Monday, September 29, 2014

A Vacation with my Foster Piglet

There was a time when my vacations consisted of loading into my car with my dog or dogs and taking off across the country, pulling off to camp on a red rock butte in Utah or a deserted coastline in Northern California and sleeping under the sky with my snoring companions at my feet. 

It's been a while since I did that, and I haven't been solo camping since around when I met Florian. Vacations are a bit different now, but they still revolve around bonding with my canine friends. 

Last week, my sister rented a house for the family in Rehoboth. It was a beautiful house, large enough for my dad, my sister and her daughter and our friend Eric, our Uncle Johnny and two of our dogs to coexist. Previously I've brought Lamar on these vacations, since Fozzie and Genghis long to tear each other into little bits of fluff. This time, I brought Daria.

It was pretty clear that it was the first time she'd ever seen the ocean, as the first wave caused her to jump straight up into the air. Once it flattened out, she realized quickly that it was just like that wet stuff she likes to lie down in. 

So nice to get up early and walk with my sister, to the beach or to town to get a chai latte, or around the lake. 

Genghis loves the water too. He likes to go out deep in it, sit down, open his mouth, and just space out. For a while.  Daria didn't know what to make of it, so she charged out to him and then bounded back. 

We thought Genghis might follow her out, but he was too lost in his own reverie. My sister had to go in after him herself. 
The house had a gorgeous pool. I think there is nothing quite so relaxing as stretching out by the pool with a few of your favorite people--or hell, even some people you don't like that much--and something good to read. 

But if you're a white pit bull and that's your thing, you'd better put some sunblock on that pink and nearly bald skin around your mouth and nose! 

As a responsible parent, I can tell you that that nosie was doused in SPF 70 and no less. 

Lots to do around Rehoboth even when the weather's less sunny. 

You can go check out the World War II bunkers and observation towers, and Uncle Johnny can release some of his pent-up anger with a real cannon.

If you've got your foster dog with you, you can pose for family photos as your leg is being humped. 

Or even catch your foster dog in one of those rare moments when she is being cute and not misbehaving in any way. 

Some of the best times were when we went to bed at night, in a tall, super-comfy four-poster bed, and my little piglet climbed up next to me, then curled up into a circle while she was still sitting so that she collapsed against me and partly on top of me, and the proceeded to snore deeply, loudly, and with satisfaction. 

It felt just like it used to when I was that 20-something on some beach in California with Lamar and Tashi, when they were all I had and we just brimmed with gratitude for each other, that we could share such a world of beauty and richness and wildness together. 

That I was away from my home and my sweetie and my Fozzie and my usual sources of comfort, but I had this adorable, pink, vulnerable, snoring baby right next to me. I don't think it would have been a vacation without that. 

Sunday was my birthday, and I drove Dad and Uncle Johnny back to Silver Spring. 

Then made out with Fozzie, then left the puppies at home while Florian and I took Uncle Johnny out to see some belly dancing. 

What a fun birthday vacation! Thanks Nance, thanks Uncle Johnny, thanks Dad and thanks to my little loving piglet, such a terrific traveling companion!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Unexpected Delights of Fostering a Deaf Dog

As everyone who's ever fostered a critter knows, fostering brings all sorts of unexpected opportunities for learning. 

Through fostering, I've learned about reactive dogs, shy dogs, older dogs, and impulsive dogs. I've learned about training beagles and shepherds, sight hounds and herding dogs and pit bull type dogs, puppies and cats and kittens.

But until now, I've never had the chance to learn about deaf dogs. 

A lot of it is pretty intuitive. Instead of verbal commands, there are hand signals. They are similar to the ones you would use for training a dog who can hear, which you do before introducing verbal cues because dogs respond more readily to motion than they do to sound. 

Instead of a clicker, you mark a successful Sit or Down or Shake with a "flash": showing the dog your hand and quickly spreading out all five fingers, and then following up with a treat. 

In many ways, the experience of fostering Daria is no different than its been with any of the young, active pups I've fostered over the years (which of course have been most of them, since as I've learned from Kristina Finney, the Foster Coordinator with the Washington Humane Society, the dogs most likely to linger on the adoption floor are high-energy pit bull-type dogs of around 2 years of age, particularly if they are dark-colored and female). 

There's been the initial delight of seeing her smile, when I knew that in the shelter she'd been so nervous and unhappy.

There are the struggles with hyperactivity and impulsive behavior, which as with most young dogs are at their height at precisely the time when humans would like to relax.  
There are the adoption events, and the chance to romp and frolic with a couple of other pit pups who are dark-colored, young, and energetic and have yet to be adopted. 

