Friday, May 12, 2017

What big teeth!

I remember my first kiss so vividly, truly a moment that will never fade in my memory. Not because of the passion nor conversely the innocent sweetness of it, but the gentle, loving and mind-blowing exploration of new, what I could only understand as tactile sensations via my tongue, as oppose to my habitual fingers. It felt like I kept returning again and again to explore the slippery smooth surfaces, the osculation, the softness, until my brain registered, aha, this must be teeth, and this, lips, okay, so, gums, tongue...and I could finally give in to the emotional meaning of the embrace with another. Deep space without stepping off the planet!
...And so to dogs` mouths, which is what this post is about, technically speaking, bite inhibition acquisition: because it seems clear to me that for dogs, kissing is their mode of being, their primary means of haptic communication, in effect the way they touch. We humans unlearn this mode of experience after babyhood, because we are so focused on experiencing and grasping with our hands. 

...So when we adopted Nobunaga, and this big setter was always jumping up on me bitey bite as I shrieked, to the great comic enjoyment of my male family members, and while I personally had a problem with him biting my breasts and nipping my love handles, bruising my forearms and scraping my hips with his strong embrace, I nevertheless realized that for him this was his true mode of being and his primal expression of loving contact. In other words, I felt very uncomfortable, even hurt, but never felt intentionally threatened. To have him stop biting was unthinkable, because it was so integral to his being. He needed to learn how to do it gently and well.
First I tried to get him to actually stop, by turning my back on him and crouching down, hunched in a little ball. This didn't work, he would just climb on top of me even more. I realized I had to let him bite something else instead, so I made a habit of carrying an old shoe and shoving it in his jaws when he came at me, saying Omocha, omocha (toys, toys). I made a tugsy toy out of old jeans cutoffs, and invited him to play. I asked friends for giant discarded stuffed animals which he can bite and tug as hard as he likes. He particularly loves my winter coats because he can bite harder without it hurting me! (Good thing he came in winter, and he was bite sensitive by summer!) 

We bought all kinds of chewies, horse tendons, turkey tendons, pig trotters, deer horn, and I would sit with him and hold it while he chewed away until he got the hang of using his paws, so he could tell the feel of skin and fingers round his mouth.
I would stick my hand in his mouth covered in coconut oil and the like to let him lick it off and play with my fingers (this works well with Sherlock too, who seems to have had treats thrown at him rather than given). 

Just this morning, after meeting a six-month old Akita puppy on a very short leash, who of course invited Nobunaga to play (not sure his owner understood that at all, and the leash was like held so tight, so short)...Nobunaga finally got all fired up and started barking and play-bowing, and when the poor puppy couldn't respond, he turned to me instead, jousting and jostling, and jumping up to bite my breast with just the right amount of pressure so it doesn't really hurt, whereupon i grab my toy from my waistpouch, omocha, omocha, and I can let him bitey bite and I play with him at will until he's feeling loved and appreciated and the world is good. The Akita owner wandered off and fed his dog some treats, they probably thought I was being mauled by a very untrained dog, but on the contrary, this is a dance of delight we have perfected over time...he lets me stroke and hug when I get blue, I let him gently bitey bite when he's fired up, that's who we are.
Special thanks to Companion Animal Psychology who brought the topic to my notice and make my day thinking about the issues and how they relate to me and my setters.
Photos by Lelantos

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Off the beaten track

I love wandering off the path and exploring the verdure, not too far, but just to get that feeling of being totally absorbed into the elements and away from mankind, if only for a brief too, says Claire.
Photos by Lelantos

Monday, May 8, 2017

Celebrating Milestones

Pictures are Nobu having a good old roll in Nasu Pension Olive woody dogrun. Always a glorious event to behold and chuckle at...but the milestone I am celebrating today is Sherlock's silence! As Claire gets older, she needs a wee rest inbetweentimes on our longer walkies, and has a tendency to stumble as she gets tired. Meanwhile Sherlock has so little patience, he barks and barks for us to hurry on, and his strident tones in your ear are enough to kick even Buddha himself out of meditation mode. 
But today, oh happy day, oh glorious day, Sherlock pottered around eating grass and never let out a peep...what bliss, to sit under the fresh cherry leaves on a carpet of grass and dandelions, enjoying the breeze and the beauty of my three setters in perfect idyllic silence. Finally one of the ultimate joys of being a setter mama is restored, lazing in nature just beaming at the green. I only hope he keeps it up.
Photos by Lelantos

