Monday, December 7, 2009

Trailing: Learning From Marble Cake

Today's lesson in scent theory is a little different. If you have never made a marble cake, step one for this lesson is "Buy a cake mix for marble cake" and step two is "Follow the directions until you have one cake pan of pale batter and one bowl of dark." Take up a small ladle and use it to drizzle a trail which starts thin and ends with a good blob. The thin start is your starting point and the blob is your victim.

Now take a knife and draw it across the line you just made. A deer just crossed your trail -- see what it did to the hanging scent? It's been drawn sideways into a point. If your dog were to follow the scent exactly, you might think she was "crittering." How can you check which she's doing? Let her have her head for a minute and see if she comes back to the line you were on. If she doesn't usually pursue deer, then she's probably not going to start now, and she'll have learned something important about how scent is moved. A car or bicycle will draw scent similarly, so work crossings on low-traffic streets where only one vehicle is likely to have passed between the trail's laying and running.

Now take the knife to a different part of your cake trail and pass it back and forth across the same spot several times. This is a higher-traffic street or footpath. If the scent was hanging heavily to start with, the dog would understandably believe that the person had gone three ways at once. Rather than letting her make an arbitrary decision, teach her to cross the thoroughfare first and check the other side, then choose a path after checking down the straight line. Your training partner should show your dog a straightaway first. Once your dog has mastered a straight-line crossing of a traffic-muddled scent, she can learn that the victim may also turn to travel along the road. If she learns the turn first, though, you may have trouble convincing her that the straight line is possible.

Now finish following the directions on the box and enjoy the results!

Puppy Training Video

Puppy training may not be what everyone else watches this video for, but it's what stood out to me. See all that food? See how early this little rugrat starts her training? And yet she still has a unique personality.

The Video

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Puppy Mills and an Econ Lesson

I admit it -- there isn't a hard and fast definition of a "puppy mill." Some people want to define it as anyplace that one dog is bred to another, which is probably throwing the baby out with the bath. After all, a dog lover is a person who loves to live with dogs, and if nobody's making more, we won't be living with dogs for long. Now that I've lived with a feral-born pup for a while, that's not something I want as my only source of canine companionship. Bruce is a nice boy, but he's no shepherd.

Other definitions are perhaps too precise. "Any kennel producing more than 25 puppies a year," for instance, overlooks that some breeds would require ten breedings to reach that level and others perhaps three. It's far easier to do the health and genetics research for three litters than for ten.

I'm inclined to leave numbers out of it, nice and precise though they might look to a lawyer or judge. If one batch of dogs is kenneled on wire above another batch, so that the batch below is suffering a slow and steady rain of waste, that's a mill. If any of the dogs are starving beyond the normal thinnish look of a nursing bitch (a condition for which I have great sympathy at present), then we just might be looking at a mill. If medical care is being egregiously overlooked, that's a mill. In other words, if any of the dogs are in a condition we already have laws about, bust the person who owns the joint for having a dog in that condition, and multiply per dog accordingly. There are massive pushes right now for more laws about dog breeding. We don't need more laws. We need to enforce the ones we have.

We also need to put our money where our beliefs are. The pet shop will charge you $500-$1000 for a puppy. For that, you can go to a breeder who did genetic checks, keeps her dogs healthy, and who will want to know a great deal about you before handing over one of her much-loved puppies. You will keep an honest and devoted person from losing quite as much money on her much-loved puppies. If the same amount were spent on "rescuing" the cute pup from the pet store, the money goes to the pet store, the broker who lined the store up with the puppy, and last of all the person who actually bred the puppy, who might see 10% of your sale price. With this much taken off the top, simple economic principles dictate that the miller can't afford veterinary care for the dogs and continue to have a business. The breeder, on the other hand, doesn't have a business. She pays the vet, and eats meat loaf while the dogs get Blue.

And there's my distinction. If the breeder is making a noticeable profit on puppy sales, then probably the breeder is a miller. There are exceptions. Breeders whose dogs are titled producers and whose dogs' genes are very much in demand sometimes do make a profit simply by controlling a rare and desired commodity. On the whole, they lost money for years before getting to that level.

