What’s that smell?

There are no sissified city dogs at my house. We have rough and tumble mountain dogs around these parts. And, that means, they get into all sorts of really gross situations. So, come with me my friends, and let’s play as David Letterman would say, “fastest growing quiz sensation”  … What’s THAT smell?

Warning! The answer is graphic. If you are squeamish at all, proceed with caution.

(I watched both of Ginko’s knee surgeries from start to finish. I’m not a light touch, when it comes to icky things, but this nearly did me in.)

Before we headed down to town for dinner to celebrate my latest NY Times piece Sunday night, I noticed Lilly looked extremely bloated. She acted fine, but her normally svelt tummy looked really distended.

Now, if she was a deep chested, large breed dog, I would have panicked, but since she isn’t, I figured that whatever it was, she’d be fine. Honestly, she really does have a stomach of steel.

Later, she pottied normally and still seemed fine … except, she smelled. I mean really, really smelled.

Since she (and Ginko) consider scat a delicacy, we assumed she’d gone on a poop eating binge without us noticing. That’s what we figured was causing her stomach to be as tight as a drum.

Morning came, and again she ate and pottied for daddy as usual (although quantity did seem high).

And, yet, there was still this SMELL. I’d catch a whiff of it as I ran up and down the hall, getting ready to start my day. Yes, she was still a bit stinky, but it lingered elsewhere too.

Finally, I got up my nerve and decided to look in her crate (where she sleeps at night). I knew the news wasn’t good when I got within 5 feet. The stench amazed me. But, I had to get whatever it was out … of … the … house.

I started pulling her blankets out, looking for the source, but at close range it was tough going. Then, I saw something — lumpy, slimy, sort of brown and gray and red.

I figured poop and instantly felt bad for her. Honestly, what perfectly house-trained, crate-trained dog do you know that would have an accident unless it was just something awful?

Thankfully, the pile of yuck seemed firmly stuck to blanket, so no need to scoop or contain yet. I hollered at Tom that I’d found the source of the smell.

I pulled it out and held the blanket at arm’s length. I got a better look at it, and I knew … it wasn’t poop. It was a partially digested mouse or vole. She must have hacked it back up, during the night.

I honestly don’t remember what I said to Tom because my gag reflex kicked in, and if I didn’t get some distance from this thing, I was going to hurl, and then we’d have a bigger mess to clean up.

So, again, I don’t know what I said, but Tom replied, “Let me see.” (That’s a big boy for you … let me see the grossest thing to ever grace our home.)

I have NO time to fiddle around. It’s taking every ounce of strength I have not to barf. And, it feels like he’s moving in slow motion to view my awful, awful payload.

I gave him a quick peek before I bailed out the back sliding glass door and dropped the poor dead thing on the ground near the wood pile, where Tom buried it.

Yep. It’s summertime in the Rocky Mountains, and the hunting (it seems) is easy.

Usually, Lilly eats a couple of her catches before she remembers just how bad she feels afterwards. Let’s hope the learning curve is faster this year. I’m not sure my stomach can take it.

Take my poll, please

I’m thinking about auditing a big, multi-day agility camp in July here in CO. (Clearly, a working spot is out of the question.) Time is running out to decide. So, what do you think?

Assuming I can work out the not working thing for that week, assuming I can indeed afford the expense, and assuming that some day I really will compete with either Lilly (or some dog to be named later), I’m still stumped about what to do.

I’m sure I would learn great things. I’m equally sure none of them will help me turn Lilly around.

And, I’m somewhat worried about feeling like the little sister who cannot keep up, even more than I usually do.

I’m torn between taking action now no matter what or holding out hope that next year Lilly will improve enough to make camp make more sense. Currently, my hubby thinks it’s a ridiculous idea.

What do you think?

You can use the feedback poll thing down below to vote. It’s intended to rate various entries, but we can use it as a voting mechanism.

Wedding Numerology (NY Times)

I often write about our training struggles, which truth be told feel like big, fat failures . So, today, I’m going to brag just a bit on myself. I had another article published yesterday by The New York Times. The piece, called “Lady Luck as Bridesmaid,” is my fifth for the SundayStyles section, which is a big, BIG deal. It’s hard to convey, but imagine you trained for 6 months for one run at one of the biggest, invitation-only national trials. Now, imagine the feeling of crossing the finish line with a clean run that millions of people saw. That’s  how I feel today. (Well, that, and grateful the piece is finally done.) If you’d like to read what I really do for a living, I pasted the text of the article below.

