Thursday, August 26, 2010

Part of the Pack

Stewardship is defined by Webster to be: "the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially : the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one's care".  I suppose, although no final decisions regarding permanent residence have been made as of yet, that you could say as a foster family it is our responsibility to be good stewards of Lucy.  If we have taken the initiative thus far, we need to continue in her care both veterinary and, well, make her park of the pack. 

The Dog Whisperer, Cesar Milan, is a big proponent of viewing creatures in various forms of packs.  Humans, dogs, whatever... there will be leaders, followers, and a sense of belonging - even 'family'.  He has a "Pack Gallery" at http://www.cesarsway.com/packgallery .  So far in our house, we have made an effort to teach Lucy her place in the pack.  We hated to think of Jack or Indy feeling displaced or superseded.  After all, they were here first! 

Since Lucy's first encounter with the BIG dogs, she has mellowed considerably.  She had been on her own for who knows how long, and felt the primal need to stick up for herself - in everything.  She would bark and try to seem as ferocious as possible, defending everything from the dish we had placed her first food in to a toy that was given to her, to "that leaf over there that I was sniffing earlier".   We "shh-d" her when she yapped, and pretty soon she quieted down.  We made it clear that yes, she had her own toys, but she may not lay claim to everything in sight.  The big dogs have their favorite toys, too, and it would be up to them if they wanted to share.  I am proud to say both Jack and Indy have been wonderful, with Indy going so far as to roll on his back and play with her for the better part of most afternoons.  Indy's been a fabulous babysitter!  With Indy occupied, Jack has had the opportunity to nap more, which has pleased him greatly.

Yesterday we went to the pet store and bought Lucy an engraved tag for her collar.  As her current stewards, I suppose that makes us the ones to call should she get out.  Today we took her to our vet, Dr. Rosie.  He said she was a very healthy terrier mix, most likely 18 weeks old, and not microchipped (duh?).  We asked out of sheer curiosity if Terriers were know to retrieve, as she has become in the habit of doing with the big dogs.  He chuckled and said "no", but that she was probably quite a bit brighter than the labs and if something looked like fun, she would be liable to try it too.  We thought it amusing; the idea of this little pup, smarter than our big labs.  (We won't tell Jack and Indy.)





Sunday, August 22, 2010

Rainy Days

Rain, rain, go away...  Our dog-to-happiness ratio often revolves around the weather.  You would think, being raised in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, that we would by now have gotten used to the rain.  Don't get me wrong, we LOVE the rain.  Hiking in the rain, dancing in the rain - heck, Singing in the Rain happens to be one of my all-time favorite movies.  But dogs and humans and rain are not always a desirable mix. 

Cognitive adults avoid mud.  We wipe our feet before entering an abode.  We show remorse for accidentally tracking in bits of the outdoors.  Dogs, cognitive or not, head for the mud.  They love it more than the rain.  This can make for very unhappy humans, especially when the humans have new-ish carpets.  Perhaps the most frustrating thing of all is the sweet look on your dogs' faces when they cock their head to see if that will help them understand your frustration.  Nope.  

Soon after we got Jack, we built a deck with the hopes that having a deck would help fight the battle against tracked-in mud.  Not so much.  The deck did, however, provide a fun jumping off point for playing fetch, which in turn left a nice Labrador-sized mud pit where grass once flourished (and subsequently, a muddy deck).  The following fall season, which is when all out-door projects seem to commence in our household, we set a lovely half-moon of flagstones at the threshold to the deck.  These should help for sure.  Now we have muddy deck-muddy flagstones-mud pit.  My husband is already drawing up plans for an overhang for the deck; which is right on schedule, because it's nearly fall again.

Two and a half dogs are quite alright when the weather co-operates. Summer has been wonderful.  The slider is left open for all to come and go as they wish.  We're a free-range family, if you will.  The grass has grown back beautifully, the deck is power-washed and as clean as it's gonna get, and no mud pits in sight.  Dog, man, woman, children all co-exist in near-perfect harmony. 

