Dogs at work…and in training for our security

Photo courtesy of Ben Sklar/For The Washington Post

Photo courtesy of Ben Sklar/For The Washington Post

Dog lovers know that dogs are far smarter than most give them credit for.

So it won’t surprise some to read about their newest skills. A recent feature in The Washington Post by Andrea Sachs details how dogs are being trained for security purposes at facilities in Texas, Pennsylvania and Alabama.

“The dog—all wet nose and whiskers—is the new face of security,” writes Sachs.

A primary purpose is for use by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).

“’There is no better overall detector of explosives than a dog’s nose,’ TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger said. ‘Dogs work an environment like no technology can. They are versatile, mobile and very accurate.’”

Besides offering detection, dogs can act as deterrents and “’…also calm the whole screening environment. Animals are inherently fascinating to watch,’” Neffenger said.

German shepherds and many retrievers have been used in the past. Now breeds such as Munsterlanders, Germain shorthaired pointers, Belgian Malinois, weimaraners and springer spaniels are being trained.

What we’re reading…and two last minute gift ideas

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Afield/American Writers on Bird Dogs edited by Robert DeMott and Dave Smith is a book Jerry discovered in E. Shaver, a charming book store in Savannah, Georgia. Complete with small, crowded rooms, comfy chairs, resident cats and a tea room, one could easily spend hours browsing in this independently opened shop.

Three of my favorite writers—Jim Harrison, Guy de la Valdene and Tom McGuane—are included in this anthology but so, too, are Tom Brokaw and William G. Tapply.

Jim Harrison on his favorite setter female Tess:
“Though utterly docile and sweet in the cabin or house, these are big running setters suitable for the southwest and Montana, though they shorten up in the denser cover of northern Michigan. When cynics say that our dogs are ‘too far out,’ we’ve learned to give a pat answer, ‘That must be where the birds are.’”

Tom McGuane on rising early and heading out with the Pointer Sisters, Abby and Daisy:
“There have been several hard frosts and the morning is young. Those rattlesnakes not yet denned will be too sluggish to matter. The cattle have been gathered from the hills and now it all belongs to us. The hawks are up to the same thing we are; and it is possible to feel the competition of the Northern Harriers as they course low to the ground in the very fields we hunt. The light from the East and the bright serration of new snow on the mountain ranges surrounding us seem to bind a vast country together.”

Guy de la Valdene on why he loves dogs:
“I love the everyday quirks in a dog’s character, its habits, its independence, the insouciance of its sprawling slumber, and the accepting drop of a dog’s ears at the approach of a trusted hand.”

What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren was given to us by Ken Johnson, an avid hunter who bought a Blue Ox x Chablis puppy from us in 2012. Lucy, as he calls her, has been back a couple times for training and we’re always happy to see both Ken and Lucy.

Ken bought the book in an airport shop on one of his many layovers. He is a founding partner of Covey Sales & Marketing, a company that represents many premium outdoor-oriented manufacturers.

The book is on Jerry’s bedside table and he has really enjoyed it. Not only is Warren a good writer but her insights are amazing.

Indianapolis Star investigates complex issue of pet meds industry

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

The story idea began when Indianapolis Star reporter John Russell learned of the extraordinary efforts undertaken by Dr. Nimu Surtani and his wife Laura to determine the cause of death of Sesame, their golden doodle. Sesame was an otherwise healthy dog that died quickly and suddenly for no obvious reason.

The couple’s research led them to Trifexis, a flea and tick medication developed by Elanco, the animal drug division of Eli Lilly and Co., which is headquartered in Indianapolis.

The idea turned into a lengthy three-part series written by Russell and edited by Steve Berta, The Star’s Senior Content Coach. The pieces were published on December 13, 18 and 21. In the opening paragraphs, Russell states:

“Yet, in the first examination by a major news organization of one of the fastest-growing segments of the pharmaceutical industry, The Star found an industry far different from the human drug market, one with higher risk of unforeseen side effects, a legal arena that offers little protection to pet owners and marketing tactics that have been eliminated from the human drug market.