June 10, 2007
The New York Times

Lady Luck as Bridesmaid


WHAT’S luck got to do with it? For many it starts with selecting the perfect month, perfect day and sometimes even perfect hour to marry. Those of Chinese descent may consult a fortuneteller or an honored aunt or grandmother. Indian-Americans may ask their parents or Hindu priest to choose their wedding moment.

Others turn to numerologists.

Next month, for instance, wedding planners and venues have reported a startling rise in the number of couples who have booked weddings — especially in Las Vegas — on July 7, 2007, many of them having done so in the belief that 7-7-07 is a date with luck written all over it. But according to Glynis McCants, a numerologist and the author of “Glynis Has Your Number” (Hyperion, 2005), for some people, it will be anything but lucky.

Pythagorean numerologists, like Ms. McCants, break their calculations into numerals one through nine, by adding numbers again and again until a single digit remains. Some numbers mix; others don’t, she explained. Three, six and nine naturally match — as do one, five and seven or two, four and eight.

But because 7-7-2007 reduces to a five (7+7+2+0+0+7=23, then 2+3=5) and because fives, she explained, are chaotic, with things never going as planned, it is a bit of a wild-card date. “The average bride wants to be in control of her wedding,” Ms. McCants said.

But Indian-American couples have been advised that 7-7-07 is perfectly auspicious. In Indian culture, good dates, O.K. dates and bad dates to marry are based on the Hindu calendar. Sonal Shah of Save the Date Event Consultants in New York, said “99.9 percent of Indian couples that get married follow this system.”

Not many dates qualify, however, which makes for some significant competition among couples. She joined a crowd of others on her own wedding date —Nov. 27, 2004 — which she said “was the most auspicious date on the Hindu calendar in seven years.”

Amida Mehta, 32, of Richmond, Va., faced a similar problem with her wedding, and found after sorting through a list of auspicious dates that only two were viable for everyone to attend. “Picking an auspicious date is all in the spirit of family togetherness,” she said. After conferring with all parties they chose July 7, 2007, which, she noted, not only is the seventh day of the seventh month on a Western calendar, but is also the seventh day of the seventh month on the Hindu lunar calendar as well. “That’s not very common,” Ms. Mehta said.

Fernley Phillips, screenwriter of the film “The Number 23,” feels a serious affinity for that numeral. “My own relationship with 23 is much more of an intuitive thing,” he said. “It shows up a lot, and even when its presence is ‘disguised,’ I take a lot of fun in discovering it.”

Mr. Phillips met his wife, Alissa Ferguson, while peddling the script. That matchup resulted in marriage in 2004 — at 5 p.m. on Dec. 18 (figuring 18 plus 5 equaled 23). And what of the film, in which Jim Carrey played the lead? It opened, naturally, on Feb. 23 this year.

For anyone raised in Chinese culture, old habits die hard, said Shu Shu Costa, a first-generation Chinese-American and the author of “Wild Geese and Tea: An Asian-American Wedding Planner” (Riverhead Books, 1997). Chinese astrology and other beliefs come into play in weddings. “Most young couples say they don’t put any stock in superstitions,” she writes. “Astrological calendars and fortunetellers are as outdated as their grandmothers’ fairy tales and fables. But in the end, weddings are about tradition.”

When she was planning her own wedding, Mrs. Costa said in an interview, “I wanted to marry in July.” But she and her fiance ultimately picked a date in early August. “Because July apparently is the month of the spirits — when spirits that have passed on roam around,” she said. “And my mom didn’t think that was an appropriate time to get married.

“When family is important to you, you make these considerations. One could say we bowed to the spirits.”

Tanya Duncan, 37, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., thought differently. She went against wedding date suggestions from her father, who is a professional numerologist, simply because the judge was available on a different day.

Her dad “wasn’t crushed by any means, but he was a little disappointed,” she said, adding “Life is unpredictable sometimes.”

