It is inescapable now. Otto the rescue pitbull does not like bacon.
I was making breakfast for dinner tonight, and fried up some bacon. When it was done I took a piece out to let it cool on a paper towel.
I gave it to Otto and he, as he always does with any particularly messy food, carried it into the living room to eat on the new rug. I thought nothing of it.
Then I walked into the living room a few minutes later and there it was. Sitting there, untouched on the carpet. Mocking me.
The uneaten bacon.
I tried everything. I desperately offered it to him again as he was sleeping on the sofa. He turned up his nose then looked away.
I pulled out the big guns. I acted like I was eating it, making “nom, nom, nom” sounds and saying “Mmmm, DELICIOUS!” like I do right before he rejects yet another expensive doggy treat and then eats some poop.
Nothing. He just looked at me, yawned and then licked his rope toy.
A rope toy? Over bacon?
You turn it over in your mind. Where did I go wrong?
There were signs I ignored. He would not take bacon-flavored treats. He did not like Pupperoni™.
I should have known. But I was in denial.
Where did I go wrong? Did I love him too much? Did I love him not enough?
What will the other parents at the dog park say?
“His dog does not like bacon. Also he doesn’t use biodegradable waste disposal bags.”
The words ring in my ears.
I don’t want to talk about it.
I will post a vague reference on Facebook to something being wrong and hope nobody takes that extra step of asking, “What happened? Are you OK?”
I know tons about cats*, and not because I can, you know, read cat minds. I just know things. I know a lot of things. Terrific things. The greatest things. The best things you can know about cats? I know.
“Mr. Cat Behaviorist, why did my cat piss in the bed and shit in my slippers?
“Because he is angry at you.”
“Angry at me for what?”
“How the hell do I know? That wasn’t part of my certification. Next!”
See? I feel as if I am at least halfway to certification already.
*Although there was that time I bought my male cat one of those motorized, battery-driven automatic cat pooper scooper litter boxes. Except my cat kept urinating not in the litter, but directly onto the battery compartment, shorting it out and eventually ruining the $100-plus contraption.
You ever tried cleaning cat piss out of a battery compartment? Not pretty.
I never did figure that one out. Perhaps that issue is covered in one of the advanced cat behavior courses.
Otto the rescue dog doesn’t mind a bit of rain, or even a lot of wet grass and puddles after a rain. But if it’s raining hard I have to pick him up and carry him outside rather than drag him by the collar.
I await anxiously to see how he reacts to snow on the ground.
I adopted my rescue dog Otto on Sept. 26. It’s now nearly two months later.
They had almost no information about him when I did so. It turns out he was a mess of behavioral problems. He lunged at everything, dogs and people. He nipped at people who tried to pet him. He attacked any dog that approached him. He was not housebroken. At all.
Walks were a draining, frightening tedium of watching his every move and dragging him away from people and other dogs so much that he was choking. He almost bit a child. Had I not pulled him back at the last second he would have gotten the hand of my 90-year-old neighbor as he walked by in the hallway.
He took treats and played so aggressively he bit my hands a couple of times so hard he broke the skin. He nipped my legs so hard he left bruises.
It was so bad I had moments where I was not sure I could do it. I love him so much, but I just got out of the hospital after six weeks. Was I risking my health through the stress of constantly dealing with an aggressive, untrained dog?
Were all the negative things they said about pit bulls true?
It turns out the logical things they say about pit bulls are also true: They are how you train and treat them. If they are untrained or not treated properly, they can be as terrible as any other dog, Or worse because pibbles have such powerful jaws and muscular bodies.
With a lot of love, huge amounts of patience and a few times when I lost my temper and really yelled at Otto, things changed slowly.
So I thought I would share how this all happened so if you are experiencing a problem dog or are thinking of adopting, my experience might help you.
Aggression toward people and lunging at them
He is much better. Otto can now be walked on a loose leash and mostly ignores strangers when they walk by. As long as they don’t stop and talk to me or him.
Still needs a bit of work on this. But he is getting there.
