Unfocused

Gwynn and I have been working through some issues recently.  Despite being 4 (!), he’s apparently decided to try out that doggy-teen-angst thing that usually strikes sometime between turning 2 and 3.  He’s a late bloomer, I guess.

He’s started barking at people, and attempting to run towards them (fun! not.) on our walks, and is developing dog-park-bully tendencies (ditto).

I know pretty much everyone says you never just reach a point with your dog where you can stop training, but I kind of assumed that I’d be able to keep adding tricks, agility moves and general improvement on his recall and sit-stays and call it a day.  I wasn’t expecting new things.  Behavioural things.

New things like suddenly, other dogs are really really interesting – in a hard-eyes and rigid posture, jumps over the barrier separating us (mid-agility run) from another dog (ditto, but also with fear-of-dog-issues, of course) like it wasn’t a foot and a half taller than the jump height we’re working on, spend 10 minutes yipping hysterically until I just get the fuck out 20 minutes into class kind of way.

Awesome.

What does all this mean?  Well, apparently the bullying might be a mixture of the herding and poodling (poodles were originally hunting dogs, so I’m not quite sure what instinct it is here, other than… being bouncy) instincts kicking into high gear from his ancestry – lots of darting in and back, barking and general over-excited-not-listening-to-other-dog’s-discomfort-cues.

And his complete loss of interest in running the agility course with me when he could instead go cry and run the fenceline?  Lack of focus combined with the whole over-excited-at-dogs thing.  His groovy ‘do means that his eyes are a thing I don’t necessarily see when training focus-work, and apparently this is an issue, because it means that I’m rewarding the wrong thing.  He’s, more often than not, getting rewarded for face-pointing in my general direction, but actually looking at the treat in my hand/pocket/whatever it is I’m trying to get him to stop looking at.  Instead of actual eye-contact.  Yup, 100% luring, not actual training.  Mea culpa.

Yes, also I high-pitch my voice to try and make him more interested in me… but when that fails… well…

My agility instructor has recommended that I cut all the hair around his eyes, but he’s already got a bit of a mullet thing going on from the trimming I already do, and I love his hair, so I’m going to try out a few alternatives for the interim (until it’s warm enough out that I can get him fully groomed).  What are your thoughts on his style?

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She also said she thought we’d be fine continuing with agility and just adding a dog obedience class (one that focuses on, well, focus, and working on newly developed issues), but frankly, I don’t give a flying… rice-cake… about whether Gwynn and I succeed at doing 6/8/10/etc weave poles, I just want my friendly/happy/not crazy dog back.

All this over-excitement directed at people (barking/lunging), and dogs (bullying, and hard eyes/stiff posture), to my mind, means that Gwynn is not feeling safe, he’s not sure how to act in a given situation, and, for these reasons, not happy.  

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

this is not a dog moping about and writing emo poetry

On a deeper level, I mean.

He’s also on a bad track towards possibly developing aggression issues (if you don’t already call his occasional barking and bullying a form of aggression), and, well NO.  If you’ve got experience in this type of thing, feel free to link me to useful stuff on the web or leave your best tips.  I’ve already been trolling back through old posts at SUCCESS JUST CLICKS and other dog trainer blogs, but repeated information isn’t bad information.

So I’m going all Mr Miyagi on his poor confused self, and we are going to get focused, and get happy.

Wax on, Wax off.  Click, Treat.

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Snow

My drive in to work today was terrible.  I mean, quadruple the length of time, three lanes down to two down to one down to what the hell is that guy doing, cars sliding into and out of my ‘lane’, holy cow gentle on the brakes, come-on-car-let’s-survive-this, gee I wish my windshield wipers were doing more than spreading the slush on my windshield, TERRIBLE.  At least I wasn’t stupid enough to get on the highway.

Toronto really doesn’t get much snow.  We’re in Canada, so you would think that we’d get a fair bit, but Lake-effects+location means that Toronto winters are grey, occasionally slushy, and gross.  So, despite the terribleness of my drive this morning, I am definitely not complaining.

We have snow.

The kind that drowns the city in soft white fluff, covers the mud, the dead grass and the neverending discarded Timmy’s cups.  It rounds the hard edges of buildings, makes every tree look like a confectioner’s dream, and muffles the noises of living.

