Sunday, January 28, 2007

Confidence Comes with Age

I'm so pleased that Kirby is becoming socialized to people and other dogs. When we first adopted the little guy, he was pretty shy around strangers. He would exit every door with an officious (but fearful) bark. He greeted strangers walking down the sidewalk the same way.

A lot has changed in the past few months. Now Kirby is fully integrated into our family and he appears to be confident and secure in his own surroundings as well as out in public. He now greets friendly strangers with a cheerful wag of the tail (no barking) and he romps and plays with all the dogs at the dog park. I'm sure Baxter has played a large role in Kirby's socialization. When we would take them out to walk together, Kirby would see Baxter quietly accepting that a strange person has the right to walk on the sidewalk across the street. And he's learned that strange dogs should be approached with cautious optimism, not a bark and hiding behind someone's legs.

For Kirby, both age and having a happy and consistent home life have brought confidence and security.

While Baxter has always been a pretty secure and happy dog around people, age has changed the way he interacts with other dogs. When Baxter was a puppy, he was usually the bottom of the pack at the dog park. As he matured into an adult, it became quite obvious that he was never going to rise to an alpha position. He just wasn't assertive enough.

While it's usually a fairly equal playing field among neutered dogs at our local dog park, there are those times when, for some reason known only to the dogs, it becomes necessary to sort out the pack order. For the first three or so years of Baxter's life he was usually the bottom dog in the "who's the boss" conga line. By the time he reached the age of four, his fine qualities as a social butterfly earned him a respectable position somewhere in the middle of the pack.

Something changed in the last couple of years, however. Along with his increased interest in marking the nearby fence post (something he never cared much about as a younger adult) has come an increased sense of importance when it comes to his place in the dog park pack order. Since he turned six, he has actually found himself at the top of the conga line on several occasions (provided there are no aggressive or intact males at the dog park). And there have been a few times I've been embarassed because he'll find some bottom-of-the-pack dog (his former self) and make his superiority known in no uncertain terms. He's never aggressive, mind you, and there's no growling or snarling involved. As soon as the teeth come out, Baxter hits the road and wants no part of it. No, he's only assertive when his compatriots are less assertive than he is. But still, that's a change. And I guess I shouldn't be ashamed when Baxter just does what comes naturally. Still, as a matter of dog park human etiquette, I usually break it up.

All I can think of is that Baxter is aware of his age, and age buys some level of seniority in the dog world. Of course, this doesn't hold when he's up against an intact male or female dog (witness the fact that Baxter was pretty deferential to Kirby, a puppy 1/4 his size, before Kirby was neutered). That situation has evened-out considerably now that they're both on the same playing field.

And while I sometimes feel concerned about Baxter's new-found confidence, there's a little part of me that enjoys the way he's finally speaking up for himself. When the occasional alpha dog decides to assert his position over everyone, Baxter doesn't just roll over and say "uncle!" anymore. He manages to shake them off with a huff and uses his best spin-and-fake routine to make a fast getaway.

I'm just glad that, at home, both Baxter and Kirby still seem to see my husband and I as the alpha dogs. That's the order of things in our pack. And while the lower two positions are debated daily, everyone seems more secure knowing who is in charge. (Then again, when Kirby's ringing the bell for the fifth time during a DVD movie, I start to wonder...)

Thursday, January 25, 2007

On Being an Omnivore

One look at Baxter's or Kirby's teeth and it's quite apparent they were designed to rip through meat and crush bone. Quite dramatic compared to our omnivore human teeth with a few rippers and a lot of grinders. I've been reminded a lot lately of my omnivorous human nature because I've been on one of those detox/allergy elimination diets, which has put me in an entirely herbivore state for nearly three weeks. This is not a place in the food chain where I like to reside. It's ok for a visit, but I wouldn't want to live here permanently.

Now I'm no stranger to vegetarian eating -- I was a vegetarian for a couple of years (not because I think there's anything wrong with being an omnivore, but because I disagree with animal factory farming techniques). At that time I made up for the meat by eating a lot of dairy and eggs. My cholesterol jumped from a healthy level to over 200 in no time. Eventually I realized I wasn't being a very good vegetarian, eating the proper foods to make up for the meat protein I was lacking. So I brought meat and fish back into my diet, this time focusing on free-range, hormone and antibiotic-free meats and poultry and wild-caught fish. I felt better and my cholesterol went back down to a happy, healthy level for me.

