Thursday, April 30, 2009

Freedom for Liberty

On Sunday, April 19, about ten minutes after I left a meeting with the woman who is mentoring me in my quest for Animal Behavior certification, said woman left her office on Wards Chapel Road, pulled out onto Liberty Road, and saw a pit bull hit by a car.

She immediately pulled over, got two other co-workers who were following her to pull over, and they started the chase to see if the little dog was alright. They attempted to get cars to stop, or at least slow down, and most of them responded with much profanity and gestures which involve limited numbers of digits. At one point, one man did pull over to help. Then he saw the dog, yelped "Is that a PIT BULL????" got back into his vehicle, and locked the doors.

Oh, did you not know that pit bulls are the breed most likely to carjack you???

Anyway, it took over an hour, but they finally ran the little dog down, got her into one of their trucks, and immediately took her to the vet hospital where one of those leading the chase just so happens to be a vet tech.

A few hours later, as the most out-spoken pit bull proponent my mentor knows, I got the call telling me the above details. Being the bleeding heart that I am, I said "Jeez, I wish I could afford another dog, but there's just no way I possibly can, otherwise I'd offer to take her in for a while." Any sane person would hear the true meaning behind my words, which is "thank goodness I can't afford another dog, I don't have the time or energy for that."

Also, any sane person wouldn't spend a few hours trying to catch a strange dog in the middle of rush hour traffic. Audience is a very important thing to remember when you make statements like the one I made.

My mentor said "oh, thank goodness - I just can't possibly fit her into my house [the woman has eight dogs, seventeen cats, several birds, and a herd of herding animals, she is one of the few people who really means it when she says "no room at the inn"], so you can take her home and I'll pay for her food and vetting while we find her a new home."

This is what you may refer to as an EPIC FAIL.

*sigh* But the thing is, I really, really can help in this situation. I have a small room she can stay in that can keep her separate from Oscar and the cats as long as that is needed, I understand how to deal with the crap pit bull owners have to deal with all the time (like idiots who lock their car doors to keep dogs out), I understand dog behavior, have an animal behaviorist on speed dial if there's an emergency, and am more than comfortable with basic manner and obedience training.

So how could I turn this girl away?

I really couldn't turn her away once I'd met her. She has very obviously been badly abused in the past. She is covered in scars, one of her ears is ragged, the other is missing the bottom two inches, her lips are terribly uneven and the vet who looked at her initially said it looked like they'd been stitched up at home by an amateur, and her legs are malformed, whether through bad breeding or injury it's unclear. And she was intact (was - we took care of that). She's terrified of everything - has to be coaxed to go outside and then spends the whole time asking to come back in. She flinches dreadfully at any sudden movements, and she has no idea what to do with any toys I showed her. She's about three years old, (at a little under 40lb) about a dozen pounds lighter than Oscar, and just looks TINY.

And she is the sweetest thing. Gentle as can be, and has shown textbook ideal reactions to both dogs and cats (in fact, the very first time I met her, I asked a vet tech to bring the office cat in, and while the dog was eating a treat out of my hand, the cat sniffed her lip - the dog didn't even lift a lip or make any kind of "back off" gesture in dog - that's better than Oscar would have done!)

So May 1 begins a New Life for the little one, who we have called Liberty, both for where she was found, and for her freedom from whatever horrible life she had before. In my house, she will be given training and love, and will never know pain again. The behaviorist has said she respects my decision on who should end up with her, and I will be sure she finds a forever home that will respect and cherish her as she deserves. And I already know my heart will break when it's time for her to leave.

(here's video of her on a potty break with me. she has seen the door to inside and cannot for the life of her figure out how to get me closer to it. so she does this odd backing-up-to-rev-up-for-a-jump thing I've only ever seen one other dog do. That would be Oscar. )

Thursday, April 16, 2009

You can fly!

When there's a smile in your heart
There's no better time to start
It's a very simple plan
You can do what the birdies can
At least it's worth a try

You can fly! You can fly!
You can fly! You can fly!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

It's the Easter Platypus, Charlie Brown!

I have a thing for platypi, so when I saw this in the store, I knew Oscar would be getting a new toy for Easter.

Nevermind that he doesn't usually play with toys (he does sleep on them but seldom does any actually playing.)

He sort of sees all of life as a game anyway, so the need for props hasn't yet occurred to him.

But he seems to like the Easter Platypus!!! The body crinkles, the head squawks and the feet squeak. I got to hear all of that as he discovered it, and so do you!

(in the beginning, he puts it down and comes closer to the camera - he does this every time I give him a new treat or toy - he'll put it down and come give me a kiss. He says "thank you!")

So from all of us to all of you, Merry Easter to all, and to all a good time with a platypus!

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Stand in the place where you live

Session One of trying to teach Oscar to stand, last night:

In watching the video, I see that I am a lousy trainer! I got better towards the end, though, which is (coincidentally, I'm sure) when he started to respond as well. Theoretically, I should click only when he's in the position I want, or, if possible, headed towards it (ie, in the process of standing up). Unfortunately, he's too fast and I'm too slow, so there's no way I'll get the upward motion of the butt. The first step is to get him to offer the "stand" position on his own, which we obviously haven't mastered yet. For the sake of time and upload space, I had to do a quick edit, so the odd blurp isn't a glitch in your computer:

What you see is, he knows we're training (look at that tail and tell me if this dog likes school or not) and so tries to do what's called "offering behaviors" - he does all kinds of things he can think of that I've asked of him before (you'll see him try sloppy versions of the heel, jump, come, sit, and down that you saw yesterday). In fact, the down position that starts this video was one he volunteered, without request. That's expected at this stage. He'll speed up with offering the correct behavior if I can get better at my side of things.

Once he does get to the point of offering the stand intentionally and consistently, we put the command on it. That's a bit down the road. It's best to learn new things in very short sessions (this first was under 7 minutes total, the second was about five and a half) and finish on a positive note (which is why I had him do the commands he's already solid on) to prevent frustration. I get frustrated AGES before Oscar does when it comes to school - he'll keep trying things over and over - so it's more for my sake that we keep things short, but it's good for the dog, too!

This morning we tried again with Session Two:
(yes, I'm wearing the same thing. I changed after work and slept in the shirt, then threw on the jeans before going outside first thing this morning. This was filmed at about 6:30) You'll see fewer "down"s offered - he doesn't like to down, it's very submissive (he often refuses it in tense, uncertain situations) and since it didn't pay off yesterday, he's obviously not going to bother with it today.

Already some pretty impressive improvement. And the dog's getting better, too!

Friday, April 03, 2009

Stand by me

When Oscar and I start competing in Rally, at the upper levels, he's going to have to "stand" on command. I'm pretty sure the odds of this happening are as likely as those of him baking me a cake on command.

The dog does not stand. He wiggles and shimmies and jumps and bounces and prances and paces and dances and wags and bounds and leaps and... he does not stand.

Here's an example of Oscar in our yard. This is a very typical day, he'd already been out a few times, and he's burnt off the top edge of energy, perhaps, definitely not amped up at all.

the commands he's given are
a) "c'mere" which just means... well, get near me, I don't really care about details
b) "heel", which is a position on my left side,
c) "come" which is come to a seated position directly in front of me
d) "finish" which means go to a heel position by crossing behind me right to left and
e) "jump" which he taught himself and apparently means "pretend you're a pit bull on a pogo stick."

I have no idea how I'm going to get this dog to stand calmly. I guess I'll have to stop giving him prozac as training treats.

Marriage is love.