Thursday, April 20, 2017

One Year Rescue Anniversary

A rather blurry picture of the dogs running free in Pension Olive during a wee spring holiday up north, but the happiness shows in their body language. Today is one year since Sherlock was rescued from death in the pound, and he is such a different setter...
...alert, active, confident, proud, friendly and strong...
...keenly aware of all that is going on around, and yet blissfully focused on what interests him at the time...
...happy setter luxurious tail, proud muscular chest, a swinging gait...
...happy freedom jive...we love you Sherlock Holmes! And a big thank you to Gundog Rescue CACI for saving this wee bundle of joy.
Photos by Lelantos

Monday, March 20, 2017

Blue Skies

The dogs are on a roll thanks to the three day holiday. They're getting an early morning walkies followed by home-cooked breakfast, and then another longer walkies around the neighborhood. Extra treats from friends galore! It's even getting so warm in the sunshine Nobunaga gets all hot (being blue roan, or rather the Japanese sumoh-type setter reminiscent of calligraphy) and lies down to rest, meaning he needs coaxing and coaxing to get back up again...good thing I carry treats. Here we all are stopping off to chat with a rescued poodle friend who was kind enough to take the snapshot.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Safflower and Setters

Meet Lara, 8-month old pedigree orange belton female setter puppy, belonging to no other than master kimono craftsman and director of Nitta Textile Arts Inc., Hideyuki Nitta. I haven't met Lara, but I was overjoyed to meet Mr. Nitta at kimono store Jizaiya in Motomachi: his safflower dyed raw silk tsumugi kimonos from Yonezawa in Yamagata prefecture are my all time favorite kimonos. Finding out that he was an active hunter and proud dad of two English setters just made my day!
 Lara's just about to begin her hunting training, and Mr. Nitta was showing me his training menu; we were talking about bird launchers and long leashes...his two babes live in cages outside their home, and go walkies on leash or run free along the river banks nearby. 
 In honor of meeting him at Jizaiya, I'm wearing a cream and gold safflower dyed Nitta tsumugi that he made, together with a Norito Sakae Yuzen hunting obi. The obi depicts a hawk though, not English setters...I'm thinking of commissioning a setter hunting obi, but the artwork will take some time and it's all still a pipe-dream so far.
 You can tell you've got an original Nitta tsumugi by the safflower trademark stamp on a washi paper label, so that when you pass on your kimonos to your daughters, they know it's the real deal. 
 Here's a close-up of the fabric, amazing how safflower dyes blue, yellow and pink depending on how it's used! Nitta Textile Arts also use chestnut and Japan blue among other natural dyes for some of the most mouth-watering and awe-inspiring kimono fabrics you may ever lay eyes on.
 Fortunately my daughters appreciate kimonos too, so I know my wardrobe will have a good home when I'm gone. My local kimono store, Gumyoji Kurumaya, did the coordinates and helped us get all dressed up in the safflower kimonos for a fantastic mother-daughter afternoon on the town. They're great that way, not only selling you the kimono, but making sure you have a totally positive experience right through wearing it. They're also setter-friendly and I can take my well-behaved three pups inside the store when I go shopping there, although I do make sure I wipe their feet before we all go in. 
 And here, finally, is Mr. Nitta's other pup, a 14 year old pedigree blue Belton female named Judy. Looking good, Judy, a beauty like Claire! So pleased to meet your Dad to be able to thank him for the beautiful creations that grace my life.
Many thanks to Sakurako for the photos of me and Mr. Nitta together in Jizaiya Kimono store in Motomachi, Yokohama.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Canine Rabies Vaccines

It's that time of the year again...pre-cherry blossom? Well, that too, but the envelopes with the forms for mandatory annual rabies vaccination came in the post from city hall. Every year I pop over to my local park on a specified day to have the jags done courtesy of neighborhood vets, short and sweet procedure, costs roughly 100 US dollars total for my three pups. I get three numbered rabies tags to attach to the dogs' collars for proof of vaccination.
Without these legally required shots they cannot use dog runs or doggie hotels, and of course we wouldn't have a leg to stand on in case of any trouble, say if they slipped the leash and happened to scare someone in the park.  
According to the World Small Animal Veterinary Association January 2016 Guidelines  in their Canine Vaccination Guidelines (pp7~11), rabies vaccinations are now good for three years, and vets should be working to update laws on vaccination to meet this new understanding. The authors of the paper are vets from the UK, the Netherlands, USA and Australia. 
Particular mention should be made of canine rabies vaccines. The VGG recommends that in any country in which canine rabies is endemic, vaccination of dogs should be strongly recommended to clients by veterinarians, even if not required by law. Revaccination intervals for canine rabies are often mandated by law. Internationally available killed rabies vaccines were initially produced with a licensed 1-year DOI and so statutes required annual revaccination. These same products now carry a 3-year DOI in many countries, where laws have been modified to incorporate this change. However, in some countries the legal requirement is at odds with the vaccine license and in others neither the vaccine license, nor the law, has been changed. Finally, some countries also have locally-manufactured rabies vaccines with a 1-year DOI that most likely cannot safely be extended to 3 years. Veterinarians should be mindful of the law, but where they have access to a product that confers a minimum of 3-years immunity, national associations might lobby to have the laws changed to match the current scientific evidence.
I found an impassioned video of a US vet pleading for better legislation in the US, shared by Dr. Karen Becker. So what's happening in Japan? I called my vet, Dr. Koyama to find out. I understood that while there was indeed knowledge of global three year vaccination trends here, for various reasons including bureaucratic and strong cultural protocols of societal safety awareness (...which you'd wish they'd apply to nuclear energy, but that's another story...), Japan still only offers one year vaccines. Doses are the same for all size dogs, this goes for all types of vaccination, not just rabies. Titering awareness and practices are also simply not widespread or readily available. Dr. Koyama is careful to write exemptions for pets whose health make the choice of vaccinating dangerous: I delivered these exemptions in lieu of vaccination to city hall in dear departed Chiaro di Luna's case. 
Looks like not much will change in the land of the Rising Sun for the time being...see you all, canine friends big and small, in the park in April!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017


