Sunday, October 31, 2010

Friday, October 22, 2010

Photo Phriday: Move Along

Nothing magnificent to see here. Return to your homes.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Gestalt

A conversation is not the sum of its syllables.

Rottweiler owners are fond of telling those who (they presume) don't know the breed that Rotties like to "talk."

He's not growling, he's just talking.

Thing is, many Rottweilers (and some other dogs) do have a growly vocalization that is not meant to be agonistic. It is rather charming.

People who are primed to skid their knickers in the mere presence of Satan's draught dogs are difficult to convince. Even most dog lovers and, in my experience, many dogs, can misinterpret these chest-rumbling soliloquies as a statement of most sincere ill-intention.

It gives me a little start every time a dog first does it around me, just like I do a double-take when one offers me a toothy greeting grin.

The submissive or happy grinning dog is quickly distinguishable from the angry snarler.

The "talking" dog is not always so clear.

Trouble is, another thing about Rottweilers is that they also growl. Sometimes a lot. Sometimes at their owners and their owners' friends and family. The growl frequently means something such as "You want the La-Z-Boy? Try me," or "Nail trim. Yeah, I don't think so."

Rottweilers are one of the very few breeds in which a large proportion of individuals can fairly be characterized as highly dominant animals*, dogs who actually want to take over the household and run it, sometimes even when the owner is quite competent.

Most dogs are happiest -- and know they are happiest -- if a credible human handles all the important decisions. "Dominance" challenges are either garden-variety adolescent experimentation or a desperate gambit to take the empty controls of a plane that the dog perceives as plummeting into the side of Mount Doom.

But there are exceptions, and a lot of those exceptions are Rottweilers. The breed supplies a disproportionate number of those truly dominant-aggressive dogs, as well as territorial-aggressive dogs, resource-guarders, and standoffish animals with a well-developed sense of personal space.

The fact that the dog has not bitten anyone yet is not prima facie evidence that he is not growling. When a Rottweiler -- or any dog -- is making a low rumbly sound in its chest, one has to look at the entire gestalt before determining, even provisionally, that the dog is either "talking" or "growling."

First, the circumstances -- the dog who rumbles like a gravel truck when told to get off the couch may be talking, but what he's saying is unprintable, and sooner or later he's highly likely to back up the threats. The dog who makes the same sound while writhing on his back in the grass getting his chest scratched is saying something else entirely -- possibly also unprintable, but only because this is a puritanical culture that frowns on pleasure.

But far more important, the whole picture of the dog's communication -- eyes, ears, eyebrows, lips. Butt and tail**. Muscle tension in neck, legs, and torso. Breathing. Looseness v. tightness. Skin tension and hackling. Not one little pieces-part, and not an imaginary sum of the pieces-parts -- the whole damned dog. How it all hangs together. It's nice to be able to name the parts and their positions, but no more practical than diagramming a diplomat's sentences to discern whether his country is about to declare war.

Those in the thrall of the Dunning-Kruger Effect focus on one thing, some body-language shibboleth that they imagine is the secret decoder ring for what a dog says or means.

We all know the classic, man on the street with some suprise body-perforations who claims, "But he looked friendly! His tail was wagging!"

Worse are those whose cynological expertise would move them to mock that poor civilian who thought the "cute" Akita's slowly-waving vertical tail was a friendly wag. They volunteer at the shelter. They've studied a chart. And doG help us, they've gone to a workshop (or better yet, watched a video of a workshop) in which a presenter attempts to teach them to "see" a dog's communications.

Even the best instructor can only do so much. Most of the students will walk away with a half-understanding of two or three canine field marks; if they retain one for more than a week, it is noteworthy. The rest will latch onto one or two insider buzzwords that become increasingly all-purpose and divorced from anything a dog is actually saying. Because the inexpert student is looking for a one-to-one babelfish dog-English translation, he refuses to consider that a dog, like any sentient creature, may experience ambivalence, threaten and not deliver, change his mind, hide his intentions, use misdirection, or speak gibberish. But he's proud of his insider knowledge, and takes it to the streets.

A few weeks ago, my teammate Rebecca was the recipient of much helpful advice about her young, enormous, steady, good-natured dog's temperament and behavior, from students who had just finished one such seminar. We now know that Cinders is "reactive" (he looked at another dog when it was disorderly) and that he is "trying to be the boss." (Still pulls on the leash a bit when he's not on a training collar and is very excited about working.)

Dominant Cinders reacting.

As Rebecca -- I love her, she's so diplomatic -- said, after I regaled the room† with my impression of Cinders trying to be the boss, "Everyone here is so friendly! And they all want to share what they know, whether or not it's right."

Combine such shallow "expertise" with a pig-headed commitment to interpret a dog's behavior as a "special" -- generally a breed-specific "specialness" -- and the sum can be a spectacular failure of common sense.

Consider two Rottweilers that, according to their owners, "purr," another term that rottie owners will apply to their dogs' actual or imagined "talking."

No cheating now. View each clip first with your speakers muted.

First this one:



And then this one:



Edit: Sorry folks. The person who posted video #2 has designated it "private." I don't think it was my readers, who are far too classy to harass a stranger on YouTube; it has been zipping around Facebook for a little while now, and I am guessing that some of the attention it was getting was not what the poster had in mind. It's also certainly possible that there was, shall we say, an "outcome" involving this dog that makes this video seem like not such a good idea in retrospect.

Disclaimer: I don't know either of these dogs, or the women shown with them. I don't know their histories, or what either of them might or might not have done since the videos were recorded and posted.

Questions:

Are both dogs happy? Are both dogs enjoying the hugging and handling? Is either woman in any danger of being bitten, either immediately or at some future time? What do you see as the differences, if any, in what the dogs are communicating?

