Balm for a Weary Big White Dog

“So what do we do here?”
“You’ll find out, little guy. We’ll all help you.”
“Am I going to stay? I’ll be really good.”
“Are you my friend?”
“Yes. Come outside. We can play.”

The rest of this conversation is in dog.

Last evening I tried to sneak out to take my big white dog for a walk, just the two of us, but I was spied by Teddy the Vigilant. I’m thinking of taking Teddy to the boarding kennel for half a day so Bear and I can go to the mountains where she could play in the snow. She’s worked tirelessly and patiently with this little dog, and I know she’d like it.

Teddy Update (Nothing Else Going on Around Here and I’m Not Complaining)

There’s a lot of nurturing going on at my house right now. The whole “family” is involved. Yesterday Teddy got his rabies shot which involved picking him up, putting him in Bella, driving to the vet where he joyfully met everyone.

“What a cute little guy!” said my vet as Teddy greeted everyone including the bobtailed cat. “Where’d you get him?”

“The shelter,” I nodded in the direction of the shelter which is right next to the vet. “I’m here to get him rabies shots.” My vet looked at me curiously. Most animals adopted from the shelter get the rabies shot with the neutering. “He gets fixed next week.” Rabies shots are 3x more expensive at my vet than as part of the package deal with neutering at the other vet in town who has a contract with the shelter to neuter adopted animals.

“I didn’t want to wait,” I said. “There are bats.”

My vet looked puzzled. “You know, at night.” I don’t know why, but suddenly it struck me funny, and I pointed to my head. One of the people who works there is an immense Navajo whom I like very much. He’s hilariously funny and kind.

“We got that, Martha,” laughed the Indian.

So Teddy got his exam and was pronounced “Perfect” and “If you decide you don’t want him, give him to me.” Teddy only weighs 24 pounds, less than half the size of the second smallest dog I’ve ever had. Teddy kissed my vet all through the “ordeal” of the shot and the prodding and poking of the exam. The vet thinks Teddy is six months old. I wonder, considering how perfectly (knock on wood) house-trained he is.

After me, my vet had to see a large animal who’d been brought in by trailer, belonging to a young ranching couple. Cow, horse or goat, I don’t know. Next to my vet is a little paddock and bales of hay.

Bear does most of the nurturing work around here and she’s doing brilliantly. They don’t play in the house. She’s tolerant of his obnoxious adolescent sexual advances which are randomly placed and silly. She lets him walk on her, under her, around her — literally all over her. My role is to be a kind, affectionate, mildly aloof benign authority while this goes on, the divine purveyor of treats and meals. He’s learning to sit on the leash without being told, but until he’s neutered it will be hard to keep his attention very long. I’m pleased. In less than a week he’s learned his name, sit, stay, and go to bed.

I have ordered him a head collar which isn’t here yet. I don’t like walking a dog on a neck collar for several reasons, but mostly because when they pull, it chokes them. I also find head-collars make it easier to keep a puppy’s attention.

The only downside is that maybe when winter comes, long rambles alone with Bear won’t be so easy. We’ll see.

Teddy Kennedy Update and a Note on Adopting Shelter Dogs

Long night, but the good news is if Teddy wants out, he makes sure I know it. Yesterday he became my dog for real. I took him back to the shelter for his second worming and to sign the adoption contract. Anyone showing up to claim him now has no claim. I also realized that on his vet records he will be “Teddy Kennedy” which cracked me up. Then the whole “family” went for a “walk” together. I’d describe it, but it would only make sense in “dog” I think. It made no sense in human.

Teddy is a busy happy little guy.

Most of my dogs have been females. Male dogs are a different animal in many ways. I’ve usually had ONE male, and he’s had a “harem.” Dusty lucked out with the harem — three beautiful Siberian husky girls who adored him.

Then, for a while, Dusty’s life wasn’t great because Cody O’Dog didn’t think there should be two male dogs at “his” house, and I had to keep them apart. It got to be a normal thing to be sure they were never in the same room together, or went in or out of the dog run or backdoor at the same time so there was no scuffle for dominance. No one got seriously hurt, but it couldn’t have been fun for Dusty who usually (because he’s a pacifist) got the worst of it. Cody only lived with us a short time which, maybe from Dusty’s perspective, was a lucky break.

Of all my dogs — more than 20 — only Lupo, Dusty and Cody have been/are male. And now, Teddy. Female dogs are easier to house train and generally easier going, BUT if a couple of female dogs get into it it’s not necessarily a short-lived dispute over who “owns” this moment. It can get serious.

