Thursday, April 27, 2017

Form Follows Function? On What Planet?

Red fox taxidermy mannequins.   Reposted from 2013.

At the side of every show ring, there is always some well-dressed individual talking about "the standard" and how "form follows function."

It all sounds good, of course -- wonderful rhetorical chestnuts -- but it's pretty much nonsense.

I mean think about it.

A working dachshund is a great little animal in the field and does the same work as a terrier, but it does not LOOK like a terrier, does it?  It does not have the same form!

By the same token, a Patterdale Terrier does not look too much like a Jack Russell, which does not look too much like a Border Terrier. Smooth coats and rough do equally well in the field, as do coats of black or white, red or brown, or any combination in between. A folded ear is the same as a prick ear, a black nose the same as a liver-colored nose. Every working earthdog breed has a different head shape, and many have different tails as well. A perfect scissors bite is not necessary for work.

So when people say "form follows function," what the hell are they talking about?

Let us hope they are not talking about movement. Movement is one of those words show people toss around with a wink and a nod as if they have the secret knowledge of a wine connoisseur.

It is pure bunk.

"Movement" may be important to a greyhound, a pulling dog, or even a border collie, but it is not much of a concern as it relates to a pet dog, or even working terrier. So long as a dog can walk well, and has decent muscle mass, a working terrier does not not stylized movement.  Hocks in or out hardly matters a whit.

Which is not to say that movement is irrelevant to terrier work. In fact, it is critical.

But the important movement is .... wait for it .... an owner that will move off the couch, and move out of the car, and move into a hedgerow, and move a lot of dirt while digging down to a dog that is in full voice with rising adrenaline.

That's the only important part of movement that matters.

After you have done that a few dozen times, you will know a little more about movement, and terriers in particular.

We hear a great deal of nodding nonsense from folks who talk a good game about "protecting" their breed.

But protect it from what? And by what right or qualification do these people think they are particularly well chosen to protect the bred? And what do they intend to protect it with?

In almost every case they are not people who dig, and they seek to "protect" the terrier with nothing but a scrap of paper proclaiming their show dog is "up to the standard."

And who do these people hope to protect the breed from?

Why, show ring breeders, of course!

It is all laughable nonsense.  And it becomes nonsense on stilts when people begin to talk about "the standard" as if it were a sacred text delivered to Moses on the Mount.

In fact, is there anything standard about "the standard?"

I defy you to find a single canine standard that is more than 20 years old that has not been changed at least once.

And then there is the little matter that the standard is not the same from one country to another, or one registry to another.

So what is so "standard" about the standard?

Ironically, what is NOT part of any standard in the UK or the US, is a requirement that the dog actually be a proven worker in the field. That, apparently is not "the standard." That function is not required for the rosette. A black nose, is a "Yes," but working a dozen fox, raccoon, badger, or groundhog in the field, is a "No."

The one issue of any importance in "the standard" as it relates to "form follows function," is chest size. Yet on this point, "the standard" is awfully vague, isn't it?

We are told a chest span is a man's hands. Yes, but whose hands?

We do not measure a house in cubits, so why are we measuring dogs in "hand spans"? Who but the puppy peddler profits by keeping chest measurements this vague?

The Germans are not so coy and facile about chest size. A standard working dachshund (a "Teckel" in German) has a chest of just under 14 inches. The measurement is precise -- 35 cm -- and it reflects the chest size of the average red fox. The Germans are not ones to shave dice when it comes to working dogs!

It is interesting that the same 14" chest size is named not only by fox biologists, but also by such terriermen as Barry Jones, Ken James, and Eddie Chapman. In fact, if any one thing separates the digger from the rosette chaser, it's clarity on chest size.

The rosette chaser is always a bit vague about what a "span" actually means. A digger knows it means his fingers better well overlap, and if he is working fox in a natural fox-dug earth, it is best if his fingers overlap by more than one joint!

And so we come back to the real meaning of "form follows function" as used by academics in the dog world.

For these folks the "form" being refered to seems to be a paper form showing the pedigree of the animal being displayed. And "the function" is either the rosette from a show judge, or the cash to be gotten from a prospective dog-buyer.

Form follows function, indeed!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tough as Nails In an Era When You Had to Be

Famous Irish explorer Tom Crean and sled dog pups Roger, Nell, Toby, and Nelson during the Endurance expedition of 1991 to Antarctica.

 Crean was about as tough as they come, and was a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica, including the ill-fated Shackleton expedition in which the Endurance was trapped in sea-ice and sank leaving the crew to rescue themselves with an epic open-boat journey to Elephant and then South Georgia island.

The High Cost of Voter Supression

Coffee and Provocation

I'm With the Shrimp, Not the Band
A team of scientists from universities in the UK, the US, and Brazil have named a a new species of pistol shrimp after the band, Pink Floyd, because of its bright-pink claw and ability to shoot sound shockwaves at its foes.

Will Tesla Crash?
Tesla has now surpassed the value of General Motors, making it among the most valuable car maker in the US, despite the fact that most people have never even seen a Tesla on the road.  When price to earnings ratios are this out of whack, worry.

Real Blue Bloods 
Blue horseshoe crab blood sells for up to $14,000 per quart. The blood is used to detect harmful bacteria.

Ban ALL the Dogs?
Eugene, Oregon is starting a 6-month ban on all dogs downtown to see if it makes a difference in dog bites. In other news, Oregon is going to cut down all its trees to reduce forest fires, and kill all its politicians in order to reduce graft.

A Bigger Denominator Makes a Smaller Fraction
There are more slaves in the world right now than ever before in recorded history. How can that be possible? Simple: far more people,  The numerator may be a wee bit bigger, but the denominator is 7 times larger.

Shake and Bake Baby
Scientists aim to grow premature humans in plastic bag, aka a "Biobag artificial uterus," after successful test on baby sheep.

For $850 You Can Get the Suit
It's 425 for artificially mud-stained jeans, and another $425 for the jean jacket which will make you look like your head has been up an elephant's ass.  At Nordstrom's, of course -- the place where idiots shop.  You can also get ones with paint on them, so you can look like a complete home repair incompetent.

My coffee buddy this morning.

"That's How They Get You"

I remember when a pound of flesh was a pound of flesh.

Now it's the same price, but only 8 ounces.

