Friday, November 30, 2007

Keep your $#*^@ dogs under #*(&@! control

Yes, I'm talking to you, oh pornstached owner of the two Keeshonden that were barrelling down the trails of the Participark at 11 AM yesterday.

The Participark is a chunk of forest with clearly-defined running/walking trails, less clearly defined cowpaths and "fitness stations". It's also right across the road from the SPCA, but the SPCA dogs are always exercised on-lead and the walkers are instructed to pull off the trail at the approach of another dog. Of course, most of the people who walk/run with their dogs either have dogs on lead or dogs with reliable recalls.

I was out running (or trying to run) with Tierce. This was a process involving a lot of pulling on the lead, as Mr. Puppy has not comprehended the wisdom of keeping me in his sights so he knows when I'm going to turn or stop. We are working on this, but not for a day or two, as I managed to roll my left ankle a couple of times. So much for athleticism.

I've got my tunes in, because I'm running on the right side of a trail in a public park and my dog is securely attached to me. Simple, right? Wrong. Wrong-o. I was not prepared for the two gray-and-black bullets that shot towards us as we turned a corner. Not knowing what their intentions were, I scooped Tierce up as the owner strolled past. As he came towards us, he gave me that aren't-you-glad-to-meet-my-wonderful-dogs smile and cheerfully said, "They're okay."

They're okay?

Did he wait until I was close enough for him to inquire as to whether my dog was aggressive, fearful, stressed, injured, nervous when two bigger dogs reenact the running of the bulls in Madrid, or even whether I had some sort of philosophical objection to his dogs coming near me?

The answer is, of course, no. He did not. He, along with a whole host of other dog owners who should be beaten with canes and pilloried, cheerfully assumed that because he knew that his dogs were "okay", that I should assume likewise and that my dog should accept their abrupt intrusion into his personal space with equanimity.

The truth is that I love just about every dog I meet and Tierce is friendly towards other dogs. However, that doesn't mean that people should feel entitled to allow their dogs to run up to strangers without a specific invitation. If the gentleman had asked, I would have been happy to stop and have Tierce meet him and his dogs. However the blithe assumption that my dog and I were automatically overjoyed to make his dogs' abrupt acquaintance made me furious.

I think that instead of giving a ghastly grin as you pull your friendly/nervous/snarling/terrified dog away from a loose dog, that you should treat this like the invasion of personal space that it is. Tell these people exactly what they are doing wrong and why you are not simply thrilled that their dogs are jumping all over you and your dog.

In my case, I said only, "You don't know if my dog is 'okay'!" and swept on. Maybe next time I'll take the time to enumerate the many ways that an uncontrolled dog running up to a strange dog and its owner can result in multiple lawsuits.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

More on the Dover Shiba case

Man charged with animal cruelty in Dover denies wrongdoing

I am wondering if he's as big a moron as the last article would indicate. However, most vets don't charge one for animal cruelty for a lick sore, so I'll be interested in how this develops.

(Hit by a car? Just another one for the files of "don't let your Shiba outside without a lead")

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tales from the dog park

It's been raining today - the one thing I hate about Vancouver Island (besides being prime breeding grounds for fleas and ticks). However, last Wednesday it was quite clear, with only a hint of the dark shroud that veiled the land today. So we went to the dog park.

Dog parks are a society unto themselves. There is an ebb and flow to the park as dogs enter and leave. On Wednesday, I witnessed an altercation that sprang up when a group of three people brought a leashed German Shepherd dog into the dog park. The Shepherd promptly got mobbed and (still on the leash) exhibited symptoms of fear and nervousness in the situation. The owner (I assume) let her loose and she ran out into the park. One dog in the resident pack mobbed the Shepherd while the others circled around, occasionally barking or nipping at her.

The dog mobbing the Shepherd was a dominant female, which could account why she kept grabbing at the Shepherd's neck and trying to force her to the ground. The Shepherd wasn't having any of it and was trying to get away. After a couple of minutes, it looked like the Shepherd was getting the worst of it, so people started walking purposefully towards the pack.

As we all did so (I was watching Tierce, who was circling all of this and getting underfoot), the owner collected his Shepherd, kicked the dominant female away and retreated to the gate. He was then accosted verbally by the dominant dog's owner who told him in no uncertain terms not to kick her dog.

"Your dog was biting my dog!" he accused.

Further words were exchanged, whereupon the trio walked on, muttering angrily amongst themselves.

The whole incident caught me because of the experiences I have had here at the dog park. Tierce, being a dominant, open, male, adolescent Shiba has had more than his share of mobbing in the park. However, I have never felt the need to leave the park because of it. I have been warned by people whose business it is to know that dog parks can be precarious places, especially for Shibas who can take being mobbed badly. Be that as it may, I have not yet had an experience at the park where I felt that my dog was being mobbed and that the other owner(s) weren't doing enough about it.

Just lucky? Could be. Since Tierce is a little asshole of a dog who is just as annoying to some of the dogs at the dog park as he is at home, you would think that by now his canine karma would be used up for the next seven years or so.

Maybe it's just that I have made a decision, knowing what I do of dogs and dog parks and decided that there was a certain limit that I would go to before I interfered.

