Tag Archives: temperament

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Sweet Dreams, Sweet Ginger Snap, Part 1

 Over My Husband’s “Dead Body”!  

By Katherine Dattoma

It was time. That little itch had grown into something bigger and more persistent. The guilty pleasure I had secretly been indulging in, of sneaking peeks at internet photos of beautiful Border Collies in need of homes, was morphing into a serious search. It was time to add another dog to our household, albeit once again over my husband’s “dead body”!

Puppy GingerOreo, my first rescued Border Collie was enjoying a full agility competition schedule, but I began to discern subtle signs of trouble before he had even reached the age of six. My eye, uneducated in correct canine conformation, but knowledgeable in evaluating the equine, could see that Oreo’s hind end structure was somewhat, well, odd. All the other wonderful Border Collie quirks and attributes possessed in abundance by Oreo had compensated up to this point, and enabled us to enjoy some small successes undreamed of since my first bumbling attempts at agility. However, I knew my dog’s normal, if somewhat funny way of traveling, and something was off. At that time, the cause of his intermittent, subtle hitch in stride remained undiagnosed, though many opinions and treatments were offered. Sadly, I had to admit that Oreo’s agility career would most likely be cut short.

To the uninitiated it may have seemed like an obsession, but to an ever growing dog sport fraternity, agility is a healthy, wonderful passion. My addiction needed to be fed. I needed another agility dog. Because Oreo had also instilled in me a passion for the Border Collie breed, and our whole family, daughter included, had been formed through adoption, there was never any question as to where I would be looking. References were solicited, home photos taken, and adoption applications sent.

Glen Highland Farm’s Sweet Border Collie Rescue in Morris, New York rehomes a huge number of abandoned and abused dogs each year, and Lillie Goodrich seems to have a knack for placement. On a sunny morning in March of 2008 that glittered with excitement and a late winter frosting of snow, I loaded up husband, the kid and dogs for a visit to the farm. Upon arrival, Lillie took special note of my daughter’s bossy terrier mix bitch, Kimmy, and her controlling antics with long suffering Oreo. She immediately dashed my hopes of meeting a particular handsome young male that had gazed soulfully out of my computer screen. Our little Kimmy was destined to be the limiting factor. Instead, the first dog brought out was a one year old classic black and white female, friendly, agile and altogether lovely in every way. Whoa…. she’d make a great family and agility dog was my first thought, my mind immediately entertaining a fantasy of fame and international events…. Then, presented to me was a red and white, four month old bundle of fur, dangling limply from the assistant’s arms, blinking fearfully at the world. This ragdoll of a pup stole my heart.
The trip home did not auger well for my new choice of a future agility prospect. How was I to successfully integrate a petrified, puking pup into my little agility travel team? What happened to one of my basic requirements, dutifully checked off on the application form, “must ride well in car”? Being lax in my criteria could explain something about those agility bloopers with Oreo. My Sweet Ginger Snap was looking less and less likely to fulfill my agility dreams as the full extent of her fears was soon revealed. Ginger was a textbook case demonstrating that missed social opportunities during the first few months could have a lifelong impact on behavior. Ginger’s reactions to ordinary things fed our imaginations in building a picture of what her first four months on the Maryland puppy mill farm may have been like. And was it genetics, or something far worse that caused her skull to appear misshapen and her face crooked? Men, men with hats obscuring their faces, men carrying objects on their shoulders, people suddenly “appearing” all triggered intense fear reactions. Ginger constantly alternated between leaping away from and attempting to appease human feet with incessant licking, a trait that earned her the first of many nicknames, “Miss Lick”. Any object that moved or looked different from when first observed by Ginger provoked a reaction. A pillow falling off the couch could send her flying out of the room, and she would peer out the upstairs window, barking hysterically every time a package was left on our neighbor’s porch across the street. One of our neighbors inadvertently frightened her as a pup, and because of her fear reaction towards him, he referred to her thereafter as “The Wolf”.

Ginger and KimmyI needed an agility training plan very different from the trial and error path taken with bold, confident Oreo. My training methods had always been positive reinforcement based, and I knew any attempt to force a behavior with Ginger would be unsuccessful. Clicker training and shaping were a natural fit, both for my ideals as a trainer and for persuading a fearful pup that my goals were really her choices. Because her startle reflex was so easily triggered, Ginger needed to become less sensitive to noise and movement if I ever hoped to get her on agility equipment. She needed to be able to come towards her source of fear to investigate instead of running away. One of the training games I played involved my other two dogs to help motivate Ginger to join the fun. In my basement training area, I set up a tower of tin cans and metal cooking pots. On a push cue, Oreo and Kimmy would happily tip over the clanking pile for a reward. Barking, laughter, treats and curiosity finally drew Ginger from upstairs to the middle stair landing where I would toss a treat. Using the principles of incremental training, I waited for Ginger to choose to dart closer and closer to the action. It was a moment of triumph when Ginger finally offered a nose touch to the offending pile of noisy objects! These early lessons were something I was able to build upon, and today Ginger will often offer an automatic nose touch to an object that initially frightens her.

