Franz Schubert, in this life, is six weeks old in the body
of a chocolate-brown labrador who reminds me that risk
is extra life when he takes my hand easily in his
mouth and leads me through new teeth and a snowfall blanking town.
I think this snow must be able to lift two children, who
are fighting, out of their argumentative skins and make
a day so bright, it winces. What is ever this willing?
This vibrant dog with me, loving my hand as if it could
delay his life a little, makes me want to be him and
his newborn smile: play-ferocious on the way to heartbreak.
Reaching it back to the perfect wet arc of young bone
that forces itself into the roof of Franz’s mouth, my hand
follows my body and enters him. It is summer
again in the canoes. The man I come to when he calls,
approaches, first on a wrinkle of water, then as
himself, and we are ready to go. Franz, good dog, inside
me this is life I did not choose and you have yours, ready.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Happy holidays and merry Christmas from our pack to yours! We hope that your winter holiday season is merry and bright.
On Christmas day, Pyrrha got to meet and play with her “second cousin,” the handsome chocolate lab Marley.
They had too much crazy energy for me to get many great shots of them together, but they had a wonderful time romping in the basement.
Marley became rather obsessed with Pyr (he’s intact), so we had to keep him at bay from time to time. But they were great pals and got along swimmingly, as I expected they would.
Apart from that, Pyrrha had a great time begging in the kitchen:
And hanging out with my cool kid sister:
This holiday vacation made me thankful for Pyrrha in a way that I haven’t been before. As those of you with anxious dogs know, you spend a lot of your mental energy and emotional bandwidth worrying about your dog — especially when the environment changes, when you’re around new people and animals, etc. I felt like this was one of the first trips with her in which I was able to really be calm and appreciate her for who she is.
My heart was warmed by two things: (1) She seemed to be really enjoying herself, and, (2) other people seemed to notice this as well.
1: She got lots of exercise and canine play-time over the holiday, which always makes her incandescently happy. I was around her all day long; she rarely if ever had to languish alone. And when she wasn’t napping or playing with dogs, she was getting slipped decadent holiday food from my generous relatives. (I caught my sweet grandmother giving her a big hunk of the expensive, prized beef tenderloin before we humans sat down to eat it. Needless to say, Pyrrha was her shadow for the rest of the evening.)
2: Many members of our immediate families kept telling me, “She is really doing so well,” or, “She’s like a different dog from when she was last here.” Hearing this meant so much to me. It’s hard to recognize those subtle improvements when you’re working and living with your fearful dog day in and day out. But hearing them say such things helped me to recognize her progress too. She really has come a long way from that crawling, terrified dog who hid from me in corners of the house. And she keeps making those subtle steps toward confidence and balance.
Hope you were also able to acknowledge your dog’s progress in 2013 — subtle or not — over this season of rest and reflection.
More to come about our adventures in Pyrrha’s off-leash training over our holiday!
We’re now officially four months away from moving and welcoming a dog into our new home. After a year and a half of concentrated waiting, four months sounds unbelievably close.
In this interim, here’s my (overly ambitious?) four-month plan for our future dog once we bring him/her home. I’m hoping to work through The Power of Positive Dog Training, which has been my favorite step-by-step training manual I’ve read so far. All that said, here’s the game plan!
MONTH ZERO: Goals for the months leading up to the move and adoption
Move into new place! Make home as dog-friendly and dog-proof as possible.
Interview GSD owners, meet some area GSDs.
Send out applications to various GSD rescue organizations. Make home visits, speak with foster parents, and meet prospective dogs!
Sit down together and establish house rules for the dog (furniture, bed, room privileges, etc.).
Figure out our daily care schedules for the dog: Who will be home when, if we need a dog walker, etc.
Give Guion a crash course in positive reinforcement dog training! And pretty much an overview of… everything I’ve learned in a year and a half of canine study.
Start buying dog supplies! I’m really excited about this, even though I know it will be a lot of initial expenses.
Choose a vet. Get recommendations from other pet owners in town.
MONTH ONE: Bringing the dog home!
Learn new name (if needed. I have a feeling we’ll probably want to change the dog’s name. We’re both kind of particular about names… And I feel like a lot of the GSDs I’ve seen in rescue have rather silly ones).
