Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Calming Nerves

Sometimes I wake up at night with feelings of anxiety, not enough time, so much planned, and when the day starts the clock ticks by so fast and I dither, and only so much gets done. I guess this is a time to learn to prioritize and say no...and yet, so many cherished family and inspiring friends I want to spend more time with, so many beautiful kimonos to wear, places to go, things to learn and see and do.

...and in the end, I just go for a long walkies with the dogs. These one and a half hour walks round the big park, drinking in the energy from the wild wooded hillside, stopping to taste the air, scents of spring and blossom, to watch the birds, the flowers, the colors...it's nothing much to speak of, and yet, it is everything. 

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Weather Vane

I'm wondering if Claire can smell the change in the weather coming. Just time to get out for morning walkies and round the big park in a satisfying walk before the rain set in, running home as the first drops made their presence felt...and then as the dogs relaxed on the sofa, Mum was off to play with summer yukatas and obis. I learned a neat trick to use a hairband with a bauble to hook round an obi and firm it up if you've wound it too loose and the ribbon droops - kewl! The hundred yen shop has various pretty designs to choose from.

Thursday, February 18, 2016


 This is Pat, a cuddly wubsy lab, who is as warm-hearted and sweet as her Mum, who I've been meeting and greeting out on walks over the years. She's helped me with my grief over Chiaro di Luna, spontaneously giving me a big warm hug and sharing the tears.
 I don't always carry the camera, but today I did, and I was hoping to get a threesome but Pat's mum was too shy...so she gets her own spot in the blog. Nobunaga enjoyed a wee romp chasing her, but he got a bit overexcited barking wildly with the chase and we had to step in and calm things down before Pat got scared. Watching carefully to be able to step in at any moment, so no pics of the romp. Just look at those adorable lab eyes, so happy with her big stick!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Annual check-up

Now Chiaro di Luna has passed, we can begin to use various dog runs again that only accept two dogs per owner. Registration for dog runs (and of course for overnight stays in pet hotels) requires owners to submit proof up-to-date annual rabies shots and vaccination. 
The city organizes group rabies shots rotating round the local parks, so my babies will be getting theirs as usual come early April, and since you need a month between shots, Nobunaga gets his vaccination round about now, and Claire a little later in the year. Including the cost of the check up, the February/July vaccination is roughly US $100 per dog, April rabies shots without the check-up are $35, so $70 for the two setters. This way I spread out the financial burden, with the annual cost of six-month heartworm prevention due in May (that's actually quite costly because the dogs are slightly larger and need more of the meds)...

Fortunately I shampoo the dogs myself with Luminosa shampoo, which is an all natural best only shampoo researched and developed by an Afghan hound rescuer friend, although Nobunaga gets his yearly professional summer grooming at Inuya in May too. I take along my Luminosa shampoo bottle and ask them to use it on him there too, and they are kind enough to oblige. Luminosa shampoo was very helpful with a friend's schnauzer who had skin issues, along with salmon oil drops in their food.
Personally I'm more into preventive measures, trying to include more vegies and vitamins to the daily kibble. I avoid using Frontline if possible, what with my aroma oil flea mix and doggie sprays before walkies, and good brushing and flea combing evenings as we snuggle and lounge around. Not quite got to a total raw food diet, but the babies did get a clean bill of health from the vet again this time round, perfect weight, perfect health, just age slowly making itself felt...I think I need to watch my own diet a bit too!

