Thursday, July 31, 2014

ElderBitches

"Oh my god, Laura!" my best friend wailed, "We're going to be thirty this year! WE'RE OLD!!!"

"First," I replied dryly, being rather closer to the Big Day than she was, "I'm pretty sure thirty is not old. And second, would you really want to be sixteen again?"

The truth of the matter is that, in spite of all my cultural conditioning, I've been looking forward to thirty. I've come to the realization that being an Adult is mostly whatever I decide it is. For example, I've decided that Adults get to wear whatever they want. So if I want to wear running shorts and dog tee shirts, or a bikini top with capris, or a pencil skirt and high heels - then I will, and I can. Because Adult. I can buy that fancy collar if I damn well please, or take a day just to go hiking in the woods with my dog(s), or impulse adopt that bulldog if I want to. Age appears to have its privileges, and I've found the balance of freedom, ability, lack of interest in pleasing the majority that comes along with being thirty to be quite enjoyable.

I've heard that in some homes, little dogs enjoy special privileges. But with both Rubi and Piper edging up to ten years old, here at the Horde House, we have ElderBitch Rules. For example, ElderBitches can have cake for breakfast if they want to. They can also sleep however they want, because dignity is something that happens to teen-agers and people who never really grow-up and therefore care about what others think.


In fact, if Elderbitches want to sit on the table, well, who are they hurting, really?


ElderBitches get to play outside with their big orange ball as long as they want.

video
Because if she hasn't killed herself yet, she probably isn't going.
Also: Fuck bushes. Those assholes.

If fact, if they don't want to give the ball back at all . . .


I think there comes a point for every good dog owner when they realize that their friend has more years behind than ahead. If you're lucky (and we are), you've already put in the years of training that a little relaxing of the rules now won't make much of a difference (well, unless you're the table, I suppose).

A friend of mine once posted that she loves the stage she and her reactive dog are at: they're not doing any official "training" anymore - not BAT, LAT, CAT, DS/CC, or R+/P-. They're just having a conversation. I love that stage, too, when you and your dog are finally communicating on the same level. It's where Jai and I are right now, and after struggling so long to figure out what we needed from each other, it's a relief to be able to respond to one another so naturally.

It's not where the ElderBitches and I are.

The girls and I have reached the Old Married Couple stage. We've had so many conversations that we've run out of things to say and now go straight to reading each others' minds. We might not always like what the other is thinking, mind you, but more often than not all we need to do is look at the other before we start grinning at the amazing ridiculousness that is our lives. We have grown into each other, like trees planted too close together.

I know that there is a day coming when I will no longer have Piper and Rubi to read my mind for me: when their tree-like strength will no longer be here to support me. And I know that day is coming much sooner than I would like. But that day - it is not today.

And that is reason enough to celebrate.


When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy . . .

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Eleutheromania

I had blog posts I wanted to write this week. A whole fist full of them.

But it's been an . . . intense month. And one by one I've forgotten everything until I can barely tell up from down.

So I think it's about time I spent a week out in the woods.

See you all after the holiday.


Thursday, May 8, 2014

Polka Will Never Die

What are we up to now? Seven? Eight? It's probably a bad sign that I've lost count.

Well, how's this - if we're counting my dogs, he doesn't even exist.


Last fall, my best friend since forever broke up with her boyfriend and needed a place in the cities to crash while she finished school. Since she's the only one who has ever slept in our guest room anyway, it made sense for us to offer the spare room to her, and Friend Roommate been with us ever since (Laura Logic need not resemble the logic of the standard population).

Friend Roommate is a Horse Person. She was riding horses before she was born (literally), but she had to leave them behind to come get educated in the big city. I think I kind of know what she's going through - I had to leave my dog behind for a few year to go get educated in the little city, and without getting into too much detail about my broken-brain conditions, it wasn't pretty. So when Friend Roommate asked if she could get a dog of her very own, well, FFS look at my house. What's one more?

I mean, it's not like I can fit a horse in the backyard.


So this is Butters. Butters is . . . well, he's Butters. He's kind of lumpy and slimy and not my type, but that's okay because he's not mine, and I'm pretty sure my type is "crazy" anyway. Butters came from St Paul Animal Control, so we don't really know much about his past. His hobbies include aggressive snuggling, drooling, and running through doors. I'm hoping he comes out of his shell a bit more as he gets used to living with the horde. But in the meantime, he sure is easy to live with.

