Critters update

I was going to write about Bubbaz, but realized I would have to include Rosie. And then I would need to talk about the cats, and hey, while I was at it what about the horses?  And the elk and the ravens, and… yeah, like that. I’ve got critters, lots of them, and they’ve all got a story.

So here’s a bit of everything critter-related since the last time I posted, the day after Bubbaz arrived.

Photo of Bubbaz the dog

Bubbaz

Bubbaz

I’m starting with him because I mentioned him first – no favoritism here!  

Just a refresher: on June 26, 2020 I picked up Bubbaz from Round Valley Animal Rescue in Springerville AZ.  I was told he was part Great Dane.  Given his love for running – and by that I mean the dog never walks when he can trot, and never trots when he can barrel along at full speed – I’m more inclined than ever to think that there’s Greyhound in him, too.  Bubz does not act like any eight year old dog of that size I’ve ever met.  He does acrobatics when he walks next to me and thinks I’m going too slow, leaps over every obstacle he can find and with room to spare, and when we set out on a walk he runs circles around me.

Bubz has huge feet.  Just sayin’.

He is a happy dog.  His philosophy is whatever, it’s good.  Thunder and lightning?  No problem.  Last one to get breakfast.  That’s fine.  Look in my ear?  Well, if you must.

Except for one thing:  He doesn’t like being left behind.  His whines can be heard a quarter mile away. 

Bubz is sensitive.  When I get excited (usually that means yelling at my computer) he reacts. If I need to correct him, clearing my throat will get the message across.  If he’s running out too far from me, I swear I can just think my concern and he comes zooming back. 

When I first got him he had full access to the interior of my house and to a dog yard with a 6’ fence.  We walked on leash.  In a month’s time he has graduated to no leash, and I am super happy with him.  The dog not only knows what it means when I call him, he actually comes!

Unlike with Rosie, who has to be cajoled, bribed, and sometimes escorted to get her to come — even when it’s for dinner.

Rosie

The introduction of a new dog to Rosie’s established territory was painless.  What might take weeks and months with other dogs took hours and days with him and Rosie.  Bubz is just a super dog, and Rosie is happy to have a companion again.  When she was rescued from the backyard she had been abandoned in (nearly a year ago) she had a toy poodle friend who got adopted immediately.  It was good to have nearly a year to ourselves with no other dogs around.  It gave Rosie, who is submissive to the extreme, the chance to relax and expand her wings to whatever extent possible. But when Bubz came into our lives it was like I had gotten him as a gift just for her.

In a way, I did.

One great thing about having such an energetic new companion is that Bubz encourages Rosie to put a little more effort into keeping up on our walks.  She still takes her own sweet time, mind you.  Bubbaz and I will have reached the one mile point and be turning back towards home when Rosie’s only covered a half mile.  And then, when she sees us coming, she just sits down and waits. 

Bubbaz & Rosie sleeping

Bubbaz & Rosie

I can’t blame her, though.  It’s not just that she’s got such short little legs (I just measured them – her front legs are 9 ½” long from elbow to foot) so that she’s got to work harder to keep up with long-legged Bubbaz.  It’s simply hard for her to breathe.  In spite of the surgery last February, she still suffers from brachycephalic syndrome.  She’s not as bad as she was, but I still have to be careful to not let her get overheated or stressed. 

She also seems to be developing arthritis.  We don’t know how old she is, but even young dogs can suffer from it.  Rosie walks with a side-ways lurch, as if her feet hurt.  She can’t jump into a car.  Going up and down stairs seems to be a challenge.  Lately she’s been peeing and pooping inside the house near the back door.  It took me a while to get the message:  She doesn’t like going down and then back up the stairs to the dog pen but if I leave the back door ajar she goes outside just fine – there’s only one low step for her to negotiate to get to the back yard.  I guess I need to install another dog door for Rosie’s sake.  And also because if I leave the back door open anything can come in.

Birdies

photo of a Say's Phoebe

Say’s Phoebe

Today a bird took the open door as an invitation.  It’s a Say’s Phoebe, a favorite of mine because of the vocalizations. I know the “clear, slurred whistle” that’s repeated over and over drives some people crazy but I like it.  Plus phoebes are flycatchers and anything that eats flies is a good thing in my book.  I was able to catch the little bird easily with my nekked hands (usually I toss a towel over a bird I’m trying to catch).  Phoebe was very patient while I grabbed the cell phone, got the photo app activated, and took a few shots for posterity.

