Good Dog: Studies & Research
An interview with Jeffrey Masson
This is one of the first interviews (if not the very first interview) ever to appear in the pages of Bark. It was originally published in Bark’s third issue in fall 1997—back when Bark was still printed in black-and-white on newsprint—when Jeffrey Masson first released his book Dogs Never Lie About Love.
On the day of our interview, Jeffrey Masson’s lovely Berkeley home was a bustle of activity, with friends and family popping in and out, the baby, the three dogs and the cats. There had been a wedding only days earlier and Masson was preparing for a major book tour. We were very grateful that he’d found time to squeeze us in. As we settled in for our talk, the phone rang——his agent calling to talk about Masson’s appearance on Dateline the previous night. “I’ve got to go, I’m being interviewed by the Berkeley Bark,” Masson said, cutting short talk of national TV to give this interview.
Your title is Dogs Never Lie About Love. It reminds me of a Fats Waller song, “Be sure it’s true when you say I love you, it’s a sin to tell a lie.” To me it has always been an odd lyric, because how do you lie about love, or how do you not lie about love——our emotions are so complex. What exactly do you mean by this title?
It was suggested to me by my trainer, a wonderful guy at Guide Dogs for the Blind——Mike Delosi. He said you’re gonna laugh, but I just thought of the best title your book——Dogs Never Lie About Love. Laugh!, it’s perfect! And it really is the thesis of the book, that dogs are incapable of any kid of deceit when it comes to their emotions. They don’t hide them from others and don’t hide them from themselves. We sometimes don’t know what we’re thinking and feeling and certainly often attempt to prevent others from knowing what we’re feeling. Nobody doubts this. But dogs are so upfront about their feelings. They can’t, they just can’t...
They don’t mind being the fool.
That’s right. This is who they are. They don’t think, “If I’m showing my joie de vivre they’ll think I’m unsophisticated and naive. What they’re feeling is who they are. And I think that love is really the master emotion for dogs. They really seem to have an endless supply, an endless capacity to love that just astonishes me.
You say in your introduction that you were originally attracted to the observation of wild animals because you felt that somehow the domestic dog was contaminated by association with humans. Have you changed your mind about this?
Well, I don’t really know. It’s fascinating to me that dogs feel as much as they feel and that we can read them so easily. So the question is, why can we read dogs so easily, why are they so transparent to us and we to them? There’s no other animal like that. We don’t know what a bear is feeling. You know when they’re angry, but you don’t know when they’re sad and disappointed and nostalgic and homesick and all these things that we have in common with dogs. So the question arises, did canines learn it from us or is it just some miracle of parallelism. Or is it that all animals share these things and we just can’t read them. I haven’t discovered the answer to that. I suspect one could. If you were to live with wolves long enough you might be able to say it’s clear that wolves feel the same things that dogs feel, therefore they didn’t get it from us.
Didn’t some of your studies of the wild animals, for instance elephants in the zoo, show that they have a rapport with their people?
Not like dogs, possibly, but not even cats. I have two cats here and I love them but they really don’t have that same intimate constant interaction with us that dogs have. Horses don’t, parrots don’t, no animal does.
It begs the question … Was is there from the beginning, and that’s why we got together with them?
That is an interesting question. But it’d be awfully hard to answer. I think if you knew enough about wolves, if we discovered that wolves show the same emotions with other wolves, then we could say it’s the nature of the beast——it’s not us. But I suspect that it is us. Because dogs are so eager to please us and understand us. When I first got my three dogs, I thought——I can’t do this. It’s just too much, three big dogs walking around Berkeley, how am I going to get them out of the car and into this park without putting each one on a leash. I can’t do it. And lo and behold it was really easy after a while. They figured out what I want from them and they give it to me. It took time, and I didn’t train them. It’s just that they watched me and observed me long enough to figure that “Oh, he want us to do this! Ok, I get it, I can do that.” And that’s amazing! Cats don’t do that, they may know what you want, they just don’t care.
In fact, some part of them may know what you want and do …
...the opposite. And a dog will never do that. Very rarely will a dog do what he knows you don’t want him to do. Very rarely.
My dog is very willful. If he doesn’t want to do what I want him to do he won’t look at me. He pretends he can’t hear me.
Hysterical deafness in dogs.
I find your last book (When Elephants Weep) and this book almost radical because I think it’s been anathema for intellectuals to discuss emotional states in animals. Even though anyone who has ever lived with animals or worked with them in a lab could observe that.
