How to walk a “normal” dog

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Things that have happened during my recent mellow meanderings with Mia:

1. A loose dog ran down the middle of a busy street toward us. We crossed the street to see if he had a tag on his collar, but he did not. We walked with him up a cul de sac where we found a neighbor who told us the dog just roams loose all the time. I was not entirely satisfied with this answer, but the dog stayed in the cul de sac. Short of calling animal control, I didn’t know what else I could do.

2. A couple was jogging with a dog across the street. I quickened my pace because Mia and the dog kept sneaking looks at each other. The couple must have crossed the street and slowed their pace to walk behind me, which I only realized when I turned around to go back for a poop bag I’d left behind. When I saw them, I said, “Oh, sorry.” And they said, “No, you’re fine,” walked around us and jogged off on their merry way.

3. While walking at night, we saw a man and a dog heading toward us on the same side of the street. So accustomed am I to veering very far around all other warm-bodied creatures, I swung a wide berth. The man asked if his dog could say Hi, so we moved closer. The man told me his dog’s name and said he was 12 years old. Since it was dark, I hadn’t realized how gray the dog’s muzzle was, or that he appeared to be a pit mix. Our dogs sniffed each other very politely. I wondered later whether the man thought I was trying to avoid him because his dog was a pit bull. He may well have considered it his duty to show me how friendly his dog was, when really, my only concern was that I not make anyone uncomfortable by bringing my scary German shepherd too close.

4. While walking at night, with a reflective light attached to Mia’s collar, I saw a blur of white in the street up ahead. When my eyes adjusted to the dark, I realized it was a light-colored dog being walked on a leash. Maybe its owner was trying to swing a wide berth around us, but they still passed pretty close. The dog lunged toward us excitedly, so I let Mia sniff hello. Did I have another option? There was nowhere else to go, but I suppose I could have tried to hustle her past the other dog without them meeting.

The other dog reared back its head and yip/snarled (yarled?). Sounding mildly exasperated, and yet also mildly surprised, the owner said to her dog, “What’s that about? Was it the light?” I was 10 steps ahead at that point and wanted to say something reassuring, because boy, have I been there. But I also know the most helpful thing the non-reacting dog can do in that situation is get out of there.

I called back a very socially awkward mumble that was supposed to convey, “You know, maybe it was the light around Mia’s neck. But don’t worry about it. You’re fine. Your dog’s fine. We’re cool. Have a nice night.” I think what came out was: “Huh, yeah, mayb.” (sic. I didn’t actually say the last syllable of “maybe.”)

Now, I don’t know if that’s the first time her dog has ever been unfriendly to another dog, but I do know that saying something like “What’s that about?” is a reflex when you have a reactive dog. One must give the appearance to other dog owners that one knows one’s dog has been inappropriate.

The last incident really drove home the fact that I do not know how to walk a normal dog.

Social mores likely vary among regions. In some parts of the country, I’m sure it’s considered very rude to let your dog anywhere near another person, but here in the Northwest, we are beyond dog friendly. Our local bookstore even welcomes pooches.

That said, I don’t know whether I’m supposed to veer away from other people walking their dogs, as I attempted to do with the man and his pit bull, or let them get within sniffing distance, as I did with the woman and the light-colored dog.

Both felt wrong to me, but either is fine by Mia, because she is a “normal dog.” Her hackles might go up if she doesn’t like what she smells, she might notice another leashed dog at a distance, but generally speaking, she’s not going to bark, lunge, and pull me off my feet. She’s not going to snarl, snap at, or bite another dog.

Leo, on the other hand, is not allowed to walk around our neighborhood, because he would not have handled any of the above situations well. He would have barked and lunged at all those dogs. Actually, he might have made the best impression in that last scenario. If I let him pull on his leash right up to every dog he sees, to let him get a good sniff, I’m fairly sure he wouldn’t bark and lunge at them. Fairly. But I don’t let him do that, because as dog friendly a town as this is, I know better than to let my 100-pound German shepherd get all up in everydog’s face.

What should the rule be? Do I have to call out to every dog-walker I see: “My dog’s friendly. Is yours? Can she say hello?” Because you know there are lots of people who will say yes, even when the answer is no.

