Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Unconditional love and slobber

I had a very unusual conversation this afternoon at the shop. I've known this woman for many years - she was a customer in the bookshop long before we started the dog boutique in the bookstore. "Jan" has also been an active member of our book group for years. Today she came in to pick up the book for the next group meeting (in the interest of full disclosure, it's The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama).

I was filling some packets with treats - a perfect mindless task for carrying on a conversation, so we were just standing there, talking. "Jan" is actively retired - she's one of those people who's so busy it's hard to remember how work once fit into the schedule. But she's also been troubled. It occurred to me while we were talking that "Jan" has never, in her entire life, known unconditional love from anyone.

So, not being shy, I speak up and tell her that I think it's about time that she discovered that feeling. She might enjoy having a dog - "the only love money can buy." And she tells me that she really feels nothing for dogs. She likes every cat she's ever met, she's polite to dogs, but just can't relate to them at all. And I agree, feeling as she does, dog ownership probably isn't a good idea.

But since she left, I'm wondering if her life experience has left her so damaged that she's incapable of handling unconditional love. And slobber. She expressed a definite aversion to slobber.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Party Time

Memorial Day was really, really hot. Little black dogs aren't very good at hot, but we couldn't possibly miss our friends' annual Small Dog Party. (Thank you, Frank and Pearl!) We had a wonderful time. Pearl truly outdid herself - above and beyond the call - she grilled wonderful food all afternoon, in the 90+ degree heat! Fran made sure Golly (aka The Princess) stayed cool, although you can almost see the thought balloon:
"The indignity of it all! Off with her head!"
Golly (Roc's in the background) constantly surveyed the territory to see who was giving away the best treats.
Mooching is a specialty of this princess.
Prowling for treats.
Yes, I know I'm adorable - gimme!

Friday, May 26, 2006

Did you ever notice that dogs have different play styles? We recently gave our dogs some of Ty's new Bow Wow Beanies to test. They all had a great time but each played differently.

Roc (left) loves Lizzy the lizard. Now, lizards have great limbs for little dogs to hang onto - and Lizzy's tail is nice and long and skinny. But did Roc latch onto a leg or the tail? No. He clamped onto the middle so that he could squeak while carrying the toy!

Dax, on the other hand, dislikes anything getting into her toy. Literally. So after a short play session with Snort intact (left), Dax got to work disembowelling her toy. It is now without stuffing, squeaker or head (all safely disposed of), and Dax loves it!

Ceilidh did us a favor and played with Legs the frog for a short time. Then she went back to her favorite Latex Soccer Ball. (Throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throw the ball. Throw the ball. You get the idea.)

And Golly (the princess) enjoyed tugging for a couple of minutes, actually longer than usual, and really put some muscle into it! But then she remembered who she was and sat down, looking aloof.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Awww, how cute!

Ceilidh (Boston Terrier), Dax (French Bulldog), Roc (Brussels Griffon),
Golly (Brussels Griffon) in their new cabana!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Smile - or else!

Yesterday evening I got to teach Open class for our training club. Counting me, there were four of us who showed up last night. I have to remember that it's not quantity, it's quality that counts.

I'm not really wonderful at spontaneous teaching, so I'd mapped out a heeling exercise that I wanted everyone to practice - nothing complex; forward, circle right, forward, circle left, forward, right turn, drop your dog, leave your dog, call your dog. Okay, that sentence made it sound way harder than it is. But you get the idea.

One of my bug-a-boos training Roc was that I originally taught him the exercises rather than teaching him to listen to me. He would do a wonderful drop-on-recall, whether or not I asked him to. His finish was great - he just didn't wait for me to tell him to do it. So my solution was to stop training the actual, competition-style exercise, and just ask for elements from each one. Now he listens to me! It's the most amazing experience to give a command and see your dog process what you've said and then - ta da! - do it!

