Saturday, October 25, 2014

Life, death, sunshine and dogs

On Tuesday morning, a co-worker found our boss dead on her office floor at the newspaper. She had been working late the previous night and had a heart attack. She was 54, a kind, generous person who was patient with us, often beyond reason. I got to work about 5 minutes after the ambulance, EMTs, two sheriff's deputies and local police chief arrived. My "job" was standing outside the office door, telling co-workers what happened as they arrived.

Her funeral was this morning. It's a lovely October day, cool and breezy with lots of sunshine. Diane was a loyal University of Iowa Hawkeyes fan. They played the Iowa fight song at the end of the funeral. The Hawkeyes have a bye week, so no football game today. Good thing. We laughed that Diane would come back and haunt anyone who planned her funeral the same day as a home game in Iowa City.

Afterward and I spent a couple of hours outdoors with Phoenix and Banner. Not training. Not doing anything in particular. I got my camera and sat in the grass and watched them play. I tried out Banner's brand new sit/stay to take some head shots. They were easier to take than the running-amuck-with-a-ball shots but not really as much fun.

I'll share them, just because they are full of joy and the beauty of being alive on an autumn afternoon.

Just because he can.

Hello, love. Come here often?

Look! Proper ears! Without tape!

Ears! Seriously! I'm absurdly excited about this!

Wingardium Aussiosa!
(Harry Potter fans will get it. The rest of you muggles have to figure it out yourselves.)

Lady Siren

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Updates on things

Gentle readers, I have been horribly remiss in keeping this blog up to date. A combination of Big Changes at work, plus harvest season at home plus the general chaos that is life with two dogs (especially when one of them is a puppy) has rendered my brain incapable of thinking much beyond the immediate needs of the present.

Banner is now almost 5 months old. He graduated from a local puppy class in September and was voted Most Likely To Succeed. It was a very fun puppy class, albeit totally focussed on home obedience. This translates to "it doesn't matter HOW the puppy sits, just get him to sit."

There's nothing wrong with that but I caught the two instructors giving me The Look as I worked to get a fast, straight, tight, tucked sit with Banner while the rest of the class was waving cookies in the air and shouting "SitSitSit!" It was clear after the first session that I had been pegged as "One Of THOSE People."

Again, not a bad thing - I knew when I signed up for the class that it was not a competition based class and I didn't care. At that time, Phoenix was making it clear that he wanted NOTHING to do with his new brother and I wanted to have Banner around friendly puppies his own age at least once a week so he didn't grow up thinking all dogs were snarky asses.

As luck would have it, the ink was barely dry on the three-digit check (holy crap, when did puppy classes get so expensive?) when Phoenix decided Banner was the coolest thing ever and they became best buds.

The class was good for Banner and I on several different levels. Beyond the obvious "meet new people and make new friends and let Banner play with adorable puppies his own size," it gave me a chance to work with him in an extremely challenging environment and establish interaction with me as more rewarding than interaction with other puppies.

Some nights this went better than others, which I expected. I didn't feel badly about allowing him to play with the other puppies in the course of the evening. After all, he IS a puppy! With the class behind us, and with Banner having shown me that he is socially and environmentally confident, I'm backing off on letting him play immediately with every friendly dog we encounter.

This is hard.

I love to watch dogs play. I love to watch their subtle body language. Dogs who play together frequently are masters as reading one another. Their play is a choreography of leaping, chasing, pausing and spinning. It's fun to watch. It makes me smile.

I don't mind that Banner plays with Phoenix at home. They are pack mates. But I don't want Banner thinking that classes and shows are a never-ending playground where he gets to entertain himself by romping with every dog he encounters.

And ignoring me in the process.

At 5 months, knowing that Banner is a sound, confident, socially adept little guy, it's time to reduce the amount of reinforcement he gets from playing with other dogs and being cuddled and cookied by other people. If I want ME to be his primary reinforcement in life in general and at obedience trials in particular, I can't continue to let him treat the world as his own private theme park where he gets everything he wants just because he wants it.

Yes, he will still get to play with other dogs from time to time. Yes, I will let other people pet him and give him cookies. Good heavens, I'm not the Obedience Nazi. I don't live in a world where other people are never allowed to interact with my dog because heaven forbid, if you give him a cookie he might not listen to me in the ring!

Dogs are social creatures and I have never required my dogs to live in isolation. I like seeing them interact with my friends and I like to interact with my friends' dogs. But now those things need to come with requirements - wait to be released to go visit, work with me a little longer before I release you, play with me even though people are walking into the building, etc.

