Yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s been a while. But let’s jump right into it, so to speak.
When training your dog, be very careful of what it is exactly that you are training.
Camm recently started ducking under jump bars.
Until last month, she had ducked under jump bars perhaps a handful of times. Two of those times were when we first started agility training. The other three were intermittently earlier this year.
In mid-November, I entered a USDAA agility trial with Youke, Brady and Camm. I had been asked to be one of the chief ring stewards for the trial and it seemed like a really good idea a few weeks prior to the trial to do that job and run three dogs. Oh, and it was a two-ring trial. Located in a big arena with no direct path between the two rings. And I don’t generally crate my dogs inside, choosing instead to park in a location on the other side of the building. Lastly, it was raining heavily that weekend.
But enough about me.
Camm ducked under the first jump in most of her runs that weekend. This led to a few laughs from some of the observers in the stands, and a few helpful comments from those that thought I should know. Did you know she went under the first jump?
The behavior wasn’t really something I could fix in a trial setting and I opted to run her and just have fun since USDAA isn’t my main venue anyway and I don’t care about qualifications. Plus, she was jumping at 20 inches, instead of 16 inches, which is her standard height in the two main venues I compete in with her at this time.
Camm was also pretty worked up that weekend.
I’ve decided that worked up is the best way to phrase it. I think there’s an element of stress and being over threshold at certain events for her and I suspect there are times when agility simply isn’t that fun for her. Too many stoopid rules to remember, too many stoopid rude dogs and a stoopid stressed out Human that is acting weird and not playing Ball as much as she would like. This all contributes to Camm’s world being tilted, and not in a good way.
However, she jumped as normal during practices and at the Thanksgiving NADAC trial we went to, although she did duck under one start line jump that weekend.
The weekend after Thanksgiving, I entered Camm and Brady in another USDAA trial.
While the trial was a bit momentous for Brady, it was a disenchanting weekend for Camm.
I’ll get to Brady in a bit.
Camm ducked under every single first jump at the December trial, with one exception. The one exception occurred when I did a slingshot start with her because she was distracted by a friend who was leash running and kept going to say hello to her. I took advantage of her distraction and she actually jumped the first jump standard. However, if I recall correctly, she made up for that by actually ducking under some of the jumps in sequence on the course, which was a completely new phenomenon and one I had not seen before. She then made up for that by clearing by several inches, and with great speed, a line of jumps on the other side of the dog walk while I ran on the outside of the dog walk. That feat earned some oohs and ahhs from onlookers, because while I frequently do stunts like that with my dogs in practices, and even sometimes in NADAC trials, no one does that kind of distance in USDAA apparently.
Did I mention that one of my agility instructors was at this trial and got to watch Camm’s meltdown up close and personal? No start line stay, ducking under jumps and no stopped contacts. In Camm’s defense, she does have gorgeous natural running contacts that many people spend years teaching their dogs to do and I totally get that stopped contacts are STOOPID. Stoopid, but necessary if you are the Human dealing with Camm’s speed.
Thus, off I went to The Relationship Counselor.
First, I discussed the problem with her last week while Rhys had a mini-session with her. (Yes!! RHYS! The puppy! More on him later too.) We came up with a training plan to work on after contemplating the various reasons why this behavior has suddenly emerged.
One of my theories was that perhaps Camm was having some difficulty differentiating between hoops and jumps as a start line obstacle. In NADAC, the first obstacle is often either a hoop or a jump.In CPE, two bars are used on jumps, therefore, while she could do it, the visual created makes it far less tempting to go between or under bars. She also jumps 16 inches in NADAC and in CPE, but 20 inches in USDAA. Perhaps that extra clearance was just too tempting for her? Camm also starts typically in a “down” position, which allows her to scan the obstacle in front of her with ease and perhaps the temptation is just too much? Plus, it’s a venue that I’ve only done with her twice before, and it was six and 12 months ago, respectively.
The thing of it is that Camm is a gorgeous, light-bodied and athletic jumper. Because she jumps generally fine once in flow, the issue seemed to be with the first obstacle, and not a physical problem.
Typical of many dogs, including numerous border collies, Camm scans an agility course when setting foot into the ring. She is making decisions about a course before we get off the start line. Camm is also a dog that likes to do things fast. Very, very fast. Camm is also a dog that is pretty sure that she knows what she’s doing and doesn’t really need a Human to tell her.
The Relationship Counselor surmised that perhaps the first time Camm ducked under a jump it was not exactly intentional – perhaps she really did think it was a hoop and not a jump from her lowered position. However, like many brilliant dogs before her, Camm learned from that experience, and what she learned was that it is much faster and far less physical effort to get to the next thing on an agility course – say that dog walk that she loves so much, if one goes under the jump bar, rather than over it.
Thus, today, The Relationship Counselor and I set about working to change her mind.
Like many things I work on with my dogs with the aid of The Relationship Counselor, today’s session was endlessly fascinating and eye-opening. Not just because of The Counselor’s skill and insight, but also to truly glimpse the innermost workings of my dog’s mind.
All of my dogs learn in their own idiosyncratic way and all see the world in their own unique way. Camm is a dog that learns things extremely quickly. As in two sessions and she has it. By session number three, she’s an expert. And if that’s not what you wanted her to learn, then why the hell did you teach it that way??!!
With The Counselor on one side of a jump armed with treats for rewards and a target plate, and me with Camm on the other side and armed with a clicker to mark the desired behavior, we prepared to change her mind about that start line jump.
Note that I did not say that we set about to correct her behavior or to teach her the right way to do it. In Camm’s mind, this newfound solution was perfectly logical. Really, think about it. You’re a dog lying down in the ground at the start line and you see a ton of super fun stuff to do super fast. It would actually take some effort to look up and jump that thing in front of you. In fact, that would be STOOPID! Far better to get started as quickly as possible and go for the very first thing you see, which is not a jump in front of you because you’re lying on the ground and that thing is above your head.
Instead, we worked on persuading Camm to do things the way we’d like to see it done. She would get paid with a treat for jumping over the bar, while going under it would not result in any payment.
We started with the jump bar at a lowered position, which Camm easily jumped over and was rewarded with a treat. However, once the jump bar was lifted to a height that a 33-pound lithe border collie could run under easily in order to more quickly get to the target plate with the intention of attaining another tasty treat, the real training began. Quickly, Camm learned that going under did not result in treats raining down onto the target plate. As she worked a few times to figure out the solution and what new Stoopid Thing the Humans wanted, she decided that stopping short of the jump might be the solution. Since that’s not what we wanted, The Counselor opted to try a visual cue to help Camm understand.
Enter, the towel.
The Counselor draped a hand towel across the bar. Bingo! Camm started jumping the bar. She naturally earned a treat reward for doing the desired behavior. However, so that she wouldn’t completely rely upon this visual cue, The Relationship Counselor worked to quickly fade it by folding the towel up smaller and smaller and placing it on different parts of the bar. This was so successful, that we moved to a different jump in the practice area. This too was quite successful.
And then we realized what was going on.
Camm was approaching the bar and deliberately positioning herself so that she would jump the part of the bar where the towel was draped. To proof this, The Counselor asked me to deliberately set Camm up in a certain position where she had to approach and jump the bar where the towel, even though folded up smaller, was not draped.
She ducked under the bar, ever hopeful that a treat would be her reward.
We had inadvertently clicked and treated Camm for jumping over a towel.
As much as we laughed about it and as much as I fantasized all day today about creating a custom glitter and sparkle-designed special towel to bring with me to all future trials and to drape across the first jump at every trial, the reality of being allowed to do this seemed more like a hallucination on my part. So, we moved on.
