Posts in Menagerie

Who’s training who? (or “How I taught my dogs to give them a cookie for eating breakfast”)

Long ago, we used to let the dogs out into the front yard — the area between the dog fence and the road — for a good airing after meals. At the time, the area was *mostly* dog fenced, but there was an area, if the dogs ran to the northeast side and allll the way down the length of the dog fence, where they could get into the horse pastures.

With Pax or Rain, this was never a problem. Great recalls. Heck, I can call Pax off a deer. (Or at least I could in the past. Been a long time since I tested that.) Aslan was another story. There was a certain imaginary line on the way to the horse pasture. If I called him before he got to that line, he would come back. If not, he was gone. And gone meant gone. Over half our property is populated with thick woods and swamp (and various wild animals), and once there, he had no desire to come back to the boring people and the irritating fence.

So every day (weather permitting, which means it wasn’t every day, but this is my story and every day sounds better) we would let the dogs out to have a good run. The area in the front of the house is big, and since the horses occupied it occasionally, it always had lots of fun things to smell and entertain them. They would play for five minutes, and then I’d call them in with the never-fail recall word: “Cookies!” The dogs would RUN back to the house, and we’d have a ritual handing out of their favorite cookies as a reward for the lovely recall.

This was a great ritual until Aslan ran away once too often. (It was probably the time he ended up in the middle of the swamp at laste dusk, and Jay not only had to crawl through a dark swamp to find him, but then we had to lift the muddy smelly [giant] dog over the fence to get him home.) I declared that he would never, ever have free run of the front area again.

And he didn’t.

But somehow the cookie tradition didn’t change. The dogs would eat their meals, go out to pee, and then come back and demand cookies. And I… gave them to them. Eventually, smart dog that they are, they skipped the whole go out for a pee part, and simply demanded their cookies at the end of their meal.

And that’s how my dogs trained them to give them cookies for eating breakfast.

Things are better with River. Starting Wednesday night, things got really, really hard. He wanted nothing to do with that new crate, so sleep-time became protest time. I’m working a lot of hours, and I just can’t handle significant lack of sleep. On top of the sleep issues, the housetraining took about a dozen steps back. It seemed no matter how hard I tried to watch him, how many gates I set up to keep him contained, he was peeing and pooping everywhere but outside. That last straw was the lake he peed in my bed at 2:30 Saturday morning. I broke down. I’d had it.

Jay is the best husband in the world. He had a doctor appointment on Saturday morning, but when he got back, he took over puppy duty. Really took over. He watched River with 100% focus. He made sure River went potty outside every time and was rewarded mightily for it. I went back to bed and slept, Pax curled up beside me. (Pflouff takes care of River, and Pax takes care of me.) In the afternoon, after my nap, he and I took turns with the puppy. I have a big project due Monday morning, and without complaining, Jay took more than his share of puppy time so I could work. When he wasn’t watching the puppy, he was running errands — like driving to town to bring back Mexican food for me.

He’s the best. Really. (Did I mention that he’s doing all this while SICK?)

By the end of yesterday, I was feeling a lot better. I had slept. I had accomplished a fair amount on my project. River had had no potty accidents in the house. We had even done a few (very successful) training sessions. But I dreaded nighttime. I knew we would be back to screaming in the crate and no sleep.

But it was perfect. It was like the prior three nights had never happened. He barely whined, even when brought in after peeing in the middle of the night. He slept in the crate until 6:30, then came up on the bed and let the family doze (more or less, as much as possible with a shark in the bed) until 7:30. And the morning has been easy since.

Do I think our problems are past? No. Tomorrow Jay will be back at work, and I expect the backslide in housetraining will begin anew. But maybe he’ll surprise me. All I can do is take it a day at a time. Puppyhood *does* pass, and soon I’ll wonder where my baby went.

AKC Hunt Test

This morning I dragged Jay out of bed bright and early, and we drove to Bob Pepper’s Training Farm a few minutes south of Duvall to watch an AKC Hunt Test. This was my first visit to Pepper’s, and I have to say, it’s a field trainer’s Nirvanah. Bob Pepper was an avid field trialer 50 years ago, who would travel to a trial, see a lake or other feature he really liked, and then come back to his farm and recreate it. Now it’s open to anyone for a per-dog daily fee. Look at this gorgeous technical lake!

Master and Senior level were running today. Junior is tomorrow. We first went to watch the Masters test. The series we watched was a water series. It started with triple water marks. Gun station just off the center line originated two birds. The first was thrown to the right of the center line, even with the gun station. The second was a live flyer on the other side of the gun station. The third bird (go bird) came from the far left. A diversion shot was fired on the way back from the second bird. After all marks had been picked up, there were two blinds. One was along the shore to the far right. Another was up the middle, on a line close past the blind. Dog had to go in and out of the water three times to get to that one. None of the distances were very long — but I’m not a great judge of distance, so I can’t give a good estimate.

