Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Montana English Shepherd Update

The English shepherd hoarder/puppymiller in Ballantine, MT has been raided:


Billings Gazette

NESR is getting updates several times a day from the authorities.

We hope to have a team on the ground in Montana shortly. NESR hopes to cover the costs of sending our volunteers into the Great White North. (Full disclosure: the intention is that I will be one of them.) So show some love.

The pugs are AWOL since the first raid a few weeks ago. An accurate body count on the deceased animals will probably have to wait until thaw.

Guys, I wish I could tell you more, but if I did, I'd have to kill you. Sorry.

So let's talk about rescuing neglected English shepherds, in general terms.
Here's a picture of Zippy, who I fostered in 2005, taken the day I went to evaluate six dogs, and bring one back to foster:

Zippy was seven months old and weighed 13.5 pounds.

That is not a typo. Thirteen pounds, eight ounces. Seven months old.

The vet estimated her "normal" weight for that age to be about 35 pounds. Of course it wasn't just that she was skeletal -- she and her littermates were stunted. Basically, even their skeletons were emaciated. The emaciated adult dogs dumped with them showed how weird that would eventually look.

Zippy and five relatives came from the same kind of festering hole as the Montana dogs. An ersatz "breeder" who thought she would make a profit, but ended up a hoarder of sorts, with stunted, sick, starving animals running semi-feral and somehow reproducing more of the same.

Six of them ended up at a rural dog pound. Their loving owner was in the habit of periodically dropping off the worst, most unsellable dogs.* She knew what morning each week they cranked up the gas chamber, and always brought in dogs just before closing the night before. Owner turn-ins don't get three days of legally-mandated grace.

See, she didn't want them to get adopted. Figured it might cut into her sales of English shepherds -- done mostly out the back of a truck at the local livestock auction -- if the pound adopted any of them out. Certainly wasn't going to pay a vet to kill them for her, and was too cowardly to kill them herself.

Fortunately for Zippy and her relatives, the pound staff had had it with that crap. They contacted NESR, and held the dogs over, giving us a week to get them out.

All of them walked out alive. All of them thrived in foster. All of them were adopted. All of the adoptions were successful.

Thing about Zippy -- unhandled, unsocialized, unfed, and product of probably five generations of first-degree incestuous unions (first degree = parent/offspring and brother/sister) -- thing about Zippy is, she has one of the best temperaments of any dog I've ever known. Can you say bounce back?

Bombproof. Fantastic dog social skills. Outgoing. And cheerful. OhmyDog, Zippy is cheerful. There's always a pony under there in Zippy-world.

I guess when you were born in Hell, normal life is Heaven every day.

I had Zippy only a couple of months -- fed her, vetted her, trained and socialized her. She slid into my pack like they'd been holding a slot for her. Unlike some of the real rehab projects I take in, Zippy didn't need much specialized work -- Zippy didn't need a trainer. She needed to get on with her life.

One day I had an epiphany. Thought of a client who was broken up over a failed adoption -- a local shelter let this family take a dog who they were totally unprepared to deal with, and then acted affronted when they admitted they were out of their depth and returned her. (If you must know -- adolescent American bulldog, stone deaf, who had been taught exactly one skill in her year and a half on earth -- to seriously bite feet as a "game." The highest level of "project dog" for a professional or serious hobbyist looking for a challenge. Adopted to a family of warm nurturer-types with no large-dog experience, no training experience, a fragile elderly small terrier, a young child, and a couple older cats.)

So I brought Zippy by, and that was it. Here was a dog that my clients could "save," who required nothing more than good food, good medical care, love, exercise, a little training.

Here's Zippy a few weeks after she settled in to her forever home:

She's playing with her foster-brother, Moe. He loves to go visit Zippy. She gets him.

Zippy is damned funny-looking. Has several health problems that stem from her genetics and her early neglect. But she is a survivor. And she brings joy to her family every day.

If the authorities are as good as their word, if the prosecution succeeds in its quest, if the threat of parvo can be contained, if, if, IF ... then there will be hundreds of English shepherds vying for the Zippy role. Dogs who can be stellar pets, loyal farm dogs, stolid working partners -- who knows?

