Bubba or Bubbaz or maybe Bubz is home

BubbazSome years ago I promised myself I would not adopt any more animals. So naturally now that my two rescues from last year are settled in (one happily living with my sister in NY, the other with me), yesterday I brought home a dog from Round Valley Animal Rescue in Springerville AZ.  They tell me he’s part Great Dane. He’s tall, and with that brindle coat and those big paws he for sure could have some Dane blood in him.  

I’ve had my rescue, Rosie, for 10 months now. I don’t love leaving her at home when I go out but I don’t like dragging her around while I do errands, especially during the heat of summer. She’s not a real enthusiastic traveler, and needs to be lifted into the car, an awkward experience for the both of us. Even though Rosie’s had surgery to correct brachycephalic syndrome, she’s still not 100%.  That means she struggles to breathe if she’s been exercising or is overheated.  Which is pretty much all the time this time of year.  And that means leaving her at home. By herself (cats don’t count).

That’s why, in spite of my best intentions, the moment I saw a photo of a large, goofy looking dog on the RVAR Facebook page I immediately contacted them.

What was I thinking? 

Are you kidding?  Of course I wasn’t thinking. I was feeling.

Bubba had come to RVAR a month or so ago. I was told he was microchipped and had an old rabies certificate. He was supposed to be 8 years old. If he was full Great Dane he wouldn’t be around much longer since that breed’s life expectancy is 8-10 years.  However, Great Dane crosses tend to benefit from the age expectancy of the non-Dane breed. It’s hard to tell what Bubba’s parentage might be, but I don’t think he’s in any danger of dying soon.  

The adoption process was super easy, barely giving me time for second thoughts. Not that it mattered.  As soon as I met him I knew I had no choice. I told him then I’d give him a home and I knew he understood it as a promise.

I brought Rosie in for a meet-and-greet a few days after I met Bubba.  It was anticlimactic.  Rosie barely acknowledged him and Bubba was distracted. Still, Rosie didn’t hate him, so I took it as a sign it was the right thing to do.  I signed the paperwork and arranged to pick Bubba up another day when I wouldn’t have Rosie with me. I felt it was too soon to have the two dogs in as confined a space as the back of a car.  

I noticed that one of the gentlemen who was doing the adoption paperwork called the dog Bubbaz. At least that’s what it sounded like to me. I looked on the form and he’d put down “Bubba’s” as his name. I loved it. Bubba didn’t appeal to me but something about that Z at the end changed it from the name of a doofus dog to, well, something else.  A name I liked better and that didn’t involve a new name.  Seems to me that while old dogs can learn new tricks it’s simple courtesy to call them by the name they know.

So yesterday was the day to bring Bubbaz home. I wondered as I drove in whether he would be afraid or maybe reluctant. Or if he’d even remember me. 

I needn’t have worried.

The moment the gentleman and Bubbaz walked around the corner of the building to where I waited, that tail started wagging. He looked at me and he smiled. I don’t mean the gentleman, I mean the dog — because that’s all I had eyes for.  Bubbaz headed for the truck, hopped in when asked, and settled down to wait for his ride home.

Next challenge: Rosie & the cats on their home turf

A meet-and-greet at RVAR is one thing, but when Bubbaz stepped into my house Rosie decided she was going to set things straight right away.  Her lips curled into a snarl (my timid Rosie!) and she growled. I cleared my throat. She glanced at me and oops. Suddenly it was all sniffing and tentative wags.

The cats — Tux and Lili — were not nearly as welcoming. The growling from them did not stop just because I told them to knock it off. They’re cats, after all. But Bubbaz didn’t pay any attention to them. He paced around my small house a few times, then, when he seemed done with that I showed him the dog door. He went through it and onto the porch, then bounced down the stairs to explore the dog yard.

All was well and good till I went to the truck to bring my groceries in. Next thing I knew, there was a dog waiting to get into the back seat. Uh oh! My arms were full! But he didn’t try to run off — in fact, he more or less hovered around me as I made a couple trips into the house with my stuff, and was not at all reluctant to come with me back inside.

I went back out and waited to see if he’d escape again. He did. He had found the tiniest gap in the fence and nosed through it, something Rosie had never tried. So the first order of the afternoon was to fix the fence, not a big deal. Bubbaz wasn’t trying to escape as much as he was attempting to stick with me.  The fence is clearly a non-issue as long as I was inside it, too.

When it came time for dinner, I fed them in separate rooms and kept an eye on them. Rosie is intensely interested in her food, and compared to her gobbling Bubbaz is a slow eater. Rosie didn’t bother him while he was eating, though. And he didn’t bother me when I added some kibble to his bowl, just to see how he felt about me messing with his food.

Nothing bothers Bubbaz. Some of it is being a mature dog, and some of it is his mellow personality, but he’s also had some very good training. He doesn’t pull on the leash. He waits at the open door for me to go out first. He comes when he’s called. He doesn’t go into the garbage. He sits promptly, but seems to feel stay is optional. He’s nice to Rosie and to the cats.

Lili is not so nice to him, but she’ll come around. Tux… well, he’s gone walkabout. I don’t think there’s a connection between a new dog being here and Tux’s taking off, since last night he went with Rosie and Bubba and me for a short walk after I fed the horses. Going walkabout is just a thing Tux does. 

So if the dog’s trained, then what’s left to do?