Aggression toward other dogs
Better. Good, not great. I’d say about half the time he ignores other dogs unless the dog is very big or barks/growls at us.
Much more work needed.
These two things — aggression toward people and dogs — were partially mastered by treats. It sounds simple, but I read on some respectable web sites that the best way to train was to first teach him a command tied to treats.
We started with “Sit!”
Once he tied treats with “Sit!” in his mind, every time he showed any aggression toward people or dogs on a walk, I stopped him, gave the command “Sit!” and gave him a treat. By the time he was done munching on the treat, the other dog or person was gone.
Eventually it started working, first needing the command “Sit!” and eventually just ignoring most people and some dogs without any command or treat at all.
It supposedly has something to do with taking the negative connotations in a dog’s mind and replacing them with a positive one.
This can be maddening, especially if you have an easy gag reflex when cleaning up dog poop. (Like I do.)
No overt punishment when I caught him relieving himself in the house. Just the command “no” and a trip outside. No punishment at all if I didn’t actually see him make a mistake on the floor. That just confuses dogs because they are not quite sure what they are being punished about. No rubbing of his nose in it EVER. No hitting EVER. Dogs respond best to something they learn makes you happy with them.
Every time he urinated or defecated outside, he was praised profusely and given a treat. This also took time; nearly two months of consistent praise and rewards. It didn’t seem to be working at first, but now every time he poops he sits and looks up at me for a treat. This has the added benefit of him pooping and peeing much faster after we go outside, after which we can concentrate on making the walk more enjoyable for both of us.
Walks were a chore. By the end we were both frustrated. Now he walks on the leash with his head up and tail wagging, This has made a huge difference in our daily routines.
Biting while taking treats
He was so intent on getting the treat that my hand wasn’t even part of his thinking. So instead of offering it in my fingers, I offered it in a completely open palm, which forced him to think about my hand being there. That took care of most of the problem almost immediately.
Now we are concentrating on taking a treat from my fingers. If he lunges for the treat with his mouth, the treat is pulled back and I say, “Gentle.” He doesn’t get the treat until he takes it gently. Or gentle-ish.
Still more work on this. My fingers are scraped by teeth sometimes, but at least they are not bleeding or sore.
This has taken the most time. He still starts biting almost immediately if I start to roughhouse with him using my hands, especially outside. So I stopped using my hands.
No play whatsoever unless I have something in my hands; a stick or a pull rope. Anything but just my hand. If he nips or chews body parts at all under any circumstances now he is given a firm “No bite!” command. He now switches to a lick after a couple of “No Bite!” commands.
The only exception to this is he gently nibbles the tips of my fingers when he needs to go outside.
So there it is. It was tough. It was ugly at times. I felt ashamed the few times I really yelled at him and the only way I could get him to calm down afterward was to pick him up and rock him like a baby.
But now our walks are fun. I actually look forward to them and so does he.
Inside my apartment I spend less time correcting him and more time bonding.
Given time and patience and love, you can also have a dog that is a joy to be around.
Be consistent and don’t give up.
Another thing: everyone fancies themselves a dog expert. They are all well-intentioned. Some of them are correct. And some of their advice is downright loony. (I had one guy show me this weird thing he does tying his leash down and over and around a dog’s torso and legs that he swears cures lunging behavior. It was so complicated I thought perhaps he had a rope fetish.)
Do your research online on some respectable web sites and decide on a course of action after you’ve done that.
I’ve been trying to figure out through an online search (“Can dogs eat corn?”) whether it’s OK to feed my rescue dog Otto food products with corn in them. So much conflicting info out there, often from sources with a reason to push one view or another (dog food companies, etc.)
Canines are omnivorous in the wild, so it would not make sense (to me, anyway) that they had somehow evolved a general intolerance to grains.
Some of the most highly respected dog food companies use corn, but some also offer corn-free (or grain-free) products. Whether this is based on science or marketing is unclear to me at this point.
1) Ground corn is fine. Not corn on the cob or whole corn kernels, for reasons having to do with corn husks and corn cobs rather than the corn itself.
