Tag Archives: dog behavior

Puppy Mill

I supported a puppy mill.  Not directly, but I puppy mill poodle Leo May 23 2010contributed to the financial well-being of one. My Standard Poodle Leo had spent five years in a US puppy mill as a breeding dog. His adoption fee from All Breed Canine Rescue was $100 higher than the usual because the original rescue group in the States had paid the puppy mill owner $100 each for the dogs they had taken from him. I truly hope he just didn’t go out and buy new dogs. He may well have, since this wasn’t an official “seizure” of the dogs by animal welfare authorities. I am glad that Leo and his cohort got away but it breaks my heart to think about their replacements. I wonder how long they’ll have to live like these dogs did before they get out, to a better life I hope.

When I went to pick him up almost two years ago, I saw all the dogs. Volunteers from the American rescue transport group Open Arms Pound Rescue had brought them to Canada. The majority were adult Labradoodles,  so breeding dogs. They were cowering in the cars in which they’d been traveling. Some almost skeletal, matted dry hair – just laying there looking terrified. Some I was reluctant to go near – bared teeth warning. Two were outside their car. A big blonde adult male was standing defensively in front of a smaller adult female. She was pressed against the side of the car, trying to disappear. He wouldn’t let anyone near her. Some of the younger ones were happy to be petted and fussed over. A couple small pups, Poodles, were soaking up affection in people’s arms.

Meeting Leo

My chosen foster dog, Leo, meanwhile, was trotting around on the end of a leash meeting and greeting. I thought he Leo's first day home Sep 2008belonged to the man holding the leash, until that man said to me “I think this is your dog?” When I put him in my car, I realized that he reeked – dirty dog smell, urine and faeces. We drove home with the windows wide open.

It wasn’t until we were at home, away from the truly sad cases, that I realized just how weird he really was. Not just that he wasn’t housetrained and didn’t know how to get up or down steps – neither of those things are surprising in an outdoor kennel dog. He just didn’t connect with humans at all. He wasn’t overtly scared or show dislike of people – just seemed to not see them. With dogs and cats, he was fine – didn’t pay a lot of attention to them but wasn’t nasty. He wasn’t nasty with anyone, just wasn’t there somehow. I’d never seen anything like it.

Puppy mill autism?

He bonded with me right off the bat, but still didn’t really look at me. Just stayed very very close to me. I thought about naming him Velcro, but it seemed like a joke that was very sad. It was like I was his safety base, but he never really saw me even though he kept his eyes on me constantly. It seemed like a severe case of autism – man-made.

LeoWhite-haired man-made I realized the first time I heard him bark. We were at my mother’s and her neighbour came over. He’s tall and white-haired. Leo barked frantically and showed great fear.  For many months after, even after he’d settled into normalcy, Leo reacted that way with any white-haired man, especially if he was tall. So I know that much about the puppy mill operator. Leo’s only other fear/aggression reaction to people came when anyone, but especially a male, would touch his rear end. Even now, after almost two years, he still moves quickly away if a man pats his rump.

Inability to connect with humans, fear of men and of having his rear touched – those were his main psychological problems. His physical problems – I think at least one vet’s child can thank Leo for a year’s university costs. The amount of money that went just in the first few months to get Leo to a healthy state was stupendous. Parasites, bad teeth, gastrointestinal problems, urinary tract infections – all part and parcel of poor nutrition and bad living conditions.

Maybe a show kennel start

It’s been a learning process for me as well as Leo. He ate his meals well right from when he came to us. He had no idea what treats were and was reluctant to take food from your hand. That proved problematic at obedience class. His teacher said “Poodles are often fussy eaters.” Not him. Once he got the idea of treats, that ceased to be a problem!

Interestingly, the hardest thing to teach him was what is usually the easiest – sit. It took three weeks of classes, with plenty of homework done, before he would sit when asked. His teacher and other people have suggested that he may have started life as a prospective show dog. Apparently the main thing show dogs are taught is not to sit.

Sitting is the one thing they are not allowed to do in a show ring. And Leo, Leo and Charlie Dog Park Grand Opening photo John Blakeeven when he was getting the hang of all the other basic commands, would not sit. It was a wonderful moment when he did the first time. Now he plunks himself in a ‘sit’ in front of perfect strangers if he thinks he might get a treat out of it.

Dog show people have also looked at him for the stance that show dogs have or learn. It’s called ‘stacking’, where they position their legs to show themselves to best advantage. Leo does it automatically. So he may have come from a show dog kennel to the puppy mill anywhere from 4 months to a year old. He’s short, so that alone would disqualify him from show ring aspirations.

