Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hero Dogs Abound

There must be something innate in dogs that makes them want to help and protect us – it surely can’t just be Alpo that makes dogs display so much love and devotion to their owners. The gallantry of their behavior is magnified when such heroics are exhibited for the benefit of complete strangers. There are many instances of, and awards given out for, dogs comporting themselves with the utmost bravery in assisting humans who find themselves in grave situations.

Hurricane Who?

In 2005, when Hurricane Katrina left the City of New Orleans (and much of the Gulf Coast) at the mercy of deadly floodwaters, one man was pulled from the perilous bilge by a Black Labrador Retriever with a heart of pure gold. The dog, who was herself later pulled from the soup by rescue workers, was given a standing ovation when being honored at that year’s Genesis Awards. This saintly dog’s name, naturally, was Katrina.

Soft Spot for Kittens and Kids

English bulldogs are not known for being strong swimmers, as is evident in their truncated build, but Napoleon wasn’t about to let his physical limitations hamper his determination when he headed out into the middle of a deep lake. His goal was to rescue a burlap bag full of kittens that someone had cruelly tossed into the water. Four of the six kittens in the bag he retrieved survived, and later greeted Napoleon with a mewling hero’s welcome at their adoption center.

When it comes to their owners, of course, dogs will go above and beyond the call of duty. In Cordes Lakes, Arizona, when three-year old Victoria Bensch wandered off into the foothills near her home, her faithful companion followed along. Blue, a Queensland Heeler, stayed with the little girl all night as temperatures plummeted to near-freezing. At first, Blue was nervous about search-and-rescue personnel approaching his girl, but soon enough he was jumping right into the helicopter to accompany his young charge to Phoenix Children’s Hospital, where she was treated and released, alive and well thanks to Blue.

Sign Language Dog Video Goes Viral

Everyone has whiled away some time watching online videos of pets and their amusing antics. Credit for this trend probably belongs, at least in part, to David Letterman and his Stupid Pet Tricks segments that became a hallmark of his Late Night show. Today, simply typing ‘dog tricks’ into the YouTube search field will pull up almost 60,000 results. One trick that made its way onto the cyber-waves just recently, though, is a bit more impressive than some mutt fetching his slovenly owner a can of beer.

Music to His Ears

“Shinook” is a six-year old Shepherd mix who does something that many humans can do, and that one gorilla has managed – communicate using American Sign Language. Shinook’s owner, Fred Dixon, demonstrates in his video (which is easily found since it has gone thoroughly viral). Neither the dog nor his owner are hearing-impaired, it should be noted, but Shinook is in fact a registered therapy dog. He also responds to a snap of the finger or to voice commands.

Command of the Language

In the video, Shinook stares raptly at Fred while he explains that his dog understands sign language. The he puts Shinook through a series of tests, with the first one being the retrieval of Shinook’s own bucket of doggy treats. He gives the command, in American Sign Language, and even though Shinook very likely knows what his owner wants as soon as he begins to sign, he still waits until Fred is done before he turns and does what he’s been “told”.

Shinook can also bring Fred his blanket or his slippers, can either “high five” (with one paw) or “high ten” (with both paws). The dog also understands when Fred tells him to kneel down and pray – all without saying a word, but always with a treat for Shinook as a reward. Many dog owners have figured out how to get their dogs to respond to hand signals, an impressive feat in its own right, but Shinook’s ability to comprehend American Sign Language makes him an extra-special dog.

The Iditarod: A Sled Dog’s Story

While professional sports tends to be dominated (or over-represented, depending on one’s point of view) by football, baseball, basketball and hockey, there are countless other sporting events and competitions which captivate the attention span of their respective fans. Golf, tennis, curling, lacrosse, bowling and yachting all have their fan bases. One sport that is much different, yet still fascinates many, is dog sledding. The sport is best exemplified by the well-known Iditarod race.

Working Overtime

Every year, in early March, the Iditarod sled-dog race is run from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. Each musher leaves the race with a pack of 16 huskies, and must finish the race with a minimum of six. The journey has to be completed within 9 to 15 days. The teams face windchill temperatures of -100 degrees (F) blowing at gail speeds, and all other horrific weather conditions expected of the harsh Alaskan climate.

