Camerado! I give you my hand!

Camerado! I give you my hand!

Allons! The road is before us!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

I think I'm going to be Sick

Sorry for the cop-out, but I had to cross-post this.

This bit of WTF from Raised by Wolves has just about ruined my day.

It's bad enough that the cruelty is perpetuated, but the outrage is over what happened next.


The pictures are graphic. There are only three, but that's all that is needed. Be forewarned. The second and third ones are heartbreaking.

I have had more than one person who bought a dog from a pet store tell me s/he was told it came from "a reputable breeder." Well, if in their world "reputable" means vile, shameless, heartless and only in it for the money.

Since I tend toward the positive, especially when it comes to doggy stuff, you may ask why I posted this.

It wasn't to upset anyone. It's not gratuitous. It's to educate.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

"Don't Blame the Dog!"

A while back, I wrote a post about shelters and rescue groups not wanting to see the forest for the trees, and therefore were unwilling to properly screen dogs up for adoption, euthanize aggressive dogs, or admit that what they were doing was unethical, and bad for dogs.

I've been in a back-and-forth on an email list about this very subject the last few days, and it made me think of some more things to add to my diatribe.

Why are we not allowed to blame the dog, again? When dogs bite, and especially when they bite aggressively, with purpose to maim or worse, it is ALWAYS because the owners "did something wrong"?

They didn't socialize the dog when he was a puppy. They didn't train him. They overtrained him. They trained him too harshly. They trained him too wimpily. They used the wrong type of treat/training collar/leash/attitude. They fed him food with too much protein. They fed him from a stainless steel bowl, when they should have used plastic. They fed him from a plastic bowl. They fed him too much/too little/too often/not often enough. He was hungry. He was itchy. His feet hurt.

They crated him too much. They didn't crate enough. They let their kids tease him. They didn't let their kids interact with him enough to make him understand the kids were "in charge." They should never have gotten a dog because they had kids. Didn't they know Fido doesn't like kids?

The people worked too much, and were gone all the time. They didn't work enough, and were home all the time. They petted the dog too much. They didn't pet him enough. They paid too much attention to him. They didn't pay any attention to him. They tied him up. They didn't tie him up.

They named him a silly name. They didn't take him to the vet. They neutered him too early/too late/not at all. He wasn't vaccinated. He was over-vaccinated. They fed him Ol' Roy. They fed him top-of-the-line food, but it was crap because it wasn't raw food. They fed him raw food when he should have been eating kibble.

They dared to walk into the kitchen one day, nowhere near the dog's food bowl or toys, or the actual dog, and the dog launched himself across the floor and leapt up and went for the face of the teenage girl, and latched on, shaking back and forth, knocking her backward, and would not release despite her father beating him with a chair. He would not release until the hold on his collar made it hard for him to breathe, and he opened his mouth to get more air, and he was propelled backward. After the father shoved him across the kitchen and bent over his daughter--who had never done anything to the dog but interact normally with him--to try to stop the bleeding from the gash, the dog came back for more and the father had to cover his bleeding daughter's body and take several slashing bites to the back and arms before someone mercifully leashed the dog and threw him in his crate.

I KNEW I had left out something from the previous list of wrongs committed by this stupid, clueless, never-should-have-owned a dog family: walking into the kitchen!!

People are so dumb, right? How dare that girl walk into her own kitchen. She should have known better.

My brilliant, inspiring, and astute friend Sarah Wilson is, among other things, an author, trainer, teacher, lecturer, student of the human/animal bond, and wise sage when it comes to dogs and people. Her definition for serious aggression is the most succinct way I've ever come across to express it.

"When normal life events cause offensive aggression with little or no warning, that dog is not a pet." ~Sarah Wilson

So, when a dog bites without warning over normal life events, whose fault is it?

It's not an easy question to answer, but I will not lay blame at the feet of the teenage girl walking into the kitchen.

Perhaps the family was inconsistent with this dog, and he was truly confused as to who was the leader in the home. Perhaps he absolutely believed he was ruler, and she had no right to cross "his" property without permission. Perhaps any number of things from the above laundry list of "sins" dog trainers often bemoan were happening in the house.

Maybe he had a brain tumor, or some other medical issue that contributed to his vicious, unprovoked attack. If they had just taken him to the vet and had a full blood workup done, the vet might have found something. Neurological disease? Cancer? Thyroid imbalance? These can all contribute to aggression.

And perhaps, just perhaps, the dog was genetically wired wrong. Maybe it's the breeder's fault? Mother Nature? Zeus? Charles Darwin?

