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Category Archives for Musings

Dog Training in Everyday Activities

Since we have virtually no time for “real” dog training these days, I’ve taken to making even everyday things … like Lilly following me around as I attempt to keep the house somewhat in order … into a working thing. OK, maybe I’m just trying to make myself feel better, but Lilly seems to enjoy doing what I ask, even if she would do those things anyway.

For example, rather than just letting her follow me up and down the stairs as I do laundry. I ask her to SIT-STAY while I load the washer. I release her when it’s time to move. I ask her to SLOW when we go up the stairs together. I ask her to DOWN-STAY off the bed while I put on fresh sheets.

I reward these daily activities, just as if we were doing new training tasks, and I have to say that Lilly honestly responds like it is real work. And, we all know how much she loves to work.

So, even if it’s a simple HOP UP (where she settles on the bed), I ask her to do something as much as I can so that we can engage in a deeper human-canine communication than when she just follows me around hoping for a little interaction.

Her latest thing is bringing me sticks while I soak outside in the hot tub. She gets to play fetch. I get to relax … at the same time.

I really am trying to make more time to play and walk and work with her the few hours I have to myself each day. And, as I mentioned earlier, if a nap is what I need, then Lilly is absolutely invited.

I still feel like we’re in a deep hole, but we’re making the best of it.

A Good Dose of Snuggle Pup

On one of many nights I attempted to sleep somewhere other than where Tom was, I had the luxury of Lilly joining me. When either of us is sick, we use various bedrooms to avoid as much as possible passing the germs along. I had a doozy of a cold last week (clearly the stress wore me down), so I coughed, sneezed, and snorted my way through several nights. So, we let our poor neglected pups sleep loose (rather than in their crates), and Lilly picked me as her cuddling companion.

At first, I thought it was because Tom put up the baby gate we use to keep the pups on the main level, but I learned in the morning she had started the night with him, but she picked me on her own.

I guess she knew I needed a little caretaking that night.

I wish I could say I slept, but I did enjoy hours and hours of just hanging out with my girl as she snoozed. I tried matching my breathing to hers, but even when asleep Lilly takes two breaths for each of mine … at least when I purposefully slow my pace to force my body to relax.

I composed something pretty neat in my head that night, but alas whatever prose I managed didn’t stick in my memory.

I wanted to tell you what I thought about, how we melded our hearts, what my sweet black-and-white girl meant to me in those dark moments, but I lost that narrative to fatigue and stress. Maybe some day it’ll come back to me.

Until then, just know that my sweet girl likely knows more than I do in these times of strife. She somehow knew her “place” was as close to me as PJs, covers and fur allow.

The Bunny Channel

Lilly has figured out that certain getting-dressed routines mean various things that may or may not involve her having any fun. The other day in my mad dash to get out of the house and deal with eldercare issues, I found her glued to one spot, just looking out the window. At first, I couldn’t figure out what she saw. When I realized a bunny had caught her attention, I figured a little border collie obsession wasn’t a bad thing for her with me being so busy.

I put a circle around the bunny, who seemed to be enjoying dropped bird seed from the feeder above.

Lilly didn’t bark. She didn’t squeal. She simply sat and watched … the entire time it took me to get ready to leave.

The Time I Met “Eddie” From the TV Show Frasier

Back in the mid-1990s, when I was on staff at the American Animal Hospital Association, I helped with logistics for the big annual veterinary conference. Think of it like throwing some 50 special events every day for thousands of your closest colleagues in a strange city for four straight days. It is exhausting. The exhibit hall was always one of big draws, with oodles of free schwag and other tantalizing things to get people into the various booths, where the oh-so-charming sales folks could work their magic. One year, I don’t remember which, and I’m too tired to look it up, one of the exhibit hall stars was Moose, the dog who played Eddie in the TV show Frasier.

For free, you could have a Polaroid taken with him. Sometimes he kissed people. Sometimes he held your hand.

I plopped down in a rare, spare moment. His handler cued him. Someone snapped the image. Done. On to the next thing, for both of us.

At the time, I remember feeling VERY sad for Moose. He seemed detached, unemotional and like he wasn’t having any fun. I suppose it isn’t any different than meeting a famous human actor. I guess I shouldn’t have expected him to “like” me or anything, but he seemed like a little robot.

Moose is gone now. His son, Enzo, took over the role eventually.

