Chiens du Matin

The wily and intrepid Polar Bear Yeti T. Dog is guarding her breakfast. Not eating it. She’s far too intrepid for that. She’s guarding it. The workings of the brain of the livestock guardian dog are often beyond the comprehension of we mere mortals, even canine mortals such as Teddy Bear T. Dog who’s here with me as I try to write a blog post that’s even remotely interesting.

“I’m not going in there,” he says to me, telepathically. “You taught me ‘NO!’ Martha and I believe you. Even though there’s tuna on Bear’s breakfast, I’m not going near it because you said ‘NO!’ and she curled her lip that time. Anyway, you in your graciousness put tuna on mine, too, and I’m grateful.”

Meanwhile, he gets all the morning rawhide pencils.

The differences between these two are so fun. Yesterday I got to enjoy them fully. Bear and I rambled slowly around the slough. Bear caught scents, I caught vistas and we were happy. I came home, put Teddy into his harness, put a bag of treats in my pocket and we headed out for 20 minutes of training in the empty parking lot of the high school. Besides, “sit,” “down,” “stay,” “heel,” I’m teaching him to stay with me without being tightly leashed. For a puppy, concentrating on any one thing for any length of time is a huge challenge, but he’s getting it, even, sometimes to the point of walking at heel when he’s on a loose leash. It’s a little challenging with the leash fastened to his chest because it easily gets between his feet, but he’s a stalwart and intrepid little guy.

“What, Bear? You really aren’t hungry? OK. Do you want me to cover that and put it in the fridge?”

“Yeah, otherwise I have to stay here and guard it, and I’d rather be with you and Teddy in the living room.”

“OK, but it might be your dinner.”

“Or Teddy’s?”

One Week Teddy Report

I have one of those cool inside/outside thermometers and yesterday it broke. The temps hit 80 F (26 C) and, in shock and outrage, the little screen stopped. “That’s it,” it declared. “I’m not going any higher. This is messed up.”

I think it needs a new battery…

We’re not expecting drizzle or anything cold any time soon. Thunder storms that scare the bejeezus out of Dusty T. Dog. That’s it.

As of yesterday, Teddy Bear T. Dog has been my dog for a week. I just got back from taking him to the vet for the rite of passage. “It’ll calm him down,” they say. He’s already a calm little guy, but it’s OK. It might make it a little easier for me to keep his attention for leash training.

Yesterday on our leash walk, I didn’t use the head collar on Teddy, and it was a literal drag. When I got home, I realized that I’ve stopped teaching dogs to heel. I have just made them wear a head collar and called it good. I thought about myself as a dog trainer and I suck. I just train them to live with me and that’s it. With Bear, from her very first night, I got the message that she was an autonomous being, and she would not ever exactly “obey.” I was fine with that. I’d lived with half a dozen Siberian huskies who didn’t obey either. Their style was to cooperate. I’d witnessed what happens when a dog decides to cooperate with me, and it was a lot more pleasant than training in many ways. BUT Dusty was professionally trained, and he’s a LOT easier to live with in some situations than my other dogs. He’s still El Barquero Grande and that could not be trained away.

Dog’s have their natures.

Not that I don’t train them at all. They know sit, down, NO, wait, stop, come, DON’T EVEN THINK OF IT, that kind of stuff. I was feeling bad about myself as a dog trainer of Teddy until I looked up professional trainers online last night and saw all they would teach Teddy that I haven’t is leash walking and staying in a crate. Those are nice features, but wow. $1600 for that? Anyway, at the vet just now, Teddy sat for anyone who told him to, including a little girl who wondered why he liked her so much. “Oh, honey,” I thought, “NEVER think that. Think that you deserve all the love in the world.”

Teddy is a great dog. I’m very happy I found him. He’s sweet, responsive, loving, enthusiastic, stoical and brave. ❤

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

The dogs and their morning rawhide

I wasn’t expecting to adopt a puppy this summer. I really had other plans. Teddy’s appearance in my domicile was kind of a surprise. But when you see what you need, you take it even if it’s not on the top of your list for that particular moment in time. I know Dusty is old, and I had decided some time back to find a friend for Bear. I just didn’t know it would be now. It’s working out so well. This puppy is what Bear needed, and, to my surprise, what Dusty needed.

Last night I was thinking about all the things I’ve learned from dogs. One of the biggest lessons has been what love actually IS. I didn’t grow up in a family where love was dependable or clear. I sometimes wonder if my whole life hasn’t been a lesson in love, how to do it, what it is, what it involves and demands. It might be too big a subject to write about here, but a lot of what I’ve learned, I’ve learned from the twenty-something dogs I’ve lived with.

I got a very vivid picture of that yesterday morning when I got up, Teddy jumped and jumped and jumped up on me and I snapped at him, “Just fucking stop it!” and I raised my hand. I didn’t hit him, but it was close. I was trying to get to the kitchen to feed them and make coffee. I wasn’t in a great mood. I’ve had some stuff weighing on my mind which, somehow, yesterday, I resolved. It was actually a “luv” problem.

Teddy jumped up on Bear, and she growl/snapped at him. I realized she was supporting me. She didn’t mind him jumping on her. It’s part of their play. I have been continually amazed by the independent wisdom of that big white dog.

When I fed them, Bear didn’t want to eat. I wondered why then I understood She was feeling the little burst of annoyance I’d come out with earlier. I learned early in our life together that if I yelled anywhere around Bear, she would be upset way beyond the context. Every description of her breed says Akbash dogs are very sensitive to their human’s reactions.

This morning was the same scene. I emerged from my room to three happy dogs in a bottle-neck space. I had resolved not to yell at Teddy if he jumped on me. Somewhere in the 24 hours, Teddy had resolved not to jump on me.

Bear, Dusty and I did a lot of dog training yesterday. I began teaching Teddy “Down” and every time I started a little session, Bear and Dusty would join in, partly for cookies, partly to please me, and partly to show Teddy. Training him has been a cooperative effort. Life in a house with a puppy is all dog-training all the time until the moment comes when you’re all just living together, sharing cookies and going for walks. An aspect of love is just that.

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