Wednesday, September 25, 2019

New Blood

I am back in Italy after a very successful visit to Israel.
One of the primary purposes of the trip was to see if it was possible to observe a small pack of dogs that appeared to be Canaans and to identify them as such. This pack is found in the south of Israel and lives on the edge of a settlement and in an area that includes wilderness areas and agricultural lands.
A friend, who is very interested in nature and the Canaans, and who lives in the area, has been following and observing them for a long time. She also observed the mating of the bitch who was the pack leader and the male who also has been her companion for a long time. There is also another bitch in the pack, and a few puppies of about 4 months of age.
Canaan packs are always very small, rarely more than two or three, and sometimes a few pups that are not independent, as the conditions are so difficult and finding enough resources to support a larger number is nearly impossible. They are very devoted to each other, and a pair will stay together for life if they can. Canaan bitches are very particular about whom they mate with, and we have seen in fact bitches that would ignore all sorts of males in their vicinity and travel a distance to find a Canaan male to mate with.
It was important for me to see these dogs, as it is possible to find the den of the mother and to take a few pups when they are old enough and raise them as family dogs, but dogs that will be available for breeding in future, to add some new genetic variation to the breed.
Friday night, my first day in Israel and a night with a full moon, we went out to the wilderness area where the dogs live in hopes of seeing them. It was a beautiful night, clear and cool, and everything illuminated by the wonderful full moon. The wilderness, so harsh in the daylight, was magical in the moonlight. And to our joy, the bitch was there, very heavily pregnant and resting in the fields. We could get to about 200 meters from her and observe her with binoculars. Watching her, seeing her body build and movement, athletic and balanced, her head and expression, and her behavior, I had no doubt that she is a pure Canaan, also the fact that she has been able to survive for several years (she is about five or six) in a difficult and dangerous area indicates her purity. I was really thrilled!
She was the only dog we saw that night. We made plans to come again on the next Friday. Friday is the best day, as the Arab construction workers do not work on Friday, the area is quiet, and the dogs more readily come out and move around. In general, it is only possible to see the dogs early in the morning or in the evening. During the day, they disappeared into sheltered areas and rested, not attracting attention.
I very much wanted to see the male. I had seen photos of him, but needed to see him in the flesh, to be sure he was also a Canaan, and therefore the pups would be of great value to us.
We walked along the dirt track leading away from the construction sites towards the open areas and the fields. There were many dog tracks here, and also tracks of many quail, one of the most common prey of these dogs. There were also here and there some remnants of other prey, bits of fur and bone. My friend told us that they also hunt small game - mice and rats, lizards, and such, but also can hunt foxes and even cats. (Sorry to all the tender hearted, but this is the truth of nature...) My friend has set up a feeding station and puts out supplemental food for them daily, to encourage them to stay in this area so she can go on observing them.
And then, as we climbed over a mountain of construction rubble and sand, there they were, several hundred meters away, resting in a field and watching us closely to see what our intentions were. The second bitch was there with two four month old pups; the pups were not hers, but the pups of another bitch that had been killed by the local teenagers, that thought that chasing and killing dogs with ATVs was a great sport. The mother of these pups was a mixed breed, but when she was killed, the pack adopted and cared for the pups, whose father seemed to be the male of the pack.
When we tried to get closer, the male immediately went on guard, barking and warning us to keep our distance, supported by one of the pups. But when we stopped approaching, they settled down again, always keeping a wary eye on what we were doing.
The male was a lovely Canaan in appearance, strong, with good bone, excellent construction and typical movement. He had one broken ear, not surprising for a dog who has to deal with all sorts of challenges, but other than that, he was a beautiful boy. I was so happy to see him. The second bitch also appeared to be a Canaan, although a bit less typical than the other two.
Our pregnant bitch was nowhere to be seen, and we felt that she must have whelped and was staying in the den with her pups. We had seen several dens dug into the rocky, sandy hills around us, very deep and with a turn to the right so that the dogs and pups when inside were completely protected. We were confident that in a few days, the mother would start coming out for food, and it would be possible to find exactly where her den is.
I had been accompanied this time by two friends who were really thrilled to see free living Canaans and promised their help in future.
Our plans now are for my friend to keep a close eye on the pack, and especially the mother, and when the pups are old enough, six weeks or so, but not so big that it would be impossible to catch them, we would take a few of them to raise in "civilization", as pets and working dogs, and then be able to use them for breeding, to add a new bloodline to the gene pool of the breed. We had never had any Canaans from this particular area before, and the chances are excellent that they are completely unrelated to the lines we have.
I am so happy at this success! It has made the Israel trip very worthwhile.