This morning was the first rain in weeks.  Ken better get crackin' on that covered deck...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Less is More

I don't suppose this sounds like a real brain-teaser, but it sure had us stumped.  Being BIG dog people, it is common knowledge in this house that dogs love to eat.  Labs, especially, need the comfort of at least two meals a day.  Big meals for big dogs.  Well Lucy, being a little dog, received little portions at breakfast and dinner - but I guess it was still too much.  After almost two weeks of waking up to the not-so-rewarding chore of cleaning out Lucy's kennel (maybe she was enjoying the daily baths...) we read online about the common mistake of over-feeding small dogs.  Could it be that simple?  Merely cause and effect?  Behavior-wise, the dirty kennel didn't add up.  She has been absolutely fastidious about running to the back door when in need.  We decided to conduct a little experiment.  Three nights ago we fed Jack and Indy as normal, and played with Lucinda to keep her distracted.  She wasn't frantic or anxious at all.  The next morning, immaculate success!  That evening, it did catch her attention that the big boys were eating and she was not.  Later on, she was very interested in my late night snack of toasted bagel.  Yet, she was polite and overlooked the incivility of my not sharing.  Morning success again!  At dinner time last night, however, she relentlessly petitioned for sustenance.  Okay, so she did miss eating a second time each day.  We definitely didn't want her to go hungry so we ventured a half-size serving.  Contentedness ensued.  Yay!  We went to bed hoping beyond hope we had stumbled onto a happy medium.

This morning brings us to the third consecutive morning in which one of my children didn't come wake me up saying, "Lucy pooped her kennel.  Can I play XBOX?"   Folgers has nothing on that kind of morning.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Terrier-Retriever?

Since we found her, we have speculated as to what mix of breeds Lucy may be.  We initially thought Terrier, for sure, and possibly the "king" of all little dogs, Chihuahua... perhaps a little Miniature Schnauzer...?   I found a "Pom-A-Nauze" online at http://www.dogbreedinfo.com/p/pomanauze.htm  (scroll down for pictures) that was a dead-ringer for her but personally, I can't see any Pomeranian in either dog.  Any other ideas?

One thing is for sure, Lucy is beginning to think she is a Labrador.  Or at least she figures if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.     Here she is in the back yard, "fetching".   We've still got to work on the "drop it" or "give it" command ;)

Lucy, NO!

Young dogs must assume they have been given hyphenated names.  I don't know if this is the case with all puppies, but it has been true of the three we have had.  Jack-NO!  Indy-NO!  Lucy-NO!  With a child, you can use a broader selections of nouns and adjectives.   "Danger, hot!", "Owie", "that's Momma's", etc.  With dogs, even smart ones, it has to start simple and be consistent.   "No bite" and "good chew" are said continually in our house.  If Lucy's biting us, then we say, "no bite" and hand her a toy and say, "good chew!" with all the enthusiasm we can muster.  Then, we go after the band aides and the Neosporin.

The constant biting and chewing that all puppies must do wears thin on even the most accommodating of humans.  Puppies, like human babies, take patience and a nurturing environment.   I know the payoff surpasses any temporary grievance,  but it comes much more slowly with puppies.  Babies, for instance, will bite.  They won't, however, follow you for hours, jumping up and biting or nipping at your calves, heels, or any other available appendage.   Babies, at least for the first several months, will stay where you last put them down.   Babies do not chew flip-flops, speaker wires, or your favorite chair.  However, to give puppies a nod of approbation, you would never be able to put a baby in a kennel while you run errands.  Of course, presumably the baby has diapers and would not poop all over the kennel.  Lucy, NOOOOO!

I guess it's all a process.  There are those nice, warm moments when she gets really sleepy and wants to come sit in your lap.  Her playful springy-ness is quite fun to watch.  She's genuinely happy, if not pleasantly surprised, to see us still here when she wakes up from a nap.   Now if only we could get her to keep her kennel clean overnight, we could be just as excited to see her every morning.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not a little dog person...

I have never been a little dog person.  I was a cat person as a kid, a kid person as a young mom, and then became a dog person when my youngest son fell in love with dogs.  Big dogs, though.  Labradors: sturdy, indestructible, REAL dogs.  When my dog-loving son, Zack, was five, my husband and I caved.   We loaded up the family suburban, complete with our nine year old daughter, Alex, and our seven year old son, Nick, and went to the 'country' to pick us out a labrador.  Yellow labs; it doesn't get much more American than that.  It's the natural order of things, I suppose.  You start a family, get a mortgage, add another child or two, then a yellow lab.  Kid and photo friendly.  That was Jack.



