Monday, April 25, 2011

Public Service Announcement

Today, I witness one of the worst accidents an animal lover can see: I watched a dog get hit by a car on the highway. Between rescue and nursing, I have seen Death's swift scythe fall more than once, and it never cease to shock and humble me. There is no fanfare, no choir of angels to sing thee to thy rest. One instant there's a running, breathing being, and somewhere between one heartbeat and the next, it's gone. Life is so fierce and so fragile. Death is the ultimate, immutable fact: rain falls from the sky, haters gonna hate, and little black dogs do not win fights against Suburbans.

These past two weeks have been a showcase of bad behaviors (although I'm cautiously optimistic that Rubi's brain has come back from spring break). Tonight's tragedy is the almost the only event that could have distracted me from my planned rant on last night's incident. Sunday night, Rubi was attacked by another dog on our walk. And I can say that honestly - Rubi didn't instigate the fight at all, although she tried damn hard to finish it. She has a nasty scratch and a puncture on her chest, but nothing to run to the vet about. I don't know how the other dog fared because its coward of an "owner" ran away while I was still trying to get B back under control. I suppose that's probably the only smart thing he did. One of my less shining qualities is a deep instinct for reciprocity. I feel that if you are responsible for hurting someone who belongs to me, I should have the right to Hurt. You. Back.

I'm not perfect. I think I've mentioned that before.

The infuriating and frustrating part about both these incidents is they probably could have been prevented. I'm not saying that even the most paranoid of minds doesn't occasionally fall victim to fate or rogue chance. But playing ball with your unleashed dog in your unfenced yard isn't an accident. Playing ball with your unleashed dog in your unfenced yard is why stupidity should be painful.

This time of year in particular it seems hard to deny our dogs the freedom of a good romp. Do it anyway. Leash laws are there for a reason - to keep your dog from getting hit by a car or chewed up by a pit bull. Leashes are cheap, too - hell, just say the word and I will give you one if you promise to use it. Please, for the love of all that is good, leash your dog. And while you're at it, check to make sure the leash and the collar are in good condition and not liable to break at a moment's hard yank. Collars should be properly fitted and not loose enough to fit over the dog's head if he or she pulls backward suddenly. I check my equipment each time I put it on a dog. I also make sure to purchase solid, sturdy collars and leashes. Both can save a lot of grief down the road.

Another often over-looked piece of safety equipment is your fence. Look at something everyday, and it's easy to get complacent about it. So every time I go out in the backyard to play ball with the dogs, I walk the fence. I look for loose boards, new gaps in the line, protruding nails, or anything the dogs could possibly use to get into trouble (they're quite ingenious). I do this about 4-5 times per week. It might be overkill but at least I'm not forgetting to do it.

So check your equipment. Double check your equipment. Take a good, hard look at your fence. And give your sweet, sweet dogs an extra cookie in memory of the little guy who didn't make it home.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: The Many Faces of B

Queen B:

Happy B:

Coy B:

Throw the Damn Ball Before My Tail Freezes Off B:

Bed Head B:

B in oil by Sarah Thornton:

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Vodka and Ritalin Nights

Sometimes, I wish Rubi was human. Then she would understand me when I say, "Dammit, dog, if you don't sit down and shut-up, I'm never going to let you see the light of day again!" Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how badly I want her to understand something), Rubi's grasp of the English language is right up there with slugs and doctors. Instead, I end up muttering to myself about how liberal amounts of vodka and Ritalin would solve all our problems while our classmates stare at us and inch away.

Class last night went less than smoothly. In fact, it down right sucked. The worse point was when she had a full, loud, and vigorous tantrum in the middle of class. I pretty much could have killed her right there and not felt the slightest hint of remorse for at least a week. I mean, come on, dog! She hasn't done that in months! Tantrum aside, the whole night was peppered with examples of snot-headness and ADD. She heeled the way moons rotate around planets – only faster. She can heel. I've seen her do it - I even have video!