I don’t know the extent of his training, and I can’t presume that Bubbaz is already settled in here just because he’s relaxed, seems to like everybody, and doesn’t run away at the first opportunity. We will take it as slowly as is needed.

Bubbaz in the barnYesterday afternoon I tied Bubbaz in the barn as I unloaded hay and later when I fed the horses. This morning when I fed I put Bubbaz on a drag chain in the barn. His leash (red, for visibility) is attached to a length of light-weight chain that leaves a nice trail in the dirt when he drags it around. If I have to I can easily track him.  This is only used when I can keep an eye on him when we’re outside — when we’re walking he’s going with me on leash. So far with the drag chain he has explored only a bit — going out maybe a hundred feet from me.  He seems to prefer being underfoot.

There’s a lot of hovering around Lif right now.

Taking photos is a challenge. Bubbaz wants to be next to me, not over there modeling.  Rosie doesn’t like Bubbaz being that close to me. The good news is that when I go for a walk now, Rosie makes an effort to keep up. Maybe she’ll get some decent exercise and lose a pound or two. Or maybe once she’s accepted the new situation she’ll go back to plodding along. Time will tell.

Meanwhile, I’ve discovered Bubbaz is just as happy to answer to Bubz.  But then again, he seems happy for whatever happens. And Rosie? Well, maybe someday she’ll enjoy having a companion again. I did catch some play behavior she initiated this afternoon when she thought I wasn’t looking, so friendship (packship?) might happen sooner than not.

Bubz and Rosie

 

Rosie and me – settling in

Here it is nine months since Rosie came into my life and I am pleased to tell you I have nothing special to report about her.  As the weather gets warmer I do have to be more careful about letting her come with me on walks, given her compromised respiratory system.  She’s way better now than before her surgery, but she’ll never be an athlete.  I can’t take her far and I can’t expect fast.  Heat + effort + a partially blocked trachea  = potential for over-stress.  For Rosie it could be fatal.  When I take her with me I plan on short, slow walks, with plenty of stops to wait for her to catch up on her own time.

I am still taking it slow and careful when it comes to how I behave around her, too.  No harsh words.  No thoughtless actions.  She’s still automatically submissive, but I’d like to think maybe not as much as she was.  I don’t expect this aspect of our relationship to change much over time.

Rosie is settling in nicely.  She appears to feel this really is her home and that means she’s bolder.  She’s become more demanding about getting attention, which I take as a positive.  She barks more, which I also see as positive — though I must say I don’t always have a clue what she’s barking at.  But she doesn’t take anything too far.  She only once chewed a shoe.  She doesn’t go in the garbage, though she seems to feel the compost pile needs thorough and regular examination.  No cat chasing.  No horse chasing.  Bunnies… well, that’s another story.

She also has taken it upon herself to remind me when it’s time to do things.  Time to get up.  Time to feed horses.  Time to feed Rosie.  Hurry up and feed those blasted cats so Rosie can get fed, would you Lif?  Time to lay her night-time bed on the floor.  Time for a treat.  Time for a pet.  Who knew Rosie would be such a task-master!

All in all, I’ve got a good little dog here.   She’ll likely never be “normal” but so what.  Neither am I. 

I have other news to report.  Check out my next post!

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Life in Time of COVID

In this time of COVID everybody’s got to do what they got to do, but we’ve all got to do it a bit differently than we have before.  Turns out social distancing is easy when you live where and how I do.  Being a hermit kind of person, I hardly ever see another human being anyway, so practicing more of that now is no biggie.

Getting the mail is one of those things that has to get done on a fairly regular basis.  The mailbox cluster where my mail is delivered is twenty-five miles from town and five miles from my property.  Lots of people in my county have to go much farther for their mail, so I’m pretty happy about how close mine is.  I like to sometimes hike out for the exercise, but not on a day like today.

It’s springtime in New Mexico.  That means the weather can present itself as any one of the seasons — at any time.  This morning it was a normal spring day, which is to say clouds were scudding across a blue sky and the wind was blowing like a !@#$%^!

My friend Laura, who lives about four miles from me, was going to pick up her mail and asked if I’d like her to get mine.  She’d leave it in a tire that’s not far from the county road, less than two miles from my gate.  We’ve left stuff for each other in that tire in the past.  It’s almost equidistant for each of us, though she’s got a lot more of a climb if she chooses to hike it instead of drive.

So, beautiful spring day?  Good day for a hike.  I sneaked out of the house, leaving Rosie behind because that’s a bit of a distance for her stubby legs, and started off for the tire.  The temperature gauge said it was in the mid 40s but I knew with that brisk wind it would feel colder, so I dressed appropriately.  I had a silk wild rag around my neck in case I needed it for a hat or a balaclava, wore knit gloves, plus there were four layers on my torso, the bottom one cotton and not silk because hey, it’s spring, and I’ve been overly warm lately with my usual layers.  The top layer was a Purdey shooting jacket, lightweight but a decent windbreaker.  As you’d expect from a good shooting jacket. 

I was quite comfy.

Out away from the weather shadow of the mesas it was a different story.  The wind was clearly coming straight from the Arctic Circle without pausing to warm up between there and here.  It was blowing hard enough that it boosted my speed as I walked up the grade towards the county road.  I was still okay.  My hands were a little cold but my jacket was doing its job and my back was further insulated by my small pack. 

