Life Skillz

Rhys 13 weeks

Life skills. Rhys may be a naughty puppy at times, but I’m finding he’s really good at getting down the skills he’s gonna need for his life with me. And in the greater scheme of things, that’s far more important to me than him knowing a whole bunch of cool tricks – although eventually he’ll know some of those too.

His gold star for Sunday was letting me sleep until 9 am. And that was after he went to bed at about 9 pm.

I know that a lot of people follow a pretty strict schedule with their puppies and dogs. Just like many people follow a pretty strict schedule with their children. I believe the terminology is called structure. I was not raised with a lot of structure as a child. We didn’t eat at certain times, we didn’t go to bed at certain times, we didn’t have lessons and play dates. In fact, now that I reflect upon it, there was a certain amount of chaos. This might explain while I’m an individual with a craving for structure and routine, but that thrives on chaos and madness.

I raise my dogs the same way. Don’t expect to eat at specific time, don’t expect to get up every day at a certain time, don’t expect to go to bed at a certain time and don’t expect that we’re gonna have a fun adventure every day.

My hope and belief is that this helps to create a fun, resilient dog that has mad coping skillz.

Interestingly, Youke was raised in much the same way that Rhys is currently being raised, but he is a dog that would prefer a regular eating and sleeping routine. Sorry, dude. After nearly nine years together you gotta know that’s just not gonna happen. However, he really good at just chilling out when what he wants – usually to eat – isn’t happening when he thinks it should be. He’s also really good at rolling with the unexpected.

Brady and Camm embrace the uncertainty because the reality is that all of the eating, sleeping and playing will eventually happen. Both just roll with whatever the day may hold. They may ask questions along the way about what is happening, or not happening, but are generally pretty good with waiting or not doing the thing that they may think is about to happen, but isn’t.

I’m also very good about telling my dogs what’s coming up, or not coming up, as it happens.

Therefore, in my house, being willing to settle down, or go back to bed, is an Extremely Important Skill.

Because Rhys went to bed pretty early last night, I fully expected him to wake up earlier than usual to ask to go out to empty his bladder. He actually slept until almost 7 am. Much as I didn’t want to get up, I knew he really had to pee, and I realized I did too. So after I quickly used the bathroom, I let all four dogs outside. Then I led them back inside and said “back to bed.” All four, even the baby dog, trotted up the stairs. Rhys actually went back over to his nighttime crate. I opened the door, petted him softly for a second and placed him inside, repeating “back to bed.” The other three settled in their respective favorite places and we all slept in until 9 am.

This scenario contrasts drastically with an agility weekend or any other time I have early morning plans and must wake them all up and expect them to be ready to go by 7 am, or in some cases, earlier.

It’s all about rolling with the moment. I witness this resilience nearly every day with Rhys. I cannot take credit for much of his boldness and willingness to deal with what is thrown at him as he was raised with that expectation from the get-go. I can though take credit for continuing with that expectation.

I watched for instance today as he came into a puppy class that he was at once before a few weeks ago and upon entering immediately dealt with all the strange and loud noises from the high-pitched and sqeaky-loud voices of women to the lower and louder voices of the men and the barking of stranger puppies to him. I watched as he dealt with different introduction and play behavior from various puppies, to attentively interacting with human children and fearlessly navigating through a bunch of strange objects, even offering to ride on a skateboard and hand cart.

After the class, I took him into Home Depot with me to make a couple of purchases. He walked through the busy Saturday parking lot and shopping crowd into the store with me. He met complete human strangers and rode in a shopping cart, before deciding that walking beside it was better. He took in the strange and new sounds and scents and navigating through the busy parking lot beside the shopping cart with me.

All the while, he was calm. I cannot say for certain that he did not feel some apprehension as I’m sure he did. But he was never afraid and he checked in with me when he felt the need to. I talked with him throughout, and reached down to pet him on occasion, letting him know I was there if he needed me. He willingly interacted with people and sought out a few himself and mouthed a new welcome mat purchase I was making.

It was a fairly quick trip as I knew what I needed and I felt a bit overwhelmed myself with the Saturday shopping crowd due to lack of caffeine intake prior to the class and shopping trip. I didn’t want to overwhelm him and I didn’t bring any food rewards into the store with me. That last part was okay as Rhys discovered that Home Depot employees are apparently trained to dole out the dog cookies to canine visitors.

Rhys had a super busy Saturday too. I think it may have been the first day since he’s come to live with me that he did not partake in a nap of some sort.

While we didn’t arise super early, I did have a morning appointment for him at the vet’s for his puppy shots. After eating, Rhys played with Camm for a while, then chewed on a bully stick in his daytime crate while I showered and dressed. He was charming and polite at the vet’s, even showing off a skill that I did not know he had – sitting politely by the vet’s side as she opened the door to take him into the back area for his shots. Apparently he did more cool and charming stuff while back there because the vet and vet tech were all smiles when they brought him back and kept telling me what an awesome little puppy he was.

Since he had been all wiggly when we first arrived and I couldn’t read the scale for his weight – it’s hard not to be wiggly when everyone wants to pet you and oohs and ahhs over your cuteness upon your arrival through the door – I asked him to sit and wait on the scale so I could get an accurate reading.

