Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Don't Shoot the Dog

But first: remember the list from yesterday? Add to that gnawing up one of my flip-flops (don't worry, I fixed it, it's not like they were presentable to wear outside the house before hand)

Also, ripping off the 'illegal to remove' tags from some of those pillows she moved. I'm not sure *how* she ripped the tags off; they're completely intact, but detached. Maybe she grabbed them and shook the pillow? That is one of her favorite ways to play with things, but I would not have thought she would be able to get a good enough grip on the tag. Again, no harm - I probably should have pulled the things off before anyway. We have classy decor here, van you tell? Though it does amuse me the tags said 'it is illegal .... except for by the final consumer' see, Kumi, you were supposed to *eat* the pillows if you take the tags off.

The fence is done, and she enjoys it. No, she is not fast enough to catch a rabbit. It was a little weird not going for a full walk, but between tossing toys for her and just general wandering, she seemed to tire herself out more than she did on the walks even. We'll have to be careful not to let the heeling slip though. It will be good to practice doing things off-leash though.


The title is in reference to the newest dog book that came in. Again, this is an early review - I'm not done with the first chapter, but I likey. We may have to buy this. It's a great mix of conversational, funny, readable language with practical, immediately applicable ideas. It's not just a rote how-to training book though. It's theory, philosophy, principles that are generally applicable. Even in that first partial chapter, I have concrete things I want to change with how I'm doing things. I complained about 'Bones' having too much fluff between the useful bits, this may be the opposite. It isn't hard to read by any stretch, but I could do with a few more examples and explanations to crystallize the ideas. Though, I expect that may be found in later chapters.

I like how she doesn't focus on a clicker being the one true way. I really prefer a verbal signal - you don't have to carry it, it has adjustable volume, it's unique from everyone else... Anyway, points to work on - giving verbal correction before a physical one, so they have a chance to self-correct. All I can say to that is 'duh'. I also need to work on not using the verbal signal outside of enforcing behavior, on separating the 'continue' signal from the 'that's it' signal, and on varrying reward frequency. I love how the language in this is practical, rather than lovey-dovey too, I think my husband will actually be able to learn from it too.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Nearing the end of our free pass

Remember that dog whose house manners I raved about? Yesterday she dragged the pillows to another room, ate the top off a tube of benadryl itch ointment (thankfully she didn't seem to chew the tube itself) and got the lid off a jar of salsa and took it into the office. I am glad we have wood floors. I'm also glad we decided to wait just a few more days before leaving her uncrated when we're gone. It could still be a heck of a lot worse, but I'm thinking the honeymoon may be over.

The cats behavior has been amusing too. Initially, Fuu was a jerk, and Mickey couldn't care less, then about a week and a half in, Fuu decided to get over herself, but Mickey apparently realized that she *wasn't leaving* and decided to register his opinions on that matter. i.e. yowling at her and hissing. He's still doing it.

On a better note, the walking continues to improve. She is almost to the point of a decent heel* without a constant stream of 'no' 'heel' 'no' 'heel' 'good' 'no' 'heel'... which is a darn good thing since I was starting to dread walks a bit.

I'm not sure if there's a way to go from this to even less formal loose leash walking since I don't really care if she's right next to me, or if she pauses to sniff something then catches up, but it seems so far this is the only way to keep her from going straight to the end of the leash and pulling. It's not a big deal to keep her at heel, but it seems something else might be more pleasant for all parties. Or maybe it wouldn't

She's starting to get the idea of stays and down. We need to come to firm up a decision on a release word. 'lets go' works for going out the door, or walking on leash, but doesn't make sense for regular old 'ok, you're done' I don't want to use 'ok' since that's soo common in conversation, I heard 'at ease' suggested and while it's amusing, it's awkward to actually use. Maybe I should try 'that'll do' like in Babe.

I need to call and check on the obedience classes the shelter mentioned. I thought I would have heard from them by now, and can't 100% remember the date among all the other things I was remembering then.

Fence should be done today, which will be good.

*not an obedience-style heel, but a 'walk next to me' style heel.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Bones, contd.

You know how I said I hoped I would be able to make another post about the book saying it got better.

Yeah. This is that post.

It's not perfect. There's still a high fluff to meat ratio, but it's good meat.

It's a little depressing, actually, in a 'I will never be as good as I could be' sense, but hey, sometimes the truth hurts. It doesn't mean you can't still try to be better. What's that quote? 'Lord, let me be the person my dog thinks I am'?