Does the picture above make you think, "Awww! How sweet!" or does it make you cringe?

A popular book amongst a subset of dog trainers (those who call themselves "positive" or "all positive") is Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog! Originally published in 1984 (I believe), it is a slim volume from a dolphin trainer-turned-dog-trainer that points out some of the misconceptions about dogs and behavior. It was the first book I remember reading that specifically exhorted dog owners to blame themselves for their dog's issues, not the dog. Other authors have done this, too--and for good reason. Most of our dogs' behavioral "problems" are indeed our fault. We are lousy communicators with species other than our own (and not even so great with our own, right?)

We get frustrated and angry at our dogs over things we should have trained them not to do. Dogs do not have morals or ethics, they simply have behaviors. Some of those are acceptable to us, and some are not. Training is about instilling the behaviors we want and teaching the dog to abstain from the behaviors we do not like. Since many of these "bad" behaviors are normal for dogs, it can be challenging sometimes.

Certainly, we cannot expect the dog to learn our language--we must learn his, and speak it to him.

When we fail to do this, problems can result, aggression among them.

So we must hang our heads in shame as a species for our arrogance at thinking the dog "knew better." After we flog ourselves, we need to get on with the business of being better communicators with our dogs. Modern dog training is about building relationships based on trust, and it allows humans and dogs to coexist quite peacefully the vast majority of the time.

But training cannot override everything. It cannot trump DNA or disease. When it squares off with genetics or medical issues, training by itself often does not come out victorious.

That is why blaming the dog is sometimes necessary, and when serious aggression is on the table, the dog must often pay with his life.

I know what it feels like to love a dog or two. And I know what it feels like to grow attached to dogs one does not own. I have been in the animal sheltering world for more than 10 years now, and working with animals for almost 30 years. I've loved and been attached to many dogs in my life.

I know what it is like to have to euthanize a dog I love who is no longer safe. The pain and heartache is overwhelming. Euthanasia of a beloved animal is never easy, but when the animal is in obvious pain, or simply no longer has a quality of life, at least we can clearly see the need to humanely end that life (and so can everyone else).

Euthanasia of aggressive animals is less clear-cut, so much so that I've had clients tell me their own trusted vet would not do perform the procedure on their dog after its aggression had reached unsafe levels. To the vet, the dog looked healthy. But the vet didn't have to live with what the dog had become. He or she did not have to walk around on eggshells in his or her own home because the family pet could "go off" at any given moment. Vets, like doctors, are taught to do everything possible to save lives, not destroy them.

Is the pain of euthanasia worse when one is made to feel guilty for it?

How do you think it feels to the family of the dog who attacked the teenage girl to be told by their vet that euthanasia is not appropriate for this dog, that they must have done something to provoke the dog, and that putting this dog down would not be fair to the dog? Perhaps the maimed young woman should be the one to, oh, I don't know, maybe take the "healthy" dog to an obedience class after she heals and get him the training he never got. Her scar(let letter)s could be an abject lesson for all to see: see what a lack of training gets you?

Until one has lived with a truly aggressive dog, has lived with the fear that the dog might hurt a family member or a friend or a stranger, or might escape the yard and maul a child, it is hard to imagine what it feels like. It's something that keeps decent people awake at night.

And from the often-grim insides of a rescue or shelter, teeming with unwanted animals that have, through no fault of their own, been cast off, treated poorly, abused, or simply neglected, the thought that the dog deserves another chance is not as uncommon as you would think.

After all, it's not his fault, right?

When it comes down to it, a homeless dog with a known bite history is a huge liability for anyone with which it has contact. Good shelters and rescue groups know this, and will not put up for adoption animals with known bite histories.

(NOTE: ANY dog with a bite history is a liability. But my main beef is with groups housing and adopting out homeless aggressive dogs, NOT owners who have such a dog and are trying to manage the situation while keeping the dog. That is still an issue, one based on personal choice that should never be taken lightly, but there is a difference.)

Fault is not the issue here--knowledge is. And knowledge can be a painful thing.

Good shelters understand that people deserve better than a pat, facile, "It's not his fault."

Some shelters and rescues who ignore this dictum and believe all dogs are salvageable claim to give "full disclosure" to adopters about the dog's history. They say that "some people want to adopt these damaged dogs, so we should let them." They think that disclosure will shield them from a lawsuit, but it won't.

And it wouldn't matter if it did. If the known biter bites again, more lives will be changed forever. The damage will be done.

