Monday, February 25, 2013

Selective hearing

Yesterday we made trip to the dog park, and while this time we had no falling-in-the-river mishaps, we did have one brief scare because of Boden. Whenever we first arrive, the dogs are ecstatic. Boden runs around like a mad man, not even flinching when we say his name. He will sprint 100 yards to the first dog or human he spots, leaving us to chase after him. This effect normally wears off after the first few minutes of excitement pass, but keep us on our toes for those minutes. The dog park is huge, several acres at least. We've come across owners frantically searching for their dogs, running up and down the trails yelling for them. Because most of it is woods, it would be an easy place to lose track of your dog. So we've always been super cautious to keep the dogs in sight. And that's how our small moment of panic occurred yesterday. 

We entered the park and Boden took off running across the trails to greet a dog he saw in the distance. We called for him, but with his selective hearing, this was pointless. Thatcher, J. and I jogged ahead to catch up with him. As we got closer, Boden took off for the next dog he saw - which happened to be even further in the woods. We hurried and tried to keep our eyes on Boden, but he disappeared between the trees. This went on for a minute or two, Boden in la-la land following all the dogs he could find, and us struggling to catch a glimpse of him as he zoomed through the woods. He finally circled back to the trail in hot pursuit of another dog, when he finally noticed us calling his name. Thatcher ran ahead and barked at Boden as if to tell him to get his butt over by us, and surprisingly Boden finally listened. After that, his craziness passed and both dogs stuck fairly close to us. Another crisis averted. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

Training: Week 2

Boden waiting with mom for class to start.
Training was much less stressful than last week, mainly because we knew what to expect and how the dogs would react to the environment. The trainers require that we use leather leashes and some form of a training collar. Most of the people in our class use prong collars, but we decided to go with martingale collars - nylon collars that slip over the head, with a loop of chain that can tighten when the dog pulls. We had these on the dogs last week, but did not have them fitted tightly at all, so the effect was useless. This time, I was prepared. I fitted the collar properly on both dogs, and prepared to correct Boden each time he pulled. So despite my hands being a little raw from leash-burn, the night went smoothly. We worked on healing on-leash, sit-stays and down-stays. Thatcher breezed through most of it with J., but Boden did surprisingly well too. 

When the trainer asked for a doggy volunteer to demonstrate sitting and staying, I immediately raised my hand. We have not worked on stay at all with Boden yet, so I was interested to see how he would do. The trainer's first reaction was slightly unsure, "Ok... I see one of the Newfies volunteered. He's not going to drag me around the room, is he?" Of course, I couldn't guarantee that. She proceeded to take the leash from me and show the class how to teach a dog to sit and stay on command. She had Boden sit by her left side, then commanded him to stay as she took a few steps to the right, out it front of him, then back to the starting position. I watched proudly as he performed nearly perfectly. The last part of class flew by as we practiced what we learned. Towards the end, Boden was mentally drained and just kind of stared around the room in a daze. At home, like last time, they passed out the minute we stepped into the house. Another week down.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Guilt trip

This is what I have to look at while I get ready for work each day. Thatcher and Boden are boys of routine. The moment I go upstairs to start getting dressed, they follow me and hop up on the bed, where they lie quietly, watching me with sad eyes. And this is why I feel guilty leaving the house every time. Those big brown eyes, always staring...

Tuesday, February 19, 2013


There is one constant in my life: when I eat, my dogs are right next to me. They would be sitting in my lap if allowed. All dogs beg, I know this. But Thatcher and Boden play mind games. They look so alarmingly sad, that it makes you want to give them your food. Like it's your idea, not theirs. I know that they are never hungry. I'm usually the one to feed them. So why do I always feel obligated to save my last bite of toast crust for them? It's ridiculous. Anyhow, tonight they performed their normal begging routine while I enjoyed some ice cream. This is when something terrible happened. Boden officially started drooling. Granted, he's extremely sloppy and always has crusty gunk on his fur from eating or drinking anything, but tonight it was genuine begging drool. The kind that just hangs there and grows longer with every bite a human takes. He, thanks to Thatcher, has perfected the "I'm just a sweet, starving puppy" look. So I now lose the last two bites of every meal to my little orphans. And I end up with double the drool on my lap because of it.

