Friday, May 26, 2017

Service Dog People

Some of you know Brockle.



He's the amazing dog who came into my life at a time I needed him most.

He's also an absolute shit, but I digress.

I'll give a quick background for those who don't know him, a little bit of where we're at now and then get on with my point.

I found Brockle at our local Humane Society. We visited, we clicked, and I said I wanted him. Before I could adopt, there needed to be a meeting with the animal placement counselor. I was surprised, our animal shelter is pretty matter of fact. If you like the dog, you meet the dog, if you like each other, paperwork is filled out, money paid and off you go.

It turned out my future dog was a three time loser. He had come into the pound as a three-month-old stray. He was adopted out to a young couple who moved to California. They split up and she returned with nine-month-old Brockle. She needed two jobs to afford her crappy apartment with a 10'x12' community "dog park." Within a month Brockle snapped, blew up his kennel, CHEWED THROUGH THE APARTMENT WALL AND INTO THE COMPLEX HALL. This was after he ate her couch.
He ended up back where he started, at the Humane Society.

At ten months a family adopted him. They had a yard, rough and tumble kids and everybody just loved him.His paperwork was done at closing and they all skipped off into the sunset. The father of the happy family was waiting at the Humane Society door, first thing in the next morning, dog in hand.

"We don't have a lot on what exactly happened," the animal placement counselor said. She riffled through her notes.
"Hmmm...'he's a horrible dog, why didn't anybody warn us....this dog should be destroyed...he's lucky I didn't shoot him myself'...he didn't give any specifics."

The counselor had more to share. The large, bony, hairy dog was well-liked by the staff, and it was decided he could do a stint at Camp Woof-Woof. The camp was a business who donated training for pound dogs. They got socialization, basic obedience, manners and specific problems like leash aggression, guarding behavior etc. addressed. Dogs that should be great, but are just missing the mark, are sent for a little re-hab. He failed the program at Camp Woof-woof.

"What part?" I asked.

"All of it. Everything. He wreaked so much havoc they sent him back."

I sat back and studied the counselor. I was sick, swollen, old, and one-armed. Clearly, she was studying me too. I thought about the dog. When he was first brought to our meet n' greet, he paced, to the window, to my daughter, to the bubbly volunteer and back to the window again. He would brush against my knees as he passed. I waited. He paced. When he finally settled, he laid across my feet with a sigh and his back pressed against my shins. We spent a quiet five minutes and I knew we'd work out.

"I think we'll be fine," I said. I'm an avid walker. I'm not inexperienced with dogs and although I'm not a dog trainer, I am a retired horse trainer."

"Do you think your training background will be enough?"

"I'm not trying to come off as a know-it-all," I replied. "Being a horse trainer just means I'm smart enough to get professional help if we need it. I've never given up on a dog before and I won't start now."

We filled out paperwork, I wrote a check and took my new dog home.

Well, soo-prize soo-prize, look at that. I got all long winded and will have to come back to my original point next time.
Later gators.









Friday, May 12, 2017

Happy Horses

   Starbucks was a beautiful bay with a bright white star on his forehead. He was bred right, had a refined and solid look to him and had been a show horse for seven of his eight years. The gelding was a solid performer in both reining and cow horse, and won about eight grand during his career.      Starbucks survived being started, ridden and trained by his green owner with grace and dignity.

   The game little horse had his quirks. He was hot and bronc-y when I first got on him, spooky, and hyper vigilant, especially around cattle. If I stepped up and kicked him through his fear, he would put in a sharp performance. The wide eyed, blown up nostrils and pricked ears gave him great expression.

   I became actively involved with Starbucks when his owner put him up for sale. One of my clients was looking for a new horse and they were an excellent match. She put him in training with me and immediately asked if I would turn him out in the big corral filled with horses in front of my barn. It was kind of a catch-all pen for the wash-outs, the cheap 2-year-olds, and the occasional abandoned horse.

 "I'm going to keep him on pasture with my other horse and I want to make sure he can get along and respect fences," she told me.

   This plan got me in immediate trouble with the Big K. He had a strict policy against turnout for client horses. If they were on the property, they were a legal liability, and they stayed where they were safest, in their box stalls. I chafed at the restriction, the life of a horse in training was tough enough without ever getting the bucks out or a run with a buddy. This of course had created a friction between us.

