Discussing dog breeds, dog-adoption, and the human-canine connection.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Dog Behavior I : Trained Guard Dogs

This picture is of a dog and its handler working on Schutzhund obdience; they are preforming an off leash heel. (This is an open source picture from Wikipedia.)

Schutzhund is comprised of three areas: obedience, tracking, and protection. While Schutzhund began in Germany with dogs like shepherds, and rotts, in the U.S. it has become a sport with handlers bringing many different kinds of dog into the training.

I once took an introductory Schutzhund obedience class with my shar pei, Sha T'an. The trainer who offered the class -- at the request of a friend -- had recently retired from the Calgary Police Department's K9 unit where he had been in charge of dog training. The man took his training very seriously and his dog of choice was always a shepherd. Which is why I really had to talk my way into being allowed to even attend the first few classes with my shar pei. Also, Sha T'an was underage. In Schutzhund dogs are not supposed to start this level of training until they are 18 months old. Since we weren't going to get as far as the big obstacle course work, and since shar pei were a "new to North America" breed and I'd heard and informed the trainer that they could be aggressive if not trained properly, I managed to convince the trainer to allow myself and my funny little dog to attend the first night's class. The understanding was we could be dismissed from the remaining classes after the first night.

Schutzhund is meant to encourage intelligent obedience and disobedience in a dog. One of the examples the trainer used was that he should be able to order his dog to wait in the vehicle, with the windows open and expect that the dog will not react to anything -- unless the handler would be suddenly attacked, in which case his dog needed enough sense to come to his aid.  This was what the trainer called "intelligent disobedience."

One of the things I took from Schutzhund training is the knowledge that given a stable temperament in the dog and trainer, a dog can learn to turn certain kinds of responses on and off. Again, an example from the trainer was the need for a K9 unit to be working on public relations by being friendly with a crowd one minute, and respond to a person with a gun, without missing a beat -- and vice-versa. A dog and handler had to be able to deal with the adrenaline rush and then get right back to regular behavior.

Now if you watch some "reality" television then you've noted as I have, not all police dogs or handlers are as stringently trained as this Calgary police officer had trained his people and dogs. Expectations vary from training program to training program according in part to the personalities of the people involved.

Dog personalities also vary, as do breed characteristics. While my little shar pei did end up earning the respect of the trainer this gentleman made no secret of the fact that he thought German shepherds were the best all round dogs. In the world. For pretty much anything -- including one of their original tasks, herding livestock. Being from a farm and having seen the other side of shepherds I disagreed, but quietly. In order to illustrate his point about the different natural instincts of breeds the trainer told us about an incident he witnessed on the job.

A couple (with some very valuable things) left town for several days. They had a Rottweiler who was left as an outside guard. A lone thief had been casing the house and when he arrived to rob it, he brought a pit bull with him and left it outside to fight the rott (I have no specific details, just the raw bones of the story.) The burglar then made it inside the house and headed straight for the master bedroom to look for jewelry and money. What he didn't realize was that the couple also had a Doberman. For while the Rottweiler had tried to keep the bugler out, the dobe had quietly waited for him to get in. Somehow the thief managed to make it up into the top shelf of the closet with only minor injuries. The dobe then proceeded to lay at the entrance of the closet patiently waiting for the thief to come down. When the owners arrived home that is how they found the dobe and the man -- they called the police to come and remove the thief from their upper closet shelf.

Now if you think about it this is a rather grim story, and since he chose to tell the story to a group of primarily women the trainer got an unexpected reaction; we all wanted to know what had happened to the pit bull, the Rottweiler and by the way -- did the criminal actually "you know" in the closet? The trainer shook his head, "The point is," he insisted, "that a Rottweiler is more likely to try and keep someone out while a Doberman is more likely to wait for them to come in and then attack." All of which underlined his ultimate point that for everything, including protection, a German shepherd was best... because a well trained, properly temperamented shepherd could "be turned on and off like a light switch."

Of course, obviously there are exceptions to all of these statements; not all shepherds are good around other animals or can be flipped on and off; there are individual characteristics among all breeds including Dobermans and Rottweilers. But I do agree with the trainer's ultimate point:  if a dog is going to be used for a guard animal it should be trained to be a guard; it should never pick and choose on whom and when it will potentially use physical force. And that is one of the key differences between a guard dog and a watch dog. A guard dog should be trained using a method -- Shutzhund protection is one method -- to protect its handler when absolutely necessary. The Doberman was actually a trained guard dog; he did not use excessive force on the intruder and rather than crazily trying to attack the intruder he patiently held the intruder in one location and waited.

