She’s got a ticket to ride

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Cinder’s travel crate arrived this week.  She didn’t take it well.  Having lived a portion of her formative months in the “system,” Cinder is wary of any sort of enclosure.  Before I’d even unpacked the enormous plastic contraption which will serve as her in-flight containment, she’d retreated to the bedroom.  I decided to put the two pieces together so she’d get used to seeing it.  My plan was to buy a bed for the crate, and then over the next month she’d get comfy in there and be totally acclimated by travel time.  I’ve already begun having panic attacks about everything that could go wrong, picturing her alone and frightened in the belly of the plane with only Samsonite and Tumi for companions.

But if I thought I could assuage my guilt by trying to acclimate her early, it took less than a day to see that this plan is not going to work.   Cinder has taken to glaring at me and at the crate from her usual position on the couch.  I’ve begun nonchalantly tossing cheese cubes to the back of the crate to at least get her to go inside, but she’s a wily one.  She manages to put one large weimaraner paw in, then executes an elongated yoga stretch to retrieve the cheese without fully entering the crate.  Not to be outmaneuvered, I’ve tried attaching the cheese to the back wall of the crate.  This too she manages to grab without going in.

So today I took the top portion off and put a blanket inside to see if she might be more interested.  She did walk in and turn around.  Although, I think it was only to make sure she hadn’t left any cheese crumbs behind.  When her bed arrives on Tuesday, we will see if I can get her to lie down in there and eat a pig’s ear.  Those are her favorite, the big guns, which I usually only bring out on bath day!

I’m not holding my breath that this will work, but at least she is getting used to the crate being in the house.  Well, she can’t really avoid it as it takes up half of the living room.

Cinder studiously ignoring her new travel crate

Cinder studiously ignoring her new travel crate

The Truth about Cats and Dogs

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When you stay with someone’s dog, it can be challenging.  You’re sleeping in a strange place, you have to trek back and forth between your home and theirs, and you have an extra animal on the bed so you end up sleeping in uncomfortable contorted positions in order to accommodate everyone.  Those are my concerns.  But Cinder has always had her own.  How to behave when the house you are staying in has a cat, as well as a dog?

Because I’ve been dog sitting for so long, I don’t worry about this stuff much any more.  I have a routine down and the dogs we stay with are like members of my family.  We’re staying with Feather this week.  One of my “Pink Ladies,” Feather is a six year Golden Retriever whom I’ve been walking since she was a puppy.  I know all of her habits, both good and bad.  I know that when I wake up in the morning, she will be sitting on the bed just staring at me with her intense brown eyes, that she will find it necessary to sit on my foot at every opportunity, and that she takes forever to find that perfect spot to pee.  Because she is well-behaved, I sometimes bring Feather to my place for her stays, but we can’t do that this time.  The cat that Feather’s family has now is ancient, so the owners requested that we split our time so Gaby would have company rather than me just stopping in to feed and check on her.

When we first began staying with Feather, Cinder freaked out whenever she saw Gaby.  She’s always been highly excitable when it comes to cats.  Unlike my last dog who’d actually lived with a cat in peaceful coexistence, Cinder was a rescue so I didn’t know what her frame of reference was when it came to cats.  We’d had one who lived next door to us in Miami.  The cat would walk along the fence of our yard, taunting my dogs and practically begging them to chase her back and forth.  They were happy to oblige.  Then one morning, after we’d just come back from an early morning outing to the beach, I noticed that the cat had come into our yard.  The dogs hadn’t noticed, since I was hosing off their sand and grit, so I willed the cat back over the fence.  For some reason, this didn’t work.  When Cinder spotted the cat, all hell broke loose.  She dashed across the yard, caught it by the neck, and flung it against the fence.   I think my heart stopped when I saw the cat lying still in the bougainvillea.  Miraculously the cat was fine.  It somehow got up and scrambled back over the fence, never to be heard from again.  I checked with my neighbors who said the cat was uninjured.

Needless to say, I have been a little leery of Cinder’s interaction with cats ever since.  Thankfully, Feather is the only dog I stay with who has a cat.  When we had our first stay, I kept the french doors between the back and front of the house closed, and then at night I would barricade us into the bedroom with Gaby safely on the other side.  Cinder would lie on the bed, shaking, unable to sleep.  “There’s a cat out there,” she seemed to say.  “Shouldn’t we do something?”  While I understood that there was some instinctual cat/dog stuff going on, I still tried to explain to Cinder that Gaby was our friend.

