Dangerous Dogs: Fact and Fiction

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Who was it who said that life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans? That’s certainly true for writers–at least, for some of us. I’m frankly awed by those who produce well-crafted novels every year (and sometimes more often than that) and I’m the first to agree I’m not in that league. Instead, I’m comfortable doing things my way in my own time. Since the major plot lines for the series are drawn from both life and legend, the research process for each book is proving to be an adventure all its own.

Dangerous Deeds, the second book in the Waterside Kennels mystery series, tackles two hot topics that are rumbling through the region: land fraud and dog ownership. Researching these real-life issues led me to courthouses, community meetings, newspaper archives, legal records (both on- and off-line) and animal shelters. Along the way I’ve interviewed county deputies, elected officials, and environmentalists as well as kennel owners, dog trainers, veterinarians, and community activists. Along the way I learned that people are prone to what scholars term confirmation bias–that is, they’re most likely to believe whatever evidence supports their personal beliefs. They’re vocal in expressing their opinions and quick to dismiss opposing perspectives.

Take the issue of “dangerous dogs” for example. You can find plenty of anecdotal information supporting the position that some specific breeds are inherently dangerous and should be banned. Look further and you’ll find scholarly studies disputing that. Based on these studies, it would appear that Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is a flawed approach while Breed Neutral Legislation (BNL) takes a more responsible view. In summary:

The data, scientific studies, and risk rates all confirm that serious dog bite-related incidents are not a breed-specific issue. For canine regulation, it is important to understand the differences between the two major forms of regulation – breed-specific legislation (BSL) and breed-neutral legislation (BNL). BSL is a limited, single-factor, appearance-based approach while BNL is a comprehensive, multi-factorial, behavior-based approach. For public safety, BSL imposes regulations on a minority of dogs based only on their appearance or breed (regardless of a dog’s behavior or responsible ownership) while breed-neutral regulations address all potentially dangerous dogs, all irresponsible owners, and all unsafe dog-related situations – regardless of a dog’s appearance or breed. Consequently, multiple peer-reviewed studies have concluded that BSL is ineffective; furthermore, it is a discriminatory trend in decline evidenced by the vast majority (98%) of cities and towns that use breed-neutral regulations as their primary and only form of regulation because of the many advantages of breed-neutral regulations summarized on our breed legislation page. For public safety and to reduce dog bite incidents, the data and scientific studies both validate that the most effective solutions are breed-neutral and address the human end of the leash.

While there are some who may question the value of this source, the inclusion of scholarly studies, reports, and position statements from credible associations suggest it’s worth taking the time to review the information and links before making up your mind.

And despite the plethora of peer-reviewed studies and expert positions, there are many who prefer instead to support boycotts and breed bans.  I’ve drawn upon real-life incidents, actions, and attitudes reflecting both sides of the issue to create authentic conflict for my protagonist as she finds herself in legal jeopardy when an opponent is found murdered on her property. To save herself, Maggie must unravel the web of deceit and discover the truth before nefarious foes can succeed in their efforts to destroy all she holds close to her heart.

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Indoor Fun

Between the pandemic, rising temps, and the dust from the Sahara, our outdoor activities have been curtailed through June. In pursuit of new ways to keep Sasha entertained–and exercised–I turned to the American Kennel Club’s website and discovered cool tips and tricks for indoor fun. I compiled a few of my current favorites here. Enjoy!

Search & Snuffle

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you may remember that the coffee bean grinder initially terrified her. (See, for example, posts here and here.) These days, she knows coffee time equals treat time and comes running in to wherever I might be to claim her prize. I usually roll a tiny treat across the oak floors so that she has to search for it. Great game for kitties, too! When I’m tossing a treat for Buddy The Wonder Cat, I make sure it lands in an open area so he can pounce and pat and knock it all about before he eats it.

Snuffle mats are another way to keep your dog mentally stimulated. As I mentioned in previous posts, snuffle mats can be a great way to distract your pup while you’re working at home. And with you close by, you’ll both enjoy the activity.  Some like to hide the breakfast kibble in a mat and let them forage for their food. There’s a rich variety of mats available online, and you can easily find sources with a quick Google search. Personally, I prefer the “use what you have” approach. I alternate between an old, loosely woven throw rug, a blanket from Sasha’s crate, and a large bath towel. This morning I used an extra-large old towel and rolled it very tight, tucking treats in at random intervals. It took her nearly ten minutes of concentrated attention to discover the treats.

