Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Mongo adopted

Well it just goes to show that there is someone for everyone. Mongo (the black dog)was adopted to be a running buddy which is a perfect fit for him, I'm hoping that they are long distance marathon runners!, The handsome boy who I worked with since January and another female volunteer also worked with,(she seemed more smitten with him than I was, it was more of a personal challenge for me), was finally adopted and can now hop up into his special persons car, instead of laying down next to mine, wishing to be taken home.He will now become a friend, companion and personal trainer. Funny this being said, I actually had bumper stickers made up awhile ago, with the design and graphic arts help from my dear Czech friend-, with Mongo's picture on them .

I think Mongo had an attitude quickening of sorts because a week or so before he was adopted he was put in a pen with a large intimidating female Bulldog mix(pictured above,and available for adoption) who may have adjusted his attitude a bit, heck she certainly acquired a healthy respect from me, that's for sure. So who's to say that the companionship of a strong woman was enough to whip him into shape or not, but sometimes that's the way it goes. Happy trails big guy, you taught me a lot.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Close encounters of the Border Collie kind

This was a very sweet border collie mix that showed up at the shelter and was adopted after about 2 weeks.I had one who looked pretty similar show up at my house once. I was sitting in my pottery studio throwing pots when my husband came back from town. He opened the door to my studio and the conversation went something like this;
" what's up with that one?"
me "what's up with that one what?"
"that dog you brought home"
me "what dog, what are you talking about?"
"you don't have to try and hide it, that dog, sitting on the front porch"
me "what dog sitting on the front porch?"
and with that I got up, washed the clay off of my hands and went out to see what he was talking about. On my front doorstep , which is covered by part of my wraparound porch, was a very sweet, very frightened, border collie Heeler mix(she looked similar to the dog in these photos) soaking wet and trembling. I brought her in, toweled her off, offered her food and water and proceeded to try and figure out who she belonged to.
She didn't look familiar, as I walk about a 3 mile radius from my house in many directions and had a pretty good idea of who the dog owners were and what kind of dogs they had.
I called the Humane Society and asked if anyone called in missing a dog of her description and no one had, so I left my contact info in case any one called in looking for her. She was an older dog, about 9-10 years old about the same age, weight, and height, as my Blue Heeler.
I put "found dog" fliers up at the post office and the library, asked the post man and U.P.S. man if they knew who she belonged to and got no answers. No one seemed to be missing her, or knew who she belonged to, so I decided that someone must have dumped her off as she was an older dog, and people often dump off their unwanted pets in the country thinking that they'll go live on a nice farm. She was a very sweet well behaved dog, and quickly fit into our routine. My blue heeler actually seemed to like her which was unusual as he is for the most part rather indifferent to the foster dogs and shelter dogs, preferring his position as my special dog, the others are just visitors in need of training. Pascual would frolick and play with her in an older dog kind of way,and seemed pleased with her company. One day my husband and I were out planting trees, a quarter mile down the property. It was a muddy day and I didn't want the dogs getting wet and muddy so I left them in the house. After twenty minutes, I see Molly the name we gave the border collie mix, and my dog, trotting down the driveway with Molly out in front, and Pascual sheepishly following behind her. I turned to my husband and said" I knew I shut the door" sure enough she had figured out how to open it. I went back and shut the door and then let them stay with us as they seemed to want to be outside with us. I was very nice and kind to Molly and having decided that after two weeks had gone by where no one had called to claim her I would just keep her, so she was swaddled in affection and got to sleep on the rug. I have many of my handmade hooked rugs all over the house that are particularly soft for the dogs, and I also had dog beds out for her so she just fit comfortably into our household. She bonded quickly and liked to sleep on the porch and would do 5 foot guard duty shifts, rotating around the porch like clockwork. At first I was thinking "where's Molly she was laying there a minute ago?" and then she would be five feet further down the deck. So she got used to us and we got used to her habits. At first I thought she was a bit daft or had a touch of senility, but then there seemed to be some sort of guarding method to her madness. Now, I have a very smart dog, an Australian Cattle dog a.k.a a Blue Heeler but he is a tad lazy or perhaps smart enough to know that he doesn't have to work that hard to get his needs met, but this Border Collie/Heeler mix took the cake. She was the smartest dog I had ever had first hand experience with. She could open doors, and then she really spooked my husband because she started closing them behind her( they could have been blown shut, but who knows, it happened often) I watched her do it once, she looked around first to see if anyone was looking and then jumped up and opened it with her paws. She didn't know I was watching her. Then she started opening drawers in the kitchen," hey Pascual, look it's the garlic and onion drawer" and my dog would trot over. I was starting to get a little annoyed, wondering if I was going to have to padlock the fridge, and then I stopped one evening and just looked at her. She looked back at me with a "so here I am what is it you want to know about me" look on her face and I just let go of the annoyance and then marvelled at her presence, spirit, and intelligence, and had a much deeper respect and admiration for her after that. I worked in the inner city some years ago, with disadvantaged youth and recall a 14 year old girl with an exceptional level of intelligence. When I was in my early twenties and college educated, this young girl had an intellectual grasp of subjects from History to Politics to Art and seemed like more of a peer than a student. One day I was able to see her in action with her mother, and was saddened to see that her mother appeared to have no clue as to what an exceptionally intelligent daughter she had. The mother seemed exasperated,and treated her daughter with derision as if she was just an insolent smart mouthed kid who needed to be put in her place and respect adult authority. It was so sad to me that there was such a huge perception gap and that the daughter had to live with someone who put her down for her talents and didn't recognize what an intelligent gift her daughter possessed. I just feel that it's so important to try and understand pets and people for their uniqueness, and see and work with what actually is there rather than what we expect or project on our pets or fellow human beings.

