1000 pictures

October 4, 2012 § Leave a comment

I’m fascinated by dogs and by their behaviour and body language. I often wonder what the relationship with my dog would be like if we could ‘talk’ a little more directly to each other. I want to be more able to ‘understand’ dogs, and I want to learn how to ‘read’ the signals given by dogs.

Barbara Handelman’s Canine Behaviour: A Photo Illustrated Handbook (2008) is a pictorial guide to canine behaviour. It gives a detailed look at dog behaviours and signals. These behaviours are illustrated by many photographs, but also by texts compiled from scientific work, letters to the author by various dog behaviour experts, as well as by quotes from poetry and other literary writings about dogs. The last section provides the opportunity to try and read photos of behaviours yourself first, and then provides an answer key.

These various forms of explaining and illustrating behaviours make the book a useful resource. I did not find it an easy to use resource, though. Although the key to using the book says that related behaviours are grouped in categories with section headings, the headings to me don’t make any sense other than its alphabetical order. A lot of typos in the text I also found a bit annoying. But these are questions of use rather than of content, and the book is full of useful information, such as in the section 11 ‘Learning Theory Terminology and Methodology’, which is a good primer (or reminder) of learning theory for dog training.

The many, many photographs (1000 of them), by various photographers, are exquisite, particularly the wolf photography by Monty Sloan. They themselves make the book worth having as a resource on your bookshelf. And the pure joy with which the book’s author revels in the love of dogs, celebrating their beauty with the many photos and quotes from literary texts that intersperse the behaviour terminology sections.

Here is a photo of my two dogs. They so often looked like they were ganging up on me, and their interactions always made me wonder what was going on.

It sure looks to me like my cheeky puppy Tuhi (on the left) is trying to talk my good dog Fin (on the right) into mischief.

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The light in a dog’s eye

September 26, 2012 § 3 Comments

I’ve just finished reading Suzanne Clothier’s 2002 book Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs. I’ve heard it mentioned so many times, and seen referenced in many other books and on websites, and after months and months on my to-read list, I have finally read it.

I’m not sure where to begin and how to write a review of this book. I loved it. It is a beautifully written and deeply engaged book about our life with dogs. It is beautiful, honest, funny, sad at times, informative, and always courageous. Writing about the spiritual aspect of our relationship with dogs is a challenge, given how difficult these things are to put into words that do justice to the experience rather than fall into new age talk. Suzanne Clothier makes you think about how we treat and connect with animals on every page.

And this is what the book is about: our relationship with our dogs, the experiences that develop out of this connection. Clothier writes that this is actually what we want from dog training and from wanting to know about dog training. We want to know about this connection between ourselves and our dogs — something which is about more than knowing how to teach them tricks and how to stop them from destroying our garden or couch. Bones Would Rain from the Sky is a wonderful essay on the need to learn to understand dog behaviour — and the beauty of this learning process, together with our dogs as our teachers. Clothier calls us into educating ourselves continually in the technicalities and mechanics of behaviour and training, but then to not get lost in them and continue to be able to see the art of animal training.

The book is not a training manual as such, but every page brims with training tips and with explanations and exemplifications of dog behaviour. One of my favourites is when she describes her gold standard against which all training techniques and philosophies are tested:

[…] I need look no further than a dog’s eyes to find the precise moment when my connection to that dog shifted away from clear and free agreement between us. Did my approach to the dog create resistance, fear, distrust or pain, dimming the clear trusting light in his eyes? Then I had to find a better way. At first unconsciously , and then with deliberation, I began to evaluate all methods, philosophies and techniques against just this simple standard: the light in a dog’s eyes. Over and over I asked myself, “Does this allow the light to shine?”

And once you’ve seen that glitter of joy in a dog’s eye, you never fail to notice, painfully, when it is not there, or when it suddenly disappears. In the dog’s eyes also lives what Clothier calls the “responsibility of togetherness”. She reminds us of the need to keep the covenant we enter when we take a dog into our lives — and this reminder of our responsibility is still necessary today, ten years after the first publication of Bones Would Rain from the Sky. Just think of the huge numbers of abandoned or abused dogs in shelters. The relationship between dogs and humans is as old as human history. A good reason to think hard about how we treat dogs and to respect our responsibility when we touch an individual dog’s life, but also, more generally, when we continue to integrate dogs into human society — as working or assistance dogs, as pets, as entertainment, or even as a source of food.

Bones Would Rain from the Sky is probably the first book that as soon as I finished reading it, I immediately wanted to read again — in case I had missed something, not “learned” everything in it and absorbed it so that it would now be part of how I treat dogs and of my being with dogs.

Friends at Makara Beach, Wellington, New Zealand.