The people who work with them in labs have a vested interest in denying that they feel. Because if you say that you think that a dog can feel pain and can suffer as much, if not more than we can, then what kind of person inflicts that pain? It’s hard. The honest ones will say yes, that animals do suffer but animal testing helps mankind. OK, I don’t agree, but you can live with that. What I don’t like is when they say animals don’t feel anything. I don’t see how they say that about a dog. I mean maybe with a rat, I don’t believe if for a minute, but I can understand someone saying he can’t see emotion in rats.
I think it’s easy for people to denigrate their own observations because of what experts say.
You have to look at what vested interest experts have. In the segment of Dateline I just did they had to have a critic talk about my book so they get Dr. Hart who’s the head of the behavioral clinic at UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and he said, “Masson is totally wrong——everything a dog does is pure instinct.” And that is the cliché——that’s what they were taught and it’s very hard to get them to move away from that. You could say that about every human emotion. If a mother saves a child who’s drowning——is that instinct or love?
I expect that there are people who have those theories about humans.
I’m sure that there are. But most people who would say that about a dog would not say it about a human being. Why would a dog have an instinct to save a human being anyway? It can hardly be instinct, and there are literally thousands of stories of dogs that have saved people.
I like something you said in your introduction. You asked, “Why is a lab scientist a more reliable observer?” Most people take it for granted that scientific method is objective and that the scientist must necessarily be an objective observer.
We’ve been taught that. They say, well you’re telling us a story and that’s just an anecdote. Anecdotal evidence. What do they think they have when they’re in the laboratory? It’s just another story. And if you have enough of them, if you’ve collected a thousand similar stories, isn’t that data?
You go over how you selected your dogs and what you were looking for and I was struck that all three were females. Did that make a difference to you?
Well, my publisher was very annoyed about that. He wanted me to have a male dog. And it’s true, it would have been interesting to compare. It just so happened that all three of the ones I wanted turned out to be females. So I’m sorry, I’d like to know whether, for example, males are more aggressive than females. These three dogs are just not aggressive. They have never gotten into a fight with each other or another dog. They’re not perfect dogs by any means, little Simi gives this horrible Grrr to every dog she meets. But she’s never actually gotten into a fight, and I wonder if she were a he, would he get into fights?
They’re all so individual.
That’s true too. Certainly there are male dogs that we encounter that would never fight. And there are certain females that we meet that would. But no dog has ever fought with mine. My theory is that males will not fight with females unless they’re trained to fight. But if we’re just walking around and they do something offensive, males will forgive it right away. And females don’t seem to fight much between themselves.
My dog has a lot of propriety and he expects other dogs to be … dignified. He gives females a lot of slack, but not males.
I think that dogs can be very dignified and there’s a difference in a dog who is not and one who is. It’s an interesting quality. In a lot of the working dogs, I have the sense that they feel that there’s a way to do things and an improper way. I was hoping to get a Border Collie for that reason, but I also hear that they’re hyper. They’ve got to be doing stuff. I’m spending three, four hours a day out with my dogs, so they get plenty of things to do. I didn’t think I would spend quite that much time, but with a little baby it’s fun. I like being out anyway and since it turns out to be my research …
What a nice life. Are these your first dogs in a while?
The last dog I had was a long time ago, about six years ago. I had moved into someone’s house who left the dog behind. An old German Shepherd. And I really bonded with him, I was amazed, but it was in the last year of his life. And before that, in my previous marriage, we had a Standard Poodle for 15 years——I loved that dog! And before that it was as a child. So there haven’t been that many dogs in my life.
I haven’t really had a dog since childhood. My dog now, I feel very conscious of him and have a close bond. And I think that he’s taught me a great deal about human nature, too. I wonder what your dogs have taught you.
For me, that’s how the book came to have this thesis. I really do believe that dogs feel more intensely, more purely, more passionately with less ambivalence than I do. I can’t speak for you, or anyone else, but for me they definitely do. And I want to learn from them, and I do learn from them. How to live in the moment——dogs are very, very good at that. They’re really like little gurus. All these gurus claim to live in the moment, but don’t really do it. Dogs do it. They really live in the moment, and they don’t compare things. I still have a bad habit that I picked up from my parents of comparing one thing to another, one place to another, one person to another. Dogs never do that. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the landfill in Berkeley, that tacky little beach opposite where we always go. But it has the world’s ugliest beach! And I took my parents there once and they said, “Jeff how can you even walk on this beach, remember when we were in the South of France and Cannes and do you remember the Italian Riviera?” And I said yeah, this is really tacky …. My dogs——they love it! They’ve been to the most beautiful beaches in the world up in Oregon and here … they don’t care! For them, it’s the moment that counts, they’re with the person they love, they’re chasing sticks, they’re jumping in the water, they’re perfectly happy——they never make those comparisons. So, those are the things I’ve learned from them. Also, I haven’t learned it, but they’re very good at forgiving. That, I’m not so sure I want to learn, but they can do it. I mean you can, I never have, but people hit dogs and a minute later the dog will lick their hand, I mean a minute later! I guess some dogs less than others, some dogs probably will remember and hold a grudge. But most dogs don’t hold grudges, they really don’t.