This time it's different. I've been eating a diet that looks limited even to a vegan (no sugars, no wheat, no corn, no processed foods, no caffeine, not even fruit other than pears and apples). At one point in the diet I ate nothing but cruciferous vegetables, greens and apples/pears for three days. Fortunately, that's over, and I had a detox protein shake that helped keep me from collapsing. I'll spare you the rest of the details, but I will say that I have come to appreciate the taste of vegetables like never before. I never realized just how sweet a sweet potato can be. Or a squash. Or a simple bowl of greens. I usually slather these things with herbs and spices, but eating them in a more natural state has been a real gift. And rice - boy, that's good stuff. I don't need coffee to wake me up in the morning and I'm expanding my repertoire of vegetable recipes. It's all good.

Now I want my meat back. I have another week and a half to go and my inner carnivore, the owner of those few pointy tearing teeth, is manifesting herself in the strangest ways. Even the dogs' Merrick Thanksgiving Day Dinner canned food smells good to me. I've never been a huge meat eater, but when I want it, I want it. I need more balance in my diet, and when it's tipped so far in one direction, I really do feel off-center. That's the nature of the omnivore. We're made to eat what's available and seek out what we need to eat to balance it.

It amazes me that some vegetarians and vegans try to impose their diet on their dogs and cats. Being the flexible, omnivorous eaters that we humans are, we can get by just fine without meat. But depriving a carnivore of the mainstay of their existence is like a human only eating meat and nothing else. Sure, some of them adapt (like the Inuit in the Arctic). And granted, dogs are also scavengers, so they can eat a lot of things and survive. But for the most part, anyone foisting a vegetarian diet on a dog is working against their nature, and I find it hard to believe their dogs are as healthy as the meat-eating ones. As I noted previously, even changing Baxter to an all meat and vegetable diet (no grains) has improved his health dramatically.

I look forward to being a full-on omnivore again. It's the blessing of human existence that we get to eat such a bountiful variety of foods, and I don't think I've ever appreciated that quite as much as I do right now.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Surfing and Making Connections

Most of our trips to the local dog park are an adventure in making new acquaintances. As a young dog, Baxter's entire focus was on meeting all the other dogs. He was the welcoming committee for every new canine that entered the park and he'd circulate like a fundraiser at a black tie soiree. After "working the room," he would engage with one or two dogs and enter into a game of chase or a wrestle (I guess the human equivalent would be conversation or friendly debate over cocktails).

Now that Baxter is older, however, he's friendly, but less involved in the social circles. He takes a few minutes to introduce himself to everyone, then goes about his own business sniffing... surfing the scent molecule Internet, if you will. He'll check all his favorite places first, then spread out to cover large swaths of territory, hunting out new smells and making connections with dogs long gone. In the past couple of years he also has taken a much bigger interest in leaving some of his own messages out there for other dog surfers to find. In the scent language of dogs, I guess this is Baxter's form of publishing.

Ok, I admit it's a rather odd comparison, but it occurs to me that I've done much the same thing on the Internet. My initial experiences were all about sending email, then Websurfing, then getting involved in a discussion board on a topic of particular interest where I could interact with people from all over the world. Pretty cool stuff. Eventually, as I saw the blogging thing take off, I decided to give that a try, as a way to put my thoughts out there for anyone who is interested.

While it seems like a solitary venture as I'm writing, sometimes the blog actually serves to help me connect with new people, and it becomes a two-way social interaction once again. I was reminded of this last evening as I was working on my Adopt a Scruffy Dog blog. Trolling Petfinder I found a picture of a sweet little scruffy dog, but there was a problem with the posting. I emailed the rescue organization, Animals Rule Placement Foundation, to let them know. Soon thereafter I got a nice email from them thanking me for the info. They also put a link to my blog on their site, which was great. And after reading about the great things they are doing, I put a link to their site on both of my blogs.

Think about it. Before the Internet there weren't a whole lot of ways for the average person to put a message out there for likeminded individuals to find. Ok, there were the personal ads in the paper, bumper stickers, graffiti and the occasional message in a bottle. The grocery store bulletin board was certainly the most useful, particularly for lost & found announcements, and my engagements there usually involved posting a flyer for a found stray dog or cat.

The Internet has taken that lost and found idea and given it reach. Sites like Animals Rule and Petfinder do a great service for the animals out there who are looking for homes, and they make it possible for people to connect with their dream pet, even if that pet is far from home. I doubt we would have ever learned about Kirby from a local grocery store bulletin board because he was sitting in a shelter three hours from our home. It was his picture and description that caught our eye and made possible the connection for us with a wonderful little scruffy dog.

The Internet also provides wonderful ways to connect with other people who have similar passions, concerns and ideas. And while it's not quite as much fun as chatting in person, at least not for a social animal like me, the connections I've made online have been meaningful. Connecting with someone I may never have met otherwise, or learning about a resource I wouldn't have otherwise found, makes all the solitary surfing worthwhile.