There's the fun of watching a new dog's personality unfold like a flower as she adjusts to being in a loving home, 

and demonstrates that in addition to the cow and the piglet that are among her ancestors, she adores the water and must also be part duck. 

There's the slow period of adjustment with the resident dog, although this aspect is I think challenged by Daria's inability to hear. 

Daria is unusually persistent in trying to get Fozzie's attention, and her somewhat less than charming play style consists largely of nipping, biting, barking and humping. While the vast majority of communication among dogs is undoubtedly body language, I have to believe that her indifference to his signals is at least in part due to the fact that she can't hear him telling her to go away. 

So as with any impulsive dog, we use it as an opportunity to learn self-control by going to her bed, lying down and doing a nice Stay. 

There's the fun of seeing how affectionate and loving she is when she finally does settle down, and of hearing her snore when she sleeps.

These are all things you'd experience, to one degree or another, with any new foster dog. But what's really fascinating is the ways in which a deaf dog is different, most of which I hadn't thought about at all. 

Of course training is more difficult because I can't use my voice to get her attention. If she's harassing Fozzie in the other room, I can't holler to redirect her but have to physically stop what I'm doing and go where she is. 

Sometimes, I have to tap her on the shoulder. Often, maybe because her other senses are so acute, or maybe because we've worked on rewarding eye contact, she knows the moment I am nearby and gives me her full attention. 

There are also unexpected advantages to having a deaf dog. 

When she is in the midst of a deep snooze, I can go into the kitchen for a late-night snack and rustle bags around, open the fridge, and make food preparation noises that would have other dogs salivating on my feet, and she'll just go on snoozing. I can argue with my spousal figure or yell at my computer, and she won't take it personally or think that the world is about to end like so many sensitive dogs who can hear. She'll just go about her happy-go-lucky way, oblivious to the discord. 

When I come home from work, and she is crashed out on the couch, I don't have to worry about being mobbed at the door. She'll remain crashed out, blissfully snoring. 

Of course, a lot of what's unique about Daria is the connection I have with her, which is unique for every foster dog. There is something just so adorable about that little pink face and that loving spirit, about that innocent, joyful consciousness that exists in a world so different than what we who hear can imagine. 

Though I have experienced deep, heart-level connection with other pint-sized pocket pitties of the snorty, spunky, female persuasion, I wonder if Daria is particularly sweet and loving because with me she's experienced communication for the first time. 

Because for her the world is silent, and the human world makes even less sense than it does for most dogs. So she is relieved that finally there is structure and a sense that she can control her environment.  

Which, along with good food, lots of affection, and abundant opportunity to enjoy tactile pleasures,

is important for any dog, not just the snorty deaf pittie-cow-duck-piglets. 

Monday, September 15, 2014

Rock State Park with Daria

Another weekend, another adventure with the pups. Florian looked online for trails not far from Baltimore, and came upon some amazing pictures for King and Queen's Seat in Rocks State Park.

We love places with huge rocks because they remind us of the Western US

On this one, we weren't on the trail for long before we came to the rocks, and the stunning view off the edge. 

The dogs were a bit challenged by the boulder-hopping, but were definitely up for it. 
It helped that there were perfectly doggie-sized water dishes carved into the rock

After the rocks, back on the trail which wound down the mountain. We hoped to find an enormous waterfall, so we kept hiking.

We never found the waterfall but did find some grassy areas and ferny areas, where Daria threw herself down on her back every couple of steps to roll around in pure joy. 

I don't know why she does that, but it's pretty darn adorable.

Near the ferns at the bottom of the mountain, we came to a stream. Good thing too, because those dogs hadn't had a bevvie since the top of the rocks. 

Sunday was the first cool, fall-like day of the year, and that water was brisk. Didn't seem to bother those pups, who went in for a refreshing dip.

And then we climbed all the way back up again, and around the mountain to get back to the car. 

Making for some tired pups when we got home. That was fun!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Morning Wake Up Call


Sweetie, what are you doing starting the lawn mower at this hour in the morn--

Whoops, sorry, that wasn't you.