There is an interesting story in your book about a police dog stopping his master who’s unjustly beating a guy.
It’s a Vicki Hearne story and I believe it. It’s utterly fascinating! I wish I had observed it, I’d love to know what was going through that dog’s mind.
That’s a very complex thing!
Very complex. If that’s true it shows an extraordinary … if it’s true you don’t see it very often, that’s for sure. I asked the police here, “Does a dog ever stop a thief or a shoplifter?” No, they wouldn’t do that, they don’t care, they don’t share our values. But obviously this person had overstepped some canine value. I think it’s an utterly fascinating concept. I’ve never observed that. That’s Vicki Hearne’s. She’s very unsentimental, that was one of the few sentimental stories in her book. She’s a big trainer and I’ve seen a lot of training now and I’m not into it, it’s not my thing.
I believe she’s written about circus animal training. I just saw a film, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control, which featured a lion trainer, whose attitude toward the lions was adversarial, one of fear ….
Never turn your back, show who’s boss. A lot of dog training is like that too.
The interesting thing about the film is that the lion trainer had a protégé whose attitude was not adversarial, she built a rapport with the lions. The elder trainer had a very grudging respect for his young apprentice——well, it seems to work but someday she’s going to be sorry.
Right, it’s that way with dog training, also. I went to visit one of the legends of training, a guy named Sapir Weiss, have you heard of him? He’s an Israeli paratrooper and he’s trained dogs to carry dynamite. And he was amazing, I have to admit. I walked in and we started arguing right away. He doesn’t believe in emotion, nothing——it’s all training, it’s all conditioning. He says, “It’s all about who’s boss, and I’m the big boss and they know it and I have a way of letting them know this right away.” And I said I didn’t believe it. He said, “You know, I’ll prove it to you.” He said, “Are these three dogs very attached to you? I’m going to walk with them and you call them back to you and I guarantee you they won’t come.” I said no way. And they walked right by me and I called “Sasha, Simi, Rani,” and they looked at me like, “I’m sorry I can’t come”——they wouldn’t budge. I said, “What is this, is it a magic act?” He said, “I convey I’m the boss and they know it, I know how to communicate that to dogs. You don’t hear a single dog in my kennel of ninety dogs barking, do you? That’s because I let them know I won’t tolerate it.” It’s very impressive—I still don’t like it …. He had a dog, a fabulous Schutzhund but the dog seemed miserable, he never goes out, does everything Sapir says and looks at him in constant apprehension.
It’s hard to know how the dog feels about that, but for me, I don’t want to have that kind of relationship.
That’s a good point. I can’t say, but in my opinion, the dog would rather have a more equal kind of relationship. I can’t answer that. But I don’t want that with them, and I’m not going to train them to go blow up trains with dynamite so …. On the other hand I also went through Ian Dunbar’s training with the puppies and that didn’t work so well. I finally decided that the best training was no training—you hang out long enough with the dogs and they figure out what you want and they do it. My dogs come, they stop for traffic, they do the important things. I taught them the command “Leave It” when they’re eating horrible garbage. They do that.
My dog hasn’t got that one down.
Well, when I tell them stay they’re not going to do it, and I’m sure I could train them to do that but it would mean breaking their will to some extent, and I’m just not prepared to do that.
Yes, I don’t relish that authoritarian relationship, consequently my dog is not the perfect obedient dog.
But I think it allows them to be more of who they are. This is also the problem with guide dogs for the blind, I mean I’m very impressed with what they do and obviously it’s wonderful work and it’s wonderful for the blind people, I wonder how wonderful it is for the dog. You know this is not something the dogs would choose to do on their own, given the choice.
Well, you know I think there are some individual dogs who must want to.
Maybe, they take pride in it, yeah.
Like herding and working dogs, a lot of them really love to work and they do take pride, and that’s a big part of life.
But it’s not all of life … pleasure is also part. They’re not big on pleasure at Guide Dogs for the Blind. The dogs have a certain amount of time when they play but my dogs basically play all day. They don’t work and I think it makes them very happy. It’s very hard to judge. Who’s to say who’s a happier dog.
Your dogs have a good life.
They have a very good life.
What say you about leashes?
