Archive for June, 2009

Penning the Peeps

It’s hot here.  According to husband who grew up there - it’s “Florida in the summer hot”.  Much too hot to leave the peeps closed up in Fort Peepage.

Since they’re still small enough to be cat bait they need to be penned for their own safety and I’ve been transferring them from coop to pen by hand.  Three of them (Clover and friends) are so tame they just hop on my arm for the ride over, peeping in cheerful anticipation of the bugs and forage to come.  Most of the rest are gentle and easy to catch. I scoop up a couple at at time, tuck them under one arm and carry them over.  The last two are convinced I’m going to kill them – and, if they continue to be as flighty and annoying as they’ve been this week - they may just be right.

I slept late today so it was already hot by the time I got around to moving them out to the pen.  I was tired and crabby, and after a few failed attempts to catch those who will be eaten first, I decided a new plan of attack was required.  And as I stood there, pondering the fate of my fractious fowl, the coop door fell open.  The peeps perked up and moved toward it.

I stepped back and they moved closer to the door.  I decided that if I was going to risk losing any of my pullets – these were the obvious choice. So I stepped out and held the coop door wide open.  The peeps scrambled out the door and made a beeline for the pen.

Because I had, of course (slaps forehead and rolls eyes), set the pen up so that it faced away from the coop door, they ran straight into the wire.  And stayed there, peeping in pointless panic.  Seeing that any efforts to grab the little bastards birds would just result in a wild peep chase and having had some small experience in herding sheep, I decided that Audie and I were going to have to try our luck at penning.

When penning sheep at a trial, the handler’s job is to hold the gate rope until the dog works the sheep into the pen.  Since my experience in penning consists entirely of either watching other people do it or in moving tame, dog-broke sheep with Zip the Kelpie I decided that gracefully flanking Audie around the pen while I stood back and held the gate was completely out of our league out of the question.  However; being an experienced outside the box thinker and having a biddable, well-trained dog, I had an idea.

Audie and I switched roles.  I flanked quietly around the pen while Audie stood at the gate.  I put enough pressure on the peeps to move them around the pen, but not so much that they were tempted to flee away into the yard.  Audie stood by the gate, yielding enough space back and away from it to encourage the pullets to hop in as they circled around.  Lacking opposable thumbs, Audie then stepped in to block the opening until I could close the gate.

PenningPeeps

Guarding the Gate

It worked like a charm.  With the peeps safely ensconced in their pen Audie and I can relax and enjoy a break in the shade.  Hand feeding the birds while we listen to the creek.

FeedThePeeps

June 26, 2009 at 3:01 pm 3 comments

Film for Friday

June 26, 2009 at 2:32 am Leave a comment

Shut Up – Or Die?

Earlier this month ABC Australia reported a story about a man who was stabbed to death after complaining about his neighbor’s barking dog:

Joseph Durrant, 47, was fatally stabbed at Mount Pritchard in Sydney’s west after returning home from Australia Day celebrations in 2007.

He was attacked after making a comment about his neighbour Katrina Whitmore’s barking dog.

Whitmore has been sentenced to at least 10 years in jail after a jury found her guilty of murder.

Today the Milwauke Journal-Sentinal reports on an even more bizarre case of misplaced rage over barking:

Police say they believe a Madison woman stabbed her puppy because it wouldn’t stop barking, then she tried to stop the puppy from bleeding with super glue.

Madison Police left the 3-month-old German shepherd at a local emergency animal clinic. They arrested the 46-year-old woman.

Officers were called Sunday night to an apartment in the 1500 block of Trailsway St. According to an incident report, the woman officers eventually arrested claimed a male friend had stabbed the puppy, “Shep.”

The woman later told investigators that she was responsible, according to the report. She said “Shep” had been barking and yelping.

Officers found the bleeding puppy running in a hallway.

I don’t even know what to say about this. While the bitter, vindictive bitch in my can – at least in some way – understand taking out my rage on a chronically whiney neighbor.  There is no part of me that understands how a person – no matter how frustrated – could stab an innocent puppy because it barked too much.

Hello people – puppies bark.  They whine. If they’re like Audie they also moan, groan, chirp and sometimes speak in entire rambling paragraphs.  German shepherd puppies are prone to whining.  Especially when they’re kept cooped up in apartment buildings and not given enough supervision, training and EXERCISE.

The puppy is expected to recover.  Hopefully he’ll be rehomed with someone who understands that a knife isn’t the right tool to deal with excess barking.

June 25, 2009 at 9:24 pm 3 comments

EEK!

eek

Yeah – it’s a blurry, crappy picture - but it’s the best I could manage after I found a spider as big as my hand crawling across the kitchen floor tonight.  The fiendish beast was huge - the four inch kick at the bottom of the pantry it’s lurking next to provides scale.  My gawd.  I’ve eaten crabs that were smaller that.

