Saturday, February 25, 2012

Chez Furry Pants: No Vacancy

Bertie Sue has been with us about a day now, so it's long past time that I start annoying you with photos!

First, Bertie's bio: She's about 3 years old, weighs 12 pounds, and, no, I have no idea what breeds she is. The most reasonable theory is probably some kind of pug/border terrier mix. What I do know is that she is a Pure-Bred Awesome. (And possibly part mountain goat.) Update: Someone on Facebook says she's a Brussels Griffon. I still say Mountain Goat.

Bertie was picked up as a very-pregnant stray and taken to the Animal Shelter. She was going to be euthanized because of aggression, but PALS got her out and, lo and behold, she is really a very nice dog. If you were uncomfortably pregnant and stuck in a scary kennel, you'd be aggressive, too! She had her puppy a week after she left the shelter, spent 8 weeks nursing him and generally being an awesome momma, and then they went their separate ways. As far as I know, Bert's puppy, Little Guy, is still available for adoption as of this writing. He's about 11 weeks in this picture, but is now 13 weeks. Update: My grandpuppy, Little Guy, went to his forever home in late March! Yay, Little Guy! We send you all our love!
Why did I name her "Bertie Sue," you ask? Well, have you ever seen a mane of fur more likely to make Albert Einstein's hair stand on end? And "Sue" is an homage to Bertie's awesome Foster Momma, who has the habit of tacking "Sue," among other things, onto all of her dogs' names. For example, I look forward to one day meeting Chihuahua-Extraordinaire PeteySueBobElvis. And anyway, I figure, if the Sue fits, wear it. (Yep. I said it. Deal with it.) 

"Now, wait a minute," I hear you saying. "You just wrote a whole series of blog posts about how you had to take Brewster to a reactive dog class because he's so fearful. How can you bring another dog into the house?" It was because of that class that I had the confidence to adopt Bertie. Working with the trainers, and especially with the trainer's dog, Gracie, helped me learn how to introduce Brewster to a new dog slowly and carefully. Brewster and I met with Bertie (formerly Cricket) and her Foster Mom twice in a neutral location (a pet supply shop). They got to check each other out without a lot of pressure. When Foster Mom brought Bert for a home visit, they parked in a church parking lot two blocks from my house and Brewster and I walked up and met them. The dogs got to see each other again, then we all drove home and walked into the house together. Once he realized that Bertie was the same dog he'd met twice before, Brewster never once showed any aggression. In fact he "approved" the adoption by giving Bertie a play-bow, the international doggy symbol for "Let's play!" I had never seen Brewster do that before, and it was all I needed to see to know that he would love having a sister. In the 24 hours that Bertie has been here, Brew has yet to show her any aggression. That doesn't mean there won't be any spats whatsoever, and it will be several days or even weeks before I go off and leave them alone without a baby gate between them, but so far it's looking very, very good.

Does that answer all your questions? Then without further ado, Bertie's first day with us:

Far be it from me to anthropomorphize my dogs or force them into nonsensical gender roles. But Bert did recognize right away that the pink bed was meant for her. It brings out her eyes, no?

Bertie meets a Kong and is simultaneously confused and delighted.

Maddie came over to help us watch the KU-Mizzou game. To get into this club, you have to be a PALS dog. 

To make up for having to live with another dog, Edgar gets some of the good MommaLady luvies, which are widely recognized as the best of all the luvies. Kudra, on the other hand, is still downstairs. I expect we'll see her in about another 24 hours. (Why the look of bored disgust on the MommaLady's face? This photo was taken toward the end of the first half. She was more cheerful an hour later.)
That's it! As I assured my horrified neighbor, there are now four pets living in this house, and we are taking down the vacancy sign. It will be a long, long time before anymore four-legged people cross our threshold. Probably. 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Graduation Day

Brewster is a Reactive Dog Class Graduate!

During the last six weeks, Brewster has learned that, under certain circumstances, hot dog will rain from the sky. I have learned that I've been holding on too tight--literally. So Brewster learned "Touch" and "Spin," and I learned to loosen up on the leash.

"Hot dog? Chicken? Cheese?"

