Published in Martha Stewart Living, October 2012
It has been too long since I have posted. I promised myself when starting The Lion Dog, that I would not abandon it, like I have done with many other projects (I blame this on the fact that I’m a libra). Of course, I have excuses, but I won’t bore you with those. Instead, I would like to make up for a little lost time by traveling back to June when I made the decision to live with my father for a few weeks while he recovered from a hospital stay.
Okay… part of that was part of my excuse, but bear with me.
If you have read this blog before, you know that I have referenced my father more than once. I hold him responsible for my love of dogs, my respect for all animal life, and for my interest in doggie brains. He is what many refer to as an “outdoorsman,” which means he owns many guns, much camouflage, varieties of cold weather gear, countless fishing rods, and, for most of my life, one precious “gun dog” at a time. But this gun dog was always more than a gun dog, it was always part of the family, and, what’s more, an avenue for father / daughter teachings. “See that,” he would say when his dog would lie at the entrance to the kitchen, “she knows to lie there because I only give her food when she’s over there.”
So imagine my concern when my still rather new, rather crazy dog was about to come live with me in my super-gun-dog-trainer father’s home for an undecided amount of time. What if she did something nuts, like eating a wall or digging a hole in the carpet? (Not that she’s done either of these things before, but I have underestimated Nala before.) And, worse, my father was moving rather slowly, sometimes with a cane or walker; what if Nala ran into him? Knocked him over? What if my high-energy dog put my low energy father back in the hospital? It wouldn’t be the Nala’s fault, it would be my fault, the idiot who couldn’t train her dog, and my father would understand that.
Nala once more surprised me, but this time in a good way. She practically tiptoed (tippawed?) around my father when he walked down his narrow hallway with his walker, and later his cane. She put her head on his chair when he was watching Mash reruns and waited for his hand to inevitably rest on her quirky ears. She watched him from her bed in the morning as he made coffee and ate cereal, sensing that begging was not allowed. By the end of the week, when she decided to chew on his chair a little, he just looked at the damage and shrugged. “Well,” he said, “now it matches the rest of the furniture.” I looked at the couch and love seat, both had the corners chewed, memories of gun dogs past. I wasn’t sure which past dog committed the crimes, but what I did know is that it was official for Nala, she was accepted by my father. It was a personal accomplishment.
Product: Dog Tag at Dog Tag Art
Claim: Fun customizable and durable dog ID tags.
Where to Buy: On-line. See link above.
Price: Around $12.00 plus a couple bucks shipping.
Did it Work?: We will soon find out. I just ordered it today. Will update later.
Color graphics on front.
4 lines of text on back
Guaranteed for life
Easy to Read.
I wanted something fun for Nala, and more durable than those I usually buy in the pet stores. I have to replace them often because Nala is so active outside that her tags quickly become unreadable.
Is it a Keeper?: I hope so… will update later.
There are an estimated 200,000 whitetail deer in Iowa.
What does this mean (besides that fact that Iowa has a population issue)?
It means we Iowans get to view these magestic creatures on almost a daily basis. And when they are not crashing into the front of our cars, whitetails can be quite breathtaking.
It also means that on long walks through the wooded areas in our neighborhood, Nala often sees one or more deer and is compelled to run… and run… and run… and disappear for long periods of time.
The average whitetail can run up to 30 miles an hour. Nala can keep up with this rather well and considers them, I have decided, one of the following:
1. A serious challenge
2. Worthy running partners
3. A possible dinner option
I understand that this issue is my fault and that I need to do something about it for Nala’s safety and my sanity. But the chase that took place this morning, instead of showing evidence of her free spirit and sometimes defiance demonstrated her loyalty and intelligence.
My boyfriend, his dog Ozzie (a Swissy) Nala and I were on a walk in said woods when a deer was spotted up the trail. Nala, of course, saw it first and before I could grab her, the deer moved and the chase was on. We kept walking. Usually in these kinds of situations, Nala seems to follow our smell and periodic calls and suddenly appears, soundless, from the trees, often ahead of us on the trail. But not this time.
For 20 minutes after the walk was over my boyfriend and I (loyal Ozzie by our side) called NALA! into the woods. Nothing. Just about the time we were feeling desperate, a couple met us on the trail. “You looking for a dog?” they asked.