“The Star examined public records, studies and drug reaction data, and conducted interviews with company officials, pet owners, scientists, lawyers, epidemiologists, regulators and veterinarians. They told the story of an industry that is looking for ways to shore up declining revenues from human drugs, repurposing molecules that had an array of original uses for people and crops, and pushing government officials to speed up the approval process.”

Jerry and I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with Russell’s series but we thought it interesting and thought-provoking enough to post. Most importantly, we are not denigrating veterinarians. We have wonderful relationships with several vets. They are integral parts of our business and provide invaluable service and guidance. And one of my brothers, Jake, just retired from a decades-long career as a vet.

Today, The Indianapolis Star published an opinion piece written by the president and president-elect of the Indiana Veterinary Medical Association.

That’s the best feature of investigative journalism. It opens doors, raises awareness and starts discussions.

Below are excerpts from each part of the series.

Part 1:  Pets at risk

“Last year, the third-biggest initial public offering on Wall Street was a pet medicine company, Zoetis, a spinoff from drug giant Pfizer. This year, Lilly said it would pay $5 billion to acquire Novartis’ animal medicine, which would make Lilly the animal health industry’s second-largest player.

“Some drugs aren’t even approved for animal use but are commonly prescribed to animals. Their safety record isn’t even tracked by the government, meaning it’s impossible for consumers to make informed decisions.

“In stark contrast to the world of human medicine, veterinarians, researchers and industry are free to work closely together, with little to no transparency about drug company freebies and speaking fees paid to veterinarians.

“The FDA says it lacks the regulatory authority to mandate the recall of animal or human drugs. All it can do is issue a warning and work with manufacturers to launch a voluntary recall.”

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Part 2:  Drug companies’ loose purse strings woo vets

“The AVMA, the nation’s largest association of veterinarians, with 85,000 members, accepts hundreds of thousands of dollars a year from drugmakers for its massive conventions.

“That’s not to say that those who are doing the prescribing — the nation’s veterinarians — don’t have animals’ best interest at heart, or are especially susceptible to industry money.

“But The Star’s investigation reveals a greater potential for abuse because the pet medicine industry is allowed to target veterinarians with marketing practices banned from the realm of human medicine.

“In recent decades, pharmaceutical companies have been investing billions of dollars in pet medicines for the promise they hold to launch new drugs quickly and profitably. And they treat veterinarians not just as medical professionals, but as an important distribution channel to be wooed every step of the way.

“But veterinarians also serve another important role: as the primary distribution arm of the medicines they prescribe. Most human drugs are purchased at pharmacies, but the nation’s 90,000 veterinarians sell most of the nation’s pet medicines. And they make money on every prescription they dispense.

“In fact, drug sales provide as much as 30 percent of a typical veterinary clinic’s revenues, according to Veterinary Practice News, a trade journal. And veterinary consultants speak openly about the need to more than double the price of drugs to turn a healthy profit.”

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Photo by Robert Scheer, staff photographer of the Indianapolis Star.

Part 3:  What’s a dog’s love worth? Legally, nothing.

“In many ways, the economics of the pet medicine industry are knotted in a single question: What’s a dog’s love worth? It’s a question that’s fraught with consequences for the drug industry and pet owners alike.

“If you consider your dog or cat to be a member of the family — not just a pet or a piece of property — then you are more likely to take better care of it. You will visit the vet more often. You probably will buy more medicine.

“According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, if you view your dog as a family member, you will spend about $438 a year on care. Those who consider a dog property — as laws in most states do — spend about $190.

“The problem, some attorneys, economists and animal rights groups say, is that stopping pet owners from collecting meaningful damages breaks down an important part of the free-market system.

“When pet owners can’t hold companies responsible in court, manufacturers have little to fear in launching potentially harmful products.

“”If the liability is limited,” said John P. Young, vice president of the Indiana Trial Lawyers Association, “why would they put all that money into testing and research?”