Over the years, I noticed a subtle shift in Cinder’s behavior.  She still found Gaby immensely fascinating, but she no longer seemed to view her as an enemy.  I would leave her leash on and let her walk over to Gaby and have a sniff, always prepared to pull her away if she got in Gaby’s face.  I didn’t want Gaby to swat her and then have a blood bath on my hands.  I still would keep Gaby and Cinder separated when we there, but I could see that while Cinder still found Gaby intriguing, she no longer found her a threat.

During the stay this week, Cinder and Gaby reached an accord.  Perhaps it’s because they are both in their dotage now, but Cinder went up to Gaby, gave her a sniff, and then walked away to take a nap on the couch.  At first, I wondered if this behavior was some diabolical plot that Cinder had hatched to lure me and Gaby into a sense of complacency before she attacked, but this wasn’t the case.  Cinder had finally accepted that Gaby was part of the household.  I was able to leave all the doors open and Gaby even slept in the bedroom with us.  It felt a little like slipping down the rabbit hole to see such odd behavior from a dog I thought would never be friendly with cats, but it was a pleasant surprise.  Who said you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

Of course, I still slept in a contorted position and awoke to Feather staring at me, but you can’t have everything.

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Feather and friends

Saving the world…one nip at a time

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My Weimaraner Cinder doesn’t know how to play.   Well, she plays, but not in the way you normally see dogs play–rolling around, chasing a ball, frolicking with another dog.   She’s been a little awkward from the time she was rescued at just over a year.  In the house, she always wrestled with my last dog, Miranda, but even then there was a clumsy ineptitude, probably resultant from living on the streets during her formative puppy months.   She enjoys wrestling with her friend Rex, but only inside and preferably on the bed.  She doesn’t often interact with other dogs in the park.   This is probably because they don’t know what to make of her.

Because Cinder is an alpha, she greets every dog at the gate with the same stony glare of a bouncer at a nightclub.  Then as they come in, it’s right to sniffing and making sure they are fit to enter.  Almost every dog she meets backs down from her.  This is lucky for her because when she has been challenged, she never knows what to do.  In other words, she talks a good game, but doesn’t have any follow through.

Her usual job at the dog run is to walk around marking other dogs’ pee and maintaining the peace.  If it’s warm, she does this from the comfort of  bench where she can bark in a dog’s face if he gets too close to me and the cookie bag.  She rarely wants to play.  Actually very few of my friends have ever even seen Cinder run around.  It’s always a source of amazement when she does.   “Look, Cinder’s playing,” someone will cry out when it happens, like he’s just spotted a rare bird out of it’s natural habitat (In her case, the couch).

This week with snow on the ground, Cinder has been friskier than usual.  And she’s wanted to play.  This has sent most of Cinder’s good friends running for cover.  Not because they don’t love Cinder, but because Cinder’s idea of play is to run up to them, give them a quick nip on the ass, a “tag, you’re it,” and then scoot away waiting for them to engage her.  It wouldn’t be so bad if she was a cattle dog of some sort.  You kind of expect them to nip and chase.  But an eighty pound Weimaraner?

It’s really embarrassing when Cinder does this with a dog she doesn’t know well.  She came away from a standard poodle the other day with a clump of his black hair in her mouth.  I quickly disposed of the evidence, but not before the owner saw it.  “That was a very expensive haircut,” she told me.  She didn’t seem mad, but I apologized anyway, trying to explain my child’s strange behavior.  As it turns out, the poodle was some sort of world champion and he’d just won a major competition.  “Don’t worry,” the woman said, “his best friend is a “Weimaraner.  That’s not odd behavior.”  Really?  Who knew.  I felt slightly better, but still a bit embarrassed by her social awkwardness.  On the plus side, she’s eleven and it does make me feel good to know that she still wants to play and enjoy her life.  I only hope the Italian dogs will be as accepting of her quirkiness as her New York friends have been.

