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An Introduction to Dogs
The dog is of such use to human society in the Western World it has acquired the nickname "Man's Best Friend". They can be
- companions (known as pets from the French word for small animal which is petete bête,
- working dogs helping people to protect and manage other animals, help out in emergencies
- sporting dogs such as racers, hunters or terriers.
In 2001, there were estimated to be 400 million dogs in the world.
There are many breeds of dogs, with a huge range of sizes, natures and uses. An adult dog's behaviour depends on its breed, training and situation, but, in general a dog responds to the way it is trained and treated, particularly when a puppy.
At first, do not make any sudden moves, but slowly present the back of your clenched fist for the dog to sniff, only then - if it accepts you - you may gently rub below its ears - Dogs use smell much as we use sight to recognize friends, and this is how dogs learn who you are. It is like saying to each other say Hi! Are you a friend?
The wide range of domestic dogs originated from domesticated gray wolves about 15,000 years ago. Remains of domesticated dogs have been found in Siberia and Belgium from about 33,000 years ago, but none of those early breeds seem to have survived the last Ice Age.
Dogs were probably first tamed by early hunter-gatherer people. There are two main types: hunters and guards. By selecting and training over thousands of years, dogs today can perform many roles for people, such as hunting, herding, pulling loads, protection, assisting police and military, companionship, and, more recently, aiding handicapped individuals. In some cultures dogs are also food animals - bred for their meat to be eaten by humans, however this practice has certain health hazards and is not widespread.
Most of the many breeds of dogs available today have been bred over the last few hundred years. This has been achieved by artificially selecting for particular inate behaviors or appearances appropriate for specific functional roles. In general, the more erect the ears, the more likely they are to be hunters. Floppy ears often indicates a puppy-like, gentle playful animal. However this is not always so, since dogs, like all animals are affected by their training and the situation as they see it.
Through this selective breeding, the dog has developed into hundreds of varied breeds, and shows more behavioral and morphological variation than any other land animal. Some of the popular breeds are listed below.
The smallest known adult dog was a Yorkshire Terrier, that stood only 6.3 centimetres (2.5 in) at the shoulder, 9.5 cm (3.7 in) in length along the head-and-body, and weighed only 113 grams (4.0 oz). This was developed to hunt vermin, but now is mostly used as a family pet.
The largest known dog was an English Mastiff which weighed 155.6 kilograms (343 lb) and was 250 cm (98 in) from the snout to the tail. The tallest dog is a Great Dane that stands 106.7 cm (42.0 in) at the shoulder. These dogs were bred as guards - they are gentle and playful - they raise the alarm early by barking as an invitation to play. However they are also powerful, loyal and territorial, and may attack if provoked by strangers.
Training is vital, both for the dog and the people who have to care for it. There is much controversy about the most effective way to train a dog.
Many modern dog trainers, such as Victoria Stilwell, are said to be 'positive trainers' as they mostly use encouragement and rewards. This approach is particularly used to treat aggresive behavior in dogs that may result from traditional training techniques. Many people use a 'clicker' or handclap just before giving a puppy a food reward - later on, the click or clap gives the dog the same reward without the food treat!
Traditional trainers, such as William Koehler and Diane Baumann, who encourage the use of punishment, often a physical stimulus to make the dog pay attention to commands. However this can degenerate into mistreatment that may provoke agressiveness, especially in older dogs. A recent variation on this is dominance training, promoted by Cesar Millan, who believes that all animals have an innate desire to dominate others, and that this dominating behavior needs to be overcome by uncompromising leadership. That means corrective discipline and praise rather than punishment.
The best sort of training will combine elements of all of these methods according to the breed and temprament of the dog and the purpose for which it has been selected. In fact, it is important to select the breed of dog according to its proposed role and to prepare a training schedule that fits with the owners' particular personality and probable future needs.
Some breeds of dog need a single master, others are more suited to family life. The choice will always be a compromise, which is why some trainers insist that there are no bad dogs - only badly trained owners who have not got the right balance between affection and discipline - dogs need a bit of both!