But this was not the only success. A few months ago I was contacted by a Korean journalist working in Israel. She was living in Jerusalem with two other Korean journalists on the edge of Abu Tor, which overlooks a wilderness area continuing on in the direction of the Dead Sea. This area is often traversed by Bedouins moving their flocks. Some local children had been given a puppy by he Bedouin, but were not allowed to keep it, and these journalists agreed to adopt him until a permanent home could be found for him. He was now a year and a half old. The journalist had discovered that he appeared to be a Canaan, in appearance and behavior fitting photos and articles she had read about the breed. She contacted me to help find a home for him, and since she was aware of our interest in breed preservation and introduction of new bloodlines, she wanted for me to see him and tell her if he was really a Canaan, if so, he would not be neutered.
She sent me a few photos and he indeed looked like a Canaan. So now I had the opportunity to go and see him.
Their apartment was not easy to find in an area of small winding roads. But when I finally got to their door, I was greeted by typical Canaan behavior of barking "who are you???", and then when I was welcomed into the home, friendly greetings and an invitation to play. He was a typical Canaan in appearance, good size and masculine, but not at all heavy, comacta strong thick coat, well shaped masculine head and lovely expression, and tail carried well over his back. I was thrilled!
We went for a walk, and I could understand why it was difficult for the journalists to keep him. They had little or no experience with dogs and were quite tiny women, and he was a strong boy, not very well educated, who pulled them in all directions. He was also starting to show typical Canaan behavior of challenging other dogs. And with their busy work schedule, it was hard for them to deal with him.
I confirmed that he appears to be a Canaan, and that we would certainly find a good home for him. We already have some potentials. He will be used for a test breeding to confirm that he is a pure Canaan, and can then be registered in the stud book annex. And this will give us another new bloodline!
I am also happy to see some growing interest in the Canaan Dog Preservation Project. Although the rest of my visit was also very successful, with well received lectures, visit to my family, and the opportunity to catch up with friends, finding these dogs has definitely been the highpoints!!!



Monday, May 27, 2019

Thoughts


In a few months, it will be fifty years since I immigrated to Israel and started breeding Canaan dogs.  A great part of my life, time and possessions over those years has been devoted to these captivating dogs.  Most of it has been fascinating, challenging, and satisfying, though it has never in any way been easy.  And at times it has been very difficult, discouraging, and even in some ways tragic.  I have never regretted it.

Has it been worthwhile?  How can we judge if what we have done with our lives has been 
worthwhile?  I have not saved lives or done anything world changing.  But I have changed the lives of many by providing them with a unique and loyal companion with whom to share their lives and from whom they were able to learn a great deal.  I can take credit for saving this breed; if I had not become fascinated by them from my first meeting with them, and come to Israel with the intention of preserving and breeding them, and had I not clung to my dream through all the very hard times when you couldn't even give a Canaan puppy away as a gift, when we lived in "survival mode", the breed would not exist today.

I have had many, many Canaans over these years that I have lived with, loved, and worked with and I am still learning from them.  Whenever I start to think that they can't surprise me anymore, they prove I am wrong.

So what difference does it make if the Canaan Dog continues to exist or not?  Why is it important at all?

According to scientific research of the last years, the dog may exist as a unique species separate from the wolf for as long as 100,000 years or more, and has joined man as a true helper and partner as much as 15,000 to 20,000 years ago or more. Much research is still being done on this subject, but there is no doubt that the dog has been connected fo man for a very long time.

 However, almost all the breeds that we are familiar with today are "artificial".   Man created, through selective breeding, over multiple generations and thousands of years, dogs that would be suited to different and specific tasks – hunting, guarding, herding and more, dogs that were suited to various environments and weather conditions, and even for esthetic reasons – what is beautiful to one may not be to another. The most ancient breeds among these creations exist for 5000 to 10000 years.  But some of the most popular breeds today exist only 200 to 300 years or even less.  Strict selection with the intention of creating special and very "typey" breeds, that fit a very specific breed description, brought about the creation of more than 400 breeds of "pure bred" dogs, some of them with a very limited genetic base.

We see today the influence in many breeds of the diminished genetic variation caused by this strict selection for breed type, and in many breeds the discontinuance of breeding for the purpose of work, instead being bred as pets or show dogs only. As a result of this, we see the development of more and more diseases, genetic problems, distortions, behavior problems, and similar effects that result in damage to quality of life, health, and longevity of the dog, and suffering and extensive costs to the owner.

