Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Last evening, as we were making dinner for the dogs, we noticed something new in the pack dynamic.

Normally, as we get ready for the dogs' evening meal, there is a certain amount of kerfuffle in the house.  There are dogs like Jynx and Hallie and Bronwyn who spend most of the day loose in the house, but who eat in the kitchen/family room/laundry room area, and their twice-daily return to the kitchen always results in a flurry of activity as the youngsters grovel for them.  In addition, we often realize that some of the house dogs have not been out in a while, and they go out back also.  Plus, of course, there is the general excitement about dinner.  If we happen to be on the late side, that, too, adds to the confusion.

Last night, the confusion was about at its height when Hallie came into the kitchen.  Beau had been trying to keep order, grumping at the puppies as they raced from one end of the room to the other, but the puppies pretty much ignored him.  Hallie was another story.  As the younger dogs fawned over her and played with one another, Hallie said a few words.  It wasn't Wookie, really, because the vocalizations sounded more like barks, but there was quite a range of sound over the space of ten or fifteen seconds.  And by the end of it, all the other dogs were lying down quietly, and Hallie came back to us, wagging her tail, obviously proud of herself, and wanting praise.

Roxy has long been capable of clearing the space around her, but this was the first time ever that the entire pack had been subdued by one dog that never even had to raise her voice!  It was particularly surprising since Hallie is not in any way a dominant bitch.  She gets along with everyone, and is one of the dogs I always know I can use to introduce a strange dog to the pack.


Sunday, January 17, 2010  

A quiet weekend at home, and a chance to reflect.

For all that we talk about the sweet, gentle nature of Deerhounds--and it is true--there is still a lot of variation in the temperament and personalities of the dogs.

Some are needier than others.  While most of the dogs will lie around for a good part of the day, acknowledging you as you go by, some want to be with you.  They lie at your feet, or follow you from room to room.  Not slavishly, mind you!  But if you leave a room and don't come back in a minute or two, they will come along to see what's keeping you.  If you happen to leave the room when one of them is on his feet (perhaps just having gotten a drink), the Deerhound will almost surely follow.  They'd rather be with you than not, but, for most of them, that doesn't mean they will give up a choice resting spot!

Most Deerhounds don't bark a great deal.  When a stranger comes to the door, it is pretty rare to have one of the dogs bark, unless there is a lot of kerfuffle on the other side of the door.  There are two bitches who will usually bark if another dog comes into the house, but only if they are on the other side of the gate.  If they are able to come to the door, they will come, sniff, and then go about their business (mostly the business of finding a comfortable, warm place to lie down). 

There are other times that we do hear them bark, though.  Roxanne barks while we are preparing meals.  Not the whole time (Thank God!), but when she senses that we are getting close to actually serving the food, she will start barking.  Not a constant bark, just a repetitive one.  Woof.  Woof, woof.  Woof.  Occasionally TeeTee will add a counterpoint.

Roxanne is also the choirmistress.  Occasionally, she decides it is time for a sing-along, and she will run upstairs (or down) to gather a couple of the howlers that are loose in the house (Sox and Hallie, usually, and just now Kibby and Bronwyn as well).  Sometimes she exhorts them to come down to the dining room--usually when we are in the kitchen and she wants us to get the full effect.  She starts, and gets her cohort howling, and then the kitchen howlers join in: Harry, Nerys, Memsie and LeLe at a minimum.  Not all the dogs howl.  TeeTee and Rain are only occasional howlers.  I'm not sure about Owain, Oonagh and Banger, and I am pretty sure that Isabella does not howl.  I know that none of the Js howl (Jed, Beau and Jynx), but TeeTee has only started howling occasionally in the last year or so, so it is not inconceivable that others could learn.  Other than the howl-ins orchestrated by Roxanne, we also have fairly predictable siren-originated howl-ins that begin just as the siren begins to fade, as well as random hormonally-triggered howl-ins--but only when we have an adult male howler to begin them, which we currently lack.

Howling does seem to have a genetic component.  Tip and Lillie were howlers; Caty was not, and none of Caty's kids were howlers (although Fillan did join in once or twice late in his lifetime).  So far, all of the howlers, even the late bloomers, have or had at least one howling parent.  My working hypothesis is that full-fledged howling is recessive, but dogs with one howling gene and one non-howling gene can howl at least occasionally.  Most of the really serious howlers seem to have two howling parents, or one howling parent and a howling grandparent on the other side.  And when two howlers have been bred, all the puppies (at least the ones here) are howlers.

Howling also seems to be a pack behavior.  I don't know of too many single Deerhounds that howl. 

