Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snow Dogs

We're in the midst of the snowiest period in our area in 40 years...It started 10 days ago and hasn't melted yet. And it just keeps coming. Of course, this is new for the dogs. Oh, we've had snow in the yard occasionally, and we've been up in the mountains playing in snow, but most of the time it melts out of the yard within a day or two. And it NEVER gets this deep here at home.

Well, the first few days were fun time -- lots of frolicking and chasing and snuffling through the white powder. Then the layer of ice crusted over the foot of snow, creating an ice rink for Kirby and some alarming post-holing for Baxter and the humans. By the time the ice thinned and another few inches of snow fell, the dogs were back at the playing, getting themselves totally coated in ice balls before returning inside. The only problem was finding a good place to do the business...on this count both dogs seemed to be getting a little annoyed. For Kirby, finding the perfect spot was made all the more difficult by the fact that the snow was deeper than Kirby is tall. So my husband flattened out a few trails and little areas for them.

For the most part, though, it's play time. Baxter sinks into the deep snow, so walking through it is a bit of a chore...still, the cold, crisp air seems to bring forth a whole new set of smells and the quiet of the snowcover, combined with fewer cars on the roads, means the birds and other wildlife are easily heard. I think Bax could stand out there all day...but we don't care to, so it's usually a bit of a chore to convince him it's time to go inside.

Kirby sort of plows his way through the snow as if he were swimming, eating snow all the way. Both dogs really enjoy eating snow and at first I didn't realize just how much water they were getting. One evening Kirby was pestering us to go outside at a time when he doesn't usually have to go (he has this way of wanting to go outside right in the middle of a movie and then goes about a teaspoon...it's just a way to get attention). So when he started his whining and his trips back and forth to the door, we just figured it was the usual. We made him lay down and wait. About an hour later we took him outside and the little guy made it about six inches from the front door and peed on the step. We felt AWFUL. He wasn't kidding. It was a classic case of "crying wolf." But now we know that all that snow-eating has consequences, so we're taking them out a little more often.
This brings me to the subject of brain freeze. Have you ever seen a dog with brain freeze? It's quite hilarious. Baxter tends to get it when chomping on snowballs...suddenly he stops, his eyes have a momentary look of panic and he pulls back his lips to show his teeth. Really handsome, that.

Anyway, this post is really just an excuse to post some cute snow pictures of the dogs. Kirby is sporting a a nice coating of little ice balls each time he goes outside. Baxter's feet become totally encrusted with ice balls and, upon returning inside, Kirby goes about helping him pull them off (the towel doesn't begin to touch it). Unfortunately the recent snow pictures of Baxter didn't turn out so well, so I've included a couple of previous show shots just so he gets equal time.

Such cuteness, eh?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Mutts and Purebreds

Baxter is a purebred. He is elegant and beautiful. Under that scruffy coat, his body has a perfection of proportion, form for function, that is a thing of beauty. He is the product of generations of breeding to achieve a set of unique characteristics that qualify him as an AKC-registered Wirehaired Pointing Griffon. But I still get a bit of pleasure when reading that the man who developed the breed, Mr. Korthals, was cross-breeding various hunting dogs and French farm dogs of unknown origin to get that lovely, scruffy mix of family dog and fearless hunter. It's the scruffy French farm dog -- the ones we've seen countless times roaming around the French countryside -- that give him his charm, I think.

As I've said before, while I recognize that the exercise of determining Kirby's various bloodline components is rather pointless, it is kind of interesting to me. We probably won't learn anything about him that we haven't already figured out in a couple of years with him, but you never know. There is some real value in knowing parentage. For example, when we first brought him into the vet for his puppy vaccinations, the vet told us that he looked like he had dachshund in him, and that dachshunds are more prone to having bad reactions to vaccines. He gave us instructions on symptoms and what to do if we noticed anything strange going on. That was one of the best examples I can think of for knowing something about the parentage of your dog. Fortunately, Kirby's long body shape was as good an indicator as a DNA test at the time.

Still, I think knowing his breed ancestry is mostly just a fun thing. But why? Perhaps it's because I, myself, am a human mutt of sorts. My ancestors came from at least six different European countries. When I travel in Europe, as long as I don't speak English, people seldom guess where I'm from (apparently my accent when speaking French doesn't sound remotely English...but my French isn't good enough to be a native speaker). I've asked people to guess where I'm from, and they usually pick some culturally mixed country like Belgium or Luxembourg or Switzerland.

I did have someone once tell me I look Irish. That's interesting, because Irish is the one bloodline that's closest to the old country (Great Grandpa came to the New World in the mid-1800s vs. the 1600s and 1700s for the rest of my ancestors). One British fellow once told me my nose and mouth look like the people from one specific area in Wales. I'm told the Allens (my maiden name) were originally from Wales, so maybe there's something to it.

Regardless of DNA, I'm a cultural mutt, as many Americans are. My relatives are all so removed from anything "old country" that we don't have traditions like my more purebred friends do. For example, I grew up in northern Iowa. Most of the kids I went to school with were of German or Scandinavian descent (sometimes both). My friends' families used to have exotic food traditions like making krumkake or lefsa or, god-forbid, lutefisk. My family had roast beef and mashed potatoes and apple pie. Nothing wrong with that! But it was just not very exotic. The closest thing to an "old country" tradition in my family was that my mother learned to cook from her grandmother, who was of French-Canadian ancestry and somehow managed to pass on the tradition of cooking with herbs and garlic. This constituted spicy food in our neck of the prairie. We ate really tasty roast beef.

A few years ago I undertook a bit of family history research (which unveiled the French-Canadian mystery of the garlicy food). I wanted to know more about where my ancestors came from. While it has had little influence over my day to day life, I think I just wanted to know something about my own DNA and my own cultural heritage. What I realized is that no matter where my ancestors came from, I will always be culturally an American, as were my parents and grandparents and great-grandparents (except the Irishman), and on and on for several generations before that. Perhaps the fact that my ancestors came over from their respective countries and intermarried with people from other cultures does somehow inform how I am. Perhaps this has stoked my wanderlust, my interest in learning about other cultures. Or maybe it's just fun to know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Is Kirby a Schnorkieshund?

The massive numbers of people (uh huh) who voted on my poll re: whether or not we should have Kirby DNA breed-tested voted unanimously: YES. So I guess we'll be swabbing his little cheeks soon.
Next question is which test is best? The tests I'm currently considering are (the first two have holiday specials ending December 31):

The Canine Heritage Breed Test -- "identifies over 100 breeds" $99.95
DDC Veterinary Animal DNA Services -- "over 60 known dog breeds" and $68.00 plus free shipping. (How much is it worth for those extra 40 breeds?)
Happy Dog DNA -- "62 breeds identified" $54.95 plus free shipping.

I had one previous comment that recommended the DDC. I'd love to know if any of my readers have had experience with these and is willing to venture forth with a recommendation? Visuals for your consideration...

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Bloodline Bingo Redux

Every now and again the subject of "what the heck is Kirby?" comes up. I recently received a comment on one of my earlier posts from someone else who had adopted a puppy that looked like Kirby and wondered if we ever figured out what he is. We see little Kirby look-alikes quite often, and it always makes me wonder if he is he a throw-back to some early black-and-tan terrier...with very old genes that manage to sprout out of lots of breed combinations?

As an adult, Kirby's looks have changed somewhat. His hair is longer, particularly his beard and head furnishings. His coat has turned more gray than black, giving him coloring almost identical to a Yorkshire Terrier. His longer-than-tall body still suggests dachshund or shorty Jack Russell. His tendency to herd us around and his love of playing fetch suggest some herding dog... And that bark sounds identical to any of the half-dozen or so schnauzers in our neighborhood.

Ultimately, it doesn't matter, but it's rather fun to play the guessing game. Still, from time to time I ponder getting one of those canine DNA tests, just to see what it comes back with (and if we're guessing anywhere close to the mark). I ran across the Canine Heritage dog DNA test. The video cracked me up. I'm not sure why. I think it was the expression on some of the dogs' faces. It sort of made me realize how silly the whole idea is. Then again, I've truly enjoyed some of the sillier moments in my life.

If any of my readers have used one of these DNA tests or has one to recommend, I'd love to hear from you.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

French Dogs

As always, we encountered a number of truly handsome canines in France, all of whom made us miss our scruffy guys at home.

