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Life With Dogs Is Never Dull.

Today I had to go out for a while in the morning, so I crated Zille and Beowulf (Zille is not yet totally house-trustworthy, Beowulf had a housetraining regression and so is crated for the time being), and because I felt guilty about leaving on a Saturday, I handed out chunks of frozen rabbit from Hare Today before I left, so the dogs would have a nommy treat. Rabbitsicles, mmm. finding emotional support dogs is the bets thing that has ever happened to me, seriously!!

This is how I found out the hard way that chunks of frozen rabbit do not agree with La Diva Tinkerbella’s delicate digestive system.

Conveniently, I made this discovery after I fed her dinner, as the normal SOP for a dog who is experiencing a digestive system upset is to feed the dog chickenrice[1] for a couple meals and then reintroduce the regular food. There may be a dose of Pepto-Bismol involved there somewhere, if I know what caused the problem, but I discovered today that I’m out of Pepto-Bismol, too. Whoops.

All of this happened, of course, just before she goes in for her annual exam on Monday. I would like her to be in top form and not, how do I put this delicately, WAY messier than normal in her bodily functions. I swear to God she has only decided to not process rabbit properly because of her impending yearly exam.

At any rate. In the future, I will be ordering turkey necks for Tink, as she has had those in the past with no ill effects, and she will be thrilled to get chickenrice for breakfast.

[1] CHICKENRICE IS JASMINE RICE (BECAUSE MY DOGS MIGHT BE SPOILED, AND ALSO I EAT RICE OCCASIONALLY AND I PREFER IT) MADE WITH LOW- OR NO-SODIUM CHICKEN BROTH. IF I HAVE BITS OF CHICKEN TO MIX INTO IT, IT HAS BITS OF CHICKEN IN IT.

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It’s the little things, part 2: Amphibious Edition

Spring has definitely sprung, despite today’s cold nasty weather and the prediction of a light freeze tonight. I know this because the frogs have been chorusing like nobody’s business lately. My neighbor has 60 acres and a couple ponds, and with all the rain we’ve had there’s a bunch of ephemeral puddles and things around which the wee amphibians gather and sing their little hearts out.

I of course have no pictures of them in their adorableness, because the minute you try to sneak up on a frog, it stops singing and becomes invisible. Actually, the Gray Treefrogs are pretty well invisible already when they hang out on trees.

At any rate, in the dark of the morning when I go to work, the Spring Peepers are peeping. You can hear them over at that link, and they are totally hilarious, because when there’s only a few Peepers, they are plaintive and lonely-sounding frogs: peep? peep? But let a few other Peepers move into the area and they become more and more emphatic until suddenly a resounding round of “PEEP! PEEP! PEEP!” is sounding through the woods.

Later in the morning, the Upland Chorus Frogs and Gray Treefrogs start chiming in. Their calls have a similar sound, except that the Upland Chorus Frogs are interrogative, and the Gray Treefrogs are more declarative. Once they start in, it’s nothing but “Rrrrrrt? Rrrrrrrt? Rrrrrrt. Rrrrrrrt.” until the sun gets high enough to send them under cover.

At the end of the day, the frogs reverse their choruses, with the Upland Chorus Frogs and the Gray Treefrogs beginning their songs early in the evening, ceding to the Spring Peepers a little before the bats come out to swoop up bugs. The Peepers then carry us all into nightfall before tucking themselves in. They do get up early, you know.

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Spring Training

I took Zillekins for a 2 mile hike today, in preparation for Civil War season. See, I’m a huge Civil War Bore, and attending the events that go on during the spring, summer, and fall takes me on a lot of hikes. Tink has traditionally been my hiking buddy, but her werid medical problems lame her up from time to time and thus the presence of Zille, the Emergency Backup Dog.

However, Zille does not automatically do all the things Tink automatically does that make Tink such a pleasure as a hiking companion, and also I would like to stop Zille doing some of the things Tink does do that make her a slightly less pleasant hiking companion. Hence today’s 2 mile walk down to the end of our road and back, working on loose leash walking. Zille does this pretty well already, but because hiking in the forests and meadows of a battlefield is pretty high-distraction, I want to build up a solid reward history with her for walking where I want her. This little graphic may help:

A diagram of where I want Zille to walk. There is a white circle to represent me. Immediately to the circle's left is a green rectangle. Surrounding the green rectangle and partly in front of the circle is a yellow zone. The rest of the diagram is red.
Reward zones for teaching Zille to walk with me.

