Monday, April 30, 2012

Oops, I did it again

When Sandy was adopted, Florian and I discussed and agreed how we were going to hold off on fostering for a good long while, mostly because of the stress on Lamar but also because of the stress on us.

I think you already know how this little story ends.

Florian and I went to the Washington Humane Society this weekend to observe play groups led by Aimee Sandler of Longmont (CO) Humane Society, which she has used successfully to socialize dogs, relieve boredom, teach life skills, and most importantly increase adoption rates dramatically. 

I'll talk more about play groups in a later post, for now meet Collette, the precious little take-home message we got from our day of observing. 

Collette, whose name in the shelter was Clockwork, is a 6-month old lab mix who was on a 10-day quarantine because apparently she nipped at a staff member.

We saw her in her kennel and immediately thought this was a little package we could take home.

Small and skinny, fawn-colored, she was jumping up on her kennel trying to get at us with her tongue. 

In the car on the way home, she sat in my lap and kissed me vigorously the whole way. She likes Fozzie and Lamar, but is nowhere near as persistent in getting their attention as some other foster dogs I could mention. 

Her first night home, she was in heaven snuggled up between us and she settled right down and snored with her little stuffy nose.

Though Florian is usually the one to take me to task for bringing in too many dogs, it was he who said, as we were in the shelter discussing whether to take home a dog on impulse, that you can't go to a place like this without rescuing a little thing.

All rational thinking aside, I think he kind of has a point--don't you?

Friday, April 27, 2012

Finally-TTouch for Lamar

When you have a steady stream of young, difficult, energetic, high-maintenance foster dogs or foster failures, it's easy to pour a bunch of money and time and training and heartache into them and forget the needs of your old stalwarts, the dogs whose foibles you've long since accepted and learned to love. 

I'm determined not to let that happen with Lamar. When I come home in the afternoon, I make it a point to walk right on past the wildly launching Fozzie (much as my heart longs to smooch him) and go right back to Lamar to scratch his ears as he moans and sighs, and stretch out next to him as I bury my face in his neck. 

It eats me up inside that the link to posts about Fozzie on the right of your screen is so much larger than the one to posts about Lamar, and I'm determined to fix that too.

If it means you have to read a bunch of posts about piles of dog hair, so be it.

Today, I have a Lamar post that may actually be somewhat useful, and I mean useful for something other than assuaging my guilt.

Last week I took Lamar to see Pam for a TTouch session. I've learned so much from Pam about working with wild dogs like Fozzie and Sandy; I wanted to see what we could do for an anxious, reactive dog like Lamar. More than anything I was hoping to figure out some solutions to what I imagine, in my most tortured guilt-racked moments, is Lamar's own private hell of living with an impulsive muscular young upstart when he just wants to be enjoying a relaxing retirement. 

With some gentle pressure on Lamar's sacrum, the tension and stiffness in his hips began to release. He started to yawn, sigh, and pass gas--all signs he was releasing and relaxing!

The main solutions to our household tension--the ongoing growling snapping and snarling every time Fozzie approaches Lamar's "turf" of our bed--were management solutions. 

What if we moved the bed somehow so that Fozzie doesn't have to pass by so close to Lamar every time he goes through to the dog door? What if we just institute a rule that Fozzie has to stay in the living room for as long as Lamar wants to be on the bed with us at night?

And a few ideas to help the both of them relax. Try putting an anxiety wrap around both of them at night, along with a calming elastic around their noses and heads, and see if that brings a shift in the level of tension. 

The elastic around their faces releases endorphins from that whole rich area around the muzzle. Maybe they'll feel so good they'll forget to be upset at each other! 

Work for 5 minutes a day on their mouths, lots of circles around the muzzle and cheeks and mouth to release endorphins and help those tight facial muscles loosen. 

And finally, I realized I need to be more consistent about getting Lamar on some relief for his hips. How much of his grumpiness is exacerbated because he is in pain? He is 12 years old, and though at times he prances about like a much younger dog, at other times the stiffness and weakness in his hips is starting to be really noticeable. 