Super Cinder

Super Cinder

When Good Dogs Go Bad

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What do you do when your beloved pet begins to exhibit antisocial and unacceptable behavior?  One of my clients is experiencing this now.  Her wonderful, sweet Labrador rescue has become increasingly agitated by life in the city and has, in recent weeks, begun lunging at people

If you’ve read the excerpt I posted from UNLEASHED, then you’ve already met Lilly.  She’s the yellow Lab with a love of the tennis ball and leash aggression–the one who attacked Cujo in the park.  Shortly after that incident, Lilly was injured by a dog whom she’d been barking at for months.  She needed stitches and after much debate and heartache, her owner and I determined that Lilly could no longer handle the dog run.  I had been defending Lilly, and trying to avert any possible altercations over the preceding months.  Having a rescue myself, I know how hard it is for a dog who has been abused to feel safe and confident.  But unlike my  experience with Cinder, Lilly didn’t improve even with all of the love, attention and exercise she was getting.  She required constant supervision when she’d walked with her Pink Ladies group, and I mentioned to her owner that I thought Lilly seemed to be getting more antisocial.  If she was just with her friends, she was a doll.  If a dog looked at her cross-eyed, she went nuts.

Since Lilly’s dog run departure, I’ve been doing an individual walk for her and then letting her spend a little social time with Feather, a golden retriever from her old group.  She gets a brief outing with me, and then a few brief outings with her owner during the day.

Unfortunately, a dog with such anxiety needs much more exercise.  But what do you do when you live in a city and can’t trust a dog around others?  As the months have worn on, I’ve noticed Lilly growing increasingly agitated, hair raised at even the slightest odd sound, aggressive toward almost every dog she encounters.  At home, she’s sweet and wonderful with her people, but she seems much more needy than she used to be.  A few weeks ago, when I was taking her home, she lunged at a man on the street and if I hadn’t reacted, she would have bitten him on the arm.  I was shocked as I would never have thought Lilly would hurt a person.  And this guy had no obvious signs that were “off” about him.  He wasn’t wearing a funny hat, or acting in a threatening manner.  In short, I have no idea what set her off.

Since that incident, Lilly has had a few more close calls.  She now wears a muzzle with her owner and is seeing a behaviorist veterinarian to see what can be done.  My client is obviously devastated as none of the options are wonderful.  Putting the dog down was actually suggested by the doctor, but thankfully my client would never entertain that idea.  So now the question becomes what else can be done?  Drug her with some sort of puppy Prozac?  Give her up to someone who has room in the country to let her run and be a dog?  Or do nothing, keep her here in the city, and live with a dog who is obviously in distress?  Finding a solution that’s the best for Lilly is the overriding concern.  I think Lilly’s owner is going to try the medication and see if this will ease Lilly’s anxiety some without turning her into a zombie.  If that doesn’t work, then she’ll have to explore the other options.  If anyone has experienced something similar, or has suggestions for helping Lilly, please let me know.  She’s a wonderful dog and I want her story to have a happy ending.

Lilly waiting for the ball

Lilly waiting for the ball

How to piss off a dog walker in twenty seconds…

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When new dog owners come into the run, they will sometimes bring a fancy toy in for their puppy or dog to play with.  They are obviously excited to be interacting with their dog, so sometimes no one will say anything to the owner.  Everyone wants the dog to have a great experience at the run.  At the same time, we are all cognizant of the potential dangers posed by a squeaky toy at the run.  Stage whispered rumblings of  “Somebody needs to tell him,”  or “There’s going to be a fight,” can be heard around the dog run.

The problem is this.  You have a dog run full of dogs who are used to playing with beat up tennis balls and thinking they are pretty fantastic, and then a brightly colored, brand new stuffed animal or squeaky toy is brought into the run, and all of sudden everyone wants that toy.  The squeaky toys are my least favorite because as soon as one dog squeaks it (and it’s usually not the dog who came in with it because it was stolen in less than a minute), everyone wants it.

You might think, “Oh well, they’ll just get some exercise as they run after the dog with the toy.”  Unfortunately, that usually doesn’t happen.  It’s like toddlers on the playground:  One kid wants the shovel for the sandbox and when he doesn’t get it, he snatches it away and bangs the other kid on the head.  Well, in the dog run, the fights caused by squeaky toys are legendary.

Because the rules at the gate a) don’t adequately address this issue and b) are never read by anyone, it falls upon those of us who use the run most often to try and maintain some semblance of order.  I’ve been called upon to play “Sheriff” on more than one occasion.  I don’t mind being the appointed bad guy.  If it means that none of the dogs in my care are going to get bloodied, it’s worth it to intervene.   My approach is to try and head off any problems as soon as I see a hand reaching into a pocket for the toy.  If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve had about the possessiveness of dogs and their toys, I’d be moving to Italy in a much grander style than what is actually in the works.  Sometimes you’ll explain the issue to an owner over and over again and still they insist on bringing in the toy.  “My dog doesn’t like tennis balls,” is the most befuddling response.  Really?  Well I’m guessing the rest of the dogs, if they had a choice, might enjoy a toy other than the where-tennis-balls-go-to-die, dirt-encrusted offerings of the dog run as well, but that’s not the point.