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Exercising a Dog’s Mind

John Pilley uses old-school psychology to train his border collie in Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words, co-authored with Hilary Hinzmann. What a coincidence that the methods he uses, based on his experience as a professor of human psychology, look a lot like force-free dog training!

With one exception: Like Ted Kerasote in Merle’s Door, Pilley turns to an aversive method to curb Chaser’s “chase drive.” While Kerasote used a shock collar, Pilley uses a mighty jerk of a long line and a stern “No.” It’s hard for me to say these techniques are wrong, wrong, wrong, because as far as reported, they prevented the dogs from chasing things, and neither Merle nor Chaser developed aggressive or fearful tendencies as a result. I can say that knowing what I now know, I would never use either method on a dog.

Otherwise, the book is a joy to read. I love that this retired professor refers to himself as Chaser’s “Pop Pop” (because that’s what his grandson calls him). Throughout, Pilley emphasizes how much fun it is for Chaser to learn new words. He turns down an offer to let another scientist work with her, which would have meant more academic acclaim, because that would mean having Chaser live with someone else temporarily. Above all, Chaser is a family dog.

When Chaser appears on the Today Show, Pilley feels bad that Chaser doesn’t have a chance to play with her toys after fetching them by name for Matt Lauer. Chaser is supposed to get to play with her toys as her reward for fetching the right toy.

I’ve heard dog trainers brag about how many words their dogs know. How do they really know? I wondered. Beyond their names and basic obedience commands, most dogs know “outside” or “walk” or “dinner,” but how do you keep track of the number of words? Pilley set about it scientifically, by giving each toy a unique name. He has a list of 1,022 different toy names that Chaser understands. He also teaches her categories of words: she knows a racquetball by its name “Blue,” and also knows that it is a “toy” and a “ball.”

Like Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls — One Flying Disc at a Time, Chaser is a book about a dog of extraordinary achievement. While both dogs are special, neither would have been a superstar without the devotion of the “handler” (owner…trainer…Pop Pop, whatever you want to call them).

Pilley works with Chaser for hours a day. With that much dedication, I bet any dog of above average intelligence could learn quite a few words.

As I said in my post about Wallace, I wish I’d known about flying disc, or at least been able to turn catching soccer balls into a “job” for Isis. Reading about Chaser makes me wish Leo and Mia had that much enthusiasm about anything. Leo especially. Mia is content to sit in the backyard with her Jolly Ball and bark at us. But Leo’s still young. He needs stimulation. We took him to a nose work class, and he liked it all right, I guess, but not enough for me to keep at it. It seemed like a lot of money and effort to drive to a class where each dog only gets instruction for a few minutes at a time.

I wish Leo were as passionate about play as Isis was. I’m as devoted to my dogs as Wallace’s and Chaser’s people. I would gladly spend hours a day working on something Leo loved as much as Isis loved soccer. Sometimes in the evenings, especially during the winter when it’s cold and dark, I look at restless Leo mouthing the sofa cushion and think, “What? What is it that we can do that would keep us entertained for hours? What would hold your interest, Leo? Tell me!”

Any thoughts, friends? Remember, Leo is leash-reactive, so long walks are challenging, but I think that’s what he enjoys most: excursions. It’s kind of nice on really cold evenings. I take him somewhere well-lit, where no one else is out who will incite his barking and lunging.

Aside from that, he loses interest in fetch fairly quickly. We have agility equipment, but like everything else, he goes over the A-frame once, maybe twice and is done with it. Same with Rally-O. The kid only wants to practice his sits so many times. Then I get a blank stare. Honestly, I don’t think he’s as bright as Chaser, otherwise, I’d start acquiring hundreds of toys.

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Could Isis have been a flying disc contender?

In the prologue for my book, Bark and Lunge, I describe Isis spinning and flipping while catching a soccer ball. She was partial to soccer balls, but reading Wallace: The Underdog Who Conquered a Sport, Saved a Marriage, and Championed Pit Bulls — One Flying Disc at a Time made me wonder if I could have transferred that drive to a Frisbee.

While I think Wallace might have the best subtitle of all time, the title doesn’t address the aspect of Wallace’s story that I most relate to. Wallace started out dog aggressive. Maybe he was just experiencing barrier frustration when he lashed out at other dogs while in the shelter, but he was in danger of being euthanized. Lucky for Wallace, Roo and Clara Yori stood up for him. Lucky for us, author Jim Gorant (who wrote about the Vick fighting dogs in The Lost Dogs) wrote their story.