Berkeley must be the best city in the world to have a dog because we don’t have a leash law on the street. The police don’t always know it but I went to City Hall and got a little piece of paper with the ordinance that says if a dog is obedience trained and is under voice control then it shall be deemed to be upon a leash. The few times that the police have stopped me, I live across the street from the Berkeley Police Station, I’ve just shown it to them and they’ve been very nice about it. Most of the time I don’t get stopped, and I walk around Berkeley with my three dogs off leash, and I really like that. It’s just different, it really is different. It makes me feel that we are more equal. They can stop and sniff things, they can deviate a little bit. I mean, they still basically go where I want to go, it’s not equal in that way, but they’re free and I really like it.
On the other hand there is a leash law in the parks.
Yes there is, and I just don’t obey it. If a ranger tells me to leash them, I do. Most people don’t care. When we go to Inspiration Point for walks, most dogs are off-leash and people are very happy about it. But, at least once a walk, somebody will come to me and say, “Those dogs are supposed to be on a leash!” And the dogs aren’t doing anything, and I ask them, “Can you explain to me how they’re bothering you?” “It’s a law!” “Well you’re right, but they don’t seem to be harming anybody, and they’re getting so much pleasure, do you really want me to leash them? “Yes, I do!” You always get a few, but for research it was interesting to hear that.
Do you ever take your dogs on leash? Because it’s a very different experience.
I really don’t like to do it. Sometimes outside of Berkeley you have to. We went on a camping trip and they were very unpleasant sometimes if the dogs were off-leash so we took them on-leash in the camping grounds. I just hate it!
I think that dogs are more aggressive on-leash.
I’ve read lots of training books, and there are many different theories. Some feel that the dogs become more territorial on your behalf on lead.
I don’t understand it. Another thing I don’t get … my dogs go completely nuts when they’re in the car and we pass a car with another dog or pass another dog on the street. All three of them. Walking down the street they pay no attention.
Not even when the other dog is behind a fence?
Behind a fence, yes. Behind the fence they hate.
I once saw a baseball game when the pitcher hit the batter with a fast ball. The batter stormed the pitcher’s mound in an attitude of “Let me at ‘em.” But both players kept their arms at their sides, shoulders back. Not until teammates came to restrain them did they really start flailing. When they were safely restrained from hurting each other, the killer came out. I see this behavior in dogs behind fences. They can engage in a little aggression because they really can’t do anything.
Maybe you’re right. If they pass each other on the street they could hurt each other, but they can’t in the car or behind a fence. Interesting. But the car thing, I don’t like it and I’ve begged them to stop, but it doesn’t do the slightest good. Not the slightest good.
You were initially not interested in studying dogs—they were perhaps contaminated by their association with humans. Have you also found that you see the wildness in dogs?
Oh yes! That’s the miracle to me, that we are living on intimate terms with a wild animal. It really is, it’s a wolf. There not that much difference between wolves and dogs, and it’s a very humbling experience. Suddenly your dog does something or howls and you feel my God, this is a wild animal and it has accepted me and we are living together! And no other animal gives you that … well cats a bit too, because they really are tigers. But dogs even more, and it’s just such a miracle to me. I can’t get over it.
Q&A with Ted Kerasote, author of Merle’s Door
In 1991, while rafting Utah’s San Juan River, award-winning writer Ted Kerasote came upon the dog he would later immortalize in Merle’s Door. According to Kerasote, Merle, an adolescent stray who had been surviving on his own in the high desert, told him, You need a dog, and I’m it. It didn’t take Kerasote long to agree with him. Heartbroken after Merle died in 2004, Kerasote vowed to do all he could to ensure that his next dog— Pukka—would enjoy a long and healthy life from the very beginning. His quest began before Pukka was born— researching genetics and how to choose healthy parents, finding a breeder willing to rethink standard early vaccinations—and continued after Pukka came home, delving into quality-of-life concerns for all dogs, such as food, birth control and routine health care. Pukka’s Promise is the culmination of Kerasote’s extensive research. Bark contributing editor Rebecca Wallick recently spoke with Kerasote about some of his experiences and observations.
Bark: On your quest for longer-lived dogs, what were some of the more encouraging things you learned?
B: What did you find that disturbed you?
B: If someone wants a dog of a particular breed, what should they think about?
B: Of all aspects of canine care and companionship, are there things you feel are happening too slowly?
B: You spent a lot of time at shelters, investigating what makes some successful in becoming no-kill, while others can’t seem to reach that goal. What do you think makes the difference?
B: In Pukka’s Promise, you take on some big players in the dog world—breeders, veterinarians, dog-food and toy manufacturers. Are you concerned about their reactions?
B: What is the big take-away you want readers to get from Pukka’s Promise?
For the full interview, see The Bark, Issue 73, Feb–Apr 2013.
