Retrieving is uncertain work.
Fetch him bright fragrant feathers dead,
He grins and pats his gratitude.
But barf a scented toad beside his bed,
He screams, slams doors and me.
A still warm, gay and bloody duck,
He kneels and gathers like a grail.
But bring up week-old possum warm,
His voice goes grim; his face turns pale.
It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.
Balls or bumpers, birds and toads,
I think it should be none or all.
Last night I urped a knot of tennis net;
Picky bastard won’t ever get the ball.
I’m keeping the next duck too.
. . . . . . . . . . . .
Dog poems = always good for a Friday laugh. But it’s also catalyst for a bit of reflection: Isn’t it interesting how vastly our perceptions of appropriate/inappropriate vary when compared with our dogs? It’s all retrieval; reactions vary.
I was TERRIFIED of dogs when I was a little girl. I remember when the fear began, and I think I’ve recounted it before. My father adores dogs, like I do now. When I was about 6, we were living in a tiny apartment, waiting for our new house to be built. A doberman (my father’s favorite breed) and a rough collie lived in the complex, and Dad liked to take us outside, just to watch the dogs play. One evening, I was completely knocked over and trampled by the dogs (who were just having a case of the zoomies, and not paying attention). I thought they were out to kill me, and I was extremely scared of dogs from then on.
But in a few years, some magical, inherent dog-loving switch turned on–I don’t even know what it was–and I became OBSESSED with dogs, kind of like I am now. I started memorizing dog breeds when I was 8 or 9. I gave complicated advice to the neighbors about what kind of dog they should get, based on their lifestyles. I started a dog-walking business, just to have an excuse to spend time with dogs, since my parents were reluctant to get us one of our own.
And yet I didn’t get a dog of my own until Emma, when I was about 14. I had to wait a long time for her, and I feel like I had to wait even longer for Pyrrha, but I still love to see little girls with dogs. It warms my heart.
All that to say, here are just some cute photos of girls and the dogs they love, culled from my Pinterest board, Woman’s Best Friend.
Thunder, Fireworks, and Noise, Oh My! An adult dog who has developed a thunderstorm phobia… How do you help them? Certainly caught my attention, because while Pyrrha isn’t bothered by storms or fireworks now, I wonder if she could be in the future? (Reactive Champion)
Focus: Riley and Lexi. Britt Croft is doing a series of photos on her two yellow labs, Riley and Lexi. I love these shoots and how often these dogs participate in mirroring behavior! They are hard to tell apart! (The Daily Dog Tag)
“Keen-see.” The sweet relationship between a toddler and her very tolerant bulldog, Kingsley. (Rockstar Diaries)
Foundation Fun. I don’t really know what these dogs are doing, but they are having so much FUN! I love it. (The Elite Forces of Fuzzy Destruction)
Catch O’ The Day. That is one BRAVE dog. I cannot believe he just plucked that awful-looking, gnarly fish out of the water. I am so impressed. And his expression looks like, “Eh, no big deal. I do this all the time.” (Wootube)
Bliss Paws Collapsible Travel Bowl. I like the look of these travel bowls (although I wonder how big they are?). I’m not overly thrilled with the ones we bought Pyrrha, as they’re crushable cloth and not nearly as waterproof as they advertised. Do you use a travel bowl that you like? (Dog Milk)
Truckin’. More honest, helpful advice on taking a long road trip with one’s two beautiful, active Aussies. (Raising Ivy)
As you might have divined from those last three links, Pyrrha and I are taking our first road trip together tomorrow! We are driving the 5 hours together to my parents’ house, so I can help my sister with her wedding plans. Thankfully, Pyr rides very well in the car, but we’ve never taken her in the car for longer than 45 minutes, so this will certainly be an experience! I’m bringing lots of water and soothing music for both of us. Stories to come!
Dog-related links from around the Web this past week:
Are All Dogs Monsters? Kristine sagely reminds us that all dogs can bite and we should never take that fact for granted. (Rescued Insanity)
Preventing Dog Bites. Patricia McConnell throws in her two cents about how to prevent dog bites. Reading body language is key! (The Other End of the Leash)
Dog’s First Camping Trip. This post caught my eye, because we’ve discussed taking Pyrrha camping with us in the coming months. Anyone go camping with their dog? Any tips we should know about beforehand? (Go Pet Friendly)
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.
No, I didn’t get a dog for Christmas. But I did get to spend a lot of time with dogs, namely Aoive, Dublin, and Dally, whom I’ve mentioned before.