Frustrating a bit too, some of her guidelines seem to contradict. It may be worth reading twice to try to resolve those conflicts from a better perspective.

So, I keep reading.

Incidentally, I've been doing a good bit of the reading in the dog crate. Kumi isn't bad about her crate, but she doesn't hang out there by choice, and seems to be catching on that we tend to leave after she goes in there, and won't run in unaccompanied even for a treat. So, I've been reading in there with the thought that if I think it's a cool place to hang out, maybe she will too. Or, you know, not. But I fit pretty well.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Bones Would Rain from the Sky

I've started reading the book in the title there. It's one of the 'big name' modern training/dog philosophy books you see mentioned again and again. Also, unlike The Other End of the Leash and Don't Shoot the Dog, it was in at my local library branch. I'm not very far yet, just starting chapter 3, which is not very far at all to start making judgments, but I'm feeling a little dubious.

It is, to use a highly technical term 'mushy-gushy touchy-feely' it makes frequent reference to 'dogs praying' or 'souls dancing' it cries over tragic pasts and the miracle of infinite forgiveness. It is, in many ways so far, an autobiography of a very sensitive person.

You may have noticed 'nerd' in the title of this blog. I am not, by any stretch, a mushy-gushy touchy-feely person*. More concerning, my husband is even less so. I despair of getting him to read the thing without laughing and mocking it incessantly. I'm considering not even asking if it does not get notably better, which would be unfortunate, given how much so many people seem to have learned from it.

In many ways, egotist that I am, I think my analytic nature is helpful in dealing with animals. I research. I notice details, notice patterns, question assumptions and first guesses. I demand causality, repeatability, evidence. I look for explanations if something doesn't work, or if it does work and I don't know why. Honestly, husband and I do this in our relationship with each other. It's effective. But it seems to be a far cry from the rest of the world. Particularly the rest of the world that loves fuzzy-wuzzy animals.

I like the *idea* of the book. It talks of gaining a rapport with animals - communication, not just conditioned responses. That sounds like a great thing, even an achievable thing. The nerd in me has no problem whatsoever with this part. But is the only way to get there through a lot of misty-eyed meditation about souls? Tendencies, I can understand. Motivations, subtle communication, wants, needs, fears. I know that this is not the sort of thing there is a 'quick fix for... but if the only way is looking into the dogs eyes and 'just knowing'? Sorry, you'll have to be more specific.

Hopefully, I will post again in a few days and say 'ha! never mind all that - just skip the first few chapters or so, she gets into the real meat later'. I did like her metaphor that learning these things is like learning how your grandmother bakes. There may not be a 'recipe' just an understanding of the ingredients, and a lot of trial and error.

I already eschew (or heavily alter) recipes in my cooking, and in my knitting, so I am not afraid of the abstract, if anything, it excites me. I'm just hoping that she gets into an overview of the ingredients in a way I can understand, and that they aren't so mushy-gushy I stop reading.

*though I did cry during UP - I think it was the first time I've cried at a movie ever. It still blows my mind a bit. Hormones may have been involved.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Sorry, My contract specifies a maximum of three 'sit's a day

We're starting to get a better handle on where Kumi is coming from training-wise. I think a good bit of it is she gets bored *very* quickly. One sit is good, a second she won't complain about, but more than that and you're *really* pushing it...the game is just not that interesting, treats or no. However, if you switch up to a different behavior (we're working on letting us handle her paws, and on heeling) she'll cooperate again. So she makes no progress, or even backward progress within the session, but will be better at it the next day.

The walking is already *much* better. On the first walk, she was at the end of the line and pulling, and wouldn't do otherwise for all the stopping, treats, or other bribery in the world. Three days later, I've got her at something close to a heel, though I still have the leash short. Strangely, she seems like she might do this better for me than for M, even though she sees him as the more important person in general. It's still a struggle to get her to take treats when walking, even when she's right there, doing well, you put one right next to her nose and she couldn't care less. It's strange.

Monday, July 13, 2009


Friday's post was apparently premature.

Because that afternoon we found our match.

Kumiko is a two year old Akita-Chow mix. She's pretty much what you would expect from that blend, including very, very fluffy, but a little on the small side at 75 lbs. We met her Friday evening, slept on it, and went to pick her up in a pouring storm when the shelter opened at 1 on Saturday. Nope, she's not bothered by thunder.

She plays very enthusiastically, including fetch. If you aren't around to throw it, she tosses things into the air and catches them herself. This is very loud. Particularly when she does it with the extra-hard large-dog nylabone. She has nominal interest in chewing the thing, but loves tossing it in the air and hearing it go BANG against the wood floor.