One thing that never sat right in my mind was the fact that Molly the dog, showed up at my door with a brand new pretty purple collar on but with no identification tags or rabies tag on the collar. I kept wondering why would someone leave a new, seemingly expensive collar on a dog that they were going to dump off, that didn't make sense. Months went by and she fit right into our routines. She was pretty low maintenance, easily trained, spent hours on the porch and then came into the house and was comfortable with my heeler. Even though she was older, she still went for 2 and a half mile walks around the neighborhood with me, Pascual, and my friend with her dog and horse. Molly got along with everyone and I had grown to love her and respect her intelligence. I often take my dogs with me in the car if the weather is good so I noticed every time I drove past a certain place about 4 miles from my house Molly would get antsy and jump around in the car. When she first showed up I had called everyone I knew in about a 3 mile radius asking them if they knew whose dog it was, and no one did. I took her to my vet to get shots and they hadn't recognized her. I also did everything possible putting up signs, asking delivery men if they knew who the dog belonged to. I knew one guy who lived in that area where the dog got excited, and he worked in town and I just so happened to be at his place of business, on a sunny afternoon while I had my dogs in the car with the windows down. I said hey J, do you know whose dog this is?, she seems to get excited around your house" Hey says no, and then "wait a minute" apparently there were some newer people who had moved in next to him and the woman had lost her dog. I asked for her name and then mulled over whether I should call her or not.The thoughts went through my mind"why didn't she call the humane society looking for her dog?" "why didn't she put signs up?" "what kind of person, what kind of scenario would make a person not look for their beloved pet?"why didn't she have Identification on her or a rabies tag?" So all these thoughts are going through my mind, and I'm wondering why I didn't think about all this before I asked the man for the womans phone number, and then sometimes things have a way of getting ahead of you and taking their own course. I asked my friend who is a good judge of human nature and an animal person what did she think about a person who didn't look for her dog, and she seemed to think that maybe it wasn't a good owner who didn't deserve their dog back so all this was going through my mind but I sort of allready started the ball rolling so I thought I should just call and talk to her and try and figure out what to do from there. I called the woman and was thinking to myself; if she's o.k and has some kind of reason for not looking for her dog, then I would return the dog. I was,however, going to ask for my $50 dollars back, that I spent getting the dog vaccinated at the vets office. I felt that it was only fair for me, the person who went through all the trouble and proper procedures trying to locate the pets owner, and then upon thinking I would adopt it, went to get the dog vet checked and vaccinated. I called the woman and explained that I had talked to the neighbor and thought that I had her dog. She was somewhat shocked, emotional and mistrustful all at the same time. I agreed to meet her at her house, which in hindsight probably wasn't a good idea and not something I would do in the future. I drove over there and the dog got out and seemed very happy, jumping and running around familiar territory and visiting with the woman. The woman was still pretty reluctant, unfriendly and dare I say, annoyed. I explained to her that the dog had shown up in the middle of a thunderstorm, and she said that the dog was always spooked by thunderstorms and that, that explained why she had run off and apparently kept running. I told her that I went to a certain veterinarian 15 miles away, for the examination and vaccinations and she was annoyed because she said that the dog allready had those shots and why did I go to that veterinarian's office, the vet in town was less expensive. At that point I was getting a little more than miffed.There I was, a good samaritan, taking your dog in for 3 months, caring for it extremely well, feeding it, taking it to the veterinarians and getting it vaccinated, going to all this trouble trying to reunite the dog with it's rightful owner and all you can say is in an annoyed tone" why did I go to that vet, it's so expensive, and the dog had allready had the shots?" Well how was I to know? what am I psychic? The dog didn't have any identification on it and no rabies tag. If she had only spent the 5 to 10 dollars to get identification on the dog she would have had it back the afternoon it showed up, at no cost. My own dog is microchipped, as well as having identification tags and a rabies tag on him. I had checked Molly for a micro chip at the Humane Society, but she wasn't chipped.