Aoive, my in-law’s English springer spaniel, has suddenly mellowed out in her old age. I say “suddenly,” I guess, because I haven’t seen her in a long time and her calmness surprised me. She is now 8 and her muzzle is graying and her eyes are drooping. It makes her look sad and stately–but the girl still knows how to have a good time. We took a long walk together over the holiday and even ended up running toward the end. She was eager and happy and, as always, very snuggly in the living room.
Later in the week, we traveled to my family’s town and spent most of our week with the borrowed dogs Dublin and Dally. Even though my father is as dog crazy as I am, my parents don’t have a dog of their own (due to my mother’s influence and protectiveness of her heart of pine floors). My father’s surrogate dog is Dublin, who adores him. My sister Grace was dog-sitting Dally, the neighbor’s gorgeous (and regrettably plump) 10-month-old Golden retriever, who is an absolute doll.
More photos below!
We also got to see the 3-year-old Marley, my cousin’s handsome and well-mannered chocolate lab. (Marley is the puppy featured with me on my “About” page.) It made me really happy to see such a trim and healthy lab; so often, labs are unmannerly blimps. But Matt, my cousin, is a very conscientious owner and has trained Marley very well. He’s a delightful boy.
OK, that’s all for now! Back to catching up on life…
We had a peaceful and very pleasant Thanksgiving with our families this year. Along with all of the food and family time, I also got to spend some quality time with Dublin, my family’s surrogate dog, and Aoive, my husband’s family’s dog.
Dublin is our neighbor’s chocolate lab mix, whom my father has practically adopted as his own. Dublin’s family was out of town for the weekend, so we were watching her. She spent most of her time at our house throughout the weekend, and so I got plenty of time with her.
I woke up early on Thanksgiving morning and took her for an hour-long walk/run through the local university campus. We chased squirrels and tromped through the woods and had such a peaceful, happy hour together. For all of her muscular energy, Dublin is very good at moderating her strength to the person who is walking her. I’ve seen her walk slowly and calmly next to her young charges, ages 6 and 10, without pulling at all. With me, she walks a little more briskly, but it’s never uncomfortable. I think this quite a skill for a young dog to have.
On Friday morning, my mom and I took her on another long walk through town and she was a great companion on the walk. (She did exhibit some gastrointestinal distress, however, which was clearly the result of all of us being too indulgent with her on Thanksgiving.) She politely greeted a shimmering pair of West Highland white terriers on our way back. Their human was apparently impressed with how calmly his dogs were when they met Dublin. That’s generally Dublin’s effect on humans and dogs, I think: She just chills them out.
Later on Friday, we went to visit my wonderful in-laws and there had a reunion with the beautiful Aoive. I hadn’t seen Aoive in quite a while, and I was startled by how much gray she had accumulated along her muzzle and face. She is about 8.5 years old now, but you’d never guess it. Her coat is still the softest and most velvety coat I’ve ever felt and her energy is seemingly boundless.
That to say, she was on her best behavior for all of us over the weekend. When she’s in the house and can’t be next to Windy, my mother-in-law, she stays tethered to an armchair. If Windy is out of sight, Aoive instantly gets anxious. I’ve never seen a dog more attached to one person than Aoive is to Windy. But this extreme attachment seemed quite moderated this weekend.
On Saturday morning, all of us took her on a 2.5-mile walk around the local reservoir. It was a gorgeous, warm, and sunny day, and I think we all had a marvelous time. Aoive even got to wade along the creeks and banks. She was taunted by a flotilla of Canada geese and agitated by their serene movements just a few feet from her snout. But the prospect of having to actually swim in the reservoir was enough to keep her just frantically pacing back and forth along the bank.
Big lessons learned: I’m thankful to have dogs in my life. Even though I don’t have one of my own yet, I’m thankful for the ones that I get to encounter when we visit family. They bring a lot of light and joy into all of our lives.