Eventually, we did have a breakthrough with Camm today, but it will likely take a few more sessions to work through.
Camm is a great example of what many people would characterize as stubborn or manipulative. In reality, she is a fantastic example of doing what works. What works for her.
Dog training is so intriguing.
I might’ve mentioned in the past that when I first got Brady, I did not think he’d ever be able to compete in agility due to his reactivity and other issues. I quickly became okay with that because he was such a blast to learn and to train with and made me a better handler already within a short time of working with him. My original intent was for him to be my training dog. As many know, I eventually became convinced by people who I trusted, including The Relationship Counselor, to try competing with him. Those first few competitions were scary as hell, and not because of trial or obstacle performance issues. In time, we overcame a lot of things – well, Brady overcame a lot of things and with my help and by me proving that I had his back at all times. However, Brady could not overcome his incredible fear of the teeter. After nearly a year of trying to train teeter performance, and making little headway but to make him even more fearful of it, I asked my instructors to not pursue it any longer. NADAC doesn’t allow the teeter in competition and in CPE I could avoid it by never doing Standard courses and just ignoring it in games classes. The few USDAA or ASCA trials I did I would only enter Jumpers or Gamblers. I joked with The Counselor that I would attempt to train him on teeter again once he reached 10 years old.
So imagine my surprise, when at the age of 7.5 years, The Counselor announced this past summer that we were going to working on training the teeter again for Brady. I adore and admire The Counselor and clearly the inability to convince Brady that the teeter was a worthwhile obstacle had been more of a thorn in her side than I had known. I decided to humour her, quite sure that Brady had other ideas.
I was wrong.
This past fall, Brady became adept at the teeter, and, in fact, did his first successful teeter in competition at a CPE trial in September to the cheers and cries of his adoring aunties.
I decided at the December USDAA trial to enter Brady in Grand Prix. Brady has only done a handful of USDAA trials over the years and is still at the Starters level in the titling classes, but he runs at the Elite level in other venues. Plus, he’d absolutely rocked a Grand Prix course offered by one of our instructors a few weeks before in a practice session.
The run was a thing of beauty. He was fast and accurate, and he performed the teeter like he’d been doing it for years, instead of only since about August. We did not qualify because he ended up blowing a dog walk contact by a toenail, or three. Nevertheless, it was the highlight of the trial for me. The icing on the cake was when he earned qualifications in his standard runs.
But even better, was that for the first time in a two-ring, amped up USDAA crowd full of hyper, pent-up dogs and uber competitive types, Brady was loose and relaxed and just plain happy to be playing one of his favorite games with his person.
Those are the moments I think of when I suggest to people to relax and be patient in the journey with their dogs and that hard times and obstacles can be overcome with time, expertise, understanding and lots and lots of patience. I know of which I speak.
Rhys turns one year old in a little over a week. Back in February I could hardly wait for his first year to pass. Now, it seems as it has gone far to quickly and in such a blur.
I’ll devote far more blog time to his next year of life and to the start of our agility training journey.
I stuck to my guns and opted not to do any agility training with him in his first year. No obstacle training that is. I did a tiny bit of footwork foundation with him, and of course he has a foundation on skills that will come in handy should he and I decided to play agility together. I’ve tentatively enrolled him in an agility foundation class to start in January, and of course he has already made the acquaintance of two of my agility instructors, including The Relationship Counselor. I’m excited to see what’s ahead, but determined to be slow and steady. I’m in no rush to get into a ring and compete with him. Mostly, I look forward to the start of more formal learning and training. To me, that is often the best part of playing agility.
And, as Youke, Brady and Camm continually teach me, it is an ongoing journey.
I wore an obscenely short skirt this weekend. I’m pretty sure I’ve not worn a skirt this short in public since about 1997 when I wore an obscenely short skirt to the office on Election Day to make a point.
In 1997 I weighed about 122 pounds and wore a size 2. (A real size 2. Not today’s size 2. Nowadays that would probably be a minus size 4).) I am no longer a size 2 and am pretty sure that ship has sailed.
In 1997 I was also 20 years younger. (Funny how that math works, right?)
It was a skort actually this past weekend, so I’m sure that makes it okay.
Here’s the thing. I’m nearing my mid-50s, my legs are fairly toned from lots of dog-walking and hiking, it was nearly 90 degrees this weekend and I don’t give a fuck anymore.
Life is short people. Wear the damned short skirt.
But I do apologize to anyone I might have flashed this weekend. There’s a lot of bending over in agility trials.
My agility mojo continues to flutter like a lackluster flame. I’ve found it pretty hard to give a fuck about agility competition for most of the summer. This is probably why Youke and Brady are both close to a championship title in one of the venues we compete in, but we haven’t received qualifying runs in the one event we need to get a few more qualifying scores in. Ordinarily I’d say that I’m trying too hard, but really I’m not trying hard enough.
I’ll arrive on the agility field or the agility arena and, although I start out excited, I get there and already don’t care or as the day goes on I find myself caring less. The heat has a way of doing that to me.
Youke has made it very clear since CPE Nationals in May, where it was 90+ degrees and hit 100 degrees one day, that he does not give a fuck about agility in the summer. Cruelly, I keep making him try to care by entering him in only one or two runs. Youke has declared that is far too many. Yet Youke has also declared that we need to play Ball and go hiking no matter how high the mercury climbs. Because running fast, as long as it doesn’t involve some stupid pre-ordained obstacle course, is awesome.
Brady and Camm just wish their Human would run a lot better.
Running for me has been super hard, especially agility outdoors on grass, due to a gimpy foot that I’m pretty sure actually stems from a sciatica issue. Allow me to translate that a little better. I’m nearing my mid-50s and stuff that I’ve taken for granted my entire life up until now is breaking down.
I was trial secretary for an agility show that my agility club puts on around Labor Day each year this past weekend. Somehow, I thought it would be a good idea to enter a lot of runs with Youke, Brady and Camm.
It wasn’t actually a bad idea. Unlike when I’m a trial chair, I find it fairly easy to do my job as trial secretary and still run my dogs. Unfortunately, there’s also a certain amount of brainpower involved in running agility. I used most of this brainpower on trial secretary duties and not so much on memorizing courses.
So between not remembering exactly how a course was supposed to be run, not remembering what my handling plan was and not being able to run into certain positions fast enough, I was a bit of a hot mess.
It probably doesn’t help that in addition to the three competition dogs, I also had an eight-month old puppy to think about.
In reality, all four dogs were wonderful. It was hot and uncomfortable, their Human was occupied most of the time, they were often very bored and the venue didn’t have a place for them to really run and stretch out their legs.
Despite this, they were even-tempered, forgiving and sweet. Rhys made a new friend close to his age, played with other friends, explored the park with his own tribe and saw many of his people friends, as well as made new people friends.
I’m having a really hard time calling him a naughty puppy lately. I’m pretty sure an eight-month old dog isn’t supposed to be this wonderful.
As far as agility weekends goes, it was a nice one in terms of the location, the relaxed vibe and the people. In terms of competition and how my dogs fared, it wasn’t super great.
Brady took a giant nosedive into the grass on Saturday morning by slipping on wet grass. Ironically, we set the start time at 9 am to avoid dew in the grass for just that reason. There was still dew in the grass. It was a Jumpers course and he just couldn’t collect himself or adjust his striding. Of course this was completely my fault and he let me know it. He could not forgive me about it for the entire day. He also could not forgive me for bad handling or my gimpy foot. Things were better on Sunday, but with the exception of one run, I had handling bobbles.