Meanwhile, my valley’s extended raven family members (sorry, I refuse to call them a murder of ravens) are done with their courtship flights and most have gone off elsewhere, leaving a core pair that “owns” the valley and its contents.  These ravens spend a lot of time around the horse pens.  Sometimes just for the fun of driving the dogs to distraction they’ll hang out on the porch railing or a fence near the house. 

Some people feed ravens and the birds get quite tame.  I don’t feed the wild animals around me.  If they became dependent and then something happened to me, they’d go hungry.  Plus, well, wild animals should be wild.  That’s what I think and I’m sticking to it.

The only thing is I wish they were just a wee bit less wild.  I don’t want them to stop being wild, I just want to get a few good photos.  Okay, a lot of good photos.  I swear, every time I touch a camera or cell phone they wait just till I’m ready to press the shutter and then take off.  Clever little devils.

Cats

Coming around full circle, Lili took only a few days to decide that Bubbaz wasn’t going away.  She whacked him a couple times on his nose just so he knew who was boss, and since then she’s pretty much ignored him just as she ignores Rosie.  They’re merely lesser beings she’s forced to share space with.

Tux, on the other hand, has not been so accepting.  First he growled and attacked poor Bubbaz.  After he’d sufficiently demonstrated that he was really the boss, Tux relented some.  He’d go with us to the barn, talking the whole way (he’s quite the talker, Tux is) and on walks.  It was getting downright friendly around here. 

And then Tux disappeared. 

He is prone to that – he is a tomcat, after all.  He was gone so long this time that I started thinking maybe he wasn’t coming back.  Finally, after nearly a week AWOL, I heard him talking as he approached the house.  It was weird, though — I couldn’t figure out why he didn’t come in right away.  He had to be hungry.  And then when he finally did come in, he made a bee-line for the kibble bowl, scarfed down his food, and split.

Tomcats.  I figured he had a girlfriend he was courting somewhere and was in a hurry to get back.  I was right… and oh boy, was I wrong.

A couple nights later I heard a teensy mewling from outside somewhere.  And I heard Tux talking back.  Obviously, to a kitten. 

Yes, Tux had brought home his very own kitten. 

It bears mentioning that the nearest inhabited house to mine is several miles away.  I haven’t heard anyone talking about missing a kitten from a litter so I’m more inclined to think this kitten is feral.  Either way, I have to think Tux had been courting its mother who, given the size of this bit of fluff and the timing of Tux’s disappearance, had come into her post-partum heat.  Since this wasn’t the first time Tux had gone walkabout this year, I also have to wonder if maybe he’s the father of the kitten.

I also have to wonder if Tux is so clever that he figured out if he had a kitten of his own here it could grow up to be a female cat he could breed without missing any meals.  Or maybe, if he’s the father, he just wanted his own flesh and blood to hang with.

While it’s a mystery to me how he convinced a wee little kitten to follow him home, I have to say I’m kind of happy Tux did so.  Lili and he have become indifferent mousers.  She’s too old and toothless, and he couldn’t be bothered.  But a young cat might well find mouse steak tartare to be an excellent repast.

To that end, I’ve been feeding the kitten in a have-a-heart trap, rigged to stay open and placed near the hole she scrambles into when I try sneaking up on her to see what she looks like.  When she gets old enough to get spayed, she’ll be used to the trap and thus easier to catch.  I don’t feel any need to tame her.  She’ll tame if she wants to, and if not – well, she won’t be the first feral cat I’ve had in my life.  On the other hand, I don’t think this kitten means to live outside the rest of her life.

Every night Tux attempts to to talk her into the house.  If he can get her in, he retreats to my bed and lets her explore.  Last night she made it into the kitchen.  Lily was up on top of the cabinet watching.  Bubbaz watched me to see what he was supposed to do rather than join Rosie in going after the small intruder.  I called Rosie off before she was halfway across the room (pretty nimble for a dog that finds it hard to go up stairs). 

The kitten skeedaddled out the dog door and I thought for sure that would be the last I’d see of her for days, but no.  Tux followed her out, had a chat with her, and within minutes she was back inside, back in the kitchen where she had left off.  I tried for a photo but that was just too much.  She ran out and stayed out, no matter how much Tux tried to get her back.

She will be back, though.  She already stuck her head in the dog door earlier today.  It’s not hard to know when she’s around because she’s got to talk about it. 

Just like her daddy does.

Horses

Sometimes I despair because each one of my five horses has got a problem.  I keep forgetting that four of them are senior citizens and these issues crop up with old age.  I’ve got an Arabian horse retirement and rehab facility here, and I can’t expect twenty and thirty year old horses to act like yearlings.

