Monday, July 15, 2013

Dear Clipboard Guy

Dear Clipboard Guy:
First, let me say that the use of "dear" is merely a convention for a letter greeting, rather than an expression of affection. A colon may seem formal, but I'd like to remind you that you're not a friend or family member or even an acquaintance I think I might kind of like one day; the reason you don't get a friendly letter with a comma after the greeting is that you're a stranger.

Your status as a stranger might have been driven home to you when you walked up to my house. Did you hear my dog barking from the moment you stepped on the grass? Remember how her barking increased in both intensity and volume when you stood at the front door? How about when she jumped up on the armchair and barked at you through the window?

What I didn't have the time or inclination to tell you:
1. I've been regretting opening doors to clipboard-carrying strangers for thirty years, which experience assures me that there is nothing you can have to say that would interest me, partly because I have no interest in knowing someone who invades people's privacy for a living, but mostly because I know you wanted something from me that I didn't want to give you: money or a signature.

If I had opened the door, I know I would have been sorry. You might have been sorry, too; I would not have bought what you were selling; I would not have signed your petition. I never do. I don't want strangers appearing on my doorstep to sell me things or to proffer petitions, and therefore I never reward the unwanted behavior.

2. In order to open the door to you, I would have had to grab my dog's collar and drag her, toenails scraping on the wood floor, into another room, and lock her up. I did the cost/benefits analysis and decided not to bother. My dog is getting on in years. She has hip dysplasia and arthritis. Being yanked around the house would only aggravate the pain she is already in: you might or might not agree that's an excessive cost for the experience of declining whatever you're selling. It doesn't matter either way; I care a lot more about my dog's feelings than I do about yours.

3. When you knocked on the door, I was working. I don't show up at your work and bother you. I wish you would show me the same courtesy.

4. When a person asks you THREE TIMES--politely, in a neutral, civil tone and without brandishing a weapon--to vacate the premises, the sensible action is to shake the dust from your feet and hie thee hither, not to remain on the doorstep making facial expressions and gestures indicating your chagrin at being insulted. If we lived in Florida and if I owned a gun and if I had any whiff of a hint of a thought that I might be under threat, I guess I could have shot you. 

If you believe that we all of us who are not you have some obligation to do exactly what you would like us to do, e.g., open the door, buy your magazine subscription, do your laundry, put up with your nonsense, and so on, much disappointment awaits you. To be plain, just because you want me to do something doesn't in any way obligate me to do that thing. (Although I very much hope you will learn from this experience and stay away, so I can't imagine what else you might want from me.)

Best regards, (which you should interpret as a meaningless convention)
[signature here]

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Next Stop, Dr. WhyWeDoWhatWeDo

We took Sophie to the vet. The prescribed arthritis medication and glucosamine marked a drastic change in her temperament. Until it didn't. The effect lasted about a week and a half. She had stopped lunging at random cars, and confined her crankiness (lunging, teeth baring, ferocious barking) to mail carriers and all delivery folk. Then she started again. She's also limping, so maybe there is more going on than just arthritis.

The vet had recommended we talk Sophie to a vet who is also a certified animal behaviorist. The price tag for this is rather high, but the vet told me she thought it would be a worthwhile investment.

More to come.  

Monday, May 27, 2013

Color Me Discouraged

Just about the dog, God bless her and you know I love her to death. Everything else is fine.

All right. We tried the halty. It was awesome. Until it wasn't. I did as the trainer had recommended and introduced the halty gradually, with plenty of treats. Sophie got treats for looking at it, treats for smelling it, treats for letting me drape it over her nose, and so many treats for letting me put it on over her head that it's a miracle she retained her girlish figure.

Sophie wasn't a big fan of actually wearing the halty, though, and was not shy about letting me know it. She showed her disinclination to wear it by lowering her head and then by walking away. As much as she loves going for walks, she would lie down rather than let me put the halty on. Unlike Sophie, I thought the halty was a great thing, once I had it strapped on her and we'd gone on a few walks.

I thought the halty partly because of what it wasn't. That is, I'd used the prong collar in the past (trainer recommendation, not my idea, and the trainer had convinced me that the collar didn't cause pain, which belief was laid to rest when Sophie began wheeling around as if to give me a nip to make me stop when I tried to keep her from murdering mail carriers). The halty was no prong collar.

I also liked the halty because I'd begun to worry that restraining Sophie from murdering mail carriers would damage her esophagus. Even though I was only using a martingale collar, it seemed to me that such force applied to the throat (the tension between her lunging and my holding the line) could not possibly be beneficial.

But the standout wonderful trait of the halty was that it didn't require all my strength to hold the line when a mail carrier passed. 

