Posts Tagged ‘hunting dog’

Primitive Instincts

April 21, 2010

The Myth: Your dog is smarter than you.

Here are common phrases I hear from dog owners:

“I’m telling you, this dog is really smart.”

“I want my dog to listen to what I say, but he’s smarter than me.”

“My dog knows better, she’s smarter than that.”

"Um, Ow. Yeah, I know, believe me, I feel even dumber than I look. It's hard to explain. I just couldn't help myself."

Okay, so maybe dogs aren’t THAT smart.

A dog trainer friend of mine was in upstate New York over the weekend.  She was deep in the woods with her dogs when she realized she hadn’t seen her retriever-malamute mix for a while.  She whistled a couple of times and he didn’t respond.

“That’s weird,” she thought, expecting his usually trustworthy recall.

Then her brother and boyfriend heard the sound of breaking twigs.  They all walked quickly in that direction to find the source.  As they got closer to the noise, there was the big golden dog, about 30 feet away, digging furiously at a hollowed log.  Pieces of soft bark were falling to the ground as his bear-like claws pounded the wood.  You could hear him sniffing obsessively as his nose burrowed into the log, inching closer to the mysterious treasure inside.  They all stood behind the big dog, wondering what he would find.  Then he raised his face and turned.  They saw the needles. Porcupine.

“Huhhhhhh,” they all inhaled big, with wide eyes and dropped jaws.

Scroll up and look at that picture again.  Needles in his muzzle, nose, nostrils, lips, tongue.  He’s lucky he didn’t get any in his eyes.  That is serious.  Porcupine needles aren’t poisonous but they aren’t easy to remove.  Let’s just say a dog can’t knock them out with a few swipes of the paw.  My friend had to bring her dog to the emergency vet where he was completely sedated.  Then they pulled out each quill, one by one.

I often wonder why some dogs are so stupid about this sort of thing.  I’ve heard many stories about dogs who have had this experience and then do it AGAIN.  Are you kidding me?  Again?  My own husky-shepherd mix used to get sprayed by skunks over and over and over.  Despite the fact that he would come back to me whining, wincing, and half-blind with his eyes and nose full of putrid stinging skunk-spray.  Dude – duh.

The Real Deal: When it comes to self-control, dogs can be pretty stupid.  Maybe oblivious is a better adjective.  Many dogs are guided by the instinctive hunting desire of their wolf ancestors, but they don’t have the thoughtful pursuit of prey that wolves do.  No control.  Just, “Yaaaaaa – there’s a CRITTER!   Yah!  Let’s get that f–ing critter, Yaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!”

Strong prey drive is a survival instinct for a wolf.  But many dogs did NOT inherit the other part of being a good hunter – thoughtful, prudent pursuit.  I see this kind of impulsiveness in other animals.  Survival instincts from the far distant past get blown out of proportion.  Like, with humans.  There was a time when our human ancestors needed to eat a lot of fat in order to survive harsh winters.  That doesn’t apply anymore.  But, many people still can’t say no to french fries at the drive-through or ice cream tubs in the freezer (me included on the ice cream).  Or even worse for some people, the most powerful instinct of all – SEX.  There was a time when a male human was hard-wired to spread his genes to as many females as possible, to be obsessed with sex.  That’s not as productive in modern times.  Just ask Tiger Woods.

Let’s face it.  It doesn’t matter what species you are.  Sometimes core instincts take over regardless of the big picture.  Primitive drives can be hard to control, even when acting on them is incredibly stupid.

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Read Part 2 of this story.

