Thursday, March 22, 2012

When the Student Surpasses the Teacher

Screw Up Fairies in progress...

So often, walking through our home makes me think the Screw-Up Fairy has detonated a grenade deep in the dog toy basket.  After big play days, the rooms are literally littered with the sad, squeaker-less forms of these war-torn toys.  The dog's lack of organization is rather impressive, really!

Nyxie, being the brilliant German Shepherd dog that she is, recognizes most of the silly names we give her toys - Dead Kitty (sorry feline fans, but the poor thing's head is hanging precariously to one side), Blue Bunny One Ear and MooCow, to name a few.  Feeling she'd be up to the challenge, I decide to teach her how to put her toys away.  But since I'm no trainer, I don't have the foggiest idea of where to start.

MooCow, Blue Bunny One Ear and Dead Kitty

YouTube to the rescue!  (At this point, I'm pretty sure I see Nyxie roll her eyes in disgust).

So I watch a couple of YouTube videos on how to do this trick, the trainer making it look so easy with her happy little background music and enthusiastic voice.  How hard can it be?  (Nyxie glances over at the clock on the cable box.  Did she just start tapping her paw?)

"tap, tap, tap"

The goal is to have the dog pick up each individual toy off the floor and drop it into the toy basket.  We've all seen it done and think "I wish my dog would do that!"  Each step is rewarded - pick up toy, bring toy, drop toy, eventually becomes drop toy in basket - the final progression looking seamless.  Clearly both trainer and dog are brilliant in every way!  It's not as easy as it looks, folks.  

Number One - The dog has to be interested in her toy.  I make the mistake of having treats on the table where Nyxie can see them, and since treats trump toys any day of the week, any toy interest goes the way of the Dodo bird.  I'll have to wait until she's in the middle of playing with her toys to reintroduce training.

Number Two - The toy basket must not be filled with a few gabillion toys (oops!).  Nyxie eyeballs this enormous basket of potential fun before her and thinks, "Ooooh!  I haven't played with this one in the past 3 minutes!"  I decide to take the toys out of the basket but I'm too late.  Nyxie follows me, my arms laden down with dog toys crunchy with old slobber.  I make a pile of these in the other room and she immediately plops down in the middle of the pile, happily chewing her old "buddies".  See Number One.

total distraction

Number Three - I discover that actually having a plan for this trick is crucial.  See, even after watching the chain exercise on YouTube, it's crucial to know how to make it work for your dog.  Also crucial to follow the steps in order and not try and skip ahead.  I don't have a plan yet and skip a few basic steps.

I feel so stupid looking into Nyxie's deep brown, almond eyes.  I can feel the intensity of her gaze, all the history and weight of her lineage dating back from 1889 when Capt. Max von Stephanitz began standardizing the breed in Germany.

I hear her sigh, her eyes saying,  "It's ok.  Why don't we start again tomorrow when you're more prepared."

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

I See You, Fenway

The clinic where I work has a kennel and a doggie-daycare.  On Tuesdays, which is my longest day (12 hours), I bring Fenway to work with me.  He loves to go to school to "play with the other kids".  He knows when I'm getting ready for work and follows me around like a lost kitten, rubbing up against my legs and not letting me out of his sight!

There are certain other "kids" he likes to play with, and they're the Tuesday regulars.  I watch him proudly through the viewing window as I work, a few moments stolen in quiet watchfulness.  He's generally pretty well-behaved, but sometimes goes overboard with the humping and the rough play - he is a teenage boy, after all.  He comes from the school of hard knocks - a doggie version of South Boston!  Having 2 older sisters is no joke!

"Mom?  Is that you out there?"
As I watch him through the window, I see him running and playing.  I feel like a mom watching her kid on the playground.  I watch him stumble and get corrected.  I watch him run and jump with glee!  I watch him sort out his relationships with other dogs, all on his own.  Then he sees me through the window and I hear him squeal with recognition, and crane his neck to see inside.  It's then that I realize he has my heart.  No more a homeless little foundling, but a loved dog.  A dog with a home.  A dog in Arwen's Pack.

Home is where you can snooze on your back in the sunbeams

Sunday, March 11, 2012

A Day for Wellies and Movies by the Fire

I love rainy days.

T and I took the girls out for a nice long walk this morning.  It was drizzly and grey, and the weather kept everyone else inside.  An ideal walk day for a family with reactive dogs!  We talked and walked - a great start to the day.

A perfect morning for a walk!

After some laundry and other chores, we settled in to marathon of Terminator movies.  We cheered at the "I'll be back" lines, fretted over John Connor's fate, and marveled at Linda Hamilton's muscles, all the while snuggling in front of the fire.  The dogs having walked and played most of the morning, were content to trade snoozing places between the couch and before the toasty warmth of the fire.

Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator

Nyxie has a favorite spot on the couch.  It's right in the center where all the extra throw pillows end up.  Matt and I sit at either end of the couch, legs outstretched and Nyxie will eventually find her cozy spot in the middle of us.  I call this spot her "nest" - a safe haven away from Fenway, who tortures her by just coming too close.