I suppose my annoyance was showing back, then she said I'll pay you your 50 dollars, which I thought was actually reasonable. The only reason I didn't go to the vet in our small town is that she is so rarely open and never seemed to have any vaccines on hand, that I stopped going to her years ago and forgot she was even there. Upon calling later, I realized that this vet was even more expensive for the vaccinations so I don't know what this woman was even talking about. The woman agreed to pay me and I told her she needed to switch the name on the rabies tag call number from ours to hers. She said her young son loved the dog and would be so happy that it was back, and she told me that the dog had run off years ago and came back to them from some 40 miles away so she thought that this time the dog, being older had just run off to die, that's why she didn't look for it. I thought that's strange that someone's projections of their worst fear would keep them from actually verifying whether it was fact or not, but whatever. So I gave the dog back, got reimbursed for the vet bill and went home feeling angry, annoyed, and unsettled but glad that at least a little boy would be reunited with his dog. Upon reflecting upon all this I remembered that I had met the woman in the summertime while riding my bike. The family was new to the neighborhood and I had remembered that the farm was for sale. I had to walk my bike past her place and saw her out with a horse. I said" hello" as I am rather friendly and most people out here are friendly and they were new to the neighborhood, but the woman seemed crabby, annoyed, and not wanting to be bothered. So I just thought the heck with you, here I go being friendly and she was just this side of rude which explained her demeanor when I returned her dog. So strange, that a young person with a kid, new to a neighborhood would be so standoffish and unappreciative of all that I had done for her dog, but whatever. It takes all kinds I guess, maybe that's why she moved to the country, to get away from people. When I drove past her house,and saw her with the dog, I waved a few times, but she would just look the other way, so I don't bother any more. This whole interaction also brought to mind a strange phenomenon I have observed where a few standoffish people I have casually known, had friendly, happy dogs. Most of the time the dog adapts to the personality of it's owner, that is a friendly person has a friendly dog, a wary, shy person has a wary dog etc.., I have run into a few people who have dogs that don't really match their personalities. I wonder if the dog in this scenario is some kind of benefactor, come to help the people with the difficult personalities. Oh well, just another theory to pursue. As for myself it is often the difficult people like this who make me turn to help the dogs as I find the dogs so much more pleasant and less complicated to deal with. I kept wondering why the dog didn't just walk back to it's home, as I had left her unattended for hours at a time on the porch while I was inside the house(I don't leave them out when I'm not there) We all easily walked close to the same distance around the neighborhood, and it would have been fairly simple for her to have walked a straight line home. I guess Molly was happy with us, she had a husband in my Blue heeler, a horse to walk with in my friend's horse. I guess her life was similar to what she had been used to, and I made it very comfortable for her. So there I was again, down to one dog who seemed to miss his special girlfriend, at least he had the pleasure of a partner bond for a little while. At times they looked like an old married couple together, where the woman was a little smarter than the man. Perhaps it's all part of pondering the imponderable, participating in a grander plan. For now I keep going, helping the dogs, trying to understand the people, trying to make sense of it all, and marvelling at how these stories unfold. People, dogs, community,non verbal communication, and time, strange ingredients in this recipe of life with dogs.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Solving Puzzles

