Category Archives: Menagerie

Identity Crisis, but I still love your dog

I have a separate dog blog now, which you may have heard about once or twice, and I do want to talk about dogs right now, but not in the way I do there. I’m not going to talk about how awesome my own dog is or isn’t, or about the training we’re working on; if you’re interested in that, head over there.

What I want to talk about is my identity as a dog person.

I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it is, and what I mean when I say I am a dog person.  I am, for sure, a Dog Person.  I think I have a sixth sense about dogs; I will notice a dog two blocks away and be able to tell you the breed and probably predict the majority of its medical conditions, if applicable.  I can read most dogs’ moods pretty quickly.  I can talk about dogs quite extensively; I started the Flying Dingo so that I can stop talking the ears off of people who don’t especially care about dogs.

But the thing is, I am not a squealer.  I am not a Get Up In Your Dog’s Face and Be Happy That It’s Licking My Face.  Do you know where that tongue has been?  I am not a fan of dogs in costumes, or Cute Overload, or anything where we just sit around oooh-ing and aaaah-ing over the cuteness of these animals.

okay, yeah, so i do let her lick my face sometimes

On Monday I went to an open house for a Master’s program in Animals and Public Policy.  It’s not a professional degree; it’s not like how you go to dentist school and then you’re a dentist, or law school and then you’re a lawyer.  Kids, you don’t go to Animals and Public Policy school and become an Animals and Public Policy-ist.    But the program did sound really exciting, and got me thinking more about what I want to do.  Is it just behavior? I’m not sure that it’s just behavior.  I think it’s bigger parts than that: it’s how do we live with our dogs and our neighbors?  How do we live, happily, with healthy, well-exercised dogs in our society?

I don’t want to hug your dog.  Well, that might be a little bit of a lie: if your dog comes running over, tail wagging and ears happy, I might (read: will definitely) try to find your dog’s favorite scratching spot.  I will enjoy rubbing behind your dog’s ears.  I might talk in a voice reserved for these situations.  But also? I want to talk to you about your dog.  I want to know about what you think of training, about how you live your lives together, about how you ended up with this here dog and what it does for you.

other people's dogs: Macaroni

Um, somehow this can be something I do professionally? Someone please tell me yes.

I’m trying to find a place in blogland where I can be a Dog Person, without the costumes and with the interest.  And I’m also trying to figure out how to write my damn personal essay.

Dog owners, what are your thoughts?  Are you costume-dog people?  Are you dog-people at all, or are you the “I only love my dog and no one else’s” type?  Please discuss.

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Project Look! Loooook! Look!

I had this bright idea that with all my free time, I could do some sort of terribly fascinating project and write about it.  I would learn something wonderful, develop some fantastic skills, and have accomplished something, and you all would be glued to your computer screens, so entranced that you could hardly peel your eyes away from my retelling of my daily experience with this project…

Let’s just say that Day 1 of the project will not live up to that goal.

Here’s the idea: I am working my way through a dog training book with Daphne. Post-practice, I will regale you with the ups and downs of this amazingly interesting adventure. And, of course, by “regale you with… this amazingly interesting adventure” I mean “try to make it sound interesting that I taught my dog to look me in the eye for 1.5 seconds.”

the beautiful beast herself

Okay, but seriously: our dog is super smart.  Really.  I know I’ve talked about how high-maintenance she is, how she’s got a few issues and may or may not have nipped a child (one time! Just one time!), and how I for sure know what it’s like to have a dog who is reactive on leash. But. In spite of her being a little unpredictable in strange environments, she is actually pretty awesome and very smart: she knows at least 20 commands (I made a list and counted!) and can do at least 4 of them with 95% accuracy.

That said, she is still a bit neurotic, and she also has at least 16 commands that she does with accuracy that ranges from 60% to… well, let’s say that she’s capable of doing some of them, but not always willing.  Or ever willing.  Minor detail.

Daph and I demonstrate "touch" (my facial expression here is awesome, in case you hadn't noticed).

So the idea is that by working our way through this book, we can strengthen and reinforce skills she has, develop some new skills, give her a good mental workout, and help us bond and learn to communicate better.  The more she trusts me in the house, the more she’ll trust me out in the world, and – fingers crossed – the less reactive she’ll be.