Shit, you guys - how is this something I agreed to?

Thursday, May 1, 2014

So, I'm Kind of a Big Deal

It took me a long time to admit that I am a dog trainer - long past the time when I started teaching classes. When I was a youngin', I practically deified dog trainers. What they did seemed like magic, and it took quite the mental overhaul to realize that I might be allowed to join their completely, imperfectly human ranks. Part of the difficulty was that there was no right of passage to becoming a dog trainer. To become considered an adult, I had to live to be eighteen. To be a nurse, I had to go to school and then pass the boards. But all I had to do to become a dog trainer was say "I AM A DOG TRAINER" loudly and frequently.

It didn't quite sit right.

This March, I took and passed the CCPDT's certification test to become a Certified Professional Dog Trainer. Now I get to put the letters CPDT-KA after my name (someday, I'll have almost as many letters as Piper Ann). Of course, I am pretty sure that I was a dog trainer before I took the test. But I also feel pretty strongly that professional certification is important for dog trainers.

Photo by Paige.
Currently, there is no standard of behavior or training for dog trainers. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer and as a result, there is a huge variety in the skills and ethical practices of dog trainers. If you're searching for a dog trainer, it's truly a case of caveat emptor. However, by searching for a trainer with a certain certification, dog owners can be more certain of what their money is buying.

For example, by finding a trainer with CPDT certification, a dog owner can be fairly certain that their dog trainer has met certain standards. To apply for the CPDT test, I had to show that I had at least three hundred hours of experience in the past three years and provide references from people who had worked with me. I had to pass a knowledge test covering multiple topics including instruction skills, ethology, and learning theory. And then I had to agree to a code of ethics. I felt the code of ethics was a particularly important part of the certification process - there can be a lot of cruelty done toward both dogs and people in the name of dog training and following a code of ethics based on humane treatment of canines and humans alike can help guide a trainer through difficult decisions.

To maintain my CPDT certification, I will also need to maintain a certain amount of continuing education. You guys, continuing education is so important in dog training these days. This is a really exciting and fun time to be a dog trainer: scientists and dog owners alike are looking at dogs in a new light, trainers are sharing information more consistently than ever, and new, more effective, and more humane training methods are popping up just about every day. If your dog trainer isn't keeping up with all the current information, you really aren't getting your money's worth.

Dog training, ninja style.
Photo by Paige.
By becoming certified, I wanted to support professional standards for dog trainers. After all, you wouldn't trust a doctor without a medical license or a lawyer who hadn't passed the bar exam. Do you really want to trust something as important as the relationship between you and your dog to someone who hasn't proven themselves able to do the job?


Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Trainer, Heal Thyself

Well, it's definitely spring - Jai and I were assaulted yesterday by the first off leash dog of the season.

The medium-sized dog came flying across a busy street, snarling and snapping and got all up in Jai's face. Jai, bless him, may be a touch reactive but is also exceptionally dog tolerant. The second time the dog snapped at his face, Jai stood up on his toes, and raised his head and tail as if to say, "Really? Are you sure you want to do this?" The other dog realized that, no, he didn't actually want to throw down with a sixty-five pound pit bull, tucked tail, and ran back to his owner. (Who was too busy yelling at his dog and yanking him around to apologize for being an enormous butt-munch. I really loathe people some days).

Jai and I were both really upset by the incident. He was yanking on the end of his leash, his brain trying to fling itself around corners to see where the next zombie attack was going to come from. And I was just plain shaken up. If that had happened to Marnie or Rubi, there would have been blood. And either Cannon or Allister could have been seriously injured. Jai and I were not okay.

So I stopped us on the next block, and fed Jai peanut butter while he watched the world. Jai fell into the familiar routine of eating and watching, and I let myself be distracted by the pattern of watching my dog for rewardable moments. After just a few minutes, we were both much calmer: Jai was watching me more than the world, and I had stopped shaking. We finished our walk on a good note in spite of our incident with the other dog.

I often forget how good can be for us just to stop for a few minutes and get our bearings. I spend a great deal of time running around from one project to the next, and for the most part, I enjoy it. Much like my dogs, I like having things to do. But I think I sometime get so caught up in the rush that I forget how beneficial it is just to stop and watch the world for a few minutes.