About half a mile from the tire, I saw the first flakes of snow.  Snow?  No way was I turning around.  Besides, I could see patches of blue sky — how bad could it get?

Never ask that question.

By the time I got to the tire the temperature had dropped, the snow had picked up, and the blue up above was hiding behind dark clouds.  I grabbed the plastic bag that contained my mail and headed back towards the wind break of a thick juniper tree before taking the time to stuff the bag’s contents into my backpack.  I also rearranged my clothes.  I zipped up my fleece vest to the neck, turned up the collar of my jacket, and buttoned it up to the top.  I tried pulling the handkerchief over my nose but I couldn’t breathe — never have been able to breathe through cloth — so I just pulled it up over my mouth.  Then I shouldered my backpack and headed out into the wind.

The difference in temperature between the shelter of the juniper and out in the open was a good lesson in wind chill.  My layers and buttoning up kept me not exactly warm but at least not cold.  I thought it best to get a move on since that would help increase my body temperature.  Hypothermia is a real thing.  Been there done that.  

The hike back home was not nearly as easy as the hike out.  I was walking into the wind now and it was ripping the breath right out of my lungs.  I didn’t let myself dwell on how uncomfortable I was — something I learned back in the day when I was endurance racing.  I just put one foot in front of the other and kept my mind blank, since thinking about writing (which I had been doing on the hike to the tire) was not happening anymore.

By the time I got a few hundred yards from the cattle pens even the wind shadow of the mesa wasn’t helping.  It was snowing heavily now, hard little pellets that stung when they hit my face, numb as the skin was. 

I noticed that the cattle had all taken shelter in the lee of junipers and pinon pines, and were watching intently, their white faces giving away their hiding places in spite of the white stuff being shot from the sky.  I envied them their shelter. 

They were mooing.  How odd.  Was it the weather?  Certainly they wouldn’t care about me, a hiker they’d watched go by many times before.  

The cows started to heave themselves up.  They left the trees, headed for me.  I couldn’t understand what was going on, until finally I turned around to see a truck hauling a trailer, moving at a crawl behind me.  The wind was blowing so hard I couldn’t hear the engine.

It was my neighbor ranchers.  They had come to pick up a cow, one I’d not really paid attention to as I walked by earlier.  She was lying down not far from the pen, but not near enough to be sheltered by the fence or anything else, either.  The rancher said she’d been there for two days.  Something was wrong with her back legs or her hind end, and they were going to try to get her in their stock trailer or, failing that, leave her food and water till they could figure out something else.

I volunteered to help.  Of course I did.  “Something else” for a range cow isn’t always what the cow has in mind.

The next half hour or more was an exercise in patience.  Repositioning the trailer multiple times.  Attempting to get her to stand.  Attempting to pull her in.  It wasn’t my cow, so I couldn’t make any suggestions.  I did help direct the maneuvering of the trailer and occasionally helped roll her onto her side or upright again, but mostly I just held the gate open so the wind wouldn’t slam it closed on all of us. 

The neighbor ranchers had a plan, but the cow had not been consulted during its development.  She was not inclined to help, though she was not fighting.  She seemed more interested in being scritched on the forehead.  Unfortunately she’s a big cow, and a big cow that isn’t helping is a cow that one man and two women are not getting into a trailer, even with ropes, a make-shift ramp, and come-alongs. 

Finally I had to leave.  It was snowing like crazy, I wasn’t moving around enough to generate enough heat so I was freezing.  I had to leave.  I offered my phone at the house if they needed it.  As I left they said they’d probably just leave her with the food and water and come back with more people and  more help tomorrow.

Unfortunately, all the other cattle wanted that food and water just as much.  Poor cow wasn’t going to get much if she couldn’t get up.

The rest of the way home was tough going.  The wind was still blowing, the snow was still snowing, and did I mention the wind?  If I hadn’t been that close to a house with a wood stove cranking out heat, I’d have been in real trouble.  But I was that close and that made all the difference.  First thing I did after warming my stiff fingers was make myself a hot toddy with plenty of honey to warm me up from the inside as I warmed up from the outside.  

Since I’ve been back in the house the snow has stopped and started several times.  The wind notched itself down a bit, but the forecast is for gusts up to 40 MPH overnight.  The temp has dropped to 32° (before sunset as I write this), and it’ll go down into the teens tonight.  But at this very moment the sun’s shining again and when I went out to see if the cow was still there, I noticed my hops plants survived the winter and are already a foot tall. 

That’s springtime in New Mexico for you.  

Aftermath:

I brought the cow some munchies after I fed my horses.  Her herd mates had abandoned her, so she got a big pile of hay all to herself.  Of course I asked permission first, and in doing so I found out that they’ll be back in the morning with a new plan for loading her, along with more muscle.  

Not my muscle, mind you.  

 

Happy News in Trying Times (Rosie Update)

The recent new medical term for me was not corona virus — at least not last month.  Instead it was brachycephalic airway obstructive syndrome.  No, not my airway – Rosie’s.

Brachycephalic means “shortened head”.  The syndrome goes by various acronyms.  I’ll settle for BAOS, which along with the others refers to a cluster of anatomic abnormalities seen in brachycephalic breeds that contribute to dysfunction of the upper airway.  

