Merry Christmas to All…..

Leo’s first Christmas at the House of the Fox Dogs, and I think he enjoyed it!

There were lots of interesting things to look at and unwrap:


And at first, even Bel had fun–what’s in this bag?  (There were dog treats in there–a gift from my mother).


But the holidays can be stressful, too, especially when others climb all over you in a rush to get at the presents.


And then Bel starting getting a little anxious:


Leo was enjoying checking out the stockings, but Bel thought, When will it ever end?


Leo loved it!  He loves the limelight too.  Bel?  Not so much.


Handsome Oskar had to have a timeout with his presents upstairs.  Oskar doesn’t share well, and at some point he decided he should have ALL THE THINGS.


I’ll be good now, I promise!

He had taken his Himalyan chew upstairs, and was torn between coming down to be with us, and guarding his chew.


Toby had his chew and a quacking duck toy in his room.   He came in to investigate the wrapping for a bit, but decided that he would prefer to spend the holiday alone with his stuff.   We could hear him quacking his toy merrily from his room.


Toby says “Hmmm…..nothing to eat.”

Bel had been in and out several times by then, but still seemed to be anxious, and was now frozen in front of M’s chair, where she stayed for most of dinner:


Bel says “the holidays are so stressful.”

Leo decided that holidays are about eating ALL THE THINGS and decided that he was willing to eat anything and everything, including brussell sprouts and then salad:


Leo says “That looks tasty!”


Leo says “Lettuce! My favorite!”


“Hey, what about me?”

Overall, Bel was less than thrilled with the holiday.  Either that, or she was just stuck:


Oh god, is it STILL Christmas?

But the rest of us had a lovely day.   And we wish you all wonderful holidays, and peace, blessings, and abundance in the new year!


Toby’s Still Acting (Out)

A Photo Essay

Apparently, Toby has found his acting career so compelling that he wants to continue it.  And apparently, he has decided I am the perfect audience for this, because according to my husband, Toby does not do nearly so much paddling and howling when I am not home.  He saves that pleasant behavior for me!  I’m his chosen audience, apparently.

However, he does have another, very rapt audience.   We have blocked off the area behind the sofa, so Oskar can’t get over to the sliding glass door where Toby is, but Oskar was so entranced by Toby’s “performance” that he got on the sofa to watch:

But then he decided he needed to get a bit closer:

Oskar has seen Bel and Toby lay on the back of the sofa, so I think he decided he might want to try that, but of course, it’s quite different when a 110 pound Akita tries it!  When the sofa looked like it was going to flip over, U. called Oskar to get off the sofa, and since Oskar’s a good boy, he obliged.  But on the way down, something caught his attention:

That’s when we discovered that there was another member of the audience:

(blurry photo--it was an Oskar action shot!)

Bel was watching too!

Toby should be delighted that he has such an attentive audience for his daily acting, but he seems not to be.  He wants ME to pay attention to his acting.

And I feel I’ve had enough.

So after some useful input from the Shiba forum, I realized I missed some obvious solutions to Toby’s situation.  First, yes, it probably is a kind of separation anxiety.  He’s used to me being home a lot of the time, and even if I’m not in the room with him, he knows I’m here.  But this fall, I’m busy with work and classes I’m taking, and I home a lot less than usual.   Toby feels neglected.

Someone suggested I try a thundershirt on him, and I thought, what a brilliant idea (and then, why didn’t I think of that?)  So I got out Bel’s thundershirt and tried to put it on him, but Toby is a bit, well, more substantial than Bel, so it would not fit around his girth.   Then I got some suggestions for substitutes.  I decided to try these, first just with a t-shirt.  I found a smallish one of mine and put it on him, but obviously it was not small enough:

Toby Soprano

While he looked rather dashing in it, it had absolutely none of the swaddling effect necessary to calm anxiety.  I’d also been directed to a good link to a blog that talked about anxiety wraps for dogs*  (see below), so I decided I could easily make one out of an old boxing hand-wrap:

This was slightly more successful:  it did at least fit tightly, and Toby was intrigued with the process.  I don’t think I wrapped it quite right (and there was rather a lot of material to use), but Toby seemed pleased with his new look:

Toby says "I look good!"

Toby dreams of his boxing debut

And he was actually calm for, oh, about 15 minutes.

Deep sigh.

 I’ll have to try wrapping him up in a different way, perhaps with more across the chest.  Probably tomorrow, as I’m sure he’ll be back at it soon.

*Here’s a link for the blog that has the home made  anxiety wraps for dogs:   The Peaceful Dog

Bonus Photos:

A couple of weekends ago, we cleaned the chimneys.  Bel got into the soot:

Bel's a little chimney sweep

And so did Toby, which is why his chest still looks a little grey in his “Toby Soprano” photo.  But here’s what he did look like:

Both Shibas need a bath!

Keeping Toby Safe (Plus Shibas, Snakes and Spiders! Oh My!)

Keeping Toby safe is not an easy thing.

Because he insists on doing things that are not safe.

And sometimes, I help that along.

This is a story of how difficult managing reactive dogs can be, because any mistake–and there will always be mistakes–can be dangerous.

Today’s mistake was relatively minor, thankfully.  Though it could have been very very bad.

The first lesson of managing reactive dogs is this:  Always stick to the routine.  A set routine means mistakes are not as easy to make.  Our routine involves making sure doors are always closed and latched, and dog gates are also latched  in place.   It means double checking to make sure we know where all dogs are before letting a dog in or out.  And it means having a schedule.

Toby’s schedule is like this:  he is in his room most of the day.  He goes for a walk most days with me to the mail boxes and a bit beyond.  He is let outside to run around in the yard several times a day.  He has dinner at around 8, and because Toby is a creature of routine too, he likes to go out and poop right after dinner, though he usually doesn’t stay out long (his door is always open when he’s outside, and most of the time, he goes back in his room relatively quickly).  Bel and Oskar go to bed at around 11, Oskar upstairs, and Bel  in Oskar’s big cage in the living room.  Toby comes in then, to spend some quality time with me (which mostly involves him sitting on the back of the sofa watching me read).  He gets to sleep where ever he wants downstairs, and in the morning goes out, then back to his room, before U. leaves for work.

