Hummed or howled, tunes find a receptive audience.
YES, IT’S EMBARRASSING, but many people have the urge to sing to their canine companions. Don’t worry about it—it’s natural. In fact, singing to your dog can be a lot more fun than crooning to a baby or toddler. For one thing, your dog will never develop the capacity for irony or satirical thinking so annoying in humans, so any stupid or caustic lyrics you make up won’t be understood. And your doggie will never fling these songs back to you in a family counseling session, or years later as you lie on your death bed.
The guidelines for satisfying canineoriented singing are not stringent, but you might want to consider a few strategies for making the most out of your warbling sessions with your pet.
>When choosing a name for your pooch, consider making it five letters. This enables you to use the famous song B-I-N-G-O as the base melody for special songs you can make up for your dog. For example, my new dog’s name is Nimby. I really didn’t choose it for that reason (long story—he’s named after a fairy character I created for my daughter), but WOW, what a boon! And Nimby was his name-o!
>Dig back into your past and find the songs you really enjoyed performing as a child, including perennial chestnuts such as Old MacDonald Had a Farm (for which you can substitute the repeating verses with a BARK BARK here, or a GROWL GROWL there…)
>Never underestimate the power of a narrative song, such as Little Rabbit Foo-Foo. For the uninitiated (bless you), Little Rabbit Foo-Foo is an involved tale about a little bunny who seems to go into the forest, where he scoops up all the field mice and inexplicably bops them on the head. And then a fairy descends—well, you kind of get the warped idea. So you only need to substitute your dog’s name, and perhaps his prey of choice (squirrels? moles?), and you have the makings of a really fascinating song.
>Classic folk songs are great. Consider the ballad John Henry, one version of which reads, “When John Henry was a little baby, sitting on his papa’s knee…” Think how wonderfully you can put your dog’s name in there: “When Mortimer was a little puppy, sucking on his mommy’s teat…” >Don’t discount the standards. You can adapt Cole Porter or George Gershwin pretty well to doggies. Consider “I’ve got you under my fur…” or “I get a bite out of you…” Or how about Irving Berlin? “God bless my doggie girl/Pup that I LOVE!!!/Stand beside her, and guide her…”
Well, these are merely guidelines. You must constantly look for inspiration in every facet of your past and present life—old Girl and Boy Scout songs and commercial jingles (gum, SpaghettiOs, Pepto-Bismol, late-night carpet advertisements, mnemonic bank lyrics, cereal ditties). Finding a suitable tune and putting your dog’s name into it, along with, perhaps, a few choice lyrics, is really the auditory equivalent of paint-by-numbers.
Singing to your dog is one of life’s simple pleasures. Just remember that, should you be caught doing it, you’ll have to act as though you’re warming up for choir practice. Once, someone came upon me as I was doing show tunes geared to my dog down at our community garden, and I had to pretend that I was an American Idol contestant.
Collectibles make their mark
Cotton candy, the screams of joyriders, and the tinny music of the merry-go-round and Ferris wheel—long before the modern-day amusement park, the carnival was summer’s go-to place for a good time. These well-worn collections of thrill rides, shooting galleries, games of chance, sideshows and entertainment traveled from place to place. When the carnival came to town, people turned out in droves, eager to have serious fun.
Carnivals had a single goal: Get customers inside the tent. Likewise, the games of “skill” that lined the midway did their best to entice passersby. Barkers shouted out challenges—“Step right up and win a prize!” More often than not, the prizes were chalkware figures—dogs were particularly popular. Lads eager to impress their gals or to one-up the competition stepped up to the counter to test their skills and win one of the molded plaster of Paris figures. The better the performance, the bigger the prize.
Once won, the coveted prizes often met ignominious ends. Not only were they easily broken, many became targets for slingshot practice, and young girls used the broken pieces to make sidewalk hopscotch games. By the 1960s, chalkware had been replaced by stuffed animals, which were less expensive and didn’t break.
When Disneyland opened in 1955, it created a new and more elaborate venue, bringing family entertainment into the technological age and sidelining carnivals, relegating them to the status of curiosities—much like the chipped and dusty chalkware pup shoved to the back of a closet or tossed into a box in our grandparents’ garage.
Inhaling Vitamin N
Dogs have been our boon companions for at least 32,000 years—pretty close to forever. They were our first nonhuman pals (domesticated cats came along 23,000 years, and horses 28,000 years, after dogs), hunting partners and all-around nature guides. Joining forces with such a remarkably capable species gave us a leg up on our rivals, sped up the pace of our evolution and today, provides us with a vital connection to the natural world.
As it turns out, we sorely need such a connection. In 2010, the average American spent 28 percent of his or her waking hours involved in some form of electronics-related activity: 26 hours per week online or watching TV, and another 5.8 hours on mobile devices! These digital-age habits contribute to a new malady: nature-deficit disorder.
