Tuesday, March 31, 2009

We each get the dog that we want...

Two heads are better than one...
They say that we each ultimatley get the dog that we want. Whether that is wholly true or not, I'm not really qualified to say. What I do know is that it's becoming true with Ellie.

Many people want a perfect dog. They get frustrated when the dog irritates them with its quirks and its bizarre behaviours. Me, I love these things. I always wanted a cheeky dog. I wanted a dog that would not be afraid to cajole me into giving attention, one that would dare to push the limits a little in order to see what she can get away with. Sure, I love the obedience and, I must say, I'm very proud of Ellie's obedience, but as she's getting older, she's getting a little more confident and it's this which brings me the most joy.

Recently I taught her to go and grab the telephone when it rings, or when she hears the word "phone". It's a great trick and skill. However, so delighted is Ellie with her new skill that I find myself being presented with a phone at every opportunity. Late evening, I can be laid on the sofa watching television, only to find Ellie sat on her hind legs, like a meercat, holding the phone in her mouth, right in front of me. She seems to appreciate that I can't see through her and so she's sure to win eventually. Her 'prize' is to get the tennis ball that is always in my pocket. I've tried ignoring her, but it's impossible. Impossible because, secretly, I don't really want to ignore her anyway. I think it's funny that she has the cheek to do it in the first place.

The other night, we seemed to have a contest. She grabbed the phone and brought it to me. I returned it as I hadn't asked for it. This continued for what must have been about ten times in succession. I gave in!

So do we really get the dogs that we ask for? I really do hope so!

In other news, I've finally managed to teach Ellie to bark on request. For some people, this is so easy. I've found it incredibly hard to master. Mainly because Ellie is rather a sedate dog and hard to excite. In the end I used a cheeky little method to get her frustrated. I taught her right and left a while back so that I can steer her at distance down different dirt tracks when we're walking, or, as has proved more valuable, to steer her towards the ball when she loses sight of it in the fields.

I began to thrust my arms so quickly that Ellie couldn't understand which way I wanted her to go, left or right. Eventually she got so frustrated that she began to bark. Bingo! I then took it from there and she now, finally, barks on command! Will I regret that? Some tell me that I will, but hey, when have we ever been confined by convention. :)

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review: Kate and Gin

The latest title to join my collection of dog-related books is 'Kate and Gin'. Many Brits will recognise the names from the UK talent show, Britain's Got Talent, where Kate and her Border Collie, Gin, wowed the audience and the judges with their doggy-dancing skills. Sadly, as good as the dancing skills may have been, the ability to author a worthwhile book is sadly lacking. The problems start right at the front cover and continue to the very last page. Let's start at the front cover:

LearN to DaNCe aND
DO tRiCKS WitH Kate aND GiN
StaRs Of

Yes, it really is written like that. Clearly, Britain doesn't have a talent for grammar or presentation. I don't much care for the style of the London 2012 Olympics logo either, but I'm assured that it is all the rage. So I'm happy to put my lack of appreciation for this particular style of typography down to my age or lack of good taste.

Don't get me wrong, after spending £9.99 (reduced from £12.99) on this title, I wanted to like it. I wanted to learn something from it, no matter how small. The reality is that I didn't. Aside from the book being poorly designed from cover to cover, it is so lacking in worthy content that even the slightest of breezes would send it wafting away.

A major criticism has to be levied at the colour photography; it's just awful throughout the entire book. Aside from the photographer being seemingly unable to get the subject to relax enough for her to ever look as though she's enjoying the experience, it's just poor quality, particularly when you compare it to titles such as '101 Dog Tricks' by Kyra Sundance, in which the photography really sells the book. The photos in Kate and Gin are dull, grainy, and often lacking in any sparkle or contrast. In many of the photos, the majority of the Border Collie seems to consist of just one big black shape with no muscle or definition. I know from personal experience that it's not easy to photograph black dogs, but from a professional photographer, I'm sure that more effort could be made.

The second criticism is of the page layout and design. Almost each page has a seemingly random and unexplainable mottled design running though it. It was perhaps added to make the content appear more exciting (perhaps to compensate for the lack of excitement shown by Kate in the photos) but it ends up just being supremely distracting and even a little irritating in places.

My final criticism is aimed squarely at the content. It's just too light. The publishers seem to acknowledge this too by having entire double pages of the dog, Gin, anthropomorphically writing her thoughts. I can't begin to tell you how irritated I got, having paid £10 to read the words of a dog so frequently. Perhaps if I was twelve I may have appreciated this a little more. As a forty year old, it was completely wasted abd unappreciated.

If you omit the basic obedience exercises, there are about 15 moves that Kate attempts to teach. Again, the minimum of effort seems to have been put into this area too. For example, in teaching one trick, you are advised: 'Throw one of your dog's favourite toys. He will most likely run to pick it up.' So what if my dog doesn't? What then? Again, this is where the book falls over completely when compared to titles from more confident, experienced, and able authors. There seems to be a lot of assumption from Kate that all dogs are like her own dog, Gin. The reality is that they are not, and this needs to be considered in such how-to books if they are to be worthy of their shelf space.