   Starbucks spent the last two years in a stall with a 2' x 3' pee hole.It was regularly filled with shavings, but deep enough to twist my ankle when I went to halter him. He developed the habit of standing stretched across the hole and slept curled around it  like a fawn in the grass,  instead of flat out. I moved Starbucks to a stall where he could sniff noses with his future pen mates and feel the wind in preparation for his big move.

   I turned him out the following week and he took off, bucking and bolting around and through the horses. Thirty minutes later, he ran out of steam and stopped to snort and paw with the boss mare. His kind and gentle way with people translated right over to horses and he settled in without a single squeal.

   K stopped by to give me an earful, but I explained it to him.

   "It's better he work things out here than get run through a fence after he goes home," I said. Something, somewhere must have been aligned that day because he shrugged and walked away.


   That afternoon, Starbucks found a warm, sunny spot out of the wind, laid down and stretched from stem to stern in the soft, dry manure. He slept harder then I've ever seen a horse sleep. Worried, I kept checking on him, but he seemed fine. The only thing bothering him was me, so I finally left him alone. Except for eating, he slept in that same spot for a week straight.

   His owner came out and decided to stay off him until he voluntarily gave up his naps. She was one of the clients I honestly liked.

   Once I started riding again, it was like I was on a new horse. Starbucks hadn't been ridden for most of the week, but he led out of the corral as calm as he usually came in after a ride. There was no buck, no fidget, just interest. He was still snorty, but what a difference. His ears flicked back and forth, his tail swished a gentle happy beat and our ride was smooth and solid.

   He went home to his new life in the mountains and only got better. I heard from his owner off and on for a few years and ditzy, snorty Starbucks grew to be a rock-solid gem.

   I look out my window at my horses. They are fat, their manes and tails are tangled and they're kinda sorta muddy. Nobody has worn shoes for years. They're a little irritated with me because the pasture is coming in and they're still free feeding on 2016 grass hay, but a horse who free feeds doesn't get worked up about much. They are calm. Even Madonna is quiet and content.

   My horsekeeping plan evolved from my health limitations. It's working out pretty well, but the image of Starbucks stretched out in the warm manure and soaking up the sun is in the back of my mind all the time.

  

  




Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Who's Got the Reins?

Back in the days of yore, when my old creaky self was still active in the show pen, I watched a young man trying to deal with a wound up, fractious young colt.

He was in the hole, and waited in the alleyway for his turn in the arena. The class was the reining portion of an  open NRCHA derby, in the stadium arena, at the National Western Center in Denver.
This was not a slouch class.

Jim Cook, an established trainer and fellow competitor, walked his filly past the agitated colt, who squealed, dropped and started to buck.

"Watch out, he's a stud!" The young man said.

"Son, from where I sit, you're the one holding the reins," Jim said and held his steady, relaxed course.

I don't know if the young man took it to heart, but I sure did. I understood, to the bottom of my boots, my horse's behavior was my responsibility and absolutely nobody else. It didn't matter if there were blaring horns, screaming studs or grabbing children. I needed to control my horse in any and all situations. It changed the way I trained forever.

Flash forward to my current situation.

My good dog Brockle failed miserably as a protection dog. He doesn't want to bite. Not a person, a dog, a rabbit or a horse. I had let him off the hook, but we continued with obedience training, because he loves it and because, just because he doesn't want to bite, he'd still like to bully.

Once Brockle quit worrying about who to bite he sharpened his focus on me. As my symptoms increased, so did Brockle's determination to become my assistant. He has advanced to a solid working Service Dog (SD) and is invaluable to me. More stories coming on that stuff, believe me.

Because I am self-conscious by nature and the enormous controversy perking away about what a legit SD is, I started perusing every SD related  FB, website, you-tube, blog, and of course book, I could find.

I have learned a few things, but I've also come up with a lot of questions. The one I'm chewing on today is the blame game.

I read post after post about stupid people trying to pet SD's, kids tormenting them, people trying to feed them, distract them and on and on.

I read post after post about loose dogs, dogs on extend-o leashes, bad dogs, good dogs, and the people who owned them attacking, tangling, running over, biting and slobbering on expensive, extensively trained, perfect SD's and ruining them forever after one happenstance.

All I could think of was, who's got the leash here?

I kept my trap shut, but kept reading and learning.