This little guy was running around marking his territory at the Basilica of St. Mary Magdalen in Vezelay. The woman walking him said he was a "teckel" (French for dachshund) and he came there every day to make the rounds. He had shorter legs, of course, but the resemblance to Kirby was remarkable.

This sweet black lab greeted us at the Chateau de Commarin. Well, actually, at first she didn't seem quite so sweet. Being November, a tad cool and and outside the visiting hours for the chateau interior, all that was open to us was the surrounding park. We each put our 2 Euros into the automatic turnstyle and entered the grounds. As we approached the gates in front of the chateau a black lab, who had been sitting patiently by the door of the chateau, stood up and began barking at us. She took a few steps forward, lowered her head and gave us a stern warning not to enter into the inner courtyard. Not being certain if she was friendly or not, we kept our distance outside the gate, separated by a moat and a bridge.

Sensing a curiosity in the dog, I said "hello" in French. Suddenly her ears loosened and her tail started wagging. I said "come here" in French and she started trotting toward us. Within minutes she was crossing the bridge and coming over to give us a cautious hello sniff. Once she had sniffed us and decided we were OK, she ran down the trail, jumped up on the wall next to the moat and waited for us to catch up to her. She then proceeded to lead us down the trail, around the chateau, through the sideyard and into the lovely gardens at the back. She checked back occasionally to wag and cheerfully took us around the entire castle grounds before she said her goodbyes and returned to her post in front of the chateau.

I can honestly say, that's the first time I've ever had a tour led by a canine. But she did an excellent job!

This adorable old French bulldog was sitting in the doorway of a little shop in Arles. That face...

Before I continue, I want to say that for years we have enjoyed traveling in France and have come to expect certain things. Sometimes cultural change is hard to take, especially when we want things to be just as we fondly remember them on previous vacations. But in at least a couple of ways, things in Paris are changing for the better. For example, the smoking ban in restaurants and other public buildings is GREAT. We could sit in restaurants and even bars in the evenings without choking on the blue haze. Of course, we had to pass through a cloud of blue smoke on the way in the door, but it was still an improvement not to have the "non-smoking" table a mere three inches from the "smoking" table next door.

People also seem a tad more casual in Paris than they used to be, and this is reflected in their dog behavior -- we noticed this time that the French dogs were, with few exceptions, far more friendly than they used to be. In past trips, particularly in Paris, we always remarked at how aloof the dogs were...no matter which breed, they would walk alongside their owners without ever acknowledging passers-by. Apparently that was the way dogs were trained and expected to behave. Well, on this trip most of the Parisian dogs we passed cheerfully looked up at us, tails wagging. Some even came over to say hello. In our experience, that wouldn't have happened even five years ago...

Another positive thing we noticed was a significant reduction in the amount of dog poop on the sidewalk. Anyone who has spent any time walking around Paris has, at some point, spent some time scraping off the bottom of their shoes... I don't know whether they're just doing a better job of sweeping or if "le pooper scooper" has also made its way to France, but either way, it's an improvement.

Sitting in cafes with dogs curled up under the tables is a very French experience, and it always makes us miss our dogs. Perhaps someday an enlightened airline will allow dogs to be in the cabin with their owners -- not just the teeny under-the-seat variety. We would buy spaces for our dogs to come with us on longer trips if we had the chance, and I have to believe a lot of other folks would as well.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Two Weeks in France...Missing the Dogs

Ok, this time I have a couple of pretty good excuses for taking so long to post here. One, I was in France for a little over two weeks and two, I had jetlag for most of last week and could barely spell my own name let alone blog.

But hey, excuses aside, we had a wonderful vacation in France. We really missed having Baxter and Kirby with us -- but fortunately, we were able to con my brother-in-law and my mom into taking turns dog-sitting/house-sitting the entire time. The dogs missed us, we're told, but I think they got the royal treatment while we were gone.

Of course, we saw a fair number of adorable, scruffy dogs while in France...most passing by too quickly to get a photo (got a couple, which will be shared soon). The French have managed to develop a number of breeds of dog that sport that adorable, unkempt look. Perhaps that's yet another reason I like traveling in France so much (that and the culture, the food and the landscape). Among the dog-related highlights of our trip were:

Spotting a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon in a small Burgundy town.
Meeting a Kirby look-alike at Vezelay (for some reason the wirehaired dachsunds in France have shorter ears than here)
Getting a tour of a castle garden from an adorable black lab (seriously, more on that later).

We had a wonderful time, and if you want to see a few of the photos, you can find our friend Kathleen's pics here. (I didn't bring my camera so must rely on Kathleen's and my husbands photos, the latter of which are still to come...)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Little Off the Ears

I'm sure there's some excellent evolutionary reason for this, but I've noticed that, much like humans, our scruffy dogs have different kinds of hair on their heads than they do on their bodies. On both of our wire-haired guys, the body hair (fur?) stops growing at a certain length and is more course in texture. But the hair on their heads and ears is soft like human hair and it just continues growing until we cut it.

I'm sure that if we had never trimmed Baxter's ears, he'd have chestnut-colored locks down to his knees (I've considered letting them grow just to find out...I think the max we've ever let them go is about 2" below the bottoms of his ears). Baxter's head hair and "bangs" also seem to grow until we cut them (which is usually about the time we either a) can't see his eyes or b) he starts running into furniture -- both of which occur around the same time).

Kirby's ear hair grows similarly long, although because his ears are only half-bent, it mostly forms into little tufts at the tips of his ears that stick out to the side and bob when he trots down the street. Kirby doesn't suffer from the same vision issues as Baxter, but he just looks a lot better with his hair out of his eyes, so his bangs get a trimming now and again too.

Inspired by another Wirehaired Pointing Griffon we met at the dog park yesterday (a cute, oversized female that, based on her size and place of origin, may be one of Baxter's nieces), who had her ears trimmed close and looked very cute, we decided it was time to give Baxter a trim. We trimmed his ears to just below the earline and trimmed the top of his head to stand up more. He looks quite handsome.

While we were at it, we decided to trim Kirby's ears to the length they were when he was a puppy. We trimmed a little off the top of his head, but left the rest of his facial hair and beard alone. Interestingly enough, with the short, trimmed ears and the big beard, Kirby now looks a LOT like a Schnauzer. It really changes the shape of his head to see his little bent ears (they don't bend as perfectly as a purebred Schnauzer -- each ear bends at a slightly different place to give him a charminly asymetrical look...) I kind of miss the little bobbing tufts when he walks, but he's now cute in a different sort of way.

Pictures to come after the forthcoming bath...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sit Up and Take Notice

Kirby is quite the communication stylist. He continues to develop his embouchure and now manages to make quite an excellent "aoo-aoo-aoo" when he is highly motivated to go outside. (We haven't quite gotten him to put a "t" on the end, but hey, it sounds close enough to impress visitors when we tell them our little guy speaks English.)

Kirby's latest development -- which I unfortunately missed today -- involved Kirby positioning himself between my husband and the television and executing a perfect sit-up, without prompting.

Any dog can sit-up, you may say. Thing is, we never really bothered to teach this to Kirby. His idea of a sit up has always been more like a jump-up-and-down-on-the-hind-legs sort of activity. He has seen Baxter attempt to do a sit-up...which, given Baxter's size and legginess, usually ends up being a cute but rather lopsided quick pass at the effort. So for Kirby to just plop down onto his bum and pull up into a steady, perfect sit-up was quite a surprise.

Tonight we tried to get him to do it again, to no avail. Apparently he doesn't do it on request. He did his usual bouncing and when I tried making him sit and pulling him up into a sit-up position, he wouldn't stay there (although when Baxter saw this, he himself executed a real sit-up, with an adorable air of "so there").

We have no idea where Kirby's random sit-up came from or when it will come back. I guess we'll just have to try to watch more television...

Friday, October 17, 2008

Forget Joe the Faux Plumber...Ya Gotta Love the Dog

Photo detail from New York Times

The media circus around "Joe the Plumber" (who turns out not to be a plumber after all) was a thing to behold. But in all the hoopla around this guy's 15 minutes of fame there was a labrador who absolutely charmed me with his genuine inquisitiveness -- perhaps the most genuine thing about the entire episode.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

From Heal to Heel

While Baxter was subjected to obedience training as a youth, little Kirby managed to get a pass. For one thing, he was always so good at mimicking whatever Baxter was doing, he learned most of his commands without a whole lot of effort from us. But the one thing that a good obedience class helps a dog (and their human) learn is how to walk at heel or close on a leash without pulling hard. Of course, whether or not said dog chooses to pay attention to the command is another matter and mostly the fault of the human methinks).