(Update on Gary, my current neglect-case foster: We've suddenly got four applications in to adopt him. I'm doing phone interviews on those, and hope to have him in a forever home soon. But we will sure miss him. He's a pleasant, low-key, amiable fellow who is just going to bloom given half a chance.)

* It's for this reason I put "hoarder" in scare quotes. Classically, the obsessive-compulsive hoarder never willingly gives anything up. It's the same for the person who hoards magazines as it is for the one who has 112 cats. But there's this weird nexus between puppymiller and hoarder that I've seen in several situations. These individuals continue to try to sell pups, but they are, well, less organized than a functional puppymiller. There is more desperation and less cost/benefit calculation at work in the neglect of the animals.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When "Obedience" is Right There in the Damned Name

I'm being stalked by Stanley Milgram.

His experiments in the nature of obedience and resistance keep coming up in conversation these last few months. Each time, I'm not the one who introduces the idea. It comes after me. I'm often the one in any given group who ends up explaining the experiments and clarifying the results, because in a former life I actually read Milgram's book, and more recently, Lauren Slater's jaw-dropping account of the lives of two of Milgram's human subjects.

One of the things I have confidently "explained" in these exchanges is that, of course, these experiments would be impossible to duplicate today.


I really believed that a combination of university human-subject review committees and the ubiquity of the meme -- the near-universal vague awareness of the set-up, embedded in Western culture for half a century -- made Milgram's results unrepeatable.

Perhaps at one time, I even held out the hope that the incorporation of this knowledge into the collective semi-conscious could prod human beings towards greater resistance, a self-awareness of what it is to become a tool of atrocity.

Foolish mortal.

Just a helpful bit of advice gleaned during the composition of this entry. If all you have seen are the five or six pixelated "family-friendly" photos of the prison atrocities at Abu Ghraib that have been reprinted by the major news outlets, and if you have any delicacy of sensibility, do not view the results of a Google image search on the topic.

And what has this to do with dogs?

The Terrierman has one take on it.
Absolutely. Oh Hell yes.

My slightly-less-ornery-half over at Did a Cat Shit in Here? takes it on more generally, here, and here.

But I want to talk about training. Specifically, the responsibilities that trainers -- instructors -- have when they are teaching dog owners how to train their dogs, and in a wider sense, providing models for how one lives one's life with a dog.

Because isn't that exactly what Milgram told his subjects -- that they were taking part in an experiment on learning, and that the other guy was the subject? We tell people they will change their dogs, that their dogs will learn, through training.

Yet in a dog-training class, or in private sessions, it is the human, not the dog, who is being trained. It is the human's actions that we seek to alter. Dogs is easy.

So, funny story.

First week of class -- which is conducted without student dogs present -- my students get a homework assignment that is titled "Sit on the Dog."

In the handout, it very clearly states, in italics, at the beginning, that the owner is not to actually sit on the dog. The procedure for sitting in a chair with the dog's leash under one's buttocks for a half-hour a day is clearly described.

In class, I demonstrate the exercise while explaining it. It looks like this:

So, like any good teacher of a skill, I engaged several different modes of learning: visual, aural, and the written word.

Nevertheless ...

One lady came in with a question at week two; her dog simply would not hold still for a half-hour.

(You know what's coming, don't you?)

So I explain, again, for the class that the goal isn't for the dog to hold a (not yet taught) formal down-stay for a half-hour, and to ignore any wiggling and pacing, let him settle on his own.

But how do you stay sitting if he won't stay down?

The faces of the other students showed comprehension and horror well before I caught up. My brain resisted the image the student was conveying. It can't be ...

Fortunately, this substantial lady had an equally substantial dog. He was strong enough to escape injury and asphyxiation, and assertive enough to discourage her from trying every day. Unfortunately for the dog, his first experience of "training" was a series of weird and desperate wrestling matches with an owner for whom oral instructions, an in-person demonstration, and clear written instructions were insufficient to combat her reflexive action on hearing the tongue-in-cheek name of the exercise.

