August 28, 2006

Schäferdachshund: ein zweiter Post

He's baaack...! Tiny, but oh, so determined:

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Here's a wider crop of an earlier photo:

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Photographer Kerry Maloney writes: "Couldn't tell how he started because the sheep were a good ways into the trip across the field before we could even see what was moving them. He wouldn't have had to do an outrun because they were moving the sheep from the exhaust pen to the set up field in prep for the next days trial. (These sheep had very little desire to stay as a herd.) Luckily the sheep that thought to stray were in the back --- he would have had no chance of catching one farther up or even a close one that decided to make a true run for it. It was funny to see him running as fast as he could on his little legs --- talk about heart."

What a great little worker: "He was mostly wearing back and forth with one or two runs to get a few that thought they could break off." He could clean up on the AKC "A" course, I'm telling you.

Thanks to Kerry for sharing her photos and write-up.

Rhodesian Shepherd

Pit bull Hagrid and the anonymous Canadian dachshund are proof that just about any responsive dog with sufficient prey drive can be used to move tame stock in a controlled environment. Why the American Kennel Club doesn't open its "herding" contests to all breeds just beats me.

One of the handsomest dogs I know is a friend's AKC CH. Rhodesian Ridgeback, a top lure courser, pictured here during his first time on sheep:

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Notice how he covers the ewe that breaks away:

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That's prey drive. The great challenge with "non-traditional" breeds is maintaining their interest in the work. Working drive --- the will to keep at it come hell or high water --- is so low in so many cases that pointing a crook at a dog's shoulder can make him say, "No more of this for me."

ISDS: International Sheep Dachshund Society

First Hagrid, the Herding Pit Bull, and now a dachshund bringing in the flock at the end of the day at the Canadian Finals:

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Prey drive is a wonderful thing. Give that dog a "herding" title! The sheep at this trial were from a farm on an island in the St. Lawrence River. Photographer Kerry Maloney writes that the dachshund appeared to be from the same farm as the sheep, and adds that a border collie was "sent out for the fine-tuning."

August 27, 2006

"The Physical Impossibility Of Death In the Mind Of Someone Living"

Shades of Damien Hirst's Natural History:

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Family dog kills owner in back yard
Officers and paramedics were called to the home, where they found a "surreal scene," Coral Springs [Florida] Police Capt. Rich Nicorvo said — [Shawna] Willey dead, covered with blood, wounds on her torso, arms and legs.
The 120-pound dog was standing over her body. Nicorvo said it was "acting aggressively," and police shot and killed the animal, which fell or jumped into the pool before dying.
[Palm Beach Post: August 18, 2006]

From a Palm Beach Post editorial: "[This] was a preventable tragedy that spotlights the potentially lethal trend of making family pets of fighting-type breeds. Though companionship rather than fighting may be owners' objective, the nature of the dogs cannot be ignored."

This tragedy was preventable, all right --- but what shouldn't have been ignored was the dog's poor temperament, not an imaginary "nature" shared by millions of dogs with broad heads.

Editors, this just in: the most important factors involved in preventing dog attacks are socialization, training, and informed, responsible management. Dog trainers, veterinary behaviorists and all knowledgeable owners know that patterns of negative or abnormal behavior precede most dog bites and attacks. The Pomeranian that killed a baby in Los Angeles had tried to bite other children. The Presa Canario in Florida growled at Ms. Willey so often that friends and family begged her to get rid of the dog. She told them he would "outgrow it."

He didn't.

Temperament issues exist, to some degree or another, for the life of the dog. This means that if you have a dangerously aggressive mastiff, it's imperative that you find a veterinary behaviorist or animal behaviorist to evaluate the dog and help develop strategies for dealing with its aggression. (A skilled, experienced trainer could advise you as well --- but you may not be able to determine whether a trainer is competent if you don't know much about dog behavior yourself. Board-certified behaviorists aren't everyone's first choice, but they offer the advantages of verifiable experience and a professional standard of ethics.)