Baxter is fully aware of the command to walk at heel or close. With biscuits in my pocket he's capable of near-perfect execution of any command. (Sans biscuits he prefers just a slight bit of tension on the leash, but he's been pretty good lately.) Of course, no dog is perfect, and with or without biscuits at stake, the sight of a cat running across the street will send Baxter into a lurching frenzy that ends up bringing my shoulder to the brink of dislocation -- thus the Gentle Leader.

Kirby, on the other hand, is smaller and much easier to control, so the pulling has chiefly gone unchecked. He can run full speed out to the end of his leash without so much as dislocating one of my fingers. Over the past 10 months we haven't been walking very long distances, but if we don't put his harness on him and just go with the collar, the gagging, wheezing and constant pull at the leash is even more unnerving. Shame on us for not ever teaching him to walk at heel or at least close (heel is actually a bit unnerving, I find, with a little dog...too close to being under foot).

So today we took advantage of the nice, cool, sunny morning to try to give Kirby a lesson. He is a quick learner. He's so responsive to any sort of harsh tone or movement, the mere act of barking a command along with a quick snap of the leash (no chain collar required) pretty much stopped him in his tracks. It took a few blocks for him to realize these were not just a chain of random jerking events, but once he made the connection, he was really quite good at checking himself when he got a pull going.

I know, this will take consistency and effort on our part to instill the importance of not choking himself every time he's out for a walk, but I think Kirby gets it. Now if big brother Baxter can set a consistently good example, we'll all be having a much better time on those long walks to come.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Gloves are Off

Oh yes, word has come through loud and clear to Baxter that Kirby is now fair game. Yes, Baxter was the first to diagnose Kirby's health a couple of months ago (suddenly, it seemed, Baxter stopped treating Kirby with kid gloves and started treating him more like little brother again -- this actually prompted us to allow Kirby to exercise a bit more), but I think our concern over Kirby's welfare still had put a damper on the chasing and wrestling activity.

No more. I broke up at least three chases around the upstairs today. I actually let them go for a while until the pitch got to a level where I knew there would be tears from somebody...probably me.

Brothers. It's interesting how frequently the behavior of Baxter and Kirby resembles fraternal relations in my husband's family growing up, or so I'm told. In any case, a little part of me is happy to see all the frolicking going on.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Back on the Stairway Again

The stairway gates are open and Kirby now has free run of the stairs again. The little guy is gleeful. Just tonight he started his old game of carrying the orka toy up the stairway landing and dropping it. He then parked himself on the highest point from which he could still see the living room. It was so sweet to look up there and once again see his highness, the little lord of the manor once again.

Of course, even if Kirby's the little lord, Baxter is still the prince. Kirby's imposed lack of free stairway access has also hampered Baxter's ability to sit at his favorite perch, so I'm sure that in no time the two of them will soon be dukeing it out for the high spot.

In the meantime, it's just great to see him so happy to run with abandon. I'm sure the Kirby Derby will have a renaissance as well...

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

It's Official: Kirby is Heartworm-free!!!!!

The vet's office just called to let us know that Kirby's post-treatment heartworm test came back negative, and Baxter's "just in case" retest also came back negative. Needless to say, we are thrilled and relieved and looking forward to taking the baby gates off the stairway! Kirby gets his active life back (we sensed he was feeling good so have let him work into a bit more exercise as it is) and we're out from under that 10-month dark cloud since his diagnosis last December.


Monday, October 06, 2008

The Follow-up Heartworm Tests

Today is the day... Kirby's vet said any time on or after Oct. 6 we'd be clear to have Kirby's 6-month post-treatment retest for heartworm. The vet also wanted to test Baxter again, just to confirm his last negative test.

So we packed 'em into the car (they were very excited) and took them in for their blood tests. We won't get the results until either late today or, most likely, tomorrow. So fingers are firmly crossed here and hoping for the best. It will be so nice to give Kirby back his full, frolicking freedom.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Salty Legs

Let me start off by saying I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, a "runner." I am a person who occasionally feels the urge to exercise at a slightly (slightly) faster pace than power walking. Sometimes it just feels good to, as my dad used to say about old car engines, "blow the cobs out."

This past week involved a couple of days of client meetings accompanied by rich food, so this morning was one of those times a run seemed like a good idea. I started off alone. I'd like to run in the company of others, but it has never quite worked out with my family. My husband is a runner, but he's much too fast for me. He actually runs. I usually do something more akin to interval training (run...walk...run...walk).

I tried running with Baxter a few years ago. Big mistake. He would go for quite a while at a perfect clip, right at my side, just long enough for me to stop thinking "watch the dog, watch the dog." Then suddenly he'd decide to check out that cat on the porch across the street and lunge in front of me. I dare not say what was going through my mind in those slow-motion moments as I sailed head first over Baxter's back toward an up-close experience with the asphalt. After the second time this happened -- the time I ended up in the emergency room getting seven stitches in my chin -- I decided I'd better leave the dog at home.

The nice thing about leaving the dogs at home is the wonderful greeting I get when I return. For them, it's both an opportunity to lavish enthusiastic greetings on one of the alpha dogs AND enjoy a tasty, salty snack (aka licking sweaty legs). It's a feeling I can only describe as being at once soothing and annoying.

Today was a rare day when I actually met up with my husband toward the end of his much longer run. We ran together for a spell (he had the patience to walk up a hill with me) and just having him there at my side boosted my stick-to-it-ness as we ran the last bit home.

On our re-entry, I learned that the alpha male's legs are far tastier than mine. We each got our respective greetings, and as the dogs ran back and forth between us, I got about two licks from each dog before they returned to #1 and attacked him like a pair of off-the-wagon dieters at a smorgasbord. He had to fight them off. It was actually kind of funny to watch.

Maybe when I get to the point that I can run the full route with the alpha male I'll be tasty too. For now, I'll just do what I can and keep a bit more salt to myself.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Pecking Order

My husband and I consider each other equals in the family. There's really no reason for heirarchy, and it's nice. But we live in a canine-inhabited household, and, if you ever wonder where you really stand in your family in terms of rank, get a dog or two.

Just who is the alpha of the pack is pretty obvious in our home. When I come in the door by myself, the dogs rush me and shower me with happy, bouncing, wagging, slobbery greetings. When my husband and I come in the door together, the dogs first rush him with happy, bouncing, wagging slobbery greetings, THEN they come over and lavish me with more of the same. I guess somebody has to be first, and in the dogs' world, that would be alpha male.

This became distinctly more apparent when we were taking care of our friends' dog. Suddenly we had three canines in the house and the new dog immediately understood the order of things. It was as if there were some unwritten rule on the door: "To all canines: When you're here, the big guy with the deep voice is in charge. In his absence, try to mind #2, but just know she's a bit of a pushover. Hide behind her legs when in trouble."

I've read that one reason dogs make such great family companions is because they are pack animals with a strong sense of rank and order. When the humans in the family assume pack leadership and offer up consistent, well communicated rules, the dogs seem happier than ever because they know what's expected of them and where they stand.

Sometimes I look at Baxter when he's sitting there next to me on a hot day, panting, with that giant pink tongue draping loosely over his huge canine teeth and I realize this guy could rip my arm off if he wanted to. But instead he treats me with respect (most of the time) and sweetness and a devotion I often feel I don't deserve. When it's just the two of us, he knows I'm in charge.

But when my husband comes home, the pack order shifts...and my husband becomes the undisputed top dog. Some say dogs give men this position because they have deeper voices and, to a dog, a deep growl has much more authority, whereas a higher pitch -- like the female voice -- is associated with play and affection. I think that's probably some of it in our family. The dogs are much more deferential to him. And let's face it, no matter how low I try to make my voice, I just don't sound as scary when I'm upset about something.

