a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: December 2003

Saturday, December 27, 2003

What Fun It Is To Run And Chase

Went to the Gopher Hill Park again this morning. Tried to give them plenty to do to tire their little selves out. Twenty minutes of frisbee, then a good walk/run/romp around the hill, then more frisbee, totalling around an hour of activity.

It was cold. Frost covered everything that the sun hadn't yet kissed. But, as it warmed up, the frost turned to huge lurking gobbets of water, which my shoes and socks sucked up with grand delight. After a mere ten minutes, my feet squished as though I had walked through a stream.

The dogs didn't seem to mind.

Note to self: Wet feet suck on a cold morning.

Another note to self: New digital camera does NOT seem to do well on stop-action sports photography. Of course, it was early in the morning on one of the shortest days of the year (read: sun low, light may be dimmer than it appears). And I didn't take my instruction booklet. So perhaps there's a way to force it to do what I want--mwah ha ha haaaaaa! (Force always being a good thing when practicing one's Evil Overlordshipness.)

Both beasts behaved themselves admirably, keeping track of me and racing back periodically to see what I was up to, never getting far out of sight. Tika came when she was called. And, at one point, we rounded the hill and discovered two other dogs playing loose ahead of us. I had the frisbees out, and Tika looked at the other dogs, whined, looked at the frisbee, looked at the other dogs, whined, looked at the frisbee--and decided that playing with me would be much more fun than running off to check out unfamiliar dogs. I was so proud of her, once again.

Wednesday, December 24, 2003

To Everything There Is A Season

I rarely stray from dog topics here in the Taj MuttHall. But tonight is the night to wander afield.

Earlier, I was slaving away in Santa's Workshop in the attic, wrapping gifts galore for the tremendous gathering of Clan O'Levy tomorrow, when it suddenly occurred to me that I was enjoying myself and indulging apallingly in the spirit of Christmas. It has been a long time.

My ex moved out in May of 2000, then I sold the house (wiith the half-acre agility yard) from which I said I'd never move again. For Christmas of 2000, I was living in the Horrid Rental, rain coming through the roof at every opportunity. I was on disability and could barely function with spinal problems. And it was the first time in 21 years that I hadn't had my significant other around--Needless to say, depression had taken hold in a deep and nasty way. I did set up a half-sized tree at the last minute with only a couple dozen decorations.

In December of 2001, I had just moved into my new home. Boxes occupied every corner of the house and garage. I was trying to do everything myself without reinjuring my back. Every shopping trip reminded me that I had no significant other for whom to shop. I felt more alone than almost any other time in my life. I strung one string of lights on the outside of the house. I did not get a tree.

In December of 2002, Remington was dying of cancer. He was in and out of the veterinary hospital. My bills for operations and treatment were huge. Just before Christmas, x-rays seemed to show remarkable improvement, but on Christmas eve he began internal hemmorhaging again and I spent Christmas day on and off the phone to the vet hospital. I was too stressed and distracted by Remington's fatal illness to enjoy things, and bearing the burden made me realize even more how alone I was. Furthermore, my divorce was final the week before Christmas. I put up about 10 strings of exterior lights. I got a tree but it took me about 3 weeks to gather the enthusiasm to decorate, and even then I put up only perhaps one box of ornaments and then quit.

This year I've shopped with pleasure, put up a couple of dozen strings of exterior lights, set up a lovely tree and decorated it fully, decorated random stuff around the house, wrapped gifts so that I'm not up til midnight Xmas eve--and have discovered that I've almost rekindled my old enthusiasm for the whole holiday season.

It's been a long three and a half years.

Love and Joy Come To You

And this message that I'm sending out, like a telegraph to their souls--if they can receive--you'll always be in our hearts, taken too young as you were: human friends Tina, Betty, Louis; canine companions Remington, Tanith, Sparky, Pippin, Tyler, and so many others this year.

But for all of us still shuffling around that mortal coil:

Dog xmas stockingsHappy Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

Tuesday, December 23, 2003

Good With Kids

Jake does not like small children.

He didn't learn that while living with us, I can assure you.

A glob of friends visited last night, including my 3-and-a-half-year-old nephew, Alex. Alex had been warned in the past about avoiding Jake. This is counterintuitive to kids: What they really want is to avoid the dog(s) who loom large over them and look somewhat like coyotes and to snuggle the little cute fluffy dog with floppy ears.

Alex was very good and avoided Jake. He avoided Tika for a while, too, even though she was on her best behavior around him.