One thing I was very pleased with during the puppy class was Bann's ability to work with me amidst the chaos of other puppies running amuck. No, he wasn't 100% perfect but did a good job of choosing me over them most of the time. I don't think I'm more fun than another puppy, when it comes right down to it, but I DO control the things that he wants and I'm kinda fun in the process. And he's figuring that out.

I'm on vacation this coming week and hope to write more about Bann's training. As I'm writing this, he and Phoenix are rolling around on the floor by my chair, playing bitey face. Apparently the goal is to see how much of your brother's head you can put in your mouth at any given time. Yeah, Phoenix is winning. Banner seems delighted.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Banner 101

Several people have asked me about Banner's name. So here we go.

I only know one other canine Banner. He is a malinois who belongs to Phoenix's breeder on the West Coast. I thought the dog (and the name) were cool when I met them 7 years ago and the name has been bouncing around in my head since then. I believe Catherine's Banner was born on July 4 and was named after the "Star Spangled Banner."

I like literary names for my dogs - anything tie in with book characters, book titles or the print news media. My very first dog was named after a character in a Little Golden Book, "The Poky Little Puppy." And so it goes.

Are you familiar with the concept of banner headlines in newspapers? They're the sort of thing that if you do them, they kinda need to be correct.

That didn't work out so well for Dewey.

"Dewey Defeats Truman" was an famously incorrect banner headline on the front page of the Chicago Tribune on Nov. 3, 1948, after U.S. President Harry S. Truman won an upset victory over challenger and Governor of New York, Thomas Dewey. Sometimes it really is a good idea to verify your facts.

Other banner headlines make you wonder what the editor was drinking. Although some days the newsroom is like that . . .

It's always good to confirm people are alive before they die.

Banners are traditionally made of cloth and proclaim a heraldic status as it relates to a family, clan or tribe. This is a very fine banner.

Go State!

Banner the Aussie is pleased to be named for the banner men of House Stark in the Game of Thrones. Not a GoT fan? Grab the first book, pull up a chair and cancel your social engagements for the next six weeks. Or you can just catch the series on HBO, which includes a lot of really gorgeous costumes that the characters spend a lot of time taking off.

Banner man of House Stark, riding off to do battle somewhere in Westeros.

Banner looks nothing like a direwolf, even though one of his ears has totally gone whackadoodle at the moment.

This is forecast brought to you by the direwolf, sigil of House Stark.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

An update from the zoo

Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.

No. Seriously.

Several of you, gentle readers, have expressed concern that I had dropped from the face of the blogosphere.

Thank you. I appreciate it. I've had a frustrating lack of time to post lately.

Not to put too fine an edge on it, but work the last couple of weeks has left me not wanting to even look at a computer when I get home, the Farmer keeps finding all kinds of things for me to do to help him (he thinks he's helping me de-stress from the office) and the Belgian/Australian contingent takes up every remaining waking moment and a few sleeping ones, too. Then there's the matter of meals, laundry, groceries . . . I need a house elf!

Banner is 4 months old now. I would love to write about his training and all the stuff he's learning (and I will) but on a cool breezy September afternoon, it's more fun to sit in the yard with a camera. (More fun, but decidedly less safe.)

Do not step in front of a moving malinois. 

Kid, my teeth are bigger than yours and yours are falling out.

Hey Phoenix, remember all those times you grabbed Jamie
by the ruff and hung on? What comes around, goes around, buddy.

A picture is worth a thousand words.
I'm just not sure what this one says.

My camera has auto focus.
It really does.
I swear.

No photographers were injured in the shooting of these pictures.
Although there were several near misses.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Phoenix's breed ring adventure

Over Labor Day weekend, I showed Phoenix in veterans and working sweepstakes at the ABMC regional at the Five Seasons Cluster in Amana, Iowa. It was his first (and honestly, probably last) time in the breed ring but it was fun.

By the time we were done running around the ring and up and back across the ring, Phoenix had decided that in spite of the judge holding her hands centered against her body as we returned to her, she really did not want him to do a front.

HUGE thanks to Sheryl McCormick and her mad photography skills for capturing the moment. The Skinny Li'l Dog cleans up pretty well.

We're back in my comfort zone (the obedience ring) for the rest of the fall.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

You CAN fix anything with duct tape

When I got my first sheltie, Jess, I had no idea you had to do stuff to Sheltie ears to keep them from sticking up. So I didn’t. And they did.

By the time I got Connor, I had wised up and spent the next 11 months being crafty with moleskin and duct tape to ensure a perfect ear set. I got lots of help from people who actually knew what they were doing and in spite of numerous false starts and discombobulated efforts, Connor’s ears didn’t turn out half bad.