A watch dog is an alert dog and any sized dog can do this job -- bark or otherwise indicate that something out of the ordinary is happening, or that someone/thing is on your property. I have had many watch dogs. I've also had one dog that was completely uninterested in who came and went. I have never owned a guard dog because I do not need that kind of protection. I just want to know if someone is in my yard or on my porch or trying to open my front door. Any watch dog can tell me that. The next topic in this series then will be a more detailed discussion of what makes for a "watch" dog as opposed to just a barky dog and why this kind of dog is very different from a trained guard dog.

Remember, a dog that shows aggression towards people and is not under the handlers control is not a guard dog -- it is a potential biter and a potential law suit. We will also discuss this kind of agression towards people/other animals in a future posting in this series of discussions on dog behavior.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Saved by a dog, literally: any stories to share?

The title of this blog site -- Saved by dogs -- was inspired by the role that dogs have played in helping me get this far in life. I would imagine that most of us have stories about a time in our life when the love, support, concern, companionship, or just physical needs of our animals kept us going. I personally have had days when I got out of bed because my animals needed food and exercise. Sometimes though, an animal can also, through physical actions, help "save" us. I would like to talk about both these experiences today.


Thank you to the folks at Free-photos in the UK. The above is a picture of a fawn, horse coat Chinese Shar Pei. The dog pictured shares many similarities to a female shar pei who used to own our family. Ning had a heavier "meat mouth" and a slightly thinner, more curved tail but overall she was very similar in looks - and attitude to strangers  - as the dog pictured.

Shar pei are naturally suspicious of strangers. When you live with a socialized shar pei though, you sometimes forget how protective they can be. Ning was more commonly known by her nick-name, "fat baby" as her heavier face gave her a rolly-polly look and she was generally very laid back and enjoyed cuddling. She loved children and they could crawl all over her. On one occasion, which I witnessed but wasn't quick enough to stop, a friend's toddler was chewing on a teething biscuit and sitting next to Ning. The child looked at Ning, looked at his cookie, offered it to Ning who took a tentative lick, then stuck the cooking back in his own mouth. Ning was just as amiable to the toddler trying to snag food out of her bowl, or playing in her water dish. (I usually forgot to pick them up until the child was found in them.)
Ning moved to Canada with me where we were living in a three story walk up. As she aged she started to show signs of developing swollen hock syndrome; walking up and down the stairs was not agreeing with her back leg joints. I did carry fat baby up and down the stairs a few times - talk about a work out! I realized this wasn't a livable situation. Ning went to live with my parents who had a yard she could go directly in and out of.

My parent's house is near a university and many students walk by on a daily basis. A number of them stop to comment on the flower gardens. Early one fall morning, while it was still dark out, my mom was up early, the house lights a beacon in the dark.  Fat baby was still upstairs in bed. Mom heard a knocking on the front door. Thinking that a student might be needing help  mom went to the door. There was a hooded young man standing there. Speaking through the still closed door he told mom he needed help, that he had lost something and needed to use the phone. Mom, being a nurse and always prepared to help someone, was actually cracking the door open to see if he was physically harmed.

Mom told me what happened next. "I didn't even hear Ning come downstairs but as I started to open the door she was suddenly there. She slammed into the door so it crashed shut and then...well I've never heard  fat baby sound like that! She was like a demon, up on the door barking - she sounded like a devil dog. And that supposedly hurt young man, he just bolted off the porch and took off running!"

I don't know what that young man's intentions were but I trusted Ning's instincts. Hooded dudes who show up in the dark trying to get into a house can stay outside.

Ning was one of several shar pei I had, who ended up being adopted by my parents. I also had a male shar pei, Sha T'an. When Sha T'an and I moved back to the states and I went back to school, we stayed for several years with my parents. When I was ready to move dad really wanted Shay to stay with him. They had become buddies.


[Thanks to the folks at Traditional Shar Pei for maintaining a reference place for the original Chinese Shar Pei and how they historically looked. Sha T'an was, like the male pictured above, a black, horse coat, bone mouthed shar pei. His parents were imported from Hong Kong at the time when Matgo Law first appealed to North Americans to help save this breed which was on the brink of extinction. That was when I was involved with shar pei, for about a decade. By then an increasing number of people who were only interested in generating money were trying to obtain shar pei and I slowly disengaged from active involvement with the breed.]

Dad still tells stories about how Shay was one of the best dogs he ever owned, right up there with his legendary first lab, Heidi, and his childhood dog, Spot. Sha T'an was a well muscled, alert, clever, and sensitive dog. A look or short sharp whistle was all Shay needed to run to dad's side from whatever he was doing. In the evening while dad read the paper or watched T.V. Sha T'an could still be found right next to dad, sitting by his feet, or laying with his head on them. When dad needed to get up he'd say, "Excuse me buddy" and Sha T'an would jump up ready to go with him.

