Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Step 1: Teaching a dog to play pool

It was the cracking sound of the pool stick breaking against the balls that got Sensi all riled up.
At first, we paid little attention to his reaction. And so, his reaction grew bigger and bigger.
In no time, Sensi was practically going nuts every time someone tried to make a shot.
He’d bark and bark, trying to jump up on the table and steal the pool balls. Then he’d start lunging at the pool stick when someone lined up their shot. Before long, it was impossible to play a game of pool with him around.
This did not make Brent happy. He enjoys playing pool with his friends.
I, on the other hand, don’t enjoy playing pool. I’ve been around pool tables all my life. Time and time again, I’ve tried and miserably failed at learning to play. Many a person has tried to teach me and subsequently given up.
I chalk it up to my math skills, which are nonexistent. In fact, the only class I’ve ever dropped out of in my life was — you guessed it — geometry.
Watching Sensi jump up on the table and try to take (rescue?) the pool balls gave me an idea.
Perhaps, just maybe, he could learn to play pool.
With an extra set of pool balls, I began working with him on the floor.
Again, training a complex behavior has to be done in layers. Layer one is teaching the command that will be the foundation of the game.
That command, for Sensi, was “push it.”
My goal was to get Sensi to push the ball forward with his nose. I took an old set of pool balls, put one in front of him and asked him to push it.
When he tried to grab it with his mouth, I told him “No!” and whisked the ball away. Then he tried pawing at it, and again, I said, “No!” and took it away.
It took some time for him to learn that he was supposed to push it with his nose. I prompted him by touching the pool ball to his nose and immediately following it up with a treat.
We ended the first training session on a positive note, although he hadn’t learned to actually push it. But it’s always important to end training sessions on a good note and not force the dog to keep participating after boredom sets in.
Persistence is key.
We did short training sessions — about 15 minutes — every night for about a week. Little successes were rewarded with huge celebrations, and he quickly learned to push the ball and push it hard.
By the time the week ended, the command was pretty well ingrained in him.
That, of course, means it’s time to start the second layer of training. Read more tomorrow.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Making a bad behavior good

Often, there’s something we humans enjoy doing that just drives our dog nuts.
Maybe it’s a game of basketball or baseball, tennis, horseshoes or badmitton.
We’re focused on the activity, and the dog wants in on the fun too. But we give him no role in our sport. We expect him to watch from the sidelines, like a fan.
But he doesn’t. He barks and jumps around, he bolts into the playing area and chases after the ball. He disrupts the entire game, angering his humans. Maybe he even barrels into someone and knocks him or her to the ground.
At this point, we humans try to settle him down, but we’re angry. We yell at him to get, to go lay down. Maybe we grab his collar and drag him inside, while he tries in vain to struggle and get back in the game.
In time, the activity becomes a sort of trigger for the dog. He sees a basketball and instantly he is fixed on it, obsessed with it. As soon as we start bouncing it around, the dog starts behaving wildly and can’t think of anything but the basketball.
“Gotta get that ball. Gonna get that ball,” our dogs would say if they could talk. “Ball ball ball. Gotta get that ball. Get the ball. There’s the ball. Gotta get that ball. Ball ball ball."
We learn that we simply can’t allow him to be around anymore when we’re playing these games.
So we leave him inside, and from the window, he watches and whines. Perhaps he scratches up window ledge.
But do we have to keep him inside and away from our fun?
I say that in almost all circumstances, no, we don’t.
These types of activities create great opportunities for incorporating our dog into our fun. And if we can’t find a role for him in our sport, there is still a fantastic training opportunity presented by these situations.
The mental challenge of training him to behave in a particular way — perhaps sitting nicely on the sidelines for ten minutes and then getting a bone to chew on — will be a strenuous mental exercise for him and will likely do a great job of wearing him out.
Brent and I have always looked at Sensi as part of our family, and we like to include him in as much of what we do as possible.
For that reason, we’ve given Sensi a designated role in most of our favorite past times.
Read tomorrow to find out how to train your dog to play a game of pool.
It might not be the best thing for a precious table that can’t be scratched by dog nails, but if it’s OK with the table, it’s a pretty cool trick to show your friends.
Especially when your dog becomes a better pool player than you.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A day in the life

It’s been hot, it’s been rainy. And the woods are-a-buzzin’ with bird songs, wild animals and the zzzz’s of far too many flies, bees and mosquitos.
All stuff that affects the dog. Here’s some quick hits.

He did use the fan
I wrote in my last blog: “Dogs heat and cool themselves primarily through their paws, secondarily through their underside — the belly.
That’s probably why you never see a dog lay down in front of a fan. Unless a fan is cooling their paws or belly, it doesn’t really help them out.”
Of course, I went home that night and watched Sensi lay in front of the fan for hours. So I need to clarify that statement about dogs and fans.
In our case, we had one of those big square fans sitting right on the floor. Sensi plopped himself down in front of it and laid on his side, his belly and paws exposed to the fan.
Glad he figured that out.

