Einstein Ain’t Got Nothin’ On Tonk!

It’s time for me to be honest, friends. I have a problem. It started out innocently enough, but it is something that has been worsening over the past 5+ years, and I can’t seem to get it under control. It has become an obsession of inappropriate proportions. When I’m not in close proximity to it, I talk about it, and when I’m not talking about it, I’m thinking about it. It can be incredibly embarrassing, and is interfering with some of my relationships. Most of you probably know what I’m talking about…

I’m obsessed with my dog.

Seriously though. I think Tonka is the bomb-dot-com, and I’m not afraid to let everyone know all the reasons why! Forget the ‘My child is an honors student’ bumper stickers… my dog is WAY smarter than your honors student! But whereas my bragging has always been very much subjective (or so I’m told…) I have finally found a verified tactic to support all of my obnoxious claims: that’s where Dognition comes in!

Dognition is a website designed by specialized canine scientists to evaluate your dog’s personality and intelligence. By putting your pup through his paces in the form of interactive games, Dognition intends to give you further insight into the intricacies of your dog’s preferences and learning style. More than that, the results of these games can be graphically compared to other Dognition dogs, as a whole or based on specifics such as gender, breed, or size. Dognition claims that this is a fun way to learn more about your pet while increasing your bond and relationship. Even more importantly, they believe what sets them apart is their example of ‘citizen science’ – their research can be conducted by everyone, not just people with Ph.D.s! This allows collaboration with dogs and owners all around the world, achieving a much quicker, broader (not to mention more natural and humane) understanding about dogs than what researchers would be able to do on their own.

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Of course, I couldn’t wait to get started with Tonka… After inputting his various physical statistics, as well as uploading a picture, we were ready to get started with their basic survey. This included questions about Tonka’s typical behavior and preferences. Some of the questions were pretty straightforward and logical as to their purpose (Does your dog typically get along with other dogs?) whereas others were a little more curious (Does your dog typically tangle his leash on your walks?) I was expecting that the completion of this survey would result in an initial baseline evaluation, but it did not.

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Nevertheless, the next step was to begin the series of games! They were broken up into 5 categories with various time estimates: Empathy, Communication, Cunning, Memory, and Reasoning.

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Each section suggested using a quiet room, free from distractions and other pets, as well as treats and a (human) partner. While it was fun to complete this with J, I would say that for a dog as perfect as Tonka (I told you, addiction is a disease. I can’t help it!) it probably isn’t necessary to have extra help. Some of the games also required miscellaneous household items, such as cups or sticky notes.

We only had time to complete the first three sections, and we had mixed reviews. It was fun to give Tonka some dedicated focus, and I can guarantee that he relished the one-on-one time. It was also nice to be able to see just how awesome he is (there I go again)… but seriously, I think any dog owner would be proud while watching their pup navigate their way through the games. The results seem to attempt to put a positive spin on any behavior, in order to help owners see the best in their pups.

My only frustration mostly resulted in the fact that there really wasn’t much feedback after each section was completed. While it was nice to see what Tonka’s results were, there wasn’t much explanation as to how the statistical data we reported resulted in their evaluations or why they came to those conclusions. The first two sections were very straight forward: for Empathy, Tonka scored high on the side of bonded, as opposed to individualistic, and for Communication, he scored high on the side of collaborative as opposed to self-reliant.

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Then we came to the Cunning portion. Essentially, the dogs were required, through a various set of circumstances, to stay in a sit while in the presence of a tasty treat. They were NOT to take the treat, even when we looked away or turned our backs or did a number of other designated behaviors, until they were given a release. Tonka, of course (guys, I seriously can’t control it) aced it every time… not ONCE did he go for the treat without my consent. However, even after I input this information, they told me that on a scale from trustworthy to wily, he scored directly in the middle. I still can’t figure out how with his perfect score, they came to that conclusion! I trust him more than I trust my husband KIDDING… but seriously.

My few concerns were answered willingly and warmly by a Dognition representative. She acknowledged that the team at Dognition works daily to make improvements as they receive new feedback from satisfied and interested customers. One of the things at the top of their priority list is just what I mentioned: giving additional feedback following each section of the assessment. If Dognition is this awesome as a start-up, just imagine what it will become as it grows and develops in the future!

This was a fun way to spend an evening with two of my favorite guys, and I think that Dognition is on to something great. One of my favorite things about Dognition as a company are their philanthropic efforts toward shelter animals. The Dognition Shelter Program aims to spotlight dogs who may be more commonly overlooked, perhaps due to special restrictions or other ‘less-desirable’ qualities. By quantitatively evaluating and recognizing these dogs for their other unique and appealing traits, the DSP has demonstrated incredible success in finding homes for them. What a great way to give the dogs some fun attention and enrichment, while providing an individualized resume for prospective adopters!

