Team Unruly Holiday Gift Guide 2014!

Every time the holiday season rolls around, my mother asks me for some gift ideas, to which I reply, “Zukes!  A stuffed raccoon!  This-Obscure-Training-Book-Here is-How-to-Order-It” or the dreaded gift certificate to any place that will allow me to buy training or playing supplies for my dogs. (CleanRun.com!  Amazon.com!)  This drives her insane and each year and she laments, “But I want to get something for you, not for your dogs!”  Now, really.  She knows me well enough to know: a gift for a Dog Person’s dog(s) is a gift for them.  Last year we compiled a Gift Guide and we still stand by loving every one of those suggestions, so check that out!  I am sure if you read this blog, you or somebody else on your shopping list will enjoy the goodies that we enjoy – so here is a list of our favorite picks for this year.  Enjoy, and happy shopping!

Toys:

Jennifer - Lotus Balls

I LOVE LOTUS BALLS. These velcro-lined fabric balls are a perfect transitional toy if you have a dog who is not especially toy-motivated (Dog Mob holla!) but is food-motivated, and you need to build value into toys for some reason (such as: you’re trying to learn agility and you need to be able to drop a big valuable reward on the dog’s line instead of rewarding from your hand).

Plus, it’s pretty funny to watch your dogs get competitive about them:

You can find Lotus Balls at any major dog supply retailer or well-stocked independent shop. Online, Chewy usually has pretty good prices, and Clean Run is a reliable retailer as well.

also Jennifer – Clean Run’s line of real fur treat/tug pouches

Clean Run has a phenomenal line of Velcro-closed pouches made of real fur — rabbit, sheepskin, raccoon, and more — that are another great transitional choice for dogs that need a little extra enticement to play. The combination of real fur + tugging + treats + the ability to play “chase the squirrel” games is irresistable to many dogs, even those who don’t have a lot of experience with or interest in toys generally. Dog Mob goes bananas for their bunny fur treat/tug pouch and will shoulder each other out of the way like their own crazed mini Walmart-on-Black-Friday stampede to get at that thing.

what? not done yet? yep still Jennifer - the Fenzi Frenzy line of chase/tug toys

Denise Fenzi is justly famed throughout competition obedience circles for her focus on teaching play skills to dogs and people. Play is a powerful motivator and relationship-builder, and while the tools that you use are secondary to developing the right skills, having great toys sure does help!

Two of the toys sold through the Fenzi online store are especially worth a look: the Fenzi Frenzy and the Bunny/Cowzy. Both of these toys, handmade with real fur and leather, are designed for dogs who aren’t yet avid tuggers and may not be avid players at all. They’re intended to be “chase” toys more than “tug” toys (think of a flirt pole that you keep on the ground, dragging it in herky-jerky motions as a pretend squirrel “fleeing” from 6 inches away from your dog’s nose, instead of whipping through the air) and can be used very effectively to develop a curious or less confident dog’s interest in toy play when full-on tugging might not yet be something that dog’s up for.

Boomer Balls [$8 on up]

Boy, have I become a fan of these this year! Boomer Balls actually began as enrichment toys for zoo animals, and if you look around on their website, you’ll see pictures of different Boomer Balls being played with by polar bears, tigers, hedgehogs, ferrets, etc.  At my job, you’ll see different sizes of Boomer Balls all over the place: the horses love them, the pigs love them, and of course, so do a ton of the dogs. Boomer Balls are hard plastic: they’re about as close to indestructible as I’ve ever seen, and they are perfect for dogs who love to kick and push balls around but also have a tendency to destroy them. If your backyard is full of the corpses of soccer balls (LUCY!), these guys are a great alternative.  I’ve had a lot of fun teaching my work dogs to push these around: once your dog gets interested in them, you can teach them to move the ball in one direction or another (herding style), teach them to push the ball into a goal or a hula hoop (treiball style), and so on. The sky’s the limit! They also come in all different sizes: I have several of the smaller, cheaper ones, but my job has a few of the 20 and 30 inch ones (which are HUGE) and the dogs go bananas when we pull them out.  If you’ve got a dog for whom nomming the ball is half the fun, I’d go with a Jolly Ball (my other big time favorite) instead. But for kicky pouncy jumpy good times, the Boomer Ball is terrific. (Kelsey)

Treats:

Cloud Star Tricky Trainers
16X00_l
I have a dog who would train for stale Cheerios from 1973 (Hint, it is the pitbull!), and I have a dog who needs a little bit more persuasion.  I have found these chewy Tricky Trainers to be unfailingly delicious for my choosy dog when I need something a bit more convenient than cooking chicken for her or chopping up ham.  I discovered these when a friend ordered the Liver flavor for her dogs and was absolutely repulsed by how disgusting they smelled – she gave me the whole bag!  “Disgusting smelling liver treats” equals pure heaven for Perri.  Another friend of mine has a dog who is easily three or three thousand times more picky than Perri, and she has never stopped loving the Cheddar flavor.  So for the choosy dog on your shopping list who will turn up her nose at whatever home cooked delicacy you just slaved over in the kitchen for an hour, these are worth checking out! (Danielle)

*Cosigned! These are the best training treats ever, and there are a ton in every bag. I still go through a shockingly high number of bags per month, because they are that good. (Kelsey)

Books:

downloadUnsaid by Neil Abramson. [$9.99] Since I am the resident dog crazy at my work, my coworker handed this over to me when she was finished reading it and said, “Read this, it is excellent and you will be completely depressed while reading it.”  Uh, okay?