Also, the dogs clearly see the driver's seat as the alpha position in the car. Or Baxter does, anyway. If he's ever left in the car without being behind the gate, he will ALWAYS go and sit behind the steering wheel, even though it's the seat with the least room for him to lay down. It's the power position. And I have to admit, when I get the chance, I defer to the alpha to do the driving. This is not because I'm old fashioned or because I think he's a better driver. I just like being the passenger better than being the driver.

But when it comes to alpha-ness, there's more to it than that. As much as I hate to admit it, my husband does a better job of consistently enforcing the rules. The fact that I sometimes slip up and don't make the dogs mind some rule we set for them means they see me as just a wee bit more of a pushover than the alpha male is. Fair enough.

There are some special advantages to being the cuddly pushover. For example, I always get to find out first when someone wants something. I'm usually the first one to get the unwavering stare, the pawing and, in Kirby's case, the earnest little growly yowling. If I don't respond, they move on to the big guy and work him over. I used to do something similar with my parents when I was a youth.

Even though Baxter and Kirby never get scraps from our dinner plates, and we've taught them not to beg, it hasn't escaped my attention that I'm usually the one they sit next to when we're eating. It's humbling to realize you have been identified as the weakest link. And when we add someone new to the mix, say my mother, the dogs immediately shift their attention to her, hoping that we might forget to tell the visitor about the rules of the house and some tidbit of dinner will make its way down off the plate.

A few years ago we had a guest for Thanksgiving who had two charming habits that Baxter simply adored. 1) She fed her own dogs table scraps as she was eating and had no qualms about maintaining the same practice with other peoples' dogs, and 2) she dropped a lot of crumbs by accident. Baxter didn't leave her side for four hours.

Between the two dogs, pecking order is a constant negotiation. But at least it's clear to them that my husband and I are the top two, and I can live with that.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Hygiene and The Bravery Role Reversal

Brave Baxter and Cautious Kirby have a complete role reversal when it comes to acts of hygiene. Kirby embraces the opportunity to be combed, bathed and tooth-brushed. He actually comes running and requires little or no coaxing to stick with it -- just the closeness to one of the alpha dogs seems enough for him to almost seem like he's enjoying the process.

Baxter, on the other hand, trembles at the mere mention of the word "bath." I'm not exaggerating. In fact, if one of us goes anywhere in proximity to the bathroom and says "Baxter," he'll run for his bed and lay there, visibly trembling, until he's dragged away by the collar.

This morning Baxter's dog breath seemed particularly pungent, so we decided it was time to brush the big guy's teeth. As my husband loaded up the special dog toothbrush with special dog toothpaste, he literally had to fight Kirby off.

Baxter hid under my desk, shaking like a leaf.

I finally wedged my leg behind him and managed to push him out into the open, where my husband sat, waiting with the toothbrush. It was an ordeal. I'm not sure Baxter's breath smells any better -- he hasn't even tried panting at me since the brushing... Hey, maybe we're onto something else here!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Bravery, Bluster and Territorial Expansion

Baxter has always been brave in the face of uncertainty. He faces whatever life throws at him with the unflappability and curiosity of a gun dog. When he sees a new person standing in the yard or walking toward him on the street, he walks right up to them quietly...not in a particularly waggy, friendly way, but rather in the spirit of investigation. When there's a loud noise, Baxter runs toward it -- whether it be thunder, a gun shot in the woods or me dropping a kitchen utensil. When we're in a new place, he's an intrepid explorer, running ahead of the pack (as far as we'll let him go), sticking his nose into every nook and cranny. Whenever a box is opened or a bag is unzipped, Baxter is there with his nose right in it. And, as I've mentioned before, every single birthday gift and holiday package we've sent over the past nine years has had Baxter nose hair stuck to the scotch tape.

Kirby is a whole different animal. Frequently, when we open the door to go outside, he exits the house with a deep woof, as if to tell the world "I'm Kirby, I'm tough and I just wanted to let you all know I've arrived." Yet, when he is surprised by a new person in the yard or a neighbor coming out their door, his first reaction is an alarm bark. Any loud noises at all (even just a loud clank of a spoon in an empty bowl) send Kirby under the sofa. If it's thundering outside, we literally have to drag him out from under the furniture to go out and do his business. He'd rather burst than go where the noise is. And I certainly don't have to tell you the reaction when the local air show a couple of weeks ago brought in some fighter planes who made their big turns over our house.

Given these very different approaches to the world, Brave Baxter and Cautious Kirby have very different approaches to going for a walk. Baxter will go anywhere and will pull you there, even if he doesn't know where he's going. Kirby, on the other hand, has definite territorial boundaries. Inside the boundaries he confidently pulls, runs, jumps and frolics as much as a dog can on the end of a leash. He's taken to marking the local trees and light posts and knows all the best sniffing spots. But once you cross his invisible territorial line, he's a different dog. We practically have to drag him down the street. He won't sniff, won't do his business and every passing thing, be it a person, car or squirrel, causes him to hide behind my legs.

So now I've taken to expanding Kirby's horizons -- trying new directions. Today, as Baxter was pulling me forward and Kirby was pulling me backward, I decided to put Baxter's leash through the loop of Kirby's, so I just held Baxter and all of Kirby's backpaddling balanced Baxter's forward lunging. It actually worked for a couple of blocks, enough so that Kirby and Baxter eventually ended up walking side by side gently in front of me.
We may be onto something here...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Dog Days

Nice article and video in the NY Times... what better way to illustrate the dog days of summer than with dogs?

Though I must add that our 100+ degree days seemed a distant memory as I donned a RAIN COAT to go to work today... Ok, the thunder the other night was cool and the rain was kind of refreshing. But I can't help feeling like those of us who live in the Pacific Northwest make a sort of deal with Mother Nature: we will put up with the seemingly endless drizzle for nine months, just for the privilege of having a perfect summer. For me, a perfect summer involves rain showers that last a few hours, maybe a day. Then bring on the sunshine. Oh, wait, at this very moment the sun is out AND it's raining. Ahhh, Mother Nature has a sense of humor...

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Time flies. So does inspiration...

My inner blogger has been busy, my outer blogger has not. Over the past couple of weeks I've thought of at least a half dozen dog-related subjects to blog about, but I was never in a good place to write them down. Now, here I sit. Nada. Let it suffice to say, it's been a busy couple of weeks. We've had a surprise canine visitor, a new work schedule and some hot weather to contend with. And out of all this, when I finally find the time and inspiration, will come a few stories.

Just not at the moment.

So instead I'll share another Kirby birthday photo...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Happy 2nd Birthday, Kirby!

Yesterday, July 7, was Kirby's (estimated) 2nd birthday. I say estimated because when we adopted the little guy, they weren't really sure how old he was. Because all the puppies were so small and the mother was relatively so much bigger, I think they assumed the pups to be a bit younger than they actually were. The shelter said 10-11 weeks, but based on Kirby's teeth our vet said he was probably more like 12-14 weeks when we got him.

So we just picked a date around the time we figure Kirby's mother found a safe place on the wilds of a farm somewhere in Northern California to have her litter of little semi-feral puppies.

I'm a proponent of spaying and neutering pets. In the case of Kirby, however, I have to say I'm glad he found his way into the world and graced us with his sweet, bouncy little self.

Monday, June 30, 2008

More Beach, More Friends

We finally got both Baxter and Kirby all bathed and smelling sweet after the last trip to the beach when some dear friends invited us out for another day of frolicking...this time with Baxter's old pal Phoebe, the Portuguese Water Dog.

While we humans enjoyed the company of both local and out-of-town friends, the three dogs had a terrific time chasing balls, retrieving sticks and romping in the surf.

Kirby and Baxter did their usual dismantling of my husband's driftwood beach sculpture (a tradition in our family)...
With Portys and Griffons both supposedly having retrieving talents in their bloodlines, one would have expected both Phoebe and Baxter to out-fetch Kirby. Well, when everyone saw the ball at the same time, the big dogs definitely got there first. But we couldn't help laughing on a few occasions when Baxter and Phoebe did their usual anticipatory run-out-in-front-to-get-a-head-start-on-the-ball routines only to be surprised when the the ball was thrown in a different direction.

Kirby, on the other hand, waited to see what direction the ball was thrown in, THEN he started after it, got a significant lead and proudly beat the big dogs to it. And Kirby actually brought the ball back to us so we could throw it again. More evidence of that collie/shepherd blood in there somewhere.