I have some glucosamine that I give him, but I know there are scads of products out there and that some of them get really good reviews. What doggie hip and arthritis supplements have you used, with good results? 

I think Lamar loved his TTouch session, but he eagerly awaits your advice on his hips.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

You have a way with excess fur

Over the weekend I had the honor of grooming Chloe, a slightly anxious, sweet-tempered senior husky mix. 

Chloe lives with Ceiba the dingo-like 3-legged dog, Hari the spirited Border collie mix, and Moth the cat, also known as Cesar Millan because of his old-school, dominance-oriented approach to dog training.

I do try to maintain some semblance of professionalism in my dealings with dogs who are not my own--at least, to a greater extent than some others I could mention--but these dogs did not escape without some serious kisses. 
Cesar Millan, I left alone.

Then it was on to the grooming. Chloe is not a huge fan of being handled, and is a bit unsteady on her paws due to a neurological issue, so I spent some time just talking to her and massaging her ears. 

Then we got serious. Chloe is one of those amazing dogs who just billows forth vast plumes of excess fur. With a healthy dose of hot dogs, her mom and I were able to convince her that it would be in everyone's best interest if she stayed in one spot while I went at them.

My ally in making this a 2.5 hour, rather than a 7-hour endeavor was indubitably the Furminator, but I added a bit of sugar with the Zoom Groom.

Much as I love my golden doodles and bichons, there is something uniquely satisfying about the huskies, the collies, the Belgian sheepdogs, the long-haired dogs in all their shed-tastic splendor. 

As you work on them with your deshedding tool of choice, you have a steadily growing pile of dog hair to show for your labors, and a correspondingly dwindling dog.

Everyone is left with a proud trophy of your experience together.

Thanks Chloe, hope you had as much fun as I did!

Friday, April 20, 2012

New Porch and Old Friends

My front porch has been in a sorry state for years, but I put off the task of having it redone out of fear of the upheaval and cost of such an upgrade. 

I finally decided I couldn't stand the sense of decay any longer and put in a call to my old friend Jose, who's done great work on my house before. 

I shouldn't have been so worried. Jose and Mauricio took three days to tear down the old porch and put up a whole new one.

The best part? Fozzie LOVES Jose. Each day Jose took time to cuddle with his biggest fan, dance with him, and give him treats.

What a joy to have contractors who love your dogs, teach them Spanish, and are careful to always close the gate!

And now, just in time for Spring, we have a fresh new surface to cover with muddy pawprints.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Walking with the In-laws

Among the great joys of sisterhood is the morning dog walk. Since I got Fozzie, this joy has been curtailed by the fact that he turns into a raving lunatic at the sight of most dogs, especially those with pointy ears, and especially those who, like Genghis, project largeness and confidence. 

The other morning, we decided to give it a try anyway. One of our favorite walks is along Lake Artemisia.

Fozzie, Lamar and I got there a bit after my sister, so we set out along the trail and kept our eyes peeled for duckies, beavers, and other wildlife while we also scanned the trail for my sister and her little family unit. 

There they were up in the distance! Time for Fozzie to start his delightful lunging and yodeling routine and for me to break out the tasty cheesy snacks. 

Fozzie takes a while to settle down when he sees Genghis, but once he does we can walk behind them a ways without anyone freaking out too much. 

Fozzie, what is it about Genghis that you find so threatening? 

Not sure if we'll ever know. Maybe it is just the big face, the confidence. Or maybe Fozzie is just such a high-strung man that he can't figure out another way to interact with Genghis, and if we could figure out how to introduce them without anyone getting hurt, they could eventually learn to coexist happily.

Fozzie, you are a mystery bear! I hope I'm not just making you more high-strung and hyped-up with my efforts to socialize you. And I hope some day you can learn to just relax and enjoy a lovely walk with your extended family.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Really Boring Scientific Study

To follow up on my earlier effusions about the Zoom Groom, I thought I would try to provide some scientific backing for my enthusiasm by subjecting the Zoom Groom to a rigorous side-by-side comparison with the Furminator, that established leader in the dog-hair removal world. 

[Warning, this is far from my most interesting post.]