Yet Sha T'an never did anything extraordinary. My parents felt just seeing him marching around the fenced yard was enough to keep people from ever trying to break in. No one actually stole or tried to break in while Shay was alive; dad refused to believe this was in anyway a coincidence.  Sha T'an's legacy was built on his personality, devotion, and the company he provided. And because of these qualities he remains one of the greatest dogs my dad has ever lived with.

Animals are companions that allow us to feel emotionally and sometimes physically safe and comfortable. My alarm clock doesn't always work but I can always count on my little old cat Holly, to start meowing and giving me tiny licks if I oversleep. She also guards my bed from other cats and gives Jenny the occasional swat if she thinks Jenny isn't listening to me. Although this kitty weighs all of about six pounds she has made herself my "enforcer" and tries to keep everyone else in line. I think we all have or have known animals who fill these special niches in our life. I would love to hear other people's stories of how your pets have helped you. If you would like to include your pictures you can email them to me at and I will try and post them to the blog.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Animal socilization: new pets and interspecies interactions.

This picture is several years old but it gives an accurate idea of the interactions I expect all members of my family to be capable of. Granted, Jenny is a good role model and Snuggers the cat owns that end of the couch...but I believe we should expect and train animals to get along.

Not that I run a perfectly interacting household.

This is Snugs and Breena; this is the most they ever interact and I'm a little surprised they walked away from each other without either smacking the other in the face. Breena doesn't really care to interact with dogs, or I should more accurately state, she thinks Gracie is too bouncy. And Gracie is too bouncy for most cats; but Gracie knows the difference between inviting a cat to play by bouncing at it and by making the cat a toy -- forbidden. I did not teach Gracie this alone - Jenny's example helped but most useful of all was Ellie. Ellie was a really lovely black cat who I pulled from a kill pen on her "last day." Many years ago in Canada....

Ellie firmly believed that the best way to teach a dog it's place in the world was to walk straight up to it, sniff it in the nose, then rub against it several times indicating that she owned the dog. Dog's were always so taken aback by her straightforward, calm demeanor while she carried out this behavior, that they would just stand there first stunned, then slightly uncomfortable. Ellie would then jump up on the arm of the couch or some other prop that put her at eye level with the dog and just watch the dog.  At the age of approximately 17, Ellie passed at the end of this winter, about the same time Lil was born. Lil's upbringing will be the worse for not knowing Ellie. Cats and dogs can teach each other important life lessons.

Hmmm, maybe so far it seems what I'm really talking about is allowing cats to rule dogs. I think there might be some benefit in teaching dogs that all cats are to be treated with respect. I think the more powerful an animal is, the more it has to learn about reigning in it's behavior and physical reactions for those it shares a house and neighborhood with. I think it is particularly important for us to remember this when adding a new member to our family. If adding a young animal, think about the potential it is growing into. If adding an adult animal, think about how it will fit with the personalities already living in your home.

Size for example is not an excuse for poor behavior. I cringe every time I see a small dog lunge at children or adults, the dog's owner being under the impression that the dog is too small to do any damage or be held responsible for it's actions. Legally they are correct; it is the person, not the dog who will be held responsible for damages. From the vantage point of training however, small dogs can be trained to be just as respectful as their larger cousins. Just because you can pick an animal up does not mean you can forgo training it.

I believe that respectful interaction are the responsibility of the adult human in the household and begin with the tone that the adult human sets. I have found for example that the same is true in teaching college students. If I clearly develop and model an attitude of respect, verbally acknowledging respectful statements and actions, I develop a class where students treat each other with respect.

At home I also show respect and I praise successful interactions. In the classroom if someone is disrespectful they run the risk of being publicly called out in class on their behavior. At home disrespect leads to being isolated and ignored; only socially acceptable interactions allow an animal to remain part of the interactions. Sometimes time outs are necessary for animals so that they can regain enough calmness to again be capable of socially acceptable behavior. It is up to me as the adult human to set the boundaries of what socially acceptable behavior is. Modeling for people and for animals has to be different; animals react to how we physically move, our voices, and the type of energy we are giving off. They can read when we are nervous, sad, or finding their behavior amusing.

Keeping multiple species can be challenging. For years I had a pet rabbit who lived inside, where the action was. She had both a large cage that stood over the dogs and an exercise pen that expanded out allowing her to jump and run in the living room without being in danger of chewing electrical chords. Sometimes her activity was too stimulating for a dog -- Gracie's sister Kate for example needed to be crated while the rabbit was out. Rather than believing I could will Kate to behave I read her body signals. They told me she had a strong prey drive for something small and fast. I chose to not put the rabbit's life at risk. Know that all animals have limits and as the adult human it is your responsibility to not push those limits to the breaking point.