When I was younger, I loved to bundle up in as many layers as possible to keep myself warm and sit in the snow.  Preferably the deep fluffy banks of it that let you sink in like a lazyboy sofa made specifically for me.

Now, with at least as many layers of warming clothing, I like to walk in it.  I love the crunch of snow under boot.  I love my morning walks when the snow is falling so heavily, the roads are untouched by tire tread, and the world is covered in a blanket of white.  Before people have had much chance to go out and shovel, layer the inevitable and hated coating of salt down, and start churning up dirt.

Gwynn likes to stick his whole head into piles of snow, shoving it in there as though the snow is the downy pile of fluffy white feathers it resembles.  On mornings like this, I can’t resist letting go.

IMG_20130208_062830

Gwynn treats snow like a reason to be on his best behaviour.  Any other morning, if I were to drop the leash in the neighbourhood, he’d be up on peoples’ porches, worming his way into their back yards, and generally causing a huge pain of himself.  With the snow thick on the sidewalk, he sticks close, dashing forward and back and rooting through the snow in search of smells.

Tonight, we’ll go out for an extra long walk through the snow-lit woods.  Even after dark, the snow glows, like it stores the sunlight for later use.

Magic.

For the Dogs

There are dog people, and then there are dog people.  Eileen was dog people. They were her passion and her life’s work.  I met her through the Muttley Crew – a dog hiking group through Meetup.com.  She introduced me to so many local trails I would never have known existed – places near Toronto that have hidden away from the urban life.  She brought together a group of people whose only real commonality was dogs, and made sure to socialize with everyone on the hike.  And their dogs, of course.  She hardly knew me, but she still checked in on me when I didn’t make it out to any hikes for a few months.

She was the treat lady, she was the go-to person for pettings.  She was in the creek with the dogs, encouraging the more timid of them to try swimming.  She got Gwynn deeper into the water than he’d been before.  Ten minutes into the hike, she wsa the pied-piper, leading the dogs on a merry chase.  You’re having issues with your dog jumping up, not responding to ‘come’, being timid, toy guarding?  She would give you encouragement, advice if you wanted it, and absolute positivity.  She believed 100% in your dog.

She worked to get her own dog out of his own anxiety and wariness so that he could, completely comfortably, join a large group of people and dogs in the woods.

Dirty dogs are happy dogs – by the end of our hikes, the dogs were certainly happy!

She was doing what made her happiest – hiking with dogs – and that knowledge makes me glad.  While I wish it could have been years and years from now, she died with her hiking boots on.

Eileen will be missed.  I have no doubt that wherever she is now, there are happy dogs, wide open spaces, and forests for miles.

Portal to Adventure

I remember this place! It’s my Camping House!

Soon, we’ll be in the woods. Wait for it….

… well that’s weird. No woods…

I guess maybe we’ll actually have to bring it to the forest first. Grab the car!

Gwynn and most of the family are now officially Camping… I’m sure he’s relieved to find that sometimes going through the trailer door does bring one to the woods.

Activity Improved By Woods

My mom is a high school teacher – she’s officially on her two months of consecutive vacation from teenagers, grading papers, and jammed photocopiers.  My dad recently had a knee surgery that has left him with very little skip in his hobble, and a 12 week recovery period that takes him right through to September.  Peanut (aka middle sibling) is on a hiatus from work that I won’t be getting into.  Doodle just started back into her glamorous summer job of Maintenance Worker at Grundy Provincial Park.  Don’t feel too bad for her – any job can be improved by adding the phrase “in the woods” to the end of it.

Yuck … cleaning toilets.  Yay, cleaning toilets in the woods.  Even more improved by the addition of with a pressure washer.  Bet you wish you could have that kind of entertainment in your own house cleaning efforts.  This is why rooms should have drainage holes in the middle of them.  All rooms.

Blah… mowing the lawn.  Cool! Mowing the lawn in the woods… on a ride-on lawnmower!

Not to mention, staff-house in the woods, Picking up Garbage in the woods, Waving and being friendly to visitors in the woods, and Honking at Bears in the woods.  That last one might just stand up on its own, but it is made even more exciting by the forest aspect.