By channeling Wallace’s drive into flying disc, Roo Yori effectively gave his dog a “job,” something trainers will tell you dogs need to keep them from developing bad habits and behavior problems. From that point on, Wallace seems never to have another aggressive episode.

At one point, Yori worries about throwing the disc in the direction of the grandstands. What if Wallace runs too far and wins up confused in the middle of the bleachers? As an ambassador for pit bulls, if Wallace got into any scuffles at all, it would be bad news for the breed.

From the description of the disc arenas, it sounds like other dogs were shielded from Wallace’s view while he was competing. Even so, I wouldn’t have been able to take Isis to such a public place. She would have barked and lunged at everything. Even if she never could have competed, I wish I’d figured out a way to make catching soccer balls her “job.”

Another aspect of Wallace’s story that resonated with me is that even when it seemed like the sport was rough on Wallace’s body, Yori kept playing disc with him. Yori recognized that Wallace’s love of/drive for the disc was so strong, that Wallace would play long after the lights at the park went out.

Isis was like that. Here she is with Rob, practicing weaving, hurdles, and what I call the “high jump.” You can see after she finishes, she runs right back to her ball.

And here’s a highlight reel of Isis catching the ball. Doing what came naturally to her. Just think what she could have accomplished if we’d actually trained her for this sport.

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Separate Walks

Remember how eight months ago I vowed that I was going to conquer Leo’s bicycle reactivity? Well, I’ve finally started cracking down on that.

All spring and summer, it felt like enough to let the dogs run around the backyard and take them for the occasional romp at the off-leash park. But as the weather turns, I feel guilty about how much time they spend cooped up. It’s too dark to walk them around the neighborhood after work, and even if it weren’t, we’d get derailed by a bicycle.

I took a page from the Isis playbook and started taking Leo to parking lots where we are likely to see bicycles. We can practice walking near stimuli, but at a far enough distance to keep him under threshold. I’m employing some functional rewards techniques from BAT. We’re having success, and I’ve lowered my expectations. My goal is not for Leo to be a bomb-proof dog, simply for him to stretch his legs and get a change of scenery, and if his reactivity improves, allowing us to take him to a wider variety of places, so much the better.

Mia’s recent escape attempt alerted me that my focus on Leo’s problem behavior caused me to neglect my perfect dog. Mia just wanted to get out and see the world. She’s been watching forlornly from the window as I take Leo on training excursions. Even though we’re not gone very long, she sees Leo going on an adventure while she has to stay home. Sure she’s a senior dog, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t need exercise.

Quite a dilemma. I can’t walk both dogs at the same time and still focus on Leo’s training. What to do?

I’m embarrassed to admit that I chewed on this for a couple of days before I remembered that I can walk Mia around our neighborhood.

See, the old pattern was, I’d take Mia to work, so she’d get a midday walk or off-leash romp on a ball field. Leo would go to daycare or I’d walk him around the neighborhood before work, strategically timed to avoid the bike commuters. I was not in the habit of walking Mia by herself closer to home.

Once Leo became “trustworthy” enough that he didn’t need to be crated while we’re out, I stopped bringing Mia with me. Who knows what kind of trouble Leo could get into without his big sister to keep an eye on him?

What better way to find out than to leave him alone while I take Mia around the block? On Wednesday, I walked Mia before it got dark, and then took Leo for his training in a university parking lot.

Walking Mia reinforced how unsafe our street is for Leo. It also reminded me how bicycle reactive I am. Me, not Mia. As we walked, I saw a bright yellow raincoat on the horizon, whizzing toward us on two wheels. Mia has never expressed the slightest interest in a bicycle, and yet I tightened the leash, thinking, “Oh god, oh god. What if she’s learned from Leo that she’s supposed to bark at those things? Oh god, oh god.”

Of course she was perfect when the bike went by. And she was perfect when we passed a dog who strained at his leash to get to her.

The amazing part? Walking Mia calmed me. “That’s right,” I remembered. “Walking dogs is fun.”

