Thursday, 29 May 2008

Wagging tails and tagging tales from dog blogs

Penny has been tagged by Cooper and Levi, so I'm going to do my best to write down her answers to the seven questions.

Heres' what she said: 'Woof, bark, woofie, grr, grr, harrrrk, frwww, woof, hhh, hhhh, bark.' I've got a nice little translation thingy on the side of this blog so you can translate into quite a few languages, but to save you time I'll translate into English for a start.

1. What was Penny doing 10 years ago?
Ten years ago Penny wasn't even a gleam in her father's eye. In fact, he hadn't at that stage wandered into a Macdonalds car park and met her aristocratic mother, thus creating a problem for the breeder who owned the mother.

2. What are 5 things on her to-do list for today?
Chase balls.
Look longingly at her leash.
Bark at possums
Bark at the next-door cat that struts around the front garden of our place.
Glance at her leash.
Check out every window in the house just in case that cat might have forgotten that Penny can in fact get out into the back yard.
Bark at possums
Check out the leash.
Go and see whether any of the humans look as if they might get her leash down so we can go for a walk.
Bark at possums.

Ooops! More than five things... But it's a busy life when you're a dog.

3. Snacks she enjoys
Possum poo
Dog biscuits
Raw vegetables
Decaying sandwiches that the local schoolkids have hidden in the bushes near the school gate
Scraps near the Subway shop
Basically anything that is a carbon-based life-form

4. Things she would do if she were a billionaire
Buy lots of houses and units so homeless people and their dogs would have a place to live.
(Oh, she says it would be okay for cats to live there, too. Maybe...
Well, she's still thinking about that one.)

5. Three of her bad habits
Penny doesn't admit to any, so I'll have to report that she:
Sleeps on humans' beds if the bedroom doors are left ajar, even if she has just rolled in something 'lovely';
Barks at possums late at night.
Pulls on the lead.
Decides she doesn't remember what 'sit' means, in the middle of training.
Is mean to visiting dogs in the house.

6. Five places she has lived.
Her breeder's house (while she was gestating inside her mum).
The vet clinic where she was born and saved from being 'put down' immediately after birth.
The vet's other clinic on the other side of town.
Her home and her 'other' home in the mountains.

7. Five jobs she has had.
Chasing cats away from the home.
Chasing possums away from the home.
Chasing crows (ravens) away from the home.
Warning of the arrival of strangers.
Warning that strangers are walking down our street.

Now we're supposed to tag some other blogs but I always get terribly confused about that so I'll just leave an open invitation to any visitors with blogs to join in the fun!

Wednesday, 28 May 2008

canine fitness routine for the city dwelling dog

Penny and I went for a walk in Darebin Parklands this evening and we both took the opportunity to improve our level of fitness (me by strolling around and her by racing all over the place, chasing balls and swimming in the creek). I think we’re incredibly lucky to have an open area at the bottom of our street where she is allowed to walk off-lead. I’m sure that if she had to toddle around the streets on a leash at my middle-aged pace, she’d be overweight and unfit.

We city dwellers have to work hard to find opportunities to keep our dogs fit. I’ve just read an article in the magazine ‘Dog World’ about finding places in a city to exercise a dog. The author, Liz Palika, is a dog-trainer, behavioural consultant and AKC CGC evaluator. She says that one of the advantages of living in a city is that the dog gets plenty of chances to experience different surfaces, such as grass, asphalt, sand and dirt – this will increase all-round confidence when faced with new experiences.

There’s also a photo of a dog in what seems to be a small backyard, standing up on its back legs to get a treat. The caption under the picture says that when a dog goes from a sit to a stand the rear legs and core muscles are exercised. Cindy, the teacher at K9 Kompany in Lilydale, where Penny and I go each week, also emphasises the usefulness of stretches for maintaining a dog’s health. It sounds rather like ‘Pilates for Dogs’, now that I think of it. This is the first time I’ve heard the expression ‘core muscles’ used for a dog, though I’m familiar with it in my own exercise classes.

The article also mentions an exercise routine that Cindy uses at the start of many classes. It’s ‘sit-ups’, doggy-style. Penny goes from a sit to a drop and up again. The writer of the article says that the idea is to get some speed on this so that the dog does lots of push-ups in a very short time. Hmmm… I’m pretty sure Penny’s ancestry involves lounging around in a Tibetan monastery looking to see if anyone is coming up the valley. She’s not easy to convince that she needs to do exercises quickly. Have to think about that one…

However, the exercise that sounds like fun is the one that Christine Zink, author of a book on dog fitness called ‘The Agility Advantage’, recommends. The dog gets into a beg position and then rises onto the back legs without putting the front legs down. It sounds as if it would be great for Penny because I sometimes think she is not using her rear legs strongly when she runs. We've practised it in the past with her rising up once to get a treat but haven't tried it as an repeated exercise.