So far Teddy is fitting in as well as he can given his nature. He loves learning, is smart like no dog I’ve ever had. This morning I let them out to play and when Teddy thought I should get up, he came to my door and barked. I got up and he was sticking his little paws under the door trying to reach me. Everything with a puppy is training and my good fortune is that he likes it.

As I spend time with him I get more of a sense of what he’s been through. I think he was running loose for a while before whoever tied him up tied him up. He seems to have some scrounging habits. Many of the dogs I’ve had spent some time at a dog shelter.

Any dog from a shelter has a “past.” Sometimes the past was a loving home and a person they loved who died. Sometimes they, like Dusty, suffered something horrible. A lot of dogs are in shelters because people bought cute puppies and didn’t know what to do with them once they got them home; maybe they were surprised they couldn’t take the Siberian husky pup back to the store and exchange it for a goldfish. Sometimes, like Mindy, the dogs in the shelter were ignored and neglected by their humans. Sometimes like Bailey, my friend’s golden retriever, they were used as a breeding animal for a backyard breeder and tied on a short chain or kept in a cage. Some dogs come into shelters from situations even worse than these.

I read an article yesterday about a new “fad” of people going to shelters and asking for the dog who had the “worst past.” I don’t think those people get “dog” nature, though they are moved by lovely compassionate instincts.

Still, that’s an absurd rationale for adopting a dog from a shelter. No dog — not even the one with the “best” past — is in a shelter for fun. In a way, it’s the dog with the best past who should be promptly adopted before shelter life disillusions them, breaks their spirit and leads them to despair — which can happen which is why the shelter where I got Bear and then Teddy was so eager to find homes for those two beautiful, gentle souls.

The point of adopting a dog is to give it a home for the rest of its life. Those people with the beautiful big hearts should learn about the traits in various dog breeds so they have some idea of what to expect, and then search for a dog who will fit in their homes FOREVER.

I know that’s not always easy.

I’ve hired professional trainers to help me teach some of my dogs — including Dusty — to live in the world of people. It’s expensive, but a good idea. I never would have tried it if Jasmine and Lily, two Siberian huskies I adopted from a loving home that was falling apart, hadn’t come to me professionally trained. With them, I saw what that kind of training can do to help a dog from a breed that’s very independent and training resistant, as huskies are. Dusty came to me completely unsocialized and terrified of everything and, therefore, aggressive. I wasn’t living where I could help him with that, so he went to live-in training for six weeks while I rehabbed from my first hip surgery.

When I adopted Cheyenne, a completely untrained Siberian husky, she went to live with my trainer for a month. The trainer tried everything to teach Cheyenne, but finally the only thing that got through to her was a zap collar. In one day, Cheyenne got sit, stay, heel, down and learned one or two tricks. She returned thinking the zap collar (which I never turned on) made her special. It was the promise of treats, walks and attention. She loved it. If I came out the front door with it in my hand, she began dancing around knowing good stuff was happening. The trick is finding a good trainer who honestly loves dogs.

Yesterday, in the car, I discovered Teddy likes music — even my singing. Later on I tried dancing with him and I think we can do something like this — not as good because 1) he’s only an Aussie, not a border collie, and 2) I’m not as mobile as this cowboy. But we’re going to try.

Good Doggone Morning!


Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog has demonstrated her breeding as a livestock guardian dog and her general sweet nature in the last couple of days as Teddy has recovered from sadness and diarrhea. She plays with him until she’s exhausted (he’s not). She’s patient and wise, gently tells him when he’s out of line, and keeps him where he’s supposed to be. I’m not sure she really likes him yet, but she understands that he’s here to stay.

They’re cute. Bear is SO MUCH BIGGER than Teddy, but he puts his head down in classic Australian shepherd fashion and “herds her” outside to play. I think it’s really cool. I’ve seen these dogs work as partners with a herd of sheep — really one of the beautiful things life has offered me to watch.

I let them out this morning hoping to sleep a little more (I didn’t, I worried with my bedroom door closed). I left the backdoor open so they could go in and out of the house. I had no idea what I’d find when I got up, but when I opened my bedroom door, I found a house with everything where it is supposed to be and three happy dogs telling me “Good morning.”

I gave Bear a break from puppy-sitting this morning and left Teddy outside so she, Dusty and I had a few minutes of quiet time with the RDP and coffee. Insider tip: buy stock in whatever company makes the rawhide pencils I give my dogs.