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

For the Love of a Setter

The dogs are munching on a late breakfast of Taste of the Wild kibble with grated raw carrot, diced raw yams, chopped cabbage leaves and beansprouts mixed with whole soy milk and a dash of Wild Alaskan salmon oil...I wonder how much a healthy diet is also a factor in an easy-going temperament in dogs? 
The book I promised yesterday is Patricia McConnell's "For the Love of a Dog", although it's a close call to "The Other End of the Leash" which I loved so much I gave away. The books make me laugh and cry while being written in excellent prose, and the love of dogs just radiates through every page in an outward, warm aura that brings light and blessings to the reader.
"You can learn a lot about a dog's motivation by watching him approach other dogs. Polite dogs greet one another by approaching from the side, as if following a curved line toward the other dog's flanks, rather than taking a straight, head-on approach...You can do the same thing when you meet a new dog - just turn slightly sideways, and approach as if walking forward along a curved line. You'll be amazed at how many dogs will be thrilled to meet you...I began wagging my body back and forth like some crazed two-legged Labrador, along with turning sideways, adopting an open-mouth play face, and crinkling my eyes in the universal sign of friendliness. As I approached her, she turned and cuddled against my leg, raised her head, and leaned into my hand as I stroked her neck. "Oh my," said her owner, "That's not what she usually does. She's here as a case study because she snaps at people when they try to pet her."
The book also mentions that a stiff, frozen posture with wide eyes and a closed mouth, corners drawn tight is a sign of tension and dislike, so that a nervous owner worried about their dog's behavior, standing frozen staring eyes-wide no smile face-on at new company is virtually encouraging their dog to attack, or at least protect their extremely nervous owner: in this way, an owner's response to other people and dogs may reinforce aggression and fear. Cool, huh?
"The usual approach of all people, when greeting human or dog, is basically the opposite of a polite approach in dog society. Dogs approach one another from the side, curving the line of approach and avoiding eye contact, while keeping their bodies loose and fluid. We do the opposite: we keep our bodies upright and relatively still, and make direct eye contact while reaching out with our paws before we've even so much as exchanged scents."
Photos by Lelantos

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Great dog book

Happy Valentine's Day. My gift to you are two books which both make me leap up and return to my doggies for grooming, stroking, brushing and nuzzling full of love and affection, rather than losing me in an intellectual scientific fog of human hubris. 

The first today (another tomorrow, or soon :P) is Second Nature, by Jonathan Balcombe (2010, Macmillan). He offers a plethora of studies exploring the wide-range cognition and emotions of animals, combining this portrait of our enhanced scientific understanding with a passionate plea for a more enlightened animal friendly, sustainable and vegetarian lifestyle. 

Re-reading this time around I particularly like the section on animal time perception (pp 21-24; 93):
"Popular folklore assigns seven dog years to every one of ours, but this seems likely to be more a product of dogs' shorter life span than their actual experience of time. Yet, the speed of some animal responses reveals a finer perception of time than we can achieve. Knifefish communicate with electrical discharges of p to a thousand pulses per second. A nightingale sings each note of his elaborate song in just one-tenth of a second...analysis of slow-motion filmed sequences shows that these creatures sensory systems are operating on a much finer time scale...Because we don't think or see like them, and because we are not intimately versed in another species' postures, vocalizations, smells, and personalities, we miss a lot of what's going on...Marc Bekoff only discovered the role of eye contact and stances in the play of dogs when he examined video frame by frame...
Curiously, for all the value we ascribe to our ability to speak, language could have a dulling effect on the rest of our perceptions. Humans have developed and refined a communication system that can convey extremely specific information. It's possible that as a result we have become less reliant on our other senses for gleaning information from our surroundings. If I can verbalize my anxiety, what need have you to cue in to my body language, smells, or other physical and psychological signs that might accompany these feelings?"
Claire meanwhile is a fount of wisdom for the initiated, much in the way of wizards, Gandalf the White, anyone? 

Friday, February 12, 2016

Coursera Dog Emotion and Cognition

Always exciting to keep on learning, and one of the keys to happiness. Initially I found the blandly repetitive and childishly excited tone of the lectures rather off-putting, and was irritated by book/dog personality testing advertising every lecture. Thanks to the discussion section comments showing that others had the same impression, and meeting a fellow Brit on the course, I maintained my motivation to actually get to the doggie parts from round about lectures 4 onwards, which was the true reason I joined. I whipped through to the end in an intense frenzy of study to free me up from the personae of Dr. Hare, who heroically and single-handedly barrels through the content with his unique labrador puppy style. I do like a lot of what he was trying to say though, and deflected the energy with multi-tasking on discussion boards as I watched videos (mental note to be more lenient of students who are "not listening" in f2fclasses in future)...Having passed, in retrospect I particularly liked the course ideas of cognition and intelligence as a spectrum of skills.

 Interestingly most doggie research shown on the course has the funding because it's about researching human evolution from apes through the medium of evolution of dogs from wolves, not for an interest in the animals themselves. Talk about human narcissism. 