The little white circle there represents me. Next to me, you’ll see a green rectangle. This is the Mark-And-Treat Zone. When Zille is in this area, the leash is loose, I can see her out of my peripheral vision, and if she suddenly surges because of something like a squirrel, I won’t get yanked immediately. I really want her here, although I don’t care if her head is down and she’s sniffing, or if it’s up, or if she’s walking in a straight line or meandering around in that green zone, so I mark-and-treat (“Good dog!” *cookie*) a lot when she’s in there, no matter what she’s doing. She spends about 70% of her time there on her own inclination. The goal is to get that up to 80%.

Immediately outside the green zone and extending in front of me is the yellow zone. I do not mark-and-treat while she’s in it, but neither do I stop walking or give her a no-reward marker. In the yellow area, she has taken most of the leash slack and may be putting light pressure on it, or I may not be able to see her without making an effort. Still, she’s not really doing anything I actively object to. Tink, when walking, spends a lot of time in the yellow zone no matter what kind of treats I’m carrying, it’s one of the things that makes her a less pleasant hiking buddy. Zille tends to spend maybe 20% of her time in the yellow zone naturally.

The area furthest out, on my right side, and behind me is the red zone. In this zone I will stop walking, give a no-reward marker (“Negative, Zille” or “Ah ah!”), or bring her back to the green zone with leash pressure, or sometimes a combo of two of these things, or sometimes a combo of all three. In the red zone, I can’t see her easily or she’s pulling on the leash hard, or she’s on my right. Tink is trained to walk on my right[1], and if I walk the two of them together I don’t want them interfering with each other too much, so I don’t want Zille on my right at all, just as I don’t want Tink on my left. Maybe 10% of the time Zille gets into the red zone, and thus the training: I’m hoping to eliminate that 10% or at least get it down to about 1%.

Other behaviors practiced: alerting silently on people who come within view. Eventually I would like her to alert on people I *can’t* see, which is going to take some help from a friend and a trip to the woods where there’s more visual obstructions. Sit or down on stop; it’s her choice. I don’t care what she does but if I’ve stopped moving it’s probably because I’m taking a picture, and then I need a loose leash. Zille will sniff her way quickly into the red zone if I stop moving, which will interfere with picture-taking. The other reason I might stop on a battlefield is to listen to a lecture, in which case she also should be polite and stay still instead of invading the space of other listeners. Watch me; an all-purpose useful way of getting your dog to stare at you and await further instruction.

[1] TINK IS TOTALLY BLIND IN HER LEFT EYE DUE TO A DETACHED RETINA, SO HAVING HER ON MY RIGHT HELPS MAKE SURE NOTHING BLIND-SIDES HER LITERALLY WITHOUT ME HAVING A CHANCE TO TELL HER ABOUT IT. AT ANY RATE, BECAUSE SHE WALKS ON MY RIGHT, THIS DIAGRAM WOULD BE FLIPPED TO THE MIRROR IMAGE FOR TINK-TRAINING.

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Spring is in the air

The scene: Manor of Mixed Blessings, 1830. Your humble narrator is in the living room at the computer looking at some OW Guide for a game online. Dogs and cats are arranged variously according to their whims.

Zille: I has a ball.
Me: You sure do. What a nice ball.
Zille: Make the ball go.
Me: No. You ate a mere 30 minutes ago and I do not wish you to bloat and die.
Zille: At least if I die playing fetch, I’ll die happy. Make the ball go.
Me: No. We don’t play fetch in the house with that ball[1] anyway.
Tink: I have to pee.
Me: You tell lies. You want to bark at something.
Tink: I never lie.
Me: You lie all the time about having to pee so I’ll let you bark at things.
Zille: Make the ball go.
Tink: I gotta PEE.
Beowulf: Are we goi– SQUIRREL!!! SQUIRREL!!!!
Tink: SQUIRREL!?
Zille: MAKE THE BALL GO DAMMIT.
Me: WE ARE NOT GOING OUTSIDE YOU WILL ALL DIE OF BLOAT. WHICH WOULD SERVE YOU RIGHT BECAUSE YOU ARE ALL OBNOXIOUS.[2]
Time: *passes, as it does*

