The Reality of Canine Longevity, Denial, and a Catahoula Cur

Brutus

Brutus, my 1 year old male Catahoula Cur

I might as well begin with the Catahoula Cur.  I had been half-heartedly looking for a dog for Miss Clara to mentor for awhile before her time with me is through.  We got Clara as a two year old- when our Kayla was 14.  It was a great arrangement in that Kayla had some time to work with Clara, who was a rescue with a laundry list of issues. Now she is well-adjusted, a fine protection dog, and has had many good years of happiness and health.

clarakayla620

Clara (left- 2 years old) Kayla (right- 14 years old)

I admit I am still in denial that now Clara is 14 years old, and she is slowly fading. I know, and lament, the limited lifespan of dogs, especially when I consider Clara, who is very precious to me.  Lilo is 13. She is also dear to my heart, and a good protection dog as well. Lilo has been Clara’s shadow since she came to us, and will probably not outlive Clara by long.  They are only eight months apart in age.

girliessleepin

Lilo (left- 2 years old) Clara (right- 3 years old)

lilo521closeup

Lilo- 3 years old

Even though my mind understands the limitations of canine longevity, in my denial I wasn’t looking very hard to find Clara a protégé.  I was thinking either I would save up some money and try to get either a GSD pup from someone reputable, or that the Hand of Fate would somehow place another Malinois in my path.

SAMSUNG

Lucy – 1 year old, being good, but only because she was sleeping.

For me the thought of living without at least one protection dog is not a pleasant one.  Lucy (the Bulldog X Beagle) is only three years old, but at only 40# and with dim wits (love the dog, she’s very sweet, but she’s as thick as a post) she’s not a protection dog.  So I faced the prospect of not having a protection dog at all, and then trying to educate a green dog without the help of a seasoned dog.  Lucy is not a role model.  If anything, as far as canine behavior goes, she serves as a primer on how not to act.

clarawindow1Clara used to get up in the window to watch the world go ’round, but not much any more.

Oddly enough, Providence doesn’t necessarily share my aesthetic, my timing, or my professed desires.  Let’s just say that instead of a young female Malinois or GSD… I ended up with a young male Catahoula Cur.

One of my son’s friends had come back to Ohio from Texas (don’t know all the background info, don’t really need to) and couldn’t keep his dog.  My son- and only male children have a surprising amount of sway on their old decrepit mothers- implored me to come meet this dog before he was consigned to the dog pound, which, given his looks, could lead to a probable nasty fate at the hands of local dog fighters.  So, even though he is not a GSD or Malinois, I agreed to meet the dog.  And I fell in love. Let’s just say I’ve gotten Mr. Brutus his rabies tag and dog license, and he’s loving having a three-girl-dog harem.

Brutus LucyBrutus and Lucy

I’d never even heard of a Catahoula Cur (or more properly, Louisiana Catahoula Leopard Dog) before last week, and I am pretty aware of dog breeds.  I thought he was a very large (1 year old and 65#) and strangely marked Pit Bull.  But Catahoulas are not Pit Bulls.  Their bodies are longer and a bit leaner, their feet are larger, and the webbing on their feet goes all the way out to the ends of the toes.  They are larger (males are 65-95#) than Pit Bulls, and are known for the leopard patterns in their coats. Many, like Brutus, have blue eyes.

Catahoulas are used to hunt wild boar in Louisiana and Texas, and they likely have Pit Bull in their lineage, along with Mastiff, and various sight hounds.  Even though Brutus and Clara look nothing alike, they have eerily similar mentalities.  Both dogs are infinitely aware of their surroundings, and both are intuitive.  He will learn well, and it is good to have a young protection dog again.

Clara 14 small

Clara, age 14

I know that I will grieve down to my very soul when Clara and Lilo pass.  They have been most excellent dogs,  but that is the condition of loving a dog- that their life spans are quite finite and all we can do is love them well in the time we have.

I could talk about and dote upon my dogs forever, and that’s a great thing because they are positive.  Not everything in life is so good.  Jerry is failing at an even faster rate than Miss Clara, and that is not a good thing.  He has gotten the oxygen concentrators he needs to help him breathe.  Life is finite.  Do what you can with what you have.

