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Category Archives for Musings

The Raccoon Within

During what proved to be another distraction-steeped week, I found this when I went into the kitchen to get some lunch. Big thanks to Lilly for providing perhaps the day’s only laugh. You’ve heard of raccoons washing their food? Well, it’s a habit Lilly learned from Ginko when it comes to dirty toys — balls in particular. I was going to call this How Clean Are Your Balls? But, I feared that would attract icky spam.

Both dogs regularly bring dirty toys from outside into the house, where they proceed to dunk them in the water bowl. I cannot tell if they simply want to guard the toy from the other while drinking or if it truly is an attempt to clean things off.

In this case, Lilly clearly drank all the water and left the toy behind.

The problem with soaking this particular ball is that it is foam-filled, and as you may be able to see from the top, it has been torn. There is nothing worse than listening to them play with one of these after it has been dipped and had time to absorb either drinking water — or pond water.

It seriously sounds like a plumber plunging a toilet … forever.

Sometimes, they lose balls because of this habit. If the water in the pond or creek is mostly frozen, the ball can easily get sucked under the ice. Lilly gets obsessed when this happens, so to prevent her from tearing up her feet digging at the ice, we have to call her inside and hope she forgets the ball is trapped.

So, in addition to Lilly harboring a cartoon wolf (as noted long ago in photos), it seems she has a raccoon in there too.


Her Kingdom for Some Sheep

Even as the weather turns colder, we have a hard time keeping Lilly inside. Any time a door opens, she slips out like a little canine ninja. The difference, compared to summer, is that we have less trouble getting her to come inside. So, she’s in. She’s out. She’s in. She’s out. One of her favorite things to do is “help” me hang out laundry. She makes it pay off by convincing me to toss sticks while I work. I didn’t realize how attached she was to the laundry itself, until I noticed this quite a while after I’d come inside last week.

If Top 2 Signs of Border Collie Cabin Fever rang true, then clearly I should have called this The Number One Sign Your Border Collie Needs Sheep.

Yep. She has taken to guarding the laundry.

Weekly Training Update (Nov 6)

I took Lilly to class for the first time in seven weeks on Sunday. She did great, even though we did not know the majority of dogs and many of them were young and somewhat wild. She did snark at one dog whose self-control is still under construction, but that’s no surprise. This pup was straining at the end of the leash, hopping around and looking right at Lilly.

Lilly had a nice breakthrough moment when she hopped out of the car and immediately seemed calm in her Relaxation Protocol mode. She sat. I fed her treats. She seemed completely balanced with the first piece of food. Sometimes, we go through a bit of a Shark Phase, but not that day. She hopped out with a calm, confidence I was thrilled to see.

We arrived early and walked around a bunch, but as classmates began to arrive, we took up a position on a grassy median, with plenty of distance from the youngsters. (I fell instantly in love with the young GSP in class. What a handsome boy he is.)

{Doggone photos for this post got lost in a massive blog photo glitch. Sorry.}

As usual, we kept our buffer zone pretty big, except for the two dogs we knew, including Lucky (whose brown-and-white butt you can just see on the right).

Here you can see a happy Lilly waiting for classmates to complete an agility-dog-walk-like exercise on a raised ledge. We typically go first or last so that Lilly feels less pressure from the group.

We probably didn’t need quite this much space from our classmates, toward the end of the session, but Lilly is clearly content to hang out.

So, it was a nice experience. After being so cooped up from last week’s snow, Lilly was happy to get out and do something.

The Case of the Missing Ham Sandwich

Really, Ginko? You ate the entire ham-and-cheese sandwich I made for your Daddy? It was on a plate, on the counter, which surely does not look anything like your bowl on the floor. And, neither of us were around to give you the green light to have people food. Are you in on this conspiracy to ruin my mood after a nice walk? What a knucklehead!

{Photos missing due to massive blog photo / techno glitch. Sorry about that.}

Indeed the whole scenario is my fault. I know that, but it reflects the level of trust I have for my big boy. At 9 1/2, I trust him. Even when I leave food where he can reach it … say on the coffee table … while I grab a drink, I’ll say, “Ginko, don’t you steal my lunch.” And, he doesn’t.

Now, our late Dalmatian, Penelope Grace? Any and all food required an armed guard. We NEVER left anything anywhere because she stuffed herself to the point of near explosion several times as a youngster.

But, Ginko? Even though he is half Labrador Retriever — a notoriously food-driven breed, Ginko is a pretty darn good boy around the house. So, I trust him. I truly do.

I do not worry he is going to tear anything up. I do not worry he will bust into the lower kitchen cabinets, where we keep the dog treats.

