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!