Thursday, September 28, 2006

"Better Than Elemental Summons"

Sometimes your friends say things that tell you how it is.

I peeked in a live chat between friends. I think it went kind of like this....

ALICIA: "I say that even knowing I'll get elbowed in the ribs."
ALENA: "I can do better than elbows. LAEV, COME!!!"
ALICIA: "Garrgh"
ALENA: "Better than elemental summons."

Okay, so maybe Laev is a little... effervescent in her greetings. At least she's open and easy to read. :-)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Sad News

Well, I think I'm finally ready to post about this.... This has been a pretty cruddy couple of weeks.

We were absolutely crushed just two weeks ago when Alena's splendid rescue dog Lucrezia was killed. Lucrezia was in her fenced backyard when Alena checked on her through the window. A half-hour or so later, Alena went to bring her inside and the dog was missing. Alena and I rode about the area on bikes, calling for her, but she was found just at the edge of Alena's front yard....

We were able to reconstruct what had happened pretty nearly, as the evidence was clear. An oppossum had come just outside the fenced yard and attracted Lucrezia's attention. We're guessing the possum played dead rather than retreating from the dog rushing the fence, as obviously it stayed there a while -- long enough for Lucrezia to completely dismantle the fence. I built this fence myself, a wooden picket fence backed with 2x2" welded wire to prevent dog noses or legs slipping through the pickets. Lucrezia completely removed SIX pickets and broke an additional THREE, and then she ripped and bent the wire until she could escape -- all without Alena ever hearing her bark. Apparently she was too high in her pursuit to even vocalize.... True predators don't bark to warn their prey.

She wriggled free of the yard, killed the possum and left it beside the fence, and then most likely took off across the yard to a favorite squirrel haunt. The squirrels like a tree just beyond a brushy extension to the road; Lucrezia would have burst around the brush into the street without anyone being able to see her coming. We're pretty sure she was killed instantly.

Lucrezia was a great dog. Alena and I couldn't believe she'd escaped the yard; she was always such a great respecter of boundaries. We'd literally drop a string across a threshold and tell her it was a gate, and she'd wait politely behind it. But an oppossum lying continuously outside her fence was apparently too much to bear.

A week later, my old horse Peppy took a sudden turn for the worse. He'd cut a tendon in the pasture five weeks before and was given only a 60-70% chance of living even after the surgery at Purdue; however, he seemed to recover just fine and everyone was thrilled. He never fully came back, though, and he returned to Purdue for a few odd symptoms that had nothing to do with the original injury. We'd tentatively decided on early symptoms of Cushings when he started having problems with his leg again, and in the end he seemed to have an infection in the tendon sheath. I didn't want his last days to be full of medical experimentation and stress, so we let him go last Wednesday.

Peppy was only 24, a young 'un as our last two horses were lost at 34 and 36. He was an accomplished show horse in his day, but he'd earned the right to serve as an equine lawn mower in his later years. He had so much personality and was so lovely to handle through his convalescence; even the Purdue staff loved and nicknamed him. It's hard to find horses like Peppy.

I've been a little hyper-protective of my critters of late; I walked out and closed the front gate before moving Laev from the kennel to my car, "just in case." The best training in the world can fail once, and sometimes once is all it takes -- Lucrezia had never in her life crossed a barrier, even one that was only a chalk line on the floor, before escaping Alena's yard that day.

Somebody said last week that Shakespeare was looking old. No, he's not. He's only six, nearly seven. That's not old. He's got years left. They should live forever....

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Clean!

Three sends to the blind today to start; all perfectly clean. Then we did obedience for the bite, requiring Laev to look at me (away from the helper!) to be alerted, then cued to sit, and she must sit to be sent to the helper. Very tough in the beginning, but today Laev was thinking a bit and she nailed all of her sits within three seconds or less (which would be an eternity if she were just working with me, but is not bad for literally dropping her out of the air while she's lunging at the helper and saying, "sit!" on her way down). We're going to whittle that down to a second or less, and then we'll add other cues to the mix....

I didn't start by asking her to look at me in the beginning, but I'm really glad that I'm doing it. If she can't even look at me, how is she going to listen while she's raging at the helper? And this will only improve her focus on me and her ability to hear and obey in heavy distraction. :-) Interestingly, it seems to be easier for her to sit quickly out of her frenzy, still looking at the helper, than to look away from the helper to me during the moment of quiet before I cue her to rev. That's okay; I just wait her out, and she's getting that looking at me starts the game.

But, she did quite well today, and I'm looking forward to playing with this. She's a quick little dog, and I think she'll be good at this. It's really good for me, too, as I have to give accurate feedback. Timing is everything!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cute Little Barks & Jaw Power

I have long held that demand barking will not be reinforced in my house. I just don't like it! But at the same time, I want the dogs to be able to communicate. If Laev needs out of her crate in the morning, for example, I want her to tell me that rather than wet the bed. So I carefully reinforced the quieter barks, so that now Laev has a very soft bark that communicates need, and I can safely ignore most loud barks which are just fussing and will end soon. :-)

Just now Laev, resisting a nap and trying to engage in *something* to prevent her from falling asleep, walked over, looked at me, and said clearly, "Mrap." It was a tiny little bark, barely worthy of the word, but a distinct vocalization. "Look, I want something, but I know that if I make too much noise, you'll ignore me." So I dutifully told her she was cute, and she thought that was nice, and then she fell asleep in a patch of sunlight.

Laev lost a little weight while we were out of town (lots of kennel pacing combined with suddenly cooler weather), and she was never plump -- her raw diet sees to that -- so petting her now is like slapping granite. She's all muscle! She has been, of course, but normally you can just see the outline of her ribs, and now you can actually distinguish them, so she needs 2-3 pounds. She will be happy to help with that, though. :-)

I gave her a handful of dry, hard treats in a Tricky Treat Ball this morning to occupy her and throw a few calories her way, and she was crushing it in her uber-jaws. I can compress it if I use two hands, but sheesh! I couldn't possibly palm it and crush it. Then later I put a few biscuits in a Kong Stuff-a-Ball, and wow! she can crunch that, too! Scary. I guess I should be surprised, since I routinely swing her off the ground with her tug, but it's just impressive to see it another way