I *know* wolf spiders aren’t poisonous.  I *know* that if I could have somehow mustered the courage to capture the eight-legged horror and take it outside it would do a lovely job of pest control…  but there’s something deeply and inherently evil about things with eight legs.  Besides, this monster was big enough to eat the baby robins nestled under the deck  [shudders]

If husband hadn’t been here to valiantly suck the diabolical beast up the vacuum cleaner - I’d have rounded up a pack of peeps and sic’d them on it.

June 25, 2009 at 6:12 am 5 comments

The Anna Karenina Principle

I just finished reading Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel  (highly recommended, btw, for anyone who’s interested in culture, civilization, geography or the history of domestication).  Diamond introduces the Anna Karenina Principle in the beginning of a chapter on domestication where he writes:

Domesticable animals are all alike; every undomesticable animal is undomesticable in its own way.

If you think you’ve already read something like that before, you’re right. Just make a few changes, and you have the famous first sentence of Tolstoy’s great novel Anna Karenina: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” By that sentence, Tolstoy meant that, in order to be happy, a marriage must succeed in many different respects: sexual attraction, agreement about money, child discipline, religion, in-laws, and other vital issues. Failure in any one of these essential respects can doom a marriage even if has all the other ingredients needed for happiness.

As a dog trainer I frequently run into people who are desperately seeking the one magic thing  that will fix their dog’s problem behavior.  The irresistible treat, the perfect tool – the magic word.  A quick, simple, inexpensive and completely foolproof way to turn the Marley they’ve got into the Lassie they want.

I don’t have it.

Nobody does - because dog training is governed by the Anna Karenina Principle.  Your training program can only be effective if it succeeds in several vital areas.  If you experience an epic fail in any one of them – a quick wave of my magic wand isn’t going to save you.

NoFairies

June 24, 2009 at 5:02 am 3 comments

Newton’s Reaction

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction

NewtonsDog

Sir Isaac Newton illustrates the third law as he reacts in panic to his dog's wild misbehavior

Sir Isaac Newton had a Pomeranian named Diamond who he referred to as “the constant but incurious attendant of his master’s researches”.  Newton doted on his little dog and rumor has it that Diamond was a wee bit spoiled.

In The Pawprints of History, Coren and Bartlett write:

“This story was told in a letter that Newton wrote to explain why his publication of the treatise that contained his law of gravity would be delayed. Newton was working on the final revisions; he was making significant progress and was feeling quite good about the work. He had worked all day, and when the sun went down needed to light some candles to continue with his calculations. As usual, Diamond was sleeping nearby. A knock on the door called Newton out of the room, and apparently Diamond awakened to the sound of talking, which included voices that were unfamiliar to her. Her protective instincts were immediately aroused, and she tried to get to her master. Unfortunately, Newton had closed the door to his study, so she was reduced to running wildly around the room, barking in excitement. On one circuit of the room Diamond apparently collided with the leg of Newton’s small writing table, and the shock of her collision caused the burning candle to tip over, directly onto the manuscript. In the resulting fire there was actually little damage to the room, but the manuscript that Newton was working on was completely destroyed.”

As Newton discovered, a wild, out of control dog can wreak unimaginable havoc on your life. I’ve known people who went to extraordinary lengths to keep their dogs from destroying their homes, yards, cars and relationships.  Stuck with problems they didn’t think they could solve - they gave up on training and resorted to avoiding problems instead of fixing them.

This much-too-common situation arises when an inattentive or inexperienced owner gives his dog more freedom than it’s ready for.  The dog is then free to engage in self-rewarding misbehavior (like Newton’s dog racing madly around his study) – and his owner is stuck with the much less entertaining work of being the equal opposing reaction.

When this happens the dog controls the momentum of your relationship and it leads to a paradoxical situation where, while your dog initially thinks leading you on a wild goose chase is great fun - he eventually develops an increasing sense of frustration.  Two completely diferent problems – both derived from the same simple equation.  Let’s look at the variables involved:

Leaders act; followers reactWhen you consistently respond reactively to your dog - you are telling him in very clear language (dog language) that you are a follower.

Given enough practice, a pushy dog who enjoys thinking he’s in charge may start to feel that he’s entitled to call the shots and become annoyed – or even aggressive - when you refuse to follow his lead.

Having a reactive owner can be an even bigger problem for a nervous or insecure dog.  This kind of dog isn’t comfortable making decisions - and when he is too often put into situations where he feels he has to make decisions he’s not prepared for, he’ll become even more anxious.

Restraint breeds frustration. A chronically misbehaving dog is a pain in the ass.  He’s the kind of dog that can never be safely left alone in the house, allowed to run off leash or otherwise permitted to enjoy a bit of (well-earned) unfettered freedom.  This is the dog who must constantly be managed.

