Pets Gone Green

March 25, 2011 § 2 Comments

Pets Gone Green by Eve Adamson (2009)
Whenever we go for walks, Maple would usually be trailing behind us sniffing this and that. But, I have begun to realize that Maple is actually on to something here. While we’re busy keeping time and focusing on the destination, Maple is literally stopping (sometimes every metre) to smell the flowers (or, well, whomever may have left a scent on the flowers).
We’re fortunate enough, despite the ‘little red dot’ called Singapore we live in, to still find pockets of green space. I can’t fathom what it would be like if, one day, these pockets run empty. Given the fragile state of planet Earth in this era of globalization and mass consumerism, it seems critical now, more than ever, for humanity to re-think the way we live. Although I’m a creature of comfort—for example, I do enjoy my cup of tea in the afternoon and I am a regular user of electronic gadgets and the Internet—I try as much as I can to tread on planet Earth with a light foot.
Now that we have an additional member of the family to feed, our rate of consumption really needs to be watched. MM and I are trying to be role models for Maple, so that she can proudly call herself an Eco-Warrior Dog (see Part I and Part II)! I recently picked up Pets Gone Green by Eve Adamson from the library and have found it inspiring.
From green pet food to green pet-sumerism, this book provides do-able suggestions to “live a more eco-conscious life with your pets” as the caption says. Adamson’s down-to-earth, middle-of-the-path, and common sense dictum makes this book an easy-to-digest read for a layperson who is new to the environmental movement. What I find most indispensible about Pets Gone Green is the synopsis of resources in the appendix which lists organizations, services, foods, products, and readings that have an environmental conscience.
Pets Gone Green is also a visual delight with vivid illustrations by artist Willy Reddick. Reddick’s woodblock prints capture the simple life of our furry friends—a lesson we could all learn from.

To end this post, I thought it would be fitting to remind everyone that Earth Hour is this Saturday at 8:30pm. Join the global community by flipping your light switches off for one hour as a stand against climate change. Miss Maple, here, certainly won’t need night vision goggles for this occasion!

Why Does My Dog Act That Way?

February 10, 2011 § Leave a comment

Why Does My Dog Act That Way? by Stanley Coren (2006)

Does an introverted dog exist? How about an extroverted one? Can you gauge a dog’s IQ? What about EQ? According to author Dr Stanley Coren (Professor Emeritus, Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia), Toy Poodles like Maple can be characterized by these personality traits:

  • Dominance/Territoriality: very low
  • Intelligence/Learning Ability: very high
  • Emotional Reactivity: very high
  • Sociability: very low
  • Energy: very high

I agree with every one of these points, but I would modify Maple’s scale on the ‘Sociability’ index to ‘moderately low’—Maple is very sociable with humans, although not so much with other dogs (we hope this will change over time).

In the book’s Appendix, Dr Coren provides a lengthy table in which he ranks the personality profiles for 133 individual breeds of dogs according to the above five indices. ‘Chapter 5: The Personalities of of Dog Breeds’ describes in detail these five personality dimensions that are recognizable across the various individual breeds of dogs which, at the same time, can also be used to differentiate one breed from another. As Dr Coren posits:

A dog’s breed tells us a lot about that dog’s genetic heritage and makeup. Genetics is a strong determinant of personality. In the absence of any other information, we can make a reasonable prediction about how the dog will behave based upon its breed (p. 108).

A humorous exaggeration of the different breed personalities is illustrated in this excerpt from the book:

‘How many dogs does it take to change a lightbulb?’ The answer depends on the breed.

Border collie: Just one, but why not let me change the light fixture so that it will accept fluorescent bulbs, which are much more efficient?

Bulldog: Don’t bother; I’ll just lie here in the dark.

German shepherd: Just one, but it will have to wait until I’ve rescued those people trapped in the dark and led them to safety, and then checked the house to make sure that no one has entered under cover of darkness to take advantage of the situation.

Shetland sheepdog: I will as soon as I arrange all of the new bulbs in a tight and orderly little circle.

Golden retriever: The sun is shining, we’ve got no work to do today, I’ve got this neat red ball here, and you’re inside worrying about some silly lightbulb?

Rottweiler: Go ahead, and see if you’re tough enough to make me!

Corgi: First, I’ll bark until the old bulb leaves of its own accord and then I’ll nip at the new one until it goes into the socket…

Labrador retriever: I can do it! Please… Please… I can. You know I can. Please…

Greyhound: It isn’t moving, so who cares?

Pointer: I see it. There it is. Look, it’s right there…

Jack Russell terrier: Me! I can reach it! All I have to do is to keep bouncing off the furniture and walls.

