Elizabeth Kennedy is a freelance writer and editor in the San Francisco Bay Area.
An accessible handbook for basic training techniques
January 23 2012
We’re always pleased to bring useful finds to our readers, and our latest handy addition is The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy Well-behaved Pet by Jolanta Benal. This thorough guide breaks down basic techniques to resolve the most common problems, and makes the process fun for the new dog parent. With both a well-organized table of contents and a comprehensive index, this book gives readers easy access to the specific cue, problem behavior, game or name they seek. Benal explains her approach clearly and debunks a number of myths about dogs’ learning styles. The information boxes with items like “Dear Dog Trainer” Q&As or the Quick and Dirty Tips are handy little hits of dog knowledge.
News: Guest Posts
January 13 2012
In her recent column, The New York Times Ethicist Ariel Kaminer took on a very challenging question from a veterinarian in Boston, Mass.
I am a veterinarian, and one of my clients is an elderly woman who loves her eight-year-old Pomeranian dearly but has no family or friends who might inherit it. She wants me to sign a legal document stating that I will euthanize it if she dies before the dog does. What should I do?
Mercifully, Kaminer ultimately comes down against the euthanization. But her first forays are cause for concern. The short version of the Ethicist’s reasoning begins as such: if the vet eats meat, she or he should have no more qualms in euthanizing the Pomeranian than she would seeing a cow slaughtered for her hamburger. From a vegetarian or vegan standpoint, complicity in the slaughter of farm animals is equally objectionable to terminating the life of a perfectly healthy pet upon request. But that doesn’t mean the reverse is true. In other words, making what might be considered an immoral choice in one area of my life (eating meat) does not amount to a behavioral free pass to other questionable acts (requesting the euthanization of my healthy companion animal).
This is a standard logical fallacy—It’s even got a fancy Latinate name, ad hominem tu quoque, broken logic that suggests a claim I make can’t be true if it is inconsistent in any way with my previous actions. But here’s the thing—few among us are uniform in our moral and ethical choices. And thankfully, because heaven knows what the implications would be of a bacon chili cheeseburger.
Have you prepared for your dog’s care in the event of your death? What arrangements have you made? What do you think is the responsible choice?
News: Guest Posts
January 2 2012
We’re taught from grade school not to litter, but one LA-area man learned his lesson in a particularly dramatic episode on the afternoon of Thursday, December 29. Hiking the ridges of Lakeview Terrace, Ivan Salas’s father threw a water bottle over the edge of the 300-foot sheer cliff beside them. Lola, their one-year-old German Shepherd mix, sprang after the bottle, lost her balance and slid over 100 feet down.
Seeing her stranded on the unstable rockface, 19-year-old Ivan Salas heroically attempted to scale down and rescue his dog, becoming trapped himself. Firefighters, responding to both police and 911 calls, initially began a rescue effort by helicopter, but the draft kicked up rocks and dust, increasing the risk of a fatal slide.
Rescuers regrouped. Several firefighters rappelled down the cliffside, first securing terrified Lola and bringing her to safety, then getting a hold of Salas, just as the rocks give out below his feet. Salas, who thought he was going to die as he slid quickly in loose gravel, is grateful and intends to take the firefighters to dinner to thank them for their efforts. As for Lola, she is surely lucky to have a guardian willing to risk his own life to save hers. Would you have ventured down the cliff like Ivan did?
Three books honor the human-animal bond
January 2 2012
Some say it’s best to choose books that would make you look good if you were to die in the middle of reading them. And while The Dog, The Call and Unsaid all qualify as such books, they also, each in their way, pull off something far more subtle and significant: these three novels gently ask whether you will feel good should you die in the middle of them. Specifically, have you done all you could? Were you a good parent, guardian, partner, husband, wife? Did you, to your end, show compassion and courage?
Kerstin Ekman’s The Dog, a mild, poetic parable about the primal will to survive, ventures sotto voce where our imaginations tend to halt and falter: what happens when a tiny puppy follows his mother into the tall pines and then gets lost? As harrowing as the account is to read, Ekman’s intimate, omniscient narration never leaves the reader bereft. On the contrary, the story arcs ever upward, kindling a warm appreciation for the heroism involved in mere survival. And as restrained as the tone remains throughout, the dog at the story’s center grows fierce before our eyes, and returns, slowly, cautiously, to harmony with a hunter, a spiritual symbiosis that never could have happened had the pup stayed closer to the hearth.
Like Ekman’s dog, the hunter at the heart of Yannick Murphy’s inventive fourth novel, The Call, experiences familial loss—he must carry on with his professional routine despite having watched his only son slip into a coma after a tragic hunting accident. Told with wry wit and unabashed anger, the story unfolds through the rural veterinarian’s call notes. Despite their formal repetition, these records shift like the sea, revealing the imperceptible adjustments made by his family as they cope—day in, day out—with their suffering.