And I'm sure Baxter gets a similar warm feeling from visiting his dog park posts now and again.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Musing on Mutts

Another look at Kirby's siblings (at a much younger age) only adds to the mystery. Number 1 there definitely passes for Jack Russell parentage...(the short-legged kind also known as Irish Jacks or Shorty Jacks)... Number 2 looks more like her mom in coloring, but teeny legs. Number three looks the most like Kirby with the exception of color, and that last little guy, the short-haired one, pretty much screams dachsund, doesn't he?

Well, as a person whose lineage traces back to at least six different countries, I can confirm that in the big picture, it really doesn't matter if you're a mutt or not. But given how similar all nationalities and races of humans are when you really stop and think about it, I find it particularly fascinating that a Great Dane and a Chihuahua are just different races of the same species and can breed. Considering the amazing feat of Kirby's obviously vertically-challenged papa, we all know that where there's a will, there's a way.

Of course, human intervention has taken the dog from a form that looked like a wolf and created this huge diversity of pattern and scale over thousands of years. I guess the dogs, when left to their own devices, are just striving to get back to that middle ground. But let's not leave them to their own devices...there are far too many unwanted dogs in the shelters and too few who, like Kirby and his family, found happy homes.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Bloodline Bingo

Ok, I realize how relatively pointless it is to try to figure out Kirby's vast and varied lineage, but for some silly reason I think it's rather fun. And I guess there are some practical applications, such as the ability to look for genetic traits that may manifest themselves at some point in his life. Personality-wise, I've already determined he's a terrier...but "earth dog" doesn't narrow it down very much. So occasionally I'll peruse the Internet looking for a picture of a dog that looks like Kirby in some way and I'll read about it, just to see if anything sounds familiar.

For review, here's what we know: Mom was a medium-sized German Shepherd mix. The shelter says they think dad was a "terrier-dachsund mix of some sort." Whatever he was, he was short compared to Mom.

Here are a few interesting possibilities, along with Kirby's photo for comparison:

Jack Russell Terrier (Irish Jack): While his coloring isn't common for a Jack Russell, this face is the closest I've seen...and that expression... I wouldn't have thought Jack Russell immediately, but when we stopped at a gas station during the recent holiday trip, a man and his two daughters stopped to say hello to Kirby. They asked what he was. I said "terrier mix of some sort." The man responded emphatically: "That's a Jack Russell, I can see it." I had always thought of Jack Russells looking like Eddie on Frasier, but apparently there are some variations that don't make it into the dog shows...

Schnoxie: I found a picture of a schnoxie (dachsund/schnauzer) online and it looked almost exactly like Kirby, except it had one blue eye. Adorable. Now if only I could find it again... He could pass for a schnoxie, no problem.

Schnauzer: Yep, the coloring's right, the size is a bit small and the coat's a bit different, but cross it with a smooth-coated dachsund and you might get a Kirby...

Wirehaired Dachsund: He actually looked more like one of these as a younger puppy than he does now. His legs have grown some, so he doesn't have that dachsund proportion anymore. But he's definitely longer than he is tall, and that moustache...

German Shepherd: One would never guess this is pretty much the only breed we're pretty sure about in Kirby's parentage. The pointy ears (although floppy) and the coloring are there, but the size and shape, well, I think Kirby at six months is about the size of a 10-week-old German Shepherd.
The mystery continues...

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Doodle Monopoly

Somehow I missed the media blitz around the new Monopoly: Here and Now board game when it was introduced last fall, so my introduction happened while doing a little pre-holiday browsing through the game store at the mall. It's not often that I laugh out loud when I look at the back of a game box, but I think this one actually elicited an audible "ha!" What tickled my funny bone wasn't that the game had been updated to reflect slightly more contemporary prices and properties. No, it was the tokens. And the realization that my friends and I are much more mainstream than I thought...

The first thing I noticed was the replacement of my favorite Monopoly token, the Scotty dog, with a labradoodle. When some friends were dog-hunting a few years ago, they seriously considered a labradoodle, but ended up going with a "golden doodle" instead. At first we thought it was pretty novel. Then we started seeing doodles everywhere...the dog park, downtown, driving by hanging their heads out of Priuses. Which brings me to the next token I noticed: the Toyota Prius, one of which was purchased by some other friends a while back. They've taken us on test drives and we've considered getting one. Now we see Prius' everywhere. And while I do travel on airplanes, carry a laptop, own running shoes and buy espresso drinks a bit too often, I'm proud to say that I turned down the Motorola RAZR phone (which they were really pushing) and went for a less stylish, but very nice Samsung. I wear another brand of running shoe and I tend to frequent the locally-owned espresso places rather than Starbucks (most of the time). As for the McDonald's fries? Only on road trips.
It was a bit sobering to see just how significant all of these things are to modern day life and to realize just how entrenched I am in it. It also makes me think about a time when a wheelbarrow was actually an icon of the day.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Snow Bell

For the past couple of days the back yard has been blanketed with snow. It's lovely. And my ears are ringing. No, it's not tinnitus or a fever or the aftermath of a rock concert... It's one little hotel bell that rings every 15-20 minutes as a result of one scruffy puppy who has decided that playing in the snow is really fun. Kirby is abusing his "go outside" notification technique, and it now seems to have less to do with number one or number two than it does with running, pouncing, digging, rolling and shoveling little troughs with his nose. He stays out just long enough to get thoroughly coated with little ice balls, then comes in to thaw out and "ding" once again.

