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Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Two Months Out and Look Where We Are

It’s been about two months since Singer came to us, and I think she’s come a long way. We all have. The big thing is that I’m starting to not remember specific little things about Saylor, which depresses me. I will look at Singer on the couch and remember how Saylor used to snooze there, curled up like a hibernating bear cub, and peek open her eyes to acknowledge me if I whispered to her. But the specifics of her are getting hazy. I don’t exactly recall how she used to sound, for example. Her bark used to be low and clear until she got pneumonia, then she sounded hoarse. But Singer’s bark is definitely different than Saylor’s, it is louder and sharper sounding, sometimes ending with a low growl, depending on the circumstances. It has overlaid my memory of Saylor’s bark.

Saylor was a very vocal dog. She would whine for treats and stamp her foot impatiently if we didn’t give them to her right away. Very Scarlett O’Hara. She was irresistible. But this antic is fading. Singer has her own distinct style. She doesn’t quite  “beg” (it would seem rude to her.) But she looks with her huge waif eyes at the food, and sniffs so loudly you can hear her across the room. She makes her wishes known. And when you tell her “No!” she gives a baleful look, as if to say she’s sorry, but then she immediately turns her attention back to that wonderful pork chop just sitting there on the plate. Usually I end up pushing her backwards and telling her to “sit!” or “Go lay down!” She gives me a vapid look, as if to say, “I don’t understand what that means…sorry!” Pretty soon, I will have to get tougher on her, she’s quite the actress. I know I will have to tell her, “Hey, quit your Little Orphan Annie act, girlie, the jig is up! You’re a part of the family now, and rules apply to everyone!” Then she’ll quickly give a glance to Dakota, who will sneer at her. She’s too smart for her own good.

Dakota has always had his own set of rules. He could always jump on the table, for example (are you all horrified? I do wipe it down before meals and afterwards…) And his dishes are up high, away from Saylor initially, and now Singer. Funny, that was the thing I worried about most with Singer, that she would be snarfing down the cat food, standing on her hind legs and carefully moving the dish to her mouth like Saylor always did. But she has kept her distance from Dakota’s food. Until last night, that is.

She finally felt brave enough, or relaxed enough, or secure enough, or all three, to swipe down Dakota’s food dishes, and gobble them up while we were at our yoga class. She was quite clumsy about it--she spilled Dakota’s water all over the floor and upended the dishes. Saylor always was careful not to spill and she’d thoughtfully leave morsels in the dish for Dakota. But Singer moved in like a tornado, all memories of her loving licks apparently wiped clean. And she cleaned his dish so not a speck of food was left. I scolded her when we came back, but she looked like the kid who says, “Yeah, right, next time I’ll just not get caught!”

I decided to put up a flimsy cardboard barrier. Jeff took one look at it and said, “You really don’t expect that to keep her away, do you?”  Actually, it’s just a warning to her. I know she’s smart enough to know she’s not supposed to do that, and I want to see if she goes ahead anyway. Then it’s war time, baby! I will implement a sturdier, Irish setter proof system to keep Dakota’s food safe. And allow Singer to dream up something else that she wants…

I think this is called “battle of the wills” and every parent ends up fighting this, (or not). Let’s bring it on.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Big Red

Check out Big Red on YouTube. For those of you who never have seen it, and for those of you who have.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's Next?

Oh, I love to think about what is happening next. With Singer, she’s completed her intermediate family dog training class, and now the thought is looming in my mind:  What do we do with her now?

I have a yoga dog calendar in my office, and the February picture shows a pitbull doing the Cat-Cow pose, holding his left front paw forward and his back right paw in the opposite direction. Of course, these shots were probably Photo-shopped, but they are amusing. Yoga for dogs?

I asked the teacher after our last class on Saturday, who told me she isn’t quite ready for a class that I thought sounded intriguing:  Dog Park Class. She is still skittish around some other dogs—she gave a warning growl to a goofy, large Great Dane puppy, who at eighteen months is still a giant, and apparently threatening to Singer. I made her “apologize” to Finch, who is a very happy go lucky, lovable guy, by taking her over to him, and letting her sniff his huge jaws while I tightly held her leash. Hopefully, she realized, “Oops! He’s just a puppy yet, no danger here!” Finch’s owner was very understanding.

So we may consider taking an assessment class to see how Singer does around big dogs, since she had a scary incident at eighteen months where she was attacked by another dog. Or, we may just continue for a bit, and see what develops…

Singer is now allowed to roam the house with Dakota when we’re at work. My son comes home mid-afternoon and lets her out. But she bounds to the door when we come home, ready for a walk. She actually seems excited about her walks now.