But it's not the student's cognitive block -- the part that makes it a "funny" story, given that the dog was unharmed, or at least, no worse off than he was every day -- that concerns me here. It's the student's determination to follow instructions she believed had been given by an authority figure whom she had just met, and who was not even present while she was attempting to carry them out.

It is absolutely the instructor's responsibility to be clear in his or her instructions. After this one astonishing miscue, I now have each student practice the exercise on one of the stooge dogs that I bring to the first night orientation. And the handout has the picture above.

But the burden of clarity is beside the point when the instructor is actually giving bad advice, issuing instructions that will harm the dog.

There are many ways to harm a dog with attempts at training. Physically abusive training, to be sure. Techniques and tools that are inappropriate to a given dog -- food training for the thyroid patient and food rationing for the hypoglycemic min pin , excessive confinement to "housebreak" the Dalmatian with stones, a head-halter fitted on a Doberman with Wobbler syndrome.

Students will do them all at the instructor's behest. Two thirds of them will do something that they feel (whether correctly or not) is wrong at the instructor's behest.

Students will go so far as to refrain from disciplining a dog who needs it, if sufficient pressure comes from an "authority" who claims -- fraudulently -- both the white coat of "science" and the shimmering vestment of "kindness." They frequently require another authority figure to later give them "permission" to be normal with their dog again.

And the result is best expressed by the owner of a dog who is now in rehab (not with me) after at least two bites:

When F. was six months, he was impish, but when that spilled over into teenage cockiness, and I was trained that I didn't know anything about dogs and that I should be able to control this dog with a clicker and a bait bag. This is the prevailing attitude of the training community in my area. I've read most of the books mentioned on this list, not many of them recommend anything other than redirection and outsmarting your dog...

It was a miserable realization that for ALL of the training, and classes, and reading, and NILFing, WHICH I INCREASED AS HIS BEHAVIOR GOT WORSE, I had still become nothing more than a human buster-cube, randomly handing out treats when F. decided to be compliant...

In the absence of balanced training, my family lost our dog. He was very nearly put down because no one wants to work with a biter.

So, trainers, when you are telling a student to press the button, click the clicker, pop the leash, turn your back and ignore it, alpha roll, become a slot machine -- you are taking on the responsibility of the experimenter. You are the white coat -- The experiment requires that you continue. It is absolutely essential that you continue -- and it is your student and his dog who will live with the results. Or not.

Choose your instructions carefully.

Crate, Sweet Crate

I've had a run of questions about dogs who could not be contained in a crate in the house lately. As near as I can tell, these aversions are mostly due to owners using the crate as an all-day dog-storage device in the past. So the first thing that needs fixing is the owners' perception of how long it is "reasonable" for a dog to kept in a box with no exercise, no stimulation, no companionship, and no opportunity to pee. (We're talking on a five-day-a-week basis here, not one long day or an epic car ride.)

The second thing that we fix is the dog's perception of the crate as a place he is forced to go. There's a fairly simple training progression that leaves the dog convinced that it is his fondest wish to go to his crate as fast as possible.

The "Go to Your Room" command is easy to teach and normally requires
nothing special aside from a crate and the dog's regular kibble, or
better treats if the dog is not very food-motivated (cheese, dried
liver, dog jerky, whatever floats him). Do not use a fabric soft crate
to teach this command, as the door doesn't swing and shut properly, and
some dogs can be very bothered by the way that they tip and sway. I
prefer plastic crates because the kibbles don't bounce out of them when
tossed in. If you are using a wire crate, you can use cardboard on the
outside to make a solid ring around the bottom part, which will help
contain the bounce. I generally put a rubber-backed bath mat on the
floor of the crate to reduce bounce and eliminate any aversion to the
slippery surface.