The Dog, the Shepherd, and the Wolf

Robert M. Pirsig died yesterday.
Or at least, that's when I heard about it.
We were very close.
Once, when he lived in Madison, Wisconsin,
I looked up his home address.
This was before there was an internet.
I got a map,
and walked to his house.
This was before there was GPS
and turn-by-turn directions.
I stopped in front of his house
and looked up at it.
You could not see a lot.
And that was it.
We were very close I tell you,
Maybe 200 feet.
That is,
if he was actually home.

Sure The Dog Talks, But He Lies

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Terrier Training That Works in the Field

I've gotten a few inquiries about my post that referenced Karen Pryor.

Does she actually use an Invisible Fence on her own dogs?

She does.  As she notes in Don't Shoot the Dog:

"The same principle is at work in the Invisible Fence systems for keeping a dog on your property. A radio wire is strung around the area in which you want to confine the dog. The dog wears a collar with a receiver in it. If the dog gets too near the line, the collar shocks it. However, a few feet before that point, the collar gives a warning buzz. The warning buzzer is a discriminative stimulus for "Don't go any further." If the setup is properly installed, a trained dog can be effectively confined and will never receive an actual shock. I used such a fence when my terrier and I lived in a house in the woods. An actual fence would have been a perpetual invitation to try to dig under it or escape through an open gate; the conditioned warning signal and the Invisible Fence were far more secure."

And what about my note that she could not train her border terrier not to chase squirrels?  That can be found on her own web site:

"Going from that collie to terriers in the woods is just a shaping staircase; if you want to do it, it can be done, but it involves a lot of steps. For me, that's too much like work. My practical solution is a mix of training and management. The backyard is fenced, and there the dogs can bark and chase squirrels all they want. Outside the front door, on the sidewalk, we enjoy a shaped behavior of stalking squirrels, with an occasional brief 'chase' reinforcer. In the woods, my poodle, whose lust for squirrels is mitigated by his general timidity, can be off-leash, because he was quite easily shaped to come when called, even from squirrels. My 17-year-old border terrier, however, stays on-leash in the woods. From her standpoint, it's a lot better than no woods at all."

Bottom line: Reliance on clicker training alone is a reliance on a system that will fail you in the real world.

Have you noticed that Skinner, the Brelands, and Karen Pryor mostly focus on training animals in cages, tanks, and boxes?

This is where they learned animal training -- in an environment without distractions, where nothing comes in or out.

Is that the real world? A box?  A fish tank?  A living room?  Of course not.

And did you notice that their fame was not gained training dogs?

Why is that?

Here's a hint: They all tried to train dogs outside of cages, boxes, tanks, and closed rooms.  That's where the money is.  But guess what?  They were not very good at it.

One reason they were not good at it, is that their core experience was training non-predators (chickens and pigeons, pigs and raccoons), or animals with relatively weak prey drives. Give these folks line-bred predators like a working terrier or a Malinois, and rewards-only theory fell apart pretty quickly. Sure, you could get a very hungry animal to perform behaviors with food. Always. But could you get them to reliably perform in an open forest and field situation when they were not very hungry, and any and every kind of distraction could pop up at every turn?

Could you get the border terrier to not chase the squirrel?

 Karen Pryor couldn't, and she had 17 years to try.

Please do not misunderstand the point being made here. Food reward and marker (clicker) training is core stuff.  Rewards-based marker or clicker training is a big part of getting a dog to understand what he is supposed to do -- exactly what you are asking at that moment.  But so too is the use of aversive markers to show what you don't want to be done, at that moment, whether that is a leash pop (hard to do from 12 feet), or a thrown chain or heavy rope (hard to do from 30 feet), which is why a modern e-collar is such a game changer (a panoply of reliable and instant signals sent from as far as a mile away).

For those who wonder what the difference is between an Invisible Fence, a modern e-collar, and an old-fashioned "buster" caller, see this post: 10 Quick Notes for the E-Collar Curious.

The Disciplined Disciple

Monday, April 24, 2017

A Good Manual on E Collar Training

Larry Krohn has written a
short (75-page) manual on low-stimulation e-collar training.

This is the manual that should come with every modern e-collar. This is solid basic stuff about how to integrate an e-collar into dog training in order to get a solid recall, a solid down-stay, and a tight heel. Larry deals with using e-collars with reactive dogs, phobic dogs, and aggressive dogs.

Should you integrate an e-collar into your dog training?


Having said that, I recognizing that a lot of folks are going to wonder why they should shell out money for a good e-collar collar, what collar to get, and how the modern $200 e-collars are different from the older cheaper rigs and Invisible Fences.

Good questions!

A quick answer can be found on this post: 10 Quick Notes for the E-Collar Curious.

The New Media

Terrific Tattoo

Very good art, humorous, original, and a little edgy. Full applause!

Death Before Discomfort?

A repost from July 2012

Tyler Muto gets it right.

There is a silent killer in the dog training world. It is not a virus, not a piece of equipment, not a bacteria.

It is an idea.

It is the idea that all dogs, in all situations, should be trained with nothing other than rewards, and without ever the use of aversives. “Reward what you like and ignore what you don’t” is the mantra that is preached, and all will be well in the world. In the dog training community this philosophy goes by many names, some call it Pure Positive (which is not an accurate description), some call it Progressive Reinforcement, some call it Reward Only, but for the purposes of this article I will refer to it as Aversive Free or AF.

Aversive Free (AF) Training can be defined as training which involves only the R+ and P- quadrants of learning. When I refer to Aversive Free (AF) Trainers in this article, I am not referring to those who simply choose this approach for themselves, but I am referring to those who vehemently oppose the use of aversives for any dog in any situation.

Let me be clear, what I am referring to is not the idea that reward only techniques are good, and work in some cases. What I am referring to is the dogmatic belief that this is the ONLY way to train a dog, or deal with behavior problems. The aversive free philosophy is that any type of consequence other than simply removing the reward, is cruel, inhumane, and barbaric.

Read the whole thing.

As noted, it's not a question of being mean or excessive -- it's a question of simpy drawing a line and sticking to it, and when push comes to shove there may be measured but predictable and immediate consequences that may not include simply ignoring the bad behavior or rewarding some other kind of behavior.

In the real world, not all consequences are positive.

Death from Snake Bite Before Discomfort?

The real world of forest, field and fen presents a lot of serious aversive consequences for the wild animals that live there and the farm animals, humans and pets that visit.

Mother Nature is not a clicker trainer!

