Sunday, March 31, 2013

Results are in!

We were finally able to touch base with the vet today, after a weekend of playing phone tag. If you're wondering what I'm talking about, here's the post about our recent health scare. After examining the test results and doing extensive research, the vet thinks that Boden is fine for now. I won't list the million details of the vet's findings, but he basically said we shouldn't worry. There are many possibilities for the abnormalities in his blood, but as long as he isn't displaying any symptoms (like lack of appetite, potty issues, etc.), there doesn't seem to be any serious problem. The abnormalities in his bloodwork are not completely consistent with some of the more serious problems that it would typically be in older dogs, like early signs of cancer. He did say part of the reason for the abnormalities may be the fact that he's growing at such a fast pace. So we are just going to be extra cautious going forward and keep an eye out for any irregular behavior. I'll consider this my Easter blessing. 

In the blur of worrying about Boden's health, the rest of March whirled by. Obedience classes have been going great since using our new training collars. For the last two weeks, we've focused on mastering what we've already learned. Next week they'll be tested in order to graduate. Boden's biggest challenge will be the staying. He always does ok on the sit-stay, but for some reason the down-stay is just agonizing for him. For the test, he'll have to stay in the down position for three minutes straight, with me standing about six feet in front of him. We practiced this in class last Thursday, and I was literally crying with laughter. He did ok for about the first minute. After that, he started having an emotional meltdown. He stared at me and groaned loudly without stopping. The instructor even walked over and told him "shh!", but that made him become even more vocal. The noises he made did not even sound like a dog. Thatcher, who was
Well, we tried. 
all of the way across the room with J., heard Boden and started whining back to him. So that was what the last two minutes of the stay was like. All of the dogs in the room sat perfectly silent and still, while our Newfies gazed mournfully across the room at each other and crying. Every person in the room was trying to stifle their laughter, while I sent evil looks to Boden and telepathically told him to zip it. During the exercise, we are only allowed to tell them "stay" twice, and I had used those up in the first 11 seconds. Time ticked by until we had only 30 seconds left. I thought we were going to make it, but no. Boden finally had enough and sprinted over to me like a prisoner breaking out of jail. There's about a fifty-fifty shot he won't pass this part next week. We'll see what kind of crazy mood he's in.

Saturday morning we woke up to the first thunderstorm of the season. The booming thunder began around 5am, right when J. was getting ready for work. Thatcher, who still associates every loud noise with terrifying fireworks (see this post), hid in the doorway to our bedroom as usual. Boden, who has never really experienced thunderstorms yet, didn't know what to make of the loud crashing and bright flashes of light. Boden climbed into bed with me and snuggled until the storm passed. I didn't mind - snuggling a warm puppy and listening to the rain fall is one of the best ways to fall asleep. Later that day, we took a daytrip up north to get my cracked windshield fixed at J.'s dad's. By this time, it was sunny and 50 degrees, a beautiful change from our recent icy, gray weather. The Newfies had a smashing time pretending to be country boys for the day. They tromped through the swampy fields, competed over who could find the biggest sticks (or logs), ran up and down the river banks and chased the neighbors chickens (unsuccessfully). Their activity of choice was splashing around in the many ponds the melting snow had created in the low parts of the field. Boden, a natural water-lover, was utterly fascinated. He enjoyed diving face-first into the water to search for treasures. Thatcher just walked into the shallow part and layed down, enjoying the mix of cool water and warm sun. No better way to spend a Saturday.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bath day

Thatcher and Boden have super thick coats that require pretty constant care to keep them somewhat tamed. Ever since we first got Thatcher, J. and I found it worked best to divide duties. Grooming is my job, baths are his job. I groom them at least once a week, brushing them out from head to tail. This means fighting through the never-ending matts and dreadlocks, picking out pieces of sticks or food crusties, cleaning ears, etc. I'm not going to lie, it's a messy job. Oddly enough, both of the dogs and I really enjoy this little routine. Whenever I pull out the brushes and grooming wipes, they beeline straight towards me, wagging their tails. 

Baths, although much less frequent, require even more work. We only give baths once every few months. It's not that we're too lazy, but because washing Newfies water-resistant coats too frequently will strip the natural oils away. So yesterday was a much-needed bath day. J. quickly learned with Thatcher, who loves water but absolutely hates being splashed, that the most efficient way to keep him in the bathtub is to be in there with him. Before this, Thatcher used to hate baths and it took pretty much all of J.'s power to just keep him in the tub with that scary water faucet. So J. always strips down to shorts and stands with Thatcher in the shower while he washes him. That's dedication. And it's miraculous how much this helps. Well, that and a portable shower head. Boden doesn't mind baths (this was only his second or third since we got him), and pretty much stands perfectly still the entire time he's being washed.