“I’m not going”
Sensi doesn’t balk at us when we ask him to do something. Sure, sometimes he gets all mopey when he realizes that he’s headed for the bath tub, but he’d never, never refuse to do something we ask of him.
Except going outside in the rain.
While it was pouring down a wall of rain yesterday, Sensi asked to go outside.
Apparently, when Brent opened the door and Sensi caught sight of the rain-wall, he ran back into the living room.
He preceded to lay down there. Brent, thinking it was amusing, called him again to go outside.
Sensi just looked at him and stayed put.
“If you want me out there, you’re going to have to pick me up and carry me out there yourself,” Sensi would’ve said if he could talk. “And good luck with that. I know I’m a heavy guy.”
Brent opened our front door and left it wide open. Sensi moved even further away from it.

A sleepless night
I admit it, I’m a night owl. Even if I get up at the crack of dawn, work my butt off all day and come home and work even more, it doesn’t mean I’ll go to bed at a decent hour.
Once 10 p.m. rolls around, I’m wide awake — no matter how sleep deprived or overworked I may be.
I need eight hours of sleep. I never get eight hours of sleep.
Last night, I attempted to go to bed early at 10:30. I was quite proud of myself.
And then, at 11:15 p.m., I woke up to my dog barking at something outside the window. Half-asleep, I made a strange decision to partially close the window and grumbled to Sensi to go to bed.
But he didn’t. He laid down in front of the window and quieted his barking to a low, continuous growl.
Slowly beginning to wake up, I realized I should take note of Sensi’s behavior and check outside. It is very, very odd for him to bark or growl at night.
Of course, I couldn’t see anything. But I ended up not sleeping much at all last night.
I’m sure there was something out there. I thought I heard some coyotes yipping in the distance as I fell asleep.
I wonder what got him so upset.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Heat adjustment

For four of Sensi’s six years, he lived with Brent in a basement apartment.
We never had a heat problem there.
In fact, we had the opposite of a heat problem. We had an insanely-cold-all-the-time problem.
In the winter, it was freezing. We used blankets. In the summer, it became a tolerable and even welcome cold — until someone turned on the air conditioning.
Then it went back to freezing. And we’d end up huddling under blankets on a 90 degree day.
I noticed, on visits to my parents house last summer, that Sensi had a hard time adjusting to being on the main floor of a home during a hot day. He pants, and pants, and pants.
At our new house, there is no air conditioning.
Luckily, the house’s design helps it keep cool without air. But not that cool.
Nothing can keep a home cool on a 90-day degree — except air conditioning, of course.
Sensi is adjusting, but it’s weird to see him panting. We almost never see that, unless he’s tanning on the deck.
It’s kind-of nice, though. When he pants, he looks like a very relaxed, happy dog — because, of course, it looks like he’s smiling when he pants.
He hasn’t figured out yet to go lay on the wood or tile floors.
Dogs heat and cool themselves primarily through their paws, secondarily through their underside — the belly.
That’s probably why you never see a dog lay down in front of a fan. Unless a fan is cooling their paws or belly, it doesn’t really help them out.
When dogs are hot, the best thing they can do to keep themselves cool is lay on a cool surface. Indoors, surfaces like concrete and ceramic tile stay much cooler than other surfaces. Wood floors and linoleum aren’t fantastic, but better than carpet.
Keep this stuff in mind. It comes in handy. Last summer, there was one day when Sensi seemed really hot and I wanted to cool him down.
I stuck his paws in a bucket of cold water, then had him lay down and put some cold, wet rags over his belly. It worked like a charm.

Was the TV talking to us?
Here’s a funny story, related to the heat.
Brent and I signed up with AT&T Uverse last weekend. There’s one feature about the cable that I absolutely love: weather on demand.
I can select weather at any time of the day or night and then I can see the weather in all sorts of ways — hourly, 6-day forecast, a video like what’s on the local news, radar and even satellite.
There aren’t many TV programs that Brent and I get really hooked on. We’ve been ER watchers for years, but now that’s ended. We’re left with one favorite program: Deadliest Catch. It’s all new at 9 p.m. on Tuesday nights.
After we finished watching it last night, we checked the weather before heading for bed.
Mind you, we moaned and groaned about the heat and how badly we need air conditioning all night long.
I selected the video offering for weather, and leading the video was a wacky forecaster we hadn't seen before. He was unorthodox, at the least. It was strange.
“It’s gonna keep gettin’ hotter and hotter around here, especially into Wednesday,” the guy said. “And if you don’t like it, guess what?”
“BUY AN AIR CONDITIONER!!!” he screamed at us.
Brent and I were stunned.
“I’ve never before felt so much like the TV was talking right to us,” Brent remarked, and we started laughing.
We weren’t sure if perhaps we had heat stroke and were seeing things. Was the TV talking to us? We watched it again just to be sure.
And again, he screamed at us to get an air conditioner.
Coincidence, I guess.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dogs in need of a good home