No lying here, this is a gut-punch of a book, tears in the eyes and unable to put it down and all of that. (Danielle)

 

 

Canine Sports & Games by Kristin Mehus-Roe [$15]

If, like me, you’re the kind of person who likes to dabble in all kinds of dog sports, this is SO the book for you.  This book features short (5-10 page) overviews of a whole bunch of different dog sports: the bigs (flyball, agility, obedience) are of course represented, but the book also covers slightly more obscure sports (earthdog! dock jumping! carting! [fill-in-the-blank]-joring!) Each section gives you a basic overview of the sport, discusses the kind of training required, addresses the (human) culture around the sport and lays out a realistic estimate of what kind of time and money each sport requires.  There’s also a good overview of which organizations sponsor which events (note: this is pretty North America-specific) and what each organization’s titling structure entails (a plus for ribbon junkies!)  The overviews are concise and information-packed, but Mehus-Roe has this lovely, cheery, encouraging tone throughout that makes you feel like “Yeah! I could totally do this!”  There’s also a great section on conditioning for canine athletes, as well as a useful section on ‘cool things to do with your dog that are not quite so organized’.  I read the book cover to cover and still consult it all the time. (Kelsey)

I’ll throw out recommendations for every book that I liked well enough to review on TU this year: (Jennifer)

Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman – funny, insightful, and thought-provoking, this book is a great discussion of mental disorders in humans and other animals, and just a fantastic read all around.

Part Wild by Ceiridwen Terrill – what happens with a young woman suffering from a host of emotional and relationship problems purchases a high-content wolf hybrid? Nothing good, but a lot of things that are important. This is a wrenching read, but a valuable and harrowing experience from someone who was brave enough to offer her personal ordeal as a lesson for us all.

Little Boy Blue by Kim Kavin – a good exploration of the world of South-to-North transport-based rescues: why they exist, what they do, and what the issues are that confront rescuers and adopters who choose to specialize in this particular, sometimes controversial, niche.

aaalso, while I will most likely be doing a full review for TU in a little bit, I can’t resist the urge to mention Denise Fenzi and Deb Jones’s Dog Sports Skills series (now up to two books, with a third on its way to the editor shortly). The first book is on Engagement and Relationship, the second is on Motivation. Both are incredibly good reads and packed full of information and ideas that will set your brain on fire if you’re even remotely interested in motivational, relationship-based sports work with your dog. It’s no accident that these authors are spearheading a revolution in competition obedience; they know their stuff, they want excellence for their students, and they can tell you how to do it.


cleanrun

 

 

1-Year Subscription to Clean Run magazine. [$29.95-48.00] This is a great magazine for any agility enthusiast and I am sharing it here because I am three months into my very first subscription and loving every bit of it.  I really don’t think that you can go wrong with this one for anybody who loves agility even a little bit!  Subscriptions can be purchased in live snail-mail format or digital download version.  I opted for the digital version and reading the magazine on my iPad is as simple and easy as clicking a link and enjoying. (Danielle)

Who says martingales are just for greyhounds?

Collar D’Elights [staring at $20]
I absolutely love wide martingale collars, but for a while couldn’t really find anything on Etsy or anywhere that I liked for Molly.  My search ended when I laid eyes on that beautiful collar that Molly is wearing in the above photo.  Collar D’Elights has a big store full of many different designs (holiday themed even!), every collar is handmade and well made.  Who doesn’t love a new, gorgeous collar for their pup?

Clik-Stik [$15-20, depending on where you look]

This is one of those products that I resisted getting for a long time, and now that I finally have one, I use it constantly and have no idea what I did without it. So, if you’re reading this blog, I bet you’ve done some hand targeting with your dog, right?  Of course you have! Hand targeting is the best! 99% of the time, it’s the first thing I teach new dogs, and I use it for all kinds of different stuff.  However, your hand has one distinct disadvantage: it’s attached to your arm, which means your target can only extend a couple of feet away from your body. This is challenging if you’re trying to teach a dog to move away from you, or to go to a certain area (say, a mat or their bed), or to teach a fancy trick.  The Clik Stik is a pretty great way to get past that problem. First, you teach the dog to target the little yellow ball on the end of the Clik Stik. Then, when your dog is doing that reliably, you can extend the telescoping wand out to get your dog targeting at a distance. This is great for teaching complicated behaviors; it’s also a great thing to have around if you’ve got a dog who wants to work when you want to veg out and watch TV or something (you move the stick around, your dog goes nuts chasing it around to target, you watch Top Chef, everybody wins!)  The built-in clicker is what really sells this for me, since it means you don’t require three hands for your clicker, target stick and treats. One small quibble: the clicker itself is pretty stiff and has a different give than a button or box clicker.  However, once you adjust to that, it’s a great product.

 

So, happy shopping!  How about you?  What is on your dog’s wish list?

Pediatric Neutering and the Performance Dog

INTRODUCTORY DISCLAIMER: I am not a veterinarian and I do not play one on TV. I am not an expert in canine sports medicine, either. What follows in this post is Just My Opinion based on some amateur Internet research, personal observations, and kicking around the dog sports world for a couple of years. Here be anecdata, beware all ye who navigate these seas.

