Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Blind, leggy, or zombiebald? A choose your own adventure

I met this dog at the shelter yesterday. I've got to tell you, he was really nice. If my dogs were more in the way of calm, peaceful things, I'd probably consider fostering him. (You know how that would end, right? Elderly blind dogs are so highly desirable among the adoptive populace. By the time I finally found the right sucker -- uh, um, wait, I mean "extremely caring and loving adopter" -- Deek would already be part of the family.)

I like this guy, too. Almost looks like a greyhound mix, in person. Very nice dog.

It's too cold outside to take this puppy on a proper walk. He needs a sweater. Maybe he can borrow one of my son's. :)

Finley's face cancer has healed into a round scar that looks nothing like ringworm or face cancer but is extremely conspicuously bald. He has such thin hair on his head and face that any scrape or scratch, such as the kind he receives 2387609788 times a day during his and Tuni's rock em sock em play sessions, produces a bald area, making him look oddly patchy. The quarter-sized pink spot on the side of his big earless head adds to the whole zombie-chic look, I guess. If zombies are your thing...

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Baby face, you've got the cutest little baby face

Ever since we bought our house, I've been getting more involved with volunteering and fostering for PACCA/PAWS, the city shelter from which we adopted Finley. Not a ton of stuff: I've fostered some momcats and their nursing babies, taken in some sick orphans, done a few transports, gone to one or two events, donated some dog treats, that kind of thing. I'd like to do more, but with a toddler and three resident dogs of my own, I'm limited in the amount of time I can spend on things like that.

What I'd really like to do is foster some behaviorally challenged dogs, because those are my favorite of all. The fear biters and the reactive freaks and the avoidant shy dogs, I can work with those. Oh, let's face it. Without a constant challenge, I get so bored. I need difficult dogs to keep ME engaged.

But with the other responsibilities on my plate, it's not fair for me to take on a foster dog, even an easy one. I just don't have the time to dedicate to that. Plus, Queen Bitch Polly does not particularly appreciate strange dogs, and meeting them stresses her out, and that's just not fair to her.

Enter my solution: the short term puppysitting foster! Look at this thing! Oh my gosh! So cute! I am just watching him for a few days, until his real foster mom comes back from Thanksgiving. Tuni is enthralled. Polly is intrigued, Finley is being bullied BY A THREE MONTH OLD, and is loving every second of it! I haven't seen him look that happy in ages!

Poor silly marshmallow of a dog! Getting pushed around by a baby! Hee hee hee hee hee!

Note: I've been taking the pup out every hour or so, and he hasn't pooped or peed in the house even once yet, but he HAS tried to rip up and eat the carpet. Mmm, carpet! Yummy.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Countersurfing omnivore

I can hear Finley in the kitchen countersurfing RIGHT NOW. Hey, dude! Feet off the counters!

Oh, I have never met such an omnivorous dog. For dinner we made chicken burritos (and holy Mary Mother of God, were they good). Finley went crazy chomping up the leftover romaine lettuce. He just countersurfed the empty tin can which had previously held chopped green chiles. Mmm, green chiles. I could make a flow chart depicting Finley's dietary preferences, but it would be fairly straightforward. Is it made of food? Then he'll eat it. Is it not made of food? Then he'll probably eat it anyway.

Yesterday's chewing spoils included a glass bottle of perfume, with perfume inside. Uh. Where does he find all this stuff?!? My bedroom door is closed, and it's not as though *I* leave perfume bottles scattered around the house, though god only knows what that child of mine does. Hmm, perhaps they're teaming up against me in an effort to destroy my stuff and erode my sanity. Doing a real good job so far, guys!

*makes shifty eyes at child and dogs*

Sunday, November 23, 2008

The State of the Noggin

I was going to take a photo of all the things Finley has chewed in the past week or so, but Sean came along, saw the huge pile of trash on the table, and threw it all away. Bummer. It would have been a good blog post.

Poor Fin has some kind of lesion on the side of his big fat head. I've got no idea what it is, but I'm paranoid that he has CANCER and WILL DIE. From his FACE CANCER. Except that looks to be a huge scrape which is healing up nicely, so, um, probably not cancer. I don't imagine this will stop me from worrying.

My mother says I should knit Finley some ears. I think that this is a brilliant idea. I mean, his nubs must get pretty cold, and what would be cuter than a big black dog with pink knitted ears? Oh! I know! A big black dog with !!!!sparkly!!!! pink knitted ears! And pom poms! The only question is, what style of ears should he get? I could make him several, to suit his mood. Rose ears, prick ears, crazy bat ears, huge basset ears...