What this all means, ignoring the massive discomfort my dad is in, and Doodle’s run-ins with washroom horrors, is that my entire family has a two month vacation in the woods compared to my measly 15 days total vacation each year.  And they’re taking the dog.

Balto had to slog through snow, and could have died. All the outdoorsy fun without as much chance of being eaten or dying.

Gwynn will be having, within a few short days, a most excellent adventure the likes of which Balto would be jealous.  He will be a Dog In The Woods, far superior to his in-the-burbs and in-the-city brethren.  Without me.

So many pros and cons, but overall, the guilt of not being around to ensure feeding, watering, exercise, entertainment, training, and a showering of love and affection is overwhelming.

I’m looking forward to the chance to sleep in that extra hour before work.  Really going to miss having an overriding requirement to go for a walk in the evening, even when I’m feeling lazy.

What if he needs me?  I know, I sound like such a clingy parent, but I am the Prime Doggy Caretaker.  There is a large portion of my not-at-work day that revolves around my shaggy shadow.  A great feature of dog ownership is that a lot of your time is scheduled for you, and you stay active whether you want to or not.  What on earth am I going to do during the week?

2-3 hours of weekday, and 4+ hours of weekend-day in which I won’t need to go for a walk.

TV watching time will not include dog grooming.

Training?  What training? 2-3 hours a week

Does a vacation from your pets feel like punishment or a reward?

What would you do with the time you usually spend with pets?

Feel free to substitute “children” for pets if you don’t have any feathered, furred or finned companions.  Those of you without pet or child… seriously, do you grasp the enormity of just how much time you have?!

Naked Beavers and Stripping

Despite my blatant attempt to garner more interest in my site (not to mention confuse some creepers), my post title is 100% applicable to my post.  Guesses? Anyone?  Bueler?

There is a certain freedom I find when I know the responsibility is about to be shunted to someone else.  I become… reckless.  Irresponsible.  That giddy feeling of knowing someone else will clean up the mess is probably wrong, but it feels so right.

Until Murphy comes out and roundhouse kicks you in the olfactory gland.

Footloose and fancy free, I took Gwynn to the lake for swimming nearly every day this past week.  So what if he smells a bit too much like Lake Ontario?  It’s not my problem.  It’s hers.  A week from now, anyways.

His white socks are distinctly grey because I take him to the lake and then to the dog park?  Meh.  She’ll fix it.  I can put up with a bit more sand around the house for the next few days.

And then I took him to a different beach than usual… less gravelly, more sandy, therefore dirtier, but who cares?  I’m not going to have to clean up this mess.  That was Tuesday.

Gwynn had a blast.  I had a blast.  It was a beautiful day, Gwynn was working up his courage to get four feet off the ground admirably, and I was on the beach in the sun. It was so nice out that I figured walking down the beach would be a great end to the walk.

"Boo!"

Did you know that an old enough beaver corpse will lose all of its fur, while retaining its skin in a strangely mummy-like way?  It was like the biggest naked mole rat ever, petrified in a kind of a “BOO” position.  There are no pictures.  There are NO words that fully capture how horrific this thing was.  There is no way I can pass on to you the absolute screaming disgust of watching one’s beloved dog use Jabba the Naked Beaver like a Slip’n’Slide as he tries to coat his entire body with face-first slides, in rotten beaver.

Recall?!  What Recall??

There’s no competing with the Crypt Beaver.

With only a few days before a trip to a professional… I rinsed.  Washing a dog with soap twice in one week doesn’t exactly seem like it’ll solve Gwynn’s itchy skin issues.  What smell doesn’t go away with a good soak-and-towel?  Naked-Mole-Beaver.  Yeah.

Wednesday night, and we’re going to our very first Intro to Agility class, sporting Eau-de-Rodent-Corpse.  Baby powder helped, surprisingly, though it gave his coat a strange and greasy feeling.  That’s ok, though – Babies-n-Beaver is an improvement, and he’s getting groomed on Saturday.

Sufficed to say, it was a long week.It was all made up for, though, when I passed Gwynn off to the beauteous and highly talented Madame Groomer.  She accepted the dog whose stink of corpse was mostly overridden by a few days’ time, baby powder, and returned a svelte and sleek and much nicer smelling replacement.  He smelled better than roses.  He had white patches where his white patches are supposed to be!

