Dogs

Varieties of Canine Eccentricity

February 28th, 2017 21 Comments

 

We have three dogs now. Bear and Daisy Mae are Australian Shepherds, which is clearly a fine and sensible name for a dog that was conceived of, bred, and perfected entirely on working ranches in the American West, a stock dog as archetypically American as the cowboy, the quarter horse, and the Colt single-action.
The American Kennel Club claims the breed goes back, genetically, to the Basque region of the Pyrenean Mountains, and that it owes its name to the Basque shepherds who came to America from Australia in the 1800’s. I suppose that’s possible—anything is possible—but I prefer to think it was a bunch of good-natured but mischievous cowboys sitting around a campfire with a bottle of Jack Daniels and talking about how ignorant city slickers are. “Hell, those New York City folks can’t tell a horse from a cow from an elk. Why, I bet we could even tell them Ol’ Blue here is an Australian dog and they’d by golly buy that.” Think Billy Crystal, Bruno Kirby, and Daniel Stern, amiable, gullible, out of their element and out of their league, but having a fine old time with some fine old cowboys spreading misinformation.
However it happened, the Australian shepherd couldn’t be more American. He is a firm and unwavering believer in the Constitution, and in the equal and separate balance of power between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. He believes in baseball and apple pie or any other foodstuff, whether in his food bowl or fallen to the floor, and he especially believes in the rights of all American citizens to do or be or say or go where they choose, so long as he can herd them in the right direction.
Their most obvious attribute—their great beauty—is the attribute most dangerous to them. People take one look at Aussies and fall in love, and this is emphatically not a breed for everyone. They were bred to move stock over long distances in rough country all day long, and sitting around on the sofa watching Animal Planet is not going to satisfy their physical energy demands. Nor will it satisfy their intellectual demands, because this is a highly intelligent breed that needs and wants and demands a job, preferably a challenging job. If you don’t interact with your Aussie both intellectually and physically, you and the dog will both end up very, very unhappy.
That beautiful coat also sheds constantly. If you share your home with an Aussie, dog hair will become an ever changing but constant feature in every corner, on every piece of furniture, under every piece of furniture, on all your clothes, and as a condiment on the dining table competing for space with the salt and the pepper and the mustard.
Temperamentally, Aussies are pretty easy-going as long as you work them and stimulate their brains. They are very sensitive dogs who need a light touch and, in the first two years, a lot—a lot—of patience. Their formidable brain power simply does not kick in until they reach about two years of age, and until then they can be what is politely referred to as a challenging handful. I imagine my parents thought very much the same about me, if you add about twenty years or so to that two years of age. Darleen claims my pre-frontal cortex still hasn’t fully developed, but then she’s a wife, and what wife doesn’t consider her husband a challenging handful?
Another Aussie trait is that they crave, desire, demand, and need close, very close contact with their people. If your idea of a dog is as a piece of yard art, do me a favor and don’t get any living, sentient thing; just buy a pet rock. But above all, do not get an Aussie, because that will truly ruin the dog and will ruin him in a slow, sadistic way. In fact, don’t even think about getting an Australian shepherd unless you really like having a dog underfoot. Correction: make that on top of foot. Both our Aussies, but Bear especially, will lie on top of your feet the instant said feet stop moving. I have learned to gather everything I might possibly need before I sit down to eat, work, read, watch television, or anything else, because both feet will instantly be glued in place by Australian Shepherd Superglue, and getting them out from under him can be painful to my toes and to his feelings. I’ve also learned that if my feet are under the toe-kick of the kitchen sink, or under the bathroom sink where I shave, I have to look behind me and move cautiously if I don’t want to trip and go ass over teakettle, because he’ll be right there. When I do sit in the easy chair to watch television, he puts his front half in my lap—he knows he’s too big to get all of him up there—and he will stay indefinitely.
His chief eccentricity, however, is very endearing. He likes to walk up to me and thrust his head firmly between my legs, leaving only his ears visible and touchable. That’s because he loves having his ears rubbed and as long as I continue to rub, he will continue to stand. Or until he hears dinner being prepared.
Bear’s raison d’être is to keep this world safe from birds. If I turn him loose in any pasture, or take him to the dog park, he will spend his time chasing every bird he can find. It’s his calling, and he takes his duties very seriously.
On one memorable occasion, at the local dog park, a raven decided to play with him. Bear got the raven airborne, no troubles there, but the raven simply settled on a nearby fence post. Bear would duly charge said fence post and the raven would fly to the second one down, or the third one back the other way, or sometimes just far enough away to give Bear a false sense of security. Then the raven would call or flap its wings to get Bear’s attention and off they would go again. For a while, both of them were clearly having a fine old time, but I finally had to call Bear off; he was starting to trip on his tongue, and you don’t want to discourage a dog with a good and useful habit of chasing birds. Useful? Yes, because for my retirement, I’m considering renting him out as one of those dogs that keep birds off airport runways.
I’m not as knowledgeable about canine anatomy as I should be, so I’m not sure how the mouth is connected to the legs, but Daisy Mae is one of those dogs incapable of forward movement without something in her mouth. In Daisy Mae’s case, it’s almost always a Nylabone, held at a jaunty angle in one corner so that she looks for all the world as if she were smoking a stogie. She is much more frivolous and light-hearted than Bear and she smiles constantly, so between that and the stogie, she reminds me of a much prettier version of George Burns.
She likes to have her tummy rubbed, so she runs at you and at the last moment leaps into the air, turns sideways onto her back, and falls with a crash onto the floor where she will gaze up at you in a manner that no man of woman born can possibly refuse. She has one brown eye and one blue eye, and either one of them could melt the heart of a brass statue of the devil himself. In short, she has charm and she knows how to work it.


