Where There’s A Willow, There’s A Way

                                                                                 How Could You??

The puppy is now about a year and half old.  She has come a long way from berserk. four pound sheep hunter to wily, seventeen pound combination persistent nuisance to all things and loving, loyal member of our home pack.  She still has miles to go before we all sleep well, but the girl is on a good path.

I know a lot more now than I did “B.W.” (Before Willow).  My two other Jack Russells lulled me into a smug sense of security that time and training would produce a calm, stable, companionable dog in a year.  Willow has dispelled any notion I had that nurture can override nature, sort of like the false security you have that your software will protect you against Heartbleed or some other such insidious virus.  She has a prey drive second only to a hyena with the scream to match, and only another piece of prey can pull off one scent to another. There’s yet to be a cookie invented that can compete with a chattering chipmunk. Perhaps if I rolled myself in raw meat, I might have greater appeal to her, but I have this image in my mind of being taken down by coyotes or bears, or at least every other dog in the neighborhood save mine.

Her recall is spotty.  I don’t chase her any longer.  Long gone are the days when she would take off through out rural area, this mostly small white streak, with me in pursuit (usually in my bed slippers), through horse pastures, cow pastures, pig sties, and chicken coops.  If she leaves the farm perimeter (which is, admittedly, less often) for far-flung fields, that’s her choice.  It isn’t that I don’t care or that I don’t worry:  I’ve simply learned that the less I holler for her and simply take Martha and Gus inside or continue playing with them, the game is over.  She can’t stand not being the center of attention and comes back of her own accord out of curiosity about what she may be missing.  Like the new raw food treats.

She’s also taught me you can put everything you’ve got into a dog, but the dog has to want to meet you halfway.  A  dog makes choices, good and not so good.  Sometimes, you just have to wait until the brain is more mature and just hope the dog survives its less stellar choices.  Willow isn’t Gus, who walks at heel through the forest off leash, looks up for permission to chase a squirrel, and, now that he has the Tasmanian Devil as a little sister, has the patience of Job.  Martha, blissfully deaf and much less patient with Willow’s antics, snarls.  Any resemblance to my own human family life is purely coincidental.  Or maybe not.

I am hoping one day, in our dotage, to be glad after all that I brought her home.  I want to look back and, like labor, not really remember how the early days of our lives drove me to the brink of psychosis.  I want to be able to buy good sheets again without resigning myself to the holes that will be chewed in them.  And I would like to answer the front door like a normal person, not hiding behind the tiny crack like a hoarder, with dogs snapping at my heels to charge the unseen intruder.  I’m certain at this point, we’ve been removed from the Jehovah’s Witness visitors list, and I must admit, I miss having someone to talk to occasionally.

It Had To Be Ewe

I think I may have mentioned somewhere here that Willow is the Spawn of Satan.

I awoke this morning with a sinus headache that would have killed an elephant. The medication for that makes me a bit loopy (okay, dopey) but it worked, and off the dogs and I drove to our weekly private training session with the World’s Most Amazing Dog Trainer, hereafter more simply referred to as MPS (my personal savior, to whom I have given over not only my puppy but, after today, my soul). He is my Cesar.

MPS is teaching me to teach Willow leash manners and a chain of command strategy upon which we will build so that we might override with training the strongest prey drive I’ve ever seen in an animal not on the National Geographic Channel. The method is gentle but firm, all about teaching her impulse control through obedience. But before sessions begin, MPS believes that she benefits from a short time to exercise her so-called restless spirit by allowing her to run and play with a giant fluffy white LabraDoodle in a fully fenced area of about an acre. Fully fenced except for the teeny space about the size of a toddler’s hand between the galvanized steel gate and the moss covered cedar gate post through which she made her escape this morning.

You know that feeling of watching the horrific event unfold in seemingly slow motion but also at the speed of light? And the equally awful awareness that seeps into your consciousness that you are helpless to catch the puppy running at a break neck pace toward the neighbor’s sheep pasture because in your slowness and haste the humans are crashing into each other and bashing the gate closed with each attempt?

We are running like sprinters wearing clown shoes over slimy leaves toward the sounds of sheep baas, small dog yips, and cloven hooves pummeling the ground. MPS has leapt over the fence already. I can see as I skid to a halt at the fence a tiny white dog herding unsheared, dirty brown terrified sheep, and a man in a formerly pristine black Patagonia fleece now covered with sheep muck chasing the little white dog chasing the sheep.

Willow! Willow! We call. Her name could be anything. This is The Best Thing she has ever experienced in her life. This is the E Ticket at Disneyland for hunting dogs. The Grail. Discovering Atlantis.

For the man, the sheep, and the woman who owns the sheep and who has now come to the pasture with a shotgun, this is most definitely Not The Best Thing.

Willow has culled one ewe from the herd and has her cornered. The ewe butts her a few times but the dog is not dissuaded. Willow is, however, standing her ground, and MPS quite nimbly swoops in and scoops her up by the collar. I hop (okay, I don’t hop, I scramble, my days of leaping anything taller than a twig long past) the fence and grab Willow from MPS. She is unharmed, the sheep are unharmed even if unnerved. We apologize to everyone and take what seems like our first breath since the Great Escape.