One of the things I find so interesting about working with shelter dogs, is that there is a puzzle to piece together, a mystery to solve. I was initially a Dance major in college before I switched to a major in Fine arts and then 2 more extra years after my B.A., taking undergraduate level Psychology courses. I was always a sensitive person who could glean information about people through body language. I was always intrigued by non verbal communication, and I've participated in various kinds of movement workshops. Recently, I have been exploring the concept of communicating/conveying ideas in terms of of training, or getting a desired behavior from the dogs and decided to try an experiment with my dog. I wanted to see if I could get him to come to me without using language. I usually call his name and then say "come" with or without a hand signal so I decided I would use no language or hand signals just sound and tone and the corresponding naturally occurring body movements that went along with the sound and tone. It worked. I just used high pitched happy sounding noises and my body made corresponding, non exaggerated, dancing around movements. It worked and the dog came running over to me, with a tad funny unsure look on his face, but wiggling around and all excited,and then I laughed and got all excited back as I was pleased that he grasped my intentions. I repeated this experiment about 6 times as I wanted to make sure it wasn't a fluke, and it worked every time. By that point my smart Heeler had seen this as a new fun game we learned to play,and he was visibly happy and excited like when we play fetch with his nylabone (now that he is older we don't play so much, so it was fun to see him all excited like a young dog again). I was then curious to know if the experiment would work with my husband. He was up for the challenge, and had his own male approach which was lower in tone but a kind of excited hum/kazoo sound, and it worked for him too. The dog came to him in what looked to the dog, like a fun game and the dog was all excited to have gotten what we were trying to do and to have seemingly pleased us in that we were both relaxed, and laughing. I tried the experiment with my friend and her dog. She took a different approach and made a puppy whining sound instead of a non specific sound. Her dog tilted it's head from side to side in a kind of "what is this, she usually doesn't do this" way and then went to her. I was also able to get her dog to come to me just using sound and intention. All throughout this process, I kept getting the feeling that we were reinventing the caveman/ dog bond that has developed over time in pre- language history. A fun time was had by all.

In working with the shelter dogs, I've at times had to use quick deep "ehh" kind of like a buzzer sound, direct, deep and to the point if I was caught off guard with a shelter dog who was about to jump into the street while on the leash, or pull after another dog. The sound- deep direct,short, usually stops them in their tracks and then I tell them to "come" or "this way" in command tone, to change direction.Since I am working with dogs I don't get to spend that much time with, I've developed my own short hand, works in a pinch method, as I'm usually walking one or two dogs in an hour and don't have time to put up with non cooperative, nonsense in the dogs. They usually read my, "I mean business" body language, and get with the program or they quickly learn that they won't get to go. The outside kennels are lined up in a row with 2 rows across from each other so the dogs can often see what's going on, who is walking which dog,which dog to human interaction is allowing a certain dog to get walks. On occasion, if a dog I'm working with is being stubborn I'll forgo him for another first, and parade it past him and praise the other dog's good behavior in the yard outside the kennels where the difficult dog can see that good cooperative behavior gets praise and walks.The difficult dogs, sometimes get it, although I am careful to not provoke too much jealousy(it depends on the dogs involved)The dogs are smart and watch what goes on. Each dog is different, within breeds there is variation, within litters there is variation. I have come to walk a dog and stop and objectively try and view it, that is, see what is going on without any preconceived ideas. I try and see what it needs; some need perking up, some need settling down and a calm demeanor in me, some need to learn trust, some just need to expel energy and get basic obedience, some need major socialization with people and other animals. The challenge for me is to see what the specific needs are and try and help that dog.