Happy almost-Thanksgiving to U.S. readers and pups! Some canine-centric links from around the Web this week…
The Smallest Acts of Kindness. In this season of gratitude, it’s nice to remember that even the smallest acts of kindness can have a big impact. (Modern Dog Magazine)
Meet My Evil Bathtub. These photos are endearing and funny, mainly because Chix’s displeasure is written all over his face. I’ve never met a dog who loved getting a bath. (Love and a Leash)
Orvis: Pre-Race. A cute, short video of our wedding photographer’s lab, Orvis, on race day. (Meredith Perdue)
How to Measure Your Dog for a Martingale Collar. I’m a big fan of martingale collars–we use them a lot at the SPCA, owing to our large number of hounds–and they have saved my sanity on many occasions. This is a great video tutorial from the makers of beautiful martingale collars, Classic Hound. (Classic Hound)
Cancer Part 4: Hemangiosarcoma. This series of sobering posts about canine cancer has been eye-opening. My attention was caught by this one in particular, because my research of the GSD has indicated that hemangiosarcoma is an unfortunately common cancer among the breed. It sounds dreadful. But it’s good to know the facts. (Borderblog)
Recognizing the Signs of Bloat (Video). Another serious topic, but one that people with big, deep-chested dogs are always aware of. I’ve also read about this being a quick and terrible killer of GSDs, and so this video and the corresponding facts were very helpful. (The Bark)
After I got over my dog phobia, when I was around 8 or 9, I swung to the opposite end of the spectrum and became obsessed with dogs–a passion that has clearly maintained itself up to the present. The interesting thing was that until Emma, my family did not have dogs. I have always thought this strange, especially since my father is as fond of dogs as I am. But I think my parents determined that having four young children was enough of a zoo without adding actual animals to the family unit. We had rabbits and fish and mice and parakeets, which I adored to varying degrees, but all I ever wanted was a dog of my own.
To ameliorate this driving need to be with dogs, I started a pet-sitting and dog-walking business in our large suburban neighborhood when I was 11 or 12. My fellow employees were my sisters and a few of our friends. Within a few months, we became the neighborhood’s go-to pet-sitters and raked in quite a lot of cash (to us, at least). We were very popular because we were available during the day, since we were homeschooled. What these people didn’t know, however, that up until this point, all of my purported knowledge about dogs had come from books. I read voraciously, as I still do, but I had never actually lived with a dog myself. My hands-on knowledge with dogs came, therefore, from the trial-and-error of the many years that followed of walking, chasing, feeding, cleaning up after and caring for our neighborhood’s dogs.
The Dogs of My Childhood
Most of these dogs still remain very vividly in my memory. I wish I had pictures of them to share with you. Our first love was Scoop, a giant, lumbering white lab who belonged to our neighbors across the street, Kim and Dave, who later became our closest family friends (and remain so to this day). Scoop was immense, much larger than any labrador I’ve seen, even to this day. I think Dave said that he weighed 120 pounds at his peak, and he was never overweight–he was just HUGE. (Dave had a fondness for polar bears, mainly because they reminded him of Scoop.) Like most huge dogs, Scoop was endlessly gentle and patient. We were tiny little girls, but we could walk him without difficulty on his heavy, black retractable leash.
We recently watched an old home video in which we were putting on some play in the backyard about Vesuvius for a school project. We were simulating the peaceful country life of Italian residents in our homemade film, and my sister was playing a farmer, plowing his field. Attached to the makeshift plow? Scoop, who made an excellent ox. Scoop played along with us and followed our quick and frantic directions. I forget how often he was just a willing and patient companion to our many childhood antics.
He adored the water. I remember walking Scoop with my dad on the neighborhood golf course. Dad had tied a huge, long rope to his collar, because he didn’t like using the retractable leash. We came over a hill and there was a pond resting at the bottom of the high hill. The second Scoop saw the pond, he took off. I don’t think I’d ever seen him move so fast. Dad lost his grip on the rope and Scoop dove into the murky water, swimming happily. Dad started to get anxious that he would get tangled up in the long rope and drown, but he was fine. After he’d had his swim, he climbed out, shook water all over us, and was ready to follow us home.
Dave, a writer, had an office in the top floor of their house with one window that looked out over the street. This was Scoop’s perch, and we often saw his huge, white head sticking out of the window, peacefully watching the neighborhood go by. In his old age, his hips began to go, as with most dogs of giant size. He lumbered around the house and his paws with the overly long nails clacked on Kim and Dave’s floors. Dave once accidentally backed over him in their SUV, while Scoop wasn’t paying attention in the valley of the driveway. He was beside himself with grief, but Scoop seemed unfazed by the incident, and the vet declared him only bruised. He began to go deaf and blind and finally, when he could no longer walk, Dave took him into the vet to be put down. The whole neighborhood grieved for him. We still talk about him in dreamy, mythical terms, the legendary and great Scoop, the immortal lab.
