Smells Left Behind

Today I was going through our coat closet and putting things on our community  message board to try to sell.  I pulled out my old favorite Eddie Bauer parka that I have worn on and off for nearly 20 years. I wore this coat winter after winter to walk my Labrador Babe who passed to the rainbow bridge almost four years ago. I haven’t worn this coat for  few winters because it has been too small. It fits again but I decided to finally let it go.

As I placed the coat on the sofa to take a quick photo, all of a sudden 6 month old Tinkerbell leaped onto the sofa and laid down on it. I had been photographing other pieces of clothes for the last 15 minutes and she had ignored at least 30 other items of clothing. Sniffing the coat thoroughly she then started to roll around on it.

Could she smell the dogs who I walked in years past. I typically only wear my parkas for things like sledding or walking the dogs and we have not reached parka weather in her young life.

This made me think of the first Christmas after my Mom passed away. It had been almost a year since mom died, and I was using her artificial Christmas tree for the first time. I started pulling all of the boxes of Christmas decorations from my storage unit with Dutch and Babe watching and very interested in all of the contents. All of a sudden Dutch started to tremble when I opened the box with the Christmas tree. When I got to mom’s boxes of ornaments Dutch laid down and started to whimper, still shaking. He had been through many Christmases, he had been around trees and ornaments. So what was so different about these boxes?

Could he really smell my mom’s special smell one year after she died? Was his dog nose that incredibly powerful? Is that why he was trembling? Because he was sad? Because he never knew what happened to her? What happened to their life together at their house in Indiana?

I wasn’t sure of the answer, and I didn’t want to ascribe human feelings to Dutch but it sure seemed like that was the trigger to his behavior. It certainly seemed as if he could smell my mom and was thinking about her and his pain from losing her. At least I know I sure was.

I will never know for sure what the dogs are thinking when they smell things. It’s just another one of their remarkable traits that I marvel at on a daily basis, just like they do as they explore the world with those powerful noses.

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National Dog Day

Today is National Dog Day. I was reminded of this on Facebook this morning from the multitude of dog related pages that I like. As I sat watching Jackson and Tinkerbelle play with the giant tennis ball that I picked up last week, letting them wear themselves out before I tried to concentrate on anything more serious than morning TV, I realized that every day is Dog Day in my household because we chose to own dogs.

I often think about the fact that my dogs had no choice in joining our family. And although I shy away from making bold statements that I cannot back up with facts or data, I think I can say that there are very few dogs who pushed their way into a home, held the owners hostage, and forced the humans to tend to their every need. We ask these same dogs who had no say in coming home with us to live in our human world where they must understand our peculiar ways, our much different ways of showing love and affection, and our household rules. How well would we do in this same situation?

It never would have occurred to me to be less than loving to my dogs as I was raised by animal loving parents with our Labrador Retrievers  playing a major part of our family, but going through the last two years of training with Jackson has taught me invaluable lessons about treating him like a dog but loving him like a family member. I have altered my own behavior in ways as simple as the way that I pet him, no longer going over the top of his head but always reaching under his chin for a scratch because a trainer told me that dogs consider it rude to have anyone come over their head. I have  found an inner patience  that goes much further than simply reining in frustration on the outside. One of his peculiar habits is that he steals my possessions when I use the rest room despite the fact that he leaves everything else alone the rest of the day. I realize that this is some sort of game that I must have accidentally reinforced in him. I am still working on how to stop this behavior, but I blame myself not him.

With Tinkerbelle in our lives I am  incredibly patient with her as she learns which are her dog toys and which are contraband items. It is all trial and error. We expect young puppies to realize that the fluffy toy that they are allowed to destroy is different than the fluffy throw pillow that decorates the sofa. Or that the rubber Bumi toy is different than the rubber bottom sneaker that sits by the door. I wonder how many humans would fail a similar test?

In our home, although it is puppy-proofed from dangerous items, we intentionally have left quite a few safe items out and about. If she never steals the shoe, how does she learn that it is a “no” and that the Bumi is a “yes” item? If she never tries to grab the throw pillow, she will never hear the “no” and receive her fluffy snake as a “yes”. It would never be fair to get mad at her over these lessons. After all, she was living happily in her litter of puppies where she knew all the rules; we are the ones who chose for her to enter this new world and change up the rules. I replaced my shoes with her Bumi probably fifty times before she learned but eventually she caught on.