The Canaan is the dog that nature created.  He belongs to a very small group of "primitive dogs" or "pariah dogs" that in the past were found in most parts of the world, and today are becoming extinct and disappearing almost everywhere.  (Other examples:  the dingo of Australia, the New Guinea Singing Dog, the Carolina dog from the swamps of South Carolina in the US).  The primitive dogs are considered to be direct descendents of the original dog that became a partner of man tens of thousands of years ago, when the dog and wolf parted ways and the dog began coming close to human settlements.  The primitive dogs were never bred selectively.  The only things that influenced their appearance and behavior were nature and the ability to function and survive.

There is a lot of interest in the world today in primitive dogs in general and in the Canaan in particular.  From these dogs we learn a great deal about what a dog is – what the natural characteristics of the dog are, what his basic relationship to man is, what abilities, drives, instincts he possesses, his use of his especially keen senses, and more.  In addition, because the Canaan is a completely natural dog, and we breeders through the years have made a great effort not to change him, he, in contrast to so many other breeds of dog, is a very healthy dog, with great endurance and adaptability, with an excellent life expectancy, a dog with physical and mental abilities that allow him to function in a very efficient manner in a wide variety of environments, conditions, and tasks.  His temperament is very special – on the one hand, he is very bonded and devoted to his "pack", but he is a partner reserving to himself the right to make his own decisions, decisions that are still influenced by the necessities of survival, a basic characteristic of these dogs. Building a partnership with him and learning to understand him is without a doubt very similar to the relationships of early dogs with their people, and is always a challenge.   Understanding the Canaan gives us the tools to understand better all of our other breeds of dog that developed from this original template.

The Canaan is considered an Israeli breed.  This is the type of dog that developed in this specific area of the world and nowhere else, and was totally suited to the environment and the necessities of survival.  There are archaeological proofs of this, which show that the breed exists here for thousands of years – when the bible mentions dogs, it is the Canaan. The Canaan dog is recognized by the Israel Kennel Club and all world kennel organizations as an Israeli breed, and today there is breeding of the Canaan in many countries of the world. There are few other primitive breeds that have achieved such widespread recognition.

Today there are breed clubs in the US, England, Germany, France, and Finland, and aside from these countries, there is breeding in Italy, Hungary, Poland, Norway, and Sweden, and a small number of Canaans in other countries.  The number of Canaans in the world is considered to be 2000 to 3000.  Aside from breeding, there is more and more participation with the dogs in shows and also in a variety of canine sports, where the dogs are proving their abilities.  The leader in this are the clubs in the US, with a large number of dogs participating in competitions of agility, herding, various obedience levels, lure coursing, barn hunt, and more.  The dogs are gaining more and more admirers, in particular for their health and versatility.

I mentioned before the problems created in many breeds due to their very limited genetic base.  The Canaan is one of the few breeds in the world that still has a relatively broad genetic base and still has the possibility of inclusion of new bloodlines from the desert – there are still Canaans that are free living or semi wild in the south of Israel and Canaans that are working dogs with the Bedouin.  But these sources, as a result of the spread of civilization into natural areas, are disappearing and we are afraid that in a few years there will no longer be a population of free living dogs left in these areas.  It is very important that we now bring as many of these dogs in from the Bedouin and the free living population as possible, to refresh bloodlines and avoid the problems that other breeds have encountered.  Breeders of the Canaan dog throughout the world are interested in this subject and in the possibility of obtaining dogs of new bloodlines.  These dogs can only come primarily from stock from Israel and close surroundings.

Throughout history, the Canaan dog was not developed through selective breeding and human choice, but through the survival of the fittest, the strongest, the smartest in their difficult environment.  The Canaan developed and adapted to the necessities of the environment.  Over the years, puppies were caught as needed and raised to be guardians.
It is essential to continue with the activities of bringing in new stock from the desert in the next few years, before they disappear.  The Canaan Dog is a living heritage and needs to be preserved, as he is, to teach us about what the original dog really was.  At least, I believe that it is very important, that the loss of the natural Canaan is as important and relevant to us as the loss of any other natural species.

In order to increase the possibilities of identifying pure Canaans from the population still existing in nature, we have started the Canaan Dog Preservation Project, to develop a DNA profile of the breed that will allow us to identify dogs brought in from free living sources.  We have already been collecting DNA samples from a number of sources for the research, and the project is ongoing.  In Israel, there are friends who live in relevant areas and have information and connections with the Bedouin groups who are on the outlook for dogs that can be brought in and possibly added to the gene pool.  There are few breeds anywhere that have possibilities like this.

