riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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Love = Responsibility

This isn’t easy for me… but I’d like to ask for your support with something that’s dear to my heart. My dog, Ruby, has a serious leg injury and needs surgery in order to walk properly again, and I can’t afford to pay for it without help.

I adopted Ruby about 18 months after Kaz died, within weeks of starting this blog. Some of you might remember those early posts about being a new puppy owner.

first pic of ruby

first pic of ruby, 15 weeks old

There were so many issues to deal with back then: crate training, leash training, vaccinations, getting her spayed, teething issues, barking issuestraveling issuesinfections, switching doggie daycares, and puppy classes.

It was a lot. But she was worth it.

Ruby sleeping 3

I was still actively grieving at the time, but Ruby was a healthy distraction.

She made me laugh through my tears. She forced me to go outside when I normally might have stayed in bed feeling blue. She was the best hiking companion.

birthday hike with Ruby

She helped me heal by helping to mend and strengthen my broken heart. Taking care of her gave me a purpose and made me feel strong again. For the second time in my life, I was responsible for another being.

Ruby in the morning

The responsibility that comes with loving another is no joke. Human or animal – when you love someone, and they need your help, you do whatever you can to help them.

These days, Ruby needs a lot of help. She tore her ACL earlier this year, a partial tear that wasn’t obvious right away. I’ve spent the last few months taking her to various veterinarians and physical therapists to figure out how to deal with it. They all came to the same conclusion: she needs surgery, followed by physical therapy, and 3-4 months of supervised recovery.

ruby with leg up.jpg

Ruby today, holding her injured hind leg up

The whole ordeal is going to be stressful, expensive and time-consuming. But I’m determined to get Ruby back to health.

At 3+ years, she’s much too young to be hobbling around, and it would be cruel to let her go through the rest of her life in pain. She deserves to be able to run and play and hike and swim the way she used to.

So, I’ve set up a gofundme campaign to try and raise some of the money for her medical expenses. It’s called Help Ruby Run Again. Many friends have contributed, but there’s still a long way to go.

If any of you are inclined to make a small contribution, that would be awesome. If you can’t donate, then maybe you could share the link, or just keep us in your thoughts. It all helps.

gofund.me/helprubyrunagain

I’ll be posting about Ruby’s progress in the coming days, weeks, months.

Ruby will run again, and I will run with her. 🙂

Thanks for reading and for your support.

– Niva

 

 

 


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Writers and Dogs

Ruby snow cone nose

My dog, Ruby

I think every writer should have a dog (if possible).

Dogs are the ultimate companions for people who like to be alone. They’re quiet enough to let you work, but active enough to unglue you from the chair every now and then. They’re more demanding than cats, but less demanding than children or other adults. You can concentrate with a dog in the room. You can read with a dog outside (I do this every day). They open your eyes to things, and take you outside of your head. They keep you grounded.

Dogs also give us the opportunity to love and nurture another being. Initially, I was worried that owning a dog might be too distracting, but I actually enjoy the responsibility. Sometimes it’s frustrating, like the other day when I had to stop a really great writing flow to take her to a vet appointment. But ultimately, it’s always rewarding (I was glad I took her to the vet).

Their loyalty is good for the soul, perhaps even the ego, which we all know is fragile with writers. Dogs never get mad at you, or criticize you, or even question you. All they want is to please you, to be near you, to love and be loved by you. People have told me that when I leave a room, Ruby will stare at the door until I return. That loyalty is another reason why she’s allowed to be off-leash so much. She might run off to chase something, yes. But she would never just run away.

Ruby and farm2

Ruby brings so much into my life, it’s hard to put it into words. She has helped (and continues to help) me heal from loss. She makes me laugh. She reminds me to play and be curious, to stretch and get plenty of rest. She provides me with companionship and affection. She protects me better than any alarm system. She also provides structure to my day, which is broken up into three-hour stretches of work followed by a 30-minute break outside (longer when it’s warm out). She sleeps while I’m working, but when I’ve worked for longer than usual, or past a certain hour, she will come over and put a paw on my leg, like “okay, it’s time to stop now.” Sometimes I feel like I belong to her, not the other way around.