2) I’m not feeding Otto corn meal, but I don’t see any problem with corn-containing food products. All things in moderation.
3) Dogs, as with people, can have allergies to corn or most anything really. If corn products seem to upset your dog’s stomach, stop serving them and consult a vet.
4) Rachel Ray is making a killing off grain-free dog products.
5) After scrolling through so many of them in my searches, there appear to be a great many people out there in the world thinking up new ways to make corn dogs.
Anyone who has a dog for whom they are the primary human in that dog’s life — the pack leader, the person that dog will most consistently follow even if two humans without food in their hands get up to leave a room at the same moment — can attest to the loyalty and love of a dog.
Considering how much dog research is now happening on myriad fronts in respected universities around the world, it’s worth noting how short a time ago it was that science largely scoffed at the notion of studying dogs. Dog behavior that we now consider a sign of their intelligence and emotional inner lives was considered by most scientists to be a matter of genetics and evolution; not learned behavior but behaviors based in thousands of years of evolution from wild animals to dogs.
But a few scientists had already started considering the possibilities surrounding the fact that dogs are the only animal (aside from cats) that co-evolved in close, domestic contact with humans. This forced them to start looking at our unique relationship, including experiments beginning with the simple fact that humans point at things to indicate interest or an action to be taken, something scientists dubbed “referential intention.”
Chimpanzees, our closest living relatives in the animal world, fail miserably at referential intention. If a chimpanzee knows you have food, yet you point at the place where you have put that food when the chimp was not looking, the chimp will simply stare at you bewildered.
Dogs ace these test because they — along with some domesticated cats — know what pointing means from living with us in close quarters for so long. This ability to understand referential intention is one of the reasons dog owners can endlessly amuse themselves by sitting on the couch with a ball in a hand they raise up as if they are going to throw it, but drop it behind the couch instead. The dog thinks your faked action of throwing the ball means the ball must be somewhere out there where you usually throw balls.
They don’t have to see the ball flying through the air. They saw your arm “throwing” and that is all that is needed to send them on a confused chase. But if you then point behind the couch, most dogs will get through referential intention that the ball is where you pointed.
The same characteristics that allows we humans to understand referential intention has evolved in domesticated dogs alongside us. An action that most dog owners see as the simplest thing imaginable is actually a remarkable by-product of co-evolution. Even six-week-old puppies with no special training can understand pointing.
Another domesticated dog trait is the ability to understand and react to the utterance and inflection of the command “No!”
If you have a steak on a table and a dog slowly creeps up and looks as if it will try to grab that steak, the command “No!” will cause most dogs to retreat — though generally not far.
If you do the same thing to a tail-wagging, face-licking non-domesticated wolf raised from a puppy, you can scream “No!” until you are out of breath and the wolf will simply grab the steak anyway while keeping a close eye on you while it is doing it. Wolves don’t really care if you are scolding them. That steak is theirs.
(Note that people who work with wolves do not try to grab the purloined steak from a wolf’s mouth as they might do with a cocker spaniel.)
But none of these situations answer questions that are engaging research efforts around the world. Did we domesticate dogs or, in a manner of speaking, did dogs domesticate us?
Put another way: did early humans discover that if you raised wild dogs from puppies they made good hunting animals and pets? Or did wild dogs slowly discover that if they hung around humans without attacking them, they could find warmth, food scraps and the like?
These questions have proven difficult to answer since all we have are archeological sites dating back tens of thousands of years which show clearly that dogs or dog-like creatures have been a part of our lives for a very long time. Some sites have had grave sites which contained the remains of a human and a dog with artifacts suggesting the burial was an honorable one for both human and beasts. There appear to have been dog lovers going back to very ancient times.
But how can we know with any accuracy when the dogs were domesticated?
As it turns out the ability to breed behavioral and genetic traits in and out of dogs so quickly can give us that answer — making a Pug as opposed to a Dachsund, or controlling genetically for friendliness or the ability to hunt.
Scientists have discovered if you breed wild canines (foxes, for example) and control successive generations only for friendliness and no physical characteristics whatsoever, an amazing thing happens. Foxes start to look like dogs. Floppy ears, shorter snouts; the range of physical characteristics which make dogs look like dogs.
