Thursday, August 31, 2006

"They're Not Comfortable with Themselves"

This is what the dog camp supervisor (a dog trainer for 38 years who studied under some guy from Animal Planet) said about my heart and soul.

"They're good people dogs, but they're not good dog dogs."

Then she explained something I still don't entirely understand about how they're well behaved when I'm around because they know how to behave when I'm there--which is to take care of me--but when they're alone with dogs they don't know how to Be because somehow they're still trying to protect me. (I think I get it up to the point where they're trying to protect me when I'm not there.)

So I begged for advice and the trainer said I should take them to the dog park on-lead and walk the perimeter while giving them treats and not pausing to interact with the other dogs because I need to teach them that the dog park is a good place. (I thought they already liked it there but just got into occasional scuffles there.) When I said I'd read that you shouldn't use a lead at the dog park because it makes your dog want to protect you the trainer said that's only the case when you stop to interact with other dogs. She said I'm supposed to begin by walking the perimeter outside the fence, then a few weeks later go inside along the perimeter and then later let each dog off-lead but only during a time (like 6 a.m.) when only one dog is around. (Of course I worry that the only human who'd bring a dog to the dp at 6 a.m. would be another mental case with an imbalanced dog.)

They said I could bring both dogs back for a re-interview in 3 months.

When I asked for more specific advice and shared more details about our daily routine and domestic situation the trainer said something very close to, "Honestly, honey, what you need to do is get Zen with these dogs. You have to devote peaceful time alone with them every day, in a set routine, to get all of you in balance."

Ouch. Did she ever get my situation.

During my 80/20 post a few weeks ago I vowed something like this. Now it's become a therapy prescription for me and for the dogs.

If only it were the beginning of summer (and not the beginning of the most overloaded teaching and travel semester of my entire career when I'm also standing for tenure and contending with a heart-rending family reconfiguration) this might all seem manageable. Part of me is excited and enthusiastic in the way I get when facing a real challenge or a new chapter in my life. Part of me is hanging on by the toenails.

It's 9 a.m., and I just got the dreaded phone call

I'm sitting in a Panera with a large mug of chai latte and a medium mug of coffee and a half-eaten spinach-artichoke souffle, ready to spend a few hours working while my dogs "interview" at camp.

I dropped them off at 8, hovered in the lobby watching their progress on web cams, then headed down the road to wait and hope.

I didn't really expect the phone to ring.

Evidently, B-dog (the gentle, playful fellow I wasn't worried about) attacked one of the "campers"--twice. Damn camper. Aaargh. So B-dog is out.

The report on P-dog is that she "wasn't thrilled but at least didn't go after anyone."

So I have to pick them up.

So much for my dream of "purchasing" improved socialization.

I'm only 5 minutes away from the place, so I'm going to sit here and at least finish my chai while I process this awful news.

What this means is that socialization is again squarely (and entirely) on my shoulders: back to carefully crafted play dates with precisely timed naps and interventions, back to highly structured training schedules and stickers on the fridge to keep track of the dogs' interactions with other dogs. And, so frustrating, it means I'll have to kennel the dogs while all the workmen are at the house. Days and days of kennelling instead of days and days of socialization.

It's not the end of the world. And it's nice to think (I'm just guessing here) that I can "test" our progress by requesting a re-interview in 6 months or so. I'll ask them about that. If the dogs can't behave in this facility I wouldn't feel comfortable placing them in a less vigilent one.

What makes me want to cry is that I'm feeling overwhelmed. I'm in the middle of a divorce and facing the need to coordinate things that would be much more manageable with a second human. Sadly, before I evicted the second human I still felt overwhelmed and under-assisted. But at least he was a wonderful doggy dad who would have been some help with this socialization mission, even though he would not have made a mission of it, which I think at this point is necessary. But at least we could have walked the dogs at the same time.