The Before:

how could they expect to improve on perfection?

The After!

Well... this might be better... just a bit...

Still not sure where the stripping comes into play?  Gwynn has a wire coat – his outer coat is only loosely connected, and our Groomer Extraordinaire strips that away entirely, pain free, leaving his gorgeously fluffy undercoat.  It shortens his coat without changing its natural texture when the wire coat grows back in, which allows me to grow his coat out long during the winter without it getting ridiculously matted by being too soft and fine.  For all who were web searching for any combination of Naked, Beaver, and Stripping… well… you got ’em!

Square 2

This winter’s theme, training-wise, was mostly nothing.

Ugh, it’s raining, let’s get this walk over with.

Ugh, it’s really that muddy… fine, go have your fun, smelly, black dog, but know that there will be consequences.  And those consequences involve you and me in a certain large oblong porcelain-coated-metal bowl, along with lots of room temperature water and something foamy.  Your black and tan will return to orange and white.

Ugh, I give up, you will never not chase cats.  I am the where’s waldo master, if waldo is a cat, and tends to hide in shadows, under shrubberies, on decks, or mockingly in the center of an empty driveway. 

Better to just get from point A to point B on-leash, and try not to think too hard about what you were rolling in just now.

I’ve been inspired, though.  Jodi has been working with Delilah after a bad incident left her feeling like she wasn’t doing so well at dog parenting.  Instead of expecting everything to come at once, she’s gone in stages, and Delilah is back to having freedom to run around, except in areas where Jodi knows there’s too much chance of failure.

That, combined with recently seeing a video on how to store your long-leads so they won’t get tangled (genius!), and a bit of inspiration of my own (use that shortened long-line as his regular leash for the walking portion of the walk = one less thing for me to carry around in my bag), has Gwynn and I back in training mode.

I tie it a bit tighter, and stop knotting it when the total is as long as my usual leash – tucking the long strand through that final loop ‘locks’ the leash in that length while freeing up the clasp for Gwynn’s collar.  It creates a bit more of an elastic version of a 6 foot leash.  for storing the leash, it works amazingly well – you entirely skip the part of pulling a long leash out of your bag when you have to untangle it.

I commented in a recent post that Sadie has a great recall.  Like – whistle her whistle and she will run to you.  All out, legs wind milling, ears flapping, giant grin, run. 

Gwynn… not so much.  Kind of silly when you consider the fact that I have him 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and only walk Sadie twice a week, for all of 2 hours each walk.

I generally just make sure to not let him off-leash in danger zones.  The big ones?  Near a muddy pond that I really don’t want him in.  Near the beach/creek when I don’t want him in (or at this time of year, when the beach is littered with dead things).  Somewhere cats might be.

My training goal for the spring is to improve Gwynn’s recall and walking at heel position.

some work on the long line... it is actually longer than it looks in this picture

How am I doing this so far?  If I’m somewhere I really don’t trust him off-leash, I put him on the long line, and practice sit-stays, sit at a distance, recalls, and just plain encourage him to walk near me.  Once he’s good and focused, he gets time dragging the leash.  It isn’t perfect.  For one thing, if he takes off quickly enough during ‘drag leash’ time, he can get out of leash-stomp range very easily (my leash isn’t too long… maybe 15 ft total?).  For another thing, re-knotting the leash into short-form requires a bit of focus/time.  But it’s working, and using the long line in short-form reminds me to take the time on walks to work on these things.

Wish me luck!

Sadie

I very briefly mentioned the possibility of Sadie being rehomed in my previous post.  It’s been about a week since her owners first brought it up with me (via text), and I’m out of that weepy/murderous/relieved phase of emotions that wells up at the thought of them getting rid of her.  Enough that I can talk about it, at any rate.

I lie.

I just wrote out the most vitriolic post, and I’m not going to post it.  Suffice to say, Sadie’s owners make me SO ANGRY.

a dog with a great recall, despite the fact that it is practiced only twice a week.

A very shortened version of the list of their crimes:

They don’t: walk her (at all), have her fixed*, train her, socialize her, trim her nails, feed her decent quality food, know how lucky they are to have such an amazingly sweet tempered dog in spite of themselves.

