Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Belgian/Australian relations

Banner has been here for 4 weeks. There are days when I come home from work and swear he’s grown visibly while I was gone. He has road tripped to an obedience seminar, stayed all night in a motel with a minimum of drama, been to a fun match and starts puppy kindergarten tonight. I am fighting the frantic compulsion to call in sick to work and stay home to play with him and take pictures of him all day long because he will never be this little again.

His “training” at this point is mostly about learning how to function in our house. How not to get eaten by the malinois. (100% success rate.) How to go outside to pee. (Seriously. All the way out. Not just on the porch.) How to go into a crate on command. How not to bite your brother on the tail. (Yes, he has one. You don’t. You can’t have his.) How to do steps. How to do steps with a toy in your mouth. (Toys in your mouth do not, repeat NOT, enable you to fly.) How to get out of a crate by sitting quietly. How to get your toenails clipped and have your fur brushed and have your teeth looked at and your ears poked at. How not to jump on your brother’s head and bite his whiskers. (See previous reference to how not to get eaten by the malinois.) How not to pounce on the gray cat. (Epic fail.)

Is he learning “obedience”? Sure. He’ll do all sorts of amazing things with a cookie on his nose and that’s just fine with me right now. I’m introducing sit, down, stand, come and heel but the most important thing I want him to learn is that playing games with me is FUN!

These are the Big Dog's toys. But right now they're mine.

Phoenix is slowly warming up to the idea of being a big brother. For the first two weeks, he wanted nothing to do with Banner. NO. THING.

Yeah, yeah it’s cute and all that crap, hope you kept the receipt so you can take it back.

You’re not taking it back?

Why aren’t you taking it back?

In the last few days there have been marked improvements in Belgian/Australian relations. Banner has demonstrated usefulness in two areas that Phoenix finds worthy of merit.

1) Banner can make the cats run. The cats will not run from Phoenix. When he approaches, they go belly up like dead bugs and pat his nose with their paws when he sniffs them. Not much fun. They take one look at Banner and can’t leave fast enough.

Last night Phoenix was determinedly ignoring Banner until he flushed a cat out of hiding and made it run. Phoenix took advantage of the rule that objects in motion tend to stay in motion and pursued the running cat, who bolted to safety up a tree or underneath the patio furniture. The dogs seemed to be having a grand time of this. The cats, not so much, but since they refused to leave the patio and back yard I had a hard time feeling very sorry for them.

2) Banner will chase him. Phoenix loves to be chased by another dog. Jamie chased him all the time in play. Phoenix returned the favor but really preferred to be the chase-ee, not the chaser. Banner is happy to be the chaser and since catching is not going to be part of the equation any time soon, this seems to be a mutually agreeable arrangement.

Show me the cookie.

After 4 weeks, I’ve compiled a Top Ten list of things I’m really enjoying about having an Aussie:

1) No tails to get caught in doors.

2) The butt wiggle is really quite adorable.

3) Not nearly as many holes in my clothes as when Phoenix was the same age.

4) Clear toenails for the first time in 15 years.

5) Flying leap with twisting butt wiggle and head stand makes me laugh.

6) Not nearly as many holes in me as when Phoenix was the same age.

7) Bubbles with enthusiasm for whatever activity I suggest.

8) Loves to play in water. Wading pool, good. Kitchen water bowl, bad.

9) White paws show up in the dark.

10) I get to shop for new stuff: new dumbbells, new articles, new collars, etc. Belgian hand-me-downs are not gonna work this time.

Chewing on toys pictures are the easiest ones to take right now. Because he's not moving.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Two weeks

Banner has been here for two weeks already. He is a good puppy. For initial purposes, “good” means “quiet in a crate.” Beyond that, “good” is a rather vague word that covers a multitude of behaviors from “rides in the car without barfing” to “lets me cut his toenails without having a meltdown” to “flies at me like he’s been launched from a cannon when I call him.”

I’m willing to overlook lapses in “good” (attacking shoes, refusal to release said shoe, gleeful attacking of another shoe upon eventual release of initial shoe) because for the love of doG, how can you scold something that is so stinkin’ cute? So far, the height of Banner’s naughtiness has been random chomping of human skin and a determination to pester the cats until they pack up and leave. Which they won’t, because they are fascinated by him in a horrified sort of way.