While we are on the subject of vocalizations, I should note that some of our Deerhounds speak a language that we call Wookie, after the Chewbacca character in Star Wars.  I'm not talking about howling here, or barking, or even whining.  Wookie is only spoken by a minority of our dogs.  Lillie was the first Wookie-speaker in the house.  She mostly only used it to comment on meals that she enjoyed.  After cleaning her plate, she would say something in Wookie that we generally interpreted as a compliment.  It was a fairly short sentence, only a few syllables, and she would repeat it until one of us said "Thank you, Lillie."

Lillie's son, Ghillie, was a much more verbose speaker of Wookie.  He had a phrase that seemed to mean "The water bowl is empty."  Or maybe it meant "I am thirsty."  Or even "Please fill the water bowl."  He also commented on meals, and sometimes would say things whose meaning I could not interpret, although it was clear to me that he was trying to communicate.

One time, when Ghillie was a puppy, we were driving to a dog show with several dogs in the van.  Tip and Hoosie were there, and I think Fillan and Ghillie.  It was Ghillie's first road trip, and he was being a typical puppy: wouldn't settle down, kept stepping on the others, and pushing to get into the front.  My "Ghillie, go lie down"s were getting sharper, and not having much effect.  Tip moved into the spot directly behind and between the front seats, and that helped, but of course, now Tip was getting stepped on by the silly puppy.  Suddenly, Tip began what was clearly a lecture in Wookie.  It was the only time Charlie or I ever heard Tip speak in Wookie, but it was clear that he was fluent and to the point.  Ghillie laid himself down, and was a model citizen in the car from that day on.


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Well, December was a busy month, but as a result, I was hardly home to write about it.  And, in the end, it wasn't especially memorable.

I have been thinking for some years that I ought to try to get out to the AKC National Lure Coursing Championships.  I run the dogs in AKC lure coursing much more than I do ASFA, but I had been to three ASFA IIs (Georgia, Iowa and Minnesota) but had never been to the AKC NLCC.  And every year we have a couple of dogs eligible for the Eukanuba, and I have only gone twice, once the first year, and then, I think it was the last year that it was in Florida.  And it just so happened that the NLCC was in Texas the weekend before the Eukanuba in California.  And my youngest son has been living in California for over a year, and I hadn't seen him since he moved out there.  So it seemed like a good time to think about making the trek.  And we did have fun, and I had a nice visit with Trevor, but overall, the trip was a bit of an anticlimax.

The entry at the NLCC was the largest ever, but there were only six Deerhounds entered--and four of them were mine.  Then, it seems that one of the other exhibitor's dogs got injured, so she didn't come, and my dogs ended up, once again, running against each other.  The two open bitches, LeLe and Memsie, ran beautifully, and impressed a lot of the folks in the gallery.  Memsie took the breed both days, beat LeLe in the runoff to represent the breed in the finals, and ran very creditably against the Whippet in the finals.  But the Greyhound (very deservedly) won the day.

In California, the Eukanuba weekend included three shows on the days before.  Again, the entry was small, and there were no-shows.  And part of the reason I up and went to the Eukanuba is that I get tired of competing against the same local dogs, but the local special was there too--and winning most of the days, of course.  Still, Jynx took the breed on Friday, which was a nice accomplishment.  Another fun thing at the lead-up shows was Brace and Team competition, which you rarely see any more.  It was disappointing to see so few entries in these fun classes.  We were the only team in the show on Wednesday and Thursday, but had the pleasure of beating a team of Bedlingtons on Friday.  Braces actually had competition in most of the groups.  There was a lovely Afghan brace each day in the Hound Group; a pair of black-and-tans.  When they stood there, it was hard to tell where one dog started and the other stopped, but they were a dog and a bitch, so there was a bit of a size difference, and they didn't move together as well as Jynx and LeLe did.  And although I don't think of Jynx and LeLe as being the same color, they are, of course, both gray, and I suspect that some of the judges didn't see their differences as much as their similarity (they are, after all, half-sisters).  So the Afghans won the Group on Wednesday, and we took it Thursday and Friday.  Best Brace in Show each day went to a pair of ... I have trouble telling Mals and Sibes apart unless I can see both breeds, but they were spectacular.

Then, on the trip home, in the middle of Arkansas, my ignition coil went.  We spent an interesting day at a car dealer in Little Rock.  I don't recommend it.

But the towtruck drive, a good old boy (in the best sense of the word) named Nolan, saved the day.  He is a hunter, raises Blue-Ticks, and has a 20+-year-old Redbone-Bloodhound cross that he adores.  I really enjoyed the conversation, and it kept me from hearing the ticks in the virtual meter as we drove 90+ miles to a dealer that could repair the van that day.