Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Can You Teach an Old Dog to be a New Dog?

Does this look like a dog who's turning 13 in a month?
Jake is getting old. It's hard to accept.

It seems to happen to dogs--I know that surprises you, as it did me--but Jake seemed eternal. Now that I've allowed myself to decide that it truly is time for his retirement, it appears that I've also allowed myself to see the signs more clearly. And yet, sometimes I wonder--when I thought he'd go forever, like the Everready Agility Dog, did I see only the positive signs to rationalize my perception? And, likewise, now that I'm working towards his retirement, am I seeing only those things that rationalize my decision that the time has come? One wonders. Perhaps more than one wonders, perhaps even two or three.

Now I have been telling people that the USDAA Nationals will be his retirement show, but I found that that wasn't easy enough for me: There's one more trial that we'll attend this year, a CPE trial Thanksgiving weekend (2 weekends after Nationals), with just 3 runs a day, and I thought--you know--he finally earned his CATCH in June, just in time for the CPE Nationals the following weekend, and at the Nationals we just totally sucked. And that would be our going-out for CPE with his still-new CATCH. I couldn't bear it. So I have entered him at 12 inches (for the dog who earned his ADCH jumping 24" and 22") as a Veteran for the first--and last--time. Six more runs. And then--that's it. The end. All gone. No more agility competitions for the JakeyMon--my Jakemeister--my JakeyNoodle-oo, my little red Jedi Gambling Master.

I might be repeating myself from earlier posts, but it'll be the first time since May of 1997 that I've had only one dog to run at a trial. And I don't even have another one in the works (unless I get serious about training Casey My Man the Emergency Backup Wired Dog). And, for a few, very few--too few--weeks, I was running three.

Tika's first fully-entered trial (rather than just 1 or 2 jumpers runs) was Remington's next-to-last. So, painfully, Jake's retirement brings back those memories--I thought I'd have another dog to keep running for a while after Jake got too old.

Yelling and clapping and whistling won't wake the sleeping Jake any more. No reaction whatsoever. I have happend upon the tactic of lightly touching one of his feet to wake him; I believe that it avoids his wild-eyed frantic awakenings where I'm afraid I'll end up with dog teeth embedded in an unfortunate part of my anatomy.

He seems to sleep a lot more. (Except that every time I turn around and look at my snoozing dog, he has another apple stashed under his chin, dagnabbit. He's got to stop eating those! Putting on weight! So he's going out long enough to hunt down the elusive apple and bring it to heel.) Several months back, maybe as much as a year ago, he stopped wildly chasing Tika out to the yard when some eventful activity (e.g., squirrel, bird, cat, noise, fence, tree, grass, air, exciting things like that) occurred. He'd start to follow, but slower, then stop at the sliding door and just look out, woofing, wagging his tail if that seemed a strategy appropriate to the level of threat. I had thought at first that it was because the new, young, wild Casey had moved in and was always 3 inches from Tika's heels as she blasted through the doggie door. And that might have been some of it--he himself suddenly realized that he wasn't part of the A team any longer.

When my housemate is here watching TV upstairs, Jake seems to prefer snoozing on the floor with her than downstairs here with me and the Wild Things, even when I'm working at my desk. (Just to balance things out, Casey likes to lie under my desk near my feet--Tika and Jake used to take turns doing that. Who knows how these hierarchies work...Casey always waits for Jake and Tika to finish eating before he starts.)

I think he hears me clearly sometimes, and then I'm sure he doesn't. We were sitting at the dinner table the other evening, and it was quiet, and Jake went to stand and look out the door. To test, my guests started calling his name, clapping, whistling. This is people at the dinner table. Food is potentially involved. Other than my inability to imagine Jake ignoring people paying attention to him in any situation, this was so clearly exhibiting deafdoggedness that it was almost startling.

I have noticed for quite a while that his back legs do not always behave perfectly. Months ago, when Jake started sometimes missing his leap onto my bed, I again set up the makeshift steps that Remington had used in his illness. True to form for a one-brain-celled dog who takes a while to learn things, it took forever to convince him to step up onto the box, thence onto the chair, thence onto the bed, rather than leaping from the side as he has always done. But, once figured out, he seemed to seek it out.

I see more of it all the time. Last night I was downstairs late, reading at the table, and he was snoozing underneath. When I woke him to go upstairs, he was undoubtedly stiff and woozy; when we started up the stairs, his back legs didn't carry him at all and he slipped and almost fell back down. I grabbed him and steadied him, but he seemed frozen with fear and incomprehension at what had happened.

It will only happen more. What then, when he can't walk up the stairs on his own? When Sheba got to that point, she just didn't go up--but then, it seems to me that she often slept apart from us anyway, exerting her Husky independence. But Jake always wants to be sleeping where I am. Taking a nap on the dining room floor with a view of me and my desk isn't enough; he has to be here in the office with me.

And yet--he flies after his toy in the yard with the same vehemence and speed that he has always shown.

We are in transition.

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