You are about to exceeded the limits of my medication! But I can't leave you alone.

It took three nights for Banner to decide the world wasn’t coming to an end when he had to go in a crate so the humans could sleep. He’s quiet at night now. This is not the same as sleeping through the night. Apparently there are a lot of entertaining things you can do in a crate at 2 a.m. I can hear him banging around, growling to himself and the occasional sound of cloth tearing. He shows a predisposition to becoming an absolutely first class shredder.

Phoenix is not sure about this big brother gig. He shows general disdain mingled with cautious interest and alternates between curling his lip and wagging his tail. I spend a lot of time on Phoenix And Banner Management. It would be wonderful to see them romping in the back yard together but I’m not in a hurry to reach that point.

Phoenix has a big personal space. He does not like dogs in his personal space. He especially does not like dogs jumping on his head. Puppies excel at jumping on other dogs’ heads. I am pretty sure Banner would manage to offend him beyond all reasonable expectation in very short order if they were loose together.

While my friends all assure me they’ll be best buddies, I realize most of them live with dogs who are accepting and tolerant and actually enjoy meeting and interacting with new dogs. Phoenix is not and does not. I knew when I brought a puppy home that it would take a while for Phoenix to warm up to the idea that a puppy in the house was okay, let alone decide he could play with one.

There was a puppy in this picture 2 seconds ago. Seriously. He was right there.

So I’m careful. Sometimes they go outside separately. Sometimes together, but only with Banner on a leash to prevent him from doing anything rash.

To his credit, Banner has been reasonably respectful in the limited interaction he’s had with Phoenix. He’s gotten in a few quick muzzle licks, usually when I’m holding him and Phoenix makes what appears to be an obligatory sniff. Phoenix has returned these with soft tail wags and there has been some play-bowing and the appearance of “party ears.” I’m not in a hurry to toss the two of them together. Phoenix is 52 pounds of hard muscle without a lot of tolerance. Banner is 12 pounds of fuzz without a lot of good sense.

I’ve been trying to do one brief leash walk with both of them together each day. Preferably in the evening. Preferably when Banner is tired and much less likely to do something reckless. Banner capers and cavorts and manages to bump into Phoenix’s haunches and flanks. Phoenix doesn’t seem to mind this.

Squishy balls are the best. Unless you can have a fuzzy toy. Then have the fuzzy toy. Unless you can have a cookie. Then have the cookie. Unless you can have pats and thumps. Then have pats and thumps.

Pack management aside, puppy training is an absolute blast. I use “training” in the most general of terms. Since Banner has so much to learn - about life on a farm, cats, malinois, cheese, crates, diesel pickup trucks - every minute I spend with him is some sort of training. Everything he experiences brings him new knowledge.

He has no preconceived notion that training could ever be boring or unpleasant. Everything in his life to this point has been done to show him that humans are trustworthy, gentle, fun, safe and loaded with all the good stuff. I want to expand this to show him that if he encounters something scary (the cement deer in my mother-in-law’s yard) that I’ll be there to keep him safe and help him be brave (really hoping my mother-in-law didn’t see me sticking pieces of cheese to the deer. Or Banner gnawing on the deer’s leg.)

It's a scientific fact, flower beds are puppy magnets.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

I can't make this stuff up

Subhead: The glamorous side of dogs and living in the country

One night earlier this week, the Farmer and I went to a funeral visitation for his uncle. The Farmer's mother doesn't drive any more, so we took her with us. We took her car, because she can't step up into R2 and even if she could, there's no room for 3 people. (The Farmer's mother is very nice. She keeps a car so other people can drive her places. It works out.)

When we got back from the church, we parked her car at her house and walked up to our place because it's not that far away. I let Phoenix out of his outdoor kennel. He was in a state. He was wild eyed, his ribs were heaving and his tongue was hanging out a mile. If he'd been a horse, he would have been in a lather.

I looked around. It was a quiet summer evening. Nothing could account for this state of affairs. I turned him loose. He ran across the yard and had profuse diarrhea. Then he seemed much happier so I cleaned up the mess, we went inside, I fed Banner and started to fix our supper. The jury was out on Phoenix, so no supper until he settled down.