Part of my advice then is to be realistic about who your pets are. Train and expect the best possible behavior but be keenly aware of each individuals strengths and weaknesses. I notice for example that while Jenny loves to greet people and enjoys children, she was not raised with small children. I also note that when small children are very squeaky and fast moving, Jenny needs to be able to move away and come back at her own pace. I never require her to stay next to a small child or force her to stand still so that a small child can pet her. The interaction lasts as long as Jenny wants it to and when she moves away, the interaction is over. I also do not leave her unattended with small children. I'm fairly confident that she would never harm a child but I also will not bet her life on what could happen in a fraction of a second if she were hurt or scared.

Gracie on the other hand has the potential to knock a child over or accidentally scratch them from over enthusiastic playing. There is nothing a child has done however, that has made Grace nervous, or that has made her react in a negative way. My nephews have grabbed her, fallen over her, run and played and accidentally they've stepped on each other. English bull terriers have a high tolerance for pain and hard play so while the children are being taught respectful behavior of animals, any accidents they have are safe to have around Gracie as far as a pain threshold goes, i.e. she does not have a sharp reaction to accidentally inflicted discomfort.  Of course, she also intentionally crashes off of furniture when she has a sudden need to race around the house and build up speed. It's yin and yang. High threshold for pain goes hand in hand with a lack of overall daintiness, no sense of personal body space, and interestingly a belief that the world is full of potential best friends waiting to be pounced on. Grace does not seem able to process the fact that not all potential friends want to be pounced on, jumped over, or crawled under. I have to restrain her around subdued individuals of all species because her personality can be pretty overwhelming.

When considering adding a new animal member to the family the potentials I've discussed can overwhelm people. Should they get a young animal that can learn "normal' is what happens in that family? Should they get an adult animal who's personality is already a known? I argue that either can work out, this is more of a personal choice that should be guided by an honest appraisal of what the adults in the home are up to.

Adult pets adopted from reputable sources will come with a description of how they interact in particular situations that they have been deliberately exposed to. Their energy level will already be indicated by what has been observed. Their ability to be around and their behavior with other animals will already be noted. An adult animal can be introduced before adoption to other family members including other existing pets.

Young animals have much to learn. They need to learn where/when it is appropriate to relieve themselves; what is and is not a toy they may play with; which surfaces they are allowed on and which they must stay off; what the acceptable level of teeth, nails, and attitude are when playing. If the adults of the family are prepared to take responsibility for training and setting the tone of acceptable behavior for all other parties, then this is an arrangement that can work well. If the adults have little experience with animals then they should be able and planning to pay for training and education to help learn. If lessons are not possible, then adults should be taking books out from the library and reading. Read books and online sources and learn to discern what is good advice from what is bad.

The best advice I can give to potential animal owners is to be prepared for the most likely possibilities that will grow from the choices you make. From how an animal is trained to the genetics they inherit, animals have some predictable possibilities. Be educated and take responsibility for those things which you can, and you will be that much better prepared for when the unpredictable eventually shows up.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Expectations when a new animal joins the family.

This is Rose. She is my six year old nephews new lab puppy. Although Rose has been a member of the family for under a week she and her new "owner" already adore each other. In fact, for the first 48 hours Rose's feet hardly hit the ground as my nephew enjoyed carrying her places. Neither Rose's boy or his eight year old brother can fully comprehend that one day Rose is going to be as big as their 78 pound chocolate lab, Jade.

There are many things about owning a pet that children don't fully understand, and cannot fully understand because they are children. A human mind needs to mature before it can fully grasp the chain of events that are to be expected when acquiring an animal companion. I don't mean to be painfully obvious but too often I hear families discussing getting a pet and expecting younger children to bear the brunt of animal care. This is neither realistic or entirely possible.

Of course a child can be trained to ensure that their animal is fed several times a day and to ensure that there is clean, fresh water available. But this is training that requires an adult's active involvement. Reminders are necessary until this process is part of a routine. And often children have such active lives -- aside from homework there are sports, music, and dance lessons competing for time -- that a child may have a routine that varies day to day. Then there is illness and unexpected events. To be realistic an adult should expect that if he/she trains the child the child will usually care for the animal's basic needs with coverage from the adult when it isn't practical to expect the child to meet all these demands.

Then of course there is the cleaning up after the animal. Again, children can be trained to be part of this routine but it is idealistic and can become sadistic to enforce this too rigorously, i.e. in childhood I had a friend whose father made her younger sister get up in the middle of the night to clean up after a pet. Obviously, if you're reading this blog you probably find that as abusive to the child as I do. So again, animals, like children will get unexpectedly sick, and as the adult it will sometimes be your responsibility to clean up after the pet.
Not to mention that constantly picking up the yard or cleaning a litter box or a cage on a regular basis will at least require an adult's supervision for younger children especially.

