Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014: the year in review

Okay, here we go - the year in dogs and cats. And a few men in kilts. It doesn't cover everything I did in 2014 but it kind of hits the highlights.

The year started with Polar Vortexes 1-6.
Hibernation became a finely developed skill.

I said goodbye to Jamie in February.
Thank you,  Big Red Dog, for 14 1/2 wonderful years.

Everyone needs a Belgian turnover.

Bonus Cat. Yes. He has the leash in his mouth.
I have no idea why.

Siren. In a bucket. Where do you keep your cats?

Enjoyed the Iowa Renaissance Festival in May.  It rained. Again.

CedarWoods Once Upon A Time "Banner" arrived in late July.

Banner takes his inter-species relationships very seriously.

Phoenix and I showed in sweeps at the ABMC regional in September.

Let the games begin!

BFFs, showing fang.

Objects in the camera viewfinder are closer than they appear.

Banner - 5 months

Yeah. They do this in the house, too.

Getting my ren faire on at Halloween.
Yes,  this was at a trial. Yes, I showed in it.
No, Phoenix didn't care.

I get this look a lot.

Phoenix turned 8 in December.

We got closer to our goals.

Wishing you and your loved ones all the best in the new year.

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.


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


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.

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 dogdreamstoys.com. Several people had asked.