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Archive for August, 2018

Anka likes this one. It’s durable, and it squeaks.

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Insecurity

scottish-terriers

A tremendous amount of insecurity exists among dog people. Certain reasons for this insecurity exist, but the main reason is that dogs give us some kind of ideological framework and community organization that humans instinctively crave.  Most Western societies are quite isolating, and in the United States, this problem is quite epidemic, as Robert Putnam noted.  We are a species that longs to belong and to know what to believe, so we are lost without this organization and society.

Dogs can give us everything like that. It doesn’t matter which angle one takes into the world of dogs, there will be a community of people and a set of ersatz gurus that will point us down the path that appears to be correct. These gurus may be the most insecure people on the planet, but they are fed by the simple knowledge that they know something, that they have power over someone, and don’t want anyone questioning anything that might lead to the guru seeming foolish or losing power.

I fully confess that I have these tendencies as well. I am a profoundly insecure person. But I also recognize how unhealthy it is, and I will do my best to fight my insecurity. But I don’t think I’ll ever have it fully beaten back.  It is just something I will recognize that I must struggle with.

The other problem that causes great insecurity in the world of dogs is that we ultimately expect too much from the animals. The fact that so many of them meet and even excel at being superior companion animals is a testament to how supremely adapted to life with us.

But the truth of the matter is countless dog trainers and dog people are so insecure in their abilities to get a dog to do something.  A constant fear of judgment or being discovered as wanting looms deeply in their psyche. These people might be superior dog trainers, but their insecurity holds them back.

And part of this problem is that we have elevated certain people to high levels of status in these communities that we feel as failures next to the Apollonian dog heroes. Our popular culture around dog trainers see them as infallible, coolly rational experts, who ask just a few questions and do a few little dramatic training moves. And the dog is suddenly cured. That’s how these experts are portrayed on television. Almost all of it is nothing more twaddle and good editing.

But those bits of artifice that slip through the ether onto our television and computer screens also slip into our psyches and make us truly doubt ourselves.

You can rationally tell yourself that something is fake on television, but you will still believe it. That’s why commercials on television work so well. You will tell yourself that those advertisements have no effect on you, but you will buy those products when you’re at the grocery store.  That’s why companies spend so much money television advertisements. You will tell yourself you’re not being sold something, but in reality, you actually are.

Dog people are very often living with an outward shield. We appear cool and collected on the surface, but deep down, we’re lost and lonely and insecure.

And we don’t want the world to know. I think that this tendency to make sure the world doesn’t know explains some of the horrible behavior that we can sometimes see from dog people, especially online, where one never has to mouth nasty words and feel that bile charge up your neck and leave a foul taste on the tongue.

Maybe the most important thing is to keep an open mind and love your dog, and do the best you can with what you have and what you know. And try to understand that we’re all ultimately in the same boat. We’re struggling to find meaning and community and to feel smart and successful, but we’re adrift in a world that is constantly changing, constantly bickering, and never fully satisfied.

And let’s go easy on the dogs a bit.

And if we can do it with each other, maybe that would be a good thing, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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great pyrenees

She was one quarter Maremma and three quarters Great Pyrenees. She was as white a snowdrift by genetics, but life among the sheep and the thick mud meant she always was stained a little grayish brown.

Her abdomen was distended now, and her nipples were now hairless and hanging pink with milk.  She was in the final days of her nine-week pregnancy, and she had spent much of the last month locked up in the shed behind the master’s house. She pined for her charges, the nice flock of Katahdin sheep that grazed the hill pastures that spanned out across the big acreage. All day, she and her companions patrolled the pastures, scenting the air and barking at any sort of danger that might be coming their way.

Her name was Grace, and she worked with two other dogs. The massive Badger, who was full Great Pyrenees and the father of the young in her womb, and her own half-Maremma mother, Isobel, who had since been spayed and left to full-time guard duty,  ambled along the fence edges. And when the heat of the day took its toll on the big hairy dogs, they would lie about in the shade and position themselves so that wind blew toward their nostrils and that the could see any forest edges where the blasted coyotes lurked.

