Saturday, November 21, 2009

Kasey Gets a Little Sis

Yes it has been a few months since my last blog entry, and lots has happened, including an addition to our family. That's Mia on the right, with Kasey. She's 6 months old now. She's pretty fearless and energetic, and I'm figuring that she'll take very well to agility once she's old enough.

In the meantime, Kasey earned his Rally Novice title a couple of months ago...

....and I've been bragging to my hospital colleagues about the "RN" that goes after his name. Next weekend, he'll be doing CPE agility trials, and I'll blog about that later.

More on Mia later too....


Sunday, April 5, 2009

Canine Good Citizen

Last week was a big one for Kasey.

On Wednesday, Kasey took his Canine Good Citizen test. He was a bit cautious with the examiner, but that was his only rough spot among the ten test items (sit/stay, down/stay, come, heel, accept a stranger in a friendly way, don't freak out when owner leaves the room, etc.), so he passed the test. It's kind of cool now to have letters after his name to validate his education.

We also started beginner's agility last Thursday. It was the first time that he has gotten to interact with the equipment, and we were curious to see how he would like it. Well, after seeing how he easily took to the jumps, and also to the tunnel and the dog walk after a little coaxing, we think that he'll love it and do well.

Since we brought this little dude home, we've been watching to see what his particular talents and favored activities would be (e.g., he'll fetch, but doesn't seem to love it). I believe, as does Patricia McConnell, that a dog's happiness depends upon whether he gets to spend time doing what he loves (whatever that is....agility, herding, chasing a ball, etc.), and not just upon pleasing his owner by performing arbitrary tasks. So, in the weeks to come, we'll see if agility keeps his boat afloat.

I hope if dogs ever take over the world, and they choose a king, they don't just go by size, because I bet there are some Chihuahuas with some good ideas.
- Jack Handey

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Link to Paradise

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don't know evil or jealousy or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring — it was peace.
- Milan Kundera (b. 1929), author

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Obedience Debut

Well, Kasey got his big start in the... eh... amateur ranks today, with some achievement at a local Fun Match. He took third in Rally and second in Obedience. Ooooh, ribbons! Both were at beginner level (on leash), but hey, that's okay, it's a "tune up."

He was a little nervous, and his attention wandered when he was supposed to be maintaining a good heel, so we lost points there.

But then I think that we got some points back when he impressed the judge with his Elvis impersonation.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Play Face and Color

I've been fascinated by play faces on dogs since getting started with digital photography not long ago, and noticing that there are many expressions that you miss in real time, but you see them when you review the images. Here we captured a few smiles(?) as we introduced Kasey to a new toy.

He likes the texture, the biting, squeaking and tugging. The colors are for our pleasure.

* Thanks to Jennifer Davis and my old schoolmate Dr.P. for the color spectrum illustration.

Monday, March 9, 2009


This post contains graphic images that may go unappreciated by the squeamish.

If you were ever that student who kept passing out in Biology class (and you know who you are), then you may wish to consider looking no further.

True story:

Years ago, when I was in college, I came back to the dorm with a stack of photographs that I had snapped at the Bronx Zoo. I liked photography a lot, and I was probably more eager to show off my photos than most of my friends were interested in seeing them. But I prevailed upon my roommate to look at my new zoo shots, and I handed him the stack of prints to look through at his own pace.

He muttered one polite comment after another as he flipped through the photos, until.....

"Eewww!! What the hell is THAT?"

The tone of revulsion sounded excessive. I assured him that it was only just an ordinary caiman or crocodile in the picture. But he continued to look puzzled and disturbed, which began to puzzle me.

Then I noticed the awkward way that he was holding the print.

So I suggested that he try holding it this way:

But I'm sure that he had difficulty reorienting the image in his mind. He insisted that the animal was not like any crocodile he had ever seen. Then I recall that he flipped through all the rest of the prints, but without any more comments. Sheesh!


Nowadays my portrait subjects have fur.
That seems to help.


Sunday, March 8, 2009

Urine Good Company

Well this is just great. Now I can't get dog pee out of my mind.