One of the fun things about Hunt Tests is the variety of dogs. It’s not just black labs! There were chocolate and yellow labs, goldens, and even an Irish Water Spaniel!

I was thrilled to see that dog. I would guess, too, that not many of the dogs running were from field trial lines, because only a few seemed really high octane, if you know what I mean. That could, of course, be a mistaken impression on my part.

I asked a lady near me a couple of questions, but unfortunately, she was there only part of the time, and I wasn’t able to ask a lot of questions. I got the idea that straight lines to a mark aren’t terribly important in Hunt Tests — even when the dog cheated the water. Again, that could be a mistaken impression on my part. I didn’t get to ask a lot of clarifying questions.

After we watched the Master series for a while, we drove over to the Senior test. We got there between series during the lunch break. This turned out to be fortuitous, though, because we met Joan Fetty. Joan has a dog school 20-25 minutes from my house. (I took Pax there for a class long ago.) She offers an Intro to Field class, and she helps people get hooked up with training groups. She is the one who told me the history of Pepper’s and explained the usage rules.

We chose not to stay for the next series and left shortly after that. Plan is to groom and bathe Pflouff this afternoon, so I can take her to Marymoor tomorrow to see her breeder. Maybe Pflouff and I will stop by Pepper’s tomorrow and see the Junior test. I’m not sure if she’s up for that or not, since she wouldn’t be allowed to play in the water or retrieve the things being thrown.

Here are a few more pictures I took this morning.

Toys, Toys, TOYS!

My dogs have a lot of toys, most of which are shredded, de-stuffed, de-squeaked versions of their former selves. Dead stuffies. Old bones. Frayed tug ropes. All of it filthy from being buried, dug up, and buried again.

Since the new baby is coming, I decided to do something radical and replace all their old toys. Jay and I went on an enthusuastic (and expensive) shopping spree at PetSmart and bought way too many cool things. The dogs watched with wide eyes as I stood at the kitchen table and removed allll the associated tags and packaging.

Next came the painful part. I took a giant, contractor-size garbage bag to the dog room and went through their toy box. The wide eyes grew very worried! Undamaged toys were tossed back in the toy box. Everything else went in the trash. (I could barely lift the bag when I was done!)

Then, finally, the fun part. I loaded myself up with all the new toys, brought them downstairs, and dropped them in a pile in the middle of the dog room. Dog heaven! Pax and Pflouff didn’t know what to do with themselves. This one! No — I meant this one! Oh, oh, this one too! Pax is especially attracted to a cow that moos when he bites it. (He was less impressed by the frog’s ribbits.)

I’m not going to leave all those toys available all the time. A few puppy-sized toys will be set aside for special play with River. I’ll leave a few of the favorite types in the dog room, and then the rest are going in a drawer. Each morning, I’ll let each dog choose one toy to have for the day. I’ve done this in the past, and it has worked beautifully. It’s amazing how carefully they choose, and how valuable a trip to the toy-drawer becomes.

Here are a few pictures from this morning’s joy. No good pics of Pflouff, I’m afraid. Just as well — she desperately needs grooming.

First puppy update

I got a whole slew of pictures from Dawn, River’s breeder. In the pictures with more than one pup, River is the small black one with not-so-curly hair. My favorite picture is this one:

Isn’t that the quintessential puppy pic? Little shark teeth. I’m sure I’ll be calling him “Demon Seed” before he has been here a week. Rest of the pictures are at the bottom of this post.

(I’m madly in love with this beautiful boy, and I haven’t even met him yet!)

Work has been CRAZY as the launch approaches, and I’ve been working long hours. Still, I’ve managed to do a few things to get ready for my little prince.

I signed him up for a puppy obedience class at The Dog Works in Monroe. I don’t know anything about the place, but it looks like they use positive methods. The class isn’t a true puppy kindergarten, unfortunately, but young puppies do have an opportunity to interact in play group. The class starts September 10, which gives me plenty of time to get him started myself before class.

I signed back on to a couple of mailing lists and printed out a fresh list of Sue Ailsby’s Training Levels spreadsheet. I LOVE Training Levels and highly recommend it!