Life had been good with the sheep. The meals were readily coming. The work pace was avuncular and steady, and the dogs lived out fine lives among the sheep. The winter snows and driving rains didn’t faze such ruggedly constructed canines. Only the summer heat and mugginess got them down.

These dogs grow close to their charges. They come to see the sheep as part of their pack, and although a sheep is far less sagacious than a dog, a dog can come to see sheep as something that must be protected from the horrors of the world. Those horrors come mostly in the way of sheep-killing coyotes and wayward dogs that become so stimulated with the lupine predatory behavior when they set themselves among the flocks that they often surplus kill.

Dogs and coyotes, though, respect other dogs, especially those that are much larger than average and bark with deep growling bellows across the farmland. So they usually avoid slinking among pastures where these big guard dogs are residence. It’s easier to kill chickens out of a clueless homesteader’s yard or lift little fawns from the multiflora rose coverts than to risk a fight with a guard dog.

And so the wiser farmers have set about getting these Old World guardian breeds. To the uninitiated, their doe-eyes and heavy coats give them the appearance of being nothing more than a larger version of an English golden retriever or a very pale-colored St. Bernard.  But behind those docile eyes is the instinct of a true guardian, a dog that will stand up and fight if it feels its charges are threatened.

But the droopy ears and shorter muzzle and that sweet, soft expression of the dog just isn’t threatening to the sheep. And that is the point. The goal is to have a dog that the sheep trust, so they will graze out in the pastures with the dogs milling about and patrolling and will not rush about in terror just because a dog is there.

On the dogs’ side, too, they have such a heavy threshold to stimulate predatory behavior. So much so, that if you were throw a ball for one these dogs, it would look at, pant, and then turn its head as it looked for a place to lie down. Such dogs are calm with the sheep and the best of them are never even remotely stimulated to chase or spook their charges.

These dogs work well, and farmers want them, especially those farmers who want to sell “predator friendly” meat to the public or who feel some deep ethical obligation to avoid killing coyotes.

And so this farmer, a simple hobbyist whose main profession was as an attorney in the little shire town down there road, decided to breed a litter of Great Pyrenees every couple of years.  He knew the pups would sell pretty well, and he knew that most of the farmers around him simply could not afford to buy purebred stock of that breed.

So he bred from crosses that worked well and generally scoffed at the hobbyists who told him he was ruining breeds by doing such things.

Grace was now heavily pregnant, and the lawyer knew that his bitch in whelp could not be risked in the pastures. So he moved her to that shed behind his house, and Grace howled like a lonely wolf all the night long. She did so for the first week, but regular leash walking after work gave Grace her exercise and eased her worry enough that she no longer howled from the shed.

In the back of the shed, the lawyer set up an enclosure at the back of the shed, where the big white dog could whelp on clean straw.

And so the lawyer checked on her one last time on that cooling August night. Her heavy panting told the story. Puppies would be coming soon, probably in the collied darkness of the night.

The lights in the house went dark. The air grew soft and still. In the distance, Badger and Isobel barked a few half-hearted warnings at any coyotes that might be lurking about. A sheep or two bleated The katydids filled the air with their hot stridulations, beating out the tensity of a cadence that come from some ethereal maraccas

Grace pushed out the first squealing pup and licked him clean of his afterbirth. She ate the placenta and bit off the umbilical cord, and the first pup of the litter squeaked and mewed and scutter-crawled his way to his mother’s milk. He was badger marked on the head just like his father.

Another pup came 15 minutes. He was solid white like his mother. Another came 20 minutes after that one. It was also badger marked but female.

And the pups came all through the blackness of night, squealing and mewing as they writhed away from that state of fetus to the state of puppy and situated themselves on their mother’s warm milk bar.

The last two pups were born as the soft red light of dawn filtered down upon the countryside. There were 13 in all. 6 were male. 7 were female. And all were ether latched onto the their mother’s dugs, sucking in the gallons of that acrid colostrum, or wriggling about wildly to make sure they got a good helping.

