Lisa Wogan

Lisa Wogan lives in Seattle and is the author of, most recently, Dog Park Wisdom.

Culture: DogPatch
Bad Wrap
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.

News: Guest Posts
Did a Dog Play Cupid for You?
Dogs are great icebreakers and matchmakers

I’m pretty caught up in the pre-Valentine’s Day media swirl. I try to ignore it but I love reading true-life love stories, especially if they feature a dog—and a surprising number of them do. That may be because dogs are pretty great matchmakers.

Nine out of ten people in the UK say they were more likely to strike up a conversation with a stranger if the stranger had a dog, according to a Dogs Trust survey reported in today’s Daily Express. Sometimes these meetings turn into lasting relationships.

So with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I’d love to hear your stories of falling in love because of a dog.

Dog's Life: Travel
Have Dog, Will Travel: Sun, Dialed In
Palm Springs

Whether your tastes run to early-morning rambles among fan palms or poolside martinis and lounge music, Palm Springs satisfies both the dog pack and Rat Pack sides of life. A little more than 100 miles east of Los Angeles, this stylish enclave in the Coachella Valley boasts 354 days of sun a year (January daytime temps reach into the high 70s), an outsized cultural footprint and an even bigger paw print, making it a great winter getaway for you and your pup.



“One of the best things about living in the desert with dogs is that the dogs really can run free and play and explore in so many places,” says former nearby Palm Desert resident Deborah Menduno, now director of operations at the Oakland Zoo in Oakland, Calif. “And you can hike for miles while they do.”

There are 12,050 miles of hiking within an hour’s drive. Veteran hike leader and author of the must-have 140 Great Hikes in and near Palm Springs (Big Earth, $22.95), Philip Ferranti suggests hikers with dogs head to Whitewater Canyon for early winter treks (or look for flowers later, in March and April) and the North Fork of the Pacific Crest Trail in the San Jacinto Mountains as things warm up, or just about any trail in the famed Mecca Hills. (His book details 50 dog-friendly routes.) Ferranti’s other advice: Be sure to carry plenty of water, plus tweezers and a comb for extracting cholla cactus thorns from your co-pilot’s fur.



The city’s passion for art and dogs is probably best expressed in the Palm Springs Dog Park (222 Civic Drive North, behind City Hall). At 1.6 acres, this is not the place for large dogs to play hard, but it is a social hub with a jaw-dropper fence. Sacramento sculptor Phill Evans fashioned hot-rolled steel bar into cacti and trees, dogs and, if you look very carefully, a single cat. There’s more al fresco canine sculpture to be had at the new Palm Springs Animal Shelter (4575 Mesquite Avenue), where Monsieur Pompadour, a sparkly fuchsia Poodle by Karen and Tony Barone, stands watch along with Mademoiselle Coco, a very blue Blue Point Siamese.



In Palm Springs, you are where you sleep, and boutique dog-friendly hotels are an excellent way to soak up the town’s authentic Desert Modern roots. A bohemian-sleek reinterpretation of a ’60s-era Howard Johnson hotel, the Ace Hotel & Swim Club is one of several hip, dog-friendly places to crash. Dogs are allowed in patio rooms and everywhere on the premises except the King’s Highway restaurant (artisanal fare in a swankified Denny’s); one dog $25/night, second dog $10/night (701 East Palm Canyon Drive).

Built in 1947 by William F. Cody, the Del Marcos Hotel celebrates local history in its lovingly restored retro rooms designed and named for mid-century architects, icons and ideas (such as the Shaken, Not Stirred). Do you hear the space-age bachelor-pad soundtrack by Esquivel? Canine guests receive a dog bowl, water bottle, treat bag and poop bags; no extra pet fee; 35-pound weight limit (225 West Baristo Road).



Every Thursday night, the shops and galleries on Palm Canyon Drive stay open late as part of Villagefest (6–10 pm, October–May; 7–10 pm, June–September). Live music, arts and handicraft booths, and street food provide a festive atmosphere and training opportunities for pups.

