Jasper the English cocker spaniel
This is why I haven’t been posting much lately! This is Jasper, our new puppy. He’s eight weeks old and we bought him home with us on Friday. He’s an English working strain cocker spaniel. That means he won’t have the very long coat and ears and the domed head of the English or American show cocker spaniels, instead he’ll look more like a miniature springer spaniel when he grows up, with a pointier nose and a smaller forehead than the show strains. He’s chocolate with ginger points – eyebrows, inside ears, nose, and paws. He has very even markings and unusual olive coloured eyes. We think he’s going to be a bit of a ladykiller when he grows up. If you visit Hawcroft gundogs, you’ll see a picture of his paternal grandfather, Sandford Black Mamba. And if you visit Rytex gundogs, you’ll see a picture of his maternal grandfather, Danderw Druid, probably where he gets his looks! His mum was an absolute beauty – soft as muck, with a slender nose and sleek ginger fur, and it looks like this guy has sired a few similar to her.
We chose a working cocker because they are a relatively healthy breed. Apart from heart problems, show strain cockers can suffer from something called cocker rage, where they suddenly see a red mist and turn around and bite their owners for no apparent reason. It’s thought to be a form of epilepsy and has something to do with overbreeding to get the solid colours, particularly the gold and red colours. The roans, chocolates and blacks are usually rage free.
Cocker spaniels were originally bred to run with shooters and flush out woodcocks from the undergrowth, then fetch them back when they have been shot. In the 18th and 19th century, they weren’t really a distinct breed from springer spaniels, just classified by size: smaller spaniels were cockers, larger ones were springers. My grandparents owned a springer spaniel called Rhona, and she was an absolute nutter – she always had a ball in her mouth and ran around wagging the stump of her tail like a helicopter. She was once so excited she tried to climb through the cat flap and got stuck half way through!
Cockers and springers are bred to be unaffected by loud bangs and to be quite confident. Some breeds are a lot more sensitive to sounds, for example border collies are very sound sensitive to the point of hyperacusis. J., my partner had a border collie called Bruce who was very sound sensitive and constantly being startled by things that the family couldn’t hear. Bruce had a metal tag on his collar and a metal food bowl, and he hated it when his tag clanked on the bowl – J. says the sound used to go right through him! I suppose if there was a kind of dog with aspergers, it would be a border collie – very smart, bored easily, sensitive to noise, incredibly particular and fussy, and a bit clumsy and stupid socially. Bruce didn’t know that people were scared of him when he barked. He once tried to make friends with me by throwing the whole of his weight onto me on the sofa and winding me. Another time he managed to catch a rabbit and shook it to kill it. He was next to a canal, and he shook the rabbit and dropped it in the canal!
Jasper is remarkably good at fetching things. He doesn’t know how to sit and isn’t house trained, but he already responds to the command ‘fetch’! When we throw him toys he tries to take them onto his bed to chew, but he just can’t stop himself from bringing them back after about three seconds! It’s quite funny to watch as he wants to sit on his bed and be smug about winning his toy, but he can’t overcome the compulsion to return it to us! We think he is fighting his genes.
Puppies are hard work! It must be exhausting having a toddler. He’s already attached himself to me like a baby duckling and pads around after me, lying on my feet when I stand still. He seems to have a compulsion to chew anything remotely furry, including my long cardigan, and I can walk through the kitchen and he will attach himself to it by the teeth and trail along behind me, wanting to play. For the first couple of nights he woke up crying and had to be reassured, but he’s been very good really – his litter were raised outside in a shed, so he’s reasonably independent.
He doesn’t seem to respond that well to training with treats and isn’t particularly food-orientated, which is a good thing as we won’t end up with a fat dog. I think he prefers praise to treats. He makes a lot of eye contact and is very attuned to reading our body language – so he’s not an autistic puppy!
We’re fans of The Dog Whisperer with Cesar Millan. Millan uses dog pack psychology to modify dog’s behaviour, unlike traditional animal behaviourists like Ian Dunbar that use reward/punishment training. There seems to be a bit of a debate online between the Millan enthusiasts and the Dunbar enthusiasts. A journalist has really distorted Millan’s teachings to try to make out that he is somehow ‘abusive’ to dogs. Anyone who has seen The Dog Whisperer knows that Millan loves dogs and is gentle but firm when dogs get out of hand. Millan works to pack psychology and the idea that packs have hierarchies and you have to teach your dog that you are pack leader. Millan answers the criticism here.
The journalist quotes someone who says this has put dog training back twenty years by detracting from behaviourists like Ian Dunbar. I thought this was rather a surprising comment, because I remember studying behaviourism in my psychology class at university. Behaviourism is really a very crude theory that was popular in the 1950s to understand animal and human behaviour in terms of basic reward/punishment association training. It’s a school that started with Pavlov’s dogs. I don’t see what is so advanced about this school. It is thought primitive and robotic compared to other forms of psychology.
I think this journalist is a liberal who had a kneejerk reaction against the idea that any kind of social structure could be innate. I’m a liberal too, but that kind of prejudice will inevitably lead you to promote behaviourist training and criticise dog psychology without making a fair assessment of them both. Dogs are not robots. Acknowledging that they live in a social structure does not mean that their social structure is exploitative or justify exploitative human social structures. Sometimes things just work better when there is one person steering the ship. I could draw an analogy here. This kind of prejudiced liberal thinking is also determined to deny that autism and fibromyalgia have a genetic aspect.
Jasper went to the vets today – we were unimpressed by the diet the vet recommended – she told us to feed him dried dog food and not give him any bones, but we just nodded along like we were going to do as we were told. I think Jasper would be unimpressed with her diet too. Whenever we add a bit of kibble to his dish, he picks out the meat and eggs and leaves the biscuits as best he can!
We plan to feed him a raw meaty bones/BARF style natural diet. He was raised on dry puppy mix and when we got him he seemed quite constipated and barrel shaped. He’s puppy shaped now! We’re introducing him to raw food slowly – mostly we’re feeding him gently home cooked meat and eggs at the moment, though we’ve tried him on some raw beef mince. He seems a bit suspicious of it, and it can cause stomach upset if you introduce it too fast, so we’re going slowly. We’ve tried to give him a beef shin marrow bone, but he’s scared and wants to play with it! I think it’s because when he pulls it across the kitchen tiles it sounds like it’s growling! He likes fish, he wolfed down our leftover fish skins the other day. I fed him a spoonful of my mince and potatoes, and it gave him hiccups. Which is interesting, because potatoes are the only thing on earth that give me hiccups.
Lots of people keep buying us puppy treats, but I’m keen that he shouldn’t get any additives. He doesn’t really seem to like treats and biscuits anyway, and I don’t want to encourage him to eat junk food. I bought a basic puppy advice book from a pet shop, and it says puppies can be hyperactive when they aren’t fed right – the book blamed “high protein diets or something else in the food.” I think puppies don’t tolerate additives, just like children and some adults.