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On National Dog Day my hope is that more owners learn this compassion for their animals. I hope that they learn that their senior dogs cannot help their accidents in the house or that their puppies are still learning. I hope that they learn that their puppies with bad habits probably had some of the habits reinforced by accident with the help of the owners.  I hope that more owners realize that their dogs did not ask to live in their homes. I hope that more owners realize that we owe our dogs great food, fresh water, love, tenderness, compassion, understanding, climate controlled places to live and sleep, proper training, mental and physical exercise, veterinary care, clean bedding, proper bathing, and every other basic need that they depend on us to provide. I hope that they learn deep down that this is their forever dog, not something to purchase or discard on a whim like a pair of shoes. I hope that they learn deep down that this is a living breathing creature and that life is not to be taken lightly for any species. I hope that all dogs receive the love that my sweet babies have from our family.  And I hope that I can continue to make my dogs feel as loved and as happy as they make our family feel every day of our lives, not just on National Dog Day.

The Blue Elephant

When Jax was just a little pup a coworker of mine gave him a small blue elephant squeaky toy. He loved that little toy and it was one of my personal favorites to give to him as a “yes” to the many “no” items that he tried to chew during his first few months.

As he has grown to a big boy of 2 years the little blue elephant has been abandoned in favor of bigger toys that can be tugged harder, and antlers that can withstand his big boy teeth…that is until the elephant made a reappearance tonight.

Jax has a new baby sister. Tink, short for Tinkerbell, is almost ten weeks old and is a mixture of sweetness and spunk. Jax is ecstatic to have a playmate.

Tonight tink was chewing on one of the smaller antlers and Jax was gnawing away at his newest bone. My attention was focused on Tink but I heard Jax abandon his bone and start looking through the toy chest, his doggie tags clinking against the metal bin. I peeked around the corner and watched him take toy after toy out of the bin. He tossed each one on the floor next to him and kept rooting through the vast selection.

Finally he trotted into the family room with the small blue elephant in his mouth. Tink was still chewing on her antler and Jax bent his big beautiful head down and nudged her. He dropped the elephant in front of her. She abandoned her antler and pounced on the elephant in typical puppy fashion, holding the little blue toy in her paws and chewing on it with her sharp little puppy teeth. Jax lowered himself to the floor and watched her as she chewed on the toy for a few minutes before turning his attention back to his bone.

I have lived my entire life with dogs, most of whom were Labradors, and I have seen this sort of compassion once before when my parents brought a new German Shorthaired Pointer puppy home and their yellow Labrador Beau did similar things. Dutch was the puppy at the time and every time he started to get into trouble, Beau would intervene and start a game of bitey face or tug and distract Dutch from the actions that were about to get him into trouble.

Some people claim that dogs are not capable of that sort of complex logic; so how do we explain the rooting through the toy bin for the particular toy that Jax had not played with for so long? The blue elephant has been in the bottom of the toy bin for at least a year. What made Jax get up from his bone, search for the elephant, bring it to Tink? Did he reason that he loved the toy as a puppy, and that Tink was a puppy and would therefore also love the elephant?

After a few minutes Jax left his bone and played a game of tug with Tink, the big dog and the little puppy each taking a tiny bit of fleece between their teeth and pulling back and forth. Jax is gentle when playing tug with her; he pulls Tink a short distance and then walks forward as she “pulls” him back. She is 17 pounds and he is 79. My heart swells at the thought that he lets her win sometimes. Not only is he intelligent, he is compassionate and knows she is just a pup.

If Jax can think through that sort of process, what else can he process? What problems can he solve? What emotions does he have? Most humans already give their dogs way too little credit for their intelligence; I feel blessed that I am not one of them.

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Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust

When you build a life around the love of dogs, when one dog passes there is a gaping hole in your home and your heart. Some people never fill that hole, feeling that they cannot go through the loss again. Others bring a new dog into their home quickly, not as a replacement, but as a source of joy to help fill and smooth the hole. We are of the second variety.

Last week Jackson’s new sister came home. Officially named Shadowmyst Faith, Trust & Pixie Dust, she is our little Tinkerbell, aka Tink.

Tink was born on May 7, 2013, our second puppy from our amazing friend/breeder who is the epitome of responsible and amazing dog breeder. Tink’s mother is Jackson’s aunt and their fathers are from a different breeder but share a relative far back in their line. Here at our house, Jackson and Tinkerbelle have already become a pack of two.