The evening progressed, as evenings are wont to do, with various activities, alarums, and excursions, and in various means we ended up here: All of the other adults in the living room, partying down. Me, standing in the kitchen, leaning on the railing overlooking the family room. Alex, standing or lying on the dogs' beds, not quite in hyperactive mode but verging on it.

Jake, bringing his ball and dropping it directly at Alex's feet on the bed for Alex to throw--not grabbing at it when Alex reached for it (which he often does for me and other adults), not snapping it out of Alex's hands when Alex didn't throw it immediately (although you could SEE that he WANTED to quite desperately), just waiting eagerly for the ball to be tossed. And although Jake eventually gets disgusted with me if I just kick or toss a toy a few inches ("OK, if you're not going to be SERIOUS about this serious thing, I'll go obsessively lick my feet for a while."), he picked up Alex's every toss, no matter how short (most were barely off the edge of the dog bed) and immediately returned it for more.

Tika, hanging in the background with a large soft squeaky, mouthing it quietly (not getting bored in a wild and uncontrolled manner like she would for me after about 1.5 milliseconds of inattention), and periodically coming over to Alex. Alex would put his hand on the toy and Tika would immediately let go of it and wait patiently for him to toss it for her.

I believe I was impressed that a child Alex's age was playing nicely with my dogs, but it soitainly impressed the bejeezus out of me how nicely my dogs were playing with Alex!

Alex declared that this was Dog School (my sister later told me that they had been reading a book about a naughty dog who had to go to dog school) and periodically crawled into a hole in the wall to "rest his legs."

I didn't know quite what to do about Casey, because his mom wasn't around for me to ask how he was around small children, so I watched him pretty closely. He seemed cautiously curious. At one point, late in the evening, Alex began running in circles through the kitchen, library, living room, entry, kitchen, library, living room, entry--and Casey trotted right behind him, trying to get a good sniff, tail wagging slightly, for several circuits before it occurred to him to get in FRONT of Alex and try to stop the parade that way. It didn't work for more than a moment, but after that Casey wandered off to steal a toy from Jake.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Those Unwanted Dogs

Someone in my agility club posted a question about who has rescues in their canine families. The stories have been pouring in. Here's my contribution:

NATCH Remington (the late, great) lived alone in a back yard, never played with, never in the house, sometimes no water. A neighbor saw him from her balcony week after week. She finally approached the owner, who said his kid would be heart-broken if he got rid of the dog, but how about if she came over while they weren't home and took the dog? (Great owner/parent, huh?) So she did. She'd have kept him except he had too much energy and she didn't know what to do with him. He came to me through Nike Animal Rescue at 9 months. And boy, he had a lot of energy compared to my previous dogs!

The energetic Jakeymon
ADCH, O-NATCH, ATCH Jake ended up at Nike Animal Rescue somehow, and was adopted by 2 or 3 families who each brought him back because he had too much energy and they didn't know what to do with him. Pam Hartley (dog trainer) fostered him along with her other 7 dogs until she gave it all up for Lent, when Nancy Gyes (another dog trainer) fostered him. He was 7 when we finally teamed up. Sheesh, and I thought *Remington* had a lot of energy!

Champion-to-be (I hope!) Tika arrived at the humane society at 3 months--lady didn't have time for a puppy with so much energy. A family adopted her but returned her 3 months later--she had too much energy and they didn't know what to do with her so they "had to keep her in a crate ALL the time." She was so wild that the humane society couldn't complete her medical exam, so they called North Bay Canine Rescue, who called Gina Campodonico to foster her, who knew I was looking for an agility dog, so she called me--
Oh, man oh man oh man, and I thought *Jake* had a lot of energy!

Friday, December 12, 2003

We've All Got It Bad

No agility weekends. Not attending agility classes every week. Am I obsessing about it? One January trial had an *opening* date: No entries accepted postmarked before Dec. 8. Mine was postmarked december 8, arrived on the 10th, and the trial filled on the 9th.

I refuse to drive to the post office and pay them an ungodly sum for overnighting an agility entry that might not get me in anyway! Aughhhhhh!

Laundry is happenin' in the laundry room, and I just walked in there, where the washer is sweesh-swoshing its load. But it wasn't saying "SWEESH swosh SWEESH swosh." Oh, no. What it was saying was "WEAVE pole WEAVE pole."

Tika has been mooning around me constantly. The normal morning walk-and-play and afternoon play and evening whatever-comes-to-mind aren't enough. She has taken to exhibiting apalling bored dog syndrome: Run to one side of the yard. Bark at something. Run to the other side of the yard. Bark at something. Run back. Bark. Return. Bark.