Zille: Is it fetchy time NOW?
Tink: I gotta PEEEEE.
Beowulf: Is something interesting going to happen?
Me: What time is it?
Zille: FETCHY TIME.
Tink: PEEING TIME.
Beowulf: LOVE EMERGENCY.
Me: No time for love, Dr. Jones. It’s been an hour and we are going OUTSIDE.
Chorus of Canines: OUTSIIIIIDE YAY!
Jubilation. Exeunt omnes.

[1] WE DO HAVE A HOUSE FETCHY BALL, WHICH IS JUST A SPHERICAL STUFFY. ZILLE NINJA’D IT INTO HER MOUTH ONE DAY AT PETSMART SO I FELT OBLIGATED TO BUY IT FOR HER.

[2] I DON’T REALLY THINK THEY DESERVE TO DIE OF BLOAT.

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Bedtime escapades

I covered morning at the Manor in a previous post, so let me briefly touch on bedtime before I go into the latest way Tink has found to drive me abso-freakin-lutely nuts.

Sometime between 1930 and 2000 (I get up at 0415, don’t judge) I get tired of listening to Roo whine about it being bedtime, and I prepare for bed. I brush my teeth, I turn out lights, I collect my cell phone (which also serves as an alarm clock) and whatever book I’m reading, and then I call Tink. Together, we process into the bed chamber, where I close the baby gate behind us and put up our bed rails for toddlers. The baby gate in question is 42″ tall. Remember that figure, it is important and there will be a quiz later. It also has a cat-sized door in the bottom of it which is left open.

Once in bedroom, I put the cell phone on the dresser and the book on my pillow, which is lovely and temperfoam and sits upon a slightly squished firm regular pillow. I turn and garb myself appropriately to sleep, and when I turn back to the bed it used to be that Tink had inevitably stolen my spot, which features a body pillow in addition to the lovely temperfoam head pillow. This is not the way that Tink drives me abso-freakin-lutely nuts, because I’ve outsmarted her: at the foot of my bed you will find two firm pillows in nice cases, stacked just like my pillows are, and a spare blanket. This is Tink’s spot. Tink requires pillows.

At any rate, now that Tink’s Spot is sorted out, these days I just crawl into bed, arranging myself around Tink who did not have to pause to garb herself appropriately, and then the cats arrange themselves around me, and then I read a bit and eventually turn out the light and fall asleep. In the morning, Tink and I stumble out of bed when the alarm goes off and I open the baby gate and the normal morning routine starts.

Last night, bedtime routine went totally according to its usual plan. Sometime around 0100 or 0200 the rattling of the baby gate half-woke me, but I thought “Zille is attempting to stuff her 70lb Shedder self through the cat door again, Jesus” and went back to sleep. Then the alarm went off at 0415 and I stumbled out of bed, automatically wobbling around the spot where Tink jumps off the bed[1], only she wasn’t there.

“Tink?” I inquired. She has been known to crawl on her side under the bed and go to sleep, from which location she will totally claim she can’t hear the alarm go off, but she always responds by noisily flailing around to my inquisitive “Tink?” No flailing. My next “Tink?!” had a little more urgency to it.

And then I glanced at the doorway and there she was all “Yes, Mom?” except she was on the other side of the baby gate. The closed, locked, nailed down baby gate. Panic! Tink has abnormally fragile skin, so I was quite certain that there would be blood, and possibly shreds of her epidermis, and visions of an extremely expensive visit to the vet flashed before my eyes. I rushed out into the hallway and began feeling her up.

Nothing. No blood, no hanging shreds of skin, no wounds, no broken bones, nothing. My 60 pound dog who is roughly 27″ at the shoulder managed to somehow get by the baby gate with only a touch of rattling. The fact that I have no clue how she did it is what’s driving me abso-freakin-lutely nuts. If it keeps happening, there will be a security camera in my future and hers, because I have to know.