Is it POSSIBLE to adopt out known biters and have them managed safely so that they never bite again? I suppose it could be. Is it ethical? I do not believe so. Is it kind? No. Are most adopters equipped to deal with this sort of dog for the rest of its life? No. Should they have to? No.

Some of these "rescuers" decide that Fierce Fido isn't safe for the average Joe, but he would be fine for a dog trainer to adopt and work with. How many of us do you think there are walking into shelters on a regular basis, looking for such a liability-er, project? Very few--we already have multiple dogs.

Doing something unethical and quite possibly dangerous "because some people want to" is not a recipe for a successful enterprise. And, here's a shocker--MOST people do NOT want it. They don't want to own an aggressive dog, they don't want to live next to an aggressive dog, and they don't want aggressive dogs in their neighborhoods.

So these "save 'em all" rescue groups are endangering the majority to make themselves (and the mysterious "people who want to") feel better. Since it's never the dog's fault, they think what they are doing is humane. But what they are really doing is eroding the rights of dog owners, little by little. They are creating a culture of fear with dogs, so that children are growing up afraid of dogs--a fate that should not be visited on anyone, much less a child. These groups are turning people away from adoption (or dog ownership in general) in tiny little increments, which affects all animals in shelters. It has been said that only 10% of the animals in people's homes came from shelters. Do we want that number to decrease even more?

(And that leads us down another slippery path towards the "Abuse Excuse" and its ramifications.)

The truth is that some dogs are just not pet material. And until shelters and rescues get their emotions pushed aside for just a minute and realize how their inaction with aggressive dogs ripples out community-wide in mostly negative ways, they will continue to blame the owners, the breeders, the pet store proprietor, the puppymiller, and Jesus, Joseph and Mary for the dog's aggression.

It may not usually be the dog's fault, but it is all our problem.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


From someone named Ben, on a blog I frequent:

This also reminds me of a similar revelation I had a while back: a person who says “no, thank you, I’m fine” all the time makes for a lousy guest. The dance of giving and receiving is what brings us together, and “being no bother” is actually just a recipe for estrangement.

I must be a lousy guest. And I never knew.

I generally refuse offers of things out of a sense of duty: thou shalt not maketh they host wait on thee hand and foot. I feel like I'm imposing if I actually accept something being offered to me upon arrival at someone's home.

Host says, "Can I get you anything? A stiff drink? Soda? Water?"
Me, completely parched to the bone, croaks, "No, thanks. I drank some three days ago," and then I collapse from dehydration.

Seriously, I was taught to refuse offers (and I will not be swayed by Mafioso) because one didn't want to be any bother. I was also taught to say "Yes, Sir" and "No, Ma'am," which I still do to this day, though the line is blurring as to whom it is appropriate to say that, now that I am "of a certain age." And in the spirit of "Bless your heart" (which I could never bring myself to adopt), I learned to say "Wow, that's interesting" when what I was really thinking was, "You gotta be freaking kidding me!"

I guess I never considered that it was rude to not accept. Of course, I knew that some hosts insist until you give in, and what can you do when that happens? Not much. They win. Drink up, Sweetheart.

I actually have a philosophy about it now, especially if what is being offered is of great value. Politely refuse once, and thank them. When it is offered again, politely refuse again. You need to be serious, not coy. You are turning the offer down because It's Too Much.

If they go away, and after long enough to have considered it (like days, not minutes), offer a third time, then jump on that train, Sister! If I give you 2 full, honest refusals, and you offer again, then I very well might accept. So...if you want me to have something, you may have to wear me down.

But how about the ones who only offer once? Or maybe offer again a little later? Isn't it possible they are secretly hoping you'll be polite and refuse them?

If so, don't offer it to me more than twice.

What about you?

Saturday, May 1, 2010

The Best Gift You'll Ever Give

I'm sure no one who enjoys the company of dogs will find this surprising.

Many people would prefer to have conversations with their dogs than with their spouses.

It's not because dogs are wittier, have a greater grasp of the language, or will answer thorny philosophical questions.

It's because they listen. Or, we think they listen. Regardless, they give off the appearance of rapt attention, and as humorist Dave Barry says, "You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, 'My God, you're right! I never would've thought of that!'"

That's why we like to talk to dogs. (Though I confess I talk to my dogs not because I think they listen to my ramblings, but because I amuse myself by talking to them. I also talk to myself a lot, so there you go.) I'm sure people have other reasons, too.

