Friday, April 20, 2007

The Mysterious Danglers

As Baxter has grown older his walks have become much more routine. Oh he's eager enough to pull me down the road, but he doesn't react to things like he used to. When Bax was a puppy he was a lot like Kirby, jumping at every bug, bird or bit of paper that flew by. If I kicked a pebble he'd pounce on it. If a pigeon sat on the wire above, he'd gawk at it. Pretty much anything that moved caught his attention.

It's tempting to think that an older dog just isn't noticing things as much. But this isn't the case at all. Rather, I believe Baxter isn't missing a thing. He just has the experience to tell him some things are worth looking at and some things aren't.

This became quite obvious to me when we went for a walk the other day. Same route, same plants, same places where the pigeons sit on the telephone pole. Baxter was just walking along at his usual pace when suddenly something stopped him in his tracks. He froze and looked straight up to where a pair of running shoes was dangling from the high wire. He stood there, absolutely riveted by the sight, for what seemed to me an exceedingly long period of time. I didn't ask him to move, I just waited. He watched as the shoes moved ever so slightly in the wind. Now this was novel.

I realized that Baxter isn't just missing things. He's taking it all in, all of the time. He knows where it's normal to see birds or horses or butterflies flitting around. But when something is truly different, it's worth focusing on.

Today we passed the same spot and once again Baxter's attention focused upward. This time there were three pairs of athletic shoes dangling from the wire. Fascinating.

I wonder how long the shoes will remain up there? And I wonder if they'll keep multiplying? I also wonder how many walks it will take before those, too, blend into Baxter's mental map of the "usual" landscape?

Baxter's in Charge, Mostly

For months now, Baxter has patiently endured the puppy's tireless romping, chomping and wrestling. Sometimes Baxter will play along, getting down on the floor to even-out the playing field. Sometimes Baxter will have enough of it and flip Kirby over and pin him to the floor with a growl. Kirby sometimes takes this as a clue to lay off. Sometimes.

I have to say, Baxter is pretty lenient with Kirby, and it's really not doing Kirby any favors. For example, when Kirby tries to take a toy Baxter is playing with, Baxter usually lets him take it without a fight (there's the occasional growling threat, but Kirby usually prevails with persistence). If Baxter's eating and Kirby decides to try to eat or drink out of Baxter's bowls instead of his own, Baxter usually lets him do so without a fuss.

For months now I have figured that somehow, in Baxter's mind, he was thinking that Kirby outranked him. Or perhaps it's just been a courtesy to the puppy. I don't know. But of late, I'm noticing that Baxter is holding his own a bit more. Baxter is instigating more of the wrestling matches and backyard chases. Sometimes Bax just doesn't let Kirby take his toy. The other night, when Kirby started eating Baxter's food, Baxter went over and started eating Kirby's food, which threw Kirby for a loop. He just didn't know what to do.

As far as I can tell, two things happened that have really started to change things around.

1) Kirby has reached a level of maturity that signals he's no longer a puppy. This means the top-dog position is fairly up for grabs and the gloves come off. The signs: It seems like Kirby has stopped growing (height wise, anyway). While he's still playful, Kirby now has an air of dogness about him. He's a bit more clued-in to what's going on around him. A bit less flighty, a bit more savvy. Baxter senses this, I think.

2) Baxter's finally getting the message that he is special. I read a quote from Jane Smiley in a recent Sunset magazine where she talked about her relationships with horses :

"The nice thing about horses is that you don't have to hide the fact that you love them in different ways. They're not like kids."

I think this is also true for dogs. There's a definite hierarchy in dog society and it's perfectly OK to love dogs in different ways. Kirby is cute and spunky and charming and I love his quirky little personality. But I love Baxter differently. Baxter stole my heart the moment I met him and I've been smitten ever since. He's just special. I don't know how else to put it. People who know Baxter usually agree with me on this point, and to know him is to love him.

Last weekend I took Baxter for a long walk by himself, the way we used to before Kirby came along. That was truly special for both of us, and it's something I haven't done enough during the cold, dark winter mornings when I tend to opt for a trip to the gym. By the time the sun comes up, it's time for me to be at work, so the dogs get a short walk together. (If I don't get my exercise in the morning, I seldom manage to extract myself from work until it's dark again).

Anyway, last weekend there was a spring in Baxter's step I haven't seen in a while. It was like old times. We visited all his favorite spots, met some of his dog friends along the way and came home feeling re-energized for the day. Baxter was the lord of the manor once again, and he made that clear to Kirby in no uncertain terms.

Kirby seems to be taking it in stride. He still tries to get wrestling matches going, but he's more likely to back-off when Baxter gives him a firm "no." And Baxter, once he's decided to prove something to Kirby, is the one who doesn't want to back-off.