Having said that, here’s my opinion: pediatric neutering sucks, especially for performance dogs. Pongu was neutered at almost exactly 16 weeks old, down to the day, and as we start transitioning out of Rally and obedience into the agility phase of his career, I find myself wishing more than ever that he’d been allowed to develop normally. He wasn’t, and I am concerned that it’s going to cause us some problems down the road as we move into a more athletically challenging sport.

I’m well aware of the many, many reasons that shelters and rescues choose to enforce a mandatory across-the-board policy that all dogs must be spayed or neutered before adoption. I don’t really have a huge problem with that. I’ve seen more than my share of irresponsible pet owners who really, truly needed to have the choice taken out of their hands, because there was no way they could be relied upon to successfully manage intact dogs in their households. It’s often the least responsible people who get the most adamant that they can handle it, too; I feel like it’s got to be some kind of Dunning-Kruger variant in effect there. I am, accordingly, totally sympathetic to the position of rescue volunteers and shelter workers who argue that the best option is for people to have no option.

But!

While Pongu’s pediatric neutering is pretty far down the list of his handicaps in dog sports (as far as Pongu the Insane is concerned, his mental problems drastically outweigh his physical limitations), it sure doesn’t help. If I were looking to adopt a sport dog in the future, I’d steer far away from rescues and shelters that enforced mandatory pediatric speuters, and that’s a near-universally held view in the dog sports world. As far as dog sports competitors are concerned, pediatric speutering is frequently a dealbreaker, and that’s not great, because it means that some of the best homes in the world are closed off to dogs in organizations that have those policies.

The argument I want to make here is twofold: (1) To the extent that our mutual goal here is to get dogs into the best possible homes, it might not be a bad idea for shelters and rescues to be a little more flexible when dealing with adopters who are knowledgeable, responsible, and have legitimate, carefully considered reasons for wanting to delay speutering until their dogs are fully mature; and (2) to the extent that shelters and rescues want to adhere absolutely to their policies and not make any exceptions, they would be well advised to consider the opposing point of view and the research substantiating that position, so that they can articulate to those prospective adopters why they feel that the benefits outweigh those drawbacks. In other words, if you’re going to say “no,” best make it an informed and reasonable “no,” so that those prospective adopters don’t go away feeling like the shelters and rescues are just being ignorant and intractable.

There’s really no reasonable dispute that pediatric neutering causes dogs to develop differently than animals that are left intact until after reaching sexual maturity. Regardless of breed or mix, you can spot pediatric neuters at a glance. They’re abnormally leggy and gangly, the males tend to have “bitchy” appearances and more finely boned features, and their muscle development is impaired, particularly in males. (As an interesting historical sidenote, castrati — 17th and 18th-century male opera singers who were castrated before puberty to preserve their singing voices — were also widely recorded as having similar alterations to their physical development. They, too, tended to be unusually tall and leggy.)

Tall and leggy and kiiiiind of a giant nerd: that’s my Pongu!

There’s likewise no dispute that speutering has a number of effects on dogs’ health, although here it’s a bit of a mixed bag and the correlation/causation distinctions are sometimes unclear. A 2007 survey of over 50 peer-reviewed veterinary studies found that rates of osteosarcoma were significantly higher among speutered dogs, particularly pediatric speuters (which is not surprising, considering that one of the developmental effects of pediatric speutering is significantly elongated bones), and also found higher rates of hemangiosarcoma and hypothyroidism, among other serious issues. However, speutering also had some positive health effects: it reduced certain behavioral issues, reduced the risk of perianal fistulas among susceptible breeds (a point of particular interest to me, since GSDs are my favored breed and they are notoriously prone to perianal fistulas), and eliminated the risk of pyometra, a potentially lethal problem for intact bitches.

Another study that focused specifically on Golden Retrievers found significantly higher rates of hip dysplasia and lymphosarcoma among pediatric neuters and, interestingly, a spike in hemangiosarcoma rates among females that were spayed as adults, but not among intact females or females that had been given pediatric spays. Of particular interest for performance people, this study found a much higher rate of cranial cruciate ligament tears among pediatric speuters than all other dogs; it is hypothesized that this finding might be linked to the effect of neutering on the dog’s growth plates.

Yet another 2007 survey of veterinary studies observed the higher incidences of osteosarcoma and CCL tears among pediatric speuters, and suggested that the increased rates of those problems was likely connected to the elongated bones that pediatric speuters develop. The same study observed higher rates of urinary tract infections among female dogs that were spayed before puberty, and suggested that this might be caused by the fact that female puppies spayed before reaching sexual maturity never develop adult genitalia.

However, the JAVMA survey also noted that speutering of pets may be a realistic necessity for many shelters and rescues dealing with the pet-owning public, because compliance rates for people who sign contracts promising to spay or neuter their adopted pets are dismally low (less than 60%, according to that source, which seems reasonable as an average of what I’ve seen across different regions. In the Philadelphia area, I’d expect that number to be significantly higher; however, in the Southern rural areas where most of my fosters originate… well… let’s just say I’m not surprised if some of those homes would drag the nationwide average down to way below 60%).

So what does all this mean?

It means, if you’re into performance sports, that your pediatric speuter is going to develop into a substantially different form than one who’s left intact until after puberty. Your dog may have an increased risk of hip dysplasia and is significantly more likely to get injured over the course of his or her career. Your dog will have longer legs and finer bones. He or she will have trouble building and maintaining as much muscle as a normally developed dog would.

