a Taj MuttHall Dog Diary: December 2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas 2012

SUMMARY: Holiday wishes.

Whether you're with friends or family or on your own; whether you celebrate Christmas, some other special day or season, or none at all; Taj MuttHall wishes for you the best that life can bring.

Tika and Human Mom were behaving blurryily when photos were being taken so we'll try again tomorrow.

Monday, December 17, 2012

O Xmas Tree Phase 1

SUMMARY: Getting the lights up

So, I'm a little late this year--but last year I never got a tree. Orrrr I got it but never decorated it.

Yesterday I found a decent-enough tree, a smallish silver-tip fir. I love these because they have soooo much space between the branches for ornaments, and I have soooo many ornaments -- more than I can fit on an 8-foot tree, so with this tiny one, hooboy, it'll be really hard to pick and choose.

But first--the lights!

In the order of things, the string of lights with light-up ornaments attached goes first, to try to distribute the light-ups fairly evenly.

Some of my light-ups:

(Says "five...four...three...

(Says, "You are strong, young Skywalker,
but you are not a Jedi yet. [inhale]")

Hmm, do we detect a space-ish theme here?

I also have this high-tech computer user ornament--a ginormous(*) CRT with glowing green letters on a black background making a letter to Santa. Does this date me? And my ornament?

(*)Thinking of you, Steph, wherever your spirit has roamed.

And a couple more.

Next, one string of twinkling lights. I thought that, with a smaller tree, I could get away with just those two strings, but noooooooooo -- too many empty branches. Ah, well, not bad for one busy weekend. To bed!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Things I'm Thinking

SUMMARY: Hugging my dogs and others as well.

Tika's recent heart diagnosis has spurred me to spend more time hugging and appreciating my dogs.

Tika's fur is so soft. I massage and pet her, bury my cheek in her fur, nuzzle her cheek. She seems to like it and puts up with me murmuring sweet nothings in her ears.

Boost likes it for a couple of minutes but then it's time to get going. She's such a border collie, but really also such a sweet girl. Who cares if she's knocking bars pretty much every run in class these days? She's smart and fast and eager and seems to adore me (ok, sometimes too much, but that's better than being ignored most of the time).

The heart-rending shootings in Connecticut--ah, me--make me ache, body and mind and soul. I love my family. I'm trying to remember to tell them so, too, even if I don't bury my cheek in their hair. Who cares if none of them will chase a frisbee? They're smart and generous and willing to do a lot for each other; I sometimes think that we don't know how much.

(From 2008)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Odd Story

SUMMARY: The missing boot.

Two weeks ago, I started working at my client's site rather than from my home office. Client has 7 floors of parking garage in each of two different buildings, each level with multiple aisles of parking. Each day that I've been there, I've parked in a different place, on a different floor.

Each floor is painted a different color and has a huge floor number painted in many places. That doesn't always help me--I have to stop and think every evening about where I left MUTT MVR that morning. First three days it was on the first floor twice and a basement floor once, all different spots. Through Wednesday of this week, I've been there 6 other times--have parked on floor 2A, 2B, 3, 4, and 5 (not in that order, of course), and also on the down ramp in the 2nd building's garage.

The point is, somewhere different every time.


Last weekend, I couldn't stand MUTT MVR's interior mess any more. You know, mess just accrues as I do agility--toss things in, haul them out, rearrange-- or hiking--toss things in, rearrange, haul them out--or just drive around--printed google maps directions, empty fast-food bags and soda cans, things I bought but haven't yet taken into the house... Try to straighten everything out every couple of months but don't always get to it.

Anyway, sick of it. Spent 4 hours Sunday rearranging the car AND the garage to better accommodate things that I regularly put into and take out of the car. Vacuumed the entire car, places I've not vacuumed in years (found more bits of broken window glass). Put everything in its place. No clutter, nothing lying around loose. Perfect.