Ginko is King of the Couch. He is Sofa Captain Extraordinaire. He is a big goofy boy who sleeps all the doggone time. (Here her is wondering why on earth I’m taking pix of him.)

Yet, Wednesday he decided that sandwich looked mighty good. This is what I found when I got back from taking Lilly for an hour-long walk up the road for my lunch break.

So, in one of those sitcom-like marital conversations, I asked, “Did you eat your sandwich?” as a way to show my concern for Tom working so hard that he often forgets to eat.

Except, you see, I asked the question as I walked outside to get Lilly some water and Tom walked inside to grab a tool.

That means his reply crossed a few wires. Tom asked back, “Did you put it away?” Since clearly, it was NOT on the counter anymore.

And, then we realized the truth.

I don’t begrudge Ginko a sandwich here and there, but I am worried about the ham triggering a pancreatitis attack. We’re still not sure that’s why he got so sick a while back since the symptoms said yes, but the bloodwork said no, but we’ve been really careful with his fat intake, just in case.

Harsh Our Mellow

These days, you’ll find me squished somewhere between my goal for things to get back to normal work-wise and to give Lilly more than just what’s left of my time and energy. That means balancing three veterinary trade magazine deadlines this week and life. To that end, I used my “lunch” time yesterday to take a long walk with Lilly up the road and back.

As usual, we walked until we could see the Continental Divide. You’ll notice in the lower right corner a dog house that sits on the road. It’s covered in stuffed animals. I suppose it’s meant as some kind of landmark — like “turn at the dog house.” But, it always makes us giggle.

Along the way we also spotted a discarded toy (dog’s or child’s, we do not know), but Lilly was VERY interested in it, so I let her sniff away.

We also spotted some neat clouds that made us happy, except after I shot this, I was looking down to zip the camera into my coat pocket and tripped over Lilly, giving her a little scare. (As you can see, weather in the 40s-50s has melted most of the snow from last week.)

{I’m sad to tell you that the photos for this post got lost in a massive blog glitch.}

After an hour in the sun, despite a bit of wind, we were feeling pretty good. Even though Lilly’s ears are back a bit, this is a happy girl.

We tucked this quiet time into our hearts and made our way home, where a lesson of some sort or just crappy-ass timing collided with our newly minted mellow. Suffice it to say news via voicemail upon our return harshed whatever calm we’d mustered — yet another family medical emergency. I’m too tired to even talk about it.

I’m finding it really hard bank the self-care benefits I can muster when they are instantly used up.

Top 2 Signs of Border Collie Cabin Fever

As you likely heard on TV and from other Colorado bloggers, it snowed for three solid days last week and resulted in about three feet of snow around here. Unfortunately, the storm coincided with my first real week of work (after nonstop family medical drama) in a while, so Lilly found herself feeling more than cooped up. So, for your amusement, I present to top two signs your border collie has cabin fever.

(1) The unraveled Toss a Possum … and (2) the Oh-Man-We’re-Outside Hop and Hug.

(This video was shot in our parking area, which had been cleared somewhat.)

We got desperate after a couple days and began playing mad games of Frisbee in the house at night. I toss to Lilly. She gives the toy to Tom. He tosses to me, while I try to keep Ginko at bay by playing a side game of short-range fetch with his favorite ball. (Otherwise, he gets in the game and robs Lilly of her toy.) It’s a loud, injury-prone adventure, but we had to do something because she was going nutso on us.

Driving snow and a painful wind chill meant I could only stand to be outside for a few minutes at a time. I would have let Lilly stay out longer, but I feared for her feet.


Agility Fears Revisited

While we’re revisiting our behavior modification and training plan for Lilly, it seems like a good time to revisit some of what got us here in terms of our long absence from formal agility training — group, private, or otherwise. I made many mistakes because I didn’t fully understand how fearful Lilly was and how many things contributed to her negative reaction to an agility course (and the monsters she thinks live there).

In response to Friday’s Training Update, Sam from over at MargeBlog asked:

BTW, I know Lilly is too scared still to even do private agilitylessons. Why is that? If there are no other dogs around, is she anxiousthat they might appear? Or is she stressed by having someone watch her?Does she exhibit any of the same signs at home if you were to have herplay around on the equipment if someone was watching? I have beenthinking about this and meant to ask you.

The simplest answer is that so much went so wrong in Lilly’s agility training that she immediately shuts down, and I mean full-on shuts down, any time she sees agility equipment anywhere other than at home. Our dog trainer, Gigi Moss, went with me to the agility field where we were took private and group lessons as well as did our own individual, drop-in training toward the end of our formal agility work. As soon as she saw the depth of Lilly’s fear reaction, she advised me to pull Lilly and keep her far from this setting for a while. That was about two years ago.

