Thursday, 31 March 2016

The Tricky Parts of Dogsitting: In Which We Have Reached A Steady Point In The Journey

I feel like I haven't updated on Ava for a while. I guess I haven't had too much to say; she's growing, developing and learning, and we -- her owners and I -- are all getting used to life with a puppy.

What would I do without coffee...

I have to admit these few weeks have been more of a drag than before. It's nothing to do with Ava or her owners, I think it's just that the initial novelty no longer makes the difficulties neglible. That's not to say things are going badly or that there are insurmountable problems, but I definitely notice the difficult parts of this job. All jobs have pros and cons, of course -- so I'll share the problems I've encountered so far here, in case any of my readers are interested in this kind of work.

  • Transport. It goes without saying that you should have a car to dogsit. But sometimes people, like me, do end up in a situation without one, and maybe this is the work they want to do or know how to do. I take buses to everywhere I need to go. It works almost all of the time, but it is incredibly tiring. Right now it takes me up to 90 minutes to commute what would be a 20 minute drive -- what a colossal waste of time that is! It is also expensive and physically tiring, because relying on buses inevitably means a fair amount of walking.
    But for me right now, the benefits definitely outweigh the costs, so this is the way it goes for now -- and hopefully later this year I will get myself a car and licence!
  • Isolation. One thing I enjoy about this job so far is not having to talk to people much. I mean, sure, I strike up conversations with people I meet while walking her, neighbours and such, but I don't have an ongoing relationship with anyone other than the clients -- and I don't see them often, since I visit when they aren't home. Since depression has left me somewhat jaded and drained, often making conversation difficult, this is a plus right now.

  • But then, I just said I don't have any ongoing relationships. I don't have any colleagues - during the day it's just me and puppy. As someone who previously couldn't handle being alone, this is huge progress for me, but on the flip side I am finding it's quite isolating. I get up, take public transport around people but alone, spend the day with puppy but no humans, return home, rinse, repeat. So dogsitting doesn't give the momentum and stimulation of daily check-ins with colleagues, so it's starting to feel repetitive.

Now that I have that off my chest, it's time to go back to our regular programming.

I'm just a bit tired from the daily grind at the moment -- but good news: Ava's parents get to go away on holiday! Yay! Which means, of course... Ava is staying with me! So I get a change of routine -- from tonight, in fact... stay tuned!


Thursday, 24 March 2016

Book Review: Before and After You Get Your Puppy

Have you been wondering how someone who has never had a dog has been raising a puppy? Well, the same way as any first-time dog owner does - read, read, read!

Blogs have given me a real insight into living with dogs and plenty of tips. But I'm going to start by telling you about some of the books I've read to skill up on puppies. In case you were wondering, I don't get books recommended or sent to me for review or anything. I just utilise a resource I really really love - the public library system. So that's where these books come from, mainly.

* * * 

I had heard from blogs that Dr Ian Dunbar is an excellent behaviourist, and I know he has an enormous body of work, so I checked out his books Before You Get Your Puppy and After You Get Your Puppy. I had actually picked up After... first at a used book store when I was looking for books to gift my neighbours who'd gotten a new puppy (yes, I do mean Penne) but after a flick-through very decidedly did not give it to them.

Why? The same reason I think these two books might be rather off-putting to potential/new puppy owners. Their approach is very alarmist.  

Let's start with the cover illustrations. Before... looks innocent enough, with the cute drawings of adult dogs reading about puppies, but After...'s cover is plastered with drawings depicting universally annoying dog behaviours - continuous barking, shredding up the house and two dogs with boxing gloves on (no prizes for guessing that one). In fact, look between the vivid drawings and you'll see there's actually a subtitle: After You Get Your Puppy... the clock is ticking!

I am obviously here to learn about the best, most thorough way to raise a puppy. And yet I found the language even more alarmist than the cover illustrations.

Before... states in the first paragraph of its first chapter that

"... some puppies are well on their way to ruin by the time they are just eight weeks old. It is especially easy to make horrendous mistakes when selecting a pup and during his first few days..." (p15, Chapter One: The Developmental Deadlines).

Okay, so an abusive first two months of life could leave its mark on a puppy. But Dunbar is talking about mistakes here. I find it had to believe that an innocent mistake from a well-meaning dog owner in the first few days home will "ruin" the puppy. The basic premise of After... seems to be 'after you get your puppy, you are already late to the game. Quick, do all these things, or you've messed up, big time.' And I find this, frankly, rather off-putting.

Once you get past the alarmist language, though, I found Dunbar provides some rather creative and practical ideas to achieve some of the goals. Puppy Parties are actually not such a bad idea, if you need an excuse for a gathering. The suggestions of catching up on social obligations with family and friends or simply inviting men over for sports night or women for ice cream and conversation actually sound doable and appealing to me. Sadly I haven't yet had a puppy of my own, but if I did -- I think I might actually do that.

Suddenly guests are happy to drop by... I wonder why?

Those of you familiar with Dr Dunbar will know that these strategies are suggested because
"Your pup needs to socialise with at least a hundred different people before it is three months old." (pg 29, Chapter Four: Socialisation with People).  
Now, putting the question of necessity aside, this struck me - like most, I imagine - to be impossible the minute I read it. Dunbar suggests having groups of six home almost every night of the week. Now, even the most social butterfly would struggle with that, I expect.

I also didn't know what he meant 'meet' or 'socialise with'. Does she have to just see a hundred people on the street, or do they have to all successfully ask her to follow basic commands, as he suggested is the entertainment at puppy parties? Most puppies get their second vacc at 12 weeks - exactly three months - so we can't put puppy on the ground outside yet, remember, Dr Dunbar?

