Good dog! (So far)

Possum is still a very young dog, clearly not a puppy at 18 months, but not an adult either.

Until a week ago, he was, in this house, the youngest animal, the juvenile bottom of the pack, and as anyone who’s watched a pack knows, the subordinate omega position at times enjoys the considerable advantage of a lack of the burden of responsibility.

During the first seven months of his life, he apparently experienced an almost total lack of boundaries and consistency, his previous “caretakers” being very young, self-involved, and seemingly ignorant of pretty much anything about dogs and their needs, much less the needs of his particular breed. When he came to live with me, he’d had very little experience with the word “no,” and apparently none with any other attempt to structure his behavior, other than being chained to tree in the backyard of a condominium

Even after several months, I seriously wondered whether he possessed the capacity to focus enough to learn what I expected of him. He was affectionate and clearly intelligent and enjoyed being with me but I could tell he wasn’t learning what I was trying to teach him. It’s hard to describe what I felt from him, but it seemed like he just could not get still enough, his brain couldn’t get quiet enough, to focus on even the simplest training transactions, and nothing sank in. This was new to me. I’d raised my other dogs from the age of 12 weeks and while they weren’t angels, there was a willingness and an enjoyment of shared communication on their part that made things much easier.

“No.” “Sit.” “Stay.” I was far from an extreme disciplinarian and neither was I trying to teach Possum tricks, just the basics of communication he was going to need to co-exist in the multi-species household, to go on a walk, to ride in the car, to interact with other animals and humans. He might appear to get something in the short run but it wasn’t being retained, and the next time it came up, he’d act as if our former attempts had never happened. He rushed the door every time, he pulled on the leash every time, he jumped up on me every time, he grabbed my hand with his mouth every time, he chased the cat every time. I think the only reason, or at least the main reason, he didn’t chase or threaten the parrot was because it scared and confused him. (Vigilant as I am about parrot safety vis a vis the other animals, the parrot himself outdoes me. As a prey animal, he is an expert at assessing threats, as well as throwing down some powerful, highly focused, eye-pinning mojo toward anything or anyone that he perceives is a challenge to his safety. It works — the pup has always steered clear of him.)

I got Possum at seven months, and as described above, the first six months after that were an exhausting challenge. Needless to say, I was grateful when, in the winter/early spring, he began to, very gradually, show signs of “getting it.” Whether it was enough exercise and a good diet, stability, or simply a few extra months of development, I’m not sure, but things seemed to gel and he began to calm down some and also to respond better to training. It should also be noted that I got better at picking our teachable moments.

But still, when “kitten season” came with the spring and I first thought about bringing a kitten into the mix, I quickly nixed the idea because I didn’t think the pup could be trusted. While the cat-chasing had evolved into sibling roughhousing, aided and abetted by Ira the cat himself (a very large, strong, solid, strapping coon cat), I wasn’t sure the dog would be able to restrain himself with a smaller, more defenseless, animal.

Then came my chance encounter with the kitten last weekend. The escape artist of the bunch in the box from the shelter, he dashed in front of me as I arrived at a public gathering and I was pressed into emergency rescue duty to catch him before he ran outside into a crowd. On my stomach on the floor, arm extended under a piece of furniture, blindly batting aside cobwebs, I dragged him out of hiding and the rest was history. I knew I was going home with this one. Regarding the challenges posed by the dog, I reasoned we would manage it somehow.

All that said, the point of this is that I’m impressed at how Possum has handled himself, how well he’s responded to my instructions and warning about the kitten. This is a high energy dog who’s still very oral, who loves to chew and tear things up, who is possessive of the few toys the big dog allows him, who is still very impulsive, yet he’s managed so far to not just avoid harming the kitten, but to actually be gentle and restrained. Not that it’s been effortless. There was a lot of “No!” the first couple of days, as well as liberal use of the 40 oz Hudson pumping plant sprayer (my Dirty Harry big gun, capable of shooting an accurate stream from 15 feet away). In addition though, also a lot of positive conditioning when he does it right, and it’s touching to see how much he needs that, how he looks for it, and how far it goes with him.