Welcome to my room.

Toby seems content with this schedule.

So today, I broke the routine.  I let Bel and Oskar out, made coffee, heard Toby scratching at the sliding glass door to come in from his room, and thought, why not, even though I never let him in at this time of day.  Today I did.  He settled on the back of the sofa. I had more coffee, got ready for my day.

A few hours later, as I was getting ready to go to work, I thought, well, Oskar’s at the door, and I need to get him and Bel in so I can leave, so I opened the door and let him in.  He ambled in, then froze in the living room.

Because of course, Toby was still in.  I’d forgotten, because that’s not the routine.

Oskar approached Toby on the sofa, and I was right behind him, but before I could intervene, Oskar was sniffing Toby.  I could tell he was anxious:  his ears were forward and his body was stiff, but he wasn’t growling or snarling.  Until Toby went into full Toby cave troll mode:  snarling and snapping.  Then everything happened very quickly.  Did Toby bite Oskar?  I don’t know, but he was close if he didn’t.  I went to grab Oskar’s collar, and Toby jumped off the back of the sofa still snarling, and I did see Oskar bite Toby’s leg.   I grabbed Oskar.  Toby jumped off the sofa.

Then we were stuck.  I was holding a 110 pound Akita who refused to move.  Toby was a safe distance away.  I started to pull Oskar to another room, and yelled at Toby to go in his crate, but of course, the little cave troll would not back down, so instead of going away from us, he came forward again, growling.  Oskar pulled towards Toby, but thankfully, Oskar is biddable and was unsure of the situation; he was looking to me for guidance, so I was able to pull him into the other room.

Toby was holding up one paw and limping.  After a quick examination, though, I found no puncture wounds at all, though there was a bit of saliva on his leg.  Still, Toby was limping and carrying the paw, so I ended up missing my class as I waited to see if he would need a vet visit.  Answer, no.  As soon as I stopped paying attention to him (to check on Oskar who also had no wounds), Toby stopped limping.  He was fine.  He’s just a drama queen, like all Shibas.

In fact, the only one injured was me:  Oskar stepped on my foot and his toenail scratched me deeply enough to draw blood.  And I also seem to be the only one shaken up by this.  Oskar was puzzled, and a bit excited, but calmed down quickly.  Toby seemed totally unfazed by the whole thing, though he did puff out his chest a bit.  He thinks he’s a bad ass.

Ruler of all he surveys

I’m aware this could have been a disaster.  If Bel had come into too.  If Oskar were dog aggressive, or not so soft-mouthed.  (Oskar was clearly warning Toby, not trying to hurt him).   Frankly, it scared the hell out of me, especially because there was no one to blame but myself.  I broke the routine.  And then I forgot.  And I risked my dog’s safety because of it.

But Toby is a hard dog to keep safe.  That’s not making light of my mistakes; it’s just a fact.  Once I had talked to a dog psychic about Toby and Bel (it was interesting, if not my best use of money).  She said she didn’t think Toby would live a long life because he was such a daredevil and always putting himself in dangerous situations.  (She also said Bel would soon find a home with a blonde woman in the mountains.  Well, Bel does–still–live in the mountains, but none of us are blonde).    There is some truth to this.  Toby is fearless*.  In pretty stupid ways.

He always goes for other dogs immediately.  He is always on the offense, and that offense is pretty, well, offensive!  His reaction to another dog is always snarling snapping growling….imagine the Tasmanian Devil cartoon and you have Toby.  (Or a imagine a cave troll–Toby’s favorite thing is to menace other dogs from behind something or from a crate).  He doesn’t care how big the other dog is–he’s going to immediately launch an attack.  He usually won’t bite unless the dog gets too close, as Oskar did, but he sure makes a lot of noise.  And if he manages to avoid a fight, as he did today, he’s usually pretty eager to jump right back in and get it started again.

But it’s not only that.  After the incident today, I took Toby for his walk, because it looked like his leg was ok.  It was.  He pranced and whiffled with excitement, as usual.  But here’s more of his “dangerous” behavior:  every time a car passed, I try to pull him over to the side of the road and get him out of the way.  And every time, he tried to bolt out into the road.  Or he just froze in the middle of the road, and I had to drag him out of the way.  This is not new behavior; he’s always done it.

But today I kept thinking about how much time is spent keeping Toby safe:  keeping him away from the other dogs.  Keeping him away from strange dogs as we go for walks.  Keeping him out of traffic.  And he doesn’t make it easy, you know?  I was cleaning out his room the other day and found a big spider (which I later caught and put outside).  He tries to catch the spiders in his mouth.  Not a good idea, Toby!

This spider was in Toby's room before I caught it and put it outside

When he was a young dog, he used to climb up on the roof, and I finally had to put up a railing on the deck so he couldn’t get up there anymore.   One of his first interactions with an adult dog was him snarling and snapping into the face of an adult Rottie.  Toby was 7 weeks old, and thankfully, the rottie just melted and licked him.  She was charmed.

Toby, you are a daredevil.  But you’ve never had very good judgement.

On a more serious note, I know that the real way to keep Toby safe is not to keep him at all, but to rehome him.  When I talk about the difficulties of managing my reactive pack, I know that it is easiest to rehome the best behaved dog, and Toby would be a wonderful only dog.  He’s smart, and he’s great with people.  He’s sweet (with people) and doesn’t need or demand a lot of attention or exercise.    And of my three, he’s the one that doesn’t get along with the others.  Bel may be crazy, but she and Oskar are mostly fine together.