The lawyer heard their squeals from the open bathroom window, when he rose to take his morning urination. He ran out of the house in his wife-beater and boxer shorts and flicked the light to illuminate the shed.

Thirteen puppies born. That would mean lots of work monitoring the puppies and making sure they didn’t starve or become too cold.

But Grace would do most of the work for the first month or so. He would just have to be her assistant.

And so on the early morning glow of an August morning, a new set of guardians entered the world. They were helpless and blind and deaf, and one good cold snap would wipe them off the face of the earth. But they were writhing and wriggling little larval forms of the canine, and soon the miracle of time would knit them into proper puppies, cute little things that most people would want to buy for their children.

But not these dogs. Cute though they would be, they would have that guardian’s savagery deep within their psyches. They would grow to be white and lackadaisical dogs on the surface. But their eyes and ears and noses would always be casting for coming danger.

And if it arrived, they rise as growling, roaring bears of dogs, fellest of fell beasts, and meet the sheep killers on the green battleground.

But for now, they would nurse as the helpless beings of newborn canines. Their mother’s watchful eye and warm milk would be their main sustainers, but so would the lawyer’s constant monitoring of their lives and weights and condition.

One day, though, the majority of them would be among the pastured sheep or goats in the field, casting their noses and eyes for danger and booming out the barks of true guard dogs.

It would just take time for them to grow into their forms and into their nature.

That is the way of all puppies, after all. Even these very special ones that stand to as guards for the bleating hoofed stock mus be puppies before they become dogs.

And for right now, they were just barely puppies, and all they could do is nurse and squeal and mew and stay warm and survive. And begin that solemn process of growth and learning that would turn them into true useful dogs.

The journey had only just begun.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Sow Feral Pig walking

The sun rose over those umbrella-shaped pine that grow for miles and miles throughout the Southland. Their proper names are lobollies and short-leafs, replacements of the stately long-leaf pine, which, because it lives in symbiosis with fire. Fire might kill the living trees, but it also kills the loblollies and short-leafs. And the long-leaf’s terminal buds are quite immune to fire. So fire wipes out the competitor pines and makes way for the long-leaf pine forest in all its glory.

The other enemy of the long-leaf pine is the feral hog, which yearly swarms more and more across the pine woods. Unlike a white-tailed deer, which will drop–at most– a pair of fawns once year, the sows drop many little piglets maybe three or four times a year.  A bear might swipe the odd pig as it matures into a full-sized rooter, and a coyote or a bobcat might take a little pig if it somehow decided to dare its very existence against the sows slashing cutters.  But in the main, the hogs live without significant predators, and they tear through the countryside. They eat pine seeds and buds and run riot through bobwhite and wild turkey nests.

And in much of the South, there is still a time-honored tradition of feeding the deer up through the summer so that the bucks’ antlers will grow their largest and most most majestic for the fall hunts. But the hogs raid the deer feeders, knock them over, and then foul the expensive feed. And swine aren’t above lifting little fawns from their hiding places, and though the fawns will bleat and bleat, their mothers will not be able to fight the plug-nosed monsters.

And the hogs tear up cropland. Peanut fields and corn and soy bean acreages get rooted over and over.

With all these problems associated with feral pigs in the pine woods of the South, a deep resentment against their depredations seethes throughout the land. But a rugged bunch don’t have quite have that hatred of them. They are the hog-hunters, the ones who keep big packs of bay and catch dogs in their kennels, who dream of hogs and hog hunts and who might even make a few dollars on the side selling hogs to abattoirs and hunting preserves.

And so the sun rose over the pines. The mist of mid-spring hung in their green needs, and the land looked mystical and looming. The Spanish moss hung hard on the live oaks, and the mockingbirds and blue jays flitting around the pine bows. And the air filled with birdsong, each species lifting high its calls into the air, as the sun cast down through the mist.