There's no question that the Furminator is amazing at removing large quantities of dog hair. The problem is that the Furminator is a row of hard, sharp metal teeth that is pretty harsh for most dogs.

Can we hope to achieve anywhere near the Furminator's fur-removing capacity with the far gentler, dog-friendlier Zoom Groom? 

To find out, I enlisted Lamar, whose thick white undercoat blankets my house in fluff every few days if I don't stay on top of things. Lamar also dislikes our Furminator sessions with a passion. 

On Lamar's right side, I brushed with the Furminator for 2 minutes. On Lamar's left side; I used the Zoom Groom for exactly 2 minutes. 

The results? Clearly, the Furminator is superior in fur-removal power.

[Good God, did she really just post a picture of two piles of dog hair?] 

At the same time, however, Lamar reported that the Zoom Groom was a far more pleasurable grooming experience than having his sensitive skin raked over by the unforgiving Furminator. 

What's YOUR favorite fur-removal device? 

And do YOU have a riveting anecdote to back up your claim?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Fauna of New York City

Last week I went up to New York to spend some time with my parents.

I like going up to New York for all the reasons you might expect: long walks through favorite neighborhoods of my youth, a bit of shopping in the groovy little stores you only find in New York, of course seeing my parents and my old friend Dizzy. 

Every day I took Dizzy out for walks along Morningside Park--known in the 80s as Dead Body Park, now a delightful landscape of dramatic slopes, rocky cliffs, flowering trees and diverse plant life.

And no shortage of exciting animal life too. In Morningside Park, we've seen a turkey, numerous ducks and geese, turtles, red-tailed hawks, falcons. I believe there was once a coyote spotted making her way through Morningside. On this occasion, I had the chance to add to this exciting and bizarre list.

On my last walk with Dizzy, I saw a woman up ahead with a short, fat, black dog with a skinny, rapidly wagging tail. I thought it might be my old friend Captain, the nondescript senior black dog who used to be out there sometimes when I was in grad school. 

But as I approached, I saw that the dog was squatter, the tail skinnier, than any I had seen before. And then I got even closer, saw that the tail was wagging furiously, and I thought...could it be?

It was! 

My parents had delighted and tantalized me every day with suggestions that if I went out at the right time, I might meet the pot-bellied pig. I thought they might be pulling my leg, as each day the pig failed to materialize. 

At last, here he was! Squiggles the pot-bellied pig lives with Tricia in an apartment in Morningside Heights. Tricia reports that he jumps right up into her bed and sleeps with her, although he also likes to go in his kennel sometimes. He loves contact, and sometimes he'll roll right over on his back for a belly rub from a stranger. 

His fur is long and very coarse and stiff. He makes delightful grunting noises--check them out:

What a smart, personable little fellow! Thanks Tricia for sharing for sharing your delightful friend with me.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Therapy Dog

Like most parents of troubled rescue dogs, I'll admit to having an occasional reverie about making Fozzie a therapy dog. 

Never mind that a 75-pound wad of barely contained exuberance, prone to jumping up and thrusting his tongue deeply down the throat of unsuspecting humans, with a tail that thrashes wildly like a bullwhip, is maybe not the best candidate for working in nursing homes or among people who are not in the strongest physical shape.

If we can just overlook all that for a moment though, in some ways he is ideal. I've already mentioned his way of lying down as close to me as he can get at the first sign of emotional trouble.

His sensitivity is not reserved just for his Mom. The other night, my bandmate Geoff was feeling low because an old friend of his had passed away. Of all the people in my living room, Fozzie really zeroed in on Geoff. Geoff was not visibly distressed, but Fozzie seemed to just know. Was he picking up on something, or was it just his love of big guys? 

There's other things besides just his emotional sensitivity. There's his gentleness with children, his velvety-ness of mouth--no matter how delicious the treat he is offered. 

So what if you saw Fozzie's profile on Psychology Today? Would you set up an appointment?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Whole new dog brush experience

Imagine, if you will, a dog brush that is pleasing to hold, with a satisfying weight and tactile sensation in the hand.

A dog brush that can be used on dogs with very short coats, dogs who shed way more than you'd expect but who don't tolerate the harshness of metal brushes.