The other day I told a friend that “if I were to die before my dog, she would be my main concern.” I try not to think about it very often, or of the more likely scenario that she will go before me. But every now and then I remember that Ruby and I only have a relatively short time together (hopefully, the long end of short). My next thought is always the same, “That’s why I’m giving her the very best life I possibly can.” Whenever that day comes, I will mourn her terribly, but I will also know that she lived a great life, full of fun and love, and we gave each other all that one could possibly give to another.

Here are some photos of other writers and their dogs (many of which I got from here):

Amy Hempel

Donna Tartt and Pongo (photo by Jill Krementz)

Dorothy Parker and Misty (photo by Roy Schatt)

E.L. Doctorow and Becky

Edith Wharton and her pups

John Steinbeck and Charley

Kurt Vonnegut and Pumpkin

Maurice Sendak and Herman (photo by Tim Knox)

Maurice Sendak and Herman (photo by Tim Knox)

Stephen King

Virginia Woolf and Pinka (photo by Gisele Freund)

William Faulkner and pups (photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson)

For those of you who own cats, you’re also in good company.

Tennessee Williams and Sabbath

William S. Burroughs and Ginger

William S. Burroughs and Ginger

More pictures of writers and dogs: https://www.tumblr.com/search/writers%20and%20dogs

A fun post about pets who were loved by famous authors: http://www.brainpickings.org/2013/04/29/literary-pets/

A site that shows writers at work – some with their pets: http://writersatwork.pfauth.com/

Happy creating!


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You Know You’re a Dog Person When

Ruby just turned two years old. This one’s for her. 🙂

YOU KNOW YOU’RE A DOG PERSON WHEN:

Your home resembles a graveyard.graveyard

Your dog has a bed in every room of the house, plus the car.

Ruby sleeping beautyRuby upside downJT - Ruby asleep

Your dog sleeps on your bed — rather, she shares her biggest bed with you.

Ruby hiding in bed

You talk to your dog all day and are convinced she understands what you’re saying.

You rate your day by how many times your dog poops in the morning. 1x =  an average day. 2x = a great day. 3x = you might get a promotion at work or win the lottery.

You analyze your dog’s poop like a tea reader.

You know your vet’s number by heart.

You ask your dog questions like “how was your day?” and “are you mad at me?”

You can read your dog’s looks:

“No, I will not get out of bed. It’s Sunday.”Ruby in the morning

“Do we really have to watch Downton Abbey at full volume?”

Ruby giving me stink eye

“I just woke up and realized it’s been two days since you gave me a bone.”

Ruby giving me a look

You will drive up to an hour to take your dog to a new off-leash hike trail — or the beach.

Ruby carrying big stick

Taking it all in

You will give your dog the last drops of water on a hike.

hot ruby

You try not to judge other people by how your dog reacts to them.

You try not to judge other people by how well – or badly – behaved their dog is.

You try not to give strangers advice on how to train their dogs — but it’s hard since you’ve worked so hard to train yours.

canine good citizen

Your dog has more boyfriends than you do.

Ruby boyfriend

You set up more play dates for your dog than you do for yourself.

You question moving to a different neighborhood or state because what about your dog’s friends?

Ruby and friendsruby and friends2

You will buy another dog’s toy on the spot so that your dog can play with it.

Ruby and Cuivre

You have an iTunes playlist for when your dog is alone that includes Mozart, Bach and Philip Glass. You think this music has made your dog smarter.

You put sunscreen on your dog’s face.

SB - Douglass beach - sandy dog

You let your dog roll in whatever she wants, even if it means giving her a bath afterwards.

Ruby rolling in itruby rolling in grassDirty Ruby

You feel sorry for people who don’t have dogs.

You’re wary of people who don’t like dogs.

