7 January, 2012

Dear old golden rule days…

Today is the start of a new semester! Actually, yesterday was, but today is the start of the one face-to-face class I have, which also happens to be math. Blargh. At least it’s Math 152, which is Math For Liberal Arts People Who Are Convinced Numbers Are A Fascist Conspiracy. I’m kind of excited to go back — although today is also Sid’s debut in a boring (for him, and possibly for me) classroom setting. Hopefully he doesn’t eat another student or a desk or something. Must remember to pack him a quiet, non-rolling chewie toy.

In other Sid news, he had his yearly exam yesterday where he weighed in at 78 pounds, which I believe makes him the largest dog in the house by weight. We’ll know for sure on Monday, when Beowulf gets his yearly exam and gets weighed. There’s no fat on Siddy, either, he is muscle and bone and dorkish enthusiasm for approximately everything ever.

The largest part of Beowulf’s exam will be having the vet feel up all the lumps he’s acquired in the past year. I’m reasonably certain they’re all benign lipomas, just collections of fat cells, but I’m a little worried anyway. We need his eyes checked, as well, since I’m pretty sure I’ve seen a developing cataract in his left eye at least. It sucks when your dog is getting old.

27 September, 2011

Daily Poultry, dog update

Kemuel, a black Modern Game Bantam rooster.
Kemuel stands with his body three-quarters to the camera to the right, and his head turned so his face is three-quarters profile to the left.  His black feathers are sort of shabby looking and there are bare spots; this is par for the course with extremely hard-feathered birds like MGBs when they moult.  He has very long, elegant legs with three inch spurs curving off his heels, and a long, elegant neck.

Our latest worry on the dog front is Beowulf, who is not only developing a wide variety of lumps (Dobermans, particularly gentleman Dobermans of a certain age, are prone to fatty lipomas, which are benign but sort of weird to feel when you’re petting your dogs) but has also developed a deep, hacking cough that is going to require a vet visit. He turned seven this month, so he is kind of getting up there for a Doberman, passing out of middle age and into “of a certain age” since a Doberman who lives to 10 is doing well and one who goes past it is living on borrowed time.

But he is still a sweet, steady, and dependable boy, if one who is starting to slow down from his adventurous youth, when he and Tink spent many an hour zooming ferociously around the yard. He is still determined to protect us from squirrels, those tiny yard-pirates with their suspiciously fluffy tails. We’re looking forward to years with him yet, just need to figure out what’s going on with that cough and make sure that his latest crop of lumps are, in fact, lipomas and not something more sinister.

3 May, 2011

Bonus Finals Week Post

This was the scene shortly after I got home from work. I got one of the two Bio tests I have to take done yesterday, still have one Bio test and one Math test to take. I was going to do the math test tonight but was wiped by work as you can see.

At least I have a really supportive family.
I sprawl on the futon with eyes closed. At my feet, Braxton sits on the arm and regards me soberly. Emmaline is camped on my chest, and Roo is loafed on my stomach. Sid is beside me with my hand on the back of his neck, and Beowulf keeps watch by my knees.

15 March, 2011

I am not normally a socially responsible blogger.

Wow. Yesterday’s post on Service Dog Etiquette for the Dog Lover got more hits than anything I have written here with the exception of advertising cats what need homes. I am really seriously flattered that people who have been service dog handlers (of all stripes) for way, way longer than I have felt it was worth linking. I am a noob to having a disability (I spent a few years denying that the chronic pain was chronic — if you ignore it long enough, it goes away, right?) and a noob to being a service dog handler, so I was really kind of worried I would be “stepping on toes” or get something horribly wrong. Much love to the friends who looked it over for me before I posted and gave me helpful hints!

And now, we return to our usual programming, which is to say WHO WANTS SID PICTURES? I knew you did. Sunday was phenomenally warm and sunny and a good day for me pain-wise and balance-wise, so we got outside in the yard and played fetch. I also set up the cheesy home agility set to play with. Sid cannot be inspired to move above a plod, and had a tendency to just plow through the jump. On the other hand, with a clicker and some kibble I had Tink and Beowulf doing Performing Doberman Tricks inside five minutes. I had Beowulf down-stay near the jump at a 90 degree angle to it, and then got Tink to do a beautiful string of jump, turn, jump, turn, jump, leap over Beowulf, skid into a “Sit up and beg” all for a click and a couple kibbles. I think it was because the sun was nice and bright and I took care to tap the crossbar and make sure she noticed it.

