13 October, 2011

I’m still standing

Ack! I am sorry to have worried people with the long quiet – I didn’t realize quite how long it had been and then people started getting worried. Everything is fine here, it’s just been a busy time! What have I been up to?

1) Working Sid! He worked for four hours, a new record, at the State Fair one Saturday. He was freakin brilliant and handled everything with grace except for some worry when we were among the various steam engines. I had a bit of a nervous moment when we decided to cautiously try looking at the goats. I was worried that Sid would distress the goats and was prepared to leave quickly if they looked alarmed. What I was not prepared for was the fact that the goats all started moving towards us in their little pens, even climbing up on the panels to get a better look. We skedaddled before we could find out what, exactly, the goats were intending to do. It just seemed easier on everyone that way.

He also worked for a couple hours at Carter Mountain Orchard another Saturday, and was mostly brilliant. But we clearly need to work harder on his “Ignoring Other Dogs” skills.

I’ve added a banner to his harness handle that says “IGNORE ME I’M WORKING” which is helping HUGELY reduce the number of people who decide to try to distract him while he’s working, but I’m still kind of bitter about the die-hard dog lovers who just have to coo and call to him. It’s extra embittering because it means I don’t feel very much like I’m part of the wider community of Dog People anymore since they’re the ones who absolutely insist that their desire to interact with Siddy is more important than my safety.

2) Doing Chickenstuff! I set 24 eggs in the incubator a little over 10 days ago, so they’ve still got a while to go. I candled them at the 10 day mark and three had not developed, so I pulled them. There’s a couple others I’m not sure about, so I’ll be candling them again here soon to see if those eggs have developed at all and if not, pulling them to make room for hatching, which should happen between October 21 and 23 (there’s a bit of a range of dates that I was setting eggs). Meanwhile I’m waiting (im)patiently for the silkies I bought earlier this year to finish growing up, but I think I have a good breeding trio of blues and a black rooster (Belphegor).

This weekend we’re building some breeding pens for chickens, renovating existing chicken pens, and generally winterizing them all. If you’re local enough to want to help out let me know, we will feed you after we have used you for manual labor!

3) We are pretty sure Mr. Thomas a Beckett has a home! The last remaining problem is that it’s in Boston. I have a ride for him on October 26th or 27th up to Ruby, NY, but we still need to get him that last 200 miles, so if you are between Ruby, NY, and Boston, MA, and would like to help Mr. Beckett get home, please click on “Contact” up there and let me know!

4) Cleaning out my yarn stash. The time has come to admit that I do not knit enough to reasonably keep all the yarn I have, so I’m going through it and selecting a bunch to send off to friends who are busier knitters than I am. This has cleared out a bunch of room in the yarn closet, which let me clean off a good chunk of my work table, but there’s still more to do (mostly getting dog paraphernalia somewhere else to live) so that I can set up my sewing machine and serger. Of course, in the middle of this the eggs in the incubator are going to hatch and my room is going to be filled with baby chickens again…

5) Knitting. I know, I just said I don’t knit much. But when the weather gets cooler, I get the urge to knit things, and since fall has descended upon us most emphatically, I’ve taken up yarn and needles again. I also need to go ahead and clean out my stash of dyeable stuff by actually dyeing it and then possibly seeing about selling it as I must admit that, realistically speaking, I am not going to wear that many silk and cotton scarves. Although it is getting colder…

I think that’s everything! Well, not quite, we also hit up the Fall Fiber Festival and Sheepdog Trials at James Madison’s Montpelier, which was a hoot and a half and I bought a very small and reasonable amount of yarn and also a lambskin to use padding out some spots on Sid’s harness that I’m not entirely happy with. Watching the border collies move sheep around is always great. Usually it’s quite warm for the fiber festival and the sheep are kind of somnolent; this year it was cool and damp and the sheep were belligerent and giving the dogs and shepherds a lot more trouble than I’ve seen previously. And there was a visit to Blackthorn Kennel so Sid could run around like a lunatic and Daniel and I could hang out with Christine and admire her chickens. Sid still desperately hopes that Christine’s dog Coal will be his friend, and Coal just keeps ignoring Sid while Siddy gets more and more frantic licking his face and wagging his tail and generally acting like a kid with no friends sucking up.