Dogs who are absolutely not food-motivated or toy-motivated at all can
still learn this, but it takes a lot of reps to get there, and is done
with mild compulsion (usually mostly body-language) and petting/praise.
One could use a toy with a very toy-motivated dog, but I haven't found
one that is really drivey towards toys who won't do it for food, and
food is easier to use in this particular circumstance. A very
toy-driven dog will typically get very amped up when using the toy to
lure this way, and we want the dog to move towards quiet compliance and

This protocol assumes a dog who is neither crate-trained nor obedience
trained beyond a marginal glimmer of a sit-stay. (This protocol will
also improve the dog's sit-stay, and a good trainer can teach both
skills at once to a totally naive dog; a novice would do better to work
a bit on sit-stay in separate sessions while starting this process as
well.) The dog should be able to take a treat from your fingers without
annexing any fingers. If the dog is averse to the crate, you will have
to go much more slowly, sometimes baiting the dog just to approach the
crate at first. No cooing or "comforting" such a dog! It's crucial that you remain matter-of-fact about this process. If the dog is
already accustomed to the crate, but just doesn't go into it on his own,
you can generally speed the process up quite a bit.

The basic premise is, you are convincing the dog that going into his
crate is his idea. Later it becomes mandatory but initially it's
about getting willing self-crating.

It takes longer to read this than it often does to do it! I've
accomplished the entire protocol, including fading the bait, in one
moderate-length session when it was imperative to "Git 'er done" right away.

Phase 1:

Start with a hungry dog and a crate. Hungry is not optional here,
because you do a lot of reps, and the dog may become quickly sated.
If the dog is fast, bullheaded, impulsive, it's useful to have a tab or
drag-line on his collar. Secure the crate door open at first so that it
is out of your way. Get the dog excited about the kibble (or better
stuff if you need it) and let him get a few pieces from your hand to
ensure that he will "take the money" and is engaged.

Now, walk up to the crate with the dog focused on the bribes, toss a
kibble just inside the door, and when the dog sticks his head in to take
it, tell him "Go to Your Room." Then call him away from the crate (a
few feet) and fuss on him.

Repeat three times with the bait right inside the the crate door. Then
start tossing further into the crate. Repeat "Go to Your Room" as the
dog now enters the crate, and praise him as he picks up the treat.
Make no effort to keep the dog in the crate. This is about going in,
not staying there. The quicker he comes back out, the faster you can
get in more reps.

Repeat until the dog is running into the crate on his own with the
treat all the way at the back wall.

This can be a good time to break and end the session, but if the dog is
staying really engaged, I keep going. If you break and start a new
session later (an hour or so minimum, next day is good), repeat a few
iterations of the dog running into the back of the crate for the treat
to get warmed up. That's true whenever you move on to a new phase after
a break -- reprise the previous session for a couple reps.

Phase 2:

Hold the dog by the collar (FLAT collar) about 3' from the crate door
and toss the treat into the crate. He should be pulling towards the
treat. Keep holding him back (no verbal corrections, no tugging -- just
hold). When he's really excited about getting the treat, let him go and
simultaneously command "Go to your room."

(Those who are familiar with puppy runaways in SAR training will see
where this comes from, and where it is going.)

The dog should shoot into the crate with a great deal more energy and
eagerness than before.

Continue with these reps, tossing the treat into the crate from further
and further away, and holding the dog back until he peaks in excitement,
then releasing him with the simultaneous command. Do this from as far
away as you can toss a treat accurately into the crate. (I find that
cut-up hotdogs are good for distance tossing.) If you have an
assistant, the assistant can stand by the crate and be the treat-weenie
and you can hold the dog from even further away.

At this phase is a good time to start closing the crate door (but not
latching it) some of the time, so that the dog has to use his paw or
nose to open the door. Leave a couple inches for a nose or paw to get
in at first. You want him to be extremely eager to get in before you
throw this roadblock in his way. If you encourage him to open the crate
door for himself at this phase, he will be able to do it later when the
door has swung closed and you aren't there.

In some cases, I will use reverse psychology and actually latch the
door closed when I want to build a strong drive to get into the crate.
I'll unlatch the door and let the dog in when he's pretty much frenzied
to get in there. I generally only do this when we are dealing with a
prior strong learned aversion to the crate. It's a strategy that
carries some risk of the dog generalizing to struggling at the door
while inside, though, so I have to make a call about doing this in any
given case.

Remember to praise each time he enters the crate, and to stop praising
when he exits it.