In the clip, above, an African Spitting Cobra teaches an adult male lion about the consequences of approaching too closely.

In the clip, below, a Puff Adder gives the same message to a Honey Badger who apparently just survives his ordeal.

Here in the U.S., of course, we have snakes that are every bit as dangerous as the Spitting Cobra or the Puff Adder -- Mojave Rattlesnakes, Western Diamondbacks, and Eastern Diamondbacks.

A dog that gets bit by a rattlesnake has a reasonably high chance of being dead in short order and a very certain chance of being in a lot of distress requiring expensive veterinary intervention.

The one thing that reliably works for dogs that hunt in territory frequented by rattlesnakes is snake-aversion training, and the best snake aversion training is done with an e-collar.

Of course the pure click-and-treat crowd does not really care what works. The most extreme in this crowd have slipped into cult-like babble that is as immune to fact, reason, observation, and experience as anything you will hear from a born-again Christian, Mormon, or Scientologist.

Apparently the message of the Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training Behavior (which despite the grand name is simply an unaccredited dog training school with no buildings) is that your dog is better off dead than discomforted by being trained to avoid snakes.

Really? Karen Pryor salutes that? Hard to believe, but that, at least, is the message of Nan Arthur who is an instructor with the Karen Pryor Academy and who, when asked about snake-proofing dogs, had no training advice at all other than to tell The North County Times that no one should ever take their dog off-leash in an area where there might be a rattlesnake -- which, of course, includes most of the United States.

So no bird hunting, eh? No rabbit coursing, no terrier work, no pig hunting.

And never mind that in California, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and Florida it's not entirely unlikely that you will one day find a rattlesnake in your backyard.

I suppose in those states no one should ever let their dog off of the living room rug!

Ms. Arthur goes on to tell us that e-collars simply do not work.

"There is no scientific evidence whatsoever that shock collars teach anything to dogs."

Right. Apparently Ms. Arthur is as as well informed on these matters as a parakeet. People are paying her for training advice? Each to his own, of course, but as you are driving to a Karen Pryor Academy seminar (loans are available!), you might pay attention to all the cows by the side of the road that are carefully standing behind electric fencing. Those cows seem to have learned quite a lot from electric fencing, even if Ms. Arthur has not!

But, of course, it's not just cows.  My own working terriers (like millions of other dogs) are contained behind a simple Invisible Fence system and never mind the parade of raccoons, fox, deer, possum and squirrels that travel through my yard at night.  Invisible Fence has trained and taught my dogs that they are not to follow, and that training has been every bit as successful as the lessons taught by spitting cobras to adult lions.

But, of course, the observational success of e-collar training does end there, does it?

Scores of thousands of working bird dogs have learned and lived happy and productive lives with e-collar instruction.

Ditto for dogs that work Schutzhund and Ring, search and rescue, and even simple obedience.

All of this is completely new information to Nan Arthur, of course. Blinders on, her essential message to the world is:  Snake death before discomfort!

Ms. Arthur goes on:

We live in snake country. That's just a fact. Horses get bitten, children get bitten, cats get bitten, and nobody's putting shock collars on them.

Right. Good point. Deep thinking going on there.

A horse weighs anywhere from 10 to 100 times the weight of a dog, and kids are warned about snakes, while cats rarely move more than 100 yards from a house.

So, really good points being made there Ms. Arthur. Thanks for sharing. Now what brand of shovel would you recommend I use when I bury my dog?

Death before discomfort? Oh yes, please tell us more!


And these are the dogs that lived!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Fine Dining and Stout Drink

A Heart the Size of a Peppercorn

When Charles II of Spain died in Madrid on 1 November 1700, five days before his 39th birthday, the autopsy stated that his body “did not contain a single drop of blood; his heart was the size of a peppercorn; his lungs corroded; his intestines rotten and gangrenous; he had a single testicle, black as coal, and his head was full of water.”

American historians Will and Ariel Durant described Charles II as "short, lame, epileptic, senile, and completely bald before 35, he was always on the verge of death, but repeatedly baffled Christendom by continuing to live."

The cause of his illness?  The same as strikes so many dogs, thank to the inbred  thinking of their breeders.

It Was 47 Years Ago Today

It was 47 years ago today that I was first tear gassed in Washington D.C. I was 11, and it was the first Earth Day.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Wake Up America Day

In 1917, The state of New York used the anniversary of the Battles of Lexington and Concord to host “Wake up America Day” to encourage men to enlist in the military.

That same day, Americans fired their first shots in anger in the World War I when a merchant vessel in the Atlantic was fired on by a submerged German submarine.

Fish On Friday

Thursday, April 20, 2017

That's Not a Breed; That Dog Works for a Living

Over in the land of Facebook, the question was raised as to what was the oddest named "real" breed.

Breed? There are "real" breeds?

I don't think so!

There are, instead marketing plans attached to fake histories and defective breeding restrictions.

If that's all a breed is, then you can have them ... and please flush twice, as it's a long way back to the Kennel Club!

There are TYPES of dogs, but breeds are the salesman's brochure.

So what was the "breed" of dog put up as having the oddest name?

The New Zealand Huntaway.

But that dog's not a breed.

Truly, it's not.

It doesn't breed true in shape or color.

It doesn't breed true in coat type.

It's sole index of evaluation is the way it works -- herding by voice rather than by eye.

It is not bred in a closed registry.

This is a true land race TYPE created in New Zealand to help move stock in that difficult and varied topography.

The New Zealand Sheepdog Trial Association says:

It is the opinion of the New Zealand Sheepdog Trial Association that a Huntaway should never be shown, due to the large variance in colour, type and size and the inability to prove in a show ring their core (and only) task of working stock. It is the opinion of the New Zealand Sheepdog Trial Association that a New Zealand Huntaway should not be kept solely as a pet. No changes to the official breed standard of the New Zealand Huntaway will be made without consultation with the New Zealand Sheepdog Trial Association.


This is a dog properly judged on only one vector, and it's not a vector you can judge on a string leash in a ring.

If a New Zealand Huntaway is a "breed," then so to is the Carter Pocket Terrier, the Bactrian Terrier, the North American Pocket Lurcher, the Management Shepherd, the Kill Devil Terrier, the Scarlett Point Terrier, the Genesee Valley Beaver Dog, and the Tort Terrier.

And why not?

It's not like the Kennel Club has not invented a dog with less than flesh.

The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, after all, was created at the Crufts dog show based on nothing more than a painting!