I think that really is everything this time… I will try to behave myself and not go so long without updates!

11 September, 2011

Mother Nature hates Virginia, possibly.

So I’ve been quiet not because I’ve been busy, or not just because I’ve been busy, but also because Tropical Storm Lee was passing overhead for approximately the past week, dumping a metric crap-ton of rain on us and also obliterating the internet connection here at home. Fun. Only not.

The deluge of rain meant moving most of the silkies into the shed, which was already occupied by the porcelain trio I picked up on our trip to Philadelphia to drop off Coriander with her new person. I was able to get Lucifer in but Asmodeus refused to be caught. Hilariously, with no other adultish roosters in residence, Lucifer not only went all *FOOF*ROOSTERTASTIC*FOOF*[1] and started crowing, but decided that the group of seven juveniles was his little flock. So when I moved them all back outside and tried to put him in the pen with the rest of the chickens, he objected mightily and repeatedly snuck back in with the juveniles. Finally I just left him to it — he seems very happy watching over his little flock of adolescents and is strutting around all “Oh yeah, I’m the big roo.” He even managed to somehow keep them mostly dry when it rained last night, which means I have to worry about them less. A good rooster is a definite blessing to a flock!

While Lucifer was busy going roostertastic in the shed, the dogs were busy driving us nuts indoors because it was too wet and miserable for playing outside. Sid’s training continues apace — yesterday he went to the optometrist with me to order new glasses since Beowulf or Zille one tried to eat my glasses overnight, then to Panera for food and Tractor Supply for chicken food. He was a huge dork at the optometrist, whining and bouncing and otherwise pretending I had never trained him at all, even a little bit, but calmed down by the time we got to Panera. A Weimaraner whose people had pretty obviously never bothered to train him, just slapped a prong collar on and called it good, even barked at him uproariously and all he did was stand up and growl. Well, he did let loose one “woof” but it was practically sotto voce coming from him, so I let it slide. His normal response to being barked at involves a bark so loud and thunderous that his front feet lift off the ground.

Meanwhile, the storms have cleared and theoretically we should be pretty dry for the next week barring hurricanes and tropical storms, which will give me and Daniel a chance to expand the chicken infrastructure as necessary and play tons of fetchy with Zille.

[1] Interestingly, if you have a large group of roosters, the subordinate ones will not rooster out very much at all, which is probably a way of preventing battles to the death, or something. So Lucifer was roostery enough to tell he was a rooster, but not all ROOSTERTASTIC or as roostertastic as silkies get, anyway. A week in the shed with no other mature roos to compete with, and he has started crowing and grown some substantial wattles in a beautiful mulberry shade.

5 September, 2011

Taking the show on the road…

Saturday and Sunday the Best Mother Ever held down things here at the Manor while Daniel and I headed north to drop Constantine and Coriander in their new homes. Siddy went along in his capacity as Official Service Dog In Progress, although I also took a cane because we would be staying overnight right downtown in Philadelphia.

Sid is, after all, a country dog. He doesn’t often see large crowds of people, huge amounts of traffic crawling by right next to him, all the natural occurrences of downtown big-city living are pretty foreign to him. He’s accustomed to being told to ignore squirrels and cats; pigeons were an all-new fascination. He has been to the mall in Fredericksburg, but that didn’t prepare him for the downtown canyons where it got dark early because the buildings blocked out the sun, resulting in the weird light you get from the glow of a thousand beckoning store displays, changing traffic lights, the headlights of cars, the spinning and blinking lights of emergency vehicles. Being a country dog offers him an exciting wealth of smells and sounds, but they are nothing like the sensory overdrive that comes from a crowded city.

So I was a little worried that I might be primarily using the cane while we were there, but figured that the visit alone, even if he didn’t work through it, would provide some excellent experience. As it turned out, though, Siddy was a superstar. He loves high-stimulation, high-activity surroundings, and in fact they let him do his job even better than he normally does because during the endless times when his job consists of “stand still and hold Mom up” or “lie down next to Mom’s chair and don’t bother anyone” all the activity gives him something to look at. He never shied, although he did require a couple stops so he could stare hard at something and try to figure it out (buses gave him pause, and then he decided they were nothing to do with him and ignored them).