A red Dodge pickup came hurling down a sandy road. It was dragging a trailer with a utility vehicle resembling a four-wheel drive golf cart, and in the back of that cart was a dog box full of bay dogs. Three were merle curs that one would have called Catahoulas if one were trying to peg them to a specific breed. They were both bitches and rangey with wall eyes and a grim expression.  The other two curs were One was fawn with a black mask, what are registered as a black-mouth curs these days, and the other was a cross between a cur and an English setter, dappled back and white and smooth-coated but with the soft-eyes and keen air-scenting nose of the setter.

The truck’s dog box contained the rest of the hunting pack. In one box was a solid liver Drahthaar, a cull from a versatile gun dog breeding program, and in the adjacent box was a black roan bitch of the same breed. She was doe-eyed and silly and young, and she pointed and retrieved well. She had a future as a duck and quail dog, but her owner wanted to try her out on hogs.

And the other two boxes were the catch dogs, a pair of pit bulls. They were a dog and a bitch, both deep red with flesh-colored noses and lips and amber eyes. They were of a color type sold as an “old country red nose,”  but in truth were just general hog catch dogs that were common throughout this part of the South.

This was a contingent of hog hunters and their dogs. Four men rode in the extended cab. They were all clean-shaven with closely cropped hair. All were employees of the pulp mill in town, where the loblollies and short-leafs were ground down into that stuff that someday would be called paper.

They were hog hunting fanatics, and just the night before, the call had gone out that the big sounder of hogs had wandered into this farmer’s peanut field. They’d ruined a couple of acres of crop, and he’d made a call to the head hog-dogger, who assembled his crew of dogmen to prepare for a good Saturday in the field.

The trailer was unloaded of its vehicle and dogs, and it began coursing along the sand roads of that cut along the big peanut field. The Dodge followed behind the the utility vehicle, stopping when it stopped, as the three men in the cab chatted about the day and the dogs and what could happen or what might happen. The windows were rolled down, and cigarette plumes floated out of the cab and toward the sky.

But the man in the utility vehicle was all business. His eyes were cast on the road ahead. They were trained hard to spy the slightest sight of hog sign, and so he would stop and look and gauge the sign for its freshness.

Soon, the vehicles were out of the vicinity of the peanut field and were following the sand road as it cut through a vast stand of pine.

At one point the tracking man stopped to examine some hog sign in the road, and he knew fully well that the sign was fresh. A smile graced his face and he trotted back to his compatriots in the Dodge to tell them the good news. Fresh sign upon the ground, and hogs not far off.

The tracking man went back to his truck, and opened up the gait to his little dog box. He grabbed the setter cross cur, and pulled her excited, bouncing form to the sand. She sniff the ground intently, then began her setter cast into the wind.  If there were hogs about, she would soon be on scent as it floated through the air, and if there were no hogs nearby, she would be back in about five minutes.

Five minutes passed, and the tracking man let the other curs loose, and they set about tracking the setter cur.

And the tracking man had his buddies turn loose both Drahthaars, for their noses were dead solid and the grittiness of the old liver was beyond reproach.

And so six dogs now ran the pine woods, slipping around in stands of little sweet gums and palmettos, but not barking as the baying coonhounds do when on the track. Instead, they were tracking down on the hogs.

The little setter cur ran hard on the track. The wind was blowing the scent of a big sounder into her nose, and she was half excited and half timorous about the prospects of running into them alone. But the sound of other dogs running behind her increased her courage, and soon all six dogs were running the woods like wolves. Their GPS tracking collars gave their coordinates to the tracking man’s hand-held receiver.

And the four men stood on the road, smoking cigarettes, and telling stories and listening intently for the first wild barking that would show that the dogs had a hog cornered. The pit bulls rested in their boxes. The excitement was about to come.

About a mile away, the curs and Drahthaars came charging in on the big sounder. Half the hogs were black, a quarter were deep chestnut red, and the remainder were were red with circular black spots that gave them a sort of domesticated veneer.

