…PuPpY…

Once I decided I wanted a puppy – I had to pick a breed. Oye! Does it get any harder – there are SO MANY OPTIONS.

First things first, what do I want out of this puppy? A companion, a training and competition partner, a teacher, a learner and a friend. I need this puppy to grow up stable and well adjusted – much of that will fall on me, but I want to set us both up for success and pick a breed that starts out that way. I finally sat down with a friend and hashed it all out.

Golden Retriever. Labrador Retriever. German Shepherd. Smooth Collie. Border Collie. Australian Shepherd.

Whew! We narrowed the list down to Golden Retriever or Smooth Collie. Very different dogs, but fitting the same basic criteria I originally set.

My heart dog was a golden, her name was Tigger – I grew up with the breed and have always adored them. Plus golden puppies may be the cutest things in existence.  On the down side, they seem to die younger all the time due to over-breeding and poor breeding.

My affection for Collie’s is much more recent. After spending the 6-month training process for the Karen Pryor Academy with Rumor the smoothie mix – I am sold on the breed. Smooth Collies are smart, agile, stable and have a love for work. They can be vocal, drivey, biddable and have a propensity to be emotionally sensitive.

The difficulty with either of these breeds is finding a breeder that breeds for health and temperament over looks – and has produced dogs that have demonstrated they can work in a variety of fields. I looked and narrowed and looked and narrowed. Ultimately I found Kings Valley Collies and fell in love. The dogs have titles in a variety of different sports and service dog work. The breeder has a complex socialization plan to help each dog be prepared for the life ahead of them and is willing to work within that plan to help my dog be prepared for my specific home. Puppies are introduced to the clicker, platforms and targeting at a young age. Turns out there will be a smooth litter being bred in September and I can have first pick of the females. It only took a week or so after that for me to make a final decision and put in a deposit.

Assuming this breeding takes, I will have a Smooth Collie puppy to pick up in Oregon sometime in January!

To Puppy or Not to Puppy?

It has taken a lot of time and energy to decide if I should bring a puppy into my home and heart.   As a dog trainer and walker I have helped raise plenty of puppies. I have given advice and lent a supportive ear when things are hard. I have also seen people pick and choose which parts of raising a dog to pay attention to, sometimes unintentionally. While oversights aren’t always that detrimental for the pups, sometimes they are. I had to look at my current life and ask myself a lot of questions.

Questions included debates on finances and time. Who would be willing to help when I need them to? Moving, since my current residence won’t take animals under a year old. Questions on my cat’s feelings, my boyfriends feeling, my own feelings! I strongly believe it isn’t fair to bring an animal home unless you are physically, mentally, and emotionally prepared!

Physically prepared can mean a few things. Financial stability to buy, vet and feed the animal – and to take care of any unforeseen emergencies, trust me these come up. Having a puppy set up – crates, xpens, harnesses, leashes, bowls, food, chews, toys – and those are all plural on purpose. This also means having the time! I will be taking at least one week off work to get puppy acclimated. After that, my schedule will be intense and modified to accommodate the puppy’s needs for months to come. For me, I have the added physical need of moving! Thankfully, these are easy things to put in a list and check off before puppy arrives.

Mentally prepared. Wowzer, puppies are hard work! They are baby animals, they cry and scream and demand attention. They need to pee every 30-90 minutes for the first few months. Most don’t sleep through the night and need to eat 3+ times a day. This all seems semi horrible to me, but also fun and worth it.

Being emotionally prepared was (and is) my biggest concern. In the past year I have had a lot of loss. I went from a household full of animals down to just one precious kitten. After living with an extremely reactive dog for years I am hyper sensitive and terrified of all the things that can go wrong. I’m scared I’ll ruin my puppy, I’m scared the world will ruin my puppy and I will fail to keep her safe. I’m scared I won’t live up to my own expectations as this puppy’s human.

Ultimately I have said, “YES!” to a puppy and I couldn’t be more excited.