When he's dashing into the crate from as far away as is practical, and
popping the door open on his own without hesitation or difficulty, go on
to the next phase.

Phase 3:

Have the dog sit-stay about 3' in front of the crate. Toss a treat into
the crate. If the dog breaks, correct him verbally and block him. (Try
to avoid using a leash, but if you have to, do it.) When he's holding
the sit-stay well, release him with your release word and "go to your
room." Start moving him back away from the crate, so that you are
putting him in a sit-stay, walking to the crate, tossing in the treat,
walking back to him, and then releasing him to "Go to your room."

Again, praise as he enters the crate, stop praising as he exits it.

Alternate door open, door closed.

As you can see, this exercise is a good one for improving a sit-stay.

If your sit-stay is pretty good, you can even advance to working from
out of sight/a different room in the house. You ultimately want to be
able to send the dog to his room from anywhere in the house, right?

Begin sending the dog to the crate while you are in a sitting position
-- relaxing in your chair.

Phase 4:

Move back a little closer to the crate. Command the dog to "Go to your
room." When he gets there, close (but do not latch) the crate door, and
offer him a treat from your hand through the bars, while holding the
door closed with your foot. I like to do this from holes in the side or
back, or from the top in a wire crate. I generally switch to some sort
of treat that I can hold while the dog nibbles at this point -- like a
nylabone with some peanut butter on the end. Then I withdraw the treat
(if applicable), and tell the dog to WAIT when he turns his attention to
the door. I keep the door closed with my foot. If the dog scratches at
it, I verbally correct "AAHH AAHH." As soon as he is quiet, I open the
door, but continue to block with my body and verbally correct him for
busting out. Remember, the dog has just had quite a few "jack in the
box" reps, so he's going to try this, and there's no point getting
impatient with him over it. When he's sitting, standing, or lying
quietly in the crate with the door wide open and me about 2' back from
the door, I will release with the OKAY and step aside -- in that order.

I'll do about ten reps this way, not a lot. The goal is to have the dog
enter the crate from some distance, wait for you to give him a treat,
and then wait behind both a closed and an open door for permission to leave.

I do not give the dog positional commands while he's in the crate. He
can sit, stand, or lie down -- I don't care, and I can't effectively
enforce them when he's in there anyway. I'm looking for him to choose
to restrain himself behind both the open and the closed door

Phase 5:

Send dog to crate from some distance. When he gets in there, command
WAIT or STAY. Periodically toss a treat into the open door.

Advance rather quickly to the dog staying in the crate while you are
sitting about 10' or so away. These stays can vary from 1 minute to 30
minutes. In the course of a ten minute in-crate stay (again, no
positional commands, so I use WAIT) I might toss a treat to the dog
twice, when he is at maximum relaxation short of being asleep.
Phase 6:

Send dog to crate from anywhere in the house. Give stuffed Kong or
other ritual treat. Close and latch the door. Correct any whining or barking
with verbal, tossed object (shoe or throw-chain against the crate door)
or a water bottle spray -- whatever it takes.

Continue to send dog to his crate 5-10 times a day and having him wait
there with the door open. Follow up by bringing him a treat one time
out of those 5-10, always when he is most relaxed. Go in and out of the
room randomly while he waits in his crate.

You must make it clear, once your dog well understands what the command
means, that you will require the dog to go to his room on command -- it
is not a suggestion. I generally accomplish this with nothing more than
voice and body language, but some stubborn dogs may require a physical
correction (collar correction using a tab, e-collar tap, or light swat
on the butt or poke to the shoulder) when they don't wanna go. Do not
start using compulsion too early in the training, or your dog will
become dependent on it and will not crate willingly, but as an escape
tactic-- this is particularly true of "threatening" pointing to the
crate and gruff/angry commands.

Proof with children and other animals running around (whatever kind of
chaos your house has). Practice when traveling -- at a relative's
house, in a motel.

Set your dog up for doorbell rings, and send him to his room when your
stooge rings the bell. Reward him mightily when he gets there, close
the crate door, answer the bell. Advance to answering the bell with the
crate door open, correcting any breaks from the crate. You must do
this with planned setups -- you can't proof your dog's training and sign
for the Fedex man effectively at the same time.