Mia’s positive reinforcement was so powerful that on our next walk, I didn’t flinch when a bicycle rode toward us on the sidewalk. I took her on the windy wooded trail where a mountain bike came at us out of nowhere. And we passed Isis’s nemesis’s house. Not only was the golden in the front yard, but her neighbor, a black dog, was loose in his yard, and the same dog that strained at Mia the day before was headed our way. It was a collision of four dogs. Mia’s hackles went up, but she sniffed politely and we went on our way.

My next post will deal with some of the calming tools recommended to ease dog reactivity and anxiety. Can you tell Leo is wearing a Thundershirt in the top picture?

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What’s your biggest fear?

People overuse the term “biggest fear,” but mine is having something terrible happen to the dogs. Specifically, I worry about them escaping the yard and getting hit by a car. I saw that happen once in Olympia, or rather, I heard it, a dog running out a front door onto the busy street in front of the newspaper where I worked. I remember the owner’s scream as the dog ran out, and her scream after the dog got hit.

While home sick, I let the dogs into the backyard while I watched Tattoo Nightmares. After the dogs had been out there a while, suspiciously quiet, I expected to find them sitting right by the back door, but they weren’t there. I called out “Doggies!” into the empty backyard. Nothing.

Oh, god. Is this the day they get out and something terrible happens? Is this going to be another saddest day that ruins our lives?

I put on my boots and a jacket and started up the hill toward the chain-link fence that separates our yard from Interstate 5. Leo’s red skull-and-crossbones bandanna peeked out from behind our martial arts studio building. Phew. At least Leo was safe. I worry less about Mia getting out, because I don’t think she’d go anywhere. I imagine her being like my mom’s Lhasa apso, Barney, who would sit on the front porch and wait to be remembered if you accidentally left him out there.

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Leo zoomed around me and the gazebo a few times, kind of like Mia does when Leo is getting into trouble, except Mia usually barks too.

Where was Mia?

There isn’t much space between the studio building and the chain link, and most of that space is pierced through with blackberry branches. I held onto the chain link as I crept along the retaining wall on the dirt barely-a-walkway. Mia was back there, at the very corner of the yard, digging under the fence … LITERALLY my biggest fear. She ran toward me when she saw me, but I kept walking to the edge of the yard to see how much progress she’d made.

Not much, as it turned out, but enough to reinforce my fear that given enough time, she could escape under that fence and onto the freeway.

Mia, why? Why would you try to escape? You, whom I trusted!

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And Leo’s just going to stand there and watch. What a bad influence Mia is on him.

How about you? Any of your biggest fears ever come true?

Stay tuned for Big Fear, Part 2: Spiders!!

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Adventures in Pet-sitting

One of the many perks of BarkWorld was a magnificent swag bag, which included $25 gift cards for pet-sitting via Rover.com.

Rover.com is Hotels.com for your dog, connecting you with pet caregivers in cities all over the United States.

I’m giving away two gift cards. That’s $50 of pet-sitting!

Enter to win both by:

  • Posting a comment right here on Rhymes with Safari

and

Adventures in Pet-sitting

Before I had dogs, I was the single mother of an iguana named Emerald. He moved with me from Los Angeles to Chicago, to Alexandria, Va., back to L.A., to Burlington, Wash., then Olympia and Bellingham.

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In Chicago and Washington, I had friends to stop by and feed him when I was out of town, but I moved to Alexandria just before Christmas and knew no one who would be around while I was back in L.A. for the holiday. The year was 2000 and I found my pet-sitter in the phone book (the Internet had already been invented but I don’t think it had replaced phone books yet). After meeting her briefly, I wasn’t remotely concerned that this stranger would steal of my stuff; I had just moved there and didn’t have any valuables (aside from Emerald). Worst case scenario, she wouldn’t feed him and I’d come home to a very hungry lizard. She definitely came by at least once, because she left behind a pair of leather gloves.

Nowadays, of course, you’d find an iguana-sitter online, and that’s what Rover.com is all about. You can find dog walkers, doggie daycare, sitters to stay at your house, and people who will take your pets into their homes, all for a range of prices. Older couples, college students, teenagers. Take your pick. Even though I don’t have an iguana anymore, I was delighted to find a listing near me for a sitter who cares for exotics as well as cats and dogs.

