Sunday, February 25, 2007

Orange Julius

Our neighbors have befriended a big, orange, semi-stray cat whom they have named Julius. I call him a semi-stray because we think the cat actually does belong to one of the other neighbors who just never bothers to feed it or let it in the house. So our cat-loving friends have put out a little basket with blankets and regular food and water for a number of months now.

One of Julius' favorite hang-outs is the top of a rock wall around the outside of our friends' yard. Baxter and I (and now Kirby too) pass this rock wall nearly every day as we go for our walks, and on nice days we often find Julius sunning himself up there. Baxter knows this, so every time we get within eye-shot of the wall, he goes into cat hunting mode -- pulling anxiously on the leash, ears up (as far as they can go) and eyes and nose scanning the area for any sign of feline presence.

Today the rain clouds gave way to a sunbreak and we decided to seize the moment for a short walk on the local greenway trail. My husband took Kirby, I took Baxter and off we went. Our friends were out working in the yard and Baxter anxiously pulled toward them. Suddenly, as if Baxter's wish had come true, there appeared Julius, regally sauntering along the top of the rock wall. Of course, Baxter locked-in on the cat immediately and froze in place, trembling in a near-perfect pointing position as we stood there chatting with our friends.

Kirby seemed pretty clueless about it all until one of our friends picked up the cat. Baxter sat down immediately, as if he had been given a command (maybe he thought if he behaved well they would give him the cat...?) and Kirby, finally realizing there was another living creature there, started to bark.

It struck me yet again how our two dogs take such very different approaches to novel situations. When Baxter encounters something new he immediately locks onto it, goes silent and freezes, watching intently as he tries to figure out what it is. As long as the object of his gaze stands still, Baxter will stand still. If it moves, Baxter might take action: stealthily approach and investigate, walk away or, in the case of cats, lunge and scare the cat away.

Kirby's first reaction to something new is quite the opposite. When something new appears in his field of vision, be it a cat or a person wearing a funny hat or whatever, Kirby immediately starts to bark. I imagine him saying "Hey, I don't know what you are or what you're doing here, but I want you to know that even though I may be little, I'm tough, so don't even think about crossing me, you hear?!" He then usually jumps back and hides behind my legs. Bark first, figure it out later.

In today's case, the Julius was unimpressed by Kirby's bravado. The cat is about the same size as Kirby and Julius knows he could take him. At this point, Kirby doesn't even know it's a cat. But Kirby knows he is a force to be reckoned with...or at least that he's safe when he hides behind our legs.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Brain Freeze and Bell-ringing

We awoke to a winter wonderland this morning. And it wasn't our occasional inch or so of white stuff that melts by noon, this was the real deal. Big, fat snowflakes you could catch on your tongue. And it was heavy...I bet we got at least 5" - 6" of thick, wet snow. The trees were practically bent to the ground and it had that texture that would have been perfect for making snowmen and forts.

Baxter and Kirby certainly enjoyed it, both for romping and dining. After chasing each other around the yard, Baxter and Kirby both settled-in and started eating snow. Crunchy water, what more could you want? But it comes at a cost...I actually saw Baxter get what appeared to be "brain freeze" this morning. He was biting the snow off one of our backyard shrubs and suddenly he stopped. His upper lip curled back and he winced, his teeth gleaming in a pained smile. Of course, he shook it off and kept munching.

Kirby had his moments as well. While Baxter galloped almost effortlessly through the snow, low-rider Kirby had a bit harder time getting around. Those little feet just sank right in and the snow was up to his belly. In order to move around, Kirby either had to plow (tough with such wet snow) or hop like a little black rabbit. He took to hopping. It was pretty funny.

Naturally, the little bell rang on a regular basis most of the day.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Blustery Beach Trip

Some of the most memorable moments of puppy parenthood are when the little one experiences something exciting and new for the very first time. Puppy's first day in his new home, the first trip to the dog park, the first Christmas. We had planned to experience one of these sweet moments on the return leg of our long weekend trip...a stop at the coast for Kirby's first romp on the beach.

As fate (and Oregon coastal winter weather) would have it on the morning we had planned to spend at the beach, it was raining sideways with that kind of wet, salty, sand-filled blustery wind that manages to cut right through Gore-tex. As we sat in our motel room listening to the percussion of rain on the window and watching the trees outside bend to touch the ground, we contemplated just packing up the car and heading for home. But there they stood, both Baxter and Kirby, looking up at us, eagerly awaiting the adventures of the day. How could we let them down?

We pulled out the fleece and the Gore-tex and headed for the beach. The only other people we saw out there were another couple with two dogs of their own. Of course. Who else would be crazy enough to be there on a day like that? They soon left and we had the entire beach to ourselves. Unfazed by the blowing saltwater, Baxter and Kirby took off, running in circles, wrestling, and frolicking about as if it were a warm, sunny morning in August. They both have double-coats...all of which were pretty much caked with wet sand in about two minutes.