I suspect they don’t: keep her up to date on all her shots, love her.

I suspect they do: hit her.  I know you should focus on a dog in the ‘here and now’, but I don’t pet her on the top of her head, because even the gentlest approaching hand in the above/side of head region causes her to flinch down.

They do: want to breed her (probably with the idea of making money, because they are stupid), have a 15(ish) year old son, but choose instead to pay me (barely) to walk her.  I suspect he would have preferred a ‘tougher’ looking breed.

They are considering getting rid of her.  They think youngest son’s asthma could be increased by Sadie (as opposed to the two long haired cats in the house that require less time/money/energy to maintain in good health… interesting**), and, while they’re still unsure of it, let me know this.

SO full of making-you-allergic, it explodes out my ears!

I want to tell them that it must be Sadie that’s causing their son’s breathing issues.  Whatever excuse for her to not live with them.  I want to tell them, not a problem, just give her to me.  I want to be sure that in their next lives, they are treated just the way they treated Sadie, but I can only hope.  I want to take her home and get her fixed and teach her that getting her nails cut isn’t too bad, and teach her to ‘down’ and ‘stay’ and ‘leave it’ and ‘play dead’, and not go on the couch, and get rid of her food guarding, and maybe do some agility with her, because she’s super smart.

I live with my parents, and my dad is about to go in for a knee replacement surgery.  They might love having Gwynn, but they aren’t interested in being a two-dog household.  I would love to take her, but the best I can do for her is try to find a good home for her, and, if necessary, keep her for a few weeks (and training her a lot!) while looking for that home.

Yup, definitely not out of the weepy/angry phase… relief might come back into play once they determine once and for all that they’re going to get rid of her.

*this is not a comment on all people whose dogs are unfixed, or who intend to breed their dogs, this is a comment on irresponsible, stupid jerks who see their dog as a possession they can make a profit off, instead of a living creature and part of the family.

** I like cats a lot, don’t get me wrong.  But in the grand scheme of allergens, cats are generally higher on that scale solely due to their cleanliness.  All that allergen-filled saliva-bathing does a number on your sinuses.

What’s up, Doc?

I was talking about dogs with my doctor the other day, possibly the least awkward conversation I could have with the woman who not only helped my mom give birth to me, but has seen me naked numerous times since then.

I started the conversation by asking whether someone with asthma could be allergy tested to determine if it is the cat or the dog of the house that is affecting their asthma.  As someone firmly in the dog-lover camp (she was a dachshund breeder for a number of years), she assured me it was almost guaranteed to be the cat, but that, yes, there are allergy tests for that.  The same tests, in fact, that confirmed that Doodle is somewhat allergic to dogs, very allergic to cats, extremely allergic to hamsters, and hazardously allergic to Yellow Jackets (the bee, not the fashion accessory – those, I found out in my last daytime-TV viewing session, are ‘in’ this season, in case you were wondering, and unlikely to cause Doodle to be asphyxiated), in a ‘carry around an epipen’ kind of way.

On a side-note, and with no further proof than that my doctor told me so, apparently darker coloured cats are higher in allergen.  This wasn’t a valid enough argument for me getting a fluffy white evil-mastermind cat, according to my parents.  I was going to name him Moriarty.

As we continued talking, I mentioned wishing that I could adopt a certain blonde dog, whose owners might possibly be considering getting rid of her, due to youngest child’s asthma.  Whether it’s actually the asthma that’s making them decide this, or the fact that it’s been two weeks since I’ve walked the poor thing due to ankle issues, and she might just be a whirling dervish by now, I don’t know.  More on that drama later.  It would, however, require me to get my own place in quite short order, since my parents aren’t interested in a second dog, let alone a first.

Blonde? Moi?

My doctor was a bit surprised.  Are you going to take Gwynn with you when you move out?

Well… yes.  He’s my dog.  (side note:  it is amazing how many times I’ve had that question asked of me… people seem genuinely surprised at the idea of the person who walks, feeds, grooms, takes to vet, pays for all aspects of doggy ownership, and vacuums up the mini-Gwynn tumbleweeds would be the one to keep the dog when she moves out.)

Your parents are really going to miss him.

