Media Treats

January 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm 4 comments

Slate Magazine has an interesting article on the National Obedience Invitational. Writer Martin Kihn compares competitive obedience to neoclassical ballet. I see it as closer to team figure skating, but along with Kihn, I don’t understand why conformation shows continue to eclipse obedience trials in popularity, or why so many people think competitive obedience is dull.

Yet devotees will tell you that obedience is one of the most exciting spectator sports anywhere and that the absence of big paydays only adds to its spiritual purity. The best teams appear to perform a kind of interspecies voodoo as they glide through intricately choreographed rituals, attached by nothing more than mental moonbeams. The beams connecting Ford and Tyler are among the strongest in the obedience solar system. As a consequence, the dog-trainer duo is staging a quiet revolution on the circuit.

Be sure to check out the video clip of Ford and Tyler’s performance.


A study published this week in The American Naturalist compares the shapes of domestic dogs’ skulls with those of several different carnivore species. The data indicate that variation between dogs’ skulls was as great as that between all other species. According to Science Daily:

This means, for instance, that a Collie has a skull shape that is more different from that of a Pekingese than the skull shape of the cat is from that of a walrus.

Dr Drake explains: “We usually think of evolution as a slow and gradual process, but the incredible amount of diversity in domestic dogs has originated through selective breeding in just the last few hundred years, and particularly after the modern purebred dog breeds were established in the last 150 years.”

In just 150 years of selective breeding we have created a species that now has a range of skull shapes found nowhere else among carnivores.

Dr Klingenberg adds: “Domestic dogs are boldly going where no self respecting carnivore ever has gone before.

“Domestic dogs don’t live in the wild so they don’t have to run after things and kill them — their food comes out of a tin and the toughest thing they’ll ever have to chew is their owner’s slippers. So they can get away with a lot of variation that would affect functions such as breathing and chewing and would therefore lead to their extinction.

If you ask me, dogs aren’t “getting away with” anything – but – dog breeders in search of ribbons and unique consumer products are.


The San Luis Obispo Tribune reports that David Wroblewski, author of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” is working on a couple of new book projects.

One is a nonfiction anthology, he says, based on material he studied during his research for “Sawtelle”: “All these fabulous papers on animal cognition and animal behavior that I think are really interesting and, if they are tied together correctly, would be really interesting for a general readership. But the big thing is the next novel.” Which is still in its formative stages.

I look forward to reading both of them.


Hat tip to the very excellent Sarah Wilson for the link that led to the trailer for the movie Mine:

The Seattle Times reports:

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and the levees broke, many who were forced to leave without their pets endured long searches to find animals that had been ferried to safety without them. You’d think that finding that their pets were alive and well after the storm would be pure joy, but for some, it was more complicated.

The documentary “Mine,” opening Friday at SIFF Cinema in Seattle, tells the stories of people who found their pets in new homes, with rescuers or adopters who didn’t want to give them back.

Our pets occupy a unique niche in our legal system. Dogs and cats aren’t persons under the law and they don’t fit neatly under the aegis of traditional property law. We own them, but we see them as members of our families so we end up with a unique category of living and much beloved property whose legal status is confusing to many of us. It should be interesting to see how the film maker approaches the problem.

The documentary is available for pre-order on Amazon.

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Entry filed under: books, dog obedience, dogs, science. Tags: .

Charlie, Heal Who’s a Smart Boy?

4 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Luisa  |  January 21, 2010 at 9:07 pm

    Thanks for these!

    I weep for the miserable wretches [PETA spokeseleb, famous author-of-books-with-maudlin-titles] who don’t train their canine companions because they believe, or fear, that training will make Scout “less of a dog.” [The way spending time with your dog makes you "less of a human," I guess.]

    Training — working and playing together, and learning how to communicate with each other — is one of the greatest gifts you can give your dog. Or yourself, if you ask me.

    Oh, and that video? Is going to just break my heart.

  • 2. EmilyS  |  January 21, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    competitive obedience is more like chess than any athletic event (unless you consider the brain to be a muscle…)

    Chess has its fans, too, of course. And nothing wrong with that.

    When I go to obedience trials, even most of the other competitors aren’t watching the dogs. It’s a truly arcane sport. That’s not a bad thing, but to imagine that it will ever be a popular spectator sport (even with hot female handlers that the Slate author evidently has a crush on) is kind of delusional. I don’t see the appeal of admiring the .5 inch v. the .75 inch crooked front.

  • 3. Jill  |  January 22, 2010 at 9:57 am

    Love that Slate article. Once you’ve experienced the mental moonbeams, you’ll never go back.

  • 4. Viatecio  |  January 23, 2010 at 2:12 pm

    I’m one of those who’s never really been interested in competitive obedience, but that doesn’t mean I don’t like it. Just that I personally don’t see it as practical in day-to-day life. I stretch my dog’s brain in other ways, maybe not as much as the competition obedience would do, but she’s definitely not lacking for things to do. Any sort of exercise or competition, though, can appear as a dance between human and dog, with some type of telepathic or ever-so-subtle communication that isn’t apparent. And I agree Luisa, I feel sorry for people who don’t train their dog. It’s not all military precision drills, and just because little Fluffy doesn’t potty in the house doesn’t mean he can’t learn more. I’d venture to guess that the anti-training people who aren’t of the “But it’ll make him less of a dog” type are just all-out lazy.

    I might have to drop some $$ on Amazon for that. I’m looking at another documentary too, so there goes $50 one of these days. At least I can say that it was well-spent (rather on intriguing things like this than alcohol like I used to do!).

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