Foster Fail

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The moment we met!

When I met her, she was about two weeks old – eyes just open, ears still bent, smush faced and a major lack of body coordination. Just a little ball of tabby cat love and fleas. She was born outside in a bush to a semi-feral neighborhood cat. I had agreed to take her, her littermates and their mom on as fosters. As I sat there, in a stranger’s home, holding this disgusting little mess of meowing fur on my chest for the first time, I knew I was in trouble. The weeks went by and the kittens grew and I began to look for their forever homes. She had beautiful symmetrical markings strewn across her medium length coat, the eyes of a supermodel and an inquisitive meow. Cautiously curious but quick to warm to new canine and human visitors, playful companion to the resident dog, and a quiet observer of the resident rats; she was a sweet, well socialized and reasonable kitten.

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Tater Tot taking care of me when I was sick.

She was nothing I wanted and nothing I needed.   She was Tater Tot. And she has been my perfect companion.

Mimicry

Do your animals ever learn things from each other? Mine sure do… some more so than others.

480849_350633551713327_149680245_nDozer is one of my favorite client dogs. I met him around 4 months old on a very random trail no one uses and have walked him 5 days a week since soon after. He and I grew up together, so to speak. I learned a lot about dogs and my job from him – he was one of my OG’s!

One of my favorite things about Dozer is his ability to figure out the best way to get food. And one of the best ways for him to get food as a young adult was to offer any behavior I taught to my dog, Tanner. Dozer would watch Tanner training with me and then walk up and repeat the final behavior.

At first I didn’t notice – Dozer learned a really great nose target, who cares; it’s an easy and fun behavior. Then Dozer started to lay-down every time I raised my hand (a behavior Tanner learned from my mentor). I thought it was cool; maybe I was getting good at training? Tanner learned to wave… Dozer suddenly knew how to shake paws.

I didn’t realize what was going on until Dozer stayed with us. Tanner was impeccably trained to ring bells hanging from the front door to ask to go out to potty. After a day of watching Tanner ring bells, get a leash put on and be taken out – Dozer walked over to the door, knocked the bells and turned to look at me. We went out for a potty and he trotted back in. WHOA. I was (still am) so impressed! What a clever doggie!

Dozer’s most recent awesome form of mimicry was learned from my friend Amy and her dog Melvin who hike with us sometimes. Amy and Melvin play a cool game called “Up On Top” in which Amy points at an odd object and tells Melvin to get up on top and he finds the best way to climb to the top. It’s adorable, but I thought my dogs were too big and clumsy to try.   Well, Dozer disagreed with me.

 

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Not too long ago we were all out on a hike and Amy stopped to ask Melvin to climb a tree, Dozer was off leash sniffing about and does the biggest head snap. He then proceeded to do a flying leap OVER Melvin’s head to climb the tree. Dozer quickly found his balance and turned to look at Amy and me with a face that screamed, “I did it, give me the goody.” I gave him all the goodies. It was so cool. Now we play up on top with all the big goofy dogs and it’s a really great confidence and relationship building game! Thanks Dozer (and Amy & Melvin).

#BorderCollieProblems1

Dogs can be so particular – who can be their friend, where they sit in the car, where their friends sit in the car, who can touch them, which toys they like, where the humans feet can be on the couch, etc. Or maybe it’s just Border Collies, Labradors don’t seem to care so much. Let me tell you about my friend Mowgli.

This dog has been a great teacher for me– he has taught me appreciation for strengths as well as weaknesses. On top of it, he has taught me to be respectful of both.

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Mowgli, being beautiful.

 

Mowgli can go most anywhere with me. He gets along with the majority of people and dogs we meet and is better trained than most companion animals.  I plan on helping him pass his Canine Good Citizenship test soon! I find him to be an absolute pleasure to be around and keep him with me often. There is one caveat – he has to ride in the front seat – and I had to put a barrier up between the front and back seats. Mowgli let me know early on that he did not like the Labradors to touch him in the car. He was sure to let them know as well. Confined space and unsolicited touching – I wouldn’t have liked it much either.