When Breeds are Failures

Art by Kevin Brockbank for Dogs Today (May 2010 issue)

Is it time to thin the herd?

It's been said that the dog is the most successful wolf in the world -- the wolf that got man to adopt it, house it, feed it, and protect it.

Relatively docile wolves were fed and bred until, slowly, imperceptibly, they evolved into something different -- the domestic dog.

For 12,000 years, that's about as far as it progressed.

An Explosion of Breeds
Two hundred and fifty years ago, there were only about a dozen broad types of dogs.

Breeds, as we know them today with narrow written standards, were not yet known.

Your breed claims an ancient lineage?

Unless it's a greyhound, I can assure you it's almost certainly nonsense.

The Pharaoh Hound? Invented in the 20th Century to look like the dogs found on the side of the Egyptian tombs opened at the time of Carter.

The Chinese Crested? Not Chinese! Invented in America in the 1930s and popularized by burlesque stripper Gypsy Rose Lee.

Terriers? Retrievers? Setters? Spaniels? Pointers? Shepherds?

Analysis of Mitochondrial DNA shows that while the type may be old, the breed is -- almost invariably -- of relatively modern origin.

It's not like we created just a few breeds in the blink of an eye, is it? No, we created hundreds.

How did we do that? Mostly by selecting for odd types and then inbreeding to "fix" those types until they bred true.

The first breeds, of course, were created by merely tweaking Mother Nature's process. Herding dogs, for example, were selected because of function rather than looks. Ditto for running dogs, pulling dogs, bird dogs, guarding dogs, and terriers.

Dogs that were best adapted to function prospered, while those that did poorly were culled from the pool. The only difference was that the hand of man was now engaged in unnatural selection -- replacing Mother Nature, which had previously been employed in the task of natural selection.

Form Trumps Function

With the rise of dog shows, however, function took a back seat to form. Now the primary value celebrated was variability. And, of course, to get maximum variability, you had to green-light more and more breeds that were extreme, and in many cases maladaptive, including dogs that were brachycephalic (flat faced) and could not breath well, and dogs that were achondroplastic (dwarfs) and had joint and heart problems.

Added to these dogs were other extreme examples -- massive giants that had weak hearts and intestines prone to twist and bloat, tiny tea cup breeds prone to hydrocephalia and broken bones, hairless breeds prone to dental and skins issues, dogs with extreme skin wrinkles, ear length, and coats, and dogs with various spinal oddities such as over-long backs, roached backs, and spines that ended in a tight mass of twisted vertebrae.

And, of course, through it all you had to inbreed and line-breed in order to set type, and you had to invent ancient histories in order to speed the sales of these new creations.

The result has been a mixed bag. Some breeds have managed to stay healthy, and a few have even managed to be useful for work.

Most, however, have come down with one or more serious health problems, and most have devolved from working dog to mere pets.

There is nothing wrong with pets. There is, of course, something wrong with breeding dogs with serious health problems. Even here, however most genetic problems are manageable and most breeds are salvageable

But is that always the case? Are there dog breeds that are not salvageable?

This is not a small question.

When humans began breeding dogs, we began to act as Gods, but we failed to accept the full mantle of the Gods.

God culls misfits; man puts his in the Kennel Club.

Canine Failures

Let's talk about canine failures. They are not hard to find.

The Dandie Dinmont is a good example of a dog that has simply failed in the marketplace. Last year, more Pandas were born in captivity than Dandie Dinmonts were registered by the Kennel Club.

Named after a fictional character in a novel, and forced to compete head-to-head with other poodle-coated mops, this dog has found few customers due to its odd-looking sway back, poor movement, and complete uselessness in the field.

Add in the health problems suffered by Dandies -- cushings, hypothyroidism, and a narrow-angle glaucoma that is unique to Dandies -- and you stand at the cusp of a question.

Factor in the fact that more than 40% of dogs are born cesarean, and the case is made for intervention.

The old working terrier from which the modern Dandie claims descent was not a product of the Kennel Club and did not suffer these indignities.

Perhaps now is the time to release this breed from the inbreeding mandated by a tiny gene pool wedded to a closed registry system.

Perhaps now is the time to release this dog from the bondage of contrived show dog standards.

Yes, let us release this dog "back to the wild" of its working roots. It has not done well in "captivity". De-list this dog from the Kennel Club's roles, and move on.

Other breeds should also be delisted, and for much the same reason -- the Skye Terrier, the Clumber Spaniel, the Sussex Spaniel, the Glenn of Imaal Terrier, the Manchester Terrier, and the Sealyham Terrier.

None of these dogs were created in the Kennel Club -- they have only been deformed, emasculated, and inbred since their arrival. Release these dogs "back to the wild". They have not done well in "captivity", and they have failed in the marketplace.

And what about those breeds that are true genetic wrecks beyond salvation?

There are not many, but let's face the problem head on, and end the nonsense.

There is no reason to try to repair a Disney castle built on sand, with a blown foundation, rotten roof, walls riddled with termites, and a dangerous boiler about to explode in the basement.

Take the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. This was a breed invented at the Crufts dog show in response to a prize offered up by an American by the name of Roswell Eldridge.

Thanks to a bad gene pool at the start, and the incredible inbreeding that followed, more than 80 percent of today's dogs end up with serious heart problems, while more than a third have a genetic brain disorder affecting the nervous system.

With this level of defect, and this thin history, why not sweep it all aside and start again?

Ditto for several other breeds with serious health problems -- the Miniature Bull Terrier (50% cesarean, dead at 6 years), the English Bull Dog (90% cesarean, dead at 6 years), the Scottish Terrier (60 percent cesarean, 45% cancer rate), the Dogue De Bordeaux (dead at less than six years).

Are there other breeds that might be "returned to the wild" through delisting and/or delisting and recreation (i.e. starting again with a healthy gene pool, scientific breeding, and a commonsense standard)?

Sure, but I think I have been controversial enough for one day, don't you?!

The question stands: Is it time to thin the herd? Is it time to end the Kennel Club's preservation of defect and failure?

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Natural Aversives Keep Leopards Alive

Canadian Cow Dog

The Good News is the Bad News is Exaggerated

This was your TV in 1977.

A friend writes that he strongly suspects he is not a "modern" man.

There is something about the modern world that disturbs his rational conscience. He is not exactly sure what it is.

"It's rather a conundrum and a very real impediment to my peace of mind."