To Phoebe's credit, she probably did more fetching than any of them. She has no fear of the incoming surf and LOVES to go out in the water to get the ball. Interestingly enough, our friends tell us Phoebe doesn't like to swim in lakes or rivers. Bax is just the opposite. He doesn't like the surf and only enters it up to his knees, and that begrudgingly. But give him a lake or river and he's diving in after anything we throw. Kirby doesn't much like water anywhere except when he's thirsty or getting a warm bath at home (which, oddly enough, Baxter hates...near-frozen snow melt is fine, warm bath at home brings on fits and shakes).

Go figure. Dog psyches. In any case, everyone had a fantastic time out there once again.

Beach Photo - 20 June 2008

I love this photo from our previous trip to the coast...Kirby got to the stick first, but Baxter caught up fast...

Friday, June 27, 2008

Welcome to Reverse Peristalsis Week

We've used up an inordinate amount of paper towel this week cleaning up after our dogs' gravity-defying acts. The thing that amazes me is just how long something can stay inside of a dog before the stomach decides to toss it back where it came from.

Case in point: seaweed. Day before yesterday, a good four days after having returned from the coast, Baxter approached me with a very hang-dog look. He stood drooping in front of his empty food bowl and proceeded to urp up a several nearly-intact pieces of seaweed. It took about three tries on Baxter's part (and about 12 paper towels on my part...apologies to the trees but I just couldn't use one of my good kitchen towels on it) to get it all handled. I guess Baxter will never be a) a vegetarian or b) Japanese.

Not to be outdone, Kirby gingerly slid beneath my husband's feet at his desk this afternoon and proceeded to choke up a rather substantial hair ball. Kirby hasn't hacked-up a hair ball since his days as a kitten. I guess he's been saving it up. Or maybe it's because he and Baxter are once again engaging in their little wrestling matches and Kirby goes straight for the Griffon moustache hair... Another half-dozen paper towels later, Kirby acts like nothing happened.

Ah, the joys of dog ownership. Apologies again to the trees.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Beach Dogs

We just returned from spending a few days at the coast, blessed by glorious weather and plenty of time for wandering down the beaches, playing fetch with the dogs and reading. We had a great time, the dogs had a great time and, of course, it all went by too fast.

We decided to let Kirby have a wee bit more exercise this time, and I think it was good for his little heart just to have the freedom to frolic on the beach. Kirby learned a few things about coastal fauna (yes, sometimes those little shells in the sand MOVE), and we learned that Kirby has the ability to jump with all four feet simultaneously, at least a yard in the air.

Some of Kirby's mystery ancestry also came through this time... When walking with us off leash he suddenly turned into a little shepherd dog... We couldn't figure out what he was doing at first. I thought he was just frightened and hiding behind our legs. Then I realized that he was, quite methodically, running back and forth behind our heels, from my husband to me to Baxter back to me and back to my husband. He'd circle around the side, pull in close, fade back, cross back over to the other side, etc. We were being HERDED down the beach. Yes, Kirby's mother was some sort of shepherd mix... whether that be German or Australian or what, we're not exactly sure. But our little "terrier" suddenly reminded me an awful lot of my friend's Shetland Sheepdog. I guess Kirby was just doing his part to keep the pack together and fulfill some sort of genetic destiny.

Now, Baxter's a pro at going to the beach and he always approaches it with absolute glee. Among Baxter's favorite beach attractions are:
  • driftwood sticks -- pick it up and look exceedingly eager to play fetch, get someone to throw it, then chase it, grab it, pretend like you're going to bring it back, then run right past the thrower, lay down on the beach 100 yards away and proceed to pulverize it into wood chips before they come and take it away
  • dead birds -- great to roll in, and nothing gets the whole family to come running any quicker
  • salt water -- so delicious and it works like a laxative!
  • dried seaweed encrusted with shells -- crunchy, salty goodness
  • wet dogs -- it's a big, wet, sandy dog party out here
  • freedom -- get that gentle leader off and GO!

And for us, one of the sweet side effects of spending the day romping on the beach is sleeping in the next morning... the sun rises without the dogs, who snore away until well past 8am (a record for Kirby).

More to come...with pictures!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

A Little Too Neighborly

The weather has been glorious for the past couple of days. And, like most Portlanders when the sun finally decides to make a showing, the dogs have been feeling particularly frisky. And I'm just now realizing that the brief bit of freedom we were allowing the dogs on rainy days is now over.

We live at the end of a little alley and the patch of grass just beside our house is fairly private, but it's not fenced. Because we are a ways from the cross street, from time to time we've been letting the boys out into the yard off leash. If we let them out together, they play chase and wrestle (which we're discouraging even more, as Kirby's supposed to keep relatively calm until he gets a clean bill of health from the vet). But if we let them out individually (we always go with them), they're usually very good about trotting out to the yard, doing their business and coming back to the door. Of course, ever since we've been doing this it's pretty much been cool and rainy and I think the boys just didn't want to spend time out there any more than we did.

But now that summer's finally making an appearance, things are different. Time for new rules.

On the first sunny day, Baxter, on his turn out the door, noticed the next door neighbor standing out on his porch and decided to pay a visit. He gave the man a cursory nudge, then noticed that their door was ajar. So he took it upon himself to shove the door open with his head (something he does at home with any door that's ajar) and I caught up to him just as he was about to step inside. The neighbor was a bit surprised and I was a bit embarassed.

"Curious, eh?" the neighbor asked (he's British).

"Oh, you don't know the half of it," I said as I dragged Baxter home by the collar. Baxter seemed disappointed.

Kirby is usually a bit less neighborly than Baxter. Anyone coming out of a door can be cause for alarm and is announced repeatedly until either they or he goes back inside. And Kirby is also usually a bit more focused than Baxter when it comes to yard outings. He never strays very far from the door and he usually runs right back to the door as soon as he's finished.

So, imagine my dismay this afternoon when Kirby, after finishing his business, took off. I was taking care of picking up his business and when I turned around Kirby was gone. I ran up to the back door, which was open, and asked my husband if Kirby had come inside.

"No, I thought he was with you." Egad.

At this point panic set in. Kirby has never been out of our sight (or the sight of a caregiver) since we've owned him. He has never run off and I've come to trust him. I started yelling his name, expecting him to come around the corner of the neighbor's house. Nope. Finally, I hear his little tags jingling in the distance. He has run down the alley, across the street and down the next alley to go and visit a neighbor dog who was out for a walk.

As soon as he heard my voice, he came running back, sheepishly, with his ears and tail down. I didn't want to scold him for coming when called, but I didn't have to. He knew he was a bad boy. Not only did he run, he ran ACROSS A STREET. Ok, it's not exactly a busy street. But after seeing my first dog, Katie, a little cairn terrier, meet her demise being hit by a car on a non-busy street, all sorts of nightmarish thoughts ran through my head. A moving vehicle probably wouldn't see a little dog dashing out from between the parked cars.

So much for the warm, lazy Sunday afternoon. Perfect for visiting with the neighbors. And out of the blue, Kirby decides it's time, at long last, to be neighborly.

I guess this is the price we pay for helping Kirby build his confidence. When we got him he wouldn't go up to anyone and he was afraid of getting out of our sight. Now he usually wags when he sees strangers approaching him and he has, as of today, discovered that when he's off leash, he's in charge.

No more. The days of trust and freedom in the yard are over. And, I have to say, I am a bit sad about it. It isn't just that Kirby endangered himself by running off (thank goodness it all turned out OK). Or that he's now lost the priviledge of romping around the yard unfettered. I'm sad because I've lost something too...my trust that Kirby will stay near me.

I guess if it means that Kirby is finally becoming a normal, friendly, confident little dog, that's not a bad thing. He's just going to have to be a normal, friendly, confident little dog on the end of a leash.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Flush Puppies

Ok, here's an interesting idea...Flush Puppies, flushable doggie poop bags. These guys make it sound like they invented it, but there are other brands out there. Still, it's the first time it has come to my attention, which is hard to believe since dog poop bags are such vital element of my daily existence.

These, like the others, are made with a plastic film called PVA (poly-vinyl alcohol). I looked it up and everything I find seems to show that it really is water soluble and breaks down with bacteria. Then again, I'm not a scientist, so I'm not sure I totally understand what I'm reading.

