Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Coffee Please

"Tilde? Tilde!", I shouted, to no avail. Tilde disappeared around the corner at the end of the driveway, barking at whatever it was she had laid her eyes on. Beyond that corner, only miles and miles of heath-fields and dunes followed. My stomach knotted up when I started running down the driveway.

I woke up early that morning for Tilde to do her morning potty - no sleeping late allowed, even on holiday. She was very persistent in trying to wake me up as well, and that could only mean one thing. Sleepwalking into the living-room I decided to open the curtains first, to see what weather was awaiting us. The sound of flowing liquids behind me, reminded me harshly of my original priority, and I quickly grabbed Tilde by her collar, dragged her to the front-door, and let her out.

For just a second I thought she would just finish her potty and get back inside so I could make some coffee to wake up, but the mischievous look she gave me while standing absolutely still made me realize she had other plans.

I only made one step out of the door, to find Tilde already in full-fledged morning-zoomie mode. This day was now definitely not starting the way I intended it. And it got worse, when she heard or saw something, and bolted. Tilde was gone.

When I reached the end of the drive-way I could see what had caught her eye. A man and his daughter were standing at the start of the hiking trail, looking at a spot in the heath-fields, where their dog was playing chase with Tilde.

"Uh. Oh. Good morning", I said when I caught up with them. They first noticed me now, and the shy look they gave me reminded me of the fact I was still in my underwear, topped off with a matching bewildered morning-hair look. To no avail I made a couple of futile attempts to grab Tilde by her collar. The man and his daughter quickly continued their walk. Tilde followed them, playing with her friend and leaving me behind while calling her name.

Finally. I could see Tilde stopped and looked back at me. She started running back, when something else caught her eye and she disappeared in the bushes.

"Great", I said, and raised my arms to the sky in resignation. Waiting would probably be the best thing to do I thought, and after a minute that felt like a century, Tilde finally re-appeared. Now I had my chance. She was dashing towards me, and I went down on my knees in an attempt to remind her she was coming for me. When she came closer, I noticed the angle in which she approached me was not perfectly straight towards me. I looked over my shoulder.

"You got to be kidding me", I thought, when I saw another man with his dog approaching on my rear, while Tilde passed me by in full-speed, to make yet another friend for the day.

The man looked at me, studying my appearance and with no doubt noticing my unusual clothing items again. How many more people do we need to meet, I thought, now Tilde showed no mercy. A smear appeared on the man's face, I smiled back sheepishly. "It seems you forgot to dress with a leash", he observed sharply.

I had no witty reply. Coffee. Please.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Sit Still And Say Cheese

In the category totally useless information, the photo shoot report, of how Tilde became a model, supporting "Oranje".

 "ok this is new, how exciting..."

 "although ... I am sitting awfully still"

 "say cheese? where is the cheese?"

 "where did that cheese come from?"

"there is cheese on top of the camera !!!"

"now I get it!"


For the record. Kenzo particpated too, with his finest head-wear.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

That Guy With The German Shepherd Again

It might be hard to imagine there is a soul on this earth that doesn't like sweet, beautiful and popular Tilde.

"Our" - it is a long story - German Shepherd girl, is one of the few non-believers. Her name is Dina btw, and yes, I really have to get a photo of her.

Dina has been the only one that could tolerate Kenzo during his recovery days. He was rude. He was obnoxious. "Knock it off", she said, and Kenzo listened. And during that period, Dina could give Kenzo some very much needed social dog contact.

Now Dina actually never liked a lot of other dogs than Kenzo in the first place, and when Tilde joined, I expected her not to be pleased at all. In a way with Viva, she was always sort of tolerable to Dina, as they both were pretty happy neither of them had any wish to approach each other, and they reached their own type of truce.

When we saw them approach, Dina was cowering and looking whale-eyed directly at Tilde, who didn't was, as she usually is with other dogs, the sprawling worm at the end of the leash, but instead read Dina's messages very well, and responded appropriately.