I was at the office for long days every day, so no chance to mess things up after that, either. At the end of the day Wednesday, i was going to drive to hiking directly from the office. So, at 5 p.m., I neatly hid my computer under my neatly arranged dog gear, pulled my hiking boots out of my hiking pack, tossed them into the front seat, neatly put the pack back in its spot, and neatly pulled my black cover over everything in the back.

Drove up to Palo Alto to meet my hiking group. In the dark, fumbled around on the floor, found one boot, and put it on before even opening the car door (it was cold). Annnnnnd the other boot wasn't there. If the car had been messy, I'd have had a better reason for not finding it, but the car was beautifully clean and neat. I looked anyway. Got out my flashlight to help. Under the seats. (Not there.) Under the black cover somewhere. (Not that I could see.) In the pack in case for some reason I had a brain hiccup and didn't actually pull out both boots, except that I VERY CLEARLy this time remembered having both boots in my hand. (Not there.) Unburied the computer thinking, well, it has to be here SOMEWHERE, right? (Not there.) Everything's messy again, crap. But no boot.

Finally gave up and figured I'd go through the car again when I got home, although quite unclear as to where it could possibly be. Hiked 5 miles in my normal shoes, which fortunately turned out OK.

Raced home and got there JUST in time for a conference call, had a quick dinner, and went to bed. Didn't think about the boot.

Next morning, got up, did a little emergency billable work at home, drove the renter to the auto shop to pick up his car, continued on fairly late in the morning to the client's site. Drove around and around and around through the various aisles on the various floors, looking for a parking spot. Finally found one up on the fourth floor around 11 a.m.

Pulled in, opened the door, got out.

And there was my other boot.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

So Many Sneaky Owners

SUMMARY: And here's the latest episode in Tika's meds saga.

On Friday I reported how Tika partly rejected the cream cheese pill hidings. Friday night, no problem, she took plain cream cheese and all the pills wrapped in cream cheese.

Saturday morning, she wouldn't take even plain cream cheese right at the beginning, just sniffed suspiciously and turned her head away. I gave it to Boost, tried another scoop with Tika. She took that, so I wondered whether maybe I had contaminated the other spot of cheese in the container with a molecule of pill somehow. She took most of her pills with cream cheese after the initial refusal, but I had to resort to peanut butter again for the last one.

Saturday evening, no problem with the cream cheese.

Sunday morning, no cream cheese for any reason whatsoever, plain or fancy or offered to boost first or nuthin' nohow. So everything went down with peanut butter.

Sunday evening, took a little cream cheese but then refused all with any pills in it, so back to peanut butter.

Back to peanut butter after failing with cream cheese all day Monday. Today I didn't even bother with the cream cheese, just went straight to PB. So far so good.

Meanwhile, getting lots of suggestions from other sneaky owners on how they sneak their dogs' meds into their little digestive systems:
  • Almond butter as an alternative (thanks Elayne)
  • Pill pockets (thx Cedarfield and Tervpack)
  • I thought about using pitted dates in which to hide the pills, so I offered her a small piece of date during the day to see whether she'd eat it. Nope.
    For a food-motivated dog who'd rather eat than anything else, she sure is picky!
  • Marshmallows (Tervpack again)
  • Kraft Easy Cheese (thx Channan)
  • And of course I know that I can resort to grinding up the pills to make them harder to recognize
Now I'm prepared in case Mr. Peanut Butter starts to fail me!

At least she seems happy and active, enthusiastically running and playing. Yay, Tika!

Friday, December 07, 2012

Cream Cheese is Out, Peanut Butter is In

SUMMARY: Update on Tika taking/not taking meds.

Wellllll last night it took several tries with increasing quantities of cream cheese to get Tika to take each half of the chewable tablet. She took the capsule and two pills, though.

This morning, different story. Sniffed each offer of cream cheese before taking it. If nothing else, this might be a good exercise in finally teaching her some self control about taking fingers along with whatever food is offered. If there was something in the cheese, she refused it.