Within minutes, Banner threw his supper back up in a series of tidy little piles all over his crate. Why make one big pile when you can make six little ones? This either distressed him or was cause for celebration because he began bouncing around in his crate, sending slimy kibble grenades shooting out across the kitchen floor. I put our supper on hold, took the puppy out of the crate and cleaned up the mess. Banner seemed no worse for the wear. I decided he'd probably been too hungry and had gobbled his food down too fast.

The humans' supper got cooked, served and eaten. Phoenix hung out under the table, which is customary. After the meal was done, he got up and left. There was blood smeared all over the floor where he had been laying. I called Phoenix back and did a fast inspection of paws, which are always the most likely culprits. Keep in mind that Phoenix has a pain threshold that is off the charts. I quit expecting him to yelp or cry when he's hurt about 5 years ago when he ran through the rotary hoe in the barn (chasing a cat) and sliced his flank open, then gave absolutely no indication that anything was wrong, only irritation that the cat had eluded him.

His paws looked fine. He seemed unconcerned. Poking and prodding on various body parts elicited no response other than a "Don't you have anything better to do?" look. I cleaned up the mess.

Since I'd already dealt with diarrhea, vomit and blood in the last 30 minutes, I figured a big old pee puddle was probably next on the agenda and decided to take Banner outside as a pre-emptive strike.

I glanced out the kitchen window. A black cat was staggering around the back yard. We do not have a black cat.

The cat lurched around on the inside of the fence, stiff-legged and jerky. It ran into the fence. It fell down. It got up and ran into the fence again. It wandered in a circle and started running. It was nearly skeletal in appearance, dull black fur stretched over protruding bones. I yelled for the Farmer.

"Where's the rifle?"

There are some things you never say at our house unless you absolutely mean it. These include "The barn is on fire," "The cows are out" and "Call the ambulance." "Where's the rifle?" is another and it's largely a rhetorical question because it means "Get the rifle, something needs shootin'."

When you live in the country, sometimes things need shootin'. Usually it's raccoons, possums, groundhogs, skunks and other vermin that end up in the wrong place at the wrong time. We have a .22 that serves as a multi-purpose varmint gun.

"It's in the machine shed," the Farmer yelled back. He was already out the door. The cat was stumbling across the yard. I bolted for the machine shed, grabbed the gun and met the Farmer just in time to see the cat disappear around the grain bin. I handed him the gun. I hate shooting things, even when it's a mercy killing. I'm always afraid the animal won't die on the first shot and I'll cause more suffering.

The Farmer knows this. He took the gun and disappeared. In less than a minute, a single loud crack echoed off the buildings.

"The cat didn't even act like it saw me," he said when he came back. Pause. "You're gonna clean that up, right?"

I cleaned up the mess.

So many times, when a wild animal is "sick," we never know what's wrong with it - only that it's "not right." Over the years we've been married, there have been several "not right" raccoons and skunks that we've shot near the house and barns. While doing carcass disposal, I wondered what was wrong with the cat. Rabies? Distemper? I'll never know.

Back at the house, the barn cats (who am I kidding - the PATIO cats) had all reappeared and were demanding their supper. I carried their kitty kibble out to the garage, stepped inside and walked into the fifth mess of the evening.

Phoenix's outside run is 6 x 12 foot chain link kennel both inside and outside of the garage. The inside portion was a train wreck. The big water bowl had been overturned. Ring gates and PVC jumps had been knocked off the top of the dog box and lay in a haphazard sprawl across the floor. Things that had been leaning against the outside of the chain link panels had been toppled over. Clearly, Phoenix's meltdown earlier in the evening had been directed against something inside the garage. I'm guessing it was the black cat and I'm guessing he was throwing himself at the chain link panels, trying to chase it off. I cleaned up the mess.

Sitting in my recliner later, I was blissfully enjoying a moment in time that did not involve a funeral visitation, diarrhea, vomiting, bleeding, "not right" feral cats, gun shots, blood spatter or carcass disposal. Phoenix leaped up on the recliner with me and began licking his paws. This is an evening ritual. He licks his paws, me, the chair, my book, my phone, my laptop and anything else he can reach. He is a serial licker.

Only that night, he was only licking his paws. One paw in particular. One spot in particular. I grabbed the leg and held it up in the light. He'd ripped the skin off most of the "bumper pad" on that leg, probably while trying to chase the cat in the garage. Well, that accounted for the blood on the kitchen floor. Mystery solved. Fortunately, those are quick to heal.

