Friday, November 28, 2008


Lovely day at my father's rather sprawling place yesterday. Spent the day with my father, his wife, and a pair of my many siblings (and their children). Kept myself in check, and only ate a lot - Didn't actually over-eat.

Took Suka along, but she didn't have as much fun as the rest of us. She's still a bit twitchy about strange places, no matter how much she loves going for a ride. Complicating this are my father's dogs - Lacey & LD (Little Dog). LD is about 50lbs. This is little? Well, in comparisson, she is little. Lacey is a newfie/lab cross, and is a 95# monster. They're both good dogs, but more than a little rambunctious, in the way typical of labs (LD is a pure lab). Suka, frankly, has no clue how to play with dogs. Complicating things still further, dad uses an electronic fence, with which Suka's got no training or experience (nor equipment), so she had to stay on-lead outside the house.

LD wanted to get to know Suka, which would've been fine, but Lacey kept trying to coax Suka into a play fight, or a bit of bounding about the place, and not only could Suka not join her, but she was more than a bit intimidated, and not liking it at all. So, Suka spent most of the afternoon denned up in her crate, watching the action, instead. She did come out after Lacey and LD were properly worn out - which took four kids and the better part of the afternoon - Those two are fit!

In general, all the dogs were all well-behaved, aside from a bit of lip-curling on Suka's side, and a bit of counter-surfing and trashcan mining by the two black dogs. Not a bad day, though I would've been quite pleased if Suka would've engaged the other two a bit more. Well, I suppose that's a bit much to ask - Either one of them outweighed her by a substantial margin, and combined, they outweigh her by nearly four to one.

So, maybe not a runaway success, but some more socialization, new experiences, and so on - one more step forward, even if only a small one.

Oh, and the meal? Wonderful. :-)

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Cold, indeed.

So, another trip to The Farm, to do a donation sort. I'm not sure who the donor is, but they always seem to 'see us coming,' and use that as an opportunity to dump everything in their warehouse...
So, the load was about one and a half tons - Three pallets worth, packed in large tri-wall boxes. Of course, the bags weren't loaded in anything like order - Everything was just dumped in, higglty-pigglty, and with no care to whether or not they'd play nice with the other contents. End result, not only did it take two of us about three hours to unload, sort, and stow, but we had a lot of bags re-burst, and had to make like mad with the tape.

This time, we had not only the usual variety of burst bags of dog and cat food, but also cans of "kong wiz" aerosol-propelled goop for baiting kongs, dog treats of random sorts (which I suspect didn't sell worth a damn), about a half-dozen different kinds of kitty litter, rabbit food(?!), bird food (!!), some toys, and a couple items I've got zero idea what the hell they are - They look like plush fuzzy beehives, and have an obvious purpose, but what that purpose is, no one knows. Also about 3150 little sample packs of some kind of dried raw dog food from, of all places, New Zealand. Little sample packs - each individually-packed folder contans about a heaping tablespoon-worth of the food. WTF..?! I have a hard time imaging something more useless for feeding dogs. Now, for a vet's office, where they could be handed out to patients to help keep their dogs distracted, yeah, that'd work. And, I suppose, if you wanted to go to the trouble of opening up all the little folders, they'd make pretty decent training treats, but man, the work involved for the value recieved! I know, I know... I should be grateful for the donations... And I am. But donations of this sort are actually counter-productive. Feh.

At the bottom of one the tri-walls was a very phalic-looking dog chew toy that makes cow noises when you move it. It looks, to be blunt, like a noisy, red, semi-anatomically-correct dildo. Only the most confident of men would let their dog chew on that! I think I know why that item wound up in the shipment - No doubt it's been on the shelf for years, no one willing to buy it.

Oh, did I mention somewhere that it was cold? It was. Now, in Alaska, this probably isn't anything to note, but here, it's bitter - I woke to 23f temps, and it never went above 27f. And windy... Especially on The Farm, where there's no land features - none - to stop the wind blowing across the Chesapeake Bay. And of course, the wind was dragging lovely moisture with it, so the wind was a nice, biting, damp ice-pick kinda thing, finding every gap in your clothing, or simply ignoring the gaps and stealing your warmth right through your clothing. It's the kind of weather that brings snow out of a clear blue sky, as the humidity freezes out. Yeah, we had snow like that all day. Of course, we were humping donations back and forth, working up a healthy sweat, and didn't that just combine well with the wind! Not.