I managed to get the two little pills into her, and the capsule by offering a whole ton of plain cream cheese before and after (all of which she sniffed suspiciously before taking), but the first half of the chewable went down only with a tremendous amount of cream cheese spread on my hands, my jeans, the floor, and her left shoulder (don't ask).

After that, she wouldn't even take plain cream cheese and quickly abandoned the kitchen when I tried to offer her some.

However, I was able to go to the emergency peanut butter supplies to get her to finally take that last half of the so-called chewable tablet.

Not sure how long the peanut butter will work. I bought some canned dogfood to try if/when the spreadables stop working. Then it'll have to be grinding up the pills and hoping she won't reject the whole shebang. Need to find out whether I can open the capsule and sprinkle the contents into food.

Dogs always provide a challenge, don't they.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Meds for Tika

SUMMARY: Confounded dog brains, confounded drug prices.

Back on November 10, after that trip to the emergency room, I started Tika on the diuretic Disal (furosimide), 2x/day (half of a small disk-shaped pill).

On November 12, I realized that she also had that anal gland infection and started her on the antibiotic Cephalexin, 2x/day (one green capsule).

After we got the ultrasound done on November 19, which revealed the messy heart situation, we started her on Enalapril to keep her blood pressure down 2x/day (one small disk-shaped pill) and Vetmedin (Pimobendan) to strengthen her heart 2x/day (one large chewable tablet).

So she had 4 meds, twice a day, just chewing up the chewable tablet and the others each wrapped in a slice of string cheese. (Boost also got cheese to keep everyone happy.)

As of November 28, she had done the first one 36 times over 18 days, the 2nd one 32 times over 16 days, and the last two 20 times over 10 days.

Then she rejected the antibiotic. I rewrapped it several times, but by then she (the dog who snaps food from your hand, gulps it down and asks for more) was taking it each time very gingerly and then quickly spitting it out. Eventually the capsule just became soggy and I gave up on that one for the evening.

The next morning, Nov 29th, she spit out that one (with the cheese wrapping) and she also spit out the teeny tiny half of a Disal pill (also with its cheese wrapping). I did finally get her to take them both.

The renter all along has been saying "cream cheese is the best." He watched this production and again said, "cream cheese". I said that I've been giving dogs pills in semisoft cheese for years without any problems until right then and I was sure everything would be fine.

The next morning when I handed her the chewable tablet--keep in mind that she has cheerfully accepted and chewed 24 of them so far--she took it and spit it out immediately. I handed it back to her, same thing. I wrapped it in cheese. Same thing. I broke it in half and wrapped it in cheese. Same thing. What was going through that little brain that suddenly decided she wasn't going to chew those any more?

Finally I smeared it with peanut butter and that worked, but peanut butter is pretty greasy and smelly.

That evening, tried handing it to her plain again, but no, she was having none of it. So I went out and bought a tub of cream cheese. (And, hey, whatever happened to those foil-wrapped blocks that it used to come in? Now it's all in plastic tubs!)

Now she's consuming all the pills again happily as I surround each with a tiny blob of cream cheese. A bit messy but not as bad as peanut butter.


Yesterday I went to the vet's to get refills on everything (except the antibiotics), and laid out over $150 for a month's supply. Yikes! Maybe this isn't as bad as cancer treatments, but that adds up to a lot of money that wasn't in my budget, for every month that she goes on surviving (which I hope she'll do for a long time).

Vet said that he'd gladly transfer any prescriptions that I could find more cheaply at human pharmacies (not the Vetmedin, of course). I'll look into that before the next refills.

Dang health care costs! Plus the price of the cream cheese! :-)

Update: Dec 5, 9:15AM PST: Funny thing: I took this photo a couple of days ago. You can see that the field is sopping wet from all the rain we'd received up through that morning. Just now I notice that the sprinklers are on in the far background! I never noticed them while we were there. Great use of our scarce water resources, eh?

Sunday, December 02, 2012


SUMMARY: Report from last weekend.
Saturday and Sunday after Thanksgiving, the Merle Girls and I attended our first-ever nosework training. I'd spent some time reading about it, so I had a vague idea of what's going on. Quite a few people I know are starting to compete in it or even teach it. Sounded like a fun thing to do.