We tried to keep our backs to the wind and my husband took a few pictures (quite a challenge given the atmosphere). We stood until we were cold and soaked. The dogs played until they were hot and panting, and after about a half hour we all wandered back to the car.

Tonight, as I look at the pictures, I don't remember the chill of the biting wind as much as I remember the warmth of my heart watching those two dogs having a ball on the beach. It was worth every cold, wet moment.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Squeaky Clean and Scruffy

Because we have dogs who sport a naturally scruffy appearance, they don't require a lot of grooming. Still, after a few weeks of rainy winter weather and muddy trips to the dog park, their scruffiness gets to a point where scruffy becomes grungy and measures must be taken. These measures are, in the minds of our dogs, quite drastic. They involve brushing, combing and a trip to the shower where they're tortured with a warm shower-massage and lightly scented soap.

Kirby, who is still fairly clueless about the process, actually liked being brushed and bathed until he noted that Baxter did not, at which time Kirby decided he did not like the process either. (Why can't Baxter only teach him his good traits?)

Yesterday my husband took on the brave task of dog-washing and I was playing dog-catcher and towel maven. Kirby went in first. When wet, he looks rather like a black-and-tan dachsund with a lift kit. He survived and it was time to catch the big guy.

Baxter is too heavy for me to lift, so I had to physically usher (that is push, pull and shove) him into the chamber of horrors. As usual, this big, hairy dog who leaps with joy into ice-cold mountain lakes stood trembling at the prospect of being gently lathered in a warm, misty shower. When wet, Baxter is still quite handsome, looking rather like one of his sleeker pointing cousins. Once the lather goes on, he resigns himself to his fate. Interestingly enough, Baxter really likes being toweled-off and blow-dried. I've never been able to figure this out. I, however, really dislike using noisy blowdryers, so they mostly dry on their own.

Today we're heading off for a long weekend road trip. The dogs are clean, their beds are washed and their food is packed. They're ready to go. I am sitting here in my PJs without having packed a darned thing and am getting that "any time soon?" look from my husband which suggests that now would be a good time to stop writing and hit the shower myself.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

More Snow Photos

The snow has melted, but the memories of romping in the white stuff are the things dog dreams are made of, I'm sure.
Here are a few more pictures of Kirby's first foray into the winter wonderland that was our back yard a couple of weeks ago. And, just because I love the pictures, a couple of photos of Baxter from another snowy day a couple of years ago.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Kirby is Vertically-challenged

Little Kirby seems to have stopped growing vertically, but he seems to be continuing to grow in other directions...

For a while we were concerned because little Kirby just didn't seem to gain any weight. We brought him home from the shelter at 11 weeks and he weighed just 11 pounds. They estimated his adult size to be 25-35 pounds, so when we took him to the vet for follow-up shots several weeks later we were surprised that he weighed just same. We were feeding him Innova EVO, a high protein, meat-and-vegetable-based food, at the recommended amount for a puppy. We figured we were just more recently accustomed to having a large breed puppy (it seemed like Baxter gained pounds and inches weekly during his first year...)

The growth on a little dog is so much more subtle...we barely noticed how much he had grown until we brought Kirby in for his neuter surgery in December and he weighed sixteen pounds. He was a bit taller, but most of his weight seemed to be in muscle and girth. This week he weighed-in at the veterinarian's office at a whopping 18 pounds. Trouble is, he doesn't appear to have grown any taller since December. Kirby just seems like he's getting more stout.

Ok, to be fair, he has developed a thick winter undercoat, and while it doesn't really contribute to the weight, it does make him look fluffier. Kirby also has a pretty thick frame for a little guy -- sturdy legs, good sized feet for his height and a fairly wide, flared ribcage that makes me wonder if Shih Tzu isn't in his parentage somewhere (we saw a black-and-tan "Shih-Poo" cross today and aside from the longer hair, his shape and markings were almost identical to Kirby's).

That's all well and good, but I seriously hope we're not being ignorant dog-parents know, the "oh our son's just big boned" types. Could it be that our little Kirby is getting pudgy on our watch? He's such an active dog, that's hard to imagine. And he doesn't get table scraps and doesn't particularly even like dog biscuits. He does have a healthy appetite, however, and usually finishes off his food each day.

Kirby's seven months old now, so perhaps it's time to ratchet back the food a wee bit. As a small dog, Kirby just may be done growing already. It seems so strange to think so. Baxter didn't completely fill-out until he was three. And Kirby still has such a puppy face. Maybe he'll always have a puppy face, and maybe we just have to get used to the idea that Kirby will always be a short, sturdy-built little tank of a dog.