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Dognition has various options of enrollment, including a one-time fee ($19), monthly charges, or a yearly membership. If you are interested (and who wouldn’t be?!) Dognition has generously offered our readers 25% off of the yearly membership. All you have to do is enter this code: Tonka20

Let me know what you think! Have you tried, or even heard of Dognition before? If so, where do your dogs stand against the rest of the pack?

Which Dogs are Best with Children?

That question was intended to be ironic… and also to hopefully entice those curious internet searching parents to learn just why they should never trust ANY type of dog to be better or worse with children. It is up to them as responsible dog owners to manage dogs who have healthy interactions with their kiddoes. Don’t believe me? Below I will share the scientific fact behind my position.

If you’ve been following along with us for very long, you probably know that we think the folks at  Animal Farm Foundation are just about the best thing since bully sticks and peanut butter kongs… and if you’re new, you can check out some proof of our admiration, here, here and here! The biggest goal of AFF is to spread the knowledge that dogs should be judged based on their individual qualities, as opposed to breed labels or statistics. Their latest infographics (shown and explained below) share the science behind why an individual approach is not only more fair, but actually also more successful!

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(All of the images in this post are courtesy of Animal Farm Foundation.)

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Did you know that while 50 out of 20,000 (0.25%) of a dog’s genes determine physical appearance, those genes are entirely separate from the genes that influence brain development and function? Therefore, it is scientifically proven that there is NO link between appearance and behavior. And yet our politicians continue to make giant, life-changing assumptions based on that less-than-one-percent. Don’t judge my dog by his cover! Just because a dog looks like a pit bull, does not actually confirm that they have any genetic ties to a staffordshire terrier (think boxer x lab, as just one prime example).

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One reason any vet worth their weight in Acana dog food might suggest that a mixed-breed dog has better odds than a purebred of staying healthy for its lifetime, is because in a closed gene pool (see above) all of the genes are concentrated… the good, the bad, and the hairless (sorry, Chinese Cresteds). Did you know that most purebred dogs originated from only a handful of foundation sires and bitches, which was sometimes as few as 5? Talk about inbreeding! A 1994 Time magazine article on the effects of overbreeding reported that as many as 25% of the 20 million purebred dogs in the US are afflicted with a serious genetic problem. In the world of agriculture and animal breeding, this trend of improved health in mixed-breed animals is called hybrid vigor. By mixing two or more separate gene pools, overtime the recessive genes that carry health and other genetic problems are minimized. All of this contributes to the conversation about individualism in dogs, because a physical appearance really can only tell us so much.

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“Wait, so AFF is telling us that identical twins have identical DNA, but even dogs in the same litter have different DNA? Well, I’ve met identical twins whose attitudes and personalities were nothing alike! I guess it would be crazy to assume that dogs who look similar would have similar behavior…”

Even when dogs are 100% purebred, we cannot predict their behavior. Even in the case of cloned pets (genetically identical animals) scientific evaluation of these animals still shows differences in their personalities and behavior. This is because the behavior of all dogs (or any being!) are not just influenced by genetics and breeding, but also by many outside factors including training, management, environment, and socialization.
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Not only does physical appearance have little to do with behavior, but scientific studies from AFF peers have proven that attempts at visual breed identification by animal welfare professionals (vets, scientists, shelter workers) are incorrect more than 75% of the time. Even worse, those incorrect evaluations are not even the same across the board… those assigning the breed titles cannot even agree! This is because our personal experiences play a large role in the comparisons we draw between a dog’s appearance and their breed of origin.

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This is an interesting way to look at it. Tonka is the offspring of two purebred dogs, and the rest of his 12-pup litter looked very similar to my boy. Any guesses as to the parents’ breeds? (Seriously, would love it if you’d guess in the comments below!) Spoiler alert…

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If I had a dollar for every person that literally ARGUED with me that my dog was at least part black lab, I would be able to take more than one reader out to dinner. Nevertheless, the facts remain that Tonka’s father was a brindle boxer (deep chest, athletic body) and his mother was a golden retriever (long snout, expressive almond eyes, floppy ears)… where did the rest of him come from? I’d like to think that much of his behavior comes from a very conscientious upbringing by me, and thanks to the research from Animal Farm Foundation, I can be confident that this may largely be the truth.