After you've had a single dog, though, you start to feel as if they're missing some fellow canine companionship.  A friend they can relate to.  A new puppy.  Of course, the idea of a new puppy is like wanting another baby only after the memory of pregnancy and childbirth have evaporated to wisps of idyllic memories.   It started with cruising different breeder's websites to look for the newest litters of the dog du jour, Chocolate Labradors.  After all, brown was the new black in 2007.  The online links to puppy photos I emailed my husband were met with instant message conversations such as:

Heathergirl: check out http://www.graniteretrievers.com/ 
Heathergirl: they have puppies coming in November!!
Kenman:  nice.
Heathergirl: that would be in time for the holidays
Kenman: and for the rain
Heathergirl: did you see the chocolate ones from the last litter??  I think brown goes really well with blond.
Heathergirl:  Jack could use a friend.  We're so busy with homeschool, we hardly pay any attention to him in the mornings.
Kenman: and you'll  have time for the new puppy when?
Heathergirl: DID YOU SEE THE PICTURES?!?!?
Kenman: we'll see


That was Indy.  We were off and running.

Fast forward three years and we now have a teenage daughter; two boys 11 & 9; Haystack Surfin' Jack (now 4 - er, in his late canine twenties); and Dr. Oceana Indiana Bones or Indy for short (now a prematurely greying almost legal drinking age 'pup').


Everybody's happy; everyone's content.  Then one weekend, I get a call from my mom, who was watching my kids.  A little dog has 'found' them.  It just jumped in the pool and started happily swimming around with the kids.  Ah.  Well, that's nice, but we're REALLY not little dog people - it can just go on it's way.  "She's really skinny - we think she's just a puppy", my mom says.  "Just be prepared not to get too attached."  Somewhere in the background my dad hollers, "You're not keeping it!"  Duh.  We have two dogs.  Two REAL dogs, remember?  Dogs who would never yap or spaz out, and certainly wouldn't fit in your handbag!   My husband and I pull up the drive and our daughter comes running out to meet us.  She and a drippy, shiver-ry little dog.  You know those little shaky dogs - God bless the people who love them, but they're definitely not for us. 

A few plates of rice and chicken later, and the little dog wasn't so shaky.  She was calm and other than an initial fearful barrage of yaps at Jack and Indy when she first met them, she's a pretty mellow dog.  She warmed to the big dogs, rolling on her back to show submission, and ran with them as they chased after tennis balls.  They didn't seem to mind her much either, seemingly as sorry for her as the rest of us. 

Her ears were beyond dirty.  Her bony body was peppered with bug bites - but no sign of fleas or ticks.  She was really out in the middle of nowhere, with no signs of previous ownership.  If left to her own devices, she'd be an unsatisfying snack at best to the coyotes roaming in the not-so-distant hills.   We were 150 miles from our home, and morally stranded.  We decided on making a run to the local PetSmart.  We would get ear cleaner, puppy flea shampoo, a collar, leash and kennel for travel.  We could at least care for her until we could find her a good home.  After all, there are a lot of people out there who don't mind little dogs.  She would be our foster dog, you could say. 

As we headed into PetSmart, I warned my kids, "We don't have a lot of money to spend on her.  We need to remember this is only a temporary situation."  Immediately upon entering the store, there is a large poster of beautiful, smiling Martha Stewart, holding her beautiful (smiling?) dog and announcing her new line of designer pet accessories.   My daughter is inhaling quickly the way teenagers do right before they rattle off their reasons for wanting something.  I cut her off before she can even start, "NO.  Think inexpensive.  Temporary situation, remember?"  Inside, though, the thought of cute little dog things was secretly exciting.  What was happening to me?  The love of shopping must be clouding my better judgment. 

We arrived at the collars and leashes isle.  I wistfully passed the adorable Martha Stewart collection, and even the cute pink and brown store brand collars, holding true to my own directive: we must find a good bargain.  I turned around and found a very plain, but still very sweet pink collar in the clearance section.  Actually, there were about fifteen sweet little pink collars on clearance.  97 cents!  That's what I'm talking about!  My daughter found a thin pink leash for $8, and I tried to turn our bargain hunt into a game.  I told the boys that Alex had found one for $8 - could they find one for less??  Leave no price tag unchecked!  Sure enough, on the far side of the isle were seven or eight thin pink leashes on clearance for less than $2.  When my daughter told my husband she said, "See Daddy, it was meant to be!"  He grunted a flat, "Great."

It has been a week and a half now, and although we are still technically looking for a home for Lucinda(Lucy for short), we have become rather attached.  She has a plump little puppy tummy now, her skin has healed and her coat is thicker, with a healthy sheen.  She has fit right in to the family... even 'fetching' with the big dogs.  Somewhere in the distance, if you listen real hard, you can hear my dad calling, "You're not keeping it, right?" 
Lucy and Indy
First day
Lucy, day 10