The Dog I've Always Wanted

Canine Behavior, Training and Photography

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Energy Level- Finding a Canine Match

February 14th, 2010 · Add Comments · Musings

An important consideration when acquiring a dog is the matter of energy levels, yours and his. One of the reasons that so many dogs end up needing to be rehomed before their first birthday is a failure to consider this factor when selecting a dog.

Think about what you like to do in your leisure time. How would a dog fit into your routine? If you are the type who enjoys long runs or a bike rides on a daily basis, by all means acquire a dog who can join you. In this case, huskies, border collies, and any of the field dogs would make a good match. If you want company on the sofa when you watch movies, (Higher energy dogs are also great at this but you have to exercise them first!), you might want to consider a Pekingese or a greyhound. Many breed books rate the energy levels and exercise requirements of the various breeds. Give this information your attention; it is an important area of compatibility for both of you and will certainly influence the nature of your relationship with your dog to a large extent. Things can get stickier with mixed breeds and there’s no doubt that you are taking a gamble. But who knows? Maybe getting that mixed breed dog who is a ball of energy might be just the catalyst you need to get your own exercise routine initiated. But do be realistic about how much time and energy you can devote to exercising your dog; it is hard to change your habits. Young dogs under two years of age in some high energy breeds need a minimum of two hours of real exercise daily. [Read more]

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Yukon Quest 2010

February 7th, 2010 · Add Comments · Mushing-northern dogs

Lance Mackey is off on his 1,000 mile trek

The Yukon Quest began yesterday and you can check out the mushers’ progress. One of the neatest features of this official website is the live tracking that’s available for each musher. You can see all the check point arrival and departure times for each musher and where they are on the trail at any given moment. Pretty exciting stuff. As of this posting Zack Steer is running in first place with Lance Mackey close behind. For all the details on standings and trail conditions check out Yukon Quest.

Hugh Neff has heart-to-heart with his lead dog before heading out on the trail

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From My Reading List: Inside of a Dog What Dogs See, Smell and Know by Alexandra Horowitz

February 2nd, 2010 · 1 Comment · Book Reviews

I’ve been looking forward to reading this book for quite a while. Its been given a nod of approval by the likes of Patricia McConnell, a behavourist whose judgment I respect. I wasn’t disappointed. This is an important book for those of us who are interested in the study of canine behaviour and who would like a deeper and more accurate understanding of dogs.  Horowitz is an ethologist; that is she studies the cognition of various species including rhinoceroses, humans and of course dogs.

What is offered to the reader between these covers is a rare opportunity to get beyond the anthropomorphisms that cloud our thinking about dogs and , “Understanding a dog’s perspective – through understanding his abilities, experience, and communication-provides that vocabulary. But we can’t translate it simply through an introspection that brings our own umwelt along….We can glimpse this by ‘acting into’ the umwelt (Perception and action combine to define and circumscribe reality for each living thing; umwelt is essentially any creature’s subjective reality.) of another animal-mindful of the constraints our sensory system places on our ability to truly do so.”

This book will lead you to be much more observant of your dog’s behaviour. After reading the section in “Inside of a Dog” that describes olfactory functioning in canines I began to notice details about how dogs sniff when out on walks. I was able to visualize the physiology of their exploration and begin to imagine the intensity of the input. It puts a whole new spin on yellow snow. As is always the case, the more one knows about a certain thing the more fascinating it becomes.

Alexandra Horowitz is a devoted and enlightened lover of dogs. Her capacity for empathy is remarkable. This book is authentic; there is no dumbing down. At the same time it is very readable; the authorial voice is warm and intimate. It manages to convey a wealth of intriguing information.

I can not resist quoting here the epigram the author has chosen to precede her text because it never fails to make me smile. Its a classic:

Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend,
Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.

Attributed to Groucho Marx

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a big little life — A Memoir of a Joyful Dog by Dean Koontz

January 24th, 2010 · Add Comments · Book Reviews

I have to admit that I am not a fan of Dean Koontz’s novels. I did read one once because others in the family are fans and the book was to hand. All I can recall about this particular novel is that the protagonist was distressed by squirrels who seemed to be both psychic and evil. I was enduring a particularly long, hard winter that year and I began to be troubled by a bold squirrel who developed the habit of staring at me through the kitchen window while I did dishes. I found this increasingly unnerving and I began to wonder, “Who is he? ” and  “What does he know?” I decided that perhaps Dean Koontz was not the best author to read just then given the combination of my over-active imagination and a bad case of cabin fever. Having said that I must hasten to add that I very much enjoyed “a big little life ” .

Koontz and his wife Gerda, long time supporters of Canine Companions for Independence, an organization that trains and places service dogs for people with a variety of disabilities, adopted a dog who had to retire from her post having had elbow surgery which disqualified her as a service dog. Trixie, a lovely golden retriever who embodied all the best attributes of her breed, was of course extremely well trained. She also possessed qualities that can only be described as spiritual. There was definitely  something other worldly about Trixie. After all, she was Dean Koontz’s dog.

The title is apt. Although she lived a dog’s life, in the best sense of that term, and granted that it was a life of wealth and privilege, she was in no way spoiled or corrupted by it. Her sweet and loving disposition endured throughout her life. It was a big life in the sense that she fulfilled her mission which was to bring change and insight to the humans with whom she lived. The bond that was forged between the Koontzs’ and Trixie was deep and was characterized by mutual respect. “The life of a seamstress is no smaller than the life of a queen, the life of a child with Down syndrome no less filled with promise than the life of a philosopher, because the only significant measure of your life is the positive effect you have on others…..If by example of her joy and innocence, a dog can greatly change two lives for the better, then no life is little and every life is big. The mystery of life is the source of its wonder and the wonder of life is what makes it worth living.”

When the end inevitably arrives it comes with dignity and much sorrow. I confess that I wept. I do recommend this book because it is illustrative of the depth and strength of that unique and indeed mysterious bond that is so often created between a human and a dog.

“Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and for the mistakes we make because of those illusions.”

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Walking Dogs in Winter

January 14th, 2010 · 1 Comment · Musings

I love walking dogs. I’m spending a lot of time doing it this winter. It gives me many opportunities to make observations and discover beauty in unexpected places, in mundane objects. Winter is beautiful but it challenges us and reminds us of our frailties. The dogs I walk are mostly invigorated by the cold and a new fall of snow is exciting to most of them. Snow banks are ripe with yellow messages that must be investigated and of course responded to in kind! Chunks of ice are marvellous crunchy snacks. Some dogs like to lick fat snowflakes out of the air as they drift down. Such delight.

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