You’ve seen lots of dogs that are brachycephalic – pugs, bulldogs, boxers, Frenchies, and other breeds that have been developed to have shorter heads and noses than those of their ancestors.  They’re cute — but because of the changes in physiology brought about by those short heads and noses, they tend to have breathing difficulties. 

Signs and symptoms of BOAS in order of seriousness

  1. Breathing difficulty: Noisy/labored breathing.   Open-mouth breathing.  Extending head and neck to keep airway open.
  2. Stress and heat intolerance during exercise.
  3. Snoring/gagging/choking/regurgitation/vomiting/susceptibility to pneumonia.
  4. Collapse/death

The symptoms seem to show up when a dog’s around four.  Rosie came to me with the condition.  I thought at first she was panting so much because she’d gone from about 5000’ altitude to 7000’, but she never acclimated.  In fact, she got worse over the first several months, arriving here at level 1-2, and moving on to level 3 in short order.  I couldn’t sleep at night worrying that she was going to die.

In January I took Rosie to my vet to have her spayed.  We discussed her BOAS issue and the consequences of not treating it.  Rosie’s condition would be aggravated by heat come summer, and by being overweight.  She was overweight partly because she couldn’t exercise.  She couldn’t exercise because she couldn’t breathe.  She could never rest deeply, because she was always struggling for breath.  She was always starved for oxygen.  Her whole body was stressed with the effort of trying to suck in air. 

Not only all that, but over time the cartilage of her trachea could collapse and she would suffocate to death — if she didn’t die from pneumonia first.

What a horrible way to go.  My vet couldn’t do the surgery, so he recommended a veterinary hospital in Albuquerque.  I made the arrangements and in mid-February I handed the leash of my little dog over to a veterinary tech, worried as hell and not a little afraid for the outcome, too.

First, Rosie had to be sedated for the surgical veterinarian to examine her to determine the position of the soft palate, checking for masses and/or extra pharyngeal tissue, and evaluating the laryngeal, tonsil, pharynx, and upper airway structures.  The good news was that there was no evidence of cancer as a cause, nor was there any evidence of tissue erosion due to regurgitation/vomiting.  To no one’s surprise, Rosie was a prime candidate for surgery. 

The bad news was that Rosie’s trachea is way small for her size.  Her airway structure was such that even with the surgery Rosie would always have breathing issues.  Still, the laser surgery to trim the extra tissues would mean she’d have a chance at a longer and more comfortable life.  So I gave the word to go ahead.  

The procedure

To cut to the chase, everything went swimmingly.  Within short order Rosie was coming out of the anesthesia.  Not that she was going to be released to come home.

Rosie needed to be under close observation till the next day, just in case.  Any swelling would close her airway.  Any vomiting in reaction to drugs, to the surgery itself, or any number of reasons, could cause her to aspirate into her lungs.  Any excitement or activity that would cause her to breathe heavily could cause bleeding that she might aspirate into her lungs.

When I picked her up I was a nervous wreck.  Rosie was still mildly sedated but even so she was panting and hacking and generally doing everything the vet told me to discourage.  She would not calm down.  Worse, the sedative I was supposed to give her was a prescription I had to pick up before leaving town.  My friend Laura was with me.  We took turns walking Rosie around the Wal-Mart parking lot very slowly while waiting for the prescription, during which time a new issue developed – Rosie couldn’t stop peeing.  Nobody had mentioned anything about this.  She was dripping pee all over the place, and panting, and gagging, and making all kinds of horrible sounds. 

I was beyond myself and I’m sure my agitation wasn’t helping Rosie at all.  In my defense I thought my dog was going to die!  I cursed the pharmacy for taking so long, cursed Rosie, cursed the veterinary hospital, cursed the Department of Transportation for every bump in the road as we headed for home, and cursed anything else I could think of to curse, including myself for having agreed to rescue this problem dog.

When the sedative hit her system and Rosie went to sleep in the back seat, I almost wept in relief.

Post-surgery at home

House training seemed to be a thing of the past.  Rosie pooped in the house.  She peed — big lakes everywhere on my floors.  This was a dog that just a day or two before had no problem at all using the dog door to go outside.

I emailed my vet.  He said it was the steroid, prednisone, that was meant to keep the swelling down but that also made her pee a lot.  But why was she going potty inside?  The dog door was the same one that had been there two days ago, that she used just fine.

Worse, Tux the tomcat started peeing in the house, too.

I may never know the reasons for that sudden failure of house training, but I did not allow myself to yell at Rosie and trusted that over time it would improve.  In fact, while it seemed to take forever for Rosie’s training to kick in again it was only a matter of a week.  Tux, it turned out, had a UTI and is on meds for that.  Thank the gods.

Meanwhile, I had to keep Rosie sedated if I couldn’t keep her calm.  I had to soak her food, couldn’t let her chew on bones, couldn’t let her out of the house or her dog pen lest she start to breath heavily, couldn’t let her get overheated lest she start panting, couldn’t let her bark.

Let me tell you, when you’ve got to provide a calm, quiet environment for a patient it’s just amazing how much happens to cause excitement.  People will show up.  Coyotes will come too close to the house.  Tux, Lili, and Rosie will bicker like kids in the back of the car on a long trip.  The metal roof will pop when the sun hits it.  All cause for barking and excitement.

It’s been just four weeks today but it’s been four weeks of hell.

