Sunday, May 29, 2011

A man forewarned is fore-armed

It's windy again.

Before I left the house, I put the pillows and blankets in the closet, picked up anything shreddable, and opened the balcony.

I came home two hours later and found... nothing shredded. Booya!

Then I went out on the balcony and discovered she had destroyed her lawn. Oops...

Well, that's alright. The lawn is there for her, and I can always reseed it. I need to make a deeper lawn, though, so she doesn't dig right through to the bottom of the container every time. Other than that, it's all good.

That's one thing I learned from my first two dogs, who were husky puppies: if you don't want something destroyed, it's a lot easier to put it out of reach of the dogs, than to fix it after they eat it.

Shibas don't recall, eh?

That's the biggest myth about shibas: that they don't recall. Maybe your shiba doesn't recall, but shibas as a breed are perfectly capable of it. But like I always say, it's a matter of motivation, and if your dog isn't getting off-leash time, it's certainly not gonna be motivated to come back when it gets loose.

Anyway. All this to say, I have an anecdote. I think it was Friday morning on our off-leash walk, the Evil Giant Chihuahua and its person came out of their house somewhere ahead of us. This freaked me out, because the human uses a walker. If Tinky-Winky gets into a fight with a regular dog, well, that's one thing. But what if she got into a fight with this man's dog, and he tried to intervene and fell? At best, he'd be rightfully upset, at worst he might really hurt himself. And since the Evil Giant Chihuahua likes to antagonize Tinky-Winky, a fight seemed probable.


At this point, Tinky-Winky was behind me, so I called her. She could see that I had the leash in my hand (as opposed to around my neck as I do when just carrying it) so she knew I was gonna leash her up. So she sauntered past me well out of my reach, until she saw ahead of her the Evil Giant Chihuahua. She stopped and looked at me. Then at the chihuahua. Then at me. I kept calling her, still with the leash in my hand. She looked back and forth between me and the chihuahua for a while, and then she made her decision. She got her big shiba smile on her face and ran back to me. Not past me as she likes to do to show obedience to the letter of my command while ignoring the spirit of it. No, she ran right to me, stopped, and waited to be leashed up.

When we resumed walking, what happened next is that the Evil Giant Chihuahua wiggled out of its harness and came running at us, snarling and barking. I stopped, held Tinky-Winky by her collar, and tried to grab the chihuahua. This is part of why Tinky-Winky is willing to come to me when there is another dog: because I'm going to handle the other dog. She knows this. She knows it's better to let me do it than to fight the other dog herself. If I recalled her and then tried to force her to "make friends" with the other dog, she'd never come. So here I am holding my dog with one hand and trying to catch this psychotic chihuahua with the other hand, and the dog's person abandonned his walker and came running after his dog, to the best of his ability, which is exactly what I had feared in the first place. Technically, now that it's his dog off-leash and not mine, I'm at least free of liability, but that doesn't change the fact that I don't want this man falling or getting hurt. Luckily, he did neither. He was able to grab his dog, and then walk safely back to his walker, and continue his stroll.

Just to be sure, though, I didn't let Tinky-Winky off the leash again as I normally would after passing another dog. I just didn't want to take a chance while the man was out there. So, she lost about a quarter of her off-leash walk that day for being a good dog. But she didn't even ask me to let her loose again. That's the great thing we have that I think many dogs are missing: trust. She trusts me to take good care of her, and I trust her to be a responsible little dog.

So yes, shibas recall. They just have to want to.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Things that go on in my dog's head

Today, between our afternoon walk and evening walk, Tinky-Winky snapped at four dogs, including a Bernese, a black lab, and two large mutts. All the dogs cowered and shrank away from her. Not one of them was less than three times her weight.

Then this evening, I went to see my neighbour, not noticing that Tinky-Winky had followed me out the door. I was gonna put her back in the apartment, but the neighbour invited her in. He has a tiny cat who runs to our door to sniff at the dog's smell every chance she gets, so we decided to introduce them. The cat is seriously minuscule. I think she weighs about 4 lbs. She walked right up to the dog and started sniffing her.

Tinky-Winky started panting and cowered behind my chair, and then lay motionless until the cat lost interest. She looked miserable until we left.


Seriously, my dog, you can put the fear of God into a Bernese with one malevolent glare, you've fought porcupines, you antagonize beavers and bison, and you're afraid of a 4-lb cat? I don't know what goes on in your head sometimes.

And the funny thing is, too, the smaller the cat, the more she's scared of it. We've lived with cats before, and she's seen cats outside, and she's much more terrified of little cats than big ones, whereas with dogs, she's more likely to avoid a fight with a big dog and start one with a little dog.

