Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow Dogs

We're in the midst of the snowiest period in our area in 40 years...It started 10 days ago and hasn't melted yet. And it just keeps coming. Of course, this is new for the dogs. Oh, we've had snow in the yard occasionally, and we've been up in the mountains playing in snow, but most of the time it melts out of the yard within a day or two. And it NEVER gets this deep here at home.

Well, the first few days were fun time -- lots of frolicking and chasing and snuffling through the white powder. Then the layer of ice crusted over the foot of snow, creating an ice rink for Kirby and some alarming post-holing for Baxter and the humans. By the time the ice thinned and another few inches of snow fell, the dogs were back at the playing, getting themselves totally coated in ice balls before returning inside. The only problem was finding a good place to do the business...on this count both dogs seemed to be getting a little annoyed. For Kirby, finding the perfect spot was made all the more difficult by the fact that the snow was deeper than Kirby is tall. So my husband flattened out a few trails and little areas for them.

For the most part, though, it's play time. Baxter sinks into the deep snow, so walking through it is a bit of a chore...still, the cold, crisp air seems to bring forth a whole new set of smells and the quiet of the snowcover, combined with fewer cars on the roads, means the birds and other wildlife are easily heard. I think Bax could stand out there all day...but we don't care to, so it's usually a bit of a chore to convince him it's time to go inside.

Kirby sort of plows his way through the snow as if he were swimming, eating snow all the way. Both dogs really enjoy eating snow and at first I didn't realize just how much water they were getting. One evening Kirby was pestering us to go outside at a time when he doesn't usually have to go (he has this way of wanting to go outside right in the middle of a movie and then goes about a teaspoon...it's just a way to get attention). So when he started his whining and his trips back and forth to the door, we just figured it was the usual. We made him lay down and wait. About an hour later we took him outside and the little guy made it about six inches from the front door and peed on the step. We felt AWFUL. He wasn't kidding. It was a classic case of "crying wolf." But now we know that all that snow-eating has consequences, so we're taking them out a little more often.
This brings me to the subject of brain freeze. Have you ever seen a dog with brain freeze? It's quite hilarious. Baxter tends to get it when chomping on snowballs...suddenly he stops, his eyes have a momentary look of panic and he pulls back his lips to show his teeth. Really handsome, that.

Anyway, this post is really just an excuse to post some cute snow pictures of the dogs. Kirby is sporting a a nice coating of little ice balls each time he goes outside. Baxter's feet become totally encrusted with ice balls and, upon returning inside, Kirby goes about helping him pull them off (the towel doesn't begin to touch it). Unfortunately the recent snow pictures of Baxter didn't turn out so well, so I've included a couple of previous show shots just so he gets equal time.

Such cuteness, eh?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mutts and Purebreds

Baxter is a purebred. He is elegant and beautiful. Under that scruffy coat, his body has a perfection of proportion, form for function, that is a thing of beauty. He is the product of generations of breeding to achieve a set of unique characteristics that qualify him as an AKC-registered Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. But I still get a bit of pleasure when reading that the man who developed the breed, Mr. Korthals, was cross-breeding various hunting dogs and French farm dogs of unknown origin to get that lovely, scruffy mix of family dog and fearless hunter. It's the scruffy French farm dog -- the ones we've seen countless times roaming around the French countryside -- that give him his charm, I think.

As I've said before, while I recognize that the exercise of determining Kirby's various bloodline components is rather pointless, it is kind of interesting to me. We probably won't learn anything about him that we haven't already figured out in a couple of years with him, but you never know. There is some real value in knowing parentage. For example, when we first brought him into the vet for his puppy vaccinations, the vet told us that he looked like he had dachshund in him, and that dachshunds are more prone to having bad reactions to vaccines. He gave us instructions on symptoms and what to do if we noticed anything strange going on. That was one of the best examples I can think of for knowing something about the parentage of your dog. Fortunately, Kirby's long body shape was as good an indicator as a DNA test at the time.