However and unfortunately, Sophie developed an aversion to the halty. I don't know if this aversion is what led to the agitation that last week led her to wheel around and actually bite me (which she has never done before) or if there is some other reason.

The wound is almost healed. If you've ever been bitten by a 75-pound dog, you know the appearance of the wound was much more impressive than the wound itself. There was a puncture wound (which burned like hell the first day) surrounded by vividly colored bruising. The bruising was about the size of a large handprint. It was on my left calf. I wore jeans all week to spare anyone the sight. Now the puncture site has healed over, and there's some mottled purple skin.

No bit of knowledge is ever useless. I learned what to do in case of a dog bite. I cleaned the wound by irrigating it with water for a few minutes, and then dabbing it with hydrogen peroxide. For the first couple of days, I applied antibiotic ointment.

The pain of the bite was nothing to its psychological effects. On me, not Sophie. I'm actually a little afraid to walk her. Even before we started using the halty, she'd been crankier and crankier. She'd lunge and leap at things that had never bothered her in the past: garbage trucks, school buses, an elderly woman in sunglasses, a passing boy on a bicycle. City buses--and there are many on the streets where we walk. She was becoming wildly unpredictable. I used to know what her triggers were; now, I don't. It seems as if anything can set her off.

Yesterday when I took her out, she lunged at a passing car before we'd taken ten steps out of our driveway. The car wasn't any of the things on her list of Things She Hates: not a mail carrier truck, UPS truck, FedEx truck, meter reader, police officer, nor person in uniform. It was just a blue car. So I turned around and we went back inside. She hasn't been walked in two days, which I know is bad for her. I'm going to muster up my Inner Resources and walk her tonight, after dark, when no one is about.

Do I have to put a muzzle on her? I don't want to. If she hates the halty this much, can you imagine how much she will hate a muzzle? And yet, we must walk in the outside world, a place that is full of Things She Hates and also full of Things That She Never Hated Before But Now Hates. I have what I think are justifiable concerns: what if the leash breaks or if I lose my grip? She could attack some poor innocent person--and I say "attack," not "bite." She bit me and then realized her mistake. I'm certain Sophie wouldn't think it was a mistake if she bit a stranger. She could run into the path of a mail truck or garbage truck or FedEx truck or city bus.

My plan is to take Sophie to the vet and ask, "What the?" Is it possible there is some kind of health problem that is exacerbating her crankiness? If not, then off to the trainer we go. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rainbows, Butterflies, and Unicorns

Although yesterday started off fine, with a long walk during which My Good Dog was mostly perfectly behaved (except when she wasn't), she went on to have a bit of a rough day. Mondays, you know: trash day. All day long, we hear the slow rumbling of  garbage trucks. Then the yard waste trucks make their rounds. By the time the mail carrier arrives in the late afternoon, Sophie's limited store of patience has been exhausted. Still, I see progress. Even though she launched a full offensive at the mail carrier's approach, I intervened swiftly and she recovered her equanimity quickly.

This morning, we left for our walk a bit later than usual. A mail carrier truck was parked to the left of us as we neared the trailer park on Telegraph. I made sure I was breathing and walking normally. Sometimes I catch myself tightening up when I see a mail truck, or a FedEx or UPS truck: my shoulders tighten and rise, my breathing gets faster, my heart beat becomes noticeable. I react this way even if I'm out driving by myself.

So I've been learning to pay attention to that and correct my posture. This morning, I held the leash loosely in my left hand, which is in itself progress; I used to begin our walks by wrapping the end of the leash around my hand several times.

We kept walking, with Sophie trotting at a sedate heel. Then she glanced at the mail truck briefly, returned her gaze forward, and kept walking as if she had never once in her life ever even growled at a mail carrier, as if she bore no grudge against mail carriers in general, as if she'd never been the spectacle of 70 pounds of barking, whirling, ferociously lunging fury that interrupted a middle school P.E. class because all the students and the teacher ran to the chain-link fence to stare at her while she let a mail carrier know what was up.

Several blocks later, we'd turned down Ashwood toward the park, and Sophie caught sight of a large, long-haired cat of the striped variety. The cat looked at Sophie calmly, and then approached--not as a Halloween cat would do, but as if she thought she'd like to say hello. Sophie and the cat touched noses and sniffed each other thoroughly. The cat didn't run, Sophie didn't pounce at her, they just looked at each other for a moment, and then Sophie and I went on our way.

This is how it would be in my dream world every day.

Today's Report Card
# of mail trucks sighted (parked): 1
reactivity: 0

# of cats sighted (in motion): 2
reactivity: -5, 0

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fool Me Once

Last night, Sophie woke me up in the middle of the night with whimpering and click click clicking of her little toenails on the floor. Her whimpering and anxious clicking were so persistent that yep, again I thought her anxiety was produced by urgent need, but this time, I got a tiny bit smarter and put her on a leash.

