Friday, December 23, 2011

Howling Hovie Holiday Wishes

That's all you got ?!
We wish you a Merry Christmas and Howling Hovie Holidays! We hope you will have a couple of great days together with everybody and everything you hold dear.

As you can see on the picture, Kenzo & Viva are extremely disappointed as snow didn't visit for Christmas this year, apart from some pathetic snowflakes the other day.

We admit to envy all the beautiful white imagery displayed over at Lilly and Ginko in Boulder and Bajnok and Derria in Norway. They are so lucky with all that snow.

But Kenzo & Viva will enjoy their special holiday treat ... pork skin. Yummy.

www.flaeskesteg.dk
Danmark is one of the few places in the world where pork skin - "Flæskesteg" - is actually on the human menu as well. We are making a traditional Danish Christmas dinner for our family so there will be plenty of pork skin around.

As an expat, I had to try it. It actually tastes alright, but my Dutch mind cannot come around eating pork skin. There will be plenty falling off my plate for Kenzo & Viva. They love it.

On one of our holiday trips back to Holland, I promised to prepare it for my family. The Dutch butcher was horrified when I ordered a piece of pork with the skin still attached and telling him what I needed it for didn't help calming him down. He could only prepare it when a new shipment arrived, and after returning to pick it up, the entire staff was signaling each other: "That's him!". My Dutch family took it well, by the way.

So taking the menu and the absence of snow into account, me, Kenzo & Viva will launch yet another charming offensive for the family to migrate more up North. We want snow to go with our pork skin.

Happy Holidays!







 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Twitter Giveaway - Support Your Animal Charity of Choice With Cash



A group of bloggers are giving away 325$ in a social media holiday event:
  • 213$ to your animal charity of choice and 
  • 112$ all to yourself.
Last week you could use your Facebook account to participate and this week the event has come to Twitter.

Tell in the comment section which animal charity you would like to support and raffle with your Twitter account in the "Rafflecopter" below. Remember to return next week when you can raffle with your Google+ account too. In order to win you do not have to participate in all three parts of this event. We know that not all of you have accounts on all three platforms which is why they have been separated so everyone has the same opportunity. Good luck !



 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Hovawarts To The Rescue

This week I turn my blog over to Caroline Dunn - dog trainer, Search and Rescue handler, and Hovawart enthusiast - to provide us with a peek in the exciting world of scent and how you and your dog can do nose work too.

Venka, the Search and Rescue Hovawart, courtesy of MindYourDog
How did I get involved with Search and Rescue (SAR) and the wonderful world of nose work? Well, it all started with a Hovawart. A hov… what!? I hear you say. No, nothing to do with the famous school for witches and wizards. Although I think I may have been struck by a spell for luck the day I came across this rare German breed.

The Hovawart is a versatile general-purpose working dog from Germany, calm in the house but full of energy outdoors. They have been known since the middle age as faithful protectors of their families, watching the livestock and their master’s property, while also being excellent at tracking criminals.

Venka, courtesy of MindYourDog
Ours is called Venka. She has been working as an operational lowland SAR dog since she qualified with NSARDA in 2007. Many people have met our bouncy girl. She will lean on you for a cuddle at any opportunity. But nobody really knows Venka until they have seen her searching. Working with a Hovawart is a fantastic experience. It is all about respect and teamwork. They work with you, not for you. They have an excellent understanding of their task, great focus, but still retain a sense of initiative.

A lot of SAR handlers work border collies, some have spaniels or labradors. We have no reason to envy them. Hovawarts are amazing working dogs. To be fair though, many canines have the potential to be great for the job. Most of the breeds from the gundog, pastoral and working groups could do it, apart from those at the very end of the scale in term of size and weight. Having said that, I knew a SAR Newfoundland and once he had picked up scent, he was unstoppable. Mongrels don’t have to stay on the "back bench" either. We have a fantastic rescued boy called Red currently training in our unit, who is believed to be a collie x staffie. I will be very surprised if he does not pass with flying colours before the end of the year.

You may wonder what SAR dogs do exactly. Most use a technique called air scenting to find vulnerable missing people. They analyse scent that is being carried in the air. Many elements such as temperature, wind and terrain will affect how scent travel and a real partnership between the dogs and their handlers is necessary to ensure success. The dogs cover vast area off the lead, following directional commands from their handler and constantly checking and reviewing scent. Once they identify human scent, they will pinpoint the source, alert their handler, usually by a bark, before taking them to the location of the person.

You don’t have to join a SAR unit to have fun with your dog though. Getting started with scent work is easy. Here is a simple and fool proof method to teach a basic game at home, without any special equipment and whichever breed your dog is. You will only need a helper to get you started.