Doing outside research on some of the ideas from the course was most stimulating, and I found an interesting selection of talks at 

CARTA: Domestication: Transformation of Wolf to Dog; Fox Domestication; Craniofacial Feminization.  One course discussion thread led me to a great TED talk on Bonobo culture by Susan Savage-Rumbau. I appreciate the way she talks about embracing another culture, rather than seeing bonobos as some kind of mirror tool to reflect on our evolutionary history. I notice she enthusiastically kisses her bonobo friend after playing music together...

That's why I like Patricia McConnell's books so much, because she helps you understand dog culture and cognition from the dog perspective. 
I respect my dogs as intelligent mindful animals who help create a unique family culture with me in my home, neither doggie nor ape, but just us family together :) I believe this leads us to grow individually, and also to grow together, so that you assimilate traits, learning so much from your dogs (and who would not wish to learn from such beauty, the gifted English setter, thinks a fond mama). In the same way I am some unique blend of Japanese and Brit by now, neither fox nor hare. A Brap, perhaps?

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Nuclear Arms Race

Today is a national holiday, and the retired naval officer across the street is flying his Japanese flag. Fortunately we don't take it too seriously, and I'm not the only other local hanging out my washing in the sun to flutter gaily alongside the flag. Conversation in our home touches briefly on the recently renewed threat of nuclear loaded missiles from North Korea, and how Japan should or could react to protect us from this rogue state on our doorstep. After some kind of preemptive strike, the wind would bring all the radiation across the sea to us anyway...and mind you, we're creating enough of our own with the Fukushima meltdown and the continued governmental insistence on peddling nuclear power. The rationale behind the aggressive posturing is so complex, or perhaps so crazily simple, none of the countries and diplomats including the UN really have any idea how to respond effectively to North Korean continued development of bombs. 
We love to forget that our own governments are all happily upgrading bombs and the like, and our economies make a fortune from trading toys of war. I too am witless. I see parallels in the latest Dragonball Z movies, glorifying hero combat to save the planet, which in the process of course destroys the planet... the combat moves to lonely scenes of nature, virgin forests, rocky deserts and lonely sea cliffs deemed worthy of obliteration, and finally magic higher powers are used to move back time, restore those human settlements obliterated, all is well and safety is preserved for another day. How helpful are the targeted bombs in Syria? The basis for all life is being systematically obliterated by war, disrupted, poisoned, destroyed, water, soil, wildlife, it's not just about humans; and of course there is no magic to wave it all away and restore the balanced beauty of before. For all our pride in our so special and highly developed brains, in our race to destroy, we are the most blind and ignorant species on the planet. 
The dogs sit close by and gently, sweetly, calmly remind us what it is that we should cherish and hold dear for peace: the blue of the sky, the scent of the blossoms, the warmth of their presence, which, however alien to our own, we welcome with love and acceptance to grace our shared lives.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Trailing Plum Blossom

Tis the season of blossoms, and on the way home from our two hour walk in the park I was fortunate to pop in the local temple for some pictures. Kongoin Temple own two Korean white dogs who bark loudly at us intruders, but we were all so happy to be posing for a snapshot under the exquisite pink plum, we didn't mind.
The sun is warm and my brain is a fuzzy warm glow. So many faithful friends have been crossing the rainbow bridge lately, I feel every moment with my wee setters is precious...rather than gallivanting off far afield, a morning brushing the babies, noting Claire's warm presence as I go about my chores, and just walking locally is enough of a blessing.
 Fortunately I'm carrying little fish treats to make posing for pictures easy...so hard to edit and leave out some pictures, I'm in love with them all, each wispy hair of setter fur blowing in the breeze a delight.
On another note, so many people post and share things that they find interesting or inspirational, without adding any extra content or even explaining why it touched them so much...I think expressing new ways you see beauty and meaning in life is singing praise to the Goddess and giving thanks. The word Lord nowadays is quite inaccessible in our democratic way of thinking, we don't have patterns of serfdom and fiefdom, so thanking the Lord may not have such deep repercussions in our psyche as it may have had in past eras. So who to thank now? Sing to her, make music, talk of all her wondrous works!