Intangibles Important

Sled dogs, therefore, are selected for the physical qualities that are required to undertake such an arduous task. Veteran mushers will tell you that there are no feel-good Rudy stories in their sport. More important than their bodies, though, is attitude. Heart and desire are things that don’t show up on a tape measure, and it takes nothing less than sheer will to even attempt the Iditarod. A good group of dogs will also establish its own leadership heirarchy. The leaders will prove themselves accordingly.

It is important to understand that sled dogs are not treated as commodities by the mushers,  or even just as the athletes that they are, but as beloved family members besides. The majority of husky owners have a number of other household pets, as well; it seems to be an animal-lover thing. After the grueling race is over, the sled dogs are rewarded with their favorite special foods and all the loving and hugs that they get on a daily basis anyway.

Organic Arsenal Naturally Repels Fleas and Ticks

For a good many people and their pets, the entire domesticated animal relationship can be ruined by the predatory presence of fleas and ticks, which do not discriminate against cats, dogs or even humans. Cats seem to respond quite well to flea collars, which are sanctioned by veterinarians, but dogs tend to have more “acreage”, so to speak. A stubborn infestation can go on seemingly forever, with many owners reluctant to expose their dogs to the kind of chemical solutions found on the retail market.

It’s Not in the Chemical Aisle

Bug bombs, sprays and other household approaches to flea and tick control are no more comforting than flea dips. For those who seek it, a natural approach is available to anyone, involving no laboratory-manufactured chemicals. Diatomaceous earth is an organic material that can be sprinkled in areas where bugs might live and lay their eggs; it works by dehydrating the bugs after coming into contact with them. It is harmless to humans and other animals.

A Few Ounces of Prevention

Removing the unwanted pests from your dog’s coat is another matter. Embedded ticks have to be removed manually, using a cotton ball moistened with rubbing alcohol, and pulling the tick straight out. Fleas have to be washed off, in the bathtub, with shampoo and hot water. Once that’s done, pour some apple cider vinegar onto your dog’s wet fur, making it less inviting to pests in the first place. Lavender essential oil is another of Mother Nature’s preventions. Put a few drops on the dog’s collar for a pleasant-smelling pooch who will be parasite-proof.

There are effective dietary options as well. While Hollywood and folklore tell us that garlic is used to repel vampires – and what else would you call fleas and ticks – the correct organic product is, again, apple cider vinegar. Adding a teaspoon of the stuff to your pet’s water bowl each day will make their blood less than palatable. If these natural remedies are applied consistently and diligently, the rewards for both pet and owner will be noticed in a few short weeks.

Famous Dogs of Arts and Literature

Dogs have been a part of art and literature for as long as they have been domesticated. This goes back as far as ancient mythology. Cerberus was the three-headed dog who guarded the gates of Hades. (Interestingly, a financial company called Cerberus Capital once owned Chrysler Motors.) One of the most scintillating Sherlock Holmes novels, The Hounds of the Baskervilles, posited dogs as the protagonists.

A Future with Dogs

There have been artificial dogs in science fiction entertainment, and not just in the CGI era. Montag, the protagonist in Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, was attacked by a Mechanical Hound after he killed his boss; it shot a tranquilizer needle into the rogue fireman’s leg before he destroyed it with a flamethrower. Three decades later, when sci-fi first began to dominate the box office, the robotic Muffit II was created by Dr. Wilker aboard the Battlestar Galactica to replace young Boxey’s “daggit”, Muffit, who was killed by falling debris during a Ceylon raid.

Keep Plenty of Biscuits in Their Trailers

Overall, the roles of dogs in entertainment have varied from comedic (The Shaggy D.A.) to horrifying (Stephen King’s Cujo). Homeward Bound, which included a cat and was based on a true story, personified dogs through human voice-overs. In other instances, such as Beethoven and Air Bud, photogenic pooches have been used to attract – and delight – younger audiences.

Dogs have also been spotted pulling in big ratings on the small screen, even when most television sets were of the black-and-white variety. Lassie was the biggest canine star, of course, using her Collie smarts to protect Timmy and his family from such predators as rattlesnakes, wolves and worse. Rin Tin Tin was another prime-time hero, helping the settlers during their Westward expansion. (A later TV version had him playing a K-9 cop.) Benji was another take on the dog as a leading character, proving that little-dog guile can be as effective as fangs and brawn.