Animal Farm Foundation says it best when they say that: “The only way we can accurately determine what a dog’s needs are is to look at the individual dog in front us for the answers. In other words, we can’t judge a book by its cover (even if that cover looks like other ones we’ve seen before!)”

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AFF: “Treating all dogs as individuals means that we let go of biased thinking, recognizing each dog for who they really are, not who we assume they are based on looks, labels, or past experiences. In doing so, we set all dogs free of the baggage and consequences caused by our assumptions, prejudices, and discrimination.” Hmmm. That sounds kind of like the way most of us agree we should evaluate the people in our communities. From a genetic standpoint alone, why should dogs be any different?

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So maybe (hopefully!!) you already new and totally agree with all of the facts shared above. But more importantly, do you understand why they are so important?

It matters to families and communities…

Regardless of ‘breed’ or ‘type’ of dog, false expectations (positive or negative!) can be dangerous or unfair to the animal, and to the families they love. For example, if we assume that every lab is going to be naturally comfortable around children and have an affinity for water, we might not take the time to set the individual dog up for success through careful introduction and training. This may create a dog that has fear or anxiety issues. You can turn this around in the other direction by recognizing the truth behind confirmation bias… In any situation in life, if we approach with negativity and trepidation, we oftentimes set ourselves up for failure, and unintentionally cause the very events we are anticipating. No breed description should be considered a fool-proof road map of a dog’s preferences, personality, or ability. These qualities are heavily influenced by environment and management. If we approach each dog as an individual, and let the animal tell us more than we assume based on their appearance, we are much more likely to wind up with a dog that is a happy member of our families, and of our society.

It matters to those in the animal welfare industries…

As rescuers, shelter workers, and animal advocates, it is always in our best interest to be as honest as possible with potential adopters, volunteers, and the general public at large. By labeling dogs without factual knowledge of their true backgrounds, we are unintentionally being dishonest, and may be setting the dogs up for failure. Instead of meeting an adopter who wants a Golden Retriever, and providing them with dogs that match that physical description, we need to start advocating for “types” of dog. Maybe to the average dog owner, a Golden Retriever fills them with ideas of a dog who will happily play fetch and join the family on hikes, while snuggling in their childrens’ beds at night. Perhaps your shelter has 3 dogs that match this description, but who may or may not look like a Golden Retriever. In this case, you are providing the family with a variety of dog types, all of whom are more likely to be compatible with their lifestyle long-term, and giving many of your rescue or shelter residents an opportunity at a proper home. At the same time, you are doing your part to not reinforce stereotypes or set up false expectations. No breed description entitles an adopter the guarantee that a dog will act a certain way, or have specific preferences… only each individual dog can tell us that!

Additionally, these preferences, personality traits, and abilities, have a large propensity for change over time. If we assumed that a dog’s genetic composition determines their personality traits (Georgia), we would have never taken the opportunity to improve her associations with other animals… we would have assumed that her preferences were intact and not subject to change. This refutes the common pit bull advocacy statement that ‘it’s all in how they’re raised,‘ because it is in fact, more in how they are managed, that matters most. If we assumed that all dog behaviors were set by their genetics or their early life experiences, we would never give cruelty or neglect victims a chance, and everyone searching for a new family member would be getting their dogs from breeders. And that would be a huge problem!

It matters to politicians and law makers…

Once and for all, it is time to put an end to laws passed on the flawed idea that you can determine how a dog will act based on how they look or their breed label. Rather than punishing all dogs and their owners based on the negative or criminal actions of a few, let’s start legislating and enforcing responsible dog ownership laws for owners of all dog breeds and types. In this way, we hold all owners equally accountable, and thereby truly create safer communities. Dogs should be labeled based on their actions or behavior, not on their breeds or physical traits. No one, human or animal, deserves to be persecuted (or even killed!) based on stereotypes.

The AFM5 Moral of the Story:

The world of animal rescue and advocacy is a huge one, and perhaps because of that, it is constantly evolving. That is a great thing for the animals, because it means that we are always being presented with new tools to improve our understanding, and become more competent at finding homes for unwanted pups, cats, rabbits, horses, etc. We have all been guilty of unintentionally spreading misinformation a time or two. What matters is that you take the time to educate yourself as thoroughly as possible, and keep your own missions and morals at the forefront of your mind. Let’s make sure that when we are well-intentioned in advocating for our animals, that we are doing more GOOD than harm.