Given our experiences with other "making the world better through plastic" issues, they'll probably find something dangerous about it after we've flushed thousands of them down the loo. But I guess the question is, would it be any worse for the environment than tossing your dog's doo in the local creek (a favorite of some of my neighbors, unfortunately) or preserving poop for eternity in a landfill in a normal plastic bag or some-time-less-than-eternity in a "bio-degradable" plastic bag as we do now?

Then there's the back yard dog poo composter...

If you're in a quandry, as I am, the NRDC has published a good overview on the options.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Where's ScruffyDog? Damfino.

They (meaning the blogging experts) say that one of the worst things a blogger can do is to not write regularly in his or her blog. The audience, who comes to expect to see new material, comes to the blog only to see the same post day after day, week after week. And, as time goes by, the audience gradually dwindles to nothing.

I fear ScruffyDog has come to the nothing point. One of my dear readers finally sent me an email asking if I was OK...she hadn't seen any posts in so long, she wondered if I had fallen off the face of the earth.

Sometimes it feels that way. When the pressures of work and life come to a peak, my creative energy seems to get supressed. This is frustrating. Because if there's ever a time when one needs creative juices to flow freely, it's when the pressures of work and life come to a peak. So I conserve my energy, parsing it out to each project until there's very little left for things like blogging or working on that historical novel I've been meaning to start for the past 10 years.

The one thing I do make time for, however, is playing with the dogs. If there's anything in my life that helps to replenish that well of energy it's canine companionship. I'm not really sure why. Perhaps it's because unlike human interaction, which is wonderful but draining on me, dog interaction takes nothing away. Sure, I expend physical energy heeding the call of the dogs' biological needs, trying to coax the poop bag open on a cold morning, wiping eight wet feet, scraping up the wads of dog hair that collect on the carpeted steps. But that's just stuff to do. The time I spend playing, scratching behind ears, rolling around and napping on the floor with Baxter and Kirby comes effortlessly to me. And it regenerates me in a way nothing else can.

So even though I may not always take the time to focus on my dog blog, I always take the time to focus on its subject matter. And that's what matters most.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Baxter's 9th Birthday Picture 4-4-08

A little late getting the image from camera to blog, but here he is...the birthday boy. I can't believe he's nine years old already! And still handsome as ever.

Moose-bear R.I.P.

I was on a conference call. Kirby was being very, very quiet.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Treatment #3 for Kirby, Baxter Tests Negative!

Treatment #3 was about the same as #2 yesterday. Sore bottom on the little guy and he's lethargic, but OK. He seems to find more comfort retreating to his crate instead of sleeping under the desk or out in the open in my office. Going to his crate during the day is a pretty good sign he's not feeling well... But his eyes are bright and he gets up and comes out whenever he hears a stir. I just wish I could make him feel better right now. But if it's like the previous treatments, he should be up and at 'em more by tomorrow.

I'm also very happy (and relieved) to report that Baxter's follow-up heartworm test was NEGATIVE. This is further indication that Kirby most likely came to us from the shelter hosting the heartworms in his system. Not that that's a good thing...it's horrible. And it's not surprising, given that a) Kirby and his siblings ran loose on a farm with no preventative and no vaccines until they were several months old, and b) he came from Northern California, where heartworm is more common than in Oregon. But I've been carrying around more than a little guilt over the fact that I was an imperfect administrator of preventative...missing a month or being late here or there. The vet says it's unusual for one dog to get heartworm and the other not to, particularly given that Baxter is a much older dog, and that's why the vet wanted to retest. Fortunately, the preventative we gave Kirby early on probably killed the larvae and made the adult worms sterile, so he didn't infect too many other mosquitoes.

Anyway, lesson learned. And I still feel bad about missing preventative doses. Honestly, having been a Portland-ite for so long (where there is almost no incidence of heartworm), I didn't realize to what extent that Southern Oregon is in a higher risk category. I didn't develop as rigorous a habit of giving preventative as I should have. And my husband wasn't tracking on it at all, since it was a job I took on. Now both of us are tracking on it, noting the day each month when our guys get preventative and reminding each other -- even though we're now back in the Portland area and it's probably not as critical. I just know I wouldn't want either of our dogs to have to go through this process in the future.

I've also commented previously here that good-natured people who adopted Katrina rescue dogs (50% or more were estimated to be heartworm-positive) sometimes unwittingly spread heartworm to relatively free areas... all it takes is one of the small number of local mosquitoes sucking the blood of a positive dog, then spreading it to countless other dogs. And Portland is full of good-natured dog lovers, so it wouldn't surprise me if that, plus global warming, plus the way these things travel wouldn't result in rising infection rates here. Well, at least our veterinarian has practice.

That said, I'm so glad there is a treatment for heartworm. I grew up in Iowa hearing, at the time, that heartworm was basically a death sentence for the dog -- a slow and painful death sentence. Early treatments were very hard on the dogs and many didn't make it. The new treatment is still risky, but with a 98% success rate, I feel much better about Kirby's odds of getting through this and going on to be a healthy, bouncy, happy little dog.

Now if we can just keep him from bouncing and racing around the house for the next six months, until he gets his follow-up heartworm test, we should be in the clear.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Treatment #2 for Kirby, Test for Baxter

We took Kirby in this morning for the second of his three-shot heartworm treatment. The vet also wanted to retest Baxter for heartworm -- he tested negative in December, but sometimes it takes longer for dogs to test positive and if, per chance, he was exposed last summer, it should be showing up by now. Our fingers are crossed that Baxter will still be negative.

Kirby is a bit lethargic, as he was after his first shot. They give the shot in the deep muscle of the lower back/hip area. Occasionally Kirby will curl around to bite at it, but for the most part he just seems tired. He also has his "panic smell." Kirby had this weird smell when we first got him as a puppy -- some of it is coming from his breath, but some of it just seems to come out of his whole body like a little cloud of stink. Now he gets that smell whenever he's frightened or really stressed. These trips to the vet really bring it on. It usually wears off in a couple of hours...hope so, because he's sleeping beside my desk...

The vet said the first of the three shots is the worst in terms of danger to the dog -- you don't know how they'll react, that's when the majority of the worms die, etc. Because Kirby did so well the first time, he's less worried this time -- but it's not over until it's over and we still need to watch him closely for a while. Restricted exercise continues for a few more months as well...

The vet said it's possible all the worms died after the first shot, but they can't get an accurate test for six months and the protocol says to treat all dogs as if they had a heavy worm load. So it's three shots no matter what. Kirby gets the third shot tomorrow morning. Poor guy, he still has a lump on his hip from the first shot last month, he got the other hip this morning. Not sure where tomorrow's will go...he's out of fresh hips to get shots in.

Thanks to all of you who are following Kirby's progress and who have sent your good wishes. They are most appreciated by all of us!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Yet another Kirby cousin?

No photo this time... As my husband was out for his morning run today, he saw another little dog that looked just like Kenny -- same color and proportions -- walking with a different person. They didn't get a chance to meet, but we'll certainly be keeping our eyes open next time we're in that neighborhood.

Maybe dogs are like cars. Every time I get a new car, or even think about getting a particular model, I suddenly see them EVERYWHERE. Of course, we've had Kirby for well over a year now, but I know my ability to spot shaggy little black-and-tan dogs is definitely more acute.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Meet Kenny, Another "Kirby Cousin"

We made a trip to the natural health pet store today to pick up some more Hawthorn Plus (supplement to help minimize side effects of Kirby's heartworm treatment). While we were there, a women came in with a little dachsund/terrier mix that looked a LOT like Kirby, only with a tad more dachsund blood -- very short legs and slightly longer ears. His name is Kenny and he's about a year old. He came from a shelter in Albany, Oregon.

I immediately thought of Kirby's dog park "cousin" Paco, who came from a shelter in Southern Oregon. Kirby came from a shelter in Northern California. Kenny's owner said she met someone who got a dog from a shelter at the Oregon Coast who looked exactly like Kenny and was about the same age.

Could there be a little, wire-haired, black-and-tan dachsund/terrier Romeo populating the West Coast?

Most likely there are many. I know the black-and-tan color markings are very common across multiple breeds and they often show up in mixed-breeds as well -- probably a very old gene in the canine gene pool.