But I am sad to say that I see very little practical interest in the project in the Canaan dog community.

It is common to talk, not only in the Canaan world, but among dog breeders in general, about "breed preservation" or "preservation breeding".  There are a significant number of breeds with a very small genetic base and a very small population of the breed, which is continuing to shrink due to very few litters born.

Preservation breeding is not a matter, though, of producing large numbers of puppies.

I think these words of Carol Beuchet (The Institute of Canine Biology) are very important:
"We should be treating dogs like the invaluable resource they are. We need to preserve not just the animals but also their gene pools, including those of land races, ancestral breeds, and village dogs that are the living reservoirs of canine genetic diversity. We need to document the breeds of the world and their current population sizes and genetic status, and we need to create the kinds of monitoring and development programs already in place for other domestic breeds of importance. We need to train breeders in the methods of sustainable breeding and provide them with the expertise and tools they need to be "preservation breeders". We will need scientific expertise, computer and database technology, the cooperation of thousands of breeders around the world, and funding.

Instead of breeding for perfection and purity, the most important - and urgent - consideration of breeders should be preservation. The loss of genetic diversity over time can be insidious, and genetic rehabilitation or restoration of a breed is difficult. Breeders reluctant to make the best use of genetic diversity existing in a breed because it involves using less than spectacular animals will find it infinitely more difficult to consider a genetic rescue that will require crossing to another breed.

Genetic management for breed preservation will require breeders to take a long view that considers the potential consequences of today's decisions on the breed generations down the road. It will require cooperation and transparency among breeders on both a regional and global scale. It will require educating breeders and finding appropriate rewards for good genetic management instead of ribbons for success in the ring. There are hundreds of dog breeds. This is going to require a serious and substantial commitment."

The Canaan Dog Project is intended to be a significant tool in effective breed preservation.  We believe very much in this description and in the necessity for action.  Canaan people in principle also speak about the importance of breed preservation.  But it requires more than talk…

I am afraid of what I see happening in our modern world.  There are more and more laws and regulations being enacted that are anti-dog, that show a total lack of understanding of dogs and their needs, and their relationships to us humans.  Organizations that claim to be promoting "animal rights" are actually advocating for the end of domestic animals in general and dogs in particular.  When I see what is happening, I am in a way glad that I am old and will probably not live to see the final result of what is going on now.  I don't want to live in a world without dogs.

I am very proud of the development of the breed in the fifty years since I began with this very special dog, of its success in receiving a respected place in the dog world.  I am very proud of the accomplishments of my dogs over the years, not just in the show ring, but in a variety of tasks which have been beneficial  to many.  I am proud of the Canaans around the world which are showing the adaptability, intelligence, trainability, and partnership they are capable of in a variety of sports and more. (And I am proud to say that most of the Canaans in the world are descendants of Shaar Hagai dogs from my breeding).

I can only hope that the breed will continue to develop and be preserved as a natural and unique dog, with interest and participation in preservation by breeders around the world.  We need to have common goals and to cooperate.  The Canaan has been a shining example in the dog world of the acceptance and development of a natural breed and the possibilities of gaining recognition with all the official organizations.  We must continue and become an example of proper breed preservation.

It's up to you all now!







Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Goodbye


A few weeks ago I had to say goodbye to my best friend.  I have not really been able to write about it 
until now, and as I think about it, my eyes fill with tears.

How strange is this relationship we build with another species, an animal that is so different from us 
in so many ways, but also so similar.  That we can love so deeply, as much or even more than we love others of our own species, and that is able to love us back just as deeply, although we make so many mistakes in our relationships with him.  That bonds to us and tolerates our various stupidities and lack of understanding, although they understand us so well.  The only other species that by choice prefers to live with us rather than with his own kind.

Habibi and I bonded from the moment we looked into each other's eyes, when he was a tiny puppy of two months old.  We trusted each other implicitly; we were always there to support one another.  We communicated in many ways; Habibi understood me without the need for words, and I tried to understand him as well as he understood me.

We did almost everything together.  He accompanied me to the classes I taught and sat next to me, keeping discipline with his penetrating gaze.  We worked together with nose work and searching, things that he really loved doing, and he taught me so much about the marvelous abilities of a dog's nose and about persistence and determination.  He liked to play, and would retrieve and do various tricks, but only a few times – enough, beneath his dignity to behave like a border collie.

