Welcome to the Joy of Dogs blog! If you're new here, welcome! If you're returning, even better. I'm not sure if blogs are still a thing, so this is admittedly a bit of an experiment, but you never know until you try.

So why "The Joy of Dogs" Blog? Well, most dog blogs take themselves very seriously, which is really contrary to the spirit of dogs - which is what this blog is supposed to be all about: Dogs experiencing JOY, and the joy that they provide us.

The bond between dog and human goes back to the beginning, really.  Dogs were the first animals to be domesticated, apparently back in the Late Pleistocene era, whatever that means. (But seriously, circa 15,000 years ago, after the Ice Age). Our relationship with these four-legged friends predates agriculture!

Very often we take our dogs for granted. Some leave them alone for long stretches while at work, or school. Sometimes we're forced to make them exist in small quarters, or without a yard. And in some terrible instances, they're neglected and/or abused. But all the more reason to try and understand these amazing creatures - to give them what they deserve, considering all that they give.

So, while I'm not a veterinarian or anything that qualifies me to give health or legal advice, I am first and foremost a dog-lover, and maybe I'm a bit of a dog-whisperer in training. Or maybe I'm just dog crazy and full of myself, but I hope over the course of this blog I'll be able to delve into the behaviors of dogs, some theories about why they do what they do, and how to keep them bursting with joy.

Action, age 6

I adopted Action about ten years ago. We didn't know what kind of dog he was, but at four months old, and having recently recovered from pneumonia, he was adorable. Floppy ears, blond fur, and a shy tail, "Django" as he was called (presumably due to being unchained?), looked like nothing I'd seen before. It was love at first sight.

He was my first dog as an adult, and I had been waiting twenty years for this moment. Most people want kids someday. All my life I dreamed of getting a dog. Finally, at 40, I had my own place with a yard and a dog door... There was nothing stopping me. I reached out to my circle, announcing that I was looking to recuse a mutt, and within a week I was alerted to a new reality show called "Lucky Dog" which paired first-time dog owners with shelter dogs, so I reached out and went in for an interview. 

There I met with the amazing casting director, Carol Barlow. She put me on tape and asked me "Why do you want to adopt a shelter dog?"

"Honestly, " I said, "My canin-o-logical clock is ticking." She laughed. "My whole life has led up to this point. I'm ready to get a dog now." 

After the interview, she thanked me profusely and said I was an ideal candidate. I essentially floated back to my car. While I was honestly not normally interested in being on a reality show, this felt different. It's not like they were asking me to move into a strange house and be forced to bond with new roommates. (Although, ironically, that's what I was asking a dog to do with me.)

About a week later I got an email from Carol. The show's premiere was being pushed back six months. "I remember you said your clock was ticking. Can you even wait that long?" She was right. I was going to explode if I didn't adopt a dog immediately. She gave me her blessing to adopt a dog on my own. The show would be fine without me. And so I said goodbye to my reality TV show dog and looked forward to my real one.


Imagine my surprise when Carol wrote me back a week later asking me to add her on Facebook. "I might have found you a dog." I clicked on the Facebook link and there was his face staring at me, laying on a cement floor painted bright blue, his face blurry, but his paw in focus between us, drawing attention to how he was reaching out. I immediately reached out to Carol, "Carol, he's awesome. Where is he? Can I meet him?"

She then connected me with Elaine Seamans of the Atchoo Foundation, which she describes on her website as "devoted to helping homeless dogs in urgent need of medical help by paying for that vital care."  If you ever get the chance to meet Elaine, I recommend it. She's a treat - a whisp of a woman who is utterly devoted to dog rescue and is currently working to rescue desperate dogs out of Tijuana. Elaine introduced me to Django. "He doesn't look like a Django. I call him Linus." She was so right. He looked like he wanted to curl up with a blanket. But, as someone who had been anticipating this moment for decades, I had a name for him already, and I think she could read that on my face. "But you can name him whatever you want."

"I was planning on calling him Action." She smiled and said it suited him. 

Although who could say what Action was? He looked like a miniature German Shepard, but all blonde and with a much longer nose. One veterinary assistant said he might be a corgi. I had to stifle a laugh over that one. While I didn't know what he was, people always said "He's so regal!"  

He had a rapid growth spurt at six months and his German Shepard lineage became quickly apparent, but he was also clearly a mutt. We fell instantly madly in love, and as a work-from-home dog dad, he's rarely not at my side. And in that time, I have gotten to understand a great deal about him, and about dogs in general. Although it would be eight years before I bothered to get his genetics tested, but I'll save that story for another blog post...

                            — Kiff Scholl


Instinct v Learned

Jan 19, 2023 — Blog post by Kiff Scholl


"Why does Action go so crazy whenever he walks past that old husky behind the neighbor's fence?"

I had noticed this behavior before. He had the same reaction when he passed the blind old chihuahua mutt two blocks from us, and he also growls intensely at an old-sounding dog behind a family's walled-in yard. 

Research shows that when a dog is uncomfortable she/he may bark harshly in response to that distress. So why does my incredibly friendly and sweet dog seem so angry when he encounters new, old dogs? Well, I'm admittedly not a scientist in any regard, but I was starting to believe that it was related to his dog/wolf heritage. Don't wolves kill off their older members for the sake of the pack? And some dogs can smell all kinds of things, even cancer... Could it be that he feels a responsibility to kill the older dog? Or is he maybe just detecting illness?

Well, if it's either of these things, it's likely the latter. It's a myth that wolves kill older members of their pack -- generally, if wolves manage to live until old age, they tend to wander off and die. There is no substantive evidence that I've found that suggests that they're ever intentionally killed. They're actually more likely to sacrifice themself for the pack or stay home with pups. 

But studies show dogs can smell disease, so perhaps that's part of it. The blind chihuahua passed away shortly after we met him, and the husky next door is sadly on his last legs. I guess it's possible... But the more likely answer is Leash Aggression. Leash Aggression is described as "an undesirable behavioral problem in dogs that causes aggressive, excitable behavior in leashed dogs, including barking, lunging, growling, snarling, pulling and jumping." Personally, I watched Action develop this trait over a series of weeks in his 3rd year.

We used to walk in the park nearby, but one day a jogger and his large, muscular dog jogged past us at a pace that Action was drawn to, so he ran after them. The leash burned my fingers as it went from slack to tight in a second, and was yanked from my hand. The large dog turned on Action before I could get there, and barked furiously at my puppy, scaring him half to death. I caught him and apologized to the dog owner, as I scooped up my traumatized guy. It was clear to me that he changed dramatically after that. 

From then on, Action was on guard around any dog on a leash. It quickly developed to him believing that any dog on a leash was out to get him - or me, and for him, protecting me is job one. Sometimes a friend with a dog will run into Action and me while we're on a walk, and I always warn them with something short of, "Action is very sweet, but since they're both on a leash, he's actually just waiting for a sign - any signal from your dog - that a fight is afoot." But usually, before that happens Action has been triggered and I pull him away, apologizing.  (Action has gotten training, but that's a story for another post.)

What's fascinating is, Action is still generally great around dogs off-leash. The moment another dog is on our property, he's best of friends with them. Although he will steal their treats and toys, after all, he's the Alpha at home. 

So while there could be other reasons for his less desirable behavior, it seems that it's probably learned self-defense, as opposed to an instinctual desire to give my neighbor's dog a mercy killing. PHEW!

The Joy of Dogs Blog

My Caninological Clock

Jan 18, 2023 — Blog post by Kiff Scholl