While Ekman sparsely populates her animal’s kingdom with humans on its fringe and Murphy stations her humans at the forest’s brink, Neil Abramson’s work intermingles humans with other animals, dissolving the boundaries between; indeed, Unsaid goes so far as to question the very legitimacy of these distinctions. A masterful novel wrought with exceptional sensitivity and intelligence, Unsaid is narrated from the afterlife by Helena, a veterinarian who clings to those she left behind: her devastated widower, David; her menagerie of heartbroken pets; her colleagues and friends. David is determined to retain the structure of their former life, but the more he learns about the narrative’s shining gem, Cindy, the more things change. Cindy, a chimpanzee Helena worked with, has a level of intelligence that could expand the frontiers of communication and consciousness and a passion that reorients the lives of every last person the author introduces. Abramson deftly draws characters whose interactions represent real issues central to animal rights—dignity, quality of life and human accountability among them. Unsaid reverberates with legal and ethical relevance well beyond the emotional close of this exciting debut novel.
What all three of these writers share is an understanding that the inevitable last stop on a journey of devotion, whether to one another or to our animals, is grief. And that’s one miserable reality. So it is a welcome testament to the redemptive power of literature that Ekman, Murphy and Abramson manage to allow us, despite the desperate sadness they fearlessly portray, to feel the comfort and tenderness of our shared transience so exquisitely.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
A complete training guide
November 3 2011
Leave-it, a cue that asks your dog to leave something alone, is up there among the most useful things you can teach your dog. Think of it this way: your dog might not stop chasing that deer into traffic on her own, but with an airtight leave-it cue you can stop her in her tracks and save her life. So whether it’s another dog, that slice of pizza on the edge of the counter, a squirrel, the person uninterested in your dog’s attention, or the baby’s toys, anything can be protected from unwanted attention with a well-practiced leave-it. Here’s a short drill you can practice with your dog every day to master this essential technique.
What You’ll Need
What To Do
Begin with one of the ordinary treats in an open palm. Lower it to where your dog can see it (pictured above).
When your dog tries to take the treat, close your hand around it. She will likely nudge at the treat. Ignore this behavior. Ignore any behavior attempting to pry the treat out of your hand. What you’re waiting for is even the slightest hesitation in interest.
The moment your dog shows even a fleeting second of hesitation in trying to wrest that treat from your hand, you bring one of the better treats out in your other open palm.
The dog gets this treat as a reward for that moment’s hesitation.
In repeating this drill over the course of days or weeks, you are building up your dog’s skills by waiting for incrementally longer hesitations until it becomes clear she is beginning to understand.
Here, Stella is showing more restraint than she did the first time she was shown the treat.
Still more restraint is being shown here. At this point, you can begin to integrate the verbal cue, saying “leave it” when the dog makes the move for the first treat. If she listens the first time, she gets the better treat in the other hand. If she doesn’t, the fist closes, you wait, and you try again together.
Wellness: Food & Nutrition
An All-natural Snack for Serious Chewers
We’ve found a healthy treat to engage even the busiest dogs for hours: Himalayan Dog Chew from Mukilteo, Washington. Slow-heated using a traditional Himalayan recipe, the treat has only three ingredients, all of them 100 percent natural: yak milk, cow milk and lime juice. A treat that has no chemicals or preservatives and lasts for hours? This one’s Lola-approved! And don’t forget to stop back in and let us know what you think.
Dog's Life: Humane
Helping deliver cozy beds to comfort shelter dogs this winter.
Shelter life can be hard on a dog. The everyday comforts we take for granted are missing, replaced with unfamiliar smells, scary sounds and cold floors. This holiday season, the folks at P.L.A.Y. (Pet Lifestyles and You) and the PetFinder.com Foundation have partnered up through their Warm Bellies Initiative to give animals in need a warm place to sleep.
Every time you purchase an Artist or Original Collection pet bed on petplay.com (or at a participating retailer), the Warm Bellies Initiative donates a special-edition Chill Pad to a dog in a shelter or rescue group. To assure the pads are distributed throughout the country, P.L.A.Y. will rotate the donations monthly through nine regions throughout the U.S. That means each time they receive 10 Artist or Original Collection pad orders, 10 Chill Pads will be donated to a designated shelter in one of those regions.
Want to assure that dogs in your local shelter benefit from this program? P.L.A.Y. Facebook fans can vote starting in January for their shelter of choice from among a select set of shelter and rescue groups. And here’s the best part: there’s no limit to the number of mat donations.
P.L.A.Y. produces eco-friendly pet beds, with recycled Planet Fill(tm) polyfiber fill and tags made from paper certified safe by the Forest Stewardship Council. The Petfinder.com Foundation, with 15 years of helping over 17 million (and counting) homeless pets find forever homes, has a huge network of over 13,000 rescue organizations around the country.
Neil Abramson’s engaging debut novel has everyone talking. Narrated from the afterlife by Helena, a veterinarian who clings to the creatures she left behind—including her devastated widower David, her menagerie of heartbroken pets, her colleagues and friends—Unsaid places the lives and love of animals at the story’s center. As David struggles to restructure his personal life without his wife in the picture, he finds his professional life as an attorney pulling him into realms of Helena’s world that he didn’t even know existed. Stepping outside of his own grief, he is asked to take up the cause of Cindy—a chimpanzee Helena worked with whose intelligence promises to expand the frontiers of communication and consciousness and whose passion reorients the lives of every last person Abramson introduces. Abramson deftly draws characters whose interactions represent the real, current matters central to animal rights—dignity, quality of life and human accountability among them. As an animal lover, the husband of a veterinarian and an attorney himself whose pro bono work centers on the rights of animals, Abramson brings a deep appreciation for the subtleties of animal personality. He talked with us shortly following the release of Unsaid.