I’ve blogged before about my role in hosting an animal adoption series here at The Oakland Press.
We had another rescue group come in last week and the videos from that visit have begun appearing on our Petropolis page.
This is the second time we’ve had a group of dogs come in, and once again, it’s the temperament of the powerful breeds that impressed me the most.
People expect the powerful breeds, the big dogs, to be the most unruly — perhaps a little aggressive, excitable, hard to handle.
It’s been the opposite.
From K-9 Stray Rescue, the first group we had in, it was the Akita — Rags — who seemed most at ease. He was calm and relaxed, laying down or sitting nicely and following directions to a T.
Last week, the Paws for Life Rescue group brought in a gorgeous pit bull mix.
He wasn’t vicious. He wasn’t unruly. He wasn’t hard to handle. He didn’t even pull on his leash.
What did he do?
He waltzed in, laid down on the cool floor and stretched his back legs out behind him. He enjoyed a belly rub, licked some hands and did whatever was asked of him by whomever was asking.
That’s the type of behavior from pit bulls that raises my spirits that one day, the tide will turn and people will begin seeing that pit bulls can be fantastic pets.
Kudos to this group for giving this attractive fellow, Sy, a second chance to be that pet for somebody.
Perhaps you want to give one of them a home?
Check out the video below for Sy, or click on Rags name to see his adoption video.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Hide and seek

I started re-reading Culture Clash by Jean Donaldson again this weekend. I’ll write a whole blog about how incredible this book is one day soon.
It’s my third time reading the book. I’ve purchased other copies to give as gifts to friends at least four times now. If you have a dog and you haven’t read this book, go spend the $20 to buy it. It’s more than 100 percent worth the read.
And a re-read, and another re-read, and perhaps some note taking too.
I refer to it as my “Canine Behavior Bible.”
Anyhow, in one of the early chapters, she recommends a game called hide and seek. It utilizes the dog’s natural instincts to search for food, and also stimulates the dog’s use of scenting with his nose.
As soon as I finished the section, I set the book down and grabbed down some treats.
I made Sensi sit just outside my bedroom door, so only his head could peek around, while I walked in and put a treat down. (By the way, this is also a great way to practice a solid sit-stay.)
I walked back to him, stopped a foot in front of him, paused a moment and then waved my arms forward, excitedly telling him: “Go get your treat!”
He ran into the room and picked it up. The first time, I made the treat’s placement rather obvious.
Each time we did this, I moved him a foot or two further down the hall from the bedroom and made the treat’s placement incrementally more difficult to find.
Warning to other dog owners: If you’re dog is not a quick learner — meaning, if you haven’t done a lot of positive reward training throughout his life — move more slowly than I did.
I can move rather fast with Sensi because he adapts beautifully to “figuring out mom’s training games.”
In the book, Donaldson writes at some point about how exciting it is to watch your dog start using his nose to find the treats.
And she is soooooo right. As I starting putting the treats in less and less obvious places, his sniffer turned on in high gear. He clearly traced my footsteps around the room until he landed at the treat.
After he got the hang of the game, I switched the treats for his tug-of-war toy. This time, the reward was a quick game of tug.
He caught on and loved it, which is great because tug of war doesn’t add any calories to his already thick body.
Outside by a campfire yesterday, I tried the game with treats again. It was infinitely harder for him to find the treats with all the outdoor scents, but he managed to locate the treat each time.
I am quite proud of him. We will continue with this game, likely several times a week for the rest of his life. I can’t believe I missed this suggestion the first and second times I read the book!
It’s low impact on me, and really good for him — not only mentally stimulating, but also satisfies his natural drive to locate prey. And it hones his tracking skills. And it strengthens his sit-stay. What a great bunch of benefits!
Before long, I’m sure I’ll be hiding treats and toys under couch cushions or other difficult places trying to stump him!

Friday, June 19, 2009

Porch update

The porch is fixed — my husband took care of it before I got home so I have no pictures to post today.
That’s OK.
I’d rather have a porch than pictures of a broken one. I’m sure you’ll all understand.
Sensi is not thrilled with his outdoor gear, however.
To temporarily fix the problem, he is wearing his Halti (see my blog, The wonderful magical Halti) every time he goes on the chain.
Sensi normally associates the Halti with walks, so he was rather excited last night when I brought it out of the closet.
Once he realized he was just going outside for a potty break, however, he seemed rather disappointed.
But he did not pull. He cannot pull when he wears the Halti.
For the time being, this fix will work.
In the future, Brent and I do plan on putting up a fence. However, we have a lot of work to do to the yard before we can put one up. The yard needs a substantial amount of fill dirt, retaining walls and more. It wouldn’t make sense to construct a fence beforehand.
Some co-workers of mine came up with another good fix — install a steel pole in a concrete base with a swivel-top and hook a heavy-duty chain to that.
Though I’m not sure how much I love the idea of heavy chains. I always describe Sensi’s chain as a chain, but it is not actually a standard chain-link chain.
It’s a cable, rated for 300 pounds. It’s always served us well.
The other idea is to build a zipline, which we’ve done at previous places. They usually last a couple of years before one side of the zipline works its way out of whatever it’s attached to. I’m not sure if I want another zipline.
Invisible fences are out of the question for Sensi. He is too strong, feels too little pain, and has too much will for us to trust an invisible fence will keep him contained.
Suggestions are always welcome, so if you’ve got one, leave it here — thanks.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