But…Toby.  I can’t give up my Toby.  Perhaps that’s selfish.  Perhaps I don’t have very good judgement either.

So I’ll keep trying to keep Toby safe.  He won’t cooperate.  But I’ll keep doing what I’m doing, trying to do it better.  Managing dogs that want to kill one another is not easy.  I can’t really recommend it to anyone, though it is possible, if you’re vigilant.  I’ll keep working to keep Toby safe, so I have  many more years of joy and aggravation with him.

And I’ll try to remember this lesson:  never break the routine!

Toby chillin' in his chair

* Toby is not really fearless.  I’m very aware that he is actually a cautious, somewhat fearful dog, who masks his fear of other dogs with instant aggression:  I’m going to get them before they get me!  Many reactive dogs are also fearful dogs.

Bel’s Hunt

This part could probably be called “keeping Bel safe” because this was kind of scary too.  While Bel won this round of Shiba vs. Snake Deathmatch, I don’t like these encounters  because I’m fairly certain Bel doesn’t know the difference between a rattlesnake and a rat snake, and I worry that one day she will try this with a poisonous snake and get bit.  But as is often the case, Bel finds the snakes before I can rescue them.

I had already rescued this particular snake moe than once.  Bel had cornered it a few weeks earlier, but I managed to get her and Oskar in on that day, and the snake went free.  Another day,  U. asked me why scrub jays were gathered down around the propane tank.  Indeed there was a little gang of  jays circling something.  The something was a largish snake (maybe 3 and half feet long?), probably a gopher snake.  They were trying to peck at it, but it kept striking at them and hissing.   The snake was in between the propane tank and the dog’s water….and it was a very hot, dry day, and my theory was it had gone to get some water and found its way home blocked by angry birds.  So I got out the broom, let the snake coil around the handle, and carried it carefully over to a big rock with a hole under it, where I’ve seen this snake before, and let it go.

I like the snakes.  They eat mice and rats, and we can always use that.  They don’t hurt anything.  I felt ok about saving that snake. Twice.

But I couldn’t save it the third time.

I was inside and heard Oskar barking.  His bark was his soft “woof” which he does when he’s either excited or concerned about something.  He does it when Bel has something to eat he doesn’t.  Or when she’s into something:  he did it when she got the cookie container off the counter last week and ate all the dog cookies.  Oskar’s a tatttle-tale.

So I heard his bark, then heard Bel snarl like she does when she is frustrated.  Sometimes that leads to her biting whatever dog is near her, so I ran out to intervene.

She had the snake.

Bel has a snake!

I couldn’t save it:  by the time I got out there, Bel had bit the snake on the neck and was whipping the body around so quickly it was clear she’d already seriously injured it.

Mortally wounded

I wish I could have gotten a video; it’s pretty interesting to see Bel in hunting mode, and this is not the first time I’ve seen her kill a snake.  She goes in for quick sharp bites at the neck, and she leaps back after she bites, out of striking range (not that this poor thing could even strike by the time I saw it).  She does the snake-whip routine, shaking the snake fiercely, then letting it go, so it flew across the yard.  Then she caught it again and carried it over to the driveway.

Bel with snake

Bel bites near the head

She finished off the snake pretty quickly.

Bel has quite a strong prey drive, and is so motivated and fast I think she could have made a good working dog if she didn’t have so many other problems.

And what did Oskar do while all this was going on?  Other than alert me  (“Hey, mom, she’s got something!  Come see!”) Oskar didn’t do a whole lot.  He sniffed the snake once, but he was not at all interested in it.   He does have a prey drive–he took out a family of bunnies earlier this summer–but I think he is (rightly) cautious about the snakes, and he kept his distance.

As for Bel, I let her have her snake for awhile, and then managed to get it away from her when she went for a drink of water.  While I’m sad we lost one of our resident harmless snakes*, it sure was interesting to see Bel in action!

Proud Hunter

In any case, poor snake.  Another warning:  Snakes, stay away from the Shibas!

* I’m not sure what type of snake it was.  From my field guide, it looks to be either a gopher snake or a glossy snake.  I’ve  rescued snakes like this before that did hiss very loudly and strike, which makes me think it was a gopher snake, but this one wasn’t nearly as loud, so I’m not sure if it was the same kind of snake or another kind.  It does look a lot like this gopher snake.  It is probably not a glossy snake, though it looks somewhat like the darker version of this one, as it looks like glossy snakes tend to be nocturnal and also tend to live below 6000 feet (House of the Fox Dogs is near 7200 feet in elevation).

What I Did on my Summer Vacation

The human contingent of the House of the Fox Dogs has been on vacation, visiting U’s family in Germany. It actually looked like I wouldn’t be able to go at first, because we had an unexpected canine health issue: One month after his neutering, Oskar suddenly developed a rather large hematoma in his scrotum. It was, well, rather noticeable, since I took a look at him and thought wow, he looks like he was never neutered. The scrotum had filled up with blood.

So off the vet we went, where it was aspirated, but unfortunately, it filled right back up again with blood. This meant Oskar needed a procedure I am unfortunately all too familiar with from various dog injuries: the vet had to put in drains, and a pressure bandage. Obviously, this is not the easiest place to bandage, so as usual, my vets got creative, and Oskar ended up with a very interesting outfit:

Oskar's outfit

Granted, that wasn’t all the vet’s doing.  Oskar’s bandages wouldn’t stay up so we sacrificed a pair of U’s boxers and put them on Oskar.  It did help to keep everything in place, but as you can see from his dropped tail, he wasn’t happy.  He had to wear that ensemble for about a week, and his drains had to be flushed at least once a day, a procedure that I simply could not do by myself (imagine trying to hold down a 110 pound dog and squirt betadine into his nether regions.  Not a one-person job, and U. had already left for Germany), so Oskar went to the vet daily.

Poor Oskar!