The best part about baths is how happy the dogs are afterwards. You will never see Thatcher run as fast as he does right after a bath. He sprints around the living room, jumping from the couch to the floor to the couch to the floor, rolling around and barking. I have videos this. We aren't able to sit on the couch until it dries a couple hours later, but it's so worth it to see Thatcher act like a maniac. Boden for some reason is always tired after baths, like they zap him of all of his energy. He crashed for the rest of the afternoon, on our bed of course, all wrapped up in the towel and snoring. I brushed them out after their frizzy hair dried, and now they feel as soft as little ducklings. I'm snuggling them as much as possible, because I know the clean, soft fur only lasts like 6 seconds, before it's once again a crusty, tangled mess.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Elevated what?

Yesterday Boden was supposed to get neutered. I brought him into the vet around 7am and went through the check-in process. Because of their large size, the Newfies get a little special treatment. Instead of having to wait in kennels like other dogs, they usually get an entire exam room or the surgery recovery room to themselves, even just for basic check-ups. So the vet tech took Boden and set him up to await surgery in his own exam room. I filled out the paperwork and the techs told me they'd call when he was ready to be picked up later that afternoon. One item checked off my to-do list.

I went back home to walk Thatcher and feed him breakfast, then headed off to an eye appointment. Feeling good about my morning and everything I was getting done, I arrive at my appointment and begin filling out the required forms. My phone rings, but I didn't know the number so I ignore the call. A moment later I receive a voicemail from this random number. I keep filling out the paperwork with one hand and pick up my phone with the other hand to half-heartedly listen to the message, expecting it to be a telemarketer or my old college asking for a donation. Instead, I hear, "This is Dr. so-and-so. I just looked at the results for Boden's pre-surgery blood work. I found some abnormalities that I need to speak with you about immediately. We'll be postponing his surgery until I am able to speak with you regarding my findings. Please call me back as soon as possible." Wonderful.

Immediately worried, I step out of the eye clinic to call the vet back. In a whirlwind of information, he basically runs through the abnormal findings of the blood tests. I am completely overwhelmed, and only a few words register, "Elevated levels...parathyroid organ...cancer...cholesterol...". I freak out. He asks me if Boden's been acting out-of-the-ordinary at all or if we've been seeing any symptoms of anything. I tell him that if we had been seeing anything weird we would've brought him in sooner. The vet explains that he needs to run some additional tests to try and pinpoint what's going on. Until we know any results (next week), the neuter will have to wait. I tell him to go ahead and run the tests, and he promises to call me when Boden's ready to go home.

I walk back into the eye clinic in a daze of confusion and worry. I honestly can't remember much about the appointment, but right after I leave, the vet calls and says Boden is done. I drive straight over and practically run in the door. The vet tech calmly shows me the bill, and several hundred dollars later, brings me over to the exam room that Boden is happily waiting in. He sees me through the window on the door and dances with joy. Besides the bandage on his arm from the blood draws, he's the same cheerful dog I dropped off earlier. As we're leaving, the vet tech explains that the test results will take a few days, so they'll call us as soon as they know anything. When J. got home from work later that day, I try to explain what is going on, but realize I really have no idea. He decides to call the vet to get more details. This time I am prepared to listen and armed with a notebook. 

Boden's blood work showed elevated levels of bilirubin (can signify liver problems), cholesterol and calcium. According to the vet, the combination of these abnormalities mean it's one of three scenarios. 

  1. Problems with the parathyroid organ, which, among other things, regulates the amount of Vitamin D in the body. An elevated calcium level is one of the main signals of this. There are usually no noticeable symptoms, except for what shows in the blood test.
  2. Some cancers. The vet thinks this is the least likely, since Boden is so young.
  3. These abnormal levels are just normal for Boden.
Obviously, we're crossing our fingers for number 3. But we'll find out more once the test results come in. Until then, we're supposed to just keep an eye out for any unusual symptoms like vomiting, increased drinking, etc. We've been watching Boden last night and today, and he seems to be his normal, spunky self. Let's hope the test results agree. In the meantime, instead of recovering from being neutered, Boden is just rocking a tiny shaved patch on his arm from where they put the needles in.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Spring break visitors