He pulled the porch off

Brent and I have been known to refer to Sensi as, “the old bull.”
He may be aging and graying, but he still packs the same amount of power as he always has.
If you haven’t read Even good dogs have bad moments, I suggest clicking on that and giving it a quick read-through before continuing with this post.
Sensi had another bad moment this morning.
Years ago, we were in a canoe on a friend’s pond in their backyard. Sensi was on a chain that was securely hooked into the deck on the back of the house. He wanted to be in the pond with us. So, he got a running start and he pulled that chain right off the deck — including the board that was holding it on. Then he swam into the pond, the chain and piece of wood floating behind him.
So you see, the dog has learned that pulling does pay off. Why? Because he has had those experiences where a good strong running start and a lot of determination has worked for him.
Much to my chagrin.
This morning, I opened the door to let him out, kneeling down to grab the chain and hook it on to his collar.
Let me stop here and add an important piece of information. The chain is connected to a supporting beam that holds up the roof over the porch. There is a short railing attached to the beam.
Before I let him go in the yard, I scanned for any critters.
There was a squirrel in our direct line of sight, though vastly out of reach of the chain. Knowing he would bolt toward it, I held on to the chain and walked him off the porch and on to the grass.
The squirrel disappeared at the sight of us — or so I thought — and Sensi was sniffing the ground.
I turned to go inside and just after closing the door behind me, I turned around in time to watch Sensi bolt. Presumably, the squirrel reappeared.
He ran full force toward it, and with a horrible cracking sound, the beam got broken where it connects with the roof and the whole package — beam and the railing — came flying off the porch.
Like salt in an open wound, I watched it crash down and knock the face clear off of a little dog statue my mom gave me.
The noise of the beam cracking and breaking was enough to scare Sensi and stop him dead in his tracks. As he slinked back toward me, all I could say is, “Bad dog. Oh my God, you are such a bad dog.”
I said it a few more times, grabbed the beam and railing and propped it up against the house and walked back inside, astonished.
I can’t believe he pulled the porch off.
I am so mad.
If my husband hasn't fixed the porch by the time I get home, I'll take pictures and post them tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

More little dog issues

I’ve been on the subject of little dogs the past few days, and I’m not quite through yet. I have more to add.

“He’s so small,” says the owner of a little dog. “I don’t want to hurt him.”
Why must we always equate discipline with hurting our dogs?
Do we say that about children? No. Why? Because we don’t assume that disciplining a child has anything to do with physical violence.
And we shouldn’t assume that physical violence has any role in disciplining a dog.
Discipline can be given to dogs in many forms, depending on the situation and the dog.
If it’s a puppy who bites during play, appropriate discipline would be to take the toy away and ignore the dog for a little while, making sure it is displaying desirable behaviors before we give it any attention.
Discipline can be firmly correcting a dog’s behavior — giving a verbal signal like the word, “No!” to express that we disapprove of the behavior, and then asking the dog to do something else, like sit or lay down.
There is nothing about taking a toy away, telling a dog “No!” or asking your dog to display different behaviors and following through on it that would hurt a little dog.
What I’m saying is, there’s no good reason to not discipline a dog, whether it is 200 lbs or 10 lbs.
Stop with the excuses and start making sure your little dog is well-behaved.

I’ve always thought it was well-known that big dogs generally require less exercise because their weight slows them down and tires them out more quickly, and vice versa.
The smaller the dog, the greater the energy, the more exercise that’s needed.
Walking Sensi with the Pomeranian was a great example. We’d walk a mile and a half. About half-way through the walk, Sensi would be panting and plodding along tiredly at my side. But the Pomeranian never tired.
She always struggled against the leash and had more energy to expel. I often felt I could walk her and exercise her all day and she’d never slow down.
So here’s my question: What is up with this dog-purse thing?
Why are we putting the greatest bundles of energy into purses where they sit and tremble and fill up with anxiety?
Why don’t we use that opportunity of being out and about to let those little dogs walk around on their little legs and burn up a fraction of that energy?
It would do wonders for the anxiety and fear they carry around. A tired dog is bound to be less worried and less anxious and more calm.
I hate those purses. Dogs have four legs that are good for walking. Little dogs, more than other kinds, need to use those legs to burn energy.
So let’s stop carrying around our dogs like they’re little babies and let them be who they are — dogs.
We’d have healthier, happier dogs if we could just treat them like dogs and not human babies.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bad little dogs

