1 June, 2012

I know, I vowed to be a better blogger

But then life got the better of me, as it does. Josie did have babies, two of them! They are adorable, now the ComfortCam is our pick for the best wifi baby monitor that way we keep on eye on them all the time. Pics later, I need to take a few more. She presented me with two little doelings which is quite nice as they will be easy to sell.

Chicken plans are in the works, and the brooder is full of week-old Old English Game Bantams at the moment in crele and black-breasted red. The incubator is full of Feltner line Pumpkin Hulseys, the most gorgeous of the American Gamefowl I have ever seen. I’m planning on getting out of silkies entirely, which means I need to sell them all off, and for that matter need to set up a “for sale” page here to publicize the chickens and goats on offer.

Last weekend I was at WisCon and had an absolutely amazing time and spent time with wonderful people. I worked Sid, it was more or less his graduate-level Final Exam and he passed with flying colors except for one incident when applause startled him out of sleep and he barked twice.

The cats are all doing well with the exception of Aida, who has been very ill but is hopefully on the mend now.

Tink, Beowulf, and Zille are their usual wonderful selves.

I’m trying to decide what classes to register for this fall.

More updates as events warrant.

3 April, 2012

Being a lady of leisure is not as fun as I hoped.

I’m two days into unemployment and already looking for ways to get myself in trouble. Next week I’m probably going to start Siddy on herding. We enlarged the goat paddock today and could definitely have used a good herding dog’s help! So Sid shall become a dual-purpose dog, hopefully.

In other news, Annabelle is currently shacked up in connubial bliss with a blue-eyed boyfriend, which means kids from her in September. Once she’s knocked up, Esk will go done and spend some time with a buck, and be due to kid in October. Our winter milk and cheese supply is therefore assured. Josie, due in late April or early May, continues to inflate like a hairy balloon on legs, and her udder seems to be filling.

Meanwhile I’ve applied for unemployment and am waiting for the determination letter to tell me how generous (HAHAHAHA) my payments will be. And Daniel has secured perhaps the coolest part-time job ever being a bad guy for the FBI. So we’re doing all right despite it all, but given my boredom levels I think I might reconsider my plan to take this summer off from school.

23 January, 2012

Just dance!

A busybusybusy weekend. Although actually it was only busybusy, as math class was canceled due to ice on the roads. Sid didn’t get the day entirely off, though, as once it had melted off we headed down to Blackthorn Kennel to hang out with Christine for a couple hours and drop off the other three dogs and Roo, then we headed on to Harrisonburg to see my friend Wheelchair Dancer perform with other members of AXIS dance company.

The show was absolutely amazing, two hours of emotion, athleticism, and grace. The humans thoroughly enjoyed it, Sid slept through most of it. This was actually slightly a problem as the burst of applause at the end of the first piece startled him and he launched himself into my lap. Well, his upper half into my lap, which is as much as will fit. There was a Q&A after the show, and then a reception where we managed to hook up with Wheelchair Dancer and get a bit of a chat in between members of her adoring public arriving to talk to her, and people showing up to talk to me about Siddy.

Back at Blackthorn we got some fitful sleep while Roo did laps of the room, periodically trampling us and yelling. He’s lucky he’s cute. Then Sunday it was up and Christine joined us for the trip back to Harrisonburg and brunch with Wheelchair Dancer. Afterward, she and I played in the parking lot of her hotel! Sid worked for us both simultaneously, keeping me upright and providing propulsion for her, moving with a careful sensibility of having two people to watch over. He was beautiful, turning his head to check in with me, then to the other side to check in with her, adjusting speed, and eventually learning to watch for wheelchair clearance on his left side automatically, rather than needing cues from me. Wheelchair Dancer also let me use her Smart Chair electric wheelchair so Siddy and I could take a solo spin, and it was pretty amazing. Also, Siddy thinks pulling a wheelchair is fun! I see wheels in our future… He also consented to work for Wheelchair Dancer, the first time he’s ever worked for anyone other than me.

After not enough time, we headed back up here and fell over. I’m still tired enough to wish I didn’t have to go to work but what the heck. The chickens and cats all survived our absence, and now it’s back to the grind, at least until AXIS comes back this way in May!

11 January, 2012

Well that was exciting.

On Monday we had actual snow, a quarter inch of wet fluffy white stuff that stuck around just long enough for Daniel to throw snowballs for the Shedders and then started melting away, leaving a muddy swamp of a yard behind. Did I mention Sid got a bath, complete with painted toenails, on Monday? Of course he did, so of course it snowed. Ah, well, it’s not as if Friday Night Sid Grooming isn’t going to be the order of the day now that he’s working regularly on Saturdays.