Luckily for me, the drains came out two days before I left, and there were no more complications, so I was able to leave Oskar and the Shibas with our lovely housesitters, and go to Germany.

(I should add that the complications with Oskar’s neutering are rare.  This kind of swelling does sometimes happen in dogs that are too active immediately after the surgery, but it is rare indeed for it to occur a month later.  My vet said he had not seen it happen so long after the surgery in his 30 years in practice.  We’re not sure what caused it, and it was probably just a fluke, but given that Oskar has had a few other odd issues with bleeding–a broken toenail that bled on and off for two weeks–I’m going to have him tested for von Willebrand’s Disease, which is a hereditary clotting disorder.  While it seems unlikely that he has it, as he did not bleed excessively during surgery, we decided that it would be good to know for sure, so he’ll be tested for this soon.)

German Dogs!

I spent a lot of time in Germany looking at dogs.  Of course,  I am terribly interested in all things canine, anyway, but there was another reason:  I don’t speak German.  So during gatherings of family and friends, I was often left to my own devices.  I like to imagine that my understanding of German is something like the way dogs understand any human language.  This is what I understood:   Blah, blah, blah, dog!  Blah, blah, blah chocolate!  Blah, blah, blah beer!  Of course, like a dog, I perked up noticeably when I understood those key words.  I also perked up when I heard my name.  I imagine if I had ears that pricked forward they would have done so, and if I had a tail, it would have wagged.  Other than that, I spent a lot of time observing dogs.

First, there was Gina, who belongs to my brother-in-law.  Gina was the first German dog I met:

She was good-natured, and I was never able to figure out what breed she is, or if she is a mix, but she does slightly resemble a Gordon Setter, and is even more like a black and tan Hovawart, a breed that originated in Germany. (Gina looks a lot like this dog).  We took her on quite long walks, including to an outdoor museum, and she was always well-behaved.  Until we saw other dogs, when Gina turned into a maniac, jumping at the end of her leash, snarling and barking.  Clearly Gina is a reactive dog!

Gina in repose

Dogs are allowed pretty much everywhere in Germany it seems.  Gina was welcome at restaurants, though we only ate at outdoor beirgartens with her, where she laid under the table quite happily.  We did not take her with us when we went to the retirement home to visit my husband’s 95-year-old grandmother, but there was another dog there, also laying calmly under the table while the family had coffee.  We also saw a young pup there that looked–and acted!–like a Shiba puppy; it was leaping about and biting anything that came within reach, a crazed little ball of fur.   It was not a Shiba, but the owners told us it was an “island dog” whatever that means.  I would have asked more questions if I could have spoken German.

I am fairly certain Gina has food allergies.  Her stomach is almost completely hairless and freckled and she was almost constantly scratching and licking at either her belly or her paws.  I suppose my brother-in-law’s family was spared a long talk on diet and food allergies because of the lack of a common language.

On the first day in Germany, with a bit of translation, I was made to understand that the neighbors had a Shiba.  Except that it was a big Shiba. But it was a puppy.   I immediately suspected that the “big Shiba puppy” was a Japanese Akita.  The neighbor was invited to stop by on his walk for us to meet the “big Shiba puppy” and one morning the doorbell rang, and we met this dog, who is almost a year old:

Japanese Akita

While he may have seemed a bit cautious in this picture, it only took a few moments for him to become a typical, young Akita.  He jumped up to try to lick our faces.  He mouthed our arms and hands.  He grabbed onto U’s shirt and started tugging.  While his looks are quite different from an American Akita–in much of the world the Akita is split into two breeds, American and Japanese–his mannerisms were very similar to Oskar’s.  We enjoyed having a visit with him, and I was delighted to have met my first Japanese Akita.

The next canine we met was in the small town where my mother-in-law is from.  We went to see her brother and the farmhouse she grew up in.  When the family came outside to greet us, they brought a little dog with them that at first I thought was a pug, but then I recognized those bat ears; it was a little French Bulldog.   I’m not a fan of the flat-faced breeds, usually, but in the 20 minutes or so we spent there, this little dog thoroughly endeared herself to me.  She was clearly not interested in everyone there–she barked at my mother-in-law–but she came up to me immediately, and tilted her head and looked at me as if she was trying to decide if I was worth her attention or not.  Apparently I was, because she licked my hand, then set to sniffing me with a great deal of interest.

French Bulldog

She was, apparently, visiting while her family was on vacation.   She was quite a self-possessed little dog, who followed conversations by watching everyone with a grave, and slightly affronted look, as if she wasn’t sure approved of the conversation.  I found her quite charming!

On Sunday, we ventured into nearby Bavaria for a trip to Germany’s most iconic castle, Neuschwanstein, pictured below.

Neuschwanstein, Aug. 2011

After our visit, we had coffee with one of U’s school friends, who had accompanied us on our tourist jaunt.  He and his wife have a lovely house they had designed themselves (she is an architect), a lovely daughter, and of course, a dog.  I thought the dog was a greyhound, so I asked (they both spoke some English), but as it turns out he is not, though he does resemble one:

Delgado, a "windhund"

I was told that Delgado is a “windhund,” which I understood to be a category of dog.  With the help of a dog book, I was able to say that, yes, the equivelent of “windhund” is probably “sighthound.”   This still did not explain Delgado’s breed, however, and the book that included his breed was only in German.  I understood that his type of dog came from Spain, and his breed is related to greyhounds.  I thought that perhaps he was an Ibizan Hound, only because it was the only Spanish sighthound I could remember, but once I looked in the book, I saw this was clearly not the case.  When I got home, I was able to figure out that Delgado is a Galgo Espanol, a type of Spanish Greyhound that is not closely related to the English Greyhound.