Camm was either higher than a kite, stressed about flies buzzing around her, distracted by the presence of her former foster Human or certain other people that she adores or she was near perfect. We had some brilliant moments coupled with some brilliantly bad moments. We had some brilliantly bad runs, some not half-bad runs and two near perfect runs.
Youke was just hot and not into doing the agility thing. He did humour me in his first run of Saturday by running a steady and sane pace and surprisingly qualifying in Jumpers whereas Brady and Camm did not because they couldn’t collect well enough.
As if often the case, the last run of the weekend was Tunnelers.
I love Tunnelers. Mostly I love it because my dogs love it. It is often an opportunity for full-out, balls-to-the-walls running.
This past weekend’s trial was a fairly small one. Brady was one of two or three dogs in his height class all weekend and Youke and Camm both run in the same height class and just below Brady. As is often the case at small trials when I run all three dogs in the same class, there is very little time to breathe between running a dog, running to get the next dog and then running another dog.
That sounds like it might be stressful. Honestly, I find it exhilarating. I love it.
Sunday’s Tunnelers course had several tricky off-course options, as well as some opportunities to use some distance if that was in your tool kit. I walked the course and quickly devised a handling plan.
I ran to get Brady and since there was only a dog or two between him and Youke, I grabbed Youke too. I asked someone to hold Youke while I stepped into the ring with Brady, but not before cautioning them that Youke would probably start screaming.
Youke is ordinarily a very quiet dog. That is, until one of his family members is running agility in front of him.
Brady was the first dog on the line to run the course. I stood at the start line with him, softly petting the top of his head and surveyed the course quickly again. “I’m gonna run it like I stole it,” I thought to myself. I could feel my energy level rising. Brady felt it too. I could see that as we briefly connected once I got out to my start position and gave him his release cue.
Suddenly, I cared about agility. My agility mojo fairly screamed as my adrenaline level revved into place.
It was a screaming fast and nearly flawless run. Brady did briefly woof at one cue that he deemed was a bit late, but it was a minor singular woof, not a bark per se, and his silence on a run is the best performance gauge. When we connected again at the end of the run, we mentally sent each other a high-five.
I ran back to the start to hand off Brady and to get Youke, who by then was pumped up from knowing I’d just run Brady. It helped that his half-brother, who is also a fast dog, was the dog right in front of Youke. Suddenly, Youke’s agility mojo was also back.
After a great run with Youke, I ran back to get Brady and ran back with both boys to where I had crated Camm to switch them out and grab her.
By this time I was the one higher than a kite. It’s possible I was higher than Camm. In fact, I know I was because she held her start line until I quickly gave her a release cue because I just wanted to get at that course and pummel it.
It was one of those runs where I felt like if you squinted your eyes just right, you’d seen the afterburn following Camm.
Suddenly, I could barely remember what happened in any of our previous runs. I just knew I’d run three perfect runs with three fast dogs and that it felt freaking fantastic.
And I did it in a very short skirt.
The world as we know it might have ended.
And no, I’m not talking about me finally breaking down and getting a smart phone and giving up my beloved flip phone. Besides, that happened in May and despite a slight tremor in the Earth’s atmosphere, it appears we all survived fairly intact.
I’m talking about, of course, my puppy.
Rhys put himself to bed tonight.
Let me repeat that. Rhys put himself to bed.
And, as if he had to make a point of it, he did it twice.
This is the very same puppy that less than a month ago I had to persuade, sometimes with a few bits of kibble in my hand, sometimes with a leash attached to his collar, that it was time for bed, and that no we could not stay up playing until all hours of the night.
I has just finished folding a load of freshly laundered towels. I piled them into my arms and headed upstairs to place them in my linen closet. Brady was already upstairs as he’s still recovering from a full day of sensory input at an agility trial yesterday. Youke had just gone upstairs as he had a full tummy from dinner and had seen that I wasn’t sharing the salad I made myself for supper, nor the apricot and blackberry cobbler I had for dessert. Camm and Rhys trailed up the stairs behind me. Nothing unusual in that as Camm follows my every footstep and Rhys is her shadow.
I placed the clean towels in the closet and went into the bedroom to retrieve the comforter that I had taken off the bed this morning when I changed the bedsheets. The comforter needed to go into the laundry. I have several light comforters that I rotate and launder on a regular basis. This is a necessity when you sleep with dogs.
I noticed that Rhys has flung himself up on top of the bed. As I busied myself around the bedroom, picking up a few things, I noticed that instead of watching me, he spread himself out his full length on top of the bed and that his eyes were at half mast. I went over and gently brushed his ruff and kissed the top of his head. His eyes opened, but he continued to lay there. I scooped up the comforter and headed back downstairs, curious as to what he would do. Camm followed me down the stairs. Rhys did not.
After loading the washing machine, I started back up the stairs and peeked back into the bedroom. Rhys was still on the bed. His eyes opened and he looked at me, but made no move to get down.
It was about 8:45 pm. That’s early in my house.
Wondrous, I headed into the office to chronicle this miraculous development.
Rhys wandered, er, staggered, into the office and looked at me.
Ah, I thought, it was simply too good to be true. I prepared for another round of bitey-face between him and Camm as I turned my head away to sift through some notes on my desk.
A couple of minutes later I realized it seemed extremely quiet and became aware that Rhys was no longer in the office. I peered around the corner to the bedroom. There he was, spread out full length on my bed again, Youke curled into a ball on his side of the bed.
I think my puppy might be growing up.
Ever since he made the decision late in July that he is no longer sleeping in his crate at night, Rhys has been experimenting with exactly where it is he is going to sleep. Like many decisions my dogs make, I’m on board with the basic decision and with a certain amount of experimentation, but I do set some perimeters. In Rhys’s bedtime decision case, I was on board with no more crate, but ruled that he did have to settle somewhere in the bedroom itself and could not have free reign of the house. This seemed fair to us both.
For a week, Rhys tried out various spots. The first night he was on the bed. The second night he was on the floor in a dog bed under the main window. The next night he was back on the bed. The following evening, he was back on the floor, but at the foot of the bed. And so it went for about a week. Then he spent two nights in a row on top of the bed. When it became three nights in a row, and with his body pressed tightly into my own, I knew he had made a decision.
Rhys sleeps on the bed now.
One of the great benefits to this decision is that I no longer have to cajole him into coming upstairs for bedtime. Rhys now voluntarily comes upstairs, even on the nights when he’d rather stay up later. On those nights, he might linger downstairs for a little bit, playing with a toy or gnawing on an already clean bone, but I no longer call him or go get him. He thinks about it some and within minutes, he’s upstairs too.
Gotta love when it’s their own decision.
So, I, as the Human, have a small sliver of the bed, in the bedroom of the house that I pay the mortgage on, while Youke sleeps on his side of the bed, Camm sleeps across my feet, and Rhys sleeps diagonally between them and with the full length of his body – which at seven months is quite lengthy – pressed into me.
This actually would be an ideal and sweet set-up for the dark and cold rainy winter months. However, it is presently August. Presently, we are experiencing a bit of a heat wave here in the Pacific Northwest. This heat wave translates into temperatures in the high 80s and into the 90s. Days of that stuff, and even my normally temperate house becomes uncomfortably warm, especially the bedroom.
One would think that the dogs would prefer not to be touching my 98.6 degree body that I’m quite sure heats up even more at night. One would be wrong. Instead, I find myself enveloped by warm, heaving dog bodies that seem convinced that it is vitally important to keep me as close as is physically possible without actually laying on top of me.
Although, on second thought, a paw across my back or a head across my feet can’t really hurt.