Get acclimated to house rules: House-training, daily routines, rules about furniture and certain rooms, etc.
If needed, gradually transition to a healthy and high-quality kibble + weekly supplements of fruits, vegetables, rice, and beans.
Carefully train and transition to avoid any separation anxiety.
Evaluate potential problem areas (possessiveness, shyness, fear-based aggression, excessive barking/boredom, fear of inanimate objects, thunderstorm phobia, etc.).
Create cautious and mannerly introductions to different dogs. Think of other calm, responsible adult dogs to introduce him/her to. Bo and Zoe would be great dogs to start with.
First vet check up.
MONTH TWO: Settling in
Attend a training class as a family. The PetCo and the PetsMart in town offer training classes, but there’s also an independent dog training studio nearby that sounds very promising.
Work steadily and consistently on leash manners, if needed.
Practice basic commands together: Sit, down, stay, heel, wait.
Make introductions to as many types of people as possible. Aim to have these interactions be incredibly positive.
Begin walking in bigger, busier areas, like the downtown mall and other parks.
First bath. Also train for exposure to grooming, nail clipping, etc.
Target problem areas identified in Month 1.
MONTH THREE: Working hard
Practice car ride manners.
Work consistently on basic commands, adding a few others to the repertoire.
Once I feel comfortable with his or her mannerisms toward people, spend some time with calm, trustworthy children.
Keep working to eliminate any problem areas.
Have some play-dates with other neighborhood dogs.
Begin training for a reliable recall.
MONTH FOUR: Adventuring out
First family hiking excursion!
Keep honing basic commands until they’re solid.
Take some runs together.
Try swimming (in a river or creek?) for the first time.
Work consistently on recall abilities; test with a long line in a field.
Add to trick repertoire.
Practice working with a Frisbee.
I’m sure I’ll look back at this and laugh at all that I thought I could achieve. But it’s a start! Any thing you would add? Do you think I’m being too ambitious? Or do you think there are important goals that I’ve neglected? Do share! As always, I’m eager to learn from you.
Breed-based euthanasia proposed in NC county. This is so horrible that it barely seems real. Cumberland County in North Carolina has a proposal on the docket that will euthanize all incoming GSDs, bully breeds, dobermans, rottweilers, akitas, chows, and Great Danes within 72 hours and not give them a chance to be adopted. There is a petition collecting signatures here; I signed it last night and encourage you to do the same, if you feel so led. It’s hard for me to believe that this kind of egregious breed-based discrimination still exists. But, clearly and sadly, it does. (Examiner)
Puppy at 500 f/s. On a lighter note: This is a beautiful video and an excellent study in canine movement. Directors of an independent film studio, Kamerawerk, made this short film, titled “Afternoon Pleasures,” of their chocolate lab puppy chasing a ball (and other various objects) and it’s lovely and riveting. Sent to me by my friend Maggie. (Kamerawerk on Vimeo)
Judgment Is Easy, Understanding Takes Work. An inspiring and thoughtful post about reserving judgment of our fellow dog owners. It’s something that I have to work on too, even though I don’t have a dog of my own! (Rescuing Insanity)
De-bunking the “Alpha Dog” Theory. Pat Miller, a positive trainer I respect, reflects on why this theory of the “alpha dog” needs to fall by the wayside. This is something I definitely wish all dog owners knew today. It always surprises me how widespread this theory is–even at the shelter. Seasoned volunteers and sometimes staff members use “alpha dog” language to talk about “problem” dogs and I often wish I had enough credibility to speak up about it. (The Hydrant)
Preparing for Your New Pooch. A practical list of guidelines to help one prepare to bring a dog into the home. Even though I’ve read dozens of lists like this one, I always like finding them and comparing notes. (The Inquisitive Canine)
Mismark Case: Australian Shepherd. The canine-loving biologist writes a post on one of my all-time favorite breeds, the Aussie, and examines the different markings and genetic repercussions that occur in the breed. (Musings of a Biologist and Dog Lover)
Peter Clark Dog Collages. This artist makes collages of popular breeds from found maps and old stamps. The results are eye-catching! (Dog Milk)