Mama said there'd be days like this.

Monday, July 28, 2014

The demise of the Evil Hedgehog of Doom

Banner has made himself at home. I think Phoenix has quit looking for the receipt so he can return him when I'm not looking. I even caught the Farmer holding him this morning. They were having quite a conversation. It mostly consisted of "You're awfully cute. Stop biting me."

Being cute and biting things are what Banner does best.

Today, he killed the Evil Hedgehog of Doom.

The  Evil Hedgehog of Doom (EHD) had been the bane of many obedience classes I taught during the last couple of years. I used it for proofing scenarios. There could be 20 toys on the floor and dogs would deliberately go clear across the room to avoid the EHD. I have no idea why.

Fear not, obedience dogs of eastern Iowa. The Evil Hedgehog of Doom has been vanquished by Banner the Bold. Okay, actually, Phoenix the Wild brought it down. Banner just finished it off.

P.S. The tug he was playing with in the first photo of my last post was made by dogdreamstoys.com. Several people had asked.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Banner: Day 2

Day 2: trip to the vet for a well-puppy exam, visit to the newspaper office, ride in the Gator to check cows (cows are VERY exciting, if you didn't know), practicing quiet time in a crate and lots of playing outdoors once it quit raining.

Toys are a big hit. Any toy. Any time.

Dog trainers' mad skills mean they can tug with one hand and take pics with the other. 
Method not recommended for dogs weighing more than 10 pounds.

For the record, he CAN fit a full-size tennis ball in his mouth.

A little soft focus here but that's what you get when 
a 10-pound projectile is launching itself at your head.

And finally, Phoenix is notably absent from these photos. He is trying so hard to ignore Banner it's almost pathetic. Okay, he's not just trying, he's SUCCEEDING and it IS pathetic. Phoenix likes Banner - when he's in a crate or an x-pen. But when "it" is loose, he finds somewhere else to be. Banner is fascinated by Phoenix but has absolutely no idea that jumping on someone's head is neither appropriate nor appreciated. I'm keeping the two carefully separated until Phoenix starts to show genuinely friendly - or at least tolerant - interest. There's no rush.

Until then, Phoenix is pretty sure Banner's only redeeming social value is that he has a lot of cool new toys that Phoenix is allowed to play with and also, when Banner has a yowling fit (LEMME OUTTA HERE RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE DO YOU HEAR ME!!!!), Phoenix gets cookies.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Introducing . . .

CedarWoods Once Upon a Time

Banner came home to Iowa yesterday.

The cats are horrified. Seriously. Totally appalled.

Weezel is pretty much the only one who will have anything to do with him.

The beginning of a bad idea.

Mutual fascination.

Collars? We don't need no stinkin' itchy collars.

There will be more pics coming. Right now we're trying to get a handle on the simple stuff, like mastering the step at the back door, the concept of being quiet in a crate and not jumping on Phoenix's head. You know - the stuff that will keep you alive.

Already this morning he has met my teenage niece (much gushing, cooing and cuddling), met my brother-in-law (who asked "Are you going to try to train this one, too?"), 4 cats (3 of whom looked at him like "WTH?" and one who had an absolute hissy fit meltdown), watched a tractor, went for a little walk, tried to make friends with Phoenix (hard to make friends with someone who ignores you) and is now having a nap.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Eight days and counting

I am absurdly, ridiculously, wildly excited about the prospect of a summer puppy. Taking a walk down the frozen, ice-slick memory lane of Phoenix’s arrival explains a lot.  He was not a summer puppy. He was a February puppy.

I took a week off from work for puppy bonding after he arrived. I got puppy bonding all right, along with a major ice storm that hit within hours of getting home from the airport with him. It knocked out power in eastern Iowa for the better part of a week. We were off the grid for six days. No lights. No heat. No computer. No TV. That was the week I cooked a pizza on a gas grill. You haven’t lived until you’ve grilled a pizza by lantern light and eaten it with a malinois puppy stuffed inside your coat in a house where you can see your breath in the air. Good times.

During the day, I sat on the living room floor, wearing a parka over insulated Carhartt bib-overalls, a stocking cap and gloves and played with Phoenix. In the evening, I sat in my recliner and read by lantern light with him snuggled under a blanket on my lap while the Farmer listened to Iowa Hawkeye basketball on the radio.