If you missed it way back, here is what Lilly “told” an animal communicator about agility and rally training.

For a while after we gave up classes of any kind, Lilly did OK for drop-in work, as long as we waited for all the dogs to leave. Once we were alone, she raced around like crazy. But, even that changed sometime in May 2007, when it got so bad that the place needed to be empty from the time we arrived to the time we left, otherwise it was a wash. And, it got really old driving an hour each way, only to have Lilly flip out and refuse to budge. I could afford drop-in fees, but not what it would cost to reserve the whole course just for us at a specific time each week.

And, if I’m being honest, it was a place where EVERYONE competes at a high level and few had much patience or sympathy for a newbie with a fearful dog (Elayne at Days of Speed excluded, of course). Many of those dogs had issues of their own, which I’m sure Lilly knew too.

Via the clarity of hindsight, I will say that it was more than worry about other dogs. It was more than the agility equipment itself, especially the much-feared teeter. It was such a complicated and mixed-up mess of experiences and associations, sites and sounds, that unraveling it felt impossible.

So, we quit going. Period.

Since home is the only place where Lilly has ever truly run agility without worry (most of the time) we experimented with various “audiences.” Lilly typically will run her home course, if people watch. Sometimes, she is a little slow, but she will run. Lilly can also do agility with mules, horses, goats, and cattle watching … at close range. Her home course backs up to a big ranch, and she indeed has done agility with very large animals mere feet away. So, I once mused that her animal fears were species specific.

As we began having Lilly’s few dog friends over to the house to help with our training, we learned that even here she will not do agility with other dogs (even ones she likes and trusts) watching or anywhere nearby. This includes our big boy Ginko, Lulu’s big brother Pitsch, and even Katie, Lilly’s former best, best friend the borzoi.

Now, we do have video of Lilly doing an agility-like task with Katie right there, so there is some hope. But, keep in mind that Lilly and Katie had a VERY special bond.

And, there was once last spring when I got Lilly, Katie, and even GINKO to do a series of jumps together out back, but we were mostly screwing around and not really training.

For a while, after we quit training in agility, I would still take Lilly to outdoor trials just to sit off to the side and watch, far from the equipment and dogs so that she could get cued into the trail environment, but we pretty much gave that up too because I realized that I was trying to do too much and needed to take about a million steps back.

If and when we return to private agility training , it will be at a new location, with a new trainer (a friend of Gigi’s), in an environment where competition isn’t as important or touted. I’m guessing that will be sometime in spring 2010, unless the weather is amazing this winter and we make faster progress on other work that our behaviorist wants me to complete before we re-introduce an agility training center.

Really, I just want to be able to run full courses with Lilly so that she can gain experience and confidence and so that I can learn to be a better handler so that I’m not a complete wreck when/if I have another agility dog in the future.

I don’t think that’s too much to ask, but we’ll see what Lilly decides.

A Few Pounds Among Friends

Sure, we’re still recovering from the heartbreak and training loss when Lilly’s best, best dog friend Katie, the borzoi, got rehomed. However, there appears to be some additional fallout from the loss of our fast-running pal … in the form of an additional of a few pounds. Now, I could blame the weight gain n a bunch of things, but not having Katie to chase a few times a week is affecting Lilly’s leanness, and that’s for darn sure.

Yep. My darling, tiny girl is a few pounds up. During the peak of her agility training as a young adult, Lilly hovered around 33-34 pounds, which is a tad thin. Typically, I keep her around 35-36 pounds. These days, she’s around 39 pounds.

That’s the same weight she was when we started agility training with Joy Bishop (who has been on the world team). And, as I mentioned long ago, Joy’s first words to me at our private assessment were not “Hello” or “Nice to meet you.” She looked at me and Lilly and simply said, “You need to take 3-4 pounds off your dog.”

I must have made a face because she dropped her sunglasses a smidge, glanced at me over the rims, and said, “This isn’t conformation.”

So, there you have it. At 39 pounds, Lilly would do great in the conformation (or show dog) ring. But, for agility, that’s a tad heavy.

Even though, we’re not competing or dealing with the rigors of daily (or weekly) agility runs, I prefer to keep my girlie-girl on the lean side. I attempt to do that same for myself, with less success.

Lilly has always eaten smaller-than-normal meals since so much of her daily calorie intake gets used up in training and calming exercises, but I’ve had to trim them back even more and be more conscious about the snacks I give her.

