Tuesday, May 29, 2012

5,000 Blog Posts Later

This blog has more than 5,000 posts on it now, but back when it had only 3,000 posts I gave an email "interview" with the folks over at PawTalk.net.  I had forgotten about that interview, but stumbled across it last weekend, and I append it below as a way of avoiding having to write something new at the end of a long day.

Since this interview was given, the blog and web site have received more traffic, and we are now approaching 3.5 million visits, and we occasionally get tapped as a "top pet blogger" for whatever that's worth (so far, absolutely zero).  

As you can tell, I am a bit wary about plumping for dogs in general, or terriers in particular.  There are simply too many dogs in rescue to encourage people who need a cat, and deserve a goldfish, to go out and get a puppy. Please think before you buy or acquire!

A special thanks to the regular readers of this blog, and those who have cross-posted links or mentioned this blog in a positive light at one time or another.

What is Terrierman.com and how did its creation come about?
Terrierman is a site devoted to working terriers. It's been around for about eight years now. There was an earlier version of the site, so total time on the web is about 9 years. So far as I know, it's the only site in the world devoted to giving basic instruction on working terriers. The main site itself is several hundred pages, and the related blog -- added about four years ago -- is almost 3,000 posts, not all of them on dogs.

Were you always a dog lover?
I'm not sure I'm a dog lover. I like dogs, defend dogs, and respect dogs, but I have no illusions about dogs -- they can be a real pain in the ass. That said, I have always had dogs, and they are a big part of my life. I think I have always done right by my dogs.

I've had terriers since I was five years old -- 45 years -- but I have only been hunting with terriers for about 10 years. People get into dogs for different reasons. I am not a dog trainer, though I have trained dogs, and I am not a show dog person, though I have done that too.

What I appreciated about dogs is the fact that dogs see the world differently than we humans do. The partnership between human and dogs is one of the most ancient of partnerships, and through it you can learn a lot about people and nature. They are a door to quite a lot.

Explain to our readers what a working terrier is and why you created a page entirely devoted to one.
A working terrier is a dog that goes underground after fox, groundhogs, raccoon, badger, possum, or any other animal that dens underground. If you are ratting with a terrier, you do not have a working terrier -- you have a "sporting" terrier. A true working terrier goes underground, and it is dug from the earth with shovel and digging bar. Most dens in North American are two to four feet deep, and the dog is located underground by sound, or (in modern times) by an electronic locating collar. In North America, groundhogs are generally dispatched (by the human, not the dog) as an agricultural nuisance and pest, but fox and raccoon are generally released unharmed.

The main web site itself was created to help preserve terrier work and to offer tips and advice to novice diggers so that the dogs did not get seriously injured.

Briefly summarize the sections on your page (Hunting, Quarry, Health Care)
The section on hunting is a basic how-to for those interested in hunting with terriers, with pages on what is needed in a dog, equipment, how to use a locator collar, how to handle quarry at the end of the dig, and how to locate farms, and where animals are likely to be located on those farms.

The health care section details the basic veterinary kit every working dog owner should have in his or her vehicle, and gives tips on how to get antibiotics and use them so you do not waste money on unnecessary veterinary runs for minor problems. Flea and tick remedies are given, as well as a basic advice on how to vaccinate your dogs yourself, how to closes small cuts, how to release a dog from a trap, and the dangers of skunk toxic shock, which only occurs when dogs are skunked underground.
An Articles section includes a pictorial history of terrier work, as well as a guide to how terrier work was done in the Middle Ages, and several articles on the how Kennel Club theorists have managed to wreck nearly every working dog brought into their fold. Also included are detailed statistics on the size and measurement of working terriers in North America.

The section on Earthdog work is a simple instructional piece on the basics of artificial den work as practiced by the American Kennel Club, the American Working Terrier Association, and the Jack Russell Terrier Club of America.

RatDog is the oldest part of the web site, and is devoted to ratting with terriers.

The Books section gives some detailed book reviews, and some very abbreviated ones, as well as ordering information for some of the harder-to-find tomes.

The section on Quarry gives a good life-story for every type of animal we dig on here in the U.S. -- Groundhog, Raccoon, Red Fox, Gray Fox, Badger and Possum.