“Drugmakers would be especially vulnerable to lawsuits, “because these manufacturers are perceived to have deep pockets, particularly when compared to local veterinarians.””

Bird dogs and the Pareto Principle

Applying the Paretto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, 20% of grouse hunters bag 80% of the birds.

Applying the Paretto Principle, or the 80/20 rule, to grouse hunting: 20% of hunters bag 80% of the birds.

In some recent reading, I came across a reference to the Pareto Principle.

Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who, in 1906, discovered an unequal distribution of land ownership in his country:  80% of the land was owned by 20% of the population.

Later discoveries and studies concurred with Pareto’s simple yet crucial finding and suggested this distribution can be applied to many things. It also gained new names:
•    80/20 rule
•    principle of factor sparsity
•    law of the vital few and trivial many

So what does this have to do with bird dogs?  I see several applications—from breeding and competition to hunting.

Not only are 20% of the breeding dogs producing 80% of the outstanding puppies, but I think it applies to dog breeders. In other words, about 20% of the breeders are turning out 80% of the high quality dogs.

How about dogs competing in field trials? Theoretically, every dog entered has a chance to win but usually only a few are truly likely to win. Too, in any given season, a vital few will win a large share of the competitions.

In A Passion for Grouse, John Kubisiak, Wisconsin wildlife researcher, conducted intensive grouse studies on the Sandhill Wildlife Area. His concluded that “about 20 percent of the hunters bagged all the grouse.” That’s probably true. While many hunt grouse, few are successful.

Photo above © Chris Mathan, The Sportsman’s Cabinet.

CH Shadow Oak Bo: the cover dog

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“Yikes!” I thought. “I know that dog.”

I was browsing the magazine section of The Bookshelf, a very nice shop in Thomasville, Georgia, where Jerry and I are living for the winter. On the cover of the December 2014/January 2015 issue of upscale Garden & Gun, was Shadow Oak Bo, sire of one of our 2014 litters.

But Bo is a cover dog because he’s the champion in back-to-back wins of the National Championship (2013-14) and the first setter to do so since 1901-02.

The photograph by Robb Aaron Gordon is a beautiful close-up of Bo from the front.  His dark nose and upper body are slightly blurred so the focus becomes Bo’s eyes—brown and fringed with white lashes. To me, those eyes reveal an inner calmness, kindness and sensibility.

The feature section is titled “Best of the Sporting South” and Tom Keer writes a good story about Bo and his triumvirate—Butch Houston and John Dorminy as owners and Robin Gates as trainer and handler.

All eight puppies out of Northwoods Chardonnay by CH Shadow Oak Bo are tri-color. The litter at seven weeks of age are caught in a rare, quiet moment.

All eight puppies (here at seven weeks of age) out of Northwoods Chardonnay by CH Shadow Oak Bo are tri-color.

When Paul Hauge, our partner in many ownerships and breedings, bought Northwoods Chardonnay early last summer, Paul and Jerry agreed that Bo would be a great fit for Chardonnay. Using frozen semen, we bred her via surgical implantation and on August 8, she whelped three males and five females. Paul picked two females and we picked two females and all four are with us now in Georgia.

The puppies are barely four months old but we’re impressed so far. They inherited Bo’s calm nature and the light-footed grace of Chardonnay. It will be fun to develop them and interesting to see them mature.

Who knows what we’ll have, but we’re always optimistic. Especially with a sire like Bo.

Garden & Gun magazine.

Dog people vs. cat people

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The Washington Post recently published an interesting story, “What our cats and dogs say about our politics,” by Aaron Blake. Together with The Post’s Graphics Editor Christopher Ingraham and data from the American Veterinary Medical Association, Blake discovered a remarkable similarity between dog vs. cat states and conservative vs. liberal states.

In other words, the dog vs. cat map of the country looks much like the red vs. blue map of the 2012 election.

In a related piece on Wonkblog, Roberto A. Ferdman and Ingraham (who also previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center) extrapolate further:

“We all know there are only two types of people in the world: cat people and dog people. But data from market research firm Euromonitor suggest that these differences extend beyond individual preferences and to the realm of geopolitics: it turns out there are cat countries and dog countries, too.”

