Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

The Towhee Conspiracy

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Usually I write about dogs, but this post is strictly for the birds.

One of my objectives on my recent Lake Arrowhead vacation was to get a better photograph of a spotted towhee that I saw last year.

On the first day of vacation I heard towhees several times, making their somewhat mechanical sounding very high-speed click click click sound. They sound almost like a cicada.

But I was never able to spot one of them. It seemed like they were always at a distance and buried in the bowels of an oak tree or on the other side of a tree.

This went on for several days. On the fourth day of my vacation, Barbara and I went for a long walk, and we heard the towhees calling, but they were always “over there” somewhere. I was never able to get a closer than about seventy five yards to one of them. I have a powerful telephoto lens for my cameral, but that’s still not exactly a clean shot

Several times when I spotted the towhees, I tried to get a little closer, only to have the birds fly away. They are obviously very skittish and not comfortable around people.

About a week into my vacation I started to get the idea that all of the towhees on the mountain were conspiring to avoid me. It seemed like, no matter what I did to get closer to one, they outsmarted me. Several times I thought I was in good camera range only to have the birds fly away just as I started to focus.

So now I’m starting to perseverate on these little guys. This is getting serious. It seems like they are really ganging up on me and avoiding me at all costs.

One evening, one of the towhees let his guard down a little and gave me a pretty clean shot. It was clean, but the bird was about one hundred yards away, so the image did not enlarge very well. I thought “well this is good enough for now, but I need a better shot.”

Several mornings later, I thought I finally had my perfect shot. I was practicing golf in a net, and all of a sudden I realized that one of the towhees was buzzing away in the top of an Oak tree about thirty yards away.

Obsessed as I had become with getting a picture of this little guy, I had brought my big camera and lens so I only had to walk a few feet, and I had a fairly open shot of the bird. He (the males have the fancy colors) was about forty feet high on a dead branch — with no obstructions. A very nice shot.

Unfortunately, the bird was facing away from me. I did get a couple of marginally acceptable shots, but I remained convinced that the towhee community was conspiring against me and alerting the the others anytime I got within fifty yards of one of them

So now I’ve got about a week left to get a good image of the towhee, and I’m becoming more and more convinced that he and his friends are conspiring against me. I say “he” because one of the birds lives in a wooded transition area adjacent to my property. I hear him every morning and every evening.

A few more days go by and I’m hearing the little guys everywhere. Buzz, buzz, buzz. But I never got a good shot. I walked out onto the street a couple of times because I heard a towhee near the street, but every time I got within about seventy yards the bird would fly to another tree.

On the very last day of my vacation, I had to pack up my golf practice net and carry it up to the house for storage. I had my large camera and lens with me, just in case, and as I approached the house I heard a “click-click” sound. Not the usual “buzz” — just a few clicks. It occurred to me that that the usual buzzing sound is made up of high-speed dozens of these “clicks,” and, sure enough, I looked up, and about forty feet away sat my spotted towhee friend — in wonderful, soft morning sunlight and looking right at me.

You only have a few seconds in these situations, so I quickly grabbed my camera, focused on the bird, and fired off half a dozen shots (using the “automatic shutter” feature). After about six shots, the towhee flew away.

Now the conspiracy thickens. When I looked at the images I realized that I had set my camera for multiple focal points which is great for in-flight photos — like a cooper’s hawk flying overhead. But in this case the camera focused on everything except the towhee, so the image was very fuzzy.

Now, in case there was any doubt, I am totally convinced that the towhee conspiracy is in full motion. But it gets better — or worse.

When I returned to Los Angeles, I went to the golf club for some practice, and I was totally surrounded by the towhee “buzzing” sound. This time, it wasn’t coming from a spotted towhee; it was coming from a biological relative — the black phoebe, which is abundant around my home. In fact, every year, several of them nest under the eaves of my house.

All of a sudden, their sound took on new meaning. So now it’s not just the spotted towhee who is out to get me, it’s also his buddies, the the black phoebes, who are slowly — or maybe not so slowly — driving me crazy. Paranoia to the max.

Finally, I decided the photograph I got last year wasn’t really all that bad.

As a post-log, I was back at lake arrowhead three weeks later, and I realized that I was not hearing the spotted towhees at all. After a little research on their migration patterns, I discovered that they visit the mountain elevations only in the spring and early summer. Then they return to the lower elevations and coastal California.

Maybe next year.

A Dog’s Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Five Ways to Figure Out What Your Dog Is Telling You

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Does your dog ever do something that leaves you scratching your head and wondering, “Why did he (or she) do that?” If so, you’re not alone. Dogs tell us important things all the time, but sometimes we don’t “get the message.”

Dogs communicate in different ways and at different levels. Sometimes they “talk” with their tails, or their ears, or their posture. Sometimes they “talk” by barking, or yelping, or whining. Sometimes they use subtle signals that were used in wolf packs to “keep the peace.” These messages can include licking their own lips or yawning.

But dogs frequently communicate with their behavior. A dog’s actions speak louder than words. The trick is to figure out what the actions means. It can be obvious. For example, when your dog sits and begs while you’re eating a piece of steak, there’s no mystery in the message. But many messages are much more subtle than that. Here are some ways you can try to “break the code” and understand what your dog is telling you.

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Sounds That Scare Dogs: Do Rings and Beeps on Your Radio Bother Your Dog?

Monday, February 20th, 2012

Now I know my dog, Callie, listens to the radio, and I’ve discovered some of the sounds that scare dogs.