Anyway, Sid pictures! My handsome boy.
Sid, a black German Shedder who is 8 months old, trots toward the camera.  His ears are slightly worried, his eyes have some urgency to them, and his cheeks are a little pooched out.  Water drips from his mighty jaws, which are closed.
Here is Sid trying to fetch me a mouthful of water. It did not work out very well for him.

To the left, Zille, a 2 and a half year old sable Shedder, heads out of frame, a ball in her mouth.  Center frame, Sid has a really odd expression on his face and his mouth is half-open.  Anyone who has spent time with dogs will recognize that he is about to try biting Zille on the butt to see what happens.
Here is Sid about to get his ass kicked by Zille.

Center frame, Sid runs joyously toward the camera, his eyes bright and his pink tongue flying.  His course has been carefully plotted to be at 45 degrees to that of Zille, who is just to the viewer's right, trying to get past him so she can return the ball to her person.

27 February, 2011

We can never paint that door frame again.

Last night while waiting for the arrival of the Best Mother Ever, I got the bright idea to definitively measure dogs by pinning them up against the door frame between kitchen and living room and marking their heights with a pencil (first we wanted to use our front one got from Uk Oak Doors… but it’s just too great to be marked). This could have gone more smoothly. Zille came right to me, stood in place, and let herself be measured. So did Sid. So did Beowulf. Tink on the other hand first tried hunching her back to make herself taller, and then when I sighed and begged her to behave, she extended her front legs and made herself shorter. A few moments of wrestling my recalcitrant dog later, I had my pencil marks and got out the tape measure and recorded their heights on the wall.

I was so pleased with the result that I went over them with a Sharpie to immortalize them. Sid’s is the only one with a date, because Sid is still growing. I figure I’ll measure him once a month or so and keep track of his continued progress.

A section of narrow white wall with writing on it in black marker.  The highest mark is Beowulfs, at thirty and three-quarters inches.  Next down is Tink at twenty-eight and one-eighths inches.  Then comes Zille, at twenty-four and one-quarter inches, and finally Sid at twenty-three and three-quarters inches.

26 February, 2011

Many different dogs make a good trainer.

I hope so, anyway. My dogs have hilariously different approaches to being clicker-trained, which means that if I rapidly switch between dogs I have a tendency to get discombobulated.

The www.zerowasteusa.com/Complete-Dog-Waste-Stations-Prodlist.html has been helping communities manage dog waste for almost 20 years! We used our expertise to create a line of pet waste stations and bags that are both well designed and cost effective!

Tink, for instance, throws behaviors at you in rapid-fire sequence. I once watched her teach a trainer with over a decade of experience to click her for sitting up and begging instead of doing a plain sit, just through sheer speed — the trainer could never manage to click Tink when she had both front feet on the floor. She is constantly in motion, so it’s hard to select just the response you want, since you have to have sharp eyes and fast reflexes to get a click in there.

Beowulf has a tendency to just freeze in place. I need to do “101 things to do with a box” with him, just to get him used to the notion that a click does not mean “stop right where you’re at”. On the other hand, the dog has a KILLER stay.

Sid is fun to train but I have to be careful free-shaping him. As I discovered tonight while working on teaching him to pick up my keys, if he doesn’t get a click when he thinks he should, he checks out and goes to lie down on his bed and sulk. I have to either very carefully and very slowly ratchet up my criteria for him, or adopt a variable-amount reward so that he gets, say, one kibble for hovering his nose over the keys, but four or five if he licks the keys.

My keys, incidentally, are kind of slobbery after the last training session. It’s a little gross.

In other news, the dogs’ new tags from Down 2 Earth Jewelry got here and are hanging from their collars. They are gorgeous little things and I must get pics. I informed Sid that now that he’s officially wearing his “co-pilot” tag, he must be a Good Boy all the time.

20 February, 2011

Tink is officially smallest dog in the house again.

When we took Sid in for his first vet appointment, he was a skinny thing with not much muscle tone and weighed in at 58.5 pounds, which is right at or below where Tink tends to ride in terms of weight these days. He went in Friday for his lepto and Lyme boosters, and weighed in at 63.5 pounds, officially making Tink the smallest dog in the house again in terms of weight.