I think I know how he feels. I feel it too.

Or should I say I still feel it. The feeling is a little less pronounced that it once was, but it is still there.

It slithers out late at night, tips its hat in my general direction, and disappears around the corner into a shadow of doubt. Where the hell are we going with all this? How does it all end? I can feel it; I can smell it. Something wicked this way walks.

I talk to a friend about this generalized feeling of malaise. This is the same fellow who once told me: "Your mind is like a bad neighborhood; don't go in there alone." He knows me.

"I feel a sense of impending doom."

"Right," he says, taking a sip of coffee at Starbucks. "Do you know what that is?"


"That's impending doom."

And then he smiles.

He says we all have it.

And why wouldn't we? We were all raised in the full light of the Atomic Bomb, with duck-and-cover as Lesson One in our grade school plans.

We have been told that the water we drink is toxic, that the male fish in the river are gravid with eggs, and that 40% of all animals are going extinct tomorrow.

We are informed, almost on a daily basis, that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, and that that hand basket is being delivered to us by terrorists.

Our jobs are sliding out from underneath us, even as we get older and health care costs skyrocket.

The place where we hunted last year is now a Wal-Mart, and our 15-year daughter is on the Pill.

Our new car is made of plastic, and we can't find the dipstick.

The American flag flying from our porch is made in China, and the girl serving us eggs at Denny's was made in Mexico.

My friend has his own version of this windup, but you get the general idea.

Everything is happening too fast, and there is a general sense, among all of us, that we are losing control.

But it's not quite as bad as we think, he says. We need to perform an autopsy on our fears.

And so I do that.

I remind myself that the nuclear treaties have actually worked. The U.S. and the Soviet Union have one-fourth the number of atomic bombs they had two decades ago, and neither side is rattling its sword in a believable way. In fact, no one on earth has an Air Force or a Navy worth worrying about except the United States.

The water in our rivers and lakes is cleaner now than when we were kids. So too is the air we breathe.

Fish have always been able to change sex at will -- we just didn't know it.

The best weapon the terrorists have come up with is a couple of guys with box cutters. We are not fighting Lex Luthor.

Yes, our jobs are sliding out from underneath us, but that has been happening for 200 years -- horse shoes to iron rails, iron rails to cars, cars to flying saucers. Every era brings declining industries and rising ones too. Every era brings us a new wave of immigration. The direction forward may not be up for all of the people all of the time, but it's generally up for most of the people most of the time. In America, even the homeless watch color TV and get hot meals and a free bed at the shelter.

Yes, we all have a sense of impending doom from time to time. That is natural. It is probably how we are supposed to feel.

Like fox, humans are naturally wary. We distrust new things that show up on old ground.

And, truth be told, there is a lot of new stuff: New roads, new laws, new TV shows, new foods, new people, new electronics, new medicines, new ways of producing old things.

By the time I figure out how all the features on my new cell phone work, it is out of date, and time for a new one.

We can never catch up.

And yet, most things are better now, aren't they? Who wants to return to 1975 health care? Who wants to return to their 1975 job, their 1975 house, their 1975 wage, their 1975 phone, or their 1975 car? Even after the real estate crash, my house is worth twice what I paid for it.

And yet it is easy to lose any sense of "good". After all, who wants to talk about good on television? No one!

The media knows there are no ratings to be had by saying we are going to stumble forward and be alright in the end. Disaster and doom sell. Apocalypse sells. "If it bleeds, it leads"

CNN knows its ratings surge with every war. Triple murders, assassinations and child disappearances are good for television's bottom line. Never mind that these things never actually happen to any of us.

We listen to cable TV talking about some dead blond girl, and we never internalize that it's a child we do no know, in a city we have never visited, and the murder occurred two years ago. This is not news. This is olds. This is a contrived crisis: a cocked up story designed to play to latent racism and suck us in so that we will watch more TV commercials. This is television appealing to our basest fears and our most prurient interests. It has nothing to do with the reality any of us is actually living.

Ditto for so many stories we hear about the natural world. We are told everything is about to go extinct, but the IUCN Red List shows that over the last 400 years very few animals and plants actually have, and most of these have been endemic birds on very small tropical islands.

Meanwhile, we ignore the natural world we really live in.

In America today, we are knee-deep in ducks, deer, mountain lions, alligators, buffalo, manatee, fox, raccoon, hawks, bear, falcons, eagles, wolves, coyotes, jack rabbits and elk.

Across the world, more and more wild land is being put into protected parks, even as population growth is slowing, child mortality is falling, access to clean water is improving, and starvation is in decline.

We bemoan the loss of small farms, but we are not celebrating the fact that large farms are more efficient, that farmers now get vacations, that food is cheaper, and that the real problem in America is not starvation but obesity.

We are awash in vitamins, milk, and soap. It's a pretty great thing if you ask me.

But we ignore that. Instead we like to scare ourselves a little by dwelling almost exclusively on the negative, no matter how small or unlikely.

It's like the mind games we play when we are in deep woods and it is beginning to get dark. We have never actually seen a rabid coyote. We have never come across a cougar following us on a hiking trail, or an alligator sliding off the bank while we are swimming.

But we like to imagine it could happen, and so we bounce that danger around in our mind and write and talk about it a bit more than we should.

Never mind that a bee sting is more likely to kill us than a wolf.

We do the same with food. We read unpronounceable ingredients on the side of packaged foods. Dihydrogen Monoxide? What the hell is that? It must cause cancer.

We fret about the possibility of a single death from nuclear energy, while ignoring the scores of very real deaths that occur from coal mining every year.

We elevate the scary and exotic because it is more interesting than the boring and conventional. And, as a consequence, we have this vague sense of impending doom hovering over everything.

And yet the future keeps coming, doesn't it?

And always, it seems a little bigger, and a little more complex than we are really comfortable with.

The future is fast and unknown.

The past, on the other hand, was slower. And we know how that story turns out.

A lot of good stuff lies in the past.

But isn't that the good news?

We can keep all of the good stuff we want. After all, don't we still run this country by choice?

We can still fish with a cane pole; we do not have to buy graphite.

We can still get an aluminum canoe; no reason to buy plastic.

We can still grow vegetables in our back yard, walk to school, bicycle to work, and run the dogs in the park.

We can still hunt, go to the high school basketball game, and watch old episodes of I Love Lucy.

And if we don't do that, then we are making a choice.