The Gravitas of a Popcorn Fart, Pit Bull Vindication, and the Tyranny of Stuff

 

I really had to do a bit of work on this pic to make it legible, but I couldn’t resist this old bumper sticker.  I saw this one  the other day displayed on an old, distressed Chevy “G” series van, and was fortunate enough to get a pic of it as I was stopped at one of the endless traffic lights on Morse Rd..   I don’t have any Pit Bulls (or Am Staffs, as many Pittie owners prefer to call them) but as a person who 1. loves dogs, and 2. owns protection breeds, I have to agree with this.  I’ve said it before, that the quality of a dog is heavily dependent on the quality of care and training it receives from its owner. 

Genetics and breeding do play into a dog’s basic temperament, and are essential factors when dealing with a particular dog.  I cannot realistically expect Clara (her predominant breed is Belgian Malinois) to obey commands given by anyone she doesn’t know.  Her inclination is to obey and protect her owner (me) and she will naturally be wary of others.  This is a personality trait of Malinois and most other protection breeds.  GSDs are notorious for being wary of strangers as well, which is a neutral trait in and of itself.  It’s good to have a dog that only obeys one person- at least in certain circumstances.  I can, however, expect Clara to be polite with people when she is properly introduced.  When Grandma was in the nursing home, Clara enjoyed going to the nursing home and visiting with people.  She was comfortable with this, and welcomed people’s attention, as long as I was with her, and she was in her harness.  Lilo is not a terribly social dog (typical of Chows.) She is obedient when she is in her harness as long as people and other dogs keep their distance.  Unlike Clara, Lilo does not allow “strangers” to pet her even when she is in her harness.  I understand that Clara and Lilo both have to establish relationships with people and with other dogs, which require careful introductions, before they will be social with them.  I do not force Lilo to be around children, and I don’t let them attempt to pet her, because she doesn’t like kids.  Since I understand that, it is my obligation to keep Lilo away from kids and out of situations in which she could potentially be dangerous.

Sheena, for all of her bad breeding (the poor girl’s mannerisms and dim-wittedness scream “inbreeding”) doesn’t know a stranger, human or canine.  Anyone can interact with Sheena and likely end up getting leaned on, flopped on and headbutted into loving on Sheena, because that’s how she rolls.  If she gets attention or food out of the deal, she’s your buddy for life, and she’s not picky.  This too can be a beautiful quality in a dog as long as you don’t expect that dog to defend you or your property.  Sheena’s not that bright, but it’s OK.  She looks intimidating.  The poor kids over in the drunk and domestic apartments across from the body shop think she’s a wolf.  They can think that, especially if it keeps them out of the body shop lot and out of our yard.  Clara is the one they really need to be aware of even though she doesn’t look anything like a wolf.  They don’t know that Sheena is as harmless as harmless gets- docile, dim-witted, and the poor girl wore down her canine teeth to little stubbies and her incisors completely to the gum from cage-biting, since the inbred fools who used to have her had no idea how to care for a dog, but I won’t get into depth on that subject.  It still pisses me off to think of it.  Just because they bred with their sisters didn’t mean it was a good idea to do the same thing with their dogs, but again, I really don’t want to get into that.

The bottom line is I don’t blame the dog when someone gets dog-bit.  There are two reasons why anyone would get dog-bit.  One is owner mistreatment or neglect of the dog.  People who intentionally mistreat dogs and try to make their dogs mean and turn them against people and other dogs fit into a category including child molesters and rapists and other despicable individuals.  The other is if you are stupid enough to come into a dog’s domain when you’ve been warned- either the dog itself warns you, (most dogs would rather not attack you- they will give you a warning) or you enter into an area that is the dog’s territory.  Go ahead, jump my fence, or break into my house, and if Clara and Lilo have your ass for lunch, guess whose fault that is?  My dogs are not vicious. They are duly restrained and kept from situations in which they could be dangerous- unless you make a conscious effort to place your butt in their mouths.

I understand that people have intentionally bred for the tendency toward dog-aggression in certain Pit Bull lines.  I will even agree knowing that many Pitties tend toward dog-aggression that they be kept as “only dogs” or that they be raised together from earliest puppyhood with other dogs to mitigate that tendency, at least with members of their own packs.   Ultimately how safe a particular dog is depends on how the owner deals with that dog.  Individual dogs are as different as individual people, even though you can expect certain broad behavioral tendencies within certain breeds.   Responsible owners will have safer dogs. 