I met a greyhound friend in the park on our evening walkies, who complimented Sherlock on how much he's calmed down since we last met. I haven't been so aware of it myself because his penetrating barking is so debilitating even in what are apparently smaller doses than before...

Like this evening when I had to dash to the loo just before supper, when the food bowls were filled with their mix of lamb & brown rice/ salmon kibble with veggie soup (cabbage, broccoli, carrots, pumpkin, daikon radish/ kelp). As I dashed off...Sherlock's escalating vocal hysteria was quite stupendous.

 I think even after nearly a year of a very loving, routine-filled, calm environment he has a lack of plasticity, difficulty learning, gets overtaken regularly by some deep-programmed anxiety in his system, which is so hard to heal. He bangs and bashes his body in doors and furniture as he jumps and twists wildly with overly high tension. Incredible really, when you look at these photos, like a different dog...
I've been reading an article about similar difficulties adapting while rehoming rescued greyhounds .
Behaviour problems seen in greyhounds are generally based around fear and anxiety.
These include
  • -          Freezing on walks
  • -          Separation related problems
  • -          Sleep startle
  • -          Resource guarding
  • -          Excessive fear
  • -          Difficulty in toilet training
  • -          Growling and lunging at people within the home
  • -          Inter-dog aggression (familiar and unfamiliar dogs)

Another problem behaviour is predatory behaviour, which is exacerbated by the illegal practice of live-baiting.
 I think this really applies to rehoming setters too, often kept locked in kennels separate from family and other stimuli. Sherlock was the picture of excessive fear when he came, and still has moments of cringeing in unwarranted fear at sudden movements of the hand or body. He has definitely had great difficulty in toilet training, although now he's pretty much perfect, I'm happy to say. Still has some sleep startle and barking in the night, even though it's improving now that we all sleep in the living room in a big heap and put on the light when whoever goes for a peewees. But it's important to notice how things are indeed looking up over time.

I think over time we've worked toward low key with regular routines, fewer outings, shorter owner absences, safe family presence in fewer rooms in the house, naturally gravitating to the kitchen and sitting room as the centre of existence. Kind of matches the recommendations in the article
The advice behaviour vets are giving dogs with fear and anxiety is now make the dogs world smaller, not bigger. Reduce exposure to those triggers. For some dogs, being kept in a protected and predictable environment is the best thing for their welfare.
 Nightey-nite, says Claire. It's safe for us to enjoy life now!
Photos by Lelantos. Thanks to Companion Animal Psychology for sharing another great article.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Retired Hunter

However white and fluffy Lady Claire may be in her retirement, throned in her armchair and benignly watching the world go by, she is at heart a hunter. I know city life has less to offer in the way of a thrill, no freedom from the leash, the dull repetition of limited pathways, the tame pigeons in the park a mere shadow of a wily mountain pheasant or grouse...she is however content, as stamina, eyesight and focus lessen. I do my best to vary the paths we walk, and let her take the lead as she would in the wild. Meeting doggie friends and getting treats from acquaintances give the day some sparkle.
I don't see the need to take her (or me!) to the dangers of actual hunting, or the stress of performing in field trials, although Japan has those options available for younger dogs and more ambitious owners. We are happy with dog runs and walks, and the occasional jaunt to the north for a family holiday. English setters are indeed the perfect family dog. But from Claire I have learned to appreciate the beauty and talent of a hunting breed. I thrill to my soul vicariously recognizing her prowess and focus when I read Brian Koch's prose describing his beautiful English setter hunting in the wild:
I can tell by her stance, even on this awkward angle, there is a bird here. There’s no style, no high-head, no raised-foot or flagging tail. She’s just one solid muscle strained against the scent of this grouse, the first bird she’s marked in over 20 miles of running. It must be close to her because she won’t even sneak a look in my direction, afraid that even the shift of an eye might spook this elusive foe.
 Ultimate Upland  is simply as its title states, the ultimate place to go to enjoy pictures and poetic loving descriptions of birddogs, the rugged experience of the land, the artful survival of birds and of course enthusiastic description of the tools...even though I'm not a fan of weapons, the craftsmanship on some of the guns, the pictures and descriptions of wood and etchings, are sublime. 
I'm a town mouse with my kimonos and elegance, but I do love the country, the hunting, the birds, the ancient stories, the primeval existence, not least because it's my Claire who leads me there by that invisible leash which clips onto the collar round my heart.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

