Month: September 2013

Duke University’s Dog Research

Yesterday I received an email from Duke University (which is nearby) asking Izzy and me to participate in a study on how dogs understand human communication.  I would love to participate, but they want us to be there four days in a row at the same time every day, and none of their dates work in with my hours at the College.  What I love about the way they’re conducting their research on dog cognition is that they spend time with the dog and his/her human, but they also put the dog alone in my room to see if they will still respond to the same “cues.”  

I’m going to continue to follow their research and probably do some informal research of my own with Izzy.  One thing I know for sure is that he understands at least 50 words, including:  treat, walk, out, go out, sit, down, off, Deb, Danny, Ellie, Peg, birds, no, stop, quiet, shush, ball, go-get-it, drop, good boy, breakfast, dinner, water, car . . . and many more.  If he understands those words, is it because he understands the actual word itself or is it my tone?  It’ll be worth my time to mimic what Duke is doing in order to come to my own conclusion.

If you’re interested, here’s a link to their research:

Izzy and the Frog

               Sometimes in North Carolina it rains for days.  When that happens, there are moments when it seems like the rain is no longer water by infinitesimal frogs that sprout to full size once they hit the ground like those magic towels that when touched by water grow to ten times their packaged size.   The frogs magically appear on my driveway.  Different sizes.  Some green, some brown, some wart-y, some smooth, all miraculously arriving with the onslaught of rain.

               Izzy is thoroughly confused by frogs.  When we walk past them and they scatter in a dozen hopping directions, he is at once scared and confused.  He wants to follow them wherever they hop, but he doesn’t know which way to go since there are so many moving at once.  He lifts up his white paws and puts them down again, dancing to the left and to the right, then bouncing when a frog bumps into him or flies past his nose.  He looks at me, then to the frogs, then to me again, as if to ask, “What the hell are these things and where did they come from?”

               There are a few more in the road, but the cars passing by keep the frogs to a minimum.  They don’t carpet the road like they do my driveway.  Instead, they move to the side when a vehicle sloshes through. 

               Izzy takes a flying leap over the running rivulet on the side of the road.  He doesn’t like getting his feet wet.  And he accuses me with a dirty look that says, “Do we really need to be out here right now?  We could have waited you know.  I hate getting wet.” 

               I hate getting wet, too, but if we don’t go out, Izzy’s schedule gets all befuddled and he begins to have accidents.  Better to get wet than to poop on the rug, so we move on through the warm rain.

               Once he’s done and we can head home—me maneuvering with the umbrella, trying to stay away from low-hanging branches, and Izzy navigating his way around puddles and downed branches—he picks up speed, pulling me with an urgency that speaks of a need to get into the house and under a warm towel.  But there’s a frog waiting in the driveway.  A fat one with lots of bumps and knolls on his back. 

               Izzy sees him and turns to me, asking once again what thing this is.  He pauses, stiff-legged and ears cocked, barks a small woof and bounces once.  The frog doesn’t move.  Izzy does a little tarantella around the frog, staying clear of the frog’s hopping sphere.  Still, the frog doesn’t move.  The rain abates just a bit, so I stand and watch, trying really hard not to laugh at the drama unfolding in front of me.  Izzy gives another little “woof.”  The frog twitches.  Izzy does a puppy bow: Eye-to-eye with the frog that has now turned into stone.  I wonder where the rest of the frogs went.  This one now seems like the only one left on the driveway, and he’s a big one.  For the longest time, the frog and Izzy face off.  Finally, Izzy moves, and just as quickly, the frog takes a flying leap.  Right onto Izzy’s nose. 

               I think if there were one word in the English language that Izzy could have said at that moment, it would have been, “Shit!”

               So, I said it for him.  

ImageIzzy in his wet state and mad!).

Dog Brains

When I was younger, I took a women’s literature course and one of the writers the young professor introduced us to was a revolutionary woman named Rigoberta Menchu.  Physically, she presented nothing of a threat:  plump, ordinary-looking, no scowl on her round face.  But mentally and dynamically, she’s a powerhouse for the indigenous population of Guatemala.  I remember reading her work and appreciating the guts it took for her to speak truth to power and righteously defend her people.  She not only defended people; she defended animals and nature  . . . basically, she defends the rights of all living beings.

She said, “There is not one world for man and one for animals; they are part of the same one and lead parallel lives.”  That statement is so simple but incredibly powerful.  And true.  One thing you can count on with Menchu is that she tells the truth.

