Blue-Violet Iris Interior

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Thirty Days of Dogs

I knew January was going to be an intense month because I was scheduled to look after Goldie and Cutie back-to-back, resulting in thirty days of continuous dog-sitting. The first ten days were spent with Goldie, and it was a fairly mellow gig. Goldie is cute and quiet and easy as they come, so the main hardship was an unpleasant stretch of days featuring chilly rain. I normally walk her in the park across the street, but to spare us from the winds coming off the lake, I took to taking her on quick walks through the more protected streets behind the house. The scenery was not as interesting, but I did stay marginally drier and warmer. (Goldie, being a Golden Retriever, doesn't mind being wet and windblown!) I was sorry that the wet weather meant that I didn't get to take many photographs and worse still, we only got to go to the dog park twice! Goldie has a blast at the dog park and I do, too, where I will happily throw balls for any dog that wants a ball thrown, or play tug with a stick, if you are a bull terrier with a brindle eye patch that wants to play tug, and pet any and every dog that will let me put my hands on them. I just barely dodged one monster migraine (though I was as wiped out the next day as if I'd had the headache) and there was one night when we had a windstorm that generated some thunder and I had a to sleep (or not sleep) on downstairs on the couch with Goldie, but all-in-all it was a pleasant gig.

Golden girl.

With wagging tail, Goldie is ready for whatever I'm doing next, especially if it's a game!

Goldie spends many of her hours snoozing with a toy.

We were able to dodge most of the rain on this evening's walk...

….but, as Goldie's wet ears attest, not on this night!

A sunset captured through a decorative pane of glass at Goldie's.

A restless Cutie begs to go out
by jumping up on the door.
After approximately 20 hours at home between gigs, I was off to spend the rest of the month with Cutie the Pyrenees. Cutie has many wonderful attributes, including her playfulness, friendliness, an interest in your activities, charmingly expressive face, and considerable overall beauty, but unlike all my other clients, who are at least ten years of age, Cutie won't be three until March and still has episodes of puppyish energy. And she's huge, so if, for example, she decides to expend some of this energy by jumping up on you--something that's harmless enough if done by, say, a dachshund--she can knock you over. I know that her owners, who love her dearly, don't normally expect much in the way of discipline from her (this is not to say that she's a bad dog, just that she doesn't have to do much of anything she doesn't want to), so I had a hunch that a great way to help her burn off some of her spells of restlessness and sauciness would be to mentally challenge her.

"Would you care to join in a game with me and my squeaky snake...

….or perhaps you'd prefer a game with my soccer ball?"

On the move!

A beautiful young lady.

Cutie nose.
Cutie has a large, sensitive nose that she already uses to vigorously investigate her world, so I suspected that "Find it!" would be a natural match. To play "Find it," I hid pieces of kibble around the kitchen and family room for her to find. The first time, I let her watch me do it. Next, I did it while she was in the room but couldn't see where I was hiding the kibble. I'd give the "Find it!" command and whenever she found some kibble, would cheer her on with phrases like, "Find it! Yay! Good find it!" She quickly grasped the premise, so I took to hiding the kibble while she was outside. When she came in, I'd give the "Find it!" command and she'd go right to work. I soon had to make it more and more complicated as Cutie became a real whiz at sniffing the food out. While not necessarily systematic or efficient in her search, she was always thorough: she wouldn't stop hunting until all the kibble was found. (Furthermore, she could tell by smell when she had found all the kibble.) Not only did she have a great time, but I noticed (not to my surprise) that Cutie had a much easier time settling down after she'd hunted for her breakfast or dinner. I decided to deploy another mental exercise: the food-dispensing toy.

Cutie working on her Wobbler to get the kibble to fall out of the hole.

I know about exercises like "Find it!" and food-dispensing toys from the various dog blogs that I follow. I knew right off the top of my head that there was a Kong brand food-dispensing toy called a Wobbler and got one. The Wobbler, which, as the name implies, wobbles, has to be batted or rolled for kibble to trickle out of a hole in the side a few pieces at a time. It took Cutie three meals to grasp what needed to be done to get the kibble out and even once she got good at it, the smallness of the hole meant it still took her fifteen minutes to eat all of her dinner. By then I had her on a program where 1/4 of her dinner went to "Find it!", 1/2 of her dinner went into the Wobbler, and the remaining 1/4 was used for other training purposes. I often had her work for all or part of her breakfast, too. This program worked well for us because it tired Cutie out AND she loved it! She would eagerly come running when I called her to come inside (normally one of her weakest areas of obedience) to see if a game of "Find it!" had been set up in her absence and couldn't get enough of the Wobbler, eagerly hoping for its appearance every time I opened the pantry door and quivering with anticipation as she waited for me to set a full Wobbler before her. I took a lot of pleasure from watching her sniff for her kibble or worrying it out of the Wobbler, and the resulting mellowness put her in great state of mind for working with her on problem areas like grooming. (She doesn't like having her fur pulled. But who does? Still, I wanted to get her coat in good shape and reintroduce the brush to her as a positive thing. By the end of our time together, her coat was untangled and she was accepting being brushed if there was kibble in it for her!)

A peaceful Cutie with a relaxed tail.

Pyrenees in the fog.

Covered in Cutie fur!
It was not easy to be away from home (and more importantly, my own dog) for a whole month, but there were plenty of lovely moments, like some spectacular sunsets and those delightful trips to the dog park while taking care of Goldie, and there were beautiful, dreamy days of fog, the pleasure of photographing the minute world of moss- and lichen-covered stumps (you can see some of the photos on my photography page), and listening to the amazing wild sound of a pack of coyotes howling at night while I was at Cutie's. Still, I'm quite glad to be home (and my dog is very happy to see me!) and to once again be using my desktop computer, where all of my photos reside, and so back to work on photo-related projects. I am also looking forward to washing a month's worth of dog-hair-covered laundry! I love dog-sitting, but it's true what they say: there's no place like home.

Sunset and rain showers.

Moss- and lichen-covered stumps.

"Welcome home!" licks on the nose from my Abbey.