riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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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.”


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Trying to be Zen and not Kvetch

For those unfamiliar with the Yiddish term, to kvetch means “to whine or complain, often needlessly.” Favorite use of the word in a sentence: “Is this truth I’m delivering up, or is it just plain kvetching? Or is kvetching for people like me a form of truth?” — Philip Roth, Portnoy’s Complaint. I try not to use the blog to complain but right now all I can think of are the things that are annoying me. Don’t feel obligated to read any further. I just want to get these things off my chest, starting with:

1. I’m tired. Between losing an hour to Daylight Savings Time and getting up earlier for the longer commute to puppy’s new daycare, I am seriously struggling to stay awake.

2. I hate traffic. It’s a little easier not to feel road rage when there’s a cute puppy sitting beside you, but damn does LA traffic SUCK, especially since I still haven’t figured out the best route to get to new daycare. I miss the days in Vermont when I could either walk everywhere or drive on roads with no traffic to any destination.

3. The puppy is a handful. Yesterday I had to stay home from work because she threw up five times before 9:00am. On the way to the vet, I discovered one of the seat belts half-chewed away. The vet actually came out to my car to inspect. Did she swallow half the seat-belt? Or a bone? Or a tennis ball? Not this time (thank g-d) but she definitely ate something that didn’t agree with her. Now she’s on yet ANOTHER medication, at least for the next 4 days. I love her and will do anything for her, but she is driving me a little nuts.

4. I’m crankier when I’m tired. I’m trying to get up even earlier now than before, at 3:30am, to make up for leaving the house earlier for the commute. Except I keep hitting the snooze button, so the alarm goes off at 3:30, 4:00, 5:00 then 6:00am before I finally get out of bed at 7:00. I’m sure this is driving the puppy nuts.

5. I can’t stand my job. Rather, I am grateful to have a job, income, benefits, pleasant work environment, nice co-workers, a desk with privacy and a window, and a very cool boss, but I can’t stand not doing what I love. This is what you call a “day job” – a job that pays the bills, not a job you’re passionate about and can’t wait to get to. There is no shame in having a day job. And as far as day jobs go, this one is pretty sweet (they let me go to Vermont, after all). I can’t say enough about how nice my boss is. But I’d rather be doing what I love: writing, directing, producing, working with artists, working with children, making art, making a difference, using more of my brain.

6. There is never enough time in the day. I’ve been asked to volunteer again this Saturday and feel torn. I want to help out but I also want a weekend to myself. Weekends are usually busy: puppy class, doctors appointments, laundry, groceries, cleaning, dog park. Can I squeeze in another few hours of volunteering?? If I don’t, will they think I’m not passionate enough?

7. I really miss having a partner. Besides missing Kaz’s voice, touch, wit, wisdom and everything else, I also miss having some help with life.

8. I’m not exercising enough and am overweight. Need to either get up earlier and walk with puppy, walk at lunch, or hike more on the weekends.

9. I’m not making enough money. It’s frustrating to be 42 years old and still scraping pennies to make it to the next paycheck.

10. My writing is going slower than a snail’s pace, which aggravates everything else because it feels like there’s no momentum.

Do I feel better now? Hmmm, not really. Though now that I’ve listed my grievances, I recognize that these are issues everyone deals with. They’re all within my power to change. And things could be a whole lot worse. Shame on me for complaining about all this BS.

I’m lucky to have a job, a car, my health, a beautiful loving dog, friends and family, wonderful memories of a wonderful man, a great love, a city where the sun is almost always shining and exercise almost always possible, and a blog where I get to write every day.

So, no more kvetching.


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Puppy update

ResizedImage_1362874127836

Believe it or not, these medications are all for the puppy. And she’s not even sick. She has a skin condition, an eye ailment, an issue with her right hind foot which she developed on one of our hikes and, as of yesterday, a small gash across the bridge of her nose because another older (probably unhappy) dog snapped at her in doggie daycare. With this cut on her face, her swollen eye and the small bits of hair missing from her coat, she now actually looks like a stereotypical fighting pitbull-in-training. Which couldn’t be farther from the truth, but I can’t explain that to everyone who sees her. This morning a woman saw her coming and crossed the street to avoid her. Little does she know my Ruby is a wanna-be lap dog, who happens to play rough and have delicate skin.

I must admit, I am not pleased about another dog biting her at daycare. I know things happen between animals but this is the second injury she’s sustained there since coming back from Vermont. I wrote about the first one a few weeks ago, the day she came home with a pronounced limp in her front paw. The limp healed and so will this cut, but still it’s annoying. Is this how mothers feel when their kids get hurt at school? Like, why isn’t someone watching these kids better? Sometimes I wonder if I’m being overly protective. I keep reminding myself “she’s a dog, not a child.” But I can’t seem to make the distinction. She might as well be my child, one with four legs and fur. She’ll never read or write or go to college, but I’m still investing in her education. She might not talk, but she definitely talks back. She’s willful and stubborn and oh so smart. And I swear she has a sense of humor. I feel like raising her is actually teaching me things that will make me a better mom to the potential human child I might one day have to beg, borrow or steal.

Anyway, the good news is she won’t be going back to this daycare again, at least for a little while. I had been wanting to find a cheaper solution for her during the day even before the face bite. And today, I think I did, via an old friend of my late husband.