What is nature-deficit disorder? Richard Louv coined the term and described its characteristics in his groundbreaking book, Last Child in the Woods, in which he proposed that modern childhood ailments and health problems, including attention and behavioral disorders, anxiety, depression, and even obesity, can be attributed to the lack of nature in children’s lives. In his newest book, The Nature Principle, he extends this analysis to adults, and prescribes a number of remedies (in addition to spending less time with our digital tools). One is to increase our dose of Vitamin N — “N” for nature, or the mind/body/nature connection.
From Bark’s point of view, the best way to get a daily dose of Vitamin N is to walk with our dogs in natural settings, where there are trees aplenty. Parks and forests are not only wonderfully calming places, they also have a restorative effect on our immune function. Scientists have discovered that phytoncides, airborne chemicals emitted by plants to protect themselves from bacteria, fungi and insects, contribute to stress reduction in others. These same researchers suggest that time spent in plant-filled environments lowers our pulse rate, blood pressure and concentration of cortisol (which is released in response to stress), among other things. Add that information to studies that have found similarly beneficial effects from the company of dogs, and dogs’ joyful inspiration to be more regular in our nature-walking habits, and we have an easy way to obtain a true V-N high.
Even better, getting out and exploring the natural world gives our co-pilots a chance to exercise their ancestral senses — a reminder of the time when we first started out on our amazing shared journey.
Large-animal veterinarians put in long hours and spend lots of time on the road, visiting farms in sparsely populated rural areas. It can be bitter cold or swelteringly hot, and is often muddy work. These challenges, plus an ever-shrinking number of people involved in agriculture, have been driving a shortage of large-animal and mixed-practice veterinarians nation-wide. As of last fall, 1,300 counties did not have a single doctor for farm animals, according the American Veterinary Medical Association. And the problem was expected to get worse.
A night at the theater: tails required
Even playwright A.R. Gurney might not have been able to imagine his play, Sylvia—the story of a man’s willingness to risk everything for the sake of his dog—being performed in front of an audience that had much in common with the title character. Yet, this is precisely what happened at “Dog’s Night Out” in the canine-obsessed city of Seattle, where pooches outnumber progeny by more than two to one and dogs are regular denizens at cafés, outdoor restaurants, shops and now, the theater.
Resist the puppy surprise
Giving a dog as a gift is rarely a good idea, and it’s often a terrible one, but some people can’t resist the idea of a beribboned puppy. For those of you who are thinking about giving a dog this holiday, we say, think twice. While you’re doing that, here are some points to factor in.
1. Nothing good comes of surprising someone with a dog, even if that someone is your child, who’s been begging for a dog since she could talk. Who knows...perhaps she has her heart set on a Chihuahua but you think she’d love a Lab. Learn about and select her new best friend together.
2. Puppies in particular have many specific needs, and in the general chaos of the holiday season, those needs can be easily overlooked, which can bode poorly for the puppy’s future success. Plus, standing outside in the middle of a cold winter night while waiting for the “gift” to do her business is not everyone’s idea of a good time.
3. Foster first. Fostering is a great intermediate step, and the holiday could be a good time to explore this possibility. By taking in a foster dog, not only will everyone discover the day-to-day responsibilities of pet care, it will make a big difference in the life of the dog you choose to foster.
4. Treat a case of puppy fever with Shelter Puppies. The new book from photographer Michael Kloth serves up a satisfying dose of puppy cute while conveying the urgent message that more adoptive homes are needed.
5. Build a foundation for success. If you want to give something to unwrap, fill a basket with a leash, collar, bowls, toys, treats, a gift certificate for a training class or vet care and a positive training book. After the holidays are over and life settles down, check out your local shelter and rescue groups, or do the research required to find a reputable breeder. Whatever you do, don’t buy that puppy in the pet shop; she’s likely to have come from a puppy mill. And by all means, consider an adult dog. Sure, puppies are totally cute and fun, but they’re also a lot of work. Many adult dogs are housebroken and have all sorts of good behavior skills up their furry sleeves. This is one situation in which the best surprise is no surprise at all.