"The Daily Dose" is the blog, which has one to four posts a day. I generally have at least one dog post a day, but these are leavened with information on wildlife, conservation, veterinary tips, a little humor, and some politics, as the mood strikes me. In the last two years, the blog has had over two million visitors from over 200 countries.

Can you offer some tips on how to care for terriers?
As a general rule, terriers are a lot of dog in a small package, but there are many kinds of terriers, and no one rule holds true for all of them. The term itself is much abused -- a "Russian Terrier" is not a terrier, for example, and neither is a "Tibetan" terrier. An Airedale is mostly Otter Hound!
Most of the Kennel Club terriers are breeds created for the show ring and never really worked, and almost no Kennel Club terrier is found working in the field anymore. Most true working terriers are dogs that are not registered with the Kennel Club -- Jack Russell terriers, Patterdale terriers, and Fell Terriers.

The main thing with a terrier, as with all dogs, is to put a collar on the dog, and to attach a leash to the collar. Loose dogs spell trouble, and that is particularly true for terriers. No dog except a fat dog is truly ugly, and every fat dog is hideous. Weight control is portion control. The trick here is simple: only one person in a house should ever feed the dog, and if you cannot easily feel a rib, the dog needs to lose weight.

As for other tips that will save dog owners thousands of dollars over the life of a dog, see the blog or the web site; they are their for free. If someone wants to get those tips in a more organized way, buy a copy of American Working Terriers here .

Tell me about the book, American Working Terriers.
The book was not made to make money -- it was made to get more people out into the field, and to keep the dogs safe when working underground. Almost no one digs on the dogs in the U.S., and those that do are generally new to the sport, and their enthusiasm exceeds their capacity. A dog should not have to die because an overly enthusiastic new digger does not know how to use a locator collar, does not know how to treat a dog that has been skunked underground, and does not know how to handle things at the end of the dig. So, to put a point on it, the book is written on behalf of the dogs.

Your blog, The Daily Dose, has had more than 1 million viewers in the last two years. Tell me about the blog and what makes it so successful.
Success is relative. The blog makes no money, and there are a lot of blogs that are far more popular. I suppose it has done well for a one-person effort focused on obscure issues, however. 

I think anything of value is built slowly, one day at a time. You build a castle by cutting one stone at a time, and you write a blog or a book the same way -- a couple of paragraphs or a few pages a day. The trick is discipline and consistency.

If you are writing a blog, I think it's important to not make it about you. Sure, it's important to have a voice, or a point of view, but let's face it -- no one is interested in what anyone else had for breakfast!
I write about a small raft of topics, and I keep coming back to those topics in a fairly reliable way so that people know what to expect. Everything I write is sourced and linked, so that over time people trust that I am not going to spout too much nonsense. It's important for readers to be able to trust a writer or narrator, but that trust has to be earned through research and clear thinking, both of which look suspiciously like work.

What are the worst things about terriers? 
They bark a lot. They do not take commands very well. A working terrier cannot be trusted around a pet parrot, hamster, rabbit, chicken or cat. The breed, of course matters quite a lot. If people are looking for a pet terrier, I recommend a Cairn Terrier, or a West Highland White Terrier, or perhaps a Welsh Terrier. These dogs are sufficiently far from their working roots that they make decent pets. Stay away from Scotties, which are loaded with health problems, and the hair dresser dogs like Silkies or the dogs with very small gene pools like Glens and Dandies. The best terrier, in my opinion, is a mixed-breed rescue terrier. Go to PetFinder.com and click through what it available, and you will probably be the winner for having done so.

Do you recommend terriers as pets and why or why not? 
Terriers are simply a kind of dog, and most dogs are oversold. If you don't believe that, check out how many dogs are in rescue at any given time. Millions! The first question to ask yourself is this: Do you really want a dog at all? If you will not consider getting a rescue dog, or a semi-adult dog that was groomed for a show career before some minor fault popped up, then you do not want a dog at all. You want a puppy, and what you need is a cat. 

Dogs are a lot of work. They will determine when you get up in the morning, when you come home at night, what house you live in, and maybe where you go on vacation. They are an obligation that can last anywhere from 7 years (for a giant breed) to 15 years (for a terrier). So, no, I never recommend anyone get a dog. I want people to know that a dog will pee on the carpet, crap in the living room, dig up the flowers, and howl on a Sunday morning. I want people to know a dog will hump their leg, and eat its own vomit, and maybe do both things in front of your dinner guests. I have no romance when it comes to dogs. I want people who get a dog to do so eyes wide open.