If things do go wrong, and a dog behaves in a way that is inappropriate, then professional help can usually correct the situation. However, appropriate puppy training with expert guidance is much less distressing for the dog and far happer for the owner, as well as much more expensive. The advantage of a dog-school is that the dog learns to socialize with other dogs and with humans outside its usual circle. Because the trainer can split the fee between several owners, and they can share their experiences, school is really much cheaper and more sensible for humans as well!
Owning a dog should be FUN! OK it is not fun to have to exercise with an animal for half-an-hour three or four times every single day even if it is blowing a blizzard or 'raining cats and dogs' (an English expression for rain forceful enough to wash dead animals along the streets of medieval towns). But dog owners do have to walk and run regularly, and so tend to be healthier and stronger than other people. Hospital patients can also benefit from 'pet visits' and some hospitals now provide training and other facilities for dog-owners who volunteer their time and their pets.
Walking, cycling and playing
And walking is not the only option: most dogs have some hunting instinct, and will chase a stick or a ball as if it was prey. Dogs are easily trained to walk or run at the side of a pedestrian, athlete or cyclist. Putting a dog in a cycle basket is a very bad idea because the rider is likely to fall if the dog moves. Dogs love to run and jump, and are easily trained to do something special (party trick) such as balancing a biscuit on its nose, waiting for the command, and then flipping it into its mouth without dropping it on the ground. Almost all dogs can be trained for a sport known as "dog agility" in which a handler directs a dog through an obstacle course of tunnels, slopes, seesaws and hoops, whilst running alongside.
These dog agility courses are races or demonstrations for the public to enjoy, as they are visually exciting competitions for timing and accuracy rather than speed or power, and there are many different tactics and strategies - not all successful, of course! The competing dogs run free with no food or toys as incentives, and the handler must not touch either the dog nor the obstacles. Dogs are controlled by voice commands, body movement, and of course previous training, which can start as young puppies around six-weeks or as late as middle age (which for a dog is seven or eight years old). Some animal rescue organizations use 'agility training' in order to help resettle lost dogs in new homes!
Sheepdog trials require very special training, and a ready-trained dog and handler training is very expensive. They are great fun to watch, but it is really a sport for professionals. A small herd of a dozen sheep must be driven around a circuit of a kilometer or more by one or two dogs, with the shepherd giving instructions simply by voice or whistle. His only other action is - at the finish - to close the gate of the capture pen!
Selecting breeds for needs
There is a breed of dog for almost all situations. The main things to consider is the space available at home (balcony/garden/farm etc), the time the owner has to spend with the animal for play, training grooming and affection at different times of the working or school day, the amount of activity that the animal needs and the ability and willingness of the owners to provide appropriate daily care and regular veterinary attention,
Dogs were domesticated because they were useful - which is to say intelligent enough to be trained (or maybe the dogs trained us humans - who knows?) and used for raising the alarm when strangers approached or when storms or earthquakes were imminent. They might be used to frighten or even attack strangers, to find things such as delicious truffles or simply be a companion in lonely situations.
Probably the earliest use for dogs was by shepherds - they tend to have to spend lots of time simply watching their flock, and reputedly invented lots of fun things like sling-shots and musical instruments to pass the time. Generally floppy eared dogs like English Shepherds tend to be quite puppy-like and are good for raising the alarm. Dogs with erect ears tend to be hunters and breeds like collies and German shepherds are good a herding animals.
Farm dogs include some unusual skills such as the the truffle-hunters mentioned above, they can control vermin - especially rats and powerful breeds can even pull carts. Retrievers are trained to find and retrieve animals killed by hunters in forests, so maybe they count as farm animals too?
Detection, rescue and Assistance Dogs
Dogs are not just good at smelling - they are lightweight and agile in difficult situations such as fallen buildings or overturned trucks. They look for people, spilled chemicals such as fuel and most recently contraband goods including drugs.
Dogs can be trained to lead blind people and help people with physical difficulties to get dressed, answer the telephone and a host of other things such as raising the alert for people who are deaf and may be unable to hear the door-bell or an approaching vehicle.
Generally, assistance dogs wear a distinctive marker, and it is most helpful - if you see such a dog - to simply get out of the way - please do not try to touch it unless the user actually asks you to!