Poodle: I’ll just whisper some sweet nothings into the border collie’s ear and he’ll do it. By the time he’s finished putting in the new light fixture, my nails will be dry (p. 82-83).

To determine your Fido’s personality profile, Dr Coren has developed a questionnaire that he calls the Dog Behaviour Inventory (p. 139). The questionnaire, however, is only accurate if Fido is at least 1.5 years of age and has spent a relatively long period of time under your care. I guess we’ll be saving this questionnaire for Maple when she is a little older.

Although I got some useful bits of general knowledge from this book, I think breeders, in particular, would find this book engaging because Dr Coren writes extensively about neonatal puppy care and domesticating a dog from the time of his or her birth. Dr Coren argues that a ‘Superdog’–that is, a smart, sociable, and even tempered dog—can be created through “an appropriate set of early experiences” (p. 157). Of course, that doesn’t mean we should give up on older dogs just because they act out. Dr Coren goes on to say that:

The process of creating a superdog takes a little bit of work at first, but it is easily integrated into your everyday life. No matter how perfect your dog is, always treat him as a ‘work in progress’ and continue to challenge him mentally. He will learn more, become smarter, become more stress resistant, and will be a better companion. It will also give you a sense of pride to know that you have shaped his personality as much, if not more, than his genetic endowment has (p. 235).

To end, here are a few things you can do to continue enriching your dog’s life as he or she ages:

— Vary routines and toys.

— Bring the dog with you on outings.

—Include the dog in as many family activities as possible.

— Get him involved in dog sports and games.

— Keep teaching him new words, tricks, and commands (p. 235).

Cesar’s Way

January 28, 2011 § 2 Comments

Cesar’s Way by Cesar Millan (2006)

I spent a quiet afternoon in the library searching for Alexandra Horowitz’s book, Inside of a Dog, which I had intended to review. Unfortunately, the library doesn’t carry the print version of this book; it does, however, have a copy of it in audio format (available at a different branch, though). Looks like I’ll have to save it for another time, but that doesn’t mean I left the library empty-handed!

While browsing the shelves, I came across a book with the title, Cesar’s Way, by Cesar Millan. Truth be told, before Maple entered our lives, I knew diddly-squat about Cesar Millan, much less the ‘Dog Whisperer’. It was only when MM and I were searching for dog-training DVDs that we stumbled upon Cesar Millan’s methods, and it was then that we realized the popularity of the ‘Dog Whisperer’. Families with dogs will know that Cesar Millan has become a household name.

Millan has made these three words, “calm-assertive energy”, a catch phrase. His theory is that dogs relate with and react to humans through the energy we emit—this is, after all, how dogs (and all other sentient beings in the animal kingdom) communicate with one another in nature. Humans, on the other hand, have the ability of speech, which makes it easier for us to express our thoughts and emotions. Dogs rely on their astute sense of smell, sight, and hearing to assess their environment. Because dogs have a keen awareness of our emotional state-of-mind, we need to become fully aware of it ourselves so that we can apply the appropriate energy at the appropriate time.

The most influential energy is a calm-assertive one—this is the instinctual trait of a pack leader, and it is this behavioural quality that followers within the pack appreciate and respect. As humans, we can play the role of a pack leader simply by projecting a calm-assertive personality. In Cesar’s Way, Millan describes a calm-assertive leader as someone who is “relaxed but always confident that he or she is in control” (p. 69).

For some people, like me, who aren’t always naturally calm-assertive, it will take a bit of work and practice. For example, I find that I am more calm-assertive at home than I am when walking Maple outdoors. Our home is a controlled environment—I know exactly what to expect. The outdoors, however, is an unpredictable environment—I often times feel tense about the possibility of an unforeseen situation arising and uncertain about how I would react. Maple, of course, can sense this energy and will respond accordingly. This is why our walks are at times a struggle, with Maple hiding behind me and refusing to follow.

Cesar’s Way offers insights into the psychology of canine pack relationships and applies them to the human-dog bond. Millan reminds us, however, that humans are humans and dogs are dogs—we cannot (should not) try to ‘humanize’ dogs:

 A dog will usually accept a human as its pack leader if that human projects the correct calm-assertive energy, sets solid rules, boundaries, and limitations, and acts responsibly in the cause of the pack’s survival. This doesn’t mean that we can’t still be uniquely human pack leaders. Just as dogs shouldn’t have to give up what’s unique about them to live with us, we shouldn’t have to give up what’s so special about being human. We are, for instance, the only pack leaders who are going to love the dogs in the way that we humans define love. Their canine pack leader will not buy them squeaky toys or throw birthday parties for them. Their canine pack leader won’t directly reward their good behavior. He won’t turn around and say, “Gee, guys, thanks for following me ten miles.” It’s expected that they do that! A mother dog won’t say, “You know, you pups have behaved so well today. Let’s go to the beach!” In their natural world, the reward is in the process (p. 129).