“Smallest dog in the house” seems like an odd moniker to apply to a dog who is 28″ at the shoulder. Tink is very oversized for a Doberman bitch, much as Beowulf is way too tall for a Doberman dog. The contrast between builds with Dobes and Shedders is pretty interesting, too. Sid and Zille are about the same height, around 24″ at the shoulder, but Zille weighs in around 70lbs and she is pretty much nothing but muscle. This is, for the record, about the same thing Beowulf weighs, and he’s 7″ taller than Zillekins. Siddy’s 5 pound weight gain has been entirely muscle; I’m keeping him on the lean side of a healthy weight to minimize stress on his joints as he grows, but his shoulders, haunches, and back have filled out with healthy (and strong!) muscle that is giving him the start of looking like the adult dog he’s going to be.

Meanwhile, back at the Manor, I’ve established that a few pieces of cheese will not cause Roo to vomit uncontrollably, so I’m thinking of taking up clicker training with him. I’m kind of on a training kick. I’m working with Sid because, well, he’s got a lot of work to do before he can be my Mobile Cane and Hairy Crutch, I’m periodically working with Tink[1] because she thinks it is deeply unfair that the puppy should get all the cheese, and I think it would be hilarious to have Roo doing things like jumping through hoops and otherwise performing for his food.

[1] MOSTLY I JUST FEED HER CHEESE FOR BEING CUTE, BECAUSE SHE’S TINK. THERE’S A WHOLE POST IN “WHY I HAVE NOT TRAINED TINKERBELLE BEYOND THE BASICS”.

18 January, 2011

On New Dog Expectations

I’ve been pondering lately on the expectations people have when they bring new dogs into their lives. My personal best advice is this: the closest you will ever get to a plug-and-play pet is a hamster, and even a hamster is going to take some adjustment on your part.

Here’s my personal expectations for dogs: any dog under a year is going to try to eat the entire house, harrass the cats, poop and pee everywhere, and refuse to listen to a word you say. Any dog over a year, you will have accidents in the house while the two of you figure out the Getting The Dog Outside In Time issue, try to eat the entire house, and harrass the cats. Any deviations from these standards are cause for jubilation and are probably temporary. You can relax when the dog is five and hasn’t tried to eat the house, use it for a toilet, or attempted to sodomize the cats with his nose in at least 12 months. Unless you’re adopting a dog over five, in which case you can relax when the dog is ten.

I just find it’s easier on everyone this way. My expectations for dog behavior mean that the dog is set up to succeed, because I’m taking steps to make sure they don’t eat the house, use it for a toilet, or terrorize cats. The dog is happier, because she gets clear messages about what is OK to do in this house and doesn’t have to experiment. I’m happier, because I’m not constantly doing damage control. The cats are happier because they aren’t being terrorized.

There’s also some solid reasons for my low expectations. Speaking broadly, dogs don’t generalize situations and words all that well without work. They also learn rules very differently from how humans think they do. For instance, a person may think a dog has learned “don’t go to the bathroom in the house” when what the dog has really learned is “don’t go to the bathroom on carpet.” My house is mostly laminate floors, so a dog who has learned not to go on carpet may see my floors as acceptable, and needs to learn that we don’t go to the bathroom on hard, slick floors either. On the training front, I will neither look nor sound like the dog’s former person. Even the brightest dog may be uncertain whether “sit” means “sit” when I say it or signal it, because I do not say it or signal it just like the last person to train the dog. Granted that it’s going to be faster for me to teach a dog what I mean if the dog already has a foundation, but unless the previous owner specifically worked with the dog to teach it how different people ask for “sit” then the dog will probably have issues.

All of this, of course, is extremely relevant to my current situation, while I am pondering bringing a puppy into the house. I have had the talk with the husband about low expectations and setting dogs up to succeed, although I don’t think you can really adequately prepare someone for the whirlwind experience of puppyhood until they’ve actually experienced the attempts to eat the house. So far I’ve had one really easy puppy (Beowulf) and one total terrorist of a puppy (Tink), and it was post-Tink that I developed my low expectations for new dogs. It’s ended up serving me well because really, it’s just easier on everyone if you assume from the beginning that a puppy is a weapon of mass destruction, and go from there.

15 January, 2011

On Choosing a Service Dog Candidate

A few people have asked, here and elsewhere, “Why not just train Zille?” since my post on a possible service dog puppy. Zille thanks you for your faith in her abilities, but it’s kind of a complicated question to answer. It boils down to Zille lacking the self-confidence in some situations that I’d need in a Service Dog; for instance walking next to traffic REALLY creeps her out, no matter how many treats are involved. Which is fine for a pet dog, but if she’s being my Walking Cane then having her swerve into me and attempt to put me between her and traffic isn’t going to work out so well.