Excessive restraint and management has a tendency to make a dog’s misbehavior further escalate because incessant restraint creates intense frustration.  Frustration reduces the dog’s attention span and self-control, makes him hyperactive and can even lead to aggression.

While restraining your dog may help prevent a problem from occurring in the moment – it doesn’t give him an opportunity to learn how to behave properly.  Excessive restraint is the force that leads to an endless, frustrating feedback loop of canine action and human reaction.

The Solution.  The key to solving this action / reaction equation is a change in momentum!

momentum

Instead of helplessly waiting for your dog to misbehave and then trying to stop him – simply reverse the terms and take a proactive, rather than reactive, approach to living with your dog.

Here’s what you’ll need to solve the problem:

Provide Supervision.  There are no short-cuts or substitutes for focused and sustained attention in dog training.  You can, however use baby gates, a drag line or a waist lead to help keep the dog in an area where you can see and hear what it is doing. When you can’t supervise this dog -  keep him crated or kenneled.

Limit Temptation. The next thing you need to do is reduce the number of temptations in the dog’s environment.  Instead of locking your dog up because he’s obsessed with stealing socks – pick up your socks.  Give the dog freedom with fewer opportunities to make mistakes.

Be Fair. Choose distractions carefully. The perfect distraction is one that will get your dog’s attention without making him go brain dead.  A distraction that will take his attention off task while still allowing you to get it back quickly.  

Use Obedience.  Instead of just setting the dog free with an unlimited opportunity to react to distracting things, use commands like ‘SIT’, ‘COME’ AND ‘HEEL’ to add structure to the exercise.  For example, put your dog in a SIT, set up a mild to moderate distraction and watch him very carefully.  The nanosecond the dog begins to alert to the distraction – correct or redirect him before he breaks.  You must then immediately praise / reward him for maintaining the SIT so he learns that ignoring the distraction is the goal of the exercise.

(Note: there is an excellent description of this process in Connie Cleveland’s book  Dogs Are Problem Solvers.)

Of course it’s impossible to raise a dog without restraint and management – the key is to remember that these tools are training wheels that support you while you teach your dog to cope successfully with more freedom.  A very young pup or newly adopted adult dog might need to be handled with 90% management and 10% training, but if you’re still using significantly more management than training a year later - it’s time to do your math, change the momentum and get on the path to a better relationship with your dog.

June 22, 2009 at 4:45 am 2 comments

American Poultry Hound

Young Audie is maturing into a fine American Poultry Hound. 

I’ve started putting the ten keeper peeps into an extra-large ex-pen to forage each afternoon.  Trips to check on the chicks and toss food scraps in have become part of our daily routine. Yesterday evening our routine visit turned into a bit of excitement when I discovered that several of the six-week-old chicks had gone AWOL from Fort Peepage.

In the same nanosecond that I noticed the chicks were outside the pen - a sable streak hightailed it down the steps past me.  As the words “LEAVE IT” were preparing to explode from my mouth - I noticed that Audie wasn’t focused on the chicks – his target was a tiger cat stalking one of our buff pullets. 

I let him go.  Audie flew past the defenseless chicks and the cat instantly morphed from predator into prey animal.  After he’d driven the terrified cat deep into the woods, my newly hatched American Poultry Hound swaggered back to survey his domain.

He found me making rather ineffective efforts to round up the free range peeps and drive them through the coop door.  They were spread out in an area between the south side of the ex-pen and the south wall of the coop that was lush with clover (their favorite forage) and they weren’t particularly interested in moving on.  Without any direction, Audie positioned himself to my left, adding his stronger pressure just where I needed it - on the side farthest from the door.  Moving slowly and calmly, he correctly balanced pressure on the chicks and helped me drive them through the door.

This was the first time Audie had seen chicks outside a brooder or pen.  He’d sniffed the chicks several times as I held them, but had never seen free ranging poultry – much less been off leash around them.  While I’d planned to make that first introduction in a much more structured way, I’m quite pleased at the way it turned out!

June 21, 2009 at 5:14 pm 2 comments

Foxy Lady With a Shoe Fetish

Apparently my Audie isn’t the only canid with a shoe fetish.  SpiegelOnline reports on a vixen with a similar peccadillo:

For more than a year, the people of Föhren, a small town in the wooded Eifel hills of western Germany, wondered who was going around stealing shoes from their doorsteps and garden terraces at night. Well over 100 muddy hiking shoes, wet Wellingtons, steel-capped workman’s boots, flipflops and old slippers went missing.

The mystery has now been solved after a forestry worker discovered an Imelda Marcos-scale collection of footwear in a fox’s den in nearby woods.

