Doug and I have more than a healthy dose of superstition regarding a dog with two points. Lucy died with two points; we moved to New England and rehomed Mitch with two points. Clue and Bronte rocketed past two without us even noticing; Friday hit two and stuck there. And stuck there. It began to feel eerily familiar, and more than once we nervously joked about how “hilarious” it would be if Friday got caught in a manhole cover and lost a toe, or got a bad scare and turned white, and was stuck at two points forever.
Friday has been at Sarah’s house for the last three months, for those who weren’t aware of arrangements. Sarah and I were talking in September and I said “Friday is being such a pain in the bottom” and she said “Shade is being such a pain in the bottom” at the same time and we looked at each other and said, “Hey….” and before you know it we had swapped dogs and took each other’s black dogs home.
Friday needed to decide that showing is fun. Shade needed to decide that eating was fun. The experiment was a roaring success – Shade went home six pounds heavier and Friday’s baiting her fool head off – for Sarah. My job is to hide behind poles and take photos!
Anyway, this weekend was our last chance to get points on Friday before I took her home to grow up a bit. The spectre of the TWO POINTS was intact on Friday – reserve. Saturday – major reserve. Sunday I watched her win her class and my hands were shaking so hard I could barely press the shutter down as she came back in for Winners. Sarah made her look like a rock star and she ohmyheavensfinally got the judge’s point.
And there was great jubilation!
The best present for me after that was that Friday came home with us. We really missed her and I am so happy to have her home. Happy also for a bit of a break; in a few months we’ll take a look at her again and see if she should go back out. Slow-maturing dogs are a joy – just a very delayed one! I didn’t bring Clue back out until she was two and a half, and honestly I could have waited even longer. She looked better at three than she did at two; she looks better at four than she did at three. So I am determined not to be impatient with Fri-Fri as long as she’s having fun and continuing to enjoy the ring.
Friday’s in heat now too; she turns 15 months in a couple of weeks. The timing of first heats in this group is shockingly similar; every one has come in at the same age.
Fri will be going out to Camp Kate for a few months this fall while we deal with new puppies, so I’m glad to get it over with now. But wow, Bramble is going to be exhausted by the end of it.
As an aside, Bramble is absolutely fascinating to me. He was neutered at 5 months, but he has NO IDEA. He is as keyed in to heat cycles as I’ve ever seen a stud dog be, and he knows when they are ovulating, and he does all the courting behaviors like ear washing and so on. (And – close your eyes, sensitive ones – he can breed and tie.) He’s incredibly useful – Clue is now on day 10 and, unlike last time, I am in no hurry to get her in for progesterone testing because he says she’s not ready, and because he’s neutered I don’t have to separate them. He gets all the fun and none of the paternity testing!
Today we packed up four kids, three dogs, two adults, a giant pot of chili, two loaves of homemade bread, and a stick of butter and headed down to Fitchburg.
We were supposed to meet Tiffany, Dawn, Sarah, and all their dogs at a dog-friendly state park nearby, but it was raining buckets and so we set up chili on a grooming table and everybody stood around and ate and watched Juniors and Working Group and talked dogs. I didn’t have anything entered; I find the venue (a small and very crowded hotel convention center) super stressful and I didn’t think it would be good for either Friday, who has taken to telling me lately how much she dislikes indoor shows, or Juno, who had never been to a show at all.
I ran Friday in and out quickly, trying to show her that even if you go inside a big loud smelly place it’s OK because you can go right back out again, and then grabbed food and Juno and went back in, trailing children and bags of shredded cheese like malformed ducklings behind me.
Ginny gets the starring picture in the blog post today because when Honour brought her in to the show she (Honour) began to feel overwhelmed very quickly. Too many stressed dogs everywhere, too much noise, too many people, too much everything. Ginny not only knew what was going on before I did, she offered grounding behaviors that let Honour get calm enough to tell me that she needed to leave. Honour told me that she didn’t know where the door was, and she didn’t know how to get out. I told her to ask her dog where the door was, and Ginny picked her way through the grooming area past about fifty dogs and got Honour to the door – NOT the door we’d come in, but the closest open door, then got her to the car, where we tucked her in with an iPod and Friday.
Honour later told us that Friday was having issues with gas exchange and burped so much the whole time she was out there that she wondered if she should have stayed inside the convention center, because the air inside of the car was basically dull orange by the time we came back out again. However, chicken burps aside, it was an amazing job by Ginny. She’s really starting to initiate behavior and is making choices that are very complex. We’ve been working on “find the door” based on her going to the end of the leash and putting pressure on it, but today when she was asked she refused to go out to the end; she stayed next to Honour and moved slowly, never going more than a step ahead of her. I, who was walking right behind them keeping an eye on everything thought she was disobeying, honestly. I was feeling like it was a failed command on Ginny’s part until I realized we were at a door, an emergency exit that someone had propped open. Staying beside Honour was a better choice, because we were threading through so many people and dogs, but it was not anything we’d ever trained.
Anyway, back to the show site. After dogs had been gaited, chili had been eaten, and Zuzu was having a major meltdown at the entrance to the Ladies Room, we got out of Dodge with two crying kids and a very tired puppy.
And did we go to the park anyway, despite the downpour?
Oh yes we did!
We not only went, we let the kids swim in the lake (you’re already soaked, might as well) and Honour and I took the dogs out far enough into the woods that we could slip their leads and let them run.
And crash into each other and try to brake in mid-air to avoid running up Ginny’s bottom.
And bite each other’s faces.
And trot around.
And get really wet.
I know that I haven’t been posting a lot of Juno lately, because she was SCARY ugly for a while there, but she does exist!