So what do I do? How do I know the second and third and fourth ding are fake-outs and not "I ate too much snow and my bladder is still small" ? If I ignore the bell, then the whole purpose of it is lost. I guess I just have to be the wizard who decides when the request is real and when it is not. And he will have to believe that I am just magic enough to do this.

And I have to remember how I was as a kid in the snowy Midwest: "Mom, I wanna go outside and play." Mom spends 10 minutes bundling me up. Play until I am too numb to use my hands and feet effectively. Come inside. Mom spends 10 minutes disrobing me. Drink something hot and endure the pain of thawing toes. Fifteen minutes later: "Mom, I wanna go outside and play." Ah, the stamina of childhood. It wears off when you get old enough to shovel.

Hey, there's an idea...

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Praise for Castor & Pollux and the Boogie Mat

Every once and a while I come across a brand that has consistently good products. And I just want to take a moment to give some big canine kudos to Castor & Pollux Pet Works. Everything I've ever purchased from this company has been well-made, durable and a hit with Baxter and now Kirby.

A while back I wrote about "Bear," one of Baxter's favorite plush squeaky toys. Over the years, there have been several Bears, including one moose that we still called Bear, because that's how Baxter knew it (every animal-shaped plush toy is Bear). And every one has lasted a remarkably long time, given Baxter's tendency to want to pull off tufts of fuzz. Most Bears have had a few holes patched before they finally gave way. And we just bid farewell to the latest, (Moose)Bear, after Kirby managed to rip half the stuffing out of it before I whisked it away. I'm kinda sorry to see (Moose)Bear go, but I know I can find another at my local market.

Another big Castor & Pollux hit has been the pressed rawhide bones. The dogs can chew on them for weeks before they are down to nubbins. And they're particularly good for Kirby, who is at the height of his puppy "gotta chew somethin' right now!" period. They keep him happily occupied for hour on end (even if part of the fun is stealing Baxter's rawhide). Castor & Pollux say they've worked for 15 years with the same factory in production of their WetNose™ natural rawhide, and they say the rawhide has been tested by an "independent laboratory to ensure it's free from harmful chemicals like arsenic or formaldehyde" and that it is checked to ensure there are no traces of salmonella.

One of the risks of rawhide, and the reason I used to be reluctant to give them to dogs, is that a dog can sometimes pull off and swallow a large chunk that can become lodged in the digestive tract. With the pressed rawhide, this is not usually a problem. Despite a lot of vigorous chewing, the WetNose rawhides hold together quite well, and Baxter and Kirby only seem to be able to get fairly small pieces off at a time, which greatly lessens the risks. The risks to our furniture with a bored, chew-happy puppy on the loose are probably much greater. Just like Baxter, who was raised with lots of chew toys, Kirby has learned to focus his chew energy on the rawhide, not anything else. And so far we haven't lost a single shoe or household item to a puppy.

I'm amazed that Castor & Pollux toys are not carried in any traditional pet stores in my area. Mostly, they can be found in locally-owned supermarkets and health food stores. I'm just happy I can find them. We haven't tried their organic foods or biscuits yet, but they look mighty good.

While I'm raving about pet toys, an honorable mention should go to the Boogie Mat, from Fat Cat, Inc. I picked up a couple of these organic catnip-filled mats for some of our cat-loving friends at Christmas. The reviews are in: this is one awesome cat toy. I got my first review from a woman at the supermarket where I was looking them over. "This is the best cat toy EVER," she told me with clear enthusiasm. "My cats LOVE it!" Not being a cat owner myself, I took her word for it.

Since the holidays, we've actually had people call us to tell us just how much their cats love the Boogie Mat. They (the cats) jump and scratch and roll around for 20 or 30 minutes at a time in a state of feline, catnip-induced bliss. No surprise, catnip's been doing this to cats for years, but the mat is a great idea and the designs are pretty cool.

The dogs thought the mats were pretty interesting too, when I brought them home. I had a hard time keeping the dogs from sniffing as I packed the mats in their gift bags. It smells interesting, however the effect just isn't the same on a dog. But a rawhide bone, now there's bliss.