Then we went to bed and crawled under every blanket we owned, topped by my sleeping bag, with Phoenix wedged comfortably (for him) under my arm. If anyone had to pee in the middle of the night, we crawled out of our snug nest, shoved feet into cold boots, made our way through the cold house by flashlight and found the human toilet (I was hauling water from the cattle tanks so we could flush) or went outdoors into the black infinity that is Iowa in February at 2 a.m. The average temp outdoors that week was between 30 and 32 degrees. The average temp in the house that week was about 40 degrees.

I’ve never had a summer puppy before. Never. Ever. Jess came in March (cold, dark, wet, fog, snow), Connor in November (cold, dark, wet, fog, trying to snow), Jamie in late September and Phoenix in February. Jamie was the closest thing I ever had to a summer puppy but his arrival at the end of September coincided with quickly diminishing daylight hours that restricted outdoor activity and dropping temps made middle-of-the-night trips outdoors a goosebumpy affair.

The idea of bringing a puppy home when there are warm temps and long hours of evening sunshine fills my heart with such paroxysms of joy I can barely stand it. Really. You have no idea. Bottom line, I’m looking forward to being able to make outdoor potty runs in the middle of the night in a T-shirt and flip-flops and not get frostbite or get clunked on the head by an ice-coated tree limb crashing down.

No, I don’t know which puppy is coming to Iowa. Yes, it’s driving me crazy. Yes, that’s a short trip. No, I don’t have a problem with it. The breeder is doing all she can to help me decide. I’ve seen the puppies exactly once, for five wonderful hours earlier this month. She has lived with them for nearly 8 weeks, watched them grow and change. Although any given puppy might be “the one” on any given day, I trust her judgement to help me choose the right one based on two months of interacting with them daily. Honestly, the day I visited the litter, I often found it difficult to look beyond the forest to study the individual trees - the presence of nine bouncy, outgoing, fuzzy puppies made it hard to focus on a single one for very long. Sitting on the grass with puppies tumbling in and out of my lap pretty much reduced my brain to oxytocin-saturated mush.

Even worse, after years of Belgian-blinded vision, it was damn near impossible to tell the five blue merle boys apart and think I only identified the four black tri’s correctly about half of the time. Unless the puppy in question was facing me and held still for longer than 2 seconds, I had a really hard time identifying the little beasts (smallest tri girl, wild tri girl, dilute blue boy, full white collar blue boy, solo tri boy, etc., etc.) and remembering what their puppy call names were so the breeder and I could have a sensible conversation about them.

My puppy-picking skills have never been based on scientific approach or strict behavior evaluations. I picked Jess out of his litter when he was five or six weeks old. I chose him because he was the only puppy who did not have a full white collar. Connor picked me. Truly. He was an accident - the puppy I wasn’t looking for and didn’t need but met by chance and suddenly desperately wanted. I picked Jamie - it was a simple choice between him (already showing promise of grace and elegance at 8 weeks) and his brother (who was a short-legged, lumpy sort of pup). Phoenix’s breeder picked him for me.

My current quandary is not which of nine puppies to choose but which of two puppies to choose. Or maybe three. But probably two. One is a boy. One is a girl. When I saw them at 6 weeks, they were both lovely - animated, tuggy, follow-y (is that a word? it is now), kissy and engaging. Social. Bold. Lovely structure. Pretty markings. Over the top stinkin' adorable.

Friends who always have boy dogs tell me to get the boy. Friends who always have girl dogs tell me to get the girl. Friends who have had both tell me to pick the one that I feel is right. I’ve always had boys. I thought I wanted another boy. Now I’m not so sure. But a girl is an unknown quantity. A boy is a known quantity. Sort of. I thought Phoenix was a known quantity. He was only too happy to prove me wrong. I don’t want the boy vs. girl debate to cloud my decision. I need to pick the puppy who is right for me, never mind if it has outdoor plumbing or indoor plumbing.

The Farmer is no help. He rolls his eyes and says, "Get the one that makes you happy." Phoenix is no help. He just fixes me with that Malinois/Jedi stare and I can hear him thinking, "Cat. In the house. You want a cat. In. The. House."

Since I’m already making a drastic switch in appearance, maybe it’s time to really switch it up and bring a girl home. A little estrogen in the house would be a fine thing.