Ah well. I'd rather she fear cats than harass them.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

How to introduce dogs

It drives me nuts when people want to stick their dogs in Tinky-Winky's face so they can "make friends." That's not how dogs make friends. This, on the other hand, with a fence between them, is perfect. Now they have no choice but to be polite. Well, they can walk away, I suppose, but most dogs are curious about other dogs. So they sniff noses through the fence for a while, then she pees on her side of the fence and walks away. It's like people leaving their card. If they meet outside the fence now, they're properly introduced. They might not become "friends", but at least they're starting off on the right foot.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Suddenly, a horrible thought occurs to me

As you know, I'm always preoccupied with the fact that Tinky-Winky is going to die. This is inevitable, and barring some unforeseen circumstances, she's going to die before me. This bothers me, but actually, I'd be even more upset if I died before her, because she has no one but me to take care of her. But that's not the point.

According to the vet, shibas live "9 to 12 years", which would have her dying this year. According to her breeder, dogs of her bloodline have generally lived to approximately 16 years, barring unforeseen circumstances, like the fact that her father ran away and was killed by a car at a young age. And since Tinky-Winky shows no signs of being near death yet, I'm thinking the breeder is right. She would know, anyway, she keeps in touch with her dogs. So, I've been living with the idea that Tinky-Winky will die in 2015. But then, because she eats healthy, gets a lot of exercise, and looks nowhere like a 12-year-old dog right now, and looks better than photos of 12-year-old shibas I've seen, I've been telling myself she might well live longer than that.

But then, as we were walking this morning, a terrible thought occurred to me. I remembered reading an article many years ago about a study they did on rats, where they found that all other things being equal, mellow rats who did nothing all day long lived much longer than active rats who were always busy. The article then pondered the fact that in cultures where people take long siestas and sit around quietly in the evenings, as long as their diet is healthy, they live for a hundred years; whereas people who exercise and are always busy, even though they also seem healthy, die much younger. And it's also true in aquarium fishes that if you keep the water warmer, they're more active, but die younger, whereas in colder water they move less and live longer. So the moral is, apparently creatures only have a certain amount of activity in them, and they can spend it faster or slower, but when they run out of it, they die, whether they're young or old.

That's horrible!!!!!!

I've always prided myself on the fact that Tinky-Winky gets more exercise than any other pet dog I know. We walk three times a day, twice 45 minutes at a slow pace because she drags her feet on the leash, and once 45 minutes at a mad gallop when she's off the leash. Then sometimes we take extra-long walks. In the summer, we usually go for a three-hour walk at least every other weekend.

What if all this activity is making her die faster? Granted she's the healthiest dog alive as far as I can tell, never has a health complaint, not even a cough or an upset stomach. She can still run for hours. She can still run 40 km/h. But what if she's going to have a healthy but short life? Would it be better to walk her less so she can live longer? Her walks are all she lives for. What's the point of making her live longer with less happiness? That's absurd.

Suddenly I'm worried that I don't have four years left with her after all.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nobody's perfect

Have I mentioned that my dog never does anything wrong?

Apparently she does.

Here is what happened. Tinky-Winky is scared of the wind. Not when we're outside, of course, but we live on the seventh floor of the only highrise structure for 500 km, on a wide open plain reaching from the Arctic Ocean to Mexico, so you can imagine that we get some windy days up here. And with windows open on all sides of the building, air shafts, things that don't close properly, what have you, there is quite a lot of whistling and rattling when the wind is anywhere from NNE to SSE. This freaks her out, and when she's freaked out, she wants to hide, or she wants me to comfort her.


So it had been windy for two days, and as I was trying to sleep in the morning, Tinky-Winky kept climbing up on my pillow and digging at it. I reprimanded her several times for scratching the pillow, then I kicked her off the bed altogether. She went to sleep on the floor.

Later that day, obviously, I had to go out. I closed the picture window so it wouldn't be as loud inside, and I left. This was a mistake, because if I had left it open, Tinky-Winky would have gone out on the balcony and had a nap on her lawn. (She has a lawn on the balcony. Because I'm nice like that.) Being out in the wind doesn't bother her at all, like I said, it's the noises inside the house. But since I locked her in the house with the noise, she continued freaking out. So she dug everything that could be dug, kicked the pillows on the floor, tore the 300 thread-per-square-inch Egyptian cotton pillowcase, then tore the pillow open, then ripped the fiber out, then must have kicked it around for good measure, as it was torn-side down when I came home.

After that, I guess she must have felt better, because that's the only thing she tore. Or maybe she had just been in the process of tearing it when I came home, and that's what stopped her.

Well, oh well. I guess I brought it on myself. Knowing she was after the pillows, I should have put them in the closet. And I should have left the balcony open so she could get out of the noise. Maybe also, she'd feel safer if she had a nice pet carrier she could crawl into like a little den just for her. I've never needed to put her in a cage, but maybe she'd like it.

In any case, that's ok. A dog is allowed to screw up once in six years. That's like 42 human years. Who doesn't screw up once in 42 years?