Cost is also something that should be expected to be carried by the family. Aside from the spaying/neutering there are often annual shots, perhaps flea/tick/heartworm prevention and/or treatment, and again potential unexpected costs. I recently discovered that my own puppy Lil had a more serious injury than I had realized -- she did not show any of the signs that would be expected for the injury she had and we don't know when/how she received this injury. She will unexpectedly be on joint supplements for the remainder of her life and may also have other unexpected costs.  Having cared for a number of animals over the years this is only the second time I've had an animal incur such a sudden, rather dramatic change in their health care expectations but  the unexpected will happen.

I admire my sister and brother-in-law for the practical approach they are taking to teaching their children about the responsibilities of keeping companion animals. Their boys understand that pets need food and water every day, that in the case of dogs there needs to be regular outside exercise and training, and in the case of cats litter boxes are cleaned (by the adults), and even the fish tank requires cleaning and sometimes changing out dead plants for live ones. The children take part where they can be realistically expected to and the adults fully expect to provide regular child-training about caring for animals, as well as all the back up care.

For those who believe that children just pick up how to care for an animal by being around it, I will share an experience from when I lived in Vancouver, B.C. Canada.
I was living in an apartment complex with my two dogs - who needed to go out multiple times a day, including when I was sick or when they were. My neighbors down the hall stopped one day, to talk to me about their dog. Having never seen their dog I asked where it was. They paused... then confessed they didn't have it anymore.

I asked, what had happened to the dog? They said that they got caught up in the idea of rescue and adopted a cute dog from the SPCA. Once they'd been home with the dog for a few hours they suddenly realized that one of them was going to have to take it out every time that it needed to potty. Once outside, they wanted the dog to be able to get exercise, so they would let it off leash. Unfortunately, the dog would only occasionally come when called. Finally, one day they got frustrated and quit looking for the dog. They later saw it with another lady and decided not to tell her it was their dog.

Yes, this really still happens. While I'm a believer in having animals as part of families and in pet adoption I fully believe this poor dog would have been better off left in the shelter until a responsible owner had adopted her. Being unprepared for the commitment that an animal requires is unfortunate and avoidable. Before adding an animal to your household, be realistic about the cost and commitment that are part of this arrangement. There are many places to find advice and information. If you know someone considering adding an animal to their family who perhaps doesn't seem to realize the commitment involved, consider giving them a pamphlet or small, well illustrated book about setting up an animal safe environment and the basic care required. Many of the breed specific books share the same introductory information about animal care but use members of the breed to help illustrate these points. Look for a user friendly way to get the family interested in learning about animal care.

If you have found a friendly, effective way to inform potential pet owners about the accompanying care and cost involved, please share that here. I'm always looking for new ideas about educating potentiall homes.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Let's talk less common yet lovely: sight hounds.

I have at a few times in my life had the privilege to meet some of the less common dog breeds. Only those lucky enough to have lived with them seem to realize the character traits that make these breeds attractive. Yet every breed has someone, somewhere who works on rescue and rehoming when things do not work out with original homes. All animals have traits that make them desirable in one family and problematic in another.

In a previous blog I mentioned that hounds in general are sometimes misunderstood or thought of as loud. These are really character filled animals that love their family pack. Even less common than scent hounds are the sight hounds and I have known some wonderful animals in this category: Afghans, saluki, and borzois who would always be welcome in my home (this is not an exhaustive list of sight hounds but these breeds will be the focus today.)
We're fortunate today to have several pictures of a saluki from one of our blog readers who has testified to the loyal and loving nature of this breed (see the comments on "Heavenly Hounds.")

This is an ancient breed that once hunted with the ruling class of Egypt. The above lovely head shot shows the characteristic regal looks of the saluki.

The above picture shows the other side of salukis -- the soft, sweet dogs who are sensitive and often require gentle and consistent handling. And this pup's call name certainly suggests this side of his personality -- ladies and gentleman, descended from the companions of Pharaohs may I present - Fred! 

In general sight hounds are what I would call "soft" dogs, they do better with a kind and consistent person who doesn't need to raise their voice to communicate with their animal companions.

I have had several opportunities to spend time with sight hounds. Once I spent several weeks live-in sitting a saluki and afghan. These girls were very soft, sensitive girls. The saluki would become insulted and upset if anything was suddenly changed in her environment. This was in part her own personality; she lived with a single woman who arranged her world around the girls. The afghan needed to clearly understand what expectations were but once she understood she was very willing to comply.

On another occasion I ended up helping an acquaintance handle her borzois at a show (I was a behind the scene person.) I just fell in love with the boy I spent the most time with - Dorian. Calm, gentle, and trusting he was the epitome of a gentleman hound. All the borzois I have met have impressed me with their calm, gentle natures and this is certainly one of the breeds that I would be happy to find sharing my house some day.

