“But what IS Phoebe?”

Phoebe is many things. She’s a companion, a friend, a protector and above all else, a loved and trusted family member. But I know that’s not what people mean when they ask this question. What they really want to know is how to classify her and pigeon-hole her by her supposed ‘breed characteristics’.

The answer is that she is an AfriCanis. Most people don’t know much about the breed, and because it’s only recently been added as an “Official” breed by the Kennel Union of South Africa (KUSA), people still tend to refer to her as a “township dog”, or more generally just as a “mixed breed Rescue dog” even after being told about her breed history. She’s so much more than a hodge-podge collection of other breeds – she’s unique and fits the wonderful characteristics of the AfriCanis to a “T”.

Phoebe: Proud and Beautiful AfriCanis

Phoebe: Proud and Beautiful AfriCanis

 

I’ve briefly touched on her breed specifics before during on Day 11 of the Blogtober Challenge, but felt this deserved more information on the little known facts of this wonderful breed.

I was going to try to explain the breed in my experience, but I found this excellent historical summary from the AfriCanis Society that explains in detail in a way much better than I ever could:

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(This is attributed to Edith Gallant at the AfriCanis Society of South Africa facebook page)

“Subject: Revised draft of letter – Difference between AfriCanis and “township dog”

Let me try to explain the difference between an AfriCanis and a so-called township dog.

The AfriCanis is the traditional rural African dog found in traditional isolated tribal lands, such as the interior of Zululand, the former Transkei, Sekhukhuneland and Vendaland.

The apartheid regime kept such rural areas marginalized, and people living in these areas, notably in the former ‘Bantustan’regions, were relatively isolated. This isolation was extended to their dogs. From colonial times, white people looked upon these dogs with contempt, and any dogs found trespassing were shot. It is largely because of the isolation enforced by apartheid that these dogs, having been kept separate, still exist.

These dogs have also been called ‘Nguni dogs’ or ‘Bantu dogs’, because they migrated with the Early Iron Age Bantu-speaking people into southern Africa. They also occur in northern Botswana, Namibia,  Zambia, Mozambique and Swaziland.

More information can be found on the AfriCanis Society’s website under ‘History’ (see http:// ………

The AfriCanis are not identified by standardised physical characteristics. They are a landrace and not a breed. They have not been selectively bred for their looks, but rather they exemplify survival of the fittest and are well adapted to the demands of their environment and their custodians. They differ from region to region, for example, they are generally taller in the desert and smaller in more forested regions. These dogs occur in a great variety of colours, as do the Nguni cattle. Genetic DNA research has found a specific DNA marker for the AfriCanis that differs from any other dog (see under ‘literature’ on the website). In the very near future we will be able to test individual dogs to see if they carry this marker or not.

AfriCanis are all-rounders. In the traditional tribal lands, each day they help herd boys bring the cattle to and from the grazing lands, and the dogs fiercely guard the animals in their kraals at the night. The dogs live alongside the farm animals, and although they are excellent rat hunters, they do not hunt large prey alone. Traditionally, they assist their owners when men and their dogs hunt for the pot.

Dogs in the rural areas are seldom tied up. Although they sometimes roam, each dog has an owner and each dog is named. Dogs are allowed to go to visit another homestead if a female is on heat. But if owners whistle for their dogs, they immediately respond and return home. Most commonly, the dogs are to be found lying around the homesteads, often keeping company with older women and children. This is a totally different environment to that of a township.

What is a ‘township dog’?

A legacy of apartheid, townships are urban or peri-urban residential areas housing people from different cultures and origins. Historically, under apartheid townships were zoned for Black and Coloured people. When moving to urban areas, people from the countryside did not usually bring their traditional dogs with them, leaving the dogs in the rural areas with their families. In instances where rural dogs did come to the townships with their owners, in due course they would breed with dogs roaming in the township areas. Dogs in the townships come from a variety of backgrounds and include a variety of breeds and cross-breeds of all shapes and sizes as well as some traditional AfriCanis. In the townships these dog interbreed and the ‘township dogs’ that result over time are not traditional Africanis dogs, though some can be described as the AfriCanis type or an AfriCanis-cross.

I hope the above explains the difference between an AfriCanis and a township dog, and that not all cross-breed dogs from the townships should be described as being AfriCanis.”

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For more information you can also check out the Official AfriCanis historical reference page here.