Otherwise, I’m just waiting on the edits for the China book. It’s good Teddy arrived now. I’m kind of looking for a blog tour for it — any suggestions? As always and ever my $$ is limited. I’d also love reviewers so if you’re interested in the subject — which is simply (and I mean simply) the experiences of ONE person in ONE city in the People’s Republic of China during ONE year (1982/83) teaching English, let me know. It’s not more than that, but I think it’s a good story. I’m thinking of putting together advanced reading copies for Kindle. I’m thinking of going whole-hog with this book, including a book launch in a Denver bookstore. I think that young woman who went to China deserves it.

P.S. If you are thinking of getting a dog, get two. You’ll have half the work. Get one, acclimate it to your lifestyle and socialize it well. Then get another. They’ll have friends that way, you won’t have to start from ground zero with dog number two. I had no idea about that until I got my first real dog, Truffle, then, when she was older, I got her a puppy. Training Truffle was a lot of work. Training Molly was not nearly as difficult. Dogs are conformists and they look to each other to know what to do in the “den.”

Truffle and Molly, 1987

Night One with Teddy Bear T. Dog

I woke up this morning to what looked like it might be Facebook drama, but…

The woman who found the little dog, Teddy for now, was upset to find that someone had already adopted him. She said she wanted him. She did everything right. She took him into her home when she found him tied up at 7-11. She advertised that she had him in case his owners were looking. She took him to the shelter when no one claimed him so he’d have a better chance of being found. Most of all, she loved him. The one thing she should have done was tell the shelter she would adopt him if no one came to get him.

So I woke up this morning to find my friends (real life not only FB) fighting gently for my right to keep him. The woman backed down, but I see it as a good thing. Right now he’s doing everything he can to fit in. He bugs Bear a little — she’s jealous, he’s small and she’s disgusted. Dusty is pretty OK with him — I think even likes him — (Dusty just sat on Teddy who didn’t care), but both big dogs are clearly waiting to see what’s going on, as am I. Only Teddy is not waiting. He lives here.

So the way this situation looks to me is that if it doesn’t work by Tuesday, Teddy will still have a loving home.

I think Teddy is a lucky dog.

This is my first (only?) foster dog. I think people like Cara Achterberg who foster dogs, give over their homes to dogs having puppies, and love and train them, over and over are heroes. I don’t know if I could do it. But I can see doing it for dogs like Teddy who should not be at a shelter, even a really nice and loving one like we have in Monte Vista. It’s packed.

Teddy is so smart. I haven’t had a dog like this in a while, but it’s fun to see him pay attention and then, next time, respond as I want him to. Dogs like Bear or Siberian huskies are not really “trainable.” They have strong instincts that inform their identity, and they are exceedingly independent because they have “work” to do. Training dogs like that means one has to consider that. Aussies’ strong instinct is to take instructions from people. Last night I took them all outside to pee. I’ve taught all my dogs that peeing is a trick and they will pee on command. At times that’s been fun to watch, like when I had six dogs. On a rainy night, I’d take them out, tell them to pee, they’d get in a circle, all facing outward (guarding for predators while they were in that vulnerable position) and pee in unison. It was hilarious and also very cool to watch.

Last night I took these three out. I haven’t done that “trick” much with Dusty and Bear because they know the drill, but Teddy doesn’t. So out we went and just like he’d lived here forever, Teddy joined in. It’s instinctive behavior for dogs in a pack and I was happy to see how Teddy perceives himself.

I think part of this is working because Teddy is small and non-threatening AND he’s an intact male (at this point). I suspect Dusty and Bear are both acknowledging his superior maleness. Wednesday or Thursday he’ll be neutered.

Training Dogs

Since I got my first real dog (real meaning I was an adult and I got to keep it for its whole life!), Truffleupagus, in 1987, I’ve had something like 26 dogs — not all at once, though.


Truffle and me, 1988

Truffle and me

Dog training is a skill, and I didn’t always have it. Now, I have a pretty good idea of what’s involved when I get a new dog. I’ve learned that sometimes I need expert help, and twice I have sent my dogs to “boarding school.” One of them was Dusty T.  (T for “traumatized”) Dog, the other was the beautiful wild thing, Cheyennie T. Wolf, a smart, willful, humorous three-year-old Siberian husky who’d lived in a backyard all her ilfe.

I have never trained a dog to do anything fancy like agility or even go precisely through movements of a dog show. My dogs have all been taught to be companions in the house, to go on hikes and walks, and to have decent manners with my friends. They’ve been trained to be nice to children and (mostly) not jump up on people, something that’s necessary when you have big dogs.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

  1. Different breeds have different needs. Sometimes the things they have been bred for are at odds with what humans need. Dogs like Siberian Huskies have been bred for centuries to do specific things that aren’t always in line with human expectations (unless you live in Siberia, have a dog team and need furry babysitters). Breeds like golden retrievers, Aussies, Labs (and Bear) watch and observe you to see what you would like and then do it. Study up on your dog’s breed and tailor your training to that. Here’s the list from the American Kennel Club.