The hilarity of the situation is that what I really need to work on, apparently, are his leash skills when he is off-duty. We made multiple trips to a little park so he could relieve himself (his pottying-on-leash skills remain viable, hallelujah, although I think we need to practice them more and I definitely need to get that behavior on cue) and each time he wandered into the person holding his leash, or decided he wanted to walk next to the OTHER person, or decided he really needed to go into shoe stores for reasons that he did not divulge.

In harness, Siddy continued working well above where I’d expect him to for his age and experience level; out of harness he was exactly what you’d expect from a dog just over one year old who doesn’t have city experience: distractible, slightly obnoxious, and inclined to chase pigeons.

He was even excellent on restaurant outings, which was encouraging after our disaster of a trip to Joe’s Crab Shack here in town — we had an excellent dinner Saturday night (Coriander’s new person gives good food recommendations) and a pretty good lunch on Sunday before we picked up some chickens and then headed for home.

Constantine and Coriander, incidentally, are doing well and have settled right in, but we knew they would, didn’t we gentle readers. Constantine was up and exploring and hanging out with his older (at least half-) brother Juniper within a couple hours of being in his new home. Coriander didn’t wait that long, while her new person was giving us restaurant recommendations she wandered out of the room he’d set up for her, touched noses with her two new big brothers, and then explained to her person that he needed to get with the program of petting and tummy tickling because a kitten can’t tickle her own tummy, you know.

All in all, a vastly successful trip from all angles.

31 August, 2011

The first rule of dog training is…

…we don’t talk about dog training.

Actually, this is a blatant lie. Chapter 1, verse 1 of the Dog Training Bible says “Yea, verily I say unto thee, whenever two or more dog trainers are gathered together there shall be discussion of theory, yea, and talk of paraphernalia[1], and lo, at least two shall come unto blows over whether it is better to free-shape a behavior or lure it.” Dog people who like to train cannot stop talking about dog training. We even talk about dog training to people who are not at all interested in dogs. Some of us lie in bed at night dreaming up tricks to teach our chickens.

Not that I do that, or anything.

No, the first rule of dog training, at least dog training the way I do it, is this: the reward has to be meaningful. The corollary to this rule is that it is the student who gets to decide what is meaningful. A lot of people fall down on this one because many, many dogs are really easy to motivate and reward with food, but their people say “I don’t want to use treats to train him, because then he’s always working for the treats.” And to these people I want to say, “What would you say if your boss came to you one day and said, ‘You know, I don’t like giving you money, because I feel like you’re working for the money rather than love of your job. So I’m just not going to pay you anymore, but instead every Friday will give you a hearty handshake and my sincere thanks.’?” Personally, in that situation I would say “Let me just go clean out my desk and get out of your hair” because while my job is pleasant enough, it is not in fact so pleasant I would do it just to make my boss happy.

So, you know, if you’re going to ask a dog to do something like a down-stay, which requires a lot of ignoring more interesting things to do and possibly ignoring them while lying on a surface that is not nearly as comfy as somewhere a dog would choose to lie, then at least in the early stages you need to really make it worth your dog’s while.

Step one, therefore, in my training relationship with my dogs, is figuring out what my dogs want. Zille wants you to throw the fetchy ball most of all, but if there is no fetchy ball she will work for cheese. Beowulf and Tinkerbelle really, really, really want the cheese although Tink will also work for tuggy and Beowulf, weirdo that he is, will perform minor behaviors for a fondle of his ears and a stroke of his head. Cheese is a work horse of dog trainers; many people use string cheese but I have had the best results with the cheapest sharp cheddar I could buy at the grocery store in a big block, cut up into bits. Hot dog bits are another perennial favorite, as are bits of tuna and other stinky things.