You judge cities by how dog-friendly they are.

Hollywood Ruby

It takes you 30-45 minutes to explain how, when and why you adopted your dog.

Ruby

You celebrate your dog’s birthday.

Your favorite moment of the day is waking up to your dog.

Ruby sleeping and smiling

Your second favorite moment of the day is coming home to your dog.

Ruby and me

 Are you a dog person? 


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The Joy of Hiking With a Dog

Lately, the activity that brings me the most joy is hiking with my dog Ruby. During the week we spend so much time cooped up in the car/office/daycare/apartment, that on the weekends we both crave the freedom of being outside. The goal is to eventually hike every other day, but for the moment, we are weekend warriors. We do a regular Sunday morning hike with a friend, and, on Saturdays, we venture out just the two of us.

Our Sunday hike happens to be in the middle of a city park, but other trails are farther away. We only hike off-leash trails like Runyon Canyon and Westridge  Canyonback Wilderness Park.

Runyon Canyon, LA

Runyon Canyon, LA

I have many friends who won’t let their dog off the leash except in an enclosed area like a yard or dog park, the fear being that the dog will run off – either after another animal (like a squirrel), into a nearby road, or just run off out of curiosity and end up lost. People also worry about their dogs reacting to other dogs and people. All valid concerns. 

If you want to hike with your dog off-leash, your dog MUST:

– be friendly with other dogs and people

– be obedient (i.e. come, sit, stay and leave it on command)

– be in good physical shape

If any of these things is a concern, then hiking off-leash might not be for you, at least not right away. You can socialize your dog to be friendly with other dogs and people, and train it to be obedient. You can also put your dog on a diet and condition it to take longer walks, unless it’s too old or sick.

If these things are NOT an issue, then I highly recommend  taking your dog out on the trail when and wherever possible. Not only is it great exercise for both of you, but it’s also a wonderful way to bond with your canine companion.

Ruby happy to be hikingSomeone once told me that hiking off-leash enforces the “pack leader” mentality, which I can’t prove but tend to believe. When Ruby is on the leash, she instinctively wants to go ahead. But when she is off-leash, she walks right beside me or right behind me, like my shadow.

She also runs off at intervals, but she A) regularly stops to wait for me, B) stops the minute I call her name, and C) always comes back when I tell her to. More often than not, she comes back on her own after she’s finished exploring.

Ruby far away on hillRuby in field2ruby running down hill

Other things to keep in mind when hiking with a dog, on or off the leash:

– Bring plenty of water for both you and the dog. I once encountered a man carrying his dog down the trail because it was dehydrated (and it was a hot summer day). I offered him some of our water, and they made it the rest of the way down okay. It goes without saying, don’t hike in the hottest hours.

– Bring an extra leash. I once lost Ruby’s leash on a trail and had to face the prospect of carrying her several blocks from the trail’s entrance to my car. Luckily, another hiker offered to double leash her dog with Ruby, so for a few blocks the dogs walked side by side.

– If it’s a long hike, I recommend bringing snacks but only giving them once you stop for a rest. I once gave Ruby treats while we were actually hiking, and she threw them all up when we reached the summit. Other dogs also kept coming over to us because they smelled the treats in my hand. What works better is keeping treats in your bag until you get to the summit (or the mid-way point). I don’t bring treats on every hike, but definitely the long/difficult ones.

– After a hike, check your dog’s body for ticks, cuts or burrs. A few weeks ago, Ruby got a large, bloody scratch on her arm and a tick on her left paw from running through brush. I removed the tick in the car, and treated her scratch when we got home.

– Bring a first aid kit. I actually need to get one of my own. Right now, our Sunday hiking friend always brings one.

– Bring poop bags. I pick up after Ruby even when we’re out in the wilderness, and yes, have trekked for over an hour with her stinky poop in my backpack. I had never been so happy to see a trashcan.

– Have a charged phone and your vet’s number in it, just in case something happens.