Dog fight versus posturing

You know, I've discovered that most people have no idea what a dog fight looks like. One guy who poses as some kind of expert on the web stated once that a normal dog fight is just a bunch of snarling and snapping, and only pitbulls grab and hold on to another dog.


In that case, my dog is a pitbull, and that doesn't explain how she's a champion, daughter, mother and grandmother of champions, and all of them as shiba inu and not pitbull. Got all them judges fooled for generations!

No, seriously though, all dogs fight the same way: attack, grab something (preferrably the jugular), hold on until death or the other guy says "uncle".

I know this because when Tinky-Winky came to live with me, her breeder told me that this is a breed renowned for being agressive to other dogs, that the bitches are especially agressive, and that this is the most agressive shiba bitch she, the breeder, has ever seen in her life. In fact, the conditions of getting her at all were that I wouldn't let her get fat, and I'd work on her behaviour.

In the beginning, obviously, I never let her off the leash. Other dogs running off leash would come running up to us and I'd tell the other owner "call off your dog" and they'd say "oh don't worry, he's friendly!"

Right. Actually, your dog isn't friendly, he's rude; but that's not even what I'm worried about.

Tinky-Winky would attack so fast you didn't have time to blink. Unlike other dogs who go into a frenzy of barking, she wouldn't make a sound. If I had looked at her rather than the oncoming dog, I suppose her body posture would have been threatening, but she never barked, just attacked. I'd always think "next time I'll pick her up before she can attack"; but the next time she'd still always be too fast for me. She was fast and she was deadly accurate, too. She would hit right at the jugular, no matter how small or large a dog. And she attacked some pretty large dogs. She's always had a special hatred of retrievers, for some reason, but she's also fought Belgian shepherds, boxers, an Am Staff terrier, two Doberman pinschers at once, and some malamute-like crosses we have in town. Always the same: strike for the jugular. The only way she would miss is if the other dog had a very heavy coat. More often, before you could even react, the other dog would be on the ground screaming in terror with this insane little creature clamped to its throat (except the Dobermans - they just screamed and ran). So believe me when I tell you, shibas do clamp their jaws and hang on. I've had to pry her jaws open a few times, and got bit twice doing it. If she had been any bigger, she'd probably have been put down as a vicious dog.

Six years later, you'd never know it. We walk past all kinds of dogs on the trail and she never says boo. Even with crazy little barking dogs. There is a pug who blows his top every time he sees an oncoming dog, and she totally ignores him. And yesterday something like a large chihuahua tried to attack us, and she ignored that too. Off leash, she's even better... 99% of the time. Almost always, if another dog is blocking her path, she'll come back to me, wait to leash up, and then walk calmly past the other dog. Over the winter, I got in the habit of carrying cheese in my pocket in a Ziploc bag; she recalls to the rustling of the Ziploc much better than to her name, let me tell you. Well one time a dog passed by and she started to stalk it with agressive body posture; I rustled the Ziploc and she came running back to me. So I can actually recall her from a fight she was about to start. You wouldn't know that's the same dog I had six years ago.

That being said, she's still not a "friendly" dog. First of all, that 1% of the time, or actually, more like 0.25% of the time, she'll attack a little dog. Just for the sake of attacking a little dog. She'll spot one from a distance and just go after it. She's done it twice in the last two years, but not in the last year. Maybe she's over it; maybe my strategy of not bringing her out when little foofy dogs are afoot has more to do with it. I just know I can't trust her with little dogs. (Actually, one of them is bigger than her, but he's got that little-dog behaviour.)

The other thing is, when she meets another dog, she doesn't tolerate bad manners. Normally she prefers to go around them and smell their wake after they're past her. If she actually interacts with another dog and the other dog approaches politely, she'll sniff noses, then butts, and then ignore it. If the other dog is "friendly", as people call it, that is, jumping all over her, she snaps at it. And that is where you can see that people have no idea what a dog fight looks like. Tinky-Winky will snap at their dog and clearly miss, so that there is literally a loud "snap" as her jaws shut. This isn't a miss. Tinky-Winky does not miss. In fact when she does this, she doesn't even lunge at the other dog. Just a snarl and a snap, and normally the other dog will back off. Occasionally, if the other dog is slow, it gets its nose nipped, but it's not her intention to bite another dog's nose. If it was, she'd have it by the nose every time and not let go. No, this is just a warning snap. And people get all freaked out and think she "attacked" their dog. Which is all the more unfair since their dog is the one being rude, and most of the time they've insisted on bringing it close to her so it can be extra, extra annoying.

So before you freak out thinking that dogs are "fighting", see if anyone's actually biting. When they're circling each other snapping and snarling, that's just trash talk. If they're actually fighting, it's a contact sport. There will be one angry trashing pile of biting dogs, not two or more separate dogs.

It's funny that we've had dogs for tens of thousands of years and people don't even know that.