I've taken them to the park a couple of times this week--much more frequent than usual. That ain't enough, no neither.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Mud, Glorious Mud! Who Cares What It Looks Like?

Mud. Goopy, gloppy, clay-based horrid miserable material. If only I had more of a lawn and less of a mud pit. I suppose I could just throw down grass seed at this time of year and hope that Ma Nature takes care of it--sans proper irrigation or soil preparation.

Or I could do what I think I'm going to do--go buy gorilla hair ("playground shred" AKA shredded redwood bark), looks like 8 cubic yards of it--yikes!--and spread it everywhere.

I'm soooooo tired of muddy feet and floors. Here--24 hours worth of foot & floor rags, drying on the deck.

After viewing this, a frequent reader friend contributes this classic (?):

The Hippopotamus Song
Mud! Mud! Glorious mud!
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!
So, follow me, follow,
Down to the hollow.
There let us wallow
In glorious mud!

Read the full lyrics or listen to the chorus in MP3 plus some bio.

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Powered by audblogActual genuine ELF voice as heard in real life, powered by audblog

New Toy

However, my Powers of Rationalization said that, because I'm going to end up missing 3 agility trials that I had planned on attending AND won't have to pay for hotel & gas, either, it's a good time to--no, not save money--buy a digital camera!

I found the least-expensive one with 3 megapixels and 3x optical zoom.

Its AA alkaline battery usage sucks, but it works nicely. Here's Casey, demonstrating how nicely it does its own adjustment for taking a photo of an all-black dog, which normally sucks.


It's just not *right*, having no agility competitions to attend! I'm unmotivated to practice, too, although of course this enforced extended absence would be the ideal time to work on fixing various challenges.

I'm guessing that I didn't get into the New Year's weekend trial, either, since the organization that's hosting it hasn't posted my name on their "accepted entries" web site, but I have no clue otherwise. I don't know whether they didn't get it or they haven't been updating their web site or what. That's very frustrating.

I did set up a little practice scenario in the yard yesterday. Decided to take down the A-frame and set it aside--it's been up since I bought it shortly after moving in, and it takes up a huge amount of space, physically and visually. It's so danged heavy that it took me probably 10 minutes to get it off to the side of the yard. It does dismantle into 4 pieces, but I'm not sure that that would have taken me less time.

Then I came to the conclusion once again that that danged lilac shrub is going to have to go. Sure,it's gorgeous--for about 3 weeks in the spring. All winter it's naked and its sticks aren't all that interesting or attractive. And it's RIGHT in the middle of my agility area! I've been trying hard to go around it, but it really does make a mess of things. Argh. So much for the landscape plan--

Anyway, after I finally got my scenario set up, I worked Tika and Jake through it, discovering that *neither* of them are really working their weave pole entries nearly as well as I thought they did (actually discovered that at the seminar in november).

To get Casey out of the way, I shoved him into the house and put a chair in front of the doggie door. Within minutes, he was out in the yard, apparently being small enough to squeeze through the 4" of space under the chair at the bottom of the doggie door.

So then I shoved him out into the front hallway and closed the doors to the kitchen/access to dog door. A couple of minutes later he showed up in the yard again. Doors were still closed, so he must have figured out to go down the 1/3 flight of stairs to my office and jump up through the wrought-iron railing between there and the kitchen.

So I had to take the doggie door out entirely to keep him in the house. Normally I just hook him to a leash next to the porch, but I was using the whole area for running my dogs.

So to make up for it, at the end of my session with my dogs, I worked a little with him on jumps & tunnels. Danged beast has learned how to go into the *left* side of the tunnel but won't go into the *right* side?! Go figure.

Anyway, as I attempted to get him to go through, I shortened up and mostly straighted out the tunnel onto the patio. Then I tossed a toy & shoved him in and started to move to the other side, but he screeched to a halt, turned, and came back out. So I screeched to a halt--and fell on my kiester on the concrete.

This is not a good thing for someone who has had repeated problems with the disks in her lower back. So I ended up attemptng to overdose on antiinflammatories, icing & heating my rearmost part repeatedly while sprawled on the couch.

I *think* the nerves down the backs of my legs are a bit more painful today than yesterday, but I'm not in horrific pain, so perhaps I treated it quickly enough and long enough.

Have I mentioned what a pain dogs are?