– Be aware of the local wild life (snakes, bears, mountain lions, coyotes, hawks, etc.). Personally, I wouldn’t hike off-leash with a small dog in Los Angeles. I’ve heard of hawks snatching Chihuahuas right in front of their owners (!). We’ve also encountered horses on the trail, and I immediately put Ruby on the leash. When the rider said his horses don’t mind dogs, I let her off. Both the horses and Ruby were totally calm.

When in doubt, approach hiking with your dog like you would hiking with a child. You want to balance the fun with common sense. Your dog will thank you for the fresh air, the exercise and especially the freedom to just be a dog and sniff, run and play to its heart’s content. She will also sleep for the rest of the day.  🙂

Ruby rolling in itRuby carrying big stickRuby playing with stick

Here are some other sites with advice on hiking with dogs:

http://adventure.howstuffworks.com/outdoor-activities/hiking/hike-with-your-dog.htm

http://www.outdoors.org/publications/outdoors/2013/features/a-hikers-best-friend.cfm

http://phoenix.about.com/od/anim/a/hikingdogs.htm

And this site will tell you where there is an off-leash trail near you (anywhere in the world).

Until the next hike!!

Ruby in field3


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Six Legs in the Bed

It should be no surprise to anyone that I sleep with my dog. I’ve blogged about giving up on crate training. I’ve posted a picture of her on the bed. Truth is, she’s been sleeping on my bed – and I’ve been receiving flack for it – practically since day one. My 84-year old father has been the most vocal about his displeasure, presumably on behalf of the entire family.

Him: “It’s just not right. Dogs should not sleep on beds, period.”

Me: “Why? Where is that written?”

Him: “It’s not written anywhere. It’s just common sense. Dogs are dirty and you don’t want that mess in your bed.”

Me: “But she doesn’t sleep in the bed. She sleeps on the bed.”

Him: “It’s not right, I’m telling you.”

Several months ago his tune changed slightly.

Him: “Well, it’s your bed. I guess you can do what you want with it.”

Me: “Thank you.”

Him: “But I still don’t think it’s right, and I don’t know what you’re going to do when you visit other people.”

Me: “Your concerns have been noted, and I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.”

Of course, my father has a point. No one wants this dog on their bed.

Dirty Ruby

By now, however, she knows the routine. When we return home after playing down and dirty at the dog park or beach, she follows me to the bathroom and hops into the bathtub to receive a very thorough wash from head to toe without squirming or crying. I think baths make her feel better because afterwards she literally hops around the apartment like a gazelle on speed.

Like any little lady, she also always “bathes” herself – twice – at night and in the morning. There’s a reason why the three most common compliments she receives are: “beautiful… well-behaved… clean.”

Ruby sitting pretty

Shedding is another matter. She does leave little white hairs everywhere, but most of the time she sleeps on top of a blue blanket that I wash every week.

Rare are moments like the other night when I returned from brushing my teeth to find this:

Ruby hiding in bed

(For the record, she was still on top of the top sheet.)

Then there is the negotiation of space. I still sleep on the same side of the bed I did when Kaz was here. Ruby usually falls asleep at the bottom half of the bed, and uses my foot as a pillow. We shift in the middle of the night – me to my right side, she to a curled up ball behind my legs. We shift again in the morning – me to my left side, she completely stretched out (vertically) from one end of the bed to the other.

Sometimes she sleeps like this:

Ruby upside down

She continues sleeping while I shower, get dressed, prepare breakfast and put on my makeup. But when I enter the room with my usual “Good morning sunshine, time for breakfast,” I always find her lying on her stomach, bright-eyed, wagging her tail. I imagine she slowly wakes up to the sounds of me puttering about the apartment.

On the weekends, we both sleep in… until she gives me this look, which means it’s time to get up:

Ruby wanting to go out

I know it’s unorthodox. I know it will complicate matters if/when I start dating again (she will adapt). I also know I’m not alone. The lady who ran her Vermont daycare slept with her husband and four other large dogs (five when Ruby lived there) in the bed. And the lady featured in this 2011 New York Times article sleeps with a pot-bellied pig, two kittens and three terriers.