Big B has a house with a fenced-in yard in Santa Monica, and an older female pit named Lacie. Lacie has white hairs around her muzzle and a waddling gate due to her big belly. When she wags her tail, her whole body sways to and fro. I’ve left Ruby with Lacie and Big B a few times, recently while at dentist appointments. Today Big B said I could bring her by any time. “Really?” I said. “Really,” he smiled. And that was that. We discussed specifics and agreed to take it one day at a time. But come Monday, we’re going to Big B’s for daycare. It will add another 30 minutes to my commute, but whatever. At least she’ll be outside running around with one dog, not inside all day with 20. And it will save me some money. So, fingers crossed.

Now, I just need to remember to give her all these medications, soak her back foot in the solution they gave me and put the ointment in her eye twice a day. And write.


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Making Time to Write

It’s 4:00am. I’ve just woken up to write. Puppy is asleep. Coffee is brewing. Phone is off. It’s quiet. This is the new routine. I have so much work to do and not enough time to do it. For 9 hours of the day I’m at my day job. For 2 hours of my day I am commuting back and forth. For another 2 hours I am dealing with the puppy. Mornings, she is slow to wake (we are similar in this way). Once I manage to get her out of bed, we go on our walk or to the nearby field to throw ball for at least 30 minutes. When we get home, I feed her breakfast. Then she plays by stealing a shoe from my closet, or a sock from the hamper, and I chase her around the apartment. I put her in the crate while I take a shower and get ready for work. When I come home from work the routine is the same. After dinner, I try to write, but usually am so tired I end up sitting on the couch with her watching television.

When Kaz was alive, we got into a routine of taking an hour or two to ourselves after work, before dinner. I would sit at my computer, listening to music and writing. He would play video games, usually the football game Madden. Both of us would wear earphones so as not to disturb the other. Though I could still hear him vocalizing towards the screen with shouts of glee or frustration. After his game he would stand behind me and kiss my neck, “Dear, when were you thinking of making dinner?” I would respond, “Why don’t you make dinner this time?” He would laugh, “Cause that’s what I got you for!” I would shake my head but also laugh. He had this way of making me laugh even when I didn’t want to.

I also used to write when he went on motorcycle rides. He was a devoted weekend rider and always went up to Angeles Crest Highway, a long stretch of winding, curvy road which is a haven for motorcyclists. He would be gone for about 3 hours, a perfect window of time, and when he returned we would both be relaxed and happy to see each other.

When his illness progressed, I sometimes took little writing breaks at the hospital, when he was asleep, or during a long procedure, or during his Avastin transfusions. I would write on my laptap in his room, or downstairs to the plush lobby of Cedars Sinai, or sometimes, at the Coffee Bean around the corner.

After his motorcycle accident, it was harder to write. He would stay in bed for hours, not sleeping or watching television, just lying in bed. Even though it was quiet, I found it difficult to concentrate. Neither of us wanted me to sit there with him in the silence, but it also didn’t feel right to leave him alone. I would try to write, but more often would simply stare at the computer thinking of him lying awake in the dark bedroom.

After he died, I wrote obsessively for months. I wrote him letters. I wrote in my journal. I wrote in detail every memory I could muster of our time together. Good memories and bad, it was all excruciating to recall. But I was so afraid of forgetting things that I forced myself to do it. And it was cathartic.

Now, life is quite different. The only time I can get anything done is when the puppy is asleep. I’m trying to train myself to wake up a little earlier every day to take advantage of this time. I knew when I got her that having a dog would put a cramp in the writing time. But I simply have to make it work.

When do you write?


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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


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Me Time

Sunset

This past Friday Ruby came home from daycare with a limp in her front paw. Her LA daycare mom said she had been playing a bit too hard. I didn’t get upset, but I couldn’t help but wonder if this would have happened in Vermont, where she was in a smaller group of dogs and watched carefully by that daycare mom. She also received obedience training in addition to daily off-leash hikes in the mountains. I actually questioned whether it was right to bring her back to a one-bedroom apartment in LA, where the only place she can run around is a dog park, to which we have to drive 15 minutes, 25 in traffic. But this is where we live. Unless I gave her up, she had to come back with me to the urban jungle.

Two days after we arrived, VT daycare mom texted me: Is she missing any dogs you think????

I looked over at the sleeping puppy. Was she dreaming about hiking and wrestling with her VT buddies? Both of us have been dealing with medical issues developed while traveling, and now she gets a nasty squirt of medication in her mouth every night. But despite this, the long car rides to and fro, and the fact that she has to walk on a leash again, she seems happy. It’s possible she misses Vermont, but here she is the center of my attention, doesn’t have to share the bed with four other dogs (and two people), it’s 80 degrees out and she hangs out at Venice Beach. I’ve also been training her more consistently than before we left and making sure she has plenty of exercise on the non-daycare days. It feels as if we have found our rhythm again and we’re both on the mend from our travel wounds.

That said, today is the first day since being back that I’ve been able to truly concentrate, partly because I put her in daycare instead of keeping her home with me. This morning I had to question whether it was worth the money. But if there’s one thing I confirmed in Vermont, it’s that I am a happier person when I’m writing.

My sister recently reminded me that our mother used to regularly go into her art studio and close the door. During this time, she was not to be disturbed for any reason other than an emergency. I know a dog is not a child, but she’s the closest thing I have at the moment. And as smart as she is, I don’t think she would understand, “Don’t disturb Mommy right now, she’s writing.”

Hence, she is in daycare on my day off (hopefully not playing too hard), and I am taking advantage of this Me Time by writing and strategizing my future. Time is of the essence.

Ruby in car