The basic idea is that someone hides a specific scent somewhere in the search area and the dog finds it.

Rather than using scents like drugs or explosives (as a police or army dog would be trained for), the nosework competitions use specific scents that are not too likely to be encountered randomly. Dogs start with birch.

Our instructor was Andrew Ramsey. I had met him once before at another dog shindig and a friend waxed raphsodic about his skills at training dogs. He's a nice guy with a very good idea about what he's doing and how we can do it, too. Main thing to know is that he came by dog training primarily through his work with military dogs. As a civilian, he pursued jobs at the military's huge training facility and over the years trained thousands of puppies, dogs, and people in protection and detection work--the detection work being the key thing here. You can read a bit more on his web site.

Andrew gives us background info. We were a deliberately small group so that all 10 dogs could get enough working time.

He happened upon "pet" nosework by chance and fell in love with the idea.

OK, next thing you need to know is that there is, so far, only one official nosework organization, the National Association of Canine Scent Work, and they've trademarked the phrase "K9 Nose Work". It's sort of like the early days of dog agility when there was only the USDAA in the U.S. and they service marked "agility dog".

The NACSW defines the rules under which nosework competitions take place, same way that USDAA, CPE, NADAC, AKC, etc. define their own rules under which agility competition takes place. They also certify nosework trainers, and they seem to be pressing hard to have students sign up only with their certified trainers. This makes sense for them because they charge quite a bit for the certification program.

I don't think there was ever anything like *that* in agility-- "certified agility trainer". (Sometimes I think it might have been a good idea, but at other times I think that not having rigid controls on what and how to teach has enabled the sport to advance more quickly and creatively.)

OK, NEXT thing to know is that Andrew is not certified by them. He said that he considered it until he thought about the fact that he'd be trained by people who had only an iota of the experience that he already had in detection work, and decided to pass.

Meanwhile, the UKC wanted to start its own nosework program and they contacted Andrew--so they're developing their own set of competition rules. And the AKC contacted him as well, although I think that they then went off on their own to come up with their own rules since he had already worked with UKC. So--he's held in pretty high esteem by Those Who Know.

LAST thing to know is that his dogs run into the search area, lope around the perimeter, quickly identify the vicinity of the scent, zero in on it in amazingly short time, and freeze with their nose on the location of the scent (e.g., the lip of a drawer in which it's hidden). This is what we'd like our dogs to do.

Soooo (this was supposed to be a short post), now on to the training.

His method emphasized the dog having a methodical approach to searching for the scent, for example, working clockwise around a room.This is why he starts with a set of drawers as shown in the photo above.

[Disclaimer: I am simplifying all of this quite a bit and leaving out detailed descriptions of exactly how the various steps are done, so I doubt that these notes will give anyone really enough info to do it themselves.] 

The result that you want is demonstrated (by the end of day 2) by classmate Kathleen and Tika's compatriot veteran dog Annie (they're very close in age, started competing about the same time, as Kathleen's previous dog and my Jake were finishing up their careers in Performance):

The dog freezes, nose pressed against the scent location, handler using the leash (during training) to exert just enough pressure to get the dog to stop pushing forward when it's clear that the dog has found it, and after a fraction of a second, the dog's favorite toy is thrown right where their nose is, so the dog associates being in that position at the scent with getting their favorite reward (rather than looking to you for their reward).

Obviously, we have to build up to that. The ideal way is to have two very close to identical toys that the dog loves, if the dog is toy-driven. And, yes indeed, Boost is extremely toy driven. I handed over Boost's two purple riot tugs (you can see one in Andrew's pocket) and Boost was quite happy to play a rousing game of tug with Andrew.

Because Boost is so toy driven and usually food plays second fiddle to toys, that's how I wanted to start her.

OK, for the very first step, andrew gets the dog excited about the toy, handler holds the dog back, andrew drops the toy into the first drawer, and you release the dog, who races forward, plunges her head into the drawer, and pulls out the toy, then you play tug and repeat the whole thing a couple of times.