 

AFF CITATIONS:

The Dog and It’s Genome by Elaine Ostrander

Genetics and the Social Behavior of the Dog by Scott and Fuller

National Geographic

Kristopher J. Irizarry, PhD

Janis Bradley, The Relevance of Breed in Selecting a Companion Dog

Dr. Victoria Voith

AFF ABSTRACTS:

Brachycephalic traits

Morphological traits

Brain development genes

Cranial facial development and here

Canine skull development

“Is (S)He friendly?”

(Disclaimer: This topic was first discussed here, at Doggerel. All inspiration for this post goes to them, but the thoughts and opinions expressed here are our own.)

Whenever we are out walking the dogs, or just out in public with them in general, we are often approached by people who ask us this question: “Is he/she friendly?”

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I should start with the positive. I certainly appreciate the respect of checking in with the owner, as opposed to rushing up to a dog hands-first. I recognize that this is the average-person’s way of asking for permission before they begin interacting with the dog. I should also say that at least in our area, we do not see a ton of breed discrimination. While I know other people have opposite experiences, I do not think that the majority of the times this question has been posed to us, it had anything to do with our dogs breeding or physical characteristics. And that is awesome!

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On to the negative… what in the heck is my response supposed to be to such a question?! Of course, my dogs are polite, well-adjusted members of the canine society. They are certainly not mean or aggressive. The problem with such a question, is that the speaker is typically looking for a brief yes or no answer, and unfortunately for most dogs and their responsible owners, that is not a satisfying option. What does “friendly” mean to you?

In that small window of time when they are quickly advancing on my dog(s), potentially with a child or other animal in their immediate vicinity, how am I supposed to get across to them the specifics of my dog(s)’ personality(s)?

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For example, Gaige is incredibly friendly, to a fault. So much so, that if not properly exercised and managed, she may accidentally enthusiastically knock over your small child. She may also cover it in kisses… is that something you are comfortable with? In more dramatic scenarios, she may overwhelm another dog and instigate it, oblivious to its warning signs. So while she is not at all aggressive with other dogs, she is not a dog I feel comfortable allowing to greet another dog on-leash, face-to-face without a slow introduction. So how would you answer that question with Gaige at the end of your leash?

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As for Tonka, he loves people of all kinds. He will sit quietly and obediently for your child to visit. He is generally great with other dogs, but has had some bad experiences and can be a bit guarded or grumpy with new dogs, especially males, and especially when on-leash. However, I certainly don’t want to label him as being “un-friendly,” because that isn’t him at all!

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Finally there is Georgia. Most of you know that she isn’t consistent in her reactions to other dogs, so it is easy to ask handlers of strange dogs to keep their distance. But again, I do not necessarily want her to be labeled as “un-friendly” just because she takes a little time to warm up. Further, she is as sweet as can be with people, and will happily lean up against you for a rub or snuggle. However, new people sometimes make her nervous. While I have never seen her act inappropriately with strangers, I never want to put my dogs in an uncomfortable position just because I believe that they will not react negatively. Conversely, when overexcited, Georgia may try to jump. As comfortable as some people say they may be with this behavior, it is not behavior that I want to condone or reward in my dogs. Just because she is “friendly” does not necessarily mean I want someone running up to her and loving all over her when she is jumping on them.

Aside from the difficulty in defining the term ‘friendly,’ as well as striving to quickly sum up the behaviors and preferences of our dogs’ interactions, it is important to note that this question is essentially asking for a guarantee as to your pets’ predicted reaction. NEWSFLASH: whether or not my dog is ‘friendly,’ that is not permission for you to advance and throw caution to the wind, with the assurance that this dog will react appropriately to your every action. It is important for us to remember that just because we have a thorough understanding of canine body language and appropriate behavior around dogs, does not mean that everyone does. So how do we quickly sum up the appropriate ways to approach our dogs, without sounding like a crazy dog person, or making our dogs look bad? Add into the mix that I am often walking multiple dogs at once, and you can understand why this question makes me bristle.

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Fellow dog owners, do you get this question? If so, do you have a kind and succinct response to it? What do you prefer to be asked before someone approaches your dog?

Balance

For all of us, there are those sayings that when we hear them in ‘real life’ (meaning, the reality of what we imagined adult life would be like…) we instantly think of the person who commonly spoke them. In those moments, they offer a unique perspective on not only life, but on living, as they tie together the innocent perspective and cherished memories of our past, with the sometimes harsh realities of our present. My mother-in-law is well known for reminding all of her (many!) little ducklings to ‘trust in providence.’ My father would always say cheesy things like, ‘the family that dines together, shines together,’ when we were busy teenagers, and ‘anybody can kill a bug, but only God can make a bug,‘ as he would carry the offending intruders outside to safety. But the one morsel of wisdom that sticks most in my mind comes from my own mother, who incessantly preached that ‘life is a balance.’ I don’t think I learned the truth to that until much later in life. And if I’m being honest, I’m still learning what it means to balance the hectic Mondays and the Saturdays on the porch, the winning smiles and the lonely tears, the ice cream sundaes and the kale salads. But my favorite quote, for many years, has remained:

“To appreciate the beauty of a snowflake, it is necessary to stand out in the cold.”