Thunder and lightning and other scary things

September 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

The recent Wellington thunder and hailstorms have brought it up again. That old question of what to do when your dog is scared in a thunderstorm, or by fireworks, in earthquakes, etc.

As with anything dog and dog training, there are many different approaches around. Unfortunately, many of them are based on old-fashioned myths, such as totally ignoring the animal so as to not show any weakness as the “pack leader”. Another common one is to not provide comfort in order to not reinforce the fear.

In “Calming the fearful animal”, a video clip from one of Suzanne Clothier’s Relationship Centered Training seminars, she gives a reality check on the myth that we shouldn’t comfort a scared dog because if we do we only reinforce the fear.

Yes, don’t make the fear worse by panicking or overreacting, but don’t leave them out in the cold on their own either. Don’t be scared yourself (or if you are, try to not show it to your dog). Stay calm. Provide “meaningful comfort”, as Suzanne Clothier puts it.

And, most important of all, learn to listen when a dog tells you she’s afraid, so that you can work out how to manage it (i.e. don’t put the dog in that situation), or how to build her skills to deal with the situation in the long run. Because learning how to create a safe environment for our dogs is where the real answer to the question of what to do when our dog is scared lies.

If you need ideas on how to help your dog conquer their fear, Patricia McConnell’s booklet The Cautious Canineis a great starting point. Or have a look at the articles on Thunder Phobia and Sound Sensitivities collected on her website. Quickly accessible, practical, and helpful.

Here is me with my then almost ten-year-old kelpie. Always a quite shy dog, as her cancer progressed she felt stressed or scared more easily in more and more situations. Here she came to me after the neighbour’s dog at my friend’s place started barking and set off the other two dogs in the garden. Leaning and pressing into their human’s body is one of several possible avoidance behaviours for dogs. They use various body postures and signals to avoid activity or environmental factors that make them feel stressed or fearful. Then, I think, she was also not sure about the camera staring at her. But being able to lean into me, and me just putting a hand on her, always helped Fin to recover quickly from whatever scared her. If I had walked away from her and ignored her she would have likely crawled into a corner and taken much longer to recover.

Of dogs and humans

August 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

One of the dog training books has just seen its tenth anniversary. Here is why Patricia McConnell’s The Other End of the Leash: Why We Do What We Do Around Dogs (2002) is still worth reading. Simply, in one sentence, because there still is so much misinformation out there about dog training and dog behaviour that contributes to the problems and miscommunications between humans and dogs and this still is one of the most readable, comprehensive, and scientifically informed books about dogs, their behaviour, and their learning.

The purpose of The Other End of the Leashis to increase our understanding of human and dog behaviour and to improve the relationships between people and their dogs. In New Zealand alone, the dog population is more than 700,000; and we are quite a little country. Dogs worldwide are an extremely successful species, so this is important.

I’ve just read the book for the second time, and here are some of the points in the book that I like most. Actually I like the whole book the most, but anyway, here are some points.

  • McConnell takes the viewpoint of an ethologist — observing, understanding, and respecting the innate signals in animals’ behaviour — and invites us to practice reading our dogs and honing our observational skills. While we are at it, she suggests, why not focus our attention on ourselves as part of becoming conscious of the differences between the behaviour of two species at work: canids and primates. The “contrast and compare” descriptions between humans and dogs are real eye-openers, at times real funny, but often times also real tragic.
  • The power of learning to manage the space around our dogs in order to guide or control their behaviour.
  • The concept of pressure: about how to use space and develop a sense of how close you need to get to another animal to begin to influence its behaviour. We often are way too much in the face of our dogs when training them and it is amazing just how much many dogs manage to put up with. But some can’t, and it would be good for us to become more like a good herding dog and know when to take the pressure off.
  • The power of paying attention and becoming consistent with the words we use to communicate with our dogs and with our visual signals to them.
  • The many passionate anecdotes that are absolute fantastic exemplifications of what McConnell describes. They make the book both a training manual and theoretical book about dog behaviour.
  • The encouragement to find a coach for your dog training and dog handling. It’s a sport and like any sport not all of it is intuitive, so why not get a “personal trainer”.
  • And, finally, if a bit unrelated, I love the cover photo, and am intrigued by it. A human in shoes and coat. And you can only see the shoes and the coat and a bit of the hand holding the leash. At the other end of the leash a black-and-white dog, mid-air, cheeky look straight into the camera. How? The only info about the photograph is that it is by Elliot Erwitt/Magnum Photos. I want to know more about the dog in the air. It just makes me go “God, how much I love dogs”.