My father died of the disease A.L.S./ Lou Gehrig's disease some years back. When he was in the hospital and completely paralyzed except for the ability to move an eye, we had to use an alphabet chart in order to figure out what he wanted to communicate. For some reason, I was always the first person to be able to figure out what he wanted after one or two letters, sort of like the TV show Wheel of Fortune, where you piece together a word from single letters and win a prize. I knew my father fairly well, and then I was very present, that is not distracted by my own thoughts or what I was going to do in the future, etc.., so I just looked at my dad and around the room and put together what I thought he might want at that moment; water, the TV shut off, a nurse if he was really agitated. So we read the non verbal signs and signals around us and try and piece together the needs of those who can communicate, but just not with the same language we are used to.This is what I find so interesting about working with the dogs, the challenge of finding out what I need to do to help them. The challenge of understanding their unique world and what it takes to communicate with them.

puzzle image attributed to

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

My East Coast, Tough Guy, dog training voice

I've found my dog training voice, sort of like how a writer finds their writers voice. Since I grew up in New Jersey it is a sort of "Hey you, I'm talking to you" East coast, tough guy vibe with a bit of an edge to it , along the lines of what you may have heard on a Soprano's TV show episode. I'm frequently in this mode when I have to convince a dog that is 2/3rd's my size to listen to me, and pay attention to me. With the dogs that are not quite so big or stubborn, I primarily use a crabby edgy tone to my voice that breaks through to them when giving commands, but doesn't scare them. How many times have I heard people talk to dogs in a non specific, flurry of words (without any specific energy behind them), kind of way that just sounds like so much mumbling to a dog. If you are specific, consistent and clear in terms of throwing your voice in an-I mean it- edgy way, like if your kid is about to get near a fire or something dangerous, you can get the dog's attention and respect. You are stopping them in their tracks with your voice and a command. You are basically communicating in tone first, that's what gets their attention.You are grabbing them with your voice. Tone with a consistent command will instill the behavior.To further grasp the concept I had a friend say negative things to her dog in a happy voice" Oh you're such a bad, naughty, dreadful dog" but all said in a happy tone, the dog wagged it's tail and just assumed she was happy and everything was great. The dog is listening to the tone, and reading your emotion and body language. In happy talk tone the dog thinks" oh things are good everyone's content" if you are talking to them in command tone they think" Oh I'm supposed to be focusing and doing something here" if you use the growly, deep, stop them in their tracks tone they think"oh I messed up" they stop and then you can re- direct them with a " come" and then praise, in happy talk tone. The dogs don't really understand words said without tone, tone gets their attention, gets them to think and key in, then the command tells them what to do.

The other observation I have about training comes from my initial introduction into true dog training by Barbara Woodhouse. Before watching the English Dog trainer at work in a video I used to think that training was sort of a mechanical, going through the motions, rote learning, repetitive act. In the program I saw, they asked Barbara Woodhouse why she was so good at dog training. She passed her hand lovingly over the dogs head and then answered"because I love them so much" This was eye opening to me. I made the connection that training is first about the loving bond you develop playing with the dog, caressing it, getting the dog to think you are the most wonderful exciting thing in it's life, and treating the dog like it's such a wonderful important part of your life. When you talk to a dog saying how cute and wonderful it is, and you mean it, most of the time you can see a beaming with pride or adoration reaction in them, for instance; a devoted look, tail wag, full body wiggle or a dancy little "I'm so cute" walk. If the dog is spacing out or not paying attention You might want to work on this bonding process. Also repeat the commands at various times of the day, in and outside of the house and then praise. A lot of people don't emphasize the happy praise enough. They seem to think the dog did what I wanted so I'll just say" good" and pat it on the head in a lackadaisical manner and that's enough. Well if you get the response you want that may be enough but if you want to have a dog pay more attention to you, you have to make it fun and exciting and up the emotional ante. Just some advice I've arrived at through reading training books, trial and error and experience, hope it helps those out there that need it. One of the books that helped me a lot in training dogs is
Good Owners Great Dogs

This is the only Mike Marino video I could find without cursing in it but you'll get an idea of the accent. He's one funny Comedian, a New Jersey born Italian with attitude. If you don't mind the cursing you can find more of him on Youtube

Here is my favorite dog trainer Barabara Woodhouse again for those who missed the previous post