If we’re talking about challenging, high-level sports, these are not trivial considerations. I’m not yet at a point where I can make any reasonable prediction as to whether Pongu’s gangly proportions would affect his top speed on an agility course (and honestly I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to determine that, given that my dog is a nutjob and his assorted anxiety problems slow him down much more than his janky legs ever could), but it surely wouldn’t surprise me to find out that they do.

I don’t have serious competitive aspirations for Pongu in agility. I can’t; it wouldn’t be realistic for him. We’re mostly just out there to have fun and learn how to play this sport together. Also, he’s crazy, so it’s not like having one more problem on our giant mountain of Issues makes a huge difference.

But I still don’t want to see him get hurt. Additionally, it’s very likely that I will have serious aspirations for my next dog, and in that case, pediatric speutering would be an absolute dealbreaker for me. I’m not doing anything that would ding my Imaginary Future Dog’s chances at having a long, happy, injury-free career. And the scientific evidence pretty clearly supports my own observations and anecdata that pediatric speutering would very much hurt those chances.

For a pet home, this might very well not matter. There are still some potential health risks, but they’re mostly in the realm of “might” and “maybe”: increased risks for some things, decreased risks of others, no ironclad guarantees either way. Plus, the shelter/rescue does have a strong and legitimate interest in ensuring that the dog doesn’t breed, and that someday-in-the-future speutering doesn’t get lost in the swirl of kids and jobs and family commitments that can sometimes knock a pet dog pretty far down the priority ladder.

But for a sport home? Nope. The difference in physical development is guaranteed, and that alone makes it a total no-go.

And, frankly, it’s more than a little annoying to me when I get the simplistic Speutering 101 “herpty derp it will solve all your behavioral problems and have zero health drawbacks! In fact pediatric neutering is better because they heal faster!” canned explanation from rescue and shelter volunteers on this subject.

I’ve been in rescue for years, and I’ve been in dog sports for years, and I kind of want to just grab their shoulders and yell “DUDE. STOP. Not your target audience for that spiel.”

There are people who need to hear the spay/neuter message. It’s an important message; I am in no way claiming otherwise. There are many, many communities and audiences who still need to be sold on that one.

But there are many others where that message is ten to fifteen years behind the times.

This is a subject on which a diversity of opinions exists. That’s a good thing. We’re all in different places in our lives and we all have different goals and priorities. But I do think, on pediatric speutering particularly, it’s important to recognize that the diversity of opinions among informed and educated dog people exists for a really good reason: because there is no one clear-cut right answer for everybody. There are, in fact, a lot of awfully legitimate reasons that someone might not want to neuter their future sport dog at 16 weeks old.

I wish I’d known enough to understand exactly what I was agreeing to back then. It wouldn’t have changed anything — that shelter has an ironclad, non-negotiable policy on speutering before adoption, and there is no way that I would not have adopted Pongu, because that little goober was destined to be My Dog — but I do wish that I had known what it meant to neuter a dog at four months old. I think it’s important to know, and that it’s a real disservice to both dogs and owners that this complicated issue so often gets reduced to its most simplistic dimensions.

Should my dog have been fixed? Absolutely. There is nothing about him that warrants breeding, and as a first-time owner I didn’t need to try wrangling an intact dog in a city condo. (Next time around? Sure. First time? No thanks. I know some of my limitations.)

But should it have been done when he was four months old?

Not if I’d had my choice.

Ticked Off!

The title of this post — Ticked Off! — is probably the only joke I’ll make about ticks for the foreseeable future. It is no longer a joking matter in my household!

We recently moved from Lansing, Michigan, to a “country” town in Massachusetts. I say “country” because Massachusetts country is still pretty developed and not much at all like rural Michigan! But we lived in the city of Lansing back then, with almost no yard to speak of, and we exercised our dogs by walking on sidewalks or going to the park to let them run around. Now that we live in Massachusetts, we have an enormous yard ringed by a forest and the pups can spend a lot more time burning off their energy outside.

This is probably a really good way to get covered in ticks.

This is probably a really good way to get covered in ticks.

Heavenly, right?

It would be, if our yard were not infested with deer ticks! We didn’t notice it when we moved here because it was the middle of summer, but now that we are deep into Fall, we are at peak adult deer tick activity. See, nymph activity peaks in mid-summer, larvae activity peaks in August-September, and now it’s the adults’ turn to hog the limelight. They should fall off around the end of December, but they survive the harsh Massachusetts winters pretty well and, of course, once we get to February the whole cycle will begin again – adults feeding, reproducing, and contributing to the summer spikes of nymphs and larvae. Gross!

Graph by the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

Graph by the American Lyme Disease Foundation.

Even though our dogs don’t romp in the woods, they pick up ticks in the grass, from fallen leaves, and from brushing up against bushes. Every time Cerberus comes in from the yard, he has a tick or two crawling on his fur – adult deer ticks, about the size of a sesame seed, darkly colored, and practically indestructible! (Or so it feels when I’m trying to crush their tiny horrible terrible bodies. HULK SMASH!) For some reason they don’t seem to like Fly as much, even though her fur is much shorter and sparser than Cerb’s plushiness. She must taste bad.

Of course, we use a topical flea and tick treatment on both dogs (Frontline Plus), so although we frequently see ticks crawling on the dogs, we’re yet to find one that has actually attached and fed. That should be relief, but the problem is that the dogs bring the ticks inside and then they get on us, and there’s no such thing as human Frontline – or any sort of medication that is going to make me feel okay about BUGS IN MY HOUSE.

