Thursday, March 22, 2007

Ask the Internet

I struck on the idea a few weeks ago of looking for dog training podcasts. In my travels, I discovered a few interesting podcasts, mostly call-in radio shows where people asked questions about how to manage their pets. I did discover a dedicated training podcast done by a guy whom I've nicknamed The Dog Facist (TDF).

Given TDF's ideas about how to keep a dog, it makes me wonder why he would advocate having a pup when all of his methods seems to suck the joys right out of dog ownership. One of his podcasts is even entitled "Who Can Pet My Puppy?" The answer? Pretty much nobody. Keep your dog kenneled all the time when you first get him. Control every aspect of his life. When he earns the right to be out of the kennel in the house, keep him on a short leash. Using his methods, it might take years before your dog ever earns the right to actually be loose in the house.

I did listen with great interest to his podcast on adding a dog to a house that already has dogs. When we got Caper after having Kodiak for about 8 months, we let them meet on neutral territory, then just took them both home. There were a few scuffles and the first evening, Caper peed in his kennel (he wasn't quite housebroken), so Kodiak peed near the kennel, just to prove that it really was HIS house. (This happened when we weren't home, but I like to picture it in my head that Kodiak caught a whiff of Caper's accident and said "I don't think so, buddy!" before lifting his leg and peeing on a box of Corona.) Caper was laid back enough not to care that Kodiak HAD to be the boss and after a period of adjustment, they got on well together.

TDF is against the "let them sort it out" school of thought on dog introduction. He is also militantly anti-dog park because of the risk of dog fights. He's seen some nasty dog fights in his day and warns against putting your pet in the situation where it could be traumatised for life. His dog introduction program is lengthy and careful and involves kenneling and seperate walks, and meeting through a fence briefly after ages, with possibly the dogs earning the right to be out together. I'm all for a measured and careful introduction, on neutral territory, but so long as you have a dog who tolerates other dogs and you find a suitable new pack member, sometimes I think you just have to let the dogs be dogs.

I was a little concerned about what he said about dog fights and how they can scar the dog for life and how, as Pack Leader, you have a responsibility to protect your dog. Toby doesn't seem to have been socialised with other dogs and he was only neutered recently. I've been keeping him away from other dogs until we can find a socialisation class where introductions can be done in a controlled environment and we can figure out if he's actually dog aggressive or just the canine version of socially retarded.

He seems to bark somewhat aggressively at other dogs, especially little dogs. Little and cute is not good in Toby's books. He doesn't bark at the dogs behind fences who bark at us. He did get interested in having a few words with the crazy chained watchdog at one particular house, but a few corrections got him over that interest. (I feel bad for crazed watch dog, who was sporting a muzzle last week and seems to be the not-so-proud owner of an electric shock anti-barking collar this week.)

Then, there's the retriever-y thing (whom I will call RT for the purposes of this story) who has become the bane of my existence. This dog, a lanky golden retriever mix (I'm guessing), hates Toby. It started with RT barking when we passed. Then it escalated to RT coming out his yard and stalking us. I'd yell at him to go away and he would. Then a few weeks ago, it culminated with RT stalking us then attacking Toby, leaping on him from behind. There was a little bit of a dog
fight that happened quickly but thankfully didn't involve any blood or real harm. I managed to pull Toby out of it and RT slunk off back to his yard.

I've cut a run short because I saw RT loose in the middle of the village and we've had a couple of barking/stalking incidents since then, but there hasn't been a reoccurance of the attack. Two days ago, we had a barking/stalking incident with a cocker spaniel at the other end of the village. I'd seen this guy before once (he growled but didn't move from where he was) and I'm not even quite sure where he lives. I am concerned though that he might decide to start a fight some day.

I don't think Toby is scarred for life. He seems to be a fairly dominant dog and can fight his corner just fine. But I don't like the fights and I never know what to do. This is the country - most dogs are unneutered and a lot of dogs are just loose in their unsecured yards. The chances of this reoccuring are high and I'm trying to figure out how to handle it. None of the radio show podcasts I have listened to thus far have discussed this issue. TDF would probably tell me to find a different way to run, but running into the village is really my only option. The road in the other direction is narrow and twisty. I ran it once and felt that I was continually one blind curve away from death.

