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)
February 22, 2016 - For over three months, I had possession of a year-old American Black and Tan Coonhound or coonhound-mix whom I called Maebe. I absolutely loved that dog, and cried when I dropped her off for transport to her new home. AND I'm thrilled and tearful - in a good way - that she found a great new home. That's the bittersweet experience of fostering.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 04:45PM Comments (16)
February 16, 2016 - I want to congratulate WDJ's long-time contributor, dog trainer/writer Stephanie Colman, for winning a Maxwell award from the Dog Writers Association of America (DWAA), for her article, "Service, Please," which ran in WDJ's July 2015 issue. The award is named in honor of the late Maxwell Riddle, who co-founded the DWAA. The awards were announced on February 14, at the Pennsylvania Hotel in New York City at the DWAA's annual awards banquet, held prior to the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 10:34AM Comments (1)
February 8, 2016 - I've heard it from a dozen different people in the past few weeks: "Oh my goodness, Nancy, that puppy LOVES you!" In every case, the person who made the spontaneous exclamation was prompted to do so by witnessing the same phenomenon: Seeing my new puppy sit calmly and stare, making direct eye contact with me.
The puppy, Woody, may well love me - I certainly love and adore him! But what's the true explanation? Does he stare at me because he loves me, or has he developed affection for me as a result of all the reinforcement he's received for that eye contact?
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 04:51PM Comments (7)
February 1, 2016 - None of you actually had any money riding on the question of whether I was going to keep him or not, did you? I hope not.
Yes, I am keeping the puppy, the one I fell in love with from the litter I fostered for my shelter. One of these days, I'm going to go back through all my files and do the math, but I think that if I added up all the dogs I've fostered for one shelter or rescue or another in the past 20 years, the total would come to more than 25, and this is the first one I've "failed" at fostering. At least, so far. I am still not discounting the idea that, if it turns out that this puppy turns out to be the ideal dog for an ideal family sometime down the road, I could, theoretically, still turn him over to a perfect life elsewhere. Who knows? Maybe he will turn out to be a great service dog or therapy dog, as some of you have suggested. He does have the calmest, most centered personality I've ever seen in such a young dog.
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 12:15PM Comments (16)
January 25, 2016 - As you may know, I’ve been fostering a litter of nine puppies for about seven weeks. From day 1, there was one puppy who stood out to me as a potentially great dog. One of just two males in the litter, he was the first to learn to offer a “sit” when I was getting their food or medicine ready, and to make eye contact with me any time I looked over the group. He also shows great poise and self-control: He will sit and stare at me, even as other puppies are jumping all over him, trying to get him to play with them, and he will just physically shrug off their very rough attempts to hijack his attention, with his eyes fixed on me the entire time. His devotion makes my heart hurt!
Posted by Nancy Kerns at 04:44PM Comments (46)