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Tink has been home for ten days. I wish I could see the world from her viewpoint, especially as she has experienced so many new things and revealed so much about her personality.

We had a choice between two females who our breeder thought would be right for us. The other pup was a little more aloof and independent, versus Tink who immediately ran up to us and snuggled up to my husband as if he had known her forever. Then she came to me and snuggled. We were hooked.

Now that she is home Tink is showing a brave and adventuresome side. She is like my husband; she goes all out and puts all of her energy into her chosen activity and then she crashes and naps hard. It took her just a day to figure out that her favorite spot to nap was on my husband’s fleece blanket on the sofa that I made him for Christmas. She is still too small to jump onto the sofa on her own, so when she is sleepy she sits next to the sofa and either gives a little whimper or puts her paws on the side of the sofa. Of course she always gets a lift up; she is too adorable to deny her this napping spot.

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Tink also quickly figured out her mealtime schedule and the routine involved. She eats three times a day and knows that when we grab the dog bowls and open the pantry door that she is moments away from a bowl of holistic Canine Caviar dog food. Both she and Jackson are Canine Caviar dogs from their first mouth of solid food, as well as in-utero through their mother. They also came home from the breeder knowing how to sit and wait for their food. She sits so nicely next to her brother as they both wait for their bowls of organic dry dog food to be placed before them.

jax and tink waiting for breakfast

We have also had puppy swimming lessons in the big human pool, for a few minutes at a time. The moment her feet hit the water she started her dog paddle swimming technique, and now she is swimming the full length of the pool under close supervision of course. She swims from Daddy’s arms to Mommy’s arms and then back again before getting toweled off and making a lap of zoomies around the yard.

Our little Tink is doing a great job learning which items are for her and which are off limits. Since the keys to dog training are patience and repetition we believe in keeping non-hazardous temptations in full reach. I have taken the same shoe away from her a dozen times, replacing it with a deer antler or squeaky toy. Eventually she will learn; moving the shoes doesn’t teach the lesson ,and it is our responsibility to her to teach her the lessons she needs. After all, she had no say in coming home with us, so we owe it to her to show her the ropes around her new home.

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We are head over heels in love with our little girl. Jackson gives four paws up as well. Once again our friend/breeder has blessed us with such a special family member and I cannot wait to share her adventures with you.

Maggie’s Story: Our Aquadog’s Big Sister

In June 2008 our family gathered around our 7-8 year old Basset Hound Maggie with tears streaming down our faces to say goodbye. We were facing a medical issue that we could not afford: a spinal surgery that could exceed $15,000 to fix our beautiful Basset Hound’s paralysis that was being caused by a combination of a bad design of the breed (short legs and long back) and our Maggie’s intense love of jumping.

And then a miracle happened: on what we thought was going to be the last day with our Maggie we received a message from the Purdue University veterinary teaching hospital that they could perform the surgery for a small fraction of the cost of regular canine neurosurgeons. Maggie’s human father, a paramedic/firefighter by trade, did what he did best and rushed our injured loved one to get help in central Indiana.

Maggie came home two weeks later. She had such bad muscle atrophy that she could not walk, but she could hold her bodily functions, which meant we could work with whatever else would come our way.  We were not sure that she would walk again, but we were going to try our hardest, and so would Maggie.

Over the next three months Maggie was on kennel rest, confined to her large crate except for potty breaks. To go outside we put a specially made sling around her rear legs and supported the weight while she used her front legs to propel herself. Her crate was in our main living area so that she would not be alone, and both her human family and her doggie siblings often laid up against her crate as company.  We also performed physical therapy exercises on Maggie four times a day so that we could restore the muscle to her legs.

By the time the first snow fell that year, Maggie was walking again. She had a funny little limp, we blocked our stairs from her and confined her to our first floor, but she was up and chasing bunnies and running with the other dogs by the time Thanksgiving rolled around that year.

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Over the next five years Maggie had an amazing life with us. We had loved her beyond words before her surgery; after surgery she became our little miracle dog. She was still with us because we had not given up, because of Dr. Distajo’s expertise, help and support, and because the amazing neurosurgeon team at Purdue University (her human momma’s alma mater) who had dedicated their lives to learning how to do operations like the one that saved Maggie.

Over the years Maggie’s two doggie siblings went to the Rainbow Bridge and a new puppy came into her life in May 2011. The crazy black Labrador puppy was the last thing she wanted to see bound into her home and upset her world and Maggie made it no secret that she disapproved of him. Within a few weeks, though, she came around and Jackson became her best friend, bringing out a youthfulness in our Maggie that we had not seen for a while.