From that NYT article:

Figures vary, but according to a recent study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 14 to 62 percent of the 165 million dogs and cats in this country sleep in bed with humans, with other surveys skewing higher.

Another study warns that… allowing pets to sleep in the bed can be dangerous and can spread zoonoses (pronounced zoh-AN-ee-sees), pathogens that go from animals to people… They cite instances of fleas from cats transmitting bubonic plague. Catch scratch fever is a danger, too, they say, as are various forms of meningitis, Pasturella pneumonia and other infections.

(Bubonic plague? Geez.)

All I know is having Ruby on the bed makes me feel super safe. More than anything, I find it comforting and bonding. I think she does too, as she sleeps beside me wherever I am in the apartment. As long as we’re both parasite-free, wound-free, allergy-free and disease-free, I can’t see the harm in waking up to this every day. Can you?

Ruby sleeping and smiling


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The Path to Good Citizenship

Remember when I blogged about my worries of becoming a dog lady? Screw that. I am totally a dog lady. In fact, I have high hopes for my Ruby. I would love for her to be a Therapy Dog.

[photo source: disabled-world.com]

[photo source: disabled-world.com]

A therapy dog is a dog that’s been trained to provide affection and comfort to people in hospitals, retirement homes, schools, hospices, disaster areas, etc.  They come in all sizes and breeds. The most important characteristic of a therapy dog is its temperament. A good therapy dog must be friendly, patient, confident, gentle, and at ease in all situations. Therapy dogs must enjoy human contact and be content to be petted and handled, sometimes clumsily. In hospice environments, therapy dogs can play a role in palliative care by reducing death anxiety. [Wikipedia]

Kaz was visited by a therapy dog after his seizures. I wasn’t there to witness it, but his mother told me the encounter cheered him up immensely. I often think of him now when training Ruby. I feel like she has the right temperment for this unique job. She is calm, affectionate and very loving. People are naturally drawn to her. She’s even won over people who were initially afraid of her. She’s nowhere near ready to visit a hospital, or interact with tons of strangers. She needs a lot more training, and has to pass several hurdles. The first is the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen test. 

[photo source: Wikipedia]

[photo source: Wikipedia]

To pass the CGC Test, a dog must perform the following:

•Test 1: Accept a friendly stranger

•Test 2: Sit politely for petting by a stranger

•Test 3: Sit politely while being touched and groomed by a stranger

•Test 4: Walk on a loose leash

•Test 5: Walk politely through a crowd (no lunging or barking)

•Test 6: Sit and down on command and stay in place (including when owner is over 10 feet away)

•Test 7: Come when called

•Test 8: React politely to another dog (no pulling, barking or lunging)

•Test 9: React calmly to distraction (Examples of distractions include dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch or cane.)

•Test 10: Maintain good manners while owner is out of sight for 3 minutes 

Dodger and his owner Melissa after passing CGC test [photo source: pitsisters.org]

Dodger and his owner Melissa after passing CGC test [photo source: pitsisters.org]

Several weeks ago Ruby and I started taking weekend classes at a dog training facility that’s running a summer special. She passed Obedience 1 in one class, and Obedience 2 in two classes. This past weekend was her first Obedience 3, a class geared specifically toward preparing dogs for the CGC test. We’re with about ten other dogs, including a large grey poodle named Louie. He looks very similar to the dog pictured below.

[photo source: valleyviewdogs.com]

[photo source: valleyviewdogs.com]

Louie is so well-behaved, I’m not sure why he’s still in training. His owners, a somewhat pale and tired-looking husband and wife team, seem to be in control of his every thought and movement. If they weren’t so Jedi-focused on Louie, they might have noticed me and Ruby staring at them, dumbfounded.

At the end of class, we approached Louie’s parents and while our dogs played, I asked his parents how long he’s been training.

