Feeding dogs - living with dogs and toddlers

Tonight, the Wee Monster (2 years old) came up to me and said "he ate it, number 3, he ate it"

I giggled. Wee Monster hasn't got the grasp of "I" yet, so it's a lot like talking to Elmo from Sesame Street. "Huh?" I said.

The small blonde person in front of me didn't giggle. He looked very serious as he repeated "he ate it"

We had spent the early evening attempting to make fudge and Wee Monster had had a spoon to lick. I'd seen him offer it to Frankie through the bars of the crate. Recently he's also offered the dogs his own water bottle through the crate. I try and explain that dogs can't suck on straws (while ignoring the dog germs he's coming in contact with, and reciting "it's good for his immune system" over and over) but it's hard to get that idea across. 

Standing in front of the dog crates last weekend. Frankie to the left of picture, Czar to the right.

Standing in front of the dog crates last weekend. Frankie to the left of picture, Czar to the right.

But now he was still looking very serious. "Czar Czar."

I thought for a moment and realized that he hadn't been carrying his spoon around for a while; he'd been playing with the magnetic letters and numbers off our fridge. Uh oh.

I looked over at the dog crates and realized that Czar *was* chewing on something. I shrieked at him to drop it and threw myself across the room.

Sure enough, there were three brightly coloured and very very chewed fridge magnets in his crate. I snatched them up and quickly took stock.

An "o", a "h" and an "i". Fortunately, all three magnets were in my hand. One had popped off the twisted plastic, but hadn't been swallowed. No pieces of plastic seemed to be missing. Thank heavens.

I looked up at the small blonde person watching me from the doorway, still looking really worried. I held my arms out and he ran over for a cuddle.

"Mustn't feed Czar Czar plastic!" I tried to explain. "Not food! It would make him very very sick." I put the two year old down and headed into the kitchen to bin the fragments.

As the lid clanged shut, I looked back at Wee Monster, still standing in front of Czar's crate. "Berry berry sick" he said to the husky inside.

Oh dear, I have a feeling we're going to have an interesting phase for a while! #alwayssupervisedogsandchildren #toddlersputthingsinweirdplaces #luckyhecantellmewhatswrongnow

Woolly huskies - gorgeous but potentially dangerous for their health

Today Czar and I got to spend the afternoon at Melbourne's Dog Lovers' Show at the Royal Exhibition Building with the Siberian Husky Club of Victoria. 

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Czar is such a social butterfly that this was his idea of heaven, a never ending supply of pats! 

Most people just wanted a pat and a photo. Some people hung around for a chat because they were contemplating getting a dog, maybe a husky, would it suit them/their lifestyle? Some people already had huskies and wanted to ask advice, or about the club. (Number one answer; the SHCV isn't based in any particular LOCATION, we meet all over the place, depending on the space and activity in question.) Most of these people were wonderful - open minded, asking good questions, really thinking about our answers. Some of them decided that huskies weren't right for them, and to be honest, all of us manning the stand were in complete agreement that this is an awesome answer. Every husky puppy that doesn't go to a poorly prepared or poorly suited home is one less puppy that's going to end up in a pound, shelter or rescue.

But there were a few people who left us shaking our heads. People who'd succumbed to impulse buying a puppy from a pet shop (i.e. From a puppy farm). People who were more interested in telling us how wonderful their dog was in a way that painted a picture of a fat, spoiled, naughty puppy. And, my absolute favourite, people who wanted to find a breeding partner for their entire (un desexed)  dog without the faintest idea of what they're getting themselves into.

One such person who approached me today was looking into breeding his long or woolly coated Siberian. I was aghast. I do personally know one woolly Siberian who is always beautifully groomed and very well kept, but I also know how hard it is to keep up with the grooming of normal, double coated Siberians - a long coat is about three times harder! A simple google search comes up with forums with consistent comments like this about woolly coats.

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Huskies are already a breed that is dumped with depressing regularity and their grooming needs are one of the commonly stated reasons why. Which is weird because they actually don't need much - their outer coat is self cleaning and rarely smells, they don't need clipping and many of them have minimal shedding for most of the year. But twice a year they drop their entire fluffy white undercoat, which is pretty unbearable to live with!

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If their outer coat is long, that shedding isn't released naturally, but gets matted quickly. Matted fur is a danger to any dog's health, leading to skin disease, discomfort, and in some extreme cases, restricted movement and even strangulation. It takes a dedicated owner indeed to properly care for a woolly coat.  For this reason, woollies are considered undesirable in the breeding population.

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Several breed standards, list woolly coated dogs as outside the acceptable variation of the husky. This doesn't mean they're not purebred - they're a naturally occurring coat type, caused by a particular genetic combination of sperm and egg that often occurs in only one puppy in many litters. But breeding that puppy is highly likely to produce woolly offspring, and is widely considered irresponsible breeding.