This might not be a marketable skill but I was proud of my ability to hold a squirmy puppy while adhering ear braces that would not only last longer than it took to put them in but perform well enough to ensure the puppy’s ears were well set on his head and properly tipped. I could usually get an ear brace to last at least a week, depending on which dogs Connor got to play with during that time. He had one PWD friend who specialized in ear brace removal.

When I got the Belgians, ear worries generally went out the window. I spent Jamie's and Phoenix’s puppyhoods watching their ears flop this way and that, then miraculously overnight, spring upward and stay there with no assistance from me.

By the time Banner arrived, I had happily retreated into ear oblivion, only to be snapped out of it by people repeatedly asking me if I was going to “do his ears.” I hadn't really thought about it. Accidentally. On purpose.

When one of my blog pics showed Bann’s ears flying around at oddball angles, his breeder tactfully suggested I needed to “do ears.” Sigh. It was time to dust off yet another one of the skills that would leave the Farmer scratching his head and saying, "You're going to do WHAT?"

Banner may or may not have a breed ring career. It's not my first priority but you never know where life will lead. I didn't want to look at him at 16 months and think, geez, wish I'd paid more attention to his ears when he was little. Obedience trainers often suffer enough guilt over things gone wrong without adding ear remorse to the list.

Debi had shown me the accepted method of taping Aussie ears and let me tell you, it looked a darn sight easier than the engineering schematic for bracing sheltie ears. It basically involved one long piece of duct tape running from the inside of the ear leather under the chin up to the inside of the other ear leather. How hard could this be? I got out my duct tape and got to work.

Fifteen minutes later I had duct tape stuck in a variety of places on my skin, my clothes, the kitchen table, the kitchen floor and in Banner’s ears. In the latter, it was actually some semblance of where it belonged. I admired my handiwork. All right then.

Banner gave me a baleful look (I would say a hateful  look but he is entirely too sweet of a puppy for that) and immediately started trying to remove the duct tape. I must have done a pretty good job because that tape job stayed put. When it finally came out, days later, his ear set was very pretty but the inside of his ear flaps were full of sticky duct tape gunk that defied being removed. Well, yuck.

Having been cautioned to keep his ears braced during the teething period (which is amping up into full chomping mode as we speak) I decided I would try gluing them next. Surely that would be easier. And much tidier. No icky, sticky duct tape residue. What could go wrong?

Having procured a bottle of Tear Mender glue, the label of which assured me it was “Fast Drying!” I plopped Banner in the Farmer’s lap with admonitions to “Hold the puppy” and set to work. The object was to glue the tips of his ears to his cheeks to ensure the ear leather was shaped downward, not sideways.

It soon became evident that directions to “Hold the puppy” were subject to the same loose interpretation as those to “Watch the puppy.” Banner was doing his best to present a moving target and the Farmer seemed to think that as long as the two of them were occupying the same chair, this constituted “holding still.”

By some miracle (probably the element of surprise) I got Banner’s first ear glued to his cheek without too much fuss. I was admiring my handiwork when I realized, with sinking heart, that now I had to get the other one to match.

I am not good at getting things to match. Trimming ears on my shelties and Jamie was a process that involved a great deal of lip-biting and critical scrutiny while the dogs tried to retract their ears into their skulls. I could trim one ear to perfection, no problem. Getting the other one to match was something else. This often involved trimming “just a little bit more” and “no, wait, just a little bit more,” until the ears in question looked like they were belonged on a ROTC recruitment poster. I never trimmed ears the night before a show. Never. They usually needed at least a week to grow out.

By now Banner was getting impatient, the Farmer’s puppy wrangling skills were getting worse and my aim with the glue bottle left a lot to be desired. Within minutes, I managed to glue Banner’s other ear appropriately. Yay for me! I had also glued my hand to his ruff, glued the Farmer’s T-shirt to the chair and administered a glob of glue to the outside of Banner’s ear for reasons unknown.

This "set" lasted for six days. A merry romp with a litter brother over the weekend freed one ear tip from its sticky confines and a malinois-induced wrestling match took care of the other one the next day. Again, Bann’s ears look lovely  . . . if you can ignore the big wad of gluey cheek fur attached to the inside of one ear tip. And the bald spot on the outside of the other ear where I finally brushed out the residual glue deposit.

I am totally over gluing ears.