Anyway, it's no big news that dogs like to use their good scents in marking various locations with their urine and/or feces, sniff at the the locations marked by other dogs, greet new colleagues with a sniff of their anogenital regions (AGR), roll in wet odiferous matter and wear the fragrance into the house, etc. But humans just don't really know all the information that could be getting exchanged between dogs through scents (are they sniffing about us??), or how dogs actually choose the time and place for a pee or a sniff (smell art?).

Right now there's an interesting discussion happening on Trisha McConnell's blog concerning some new research on scent marking. It seems that one of the reasons they mark where they do could be because it can give other dogs a place to sniff them without intruding into their personal space to sniff their AGRs, particularly when they are entering a new area where other dogs are already gathered (thus avoiding being mobbed by multiple noses at once).

....or maybe it's just their way of sniff blogging.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Glass of Yard Dog

Last weekend my wife and I visited a liquor store. She was looking for some red wine and I wanted some white. Neither of us had anything more particular than that in mind. Then this bottle caught my eye.

dw: Look Honey! This wine has a dog on it!

Wife: That's nice, Honey.

dw: Isn't it cool?

Wife: Do you want it?

dw: I want to take pictures of it.

Wife: Pictures of it?

dw: Do you think it's good wine?

Wife: Get it if you want it, Honey.

We can become captivated by a thing that stays always a little bit out of focus, challenging us to find the right lens through which we can shape a clear vision. It tends to make us dizzy if it moves outside our depth of field. Or else it stays within the focal range we set, but then draws our eye first to the illusory images formed by the many reflections from it's surface, and then to the reshaped rays of refraction coming through it from oblique angles, and then to the shadows and colors. Our brain gets hooked on the visual puzzle. We feel that it is worth the effort to understand. And we know, of course, that in the opinion of many wise people, these intangible images are only a distraction, that really it is the inner substance that is more worthy of attention (and I did eventually drink the's not bad at all). But we are human, and a good percentage of our brain is wired for visual analysis, and we enjoy glitter.

I can't help thinking that dogs must feel the same way about odors as we feel about our images. Maybe if we could comprehend their smell art, then we would come to see dogs in a whole new, I mean, smell them in a whole new scent.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Angraecum Erratum

Well, now I feel silly. I got all excited because our Darwin's Orchid bloomed. But with further research, I discovered that our orchid is actually another species that is closely related to Darwin's Orchid. Ours is an Angraecum eburneum, and the orchid that prompted Darwin to make his famous moth prediction was an Angraecum sesquipedale. Sheesh!

Same genus, though, and both are native to Madagascar, and both have that elongated nectary spur.

I feel a lot better now that I've cleared that up.

Anyway, I still feel that an exceptionally long proboscis would be necessary for any moth to get it's way with our Angraecum eburneum.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Darwin's Orchid

I believe that there are times when the greatest fulfillment comes from letting tangents and coincidence guide one's attention. Well, coincident with the attention given to Darwin's two-hundredth birthday, my wife's specimen of Darwin's Orchid decided to bloom, and so it cried out for a snapshot today.

This genus is native to Madagascar. It has an elongated nectary - up to a foot long - extending from the back of the flower. Nectar is contained in the tip of the nectary. Darwin reasoned that there must be some species of moth with a proboscis long enough to reach the length of the nectary, but this hypothesis was ridiculed by others in his day.

The idea that such a long-tongued moth would have evolved is no longer considered ridiculous. Such a moth was indeed discovered years later.

This fascinating video from a Nature episode shows the moth in action with Darwin's Orchid:


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Dogs Shaping Human Evolution

The Bark just published a good article on Darwin and dogs by Mark Derr. It's an interesting read, and Derr's description of the often-misconstrued concept of natural selection is nice and clear.

It's pretty obvious in Darwin's thinking - and in the view of today's naturalists - that humans have influenced the evolution of the domestic dog. But an equally interesting hypothesis is Darwin's belief in the power of dogs to shape human evolution.

