test for self-awareness that you could try on your dog.(Okay, in deference to those feline lovers out there, I guess you might be able to try it on your cat. Maybe?)

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

dogs having fun in Germany

Penny and I did a little bit of doggy dancing in the kitchen today. She has been deprived of her usual training classes because of the Summer holidays, so I thought we should at least do a few minutes' training. She jumped to her feet and began wagging her tail as she weaved between my legs. I think we're both looking forward to the time when classes begin again.

Looking around on the Net for tips as to how to work with Penny in the meantime, I came across a German video clip of a class that I think is called 'Fun and Games'. (My German's more than a little rusty.) The class seems to be for ordinary dogs, and is intended to make them more responsive and to increase general fitness. I was interested to see the slightly different equipment from what we use here in Australia. I especially like the wooden box that flips up a treat.

I also thought the little tent with the holes in it was interesting, as I have a somewhat similar item in my home-made collection of agility equipment.

Monday, 14 January 2008

dogs being possessive about toys and bones

I took Penny's delicious lamb shank from her yesterday because I heard a louder than usual noise as she crunched it and I began to fret that it wasn't defrosted enough. (We have a horrible suspicion that the tooth that broke last year might have been caused by a frozen bone.)

She was definitely not impressed and ran outside. I followed and held onto it till she let go. I suspected I heard a tiny growl but I'll give her the benefit of the doubt as she did let me take it. I mentioned this incident to Jabari's mum and she said she always teaches her dogs to give up their bones if asked. I guess we'd better get onto it! Little does Penny know what a stressful time is in store for her. I think I'll just ask her occasionally to give up her meal and then give it right back.

As for her toys, she likes to lie with them gathered around her, but is more willing to give them up, probably because we have always expected that of her since she was young. She has two new toys today, imported especially from New York by a household member who has been on holidays there.They've both been a great success - so much so that Penny keeps them tucked up beside her safely while she rests.We took the Roller Bone to the creek today and it did, as advertised, float. And it was easy to pick up in the water, too.

I'm not sure if the "Roller Bone" is available in Australia but I think the "Spider Ball" probably is. This toy seemed to be making some interesting noises as she mouthed it.

Saturday, 12 January 2008

it's not only dogs who need toys for stimulation

Penny sometimes lies on her mat with a collection of favorite toys beside her. However, she lets us take them when we're tidying up. On the other hand, Louis the octopus at the Blue Reef Aquarium in Newquay, Cornwall, doesn't like it when the keepers take his toy away to fill it with treats. I love the picture of him clinging to his Mr Potato Head.
I followed this link from Boing Boing, who were sent it by Spluch.

Friday, 11 January 2008

can dogs think of the future?

I wonder whether Penny can think about future events? Each day I receive an excerpt from a book, mailed to me from an intriguing site called Today's snippet was from a text by Daniel Gilbert called Stumbling on Happiness, published by Knopf, 2006, pp. 4-5:
"The human being is the only animal that thinks about the future. Now ... I do recognize that non-human animals often act as though they have the capacity to think about the future. ... For example ... the squirrels in my yard act as though they know they will be unable to eat later unless they bury some food now ... [but instead] they have regular squirrel brains that run food-burying programs when the amount of sunlight that enters their regular squirrel eyes decreases by a critical amount. Shortened days trigger burying behavior with no intervening contemplation of tomorrow ... Until a chimp weeps at the thought of growing old alone, or turns down a Fudgesicle because it already looks to fat in shorts, I will stand by my [statement]. We think about the future in a way that no other animal can, does, or ever has, and this simple, ubiquitous, ordinary act is a defining feature of our humanity. ...

"The greatest achievements of the human brain is its ability to imagine objects and episodes that do not exist in the realm of the real, and it is this ability that allows us to think about the future. As one philosopher noted, the human brain is an 'anticipation machine,' and 'making future' is the most important thing it does."
I understand what the first paragraph says, but I question the idea that dogs, for instance, can't imagine situations that don't exist right now. It seems to me that each evening Penny sits around speculating as to whether the possums have come out in our garden. She'll go out to see and come back if there's nothing happening. Surely, in a wild dog pack, someone in the pack must be able to plan ahead, or who would decide it was time to go on a hunt?

Stanely Coren, in his book How Dogs Think; Understanding the Canine Mind, says that the ancient Greek philosophers Plato and Diogenes had a higher opinion of the intellect of dogs than we do these days. Diogenes even adopted the nickname "Cyon," which means "Dog." When he founded his school of philosophy, he and his followers were known by his nickname as "Cynics" or "Dog Thinkers."