Dogs are welcome at many outdoor eateries around town, but the go-to spot for breakfast and lunch is Cheeky’s. We’re talking lemon buttermilk waffles with homemade lemon curd and raspberries and bacon flights (622 North Palm Canyon Drive, next door to equally chic and dog-friendly pizza lounge, Birba.)

The Palm Springs Art Museum is worth a stop-in sans pup to see Yoshitomo Nara’s delightful Your Dog sculpture and Robb Putnam’s Stray, made of salvaged materials, and, starting in January, a portrait of Jayne Mansfield with her dog (part of Backyard Oasis: Swimming Pool Photography in Southern California 1945–1982, Jan. 21–May 27, 2012).

News: Guest Posts
Must Read: Wonder Dog
The miracle and mystery of service dogs

There was a wonderful story in The New York Times Magazine ("Wonder Dog," Feb. 2, 2012) this weekend about a Golden Retriever named Chancer and a boy with fetal alcohol syndrome named Iyal. The story focuses on a truly compelling frontier in service dog training and placement—where dogs work with people suffering from “invisible disabilities.”

Chancer was trained at 4 Paws Ability in Ohio, which has its own incredible story. Karen Shirk founded the organization in response to her need for a service dog, after a diagnosis of myasthenia gravis at 24 landed her on a ventilator. She has dedicated herself to providing service dogs to people, like her, who have traditionally been denied canine assistance.

It is inspiring to read about how Chancer has transformed Iyal’s life. The dog intercedes and comforts him during tantrums and even seems to anticipate and intervene in situations that might set him off. For the first time, Iyal can sleep through the night with Chancer at his side. He’s more articulate and able to think more logically than before.

Chancer’s ability to calm and comfort, to entertain and to act as an ambassador in the world are things all of us who share our lives with dogs—even those who aren’t specially trained—can recognize and appreciate.

News: Guest Posts
Super Bowl Pitch-Pups
Love ‘em or leave ‘em?

Last week, we blogged about the teaser for Volkswagen’s Super Bowl 46 ad, which featured a chorus of dogs barking “The Imperial March” from Star Wars. A continuation of 2011’s Super Bowl theme, “The Bark Side” was essentially an ad for an ad, and it has logged more than 11 million hits online.

On Wednesday, the carmaker released the actual game day ad, which stars a beautiful dog namd Bolt. Does it live up to the hype?

Is he wearing a canine fat-suit at the start? Keeping dogs fit and active is definitely on message for us here at Bark.

Two other dog-themed commercials are in the mix this year—so far. One, a spot for Suzuki, lands four lovely sled dogs comfortably in a Kizashi—where they groove to hip-hop as they cross the snowy tundra.

Dogs are usually an excellent addition to most commercial messages. According to a story in Media Life Magazine, ads with animals outperformed ads featuring celebrities by 14 percent during last year’s Super Bowl, and among the most effective ads during the 2011 game was a Doritos spot featuring a surprisingly strong Pug. 

But building a pitch around a dog can also be a risky proposition. A teaser for Skechers’ Super Bowl contender—a sneakers-wearing French Bulldog on a Greyhound race track—has garnered justifiable criticism for celebrating the cruel sport of dog racing.

I’ll be watching for the full Skechers commercial (ugh!) and more pups in ads this Sunday night, let me know what you think.

News: Guest Posts
Ancient Dog Skull Complicates the Story of Domestication
Points to more than one common ancestor

A well-preserved skull discovered in a cave in the Altai Mountains of Siberia has been identified as the 33,000-year-old remains of a domesticated dog—making it among the oldest evidence of domestication, according to a report originally published in Plos One.

The discovery means the story of domestication as happening in a single place needs to be revised. It looks very much like domestication happened repeatedly in different geographic areas and who knows how far back.