I’ve bought a bunch of new DVDs. I don’t have a list in front of me, but off the top of my head…

  • The Pre-Sports Puppy
  • Focused Puppy
  • Training a Retriever Puppy with Bill Hillman
  • Training Retrievers Alone
  • The Art and Science of Handling Retrievers
  • Retriever Training Problems and Solutions

I’m probably going to get the Games DVD for the Control Unleashed book, but I haven’t ordered that yet. No idea when I’m going to have time to watch all these!

I haven’t worked on the novel. That isn’t because of the puppy though. I’m working long hours, and I’m EXHAUSTED when I’m done each day. I just don’t have it in me to write or do anything particularly creative at that time. I’ve worked on this site a little, but it’s an entirely different kind of brain work — and it’s done a few minutes here, a few minutes there.

Speaking of the blog, I’m happy with the main page. I haven’t worked at all on the pages that the links at the top of the page open though. Too tired! I’ll get it done eventually.

It’s official: I’m going to be a new dog mom

Jay and I turned down a curly puppy this summer, because the timing was absolutely horrible. It would have come home right in the middle of my huge summer project and right before Jay’s big project launched. Neither of us would have been able to take time off, and worse, we had planned to be out of time at various times during August. Horrible timing!

We knew a fall puppy would be perfect… but pickings were slim. There were a couple of possible litters, but it was too early to know about those yet. I knew it could be months — or even years — before a puppy was available when I was able to take it.

Then I saw it: Dawn Fleming of Brio (Curly Coated) Retrievers mentioned on RTF (retriever training forum) that one of her puppy buyers had dropped out. She had a black male available. I wasn’t sure if she’d want me to be the buyer though. She specifically stated that she wanted a competition home for him. I would train him to do fun things, but it unlikely I’ll compete with him. It turned out that the puppy she had advertised was already taken, but she had another pup who was not show quality but who had a fun, active spirit become available. She was willing to keep him an extra couple of weeks, so we said yes!

The next couple of weeks are VERY hectic for me. We’re trying to finish up the project at work, and then begins train-the-trainer and on-site leadership training. I will be working in the office for most of the next two weeks, but I’ve been spared travel to the site. I could get my new pup as early as Aug. 30. I can’t wait!

He is a black male curly named River, just like the dog in my book. I’ll be keeping a puppy diary, of course, so check in frequently.


I’ve had a hard time lately. In the past few years we’ve had to put down four animals (two dogs and two horses). Of the four, there’s only one that I am at peace about. The other three break my heart to this day. After losing Aslan, I was done. I decided I didn’t want to ever play God again — and, of course, the only way to do that is not to have animals, which meant no more dogs.

That decision hurt my husband as much as it hurt me. He may not want to be the primary caretaker, but he loves the dogs. They are family, and nothing is more important to him than family. He couldn’t fathom being without a dog, but he also understood how much I was hurting.

Then a breeder we trust implicitly had an amazing litter and threw me into a quandary. Of COURSE I want a puppy. I love dogs more than I love breathing. My mind is painfully divided — just draw a big yin-yang sign up there. Half of me knows the inevitable pain. The other half knows the inevitable joy.

My husband wanted a puppy — which is one of those, “Who are you, and where is my husband?” kind of moments. I talked to the breeder and she made an amazing offer that would make the puppy affordable. But even though the details were seeming to fall into place, it just didn’t feel right.

Then I was reading the breeder’s puppy page and saw that the pups would be ready to come home on June 29. That would be a nightmare:

* I’m working on two major projects this summer. The two have their “scary” overlap period (where I both question my sanity and rack up the overtime) beginning, you guessed it, right at the end of June.

* Usually I take off two weeks (minimum) when I bring home a puppy. This year neither Jay nor I could take off any time. That’s setting EVERYONE in the household up for failure.

* I have not one, but two, trips planned this summer — and may have to travel for work in mid-July as well.

* Jay is in the middle of the project from hell, and won’t get any relief until August — if then. Home is his escape, but he’s still stressed. I’m not sure a puppy would really help.

* And, to be realistic, Pflouff *is* still only 18 months old. In six months, she’ll be a different dog. Six months after that, a different dog again. Maturity is a wonderful thing.

So I bucked up and did the responsible thing and turned down that puppy.

(I can’t believe it. My husband said yes, and I said no. I think Hell is a might chilly right now.)


My first Great Pyr was Satch, and he was an amazing dog. What I didn’t know was that he was anything but a typical Pyr. So I was woefully unprepared for Aslan. He was different, and he was difficult. But I loved him. God, I loved him.

Aslan was dog aggressive, and he was a severe resource guarder. Fighting is hard-wired in his breed, but in-pack fighting like that likely is not normal behavior. Normal or not, it was part of him, and when you put those tendencies in a guardian breed, it’s a dangerous combination. I knew it, but I thought if we could just keep him from practicing the behaviors and manage the heck out of his triggers, we’d be okay.