Dog Behavior Issues? Put Down the Remote!

If one were to only glean such information from TV shows that are made to be more marketable than factual, one might believe that a 30-minute trip from a “dog expert” could solve all of their pet-related woes. Indeed, such programming belies the fact that the vast majority of dog owners get along famously with their pets, and have no problem keeping them under control… But that’s not a ratings-grabber, is it?

Flawed Premise

Many professional trainers have come out against shows like The Dog Whisperer, not out of any particular vendetta, but simply because they believe that much of the “dog psychology” aspects that are depicted are based upon flawed premises: The idea that dogs are inherently pack-animals that respond best to the presence of an Alpha male, who sets the pecking order, predicated upon long-held myths regarding the social interaction of wolves.

Far from Reality TV

Many of the wolfpack behavior studies (conducted in the 1940s and the 1970s) involved captive wolves, which obviously behave differently in confinement than in their natural environment. Biologists consider that to be no different than studying prison populations and then equating behavior patterns to the public at large. Studies conducted in the last 40 years on wild wolfpacks have revealed that packs function more like families, with the breeding pair sharing the leadership roles. In other words, it’s more Brady Bunch than Gladiator.

All of that eschews the obvious point, though; dogs are not wolves. They don’t think the way wolves think, they don’t live the way wolves live, and they don’t act the way wolves act. Most canine behavioral specialists will tell you that humans don’t need to search for some upper-hand when it comes to our dogs. We already have that, and have had it for centuries (it’s called “food”). It may not be flashy, and it may not attract advertisers, but it’s something any trainer can teach to any owner who wants their dog to better behave itself.

The Legend of the Mighty St. Bernard

There are all manner of large dogs and mastiffs in the world, but none of them have quite the same prominence as the St. Bernard. Descendants of the Molossoid breed of canines that the Romans brought along with them in the expansion of their Empire, they were first referred to as St. Bernards by monks in texts dating back to 1707. Additionally, the St. Bernard was the first dog listed in the Swiss Stud Book in 1884, with breed standards finalized a few years later.

Evolution in the Alps

The St. Bernard of today would not be of much service as an  avalanche rescue dog due to its long, furry coat, which would get weighed down with ice. The classic mountain rescue dog was bred into its current lineage after Newfoundlands were used to regenerate the breed in the 1800s, after much of the original lineage in Switzerland was lost to do a series of terrible winters.

The Noble Steed

The most famous St. Bernard, in terms of being a rescue dog, was named Barry. He is said to have rescued between 40 and 100 mountaineers during his career (1800-1814), including the celebrated rescue of a small boy who climbed onto his back and rode the dog back to safety. Barry’s body is preserved at the National History Museum in Berne. Most people, though, know modern St. Bernard’s such as Beethoven and the more twisted creation of Stephen King’s mind, Cujo.

Many of the existing stereotypes of the St. Bernard are accurate. They are indeed a large dog (the record weight is 315 lbs.), they absolutely do have a tendency to drool, and they are still sometimes used in avalanche rescue. One thing that is not accurate about these real-life heroes, and never has been, is the notion that the dogs carried a flask of brandy around their necks. The factually-baseless depiction comes from an 1820 painting by Edward Landseer; the monks of St. Bernard’s Pass, though, are still happy to sell casks to the tourists!

Greyhounds to the Rescue

Adopting former racing dogs – meaning Greyhounds – has become increasingly popular over the past decade. Those who do not live in states that allow dog racing may have no idea that there are many shelters and agencies that deal exclusively in placing such animals in loving homes. In areas where it does take place, many people consider it a point of pride to have taken on a former racing dog.

Long-Term Investments

In 2005, a scandal involving a number of unaccounted-for Greyhounds (suspected to have been killed) brought the issue to light all over again, eliciting a horrified yet heartfelt response from the public. Even so, as well-meaning as those who adopt Greyhounds may be, there are a number of factors to consider before making such a long-term investment of emotion and treasure. If the following paragraphs don’t turn you off to the prospects of Greyhound adoption, then you might be the right owner for a former racing dog.