In any case, little Kenny's tan markings are in all the same places as Kirby's and the dark part of his coat, while a little longer and softer than Kirby's, has the same mix of black and gray. His eyes have the same shape and the same dark intensity as Kirby's and that little black button of a nose is almost identical. And, of course, like Kirby at age one, Kenny wouldn't sit still long enough for me to snap a clear photo with my cell phone camera!

While I strongly believe all dogs should be spayed or neutered unless they are being shown and/or responsibly bred as part of a purebred breeding program, I still can't help but be charmed by the little "serendipity" dogs -- the black-and-tan happy accidents that charm us with their sweet, spunky little personalities and charming good looks.

Speaking of Paco, here's the latest from Cheryl down in Baja. He definitely has the shortest hair of the three...Kirby's a mix of the two. But those eyes and that face...

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Moose are Back

I've been remiss in my mending. This past Christmas Kirby got a soft, little stuffed moose from my mom. It was adorable...tan with a pink tummy, pink antlers, pink nose and pink feet. It had a little squeaker in it's tummy. Kirby was thrilled. For the first 15 minutes or so he ran around the room showing it to everyone and squeaking it to his heart's delight. Then things got quiet. As we were all opening our Christmas gifts and eating cookies, Kirby was busy at work behind our feet. The next time I looked down, the little moose's pink tummy had been completely ripped open and Kirby was chewing on the squeaker. Little Moose lasted less than an hour. Other than the abdominal surgery, Little Moose was in perfect condition, so I stuffed him into a bag and decided I would sew him back up some day.

Baxter, meanwhile, had a big stuffed brown moose (aka "Moose-Bear") -- his favorite brand: Castor and Pollux. Baxter isn't one for squeaking, but whenever he gets a stuffed toy, he enjoys carrying it around, sleeping on it and occasionally ripping out a leg or nose. Of course, now that Kirby's around, Baxter seldom gets any time alone with a toy before Kirby zooms in and steals it. I'm not sure which dog was the culprit this last time, but Moose-Bear also managed to get eviscerated...but the squeaker remained. Moose-Bear went into the mend pile as well.

The mend pile lives in the laundry room, in a bag on top of a hamper. Every now and then I'll find Kirby sitting in the laundry room looking up at it and growling under his breath (it's as if he's willing it to come to him). Finally today I decided to get out the needle and thread and bring a couple of moose back to playing condition again. Little Moose got a tummy tuck...this time sans squeaker. Kirby seemed pleased, but a bit disheartened that no squeaking happened when he bit into the little pink belly. Oh well.

I mended Moose-Bear and handed it to Baxter. Bax got a good 3-4 minutes with it before Kirby realized Baxter had a toy and proceeded to steal it away. I tried to give Little Moose to Baxter, but he refused to even touch it.

I don't know why Baxter doesn't protect his toys...I'm not sure if he thinks Kirby is somehow superior to him or if he just figures it's not worth arguing over. In any case, Kirby is now napping with BOTH of the moose and, so far, their stitches are holding.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Cheese Dogs

Both Baxter and Kirby are getting a bit more cheese lately. Now that we are administering pills and supplements as part of Kirby's treatment, we have hit upon the perfect way to get him to gobble them up...wrap 'em in cheese. He doesn't even bother chewing, the whole mini-cheese-ball goes down in one gulp, no questions asked. The cheese of choice? Tillamook sharp cheddar. It takes a bit of work to get it squishy enough, but it works like a charm.

While all the daily dosage attention is going to Kirby, Baxter stands in the background wearing his best hang-dog expression until he also gets a piece of cheese (sans pill, of course).

Now all I have to do is open the refrigerator door and take out ANYTHING wrapped in plastic. I immediately hear the scrambling of claws on the hardwood and within mere seconds there are two scruffy beggars at my feet.

I'm sure the cult of cheese will continue long after this episode of pill administration is over, and I'll never again open the fridge without four ears going up. Well, up as far as they go anyway.

Monday, March 17, 2008


For the past several nights Baxter and Kirby have been spooning as we sit and watch movies. Each time we haven't had a camera close by, so no visuals yet. Both my husband and I are charmed each time we see the two of them in this peaceful state, Kirby curled up in the warm arc of Baxter's much larger body, both sleeping. Kirby is finally calm enough to stay that way, not giving in to the temptation to chew on Baxter's legs or ears. And Baxter no longer gets up and walks away. The two have made peace. They're family now -- not just by our imposition of a new pack-mate, but by their own decisions to be at ease in each other's company.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

So far, so good!

Kirby seems to be doing well on his meds and herbs and his energy level is pretty much back to normal. As we anticipated, our biggest challenge is making sure he doesn't get overly excited or start jumping (one of his gleeful habits). Interestingly, I think he does sense an increased concern or urgency in our voices when we tell him to stop jumping. He's actually listening and stopping, for the most part, which is really, really helpful.

Baxter seems to sense that something is different. He has been different with Kirby -- sniffing him a lot, tolerating a little more cuddling, accepting when we're paying attention to Kirby. I was away working when my husband took Kirby to the vet on Tuesday, but he said that Baxter was just out of sorts during the hours Kirby was away. And Bax seemed genuinely happy when Kirby came home. Baxter has always been an extremely sensitive dog and I think he knows something is up, probably by the way we're treating Kirby and by whatever different smells and information Kirby is conveying.

The vet put Kirby on a low dose of prednisone to reduce inflammation and I think it is making him a little hungrier. He's now begging for food with much greater intensity and keeps going over to his empty bowl to lick it. Oh well, at least it's really easy to give him his pills -- wrap 'em in pieces of cheese and they go down in one fast gulp!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kirby's Home

Kirby went in this morning for his first heartworm treatment, which consists of a shot of an arsenic-based compound that kills the heartworm. The shot, which was given in his lower back, is painful, I'm told, based on the location. That seems pretty consistent with Kirby's reaction so far -- he keeps biting and licking at the injection site. The vet has him on prednisone for a while, I guess to reduce inflammation.

Other than the injection site irritation, Kirby is a bit low energy, but otherwise OK. He's on strict "no jumping" orders, and so far he hasn't even attempted to leave the ground. He's asleep under my desk.

Now we just wait and watch for any signs of difficult breathing or other reactions. As I've noted before, I'm told the most dangerous part of this is if a worm breaks off and goes through the blood stream it can cause a blockage somewhere. So let's hope those worms hang on until Kirby's body can eliminate them micro-bit by micro-bit.

So far so good.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Tomorrow is Kirby's 1st Treatment

Ok, I'm getting nervous. Tomorrow Kirby goes in for the first of two shots of his heartworm treatment. He's happy and playful as ever today. I'm just doing my best to not think about it. I know he needs lots of positive energy throughout this process and my being nervous won't help. That's not enough to keep the thoughts from running through my mind, however.

The good news is that a veterinarian I know who treated a LOT of heartworm-positive Katrina rescue dogs says she's had great results. She gave us suggestions for some supplements we could give Kirby to help reduce side effects of the treatment. When I went to the pet store to get one of them the gal there said she worked for years as a vet tech and never saw a bad reaction to the treatment.

So I'm hanging my hopes on those positive experiences. The vets in our area don't have much occasion to treat heartworm because it is not common here. But Kirby's vet worked in the Midwest for a number of years, where he did treat a number of cases, so I believe Kirby is in good hands.

Kirby's all bathed and smelling sweet. Today he gets his nail trim (we figured we'd better get the stressful things out of the way before the treatment, because we're supposed to keep him as calm as possible after the treatment). And he's thoroughly enjoying the tug toy we got him last week.

The great thing about dogs is they don't worry the way we humans do. Kirby's positive attitude will carry him through this. I have to believe that. And any of you who read my blog, please send positive thoughts and prayers to Kirby tomorrow and the coming days.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Store Dogs

I met a couple of great store dogs today. I love going into stores and seeing dogs milling about. It immediately puts me at ease and, honestly, it makes me want to give them my business. The first store was a fairly high end furniture store with a black lab curled up on a nice cushion. He looked up with his big brown eyes and when I scratched him under the chin, he rested the weight of his entire head in my hand, just the way Baxter does. I would have loved to give that store some business, but the sectional sofa I admired was about twice as much as I wanted to pay. Still, if I won the lottery tomorrow, I'd probably go buy that sofa from that store.