It was only hard the first few days though. Possum has, for him, very quickly gotten it, made the change. It is not easy, I can tell. He’s sighing a lot, as the kitten becomes bolder with him, climbing all over him, biting his tail, batting at his nose. He’s displacing a lot of his pent up energy on his toys and roughhousing outside with the big dog. I’m not saying I trust him unconditionally, will leave him alone with the kitten for an extended period of time, assume he might not lose it and do something impulsive at any moment, and most importantly, assume that as the kitten gets bigger and even more rambunctious than he is now, it won’t present more challenges.

I’m just saying that today, for now, Possum is being a good dog, and that I’m grateful for that, and proud of him.

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Friday Boss Dog blogging

 dogblog

Grommit with his favorite “squeaky toy of justice,” the pink octopus.

Friday Grommitblogging

1
Deep thoughts, by Grommit.

2
“My foot itches.”

3
“Mmmm, there’s still time for another nap.”

In spite of all the trouble they cause…

critter

Even though my critters can be major pains in the ass a lot of the time, like this weekend for example—when they tracked mud all over my kitchen and wanted (each at different times) to be let out, then in, then out again, then back in because it was rainy and cold—they enrich my life in more ways than I can count. To the extent that I am sane and/or balanced, it’s due in no small part to their unconditional love and general goofiness.

Lately, I have been more aware than ever of how grateful I am for them, and for their health and happiness, as I’ve watched four different online buds have to say heart-wrenching goodbyes to their beloved companions. Here’s to the memory of Teddy, Little Joe, Max, and Maxie, each one treasured.

While none of the above were its victims, the ever-widening pet food recall is not far from my mind either. So far, the foods my guys eat (dry Nutro and dry IAMS) are safe and don’t use wheat gluten. I knew that the media was certainly under-reporting the mortality figures but still, I was stunned when I read over at Spocko’s place that the death toll was over 3,000. The unofficial count, that is, since no one knows for sure.

That was two days ago, and now it’s 3,598, according to Pet Connection, which adds:

“Total reports of all owner-suspected cases of food-related illness: 11,363.”

Pet Connection has a wealth of information and links to other vital resources, in addition to a form for reporting ill or deceased pets. They are doing some great work, so show them some love.

[UPDATED: Chain store veterinary practice Banfield reports that cases of kidney failure among cats rose by 30 percent during the three months that the contaminated food was sold. It estimates that three out of every 10,000 of the one million pets treated during that time had developed kidney failure.]

Friday pup blogging

While he lacks the coherent creative vision (and possible sociopathic tendencies) of Twisty Faster’s visionary Bert, my Possum is very thorough and serious about his dirt work. In particular, he is most helpful when I am out in the yard trying to photograph plants or bugs, or otherwise research my backyard flora and fauna. He facilitates by madly digging a hole as close as he can to the center of my attention. I’m fortunate to have such a dedicated assistant.

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p2

Musical kibble?

booth

My two mutts have started a strange little shared ritual. First off, the two of them are different ages. The younger is just barely a year old and has just started eating adult dog food-regular adult dog food. The older is 8 years old and eats senior dog food with glucosamine because he’s got some arthritis. About a month ago, the older dog started leaving a little bit of food, just a couple of bitefuls, not every time he ate but more often than not. The younger dog would then come-after the older dog had clearly finished- and eat those morsels. So after a week or so of this, I started feeding him a little less, but he’d still leave a couple of bites and the younger dog would eat it. I just let them do that.

Then last week, I noticed the older dog was eating out of the younger dog’s bowl when the younger dog was eating from his bowl. So I started watching them, and sure enough, most meals, they each leave a few bites of their own food, switch dishes and finish off the leftover bits in the other’s dish!

Thoughts, anyone?

Friday dogblogging: In the car

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Short subject

I think you’ll all agree that Ira is a lock for best supporting actor here.

The cinematography leaves a lot to be desired in the first 20 secs.

As for Possum, he’s been workshopping “sit” for while but it’s only recently that he’ll do it reliably, even if he’s doing something more fun. He was seven months old when I got him and he came with some issues and a complete lack of training. We’ve really turned a corner lately though. We’ve already got the sequel, “Down,” in the can, and we’re scouting locations for “Stay.”

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