Monday, June 22, 2009

Summer Solstice Haiku 1

Me and my bitch
chomping buffalo jerky
on the cool tile floor

Monday, April 13, 2009

Not super happy about the Obama dog

The new Obama puppy is adorable. But he is not a rescue dog. He's a purebred Portuguese Water Dog, a gift from Senator Ted Kennedy. I get it. If Senator Kennedy lobbied me to accept one of his exceptional dogs I'd be hard-pressed to reject it.

But I had such hope when Obama said they preferred to get a rescue dog. And he could have used a PWD rescue dog organizations or actually taken his little girls to a shelter that housed an allergy-free dog or two. He could have set the example for millions to follow. He's our national icon; realistically, thousands of people are now going to search out purebred PWD's. They'll get them from puppy mills. It's inevitable. And this breed is reputed for its high level of energy and tendency to mouth everything. It's a nightmare for the uninformed consumer. Which means for most consumers. Which means two years from now animal shelters will be killing thousands more mid-sized black dogs just like Bo.

Only not so lucky.

Image source: Pete Souza,


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Distress of the "Aggressive" Dog

Here's something interesting.

Buddy is lying at my feet, looking dejected.

What just happened is this: the back-neighbor's handyman finally showed up (4 months late) to replace their portion of the back fence--the one with all the holes in it through which her dogs have begun fence-fighting with Petunia. Buddy mostly ignores those dogs; he might wander back for a sniff now and then but in the last year or so I've never seen him fighting with them (nor with Petunia's arch-enemy next door, for that matter).

But Buddy doe react to strange humans entering our property. He once chased a meter-man who'd jumped over the fence and into our yard. Didn't bite him but scared him and looked ready to attack. And of course Buddy did bite the man who entered my front door unexpectedly last year so I warned the neighbor's workman last August--and again last January, and again last month--that whenever he began dismantling the back fence he would need to telephone me so I could keep both dogs in the house.

He didn't.

Instead, he tore a panel off the back fence--with the neighbor's dogs still loose in their yard and without confirming where mine were. (Because Buddy is so quiet in the backyard the workman probably assumed the coast was clear.) And so Buddy charged toward the workman and started jumping up at him. It all happened behind the hedge, in the easement between our properties, but I could hear and deduce. I shouted out to the workman and he kept saying "It's OK" and so forth in that way I've come to recognize as shorthand for "It's OK, all dogs love me, I'm not worried, I'll just make friends with this dog no matter what the dog is doing."

Which is stupid as hell.

So I asked him to stop talking so I could call Buddy off the fence. Miraculously, this worked. (Am I actually learning something? Maybe about being more assertive with humans--wouldn't that be nice.) Buddy made eye contact with me behind the hedge and came out and followed me into the house and then sat down in front of me looking demoralized. Traumatized, really. The workman didn't harm him in any way that I could see or hear. I didn't even use an angry voice with Buddy. Just a serious one I've used before.

After securing Buddy I returned to the back yard and spoke with the workman again, making arrangements to keep the dogs indoors the next couple of days. He kept apologizing for the misunderstanding and I finally said, "He's a really good dog but he doesn't know you and he *will* bite you." I meant that Buddy would bite him if he seemed to be doing something dangerous to our world over here--like ripping out our fence--without a proper introduction. And I hated saying it out loud--that my dog would bite him--but I needed to make sure this guy knew that just because he's big and tall and a good guy who likes dogs doesn't mean that he can ignore my request that he allow me to secure my dogs before ripping up the back fence.)

So I said it out loud: I have a dog that seems likely to bite someone in situations like the above. And the shorthand way of saying that is that my dog will bite--which means it's not much of a stretch to call him an aggressive dog. But HERE IS WHAT IS INTERESTING TO ME: he doesn't like being aggressive. When Petunia fence-fights with the BigGuy next door she looks triumphant afterwards. She is downright proud of herself. Exhilarated. (Which is why I'm going to such pains to stop the fence-fighting.) The trainers call fence-fighting "a self-rewarding behavior."

So wouldn't you think that a human-aggressive dog would exhibit the same sort of response?

