Thursday, October 29, 2009

Snow White and the poisoned apple

I have been "underground" for a while. That means snowed under, buried, overwhelmed with work. This is when it becomes challenging to decide what to do to keep two highly active, disruptive and destructive puppies occupied while you are gone.

(You may have noticed that there have been no photos on my site recently. This is because the Twin Terminators desiccated the download cable between my camera and computer and it has yet to be replaced.)

But I digress. I read Jean Donaldson's advice in The Culture Clash about making chew toys more interesting by filling them with yummy things. Then one should hide them in the garden for your pups to find - a kind of treasure hunt for canines.

Well, I filled my one remaining Kong ( a chewable object that you should fill with treats or dog pellets) with bread - not exactly nutritious but the only thing at hand as I had been too busy to shop. Donaldson also recommended making a nest of rags with a treat in the middle. Then tie the whole lot together with several knots for the dog who likes dissecting things (not to be used if you dog tends to swallow unsafe things).

So I cut up one of my T-shirts that had numerous holes in it courtesy of the Twin Terminators and used it to make a package filled with bread. Next I raided the fridge for bags of carrots and apples which I have discovered the pups love.

At 6.00am I flitted around the garden hiding my goodies and dozens of apples and carrots in every bush I could find. You could say my garden looked distinctly vegetarian. I felt like the Easter Bunny on a sugar free diet. (OK, so there is sugar in everything but at least it was not chocolate which is known to be poisonous to dogs and cats!).

However when I proudly explained to my behaviourist what I had done, she laughed and said did I realise that apple seeds are poisonous to dogs? I was unintentionally giving the legendary poisoned red apple to my poor little Snow Whites. The next day I carefully de-cored all my apples before decorating my garden again. When I returned home it was to find the Kong empty, the T-shirt package dissected, all the apples missing and a few chunks of carrot lying around.

I was worried about the extra calories they were consuming but again the experts say that dogs do not have the intestinal enzymes to break down the sheath that surrounds vegetables. And so it comes out just as it goes in ... in undigested chunks. This does not however apply to bread!

Oh yes, the other thing I have learnt is that experts contradict themselves. At puppy school I was told tea tree oil is just the thing for distracting your pups from chewing your household goods as they dislike the scent. Now I have been told tea tree oil is potentially poisonous to dogs and citronella is a much better idea.

You know, sometimes all you can do is the best you can.

Monday, October 12, 2009

On the other hand are we breeding the right dogs?

If you read "Dogs"' by Coppinger and Coppinger they explore the development of the dog over many, many centuries since the time of the Mesolithic people.

At some stage, people decided that dogs could be useful. With the creation of breeds, the dog was changed into something that pleased humans. We bred sheep dogs to helps us herd animals, sled dogs to pull supplies, retrievers to fetch an edible bird, scent hounds to follow prey, pointers and sight hounds to chase game or hunt down vermin holes and guard dogs to watch over our possessions.

But now we are putting these type of dogs into small gardens and small family units in cities and expect them to adapt to our way of life and repress their breed behaviour. So for me it would be logical to look at whether we are breeding the right kind of dog that can adapt to this kind of lifestyle.

But what do we breed today?
If I look around me, it seems to be all about "looks"; creating a dog with perfect confirmation and form. But they still retain their behavioural genes and that is to be highly active.

Pedigrees are perhaps the most disadvantaged because they are bred from a limited gene pool and have developed reputations as being highly strung dogs with strong breed characteristics. This makes them difficult to handle in a domestic environment. So these dogs are labelled "hyper active".

Are we breeding dogs that can adapt to the 21st century where their overwhelming role is to be "companion" dogs to millions of people living stressful lives in dense, dog unfriendly cities?

There are over 70 million dogs in the USA and most of them are "companion" dogs says American Behaviourist Patricia McConnell. She believes we keep pets because they are one of the few connections or bridges left for us with the natural world.

But changing the behaviour of a dog that was bred to be extremely active is not easy (unless you have trained, socialised and habituated it intensively in its first 4 months to curb its natural behaviour).

So my questions is: should breeders not be changing their focus? Should they not be breeding dogs that have the right behavioural genes to become "companion" dogs? Maybe these dogs would be happier because the fit between them and humans would better?

What do you think?

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Should we be allowed to have dogs?

At the moment I am reading a lot of books on canine behaviour. I am acquiring a lot of knowledge I wish I had known before I got my puppies and not 8 months into their lives. Maybe I would have handled everything better if I had understood their motivation for behaving the way they do and how to handle it. I have been very lucky to have a behaviourist who has given me a lot of guidance.

Jean Donaldson, author of The Culture Clash is very blunt about the issue. She believes that the clash between how dogs naturally behave and humans' lifestyles is often a point of conflict. The resolution is usually at the expense of the dog.

She goes on to say that "if you don't have time for a dog, don't get a dog. There are few guarantees in behaviour but one is surely this: dogs chained out in yards self condition to bark, dig and lunge at passing stimuli. Boredom barking is a symptom of gross under stimulation. What's needed is a radical increase in interesting stuff in the dog's life. Increase training, walks, socialisation, and predatory games."

After reading these books which set the bench mark for how we should be treating our dogs, I wonder how many of us would qualify to own dogs?

At times I have become guilt stricken about my "parenting skills" like so many mothers who constantly question if they are raising their children correctly. Many do but many make mistakes along the way.

I wonder if we are prepared to compromise enough in our own lifestyles when it comes to our pets. Do we teach them to fit into our world while denying them their doggie rights? If we do, is Jean right? The alternative is not to have a pet at all.

How dogs learn by Mary Burch and Jon Bailey states that these are a dog's rights.

Canine Bill of Rights
  1. Dogs have a right to a rich stimulating environment.
  2. Dogs have a right to time and attention from a caring owner
  3. Dogs have a right to effective training procedures; if behaviour problems are to be addressed, a competent person must be involved
  4. Dogs have a right to ongoing veterinary care and assessment for behavioural problems.
  5. Dogs have a right to an ongoing education and the chance to learn new skills

What do you think?