I didn’t realize how many calories Lilly burned in her regular play dates with Katie. Chasing that fast, fast girl, really put Lilly to the test, so beyond the loss of friendship, I’m sad at the effect it’s had on Lilly’s waistline.

There is also a good chance that some of this is our boys’ fault. Ever since we moved to dogs back into the basement, following all the hullabaloo down there, Ginko has been waking us up way early. Tom (the saint he is) gets up more often than not to feed and potty the dogs so that I can sleep. And, I’ve seen what meal portions he thinks are just right, and they are MUCH bigger than what I feed either dog.

So, for a while, I need to step up my Mealtime Mommy oversight and make a concerted effort at enough dog exercise. Make that ditto for me, and soon I’ll be able to report that both of us are back to our ideal bods.

Dogs and Deception

A puzzling news item came to me via a fellow writer/blogger last week. Stephanie Stiavetti, who blogs about gluten-free cooking over at Wasabimon, alerted me that the October issue of Behavioural Processes (a journal of animal behavior research) includes a study that seems to show dogs CANNOT detect deception in people. Here, many of us are thinking that our oh-so-sensitive and instinctual canine pals are good judges of character, but in the study’s set-up, dogs did not distinguish in any significant way people who were being honest with them (about the location of a bowl with a treat in it) and those who were not.

Apes, on the other hand, have been shown in other studies to know cooperator from deceiver and even to deceive others themselves.

Lilly clearly understands “other” or “stranger,” as in “You are so NOT the mama.” She has certainly learned that these others can be OK, if they approach with the right context and demeanor. We know from keep away and hide and seek that Lilly shows a certain frustration if we try and “trick” her. For example, Tom will often wait for Lilly to run upstairs looking for him, then he’ll pop out of his hiding spot and just sit on the couch, where Lilly will surely see him when she comes back downstairs. She barks, jumps, and makes funny noises that we interpret as her saying, “You were NOT there a second ago!”

But, she seems to think our jokes or tricks on her make the game more fun. They do not (thank goodness) make her distrust us.

I like to think that Lilly would correctly interpret someone with ill intent. Perhaps simply being untruthful about food isn’t enough to trigger a dog’s sense of good person/bad person.

A Trip to Moab & Other Absences

Last week Tom took a trip with friends to Moab, Utah, to explore sections of the Kokopelli Trail. This time he rode a motorcycle, but on previous trips he covered major sections on a mountain bike. He knows the area well and loves it. As much as we miss him, who could deny their favorite boy a much-needed getaway? These photos show how nearly unreal the whole area is. And, since we’ve had about enough of the real world around here lately, I thought I’d share.

moab 020 (sm2)

moab 018 (sm1)

moab 008 (sm3)


moab 002 (sm4)

We typically have a good tag-team approach to dog alone time around here, but when one of us is gone, and there is yet another family medical emergency (or two), our sweet critters have to cope the best they can.

After spending eight solid hours home alone last Monday, while I dealt with my mom’s latest face-first fall, Lilly stuck to me like glue when I got home. There weren’t any overt signs she had a rough day. I found no potty accidents, torn-up toys, ruined pillows, or messed up furnishings. But, Lilly clearly needed a long, heavy dose of Mommy Loving. So, I let the pups sleep with me that night, and I think that Lilly would have crawled inside my PJs with me, if she could have.

By contrast, I spent all day Tuesday home working and when it came time to snuggle at the end of the day, Lilly wanted none of it.

Both of us were gone again Friday afternoon into late evening for yet another funeral. (If you’re keeping score, that’s two in the family in recent weeks. I’m sad to report the death of my sister-in-law’s mom, just 10 days after her diagnosis with a rare brain disease.)

Because the memorial and reception spanned the afternoon and evening, Lilly was alone from light to dark, which we’ve known for a while is harder for her to handle. She is MUCH more likely to have a piddle accident in the house when we are gone after dark. I’m not sure if it’s just her biological timing or if it truly is a touch of separation anxiety, but we tend NOT to let her have full run of the house if we’re going to be gone after sunset.

SO, again, Lilly got to enjoy a cuddlefest when we got home Friday night to help her recover from the worry.

I have high hopes that this will actually be the first “regular” week we’ve had around here since late July. BUT, I’ve been saying that for over a month now, and it hasn’t happened yet.

Despite a few worries, I’m in awe of how well the dogs adjust to changes in my schedule, emotional state and routines. I wish some of their coping mechanisms would rub off. Other than a steady consumption of chocolate, I fear my usual strategies are wearing thin.