By the way…  If you or a friend have an interesting dog story to share, please email me about it.  It might be great for The Real Deal on Dogs.  Thanks. -David

Sunshine on a Rainy Day (Hazel’s Story Part 3)

April 17, 2010

It’s dawn.  I hear the sweet sound of a Cardinal singing outside our window.  My heart leaps before my eyes even open.  A smile crosses my face as I remember.  For a few seconds I work on going back to sleep – slow, deep breaths – I want the sleeeeep, neeeed the sleeeep.  But I’m not going back to sleep.  I’m way too excited.  Every day is a gift but today is one of the special ones.  That way-too-cool-to-be-true-pointer-mix I’ve been telling you about, she’s gonna become a member of our family today.  The one who takes a treat from my child’s fingers as gently as a butterfly lands on a flower.  Her name is Hazel.

Somehow the man who had her on hold, who had the first option to take her before me – his wife opted out when the decision was on the line.  She brought the grandkids and everyone to meet the dog.  And they liked her a lot, saw how sweet she was and were keen on her smallish size.

Then the resident cat came out from behind a desk.  They saw our little pointer get a little too perky then.  I’ll tell you what they saw.  They saw a wild child kick in.  They saw her chase that kitty around the room in sporting-dog style, zig-zagging with moves like Michael Jordan gliding through an entire defense.  They must’ve imagined their own cats trying to stop Jordan.  They could hear Marv Albert calling the game in their heads, “Oh!  Slam dunk!  Michael Jordan is on FIRE!  OH!  Look at the moves, slicing through defenders with ease!  Oh!  MJ’s TOO-TOUGH-to-STOP!”

The wife started to look worried, nibbled her fingers, talked about her cats, voiced doubts, looked at the pointer pouncing around the room, and then back at her husband, “So you definitely haven’t found anyone with a Shih Tzu?”

That’s when the shelter manager dropped the guillotine, “I don’t think this is the dog for you,” she said, and sent them on their way.  I love that cat.

Let me tell you what I saw when I later watched Hazel interact with the cat.  I saw a super-playful adolescent with a lot of self control.  First she invited the cat to play, with lovely play-bows (butt in the air, front end down), with adorable side-shimmies, and with an excited bark that was low-pitched and not too loud (oh, so acceptable).  When she did chase the cat she always stopped a foot or two away from it, she never touched it.  I let Hazel keep going, wanted to see her get worked up.  Then came the best part.   As she was dancing around the cat, percolating in the predator game, I made myself heard.  “Hazel STOP.  Get over here.” I said firmly but not loud.  She ran right over to me and sat at my side.  Too good to be true.  I tested it again.  “Ok, go play with the cat,” I said.  She got back into it quickly.  Ran right to the spot she left off and started her predator play dance again.  Then I called her.  And again she came right away.  Just lovely.

Here is a video of how I began bonding with Hazel when we got home.  Play is the name of the game.  Look at how respectful she is of my space.

The people who had the first shot at this dog saw a feisty hunter getting wild over a cat.  I saw a playful 8-month-old with a lot of impulse control.  To each their own.  Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  And we all see differently.  It’s what makes life interesting.  I’m so grateful this dog lasted two weeks without anyone seeing what the shelter manager and I saw in her.

Now it seems kind of crazy for me to put it out there, to say I found a wonderful dog, a great fit,  just by spending a couple of half-hour sessions with her over two days.  Especially crazy to put it in writing here.  I mean, I could be wrong.  I could be eating my words right here on this blog in a few months if this dog turns out to reveal traits I’ve overlooked, or couldn’t see.  It’s quite possible, I assure you.  She’s certainly not going to be perfect.  There will be issues, of course.  For example she pulls on leash like a bat out of hell.  And she’s REALLY distracted outside.

But I feel as good as you can feel about our decision to adopt Hazel because I defined exactly what I wanted before going into this.  Then I did a thorough behavior evaluation.  Comp – re – hensive.  That’s how I roll (most of the time, anyway).  Is it dorky or cool to show up at the shelter with a clipboard and a checklist?  I say cool.  There is no place for self-consciousness in big life decisions.  I followed my behavior eval checklist with pride.  In the next post I’ll tell you exactly what I did to evaluate Hazel.  I know it will help you and many others to find a great match next time you are looking for a dog.

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