Delgado is a Galgo Espanol

Delgado was quite sweet, and content to lay on his bed, until the cakes were brought out, and then he quickly positioned himself where he could not-so-surreptiously put his head on the table and sneak a treat.  When he was shooed away, he settled his head on my lap for a bit, but I was not fooled….it was not me he was interested in but my cake!  I learned that Delgado does not like having his picture taken (and he turned away as soon as the camera came out!), that he is quite a thief, and that he loves to sleep on the sofa, but will only do it if no one is in the room with him.  Our hosts admitted that they struggled with teaching him to stay off the sofa, then finally decided that the battle wasn’t worth it, and Delgado has apparently slept on the sofa ever since.  I’ve always been fond of sighthounds, especially greyhounds, and this Spanish greyhound was no exception.

What else did I learn about German dogs?  I learned that they are welcome many more places than dogs are in the US, and while the vast majority of the dogs I saw walked politely on leashes and were content to lay under tables while their humans socialized, I also noted that there were plenty of spats between dogs who were not so pleased to see other dogs.  In a way, this was reassuring:  I was not seeing a nation of perfect dogs!  I also noted that I never once saw a dog walked with just a collar:  every dog I saw was wearing a harness, which I know is better for the health of the dog, as it does not put pressure on the trachea and neck.  And while I saw a number of types of dogs, I never once saw a German Shepherd Dog, called Schaferhund in German.  I did, however, see a German TV documentary that bemoaned the failing popularity of this national breed, noting that their numbers were consistently falling in Germany, though the channel was changed before I could find out why that was.

All in all, it was a good trip, but of course, I was delighted to come home and find my three hounds healthy, happy and well-cared for.  I learned that they all had new nicknames:  Bel was Bella Loca, a nickname so good it will stick; Oskar was Baby Beluga; and I suppose Toby’s new nickname says something about how he must have behaved when we were gone, because he was just “the little asshole.”  Oh Toby.

He’s my Akita

Yesterday I took Oskar and Bel for a ride as I was running errands.  I was stopped not once, but three times by people wanting to comment on Oskar and inquire about his breed.  (Poor Bel!  No one even asked if she were a fox, like they usually do!  She was entirely ignored on this trip, but hey, I suspect she likes that).  I was telling M. about my day later, and she said that perhaps I should write about how Oskar has been mistaken for several things, including a medicinal plant.  So here goes!

The first confusion occurred when I took Oskar on outings as a pup.  Granted, not everyone is up-to-date on dog breed characteristics, especially in young pups, so I wasn’t really surprised when people saw this:

Oskar at 8 weeks

and then asked me if he were a husky mix or Malamute.  I think he looks like an Akita pup, but I wouldn’t blame someone who made a mistake.

But the day in question, M and I had taken Oskar to a local cafe that allowed dogs on the patio.  He was maybe 9 or 10 weeks old at the time, and everyone made much of him, and wanted to pet him, and the waitress even took a picture of him.  A couple of people came over and exclaimed over what a lovely Akita pup I had, so it wasn’t all about mislabeling.

But there were also a couple of really funny identification errors.  One was as we were leaving, when a couple stopped us and the guy said, “that’s a really cute……Ikea?”  He stopped, and said, “That doesn’t sound right…” and the person with him pointed out that Ikea was a furniture store, not a breed of dog.  At least these people recognized their mistake.  Earlier, a man had stepped up to Oskar, peered down and declared him to be an “echinacea,”  before stalking away without further explanation.   I was very puzzled.   Because does this face:

8 weeks old

at all resemble this?


Image by sramses177 via Flickr

Poor Oskar, so young to be so misunderstood.

Of course, now, at 11 months old, Oskar is very large–106 pounds last time we checked–and looks like nothing so much as what he is, which is a very lovely Akita boy.  Yesterday, the first people who stopped me as I was getting into the car just wanted to tell me that Oskar looked very much like their female Akita, who had died, and how happy they were to be reminded of their dog.

The next person who stopped me, by waving her arms rather frantically as I tried to exit the post office, also was reminded of a dog she had lost, and she was actually quite a sweet elderly lady, so I didn’t mind stopping to talk to her, and I was glad that Oskar made her think of her beloved dog, though honestly, I don’t think my boy looks anything like a wolf-husky cross, not with his big bear head and blunt muzzle.

What was interesting to me with this second interaction was Oskar’s response.  Oskar is a cautious dog.  He likes to size up a situation before deciding what to do.  That was clearly what he was doing while I talked to this woman.  He saw a stranger approaching the car. He dropped his head a bit, in what I think of as his “I’m an Akita, don’t mess with me” pose.  He didn’t bark or growl, and seemed content to watch, until the woman approached a little closer to the car.  This was clearly a problem for him, and he wanted to do what he does when he’s a little worried about me:  he wanted to get in between me and the stranger, but he couldn’t because he was in the back seat and I was in the front.  Instead, he shoved his big head as close as he could to my window, and I could see his gaze change from happy dog to watchful, protective dog.  Then he turned to look at me, and I thought it was clear he was trying to get cues for how to act.  I was calm; he remained calm, and we drove away.   I was glad the friendly lady hadn’t come any closer to the car, to test him, but I thought about how Oskar really is developing his sense of judgement as he gets older.

A couple of other incidents are tied to that.  Oskar likes to sit on the landing of our second floor deck.  From there, he can watch the entire yard, the gate, and the house quite well.  He’s not much of a barker, so he is usually fairly quiet up there, just watching.  There are good and bad elements to his silence.  One day, the UPS man came while Oskar was out there.  I wouldn’t have known anyone was there if Bel had not also been out, because she started barking.  I went out to get my package, wondering where Oskar had gotten off to.  Well, I found out.  He launched himself down the stairs and at the gate when the UPS man reached over the fence to hand me the package.  No barking.  No growling.  Just a running leap, and even that leap was controlled….what he wanted to do was make sure he was in between me and this stranger leaning over the fence.   He gave the UPS guy a bit of a hard stare, but that was it, and while the sight of a big Akita hitting the fence must have been rather startling, Oskar made no move to snap or growl at the man–he just watched him, and in the end decided that if I wasn’t worried about a strange man handing a mysterious box over the fence, then he wasn’t going to be worried about it either.

