Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Farmer and the dogs

Over the years, the Farmer and I have had a number of interesting conversations about the dogs. Since Banner's arrival, these have not diminished.

Farmer: Why does Banner smell different than Phoenix?

Me: I don't know. What does Banner smell like?

Farmer: A dog.

Me (confused): And what does Phoenix smell like?

Farmer: Phoenix doesn't smell.

When I posted this on Facebook, it led to a spirited conversation among friends, the resulting conclusion of which (besides the fact we had all stopped what we were doing to go sniff our dogs) was individual dogs have their own scents and as their lifelong companions, we humans are able to detect these and differentiate between dogs, based on their particular smells.

And the Farmer was right. Phoenix doesn't smell. He is the most odor neutral dog I've ever lived with. Even the scent of shampoo or coat spray disappears within hours after a bath.

Banner, on the other hand, is very adept at finding substances to apply to his coat, which apparently retains every odor it has ever encountered.

***

And then there's training.

Farmer, to Banner: Sit.

Banner looks at him and wags his butt.

Farmer: Sit!

More wagging. No sitting.

While I know this drives some trainers insane, it doesn't really bother me. When I tell my dogs to sit, they sit. Since the Farmer doesn't show them and isn't likely to start any time soon, he can tell them to do whatever he wants and whether he follows through is totally up to him. I suspect the dogs know this and tend to yank his chain by acting blissfully oblivious.

But by the third "Sit!" I decided to intervene.

Me: He's not 100% reliable on a verbal. It helps to give a hand signal, too.

Farmer, raising his right hand: Sit.

No sit.

Me: Um . . . that's the "down" hand. Try it with your left hand.

Farmer, raising left hand: Sit!

Banner's butt hits the ground.

Farmer laughs, gives him a treat and says, "Huh. Didn't know he was left-handed."

***

Banner was sitting on the Farmer's lap one evening while we were watching TV.

Farmer: You sure are a pretty dog. You look just like Connor. Yep, you and Connor look exactly alike.

(Editor's note: Connor was my tricolor sheltie. He's been gone for 5 years.)

I gave him my best "Seriously?" look.

Farmer: Except your nose isn't as long.

More hairy eyeball.

Farmer: And your ears hang down.

Hairy eyeball combines with arched eyebrow.

Farmer: And you don't have a tail.

Hairy eyeball, arched eyebrows and stink-eye.

Farmer: Oh all right. You're black!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Toys and dead things: ne'er the twain shall meet

So I was online, shopping for toys for the dogs. Because heaven knows, Phoenix and Banner don't have enough toys.

I had in mind a couple of new things I wanted to get for Banner because he is continuing his "I am not a malinois" campaign and that extends to toy preference and play style. Even though he is all about tugging and playing, he really does not care for Phoenix's french linen tugs or jute bite sticks. He's not ball crazy, either - yet - but I am cautiously optimistic on that front.

He likes to bite soft things. Because he is mummy's darling furry little marshmallow puff sweetums. Who bites like a rabid badger on crack. But only soft things. I don't know if this preference will change as he gets older but at six months, he shows a deranged joy in biting and tugging things with the consistency of Smartwool socks and fleece jacket sleeves. The softer, the better.

This extends to dead mice, rats and birds. I know this because the cats have been bringing their kills into the yard all fall and depositing them for my inspection. This is a new development and one I am not encouraging but the cats do not understand my reluctance to admire their hunting prowess. Banner, however, is overjoyed by the endless smorgasbord of dead critters. This tends to not end well.

Picture a middle-aged woman trying frantically to extricate a dead rodent from the jaws of a puppy who is gleefully munching on it while racing around the yard with said dead rodent tail hanging out of his mouth. Yeah. It's a good thing our closest neighbor is the Farmer's mother and she knows her daughter-in-law is a little . . . different.

I've spent the last couple of months prying slobbery, slimy deceased little carcasses out of Banner's mouth on a regular basis. To date, I think he's only eaten one. That I know about.

He still won't drop anything on command. He figures if I want a dead rat that bad I can go get my own. On the bright side, now when he has a dead varmint in his mouth, he WILL come when he's called, then stands in front of me with his jaws clamped tightly shut and little feet or tails sticking out the side of his mouth.

So with that in mind, I'm browsing one of my favorite online purveyors of all things dog, looking for simple braided fleece tugs when what to my wondering eyes should appear but . . . toys made out of dead things.

Seriously.

Critter fur is all the rage on the toy scene these days.

Rabbit fur. Raccoon fur. Sheep fur (okay, wool). Cow hide with fur attached. Cow fur? Really?

