Friday, 15 March 2013


I've been a dog lover all my life and we always had dogs when I was a child - sadly some fell prey to ticks and snakes, but they all lived good lives.  Now, since the amazing Rufous came to live with us I've become aware for the first time that good communication is possible between the canine and the human.  They learn a lot about us but sadly, the majority of dog owners learn nothing about the dogs who share their homes, their cars, their children and their lives.
We need to understand that dogs are not little humans in fur coats - they have a code, a need for respect and they try to tell us what they need and are feeling - but we don't listen.  The subject here is growling.  Dogs growl for a reason. If you really get to know your dog you will learn to tell the difference between a play growl, a polite growl, a watchman's growl and a warning growl.

Some people want their dogs quiet all the time and even punish the dog for growling.  This is very stressful for the dog.  There are many blogs, websites and books on dog behaviour and if you are interested please educate yourself about these wonderful creatures.

So what are the growls? From my experience and the bit of reading I've done this is what I understand;

THE PLAY GROWL you will hear during a tug of war game. The dog has one end of the towel or Frisbee or rope and you have the other.  Rufous is very good at this game, he even manages to let go and grab on again with a better grip in a split second before I can react. But when he growls, and those teeth snap closer and closer, I know it's time to end the game. The growl, while still playful, can show a determination to win and if my fingers get in the way he may not notice the difference between a finger and the rope. It won't be his fault. There is no anger or aggression, just play becoming serious.

Don't sit on me

THE POLITE GROWL can be heard when you invade the dog's space. Rufous for example, considers one end of the couch to be his. We allow him to sit wherever he likes unless we want that spot and he understands. But, if he is on the couch,  sleeping, and I sit very close to him, close enough to possibly roll onto one of his back legs - both of which have undergone surgery in the last year - he will growl a 'too close' growl. There is no threat, no aggression, just a polite request to keep my distance. Some dogs also use this polite growl when eating, but food sharing is another subject.

What is that?

THE WATCHMAN GROWL goes with body language, usually legs apart, head down and ears  back. I hear this growl from Rufous when he's looking through the screen door or out a window and he sees something that he does not like.  It could be a snake, a goanna, a bush turkey or just a palm frond moving in the breeze, but whatever it is he is saying in his own way 'Danger, Will Robertson, Danger!'  Or if you are too young to remember Lost in Space, he is warning me/us that there could be danger near.  This behaviour does not deserve a shout and a slap, it deserves a pat on the head, and if you identify real danger, a treat.

THE WARNING GROWL is the one requires absolute immediate attention.  This growl announces that someone, lets say you, have crossed the line.  It may be that a polite growl has been ignored and you are about to sit on a skinny little dog leg. It may be that you are opening a gate the dog has been assigned to defend or your two year old is about to jab his finger into the dogs eye or his face into the dogs food dish.  The warning growl says, 'If you don't stop I will bite you'. This growl also goes with clear body language, including lips curled up and back, head low, ears flat and eyes narrowed.  It is a clear message and ignoring this growl has ended in children on the way to hospital and dogs on the way to be euthanased.

The response to this growl would be - immediately move yourself, or your child, away from the dog or shut the gate etc. Don't panic, don't make eye contact, just look down and to the side, walk backwards a few steps then turn and walk away at normal pace.

Dogs who are trained to skip growling are dogs that can bite without warning. It's not the fault of the dog, but the owner/trainer who should be held responsible.