All of the preceding post is just a way of working up to telling you that Sid is the weirdest dang dog I have worked with. He will work for cheese, don’t get me wrong, and also hot dog bits, chicken bits, freeze-dried liver, kibble, and a game of tug. But he works for these things diffidently, they don’t really put him in the game. No, what is really meaningful to him as a reward is something I discovered by accident: Quaker rice cakes, in white cheddar flavor. For these he goes all cross-eyed and dork-faced and tries his best to remember what he’s actually supposed to be doing right now. I break them up into bits and parcel them out to him a few puffed grains of rice at a time, getting my fingers covered in cheesy-flavored powder which he licks off with the air of a wine connoisseur finishing off a particularly good bottle, a sublime concentration and enjoyment.

I have NO clue whatsoever what it is about these rice cakes that he adores so, but hey. They’re relatively cheap and they work, so I guess I will not complain. He’s still a weirdo, though.

Also I am betting that the dog people out there are bouncing up and down because I know, I know, y’all have tales of dogs who would only work for something equally weird, if not weirder, than white cheddar rice cakes. Bring on your dog (and cat and chicken and elephant) stories.

[1] Seriously, I love dog stuff. I have, at last count, four different models of clicker. One of them has an integrated telescoping targeting stick. I have leashes beyond number, collars beyond counting. Tink has a wardrobe that rivals my own, there are the bowls and the toys and the bones and the beds. And the blankets. I am never happier than when I discover a fantastic new piece of dog gear, and having a service dog has opened up WHOLE NEW CATEGORIES.

29 August, 2011

I feel like I can fly when I stand next to you…

Can I take a minute to be mildly serious? Sure? You guys are the best gentle readers, seriously.

So anyway I was reading Dog Is My Co-Pilot, which is a collection of essays by Dog People of various types, and one of the authors made a comment about being a service dog handler — said it was “humbling in the best possible way.” And you know, nobody elected me Spokesperson For All Handlers Everywhere; for one thing if they were electing a spokesperson they probably would not want someone who has a tendency to swear like a sailor (hey, I was one!) when she gets frustrated. Also probably someone not quite so covered in dog and cat hair, with the odd bit of chicken fluff stuck to her. Spokespeople are supposed to look respectable, after all.

But I digress. I read that bit, and I thought, “I wonder if this person is a service dog handler.” I mean, I don’t know. Maybe she is, and that is how she experiences her relationship with her working dog. Maybe she has friends who are handlers, who have expressed to her that they experience their relationship with their service dogs. Like I said, I don’t know — not about her disability status or her SD handler status or any of it.

What I do know is that in terms of my relationship with my service dog, she got it totally wrong in every conceivable way.

Let me tell you a little bit about my disability, so you have the background. I have chronic pain and balance issues, which looks short and simple there on the page. The reality is, you know that one time? When you did a LOT of physical labor maybe, or took your workout a lot farther than you were ready for, or your first week or so in boot camp? Remember not that evening, but the next day, when you woke up and tried to get out of bed and every muscle in your body screamed a protest and it took you forever to be able to move without screaming/crying/swearing a lot (according to your particular temperament)? That’s what the phrase “chronic pain” covers. That day. Only it’s every day. The balance issues are like being out to sea again with the Navy, underway at about 25 knots at sea state 4. For those of you who have never been stationed on a destroyer, it may help if I tell you that when we first started having the earthquake last week, I thought it was me.

When I use a cane to compensate for the balance issues, I feel as if I’m creeping along, feeling my way through a world that is not steady. I have to tilt myself toward the cane, lest I wobble away from it. I can gimp along at a pretty respectable speed, but I’m always kind of watching where my feet are going.

When I’m with Sid, I can fly. We become, on the best days, a strange six-legged beast with one working vestibular system between us. He’s still young, still learning, but generally sharp as a tack. I can walk upright, because when I wobble toward him he moves closer to get under me, and when I wobble away, he moves out to pull me back into straight. He watches our feet so I don’t have to, so I am head up and walking tall through the world.[1] My posture is actually better, working with Sid, than it is with a cane or ever was walking on just my own feet. He provides a dose of momentum, something for me to brace against, which obscurely makes it easier to walk.