We’re going back to the duct tape.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The reality of puppies

The reality of puppies is that they suck up a frighteningly huge amount of time. If Banner is loose in the house he has to be watched 100 percent of the time. Not like “watching the puppy while watching TV” or “watching the puppy and catching up on Facebook.” I mean WATCHING THE PUPPY. Don’t take your eyes off the little begger or he’ll have something inappropriate in his mouth. Like Phoenix’s tail. This is why the Farmer does not watch the puppy.

The alternative to WATCHING THE PUPPY is putting the puppy in his crate. This allows me to function as a normal human being and try to catch up on the 295 little household chores that have not been done because I’ve spent most of my waking time for the last four weeks WATCHING THE PUPPY.  Which accounts for the marked lack of blog posts lately. Sorry.

In order for puppies to learn house manners, they need to be allowed access to the house, or at least a small part thereof. And they need a responsible person to watch them. Know how when you have a medical procedure done and they tell you to bring a “responsible person” with you? I always think you should bring someone who is capable of watching a puppy. Which pretty much eliminates the Farmer but we’ve been married 23 years and I’m still alive. Maybe watching me is easier than watching a puppy.

I digress.

So far, the only bad thing about having a summer puppy is that we spend all our time running around outdoors and not a great deal of progress is being made on house manners ­­— unlike my cold-dark-raining-snowy-ice puppies who learned house manners from the git-go because we spent all our time in the house.

This is where the big time suck comes in. I very much love teaching baby dog obedience exercises but there is a ton of other stuff Banner needs to learn just to be a functioning member of our household - wait at gates and doors, don’t pee in the house, don’t eat the rugs, don’t eat the shoes, how to go up and down stairs, be quiet in a crate, don’t jump on me, don’t jump on your brother’s head (shoulders, back, tail, etc.), don’t drag things off the table, OUCH LET GO OF MY PAJAMA LEG, don’t eat the recliner, don’t eat that nasty dead thing the cats left in the yard, don’t tip over the poop bucket, don’t splash in the kitchen water bowl, let me brush you, let me look at your teeth, let me clip your nails. Some days, it’s a wonder I get anything else done.

I understand why some trainers like to get adult dogs and bypass the “wonder years” of biting, peeing and attempting to commit suicide by jumping on the heads of adult dogs who are not terribly impressed with the idea of puppies.

On that front, Phoenix has truly become the poster child for Big Brother Of The Year.


Would I joke about something like this?

I would not joke about something like this.


It took Phoenix four weeks before he showed even the slightest interest in Banner. I have never seen a dog ignore another dog with such complete conviction that he could make the other dog disappear simply by refusing to acknowledge him. He didn’t want to look at the puppy. He didn’t want to sniff the puppy. He sure as hell didn’t want to play with the puppy.

For the first few weeks, I took the dogs outside to potty one at a time. If they went out together, Banner had to be on a leash to keep him from doing something stupid, like a full frontal head pounce with a half twist and withers bounce. The Belgian judge would have given him very low marks. He might have given him toothmarks.

Banner was fascinated by Phoenix. He was The Big Dog. He was cool. He had the most wonderfully enchanting tail. Totally. Wonderfully. Enchanting. Tail.

Pursuit of that tail was one of the reasons I kept Bann on leash for a long time. A very long time. Sneak attacks on your housemate’s tail is not going to endear you to him.

By the time Phoenix deigned to play with him, Banner had decided the Big Dog was kind of scary, at worse, and kind of a jerk, at best. He’d been snarked at a couple of times and had developed a healthy respect for Phoenix, following him around the yard at a distance, like a small determined paparazzi.

Phoenix’s initial play bows were received with justifiable suspicion. Granted, malinios play bows being what they are, discretion was probably the better part of valor. Phoenix tends to launch into the air and slam all 53 pounds of bone, muscle and sinew back to earth, front legs splayed, tail wagging crazily and a manical look in his eye. The first time he did it, Banner screamed and ran. Phoenix looked at me like, “Okay, seriously, I didn’t do anything to him.”

Things have progressed from there.

Now Banner chases Phoenix merrily around the yard, with Phoenix looking over his shoulder to make sure his little buddy is still in tow. Phoenix tolerates the head pounces and other full body contact with good grace. He even lets Banner take toys away from him. Phoenix will clean his teeth and submit to having his teeth cleaned. They’re not snuggling up and singing Kum-Ba-Yah together but Phoenix actually seems to enjoy having a little sidekick.

Finally. Praise Jesus. For a brief time, I wondered if we were going to end up as one of those segregated “one dog loose at a time” houses.

Now that I trust them enough to let them be loose together, I hope to find the time to get some photos.