A photo I never thought I’d see

Those of you who have been reading along here for a while may remember Rainer, the shy, foxy-looking German shepherd who we fostered for a little over four months.

Rainer was so gentle toward us and toward Pyrrha, but he had some serious territorial aggression toward other dogs, and he once tried to kill (actually kill, not just scare off) a potential adopter’s male dog — a terrible, terrible day which resulted in several ER visits for humans and dogs. He also showed lots of aggression toward baby Georgia when she came to visit, and he was always riled up by seeing other dogs on walks.

For this reason, when he was adopted by a young Marine, we counseled him to be extremely cautious with Rainer and other dogs and to continue the positive reinforcement training around his fears. That said, Rainer certainly had the potential to be good with other dogs, because he loved Pyrrha, and she loved him; they never had a serious quarrel.

Just last night, I got a text from Rainer’s adopter, who said that he was doing well — and to my shock and delight, Rainer had a puppy sibling! An 8-month-old German shepherd, whom you can see dozing here:

Former foster dog Rainer (on the sofa) with his canine sibling.

Former foster dog Rainer (on the sofa) with his canine sibling.

Rainer looks so chubby and content; I love it. Cody, his adopter, said that Rainer has been great with the puppy. I asked him how Rainer was doing in general, and his sole comment was: “He has been a real blessing.”

I’ll take it! I’m always amazed at how much our former foster dogs have grown and matured since we had them in our home. Rainer was perhaps our hardest case, and I can’t say how much joy it brings me to hear that he is doing well — and coexisting peacefully with a sibling.

Have you ever been surprised by a dog’s behavioral change, particularly once he or she was in a new environment?

The undercover therapy dogs

I recently finished a marvelous book about depression — The Noonday Demon, by Andrew Solomon. I don’t personally struggle with depression, but I have friends and family members who do, and it was an insightful and thought-provoking perspective into this widespread and insidious illness.

Ladylike hand licks

As I was reading, I was struck by a particular thing, a dog-related thing. Solomon covers the history and various treatments of depression, but he also spends a large portion of time interviewing people who struggle with depression. In the midst of many of their dark stories, I was struck by one recurring factor. Several people said that, in down times, nothing could get them out of bed — except their pets. Their family members, their spouses, their jobs, even their children were not motivating or comforting, but their dogs and cats alone provided a measure of sanity and connection with reality.

Solomon doesn’t address this at all in the book, but the fact that it kept coming up obliquely — the sole comforts of a companion animal — in these anecdotes stood out to me.

Therapy dogs, obviously, do important and specific work, for which they have been extremely well trained. But what about the rest of the dogs, the ones that live in our homes and chew up our shoes? I posit there’s a reason that humankind keeps adopting dogs as household pets, even though there’s not a lot of cold, hard rationale not to (dogs are messy, expensive, troublesome, liabilities, parasites, etc.). It’s because dogs offer us an emotional bond that we can’t find in humans. I was so struck by the repeated mention of how these normal dogs, unlicensed non-therapy dogs, helped these people with depression, in quiet, ordinary ways.

In our own home, I think about the emotional bond that I’ve developed with Pyrrha and Eden. I love them both endlessly, but I feel differently about them and about their emotional strengths. Pyrrha is my nursemaid when I’m sick or down; she is very sensitive to my moods (and on the flip side can be very weighed down by them). Eden, however, is the buoyant class clown, bringing joy and energy into every situation. They are essential members of our family, and they are doing the good work of dogs: loving people in a way that they are uniquely equipped to do.

What do you think? Do you think your dogs do any “undercover” therapy work in your home?

A Real-Life Drama

Creative Commons license.

Creative Commons license.

A Real-Life Drama
Michael Collier

This dog standing in the middle of the street,
tail stiff, fur bushy with fear, and a pedigree rabbit,
its neck broken and bleeding beneath his paws,
might have been forgiven or simply taken away

and shot under different circumstances
and no one would have said much, except his owner
who’d gone out into the yard at the start
of the commotion, having been involved

at other times with the dog’s truancies, and yelled,
“Bosco, Bosco, goddamnit!” but unavailing,
and everyone understanding that once more Bosco
had been taken over by the dark corner of his nature.

But this other sentiment we shared as well: the man
Who’d raised the rabbit shouldn’t husband something
so rare and beautiful he couldn’t keep it
from the likes of Bosco.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

How we are still startled and shocked when our dogs actually act like what they are… dogs.
Have you seen an example of this in your dog life lately? Hope you all have charming weekends!