And mostly we were. As he aged, he gained more self-control. You could see him struggle to control himself, see him calm himself, see him choose to leave rather than escalate. We were so proud, and we reinforced the hell out of those behaviors. But still, management can never be perfect. There were incidents. We’d gotten to the point where the incidents were about a year apart, but they were escalating. The last time he’d fought with Pax, they both ended up in emergency care. The last time I pushed him over something he was guarding, he lunged at me and went up my body to force me away.

99.9% of the time, he was fantastic. But that other tiny percentage, he was dangerous. I knew it. But I loved him.

Friday afternoon, management failed. It was my fault. I broke my own protocol, and I fed them in close, uncontrolled quarters. Aslan felt crowded, and he jumped Pax.

I was home alone.

Neither wore a collar.

All I could do was scream while they tried to kill each other.

It finally occurred to me to open the door into Jay’s office, hoping that Pax would try to escape, and I could separate them. Ironically, it was Aslan who ultimately tried to flee. (Twice he has taken on Ghandi, and yes, twice Ghandi kicked his ass.) As soon as I had the gate closed, I knew. I knew I couldn’t do this anymore. His chances had run out.

Pax will be all right. He’s beaten up. He has a bunch of punctures, and he’s all gimped up. He’s terribly sore — has to be helped up and down from the bed, and he can barely get down the stairs. But he’s alive.

Aslan isn’t. I hate playing God. I hated taking a healthy animal into the vet and holding him while they pumped blue juice into his veins. Some friends have said that he got more chances with me than he would have with someone else, and that’s probably true. And they’ve said that he probably wasn’t very happy in his own skull, feeling like he always had to guard and control. I don’t know about that; he was a hard dog to read, but he didn’t seem unhappy.

I know that I hate myself because I’m as relieved as I am sad. I know that I miss him. I hope Aslan can forgive me for what I did, though I can’t forgive myself. I hope he’ll be waiting at the Bridge for me, but somehow I doubt it.

I love you, Azzie. I’ll always love you. And I’m very, very sorry.

Aslan, 9/30/2004 – 12/11/2009

It’s official: Pflouff’s first show is 8/22

Jenni Lott called me this morning and told me I had 3 hours to get Pflouff registered for the Redmond shows. Probably didn’t want to give me a chance to back out!

It’s technically three days of shows, but Pflouff is entered only on Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to bathe her on Friday, and then take her over to the show grounds so Jenni can turn her into a show dog. I’ve got a lot of raking to do between now and then to get all the old coat out. Thankfully, she’s not matted.

I panicked as soon as I made the decision to do it. Pflouff will likely be in heat — her sisters are in now — and she is just under a year old, so she has teenager brain. Jenni has Inky entered in the same classes, so I’ll have to do my own showing. The problem with this is that Pflouff is just plain untrained! Oy.

Pflouff and Aslan

Aslan has been smitten with Pflouff since she entered this house. Just one or two “lessons” from him early on (roaring, not even putting his teeth on her), and she has been the perfect playmate — completely respectful, but a great wrestling partner when he wants one.

Sigh. Until today.

Aslan got his summer haircut today. A couple of years ago we began shaving him for the summer. Murder on the coat, but he’s just a pet, and he’s sooooo happy when he’s cool and comfy. Well, he came home from the groomer tired, cranky — and looking completely different. As soon as he got out of the car, he and Pflouff were fence fighting.

I’m used to him being growly after grooming and vet appointments, so I just separated him from the others. I’m using an ex-pen, so he’s not banished… just not able to interact with them.

Problem is, PFLOUFF won’t let it go. He has had a nap and dinner and a chance to stretch his legs and relax, and he’s feeling much happier. But Pflouff apparently thinks he’s the devil incarnate. She went charging up to him hackles raised and barking when I went up to feed him a treat. (He, I’m glad to report, was more interested in the food than in her. So he got extra!)

I’m hoping that with a few more hours this evening plus a good night’s sleep, they’ll be back to normal tomorrow.

A day at the show

This will be a long entry and all about Pflouff, so if you’re not interested in dogs, this would be the time to stop reading!

I got an e-mail from Pflouff’s breeder last week telling me that she was showing Inky, Pflouff’s littermate, at a show in Centralia this weekend, and she would love to see me and Pflouff. Fun! I cleared my schedule so I could attend, but I was immediately terrified. Pflouff was both untrimmed and untrained. No, I wasn’t going to be showing her, but she was going to be the middle of a bunch of show-groomed dogs. I was more worried about her behavior than her looks though. I could picture her dragging me all over the place and lunging at every dog that passed to try to elicit play. Shows are wayyyy too crowded for that nonsense. I was pretty sure I was going to be massively humiliated!