The struggle for the #3 and #4 slots in the family pack may go on for life, but one thing is clear: Kirby no longer gets extra credit for being a puppy.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Ok, We're Trusting Again

Sometimes it's easy to take Baxter for granted. He's so constant, so trustworthy. He has his moments, certainly, like when he insists on digging a hole behind the bushes where he knows he's not supposed to go. But for the most part, Baxter is dependable, the kind of dog you can trust.

Kirby is just earning his stripes in the trustworthy department, so allowing him to roam freely while we're home is still an act of faith on our part. Since my last post, however, Kirby has proven himself to be quite trustworthy. I don't know if my semi-hysterical approach to finding the puddle finally got the message across or if that was, indeed, an accident where a well-meaning puppy just accidently let go while ringing the bell. Anyway, that's water under the bridge (so to speak). Kirby has been quite well-behaved ever since. He's ringing the bell, doing his business outside and even going to his crate and staying there to sleep while I'm in the shower -- without my having to close the crate door. That's a big one.

I think he does rise to the occasion most of the time. When we trust him, he works hard to maintain that trust, which is a sign of maturity. I'm not holding my breath...accidents do happen. And it's just like a teenager to seem grown up one day and a child the next. Of late he's been the more mature Kirby and I think all of us (Bax included) are relieved.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Kirby's In the Dog House

No, I'm not talking about architecture. I'm talking about a puppy who decided to nullify my last blog post by having an unannounced accident in front of the back door yesterday evening. Actually it was not entirely unannounced. The little dickens peed first, then rang the bell. When I came running to take him outside, I found a neat, round wet spot in the rug in front of the door. Apparently he figured "better late than never."

These are the moments when I don't know what to do. Dog training experts say that once the deed is over, the puppy doesn't remember having done it, so it does no good to punish them if you didn't catch them in the act. Past experience and family traditions of dog rearing suggest the "grab the puppy and stick his nose down next to it while firmly scolding" method. In this case, it was hard to believe that Kirby had totally forgotten that was his puddle. It was fresh and I came within seconds of hearing the bell.

Kirby seemed pleased that I came, but as soon as I laid eyes on the puddle, he headed under the couch. I opted for the traditional approach...grabbed him, pulled him out and re-introduced him to his own puddle. Kirby knew I was mad. My husband came running when he heard the scolding and shortly Kirby knew he was mad also. I took him outside, he finished going about two drops and then, upon returning, remembered what he had done and ran for the back bedroom. We had to coax him out to reassure him that we still love him and eventually the trauma of the ordeal was over.

Now I'm not sure what would have been the proper reaction in this case. Here we have a 9-month old puppy, supposedly housebroken, able to hold it in motels and other peoples' houses without problems. He had just been outside not long before the incident occurred and had done his business. He peed mere inches from both his bell and the door. But it was on the rug he's had accidents on before (it's been washed and treated with enzymes, though).

Could it be that he somehow got the message that going on that rug is "ok"? Is he smelling the lingering molecules of accidents long past? By not catching him in the act on a couple of occasions and not reacting, could we have sent the wrong message? Are we going to have to move so Kirby won't have an "ok pee spot" in the house? (We're moving anyway, but still...) Or is Kirby just going through that adolescent period where young dogs appear to completely forget what they know and/or they know they're doing something wrong and choose to do it anyway, just because?

I don't know. But our little Kirby is a little teenager in dog years, and he's not yet "grown up." I guess it's back to full supervision in the house. Sigh. So much for milestones.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Arizona Hold 'Em

Our little Kirby demonstrated a new level of maturity on our latest road trip. Perhaps the time sitting in the car (a total of four 10-hour days and two six-hour days on the road in an 11-day timespan) gave him time to contemplate. Perhaps he noticed that the less he whines to stop the car and get out, the faster we get to our destination. Perhaps he was on his best behavior because he was at Grandma's house. Or perhaps his bladder and brain just reached a new level of maturity. I don't know, but I like it.

Kirby quietly rode in the car for hour on end, just like Baxter, in a sort of "travel trance." He didn't get sick once. He didn't have an accident once (not in his crate or anywhere else). He didn't whine when we left him in his crate in a strange place. And he actually spent several hours unsupervised with Baxter one afternoon in my mom's house and there were absolutely no signs of struggle. Kirby and Bax were both asleep in the living room when Mom and I went out into the garage. We got busy going through some boxes and I completely forgot that we never put Kirby into his crate (the usual locale for long periods without supervision). We couldn't hear Kirby ring the bell to go outside, and I didn't realize how much time had passed until I heard a sharp little yap come from the other side of the door to the garage.

In a split second the realization came over me with a hot sweat: I'd left the puppy for hours unsupervised in someone else's house. I pictured a puddle in front of the sliding glass door. I pictured the lamp laying in pieces on the floor (Bax and Kirby had knocked it over once during a chase scene when we were actually IN the house with them). I pictured Mom's oriental rug with a corner shredded. I ran inside. Kirby was rather impatiently waiting for me on the other side of the door. As soon as I entered he ran for the back door and I whisked him out to the back yard. He did his business (that little guy must have been holding a gallon in there) and then happily trotted with me back into the house. Just like a grown-up dog. No puddles. No lamp on the floor. Nothing chewed.