Surprisingly, at home and in class, Ginger’s agility training progressed very rapidly. She flew through the foundation exercises and fought for her turn when the clicker came out, signaling a training session. On both the plus and minus side, Ginger never forgot anything. Her education on the agility equipment began to follow a pattern of fits and starts, plateauing while we worked on overcoming a fear, and leaps forward evidenced by a desire to correctly repeat any action or obstacle with which she had grown comfortable. She grew rapidly as well… and grew and grew…. Was this the embodiment of having BIG agility dreams? Meanwhile, those long legs just kept getting longer. In spite of too straight shoulders and hindquarters, Ginger outgrew her awkward stage to become an elegant and effortless jumper, who as described by my daughter, ran like a cheetah when streaking across fields in play.

My redheaded fur rag was also growing into a striking, comical teenage drama queen. To the family, “The Wolf” was more of a red headed “Lucy”. The slightest knock had her exaggerating a limp until something else caught her attention, and she would get the sillies each morning, yipping and talking up a storm as she rolled herself in the bed blankets and pillows. She became a master at slinking off with cardboard boxes to shred in private, and would repeatedly catch and bring through the dog door a firefly to play with until she had to, ah….replace it. She could look majestic while burping loudly in our faces, and took over the job of household security by making the rounds checking all the doors, windows and rooms each night before settling . Best of all, Ginger fit seamlessly into our little dog pack, becoming wicked Kimmy’s partner in crime. I brought her everywhere dogs were allowed…into the bank, pet stores and a local book store. While competing with Oreo, I spent countless hours introducing Ginger to all the sights and sounds of agility trials, and frequently introduced her to many fellow agility competitors in an effort to reduce her general fear of humans.

Ginger In the early summer of 2009, Ginger was age eligible to enter agility events. The perfect opportunity for an agility debut arrived. The trial was local, held at a site she had visited several times before as a spectator. I sent in the entry, though unsure if Ginger was ready to enter the ring and make her public appearance as an agility competitor. She enjoyed playing agility at home with me, was extremely consistent in her execution of the obstacles, even showing some typical border collie abandon, but remained shy and uncertain in public. It was with nervous anticipation, that I waited for the big day to arrive.

Dangerous Chase, Part 6

Our Lovable Little Bother

By Terri Florentino

Chase, Part 6

The Remarkable Journey

ChaseDebbieFast-forward to now.  Five years have passed since Debbie, Sam, Chase and I made this deal: give our training three months. If it doesn’t work out, I’ll rescue him. Needless to say, Chase has a permanent and loving home! I’m so proud of their accomplishments.

Debbie has also gone beyond my training and taught Chase many playful and clever tricks; she was always diligent in making sure she kept the learning process fun. I was so impressed with their tricks that I invited her to teach a Tricks Workshop at the training center. It’s a great success; the students enjoy the amusing and interactive activities with their dogs. Watch Chase’s video on YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p5XmqxNqFaE&feature=youtu.be.

Chase will always be a work in progress. When Debbie and Sam leave the house, Chase must go to his room. There he finds a yummy interactive toy that keeps his mind occupied for a short while. Now Debbie and Sam can go out the door without Chase jumping and biting at them.

When it comes to interacting with other dogs, he’s still no social butterfly. In fact, Debbie knows that bringing another dog home is not an option. Chase does fine with my dogs so we get together as often as we can. Their interaction isn’t the tumble and play, but rather a coexisting in the same space, running and chasing a ball or swimming in the lake. They have a mutual understanding and know the no-fighting rule. It’s my job to enforce it, so when I suspect one of the dogs is getting a little too pushy, I remind them, “Get out of it!”ChasewithDogs

When company comes to Debbie’s home, depending on who’s coming to visit and how long they’re staying, she handles Chase differently. Chase is comfortable with older children and adults that he is familiar with. Very young children and infants make him uneasy. Their quick, unpredictable movements, loud high-pitched voices, and crying make him anxious. If the young children stay just for an afternoon, Debbie can manage Chase at the house by keeping him with her on a leash, giving him an occasional time out in his room, and making sure he gets outside often to exercise. When they have out-of-state visitors stay at their home they take Chase to a boarding kennel at the training center. Chase knows the facility very well and does fine with his stay.

The Gentle Leader is a mainstay for walking, because keeping control of Chase’s head and mouth is essential. If he happens to see a squirrel, for instance, he’ll lunge and bark. The Gentle Leader keeps him from pulling Debbie down to the ground. Also, for no obvious reason, he’s not comfortable with certain people. He might grab and bite them. Again the Gentle Leader affords Debbie the head control to keep him from endangering others, and therefore himself.