Other than being charming, Daisy’s only other accomplishment of any note is herding the cats. Since “herding cats” is a metaphor for an impossible act, this is not an accomplishment to be sneered at. Unfortunately, the people Daisy shares her life with aren’t quite smart enough to figure out how to make cat-herding into a productive source of revenue, so Daisy retains strictly amateur status. Just as well, since she is only a year old and still in the prolonged impossible stage of all Australian shepherd puppies, but we have high hopes for her as she matures into professional cat herding.
Daisy’s has a serious bark like a Black & Decker masonry drill going into your skull, but she has an endearing way of greeting strangers by woofing at them. This is not barking, but—quite literally—well, woofing, a sort of quiet series of little grunts intended to indicate openness to friendly overtures, but no intention of tolerating unwanted liberties. Aussies are generally good-natured and people-loving, but they can be protective if not properly socialized.
Aussies hold it as a basic tenet of faith that they are, in fact, human beings with fur, and in this they are not far off the mark. It’s an endearing trait, but it means that they have a pronounced tendency to stand up on their hind legs. Think about every YouTube video you’ve ever seen featuring circus dogs, or dogs competing in dance competitions; there is a reason why so many of those dogs are Aussies. It also means that while you might be able to teach them not to jump up on you (be gentle and patient; you’re trying to break a normal—from the Aussie’s point of view—behavioral pattern) they will still be prone to stand up on everybody else, to lean against the kitchen counter to see what’s cooking or to request a nibble, to put their paws on the bathroom sink to supervise your shaving, and in general, act like an amiable and sociable old friend next to you at the bar. “Hey, it’s great to see you again! Let’s have a beer. How do you think Green Bay’s going to do this year?”
Basically, both our Australian shepherds are perfectly normal dogs. Not so the third member of our family.
Lola is a Cardigan Welsh corgi. In case you are unfamiliar with that breed, the Cardigan is the other corgi, the one with the tail. The Queen of England’s corgis, the ones seen on television clustering around the queen in her garden at Buckingham palace, are the smaller, tail-less variety known as Pembroke Welsh corgis. We rescued one of those once, long ago, and I can testify that Her Royal Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II, is well-protected. I got into a fistfight with a pit-bull who objected to us taking up space on his planet, and our other dogs, including a German shepherd from imported police and Schutzhund lines, all ran for their lives, while that little corgi managed to pull her head out of her collar, escaping from Darleen, and hit the pit-bull amidships like an express train. Of course, given her size, it had about as much effect as I would if I hit Deontay Wilder, but it distracted the pit-bull long enough for me to get back on my feet and grab him by his hind legs, incapacitating him until his owners could take him.
Cardigan Welsh corgis are supposed to be much tougher than Pembrokes. Having been owned by some of both, I can state empirically that the answer is an absolutely clear-cut yes and no. We had one very sweet and loving, but hopelessly fearful and neurotic Cardigan who used to fall apart at the slightest provocation, anything from turning on the shower to turning on the vacuum cleaner, from the faint and distant sound of far off neighbors quail hunting in a canyon a mile away from our house, to the unexpected sound of voices at our other neighbor’s house. She was a semi-rescue, but fearfulness, like aggression, is usually a sign of bad breeding.