This morning, I was thinking of that statement when I walked Izzy before the sun rose.  We saw several of his dog friends while walking.  One’s a female boxer whose submissive and sweet personality reminds me of Menchu herself.  Boxers are strong, muscular dogs, yet Peaches defies the stereotype.  Instead, she is friendly and wiggly, like you would expect Izzy to be.  Both of them are the exact opposite of what you would expect, as is Menchu.

We inhabit a neighborhood where possums live next door to foxes, bluebirds share the sky with buzzards, tiny yappy dogs (like the Chihuahua down the street) walk the same streets as burly pitbulls.  Black Methodists sing in a church a block away from White Baptists.  Single women who have grown up in North Carolina and spent their lives surrounded by family are friends with others who grew up in New England and have no family nearby.  Doctors shake the hands of field workers.  Though there are times when our paths do not cross — and other times when they collide — we all are part of the same world, and as Menchu states, we lead parallel lives.

As I pondered that thought, Izzy did his morning routine:  sniffing under the old white Cadillac for the tortoiseshell cat that hides there, peering into the sky when the rook of buzzards lifted off the roof of Mr. Mendoza’s house, lapping the pool of rain water that has collected in the dip in the sidewalk.  Occasionally, he’ll glance up at me, tongue hanging out the side of his mouth, and I laugh at him.  He may not speak human words, but the language he has says one important thing:  I’m here for you.  I’m part of your world.


Full Moon and Dogs’ Behavior

Izzy’s been particularly frisky and misbehaving lately (see my post about eating my shoes!).  Last night, I took him for a walk and when we got back into the house, he brought me every ball he owns.  Demanded I play with him and if one got stuck under the couch, he did the puppy-bow-bark until I got it out.  When he was a puppy, his balls lasted an average of twenty minutes.  Now that he’s a little older, he seems to “treasure” them more.  He has one “ball” (and I use that term loosely because it really doesn’t roll anymore) that’s red and blue striped and a plastic shell.  He’s played with it so much that it’s got a hole in the side and usually flops on the floor rather than rolling, but Izzy loves it because he can grab onto it and throw it in the air, essentially playing fetch with himself when I’m not around.

After about an hour of fetch, I wanted to get some work done, so I sat down with my laptop on the couch.  He promptly came over and sat beside me, pawing at my hand or at the keyboard to get my attention.  Nothing would satisfy him unless I gave him a belly rub.  Sometimes you just have to give in when dogs demand that you give them some love.

While we were sitting there, my doorbell rang.  My next door neighbor wanted to borrow some Ibuprofen, so I made up a little bottle for her and brought it to the door.  Izzy loves Deb and went directly to her.  She bent down to give him a pat, and out the door he shot — right past her and into the yard.

He’s a little guy and tends to dash without looking (even though he knows “wait” when we’re crossing the street).  My heart pumped when he headed for the street, but then he turned around and tore back through the yard, nose to the ground.  I’m sure he smelled the groundhog/raccoon/possum/skunk (we have all of the above), but the way he was running in circles like a crazy man made me wonder if there was something else going on.  Finally, we got him corralled (he will not ‘come’ — no matter what), and I got him in the house.


That night when we went for a walk, he was still acting a little crazy, and when I looked at the sky with the gorgeous full moon and brilliant stars, I wondered for the thousandth time in my life whether the moon affects us as much as the old stories make us believe.  So, I did a little research.  Here’s some interesting facts:

  • There’s a 23% increase for cats and a 28% increase for dogs in visits to the vet’s office or an animal hospital during a full moon because they’re “acting out” more.  There’s a higher rate of seizures and traumas.
  • Doodlebugs dig larger holes during a full moon.
  • Instead of taking advantage of the better light during a full moon, lions kill during the daytime hours.
  • The word “lunatic” came from “lunar” because people noticed the change in both people and animals during a full moon.
  • Dogs might bark at a full moon because it’s brighter outside — and they are “marking” their territory.
  • Owl monkeys in Argentina are more active during a full moon.
  • And coral species mate a LOT more actively during a full moon . . . a true sexual phenomenon.

So, I guess Izzy’s behavior last night wasn’t as weird as I thought!

I love ya, Izzy, but today . . . you’re a bad boy!

I go home every day for lunch, and most of the time, I’m met by a little black nose against the back door glass that turns into a dancing, wagging, happy puppy.  Today was a bit different.