SE Kelsey Grae.  At thirty three, Kelsey is the oldest.  She’s in good health except she’s become a hard keeper.  Even so, she moves as fluidly as ever, always reminding me why we had been such careful breeders back in the day, looking for athletic ability rather than just another pretty Arabian face.  I haven’t been on her back for nearly ten years but I bet she wouldn’t fuss at all if I hopped on her back – except for that spine that sticks up.   

SE Bint Tazala and SE Sofia.  The next oldest – nearly thirty — are Tess and Sofie, neither ever started under saddle due to physical issues early on.  Tess injured her left fore fetlock joint when she was one or two.  It healed badly and she can’t flex the joint.  Tess’ bloodlines are superb and we could have bred her, but we never did.  She is still the most beautiful mare, even in her late twenties, and she’s got a personality to match.

Sofie developed severe lordosis (sway back) between two and three years old.  We didn’t see it develop as we were in the process of moving to New Mexico then and all our horses were boarded out.  Imagine our astonishment when we saw her next and she looked like an old plug!  The vet told us that it wasn’t painful for her and that she could be ridden – or even bred.  We had too many horses to ride as it was, and had no desire to pass on the possibly recessive genes involved.  Sofie became a pet. 

SE Kokopelli Kid.  Koko, now twenty three years old, was going to be my endurance horse and breeding stallion.  He’s the son of my soulmate stallion, Ben Nasrif, who I miss every day.  Sadly for Koko his breeding career got cut short with the collapse of the economy in 2008, and I had some health issues that resulted in my never doing more than sitting on his back.  No training, mind you.  Aside from athleticism, we bred for intelligence and personality.  The day I first sat on Koko’s back it was because I was sitting on the fence rail and he came up and stood next to me, essentially telling me to hop on.  And I did.  Sadly, Koko had an accident last fall – we never did figure out what he did to himself – and was severely lamed.  He’s improved since then but he’ll never be sound again.

Photo of Sonny as a foal

Sonny at six months

SE Redhill Sonetta.  Last but not least is Sonny.  She was the end result of an unplanned and unnoticed pregnancy, born long after Koko was retired from stud.  He had been lonely and we had an old mare who’d shown no signs of coming into heat for years.  You can imagine the rest of that story, but I’ll just go ahead and tell it.  We let Suletta live with Koko.  Never saw any sign of breeding activity.  Koko was happy to be with her, Su was content to boss him around, as mares will do.  A year passed.  And then another.

One frigid January morning, New Year’s weekend I believe it was, I went out to feed.  Su and Koko were turned out at night, but that morning only he came in for breakfast.  I hunted for Su, but it wasn’t till I had given up, fed the other horses, and come in to warm up before going out again, that she showed up.  When I went back outside there was the reason… a foal. 

Talk about shocked! 

Sonny grew up to be a promising endurance contender (her full and half-siblings were killer on the trail) until one day she came into breakfast lame.  Not yet ten years old and she was suffering from laminitis.  Out here it’s a major deal to get a vet to make a ranch call or to haul a horse the hundred miles or more to the nearest vet clinic where she could be x-rayed.  Much treatment and many dollars later, she still suffers periodic laminitis bouts and when that happens I freak out, grit my teeth, and we start the whole recovery process yet again.  In-between the bouts she travels up and down the mesa sides with the old lady horses and it’s tempting… but riding her wouldn’t be fair, not with those feet. So while Sonny is gorgeous hunk and an otherwise healthy middle-aged mare, she’s permanently retired.

None of my horses will ever have any other homes than the one they have now.  That’s true for all my critters.  Rescue dogs, stray cats, bumbling birds, and crippled ancient horses — doesn’t matter.  I’ve got my own issues and I don’t want to be sent off to live somewhere else, so I won’t do that to them.  We’ll all grow old together.  Family.

That’s all I’ve got for you today. Oh wait — I forgot to describe what it was like one dark night when a herd of elk cows and calves wandered by the house, calling to each other in their weird high-pitched whistles for nearly an hour. Or the recording I made of spade-toed toads (say that three times fast) singing their love songs.. Or…

Maybe next time.

#amwriting

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!

< PREVIOUS POST: Happy News in Trying Times |   

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.

< PREVIOUS POST: The Honeymoon’s Over  |  NEXT: Rosie and Me Settling in >

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.

 

 

< PREVIOUS POST: Breakthrough!   |  NEXT POST:  The Honeymoon’s Over >

 

 

 

 

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.

< PREVIOUS POST: Me & Rosie         NEXT POST: Tux and Rosie breakthrough >

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.