The book we’re working with is Click to Calm: Healing the Aggressive Dog by Emma Parsons.  I originally noticed the book at a small local bookstore a few years ago because it was the only book that utilized clicker training; I ended up buying it after recognizing some of Daphne’s reactive tendencies and realizing that Turtle was no longer comfortable walking her without me there.  We read through it and boosted our own confidence, but didn’t do much beyond that at the time.

Now, I plan to go through the book and practice every single thing that Daphne hasn’t already nailed.  For example, she has “sit” down pat.  She sits for everything: before eating, before going through doorways, before getting in or out of the car.  Nothing in life is free, but it’s all easily purchased for the low, low price of Sit.

Anyway, as I mentioned at the beginning of the post, today we worked on “look,” which is a command to make eye contact.  It’s much more useful than it sounds, but it also sounds pretty boring.  Suffice it to say that she is now pretty good at making eye contact for 1.5 seconds.  Hopefully the tricks get more exciting, the progress gets more worth talking about, and you are fascinated by me talking about my dog.  Because I’m unemployed, I think I want to do this for a living, and the internet is my playground.


This is almost definitely never ever going to turn into a mommy blog or a food blog… but it seems it might turn into some version of a dog blog.  I hope you stick around.  In the meantime, who wants to talk dog training? Are you in?

*Note: all photos by our amazing and talented wedding photographer and fabulous friend Ellie Leonardsmith.  She obviously takes wonderful photos, and has recently started doing pet portraits; if you’re in the Boston area, check her out!

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My Pre-furred State of Being

I have spent my entire life wanting to be a veterinarian when I grow up.  I think there was a month or two when I was about thirteen or fourteen when I was really active in my church, and for those two months I considered that maybe I wanted to be a UU minister.  Well, when that month or two was over, I was back to wanting to be a vet.

 

again, me in my Preferred State of Being: covered in dogs

I started working at a local vet clinic when I was fifteen, and never really stopped after that.  In high school I went abroad for six months and obviously could not keep my job while I was on the other side of the world, but no worries!  I found a Clinica Veterinaria where I happily worked every Saturday morning.  When I returned to the states, it was back to work at the hospital, and after not working with animals for one measly semester in college, I never took a break again until my first real-life job.  I decided to take a break from veterinary medicine and try something a little more human oriented.  I thought maybe animals weren’t my thing anymore… after a year and a half of rape crisis work, I went back to the dogs (and cats and rats and bunnies and birds… you get the idea).

 

Me in Chile circa 2002. No, I didn't medically treat these llamas, but I may have tried to hug them.

The big thing that I didn’t do in all of this time was actually finish my classes to apply to vet school.  Every year I have said, “This year I’ll finally take X so that I can get my application in for next fall,” and every year something comes up: I don’t have the time, I don’t have the money, I refuse to skip my honeymoon so I can take the first Organic Chem exam.  Not the worst excuses, but finally I realized something.

I don’t think I want to be a vet.

That said, I do (of course!) still appreciate a face-in-cat situation. Even if the cat is slightly perturbed.

A couple of weeks ago, I was preparing to leave my job at the cat clinic and wondering what would come next.  I put together a list of the things I have loved about all of the veterinary medicine work I have done in the last almost-11 years (seriously, almost 11 years? Crazy!):

  1. Working with people and animals. One or the other doesn’t quite cut it for me.
  2. Troubleshooting with people about their animals, a la, How can we get your cat to take its pill? How can we help you transition a new pet into the house? How can we get your cat more active or your dog more engaged? etc)
  3. Working with the same people over time, and getting to know clients. I love recognizing people when they come in; I love that they know me by name and that I know them well enough to stop and say hello around town.

The thing I realized is that none of this is specific to medicine. So… here goes something else?  Monday was my first day of officially no longer having a full time job.  Of course, I still got up at 6:30, dropped my wife off at the bus, took the dog for a run through the woods, and then went to my volunteer position at a wildlife sanctuary.  As I pulled up to my driveway after all of that, I glanced up and there was a bald eagle flying over our house.

(this is not the actual eagle, but this is what it actually looked like)

I’m seeing hope around every corner.  Here I am, knowing that I’m on the edge of something big, and feeling like I’m waiting for it to materialize in front of me.  I have a petsitting business and a domain name – could I someday expand this to a training/behavior business?  Do I go back to school for something awesome?  Does someone reading this know exactly what all the signs point to?

