The Dog I've Always Wanted

Canine Behavior, Training and Photography

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Entries from May 2008

Live From The Field

May 26th, 2008 · No Comments · Book Reviews, Live From The Field

A recent email from a friend….

princess.jpgI’m having a hard time NOT getting this dog that’s free at the Toronto Humane Society. She looks perfect. It’s a puggle [pug beagle mix].

How do i make sure that i don’t go downtown tomorrow and pick her up?

My best advice to you is to pick up a copy of Sue Sternberg’s book “Successful Dog Adoption”. It is a very comprehensive guide to adopting a shelter dog. There is lots of very useful and interesting information available to the would-be dog adopter. In the first place you should ask yourself: is this really something that is going to work out for you and for the dog? Sue Sternberg’s book outlines all the steps in the process of finding the right dog to adopt and ensuring that the dog makes a successful transition into its new home.

This is a book for the serious owner who is prepared to make a substantial commitment of time and effort to the entire process. Impulse should not play any part in the adopting of a dog. There are ways to be almost certain that the dog that you bring into your home will be a pleasure not a nuisance or a danger to yourself, your children, or your neighbours.

Sue Sternberg is well known in the shelter world as the inventor of the Assess-a-Hand. This device consists of a fake rubber hand attached to a stick and is used in the temperament testing of dogs to screen them for adoption. Her original temperament test which is known as Assess-a-Pet is outlined in her chapter “How Do I Meet the Dogs?”. She offers plenty of detailed advice on how to evaluate a shelter dog. And she makes a clear distinction between the parts of the test that anyone could manage to do and those that are best left to the animal professional.

This book is an excellent resource. I particularly like the fact that it contains information on so many topics; there is a lot about play and different styles of play, about basic training practices, and about socialization. She addresses some of the thornier issues that face the contemporary dog adopter. For example there is a chapter entitled, “To Pit Bull or Not To Pit Bull?”

If you are considering adopting a dog and only want to read one book it should be this one.

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News From the Doggie Daycare 4

May 21st, 2008 · No Comments · News From the Doggie Daycare

The importance of preventing problem behaviours by taking a proactive approach to puppy training cannot be overestimated. It is so much easier to prevent things from developing than to eradicate a negative behaviour once it has become entrenched.

With young puppies one of the first issues to be sorted out is that of mouthing. A dog uses his mouth to explore the world the way we use our hands. A nippy puppy must be conditioned in order to learn to be gentle with his mouth.

The longer a behaviour is allowed to persist the more difficult it is to modify or eliminate. Door charging is an example of a behaviour that is not only bad manners but also potentially very dangerous even lethal to a dog. Consistency is key; the dog must be required to sit and if not stay at least wait every time a door opens. Initially the dog may be restrained and praised when he is not attempting to lunge at the door.

Each time that the behaviour that needs modifying presents itself is lesson time. Training for these issues should be incorporated into the daily routine of interactions with the dog. In this way there are plenty of opportunities to address a given issue, often in a variety of contexts. Repetition over time is key. Increasingly difficult situations should be attempted as the dog begins to “get it”.

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The Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary Elizabeth Thurston

May 21st, 2008 · 1 Comment · Book Reviews

“The Lost History of the Canine Race” by Mary Elizabeth Thurston is a scholarly book much enriched by a great deal of very detailed research that traces both the known history of dogs and speculates about dogs in the time before recorded history. The histories of humankind and canines are inextricably interwoven. Thurston illustrates this point by citing sources as diverse as aboriginal legends, archaeological scholarship, and a history of the development of commercial dog food. A very wide ranging survey of the subject matter it is a fascinating examination of the human/canine relationship from its inception to the present time.

There is much in this book that is not common knowledge. For example, the fact that dogs were immune,by virtue of an innate resistance, to the plague that swept Europe in feudal times resulting in their becoming the objects of fearful superstitions by a terrified populace. Consequently, they were shunned by most people and left to form scavenging feral bands.

How did kibble come into existence? Apparently, a young lightning conductor salesman named James Spratt saw a large pack of homeless dogs on a London dock ravenously eating the discarded spoiled hardtack and this gave him the idea of manufacturing a biscuit for dogs. His recipe was composed of wheat, beetroot, various vegetables and beef blood.

Queen Victoria’s well known passion for her large and various collection of purebred dogs gave rise to a desire on the part of the burgeoning middle class to express their desire for upward social mobility by acquiring pure bred dogs for themselves. Needless to say that this had a significant effect on the genetic future of the dog.

For dog lovers with a historical bent this book will inform and entertain.

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Dog Years a memoir by Mark Doty

May 14th, 2008 · No Comments · Book Reviews


When my eyes first fell on the cover of Dog Years I experienced a little thrill of recognition. The two dogs in the photograph retreating down a snowy road bore more than a passing resemblance to my own pair, a boxy black Lab and a plumy-tailed golden retriever. Of course I had to read the book! That was a good decision.

Mark Doty is a distinguished poet who has published seven volumes of poetry as well as several books of memoirs. His writing is informed by a painterly eye and an encompassing spirituality. He is a man with a very refined vision. Because his writing is so lucid he opens many vistas for the reader find.

Arden and Beau, his dogs, are portrayed with a marvelous sensitivity and verisimilitude against the backdrop of cataclysmic events in both his own life (the loss of a partner to AIDS) and in the larger world (the events of 911). This is the portrayal of a man grappling with the big questions. Those questions to which there are never any immutable answers. The process of examination is eloquent and poignant and inspiring to read.

“The physical reinvention of the world is endless, relentless, fascinating, exhaustive; nothing that seems solid is. If you could stand at just a little distance in time, how fluid and shape-shifting physical reality would be, everything hurrying into some other form, even concrete, even stone.

But in the photo, my two princes are still loping up the street, walking in step, as they often did, in the early winter darkness that’s just beginning to deepen, headed through a snow which has stilled any traffic and muffled the town, so that there’s no sound but a little wind and wave-lapping, and the chink of some beached boat’s chain, and the footfalls of dogs headed toward a towel-drying, to wipe away the melted snow that’s chilled their coats, toward dinner and then the long ritual of licking paws, cleaning away the residue of damp and then sleep, in a warm house while the enveloping night comes on.”

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May 13th, 2008 · No Comments · Quotations

“…dogs, like many other animals, inhabit a perceptual world where things are as likely to be understood and remembered by their smell as by their sight, where mental maps are assembled from avenues and topographies of odor, where the unseen is alive and vibrant and the seen is grayer and starker. If we could see through a dog’s eyes we would be shocked and dismayed by what had happened to our most precious link with the world around us: detail lost, blurs that no amount of staring and focusing can alter, a world of washed-out hues and odd shifts of color. A dog would be equally appalled if he smelled through our nose.”

Stephen Budiansky from “The Truth About Dogs”

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