I realize there are all sorts of reasons why a dog may behave aggressively and that the fact that Buddy clearly disliked his confrontation doesn't mean he wasn't being an aggressive dog. But this incident does show me that Buddy would rather not be put in that situation--and if that's the case perhaps there truly is something I can do to shift the balance of power in our home. In other words, maybe I truly can convince Buddy that I am capable of protecting us all, and of being the one who decides when it is appropriate for him to lend a paw.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

The trouble with blogs

The trouble with blogging is that so much and so little happens during the intervals when you don't post--making it seem at once overwhelming and underwhelming to compose an update to bridge the gap.

So I won't. Much.

I'll just say that the house is still divided and I'm working with a different trainer and part of my difficulty is not having a second human around to work the dogs simultaneously.

And of course the bigger problem still seems to be how overwhelmed I feel by this situation. I need structure and strength and the dogs need me to model that for them and I'm not doing it. Not consistently. Which is the whole point, right?

Since my last posting I've added the following to my repertoire and debt-load:
  • two sessions with an animal behaviorist (about 90 minutes outside of town--actually good because I was willing to drive out of state) who specializes in Tellington methods and says the dogs demonstrate the potential to be trained back into peaceful coexistence but they're not likely to ever be pals because what Petunia appears to want most from Buddy is to be left alone. (BTW I recently read online that Garbo said, "I never said, 'I want to be alone', I said, 'I want to be left alone'. There is all the difference." Yep. And in my continued empathy with Petunia I so get that. But I persist in believing I mustn't let my domestic history color my sense of what's needed for a reasonable canine homelife.)
  • 60 bales of straw, delivered to my house so I could make a barrier to prevent Petunia from fence-fighting with the killer rottie (I've mentioned this, right?, that the rottie--who can actually be very sweet to humans--killed a doxie four doors down from us, in its own yard?). But the straw was too loosely bound to stack and started to fall apart as we unloaded it from the truck and was clearly going to be a nightmare in many ways so I paid the farmer for his time (ka-ching) and sent it back
  • fence posts, a post driver (that was a new experience), wire fencing, cloth, and staples--my latest alternative to the above
  • enrollment for mom and me at an all-day Tellington workshop this weekend
  • kennel fees for the dogs while we're at the above
  • a collection of Bach's Flower Remedies and of course the book on using them with dogs
  • more gear (including some at-home agility equipt since we can't do the lessons for a while, and "balancing" stuff for the Tellington approach)

Yes. I hear myself. Yes. I get it. Yes there are people with children who do this and these aren't children. Yes there are two-dog households where everyone gets along and there's maybe two leashes and two collars and that's it. Yes of course this is all about me.

* * *

I have one of those families in which everyone talks over-frankly about whoever isn't around. It's the default cocktail conversation topic. All good people but always eager to critique and to recount epic failures. I used to assume all families did this but my ex-husband's family *never* did--in 16 years of holidays with them I never ever saw it happen. Over time, perhaps because of my exposure to the alternate universe of the other family (who, truth be told, often exasperated/bored me with their tendency to refrain from saying anything about anything) I found myself feeling badly for whoever wasn't in the room. Even so it really wasn't until very recently that this one bothered me: the periodic discussion about how it's just as well Aunt Divorcee never had children because imagine how screwed up they'd be . . . Backed up by stories of her married life centering around a couple of overly pampered dogs, especially after the miscarriage, and wrapped up with the comforting postscript: "The Lord Works in Mysterious Ways."

Year after year this discussion never bothered me.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Protruding Benefactors?

This week we had a session with both my healing touch person and a healing-touch-for-animals person who is also an "animal communicator." I'll need to be in the right mood to describe that session.

For now I just need to mention that I returned to feng shui for a little while tonight and noticed something interesting: although I've always known my house is unevenly distributed (according to the ba gua) with a protruding area in the "helpful people" area. What I didn't notice is that in some translations "helpful people" also includes "guardian angels." For months I've thought about the struggle with the dog-interaction in terms of what the universe is attempting to teach me; I've even called the dogs my guardian angels. So it seems worth remarking that my crisis at home right now is directly related to an over-emphasis in (or over-abundant activity from) my "guardian angels." These life-changing creatures of mine.