Sam and Lisa headed toward the park for a little stroll. It was hot and Lisa was eager to get onto the trail by the lake as it was heavily shaded. The shrill voices of children raked the still, hot air. Most of the shrieks came from the public pool area off to the right and behind some dense shrubbery and didn’t bother Sam and Lisa as they navigated the footpath beyond the pool toward the playground. The cool and shady path Lisa wanted to show Sam was to the left of the playground. Suddenly, the children playing on the playground equipment stopped and looked in Sam and Lisa’s direction. As if tuned in to the same radio frequency, the children, at least a dozen, but perhaps more, stopped and descended from the ladders and swings, their eyes boring into Sam and Lisa. Lisa began to feel a bit uncomfortable, but Sam didn’t seem bothered. But then the children started marching purposefully and relentlessly toward them, arms outstretched, their eyes singularly focused on Sam. Sam glanced at Lisa nervously. Sam was a big, handsome and friendly guy and was not easily intimidated, especially by kids. But the sheer force of their numbers and all of those outstretched arms, open mouths and glazed eyes was disconcerting. Sam slowed down, his own eyes darting back and forth, and nervously licked his lips. Lisa wondered if the children had been infected by some sort of zombie strain. Still, she knew what she had to do in order to save Sam, who was beginning to look scared. This was not a good look for a big, black dude.
“Stop!” Lisa called out as she expertly stepped in front of the uncertain Sam and held her hand up.
I made a bunch of grade school children sad today. And I’m not one bit sorry.
You may be wondering what the story above has to do with me making children sad and unhappy. Let me relate what happened and then think about the story I just told.
I was walking one of my regular daily clients today. We went to a local park that has a lovely, mostly shaded trail that wraps around a small lake. I chose the location because today was really, really hot and Bud is a big black Labrador retriever that easily overheats.
As we headed toward the trail, we were suddenly accosted by a large group of children. I’d seen them disembark from a school bus and I’m guessing they were on some kind of summer camp outing. One minute they were playing on the playground equipment, and the next they were all headed for Bud.
I’ll admit I expected a couple of the children to head toward us. I did not anticipate the entire group would do so. Strangely, they headed toward us in unison, with a couple of the larger boys leading the charge. I heard a few mumbled “pet the dog, pet the dog,” before I took action.
“Stop,” I said firmly, planting myself in front of Bud and serving as a shield between him and the advancing children.
Shocked, they actually stopped. “You may not approach a dog like that,” I stated calmly and quietly. Yet there was no mistaking the fire in my voice. Nor from my eyes.
The children’s faces fell, but with the exception of one, they all backed away. One little girl, also a budding fierce sort, stepped up to me. “But why? Is he jumpy?”
I suspect she was asking if he would jump on them. While it’s difficult to condense a topic that can be difficult for many adults to grasp in an entire conversation into a concise tidbit, much less into a tidbit for a child, I did my best.
“It’s super scary for him to suddenly be approached by all of these people like that. How would you feel if a bunch of strange people you didn’t know all wanted to come up and touch you on the head?” I asked her.
Much like most adults I sometimes try to briefly educate, I received a confounded and dazed look.
I didn’t have time to explain further, nor did I have any inclination to offer any apologies to the confused, dumbfounded and slightly offended looks I received from the crowd of youngsters.
But before I took off to continue my walk, uninterrupted by strangers, I made eye contact with the adult that was allegedly supervising the kids. Allegedly being a key word and eye contact being more like a stare of recrimination for their total lack of supervision.
I know a lot of people feel badly about saying no to other people. I am not one. I am my dog’s advocate and I am a fierce advocate. Luckily for my client dogs, I’m just as fierce an advocate for them as I am for my own dogs.
In today’s example – written in the beginning of this post as a story that seemingly involved two humans to provide a better perspective on how the dog might see things – Bud probably would not have done anything to the kids. He loves people and he likes kids a lot, but the sheer number of kids and all the outstretched arms probably would’ve made him very, very uncomfortable as evidenced by the fact that he was already seeking an escape route as told by his darting eyes that were already showing the whites and by his nervous telltale lip licking. And probably is not anything I ever want to take a chance with when it comes to children and dogs.
After I exited the scene with Bud today, I could not help but think how that very same scenario might have played out with my dog Camm. Camm is cute and petite. Lots of people, including kids, want to pet her. Camm is very selective about humans (this may come as a surprise to my own friends and to agility folk I know, but it’s the truth) and she intensely distrusts and dislikes children. I don’t need Camm to ever nip a kid to know that she would nip a kid in a heartbeat. What Bud very nearly experienced today would’ve been Camm’s worse nightmare.
I wish I could say that what happened today in an anomaly. It isn’t. Except it is usually adults I am dealing with.
“We’re not saying hi today, ” I sing out on a regular basis as someone with a dog pulling on the end of its flexi-leash and yapping its head off tries to convince me that my charge should meet cute little FiFi. Meanwhile the dog I’m walking has its hackles raised.
“Call your dog!” I regularly yell to the person who has chosen to exercise their own dog off-leash in a small neighborhood park and who has sighted the dog I’m walking with on the adjacent sidewalk. I do a quick one-eighty, looking over my shoulder to see if the dog has decided to go back to its owner yet or not. More often than not, the dog is slowly trotting behind us as the owner uselessly calls it and throws me dirty looks. I feel no shame when I tell you my own eyes get hard, very hard, as I meet that dirty look and raise it.
Recently, I stopped on a street in a neighborhood where I was walking and asked a man with an off-leash dog to leash his dog up. The man was deeply offended. This scenario probably happens at least once a week, but on that particular day, that particular man chose to take it up a notch. He proceeded to try to lecture me that dogs should be in their “natural state” (whatever the hell that was supposed to mean – clearly to him it meant unleashed) and that all dogs would prefer to say hello to one another. He then attempted to demonstrate how his dog would like to do just that. But instead of a more proper nose to butt dog greeting, he seemed to think the greeting should be nose to nose, despite the fact that both dogs were stiff and erect in their front end carriages and that the hair was raised on the back of the dog I was trying to walk and keep away from him. He then tried to greet the dog I was walking himself.
“No, ” I said.
“What? I’m just trying to be friendly,” he countered.
“No means no!” And with that I turned on my heel and got out of there. Just in time too from the hard eyes and stiff expression on Tommy’s face.
“Geez, what a bitch,” I heard the man say.
Asshole, I said out loud. And I made no pretense at muttering it.
I don’t know when saying no became something to be apologetic about. But it’s about time it stopped.
Rhys turned seven months old earlier this week. While he is still very much a puppy and will be for a while, it’s often hard for me to think of him on such immature terms. For several months now he so often seems like a Big Dog. Of course then he’ll go and do something that quickly brings me to my senses, but he has this amazing aura about him.
On the evening that he became seven months old, Rhys made a decision.
Before I tell you about that decision, I’m going to relate that I am fond of encouraging my dogs to make decisions. They are not always decisions I am fond of and sometimes we battle a bit about those decisions. There are quite frankly times when I do not like their decisions and they are told so. However, in encouraging some independent decision-making I often find that good choices can be made. It helps that I am fond of herding dogs, a breed-type that was selectively bred for years prior to confirmation types mucking them up for good decision-making abilities. Besides, they are still dogs and I am still a Human and there is still a whole lot of their lives that I control.
That particular night, Rhys came upstairs when I called for the dogs and informed them that it was “time for bed.” The three Big Dogs understand this routine and willingly come upstairs – if they aren’t already – settle into their respective spots and prepare for slumber. Rhys also understands what this phrase means, but more often than not, he’d rather stay up late. Since my days of staying up past 11 pm, much less past midnight, are generally far and few between now, I often find I have to encourage Rhys to come upstairs by either grabbing his collar and marching him upstairs and into his crate or enticing him upstairs with a few bits of kibble and then tossing the bits into his crate.