The farm is absolutely swimming in dogs right now - Someone had been busy since the last time I was down, and there were three new kennel runs established, and all were already full. Plus, someone dumped a couple pregnant cats on us, too, which had littered a passel of adorable kittens that were busily making the HBIC's kitchen their kingdom. Donations are down, intakes up, and volunteer hours are down... I've said that before, I know, but it's still a central, inescapable fact of what we do. This last shipment of food is an absolute godsend, as the shelves were damn-near bare, and purchasing food enough to feed the residents at commercial rates would blow a huge hole in the already-stretched finances.

The shelves are packed now, the ready-use cannisters are full to bursting, and there's enough that we could pass some along to the local food bank. Yeah, the food bank - people who can't make ends meet have pets, too. Every family that can get a bit of pet food from the food bank is one less family that'll be looking to place their dog or cat in a shelter. It's all of a piece with our mission; if we can prevent a dog being placed in the shelter in the first place, it's better than actually intaking and placing a half dozen dogs, in terms of resources used.

Oh, and we've also got a large stack of the food samples, too. I wonder if we leave them out, if the rats won't make them vanish for us..? Naaah... I suppose we'll find some way of putting them to use.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Snow! Yay!

OK, it's a "Delaware Decorative Snow" - The kind of snow that gilds the houses and cars, frosts the grass and trees, but otherwise has no impact on life. It's a lovely thing - Pretty and harmless both at once.

Suka, however, has decided that snow is an invitation to roll. In the back yard, the soft green-white blanket is stippled by dark green circles where Suka has flipped onto her side in her curious approach to a good back scratching, then proceded to roll onto her back for a vigorous, wriggling, foot-kicking roll-n-scratch. Anywhere there was a good coating of snow, there's a nice smooshed-down patch where she went and had herself a party. ;-)

I can hardly wait until we get a proper depth of snow - I'm expecting a proper snow monster to go with the precipitation.

The snow's cleared out, and the stars are crisp and clear. The air has that sharp prickling bite to the nostrils which means real cold is coming - No clouds, no heat retention, and the thermometer is plunging. I'm due at The Farm tomorrow to sort a dog food donation - I'll be dressing heavy.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

And now, for something practical!

Suka is the proverbial 'old dog' - Well, not THAT old; she's aged seven - but in a very short time, she's come to understand what I want from her. A couple of people have asked how I got certain behaviors from Suka, things like getting her to not jump up, and so on. Now, in no way, shape, or form am I a skilled trainer, and a lot of this will seem very basic to a lot of people, but I do have Suka doing what I want, and if the steps I used are useful, well here they are:

Jumping up:
When Suka went to jump up, I initially put my hands behind my back and turned away from her - The "hands behind my back" was to remind ME not to push her away - the hand contact from that was a reward to her! Within days, she started to recall her manners as soon as my hands started to move behind my back - I didn't intend for this to happen that way, but the command for Suka to get off/not jump up has become just that; to put my hands behind my back! No verbal command necessary, I just start the motion, and she sits right down!

Out-of-countrol greeting:
For general reference, when coming home is treated as a low-key affair, dogs learn to react in a lower-key way. If you greet them on your return with rewards, extra attention, and excited greetings, they'll treat every homecoming as a party, with wild exuberance - fine, if that's what you want, but many of us prefer the lower-key approach!

'Entering softly' basically means paying little-to-no attention to the dog upon your return home, for a few moment to a few minutes, as needed. This gives the dog a chance to adjust to your presence without a big production. Typically, for instance, I come home and will place my keys in the bowl, hang up my coat, put the mail on my desk, and maybe feed the cats before I let Suka out of her crate*, or even acknowege that she's there (remember - the crated dog is invisible!). By that point, she's no longer a bundle of nervous energy - I'm home, the routine is established, and when she's released from the crate she slips into the routine with only her usual body-wiggles and foot-stomping - no jumping up!

The trick to training an older dog, as I've learned (with plenty of help!) to use on Suka, is to be consistent, to catch them in the act that you want to modify or encourage, and to let the dog make the right choices - If you correct a behavior, the dog will try something else. When they hit the behavior you want, reward it! If you see a behavior you want to encourage, label it and reward it: "Good sit!" "Good down!" and so on. Suka and I have quite a way to go together yet, but she's already learned enough that she fits right into the household, and even my not-terribly-dog-friendly wife has fallen in love with her and her good behavior.

The best place to train your dog is where it is, wherever it is! Pretty much anywhere you go, there's a teachable moment to be found.

Remember: Consistency, patience, and practice, practice, practice!

Next time;
Lead-pulling and anxiety reactions on-lead.

* I'll address crate training at some other point. Please don't flame me just yet - Save it for that post!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Dog Day Weekend, redux

So, once more unto the breach!

Sarah contacted me, asked for a special run down to The Farm, to get things squared away. Times are tough, volunteer hours are down, intake requests are up. And we've gotten a couple HUGE runs full of dogs from things like Hurricane Gustav - the Humane Society of South Mississippi brought us a truck full of rescuees, for instance. And more are coming...