I had a Chihuahua take a chunk out of my shin once.
Though their jaws and teeth may be small, they certainly still pack a punch. I had a goose egg rise up on my shin, bloody and bruised, about four inches long and two inches wide.
It was horrible. For months the bite left a bruise and a welt, the bruise changing from purple to green before finally leaving behind little scars where the teeth punctured the skin.
If anyone dares to believe that it is OK for their dog to bite because it is little, you’re wrong.
There is one main problem that plagues little-dog owners — they fear for their dog’s safety because it is small.
When a bigger dog approaches, they pick up their dog. When the little dog is playing with other dogs and the play gets noisy, they pick up their dog.
When a new person approaches and their little dog starts barking at the stranger, they pick up the dog.
Whenever the dog barks, they pick up the dog.
This sends a very explicit message to the little dog:
“Whenever you’re afraid, and sometimes when you’re not, I’m going to praise your aggressive behaviors by picking you up. Because I will always pick you up, you should know you are more powerful and higher-ranking than all other dogs and people.”
So what is the little dog learning?
It’s good to bark and growl and be aggressive. If push comes to shove, I should bite. And I’ll be rewarded for this behavior because my owner will pick me up.
Meanwhile, spending all of its time in it’s owners arms prevents the little dog from learning and experiencing much of the world it lives in.
By not successfully meeting other dogs and experiencing the myriad of situations that make dogs socially versatile in the human world, the world becomes a scary place to little dogs.
Every person, every dog, every new environment and situation fills the little guy with anxiety and fear.
These two moods lead quickly into aggression, and its horrible way for a dog to go through life.
How would you like to live every day in a state of anxiety and fear?
We can learn a lot from dogs. They treat each other the same, regardless of size and breed. If we practiced that, we’d have dogs that are a lot more healthy, happy and well-behaved.

Monday, June 15, 2009

What kind of dog person are you?

I’m a big dog person. Little dogs just aren’t my cup of tea.
I like to have a dog I can lean on, a dog I can hug with both my arms, rather than just two hands.
And the sound of a little dog yipping is like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.
I much prefer the louder, deeper bark of a big dog.
I don’t want a dog that I feel inclined to pick up. I don’t think it’s healthy or natural for dogs to be carried around.
If I wanted to carry something around, I’d get an Iguana or maybe have a kid.
And I certainly don’t want a dog that I can seriously injure if I step on it.
Or a dog that trips me up, winding around my feet.
Sensi might be 90 pounds, but he is a short and compact 90 pounds. To me, he’s a medium sized dog — albeit a very strong medium sized dog.
I’d love to own a really big dog, like a Bullmastiff or maybe a Great Dane.
I have lots of reasons for why I’ll never own a small dog, but that’s not to say small dogs can’t be cool.
Two of Sensi’s favorite play pals are tiny little dogs — a pomeranian and a jack russell mix.
And I have definitely grown fond of these little guys. The jack russell has the spirit of a lion, and the pomeranian runs the show.
One thing is for sure, though, no matter the size of the dog, dogs are dogs.
They view each other the same — big, small or medium, amongst themselves, they are just dogs.
We are the ones who treat dogs differently according to their size.
Our small dogs we baby and coddle. We act like they don’t have four legs that are good for walking. We swoop them up in our arms and away from anything that we feel might be dangerous, even something as simple as an approaching dog.
We think the little dogs that come prepackaged with some aggression — like Chihuahuas — are cute, and we encourage the nasty behaviors.
Although I’d never own a little dog, I certainly am capable of liking little dogs.
Unfortunately, a bulk of little dog owners are out there making their little dogs totally unlikable.
Tomorrow, I’ll discuss in more detail the behavioral issues common in little dogs because of their owners’ bad habits and misconceptions.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Fan of a fawn