Lola is the other extreme. Not only is she not afraid of the devil himself, but she has the kind of foolhardy courage that makes her a danger to herself. She is very prone to swaggering up to dogs that outweigh her by a factor of five, rolling up her sleeves as she goes, smacking her rolling pin against her open palm, snarling threats of violence and unwarranted comments about the other dog’s mother. She never actually does anything once she gets to the other dog, in fact she’s usually happy to play, but the menacing march up to them is someday going to inspire some dog to get his retaliation in first.
That’s with strange dogs. With strange people she responds as if each individual were her one true long-lost love, the single person she has pined to see all her life, the person she should always have lived with in any right-thinking world. “Who’s who? Oh, you mean that guy on the other end of the leash? He’s nobody, don’t worry about him. I just let him tag along with me because I feel sorry for the poor schmoo. Kiss me again.”
Her real eccentricity, however, is that she curses like a drunken sailor trying to find the red-light district. Constantly, almost nonstop. She wanders around the house, cursing under her breath and threatening anyone and everyone who comes anywhere near her even when she wants them to come near her. It’s a little hard to take this coprolalia (compulsive swearing) seriously because she does it so incessantly. When Daisy Mae helps Lola with her morning toilette, licking her eyes and ears for her, Lola issues a steady stream of hair-raising threats and obscenities that make you think she is about to pull a razor out of her garter belt. And when Lola returns the favor and grooms Daisy Mae’s eyes and ears, which she does daily because, like everyone else, she adores Daisy, the same bloody and vicious torrent of curses and threats pours out. If I pick Lola up to put her on the bed (her body is not designed for jumping up onto or down from anything higher than a bathmat) I am rewarded with promises to tear me limb from limb. If Darleen leans down to give her a kiss, Lola threatens to rip her lips off. When Darleen starts to prepare the dogs’ dinner, the threats and curses reach such a crescendo we’re always afraid the neighbors will call the police. Of course, Lola would greet the police with ecstasies of wriggling, jumping up on their uniforms, kissing them, and generally acting like her namesake in Damn Yankees: “Whatever Lola wants, Lola gets, and little man, Lola wants you!” Of course, Gwen Verdun’s dance as she sang that song was somewhat more enticing than the gyrations of a dog built upon the lines of an overstuffed kielbasa, but at least she stops swearing when greeting strangers.
The funny thing about the swearing is that it is accompanied by steady, cheerful wagging of her tail, a sort of split personality division of canine, as if the front end were full of psychopathic danger and the back end full of Christian charity and goodwill. It can also be a little sad to see, because no one, not even the cats, takes her threats seriously. To watch the cats rub up against her as she mutters imprecations is to see the definition of hollow and meaningless posturing. She really is quite the most eccentric dog I have ever known.
She also has the most acute hearing of any dog I have ever known.