Mowgli told his dog friends in the best ways he knew how. He whale eyed, and curved his body – ducked his head and showed his teeth. Some of the retrievers are respectful and lean or look away – others found Mowgli’s frantic looks of discomfort to be intriguing and investigated further. Mowgli let me know about his concerns with growls and snaps.

My first plan was to teach Mowgli an alternative behavior. After some troubleshooting and internal debates I realized there was no good alternative behavior to teach. If I forced Mowgli to ride in back, and allowed the other dogs to continue making him uncomfortable, I wasn’t going to teach him anything useful. I suspect he would learn to hate the car, possibly distrust me, and be wary of Labradors. None of those sound like a good, healthy, happy solution.

Next option was not bringing Mowgli with me places. This only lasted a month or two. How do you deny your favorite Border Collie – here’s a hint, you don’t. They are far too adorable and use those awkward bendy bodies to wiggle into your heart.

Last option – give Mowgli his own space. I put a gate up behind the front seats. The backseat dogs can stick their heads around it and get in a good sniff of whoever is up front. It is by no means that secure – but it has made all the difference. Letting Mowgli have his own safe space has been magical – he has his own seat, he knows the other dogs can sniff him and will happily lean around to sniff back, but they can’t invade his personal space bubble. I now have a happy Border Collie who can’t wait to go out on walks and adventures with his friends (or to see his favorite Auntie).

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Mowgli sitting up front with me (see his gate??)

One–Trial Learning

There is this guy named Edwin Guthrie, lived from 1886 – 1959. He has a theory about one-trial learning. Guthrie’s law of contiguity states that a combination of stimuli, which has accompanied a movement, will on its recurrence tend to be followed by that movement (Guthrie, 1952)[1] Cool stuff. I don’t see immediate connections happen all that often, but when I have, it’s been neat to watch.

Tater Tot loves dogs. She likes to play with them, torment them, try out their behaviors and she really likes drinking water with them! Her behavior differs slightly based on her relationship with each dog, some are strangers, some are friends, etc. Rumor seems to be her favorite so far. Tot’s kind of weird. For example, we had a young Labrador over for a couple of weeks and Tot really enjoyed picking on her, more so than I’ve ever seen her do. The next time Rumor came over Tater Tot had to give her a good once over before relaxing. After that they were happy to engage in their normal cat-dog games.

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A few days later Rumor and I came home, exhausted from work and a huge training session. Rumor hit the couch and passed out hard, just the tip of her nose poking off the edge. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a creeping Tater Tot taking advantage of the situation. Sometimes I advocate for the animals and intervene, other times I let them figure things out on their own. This situation was the later – Tot might have been inappropriately annoying, but no one was going to get hurt.

I missed the part where Tot touched Rumor so I don’t know if she got her face too close or bat Ru with her paws. What I did see was Ru-dogs reaction. She only moved the muscles necessary – head jut forward, teeth out, lips back, eyes hard, serious deep snarl, SNAP – and she held that position for a few moments. On the flip side of things, Tot recoiled with speed only a cat can achieve. Didn’t run, didn’t hide – she pulled back into a sit; flat ears and wide eyes that stared right on back. I was stunned into silence as well. This whole interaction probably only took a second, maybe two. Rumor relaxed her face and tucked her nose in a little closer to keep sleeping. I got up to check on Tot – she was fine, calm within a minute.

Tot hasn’t been socially inappropriate towards Rumor since, I hope it generalizes to all dog friends.

[1] Edwin R. Guthrie. (n.d.). Retrieved June 17, 2015, from http://www.muskingum.edu/~psych/psycweb/history/guthrie.htm#theory

Tater Tot – the interactive Cat.

Tot has a lot of animal friends. Her interspecies friendships have taught me a lot about observation and being willing to try new things. Maybe no one believes me – but Tater Tot “tries on” other species behaviors, she even taught me a mirroring game.