We usually have a couple of radios jabbering in our house with local news or talk radio. I’ve never been sure if my dog Callie golden retriever hears what’s on the radio or not. But now I know she does.

There is one ad on the radio that drives Callie nuts. At the beginning of the ad there is a distinct sound of a doorbell ringing. Every time Callie hears that doorbell ring, she bolts for the front door to see who’s there. “Is it the postman, a delivery man, or a repair man?” She gets excited because when the doorbell rings it always means there’s somebody at the front door.

The doorbell ringing is usually a happy event, because Callie gets to greet a person — one of her favorite things to do. But one of Callie’s most unhappy sounds is the beeping of a smoke alarm or a carbon monoxide monitor. It really freaks her out. I assume it actually hurts her ears. This is definitely a sound that scares dogs.

A few months ago the battery in our carbon monoxide monitor at Lake Arrowhead got low and the monitor started to “beep” very loudly as a warning. Poor Callie raced up two flights of stairs to get as far away as possible from that horrid, irritating noise.

Last night we were watching TV and there was an advertisement for a lithium battery. To illustrate how lithium batteries could extend the life of your smoke alarm, the advertisement has a smoke alarm with nearly-drained batteries going “beep, beep, beep” in a very loud high-pitched squeal. Callie’s first move was to dart out of the room to escape the noise. Another sound that scares dogs.

When I called her back, she immediately jumped up on the sofa between Barbara and me with her tail between her legs. This is not a behavior we encourage, but under the circumstances, we gave her a lot of love and assurance that the beeping sound would not continue.

How do you tell a dog, “It’s just on TV?”

Finally, to top off our week of nasty noises, this morning, the new washing machine completed one of its cycles and sounded an alarm that sounds just like a smoke alarm. Callie really didn’t need that. She started to run and said, “Here we go again!” So poor Callie went running away from the laundry room to avoid the horrid “beeping” sound.

Wouldn’t it be nice if advertisers and manufacturers could be a little sensitive to our “best friends’” ears? Can’t they anticipate the disturbance their ads are going to cause when they contain doorbell and smoke alarm sounds?

I suppose it would be asking way too much to expect a washing machine manufacturer to tone down the end-of-cycle alarm in order to protect my dog’s ears. But what would be wrong with a nice little “barking dog” sound?

Please, no more noises that scare dogs!


Does Your Dog Have Daily Rituals?

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Does your dog have ritual behaviors? Does it have activities that it repeats at specific times, or in specific situations? If you’re not sure, you might want to pay attention. Learning about your dog’s rituals can increase your enjoyment of your pet — and help you nurture its behavior.

Since all dogs are different, I’ll share some of Callie Golden Retriever’s rituals with you, so you’ll get the idea.

“Good Morning.” Callie starts most mornings by walking over to my bed, sitting down perfectly within reach of my right hand, and “presenting” her neck for a “good morning” scratch. I scratch the under part of her neck around her throat and adam’s apple. Sometimes she tips her head so I can scratch the top of her head, but for most dogs “under” is better than “over.”

Sometimes Callie’s “good morning” scratch turns into a full-body massage. She’ll move her body around so that the only part I can reach is her back, for example. This can go on for a long time!

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How to Improve your Dog-Talk Skills: Look for Patterns in your Dog’s Body Language

Tuesday, January 18th, 2011

You might be surprised how much your dog is communicating with you. You just have to learn to speak its language, which is often behavior-related. A dog’s actions can speak volumes; you just have to be clever about figuring out the message in “dog talk.”

There is no better way to understand your dog’s personality and nurture its “dog nature” than to tune into your dog’s body language and become more interactive with it.

There was a peculiar pattern in Jamie’s (the heroine of “My Doggie Says…: Messages from Jamie”) decisions about “where to be.” I believe that dogs are pretty thoughtful about deciding where to hang out. They often choose places for specific reasons.

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Dog Bonding Lessons You Can Learn from the Pros

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

What do Dean Koontz, Ted Kerasote, Kyra Sundance, Michelle Douglas, and Tom Sullivan have in common? For one thing, they love dogs. Secondly, they have very strong and caring relationships with their dogs. And, finally, they have been guests on the “My Doggie Says…”radio talk show on KFNX-1100, in Phoenix.

Every Wednesday night, on the “My Doggie Says…”radio show, I interview one of the top dog-book authors in the country, or one of the best dog trainers, or someone else who’s life, or livelihood, depends on dogs. One consistent message is that many dog experts get into very close relationships with their dogs. It’s a trend that I like to call “dog bonding”– building a strong connection with your dog.

The notion of “all alpha all the time” or making sure that you are dominant over your dog at all times, is giving way to kinder, gentler training methods. Many trainers are working on “positive reinforcement”methods, where they try to always reward good behavior without penalizing bad behavior.

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Tara Paterson, Founder of the “Mom’s Choice Awards” Interviews Author Fred Haney at Book Expo America (Watch the Video)

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010


Some Things Your Dog Might Be Saying To You (That You Might Not Be Hearing)

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

Dogs communicate a lot, but not always in ways that are obvious to humans. Sometimes their messages are puzzling and you have to work hard to “decode” them. But it’s worth the effort, and you might be surprised to learn some of the things your dog is saying.

Dogs communicate in different ways at different times. Sometimes they send messages in the very subtle ways that their ancestors used within wolf packs. At times, they use their voice to woof or bark. Other times, they use their tails, ears and posture to send messages. But many of their messages are simply sent by their actions. A dog’s actions speak louder than words, or “barks.”

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