So, when all else fails, ask the Internet. :) How would you handle this situation?


Friday, March 16, 2007

Lost and Found

Last weekend, I took a day-long workshop about writing for children. It was my Kris Kringle gift from Peter's brother. I'd taken another class from the same organizer last year and am signed up for two more (writing popular women's fiction and getting published) and am also debating a third (memoir).

The format of the workshop is good and goes a little like this:

  • Coffee reception followed by about an hour-long lecture by reasonably well-known writer.

  • Coffee break with chance to make small talk with author (or, in my case, stand around awkwardly.

  • Coffee is then taken back to the classroom where a second reasonably well-known writer gives a lecture and then a high-level overview of what the afternoon sessions will entail. The afternoon sessions are the writing and working bit of the workshop.

  • Lunch with more opportunities to chat with well-known author.

  • Writing workshop sessions, punctuated guessed breaks.

  • The workshops are fantastic because they provide the three things every aspiring writer desperately needs: a chance to commiserate with fellow writers, a chance to network with successful writers, and a chance to guzzle "free" coffee.

    So, at last weekend's workshop, the writing session leader set us a quick writing task before lunch - 10 minutes of writing a scene in which 2 children are lost and one is a dominant leader-type and the other is a more passive follower-type. It provided to be not only a good writing ice-breaker, but also a good social ice-breaker, as lunch was dominated by childhood recollections of getting lost. When you're five years old, getting lost is a major trauma. The parents you will sullenly abandon at age 15 are the centre of your universe when you're 5.

    I remember getting lost in an unfamiliar shopping mall when I was about 5. My memories are sketchy and vague, distilled into visual flashes involving walking past the same enormous fountain. I seem to remember I was found relatively quickly and I don't remember any tears or angst on my part.

    My best getting-lost story is one in which I was a searcher. My brothers, mother and I were at a wedding reception for one of my mom's cousins. I was about 11, Middle Brother (MB) was around 9, and Youngest Brother (YB) was about 5. My father was in New Jersey because his youngest brother (our favourite uncle) was dying. We were all distressed by the situation and YB was especially agitated and did not want to go to the wedding or the reception. He spent most of the morning, most of the wedding, and the beginning of the reception threatening to run away.

    The reception was in an Elks Lodge hall - a cavernous and dark barn of a place. (Or so I remember - I would probably be shocked now to find that it's small.) The lodge was on the edge of a strip mall. And when I saw edge, I mean edge. Its parking lot ended in a thicket of trees and brush, beyond which was a maybe 50-foot drop into a place we called The Ravine. Although there were places where one could walk down into The Ravine, near the Elks Lodge was not one of them. That side of the Ravine was comprised mostly of giant slabs of rock with a creek at the bottom.

    The Ravine was a Bad and Dangerous Place and was strictly verboten. I'd been told it was full of Bad Men who carried worse intentions involving young girls, so there was no way I was ever going down there. (My brothers, in their teenage years, both did some exploring. I have never, ever been down there.)

    About half-way through the reception - call it after the buffet but before the wedding cake and Chicken Dance, someone realised that YB didn't seem to be around. Given his unhappiness and threats, my mother feared the worst. We began searching the Elks Lodge - the bar, the storeroom, the bathrooms, the area just around the building, but there was no sign of YB.

    I can't remember how long he was missing or if my mother actually called the police. All I remember is the sense of panic and the run away What-Ifs that crowded into my mind. What if one of the Bad Men got him? What if he fell into The Ravine? What if he got hit by a car on the busy road? What if we never saw him again?

    In the end, YB returned to the reception with my mother's uncle, who was visiting from Minnesota. The uncle was charming and personable and bore more than a passing resemblence to Bob Hope. The uncle realised that YB was upset and that the buffet wasn't really suitable for the discerning palate of a five year old, so he took YB and MB to McDonalds for a treat. It never occured to him to tell my mother.

    Think about that last sentence for a minute. He took both my brothers, but my mother only realised one was missing. I don't know who felt worse about it - my mother for only missing one of her sons or my MB for missing out on being missed altogether. It's the worst sort of illustration of the travails of the middle child and I'm sure it wasn't a novel experience for him.