"The dog is a yes-animal. Very popular with those who cannot afford a yes-man." ~Robertson Davies

But this story brings up a better question for me. Why don't we humans listen better to our loved ones? Many of us pay rapt attention to inconsequential stuff: pop music lyrics, TV shows, sports statistics, snippets about celebrities. Some of us also pay attention to teachers, and other sources of education. What one chooses to pay attention to depends on what one values. It also depends on what one hears frequently, or less frequently. It's easy to "tune out" conversations with our loved ones because they seem to become repetitive, or we find them mundane.

"tuning out" those we care about--those we should be listening to--sends a message we probably do not want to send. It says to those people that we don't care, or that we have better things to do.

This is hurtful and depressing, and it definitely doesn't help our relationships. Becoming a better listener can change your relationships immensely, and improve your life.

Try this experiment.

The next time your partner, husband, wife, sibling, parent, lover, girlfriend, boyfriend, your child, or a trusted friend asks (or just begins) to speak with you, do the following.

Put down everything your hands are busy with. This means your computer, phone, coffee cup, paper, pen, Wii controller, whatever. Stop touching it. If it is going to tempt you, put it away.

If the person is sitting, you should sit across from them. If they are standing, you should stand across from them, or invite them to sit.

Face the person, and put your empty hands on the table, or on your lap, loosely clasped. If you are standing, they should be at your sides loosely. Do NOT put them in your pockets, or hide them in any way. Do NOT cross your arms in front of your chest.

Your hands should be visible, empty, and still.

Stand or sit comfortably, back straight, but not rigid. You should be comfortable, but not slouchy. Face the person directly, and look them in the eyes, warmly.

Now, here's the tricky part.

LET. THEM. SPEAK. Do not interrupt. Keep your expression relaxed, but attentive.

LISTEN FULLY. You may not know how to do this, because if you are like most people, you have lost the ability to do it. It's like a muscle--you use it, or you lose it.

You can get it back. Starting now.

Wipe your mind clear--as much as possible--of all thoughts that do not pertain to what the speaker is saying. Do not think about work, or to-do lists, gossip, or what is happening later that day. Ignore your worries. Do not daydream.

Do not think of questions to ask the speaker when s/he is finished. Do not think of what you will say in reply to his or her statements.

Just pay attention, and listen.

Pay attention to the speaker as if your life depends upon absorbing what s/he is saying. No matter how mundane the topic seems (or actually is), your job right then is to hear it, and hear it fully.

When the speaker has finished their thought, or story, you can do one of two things.

If you are pressed for time, smile, and say "thank you" with genuine warmth, then go about the rest of your day. Your experiment is finished.

If you are not pressed for time (and really, can you not make a little bit of time for this?), do the following.

When s/he finishes speaking, count slowly to 5 (to yourself, silly). There should be a marked pause here. Smile. If the end of their speech did not contain a question you need to answer, lean forward just a little, continuing to look them warmly in the eye, and say, "Tell me more."

I don't care how silly, dumb, old, tired, or ridiculous the topic was. Ask them to tell you more. It wasn't silly, dumb, old, tired, or ridiculous to them.

This is someone you love. Someone who gave birth to you, or fathered you, or to whom you gave birth, or fathered, or you have known a long time, or with whom you are intimate. This is someone who knows you, and loves you. This is someone you cherish. This is someone important, someone without which you would not be the person you are right now. This person matters. And what they think, and say, also matters.

Doesn't it?

This exercise is simple to do. It doesn't take hardly any extra time. And you know what? It changes things. When you make the conscious choice to start listening, really listening, to your loved ones, your life will change, and so will theirs.

You don't have to do this with every person you talk to. Reserve it for loved ones who need to tell a story, or convey information. Do it once, and see if you don't want to do it more often.

Extra Credit: the teacher in me wants to give you a chance to excel. So here are 2 things that will put the cherry and whipped topping on this exercise.

1. When the above exchange is over, and you are alone again, get a pen and a notebook or sheet of paper and write down what transpired. You can write a synopsis of the conversation, or just how it made you feel. You can make notes of how it seemed to affect the speaker (if you noticed at all). You can write that it frustrated you, or bored you, or made you think. You don't have to be Tolstoy; no one will read this but you (and your heirs after you are dead--ha ha). Just write it down.

2. About 5-7 days later, approach the speaker with purpose, and ask them about the story. You might say something like, "That incident you told me about with your did that turn out?" Or, "have you made up your mind about college yet?" Or, "I was wondering if you were feeling better since our talk about Joe's illness, and how it was affecting you." Inquire about it because you want to know, and because you remember the conversation. And listen to their reply, just like you listened the first time.

"Excellence is not an act, but a habit. We are, therefore, what we repeatedly do." ~Aristotle

More on this topic to come. Let me know how the experiment goes for you.