So what to do? Well, I talked it over with my vet and she had a few ideas, although part of it will just be accepted that we live in the wilderness now (er, the thickly-settled New England wilderness) and ticks are part of life. We’re going to keep up with topical treatments, of course, although my vet recommended Advantix over Frontline. We also vaccinated both dogs for Lyme disease. We did not vaccinate for Lyme in Michigan because we lived in a low-risk area and had low-risk lifestyles, but now vaccination makes much more sense – if you’re considering this route, consult your vet and see if it makes sense for your dog. Between the vaccine and the topical treatment, I’m fairly confident both dogs are protected, but I’ll keep up with yearly blood tests to make sure we’re still good (both dogs had clean blood tests last week – hurrah!).

As for the yard and the house? That’s a little bit more difficult. We’re going to look into having the yard treated, because we feel like the number of ticks we’re seeing on the dogs is higher than normal. It’s possible our yard is infested and needs to be treated by a professional pest company. There are also commercially-available yard sprays and powders we could try, although reviews on retail websites are mixed.

As humans, our options are limited. We don’t get to use Frontline or Advantix, and there’s currently no approved Lyme vaccine for humans – bummer, right? So we’re stuck being careful to check ourselves over when we come inside, checking the dogs and ourselves for ticks whenever we come inside, and…. er, crossing our fingers, I guess. Wish us luck!

Book Review: Animal Madness, by Laurel Braitman

Here at TU, we often joke (or, you know, “joke”) about living with our respective assortments of crazy dogs, nutball cats, and — in my case, a few years back — a series of probably-psychopathic, undoubtedly-homicidal hamsters. (Having lived with more than my fair share of the hilarious little monsters, I will always believe that golden hamsters are nature’s Scary Clowns. Oh, sure, they look adorable. But not-so-secretly they are babyeating cannibal menaces who can’t even tolerate a single roommate in a huge cage without murdering one another. Hamsters hate you and want you dead.)

ANYWAY.

When I saw the cover of Laurel Braitman’s book Animal Madness on the front page of an issue of Whole Dog Journal, I thought: that is a book that I need to read. Crazy dogs! That is exactly what we do here! The TU readership must hear about this book.

AnimalMadnessCoverAnd now that I have actually read it, I feel even more strongly about this. If you have any interest in the mental and emotional wellbeing of animals — not just our companion dogs and pet parrots, but the intelligent and sensitive wild birds and mammals who suffer heartbreaking fates in what Braitman refers to as “the animal captivity industry” (i.e., Sea World, Ringling Bros. Circus, and an awful lot of zoos) — then this is a book you can’t afford to miss. Animal Madness is packed full of fascinating anecdotes, glimpses into the strange, sad, and frequently hilarious history of how people interpreted animals’ aberrant behavior, and thoughtful reflections on how our current choices can help or harm the animals who share our world.

It’s also smart, funny, and written with such an effortlessly conversational tone that you might be tempted to forget just how solidly researched the whole thing is. According to my Kindle’s page tracker, fully 40% of the book’s length is comprised of citations; the main text only takes up 60% of the book. That is by far the highest ratio of citations-to-text that I’ve encountered outside the formal academic context, and a good measure of how seriously Braitman has studied her subject. Animal Madness is breezy enough to have landed on quite a few recommended “summer reading” lists, but this book is anything but lightweight. It is, in fact, a stealth bomb aimed directly at your brain.

The story begins when Braitman acquires a Bernese Mountain Dog named Oliver, who suffers from a variety of behavioral problems including severe separation anxiety (which drove him to jump out of a fourth-floor window, fifty feet from the ground), pica, and compulsive paw-licking that gave him recurrent, oozy sores on his feet. Her efforts to understand and help Oliver launched her down a road that took her to visit the elephant handlers of Thailand, browse the archives of Victorian writers’ musings on suicidal lions and heartbroken geese, and research the strange/sad/funny history of animal experimentation in psychopharmaceutical development.

(Yes, that’s right, “funny,” albeit in a horrible way. There is, for example, the pure black comedy of the Executive Monkey experiment. There is also a long list of Women Types Who Need Tranquilizers, which in the ’50s included both “loose” and “frigid” women. Valium: appropriate for aaaaallll the ladies in your life!)

There are so many incredible anecdotes in Animal Madness that I fear to mention any of them for spoilers (really: you have to read them as they’re described in the text), and yet I can’t seem to stop myself from mentioning a few of these amazingly peculiar tales. Braitman introduces her readers to John Daniel, the first gorilla to survive more than a few months in captivity, who lived in apparent contentment with his wealthy human caretakers in a house in London. John Daniel rode on the train like an ordinary person, slept in a bed in his own bedroom, and loved to take guests by the hand so that he could show them around his home. He liked fresh lemon jelly, milk warmed on the stove, and roses — the more beautiful the better, as “he would never eat faded ones.” Taken from his home under false pretenses, he effectively died of loneliness.

Then there’s Charlie the parrot, who may or may not have committed suicide from heartbreak, Mosha, a young elephant who suffered from PTSD after losing a leg to a land mine, and Brian the bonobo, who endured sexual abuse from his father and exhibited a list of self-harming behaviors and developmental deficiencies that strikingly mirror some of the human cases I’ve seen come out of similar situations.