What exactly were the SD's doing after the attacks by the moronic general public?

The biggest problems seemed to be fear and leash aggression.

Since Brockle has entered the SD world he has been petted by passerby, jumped by a dog, grabbed by kids, barked at and so on.

I have two points to make here.
1.He has basic obedience training. He understands "Leave it!" and "Watch me."
2. I have no problem, what so ever, protecting my dog.

I'll start with point two.

If somebody approaches us, I stand straight, glare and tell them, "Stop. Don't pet the dog."

If a child comes running, I step in front of Brockle, point at their sticky little faces, glare, and say, "Stop. Don't pet the dog."

If a dog approaches, leashed or unleashed, I do the same, with one exception. Instead, I say "No!"

In all situations I start in a firm, but reasonable tone. I have no problem shouting at people and dogs who ignore me. I'm telling you, it works wonders.

Brockle knows to sit and stay behind me while I do these things. He does it because he's a good dog. He shakes off the occasional human grabbers without issue. The single time a dog bulled past me and attacked him, I let go of the leash, stepped back and let them rip. Brockle tore the shit out of that dog.

When the breathless owner came running up and started screaming over her chewed up dog, I picked up the leash, told my dog to heel, and glared at her.

"Shame on you," I said. Your dog attacked my SD. He knocked me down and jumped my dog. You're lucky he (Brockle) didn't kill him."

Brockle recovered. We spent a few days doing some OUTSIDE the dog park fence exercises to get him over a bit of hyper-awareness, and everything was fine. He knows every dog isn't out to get him, because, well, he's a dog for goodness sake. They communicate with each other.

I'll end with point one. My dog is obedient. He understands his job. I work hard to stay calm and think through tough situations. We work hard together.

It could be his breeding (whatever the hell that is)  created his helpful, thinking self. I don't dismiss it. He has the temperament for this job. He will protect me, but he doesn't want to bite. He thinks. He communicates. It's all good.

I started looking at the breeds of SD behind the most vocal of the owner/handlers who complained so bitterly. The extremely expensive SD dog, ruined by an attack from an outside dog, was a Doberman.
Another was a Cane Corso mix and a third, a Rottie. All three of these breeds can be lovely. They are also bred to protect their owner/handler from danger with aggression.

The dogs who became timid after being traumatized were two border collies, an Aussie and a Standard Poodle. These three breeds are intelligent and sensitive. They can also become shy and skittish in the wrong situation.

Are people no longer considering the instinctive behavior of the breed when they choose a SD? There's a reason Goldendoodles were invented folks.

People are people. Whether it's ignorant goodwill or deliberate menace, they're going to make mistakes around my dog. I find no reason to expect the entire world to know how to behave around my SD. It's my job to know Brockle and his reactions and to protect him from as many tough situations as possible. Of course, I'm the one holding the leash.










Don't Mind Me

Somebody might pick up on my sneaky snake re-entry to my blog. If so, then Hey!

It's been a long haul folks.

For those of you who don't know what happened, about 7 years ago, my world turned upside down.
I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and the following year, Jim, my S.O. of 20 + years had a massive stroke.

In one fell stroke (snort), everything changed.

I quit my job at the newspaper and became Jim's primary caretaker. For a year or two I struggled to maintain my old life best I could. I kept a food column going at the paper and went through hell and back to get my horses out, travelled to Montana to visit the Big K, did a little cutting, fit in a few reined cowhorse events and tried to keep writing.

I added a lively new dog to my life, started him in training as a protection dog and just kept keeping on, you know?

Thing is, I got tired. Parkinson's doesn't lighten up or go away, Jim's health did not improve and everything began to overwhelm me.

My life had turned into a shit show and I could find nothing to write about.

I wasn't training.

I wasn't riding.

I was just, well, sad.

Flash forward to today and I can share that I'm better. Much, much better.

I finally have my own place. We sold our house and bought almost ten acres of prairie. I have my horses home, more dogs than I can handle and Jim.

Becky Bean has a lot to do with my wandering back to the Chronicles. We were talking about the very negative side of Facebook. Both of us are about over it. We lamented our blogs.

The end result? We're basically blogging to each other. Except she has some tech issues to straighten out.

Everybody is welcome to join in, but be warned.

I am not the Mugs you used to know.

I'd share a few details, but it will unfold as I go along.

Later, Mugs


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