She has very good house manners, and a good sense of what things are hers and what are not. When her ball landed in the wires behind the computers, she was extremely careful picking it out, and has been very responsive to 'no' for off-limits things (the counter, my knitting basket, the houseplant).

She seems to have a very good sense of personal space, and doesn't mob people. She also seems to intuitively understand that the cats are people too in that sense. While I wouldn't say she was afraid of Fuu like some of the dogs we've babysat, she won't approach her without an invitation, and is very cautious. (Fuu is just starting to give these invitations by Monday morning). She will be actively tossing her ball around, but stop when it rolls by Fuu and wait for me to get it for her. Fuu, on the other hand, is a jerk, and bats the ball around herself - even the one almost as big as she is. We're watching very closely for now and keeping her crated when we aren't home, but it looks like things will be ok on that front. There was a minor altercation this morning where Fuu and Mickey were wrestling and Kumiko went over to investigate. Oddly, Mickey was the one who didn't appreciate it, and yelled and swatted her and ran to the other side of the room, but Kumi held still and didn't chase or react at all. Perfect.

Training may well be a struggle. She seems pretty smart, and doesn't go out of her head, but is a bit difficult to motivate. (again, typical to both breeds). Sometimes she is interested in plain kibble, sometimes she is indifferent even to treats. We probably need to do some guess and check on alternative treats, like cheese, hot dogs...she seemed interested in pretzels at one point. So natural house manners will get us somewhere, but the rest will be a long haul. The only command she knows even a little is sit, and she's not strong on that one. She also seems to think touching her bottom is part of the command, since she goes right down without any pressure if you do that, but is not nearly so good with just the word. On the other hand, the only really bad habit is she pulls on walks, so we can get by while she learns. Classes start in August.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Rescue Vibes

I feel a little uncertain writing this, since I don't have any facts, just, as the title says, vibes. So, I'm going to be very careful not to name names, and to distinguish what I know from what I suspect. I imagine you could add things together and determine what place I'm talking about, but I really don't think that's important to the point, these behaviors in any place would raise the same questions.

So, of the breeds we're considering, one of them has a rescue organization that seems truly awesome. They have lots of good info on their site, they've answered a couple questions we've had with very reasonable responses. They seem very sane, helpful and understanding. Good vibes.

Another one just doesn't rub me the right way. I'm going to enumerate observations here, and talk about them at the end.

1) They don't have any dogs in foster. They have a large facility out in the country, and all dogs are housed there.

2) You don't go to the facility, they bring the dogs they think will match to your house.

3) They attend rescue events, but don't bring adoptable dogs, just their personal pets as breed ambassadors.

4) The descriptions of dogs on their site are written in first person (this really bugs me, but it's common enough that I don't necessarily count it against a place) and are full of how terrible, sad, and abusive life was before the dog came, and how much he/she loves her new mommy now, but say little to nothing about the dog's personality, or what sort of families they would fit into.

5) Their application is very, very detailed.

6) The dogs listed as available have not significantly changed since we were looking last time - two years ago.

7) Talking with them at the event, they made the comment "Just don't lie on the application, because we do check it. If we find out, for example, that you don't actually own your house, we just won't call you back". I want to be clear here that the part that worried me about this was the 'we won't call you back'. They don't check and see if there's a misunderstanding? They checked the right house? The auditor's records are up to date? No, they just don't call back. Now, this was an offhand, unofficial comment, so I don't want to read too much into the literal phrasing, but it's one more thing in a list.

8) They have a reputation of 'nice enough people, but they don't like to give their dogs up' from someone we know who works at a county shelter.

So, best case I suppose, the lady's a bit of a control freak, but has he heart in the right place, and happens to have the means to run a large facility, so she does. She gets enough outside help to make sure all the dogs are adequately socialized while still being able to keep an eye on all of it.

Worst case, she's a textbook hoarder. Dogs go in, are warehoused for years without human interaction and almost never come out.

Ordinarily, I would roll my eyes, shake my head, and look elsewhere, but we're starting to think this may be the breed that really does fit the best. It's a big organization, covering pretty much the whole state, and some of the neighboring ones. The next-closest rescues look much more sane, but encourage people to work with rescues near where they live, and even link to this place. I know rescue is a very tight-knit community, and I don't want to step on toes.