When it’s time to exercise outside Debbie puts a collar on Chase and secures it to a 30” long line. Chase can never be trusted off-lead unless in a fenced area. While outside on the long line Chase gets to explore, play fetch, practice recall and run. If while on the long lead he encounters a wild animal or a neighbor that makes him uneasy, Debbie can use the, “Leave It” and “Come here” commands. Fortunately Chase is food-motivated and knows that if he immediately returns to Debbie he’ll be rewarded with a mouth-watering treat.

Debbie keeps a crate in her car for travel. Chase jumps right in and lies down quietly. If not for the crate, Debbie would never be able to safely exit her vehicle. Chase gets far too anxious when she or anyone else tries to get out of the car and walk away. He barks, bites, and grabs the clothing of whoever tries to leave the vehicle without him. So as you see, for the obvious reasons, it’s safer for all parties involved that Chase rides in a crate.

His separation anxiety, for the most part, is under control. He no longer redecorates the walls, baseboards, and floors with frantic claw marks. A person leaving the home is still a little bit of an issue, so Sam and Debbie are diligent with the down/stay exercise. Chase is not released from the position until the person has exited the house and driven away.

All in all Chase is a nurturing, sensitive, affectionate, and lovable dog. Even Debbie’s Mom isn’t afraid of him anymore. She brings him a toy every time she comes to visit. He’s so intelligent that you need to spell certain words in front of him, such as “walk,” “ride,” “lake,” “out,” and “training.” He also knows certain ChaseSamDebbietoys by name, like “monster,” “football, “Santa, and “tumbler.”

Chase, has become my buddy. Sometime I look at him and say, “There’s my adorable little bother,” and he wiggles so hard he keels over and shows me his tummy. Debbie and I have also become great friends, a relationship I value very much.

I’m thankful to be a part of this remarkable journey.

In closing Debbie wanted to share her thoughts:

For how frightened I was of Chase, something told me I had to help him. I’m not sure if it was the fear of losing a dog all over again that tugged at my heart, but that was part of it. I think I just knew that if given time and with the right direction we would make it.  Chase has taught me so much. I have become a more patient person, I’m more relaxed and learn to be proactive rather than reactive when Chase acts out. Terri has been a godsend for Chase and me. She is so compassionate about animals as well as the people that care for them. If I hadn’t made that call to her, I really don’t know where Chase or even I would be today.  Would his next adopter have done the same for him, or would he have just been put down? Would I have adopted another dog, or just given up?
Terri has inspired me to become a trainer and to help people the way she helped us. Chase has come a long way in the last five years, and even though he still has his moments, I can say that I am equipped to handle them. Occasionally I still get a little frightened so I stop take a deep breath and move forward. Chase has turned into a loving companion and we are forever grateful to Terri, her family, and her pack for helping us get where we are today!  And as a bonus, we have forged a long lasting friendship!
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts!
Debbie, Sam, and Chase.

Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

Roger Caras

Part 4: The Comfort Zone

by Terri Florentino

 

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

Chase needed help learning to be a team player.

This week the class would assemble at a local dog-friendly park. I was really looking forward to it; the “Beyond the Back Yard” class offers my students an opportunity to become experienced in handling their dogs in all types of environments, and is always so much fun.

One by one the students arrived and gathered around. I greeted them, and when it was time to begin, I said, “Not sure if we’re going to have any late arrivals, so let’s start with the question-and-answer portion of the class. Remember to practice the sit-stay and down-stay exercises while we talk. It’s important that your dog learn to exercise self control.”

We formed a large circle in order to hear one another while we spoke. I placed Debbie and Chase next to my mom and my dog, Bonny. My mom is an experienced dog handler, and my dog Bonny is well trained and able to deal with disruptive dogs with little to no reaction. Everything was going well. The class members took turns discussing their successes and failures, and I offered praise and advice, when suddenly, Chase lunged and barked at Bonny, and Debbie panicked.

“Stay calm. Just back away from the group,” I said.

Chase snarled and leapt at the end of his leash. With fear and tears in her eyes, Debbie strained to pull him away.

“It’s okay,” I said. “We’re going to work Chase in his, ‘comfort zone.’ Take him just far enough away from the group so he can relax enough to behave. I want Chase to sit and face you, okay? Promote eye contact and praise him when his behavior is correct.”

Debbie dragged Chase about ten feet away, and then another five or so before Chase calmed down and sniffed the grass. “Do you think he’ll ever stop acting like this?” Debbie asked, wiping tears off her cheeks.

I had the class practice down-stays while I approached her and said softly, “Yes. He’ll come around, and so will you. Here. Let me take Chase for a while. You take a deep breath and smile, okay?” I took Chase’s leash, and we walked back toward the group. I stopped about five feet away, just as Chase began to slow down and watch the other dogs with prick ears and stiff legs.

“All right, let’s get going. Follow me,” I said to the class. “We’re going to take a walk. There are a few zoo animals down this path, and the dogs are always rather intrigued with them.”