So, down to The Farm, to do a little scoopin' and scrapin' and whatever else needed done. Got there early enough that 'Yappy Hour' was still going on, but things were looking a little unsettled, so I didn't take Suka into the field with the rest of the resident pack; A couple of the dogs seemed to be having status issues, and Suka wasn't keenly interested in joining the ruckus. That's fine - I was there to work, anyway. So, walked Suka about, then crated her up and got to work. About that time, the rain arrived. Oh, wait - Did I forget to mention that it was a grey, dreary kind of morning? Well it was. Until it started to rain. Then it was a grey, dreary, WET kinda morning.

There are a LOT of puppies at The Farm right now, though I think they're secretly a genetic experiement gone wrong - They've been crossed with cow DNA. I can think of no other explanation for how something so small can poop so much! The cute little buggers are pooping at twice the rate (and volume!) as their older counterparts! Oh, and they've got sharp little claws, too! So, I'm in with the pups, scrapin' and scoopin' as fast as I can, before the rain turns their mess into something truly horrible... And the pups are all jumping and clawing and whining for attention, and, oh, incidently, covering my boots and pants in kennel muck - which contains pretty much what you think it does. Once the kennel runs are clean, time to clean the pups, and their bedding. Then feed and water them... OK, done, and on to the older dogs, whom have the sense to 1) stay out of the rain, and 2) not stomp in their own mess, and 3) are generally much better behaved. Except one - Him, I had to save from hanging himself. This is a dog who comes from an area where bull-headed BCs are common, and he's stronger than most. Plus, I think he's a retriever mix, too. He's managed to pry up a corner of the heavy-duty chainlink fencing of his run, and shove his head through. In the process, he'd hooked his collar on the wire, and was well and truly stuck. I have to say, he took the indignity of the situation with fair aplomb - Waiting patiently for me to come in and unclip him from his self-inflicted peril. Whereupon he immediately sat on my foot and grinned at me. This is why I'm thinking "retriever mix" - He's got zero sense of shame. "Whoo-hoo! I jest 'most died! Let's play!" Clearly, this is a redneck dog.

So, into the kennel house with him, while I break out some fencing wire and whip the bottom of his kennel fencing to the bottom rail. When I way "whip," think whipstitch. With fencing wire. Which means taking a seat on the ground with a spool of wire, and sewing the chainlink fencing down to the bottom rail. Did I mention it was raining? And I'm sitting in wet, muddy grass and/or streaming wet concrete? And there's guaranteed to more poop in the squishy/streaming mess, somewhere. So, a couple flesh wounds later, Bubba the Redneck Pooch ain't gettin' out of this kennel, nor can he hang himself on the bottom of the run. I've no idea how, but I'm sure he'll find some other way of getting into trouble, though. Probably while yelling the canine equivalent of "Hey, lookit me!"

Carrying on, did a bit of laundry to get some more bedding clean and ready - they're gonna need it! Also fixed a couple gates for the main fences - these are big stock gates, the kind with wheels to support the open end whilst they're being swung. Had to replace the support wheels where time and circumstance had managed to destroy them. More sitting on the ground. In the mud. And rain.

Along the way, Sarah stops me. "Is Suka in heat?"
Gods, I should HOPE not... I'd been told she was altered - But something is definately up! All the classic external signs of the early stages of heat, and now that I was thinking on it, many of the emotional ones, too - She'd been much whinier, much more clingy than is her usual, and much more submissive than usual, too. Damn... Now it's time to confirm what I *thought* I knew... And come to find out, I didn't know as much for certain as I thought. What I thought I knew turns out to be "whisper down the lane" kinda information, and not as reliable as it might be. It's possible she was never altered. Or it's possible some ovarian tissue was missed. Whichever, I've got a new mission - Keep Suka away from male dogs, especially intact male dogs, until I can get her to a vet to confirm her status! Yee-haw! Just what I needed - I'm soaking wet, covered in mud and the kind of sludge you find on a working farm, and now I'm paranoid, too!

Well, that was pretty much the capper for me - The chores were done, and I wasn't hanging around in the rain to socialize, not with a possibly intact bitch in heat by my side! Fortunately, I brought a tarp to cover the seats of the car - I left smudges when I sat down, but a tarp is easy to clean.

Oh, and by Sunday, the external signs were no longer "maybe" but rather "Oh, yeah" obvious. This isn't an anal gand infection or a UTI - It's the real deal. She's either intact, or there's definately some ovarian tissue floating around inside her still. Just what I was looking forward to... Not.

I hope my vet has a sense of humor, cause she's gonna need it.