I've learned some tricks to help Brewster live a happier, more secure life, so the class has been well worth my time. And for Brewster . . . well, there was lots and lots of hot dog. And chicken. And cheese. Totally worth it.   

If you're a Sedgwick-area dog person, Brewster highly recommends the Basic Manners class at the Family Dog Training Center, and he figures that their other classes, like Therapy Dog Certification and Agility, are probably pretty cool, too. And if, like Brew, your pooch is maybe less than thrilled to meet other dogs or people, follow the Reactive Dog Class link to sign up for the Kansas Humane Society class with Kelly and Karla, two of the doggiest Dog People we've ever met. (That's a compliment.)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Brewster Shows His Jayhawk Spirit

Just a short post tonight because I had to watch KU trounce the Pussycats. (Guys? That OCTAGON OF DOOM thing? Makes you sound like a particularly unimaginative Bond villain who tries to use geometry as his secret weapon.)

Here is Brewster doing his thing at Dog Class:

In his KU crimson halter, of course.
 "His thing" mainly consists of hanging out on his favorite towel, letting strangers feed him treats. He seems to have finally figured out that there really are worse things in the world than being fed hot dogs by strangers. It's been fun to watch.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Why I'm Such a Crank

So that whole dog-gets-rescued-from-freezing-river-and-proceeds-to-bite-pretty-anchor-in-the-face thing. Scary, right? Kind of puts all those hilarious outtakes of reporters getting spit on by camels or goosed by geese into perspective.

I've been paying pretty close attention to this story through the various dog trainer blogs I follow, and I've noticed a difference in how dog trainers are responding versus how lay dog owners are responding. The trainers, rightly to my mind, are generally focusing on how this dog gave out multiple signals that he was stressed and was about to bite. Every human on that stage failed to notice clear signals that the dog needed space: showing the teeth, trying to look away from the anchor, and even growling. The dog also gave signals that would be less clear to a layperson--the "whale eye" (rolling the eyes and showing the whites), licking his lips, and yawning--and we can hardly expect non-dog people to understand those signals (although any parent who thinks it's okay for his or her kids to pet strange dogs should take time to learn them). But we should all know that a dog who is growling is telling us that he needs space.

The lay dog owners, on the other hand, often want to either "not place blame" or want to lay it at the feet of the anchor who, yes, should've known better than to put her face right into the face of a strange dog. One owner wanted to do both; she insisted that we not place blame at the same time that she blamed the anchor for not knowing better. What she meant was that she didn't want to blame the owner. Another owner listed a litany of dog bites she has been involved in or aware of in an attempt to make the case for the owner's innocence; she only emphasized that she herself is an irresponsible owner. 

I understand the owners' impulse to blame the anchor and not the dog owner. We are, of course, owners, too. We've all been in situations where our dogs suddenly did something that we didn't see coming--not that there were no warning signs, but we simply didn't recognize them. That's precisely why those of us who read dog trainer blogs read those very blogs! We've also heard the horror stories in which the owner did everything possible to keep a dog and the people around the dog safe, but was ignored, resulting in a bite. We've seen cases in which a municipality overreacts to a single incident with mitigating factors and orders that a good dog be euthanized, or even ignores the fact that there never was an incident but uses breed-specific legislation to condemn a good dog. That ultimately is our fear: That the owner will be forced to euthanize a pet he presumably loves as much as we love our own dogs.

And, oh boy, do we LOVE our dogs. It breaks our collective heart to share this owner's pain.

That's why this owner in particular, and we as owners in general, have to take responsibility for what happened in that television studio. Yes, the anchor (who reportedly is herself a dog owner) absolutely should not have put her face right into that dog's face. But it was the owner's responsibility to ask the anchor to back off. First and foremost, we as owners are responsible for being able to recognize our dogs’ signals so that we can warn strangers when it isn’t safe to approach. When they ignore our warnings or don’t give us a chance to give a warning at all, as in the case of a child who runs up from nowhere and hugs a strange dog, they have to accept the consequences. But our responsibility as owners comes first.