Monday, January 15, 2007

They Have Fur Coats, I Do Not

I'm getting stares from both sides. The boys didn't get their walk today, at least not yet. And despite a number of trips to the frosty back yard, they still insist that a walk is the only acceptable thing to be doing right now. They don't care that it's freezing outside. They don't care that I'm working (on a holiday no less) or that I'm just plain tuckered out. Nope. They just know the sun is out and the leashes are by the door and here they are sitting under my desk being bored.

Perhaps they're right. Maybe I should leave my ergonomic chair (which I slouch in anyway) and my lavender neck warmer and toss on the fleece, stuff my pockets with pick-up bags and head for the hills. Freezing or not, it does sound better than working on a holiday...

Photo from

Friday, January 12, 2007

Kirby Keeps Us Running

Baxter's in a better mood today, and Kirby has now solidly learned the bell thing. Every time he has had to go out today, he has gone over and tapped the bell with his paw. One time it took me a tad too long to get his leash on and he tapped it again with a decidedly annoyed flair. I'm quite proud of the little guy, and I'm curious if Baxter will ever do it. We didn't actively try to teach the bell trick to Bax, because he already has a notification method that works quite well (paw on your thigh and earnest stare). But I'm sure the model/rival thing has to be kicking in. Then again, maybe not. Baxter only has to go about 1/3 as often as Kirby, and he usually gets the benefit of going outside every time Kirby does, so he may end up never needing to ask again!

Thursday, January 11, 2007

A Good Student, a Rebel and a Hotel Bell

It appears that our two canines have figured out yin and yang. When one dog is misbehaving, the other behaves like an angel. While Kirby, the puppy, usually gets the majority of "NO!" commands from us (after which Baxter is the model dog), today it is Baxter's turn to be a bit naughty, while Kirby is getting As for effort.

We'll start with the good stuff... A couple of days ago we bought one of those little bells that are often used at hotel desks. We figured this might be a way for Kirby to tell us he needs to go outside when we are not in a position to make eye contact. You see, Kirby's preferred method of telling us it's time for him to go out is to sit by the back door. If we're making dinner or engrossed in a movie and miss the silent signal...well, a couple of times we've found little wet spots on the rug next to the door.

We introduced Kirby to the bell by first dinging it ourselves, then taking his paw and showing him how to do it. The first few times he yanked his paw away and backed up suspiciously. After a while he would approach the bell, but he just didn't make the connection between hitting it and the door opening to go outside. Yesterday evening he got it. My husband went to take him outside, sat him down by the door and told him to ring the bell. Kirby looked at it, stuck out his paw and dinged it twice. Out he went. Today when Kirby had to go out he walked right up to the bell, hit it and looked up at me sweetly.

Of course, all this bell-ringing resulted in heaps of praise being lavished on the little guy, and I think the big guy may have gotten his nose bent out of shape in the process. As the counterpart to Kirby's brilliance today, Baxter has decided to be the rebel who sits in the back of the classroom and sulks. He has decided that he doesn't have to listen to a word I say. "Come" is pretty much ignored. "COME!!!" is met with a nonchalant saunter in my general direction and a stop about two feet away. My husband tried "Drop it" on Baxter this morning, after Bax had managed to wrangle a tiny, choke-hazard-sized piece of rawhide from the end of his chew. Bax clenched his teeth and acted as if he didn't hear a word.

Rebel days are pretty rare for Baxter. He is, under most circumstances, an extremely well-behaved dog. He usually comes when called, drops something when told to, stays out of areas we tell him not to touch, etc. Once in a while he gets a little fiesty, but most of the time he's eager to please. And having a gonzo puppy around makes Baxter seem all the more refined. But today Mr. Grumpy isn't feeling particularly refined or service-oriented. Perhaps he figures Kirby has somehow won a higher place in the pack for having learned the bell thing. Or perhaps he's just not used to the puppy being the A student and learning things Bax doesn't already know.

I'm sure there will be many more opportunities for Baxter to be on the A list again and for Kirby to find himself in Detention (I'm anticipating a time when Kirby starts dinging the bell just for the fun of watching us come running). But I'm hoping these guys eventually can come to a nice middle ground, that place where nobody has to be the rebel, nobody grades on a curve and everyone's intentions are as clear as a bell.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Double-Play

I work from a home office and Baxter and Kirby cheerfully follow me to work each day and settle-in to their claimed spaces: Baxter on the bench under the window (where he alternately plays watch-dog and snooze-dog) and Kirby either under my desk or under the chair. They will remain in these positions, silent (unless dreaming) and completely unintrusive, unless I have an important phone call. My picking up the phone seems to trigger a sudden inspiration to wrestle, growl, howl and chase each other around the room. Loudly. "My assistants," I joke uneasily. My clients know I work from home, but somehow having a snarling animal play-fight going on in the background doesn't scream professionalism.