The article is from the June 2008 edition of Dog World, volume 93, issue 6, and it’s on pages 36-40. At the DogWorld site there are five great tips for increasing a city dog’s fitness and general agility.

Monday, 26 May 2008

Photographing dogs

Penny doesn't really like it when we point a camera lens at her. She usually looks away. But she'll just have to get used to it, because we're having too much fun shooting pics of her. Here are a few, just for fun and no particular reason:

Friday, 23 May 2008

cloning our dogs

Penny and I were out walking with Jabari and her mum today and we were discussing the news that puppies have been produced by cloning. I said that it would be wonderful to have an exact copy of Penny - it seems to me that only cloning would replicate the unique series of events that produced this beloved dog. She is a mixed breed of basically unknown ancestry, so even if we had not had her neutered, any puppies she produced would most probably not have been like her.

Jabari's mum said that even a cloned dog is not a copy of the parent - in other words, it will have different life experiences from the original dog. She also maintained that it's impossible to ever know for sure that cloned individuals are in fact identical in every way - temperament, for instance. This is an interesting question that has been debated for years by philosphers and psychologists. Hundreds of studies of human identical twins have debated the 'nature versus nurture' question. Just how much are our life experiences and reactions - or those of our dogs - determined by genetic inheritance? I've heard the comment made that even if twins share the same DNA and placenta, there are differences in experiences. One is born before the other, for a start. Each has a the other, different twin to live with throughout life.

In humans, if two or more children are born at the same time, we call them twins and consider it a somewhat unusual situation. If they are then found to be identical twins, it's more unusual. However, dogs routinely give birth to sets of babies, so we don't consider the puppies anything other than routine 'litter mates'. I've found reference to at least one case where it was assumed that two puppies with similar markings were probably identical twins.

There's also a discussion at a blog called AnswerGirl about identical twinning in dogs. One of the commenters says that she feels sure she has identical twins because she saw the birth and two of the puppies came out of the same sac. It's interesting that AnswerGirl said she has two (human!) identical twin sisters and it has always been easy to tell them apart because "various environmental factors can make them look slightly different from each other, just as with humans."

I recently taught two children who were identical twins. It was fun to listen to them finish off each other's sentences. It seemed as if they each knew what the other would say before she started speaking. However, they looked very different. One was smaller and less sturdy-looking. She cheerfully said that her sister had 'stolen her food' in the womb and if they hadn't been born when they were, she would have soon died.

When I looked at the video clip of the puppies (who have been produced at a cost of more than two million dollars, if I understood the reporter), I thought they were beautiful, but I wondered if we have the right to play with nature this way. By the way, I got the address for the video in an email from Dr Jon at

It makes me think back to the fuss when 'Snuppy' was reportedly cloned in South Korea in 2005. When the scientist was discovered to have faked some of his research in other areas, some wondered whether Snuppy was in fact a kind of identical twin, produced by a technique called embryo splitting. One might have been frozen and produced later to seem like a clone of the other twin. Many reports produced by a Google search on this topic say that Nature magazine was to conduct a study to check the results but I can't see any sites that say whether it in fact happened.

Interestingly, there is a report that two puppies were due to be born around now, after Snuffy impregnated two other cloned dogs. Reports say it was by artificial insemination.

It all sounds incredibly complex, expensive and strangely unethical, to me. I think I'll just enjoy the one and only Penny...

Saturday, 10 May 2008

dogs and cats

Penny spends part of her time in Melbourne, in the suburbs, and the rest of her time in the mountains east of Melbourne. At each place the neighbour has a cat. The two cats are allowed to roam freely and enter our property. I don't mind in either case, but Penny does.

She seems to hate these intruders. Normally a peaceful and amicable kind of creature, she is transformed into a barking, lunging, frenzied maniac when she sees them outside her house. Both cats appear to understand just which parts of the garden Penny can't reach. That's where they sun themselves or stroll around in a leisurely fashion.

I've tried desensitising Penny by standing in full view of her, holding and stroking the felines, but I don't think it's doing any good. Or, if it is, it's going to be a long process.

In view of all this, I was interested to get an email today from Dr Jon, from, about the difference in cat-tolerance between different breeds of dogs. Their guest columnist, The Irreverent Vet, has contributed an article that says, in part:
The dogs that are best around cats are dogs that are not predatory and were raised around cats. Especially, dogs raised and socialized around lots of different cats, including your cats.
Dog Owners Guide at has an article called "Making peace between dogs and cats; is co-existence possible?" in which they say that the level of prey drive in the breed or individual dog can give an indication of how hard it will be to teach the dog to live with a cat. Having watched Penny leap on her soft toys and shake them to "kill" them, I'm pretty sure her prey drive is high. She is, after all, some kind of terrier, even if we're not sure what kind.