Other developments:  she is braver coming towards the table now, and sniffs loudly when food is present. I keep pushing her away, although I don’t want to yell at her. Yet. And she sometimes climbs on the table to look out the window as we leave. Saylor used to do that, too. Irish setters love their people. And we love them!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Enchantment of My Dog

Singer with that mesmerized look...

Singer continues to be fascinated with our backyard. I amend that:  she is absolutely mesmerized by the wildlife and incredible action out there. She will spend several minutes watching shadows on the snow in bright sunlight, her tail in a dizzying whirl. I don’t know what it is—the shadows flitting across the landscape from birds flying overhead, or her mind’s eye imagining a forest full of animals? Does she see little critters scurrying away in golf ball sized holes in the snow? Does she imagine little dark mice running for their lives across the crusty snow ridges made by her galloping paws? Or maybe she’s just mesmerized by the sights and sounds of the outdoors. In any case, she loves to go outside and spend several minutes getting mesmerized…It’s like an addiction for her. I joke that her eyes become whirling orbs in her head, like those old cartoons of hypnotized victims, their hands (paws) out in front of them, ready to do the enchanter’s bidding. She is definitely enchanted. The backyard must have a magical wizard out there who is controlling my dog. Maybe he lives in the old apple tree, eating last fall’s rotten apples that have fallen on the ground. The wizard has captured her attention and whisked her away from her warm home, her couch, her kitty friend, Dakota, and of course, me. The pull of this sorcerer is great—she gets up while snuggled on the couch beside me as I read at night, the irresistible magnet making her pace around the house until we let her out, so she can find this mystical wizard who is invisible yet as powerful as a tornado that sweeps her off into the night.

Last Saturday, our next to last class, we upped the ante with getting our dogs to sit while behind fences, and with our backs turned. Singer, good sport, watched my hand movements, and tried hard to figure out what I wanted from her. It took several tries to learn how to sit with a fence in front of her. We still are working on sit while I stand at an angle to her. Eventually, she will know that sit means sit anywhere I happen to be, and not just while standing directly in front of her. Back home, Jeff and I played the name game with her—he upstairs, me downstairs, calling her back and forth, back and forth. She loved the game, and the treats. I remember Saylor loved it, too.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

A Lassie Moment

This morning, Singer watched from the couch as I debated with Jeff whether or not to leave her in the house instead of the crate before we left for work. It’s time that we allowed her free roam of the house while we’re gone, I think. I argued that we can make sure all food is put away and slippers are behind closed doors. She’s a good dog, she should be granted access to her couch, water bowl, and windows so she can view her backyard. She watched us nervously, and then I gave in. “Come on, Singer,” I called her. She obediently went to the basement and into her crate without coaching.

It’s what I call a “Lassie moment” – when a dog seems to have almost human abilities.

I couldn’t help wondering if she somehow caught the drift of our conversation and decided to end the debate herself by choosing the crate. I’ll never know, but it is tempting to consider her powers of discernment and draw the line between that thought and her willing entry into the crate. Did she “decide” that she would curb the tension between us and just go willingly? How could an animal reason in this sophisticated way? [“My dog is smarter than your honor student” bumper stickers come to mind…] Or was it merely free floating anxiety that helped her to choose the crate, her awareness of its source completely detached from her reality? It’s probably the latter. She might have picked up on a bit of tension between Jeff and I this morning as we debated the issue, then decided to head for the crate as a place of safety. It’s not like we were fighting mad, so the option of her reasoning powers coming into play is not entirely implausible. But if she really understood her options, would she choose the crate over her beloved couch and windows?

I think she knows the word “crate” and she surely heard the word as we discussed the issue. I asked Nate before he left for work what he thought, and he also opted for the crate. I was outnumbered. It’s tempting to think Singer figured out the issue and decided to take the matter into her own paws. Is this just another example of inappropriate anthropomorphizing or legitimate speculation on how much do animals really understand our world?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Useful Stereotypes

I know why we use stereotypes—it helps us to better understand people who seem rather “foreign” to us. Anything familiar that we can attach to an unknown person helps us to move closer to them and perhaps even try harder to further understand them as individuals. Or not.

Stereotypes also inspire us to place people on the shelves, never to be considered again because we already “know” them. It's a way of skimming a person’s essence, an overly assured summing up of faults and virtues that never considers the evidence. Very unscientific, unless you think of stereotypes as a sort of hypothesis, which I do.