M thinks we should go ahead and apply at the crazy place, and if we're rejected, or the dogs are unhealthy or unsocialized, to go to one of the farther away ones, tell them why we were rejected, and ask if they have the same standards. I think it would look better for us to go to one of the farther ones directly, and just be honest about not getting good vibes (the no-foster thing bothers me most), but I'm not sure how much it would matter. I think I'm also a little more afraid of getting crazy on me than he is.

M is on contract work now, so when that is up, we actually will temporarily be the perfect dog home - big fenced yard in the country, someone home all the time, no kids. Part of me thinks we should wait until then to apply, but I'm at a loss to explain why we would continue living like that instead of looking for work or having kids (which is what we plan to do).

What would you do? Just go with the second choice breed with the awesome supportive rescue?

Also, am I reading to much into these things, or does something really smell funny here?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

No dog (yet)

I'm glad I waited until today to write this, as yesterday I wouldn't have put the 'yet' on the end - I was pretty grumpy. Today's recap will be much more even-headed.

The story is they're worried about biting, and aren't comfortable releasing him for adoption. They're looking into placing him with a rescue or other program where he can get some training.

It's amazing how attached we became without even meeting him - just seeing him through a door. I completely didn't realize it, but driving home just felt empty, despite knowing it was really for the best in all sorts of ways (no dog in the middle of the week, no behavior problems we aren't experienced dealing with)

I think it didn't help that the decision was passed to us second hand - if we'd met him, and seen that he didn't have the personality we wanted it would have been a lot easier than having to take someone's word. Not that I don't completely understand why they did it, it's just...harder.

There is so much trust in this process, and trust is hard, particularly trusting strangers. We trust the shelter to tell us the truth, to faithfully represent things, to act in our best interest, to keep the dogs as healthy and sane as they can. The shelter trusts us to be who we say we are, to really care and give the dog a good home. We both trust the dog to show his true personality, to bond with us, to not do anything dangerous even in crazy strange situations. The dog trusts us with, well everything.

It's tough. None of us have any reason to trust. And it's big things, it's not like trusting someone to remember to buy milk and you can just sigh and pick it up later. It's big things. So you put up walls to try to keep from having to trust, you call references, you make up wild stories in your mind about what nutcases these people must be, and read way, way way to much into stupid details*. But it doesn't work, the walls just make everyone cranky, since now they have to stand up on these big ladders to talk to each other, and when they're done, the trust is still waiting for them on the other side of the wall. You have to do it, you have to trust this person.

Wow, I think I let that metaphor get away from me there a little bit.

Back to us. At least today, I can trust them that the dog wasn't stable, that they have good methods in place to test these things, and decided that it wasn't an isolated, freak thing, but a real pattern or tendency. I can agree that it is better that he gets experienced training rather than coming in with new dog owners. But yesterday? Yesterday I was all about whomever he bit must have been asking for it, just because a dog once touches its teeth to someone doesn't mean it's a killing machine, what lawsuit-scared wusses these people must be, do they think we're idiots?

I'm glad I didn't write that entry. Like I said, it's hard.

So, we have two appointments pending to meet with akita(mix)s. I was thinking they would probably be Friday and Saturday, but we haven't heard back yet, so maybe not. Sunday is another event. After than I think we start talking to breed rescue.

Also - craigslist score! Two baby gates for $10, right on the way home. Also, the kids at the house were super-cute. They were all about showing me their veggie garden. Tomatoes! Strawberries! Bell Peppers!

*I do not mean by this that any and all due-diligence, fact checking &c. is inappropriate, just that when all is said and done, no matter how hard you've looked, you still have to trust the person.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Strange cat behavior

One more thing to add to yesterdays saga.

When we were coming in from the yard that evening, and Mickey shot out the door. That isn't something we usually worry about with him. He normally has no interest, and if he does go out, it's just to rub on your legs, and ask for dinner, and he's quite amicable to being gathered back inside.

Not today. He ran along the edge of the house keeping out of reach as though we were terribly frightening and strange. Then the weirdest part. He broke away, ran straight to a pile of dirt (our garden is in-progress) and immediately began peeing on it. Not marking, just regular litter-box behavior, except he seemed terribly concerned about us being near and watching him. We took a step too close and he was off again. Eventually we herded him back inside, where he was completely fine again.

We were still wearing clothes from the shelter visits, but he'd been happily cuddling with us in those clothes earlier in the day. The behavior could have made sense he was going after a bird or something, but apparently he just desperately had to use a new litterbox? (the regular litterbox was in fine shape). Cats are strange.

It begins

This will be a long post, because yesterday was a long day, and it really all does go together.