 

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge that I’ve been so quiet over here in my little corner of the web for the past few weeks. Thanks for being patient and understanding and allowing me to be quiet. Life has gotten really busy and confusing for me, and I’m still trying to work it all out. Rest assured, all is well with all members of the AFM5 family! But the reality is that in life, you are often influenced and surrounded and pulled and pushed by more than just those whom you care about most, and by more than just those who care about you! The hard part for me, is finding a balance between compliments and criticism, between working for more and being satisfied with what you have, and between being content with who you are and wanting to improve yourself. Life is hard! But it is a good hard when I am surrounded and supported by my pups and my family and my friends (virtual and literal!) and my amazing husband.

I know this is all a bit ambiguous and open-ended, and in some ways that is a deliberate, purposeful choice. Maybe by being vague, you will be more able to apply my struggles to your own life? Nevertheless, one thing I have learned, is that I am not myself without this special space. When I write, as much as the words jumble in my head, the rest of the environment gets kind of quiet. There is no pressure to communicate quickly, no set amount of time in which I have to express myself clearly, and no guidelines that limit my authenticity. I am able to slowly and conscientiously select the unique combination of words that puts genuine color and movement and music and texture to the thoughts and feelings and experiences that jumble inside my head and heart. And if I’m really lucky, it may spark something inside of someone else.

So while the frequency of my posts may diminish for a little while, I’m making a conscious decision to share as I work through this challenge and change. It’s a daily struggle and a daily choice. The format and content of this space may change somewhat, but it will still be here. Stick with me, and I promise that I will be back to your regularly scheduled programming. Quality over quantity, and all of that. It’s so easy to continually push until tomorrow, but I don’t want to look back and see what I’ve missed. I want to enjoy the now… snowflakes and sunshine both included.

With all of that being said, I want some input from my friends and readers. How do you bring balance to your life? Are you able to juggle it all, and if so, please share your secret! If not, how do you decide which balls to drop, and at what point do you remind yourself to restructure and prioritize? Thanks in advance for sharing your wisdom and honesty.

xoxo

S

How is it that my dogs never seem to have an issue with balance in their lives? If only they could share their secrets!

How is it that my dogs never seem to have an issue with balance in their lives? If only they could share their secrets!

More and More Every Day…

I would hope that by now, it is pretty evident that I absolutely adore my dogs. I take great pride in them, as well as in the way I care for them. In fact, I think the greatest compliment anyone has ever given me, is when they say; “Man, if there is a life after this, I want to come back as one of your dogs!” While I love pretty much everything about these four-legged fur balls with whom I share my life, there are just some moments that my heart swells with pride and affection. I bet you can relate…

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1) When they are content or joyful

Especially when I think about where Georgia and Gaige probably came from, it makes me incredibly happy when I see our pups enjoying their lives to the fullest. Whether that is when they are in hot pursuit of an animal in our open fields, or slumbering all cuddled together under our down comforter, I feel so great knowing that their lives are better because of me. I live for moments when I can bring them sheer and unbridled joy… ears-a-flying, tongue-a-slobbering, head-hangin-outa-the-window-style.

 

 

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2) When they depend on me

While I would never wish fear or anxiety on my dogs, I feel invincible when they come to me for guidance or reassurance. These dogs, with their powerful muscles and athletic limbs, turn to me when they need assurance that the world is a safe place. Whether it is a visit to the vet or when I have to tend to a wound, their trust in me is steadfast and pure. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve it, but it means the world to me.

 

 

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Partners in crime

Partners in crime

3) When other people are lovin’ up on them

Of course I think my dogs are the greatest. Don’t we all? But those moments when someone else stops to recognize all of the heart and courage and beauty that they bring to this world? I think that’s kinda what dog ownership is all about. Whether it’s a stranger on the street, all of you friends here, or the people that mean the most in my life, when I see the bonds my dogs share with others, it reaffirms all of the pride I have in them. And if it’s someone fragile that they are bonding with? Fo’ gedaboutit. My wild, exhuberant dogs seem to have this switch… put them around a child or someone elderly, and they become like little lambs, gentle and sweet, cuddley and quiet. Try to tell me that they don’t understand us. I dare you.