Then Andrew hides the 2nd toy in the second drawer (bottom drawers are all open at this point), pretends to drop the 1st toy into the first drawer, and when the dog races forward, they're so certain that the toy is there that they keep looking and inevitably get around to noticing it in the second drawer.


Andrew got Boost all excited about the toy, I held her back, he dropped the toy into the first drawer--and she stood there looking at the drawer and then at him. I finally urged her verbally to get it, and she went forward cautiously, reached in gently and lifted the toy out.

We wasted our whole first session trying to get her to understand about getting the toy, but apparently it was the wrong kind of toy (for her) for this--maybe because the riot tugs are usually interactive toys for us, not thrown toys? dunno-- Anyhoo, for her second session, we switched to food and she figured it out VERY quickly and within probably 5 minutes was methodically checking all the bottom drawers left to right to find the hidden item.

Here, Boost is working with food--she has just found it in the third drawer and I'm holding the leash taut for a moment to get her to freeze there, while Andrew prepares food for her next find.

(Photos from this one on down are by Tonya Jensen--I was so busy listening and watching that I forgot to take any more photos!)

After doing the 2nd drawer, then you hide it in the first drawer again, then again pretend to hide it there but put it in the 2nd drawer again, then in the 3rd drawer, then the dog very quickly figures out to keep going forward sniffing for it, and most dogs progressed pretty quickly to moving on around the corner.

The next step is to close the drawers and again hide the toy (or food) but now alongside a little jar with the birch scent in it (a tiny drop of essential oil on a q-tip). So they do 6 or 10 finds like that, which basically gets them associating the birch scent with the thing that they want. Then you repeat with just the scent. This is why having a toy to throw is the best option; if you're working from food, you don't really want to throw the food and contaminate the ground.  A tug-n-treat might work. I forgot to take one the 2nd day. Something to work on.

PRESS that nose against that find!

With Tika, there was never ANY doubt in anyone's mind that she is a food-driven dog.

She figured out very quickly that she needed to keep looking to find her food, but she was too smart-alecky for her own good--realized that the food was appearing farther around hte circle, so started skipping the earlier drawers and had to go back through. That was easily fixed by mixing it up more, sometimes in an earlier drawer, sometimes in a later one, sometimes in the same one twice in a row, etc.

She was harder for me to catch with the tension to freeze her--she wanted to get her paw in there. Here I'm applying the tension, not realizing that she already has a paw on the drawer and I've frozen her like that. Finally got that message and pulled her back away so that she could approach it again and I could stop her in the correct position, with just the nose, not the paw.

Within our group, some dogs were toy-driven enough for the toy to work well, some were food-driven enough for the food to work well, and for one--well, we all encountered our first-ever pine-cone-driven dog.

By the end of the two days, virtually all of the dogs were searching by scent alone, some even onto the 2nd tier of drawers and one dog with even more challenges beyond the drawers. (The drawers are just a good way to get them started because the drawers retain more of the scent, but you want to get away from using them exclusively pretty quickly.) Each dog had 5 sessions of maybe 10-15 minutes each, which was a pretty aggressive schedule, but we all wanted to get as much done as possible in our two full days.

And all of the dogs' successes were achieved with no instruction, assistance, or prompting from any humans except telling them to start looking, putting the tension on the leash after the dog had already found the scent, and then rewarding the dog. It was amazing to watch! 

I think I'd like to do more of this, but I'm sold on Andrew's method of training, and he's out in Sacramento, so not sure how/when I'm going to get more practice.

Meanwhile, I've revised the find-it game that I've played with the dogs for years at home (hide food in another room and then release the dog to go find it). I restarted along the lines of the seminar training, first showing where the food was at the far left side of the room, then gradually moving it further along and then also back again, etc., trying to reinforce the idea of methodically searching starting from one side of the room and going clockwise.

They have always liked this game and still do. [grin]