Winter came early this year. It started snowing last week and we already have a nice white cover of 12 inches (30 cms) deep. As soon as the first snow is falling, Kenzo and Viva are excited like little children to come out and play. Hovawarts are playful by nature, and snow is the ultimate on their fun scale.
Their thick coat makes them oblivious of the sharp cold, and they seem to enjoy a temperature of 23F (-5C) as if it is wearing-your-shorts-for-the-first-time-weather. How different in the summer. Where temperatures above 77F (25C) sends them into some kind of summer hibernation. The less you move, the better, is their motto then.
Kenzo and Viva also seem to think that the snow is especially laid down by the squirrel and rodent God himself, and continuously dive into the snow when they pick up a scent. Could they be hiding here? Or here!
Would the snow last until March like last year? Kenzo and Viva definitely hope so.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
When we were out with our tracking class the other day on one of our tracking locations, Kenzo did it again. Along this particular tracking location, there is a small fenced-in area where dogs are allowed off leash. After tracking we go there to let the dogs play a little. After a little while, a couple came in with a small dachshund. The dachshund definitely thought that it was not a good idea to walk in an area with 9 large dogs and protested. I usually leave when I see other people approach as I am weary of meetings in dog parks, but knowing Kenzo's reputation with smaller dogs I decided to stay.
Capable of empathy?
The owners walked towards us dragging the dachshund behind them on a leash in obvious discomfort. Kenzo positioned himself between the group and the dachshund. Cautiously, in a calm and relaxed way, he moved up to the dachshund. Not imposing a greet, but inviting nonetheless. As the dachshund was sizing Kenzo up, she finally became relaxed enough to take a little sniff up in the air. And a few moments later both her and Kenzo exchanged a little sniff. After that Kenzo kept a small distance, but remained all the time between the dachshund and the group.
I was just awed. What did I just witnessed? That Kenzo is nice with smaller fearful dogs I know. But what puzzles me is that none of the other dogs approached. They probably all have seen that this was a fearful dog, but I would have expect them to join after Kenzo's greet. But somehow they didn't. Maybe he didn't let them? Could Kenzo be able of empathy? Some research show dogs can indeed be capable of empathy. My twitter pal @dancingdogblog, an animal welfare advocate and author of the Dancing Dog Blog, mentioned she has experienced this behavior before with puppy mill dogs. Where dogs would gather around a fearful individual, trying to protect, and comfort the fearful dog.
One of our dog trainers picked up on this special capability of Kenzo already in his adolescence. She had one small dog in her class that was fearful of larger dogs. It had been attacked by a larger dog and sustained severe injuries. He allowed no larger dog to approach him.
When she noticed to what lengths Kenzo sometimes went to comfort a small dog when greeting, even laying down to make himself smaller and not a threat, she asked us if we would like to help her with the fearful dog. We did some setups in which we let them meet, first on a distance, and closer by when the little dog showed interest. After a couple of sessions, they were able to meet and the little fellow was not afraid of Kenzo anymore. I hope it helped him in getting over his fear.
What could have shaped this?
Kenzo's special relationship with smaller dogs already started very young.
During puppy hood we let him meet small dogs just like we would with any other dog. Already as a pup he was larger then most small breeds, and we made sure he didn't attempt to bully them. When I try to rewind the movie of his puppy hood and adolescence to find a clue what could have influenced him with smaller dogs, I cannot come up with anything out of the ordinary except one thing.
On our evening walk we once walked by a garden surrounded by a thick, high hedge. Behind the hedge a fierce watch dog was ready to protect his property and we didn't noticed him until we were only a couple of feet away. When the dog started to bark we got a scare at first, surprised by the bark that suddenly was coming from close by. My second reaction was one of relief and made me laugh. Judging the volume this wasn't your typical watch dog. When we continued along the hedge, the watch dog followed, barking on the other side. I could see there was a fence at the corner of the garden. As I was curious what kind of dog it was I took a quick peek in the garden through the fence and looked into the face of one very angry Yorkshire terrier. There is something about these brave small creatures that touches me, and I threw in a treat and called him "good boy!". Also Kenzo got a treat so he wouldn't be jealous.
When we went on our evening walk the next day, I thought it would be fun to see if the yorkie would still be there and we took the same route again. And he was there again. From then on, we made it a tradition to walk by our new buddy. The whole scenario would repeat itself. And both the yorkie and Kenzo got a treat when we reached the fence at the corner. After a while his bark and anxiety changed into a greet, and he ran to the fence to meet us, tail wagging and ready for his treat.
At the time I thought it just was a fun thing to do, but could Kenzo have learned something from this. Could this explain his special relationship with small fearful dogs? Could he have understood that they are not to fear and behind all the barking there could be a new friend? I think it did.
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