I'm not fond of the method that was suggested to acclimatise a dog to a new cat, as it involves 'correcting' the dog by having her on lead and jerking the lead if she moves to investigate a cat being held by an assistant. However, it does mention the alternative, having the dog on lead and rewarding for quiet behaviour around the cat, thus associating cats with pleasant experiences. This seems to me a more long-lasting method of changing behaviour. The idea is that the helper will bringthe cat closer each time, with the whole process taking as long as necessary. It may take weeks or more.

There was a further link on this page to "Fighting furry furies? Dogs and cats don't always have to fight like cats and dogs". It doesn't go along with the idea that cats and dogs are natural "enemies", but points out that they are both predatory species. There are a number of ideas about how to teach dogs to accept cats.

After thinking about all this, I reckon I'll continue with my method of holding the cats where Penny can see them, but I think I'll get a helper to feed her treats whenever she is quiet and calm. The problem is, of course, that I'm never going to put it to the ultimate test, because I wouldn't want to bring someone else's pet near enough to be frightened by Penny. So, I guess unless we decide to have a cat ourselves it'll never be resolved.

Friday, 9 May 2008

a dog's diet

Recently someone commented to me that Penny has lost weight. I didn't think it was likely, but I called in at the vet's to weigh her and the results were normal. This incident got me thinking about whether we are feeding her enough. (We are.)

I remember when I first held her, I looked down at the tiny creature in my hands and said nervously to the vet, ''How to people keep them alive?" (You can probably tell that I haven't had children, or I would have known that we all just muddle through.) I asked the vet how much to feed her and he suggested a general amount and said we'd know if we were doing okay.

Well, to judge by her level of activity and her shape, we've got it about right. I was told recently that we should be able to feel the last two ribs quite clearly and there shouldn't be too much fat over the other ribs. The vet said to just compare with how my own ribs feel. I thought that was rather kind of him, given that there's a 'little' more fat on me than I would want to see on Penny.

However, to judge by her starving look, you'd think we never fed her. She sits pitifully by our sides as we prepare meals, probably encouraged in this behaviour by the regular scraps that 'fall' to the floor - ends of carrots and tips of beans, for instance.

It's the walks on lead, though, that bring out the scavenger in her. Sure, if we give the command that means 'walk nicely on lead and don't stray by even half a metre', she doesn't scan the surroundings for possible sustenance. But if we're just mooching along companionably, she realises that it's up to her to collect as much food as she can, for fear that we might forget to ever feed her again. We don't seem to have such a problem when she's off lead - I think she's too busy enjoying the surroundings and keeping an eye out for any areas of mown grass where her humans might toss a ball around.

I've been trying to define what it is that she looks for and the only parameters I can think of are, 'If it's carbon-based you can eat it.' That would include:
sticks (just chew off the bark, don't eat the whole thing);
possum poo;
cat poo;
horse poo, of course;
the occasional dog poo (very mysterious why this happens, but thank goodness it's quite seldom);
rotting leaves of the right kind;
some rotting fruit (she's quite choosy about which ones);
lollies (fortunately easy to spot because of the bright colours, so these are usually wrenched out of her mouth before she can swallow them);
suitable types of grass;
and, best of all (but she has to be VERY QUICK with these because those greedy humans ALWAYS try to wrestle them away from her with lots of angry yelling) cooked chop bones and chicken bones. It's amazing how many cooked bones there are lying around in a seemingly clean suburban landscape.

Oh, I forgot...paper. Paper's good for chewing on and shredding, not so much for actually swallowing.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

great blog article on joint supplements and fatty acids for dogs

I was happy to see an article today at one of my favorite blogs - Dolittler. I've often mentioned this blog, written by a vet in the US. Today, most appropriately for my current concerns, she's discussing the role of supplements in ' thwarting the chronic inflammatory process we observe in joints'.

I love that word 'thwart'! That's what I want to do - stop Penny's pain before it begins.

Dolittler mentions a new product that combines fatty acids with glucosamine and green-lipped mussel extract. Given that I've just bought some melrose omega-3 liquid that says on the label that it's rich in omega-3 and omega-6 plant and marine essential fatty acids, and that I'm using Glyde, a super-expensive(sigh...) powder with the other ingredients she's mentioning, I'm feeling quite chuffed at reading her article.