Me and the German Shepherd guy knew what was happening, we anticipated it, even if we probably both were just a tiny little bit disappointed in our heart, and of course we didn't make any efforts to have Dina and Tilde meet. Like average polite humans, we did exchanged some hello's while we passed, and in just a second or two we stood still.

"Woof", Kenzo said. Not to anybody - any dog - in particular, he just understood the tension between Dina and Tilde, and just wanted to continue straight forward. Meeting his old love, with his new younger mistress on his side, was not a good idea as well maybe.

When we returned from water walker training the other day, we could see Dina and the German Shepherd guy walking in the neighborhood, heading for their usual trails. I stopped the car. "What do you think Kenzo? Should we make up?".

Although tired from his water therapy training, Kenzo's fluffy tail revealed his excitement for the idea, and we got out of the car to let Kenzo and Dina say hello.

Dina played her "hard to get", like she always did, and Kenzo stayed remarkably polite. Again only his tail revealed, how excited he really was. Dina came over to me to collect her hug, only her second hug since then, as if she was especially happy for this particular reunion.

"I think we did good, Kenzo" I said when we got back in the car. Kenzo's smear on his face revealed he was equally pleased. "We don't tell Tilde", I assured him.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Run, Stumble and Fall

Two comments Kenzo's surgeon made after his tendon surgery, regularly wake me up in the middle of the night, as in a nightmare. "Some never recover." was his most famous quote. When I asked questions, he downplayed it.

"Some need the same surgery over and over." was the next. Apparently, when you don't find the cause of why his tendon was injured in the first place - and keep on doing what you are doing - it is likely to come back. Which made sense, but what was the culprit?

In Kenzo's case, it was probably a lack on hind leg-awareness, as diagnosed by his physical therapy vet, and which we solved now with specific exercises. But still.

Next to a loss of sleep, these comments from the vet were helpful still, as they forced me to be extra careful and vigilant around Kenzo's recovery. It took us 5 months, instead of the standard 3 months. And we threw everything at it we could find with specialized help, instead of walking the DIY-path.

When Kenzo was finally ready for his first real runs and off leash time, the outlook was excellent and it seemed the happy days were knocking on our door. As you can see on the photo above, Kenzo was running again, and seemed even more happy than me over his regained freedom.

Where it went wrong, is difficult to say, but I think when him and Tilde were dashing down-hill the sand dune on the next picture to the right, the speed in which they went was that high, Kenzo tried to slow down, Tilde smashed on top of him, he tripped over his "bad" leg, and they were both tumbling down the hill.

When he got up, he stood still and didn't want to play. He sneered at Tilde, who of course was thinking this was an unbelievable blast, and was calling for a rerun. I gave him some time, and did some tests with his leg to see if he was hurt, but he seemed fine. Still, he preferred to take it slow the rest of the walk.

Over the course of the next days, his limping had returned and I don't think I slept a lot in the days up to our upcoming vet visit. I tried painkillers, but they didn't help, but at least we knew, he was not in pain and the injury seemed not to have returned. Finally the day came, where Kenzo got his physical examination. Nothing seemed wrong, although some muscles were again tensed. The vet told us, what she had been telling us for the last couple of months.

"Kenzo still doesn't trust his leg." The limping is an attempt to avoid his left leg, which causes the tension in other muscles. It is not a new tendon injury. What probably happened on that sand dune, was Kenzo loosing his confidence in his leg again. After his surgery, basically with no tendon, the slightest step was wobbly, which must have fed him with that deep distrust we fight today.