And, of course, he is my ever-present partner in crime. We share a laugh in a look, we have small disagreements[4], we discuss the route to take and say thank you to each other. We like to sit in the sunshine and people-watch. When I am having horrible vertigo and sitting down, he will obligingly lay his front end across my lap, steadying me. He gives me beautiful smiles as we walk together, partners together in the world. We are joyful about the fact that we’re together, we have each other, him watching out for me and me making sure that we don’t cross pavement that will burn his paws and that doors don’t shut on his tail.

I am not humbled by working with Sid. Instead, I am freed by it — I go fast! I walk at speeds I walked at back before all the pain and the vertigo, and I do it safely and without fear of falling. It is joyful and joyous and liberating and far, far from humbling me — it lifts me up.

[1] This is not infallible. Today at Walmart he walked me into a 5 gallon bucket. Twice. He took me around it each time on the reattempt, but still. I suspect it was revenge-motivated because I would not let him steal the “Caution Wet Floor” sign on our way in[2]. Today was not, as you might have gathered, our best day.

[2] Yes I know it probably wasn’t. But it’s funnier that way. Bear with me. I did let him “steal” a toy from PetCo later to make up for my cruelty at Walmart, mostly because I am trying to get him accustomed to carrying things in his mouth while in harness so he can carry my gun.[3]

[3] I’m kidding. And I’ll stop footnoting now.

[4] I lied about the footnoting thing. There was this one time when we went to a wine tasting with Daniel and Daniel’s sister R. I tasted eleven wines and two flavors of wine slushie, and our pourer was very generous, giving us 1/4 to 1/3 a glass at a time. Coming out, Sid refused to take me the shortest way to the car, which involved walking across grass, and instead stuck to the sidewalk. And then when I asked him to speed up, he gave me a look that loosely translated to “No, you idiot.” Or possibly, “Have you been taking drugs your doctor did NOT prescribe?”

16 August, 2011

Busy times all over! Also, wanna help a kitten?

We went up to Ikea to get a new mattress this past Sunday and I made Siddy work. He was freakin brilliant — handled the crowds with aplomb, stayed right next to me, never got too stressed to respond to a click and always took the treats and ate them thoughtfully. He’s really shaping up quite nicely I think.

In chicken world, there has been some excitement. One and Three moved out to a segregated portion of the Big Chicken Pen, but Three at some point got out and lost a sizeable chunk of skin off the back of her head. One consult with the vet and some expensive antibiotics later, she’s living indoors in our largest cat carrier to heal up and doing quite well. Also we have been calling her Zombirella, because the back of her head really did look that bad. Here’s a pic of her good side, you can see she is alert and at that stage of chicken development where they look kind of like raptors rather than chickens.

Zombirella, a rich golden brown pullet, looks out through the bars of the cat carrier in an interested fashion.  You can see the feathers on the far side of her head are rumpled and also there's not as many there as there ought to be.

The large carrier is not an ideal living place for a chicken, so we’re hoping she heals quickly and can get back outside. But she’s still quite small, and the carrier is pretty big, so she has room to stretch and flap and perch and also do some scratching and pecking for her food once she has knocked it out of her dish (chickens are messy eaters).

Both bantam chicks from the last hatch have died — just failure to thrive. I have been reading exhaustively and have some ideas for the next time I set bantam eggs on incubator settings and early-life care, so hopefully we won’t have the same problem again. Although to be fair one of them I was expecting to not make it, since he hatched with the yolk-sac still attached and generally those chicks do not make it past their first weeks of life. The six blue-laced red Wyandottes that hatched have moved on to Christine’s place, leaving little Melchior, the son of Mel and Ayinnanku, to keep company with the Sumatra chicks. He is thriving and happy!

Crispin and Clementine went off to their new homes a little over a week ago now and are doing well. Constantine and Coriander are still here for another week and a half and then they, too, will be off to their new people, and Briar Rose will come in.

And meanwhile, speaking of formerly feral kittens, my friend Kate at Om Shanti Naturals has taken in the first of a litter of kittens that showed up in her back yard. So far she’s only caught the one, but vetting is expensive as we all know! So if you have been looking for some yummy hand-crafted soap, moisturizing oils, bath products, lip balms, or salves, could you putter over to the shop and pick up an item or two? You get a delicious bath product, kitten gets vetted without Kate having to live on ramen and cat hair for a month, and it’s just generally win-win all around. Om Shanti is, after all, the home of the world’s ONLY official Tink-branded and endorsed beauty product, Tink’s Tea Tree Lavender Salve, ideal for treating the minor bumps and scrapes that life deals out. There is even body wash to match although Tink has not tried it yet (she generally does not endorse any product that involves her getting a B. A. T. H. anyway — you know how diva-esque dogs can be).