I love how books always take you to other books. I must go and check out Elliott Erwitt’s several photographic books about dogs. There is To the Dogs(1992), Dog Dogs (1998), or Woof: I Love Dogs(2002). The tag line on Erwitt’s homepage (elliotterwitt.com) is “for life-like snaps”, and it looks like he really is fascinated with the lives of dogs.

Oh, and by the way, this book is also a great read if you are not that much into dogs, but are generally interested in animal behaviour and human-animal interrelations. There is, for example, also a lot about primate behaviour and research.

Just read and enjoy :)

At Home Beach, North Stradbroke Island. A doggie paradise off-leash beach. Though this one had to wait while her owners were playing at the beach.

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More things:
Elliott Erwitt — official website
New Zealand Survey Reveals a Nation of Pet Owners and Animal Lovers

Lord of the Rings and little blue penguins

August 23, 2012 § 2 Comments

The geological formations are imposing, the surf is pounding, and the skies are vast. Where the Aorangi Range drops into the Pacific Ocean, you can see why one of New Zealand’s outdoor businesses called itself Earth, Sea & Sky. Not in many countries is almost all of the land that strongly influenced by all three elements. New Zealand, tiny as it is, has one of the world’s longest coastlines at about 14,000 km. Last week, I had the opportunity to see another bit of coast and join a one-day excursion to the South Wairarapa coast, hosted by the Aorangi Restoration Trust.

Following is a photo essay of the day.

The Aorangi Restoration Trust’s vision is to restore the natural heritage values of the Aorangi Forest Park and its private surrounding land. The park still has pockets of important biodiversity and outstanding geographical features. To work against degradation and eventually reintroduce locally extinct species is a grand vision, and when you see how big the park area is you realise just how grand a vision. Kiwi, weka, whio (blue duck) all used to live in the area, and it would be great to be able to restore their habitats and bring them back. “A two to three hundred year plan”, Clive Paton, the Trust’s chairman, says with a smile. A worthwhile plan nonetheless, and the Trust works together with the Department of Conservation, Wellington Regional Council, Forest & Bird, the local Lions Club and local landowners, fishermen and hunters to, initially, manage the predator control (in its Key Native Ecosystem program).

The Trust and affiliated groups and individuals already manage small restoration projects in the park. One of the first plans is the Coastal Buffer Zone Plan, and in association with it Project Penguin, a plan to help bring back in higher numbers the little blue penguins that used to nest along this coast.

And that’s why I’m there, together with two more members of the team that has been involved with blue penguin research on Matiu/Somes Island in the Wellington Harbour. Since we’ve been doing fieldwork and ongoing monitoring of the blue penguins on Matiu/Somes for years, the Aorangi Trust people and our group have started mutual visits and exchange of experiences and knowledge.

So, bright eyed and bushy tailed, at 7 am we (Ros, Vince and myself) were headed from Wellington to Palliser Bay, via Featherston, to meet up with the people involved with the Trust and to explore the coastline for signs of penguins and put out penguin boxes and predator traps together.

The car was full of the usual gossip and chatter about penguins, predator control, and geology, and I was leafing through a book on the geological features of the Wairarapa coast that Vince had brought along.

Heading to the coastline of the Aorangi Range.
Photo from Reading the Rocks: A Guide to Geological Features of the Wairarapa Coast , by Lloyd Homer and Phil Moore (1989).

We arrived a little early, and decided to have a look around the Putangirua Pinnacles camp site (well, to use the toilet, really). The “badlands erosion” of the Pinnacles has created an amazing landscape, which attracts many visitors to the Wairarapa. The Pinnacles have become even more of a tourist attraction since they were the location for the Dimholt Road, where Aragorn, Legolas and Gimli ride along in The Return of the King to meet the Army of the Dead. Definitely worthwhile to come back and explore the walks around the Pinnacles.

The iconic colours of the Department of Conservation (DOC) signs blend into the landscape, which here, as in many places, is characterised by the invasive gorse. Putangirua Pinnacles camp site.

But after that short touristy stint in the cold air, it’s off to do some work:

After a cheerful introduction round, it’s time to read the map. The Aorangi Project Penguin people show the Matiu/Somes penguin people the scope of the plans to restore the Aorangi Forest Park and its coast line.

Every conservation project in New Zealand needs to begin with the control of introduced predators, such as stoats, ferrets, rats, or feral cats. So, first stop is at the trap line, and a Wellington Regional Council representative shows us how to set the traps.

Next stop is the Te Humenga Dunes, protected by a conservation covenant only since 2009. These dunes are among the most important dunes on the North Island for their biological values. The Te Humenga dunes are among the most intact remaining dune ecosystems. We are to put in some penguin nesting boxes and some more predator traps.

Morning tea and our truck load of penguin boxes at Te Humenga.