Making lifelong love of animals an international success
Almost every neighborhood has one—a young girl or boy who’s constantly bringing home all sorts of stray animals. While the responsibilities of school, sports and jobs lead many kids to put aside this selfless kindness, others make it their life’s calling. Betsy Saul is one of the latter. As a child, Saul rescued kittens, puppies, birds, squirrels and even an ailing snake. Today, as founder of Petfinder.com, Saul’s rescue efforts have gained international recognition and praise.
As Petfinder.com celebrated its 10th anniversary, Saul recalled that her original intent had been to harness the power of the Internet to reduce euthanasia rates; her initial goal was to save a few animals each month. Fast-forward 10 years, and it’s clear that Saul has achieved more than she ever imagined. As of June 2006, Petfinder.com had helped facilitate over 10,000,000 adoptions.
Rising to the Occasion
In the midst of this natural disaster, Petfinder.com became an integral part of one of the largest animal rescue efforts ever undertaken in this country when the Humane Society of the United States, Maddie’s Fund and the ASPCA approached it for assistance. Already in the process of building a universal database, Petfinder.com—with input from these agencies—began one of the most successful collaborations in animal disaster-response history.
In just a few days, with Petfinder.com’s programmers working 20-hour shifts, the Animal Emergency Response Network (AERN) web-based system went live. Information from more than eight databases—including those of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) and United Animal Nations (UAN)—was made available to people who were frantically searching for missing animals, or those who wanted to help rescue animals left homeless by the storms. Thanks to the AERN database, 3,200 companion animals and their owners were reunited.
Cause for Pride
Saul was also proud of Petfinder.com’s response to Hurricane Rita. “Before [Rita] hit," she said, "we trained a 24-hour call center to use AERN. We issued ongoing radio news releases as people were evacuating, urging listeners to call a toll-free number to find temporary lodging [foster homes] for their pets along their evacuation route.
“The response was awesome. This system allowed people to take care of their own pets rather than give them up to a shelter. Imagine driving up a highway in Texas, not knowing if you would find a hotel that accepted pets, and being able to find a caring family who would help out. It was very cool and I’m really proud of that.”
When I asked her for some final thoughts on the rescue efforts after both hurricanes, her response was clear: “With the help of shelter staff, the rescuers who responded and Stealth Volunteers [a grassroots group who worked tirelessly on reuniting animals]… what a dream! I couldn’t have conceived of a more inspirational response. I’m so proud of everyone. I think tragedies like Katrina might shake the foundation of one’s faith in some things ... but my faith in people after that response is huge.”
From the beginning, Petfinder.com has been both an industry leader and a maverick. Saul herself considers it a “social profit” organization. She believes that Petfinder.com’s success proves that companies can be both profitable and successful in making social change a reality. Corporate sponsors including Purina, PETCO, Merial, Bissell and the Animal Rescue Site support the business through advertising, which allows shelters and rescuers to participate at no cost.
Betsy Saul has come a long way from the young girl who rescued neighborhood strays. Today, she is a dedicated woman who skillfully combines technology, caring people and socially responsible business practices to help improve the lives of animals, day after day. Her faith, vision and commitment are an inspiration to animal-lovers everywhere.
For more information, contact Petfinder.com.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
You have questions, she has answers
You’ve no doubt seen Victoria Stilwell in action on It’s Me or the Dog, where, using positive reinforcement, she shows wayward pups and their sometimes equally wayward guardians how to get along. Now, Victoria joins our roster of training experts in offering sound and practical advice on a variety of, shall we say, behavior faux pas. Please join us in welcoming Victoria to The Bark.
Q: My dog’s barking is driving me (and my neighbors) crazy. He’s a healthy, two-year-old Sheltie mix, and I’ve been told that it’s impossible to train him not to bark—that I should have him surgically debarked, something I find completely appalling. Please tell me there’s a way to teach my dog to control his noisy self.
A: Dogs who bark excessively can cause big problems for owners, but even though it may seem completely out of control, this behavior can be modified to a bearable level. Sometimes barking dogs can cause such distress that people resort to having the dog’s vocal chords surgically removed, but I’m glad that you find that idea appalling, because most trainers and veterinarians would advise against taking such a drastic measure. Debarking can cause immense anxiety, as it takes away an important part of the dog’s ability to communicate. I do recommend, however, that you take your dog to the veterinarian for a thorough medical check up, since any extreme behavior can be exacerbated by a medical condition.
Shelties are working dogs and are known to be vocal. These days, most dogs who were once bred to do a certain job find domestic life boring, and barking relieves that boredom. If this is the case, increased exercise and mental stimulation will refocus your dog’s mind onto something more positive and help tire him out.
Dogs bark for many reasons—to get attention, as a warning, in response to other barking dogs, out of anxiety or when excited—and it is important to identify the triggers before training.