Frank Monahan is a life coach in Mountain View, Calif., who uses numerology. He said it’s that unsettled nature of human relationships that makes numerology so important. He explained that “vibrational frequencies” are set into motion at birth. “It’s not a belief,” he said. “It’s not a religion. You literally have a bar code when you are born.” Yet Mr. Monahan worries about couples who focus only on the wedding date, calling it “almost insignificant,” compared with overall numeric compatibility. “If you don’t have that,” he said, “you’re in trouble.”

Elizabeth Ann Joyce, a Pythagorean numerologist in Chalfont, Pa., said she once counseled a man in France whose wife-to-be panicked when she learned their wedding date did not bode well for longevity. “My answer was ‘Change the day,’ ” Ms. Joyce said.

Puppies coming in waves

Like surf racing toward sandy shores, I’m beginning to believe that puppies come in waves. Along with Indy (star of yesterday’s post), puppies are busting out all over around here. Yes, I know it’s sort of puppy season, but this year it feels like nearly everyone I know is getting a new pup. This set of dogs will grow up together, train together, compete together, and the pull to ride this wave is strong. Yet, at our house, we’ve always had a solid 2-dog limit.

As one of my newspaper editors is fond of saying, “Anything over 2 is one past crazy.”

Here’s our thinking. Two is what I can handle in the house, especially since I work at home. Two means one for me, one for Tom. Two — considering the medical dramas my dogs tend to attract — is what I can afford.

I totally get my friends’ view of my diminishing returns. The chance of a huge turnaround in Lilly is slim. And, yet, retiring her sans career and simply starting over with a new teammate feels like a form of infidelity.

Plus, I volunteered too long at an animal shelter to think of adding a dog as a solution to any problem — behavioral or otherwise.

With Ginko now at 7, and Lilly at 3, it’ll be a long while before it’s time to get another dog.

(Wait a sec, while I knock on wood, throw salt, and all that.)

So, this summer, picture me floating on my surfboard while others catch this wave. Like the rising sun and setting moon, surely the tide will rise when it’s my time. Until then, I’ll live vicariously through the achievements of this year’s class of new pups.

Welcome home, Indy (with photos)

Last night, despite a crazy, hurricane-force wind storm just east of the Rocky Mountains, United Airlines Flight #403 landed in Denver with Contact Point IndyGo Girl on board. Following a four-hour delay in Los Angeles and 45 minutes in a holding pattern about 270 miles south of Denver, Indy and her new daddy (my pal Don Hansen) made it home safely.

Thanks to sage advice from others who have made such treks, Don headed off to California loaded for bear (or pup, in this case). For the flight crew, Don filled giftbags with dark chocolates and included a thank you card from Indy, which featured her photo. He had potty emergency supplies. And, he carried some Starbucks gift cards to use as needed for fellow passengers … just in case Indy caused a scene. (Thanks to her size, she rode in the cabin with Don in a small, soft-sided carrier.)

Indy (a blue, tri, rough coat border collie) comes from Karen Moureaux in Fillmore, California. According to Don, Contact Point’s pups often go to agility, flyball, herding, and other performance homes. The litter even had their own lamb.

During the delay in Los Angeles, Don and Indy befriended the flight crew. With charm well beyond her weeks, Indy earned an invitation to visit the cockpit, which was a treat for Don who often logs time in flight simulators. The captain even let Indy borrow his hat and snapped these photos with his cell phone camera.

(That’s Don, looking over the moon in love with his baby girl.)

In his first message to passengers, the captain also welcomed “the very special border collie puppy named Indy” aboard.

Indy handled air travel like a pro.

When she got fussy about 45 minutes outside of Denver, Don says, “I grabbed one of the potty pads I had brought with me, a pack of Huggies diaper wipes, a Ziplock bag, and Indy’s carrier and zipped back to the lavatory.”

“We  had to wait in line for about three minutes, and when I got in, quickly laid out the pad, removed her from the carrier and set her in the middle of it, only to have her sit down and look at me. I thought, ‘Drat, false alarm, …”

“Until several second later when the large yellow wet spot expanded from beneath her on the pad. What a little trooper! She held it until we got on the pad. I was so pleased. I quickly cleaned her up with a wipe, rolled everything up and sealed it in the ziplock bag and disposed of it in the trash. When I came out with her, I assured the flight attendant of how I’d contained everything, and she was so impressed!”