But they were 20 hogs strong and dog wary and dog smart, and as soon as soon as they heard the dog paws rusting in the pine litter, the whole sounder shot off in all directions.  One young black sow, though, was caught a bit unawares of the approaching predators, and before she could run the dogs were on her. She ran with the pack yapping all around her.  She would try to run, but they would swarm her, and if she stood to fight, the big liver Drahthaar stood ready to pounce on her every time she tried to bust. He would bite her, and she would squeal in terror. But he had good sense to know that his job was not to bite and hold.

And so after three attempts of escape, she was backed up in a thicket of palmettos, with yapping dogs all around her. She popped her jaws at them and tried the odd mock charge, but she was stopped from her escape.

The yapping filled the misty air, and the tracking man checked his GPS receiver. The dogs were bayed up.

The excitement of what was about to come filled the cigarette-smoking men. They had quarry penned down, and now was the time for the dispatch. One man grabbed a heavy steel chain lead and attached it to the male pit bull, and another man did the same with the female pit bull. The big-muscled beasts bounced with excitement. Their amber eyes flashed with wildness, and the men struggled to get get the dogs kitted out in their Kevlar catching vests. The first dogs hunted down the hog and made it stand, but these were the dogs that were going to rush in and hold it with their teeth.

And the whole party ran through the pines.  Bows flew back slapped men in the face. Thorns scratched pit bull hides. But they were so single-mined and urgent in their approach that they could not stop and worry.

Adrenalin filled their forms, and they were now in the form of predators about to come upon their prey.

Soon, they were just 30 yards from the yapping cacophony of bay dogs, which occasionally was joint by the jaw popping and squealing of the sow. And at that moment, each man leading a pit bull turned it loose. Not a word was spoken. They did it in concert, as they were one mind, and the red catches shot out towards the palmetto thicket.

The bay dogs moved aside as they heard the catch dog’s approach. None wanted to get in the way of those holding jaws.

The female pit bull was the first to hit the hog. She grabbed it by the ear. The sow screamed in abject terror, and the female pit bull instantly adjusted her stance so that she was holding the sow’s ear and standing behind the quarry. That way, the hog could not bit her or try to cut her with her tusks.

Not even 15 seconds passed and the male pit bull grabbed the other ear, also adjusting his stance so that he was standing behind the screaming hog while he held her ear fast in his fell jaws.

The squealing of the sow reached that insane octave, where all was shut out that horrible sound, and that din only increased the urgency of the men’s approach.  They were in full on human hunter mode.

Each man grabbed a cur or a Drahthaar and attached a lead to it and tied it to a nearby tree. The hog blood was gushing all over the pit bulls now, and then two men came behind the sow and grabbed her hind legs and complete orchestration they flipped her on her side.  Another man came and knelt upon her exposed shoulder and then pulled out a massive dagger of a knife and drove it down into to the hog just above her armpit.

The blood gushed out of that stabbing hole and the squealing began to cease. The sow was dead. A peanut rooter was off the land, and the whole sounder had been driven from the peanut fields for a while.

The men slapped each other on the back. There was pride in the hunt, a camaraderie of sorts that our species has largely lost when the vast majority of us gave upon hunting.

The dogs were celebrated for their skills. The bragging filled the air along with the smoke from the newly lit cigarettes.

Blood was on the ground. The dogs were hot and panting.

And thus ended a scene that could have been transplanted from the Stone Age where men hunted the wild and fell beasts with their newly tamed dogs. No guns were fired at the hogs.

This kill had come from the skill of dogs and the sharpness of knives. The GPS collars, the gasoline-fueled vehicles, and the specialized breeding of hog dogs are certainly modern advances.

But in the main it was still Stone Age and savage and wondrous, as best could be expected for the twenty-first century.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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She looks like a female version of him.

rin-tin-tin

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A very interesting interview, said with no sarcasm. Opossums are the new cats. LOL. This man really knows his Virginia opossums.

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I have come around to a simple conclusion:  I am not really a “dog expert,” as people normally define that term. I have never corrected a severe behavior problem in a dog, and I have never earned a single title on a dog.