Domesticated canines don’t need the pointy ears (for extra sensitive hearing) and long snouts (housing lots of long, sharp teeth; crushing jaw muscles and a top-level carnivore’s sense of smell). So these things start to dull in dogs whose every meal is handed to them. Knowing this happens will help researchers ascertain whether dog skulls found at burial sites were dogs that were domesticated or caniswhich were present for other reasons.
These kinds of anatomical changes are the first signs of domestication, Germonpré and others say.
Similar changes are found in the skulls of the silver foxes that are the focus of a famous, long-running experiment at Novosibirsk State University in Russia. Since 1959 researchers there have selected the foxes for tameness and bred them. Over the generations their coats have become spotted, their ears floppy, their tails curly, their snouts shorter and wider—even though the scientists have been selecting only for behavior. Similar changes are seen in other domesticated species, including rats and mink. Investigators have yet to explain why docile animals are consistently altered in these ways. They do know that the tame silver foxes have smaller adrenal glands and much lower levels of adrenaline than their wild counterparts.
Last year other scientists came up with a testable hypothesis: tame animals may have fewer or defective neural crest cells. These embryonic cells play a key role in the development of the teeth, jaws, ears and pigment-producing cells—as well as the nervous system, including the fight-or-flight response. If they are right, then all those cute domestic traits—spotted coats, curly tails, floppy ears—are a side effect of domestication.
Germonpré believes that the apparent domestication at Pˇredmostí was a dead-end event; she doubts that these animals are related to today’s dogs. Nevertheless, to Germonpré, “they are dogs—Paleolithic dogs.” She says these early dogs probably looked very much like today’s huskies, although they would have been larger, about the size of a German shepherd. Germonpré calls the Pˇredmostí specimens “dogs” because of what she interprets as some type of relationship between the canids and the Gravettians. For instance, a dog’s lower jaw was found near a child’s skeleton, according to the diary of the original excavator.
The dogs were also included in rituals in ways that other species were not. In one case, a Gravettian tucked what is most likely a piece of mammoth bone between the front teeth of one of the dog skulls after the animal died and arranged its jaws so that they clamped together on the bone. Germonpré suspects that an ancient mammoth hunter placed the bone there as part of a ritual related to hunting, or to help sustain in death an animal the hunter revered, or to enable the dog to assist a human in the afterlife. “You see this kind of thing in the ethnographic record,” she says, citing, as one example, a Chukchi ceremony in Siberia for a deceased woman in the early 20th century. A reindeer was sacrificed and its stomach placed in the mouth of a dead dog’s head, which was then positioned to protect the woman on her death journey.
Many researchers imagine that these early people set about making the wolf into the dog to help us hunt big game. In her book The Invaders, published by Harvard University Press earlier this year, anthropologist Pat Shipman argues that the first dogs (or wolf-dogs, as she calls them) were like a new and superior technology and helped the mammoth-hunting modern humans outcompete the Neandertals. But she, Wayne, Larson and others think that wolves joined forces with humans on their own; that the canny, adaptable canids identified us as a new ecological niche they could exploit. The alternative scenario—people brazenly raiding wolf dens to steal pups young enough for taming—would have been a dangerous undertaking. And raising wolves in camps with young children would have presented another serious risk.
“We didn’t do [domestication] deliberately—not at first,” Larson surmises. Instead wolves most likely started following people for the same reason that ants trail into our kitchens—“to take advantage of a nutritional resource, our trash.” Over time some of these camp-following wolves increasingly lost their fear of people—and vice versa—and a mutually beneficial relationship developed. Wolf-dogs would sniff out prey for us, and we would share the resulting meat with them. (Circumstantial evidence for this scenario comes from the silver fox experiment. By selecting foxes that were less fearful of humans, the researchers at Novosibirsk eventually developed a silver fox that runs to greet people. Most silver foxes in captivity hide in the back of their cage.)
Pretty amazing stuff if you are, as I am, an unabashed fan of all things dog.