Thatcher and Boden were happy to have visitors at our house for the week. My younger sisters came and stayed with us over their school spring break. The Newfies love pretty much all people, but they especially love girls. I think it's because their true boyish nature kicks in, and they enjoy having someone around to protect and to show off to. So two teenage girls in the house = heaven for the dogs. Since J. and I still had to work, they got to hang out with the girls every day and were lucky enough to get extra walks, romps in the park, and wrestling matches in the backyard. They are still in withdrawals and have been acting a little mopey since the girls left yesterday. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

Training: Week 5

Before I get into training, let me first backtrack to yesterday morning. I took the Thatcher and Boden out for a walk as usual. The sidewalks are still thickly coated in layers upon layers of ice, due to the random mixes of weather spring throws at us. I was running a little late, so I decided to stick to the sidewalks and do a quick loop around the neighborhood rather than go to the park and let them run in the field. Everything was fine until we rounded a corner to the last block before our house. An older couple was down the street walking their poodle, and headed in our direction. I immediately knew I had to get off the sidewalks and into the snow, because it was so slippery that if the dogs pulled me at all, I'd fall. Unfortunately, their reaction time is faster than my own. They spotted the poodle down the block and jerked forward. My feet flew out in front of me and I crashed down onto my lower back. Better yet, the dogs kept pulling, so I couldn't even get my traction beneath me to stand back up. I scolded them harshly and they finally let up enough to give me time to stand and yank them into the snowbank. One of the neighbors with the poodle came over to see if I was ok, and the dogs jumped all over with excitement and tangled him in the leashes. I'm positive that if I had been watching this whole incident from afar, I would be laughing so hard at this woman who can't control her dogs. But instead, I angrily walked the dogs home with a bruised, aching lower back.

Fast forward to training last night. Over the past several weeks, we've noticed we're the only ones in class who are still struggling with their dogs pulling on leash. We kind of figured it was just because we have the largest dogs in class, but it was making training stressful every single time. Both of the Newfies are easily stronger than me, so I often feel helpless and totally out of control. The martingale (half regular collar, half choke-chain) collars we'd been using were having little or no effect on correcting the dogs' pulling, so J. and I knew something had to change. We took a chance and decided to try out prong collars for the first time ever. We arrived at class a little early to purchase and get the dogs fitted for the collars. I have always disliked the idea of prong collars, thinking them unnecessary and a little harsh. But after going through 4 weeks of training class and still being jerked around by Thatcher and Boden every time we're in public, I was desperate for a solution. Instead of the crazy-looking, bulky metal collars I've seen in pet stores, these ones were surprisingly petite. They are made of separate links hooked together, and you can take them apart or add/remove links as needed. They sit on the upper neck, right below the dog's ears, and are meant to simulate a scruffing of the neck. 
We got the dogs properly fitted, and a trainer walked one dog around the room at at time to get them used to the feel of this new corrective measure. Though I was skeptical at first, the difference it made was incredible. I am not even exaggerating at all when I say the pulling issue basically disappeared. I walked Boden around, and whenever he would pull even slightly, I gave the leash a little tug and he would immediately stop. Besides Boden being a little confused and nervous because of this new feeling on his neck, training went great. Instead of having to be tense and fight the dogs' constant straining, we were able to actually focus on the training aspect. We practiced coming, heeling, staying, standing, etc. No leash-burned hands, no sore muscles, no crazy dogs. I felt like a weight lifted. For the first time in quite a while, I felt completely in control as we worked on heeling. The only hiccup I had is the "stand" command again. I cannot figure out how to get this idea to sink into Boden's mind. All in all, J. and I left feeling happy and stress-free. We might end up with a couple of trained Newfies after all. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

This seat is taken

The other day I came into the living room and saw that the Newfies had already claimed the couch. We allow them on our furniture, so I didn't really care. The sad part, however, is that without even giving it a second thought, I grabbed a pillow and sat on the floor.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Training: Week 4

Training class was uneventful this week. Our dogs aren't progressing as much as we'd like, but it's because we haven't prioritized practicing training during the week at home. We realized we need to remedy this, so we've been setting aside time each day to work the dogs during our walks. Heeling is one of our bigger obstacles, but we faced a new challenge this week which may have been the hardest yet. A "stand" command. Thatcher and Boden do not understand the concept of standing still. They are the lazy dogs in our class; they flop down onto the floor every opportunity they get between exercises. Which is why we cannot get "stand" to click in their minds. The trainer instructed everyone to physically hold their dogs in a standing position for a few seconds, until they start to understand what we're asking them to do. Of course, nobody in the class has dogs even close to Thatcher and Bodens' size, so it's a lot easier said then done. When I placed my hands underneath Boden's stomach and chest to keep him from sitting/laying, he turned himself into dead weight and we both crashed onto the ground. The trainer came over to assist, and the whole time Boden just flailed his head around, confused as to why he was stuck. Thatcher wasn't as big of a drama queen with J., but he doesn't really get it either. It's really funny, because they will sit or lay in place all day long. But standing is just way too complicated. 