Hoping for a bite of ice cream

Hoping for a bite of anything

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Training begins

Ready for bed after training class
It's long overdue, but we finally started obedience classes with the Newfies. Due to a lack of foresight on our part, the first class landed on Valentine's Day. Super romantic way to spend the evening. Anyhow, we finally admitted to ourselves that we've been letting way too much slide with the dogs the last few months. Boden especially. When we got Thatcher a couple of years ago, we spent countless hours working on training essentials like heeling, greeting people politely and coming when called (although he never quite mastered this one). He was an only child, and we spent a lot of our spare time working with him. Boden has been quite a different story. It's difficult to find time to work with just him, because Thatcher gets jealous and interrupts. So this has lead to having one basically untrained puppy, and one adult dog who gets away with more than he used to. Admitting the problem is the first step to success, no? Cuteness can only go so far.

We enrolled both dogs in a beginner obedience class. Thatcher won't be terribly challenged, but for the sake of consistency we thought it best to sign them both up. The training facility is in what used to be a commercial office space, and has several classes going on in different training rings simultaneously. From the moment we walked in the door, I felt stressed. Thatcher and Boden were nervous and excited by this new environment that was full of noise, people and dogs. I was holding Thatcher's leash while we checked in and J. had Boden. The dogs were both extremely anxious, and kept pulling and whining, making it difficult to focus on the required paperwork. After we signed in, the lady pointed us to the training ring we should head towards. As we were walking past the registration desk, a dog that was lying behind the counter by the lady lunged out and attacked Thatcher. The lady pulled the aggressive dog off of Thatcher quickly, but after those brief moments of thrashing and biting, my nerves were shot and my stress limit at capacity.

That incident passed and we headed over to our assigned training area. We had agreed beforehand that I would primarily handle Boden for our sessions, and J. would work with Thatcher. So we swapped leashes and I waited with Boden. In our normal daily routines, the dogs don't have many opportunities to act up. They're confident and well-behaved on our walks around the neighborhood, at home and at the dog park. But remove them from their regular environment, and they are like different dogs. Thatcher has always been cautious by nature and new situations tend to exacerbate this. He was a little nervous at training, but did pretty good with J. by his side. Boden was a nightmare. It took me about 3 seconds being in the facility to realize that he's officially stronger than I am. If I was even slightly distracted, he would literally drag me several yards in the blink of an eye, to try to get to another dog or person. It was extremely alarming and a really powerful wake up call. I can only imagine how much worse that feeling of helplessness will be if I don't buckle down on his training now.

After the excitement of being in a new place wore off a little, the class went pretty well. It was mainly just an introductory session, as the trainer talked about training equipment they use, the 8-week syllabus, etc. Then we worked on "sit" and "down" commands. This, of course, was a breeze for Thatcher. He even started showing off and doing his "army crawl" without even being told to. Boden knows "sit" really well, but does not consistently lay down on command. It usually takes a few times of us repeating "down" for him to sink to the ground in a painfully slow motion. We'll get there with some extra practice. The best part of that whole night was how soundly the dogs slept. The whole situation must have been too much stimulation for them, because they walked in the door at home, followed us upstairs, and fell asleep in a matter of seconds in their favorite positions - Thatcher guarding the doorway to our room, and Boden on the bed with us. Both snoring.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Embrace the drool

One thing everybody knows about Newfoundlands is that they drool. There is no way around this fact. I can't count the number of times someone has commented on how perfect the breed is... except for the drool. I usually laugh and nod my head in agreement, but it's made me realize something. I don't mind the drool anymore, and I no longer consider it a "flaw". Sure, it isn't fun arriving at work and noticing that my slacks are covered in crusty drool. Seeing the splatters of dried drool, usually mixed with some fur, all over the walls of our house can be kind of gross too. Watching the streams of slime hang down their jowls while they beg for food can hinder any human appetite. And it definitely isn't my favorite when one of the Newfies comes over and lays his head in my lap right after he's done gulping toilet water. Yet however messy the drool can be, it consistently provides one thing: laughter. Who can look at a happy, drool-covered Newfie face and not smile? I dare anyone to try. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Don't own a dog unless...

The dog park we bring Thatcher and Boden to borders the Mississippi River. It's several fenced-in acres of woods, trails and beach. Being a "balmy" 30-something degree day, we decided to trek over to the dog park and let the boys frolic around with the many friends they come across there. In typical Saturday fashion, the park was full of life. This was a nice change from the last time we took them there. It was a -10 degree morning, and we were literally the only people dumb enough to be there. Anyhow, Thatcher and Boden don't get as much social interaction in the winter, aside from our trips to Petsmart or the neighborhood dogs we cross paths with on walks every now and then. So they were thrilled when we arrived and they realized where we were. 