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Maggie and Jackson enjoyed two years together, racing through the fenced yard, playing tug-o-war, bitey face and other games, with Maggie displaying the energy of a puppy! Jackson seemed to know that she needed to play differently than some dogs; he never tried to roll her over or jump on her back or pull her too much during tug-o-war.

Maggie passed away in April 2013 after a battle with Lymphoma. Her family, particularly her buddy Jackson, misses her terribly. Jackson is lost without his sister and walked through the house whimpering for days after she passed away. From her daily check of the fence perimeter, to her funny little gait, to her love of licking everyone’s ankles, to the smell of her fur when we rubbed our faces up against her shoulder, Maggie was a big presence in our lives. Maggie had been a rescued dog and was maltreated and abandoned by the time she was around two, which is when we rescued her. I think it’s a toss-up to say who was happier that we rescued her and made her our little hound-dog, whether it was Maggie or us who was more grateful…but either way, our lives are forever better for having our sweet little Maggie to love.

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Losing a Best Friend & Starting a Show Career

It is hard to believe that just two years ago we drove down a dirt road in Iowa to pick up our sweet Jackson from our amazing breeder/friend! It seems like Jackson has always been our big goofy dog, smothering us in kisses, wooing us with those big brown eyes, and making us marvel at his antics on a daily basis.

April was a bittersweet month for us. All of our hearts were broken, Jackson’s included, when our senior Basset Hound Maggie suddenly became extremely ill with Lymphoma and passed away.

Maggie had been diagnosed with Lymphoma earlier this year but we did not know how long to expect for the disease to progress. In the end were relieved that she did not suffer long, as the cancer took over literally overnight. Her lymph nodes in her neck were so swollen that we knew it was time to take her to the vet, and we laid on the floor holding her  and stroking her sweet face at the vet’s office while they administered the medicine to send our girl to the Rainbow Bridge.

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Jackson did not understand what happened to Maggie, and I’m not sure he ever will. He had never lived here without her in two years, and the first few days he wandered around the house sniffing everything and whimpering most of the time. He would play half-heartedly and seemed to not even know where to relieve himself outside. Our hearts broke for him as we tried to engage him in games of fetch and tug-o-war.

The last few weeks have been better and Jackson is becoming more himself. We all miss our Maggie very much, and our lives will never be the same. I have started taking Jackson to places he has never gone to before, like for car rides to pick up his human sister from school and to go to the local pet store to pick up his Canine Caviar. He has started to love going for random car rides regardless of the destination, which is not as possible when it means leaving one dog at home to stare sadly out the window.

Jackson also finally participated in his first conformation dog show! After three shows he finally took the Best of Breed first prize ribbon and then placed third in the Best of Group contest in the fourth and final show of the weekend. Believe me, this dog momma was overwhelmed with pride!

Although a local show in the dingy training room of a local dog training school is hardly Madison Square Garden, I was as proud of us as if we’d won Westminster! Although we never took an official conformation training class we had trained in our back yard to stack and gait. Jackson performed beautifully, doing all of the things a dog is supposed to do in the show ring! He is the dog who will goof off and try to pull my arm out of the socket to visit the other dogs, and then become all business in the ring, strutting his stuff like a runway model in fashion week!

More shows lie ahead as well as the addition of a new sister for Jackson. Nobody will ever replace our miss Maggie but Jackson definitely needs a doggie sibling to fill in all of those gaps that we cannot.

 

Aquadog’s Top Five Puppy Training Tips

Right now we are approaching the best years with Jackson. The two year mark is when Labradors start to really get control of their brains but are still young and the fun type of crazy…the nicely trained version of crazy. A few of my friends across the country have tiny new puppies in their home. Every time I see their photos I look at my big strong boy and for a few seconds I miss the days when he was just 15 pounds and I could pick him up. And then I wrap my arms around his strong 75 pound body for a hug and I am happy he’s a big boy now.

