The Results are In!

March 30, 2010

Weeks ago, I swabbed the inside of Sierra’s cheek as instructed in the DNA test kit I’d purchased, and sent the sample off to Mars Veterinary. I’ve been anticipating the results of the Wisdom Panel,™ designed to discover the genetic makeup of mixed breed dogs. The test is not yet perfect, although it does have genetic markers to identify over 170 breeds.

If at least 50% of your dog’s DNA belongs to one particular breed, it is classified as  Significant Breed. You’re likely to see the most physical and behavioral traits from this breed. If at least 25% of your dog’s DNA comes from a particular breed, it is classified as Intermediate, and you may see some physical and behavioral traits from that breed. A 12.5% or more showing is termed Minor Breed, although it’s unlikely you’d see the breed’s physical traits unless, as Mars says, “some of the genes are dominant.” The report also supplies a sheet on each of the breeds identified. Having seen some results from friends’ dogs, I knew that the number of breeds that show up varies. You might get no Significant results, and three Minor ones; or two Intermediary results and that’s it. It really depends.

So here….(insert drumroll)…are Sierra’s results:

Significant Breed: Alaskan Malamute
Intermediate Breed: Siberian Husky, and Keeshond
No results in Minor Breed

So to those of you who guessed any of those breeds, hats off! I’m personally surprised that Malamute was the more prominent, as her body type and play style are more typical of the slender, agile Husky.

The information sheets designate the Malamute as an ancient sled dog bred to survive in the hostile environment of the Arctic. Huskies have been used for “herding of reindeer, pulling sleds, and keeping children warm.” The Keeshond is known in Germany as the Wolfspitz, which is ironic because most everyone who sees Sierra calls her a “miniature wolf.” These dogs were bred to “watch over the homestead and hunt wildlife for its master.” Well, she’s certainly got the hunting part down on her daily hikes with my husband. And although there aren’t any reindeer (or kids) around here to herd, I plan to put her innate skills to use very soon—not with reindeer, but with sheep. On Friday we’ll visit a local herding instructor and have Sierra tested to see whether it might be an appropriate activity for her. Stay tuned!

Sierra’s New Toys

March 23, 2010

I have to admit I’ve been getting a real kick out of having a dog who is interested in toys but won’t eviscerate them in the space of seconds. Sierra and I have been exploring various interactive puzzle-solving toys together, including the previously reviewed Aikiou. We recently tried out two Nina Ottosson toys. Nina is a Swede with a crisp, stylish sense of design and an entire line of clever puzzle toys for dogs.

The Dog Tornado has 3 circular layers that spin around to reveal hidden food treats. Here’s a video of Sierra working it; it didn’t take long for her to catch on. The Dog Brick, however, has presented a higher level of difficulty. We’re working up to it. The Brick is similar to the Aikiou in that sliders must be moved to reveal treats. But whereas the Aikiou has 2-compartment, 1-slider type challenges, the Brick has 3-slider rows where more problem solving and manipulation is needed. We’re taking it slowly, because Sierra still tends to shut down sometimes if she gets overly frustrated. But we’ll get there.

Today at a local thrift shop, I spied a long, fuzzy-tailed something hanging over the edge of a cart. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be the very toy I’d been wondering about lately—I didn’t know whether it still existed. According to Google, it’s called a Weazel Ball. It consists of a hard plastic ball that, when a battery is inserted, rolls around unpredictably. The fun part is the long, fuzzy “weasel” attached to it. The first time Sierra saw the toy in action she was interested but also a bit afraid, especially when the fuzzy thing she’d been stalking suddenly started rolling toward her! I only let her play with it for a few minutes, then put it away. I tried it again a few hours later, and this time she was less afraid, and even got her paw on the weasel…well, you’ll see. Here’s the video. I’m still only allowing her to play with it a few minutes at a time, so that it will retain its high value. Did I mention how much fun I’m having with all of this?

Enjoy the videos, and we’ll keep you posted on our play adventures!

Guess the Breed

March 17, 2010

As I anxiously await the results of Sierra’s DNA test, some readers have speculated as to her breed mix. So here are a few more photos to help you along. I look forward to hearing your guesses. And by the way, she does have a number of dark spots on her tongue, which are not visible in these photos at this size. Please note that this does not automatically mean she’s part Chow–there are 30 or so breeds that can have those spots!

The DNA of a Hunter

March 16, 2010

The bunnies are out and about, and I worry for them. The tiny balls of fluff have ventured from beneath the backyard plywood platform they’ve claimed as home, in search of grass and other edibles. And there, not far off, lies Sierra. The first time I glimpsed her from my window, lying there serenely watching bunnies who were no more than 25 feet away, I thought, Oh! I had it wrong. Her prey drive really isn’t what I thought. The next time I looked more carefully, and realized that her seemingly lackadaisical stare was anything but; she was conserving energy as she waited for those bunnies to venture far enough away from shelter to pounce on them. So far the bunnies are fine. But Sierra is patient, and I fear it’s only a matter of time.