There are not words for how aggravating it is when your dog won't perform an exercise you know they can do. Rubi couldn't sit still for more than four seconds without pawing at me, nosing me, or flipping out at the other dogs. And don't even get me started on the right finishes. Nights like this I wish with my whole brain cell (because if there was more than one of them, I would have been smart enough to ditch this dog when I had the chance) that Rubi was a normal, problem-free dog. For just five seconds. Please.

See? It happens to me, too. I have days when I'd like to kill my dog. Our dogs are not perfect all the time, and neither are we. If I were perfect, I would not feel the need to throw a tantrum right alongside my dog because she won't behave. Once again, Rubi and I have hit a wall. It's frustrating, and it probably won't be the last time.

I am not some miracle dog trainer. Dogs do not magically listen to me; I have no fantastic talent that the rest of the population lacks. What sets me apart is only experience. We've been here before. Remember lobby dog? Rubi, for the most part, has really nice lobby manners now. We can walk past other dogs to get to the desk, I can take my focus off her for long enough to sign in, and we can chill in the lobby until class starts – all without looking too out of control. Well, except for when the one guy let his pit bull jump on Rubi's face last night. (People should have to pass an IQ test before being allowed to own pit bulls dogs children anything.) It really was a bad night.

But I know that this, too, shall pass. We made it through Changing Attitudes, we conquered lobby dog, and we'll climb this wall.

Pity party over. Back to work.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Perfect Foster

Have you ever heard a sound and known somewhere, somehow, there is a dog who is up to no good?

I had one of those moments tonight. I was hanging out on the couch, surfin' the web, minding my own business, when I hear a crash from the bathroom. Not a loud crash, but it was followed by another crash, then a thud, and then the thunderous sound of Andy running to the other side of the house.

Hmmmm . . .

I go to the bathroom and see that one of the drawers that I keep our collars in has been pried open.


I head in the direction Andy went to further investigate. I find him laying in an out of the way corner, Piper's tie dye collar between his front paws. But he's not chewing on it - instead, I watch him lovingly nuzzle and then gently lick the collar.

"Dude?" I ask, because really, how am I suppose to respond to this?

Andy looks up at me and grins over his treasure. His little nubbin trembles. Andy jumps up, but instead of coming to me, he trots back to the bathroom. He grabs Rubi's bitch collar out of the drawer, runs back to his corner, and places it next to Piper's collar. He repeats the process two more times, claiming four collars before laying down to snuggle with his prizes.

Andy is collecting collars.

Seriously, could this foster be any more perfect?

(Rubi believes all stories should include her, and therefore would not get out of the picture.)

Monday, April 4, 2011

Level Three, Take Two

I decided to re-enroll Rubi in Level Three mostly because I don't know what else to do with her right now. Tonight was our first night with a new group of dogs, and it was boring. Not boring in the "yay! progress!" kind of way, but boring in the "I'm tired of writing about the same stuff over and over again" way. So I'll keep it short.

B was wound up on the way in, which is silly because I totally played ball with her until she fell over before we left home. Hung out in the lobby for a bit where she whined but didn't get REALLY FRIGGIN' TIRED OF SITTING STILL  until after about twenty minutes in.

There are six dogs in this Level Three, which makes it the biggest class we've been in since Changing Attitudes. The other dogs are pretty chill, though, so it's okay. Rubi handled herself really well while two dogs began to loudly chase each other around the ring, so maybe there's hope for that Really Reliable Recall class someday. She did less well when one of the other dogs stared at her because she's a great big freak. Of course, that did nothing to make her look like any less of a freak. There were other good moments, and other bad moments, but no disasters. I don't think any of our classmates were thinking, "Holy crap, that dog's psychotic" by the end of class. File that in the "of the good" drawer.

On the way out, we got to practice out strategic retreat A LOT. Apparently, my timing was really bad because other people kept trying to come in at the same time that we were just trying to leave, please, for the love of all that is good, just let us out. Rubi did not seem to mind this. I blame Ula's hot dogs. The was one really good (for us) moment where three dogs started really snarling at each other while we were in the middle. Rubi focused on me (and the hot dogs) and didn't seem to notice them at all. Granted, I pretty much let her stick her whole head in the hot dog bag when it happened, and she was busy trying to inhale as many as possible before I took them away.