He was a show dog and became a champion.  This was not an activity that he liked, but he put up with it for my sake, and ignored the commotion and the many other dogs around, though he really didn't understand why I wanted to do this or have him touched by strangers.  But he trusted my decisions and was always ready to cooperate.

He was very discriminating.  There were few people that he really considered to be his friends.  He was polite to most, after giving them a warning that they were in his territory now and they had better watch their manners.  There were a few that he disliked at first glance, and he did his best to protect me from them, standing in front of me and warning them off.  He could look very ferocious when he was standing at the gate and defending his territory – but he never, in his life, attacked anyone.  He didn't need to, no one wanted to see if he was really serious.

The only person he ever bit was my good friend Isabella.  I had to leave the dogs with her for several days after moving to Italy, when I had to take a trip home.  The dogs had only known her for a few days, and when she came to take Habibi out of his crate, his own familiar sleeping place, he looked at her, nipped the hand reaching for his collar, and clearly said, "Who are you and what right do you have to do this?"  Isabella understands Canaans very well and is a very good communicator, and within minutes, the two came to an agreement of cooperation. Isabella became Habibi's best friend after me, he adored her and would act like a silly puppy with her.

Many people knew him and admired him.  He taught many people what a Canaan dog is in truth.  They felt honored when he agreed to accept their petting.

He was my bed dog.  He was not spoiled or pampered, and spent his first years with me sleeping in his basket next to the bed.  But when I was waiting to go into hospital for an operation, and was very stressed, he decided that the time had come to give me more comfort and he moved on to the bed.  When I returned from the hospital, uncomfortable and sore, he stayed on the bed curled up close.  And from then on, his place was in bed with me, usually curled at my feet, but at times pressed against me.  There is nothing more comforting than a dog in bed…

He was the top dog.  He didn't have to demonstrate it, everyone knew it.  He was respected by the other dogs.  He was wonderful with puppies, very patient and tolerant, but able to correct their behavior with just the right amount of display without ever hurting or frightening them. 

There is so much more that could be said about this dog who was my companion for 11 years, through good times and bad, through changes that we never could have anticipated, and he coped with everything with dignity.  There are many stories about him in this blog.

He was only a dog, so when he started to develop symptoms of the disease that took his life, he went on trying his best to function, without complaint.  When his body betrayed him, his mind remained clear and our bond remained as strong as ever.  We communicated with our eyes, until finally he closed his and went quietly to sleep.

The other dogs felt his loss deeply.  They are still looking for him.   For me, he holds a place in my 
heart that will be his forever.






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Monday, December 31, 2018

Winter Resolutions


Winter is not my favorite season.  There are a lot of reasons:


  1. It is cold!  Of course, in Israel I really shouldn’t have complained about the cold, very clear to me when I see the photos of friends all over the world sinking into two meters of snow.  Here in Italy, it is a bit colder, but far from being extreme.  There is more precipitation than in an Israeli winter, but where we are there is almost no snow, though we see plenty on the mountain tops. 
But it doesn’t change the fact that I do not like the cold (yes, I know, in the heat of summer I often wish for winter to come….rationality doesn’t always come into play…), and because all forms of heating are very expensive, I try to use as little as possible. So I use a lot of sweaters and blankets.  I tried using special heating socks – you put them in the micro to warm them and then they are supposed to keep your feet warm.  Well, don’t waste your money – they work for a few minutes only.  Double socks and furry house shoes are the way to go…
Don't think I have gained weight when you see me in winter. What I have gained is layers of clothing.  Three or four layers is average for a normal winter day, and when the temperature goes down to zero or below…well, the Michelin Man has nothing on how I look.  Of course it is sometimes very difficult to move, as I tend to bounce off of things.  But it does the job of keeping me reasonably warm. 
And in the spring, everything thinks I look great after losing all that weight!
  1. It is dark!  I am a morning person, whose morning most of the year starts at about 5 in the morning.  But when I wake up and it is pitch black outside, there is certainly no reason to get up.  The dogs fortunately are not enthusiastic either about getting up and out in the dark, since I just can’t make myself get up to face the cold before there is at least a glimmer of dawn.  And then at 5 in the afternoon, it is already dark again!  Where has the day gone????  I really don’t know how people in the far north survive the winter with months of no daylight at all…
  2. I have a birthday in the middle of the winter.  Not only am I depressed about winter itself, but added to it all, I am officially another year older!  I don’t want to think of myself as older, I would like to freeze time – but I guess I missed out on that, because I would have done it about 25 years ago…I try to ignore my birthday, and fortunately in our house there is only one small mirror.  But in these days of Facebook, it is impossible – there are always thousands of greetings to remind me that I am getting old, including those from people who I have never met and really don’t know who they are…
  3. There is a New Year!  I have never been one to celebrate New Year’s Eve.  I don't think there are any huge and expensive celebrations around here, people here mostly celebrate holidays as a chance to spend time and have a meal with family – a very good idea, I think! Once, many, many years ago, I was in Times Square on New Year’s Eve.  It was quite an experience, and I have never had the slightest urge to repeat it or anything like it.  January 1 is a work day, like every other day of the year, the dogs couldn’t care less….
  4. My dogs, like me, are not enthusiastic about winter.  The podengos, if they had the chance, would spend the winter curled under the blankets without sticking their noses out.  Hibernation would certainly be a positive choice for them.
The collies seem to have forgotten that they are Scottish in origin.  No way, they say, we are Israeli collies, and living in Italy is not always to their taste.  The fact is that it is not the cold that bothers them, it is the wet.  On bright clear and very cold days, they love running around and playing.  But when there is rain, when the ground is wet and muddy, their attitude is very different.  How can I expect them to put their dainty and delicate feet down on that cold wet ground???? They tiptoe around the yard, looking for spots that are less wet to step on, which gives them a very strange looking gait.  Except for the necessities of nature, they stay on the concrete path by the door, looking at me pitifully and making it clear that they are ready to come in.  It is quite a sight watching them when they have to pee – they walk around and around and back and forth, tiptoeing and looking for a spot where it is less cold when they lower themselves to the ground to do their business.  They of course are not touching the ground, but they act as if their delicate organs will be frozen if they are not very careful about choosing a spot.
The worst of them is Jenny.  If you remember the story of the princess and the pea, that is her.  The slightest bit of mud on the ground, and she is reluctant to move at all, picking her feet up carefully and trying as much as possible not to touch the ground.  Winter is a hard time for Jenny…
The Canaans do not really care. They go out and run and play, whatever the weather.  Nina, if she was a horse, would be known as a mudder – she is completely indifferent to the mud puddles around, splashing through them and ending up with feet and chest covered with mud, which she happily carries into the house.  She really seems to enjoy it. Only Habibi agrees with me that winter, cold and damp are not fun.  He is reluctant to go out when it is raining, although otherwise the wet ground and puddles don't bother him much.

However, all of these depressing facts of winter do make me think.  There are so many crossroads through all these years where I could have chosen to go another way, and that would have changed my life completely.  Who knows where it would have led, what I would be doing now, with whom and where and why….

My life has never been easy, and certainly is not now.  The last year has been very difficult.  But it has never been boring, and certainly is not now!  I have never had regrets about the road I have chosen, even though another road may have brought me an entirely different life.  There is no going back, and there is never any reason to regret things that can’t be changed.  The only way to go is forward – there are still many choices to make, each one leading in another direction…

But in the spirit of the New Year, I decided to make a few resolutions:

  1. Don’t expect people to be smart; appreciate the ones that are.

  1. Learn to remember people’s names, not just the names of their dogs.

  1. Try not to log on to FB more than five times a day.

  1. Continue to believe what I see in my mind and not what I see in the mirror.

  1. Take as much care about what I am eating as I do with what I feed my dogs.

  1. Let my mind continue to run free and keep my mouth shut.

  1. Keep learning – and especially Italian!
                8.  Help others to learn.

                9.  Try and stay smarter than my smart phone, and keep it functioning as                        a telephone, not as the manager of my life.

              10. Appreciate the good things in my life and how good my life really is, in comparison to the things that could be.  There are so many that have a much more difficult life than me!

        11. Be grateful for friends, real ones, who are rare and a pearl without price.  Try and let them know how much they mean to me.  Also virtual ones, who sometimes are the best.

        12.  Always be surrounded by dogs!

        13.  Keep your eyes open and always appreciate the beauty around you.

        14.  Keep surviving.  Never give up.

Happy New Year everyone!  May the new year bring you all you wish for!




Really????Are you serious????


Saturday, October 27, 2018

Talking To Dogs




My dear friend Isabella is not a dog trainer.  She will be the first one to tell you that.  She is not a whisperer, a behaviorist, or a graduate of any of the endless courses that claim to teach one to understand and communicate with dogs if you follow their rules.