Xmas Photo

Just stuck an xmas photo up under Nov 30. Enjoy. Real xmas letters & cards will be along eventually, with an even nicer photo.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

Squeaky Toy or What? Wag That Plume Tail--

Jake loves squeaking his squeaky toys. When he's in a complete frenzy, he holds it in his mouth, eyes with a crazed expression, squeezing it rapid fire (in his relative youth, I think we clocked him at a couple hundred squeaks a minute). When he's more relaxed and contented and familiar with the toy, he stands over it, resting it on the ground with his mouth around it, waving his plume tail and doing a more dignified squeak-per-second or so.

Last night, I invited the dogs to join me for a ride to the post office. I opened the door into the garage and Jake ran out and grabbed a squeaky toy that apparently one of the random household dogs had dragged out to the garage and dropped when I wasn't paying attention. While I turned on the light, Jake stood in his relaxed squeaky pose, getting a feeble squeak-a-second or so. Tika lunged forward and tried desperately to get around the bicycle that was between her and Jake to try to take away the squeaky toy.

This was unusual behavior; she's not that wild about squeakies, and seldom actively attempts to steal things from Jake. So I came around behind Jake, trying to see which toy had Tika so excited. Funny, I thought, I don't remember a squeaky toy with a long skinny tail just like a -- real -- rat --

Well, now I know why squeakies have such a natural appeal to the beasts. You could've fooled me that he'd found a squeaky toy, not a careless rodent. I've niether seen nor heard any signs of Vector Invasion in my garage or attic, so I'm not quite sure where this one came from. Maybe came in from the rain last night (how? who knows--they can probably run through the gap under my garage door without ducking).

I guess I'd prefer that the dog catch them than not.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Tika Howling

I take it back, I *have* heard Tika howling.

Imagine waking, in your bed, in the dark, disoriented, your Cro Magnon hindbrain taking control and the hair on your neck that you never knew you had prickling--because filling the room, all around you, a sound so deep and full, so high and round, comes the howl of the wolf--a lonesome, chilling, ghostly sound from the dark and untamed forest.

Yes, I've heard her howling.

On more than one occasion, but only in her sleep.

Where does she go, when she leaves this plane of consciousness?

The Next Generation

When Remington was young, he hated to expose his tummy. It was a chore to teach him to roll over, but that was one of my early training successes in breaking things down into minuscule-enough bits for the dog to get it and want to do it.

As reward--in addition to food--I used to rub his tummy. He decided he liked that, and started to roll onto his back in the morning on the bed. And since he hadn't even been allowed on the bed for the first 2 years we had him, simply being there was a wonderful thing. It was a short step from there to simply doing the Upside Down Dog thing--wriggling around on his back, kind of growling and talking about what a pleasure it was to be upside down.

It evolved into a whole routine. He'd wriggle and kick, and I'd put my hands against his rear feet so he'd have something to really kick into, which got him even more excited. I'd talk about what a wonderful upside-down dog he was in an excited voice, and that was even better.

When Jake came to live with us, the Upside-Down Dog thing seemed to bemuse him at first, but he quickly caught on and would join in in his own exaggerated little-dog way, yelping and jerking and rolling his back and head on the bedspread.

Jake has kept up the tradition since Rem has been gone. Now I even do the rear-feet-kicking thing with him, which he wasn't sure what to do about originally, but now it also seems to get him going.

Tika, who is really quite an independent girl, watches, yet she says nothing. What of that! The closest she's gotten is that sometimes, after Jakes' done rolling around and I've finished saying "What an upside down dog, yes you are!" in a cheery way several dozen times, and I roll over and start trying to exit the bedcovers, Tika pushes right up against me, rolls over onto her back, and lies there, demanding to have attention.

But no rolling around, no chitchatting about the glorious of upside-downness.

I noticed that there's no more howling, either.

Sheba howled sometimes. I don't remember whether she started the howling at sirens, but for sure Remington took up the challenge and made it his responsibility to let the untamed song rise from his soul and emerge in a pure and haunting tone from his pursed lips, nose tipped towards the heavens.

Jake, who is NOT the independent sort (most of the time), took it upon himself to try to copy Remington. He had the most annoying yelp/shriek/bark combo, trying to tilt his head back and do what Remington was doing. It was very cute, but it was not a howl. His wolf ancestors would have been horrified, or maybe moved to hysterical laughter.

Now that Rem's gone, there's no howling at sirens. Jake sometimes notices that they're out there, and whines--quick, sharp, concerned whines, as if he knows that there's something important that needs to be done but he's just not the one to lead the way.