    I don't know if the moral of the story is the squeaky wheel gets the grease (if they'd both threatened to run away, would my mother have realised MB was gone too?) or the middle child gets the raw deal.

    Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    The Goat Whisperer

    The first time my parents took me to a petting zoo, the goats tried to eat my hair. I don't remember anything about the outing, but my mother wrote about it in my baby book and I've seen pictures. (The benefit of being the first child - everything is so carefully documented.)

    Some sort of bond was forged that day, between a little curly-haired blonde girl and the goat world. Or so I like to think. I do love goats - not in a hang-pictures-of-them-in-my-room sort of way. More in an appreciative and understanding sort of way. Goats are smart and silly and fun.

    They're a domesticated animal, but their purpose is a bit in question. Sure, you can milk them and then drink that milk or use it to make cheese, but goat milk and its by-products are something of an acquired taste in the western world. Not quite loyal or housebroken enough to fulfill the duties of a dog. Not tasty enough to be traditional livestock. Not big enough to be ridden or pull things. As far as I can see, the purpose of goats is to have fun. Visit any petting zoo or farm and it is going to have a pile of goats.

    On Sunday, Peter and I went to Airfield, a country house estate in Dublin. Only it doesn't really have the big country house. At least I didn't see it. What it does have are some nice gardens, some barnyard animals, and a small car museum. I'd always heard of the place - a little piece of the country right near Dundrum Shopping Centre. I'd been told it was a petting farm. It wasn't - it was a place that happened to have a few animals.

    Maybe I was just viewing the place through the lenses of a resident of the Middle of Nowhere, but Airfield was a big disappointment. The only thing that saved the day and the outing was a goat. We were just about ready to leave but I remembered the place was supposed to have goats. So we sought out the goats, who were in a little pen next to the sheep barn. One goat, a weird looking breed who had long permed hair and odd flattened down shells of horns, stood on top of a table. The other goat, a more traditional-looking type, stood near the fence, just about in reach.

    I made a few encouraging noises and the regular goat tenatively came a little closer. I started to scratch behind his years and around his horns. For some reason, goats love this. I think because it's a spot that they can never quite reach themselves, especially if they have long horns because the horns get in the way. I'd scratch and then stop and the goat would move closer. I'd take a step and the goat would keep up with me. Eventually, he was practically climbing out of the pen and when I stopped, he'd bang his horns against the fence. (That did freak me out a little.)

    I've been a bit undecided about what I want to do for my birthday. Now, though, I think I have no choice but to take a goat husbandry class on Cape Clear Island.

    Tuesday, March 13, 2007

    Poor Little Laptop v3.0

    You might remember past problems I've had with my laptop. In the summer of 2005, the screen fluttered, then flashed brilliantly and then went black. And stayed black no matter what I tried. I had to ship the laptop off to the States and then fight with the service manager to do something about it . Two months after the catastrophic, laptop-life-ending event, I received a refurbished unit with my old hard drive inside it.

    Then, in the summer of 2006, the same damn thing happened. And by same damn thing, I mean both the technical problem and the subsequent crappy service follow-up. I think this time they maybe improved to six weeks for getting the refurbished unit to me. This time, sadly, it was with a new hard drive so I lost a few things.

    I was in Dublin this weekend and I came home on Monday to two not-so-nice suprises. #1 - The boiler wasn't working so I was without both heat and hot water. #2 - My laptop wouldn't turn on. Luckily, I had Peter's backup PowerBook with me so I wasn't completely in the laptop lurch. Not-so-Nice Surprise #1 was remedied this afternoon by the very nice boiler repair man who found that something I think he called a stat had shorted itself out and shut the boiler down. Not-so-Nice Suprise #2 doesn't look like it's going to be that easy to remedy.

    This time, it looks like the laptop may have gone belly up in a whole new way. When I got ready to go to Dublin, I turned the laptop off, unplugged it, and put it away. When I came home, I got out the laptop, pressed the power button and nothing happened. No spinning hard drive, no lighting up icons near the mousepad. No signs of life at all. In previous breakages, the laptop would respond to the power button but the display was just fried. If I plug the laptop in, I get the battery light, but the power button still has no effect.