Coren relates the following anecdote as evidence of his own dog's ability to plan ahead:
There are many times when the behavior of my own dogs brings me back to the admiring views of Plato and Diogenes. One cold rainy day, when I was feeling too tired and uncomfortable to take my dogs on their usual morning walk, they had to content themselves with being let out in the yard for a short while. For my flat-coated retriever, Odin, this simply was not an acceptable situation and, late in the afternoon, I was disturbed from my reading by a clatter at my feet. I looked down and noticed that Odin had somehow found his leash and deposited it on the floor. I picked it up, put it on the sofa next to me, and gave him a pat and a reassuring "Later, Odin."
A few minutes passed and there was another clatter at my feet; I found that Odin had now deposited one of my shoes beside me. When I didn't respond, he quickly retrieved the other shoe and put it down next to me. Obviously, to his mind, I was being quite dense or stubborn, since I still delayed going out into the cold and wet weather. It was at that moment that Odin ran to the door and gave a familiar bark. It was a distinctive sound that he only used when my wife, Joan, was approaching the door. I had spent several years teaching at a university in New York City and had developed the habit typical of New Yorkers, which involves always locking doors, even on days when I was inside working at home. This tended to annoy Joan, who grew up in the safer and less paranoid environment of Alberta, Canada. So when Odin gave his "Joan is here" bark, I got up to unlock the door rather than leave her fumbling for her keys in the rain and getting annoyed with my inconvenient habit. The moment I got within a foot or two of the door, Odin dashed back to the sofa and grabbed his leash. Before I had even determined that Joan's car had not arrived in its usual place, he was nudging my hand with the leash he carried in his mouth.
I started to laugh at his subterfuge. I could imagine his mental discourse of the past few minutes running something like "I want a walk, so here's my leash.—OK, I've brought you your shoes, so let's walk.—All right now, while you're already standing at the door, and while I'm now offering you the leash, why don't we just take that walk?" I have obviously added to Odin's behavior a whole lot of reasoning, an internal dialogue, and the idea that there was some kind of conscious planning involved; however, these behaviors certainly would have been consistent with his actions. And by the way, he did get his walk.
Coren suggests that in the seventeenth century the influential French philosopher Rene Descartes taught that dogs can not think, because it was not consistent with his religious beliefs to accept intelligence in dogs.

It's likely that dogs don't think as we do, though. William E. Campbell, in a book called How Dogs Think, suggests that they think in images. He points out that we humans think in images at times, too.

I like this excerpt from on The Tricky Issue of Assessing Dog Intelligence, which points out that as long as we keep comparning other species to our own way of seeing the world, of course they won't seem to be as intelligent as we are.
Our understanding of dog intelligence has come along way and certainly immense comprehensive strides have been made since the days of Rene Descartes (the renowned French philosopher, scientist and mathematician) who pioneered the school of thought that proposed animals were nothing more than biological machines!

According to Descartes, observed animal behavior amounted to nothing more than a reflex response to external stimuli, much in the same way as when a bare-footed person steps on a sharp object such as a thumb tack when they immediately withdraw the affected foot without any apparent conscious decision.

Descartes' views on animal intelligence, or more accurately put, lack thereof, not only denied the existence of intelligence in animals they propounded that animals were not self-aware and thus were incapable of emotional range or being able to consciously register pain. Being an extremely influential person of his time Descartes' opinions went a long way in justifying undue cruelty to animals be it through experimentation or otherwise.

However thankfully those barbaric days are long behind us and today it is the rare individual who still believes that animals are incapable of thought or emotions. That said though, there's still a ways to go before we can accurately qualify and quantify animal intelligence. Ironically this is perhaps so for the simple reason that since we measure the intelligence of different species against that of ourselves we are inherently practicing anthropomorphism (attributing human qualities and characteristics to non-human subjects, be they animals or inanimate objects), because we innately identify and attribute higher value to those behaviors that somehow mimic ours or make some form of sense to us.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

the third eyelid in dogs

I don't generally look closely at Penny's eyes except when she rolls in the privet blossom that is everywhere in our backyard at the moment and I'm trying to brush the tiny flowers off her gorgeous long eyelashes. (I have read that dogs with hair that falls over their eyes, as Penny's will do if it's not trimmed, have longer than usual eyelashes to hold the 'fringe' away from their eyes. The Lhasa Apso has this feature and I'm convinced that somewhere in the mix of Penny's ancestry is one of these beautiful creatures.)