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In Which the Prettiest Cat in the World Scares Us

Remember when I talked about how getting through the hard stuff is how I knew my wife was the one?  Well, let me just say: Thanks, Universe, for the reminder.  She has been the best through all of the stuff that’s been going on for the last week, even though she’s the only person I can take it all out on.  I have been incredibly grateful for that, for how she’s still here and still being supportive even if I am snippy with her about leaving piles around the house.  Because, you guys, she DOES leave piles around the house.  They’re just, uh, next to my piles, so really I have absolutely no ground to stand on on this one.

Well, last night I realized that it’s not just that she’s there to prop me up when things get hard.  Last night I realized what a team we are, and how much we can do together.

Last night, the Prettiest Cat in the World started vomiting, so Turtle called me at work to ask me about it.  Thanks, Piper, for doing this while I am still employed! Nice job!  I was all, “Oh, no biggie if it’s just once or twice, just keep an eye on her, she probably ate too fast.”  Word of advice: ask questions first, gently dismiss your wife later, only after considering the evidence.

“Bird! It wasn’t once or twice or food.  It’s been six or seven times.”

That’s a lot of times.  I went home after work and we gave her pepcid and tried to give her fluids (turns out The Prettiest Cat in the World is also the Sharpest, Pointiest, and Most Stubborn Cat in the World), and then we decided to get ready for bed.

And then The Prettiest Cat in the World started vomiting blood.

We ended up taking her to work, where my awesome vet met with us and took a look at her and helped us give her fluids.  It was questionable whether she had anything in her stomach, but she stopped vomiting, and we decided to watch her overnight and go to an emergency clinic if it seemed to get worse.  This morning, she woke me up asking for food and is very upset that I won’t give her any.  Not as upset as she’ll be when she realizes we’re going back to the vet for a recheck.  Muah! Ha! Ha!

What I a grateful for in this whole thing, besides an awesome vet who is willing to go back to work at 10pm, is an awesome wife who is just the best partner.  There was no arguing, no “you do X, I’m busy doing Y!”, no questioning what we needed to do.  It was just, “Okay, we have to make sure things are okay. Let’s go.” mixed with a lot of reassuring (“Well, maybe we WILL spend all night at the emergency clinic, but it’s going to be okay.”) and a few jokes (“This is what happens when we try to go to bed on time.  We’ll be fine if we plan to stay up ALL NIGHT.”).  We got home and we made things happen.  Turtle learned how to squeeze a bag of fluids to make them run faster.  I learned that Piper is the BEST cat to xray.  Even if she did try to bite me when I tried to give her fluids.

I think this picture accurately captures our relationship: I hug her, she tries to turn invisible.

Has anything happened lately that has reminded you of how awesome your significant other is?

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Dearest Crate, I love you so.

I love – love! – Daphne’s crate.  While she came to me with a boatload of issues, probably from having never been actually *walked* on a leash as a puppy, she did come to me crate trained, and while I think the family that ruined her puppyhood kind of sucked (because of how much they fail at her puppyhood), I am so, so grateful that Daphne already liked her crate.

From liking her crate, it didn’t take much to make her love it, and it was the easiest command to teach.  I would put her in there, close the door, and give her treats, and then let her out as soon as she was done.  When I left for work, I put her in the crate and tossed the treats into different corners so that she was too busy looking for deliciousness to notice I was leaving.  When we were hanging out at home I’d toss a treat in the back, say “crate” and repeat.

Sometimes we hang out with her in the crate. Um, everyone does that, right?

Crates tell dogs what they are supposed to be doing; they give dogs a place to feel safe and secure.  Daphne knows that crate time is nap time.  And, because she’s super smart, she knows that she stays in her crate when we leave for work… and every day as we pack up our bags she goes in and looks at us: “Mama, are you going to close the door? It’s time for me to sleep in my crate.”  We don’t have to worry about her getting into the litter boxes or getting bored and chewing on stuff or remembering that I left treats in my vest pocket and getting rid of them for me.  She would probably be fine outside the crate – but why bother? She loves it and we love in.  In fact, when I’m home alone and try to get her to sleep with me… she’ll stick around for about 10 minutes before hopping off the bed and going to sleep in her crate.

Why am I telling you?  Because last night I realized how much I love the crate.  And sad things happened.

See, yesterday morning, one of Turtle’s friends called and needed us to take her dog for a week or two.  We said yes because I love dogs and Turtle wanted to help.  This dog is a 1ish year old chihuahua mixed with insane energy dog, and looks like a miniature Daphne.  He has had almost no training – he can sit about 50-75% of the time when you ask.  So he came over last night and all went well for the first little while.  He played with the dogs, the cats hid; we went for a walk.  And then I put everyone in their crates so we could have some quiet time.

this is sort of what the playing looked like. different puppy, though.