When Lucy – my beloved Dane and the dog I still think of when my eyes open in the morning – died, I got a lovely e-mail from her breeder, mostly full of all the things we say when a dog dies. But one line that Sterling sent then has stuck with me in all the years since.
She said, "I was a great fan of hers."
Ever since, I have thought that was just about a perfect way to describe the relationship we should have with our dogs. Not that we just love them, but that we LIKE them. That we think of each other as being on the same team. That we respect and admire their doggishness, maybe even envy it a little, while constantly pulling for their success.
Just recently I got another e-mail. This time it was someone who e-mailed me a behavior question about their dog, and asked me if I'd address it on the blog.
I immediately said to myself, "Not a chance," and then sat back to think about why my reaction had instantly been so negative.
Remember that I'm not a trainer, not even a bad one. So questions involving how you backchain a weave entrance or how to get a perfect heel are NOT for me. I am neither qualified enough nor foolish enough to answer them.
However, in this case it was not a training but a behavior problem – let's say it was the dog being destructive – and something I've dealt with over and over again in my own dogs. I actually was, in this very limited scenario, qualified to answer it. But the idea of it turned that little wheel in my stomach where "no" lives.
Why? Because the real reason, the root of the problem, was not that the person wanted to solve a dog's destructive behavior. It was that a person wanted someone who they thought was experienced in dogs to tell them that their dog was as bad as they thought he was.
I am sure every (real) trainer who reads this knows those questions. They use a lot of pronouns and the word "that."
I can't handle that dog for one more second.
That dog is getting on my last nerve!
When I got home, that dog had peed all over my purse.
If I knew he was going to be like that as a puppy, I'd never have gotten him.
By the time an owner is using statements like the above, they're not asking for ways to change the dog's behavior. They're asking for permission to get rid of the dog. If you said to them "Wow, you're right. I've never seen anything this bad; let me take him right now and find him a new home," their reaction would be about five seconds of objection and then the light of relief would show in their eyes. They'd start to think about arriving home and not smelling pee. They think about going on vacation without having to board a dog that has to go in the "special kennel." They imagine going to buy a couch that will last longer than six months.
When, on the other hand, you say to them "This is a very common issue, and very easy to fix! All you have to do is…" their faces get hard and their eyes turn off. They'll try to tell you that the way THIS dog does it is not easy to fix, and that their neighbor says they've never seen behavior THAT bad, and how they already tried doing that and it didn't work.
Even people who haven't gotten to the really terrible stage of looking for a reason to get rid of a dog or put it down are pretty inexorably heading that way. Why?
Because they see the relationship between themselves and their dogs as being adversarial. It's them against the dog. It's me against the chaos. It's my job to make this bad dog good.
They are not fans of their dog.
Because they see their entire relationship as one of adversity, when the dog REALLY disobeys – eats the couch or kills the neighbor's cat – it is not just a bad behavior but a personal affront. They start to use language like "The dog doesn't like me anymore" or "I guess he doesn't like his life here enough to behave properly."
I have seen this in myself with my own dogs. If Clue disobeys, it makes sense to me. I trust her enough, and like her enough, and feel that we are connected enough, to be willing to take her word for it that something is wrong and she feels she can't do that right now. It doesn't mean I don't make her come in or make her get off the couch or make her do whatever, but it goes "I'm sorry, hun, i believe you; but I really do need you to do that now." When Bramble refuses to come in, my instant reaction is "Oh, one MORE TIME. He KNOWS this command; what is wrong with him?!"
I've been working very hard lately to be Bramble's fan, to spend enough time with him and to see things from his standpoint so that I like who he is, not who I think he should be. My actions don't change – I still march out there barefoot and walk down whichever dog isn't responding to a recall – but my attitude needs to change. I need to root for him, to be proud of the small changes that are a big deal to him. He was pretty much completely screwed up by being kenneled for ten months, so the improvements are not exactly by leaps and bounds. For example, I realized today that he hadn't bitten anybody in a couple of months. He is still occasionally losing control and threat-barking, but he's pulling back and not connecting. And when I tested him off-leash this week, he only ran away for five minutes, and when he came back he high-fived me because he knew he'd done something good. By most definitions both statements are complete failures (he DOES panic and bark; he DOES run away), but honestly improvement to that point is a pretty dang big deal for him. Maybe a year from now I'll say that he's no longer threat-barking. Maybe a year after that we'll be able to let him off-leash when we're hiking.
No matter which dog you're dealing with, and no matter which problem or training challenge or goal you're trying to tackle, you're missing so much if you go into it convinced that it's you against the dog. And how much joy there is in acting like it's the two of you against the world, both of you braced together for whatever comes. To genuinely enjoy your dog, to not just love but like them, means that any challenge is just a bump in the road. It's not going to change your relationship and it's not going to change how much you groove on each other.
My final little story: Yesterday we took Juno out solo for the first time in a long time; we're always trying to exercise as many dogs as we can so she usually comes along with Ginny and Friday. Once Juno finished her solo socialization we slotted her in to the regular rotation and haven't had her out alone. But yesterday Ginny was having tummy troubles and we were going to the rock beach (the hardest place in the world to clean up the result of tummy troubles) and Friday is going into heat, so it was just Juno by herself.
A couple of hours into it, with this puppy who is such a thinker, so herdy, so funny, I turned to Honour (who is her real owner) and I said, "Wow, I really like your dog." Which, of course, is the death knell for any possibility of placing her if she doesn't turn out, because I really LIKE that puppy. I can enumerate every conformation flaw and the things I think are good, and maybe she'll finish and maybe she won't, but yesterday I bought a jersey with her name on the back of it.
So, my question is – are you a fan? Whose name is on your jersey?