“Since he was a puppy,” they said. “Now he’s 13 months.” 

“You’ve done a fantastic job,” I gushed. “He seems perfect to me.”

“Thank you,” the woman smiled, “but he didn’t pass the test.” 

Apparently, Louie did everything perfectly until the very last test, when his owners had to leave him for 3 minutes. “He couldn’t handle it,” the woman sighed, then gave another little smile. “But we’re going to try again.”

By this point Ruby was running in circles around Louie trying to goad him into playing. Louie and his parents left, and I stayed behind to talk to the teacher. Does she think Ruby has what it takes?

“Absolutely.” She said even though Ruby might not be perfectly behaved like Louie yet, she is picking things up very quickly and she has a certain energy that will serve her well. She can be very still, calm and focused when she wants to be.

Who knows how far we will go, but we’re both having fun right now. I swear that training her is helping me in some way. I know it’s helping her. One day, if we work hard enough, we might get the opportunity to help others.

Ruby zen2


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The Slippery Slope to “Dog Lady”

This past weekend a friend asked me, “You’re not thinking of getting another dog, are you?” “Well, actually,” I replied slowly. “The thought has crossed my mind to get another dog eventually, but only once I have more living space.” “When do you see that happening?” “Within the next three to five years,” I answered, adding that I’m currently focused on building the life that I want. If I end up meeting another partner, great. But I’m not seeking or waiting for that to happen before moving forward with my goals. “But that’s how you end up being a cat lady,” was the response.

For those unfamiliar, in America, the term “cat lady” has long been associated with the concept of spinsterhood, and in more recent decades, with “romance-challenged (often career-oriented) women who can’t find a man” (paraphrasing wikipedia). Perhaps in your country there is a different term, but you probably recognize the concept of the older, unmarried woman who finds love with her pets instead of a man, right? In my case, it would be “dog lady” as I’m allergic to cats.

Another friend recently told me she doesn’t like to see people using their pets as a “crutch.” When I asked her to explain what she meant by crutch exactly, she said “like when the pet is keeping them from doing things, like dating.” She also asked if I was thinking about getting another dog (apparently, a common concern), and told me it would be better if I dated a man who already owned a dog. “Then you could merge the two pets into one household.” I said, “That would be great, especially if he had a big yard too.”

The summation of these, and other, conversations has got me wondering. Should I be concerned that I’m spending all my free time with my dog instead of dating? Is she an emotional crutch? Am I becoming (the dog equivalent of) a cat lady??

While it’s true that my dog is somewhat of a child/companion/protector/project, I don’t necessarily see myself living alone with her forever. I also don’t see any rush in finding another mate. I feel like I’ve experienced the major romantic milestones in life: falling in love, living together, marriage, sickness, death. The only thing I haven’t done is give birth and raise a child. But isn’t having a dog good practice for parenting on some level? When I said that to my friend this weekend, he laughed, “I’ve seen the way you discipline your dog. Your child would probably rob me.”

I should add that my friends and I love sarcasm and ribbing each other. We might sound harsh, but it’s all in good, playful, loving fun. I really do appreciate that they want me to find love again, even their fears of me living in a house overrun with animals. I just wish they could understand that before I can entertain the idea of being in another human-human relationship, I need to get my shit together and re-define my life on my own. It’s not that I don’t want to share the joys and adventures of life with someone one day.

Or perhaps this all hogwash and I’m actually becoming a “dog lady.”

(credit: sarahleavitt.com)

(credit: sarahleavitt.com)


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Puppy Issues

Ruby at the cafe

Ruby at the cafe

My baby girl is 10 months old now. I can hardly believe it! Seems like just yesterday she was this little pip-squeak. Soon it will be her 1 year birthday (July 7) and I’m already thinking of what to do for her. Before then, however, I need to deal with some of her new behaviors.

Issue #1 – She barks at people.

