Tuesday, September 11, 2012

The Birthday Dickens

Dickens is two years old today. The mature--and almost contemplative--dog pictured here is a far cry from the lean, dingo-wild puppy that first arrived here, jumping on the bed and chewing up the furniture. Some sort of miracle occurred lately, and he now knows the meaning of the second word in "Golden Retriever." He not only brings the ball back, he drops it when I tell him to. I can call him from across the yard--sometimes from out of sight--and he'll come running, park himself next to me, and lean on my leg. There's a lot of dog to lean, too, since he's still right around 100 pounds, all of it meat and muscle.

The essence of the change in his attitude toward me is that I have, in the words of the people who taught me about dogs, become relevant to him, more relevant than the ball, or the dogs next door, or cats. He also seems to have decided that going with the flow is easier and more fun than swimming against it.

Even Daisy is more comfortable around him. They don't play like they used to--he moves way too fast for her, and her eyesight and hearing are dimming--but the other morning I got out of bed and found them both lying next to each other, back-to-back, sound asleep. And now that I can put Dickens on a down-stay and leave him there, Daisy is chasing the ball again, hopping through the grass, her tail flying, without fear that Dickens will swoop in and grab it from her.

Someone told me I'd miss the puppy in Dickens when he got older. At the time I didn't think so, but now that I see him growing up, and getting smarter--very smart about some things--I think I may indeed come to miss the puppyness. Still, I'm very glad to see the adult Dickens starting to blossom.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Dickens, One Year On

A year ago today Daisy and I got in the car and drove to Eugene to meet this guy. We liked him so much we took him home. Daisy has since had occasion to regret it, but on the whole I believe she enjoys having a big plush toy to chew on and bark at when it sneaks up on her during naps.

Dickens will be two years old on September 11. Given his inauspicious birthdate and his disastrous effect on home furnishings in the first few months of his life here, I nicknamed him Hound Zero. I'm happy to say that nickname has fallen into disuse, although there are still moments when he's every bit the rebellious adolescent--to be expected, I guess, given that at two years old he's the equivalent of a 14-year-old human.

We've been training a lot in the backyard, and if I can get his attention, Dickens does well. He picks up things fast, but he also gets bored fast, so I have to be careful not to let the sessions go on too long. I'm having some work done in the back yard, and when it's over there'll be room for a small agility layout. I have a feeling agility is going to be right in Dickens's wheelhouse.

And now, Year Two...

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Snow Day!

"Look out for the Abominable Dickens!"

A rare heavy snowfall Monday night knocked out the power long enough to reduce the contents of the fridge to a science project and make me wonder how, after stoking a wood-burning furnace twice a day for eight or nine years at the old house, I was unable to get a fire going in the small woodstove in the living room. But hey, the dogs had fun, and that's what counts, right?

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Dickens Weighs In

My old Golden, Winzer, weighed about 65 pounds for most of his life. He looked bigger than that, but when he was wet he had the proportions of a bobblehead dog, with a huge head, a skinny body, and a ratlike tail. Daisy, now in her 12th year, has never gotten above about 36 pounds. (Update as of Sept. 1: At her last vet visit she was up to 50 pounds.)

Dickens' license expires tomorrow, and the renewal form asked for a current rabies certificate, so I took him to the vet this afternoon for a shot. The doc put him on the scales and when he called out the weight I did a double-take.

Eighty-nine pounds.

Dickens, who is 17 months old, and who weighed about 70 pounds when I adopted him, now weighs just 12 pounds less than Winzer and Daisy together. Dickens is a short-haired Golden, too, so what you see is what you get, and what you see is a dense, thickly muscled dog.

I'm told Goldens are puppies until they're about three years old. No one told me when they stop growing. I'm hoping it's soon, because if he gets any bigger I can get a saddle for him and ride him to town.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Dickens and the Bright Idea

"What's the problem? I couldn't sleep!"

Daisy is getting on in years. Based on the birthday I chose arbitrarily for her when I got her from the pound, she'll be 12 years old on New Year's Day. Her eyesight isn't what it used to be, and at night, after lights out, she pants and whimpers and paces around the house, sometimes bumping into things, until she finally picks a spot to lie down and go to sleep.