Everybody lit up with anticipation and fell in line behind Chase and me. Debbie followed at my side.

As we approached the zoo animal’s cages, I instructed the group to stay in a line and keep their dogs a few feet back from the cages. “It’s not fair to the zoo animals to let dogs harass them and bark at them while they’re trapped in their enclosures. Our goal is to teach our dogs to be well behaved and mannerly.” One by one we worked the ‘heel’ position back and forth past the monkeys, lions, exotic birds, and other zoo animals. Chase, wearing the Gentle Leader, walked very well with me.

I watched Debbie’s face. She was watching Chase with pride, affection, and hope. “Are you ready to take a turn walking with Chase?” I asked.

“I think so.”

“Wrong answer, Deb. You are ready, and you can do this! I want you to work within his comfort zone. I’ll stay right next to you.” I instructed Chase to sit and handed Debbie the leash. She took a deep breath, stood up straight, and off we went, back and forth several times past the animals. They did an awesome job, absolutely no overreaction from Chase. The class applauded and praised both Chase and Debbie for doing such a great job.

Shanghai_Zoo_monkey

The monkeys seemed to tease us.

While in the vicinity of the zoo animals, I had the class practice their sit- and down-stay exercises, and everyone did well. “Let’s head down the path to an open field, gather in a circle, sit down to relax.” Once we arrived to the open field everyone took out their bottles of water to refresh themselves and their dogs. We talked about how their dogs reacted to the many zoo animals. We all laughed and shared stories about the monkeys, convinced that the monkeys were teasing the dogs each time they passed by their enclosure. Debbie smiled. “Chase is much more relaxed and behaving himself,” she said.

“He is, isn’t he?” I said. I reminded the class of the importance of exercising your dogs. “I’ve always said that a tired dog is a good dog.”

Next we were going to walk the dogs by a playground. “I want everyone to make sure their dogs sit and stay before you allow anyone to pet them. No doubt some of the children will approach and want to pet them. I’ll manage the kids, you all manage your dogs. Any questions?”

“Chase might lot like the kids approaching him,” Debbie said, her anxiety level rising. “What should I do?”

“Instruct the kids to stay back. Be firm about that. And I won’t allow the kids to approach any of the dogs that aren’t completely accepting of them.”

The Playground

The Playground

We packed up the bowls and bottles of water and got on our way. As we reached the top of a hill you could see the playground off to the left at the bottom of the hill. There were a few children playing on the equipment while their parents sat close by on the park benches. As we got close enough to the playground for the dogs and kids to notice one another, I instructed the class to stop and get in a straight line. “OK, class let’s have our dogs sit and stay politely by our sides. Here come the kids!”

“Doggies!” one of the children cried, and they came running. The parents rose and followed more slowly, talking amongst themselves.

I met the children halfway between the playground and the class. They all seemed very excited. “I’ll bet you want to say hello to the dogs. These dogs are in class learning how to be good dogs, can you help us?”

“Yes! Yes! Yes!” They jumped up and down.

“I go to school too!” a child said.

“Do you?” I said, feigning great surprise. “Now dogs need children to stay calm. Can you show me how you do that?”

They all stood still and listened to me, eager to participate. “Good. Here are some treats. If the dog you approach is sitting nicely and the owner of the dog gives you permission, go ahead and give the treat to the dog.”

Paige and Linny

Paige and Linny

The kids and their parents made their way down the line of politely sitting dogs, greeting each owner and dog and doling out treats to those dogs who sat nicely. I noticed that Chase was obviously uncomfortable with the kids approaching, so Debbie walked him away to practice the sit- and down-stays at a distance, careful to keep inside Chase’s comfort zone.

All went well. “Thanks so much for your help,” I said to the kids. And off they ran back to play on the slides, seesaws, and jungle gym.

The class and I made our way back to the parking lot where we originally met. We discussed where we were going to meet the next week and addressed any other questions.

“Great class,” I said. “Everyone did a fantastic!” When I knelt down next to Chase, he rolled over onto his back, wagging his tail.  “You had a great day, didn’t you, Chase? Keep up the good work, buddy!”

I Like Chase Very Much

By Terri Florentino

Debbie and Chase

Debbie and Chase

The next time we met, Debbie and Chase came to the training center. I scheduled our meeting before the start of classes so I could evaluate Chase with my own dogs.

“Are you sure you want Chase with your dogs?” Debbie asked.

“I trust my dogs,” I said. “They’ll follow my lead. They trust me too and know I’ll keep them safe.” I took the leash from Debbie. “I’m going to keep the leash on Chase, and, since you’re so nervous, I want you to stay inside and watch from the window.” Chase would sense her anxiety and that alone could promote an inappropriate response.