Start in a closed room, hold your dog and ask your helper to show them a "prize" such as a dog biscuit or a favourite toy. If needed, they may tease by shaking it in front of your dog's nose and talking to them in an exciting manner. Then, they should place the prize just out of sight, for instance behind a box or a piece of furniture, and take a few steps back. Release your dog saying "go search". As they have seen where the prize was placed, they should go straight to it. When they do, praise them. Play with them for a short time if the prize was a toy. Repeat this once or twice, not necessarily with the prize in the same place.

The next step is slightly different.  Your helper should still place the prize just out of sight. But then, instead of releasing your dog, either cover their eyes or turn them towards you so they can’t see what is happening. Your helper should then as quietly as possible move the prize a little further. Keep it simple at first, the prize should be on the floor and within a relatively short distance. When you release your dog - remember to say "go search" - they should go straight to the place where they think the prize is. They will be surprised that it is not where they though and start searching. Unless the dog stops searching or looks too confused, don’t repeat the command. I see many people who think they are encouraging their dog, while they are actually distracting them. SAR dog handlers direct their dogs during searches, but they also know when to shut up and let their dog work. Well, have you ever try to concentrate on something while your colleague is speaking loudly on the phone or your teenager has put the volume up on their stereo? And dogs are not always a lot better at multi-tasking than men… come on guys, you know you can't talk while you're shaving!

Coming back to our scent game, once you have done this a few times in different locations in the room, your dog should not need to see the helper place the prize to a "dummy" location first. Instead, cover your dog's eyes or turn them towards you from the start, have your helper hide the prize and then send your dog with a "Go search". Always use the same cue when releasing the dog.

The dog will very shortly understand the game enough so that you won’t need a helper anymore, simply place your dog in one room, close the door and hide the prize in the next room. Open the door saying "Go search" and watch your dog go.

Then the limit to how far you take this game is only your imagination, you can make your dog search one room, the whole house, the garden, the dog park… If you do not always use the same prize, then make sure that the dog is shown it first and has a chance to sniff it. Otherwise, you may be surprised what your dog will find for you!

There are many more scent games you can play with your dog. Air scenting is just one aspect, then there is trailing, tracking, scent discrimination, etc… Why not check if your local club offers any scent activities or join a nose work boot camp? All dogs love scent work, it is suitable for all size and breed. Learn the techniques and take your relationship with your dog to a whole new level. People who have dogs who always seem to want to do more will get the added benefit of finally finding an activity that will tire their dog out. Scent games can even help with dogs who bark or get destructive when bored.

About Caroline Dunn
Caroline lives in Kent with her family and their hovawarts. She is the head trainer at Mind Your Dog, where she create happy relationships between pet dogs and their owners. Caroline and her husband James are also members of NSARDA Cantech, a charity which provides SAR dog teams to assist in locating vulnerable missing people.

For more information about Search & Rescue dogs visit the NSARDA and the Air scenting search dogs websites.

For more information about Mind your Dog events, including their scent workshops, visit the Mind Your Dog website or follow Caroline on Twitter.


This story was first published on Safe Pets UK.





 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Facebook Giveaway - Support Your Animal Charity of Choice With Cash



A group of bloggers are giving away 325$ in a social media holiday event:
  • 213$ to your animal charity of choice and 
  • 112$ all to yourself.


Tell in the comment section which animal charity you would like to support and raffle with your Facebook account in the "Rafflecopter" below. Remember to return next week when you can raffle with your Twitter and your Google+ account too. Good luck !



 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Once Upon a Time There Was a Mutt


You probably remember the BBC show Pedigree Dogs Exposed. In 2009, it revealed how breeders prefer exterior characteristics above health. Crippled and sick dogs became the winners of dog shows and were used in breeding. The end of the pedigree dog as we know it was predicted.

The modern Hovawart
What about the Hovawart? During Kenzo's "passing the genes" project - interrupted by his neutering - we did a lot of research and soul-searching if it would be an ethical thing to pursue. And we decided to dig a little deeper into the history of the Hovawart.

Most breeder and Kennel Club websites paint a romantic picture of the Hovawart as a robust dog breed that has been around since medieval times. If you believe in fairy tales, stop reading.

The tale of the Hovawart starts in the Germany of 1922, when a group of German Shepherd dog breeders in the "Härzen" province (in former East-Germany) were disappointed by the decision of their club to stop breeding long-haired German Shepherds.

They decided to "create" their own long-haired breed and found a text in the Schwabenspiegel, the oldest Code of Law to survive from medieval Germany, referring to a type of dogs called "Hovawart". They were mentioned because they were valued dogs and stealing such a dog meant harsh punishment.

The author of the text that eventually led to the "Schwabenspiegel", Eike von Repgow, was saved himself as a little boy by one of those dogs, explaining why he valued them.