This is a free stock photo of a borzoi in one of the breed colors I particularly enjoy. This picture bears a strong resemblance to one of the young female borzois I handled that afternoon at the show; I found her particularly lovely not just conformationaly but because she shared an enthusiasm for life, which this picture illustrates.

And while borzois and other sight hounds were bred for the primary purpose of moving quickly on hunts, devoted owners are spending time re-purposing these breeds' sense of loyalty and willingness to please.
I am aware of sight hounds who have completed their companion dog titles; different to work with than more commonly seen breeds like labs, shepherds or boarder collies, sight hounds are showing that they too can learn the ropes of obedience work.

Again, these are also breeds who from time to time end up in usually breed-specific rescues. If you are an adoption only animal owner who would be interested in one of these breeds I would suggest starting with breed specific rescues. Such rescues can be found through the organizing club for each breed. And again, every breed has someone out there who is devotedly carrying out rescue work on their behalf.

Sight hounds typically require exercise, gentle but firm handling, consistency. They do not respond well to sudden angry outbursts, sudden changes in routine, or shifting expectations from their humans. That does not mean they cannot be part of a dynamic family. I know of borzois for example who happily live with young, respectful children. These tend to be patient dogs -- remember, when hunting in the middle east looking for prey could take a long, long time. I have known of afghans who could in fact be somewhat stubborn. Overall though, these are dogs who want to please and work with people; people in turn need to be clear and consistent in what they ask for.
Sight hounds are dogs who will stay with their people through the hardest and harshest of conditions just for the sake of companionship.
If you are owned by or have known sight hounds, please share your experience here. I'd also love to hear from those working in any breed specific rescue.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Animal socilization: play-dates

As we know, part of being a responsible pet owner is making sure our animals are socialized. Socialization includes being able to interact with other animals -- both members of the same species and members of other species. Today, let's focus on same species interactions, particularly doggy play-dates.

This is a picture of Jenny (collie), Ruby (collie/lab) and Gilbert (beagle). These are by the way, all adopted dogs, and each was adopted once they were adults. In fact, Ruby and Gilbert were adopted as seniors. Jenny and I met with Ruby and Gilbert's person Kathy, and Gus the golden, for a play/walk/romp the other day. Gilbert has lost his hearing, so he remained on leash since recall is problematic for a hearing and vision impaired senior. Jenny, Ruby, and Gus however, had a great time running, playing, barking, chewing sticks and rolling in grass.

I was able to get just a couple of pictures, in part because these puppies were moving too fast and far away for my little click and shoot.

Jenny had not met Ruby, Gilbert, and Gus before. There were no conflicts and they all had a good time. Gilbert grazed on grass and sniffed, while the others were running and rolling. In order for such interactions to be "normal" for your animal companion though, preparation is necessary.

For example, Jenny, Ruby and Gus all had shown they were able and willing to respond to call-back. In other words, before they were ever let off leash Kathy and I knew from training and experience that they would come back when called. They also wore collars and we carried leashes just in case we encountered dogs/people who were not as comfortable with off-leash dogs.

These dogs also all had prior socialization experiences. We didn't just take them out into a big open space and let them run free. Jenny for example has been in numerous situations with different numbers of people, small and large spaces, on leash before off, and has proven that she has retained her training/manners to a degree that make her ready to be off leash around other animals and people.

Also, the area we were walking in is a dog walking area. We were not trespassing on private property or in an area that is predominately used by bikes, vehicles, or walkers who are uncomfortable around dogs. While we did encounter some mountain bikers, other walkers with unleashed dogs, and one walker with leashed dogs, overall there were only positive interactions. The one exception was a leashed small dog who showed considerable aggression. I applaud the owner for taking the dog out but also think this little dog would have been much happier given an opportunity to socialize rather than being dragged from the scene.

Since Kathy and I both have experience with dogs, all the dogs but Gus were older and calm, and Gus is just friendly, the small dog's owner could have taken advantage of this situation. Kathy and I were willing to stop and allow the dogs to socialize. One way to accomplish this would be for the small dog to be allowed to approach and interact with Jenny while she was leashed (I immediately leashed Jenny when I saw how uncomfortable the small dog's owner was with his reaction - Gus was also leashed. Gilbert, god bless him, was oblivious and Ruby was more concerned about Gus than the other dog.)

 Allowed a little time to relax, this little one could have had a positive interaction with one or more dog-friendly dogs, and been a little better prepared for the next outing. When you are working on socializing your dog - and many dogs need to work on socialization - take advantage of opportunities when you bump into dog friendly dogs and owners who are willing to help in the socialization process. Jenny for one has had lots of practice at this and she seems to actually enjoy helping other dogs relax.