We usually take the same route through the park. We walk through the woods on a trail that leads to a peninsula on the edge of the water, a 1-2 mile hike. Then we loop down and walk the beach the whole way back. Along the way, Thatch and Boden enthusiactically romp around with the other dogs we encounter. Boden, ever the social butterfly, makes sure to greet every living creature in the park - humans and animals alike. His best friend of choice today was another 7-month-old puppy - a goofy pit bull/lab mix. They chased and jumped on each other much of our walk, until Boden finally got distracted by new friends and ran ahead. Thatcher is much more concerned with investigating all of the scents. He trots around like a hound dog, his nose to the ground, snorting like a pig. Occasionally, he'll become sidetracked by another dog's ball. He'll say hi to the other dogs, being sure to puff up his chest to look big and tough, but then goes back to his investigative work.

So we hiked through the woods and got the peninsula, then started back on our normal route along the beach. The water close to the shore was frozen, but the ice was clearly pretty thin because of the last few warm days. Boden really hasn't had the chance to be around water a whole lot yet since he was born towards the end of summer. He clambered over to the edge of the river and took a few shaky steps onto the frozen part. Knowing the ice wasn't steady, we immediately called him to us, but it was too late. His front paws broke through and he fell head-first into the icy water. He panicked, thrashing around and whimpering for help. We were standing probably 10 yards away when this happened, and J was moving before I could even really react. He sprinted over to the edge to pull Boden to safety in a matter of seconds, soaking his own legs in the process.

It all happened in less than a minute. Being so close to shore, the water couldn't have been much more than waist-deep (on a human), but it was still scary. We thought Boden would be traumatized and shivering, and we still had a very long walk to get back to the car. But our worries were unecessary. He recovered in about half a second and went back to merrily running down the beach. Unless you felt him, you wouldn't even know he was wet, because he did not act cold in the slightest. Now, where was Thatcher during this short ordeal? Was he by our side concerned about Boden? No. After Boden was safely back on solid ground, we quickly looked around trying to make sure Thatcher was still alive and safe too. Where did we find him? About 100 yards away, cheerfully playing with another group of dogs, not even noticing what had just happened. 

So the moral of the story is this: Do not own a dog unless you are willing to jump into the icy Mississippi River to rescue him. I'd like to think our puppy has also learned his lesson and will be more cautious in the future. I fear, though, that the only lesson he learned today is to be even more brave, because mom and dad will save him no matter what situation he gets himself into. Oh well. He's snoring on the (now soaking wet) bed next to me, and I can't help but smile and think about all the crazy things we do for our pets. 

Boden sleeping off "the incident"

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Home and happy

This past weekend we travelled out of state to visit my brother and sister-in-law. Because my niece is still pretty little, not yet two years old, we thought we'd leave the Newfies at home so we could spend more time with her and less time worrying about them getting into trouble in their house. It was Boden's first time without one of us, and Thatcher has only been left a handful of times. Right from the start, it was a little bizarre not having the dogs. We set out on the road, and eventually realized we didn't have any reason to stop. Usually on road trips, we take breaks at rest areas to let the dogs out to stretch and run. Instead, we were just forced to stop for snacks every hour or two. Once we were there, we had no dogs waking us up early in the morning, no excuse to sneak outside for fresh air, and nothing to worry about when we were out late. Not to mention we only needed to pack half the amount of stuff we normally pile into the car. It was weird.

When we got home on Sunday, the dogs had different reactions. Thatcher ran over and gave his happy growl, then just expected a walk immediately and kept barking at us to take him. Boden was just ecstatic. He is a lot less independent than Thatcher and literally cries with joy when he greets us after we've been gone for a long stretch of time. It's really kind of pathetic and cute at the same time. Even when I get home from work, he rushes over and buries himself in my arms, whining and wagging his tail at the same time. So for the rest of the day Sunday, the dogs did not let us leave their sight. They are not planning on letting us sneak off on another trip without them again anytime soon.

On a bright note (for Thatch and Boden, at least), we have gotten snow three days in a row now. The dogs have been delighted to tromp around and gobble up the fresh snow. Anyone who knows anything about Newfies can relate here. The more snow they are covered in, the happier they are. I sometimes wonder if they even feel cold.  This morning, when I called them in, they just flopped themselves onto the snow and pretended they didn't understand what I was saying.