Police and War Dogs
Sadly, from time to time, people attack or harm other people. For individuals, we need police to intervene rapidly, and a dog can penetrate a crowd very easily. Obeying its handler's commands, dogs can be trained to identify hostile behavior and intervene, but it is selected to be both persistent and assertive, biting just hard enough to hold the suspect until police officers can make an arrest.
War dogs have similar training, but additionally, groups of people tend to have a distinctive range of smells from the foods and toiletries they usually use. A dog can be trained to avoid friendly troops but to cause panic among enemy formations. In modern armies it is a myth that they are explicitly trained to kill, but they are trained to be aggressive, and people may be serious injured, especially if there is violence and bloodshed.
Small sized dogs
Sometimes called 'lap dogs' they are still animals, not toys and so really need the same sort of training and attention as any other pet or working dog. 'Dog psychiatrists' specialize in remedying poor upbringing and are much more expensive than 'dog school'!
- Pekinese, were famous for being the pets of the Chinese Imperial court. They are affectionate, and playful but need training to be calm or they are apt to bark for constant attention.
- Pug, has a small tail. This was also bred in China as a pet, it can be assertive, but is usually good with children.
- Jack Russell Terrier was used by the British for fox-hunting, and to catch rats in Cadiz sherry cellars (which is why, in Spain it is known as a bodeguero andaluz)! This is a breed that is playful and needs lots of love and exercise
- Scottie, properly Scottish Terrier or Aberdeen Terrier has been the favorite of many celebrities including Queen Victoria and two American Presidents. Its woolly black coat contrasts with the similar sized Westie or West Highland White Terrier
- Corgi, a favorite of the Queen of England Elizabeth II is properly a a small type of herding dog that originated in Wales
- Bichon is companionable and was the favorite pet in many medieval European royal courts. The word is from old French and means small long-haired dog. it is similar to the poodle and barbet (water dog).
- Beagle is similar to a foxhound - the adult is is quite a puppy-like and an excellent tracking dog often used for rescuing people from dangerous situations.
- Collie - more a general type of small sheepdog (middle size dog) rather than any specific breed - they tend to be highly intelligent and good at competitions such as sheep-dog trialling and canine agility. The name 'border collie' inplies the Anglo-Scottish and Anglo-Welsh border as well as the mostly black with white marking that characterizes coal mined near the edge of coalfields! Females are ideal for children since they are easily trained and need lots of exercise.
Medium sized dogs
Big sized dogs
Curiously, some big dogs actually need less exercise than smaller breeds. Remember that (for any dog) to assume makes an ass out of you and me
- Newfoundland have a woolly coat that can be black, brown, gray, or black and white (known as Landseer, after the painter). They were working dogs of fishermen, they are docile and very strong swimmers that are used by life-boat and air-sea rescue teams
- Great Dane or German Mastiff were originally bred to hunt deer and wild boar. They may have many coat colors and are known as gentle giants
- Great Pyrenees were developed by Basque shepherds to guard and manage their flocks. In nature they are are similar to collies
- Burnese Mountain Dog or Berner Sennenhundis another mountain herding dog whose name comes from the German words "Senne" (alpine pasture) and "hund" (dog) since they accompanied the alpine herders and dairymen (called Senn) They too are similar to collies
Breeds that need special attention
Some dogs are deliberately bred for aggression and so do not make good house-pets. Some dogs were bred for violent sports such as dog-fighting, bull-baiting and ratting. Although such activities are now rare, the nature of the animal means that appropriate training is vital to channel the animal's aggressive instincts into safe activities-
Retired working animals such as police dogs and some war-dogs that are well trained are sometimes offered for re-homing after some years of active service. Such agencies often encourages their former handler to form a relationship with the new owner. That help can provide a good introduction to professional dog-handling, especially for people without much experience of dog ownership who may be attracted by 'dangerous dog breeds'
- Doberman Pinscher was bred for police and guard duties
- Rottweiller was to bred to herd livestock and pull carts laden with butchered meat and other heavy products to market
- Pit bull is actually several different breeds of fighting dog –
- American Pit Bull Terrier,
- Staffordshire Terrier,
- American Staffordshire Terrier
- Any mixture (cross bred) of the above three
- American Bulldog although genetically different, is sometimes legally considered as a 'Pit Bull'
- Chow Chow or Songshi Quan which means "puffy-lion dog" can be fiercely protective of their owners and property..