Dolittler has a link to an article in Veterinary Practice News that says, in part:
researchers at Harvard Medical School have unearthed novel biochemical pathways and families of endogenous mediators derived from omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids that not only prevent but help resolve inflammation.1 They named these mediator families “resolvins” (Rvs) and “protectins” (PDs), to connote their respective roles in controlling the acute inflammatory response and in effecting its resolution.

I think both Dolittler's post and this article are well worth studying.

teaching a dog to beg

At K-9 Kompany last week, our teacher Cindy showed us how to do the 'begging' trick. I've always been a bit wary of it because Penny has a long back, but Cindy says if it's done carefully it will help Penny to develop strong muscles in her back, so we are trying it.

First we started with a 'sit'.

Next I held out a treat, quite far back above her so that she had to reach up to it but not come forward.

I didn't do it very well, because I held it up too high and she really came off her haunches. Cindy said the idea was to hold it just above her mouth so that if she wasn't confident at first, she could hold onto my wrists with her paws, which she is doing a bit in this photo.

I was rather pleased with how far we went in just a couple of short sessions. Here is Penny doing it fairly well, I think.

Friday, 2 May 2008

supplements to support joint health in dogs

Penny has been taking an expensive joint supplement for about a year, but about a week ago we finished off a container and decided to see whether we would notice any difference if we stopped giving it to her.
Well, she began to limp.

I hurried to my vet clinic to buy more, as I think we were told that this type of supplement has a cumulative effect rather than an immediate one - I wanted to start her straight back onto it. My vet reassured me that it would be a good idea to continue with the supplement indefinitely, as it would do no harm. After he had left, I chatted to the assistant on the desk and I noticed that other brands of joint support were half the price. We looked at the labels and tried to work out the exact amount of active ingredients in the powder but didn't have enough knowledge to work out the maths of it all. I'll have to ask the vet to explain to me why one product is so much more expensive.

I was willing to pay the price because I believe in the saying, 'You get what you pay for,' but I did wonder if I was being gullible and sucked in by a fancy marketing ploy. So I've had a look around the Net to see what I can find out.

An interesting article at msnbc is headed Arthritis Supplements Often Lack Key Ingredient. It starts off
If the bottle of supplements you bought to help ease arthritis pain hasn’t helped, the reason might be that the pills don’t contain the ingredients they’re supposed to.

Of the 20 joint supplements marketed to people and their pets that were selected by and tested by independent laboratories, 40 percent failed to contain what their labels promised.

All the problems popped up among products that claimed to contain chondroitin, a key — and pricey — ingredient. Of 11 such brands, eight came up short on the substance, which is purported to inhibit enzymes that break down the cartilage in joints
Okay... chondroitin is expensive. So now I need to learn how to figure out which product has the most of it. After that, I guess I'm at the mercy of the companies that sell it, as there is no way I can know how responsible they are about their product. In the end, I have to trust my vet, who says that he believes that the brand I'm buying is the best.

But... why does he sell the other brands, then?

At Doctors Foster and Smith, a pet supply business in the US, there is a list of questions about joint supplements. One discusses whether these can be given to dogs indefinitely. They say
Most dogs with arthritis need to be on a joint supplement for the rest of their lives. Studies have shown that in arthritic joints, cartilage degeneration will reoccur about four to six months after the arthritis supplement is discontinued. Once the product has promoted healing for 6-8 weeks, the dose can often be reduced
Well, if that's the case, then I shouldn't have noticed an immediate return of Penny's limp. It should have taken at least some weeks for the effect of the supplement to wear off.

It's all quite mysterious to me. I guess a trip to the vet for a checkup will be the first thing to do. I think I might also visit an alternative therapist for a wider view of the issue. (By the way, an x-ray didn't show anything.)

The Foster and Smith site has some pages about causes and treatment of arthritis, hip dysplasia and other joint disease that I found informative, and I was reassured by what they write in a discussion of supplements:
These products are very safe and show very few side effects. There are many different glucosamine/chondroitin products on the market, but they are not all created equal. We have seen the best results from products that contain pure ingredients that are human grade in quality.
I realise that they are in the business of selling these type of products, but it makes sense that human grade would be the best quality possible and I think that might be why the product I buy is more expensive.

At AllExperts there is an interesting overview of limping in dogs. It reminds me that there might be some simple explanation of why Penny is limping at the moment.

I also browsed some of the forums where people have posted a question about their limping dog and feel somewhat relieved that plenty of dogs seem to have a limp when they first start moving. In fact, at AskMetaFilter someone suggested the point whe have been thinking about, that maybe it's simply the way Penny sleeps with one paw tucked under.