Between and throughout the case studies is a reasoned, thoughtful argument about the responsibility that we share for the emotional disturbances of these animals. In almost all cases, the animals’ mental health is thrown out of balance because of some human impact on their lives. Animals are yanked out of their familiar home environments and thrust into strange, often horribly cold and barren new places. Animals are subjected to godawful abuses in the name of “training.” Animals are poisoned by chemical runoffs in their water supplies. Animals are reared in stimulus-deprived, frequently overcrowded facilities to fill the quotas of pet stores and factory farms, and are taken away from their mothers far too young and so routinely that some of their pathological behaviors (such as pet-store hamsters obsessively chewing the bars of their cages) were things that I, for one, had just accepted as “normal,” because every animal of that species I ever saw did those things.

But they’re not normal. And it is our collective human actions that cause so much suffering to these animals.

It’s not all bad, though. For every heartbreaking story Braitman relates, there’s another to heal it — case studies where compassionate, knowledgeable, and committed people were able to rebuild animals’ trust, restore some semblance of the emotional and social relationships they’d lost, and bring them back to a happier, healthier place. There is a lot of harm that we commit thoughtlessly, but there is also a tremendous amount of good that we can do when we act thoughtfully.

It sounds pretty sappy to say it, I know, but there actually is a great healing power in love, at least when it comes to restoring the mental health of social animals. Over and over, the author shows it at work. By the end of the book, she’d even made a believer out of cynical, jaded ol’ me.

That’s a powerful message, and it’s far from the only one to be found in Animal Madness. This is an important book. It’s worth reading. More than that: it’s worth thinking about.

On foster failing, or not

Exactly 10 days ago today, I called my mom after work, and without even saying hello, I said, “Mom, I have to tell you: I have fallen in love.”

There was a pause, and then an audible sigh.

“It’s with a dog, isn’t it?”

Sometimes your mom can know you a little too well.

The object of my affection, and the source of the consternation that lead to this post is this handsome young gentleman:

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Hi there!

Meet Shine. He is a cute, twoish-year old little dude who Sarah says looks like a McNab collie and Jen says just looks like a Heinz 57: Herding Flavor. Either way, he showed up in admissions at my shelter, and pretty much the instant I met him, I was all, “GIMME THAT POINTY DOG!” He was doing poorly in admissions–classic ‘dog who is stressed out by a shelter environment and turns into a monster because of it’–and I volunteered to bring him home for a little while, assuming he could work with my group of animals. I knew full well that I kind of secretly totally wanted him and that he would be a dangerous guy to bring home, given that it is not my objective to acquire any more dogs. However, I assumed that he would bomb out at some point in the introduction process and then I wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore. To my massive surprise, however, he passed his cat test and all of my dogs thought he was swell (Lucy, my old dog who hates basically everyone, play bowed at him and then got the zoomies, and I will have to plead the Fifth on whether or not that made me burst into happy tears.) So, because I had no built-in excuses left, he is now curled up in a ball with Nellie on my couch, and I have spent the last several days Hamlet-ing around about whether or not to keep him.

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Duh, you have to keep me. Nellie thinks I’m great!

[Shine, by the way, is not his official name. Pretty much immediately on arrival, I decided his shelter name was non-euphonious and too difficult to call (plus, he didn't know it), so I decided that he seemed like a Shine and that was now his name. Step one in not adopting your foster dog: DO NOT RENAME HIM! Sigh.]

I have fostered a fair bit, and I am proud to say that I have only ‘foster failed’ (adopted a foster dog) once. That foster fail was Nellie, and the difference between her and my other fosters was that a) I was actively looking for a second dog when I agreed to foster her, and b) I mostly wanted to foster instead of adopt because I thought there was a good chance Lucy might want to murder her, and I wanted to have an ‘out’ just in case. I have had a couple of fosters that I was glad to see go, but I have been lucky in that I have mostly had foster dogs that I’ve adored. There were a couple that I desperately wanted to keep and did not; all of those dogs are in terrific homes and are thriving, and I know now that my decision to let them go was the right one. The stakes on both sides are pretty obvious: of course, if you keep your foster, you get an awesome dog and they get an awesome home. However, if you keep your foster, you also give up your ‘foster slot’, either temporarily (as New Dog adjusts) or permanently (because you are now full up on dogs). Keeping a foster dog means, theoretically anyway, that all of the potential foster dogs you could have taken in will now either need alternate placement or will not be rescued at all. So the decision to keep a foster isn’t tiny, and it’s not even necessarily about just you and the dog.

However, if you, like me, have a foster dog that is currently making your heart go pitter-pat, I thought I’d talk through some of the things I’m thinking about as I agonize over whether or not to keep Shine. If you’ve had to make the To Keep Or Not To Keep decision and had other criteria that you considered, please feel free to share those in the comments! Help me, help your fellow dog nerds.

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Working Like a Dog – Agility Trials Don’t Run Themselves!

Recently a post cropped up on one of the agility Facebook groups that I am a part of regarding a most popular unpopular topic: volunteering at agility trials.  And how to get more volunteers.  In 2011 the Very Popular Agility Blog, Agility Nerd, organized a group blogging event on the topic of trial volunteering – and there were many participants.  There are a Lot of Feelings! about trial volunteering.

Agility is a whole lot of fun.  It is also heavy. (seriously, have you ever moved an A-frame?)  Agility requires a lot of organization.  It requires a lot of work.  It takes a lot of time and people to keep an agility trial moving smoothly.  And somebody has to do it.  A lot of sombodies.