I am a good academic. My background is in social science and historical research. I also can read peer-reviewed articles that use statistical methodology.

I also can communicate well. These things give me the veneer of being a “dog expert.” If you can communicate well enough to convey complex concepts that are documented in those obtuse article or in old tomes of dog lore, it leads the reader to believe that I might have some knowledge or expertise, but the truth is I am quite clueless about things.

The thing is I can use all those skills to write about any other animal on the planet, but with dogs, we’ve created this special condition for one to be considered a “dog expert.”  You must have skills to make dogs do stuff, and dogs must want to be with you over anyone else in the household.

I don’t know if any of those concepts applies to me. I have my own personal dog, and I can get her to obey a few commands. She’s of a breed that is generally supposed to be easy to train, but I do recognize my limitations as a pretty crappy dog trainer. I can’t always get a retrieve to hand, and because this dog has been passed around so much in her life, I have very little interest in doing traditional dog training methods with her.  I am not going to pinch her ears to get a solid retrieve. She listens well enough not be a nuisance, and I can walk her virtually anywhere off-lead. But that’s I’m a magically wonderful dog trainer. It’s that German shepherds generally don’t like to be out of view of the person they’ve decided to attach themselves to.

But now that you’ve read this, a certain percentage of you will discount anything else I have to say about dogs. I am not Ian Dunbar or Karen Pryor or one of those traditional dog trainers of yore. I am not a qualified animal behaviorist, and I am certainly no “dog whisperer.”

I grew up in a place where dog training was this:

If your coonhound runs opossums or deer, you put a shock collar on him.

And then you’ve got a coonhound.

I did not have access to real dog people anywhere, unless I wanted to do scenthound stuff. Most farms had English shepherds at them, but the dogs were almost never used to herd cattle or sheep. They were just there to guard the farm and maybe do some squirrel hunting.

I am only now able to have a dog that I feel is of the caliber that I could ever hope to train to do anything. I am way, way behind in my dog training skills, and this problem is made worse because the only dog training I’ve ever done is with food. Anka gets bored of food very quickly, so I have to reinvent everything I know to make a tossed ball an acceptable reward. So I do have an awfully trainable dog, but it’s like getting a Mac when I have only ever used PCs. It’s a nice machine, but it’s really a challenge for me to work with it.

Yes. I am a certified nerd. The things I am good at would probably bore almost anyone. I do not denigrate my skill, but I do want you to understand that these skills you’re appreciating by reading these posts are not substitutes for any real skill-based practical expertise.

I suppose I have to make this stuff clearer, because when it comes to dogs, we assume that people who have my particular skill-set must surely have the other one. And if that person lacks the other one, then one should never trust anything that comes from reading historical documents or peer-reviewed papers.

Of all the animals I write about, dogs are the one where this issue is quite problematic. If someone disagrees with my interpretation of a paper, all they have to do to ignore what I have to say is to talk about how much experience they have over me.

It’s why have tried to chance the main focus of my blog from being a “dog blog” to a nature blog that sometimes mentions dogs.

So I am not really a dog expert by the classic definition. I’m actually quite an idiot when it comes to putting titles on a dog or making them do stuff.

I’m sorry that we live in a culture of expertise that requires people have those skill-sets to be able to talk about things which have been gleaned from academic research.

And it has been difficult, if not impossible, for me to make peace with this conflict.

I suppose I will always feel inferior around actual dog people with skills, the same way I feel inferior around carpenters and plumbers and tradesmen who are good with their hands. I was born with little tiny hands and ten thumbs, and the hand-eye coordination of Mr. Magoo.  So I have had it has always been a mystery to me how people can build things.

And I am that way with people who can train dogs to high levels. I like to think that I can learn how to train a dog like that, but deep down, I lack the confidence to be of that level.

I guess I will always be the person from the backwoods, who never really had the best chance to learn “dogs.”

And no matter what happens, I think I will always be that person. It’s that much of a problem for me.

And all you have to do to shut me up is just start down this road of experience and skills. It is my Achilles’ heel.

 

 

 

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