I will interfere if:

Tierce is exhibiting signs of stress - vocalizing is a sign

Tierce has been mobbed for a few minutes without pause

Tierce is mobbing another dog who is not appearing to give as good as he gets or is constantly being prevented from getting away by Tierce or another dog

Tierce is jumping up or otherwise behaving in a manner that interferes with other people at the dog park

What is interference? Mostly, it's trying to catch the little brat and pick him up for a while to let things cool down. Sometimes this is all one needs for the dogs to focus on something else. Sometimes it's taking a dog out of the game by holding onto his collar. Sometimes it's being done for the day and leaving to come back another time. Dogs are like people in that stress from other areas than the dog park can affect their temperament and reactions in the dog park.

I have found that most of the owners have gauged their dogs' temperaments and behaviour well when it comes to this. The majority of us are reluctant to interfere unless there is a serious fight. The dogs are here to socialize. Sometimes mobbing and snarling and snapping are a way for a dog to learn other dogs' limits.

I don't let Tierce be bullied constantly, but I think that him learning that he isn't top dog is a valuable life lesson that will keep him less likely to assert himself negatively towards another dog later on. Shassi learned that particular life lesson from Kena and Buddi, but I wonder if she would be as intolerant of other dogs if she had had the dog park experience that Tierce is having now.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Clever Paws

Research indicates dogs have some ability to read minds

The title is misleading. What the article is actually about is a psychology student's research into whether dogs take the thoughts and feelings of others into account.

You know, I'd love to find evidence that Tierce isn't just the Shiba genius I've always known him to be, but a SUPER-genius. Michelle Maginnity's research, according to this article, seems to base a dog's perceptions on what a person knows instead of the cues they give off when they know something.
Michelle said a range of scenarios were tested, for example, one person watched food being hidden while the other covered their eyes, and in each test the dogs showed a preference for the person who they believed knew where the food was.

"What this showed was that the dogs were able to take the perspective of the humans involved in the experiment, and attribute states of knowledge to those people," Michelle said.
If the scenarios were all like this, then I am of the opinion that Maginnity is making the Clever Hans mistake.

Clever Hans was an Arabian stallion owned by Mr. Wilhelm von Osten, a math teacher. When von Osten started exhibiting Hans in 1891, Hans could apparently do mathematical problems, read and spell. Conventional testing failed to reveal any trickery or interference. The Hans Commission was formed to study Hans, which lead to Oskar Pfungst, a psychiatrist, being invited in to test Hans. Pfungst found out that Hans could only answer a question correctly if the questioner knew the answer. Hans also needed a close, clear view of the questioner to give correct answer. Subtle, unintentional body language was giving Hans his answers, not human-like intelligence or mind-reading.

What this article is ignoring (and I hope Maginnity isn't) is that dogs can read extremely subtle changes in both scent and body language. Dogs have long been used to track people and animals; nowadays they are used to detect bombs and even cancer. The study mentioned found that dogs preferred the people who knew where the food was. Was it because they could "take the perspective of the humans involved in the experiment, and attribute states of knowledge to those people" or because they associated some scent or body language with getting food?

It might be worth mentioning that von Osten also tried teaching mathematics to a bear and a cat. The bear got pissed off and the cat just didn't care. I'm thinking that a Shiba would fall between these two extremes. Shibas do have exceptional mathematical ability, however. Tierce, upon being shown three treats and given two, will still sniff out the third treat. Wait, did I say "sniff"?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

It looks like a little fox!

Pictures of a Shiba meeting two foxes. Does it really look like a little fox now?

Shibas and death

A friend of mine died on October 29th this year. It was a big shock to all of her friends. Myrranda, as I knew her, was a joyous, vibrant woman who will be greatly missed by many. The memorial was held on Saturday, November 3rd.

What does this have to do with Shibas? Nothing... and everything. I had decided to put together a "memorial book" chronicling all the emails, Livejournal posts, Facebook entries and personal messages. During the hellish days between the 29th and the 3rd, I was glued to the computer. The only thing that got me outside to remember that there was something other than a big gaping hole left by Myrranda's passing was Tierce.

There is something to be said for having a Shiba around when grief strikes. They aren't dogs that let one wallow in grief. They insist that life go on - well, at least the life where they get fed regularly, walked every day and given attention when they so desire.

This is interpreted as cold-hearted, no doubt, by people who think that a dog's sole purpose during a time of mourning is resting its head on its master's knee and looking up at him soulfully. These people are more suited to an aged Golden Retriever, who is generally deliriously happy doing just that.

But a Shiba snaps you out of depression with his antics, rattles your cage by refusing to come when called - even during a period of intense mourning - and generally wakes you up to the fact that there is a world out there beyond the blackness of grief. I found that, while I neglected my workout schedule, I did not neglect to take Tierce for a walk or to the dog park. He teased many a smile out of me that would have otherwise have stayed hidden.

Whether he is running joyfully in the dog park or sneaking something forbidden off the table in the hopes of you chasing him, a Shiba is showing you the way out. Not out of sorrow for your loss, but rather out of the hopelessness and helplessness that a death - especially a sudden one - can bring.

Remember, there is a world out there and it can be beautiful. Celebrate the passing of your loved ones by enjoying the good things that the world has to offer and by trying to make the bad things better.