 

 

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4) When they’re all together

If you’ve been following this blog for a long time, you may remember that it took us months to acclimatize the dogs to the point where they could coexist in the house. Georgia came to us a bundle of nerves, with little trust for anyone around her, human or animal. She even thought the cat was out to get her! The poor girl just had no confidence in herself or anything in her environment. But to see our pack now, you would never know that we had ever experienced any issues. These dogs have a strong yet intricate bond that ties them together. You see it in the way they move through the house, and the way they all snuggle in bed together, sharing their space and their favorite people. It’s in the way they play tug of war, growling and barking and enjoying all that it means to be a carefree pup. It’s even in the way they guard the house, communicating silently as each takes their post at a window until an intruder approaches. One of the three sounds the alarm, and the troops come running for backup. They’ve learned to respect one another’s space, but they’ve also become dependent upon each other. Take one away, and the others pout and whine. Our dogs are true friends. I don’t know if they do it because they know it is what I expect of them, or if it is because they have a need for the kinship of other dogs, but I do know that I love it.

 

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5) When we’re snuggling

Morning snuggles with the dogs are my favorite. Part. Of my day. Paws down! While we don’t usually allow the dogs to sleep through the night in our bed, once J is out of the house, they know that the dog bed rules go with him. One by one, they leap into the bed as delicately as is possible for 3 dogs with a combined weight of almost 250 pounds! They creep quietly along the mattress, careful not to disturb me, in case I might decide to kick them out. Sleepily I smile to myself, loving that their favorite place on earth is just wherever I am. Each selects their perfect spot, snuggled right up against me, but still somehow in contact with the others. We rest peacefully together, until I make the first stirs… maybe a yawn or stretch, or an arm reaching toward the night stand for my phone. Then all bets are off… they leap from their positions, shake off their slumbers, and grab for a toy. They know that once I’m up, fun begins, and they can’t wait to get their days started!

 

"If I don't look at her, she can't make me come inside..."

“If I don’t look at her, she can’t make me come inside…”

6) When they’re being naughty

Believe it or not, J told me early on that one of the things he had first loved about me was the way I treated my dog. He said that I was strict with him, and he admired my sense of discipline. At the same time, I was affectionate and spoiled him rotten when he was good. I think it’s safe to say that this is exactly how I approach my relationship with our dogs to this day. I hold high standards for their obedience, and think that discipline and structure are a vital part of their lives. At the same time, I think that if our dogs could speak, they would happily tell you that there are no dogs on this planet more loved and well cared for.

With all of that being said, there are some times that I just can’t get over how adorable they are when they’re bad. 95% of the time, our dogs are so focused on their ‘jobs’ and are incredibly eager to please us. But there are those moments where their instincts take over. They seem to forget all about any of the manners that they’ve learned, and take exceptional delight in the fact that they are dogs!

With Gaige, it happens when she is outdoors and doesn’t want to come inside (see photographic evidence, above). You can call and call and call her, but she pretends she hasn’t heard. She will trot slowly over to the furthest point of the yard, and plop herself down, staring at you in defiance. You will try throwing bits of hot dogs to her, shaking the treat bag, and bouncing around like a crazy person. All to no avail. Then when you’ve lost your patience, and decide to risk the late-night or early-morning walk in your bare feet, crazy hair, tee shirt, and underwear, she waits like a panther. You will stomp yourself over to her, muttering under your breath, and just when you think you are in arms’ reach of her collar, she will tuck her tail up under herself, and dash around the yard in sheer ecstasy, proud of her quick and conniving ways. If you can stay mad at her when she does this, you are a much tougher person than I!

 

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7) When they are there for me

Tonka, especially, seems to have some sort of wire to my heart. Not only does he know when I am happy or sad, but he often seems to be aware of it before I am. He will come to me with an expression to match my own. If I am hurting, he will cuddle up as close as possible, and stare deep into my eyes. I swear he is trying to speak to me. But when I’m excited about something, he bounces around my feet, grabbing the nearest toy to celebrate with me. Talk about selflessness… this pup has it in spades.

 

One of my favorite pictures in the whole, wide, world.

One of my favorite pictures in the whole, wide, world.

8) When I think about the past

Mainly, it’s when I write posts like this. I think about all of the adventures I’ve shared with these dogs. And even the lows. These dogs have been there for me through everything, displaying a loyalty not rivaled by even my closest friends. They were all brought into my life for different reasons, and I wouldn’t be who I am without each of them.