Puppy Mill ‘stock’

Dogs that don’t make the cut have to go somewhere and some breeders will let them go anywhere. So dogs that aren’t “good enough” for kennel club standards are turned into breeding machines for “substandard” pups to supply the pet store, private sale and Kijiji markets. Leo’s days of making babies are over. But I wonder how many Labradoodles and Poodles that I see on line for stud service or for sale are his descendants.

Leo really brought home for me the horrors of puppy mill dog production. Lois, of ABCR, said that these dogs weren’t bad compared to others she has seen. Her guess is that they came from a small-scale ‘miller’ operation, those with more dogs than ‘backyard breeders’ and less than ‘puppy mills’. I’ve seen the pictures of dogs seized in raids on puppy mills, I watched the documentary on Oprah. I cried for those dogs and for the inhumanity of the people responsible. But I never felt the deep pain in my heart until I had Leo, and realized just how sad it was that a sentient creature should learn to live as a means of production and have none of the joys of being alive.

Leo learns to be a dog

Watching Leo the first time he realized it was ok to sit when he was asked, the first time he picked up a toy and clumsily played with it. The first time he willingly approached a man he didn’t know to make friends. All these were moving moments for me, watching my weird dog do regular doggy things. And the day Leo first ran full tilt in a field! I’d had him loose before, and he’d just walk around by my side.

Leo running Sept 2009 photo D Stewart

But finally he took off after Charlie, a few steps. Then he decided to keep going. Charlie got tired and stopped running, and Leo just flew across the field – ears flapping, front feet high-stepping. He didn’t stop for a long time. I cried from happiness as well as sadness when I realized from his look of joy that he had maybe never done this before, and he loved it! Everyone who saw him run those first few times said that “he runs like a gazelle.” It was as if he’d just discovered that he had legs. To this day, he really doesn’t run with other dogs, he runs for the sheer joy of running.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, June 25 2010.

Pittie Myths

Muzzled Pittie wikicommonsI don’t often agree with Peter Worthington, but I did with what he wrote (March 14, 2012) about Pit Bulls and Ontario’s Breed Specific Legislation.  He calls BSL a “Ku Klux Klan law”, “akin to deciding guilt based on appearance, not behaviour.”  Like him, I applaud Cons. Randy Hillier, NDP Cheri DiNova and Lib. Kim Craitor for bringing forward a private members’ bill to rescind it.  No law should apply to a specific breed and dogs who look “substantially similar” to that breed.

Fashions of fear and image-making

A lot of dogs have been in fashion as “feared” dogs.  German Shepherds had their time.  Someone I know found his beautiful Shepherd poisoned, most likely by a neighbour who disliked “that German police dog”.  Then came Doberman Pinschers as the “feared” breed.  There is reason to be fearful of them and most dogs– if you’re not on the side of the fence you belong on, as I heard the owner of an auto wrecker business once say.

But I don’t remember Shepherds or Dobes being the fashion Pit Bulls on album cover Alexis & Fido The Pitbulls 2005accessory for young men that Rottweilers and Pitties became in the past two decades.  Now, it seems to me, Mastiffs and Cane Corsos have supplanted them.

These are all very powerful breeds used for herding and protecting.  They are intelligent and strong-willed.  You have to be their match in order for the relationship to work out well, and just wanting to be isn’t enough.  I would never have a Rottie or Pit Bull.  Dog trainers have told me that I don’t make myself the dog’s boss.  “You’re more a litter mate than alpha dog,” one said.

These powerful breeds of fashion can scare me.  But it’s not the dogs, it’s the owners.  I don’t mean huge, tattooed drug dealers or nasty pimps.  I mean teenagers who cannot have had much experience handling any dog except the family pet because they are just not old enough.  The caution the Westminster dog show announcer gives about some breeds, “not for first-time dog owners”?  Shep, who let you pull his ears when you were two, does not qualify you as an experienced dog owner.

Happy young Pit Bull sitting WikicommonsI also have concerns for these dogs of youthful fashion:  are they being fed right, exercised enough, socialized and trained properly?  You might well be concerned about the same things for their owners.  However, if either of them wig out, the owner won’t be sentenced to death but the dog will.