If your Sheltie barks to get attention, don’t reward his demands. Telling your dog off is inadvertently rewarding him for barking even if the communication is negative. In this case, it is best to ignore the barking, wait for five seconds of quiet and then reward him with attention. This way, the dog learns that he gets nothing from you when he barks but gets everything when he’s quiet.
A dog who barks when excited (i.e., before going for a walk or being fed) is harder to work with because an owner’s pre-departure or pre-food cues are usually highly ritualized. Again, do not reward your dog with the things he wants until he is calm. For example, if the barking happens as soon as you go for the leash, drop the leash and sit down. Keep repeating this until your dog is quiet. If you successfully attach the leash but he barks as soon as he gets outside, immediately go back inside. This technique requires patience, but if you are diligent, your dog will quickly learn that quiet equals a walk.& Dogs who suffer anxiety when left alone will often bark a lot during the first 30 minutes after departure, while others continue until their person comes home. If this is the case, you must get a trainer in to help, as separation anxiety can be a very difficult behavior to modify.
Shelties tend to be particularly sound-sensitive, responding to noises that the human ear cannot hear. Also, because they were bred for herding, some Shelties have a high chase and/or prey drive and are easily stimulated by fast-moving objects such as squirrels or birds. If your dog barks excitedly in the back yard, for example, immediately take him back into the house and only allow him out again when he is quiet. Keep repeating if necessary and never leave him in the back yard unattended. If your Sheltie reacts and barks at other dogs or people in or outside of the home, it might be because he hasn’t received adequate socialization and feels uncomfortable. In this case, he needs to go on a desensitization program so he can gain the confidence he needs to cope in a social situation.
As you can see, there are many reasons why dogs bark, but please don’t listen to those who say that extreme barking can’t be modified, because there are lots of ways to reduce what is a very normal but sometimes annoying behavior.
Good Dog: Behavior & Training
What to do when a dog is part alligator
Question: My dog takes treats so hard that she’s hurt my hands on occasion. I’ve had the same thing happen to me to varying degrees at the dog park or in classes when I give a treat to another dog. I dread training sessions with my own dog, and I’ve become hesitant to give treats to other dogs. Is there a solution to this problem?
Answer: I sympathize! Your experiences with dogs who chomp enthusiastically are universal among those who spend time with dogs. Many dogs regularly grab treats without taking the care required when dealing with delicate human skin. (On the other hand, some dogs are only “chompy” when revved up, so this can be a good assessment tool; in these cases, the intensity of the alligator-like behavior can indicate a dog’s arousal level.)
Some dogs are naturally gentle with their mouths, but most need lessons to achieve this skill. Dogs should be taught the cue “Gentle,” which simply means to take the treat nicely. Having a dog who takes treats gently can relieve much of the conflict-induced frustration that occurs when you want to reinforce your dog’s good behavior but also want your fingers to remain intact and connected to your body.
Avoid confusion by teaching the cue “Gentle” as its own behavior rather than during a training session for some other behavior. Commit to the idea that your dog needs to take the treats gently or she doesn’t get them at all. In other words, don’t allow the snapping behavior to work for her. Until now, she has been getting the treat no matter what she does, but we want her to only get it when she takes it gently.
To teach your dog what “Gentle” means, hold a treat in your hand, close your fist around it and offer it to your dog. If your dog bites at your hand, keep it closed; this means either toughing it out or wearing gloves, depending on your dog’s behavior and your tolerance. When she stops biting and licks your hand (or even nibbles gently and painlessly), say “Gentle” and open your hand completely to give her the treat.
Keep saying “Gentle” each time you offer her a treat to help her associate the word with the behavior. If she has a relapse and returns to her former finger-gnawing ways, pull your hand away and then offer the treat again, using the cue “Gentle” to remind her of what you want. This will keep you from dropping the treat in response to her snapping.
Until your dog knows how to take treats gently, there are a couple of ways to protect your fingers when giving treats outside of training sessions. At home, put cream cheese or peanut butter on a wooden spoon and offer your dog a chance to lick this food a few times. This is a way to reinforce your dog without putting your hands near her mouth.
In a dog park or class setting, offer the treat on your flat palm. Many dogs who will snap at treats held in the fingertips are able to take them properly when they are presented on an open hand. A final option is to drop the treats on the ground rather than giving them directly to the dog. It takes a lot of repetition for most dogs to learn to take treats gently, and the occasional effort to teach someone else’s dog by, for example, holding them in your closed hand is unlikely to be effective. Unless a dog’s guardian is teaching this at home, save your fingers by either flat-palming the treats or tossing them on the ground. These techniques won’t teach your dog or her dog park friends to take the treats politely, but they do keep your fingers safe!