There are all kinds of fur-enhanced toys out there, intended to drive your dog into paroxysms of joy by their smell and texture. There are toys wrapped in critter fur, toys with fur hidden inside them, toys with fur braided throughout and toys made entirely of fur.

Not on my watch. Nosireebob.

I am not spending my toy budget on pieces of dead animals. I spend too much time prying the real thing out of the Aussie Jaws of Death. (Oddly enough, Phoenix wants little to do with the pre-killed varmints that turn up in our lawn. If he can't participate in the killing, he's not interested.)

Besides, Banner can be driven into paroxysms of joy by the smell and texture of a dirty sock.

There are already a few of the damn fur enhanced toys (or what is left of them) in various toy boxes through our house, purchased in moments of weakness before I knew better. They're the sort of thing that I saw at a vendor's booth and thought, oh COOL, my dogs will LOVE this! Must buy!

What was I thinking? Do you know what one of those lovely fluffy rabbit fur-and-fleece tugs looks like after 5 minutes of active play with an easily stimulated dog?

You got it - exactly like the mangled, slobber-soaked dead things I've been prying out of canine jaws all fall.

And if the slime factor wasn't enough, both Phoenix and Banner will halt the play if given a chance and commence with single-minded, full-scale destruction of the furry part.

"Excuse me while I rip this pesky varmint to pieces. Please excuse the maniacal gleam in my eye while I systematically shred a $20 bill in front of your eyes. Okay. Done. You were saying?"

I admire people whose dogs can play with those tugs without reducing them to a dripping saliva rope. I just don't have one.




Monday, December 1, 2014

Updates

For the last month I kept telling myself I'd write when I had time to take pictures to post, too. That didn't happen and doesn't show any sign of happening. Autumn flew by and now it's winter. So I'm writing. No pics. Deal with it.

Banner celebrated his half birthday about a week ago. He's six months old now, about 19.5 inches at the withers and I have no clue what he weighs but it can't be much because he spends a lot of time flying through the air like a bird. He's charming, sweet, funny, furry and very, very bouncy.

He's got a bouncy recall, bouncy heads-up heeling (providing nothing else is going on) and is learning to take and hold a dumbbell (bouncing optional at this point but I suspect he'll find a way to incorporate it before we're done). Phoenix's dumbbell is a pretty good fit for him - which is a little scary, since it was Jamie's dumbbell first. He doesn't mind having his toenails trimmed. He thinks baths are a Very Bad Idea. He likes sticks, cats, riding in the Gator, chewing on everything, chase games and pretty much everyone he has ever met.

A friend asked me how he compares to Phoenix.

Wow. How do you compare razor wire and marshmallow fluff? Phoenix is all sharp lines and angles and lean, hard muscle. Banner is softness and curves and fluff. They are opposite ends of the spectrum both physically and mentally. I am so blessed to have two such wonderful dogs!

Um . . . comparison . . . yeah . . . I bleed a lot less when I train Banner.  Honestly, that might be the biggest difference. My hands don't look like someone stuck them into a chipper-grinder, which is generally how they looked for the first year with Phoenix. I don't have as many holes in my clothes and I don't have mysterious bruises on odd parts of my body.

They do share a few characteristics: that bright, pushy, busy herding dog world view, always interested in whatever I'm doing and quick with the "WTF?" look when I ask for something that they find completely unreasonable.

I'm having a wonderful time training Banner's foundation exercises. I'm not rushing anything. I'm not pushing anything. There are no deadlines. He doesn't "have" to learn anything until he's good and ready.

He's still figuring out how to live in a body that changes almost daily as he keeps growing. Heel work at this point is mostly learning to trot around with his head up. We're working stays and impulse control and rear-end awareness and how to bring a ball back when I throw it. Banner loves toys and playing but he wasn't a natural retriever like my previous dogs have been.

I'm trying hard to make my criteria clear and help him understand that effort will be rewarded, even if it's not perfect. I'm getting better at knowing when to ask for more and not getting stuck at a plateau or just "settling."

In the meantime, teaching house manners remains a full-time job.

The Farmer says "Your dog has no manners." That's not entirely true. He has manners. They're just bad. Banner is convinced that if he puts his paws on the kitchen counter 100 times and gets scolded 100 times, that the 101st time will be the magic number when he's allowed to grab whatever is up there. He's nothing if not determined.

Phoenix and Banner are definitely besties now. Phoenix is beyond tolerant with his furry, bouncy little brother. Day after day he amazes me with remarkable patience. He's paying it forward, for all the craziness Jamie tolerated from him.

I hope it won't be a month before the next update!


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.