So that's what I wanted to "share with the class." With one additional requirement. I made everybody smile the whole time. If we're not having fun, there's no reason to do this. The penalty for not smiling? The next time through, they'd have to sing. My favorite training methods are bribery for dogs, threats for people. It worked like a charm. Everybody smiled, everybody had some fun, everydog did just fine.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Over the tollway and through the boonies.....

Yesterday, Roc and I had a grand adventure. Our friend Susan B. (thank you, Susan) signed us up for an Obedience Fun Match at a wonderful dog training facility in Antioch. Which is still considered in the metropolitan Chicago area, but not by much. We're in Skokie, which is right next to Chicago.

To give some perspective on my usual driving habits: my car is six years old and just turned 27,000 miles. My first car, purchased at the age of 16 from my mother, was the family car; 13 years old with 41,000 miles on it. It ate oil and the gas gauge was broken, so every 200 miles I would pull into a gas station and say "Fill up the oil and check the gas, please." Which also gives a clue to my age, since there were actual gas station attendants when I was 16.

Anyway, we got lost on the way to the match. Not big lost, but enough lost to call the training center and plead for help. At which point a revelation was presented to me that I had never before faced: Mapquest was wrong. I didn't even realize that was possible until yesterday. Frank, the owner of the place, a wonderful trainer and instructor, said "Mapquest doesn't know squat around here."

So I followed Frank's directions and only got lost and called for help one more time. These are the times that I enjoy being a girl, because I have no compunction about yelling for help (or directions) when they're needed. We arrived at the Fun Match safe and sound, only about 15 minutes late.

We were third or fourth up in the Open ring, so I had a chance to walk Roc around and heel a tiny bit before it was our turn. He decided to be Mr. Nerves - my first clue was when the judge said "Forward," I said "Roc, Heel" and he sat down to scratch his ears. He always scratches when he's nervous.

Things improved from there - he did a little sniffing, and hesitated a bit on the retrieve on flat, but we got through it. Not a qualifying run, but we haven't been in a strange place for a while, so I knew he'd be better on the second try.

He was. He was wonderful. I lost major points for the team, though. Apparently I watch my dog too darn much, slewing around in the finishes, bending to "help" on the Recall. I must cultivate stillness. And trust my dog to do his thing. Which would be much easier if, at our last trial, I hadn't spent a good few minutes heeling around the ring by myself.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Frog Legs

No, not for consumption! You know, it's that funny position that dogs get into when lying on their tummies with their legs behind them. It looks like a frog's legs! Anyway, I know I'm prejudiced, but I think Golly's the cutest dog in the world when she does this. Of course, there's never a camera around when she does. And then she "griffs" at me, bouncing and giving a little "yip." Too cute.

Yesterday after my workout, I was putting my weights away (don't get excited, I just work out to eat more chocolate) and my exercise mat was still spread on the floor. Golly decided that would be a good place to stretch out on her tummy. So, the weights were put away and the tape was rewound but Golly was still on my mat. She was way too cute to be moved! So I picked up one corner slightly (it's the kind of mat that's about an inch thick and stiff - hey, these old joints need that padding!) and started moving the mat from side to side. Miss Cuteness decides that's a great game and starts bouncing! She bounced at me even more when I lifted up the whole side so that she was at a 45 degree angle to the floor and I wiggled the mat! Too cute for words. Where's that camera when I need it!

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Playing nice together

Last night was a Board meeting of the North Shore Dog Training Club, a.k.a. my wonderful, dysfunctional extended family. I love them like brothers and sisters, but if we didn't all love our dogs, we'd have absolutely nothing in common.

The best thing about our group; no "office" politics. No scrambling for power, no one wants to be the biggest fish in our tiny pond. I love that. I eschewed corporate life years ago because I simply can't cope with it. I loathe back-room machinations, deal-making, power-playing: Donald Trump and I would not get along.