Izzy had his puppy period of chewing everything in sight and as all puppies, he pretty much grew out of it about six months ago.  He used to pile up all the rugs in the house right in front of the back door, as if he meant for me to see them as soon as I walked in.  Of course, they weren’t all in one piece when I walked in . . . they had corners chewed off, long ends raveling, and sometimes even had holes in the middle of the rug (don’t know how he did that, but he managed to).  I tried everything to get him to stop.  Sprayed the rugs with bad-tasting stuff like chili.  Used bitter apple on the corners.  Switched the rugs around so different ones were in his “favorite” places.  Laid down sticky mats so the rugs couldn’t move.  No matter what, he still found a way to chew the corners.  Then one day, he stopped.  Pure and simple.  Just quit.

But he’s still a dog and only two years old.  In the past year, he has found any shoes that were inadvertently left out.  Usually, he chews one, rips out the insole and leaves both near the door where I walk in every day.  Sometimes I don’t care about the shoes he has chewed.  What the heck, every woman needs new shoes.  Why not give myself an excuse to go and buy some new ones?  But there have been a couple of pairs that I really liked; one pair was a new pair of walking shoes that I had spent $100 on and only worn once.  I turned the air blue that day.

Again, he went through a spurt of chewing, then stopped.

Until today.

I opened the door and instead of a wagging tail, I saw a little black and white dog frozen in his tracks, right in the middle of a pair of shoes — not just one shoe, as is his usual habit, but a pair — that I didn’t even remember leaving out.  I had worn them to work the day before and really loved them because they had gel innersoles, were flat but dressy, and their nude color went with everything.  There they were, innersoles ripped out, toes chewed through, and there was no way on God’s green earth that they would ever be wearable again.  And Izzy knew it.

His head cocked, he watched me pick up the pieces, but he didn’t come very close to me.  And when I was done and pulled out his leash, he walked toward me very slowly as if unsure whether I was even going to take him for a walk.

We went for our walk, but we had a serious talk while we walked, and I could swear he knew what I was saying when I told him that “if you ever chew my shoes again, I’m going to find that crate down the cellar and that’s where you’ll be while I’m at work.”

And when we got home, he gave me his sad face.  And I melted.  Sheesh.



Izzy spends the weekend days and nights at my screen door, looking out on the street and letting me know if anyone comes too close to the house 🙂  He’s a guard dog as long as he’s behind the door, but if he’s out on the street, he just wants to meet all the new dogs in the neighborhood and greet those he already knows.

I spent Saturday writing, so I was in my office and looking out on the same street Izzy sees from his door.  It’s early Fall and the day glowed with that special light autumn days embody.  We made excuses for more walks than our usual, mostly because I needed to stretch after sitting in my office chair for so long — and Izzy had to see the people and “other beings” who had walked by the house during the day.  The last week at 10 PM presented the gift of a star-filled sky, high-flying planes that competed with the brightest stars, and a glimpse of what I think was Venus near the half moon.  I breathed deeply, sure that all was right within my world and comforted by the thought that there is so much more than what exists within the perimeters of Roxboro.


Izzy took his seat again on Sunday afternoon as I did my laundry and ironing.  The weather, as gorgeous as Saturday’s, enticed more people to take a walk, and I really didn’t pay much attention to what was going on unless Izzy growled or did his squirrel dance (on his back two legs) in front of the door . . . until I heard a tinkle-clink-clank-tinkle-clink like a broken ice cream truck going by.  Izzy came to where I stood at the ironing board, dancing and whining, then went back to the door as if trying to tell me something.  Curious, I followed him and heard the sound but didn’t see anything.  Still, he wouldn’t calm down.

A couple of minutes later, he still hadn’t calmed down and kept going to the back door, then coming to the dining room like he does when he wants to tell me to take him out.  Though we had gone for a walk only half an hour before, I gave in and put him on the leash.  He scrambled through my gravel driveway, choking on his collar and trying to get me to walk faster.  I could tell he had picked up the scent of something and thought it was the groundhog we have in the backyard (that has pretty much destroyed my garden).

On the way down the street, Izzy was at “high alert” but I still didn’t see anything.  Then a van coming toward us slowed down and stopped in front of us.  The window rolled down and a heavyset, older woman in a flowered dress leaned out.  “You might not want to walk up that way,” she said, motioning toward Izzy.  “There’s a brown pitbull wandering around up there.  He’s dragging a 6-8′ chain, so I think he got loose from someone’s yard.  He’s kinda big.  Your pup wouldn’t stand a chance.”