When he willingly came upstairs this night, Rhys jumped up onto my bed with Youke and Camm. Brady prefers to sleep either in his dog bed in my bedroom or beside the bed on the floor. He’ll sometimes come up for a while, but he never stays. The only exception is if we’re experiencing a thunderstorm or fireworks are going off. Then he is mashed as tightly as he can get into my body, preferably with his head tucked under my chin or resting cheek to cheek until the cacophony is over.
I figured I’d let Rhys stay on the bed while I washed my face and brushed my teeth. He’s proven of late that he can often be quiet while I perform this nighttime ritual, instead of trying to keep the party going as he attempted to do only a few short months before – by chewing on pillows, the bedspread or my slippers, or engaging Camm in some frisky play on top of the bed while Youke glared at the two of them and did a low growl. Not that Youke’s clear communication of offense was heeded.
When I emerged from the bathroom, I did not see a bright-eyed seven month old puppy pleading with me to stay up a bit longer. Instead, I saw a 35-pound dog sprawled out on the bed, snoring away and fast asleep.
I was amazed. We’d had a fairly uneventful day and while we’d gone out in early evening as we often do, our walk had been relatively short, 45 to 60 minutes only and to a less than exciting place.
I padded to the bed to take the pillow shams off and to set my alarm. He did not move.
Rhys was also in the exact same spot of the bed where Jasmine always slept and was in the identical position as the one she assumed when she went to bed.
I figured there was some sort of cosmic message in that and decided to let him stay on the bed. I thought that he could stay at least until he became restless and naughty, at which point he’d need to go into his bedtime crate, which has been in my bedroom and has been the same crate he’s slept in since I brought him home.
I eased into bed, configured my legs between Rhys and Camm, Youke in his spot against my side and slept with three dogs again for the first time since Jasmine died.
Here’s the thing. Rhys did not become restless and naughty. Rather, he slept deeply and soundly all night long, snoring softly – because he does and has since he was eight weeks old. Sometimes he feels like a cat purring with his soft snoring.
My alarm woke us all up, including Rhys, when it went off at 8 am.
Instead of the frantic and annoying barking he does when in his crate when I awaken in the morning, Rhys stood up and plopped himself across my body, licking and kissing me a good morning message.
I wondered if it was a fluke and what he’d do on the following evening.
Last night, he again came upstairs, jumped on the bed and made it pretty clear he was not going to sleep in his crate. Message received.
However, after turning of the lights and crawling into bed, I could feel Rhys get up. I made out his shadowy form, with his head cocked and listening to the sounds coming in through the open window. I listened too, especially when he started a low, soft growl. His growl was answered by Brady’s similar low and soft growl. Often Brady expresses his displeasure about things – nighttime things being restless movement or loud noises – with low growls. But while it at first sounded like Brady was warning Rhys to keep his opinions to himself, Brady’s tone changed and it seemed apparent to me that they were both perturbed by 1) a distant dog barking, 2) a distant coyote howling, 3) a car slowly driving by, and 4) a faint fluttering coming from a tree.
I asked Rhys to be quiet and to lie down. He did become quiet, but he chose to jump down from the bed. Ah, this is it, I thought. It was too good to be true. He’s going to grab some tissue from the bathroom wastebasket or start mauling my slipper, I guessed.
Rhys settled into another of the dog beds in the bedroom, actually underneath the window, and fell asleep. I soon heard his soft snoring.
I am theorizing that Rhys is experimenting with what will work for him in terms of bedtime positioning.
I’m fine with that and with what his ultimate decision will be. Regardless, it does not appear that the crate will be among the options.
I spoke earlier about Rhys’s aura. Maybe that’s not quite the right word, but he has an amazing calm and confident demeanor about him, especially for one so young. He is also very good about reading other dogs and adapting appropriately. I’ve been surprised and pleased with how he adapts his play and greetings between puppies younger and smaller than himself, small dogs, big dogs, adult dogs, playful adult dogs and not so playful adult dogs.
Even with Big Grumpy BrotherUncle Brady, Rhys knows when to stay away from him, when to playfully shoulder check him and when to offer some gesture of appeasement.
Brady was being a huge grump the other night, grousing at the other dogs, while at the same time continually shoving his head into my armpit for reassurance. Rhys was feeling very affectionate as well and decided to hop onto the couch with me. Brady sneered at him. Rhys pulled back, but then tenderly and very sweetly dipped his head and barely touched his nose to Brady’s head. Brady seemed surprised, Rhys did it again. Brady laid down on the floor beside me after that and relaxed.
Then, Rhys pulled something similar with me. I really didn’t want a wiggly 35-pound behemoth on top of my chest as I was trying to chill and watch TV, the first time in weeks it felt like. He turned his head to my face, looked at me with an expression that was at the same time sweet, but also inscrutable, and pressed his paws around my neck. Before I knew it, I was laying down on the couch, with an adolescent border collie spread across me and softly vibrating with his soft snore. I have no idea what was on TV. All I knew was that I was smiling and gazing down on the sleek head of an adolescent border collie that had magically lulled my spinning and overactive mind.
And yet, Rhys is still an adolescent. Not just an adolescent, but an outright Heathen. Yes. With a capital H.
And honestly, there is no one to fault for this but myself.
I’ve mentioned a few seemingly innocuous actions such as Rhys jumping on the bed or jumping on the couch. But he jumps on other things as well.
For instance. I indulged and bought myself a nice lounge chair for my deck this summer. Correction. I bought Rhys a nice lounge chair.
This is tame though. He also discovered that garbage cans make lovely perches.
And if one stands on the garbage can, they can also peer over the top of the six-foot fence.
The garbage can has been moved
I do not have photographic evidence though of Rhys running into the kitchen at a recent agility club event and launching himself onto a table to help himself of some tasty culinary items. An observant, and surprised, friend caught him before he could make off with any tasty items.
No one caught him though when he launched himself onto a picnic table some 30 minutes later and snatched an unattended cheeseburger.
Some people at the event seemed very offended.
I’ll admit to a slight moment of shame at the heathen I am raising. But it was quickly overcome by giggles.
I suppose I should train this dog.
So, unlike with Youke where I went full out helicopter mom and had him doing umpteen tricks before a year old and had enrolled him in several classes and could barely contain myself before he started agility lessons (at least I did wait until he was a year old before I started him on anything resembling agility) and then entered him in his first real agility competition at 18 months old – because he was going to be my agility champion, damnit Jim! – I vowed to take the super laid back approach with my next puppy when the time came. So the time is here and I’m sticking to that vow.
Rhys did attend one puppy kindergarten class, but I think we missed half of the session due to my prior engagements. I really didn’t care. I can teach, and have taught to some degree, the basics of “sit” and “down. ” I’ve worked on recall with him intensely since day one as something told me that was going to be super important with Mr. Independent. And I always teach a “wait” behavior and work on impulse control stuff just as a form of play or through play. I even taught Rhys a trick. He knows how to “shake paw.” We started working on “roll over” and spinning left and spinning right, but then I sort of forgot about it.
At the urging of one of my agility instructors I enrolled Rhys in a foundation class after she promised me I did not have to show him any equipment. I’m sticking to my guns and this dog is not doing anything with any agility equipment until he’s a year old at the very least. The foundation class has been fun and focuses more on handling exercises and flatwork for both me and for Rhys. My main goal though was to have Rhys in a setting where he had to “work” when and where other dogs were working as well.
And on that note, I recently enrolled Rhys in a Control Unleashed class. I loved doing Control Unleashed with Youke some eight years ago. The stuff I learned in that class I still employ with all of my dogs today.