But just for the heck of it, I kept a simple tally of how many people Ava met while with me in the first three months. I counted 'meeting' as having touched her. I only saw her on weekdays, I couldn't invite people over and not having a car, I could only take her as far as I could carry her on foot.

She saw a great deal out and about

Most of the meetings were incidental because I carried her with me to buy coffee or sit outside the shops. And yet the day she turned three months old, I had counted 28 people, including men, children and a toddler. She had also met three dogs, and seen the main road, trolleys, strollers, trucks and buses. Add that to the 40 or 50 people she must have met with her owners (they attended a couple of large family gatherings during that time), and Dunbar's magic number doesn't sound quite so elusive after all.

I am trying to amass a collection of dog books, so I would hang onto these books for reference as they have a few good ideas in them, but just from using the local library I am finding that there are many, many good basic puppy books out there. Most new puppy owners I know have bought a couple of puppy books they are going to use, and due to the alarmist language I don't think I'd recommend these two for that, even though their information is very sound. I want people to feel empowered -- not intimidated -- to raise their dogs well.

Have you read these two, or other Dr Ian Dunbar books? What do you think?

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A Wonderful Day, Part II: In Which Ava Tries, And Penne Tries... Not To Do Anything

I mentioned that Ava and Penne met very politely. It was a very hot day, so after meeting in my yard we all went inside to enjoy the cool of the house. It was there I watched the true dynamic of Ava and Penne's relationship unfold.

I know many of my readers aren't familiar with dog behaviour, so I have included a couple of translations for you. However, I'm new to this too, so if you have an alternate interpretation, please share!

P.S. In case you were wondering, Penne can actually let herself out of the situation as she can go freely over the little black fence on the far side (Ava isn't tall enough to follow). Penne's bed and toys are on the other side, but she actually chose to stay and try to catch her nap on the Ava-side all afternoon!

Friday, 11 March 2016

A Wonderful Day, Part I: In Which Ava Meets Penne

As you know, Ava’s development and training are going well. The other day her owner expressed concern about Ava’s socialisation to dogs as the only dogs she’d met were the ones who bowl her over at puppy school. So I set up a playdate with Miss Penne.

See this good little puppy lying calmly in her crate? Well, it wasn't like that at all.

The morning did NOT get off to a good start as Ava, normally very calm in the car, kicked up a fuss which would make any sugared-up toddler proud. Thinking it was the “unmistakable” ‘I need to go’ signal her people had told me of, I decided to let her out when I stopped at my friend’s house. Of course at that moment my friend called to cancel her assistance with dog introductions, but luckily we were still welcome to use her yard as a potty. Ava, however, was only interested in jumping and following scents, so back in the car we went.

Ava was, thankfully, quiet and well-behaved for the rest of the morning (including the remaining car trip, naturally!), so I plucked up my courage to fetch Penne from the neighbours'. Penne’s people had driven off with her leash, so I carried her back to my house in my arms. (Had she gotten bigger?) Dad once again rigged up a makeshift leash with cord and carabiner, and we were good to go.

Everything went picture perfect from there.

This photo might look like trouble, but it wasn't. Just goes to show you can't judge an interaction by one 'still' capture!

I expect most of you can see that this is a very polite, well-mannered introduction between dogs: circling, reciprocal butt-sniffing, no hesitancy to lie down. What the photos don't show is a confirmation of what I'd read just the other day in a book called Dog Speak by Christiane Blenski: dog introductions are completely silent. These two had absolutely no problem with each other so they did the ritual canine meet and greet in complete silence. Preparing myself for any possible issues or altercations, I hadn't expected the meeting and establishment of peace to strike me as so beautiful -- I think because it all happened in complete silence.

Stay tuned for Part 2: where I have video which reveals the rather interesting dynamic between Ava and Penne!

Monday, 7 March 2016

A Post: Containing A Brief Update On Ava

Ava at 9 weeks

Ava is now 12 weeks old. She now looks and acts like a rather small dog instead of a baby puppy. Yesterday I saw her roll in a scent for the first time instead of just sniffing it. Today I saw her lick her privates (just what we've been waiting for). She is completely responsive to the world around her.

Ava at 11 weeks

I feel the past couple of weeks consisted of just steady progress. There was what I'm guessing is the usual frustration at ‘regressions’ in housetraining, crate training etc. Whether it’s an accident on the floor or nipping me so that I’m unable to restrain her, the incidents always leave me wondering if she’s ‘regressing’ on that particular goal or if she ever learnt it in the first place.

I still don’t have an answer to that question, but I’d imagine that the more relevant view on the matter would be that her senses and awareness are growing and developing every day, so something she may have adapted to or not even noticed at all (being carried in the bag at 9 weeks old, for example) is now (less than a week later) something she notices and may not be okay with. But it is frustrating – I can’t deny that.

Lapdog practice is super important

I just spent the time getting her used to routines involved in living with humans (toileting, leash), basic manners (come, sit, drop), exposing her to home things (broom, vacuum) and taking her out in my bag whenever I could to habituate to the world, since she still couldn’t be out on the ground. She was happy and calm on those occasions, which was great for us!

When she will let me pop her in the bag for an outing, we can have a great time!

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Thankful Thursday

I just want to thank the inventors of:

  • Pig's ears

  • KONG  

  • Playpens

    Because without them, I would not be here today, for I would surely have died from exhaustion and/or completely lost what is left of my sanity.

    Yours sincerely,