Although the shortened snout and widened jaw in the Siberian skull offer clear evidence of domestication, this dog is not an ancestor of the modern dog. Nor are equally ancient dog remains discovered earlier in a cave in Belgium. These lines appear not to have survived the last great ice age (which began about 26,000 years ago).

I’m intrigued and excited by the idea that humans were living with dogs—for protection, companionship, help on the hunt—not just in many places but well before other animals were domesticated for agricultural use. The science continues to make the case for a very deep relationship.

News: Guest Posts
Village Dogs
What are the rules of engagement when traveling?

I recently returned from a trip to Kenya, where stray and feral dogs are the norm and pampered pets very much the exception. I came to know a few of the former sort quite well.

For about a week, my sister and I camped in a rural area on the grounds of a school that is under construction. Along with us, were the school’s founder, also from the U.S., and 45 high school girls, a cooking crew and a construction crew—all from Kenya.

By dinner on the first night, the camp had attracted three or four skittish pups. They were classic “village dogs,” small mixed-breed pups with short coats. Some were very skinny; others seemed to have figured out a fairly steady source for food.

I’ve traveled in other developing countries and usually give dogs on the street a wide berth. But these dogs were around all day. I got to know their habits, and watched them pluck treats from the garbage burn pile and make stealthy raids on the outdoor kitchen. During the heat of the day, they’d crawl under our table for shade.

Two dogs, whom we named Einstein and Boots (below), adopted our corner of the campground. I felt comforted by their presence. I’d been away from my own dog for almost three weeks, which made these dogs pretty irresistible. I violated the warnings of my good sense and the travel clinic nurse, and found myself scraping leftovers onto the ground and petting their heads. They responded to food and touch by moaning, rolling over on their backs and snuggling against our legs. Pretty much all the Kenyans with us thought we were crazy.

We established a fairly peaceable routine around the camp until the second to the last night: a graduation celebration with a big goat feast. As the aroma of roasting goat wafted over the fields, the population of scavenging dogs doubled. By suppertime, an ad hoc pack had created a tight circle around a table of girls. They swatted and kicked the dogs, but the strays were not dissuaded. Then we heard growling and sniping. We couldn’t see exactly what was happening in the light of the kerosene lantern but from the sound of it, the situation had turned dangerous. We learned in the morning that the girls had been tossing their bones on the ground, and the dogs were fighting over them.

I asked Tinyao, one of the Maasai warriors who had been teaching the girls and helping out in the camp, to disperse the dogs. The possibility of a dog bite was just too great. He grabbed a stick and some rocks and moved quickly in the dark. Then came the yelps and yipes. It was terrible. I’d helped to make the dogs feel safe among us and welcome to human food; and now I sent someone after them for the same reason.

The next morning, Einstein and Boots returned and settled under our table again. Even after what had happened, we were still the best bet around.

I worry about them now. I gave them bad, even dangerous information. And I can’t help feeling sad to think of them trotting into camp to discover the kitchen shut down, the shade tables packed away and only the construction workers, with their own rocks and sticks and impatience with dogs, left in camp.



News: Guest Posts
A Peek at “The Bark Side”
Ingredients for a viral Super Bowl ad: Dogs and Star Wars

Dogs are to viral Super Bowl ads as wheels are to a bicycle. That is, essential. (Think: Doritos and Bud Light.) And early promo for Volkswagen’s 2012 Super Bowl ad looks to proves the point.

Taking off from last year’s Star Wars-inspired commercial (an adorable Darth Vadar wannabe tries to use the force on everything from a sandwich to his dog), Volkswagen released a teaser on Wednesday for this year’s Super Bowl commercial that features a chorus of dogs barking the “Imperial March.”

I love it, especially the scruffy Chewbacca growl. It’s almost enough to make me watch the Super Bowl—but not quite, since I know I’ll be able to watch and re-watch it at my leisure on YouTube.

Captivated by the Greyhound who steals the show in the last few seconds? Read about the creative Oregonian who conjured the Imperial Walker costume last Halloween.