And, in truth, that choice is often logical.

A plastic canoe is better than an aluminum one.

A four-piece pack rod is better than a hard-to-carry cane pole.

Jon Stewart is generally funnier than Lucille Ball.

And so we come to the troubling truth: For the most part, the world is getting better.

Is not the Internet a marvel? How about color television, the I-pod and central air?

I have fruits and vegetables at the store I could never have dreamed of as a child -- kiwis, mangoes, Asian apples. If I want Tang and marshmallows and Graham Crackers, they are still there, but now they are in competition with so many other things that they only rarely make it into the basket.

Is that a bad thing?

No. And yet, just saying the names of these childhood foods creates a certain level of nostalgia.

I am reminded that the world was once slower and simpler.

Whatever happened to the smell of a hay loft? Whatever happened to the smell of old varnish in a boat house? They have been replaced by giant round bails wrapped in plastic and gleaming fiberglass decks. And why? Because no one wants to lift 2,000 square bails into an expensive and hard-to-maintain barn, and everyone knows a wooden boat is 200 seams just waiting to sink.

And so the world changes rapidly, and with the change we feel a growing sense of unease.

Our comfort foods are gone. The secret woods of our youth have been razed to expand a parking lot. It has been years since we walked down a creek looking for tadpoles. Instead we check email, do taxes, and run to the next appointment.

And yet, most of us fight back in a fashion, don't we?

Some of us hunt with dogs or hawks in a manner unchanged since the Middle Ages. Others have large vegetable gardens, or spin their own wool for knitting, or have backyard chickens.

Some people carve wood, ride horses, or hunt with black powder.

I have friends who collect toy soldiers and sail old E-scows. I have friends who tinker on vintage cars and trucks, who herd sheep, and who have kitchens full of Ball jars for home canning.

Nothing loved is ever lost.

And yet, much of what people are doing now is not exactly traditional.

Most of the people with backyard chickens did not grow up with backyard chickens.

Most of the people flying hawks and digging on terriers did not grow up with these sports.

Thirty-five years ago, almost no one shot black powder.

So what is going on?

I am not sure. But one possibility is that even as we rush towards the future, some part of us is setting up a belaying point to the past.

It is a kind of psychic anchor -- our way of hedging our bets.

Yes, we are jumping off the cliff into the Great Unknown, but we will hold on to a few bits as a touchstone to the past -- a reminder not only of simpler times, but also of the notion that we might be able to still do it the old way, without the new technology, the nouvelle cuisine, the video games, and the Starbucks Coffee.

Maybe. We are not sure.

We remember what happened the last time the electricity went out in the house.

We remember the time they were working on the pipes down the street and the water was turned off for a whole day.

We remember what coastal Louisiana looked like after Hurricane Katrina, and the wild look in the eyes of the folks in California who have seen fire licking at the shingles of their house.

And so we do not cut the cord to the cable TV, and we do not pour sugar into the gas tank. Instead, we put 20 pounds of rice and 20 pounds of beans into two old plastic paint drums, and we make sure we pack in one of those new radio-flashlight-generator-cellphone-charger gizmos and a few bottles of water purifier to boot.

And then we go out for coffee.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

Dogs at Olduvai Gorge

In this 1961 National Geographic photo, famed paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey and his family look for early hominid remains at Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania with their three dogs in attendance.

Everybody Knows :: Leonard Cohen

Everybody knows the good guys lost
Everybody knows the fight was fixed
The poor stay poor, the rich get rich
That's how it goes
Everybody knows
Everybody knows that the boat is leaking
Everybody knows that the captain lied
Everybody got this broken feeling
Like their father or their dog just died

The Rabbit and the Go-To-Ground Tunnel

While terrier size is easily measurable in the show ring, it is often given short shrift by judges who do not hunt and whose knowledge of terrier work is derived entirely from books and discussion with fellow show breeders

In many cases, these books were written by authors who also do not hunt, and who are simply repeating misinformation found in some earlier tome.

The problem of misinformation is not a new one. In 1560 Jacques du Fouilloux published a book entitled La Vernarie (The Art of Hunting), in which he depicted fox and badger dogs as big as bloodhounds going to ground in holes the size of manhole covers.

Fouilloux’s book, originally published in France, was translated into English by George Turberville who put it out as his own. Turberville, however, called Fouilloux's "bassets" (probably early dachshunds) "terriers" to reflect the name of the small hunting dogs used to pursue den-dwelling quarry in Great Britain.

In truth, a working terrier is a very small dog. Its size is determined by one of two things: 1) the size of the animal being hunted, and; 2) the size of the den hole or cavity in which the hunted animal typically seeks refuge.

Note that these two measurements are not necessarily the same. In Britain, for example, many fox seek refuge in badger earths which can have large entrances worn smooth by decades or even centuries of use and erosion. In addition, a fox may seek refuge in a sinkhole, a rock fissure, or some other natural or manmade cavity.

That said, a large dog is almost always a liability. While a small dog can enter and work a large den, a large dog cannot enter a small earth. If a large dog is able to squeeze itself into the den pipe at all, it will find it has little room to maneuver away from the slashing jaws of the fox, raccoon or groundhog, and that it is nearly impossible to get behind the quarry in order to bolt it out of the den.

Despite this liability, some large terriers in Britain continue to find success bolting fox due to the prevalence of artificial dens or "drains" created by the mounted hunts as a way to keep fox populations stable on hunt lands. These artificial fox dens are typically 9 inches square, brick-lined, and slate-topped with two or three possible entrances.

While the construction of artificial dens or “drains” was sufficiently common at the turn of the century that Sir Jocelyn Lucas provided tips on their construction in his 1931 book, Hunt and Working Terriers, they became even more prevalent after the introduction of the myxoma virus in Great Britain in the early 1950s.

Myxomatosis was purposefully imported from South America as a way of "controlling" the U.K.’s rabbit population, which was considered a major agricultural pest. The myxoma virus was a frightfully efficient killer, wiping out 98 percent of all rabbits in Great Britain within a decade of its introduction. One result of this unhappy turn of events was that the ancient rabbit warrens that had once served as natal dens – and sources of food -- for breeding fox simply vanished.

In order to help out Mother Nature, and improve the chance that a fox would take up residence on hunt land, many hunts constructed new artificial dens out of bricks or 9-inch drainage pipes.