I will not say that any dog is 100% safe any more than I will say any human is 100% safe.  There is no such thing as a “safe” creature that is armed with 42 razor sharp teeth that are designed to rip and tear flesh, and that is three times stronger than a human pound for pound of body weight.   If I had to wager though, the dog’s behavior is going to be more reliable and predictable than any given human.  We are a far more violent species.  One’s safety (and the safety of children in one’s care) is dependent upon common sense.  Canine body language is not hard at all to read, and there are some common-sense rules to observe when dealing with any dog.

I love this pic, even though it is only a yawn.  There’s no aggression being shown here at all even though it could be taken that way out of context.  Clara has always had lovely teeth.  She is not an inherently aggressive dog, but she will protect me and she will defend her territory.  That’s what I expect her to do.  We do not use physical punishment to train our dogs- just a simple system of redirection, rewards and simply living with and building relationships with them.  They get a lot of activity and affection.

I know my opinion generally has all the gravitas of a popcorn fart- a lot of hot air and easily missed- but for what it’s worth I simply can’t stand it when people condemn any particular dog breed.  What they’re really saying is that they are too stupid and/or lazy to learn how to deal with dogs, and to have a healthy respect for what dogs are capable of. 

I’ve never been what anyone would call a clothes horse- for the most part I follow the “Three C’s” of clothing acquisition.  Is it Cheap?- not as in poor quality, but as in low price?  Thrift stores and garage sales rule for this very reason.  I don’t like to spend a lot of money on clothes.  Is it Comfortable?  If it itches, if it’s too tight, forget about it.  I’m too old to sacrifice comfort for vanity.  Does it Cover the essentials?  At my age, nobody really wants to see much skin.  As a courtesy to the rest of humanity, I try to make very sure that the essentials are covered.

Shoes are a whole different ball game.  I love shoes.  I wear an easy to fit size (unlike clothes, where the tops have to be one or two sizes bigger than the bottoms.) 99 times out of 100 if I order a 7B  shoe, it will fit.  I do have a high instep, so I have to be aware of that when I mail order shoes (I have to avoid certain boots and certain over the top of the foot styles) but for the most part it’s a wide open vista of foot fashions for me.  I must have over a 100 pairs of shoes and I freely admit it (most of them bought on clearance, but still.)   It is my vice.  At least they’re cheaper than cigarettes, won’t kill me, and are a damned sight more practical.  Never come between a cougar and her shoes!

The Intellectual Superiority of Dogs, Ban Stupid People, and Other Utopian Impossibilities

I had to take a picture of this yesterday when I saw it, as it mirrors my sentiments regarding both the dispatch of the stupid and those misdirected souls who would ban certain dog breeds.

Banning dog breeds or labeling particular breeds as “vicious” because some humans misuse them follows the same flawed logic and makes as little sense as banning the responsible ownership of firearms because some people misuse firearms.  I am particularly sensitive to such nonsense because I own dogs that have the potential to inflict grave injury if they are mishandled.   ALL dogs have some potential to be dangerous to humans if mishandled, though usually the larger and more assertive the breed there is little margin for error in handling the dog, and the potential for the dog to inflict harm, is greater.

Much has been said in the popular media condemning the Pit Bull breed (which is in reality a robust variant of the American Staffordshire Terrier.)  Irresponsible humans have done unspeakable cruelty to Pit Bulls by conditioning them to fight and training them to intentionally attack other dogs.  When properly conditioned and socialized, pitties (or as some owners prefer to refer to them- AmStaffs-) are some of the sweetest, most gentle and lovable dogs on Earth.  The difference between the lovable pittie who plays with children and lounges in the TV room and the deadly fighter who tears and rips other dogs to death is the human factor: are the humans responsible for the dog caring for it, socializing it, and handling it correctly?

I remember well that other breeds have been demonized in the media as being inherently “vicious” also- Dobermans, GSDs, Rottweilers, Chows, and Akitas to name a few.  However, in the rush to condemn a particular breed for being inherently prone to aggressive acts, the human factor was ignored.  Certain breeds do possess personality traits that can lead to aggressive acts if the human handler does not know how to deal with those traits.  A good example is our GSD/Chow mix, Lilo.

Lilo is a very territorial dog (typical of both Chows and GSDs) and always stands ready to defend what she believes is hers.  This personality trait can lead to aggression- and someone getting his/her face ripped off- if Lilo is improperly handled.  We understand that Lilo must be carefully introduced to both new people and other dogs so she doesn’t see the “interloper” as a threat.  We reward her when she is polite to new people and other dogs so she will associate being sociable with getting an extra something.   Lilo is heavily food motivated, so we encourage new visitors to pay tribute to Miss Lilo with a piece of cheese or meat.