News: Guest Posts
What’s to Be Done About Urban Strays?

Will Doig’s column “The Secret Lives of Feral Dogs” (Slate, 1/17/12) opens with a jolt: the revelation that Harrisburg, Penn., police officers have been instructed to stop bringing strays into the city shelter and, among other options, shoot them instead. It’s a shocking development, something you might expect to read about in the developing world, not here.

But despite all the dog spas and yappy hours in the U.S., there is a fast-growing population of stray and feral dogs and cats in our urban centers, especially collapsing Rust Belt cities. These cities have a host of problems and a lack of money that pushes stray animals down the priority list. When there are no easy, inexpensive or quick solutions to a problem that can become dangerous for citizens, the unthinkable becomes not only thinkable but official policy.

I first came to understand the extent of the problem when I wrote about Gateway Pet Guardians (Bark, Sept/Oct 2010), a handful of volunteers who feed, spay and release (when they can) and/or find homes for some of the many strays in East St. Louis, Ill. The tales of flea- and tick-infested and malnourished strays living in a landscape of fallendown buildings, burned-out houses and urban prairie was heart-wrenching.

Until then, I’d understood the homeless dog issue in terms of individual surrenders of dogs at shelters, dogs taken in puppy mill raids and lost dogs. I hadn’t ever appreciated the role played by these urban feral packs. Nor their unique challenges.

As long-term street dogs, many are not adoptable. Trap-neuter-release programs may help slow the population growth but they leave dogs in conditions where they are very likely to suffer and may injure people. I appreciate Doig’s bringing the situation to our attention but I wish there was more to be said about solutions.

News: Guest Posts
Deciphering the What in your Mutt
In-home DNA tests are cheaper. Are they better?

Just in time for Christmas, the Canine Heritage Breed Test came out with a 4th gneration test to look for evidence of 120 breeds in your dog’s DNA, for the rock-bottom price of $25. Honestly, that seems like a pretty good deal—as long as you don’t plan on taking the results too seriously. I know of what I speak.

In 2007, the first in-home genetic tests started making the rounds. I wanted to unlock the nuances of my mutt, who was best described as a Labrador Retriever/Husky mix (See Lulu, left). So I sent a cheek swab along with $65 to MMI Genomics (creators of the Canine Heritage test).

I got a call, instead of the promised heritage certificate. Turns out, Lulu didn’t match with any of the then-38 breeds in the test. The results showed a little Siberian Husky “in the mix,” along with Chow Chow, Chinese Shar-Pei and Akita—none of which were “statistically significant” or made much sense.

MMI offered to refund my money and to flag Lulu’s sample for the next generation of testing in a few months, which aimed to include around 100 breeds. I wrote a blog about how I was relieved not to know, embracing the mystery, yada, yada, yada. Meanwhile, true to their word, the folks at MMI retested Lulu a while later. This time she came in with no “primary” matches, and Labrador Retriever as a “secondary” match and Yorkshire Terrier “in the mix.” Yorkie? Seriously?

Even though I repudiated any need to know by this time, I jumped onboard when Mars Veterinary launched its Wisdom Panel DNA test, based on blood samples drawn by your vet. Clearly, I wanted to know, and somehow not being personally responsible for collecting the testing sample made me more confident about the results.

The cost: I don’t actually remember, but significantly more than MMI’s swab test, plus the cost of the blood draw. (Now, Mars has a Widsom Panel cheek swab test as well, for $49.99).

Lulu’s Wisdom Panel found that she has some German Shepherd Dog and Labrador Retriever with a “high degree of certainty” and some Brittany with a “medium degree of certainty.” These breeds, at least, make sense to me—she looks and acts a little like all three types of dogs.

Ultimately, knowing she’s a German Labrittany didn’t change a thing about our happy life together, except I finally had an answer when strangers asked, “What kind of dog is that?” (Here’s one take on this phenomenon [video].) Worth $25? Probably.

Have you tried a DNA test for your dog? I’d love to hear about it.