How long do you think it would take before the prosthetic ears ended up in the chewed pile?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Finley's been on a major chewathon for the past couple of days. He's chewed the boy's blocks and dolls and teething toys. He's chewed my leather and cork coasters. He chewed up a cassette tape and plastic cups. He chewed a large Kong toy into small red pieces. He chewed books and cans and his crate bed and today he ripped up Polly's favorite green frog toy. She really has a thing for little green stuffed toys. She likes to carry them around and sleep with them in her mouth until they get all slimy and flattened on one side. Obviously, they have to be the right shape (and color?) to fit comfortably. Wide and flat (and green), that's what she likes in a stuffy. Now I'm going to have to find her another one, because her beloved frogbaby is nothing more than a few pieces of ripped fabric now.

Today he outdid himself with the chewing, because today he chewed up an antique glass medicine bottle which the boy had brought up from the basement. I went into the dining room and found the bottle with the neck chewed off and little bits of glass spread around on the floor. First he chewed the cap, then he chewed the rubber dropper, then he chewed the neck into little glass shards.

Dog! Are you insane! Glass is not for chewing.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Crime and Punishment

In my training and in my life with dogs, I prefer to avoid the use of aversives and physical punishment -- choke chains, collar pops, whacks on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, e-collars, beatings, that sort of thing. The reason, and this neatly ties back into my last post, is that in order for punishment to be most effective, the initial punishment needs to be pretty intense. Initial intense punishment increases the effectiveness of later, mild punishment. Initial mild punishment habituates an animal to a punisher and decreases the the effectiveness of later, more intense punishment.

What a dog might consider mild or intense can be very much a matter of personality, and discovering it can involve trial and error. Tuni is a very sensitive, anxiety-prone little dog. Even the slightest bit of tension in my body language causes her to slink around with her tail tucked and to show dramatic appeasement gestures, even though I have never so much as popped her collar. Sometimes I do not even realize that I am feeling stressed until I look at Tuni and see her curled up, with her tail tucked. I am sure that if she went into a shelter, people would assume that she was severely beaten on a daily basis. Nah, she's just absurdly sensitive, and shuts down if you look at her funny. Tuni is so sensitive that correction-based training would probably ruin her.

Polly is a lot more resilient, but still, she is pretty sensitive and she will respond to a verbal correction. She would never even consider breaking the rules, anyway. Polly loves the rules. Polly lives for the rules. Following! Enforcing! Making up new ones for everyone else to follow! Polly does fine with corrections, but at the same time, she doesn't really need them.

Finley, on the other hand. He is a whole different sort of dog. He is somehow hard-headed AND squishy marshmallow soft and completely trusting. He is not going to be cowed by someone raising their voice. If they are raising their voice, it's got to mean they want to play with him! Right? RIGHT!!! If they are waving their arms in the air and yelling, they must REALLY want to play!!!

A few weeks after we brought Finley home, we accidentally triggered a big fear in him. My husband was changing his clothes after work, and removed his belt. Finley, who does not tend to be fearful or reactive, took one look at him, tucked his tail as far as it could go, FLEW over the bed, and hid in our son's room. He wouldn't go near my husband for a week. He wouldn't come back upstairs for several weeks. He is still cautious around my husband, especially if Sean is holding something in his hands. Interestingly, he is not threatened at all by me holding objects, even if I pretend that I'm going to hit him with them. But if I hand the objects over to Sean, Fin runs away. Obviously the beatings he received were severe enough to leave an impression. Sean has never laid a hand on Fin, but after the belt incident, Fin sees him as That Guy Who Hurts Dogs and he doesn't trust Sean anymore.

I think the only way to use positive punishment (physical punishment, raised voice, whatever) effectively on this particular dog would be to seriously hurt him first. I am not willing to sacrifice my relationship with any dog to that extent.

Unfortunately, he is still something of an overgrown puppy and he's still got some poor puppyish manners and sometimes when I tell him to stop doing something and do something else, he just... doesn't stop doing it to do that other thing. I know, I know! He doesn't have enough training yet! He can't hold a sit-stay for twenty minutes when there are cats running past him and he's bored! It's not a realistic expectation! If he's chasing cats all over the place, it means he needs more training and more exercise!

But sometimes I feel like I am the only one who can't tell him to knock it the heck off! If Sean gives Fin an Elvis curl of the lip, Fin cowers and runs off, because Sean is That Guy Who Hurts Dogs. If The Bitches tell him to knock it off, he turns tail and apologizes -- because they'll knock him down and bite him otherwise! I'm not biting anyone and I could quite happily live my whole entire life without ever hitting anyone with a belt, thank you very much.