ShoeFox

Another fox (not Imelda) goes on a shoe shopping spree

Why did “Imelda” decide to go on this little crime spree?  It seems she needed chew toys for her kits.  Locals have collected over 120 shoes from her den and an adjacent quarry where the kits have been seen playing.  Authorities believe that she’s got more shoes stashed in the den, but they’re leaving Imelda and her kits undisturbed for now.  Since she’s still pilfering shoes, perhaps to replace the ones stolen from her, it would likely be a wasted effort anyway.

June 13, 2009 at 7:20 pm 2 comments

All Pot and no Play

JustSayNoToRawhide

Jack cures a bad case of the 'munchies' with a rawhide chew

Makes Jack a sick boy.  The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports:

Jack’s owner said on May 17, Jack wandered off for just three minutes on his own. But three hours later, “his head was rocking back and forth his eyes were glassy,” she said.

Nestor is convinced her dog got high on marijuana at the park. She believes the pot must have been stashed somewhere in the green landscape where she unleashed her dog.

Jack’s veterinary bills added up to $1,500. His medical records state he was dizzy, disoriented, staggering left to right and falling over when trying to sit. He also vomited large amounts of plant material and liquid that smells like marijuana.

The labrador mix apparently had not yet been trained to “just say no”.

This isn’t the first such incident to occur in the park.  Police say that back in April a wilderness guide and a group of children discovered a bag packed with $22,000 worth of marijuana.

If this isn’t a valid excuse for canine disbehavior, I don’t know what is ;-)

June 13, 2009 at 1:25 am 1 comment

Not Guilty

In another bit of non-news to experienced dog trainers, a Barnard College study shows that that guilty look you see when your dog misbehaves is rooted in your mind – not his.

LiveScience.com reports:

Dog owners have no one to blame but themselves when they think their canine pals give them that familiar “guilty look.”

You see guilt, but the dog doesn’t necessarily feel it, a new study shows.

By setting up conditions where the owner was misinformed as to whether his or her dog had really committed an offense, researcher Alexandra Horowitz of Barnard College in New York uncovered the origins of dogs’ allegedly downcast mugs.

Horowitz was able to show that the human tendency to attribute a guilty look to a dog was not due to whether the dog was indeed guilty. Instead, people see guilt in a dog’s body language when they believe the dog has done something it shouldn’t have, even if the dog is in fact completely innocent of any offense.

This has been one of my pet peeves (pun intended) for years.  Dog owners regularly tell me that they’re certain that their dog knows he’s misbehaving when he goes countersurfing, gets into the trash, barks at the window and engages in other undesirable behaviors when they’re not around.  As proof they offer the way he cringes and looks guilty when they come home and find the mess.

Dogs are brilliant observers and interpreters of human body language. You’re the center of your dog’s life and every nuance of your behavior is fascinating to him.  The contextual cues he picks up as he observes your behavior and the environment around him help your dog learn what to expect in a given situation.  Steven R. Lindsay writes about conditioned fear responses (like those that might make a dog cringe) in Volume One of his Handbook of Applied Dog Behavior and Training:

Contextual cues serve an occasion-setting function signaling those times and places the feared event is likely to occur.

Cues like the presence of dog poop or trash on the floor when you come home can function as contextual cues triggering a fearful response in your dog if he’s experienced aversive events (like being punished for something he didn’t understand) in this context before. Your dog’s not cringing because he feels guilty for misbehaving – he’s cringing because the context of the situation causes him to anticipate that unpleasant things will happen.  As published in LiveScience:

Whether the dogs’ demeanor included elements of the “guilty look” had little to do with whether the dogs had actually eaten the forbidden treat or not.

Dogs looked most “guilty” if they were admonished by their owners for eating the treat. In fact, dogs that had been obedient and had not eaten the treat, but were scolded by their (misinformed) owners, looked more “guilty” than those that had, in fact, eaten the treat.

Thus the dog’s guilty look is a response to the owner’s behavior, and not necessarily indicative of any appreciation of its own misdeeds.

And again, quoting Lindsay’s 2000 book (and demonstrating that this is not a new idea):

Although dogs can encode experiences and retrieve memories, they are most likely unable to form conceptual constructs and symbolic representations of events from which to deduce causal inferences about the distant past or future. Consequently, appealing to a canine ability to extrapolate from a present consequence to a past action does not help to explain the dog’s appearance of guilt. Although a dog may be able to associate the presence of a destroyed item with the owner’s anger, it is unlikely that the culpable action is directly influenced by the owner’s disapproval of abusive efforts. Unfortunately, however, the owner reads the dog’s guilt as if it was related to a remote action present in the dog’s mind at the time of the punishment.

In other words, punishing your dog for something he did before you came home is a pointless, mean-spirited waste of time.  If you really need to let that anger out – roll up a newspaper and smack yourself upside the head for being the clueless dolt who left him in a situation he wasn’t ready to handle.  Then hug your dog, clean up your house and get started on that long-overdue training program.

June 12, 2009 at 12:07 am 2 comments

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