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.

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 Several people had asked.