If the result of that unwillingness is that I have a giant-headed 51 lb dog who completely trusts me and thinks he is a lap dog and is annoyingly persistent and occasionally bugs the crap out of me, well... I can live with that. Even if it does mean that every time I sit at my computer desk he comes over and tries to climb into my lap and sends my chair spinning in a circle and I have to stand up and turn my back to make him quit climbing on me. :)

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Levitation, and the fine art of intimidation

Yesterday I was sitting at my computer desk in the living room when I heard a crashing and scrabbling from the dining room. I looked in to see Finley chasing one of the cats up onto the dining room table. One of the chairs was pushed out, and he climbed up the chair and onto the table so that he could continue mouthing and wrestling with the cat.

I went in, told him what I thought of his antics (with some amount of how DARE you hands on the hips indignation and outrage), pushed the chairs back under the table, and went back to the living room.

Not even ten minutes later, I hear another scrabbling and crashing and look in to see the 51.1 lbs of enthusiastic bulldog once again perched atop the dining room table, pawing the cat.

The chairs were all pushed in, so the only way he could have gotten on the table was by leaping straight up from the floor. The Amazing Levitating Finley! For a guy who is built like a small tank, he is remarkably athletic. I was impressed.

But also angry! Because dogs, they do not belong on my dining room table! With cats under their rather meaty paws! It is against the rules, a point which I clearly failed to effectively convey the first time. I put my hands on my hips, made myself very big, and told him in stern tones that the table was off-limits, and what on earth did he think he was doing jumping up there to chase cats, and he'd better not consider doing anything like that EVER AGAIN, and I waved my arms around and raised my voice and looked straight at him, and so on, and so forth.

I was hoping for apologetic. I was hoping to come off as so crazy that he would never, ever, ever consider putting his feet on the table ever again. Instead I apparently signaled to him that it was woohoo playtime woohoo!!!, so he jumped up and tried to wrestle with my arms. D'oh. Oops.

However, when I turned around, I saw that I had managed to act crazy enough to intimidate The Bitches into feeling very, very apologetic. For something, anything, it doesn't even matter what, but I'm sure they'll never do it again.

Sometimes teaching is a matter of trial and error, and sometimes you land, with a big embarrassing kerthud sound, on the side of error.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Hair like Medusa

Last week, Finley chewed up one of my hairbrushes. Undaunted, I pulled out the second brush, and used that one instead. Yesterday, he chewed that one into tiny wooden splinters too. You know what I had to use to brush my hair this morning? The teeny tiny plastic comb that came in the baby toiletry set that we received at our son's baby shower.

Clearly he wants my hair to look tangled and ugly. But why?!? Why do you want to me look ugly, Finley?!?

Note to self: pick up more doggy chew toys soon.

In other news, I took this extremely telling picture this morning. Polly was, in her own special dysfunctional way, attempting to solicit play from Finley. When it failed to work, they ran in to the kitchen in anticipation of breakfast.

His face completely illustrates the emotions Polly inspires in other dogs. Shall we zoom way in?

"Run away! Keep an eye on that one, but avoid eye contact at all costs. She's crazy. Look small. Look small! Get away before she notices me again!"

Poor Polly. She has good intentions, and she wants to be friends with other dogs so badly, but she honestly has no clue how to interact normally with them. Poooooooor dogs'o'mine!

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Finley & Tuni <3 each other

Finley and Tuni could spend all day long doing this, if I let them. Polly HATES it. She can't stand the noise, the chaos, the dogs about to bash into her. She blasts in to the middle of their play and gives Finley the smackdown for daring to be so obnoxiously annoying.

Sometimes she wants to play, too, but she doesn't know how. She hops into a play bow and then when Finley starts to play back, she corrects him with a quick, noisy, inhibited muzzle grab, and he turns away and sinks to his belly.

Then Tuni gets angry with Polly, because look, WE WERE HAVING FUN HERE AND YOU RUINED IT.

So whenever Tuni and Finley get playful, I put Polly in a crate, so that she won't interfere. This makes her sad, and she cries and barks and cries some more. Or I put her out back, but then she runs to the back of my yard, stands at the base of the dead pine and the swamp maple, and barks and barks and barks and barks at the squirrels who stand in the tree and mock her mercilessly with their very presence.