Next was a beautiful, black dog with long silky hair, this time at a pet store (yes, one would expect to find a dog walking around a pet store). I guessed him to be a Flat-Coated Retriever until he stood up and looked at me with big, droopy, soulful eyes. Big guy. I guessed Newfoundland/black lab. The woman working there said he was a stray, found wandering around the East side of town. They picked him up at the shelter. Breed-wise they had guessed the same thing. In any case, you couldn't find a sweeter, calmer dog. Who could leave a dog like that behind?

Baxter would make a wonderful store dog. I could just see him padding around and napping all day long, occasionally walking up to a shopper to sweetly say hello.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Kirby's New Favorite TV Show

Ok, well, it's sort of a show. I saw an ad for our cable provider's "on demand" channel for the local Humane Society. I figured I'd give it a look... Other than poor sound quality, the little video clips of each dog were really quite sweet and, of course, I wanted to run right down there and bring them all home. (Not until I live on a farm...) The best part was watching Kirby. As soon as the dogs came on, he was riveted to the TV. He stood there, tail wagging, watching the dogs trot around, pant and look sweetly into the camera. I'm amazed at the length of Kirby's attention span when he's watching other dogs on TV. Westminster has a similar effect.

The really funny part came when I pulled up the local "Pet Finder" channel. This one features still pictures of the dogs, as one would see them on the Internet. At first, Kirby showed the same interest as he did for the Humane Society videos. He trotted up to the TV and stood there wagging. But as he realized the big dog on the screen was staring at him, unblinking, unwavering, Kirby got a bit freaked out by the whole thing. He started backing up and barking. The picture changed. He approached. Again, the dog gave him an unyielding stare. Kirby jumped back and started barking again. My husband and I couldn't help but laugh.

We could have sat there enjoying Kirby vs. the threatening Pet Finder TV dogs all evening except it was getting late and we were worried his barking would annoy the neighbors. So we turned off the Pet Finder channel and called it a night.

Interesting sidenote: we found Kirby on Pet Finder. Photo rerun ahead...

Kirby on PetFinder
asking to be adopted

Kirby Last Month
asking to go outside

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Sleep Barking

Baxter is a sleep-barker. Shortly after he falls asleep, the eerie barkfest begins... Because his mouth is closed, it sounds as if he were barking through a pillow. He usually starts off with a string of muffled "broowoowoof" sounds, but at times it can vary from puppy-like whines to haunting howls to deep, intense, growls. These vocalizations are usually followed by some serious foot and leg twitching, as if he were in hot pursuit of something or other.

I think Baxter's sleep-barking is particularly interesting because he so seldom barks during the day. Kirby, on the other hand, is quite prone to letting his feelings be known in an audible way, and he rarely barks in his sleep.

This makes me wonder if the sleep-barking may be a manifestation of Baxter's repressed desire to bark all day long... Does Bax just lay there all day, quietly, when he really feels like cutting loose at every noise like Kirby does? And if we're ever successful at getting Kirby to bark a bit less, will he start sleep-barking more often too?

Monday, February 18, 2008

Labradoodle or Griffon? Labradoodle.

More photos from Cheryl in Baja...

This is Kuma. Cheryl tells me she's a labradoodle who spends a lot of her day in the Sea of Cortez. Given the resemblance to Baxter, the shape of the nose and the lighter hair around the muzzle, I'm thinking she could pass for a Wirehaired Pointing Griffon!

Either way, she makes a lovely addition to the Scruffy Dog photo collection...

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Scruffy Dogs of Baja

Cheryl, our Ashland dog park friend and parent of Nemo and Paco (Kirby's look-alike) spends winters along the beaches of Baja. Occasionally she sends photos that brighten my rainy Portland days and make me ever-so-slightly jealous.
The latest email from Cheryl included a cheerful wag of the finger at my extremely delayed blog updates (I know, I know, work has been NUTS lately and 10 hours/day sitting at a computer is enough). She also included some absolutely charming scruffy dog photos.

This is a little 5 lb. dog named Minnie Me, she's about 5 months old and was rescued from the gas station on the highway. Cheryl tells me that a lot of Mexicans don't want female dogs and they leave them on the road or on beaches where Americans will adopt them. There is an American vet in her town who runs an all-volunteer clinic, and with the aid of another vet from Oregon does a lot of spaying and neutering. People just pay what they can, or not at all.

Chicita is about 2 years old and is a rescue dog. I'm guessing Yorkie mix.

Vaca is less than a year old and is also a rescue.

Boomer is traveling the world with his Dutch parents. He is not a rescue dog. Cheryl tells me he had a lot of fun playing with Paco & Nemo.

More pictures tomorrow!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

grrrrrrrr, I'm such a pushover

A dear friend just sent me an email saying she noticed the last time I wrote in my blog was January 19. She was wondering if I was OK. I had to think about it for a second...well, yes, I'm OK. But I just couldn't fathom that it had been that long. Where does the time go?

Writing in my blog is one of those expendable things. It gets put on the back burner when work or personal things become too intense. And, truly, it shouldn't. It is precisely those times when we most need to be creative, to share, to enjoy our own stories and those of others. Trouble is, all work and no play makes ScruffyDog a dull blogger. And it's been a busy work time.

I guess the dog moments that stand out most to me in the recent past are all related to the dogs telling me it's time to stop doing whatever I'm doing. They need a break from watching me work. Somewhere, down inside, I know I need a break too. I just forget, especially when I have looming deadlines to meet.

But it's not just about taking a break from work...Kirby has developed this cute-but-annoying habit of thinking that the second I sit on the sofa, he needs to go outside. You see, it's OK to take a break, as long as it's a break with the dogs. Breaks that involve, say, eating lunch or sitting down with a cup of coffee and a book or watching TV are not acceptable. Not enough action. I might as well be working, as far as Kirby's concerned.

It's like clockwork. I sit down to relax and moments later I hear this little grrrrrrrr coming from behind me. I ignore it. I hear GRRRRRRRR. Then GRRRRRRR!!!!!!! Soon Kirby's front feet are on my thigh, he's looking me right in the eye. GGGGGGGGGGGROwowowt! (see previous post re: dogs speaking English). If I continue to ignore him, I get a full-on barkfest, complete with ear-piercing, terrier (make that terror) bark that could wake the dead. OK. I give in. Of course, he doesn't really have to do anything. He just wants to go outside and smell the rain and lick the grass and soak up a little Oregon winter.

And I know it will continue because I always end up giving in. "What if he really DOES have to go?" I think to myself. Yeah, right. What a pushover.

Kirby just stuck his little head up through my legs to rest his chin on my lap. grrrrrr. He knows it's time to get off the computer and go out for the late evening trip to the yard. This time I think he's right.


Saturday, January 19, 2008

Big Dog, Tiny Bed

For the first time in either of our dogs' lives, we have a hardwood floor. We have not yet invested in an area rug, so the dogs have been sleeping on the entryway rug, upstairs or on the cool floor. This was fine in warmer months, but now that it's a tad frosty outside, the floor just doesn't seem as comfortable as it used to be.

We took our fleece dog blanket (usually used when traveling) and folded it into a bed for Baxter and we bought another fleece crate pad/bed for Kirby, both of which we put down on the living room floor. This made for some happy evening dog-snoozing and provided a place for them to more quietly chew and drop their toys.

For a while, Baxter and Kirby were keeping to their own beds, and occasionally Kirby would come over to Baxter's and curl up next to him. The other evening, Kirby claimed the big bed first and surrounded himself with all of his toys. Baxter, rather than kicking Kirby out or laying down next to him, went over to Kirby's tiny little bed, turned around three times in progressively smaller circles and curled up so tightly that even his noze and stub of a tail were entirely on the bed. (This picture doesn't even capture how tightly wound Baxter was...at one point his nose was resting on his back legs mere inches from his tail.)

Apparently Baxter decided he liked this rather tight sleeping arrangement, because the next night, unprovoked by Kirby's encroachment on his bed territory, Baxter looked at both beds and decided to sleep on the little one. I thought maybe it was a matter of location, so I switched the location of the big bed and the little bed. Baxter again chose the little bed.

Now, I can't figure out why he would do this, when it requires a tremendous effort for him not to hang over the edges on every side. Perhaps the newer, little bed is softer (although it seems about the same to me). Or perhaps it's just Baxter's way of telling Kirby "I can sleep wherever I darned well please"...?

In any case, it's a pretty funny sight to see...