Still, I think knowing his breed ancestry is mostly just a fun thing. But why? Perhaps it's because I, myself, am a human mutt of sorts. My ancestors came from at least six different European countries. When I travel in Europe, as long as I don't speak English, people seldom guess where I'm from (apparently my accent when speaking French doesn't sound remotely English...but my French isn't good enough to be a native speaker). I've asked people to guess where I'm from, and they usually pick some culturally mixed country like Belgium or Luxembourg or Switzerland.

I did have someone once tell me I look Irish. That's interesting, because Irish is the one bloodline that's closest to the old country (Great Grandpa came to the New World in the mid-1800s vs. the 1600s and 1700s for the rest of my ancestors). One British fellow once told me my nose and mouth look like the people from one specific area in Wales. I'm told the Allens (my maiden name) were originally from Wales, so maybe there's something to it.

Regardless of DNA, I'm a cultural mutt, as many Americans are. My relatives are all so removed from anything "old country" that we don't have traditions like my more purebred friends do. For example, I grew up in northern Iowa. Most of the kids I went to school with were of German or Scandinavian descent (sometimes both). My friends' families used to have exotic food traditions like making krumkake or lefsa or, god-forbid, lutefisk. My family had roast beef and mashed potatoes and apple pie. Nothing wrong with that! But it was just not very exotic. The closest thing to an "old country" tradition in my family was that my mother learned to cook from her grandmother, who was of French-Canadian ancestry and somehow managed to pass on the tradition of cooking with herbs and garlic. This constituted spicy food in our neck of the prairie. We ate really tasty roast beef.

A few years ago I undertook a bit of family history research (which unveiled the French-Canadian mystery of the garlicy food). I wanted to know more about where my ancestors came from. While it has had little influence over my day to day life, I think I just wanted to know something about my own DNA and my own cultural heritage. What I realized is that no matter where my ancestors came from, I will always be culturally an American, as were my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents (except the Irishman), and on and on for several generations before that. Perhaps the fact that my ancestors came over from their respective countries and intermarried with people from other cultures does somehow inform how I am. Perhaps this has stoked my wanderlust, my interest in learning about other cultures. Or maybe it's just fun to know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Is Kirby a Schnorkieshund?

The massive numbers of people (uh huh) who voted on my poll re: whether or not we should have Kirby DNA breed-tested voted unanimously: YES. So I guess we'll be swabbing his little cheeks soon.
Next question is which test is best? The tests I'm currently considering are (the first two have holiday specials ending December 31):

The Canine Heritage Breed Test -- "identifies over 100 breeds" $99.95
DDC Veterinary Animal DNA Services -- "over 60 known dog breeds" and $68.00 plus free shipping. (How much is it worth for those extra 40 breeds?)
Happy Dog DNA -- "62 breeds identified" $54.95 plus free shipping.

I had one previous comment that recommended the DDC. I'd love to know if any of my readers have had experience with these and is willing to venture forth with a recommendation? Visuals for your consideration...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bloodline Bingo Redux

Every now and again the subject of "what the heck is Kirby?" comes up. I recently received a comment on one of my earlier posts from someone else who had adopted a puppy that looked like Kirby and wondered if we ever figured out what he is. We see little Kirby look-alikes quite often, and it always makes me wonder if he is he a throw-back to some early black-and-tan terrier...with very old genes that manage to sprout out of lots of breed combinations?

As an adult, Kirby's looks have changed somewhat. His hair is longer, particularly his beard and head furnishings. His coat has turned more gray than black, giving him coloring almost identical to a Yorkshire Terrier. His longer-than-tall body still suggests dachshund or shorty Jack Russell. His tendency to herd us around and his love of playing fetch suggest some herding dog... And that bark sounds identical to any of the half-dozen or so schnauzers in our neighborhood.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, but it's rather fun to play the guessing game. Still, from time to time I ponder getting one of those canine DNA tests, just to see what it comes back with (and if we're guessing anywhere close to the mark). I ran across the Canine Heritage dog DNA test. The video cracked me up. I'm not sure why. I think it was the expression on some of the dogs' faces. It sort of made me realize how silly the whole idea is. Then again, I've truly enjoyed some of the sillier moments in my life.

If any of my readers have used one of these DNA tests or has one to recommend, I'd love to hear from you.