June 8, 2016 - WDJ Training Editor Pat Miller wrote an article for the June issue of WDJ about unconventional or unintentional cues - things that people taught their dogs that are far from the ordinary sit, down, stay-sort of behaviors. In the article, she and other trainers describe how they taught their dogs things such as locating a pile of poop that needs to be picked up, standing in a certain place and a certain pose that's convenient for grooming, and coming when it's time to take a daily medication. My favorite was, "You're not going!" - which is what Pat taught her Kelpie, Kai, to indicate he shouldn't get excited about going for a car ride, because he's not invited on that impending trip. Pat asked readers to send in descriptions of the unconventional cues and behaviors they had taught their dogs. I’m going to post some over the next couple of weeks; we’re getting a lot, thanks! You guys are an unconventional bunch, apparently! And Pat will be selecting one – perhaps by random, because there are so many great ones to choose from! – to win a prize.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 05:01PM Comments (57)
June 1, 2016 - We're well into foxtail season in California. "Foxtails" are what people call any number of grasses that have bushy spikelets that look like a fox's tail, but the most common culprit in my home state is Hordeum murinum . This grass is a ubiquitous volunteer in the rainy months, springing up anywhere and everywhere, including cracks in sidewalks, the edges of roads, alongside trails, and in pastures. It could even be called pretty, especially as it develops its distinctive, thick foxtail spikelets, and these turn a sun-brushed tan color as warm weather dries the grass and the state turns summer brown.
Even one single "foxtail" contains enough material to make a whole kennel full of dogs miserable. Each "tail" is made up of dozens of hard, pointed seeds, each trailing an individual filament that is studded from tip to tail with microscopic barbs set in the same direction.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 11:48AM Comments (8)
May 25, 2016 - As I mentioned last week, I'm fostering a very skinny Great Dane mama dog and her 11 puppies. After this litter is healthy and ready for spay/neuter and adoption, I'm going to take a little break from fostering for a while, even if I have to block the phone number of my local shelter. This is a lot more work than anything I've taken on before. (I'm kidding about blocking the shelter's number, of course. I couldn't be more grateful for the very hard work they do for the animals in this community, year-round, whether they are exhausted or not, broke or not. The hard-working employees don't slack off because they are tired of the animals' needs, or because the animals have cost them a lot lately. I have a choice, and I feel privileged to be trusted and able to help when I can.)
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 03:42PM Comments (19)
May 18, 2016 - On April 1, I was at the shelter, dealing with some paperwork aftermath of a bat encounter with my cat, when one of the front desk people asked me, "Are you going to take the puppies we got yesterday?" Keep in mind, the last of the nine cattle dog/pit-mix puppies I had fostered from about three weeks of age to 12 weeks had just gotten adopted. So I was like, "Naw, I think I'm going to take a little break." But then of course I asked, "What kind are they?" So I went to look at them, back in the isolation section of the shelter. It's such a misnomer. It's the most crowded, loud, stinky part of the shelter, because it's where all the dogs from the unincorporated areas in my county are initially held when they are picked up as stray, or brought in as purported stray, or surrendered by their owners.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 03:33PM Comments (45)
May 4, 2016 - I hardly ever talk about Tito, the 10-pound Chihuahua-mix who came to stay with us "for a few weeks" a few years ago. I think of him as being very little trouble, but it's just that his troubles - which are actually sort of numerous - are small-scaled. He is an obnoxious barker when people arrive - even when we arrive home from an errand. He cannot bear to be touched or moved once he's settled on the sofa in the evening, and if you should happen to readjust your own position at the other end of the couch when he's on it, he gives an immediate and loud roar/bark/snarl and leaps off the couch, supremely discomfited. I think he has as-yet-undiagnosed back or shoulder or inner ear pain that contributes to his touchiness, and it causes him to occasionally shriek in pain when he's greeting people; the person will always look surprised and say, "I wasn't even touching him!" but it's not the touch that hurts. I think it's the groveling, wagging, low-headed posture that he assumes when he's greeting people that causes something to pinch in his back. (He's been examined by several veterinarians and one veterinary chiropractor, but nothing significant has been found and no treatment has helped.) And then there is his touchy tummy.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 03:59PM Comments (26)
April 27, 2016 - This is the most trying time of the year for walking my dogs off-leash. On March 15 each year, the rules change for my favorite place to walk dogs, and only leashed dogs are allowed, until the end of June, for the bird nesting season. Rather than walk three dogs on leash - something I "can" do but don't enjoy - I switch to another nearby area where dogs are allowed off-leash year round. But in this particular area, oh my goodness, the ticks abound. I could forgo our off-leash walks for the months when the tick-free area where I walk the dogs the rest of the year is restricted to leashed dogs. But because we are able to walk off-leash so much of the time, my dogs (especially Otto) seem to really miss the joys of leash-free walks: being able to run ahead and run back, stop and really smell something very deeply, running to catch up if sniffing took a long time, stopping in mid-stride from time to time to stare at something or (again) smell the air for faint scents of wild animals or other walkers. After a leash-free walk, they sleep harder and longer, and their behavior is better for more days afterward.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:14PM Comments (35)
April 20, 2016 - WDJ began publication in 1998, and we began reviewing dog food that year. There were very few products that met our early selection criteria - perhaps half a dozen - but we listed all that we could find.