Anyway, back to eyes...
A friend had a scare the other day when her dog's eye seemed to be partly red and rolled back into her head. The vet said it was a problem with 'the third eyelid'. I looked around on the Net for some information and came across a series of photos of the third eyelid at The Pet In part it says:
The Third Eyelid is also known as the Nictitating Membrane. It serves as added protection for the eye through an interesting ability to close upward and over the dog's eyeball. The canine is able to retract the entire eyeball backward into the eye socket, and coupled with this retraction is the Third Eyelid's ability to slide up and over the retracted globe.
At LookD. com there's a general overview of dog anatomy and it says:
Each eye of a dog has three eyelids, the main upper and lower lids and a third lid hidden between them in the inner corner of the eye. The third eyelid can sweep across the transparent cornea of the eye and clean it like a windshield wiper.
ChinaRoad Lowchens of Australia has an article about conjunctivitis. It says this is a common problem in dogs and looks at various causes. It continues:
Regardless of the cause, a patient with conjunctivitis will often squint and/or keep the third eyelid partially covering the eyeball. Conjunctivitis is often painful, causing a dog to paw at or rub the eye against objects such as your leg or the carpet.

Monday, 7 January 2008

helpful dogs

Penny tries to help us with the work around the house. For instance, if we mow the lawn and don't rake up the cut grass, she will roll in it over the next few days. Thus she is able to bring quite a lot of it inside the house so that we can all share that refreshing aroma of cut grass.

When we had a mysterious plague of freshly-hatched blowflies (I shudder to think where they were coming from, but it seemed to be from the roof-space) she was on the job 24/7, eating them as soon as they arrived at floor level.

If a minute speck of food falls to the floor she acts as a one-dog disposal squad.

However, she isn't up to the standard of Connie, The Dog Who Cleans And Does Laundry.

Amongst other tasks, Connie, a beautiful newfoundland, places dirty clothes inside the washing machine, puts a detergent ball inside, and then turns on the machine with her paw. Wow! Later, Connie moves the washed clothes to the dryer.

Okay... but aren't newfies champion droolers?

Saturday, 5 January 2008

knowing the ingredients in commercial dog foods

I'd better confess straight away that although I mostly 'raw feed' Penny, she does get commercial dog foods some of the time. For instance, I like Nature's Gift canned food and Ziwi canned foods when I am looking for something to stuff into her kongs and freeze. This is especially useful in the hot weather we're having.

I also feed Eagle Pack and Evo dried food on occasion, often in some sort of interactive toy where she has to work to get the food out.

I also use 4-Legs cooked food and their meat treats.

Today I was reading Bark Blog and followed a link to The Dog Food Project by Sabine Contreras, where there is list of ingredients you might find in commercial foods. The author says it will be updated as more information becomes available. To me it seems a useful reference. When I'm thinking about buying new food I could check it against this list. I think I might get out some of the foods on our shelf and check the ingredients.

Friday, 4 January 2008

book about a dog called Lucky

Yesterday I saw a new book called 'Lucky for Me'. It had a photo of a dog who looked like Penny and seemed as if it might be a fun read so I bought it - intending to add it to my 'to be read 'pile. In other words I thought I'd get around to it one day.

Then I dipped into it... and hours later I was finished! I laughed out loud at parts of the story of how a hard-drinking journalist fell in love with a 'seafaring, cat-hating, tree-climbing' terrier. What I loved about this book is that the guy was able to express the love that many of us feel for a dog and our realisation that our traditional distinction between humans and the rest of the animal world might have to be rethought.

It was also a lesson to me to 'lighten up' in my interactions with Penny. The couple in the story decide they won't be 'disciplining' the rescue dog they adopt, they will be loving him. He continues to be an independent and free-thinking animal who brings surprises and sometimes worry into their lives because he never conforms entirely to our human society.

Another thing I liked about this book was that it is actually the story of the dog. Some supposed dog stories I've read are really a biography of the author with a dog thrown in for colour. This one isn't like that.

It's by an Australian journalist and has a definite Australian colour to it - readers from other continents might find that an extra feature. I scanned Amazon in the UK and in the US but it wasn't listed. That sometimes happens with Australian books. The title of the book above has a link to the Australian publisher and the reader reviews give more reactions than mine to this enjoyable book.