I know dogs bark and don’t expect my dog to be mute. But I’ve noticed that she’s barking more often lately in inappropriate situations. The other night I took her to a friend’s party and she barked at other guests entering the host’s house. She also barked at a guest walking out of the bathroom because he startled her. Last night she barked at a neighbor who wanted to take the elevator with us, then at a homeless man walking behind us on our evening walk (he wasn’t doing anything suspicious).

I always tell her “No” or “It’s okay, sshh,” then I tell the person, “She’s actually really friendly,” and they look at me like I’m nuts. Folks are already scared of her because she’s a pitbull. When she’s barking at them with the hair raised all along her back it’s hard to see the friendly side. To her credit, I’ve never seen her growl or bare her teeth at a person. Her barking doesn’t sound like “I’m going to kill you!” It sounds like “Stay away!”

What’s strange is that in other contexts, for instance when I take her to the cafe in the morning, she sits there like a little lady. She does the same thing at street lights or whenever I tell her to Sit. She also never barks at other dogs even if they’re barking at her. People are always saying how well-behaved and sweet she is.

I go out of my way to be friendly to people on our walks. In fact, I’m probably much more outgoing with her than without her because I know she picks up on my tone. Yet in certain situations, even when I’m being friendly, she starts barking at the person.

Is part of the issue that we live alone? She doesn’t get to interact with other people like she does with me. She’s also extremely attached to me and still follows me from room to room. My gut tells me it’s a combination of protectiveness, testing her assertiveness, shyness and/or a general wariness of strangers, especially men. But how does a puppy learn who is a creep and who isn’t? I suppose I have to bring her around people more, which means being less of a hermit (sigh).

Issue #2 – She has bursts of uncontrollable energy while on the leash.

For the most part, she walks/heels very well. She will walk right beside me without pulling for 75% of the average walk. She gets compliments on this too because people can’t believe a dog that young can walk that well.

However, if she sees a squirrel, bird, stick, small dog or any other interesting creature, all bets are off. She will either lurch forward with all her strength or jump in the air and twist her body around with excitement. If I don’t anticipate it, she could yank my arm out. When she does this around small dogs, albeit because she wants to play with them, it totally freaks them out – and who can blame them?! I haven’t been too strict about it because I figure she’s a puppy, that’s what puppies do. But as a friend recently pointed out, if I don’t curb it now soon she’ll be full-grown and going berzerk. Then what?

We’ve slacked off from puppy class the last few weeks, but this Saturday we’re going back to discuss these issues with her teacher.

Has your dog ever had these issues? If so, how did you deal with it?


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The 4-Legged One

I’m turning the attention for a moment to my puppy Ruby, who is 9 months old now. Growing like a weed. Still sweet, playful and goofy but maturing as well, both physically and emotionally.

JT - on the road

So far, this dog has been to New York City, Vermont, Santa Barbara and Joshua Tree. She’s flown in an airplaine, ridden in a taxi, SUV and flatbed truck. She’s played in snow, sand and now the dusty desert. She’s met probably up to 75 dogs (36 in Vermont alone) and has had no issues. When another dog barks or growls at her, she looks at it like, “What’s your problem? CHILL.”

JT - lips flapping

Our trip to Joshua Tree two weeks ago was enlightening for both of us (last post about that weekend, promise). She was off-leash almost the entire time, able to come and go as she pleased, sniff and explore to her heart’s content. And boy, did she take advantage.

JT - Ruby and cactus

She was very curious about hay and firewood. But her favorite activity was chasing pheasants. I think she would have chased them into the next state if I hadn’t called for her. To my relief, she would stop and turn around, then slowly make her way back (unless she saw another bird). It was sort of a test for both of us, because I’m not used to her being out of sight.

When she ran to a neighbor’s yard and started chasing their chickens, that was another story. Chickens can’t fly away and for this family they are food. Left to her own devices Ruby would definitely have caught up to “lunch on legs.” She had to go on the leash and then go inside, from which she had to suffer the chickens taunting her.