Some dogs, due to irresponsible breeding, neglect, abuse or lack of training, become too dangerous for anyone to manage safely. If specialists tell you that they believe humanely euthanizing your dog is necessary to protect you, your family and members of the community from harm, then arrange for your dog to be euthanized before someone is injured or killed. Growling and snapping at people are red flags that a dog needs exceptionally responsible training and management. Banning dogs based on their appearance "will not make you safer," writes Karen Overall, "and the illusion that [breed-specific laws] will do so is dangerous to humans and unfair to dogs." Education --- furthering the general public's knowledge about dog care and dog behavior --- is the best way to protect children and adults from attacks by abused, unsocialized, badly managed dogs or dogs with unsound temperaments.

(And what do you do if you're covering the story of a woman killed by her Presa Canario? Mention pit bulls, of course: "Pit bull-like jaws." "Akin to a pit bull." (A reporter e-mailed me: "I didn't write that ['akin to a pit bull'] sentence; it was edited in after I filed the story and went home.") When experts talk about "media-driven portrayals of a specific breed as 'dangerous,'" this is what they mean.)

That List of Links

This blog is about dogs, but you'll note that the list of links includes sheep, reptiles and my favorite earthquake site. I've spared you news sites, food sites, more food sites, a YouTube link for the two people on earth who haven't been there yet, California links, and so on.

The purpose of this blog is to provide accurate information about dogs. So Chez Pim is out. No roses, no bagpipes, no link to the Grizzly. No travel. No trees. No distant Iowa cousins. This blog is about the genus Canis.

Dog sites will take precedence in the list of links, so help me. If I have to share another, non-dog-related link, I'll put it in a post.

[Yeah, I know Birdchick doesn't write much about dogs, but she's a bud of Chet Baker's --- and any bud of his is a bud of mine. (That weasel I scraped off the road to save for the local museum? Birdchick would understand.)]

August 24, 2006

Back from Wyoming

Anna Guthrie is a stockdog trainer from Valley Center, California. I've been driving down to work my collies with Anna this week. Here's a view of her place in the spring:

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[Left to right: sheep, cattle, Peggy Sue.] Walking across a pasture just about anywhere in Southern California these days is like standing on a griddle --- the temperature where I live hit 118 degrees F. last month, and it's warming up again this week. The California countryside is still the most beautiful on earth, though, if you ask me.

Anna and her good stockdog Riddle just got back from Wyoming's summer cowdog trials. They'll be setting sheep at Soldier Hollow and the National Finals (on the Nursery field) in September. Here's Riddle, checking out a friend's rig back in June:

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Riddle won the Laramie County (sheep) & Cattle Trial in Cheyenne and finished second in the WSDA Cattle Dog Series Finals at the State Fair in Douglas.

On a related note -- kind of a tenuous tie-in, really, but I did launch this enterprise with a post on prey drive -- here's a YouTube video of a pit bull working sheep. Well done, Hagrid! Happy boy, and you can see his sweet bully temperament.

Link: Hagrid the Herder

August 23, 2006

Prey Drive: Is our puppies herding?

I know a number of keen, athletic dogs that love to crouch, stalk and circle. In fact, if they were border collies you’d say that they were stylish workers, with a fair amount of eye and good balance on their “stock” — but they’re not border collies. They’re not even “herding” dogs. They’re pit bulls, and the behavior they’re displaying is prey drive.

I’ve been told that most animal behavior texts don’t discuss drives, and when they do, the terminology is ambiguous. The consensus seems to be that the term is antiquated, though dog trainers discuss drives all the time: play drive, fetch drive, food drive, defense drive, fight drive. [Check out Schutzhund Obedience: Training in Drive at] Animal behaviorist Roger Abrantes writes that it is important to “distinguish between instinct and drive,” though, and I’m happy to give it a shot.

Drive means one of several varieties of “compulsive energy,” such as aggression, sex or self-preservation. Instinct is the inherent capacity to perform a complete behavior sequence, in this case the gathering of stock over vast areas of land and the conscientious management of that stock, in great or small numbers, in relation to a shepherd who may be close at hand or out of sight and miles away. This particular behavior sequence and its variations are instinctive in that they cannot be taught, only enhanced through experience, much as the ability to swim is acquired by young otters and flight perfected by young hawks. Prey drive, to use Mark Derr's definition, is “aggression that expresses itself as boldness and assertiveness in seeking and capturing objects.”