A brush that makes a dog positively go limp in dreamy pleasure, where other brushes make the same dog cringe and slink away at first opportunity. 

That right there describes the Zoom Groom.

I finally got around to purchasing one of these bad boys and tried it out immediately on Lamar and Fozzie. 

Lamar, who usually runs away when I approach him with a metal slicker brush or the dreaded Furminator, gently wagged, then slowly slumped and stretched out contentedly as I started to brush him with the Zoom Groom. The firm, flexible bristles adhered to Lamar's fur while they gently massaged his skin. 

Fozzie's fur is so short that I would never use a metal brush on him. I loved having a brush that felt so gentle and kind to use. Like Lamar, Fozzie visibly relaxed as I brushed him, eventually stretching out long so I could reach every part. We got a surprisingly hefty handful of fur that would otherwise have ended up on my couch or in my mouth. 

It is so wonderful to have a dog brush that brings my dogs pleasure and no stress. We heartily recommend the Zoom Groom for dogs with shorter or medium-length fur!

Monday, April 2, 2012

That dude with the huskies

You may not remember, but I do, the blog post I wrote about a guy in my neighborhood who walks a pair of reactive huskies and insists on stopping with them in front of my yard while they freak out, my dogs freak out, and I hustle to get my dogs inside. I remember because it was my first blog post on reactive dogs, which began as a flyer that I posted on an envelope on my fence, and hoped this dude would take a copy before someone took it down and scattered my fabulous handouts all over the neighborhood, which happened after a few days. 

This guy has continued to be a thorn in our side, stopping in front of our yard, belligerently yanking his dogs around, and refusing to budge when we encounter him on walks, standing squarely in the middle of the sidewalk while my dogs and I try to get behind someone's house or venture into traffic to get around him. I have daydreamed about a game of chicken in which I would not budge either, but just stand there happily treating my calm, unreactive dog(s) and talking to them in a joyful voice until this guy decided it was time to get himself around us and move on. But that day has seemed far off with my particular pack of nutty excited reactive beasts.

I have reported some success when Fozzie and I can quickly, happily turn and walk away, then walk back towards an approaching dog who is calm. This hasn't worked with the huskies, as those poor dogs are reactive too. Their lunging and stares just make it too hard for Fozzie to get ahold of himself.

With all of Fozzie's work in new training situations, and with learning calm responses through TTouch, we may be getting closer to a day of triumph with the huskies dude. The other night, I was walking Fozzie with his head halter and step-in harness contraption and lo and behold there was that dude with the huskies up ahead. Fozzie tensed, the huskies started lunging, and I backed into a driveway to give us more space (because this is the right thing to do for the dog's well-being). The dude stayed right where he was (because he suffers from an overabundance of pride, machismo, and/or delusional misinformed outdated dog-training mumbo-jumbo that tells him his dogs need to be flooded with the things that upset them until they just get over it). 

Fozzie and I were maybe 20 feet away from them, and once upon a time, I would have had to keep backing up or get behind a building. But at this distance, Fozzie was OK.

He didn't lunge, he just looked. He tensed, but then he sat down and ate treats while watching the huskies

I was so blown away I just did a bit of flooding of my own, flooded Fozzie's mouth with tasty delicious treats and flooded his ears with joyful praise as my own heart flooded with pride and relief and happiness. To the guy and his huskies I singsonged out "We'll wait!," letting him know that I was not going to back up any further and that he could figure out how to get around us for a change, while giving in to my essential nature as someone who tries not to make others' lives more difficult by giving him a bit of extra space and not forcing him to walk out into traffic to get around us. 

I am not sure if I strike the right balance. Maybe I should learn to be a bit more...reactive...myself?

More in keeping with my nature is to set the right example, and to continue managing Fozzie in the way that works best for Fozzie. 

If we continue with our program of slow and steady, positive, sub-threshold counterconditioning and desensitization, Fozzie will inevitably become calmer in the presence even of reactive dogs. And it will become impossible even for the likes of our young friend to deny the power of what we are doing. Which would be good news for those huskies indeed.