Myth-making and Pit Bulls

A well looked after, happy Pit Bull is a joy.  A neglected or abused, frightened or aggressive one is not.   Just like any other dog.  The reality is that there have been vicious attacks by Pit Bulls that have killed and seriously maimed people and animals.  But presuming therefore that Pit Bulls are all crazed killers is itself, well, crazy.

ca 1900 photo of child with Nanny dog Pit BullLovers of the breed have tried to counteract the “fighting dog” label by pointing out the breed’s protector instincts.  However, the “Nanny dog” image may be equally damaging to the poor Pittie. The photo at left has circulated the internet, and it’s lovely.  And maybe back then, the Pit Bull was your first choice of baby minder.  But there’s been a hundred years of selective breeding, good and bad, since then and that has an effect on all aspects of a creature.

Gross generalizations on either side are neither accurate nor fair to Pit Bulls.  They deserve to be treated like other dogs without bearing the burden of vilification or sainthood.  To paraphrase Tammy Wynette “after all, he’s just a dog.”  So stand by him and be proud of him for what he is, not the angel or ogre you want him to be.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog Mar. 22, 2012. 4 comments below.

Dog On It: Review

Dog on It is the first in a mystery series by Spencer Quinn, aka Peter Abrahams.  The protagonists are Chet (dog) and Bernie (human).  Set in the US Southwest, the story is told by Chet.  He is a K-9 police school flunk-out and Bernie barely scrapes by as a private detective. They work as an investigation team, but neither of them has a superior or supernatural method of communication with the other.

Amazon for Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
Click to buy on Amazon

Chet understands human language, verbal and body, better than Bernie realizes.  But Chet can’t always convey what he knows to him.  Unlike Randolph, say, in the Bull Moose Dog Run series, he can’t read and doesn’t know how to use human language to communicate.  He does dog type communication – barking, wagging tail, bristling neck hair, growling.  Bernie can misinterpret these signals as Chet wanting a toy or Chet just barking for no good reason.  And Chet sometimes misses the significance of something in the human realm so doesn’t indicate its importance to Bernie.  I found myself thinking, “come on Chet, that’s important – bark!  Tell Bernie!”  And Chet would just think, “hmm, that kinda reminds me of something” and go back to licking himself.

The plot centres on a missing girl, so there are not a lot of doggy elements in the story itself.  You meet a neighbour dog and his situation makes you think.  And there’s a trip to an animal pound – also a lot to think about.

The jacket blurb says you don’t have to be a dog lover to enjoy the story. Being a dog lover, I really liked the insights into dog behaviour from a dog point of view. You get to know the people and dogs through Chet’s eyes. If you aren’t interested in dogs, I don’t know what it would be like reading a story from a dog’s perspective.

Chet and Bernie both can figure things out and are clever, but not overly so.  I don’t know what goes through a dog’s mind, but Chet’s thoughts seem pretty believable.  He comes across as a regular smart and galumphing type dog. So does Bernie. The book is a good who-dun-it, aside from the pleasure of reading something from a likeable dog’s point of view.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, June 28/11

The Wrong Dog

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Aug. 21st, 2010

In the library last week, I found a new-to-me dog mystery writer.  Carol Lea Benjamin writes a series featuring The Wrong Dog Amazon link - Dashiellprivate detective Rachel Alexander and her intrepid Pit Bull partner Dashiell (as in Hammett), Dash for short.  I have so far only read The Wrong Dog which is about cloning of dogs.  The dog who is cloned is a Bull Terrier, a “seizure alert” dog for her person who has severe epilepsy.

It’s a good story with quite a bit of information about dogs’ ability to sense an impending seizure and how they respond in such an event.  It also talks about the issue of cloning, not so much technical information, but more ethical.  What would be the ramifications if we could clone our canine best friend?  Would personality and emotional response be identical or just the physical characteristics?   Can inherent talents like sensing seizures be passed on?  These questions are wrapped in a story of good guys and bad guys, money and loneliness, all set in NYC’s Greenwich Village.

Dashiell doesn’t do the intellectual work of detecting, but he’s good at finding clues and he’s great protection for Rachel.  I didn’t get much of a sense of what Rachel looks like. That’s because in this book at least, Benjamin doesn’t say much about her appearance.  But also, when seeing the name, I kept thinking of the filly who won the 2009 Kentucky Oaks and Preakness.  I’m quite sure the two Rachels don’t look alike.

Carol Lea Benjamin is a dog trainer with several fiction and non-fiction dog books to her credit, and a former detective.  Next time I’m at the library, I’ll be getting out another Rachel and Dash mystery.

Fur Babies

I’m reading Michael Schaffer’s very interesting book  One Nation Under Dog. He talks about the term “pet parent.”  When I first encountered this phrase, I saw it as, yes, a bit ‘politically correct’, as in it’s bad to think of yourself as an authority figure over another being.  It’s like trying to be ‘friends’ with your kids, discussing why they shouldn’t do something, instead of being ‘mom’ explaining only with “because I said so”.