Q&A with Alexandra Horowitz
In her new book, On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz—author of the wildly popular Inside of a Dog—enlists the attention and insights of others to discover more about the neighborhood in which she lives. But when it comes to really getting the inside scoop, who better to turn to than dogs, those “creatures of the nose”?
Bark: What was the inspiration for your new work, On Looking?
B: In one of the chapters, you “look” as you see your dog does, more by smell than by vision. How were you able to get into a dog’s “nosescape”?
B: What did that tell you about a dog’s experience of the walk?
B: Did you observe other differences in the ways a dog perceives the landscape/environment? For example, in the time it took to do the walk?
B: Did your dog linger at landmarks, and if so, why do you think he did that?
B: Do you think we can refine our sense of smell by watching our dogs? Perhaps using our sense of smell differently, or doing more sniffing?
The singer and her, dog, Juliette — rock on.
Say the name “Rickie Lee Jones” and a swooping, sailing, raw and tender voice comes immediately to mind. This singer-songwriter has been on the cover of Rolling Stone, won two Grammys and a bucket-full of nominations, and otherwise entertained and surprised us for more than three decades. (Her most recent album, The Devil You Know, was recently released by Fantasy Records.) Rickie Lee and her dog, Juliette, are regulars on LA’s Los Feliz Boulevard, where she knows all the best places for coffee and corn muffi ns with raspberry jam. Her take on her dog is much like the artist herself: a little unpredictable, irreverent and, in the end, poetic.
You know, the joy of the dog’s life is in the normalcy, the strangers’ footsteps they warn you of, the way they know you’re tired or sad, or when you’re on the phone and your voice changes and they start poking you with their nose and wagging their tail extra loud to remind you not to take things seriously. The respect — my dog insists I eat before she does, or at least be cooking. She does not want to be pack leader.
My dog tries to teach me her language (even though she has not had consistent luck), and I see her eyes, or the way her head is raised, and I know she feels ill. She knows about 100 words and 50 more phrases; she knows when I’m leaving for long or short. She knows “scoot over,” “give it back” and “drink some water.” She knows the names of places and people in her life. She loves the recording studios, and the live shows make her crazy excited.
She is not a “licker”; she doesn’t see the point, and neither do I, but once in a while, a small kiss. Maybe a second small lick. She’s a lady and her name suits her. She has pain, but she insists on walking with the horse, running near the beach. She is present every day, and I have learned a lot from sharing my home with her. When I contemplate the nature of dreams, she runs and barks in her sleep. When I feel besieged, she wants to comfort me.
The story of Juliette is in her kind, kind spirit; her motherlove wakefulness; her baby dreams. I care for her, little pains and big. And she is a companion to me every day of my life now.
Robin and Linda Williams have been making music together for almost 40 years. Their new CD, These Dark Old Hills (Red House Records), is a vibrant collection of original folk and bluegrass tunes, one of which especially caught our fancy. The couple praises the charms of their rescue dog, Tessie Mae, in a song.
What surprised the couple most about this sweet stray, whom they adopted from the Charlottesville, Va., SPCA, was her independent streak. As they told us, “We couldn’t leave any door open or else she would take off, and no amount of calling would make her stop. Just like we say in the fi rst verse of the song. ‘You’re an angel and a little sneak/A sweetheart with a stubborn streak/Good at following your nose/Out any door that wasn’t closed.’”
While we found this song to be a real toe-tapping, paw-thumping delight, Tessie has another idea about what the couple should be doing. “She doesn’t particularly seem interested in our music other than in the fact that it takes our attention away from her. When we’re rehearsing, she’ll come in the room wagging her tail and look at us as if to say, ‘Okay, it’s time for you guys to focus on me.’” Hard to not to do that with a chorus that goes, “Hey, Hey your straying days/Are over Tessie Mae/ Hey, Hey sit and stay/Don’t turn your head away …”
Listen to it on YouTube.
Q&A with Kim Kavin, author of Little Boy Blue
When journalist Kim Kavin decided to adopt an adorable pup on Petfinder.com, she didn’t realize that her good deed would lead to a book exposing shelter practices as well as reporting on the amazing canine rescue network responsible for saving that pup. We talk with the author about her book, Little Boy Blue: A puppy’s rescue from death row and his owner’s journey for truth about what she learned on that “journey.”
Bark: Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, I’ve been seeing more purebreds especially with first-time dog people, than I have in the past (historically, mixed-breeds have been the city’s top dogs), and it’s a trend that concerns me. What’s your take on the best way to get the word out about shelter adoption?