All hail the power of over processed mystery meat!

To finish, here are some pictures that make it look like class went better than I actually think it did (no mat or gentle leader!):

Saturday, April 2, 2011

In Which Rubi Goes to the Vet

Well, I couldn't put it off any longer. Rubi needed to go to the vet for her annual poke and prod; nothing major . . . nothing major for a normal dog, anyway. But having to pay to get crowded into a small, dog-busy building? Not that I don't love my vet, but you can imagine how much I have not been looking forward to the blessed event.

I prepped for the visit as best we could. I warned everyone at the office that Rubi needed special care around other dogs, and they seemed really happy for the heads up. I suppose not having dogs flipping out in the lobby is good business. I scheduled the appointment for the time when there would be the least amount of dog-traffic - at 8:30 in the morning. I dug into Ula's stash of extra good hot dogs (Ula is my ARLP side action). Rubi hasn't needed really high value treats for training lately, but in a new place close to other dogs, I wasn't about to be stingy with the good stuff. My car has been in the shop, so I had to drop The Voice of Reason off at work before we went to the vet. If I were a really good dog owner, I would've exercised the hell out of my dog before taking her out. This would have meant getting up at 5:00 am. Sorry folks, I'm just not that good. Instead, after dropping Zach off at work, we went to Bruegger's Bagels for some coffee and people watching.

Every once in a while, it hits me how far Rubi has come in the last few months. Remember this picture?

That is Rubi when we first started working on behavior from inside the car. And this is Rubi before her vet visit:

I think her eyes are where it's easiest to see the difference. They're much softer now than before. Her ears aren't as forward and tight, and she's not as tense in general. No forehead wrinkles, either. And, oh yeah, now she lays down and looks at me instead of obsessively watching out the windows. That, Mr. Sheen, is what it actually means to be "winning."

She even held it together pretty well when a dog walked right next to the car. She would've done much better if I hadn't've been fumbling around trying to grab treats while not spilling my coffee. In my defense, the snow bank was taller than the dog, and neither of us saw him coming until he was right on top of us.

Whoops, lesson learned.

We managed to time it just right into the vet's office; we checked in, hopped on the scale, and into an exam room without seeing another dog. Fun fact: according to Rubi's papers from 2009, she weighed 94 lbs. Today, she weighs 52. Brings a whole new meaning to the flying pig collar, doesn't it?

I was sensible enough to bring Rubi's mat with us to the appointment. Are you tired yet of seeing pictures of Rubi settling on her mat? 'Cause here's another one:

Complete with hip bump. Oh, yeah. 

I could go on and on about how she acted around the other dogs, but I think that play by play, it was actually pretty boring. We didn't go head to head with anyone. Rubi was a little worried about the dog that was barking right outside out door, but as you can see from the next picture, she wasn't insane worried. 

She did whine a bit, but I've decided that so long as she does what I ask of her and isn't screaming, yodeling, wailing, or otherwise making people think I beat her, I'm okay with a little whining. It seems to go away as she gets more comfortable, and so I hope it will diminish with time. Rubi did listen very nicely, and behaved decently enough for the vet and the tech to comment on how well trained she is. I'm extremely glad I thought to bring her mat. It was really handy to be able to do the relaxation protocol while we were waiting to be seen. Plus, I could put her on the mat and not have to worry about what she was doing while I talked to the vet. A few times, I think it took all the impulse control she had to stay on the mat, but that's what hot dogs are for, right?

The one issue that did crop up was that Rubi does not like to be restrained. She's not vicious about it - just squirmy. It upsets her. I actually knew about this quirk, but it slipped my mind what with all the other quirks we've been working on. She doesn't mind being hugged or picked up; she's specifically bothered by the veterinarian hold where her body is against the person with an arm across her neck and one under her belly. So I'll counter condition that a bit and see if we can't keep her a little more relaxed next time. 

And hopefully next time is a long time away.