Derr quotes Darwin from The Descent of Man:
"The strongest and most vigorous men—those who could best defend and hunt for their families, who were provided with the best weapons and possessed the most property, such as a large number of dogs or other animals—would succeed in rearing a greater average number of offspring than the weaker and poorer members of the same tribes. There can, also, be no doubt that such men would generally be able to select the more attractive women."

I am curious to hear what my wife's thoughts will be.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hey, Nice Ecosystem!

So, we have this domestic dog species hanging around with humans since the Stone Age, and it theoretically descended from wolves, and it shows high intelligence and devotion. Wolves and dogs are also predatory and territorial species that show some capacity for aggression (though not as offensive as some humans, one could argue). In this context, I found an interesting National Geographic video documenting domestic dogs' key role in restoring ecological/economic harmony for wolves and ranchers in rural Spain. It's a beautiful story. Here's the brief video:

The earth trembled and a great rift appeared, separating the first man and woman from the rest of the animal kingdom. As the chasm grew deeper and wider, all the other creatures, afraid for their lives, returned to the forest - except for the dog, who after much consideration leapt the perilous rift to stay with the humans on the other side. His love for humanity was greater than his bond to other creatures, he explained, and he willingly forfeited his place in paradise to prove it.
- Native American folktale, quoted in The Lost History of the Canine Race by Mary E. Thurston

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Canine Heroism

Our friend and fellow blogger mouse pointed us to a video which shows a dog in Chile saving the life of another dog who had just been struck by a car on a busy highway. The video is difficult to watch, but it ends with the news anchor announcing that the injured dog survived (thanks to having been pulled to safety across heavy traffic by the fellow dog). You can view this amazing video here.

In my web surfing, I came across more videos showing dogs rescuing humans or other dogs. Of course, there are some videos that may have been staged, and others like the one above that are certainly genuine. Here's a video in which a dog saves a bullfighter from a bull (whatever you think of bullfighting - I don't like it at all - this small dog shows some big heroism):

I think that there are many more stories of animal heroism that get less play in the news compared to tragedies like the chimpanzee attack in Connecticut this week or the cases of dog attacks that occasionally get media attention. The amazing thing to me about the heroic incidents is that, in many cases, the animal never received specific training to perform such actions, but nevertheless risked his/her own safety for that of a fellow being. That's something that really must come from deep in the heart.

Sometimes when a man's alone, all you got is your dog.
- Mickey Rourke (saying this as he thanked all his dogs, living and dead, after winning the Golden Globe for Best Actor this year).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Bonaparte's Retreat

Today I was talking with a musician friend about dog themes in music (something about which I will post future entries), and he told me about Emmylou Harris' love of dogs. Her story is very touching. I did not know this story until today, but a couple of years ago Emmylou established a sanctuary in Nashville for dogs that are otherwise unadoptable. She founded Bonaparte's Retreat - named after her companion of ten years who died suddenly in 2002. Here is an article about this in The Bark, which also includes a video of the beautiful song, Not Enough, that she wrote for Bonaparte.

Among God's creatures two, the dog and the guitar, have taken all the sizes and all the shapes, in order not to be separated from the man.
- Andrés Segovia (1893-1987), classical guitarist

Monday, February 16, 2009

Why We Love Cats and Dogs

Last night the PBS station in my area showed the Nature episode "Why We Love Cats and Dogs." I was touched by the stories of how people's bonds with pets can sustain them through difficult times. Most poignant to me was the story of Jerry, a German Shepherd dog, whose family really made the most of his short time with them after Jerry was diagnosed with cancer.

The show raised fascinating issues about the nature of empathy between humans and pets. Among other nuggets in this episode, Marc Bekoff speculated that cells in the brains of humans and other animals, called "mirror neurons," allow us to appreciate each others' states of mind (what researchers call "theory of mind").

As I type at my keyboard, what Kasey knows is that if he keeps dropping toys at my feet, then I will probably turn away from the keyboard and.....

I'm looking more like my dogs every day — it must be the shaggy fringe and the ears.
- Christine McVie (b. 1943), musician

Friday, February 13, 2009

Friday Play

It was another Friday off from work. Sasha, Kasey, and I enjoyed a day of play, and we all appreciated the sight of grass appearing from beneath the receding snow.