So when we have an issue what do we do? We all talk, very loudly, at the same time until it's resolved. Headache-making, but then it's over. And we have cake and coffee.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

If it's Tuesday, it must be training

Tuesday night, as always, was training class. The last two weeks were Dax's return to class in several months. For a while she wasn't feeling all that great, then I just got lazy. It seemed too much to play with Roc in Open class for an hour, then stay another hour with Dax in Novice. I forgot, for a while, how much fun it is to spend that hour with my dog.

Anyway, last week you'd've thought Dax was getting ready for the ring; beautiful attention, wonderful heeling, spot-on sits, turbo-Dax recalls, rocklike stays.

Last night, not so much. I think it may have been the excitement that kept her going last week. Just being back at "school" was enough to keep her pumped through the whole evening. This time she wanted to explore, visit the other people, and was absolutely convinced that the "cookies" all the other dogs were getting were better than hers. I guess she's not the obedience prodigy she pretended to be last week. But for a while, it was nice to pretend.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Nothing to prove

Yesterday a friend from training (Deb) and her little dog (Ruby) came in to do a little shopping. Ruby is a darling, you'd never know that's she's a champion by her attitude, she's as sweet and friendly as can be. Anyway, Deb said that Ruby's little blingy collar was cracking and she needed a new one.

So Ruby, Deb and I were having fun, trying different collars and leashes on to see how Ruby looked. Deb decided that a braided leather collar and leash set were just the thing - classy, yet sporty enough for everyday wear.

Ruby's breeder is also a friend of ours and Deb said that Mary Jo wouldn't really like the new duds. Mary Jo likes "bling" on her girl dogs. Rhinestone collars, etc. But we really like the more subtle classiness of the braided leather.

As she was leaving, Deb said "Ruby can still have her princess moments, though."

Living with Golly, I'm very familiar with the princess thing. I told Deb "True princesses don't have to prove it."
We've decided to have t-shirts made.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

On Mother's Day - Our babies as babies

Dax (French Bulldog, now 2)
Ceilidh (Boston Terrier, now 5)
Golly (Brussels Griffon, now 10)
Roc (Brussels Griffon, now 4)

Friday, May 12, 2006

Ceilidh's Growing Up!

I think I've talked about Ceilidh and her challenges before. Ceilidh's my five-year-old Boston Terrier with ADHD and obsessive-compulsive disorder. I take her to Agility class every Thursday evening to help her focus and to release some of that Boston Terrier energy.

In the past I've taken Ceilidh to regular obedience training. She's good at it, but hates it. She just looks miserable through the entire Novice exercise. And the group exercises - the long sit and down stays - are the worst! She stays, but it's so hard! Other dogs are right next to her! And there are lots of people she could be saying hello to! So, we gave it up in favor of Agility. Ceilidh loves it! Running, jumping, climbing - that's what she lives for!

As we progress in the Agility classes the courses are more challenging. The instructor allows us to walk the course without dogs, to figure out how to approach the obstacles. I had been putting Ceilidh in her little portable crate while I walked the courses, but last night I decided to see what would happen if I didn't. So, I took Ceilidh away from the other dogs and told her to "Sit. Stay!" I walked the course, but could still see if Ceilidh stayed -- she did! What a good girl! I was so proud!

And, later, I put her closer to other dogs and close to our instructor, who she adores. And she stayed! Jackpot treats!

Which goes to prove our maxim: Patience and consistency are the keys to training success!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Who's afraid of the big, bad Roc?

A very, very odd dog thing in class on Tuesday night. Roc and I train in Open obedience. He just loves it - especially the Peanut Butter Power Bones and bits of string cheese he gets. Essentially Roc "Will Work For Food;" a sign not seen since the Great Depression, but alive and well in his little Griffie brain.

The point is that Roc is totally focused on me and my treat pocket when we're in class. He loves all of it and we have a great time. He gets along with everybody in class, even though he's been known to get a touch snarky about big dogs sniffing his butt elsewhere. This week Marlene and her Staffy Bull Terrier Ben were in class with us. Ben is a big young guy, glossy black coat and just as sweet and silly as anything. He seemed terrified of Roc.