I do the meet-and-greets in a large fenced area. I had let my dogs out to the area first to run around. I had six of them at the time: Tulley, Echo, Scout, Meg, Deja, and Wyn. With Chase on lead, I walked around with him, allowing him to move as freely as the six-foot lead would offer so he could relax. I said little. There was enough conversation in body language among the dogs. As soon as I was confident that Chase was not going to dart after and attack my dogs, I dropped the leash. I stayed by, just in case he lunged or behaved aggressively.

As I suspected, at first my dogs ignored Chase, and he did the same. After a short while Tulley, the social butterfly of the pack, approached Chase. (Ironically enough, when I rescued Tulley it was said that he would never be good with other dogs.) Tulley’s tail was up and wagging, his interaction welcoming. Chase lowered his head, flattened his ears, tucked his tail under, and diverted his gaze, signaling he was not a threat. Tulley read his body language and adjusted his approach accordingly. After the initial greeting went well, one by one my other dogs went up to Chase to say hello. The females were less impressed as he was a bit of a flirt. In fact, when the females corrected his obnoxious behavior he politely deferred to them. Overall, I felt the interaction with Chase and my pack went well.

Once the dogs settled down, I invited Debbie into the yard. As soon as she stepped outside, all of my dogs ran to greet her. Chase immediately ran between my dogs and Debbie and didn’t want any of them near her. As soon as Chase started to growl at my dogs Debbie retreated. I stepped in, took a hold of Chase’s leash and removed him bodily from the group.

Once Debbie, Chase, and I were safely indoors away from my pack, I explained the problem. “Chase was resource-guarding you, Deb. You retreated. You empowered him to continue. Chase needs to know that you’re in control of the situation, not the other way around.”

She nodded soberly. Chase was panting from the excitement. Every time he heard a noise from outside, he pulled for the door, eager to throw himself back into action.

“First you’ll need to earn his trust and respect,” I said. “This of course will come with training. Not to worry. If you’re up to the task, I’ll get the two of you on the same page.”

“I’m up for it. In fact I’m looking forward to it,” she said.

When I asked how the appointment went with the veterinarian, she said, “He put him on Prozac.” She’d already noticed that Chase seemed more relaxed when left alone in the house. “And he’s not nearly as reactive when he sees my neighbors or a squirrel.”

“Great! Now we have a window to redirect his overreactions.”

Chase and his classmates.

Chase and his classmates.

The other students and their dogs were arriving. We had a few minutes before class would start. To prevent Chase from lunging at the incoming students, I had Debbie practice focus and body-blocking exercises. Fortunately, with a really yummy treat, Chase’s food drive was nearly equal to his defense drive. “Nearly,” however, wasn’t good enough. A couple of times he lunged and snarled at other dogs. It was scary not only for Debbie but the other people and their dogs as well.

“Chase isn’t being fair,” I said. “Let’s try a Gentle Leader head halter so you have more control of his head and mouth.” We fitted him for the Gentle Leader, and class began. The halter worked wonders–Chase’s behavior was more manageable for the rest of the class.

Chase wears his Gentle Leader.

Chase wears his Gentle Leader.

When class was over and the others had left, Deb and I had one more follow-up. “I’m relieved that the combination of the Prozac and the Gentle Leader gives you more control, but Chase still needs to listen to you and stop acting on his own.” I urged her to continue with the obedience techniques we’d been working on. “Be consistent. Follow through. As the two of you master each technique, I’ll add more to your repertoire,” I said. “Experienced handlers can never have enough tricks in their bags.”

Chase was panting softly by Debbie’s side. I knelt before him, and he wriggled and wagged for me. I stroked his shoulders. “I like Chase very much,” I said, and stood back up.

Relief and gratitude swept over Deb’s face.

“He’s a very smart dog,” I said, smiling at Chase. When he caught me looking, his tail swished. “He just needs guidance. Be kind. Earn his trust and respect. Make learning fun, and eventually you’ll have a devoted companion.”

Debbie hugged me, and when she let go, I saw that tears rolled down her cheeks. “I will! I promise. I know there’s a good dog in there.”

“Don’t forget—call me immediately if you have any problems or questions.” We hugged again, and I watched as they made their way to Deb’s truck. She spoke to him, her speech calm and happy. I wondered what the week would hold for them. “Don’t forget—same time next week!” I called.

“Can’t wait!” Deb said.

Living with Grace

by Judy Bonner

“Can your dog come over?”

The words refocused my attention to Gracie.  We were at the vet’s check-out window, paying the bill.  Gracie was tethered to a hook under the window.

Psst! Come on over!

Psst! Come on over!

I looked down at Gracie.  Her eyes were dancing, her lips in a puckered up smile, her butt wiggling.  Gracie loves people, especially children.  Who was now the apple of Gracie’s eye?

I looked up.  There was a woman at the next check-out window.  She again asked if my dog could come over.  Why not, I thought.  But wait, what is that in her hand?  A leash?  My eyes narrowed in on that leash, following it down to the floor.  Sure enough, it attached to a dog sitting tightly next to the woman’s legs, a dog not much bigger than Gracie.