Another reason that I am glad about taking the day off was that it gave me an opportunity to phone a question in to Partricia McConnell, an ethologist specializing in dog behavior, and an author of several books about human/dog relationships. Dr. McConnell was interviewed by Susan Frank on "Wild About Pets." It's an interesting discussion for anyone who interacts with dogs, or for anyone who wonders what their dog really thinks about those affectionate hugs they get from humans. Go here to listen to the interview (and my brush with greatness).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Darwin and Lincoln

This Thursday is the 200th birthday of both Charles Darwin and Abraham Lincoln. Everyone knows that both Darwin and Lincoln are figures of unmatched historical importance in our culture. The coincidence of their birth has been a point of interest for biographers who have noted a number of parallels in their lives, and on this subject, a brief article today in The Chicago Tribune is a nice read. More to the point of this post, a bit of web surfing reveals, not surprisingly, that both men were lovers of animals, and were lovers of dogs especially.

In Darwin's case, he showed an affinity for dogs and a talent for naturalistic observation in his youth. Although family status and tradition compelled the young Charles to begin studying for a career in medicine, he soon abandoned that course to the disappointment of his father. Darwin recalled his father once telling him that "You care for nothing but shooting, dogs, and rat-catching, and you will be a disgrace to yourself and all your family." Years after Darwin's legendary voyage aboard the HMS Beagle, the traits of domestic dogs figured prominently in Darwin's writings on evolution by natural selection (as notably evident from the first chapter of his landmark book, On The Origin of Species), and domestic dogs' behavioral traits provided much of the material from which Darwin developed his thoughts concerning The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals.

Although Lincoln is obviously more celebrated for his statesmanship and heroism in matters of politics and human rights, he was certainly a good friend of animals. There is a story of how a young Lincoln waded barefoot through icy waters to rescue his dog during a family relocation trip. In another story recounted by historians, the newly elected president decided that his dog Fido would best be left in the care of family friends in Springfield, Illinois, instead of taking him to Washington. For the dog's comfort, the Lincoln family left their horsehair sofa for Fido to use in his new home. He is thought to have been the first dog of a president to be photographed (photo at top of post). After Lincoln was assassinated, Fido watched the funeral procession in Springfield. Tragically, within a year, Fido met with a violent death when he was stabbed by a drunk man who was enraged at the dog for having dirtied his clothing.

Biographers note that Darwin was an opponent of slavery, and that from his home in Britain he followed the news from the U.S. pertaining to Lincoln's presidency and the conflict between the states. Lincoln, conversely, appears not to have expressed much awareness of Darwin's work. Nevertheless, according to Lincoln's law partner, Lincoln read with interest some earlier writings from another naturalist who had theorized the evolution of species, though the mechanism of natural selection had not yet been well described in the literature before Darwin. We do not know whether the concept of evolution influenced Lincoln's politics, but historians might consider that question to be a bit narrow. What is more important is that the works of Darwin and Lincoln marked a change in the perception of man's place in nature. The views among naturalists and statesmen began to shift away from a position in which humans are "above" nature (and one race considered to be "above" another), and moved closer to a view of humans as part of nature along with other animals. The shift continued through the twentieth century, and is continuing today, and it is the legacy of two great lovers of dogs.

It is scarcely possible to doubt that the love of man has become instinctive in the dog.
- Charles Darwin

I care not for a man's religion whose dog and cat are not the better for it.
- Abraham Lincoln

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Soul of a Philosopher

A dog has the soul of a philosopher.
- Plato (c. 427–347 B.C.), Greek philosopher

Friday, February 6, 2009


I am taking off from work each Friday from now until April 1, because administrative rules say that I would lose the extra vacation time that I've accumulated and haven't used until now. What does the accumulation of unused vacation time say about one's character, or one's style of adjusting to this stage of life, etc., as an old friend and mentor of mine would ask?

