Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy

Ted Kennedy has died.

Now, this may seem like an odd thing to post to a dog-blog, but among other things, Kennedy was a fan of the Portuguese Water Dog. This isn't the sort of item that generally goes into the biographies of our senators except in passing, though perhaps it should -- I'd like to know whether I'm voting for a whippet person, or a cocker person, or perhaps a boa-constrictor person when I go to the polls. (I, for one, was pleased to learn that our current VP is a shepherd person.) However, he introduced the First Family to the breed, and we certainly all heard about that in the dog world.

PWDs are nice dogs, though they have the traits I tell people to watch out for when looking for a family pet. They're energetic and clever. This sounds like a good thing. Some families, however, need mildly foolish semi-animate furniture and will not be at all happy with a PWD. Know thyself, said the philosopher, though I don't think he added before you go dog-shopping.

At any rate, there is now an opening in the Senate for a PWD person. Here's hoping it is sensibly filled with the sort of man or woman who can handle some energy and intelligence about the home. Loving the PWD -- fuzzy, goofy, fun-loving, problem-solving breed that it is -- is a trait that spoke well of Senator Kennedy.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

"Write About Dogs!"

George Booth of The New Yorker has a fairly famous cartoon with the caption I've just used as a title. A frazzled male writer sits on the porch of a weathered beachside house, typewriter before him, blank page fed into typewriter, as his wife offers advice. Several dogs loaf on the floor around him.

Clearly I write about dogs. In fact, two semi-fictional works about Sunny are now accepted. One is in print at Emerald Tales, and I've been strictly ordered to tell all future readers that it needs a tissue warning. Another, a little flashfic, has been accepted at Ruthless Peoples Magazine -- to my great surprise and delight, since I submitted it yesterday.

However, sometimes I write about non-dog subjects, too, and while questing for markets I came across a call for Hint Fiction. What's hint fiction? Robert Swartwood, who seems to have invented the term, defines it as "a story of 25 words or less that suggests a larger, more complex story." For details, if you think this sounds like something fun, go to for the anthology guidelines. Personally, I mean to give it a try. If nothing else, brevity hones the writing tools. Besides, a dollar a word on acceptance is pretty darned fine.

Learning by Example

Some dog breeds are known for learning by watching others of their type. Border collies, for instance, have been trained for generations by getting plonked into the sheep fields to work with older border collies. Quite a few of the herding breeds are trained for the job with instructions that start off, "Well, you put your new dog out there with your old dog..." which makes life difficult if you're training your first one.

However, little Bruce is no herding breed. I'm not too sure what he is -- he looks a bit like a working-line Lab as he gets older -- but he's definitely not built for sheep or cow control. He's living his life with shepherds, though, and he likes to please the humans, so he's doing his darnedest to be a German Shepherd Dog regardless of his genetics.

This isn't always obvious, but he gave away the game yesterday. Sunny taught Dustin to bark and whoop with excitement over an impending ball game, it seems. McCoy likes to have a good yawp now and again too as we approach the door and I juggle toys for the pack. Bruce decided yesterday morning that he, too, could join in the noisy fun. He threw his head up and bawled like a hound.

And then he looked around with a puzzled expression on his face. "Who did that? What was that strange noise? I certainly never made such a sound!" After a moment's thought, he barked the way he has lately, which is to say he made a fairly threatening sound which imitates a shepherd's alert-bark. I'm onto him now, though. That's not his real vocalization. His mutters, whoops, and that bawl -- those are real. I may have to find him a hound-dog buddy to chum around with, just so he can learn there are dogs other than shepherds in the world.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What Are Dogs Seeing?

Some people claim that dogs have a higher social intelligence for reading people than people themselves do. It isn't usually phrased this way, of course. Usually people say, "Well, my dog didn't like him, so I don't want him around," or words to that effect. I've known some dogs who were pretty indiscriminate -- throw a toy a few times, or feed them, and you're in -- but there have been some odd moments.

We have a new (well, all right, somewhat used, but new to us) television at the house now, bigger and lower to the ground than the old one. The puppies are intrigued. Wanda liked watching television to begin with, and now takes a great interest in blue things, such as the flying wizard-bird in the second Conan movie. Dogs can see blue. She's also been entranced by baseball uniforms and odd things of that sort. She's a very entertaining dog.

Bruce, on the other hand, watches faces. Most of the time he is a mild and sweet little fellow. The other night, a brief clip of Michael Richards (Kramer) ranting about race set him off for the next fifteen minutes, and he calmed only for a game of chase-the-treat. Even after that, the pup kept giving the TV suspicious looks, as though it might let that stranger into our home again at any moment. The next night a sports program showed Michael Vick's recent statements on putting the past behind him. In other words, perhaps in future he will not strangle, electrocute, drown, or bludgeon any more pit bulls. Bruce took one look at that supposedly-repentant face looming large and flew into a full snarling barking rage.

Smart boy, I say.