riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


5 Comments

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?


10 Comments

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


7 Comments

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.”


2 Comments

Little Patch of Green

I miss many aspects of my residency time in Vermont: the beautiful vistas, the quiet, the crisp fresh air, the simplicity of the one-stop-light-two-bar town. I miss being surrounded by other artists, talking about and seeing art every day, the unlimited writing time, privacy and coziness of my office, the lack of responsibilities other than my work-study dishwashing job. I also miss seeing my puppy run around freely at her Vermont doggie daycare.

Home on the ranch

Home on the ranch

She lived on a ranch where the men in the family (grandfather, father, son) work in construction and logging. Their land included 50 acres of woods and a pond, which was frozen when we were there, but in the summer the dogs can swim in it. You can see the small dock below.

VT doggie daycare dogs

When I would come to visit her, every day for 1.5 hours, we did one of two things: play ball or go walking in the woods. On both activities we were always accompanied by the owner’s dog, Izzy.

Izzy, pack leader

Izzy

Izzy was the pack leader of the daycare dogs. She literally policed the other dogs and sort of took Ruby under her wings. She was also faster than all the other dogs and could find a ball buried in 3 feet of snow. I miss Izzy most of all, especially seeing her and Ruby together.

Ruby and Izzy waiting for ball

Ruby and Izzy waiting for ball

Now perhaps you can understand why I felt some pangs of guilt for taking her back to the urban jungle of Los Angeles where our “yard” is a small cement patio.

The good news is we recently learned of an abandoned field in our neighborhood. A neighbor told me about it when our dogs were saying hello to each other.

The other day Ruby and I went to investigate.

It’s a large grassy field, completely enclosed. Apparently, a house used to sit there but was torn down for some unknown reason and nothing’s been built there since. Best of all, it’s literally around the corner from where we live. The only reason I hadn’t seen it before is because it’s not on our normal route. I was surprised that it’s as empty as it is. No broken glass, trash or homeless people. Ruby can run around freely, chasing balls and smelling all there is to be smelled.

I don’t know how long this will last. Technically, we are trespassing. But we make sure to be quiet in the mornings, and we’re not the only ones who go there. The other day we met another woman and her dog. The woman told me that the adjacent neighbors are aware of these trespassing city dogs and their owners, and as long as we’re not being loud, trashing the place or doing drugs, no one seems to care.

Vermont it ain’t, but it’s our little patch of green for now.

Ruby in field2

Ruby profile in field


Leave a comment

Ruby 1

According to the Urban Dictionary, the phrase “road dog” means “close friend; a traveling companion that one is most often seen with; a person going with you during your travels.”

Example for using it in a sentence:
Guy#1. hey are you going to the national hobo gathering?
Guy#2. nah man I’m waiting for my road dog to get out of jail.

I’m waiting for my future road dog to get out of jail too, though in her case it’s a dog shelter in Long Beach.

I met her at a pet adoption fair last Sunday and was compelled to hold her. She was so calm in my arms that I almost started crying. When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. The next day I emailed the shelter lady to inquire about adopting.

But am I getting her for the right reasons? And am I a suitable mom? Several things worry me.

1. I’m still grieving my late husband. Every day this week I cried on the way to work, and before going to bed. It felt as if he died a few weeks ago, not 17 months ago. I’m not like this all the time (anymore) but these sudden waves still catch me off guard.

2. I’m a writer who needs her space. Will I still be able to write with a puppy around?

3. I’m actually not allowed to have pets in my building unless it’s a service animal. My therapist is going to write a letter saying I need an emotional support animal (ESA), so we should be okay (unless she barks a lot or bites someone).

4. Do I have enough patience? Patience has never been one of my strengths, though I do feel like I’ve grown quite a bit in the last couple of years.

5. Am I prepared to commit to someone again, knowing that her life will be in my hands and one day I will feel the pain of losing her?

6. Will she like motorcycles?

I suppose time will tell. All I know is I miss having love in the house. I miss taking care of another, and I’m tired of thinking about myself (or the past) all the time.

This is a picture of my future road dog, Ruby. She’s the one with the white face, cocking her head at camera. Maybe one day she’ll be riding in a sidecar, wearing goggles, her little ears flapping in the wind.