We’ve had two classes so far and I think both of us have thoroughly enjoyed them. Rhys of course gets massive amounts of treats – kibble and bits of cheese mostly, but some Cheerios-type things from Trader Joe’s and bites of dried rabbit or bison as well. And I get to play with him, while also strengthening some of the stuff he’s already learned through everyday life with me and adding some new skills.
In the next several months I’ll probably do some more Control Unleashed classes with him just to keep him working around other dogs, but if the present holds, he understands being in “work mode” and that being able to perform tasks around other dogs, even highly aroused ones, isn’t a major deal. Such is the wonder of the well bred working dog.
I’m not sure if there are special classes for table jumping, food grabbing opportunistic dogs though. I might have to actually work on that myself.
And while on the subject of training and competition, I’ve also vowed that Rhys will not enter a competition for real until he is at the very least two years old. Youke was, and is, an old soul in many ways, but he was too young and too ill-prepared to have entered competition at 18 months old. That was completely my fault and a mistake I’ve vowed not to repeat.
Mostly, I want Rhys to spend his first year learning about becoming a solid canine citizen while also having a grand time playing and exploring his world. And if that means he jumps on a few picnic tables, well, physical ability and fearlessness are valued in canine performance sports, right?
Oops. I guess that maybe I do encourage the picnic table jumping thing …
- My apologies for the lack of any blog updates of late. Ironically, it’s not as if I had nothing to say, but more like too much to say. My brain has been spinning of late. Unlike writers’ block though, in my case, too many ideas or too much to say creates a logjam. I also have a puppy, which is pretty much my excuse for everything that does and doesn’t happen in 2017. I’ve been releasing some of the day-to-day stuff in personal Facebook posts and by posting a plethora of pictures, but I promise to get back to more regular blog updates, now that I’ve done a bit of tweaking and have re-named the blog.
Rhys is not really a puppy any longer. Overnight it seems, he became a dog.
A very handsome dog.
I love his manly and serious profile.
Of course, he is only 19 weeks old, so he’s still technically a puppy.
But so much leg. And grown-up dog coat.
But he’s becoming more like A Big Dog every day.
I recently got a new camera. Mainly I purchased a new one because my older digital camera wasn’t cutting it in terms of capturing images of Rhys as he’s constantly in motion. Hard to document the changes and the growth when all the camera captured was a blur.
Although I purchased the camera about a month ago, I haven’t really had time to learn how to use it. The fact that the sun came out this week and we had temperatures above the 50-something degree mark for the first time in almost 200 days was an excuse to get to know my camera. I took it out and played with it on Wednesday afternoon when we had some lovely late day sunshine. And I took it out again late today – even though we were back to rain and 50-something degrees.
I love how I am able to get lovely and clear head shots now.
Camm is such a beautiful dog. She is also the perfect supermodel. Apparently getting paid with Balls guarantees a perfect shot every time.
Brady is a hunk.
Youke is still speck-tacular.
Camm is still a Ball hoarder.
Oh look – a sort of family portrait. Hard to capture them not in motion, especially when there is so much to explore in this world.
Rhys has made a bit of progress with Youke too in convincing him that they are really going to be the best of friends. This morning, they rolled together in a wormy dirt hole. If that’s not bonding, I don’t know what is. Sadly, no camera around when it is really needed. But I did get a tiny bit of the brotherly love later today.
Okay, I guess the love is more on Rhys’s part.
There is no love for being leashed up.
But really, I have mad dog-walking skillz. So professional.
On his way to being a dog, but still a bit of a puppy.
I don’t cook much these days. I find it hard to cook for just myself most of the time and I’m far too impatient, and hungry, most of the time to actually go through the preparation process. That said, I do, mostly, enjoy cooking.
Of course, my cooking may horrify some. Remember That’s Just a Suggestion, Right?
However, my dogs find cooking endlessly fascinating.
The kitchen is the central point of my house, both literally and figuratively. So very many good things happen in that room.
The dogs have always been excellent about laying down quietly while I go about my business. Underfoot, but quiet. I have just learned to navigate around them. I figure it’s good for my agility and spacial awareness skills.
The young newcomer to the tribe, Rhys, did not understand this remaining quiet, still, and ever hopeful, bit at first. Youke, Brady and Camm have learned that by remaining quiet and still, and yet underfoot, I’m sure to eventually manage to drop something. Better yet, they’ve found I’m usually pretty generous.
This is one of the many, many things that my dogs have learned that I did not actively set out to teach them. They discovered that if they were annoying or jumping at me or being rude by attempting to grab something, they got banished to a crate or to another room.
It did not take long for Rhys to learn to lay on the floor quietly during any food preparation. Well, except when it involves his own.
Much to Youke’s continuing dismay and disgust on all things that involve Rhys, Rhys has chosen as his quiet watching spot in the kitchen, the exact same rug as what Youke lies upon. In fact, Rhys has decided that laying down right next to Youke is his ideal spot.
This infuriates Youke.
However, he has decided to tolerate it, barely, because, well, food could be dropped and he is way faster and more experienced than that rude little interloper.
So, there I was this afternoon, home a bit early from work and I was seized with the desire to make a meal.
Okay, really, I just had some stew meat that I bought a little over a week ago that really needed to be cooked.
Don’t be alarmed. It was still good. Besides, that shit gets cooked.
I decided to make a beef stew. But I didn’t want to mess with the slow cooker. I realize many find this a handy and convenient kitchen aid. I rarely use mine, because, well, Youke is a counter surfer in my absence from the house.
I dredged the stew meat in some flour, salt and a lot of pepper and opted to add a half bottle of oregano I found hanging around in the cupboard. I find dried oregano fairly useless, so not sure why I had it. I’d much rather use fresh herbs.
Once I had placed the beef into the cast iron pot to brown, I realized I might not have all of the proper ingredients for a beef stew. But then I thought that maybe I should look a recipe up. Then I thought about how long that would take. Then I decided I’d just wing it.
As that thought process was occurring, I realized I’d used way too much flour. My beef was sort of browning, but the roux was seriously thick.
Time to add some liquid to the pot.
I found a half-used bottle of white balsamic vinegar on the shelf by the stove and poured that in. I also saw a half-full bottle of white cooking wine on the shelf. So I poured that in too.
The beef mixture was still too thick and flour-y looking. So I poured in a can of chicken broth. Because of course I had no beef broth.
Now the mixture was looking better, but I realized it probably had no taste. So I added a can of tomato paste. That resulted in a surprisingly decent flavor.
But something was still missing.
I shuffled around in the refrigerator, looking for perhaps a bottle of beer to add. All I found though was hard ciders, apple and pineapple. Neither appealed to me.
Then I spotted a can of ginger ale. Ah, inspiration! I poured in half of the can and sipped on the remainder.
I decided that trekking again downstairs for some potatoes was too much of a task, so I opted to peel and cut up some parsnips I had for the corned beef dinner I never made last month instead. Ditto for some carrots.
I still thought I was missing a vegetable product though. Inspired, I ended up trekking downstairs into the garage anyway to get a can of diced tomatoes to add.
After tasting it, I thought it was good, but could still use a little oomph. I looked to my right and saw the cans of coconut milk I’d purchased when I was seized by the urge to make Thai curry one day while shopping at Trader Joe’s. The moment had passed by the time I arrived home and hasn’t made a comeback. I added a can of coconut milk.
But I’d thrown this all together in the space of about 35 minutes, it wasn’t ready to eat. The vegetables had to soften and the meat had to cook a but more in the liquid, which was now of an appealing texture and no longer gloppy.
So I took the dogs for a game of Ball and a short hike.
When I returned home two hours later, my stew was ready.