So despite really wacky winds, flight delays, and other travel hubbub, Indy arrived at her new home, ready to embark on her career as Daddy’s Go Girl.

She joins the Hansen Agility Team of border collies, which includes Don’s MACH3 Bailey and his wife Lori’s MACH2 Rusty and up-and-comer Blip.

P.S. Lori is famous for her Human Agility Training classes and DVD (http://www.humanagilitytraining.com/). Check it out!

Snappy come-backs

I think I need talking points. You know, those repeatable phrases that politicians use. I especially need them for situations when know-it-all observers feel compelled to give me dog training advice. These are not true handlers, but regular lawn-ornament-style dog owners who think they know best. For example …

We took Lilly with us to some garage sales last weekend. She’s always very excited to get out of the car. Sometimes, if she’s particularly keyed up, she’ll leap as high as my head — over and over. She doesn’t jump on me. Just up, in my general vicinity. I sometimes catch her mid-air and say, “Ooph, you got me.” It’s a little game we play.

As she hopped her way across the street last Saturday, a woman bellowed at me from her lawn chair, “Kneeing her in the chest or stepping on her rear toes will stop that.”

Uh, yeah, it probably would, but how much damage would I do to our trust?

I wanted to say something snotty back, but intead I explained that she was a very shy dog and that I wasn’t about to squelch any signs of pure joy. Plus, I added, she’s an agility dog … jumping is part of her training.

Apparently, I said it with enough authority because her next question was, “Do you train dogs?”

“Nope, just this one,” I said. And, I moved on.

People comment on Lilly’s jumping all the time, but it’s usually of the “Boy, she sure can jump” variety. One dad in a mall parking lot even asked me if I could get her to do it again because his toddler thought it was hilarious and could not stop laughing. And, there’s nothing funnier than a baby cracking up.

Granted, if Lilly jumps unexpectedly, she’s been known to give me a fat lip or even a bloody nose in her excitement, but I’m still not going to correct what’s become a stress-relieving strategy for her. I call it “jumping her jitters out,” like that Wiggles song.

“I’m gonna jump, jump, jump my jitters out. Jump, jump, jump my jitters out.”

So, here’s my thought … when an average person decides to give me dog training advice, like I’m an idiot, I may start saying, “She’s a performance dog, not a pet. The rules are different.”

When people marvel at Lilly’s attention and obedience with “I wish my dog was that good,” I may start saying, “It’s not magic. It’s hard work.”

When people ask how hold she is, like she’s a youngster, I may start saying, “She’s 3, but we still train every day.”

When people ask if I’m a dog trainer (which happens a lot), rather than saying “No,” I may start saying “Yes, I’m a performance dog handler. Here’s the name and number of my coach. Like any sport, it requires practice.”

I’d love to hear any ideas you have on good replies to the enumerable, nutty things people say and ask about your very special pooch.

Thinking like Lilly

As I began trying to teach Lilly more complicated behaviors, it became oh-so clear that I needed to understand how she thinks. Once I figure that out, it’s usually pretty easy to break down the task, then click-treat and shape it to our goal. This really struck me for the first time when I tried to teach her to Roll Over.

From a Down, she seemed completely baffled about Roll Over. I tried all the tricks, like getting her to track a piece of food with her head. Nothing.

So, I taught her to Lay Flat from a Down as an intermediate step. I figured laying flat on her side on command might come in handy some day at the veterinary hospital. Once she got Lay Flat, then Roll Over suddenly made more sense to her. Victory.

I only had to ask for Lay Flat for a day or two before she automatically shot from Down to Roll Over.

Still, we haven’t had much luck with other tasks. For example, I still can’t get her to Bow (play bow) on cue, despite many attempts, many different strategies.

When we began training in Rally Obedience I tried to teach her her to Stand from a Sit. And, the best we’ve done so far is that I have to lure with one hand and touch her hindquarter, along with the cue.

She has a great Stand-Stay from a heel (we call it Freeze), but that’s it.

We have a similar issue with going from a Down to a Sit from a distance. If I’m close and can step into her a bit, she’ll sit up, but from a distance, she looks at me like, “huh?”