10 things my fearful dog isn’t afraid of

When you live with a fearful dog, I’ve found that it’s easy to get weighed down by all of their issues. The fears are often the only things you can think about when you consider your dog and watch them interact with the outside world.

Pyrrha by the back stoop

The first day we had her; this is where she hid from us for a few hours.

Pyrrha is our fearful dog, and she will always have fear issues. I’m coming to terms with this reality, but I also want to take the time to consider the ways in which she’s made progress and the things she’s overcome since coming to live with us in May 2012.

This probably seems like a silly list to someone who has a confident, stable dog — and trust me, if I had to list the things Eden wasn’t afraid of, we’d be here a while — but these things represent milestones in Pyrrha’s gradual development.

So, here are:

10 Things My Fearful Dog Isn’t Afraid of

  1. Me! (Now, she treats me like I hung the moon and the stars, but for the first few weeks in our home, she didn’t want anything to do with me. Our relationship has clearly transformed since then.)
  2. House guests. (She’s even not afraid of male house guests anymore, which is a big accomplishment for her.)
  3. Squirrels, birds, and any other small vermin. (Her wavelength: Mmm, mobile snacks!)
  4. Other dogs, when the dogs are in an off-leash context. (Despite her reactivity to other dogs on walks, she actually adores other dogs and loves playing with them.)
  5. The guitar. (Used to hide in her crate when Guion played the guitar; now sees it as a normal part of life.)
  6. Riding in the car. (She loves car rides and has always traveled like a champ.)
  7. Fireworks.
  8. Thunderstorms.
  9. The elderly.
  10. Skateboards or bicycles or other similar moving objects on the street.
The queen

Pyrrha today; a much changed dog.

If you have a fearful dog, how have you seen her or him progress? What are some things your fearful dog isn’t afraid of?

New toy joy (review of Planet Dog Glow for Good ball)

Another way dogs are like little kids: Anything NEW is the BEST THING EVER.

Planet Dog ball review | Doggerel

I mean, look at these dorks:

Planet Dog ball review | Doggerel

Planet Dog ball review | Doggerel

So when we got the Planet Dog Glow for Good ball in the mail from Chewy, the girls were more than a little excited.

Planet Dog ball review | Doggerel

Notably, Pyrrha was really into this ball, and she normally doesn’t go wild over toys like Eden. When we adopted her, she had never played with toys before, so it took her a long time to warm up to them. Which is why these photos of her reveling in the new ball just melt my heart:

Planet Dog ball review | Doggerel

Planet Dog ball review | Doggerel

Eden, however, has a really strong drive for retrieving, so I knew she’d enjoy any new ball. “Enjoy” is putting it lightly; the dog didn’t let this particular ball leave her mouth for about three hours after she stole it away from Pyrrha. Amazing. She’s totally obsessed with it.

Planet dog ball review | Doggerel

The ball is squishy but strong, and Eden hasn’t chipped any part of it off, even after hours and hours of intensive fetching and chomping. It also has a minty aroma, which is intriguing to me. And the ball glows in the dark, which is pretty wonderful if you have an all-night fetcher. Furthermore, there is a hole through the middle of the ball, which could be stuffed with small treats or a narrow chew (about the thickness of a Sharpie marker). And it floats! Which is a great feature if you have water retrievers. Even better, 100% of the proceeds from the ball go to support Planet Dog Foundation, the company’s nonprofit that champions service dogs.

The Glow for Good ball in the 3″ size currently sells for $12.54 at Chewy.com.

Planet Dog ball review | Doggerel

In short, we were thrilled with the new toy, and we will definitely be shopping for Planet Dog products in the future! I’m impressed. And I daresay the girls are too.

Does your dog have a favorite ball? Have you ever used a Planet Dog product before?

Disclosure: We were provided with this ball by Chewy.com in exchange for our honest review.

Little company in all the world


Donna Tartt and her pug, Pongo. (c) Jill Krementz.

“My dog has a number of acquaintances of his own species — as do I — but it is abundantly clear to both of us that there is little company in all the world which we enjoy so much as each other’s.”

— Donna Tartt

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Happy weekend, everyone!

Speaking of Donna Tartt, has anyone read The Goldfinch? If so, what did you think of it? My thoughts about it are on Goodreads, the website that I am most deeply obsessed with…