The Plot Thickens: Spay Neuter Effects & the Health of Our Dogs

willie portrait 6-13

Many years ago, in the 1980's, I was in Scotland being introduced to a cocktail party full of veterinarians. Imagine my surprise when one of them cornered me, waving his drink and spluttering his words, and began berating American veterinarians for promoting spay/neuters of pet dogs. Several others joined in, and before I knew it I began waving my own drink and spluttering my own words, in defense of my dog's vet, as well as many colleagues and friends. For all I know I threw apple pie in there somewhere. Their point was that it is not good medicine to remove vital organs, which have many functions beyond reproduction, in order to prevent something that may or may not happen (mammary cancer, pyometra for example). That was my first introduction, a long, long time ago, to the fact that Read More

Dogs & Wolves: Diet and Sociability

Arlo

We all know that dogs are wolves in one sense (can reproduce and their young are reproductively viable) and, as importantly, that dogs aren't wolves at all. Just try to teach a wolf "leave it" if you happen upon a dead rabbit. Here are two new studies that shed light on the social systems of the domestic dog, and might help some of us decide what we need to be feeding our dogs. First, Erik Axelsson and colleagues compared the genes of wolves and domestic dogs and found some very interesting differences. One of the differences is related to diet: dogs have three genes that wolves do not that play an important role in the digestion of starch (for those of you who are interested, the genes are AMY2B, MGAM and SGLT1). This result supports the "village dog" hypothesis, (of Coppinger and Read More

Play Bows as Meta-Communication

snow early winter 2012

We all know the signs of imminent danger between two dogs right? Immobile stiff bodies, direct eye contact, round eyes. Except when dogs are playing and then the exact same postures and expressions are nothing but pauses between frolics. That is a perfect example of what's called meta-communication, or communication about communication. Here's a video of Willie and his new friend, Leo--the new pup of Katie Martz here at the office--illustrating meta-communication as well as any two dogs could. I look forward to your comments about it. First, some background: Yesterday they met for the first time, and it went beautifully. Katie stood 40 feet from the door with Leo as I let Willie out and asked him "Where's the Dog?" We played tug when he looked at Leo and then back at me. After 2 Read More

Autonomy II: Do Ask, Do Tell

KC sniffs LG 11-12

Last week I posted a blog about giving our dogs more autonomy, and asked for comments about ideas on how to do so outside of working dogs on sheep. Many of the comments sent in response to that post are extremely helpful, and I encourage you to read through them. However, I know that time is short for many of us, so I've summarized some of the best ideas and some of my own this week. First, as a preface, it is important to note that just like people, dogs vary tremendously in their desire for autonomy. Some dogs are extremely independent and others find too many choices burdensome. That's why Willie stays in a crate when I'm gone. I am 100% sure that he is more comfortable in his 'bedroom' than being left loose in the house. When left loose he's been a wreck when I returned home; no Read More

Autonomy & Domestic Dogs

W 1

How much autonomy does your dog have?  Willie's work with sheep is  what motivates me to ask this question. As I mentioned earlier, Willie and I attended a sheepdog clinic 2 weeks ago with Patrick Shannahan, and the big take away for us was that, too often, Willie looks to me to tell him what to do while working sheep. It's not that he doesn't know what to do himself, he's just in the habit of being dependent upon me to tell him before he takes action on his own. This was not a complete surprise to me, but I didn't realize what a significant issue it was until I worked with Patrick. I think I know why this has happened: First, Willie is a naturally biddable dog and dependent dog. I chose him over his 7-week old brother because Willie seemed to care deeply about where I was and what I Read More