The warning growl can also be heard when two dogs meet in the street, possibly in an area they both consider to be their territory. Most dogs have good dog sense and usually one will back down.  Several years ago a small pack of feral dogs crossed our farm.  Excited to see other dogs, Rufous ran to meet them along the track, in full view of our neighbour.  The feral dogs turned and ran but when Rufous didn't stop running behind them one of the pack turned and gave a warning growl. Rufous dropped to the ground and rolled onto his back. This is a submissive gesture, showing his unprotected underside and saying 'I don't want confrontation'.  But, for some reason the other dog rushed forward and bit him on the thigh before following the rest of the pack into the bush.
Rufous limped home, dripping blood, He had a nasty hole through the fur and tissue. At first I bathed it in Bettadine/iodine. I have a first aid certificate and years of experience with first aid for children but with a dog it's very hard to see through the fur and tell if it's inflamed or infected. So off to the vet. I was shown how to irrigate the wound. The feral dog's canine tooth had punctured through the fur and skin, and scooped around inside, lifting the top layer from the underlying layer of tissue, creating a perfect pocket for infection. If you have ever skinned an animal for food you'll know exactly what I mean.  The vet used sterile water to flush out the pocket, squirted antiseptic inside, put one stitch in, leaving space to allow the wound to drain and gave him antibiotics. Poor Rufous had done his best in the situation, fighting back could have caused worse injury, but I wish he'd run from that warning growl. Maybe he knew better though. If he'd run the whole pack might have chased him.

Please, pay attention to your dog, listen when he has a message for you. Be informed about dog body language, it's interesting and very exciting when you can understand what your dog is trying to communicate.

I have taken the poster below from facebook, and posted the website link at the end.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

old dog - NEW TRICK

Our dog is twelve.  It's a good age for a dog. For a Staffordshire Bull Terrier it is the expected life span.  Our boy, Rufous, was born 10th March 2001.  Over the last few years we've noticed his face whiten and his daytime naps grow longer but his enthusiasm for life and for people has not diminished. One vet called him 'the perpetual puppy'.  

I am truly amazed and blessed by the relationship we have with this dog. He certainly was sent to us by God, not only to fill our empty nest but to bring us closer to each other and aware of God in our lives. He has given purpose to our days and something special in common with a host of other people. It's something I never expected.

Big R and his brothers had dogs and in my family we grew up with dogs and cats and goats.  In my younger years my nomadic lifestyle was not suitable for pets but after settling down and having children the first of several cats came in our family.  We did without dogs and horses and the begged for donkey, and managed with cats, guinea pigs, many, many mice, fish and a pretty yellow bird. 

Rufous at 12 weeks
But, children left home, the cat died and bird moved on.  In 2001 my daughter, married with a six year old, was breeding a pair of Staffies. I liked the dogs who were both very vocal and started thinking about a new pet for Big R and me.  After a visit with my sister, who had a sweet little white female poodle, I decided we should definitely have a dog - in my mind was a little lap dog like my sister's Annabelle, and so ...... we ended up with a boisterous, rough and tumble, noisy, grinning, hyperactive male Staffordshire Bull Terrier in our house.  

Rufous was the runt of the third litter, the last to find a home but later rejected because of a small spot of skin infection.  My daughter asked if we would like to have him.  Being the pup left behind he was sharing a bed with our grand-daughter and still in training with his parents - a good start for the pup about to move into our lives.

Rufous the pup and mother Coco
He was three months old when he came to live with us, though we did have a few visits from Rufous and his mother Coco to ease him in. He still associates  himself with the various arms of the family, recognising names, cars and who is on the phone. We are all part of his pack.  

Rufous is brindle in colour, like his father Suede, and apparently a throwback to some English Stafford ancestors as his legs and nose are a little too long.  I looked up the official dog descriptions and was able to tick all the boxes for him as, apparently, there are about five different Staffie body types.

We soon found he was pretty smart - unless distracted - movement always takes his attention. He quickly learnt to obey the commands of sit, down, off, wait, don't touch and walk. His favourite activity was running, though often it was more like flying because his legs didn't seem to touch the ground.  He could jump too, bouncing from sit to waist high in a flash.   A description of Staffie qualities includes - adapts well to living inside the house, is friendly to a fault and adored by the owners and we found that to be true.  He is amazing and we love him. 

Happy, happy, happy
As he got older Rufous was happy to be at work on our small organic ginger farm - his work was watching out for kookaburras and guarding whatever patch of land was being ploughed, planted or weeded.  He is always the first to volunteer for a ride in the car and even loves outings to the vet. 