I don't know what causes this. Perhaps it's because I'm quiet while I'm working on the computer, so there's always this chance I'm watching them. But once I start talking on the phone, they consider it the psychological equivalent of being out of the room. They wrestle in front of us, but the level of play definitely gets rougher when they think no one is paying attention (witness the whirling mass of fur rolling around the living room when I'm in the kitchen cooking dinner).

When Baxter was the only dog, he would usually pick my conference calls to announce the neighbor pruning his trees or the impending arrival of the delivery truck. (I ask this of all home-based workers: Why is it that UPS and Fedex always arrive at the same time of day conference calls are held? Is 10:00am "magic" for some reason?)

Anyway, now Baxter has a partner in crime, and I get the sense that sometimes the canines are ganging up on me. There are times every dog owner wonders if they're being played. For example, when you dutifully respond to that "I really have to go outside now" look only to find out it had nothing to do with physical need and everything to do with that neighbor cat sauntering past the window.

Now I'm getting it double-time. Some days I don't have any telephone calls to attend to, and the boys get restless for a row. So I first get the unwavering "I really have to go outside now" stare and paw on the thigh from Baxter, immediately followed by Kirby bouncing up and down on the other side of my chair, looking me straight in the eye and barking (Baxter is a man of few words, Kirby's more of an extrovert).

So, not wanting two messes on the office floor, I sign-out, get up from my desk and let everyone out of the office then out the back door. Kirby gives Baxter a look, Baxter lowers his head and the chase is afoot. After about 10 laps around the trees, under the bushes, rolling in the grass past the patio and back, I get two muddy dogs wanting to come inside. No one has done his "business," but they both look really satisfied. I, the one who has towel-duty at the door, am not so thrilled. Once sufficiently toweled-off, we return to the office where the canines go to their respective spots and sack out for a few more hours.

Sometimes I find myself getting frustrated at this need to interrupt what I'm doing to cater to their whims. Then I remember how much my life is enriched by the presence of Baxter and Kirby and I can't be mad for long. We made a deal, and part of my end is taking them outside when they have a biological need, even if that need is just to run and play.

I guess I can't blame them. It would probably be a lot better for me if I would take the occasional break to run with wild abandon around the back yard.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Kirby's Figuring Things Out

Kirby has just turned six months old (or so we think, based upon the vet's birthdate estimate). He's not getting very much bigger, and he still has a "puppy" look to him, but he's definitely maturing when it comes to his behavior, particularly at bedtime.

Up until a few nights ago, our bedtime routine usually involved taking the dogs out for the last backyard visit of the day, then watching as Baxter trotted into the bedroom to curl up on his bed while Kirby headed underneath the couch or another hard-to-reach location. After literally dragging the pup out of his hiding place, we'd carry him into the bedroom, where he would reluctantly saunter into his crate.

It's not that he dislikes his crate -- he's never put up a fuss. It's just that he's seldom been ready to go to bed when we are. He's shown moments of promise, particularly when we have enticed him into the bedroom by praising Baxter for going to bed, but it has never been on his own and it never lasted more than a night at a time.

Something has changed. It's as if Kirby has finally caught on to the nightly pattern and is OK with it. Three nights in a row now, he's come in the door and cheerfully followed Baxter and/or me into the bedroom. The first night we hadn't moved his crate back in there yet (we keep it in the living room for his morning and afternoon naps) and when I walked in with it, Kirby was standing in the middle of where his crate was supposed to be, giving me a look as of to say "well, I'm here, where's my bed?"

Since then we've had the crate in its proper locale and when Kirby and Baxter come inside, they both head for the bedroom. Baxter curls up on his bed and Kirby stands in front of his open crate door waiting for me to take his collar off. He then goes directly into his crate and curls up for the night.

I don't know what sort of switch goes off in a puppy's brain to make him suddenly realize what he's supposed to be doing, but we're certainly not complaining. Let's hope this new pattern sticks.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Do We Really Need a Drug for Overweight Dogs?

Warning: rant ahead.

Apparently the obesity epidemic is not limited to the human species. Current statistics say 20-30% of America's dogs are considered overweight, and the drug companies are stepping up to help. Yesterday's headlines included the announcement of a new drug, approved by the FDA, that is supposed to help obese dogs lose weight. Called Slentrol, the drug supposedly reduces the amount of fat a dog's body absorbs from food.