Okay, take a step back, I thought to myself.  I stood in front of Gracie.  For as much as Gracie loves people, she is cautious around other dogs.

Gracie did not play with other puppies at break time in kindergarten class; she preferred a side seat with a good view instead.  She made friends at our group dog training classes, but certainly not at the first class.  She came to enjoy a good one-on-one play with her favorite friends.  On her short list were a Golden Retriever, a Great Dane, a Cocker Spaniel, a Basset Hound, and a Wheaton Terrier, the only female in her circle of pals.

Otherwise, Gracie generally offers up calming signals to most dogs in her path…turning her head, sniffing the ground, making a C-curve, changing direction, all to avoid a face-to–face encounter.  She is now a four-year-old Border Collie.  I have one finger left on each hand to add to my count of dogs Gracie has shown a great displeasure of their presence and behaviors.

The woman, probably noticing my hesitation, went on to say her dog was a rescue, living with her four years now.  “It’s only in the last year that I can pick up a broom without her running behind a door. This is the first time she has shown ANY interest in another dog.”  Four eyes were pleading with me–the dog’s and her owner’s.

No words from Gracie.  I glanced down at her.  Hmm . . . now a sitting wiggle-butt.  “It is up to Gracie.”  I gave Gracie permission to “go visit,” thinking she would head straight for the woman, ignoring the dog.  Nope.  Gracie walked softly and slowly over to the dog.  They touched noses and started sniffing each other’s muzzle and face.  Good so far, but dogs in her face is something Gracie will tolerate but does not enjoy.   Best not to push our luck.  “Good girl, Gracie,” I said.  “All done. Let’s go now.”  Gracie returned to my side.

“Thank-you” the woman said.  I smiled and nodded.  Back to business.   I signed the credit card slip, gathered all my papers together, and looped Gracie’s leash in my hand.  We headed to the exit door.

“Can she come over one more time?”

I turned around.  “It is up to Gracie,” I said.  Gracie was once again doing her sitting wiggle-butt.  “You can go visit.” I touched her head as she glided past me to the other dog.  I let them greet each other longer this time before calling Gracie back to me.

The woman started crying.  “You don’t know how much this means to me,” she said,  kneeling down to hug her dog.  “This is the first time I’ve seen her really happy.” The dog snuggled into her owner’s embrace.

Tears welled up in my eyes as Gracie and I tuned around to leave. I’d had dogs my whole life.  My journey with Gracie was unlike any other.  This was another entry into my journal of living with grace.

Dangerous Chase, Part 1

Fear Itself,

by Terri Florentino

He could be so sweet.

He could be so lovable.

“He’s a Border collie. He’s in the shelter. Can you go rescue him?” The woman on the phone was so upset it was difficult to make out what she was saying. “Please?”

“Calm down, okay? To whom am I speaking?

She took a deep breath and sighed. “Sorry, I’m just so upset. My name is Debbie.”

“Tell me about the problems you were having with your dog and what he did that landed him back at the shelter.”

“My husband and I adopted him from the local animal shelter. We named him Chase. He was quiet and well behaved at the shelter, but not long after we brought him home, he started barking, lunging, and growling at wildlife, other dogs, and strangers.” She took another deep breath and sniffled. “He also suffers from separation anxiety—you should see our spare bedroom.”

I could tell she loved this dog. She must’ve tried to help him. “What steps did you take to correct these behaviors?”

She began to relax. “We worked privately with a trainer. He had us use a shock collar, and now his behavior is worse than ever.”

“Now, you said something happened that made you return him to the shelter?”

“He bit us both. My husband and me. He was lunging and growling at a neighbor outside. My husband was standing near him, and the moment I pushed the button on the shock collar, Chase just whirled around and bit him. When I tried to pull him away from my husband, he bit my hand. I got so afraid of him, I took him back to the shelter.” Her voice started to quaver again. She sniffled. “He’s so lovable when he isn’t acting out.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” I said. “I can tell you care deeply for Chase. Go back and take him out of the shelter. I’ll put in a call in right now and let them know you’re coming and that we’ll be working together.  Give me three months to work with you, your husband, and Chase. If after that time, you’re still not comfortable with him, I’ll rescue him.”

“Do you really think you can help us?”

“I am going to do my best. Call me once you have him back, and I’ll come out to your home as soon as possible. .”

A couple days later, I arrived at Debbie and Sam’s house. As I walked up the steps to their front deck, Debbie came out the door  holding Chase by his leash. He was pulling toward me, frantically barking.  As I stood at the top of the steps, I pushed open a gate and stepped onto the deck. Shouting over the racket he made, Debbie and I discussed Chase’s current state of mind. I could tell she was very frightened. “First,” I said, “you need to relax. I know it’s hard.”

