Thursday, 27 January 2011

The indignity of being a dog

Interesting developments here. Fired up by reading about Chaser the wonder dog (see 18 January), Beard is now embarked on an intensive dog training programme. There are two elements to this.
The first involves laying out toys on the carpet, making me sit and authoritatively saying: “Ball”, “Bone”, Piggywig”, Ted”, while I rush over and put my paw on said item. This makes him so ridiculously happy, I feel quite sorry for him.
Much worse is B and W’s sudden tendency to refer to themselves as ‘mum and dad’, which is just embarrassing. They insist on taking me up to the cow field, standing 100 yards apart and telling me “Find mum!” “Find dad!” as I shuttle at high speed between them.  As Beard is 6 foot 8 and Weird is the size of a small sofa, this is hardly the most challenging task they could have come up with.
Having said that, nothing can be as undignified as when Weird tried to make me wear a Santa suit at Christmas. It only lasted five minutes, but the shame was traumatising.
The most depressing part of today’s whole dog training thing is that it dragged me away from Woman’s Hour and Swedish Author Maria Sveland, talking about her novel ‘Bitter Bitch’.  Presumably this is about another embittered dog... but I’ll probably never find out.

Utter shame

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

People for dinner

It is my four monthiversary this week, so in an effort to show my maturity I am considering who would be my ideal dinner party guests. So far I have come up with:
Melvyn Bragg (my favourite human)
Rabbi Julia Neuberger
John Noakes
Uncle Bob (who is a dog person)
Dr Al
Brian Griffin
Rolf Harris
Warren Zevon
Skydiver Liz
Colin the postman
Deputy Christine Kendrick from Houston SPCA

Werewolf tendencies

In a hilarious turn of events, B and W were out late last night at an animal behaviour class at the university, learning how to speak dog.  It turns out that this involves taking a ‘no punishment’ approach, which I tested at 6am this morning by ripping a hole in Beard’s waterproof trousers and stealing his toast. He dealt with this by ignoring me and leaving the room, muttering to himself “no speech, no touch, no eye contact”.
.... So I had a chew on the leather sofa while he wasn’t looking. You really couldn’t make it up.
While revelling in this excellent turn of events, I have been relaxing in my basket, chewing on the remains of Piggywiggy and I just can’t get my favourite song out of my head.
‘Werewolves of London’ by the legendary Warren Zevon  from his 1978 ‘Excitable Boy’ Album.
Here is Warren at his howliest best. Bet you can’t help joining in the chorus.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Musical ties and mad dogs

So, a fascinating week in politics when we all learnt the difference between filibustering and gerrymandering, and just how downright boring Parliament can be. Except of course the highlight of the week, when Tory MP Nadhim Zahawi stood up in the House of Commons to discuss the Educational Maintenance Allowance, to the accompaniment of his musical tie. Turns out it was a promotional tie for the charity 'Beat Bowel Cancer'. PR coup of the week!

In dog world, my own highlight of the week was breaking through the Colditz-style defences to get upstairs for the first time. And I finally know why I haven't been allowed up there before.... B and W are keeping a mad border collie in the bedroom!  He ran at me as soon as I got through the door and then copied everything I did, except no matter how hard I growled, he didn't make a sound. How weird is that? 

Friday, 21 January 2011

Obama Dog News

I heard there was chaos at the White House this week, during the official visit of the Chinese Premier.

The President's security team found the Obamas' Portuguese Water Dog, Bo, running around the gardens in the middle of the night.

Hu let the dogs out.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

RIP Piggywig

Two things perplexing me today.

The idea of the Random Walk, which is a central characteristic of research into randomness (thank you Melvin) and trying to understand why Piggywig has lost its squeak since I gnawed its face off.

For the uninitiated, Piggywig is my favourite dog toy, courtesy of Weird's friend Skydiver Liz. Its realistic squeal was ideal for annoying B&W by drowning out Timeteam.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Chaser the Wonder Dog

Until now the world’s cleverest dog was thought to be Border Collie Rico (note the breed), who can recognise 200 words after training at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig. Well, move over Rico. New Scientist has now reported on Chaser, another of my distant relatives who can recognise 1022 words and differentiate between nouns and verbs.
While this is all good PR for us collies, poor old Chaser – who is owned by two American psychologists - had to train for five hours every day for three years to achieve this miraculous feat. And she did it all for pats on the head and a chance to play ball. No food treats(!) and to top it all, in an article in the Independent, her owner (personally I prefer the words “human companion”) referred to her as ‘the research animal’!
(As an aside.... recent research from a Hungarian university reckons that pet dogs are often thought to be stupid, when in fact they prefer to wait for owners to do the job for them rather than take action themselves –  showing in fact we are very flexible at using social strategies. That’s more like it).
Anyhow, while disturbed by the apparent inequality of the Chaser/researcher relationship, it did set me thinking and I have adapted my training procedure with B and W to investigate Pavlovian conditioning. The early results are fascinating.  If I crouch in the corner of the kitchen and look as if I am going to pee, one of them immediately rushes in and gives me the day’s newspaper. If I open the box file marked ‘TAX’ and take out some of the small pieces of paper in it, they run at high speed towards to puppy treat jar!

Friday, 14 January 2011

Dogs in politics

So Labour held the Oldham and Saddleworth by-election. How does Nick Clegg feel about that?  And does it signal the collapse of working class Tory support? We shall see. Not that I have much time for politicians after the expenses scandal.... except for Cheryl Gillan the Shadow Welsh Secretary, who thoughtfully spent her ill-gotten gains on dogfood.

Dogs have traditionally played an important role in the political arena of course. B and W thoughfully line my crate with the Guardian, which picked up the story of newly-found war records on the Finnish anti-Nazi Tor Borg, persecuted because his dog, nicknamed Hitler, raised its paw when he heard the words 'Heil Hitler'

Anyhow, highlight of the week so far has been going to Weird's office to meet her friend Dr Al. Not only is he a border collie fan, he has a PhD in physics so he understands pseudorandomness.

Thursday, 13 January 2011

From zero to hero in eight weeks

I have decided to start blogging after taking eight whole weeks to get Beard and Weird under control. It took a few episodes of Dog Whisperer to get the hang of what they actually expected me to do... sit, stay, shake hands yada yada. We have now extended to searching for hidden snacks (excellent) and going to bed on command. Hardly rocket science for the world's most intelligent breed of dog. Thank heavens for Melvin Bragg is all I can say. Theme for the week is mathematical randomness and pseudorandomness..... which Beard probably can't even spell.

Did I mention that I will do absolutely anything for a pig's ear?