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Jon Katz
Jon Katz with his dog, Izzy, on Bedlam Farm. (Photo by Peter Hanks)

Chat with Jon Katz

Jon Katz writes a column about dogs for Slate and has authored fifteen books. His latest book, "Dog Days," is about leaving the city for the country. He stopped by to chat with readers and dog-lovers.

Jon_Katz: Hi chatters and dog-lovers! This is Jon Katz is running a few minutes late. He'll be on shortly to answer all your questions about four-legged friends and about his book.

cj__Guest_: Hi Jon - my Aussie is a good dog, but really goes at squirrels on walks. We have a baby on the way and want to walk both Aussie and baby. What do you think of choke chains?
Jon_Katz: Choke chains are sometimes necessary, but they arouse dogs and cause them discomfort. I would prefer a gentle leader, which puts less pressure on the dog but holds them in check. Better yet, try long-term reinforcement training, which reinforces the dog for walking calmly alongside.
Jon_Katz: Sometimes choke chains are necessary, but training, which takes longer, is much better for the dog, and has better long-term effects.
coz__Guest_: I have adopted a severely abused dog. She is slowly recovering but will not, absolutely let me touch her paws/nails. She gets extremely upset and agitated when I have tried to trim her very long toenails. Any suggestions?
Jon_Katz: Be careful about labeling your dog as "severely abused." Dogs can't tell us what happened to them, and we often make assumptions about them being piteous creatures, when they just might be anxious, confused or poorly trained. Your dog just needs to be sensitized, having its nails touched while getting snacks or petting. Some dogs experience discomfort in extremities, and you might check with the vet.
Cricketb__Guest_: what breed of dogs do you have?
Jon_Katz: I have three border collies (one of them, Izzy) is sitting next to me now, and Rose and Emma are up on Bedlam Farm and two yellow Labs, Clementine and Pearl, also on the farm. I have four donkeys, two steers, a cow, three goats, a rooster named Winston and three chickens. You can see all of these animals on my new website, where I also have three picture blogs and am preparing to have my first photo show. I am very excited about learning digital photography, and have a lot of pictures up on the website -- Farm Journal, Photo Journal and Portrait Gallery. Izzy's picture is the entry point for the site.
Hobo__Guest_: My 9 month old springer is very well behaved BUT when we leave him in his crate (which is not very often), he does not like it!! He goes in during the day to get toys, etc. I DO NOT use it as a punishment tool so he should not have bad association. He keeps very busy during the day so why doesn't he use the time to rest? Is he having separation problems?? (he is VERY close to me!!) Thanks for any insight...
Jon_Katz: You seem anxious about the dog. I don't really know why he doesn't like the crate -- usually it's because dogs are let out too soon or too often. But they call them Springers for a reason, and like border collies, this is a breed that likes to move a lot. They are not really into lying still for long periods, and just as it is unrealistic to expect border collies to to live without work, I'm not sure Springers can stay still for long without some real calming training.
keely__Guest_: Hi Jon -- do you know of someplace near Boston where I could see a herding trial? I've seen the kind held in a ring, but would love to see the type held in a large, open space (my dream vacation is to go to Scotland and watch Border collie trials, but it's not going to happen any time soon. --- Thank you!
Jon_Katz: Hey Keely, Izzy and I were just herding geese along Storrow Drive. You can go to the website for lists of AKC sponsored herding trials. I am sure there are many in N.H. and Massachusetts.
Jon_Katz: I herd sheep almost daily on the farm with Rose,my working dog, and it is an immensely satisfying experience to work with these dogs, and to see what they are capable of. Try the AKC website.
tom__Guest_: Jon, I have a 1-year-old Nova Scotial Duck Tolling Retriever that is scared of young children. Any time one approaches, he cowers behind me. Will this behavior sort itself out or should I make a conscious effort to have him spend more time around children.
Jon_Katz: Thanks Tom. I'd take this seriously, as 400,000 children were bitten by dogs in the United States by the most recent count. Lots of working breeds, including border collies, often get aroused or confused by the erratic movement of children, who often approach dogs face first -- the worst way to approach them, as it is an aggressive movement to a dog. I would try working with your dog intensely, offering him treats and praise whenever children appear and slowly and carefully introducing him to the presence of moving children. Whenever possible, have children feed the dog, or bring him treats. If you can convince the dog that children are good news, that will help.
Jon_Katz: But you need to watch the situation carefully and are wise to be concerned about it. Kids often move in ways that are alien to dogs, and unfortunately, the instinct of a child is to kiss a dog and put its face in the dog's face. Not their fault, but not a good way to approach dogs. Good luck with it, I appreciate your sense of responsibility.
KatzFan__Guest_: Hi Jon, I can't stay long but just wanted to log in and tell you I love your books. I can't put them down once I start reading.