It may be that this book is aimed at children (though there is no notice of that) and if that is the case then many of my criticisms could be easily ignored. However, for an adult who is looking to teach their dog anywhere near to the level that they might have seen Kate and Gin perform, it is next to useless, and far too expensive for what it provides.

The book feels cheap from cover to cover and I suspect that there was a rush to capitalise on the Britain's Got Talent appearance. Like many of the talents on this show, I felt that this book was far more about turning a profit for the creators than giving the author any degree of respect or professionalism. Extremely disappointing book that I just can't recommend on any level, even to children.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Phantom Pregnancy..

Something unusual happened last week. We had to turn away a Boston Terrier for home-boarding as she and Ellie just could not get along. This was odd as Ellie is usually very tolerant of other dogs. It had me scratching my head for a while, but I just put it down to her having just come out of season and thought no more of it.

Shortly after this, she began getting very aggressive towards all other dogs that she met on our walks, even if they were walking on the other side of the road. After speaking to friends and colleagues, we concluded that perhaps it had become a learned behaviour and that I would begin to work with her to help her through it.

Then, without any real reason, she went completely off her food, and I mean completely off it. We waited for the weight loss to show, but instead found ourselves commenting to each other how much more 'stocky' Ellie was looking. Still, as she seemed fine in herself and certainly reactive to play, we decided that she was probably just recovering from her season still.

A few days later, I noticed that her nipples were swollen again, as they usually are when she is in season. She had also began to whine quite a lot, something that Ellie has never done before in almost two years. But still, she seemed fine.

Yesterday, I made the spare bed up. A few hours later, I noticed that the pillow and quilt had been pulled around to form a nest. Also, for the first time in two weeks, I was able to walk her past two dogs without her getting aggressive. Something wasn't quite right...

This morning, the answer finally revealed itself. No, we don't have any puppies, but we have the next best thing - a bitch with a phantom pregnancy. The bell finally chimed for me when I saw her crate this morning. She had, almost literally, removed the blankets from her crate (something that won't have been at all easy due to the way that I fold them in) and then pushed them in again to form another 'nest'. She had also taken her toy in there. In all the time we've known her, she has never taken a toy into her crate, ever. It's more than unusual that she chose the crate over the comfy sofa or spare bed anyway.

So there it is, she thinks she's expecting puppies. Boy is she going to be disappointed when nothing materialises. Lorraine, the manager of our local training group, and I, did some rough reckoning this morning, and we think that in Ellie's mind, she must be getting very close to the point where she would be dropping the pups, if she were really pregnant, hence the nesting. I believe she may then start lactating. We have to be very careful at the moment not to stimulate her nipples through stroking as that can prolong things.

I have now nicknamed her 'nanna moon'. No idea why really, it just seemed funny at the time. All I can say is that phantom pregnancies are one of the most curious things I've come across! As a result, we've had to postpone two meetings for home-boarders so that we can have them meeting Ellie under more normal circumstances and conditions.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Ellie and Barney

Ellie and Barney II
Barney, a young black Labrador, is the latest dog to join us for a period of home-boarding, while his owners go snow-boarding in Norway. He is with us for eleven nights.

As each dog has come to stay with us, Ellie has got better and better at accepting them. Her favourite dog was Mia, but we learned that she sadly and unexpectedly passed away from a tumour last week; a great shame for all concerned. She really was the nicest dog we have home-boarded to date.

Ellie took to Mia because she was such a sedate dog, and so it's quite a surprise to see how well she is getting along with Barney. I say it's a surprise because she's not the world's biggest fan of bouncy dogs, and Barney, being a young Labrador, is just that. When we first began home-boarding, Ellie had to swiftly claim everything as hers if another dog walked anywhere near it. These days, she's really improved, particularly with Barney, it must be said. As each dog passes through, Ellie seems to become more and more relaxed. She's even given in to Barney's charms and played chase with him each day on the walks. If you know Ellie, you'll know how rare this is. She's not one for such frivolous displays of canine behaviour!

We have quite a few home-boarding dogs coming through, with some bookings up to September. I love when we get repeat bookings from past customers as that tells me we're getting things right. One dog, a small pug called Monty has been with us five times and will soon be getting his own parking space!

I love the home-boarding, really love it. Aside from the fact that I prefer and interact far better with dogs than I do people, I've learned so much about canine behaviour through home-boarding. There are so many things that we misinterpet from our dogs, particularly in terms of that dreaded word 'dominance', and aggression. I am of the opinion these days that canine aggression usually happens as a result of the humans not allowing the natural subtle flow of canine signals to happen. For example, two dogs approach each other with heckles raised and tails in the air. Many people see that as the start of an act of aggression and interrupt it. If they would only have faith in the dog's ability to complete the process, they might see that what they thought was aggression is little more than canine curiosity and greeting. In this respect, I shall never stop learning and never stop enjoying the learning process.

In terms of training, I've saved myself another chore and taught Ellie to go and collect the phone from the hallway when it rings and bring it to me. It took her two days to learn it properly, and now we're at the repeat stage so that it becomes a solidly reliable behaviour. I'm hoping to get a video together soon now that the weather is starting to improve.

On a final and quite unrelated note, I'm experimenting with Twitter. I've started using it to let Barney's owners know how things are going. If you're interested in learning just how dull my daily life is, you can read snippets from it on my Twitter.