I have not had terriers, non-sporting dogs or toy dogs, but I’ve had herding dogs, sporting dogs, a hound (beagle), working dogs (huskies) and now I have a mutt (Doberman/Lab and a livestock guardian dog (Akbash). They present different challenges in training. Some of the easiest dogs to train are mutts, dogs whose ancestry is a mystery.

  1. Walk your dog and if you can’t, get a breed that doesn’t need to be walked. Cesar Milan is right that walking a dog establishes a bond between the dog and the owner AND it tells the dog who the pack leader is. I believe in leashes, but not everyone does. Some dogs (like Dusty) can actually be trained to stay beside you and in your control when they are off leash, but this training takes time. Leashes help keep your dogs safe.

    Leash training can be difficult or easy depending on the breed, age of dog and the amount of patience you have. Ideally, you’ll have a golden retriever puppy who will arrive at your house and hand you a leash (ha ha).

    I took Truffleupagus to school so I could learn how to train her. The school used choke collars. The way a choke collar works is when the puppy pulls, you pull directly up on the choke collar. This is supposed to communicate to the puppy that you don’t like what it’s doing. For this to actually happen the collar has to be on properly and the person has to be attentive and demanding. Honestly, they never worked for me with Truffle or any other dog. But the IDEA is sound.

    In the meantime, other devices were invented. Because I’m a little person with big dogs, I use a Halti brand of gentle leader. These are very useful. For training, the dog is stopped in a body-part it understands; its nose. For just walking a dog who is not a champion on-leash heeling hero (such as Dusty T. Dog) the Halti prevents the dog from pulling (except maybe in extreme situations like a C-A-T or something).

    How you train your dog depends on you. Bear is a breed who cannot go off leash ever. This kind of messes with her instincts (which are also why she can’t go off leash). She wants to track, guard, protect and what that means on a walk is if she smells something she must find it or I am in danger. Dogs like Bear wander the hills with their sheep all on their own for days. Bear doesn’t have that possibility so we compromise. Most of her leash walks are random wandering around places where she can smell and track to her heart’s content — but she wears a Halti. Today we covered a couple of miles on one tiny part of the golf course where roam raccoons, badgers, elk, deer, feral cats and other dogs. She needs this and a mile is a mile.

  2. Spend LOTS of time training your dog but keep training sessions short. From your dog’s perspective, basic obedience is GREAT. It’s FUN. You’re there with the dog, it has your undivided attention, it’s making you happy (it wants to!) and it knows this because you’re giving it pats and treats. Training sessions should start with puppies and continue for the dog’s whole life. From the dog’s perspective, it’s not training, it’s sharing a special moment with you. It reinforces the bond between you and teaches your dog what makes you happy.

    It’s important that a dog (even a Siberian husky anarchist from hell) learn sit, down, stay, stop, wait, come.Treats are a dog’s language for “good dog” but so are pats and toys. You can teach your dog to accept all of those as rewards just by switching them around and not being predictable.

    Bear loves to heel at the end of a long ramble of smells and snow. She will position herself under my left hand and walk close enough to me that I can pet her as we go along. It’s all she wants and it makes both of us happy. Her behavior has reminded me how MUCH our dogs want to be near us.

    Bear went to puppy school and we learned the routine for performing at a dog show. She LOVES it. I practiced with her at the local high school parking lot and still, three years later, if I turn into that parking lot on one of our walks, Bear immediately shifts into her obedience routine. We usually do it two or three times a week. Obedience is not fascism.
  3. Don’t be afraid of electronic training devices that “hurt” your dog HOWEVER you should try to avoid hitting your dog. Cheyennie T. Wolf was incorrigible, having spent the first years of her life in a back yard ignored. My trainer had to resort to an electric collar to get Cheyennie to stop counter surfing, pay attention on a leash, and not run away. Within two hours of the collar, Cheyennie didn’t need the collar any more. The point of this kind of training aid is that it’s temporary. After that, whenever Cheyennie wore her training collar (I put it on her without ever turning it on) she got incredibly happy because she knew she was going to get undivided attention and treats and she was going to do things right.

