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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Rosie update – day 4

sleeping dog

Rosie napping after a visit to the vet
2019 Lif Strand photo

Just a quick report on Rosie’s veterinary visit today.

She was such a good girl!  She had to be helped up and down stairs — she seems to not have had to deal with them before in her life — but did not squirm or object to being lifted.  She spent a lot of time giving me, the vet, and his assistant kisses, and cooperated so nicely that Rosie earned a treat for her efforts.

Dr. Duncan said that most of her scabs are from fly irritation, and as he poked at them some scabs fell off so they are about healed.  The lump under her chin is a scar from an abscess, now healed, probably several months old.  She has several other old scars.  None of them appear to be from fighting.  What I thought was a hot spot on her foot is also an older scar, but she has been licking it and irritating it.  I’ve got to watch that so she doesn’t make it worse.

She got vaccinations including rabies.  Her heartworm test (done right there at Dr. Duncan’s mobile clinic) was negative (yay!).  He gave her a dewormer for regular worms, too.

Dr. Duncan looked at her teeth and said they’re in good shape other than a little tartar.  There’s some wearing of the incisors indicating she’s around 5 years old.  He could find no evidence of Rosie’s having been spayed, and in fact it looks like she’s coming into or going out of heat right now.  He thought she’s had at least one litter, possibly more.  I got the number of SNAP in Silver City, a place that helps out with the cost of spaying, so I’m going to give them a call.

As for what she is, breed-wise:  No guarantees, but she is more like an American Staffordshire Terrier than an American pit bull.  She’s more delicately built than a pit bull, with a less broad head and jaw.  Which is not to say that she couldn’t be pure pit bull, or a pit bull cross.  But I’m going to tell people she’s a Staffie and avoid the stigma attached to pit bull.

Rosie is sacked out now after such a stimulating day.  She deserves the rest, and when she wakes up there’s another yummy treat waiting for her.

[Edited to add info about SNAP:  They help low income people with spay and neutering, but the dog has to be brought to Silver City.  The participating vets there do surgery before they open in the a.m. so that would mean a 3 1/2 hour drive one way plus an overnight.  The cost for that would equal the savings in the cost of spay.  So much for that!]

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