- German Shepherd - bred in Germany to herd sheep is also known as Deutscher Schaeferhund or Alsatian. It is often used as a working farm animal, and notably is often used as police or war dog. It really needs to be properly trained and lovingly cared-for and given lots of interesting, outdoor physical activity. Some are susceptible to canine hip dysplasia which can eventually make the back legs useless, and the combination of pain and the instinct for activity can cause problems. However, there are reliable early detection tests, effective treatment regimes and even wheeled hip-support trolleys that are often effective remedies for this chronic condition.
This is the subject of section of a special Wikibook Animal Care/Dog which deals with all aspects of routine care.
Although dogs are omnivores (meaning they can eat almost anything - vegetable as well as meat) there are some things best avoided, such as chocolate, sugar and mushrooms. Traditionally fed kitchen scraps, a better bet is dry pelleted food. One veterinarian suggested that canned dog-food was 'a diarrhea diet'. Like humans, dogs need cereals for 'dietary fiber or 'roughage' and pelleted 'complete' dog-food provides a balance with proteins, minerals and vitamins. Just add water, and the occasional oily fish (such as sardines) for a glossy coat. Generally, try serving a little less than the makers recommend, and go easy on the treats to avoid overweight.
Regular exercise - twenty minutes walking or running three times a day, and plenty of play will keep your dog (and you) healthy and happy!
Dog health is dependent on a whole range of things including a regular balanced diet (usually pelleted dog-food), occasional nutritional supplements such as oily fish, mental and physical activity including grooming as well as some preventative measures such as regular worming and inoculation against disease. Veterinary care does not just mean medicine, it is any professional healthcare including advice that will promote vitality, mental stability, in order to achieve overall well-being as well as long, healthy and happy situation that is a modern dog's life.
Unless you intend to breed dogs, sterilization (neutering) is essential for household (pet) animals. Females 'come on heat' or 'in season' in the spring-time, and both male and female animals naturally try to mate (copulate) with gusto for up to a month. Dogs that are not neutered also tend to aggressive. For males, this simply involves removal of the testicles (false ones are available for cosmetic purposes, but are not necessary). For females the process is far more complicated as it involves removal of all internal sexual organs (hysterectomy). Recovery from surgery in both cases occurs in about one week.
Early in life - 6 - 12 weeks after being born a puppy should be vaccinated against several serious diseases. Veterinary services vary in style, and it is wise to ask friends and neighbors about local providers. There are now multiple vaccine 'shots' so probably only one or two actual injections are needed. ask your veterinary specialist for current information about your locality, breed and situation. Keep a record of treatment safely as long as the animal is alive and ask about 'pet passports' which are essential when traveling in some parts of the world such as across state borders within the European Union. These are linked to the animal by a microchip about the size of a grain of rice and inserted under the skin of the neck with a hypodermic needle (a sort of injection and quite painless), however they are not now put in very young animals as the chip can migrate and become difficult for the scanners to detect. The usual 'shots include:
- Canine adenovirus
- Kennel Cough
Your vet may also recommend vaccinating for
- Leptospirosis and
- Lyme disease
But probably only if you live or visit near an affected area.
Puppies should not play with dogs other than siblings and parents before these vaccines are effective - ask your veterinary specialist for current information about available vaccine serums and local health threats.
Worms are very common in dogs and cats and can cause distress and ill health.
- Roundworms travel from animal to animal, and look like thin garden earth-worms or coiled spaghetti. Humans -especially young children - can become infected by other animals including dogs. These cause sickness and may appear in vomit or feces. Essentially roundworms eat th food of their host so symptoms include weight loss and generally lacking in energy. Other symptoms may be skin irritation, diarrhoea and vomiting.
- Tapeworms have a head that attaches itself to the intestine. Bits break away and may appear as grains of rice around the base of the tail or in the feces. They may also appear to show signs of life. They cause damage to the fur and may make the animal irritable and tetchy.
- Hookworms and whipworms live in the soil and can burrow through skin to feed on blood. Poor blood quality causes anemia, diarrhea, dehydration and possibly also death.