The light at the end of the tunnel

I am happy to report that Rosie is doing very well.  She’s lost weight.  She’s breathing much easier.  She and the cats are working on a renewal of their truce.  No more accidents in the house (well, Tux hasn’t gotten the complete message yet, but he’s improving).  I’ve been letting Rosie out of the dog pen when I’m home during the day.  She’s been finding old bones and bringing them into the house (I think that’s a hint).  This morning she chased a rabbit and came back all dancing and proud, and she wasn’t gagging.  Pretty soon we can start going on walks again. 

Yeah, Rosie still snores, wheezes, and occasionally gags.  I guess she’ll do that for the rest of her life.  But she’s definitely the new and improved version of a BAOS dog, and I think she’s more cheerful for it.

I certainly am.

PS  Thanks go to Jack Duncan, DVM and to the Veterinary Emergency & Specialty Center, Albuquerque, for taking such good care of my Rosie.

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The Honeymoon’s Over

Rosie waiting for Lif (c) 2019 Lif Strand photoIt had to happen, of course.  The honeymoon always ends.  Life moves on and the fresh new relationship gradually transforms into an old familiar one.  Allowances for past traumas, habits, and reactions give way to impatience with behaviors based on the past.  It’s here and now — let’s get on with it, it feels like.  At least for me. 

I have to remind myself that Rosie’s past five years are a lot longer than mine.  Dog years vs. human aside, almost all of Rosie’s five years or so have been spent in other circumstances than she now finds herself in.  I have to keep reminding myself that while she is learning about me and our relationship she is also unlearning most everything she based her behaviors on.  It’s hard enough for a human to do that.  Why should it be any easier for a dog, who doesn’t even get much choice in the matter?

I have to give her credit.  She’s doing a good job of adjusting… but still.  The honeymoon is over. 

It was merely a few weeks ago when I was thrilled to hear Rosie bark for the first time.  Days later I went out of town.  My brother-in-law Jeff was here all day long working on my house.  He said that Rosie barked non-stop, to the point where she became hoarse.  He tried bribing with doggie biscuits; he tried speaking firmly to her.  He tried locking her in the house and turning up his boom box.  Eventually he just yelled at her to knock it off, which apparently she did.

Until the next time.  Such as when he would show up the next day to feed her and the cats and horses, and resume working on my house.

A little bit of judicious barking is good.  A lot of indiscriminate barking is crazy-making (for humans if not for dogs).  I don’t know if Rosie would still be barking at Jeff – who is a very nice person and who loves dogs – but he’s gone home.  It’s just Rosie and me again and she doesn’t bark anymore.

A few weeks ago I was thrilled when Rosie showed signs of being able to move away from the security of walking at my heels when we’d go out to hike.  It seemed to me to be a sign of growing confidence in her relationship with me as well as this house and this land being home.

In the evening after feeding horses Rosie and I go for a quick walk, even if we’ve walked earlier in the day.  Partly it’s a chance for me to enjoy the outside a little longer before settling down inside for the night.  I can take sunset photos, maybe catch a glimpse of a shooting star or the ISS gliding across the Milky Way.  Another reason for the walk is to make sure there are no cows hiding behind bushes, waiting till I go away so they can invade my horse’s pens and steal their food and water.  Partly it’s to transform Rosie from a flabby middle-aged butterball of a dog into a fit and healthy dog.  Some of why we walk is to give Rose a last opportunity to go potty, meaning one less bit of poop for me to have to scoop up from her dog pen.

In the beginning she had to be coaxed to go with me, but Rosie not only enjoys this short walk now — about a third of a mile loop — but she expects it.  If I turn back to the house immediately after shutting the barn door, she refuses leave the horse pens where she’s been sitting in anticipation.  If I turn instead to walk around the pens and head out on the trail we’ve worn through the rabbit brush, Rosie will scoot under the fence with a big grin on her face and wait for me.

She used to walk so closely behind me that sometimes she’d step on my heels.  After a few weeks she began to dare to walk slightly ahead of me, often stopping with uncertainty, forcing me to step over her else I’ll fall over her. 

None of that anymore.  Now Rosie scrambles ahead of me, her stumpy legs propelling her down the trail faster than I’d have ever guessed she would or could run.  She’ll break off her sprints to run in tight little circles, her skinny little tail whipping from side to side.  Then she’ll stop, panting, waiting for me to catch up so she can tear off again.

So cute!  This is what having a dog should be like, isn’t it? 

Hah.  

After having been here three months, I can hardly consider Rosie to be trained.  We’ve barely begun.  There’s lots and lots of room for screwing up.

Having figured out that it’s okay to not stick on my heels when we walk, Rosie is now feeling the call of the freedom, and that means exploration and adventure.  It is no surprise that she has discovered the joy of chasing rabbits.  Mostly cottontails, since jackrabbits don’t hunker down and pretend to be invisible till Rosie trips over one. 

At first  Rosie dared chase only a few yards before she’d turn around and dutifully come back to me.  Not because I was calling her but because she didn’t feel she was allowed to be doing what she was doing.  She would watch me very carefully to see if she was in trouble.  She was not.  I would never yell at a dog for coming back to me even if I had been calling, but of course the only way she would know that would be through trust and trust takes time to build.