Amazon link for One Nation Under Dog
click for Amazon link

However, I thought it was good to frame the pet/human relationship in terms other than ownership or mastery.  “Ownership” means complete control over and ability to acquire or dispose of at will.  “Mastery” implies the same plus some innate superiority which justifies that control.  So dog owner and dog master are terms fraught with the history of dominance and hierarchical power.

I liked the use of “pet parent” in shelter and rescue writings, seeing it as a way of reminding people that getting a dog or cat is not the same as getting a new dress or car.  When you’re tired of the dress or the car doesn’t fit your lifestyle any more, it’s not going to distress the car or dress if you sell it or give it to the Goodwill.

Relationship of responsibility

But giving your dog away because you’re moving into a new apartment and “they don’t allow dogs”???  If you have a dog, why are you even looking at apartments where dogs aren’t allowed?  If you have children, do you look at an adults-only building and then give the kids away if you really really like the apartment?  Taking on a living, breathing creature makes that creature part of your life and its well-being your responsibility.  The word parent stresses the relationship of responsibility and caretaking instead of the notion of possession.  It also gets away from the nastier connotations of ‘mastery’.

Yes, you have to be the dog’s master in the sense that you ought to be the pack leader.  But are you the master in the sense of having the right to abuse the dog?  No, but it can get muddled in people’s minds.  Spike getting a slap or kick every time he doesn’t sit or heel exactly right is not good ‘mastery’ of the techniques of dog training, but the right to kick or slap is implicit in the notion of being the master (i.e. owner) of something or someone.

However, ‘parent’ requires ‘child’, and so the next term circulating in the pet world was fur babies.  Oh dear.  Granted, some dogs it’s easy Jack & Dot on porch swing Fur Babiesto think of that way, to coo at and cuddle.  The little fuzzy ones.  But a great big German Shepherd – fur baby?   I did babytalk with my late Shepherd and he liked it. In my defense, I raised him from a puppy so he was always my baby.  However, he quickly outgrew any possibility of being thought of as a “furbaby” in his looks and demeanor.  Other dogs in the past, I never thought of as being their ‘mommy’.  We were friends.

Fur Babies or Friends

My present two?  They were adult when we got them, but I use ‘mommy’ and ‘daddy’ with them.  Yes, one is little and fuzzy and likes to be carried and cuddled.  But the other isn’t.  I have no excuse, other than the parent/child terminology with pets has so permeated our society that I have internalized it.  I catch myself calling myself ‘mommy’ to my old cat.  She’s been with me since before the days of pet-parenting.  I feel silly when I say it to her, we always had the relationship of friends and roommates. Something that now comes naturally with the dogs seems cloying and demeaning with her.

Does framing our relationship with pets as one of pet parent and fur babies lead us to infantilize our animals?  Does it cause us to forget their natural traits?   Most dogs have strong protective and hunting instincts.  Your dog, or cat, can save your life.  They can also take life.  Do we run the risk of not respecting both those traits when we think of them as kids in fur coats?

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Mar. 15/10

The Wolf in the Parlor

It took me a few months to read Jon Franklin’s The Wolf in the Parlor: How the dog came to share your brain.  It was my ‘morning coffee’ book.  Those always are read slowly.  But I had trouble with this one.  I considered not finishing it, but I’m glad I did.

Amazon link for Wolf in the Parlor by Jon Franklin
Click for Amazon link

Franklin’s premise is that humans and dogs evolved together and, in fact, became parts of each other in terms of brain function. ‘Tame wolves’, he says, began to develop about 50,000 years ago when some wolves became essentially camp followers of humans.  They realized putting up with human contact was an easy way of getting food.  The humans realized that putting up with these less aggressive wolves was an easy way to have protection from wilder animals and to have a constant food supply if needed (wolf meat).  Wolves evolved into dogs, humans evolved to a form more like us, and the interconnectedness between wolf/dog and human grew.

12,000 years ago, he says, human and dog brains got smaller.  His argument is that the rational, thinking part of dogs’ brains decreased as did simultaneously the emotional and sensory part of humans’ brains.  The dog handed the thinking over to humans and the humans handed emotional and sensory intuition over to dogs.  Together, they have the full spectrum of intelligence and perception.  Apart, they do not.

I know nothing about evolution or neurology, so I can’t comment on his scientific accuracy.  However, like religion, his thesis seems as good a framework as any for thinking.  It ‘feels’ right to me and, in thinking about my history with dogs, I can ‘see’ it.