At about the time that the very first artificial fox dens were being constructed in the 1920s, Kennel Club dog shows began to grow in popularity. New terrier breeds were admitted to Kennel Club rosters with some frequency, and old breeds were regularly "improved" for coat color, the set of the ear, the length of the leg, the shape and size of the head, the set of the tail, and a dozen other characteristics that barely matter in the hunt field.

Aurora Rubel, who works her Wild Remains pack of terriers in Kentucky, notes that the vagaries and prejudices of the show ring have little to do with what is really important in a working terrier:

“Pricked ears, long backs, crooked legs, bad coats, splayed feet, to name a few, have never stopped a terrier with the passion for work from doing the job."

As time progressed, however, characteristics of relatively minor importance in the hunt field were allowed to garner more and more points within various breed standards. Very quickly the cosmetic attributes of terrier breeds began to trump the most essential attribute of a working terrier – small size.

The increasing prevalence of artificial earths on British hunt lands enabled owners of larger Kennel Club terriers to still claim their dogs were “working terriers.” A few large dogs even got working certificates for bolting fox out of artificial drains.

An artificial drain, however, is not a natural earth. Fox dens dug out of the sides of British rabbit warrens were – and are – the same size as those we have here in North America.

This should come as no surprise. The den hole of the European rabbit (Oryctolagus curriculus) is only a little smaller than that of the American groundhog (Marmota monax), while the red fox we have here in the U.S. is itself a British import.

While a 14- or 15-inch terrier can negotiate an 81 square inch go-to- ground tunnel with ease, this same dog will find it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate a natural earth which may have an interior space of less than 35 square inches – just enough room to allow a fox to slip through with ease.

I recently reviewed the records of more than 90 working terriers that had worked red fox in natural earth. Their average height at the shoulder was barely over 12 inches, and their average chest measurement was well under 15 inches – far smaller than most Border Terrier, Welsh Terrier, Fox Terrier, and Lakeland Terriers found in the show ring today.

While artificial fox dens have never been part of the American fox hunting scene, the British “fox drains” served as a model when the first go-to-ground courses were designed by the American Working Terrier Association (AWTA) back in 1971.

These AWTA tunnels, in turn, served as inspiration for both the go-to-ground tunnels used by the Jack Russell Terrier Association of America (JRTCA) and the American Kennel Club (AKC).

In all cases three-sided wooden tunnels – nine inches on a side and up to 35 feet long -- are laid out with a series of turns, false dens and exits, with the “quarry” at the end of the tunnel being a pair of lab rats safely protected behind protective bars and wire mesh.

The increasing popularity of go-to-ground terrier trials is a welcome thing, for it has brought more and more people into the hunting fold.

Owners of dogs that do well in go-to-ground trials should take pride in their dog’s achievements. Like all sports that emulate real work (lumber jack contests, bird dog trials, and sheep dog trials), a go-to-ground trial is both harder and easier than its real-world cousin.

A dog that will exit a 30-foot tunnel backwards in just 90 seconds and on a single command (a requirement for earning an AKC Senior Earthdog certificate) is a dog that has been trained to a fairly high degree of proficiency.

Having said that, it should be stressed that a go-to-ground trial has little relationship to true hunting. In the field dogs are not rewarded for speed. In fact, if a hunt terrier were to charge down a real earth like it were a go-to-ground tunnel it would quickly run into quarry capable of inflicting real damage.

In addition, in a real hunting situation a dog must do a great deal more than “work” the quarry for 90 seconds. A good working dog will stick to the task for as long as it can hear people moving about overhead – whether that is 15 minutes or three hours.

The real division street between go-to-ground and earthwork, however, is size. And the real problem with a go-to-ground trial is not that it teaches a dog to go too fast down a tunnel, but that it suggests to terrier owners that any dog that can go down a cavernous go-to-ground tunnel is a dog “suitable for work.”

The American Working Terrier Association recognizes the difference between a go-to-ground tunnel and real earth work, and implicitly underscores this difference in its rules for earning a Working Certificate.

AWTA rules note that a terrier or dachshund can earn a working certificate on woodchuck, fox, raccoon, badger, or an “aggressive possum” found in a natural earth, but that “this does not include work in a drain or otherwise man-made earth.”

In short, a drain is not a close proxy for a natural earth, and terriers that are too large to work a natural earth do not meet the requirements of a working terrier.

That said, whether you own a large terrier or a small terrier, I urge you to at least attend a go-to-ground trial of some type in order to let your dog “explode the code” lying within it.

Most terrier owners have no desire to hunt their dogs, and that is perfectly fine – they can get much of the essence of the experience at a well-run go-to-ground trial. Every terrier and every terrier owner should attend one at least once in their lives. After all, owning a working terrier without allowing it to work is like owning a vintage bottle of fine wine just so you can read the label. To have admired the label without ever tasting the wine is to have missed the essence of the thing. So it is with terriers.

The Fly Over States

States with populations less than New York City.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Your Very Pagan Easter

If you doubt Easter is a Pagan holiday, remember the timing of this celebration is governed by the phases of the moon.

How pagan is that? 

Easter, of course, is simply a celebration of a turn of seasons.

The cross is the cross of the sun -- the same cross representation of the sun we see in every culture going back before the dawn of time.

The resurrection is simply a nod to the reawakening of earth following the "death" and darkness of winter.

Easter is not a holiday mentioned in the New Testament, and seems to have its origins in Rome where the Cybele cult flourished on the hill where the Vatican is now located.

Is it really an accident that Cybele was a virgin who gave birth to a son, Attis, on December 25th, and that this son was crucified on a tree on Black Friday, and resurrected three days later?

So where did Easter Eggs and Eater Bunnies come from?

According to the Venerable Bede, Easter or Eostre, was the pagan goddess of fertility, spring and the dawn.

Her symbols, we are told, were flowers, rabbits, and eggs, as well as the sun and the moon.

According to an ancient German tale associated with Eostre (a tale that seems to first pop up as a Brother's Grimm's Fairy Tale), a little girl found a bird in the snow that was close to death, and she prayed to Eostre, the Goddess of Spring, to help the bird.

Eostre appeared, crossing a rainbow bridge, with the snow melting before her feet as she walked.

Seeing that the bird was badly wounded and cold, she magically turned it into a rabbit so it could survive the blustery winds. Unfortunately, however the transformation from bird to rabbit was incomplete, and the rabbit retained the ability to lay eggs. Nonetheless, in thanks for savings its life, the rabbit took the eggs that it laid, and decorated them, offering them up as gifts to Eostre at this time of year.