I've never heard Tika howl at all, although she looks like she should have a really good one inside her somewhere. She has also never shown any sign of reacting to sirens.

It's the changing of the dog generations; whole routines and habits go by the wayside.

The Lighter Side: Who's Smart?

Jake does this thing where he decides that, for some reason, he cannot come through the dog door. Perhaps there is a dog lying too close to the other side (say, 3' away...). Perhaps it didn't settle quite right the last time someone went through it. Perhaps he found a lovely dumbbell toy in the yard and it hits the side when he starts trying to go through and he can't figure out what to do with it.

So Jake's sitting outside the dog door, whining, the plastic squeaky dumbbell toy lying at his feet in front of the door. He's whining and staring hopefully at me through the glass sliding door. I am not getting up and going over to open the sliding door because the dog is too dumb to figure out how to get a lightweight plastic dumbbell through the door.

Casey, meanwhile, has been watching intently Jake from *inside* the house, through the sliding glass door. Mind you, he had been carrying the lovely special dumbbell around all morning since he got home from his Tahoe vacation last night but lost interest somewhere along the way.

So Jake's sitting there, whining. I'm ignoring him. Casey sticks his head through the dog door from the inside out, leans way down, grabs the dumbbell, and pulls his head back into the house, leaving Jake sitting there, now looking merely pathetic, but still wanting me to come and let him in since he's been so abused and neglected.

Casey is happy; his butt wiggles and he sings at me through the dumbbell in his mouth.

The Lighter Side: Those are a lot of weave poles ya got there

I've had my weaves separated into 2 sets of 6 for quite a while to practice various entrances and exits and cross-in-fronts and -behinds. Put them all back together into the standard 12 in the middle of the lawn the other day.

My sister, sitting in the hot tub with me, said "Those are a lot of weave poles." I said it's just the normal set. Then I got curious--Tika was bringing her Toy to me at that time for tossing and tugging--so when I gained control of the toy, I pointed my arm in the general direction of the weaves--which were pointing straight away from us, starting about 20 feet away, and said "Weave!"

Tika charged over to the poles, made her entrance, wove speedily all the way through, and bounced on the thrown Toy with well-earned delight when she finished. What a good girl!

And what a good trainer, to have taught the dog that doing all that hard stuff is just another fun game!

The Lighter Side: Auto Ball Return

We were sitting in the hot tub the other evening. Jake was out and about in the dark yard, conducting an extensive investigation of some random corner. Tika got her Tika Toy (used to be "The Big Blue Thing"--of various colors--under Remington's dominion) and brought it over for some play. I tossed it for her several times and then I told her that was enough and went back to my conversation.

A little later, Jake came over and detected serious play molecules in the air and realized he'd been left out. He went looking for something to play throw with, and found Tika's Toy lying on the lawn. He growl-wrestled with it a bit, which got Tika's attention, and then he brought it over to me.

Tika stood near him in submissive annoyance (ears turned towards back of head but clearly thinking "This is 'Tika's Toy' he's got! That's as in 'Tika,' that's me!"). Jake looked up at me, wagging his tail, and dropped the toy for me to throw. Whereupon Tika lunged in front of him, grabbed the toy, and trotted out onto the lawn.

Now Jake did the submissive annoyance thing (ears turned towards the back but clearly thinking, "You weren't playing with it! Not fair! Not fair!") and followed her out to the lawn, two steps behind her shoulder.

On the lawn, Tika realized she was bored (no one was throwing the toy for her, after all, nor playing tug of war) and dropped the toy. Jake swooped in, grabbed the toy, and trotted back to the hot tub, tail wagging.

Indignant, Tika followed. Jake dropped the toy for me to throw. Tika swooped in and picked up the toy and trotted out to the lawn, Jake following. Tika dropped the toy. Jake plunged in and grabbed the toy, trotted back to the hot tub and dropped the toy for me to throw. Tika swooped in, picked up the toy, and trotted out to the lawn, Jake following, whereupon she dropped the toy. Jake swooped in--

By this time, I'm in hysterics in the hot tub. My guests have to ask what's going on. I tell them.

Jake brought the toy back and dropped it for me to throw. Tika swooped and ran. Jake followed. Tika dropped the toy on the lawn. Jake swooped and ran. Jake dropped the toy for me to throw.

Repeat. And repeat. And repeat--

Somewhere in there, one of them realized that no progress was actually occurring, and the game stopped. But I enjoyed myself immensely.