My persistence in reading paid off in the final chapters.  He discusses how humans too often now have forgotten the mutuality of the bond with dogs.  There’s a horrible tale of a day he spent with an animal control officer.  That story introduces his argument in favour of purebred dogs.  In essence, he says that if you expect the dog to fit into your lifestyle and match your needs, get one where you can be pretty sure that the innate traits and needs of the dog will be that match.  The best way is get a purebred from a breeder who knows his or her dogs and their lineage.

Why I say my “persistence” is that I had some problems with the writing.  First, the beginning of the first four chapters all read like introductions.  It felt like he had several good openings and couldn’t decide on one so used them all.  Second, no references.  I was shocked.  I’d seen he had no foot- or endnote numbers, but I thought he must be using chapter-by-chapter summary citation at the end.  Then I read about Standard Poodles in the Iditarod and wanted to know more.  I flipped to the back – nothing, not even a bibliography.  Yes, I can google it but I think that, within a book, I should be able to find out where a fact came from.  Isn’t lack of citation plagiarism?

So the scientific bases of his evolutionary, neurological and paleontology arguments are only sporadically backed up with sources in in-text form.  This particularly surprised me because he’s a science journalist.  Reference, reference, reference.

Anyway, you can read a q & a with him about the book on his website. He says you’ll have to read it to find out how the story ends. For me, the ending did make reading it all worthwhile.

Here is a review of The Wolf in the Parlor’s first 60 pages in The Other End of the Leash, an interesting dog blog. I think the leash should have extended to the end of the book. (From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, May 20, 2011)

Lab Mysteries

Click for Amazon link for Randolph A Dog About Town
Click for Amazon link

If you like dogs and mystery novels, or even just one or the other, have a look at J. F. Englert’s Bull Moose Dog Run series.  There are three so far; A Dog About Town (2007), A Dog Among Diplomats (2008) and A Dog At Sea (2009). The ‘sleuth’ who tells the story is Randolph, a middle-aged black Labrador Retriever.

A sucker for animal stories, I’ve read some of the other dog- and cat-perspective mystery series.  I’ve liked them, found them kind of cute, kind of funny. One of the Midnight Louie books by Carole Nelson Douglas made me think about feral cat life and TNR (trap, neuter, release) from the cats’ point of view.  Not as straightforwardly beneficial as people may think it to be. While I’ve enjoyed the animal-detective books I’ve read, I haven’t felt a pressing need to immediately get the next one.

Randolph, a literate Lab

As soon as I finished A Dog About Town, I went back to the library and took out the second, A Dog Among Diplomats.  Now I want to read the third.  I want to know what happens next. Randolph’s take on being an intelligent dog in a human world made me think about many dog behaviours, and people’s behaviour in relating to dogs.  You learn a lot (Randolph is a very literate dog), you are given lots of little doggy asides to think about, and the mysteries at the heart of the books are interesting and well-presented.

As with all novels featuring non-human protagonists, disbelief has to be suspended.  But it wasn’t a lot of work doing that with Randolph.  This is despite him being able to read (a skill learned while being papertrained in puppyhood), and not just reading the cereal box.  He reads Dante’s Inferno, Proust, Kierkegaard and, for light reading, Dickens.  He teaches himself how to use the internet and succeeds in setting up a hotmail account for himself faster than I’ve ever been able to do. But these improbabilities do not get in the way  – I found myself quickly accepting Randolph’s extraordinary skills and just got on with the story.

Dog park behaviour

Randolph’s observations on human-dog interaction are shrewd, even cringe-making sometimes when you recognize yourself.  He also observes the child-dog relationship in a refreshing way, especially coming from a Lab, the perceived ‘kids’ dog’. Randolph takes you into his Manhattan – the streets, Central Park and the dog parks.  He gives you the dog perspective on dog park politics of dogs and people.  He notes the types of dog behaviours in meeting each other and even in their toilet habits.  After you read his descriptions of dog habits, you find yourself watching dogs to see if they fit Randolph’s classification system.  By and large, they do.

Englert is an astute observer of dogs and people, or he has been taught a lot by his own Lab.  I’ve never been a big Lab person – they’re too boisterous and single-minded (usually involving a tennis ball) for me.  But I look at them a bit differently now, after ‘meeting’ Randolph.  He reminds me of Labs I have known and liked, nice old sensible ones.  I also look at my dogs a bit differently, wondering if there’s more going on in their heads than what I have thought.

From my St. Thomas Dog Blog, Apr. 24, 2010.