Basically, I've got two dogs that very rarely interact with other dogs and have become over-protective of me. I can either live with that or work very hard to fix it. When I adopted each dog I committed to making the best possible life for him/her. To follow through with that I've got to bring them into balance. And I can't help but believe that their imbalances are directly related to mine. I'm so sad. And so, so sorry.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Too Nervous to Write

Tomorrow morning is our 2 hour interview at doggy daycamp (yes, "camp").

The dogs will both undergo temperament testing and be introduce to small groups of dogs of varying sizes and energy levels. All day I've been thinking, "Oh God please let them do really well tomorrow; please let them make the cut." This could be a great solution: small play groups of 15 animals per human supervisor (Comp folks will appreciate the ratio) instead of up to 70 dogs per two humans at the other place. They seem really attentive and good--the "camp" people (should I call them counselors?)--over the phone. It would be so great to have a place to occasionally take the dogs where they could socialize and exercise and be positively stimulated in ways that just don't happen with me at home behind a laptop screen.

But now I'm thinking: I hope that tomorrow is just accurately average. I hope my dogs behave normally--not their best. I hope the other dogs are just average too. I hope that tomorrow's 2 hours is a very realistic--perhaps even worst-case--scenario for them so that if they are admitted I'll truly feel that they're safe at this facility.

This is where the funny analogies to Manhattan nursery schools end because, ultimately, this isn't about "competing" for acceptance (there's no Ivy League for mutts); it's about finding a safe and healthy place for my heart and soul on days when they need to be out of the house.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Inside a dog, it's too dark to read.

A friend just tagged me with the Quotation Meme (derived from meme if you're more rhetorical than blogospherical), which basically means I get to participate in culturally sanctioned naval-gazing. Love that!

And since this is a semi-anonymous blog I won't be tagging anyone else. (Hope my friend doesn't mind.)

Anyhoo, my instructions are to go to a site with randomly selected quotations and pick 5 that somehow represent me. Kind of tetradian, when you think of it.

Anyhoo, the quotation I was hoping to see but, alas, didn't was my recently most-favorite quotation:

"Outside a dog, a book is your best friend. Inside a dog, it's too dark to read." Groucho Marx

So instead I chose these (I had the site randomize five times and made myself pick one of the 10 listed each time.):

Fear not that thy life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.
John Henry Cardinal Newman

A friend is someone who will help you move. A real friend is someone who will help you move a body.

Peace of mind is that mental condition in which you have accepted the worst.
Lin Yutang

The solution is to gradually become free of societal rewards and learn how to substitute for them rewards that are under one's own powers. This is not to say that we should abandon every goal endorsed by society; rather, it means that, in addition to or instead of the goals others use to bribe us with, we develop a set of our own.
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

We must never forget that art is not a form of propaganda; it is a form of truth.
John F. Kennedy (1917 - 1963)

Eh, I guess I need to sneak this one in too, at the end of a very long day:

Never again clutter your days or nights with so many menial and unimportant things that you have no time to accept a real challenge when it comes along. This applies to play as well as work. A day merely survived is no cause for celebration. You are not here to fritter away your precious hours when you have the ability to accomplish so much by making a slight change in your routine. No more busy work. No more hiding from success. Leave time, leave space, to grow. Now. Now! Not tomorrow!
Og Mandino (1923 - 1996)

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Formula for Confidence

According to my aromatherapy chart, Confidence is a blend of the following essential oils:

* 6 drops lemon
* 3 drops basil
* 3 drops bergamot
* 1 drop lavender

The formula for Creativity:

* 3 drops rosemary
* 2 drops coriander
* 3 drops cypress
* 5 drops lemon

The formula for Logic:

* 4 drops geranium
* 6 drops grapefruit

The formula for Balding:

* 5 drops rosemary
* 4 drops geranium
* 4 drops lavender
* 2 drops ginger
* 4 drops cypress

The latter is a topical massage; one also assumes it's preventative. Though the chart doesn't specify. Needless to say, after essentially freebasing 4 drops geranium and 6 drops grapefruit one would similarly interpret the formula for Burnout:

* 6 drops grapefruit
* 5 drops sandlewood
* 3 drops geranium

And the formula for Dog Breath:

* 1 drop peppermint
* 1 drop clove

Dilute with baking soda and apologize with a liver treat.