Rhys has sit down pat. Wait is still a work in progress, but he held it for a sufficient number of seconds for me to get a reading on the scale. A whopping 19.4 pounds at 13 weeks.

Then I took all four dogs off on a walk and romp at a local park that has river frontage and some fun little trails. Naturally they all had a blast. Rhys is excellent about running with The Big Dogs, but also with coming back to check in with me. I’m not sure if that’s a life skill that border collies are born with, but it’s something that all of mine thus far have done. Since I’m out of the habit of carrying food rewards on me at all times,*I tend to reward with play or toys when we’re out on walks or hikes. Maybe it’s the border collie thing of wanting to work with a Human, but the look of joy of their faces when they’re out and about, then come running back to briefly touch my hand or give me a quick poke in the leg, then run back out again, is contagious and a pleasure to see.

Rhys is also at this stage in his life where pretty much everything and anything is an adventure. It’s fun to watch him stretch out his gangly growing legs and clumsily torch through the woods and brush. I adore that he is so bold and fearless, tearing up the banks of hills, through thick undergrowth, over fallen logs, through mud and mud puddles. Yesterday, he even waded into the river with his paws, unafraid of the rushing current farther out or the happy barking and yapping of Camm as she and Youke splashed in the water while Brady ran up and down in the sand. A quick whistle from me standing at the top of the bank over the river and all three of The Big Dogs came bounding from the water, through the sand and mud and flew over the bank to continue running on the trail. Rhys followed as fast as he could, but his legs are shorter and he’s still learning how his body works, but he navigated the same path, intent, and intense, about following The Big Dogs. That intensity was tempered though by the look of joie de vivre on his face as he came running as fast as he could. It’s almost as if he couldn’t believe how fast he was going and how strong his body was. Or maybe it was the opposite and he was delighting on exactly what his growing body could do.

Either way, it made me smile and laugh with shared joy.

Sadly, all good things must end and we headed home. My plan was to clean my house and I figured the dogs would want to nap for a while.

When I got out my vacuum, I crated Camm and Rhys and gave both a bully stick to gnaw on. Camm wants to supervise and herd the vacuum and giving her something to chew on is a good way to keep her calm and occupied. She has learned to chill out when I vacuum once in her crate, but since I was giving Rhys one too, figured she wouldn’t be jealous that way. Youke and Brady just chill out upstairs on my bed while vacuuming takes place as they’ve learned I rarely vacuum the bed.

Thus far, Rhys has not reacted to either the noise or motion of the vacuum, but I figure that encouraging alternate behavior cannot be a bad thing. In fact, he usually falls asleep.

But for whatever reason, he did not yesterday. He chewed on his bully stick and/or played with some toys in his crate while I vacuumed, then cleaned and mopped floors, cleaned the bathroom,  picked up stuff strewn about the living room and kitchen, did a load of laundry and clean and replaced the cat’s litter.

After I finished cleaning up, I let Rhys and Camm out to play together. They are best friends and ran around chasing each other with toys, then played bitey face games while I checked email messages and Facebook for a while. Youke and Brady continued to keep it chill and lounged on my bed, although every once and a while Brady would bounce down to go watch Cam and Rhys play.

Brady is funny. He doesn’t really want to play with Rhys himself, but he seems to really like watching Rhys and Camm play together.

I had a bit of company come a short time later and Rhys came out into the yard to play for a while and do some posing for pictures. Okay, posing is stretching it as he has no concept of that, yet. But he did get to do super adorable puppy things while my friend took pictures of him.

By 5:30 pm, all cleaning was done and all company was gone. I knew Rhys was tired by the telltale look in his eyes of exhaustion and by the fact that he was becoming very fierce with his teeth. I fed him and the other three dogs – who were ecstatic at the unexpected early dinner time , especially Youke –  and put him in his crate. A massive groan, followed by him collapsing into the bed I’d placed in the crate told me he was overdue for a long nap.

It was then that I decided it’s be a good idea for me to catch up on Bates Motel for a few episodes. I was joined on the couch by Youke – who has mad nap skillz, and Camm and Brady spread themselves out on the floor beside the couch, butt-to-butt. I got through two episodes before I too decided I had to close my eyes for a little bit.

I had originally planned to take the dogs out late day for a romp to “tire them out” so I could read and watch a bit of TV last night. Turns out, that was not needed. Everyone, even 13-week-old Rhys, was so chill, that the evening was peaceful and quiet. I almost felt like I was on vacation.

And yes, I live with four border collies. This is what I mean by life skills.

Rhys 13 weeks Balls.jpg

Stealing and playing with as many Balls as possible is a Life Skill

* I got out of the habit of carrying food rewards on me at all times when I began hiking more regularly with the dogs and due to the critter-filled areas that we often frequent. Because you know who else likes food rewards? Critters, including big omnivorous and carnivorous critters that might see me and/or my dogs as food rewards. That decision had the unexpected bonus of making me less of a pez dispenser and forced me to carry alternative rewards – usually Balls – or to find alternate rewards within the environment – such as twigs or water – or to create alternate rewards, including non-tangibles such as a game of chase. However, food rewards have their place and as Rhys enters the even naughtier teenage stage of his life, the food (and other) reinforcers will be coming out in full force.

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