Clara (Belgian Malinois/GSD) is every bit as territorial as Lilo, (pity be on any fool who would turn up in our house without proper introductions) but Clara is not nearly as demanding or headstrong as Lilo can be.  Clara is easier for me to handle than Lilo because she has an endearing and typically Malinois trait- her primary motivator is affection rather than food.  She won’t turn down food, but she lives for positive reinforcement.  She is very much a pleaser, but with one condition.  She will do virtually anything if she knows that’s what I want her to do.  If I am handling her she can be the gentlest and most docile dog imaginable no matter where we are.  She was a most welcome and sweet visitor to the nursing home my Grandma was in.   However, I am sure that the kids who tried to climb the fence saw a very different Clara- one with hair raised and teeth bared, charging at them full bore and ready to take a healthy chunk or two out of some miscreant butts should they land on the wrong side of the fence.  I am thankful that they made a wise choice when they saw her coming at them- they dropped and ran before they got over the fence and into Clara range.

Sheena (Husky/GSD) is rather harmless to people and could care less who walks in the house as long as they pay attention to her- she is not territorial at all, but she can be dog aggressive if she thinks she is not getting as much food or attention as the other two dogs.   She is a special case because we have only had her for about eight weeks and that’s the only socialization she has ever had.  She has gotten puppy obedience down and can obey simple commands.  Sheena is extremely food motivated and we are still struggling with some of her bad habits such as trash-digging and food-stealing.  She has that bullheadedness that is peculiar to Huskies- she makes Lilo’s “Chowtude” seem mild in comparison, and she is by far the most difficult of the three dogs to handle, at least right now.  She has made a great deal of improvement but needs to make a great deal more.  Especially when she gets the bright idea that uncoordinated large dogs can table dance.

For most people, Clara would be the more difficult of the three to handle simply because she is extremely perceptive and sensitive.   I can handle her with ease because her goal in life is to please me.  As long as I have had her (hard to believe it’s almost been six years) we sort of read each other’s minds, and she usually knows what I want before I give the command.   Now I know why the police and military love the Malinois breed.  As far as Clara obeying anyone else…well that’s a crap shoot.  Jerry can handle her to a degree.   I have to be with her for veterinary treatments.  If I am with her she will comply with any necessary procedure, but she freaks out if they take her in the back where she can’t see me.  Yelling at her only causes her to cower and hide, so any training method with her requires a lot of redirection and positive reinforcement as well as no loud commands or physical corrections.  I am glad Clara is an intuitive and quick learner.  Sheena is the exact opposite.  She’s not stupid, but extremely stubborn. She seems to do better when I’m brandishing the water bottle and she understands the threat of punishment should she fail to comply.   Lilo is a happy medium by comparison.  She’s not a pleaser but she will do what the humans want to get what she wants (food, and to a far lesser degree, attention.)

The bottom line is that it’s not about breed but in how the individual dog is socialized and handled.  Knowing that all three of my girls have very different learning styles as well as vastly different strengths and weaknesses gives me a guideline of how to help them be successful and well-adjusted.  I would not try to take Lilo to a dog park or to visit a nursing home.  She does not make (human or dog) friends easily.  Sheena would be wonderful in a meet-and-greet situation with humans (when her obedience skills are a bit more refined, she would be wonderful at the nursing home) but not so much with other dogs.  Other dogs have to be addressed with caution with both Sheena and Lilo.  (Oddly enough, Sheena and Lilo get along well- most of Sheena’s conflicts have been over being jealous of Clara.)  Clara is probably the most versatile of the three as in the proper context she gets along well with dogs and humans.

I get really disgusted with people who claim that dogs are not situational creatures, that they simply react on instinct or out of fear of punishment. I know this is NOT true.   Some dogs are more rational and sentient than a great deal of humanity is.  Dogs are situational creatures and can adapt their behavior accordingly.  They read human behavior better than other humans do.  It’s what they do to survive and thrive.

In some ways I get tired of people who continue to believe in spite of boat loads of evidence to the contrary that it is possible to create utopia on earth.  I think we can (sort of) create the dystopia we like the best, but there’s no getting back to the Garden, folks- not on human effort, anyway.