I hope this has given you more insight and a deeper curiousity for these wonderful dogs. I can truly attest to the fact that you will never find a kinder, gentler and more loyal companion than an AfriCanis, so if you’re looking for a new dog to add to your family I urge you to look for one of these amazing dogs!

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Phoebe & Cooper’s Peanut Butter Biscuit Deliciousness

Treat time! I’ve previously experimented with baking homemade Liver Biscuits for Phoebe when my Mom came to visit last year, and boy, were they a hit! In fact, they were such a success that I decided that it was time to try my hand at baking once again, but this time I wanted to try a sweet treat to see if I could continue bringing smiles onto the faces of my happy, food-driven dogs.

I scoured the internet and found so many different recipes, and most seem to have the same basic ingredients, and also matched my (very low) baking skill levels. I finally decided to try out a basic recipe for Peanut Butter Dog Biscuits.

***Spoiler Alert***

They were a huge resounding success! Not only were they easy and quick to make, but they were also a firm favourite for both Cooper and Phoebe! If you’re looking for something fun to do for your dog and a way to pass an empty hour, then this is what you should get cracking on doing! They are also low fuss and easy to make if you have kids in the house and want them to do a fun, indoor activity.

But enough of the talk, let’s get on with the recipe and instructions:

Phoebe & Cooper’s Peanut Butter Biscuit Deliciousness

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter (low salt)
  • 1/2 cup milk

Directions:

  • Preheat oven to 180C (about 350F)
  • Combine Flour and Baking Powder in a large bowl
  • In a separate bowl combine milk and peanut butter until smooth
  • Slowly mix dry ingredients and wet ingredients in a bowl until mixed to a “dough-y” consistency
  • Lightly flour a surface
  • Roll dough on flour surface and knead until soft
  • Use cookie cutters to make shapes and place on greased oven pan
  • Bake in oven for +/-15 minutes
  • Once baked through place on cooling rack to cool,
  • Give one to the dogs for the all important “taste test”, then place in containers for storage

See? Easy peasy! Here’s a few pictures of the process:

dog biscuits dry ingredients

dog biscuits wet ingredients

dog biscuits mix

Dog biscuits dough

Dog biscuits enjoy

These will last in an air-tight container for about 2 weeks, but can also be sealed and frozen in the deep freeze for up to 3 months.

Remember to reward your kitchen helpers!

Remember to reward your kitchen helpers!

…  these also make great gifts not only for your own dogs, but for friends with furbabies too!

Phoebe & Cooper’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Training, Nutrition, Food, FUN

Tool(s) Used: Your kitchen and baking skills

Cost: Low

Ease of Implementation: Easy

Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. Phoebe and Cooper absolutely loved these, and I will definitely be making them again soon. I recommend doubling the recipe though so you can freeze some as well to give out when going on walks, doing training, or just to spoil the dogs after a long day!

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Have you got any suggestions for any other easy dog treats I can make? 

 

Jolly Up & Settle Down

In Phoebe’s weekly Fun Class at Dog on the Couch our first exercise after the group walk is called the “Jolly Up & Settle Down”. This is a great exercise for all dogs, but especially for reactive and hyperactive dogs as it’s an important lesson they learn over and over that teaches them to quickly focus, relax and put attention on you when in an excitable state.

So What is it?

This is a simple exercise where you begin by getting the dog excited through jumping around, playing and being generally silly for a few seconds, you then abruptly stop play and tell the dog to go “down”. The dog must then lie down on its side in a totally calm and relaxed state as you gently rub their tummies and speak very softly and soothingly.

Blurry action shots of Phoebe (and Katz!) running around in excitement

Blurry action shots of Phoebe (and Katz!) running around in excitement

At first when Phoebe did this she was all too aware of the other dogs around her in a heightened state of excitement, but she soon realised that they weren’t at all interested in her, so soon she came to love it. She now plays it with abandon and quickly calms when told to.

...aaaaaaand settle doooooown, and relaaaax...

…aaaaaaand settle doooooown, and relaaaax…

How does it help Reactive Dogs?

Though both Phoebe and I were loving this activity, I was curious as to why our Trainer said it’s so good to practice. From what I’ve learned, the reason for this is because it teaches reactive and hyperactive dogs to quickly reach a calmed state from hyper-excitement. Phoebe has total focus on me when we are out, and she has now learned through these weekly exercises that even when she’s excitable and around other dogs, if I tell her to be calm and lie down, she has enough trust and experience to listen to me knowing that the only thing that will happen is that she will get a lovely tummy rub and then soon we’ll carry on to the next fun activity.