Everytime Ben saw Roc he would either turn his head away, hide behind Marlene's legs, or just turn around completely, pretending Roc wasn't there. Roc and I were standing as "posts" for the figure-8 exercise and Ben wouldn't even go around Roc. Marlene had to change directions so that she was between them.

We couldn't figure out what was going on in Ben's canine mind. Marlene said that he's only acted this way once before - with a Schipperke. Is Ben afraid of little black dogs? Does Ben not realize they are dogs? Who knows what weirdness lurks in the minds of dogs?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Paradise sans cheeseburgers

Some friends of ours invited us to spend some time with them this summer at their cabin on the shore. It's hard to get away when you have a business and responsibilities galore. But then they played dirty and sent us these photos.
We're going. I don't know when and it won't be for long. But we are definitely stealing a small slice of gorgeous for ourselves some time in the near future.

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Happy, Happy, Happy Birthday, baby!

Yesterday was Dax's second birthday. She very happily destroyed her birthday toy. She is offended by both squeakers and stuffing and must immediately do away with both in any new toy. She stands on the toy, and with bulldogged determination (so to speak), pulls and shreds until the offending bits are removed. After her modifications are complete, she shares with us and plays fetch and tug.

From the day I brought Dax home, I took her everywhere I could. I was amazed by two things: the number of people who were terrified of her and the equal number who exclaimed "oh, I love French Bulldogs!"

The fear I understand more than the adoration. Her snortifying can be construed as growling if you're completely unfamiliar with animal sounds. But the people who adore Frenchies and don't have one - why not? My excuse for not having a Frenchie before Dax was I didn't know about them. Now I do and I'll never be without. Happy 2nd birthday, baby!

Friday, May 05, 2006

Who's Sitting in My Chair?

None of my sister's or my dogs are lap dogs. Except Dax, the French Bulldog. Naturally, the biggest is the lap dog. We have a leather office chair in front of the computer where Dax especially likes to sit on our laps. (One at a time, of course.) This makes it interesting to try to get any work done! (Or play games for that matter.) And standing up is interesting after my legs have fallen asleep after an hour or so of Dax sleeping on them.

Roc likes to sit next to me on the chair. He watches the TV that's on for background noise and barks at anything he finds interesting. Like other dogs, cats, any animal, leaves blowing, household appliances.

And Ceilidh likes to lie behind me against the back of the chair. And snarl at her brother. We discourage this behavior.

So, picture it. I'm perched on the edge of the chair with Dax in my lap. Ceilidh is behind me, stretched out. And Roc is next to me yapping away. Whose chair is this anyway?

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Small, soft and smelly

Last night was the first evening of the new training session for the North Shore Dog Training Club. Since no one will take the job of registrar away from me, after the first class started I was standing around, waiting for my second bout of chaotic registration to begin.

I was watching the beginner dogs acting stunned about having to behave themselves and happened to catch some of the lecture from this session's instructor, Colleen. She was explaining that we use positive reinforcement - when the dog does what we want, Spot get a treat. Colleen said that the ideal treats are:
  1. Small - so our dogs don't get fat
  2. Soft - so our dogs don't have to stop to crunch them up and
  3. Smelly - so our dogs really, really want them.

I'd never heard it put like that before - but it's really an excellent description. Later, when the second hour classes were about to start, Chris and her Weimeraner Emma came in. We were chatting for a bit and Emma seemed unusually interested in her treat pouch. It was filled with tiny shrimp! Chris is brilliant. Talk about the perfect 1,2,3 punch!

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Smile for the camera!

It's difficult to take pictures of black dogs inside -
so we go outside on a nice, sunshiney day.
And I think I've taken a really wonderful
portrait of the adorable Roc - it looks great
on the teeny-tiny little camera screen.
And then I take a look at it on the computer
and his eyes are closed.

So there was another picture that looked pretty good, the angle wasn't great, but Roc, cute as he is, isn't really all that photogenic. Not a bad shot. Until I see Dax coughing up grass in the background. It's always something.