Not Your Typical Household Pet

Former racing dogs, in many instances, have not been treated at all like a pet. They are considered by the industry to be running machines. A good deal of socialization (and probably time) will be required before your dog becomes comfortable in your home. As a rather large dog, 45 to 90 lbs. and extremely athletic, a Greyhound may not be suitable for small children or elderly adults for obvious reasons. It is also important to remember that Greyhounds are typically trained using small live animals as bait (so cats, small dogs and other like pets may not be safe around them).

Like any other large dog, a Greyhound is not likely to be considerate of your landscaping efforts. They can wear down a lawn pretty quickly, may tend to dig holes, and will certainly leave indiscrete piles laying around. In short, owning a Greyhound will demand a good deal of work from its owner. And, with their short coat and lean bodies, they also have a fondness for soft, warm places (read: Couches and beds). There are other challenges and quirks to Greyhounds so it takes a dedicated owner to provide a good home for a dog that truly deserves one.

Forgotten in Time: Dogs of the Titanic

Last month marked the 100th anniversary of the tragic sinking of the RMS Titanic. In the years that have passed since, the ship was discovered and had a major motion picture (and countless documentaries) made about it. The facts about the Titanic are stark; the ship was exceeding all prudent speed boundaries when it clipped an iceberg in the middle of the night in the North Atlantic, and disappeared below the surface within a few excruciating hours.

Watery Graves – But Not for All

Everyone knows the results of the fateful voyage. 1,514 people perished in one of the worst peacetime maritime disasters in history. What many people do not know, however, is that there were also a dozen dogs listed on Titanic’s registries. Three of them managed to survive. As one might expect, all of the dogs were the pets of wealthy families; two of those families even collected on insurance policies after their dogs did not survive Titanic‘s maiden voyage.

High and Dry

Even so, nobody begrudged those three dogs their survival, since two of them were Pomeranians and the other a Pekingese – all tiny breeds that hardly could have been accused of taking a seat from someone in the lifeboats. One Pomeranian was named Lady, owned by one Margaret Hays, and the other was owned by the Rothschild family. The Pekingese, named Sun Yat-Sen, was a member of the Harper family, best known by their New York City publishing company, Harper and Row.

One dog who was luckily not aboard Titanic was one that was mistaken for Captain Smith’s dog only because it appeared in a famous photograph with him. In fact, the large Irish Wolfhound was a gift from Benjamin Guggenheim (who nobly went down with most of the men on board the ship), but it was sent home with Smith’s daughter before Titanic left port. Among the dogs who did not survive were millionaire John Jacob Astor’s prized Aieredale, Kitty, who was kept as most of the dogs were, as cargo instead of as pets in their owners’ cabins.

Choosing the Right ‘Babysitter’ for Your Dog

There are times when the family dog can be accommodated on long trips. More and more hotels have gone “pet friendly” in recent years, as the recession has forced them to open their doors to as many revenue streams as possible. For those who don’t mind spending the money, there are even posh resorts that cater to your pup, sort of a day spa for Man’s Best Friend. When you pick them up, they’re groomed and manicured and they smell like cookie dough… But what about the rest of us?

Shop Around

Usually, a vacation without your faithful friend means one thing, which is hiring a pet sitter. A very fortunate few of us have the kinds of close friends or relatives who will take in our dogs while we’re away. Even then – or especially , since that sort of help isn’t always of the professional variety – one can expect to return to a few indiscretions on the carpet, or a missing couch cushion or two. Choosing a dedicated pet-sitter will ease your worried mind and keep your friends and family from considering you and your pooch to be burdensome – and it will keep you from having to return the favor!

Menu of Services

There are certain steps one should take when looking to hire a pet-sitter. Check out your local classifieds (online and the old-fashioned newsprint kind) should send you in the right direction. References should be a must. Your pet-sitter should also be expected to do more than just show up to ensure delivery of food and water. If you wish your dog to be taken for walks, you have to specify that sort of service. Be sure, as well, that your sitter understands your pet’s nutritional requirements as well as you do.

Finally, decide whether you want to board your dog at a kennel, have a pet-sitter come by on a schedule, or have the pet-sitter outright live at your home (this is only recommended if you know and trust the pet-sitter quite well). The sitter will also need as much contact info as you can provide in the event of an emergency. The prices of such levels of service may also dictate which way you’ll want to go, but with a little bit of research, you should be able to find the pet-sitter that will best suit your needs and those of your dog.