Ok, so let's get this straight. Humans will pay a veterinarian (and a drug company) who knows how much for a drug to help their dog shed pounds, when that same person could do the same thing by just NOT FEEDING THEIR DOG SO MUCH. Yes, I'm yelling. With a few exceptions for metabolic disorders, dogs do not get fat by themselves. We feed them. We control their food. It's not like Fido is sneaking off in the middle of the day to gorge himself on Big Macs when we're not looking. (Although some of them might be better off if they did that than eating what their humans feed to them.)

Why do people literally kill their dogs with kindness? "Oh, when Fluffy looks up at me with those big, brown eyes, I just can't help myself," they say, as if it would be somehow cruel to deprive their pet of that half a peanut butter cookie or the wee bit of breakfast doughnut he's so sweetly begging for. Nevermind that a good 50% of Fluffy's "fluff" is that roll of fat around the middle that makes him waddle across the room to beg.

Is it that we feel guilty for not sharing what we have? If that were the case, we wouldn't have so many starving people in the world. Humans could do with a little more sharing. Perhaps our lack of interest in sharing our abundance with other humans is a matter of proximity to the ones in need. When the need is far away, we can easily look away. The dogs have the advantage of being here with us and they're not shy about asking for what they want.

Or is it that we somehow feel like we need to buy the dog's love? I've known quite a few people who act like the only way to get their dog's love is through food. And few self-respecting canines would turn down an opportunity to eat from the Alpha's table. Sure, the dogs look happy after we've given them food. I look pretty happy when someone gives me a piece of chocolate. But that doesn't mean I love them any more. (I do, however, see them as a source to stick close to...). And, after all, food was one of the things that initially brought humans and dogs together. But just the fact that we feed them breakfast and dinner is enough to keep the dog around. And getting the love and companionship from us is a reward in and of itself, even without biscuits. Do our children only love us because we feed them? I hope not. Same for dogs.

Or maybe we just want our dogs to share in everything that we do, for better or worse. If we're fat, the dog is fat. And somehow that makes us feel better. It's no coincidence that the growing human obesity problem and the canine obesity problem are linked. We're eating more (and more of the wrong things) and we're exercising less (thus so are the dogs). We're driving everywhere. We're working longer hours and leaving the pups at home alone, then returning to shower our companions with love and biscuits. Stress makes fat happen, and I don't doubt the same is true for dogs.

Ok, I understand that we humans sometimes don't have control over our own appetites. It's wintertime and all I can think about on a cold, dark day is comfort food (where's that person with the chocolate?). And I usually put on a few pounds each winter as a result. But the way a dog begs for food knows no season. They pretty much always want treats.

We absolutely must take accountability for the fat of our dogs. We are their caretakers and they trust us to take good care of them. If we love our dogs, how can we betray that trust by making them fat and unhealthy?

Friday, January 05, 2007

Dogs Bring Us Together

A friend recently returned from a family trip to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. It sounds like a truly beautiful place and I'm eagerly awaiting the full rundown of the trip. Being a true friend (and frequent supplier of photo material for my blog), she sent me these great pictures from their journeys.

While I enjoy visiting other cultures to experience the differences from my own, I also enjoy finding the commonalities. And one of these commonalities is the human-dog bond. When I travel to a country where I don't speak the language and don't know my way around, it's comforting for me to see people interacting with their pets in a way that feels familiar to me. It reminds me of how the relationships we humans have formed with our companion dogs are pretty similar across many cultures. (I know some cultures do not embrace dogs as companions, but I can't help believing they're missing out on something extraordinary).

Dog people tend to recognize other dog people. When we encounter a person with a dog, human language is not needed. We immediately start interacting with the dogs and we share knowing and appreciative glances with our human counterparts. It's such a great ice-breaker. Because of dogs, we have met people in France and Germany and Italy whom we would not have met if it weren't for the dogs brokering the initial greeting. We've even continued to correspond with some of them. We met this beautiful Griff, Anni, and her German family in Colmar, France. We've since traded emails and photos of our dogs. What a great connection.

It reinforces for me that we dog-people have a culture of our own that cuts that across other cultures and languages and traditions. I love it. It makes the world a smaller and friendlier place.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Puppy With Too Many Teeth

If you asked Baxter, I'm sure he would tell you that Kirby has plenty of teeth...teeth that are used repeatedly throughout the day to chew on Baxter's ears, legs and toys. Truth is, Kirby has more than enough teeth for a dog, and certainly more than his little mouth can handle.

There are those parents who, once they see the state of their child's second teeth coming in, know they'd better start a savings account for the inevitable braces. If Kirby were human, we would be those parents... only without the time for a savings account. Kirby's dental woes had a rather urgent timeline.

From a purely cosmetic perspective, taking measures to straighten a dog's teeth seem pretty silly to me, unless you have a potential show champion that stands to rake in stud fees for the next decade. But sometimes tooth issues are more than cosmetic, they're functional, and this is where the decisions get a little more complicated.