I was in favor of the "teaching people to fish" approach to the reviews. I thought it was more important to teach dog owners how to read a dog food label so they could tell the difference between the really good ones and the ones with really attractive labels. My boss disagreed; he was in the "give people a fish" camp. He said, "Nancy, I know you are a writer, but trust me when I say that when it comes to this sort of thing, many people will never read your article; they just want the list of foods we approve of."
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:04PM Comments (56)
April 12, 2016 - One evening more than a week ago, I'm sitting on the couch, sipping a glass of wine, engrossed in a Netflix movie, when my husband exclaims something from the kitchen - something that sounded like "cat" or was it "bat"?
"What?" I yell back.
He comes in grumbling about us having too many animals, and that there is a bat in the kitchen. Ducking reflexively, I may have shrieked, "Alive or dead?"
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 08:55AM Comments (10)
April 4, 2016 - When I first saw the adolescent canine who was to become my darling dog Otto, in my local shelter in June 2008, his cage card warned “Kills chicken” – an endearing typo that evidently meant he had either killed a chicken, or makes a habit of killing chickens. There is no way to know what was meant by that now, but the fact is, I brought home three adult laying hens in late 2010, and after a single warning to Otto (No! Off!), he’s been completely trustworthy with the birds, even when they are loose and walking around the backyard, something I allow them to do mostly in the winter, after our summer vegetable garden is done.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 01:02PM Comments (6)
March 30, 2016 - Not long after my husband and I bought our house in 2006, we were introduced to another couple who, unbeknownst to us, shared our home address: a pair of skunks. They had a den under the house, and emerged shortly after dusk to wander through the neighborhood, foraging for fallen fruit from ornamental and backyard fruit trees, digging for grubs and worms in freshly watered lawns, and helping themselves to cat food on various porches where some people feed cats (feral and otherwise).
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:44PM Comments (5)
March 29, 2016 - If I had to name my puppy's most annoying trait, I'd have to say it's "fooling around" with my older dog, Otto. What do I mean by this? A person who wasn't familiar with dog behavior would be likely to say that Woody is pestering my older dog. He jumps up into Otto's face, licking and flopping around, and generally acting like a fool. The more he does it, the more irritated Otto gets. Otto may start out with his tail wagging, standing in one place and turning his head away, trying to ignore the puppy's foolishness. Within a few seconds, though, he will start baring his teeth and growling at the puppy in a fearsome manner, until they are either interrupted (by me), or by Otto abruptly deciding enough is enough and flattening the puppy with a roar and a lot of snapping teeth.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 10:14AM Comments (5)
March 22, 2016 - A colleague sent me this link to a video of famed BASE jumper Dean Potter flying off a cliff wearing a “wingsuit” with his dog, Whisper. I had seen the video before. In fact, when I first saw it, I was tempted to write a blog post about it – but I got caught up in something else and forgot about it. At least, until the news broke that Potter and one of his best friends – but not his dog – had died in the middle of a similar wingsuit jump. Authorities aren’t certain exactly what happened, but some sort of miscalculation or errant current of air blew the adventurers into unforgiving rock. My colleague was unaware that the guy in the video had died, but when I sent her a link with a news story about his death, she was sort of horrified. “How could he risk his dog’s life like that?”
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 08:25AM Comments (12)
March 15, 2016 - I'm a HUGE advocate of shopping in independent pet supply stores. They are generally run by people who really care and are knowledgeable about dogs (and other small pets). They tend to carry better-quality foods, treats, toys, training products, and just about everything else that the chain pet supply stores do. (But don't get me wrong: The giant pet supply chains are leagues better at identifying and carrying better-quality products than chain supermarkets and big box stores. I can't think of a single product I'd buy in the pet supply aisle at a Walmart, for example.)
Posted at 08:35AM Comments (2)
March 7, 2016 - This is what I'm grateful for this chilly, rainy morning: Three dogs who willingly and quickly go right outdoors and get to work. Not all at once, of course: there is a peeing order that is aligned with the pecking order. The puppy goes first. Tito, the older small dog, goes next. Otto, the benevolent leader of my little pack of three, checks to make sure it's really happening; Tito is so small it's hard to tell. Only after everyone else is done does Otto go back over both spots and mark them himself.
Posted at 02:47PM Comments (11)
February 29, 2016 - I'm a big fan of "puppy socials" - a classroom-type setting to which people bring their puppies for socializing with pups of a similar age. It's a powerful opportunity for the puppies, especially the ones who are being raised with no other dog at home to learn basic canine social skills from - or the ones who DO share their homes with another dog, but the dog is super grumpy about puppies.
Posted at 12:23PM Comments (3)