While the snow wasn’t enough to cause serious problems like multi-day power outages, it did in fact accumulate enough on our internet satellite dish to shut down our connection to the world until mid-morning yesterday, when the last of it melted off. Ah, rural life. While I hated having neighbors practically right on top of me when I was living in town, I will say that inclement weather never accumulated on my cable connection and shut off the internet.

Well, except for that one time when lightning hit the cable junction box in my back yard that served the entire neighborhood and burnt out my cable box and also my laptop, which was no fun whatsoever, not even a little bit.

I have no charming pictures of chickens in the snow because our dedicated winter-proofing of the pens means that no snow could get to the chickens. And I didn’t bother to take dog pictures because there wasn’t enough snow to make them picturesque, so I am afraid that my gentle readers will have to just imagine Siddy frolicking in a quarter inch of snow while I shouted things like “DO NOT GET SID DIRTY OR I WILL COMMIT ATROCITIES!” at the dogs. It’s just possible that the neighbors who are close enough to hear me think I’m kind of weird. Although it’s possible they reached this conclusion due to my habit of shouting threats at deer.

9 January, 2012

Sid’s Academic Debut

Siddy took me to math class on Saturday and performed like a star. I have photographic proof!

Sid's front half as he lies keeled over on his side on the floor in harness, blissfully asleep.

I think if you start asking what the hardest skill to teach is, every service dog owner-trainer will have a different answer for you. For me, the hardest thing to explain to Sid has been how to turn himself off and just chill while I do something that he finds deeply boring. Like algebra. But he’s finally gotten there, so it’s time to start ratcheting up the criteria and teach him to pass out next to me, as opposed to sprawled across the floor a leash-length away.

The only problem we’ve encountered is that one of the things I taught him was to alert on me if I start zoning out — both the fibromyalgia and my meds for it make me a little prone to just staring into space, on standby myself. Why is this a problem? Because apparently to Sid, “zoning out” and “paying attention in math class but not taking notes” look similar enough that he decided he needed to snap me out of it. Whoops.

Still, I’m deeply proud of him. We got the most coveted compliment of all from one of my classmates at the first break: “I didn’t even know there was a dog back there!”

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.

28 November, 2011

Polishing a Service Dog repertoire

Speaking of training Sid, Saturday afternoon I declared we were going out for dinner. The problem with that was that I was having Enhanced Dizziness with Bonus Wobbling, which meant that my cane would have been a bad idea. Siddy had been at home and bored all day, which at his age is not really the BEST set-up for taking him somewhere like a restaurant, but I like living dangerously, so I stuck some cheddar popcorn in a baggie in my purse and off we went.

Training your own service dog, I find, is a process of constant evaluation — what are we doing right? What needs work? What do I need to scrap entirely? The answers in this case being 1) Sid’s entries and exits from the car are brilliant; he’s responding to the cue “Wait” and politely waiting for me to disentangle myself from his leash and then hopping right in when I tell him OK, even when some huge dork of another driver has parked close to us and I can’t get the back door open as wide as I’d like. 2) What needs work? Placing him in a down to get him out of traffic patterns. He prefers to lie down perpendicular to me so he can stare hopefully at me, both watching for me to wobble and waiting for his cheesy popcorn. This puts him right in traffic paths, most of the time, so we need to work on him lying down where I put him, or at least work on making him prefer lying down parallel to my chair, which in most cases would be effective for getting him out of the way. We achieved it at the restaurant with some repeated luring, eventually. 3) As for scrapping things entirely, well, I need to work with him at home on not popping up to grab my sweatshirt sleeve when I put it on. At home it’s a harmless and charming (if boisterous) expression of excitement that we’re about to go outside. I suspect that people in public would have a less benign interpretation of my dog grabbing my sleeve, though, and at the restaurant as we prepared to leave I barely managed to interrupt his intention to BOING! at me with a quick stern look.

Bonus Tasks I’d Like To Work On With Him: more for his sake than mine, I need to put helping with coat-removal on cue. He loves to play tug so teaching him to pull on sleeve-ends has been no trouble at all, and he really likes active tasks. I think putting it on cue and using it more often would actually function as a reward for him in some circumstances (tuggy is just THAT MUCH FUN).

27 November, 2011

Speaking of Dog Training…

I was going through the Enormous Pile of Crap on my desk this weekend and found Sid’s Volhard Puppy Aptitude Test scores, for those of you who don’t know Sid is my dog which I got from a Standard poodle puppies for sale phoenix store ans since then he is basically my baby.