Many people have asked how I get the Newfies to hold still for photos. I don't. Once they realize I'm holding my camera, they'll pretty much stay in whatever position I put them in. In fact, I'm afraid I may have turned them into narcissists. Not only do Thatcher and Boden pose perfectly when I'm snapping photos, but they get excited when they even see my camera these days - even if I'm just taking it out to clean the lens or change the memory card. What have I created?  It can be hard to get candid photos of them playing, because if they notice the camera, they'll come lay or stand directly in front of me. Case in point the photos below. All I did was sit down at the kitchen table to clean out my camera bag, but since they posed themselves, I couldn't turn the opportunity down. Maybe my camera is the  magic solution - I'll have to start whipping it out to practice "stand". 

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Snow day

This morning I woke up to a message from my boss with the most delightful news: snow day. We got something like 5-6 inches of snow overnight, so I was thrilled I did not have to attempt the slow commute to work on the unplowed roads. It's been snowing most of the day, and this kind of weather makes me want to snuggle up, drink tea and read a book. Thatcher and Boden have different ideas in mind, and assume that since I am home with them all day, we should probably spend as much time as possible outside in the snow. You can guess which of us has gotten our way. 

Honestly, this snow is a nice change because it covers up the layers upon layers of ice that have formed along every sidewalk and street from the variations in weather this winter. Yesterday, during our morning walk, I slipped on the ice and fell flat on my bottom. The dogs immediately came to my rescue, jumping all over me and trying to make sure I was alright, but preventing me from being able to get back up. So my bruised tailbone is relieved that the ice is covered up for at least the next couple of days. And until then, Thatcher and Boden are once again the happiest Newfies in the world. 

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Training: Week 3

For training class this week, we switched dogs. I took Thatcher and J. got Boden. Now, neither of the dogs is perfectly behaved in public. But I figured Thatcher would be a little bit easier than Boden, since he already knows a many of the things we learn in class. And since he's older and more mature. The logic is there, right? Unfortunately, my raw, leash-burned left hand begs to differ. These are a few lessons I learned with Thatcher that night:
      1. He is strong. Really strong. I am no match.
      2. He has mastered selective hearing. And the art of tuning out my voice completely.
      3. He does not like being stuck with mom instead of dad.
Watching dad and Boden across the room
We worked on a few different things during class. First, we practiced heeling again. Despite my practice with Thatcher before class, he made it look like he had no idea what heeling meant. He forged in front of me every two steps, so I gave him a corrective tug every two steps, and my arms were already killing me 30 seconds into it. Second, we practiced heeling with an "about turn", which is basically doing a 180 shift in direction, while keeping the dog close at your left side. Thatcher fought against every turn, bracing his body every time he saw it coming. Later, we started on "come". One person would go at a time. The instructor held your dog's leash while you walked all the way across the room from them. You then call your dog to you as the instructor lets go of the leash, simple as that. I half expected Thatcher to run to J. and Boden when the instructor let go of his leash, but he booked it over to me as fast as he could. Finally, something he did perfectly. 

His next shining moment came when we started practicing sit-stays and down-stays. Thatcher has always been an expert at the stay command. I don't know why, but this is one area he excels and one area that we have practiced countless times since he was a puppy. So my arms finally got a rest while we worked on staying under distraction. All in all, the night went ok. I'm not going to lie, I prefer working with Boden. He at least pays attention to my voice, unlike Thatcher who just mournfully gazed across the room at J. the entire night. I'm not even exaggerating. Every time the instructor was talking or explaining something, Thatcher would lay in front of my diagonally, turning his body so that he was facing the direction J. was in across the room. Every once in a while, he would let out a sad yelp, trying to get J.'s attention. He's definitely a daddy's boy.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Lazy fights

Our Newfies take laziness to a whole new level. They play lying down. The ultimate goal: do not get up unless absolutely necessary. Most fights escalate into one or both of the dogs having to stand to get some leverage. But I spend many mornings sipping my coffee, with the background noise of quiet, playful growling while Thatcher and Boden roll around on their backs, pawing each other in the face. If they are using a bed or couch as their battleground, they've both agreed that the "safe zone" is mom or dad's lap. I've spilled countless cups of coffee from Boden suddenly scrambling up into my lap, hiding from Thatcher's attack. Nothing like hot coffee and a 100lb puppy being dumped into your lap at the same time.