Well, I had time and some energy to blog today, and since I started this blog not long ago, I've thought that I would share some very cutting-edge thinking and research about the domestic dog's evolution and behavior, and about humans' special relationship with the dog. But today, instead, I believe that I will spend the time venturing out into the snow with one of my own (Oh Dog, when will Winter end?), and leave you with the following blogging thought:


Questers of the truth, that’s who dogs are; seekers after the invisible scent of another being’s authentic core.
- Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson (b.1941), author, animal rights advocate

Friday, January 30, 2009

Snow Dog


So....I'm still daydreaming about the subject of evolution. Or more to the point: Human/Dog coevolution. My web surfing today led me to this interesting post from The Sensuous Curmudgeon. The post describes a theory in which one plausibly important factor leading to the extinction of Neanderthals about 30,000 years ago, and the survival Homo sapiens who lived at that time, was the social partnership that humans formed with dogs (or with wolf ancestors of dogs). In this theory, dogs and humans shared cooperative survival strategies in which Neanderthals did not, or could not, participate, and this gave modern humans a competitive advantage. So, we may well have dogs to thank for the very survival of our species. I think that I'll go take a walk with my pooch now .....

Of all creatures the one nearest to man in the fineness of its perceptions and in its capacity to render true friendship is a bitch.
- Konrad Lorenz (1903 - 1989), ethologist and Nobel Prize winner

Monday, January 26, 2009

Canine Incidents in U.S. Presidential History

After the Chirac Attack by Sumo the Poodle noted in my last post, and not so long after W's Barney nipped a reporter, I got to wondering about other presidential pooch incidents. I list some of the more interesting (sometimes tragic) ones that I found:

Washington.... He was astonished at how well trained his slaves' dogs were. He also suspected that slaves were using their dogs to round up and steal his sheep at night. So Washington ordered his plantation manager to destroy a number of the slaves' dogs.

Jefferson.... Also to protect his sheep, he ordered the destruction of all dogs belonging to his slaves. One dog was hanged as a disciplinary warning to the slaves.

Lincoln.... His dog Fido, a mongrel, suffered a violent death when stabbed in the street by a drunk man who was angered at having his clothes soiled by the dog's dirty paws.

T. Roosevelt.... His bull terrier Pete ripped off the French ambassador's pants during a White House function.

Harding.... His Airedale had his own chair to sit on in cabinet meetings.

FDR.... His Scottie Fala became famous. His other Scottie Meggie bit a senator.

Nixon.... The story of his cocker spaniel Checkers, told in dramatic fashion in "The Checkers Speech," saved Nixon's early political career.

Johnson.... Yuki, his beagle, soiled the Oval Office floor in the presence of the Shah of Iran, and bit a White House police officer in the groin.

Reagan.... Lucky, his Bouvier des Flandres, dragged Reagan across the White House lawn in the presence of Margaret Thatcher. The event was photographed and publicized, and was considered unpresidential. Lucky was sent to live in California.

Clinton.... Buddy, his chocolate Labrador, relieved himself on the carpet as television cameras rolled.

W.... Barney, his Scottie, bit the finger of a reporter.

Obama... During his victory speech, he announced his intention to adopt a dog for his children. Later discussing possible breed options, Obama speculated that the dog to be chosen may be "a mutt like me."

* The above list was abstracted from here, here, and here.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Watch This, Barney

Former French President Jacques Chirac was taken to the hospital this week after being attacked by Sumo the Poodle. The nature and extent of Mr. Chirac's injuries are not publicly known (Mr. Chirac's wife Bernadette would not reveal the anatomical location of the injuries), although it is reported that Mr. Chirac has been released from the hospital. Sumo is undergoing treatment with antidepressant medication. This is all true. Click here.

Plus je vois l'homme, plus j'aimie mon chien.
- Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) dog lover, mathematician & philosopher


One of the dogs mentioned in the Nat Geo article was Rico. His abilities have been demonstrated and analyzed in a number of forums, including prestigious scientific journals (here is one article). By following German or English commands to fetch objects, Rico showed that he knew over 200 object names. When asked to fetch a new object with an unfamiliar name, he would use a process of elimination, or "fast mapping," to correctly choose the new object from among others that he had already learned. This is similar to the cognitive process that underlies the rapid vocabulary growth in human toddlers at 2-3 years of age. And after only one trial of fetching an unfamiliar object and learning it's name, Rico could recall the new object/name association four weeks later.