In his book The Sheepdog, Its Work and Training, Tim Longton writes of his border collie Nell, who was suckling two-week-old pups and had been left home on a busy day. The shepherd and his helpers were endeavoring to move an unruly mob of lambs:

“[Nell] heard us trying to drive this lot along a rough bank where felled woodland and a landslide added to the hazards. I could hear her crying to be let out; a few minutes later she appeared, having gained the window. Two young lambs dashed uphill. Nell set off after them. She was fighting a losing battle, as the lambs split, and as soon as she had one on its way the other galloped madly in the other direction. I did not command her but, appreciating the position, Nell pushed one lamb in front of her and nosed it right in among the rest of the lambs. Then she returned for the other, which by now had escaped into a 200-acre field with 400 sheep in it. We continued our slow journey, and when we reached the far end there was Nell with a lamb pinned at the back of a gate. It was the lamb we wanted.”

That’s herding instinct. (Nell was English Shepherd’s Champion in 1951.) "It cannot be stressed too strongly," writes Longton, "that if you want a work dog both parents should be work dogs." Border collies bred to a working standard -- that is, bred solely to work livestock -- are the finest stockdogs on earth.

But when your sheltie, Belgian shepherd, beagle or Jack Russell runs happy, yappy laps around the neighbor’s grandkids, chases water from the garden hose until he’s soaked, nips at the hands and heels of your squealing six-year-old, runs furiously after every car, cat and bicycle he sees, or shows what passes for balance on dog-broke sheep in a round pen, that’s not herding instinct --- it’s prey drive.

Prey drive is evident to some degree in most healthy dogs. Chihuahuas can exhibit prey drive. Poodles can display it. The only difference between their behavior and your neighbor’s sheltie’s behavior is that when poodles and chihuahuas get excited and chase children and nip fingers and heels, no one smiles and says, “Look! Bit-Bit is herding!”

The great majority of dogs in the American Kennel Club’s ironically named Herding Group would ignore livestock completely if it weren’t for prey drive. With sufficient prey drive, though, a responsive dog of practically any breed could win an AKC herding title. I’ve seen a determined pair of Lhasa apsos compete successfully in an arena trial, and years ago Diane Jessup’s pit bull Dread won high score on ducks at an ASCA [Australian Shepherd Club of America] competition --- he pushed the ducks around the course with his nose. Not real herding, Ms. Jessup has said, just a good dog obliging his handler. (Dread was also titled on sheep.)

The American Kennel Club has always limited its herding contests to dogs in the AKC Herding Group: a face-saving conceit that perpetuates the myth of “herding breeds” with unique talents beyond the ken of pit bulls and Lhasa apsos. Perhaps this really was the case one hundred fifty years ago -- before the onset of dog shows and breeding to a conformation standard -- but with one or two notable exceptions, today’s “herding breeds" no longer have any working instincts that set them apart from Labrador retrievers or Dalmatians. In fact, during a major show circuit a few years ago, the most impressive “herding” dog at the popular “herding instinct test” was a friend’s golden retriever.

Herding, of course, has its evolutionary roots in prey drive. But prey drive itself -- chasing, circling, crouching, stalking -- is no reflection of herding background, instinct, ability, or potential. If it were, I’d be running my pit bulls in the USBCHA Finals.

I love dogs with high prey drive; they are easy to motivate and a joy to train. But when prey drive is dismissed, excused or poorly managed, it can place children and others at risk of a dog bite or attack. Ask my neighbor: Art spent time in the hospital after he was chased and pulled from his bike by a German shorthaired pointer. Dogs with high prey drive need appropriate exercise, good training and careful management --- recommendations that apply to all dogs, but particularly to the ones that are more than two degrees north of stuffed.

When someone with a conformation-bred dog says, “Oh, look --- Scout is herding the kids!” the truth is that Scout is only doing what any energetic dachshund, golden retriever or cocker spaniel would do under the same circumstances. It’s prey drive. It isn’t by any means unique to the so-called “herding breeds,” and it certainly isn’t “herding.”


Freckles, Boots, Patxi, Pride, Reg, Bracken and all the others I've loved "from the back of the soul" --- this blog is dedicated to you.