Daria, can I offer you a CPAP machine?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tackling Evening Devil Dog Syndrome

Let's say that you're fostering a dog, a loving, smart, adorable dog, who is ostensibly a 3-5 year old dog, from the look of her teeth, but who behaves like a 6 month old puppy. A dog who, every evening, goes through several hours in which she absolutely must have your attention or else she humps your other dog incessantly and/or barks, zooms around, jumps on and off furniture, and nips your arms

Now let's say that you are all about giving dogs attention, but that those few hours after you've arrived home from a long bike ride and a full day at work are precisely the hours in which you would like nothing more than to space out with an ice pack on your lower back in front of a really bad TV show, or perhaps in front of a movie featuring 6 attractive 20somethings who go camping in a beautiful remote wilderness, and end up being chopped into small pieces, one by one, by a deranged mountain person or supernatural 
force, just like they did in every other one of the movies your significant other has rented in the seven years since you've known him. 

Or maybe you'd even like to just read something halfway intelligent, like a Buddhist book on anger management, or something relaxing in its humor by David Sedaris or relaxing in its bleakness by Cormack McCarthy. 

Regardless of your recipe for evening relaxation, all these options are off the table when you've got a dog afflicted with Evening Devil Dog Syndrome. All you can do is try to tire her out.

Fortunately, Daria is highly food motivated 

and she is super smart and like most dogs, enjoys training.

We've been working on the basics, which of course are great for focus and impulse control. 

A dog who can sit for a treat is a dog who is starting to learn that there are more rewarding things in life than humping a dog who does not want to be humped. 

Better yet, an impulsive, deaf dog who can sit is learning maybe for the first time a system of communication that is based on something other than frustration. Instead of hump, nip, and bark in frustration and be strangled by an equally frustrated human, there is the option to sit, and get a treat.

Daria readily picks up hand signals, and we've been working on all the basic skills. One fun trick is Called Sit and Wait While I Give a Treat To Fozzie and Give Him Love. There is no specific hand signal for that one, but its title is pretty self-explanatory. If she can get that one, she'll have an A+ in impulse control, let me tell you.

We've also been incorporating some other tricks to help tire her out and give her brain something to do. She hasn't yet learned to put those paws up on a pilates ball--which Fozzie learned so well in his Doggie Dance Class-- 

but she readily learned to stand on her hind legs and seems to love it. That's gotta be tiring, as well as being adorable. 

Small pitties make such great trick dogs and circus dogs. What a great outlet for all that wacky energy.

And, you can do your hand signals with one hand, the other hand on the ice pack or the remote.

What's YOUR prescription for the Evening Devil Dog?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Hugs and Kisses Day

Well you know we're really not that into Hugs and Kisses, 

but we decided to pucker up just this once. 

OK twice,

OK a few times, 

because Lily and Edward at Two French Bulldogs told us to.

Happy Hugs and Kisses Day everyone! 

Go check out those French Bulldogs and give 'em a big wet smooch!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Daria Checks out the Shenandoah Swimming Hole

When the world feels harsh, and tiring, there is no better medicine than getting out into the woods with the dogs. Preferably to a place where we won't see a whole lot of other people and can forget that the outside world exists.

One of our favorite places to do that is the swimming holes along the Tuscarora/ Overall Run trail in the Shenandoahs.

The trail climbs just 20 minutes or so up to a side trail that leads to the edge of the stream, which cascades down over rocks into a series of perfectly swimming pool-sized depressions.

It was a short hike but a steamy one, and even at 10 in the morning the heat and humidity were truly astounding. 

Fozzie knew just how to fix that. A recreational swimmer if I ever saw one, Fozzie wastes no opportunity to go in for a dip. 

Daria was less certain about the whole thing, 

though the rocks were slippery so there were a few times when she ended in the water without trying to. 

Whew, nothing better than a refreshing swim in a cold mountain stream when the air is thick and stagnant.

Even better when you are in solitude with your man and your dogs, miles away from any human noises or disturbance,

and when the water has the most blissfully fresh smell, like mountains and flowers and moss, that you inhale as your nose skims its surface during your swim.

Only thing that marred the tranquility was that Fozzie and Daria, since they are dogs, could not resist walking along every narrow ledge and slippery surface they could get their paws on. 
Perhaps they feel that worrying makes our lives richer. 

Fozzie did a fair amount of worrying of his own; whenever anyone went in the water he took it upon himself to accompany that person to make sure nothing bad happened. 

And then he just stood there in the water, shivering, until one of us escorted him onto dry land. But poor Fozzie continued to be nervous even out of the water, who knows why? 

Perhaps it was the biting flies that came out, nipping his hips and back paws even more relentlessly than Daria had been before we gave her a leashed time out. Or maybe he felt the beginnings of the thunderstorm that came later that evening. 

Fozzie, you are such a good sport. Protecting everyone from water monsters and hypothermia, patiently indulging a pesky little foster dog, then hiding from the elements in the only makeshift shelter you could find. Rest well buddy, you've earned it!