    Hitting your dog is a bad idea, but sometimes it happens. Hitting a dog with a newspaper or something soft or occasionally because you’ve had it and can’t take any more, well, it happens, but your dog doesn’t know why it’s happening. Punishing a dog after the misbehavior is meaningless because a dog doesn’t have the same concept of time humans have. You want corrections to coincide with misbehavior.

    This is a “sentence” translated from dog immediately after a dog is corrected for doing something wrong RIGHT THEN — “If, I, the Dog do this, this bad thing happens.” Dogs do understand cause and effect at that level very well. If you’re very very very angry with your dog, go take a walk yourself until you calm down.

    Crates should never be used for correction or punishment. If you put your dog in its crate because you need a break (totally cool), make sure the dog thinks it’s being good by going into the crate.
  4. Two dogs are easier than one. Dogs are pack animals and they need company.
  5. Housebreaking is not difficult. It’s more difficult for some breeds than others, but I’ve usually been able to housebreak a dog in a day just by consistently taking it outside several times. I’ve taught most of my dogs to pee on command. Pooping is really up to them, though. If you have a multiple dog household, they will teach each other where to go and they will often go as a pack. When I had five dogs, it was hilarious to take them out on a rainy night to pee. They would form a circle, each dog facing outward, and pee in unison. (Truffle, Molly, Kelly, Lupo and Ariel)
  6. Crate training is good. Using a crate is not putting your dog in prison. It’s giving them a den of their own in which they feel safe. Crates are also VERY useful for housebreaking because most dogs (past the early puppy stage where anything can happen) will not poop or pee in their den.
  7. Get your dog from a shelter or foster. The ONLY bad experience I had with a dog I owned was with a yellow lab I bought at pet store. Daisy — known as Big Puppy — was overbred. When she was two years old, she killed Cheyennie T. Wolf who had, until that horrible nightmarish moment, had been Big Puppy’s mother. Big Puppy knocked out Cheyennie’s canine teeth and then ripped open her neck. The emergency vet wasn’t able to save my husky. A week or so later, Big Puppy went for Lily T. Wolf in the same way.

    One of the saddest days in my life was the day I had to take my beautiful dog to the vet to be put to sleep because she was a murderous bitch, literally. The vet and I both cried as we killed that beautiful young murderous creature, then the vet asked where I got my dog. I told him and he said, “I see it a lot in purebred dogs. Her father could have been her brother and her mother could have been her sister. We never know. I wish they’d shut down pet stores. It’s the only way to stop puppy mills.” He was ferocious, passionate on this point. As it happens, the pet store where I got Big Puppy was shut down the next year.
  8. It doesn’t take a lot of skill to train a dog. It mostly takes patience, consistency, frequency and a sense of humor. It helps a lot if you’re willing to develop a friendship with your dog, get to know it and don’t feel you need to dominate it into cowering submission. Dogs and humans have worked together for eons in a very successful trans-species partnership. Your dog knows this as well as you do.

Old Dog

Dusty is suddenly old. He was a young 13 two weeks ago and now he’s an old 13 (which is to say, 13). Dogs his size and the two breeds he seems to be made of have much shorter average lifespans than that. He’s restless and frightened at night. He can’t see. He’s scared (his basic nature) a lot of the time.

Tonight he’s kept me awake at night pacing on the hardwood floors, panting, looking for me. He has challenges controlling his bowels that he never had before. I don’t want to drag this out, either.

I know where this ends. I know it’s considered wrong to jump the gun. We have to wait until he can’t move under his own power and is urinating and pooping everywhere. I hate this dilemma. But we’ll visit the vet this week and see if there’s relief for Dusty’s nighttime anxiety.

Then we’ll see. He’s been a hard dog to love since the beginning, but I do love him. His early puppyhood trauma left him scared and aggressive (sounding). He was hard to train and ultimately needed a professional to see that he was properly socialized and calm enough, in general, to ride in a car or go for a walk. I also don’t think anything or anyone has ever loved me as much as Dusty does.

I’ve drugged him (mildly) hoping we can both get some sleep now. I’m very tired from my trip to Colorado Springs. I slept badly Sunday night and went to bed early tonight (9!) and went right to sleep, to be awakened by Dusty pacing and generally freaking out.

Anyone who rescues a dog from a shelter (which I highly recommend) could face a challenge like Dusty T. Dog. Some dogs are just easier than others.

He’s lying here at my feet, finally calm. I don’t know if it’s the drugs finally kicking in or whatever was disturbing him has stopped. It might have been the sprinklers (which switched on about the time he started pacing and I have now turned off) or maybe it was a bad dream. There’s no question in my mind that dogs have more access to our thoughts than we to theirs.

He’s finally asleep. Dare I? ❤