But the other day I was chasing the neighbor’s cattle off my property and Rosie really pushed the boundaries.  The bovines were down valley, meaning that I had to chase them up the side of the mesa to get them back to the allotment where they belong.  Very good exercise for me, chasing cows – much better than fixing my fence.

At any rate, I was puffing myself halfway up the mesa (did I mention that the mesa sides are super steep?) when a small brown streak blurred past me.  Aha!  I thought.  Rosie is going to round up the stragglers.  Sometimes I amaze myself with my imagination.

Not only had Rosie flushed a rabbit, she’d flushed one that was dumb enough (or maybe smart enough) to run towards other rabbits.  Next thing I know a bunny-sized streak flashed down the mesa side, another across the mesa side, and two in the other directions.  Rosie was nowhere to be seen.

After I had watched the last cow hump her way over the rim rock and onto the mesa, I started back, calling Rosie as I went.  She’s the exact color of dried grass and her red collar is as good as invisible in the vastness a small dog could disappear into.  Cupping my hands behind my ears made it possible to hear her panting, but I couldn’t see her anywhere.  She was moving fast but not in my direction.

I called some more.  I whistled – not sure why, since I’ve never whistled for her before.  I kept moving towards the barn, stopping to listen, calling, being ignored.

And finally I realized how stupid this was.  I had wanted Rosie to feel confident enough to do things on her own and now that she was doing something on her own I was trying to control her.  Of course I didn’t want her to get lost, maybe to be eaten by coyotes, or shot by some trigger-happy yokel.  But I knew she hadn’t gone far.  I knew it wasn’t about her getting lost; it was about her running away.

Would Rosie suddenly realize she really was free?

I have wanted Rosie to trust me, but didn’t I also need to trust Rosie?

I went back to my barn chores, trying to not constantly look up to see if Rosie was coming.  When I was done, I resisted the urge to hike back up the mesa side, to call some more.  I had to believe that the relationship we had established was true, and for it to be true there has to be trust in both directions.

I had to trust that if Rosie was now confident enough to step away from me, she was also confident enough in me to come back.

And she was.

Having lost her rabbit, she had come back home.  Home, where I found her sound asleep on her bed by the wood stove.  She cracked open her eyes, thumped her tail once, and went back to sleep.  Perfectly at home.

The honeymoon’s over and thank goodness for that.  Let the real relationship begin.   

 

 

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Training Rosie

Rosie in the weeds (c) 2019 Lif StrandRosie barked today.  Seriously barked, not just a passing woof.  A neighbor who had been moving some dirt with his tractor right outside the house was walking around on foot, assessing what he’d done and what he needed to do next.  He came close to the back door and for some reason Rosie didn’t like that at all. 

Well that certainly was a surprise. 

She doesn’t have a big bark — in fact, what with the tractor’s engine idling I didn’t at first realize she was barking at all.  Loud or not, Rosie  seemed quite determined about letting the neighbor know that he was crossing a line she had decided on.

A guard dog.  Who’d have thunk it?

Rosie is still too quick to display submissive behavior to me but at least now she gets over it right away when I reassure her.  Disciplining a cowering dog is tough, so I try to be big on love and restrained when correcting.  I’m willing to give her many chances to figure out what I want so she can be a happy puppy all the time, and even, some day, feel free to be mischievous. 

So yeah, I’m tolerant — but some unwanted behaviors are harder for me to tolerate than others.  Like going potty inside instead of outside.

I thought we were done with potty training.  Rosie seemed to get the idea.  She was doing very well with holding her pee overnight until suddenly, a few days ago, she wasn’t.  Maybe not so coincidentally it was when I had to start closing the kitchen door at bedtime.  It’s getting too cold at night for me to leave it open for her — especially when she can go out the doggie door whenever she wants.

I wondered if it had to do with going down the stairs off the porch.  We don’t really know how old Rosie is – the vet said maybe 5-ish but she could be older.  What if going down the five steps was painful? 

That idea went out the window right away.   A few days ago I had to go into town for a load of hay.  I had shut the kitchen door so Rosie would be safely inside, hoping but not knowing if she would use the doggie door to go out to her dog yard if she had to pee during the few hours I was gone.  I was unwilling to lock her outside because she’s only been here two months and doesn’t seem all that secure yet. 

I’m such a worry wart.  When I came home, Rosie was proudly waiting for me at my property gate.  I had forgotten to close the gate to her dog yard.  Clearly Rosie had no trouble with the doggie door, the stairs down, or taking advantage of an open gate.

I was not happy for her to be greeting me like that, but boy, was I happy to see her at the property gate instead of my having to hunt for a lost dog. 

But back to the peeing problem.

I didn’t know why Rosie was going in the house but to be fair she did try to get me out of bed in the mornings to let her out.  She was only able to her pee until she determined I wasn’t going to get up in time — I guessed she just gave up.  I felt so bad for being such a slug, though I did notice Rosie didn’t seem to feel all that sorry for having done it.  She just watched patiently as I grumbled and moaned my way through sopping up about five gallons worth of pee on the floor before I was properly awake.  Who knew a little dog could hold so much in her bladder? 

So why, you ask, didn’t I just get up and let her out when she asked me to?  Excuse me – but she was doing all this before sunrise, and I’m not a morning person

Needless to say, dark out or no, for the next several mornings when she got up and started walking around the house she didn’t need to jump up on the edge of the mattress to emphasize her point.  At the first click of her toenails I would fly out of bed, throw on my bathrobe and a jacket, and run to the back door to escort her to a pee spot. 