She can go from a Sit to a Down from a distance, but not the other way. It kind of makes sense, though, since Down is a more submissive body posture, and Lilly is often very happy to be close to the ground.

Our latest challenge — mostly because it’s getting embarrassing at our work-and-play class — is Whoa (which is supposed to mean stop right where are).  We’ve tried stopping her between cones, at a leash laid on the ground as a marker, in doorways, at the edge of stairs, and none of it makes sense to her.

Now, part of the problem is that I’ve ALWAYS worked with her and treated her up close. She’s very focused on me and being right there, so suddenly to ask her to stop far away seems weird.

Yet, she can hit her agility contacts without me standing right there. She can often make her weave pole entrances without my help, but stopping … just stopping, makes no sense to her.

Gigi Moss, our big-picture trainer, suggested this week that I try targeting, like how I first taught contacts. So, Lilly and I will spend some quality time with a paper plate and see what we can figure out.

While I’m at it, I’m also trying to teach Walk Up, which is a herding command. (I would like to try herding at some point with Lilly, but everything I’ve read and heard from pals who do it is that the training methods might not work well for a soft dog like Lilly.)

Anyway, I just went back and read what I’ve written so far and something dawned on me. I wonder if I should try Freeze as her overall stop moving word. Hmmmm…

We’re also working on The Hokey-Pokey. So far, we’ve played with Right Foot In, Right Foot Out, using a hoola-hoop on the floor. But, for the life of me I can’t think of a way to have Shake It All About make sense to her since she already has a Shake command and a Lift command (where she just picks up a front foot on cue as a calming signal when she’s stressed).

For “do the Hokey-Pokey,” I’m just using my hand gesture for Spin, so we’re good there.

But, after that the challenge will be coming up with something for “that’s what it’s all about.” I’d like her to bark a few times at that point. I guess I’ll need to introduce a hand gesture for Speak.

Do you see how I spend my time? I know these are just silly things, but I hope that if I can figure out how to make these fun things make sense to her, then maybe someday we’ll have a break-through in agility.

Lessons … photo

I got ahead of myself and forgot to insert a photo of Penelope Grace, who was my first dog as an adult. She died June 3, 2004. This was taken a couple months before she died. As she aged, many of her facial spots faded.

You should have seen her in her prime. Most of those photos are on real film. Maybe some day I can scan a couple to post.

Look at the rear leg you can see. It’s turned outwards because the veterinarian who did her early surgery removed the extra foot that was to the inside. The one that remained turned out. She almost always licked at it, so that’s why she has sores.

Later they removed the extra bones between her knee and her “ankle,” and when she was 8, she had knee surgery for a torn CCL.

Lessons from my first dog

Yesterday, June 3, marked the third anniversary of my very first dog’s death. She was a Dalmatian that I got as a small pup through Colorado’s Dalmatian Rescue. She had serious medical issues. I wrote this piece about a month before she died of kidney failure at 14 1/2 years old. I delivered it as a spoken essay at an awards banquet while I was president of the Colorado Authors’ League. I’m posting it here as a tribute to the girl I still sorely mourn, all these years later. Looking back at it now, I realize the lessons and hopes apply to my ongoing work with Lilly.

This is a little story of perseverance. It’s about a little soul that makes my life complete and teaches me what it means to not give up, especially on things that make you smile:

The world’s oldest Dalmatian lives at my house. She’s 14. Her name is Penelope Grace, but we call her Nelly, Nelly Bird, Birdie, or just The Bird. Even our veterinarian shakes his head when we show up, and he realizes she’s still around. Her kidneys went bad three years ago. No one, including us, thought she’d live this long. It’s become almost epic, in a comedic kind of way. Honestly, nothing’s funnier than having a crotchety old dog as your co-worker. Even she had opinions on my writing.

Her medical challenges started in the womb. She came out with two feet on one leg. Seriously, eight toes in all. She averted euthanasia as a pup when a veterinarian offered to take a shot at surgery. We never saw her with extra parts. They were gone by the time we called the rescue. Over the years, our spotted girl survived several brushes with serious illness – each time bouncing back as if nothing had happened.