When we weren’t walking Scoop, we spent many of our days walking Niko, a young and slender black lab mix. Niko looked mostly lab, but he was skinny and had a deeper chest like a sighthound. We would take him out in the afternoons while his people were at work. Niko had tons of energy and hated being left alone. We liked him, but I particularly recall one afternoon when we wanted to kill him. His mom always left our cash for us on the table and she’d leave a few days’ worth of money at a time. On this particular afternoon, we walked in and saw confetti all over the table and kitchen floor. Niko had shredded our $20 bill, which was a great deal of money to us at that time. We were furious with him. We raged and shouted at him. He slunk away but then came bounding back to us, tail wagging, eager to go on his walk. It was hard to stay angry at him for too long. For whatever reason, we never told his people that he’d eaten our payment and we just went without it for the week.
There was Koosh, the neglected black cocker spaniel who lived all of his sad, lonely life outdoors. His fur was terribly matted and his bangs had grown over his eyes so that they were difficult to find. We were never asked to walk him, but we’d always greet him through the thin slats of the wooden fence, touch the tip of his nose with our fingertips. Our friends, who lived next door to him, swore that he was abused. We spent weeks planning a coup in which we would climb the fence, grab Koosh, and keep him forever, love him and nurse him back to health. We never followed through with this dognapping, but we thought about it every time we passed his fence and saw his sad, mournful eyes.
Then there were the terriers. These terriers solidified most of my poor opinion of terriers, because they were always the most difficult and unpleasant dogs we ever had to work with–though often for no fault of their own.
There was Baron, the aging Yorkshire terrier, who had a foul disposition and had never been fully housetrained. This made for unpleasant pet-sitting, because every day, he’d leave a pile of poop in the dining room and a puddle of urine in the kitchen. His owner’s wife had recently left him and the man was in no state to tend to his sorry little dog. We were called over to take him out frequently, but Baron hated every minute of our visits. He was always afraid of us and tried to bite us when we would try to take him out. We were all bitten several times by this dog, no matter how gently or quietly or calmly we tried to approach him. It was a good day if we were actually able to snap his leash on his collar without getting bitten. Taking the leash back off was another challenge entirely. I remember one day when we were asked to take him out and he had whipped himself into a frenzy. We found one of the fathers in the neighborhood, a huge, tall man, and asked him to come over and help us. Baron was definitely upset by his presence and so the man put on pot holders and picked up the snarling, snapping little dog and just dropped him in the front yard. To our shock, Baron did his business and then quickly slunk inside.
Our childhood friend got a tiny West Highland white terrier puppy and named her Bianca. Bianca was a pretty little nightmare, but looking back, I’m not sure how much of that was our fault. She was pampered by her family and taken to dog biscuit bakeries and given cooked chicken daily. All of these excesses were new to me. But she was never trained to any noticeable degree. You couldn’t open the front door without having someone restrain Bianca, because as soon as she saw the crack of light from the outside, she was gone. And I mean GONE. This little dog could run. We spent many harrowing afternoons chasing her down the busy parkway and tackling her as soon as she would stop to pee (which was the only way we could ever catch her). (Side note: I think Bianca may still be living at this point. She has got to be about 14 or 15 years old now.)
The only terrier I’ve ever loved was Boomer. Boomer was a small, super-high energy Jack Russell terrier who lived with a young family. When her parents started having babies of their own, Boomer’s needs were difficult to meet, and so I became Boomer’s running partner. I would come over in the late afternoon to pick Boomer up and she would jump from the floor to almost over my head when I picked up her leash. Even when she was old, nearly 12 or 13, she was still a bundle of nervous and excited energy. We went running together frequently, up until her family moved away. I still think of her fondly.
Then there were Emma‘s sisters. After we picked out Emma from her litter, another friend and her family went to visit the same breeder and came back announcing that they had bought two of the puppies: The runt, which they named Belle, and the biggest female, which they named Tess. All of us only learned later that female dogs often do not coexist very peacefully and that sisters can be especially prone to fighting. We would take Emma over to visit with her sisters, expecting much fun puppy wrestling, but instead, the wrestling turned into full-scale fights, in which ears would be clipped and blood would be drawn. Sibling rivalry at its finest. Shaken, we all determined that the girls should not be permitted to visit one another anymore. As time worn on, Tess and Belle began to fight each other and it got so bad that the family had to keep them permanently separated from one another. There were happy times with the sisters, though, too. Once, we found them all frolicking together in the backyard, each of them trying to grab the same item. As we got closer, we found that they were triumphantly toting around the body of a dead bird and they were competing with one another to see who got to carry the trophy. We were disgusted, but they were extremely pleased with themselves.
All of these dogs still live in mythic proportions in my mind, but as I look back over all of these memories, I am also reminded that no dog is without his or her faults. No dog is consistently perfect, but all of these dogs were perfect guides into the diverse and complex world of canine living.