Do you recommend this for other owners of reactive and/or hyperactive dogs?

Yes. What’s key though, is lots of practice in a controlled environment where the nervous dog is guaranteed to always be safe when they relax. You should also be assured that your dog will have full attention on you when you play this, as a dog that is in a heightened state of play and excitement may be easily distracted and if there are any fear/aggression issues with dogs nearby adrenaline could kick in and a dangerous situation could develop if you don’t have your dogs’ full attention. To get your dog to get to a “down” you may need to use a treat lure initially, but soon the love of the game and the ensuing calming belly rub will become a reward on its own.

Phoebe and Cooper’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Reactivity, Hyperactivity, Stress, Obedience

Tool(s) Used: Just you and your dog having fun, with occasional treats in the beginning

Cost: Low. Free!

Ease of Implementation: Easy. But as with all training exercises this may take a while to perfect. The motto Practice! Practice! Practice! applies here

Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This exercise is both fun, and extremely useful at the same time. On walks where I can see a potential threat coming I can distract her by getting her to a calm down within seconds, and while I do this we can slowly turn around and walk the other way without her ever knowing that a potentially true threat was en route. I feel a lot more confident with Phoebe knowing that she can go from full throttle to zero in a matter of seconds without feeling uncomfortable or threatened.

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Do you have any tips for calming a reactive or hyperactive dog? Do you think this is something worth practicing?

Spring is (almost) sprung!

There’s an electrical crackling in the air. That electricity is the sign that here in the southern hemisphere winter is quickly coming to an end and spring is on its way. What a wonderful time of year!

Some amusing seasonal humour...

Phoebe and Cooper can also feel the springtime static in the air and we all look forward to taking more walks as the days are longer again. I hope to increase Phoebe’s morning walks again, and The Greek and I will be able to walk the dogs in the afternoons as the sunset becomes so much later. I know we could walk at all times of day, but the cold and dark is really unpleasant for me, and I also have many safety concerns, even if our neighbourhood is considered “safe” by South African standards.

As happy as I am with the opportunity to get out there for some fresh air and much needed exercise for me and the dogs, there is one major drawback of this beautiful time of year… you see… we all love spring, and this is when everyone decides to take advantage of the beautiful weather with their dogs. Their dogs who are my dogs’ kryptonite…

*sigh*

Having not one, but two, reactive dogs is a real challenge. Don’t get me wrong, I’m up for it, and am amazed at how far we’ve come (and I’m sure will still go!). But there are days when I really just wish it was easier.

When I see those absent-minded people walking with their dogs off leash, listening to their iPod, texting friends while their dogs who have perfect recall and walking merrily alongside are oblivious to the impending doom I feel with each step, I must admit that I feel a little green with envy. Well, the envy comes after the dizzying split second range of thoughts about escape routes, where high and low value treats are, how loudly I need to yell at the person and their approaching dog, where the nearest vets are in case of a dog fight, if there may be other loose dogs in the neighbourhood, how much chaos will ensue if I don’t time my ninja escapes well enough etc.

But enough of the moaning! It’s time the family goes out to the nature park on the top of the hill to watch the buds of spring as the dirty brown scenery begins to slowly transform into explosions of green and all the other colours of the rainbow. Here’s hoping we have a glorious spring with perfectly mismatched schedules to all the other fur-parents!

Time to take in the wonder of nature as the world turns from a drab brown landscape and explodes into voracious animal and plant life within a matter of weeks!

Taking time to take in the wonder of nature as the world turns from a drab brown landscape and explodes into luscious animal and plant life within a matter of weeks!

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Phoebe and Cooper’s Effectiveness Summary:

Issue Addressed: Reactivity, Boredom

Tool(s) Used: Exercise, Regular Walks

Cost: Low. Free!

Ease of Implementation: Easy. The most difficult part is planning your day so that you have enough time to take regular walks.

Effectiveness Rating: 5/5. This helps to keep both Phoebe and Cooper much calmer and less stressed when it is time for me to leave. They also generally behave and sleep better on days where we take these long walks. A mental and physical benefit for us all!

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Do you have a favourite season to take walks?