Today's fieldmouse-relocation clients: Zero. And our garden appears to have attracted the attention of a pair of hawks. Coincidence?

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Calm Before the Storm

P-Dog has retreated to the closet to await the thunderstorm on the horizon. B-dog--unruffled by storms, fireworks, thuds, and clangs of all kinds--is contentedly watching the songbirds binge in their feeders before the wind blows them into the hedge.

But the Calm I logged on to write about is the nearly blissful pause one week before classes begin when (especially pre-fall) I launch new research and teaching projects and partnerships, in delirious denial about the overloads to come.

I pull up my class rosters (with adjacent student ID photos) and introduce myself to newcomers and their parents at luncheons, cookouts, community service outings, and whatnot. I fax last-minute IRB amendments and fire off instant messages to my research partner. (Inspired by Chris Anson's call to arms.)

I meet with community partners to hammer out the details of our collaborations--all of my classes are doing applied rhetoric research and writing this semester.

Exhausted, I return to my hula-dancing dogs, explaining plaintively that my extended absences are how I'll get to bring home the kibble for another year.

Today's fieldmouse-relocation clients: One.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Doggy Daycare

A few weeks ago the Rottweiler next door killed our neighbor's dachshund in their front yard.

"Sweetie" is a gentle giant with a Fu Manchu moustache. She was walking on a leash with her family: the father held the leash, the mother pushed their toddler in a stroller. The dachshund ran through an open gate and into the yard, barking hysterically (as all dogs in our neighborhood do at one another). It's not clear whether the doxie ran into the street or whether the rottie ran into the driveway (I've spoken to each owner and they disagree) but it appears that Sweetie considered the doxie a threat to the child and that the doxie was fear-aggressive toward Sweetie.

Sweetie shook the doxie once by the neck and it died at the vet hospital within the next 24 hours.

Sweetie and P-dog fence fight everyday. We've tried everything to acquaint the two dogs as friendly neighbors but P-dog is much smaller and definitely fear-aggressive. The two dogs are the same age, and as puppies Sweetie exhibited every indication that she wanted to play with P. Now they mostly fence fight and B-dog joins the fray. As my neighbor shared the sad story we both agreed that we need to keep our dogs apart.

This is the story that haunts me when I think about taking the dogs to daycare. During the academic year I'll be having major repairs done to my house and some work-related occasions when it would be best for me to board the dogs during the daytime. Daycare and kennels cost about the same, so this seems like golden opportunity to place the dogs (especially P-dog) in an environment where they could improve their socialization with other dogs. The nearby dog park is OK for my larger, comparatively mellow dog but P-dog sometimes gets into dangerous spats. The daycare screens clients with temperament testing so the environment would be somewhat safer than a dog park.

As someone whose childhood involved Saturday courses in etiquette and "Party Manners" (really, what 11-year-old doesn't need to learn the proper way to eat an artichoke?) I'm innately attracted to immersing P-dog in new socialization environments. Formal obedience lessons expose her to other dogs but not in the same way--those kinds of interaction don't prepare her for things like play dates or the overtures of stray dogs during our walks.

But the image of a larger dog shaking her by the neck terrifies me.

And at the same time, I worry that my fears--and my decision to share the story above--in some way perpetuate the discrimination against big black dogs like Sweetie. In my heart I believe she's a very good and gentle dog. But her strength and size make her potentially dangerous, even in the hands of caring owners. Realistically, I'm not sure how much we can all do to control the actions of our animals. But we must do more.