“Yes,” we politely replied, thinking something like, What was your first clue? “If you see a skinny brown dog, that’s the one.”
“Oh!” the man lit up a bit. “Well there was a brown dog down by the entrance, sitting by a green SUV,” (my boyfriend’s car.) You must be kidding.
So down to the SUV we went. Sure enough, there sat Nala, panting and watching people on bikes and in running shorts going in and out of the entrance to the park and trails.
Of course my relief overwhelmed my annoyance at her defiance. And, naturally, I was impressed. You see, the last time Nala pulled this I-must-chase-deer stunt, I called for her for about 30 minutes then left. I was angry and I thought maybe if I wasn’t waiting for her when she returned she might learn a lesson. That lesson, in my mind at the time, was “If I run away from my human when she calls, she might not be here when I get back and I might just lose my happy home.” I had a fantasy that this would lead to her no longer running away. I wasn’t afraid she wouldn’t come back, she always comes back. I mean, the dog once found me in a Walgreen’s Drug Store. But I have the fear that she might get hurt out there and not be able to come back. Anyway, I was gone for about 10 minutes and when I returned she was sitting on the trail in the exact spot where she had disappeared. Upon seeing the car she ran happily to her human who was happy to see her safe and, as mentioned earlier, relief overwhelmed the previous frustration.
What Nala actually learned: “When I run off I must then return to the car so I am not left.”
Well, it can’t be said that she doesn’t learn. Clearly my dog is smarter than me.
Living in a high-rise can present some unique challenges when it comes to potty training your puppy. My boyfriend and I live on the 40th floor of our building, and when we brought our dog Reggie home last August, I was not prepared for how above-ground-level living would affect the potty training process.
The problem is that potty training a dog requires lots of quick responses—the second you notice your furry little one popping a squat you should be scooping her up and bringing her directly outside. This immediate action loses some of its effectiveness when “directly outside” requires an elevator ride down 40 stories.
Thanks to a combination of her own smarts and our preparedness, Reggie ended up being a cinch to potty train. We got her when she was only two months old, and to date she’s had only about five accidents in the apartment (she’s 11 months old now).
The key to potty training in this scenario is planning ahead. You have to rely less on instant responses and more on routine. Read on for some tips on how to deal with this tricky (and potentially very messy) situation:
Timing is Everything
This is a rule for potty training no matter what kind of living situation you have, and it’s especially important when you live high up. Take your dog out every two hours, and after every meal. Teach her as soon as possible that going to the bathroom takes place on the grass, and on the grass only.
The best thing we did was purchase a couple of those fake grass potty pads for the balcony. Taking Reggie all the way downstairs and then over to the dog park was a 15-minute affair—that’s way more work than anyone wants to do at 4:00am. The fake grass reinforced our potty-on-grass-only rule, and the trays on the bottom made it so we didn’t constantly have to clean them. Better yet, having them always available made it so she could start going by herself the second she figured out how.
If you don’t have a balcony—and don’t want trays full of pee sitting in your living room—normal potty pads will do. Just make sure you always keep them in the same spot.
Make Going Outside as Fun as Possible
Reggie stopped going number two on her potty pads after a month or so—that’s because she learned that it was worth holding it in so that she could go outside and play. Reinforcing the idea that potty time and playtime go together is a great way to keep accidents from happening in the house.
Our little stubborn puppy decided after a couple of weeks that the crate was a total no-go. No amount of treats could get her in there, and it was impossible to physically put her in the crate with the fight she put up. That being said, crate training is a great tool for potty training anywhere, and particularly in a high-rise (as long as you can get your dog in there, of course).
The special complexities of potty training when you live in a high rise are difficult for you, but remember that they’re difficult for your dog too. Accidents will happen, and the best thing you can do is stay consistent in how you respond. Don’t let the inconvenience of taking your dog downstairs be an excuse for poor training.
While reading some of River and Sound Review this morning, I came upon this lovely poem. It uses the dog as a metaphor for the past. Anytime a dog is used literally or figuratively in poetry I admire it because it can be so hard to use domestic animals without turning the poem into something “cute.”