I suspect that she thinks that if she barks long enough, she'll scare one of them into having a heart attack and falling directly into her open mouth. I have tried to point out to her that perhaps the stealth approach would be more effective, but Polly doesn't do subtle.

I think the squirrels are up there sniggering and giving her the squirrel equivalent of the finger.

You know what one single little thing I want to know, though? Why do they insist on wrestling in my house, on my couch, on my living room floor? If I ask them to take it out back, where all the furniture is made of plastic, they act like I've wounded them mortally, and then stand at the back door and cry until I figure that since they're no longer playing, I may as well let them back in. Inside! Whoo hoo! So happy! SO HAPPY! TIME TO CRASH AND BASH AGAIN!!!!

Repeat ad nauseum.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pretending to be dignified

Here's Finley pretending that he is a noble and dignified animal who doesn't do things like miss the top step on the deck and land on his butt so that his front legs are left scrabbling on the deck while his rear legs slide under the steps, or wear embarrassing hats or pink collars. Because he is noble and dignified and manly. Right? Right. I mean, look at that face. Definitely dignified.

I took him out for a walk the other morning. Before the husband and son wake is about the only time of day that I can get some alone time or sneak out of the house with just one dog, without the others whining and crying like life is a terribly unfair tragedy and they can no longer bear the loneliness and injustice so they are just going to chew their way out the front door so that they, too, can be free. Which, my poor door! My beautiful front door! It is slowly being splintered! Not happy.

Anyway, I digress.

When I took Finley for a walk, it was before he'd had his breakfast, which in retrospect made him a little frantic for the training treats I'd slipped into my pocket, and probably made him a little more crazy in general. We were walking towards that house where they keep the pet goats, and the man let his two Boston Terriers out into the yard. Fin started hackling and barking at them. He also hackled and barked at the Mutt Strut, but there were supposed to be about 500 dogs there, and I figure that situation is more on the extraordinary end of the greeting new friends spectrum, so I wasn't too concerned about that.

I was surprised when he barked at the Bostons, though. He has not shown any animal aggression or reactivity in the time that I've had him. Even when he was surprised by a Shiba behind a gate, he was somewhat phlegmatic. He seems slightly uncomfortable around new dogs, but his response to uncomfortable situations has been to immediately submit and do whatever the other dog says. He was even attacked and punctured by a strange dog when he was in foster care, and he had no defensive response. So, for him to react to a dog in the distance by barking and pulling is definitely somewhat surprising.

Is it me? Do I somehow make reactive dogs out of normal ones? Do I not provide enough input on how the dog should behave when it sees another dog, and leave them hanging, with no clear guidance? Has his previous lack of response been due to the behavior suppression that you tend to see from dogs who are in shelters or new homes (AKA "the honeymoon period")? Is it his real personality, finally coming out? Lack of manners? Excitement? Animal aggression? Learned response, from watching UberBitch Polly bark out the front door every time a dog passes?

Whatever the cause, I've got plenty of experience with reactive dogs, so it's not particularly problematic. But it does leave me to wonder if, you know, the problem is ME. o_O

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Breakin' the law, breakin' the law

Oh noes! Finley touched The Bitches without their permission, and now The Bitches are giving Finley the smackdown! Oh, Bitches. Oh, Finley.


Introducing Fin!

Welcome to my blog! Pull up a chair and snuggle down with a dog or three, and stay a while!

Finley is a pit bull. He was surrendered to the local animal control facility, where his sweet, gentle nature made him an instant staff favorite. Well, his nature may be loving and kind of goofy, but his looks are fierce -- he is a short, muscular black dog with a giant head and deeply cropped ears, and he attracts all the wrong sort of attention from all the wrong sort of people. The shelter got him out into foster care.

We lost our 14 year old lab/pit mix to cancer in the beginning of the summer, and our dogs missed their friend terribly. When we decided to add a third dog, I was certain of only two things: I wanted a dog who could be a friend to my shep/boxer/whatever mix, and I wanted a dog from PACCA/PAWS.

Enter Finley, stage right. We fell in love with him at first sight. Unfortunately, for the dogs it was not so instantaneous. At first, Tuni completely ignored him, excepting the breaks she took to dominate and bully him. Sadly, we thought that it would not work out. Fortunately for all of us, we went home and talked it over, and decided that maybe the shelter environment was too stressful, and that we should try to introduce them somewhere else.

We brought him home, and he just never left.

Uh oh, sounds like Toddler McWakeyPants has ended his nap, and therefore it is time for us to go vote. More on The Great & Glorious after we have gone to the polling station and done our part for democracy!