Yes, a pretty crazy story, but actually easy to understand if we understand that eggs are an easy-to-see sign of estrus (ovulation), and  that the fecundity of rabbits has been legend since the beginning.

Mix it all up in a game of "telephone" played over 1,000 years, and you get Easter egg baskets with chocolate bunnies inside.

And no, I do not make this stuff up (someone else does that).

At the First Church of Field & Stream

Saturday, April 15, 2017

The Doctor Is In

Being Careful at End of Season

You can never be too careful this time of year, as fox can sometimes be found in groundhog settes that otherwise have little or no evidence of fox occupation. While a fox in estrus will emit a stink, natal dens often barely smell at all -- a chemical change in the fox, and a natural protective defense after she whelps.

If you do come across a natal den, handle the kits as little as possible and put them back in the den. The mother fox will return very soon and move them, provided you clear out. You can rest assured she has dug several dens close by, as fox will often move their litters two or three times even if undisturbed -- a way to lose flea and parasite infestations, and also to reduce run marks that might lead a dog, coyote, bobcat or human to the site of the den. If a kit is harmed by a dog, humanely dispatch it and remove it from the area of the den after returning the unharmed kits to the den. Fox mortality is naturally higher than 50% in the first year, and the loss of one kit, while regrettable, will actually improve the odds of the remainder.

The kit, above, was an accidental run in at a groundhog sette about a dozen years ago. There were five kits inside, and this one was removed unharmed by the dog. She was scooted back inside the sette without a mark on her, and she tumbled back down the pipe. The sette was carefully repaired with a bit of scrap rug found in the hedge, and the cubs were later spotted several weeks later and just one field over.

New Boots

I'm famously cheap, and yet I spend a lot of time in boots. In the past I've worn Vasques, Dry Bones, and a half dozen $50 Chinese-jobs. I had a strange pair of green boots from Nike (Nike!) that I wore for years and loved, and the last pair I had (also green) were actually Kodiak Elk Snow boots that were waterpoof.Those boots have started to break up, and so I have taken the plunge to order my first pair of shoes off of Amazon, sight unseen. They came yesterday and look and feel the part. They are Timberland Men's Flume Waterproof Boot -- nothing too expensive, but more than I have paid for boots since my serious hiking days. They feel pretty light, and are properly stiff, and are a darker brown than it appears in the picture. Hopefully a lot of memories will be made in these boots. I'm starting out this morning by moving 5 cubic yards of mulch in them.  Pray for me!

Friday, April 14, 2017

There Is No Skill to Killing

There's no skill in killing.

Say that to the gun-chewing vegan, and they will nod with vigor.

"Absolutely," they will say. "I'm against all killing."

"I'm not," I will say, and I then I will move in, a little too close for comfort, subtly invading their personal space and looking them in the eye.

"I'm damn good at it. I'm just saying there's no skill in it. The skill is in hunting."

And, of course, they have no idea what I am talking about.

Killing is like writing.

Anyone who has passed second grade can write. Writing is simply making block letters with a crayola.

A trained monkey can write. It's easy.

Research is hard. Thinking is hard. Developing a sense of place and time and the immediacy of now takes attention to detail. Developing a sense of craft takes discipline. Putting together a new synthesis takes knowledge. Fleshing out character requires an understanding of human failing. Fusing plot and voice requires an understanding of story and a sense of character and self. A sustained voice is suspiciously like work.

But writing is pretty damn easy.

Look at all all the people who write. The Internet is full of them, banging away on their keyboards without a moment's bit of research or thought, like monkeys looking for Shakespeare.

They are all writers.

By the same token, the boys running the line down at the Perdue chicken plant are certified killers, same as anyone who sprays bug spray on their garden.

Killing is not hunting. Killing is easy.

And yet, people who know nothing about hunting are more interested in the killing part than they are in any other part.

This is the part they want to talk about.


But I wonder if, when they finally get a chance to meet a real writer, do they ask him how he makes the letter "A"??

Never mind.

People are fascinated in killing, and when it comes to terrier work, they are very confused about it too.

So let's get to the first point: The dogs do not do the killing. I do. And I am very good at it.

The job of the dogs is to locate, to push the critter to a stop end, to bolt it from the ground if possible.

The job of the dogs is to sort out rumor from fact and to read the complex tapestry of story that is written in urine, scat and saliva on twisted vine and moldy ground.

The job of the dogs is to find, and then when found, to go from room to room in the darkness, armed with nothing but a heroes heart.

And then, at the end of that dark hallway, their job is to hold, to push, to put in voice and perhaps teeth if voice alone will not do.

And yet, in all of the excitement, their job is also to never forget their mission.

The goal here, as Patton so famously said, is not to die for your country, but to get the other son-of-a-bitch to die for his.

A good working dog will not come away knackered very often, as he has learned the power of voice and the importance of discretion. He has learned his job. And his job is not to kill. That, he knows, is my job.

Of course, a lot of the young people today have never learned how to do proper terrier work, and that story is told on the wrecked faces of their dogs.

At the end of a dig, these young toughs are too timid to reach in and tail out a living animal, and they have no idea of how do deal with an animal that is teeth out and snapping.

And so they ask the dog to do what they are too cowardly to do themselves, and which they are too ignorant to know how to do any other way.

What's that? A shoelace can make a snare? Or better yet, you have one in your pack already made up because you read a practical book on working terriers rather than a book of fanciful stories danced up by a Brian Plummer wannabe?

Amazing! And what's that? The man with the book gives instruction on his web site for free? Where's the profit in that?

* * * * * *

So how do you kill the vegan asks? (They never ask how to hunt.)

"Each to his own, but I do not like guns for dispatch," I reply, carefully looking at that part of their skull located three inches above their eyebrow, and assessing their total body weight.

"At the end of a dig there is too much chaos and movement, and excitable people with guns is a recipe for regret. I generally dispatch critters by hitting them on the top of the head with a blow from the blunt side of a machete."

What? The sharp side?

"No, the dull side. It's the blow that kills, same as if I slammed a paving brick into your head and staved in your frontal lobe. If I did that, you would be dead in an instant, and there would be no coming back for you. It's quite painless.

"I do not shoot things from a distance. When I kill it is up close, and is by hand, and it is very fast and quite assured.

"I tell you there is no skill to killing, and I am very good at it."