I wish I could have met him when I knew more about dog training. I suspect I would see the whole thing differently. What seemed like detachment was perhaps extreme handler focus and an incredible work ethic. What seemed like a lack of emotion was probably turbo socialization where a sudden environmental change (like a new person sitting next to you every 15 seconds) wasn’t anything that required a response.

I still feel a little sad because I now understand how much work it was for him to be in that environment and to do all those things, BUT, I hope, he indeed was having fun, and that the tongue out thing wasn’t just something they taught him so that he looked happy.

Sound Familiar?

My friend and colleague Susan McCullough over at The Allie Chronicles sent me this link today. It’s a blog post from Patricia McConnell that addresses the underlying theme of Champion of My Heart: What do you do, how do you feel when a dog you hoped would do X (insert expectation) can’t, won’t, or doesn’t like to do X?

Sometimes I think I’d give a limb or an organ to see Lilly shine (even if no one else was looking) at something like the outrun (a herding thing where the dog fetches the sheep) that McConnell describes:

“Come Bye” I whispered, and Pippy was gone, ten yardsaway before I could even register her movement. We watched her streakdown the face of the hill, widen out as she got within a hundred yardsof the sheep, and circle behind them, far enough away to avoiddisturbing them until she found the perfect balance point to controlthe sheep. She stopped, collected the flock (”the lift”) and walkedthem in a perfect line back to me. It was a perfect outrun, a gloriousoutrun, an outrun you’d expect of a older, wiser dog. It was a perfectfetch, slow and quiet and perfectly timed. I didn’t do much ofanything, except stand in place, jaw open, heart swelling, blown awayby my young dog and her ability.

Maybe our solitary teeter moment qualifies. Though, I’d like to think we still have a few amazing moments left in our arsenal.

As Jennie (our behaviorist) is fond of saying, “Look how far she has come. What makes you think she cannot continue in her progress?”

It’s a valid question. But, for today — considering all the other worries and demands on my soul — I’m just happy to hear my lithe, sensitive girl grinding away on what’s left of her bison shank bone from xmas. On a Wednesday, another cold one, she is simply Lilly, the voracious carnivore, and I’m OK with that.

Where Knitters and Crazy Dog Girls Meet

A couple weeks ago, I popped by a craft event at the Grange. (Rural people know. Others can look it up.) And, I would have snapped up one particular item pairing, if the knitter had had something in Lilly’s size. Ready … ? This person had hand-knitted dog sweaters with matching hats for dog moms. It’s silly, but way cute. I would love to have a little matching thing for us girls to wear for photo ops and such.

I’m sorry that I didn’t have my camera with me so that you could see the options, but they were darling. Made from alpaca fleece (which is tres warm), these blanket-style coat/sweaters were simple but workable … much like the ones I make from polar fleece. Sadly, it seems most people ASSUME that only tiny dogs wear sweaters. There wasn’t anything even close to Lilly’s size.

I took her card, and she said she could make me custom ones, if I sent her a couple measurements, but I know it’s one of those impulse buys that dog girls like us.

So, I got to thinking I could learn to knit (ha!). You know, in my spare time.

My writing mentor and friend Leslie over at Nakeid Knits says she feels sorry for those who don’t know how to knit because it’s seen her through many a crisis, hospital visit and airplane ride.

Considering the ongoing eldercare drama that consumes me, maybe I could address two needs at once. Tom’s mom gave our niece a knitting pattern book a couple years ago for xmas, and I believe it had some dog sweater patterns in it. Maybe I could borrow it and muddle my way through.

How is that for optimistic (overly or otherwise)?

Here is what I did buy instead …. convertible mittens from the alpaca girls up the road. They are super warm and very cute, not practical for any real dog stuff because they are too delicate. But, they are nice for driving or for staying warm in a non-dog scenario.

{Photos missing. Massive glitch. Very sorry.}


Holiday Cleaning & The Ghetto Scat Mat

Ginko reigns as the undisputed sofa captain at Chez Champion of My Heart, but last week, in preparation for holiday guests, I washed and hung out the garage sale comforters that typically cover our furniture while Tom did a thorough upholstery cleaning. That meant our big boy suffered an entire day without piloting the love seat. Check out our ghetto scat mat (as Elayne at Days of Speed is fond of calling homemade solutions). Two words: Bubble Wrap

{photos missing from blog glitch. sorry}

Tom simply tipped the cushions up and covered the flat surface with bubble wrap. His thought? Big dog butts and pointy Ginko toes would pop the bubbles and make enough noise to keep him off for the day while everything dried.