Courtesy of www.hovawarte-becker.de
"Hovawart" is old-German for "estate guard dog" and it is more likely the law text was referring to a type of dogs, instead of one particular breed. It attracted the group of breeders nonetheless, also because they found more records describing "estate guard dogs" saving human lifes.

A problem for the group was the texts did not describe how the dogs looked like, and they assumed the breed must have looked something like the dog on one of Albrecht Dürer's drawings (see picture to the left).

The group, led by the German zoologist Kurt F. König, started roaming the country-side for dogs resembling the image they already had created in their minds and crossed them with German shepherds, Newfoundlands, Kuvaczs, Leonbergers and African wild dogs.

König was the mind behind the blond colored Hovawart as well. As he worked on this during the years 1934-1945, and was later accused of "neo-darwinistic" views, we can make a good guess of where he found his inspiration for a blond Hovawart.

Castor Meyer-Busch, courtesy of www.working-dog.eu
In 1932, they created their image of the perfect Hovawart with "Castor Meyer-Busch" and this dog would set his fingerprints on the future generations. He was 45% "type" dog, 12% Newfoundland, 15% Kuvacz and 28% German Shepherd.

I do not know what the effect of all this crossing was on the gene pool for the Hovawart. A lot of breeds contributed to the first Hovawarts. The use of the "type" dog - basically a mutt? - must have added a lot of diversity. But like with all breeding, which individuals were predominantly used? They would have had the biggest effect on the gene pool for later generations.

What also affected the gene pool was the 2nd World War, which decimated the ranks, as Hovawarts were working dogs and were conscripted by the army to die on the fronts. After the war, the Iron Curtain divided the remaining gene pool in two as well. Even today it reflects in the Hovawart. Dogs bred in the West were predominantly working dogs and pets. Which made them more compact and almost loose their undercoat. In the East they where still used as estate guarding dogs living outside, and this made a robust dog with a lot of undercoat.

As with most working dog breeds during the 60-ties and 70-ties, the Hovawart was plagued by hip-dysplasia (HD) and breeding was restricted on dogs with a form of HD in their ancestry. This meant roughly half of the population could not be used in breeding. And although it solved the HD threat concerning the Hovawart, the side-effect of an ever diminishing gene pool soon was revealed. Some lines now had dogs which acted more aggressive than before.

This was counter-measured as well with mandatory mental-testing, but it revealed the dilemma of the pedigree dog once more. Each restriction is made to make the breed healthier, but also shrinks the gene pool and thereby increases the inbreeding factor and future risks.

How the Hovawart will evolve will depend on that inbreeding factor. Seen in that light it is positive the Hovawart show world is not solely focused on external characteristics. You see that when you go to a Hovawart show. They differ in size, coat structure and coloring, and the local "champs" do not resemble each other as perfected clones, even for the untrained eyes.

Is that enough? Or does it only buy time and is the Hovawart already destinated to share its faith with all other "breeds" that are the result of a hundred years of mankind trying to mess with nature? Hovawart breeders face a difficult task. Wrong decisions will shrink the gene pool even more. And good decisions are not rewarded, as the gene pool is never widened.







 

Friday, December 9, 2011

Plastic Surgery For A Hovawart


B-day. The day of Kenzo's neutering. My subconscious made it's final move: surely the appointed time with the vet was a mistake? But the vet - she is starting to get to know me - called after us with a reminder of the appointment.

And so Kenzo went on the operating table, well on his way of becoming 100% gorgeous to famous movie stars like Katherine Heigl. Have you not seen it? According to Katherine dogs are already 98% gorgeous, and removing two tiny little not-so gorgeous obstacles - according to Katherine - is the only thing needed to reach a one-hundred-percent of absolute gorgeousness.

As you can see on the photo, he didn't feel gorgeous right after the procedure. But despite small red eyes and wobbly feet he made sure to cover Viva with ear-nibbles on return. After all, he is 100% gorgeous now, and he knew Viva must have been looking forward to his return.

Everything went well. After all it is a simple procedure. And as soon as the anesthesia started to wear off, we got a smile too - although still with small eyes. It feels good to be gorgeous. Or doped? Alright, maybe both.

To all you commenter's on last week's blog, FB and Twitter: thank you for your thoughtful support and for cheering us up. You guys rock!




 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

There Will Be No Small Kenzo's


But she is still my girl
Kenzo is getting neutered. Yes, we did embark on a project to show him, get his mental- and health state tested. And maybe it would lead to small Kenzo's, eventually. But we are going to leave that path.

I hoped it would take a year, and in that time Viva would only come in season twice. Not that we want to breed Kenzo with Viva, her health doesn't allow to be bred and neither does it allow a risky surgery getting her spayed. But the issue is that Kenzo with his manhood intact just goes through the roof when Viva is in season.