The ba gua also reveals a gap in my knowledge area.

No surprise there.

So as I look around for parts of my house that need fixing/cleaning and so forth, I'm tempted to focus on the areas associated with Benefactors, then Knowledge, then maybe the Children or Animals area. The animals area I didn't know about til tonight. Evidently the Fame area (which has the right structural proportions but is the messiest area of my house right now--owing to it being the place I made all my pre-tax-preparation piles) happens also to be the area associated with Animals. This is learned while perusing various ba gua images for use on this blog posting.

So maybe that means I should tidy my Animals area first, eh?

Image source:


Monday, October 13, 2008

A Series of Unfortunate Events

I spent the day waiting for dog school. Buddy began Canine Good Citizen class tonight. We enrolled in the class because the "intervention-night" trainer recommended it and because it seemed to me that if we could get him to pass the CGC exam it would "certify" Buddy as not a bad dog, which is the reputation he's earned by biting the co-worker who entered my front door without me and by fighting with Petunia and by wearing something my neighbor thought was a muzzle.

And now by pitching a fight with three or four dogs in class.

Oh Lord.

I spent the day waiting for dog school. I read some more chapters of Control Unleashed and was inspired by what the trainer described as "Twilight Time": making time to connect with your dog before an obedience class or an agility contest. Arriving early, giving the dog a TTouch massage, being calm and quiet together. I see it as a way to equalize your energy especially before an activity that could involve lots of stress and interaction with other humans and dogs. Sounds like just the thing we need.

I spent the day waiting for dog school. It started at 6:30. At 5 it was too early to start Twilight Time so I did some schoolwork, sent some emails to my department and to my students. And then it was 6:00. It was raining. I hadn't cut up Buddy's special food I planned to use as his training treats. (The trainer made me withhold meals from him all day in preparation for the class.) I was going to be late for class.


So I played soft music in the car and tried to be calm and to visualize a good class. I did this CGC class at this same school a few years ago with Petunia and knew exactly what to expect.

We got there and must have been at least 10 minutes late. The small room was crammed with people and dogs. Big dogs. Lots of dogs. It was hot and the people were supposed to be walking their dogs briskly at heel around the room but dogs were sniffing each other and stopping and starting and Buddy was disoriented and distracted and whined at a dog or two and then got into a snarling match with a German Shepherd and soon after lunged at a big boxer and then at a small herding somethingorother and then it was all a blur. My heart was thumping against my chest and the instructor pulled Buddy into the middle of the room to use as a model for handling a "reactive dog" and a "dog-aggressive dog" and I just wanted to take my little boy dog out of the room and away from this intense unhappy place and be quiet and alone.

I remembered how the class was crowded when Petunia took it and I remembered not liking the class. And now I asked myself, "Why am I here? Why am I doing this to myself and to my dog?" I wanted to weep. I tried to do the click-to-calm stuff but everything happened so fast. Again and again. It wasn't just Buddy that was lunging and reacting. A few others were doing it also. But I couldn't keep it together.

The newbie trainer who was part of the intervention and who is also enrolled in my foundations agility class with Buddy took me aside to help me get control of myself and of Buddy. She said "click him for looking at you" and I did and she said "click him for looking at other dogs" but the room was tiny and any place he looked other than me could arguably be looking at dogs but I tried to click at all his room-ward head movements also and she said "click him for looking at other dogs and then for looking at you" and got into some logically cadenced explanation of what she meant but honestly I couldn't follow her. The room is small. He's either looking toward the dogs or looking away from the dogs and if he's looking away he's looking in my general direction so when do I not click in that situation? I tried to stay calm and click and the nice newbie stuck with me and whispered in my ear about how some of the other dogs had been bad in other classes and I don't know if any of that helped me or not. I just wanted to cry. I felt grateful to Newbie for staying with me and helping me calm down, or at least get rid of my whale eyes or whatever. But later she casually said to another student that Buddy "hates other dogs" which was a cruel thing to say and an oversimplification and made me angry.