Let me say from the beginning that I rather think the test does not measure what it claims to measure, because it claims to measure how “dominant” the puppy is on a variety of fronts and that is…laughable. I think that rather than “dominant” what they meant to say was “strength of will” because the idea that a seven week old puppy is out to dominate human beings is deeply hilarious. As Bradshaw points out in Dog Sense, dogs have been with us for roughly 20,000 years and in that time the selection pressure would have been away from dogs who were out to be hairy tyrants who wanted to control human beings through force.

Ahem. Bit of a digression there. But really, when you see an interpretation of the test that says “this dog is dominant and can be provoked to bite” I begin to giggle a little hysterically at the egregious misuse of the word “dominant” and also the fact that the test doesn’t recognize that any dog can be provoked to bite, it’s just a matter of where the bitey threshold is vice the “run away!” or “put on a defensive display” thresholds are.

TO GET MYSELF BACK ON TRACK. I do think some reactions are interesting, and the test is right about one thing: research has suggested that a puppy who will play fetch with you from a young age has a high probability of succeeding as a service dog. On the “Fetch Test,” the notes say that Sid scored a 3: “Chases object and returns with object to tester.” Which is exactly what you want.

Otherwise he scored mostly 2s, the interpretation of which is “This dog is dominant and can be provoked to bite. Responds well to firm, consistent, fair handling in an adult household, and is likely to be a loyal pet once it respects its human leader. Often has bouncy, outgoing temperament: may be too active for elderly, and too dominant for small children.”

This is essentially meaningless as an overall interpretation. Is there a dog who does NOT respond well to consistent, fair handling? The Volhards also advocate using their special “motivational collar” for training which is just a choke chain by another name, so they are deeply concerned with the ability to make a dog react to pain, noting that scoring a 1 or a 2 in “Touch sensitivity” means that this “will be a difficult dog to train.” I think a lack of reaction to pain is not really a liability in a dog who is trained with a clicker and a variety of yummy snacks. Sid had no reaction to the pinch test for “touch sensitivity” and rather than considering this something that makes him difficult to train (because I don’t use pain on him in training) I consider his very high pain threshold to be a huge asset in his life as a service dog, where odds are at some point someone is going to accidentally kick him or step on his tail. I would very much like him to not turn around at that point and bite the hell out of the person.

At any rate, I think the VPAT is mostly interesting for where it has remained consistent with Sid. For instance, if you throw something for him these days he will go and grab it, but generally does not bring it back to you, preferring to try and lure you into chasing him for it. He is however still pretty insensible to momentary pain, and will let Daniel pick him up without making a fuss. He still investigates loud noises with a curious, bright-eyed interest, and if you drag a rag or towel in front of him you had better be prepared for an 80lb Shedder to land on that towel like a bolt from above. He LOVES to chase a tug toy and then engage in a vigorous game of tug.

Training has made him less likely to actually get underfoot when following his person, but he still comes readily when called and follows close at my side, all “Where we goin, Mom?” Rolled onto his back, he no longer panics and flails but he does dork out, especially if you are willing to rub his tummy. In general I’d give him more 3s on the VPAT these days than he got as a pup, but that’s all down to training.

And I do still have to deeply wonder about the Volhards, and how they manage to live with dogs given their evident paranoia that young puppies are out to take over the house. My biggest problem (aside from the fact that it is wrongity-wrong-o) with the whole “DOGS ARE OUT TO DOMINATE YOU!!!!one!” model is that it sets you up to live in antagonistic competition with your dog from Day 1 and turns your house into a primal battleground filled with struggle.

I find it’s a lot easier to just manipulate my dogs with cheese and have a little faith that they’re not lying awake nights trying to figure out how to grow opposible thumbs and dethrone me from my position as Alpha Bitch.

And anyway, everyone who lives here knows that it’s actually Tink who is the Alpha Bitch.

26 November, 2011

On the inevitable self-comparisons of dog training

So I’m having a lot of guilty feelings surrounding Sid lately, mostly because I have a lot of really fantastic dogblogs in my feed reader, like Katie at Save the Pit Bull, Save the World and the Food Lady over at Wootube.

Why does this cause me guilty feelings about Sid? These people are fantastic trainers, and have worked their dogs in agility, obedience, flyball — they have dogs with TITLES. Like Katie’s eeevil red dog, who is ARCHX Siren’s Eleusinian Mystery CD CD-H RA RL3 RLV RL2X RL1X CGC TT.

Meanwhile, Siddy, despite being brilliant and brave and willing, is just Blackthorn’s Obsidian, he’s well behaved, but escape sometimes, I even got a special crate for him, I found reading the best escape proof dog crate reviews online.