I haven't always lived up to that responsibility. Just ask my poor Dad and his index finger. Just like that anchor, Dad should've known better than to back Brewster into a corner and stick his hand in Brewster's face in a misguided attempt to make friends. But it was my responsibility to keep an eye on both Dad and Brewster, and I didn't do that. I am very lucky that the person Brewster snapped at was my understanding father and that the injury was slight (although I'm sure it pinched like the dickens). I learned the hard way that it really is my responsibility and only my responsibility to keep my dog and the people around my dog safe.

So I do research, I follow several dog trainer blogs, and I take every class I can afford. And, yes, I have become a complete crank on the subject of Dogs in Need of Space. You don't have to be a crank to be a responsible dog owner, though. An hour with our friend, Google, can provide a lot of information about dog behavior and effective training tips. (Just please do me a personal favor and ignore all that Dog Whisperer dominance theory bull. I'll let Dr. Yin tell you why.)

I've commented on several different forums that I hope part of the legal judgment against the owner is that he be required to attend a class on dog training and behavior. But more than that, I hope that all of us, those of us who are familiar with our dogs' warning signals and those of us who've never really thought about it before, will look at our dogs with fresh eyes, that we'll recognize that our dogs are always trying to communicate with us, and that we can understand them if we take a little time. They'll tell us what they need us to know. We just have to learn their language.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Is Your Tail Half Up or Half Down?

All I have to say about tonight's Reactive Dog Class is thank goodness for the Dog People. We tried an interaction between Brewster and the teacher's dog, Gracie. Gracie was very eager to be introduced (it might've been the smell of very special treats coming from my treat pouch), and she came bopping up to us more quickly than Brewster liked, so he snapped at her. I was terrified and mortified. Had that happened out in the world, I undoubtedly would've had to cope with an angry human who would insist that her dog was "Just trying to be friendly!" and "Your dog is mean!" But, being Dog People, our teachers weren't even phased.

Karla, Gracie's human, called Brewster's snap a "smile," which is a rather surprising way to characterize it. She explained that when Brewster snaps he is showing Gracie his limits, which is a communication that should be respected. Karla repeated to me several times until she was sure I heard, "Brewster isn't aggressive. He's afraid." Thinking back, I realize that she's repeated this during every class, but tonight is the first time I've really paid attention. I have always characterized Brewster as "fear-aggressive." I have always known that it's fear that causes him to lash out. But Karla's insistence on categorizing fearful behavior and aggressive behavior as two completely separate things, even though they may look the same, is a new concept for me. I don't really understand what the implications for this are, except that, at its very base, it means that Brewster is not a "bad" dog. Karla is Director of Operations at the Humane Society, and when the Director of Operations tells you that your dog is really just misunderstood, you kind of want to giggle maniacally in relief. I'm considering asking her for a signed and notarized statement that I can show to anyone who so much as shoots me and the Little Dude a dirty look: "Brewster: Certified Good Dog."* 

After the snap, the four of us--two humans and two canines--sat down on the floor together and shared some of the very good treats. At one point I had Gracie and Brewster eating from both my hands at the same time, which our teachers were very impressed with. I wasn't that surprised. After all, Brewster and Maddie the Underdog get along. The barrier to Brewster's friendship with Gracie is simply that it's taking place in a big room with a bunch of noisy big dogs who scare his whiskers off.

The other "event" from this evening was Brewster's reaction to simply walking into the classroom. Instead of dropping, his tail stayed at half-mast for quite a while, and he even walked right up to the two assistant trainers who have been working with him during previous classes. When some of the other dogs started barking, it dropped all the way, but even then, as Karla pointed out, it was never "clamped," or tucked all the way under. It's a sign that, although he'll never be an outgoing or gregarious dog, Brewster is capable of existing in the world with strangers.

So, since I always try to make an effort to be an optimist, I'm calling the water glass half full instead of half empty, or, perhaps more appropriately, I'm classifying the tail as half up instead of half down.

*Jess over at the DINOS Facebook page makes the important point that dogs who are dog-dog aggressive but not fearful are not bad dogs. She says, "Some of the best therapy dogs I know are dog-aggressive dogs." My thoughts in this paragraph have more to do with my own mostly suppressed fear that Brewster might be irredeemable and my relief at hearing from an authoritative source that he isn't. It should not be taken as my judgment on dogs with challenges different than Brewster's!