If you have some good advice to share, or stories of how you've socialized your dogs, I'd love to hear them!

Saturday, May 14, 2011

How heavenly are hounds

Update: If you have already read this entry please scroll down for new pictures from several blog readers of their very lovely adopted hounds.

Today I am featuring the picture of heavenly hound, Breezy. Breezy was a blue tick hound, adopted as a senior by Kathy, one of our blog members. Breezy was in need of medical care and had arthritis when she joined Kathy's family. I think this picture speaks to the love she gave and received once she and Kathy met.

I really enjoy this picture! Breezy looks so well cared for. I also see a hint of emotional blackmail being applied on Kathy, "Oh mom, what will the other dogs say when they see this? I'm just not sure green is my color. Do I HAVE to wear a jacket? I won't get cold, promise."

Hounds have such wonderfully expressive faces. Their eyes were made to melt people. With strong instincts to live in packs they love to hang out with their family and be part of the activity. And activity can be chasing smells over miles or sitting on the couch watching TV. As long as you're there, your hound is happy to be there with you.

One of our family friends, John,  has always had a dream that someday he would have a large estate and a pack of hounds. He and his hounds would take long walks and just be, in a very zen like way that John and his beagles always have. In the meantime, John always has a single faithful beagle as part of the family pack. Once the human kids left home the tradition became that the front bedroom overlooking the street would be the beagle's room. This room features a large bay window, so that the beagle can sit in the sun while watching people come and go. It is a very lucky beagle who gets adopted to spend her or his remaining years in the bay window at John's house. I was once passing through the small Canadian town that John and family live in and had the privilege of sharing the beagle's room for the night. I can only say that Barney was an extremely gracious host and I was sorry to hear of his passing. He was the first beagle lucky enough to call the front room home.

I think hounds bring us a sense of belonging. And being accepted as wonderful just the way we are. Their eyes are so expressive that a hound's gaze can make you feel like the center of the world.

I would love to hear stories of hounds you have loved or met, known or owned. Also, Kathy and I have found that posters do not seem to be able to post their own pictures. So if you have pictures you'd like to share, please send them to me and I'll post them to the blog. I'm also happy to share other people's stories of animals with the pictures sent in.

I can be contacted through dogssaved@gmail.com

When possible I will post viewers pics of their companions. In this case Abe, an adopted Black and Tan.

Is he gorgeous or what! And yes - he was adopted.

And here is another blog reader's  hound -- just look at this basset's eyes!

The ears are pretty impressive too :-)  What a sweatheart!
And yes this is another adopted dog.

Friday, May 13, 2011

What makes for a nice looking dog?

I have a dog right now that I find very attractive. Not everyone in my family finds her aesthetically pleasing. Then I have a puppy that everyone claims is cute.

"Cute" puppy, Lil

Then there is the two year old puppy, Gracie (Allen)  who is not as universally recognized as cute - I think she's adorable. She's an English Bull Terrier.

I also enjoyed her 1/2 sister, who I rescued, helped rehabilitate and rehomed through Bull Terrier Rescue; did you know that Bull Terriers are notorious for sibling rivalry? Particularly same age bullies.

I was already partial to the looks of Gracie when her 1/2 sister Katie entered our lives; I still thought Katie was a fairly nice looking girl; if I had not already had Gracie I would have been happy to keep Katie.
Some things though are just not meant to be. I'm happy to report that Katie found a very loving home where she is an only fur-kid, gets to go to work with dad every day and is enjoying all the love one little bullie can suck up. And that's a lot!

I also have a collie (picture to come.) Jenny is my idea of that classic collie beauty - even as she is getting rather grey in the face.

And then there were my schnauzers. I did have a little girl who lived 12 years -- Wee Bonny Lass--and after that a boy who lived 12 years -- Wills.

This is Wills shortly before his death with one of our mutually favorite dog handlers. He is past his prime in this picture, and hand groomed over a series of days because that was what he could tolerate.  He still looks handsome to me.

What does good looking in a dog look like for you?

I know I enjoy square builds, and sometimes flowing hair. I have a soft spot for Irish Setters like the big old fashioned one my mom had when we were growing up. I enjoy the solid looks of Rotts and well built schnauzers of all sizes. Most well muscled and heavy set dogs appeal to me. And aren't Clumber spaniels adorable; big hounds have eyes that make me melt...I guess every breed has something that appeals to someone. If you feel like sharing please tell us what kind of looks you like in a dog.

The rewards of adopting older pets

Hmmm, blogger is sucking up and not showing pictures. Sorry for the missing pics in the previous post and the inability to post the picture I'd like to have here. (Note: I was finally able to post a Yuki picture but it may disappear - sorry if that happens.)

