Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Really Hot Dogs

It's toasty warm here today, and by waiting until about 2:00 to go for a walk with the dogs, I ensured we were out at the absolute hottest part of the day. As I mentioned before, Baxter takes the heat pretty well. He's tall and wiry and his tongue, when fully extended can disperse a LOT of heat. Kirby, on the other hand, is mere inches from the ground, a bit broad in the beam and mostly black. He's a heat magnet.

Kirby is usually out in front, vying with Baxter for the lead spot. Today he was walking just a few inches behind my heel. I looked down to see what was going on and I realized he was walking in my shadow. Clever little guy.

So I stopped and asked: "What would you like to do?"

Kirby looked up at me, made a 180-degree turn and started heading for home. Baxter followed along happily.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Kirby the Cuddler?

Some sort of transformation has happened in Kirby. I know, I've covered this before, but the subtle and not-so-subtle changes in this puppy are downright fascinating.

This is true for all puppies, to some extent. We watched Baxter grow from being kind of unfocused as a wee puppy to gonzo as a teenager to the wise, calm fellow he became as an adult. But through it all, he has always been a very affectionate dog. He always wanted to be near us. He still follows me around the house all day long, sleeps with his head on my feet, etc. He doesn't want to be in the yard by himself for very long because he wants to be where we are. He does well when left alone (no separation anxiety), but he also looks to us for guidance most of the time.

Kirby came out of the starting gate with that independence of a terrier. He was an incredibly self-directed puppy. Instead of following me around or coming to my office when I went to work, he seemed perfectly satisfied to play in the other room alone or sleep under the sofa. He considered "come" to be a suggestion rather than a command and things were always on HIS terms. We rather expected him to be a cuddler, but he really seemed uncomfortable being picked up and held for very long. In spite of his small size, which makes it really tempting to hold him in your arms, he would just struggle or try to start chewing on you.

Well, something has changed in the last week. All of a sudden, Kirby is Mr. Affectionate. He now follows Baxter as he follows me around the house. He consistently sleeps at my feet (right now Baxter on the right and Kirby on the left). When we're watching a DVD in the evening, Kirby sleeps with some part of his body touching either my or my husband's feet. And when we lay down on the floor, he comes over and snuggles. I have even caught Kirby and Baxter curling up together for a nap on several occasions. I never thought I would see that happen.

Yesterday he was standing on his hind legs next to my desk chair with his front paws on my leg. As a test, I picked him up and put him in my lap. He just licked me under the chin and snuggled-in as if he would be happy sitting there for a long time.

My husband likes to stretch out on the floor each afternoon for a nap with Baxter. These naps are usually interrupted by Kirby pouncing on top of him (my husband and/or Baxter), walking around on his stomach, chewing on his nose, etc. This usually results in Kirby being banished to my office where he sits looking at the closed door. But the other day Kirby just crawled up and stretched out next to my husband, nuzzled into his side and snuggled. This is new. He did the same thing with me yesterday morning. And he's coming when I call him too.

Oh I don't think he's quite at the mellow stage Baxter has achieved, but Kirby's definitely becoming a more affectionate dog. Perhaps his terrier-ness just manifested itself in the puppy phase and some other lap dog in his lineage is just now coming out. In any case, I'll take it!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Guilt and Grumpy Neighbors

This is my guilt post. First, I feel guilty because I've had a draft sitting in my box for weeks and haven't posted to my blog because I've been too busy working and traveling and doing other things. So here I am posting a couple at once. C'est la vie.

Something has been eating away at me for a few days now and I really debated whether I should even write about it because just the act of writing commits thoughts to memory (both mine and the Internet's), and it's not something I really want to remember. On the other hand, perhaps it's something I could stand to get off my chest...

I'm angry at my neighbor. And I know at least some of my anger springs from the fact that I feel a wee bit guilty.

This is a relatively new neighbor, a couple of blocks down the street, whom I had never met. I was walking Baxter and Kirby past his house and I was walking in the street because I didn't want the dogs to go up on anyone's lawn.

Sidenote: I try to make sure the dogs do #1 in our yard or along a stretch of shoulder on the road, not on peoples' front yards. It's that "do unto others..." thing and I don't particularly appreciate yellow spots on our lawn either. And I always carry bags with me to pick-up #2, no matter where it is. When I walk through the neighborhood I do sometimes allow the dogs to walk and sniff in the parking strip, next to the street. After all, the parking strip is technically city property. And sometimes #2 happens. Out comes the bag.