Mom had been telling me to trust Kirby more (after all, it was my parents who first let a youthful Baxter have full run of the house 24-7 while they were pet-sitting). Then again, Baxter never damaged anything that wasn't in his crate and he has been pretty trustworthy since a very young age. It's not that Kirby has ever been a particularly mischievous dog, we just want to make sure he doesn't turn into one when we're not looking. Over the course of his puppyhood thus far Kirby has managed to sink his little teeth into a couple of things that weren't his and he's had the occasional "accident" when he got overly excited and/or we didn't heed the bell soon enough. But that was then and this is now. A lot can happen in a few weeks when it comes to puppy maturity.

In any case, Kirby passed the test. And Baxter gets kudos for being a good puppysitter. We're still not going to let Kirby have the run of the house when we leave the premises (he seems perfectly content to go into his crate when we ask him to), but I do feel better about letting Kirby roam freely with Baxter while I'm in the back office working.

Our little guy is growing up.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hotel Room Dog Hazard: Medications

It's been a long time since we've had a dog who was small enough to fit under the bed and furniture in motel rooms. Of course Kirby, being his curious, terrier-like little self, immediately dives under the bed to explore whenever we come into a new motel room. On the past few trips this has made me nervous and I always try to shoo him out (which only seems to make him more determined). But on two occasions during our current road trip rather alarming things have turned up:

Drugs. No, I'm not talking about finding illegal drugs or anything like that, I mean plain old human, over the counter (or perhaps prescription) pills that people unwittingly drop on the floor in their motel rooms. One morning in Santa Fe we picked up a tiny white pill. It gave me pause. I was glad we found it before the dogs did. What if it had been some heart medication or a tranquilizer, human-sized dose, that could kill a little dog? Or a big dog, for that matter?

This morning, in a motel in California, my husband found an Advil -- with the coating partway licked off -- in Kirby's crate. Apparently Kirby had found it and smuggled it in there. That probably wouldn't have caused him any grave problems, but it once again raised my awareness of the danger lurking in unexpected places.

It's so easy to drop medications. The pills are often tiny, and travelers are more likely to have them stashed in odd places like pockets or in purses instead of their normal medicine cabinets. When someone drops an aspirin or other relatively inexpensive medication, they probably don't make a great deal of effort to look for it or pick it up if it rolled under the bed. And while they definitely hold some of the blame, I don't hold the hotel housekeeping staff entirely responsible either, as it's rather difficult to vacuum every square inch under a King-sized bed in a small motel room.

I don't know what to do about it other than trying to train Kirby not to crawl under the bed. Fat chance. But even if I did, it wouldn't stop him from finding things under the curtains, around that tight corner by the desk, etc. Those tight little spots are easy to miss with a vacuum and easy to find for a nosey puppy.

We were fortunate not to have any trouble this time, but I'm definitely going to let the motel management know about it and do a better job of scanning the floor of motel rooms next time we travel.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Basic Black: Good for eveningwear, not great in the desert

Kirby is not a desert dog. We and the "grandpuppies" are paying a visit to my mom in the desert Southwest. We have, thus far, been blessed with absolutely perfect weather -- blue skies, golden sun and temps in the high 70s to low 80s. Yesterday we had a glorious morning. We went for a hike along a semi-shaded pathway that lead to an absolutely gorgeous area of red rocks. In the shade it was cool enough for long sleeves, but in the sun it was quite warm.

Of course Kirby was extremely excited about all the new sights and smells and things to discover, so he was pulling like crazy (no, we haven't yet taught him leash manners...shame on us...but anyway) and he was wearing himself out. Baxter is an old hand at desert hiking, and despite his tendency to want to stick his nose under rocks (bad idea) he knows how to pace himself pretty well. Kirby had no clue. When we got home Kirby sacked-out for hours.

This morning we went for a walk on the streets in my mom's neighborhood. Kirby took off with great zeal -- after all, it was morning and it was relatively cool and he was on a walk! Well, by the time we got about halfway through, Kirby was dragging. The sun was heating things up a bit and his little blackness was absorbing far too much of it for his taste.

Kirby slowed way down and his tail was dangling limply behind him (he's a tail held high kind of guy). His tongue was hanging out farther than I've ever seen it, and when we got to a little patch of shade he literally dove for it and flopped down the pavement. Baxter, in the meantime, was absolutely fine, as were my mom and I, because it really wasn't that hot and the walk wasn't particularly far. Kirby begged to differ.

Not wanting the little guy to collapse from heat exhaustion, I tried carrying him for a bit. He finally decided that was even worse than walking and struggled to get back down. He managed to make it home in his draggy, hot, hang-dog way.

Needless to say, it was a quiet afternoon at Mom's house. Both dogs slept for hours. Kirby doesn't seem any worse for the wear, but I don't think he's going to head out with quite so much gusto next time.