This is, I realize, totally irrational. Siddy doesn’t care if he never gets the entire alphabet after his name, what he cares about is whether he gets to go places with his person and take care of her. But I keep feeling that I am letting him down, because if I was a more systematic and dedicated trainer, he definitely could have a pile of titles. He is smart, willing, and has heart and courage in spades (along with a large helping of goofy sense of humor and general good nature). In the hands of a trainer who would, say, work through the Levels with him in an organized fashion, he could be out there in the rally obedience ring no problem. Well, small problem in that his handler would have to use her cane and some speed changes would be impossible for us — does rally require anything faster than a quick-step gimp? I have no idea but if so, it’s a no-go — but no problem in the dog’s ability or capacity, the best escape proof dog crate reviews

The problem is that I have this deep and weird aversion to competing in things like obedience, and that systematically working behaviors in the backyard here at home is also not the most thrilling thing ever for me. I put Sid’s public access foundations on him here at home, but as soon as he was cleared to work and I was 95% certain of his ability to not be a total dork in public, we took our show on the road. It was more interesting for both of us, that way.

And I don’t know why I feel like we ought to be doing structured competition obedience and the like. I mean, both competition trainers and I put hundreds of hours of work into teaching our dogs, but for, say, a rally obedience dog all that work culminates in an event in the rally ring that takes, what, 10 minutes? 15? Whereas the pinnacle of Sid’s achievements thus far was working for four hours straight at the state fair, in crowds of people, amid fascinating smells, new noises, with occasional livestock. He worked for two hours at the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Veteran’s Day, where he handled immersive videos featuring machine gun fire and screaming, several new floors that were cold and metal and wobbled and made noise under foot, drastic temperature changes between rooms (the Chosin Valley room is heavily air conditioned, the Viet Nam room is heated), people using wheelchairs, people using canes, and a taxidermy German Shepherd (that one really weirded him out but he didn’t make a fuss).

It makes me sad that he will never get official recognition for these things, that because of my aversion to the competition field, no one will ever give Sid a big bright ribbon or a shiny trophy. There are no organizations that officially sanction the titling of service dogs in the work they do, although if there were he’d surely have his PA (Public Access) and SDN (Service Dog Novice) and be well on his way to SDA (Service Dog Advanced) with an eye to his SDE (Service Dog Excellent) before the end of 2012. Or maybe, given the wide variety of tasks that service dogs do, we’d have to break up the titles to specify the work he does, and so take the “S” off and replace it with an “M” for Mobility. Which would then give us the opportunity to, say, work on him getting his Wheel Dog titles if I decide to use a wheelchair.

I don’t actually know where I’m going with this, except to say that I recognize that it’s irrational to simultaneously want applause for Sid’s good work and also people to ignore him when we’re out in public. But it sure would be nice to get a big bright ribbon to recognize all our hard work, you know?

25 November, 2011

Tink nearly had an epic Thanksgiving.

The Best Parents Ever came up for T-day, and once again Daniel managed to pull off an amazing meal. I did make the cranberry sauce – I am a cranberry sauce purist, using sugar, water, and cranberries. None of your exotic spices for this lady, thanks.

Anyway, we all ate until we were stuffed and everyone who wanted some turkey got some, although in Tink’s case she apparently felt we were being much too slow in delivering the goods because while the human contingent was RIGHT THERE stuffing its faces, Tinks reached up onto the counter, grabbed the nearest bit of turkey carcass, and tried to make off with it.

Rapid intervention by the consternated monkeys meant that she did no more than dump the accumulated Turkey juice all over the cabinet and floor, which we in our magnanimity allowed her to clean up. Well, really, why WOULD I have dogs if I wanted to clean that kind of thing up myself? It’s much easier to just wipe up the dog spit afterward. After our meal, the dogs got turkey, roasted potatoes, mashed sweet potatoes, roasted carrots, and cranberry sauce in their bowls. They all thought that was pretty good except Sid, who did NOT like the cranberry sauce. In fact he moved his roasted potato out of his bowl to eat it so he didn’t have to risk his tongue touching the cranberry sauce after his first experimental lick of it.

Today the chickens will get their own feasting in the form of all the vegetable discards, while the rest of us eat turkey and trimmings until we are sick of them. Not that dogs ever get sick of turkey, thank goodness, otherwise we’d never dispose of it all. I feel like I should be doing something productive but I’m not going anywhere NEAR the shopping areas today and I’ve exhausted myself giving Tink and Beo a bath, so I think I’ll just continue to lounge about indolently and enjoy the second of my four days off from work.

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