Friday, February 11, 2011

Shepherd Puppies in Atlanta

I have been asked several times since moving here, "Are you going to have puppies? Where can I get a shepherd like that?" I have a few business cards from Dustin's breeder, who has only bred one litter since, and a few from a pleasant local breeder who has his cousins. I send people to the Atlanta German Shepherd Dog Club.

At the meeting the other night, held at the Atlanta Humane Society, I happened to glance in a window at the puppies drowsing on the other side, and called over a couple of other club members. We agreed -- they looked like purebred GSD puppies to us. One tried to climb out the window to us while his two littermates slept.

I went back today and took pictures. There are more available at the no-kill Atlanta Humane Society website. I can't possibly take another dog -- four is more than plenty -- but I can try to get these little guys some attention. The male who tried to climb out the window tried to climb up my arm today; he's a cute confident friendly little cuss who reminds me very much of Dustin as a puppy. Apparently his name (at present) is Billy. I can't picture it fitting him for long, though he might grow into a William. He's the bold-looking one in the following picture; the other is a sister who looks slightly less shepherdy, either a product of an odd outcross or of a second breeding to a part-shepherd, but who knows?

The third pup in the litter is a "coat" by the look of him. I have not yet seen him awake, so his AHS picture is better; look for Bobby.

I also spotted two other female puppies, one mysteriously labelled male on her sheet and blue-collared despite the spay scar and other telltale signs of femininity -- and also the fact her name was Brianna. As soon as she realized I was looking at her, she began trying to climb between the bars of her cage. She's a pale black-and-tan cutie pie who spent every second she could licking like mad on my finger. She might not make a bad search dog, actually. She seemed willing to do anything to get to a person!

The one that sticks with me, though, is Scout, and not just because that's the official name of my son's toy puppy that plays music. I'm a sable junkie. Very few people know what sable shepherds look like, and tend to take them for mixed breeds; this cutie is labeled as a German Shepix. I'm pretty sure she's not a mix. Sables are cool. In strong sun, a clean and well-groomed sable shines like tigerseye. In shade, they vanish. Sunny's favorite game was to lurk ten feet away from me in the woods with her ears flat and her mouth shut to hide any telltale pink flashes. I swear, she laughed at me looking for her. Anyway, meet Scout. She was a little anxious about being held in the air, but was gravely sweet with her paws on a solid surface.

They also had an adult shepherd, with no "mix" on her label. Kelly moseyed up to the front of her kennel with a curious wag when I stopped to look at her, but didn't care for the flash. Her label said she had been treated for heartworm and would have to be kept quiet.

I'll try to post stuff like this every so often. It's not dog-training, but it's somewhere to send people who ask me where to find a shepherd for a pet.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Retrieving, Thinking and Philosophy of Mind

Quite a long time ago I read a philosopher's paper which I do not remember well. I think it was Dennett, and I think it was on decision-making, but what I do remember vividly is that he wrote about throwing two tennis balls for his Labrador. The dog would race back and forth between the two for quite some time, then choose one apparently at random when he was tired enough.

Now, what is surprising here is that I didn't try this on one of my own dogs sooner. I think this must be a paper from when my husband was in graduate school, when we had a dog who didn't care to fetch, or from my undergraduate program, when the dog was at home with my parents and school had nothing to do with my retreats there. However, Dennett was recently brought back to my attention by a secondhand social contact, and I tried to recall if this was his story.

Then I formed a hypothesis. Not all dogs are Labradors, bred to take directions. Some breeds, particularly herders, are required to make snap decisions on their own, and the German Shepherd Dog is one of those breeds. I expected that one object would bounce more or further, and that my dog would go after that one. Then, of course, I whistled for Dustin.

His current obsession is magnolia cones. They bounce and skitter tolerably well, and saved me the trouble of finding two reasonably well-matched balls in this chaotic household. Also, it's not too hard to fit two in one hand to throw together. And it turned out I was right: one cone always activated the naughty-sheep protocol by bouncing further, and he chose that one without hesitation every time. At first he would bring it to the less-traveled cone, good herding dog that he is, intending to bring both, but then he would switch to retrieve protocol on realizing only one would fit in his mouth. Then, of course, he brought the bouncier one.

I suppose the moral of the story is that before one generalizes about the simpleness or complexity of canis lupus familiaris minds, one must first examine multiple breeds. Labradors, as my friend Mary is wont to say, were bred to do what they were told, however it might be conveyed, by men who went to the training field with a six-pack and a gun. Those who stayed in the gene pool were the ones who could figure out how to what they were told, not those who made up new ways to do things. Herders, on the other hand, have to make snap decisions on controlling the individual sheep (or ducks, cows, reindeer, what-have-you) to conform to the large-scale directions given by their handler. Two or more lambs (see previous parenthetical) may take off in different directions at once, and the herding dog has to have a plan for that or devise one on the fly.

Of course, that does lead to an inventive streak the rest of the time. Sunny took to doing her obedience exercises with flair, and I suppose that the AKC guidelines don't say the dog can't walk from front to finish on her hind legs while whooping to the ceiling. At least, they didn't before she came along. I haven't checked the handbook lately. Dustin, asked to herd ducks, decided it would be more fun to push them into a group if he could then excite them into standing tall and quacking wildly, then do a sort of Evel Knievel routine over them. He seems to feel that it's rude to boss around such small and harmless creatures -- give him a good big rude sheep any day.

Or, of course, a naughty magnolia cone.