Well, as noted previously, on this fine day we were walking in the street past this fellow's house when Baxter decided he had to do #2 on the parking strip about 4" from the street. I got out my bag and was in the process of picking it up as the neighbor man came running out of his house to tell me that I should NOT under any circumstances allow my dog on HIS grass. I was dumbfounded. There I stood with two dogs (now standing in the street), a poop bag dangling from my hand and, I'm sure, a look of shock, anger and guilt on my face. I had left no trace of Baxter on the grass (I'm sure a dog would beg to differ, but no human would know).

My second reaction was to blush profusely (something that happens when I'm embarassed or angry, in this case both). All I could think of to say was "Well, the dog had to go. It just happens. I'm sorry, I won't walk my dogs by your house again. And by the way, at least I pick up after my dogs, unlike a lot of people around here!" (OK, I had to add that to make myself feel slightly better.) He replied that I had the right to walk in the street, but just not to allow the dogs on his grass.

I wanted to yell at him. I wanted to accuse him of being a dog-hater. I wanted to say "don't you know this parking strip belongs to the city and I can walk my dogs there if I want to?" I wanted to ask him if he had ever lived in a subdivision before or if he just had some sense that it was his job to enforce his idea of a perverse American Dream where dogs stay in the back yard and are never seen or heard. I wanted to ask him if he always greets his new neighbors this way. Or even suggest that "hello, I'm your new neighbor" might have been a better ice-breaker.

But I didn't say any of those things. I just apologized, excused myself and walked away fuming on the inside. All the rest of the way home, and for the next couple of hours, I kept going over what I should have said. I wanted to tell someone what happened. I wanted someone to tell me that I was right and he was wrong. But somewhere in my mind there was guilt. I had that little voice saying "well, your dog did poop on that guy's grass, and even if it does belong to the city, he's the guy taking care of the grass."

I think that niggling guilt made me feel even angrier. Both at myself and at the grumpy neighbor.

Is it wrong to allow a dog to do his business on someone's property (or the property they tend), even if you pick up all traces? I want to believe it's perfectly ok, but at some level is that an infringement on their space? If someone doesn't have a dog, should they have to deal with the repercussions of my dog having been there (even if microscopic) and then the next dog and the dog after that stopping to smell the invisible evidence and probably depositing their own (which may not be picked up knowing some of our neighbors...) Perhaps it was the less careful dog-walking neighbors who made the guy grumpy and ruined it for the rest of us...

I don't know. But I want to believe that we make certain exceptions in our society for companion animals. Heaven knows we do for cats, who are allowed to roam freely and use our flower beds for litter boxes. For those of us who obey the leash laws or don't live next to a dog park, we pretty much have to walk our dogs to give them exercise. So don't dogs have some rights as companion citizens as well? I like to think that, in a civilized society, we would welcome the presence of dogs, and that as long as owners are responsible and pick up after them, they should be allowed to do what dogs do when out on a walk.

If anyone reading this has thoughts on the subject, I'd love to hear them. Was I wrong to let Baxter make a deposit (with my immediate withdrawal) on grumpy neighbor's parking strip? Should I have kept him off the parking strip altogether or dragged him away mid-effort? Where does my right to have a dog infringe upon grumpy neighbor's right to have pristine turf? And what kind of person could look at Baxter doing what comes naturally and get mad?

All thoughts and ideas welcome...

Discovering Sprinklers

The other morning Kirby startled at a strange noise in our back yard -- the sound of the neighbor's air conditioning unit turning on -- and I suddenly realized that Kirby has yet to experience a summer. The hissing of sprinklers, the sweet and bitter scent of lawns being mowed, the sudden influx of neighborly information from open windows are all new to him. The last time he experienced these things, if at all, he was a newborn. Kirby came of age during the cool, wet days of fall and winter.

Somehow we skipped spring this year. It seems we went straight from the dark, cloudy, cold weather to hot and dry. Much to our chagrin, the grass is growing what seems like inches per day and everyone is turning on their sprinklers once again.

The other day when we went for a walk it was cool, but over the course of the 45 minutes or so we were out on the greenway the temperature must have risen at least 10 degrees. On the last leg of our walk home both of the dogs were dragging. What had started with much enthusiasm and leash-pulling had turned into a mere saunter, tongues dangling long out the sides of their mouths.

Suddenly Baxter's ears went up (well, up as much as a floppy-eared fellow can). It was the hiss of sprinklers. Suddenly the spring was back in his step. Kirby, still lolling behind had no idea what was going on. Baxter lurched forward and practically dragged both Kirby and me around the corner where the sprinklers were going full blast. He lunged for the water, doing his usual bite-and-drink combination and looking extremely happy to have his face completely soaking wet.