This is when I found out that the last time my dad was in, he took advantage of using this least-awkward-conversation-topic, too.  He spent his last checkup showing the doctor pictures of a certain orange fluffy grandchild.

Added to the times I’ve approached the kitchen and stopped out of sight to listen to my Dad’s conversations with Gwynn (are you a good boy?  You are a good boy.  You get cheese!  Good boy!  Good dogs like you get cheese!  … or whatever food he happens to be chopping, if it’s dog-safe ), my dad’s rep as ‘not a dog person’ is pretty much toast.

Well, now we know who the favourite is.

a very old picture of 'the favourite'

Trained to Impress

There are so many reasons to train your dog.  Whether you just want a friendly and relatively obedient house-pet, or to be able to compete in dog sports, all signs point to training.  A well-socialized, obedient dog is more pleasant to live with.  You can bring that dog to so many more places and activities than you can bring the hell-hound who drags you down the street every time you try to take him for a walk.

And here’s another reason.  Your dog is a representative of his species, and his breed.  It isn’t your imagination – your dog is being judged.  How many people have let a single bad experience with a dog of a recognizable breed (or type) influence their forever opinion of that breed?  It’s easy enough to do.

I know that all German Shepherd dogs aren't angry-clawing their way out of their yards. But I wouldn't want to meet this one on the street.

Public opinion can be difficult to deal with.  I know quite a few people with Rottweilers who find that people walking towards them on the street will cross the street to avoid them.  These dogs that I know, in particular, are big softies.  Given the opportunity, any one of them would come up to you and present his or her bum for a nice scratch session.  These owners ‘get’ it.  They are ambassadors to a breed that is labeled ‘tough’, and the amount of work they put into the training of their dogs shows it.

In the past few visits I have made to a dog park near my home, I have had a nearly identical conversation with fellow dog owners, and it is really disturbing.

“There’s just something about boxers, you know?  I just don’t trust them.  They seem to be playing nice, and then all of a sudden they’re in attack mode.”

“Yeah, I try to keep my dog from playing with them when we’re here and they show up.”

"Who, me?"

Sorry, are you talking about boxers?  Boxers, those goofy, playful dogs – the ones who like to wrestle and run around and play?  Boxers like the one on my street, Abby, Gwynn’s favourite wrestling buddy.  Abby, who sits on her front lawn, leash-free, while her owner brings the recycling bins to the kerb, and waits for permission to come across the street to visit us on our walk?

Most of the boxers I’ve met at this park (and any other) play so nicely with other dogs.  They love to wrestle, making them a perfect playmate for Gwynn.  If their owners call, they come at least as often as Gwynn does when he is called.  If they are playing too rough, their owners re-direct them.  Like any dog owner should do if at a dog park.  Gwynn sometimes needs intervention in play as well.

Most, but not Mocha.  Mocha the 1ish year old Boxer doesn’t get it.  It’s like she doesn’t speak ‘dog’ – she doesn’t pay attention to the ‘go away’ and ‘back off’ signals that dogs give off.  She wrestles too hard, she pushes buttons, and she instigates scuffles.  Her owner claims she is perfectly trained, but she has zero recall/obedience at the dog park.  When she gets too excited, too pushy, too MUCH, he does nothing.  No redirecting, no break time, no ‘let’s go for an on-leash walk for 10 minutes and come back and try again’.  She focuses a lot on smaller or weaker dogs, and harasses them to no end.  She runs wild, and yes, the dog park isn’t as fun while she’s there.  I don’t run into her often, and am usually in the lucky position of already heading out when she’s coming in.

Her impact is being felt.  The people at the dog park aren’t talking about their wariness towards Mocha the poorly trained and poorly socialized Boxer, owned by that jerk who doesn’t follow dog-park-etiquette.  They’re talking about how they don’t trust Boxers.  No differentiation between the Mochas and the Abby’s of the world.

So – train your dog.  Train him to make a good impression.  You want people to talk about how much they love Australian Shepherds after having met your Aussie – not about how they hate those jumpy, barky, over-energetic terrors.  Pure-bred or mixed breed, your dog gives people an impression of all dogs.  And don’t forget to pick up after that obedient dog, because otherwise, you’re giving all us dog owners a bad name too.