As long as he still can squeeze under the furniture, he'll be happy.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Kirby's Dental Adventure - Epilogue

Kirby is no longer the puppy with too many teeth. As of Wednesday afternoon, Kirby is now the proud owner of a normal set of six incisors. We made the trek to the vet's office Wednesday morning, but the tooth didn't come out until mid-afternoon, fortunately just before the power went out in that section of town. He came through with flying colors, but was still pretty groggy when we brought him home. Aside from his adorable cuddliness, he seemed pretty normal.

That evening, as we sat watching a DVD, Kirby went into his "Kirby Derby" mode...but instead of running, he just sauntered, squeaky toy in mouth. It was pretty funny. He did the entire loop several times at a leisurly walking pace, then settled down under the sofa for a nap. But by the next morning he was back to his normal antics, stirring up chases from Baxter, pouncing on his favorite toys, crawling under furniture and chomping on his favorite squeaky toy over and over and over.

It's nice to have him back. And we hope there are no more surprise teeth lurking in that little mouth!

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dogs Would Be Bloggers

I've given some more thought to the dog behavior/Internet use comparison and I think I've found an almost perfect parallel.

If dogs could use the Internet, they would all be bloggers. It's true. It's asynchronous communication at its very best, and dogs are masters of this. Think about it.

Baxter goes out for his morning walk. He checks out all his favorite spots: the post, the tree, the shrub next to the mailbox. With his nose he reads all the messages left there, some by acquaintances, some by random strangers passing by. If it's interesting enough, he leaves his own comments for other friends and strangers to find. If not, he moves on. He proceeds to his favorite spot in the ivy patch where, without fail, he always leaves his daily "post." Later today Shasta down the street will stop at the same places, perhaps some different places, and she might leave a comment for the next passer-by to find.

Blogging is initially a solitary pursuit, but it still relies on other people -- to read it, to appreciate it, to comment on it, to give it value. I enjoy checking out my friends' blogs. Sometimes I leave comments. And I also enjoy finding the occasional new blog written by a perfect stranger who shares something that's of interest to me.

There's something appealing about the idea of putting messages out there to be found by friends as well as strangers. Maybe I'll make a new acquaintance. Maybe someone I don't even know will find what I write and think it's interesting. I get a certain amount of satisfaction from just putting the words out there, but it means more to me when someone acknowledges that they've read it.

For Baxter and Kirby and the millions of other dogs out there who have been, in their own scent-communication way, blogging for millennia, this is a no-brainer.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Kirby's English is Improving

Yesterday was an "a ha" moment kind of day for Kirby. In two totally separate instances, Kirby clearly demonstrated his growing understanding of the English language. Why yesterday? I don't know. But Kirby's had a lot of time to think about things this week.

I've been extremely busy with work from several different clients and a volunteer project that all managed to converge in the same week. For the dogs, this has meant long hours of sitting in my office watching me type things into the computer. Baxter is used to it. He just sits and looks out the window or sleeps. Kirby, with his puppy attention span, finds it all a tad boring. So he's taken to notifying me that he has to go out on a fairly regular basis, only to go a teaspoon each time and then ask again 20 minutes later. And if I forget to bring toys to the office, it's even worse. I can't say that I blame him. The only thing more boring than watching grass grow is watching someone typing into a computer. At least the grass sways in the wind.

Yesterday morning I grabbed my tea and started heading for the office (this usually involves a little parade, as I'm followed in line down the hallway by Baxter and then Kirby). I realized there wasn't anything to amuse Kirby in the office, so I turned to Kirby and I said "Kirby, bring your bone." He stopped, thought for a second (I could almost see the little cogs turning in his head) and suddenly a lightbulb went off and he galloped across the room, picked up his rawhide bone and trotted with us into the office. It was beautiful.

Later, as I was fixing dinner, my husband came into the kitchen to inform me that he just told Kirby "go get your toy" and Kirby went straight to his toy, grabbed it and brought it over.

Was yesterday really a pivotal day in Kirby's understanding of our language? Or has he understood these things for a while and we've been too busy to notice? I sometimes take it for granted that Kirby knows things Baxter knows (Baxter has a pretty large vocabulary of English words). And sometimes I'm surprised when Kirby just knows things we haven't taught to him. Like "drop it" and "leave it." I guess we used these commands enough with Baxter that when we started using them with Kirby he just caught on.

Realizing just how fast Kirby's little brain is picking things up gives me pause. Have I missed any great learning moments? Have we spent enough time training him? I honestly don't think so. Some of it is because of Baxter. He's always there. And when I give Kirby a command, Baxter does what I ask. It's great for the demonstration value, but it also means Kirby doesn't get much 1:1 time with me.

Maybe he doesn't need it. He seems to be picking things up pretty well on his own...