Another aspect of the book deals with Millan’s three-pronged approach to a happy and balanced dog—in this following order: (1) exercise, (2) discipline, and (3) affection. Millan explains that most dogs become disobedient and difficult to manage because they receive plenty of affection, but lack the exercise (to release pent-up energy) and discipline (to know their boundaries). I find this to be quite true in the case of Maple. For the first two weeks after Maple joined us, we had to keep her indoors as she had not fully completed her vaccinations. During this period, she had a lot of pent-up energy (more than we could handle!). No amount of discipline and affection that we were giving her helped. It was only when we were able to bring her out for walks that she showed signs of major behavioural improvement. Now, MM and I make every effort to walk Maple daily—there is no compromise.

Of course, there are some experts that may question and doubt the effectiveness of Millan’s rehabilitation methods. Personally, I don’t think there is a single approach that can be applied to every canine. In my opinion, each dog is a unique individual and, therefore, would require a customized treatment plan to meet his or her needs. Nevertheless, I think Cesar’s Way raises several salient points about dog psychology  and defends them with proven principles of dog-training that the first-time dog owner can appreciate and learn from. The only qualm I have with the book is that the first sixty pages contain a tediously long background on Millan’s rise to fame which, to me, read like an autobiography. I think Millan could have packed those sixty pages with more intriguing thoughts about the canine world; after all, Cesar Millan is the ‘Dog Whisperer’!  



Rain Drops Go Pitter Patter

January 7, 2011 § Leave a comment

There is something about a rainy afternoon that puts me in a relaxed mood—perhaps it’s the hypnotic sound of rain drops pittering and pattering on the rooftop that lulls me into a calm state-of-mind. Maple seems to enjoy the same pleasure I get out of cozying-up in the apartment while watching the rain cast a misty glow outside. Maple’s favourite spot to unwind is on our shaggy rug in the living room, which looks out into the balcony and garden below. As for me, well, I prefer to lounge on the sofa, and Miss. Little Red Maple Leaf is slowly learning not to jump on the sofa unless we invite her to join us there (yes, some progress is being made on Maple’s New Year’s Resolution #3).

As Maple gazes out into the garden and twitches her nose at every slight breeze of fresh air that fills our living room, I wonder to myself: ‘What is going through her puppy mind—she seems so contemplative’.

I am by no means an expert of animal psychology, but I do hope to gain an understanding of the workings of a dog’s mind so that I can better interpret Maple’s body language and, thereafter, also better communicate with her. While browsing Amazon for books on this subject, I came across an interesting title: Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know by Alexandra Horowitz. I am eager to grab a copy of this book from the local library and will review it as soon as I have it read, so do watch out for it in a future post!  

Puppies for Dummies

January 2, 2011 § Leave a comment

Puppies for Dummies by Sarah Hodgson (2000)

I stumbled upon this book while roaming the dusty shelves of a Salvation Army thrift store. Aside from the obvious fact that the corner of the back cover appeared to have been chewed off by a feisty puppy, the book was otherwise in good condition with all the pages intact. I eagerly made the S$2 purchase even though, at that time, Maple had not yet been introduced into our lives. I was merely conducting research and figured that Puppies for Dummies would serve as an indispensable reference book for “the soon-to-be puppy owner” (as advertised by the caption on the front cover).

I find “Chapter 14 Training Through the Phases” to be especially informative. This section of the book covers lessons suitable for puppies at various stages of their lives. I am currently practicing “Puppy Puberty Lessons: 6 to 9 Months” with Maple, and each morning we would run through the five recommended commands: ‘Heel’, ‘Sit’, ‘Down’, ‘Wait’, and ‘No Sir or Ma’am’ (although, I have modified this with just a simple ‘No’). 

I enjoy reading “Puppy Puberty Lessons: 6 to 9 Months” and often review it several times over because, not only does it provide useful training tips for puppies within that age range, but it also describes some of the behavioural traits typical of adolescent puppies. I feel slightly comforted knowing that, when Maple acts up, she is just going through a common phase of puppyhood—her hormones are starting to kick in and she’s trying to test the boundaries that MM and I have established.  

Puppies for Dummies is certainly a good beginner’s guide to the world of puppies. Without a doubt, I will be referring to it regularly for several more months to come as Maple’s growth spurts continue!

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