Scent Games

Snuffle mats can be a great introduction to scent work. I like to give Sasha time with the Muffin Tin game (supervised by Buddy The Wonder Cat, of course.) I’ll hide a bit of hot dog or cheese in a few of the cups, while others use this as a way to make dinner time fun. Here’s a great video from YouTube showing how it works:

 

For more fun ideas, check out https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/indoor-scent-games-for-dogs/

Ready for more advanced scent work? Here’s information about the sport of Scent Work, courtesy of the AKC:

Fascinating fact: Dogs have a sense of smell that’s between 10,000 and 100,000 times more acute than ours! The sport of Scent Work celebrates the joy of sniffing, and asks a dog to sniff to their heart’s content; turning your dog’s favorite activity into a rewarding game. It is a terrific sport for all kinds of dogs, and is a wonderful way to build confidence in a shy dog.

In so many dog sports the handler is in control but this isn’t true in Scent Work. Neither the dog nor handler knows where the target odor is hidden. The handler has to rely on the dog, and follow the dog’s nose to success. In Scent Work, it is the canine who is the star of the show.

The sport of Scent Work is based on the work of professional detection dogs (such as drug dogs), employed by humans to detect a wide variety of scents and substances. In AKC Scent Work, dogs search for cotton swabs saturated with the essential oils of Birch, Anise, Clove, and Cypress. The cotton swabs are hidden out of sight in a pre-determined search area, and the dog has to find them. Teamwork is necessary: when the dog finds the scent, he has to communicate the find to the handler, who calls it out to the judge.

Learn more online.

Shape Up!

Whatever your dog’s age, you can help them stay toned and limber with conditioning exercises. Use whatever’s handy around the house as props, and grab some yummy treats. If you’re counting calories or just not a fan of treats, use your happy voice, or reward your pup with a favorite toy you’ve tucked away and bring out only on special occasions.

Sasha and I have just begun working on the “step stool stroll.” Sounds easy, doesn’t it? The expression “Yeah, no” seems an apt description, at least for my efforts here. Give it a try and see for yourself. Here’s info from the AKC:

The idea is for your dog to walk around a step stool with their front paws on the stool and back paws on the ground. Although it may sound easy to you, dogs generally lack rear end awareness—where their front paws go, their back paws follow. This exercise really gets your dog thinking about what each paw is doing. If you have a small dog, try using a large book that has been duct-taped closed. For large dogs, an upside-down storage bin can do the trick.

Start by teaching your dog to place only the front paws on the prop. Once your dog is comfortable, encourage movement to either side while the front paws stay elevated. You can do this by luring your dog with a treat. Or you can shape the behavior by capturing any back paw movement and slowly building to a 360-degree turn around the stool.

There are more exercises and “how to” instructions available online. Check them out!

Multiply the fun with dog agility!

And finally, here’s something for the humans in the household. Learn about dog breeds and sports while strengthening math skills–a great idea for these learn-from-home days. According to the AKC:

Math Agility features fifteen playable dog breeds, as well as 60 different breed cards to unlock. To advance in the game, players solve quick math facts, with the option of focusing on addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division. Players take twelve tours across the game’s map to compete in different agility trials across the United States, eventually ending up at the National Championship in Perry, Georgia. Tours are available in three skill levels, appealing to students of various ages and academic levels.

 

I hope you found the information and ideas presented here useful. Whether indoors or out, there’s plenty of ways to keep you and your dog active and happy!

Breed and Behavior

Photo courtesy of PetPlace.com

In Dangerous Deeds, residents are divided by a proposed ordinance to ban what some consider “dangerous dogs” in the county. Those in favor of the ordinance believe some breeds can never be trusted, while others disagree and refuse to endorse the proposal. When asked her opinion, dog trainer and owner of Waterside Kennels Maggie Porter has this to say:

“Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s only breeds on somebody’s banned list that can be dangerous. Any dog that’s not properly trained or supervised or exercised regularly is capable of harming others. The answer isn’t a ban. The answer lies in better training for dogs and education for everyone in the community.”