JT - Ruby and chicken

Despite the chicken incident, her training does seem to be working. She will Come, Sit, Down, Stay and Leave it consistently, even at the dog park. She knows Go To Your Crate, Go To Bed, Go Inside (the car), and Go to the Back(seat). I swear she is learning Finish Your Food.

She is, however, getting more protective. She doesn’t bark at other dogs, but she does sometimes bark at men walking towards us, or when she’s startled, when she sees a skunk, when she hears a noise (in real life or on TV), when it’s totally quiet, and sometimes when I’m startled.

The other morning, while taking a shower, I saw a roach crawling along the bathroom wall. “Oh hell no,” I exclaimed. The puppy started barking. Here I am, trying to kill the roach before it crawls away, and calm Ruby down at the same time, while standing in the shower. Comical.

I’m still trying to figure out this new side of her, the side that barks and growls at shadows in the night. Usually, placing my hand on her side will calm her down to a quiet “hrummph”, then a very low “grrr” before she falls asleep again. I don’t mind her being protective, but I don’t want her to be paranoid or over-protective.

JT - Ruby watching sunrise

JT - Ruby asleep

All I can do is keep training her. She’s coming into her own, finding her voice. My friend T recently said, “You realize, she thinks she owns everything.” I responded, “That’s okay. She can think whatever she wants, as long as she listens to me, wherever we are, no matter what’s going on, no exceptions.”

We’re not quite there yet, but getting there.

JT - Ruby in truck


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How to be an Alpha Bitch

There is a moment in every woman’s life when she comes to understand that the only way to get what she wants is to be an Alpha Bitch. Knowing this does not make it so. She must either decide to become one or accept that she doesn’t have what it takes. If the former, and contrary to what you might think, she does not decide to become mean. She decides to become a leader. One that inspires obedience, loyalty, respect, fear and above all, love from her subject, be it man, child or beast.

Step 1 to being an Alpha Bitch is

1. Recognize that you need to be the Alpha Bitch
It’s okay to not realize it right way, as long as you realize it before the subject realizes that between the two of you, she is more Alpha than you are. Usually, this means while they’re young, still look up to you and/or don’t yet realize their own strength. Once you’ve made the decision to be the leader

2. You must decide how you want the subject to behave and be consistent in the message.
This requires a lot of foresight and energy. If you’re like me and have a set of rules for home and a set of rules in other people’s homes, it can be even more challenging, though not impossible. The trick is to be get the subject to listen to you wherever you are, and to never question your authority.

Ruby with bamboo2

3. Realize and accept that when the subject misbehaves, it’s really your fault.
This is often hard to accept because on some level we wish the subject would know good behavior instinctually. But accept it you must. No matter how good the subject might be, she will not know these behaviors inherently and must be taught what is good behavior and what is bad.

4. Always look the subject in the eye and never show fear.
Your eyes, voice and body language are all key factors. To command, you must be commanding, period.

5. Reward the subject with treats when they do what you want. Learn what is the most valuable treat.
Self-explanatory.

6. Withhold treats when the subject does not do what you want.
Ditto.

7. Learn when to withhold treats for other reasons, for example when the subject grows too accustomed to treats.
Learn to sometimes withhold treats in order to increase their value. Sometimes we learn this by accident because, for reasons not necessarily within our control, treats become unavailable for a period of time. The next time we give the treat the subject appreciates it that much more, which makes training easier.

Ruby with bamboo3

8. Follow up treats with praise.
The goal is to get the subject to behave even without treats all the time, for the subject to forget that bad behavior is even an option. The goal is for good behavior to become the norm.

9. Realize and accept that there will be exceptions
After all, the subject is what it is, and cannot be blamed for having these urges. Every now and then, let the subject blow off some steam and just be themselves.

ruby with bamboo4jpeg

10. Be patient, compassionate and loving. Don’t always be in training mode.
It’s okay to show affection, to laugh and play and indulge and spoil, to a certain extent. As a professional trainer recently told me, “Eventually, she’ll realize that everything good in her life comes from you.”