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Needless to say that I didn't encourage the young person who asked today to go ahead and give his woolly Siberian a "parenting experience". I tried to discuss with him how difficult it is to find great homes for four to eight puppies, and how he'd need to be confident that every home would give a puppy he'd bred the care and attention that he gives to his own dog. Sadly, I was probably a bit too harsh, because he scuttled off quite quickly. But later I wondered if maybe I'd struck another guilty note with him - maybe his own dog wasn't as well cared for as I'd suggested, but was a matted and dirty dog, like those described here:

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If that's the case, maybe the young person got off lightly. He certainly scuttled away before I could tell him what I really think of people who neglect their high needs choice of dog, and of the breeders who sell these puppies but don't forewarn naive buyers about the work ahead of them! 

Thankyou to those people and groups whose comments and photos have been used here - I am hoping to add links to all sources over the next few days. In the meantime, the URL is displayed on images where possible. 

What is "real" Obedience? Discussing rally, ring craft and doggy manners.

Recently, a friend told an older dog handler that she wanted to start her trialling "career" with Rally O. The older handler snorted. "If you're going to trial, why don't you do *real* obedience?" 

Sit and drop - basic building blocks of all forms of obedience. 

Sit and drop - basic building blocks of all forms of obedience. 

Another friend with a range of obedience titles on at least three dogs had a conversation with a lady at the shops about obedience. The lady told my friend that her own dog "was obedient, because he sits and waits for his breakfast bowl."

When we talk about obedience, we all have different perspectives. There's obedience, Obedience, and Rally Obedience. Then there's Freestyle, Dancing with Dogs, Jumping, Agility and dozens of other dog sports. Trying to compare these things is very challenging.

My friend with several titles does a really simple warm up when she gets her dogs out of the car to start work. She asks the dog to heel and they play a little game where they step backwards and forwards a couple of paces in various directions. It doesn't look like much to most people, but I'm aware that there is years and years of experience and training even in such a simple game. The dog is engaged, the team moves smoothly together, the handler's posture, footwork and hand signals are all finely tuned. The dog understands what it is being asked to do, but the routine is random, so the dog hasn't memorised it, but must look for direction. The handler uses voice and rewards to mark the behaviours as correct - this alone is an incredibly important and challenging strategy to develop. More experienced people than me watch my friend and critique her hand signals and footwork, suggest more or less talking - it's never perfect. We're humans, working with dogs - two mammalian brains trying to communicate without a common language, surrounded by an environment that gives us different stimuli.

When I watch an advanced class in an Obedience trial, I'm both in awe of their simple excellence and struck by my own ignorance. I can be really impressed with the team's performance and therefore shocked when the handler is disappointed by a missed component or a subtle error  - I don't yet know exactly what a UDX trial consists of, or a Rally Masters circuit. But after several years of Obedience training, I can appreciate how much effort it takes to train the human brain and muscles, the canine brain and muscles, and build the teamwork that ensures the two move together in sync. (Especially because my dog is still highly likely to take off into the distance no matter what I do!)

Czar doing platform work with a friend today. 

Czar doing platform work with a friend today. 

Therefore I feel really annoyed with people who want to rank straight Obedience above Rally O or one of the Dog Sports. One of my older trainers has never trialled in Rally O, but is open minded enough to cooperate when some of us request incorporating Rally moves into our heeling patterns. Recently we asked him for a Novice level Rally station #25.

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For this station, the handler needs to stop in a particular position in relation to the sign, and the dog sits in heel. Then the handler takes one step forward, the dog moves with them in heel, and drops to a sit almost immediately. They then take two steps, moving together and stopping together, with the dog again sitting in heel. Then three steps before the final sit.  

When we tried this in a heeling pattern, the older trainer was very struck with the complexity of the task. It's a real test of teamwork, that shows the communication, good or bad. In a team with great communication, it's like an old fashioned court dance. When it looks bad, you see dogs surging forward, handlers yanking on leads, frustration and annoyance from both parties.

Rally is seen by people who do straight Obedience as "easy" because it starts entirely on lead, with lots of talk and less formality. But I would suggest any sneering, old fashioned Obedience trialler tests themselves with some Rally Novice exercises. Because, even without the etiquette that a Rally trial ring requires, there is as much complexity and challenge there as in any form of training.

And the lady at the shops who just wanted an obedient dog? Well, she has a really good point. I can get Czar into a ring and ask him to sit, stand, drop, walk, turn, spin in a vast range of manoeuvres. Especially if I've got treats in my hand. But when we're walking alongside the rings and he's surging in front of me, looking for other dogs to greet, and my arm is ready to pop out of my shoulder, I wish for a well mannered, obedient dog too!!!!