On Monday morning, I left my house for work, walked down the porch, got in the truck, started it up and backed it up all before noticing there was a deer, a doe, in the front yard.
She wasn’t far from the porch, and she also wasn’t the least bit bothered by me. She kept on grazing, looking once toward the truck.
When Brent got home, she was still hanging out in the front yard. I got home later and yes, she was still there.
Brent left to return bottles and got home just before the storm started.
He said she was close to the edge of driveway; so close he could’ve reached his arm out and pet her. And she didn’t move an inch on account of the truck.
The downpour started shortly thereafter and we turned the lights and television off, opened all the windows and set back to enjoy the sights and sounds of the storm.
Yes, I said open all the windows during the downpour; not close them.
Rather than put gutters on the house, the previous owners built it with six-foot overhangs all around. So it can rain and rain all it wants, it doesn’t even come close to touching the windows. I love hearing the sound of the rain.
We’d forgotten all about the doe that had been hanging out in the front yard, our time now mesmerized by the thunder, lightening and dark sky.
Our roommate got home at about 11 p.m. He called from his car.
“Uh, there’s a doe laying down in front of the porch,” he said. “Go look out the window.”
We did, and sure enough, there she was — maybe four or five feet away from the porch.
He came inside, walking past her. She didn’t even get up.
“She’s got to be sick,” our roommate said. “No way would a deer just lay there like that.”
At midnight I went to bed, and on my way back, I stopped and peered out the front window. She was up, grazing on the lawn peacefully.
Tuesday morning she had gone, but we figured she wasn’t far. She likes a tall grassy area over by our barn. We spot here over there all the time.
When I got home yesterday, Brent was working on the side of the house, stacking up our woodpile. We chatted for a few minutes and I headed inside to clean up and get dinner started.
Brent headed around to the backyard to grab a wheelbarrow, and that’s when he called me.
“Come out on the deck,” he said. “And try to be quiet.”
I stepped out on the deck, looking at him and held up my arms to signal, “What?”
“Look down,” he told me, pointing toward a corner where the narrower part of our house meets up with the wider part. It was just beside the deck.
I looked down and slowly, my eyes focused in on a tiny, white-spotted body. It was a beautiful baby fawn (see the picture).
My Dad is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to deer, and he’s told me that does usually drop their baby fawns off to rest while move around and get food. They hide their babies best they can, and their babies won’t move until momma returns.
The big-eyed fawn peered at Brent and I while we studied her, taking pictures and whispering of how lucky we were to have this tiny baby leaning up against the side of our house.
As soon as we both went inside for the night, momma snuck in and retrieved her baby. But I hope she likes leaving her there. We like it.
And definitely, it was a good place for that fawn to be during the storm on Monday. Thanks to our six-foot overhangs, I’m sure that not a drop of rain wet her spotted fur.
What a smart momma she has.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Faith: the biped walking dog

On Sunday, I got to attend a special outdoor church service that featured a very special guest — Faith, a two-legged, walking dog.
For those who haven’t read the article, here’s the link, with video — Two legged dog walks into fame.
I really enjoyed the sidebar I wrote for the article, which is called fun facts about Faith. I’m going to copy it into this blog, but don’t worry, I’m not strictly recycling material.
There’s new stuff in here that didn’t make it to print. Enjoy!

Fun facts about Faith
• Owner Jude Stringfellow said the most-asked question about Faith is how she goes to the bathroom. The answer? She does it while walking, both number one and number two. “It’s always kind-of in a line,” Stringfellow said. “Never really a pile.”

• Faith is an honorary E-5 class sergeant in the army.

• When Stringfellow’s daughter went on tour with singer Ozzie Osbourne, she took Faith along with her. Although Faith is a little scared of men who aren’t in service uniforms, Stringfellow said that she just loved Ozzie.

• Her favorite toy? Dirty socks. Stringfellow said Faith fishes them out of the laundry basket and hides them under beds.

• If she can walk with two legs, she can swim with two legs too. Stringfellow and her family found this out during a picnic at the beach, when Faith suddenly bolted into the lake to chase a duck. And she did get the duck.

• Her mother’s a purebred Chow Chow — this is evident because Faith’s tongue is speckled with the color blue. Blue tongues are one big sign of Chow Chow blood. But what about Faith’s dad — which Stringfellow called a “fence jumper?” They did some DNA testing and it shows that Faith has some Labrador Retriever, some pointer and some Beagle in her.

• Not all of the puppies in Faith’s litter were deformed. The mother had been terminating the lives of the ones that were, which is natural for dogs to do. Faith was saved just in time. The mother, an elderly 12-year-old dog, died six months later and no one has kept track of what happened to Faith’s healthy litter mates.

• Stringfellow had to choose between her job and Faith. She was a full-time teacher when Faith came along, and she told her employers she’d have to bring Faith to work with her because she required full-time care. “They said, make a choice: your job or a two legged dog,” Stringfellow said. “It was a no-brainer, so I quit my job.” She later found another teaching job that welcomed Faith into the classroom.

• After a child asked if Faith did any tricks, Stringfellow said jokingly, “You mean, like walking upright on two legs with no arms?” But the real answer is no, other than walking upright, Faith doesn’t do many tricks. She does catch gummy bears in her mouth, though.

• Faith likes to be a “diva,” Stringfellow said. She likes to hang out and isn’t too interested in toys or games of fetch. Can you blame her? It can’t be easy for a dog to run on two legs.

• Faith shares her home with several other animals — a St. Bernard, a Dachsund-Beagle mix, a Dachsund-Chihuahua mix, one cat and two snakes.

