Saturday, August 18, 2018

I Saw a Dog

Clare and I were at our local animal shelter a week ago. She was wanting a second barn cat and it looked like she had found a keeper. A slight, white female, gentle, with no sign of claws or teeth during her frantic efforts to grab Clare's hand through the bars.

The cat was dumped as a teenager in a North-end neighborhood, then spent a year begging for hand-outs and pumping out kittens. The North-end is traffic heavy, loaded with coyotes, foxes and children, and cold as hell. After surviving all these challenges, somebody finally took pity on her and brought her to the pound.

We adopted a sweet, loving cat, now known as Rowena, who impressed us all by being immediately attracted to my 2-year-old grandaughter, Hazel. She's a cat-broke kid and loved her back just as much. This was a fairy tale placement as far as our animal shelter folks were concerned. They like my family. Over the forty years that we have bought various pets from them, we have never returned one, or given one up. We're gold star used-dog and cat buyers.

While Clare was busy falling in love and filling out paperwork on her (now Hazel's) cat, I was hanging out with Hazel, playing climb the chairs and American Bandstand Revival. I'm not technically allowed at the pound, since I tend to come home with something, but Clare was keeping me on a short leash and Hazel had control of the remote. It was all good, but I saw a dog.

A very pregnant young woman, with a toddler and a medium/small black dog in tow, came through the door and stopped at the Animal Intake desk. I glanced, then forgot the interpretive magic-Gaia- witch-dance Hazel and I were doing. There was something about that little black dog.

She was sleek and shiny black. Maybe twenty to twenty five pounds, about knee-high to the fairly short woman who held her leash. She had kind of a whippet thing going on, but sturdier, beautifully muscled, clean legged,  and a high, arched neck. Her head was broad, her muzzle square, and she had a set of alert drop ears. Her eyes were large and brown, set well into her face, not bulgy or weepy, just crackling with curiousity and intelligence.

There was no hesitation in the dog, she watched people and critters equally, yet she never tugged on her leash. She looked up at the woman often, her relaxed tail whip-like wagging a polite question, would wait a few beats, and when she got no response, would go back to watching the activity arund her. She was alert, but not afraid, calm, but ready to go.
This was my kind of dog, she made my heart hurt, she was so much my kind of dog. I even asked about her.

"I found her in my yard," the woman said. We're on a busy street, and when she was still there a few hours later, I brought her here. I didn't want her to get hit."

Which was good. I can hope this fine dog will find her people. She vibrated with good health and good cheer, somebody had to be missing her.

On our way home, I thought about how I choose my dogs. I have mutts, and I have purebreds. One of them is quite fancy. They are different shapes and sizes, different hair coats and colors. All of them met the criteria I just wrote about. All of them are great, healthy dogs, each with their own unique approch to life.

They may come from different backgrounds and sizes, but they all share the same things that draw me in. Well built, athletic, active and smart. I don't care if they are mutts or responsibly bred  whatevers. If they draw me in, then that's how it goes. I haven't been let down yet.

I'm tired of the battles,  "Adopt, don't shop vs. Responsibly bred purebreds." I find them sanctimonious and boring. I am not a pro. I am however, observant, responsible, and experienced. If I buy a pup I want to look at the parents. Then I see the puppies.
If I buy a mutt, I look for the same things I would in purebred parents. Then I meet the dog. I have criteria. I am smart enough, and savvy enough to not listen to the spiel coming from the dedicated volunteer, or breeder. I can trust my gut because it's been tempered with experience.

There is a certain look in a second-hand dog that I wait for. It's when they look me in the eye with an invitation. In my mind, the dog is saying, "Let's blow this joint and go do some shit." Whatever it really means, I don't care, I still reach for the credit card. 




Thursday, February 8, 2018

Brockle - Protection Dog Fail

My boy Brockle grew up some in the last few years. He filled out and came into his own as my right hand dog. He still spends much of his spare time watching me and the rest of his time walking at my side.

Thanks to my excellent trainer (HMT), protection work taught me a lot about my dog. By channeling Brockle's aggression, I was able to gain control of it. By gaining control I was able to discover how much he didn't want to bite. Brockle doesn't want to bite anyone, or anything for that matter.

If he felt danger approaching he would become anxious.  At least he did if I was on the other end of the leash, he was perfectly willing to let the HMT be eaten by the bad guy (decoy). He would offer every kind of delay tactic he could think of, while becoming more and more agitated. Finally he'd explode and go after the decoy with everything he had.

Brockle will go down in history as the dirtiest biter the HMT ever came across. This is not a good thing. Dirty biters refuse to honor the protective sleeve they are trained to grab.

He was never rushed. We were several months into obedience, playing tug and encouraging prey drive before he went to defense. Still, the first time he actively defended me, something triggered and he began to try to bite in earnest.