The local 'big city' shelter has events every other week where they host a lot of the smaller rescues and dogs from fosters out on their lawn. It's a nice way to meet dogs since they're already out and relaxed and not 'omigod someone walked past my cage'. Plus, for the smaller rescues that don't have facilities, just fosters, it's the only way to get a casual face-to-face with a dog as opposed to setting up a big 'we choose you' meeting.

We went. There were a lot of dogs. It was pleasant, but nothing really said 'I'm your dog'. In truth, there weren't many dogs there at all which fit what we came in looking for. We always go into these things thinking 'danes, akitas, rotties, chows' and end up looking at GSDs, boxers and pitties because that's the closest thing there is. We do like those breeds, but...not really the same.

So, we were pretty discouraged leaving there. There were a lot of dogs, and no 'clicks' which is depressing. And it's depressing to leave behind the nice dogs that just aren't the one. Really depressing. We want to get into fostering eventually to give those a chance, but for now, for our first dog, I feel pretty strongly that we should be patient and wait for the one.

From there, we went to our local county shelter/pound, which is much smaller and rural-er. Our expectations were pretty low at that point since we'd already been to a big place with no results, and being a rural area, we expected beagles, hounds, and other unsuitably energetic hunting dogs to be prominent, and finally, from the vet care we'd found around here (another entry, later), we didn't expect people to really take dogs seriously.

We were completely surprised.

It was very, very clean. The girl at the desk was very friendly, talked to us about their procedures without being confrontational or brusque about it. The kennel itself was bright, with fresh air from an open door the end. The dogs had large-ish runs with access to an outdoor area, and a bed. It didn't smell dirty or like antiseptic, the barking didn't echo in that incredibly loud way. It was...pleasant, and I mean it. We're probably going to volunteer. They had training classes too, which we're probably going to sign up for.

They also, maybe, had dogs. Yes, plural. There was actually a dane(!) who was giving all the right signals. Standing up, watching us quietly with his tail wagging slowly, but all feet on the floor. He was still waiting on a vet-check, so we will be going back Tuesday to interact with him. They also had an akita/chow out on foster that we gave our number for the fosters to call and set up a meeting time with. Finally, there was the *ugliest* dog I've ever seen. Apparently, a husky type, but stress from a combination of heartworm treatment and being in a shelter she had lost all her hair. Surprisingly, white huskies have red/dark brown skin (at least she did) so, a little, bare, brown dog with white tufts stuck to her, it was rather incredible. On the other hand, she was actually giving the right signs as far as personality too, though it seems that might be stress, since husky was a breed that we wrote off straight out the door as 'nice, but no way we can handle all that energy' so it's probably not a good idea.

So, we're going back Tuesday. This is the point where I start panicking a bit again. I was up intermittently through the night with racing thoughts and a sore back*

I hate the idea of having to bring a dog home in the middle of the week. We'll be going from the shelter to the pet store for supplies (we figure we'll have to go after we get the dog for the collar anyway, so why no do all-in-one?). I have all sorts of worst-case scenarios running through my mind. We won't be able to find a crate big enough. We will put the dog in the crate and leave him (because we have to work the next day) and he will have separation anxiety and hate his crate for the rest of his life. We will leave the dog out of the crate because he hates it and he will eat everything, including the cats. The fence people being around the house will terrify him, and he will hate strangers and bark at them forever. Fuu will pester him while he is in the crate (because Fuu is a jerk) and he will hate her forever, and possibly eat her. I think that's it. I'm not even worried about the real issues (he's poorly bred and will have terrible health issues which we will not be able to resolve because we can't find a good vet) it's all immediate irreversible ruination due to mistakes in the first week. Daylight makes that all seem somewhat less plausible, as does writing it out, but still. I think it actually makes it worse that the shelter is a nice place - we don't have that 'well at least it's better than where he was before' to fall back on, plus the idea of failing and having to return the dog is suddenly much more tangible and therefore terrifying than it was before.

But I suppose what will come will come. I'm counting chickens and all I have is eggs until Tuesday. Maybe all the dogs will end up being jerks, and we'll drive down to another shelter on Wednesday, and another on the weekend. It's strange that in some ways the possibility of not liking the dogs is reassuring? Looking stinks, but it is familiar. Having a dog is something new, and more than a little scary.

*I've no idea what I did to make my back sore. However, the cats react very strangely to you getting out of bed at three am and stretching in the middle of the dining room floor. By strangely, I mean they wake up and try to sit on you. They also seem completely perplexed that someone managed to wake up before they started pestering us for breakfast.