In the realm of agility competitor tenure, I have a whole year and a half of trialing experience.  (So, not a whole lot!)  At my first trial there was a frazzled looking woman begging in a hoarse voice for workers.  It is a scene I have witnessed at every single agility trial that I have gone to since.  This person is the ‘volunteer coordinator’ and it is her job to round up competitors to volunteer to be part of the agility trial machine.  The day of that first trial I was a clueless newbie, but I volunteered to work as “ring crew” because hey, those bars aren’t going to set themselves.  It took me one day to realize a few things: that February trial was in a barn and it was cold but the ring crew chair out in the dusty sidelines of that ring had a propane heater next to it – it was officially the warmest seat in the house.  It was also a front row seat to the action – I was able to be up close and personal to watch experienced competitors and how they chose to handle sequences.  It was a learning experience for me.  It was the beginning of my passion for volunteering.  In fact, now I am that frazzled woman with the hoarse voice begging people to work – I am a volunteer coordinator.

What does it take to keep an agility trial running smoothly?
The list of jobs at an agility trial is more extensive than I ever realized.  No – the hosting club cannot do it all.  The trial committee is comprised of a small handful of very busy individuals who are trying to keep everything afloat and get the results out in a timely fashion – somebody else is going to have to set the bars in the ring.

Chief Course Builder and Course Builders take those course maps that we receive and make them come alive.  They move all of the heavy equipment around, they assemble the contact equipment, they make sure everything matches up to the map.  They create the playground!
The Gate Steward is an excuse to be loud and bossy!  The trial run order is posted on a board mounted on a stand outside of the ring entrance.  The gate steward makes sure that the competitors and their dogs are entering the ring in a timely manner, as well as shouting out for the next two to three dogs to be ready and close to the ring.
The Scribe is in charge of recording faults signaled by the judge and for writing the course time down on the score sheet.  The Scribe has to watch and listen to the judge for these faults, or for points called during game classes.  This is no job for the daydreamers!
Timer does just that – they time the runs!  Depending on what club is hosting the trial, the timer could be using a stopwatch (yikes!), or more commonly an electronic timing device will be used.  The timer must focus on the run and the equipment, and make sure that nothing malfunctions – if it does they need to restart or adjust the timer so that the team in the ring receives an accurate time.
Leash Runner spends the entire class walking leashes from the entrance end of the ring (where the competitor will remove it from the dog and drop it or fling it behind them…) and moving those leashes to the exit end of the ring so that it is waiting to be put back onto the dog after his run.
Score Runner spends the entire class accepting score sheets from the scribe, and bringing them to the score table so that they can be recorded into the results.
Ring Crew involves sitting in a chair out in the ring and: fixing displaced bars, “fluffing” the chute (or collapsed tunnel.), changing: jump, tire, and Aframe heights.  There are single bar jumps and then there are more complicated “double”, “triple”, and “viaduct” jumps.  There is the broad jump, a series of flat boards laying on the ground.  Sometimes there are electronic timing devices on either side of the start and finish obstacles, and depending on what variety they are – these devices need to be adjusted to match the jump height as well.  All of the adjustments of these obstacles fall onto the ring crew.

Things get a little hairy when it comes to filling all of these positions because the fact is: Agility trials cannot run without volunteers, but nobody can force people to volunteer.  Trials are literally halted in their tracks if the key positions are not filled.  This is perceived by some as bullying competitors into volunteering, but the truth of halting a trial in need of volunteers is that: somebody has to do it, “the show cannot go on” until there is proper support in the ring.  Turning over the ring or changing a jump height can take two or three times as long without enough workers.  And while that does not seem like a big deal, the wasted time adds up.  Trials lacking in volunteers can easily run hours longer than trials that are properly “staffed.”  This sounds like an absurd “old wives tale” created by evil volunteer coordinators to coerce errant competitors into volunteering at a trial, but it is absolutely true!

I have seen hosting clubs offer any of the following to volunteers: free meals, free drinks or coffee, free candy or other food, coupons for reduction in future trial entries and raffle tickets for cool dog gear.  I am in the “you had me at free coffee” camp, but I know many others are not so easily persuaded.

There are many reasons that people do not like to volunteer at agility trials and I have never known it to be “laziness”:

Somebody was mean to me when I volunteered.
This happens.  A lot more than it should.  A new competitor offers to volunteer and they are thrown in over their head with a job that needs to be filled, but that nobody bothers to explain to them.  And then when the ring is running and they make a mistake, somebody snaps at them and hurts their feelings.  If you are a new competitor and you volunteer, thank you.  So much.  If you are a volunteer coordinator, please try very hard to not dump new volunteers in over their head.  It is important.  And if you are a seasoned competitor and you feel frustrated with somebody who isn’t doing their ring job perfectly, take a deep breath and bite your tongue.  Nothing disgusts me more than a competitor being mean to a volunteer.  There is no excuse for it.  Nobody comes to an agility show to be belittled for doing a job they have volunteered to do for free.  Be nice to each other.  Take time to explain agility jobs.  Nothing in the ring is terribly difficult, but some jobs take a little more time and understanding of the sport to master than others.

I paid a lot for my entry fees, I should not need to volunteer.
This seems like a valid reason!  Agility is an expensive hobby.  We spend a lot of money on training classes, equipment, education, trial gear and our entry fees.  It all adds up to a sum that we might like to pretend doesn’t exist and it is hard to understand why we should have to go to a trial and not just relax and enjoy ourselves and our dogs.  After all, it is our weekend, our hobby, our fun – not our job!  The cold hard fact is: this is the reality of this sport.  Our trials need staffing, and lots of it.  Some dog sports don’t need quite so many hands on deck, but if you are going to go to agility trials, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.  That is not going to change.  Your entry fees do not support buying workers for agility trials – if that happened, entry fees would simply go up.  And nobody wants that!