GPSing the sites. Te Humanga Dunes.

As we are heading towards the fishing village of Ngawi, we pass a memorial to the victims of a shipwreck. Such shipwreck memorials, as this one to the victims of the Zuleika, dot the New Zealand coastline. New Zealand’s long rocky coastline has seen more than 2000 wrecks since the 1790s.

Later we were looking for signs of penguin activity at Cape Palliser and putting in two experimental penguin boxes. And then a very Kiwi thing happened … a surfer came jogging around the corner, out of nowhere, with his surfboard.

Looking back at Whatarangi Bluff in the long shadows of the late afternoon light, just before finishing the day off & haeding to Lake Ferry for a drink at the hotel. There have been many problems with this stretch of road and coastline because of coastal erosion. Apparently several houses in the fishing village of Ngawi have slipped into the sea over the years. As a local described the wild and exposed Palliser coast: “Yep, she’s a moving coastline”.

Heading back home to Wellington & looking back onto an interesting and wonderful day. The long, straight Wairarapa roads. You go straight, until you go left or right.

We had a day rich with new experiences of New Zealand conservation work. About a dozen or so of us spent the day together exchanging stories and much more, while doing hands-on work out in the country. What will stay most with me is the powerful landscape, the infectious enthusiasm and motivation of the people, and the generosity — both in sharing knowledge and food and drink.

What has also impressed me again is just how important, large and lively the role of community-driven conservation projects is in New Zealand. So many people are willing to work on restoration and conservation at their own cost — investing with time and money.

This model of a strong integration of community-run projects might be a good model to think about one of the main problems conservation work and the environmental movement faces in so many parts of the world: the clash between government-enforced environmental laws and the needs of local communities. A strong and wide network of government, non-governmental and local groups as well as individuals in addressing environmental problems might help increase conservation successes and prevent crisis situations such as what is currently happening with India’s tiger reserves.

India’s supreme court has recently issued a ban on tourism in all core tiger habitats, in disregard of the local communities and livelihoods that have been sustained around the tourism within these parks for decades. This case is a good example of just how enmeshed human and natural communities are. The tourist guides not only guided tourists but also have been crucial in volunteer conservation work within the parks. Because of such many complex interaction, the order to keep tourists away from tiger habitats, many conservationists fear, will actually endanger the tigers more.

Disregarding human communities and their needs never has been a way forward in conservation. A model as at work in New Zealand of close cooperation between government and community-run projects can support communities and activate volunteers, rather than destroy communities. Our global environment is so degraded that every single bit of volunteer work, and every single powerful bit of local knowledge, is needed. There is no pure state of nature on this planet. Our ecosystems are complex networks within various habitats of human-animal interactions — each with their own but also deeply connected lifeworlds and both in need of the reverence for life.
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With thanks to the Aorangi Restoration Trust
© Angi Buettner 2012

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More things:
Albert Schweitzer’s philosophy of reverence for life 
Aorangi Restoration driven by community — Department of Conservation media release
Key Native Ecosystem Program
Putangirua Pinnacles — Aorangi Forest Park
Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand — Shipwrecks
The Guardian — Tiger population of India facing ‘total disaster’ due to tourism ban

Weekly photo challenge: growth

August 8, 2012 § 1 Comment

Baby green tree frog. This little fella surprised me when I was about to cycle off. He’s got a fair bit of growing to do to reach his adult 4 inches. And hopefully he’ll make it close to the 16 years that Australian Green Tree Frogs can live.
Pomona, Qld, Australia.

This week’s photo challenge of The Daily Post at WordPress.com is growth.

Photo series: out walking the dog

July 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

I thought I’d share some of my photos of dogs here. I love photography and taking photos. Well, at least the idea of it; I’m not technical enough to really, really be good at taking photos (yet, hopefully). But I still enjoy taking them.

Anyway, to go back to photos of dogs. If you, like me, just can’t look enough at cute, or funny, or just plain beautiful, dog photos, one of my favourite places to look is Marika S. Bell’s photostream. She takes wonderful dog and cat portraits. There are even some cute photos of Tuhi, here and here and here. But my favourite one of Tuhi is this one. Tuhi must have been about a year old then.

But to get back to my doggie photos. I’ll group them into series. So, the first one is ‘dogs on the road’, doggies I’ve seen and met while on the road.

Puppy on North Stradbroke Island, Australia.

You know when you play and cuddle with a puppy and how their whole body just feels so … puppy, cuddly, can’t keep your hands of it? This gorgeous spaniel something x was just so puppy. I ran into her with her owners almost every day at the beach during my one week holiday on Straddie. Free puppy cuddling for a week. And you should have seen the fun she had running and rolling down sand dunes with kids (and adult kids).

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