In case you didn’t know, Dalmatians smile. They’re one of the few breeds that can do so. I’ll never forget the first time we saw Penelope smile. She was in intensive care, back before Denver had 24-hour critical care hospitals. She’d spend the day with our regular veterinarian and nights at the emergency hospital.

We walked in one morning, and she smiled. Unfortunately, dehydration made it look more like a grimace because her lips got stuck, which made me cry. We call that face “psycho snoopy lips.” It’s a face only a parent could love.

These days, she lists to the right, on the days she can walk. The rest of the time we carry her or slide her from room to room in her bed. She no longer sleeps in her crate at night, and she hates to be alone. Housetraining is a thing of the past. And, thanks to her we haven’t had a decent night’s sleep since Thanksgiving. She, however, is still going strong.

So today, I leave you with the image of my ancient girl, who still smiles at me every day. She hangs in there, the same way we keep writing despite rejection and doubt. My husband and I joke that our house is constant noise, motion, and stink, which got me thinking, so here’s my wish for you: May you keep writing amidst the commotion, may you recover from rejection, may you keep trying – even when it stinks.

What’s a behaviorist?

The average dog trainer is fine for typical pet dog training. Such a trainer probably can help solve typical puppy/dog issues like jumping up, chewing, etc. When you move into the realm of performance dogs, or even dogs who will do more than hang out in the backyard, then I think it’s best to seek out top trainers in your area, who specialize in the various training you need and who really keep up on the latest animal behavior research. When a dog’s challenges cross beyond typical and into abnormal, then it’s time to consult with a behaviorist … especially if the behavior is dangerous.

Now, a lot of people call themselves behaviorists who really aren’t. True behaviorists are PhD’s who are certified applied animal behavior professionals. There are also veterinary behaviorists with extensive animal behavior credentials, in addition to their medical ones. Here’s a link to the certifying body’s website, if you need help finding a real behaviorist near you:


There is also a link the sidebar to the right, in my Blogroll, for a behaviorist blog from Animal Behavior Associates here in Colorado. I highly recommend it, if you want to learn more. They are very good at explaining complex topics to “regular” people.

They have no magic elixers, though. Hiring a behaviorist requires hard, often long-term, work. Based on my research and reading, it’s much better to call for help sooner rather than later. So, keep that in mind as you face any doggie drama in your life. Don’t assume weird or scary behaviors will go away or get better on their own. Most times, they won’t.

On a personal note
So far, I’ll admit, I have not gone this route with Lilly because we both adore Gigi Moss, who I call our behaviorist-type trainer (
http://www.gigimoss.com/index.htm). Gigi reads a lot, researches a lot, attends conferences to learn more from top trainers. She’s not pedaling old crappy methods or ideas. She adjusts strategies based on each dog’s needs, not on some formula that only works for “normal” dogs.

Lilly loves Gigi’s classes. She howls with joy when we turn up the street to the dog park in Boulder, where Gigi holds drop-in classes. It’s the one place Lilly has worked well or learned to recover.

Gigi hangs in there with us, even when things get tough.

Unlike many of our classmates, Lilly and I started our pet dog obedience work elsewhere, but the dogs who started with Gigi as pups are stellar. I’m not kidding. These dogs are phenomenal, and their handlers adjust as needed to help me manage Lilly’s environment so that it is not so “scary.”

These are good people with great dogs, and I’m grateful to have them in our corner as we look to expand what Lilly is capable of doing. They help us build confidence so that Lilly doesn’t feel like she needs to be on guard all the time.

At these classes, Lilly is mostly practicing behaviors she already knows. In fact, one of Gigi’s interns called Lilly “The Ringer” when we first started going because her skill level was so much higher than the pups in the class (usually 9 months to a year old).

I usually refer to it as our work-and-play class because we take play breaks so that the dogs DON’T learn that every time we call them the fun is over. Lilly doesn’t really play with the other dogs. Once in a while, she’ll take up the chase and pretend she’s herding the pack. But, mostly, it’s a victory for her to poke around on her own or stay calmly by my side, even though noisy, rambunctious dogs keep racing by.

It’s not so much a place for Lilly to
learn new behaviors in the traditional sense. It’s a place for Lilly to learn to trust. It’s a
place to practice doing simple things even though
other dogs are around.
And, for Lilly, that’s hard work.