Isabella talks to her dogs (and sometimes dogs of others.)  But not only does she talk, she also listens.  And the results are quite amazing.  Her dogs are totally focused on her when she is talking to them and often at other times as well.  They watch her face and every movement, and you can see their minds working as they try to understand every word, and then try to do whatever they can think of to please her.  And they do understand and learn a huge variety of behaviors without any formal instruction, only with the reinforcement of praise and sometimes a biscuit when they do something correct or clever.  Should they make a mistake and do something wrong, the displeasure on her face is enough for them to understand and feel contrite.


Her Bracco Italiano, Sulpicia, has learned to roll a ball to her with her nose, to lie flat without moving, to catch a ball, and many other things, just from being talked to and encouraged.  She can sit for hours gazing into Isabella's eyes, or barking an answer when Isabella talks to her, with a focus that is not typical for this breed.  Her young Canaan Merino has learned many tricks and behaviors in the same way and his focus on her is something extraordinary for this breed.  She has often said to me that Merino is a genius, and could learn so much with a "good trainer".  I don't think so – the connection between the two is something so positive and unique that no "modern training methods" could take its place.


She has total trust and confidence in her dogs, and therefore they also have total trust in her. She can go to unfamiliar places with them, let them off leash, and because of her total connection with them and confidence in them, they respond by behaving as you would expect of a well trained dog.  They respond to strangers as she responds, and since she is an outgoing and friendly person, so are her dogs.

In our modern world, there is so much information available, so much discussion, so many methods of doing everything.  We are hard put to decide what to do and how to do it, what will be the most effective or most successful.  There are countless well educated dog trainers who have learned all the modern theories and work "by the book", following all the rules, and consulting with colleagues over every abnormality.  They are successful; they achieve results, even outstanding ones.

But for me, there is nothing that can take the place of the deep instinct, empathy, understanding, and communication of Isabella.  It is the difference between a paint-by-numbers picture and a masterpiece of art.  It is not something that can be learned, it is something that a few rare people have and the rest of us can envy.

I have been living and working with dogs for more than 50 years, but I can still learn about dog-human relationships and how wonderful they can be from Isabella and her dogs.




Wednesday, August 15, 2018

The Halloween House



The continuing adventures of the Shaar Hagai gypsies…

Moving is always a difficult and exasperating procedure, but when it involves moving  
dogs with all their equipment, it takes it all to another level!

Since we had no money for hiring a moving company, we were left with the option of doing it all ourselves.  We hired a van, and of course the first priority was to transport the dogs.  It would take two trips to move all the dogs, with each trip being about two hours of driving each way.  We had to do it at night, since it was now summer and the weather was very hot during the day.  So, since we could not afford to have the van for an extended period, it was a night of driving back and forth, one of us travelling with the dogs and getting them settled, and the other staying with the other dogs until they could be loaded and transported. The driver was a good friend, I don't know what we would have done without him!

Once all the dogs were moved, it was time to move all of our belongings.  A lot of my things were still in their packing from their trip from Israel, there had been no place in the little gingerbread house to unpack them.  Everything else we had to pack in cartons, or things like clothes in large black plastic garbage bags (these bags, in large and small size, are a major part of our life in Italy), and we had to load them all in the van.  I never pictured myself as a porter, but to my surprise, I did manage to do the job!

Once we got the things to the house in Amola, we had to unpack everything and carry it to the house – the streets in this tiny village were too narrow for the van to get all the way to the house.  So first dog crates, and then all the rest of our possessions, were carried to the house.  Things that were not immediately needed went into the cellar, down a steep and scary flight of stairs, some things went upstairs, another flight of stairs, and some things were on the main floor.

Finally, in a state of exhaustion, we were finished.  The van was returned and we were ready to collapse…

Hah!  The dogs had to be taken out and walked!  And my dogs were upstairs in my bedroom, so many more times up and down the stairs…

So here we were, in a different part of Italy, Tuscany, a very beautiful area, and in completely different conditions.   The house here was quite old and quite small, two bedrooms, a living/dining room and a tiny kitchen.  There was a cellar also, which was accessed by a quite scary looking staircase.  There was a small yard.  That was it.  We were also inside the village, with other houses very close by.  Most of them were empty, some in ruins, some for sale but not sold, and some whose tenants had died.  But there were plenty of other houses a few hundred meters away, that were inhabited by families.

So the dogs all lived in the house, divided between the several rooms, and went out to run in the yard several times a day, in different groups.  Most of our day was spent caring for dogs – feeding, cleaning, grooming, letting them in and out, taking them out to walk…  Since I had to go up and down the stairs dozens of times a day, my legs became quite muscular.  Stairs are a recommended form of exercise for losing weight and gaining condition – I didn't have to buy one of those steppers, I had the real thing!