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I don’t know the political leanings of many of our clients but, obviously, I do know that all are dog people. Further, a large percentage live with multiple numbers of dogs. While the initial intent was upland bird hunting, these dogs of our clients live, for the most of the year, as beloved pets.

Many thanks to my friend Jan Streiff for telling me about this story. She is a cat person but has grown quite fond of our dogs.

What we’re reading: Genetics of the Dog

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Breeding animals, regardless of the breeder’s effort and knowledge, still involves randomness and luck.  There is a very good reason that breeding is called an art and not a science. A good breeder can do many things to reduce the “luck” part. And understanding basic genetic principles, possibilities and probabilities is the place to start.

Genetics of the Dog by Malcom B. Willis is a classic text on canine heredity. Most genetic aspects are included—color, reproductive, conformation, eyes, behavior and skin. Special chapters on hip dysplasia and other defects are included. The chapters on polygenetic inheritance and selection methods, inbreeding and other breeding systems contain excellent, detailed information for breeders.

Willis writes that a person can’t predict the breeding worth of a given dog by just looking at it or seeing it in the field. What the dog displays physically is only an indication of what it may produce and the only way to find out is to breed it and evaluate its offspring.

Still, good breeding involves a lot of common sense and hard-earned knowledge.  Willis gives us some of each in this book.

If all you know about a pedigree is the names within it then that pedigree is effectively useless as a guide to breeding worth.

…one needs to breed from those dogs which are outstanding even if they may have some particular obvious failing.  Dogs which have very little wrong with them, but also very little outstanding either, are not the ones to choose.

All sires will produce inferior stock and it is the overall average that matters together with the proportion of progeny in the upper areas.

….success (in dog breeding) is not about producing a few winners – even a few champions – but rather it is about producing a generally high standard of stock.

Finally, Willis sums it up:

Clearly chance plays a part but, a breeder can, by careful selection of breeding stock and subsequent planning of their mating, increase his prospects of obtaining what he seeks. The better he is at selecting, the better his knowledge of specific genetic factors, then the greater his chances of success.

Just in time for the holidays—a grouse hunter’s book

Jerry and his first English setter Charlie (Spring Garden Tollway, 1986 - 2001) hunt in the north woods of Minnesota. Photo by Dale C. Spartas.

Jerry and his first English setter Charlie (Spring Garden Tollway, 1986 – 2001) hunt in the north woods of Minnesota. Photo by Dale C. Spartas.

Need a present for a grouse hunter? That hard-to-buy-for guy? The has-everything-he-wants husband?

Doug Smith has an idea.

In the December 18 edition of the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune, Doug reviewed a new book, “A Passion for Grouse—The Lore and Legend of American’s Premier Game Bird,” by Tom Pero.  It sounds perfect.

According to Doug:  “It’s filled with stories and essays from numerous authors and experts on grouse biology, dogs, guns, hunting strategies and tactics, as well as some classic pieces by legendary authors long gone, including Gordon MacQuarrie. The book also is jammed with spectacular color photos, and even includes grouse recipes.”

The book is big (8½ x 11 inches), long (550 pages) and expensive ($100).

Even though I can’t vouch for the book’s content, I do like one of the photographs Pero includes. It’s a favorite of mine—a Dale C. Spartas shot of Jerry and his first setter Spring Garden Tollway (aka Charlie, 1986 – 2001) taken sometime in the mid 1990s.

Jerry’s copy will be under the tree next week. Go to or call 425-486-3638.

Guy de la Valdene: writer, bird hunter, bird dog owner

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Guy de la Valdène has led a colorful life. He was born in a “small castle built in 1642” in Normandy, France, but has since spent a good share of his life in the U.S. He’s both an eloquent writer and a passionate bird hunter. He hangs around with cool hunting, fishing, eating and drinking pals, including notable writers Jim Harrison and Tom McGuane and Russell Chatham, the artist. Chatham’s beautiful landscape paintings grace the covers of his books and two include ink drawings of birds, dogs and hunters.