Of the many legends surrounding St. Patrick, the ones that resonate for us involves this most famous of Irishmen and dogs. Around 400 A.D. legend has it when he was sixteen, Patrick was captured by Irish marauders who enslaved him, he then endured six years as a half-naked shepherd with only a dog and some sheep for companionship. One day he had a dream that his favorite sheepdog, in the guise of an angel, told him to escape to a ship on the coast that was over 200 miles away—the ship from Gaul filled from stem-to-stern with Irish Wolfhounds. Making his way to the ship, the exhausted Patrick begged to come aboard but his pleas were refused—until someone noticed that he had a calming effect on the feisty Irish canine cargo. So they let him on in exchange for some dog caring and training. It didn’t take long after that for Patrick to come up with his first miracle. The ship had crashed upon the shore of northwest Gaul, the men and dogs soon were starving, having run out of food. The men, pagans all, turned to Patrick and taunted him to ask his Christian god for help. Patrick prayed all night, in the morning a herd of wild pigs magically appeared from the forest, and he quickly set the hounds on them. The now well-fed crewmembers were so impressed that they became Christian converts. After about twenty years spent on the continent, Patrick, who had made quite a name for himself there and became a priest, decided to come back to Ireland. But upon landing on the Emerald shores he was met by Dichu, an Irish pagan prince, out hunting with his favorite hound. Dichu put his Wolfhound, Lauth on attack alert but when the dog lunged for Patrick, he uttered a few words and the dog went into an immediate down-stay and licked his outstretched hand. According to Irish folklore, this kindly saint repaid all his doggy pals by allowing the legendary Irish hero Oissain to take his hounds to heaven with him.
As a professional dog trainer, I need convenient products that simplify my training and management duties. I develop a dog-like loyalty to a product if it’s durable, saves time and helps make the dogs under my care content. Here are few of my indispensible product picks.
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Cover Dog: Jan/Feb 2012
Kristen Byrne and her husband, Stewart Pelto, are proud parents of their dog, Finnegan, whom they adopted when he was just a "baby Ewok".
Snowy, a digital Wire Fox Terrier, stars in the animated feature The Adventures of Tintin
The star of the enormously popular comic book series “The Adventures of Tintin,” by Hergé (Belgian artist Georges Rémi), is a young reporter named Tintin. But it’s Tintin’s constant companion, the spunky Wire Fox Terrier Snowy, who sparks the stories. Snowy provides comic relief, rescues Tintin from danger, butts into everyone’s business and noses out important clues, often accidentally.
So it’s fitting that Snowy helped make possible the animated feature film The Adventures of Tintin. Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor and director of Weta Digital (Wellington, NZ), which has won five Oscars for creating digital characters and effects in the Lord of the Rings series, King Kong and Avatar, tells the story.
“We were just finishing the third Lord of the Rings film when Kathleen Kennedy, who produced Tintin along with Steven Spielberg, asked if we were interested in creating Snowy for the film,” Letteri says. “At the time, the idea was to make a live-action film and they wanted to be sure we could create a realistic digital white dog.”
Weta’s artists accepted the challenge and created a digital Snowy. Then, for the test shot, Letteri had the idea of putting Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson in Captain Haddock’s costume. “We had Peter [Jackson] telling Steven [Spielberg] how he’d make a good Haddock,” Letteri says, “and we had Snowy steal the scene from Peter.”
The test shot convinced Spielberg that he could make the film—and that he wanted to work with Jackson. As the two directors talked about Tintin, though, they realized they wanted to make the world of Hergé, not a liveaction film.
Technology developed on director James Cameron’s Avatar helped make that possible. Spielberg and Jackson tried the system Cameron had used to create the Na’vi in Avatar and realized they could use the same process for Tintin; that is, put actors playing the comic book characters into motion-capture suits and use the data obtained from their performances to help animate a digital Tintin, Haddock and other characters. And that’s how they and Weta Digital created the film. Snowy, however, was hand-animated.
“We tried putting a Lycra suit with tracking markers, little balls, on a dog,” says Jamie Beard, animation supervisor at Weta Digital. “But what we got was motion data of a dog trying to eat the balls off his legs.”
Some of the captured data provided reference for how a dog moves. But more often, the animators relied on their own research. “We had dogs under our desks,” Beard says. “And we went to dog clubs to see dogs running around and interacting. When you have a dog, other dog owners welcome you with open arms, even if your dog is a digital dog.”
The dog in the animated film isn’t exactly realistic in appearance; he’s a caricature. But he acts like a real terrier just as he does in the comic books. “Hergé researched the breed,” Beard says. “These dogs were bred for hunting and independent thought, so Tintin has the same pains as anyone with this type of a dog. He has to keep Snowy interested. In the comics, if the story isn’t engaging, Snowy will find his own adventure. He’s always in trouble.”
Does that mean he steals scenes as he did in the test? It sure does. “Snowy would steal every scene he was in,” Letteri says. “Steven [Spielberg] had to remind the animators that some scenes should be Tintin’s.”
Paramount Pictures and Columbia Pictures’ The Adventures of Tintin opened December 21 2011 in stereo 3D. Directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, Kathleen Kennedy and John Williams, the film stars Jamie Bell (Tintin), Andy Serkis (Captain Haddock) and Daniel Craig (Red Rackham). us.movie.tintin.com/
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