While we talked, I intentionally ignored Chase. After not receiving any satisfaction, his obnoxious behavior finally settled.

“Go ahead and drop the leash,” I said.

“Really? Just let it go?” Debbie said.

“Yes. Let’s keep talking and ignoring him.”

Full of doubt, her brow puckered in fear, Debbie dropped the leash, and we continued to talk without looking down at the holy terror. He ran over and sniffed my shoes and pant legs. Then, I smiled down at him. “You smell my dogs, don’t you, boy?”

He looked up at me and then, in relaxed, fluid movements, he trotted back to Debbie. He made his way towards the railing on the deck and stuck his head through the wooden slats to get a better look at what was going on in the yard below. Just then, a neighbor stepped out of his house. Chase went into a barking frenzy and raced the length of the deck, back and forth. I calmly walked around a picnic table to the other side of the deck and blocked him from running past me.

Using a firm tone of voice, I said, “Get out of it!”

He stopped dead in his tracks and looked up at me.

“C’mon on now, inside,” I said. He followed me through the slider door and into the house.

“How is the world did you do that?”

“He knew I meant what I said. That’s all.”

“Can you teach him to listen to me like that?”

“No. I’ll teach you to talk to him. Okay?”

Debbie nodded and wiped away a tear. “I see. You bet. Let’s get started.”

“You said Chase has separation anxiety and damaged a bedroom. May I see it?”

You could see his fear written on the walls.

You could see his fear written on the wall.

As I peered into the room, I gasped. Chase had clawed deep gouges into a wall right below a small, high window. Just looking at the marks, I could see his fear written on the wall. He had almost literally climbed the wall trying to get free.

“He tries to reach the window,” Debbie said, sadly. “I’m guessing to escape.”

“I think you’re right,” I said. Most of the wood trim along the floor had been scratched and gnawed on.

“Look at the back of the door,” Debbie said. We stepped into the room and closed the door behind us. Almost the entire surface of the door was covered in scratches and gouges.

All the while, Chase had been standing quietly beside us in the room. I took a deep breath and bent down to offer him a gesture of my affection. As I scratched behind his ears, we made eye contact and shared a moment of silent, peaceful communion.

Wee, Part 5

An Explorer Extraordinaire

by Wendy Drake

After I spent a day in Cooperstown meeting relatives who’d known my grandfather, many more side paths tempted me. I wanted to know more about these new-to-me relatives, Hugh and Eleanore. Eleanore also played piano and had learned from my grandfather’s sister, Lucy. I wanted to spend more days at the Inn at Cooperstown, which had been the Cooke (my maiden name) family home from 1893 – 1974. Further, Charles’ book held themes, which resonated for my running.

Charles had compared piano practice to being fanatic about healing fractures. Using a bone healing analogy throughout his book, he suggested bracketing the portions of a piece of most frustration to a pianist, practicing them over and over, until mastered. Years may pass, he acknowledged, but the pleasure derived in the process and the strength of the bone at the fracture make the whole piece stronger than it ever would have been without the work.

After healing from three fractures in my feet and many shredded body parts from tripping and falling on trails, I understood that, with work on specific weaknesses like downhill footwork or running uphill, I could get stronger and stronger in my running. After failing to find a path with the letters so many times and continuing to practice with them, I felt my story becoming stronger. I also felt a connection to Charles through my practice. I wondered if Louise had this lifelong relationship with her piano playing as well. I wanted to indulge the endless side paths to which I was being introduced.

While I didn’t want to leave Cooperstown, a puppy awaited my arrival. I reluctantly retreated from these new paths to proceed onto the one I’d planned. It was time to meet Terri and the team of people who surrounded Wee with infinite puppy love. As the miles increased on my journey toward Wee, so did my excitement. By the time I met Terri, I could hardly wait to meet him. When I finally did, he seemed as eager to greet me as his brother Ace, who was twice Wee’s size.

The afternoon flew by too quickly. Terri took me to lunch with Megan, who’d cared for Wee with two of his siblings, Brea and Ace. We talked about the dogs. I wanted to know everything possible about Wee. Terri had checked every medical and behavioral box and more for Wee, her first runt. We talked about Megan’s upcoming wedding, the book Terri was writing, and mine too. She mentioned several times in passing a writer named Lisa in Florida. The depth of their friendship would not become clear to me until months later. Wee, Jorge, and I’d come to know her better through her border collie, Mick, who was two weeks younger than Wee. It turned out to be Mick who would have the unpredictable health problems I’d feared for Wee. While we would have our share of health scares with Wee, the biggest problem we’d have was keeping what came out the other end solid.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

We plays with Echo and Brea one last time.

After lunch, we returned to Megan’s home for the beginning of tearful goodbyes, but not before a final play date between Scout, Brea, Ace, and their dam (mother) Echo. In a short twenty-minute play session, I took over ninety photos and a video. I didn’t want the day to end, but Wee and I had already scheduled his first adventure: a plane ride.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

A last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye.