It was very hot.  The heat here was different from that at Shaar Hagai, it was much more humid and heavy, even though in degrees it was hotter in Israel.  The dogs really only enjoyed running around in the early morning or late evening.  But the heat was not something that we couldn't cope with.

The thing that I found extremely difficult and frustrating was – the dust!!!  There had been plenty of dust at Shaar Hagai, although over the years, as I managed to get the yard in front of the house paved, and a lawn grown in the lower yard, the dust problem became much less.

But the dust here was like nothing I had ever experienced before.  I don't know if it was unique to this part of Italy or common to other areas also, but it was certainly something very different.  Invasive, pervasive, evasive, the dust was everywhere. Covering things did not help, it penetrated everything.  It was impossible to clean effectively; this dust was very heavy and with a texture that is indescribable, but if you tried to brush it away, it just fell and scattered into clumps and piles. If you tried to wipe it away, even with a wet cloth, it stuck and left streaks.  As soon as the wet place dried, you could see a persistent layer of dust still stuck there.  If you managed to clean a surface, after ten minutes the dust was back as if it had never been gone.  Sometimes I had the feeling that this wasn't just dust, it was a creature from outer space that was multiplying at a terrifying rate and filling the world…
Since the effective storage space here was limited, the constant fight against the dust meant that many of our clothes and belongings were kept in black plastic bags.  This way, the dust collected on the outside, but at least on the inside things were relatively dust free.  But it was important to be careful to keep the bags closed hermetically; otherwise the dust crept in…

Well, no choice but to cope with it…

But then the seasons changed.

Seasons change very abruptly here, it seems.  One day it was summer, and it was hot and dry, with blazing sun most days.  And then suddenly, as if it was controlled by the calendar, it was autumn!  The sun was often covered by clouds or fog, it was no longer uncomfortably hot, and there was a prospect of rain.  Rain would be welcome, I thought – then maybe there would not be dust!

That was a false hope.  The rain started, and what it produced was mud.  My dogs were not at all happy about the muddy ground, not something they had needed to cope with in the hills of Shaar Hagai.  I kept telling the collies that their heritage was from a cold and wet country with plenty of rain and mud – but they claimed to be more civilized now and did not desire to get their pretty white feet dirty…Well, they had no choice!  The Canaans and podengoes had no problems, though, they were ready to cope with everything.

One thing I found hard to understand was how there could be mud and dust at the same time!  If the ground was wet, there shouldn't be dust, right?  Hah!

This winter was very wet, with much more rain than usual, and it was quite cold.  As the winter progressed, we discovered more things about the house.  The insulation was very poor, it had obviously not been well kept up by the owner.  The walls seemed to be absorbing the rain and damp, and started to turn black with the mold growing on them.  The same thing happened to the ceilings which were also apparently soaking up the damp.  The ceilings were very high in places, and in the highest points, cobwebs developed and hung down, covered also with dust.  The house looked like something you would see in horror movies, or as a setting for Halloween.

Everything in the house was damp, clothes in the wardrobes, any bedding that was not covered, food in the kitchen cupboards…the winter was spent trying to dry things out on the few sunny days, and to find enough dry clothes and other necessities. We tried various methods of trying to get rid of the mold, but nothing was really effective.  All we could do was wait for spring and the sun and warm weather to dry things out.  The local dry cleaner also got a lot of business from us to clean clothes of mold – of course the mold grew on good clothes, wool, leather, and so on, not on the cheap synthetics…The mold on the walls and ceilings did dry up, and we were able to brush it off with a broom now, although traces of the black still remained.

Spring was rather late this year, but finally we were back to warm and sunny days, and were able to open all windows and air everything out, and get everything dry.   Our hopes were to be able to live a fairly normal life while we looked for a more suitable house to rent. 

But of course, since my life seems to be a soap opera, this was not to be.  We were informed that we had to leave this house, within a month, as it was needed for a girl friend of the owner. 

Finding a suitable rental property, as we had discovered, was very difficult.  We needed a place that was not near other houses, so that the dogs would not disturb anyone, enough garden or land around for them to exercise properly, and at an affordable price.  We had been looking but had not found anything suitable.  There were plenty of houses for sale, but we did not have any resources for buying. 

So in a few days, a new chapter in the adventures of Shaar Hagai will begin.  We will move to a tent in the field of a friend while we continue to look for a house to rent.

It is fitting that someone who has for years been breeding Bedouin dogs learns to live like a Bedouin, no?