We're back at the water walker, do mostly leashed walks in which I have more control, and all our daily exercises, whatever it takes for Kenzo to regain the needed trust in his leg. But lets not forget the good news. Physically he is in excellent shape, and nothing is wrong with him. He just doesn't know it yet.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Little Tree On The West Coast

We laid Viva's ashes to rest under a little tree we planted on the corner of our property on the West-coast, overlooking her beloved heath fields. The West-coast, with its rough and harsh nature, was contradictory the only place where a vulnerable soul like Viva could feel genuinely safe and be happy, all day long. I couldn't think of a better place, as the West-coast was where she thrived most.

Seven months have passed. It took me a long time to decide, what to do with her ashes. We so far always rushed into it. With every pet we had, it never felt right, and we changed the way how to do it the next time, with the same, rushed, end result. It never felt right. I am glad I waited so long to decide what to do with Viva's remains. It paid off to think it over and over again, to wait, and wait again, and to make the final choice to do it this way. At least for me, it did.

Back at home, 250 miles away, I tell myself, that she is happy and safe over there, and she is where she wants to be, her favorite place. She knows we will return soon too, and will be waiting for us, when we reunite again. We hopefully watch the tree grow, and visit it every sunset, to thank Viva for another day.

I know her spirit is elsewhere, but I can't deny the need for a symbol, a tale, to connect. That little tree on the West-coast, is our gateway.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It Could Have Been My Dog

Once you had a reactive dog, you'll never see things the same.

I can see around corners, have a set of eyes in my back, and are constantly on my toes. Ready to step in front of my dog at any moment. I rent a holiday-place as isolated as possible, avoid other dogs, and scout the paths I want to hike for escape routes. The best moment of a walk is when we made it home safe and nothing bad happened. I am misunderstood, get blamed, and called names, and couldn't care less about it.

It took a while for me to realize after Viva passed away, some of the changes we made in our routines and habits, were not necessary anymore. Simple things mostly, like it wasn't necessary anymore with only Kenzo to cross the street when a - calm - dog approached, or basically, avoid a street in the first place. But old habits die hard, and there are many of them.

After Tilde joined the family we took her for strolls through shopping streets and drank cold beverages in outdoor establishments to test her social skills. She passed with flying colors. Obviously there is no more need to act like a reactive dog parent.

Now what?

It is remarkable how our own behavior has gotten so hardwired. A long time ago, we changed them in the blink of an eye, for Viva. Now, we find it hard to return to our former state. I never expected it to be that difficult, but I guess, it feels a lot like letting your guard down and give away some control - the ultimate fail for a reactive dog parent - is what is holding me back.

But that filter through which I see things will never leave. And while we were strolling the shopping streets and crashing the ice-cream stand I noticed that terrified King Charles Cavalier, that panicked over each dog that passed her, despite the owner's attempts to caress her into feeling safe.

Everybody noticed, but didn't know, or didn't care, what was going on with that poor soul. I was the only one that crossed the street for her, to pass by.

And then there was the retriever we met on our way out of the shopping area through an empty side-street, that froze at the sight of Kenzo and Tilde. As his owner tried to pull him passed us with the leash, I knew it was up to me to solve it, and walked back, where we could step aside to give him the space he needed to pass. They slipped around the corner, into the shopping street and out of sight, when just seconds later a dog skirmish broke out judging the angry growls and barks of two dogs.

Saddest part of it was probably, these people didn't know they had a fearful dog at all, or were at a loss of what to do about it. I remember very well how that felt like, too. "It could have been my dog" is all I can say to them in support, while we pass by.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Love Bites

Tilde is doing great. So are we. Like I said before, she is settling-in rapidly, especially for a Hovawart, and we already earned her complete trust.

She is as self-assured as a pup, now 16 months old, can possibly be. Meaning some new things can still scare her, like roller-bladders and umbrellas we noticed so far, but with a little help of us and some desensitizing tricks she quickly overcomes them and bounces back. It's a joy to witness, and a huge compliment of how the shelter and her former family has socialized her.

Winning her trust and rising on Tilde's popularity ladder did present some issues though. Tilde is a biter. When she gets excited or wants to show her affection, you better rally, because it hurts like hell. The family is covered in bruises and bite marks to show for it.