Last week, I got to see him in full watch dog mode for the first time.  I was on my way to work when I realized I’d left something in the house.  Instead of going back in through the front door, I decided to go in upstairs.  So I trotted up the outside stairs and across the deck.  I wasn’t even in the house when I heard Oskar’s very deep bark.  Since he’s usually such a quiet dog, I was a bit surprised that he was barking.  And there was nothing tentative about it:  this was a full on alarm bark, and I was just stepping into the house when I heard him galloping up the stairs, right towards me.  He was impressive:  over a hundred pounds of dog charging forward,  and the look on his face was like nothing I’d seen before–he thought a stranger was entering his house and he was pissed!  Again, no snarls or growls, but he looked damn serious.

Until he saw it was me, and then he turned into wiggles and wags and the hard stare softened to his goofy puppy face.    If I’d ever had any doubts about Oskar as a watch dog, they were all gone–a pissed off charging Akita is a sight indeed!  (He was accompanied by a small, but fierce Shiba girl.  One thing I’ve noted about Bel is that she is also quite a watch dog, but she’s small and cute, so no one takes her seriously.  There is some irony to this, as for a long time, she was probably the dog that was the most likely to bite someone in these kind of situations, while my German Shepherd, who people were afraid of, would have likely welcomed burglars into the house as long as they threw the ball for him).

The other thing I’ve discovered about Oskar is that he is a mimic.  Like his tendency not to bark, this has good and bad aspects.  Good, because he’s learned things from watching the other dogs.  Bad, because he’s watching the Shibas, who are mostly doing bad things.  Sometimes it’s just funny.  Last week Bel was moth hunting outside the big living room window.  I call Bel “the little Bug Eater” sometimes after a Kitsune in Kij Johnson’s book The Fox Woman, and the little Bug Eater was in full hunter mode:  leaping and snapping at the moths with abandon.  I noticed Oskar standing near by, watching.  Then he tried it.  But he’s large and slow, and what he managed to do was to crash into the window with his mouth open.  He stopped to watch her again, and tried it again, this time managing not to hit the window, but I don’t think he really managed to catch any moths either.  It was very funny, and instructive, to see how he learns from another dog.

And I had another, less fun, example of that yesterday.  Bel, like many Shibas, is notorious for not coming when called.  She has a particularly annoying habit of coming up to door and standing just out of reach when I’m trying to get her in the house.  Nothing will lure her in if she’s not ready.  Well, yesterday, I called her and Oskar, and both ran to the door.   Oskar raced right in for his cookie, but Bel stopped just outside the door.  Oskar stopped.  He looked at me.  He looked at Bel.  Then he ran back out the door, and stood with her, and wouldn’t come in.  I called him again, and showed him the cookies, but he’d seen Bel refusing to come in, and he’d learned something.  It was as if a light went off in his head:  “oh, you mean coming when called is optional?”

This was not a discovery I wanted him to make.  Fortunately, Oskar is easily motivated:  I gave up on the cookies, but I got down his favorite squeaky toy (I like small ones for training purposes and he seems to favor them too):

Oskar's favorite squeaky toy

One squeak and he was through the door, happily, targeting my hand with his nose, as I’ve taught him to do, for his squeaky toy reward.  Bel, of course, would not come in at all; she’s not motivated by food or toys–the allure of being outside and hunting is always more exciting for her.  She does, however, like to go for rides, which is how both her and Oskar ended up in the car with me as I ran errands.

The most recent issue of The Whole Dog Journal has an article on “observation without direction” which is about watching your dog and learning what they like to do when they are on their own.  As in the article, I’ve learned that Oskar is a mimic, and learns well by watching.  This is really useful training information, as he also watches me carefully for cues to behavior.  And overall, I’ve noticed he’s a steady, watchful dog, who is developing good judgement, and a calm, but protective nature.

After all,  he’s an Akita!

Oskar with tulips

Food Review Two and Bath Time at the House of the Fox Dogs

Freshpets Select Review Two

I’ve been steadily  feeding the dogs Freshpets Select, especially Toby, and we’ve finally made a dent in the giant roll of  Vital Smoked Salmon and Ocean Whitefish:

Smoked Salmon and Ocean Whitefish

We got quite a lot of this food, and because I’m not giving Toby chicken at the moment, he’s getting most of it.  This Vital roll contains salmon, ocean whitefish, spinach, blueberries, pomegranate, cranberries and a variety of vitamins and minerals (see the list on my other post about Freshpets Select food), plus broccoli, natural flavors, inulin, sunflower oil and green tea extract.

You can actually see the berries in it when you slice it, and they add a little color to what is otherwise a kind of grey mass (but hey, the dogs don’t care about the color!):

Toby's dinner

As for reviews, this food was pretty popular:

Oskar gives it an A+  As soon as I started to open the package, he came over and tried to get his big head on the stove near the package.  He’s not quite that tall yet, luckily, so when he realized he couldn’t actually reach the food, he cleverly offered a sit, and got a sample, which he barely even sniffed before eating.   When I put some in his dinner, along with some pieces of chicken and a part of a fresh sardine, he ate the Vital first, even before he started in on his sardine.

Toby inhaled it.  A+  However, I should add that so far, almost everything is an A+ with Toby, including frozen peas and carrots, bread crusts, and small pieces of paper that he mistakes for something edible.

Bel gives it an A-  She was quite interested in it as a treat (she did a leap and twirl for it!)  I gave it to her with dinner a couple of days in a row, and when her dinner contained a bit of chicken, the Vital, and a fresh sardine head, she went for the sardine head every time.  After that she ate the Vital. In Bel’s mind, a fresh fish head is much superior to fish mush, but fish mush is much better than a chicken back.