It was delicious. The dogs confirmed this when they licked my serving spoon and bowl after I ate.
Feeling pleased with myself this evening, I rummaged through the refrigerator looking for space to place my pot of stew. In the process, I realized I had an open and half-used carton of milk in there. Thinking it’d be nice to a glass of milk to wash the stew taste down, I grabbed the carton …
… and simultaneously realized as I opened it that the contents were spoiled (sorta green actually) and that it had an alleged expiration date of sometime in January.
Hmmm. I didn’t think it had been that long since I’d bought milk.
I adore this little dog.
Sometimes I just have to sit back and wonder at how such awesome dogs come into my life. Rhys is definitely one.
Okay, so I’m not going to talk about how he had to have baths two nights in a row because he rolled in something super earthy, super organic and very smelly. Not really sure what it was, except that it wasn’t poop.
Rhys is not a fan of baths. Turns out though that he kinda likes the towel drying part. And he wasn’t so traumatized that he couldn’t come back into the bathroom to watch me rinse out the tub after his baths.
What I am gonna talk about is how he is such a fantastic, smart, thinking little dog that makes my heart burst with pride.
We started off the day, Easter Sunday, with a nice cuddle in bed.
I actually woke the dogs up because my legs were all achy and I had to get out of bed and stretch. I decided to feed them early as Rhys had puppy class later and then go back to bed.
Usually I place Rhys back in his bedtime crate when I make the decision to go back to bed. Today I decided to experiment and brought him into bed with me. It was the first time he’s been in bed with me since shortly after taking him home.
Youke was not a fan of this arrangement. He refused to budge from his coveted spot right next to me and proceeded to voice his disgust and anger with the situation, which was not helped by Rhys trying to snuggle up against him.
Rhys decided that maybe snuggling up against Big SisterMommyAuntieGirlfriend Camm was the better idea, but she informed him going back to bed is serious business and it is not a time to fuck around.
Therefore Rhys decided that being very small, sidling up behind Youke and snuggling up against me was the best thing to do. Bravo!
We then proceeded to breath in each other.
Taking breaths together is one of my most favorite things to do with creatures that are not human. I used to do it with horses, sometimes with cats and now I do it with my dogs. Rhys and I curled up nose-to-nose. I felt his body relax and before either of us knew it, he was fast asleep.
We all stayed curled up against each other for another hour and until my alarm woke everyone up. I think they would’ve stayed that way a bit longer if not for the alarm.
Then Rhys and I were off to puppy class. We’ve skipped half the session as I had other commitments and Rhys had other life experiences. This was the last class of the session.
Despite skipping so much, and, truthfully, despite me not doing much in the way of formal training, I am so pleased with how well he did in class.
Rhys has sit with a verbal command about 75% of the time and 100% with a hand motion, down with a hand motion about 85% of the time and walks very well on a loose leash. He also has a rocking recall, and the best thing ever – fantastic focus on me.
I really, really, really like that he is not uber focused on other dogs and that he is polite with people, but isn’t a pest.
Before the class began, there was a puppy play session and because it was Easter, there were hardly any dogs there. In fact, it became just Rhys and a very small Shibu Inu. The Shibu was adorable and taught Rhys how to play the chase game. Surprisingly, he hasn’t really played it before. He wrassles with Camm and plays Bitey-Face, but Camm is too quick on her feet and too adept at rolling him over for him to have understood the chase game. Beside which, I usually find border collies like to engage in the chasing part and aren’t such big fans of being chased themselves. At least mine aren’t.
Rhys did take offense to a yellow Lab that was in the class. It was the end of class, and Rhys was exhausted, but I suspect it was more a case of border collie prejudice and offense at the Lab’s approach. Still, it was the first time I’ve ever seen Rhys snark.
After class ended I took Rhys to run some errands, but apparently this year everything closed for Easter. I seriously do not remember this occurring before. But then again, I think I’m usually at an agility trial or something.
So off we went to a local park for a little jaunt. Rhys saw a ton of Small Humans, as well as people on bikes, people with kites and a big Cricket match. He also got to see some people playing tennis.
All the time, Rhys walked like a pro on a nice loose leash. Pretty amazing, considering how little he’s actually spent on a leash.
I decided to stop for a coffee at one of my favorite coffee shops before heading home and took Rhys with me as it’s a dog-friendly spot. There was a long line of people waiting – probably because most everything else was closed for Easter.
Granted, Rhys was about toast by this time, but he was excellent waiting in line with me. He politely said hi to a few people, but waited for them to notice him first. The very cool thing too was that every single person actually asked me first if it was okay to pet him or to say hello.
It was good experience for him as there were men and women, big guys and big women, people in hats and sunglasses and people who ignored him completely. The best thing was that there was a mat at the entry and Rhys chose to pop himself down on it after I had placed my coffee order and was waiting. No lunging out-of-control puppy here!
I was going to take Rhys by the vet’s to be weighed as he turned 16 weeks old on Saturday, but discovered the vet office was also closed today. That will have to wait until later in the week. I’m really curious about his current weight and even more curious to see if he will in fact double it as an adult. Youke did not, and many dogs do not, but it’s a commonly held belief. Time will tell.
Rhys is now napping in his crate, which it appears he will be outgrowing in the not too distant future.
For all of his spunky naughtiness, he is also a complete angel.
I have a very naughty puppy. Naughty puppies are completely normal. However, depending upon who you talk to, naughty is not nice.
Give me a naughty dog over a boring run-of-the-mill couch potato any day of the week.
Granted, I sort of have a thing for naughty. If they have a gleam in their eye and a mischievous expression, I’m in love. That goes for men too, but I digress.
The Naughty is very strong with Rhys. Very strong. I was warned that it would be, which is one of the reasons I jumped at the chance to take him home.
Apparently nearly nine years blurs and fades the memory because I’ve said for years how Youke was the best puppy ever. And he really was a good puppy, but slowly, the memories are coming back.
For instance. Last night I was waving my index finger in Rhys’s face and telling him he was “such a naughty, naughty dog.” He sat there and looked unimpressed. All of a sudden I was seized by a flashback. I recalled Youke also sitting in front of me looking rather unimpressed as I waved my nine-years-younger index finger in front of his face and called him “such a naughty, naughty dog.”
In fact, Youke got called “such a naughty, naughty dog” so much that to this day when he hears the word naughty, he plants himself in front of me, gets all wiggly and grins. I really should’ve put the behavior on cue, but the grin is a submissive grin and the behavior is an appeasement gesture, so I felt bad about it.
I’m not getting any appeasement behavior from Rhys though.
Rhys has discovered that paper, in its various forms ranging from copy paper to cardboard and everything in between, makes for a fine meal. Because clearly I’m starving him, even though my new nickname for him is Moose.
Unless I remember to pick up the waste can in the bathroom – which is hard because I’m living with a 15-week old puppy and I’m somewhat sleep deprived, especially over this past weekend – Rhys dives into it to retrieve whatever he can find. Usually it’s a used kleenex.
As my efforts to remember to pick up the waste can and place it in the sink – out of his current level of reach – have been vaguely successful, Rhys moved on this weekend to toilet paper.
Let’s just say I did not find Rhys’s decorative and festive touch of streaming toilet paper all over my bedroom particularly decorative or festive.
But why are you even allowing these things to happen? You need to properly contain your puppy so these things can be prevented.
Seriously, I’m not crating my puppy any more than is necessary and and I already feel bad that he is crated as much as he is with my current client load, or when my sanity is teetering on the edge. Plus, my philosophy is that he’s gotta learn to live in my house – a real house with tempting things, such as shoes and dirty laundry – and I deliberately chose not to spend over a week “puppy-proofing” my house. Because, bottom-line, if the Naughty is strong, there’s no such thing as “puppy-proofing.”