Back at the training barn, the correlation between her chances of survival and the need for more accelerated training is glaringly obvious. Willow is moving in with MPS for a month. I made a commitment to this dog the day I brought her home. For her safety and the safety of anyone else, she needs a truly experienced hand. Although I have always trained my own dogs, were I to let my ego rule, Willow will never be the kind of dog she deserves to be: alive, safe, obedient and a good companion. As a client of mine once said of his personal manager, “he might be Satan but he’s our Satan.”

Ironically, her breeder sent me an email yesterday with photos of the available puppies from three new litters. Since Willow was doing well in her training, he wondered, did I have any jealous friends who might want a puppy just like her?

Maybe I should send him this story.

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You Dirty Rat

dead-rat

“Trade?” I ask Willow when she has hold of something not good for her (like my sock, a pencil or a shard of firewood). 

Her ears perk up.  She runs over to me, drops the not-so-good thing for a better thing (a cookie or an approved chew toy). 

We are in the process of learning “Drop It” which is a harsher command (think of how it sounds — the intonation behind the words as opposed to the inflection of “Trade?” which ends in an up pitch).  But I wonder if it’s such a good thing to barter with your puppy. 

Today, Willow found a gray rat.  I don’t know if she killed it or if it was already dead.  But at 6:30 this morning, I looked out the window into the dog yard on the farm to see this bit of fur with the unmistakable rat tail limply hanging from her mouth. 

Being a natural ratter, she was ecstatic.  Racing around the yard, the little gears in her primitive mind whirling with great velocity, torn between finding a place to hide her new treasure and the inability to let it go. 

Fascinating from a anthropological point of view.  DISGUSTING from my personal point of view. 

The dilemma:  I have nothing better to trade that beats a dead rat. 

Ninety minutes of watching her and periodically enticing her to “Trade?” and coming up short later, she appears at the back door sans rat.  I pray she hasn’t eaten it (poison possibility, worms, God knows what else) but stashed it somewhere for later.  She comes in, gets breakfast, is praised for coming in. 

While she eats breakfast, I go out into the big dog yard (which is actually a part of my garden), wearing a pair of work gloves and muck boots to seek the corpse.  No luck.  Only Willow will lead me to her prize, so I put her on a long lead and harness.  Out we go together, leaving Gus and Martha in the house.  Sure enough, she dives into the dank darkness beneath the deck and emerges with mouth clamped around the dead vermin. 

“Trade?” I ask, holding out her favorite squeaky plush toy. 

Are you kidding? her eyes say.  I am a ratter.  I am a great spotted hunter.  I have prey.  Real prey, with real fur and real stink.  Uh-uh.

I reel her in, grab her by the scruff of her neck and pinch her nose.  The dead rat, its gray fur now matted with dog saliva, its long yellow teeth visible in a mouth in the beginning stage of rigor mortis, drops to the ground.  With my free gloved hand, I lift it by its long naked tail, holding it high above my shoulder as we walk toward the garbage can just on the other side of the dog yard fence.

It hits the bottom of the empty plastic bin with an unremarkable thud.

Willow looks at me, crestfallen.

There will be other rats, even if she does not yet understand that.  But there is always something special about your first time.

 

 

I Am Here With You

May I be hit by lightening if I ever fail to fully appreciate and acknowledge the fine characters of my two grown dogs, Angus and Martha. 

It’s easy to sometimes overlook their forbearance and utter acceptance of the wave of changes that a new puppy brings to the sea of our lives together.

Gus, once the incorrigible seat belt eating, front seat hog, ball hoarder has grown into this devoted, well mannered dog of dogs. More, he has become the instant babysitter for a mouthy and fearless terrier pup. I hope some of the characteristics Gus and Martha share that endear them to me so much will rub off on Willow.

If there is something beyond love, that is what I feel for them.

I Will Wait Here As Long As It Takes I Will Wait Here As Long As It Takes

Rosemary’s Puppy

I am losing my mind.

Think Damien from “The Omen.” The head twisting horror of Linda Blair in “The Exorcist”. I am living with Rosemary’s Puppy.

It's Alive It’s Alive

Don’t let this sleeping dog lie–she’s as alert as a highly caffeinated college junior during finals. We just returned from what can loosely be called a walk (she dragged Angus, poor Martha and me down our “practice” road, the one so boring it gives me a small chance of getting a tiny portion of her attention span) and while everyone else is knackered, she is merely cuddled next to Gus, pondering her next fiendish move.

We begin puppy school next week. In the interim, I’m supposed to be loading her with a Marker Word. And it can’t be “Nooooooooooo!” Damn. It’s actually “Yes”. I say “yes” and then shove tasty treats into her mouth.

The idea is any time she does anything that could remotely be construed as good behavior, I say “yes,” shove food, and she will magically make the connection between the word, the desired behavior and the food. Uh huh.

I’m meant to ignore all undesirable behavior. Digging up the plants in the garden. Chewing my sandals. Chewing the legs of my chairs. Chewing her crate. Jumping on Martha. Basically, ignore her at this point.

She does sit. She learned that the second day. So I reward that. “Yes,” I say, and shove food into her mouth.

I will either have the fattest, worst trained dog on the planet, who sits on command but tears my arm out of its socket when I walk her, chases cars, bikes, cows, horses and chickens, or I may have to start looking for a priest to perform an exorcism on a tiny puppy.