Stereotypes used in this manner, where the truth lay scattered in the future while using evidence as it comes in to shape and build that truth, can actually be somewhat helpful. Sitting on the fence about someone while letting your hypothesis take its course, or turn in another direction, will move you closer to your goal of understanding. Even with dogs. Or cats. In fact, didn’t we all start our pet relationships with a stereotype of a puppy or kitten? How many stereotypes have we all heard about dogs and cats? How many have been broken?

If I were to pick a stereotype to describe Singer, I would say she is like Cinderella, the lonely stepsister whose less attractive/dumber stepsisters treated her badly. But I actually know this to be untrue. She was well taken care of by her previous owners, although another female dog attacked her when she was eighteen months old (a jealous stepsister?). Still, I’ve been keeping this theory on ice for a reason.

The reason is that I don’t want to allow a stereotyped image of Singer to control how I handle her. I’m afraid I spoiled Saylor because of her health issues, which overly influenced how I perceived her and she eventually grew fat. I don’t want Singer to feel she is more entitled to love, attention, affection, etc. because I have this notion of her being deprived of it in the past. And I do think dogs (and yes, even Dakota!) are smart enough to figure out how to keep the love forthcoming like a spigot turned on full blast. Just like kids, they figure out ways to get the best response from us, positioning themselves to lap up all the attention, food, and love that they can get. Picture Singer and Dakota on their backs, their mouths wide open underneath the spigot. There is no moral thermometer that says “I’ve had my share—it’s time to give Mom a break and let her attend to her own needs for once! Or maybe she can give some attention to her husband, now…” Actually, it’s my responsibility to know when to say “enough!”

Because I am neurotic, I tend to worry about my pets’ self esteem probably a little too much. I worry about how Singer is adjusting to our home, whether she thinks often of her old home, and whether, when she is looking through her fence at some distant animal in the next yard, she is actually contemplating running away from home. My thoughts quickly jump to how I can make sure she is happy, busy, and feeling well loved. Then I notice the time, and have to relegate the task for later. But her soft red head will appear in my thoughts throughout the day, and I will smile as I plan for our next walk. And the stereotype of a good owner actually makes me feel good. I am trying hard not to let stereotypes rule my thoughts so much, so I will just allow myself to look forward to a simple walk with my dog. That’s all I can do, and somehow I know this is enough.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Competition Among the Animals

Today in our dog training class, we learned about how to get a dog jealous in order for her to behave. Problem is, we don’t have another dog to make her jealous, so I guess we’ll just have to use Dakota! The teacher showed us how it works:  First, ask your dog to do something challenging, like come when she is distracted. Another teacher with lots of goodies in her hand let a standard white poodle, Rosie, get a big sniff, and then she also used a squeaky toy to really get her attention. Rose did not come when her owner called. So her owner came up to Rosie, showed her the treats she had in her hand, and while Rosie watched, she announced that she was giving Topper and Winston the treats because Rosie did not come. “Too bad!” she shouted behind her shoulder and we all laughed as Rosie looked on, clearly disappointed. It was quite a show.

When it was Singer's turn, she obeyed me immediately. She tends to be afraid of strangers, and I think she didn't want to pay any attention to the teacher, despite the delectable goodies and toy in her hand. But if she were a squirrel, there'd be a different outcome, I'm sure!

I’ve noticed that there is a distinct competition going on between Singer and Dakota for my affections. It seems stronger than the one between Saylor and Dakota ever was. I will be petting Dakota and kissing him and Singer will rush over to get some, too. Dakota doesn’t like it when I give Singer too much attention, he can get nasty and is not afraid to show it. I’m not sure how I might use Dakota to get Singer jealous, but I do give Dakota treats that Singer doesn’t get. She doesn’t seem to mind.

We took Singer in the backyard after class and worked on her recall. She’s been so mesmerized with the animals in the backyard lately, she will spend extra minutes not coming and she hardly comes at all for Jeff. Today, she was coming pretty consistently for him with treats at short distances. I’m hoping he has time this week to work with her on recall. I too want to reinforce it.

Singer’s head smells like a baby’s head when she’s been on her walk, all warm and soft. I love kissing her head. The scent is like a comforting memory that stays with me throughout the day.

Today was another beautiful day, sunny with just patches of snow left. Singer enjoyed two walks, one from me and one from Jeff. We loved the fresh air. My camera’s batteries gave out as I tried to get some shots of Singer on her walk with Jeff. I hope to get some today and upload more pictures soon.