So we survived the class.

Now what?

I'm having basically good experiences with Buddy on our increased walks and playdates with the pug and at agility. Why put us through this?

It's not for the certification anymore. Now the only reason I'll return next Monday is to see if Twilight Time makes things better and to stay on the perimeter of the class, outside of the regular class activities, and just to click-to-calm exercises with him for an hour during the class. It could be a really good way to do click-to-calm training.

But swear to God I will drop this class if it feels bad again next week. I realize I have to push things farther than I have been if I'm going to stand a chance of changing how the dogs react to one another and, i suppose to other dogs. But I never want to feel this utter wretched failure again. This awful, awful vulnerability and chaos surrounding my dog. And if we do ever go for a CGC it will not be with this instructor.

And P.S. I'm writing to the [local nonprofit that's sucking the life out of me] and officially resigning as a board member. I'm not going to transition slowly off the board like I'd planned. My dance card of soul-sucking activities is too full for both.

Oh, and P.P.S. My old hair stylist was there with her dog (we always used to talk dogs when she did my hair--which got too ash blond and she wouldn't listen to me about not wanting ash colors plus she was a gazillion dollars so I dropped her) and her dog was perfect (in fact, her dog was the one the instructor pulled into the center of the circle to demonstrate some sort of perfect walking thing) and she was perfect and her husband was perfect and she saw my hair that she hadn't done so now I've got stylist-switch trauma to boot.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Competitive Dog People

Both dogs were wonderful in their agility classes today. Petunia is a prodigy--amazingly good despite my klutzy handling; Buddy was asked to demonstrate everything first in his foundations class, which was flattering. But what really mattered to me was that both dogs behaved just fine around the other dogs in class. At the end of the day, what makes me happy and peaceful is feeling they're okay in the world of humans and dogs outside our own home.

I love our trainer, who is all about making everything positive and fun and isn't totally competition-oriented.

I'm not too comfortable with those competitive dog people: the ones who adopt dogs for competition, who talk about their dogs' physical structure as a strategic competitive asset and their energy in terms of "drive."

I bought a couple of books on agility training for dogs with "issues" (both basically good but published by a company who must have a line-editor who did not major in English in college. The syntax and usage bug me now and then. (For example, in both books the author uses "that" instead of "who" when referring to people--two different authors, mind you; it's the editor for sure.) One is Control Unleashed and the other is Shaping Success.

Anyhoo, beyond the editorial glitches what alienates me as a reader is each author's emphasis on agility as a performance sport moreso than as simply a fun activity. CU does gratefully have a passage that entreats dog owners not to push their dogs into a sport they don't seem to love. But SS is especially for and about serious competitors. And the author describes her iffy underdog's impressive lineage (from flyball and obedience champs) in a way that I understand but don't really relate to. I realize there are good, conscientious breeders in the world but I don't much enjoy reading about purebred dogs because so many millions of dogs are killed every year--dogs that deserve a decent life and aren't adopted while breeders keep breeding and breeding more dogs. And choosing a dog as if it were a bottle of wine . . . okay, I know the author doesn't mean it to sound so boutiquey but still the author loses me when she tucks little sniffs of disappointment and dismay into her narrative about how this dog that somehow should have been more perfect because of its parents ended up being unpredictable and challenging. As if she or the dog is more heroic because the unexpected behavior is coming from a purebred dog . . . I dunno.

As I think about Petunia possibly competing in agility I worry about it being stressful--exciting but in a bad way. She seems so triumphant and engaged during her little practice exercises in class. I want her to be able to feel that way more often. But I don't want to get ambitious about all this. I don't want competition to be the goal. I don't want to get swept up in P's promising potential and become one of those snobby conformance people. They exist in obedience and in agility too. People who expect perfection from their dogs. I'm just not into that. Rules and structure only matter to me because they seem to be needed for a reconcilable household. But heaven help me if I ever consider it essential for my dogs to pick up metal dumbbells in their mouths or win ribbons.