• This pup accepts no less than first-class when flying. After American Airlines lost Faith — sending her to Chicago when she was supposed to arrive in Orlando — the airline company made up for it by promising Faith a permanent seat in first class. Faith has a particular seat she likes to sit in. Actor Vin Diesel was sitting in it one day when Faith boarded the plane, but moved to accommodate the dog.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Bagpipes and dogs

I covered Ortonville’s Creekfest today for the paper — check Sunday’s edition for the article — and it was great to see so many dogs out and about.
The day began with a pet parade. One young bagpiper and one young drummer led the dogs and their owners down Mill Street, through the downtown, and the parade ended at Kearsley Creek.
I’m Scottish. It’s my nature to love bag pipes, and I do. When I walked down the aisle at my wedding, bagpipes played a version of “Here comes the bride.” It was fantastic.
But, what about our dogs? Do you think they like bag pipes as much as we do?
Hmmm. Let’s think about our experiences with bagpipes.
They’re loud. Ear-piercingly loud. Sometimes, when a certain note is hit and you’re standing too close, you think your eardrums are about to explode.
While some of the notes are rather soothing, others have an almost alarming pitch about them.
And what do we know about dogs? Well, we know their hearing is incredibly better than ours. Their ears are so very sensitive to sound.
I’d say, if a dog becomes terrified of bagpipes, it wouldn’t be unusual.
In fact, I think I saw a dog today that will forever dislike bagpipes.
I was talking to this guy, a breeder of Old English Mastiffs, who brought five of his dogs out. OK, maybe I was doing more drooling over these gorgeous dogs than I was talking, but still.
I’m standing there and petting these magnificent monsters — the 17-month-old male was already 200-plus pounds — and he’s telling me how friendly they are. And they are. People were walking up from right and left to pet these dogs, and the dogs were just taking it all in.
One of them even decided to lay down there and relax, right in the middle of all that commotion.
Then the parade started getting closer and closer. Right as the bagpipes came alongside us, I spotted our photographer and waved to him. At the same moment, the bagpiper blared into one of those shrill, ear-piercing notes and the photographer jogged toward me.
Let’s take note of the situation and everything that’s happening at once: 1) I’m waving and shouting; 2) a man is running toward me, 3) a bagpipe is blaring its loudest note, and 4) behind the bagpiper, about 20 dogs and people came marching.
The mastiff freaked out. He barked and it seemed ferocious, but I just looked at the guy and felt badly for him. He went from having a relaxed day to watching what must’ve looked like, in his canine eyes, utter chaos breaking out around him. With loud, shrill noises to top it all off.
I think it’ll all come back to the bagpipes for this dog. He seemed rather relaxed, so maybe he won’t carry it forward as a fear. But he’s young and impressionable too.
Maybe he will.
The owner settled him down in a matter of seconds and the parade and the festival carried on. The dogs behind the bagpiper didn’t seem to be bothered by the noise, and the group of mastiffs and their owners even joined the parade, bringing up the rear.
But I thought to myself, what another example of humans’ complete discord with dogs.
From a canine behavior standpoint, I wouldn’t put a bagpiper and a dog in the same yard.
As much as I love bagpipes, I think our dogs probably feel tortured by such a shrill noise.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Even good dogs have bad moments

On my way home from work yesterday, with the window down and a pleasant breeze coming through the truck, I decided I’d take Sensi out for a little romp in the yard.
We don’t have a fence, so I thought it would be nice to put him on the 30-foot training lead I bought a few years back. That way, he wouldn’t be tied to my side and could at least move around with a little freedom.
If you haven’t read my blog entry, The wonderful, magical Halti, please do. It was how I first discovered that yes, I could walk my dog without him pulling me to the moon and back.
But Sensi’s not exactly a spring chicken any more.
As he’s aged, he tends to stay by my side more and more regardless of whether he’s wearing the Halti. If anything, I have to tug and pull at him to get him to stop grazing on the grass and walk with me.
Though I use the Halti for any walks, I was only planning to hang out in the yard last night. I didn’t even consider using the Halti.
Sensi was excited to see the long lead — it’s been a while since he was last out on it.
We walked outside and I lead us around the side of the house, heading toward the backyard. There’s a small mowed path that runs along the house’s side. It’s on a rather steep downward angle, and to the side of it, there’s a large gully where the grass grows tall.
As I started heading down the hill, Sensi stayed behind me, chomping on the tall grass like a cow would.
As the length on the lead began running out, I called for Sensi to come. He jogged up to me, and then kept on going. And he picked up speed. He picked up a lot of speed.
I was about half-way down the hill at this point, and I barely had time to realize that he wasn’t stopping.
I didn’t see the chipmunk in the tree at the bottom of the hill until the very last second, right before the slack on the lead ran out.
My arm jerked forward, and like usual, I was determined not to let go. I have always had this unrealistic belief that I could hold on.
So I went flying. Literally — flying. With my hand still clinging to loop on the lead, my feet picked up off the ground and my body jolted forward.
About four-feet later, I landed squarely on my hip. The lead had finally been pulled out of my hand, but it landed just a few more feet in front of me.
As my husband later noted, it probably would’ve quite comedic to watch my little mishap — my body being flung forward and then landing clumsily, picking my head up to see my dog scratching at the tree.
But no one was around to see. And just as I began picking myself up and reaching for the lead, that darn chipmunk exited the tree.
He disappeared into the long grass, in the direction of the swamp, and off my dog went after him.
A bad situation, I thought, was about to get a lot worse. I’ve not only been yanked off my feet, but now my dog’s running off too.
“Sensi!” I yelled. “Come!”
The old boy stopped dead in his tracks and returned to me. And wouldn’t you know it, he walked right up to the hip I landed on, sniffed it and gave me a quick lick.
Yeah, like that’s going to make it OK.
We went back inside, and I after I’d gotten my wits about me, I grabbed the Halti and we went back out in the yard. This time, Sensi was an angel.
But incidents like that remind me, even good dogs can have bad moments.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Frog dog & hip health