Therefore, and for your amusement, let’s touch upon some of the things that Naughty Rhys has done (or does):
- Continually grabs either a slipper, a boot or a sneaker that the Human just slipped off, preferably as she’s returning into the house with mud-splattered outdoor shoes – thus lessening the chance of her immediately running to snatch away the slipper, boot or sneaker – and racing around the house with it in a sort of victory lap.
- Tossing ceramic bowls (that I now realize I foolishly use as dog food bowls) around in the house.
- Snatching used kleenex or discarded cardboard toilet paper or paper towel rolls from the trash.
- Sometimes eating the above.
- Diving into the box that contains premiums and scores from past agility trials and tearing the papers up. I guess I need to maybe stop keeping that stuff.
- Using the toilet plunger as a chew toy.
- Diving into the tub to retrieve the toilet plunger that was unsuccessfully hidden there to continue to use as a chew toy.
- Running around the house with the now chewed up toilet plunger hoisted high, much as the knights of old might have held their flags into battle.
- Diving into the tub to retrieve my fake Ugg boots that were placed there to prevent them from being carried off and mistaken for a new plush toy.
- Discovering where the dirty laundry is kept and finding that the Human’s underpants are delightful to toss about.
- Not backing away from the delightful used Human underpants even when Brady is guarding them because while he doesn’t toss them around, he still also finds them delightful.
- Realizing that there is a whole world three feet above his head and that this world includes entrancing foods, a cat and possibly toys that he did not know about.
- Using his ever-lengthening legs and body to raise his head up to this other level – which conveniently is about counter- or shelf-level high- with the intent of grabbing any of these interesting things with his ever-growing paws.
- Finding that climbing up onto the fax/copy machine in my office offers a whole new and interesting perspective on things.
- Realizing that pouncing first and asking later really is the best way to grab something to eat on the Human’s plate, at least until she wised up and put him in his crate and/or started eating at the dining room table again.
- Gnawing on wood. Sometimes that can be a stick, and sometimes that can be a chair leg, baseboard, a cupboard door, the Human’s bed. Fun fact: paper is made from wood pulp!
- Playing the game of running into the laundry room when the unsuspecting Human’s arms are full of clean laundry and where the kitty litter box is kept and repeatedly doing this makes a super fun game, especially when the silly Human is making aggravated noises of frustration.
Let me note that I do not believe that my dogs should never hear the word “no.” In fact, I very firmly believe that they do need to hear and understand this word. What they don’t need is to repeatedly hear this word and be allowed to continue partaking in the behavior that is causing this word to be said. Rhys and I now have an understanding that the kitty litter box is off limits. However, to keep the temptation of kitty rocha at bay and to prevent the utter ridiculousness of repeating “no” and therefore making it of no value to either of us, a pet gate has been installed at the entrance to the laundry room.
The following are things that aren’t exactly naughty, but certainly point to a naughty streak:
- Rhys lifted his leg to pee for the first time at seven weeks old. He may have actually been seven weeks and two days old. I was so gobsmacked I had to ask a person more knowledgeable than myself about this. She assured me it does happen. It is now happening approximately 50% of the time. Peeing on All the Things can only be a short time away.
- Rhys humped my leg at eight weeks old. He may have been more like eight weeks and a day old. I was so shocked and dismayed that I let it happen as I pondered if Brady had started his own leg humping at that age as well. I am still weighing whether to allow it as an occasional thing. Brady is allowed to do it exactly once per day, after his evening meal. However, Rhys has only done it randomly and seldomly, so I think that maybe I do not have to ponder for long.
- Rhys is fond of asserting his independence and love of exploration by taking side jaunts into the woods while we are out on trails. All of my dogs do this and I really don’t have a problem with it as long as they maintain some semblance of proximity to me. Brady frequently pushes this boundary which is why he is often leashed in many places. Youke and Camm are completely reliable in this respect. Thus far, Rhys is following in the mold of the latter two, however, recall training – always a priority for me – took number one priority fairly early.
While naughty, Rhys also does many things that are nice:
- Rhys has a rocking recall. While I realize this is likely to be tested, he proved a few times of late just how awesome his recall is. The first was when we were headed down a trail, not realizing there was someone with a dog further down. My four were, as usual, off leash. They rounded a curve in the trail ahead of me and I heard frantic cries for “Tater come here!” I’m guessing that Tater was not a good listener because the cries became louder and more frequent. On the other hand, I yelled, “Dogs, come! Rhys, come!” once and guess who came running back around the curve right to me? Even more impressive, Rhys was the first one back (although the other three were only a second or two behind). The recall was tested again this past weekend when Rhys saw a bunch of other dogs playing and being curious, thought he should go check it out. I hollered “Rhys, come” and he turned his head around and came running. Not too shabby.
- Rhys has a pretty decent sit for people. Of course we went to an agility trial this past weekend and he got away with a lot of not sitting, but when asked and if insisted, he’s very good.
- Rhys adores people. I am super impressed especially with how not shy he is with men. If anything, Rhys especially likes men.
- Rhys is very appropriate with other dogs, in particular, adult dogs. He offers polite greeting behavior and backs off if the adult dog indicates it does not wish to be friendly. He is also nonplussed if corrected, even if the correction may have been a bit harsh. I still think he’s very bold and a bit too much with puppies of his own age, but I have no intention of making him a dog park kind of dog anyway. I like that while friendly with other dogs and wanting to greet them if given the opportunity, he doesn’t strain to meet them or obsesses about them. He was passed by many dogs this past weekend and understood that they all didn’t want or need to play with him.
- Rhys is extremely confident and takes new experiences in stride. Rhys appears to be a bit of a thinker, but the kind that can quickly calculate a situation and strategize how to approach it. The agility trial this past weekend was held in a large arena that has metal bleachers. All of my dogs have approached those bleachers and the stairs up to them with some trepidation. I recall that Jasmine, Youke and Brady were all very fearful of the sound of them and the feel. Camm was less so, but all of them required encouragement and I rewarded small steps profusely with food treats. I was very curious about what Rhys would do. He confidently strutted into the arena portion where the trial was being held. One ring was quiet as it was being built for the next course. The other had dogs running in it. But before we could even see the rings, he had to approach the metal stairs first and then reach the bleachers which are cold, metallic, bouncy and loud. Rhys got two front paws on the metal steps and hesitated. I stood still, a couple of steps above him and waited. He stepped off, looked at the stairs again, sat down, though for a couple of seconds, and then climbed the stairs. I rewarded him with a piece of cheese. He then went up into the bleachers with me, completely unfazed by the rest of the experience or the surroundings. People walked by him, a few dogs walked by him, dogs ran in the ring off his side and some people milled about below him building a course. A few dogs even barked and he was unmoved. If anything, he was more interested in checking out more of the bleachers or trying to mooch some treats off people passing him.
Having a puppy is a lot of work at times and especially seemed so this past weekend due to helping out at an agility trial the entire weekend that was almost two hours away and that ended each day quite a bit later than I had anticipated. (Note to self: always keep expectations very low. I do in general have low expectations for most things, but foolishly allowed myself to think we’d end by a 4 pm each day at the latest. Nope.) I signed on for this though with my eyes wide open (even if at times – like today – I wanted to shut them and sleep!). While nearly nine years has dulled some of the memories of Youke as a puppy, I distinctly recall that the first year was exhausting, but also filled with fun. And as a result I have an awesome dog that I dearly adore and deeply trust.
If Rhys turns out to be even half as good as Youke, I’ll be happy.
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.
* 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.