So anyway, there’s the news round-up and my pitch. Hope you’re all doing well, gentle readers, and I will try to be more regular about my updates!

13 August, 2011

Sid cleared to work! Huzzah!

Siddy went to the vet yesterday for joint x-rays and has gotten the all-clear to be a mobility dog. His hips and elbows look excellent and the growth plates in his long bones are closed, so he’s good to go. That was the last hurdle I have no control over, from here on out it’s all training.

Wednesday he also went in for a bath. Usually Daniel drops him off for baths but I hit a deer Wednesday morning and was home from work dealing with my insurance company. Whee. Anyway, that meant I got a look at all the options on the bath form…

Sid, a black German Shedder, stands smiling into the camera, looking a wee bit dorkish.  Hey, what's going on with his paws....

A close-up of Sid's ginormous front paws, clearly displaying the fact that his nails have been painted shiny silver.

Yes. I had them paint my dog’s nails. You want to make something of it?? The silver nails look quite dashing against his black fur, I think. I am highly tempted to buy a bottle of dog nail polish for home use to touch them up between groomings. Although it did occur to me that gold would look better with his Service Dog gear which is all tan leather. Something to consider.

In poultry news, we lost one of the two bantam chicks who hatched out last weekend, which sucks. The other is still going pretty strong. Today we’ll be delivering the six blue-laced red wyandotte chicks to Blackthorn Kennel, where we will pick up four crele pullets for Merlin, bringing him to a grand total of six ladies. Then the bantam EE’s and the non-bearded silkies that are in the little banty pen will move into the big banty pen and Merlin and his six ladies will get their own home in the little banty pen. When the ladies start laying, we will have our own little breeder flock of creles! Stripey chickens for everyone, really.

This fall, we’ll be building a pen for Mad Mel the Magnificent and giving him the non-bearded silkie ladies for his very own so that I will have more showgirls when I want them. Then we just have to figure out how to set up breeder pens for silkies for next spring when they’re mature enough to be a breeding population! I am aiming to start showing my silkies next fall, so I need to pick the best and group them into breeding populations. Should be fun times.

25 June, 2011

Chicken swaps and tired dogs

Because we are a hospitable people, we took Pawpower to a chicken swap this morning. I was trying to offload some of my tiny adorable roosters. The Bantytown, suffice it to say, is awash with massive amounts of testosterone. Unfortunately people were looking rather than buying, and after a couple hours in the sun with temps climbing we all retired to the Manor, where Pawpower’s guide dog Laveau and my Siddy played and played and played and played. They have really similar play styles, involving lots of hitting other dogs with paws and waving their mouths around and bitey-facing and slamming their bodies into one another, so they were having a really good time.

Except as if it wasn’t bad enough that I kidnapped Pawpower, Laveau then had a good roll in the doggy pool, a small plastic affair for Zille to splash in, and then had a good roll in the dirt afterward and came up grinning and wet and muddy. Luckily there was enough time to let the mud dry and then I broke out the curry comb and the shedding rake and got her respectable-looking again because I would be really horrified if I kidnapped Pawpower again after Amtrak declined to let a muddy dog on the train.

But the people had fun, and the dogs had fun, and I did send one of my spare chickens home with Christine. She took young Galahad off, as she has gold-laced Sebright babies at the moment who will grow up to be adult gold-laced Sebrights with whom Galahad can hang out. And now I am trying to figure out how to drag my husband and Sid down to New Orleans to visit Pawpower, so I can apologize to Mr. Pawpower in person for kidnapping her.

Oh and Daniel refused to let me buy any cuckoo Marans pullets at the swap. I was all “Look! They are stripey! How cute!” and he said “Uh huh” and gave me the look that says “If you think I am building any more chicken pens this month, lady, you are out of your goddamned mind.” But in a loving way. So I have no new chickens.