On Dog Bites and Children

The Japan dog community is reeling from the March 9th NHK-reported news of a four-year old Golden Retriever who bit the 11 month old granddaughter of his owners in the neck as she crawled across the floor, killing her in front of her relatives' eyes. No prior history of aggression. This is the cuddly-feely idol of the dog world...a myth sorely broken, and more bad publicity for all dogs, when in my opinion the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the owners. 
I've posted cute pictures here at the blog over the years. Pictures of my setters sleeping with my babes: but what you don't see is me sitting for hours by their side watching, not leaving their side and going to chat with other family members, waiting for the wain to wake and we all go to family space together, dogs, child and Mummy. I always make sure there is an adult present in the room watching. I know for a fact Sherlock is uncomfortable with children and want to watch carefully how he will react each time we meet the kids and be ready to protect him and get him used to their presence in a safe way.

 I know Claire just gets out of the way, feeling safe up on the armchair, as is her wont with other dogs too, but she'll accept peace offerings from the kids from time to time, as she is quite used to me offering her dolls and hats for photographs. 
Nobu just rolls on his back offering up his belly to show he means no harm and would love the kids to approach and interact. 
 So I don't crate them -I confess I would crate Sherlock but he is claustrophobic, so I keep a mindful eye on him particularly- but I am totally there, watching and observing, ready to jump in at any moment: no playing with mobile phone, cameras or other. I also told my son not to enter the house alone with the grandchildren when I'm not home, just to be on the safe side.

There's actually a fantastic 5 types of supervision visual about this from Family Paws Parent Education, and I think it's clear what I'm doing is a version of active full awake adult supervision together with planning and preparation for safe separation if need be (the dogs have crates in the living room and kitchen). I also think dogs need basic canine citizenship training (so important for the owners to become aware too!) and lots of safe exposure to all people young and old.
I am grateful to Reisner Veterinary FB page which keeps me updated on all things pet, and who have a blogpost about this very issue called Infant bitten in "unprovoked attack" by family dog: What can we learn?.
Like the blogpost says, we can work to understand the situation and develop protocols to avoid them- no bite is ever completely random and unprovoked:
Almost all bites are provoked. Dogs are social animals and respond to very subtle cues. We can work to figure out the reasons for a bite, including the likelihood that it was aggravated by anxiety around the baby. There is a danger in concluding that bites are random. If there isn’t a “real” stimulus triggering the aggression, how can it be prevented or managed?  The basic premise that bites occur in response to something is exactly what helps us understand dog and child behavior. Dog and child behavior work together to increase bite risk.
In her story which is similar to the bite death in Japan, Ilana Reisner offers three basic possible reasons for the US dog biting a nine-month old crawling child: First, being unused to the sudden development of mobility in what was previously a cuddled baby, and finding it threatening. Second, resource-guarding of toys or chewies on the floor, or even the owners themselves. 

And third, some kind of irritability due to pain, particularly in the case of an older dog. Personally, I'm thinking to add four: perceiving the child as a toy or playmate: I have given my setters big cuddly toys which they love to grip in their jaws, shake, and fling around the room. These toys get totally destroyed in a couple of weeks or so as the stuffing comes out. In my experience if the dog wanted to play and thought the baby was a toy, there would indeed be great danger. I can imagine if the grandparents were busy picking up the feverish baby early from daycare, they didn't take the dog for a decent afternoon walkies, which means the four-year old had extra energy to burn. These tragedies are avoidable! Golden retrievers are beautiful intelligent dogs that need just as much exercise, active play and mental stimulus as other breeds. Be responsible owners, and go for it! 
I pray for the child, an angel now, and for the parents and grandparents in their time of loss. I also pray for the golden retriever, whose future now probably hangs in the balance (no news as yet). May God bless you and keep you all.
A Japanese overview with comments from Kuriyama dog trainer for those who prefer Japanese.