Brockle would knock the sleeve aside and go for the throat, belly, thigh or groin. He would slither up under it and go for the face. It got to where he wouldn't play with the sleeve anymore. He was becoming wary of our decoys, even his best friends.  Brockle didn't see protection work as an amped up tug-of-war like the other dogs. He saw people he trusted acting in a threatening manner. My dog was not amused. In his defense, he always listened to my "Leave it!" and faded off, it seemed like he was relieved.

We decided to back off and just play ball on our weekly workouts.

My good friend, Batman, was always one of Brockle's favorites too. He worked on our place most week-ends and the two of them put in a lot of ball time. He was also a kick ass decoy - the last one willing to work my dog.

Batman offered to play with Brockle. After all, he wasn't geared up, what could go wrong?
He threw the ball out in the field, and my dog bounced after it, his tail a flag wagging in the wind. He scooped up the ball, Batman called, "Good boy!" and clapped his hands. Brockle bounced over, all happy and cute, until he was maybe a yard from our friend, spit the ball out and leaped for his groin. He caught his jeans, but not any skin. Like I said, dirty biter.

That was the day we ended protection training.

We still went to training, but now it was to bring him down. To make friends with the people he felt had crossed the line. A lot of ball, a lot of obedience work and tons of ball slowly brought him back.

As the summer progressed we did the same at home with the crew working on my barn. Batman was there to keep an eye on things and I figured out his triggers. By fall, Brockle was almost back to normal. His recall was about perfect, I could put him on and call him off and he was reliably friendly with the people coming in and out of our place.

He will nip the goats when I tell him to "Put em'up!" He will air snap at a horse trying to slip out a gate and he still fights with my rat terrier Charlie. That, of course, is still Charlie's fault. He'll chase down a rabbit, roll it and let it go, just like he used to do in the dog park. Like the many dogs he rolled, the rabbits don't appreciate him-even if he doesn't want to bite.





Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Misdirection

A few months ago I had a knock-down-drag-out with my daughter. It was the kind of fight often seen in families, where old hurts and unspoken resentments jumped out, swirled together, obliterated the original point, and turned into a flying shit-show. Lucky me, we conducted the entire fight through text, so I had proof of how right I was.

The next day was therapy day, and I immediately began bitching to my therapist, Wonder Woman. I couldn't wait to rat out Clare, and triumphantly handed her my phone with the message exchange.

"Well, wait a minute," Wonder Woman said two sentences in, "you're every bit as bad is she is."

"Wait, what?" I said. "She was wrong."

"That's not the point, you let her pull you into arguments about everything except the subject at hand. You two got mad enough to quit speaking without ever getting the very simple yes or no answer you needed."

"She was still wrong."

"How many times have we been through this?" Wonder Woman said. "You two are masters of misdirection. You started bringing up old issues that had nothing to do with the matter at hand."

"You're supposed to be on my side." Petulance is allowed in therapy.

"This has nothing to do with taking sides and I am on to you. Focus on the matter at hand." Wonder Woman takes no prisoners.

I sat back and thought for a minute. Then I had one of those awesome break through that make all my years of mind untangling worth it. "This is just like colt starting, hell, it's like all horse training."

Wonder Woman put her head in her hands. "Mugs, you make me tired."

"No, this isn't misdirection, this is awesome. Just listen. Let's say I start a colt, or take on a problem horse, the key to getting things done is staying on task. If I want the horse to go forward, I have to keep that task clear in my mind no matter how the horse tries to change the subject.

"If the horse goes backwards instead of forward, I have to keep my goal of moving forward clear in my head and not begin dealing with the fact we're going in reverse."

"How do you keep moving forward without dealing with the backward?" Wonder Woman asked.

Ha! I had her!

"I just keep thinking forward. There's different methods, it's mainly getting the horse's feet going the right direction. If I keep my goal clear, the second I feel those feet take even a single step in the right direction, I can release the horse from my cues. Even if I release for a split second, it registers. Forward feet - good, backing feet - bad.

"What if the problem escalates?" Wonder Woman asked.

"Nothing changes. If the horse bucks, think about not falling off of course, but getting those feet moving forward will smooth things out a lot quicker."

"How would you apply this thinking with Clare?" Wonder Woman is pretty good when it comes to redirection.

"Wait a minute," I said, "this thinking applies to the dogs too. I can't believe If I'm working on a recall, I can't let the dog misdirect me with say, fence-running with the neighbors dog, it's about the recall. Or, maybe when I'm trying to clean up our heel work, if I stay focused on just a butt swing, and reward increments, instead of worrying about the entire picture, I'll probably get a lot more done in less time.

  "This will help me with Brockle turning his cues into ways to manipulate me. I've been so blown away by his even thinking of ways to using his training against me, I've been misdirected into not getting anything accomplished. Ha! The rat bastard. I can't wait to go work on this stuff."

"Well, you can go on ahead," Wonder Woman said, "we're out of time and you've managed to completely duck the issue with Clare."

"Oh really? Gee, I'm sorry. Well then, thanks and see you next week."

Wonder Woman gave me a weary wave of her hand. "Just go."










Follow by Email