Today I found myself in this role once more.   The crazy part of it was that the guy who brought in the squeaky toy is a regular dog run user.  We’ve chatted tons of times, and he’s been coming with his Wheaten for over a year, so I can’t believe he hasn’t seen a fight or three over a special toy.  “That’s not a good idea,” I tell him as he takes it out of his pocket.  I then add a winning smile since my friend Will tells me I am scary when I’m angry.  “I have a few possessive dogs who might take it and I don’t want it to cause a fight.”  Sasha is the only one of the Pink Ladies that would take the toy, and she wouldn’t fight to keep it, but I figured laying the blame on my group would put him less on the defensive.  He put the toy away and we went on with our morning, but I could see he was chafing at being told what to do.  I tried to smooth things over with him a little later, but he was having none of it.  I knew as soon as I left the squeaky toy would be pulled back out.   I was also sure he’d be back with the toy another day…but I was pretty confident it wouldn’t be on my watch.

Snow Day

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Earlier this week, I ran into a new dog walker who was experiencing her first winter.  “Is it always like this?” she asked, sounding as if she might cry at any moment.   We were  standing on the sheet of ice that was supposed to be the dog run with a cold wind whipping off the Hudson.  The dogs were slipping and sliding around us.  I evaded a little so as not to freak her out.  “I’ve been doing this six years,” I told her.   “The good news is once you’ve made it through your first winter, you can officially call yourself a dog walker.  Most new walkers don’t make it past January.”  This seemed to cheer her sufficiently.

Dog walking in winter can be onerous.  It’s  definitely my least favorite time of the year and I’ve sworn each winter for the past two years that this one would be my last.  It’s months and months of freezing temperatures, icy terrain, putting on dog sweaters, wiping off icy salty paws, wearing so many layers that you can’t remember what your actual shape looks like and, of course, the de rigueur bitching about the weather.

But then the forecasters call for snow and all is forgotten.  I become a little kid, gleeful with anticipation.  It’s not that dog walking will be easier; it’s not.  It’s actually the worst time to schlep around when there is a lot of heavy snow to contend with.  But like the woman who has another child even after experiencing the pains of labor, as soon as I know snow is coming, I get giddy.

There is only one reason for this.  THE DOGS LOVE IT!  From the youngest puppy experiencing her first snowfall to my Weimaraner Cinder who forgets all her aches and pains and kicks up her heels, dogs just can’t get enough of the snow.

Today the snow started early.  There was only a dusting in the run with my Pink Ladies group, but it was enough to have everyone running like mad.  Dash, my little dachshund, took advantage of the snow-covered ice to run a few feet then slide on her back, using her sweater as a sled.  She did this over and over for the entire time we were there.  Sasha, Bella, and Feather used their time to wrestle and run nonstop.

Then it was time for the puppy group.  There was by now almost 1/2 inch of snow to play in and the puppies took full advantage.  Ace and Lilly (a shitzpoo and cockapoo) who are six and seven months old both went nuts.  They spent their time running and leaping around with their best friend Bitsy.  The older kids, Maisy and Jason, not to be outdone did plenty of winter activities as well.  Jason dug a hole for his nose in the snow, followed by a good spin on his back.  Maisy, my singing standard poodle, entertained us all with her happy chant of “WOOO Wooo”  as she raced back and forth across the run.

By the time my late afternoon group reached the park, we had some decent accumulation.  Cinder and her friends Sasha, Bella and Lilly all careened crazily in the snow.  Lilly used her head as a plow, delighting in moving the snow back and forth.  Sasha and Bella did what they do best: wrestled.   Cinder supervised all the young kids and, when she thought no one was looking, even tossed a stick in the air.

We’ll have more snow by morning and although the sidewalk snow will be dirty and gross, the forecast for the park is another great SNOW DAY!

Puppy Pile-up

Puppy Pile-up

Snowy Sniff

Snowy Sniff

Pink Ladies at Play

Pink Ladies at Play