Maggie’s stance on Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) is similar to the positions held by the American Kennel Club and the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AVMA’s published position statement argues that “breed does not predict behavior” and offers a thoughtful and comprehensive review of BSL and offers cogent alternatives.

And while some people think bans are limited to what they consider dangerous breeds, research by groups such as the Responsible Dog Owners of The Western States suggests at least 75 breeds are listed as either banned or restricted. You might be surprised to learn that two of the most popular breeds—the Golden Retriever and the Labrador Retriever—are included on the list. Even more troubling, many bans extend beyond named breeds and instead rely on physical descriptions. Consider this excerpt from the article Why Breed Bans Affect You published by the AKC this year:

Does your dog have almond shaped eyes? A heavy and muscular neck? A tail medium in length that tapers to a point? A smooth and short coat? A broad chest? If you said yes to these questions, then congratulations, you own a “pit bull” …At least according to the City and County of San Francisco’s Department of Animal Care and Control.

The American Kennel Club takes exception to this generalization. In fact, AKC does not recognize the “pit bull” as a specific breed.  However, across the country, ownership of dogs that match these vague physical characteristics are being banned – regardless of their parentage. The City of Kearney, Missouri, for example, only requires a dog to meet five of the eight characteristics on their checklist before they are banned from the city. Would your pug with its broad chest and short coat be in danger of getting banned under these requirements?

Whether you support or oppose breed bans, I hope you’ll agree that responsible ownership can go a long way toward improving the quality of life for people and dogs alike.

Responsibilities evolve over the lifespan of your dog. Check out the AKC’s 75 Ways to Be a Responsible Dog Owner for a comprehensive overview. A great read for anyone new to sharing their life with a dog, and a great reminder for all of us!

Photo courtesy of AVMA.ORG

“It’s raining cats and dogs”

 Source: Wikimedia Commons

Source: Wikimedia Commons

Strong storms rolling across the hills this morning brought to mind this 19th century image.  If you’ve never heard the expression “it’s raining cats and dogs” you might enjoy reading the possible origins noted in this Everyday Mysteries post.

Some suggest this was inspired by tales of Odin, the Norse god of storms. While no evidence exists to support such a notion, it certainly presents a compelling image.

More plausible is the theory offered by The Phrase Finder: “The well-known antipathy between cats and dogs and their consequential fights has been suggested as a metaphor for stormy weather.”

It’s fair to say neither Buddy the Wonder Cat nor Sasha would venture out in stormy weather, although the cat did make it as far as a chair on the covered patio. Despite being sheltered on a chair well back from the patio’s edge, he was soon soaked, which led to time-out in the laundry room with Sasha for company, who wanted no part of the rain. This strikes me as funny given Sasha’s recent adventures with the lawn sprinklers–which results in me using every spare towel to dry her thick coat. She’s not picky about the towels I use, but Buddy The Wonder Cat won’t sit still if I use anything except his personal favorites.

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A fan recently emailed to ask for news about the next book in the Waterside Kennels series. He added “My wife and I really enjoyed Deadly Ties and are glad to have it in our library.” I’m happy to report that Dangerous Deeds is still on track for publication this year. I’ve committed most of this summer to editing for continuity (important in any book and essential when writing a series). Balancing pace and plot lines often leads to more revising and rewriting than I’d anticipated. Some writers claim to manage this easily; alas, I am not among them, but I am persistent, and eager to share this story with you.

Today’s work focuses on the scene in which Sweet Pea finds an injured kitten. Maggie Porter—kennel owner, dog trainer, and sometime-sleuth—uses “leave it” and “drop it” to manage the situation. If you’re not familiar with these “must know” commands, these may help:

Prefer text? Check out these helpful links:

Teaching your dog a super-strength leave-it command

Teach Your Dog to Leave It: It Could Save His Life

Teaching Your Dog to Let Go Of Things

Sasha mastered both “leave it” and “drop it” early on in our time together. She was slower to embrace “take it” but we’ve made progress with that using her Puppy squeeze toy as part of indoor “fetch” and “bring it” time. I highly recommend these commands to all dog owners!

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