Thursday, 3 January 2008

the heritage of our mutts

I just came across a wonderful book in Andrew's Bookshop, in my local shopping street. It's called The Mutt Book. It has extensive photos of all kinds of mutts with clear instructions for assessing features that might point to the origins of your dog. For instance, it has pages with photos of different body shapes, ears, muzzles, coats and tails, and pointers about how to examine your own dog to check out her background.

I looked through it for ages, trying to decide whether to buy it; Andrew's is the kind of shop where you feel you can browse at your leisure. I put it back on the shelf because I think I'll ask my local library to buy a copy. It's the sort of book that would be a great library acquistion because it is a reference for all of us who wonder about the genetic heritage of our dogs.

At Amazon there is a good example of the book, with plenty of pages to look at. The index doesn't refer to maltese, poodle or shih tzu, which I think are Penny's three ancestries, so that was why I didn't buy it.

On the other hand, I might just wander up to the shop tomorrow and think about it again...

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

why my dog loves puddles

Penny loves every kind of water - except for her bath. If we walk in Darebin Parklands in wet weather there's a particular place where a muddy puddle forms and Penny will always plonk herself into it, often rolling over (to make quite sure she collects enough dirt to cover the entire kitchen floor).

When we walk along the creek in summer we have to watch out that she doesn't suddenly disappear down the bank into the creek.

And I still don't like to recall the time that she launched herself suddenly into the Yarra River at Studley Park to chase a ball and then couldn't climb up the bank. Suffice it to say I got rather muddy before she was on land again.

Last night I was following a link from one of my favorite blogs, The Pet Museum, and arrived at The Poodle History Project. For a lover of literature and of history, this site is an endless source of entertainment. Incidentally, those who grew up as I did devouring the Regency romances of Georgette Heyer, will be interested in the part about the Prince Regent's friend 'Poodle Byng'.

Okay, so what does this have to do with Penny rolling in puddles? Well, as I have mentioned before, her ancestry is somewhat mysterious. She was sold to us as a maltese X shih tzu with one poodle grandparent. We've always taken the poodle heritage with a grain of salt, except for occasional remarks by passers-by about her coat or the shape of her muzzle. What we hadn't taken into consideration was her passion for water.

I hadn't made the connection between the word 'poodle' and the word 'puddle' until last night. I looked it up on a few etymological sites and there it was... They come from the same linguistic source - poodles are puddle dogs.

So, maybe Penny does have poodle ancestry. Of course, that leads to a new nickname for her - 'Penny the Puddler'. (One of the other ones is The Flying Carpet).

Tuesday, 1 January 2008

teaching a turtle to do dog tricks

When I first started learning how to work with Penny on tricks I would get impatient with myself for my inability to give consistent signals or reward at the appropriate moment. I'd mix up the verbal signals and Penny would have to figure out whether I meant her to do what the hand signal was saying or what the words said. Maybe that's why she's an adaptable learner. Perhaps every dog should start out with a marginally competent trainer!

I still need to reassure myself that we will make progress, and that, as the old fable says, 'Slow and sure wins the race.' It sometimes seems that we are moving as slowly as a tortoise.

However, it hasn't taken us ten years to learn tricks, as it has for a animal that lives with a Florida psychologist. He's trained his turtle to sit, stay, heel, roll over, shake hands with either 'paw' and play dead, amongst other things.

I was enjoying the video immensely until I read the 'comments' under the clip. A couple of people criticised the guy for the fact that the turtle has a long beak that should have been clipped before now. However, when I browsed a range of reptile sites the members were not critical of the owner so I guess as long as he learns from his commenters all will be well.

I'm amazed that a turtle would learn so many things, but I guess they've got plenty of time as they live so long.

I noticed that the animal was always referred to as a turtle, although I would have thought of it as a tortoise seeing it has feet and not flippers.

happy new year to all

Penny is lying on the hot kitchen floor, tired out but not sleeping because it is over 30 degrees in the house at 1:30 am on the first day of the year. I think that would be somewhere near 90 degrees fahrenheit.

I've cooled her down with a wet towel on her stomach, but she keeps wandering around looking for a new spot to doze.

However, I feel sure she would join me in wishing everyone, canine and human, a great start to the new year and lots of good times in 2008.

(If tonight is global warming in action, I don't look forward to the coming summers. Let's hope we can all work together to keep our one and only world in good shape for the future.)