I was sitting on the sofa with Lola, one cold winter’s day, procrastinating after lunch instead of going out to do chores. I was procrastinating so successfully that I was just beginning to doze off when suddenly her ears flipped up from sleep mode (think Yoda in Star Wars) to alert mode. Then her head came up and she stared intently out the sliding glass door. She has learned to alert me when there are ground squirrels on the back hill. Ground squirrels are a very destructive pest and they harbor the flea that carries bubonic plague, so when they move in near the house, Lola tells me and I go shoot them. It’s a division of labor satisfactory to all except the ground squirrels, and their needs and wants are antithetical to mine. But Lola always runs to the sliding door when the ground squirrels are there, and this time she stayed where she was, her whole body tense with anticipation, muttering softly to herself.
Thinking we might be under attack by North Korea, I got up and peered out the door, cupping my hands against the glass. Nothing. There are a lot of trees and a lot of brush on the slope behind the house, so I took my time methodically scanning the hill. Nothing. Finally, I noticed Lola staring to the southwest and I looked over that way. Still nothing, but just as I started to turn away, on the far edge where the hill folds down into a culvert, a little buck’s head appeared, then his body, as he walked up into view. That deer was easily a hundred feet or more from the house, the house itself was buttoned up tight against the cold, and yet somehow, she had either heard or smelled or sensed that little guy. How? I have no explanation.
In theory, if you need a watch dog—and who doesn’t need a watch dog in these troubled times—a Cardigan would seem to be an ideal choice, but… But be prepared. Lola frequently alerts us to dangers that exist entirely in her own mind, as well as to actual things that don’t qualify as dangers to anyone but her. Getting our propane tank filled, for example, is something I like, I want, I need, I encourage, but Lola regards the propane guy as right up there with a Mexican drug cartel. The first time we spent the night in a hotel with her, we did not sleep, at all, because Lola evidently regarded the hotel as our new house and alerted us to every single person who walked down the hall or opened a door or closed a door or… We finally had to lock her in the bathroom with the exhaust fan on to deaden her ability to hear, but by then the sandman had gotten bored with waiting for us and had moved on to more receptive climes. In short, if you want a watchdog, be careful what you wish for.
Her other great skill (other, I mean, than barking at dangers real or imagined) is agility. Oh, stop laughing. I know she doesn’t look like an agility dog, but she has a real genius for it. She learned the obstacles with lightning speed, and can go through a course with something pretty darned close to lightning speed, or at least what passes for lightning speed from a kielbasa. The only real drawback she has is that she adores our local professional agility trainer and will frequently take time out in the middle of a run to go jump up and bestow kisses, and then go right back to where she left off as if nothing untoward had ever happened. This usually causes Darleen, who runs her, to get absolutely hysterical, and it’s hard to run while you’re laughing.
She really is the most eccentric animal I have ever known.

Another Test Post with Adorable Puppies

October 21st, 2014 9 Comments

Playing with my computer, trying to fix posting problems. By way of apology, I will include a photo of ridiculously adorable puppies in a bucket. (The one with the dot on her head is ours.)

Puppies in a bucket (Small)

Wet Dogs Redux

October 19th, 2014 6 Comments

I received some comments and emails from people who tried unsuccessfully to read the “Wet Dogs” post. Let me explain: I have been having technological problems posting to my website, so I enlisted the aid of my resident computer/IT/internet/social media/brave-new-world expert, and the only way I could show him what was going on was to post something. He assured me there was a way to simulate a post without it going out into the ethers. I had my doubts, and it turned out I was sort of partially right. I picked a photograph (of wet dogs) a friend had sent me, wrote a quick post, hit the publish button, and as soon as the expert had witnessed the problem (indescribable and–worse–something he had never even seen before) I tried to delete said experimental post. You all witnessed the result: some of it went out. Never trust the internet.

However, since it is a great photograph, I will now post it here:

Wet dogs

I will now post this, run into the same (expletive deleted) problem, and muddle my way through to a correction, and pray that my expert can figure out a solution.

Puppies In a Bucket

August 2nd, 2014 15 Comments

Puppies in a bucket (Small)

 

An absolutely gratuitous photograph of puppies in a bucket, in this case, Cardigan Welsh corgi puppies from Coedwig Cardigans, posted for no other reason than to make you smile.

A Fine Quote, and Dogs

August 1st, 2014 10 Comments

008 (800x600)

 

I stole this fabulous quote from Steve Bodio’s blog, Querencia at: http://stephenbodio.blogspot.com/

“Stuff is eaten by dogs, broken by family and friends, sanded down by the wind, frozen by the mountains, lost by the prairie, burnt off by the sun, washed away by the rain. So you are left with dogs, family, friends, sun, rain, wind, prairie, and mountains. What more do you want?”