Loyal readers know I’m not a fan of aversives in general, but it really did no harm. And, it worked, and even if a couple of bubbles popped (I didn’t hear any), it didn’t seem to freak Lilly out.

Me, however? Well, that’s a different story. Ginko paced. He whined. He fussed. He harumphed through the day like the worst doggy diva on the planet. He didn’t sleep a wink all day, and that’s saying something for a big dog who sleeps all the time. We had a rough day.

When things were finally dry, and after I returned the protective comforters, Ginko hopped up and sacked out for hours and hours. He looked so tired. I felt terrible, but a few times of year, we do enjoy seeing our furniture in its natural state.

And, the Thermometer Says

Most nights, Lilly and Ginko sleep in the basement in their hard-sided crates. The temperature down there stays around 55 degrees year-round. Even on the crazy-coldest nights, like we’ve had over recent weeks, it stays steady. We treat them a bit like birds in that we cover their crates at night with some insulated drapes I once made for our dining room. As an experiment, I used my greenhouse thermometer that’s capable of showing temps both inside the crates and in the basement overall. Here are the results.

The digital thermometer, which can show maximum and minimum temps both inside something and outside it, confirmed that it’s indeed warmer inside the covered crates 59-64 degrees. Outside the crates, the temps measured between 55-59 degrees on a night where it was about 15 degrees outdoors.

So, inside their crated, covered snuggle dens, my sweetie pups stay plenty warm.

In fact, I’d bet that they often stay warmer than we do, if the fire goes out, the winds are blowing, and the temps drop.

Dog Gift Goldilocks

After I rescinded my top dog toy pick for the 2009 holiday season because the plastic was too hard and noisy, I went with the Busy Buddy Twist ‘n Treat from Premier instead, as Lilly’s main gift. It came last week, and I’m sad to say it is WAY too easy, even at the hardest setting. The kibble literally pours out. Help?!

{photos missing due to massive blog glitch. sorry}

I suppose I could smear cheese or get bigger kibble (ours is kind of small), but I’m so disappointed. If there are any tricks to making it hard enough for a dog like Lilly, please let me know.

When the toy is entirely screwed together, the opening looks a bit like the plant (Audrey) from Little Shop of Horrors (above). I may try tightening it even more so that the opening is offset some … to make it harder, but I fear that the kibble won’t come out at all, which makes the whole thing an exercise in utter frustration.

I feel like the Goldilocks of dog gifts. Too hard. Too easy. Too this. Too that.

I actually interviewed the toy designer at Premier for that history of dog toys article. I may dig out her email or phone number and ask, “What the heck?”

Still, I love that the two-piece toy comes completely apart for cleaning. I’m way overdue to soak and scrub the other food-delivery toys. Sure, I’ve been off-the-charts consumed with other things, but it’s also a major pain.

Do you guys put your toys in the dishwasher (dog-only loads)? Do you use a baby bottle brush? Just wondering.

Dogs Outrank Friends and Family on Holiday Gift Lists

Amid the rampant belt-tightening, dogs fair better than human friends and even family in the holiday shopping rush. Human hangers-on and family gift obligations get the heave-ho, but dogs? Well, they remain KEEPERS even in tough economic times. Or, so says, an article in yesterday’s New York Times (Fewer Gifts and Frills …)

The piece by Stephanie Rosenbloom reads, in part:

Of the various retailing surveys chronicling the collapse of materialism, one from American Express found that consumers are more likely to excise certain friends and family members than their pets.

“Dogsand pets are winning in this recession,” said Kit Yarrow, a consumerpsychologist and chairwoman of the psychology department at Golden GateUniversity in San Francisco. “The things that nurture us and make usfeel cared for, they’ve been elevated in stature lately. All auxiliarypeople are out.”

Because of all that’s going on around me, this holiday season will indeed be different from years past. Who is in? Who is out? What can I afford, etc? All questions that flood me … yet, I find myself compelled to buy “just one more thing” for the dogs.

I guess I’m not alone. After all, when I am alone (or at least feel that way when at my stress saturation point), the dogs remain by my side.