It rained — poured — here all week, and Pflouff was muddy and wet through most of it. She absolutely had to have a bath, and I wanted to trim up her ears and feet. So I called my friend Kalisa, who was shown Westies, and asked/begged/bribed her to help me groom Pflouff. (It didn’t really take all that — Kalisa is a generous person and was happy to help!)

We planned to do it Friday evening. First challenge? Getting Pflouff to the pet wash. She hates the car (which really didn’t bode well for a three-hour drive to Centralia the next day). Kalisa drove, and Pflouff was FREAKED. Honestly, I think she used to get car sick, even if she didn’t throw up — and that would make anyone hate the car. I rode in the back with her, and she tried to smother me to death. I was afraid I was going to have to drag Jay to the show, just so he could keep her from killing me while I was driving!

Second challenge… We got to the pet wash and realized it was closing in ten minutes. Oy. The really nice guy inside let us come in anyway, but we worked at the speed of light so he wouldn’t be stuck there too late. Poor Pflouff! She was not pleased with this plan, and we didn’t have time to work at her speed. So I just stuck the Manners Minder under her nose and kept it spitting out treats. She didn’t love it — any of it — but she was a lot more tolerant once there was food involved. Quick bath, partial blow dry, and a fast clean up of her feet, and we were as done as we had time to be. Thanks, Kalisa!

So I had a clean-but-ungroomed dog when Saturday arrived. I wasn’t terribly concerned though! Jenni knew she wasn’t groomed, and it was going to be a gorgeous day! We got on the road right at 8, and Pflouff was… perfect. She hopped into the car and settled right down. It was a miracle!

We stopped a couple of times, but still got to the fairgrounds a few minutes after 11. Jenni was grooming at her friend Casey’s trailer. Of course Pflouff and I parked as far from it as could possibly be! That gave us lots of opportunity to walk around the show. I was expecting to have an overstimulated, out-of-control adolescent on my hands, but she was wonderful! She was interested in absolutely everything, but she didn’t drag me and walked more-or-less like a lady the whole time. (Where did this dog come from?)

Pflouff and I found the trailer and met Jenni’s friends Casey and Shauna. There were two other Newfs besides Pflouff — Inky and Dallas — and a host of border terriers. Oh, and a Norwich pup named Bernie! Everyone was very welcoming and friendly, and I really appreciate being made to feel like part of the group.

Jenni was glad to see Pflouff. (Inky not so much. They tolerated each other on first meeting, but tried to fight the second time. LOL.) First thing she did was stack her up and evaluate her. Great front, good shoulder, good back, great neck. A little narrow in the hips. She has good bone, but not as much as Inky, and she’s a bit shorter than Inky as well.

The second thing Jenni did was get Pflouff up on a table and groom her! I treated Pflouff for tolerating some of the less pleasant things, but considering she hasn’t been on a proper table since she was nine weeks old, she was a champ. Jenni brushed her out, got her ears trimmed up, neatened up her feet, and cleaned up the silhouette of her tail and feathers. She looked fantastic when Jenni was done with her… but still nothing like a show-groomed Newf. (Exactly how do they DO all that volumizing of the coat??) Miss Pflouff was definitely the country cousin visiting the show, especially when we went to the ring and she was surrounded by 22 show-groomed Newfs.

Pflouff has been an angel all day, but I was still worried about taking her to the show ring. It’s soooo crowded ringside. But, once again, she was GREAT. We found a spot where we wouldn’t be in the way, but it was still tucked between two strange dogs. She was awesome though! I had to reposition her several times — she didn’t stay still — but she wasn’t lunging at dogs or sticking her nose in their faces (or butts). She was just interested in seeing what was happening.

We were at ringside for close to an hour, and by the time it was done, things were thinning out. We were the last breed to use that ring, and the ring beside us was already empty. Still, even though it was getting less stressful, by the time the breed judging was wrapping up, she was beginning to get a little ancy. I didn’t see the point in completely overwhelming her, so I took the hint, said my goodbyes, and we headed out.

On the way home, we stopped in Olympia and visited with my friend Leslie. We went out to her new barn, and Pflouff got a chance to bark at horses and cats, and then to run a bit in a fully-fenced pasture. (And, of course, the obligatory opportunity to roll in horse poop!)

We got home a few minutes before 7. All in all, it was a glorious, perfect day! I was soooo proud of Pflouff. She was just amazing all day long. I hope this bodes well for showing her later this summer.