First I tried, like we did with Kenzo, to say "auch" with a high-pitched voice, and stop with whatever we were doing. But Tilde is not a 4-month pup anymore, and has a lot more "prey drive" then Kenzo will ever have, so instead of stopping, she got annoyed, "why do you stop, we are having fun", and bit some more.

Thankfully she is an eager learner, and I could quickly learn her STOP. I noticed she showed some restraint, and from her own free will she started to sit down instead, while still wagging her tail, which is quite an accomplishment, so I reward her for that instead, which did wonders.

So far so good, although we lack the moments still where she is really excited, but I am sure we will work it out. Looking at my arms today, I can see only one of Tilde's love scratches.

In the end, it is not a big deal for me, but it is a big deal for Tilde. It is one of those things society expects. Therefore I have to teach her bite inhibition, to keep her out of trouble.

Secretly I hope Tilde reserves a little love bite for me alone, like Viva did too for her most favorite persons. When I was away from home for more than a day, Viva would take my arm all the way back in her mouth and give it a gentle pressure - a sensation I can tell you makes you understand the power of a dog's jaws - while making a simmering sound of equal panic and joy, saying "don't you ever leave again, I'll keep you right here".

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Feeling Thankful

We return to the West-coast coming Friday. There is a lot I have to look forward to. Kenzo is fit enough. It will be Tilde's first visit. Viva will be there, waiting for us. And this time, also a first, we'll have our own little place to share.

Who could expect, when I looked into the eyes of that puppy almost seven years ago, the left-over of the litter because "it" was not show-material, the change Kenzo would bring. My suit-and-tie are long since exchanged for all-weather gear. The frequent-flyer card lost its mileage and a long line of dog books replaced the Michelin guide. I don't miss it.

The simple and uncomplicated joy of a dog's company, the pleasure of being able to give him a good life, was all I wished for. And maybe on Kenzo's days of old age - may they be far away -, while overlooking a valley somewhere together, I would recite our silly adventures knowing he would understand my words, wise in silence, wearing an esteemed gray muzzle with pride.

That was the simple dream I had for us, and still have. But so much more has Kenzo already given to me, than I ever gave to him. And if that isn't enough, he also brought us Viva, discovered the West-coast for her and kept her safe. He was there, to support us in our mourning over her loss. He welcomed Tilde, keeping her under his wings too, now as the senior, and is passing on to her some of the things he learned.

We return to the West-coast coming Friday. I have never looked forward to it more than I do now. I want to place Viva's ashes, and show Tilde what she loved so much about the beaches, the dunes, the wide and open heath fields, the chase for a good sunset. Kenzo will once again show the way.

I feel thankful for what they have added to my life, and thankful for Kenzo, for being the one, to send us down this path, making my life so much more worth living. Feeling thankful, for that unexpected gift of unconditional love, they brought with them.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Hovawart TV: Boxing Match

Ladies and Gentlemen. In the left corner, weighing 78 pounds, Kenzo! And in the right corner, weighing only 56 pounds ... Tilde!

Tilde in best Mohammed Ali style, dancing in the ring, swinging punches and always out of reach, Kenzo never had a chance.

Watch more Hovawart TV.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

König The Hovawart Founder Revisited: From Mice and Hovawart, to Heimwart

As you could read yesterday, in König The Hovawart Founder Revisited: The Myth Of The Hoffwart, it was the conviction of Max von Stephanitz, to favor function over looks in the breeding of German Shepherd dogs, what appealed to Kurt F. König. König was a diligent breeder of German Shepherd dogs and became a very active member in the local branch of the "Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde" founded by Max von Stephanitz, in Thale, Germany.

