Why we don’t let our dogs chase anything

IMG_1249[1]

Val (and Bandit) waiting for something interesting to happen.

We have four dogs, they are amazingly calm and social beings, but they are still predators. We make it a strict rule in the humpy that dogs are not allowed to chase anything. The human component of the family is in charge of chasing goannas, snakes and spiders outside and away these days. Our old dog Spot (19 years old this year) used to escort goannas out of the yard and away from the chooks, but he is retired now as he can’t seem to remember which direction to herd them in (resulting in some interesting course corrections). We keep this rule for several reasons; firstly, dogs are predators and have an instinct to hunt and kill (no matter how sublimated that instinct may be) so we don’t want to encourage any behavior which may lead to killing. Secondly we don’t want visitors like goannas and snakes hurt during their visit to the humpy.

20170326_110439[1]

This is Spot, still going at 19 years old. He just doesn’t know where he’s going these days.

Yesterday we added a third reason for the rule; one of our dogs had an argument with a goanna. The poor little thing (the goanna) was asleep in a clump of lantana when I walked by on my way out to photograph some bower bird bowers, he was startled and ran past me towards the relative safety of a big tree. Meanwhile, Val; our youngest dog, saw the goanna and either mistakenly assumed it was heading towards me or just had an excess of hunting instinct that morning. Val jumped over the fence (an impressive feat in itself) and attacked the poor goanna, while I yelled myself hoarse and whacked at them both with a stick. She eventually let go and slunk back to the yard while I tried to follow the fleeing goanna to see if there were injuries. He ran away very fast and probably hasn’t stopped running yet. I never did catch up with him.

IMG_2796[1]

When I got back to the humpy my youngest daughter was checking Val over for injuries and found a wound on her inner thigh via the age-old cinematic convention of suddenly finding one’s hand covered in blood. That particular daughter has a blood aversion and has been known to faint in the vet’s office or during medical procedures at home. This time was no different; she quickly handed Val over to me and prepared a sterile salt water bath and dressings for me before sitting on the floor with a grayish face and shaking hands. I began cleaning away the blood, which was copious but not frighteningly so. Once the wound was clean it became apparent that Val had three slash marks from the claws of the goanna on her left inner thigh area.

53084414412__C838D5B4-9155-4285-8063-7E3F9799890B[1]

The wound just after we cleaned it.

As goannas carry some wicked bacteria and actually have venom of a sort,  we decided to take her to the vet for a professional check over, antibiotic shots and proper cleaning. So into the car we climbed, armed with towels, water bottles and money. Val was in a lot of pain on the two hour drive to our family vet, she sat mostly quietly and didn’t even show interest in passing cows. When we got to the vet office (which had stayed open for us past the normal lunch time closing on a Saturday) Val was sedated and began to relax somewhat. In fact her face bore an expression reminiscent of my own after several bottles of home made wine. Her wound was cleaned out and she was injected with heavy duty antibiotics, anti-inflammatory agents and more mild sedatives. The vet decided that she needed to stay overnight because the risk of infection with goanna wounds is very high and they can get very messy, very fast. Also the slash had just missed her femoral artery making the risk of systemic infection even higher.

We returned this afternoon (a four hour round trip) to pick her up. She was very glad to see us (and still a little stoned). We left with explicit instructions for wound care, a pile of assorted medications and our overjoyed Val. The wound will need twice daily cleaning and I will have to give her the many pills and potions, but I am confident she will heal.

20171030_073523[1]

This is the wound after two days.

We don’t go rushing to the vet for every little wound, but I am glad we decided to go for this one. I am still worried about the goanna as we haven’t seen him again and he may have been as badly injured as Val. The rule of ‘no chasing’ will continue to be firmly enforced, after all, we don’t need any more injuries.

 

Edit- Val’s wound is healing well and the goanna has been spotted again. He has some small wounds around his neck but seems OK (whew).

20171102_065626

The wound after a week.

 

Our dog pack

A lot of people have a dog or dogs; where we live most people have at least three. Many years ago I met a man who had a beautiful blue heeler, she was a young dog at the time and was very friendly. He told us we couldn’t pat or talk to her as she was being trained, so we didn’t. He used an authoritative manner with her and often spoke roughly to her, he never hit her in our presence and I don’t believe he did out of our sight either. He was very proud of the tricks she could do (sit, lay down, roll over, climb a ladder, etc), but never praised her for them. She had to stay in the car when at our place because she attacked other dogs. That blue heeler was later put down (by her owner) because she bit a child. This was a lesson for me as I had watched her go from a social, friendly pup to an antisocial, insecure, watchful dog. I know heelers can be nippy and often have social issues, but I believe her problems were caused by lack of socialisation and not being secure in her place. I took this lesson to heart and changed the way we live with our dogs.
We don’t ‘own’ our dogs, they belong to our pack (or we belong to theirs); we all live together and have our roles to play within the family. People are often surprised that our dogs don’t fight with each other or cause trouble among the other beings that live in and around our humpy. They assume that we must have a training program and keep the dogs (who are after all predators at heart) under strict control. The truth is far stranger and less exhausting than that; we simply treat them as part of the family (because they are). They are supported by the other members of the family and have the same expectations placed on them, they have to contribute to the well being of our home and they have become used to cross species co-operation. The rules in our humpy apply to everyone and are fairly vague, in general boiling down to the simple phrase ‘do what you want as long as it hurts no-one’. We don’t make rules about dogs on furniture, they sleep where they want, but they are not allowed to chase any living thing with the intention of harming it. They are confined to the yard unless we are with them, which is a rule designed to keep them safe, however they do come for a wander through the bush when we go walking. They can socialise with anyone who visits the humpy (and I take special note of those they choose to avoid), whatever the species.