Some of my clients have made the doorbell ringing a signal for their
dogs to run to their crates and wait. Very handy, and easily done. I
prefer my guys to be visible at the door when I open it, so I don't do this.

So that's how you get your dog to run to his crate on command, willingly, from anywhere in the house. The training can take a few days or several weeks, depending on the dog and the work ethic of the owner.

Young Wylie, nee Ace, is awaiting a long flight to his forever home here. Three weeks before this photo was taken, he was in a rural dog pound, and had almost certainly never seen a dog crate. Here he is relaxed and secure; he hopped into this airline kennel quite cheerfully when asked, and later repeated the feat for airline employees who one must assume are not hired for the their dog-handling chops. Some simple training made it possible for him to travel without undue stress.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Year's Gifts

It's seven degrees outside, and the house is crackling in the wind. Actually, the last blast just made a noise much like a bugle as it blew through or past something or other.

Got home from a cold day of SAR training and hustled down to the barn to give Henery and The Girls a New Year's Treat of hot mash and greens, and to give all the birds hot water to hold them overnight.

Only to find that they have, at long last, started paying rent:

This bodes well for a fruitful year, as we welcome the light back.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Such a Thing as Bad Publicity

My well-kept secret of a breed is on the verge of notoriety, through no fault of its own:

Puppymill Raid In Ballantine, MT


Video, Maps, and the search warrant

There is not much that I can say at this point.

Read that exactly as written. There is not much I can say.

Occasionally I fall to weeping, though.

But this individual has been well-known to the English shepherd community for several years.

As it becomes possible to publish updates, I'll add them here.

Please visit National English Shepherd Rescue for updates, or to donate.

Best breed rescue organization on the damned planet. I mean it. I'd walk through fire for these guys, because they'll walk through fire to do right by these dogs.

Are we now about to become the busiest breed rescue organization on the damned planet?

It's going to be a long, cold winter.

Pictured above is Gary, my current foster. He is also a purebred English shepherd. He apparently lived a life not unlike the one led by the Montana dogs. In six weeks here he's had a broken tooth removed, lived in lockdown while Rosie was in estrus, said goodbye to his testicles, learned how to live in a house and not pee therein, started his obedience training (he's a genius), been schooled on interspecies etiquette by my cat, mastered the mystery of the staircase -- and shown us just what an all-round cool guy he is.

If it's worth saving one, it's worth saving two hundred.

Oh. My. DoG. Two hundred.

And if you are interested in adopting Gary right away, let me know. He'd look great under someone's Christmas tree. He's a relative rarity: an English shepherd with a great pet temperament.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I really AM trying to sell them

Imagine my surprise this morning, finding this ad on "The Best of Craig's List."

I am really just trying to sell these birds. I believe in truth in advertising.

So far, several nibbles, but there are still seven guineas in Guinea Alcatraz. I'd like to get that stall ready for floor-brooding of meat birds in the spring.

It's time for a few small repairs she said ...

For those of us lucky enough to live near an Ikea store, cool ideas here:

Ikea Hacker

I was first interested in the pet furniture hacks, but noodling around, I got some other great ideas.

If you don't know a Billy from a Hemne, it's all 'splained in this song by geek alt rocker Jonathan Coulton.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Whitney on Pip's Ancestors

The army jeep of farm dogs: cheap, compact, low-maintenance, versatile, no-frills. It will not be improved by morphing it into a Lincoln Navigator.

Ah, Leon F. Whitney, prolific bloviator on all things dog (and, disturbingly, other stuff) for much of the 20th century. Love 'im or hate 'im. Mostly I hate 'im. He had a habit of indulging his half-considered prejudices and presenting them to his readers as the epitome of scientifical fact. This is gratifying when his prejudices reinforce one's own, infuriating when they are, you know, just plain wrong.

However, Whitney is one of the few general writers on dogs who acknowledged the corporeal reality of Pip's ancestors in the early-to-mid 20th century. He also had a high opinion of their virtues.