"Not another picture, Mom!"

It's in these moments when she is cuddly, soft and trusting.  She'll bury her snooter in the pillows beside us, her nose just touching us.  Sometimes she lays with her head resting on the soft pillows, snoring quietly in a deep sleep.  I'll rest my head on her back, grateful for her trust.  If we watch a scary movie, her proximity and warmth keep me grounded and safe.

Tonight she snored quietly, head behind my closest pillow, paws resting against my hip.  I felt her deep, slow  breathing and knew she felt secure between us.  All her fears and insecurities melt away in these moments shared with the people and dogs that make up her world.  She could let her guard down knowing she was safe.

And we all knew it was a good day to be in Arwen's Pack

"Mom - can I share your monkey slanket with you?"

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Underdogs Go South

One of my family's favorite TV shows is Animal Planet's Pit Bulls and Parolees.  Although we don't always catch the show at its regular air time, we can usually catch it through our cable's "on demand" feature.  If you've never watched this show, (where've you been?) it's about a tough, heart of gold Pit Bull rescuer who runs a huge rescue ranch in California with her daughters and extended family of parolee guys.  See, Tia Marie Torres doesn't just rescue Pitties.  Her husband is incarcerated and she believes in second chances.  She's opened her heart to parolees, helping them get their lives on track by caring for the dogs at Villalobos Rescue Center in California.

Yeah, she's pretty awesome...

Tia is one of those women who really knows dogs.  She also really knows people.  She's tough as nails and has razor-sharp intuition.  Her daughters impress me and I hope I can raise my own to have the same strength and sense of self that her two have.  And to also instill in her a rescuer's heart.  Raising a strong girl is tough work - she's done it twice.  Cheers to you, Tia!

Tia with daughters, Tani and Mariah

Pitt Bulls and Parolees is one of the few TV shows that has actually moved my own 14 year old daughter to tears.  She says Tia is tough like me (aw, shucks).  She's grown so attached to Fenway (who's suspiciously of Pittie lineage) and empathizes deeply with the plight of these rescue dogs.  It's a beautiful thing to see, really.  


So why have I told you all this?  

I just finished watching episode 12, season 3 -"on demand", of course- and got some wonderful news.  Villalobos Rescue Center has moved to New Orleans!  Any of you who follow my blog know how much I love New Orleans.  It's the city that truly holds my heart.  

Now this was no easy move for them, I'm sure.  People, belongings, and over 150 Pit Bulls were moved!  Only Tia... 

Tia and her family

I wanted to help spread the word here and ask you to visit their website.  They're humanitarians, rescuers, and relentless champions for the ultimate underdogs - Pit Bulls and  parolees.  If you read through their site, you'll find they ask for doggie goods, volunteers, and financial support.  

As though my family needed any more reason to go to New Orleans?  It makes sense for them to be there.  If ever there was a place that will be home to a tough fight, New Orleans fits that bill.  Good luck, Tia!  Maybe someday we can clink Hurricane glasses and talk dogs, raising teenage girls and fighting the good fight.  


Thursday, March 1, 2012

Luck of the Irish month?

As dog parents, we have the duty to keep our wards well-groomed and in working order.  This often comes with the arduous task of nail-trimming.  I know.  I know - many of you are shuddering - the mere thought of cutting dog nails is causing sweaty palms and accelerated hearts.  To celebrate the new month - March - my personal  month-long Irish heritage festivus - I decided to trim dog nails.

Yes, it's nothing but good times here at my house...

Arwen is an old pro.  Like everything else in her distinguished life, she handles nail trims like a champ.  I call her over, she lays down on her back in front of me.  I simply start trimming.  She slowly pulls her legs away from me at times, and when we're almost done, she tries to wriggle away.  For the most part, though, I just clip away and talk softly to her.  When we're done, I cheer for her with lots of praise and she runs to the kitchen for a big treat.

Notice the patient look in these eyes?

Nyxie is next.  This girl is big, smart, high-strung, and mostly compliant.  A bag of training treats wins her over as I call her to lay down in front of me.  I trim her nails as she lays on her side, taking softly to her and giving her a treat after each nail is done.  In a vain attempt to resist me and the treats, she rights herself usually after each second nail.  She's a drooling puddle of forgiving goo that while she wants so terribly to resist me, her desire to please me wins out every time.  Thank goodness for her German Shepherd-ness!

Nails?  Whatever you say, Mom.

And then there's Fenway...
Fenway is a dog that's not used to being groomed.  In his former mystery life, I'm quite sure there weren't regular baths or nail trims, ear checks or paw cleanings.  When there's no suspicion that you actually have a grooming tool, or medication, he lets you pretty much do anything to him.  But if you try to do anything to him, he treats you like a zombie bite victim.

"Will she bite me?  Is she infected?  Better to run away!"

Poor kiddo.  With a ton of patience and treats, his nails were cut and then filed.  He did pretty well, actually.  I think he finally got tired of my unrelenting persistence in holding those little paws of his.  Happy March, Fenway - maybe the rest of the month will bring you the luck of the Irish.  But then again, you need to be neutered soon...