[1] TINK IS MOSTLY BLIND. IF SHE IS ALSO MOSTLY STILL ASLEEP (SHE’S NOT A MORNING PERSON ANY MORE THAN I AM) THEN IT’S USUALLY JUST EASIER TO MOVE OUT OF HER WAY RATHER THAN EXPECT HER TO NOTICE YOU AND MOVE OUT OF YOURS. A 60-SOMETHING POUND DOBERMAN EXITS A BED WITH ENOUGH FORCE TO KNOCK A MEDIUM-SIZED WOMAN INTO A WALL AND LEAVE BRUISES. ASK ME HOW I KNOW.

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The lightbulb moment

So I’m teaching Zillekins, fetchy dog extraordinaire, to stare at me to make me throw the ball. She’s a delight to train because she’s really damn clever and also very, very willing to learn things for the right motivation. Being a very handler-sensitive dog[1], a correction harsher than a disappointed tone of voice is out of the question. The minute she hears “Oh, Zille, what did you do?” her head and tail and ears droop and she comes slinking over to reassure herself that although she might have momentarily slid toward being a Bad Dog, she is still loved. Not to mention the fact that I like training my dogs using rewards, because I want training time to be a fun game for everyone involved.

Anyway, all of this is a lead-in to say that at the moment, Zille must glance at my face to make me throw the ball. Looking away from the ball is hard for her, so I started with waiting until she looked *anywhere* else and succesfully shaped a darting gaze around the yard with stops at the ball. Then I started rewarding looking at me above the waist. She was still not QUITE getting it, but tonight you could see the lightbulb go off: “SOMETHING I AM DOING WITH MY EYES MAKES HER THROW THE BALL” and then “I MUST LOOK AT HER BODY TO MAKE THE BALL HAPPEN”. Sheer brilliance.

I still don’t have a stare, but at this point I’m only throwing the ball when she actually looks at my face. We’re working it. She’ll get there.

[1] Zillekins comes from Hard Ass Working Dog lines. Her mother, Danca, and father bite people for fun (aka they hold Schutzhund titles) as do a huge chunk of her ancestors. Danca has passed her sweetness and handler responsiveness to Zille in spades. Zille lives to be a Good Dog.

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Mornings at the Manor

Feeding time is an exciting time as one might imagine. The Usual Suspects look forward to breakfast in particular with great relish. Monday through Friday, breakfast happens around 0500, before I get in the shower. Weekends, it happens whenever I can no longer stand to listen to Rooney Lee as he sits on the arm of my chair and whines:


Transcript of video and more post below the cut!
Continue reading Mornings at the Manor

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It’s the little things

Last night after torturing Tinkerbella I decided to go for a never-fail stress relief tactic. I took Zille and a tennis ball out to the yard and sat on the stoop watching the sun go down and throwing a ball.

Imagine my delight when I discovered the bats are out of hibernation! I saw something swoop by me in the twilight, flapping in that erratic flappy way bats have, and thought it might have been a particularly awkward bird, but then another flew by me and lo! it was bats.

I am quite fond of the little buggers above and beyond their usefulness for eating insects, so I was pleased to see them up and around after the long, cold winter. I was so pleased that I started contemplating buying freeze-dried crickets for them, but my plan to nourish the bats was thwarted when I couldn’t come up with a good way to launch the crickets into the air for bats to grab.

Alas.

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Sometimes I am mean to dogs, redux.

So I’ve had a stressful couple of days for no good reason really, things have actually been going pretty well but EVERY LITTLE THING just drives me nuts. In an effort to cheer myself up, I played dress-up with Tink.

And then I read this interview with Cherie Priest wherein she speculates on casting for a Boneshaker movie.

And then I accidentally captioned a picture and it’s totally not my fault you guys, I swear.

Can I just note that Tink is a really tolerant and patient dog when cheese is involved?

Tink the fawn doberman stares dubiously at the camera.  She is wearing Doggles, the lens over her blind eye smoked and the one over her good eye clear, and a slouch hat.  The caption reads 'Hay Cherie!  I iz steampunk enuff for part in Boneshaker movee?'