During Viva's season period he is howling and whining and only stops from pure exhaustion. He hardly eats, drops a lot of pounds and doesn't find joy in many other activities. Not even tracking which he loves so much otherwise. For us it is heart breaking to see him that way and we worry for his health.

Normally a female dog would come in season once every half a year. If the project would take a year, it would have meant we had to go through two more episodes. I thought we could handle that. But Viva changed the plan. Since we started, Viva has been in season three times, meaning she is in season every other month.

Every other month. Thats just too much, and not something I want to put both Kenzo & Viva through on such a regular basis. So Kenzo is getting neutered. There is a risk it will not change his anxiety when Viva comes in season. We tried chemical castration, and it had no effect on his behavior otherwise than that he was shooting blanks. But since we cannot spay Viva without risking she wouldn't survive the operation, I can't see any other options.

Their will be no small Kenzo's. In many, many years from now when he would have passed away, it would have made us happy knowing his unique spirit was living on inside some small Kenzo's enjoying their own life. A nice thought. As long at it doesn't hold us back from enjoying the life we have now. I guess giving birth offers a touch of immortality and therefore can blur our judgment sometimes.

Kenzo can have a more fulfilling life with joy and fun, doing the things he wants to do, than being bothered by what he needs to do. I am here. Kenzo and Viva are here, lets make the best out of it, right now.






 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Hovawart on the Job


Viva defending the company colors
Taking your dog with you to the office can be a lot of fun. Kenzo and Viva join me regularly. We all refer to them as the "Complaint Department".

Now they never read their job description, and a Hovawart will make a guarding job out of anything. Which makes it a little bit more challenging in our case.

Viva is the easiest. She loves people and showers the whole office with kisses. Not everybody in the office appreciates that, but it is hard to stop her when she is in love-mode. Viva needs me to be in eye sight due to her separation anxiety though, making sanitary stops quite a challenge.

Kenzo should have been even easier. He is raised as The Ultimate Office Dog: after all, he grew up in an office. We started our business at the same time we got Kenzo as a puppy. As with most businesses, we started in the garage. And when we were hiring, we couldn't pay a lot more than the wages. We cleared the 1st floor of our house and arranged it as an office space. People were walking in and out. The front door and the door bell were active all day long.

Kenzo was growing up in the middle of all the activity and I guessed myself lucky with some free and necessary socialization. He moved between the ground- and 1st floor as he pleased, and had a lot of fun with his self-appointed role as the doormen. Already that time he was suspicious of new faces, and he needed some hours to decide if my call that it was alright was indeed accurate. You cannot deny those Hovawart guarding genes, especially in a Hovawart male.

It could have ended here would I not have made some mistakes. I took Kenzo with me to basic "Schutzhund" training, just to see if it would be something he would like. He didn't, but he learned enough to pick up some skills he could use. Showing disinterest in training class to "arrest" (barking in front of a person) someone he "knew", didn't mean he didn't learn.

He just applied it in situations he himself deemed necessary. Which sometimes lead to hysterical situations, maybe you can remember his latest drugs bust - revealed in the comments section. Again a typical Hovawart, thinking independently and making his own decisions.

Viva joining the family has changed Kenzo in many ways. Being the man in the house, not neutered, and having "his" girl Viva, made him a lot more ambitious as well. I noticed it all too late, making it more difficult now to get him off the podium he created.

We all got a shock - after we moved to a real office - when a visitor came in and Kenzo decided it was time for his first office arrest. We straightened it out quickly and Kenzo and the visitor quickly became BFF, but I remembered looking in his eyes, this has been a great reinforcer for him. He gloated.

The worst I could do is to not take him to the office anymore. Socializing never stops, especially with a Hovawart. We keep some precautions and Kenzo is on leash all the time. When somebody he doesn't know comes up to me I have to be vigilant and step forward myself. Relieving him of taking a decision on what to do. He is constantly aware, and so should I. This is enough to prevent any "unpleasant" situations from happening.

We all had a laugh last time, when Kenzo decided to take a good nap and stop looking at the door closing and opening all the time. He lost seeing the point I guess, as he knew all those people coming in and out anyway. Yet there was a new person coming in without speaking - he would have picked up a new voice - and sat down in a waiting area.

I thought Kenzo knew - he always knows - and took him with me to go for a walk. Still half a sleep he looked at the person while we passed by but still nothing. I said hello, and as soon as the person responded, we all could see the confusion on Kenzo's face, he missed that one! Even his bark sounded disappointed. To make it worse I rewarded him, now he really was confused.

This post is for all my awesome co-workers. A big thank you for putting up with us!





 

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