Today's fieldmouse-relocation clients: Zero. (I fear they've begun relocating themselves--from the garden to the house.) Though we did have a nice walk delivering the empty traps to the lake.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Podcasting Shopping List

I've ordered an update to my Mac OS, and the upgraded iLife suite (which includes GarageBand, which evidently is what I'll need to record my podcasts), and in the next day or so I'll go buy an iPod. Probably the 60G version of this one. More than I need, but it gives me room to experiment with video later. And I'll get the digital recording device designed to work with it.

Once the stuff arrives I'll mess around and report back re: my progress.

Today's fieldmouse-relocation clients: Maybe 1 (hidden behind the gate mechanism). Ants got most of the fancy cheese.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Fixing My 80/20 in U-dom & Dog-dom

It's time for bold New [Academic] Year resolutions. So here's mine: I will correct my 80/20 to a 60/40 or better.

You know where this is coming from: The old 80/20 rule (an adaptation of the Pareto/Juran Principle) that we tend to spend only 20% of our time doing the things that make 80% of a significant improvement to our productivity/quality of life--and vice versa.

Of course this principle applies to dog training as well.

More on that in a sec.

As for U-dom, I've made a list of ways I spend my time during the semester. On one side of the page I listed tasks that significantly contribute to my long-term career; on the other, all the rest. As an experiment this month (through the first weeks of school) I'm going to schedule my day (using my Outlook calendar in an attempt to truly enforce this) with blocks of time devoted to tasks in the 80%-significance category. And I'm going to seek ways to make more of my 20% activities sync up with my 80%-ers. OK, pretty much every academic vows to do this every year. Including me. But I'm going to use the scheduling approach to quantify my daily activities and to track how I'm spending my time so that, at the very least, I'll be 20%-ing more mindfully.

The 80/20 rule is relevant to our relationships with dogs, too. "Dog Whisperer" Cesar Millan notes that, in the U.S., the typical relationship of a devoted dog-owner to her/his dog is a ratio of 50 to 100% Affection with 0 to 50% Play, Training, and/or Exercise when, in fact, what dogs need most is Exercise. Exercise makes dogs happy and better behaved, and exercise with their humans helps them become more closely bonded than affection alone. (Millan is sometimes criticized for being old-fashioned in his approach, but his exercise/discipline/affection formula is consistent with many others; e.g., Jon Katz and the Monks of New Skete.)

As I map out my fall commitments I must do right by the dogs, scheduling time (as firm as any other important appointment) to walk with them each day--which can be tough because I walk them separately. Millan recommends an hour per day per dog. During a typical school day I'll feel successful if I can spend 1 hour per day for both dogs--30 minutes each. (They run around outside when I'm home, but this doesn't count as "exercise-with-your-human-leader" time.) My commitment to them is that I'll make more of our time together *active* time, and make our daily walks a real priority. Even after the mouse-relocation project is done for the season.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Blackdogz Wildlife Relocation Service

Canine Good Citizen that she is, P-Dog accompanied me to the lake this morning to find alternative accommodations for some of the field mice residing in our garden. The wrens don't seem to mind sharing their birdseed, and the dogs and I are entertained by their hijinx (scampering up sunflower stalks and whatnot), but we've come to accept that mice are not pets.

Ordinarily, B-Dog accompanies me to the lake because I try to go very early in the morning and he's somewhat the BBD. But this morning I overslept so P-Dog got the adventure.

Our haul: 4 or 5 mice. Our largest yet, actually. It took them about 15 minutes to flee their traps.

At this rate they may be reproducing faster than we're able to relocate them (heck, they may be reproducing in the traps!). But you do what you can.

Tonight's repast will be very fine cheese rinds: Drunken Goat and Mirabella. I'll need bigger dinner parties if I'm to move this feast into the wilds before Autumn.