With poor Rascal, crate time does not equal quiet time.  It equals THE LOUDEST TIME THERE EVER WAS.  We moved his crate next to Daph’s, hoping that seeing her be calm and quiet would calm him – instead she started whining and barking, too.  What are we upset about? I don’t know but I am upset too! Let’s tell the world how upset we are! EuLALia!

So then! Then we put him in the study with the lights off and the door closed, all “Hey dog! It’s bed time! Sleeping happens now!”  Well, it got worse.

tired and sad

Long story a little shortened down for you, we ended up driving to meet the friend’s dad at a Dunkin Donuts for a puppy handoff, and we feel awful about it.  I was so excited to be the magical dog trainer who taught the dog to calm down and helped him learn the world is a good place – and Turtle was excited to help her friend in such a big way. But the other side of it is that we live in an apartment, and we can’t have dogs barking all night – not to mention we had been planning on getting some sleep.  The other part of the apartment thing is that we are allowed to have a dog and two cats… not three dogs and two cats.  Sigh.

What is your most valued dog command/trick?  Do you crate train? Have I convinced you to crate train yet? DO IT. Do it. It’s fun.

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Flip Cups for Pups

Well, today marks the last day of NaBloPoMo, and I know that you want to hear about my dog.  Who doesn’t want to hear about my dog?

As the days have been getting shorter and it’s been getting darker, I have to admit that Daphne has been getting less exercise and stimulation.  In the fall, I could come home from work and take her to run in the woods, where she could frolic and sniff around to her heart’s delight; now, I’m nervous that it will get dark out before we make it back to the car, or that she’ll find delicious evening animals like porcupines and skunks.

teach her to dance!

So the question became: what can we do to keep her entertained?  A couple of things are to play with her more in the yard and around the house, and to take her for more leash walks around the neighborhood.  But my new favorite thing is our new way of feeding her.

This was inspired by our friends’ dog, who eats the food that they toss outside on the ground for her.  It slows down her eating and gets her to forage a little, using at least SOME mental energy.  It was also inspired by Shiva’s mad skills at a Nina Ottosson toy.  You can do this at home with very little effort, folks! The only downsides are: 1. a dog who drools while she watches you set it up, and 2. drool spots on the floor from where your dig licks up the kibbles.

First, collect some empty cups; we used six paper cups.

Second, make sure you have someone to supervise; it keeps things interesting.

(“Is this dog food?! I LOVE dog food!”)

Next, measure out the appropriate amount of food.  Daphne gets around 1 1/2 cups.

Divide food evenly between all cups.

This is the point where I usually send Daphne to her crate, and then stack up the cups to bring in to the other room.  Truman is very helpful in this process.

Daph waits… uh… patiently? Eagerly is a better term. I’m not sure you can see the drool in this picture.

Truman helps her with the kibbles.

Watch the whole thing in the 30-second video below!

Right now she just nudges the cups over and pushes them along the floor to get the food out.  It usually takes her about 20 seconds to eat a cup and a half of kibble out of her food dish; this process takes her about 5 minutes, which is a fantastic improvement.  I’m not sure where to go from here, though.  Some ideas were to put out some empty cups, or to hide the cups around the house, but I’m worried she would forget them, we would forget them, and we’d find dog food on the floor months later.

What do you do to keep your beasts entertained as it gets colder and darker outside?

 

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T is for Trouble, Truman, and TrueLove

To commemorate my last day of Petsitting Insanity, I bring you the Celebrated Truman, also known as T Monster, TruMonster, and Squeee! Because he’s just that cute.

First, pictures of him with us so there’s something of size to compare him to.

Day one, about ten minutes after we came home.

5 or 6 weeks

kittens are cute as a survival technique, because honestly they have no manners and they are very sharp.

sevenish weeks?

Also 7ish weeks.

Thanksgiving kitten! He's around 10 weeks now.

Second, just adorable pictures of him, because kittens are really cute.

Teeny weeny! He lived in the tub for his first week with us.

He helped my friend Kitty with her Halloween costume: Crazy Cat Lady.

He became more catlike!

He learned how to get into laundry baskets/ideal napping places/hiding places that scare his mommas into thinking they lost him.

Truman and Daphne are learning to be in love.

Have a happy Saturday!

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