In the war of definition, though, the anti-breeders have one very powerful weapon. They have more compelling pictures. Try to see what I mean. However, in a war of anecdotal evidence, I prefer solid facts to sheer gut-level appeals to fear. The fact is, not every fertile dog is kept in appalling conditions, and a responsible ethical breeder will show you their grounds without a qualm. My fertile dog happens to be loafing beside the baby at the moment. Hopefully this is an environment with which nobody can find fault.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Few Words on the Law and Pickup Trucks

My friend over at The Endangered Owner brings a bit of underreported news to light regarding what an officer may consider grounds to pull over a dog owner here. The gist is, a woman and her daughter were pulled over for having a few Parson/Jack Russell Terriers visible in the back of the pickup truck under a camper top, and the officer was concerned for the dogs' well-being. Endangered uses the word "criminalized," which I find a bit strong considering the woman appears to have been charged with neither crime nor misdemeanor, merely inconvenienced and perhaps a bit frightened at being pulled over. However, it's a little worrying that in cool weather a police officer would be concerned about dogs in crates and under cover. If he was a bit strict with them, rather than being Andy Griffith, recent incidents such as the shooting of the Baltimore animal control officer or the shooting deaths of four might explain why our policemen aren't so mellow as they may or may not have been in the good ol' days.

However, one way and another, this raises a different question for discussion. When would the officer be justified in pulling over a dog owner out of concern for the dog? I've seen dogs dying of heat stroke in the back of pickup trucks, clearly a matter of owner negligence, because someone didn't think about how in the summer a truck bed is a perfect frying pan. One fellow sitting at a gas station ladling ice over his German Shepherd's head looked genuinely regretful, and probably wouldn't have minded if a cop had pulled him over half an hour sooner -- his dog would have had much better odds of survival than she appeared to. Other owners seem to feel their dogs will be fine if crated, but the crate isn't secured or doesn't provide shade or both. The breeze in the back of an open-topped truck just carries away the dog's moisture the faster, making him dehydrate sooner. It exposes him to all the fumes of the great outdoors on a highway -- exhaust, gasoline, and the vapors of hot pavement, all of which can ruin his scenting ability when you arrive where you're going. If he's not tethered or crated, he can fall out; if he is leashed down, he'll get decapitated in an accident or hanged if he does try to jump and the tether is a little too long. So, gentle readers, DON'T PUT YOUR DOG IN THE UNCOVERED BACK OF A PICKUP. Save yourself a heartbreak or an animal cruelty charge, or quite possibly both.

The camper-top helps. It provides shade and keeps the worst of the weather off. In conjunction with crating and with the windows open, it keeps the dogs pretty safe from the outside world of climate and injury. Personally, though I've hauled a dog that way a couple of times, I hate it. If the dog isn't sharing the passenger compartment with me, I don't know how hot she's getting, whether she's complaining, whether she's knocked her water bucket around or vomited on herself, or any of the other things I can keep track of fine by ear and nose. At that level, it's a personal choice. The good part about the camper top is that you don't have to leave your passenger compartment so wide-open when you park for lunch; you just have to get the back of the truck in the shade.

This discussion suggests another question, though: that of ownership versus guardianship. As best I understand the distinction, I own my stereo but have guardianship over my child, as in "This note must be signed by a parent or guardian." The stereo, or anything else I own, I can treat however I wish: it is a thing without its own interests. If I wish to take it out back and beat it with a sledgehammer, that's my right. My child, on the other hand, despite being mine, I genuinely believe is better off living in a society where his parent can do no such thing without severe punishment. Should we own our animals or be their guardians? I consider them to be beings with interests, and so vote for guardianship. This doesn't mean they'd have the right to vote (for instance) any more than my infant does; it just means their interests can be taken as existing for legal purposes. They cannot be beaten, starved, electrocuted, or what have you by the people they live with.

Update from the Blogger

Well, the good news is, I'm no longer trying to work out the logistics of tracking while pregnant. Bad news is, tracking with a baby in a sling, especially a baby who is outgrowing the sling at such an amazing rate, is still a logistical puzzle and a half. However, there are a few nice linkies in the blogroll to keep everyone happy, and I can get back to obedience work anytime I can get a couple of hands free.

And yes, the baby is fine. Born at 8 lb 12.6 oz and gaining roughly a pound a week (!) so he's pretty clearly a healthy sort. By the time he's two he'll have to carry me if he wants to cuddle. For now, he's merely on the brink of needing a new baby seat and a new rig for me to carry him without arm fatigue. Everything seems to top out at 20 lbs, and he can't hold his head up reliably yet.

The dogs are adapting well. Bruce and Dustin are keen on being big brothers, though they really wish the little one would learn to throw a ball or something fun like that. I tell them to be patient. The older male is more the doting-uncle type, and the female is utterly uninterested in this threat to her status as supreme ruler of the home. Dustin has, at least, settled down a bit in his role as Diaper Alert, since for the first few days he was something of an Adrian Monk about it all. He's nearly given up hope that the baby will ever be properly housebroken.