Think it looks goofy and kind of cute when your dog stretches his legs out behind him?
This is what Brent and I have affectionately referred to as “frog dog.”
Well, it’s more than just goofy and kind of cute — it’s good news about your dog’s hip health.
At least I think it is.
I’m sure I’ve blogged before about the neighbors I had while growing up, a couple of career professionals who decided to have a pair Golden Retrievers rather than children.
The older dog was always stretching out into “frog dog” position, but the younger female never did. After I, the dogsitter, commented on it once, the woman passed along a little information from her veterinarian that has never been lost on me.
She said the vet told her that a dog who can easily get into the “frog dog” position is less likely to have hip dysplasia. If a dog doesn’t do this, it’s often a sign that there’s hip problems in the works.
Sensi loves to stretch out like this. In fact, nearly every time he lays down he stretches out, toe-to-toe.
Though I admit, he has had some encouragement from Brent and I.
We’ve always found “frog dog” to be rather endearing, and when he stretches out like that, we’re usually on hand to rub his back and sides. He loves to be pet while he stretches.
It’s to the point now that I’m pretty sure he stretches out on purpose, seeking some attention from us.
That’s fine by us. It’s not hurting anything.
So, the next time your dog stretches out in the “frog dog” way, don’t smile at him just because it’s cute, smile at him because it’s a sign of good hip health too!

Monday, June 1, 2009

Rescue me

Last week, I blogged about proper puppy shopping if your heart is set on getting a purebred dog.
But there’s so many shelter dogs out there in need of homes too.
In these tough economic times, our four-legged friends are suffering right alongside us.
I’ve written a lot about foreclosures, and one common thread are people and their pets. So many people, forced out of their homes, drag their teary-eyed selves to the local pound and drop off the beloved, four-legged family member. Now forced to become renters, dog owners are also being forced to get rid of their pets in exchange for a rented roof over their head.
More pets need homes now than ever, which is why The Oakland Press started a video series called Rescue Me, featuring local pets available for adoption.
I’m hosting the series, and while I couldn’t be prouder to do it, I’ll have to ask the viewers to cut me a break until I get used to being in front of the camera ... after all, I trained to be a print journalist in order to hide from cameras!
The series first started airing last week. So far, one of the dogs — a little beagle mix — has already found her forever home.
But four other dogs are still in need.
There’s Rags — the huge and beautifully marked Akita. For a big dog lover like myself, I had a hard time letting him walk out of the studio. He’s gorgeous, and I was very impressed with his calm demeanor.
If you can give Rags a good forever home, please do. The poor thing has been waiting for almost two and a half years now.
Jasper is also available. This guy is a little terrier — a Cairn Terrier mix, they think — and he’s about as cute as they come. He’s shaggy, black and white, and full of all that terrier energy, said the folks at the rescue league.
A special needs dog, Brea, a beagle mix, is also up for adoption. Poor thing came to the shelter with an old injury to her hip. She had surgery, and she’s been recovering for many months now. The group said she needs a calm home where she can take it easy.
Lastly, there’s Addison. The group called her a chocolate lab, but after taking a good look at her and checking my dog encyclopedia at home, I think she’s a Chesapeake Bay Retriever. Her coat is lighter and wiry on top, the signature of the Chesapeake. These dogs are similar to labs, and fans of retrievers often covet this breed.
The group believes Addison may have spent her life being bred — which, because she is well-formed by breed standards, is probably a good guess. She’s scared of tile floors. They think it’s because she spent most her life in a cage, having puppies. But she’s well tempered and very sweet. This momma dog deserves a little TLC and a loving home.
All these dogs have already had their second chance. The K-9 Stray Rescue League in Oxford, where these dogs are at, picks up dogs from kill-lists at other shelters, sometimes just in the nick of time to save them from euthansia. The league itself has a no-kill policy.
Check out the video of these dogs by clicking on their names in the text of this blog.
The photo below is of Rags. Isn't he adorable?