Read River and Sound by clicking here
Black Dog Follows Me
by Lauren Henley
I did not want you when I first saw you,
which is a response that you know
like your name & the names
you must be called, of which I too
have called you
on all the nights that came before.
we people are like baskets, and sometimes
there is a desire to always be filled
by something. All that to say
we are afraid
& the filling is often a meatless
kind of shadow. You must be tired.
Here is your bed and your bowl.
How you knew I’d be out walking,
you whose volume shifts like pop bottles catching rain,
you with the ribs like scratches
from a hand file,
you hound with eyes too much like a man’s,
& how I thought
I could make it home without you trailing
all of this serves as reminder,
a string around the finger:
I am not a closed book,
not a pretty thing in a tower,
there is meat in my coat pocket.
I love the Rolling Stones. They have wonderfully quotable music. One of my favorite quotes is “You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need.”
It’s one of those quotes that I push on friends and family when they are going through some type of undesirable situation. The only time I do not prefer this outlook is when I am the one in the undesirable situation. Go figure.
Ever since I got Nala I have been slightly unable to settle into my usual slightly-anal-retentive-over-productive-over-organized self. I often work from home and, therefore, have fallen into a very specific routine.
- Wake around 7
- Make coffee
- Check Facebook to ease into the whole work with computer thingy
- Drink coffee while checking all e-mail boxes (there are four)
- Start logging on to the school sites, opening papers and grading
- Grade until noon (two if there is a lot to do) / eat lunch while grading
- Go for a jog or to the gym
- Clean (laundry etc.)
- Watch some TV or read
- Dinner often involves friends, boyfriend, or family
Pretty simple. To those who have families and 9-5 jobs it probably seems a little ridiculous, but this kind of routine made me comfortable. And with Miko, my dog for 12 years, this was possible because by the time this became my routine she was old-ish and relaxed.
However, even those who have lives full of appointments and little league games, still have a route, they are just most likely more demanding. Routines are important. They make us feel comfortable. It’s why we get angry when our car breaks down (besides the fact that it costs money), it puts a kink on our routine, interferes with plans. Even the Chili minors trapped underground for two months carried on a routine to maintain their sanity. Leaders of the group assigned jobs, eating and drinking times, and even a place and time for chapel.
My routine has changed, and I have been uncomfortable for months.
I would give you an example of what my life is like now that I have Nala, but that is impossible because it changes pretty much every day. Is part of that my fault? Yes. In the fall and spring semesters I took on some extra classes in my constant feeble attempt to make more money, be more professional, and seem like a hero enough to get good letters of recommendation when I finally get to move (one of these days….). And I haven’t really been able to hit the sweet spot of routine with these classes, my need for work time / reading time / writing time, and Nala’s needs.
There are times when this causes me serious stress and even despair. I think about how much money I spend on this dog, how much time, and how much time I am NOT spending on my writing or at the gym or with my boyfriend. Then I feel guilty for getting her in the first place.
Then, last weekend, my boyfriend and I went camping with our dogs. (He has a Swiss Mountain Dog named Ozzie who is a big teddy bear.) When I got home I was showing my mother a video of Nala swimming in the lake and fetching a stick, over and over (she’s a great swimmer) and my mother’s response was, “Aw. She got such a good home.” And I thought, yes, she did. How dare I regret giving a dog a good home? So what if my routine has been off? Truth be told, I’m probably getting what I need. Who knows? Without Nala I may have become some kind of hermit and eventually developed a phobia and never left my apartment again.
So, with this in mind. I’ve come up with a new, very flexible, routine for the both of us.
- Wake at 7
- Walk one mile
- Run two miles
- Walk one mile
- Shower (For Nala this means nap)
- Write (For Nala this means nap)
- Work on on-line classes until no later than 2 (For Nala this means one of three things, nap, chew bone, or stare outside at birds)
- Do whatever we want until we both get tired.
I started this just last week and so far the results are thus:
- Nala is super relaxed all day
- I am super relaxed all day
- I get a lot more done because Nala naps more
- I have lost one pound.
- We are both happier.
If I keep this up I won’t even need my gym membership.
Maybe this is what I needed all along.