Probably the best candidate in the house is actually Beowulf, who is steady in any public situation that does not involve food and capable of spending hours keeled over on his side alternately sleeping and staring into space while contemplating the vast mysteries of the universe, but he’s also six years old which means that his service life would be pretty limited. And I’d still need to put a lot of training on him to use him as a full-time Walking Cane because right now if I take him into a restaurant he is going to have no problem resting his enormous head on a table next to someone’s plate (whose is not important, could be me, could be the people at the next table) and attempting to explain that he’s just starving.

And even if Tink didn’t have a myriad of health issues of her own which affect her joint stability, well, her temperament is not at all suited to service doggery since she firmly believes that wherever she goes, she should be the center of attention and also she has no intention of peacefully walking next to me at my pace while I use her to stabilize myself. She has places to go, things to do, people to see.

That being said, there are things the existing dogs can do for me and I plan to teach them to do those things in order to brush up on my own training skills before a potential service puppy sets foot in the house. Zille, for instance, can easily learn to pick up things I have dropped (so I don’t have to bend over) and to go and fetch things for me. Beowulf can be my Walking Cane in situations where he is not likely to bring disgrace and disrepute on the noble profession of Service Dog, or make things harder for other service dog teams who may need access to that place in the future.

Because that’s the thing about using a service dog, business owners are going to judge future teams who visit their premises from you and your dog. A Service Dog isn’t just a pet that’s really well-behaved, it’s an exceptional dog who can handle huge numbers of situations with dignity and aplomb, make safety decisions for its partner on the fly, and be as unobtrusive as, well, an actual inanimate cane would be. If a service dog screws up, that’s going to make it that much harder for other teams to access that space without hassle, as the business owner may not have a lot of experience with service dog teams, and may think the disruptive dog’s behavior is typical, or may just not feel like taking the chance. It’s illegal to deny access to a service dog team, but that doesn’t mean some people won’t try it and not every service dog handler is going to have the energy to argue with the person trying to deny access.

Hence my decision that none of my current dogs are really appropriate for full-time service work, and that I should start with a cane at the moment, when I only really need assistance part-time, and work towards a service dog who does a better job of fitting the bill. This doesn’t mean I don’t adore my dogs, but that I am realistic about their abilities and what will make them happy. Zille would be miserable encountering new situations every day, with new and strange sights and sounds. Beowulf would violate service dog behavioral standards by begging for food (and possibly attempting to mug people for love). Tink, well, I don’t call her La Diva Tinkerbella for nothing.

8 December, 2010

More info on Juniper, World’s Most Laid-Back Kitten

Juniper went to the vet yesterday for his check up/initial vetting. I am pleased to say that he is FIV and FeLV negative, which clears him for a potential home with other cats! He is also now free of fleas and has been dewormed, as well as receiving his first FVCRP shot. He goes back on the 28th for the booster and we’ll schedule his neuter then, the vet felt that he was only 10 weeks old and thus too young to get his rabies vax or a quick neutering. He weighs about four pounds.

Thus cleared for interaction with the Usual Suspects, I brought him out to spend some time on the futon last night. He was Not Impressed with the dogs. In fact, faced with dogs he achieved such a phenomenal growl from his tiny frame that he established a three foot Canine Exclusion Zone around himself. My dogs are used to much larger cats than tiny Juniper, and were not about to poke their sensitive noses at a cat who was indicating so clearly that he would bite them off, even if he is tiny.

With cats he was much, much better. Roo sniffed him all over, established that he was not a snack, and then went about his business. Juniper did not react, except to politely touch noses. Aida jumped up, and they politely touched noses, and then she hissed in his face. He did not react. Aida was confused. They repeated everything, from nose-touch to hiss, and Juniper still didn’t react. Aida grumbled and went on her way. Emmaline took one look at him and said “Oh hell no I don’t do kittens” and retreated to watch him disapprovingly from the back of the Cat Chair. The only time Juniper showed any cat-oriented hostility was when Braxton Bragg snuck up behind him and patted his butt to see if he would do something interesting; that got a little growl that sent the dogs into whimpering panic.

Gentle reader, you have not lived until you have seen your 75 pound German Shedder and your 75 pound male Doberman reduced to whimpering and clinging to their Daddy because a 4 pound kitten growled, seriously.

Juniper will get more socialization time over the coming days, we’re hoping to work on the growling at dogs thing because, well, it’s too pathetic to see the dogs like that. But he’s doing quite well, and I think we’re on track to have him in a new home come January!

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