We made one last stop at the Veterinary Referral and Emergency Center (VREC) so that caregivers like Ashley (left) and Jen (right) could say good-bye to Wee too. Wee’s mom Echo also came along to say bon voyage to her youngest and smallest pup. Then it was time for Terri.

I doubt I could ever be a breeder. Letting puppies go over and over would be impossible for me. Because this pup in particular had worried Terri for weeks, it was especially hard for her to let him go. Is there ever love without worry though? I doubt it. Terri’s tears tugged at me, and I found myself wanting to ease any additional lost sleep.

“I’ll keep you updated. He’ll have a Facebook page as soon as we decide on his Colorado name.”

Wee at the airport.

Wee at the airport.

And just like that, the Wee pup became Mr. Explorer Extraordinaire. Terri helped me tuck him into the carrier, which would fit under the seat in front of me on the plane. Never would the Wee pup ever fly in cargo. I might have been more demanding on this point than Terri.

The first flight was short and uneventful. I expected some whimpering, but Wee had perfect manners. We arrived in Philadelphia and made our way through a crowded airport. Wee was a star everywhere. He was attracting so much attention that my good friend Jennifer, who goes by “Ifer,” couldn’t miss us. She’d been consulting in Philly that week. We collapsed into each other’s arms with hugs and girlie exclamations over Wee.

“Are you headed to or from Boulder?”

“To.”

On his way to becoming Scout, The Explorer Extraordinaire

On his way to becoming Scout, the most lovable Explorer Extraordinaire

After realizing we were on the same flight, Ifer hurried with me to check-in and upgrade her seat. I’d splurged in Pennsylvania at the airport for Wee’s first big plane flight to be extra special and we were flying business class. It paid off. The flight attendant not only kept Ifer and me giddy with red wine, but also instigated us to take Wee out of his crate for the entire flight. He wiggled around my lap and gave everyone kisses, something he still does today.

I don’t remember how we decided to give Wee the name “Scout.” I think I first heard the name when Terri mentioned one of her dogs, who was named Scout. Wee seemed to want to explore everything when he arrived home, so Scout Explorer Extraordinaire seemed a good fit. After we watched “To Kill a Mockingbird,” I was sure. Both Jorge and I love to go on adventures and we were hopeful Scout would go with us too.

In the year since he’s been with us, he’s documented all his adventures on his Facebook page, Scout, Explorer Extraordinaire. He never warmed my feet as I’d hoped when I wrote. I suppose those days may be ahead when Mr. Scouty boy mellows a bit and I make the time for the second book about the letters. We’ve had some rough spots where he was sick, once with kennel cough and a few times with things we never did figure out. He destroyed shoelaces (on our running shoes) and offered up a few baseboard corner casualties. Like Sadie’s those repairs will likely be de-prioritized for years. One of the most disappointing was being suspended from herding school. Scout had been doing well, but I’d not worked with him long enough on attention to give him a fair shot. When he bit a goat, Cathy, his handler, suggested he needed “some time.”

Scout did and does, however, accompany Jorge and me all around Boulder getting love and praise for his good behavior. At the post office, he’s allowed to “paws up” to the counter. We send copies of my first book, Running to Thousand Letters, about what happens when I open 100 of the 1,000 letters. He pokes around McGuckin, the local hardware store, for project stuff and obeys “lie down” for treats. He’s taken a few plane rides with us and had lots of training at the Boulder Valley Humane Society. He even goes to work with me now that I’m working in downtown Boulder at a startup. We stop at The Unseen Bean, a coffee shop run by a blind man and his canine helper dog. The Unseen Bean has Scout’s favorite treats and mine too: dirty Bhakti Chai (chai with espresso shots). That’s a treat for both of us as is running up Sunshine Canyon trail for our four-mile mid-day workout.

We still have yet to get Scout on regular long weekend runs with us. First, we have to learn recall together in order to earn his “Green tag,” granted for Boulder dogs, who’ve pass a program for good off-leash behavior. Terri tells me it takes a solid two years to get recall consistently. Scout does pretty well especially if I have the Chuck-It ball Megan sent for his first birthday.

Second, Scout continues to learn that biting our feet while we run is not cool. Both Jorge and I have learned new hopscotch-like foot moves when Scout goes for our shoes instead of running with us. Even so, his longest recorded run was thirty-one miles late this summer. For a few days after that run, every time we’d put our shoes on, he’d self-crate himself. I suspect we overdid him that day. It seems four-to-six miles is his preferred, non-meltdown distance.

The Wee pup’s story has a happy ending. From twelve-and-a-half pounds at the airport when we left, he’s now a healthy thirty-five pounds. Wee became Scout who is a classic Boulder dog, growing up outside and playing in the mountains. He asked for a GPS watch for Christmas. You can follow how that works out for him at facebook.com/explorerscout.