That is why regular worming by adding tablets is essential. Flea treatment may also be needed, as they carry 'passenger' tapeworm eggs. Puppies should be wormed when about six months old and regularly after that at between three to six month intervals.
Diseases that can affect humans
Generally, owning a dog improves human health, but there are some (prophylactic) precautions that are essential:
The most dangerous disease is rabies, also known as lockjaw. This is now rare in Northern Europe and North America due to campaigns of annual vaccination (sometimes mandatory, sometimes subsidized ask your veterinary specialist about local arrangements) Take extra care while in rural or remote areas where some animals may not be vaccinated regularly.
Toxocariasis is caused by a type of roundworm, and is a threat, particularly for children, since it is found in animal feces and sometimes in soil. toxicaris caninis larvae, if ingested by humans, can travel towards the liver, lungs, brain and eyes, where they can trigger off allergic reactions such as asthma, and they also have more serious affects such as partial loss of vision or blindness. such disorders tend to be permanent. Regular worming, described above, is therefore vital.
Rescuing animals is dangerous – far better to report strays to the local police or dog-wardens. Abandoned and feral dogs are living with fear and may easily feel threatened and attack for no obvious reason. '
Almost by mistake, one Saturday evening we picked up a mangy, half-starved, badly wounded greyhound who was standing at the side of the road deep in the countryside. It was in no state to do us harm, and seemed almost pleased to see us.
We took it first to the rescue center (dog pound) but got no reply. The local police told us that it was generally unattended at weekends to reduce costs. We found the only emergency (24-hour) veterinary service available was private. We assumed the animal would simply be humanely killed with a cheap lethal injection (a procedure more commonly known as 'put-to-sleep', 'put-down', 'sacrificed' and similar euphemisms).
The duty officer examined the animal. As there was no identifying medal, ear tattoo or chip to call its owner, she suggested that, as it was very late, for a small sum we might leave it there overnight in her 'animal hospital' and see how it was in the cold hard light of Sunday morning. It was more expensive than we had bargained for, but we paid and prayed!
Next morning, it had been fed, its wounds treated and its passengers (parasites and insects) neutralized.
The veterinarian explained about the dangers of Refeeding syndrome and the need to carefully control the diet to recover from starvation. (This advice is also true and vitally important for seriously undernourished for humans, as well!)
We paid extra for some wound salve and a plastic bell-collar to prevent her nibbling her bandages and took her home and washed off as much mud as we could without making her bandages wet. Note that now it was a 'her' and no longer just 'it'! So we did a really stupid thing! We called her 'monster' based on her size compared to the small terrier we inherited from a colleague going through a messy divorce.
By great good fortune, a neighbour had a daughter just completing her veterinary degree, and starting her 'practical' – one of the final steps before obtaining a license to practice. She took our Monster to her university professor – and, with almost every student crowded into a small operating theatre, declared that 'Monster' needed little more than time to recover.
A long road to recovery
Apart from analgesics, antibiotics, anti-histamines, anti-parasitics, anti-thrombosis....... Fortunately our young neighbor called every day at first, then, as the wounds healed, every two days, every four days, then whenever needed. After a week our two-year old Monster was playing. She made friends with the tiny terrier and they chased around the garden after only a couple of weeks. One month later, the wounds – initially 7 or 8 centimetres (about 3 inches) long and a centimetre (½”)wide with the bone exposed had almost healed. The muscle had regrown and the skin closed over more than three-quarters of the length. Her stamina was sufficient for longer walks, and to tolerate the vaccines required to protect from dog diseases.
Great good luck
Finally a success story. BUT... If the dog had not been docile, or if we had not been very experienced, long-time dog owners, who happened by chance to be semi-retired and living in a in a big house with an unkempt garden (that we were supposed to be taming for the owner) and if we had not had at least a little bit of spare money to finance our unintended project....
Fortunately for us our 10Kg (22lb) walking wounded skeleton turning into a 20Kg bundle of fun was used as good publicity for both the school and clinic. Imagine the cost if we had to pay ordinary commercial rates for the extensive skilled professional veterinary care that was delivered intensively over several weeks – so even we could easily have failed or been financially ruined but for our great good fortune. Well, now do you see what we mean by 'think twice before picking up a stray'?