My husband sees Sierra’s true hunter nature on their morning hikes in the mountains that surround our home. Nose to the ground, she intently follows scent trails, and attempts to stick her nose into holes that are surely sanctuaries for critters who don’t want to be bothered. I’ve asked my husband to please deter her, as sooner or later she will find something–and it’ll bite back!

Not everything that lives in these mountains is small, either. Coyotes are encountered fairly regularly. It’s a good thing Sierra is on a long line, because she tries desperately to go after them, even when there are two coyotes together. The girl’s got prey drive! This will all be a moot point come mid-April when the rattlesnakes start making their appearance; the mountains will be off-limits then, until the frost returns.

So where does that prey drive originate? I recently sent off a Wisdom Panel DNA sample. I couldn’t resist—I really want to know what Sierra’s made of. Of course, the testing process isn’t perfected yet, and the degree of certainty depends partly on the prevalence of one breed over another. Still, it will be interesting to learn the results. I’m guessing she’s partly sheltie or collie, and possibly husky and German Shepherd. Whatever she is, there’s a hunter in the mix for sure.

Review of the Aikiou Interactive Dog Bowl

March 10, 2010

The first thing to know about the Aikiou is that it is pronounced “IQ.” The second is that it’s a pretty cool way of providing mental stimulation to your dog at mealtimes, or when giving treats. Manufactured by Aikiou, Inc., the bowl is made of plastic and is shaped like a paw print. It has four double-sided compartments where food can be placed, each with a slider that can be moved over one side to conceal the food. There is also a larger wheel making up the main part of the “paw” that, when turned, exposes only one of six compartments at a time.

I tried the Aikiou this morning for the first time, with my dog Sierra. Sierra is about a year and a half, weighs approximately 40 pounds, and although we don’t know her breed for sure, our best guess is sheltie/husky/GSD. Sierra has been having some gastrointestinal problems lately so I’ve been cooking for her (oops—that was the sound of my mother fainting), which is why I didn’t want to fill the product with kibble as many owners might. Instead, I first placed a slice of banana, which Sierra loves, into one side of each of the double-sided compartments, leaving the food exposed. I also placed a slice in an exposed section of the larger wheel, all to give her the idea of getting food out of this new weird plastic thing. (The manufacturer actually recommends removing all the plastic pieces at first but I couldn’t easily see how they come out—possibly due more to my rotten head cold and befuddled brain than the product design—so I left them in place.) Sierra ate the food from the compartments, although she had a bit of trouble at first since her muzzle wouldn’t fit into the small spaces. Also, the product skidded around some, despite the bowl’s “anti-slip grips”—perhaps my floor wasn’t clean enough; it could happen.

For round two, I put a small bit of banana in one side of each double-sided compartment and covered each with a slider. It took Sierra a little while to get the hang of it, and some of her success was surely due to accidental nudging, but she got there, and the compartments were soon empty. (The bowl, by the way, can be cleaned in the dishwasher or by hand, and the plastic bits do actually come out easily once you bother to read the instructions.)

I should mention at this point that the manufacturer states the Aikiou is designed “for you and your dog to have fun together” and that the dog should not be left unsupervised with the bowl. The latter is probably very good advice, as I could easily imagine my now-passed-on 120-lb. soul dog Mojo easily dismembering the Aikiou in short order. There aren’t any specific instructions given on how to “have fun” with your dog with the product, but as it is intended for the dog to figure things out, I imagine the human’s role is to stand by and lend a hand if necessary at first, and perhaps cheer the dog on. It certainly is fun to watch.

On to Round 3, the real experiment! I filled the each of the compartments with either small pieces of string cheese cut into coins, or 2 pieces of kibble (normally you’d feed larger amounts, but again, Sierra’s got GI problems). I videotaped the result, which you can see here. Sierra did just fine, and the frustration level seemed to be tolerable, as she kept going until she got all the tidbits out. It was great to see her working things out; my husband even interrupted his breakfast to look on, which is something, considering he’s not a morning person and not so much a dog person as I am. Hey, those Aikiou folks really are on to something!

I do wish there were various sizes of the product to accommodate smaller and larger dogs. At 40 pounds Sierra is not huge, yet she had some trouble getting the food out of the small compartments. Granted, if they’d been filled higher she would have had success sooner, but still, it seems the food remaining on the bottom would be a bit of a challenge for larger dogs to get to, depending on their approach. I suppose if they could manage to lick it out rather than trying to stuff their muzzle in as Sierra did they’d be fine.

All in all, I really like the product. It helps dogs to eat more slowly, which is healthier and reduces the chances of bloat. It gives dogs a chance to engage their inclination to forage, which is great for Sierra, a dedicated hunter, in particular. Sure, she also gets morning hikes with my husband in the mountains behind our house, but I can see how those who don’t have that particular opportunity would be even more pleased at this convenient way to offer the benefit of employing their dogs’ natural instincts. The importance of mental stimulation for dogs can’t be overstated, and the Aikiou gives owners one more way to provide that benefit to their dogs. You can find the product here. I’d recommend giving it a try.

Update: I have posted a second video to Youtube, as Sierra’s learning curve was not very steep. She’s gotten the hang of pushing and pulling the sliders, and maneuvering the wheel to expose the food cubicles.

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