Pity he never bothered to discover that they were a breed -- or breeds -- with pedigrees, a couple-three registries, and thoughtful selection. The English shepherd is virtually unchanged from before Whitney's day, and has a registration history that goes back to the 1930's. The Australian shepherd is closely related, and the gene pools did not definitively diverge until mid-century.

Granted, most ES were not registered in Whitney's day; there are still good family lines of unregistered ES today, maintained by farmers who cannot see the logic in exchanging money for a paper that tells them what they already know.

Here's my latest discovery, from How to Select, Train, and Breed Your Dog, first published in 1950:

American Shepherd

Back in the colonial days, the settlers brought with them many fine dogs, most of them of the collie or shepherd type. Some refuse to call these dogs a breed, yet they have been, as a type, the American dog. As shepherd dogs they are not quite the equal of the marvelous border collie because the latter is the product of the most stringent selection for sheep herding without too much consideration of temperament. The border collies live away from human habitation much of the time and have not been bred for general farm use.

But the American dog has been a constant human companion as well as the farm shepherd and guard dog. Many have been used as hunters. In an illuminating article in Field and Stream, B.B. Titus describes how he used to train these general purpose dogs to hunt raccoons at night and squirrels in the day as well as to herd cows. Many of the dogs were real shepherds.

If you travel anywhere in the U.S.A. you will find, when you get away from the cities, so many more shepherds than any other breed. You'll wonder why they aren't registered in the A.K.C. Can you imagine what would have happened if as many of these dogs were observed by Americans traveling in, let us say, Argentina? Why they would have "given it a breed" long ago, formed a great club, and imported them by the thousand.

We've got the story, the breed -- a marvelous breed it is -- and we have the uses for it. In ability, it stood at the top of American war dogs. It is one of the few breeds bred for general intelligence. No exaggeration is needed.

This is the dog that can be trusted to guard children day or night. He will bark when the horse has colic or one of the cows calves. He can herd the cows home, let his master know if one is missing, and with some power hard to explain, even force a ew whose lamb has died to adopt an orphan. He is often the farm boy's hunting companion, and when "Old Shep" passes on, the family often holds a funeral. You'll find many a wooden slab in a field near a farmhouse with "Old Shep" scrawled on it, and you'll know his family was all choked up at the loss.

Yet, while a so-called sheep-herding dog named the Komondor from Hungary is registered in the A.K.C. the American shepherd hasn't even an official breed name.

Thank doG for small favors. In the same text, Whitney decries the ruination of the cocker spaniel by "a clique of breeders who, with the sanction of the A.K.C., arranged it so that only cockers with huge, woolly clipped coats had a Chinaman's chance of winning. That did it. Down went the breed in popularity because so few persons wanted such a dog."

"What was the real American cocker like? ... The proper cocker didn't know its teeth were made to bite ... The dog hungered for human companionship, was never shy, and did not piddle when surprised or happy."

But, you know, it was a sad thing that fanciers had not "recognized" the "American shepherd" and sought to similarly improve it by 1950.

58 years later, and still dodging fancier bullets.

The Aussie -- that western branch of the farm shepherd/farm collie family tree -- was the subject of a hostile takeover by the AKC in 1993. It was soon joined by other kidnapped gene pools -- the border collie, JRT, Beauceron, Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Havanese, Leonberger -- am I forgetting anyone? Only fifteen years later, the massive, fluffy, merle show dogs are utterly unable to work livestock -- and their fanciers sniff dismissively at the increasingly hard-to-find wiry, keen little cattle-workers, who are, you know, probably crossbreds.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mystery Tree

It's planted about 40' from our front door.

It is about as tall as our two-story house.

It has the pleasing shape you see here. (Photo taken from upstairs window.)

As of December 1, it has still not dropped its leaves.

Color was medium green all summer, now is green shading to burgundy/brown.

The leaves are sturdy, waxy/leathery, and the buds for next year are slightly fuzzy and already well-developed. They alternate on the branch. They are very slightly serrated at the margins.

I do not know about flowers and fruits.

Something in the poplar family?

Online tree ID tools and traditional field guides have not yielded an answer.

I assume it is not native, was planted as an ornamental.