Jon_Katz: That's long enough for me ): Thanks.
peggy__Guest_: back to babies and sister is expecting her first baby...any tips on helping her pit bull (friendly, but accustomed to being the center of attention) adjust?
Jon_Katz: Peggy, this is an interesting and important issue and I don't want to duck it. Nor is there any easy answer to it. Pit owners know these dogs are very friendly and loyal dogs, far less likely to bit than many other breeds, including Labs. Unfortunately, in those rare instances where they do bite, they can do fierce damage, especially to the face of a child.
Jon_Katz: So it is good to acclimate her, and watch the situation carefully. Be advised as well that other parents will, as you know, tend to be fearful around your dog. Dogs should feel that a child brings good things to their life, rather than a loss of good things. Let her sniff and check out the baby and toss treats around (not near the baby) when the baby enters the room. Make sure the child doesn't approach the dog while eating, or put his or her face in the dog's face.
Jon_Katz: All dogs are animals, no matter how much we might love them and wish to see them as kids or surrogate kids. Any dog can bite under the right provocation or confusion. Most kid bites occur in the child's home, and around the kitchen or food. So be careful around those situations. And don't exclude the dog for the baby's life. Also keep an eye on things for a good long while.
alice__Guest_: Our adopted 5 year old border collie/australian shepherd mix doesn't play with any toys. No balls, frisbees, ropes - nothing. I feel badly about this, like she's missing out on something. Do you think she is?
Jon_Katz: Alice, dogs don't need to play. They aren't kids. If the dog prefers other activities, let her alone. Let her be herself. She doesn't have to be a gifted and talented dog, joining in child like activities. I believe we need to respect the nature of dogs. And adult dogs do not need to play. Their humans want them to play because it makes us feel good.
Jon_Katz: Hardly any of my dogs play, and I don't take them to play groups or dog day care, although that is fine to do. Dogs have managed to make it through thousands of years without frisbees and toys, and it is our needs that too often drive this concern, nor theirs. Think about are upset because the dog, an animal, doesn't play with child-like toys. Relax. Let your dog be herself, and have her own identity.
Ceike__Guest_: Hi Jon. I just want to say thank you. I grew up with two dogs who were very special to me and when they passed away your books were a great comfort. Thank you.
Jon_Katz: Thanks Ceike. We love our dogs so much it is sometimes difficult to manage our grief when we lose them. I hear many people tell me they suffered so much when their dogs died that they will never get another. That makes me sad. Dogs don't live all that long, despite our wish for them to live forever, and if you are going to love dogs, you are doing to know loss. I'm sorry for yours, and hope you get another soon.
doggie__Guest_: My friend has a dog who is extremely frightened of everyone. Is there any way I can get him to trust me?
Jon_Katz: Trust with dogs is often associated with tradition and food. Dogs tend to like people who feed them, and also, eventually to trust them. You can get a tub of meatballs and toss them at the dog when you visit, or you can try hand feeding the dog if the dog will let you. This often takes time. Lots of repetitions. Use anything the dog loves, liver treats, bits of hot dog, meatballs. It may take hundreds or even thousands of reptitions, but animals associate food with life itself and that is my favorite method of getting a trust to trust somebody. Go slow. Be patient.
ouch___Guest_: my 11 week old female pug likes too bite and it bites hard. Any tips on how to break this habit?
Jon_Katz: This is not, to me, an acceptable situation. I'd get to a vet or a trainer quickly. I would personally not tolerate or be comfortable with that situation.
low25: Hi Jon- We adopted a 7-month-old sato almost two months ago and she seems to be adjusting very well. Sometimes though, she just seems sad and wanders from room to room. Do you think she is still adjusting or would you recommend something to cheer her up?
Jon_Katz: Be careful about attributing human emotions to dogs. Dogs don't really get sad or depressed. Those are human feelings. They do get confused, disoriented or anxious. Your dog has been through a lot of chance. I'd leave her alone, and let her adapt at her own pact and in her own way.
Jon_Katz: She might just be calm, or in need of quiet. Her wandering is just as likely to be a sign of curiousity as of depression. Dogs do have emotions and thoughts, but they don't have HUMAN emotions and thoughts. Don't turn them into little versions of us. They have quite alien minds, and it doesn't do them any good to project our own thoughts into their heads. Those emotions are coming from you, not her.
Michael__Guest_: I have read your books, and follow your farm journal, but am curious has to how you obtained Emma. She is not mentioned in 'Dog Days", and just appears on your website.