We recognized right away that Kirby has a slight can't tell from looking at him until you open his mouth and voila, those bottom teeth are in front of the tops. We asked about functional problems at his first vet visit, and there will be no embarassing head gear and taunting at school for this dog. An underbite is just fine. But, the vet warned, Kirby's little mouth is just the type to have problems when his adult canine teeth start coming in.

The first round was the removal of his baby canines when we had him neutered, in an effort to avoid some serious misalignment of the teeth and jaw that could wreak havoc in the years to come.


Kirby already had his six adult incisors across the top front, so we figured we were finished in that department. Then, within days after Kirby's operation, another adult incisor started coming in, just in front of one of the others to make what looks like a double tooth. How could this be? Oh yes, our little Kirby is prolific in the tooth department. The lucky boy has seven incisors! I contacted the vet.

"Aren't you the lucky ones!" was the vet's reply. He explained that at the time of the removal of Kirby's other teeth, he found that Kirby had a similar extra tooth coming in on the left side, which the vet extracted at that time. As for the new needs to be removed, says the vet, "and the sooner the better." Super...a tiny dog that would have EIGHT incisors? Big smile on this guy.

We hate to put Kirby under again, but it looks inevitable as the tooth in the back is starting to push the front one straight out. The vet said it could wait until after the holidays, and it kind of appears that as the canine moves back into its proper position, he's getting a bit more room for the extra tooth. Still, it should probably come out. Ultimately, we just want him to be comfortable, and having a sharp tooth jutting into his upper lip probably won't be very comfortable after a while.

So there you have it. More than you (or we) wanted to know about canine dental alignment.

We keep joking that Kirby is our "$5 dog," (the cost of adoption, minus the refundable neuter deposit). There's no such thing as a "free puppy," or so the saying goes. Very true. But when we made the decision to bring dogs into our family, we recognized that there would be financial investments to go along with them. And compared to braces or a college fund, the costs associated with Kirby's ample chompers are a wee drop in the bucket.

It all just adds to the mystery of little Kirby. What sort of canine bloodline has extra teeth? Boxers? Looking at Kirby, I seriously doubt there's any Boxer in there. Then again, I'd say the same for German Shepherd, and his mother was definitely a good part shepherd. I will say that Kirby is getting some pretty big teeth for a little dog. Chalk another one up for the terrier.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Together at Christmas

We're finally settling back in at home after spending a nice Christmas holiday at my mother's house. My husband and I packed up the dogs and made the two-day road trip with a car stuffed full of luggage, gifts and outerwear for any sort of weather happenings on the way.

We had a quiet Christmas, just the three humans and the two dogs, and we profoundly missed the presence of my father, who passed away last spring. But, just as he would have wanted it, we cooked and ate too much delicious food, gave each other too many presents and spent a great deal of time relaxing, chatting and enjoying each other's company.

Christmastime always seems to have a bit more magic when children are around, even when the younglings are of the canine variety. This was Kirby's first Christmas, and the excitement level was at an all-time high. After spending a couple of days in the car, having free run of Grandma's house was a gift in and of itself. And the miracle of finding his same toys and crate there, was quite something.

Of course, Baxter is an old hand at Christmas and he demonstrated very well how to thoroughly sniff every package under the tree (in this case a potted palm) without disturbing any of the wrappings. The gift bags with catnip mats for our friends' felines and the boxes with the dogs' rawhide bones drew the most attention.

At the appropriate time, Baxter also demonstrated the proper technique for ripping paper off of presents. Baxter has always shown tremendous restraint at Christmas. For him both the wrapping of presents and the unwrapping of presents are team events (pretty much every present we've wrapped over the past seven years has had Griffon moustache hairs stuck in the Scotch tape...and this year they also had a bit of little mutt moustache).

Once opened, Kirby proceeded to steal Baxter's presents and Baxter returned the favor by stealing one of Kirby's new favorites (a rubber bouncy toy with a noise-maker in it). As usual, Baxter successfully bit through one end of the toy within minutes. Kirby didn't mind, because he somehow managed to collect BOTH rawhide bones and both fleece squeaky toys, which he assembled into a little pile next to the chair. Kirby alternated chewing and squeaking for the better part of the evening and Baxter enjoyed keeping an eye on the delicious food items being enjoyed by the alphas.

By the next day it was pretty obvious that we once again had too much of a good thing. Kirby ran, over-cranked and unfocused, from one toy to another as if he couldn't decide what to do next. We removed most of them and doled them out a couple at a time for the rest of the week, just to keep things interesting.

We had a pleasant (but long) ride home and Kirby once again confirmed that he's a good little traveler. Baxter has always been great on the road and the two of them just nestled into their beds and slept most of the way.