Like anything online, you want to make sure you’re dealing with trustworthy people, so you’d want to meet your sitter face-to-face before giving them a key and your itinerary in Barbados. Rover’s reviews also are helpful in that regard.

Usually, Rob’s parents stay at our house with our dogs while we’re gone (so when I tell the Internet we’re going to be out of town, be advised that breaking in during that time will not go well for you). But a few years ago, they treated us to a trip to Hawaii. When they first invited us, my ungrateful reaction was, “Wow, sounds great. Who’s going to watch the dogs?”

We boarded Leo at a place with a big fenced yard, because he’s such a handful, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that to Mia. We’d only had her a few months; how could I explain to her that she wasn’t being abandoned again? So we had a pet-sitter stay with her, and that worked out perfectly.

Rover CEO Aaron Easterly spoke at BarkWorld about the changing trends in pet care and technology. The biggest takeaway for me was that a recent poll found 76 percent of people with dogs considered themselves to be dog parents, rather than dog owners. Makes perfect sense, then, that people prefer for their babies to stay in homes, rather than cages.

To win $25 toward pet-sitting through Rover.com, comment below and tell me about your Adventures in Pet-Sitting. Then, “like” the Facebook page for Bark and Lunge, and enter there to win a second $25 gift card. Contest ends at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11. One winner randomly selected from each list of comments will be announced Thursday, Sept. 12.

Separation anxiety (mine) and the canine oxytocin connection

While in Atlanta for BarkWorld, I missed my doggies like crazy. More than usual, probably because I was thinking about dogs and surrounded by dog-lovers all weekend.

The highlight of the social “petworking” conference for me was meeting Victoria Stilwell. As a fan of her television show, I already knew that she is a champion of positive reinforcement training, but I did not realize the depth of her passion for educating dog owners and old-school trainers that force-free methods are the only humane way to work with animals. Her talk at BarkWorld was inspirational.

On the flight home, I began reading her book, Train Your Dog Positively, appreciating its well-written, scientifically backed explanation of dog psychology mixed with anecdotes about her own dogs and client dogs.

On page 51, I had to nudge Rob to take off his earphones and listen to this:

When we pet a dog lovingly, for example, the warmth and happiness we feel comes from a release into the bloodstream of oxytocin — a “bonding” hormone that has a powerful effect on dogs and humans. Dr. Kerstin Uvnas-Moberg, a doctor and professor of physiology and a pioneer in the study of oxytocin, studied this hormone release by taking blood samples from dogs and their owners before and during a petting session. When owners stroked their dogs, they had a release of oxytocin similar to what mothers experience while nursing babies.

Interestingly, petting also triggered a burst of oxytocin in the dogs themselves. Miho Nagasawah, of the Department of Animal Science and Biotechnology at Azabu University in Japan, showed that even eye contact between a dog and human causes an increase in oxytocin. This interaction between our two species has a powerful physiological effect on both of us, promoting feelings of love and attachment while lowering blood pressure and heart rate, soothing pain, and lessening stress.

Oh my god, yes. Forget eye contact, I feel releases of oxytocin just by saying my dogs’ names.

Here’s a scenario that played out in about a dozen variations throughout the weekend: Rob would mention one of the dogs, let’s say Mia. I would moan, “Meeeeeeyaa. I miss her so muuuuch.” Then I might chant her name, “Mia, Mia, Mia,” or sing the song Rob made up about her resemblance to a bear, then autotuned and used as the soundtrack to this montage of photos:

 

The Leo version often included some form of his nickname: Leo Bug or DJ Leo Bug, which I then abbreviated to DJ LB, realizing that LB also stands for Little Boy. Little Boy Leo Bug.

I know. I’m completely insane.

But saying their names, thinking about them, looking at their pictures in my Facebook albums — all of these fill me with a warmth and happiness reminiscent of petting them and kissing their soft heads.

Naturally since we’ve been home, I’ve been on an oxytocin bender. Every time I leave the house, I look forward to my next opportunity to revel in our scientifically proven bonding ritual.

Our dog sitters (Grandma and Grandpa) reported that Mia seemed anxious while we were gone, but Leo was his normal self. Maybe he wasn’t distraught by our absence, but I can tell by the smile on his face that he’s sure happy we’re back.