 

< Rosie, day 4 (visit to the vet)      Normalizing (learning rules) >

 

Rosie Day 2

Rosie the dog sitting and looking at the camera 2019 Lif Strand photo

Just look – where is the big pit bull smile?  Rosie is too uncertain still, though she has smiled for me once or twice.

Yesterday was Rosie’s first full day with me. She was, of course, on her best behavior. Rescue/rehome dogs are like that – they tiptoe around, not knowing the rules and not wanting to get busted for breaking one.

Then they start getting more relaxed as they figure out that the new digs are safe. That’s when they start testing the boundaries, which is a way of zeroing in on the rules of the new place. Or sometimes it’s not so must testing as being clueless.  Today, day two of Rosie, is the day of clueless.

I’m pretty sure Rosie is not house-trained. If she lived in a backyard all the time, why would she be? Yesterday she was still too intimidated to test any rules or do much of anything at all except lay on her bed and look around. In the evening she tentatively checked out a radius of maybe twenty feet from her bed but hesitated to do more.

Knowing she might not tell me when she needed to go potty, yesterday I took her on walks every few hours. The last one was pretty late in the evening.  Didn’t matter.  This morning I woke up to find two pee puddles on the floor. One was right next to Lili Kitty’s litter box, so Rosie gets points for that. The other was near the kitchen door that she’d been in and out of, so she gets points for that, too.  She wasn’t sure it was okay but hey, the cat did it there, and the door she had gone out to pee was there…. I sprayed the spots thoroughly with enzyme spray (if you’ve got cats – especially males — you need that stuff) while she watched. But I didn’t say a word to her about it. I just did it and moved on to the next thing that needed doing in my house.

The thing about living with animals is that you have to learn to communicate. For most people communicate seems to mean that the critters have to learn to understand English. For me it doesn’t. For me it’s about body language, intent, and maybe a little bit of ESP.

Animals are masters at reading body language, which makes sense given that their verbal abilities are limited by physiology, if nothing else. Horses are so good at reading body language that some of them have become money-earners for their owners. A hundred years ago Clever Hans could do math problems, and a couple decades after him, Lady Wonder could not only type messages but read minds.

Read minds?

Except that it turned out both horses were just experts at reading human body language. When they were asked questions, the horses could give correct responses nearly 90% of the time when the questioner already knew the answers, but less than 10% of the time when the questioner had no idea — which is not to say that what the horses were doing was any less incredible. They could read body language whether or not the questioner intended them to, including when other human beings could perceive no cues at all.

Dogs can howl, bark, groan, whine, whimper, yip, grunt – but they don’t have spoken language like humans do. Humans can make the same noises dogs do, but humans don’t really know what the sounds mean. They’re just noises to us, not words.

A dog that hasn’t been asked to learn words, that is, a dog that hasn’t been trained, isn’t going to understand the meaning of any words at all. But they can get by just fine without it. They can read body language as well as a horse can.  Better than a human, too.

A rescue dog has way more incentive to be accurate in that reading than a dog that’s comfortable in its own home. I didn’t tell Rosie she was bad for peeing in the house because she would have no clue what the words mean.  While she might not be Border Collie smart, though, she’s smart enough to understand my tone of voice and my body language. I wasn’t happy when I sprayed the pee spots but I didn’t tell her that – I was careful to say nothing at all.  I didn’t have to. Just my having paid attention to her pee made her so nervous that for the next couple hours she cowered anytime I walked near her.

I ignored that, too.  I didn’t want to make a huge deal, I just wanted to make it as clear as I could that yes, there was something about peeing in the house that was different than eating, sleeping, and all the other things that go on in a house — but no more than that.  It was not a punishable offense.  Rosie was not a bad dog.

It was the same with how I wanted her to know that looking too intently at a cat in the house was a thing in itself, and that licking the hot spots on her paws is another  thing. There will eventually be a whole bunch of things that will be differentiated over time, but we’ve started with just these few.  These will become the words in the language that both Rosie and I understand.

Once she learns to differentiate between actions — to identify that there are differences — then those actions become units of understanding.  Meaningfulness, if you will.  After meaning comes learning whether actions are permissible or not.  And from that comes understanding of the rules.

So has Rosie become house-trained, just like that? Not likely!  At best Rosie knows that that there’s something going on.  If I’m lucky she’s already made the connection between peeing in those spots and me being unhappy. She doesn’t know what or why, not yet.  She’s still learning to trust that I won’t hurt her, that I will behave in predictable ways, and that I expect her to behave in certain ways, too.  She doesn’t know the ways, mind you. Heck, she doesn’t really know her name yet.

We don’t have communication established, not yet — but we’re getting there.  It’s early days still.

Oh, and about that ESP?  Next time.

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