Kirby, meanwhile, had no idea what to do. He was a bit startled at first, but seeing Baxter interacting with these strange objects gave him some courage. He stepped forward onto the grass without paying attention to where the sprayers were and got plastered by a jet of water. At first he jumped, then, realizing just how pleasant it was to be soaking wet on a hot day, he started running around in circles getting himself completely soaked.

After that interlude, both dogs happily trotted home with beards (and entire body in Kirby's case) dripping beneath huge dog smiles. Kirby practically danced home with a joyful puppyesque exhuberance.

Next time we pass a sprinkler, I'm going to have to make sure I'm holding tight to the leashes, because I'll have two dogs making a beeline for refreshment.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Entering Doghood

I think Kirby is becoming a dog. Oh, he still has very puppy-ish moments, and if he's anything like Baxter he always will. But there's something different about him lately. Something calmer, more thoughtful. There's a different look in his eye and it has a bit more dog wisdom to it. He's figured out the rules of the house, and while there are still negotiations as to which rules he wants to follow, he clearly knows what the rules are.

Kirby has really developed his own unique personality -- a personality that is more consistent from day to day than it was even a month ago. Puppies (at least the ones I've known) have a carefree, gonzo, experimental quality about them. They try on all sorts of different personalities (angel, hellion, perfect student, fearless hunter, racing lunatic, cuddler, frightened wild thing, vigilent guard puppy, foot-warmer), as if they are looking for the dog they will become someday. I sometimes wonder if the human role in puppy training is really just being a form of input, providing guidance that helps the puppy decide which aspects of the personality are going to stick around for good.

Continuing with that last idea, I think Kirby has decided that his world is a much happier place when he keeps us laughing, when he doesn't force us to clean up his messes, when he's the cuddly puppy more often than the racing lunatic. (Although I have to admit, the Kirby Derby laps around the house usually do keep us laughing, so those aren't going away any time soon.) In short, Kirby is choosing the dog he is going to become, with a bit of our help, and he's forming the personality he will have for the rest of his life. That's a pretty big deal.

The best part is he's becoming a very sweet little dog. Oh, he has some of the wiring of a terrier, no doubt about that, which makes him naturally more talkative, spunky and independent. But he's learning how to temper that to be a more successful member of our family pack. I think Baxter is a big influence on him in this regard. When Kirby's first instinct is to bark at something new, he looks over and sees Baxter quietly pointing and it slows him down a bit. (The only exception is "Mini-Cujo" next door -- when that little dog comes frothing at the fence, Kirby cannot (or will not) let it go without sending more of the same right back. Heaven forbid those two dogs ever actually meet with more than 1" of space to work with...)

Of course the negotiation over who is top dog in the house continues, but now that Kirby's more mature, Baxter is taking the gloves off more and not just letting Kirby get by with things. This is good. I've seen Kirby humbled by Baxter's power more than once. That doesn't stop him from trying again later, but it does give him pause.

Lately I've had a lot more relatively blissful days working quietly in my office with two dogs sleeping at my feet. While I'll always be attracted to the goofy, playful nature of puppies, I have to say it's nice to know the dog Kirby is becoming.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Scruffy in the Pearl

On the way to a meeting yesterday in Portland's Pearl District, my colleague and I stopped for a few minutes to soak up the morning sunshine. Portlanders know how to grab sunshine when they see it, particularly after a long, drizzly winter. As we sat on a park bench sipping our green tea Virtual Buddha tonics (fuel for a brainstorming session), an adorable scruffy dog walked by. It looked rather like someone had crossed Baxter with a Basset Hound. Of course, we had to ask about this beautiful, scruffy, vertically-challenged canine.

Glen of Imaal terrier. Wow. I'd only seen them in pictures and for some reason I had always thought they were smaller, more like a Cairn or Norfolk Terrier. He wasn't very tall, but his larger, longer body, short legs and glorious moustache rather reminded me of a Petit Basset Griffon Vendeen.

His owner was kind enough to let us take a couple of photos, but it was quite apparent that the dog was eager to be on his way, so we said our thank yous and watched as he trotted away with his smiling owner (see above re: sunshine).

A few minutes later, as we headed for our meeting, two Portuguese Water Dogs pranced by and as we went to lunch later, we shared the elevator with a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. It was like "rare AKC breed day" in the Pearl. I guess every day is rather like that in the Pearl, so if you're in Portland and you're into dog-watching, pick a park bench in the Pearl District on a sunny day, sit back and enjoy the parade.