Rufous knows how to be happy. Every morning he is delighted to see us and greets us with a dog bow and a smile and we get a big welcome home if we've been out.  He gives a nod of appreciation when I put his dinner down and he shows his pleasure if cooked sweet potato is served with the meat and kibble.  He now responds to so many words it's hard to keep count.  He also communicates with anyone who understands his body language of ear, eye and tail movements.  We have a 'treat' cupboard and if Rufous thinks he deserves a reward he'll bark and run to the cupboard - where he waits. When he gets the dog biscuit or liver treat or dental bone, he takes it away to eat.

Rufous lives with us, in the house.  He has a dog crate with a bed but prefers the couch.  He eats in the kitchen, sleeps in our bedroom, in the bed if it's very cold, and lets us know if he needs to go out.  He is a gentleman who never disturbs a sleeping person and is able to respect a human's personal space - unless he is hungry and his dinner is late.   He does not make a mess, has only been destructive when left alone and bored - separation anxiety - our fault every time as all he needs is a good  run in the morning and he'll sleep all day while we are at work.  Heaven for Rufous is to be with his favourite people in the car or on the couch or in the paddock.

There are lots of stories I could, and will tell about Rufous and how he helps us to solve problems and makes up games. So, the new trick?  Well, two annoying habits he has are jumping up on people and also mouthing ... grabbing someone's hand in his teeth. Both scary for visitors but he means no harm - it's his way of showing affection and getting attention but it can make the arrival of visitors a nightmare of people squealing and shouting orders and dog barks.  So, what to do with an old dog and a bad habit?  Rufous had an idea himself. One day a visitor arrived, I told him very firmly to be a good dog and so did the visitor. He pricked up his ears at 'good dog' and looked at the treat cupboard. Good idea.  Now when a visitor arrives he gets to run out and sniff their legs and ankles while they are given a treat for him. He takes it back to his crate to eat and often dozes off there. 

Waiting for them to come home
I started to write that Rufous has always had good health and then remembered a few brushes with poison cane toads, blocked anal glands requiring annual vet attention, a run in with feral dogs resulting in a nasty gash and antibiotics, a tooth cracked and split to the gum line, from his love of chewing sticks and logs - he needed an anaesthetic to fix that.  He gets a fungal thing between the toes, various stomach and digestive ailments and can't eat bones. Attacks of pancreatitis took us to the emergency vet in the middle of a dark night, in the rain, twice, and he is now on a low fat diet.  He needed sedation to fix two split claws, is often bitten by the ants he likes to eat and once he tried to swallow a bee and was stung inside his cheek. There were expensive bouts of fleas, three or four warty lumps removed, dozens of ticks that we removed at home and an assortment of sores he fixed himself, by licking. I'm sure I've forgotten a few other ailments and accidents, but he never complains and he usually co-operates with treatments.

Over several years a lump grew up on the left side of his nose.  It was diagnosed as a Mast cell tumour. This is an unpredictable cancer. Surgery, chemo and 'two years left if he's lucky' were mentioned.  We put him on a homeopathic remedy and decided not to interfere with it but, while under anaesthetic to have a grass seed removed from his bottom lip - they cut off the whole lip - the tumour was also removed, taking half his nose.  He seems to manage alright with an open nostril - but don't stand too close if he sneezes.  

Half his nose is gone
but he still reads his doggy news on the wind
Early in 2012 we noticed Rufous limping badly.  We knew he had arthritis in both hips but this turned out to be a damaged knee. Too much running and bouncing.  In March he had surgery to re-align the knee. The operation required a veterinary specialist and three months convalescence with no jumping or running or chasing kookaburras and wallabies.  That was hard.  Nine months later, in December that year, the other knee went and during that operation, by the same veterinary specialist, they noticed what is possibly three more Mast cell tumours on his legs and body.  We have not made any decision about those yet, but .....

Living with Rufous these past 12 years has been an absolute joy.  He has taught us things about unconditional love, about forgiveness and about how we should treat other people. He loves life with passion, enjoys communicating with us, is rarely demanding but stands up for himself when necessary. Sometimes he is our baby and at other times he's like a wise old man.

If only we could all live like dogs we'd be a much happier species. 

Happy Birthday Rufous

have a great day



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