Both Betsy and I have read and highly recommend the following books by Guy de la Valdène.

The Fragrance of Grass, 2011
This book is about de la Valdène’s pursuit of and great appreciation for Huns, otherwise known as Gray or Hungarian Partridge. He begins with his first introduction to them in France and takes the reader on a journey through some of the best Hun hunting areas in North America.

Between the four pads of a dog’s foot, the fragrance of grass.
~ Jim Harrison

For a Handfull of Feathers, 1995
Since 1990, de la Valdène has lived on an 800-acre farm near Tallahassee, Florida. The book is a chronicle of his relationship to all things wild that live on the farm and, in particular, bobwhite quail. It’s also an insightful look into the life of these little birds, the effort required to maintain their habitat and the tradition that surrounds the pursuit of them.

A breeze ruffling a handful of feathers carries enough weight to enslave a dog to a bird in a covenant of uneasy immobility.
~ Guy de la Valdène

Making Game:  An Essay on Woodcock, 1985
In his research, de la Valdène followed the woodcock migration across the country and met fascinating people along the way.  Among them was Sally Downer, daughter of Bill Wicksall. Years before woodcock hunting became popular, Wicksall, along with his brother Jack, hunted woodcock and bred English setters that pointed them. This book is a great read that includes much wine drinking and delicious woodcock meals.

What we’re reading: The Genius of Dogs

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This book was published in February 2013 by the married couple Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. Hare is an associate professor in Evolutionary Anthropology and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience at Duke University. Woods works there as a research scientist. Both are both dog lovers.

The authors set out to scientifically prove the intelligence of dogs and to find where this intelligence originated. They define intelligence in animals by how successfully a species has managed to survive and reproduce in as many places as possible.  By this definition, it’s easy to argue that dogs are the most successful mammals on the planet.

The book is divided into three parts. The essence of Part One is that dogs are inherently able to read human gestures and signals to solve various intelligence tests. In addition, dogs have communicative skills that are amazingly similar to human infants. They traveled the world studying wolves, silver foxes, New Guinea singing dogs and bonobos, a species of chimpanzee.

They concluded that dogs domesticated themselves by becoming friendlier to humans and learned how to communicate and work with us.

Part Two discusses how dogs communicate with humans. Hare and Woods prove scientifically that dogs are pack animals and that “dogs are best in a social network.”

In Part Three they compare breeds to determine intelligence levels. Ultimately (and intriguingly), Hare and Woods concluded that it can’t be proven scientifically that one particular breed is smarter than any other. One significant finding was that working breeds are better at reading human gestures than non-working breeds.

Here, the questions of how to train a cognitive dog is posed. They never really answer it but they do discuss Pavlov’s classical conditioning and B. F. Skinner’s operant conditioning. In doing so they resolve that neither completely addresses the best way to train a cognitive dog.

Hare and Woods also “prove” several things:
•    Strictly using reward-based training is not a good, long-term training solution as rewards lose their effect unless frequently increased.
•    Dogs learn better and faster in short sessions spaced over a period of time than in long, frequently repeated sessions.
•    Dogs can learn by watching others of their own species and other species.
•    Dogs know when you are paying attention to what they’re doing.
•    Petting a dog, especially gentle strokes in a smooth, calm matter, has a positive effect.

All in all, the book spends a lot of time trying to scientifically prove many aspects about dogs that have been anecdotally known and used by astute trainers for many, many years.  While dogs can be trained to react to various stimuli and respond accordingly, there is much more than that to dog training.  Being able to read the dog, communicate with it and adjust the training on the fly are just a few pieces of the “art” of dog training.

Hare and Woods write, “Hopefully, we can transform the art of dog training into a science.” I say:  Good luck.

Bottom line:  Nothing in this book is new and I don’t recommend it.  A much better book is The Dog’s Mind by Bruce Fogle.

Northwoods Birds Dogs    53370 Duxbury Road, Sandstone, Minnesota 55072
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