Another Benno Adams painting, "Two Friends", a Hovawart?
The young König studied zoology and medicine, never graduated, but called himself a zoologist nonetheless. Already as a youngster he was fascinated how genetic material seemed almost dormant in living creatures, and he experimented with 3 pairs of mice, which he over the course of 90 generations bred into 48 different species of mice. Genetic material, "which you could bring forward again if you knew which key to press, on his - König's - Mouse Piano", like he always loved to tell everybody.

The relationship with König and other German Shepherd breeders soon became tensed. As the other breeders trained their German Shepherd dogs to pass certain working dog tests, this made no sense to König. According to him, everything should already be present in the genetic material, as a result of thousands of years of selection by our ancestors and nature, of who was the best hunting dog, shepherd dog, etc. To train them to do other things and select on that, would eventually, like favoring looks or traits, deteriorate the German Shepherd as a breed. In an interview to the German magazine Der Spiegel, König later gave in 1955, he said: "They are murdering the dog's soul".

König left the "Verein für Deutsche Schäferhunde" in 1922 and set out with others to re-create the Hovawart. He hadn't forgotten the myth launched by Max von Stephanitz - Mr. German Shepherd himself - who declared the Hovawart as the ancestor of the German Shepherd dog. König would attempt to re-create this ancient forefather. It would be the ultimate "Germanic" dog. Even more German than the German Shepherd dog itself.

In an attempt to play his "Mouse Piano", König, together with a couple of other breeders, collected all the dogs they needed that could hold some kind of genetic material that could have originated from the Hovawart. Including Wolfs, Saluki's, African wild dogs, but foremost dogs found at farms that still could resemble the Hoffwart, and also German Shepherd dogs, Kuvacsz, Newfoundland, Leonberger and most likely Setters as well. (*)

Ten years of breeding and selection finally led to Castor Meyer-Busch in 1932, a dog König & co. thought resembled the Hovawart best, not because of his looks of course, but for his independent character and will to defend his master while keeping a non-aggressive nature and being friendly to his family. And then they - excuséz le mot - inbred the hell out of him and claimed him and his offspring to be Hovawarts.

König with Hovawart, maybe Perchta?
For König, history started to repeat itself, as soon as breed clubs were erected around the Hovawart. They started to seek acceptance for the breed as "Schutzhund" just before the second world war. Like with the German Shepherd dogs, König resented the idea of training dogs tricks and old discussions flared up. During the years after the war, König founded his "ZooTech Station" and made one more attempt to re-create the Hovawart, now almost forgotten, but eventually gave up as other breeders, and breed clubs, took over.

König was far from finished though, convinced that the way we classify dog breeds is far too narrow - we have hundreds of breeds today - and it all comes down to just 6 or 7 dog types, according to König. Maybe they didn't look a lot like each other within the type, but they had been bred and selected for the purpose they served, and that was their legacy, which took thousands of years to build, said König.

He took another dog type mentioned in the medieval Schwabenspiegel law text, which besides the Hovawart (Hoffwart), also named a "Wachtel hund". König believed it to be descendant not from Wolves, but from Jackals, and created a new breed, the "Heimwart", German for "home guardians". These dogs became renowned trackers, and even served in German border patrols sniffing out smuggled goods in the sixties.

"Heimwart" named Wacker, courtesy of Der Spiegel
He also created the "Kobold-Maskott", more of a lapdog type, but very intelligent, which could learn things just by studying and observing the intentions of it's owner.

In an interview for Zeit, in 1955, König said "I construct animals".  His belief was that everything about a dog's function was written in genes, and training was useless, if you would just breed them correctly. His dogs, König claimed, didn't do what they did because they learned to do so, but because they were wired to do so.

In the end, his unscientific approach, the lack of documentation to back up his claims, catched up with König and his ventures, either in mice, Hovawarts, or Heimwarts. They always ended the same, either he gave up, or others took over. König died in 1975.


(*) I argued for the use of these breeds and species used in re-creating the Hovawart before, in other posts with the label History of the Hovawart, where you'll find more reasoning for it.

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