I have done my time.
I don’t have a great grasp on this reason, since I am a fairly new competitor.  But truly, I can respect it.  If you are 10 plus years into agility trialing, and have spent those years working your tail off at trial after trial, it is understandable to feel like the new blood should shoulder a heavier work load.  Many older competitors are not physically able to do a high demand job like leash running or ring crew.  But…the job still needs to be done.  New competitors need seasoned pros to show them the ropes.  Please, if you only pick up the timer for one short class or jump height a day, it is such a huge help.  And all of your hard work in years past was much appreciated, and is unfortunately still needed as you continue to compete.

I just want to relax in between runs.
This goes hand in hand with my second ‘reason’.  And I get it.  I love to read books and hang out with my dogs, and the gaping amount of time that I wait in between agility runs is nice to catch up on my reading.  But again.  Our sport needs workers.  Period.  This is the way things are.  So please, work a class or two per day – everything and anything is an enormous help.  It might mean that somebody gets to have the only break that they might get during the entire trial to enjoy lunch and sitting down with their dog.

 

There may well be many many more reasons, but these are the reasons that so often reach my ears.  I personally love to volunteer at trials.  I love to have a front row seat on the action, it makes my day go faster, it helps me to understand the sport better and it helps me make friends with my fellow competitors.  We are a team with our dog in the ring, but we are a team with our fellow competitors when it comes to making an agility trial run smoothly – like it or not.  Some may not love volunteering as much as I do, but somebody must do this work.  A lot of somebodies.  Imagine if you walked into the ring late because nobody reminded you that your dog was next on the line, and the course was not set up according to the course map, all of the bars were the wrong height, nobody moved your leash to the exit gate, nobody recorded your score or time.  Really, imagine that.  Volunteers do all of these things for you.  Please, help to return the favor.  Our sport needs you.

The almighty Tuggo Ball!

Not too long ago at a Pet Expo, I came across a vendor selling a ball I’d never seen or heard of. The Tuggo Ball. The concept seemed simple, it was a hard plastic ball, hollow, with a plug, and a rope running through the center of it. They come in two sizes, a 7ion mini, and a 10 inch regular. The ball was constructed in such a way as to allow you to fill it with water or gravel to add weight to it. After a brief discussion with the two owners about Raiden, my 110 pound destructo-shepherd, I decided to purchase one of the 10 inch ones. The $25 expo price seemed reasonable, and Raiden is a ball loving dog, if nothing else. I was excited to get it home and see what he thought of it.

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Because of his size, I decided to fill it with water straight off, and after I capped the plug I pitched the sloshing ball out on the driveway for him. he immediately ran after it, barking his head off. He loves to play soccer with balls, and kicked them around, batting at them with his front paws and kicking it behind him. He immediately grabbed the rope and drug the ball around, and it offered a tiny bit of resistance to him filled with water. It bounced along the driveway and into the grass as he towed it along behind him, stopping to bark at it every so often.

Raiden decided playing with a bee was more fun.. for 1.3 seconds:

He had quite a bit of fun with it, until he tried to grab it. While this probably wouldn’t have been such a problem for most other dogs, at 110 pounds, Raiden has quite a large mouth. He likes to try and chew on things, and after many attempts at the ball, he was finally able to get purchase on it and chomped down hard… and popped it! He pierced it with two of his teeth, and instantly it sprouted two streams of water.

Slightly dejected it at the 30 minute lifespan, we hopped back into the car and drove back to the pet expo, where I showed them the punctured ball. They were quite surprised, and while they offered to refund my money, I didn’t want them to have to do that simply because my dog has an unusually large mouth. So instead they gave me a fresh one, and let me take the damaged one home as well. The damaged one I later turned into a tether ball for the same dog, and the fresh one I let Dierdre the yellow lab play with instead. She was unable to pop it, and loved the ball, dragging it all over the yard. After weeks of play time she finally managed to chew the rope off, but I was happy to see they sell replacement ropes on their website. With her small mouth, she’s been unable to inflict any serious damage upon the ball.

Tuggo Tetehrball. You can see the holes where Raiden punctured it.

Tuggo Tetherball. You can see the holes where Raiden punctured it.

Unfortunately one day we left it in the front yard when we let Raiden out of the back yard, and he instantly charge it, and chased it into the pond, where it floated 20 feet out into the middle of the pond. That was about 6 weeks ago, and we’ve so far been unable to retrieve the ball, so it currently floats around the center of the pond, where the lily pads prevent it from floating close enough to the edge for us to gab. We made an attempt at rescue with a 15 foot pool pole and net, but we were still at least 5-6 feet short, so until we can borrow a canoe… we have a pond ornament. The ball is holding up quite well floating in the pond and being exposed to the elements, however, so another plus for it!

All in all, it was a great toy, and I recommend it for all but the very largest of dogs. Extra large mouths and dogs 90+ pounds probably would be able to damage it too quickly to make it worth the money, but for small dogs, the mini works great, and for medium to largish dogs, the 10 inch ball is a great toy that can bring lot of fun and even some exercise if filled with sand, gravel, or water.

If you’d like to order one for yourself, the website is: http://www.tuggodogtoy.com