I thanked her and wondered whether it was the same one that my friend, the old man, was having trouble containing when Izzy and I walked earlier this week.  Then I realized he never had a chain on that dog.  And I realized instantly where the loose pitbull had come from.  The night before when Izzy and I were out, I heard howling, barking and growling from beyond the railroad tracks.  I’ve heard it before, and it’s obviously a group of dogs that are either caged or within close proximity of each other.  I’ve seen several pitbulls with some rather large guys who walk them up my street and can barely hold onto the dogs when they see Izzy.

I think there’s a dogfighting ring close by . . . and I’m feeling two emotions:  fear that my Izzy wouldn’t have a chance if any large dog became violent and compassion for those dogs who are chained up in a yard or made to fight when they should be in a loving home.  Now my journalistic curiosity is aroused.  I need to find out what’s going on.


When I ask Izzy as we’re putting on his leash to go out the door whether he wants to “go see Ellie,” his ears perk up, he cocks his head and does a little dance, pulling me all the way down the driveway, up the street, around the corner, up the little hill, then down Ellie’s street.  She actually lives behind me with her ‘mom,’ my friend Peggy, but we have to go around the block to get to her house because there’s a stand of 50′ tall bamboo and a few buildings separating our yards.  It’s the height of Izzy’s day if we visit his best friend, the little Maltese.  I suspect it’s the height of Ellie’s day, too.  And in a lot of ways, when Peggy and I sit on her porch and watch our little dogs chase each other around a tree, it’s the height of our day, too.  But the past couple of times we’ve gone to visit Ellie, she hasn’t been home.  I think Izzy would have patiently waited at the door for her, but when I told him, “She’s not home, buddy.”  I think he understood, though he seemed disappointed for the rest of the day.


As I write this, I’m reminded of the delicate strands of friendship and relationship that wind through all our lives.  I’m watching two people unload a little house across the street, packing a lifetime of belongings into a trailer they’re pulling behind a black GMC pickup.  The house and its belongings were the property of my neighbor, a 90 year old woman.  She spent her life her life in that house.  Though I never really got to know her, my next door neighbor did, and when the old woman was taken to a nursing home, my friend Deb cried.  That’s one of the many things I like about Deb.  She’s compassionate and warm.  She thinks she’s oversensitive sometimes, but I don’t believe there is such a thing.  I think we use that term to cover our own need for self-protection.  We don’t want to feel someone else’s pain or anguish, so we call those who do “oversensitive.”  I find that term . . . well, insensitive.

Dogs don’t feel the need to hide their feelings.  What you see is what you get with my Izzy, as well as with his other friends.  If someone’s having a bad day, they growl or snap.  If another is happy to see you, there’s no denying the little happy dance dogs do — big or small.  There’s something contagious about a dog that practically wiggles out of his skin when he sees someone he loves.

I’ve been reading a lot of Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was nominated by Martin Luther King, Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize.  Thay (pronounced Tie), as his disciples call him, is traveling throughout Canada and the United States right now, and as a practicing Buddhist, I would love nothing better than to see him.  Unfortunately, he’s not coming near my little hamlet in North Carolina, so I’m satisfying myself by reading some of his writings.  Today, the one the struck me has an awful lot to do with friendship.  I’d like to share it with you.

“The most precious gift we can give others is our presence.  When mindfulness embraces those we love, they bloom like flowers.” 

I think Thay knows dogs well 🙂




Walking Habits

Walking Habits
Izzy and I have established a routine: 5 walks each day, sometimes one more on the weekend. We leave the house around 6-6:15 AM, often in time to watch the sun rise, like this morning. A fairly banal sunrise today, but the sky did pinken a little, which always raises my spirits. That’s the long walk of the day. The streets in Uptown Roxboro are quiet, except for the trash truck making its rounds mid-week. We can count on seeing the retired school teacher who sits on his porch smoking his morning cigarette, as well as the old Black lady who lives in the group home up the street and also smokes nonstop. Sometimes we run into a couple of our dog friends: Peaches, the female boxer who does a GI Joe, belly-to-the-ground when she sees Izzy, or the new little Terrier who belongs to the retired school teacher’s wife (and is still a puppy so rather crazy).

We come back to the house and Izzy lies on the guest bed in my office (see the pic) until I get out of the shower, then we go out again for a quick walk up the street, one last pee before I go to work. Izzy always knows when I’m ready to go and races me to the door for that brief walk.

Then I’m home for lunch. He has slept all morning so is ready and waiting at the back door, his nose pressed up against the glass. He bops around, wagging his tail, tongue hanging out, ready to walk. We do a quick walk up the street, and the energy level is definitely different than our early morning walk. I eat my lunch, he sleeps on the rug and watches me, and he knows that when I go to the door this time, I’m gone.