Rico the Bilingual Border Collie
If you could speak what would you say
Would you tell us to stop making you fetch stuff
Or would you say that it's okay

- gutty74gutty

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Nat Geo and Animal Minds

Those of us who work in hospitals and other institutions can often get so caught up in the least person-centered tasks (like committee meetings with administrators...they're usually thrilling) that we fail to even notice that patients have interests other than therapy. So I felt awakened today when I saw one patient's copy of the March 2008 National Geographic with the cover picture of a border collie's gorgeous face. I had missed that issue before today.

Here is the article. It's a worthy read.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

First Dog

I've loved dogs since I was a little boy, when a skinny stray collie with matted hair walked into our village in search of care and comfort. We cleaned her up, fed her, and gave her a home. Her tri-color coat thickened and grew beautiful. We named her "Princess" - I think that my elder sister came up with the name - and Princess became a loving companion. She was generally very playful and easygoing, but we lived near a potato farm, and she would put on a badass display of let-me-tear-his-flesh-off whenever a farm worker would approach us as we took our walk past where the woods adjoined the farm. We wondered whether this reaction was a reflection of any traumatic experiences she may have had with people before she joined our family, as we never knew...never asked, really... who had been keeping her before she left her previous home to join ours. Maybe her previous people, maybe the farm workers, had abused her. Or maybe her defensive display was simply triggered automatically in a part of her primal dog brain which told her to guard us against the advances of unfamiliar grownups. Anyway, we kept her away from the farm workers, and she stayed with us for a few years until she developed some type of serious illness, and my parents decided that she should be put down. Of course, that decision was carried out over the tearful objections of my sister and me. Princess was a good dog who served, or tried to serve, an important function in our family.

Lately I've been reading some of the contemporary literature on the evolution, cognition, and behavior of the domestic dog. The way that ethologists think about dogs has been changing in interesting ways in recent years (see, for example, the work of Ádám Miklósi, whose textbook on the subject was given to me by my wife this past Christmas). The prevailing view among naturalists, from Darwin to the current generations, once held that domestic dogs could be of little interest to students of natural history, because their descent from wolves some tens of thousands of years ago theoretically occurred by an artificial, human-deliberated, unnatural process. According to the orthodox view, wolf and dog look and behave differently from each other because breeding them through artificial selection produced a domesticated variety of the wolf that is weaker, less intelligent, and more dependent. One is to imagine that the process began with humans capturing wolf pups from their dens during the Stone Age, and then breeding these domesticated wolves in a relatively sheltered environment, thus thwarting the mechanism by which natural selection would otherwise prevent unfit animals from spreading their genes through successive generations. In this view, the domestic dog is a weak and passive prisoner of human intentions, and her adaptation to human society is a byproduct of unnatural forces.

A less orthodox theory is gaining support in the field today. In this newer view, it is believed that wolves who were the early ancestors of today's dogs, who likely had already developed natural capacities for taking part in complex cooperative social systems, played an active role in connecting with humans by interacting with them in ways that promoted their survival (e.g., scavenging for food scraps at the outskirts of human villages, monitoring humans' actions to anticipate the best feeding opportunities, defending their human/canine turf against competing wolf packs, etc.). To the degree that human-friendliness and responsiveness to human cues are heritable traits in dogs (as current research findings suggest that they are), then natural selection would have favored increasingly domestic traits in dogs who lived near humans, and the domestic dog's natural history therefore would not depend upon humans raiding their dens and snatching their pups. The dog's evolutionary course is increasingly seen as having converged with ours, not having been derailed as claimed in the orthodox view. We can think of the origin of the dog even in spiritual terms, in a story of our ancestors forming a partnership in survival that endured through generations. It is a story that Princess reenacted when she walked into our neighborhood and became part of our family.

Hey! Nice Inaugural!

Someone pinch me. It seems too unreal to be watching a national celebration of a new leader who brings authenticity, compassion, and hope. What a truly great thing.