Jon_Katz: Thanks Michael. I'm having a showing of my pictures at Gardenworks in Salem N.Y. Oct. 13 and 14, the weekend after Columbus Day. Come and see them. Emma was on the same farm as Izzy, and had been left there mostly outside for six years. When I got Izzy, Em went to a doctor in Vermont, but when the doctor became ill, she needed a home. Unlike Izzy, her experience outside on the farm for years left her with many physical ailments, from incontinence to exposure. I couldn't bear to move her around any more, so she came to live with me.
Jon_Katz: She is a sweet and odd creature. She is terrified of sheep, and she loves to sit next to me while I write and talk - she whines, grumbles and growls while I write. She is a dear, and she is never going anywhere, as was obvious to everybody but me. I appreciate the nice words. I am proud of the website ( and hope to work hard to become a better photographer.
Jon_Katz: Izzy, by the way, has just become a hospice volunteer and is doing amazing work. I have three border collie specialists - Rose, the working dog, Izzy the media whore (you should have seen him working the crowds of women at the Sheraton this morning) and Emma the talking writing dog.
Herder__Guest_: One other question, our new border collie is extremely sensitive to loud noises. If there is thunder is the far distance, she will cower and go hide under the bed. As you can imagine 7/4 was very difficult for her. is there a way to desensitize her to loud noises?
Jon_Katz: Desensitizing is possible,but difficult and time consuming. I don't know any border collies who are sensitive to noise -- partly why they are such great herders. I put mine in crates when I leave the house or when storms approach.
jenniach__Guest_: Do you think dogs can get angry? Do their "bad" behaviors mean they are upset? My parents have a bull dog who has started messing in the house and the vet says its a behavior. However, the dog is 6 and this has just started. Any thoughts?
Jon_Katz: I think anger and revenge are distinctly human, not canine emotions. The dog is apt to be poorly trained, confused or frightened (an animal nearby or a mouse would do it) I would crate the dog and housebreak him all over again. But I would attribute human motives to him. It just makes things worse, and does not help.
T__Guest_: I have a 5 year old Akita.. He seems to be getting "crabby" in his old age especially around other dogs, in particular goldens. These aggressive tendencies seem to be only in the presence of my wife. Is there anyway we/she can introduce him to other dogs or people without him be aggressive?
Jon_Katz: It's a serious problem if you sense a dog getting aggressive around a family member. Dogs don't just "suddenly" get aggressive. There is some specific problem. You need to get a trainer involved quickly, and keep your dog away from other dogs. My dogs have been bitten too many times by people who sensed problems coming, and try to work them out on other dogs.
Lilli__Guest_: Hi Jon, I wrote a manuscript about life with my dog who developed congestive heart failure. I even landed an UBER literary agent who is trying to sell it (her clients included Katharine Hepburn, and Kurt Eichenwald) so my question is, could you please stop writing long enough for mine to be published?? Please? Kidding of course. I read most of your books and I absolutely love them. Best of luck.
Jon_Katz: Lilli, good luck. You are in good company sounds like. I'm trying to do a photo book ):
wanna_be_owner__Guest_: Jon, I am a 9 to 5 worker and would love to have a dog. Are there breeds that might be a bit more sedentary and ok with walks in the morning and evening. I realize that puppies would not be a good match for me. I would like to adopt.
Jon_Katz: Absolutely, there is a dog for you. I like to say that there is a dog for everybody who wants one, but not every dog is right for everybody. There are many needy, lonely, older, or sedentary (even recovering) dogs who would love to be in your house or apt rather than in a crate at an animal shelter. And there are many good breeders, rescue workers, and shelter officials who will help you find one. Just be honest about your situation. Nothing to be guilty about.
coz__Guest_: I label my dog "severly abused" because she is 10 years old. She lived the first 3 years wild on a golf course in CA. She was darted with a tranqulizer and put in a dog pound in CA for 3 years. She was then moved to Best Friends Sanctuary and lived there for 4 years. She has never had a home, is petrified of any man, is scared of my cat, and anything else that moves!! How would you characterize a dog such as this?
Jon_Katz: No need to characterize her at all. She is just a dog. Give her a good home and move on and train. I have two or three dogs who are "rescued" and "probably abused" but I don't see them that way. They are my dogs, and I don't want to label them as piteous creatures because it makes me feel good. Dogs are highly adaptable and need to be trained and treated lovingly. Their histories don't matter to them. Why do they matter so much to you?
Jon_Katz: I guess I have to go. I love these questions and have much enjoyed this chat. Please visit me at Dog Days is out now, Soul of a Dog next year, and My Farm the year after that. Also, Jeff Bridges is playing me in the movie version of "A Dog Year" out from HBO films in theaters next Spring. I much appreciate the opportunity to talk with you. I will be at the Toadstool bookstores in Keene and Peterborough,N.H. Saturday. Would love to meet some of you and thank you for these interesting questions and the opportunity to answer them.