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

Leo sports his new bandanna, courtesy of Unleashed by Petco

My “normal” dog

The magic of Mia is that I can take her anywhere. Truly. She doesn’t even need a leash; she sticks right by me. Even on a leash, she doesn’t bark and lunge at any of the usual suspects.

My original plan for the Festival of the River was to take Mia with me both days, but then I decided to leave her at home the first day while I set up the booth and got a feel for things. As last year, I watched dogs walk by all day long and looked forward to having my buddy with me the next day.

When Rob and the doggies joined me that evening, we left Leo in the car while we picked up a few items I’d left at my booth. After we set up our tent in the woods, I took Mia on a second trip into the crowd to get a slice of pizza. Both times, she was an exemplary ambassador for the German shepherd breed, accepting oohs and aahs of admirers with a quiet grace and politely greeting other leashed canines large and small.

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The next morning, as we walked Leo and Rob back to their car, I said, “I’m so proud of Leo. I consider this weekend to be a complete success. Of course, now that I said that, probably Mia will have a complete meltdown. Ha ha ha.”

At the booth, I tethered Mia’s leash to a table as I rearranged my display boards and put out brochures, stickers and temporary tattoos. I set out a bowl of food and water. Early arrivals strolled between the booths, and before I even noticed the white pit bull and its owner, Mia barked at it.

Oh, no. No no no.

A few minutes later, another pair of dogs sparked the same reaction. A biologist working a booth across from me called out, “Kari, I don’t think your dog likes pit bulls.”

True, one of the pair was a pit bull, but I knew this wasn’t a breed-specific reaction.

“If she’s going to bark at every dog that passes by, this is going to be a long day. Ha ha ha,” I said. But I was thinking, If Mia barks at every dog that passes by, no one with a dog is going to stop at my booth, and people who are afraid of German shepherds aren’t going to stop here either. This was a really bad idea.

What am I going to do now? I can’t leave her in the car. I can’t just leave the festival. I have no cell phone reception, so it’s not like I can easily call Rob to come get her.

I had these thoughts because I have a history of owning reactive dogs. Leo’s barrier frustration makes him bark at passing dogs. If he were off leash and allowed to run up to every dog he saw, he would be perfectly friendly. I think. But because he is a redirected biter, I will not test this hypothesis.

Mia is not reactive. I knew she didn’t mean any harm by her barks, but her intent was irrelevant. I could not have a barking German shepherd at my booth.

Mia was unconcerned about other dogs on leash the night before, so what was the difference? Being tethered to a table?

Maybe I’ll just undo her leash and let her roam around my booth. Mia walked to the edge of the booth, nearly touching a vendor of geode wind chimes, and peered behind my vinyl curtain. The geode vendor gave me the stink-eye, so I leashed her back up.

I kicked myself for leaving Mia’s rubber Chuck-It ball in the car that Rob drove home. I tossed her an apple-shaped stress ball in hopes that she’d occupy herself with tearing it up for the next twenty minutes. She sniffed and ignored it.

Think, Kari, think. You know how to solve this problem.

Positive reinforcement. I filled a poop bag with treats and stuck it in my pocket. The next time I saw a dog approach, I gave Mia treats. My initial strategy was to get her to associate treats with the passing dogs, but Mia is so food-motivated that she was distracted enough to seem not even to notice the other dog.

An airedale, the same one we saw tethered to an RV earlier that day, lingered with its owner at a neighboring booth. Mia noticed her and barked a few times. I redirected her gaze in the other direction and wondered, Am I going to have to do this all day?

As it turned out, no, I didn’t have to do it all day. Either the positive reinforcement worked, or Mia just got used to the idea that other dogs were going to walk by. (Or both.) I gave her treats every time I saw another dog coming, but I also worked my booth, meaning I put temporary tattoo application and fish consumption rate explaining above Mia management. One guy entered my booth as I was treating Mia and I thought she might bark at the approaching dog as soon as I took my attention away from her, but she didn’t make a sound, and when I finished with the other guy, the dog was long gone.

While Mia may have driven off a dog-fearing festival-goer or two, she was a major attraction for many, many more people. Far more people asked, “Can I pet your dog?” than asked me to explain the importance of raising the state’s fish consumption rate, although you can bet I used Mia as an opening.