Mouse Relocation Procedure

  • Obtain the following supplies: latex gloves (available in boxes of 100 at Home Despot), shopping bags with handles, 2 catch and release mouse traps (usability test before purchasing: a one-handed release is preferable; a large viewing window is essential), hand sanitizer in a pump container; plastic grocery bags

  • Set the traps in the evening, against edges of things (walls, landscaping , shrubs) near the likely mouse residence

  • Check the traps early the next morning (to avoid heat stroke/suffocation--of the mice, but perhaps also the humans under global warming): walk gently near the traps and peek in the windows; note that mice often hide beneath the trap mechanism and may not be viewable in the window so look for tell-tale tails

  • If bringing a dog companion on the release-journey (highly recommended; turns this relocation task into a pleasant morning excursion), prepare the dog for a quick departure (better done now than with mice in bags)--but never put dogs in a summertime car until you're ready to get in it yourself

  • Place in a plastic grocery bag: hand sanitizer, an extra pair of latex gloves, another empty plastic grocery bag

  • Put on TWO pair of latex gloves

  • Gently place the mouse traps in the bottom of a shopping bag

  • Place the aforementioned plastic grocery bag on top of the mouse traps

  • If driving, load the car with the shopping bag (front seat) and dog (back seat, secured away from shopping bag)

  • Choose a release location reasonably distant from your home, in a public park accustomed to people with dogs and bags and wildlife (ideally one with feral cats or carnivorous birds)

  • Walk to a discreet location with both (a) a shady spot covering a bench or tree (free of poison oak or ivy) and (b) dense grass

  • Tie the dogleash to the bench/tree--give him/her a bowl of water if you're planning to watch the liberation proceedings

  • Carry the mousetraps into the grass, gently releasing the lids and stepping to a spot where you can observe the mice leaving without casting a shadow over them

  • Remove the outer pair of gloves and place them in the shopping bag

  • Observe the departure--or go walk with your dog a while (leave the bags hidden in grass away from the traps) Note: passersby will think you're just a fastidious glove-wearing pooper-scooper

  • Doublecheck the traps to be sure no mice are still hiding within the entrance or trap mechanisms

  • Place the traps in the empty plastic grocery bag

  • Walk the shopping bag to a trash bin; toss out the shopping bag and both pairs of latex gloves (removing the pair you're still wearing) and any bags of dog poop

  • Apply the hand sanitizer and return it to the bag with the back-up gloves

  • Carry the two separate plastic bags to the car (one with used mousetraps, one with clean gloves and hand sanitizer for tomorrow's excursion)--the thing is: you don't want your traps to smell like human sweat, so they must be kept apart from the used latex gloves, which become ultra sweaty during this process

  • Return to the car and drive home with your happy dog and good karma

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Inventing Best Practices for Podcasting

After listening to various academic podcasts and finding no best practices for podcast pedagogy (yes, I found tips re: the technical specs, but I've been looking for recommendations for using podcasts for their distinctive pedagogical advantages, not just as recordings of lectures).

What I found was recordings of lectures. I'm sure I'll find wonderful podcasts by rhet/comp colleagues sometime soon.

Meanwhile, I'll invent some hypothetical best practices (in the absence of having practiced them). And I'll concentrate on the kind of pedagogical work I want this tool to help me do.

Using podcasts to sustain community during an instructor's extended absence

  • Reinforce the course theme and current unit during the podcast, ideally responding to a recent set of student postings, emails, or discussion (for continuity of course conversations)

  • Make one meaningful connection between the instructor's trip and the course content (e.g., find an artifact or event that can contribute to/extend the ongoing work of the course)

  • Keep the podcast short (5 minutes?)

  • Publish a relevant image to accompany the podcast (consider including video)

  • Remember the podcast is not a substitute for a reasonable quantity of online/email contact with the students during the f2f absence

  • Keep the podcast goal modest: don't over-commit to students or to yourself; rather, plan to make one or two podcasts--ideally one that can be completed and uploaded before the trip--to ensure follow-through.