My review:

Overall, I think this is pretty good food.  My dogs like it, and after a couple of weeks of at least one dog eating some form or an another everyday (Toby), I haven’t noticed any loose poops or excessive gas.  In fact, Toby has had significantly less gas since he’s been off chicken, and he’s lost weight!  (I’m not sure if this has to do with Freshpets Select which is a small portion of his diet, or more likely his “spa menu” of fish and veggies, or if it also might have to do with the fact that we upped his thyroid meds.  In any case, he’s slimmer!)  My dogs are much less interested in the Homestyle chunks, but they’re really into the Vital, and I prefer it too since it doesn’t contain grains.  I think this is a good alternative food to grainfree kibble, and I’d definitely feed it to my dogs if I needed to give them a break from their regular raw diet, or if I was kenneling them.

So yay for Freshpets Select, and thanks for including me in their blogger program and giving me the opportunity to test out this food on my canine crew!

Bath Time at House of the Fox Dogs

Friday was bath time here.   Toby has been having a problems with his coat for several months, and while we suspect allergies (and he was on steroids for a while), we just weren’t sure what was going on, and I noted his coat was both slightly oily, and still somewhat thin and brittle, which to me indicates possible thyroid issues (even though he’d had been tested in the fall).  He even had some bald patches that have since started to grow in, and the hair on his belly and underarms was particularly thin.  Because he’s also blowing his coat, I couldn’t get a good sense of how bad the problem was, so I decided he needed a super brushing and a bath.

Toby before his bath

The problem is, Toby doesn’t do baths.  He really doesn’t.  There has been biting during bathing (not me, but there were unfortunate incidents with a groomer and with a vet tech).  The only time he’s let loose with the Shiba scream was during a bath.  He doesn’t even like to get his feet wet.  So bathing is always….an adventure.

So while I can’t recommend this as standard practice, I might as well just confess:  I drug him.  I know, it’s not ideal.  But 1/4 of an acepromazine, and I can give him a bath.  (As I discovered, 1/4 is not enough for me to clip his nails by myself, though).   So yesterday, after brushing a kitchen garbage bag full of Shiba hair off him, I slipped him a “special cookie” (ace+cheese).  About 45 minutes later, he was looking decidedly mellow:

After the "special cookie"

Bath time!  We hadn’t yet started when U. came home, so he decided to document the bath.  (He has found some program to give special effects to his phone pics, so you’ll see some of his handiwork here).

As soon as Toby saw me put towels on the floor of the bathroom, he had an inkling of what was up, and he tried to hide, but of course I caught him, and dragged him into the bathroom, then U. plopped him into the tub, where Toby sighed deeply, and sank right down into the tub (don’t let the photo fool you:  he was not in the least bit happy):

Toby says "I hate this"

There were, of course, attempts at escape:

Toby is a blur of outrage!

Before he finally surrendered:

But overall, he was easier to handle then usual, and his bath was successful.  After a good towel drying, some more air drying, and yet more brushing, he turned out very handsome indeed:

Toby is Clean!

One of the other big discoveries:  Toby is really a bright orange dog, not a reddish-brown one!  You can see, however, that his coat is thin on his chest.  That’s where he had bare spots from allergies, and his coat is only just beginning to grow back in there.

After Toby’s bath, the tub was filthy, and I had to clear it of an awful lot of hair.  As I was doing this, I thought, well, it’s already dirty, why not give Oskar a bath?  So into the tub with the big Akita boy!

It took two of us to get his 106 pounds in the tub and hold him in, so there are no pics of the bath in progress, but Oskar went in happily, and seemed to enjoy his bath.  He especially liked having the shower on him, and of course, the massaging in of the shampoo was also quite popular.  There were  more color discoveries:  Oskar is a cream-colored dog, overall, but his undercoat is still charcoal grey!  When he was wet, it was quite noticeable:

Oskar looking for Bel after his bath

Of course, his loop, as we call his tail, looked particularly magnificent and bright after the bath!

I did have some problems with matting in his coat, both before the bath and after.  His coat is longer and silkier than the Shibas, and it tends to mat at his elbows and under his collar.  I brushed him as well as I could before the bath, but afterwards, I sprayed on some ShowSheen, which worked as a detangler, and I was able to comb everything out.  It also protects against dirt, and leaves the coat very silky, but it does have silicone, so I’d like to find another, more natural product eventually.

He looked great after his bath:

Oskar after his bath

Of course, once I got done with those two, I was on a roll, and though Bel sensed what was going to happen next and tried to flee, I caught her.  Her bath was uneventful, except for the fact that I ran out of shampoo.  She still has her “poodle cut” as her hair has not grown back in after her surgery, so she didn’t need much.   She’s the smallest and has the least hair, so she was in and out of the tub fairly quickly.

After she got out, she tried to do the Shiba 500 through the house, but it’s hard to get up to speed when a very large Akita thinks this means a fun game of chase, so Bel took some quick spins around the living room, then hid from both me and Oskar:

No one can see me

Since Bel was getting the worst of it in the game of Shiba/Akita tag, I decided to put her in her crate, where she settled down prettily:

I was able to coax her out about an hour later with a promise of a cookie…..the much appreciated salmon and white fish Vital!

Bel says "Get out of my way, Oskar!"

And that was that:  everyone had a bath, a brushing, and finally, dinner, and everyone survived just fine, humans and canines.

Toby did have some later trauma when I decided I’d better take care of his nails, too.  I managed to clip four of them before he began to growl, and I decided to leave the rest for another day.  Once he was clean and brushed, I was able to look him over fairly well.  His coat is thinner than I would like on his belly and in some other places, but it’s not quite as bad as I had originally thought.  I think I’ll keep an eye on him, and if it gets worse, it’s off the vet again.  Right now, however, his diet and slightly higher amount of thyroid meds has really improved his health:  he’s slimmer and more lively, and I hope his coat condition will improve as well.