Here, Mia proved to be the bomb-proof dog I know her to be. At one point, I was concerned briefly she might frighten a toddler mid-pet by barking at a passing dog, but she did not. Perhaps strokes from a toddler are as positively reinforcing (and/or distracting) as a handful of treats. Other children cuddled her, rolled on top of her, and even put their sunglasses on her. (I wish I’d gotten a photo of that one.)

Mia and I both relaxed and I was so happy to have her with me. Her presence brightened my day. Gave me someone to talk to during the slow stretches in the afternoon.

As much joy as she brought me, and as much as I know she loves being by my side, it occurred to me that Mia might not actually be having the best time ever.

I had a similar feeling the night before, blissfully snuggled with Rob and the doggies in our tent. Rob had gotten stuck in horrible traffic on the way into the festival, and nettles scraped his legs as we set up camp.

“Are you having fun?” I asked.

“I’m just trying to get through it,” he said, perfectly amiably. I love that about Rob. The outing didn’t meet his expectations, but he didn’t punish me for it. Like Mia, he was there for me, making sure that I had a better time than I would have alone, but not getting all that much out of it himself.

That’s what our dogs do for us. If you asked Mia, she’d tell you she’d rather go with me anywhere than get left at home. But as the responsible adult, I recognize that bringing Mia to the festival was more fun for me than it was for her.

She was bored, lying on the grass beside me for hours on end, with the occasional break to walk to the port-a-potties. Worse, the constant assaults from strangers took a toll. Late in the day, a man asked if he could pet her and Mia barely raised her head to him before letting out an exhausted sigh. Sure, whatever, I’m here for your amusement.

My last post illuminated what I learned last weekend about managing my barrier-frustrated dog, Leo. I also learned a lesson about my perfect, normal, senior dog, Mia. Next year, I won’t force her to work the festival with me. (And Rob doesn’t have to drive down to camp out with me. Unless he changes his mind.)

Sleep tight, Mia Bear, you worked hard.

This post is part of a Senior Pet Awareness blog hop, brought to you by BlogPaws.

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I choose having dogs over having nice things

While Rob and I were in Seattle on Saturday, Leo and Mia committed unprecedented destruction.

We were warned by Rob’s dad, Jerry, when I called to tell him we were on our way home. “You’ll never guess what your dogs did.”

“Did they tear up the couch?” (This would not have surprised nor particularly troubled me.)

“No. They chewed up the door between the bathroom and your bedroom, including some drywall.”

Even with that description, we were not prepared for the sight. Jerry tried to show us the dog hair all over his shirt, from where Mia tried to crawl into his lap, as though a hair-covered shirt could compete with this:

They had gnawed at the door frames of four closed doors, pulling off the trim and chunks of drywall.

I’d been gone since 6 a.m. the day before, but Rob had been gone only a few hours. Had the dogs been so distraught about my 36-hour absence that they’d started eating the house?

This was not the idle chewing of a bored dog. Not like the time Leo ate my parking brake. This destruction was the work of frantic dogs trying desperately to get through the closed doors.

Had they thought they would find me or Rob behind those doors? Had someone been trying to break into the house?

Normally we blame Leo for everything, since Mia can do no wrong. Except that one time when she was in the kitchen while Rob mowed the lawn, and she pawed the trim off the back door. Similar to Saturday’s damage. On a much smaller scale.

Had someone been mowing the lawn next door?

We conducted a little crime scene investigation. Both dogs’ teeth appeared intact. Leo had some drywall smudge on his paw pads and Rob’s mom, Alice, reported that Leo had “chalk on his nose” when she first came in. But that could have been from sniffing the mess. Mia’s claws were slightly worn with white, evidence that she’d scratched the walls.

Beep.

Rob’s car alarm keychain, low on batteries, chirped from the foyer table.

Oh god.

Mia had crawled onto Jerry’s lap. That’s what she does when she hears beeping.

Alice had said she wanted us to know about the damage before we got home, so we wouldn’t yell at the dogs. As if we ever yell at the dogs.

Neither of us is angry. I’m tormented with guilt knowing they spent hours frantically trying to get through those doors, being driven mad by a beeping keychain.