Federico Calboli

Mr. Calboli is a geneticist, a post-doctoral Research Fellow at Imperial College, London, and—to be painfully honest—does the sort of work I am nowhere near smart enough to understand. But reading his opening page about himself (http://www.federicocalboli.com/) prior to stealing his words, the following sentence caught my eye:

“Alongside my genetic association research, I have worked on the analysis of complex pedigree records, using simulations to asses pedigree complexity, inbreeding and gene diversity loss in dogs.   My work on the analysis of the pedigree of purebred dogs in the UK has been key in the recent challenges to the practice of closed registries for dog breeds, on the grounds of animal welfare.”

Readers of my blog know I am no fan of anyone trying to tell me what to do, and when the government starts meddling in my affairs, I put my ears back like the false prophet’s donkey in the Bible and refuse to cooperate. Even more, I begin to think fond thoughts of Guy Fawkes, the sharpshooters who stood by the rude bridge and fired the shot(s) heard round the world, the men who picked their teeth while letting the rope of the guillotine go, all those who tell authoritarian governments (I know that’s redundant) to go perform anatomically impossible acts upon themselves. But…

But in this case, I have to admit I’m all on the side of science, or at least on Mr. Calboli’s science.

One of the blogs that was lost when my website had that embarrassing accident (wrong finger on the wrong key at the wrong time) was about this very issue. The moment a gene pool gets closed, disaster begins. It’s true of men (look at some of the royal morons and madmen that have cluttered up various thrones around the world throughout history) and it is especially and radically so with dogs. Dogs apparently have a genetic marker that allows them to evolve more rapidly than other species, which is why in such a comparatively short evolutionary timespan, the descendants of the wolf have been able to assume the shapes of Chihuahuas and Irish wolfhounds, whippets and bulldogs.

Closed gene pools have given us guard dogs that are afraid of their own bark, hunting dogs that can’t hunt their way to the meat counter in a supermarket, and companion dogs that bite their owners. No one is advocating mongrelization here, but for God’s sake, if crossing a little Malinois, say, into your German shepherd will delay the onslaught of dysplasia and spinal atrophy, or fear biting, do it. I have an antique dog book (I would have just called it an old dog book, since it was published in 1934, but apparently that qualifies it as an antique in today’s frantic world) with a cover photograph of a German shepherd. That dog bears no more resemblance to the German shepherds of the show ring or Schutzhund ring today than I do to LeBron James. If it sounds as if I’m picking on German shepherds, well, I am. As a child in Germany during the late fifties and the first half of the sixties I used to see them and admire them so much: magnificent and fearless athletes, calm and steady, polite with strangers, but fiercely protective of their owners, the ideal dog. Today… Let’s just say that with any breed, if the body can’t stand up to the rigors of being walked around suburban neighborhoods and the temperament can’t stand up to the rigors of being a beloved family pet, then that breed is, to quote a fine old Army phrase, FUBAR: fucked up beyond all recognition.

A kindly reader saved all my old blogs and sent them to me, for which I am very grateful. I will go back through my files and try to find that original blog and re-post it. If it has stood the test of time.

Is Man Really God’s Last Word?