Thanks for the reminder, Jai.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

She Gather Me

A month or two ago, I decided to take the Therapy Dogs International test with Piper. She's passed therapy dog tests before - once with TDI and later with Pet Partners. It wasn't really that I had a driving desire to get her recertified. TDI had recently changed their test, and I wanted to see what it was like before I sent my more novice dogs, Jai and Cannon, through it. I don't think it even occurred to me until about halfway through the test that we might not pass. Piper Ann has been my bombproof, rock solid saint for so long that I hadn't even entertained the idea that she wouldn't fly through it.

Piper passed the TDI test, of course.

Piper says hi.
I decided this year, after a three year break from competition, that I wanted to work on my ring nerves. At first, I thought I would work through my issues with Maus. After all, he's used to working with my when I'm anxious - when you have an aggressive dog, you tend to be a little worried every time you leave the house. But when it came time to actually fill out the premiums, I found that it was Piper I wanted to bring back into the ring with me. She and I started playing this game together, and it felt wrong not to have her by my side when I set to start again.

After this weekend, I feel pretty comfortable saying that even after a three year break, Piper and I have still got It. Much to my chagrin, at the tender age of nine, Piper now qualifies for the veterans' ring in World Cynosport Rally. Piper was the highest scoring veteran dog of the weekend, bringing home three blue ribbons - one for each of our three runs. Of course, it's easy to win first place when there's only one other dog in the class (or, ahem, none) - but with scores of 204, 208, and 207 out of 200, I feel like maybe we earned those blues anyway. These successful runs mean that Piper has earned her Rally Veteran title (RLV), and that we both earned an Award of Excellence (AOE) for completing her qualifying runs with scores of over 190.

Piper Ann, CGC, TDI, TT, RA, CD, MA with Honors, RLV AOE
(I'm not actually sure the AOE is part of the title, but I'm going to pretend it is because we are
Full. Of. Awesome.)

It seems that somewhere between when I picked her up at the shelter on February 24th, 2006, and today, Piper Ann and I have become a veteran team. We have each learned how to set the other up for success. I know when to reward Piper, when to ask her to work a little harder, and when to say, "We have had enough for today and will try again tomorrow." And when I fall apart, Piper has learned how to gather up the pieces and return them to me in the right order. I must have been very good indeed to have been given a friend like her.

Photo by Crystal.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Humiliated

Last month, I helped someone return his dog to the rescue. He'd adopted Porter, one of the Nottweilers, and they'd lived happily every after - until life happened. He fell in love, moved, took the job he could get, and ended up working twelve to fourteen hour days. We worked together to try to find a way to keep Porter happy and healthy with his daddy away from home so much, but in the end, it was in Porter's best interests to return to the rescue.

Porter's person was in tears when I went to pick up our Nottweiler. "After what I've done to Porter," he said, "I just can't imagine having another dog."

I was a little crushed. After fifteen years in rescue, I tend to take a bit of pride in  my ability to spot a good dog owner and to be able to match that owner to the right dog. At no point during our relationship, from adoption to surrender, did I feel that Porter's person was a bad dog owner. He was doing his best with a difficult situation, and in the end he made the decision he felt was in his dog's best interest. I hope that I never become the person who humiliates someone who has only tried to do what was best for their dog.


In rescue, we often see people who surrender dogs as "The Enemy." But I don't feel that giving up your dog necessarily means that you're a Bad Dog Owner. Life happens. Poor matches get made, even by experienced rescue people. Many people, myself included, are only a handful of paychecks away from making such hard decisions. Would you really be homeless - and make your dogs be homeless - instead of parting from them? Personally, winters in Minnesota are cold and summers are so hot, and if someone could give my dogs what I could not, I hope that I would be brave enough to put their needs first.

And I hope that doesn't make me The Enemy.

More than just treating others the way I wish to be treated, providing Porter's human with compassion instead of criticism speaks to the type of person I want to be when I grow up. Porter's owner already knew that returning his dog to the rescue was not the ideal situation; he knew it with every fiber of his being. If I'd made him feel worse, it would not have changed the situation. And just like the kindness I put into the world becomes a part of me, so does the cruelty. So when given the option, I will error on the side of kindness, because I would rather be a kind person than a cruel person.

And I hope someday, when he is in a better place, Porter's person will welcome another dog into his life.