  • Usability test the podcast with multiple devices and with a printed version (for those w/out portable MP3 players)

Using podcasts to mentor student field work (in this case, the analysis of artifacts in public spaces)

  • "Rehearse" the observation (Go to the site and record notes about the students' likely paths to and around the artifact(s), and so forth)

  • Compose a script that reinforces the terminology, methods, and motives of the field observation

  • Don't over-script the experience; allow time and space for the students' spontaneous responses to the artifacts

  • Keep the script simple, but not overly checklist-y (otherwise, some may print the script as merely a fill-in-the-blank tool)

  • Include a prompt for synthesis in the script to again guide the students to make the observation a cumulative process rather than one that can be delegated as task modules to team members--in other words, craft a script that encourages discussion with classmates/teammates for its completion.

  • Usability test the podcast with multiple devices and with a printed version (for those w/out portable MP3 players)

That's a preliminary list.

And I think it's two podcasts: the field research would be my test-run with the technology and the other more of an audio-postcard or field report of my own. Of course the challenge of making it a field report is that I'll need to be fairly confident of producing and uploading it in the midst of a fairly rigorous lecturing schedule overseas. Hm.

Time to walk a dog and ponder all this.

Adventures in Podcasting

Given that blogs are asynchronous, sporadic, and modular I don't see much point in pausing a narrative that only exists to myself to explain the interrelatedness of dogs and podcasting . . . except to affirm that the more time I spend with my dogs the more I learn about just about everything. And everything I learn about podcasting (and whatever other dimensions of teaching and writing and rhetoric arise in this blog) will surely be enriched or influenced or at least observed by these companions. I have every confidence that the intersections and overlaps will be plentiful and serendipitous.

From now on I'll just let the juxtapositions do their own work--tetradesque or otherwise.

OK, so podcasting. I thought it would be interesting to record this little teaching journey because I'm truly starting from scratch and have far to go in a relatively short space of time.

What I currently know about podcasting (not much)

  • It's basically just recording audio files that can be downloaded to an MP3 player.
  • It would be helpful (though it's not essential) for me to own a portable MP3 player to usability test my podcasts, and since my campus has a fancy arrangement with Apple I'll go with an iPod.
  • I'll need a digital recording setup, and Belkin appears to make a device that would attach to my iPod and make it fairly easy to record and upload from my iPod.
  • Even though I work at an "Apple campus" my college isn't in cahoots with Apple so much, so I'm going to have to be even more persistent than usual in getting access to the podcasting training and support they're presumably providing.
  • I'm basically optimistic that a Mac-product approach is smart because I'm still a Mac fan despite the weirdness of the aforementioned Apple campus scenario.
  • I do have some specific pedagogical goals for podcasting, and this will help me focus on teaching and learning instead of becoming mired in the gadgetry.
  • I'd really benefit from some podcasting "best practices" guidance but so far I've had surprisingly little luck finding anything substantial online. (What gives?)
  • I'll need to upload my podcasts somewhere, and I need to figure out--soon--where I can and should do that (because I'd much prefer to link the podcasts directly to my course websites and classes begin in just a couple of weeks).

Why I'm planning to do it--pronto (pedagogy & experimentation)

  • I'll be teaching overseas for 2 weeks in the middle of the semester and view podcasting as a neat way to remain connected with my US students--beyond the typical online posting/emailing scenario. The aurality of podcasting appeals to me because it seems like a more personal way to get inside their heads (vs. visual text alone).
  • I want to use podcasts to guide students through their initial experiences of field research--the oral narrative will, I think, challenge them to slow down and observe their subjects more deliberately than they might with the printed "scavenger hunt" -ish approach.
  • I've been doing a lot of oral history work lately with my students and would like to soon begin using podcasting as a means of sharing their interesting projects with a broader audience.

Black Dog Syndrome

Black dogs are far more likely to be abandoned, neglected, and abused than other dogs.

Black dogs are least likely to be rescued or adopted.

More than 2 million dogs are killed every year in U.S. animal shelters. Most of them are black.

Learn more.


Saturday, August 05, 2006

It's all about the dogs