Now watch the clips with the sound on. Does it change your opinion?

Is either dog's non-vocal gestalt at odds with his vocalization? Or does the vocalization mean something different depending on the silent communication that accompanies it?

What would it take for you to believe a stranger when he tells you that his dog is "just talking" or "purring?"

_________________

* I am well aware that the latest fad among the Clinique Calls That Burning set is to declare that (mix 'n' match):

There is no such thing as a canine dominance hierarchy because dogs aren't cooperative hunters / dogs aren't even predators / packs are families, and everyone knows that non-pack predators / families don't have vertical development in their social structures / don't have social structures at all, and that therefore there is no such thing as a dominant dog, and also, dominance is not a temperament / character / personality trait so ipso facto no animal can have more or less of a predisposition towards social climbing, it's all the same, like minnows in a giant school, or slime molds. And also, anyone who says otherwise is a dog abuser. He kicked that dog! There, in the slow motion replay, see that, didn't you see it, that was a kick!

I don't care.

** Yeah, this is more difficult to assess when you have cut off the dog's fucking tail.

† The audience consisted of Rebecca and three dogs, mind you, but it was the crowd most qualified to appreciate the irony.

Snapshot Sunday: 100 Miles

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A just-completed-69-miles runner's-eye view of the Wolfkiel Aid Station, where AMRG provided medical support and search-and-rescue standby for the Oil Creek 100 foot race this weekend.

Because a marathon is just not hard-core enough.

Most interesting medical event of the weekend: Twenty-something male runner complaining of abdominal pain radiating sub-sternal.*

After sufficient discussions, a Hx of a defective pyloric valve, possible celiac disease, and oh yeah, this exact kind of discomfort from time to time whenever he inadvertently eats wheat, any potentially alarming element was quelled.

___________________

* Chief complaint -- feet hurt. Ya think?

Lotta that going around.

Friday, October 15, 2010


To be entered into the drawing for a Brandywine Farm Basket o' Noms, cast your votes for entry #2 in the NESR Cookbook-naming contest by the end of the day today, October 15.

At last count, Rescued: Recipes Too Good For The Pound was in fourth place. Remember, the drawing is only going to happen if it wins. So those of you who already voted early, you can still vote more often.

Methinks some other entrants are stuffing the ballot box themselves, instead of honorably bribing others to do so!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Macro Monday: Caging Summer


The tart, popping flavor of the currant tomatoes will be locked up by the food dryer and olive oil.

August days in a jar.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Photo Phriday: Can't Stop the World


But pole beans and overly-perky sunflowers are patient enough to imprison the wind.

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Thursday, October 7, 2010

On Notice


One thing I really like about Blogger, Wordpress, and some proprietary blog software is the name-links.

Commenters can choose to set up a link to their own blogs or other urls, thereby taking the opportunity to establish credibility and accountability.

A man or woman who stands behind his or her words with both name and credentials counts for a lot more than an anonymous commenter, or even the user of a consistent pseudonym.

But know this.

Any spammer, scammer, puppymiller, conspiracy theorist, or any other category of thief who comments here as a way of getting his name link "out there" and hawking his wares will find himself in spam hell and publicly called-out.

That is all.

The Chicago Method


It's a real pity I have no musical talent*, because I totally rule at coming up with names for bands. Bands should hire me to name them. I ask, who would not want to see a show where Healthy Rumen opens for the Arctic Dingos? You would pay a $5 cover for that one, wouldn't you?

Alas, there seems to be no prospect of developing this side-business.

But you can help me fulfill my (revised) destiny by helping me name a book.

The Call for Recipes that went out over email lists and blogosphere for the new National English Shepherd Rescue cookbook was a ripping success; in fact, the cookbook will be a little bit behind schedule because of the sheer volume of drool-inducing recipes submitted by ES lovers and friends.

Now we need a title worthy of such epicurean excess.

Ever on the lookout for more ways to help homeless English shepherds, NESR is putting it to a vote.

And you can vote early and vote often -- the Chicago method. As often as you like, provided you are willing to part with a greenback each time.

Buck a vote. Now you have to stop calling us commies.

My entry is #2. Rescued: Recipes Too Good for the Pound.

The entry with the most votes will be the title of the cookbook, which will be available for pre-orders (with pre-holiday delivery) next week.

But wait, there's more. It wouldn't be a real Chicago-method vote without bribes.

Every Raised by Wolves reader who votes for entry #2 and tells me in a comment on this post will get his or her name dropped in the hat for the Brandywine Farm Basket of Noms drawing. (Be sure to comment on this post on the blog, and not on another post, a facebook thread, etc.)

One vote, one buck, one slip in the hat. If entry #2 wins, one lucky blog reader who voted will receive a care package of farm-raised good eats from Brandywine Farm. Vote fifty times, donate fifty dollahs, get fifty chances.

Specific contents will depend on how far the goodies have to ship and any preferences of the recipient, but will also include one copy of the cookbook for your very own.

_________________________

* Zero. Zip. Nada. Don't ask. Because, no.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Photo Phriday: Steam


James seemed to need to blow off some steam after the sheepdog trials last weekend, and Cole was game.

I was concerned about the intensity of the two boys; it's uncommon for this kind of dog to do full contact well with dogs they have just met. But it did not get out of hand. There was a lot of the game I call whodaman?, but it was all in good fun. (Whodabitch? is never, ever, in good fun.)

James' owner told me that he never gets into scraps, and also that he is a border collie. He qualified for the nationals, so, okay.

Although it looks like she is functioning as Fun Police in this photo, Pip actually joined in and wrestled with James. Pip! You think you know someone ...

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