When Tot was a baby, we had rat friends. She would sit with her rats, on the second freezer that was right next to the cage. Two of them ignored her, but Zeets, Zeets loved interspecies friendships too. The cat would knock the cage with her nose, paw, sniff, etc. The rat would watch her and then do rat things, stretch as tall as she could, paws above her head up the cage. One day – Tot reached her paws up too. Hmm… maybe it was a coincidence. Then she did it again, then they started to play this game daily.   Rat and Cat – both engaging freely. Tot learned to use a behavior her rat friend has used naturally!

Tot has taught me some games too. When she taught me to mirror behavior, I was amazed – how clever! Every morning when I wake up, Tot comes in bed with me for “morning cuddles.” She lays on my face, rolls around, bites my hands, purrs like crazy. One day she began to gently set her paw on my face. I paused for a moment, and then decided to touch her face in the exact same place – EXPLOSION OF PURRING. Hmm… maybe it was a coincidence. Then she placed her paw on a different part of my face, I moved my scratching to that part of her face – BAM PURRING! Tot was asking me to pet her just the way she liked it by teaching me a mirroring game.

What about a body movement that doesn’t come naturally to a cat, necessarily? What about a dog’s play bow? Tot tried that once, too. Rumor the smooth collie was visiting us for the first time. Ru and Tot were playing cat-dog-games – chase; modified with tail batting and hiding under/on furniture from the cat side. Rumor would play bow and bounce, chase Tot a few steps, play bow again. All the while Tot will run around and jump and hide and spring back out. THEN Rumor play bowed, Tot stopped dead still, curved back into a semi circle – and lowered her elbows to the ground, butt high. MY CAT PLAY BOWED BACK AT A DOG. Rumor got so excited and went for a game of chase, Tot must have been startled since she has never tried to play bow again. Well not that I have seen.


All behavior has an antecedent and a consequence, we just miss a lot of it – I’m so glad I was able to catch (and be part of) these animal interactions with Tater Tot.

Tater Tot reading about dog training

Tater Tot reading about dog training

Shasta Angel

I would like to share with you all a very sad story.  My very first client was a beautiful 9 month old golden.  Her name was Shasta and she was just as sweet as could be.  Lucky for her (and for me) her humans were, and are, just as wonderful.  Shasta and her family grew with me and Katie’s Critters over the three years from when we first met in 2011.  I have loved Shasta like she was one of my own pack from day one.  And grew to adore her human family as well.

“I can’t thank you enough for the photo and movie treasures—that’s exactly what they are to us…true treasures.  They have been so helpful to our healing.  For a bit, I could only look at a few photos and movies before I’d get overwhelmed, but now I am able to watch and gaze at them all. We all gather around my computer and look at her playing, running, wrestling, and we all speak our crazy spastic dog speak as we are watching! “Look at the fluff!  The ears are flouncing!  She is so pretty! She is so cute!”  What strikes me, but what is not surprising at all, is how happy and content and relaxed Shasta is in all her playgroup adventures with you.  The amount of Dozer wrestling, the smiling countenance, the sticks, water, mud, grass, frolicking and rollicking is absolutely wonderful.  The grunts and growls and floppy ears and dogs running around unabashedly is such a beautiful vision of how she and her friends—and you—spent time together.  It makes me so happy to know that she was so fully alive and happy all of her days, at home and with Katie’s Critters”

-Kristen (Shasta’s Mom)

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Sadly, Shasta came in contact with a death cap mushroom not long ago and after 5 long days of fighting, she left us.  While her family grieves, I am left with a great need to share her story.  I am a strong believer that we cannot protect our loved ones (furry or hairless) unless we know what to protect them from. I, nor Shasta’s family, knew of the dangers of Death Cap Mushrooms, let alone that they are becoming more prevalent in our community.  Please take this sad tale as a warning and a lesson.   Thank you.

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