As for terriers, they are a little smaller than some dogs, which means a smaller crate and a little less food, but the cost at the vet is about the same, and the dogs will bark your ear off. Most terriers are very friendly things, but remember that terriers are also bred to bite small animals that make high-pitched noises and have jerky movements. That describes a lot of very small children. I point that out as a not-too-subtle caution for folks with children under the age of six or seven. A terrier might not be the dog for you, and a working terrier breed is certainly not.


Seahorse said...

Not sure you're a dog lover, eh? Seems like this is not the first time I've read this about you, from you. I have no (maybe "few" is most accurate) illusions about many things I openly love. Dogs, horses, my husband, fill in the blank (I love a lot of things!). I think the purest kind of love just might be love with eyes wide open. "Love" with rose colored glasses is not love; rather it's lust, or something else equally chemical. Love is warts and all, and not having those limitations matter.


The Midland Agrarian said...

Thanks for your common sense voice in the dog world, and congratulations on 5,000.
Can I ask how you came to start digging? As you said, not many people do it.


PBurns said...

I got a Border Terrier more than 30 years ago and the breeder wanted me to show it. I said I would, and I drove a couple of thousand miles showing that dog but NEVER saw the breeder at a dog show and never heard from her again. At some point, coming back from a Pennsylvania show, I turned to the wife and said "I hate this" and we decided I was no longer bound by my promise to show the dog, and I never went to another AKC show after that.

During my tour through the world of dog shows, I had run up against a lot of theorists who never seemed encumbered by any actual experience digging on dogs. The border terrier books do not show a single working border terrier with a fox. Whiskey, tango, foxtrot. At some point the issue became comical -- it was like talking to someone who had theories about education but had never been to an elementary school, or someone on Capitol Hill who had a theory about U.S. health care policy but had never looked, listened and smelled the inside of a nursing home.

At age 10 my first border terrier died of a heart attack at night. Later I ran into the breeder and she said it was a congenital problem with that litter. I looked around for another border, specifically looking for a small one that could work as I wanted to go where clearly no one was going. I went to the number one border terrier breeder in the world looking for a puppy that would be small (no names!) and the result was an enormous dog that was simply too big to go to ground. This breeder was all about "great heads".

What to do? I did AKC go-to-ground with this over-large border terrier and met a few people who dug groundhogs, but I noticed they all talked about needing a "hole dog" and that was not an AKC terrier -- it was a miniature dachshund.
Whiskey, tango, foxtrot.

I looked around for a smaller dog -- a true working terrier -- and I eventually got a very small Jack Russell after about a year of obsessive searching in which I (correctly) chose to ignore the folks who told me a 13 inch dog was going to be fine (Did they actually have picture of their dogs hunting? No!) The dog I finally got was Sailor - the greatest little 11" digging dog I have ever seen anywhere. She was 4 months old when I got here and she could go anywhere. Smart too!

I started digging on my own with the wrong tools and no knowledge but Sailor made up for a lot of my inadequacies. Along the way, I noticed that all the books about working terriers were actually story books, and many were clearly fiction, as the real world problems you actually get in real digs -- roots, rocks, rips, sunburn, lost dogs, broken equipment, mishaps -- were almost never mentioned. By now my malarkey meter was pretty fine-tuned and set to go off pretty quick. It's a meter I take everywhere in the world of dogs at this point.

I started writing down what I was doing in the field as a kind of defensive reaction. I knew a dog could die underground if I made a mistake, and so I worked hard not to make mistakes. I taught myself almost everything I know because there were no books on how to dig to the dogs, how to vet the dogs, how to find quarry, why this history was so twisted, why the show ring was a failure, etc. In fact, until I wrote *American Working Terriers* only two semi-practical books on terrier work had ever been published -- one in 1540 or so, and the other in 1930.

After someone I know (no names) killed a dog underground due to poor preparation and knowledge, I wrote *American Working Terriers* in order to keep more dogs alive and to try to get more people in the field.

That's the story, more or less.

I have met some great people along the way, listened to a lot of nonsense, gotten a few helpful hints, and tried to pass on what seemed to work for me.