The Bark: When writing Unsaid, did you think about characterization for the animals in the same way as you did for the human characters?
Neil Abramson: Actually, because the central animals in the story were based on real life animals with whom I have been privileged to share my life, they came to the novel almost fully formed. The reality is that they are as complex in personality as the humans who love them (at least in my house).
Could you tell us a little bit about these animals and what made them special to you?
When I hear this question, my thoughts turn to Skippy. Skippy is one of the animals in the novel—a dog with a heart defect. But Skippy was a real dog—a small, black bundle of fur with a wise and handsome, fox-like face. Skippy had been born with a badly malformed heart. He showed up at my wife’s veterinary practice one day and she operated on Skippy, but she couldn’t fix him. She could only give him some additional time. We believed that Skippy likely would be dead within the year. No one wants a dog with that kind of life span, so he came home to us. That turned out to be a very good day.
We were blessed to have Skippy in our lives for three years. He used his time well—unafraid, present, loving, funny, loyal. He was a small dog, but he didn’t live a small life. Skippy died right in my arms. I depressed the syringe that released the pink fluid that finally put his heart at rest. I needed to do that for him. I wanted to spare my wife the burden of one more soul. When it was over, I was surprised at the depth of the loss I felt. The only way I can explain it is to tell you that something deep within me shifted. I realized I was so grateful for every minute with Skippy and wouldn’t have traded the time with him for anything in the world, even though that time ended too soon. Then I understood that this was Skippy’s last gift to me. By taking his life, I learned from him how important the act of living really is.
What’s your response to critics who claim our recognition of the emotional presence of dogs like Skippy, their sensitivity and sentience, are example of anthropomorphization on our part?
First, I tell them ‘so what.’ I think much of the fear of anthropomophism is BS. I am a human being, right? So is it any surprise that I will attribute human characteristics to those animals I value and share my life with? A chimpanzee is not a human—never was and will never evolve into one, but that doesn't mean that my feelings for him or her should be limited by that fact.
Second, I tell them they are wrong as a matter of science. I am not a scientist, but I did a great deal of research for the book and also had a wonderful science advisor. We have finally gotten to the point where the science has caught up with what we have always really known—the overwhelming majority of animals, and certainly the close primates, have many of the characteristics that we so jealously guard as ‘human.’ Of course there are differences, but do those differences justify the profound, destructive disparities in the way the law treats humans and animals? No way.
Let’s talk about those disparities. In legal terms today, are animals subject to animal testing still seen no differently than inanimate objects? Any developments on the horizon that might offer hope of change? What can concerned people do to help bring about change?
Lots of different questions here. The short answer is that in many areas, and particularly when it comes to the ability to be free from bodily injury, the law treats nonhuman testing subjects very much like inanimate objects. Those animals are just ‘things’ and have absolutely no personal rights of autonomy. The welfare of those animals may be regulated in many respects—cage size, clean and sufficient food and water—but that is a far cry from recognizing that those animals have rights as animals (not as ‘almost humans’) to be free from unnecessary injury and harm.
Is there hope for change? Yes, there is. There are a number of wonderful organizations that are working to change the law so that chimpanzees and bonobos, for example, will one day be recognized as having certain basic legal rights, like the right to be free from intentional harm. In addition to supporting those organizations, people can help by raising awareness of the issue through social media. The law will change when people insist that it is time for change.
McConnell Publishing, Ltd., 96 pp., 2011; $9.95
Volunteer long enough with shelter dogs and you develop a long list of their needs — each as essential as the last — that you absolutely must share with adoptive parents as they walk out the door with one of “your” pups. She loves belly rubs! Oh, he’s a bit scared of men, especially men wearing hats. Watch her with the cats; remember that when her prey drive kicks in, she may lose her manners. They’re common enough concerns, but we can’t squeeze them all in, let alone talk about how to work with these issues.
Love Has No Age Limit: Welcoming an Adopted Dog into Your Home by renowned animal behaviorists Patricia McConnell, PhD, and Karen London, PhD, is the next best thing to following the dog home (and a whole lot more articulate). This slim book from two powerhouse experts covers all the basics of adopting an adolescent or adult dog, preparing you for success when bringing the new family member into any kind of home — even one with kids, cats or other dogs.
Given that adopted dogs have their own unique histories, half of the book is dedicated to very brief considerations of the most common behavioral problems, which include house-training, fear of strangers and resource guarding. From its smart tips for dog-proofing in advance and the car trip home to sound advice on bonding, training and establishing daily routines, Love Has No Age Limit is a gift, one that will help everyone successfully weather the first month’s experiences. It would be an ideal addition to take-home packets supplied by shelters, rescues and breeders. Assuming you won’t let a volunteer tag along, that is.
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