    When Peter rang me to commiserate about this latest laptop difficulty, he asked me if I'd rung Sharp yet. Honestly, I would rather walk to Japan in my bare feet, steal the laptop components in moves taken from MIssion Impossible 3 and put the laptop together myself. At least that would be faster and involve less hassle. But instead, Peter is going to very kindly ring Sharp for me tomorrow.

    If anyone out there is laptop shopping, think twice about Sharp (strangely, they don't make my model anymore) and if you have to go with them, do buy the 3-year extended warranty. I did and it's more than paid for itself.

    Friday, March 09, 2007

    Foghlaim Dé hAoine

    B ím ag jogáil gach lá leis an madra.

    Agus scríobhaim an scéal anseo.

    File under:


    Tuesday, March 06, 2007

    Sunday Afternoon Outing

    One of my favourite movies when I was a kid was "Mary Poppins." The first time I saw it, I was 7 and my dad had taken us out to see it on Mother's Day to give my mother a break from us. On the way back home, we saw a For Sale sign that lead us to the house my parents bought and still own to this very day.

    My favourite bit in "Mary Poppins" is when they go on the outing with the chimney sweep guy and all manner of fun ensues, like jumping into chalk drawing worlds or riding off on Merry-Go-Round horses. "Mary Poppins" set my standard for what outings should be about - fun, silliness, imagination, new experiences.

    This Sunday, Peter and I took Toby for an outing on Barleycove Beach on the Mizen Penninsula. It's a great beach, especially on a storm-threatening, gale-force-winds Sunday afternoon. The beach is surrounded by sand dunes and to get to the beach, you have to cross over a pontoon bridge because the tides will separate the beach from the land.

    We were nearly the only people there and of course, the other people had an off-leash dog who came over to start some trouble with Toby. They stayed to one area of the beach and we stayed to another, so we were eventually able to let Toby run free. He had great fun chasing his Kong bar and barking at me warningly when I went into the edge of the water. Peter took a few photos and everyone got a lot of enjoyment from the outing.

    I wore my wellies, because everything is more fun when you wear wellies and it lets me wade into the water a little bit. Standing in the water, fully dressed, is something that amuses me much more than it should. I guess because I'm getting my feet wet but with no discomfort. At least until that first wave that misjudge, which ends up soaking me to my waist.

    This always happens and you'd think I'd be wise to it by now, but you'd be wrong. I'm a very slow learner, especially where carefulness is involved. But that's okay, even spending half the outing in wet jeans did nothing to diminish our fun. Don't believe me? Check out the picture:

    Thursday, March 01, 2007

    The Dog is Making Me Fat

    Whenever you add a dog to your family, you have to start as you mean to continue. You have to make it clear that you are the Boss. You have to make this point more regularly and obviously with some dogs than with other dogs. Some dogs shrug and say “OK, you're the boss” before flopping down in their beds with a chew toy. Other dogs are like surly teenagers. “You're not the boss of me!”

    Toby is somewhere in the middle of this spectrum, but since he has shown some signs of being a dominant dog and he's relatively young, we're being careful to remind him consistently and clearly that we're the boss. One of the simple ways to remind the dog is the control of food. Some trainers say you should always eat before you feed your dog and you should make him wait until you tell him to eat.

    Fair enough, but the convenient and logical times to feed the dog don't always neatly coincide with my mealtimes. The vet said to feed him once in the evening to get him on a proper “walkies” schedule. But I was worried about bloat, especially since the car situation was dicey in the early days. (It's not like bloat is something you can treat at home and the vet is 18 miles away.) So I started feeding him twice in the evenings, one cup of food each time, with about two hours between meals. It's a good schedule from the “walkies” point of view, since he goes nearly precisely at 7.20 every morning.

    But I need to eat something before I feed him. Just something small and easy – usually I just grab a slice of cheese from the fridge. You usually hear about people losing weight when they get dogs. I think I may end up being the first person in the history of active dogs to actually gain weight. And it's all the dog's fault.