20 June, 2011

Weekend fun, Sid is very handsome.

Daniel’s sister was here on Saturday, and then while he took her off to the airport on Sunday, I headed down to Blackthorn Kennel. Christine and I had a heck of a good time trying to get a family photograph of Sid, his sisters Oda and Olivia, and his mother Xita.

And then before we went off to lunch, I got Christine to get a few of Sid in his spiffy new mobility harness:
Sid, a black German Shedder, stands with his body pointed left and his face looking at the camera with good humor.  He is wearing a tan harness with a Y-front and a wide girth behind his front legs, and a narrow girth four inches back from that one.  A rigid handle stands eight and a half inches above his back.

You may notice he’s in a prong collar. This is because 98% of the time, he does not pull on the leash. That remaining 2% of the time has a good chance of knocking me over and getting me hurt, though, so he wears a prong for insurance. It’s not something I’d put on a dog who still chronically pulls, because I don’t want them getting constantly pinched, but it makes an excellent insurance policy in case my adolescent partner forgets himself in the face of a squirrel.

And for reference, here we are together:
I stand to the left of the frame, a white woman of average build, about five feet eight inches tall and wearing a t-shirt and jeans.  Sid's ears are obscuring the handle of the harness but you can see my hand grasping the cross-bar between them.  I wear a leash looped across my body, one end attached to Sid's prong collar.
He looks, as Christine put it, like he’s wearing his daddy’s work shirt at the moment, with the harness so big on him. It’s actually loose at the moment but that’s all right since I can’t put weight on him. At the moment when he works he provides me some forward momentum to brace against and I use him in exactly the opposite fashion as I use a cane. With a cane I lean toward it to keep from wobbling away from it, with Sid I lean away from him to keep from falling into him. Once his growth plates have fused and we get the OK on his hip and elbow X-rays, I can stand a little more upright. But you can see from the photo that his prong collar isn’t going to tighten unless he’s actually gotten far enough ahead of me that I can’t hang onto his harness anymore.

14 June, 2011

Sid: Still Brilliant

So in all the chicken-related excitement this weekend, I failed to update you on Sid’s latest fits of brilliance. Sunday he went all kinds of places: the car dealership to drop my car off (and then pick it up later), Panera for breakfast, WalMart to get buns for bratwurst and sloppy joes. He was, as the post title will tell you, still brilliant for a dog who will be one year old on the 4th of July.

At Panera we sat outside again, and now he’s not even bothering to get up when the suicidal little birds hop right towards him all “I could totally take you, dogboy.” Sparrows are hilarious but not really all that bright. Sid is also starting to figure out when I get sudden fits of vertigo, good boy. Sitting in a chair at Panera and waiting on my food I started to feel dizzy, which resulted in Sid heaving his front half into my lap and leaning into me. It was soothing and actually pretty helpful but I’m thinking it might not be an ideal response for restaurants, where service dogs are suspected to be less obtrusive.

Then on the way into WalMart I asked him to pick up the pace while vertiginous and he gave me a look that is possibly best translated as “Are you on drugs that your doctor has not prescribed?” and kept noodling along at a leisurely pace until I was less wobbly, at which point he was happy to kick in the afterburners and lean into his harness. These are fantastic developments! Pet dogs and obedience champions may be required to unquestioningly follow orders, but when Sid decides to tell me that no, he will not be speeding up while I’m dizzy, it’s just evidence that he’s picking up that he is supposed to be keeping me safe, and part of keeping me safe may be ignoring me when I ask him for something like that.

The day was also marked by a total lack of people attempting to interfere with him, which was fantastic. The guy at the car dealership did, however, want to talk about him and how pretty he is. I get that a lot with both Sid and Zille: people who had GSDs as kids want to tell me how good looking they are, how they’re built just like those childhood Shedders, and then they fondly reminisce about their dogs.

But anyway, I will soon get a chance to ask an expert about training and reinforcing the intelligent refusal that Sid is just now developing on his own, because in a couple weeks PawPower will be stopping through the area and I will get to meet her! I am very excited, we have known each other online for a while so meeting off-line will be grand fun I suspect.

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