Overall, bath day was a success!

Big clean boy!

Snow Day!

Let's play!

This morning we woke to quite a bit of snow, and before getting up, I fantasized about canceling my classes for the day.  Then, what luck! When I got up, I found that the university was closed for the day!  So I was delighted to get a real snow day, and the dogs seemed to enjoy it too, except for Bel, who is immobilized by her splint.

Both Toby and Oskar went out and ran and played in the snow (separately), and Toby and I took a walk to the mailbox, which was a very cold walk indeed, and when I got home I discovered it was only 9 degrees, which is quite cold for New Mexico.

I also played fetch with Oskar until it got too cold for me to stand outside.  It wasn’t very successful, as he lost the ball (til the snow melts anyway), but he had a great deal of fun in the snow.  Here are some pictures of him and Bel in the snow:

Snow face!


Bel is wearing her leg brace.   More on that tomorrow.

Stay warm everyone!

Oskar is a Teenager: Dealing with Doggie Adolescence

Where has my sweet puppy gone?  I imagine I’m not the only dog guardian to ask that question.

It’s easy to see how far Oskar has come:  my little pup who could sleep in his food dish is long gone, and now I have a nearly 8 month old Akita who is just over 100 pounds, but whose brain hasn’t caught up with his body yet.  I know that.  But still, it’s a surprise sometimes when it hits.

Earlier this week, we went for a walk. Epic walk fail.

Oskar has been in two puppy classes, and he’s always  been pretty good about walking on the leash.  He didn’t too much leash pulling.  We’d even gotten to the point that he’d heel….only for a minute or so at a time, but he’d do it.  About a month ago,  he’d started to tug on the leash a bit, but nothing I couldn’t control, and mostly, he’s just a polite and sweet dog.  I did get him a no-pull harness–we settled on The Freedom Harness after trying a few types–and he was doing ok.  (Here is the  Freedom Harness)

Not on Wednesday!  His head was whipping around like he’d never seen so much interesting stuff ever.  He pulled–hard–to get at all the other dogs in their yards, and since he’s so damn big, of course he can almost pull me off my feet. He tried to chase cars. He acted as if he had never been on a leash walk before. We got, maybe, half a block from the house, because I had to keep stopping and walking the other way to get him to walk on a loose leash, which he’d do, but for maybe 20 or 30 secs, then back to crazy pulling. He even pulled the leash out of my hands and ran off down the road, but thank god, when I called and crouched down he came running back to me in delight (thank god he’s not a Shiba–the Sheebs just run off!).

I knew he was approaching adolescence, but this is the first I’ve really seen it manifested. Now I’m noticing that if he is in the yard, and I call him, he just ignores me. (he’s still eager to learn and good in the house, but obviously, no distractions there). Also, his interest in other dogs has just tripled….and while he’s not growling or anything, he does his excited “hop” when he sees them, and then tries to pull me over to them, and of course, he’s 100 pounds. He can easily pull me.

He’s not neutered yet, and I’d prefer to wait til he was a year old, for health reasons that I will discuss in another post.  I haven’t ever had an unaltered dog of this age, so I don’t know if he’s any worse than any other dog at this age–certainly I remember my (neutered) GSD being suddenly impossible at this age. I also think Oskar may SEEM particularly bad now because he was such an easy puppy. I didn’t notice the Sheebs adolescence because they were such holy terrors as pups that really, what could be worse?  So Oskar probably just seems bad in comparison to how usually good he is.  And Oskar is not showing any of the other issues that appear sometimes in unneutered adolescent dogs:  no marking (he doesn’t even lift his leg yet!), no humping, no aggression.  Like I said, he’s a good boy overall.

My plan of action with him is to go back to basics on training.  His biggest problem is focus:  he just can’t seem to manage it.  He’s a good boy overall, and still wants to please, but he just can’t get seem to get his little overexcited brain to focus on one thing.  So we’re back to doing attention exercises in the house (Look at Me, the Name Game) and we’re practicing walking on a loose leash in the yard and the house, rather than trying it on an overly exciting walk.  He also needs more exercise:  and while we can’t go on walks, we can play in the yard.  (Oskar, unlike many Akitas, LOVES fetch, so that’s a great game to get him tired).

I found these articles on Dogster that deal with canine teenagers.   They were very useful!

Dogster on canine adolescence

And here’s a pic of the big boy (with Bel looking very small beside him):

The Return of the House of the Fox Dogs

This is my new House of the Fox Dogs blog!  I plan to write about dogs–what else?–and specifically about my Nihon Ken (Japanese dogs), my two Shiba Inu (Toby who will be 7 on the 25, and Bel who is 5) and my American Akita, Oskar, who is 7 months old.  I plan to write about behavioral issues and health issues I’ve struggled through with my dogs, as well as write about canine nutrition and raw feeding, and, well, anything dog related that catches my fancy.

I started this blog many years ago in different circumstances, when, frankly, I knew less about dogs than I do now.  I’ve decided to keep my old blog entries, which are mostly from the (imagined) point of view of my dogs.  They still amuse me, so I hate to get rid of them.  But there are a lot of things I know now that I didn’t know then–like how the theory of dominance in dogs has been disproved, and more.  I expect to discuss some of the things I’ve learned in the upcoming blog entries, as well as talk more about the health issues my dogs have faced, and what I’ve learned from those experiences.

So if you go rummaging around through the older entries, understand they come from a very different perspective, and perhaps they can be a document of my journey, of how much I’ve learned while living with dogs that have challenged me, always, to learn more.   And also, I wrote about Kai, my German Shepherd, who crossed the bridge in May of 2010, not too long after his 11th birthday.  Much love to Kai, who had to live with Shibas.

For now, here are some photos of the current canine occupants of the House of the Fox Dogs:

Bel and Toby in a rare moment of truce:

Oskar at 4 weeks:

Oskar at about 5 months, at the Jemez River: