Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Very Furry Life

Now that the weather has decided to at least try to warm up, our animals-all five of them-are in full shedding mode. We've always had a lot of fur balls flying about the place-Nala is a horrible shedder-but now there are even more. It's just something you decide to live with when you choose to have animals; especially when you have five.
Yesterday I went over to my parents for a barbecue. Mr. K is in the middle of essay and exam time, so I left him to the peace and quiet of an empty house by taking all of the dogs with me. Technically he still had Rufio for company, but Rufio is a cat and usually pretty quiet. All of the dogs were pretty excited to pile into my Mom's SUV. They all associate their Grandma's vehicle with fun times since more often than not, if we are off to do something fun it is in Mom's vehicle.
My parents have two dogs: Flash and Jetta. Jetta is my retired Leader dog and Flash is a Lab/Shepherd I adopted for them from the humane society in my first year of university. She loves people, but tends to have issue with anything else fuzzy; except for Jetta. There are probably various reasons for her dog anxiety which turns into cranky behaviour, but she's 11 years old and spends most of her time at my parents' house or in places where she can't bother other dogs. That is, until I come over to visit with my gaggle of beasties. So, when we come over, we ensure everyone is separated by tightly shut doors.
When we arrived, Flash and Jetta were outside in the backyard with Dad. I spent some time inside, but Hermione made it clear that she wanted out. I hustled my crew into my parents' spare bedroom while Mom brought Flash inside and hurried her off to my parents' bedroom. Then, once the door was shut behind her I took my dogs out on to the back deck. Flash was released to roam the inside of the house. She could watch my guys through the glass slider as my dogs had done when she was outside. There were no signs of crankiness in this arrangement and I think it was good for her to see everyone; albeit from behind a closed door. I'm not sure we'll ever get her past this first step of de-sensitization, but it's a big step for her to have other dogs on "her" deck and not be angry about it.
It was actually quite nice outside and I figured I'd spend as much time outside as possible so that Flash could be free in the house for longer. As I sat enjoying some evening sunshine, I decided to use the opportunity to take care of my shedding problem; or should I say, my dogs' shedding problem?
Roscoe is one of the heaviest shedders I have ever met. One year he shed so much that he blew his entire under coat and all that was left was this straw-like layer of his outer coat. We promptly switched his food that year and he's done much better since. However, it hasn't stopped him from losing his winter coat in big chunks. It makes him look patchy and scruffy. It looks like we don't take care of him. So, in typical me fashion, I could not just sit still so I asked Mom for a dog brush. She presented me with a slicker brush.
"It's all I have." She said, knowing that I'm not a big fan.
Slicker brushes are the dog brushes with the rectangular heads and the curved pin bristles. I don't like them because for most dogs, the noise of these brushes is stressful. Sure, you can work with the dog to have them realise that the sound is just that, sound, but why when there are other great options? Not to mention, grooming is supposed to be a bonding process, so why make it stressful if you don't have to?
I also don't like the slicker brush because it can leave skin lesions on the dog which is probably why they don't like the brush in the first place. Wen I was given Jetta, her trainer and i struggled with brushing her. Finally, he told me not to use the slicker brush anymore and came back with the Zoom Groom, made by Kong.
"It works just as well and won't hurt her." He explained. Once we made the switch, brushing Jetta went so much better. I also didn't have to worry about cutting her skin with the brush's bristles. When I was matched with Glacier, none of the blind handlers were given slicker brushes; it was Zoom Grooms all around. Nala's school also provided Zoom Grooms. A slicker brush was an option, but I gave mine back and just kept the zoom Groom and the comb. It's my personal preference.
The only downfall to the Zoom Groom is that it just fluffs the fur off of the dog, whereas, the slicker catches the fur in its sharp bristles. This means, grooming a dog with the Zoom Groom indoors turns into a gigantic mess. I've worked around that problem by placing a towel under the dog and all of the fur sticks to the towel. However, trying to get the fur off of the towel when you are done grooming can be a challenge. One towel became designated as the "brushing" towel. When the weather is good though, this is not a problem as you can just go outside.
Despite not being a fan of the slicker brush, I set to work on Roscoe's back end. I concentrated on not pushing too hard and tried not to go over the same spot too frequently in order to ensure I didn't scratch up his skin. I brushed him for probably a half an hour and by the time I was done, another Roscoe surrounded me on the deck. I was covered in clumps of Roscoe fur, but his coat felt so much nicer. He wasn't nearly as patchy anymore.
I tried Nala after de-furring Roscoe, but the slicker brush wasn't really taking any of her fur off. I didn't even try Otis since his coat is so short and the potential for skin lesions would have been much higher. As for Her Royal Highness, Princess Hermione, slicker brushes and flowing Spaniel fur do not mix under any circumstances. So, she got to be spared the grooming frenzy as well.
I checked Roscoe this morning and his coat still looks better, but I think a thorough bath and more brushing is in order. It won't be long before those patches are back, but as long as I stay on top of brushing him, then he should be okay.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Nala's New Tricks

Yesterday Kim called me just as I finished running on my Rebounder to see if Nala and I would like to accompany her and August to one of our local malls for some stair work. Of course I did so I started getting ready.
Just in case you don't know, August is one of the Leader Dog puppies in training in the prison program. Kim has taken him out while Kayla stays in. Both pups get some quality training in this arrangement; at least they do in my opinion.
As I got ready, my brain whirled around and around. I'm not very good at staying still or focusing on small tasks, like blow drying my hair. As I squirted hair product into my palm, my brain not zoned in on what I was doing, the cap went flying across the floor. I heard it bounce, but couldn't pin point where it had stopped rolling. Just out of curiosity I said, "Nala get it" and pointed in the general direction of the escaped lid. She paused for a minute then happily pranced over to the lid, I heard her teeth click on plastic.
"good girl," I tried to say calmly. I was excited, but getting over excited with Nala often means she gets over excited and results in the task not working out.
"Nala come" I said stretching my flat palm towards her. As she got closer I said "leave it" and she spit the lid out into my outstretched palm.
I was slightly stunned.
We had a party. This was the time for over excitement.
Where had she learned this trick?
Realistically, I don't think she learned the trick in the traditional sense. I think Nala has a natural tendency to retrieve things. I've noticed it with my slippers. If she gets home from somewhere, or if I get home and she hasn't come, she races about excitedly and grabs my slippers. She never chews them. Just parades around proudly. I started sticking the slippers one inside the other so that when she does this I can ask her to "leave it" and she delivers my paired slippers to me.
I've come to realise that some behaviours are better managed and directed in a way that you like instead of trying to constantly correct something that comes so naturally to the dog. I wish I had figured this out when I worked with Jetta. I think our working relationship would have been much different. Not that it wasn't a wonderful partnership because it was, but I think she would have enjoyed working more if I had discovered this earlier on. I have to thank that dog for making future working dogs' of mine jobs much easier.
Knowing that Nala could bring me my slippers, I tried it out on the lid. It certainly may not have worked, but it was a chance I was willing to take. I wasn't undoing any kind of training and I wouldn't have been upset with her if she hadn't understood my random suggestion to go get the lid for me. I was just stringing cues together that she already knew with her own natural tendency and she figured it out. I think this is the difference between dogs who are taught to think for themselves-clicker trained dogs are like this-and dogs who aren't. I'm not entirely sure that this wasn't a fluke either. Maybe the lid was a tempting object and she would have picked it up anyway. However, if that is the case, at least it turned into a positive situation where I didn't have to chase her down to get it.
try to always avoid the "chase game" at all costs.
Nala's next amazing stunt was also a bit of a surprise.
Since the guys had taught her "leg," which has the dog return to your left side in a beautiful swirling formation, I had been using the cue. I didn't want to waste the hard work they had put in. I wasn't really using the word though as they had said it wasn't down pat yet and also because I hadn't been the one to teach it to her. She may not have known how to generalise the cue to me yet. So, all I would do was pat my left leg and wait for her to swivel into position. Most times it worked on the first pat.
Again, my curiosity got the best of me as I was still rushing about, getting ready to go out with Kim and August. I was standing in our upstairs hallway which is a bit narrow. it was a place that could potentially force Nala into the position that I wanted. Perhaps "force is the wrong word. The wall would be more of a guide. She wasn't wearing her leash so I checked her position by touching her head. I pretended like  I was just petting her. I've learned from Hermione that touching them too much to "check" can turn into them figuring out you can't see them; better to disguise it as an ear scratch.
Nala was standing facing me; perfect. I stepped to move my right side as close to the opposite wall as possible in order to give her as much room as I could; still thinking the left wall would serve as  a guide   i patted my left leg and waited. She didn't move. I patted again, but this time used the cue,
"leg" I asked her.
Slowly but surely she took a few steps forward, did a little pivot and swung into a beautiful heel" position.
We had a party.
Not only had she [performed  the cue perfectly, but she had done it leash free. I really am so lucky to have a dog who is so willing to learn and who loves working. I'm also lucky that I have some great dog trainers who took the time to teach her "leg" for me.
Our outing with August and Kim was great. Poor August was beside himself with Nala's beauty. He was just smitten, but he tried hard to do what Kim asked him to do. Whenever the opportunity arose to have Nala do "leg" I asked her in order  to try and reinforce the cue.
Both dogs worked well considering how busy the mall was. August was a bit enthusiastic and struggled with loose leash walking, but I think it's because he is a teenage boy who is smitten. His sit/down/stays were all beautiful and he did let Kim know at one point that he had to go out to "park." What a good boy. His "leave it" is spot on too when he needed reminding. Kim stayed on him and one circuit of the busy mall was enough for all of us. We settled in for our usual coffee chat and both dogs settled in under the table quite nicely.
It was a pretty impressive day all around.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Pancakes and Puppies

There is no better way to spend an evening than with Leader Dog puppies in training and eating pancakes. And, that is exactly how last evening went.
Kim picked Nala and I up as she always does and we headed off to cross the Michigan/Ontario border. Kim is currently puppy watching one of the prison raised puppies named august who is a real sweetheart. He is a wee, little Yellow Lab boy who is full of spunk and energy. I love him. He excitedly greeted Nala when she got into the car, but we soon realised that a car riding switch would have to be made.
Spring has sprung and August, who is not fixed yet, thought Nala  was beautiful. He relentlessly barked at her, but she was not interested. We told him to try dinner and some flowers first, but he wasn't taking the message. No amount of us attempting to distract him could get him to stop; not even me pitching a Kong into the back seat. We pulled over and August was put into what we call "the penalty box." August had to ride on the floor at my feet. Realistically this is not bad as it's a position most guide dogs have to get used to riding in anyway. So, it became a training opportunity. Training wasn't really necessary though as he settled nicely at my feet and went to sleep. Our ride thereafter was nice and quiet.
When we arrived at the prison, Kim and I walked both August and Nala to the gates where some of the guys were waiting for us. I handed over Nala's leash with a letter telling them about her and the leash of a four month oldish German Shepherd named Chewie was given to me. I was to take Chewie to the pancake dinner that the local Lion's club was putting on. The Lions are huge supporters of Leader Dogs and so it only made sense to take lots of puppies in training to the fundraising event.
Nala went willing which I knew she would. She knows the guys and knows that visiting means fun training. In my letter I had asked the guys to teach her "legs" which is basically a "finish left  cue in obedience. I had a few other things, but we really didn't leave her for that long. So, "legs" was a good start.
Chewie tried to get to his raiser who was relieving Nala as I waited for other people to collect their puppies. He was very concerned that his raiser was on the other side of the fence and he was not. He tried to use his might Shepherdy strength to drag me to his raiser, but thankfully, he's only 40 plus pounds right now; which is actually enormous for a wee puppy. However, it meant that I wasn't going for a ride. He wasn't interested in listening to me. So, I used my happy puppy voice just to get him used to me.
Kim was taking Bravo to the dinner, the Golden Retriever  that stayed at my house for  few days a while back. Another woman who was interested in taking puppies out was taking August since he is a smaller fellow. Puppies exchanged, we headed out.
Kim and I had a conversation in the car before getting to the prison. I told her that I'd never done something like this before, that I was a horrible cane user and that if this didn't work that she should be completely honest. We were winging it. We would never do it again if it was awful. I had left my cane in the car and so I put my right hand on Kim's right shoulder and followed her back to the car. It actually worked in keeping Chewie from taking off on his leash. He is a very enthusiastic walker. We got into the car, Bravo in the back and Chewie in the "penalty box" even though he hadn't been a bad boy. I just wanted to smoosh him as much as possible while I could. I love German Shepherds.
We arrived at pancake dinner place with no incidents. We reassumed our makeshift guiding position and I tucked my cane under my arm, just in case. I wasn't entirely sure I'd use it. I could hear a lot of people talking as we approached the doors and white canes and large crowds really don't mix; especially if you are a terrible cane user like me. As we got closer to the door, an outside puppy raiser was standing talking to others and Chewie began barking at his dog; or maybe him, I'm not sure. I let go of Kim's shoulder and took a few steps back to where Chewie stopped barking. I treated him, had him sit and waited. Then, I tried a few steps closer again. As soon as he started barking I stopped and waited; treated for him being quiet. This took a few minutes, but eventually I could walk right up to the man and his Lab puppy and Chewie was no longer interested. I was happy to see that when we left the building later and happened across the same guy and his puppy Chewie didn't even look at her. Good job, my big eared, little dude.
I was interested how things would go once inside. There were tons of people, much noise and someone was playing the piano. Chewie was excited and a little heavy on the leash, but he was easy to get back to me. It took a lot of work and vigilance. It was a good glimpse into what puppy raisers go through when out with their puppies. I was sweating by the time we made our way through the crowd, Kim carrying two plates of pancakes and sausages and walking Bravo. Talented woman. The guy at the drinks table was kind enough to bring our drinks to the table for us. The food was so good that I asked Kim for seconds. She left Bravo since i told her that she could. It would be easier for her; especially since it seemed to have gotten busier.
Everyone was quite well behaved. Chewie blew my mind. He stayed under the table for the most part and was quick to hop back under if he decided to venture out. He learned very quickly that I was the lady with the kibble and relaxed nicely between my feet. It was impressive since it was so noisy and so busy. So many people walked by and he kept his nose ot himself. A child even stopped to pet Bravo and Chewie stayed quietly at my feet. again, good boy.
I only managed a few more sausages and another hash brown off of my second plate. I think I stuffed a feeww more mouthfuls of pancake in too, but there was no way I could finish another plate. Upon finishing our food, Kim and I walked the two boys the parameter of the gym to talk to people about them and where they were being raised. Chewie sat every time I stopped walking, sometimes needing a reminder, but always holding his sit. Then, at home time.
We had an accident in the front hall where August went number two. The puppy raiser walking him couldn't get him out fast enough. The funny thing is that I thought it was Chewie. once we hit the carpet in the hall, Chewie started walking strangely and then I smelled poop. I nearly died. How could i have not noticed that he had to go, but as I reached down to check his bum position I realised that it wasn't him. He was walking strangely because he loves to eat dirt and there was so much on the floor from people coming in and out that he thought he had a free buffet. A few "legs" and "sits" later with kibble and he didn't care about the dirt covered carpet anymore. Kim promptly set to work cleaning up August's accident since she is super prepared with her puppy clean up bag and we were off again. Chewie and I practiced "touch" in the car. He would hit my palm with his nose whenever I presented it to him and asked him to touch. At one point he thought I wasn't getting the kibble out fast enough because he touched and then whacked my arm with his paw to remind me he was there.
Our time came to an end too quickly. We drove back to the prison and I reluctantly relinquished his leash. However, I soon got Nala back and I was so happy to see her.
chewie's puppy raiser asked me how he did and I shouted "I want him!" over the fence. Someone reminded me that Nala could hear so I said that I could have both. I briefly filled Chewie's raisers in on how he did and another guy told Kim about how Nala did. they had even written me a note about her stay.
Kim and I said our good-byes and headed   out again. We stopped at a coffee shop to read the note and talk about the evening. Nala and august both were exhausted and slept like rocks while we consumed buckets of coffee.
According to the note, Nala  learned legs quite quickly. It wasn't perfected yet, but she was getting it. I was told to bring her back soon which was under scored for emphasis, so that they could polish her for me. They also informed me that Nala had shown her true colours and had humped the Giant and Gorgeous; Drumand a Golden Retriever I blogged about a while back. She seems to have a problem with this; humping most male dogs. Oh, Nala. that was rude.
The guys also said in their note that they had skipped dinner to train Nala. I feel like I owe them a pizza! I haven't tried Legs yet today, but I'm about to head out and will work on it with her. No point in wasting their hard work. I cant' thank them enough for working with Nala, and the note that they sent was so funny. I gave it to Kim to keep in her binder of letters that she keeps from them. I didn't want a certain Spaniel to shred it at our house.
The best news is that Kim didn't think it went badly. Our  our "winging it" went well and we'll be taking puppies out again together.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Happy Birthday Mr. K

Yesterday was Mr. K's birthday. He said he didn't want a party so we didn't have one, but we did do a little celebrating.
We went out in the morning with Mom and Kim for breakfast. I picked a little cafe, but upon arrival and Mr. K reviewing the menu, it was evident that he wasn't going to eat anything there. There wasn't any meat! I should know my hubby better than that.
So, us girls finished our coffee and tried a second location with much better results. we were all very stuffed after consuming our breakfasts and more coffee.
After breakfast, Mom and I went for a walk with Hermione and Otis and then I snuck off to pick up Mr. K's cake. What is a birthday without cake? He loves ice cream cake so I got an Oreo cake from Dairy Queen. Oh, my goodness is it ever tasty. The rest of the afternoon was pretty quiet, but around 7 Tenie and her little sister arrived to pick us up to go out to dinner.
Originally, I had been wearing jeans and a nice top, but Tenie and her Mom both told me that I was to be wearing a dress. So, I had a few panicked moments, digging in my closet for something more appropriate. When we moved from Scotland back to Canada I can't tell you how much clothing we both left behind. A lot of my nicer "going out" clothes and fancy shoes were sacrificed for more practical, every day stuff. It was slightly painful, but really, I told myself that it was just stuff. I didn't know if I had anything to wear. However, after some rummaging I found a white dress I haven't even had the chance to wear before and my mini crisis was averted.
Dinner was fabulous. We went to a restaurant none of us had been to before and it surely didn't disappoint. The food was amazing and we all struggled to make a selection since there were so many yummy sounding options. Just when we thought we had decided, the server told us about more "featured" options available that night. There were eight of us in total and it took a minute to decide, but we finally all figured it out. There was much ordering of steak or seafood, but a pasta dish called "Chicken Supreme" caught my attention. I also had their featured drink of the night and then a glass of white wine that was from New Zealand. It was Heavenly, but when I heard what the price tag on the small glass was later in the evening, I nearly fell off my chair.
Twelve dollars?! Yikes!
Mr. K had steak and crab with some locally brewed beer. He also had ordered a smoked platter to start that had all kinds of tasty meat on it, like duck and salmon. It was so good we both said we'd go back to eat just that platter by itself.
By the end of the evening, we were all very full and felt as though we had certainly gotten our money's worth. That said, that restaurant is most definitely a special occasion kind of place; at least while we're both still on a student's budget. :)
Have you ever noticed that when it's time to celebrate all we do is eat?
Happy birthday, Sir. I hope you had a good B-Day.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

A Lengthy Update

For some reason or another I haven't written in a while. Things have been just happening that are writing worthy, but every time i sat down to write, things just weren't coming out. I'm not sure this blog post is going to be all that eloquent either, but at least I get my update out.
First things' first: Rufio has been neutered. We had considered importing a "wife" for him, but the whole process was getting complicated and we decided that the money should be put somewhere else. So, our handsome man cat is recovering from his surgery. We opted for the laser surgery since it promotes faster healing and I'm glad we spent the extra cash. He is already jumping around and being a silly guy. We think he's still slightly loopy from the drugs, but I'm glad to see he's healing quickly.
In some other big news: I was accepted into a Master of Social Work program at the university where I got my under Grad degree from. I'm really excited. Not only is the program exactly what I've been looking for, but it means we'll be in an area I'm familiar with. Nala and I will be very independent women. ;)  This means another move for us, but this one will be a longer term one. Mr. K has plans of applying to a PhD program in the same area which will take him four years to complete.
We may have a house lined up already, but not totally sure. We found a place, but are still working out the details. We're both really hoping that this house works out. Cross your fingers for us.
Other than that, spring is finally here to stay; I think. I heard a robin this morning and the snow has been melting so fast off of the roof that it sounds like rain. Mom, the dogs and I went for a walk yesterday to enjoy the warmer temperatures and sunshine. We took a former ski trail-the tracks were completely gone. It was gorgeous. We did have a small scare when Nala jumped down a giant snow bank and ended up in some open water. I don't think she knew it was under the snow. Mom pulled her out, but not before Otis had followed Nala down. Mom managed to scoop him up too, resulting in some very wet feet. The water wasn't too deep for Nala, but the snow bank was so soft because of the thaw that she was having troubles climbing back up on to the packed path. Otis on the other hand, nearly gave us a heart attack since Frenchies can't swim. I am so investing in a life jacket for him. Otis promptly went back on leash for his safety. Nala seemed to learn her lesson and stayed closer to us and on the packed trail.
Kim, Kayla, Nala and I had a coffee date. Kim was kind enough to drive me to pick Rufio up from his neutering appointment and then we headed for coffee. We gabbed as usual and then stopped in at a local pet store. It was Roscoe's seventh birthday on Sunday and I wanted to get him a special present. One dog's birthday means presents for everyone because you can't very well buy yummy bones for one dog and not the others.
Happy birthday, handsome Roscoe.
So, that is about it in a nut shell: I'm university bound again, Roscoe turned seven, Rufio was neutered, spring might have finally reached the North and Nala is learning what lies under soft snow.