What is so rare as a day in… September?

clouds hinkley mn 2014

With apologies to James Russell Lowell, it is the fall months that make my heart sing the most, although I'm not sure why. Perhaps because I know what's coming? I'm playing hookey today, soaking up knowledge from one of the UK's top sheepdog trainer/handlers, Gordon Watt, who also judged the Nippersink Trial last Friday-Sunday. Thanks to advice from Kathy Knox at her great clinic the weekend before, Willie and I had a great second run at the trial, and did our best ever in the ProNovice class. I can't resist a chance to work with Gordon, sort of like taking a tennis lesson from Raphael Nadal. There is only room for me to work one dog with Gordon (thank you Margaret for getting me in, not to mention organizing both the trial and the clinic!), so I'll probably work Maggie because she is Read More

Click and… Always Treat? Or Not?

Ears Up Spectator Dogs Hinckley 2014

Let me start by asking: Which does your dog like better, the anticipation of something good, or the good thing itself? Counter-intuitively, the research of Jaak Panksepp suggests it’s the anticipation of a reinforcement that is most enjoyable, not the reinforcement itself. Panksepp calls the emotion of anticipation the “seeking or wanting system,” versus the “liking system” that kicks in once an individual gets what it wants. In other words, which gets your dog more excited, hearing the clicker, or getting the treat? Hearing “Let’s go on a walk!” or actually going on the walk? (See here for a speech on this system by Panksepp.) I thought of this a while ago when walking into the Overture Center in Madison, Wisconsin to see a show by the famous comedian, Jerry Seinfeld. I floated in on a Read More

Ouch: The dangers of sticks as dog toys.

W & M Kong stick

Last week I spent a few hours in a veterinary emergency clinic, providing emotional support for a friend whose dog had gashed his throat on a stick. He's fine now, but it could have been much worse. One friend's dog almost died after impaling his chest on a stick. It missed his heart by millimeters. I don't write this to make anyone paranoid about playing fetch with their dog, but as a word of caution. I should say that I've tossed thousands of sticks to dogs in the past, and I still occasionally pull a stick out of the wood pile for Willie to run around with. People have been throwing sticks for dogs to retrieve for eons. But then, people have been giving dogs cooked bones for decades too. (I remember a vacation in Jamaica during which the visiting Americans snatched cooked chicken bones Read More

Dog Food Logic: The Science of Canine Nutrition

tomato pie 2014

A few days ago I told Jim that we needed to cut down on Tootsie’s food because she was getting pudgy. Easy and obvious, right? Dog getting fat, feed less food. Less obvious, but equally important, is that if we cut back too much on her food she might not get the level of nutrients, vitamins and minerals that she needs for optimal health. As a couch potato dog, she needs not just less food than my active, working sheepdogs, but different food altogether. That isn’t earth shattering news to most of us either, but what IS new—refreshingly so—is a readable, fact-filled book that explains exactly what “different” should mean. That important piece of information comes from Linda Case’s book, Dog Food Logic: Making Smart Decisions for Your Dog in an Age of Too Many Choices, published by Dogwise. Read More

A Wolf Called Romeo

wolf called romeo

Just a quick note: I was lucky enough to get a pre-pub copy of a book titled A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans and can't recommend it highly enough. I  just heard that it is now officially out, and I suggest that you drop what you are doing and order it right now. It's about a wolf who appeared one day outside of Juneau, and began a six-year odyssey of relationships with local dogs, curious onlookers, the predictable wolf haters and those who understood enough biology to be both riveted and worried about what might eventually happen. Nick Jans was one of the first people to spot the wolf; that's his dog on the cover, during the wolf and dog's first meeting when Jans was sure his dog was about to die. Instead, Romeo began a unique and compelling relationship with local dogs, Read More