April 1st, 2014 28 Comments

blackpup   For the first time in all the years we’ve been married, Darleen and I are down to one dog. We’ve never had less than three, and at one point, due to circumstances beyond our control (soft heads, soft hearts, dogs in need of rescue) we had five, and the chaos level in the house was on a par with a badly run kindergarten. Imagine the lunatics not even bothering to run the asylum. We have decided to keep it down to two, but that still leaves us one dog shy, so we drove down to the nearest city to see about rescuing a dog. I’m not sure why, but southern California seems to have more than its fair share of irresponsible pet owners. Between three and four million dogs and cats are euthanized at shelters all across America every year. That translates to roughly 80,000 animals a week, and the shelters in southern California are overwhelmed. Apparently large numbers of people labor under the misapprehension that neutering old Rover or Miss Tabby is somehow cruel. Or maybe they’re just so dumb they don’t even think of it at all. The Audubon Society claims that the single greatest killer of migrating songbirds is the domestic (or feral) cat, yet people all over the nation think it is cruel not to let their cats out to play. It is possible the birds who get played with have a different perspective. And every mentally negligible moron in the country seems to think his dog is worthy of reproduction (“Let the kiddies see the miracle of birth.” I have actually heard that.) with the result that every time you go to the local shopping mall there are kiddies standing out in front with cardboard boxes of puppies they are trying to give away. Or starving pit-bulls running loose along the interstate. Or unidentifiable messes of bloody fur on the asphalt. In the years we have lived in our little rural corner of the mountains, ten miles out from a very small town, Darleen and I have averaged two stray dogs a year on our property. For the first four or five years we earnestly tried to find the owners, but after one such paragon of compassion told Darleen on the phone, “Ah, just kick him in the gut and send him on home,” (that’s a direct quote) we stopped trying to return them. Now we feed them and take them down to the shelter or, if injured, to our local vet. If you’re too stupid and irresponsible to get your dog micro-chipped, and you can’t be bothered to even keep a collar with a tag on him, you don’t deserve to get him back. But rescuing a dog is not as easy as you might imagine. We had to rule out a wide range of the shelter’s offerings. Pete is a male, a male with a tendency for brawling, and I have broken up more than my fair share of dog fights during my life, so it’s female only. We ruled out dogs with obvious communicable diseases, and dogs that showed any signs of aggression toward people or toward Pete or toward cats. After that we ruled out various characteristics or breed types that would make our lives miserable for one reason or another. We spent two days at two different shelters and finally gave up. The best of the bunch was a sort of Labrador kind of cross that had been neglected in a backyard for so long that it had reached a state I can only describe as catatonic in terms of its reactions to humans. She was fine with Pete, but completely unresponsive to the vet tech, to me, to Darleen. I can understand a dog being unresponsive to me, but if a dog is unresponsive to Darleen, it has serious problems. A pet rock would respond to my bride. So we are still, for the time being, a one-dog family. But what the experience left me with was a conviction that there is something seriously wrong with man’s relationship with his best friend. And if man can treat an animal with such callous disregard, how will he treat his fellow man? I don’t think we’re going to see peace on earth anytime soon.

Belle

March 19th, 2014 30 Comments

008 (800x600)   We had to put our old corgi down. She, Belle, is the alert one in the photo above, shown with her friend Scooter in a chair I used to be able to sit in myself. Old is a relative term; she was only ten, which is old for some breeds, but not—or it shouldn’t be—for corgis. Belle was a semi-rescue (what breeders euphemistically call “pet quality”) that no one else wanted and so, being soft-headed and soft-hearted, we took her. She was a delight. She had tremendous charm and brains enough to know how to use it. When guests came over, she would work the room like a cabaret singer, and when we went out with her somewhere, she invariably made everyone smile. She was a mess. She had terrible structure, including excessively turned-out feet that caused her great difficulty and necessitated a surgery in her later years. In her later years (which should have been her middle-aged years) she also developed Cushing’s disease, something I had thought only horses got. She was a delight. She was hands down, without question, the finest and most alert watch dog I have owned, seen, known, heard of, or encountered. If she went on high alert and growled at the back door, it invariably meant there was something up on the hill behind the house, frequently something so far away that it took us and the other dogs a long time to spot it. If she went on high alert toward the front of the house, it invariably meant someone was driving up the lane, even if the car was still a quarter mile away. Both of these she did regularly, summer and winter, even when the house was buttoned up tight and the television was showing the Animal Planet. She was a mess. Her nerves were so bad she was terrified of practically everything, which made taking her anywhere extremely difficult. Even walking her around the fields in our own neck of the woods could be problematic: my neighbor to north sometimes practices shooting in the canyon north of his house. The distance is about half a mile, and the shooting is always muffled by the canyon wall, but she would begin to shake and, if she was off-leash, she would run back to the house. Since the only way to (hopefully, possibly) get a dog over a fear factor is to ignore any behavior exhibited, taking her anywhere was a challenge. She was a delight, getting along with everyone, human, equine, canine, and feline. She always stayed calm around the horses, resolutely ignored the cats, and bedeviled Pete the Boxer into games. She also used to bedevil me into playing tug-of-war with her, but only with one very specific toy. I lived in fear that toy would disintegrate and that she would be inconsolable. We purchased another, identical in every way save color, but she wouldn’t touch it. Unfortunately, the toy lasted longer than she did. She was a mess, badly bred by an irresponsible breeder; but even the typically callous, venal, avaricious breeders so prevalent today in America, even that despicable person couldn’t destroy the essential sweetness of one of the world’s oldest breeds. She was a delight.

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