Dogs and Dominance

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This graphic pretty much says it all, so I will try not to muddy up their message with excessive wordiness. However, I think it is important to convey that dominance is one of the most misused and misunderstood terms in the worlds of dog training and behavior.

Just as most individuals who are educated in dog behavior can recognize that displays of ‘aggression’ in dogs are often based in fear, the mentality that we must utilize dominance to train our dogs was also originally rooted in fear. After a study of wolves in captive that originated in the 1940’s, it was suggested that if owners did not ‘establish dominance’ then their dogs would physically harm them. However, these early wolf studies were seriously flawed, in a variety of ways. First, the animals were held in captivity, in small enclosures, which is obviously far from their natural environment. Further, the wolves came from varying packs, which created a group structure that was volatile and unnatural. According to one biologist, these studies would be relative to evaluations of human behavior carried out in concentration camps.

Furthermore, while scientists agree that dogs have evolved from wolves, observations of free-roaming dogs have shown them to be scavengers as opposed to predators. They often exist in solitary groups, as structured pack-life does not prove to be beneficial to them when it comes to sharing resources. Rather, they may form loose groups that fluctuate as animals come and go frequently and with random duration (hmmm, sounds kind of like life in a human home, doesn’t it?).

Most importantly, aggression in dogs rarely comes from issues with dominance. Rather, we see aggression in dogs due to any combination of factors that may include lack of proper and early socialization, pain or illness, mismanagement including lack of training and use of aversive methods, traumatic experiences, or genetic predisposition (poor breeding). Most commonly, we will see aggression in a dog that has a lack of confidence such as fear or anxiety. This lack of confidence may come from any of the above situations, but it is obvious that it would only be exacerbated by an owner or handler that manages their dog through intimidation or force, thereby damaging the dog’s confidence even further. Unfortunately, those who believe in a dominance hierarchy when it comes to training our dogs, feel that the best way to utilize this phenomenon is through the use of force.

The behaviors we see in our dogs, whether positive or negative, are a result of the dog having found what ‘works’ for them. For example, a dog will jump up on a person not because they are being dominant, but because it is a natural greeting, where they are then rewarded by what they perceive to be attention and play-time… if you wave your hands at a jumping dog and ‘bark’ back at them, this mimics play and gives the dog attention. However, by ignoring the behavior, you are not providing any reward, which will cause the dog to eventually extinguish the behavior. If you can also teach the dog the proper way to greet people, and reward them for it, you are going even further as a responsible owner.

Our dogs recognize us as being different from other dogs. While we can gather clues from dog behavior by watching the way they interact with one another, the relationship we share with our dogs is so unique… after all, isn’t that one thing that we love most about it?

From personal experience, most of you know that Georgia came to us a nervous and fearful dog. She did not interact well with other dogs or with new people. However, by creating a structured environment for her, as well as slowly introducing her to situations where she could gain confidence at low thresholds of exposure, she has become a confident dog that thrives on the companionship of adults, children, dogs, and cats. I shudder to think what may have become of her if I had taken popular advice of utilizing force-based training or even just eradicated her exposure to other animals. Georgia is one of my greatest accomplishments, and her presence in our home is a favorite part of our lives. We are so glad that we did not fall victim to the myths of dominance, and we hope that you can say the same!

Catching Flies…

As pit bull advocates, we often find ourselves in a position where we need to stand up for the dogs we have come to know, and thereby, come to love. In fact, this can be true for many things in life. When we have a passion for something, be it political stances, social policies, child welfare, or religion, we are occasionally thrown into situations where our loyalty is tested. In what circumstances are we willing to defend that which we believe in?

It is important to me that people judge my dogs as individuals.

It is important to me that people judge my dogs as individuals.

For me, I believe loyalty to be one of my best qualities, and this is something that I am very proud of. I am a devoted friend, wife, sister, daughter, and pet owner, sometimes to a fault. I am not a fighter, I am certainly not intimidating or imposing, I don’t have a celebrity status to influence those around me… but because I enjoy writing and am always honing my abilities, I carefully choose my words as my greatest defense against those that try to tear down the people and things I care most about. At the same time, it is important to me to maintain a gentle approach. I am a firm believer in the old saying that ‘you catch more flies with honey, than you do with vinegar’. Because of this, even when faced with someone who disagrees with me, I try my best to remain calm, yet assertive, and to avoid accusations. I do not believe that anyone is going to absorb what you say, if you are offending them while you are saying it!

With all of that being said, I learned a valuable lesson last week that I would like to share with all of you.