This morning, though, when I hopped out of bed and took her outside she just walked around sniffing at stuff.  Then I noticed a fresh pee spot right near where she always does it. 

Hmmm. 

Rosie had clearly used the doggie door to go out to pee before she woke me up.

Before she woke me up.   Okaaaay.  Here’s what I think:  This has nothing to do with peeing.

I think Rosie is training me.  I think she is a morning dog and she is bound and determined to make me a morning person.  And I think she’s really good at it.  For sure she gets me out of bed faster than an alarm clock does. 

Maybe this afternoon’s barking was an indication not so much of Rosie feeling secure as her having decided I’m trainable enough to be worth protecting.  

Maybe Rosie is really happy she doesn’t have to pee in the house anymore to get me to pay attention.  Guess I’ll find out tomorrow morning when I get up at an ungodly hour before dawn.

 

 

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Breakthrough!

Cats rule. This is something all cats understand. Dogs may not get it at first, but wise dogs don’t argue the point — not even when they know it ain’t so. Especially not when the cat is Tux and the dog is Rosie. She might outweigh Tux by 30 pounds or so but that doesn’t make her bigger than Tux.

Tux is the biggest, baddest cat in the valley and he is the boss. He has driven this point home ever since he arrived here back in 2015 or thereabouts. For some reason, though, he has felt compelled to drum the message into Rosie particularly hard.  He’s hissed, spat, yowled, clawed, leaped on, and in general been horribly mean to my ferocious  pit bull I mean Amstaff.

Who has never even curled a lip at him.

In fact, Rosie reverts to her cower position or turns tail and runs from Tux when he goes at her.  At least that’s been the MO for almost all the nearly six weeks she’s been living with us.

Almost all.  Because things are beginning to change.

Last week Rosie and I went out on the allotment for an evening walk but didn’t go far because the cows were hanging out and blocking our way, focused on poor Rosie.  I guess it’s because of her size and because she looks less like a threat than she does a fat bullet with stubby legs (I write that with great fondness, mind you), since instead of ignoring me or moseying off the other way when they see me, when they see Rosie the cows tend to get aggressive.  They line up, shoulder to shoulder, heads lowered, and stare at her.  Then one will take a step.  Then another one will take a step.  I don’t wait for a third one to move, or for the whole line of cows to get the idea, I turn around and take Rosie with me.

This particular walk Tux had accompanied us on the outward bound part as far as the cattle pens.  He was still there, waiting for us when we came back.  Oh no!  What if he went after Rosie and chased her out towards the cows?  But he didn’t do that.  He ran at her but veered off when she hunched down and squinched her eyes.  Then he trotted back towards home, tail in the air, point proven.  We followed.

There was an incident at my gate — a standoff as to who was going to go through it first — but I decided I’d had enough so I abandoned them to work it out.  I had covered maybe a hundred feet towards the house when I heard the thunder of paws.  I just shook my head and kept going.  Next thing I knew, Rosie and Tux were neck and neck, flat-out racing towards home.  Rosie hauled herself to a stop but Tux kept going till he was sure we all knew he had won.

Since then there have been more empty threats and fewer attacks, and yesterday I caught Tux and Rosie sniffing noses.  I don’t know, but it looks like an armistice is in the works.  As long as Rosie lets Tux win, I think this will lead to true peace, and maybe even friendship.

Cat walking under evening sky (Lif Strand Photo)

The boss surveying his domain

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#amwriting

Normalizing

Rosie denying the evidence I didn’t know whether to laugh or scream when I came home the other day and found this.  Rosie had torn open a bag of plastic bags that was headed for recycling.  They were everywhere.

Rosie first crouched down as if waiting for the blow that never came.  I did express my dismay — not to her, but to the world in general.  Not yelling, just my patented (hah!) technique of dramatically expressing woe at normal speaking volume, said woe not directed at any perpetrator.

I’ve very good at sounding like one of Terry Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegles: “Waily waily!  Bags on the floor!  Waily waily!”

But the perp always knows who’s really guilty.  Rosie would not look at me nor, after she sat up again, would she look at the mess.  She gazed fixedly out the door, as if no bags were there.  Or maybe as if she was simply bearing witness to someone else’s crime.  Perhaps she expected I’d believe one of the cats did it.  Or maybe some other dog.

No, none of those things.  I think it was a test she had devised for me, to see what I would do.

The good news is that Rosie was seeing if she was a bad dog.  On purpose.  Yes, that’s good news!  Tearing up a bag of plastic is such a normal (if unwanted) thing for a dog to do.  It makes me happy that Rosie feels comfortable enough to risk exploring what the rules are in this house.  Even I, dense human that I am, know that she can’t ask me in any other way other than by doing.

That’s the trick, isn’t it?  I can’t just tape a list to the refrigerator door.  I can’t expect her to try to learn if I punish her for exploring the boundaries, either.  I do expect her to notice my reactions and to remember them, though.  I expect her to not repeat the actions that elicited my reactions, and then — eventually — to understand the rule that governs that set of circumstances.  That sounds pretty complicated but dogs are good at figuring the rules out, as long as the human is consistent with respect to the actions governed by those rules.