After work is another long walk, and this one is the busiest. We sometimes pick up my next door neighbor/friend, Deb, and we talk as we walk. Izzy is actively sniffing all the other dogs that have recently left their scents on the street and most of the time, we meet one of them. Last night was one of those meetings, and it didn’t go well.

One of our favorite dogs was an old Shipperneke that had been the long-time companion of a kindly 80-something gentleman who’d been through several strokes. The dog was blind, fat, and slow, but she loved seeing Izzy, and her ‘dad’ and I talked about the dogs, the weather, and his health whenever we met on the sidewalk. When Lacey, the Shipperneke, passed over the rainbow bridge, the old man was bereft. For a long time, I didn’t see him, then one day, we passed his son on the sidewalk with a new dog: a young, reddish, Pitbull mix with lots of energy.

The old man still walks with a cane but now he has his “new girl” to accompany him. Unfortunately, she’s got way too much energy and no manners whatsoever. I worry that she’s going to make him fall one of these days. Last night when we came up to them on the sidewalk, Izzy was excited to see his new friend. She sniffed him, then turned and suddenly, she bared her teeth, growled and lunged. Though she’s a small pittie, she’s strong and it took all the old man’s strength to hold her back.

“I think we’d better go the other way,” I told him, as he struggled to hold onto his dog.

Izzy looked from the dog to me and pranced from one foot to the other, as if confused.

Deb, Izzy and I retraced our steps, with Deb and I looking over our shoulder at the old man and the now frantic dog.

“She needs exercise and training,” I told Deb. “He’s never going to be able to handle her unless she learns how to behave.”

And as I said that, I realized that Izzy, who had once had aggression issues, was now acting like the model dog.

As Cesar Millan says, once you master the walk, you master the dog. I agree!

Izzy’s Friends


Izzy’s always been better with other dogs than with people, but if a person is “attached” to a dog, he finds it easier to make friends.  These two guys are friends we see on a regular basis.  Ellie is the white Maltese, Maggy is the black poodle.  They are “related.”  Ellie belongs to my friend Peggy, and they live right behind us.  Maggy belongs to Peggy’s daughter-in-law.

Last night when we went for our evening walk, I told Izzy before we left the house that we were going to see Ellie.  His ears perked up, and he pulled me down the driveway.  He knows where Ellie lives, and as soon as we head in that direction, he’s got one thing on his mind:  Get to Ellie’s!  Get to Ellie’s!  Get to Ellie’s!  He literally chokes at the end of the leash, no matter how many times I tell him, “Slow down!”

Midway down Ellie’s street, Izzy will stop and stare at the house, all senses at high alert.  If she’s outside, they run to each other like lovers.  If not, he’ll head up to the porch and stand expectantly at the door, listening for Ellie inside.  His tail wags like a black-and-white fan flag, and he’ll glance back up at me, eyes bright, tongue out, as if asking me why no one is answering the door.

When we arrived on the porch last night, no one answered the door, and I told him, “Ellie’s not home, bud.  Let’s go.”  Though he followed me back up the street, he kept glancing back at the house as if expecting Ellie to miraculously appear.  There was a little less bounce in his step on the way home.  Some people say that dogs’ emotions aren’t necessarily like ours, but I can say without a doubt that he is always a bit depressed if his friends aren’t home.

Welcome to Izzy’s world!

Good morning and welcome to this new blog!  I live with a Shichon named Izzy, and because we have constant adventures, I’m going to write about our world — and about the world of dImageogs, in general.

Today, a little info about him.  Izzy turned 2 years old in August.  For the first year, he and I worked on his social skills.  (In fact, we’re going to continue to do that!)  He had a very bad attitude when I first got him — barked and growled and jumped at everyone he met.  My next door neighbor called him Devil Dog, which is pretty appropriate since he’s black and white, just like the Devil Dog food.

Izzy and I worked together, went to dog obedience school, learned how to trust human beings a bit, and though it took a while and a lot of patience, he’s now wagging his tail and sniffing people rather than trying to make them run away.

Now maybe we can enjoy being together in our little corner of the world here in Roxboro, North Carolina, where I’m a dean at a community college and we live in a little bungalow in the downtown area.  We walk the neighborhood at least five times a day and have “met” some interesting people and animals, including a guy who rides his bicycle at 3 in the morning, lit up like a Christmas tree, complete with his own portable music — and several skunks, possums and groundhogs who are just as scared of us as we are with them.

So, that’s us.  Hopefully, you’ll tune in for the next year of our adventures in the land of tobacco and sweet tea!


Dawn and Izzy