We have three full time dogs and a part time dog in our pack. They are part of our family and help us live busy and fulfilled lives (sometimes by creating the work that makes us busy). They each have interesting life stories (well, interesting to me) which I would like to share.

First we have Jessica,

Jess…our one obedient dog.

Jess is a rescue dog…with a twist. One morning, many years ago when my kids were small, my youngest daughter came to me and said she had dreamed we owned a dog who was black with white around the neck, short hair and a white tip on her tail, her name was Jess in the dream. The day after this one of my good friends text me and said that a dog had wandered up her driveway in a terrible state. This dog was very thin, had hair missing and a wound on the back of her head like she had been whacked with a pipe or something. She was looking for a home for this dog, when I told her about my daughter’s dream she said that this dog matched the description. Of course we set off to meet her and see if my daughter somehow had the ability to dream things into reality (and if so to implore her to dream up a Lotto win).
When we got out of the car the dog, who was very timid, poked her head out from around a corner. My daughter called softly “Jess?” and Jess trotted over and sat on her feet. After this miracle we naturally took her home, fed her up a bit and treated her head wound. She came with some fairly serious neurosis though.
Jess is a compulsive eater, we think because she was starved at some point in her life (perhaps all of it); she can’t go past food and will eat until she is sick, then come back for more. This has led to her becoming very over weight. Before she joined the family we fed our dogs from one central bowl which was kept full at all times. People would ask us why our dogs didn’t fight with each other and I would point to countless David Attenborough documentaries about pack feeding habits; in the wild the alpha dogs will eat first followed by the betas then the pups. That’s the way our dogs fed…all lined up to wait for their turn at the bowl. After Jess became dangerously overweight we had to change to individual feedings so we could limit her food intake. She also chews wire fences, gets obsessed with individual beings (a guinea fowl was the main one until last year) and is allergic to preservatives in her food (her hair falls out). We love her though and she is the most loyal and best behaved dog in our family.

Then we have Spot.

Spot…the dementia patient.

 He joined us 17 years ago when the people we sold our TV to said they would pay our asking price if we took the last puppy from their litter. We said yes and a tiny bundle of black and white shaking fur arrived the next day. He has been my elder daughter’s closest friend for such a long time. In his long life he has been dressed in doll clothes, pushed around in a pram, made to complete obstacle courses and been the companion of many a long walk. Now he is old, he has lost most of his sight, can’t hear much and mostly forgets to go out to pee. People sometimes ask me why we keep him in the house when he makes so much mess and needs to be led wherever he goes, which is a lot of extra work. My answer is always; “Would you make your grandfather live outside just because he’s a lot of work?”. Spot has given us his whole life and I believe he deserves to be loved and treated with respect for the rest of it. He is still always the first to eat and barks at random stuff just like the other dogs even though he has no idea what he is barking at.

Bandit is the final full time dog in our family.

Believe it or not his parents were both black.

 His family line has been with us since we became a family. My partner thought that buying me a $10 miniature poodle puppy who had been rejected by her mother and had to be fed every two hours with an eye dropper would be a romantic gesture, he was right. Gizmo (as that pup came to be named), grew up and got pregnant to a local Silky terrier named Ambrose and had Pucky who in turn grew up and got herself in trouble with a Chihuahua cross Pomeranian named Chopper (who dug under the laundry foundation to be with her). The result of Pucky and Chopper’s union was Busy, who lived with us for 16 years and had one puppy with a friend’s dog (after a proper wedding arranged by the kids), that puppy is Bandit. He is the smallest and the loudest of our dogs, he is very sweet about taking Spot out to the toilet; he walks in front of him and leads him out the door then waits for him to be finished and leads him back in.

Our part time dog is Val, the product of a marriage between Spot and Jess arranged by the kids.

Jess had 14 pups but we could only afford to keep one. It broke my heart to have to find homes for the other 13 pups, and I often wonder if they are OK. Val is my eldest daughter’s dog and lives with her most of the time. She still visits now and then and lives with us when my daughter is working or away.

Out in the yard

These two are good friends.

 Our dog pack works like any pack; we have an alpha male (Spot) who thinks he’s in charge and an alpha female (Jess) who is really in charge, we have two betas (Bandit and Val) who just try not to get in trouble. We have no fights and very few behaviour problems (aside from Jess’ issues) despite not having a training program or being in total control. What are your dogs to you? family pet, or just plain family.