Think of it as an inter-species game of charades.

One day Rosie picked up a slipper and marched across the room with it while I was sitting at the computer.  I removed it from her mouth and put it back.  She has not done exactly that again.  Instead, she next gathered all my shoes that were not in the closet and brought them to her bed by the door while I was out of the house.  When I returned and discovered the pile of shoes there I picked them up and put them back.

She did not chew on the shoes.  She just moved the shoes.  She hasn’t touched any shoes since.  So could she assume that the rule is don’t touch Lif’s shoes?

Maybe.  How could she be sure without testing?  So next was the plastic bags.  While there were some bits and pieces of plastic scattered around, I don’t think she was purposefully tearing them up as much as accidentally doing so as she pulled them out of the containing bag and separated them from each other.  And again, she did this right by her dog bed near the kitchen door — not by her other bed next to my own, but where I would see the crime the moment I came entered the house.  Again I expressed woe as I picked up the bags and then put them out of reach.

To me this was about Rosie asking questions and not about Rosie being a bad dog.  The questions aren’t like we would ask.  They’re more like hot and cold (a form of charades).  If I do this, how will Lif respond?  If I do more of this, what will she do?  What if I do this other thing, which is kind of like those first things but different?  

Because I’m not punishing her when I discover these things, Rosie is free to ask the questions in a way that makes sense to her.  I don’t mind people or critters asking questions.  Picking up a few shoes or plastic bags is not a hardship for me.  It’s a small thing in the bigger picture.  Rosie has only been here a few weeks and she’s trying to learn a whole bunch of rules all at once. Not only rules like going outside to pee and poop, or not messing with the cats.

Rosie is learning that Lif’s stuff is Lif’s stuff, not Rosie’s. Also, she’s learning that Lif is a safe human being to be around.  Maybe even a fun human, someone a dog relax around.  And I think most important of all, Rosie is learning to feel that this is her home — and as a resident she can ask questions without fear.

I say, ask away.

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Me & Rosie

photo of a person and a dog

Me & Rosie

This first week of me and Rosie has been full of ups and downs.  I lost my temper with her yesterday.  It didn’t involve hitting, but it involved anger and Rosie knew it.  My day wasn’t going well and Rosie was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I apologized for my outburst immediately.  But I felt like a shit for doing it.  She forgave me, but I’m not sure I can forgive myself.

What did she do?  I wanted to go for a walk.  She was reluctant, mostly because she’s unhappy on a leash.  She’ll come along but not enthusiastically.  I needed her to go on leash for the first part of the walk because we had to thread our way through cows.  I needed her to keep up and didn’t want a 40 lb dead weight on the end of that leash.

I yanked.  She cringed.  I yanked again and demanded that she come.  She cringed some more.  And then when I caught myself — when I realized I was the one being the jerk, not her — I had to make it right.  She watched closely as I reached into my pocket for a doggie treat, but when I bent over her to offer it she flattened herself to the ground.

She expected to be hit.

I don’t hit dogs, but how would she know that?  It was my fault, dammit.  I was in such a bad temper, though, that I could not continue on the walk with Rosie.  So I took the leash off, told her we were going back to the house, and she followed just fine.  She licked me when I sat down on the porch stairs to apologize.  I felt like an even bigger shit.

I have to remind myself that she’s had five years or so being treated one way, and I’ve had a week of my way.  There are no instant results when training critters of any kind, not unless there’s fear or pain involved.  I know that.  I just have to keep remembering that the memory of pain and fear is a very loud one.

Meanwhile, Tux and Lili and Rosie are working out a kind of detente.  I still don’t trust them alone with each other, but I’m talking to them a lot, asking them to get along.  Tux is still the king of outside, but inside he’s not in his own jurisdiction.  Lili and Rosie seem to be getting along okay — no love there yet, but they’re well into toleration.  Neither of them has any desire to share the house with Tux, but if Rosie is going to have access to the yard then everybody knows Tux will come inside.

Always the challenges.  But there are successes, too, or at least signs of progress.

Rosie occasionally chews on the dental bone (gotta deal with that tartar, don’t you know) but is flummoxed by the ball.  I bounce it and she watches it, but that’s all.  She’s still wary of the horses — and rightfully so — but is now willing to go near the horse pens.  She doesn’t pee in the house, doesn’t go in the garbage, and after being told only twice that the slippers were mine and not hers to chew, she left them alone.  In the evenings when it cools down, she gets a sudden burst of energy.  She drives me crazy pestering me for attention, licking whatever body parts of mine she can reach.  She does a kind of little dance when she sees Tux at the door.

And she barked yesterday.  I had run the neighbor’s cows off my property (I really need to fix the fence but that’s so low on the To Do list) but missed two calves that decided maybe they’d come into my yard instead of following the grownups.  Rosie barked at them, twice, before skedaddling back into the house.  The calves weren’t impressed with that bit of noise, but I was.

Rosie is claiming her space.  I like that very much because it means she’s feeling like she’s home.  Rosie is finding herself, but she won’t be able to leave her past behind just like that [snaps fingers].  Part of it is just time but mostly it’s on me.  Human-animal relationships aren’t about making the animal do things as much as the human controlling her own thoughts, feelings, and actions so that the animal can respond willingly.

The good news is that I’m trainable.  The better news is that I think Rosie has faith in me.

 

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