Our friend J. over at Peace, Love, & Fostering shared this post on their facebook page last week. If you are interested in dog training, as well as the changes in perception our society is making in regards to dogs and dog ownership, it is certainly worth the time spent reading it. I would be interested in your honest, respectful, perspectives. (If you plan to do so, I would appreciate it if you would read it before you read the rest of this post, so as not to be influenced by my opinions!)

My reaction to this post was multi-faceted. I read it and felt such a strong relation to many of the points the writer introduced. She shared many important thoughts that are, in my opinion, so necessary to convey to well-meaning animal lovers. At its most elementary, the piece was about the science behind force-free dog training, why it is more effective, and how many of those who claim to love dogs and advocate for them, are really just muddying the waters when it comes to what is best for the dog, and conveying that to the public.

For those of you that do not know, force-free training is essentially just that: an approach to dog training that enhances your relationship with your dog, avoiding physical manipulation or intimidation, while reinforcing behaviors through positive association.
 
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What upset me so much was not the content, but the writer’s approach. In my perspective, she has this incredible opportunity to convey a point. She is obviously intelligent and talented as a writer, and please understand that I respect her for this. She put a lot of effort into this article, as was evident by her extensive source list. She has a unique perspective on the subject, which could produce positive waves of change in the worlds of dog training and ownership. However (and perhaps, BECAUSE of how valid her argument is) I absolutely shudder at her approach and tone. She continually criticizes and downright ridicules anyone with a different perspective than the one she feels is ‘right’… even if their perspective just comes from a naive and uniformed lack of knowledge or understanding. She is essentially condemning anyone that utilizes force or tools of punishment in an attempt to produce changes in a dog’s behavior. While I absolutely agree that there are better ways to train our dogs, and that our dogs DESERVE a better approach, my question remains: What dog owner would *ever* went to take advice from someone so condescending? And, with such a valid argument and the unique opportunity of a vast audience, shouldn’t that be her goal? I respect her perspective, but I worry that those who may be on the fence and considering a transition to force-free training, will read her article and be so turned-off that they refuse to remain open-minded. To me, her approach simply was making the rest of us who are proponents of force-free training look like judgmental wackos!

In one particular selection, she criticizes those that support forceful training: “but they seem thoroughly intent on attacking anybody who suggests otherwise”… which is exactly what her article does. It attacks anyone that disagrees with, or misunderstands, force-free training. If she believes that a forceful approach is ineffective with dogs, why does she employ such force when communicating with her own kind??

My stance is this: Whether the topic is politics, racism, poverty, etc… If the point of a diatribe is to truly bring about change in the uninformed or ignorant masses, why would you ever take a position of judgmental arrogance? You are not going to change any minds with that approach, and are then effectively just talking to hear yourself speak, or to hear others who already agree with your position, compliment you for it. Whether or not your argument is valid, if you take a judgemental and aggressive approach, the intended audience will never be open to receiving it in the manner in which it was presented.

At the same time, I found myself wondering if perhaps the writer’s purpose was not primarily to evoke a change in readers’ perspectives, but instead to garner attention and inspire conversation. And if in fact that was her goal, perhaps that is not all bad. If she can get the attention of the masses, perhaps some of them will be more willing to listen to the more moderate, respectful arguments that support and share her same perspectives.

Furthermore, there is something to be said for blogging, in that it is an emotional release for writers. Sometimes we have something on our hearts, and we need to express it. Occasionally we need to open up the floodgates, and let the words organize our thoughts and our hearts, without censoring every emotion or editing every accusation. While I believe that when our blogging has a purpose, we have a responsibility to put that goal first at all times, I also know that sometimes we need to write what is on our hearts, as it comes to us.

The bottom line is that when we blog for advocacy, regardless of the subject, we hit a strange paradox: while our blogs serve as an opportunity for self-expression and self-discovery, I believe that we also have a responsibility as advocates for the cause. Certainly, some of us more than others (we will get there someday!), are standing under a spotlight as the poster children for our causes. All we can do is keep our missions in mind, and hope that our words are received in the way that we intend them… I have certainly made mistakes and omissions in things that I have written, but I am sure to stay open-minded, while processing all of the feedback I receive.

I am genuinely interested in hearing you reactions to this article! I would appreciate it if you would all stay respectful, but I do want to know… did you agree with the writer’s opinions? What about her approach? What was your initial reaction, and how did that compare with your perspective once you’d read my own? As advocates for pit bulls, how do you think we can best approach those that don’t understand our dogs? I value your opinions!

Hang in there... it's almost Friday!

Hang in there… it’s almost Friday!