The picture is of a little black dog I adopted when she was a senior. Yuki is just one of the older pets I've adopted. I know people worry about adopting other people's "problems" and hesitate to get an older pet. But so often this is NOT the case.

With people moving and not taking pets, with economics changing the ability to keep housing, with not all people feeling pets are part of the family -- these are just some of the many reasons good animals end up needing new homes.

Older pets are often already housebroken or litter box trained. They often have become more mellow with age and they are always so grateful and loyal when they are given another chance to have a home. One of my favorite senior adoptions was a Scottish Terrier named Duncan. At approximately 12, he had a life of ups and downs. His first home had taken care of him but didn't take him with when they moved. His next home kept him tied out on a chain and did not keep him groomed. He was, however, given all he could eat and was overweight and not exercised.

When he came to live with me Duncan was obese, going deaf, had chronic ear infections, and was developing a heart condition. He was also one of the most fantastic little guys I've ever known.

Duncan loved to just hang out with me. After just a week of exercise Duncan was able to get up on the couch. Once on the couch he would sit back like a chubby little old man, his back leaning against the back of the couch, his paw resting on the couch arm. I would look over from my seat and I swear, Duncan would wink! He would then doze off while I worked on my computer - very companionable and never demanding.

Duncan lived less than a year after he moved in with me. We had to do daily ear cleaning because of the chronic ear problems. Fortunately, Duncan did not hold a grudge, even though he hated the ear cleaning. I do not regret one minute of the time we spent together and would do it all over again in a heartbeat. He was such a pleasure to know.

I'd love to hear from other people who have adopted adult pets. Please, share your stories and tell us about your special older pet.

And if it stays, this is a picture of my adopted as an adult, senior collie, Jenny. She has appointed herself the neighborhood greater so when we're out in the yard she will walk out wagging her tail when anyone walks by. She's very popular!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

First dogs and Best First dogs

Friend Heather is planning to eventually get her young family a dog. Her little boy is a fantastic chap and rather young. This seems like a perfect opportunity for a discussion on: what kind of dog was your first dog; if you were recommending a first dog for a young family what would you recommend?

Our first family dog was an adopted Golden Retriever. Back in the day Dad was a duck hunter who wanted a retriever who could keep four young children company and still bring home the ducks. Unfortunately, the people who were re-homing this dog were less than honest about his potential.

Rex (he came with this name) was rather high strung, afraid of loud noises, and indifferent to children. When Dad took Rex out to see how he reacted to the sound of a gun, Rex broke loose, ran home and hid under a bed. During the Fourth of July fireworks -- some miles away -- Rex reversed strategies, broke out through the screen door and disappeared for the rest of the night.

As I said, Rex was rather high strung. He found that the best way to relieve stress was to chew the cedar siding off our house, which happened to be a rental. Fortunately the folks were good renters who constantly ran around behind Rex fixing up his oops moments.

Finally, Dad connected with my first grade teacher's parents -- they had a farm and loved the way Rex looked. They also found Rex's personality suited them just fine. Rex in turn relaxed on the farm where expectations of him were much less demanding. No kids to play with, nothing louder than a piece of equipment, no fireworks or guns.

Our next family dog was a carefully researched black Labrador puppy who ended up being as amazing for our family as Rex was for the farmers. I still recommend labs as a great first dog for people with dog experience. As puppies and young dogs though, they can be a little too big and energetic for first time dog owners. I've had a number of people tell me they think Beagles make good first dogs for first time dog owners. I'd love to hear other people's experience and suggestions! What was your first dog (if your first pet wasn't a dog, what was it?) Do you have a recommendation for a first dog for a young family where the parents had a family dog growing up?

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Welcome Home

This blog is designed for those of us who may be busy and productive and have loved ones in our lives, yet a corner of our world belongs to our companion animals. For me right now that includes an adopted Collie, a rescued English Bull Terrier, and a carefully researched and purchased Labrador.

Yes, there are also two foster cats, two rescued cats, and an adopted cat living with me - ranging in age from 4 - 19 years. My two old cats have moved multiple times and between countries with me so no, I don't get the "I'm moving and the pet can't come with me" excuse unless you're going into the military, entering prison, or financially devastated so that you cannot afford to care for the pet or live in pet safe housing.

I should also mention in this introduction that I am dyslexic and I often can't spell. Animals have helped me through the times before I was diagnosed with disabilities and told in school that I was just "slow." (Guess which slow kid just finished her PhD - granted, I'm a mature student in more than outlook now.)

I think this should be a place to discuss how animals add a dimension to our lives that no one and nothing else can. It should also be a place to share the happy and not so happy stories we have. And pictures! Love pictures.

In the meantime, if you find this site please introduce yourself and your fur-family!