Everyone I interviewed for Little Boy Blue told me that education is the answer. They were thrilled to hear about the book; they said they’ve been screaming like banshees about adoption for years, and finally, people are starting to take notice. We need to keep that level of education going, and growing. If people simply understand the options—what they’re buying into when they acquire a purebred from a breeder versus what they’re supporting when they adopt a rescued dog—most do the right thing. Education is the key.
B: What five things can shelters do to improve their adoption rates?
B: How does a dog benefit by being fostered?
When they see how calm Blue is, they begin to understand that they are somewhere happy and good. In a very short time, each one turns into a completely different dog. Sometimes it takes a few days, or a week with the shy puppies or those who need medical care, but it happens every time. They know they will get their own bowl of food at mealtimes. They have a sunny, grassy back yard to run and play in. They have me hugging them and giving them toys. They have a big, clean crate where they feel safe and can take a nap in peace and quiet. They ride in the car, they go with us for walks at the park. They learn basic commands like “sit” and realize they can do things to earn treats.
That’s when their real personalities come out—the personalities that we can tell potential adopters about. We have a much better chance of matching people with the right dogs if the dogs come out of foster care, because we have a better sense of who the dogs actually are compared with what they were like in the shelter.
B: What tips would you offer those who might be interested in a shelter dog?
B: Any ideas on how to improve spay/neuter rates? Groups around the country have promoted low-cost, accessible services but still, many people won’t neuter their pets.
There are a number of reasons why. First and foremost is a lack of education. People don’t realize that they are contributing to a massive national shelter crisis when they allow their dogs to produce unwanted puppies. This can be overcome. Education takes time, but it does work. As the founder of Northeast Animal Shelter in Salem, Mass., told me, education has gotten through in the Northeast, where spay/neuter has become as routine as daily tooth-brushing—and where shelters typically have far lower kill rates than in some other parts of the country.
Another reason I’ve heard more than once has to do with religion. I’ve had people tell me that encouraging spay/neuter is akin to “playing God.” They feel that it’s just as immoral to spay or neuter a dog as it is for a human to take birth-control pills or have an abortion, because God and God alone should decide which puppies are born. This is much harder to address, and I don’t know that anything will ever change those opinions. It’s like trying to convince pro-life and pro-choice activists to see eye-to-eye. It’s just not likely to happen.
B: Beyond spaying and neutering, what more can be done to control pet population in shelters?
The other main reason that people give dogs back to rescues or shelters, is that they say the dogs “turned out” bad. This tends to happen when the dogs are two or three years old—and almost always a result of the human failing to train the dog when he was a puppy. If a dog doesn’t know how to sit or where to go to the bathroom after you’ve had him for two or three years, it’s because you failed to teach him. The dog isn’t bad. It’s a lousy dog owner. If more people took advantage of training classes, which are usually just one hour a week, then far fewer people would be complaining they had “bad dogs.”
B: Did you gain any insights into why the AKC pushes back so vigorously on spay/neuter laws and puppy-mill legislation?
My suggestion to people who find this situation untenable is to adopt rescue dogs and mixed-breeds like Blue instead of buying purebreds. Encourage everyone you know to do the same. There will then be a point at which demand slows for the product that the purebred industry has marketed and sold for such a long time. Without customers, breeders will go out of business. We don’t need to pass laws to effect this change. We just need to educate more people about what they are buying into when they acquire a purebred dog from a breeder.
B: What are the most important things people can do to help their local shelters (along with adopting from them, of course)?
B: What do you hope to achieve with your book?
First Lady Michelle Obama talks with us about two of her favorite subjects—healthy children and a happy dog.
Bark: Have you discussed walking or playing with dogs as a part of “Let’s Move” and the fight against childhood obesity in the United States? Do you see children’s relationships with their dogs as playing a role in this aspect of their health?
Michelle Obama: Through Let’s Move! we encourage families to find creative ways to stay active whether it’s through riding their bikes, walking together or dancing to music at home. For our family, having Bo has taught our girls about being responsible because Malia and Sasha are charge of taking care of him when they get home from school. And since Bo is an energetic dog, I know that when the girls take him out for his nightly walk they also run around and play outside with him.
B: Many studies have looked at the health and social benefits to dog ownership, including that walking with a dog increases the time spent in that activity and the degree of commitment to it, have you seen evidence of this in your own family?
MO: Bo has been such a positive addition for our family. I think of him as my third child because we all love him so much. Whether we’re teaching him how to roll over, swimming with him in the summer, or watching him greet kids who are visiting the White House, he constantly keeps us smiling.
B: Where does Bo sleep? Does he have a favorite trick/ behavior that your family finds especially endearing?
MO: Most nights Bo can be found sleeping in one of the girls’ rooms. I’m proud to say he is a really smart dog and is known for his tricks, but it is the simple things he does like climbing up in our laps to cuddle that we love the most.
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