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Although we still have some training issues and things where Jackson is not quite perfectly trained I feel so blessed that we had so much help in knowing what, how and why to train him on several key areas. Between our breeder, our veterinarian’s in –house puppy socialization class and our amazing dog training school we have raised a fine young dog. So here are my tips to new puppy owners:

  1. Bite inhibition, bite inhibition, bite inhabitation.  When we bring puppies into our homes at the usual eight weeks old they explore everything with their mouths…including you. Although it can seem cute for a tiny little puppy to nibble on your hand you want to stop this behavior immediately. Puppies tell each other that a sibling has bit them too hard by yelping in pain and removing themselves from their puppy play session. This tells the biting puppy that they went too far. As their human you need to draw the line that any biting is too far. When your cute little sweetheart nips you in play or tries to knaw on your hand make a yelping sound as if you are in pain. Once those razor sharp puppy teeth get some jaw muscles behind them is quite easy to make a sincere yelp of pain! Quickly get up and remove yourself from their play session immediately after yelping.  Eventually they learn that biting humans is not acceptable.
  2. Teach your children how to play with the dog. This was a huge lesson for us and something I did not expect. Every time we looked it seemed as if one of the kids was playing with Jackson with their hands or playing chase with him. Neither is ok! We had to quickly teach the human children that they were encouraging him to bite and that we did not want him to grow up running after people, biting them and jumping on them. We explained time and time again when we corrected their behavior that he was growing to be a large dog, and a jet black one at that. We explained the Black Dog Syndrome in which people tend to fear black dogs. We explained that if he playfully bit a friend of theirs or knocked them down we could have an issue with the parents that could possibly put our beloved Jackson in jeopardy. We taught them that they could pet him, play fetch with him and play tug with his toys, but no waving their hands in front of his face, no wrestling or roughhousing and no games of chase. We let them practice his commands like sit and down, and we involved them with the recall game in which he learned to come to us on command.
  3. Socialize like a starlet. Our veterinarian gave us a list of fifty things that a puppy should experience before a certain age and that we should avoid consoling him when faced with something new and potentially scary. A soothing “oh, puppy, it’s ok” and a hug from Momma would only confirm in his brain that the scary thing was indeed scary and that his reaction was appropriate. Instead we were taught to act like it was the most fun and exciting thing in the world, clapping in joy and exclaiming “good boy, good boy” in our happiest puppy party voices whenever we saw something on the list or something new in his world. I can tell you that I looked like an absolute idiot for a good six months, but today at almost two years old our dog is beautifully socialized, not at all fearful and doesn’t flinch when things like the lawnmower or the motorcycle start or he hears a loud noise. We took the list and found or recreated many of the new experiences.  I stood with the puppy on the leash while my husband started the Harley near  him. I clapped and happily exclaimed  “good boy, yaye, Jax, yaye good boy”. We had our kids and all of their friends ride their skateboards and bikes in front of the puppy. We found an old baby stroller and rolled that around in front of him. We waited for the garbage truck, the UPS man, the garage door. All while jumping up and down exclaiming that he was a good boy and that this was fun and exciting.
  4. Don’t home school. Enroll in at least a basic obedience class. We have done several different levels of training and are about to resume classes to really fine tune his obedience skills. A basic obedience class is not just to make your dog a more pleasant member of human society, but  most of the commands can save a dog’s life in some situations. Sit/stay is essential at the front door. You cannot spend your entire life body blocking your dog to keep them from running out the door. A lost dog can happen in the blink of an eye. You can open the door to deal with the pizza delivery and your dog can bolt from the house and get lost or hit by a car. The off/leave it command is important if you drop something that is toxic to them like a medication or a candy bar or if you drop a glass on the floor. Down will make your life easier at the veterinarian’s office every time you need to weigh them. The best item we learned at obedience school was reliable recall, a word that means that he is to run directly to us as fast as he can and that he will be showered with the most amazing array of treats and toys that a dog has ever seen. I train it periodically now and used it for real when he was nose deep in a yard exploration project and the tornado sirens went off.
  5. Be patient as they explore our world. Our dogs did not ask to live in a human world. They were born, plucked from their mothers at just eight weeks old and brought into a strange house where they know nobody. Be patient. They are not furry humans. I know a lot of people think that I view my dogs the same as humans. The fact of the matter is that I LOVE them like humans but I know that they are dogs. So while they deserve the same excellent treatment that any of my family receives I have to respect that they are dogs for their own benefit. They do not have hands to explore; they must use their mouths. They cannot magically know that a stuffed dog toy and a child’s teddy bear are not the same. They do not know that peeing inside is ok. They do not know that the balls on the Christmas tree are different from their tennis balls. We must teach them, be kind to them, be patient with them, love them, protect them, teach them and communicate with them in a way that they understand.

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