It took me a while to figure out what was going on, and that she was nervous because everything went dark all at once each night. So I got her a night light and plugged it into the socket in the hall. The next night went much better for her. After a few minutes of distress she quieted down and went to sleep. I'd swear she looked well rested in the morning.

Later the following day, as I showered, I heard a loud pop. I opened the shower door and saw Dickens wasn't lying in the bathroom doorway where he usually is when I shower. I called him, and his gait when he appeared can only be called a guilty slink.

He had pulled the night light out of the wall socket and bitten through it, both the plastic housing and the glass bulb--the pieces were scattered around on the floor. I checked his mouth for cuts, then cleaned up the shards of glass and plastic. Later I bought another night light, and plugged it into the wall socket in the hall bathroom, out of Dickens' reach but where it still shines a dim light into the bedroom at night.

I told this story to a friend at coffee that day, and she jokingly suggested Dickens was nursing some sort of grudge against Daisy. I said I supposed that might be possible, providing they were both cartoon characters, but what really gave me chills was the thought of Dickens and his wet, slobbery mouth pressed up against the wall socket while he was prying the night light out.

It's just another reminder that although Dickens is now a member of the family in good standing, he still sometimes throws me a curveball that makes me wonder if he's ever going to have a different kind of light-bulb moment.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dickens And The Voice From The Past

About 15 years ago, after training Winzer and getting a CD, I decided I knew enough about dog obedience to teach it. I put some flyers in a local feed store and gave lessons one night a week in a freezing cold barn piled high with bales of hay infested by mice that occasionally made an appearance during a lesson, wreaking havoc among the canine students.

I distilled all I'd been taught by teachers far more experienced than me into a six-week course booklet that I ran off on the laptop as needed and gave to the students. I borrowed--that's the nice word for it--liberally from course material I'd been given, rewording it to fit what I intended to be a breezy style of instruction that amused the human students enough to make them unaware that their dogs weren't learning anything in the classes--the humans were the ones who were benefiting from my very fresh expertise.

A subsequent hard-drive crash erased the documents and I'd thought them lost forever until a week ago when I located a single copy in the old duffel bag I used to take to obedience trials. There, under the dumbbell and the extra leash and the show programs was a thick sheaf of paper, a complete lesson plan from week one to week six.

Lately I've been going through the plan to brush up on my training with Dickens. It's odd to be getting this information from the me of 15 years ago, who seems to have been a lot more confident of his ability to train dogs than the me of today, who is older, less patient, and often doubts he can ever recreate the bond he had with Winzer with this new dog, who has the attention span of a gnat and the stubbornness of a herd of mules.

The younger me had some pretty smart things to say about training dogs, though, and he's been teaching me a trick or two that have made a difference in Dickens already. The first of these is consistency, which I preach but apparently don't always practice. Dickens now gets only one command, followed by a nudge in the direction of what I want him to do if he dawdles.

The next job is to make myself the most relevant thing in his universe. He's still young, and easily distracted, so I've gone back to training him on a lead instead of off-lead. There's a risk of making him leash sensitive so that he'll obey only when he's leashed, but the alternative is him dashing off to investigate every noise in the next yard or gust of wind in the middle of an exercise. The younger me said to find Dickens' motivation, whether food or toys or play. I'm still looking; he's motivated by a lot of things, but never the same thing twice running.

For example, he'll take a dumbbell from me and hold it in his mouth, but he brings back a thrown dumbbell only about half the time. The other half he chases it, picks it up, drops it, and wanders away, even if there's a cookie waiting for him. And yet there are signs the cartoon light bulb over his head is glowing more brightly every day. This evening I told him, "Find the ball," a completely new concept, and he did just that, searching every room in the house until he found it and brought it back to me, proud as can be.

I felt like younger me again.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dickens and the Stick

Dogs and sticks. Enemies since the dawn of time. Their mighty struggle for supremacy never ends.