When we got to the grass, she tried to bolt. Huh. Must be a whole colony of possums out there, but last night, she didn't get to chase them.

Today's report card
# of mail trucks sighted (in motion): 2
reactivity: 4, 4
recovery: right quick

# of mail trucks sighted (parked): 1
recovery: right quick

# of FedEx trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 0
NOTE: This latter may not count; vision isn't a dog's sharpest sense, we were on our way to My Good Dog's Favorite Place, The Park, and so it's highly likely she didn't catch sight of the FedEx truck.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Natural Born Killer

Here is Sophie, chewing on her ferret. She took a systematic approach to dismantling the ferret, first removing the paws, then then the eyes.

I'm always surprised how I feel when I look at pictures of Sophie. I find her charming: the cutest thing in the world except for my kids. Even just looking at her picture is enough to make me feel this upwelling of love and affection. I love this dog so much. Except when she kills possums.

Writing about dogs and kids is difficult. It's so easy to stumble into a thicket of sentimentalities or predictable jokes--about how lovable or aggravating or mysterious or wise or stubborn or whatever else they are. Who doesn't love his dog? Who doesn't love his kids? Who doesn't find the whole pack of all living beings belonging to oneself wonderful beyond measure? I don't want to know that person.

Sometimes I wonder if we even need to write about dogs and kids, because it seems like everyone already knows what you're going to say. 

Last week, while I was preparing to embark on a desert road trip, I went outside to clean up the backyard for the house-sitter and found a dead possum on the patio.

Possums are big, way bigger than cats. They have big sharp teeth and long rat-like tails, and their little paws look disconcertingly like little baby hands. Looking at that big dead possum with its little baby hands made me hate Sophie a little, but I took care of it. I put on leather gardening gloves and then wrapped the gloves in layers of plastic bags, and slid the possum onto a flattened cardboard box. I tried to call Animal Control Services, but couldn't reach anyone, and time was ticking, I had a lot to do that day. I don't know what you're supposed to do with dead possums. I put ours in the trash, and then for the few days while I was away, worried that it wasn't really dead-dead, it was just playing dead, and that the possum would wake up and find itself at the bottom of the trash bin, but I took comfort in considering the possum's size and in its sharp teeth, both of which I thought would go a long way in helping the possum escape the predicament I'd put him in.

When I came back, there was no evidence of a possum resurrection. The house-sitter reported no carnage had taken place in my absence.

A few days after that, I went out in the morning to clean up the yard before taking Sophie for a walk, and then I saw the rest of the possum's family: his mate and all their children. Dead. The sight of the bodies of the mother possum and of all the babies, some still with their paws clinging to the mother, some lying a few inches away in the grass made me hate Sophie again. Baby possums are much darker than their parents. They look a bit like little rats. Some people find rats disgusting. I don't; I had a pet rat when I was in sixth grade. I'd taught my rat to play tag. But that was a pet. Not that I'd be inclined to play tag with the city vermin variety.

After I cried, I went inside. I called Animal Services this time. There are probably millions of people in the world who can cheerfully dispose of that many dead baby animals and their mother in a moment, but I'm not one of them.

The woman who answered the phone at Animal Control Services was very nice. She assured me that possums don't carry diseases, so I didn't have to worry about that, and directed  me to leave a note on my door.

When I returned home, the yard was cleared. Sophie sniffed the grass where the possums had been, and I looked at her and hated her a little more. It's not like she needed to eat the possums. Sometimes she won't eat her own food. I would say she killed the possums for sport, but she didn't; she killed them because they're prey and she's a predator, and that's just what predators do. I'm sure she had fun, but it was working kind of fun, not going to the beach kind of fun.

Before Sophie, we had Harriet, a long-haired tortoiseshell cat of distinctly foxy appearance. Harriet was a skilled hunter, and brought home all species of small animals. Sometimes they were dead and sometimes they were alive, and sometimes they were in-between. Mice, gophers, birds, a squirrel, once she carried home a bunny that was more than half her size. Then Harriet herself disappeared. We lived in the hills then, and it could have been the coyotes. Harriet's disappearance broke our hearts.

Before Harriet, we had Shaka, a glossy black short-haired manx. Shaka was such a goofball that I didn't believe he would be much of a hunter, so when dead mice started appearing on the deck, I assumed that they'd been poisoned and that somehow our deck had become the preferred final resting place for neighborhood rodents. Shaka put that belief to rest when he started bringing home live mice, too. Shaka was HBC, vetspeak for "hit by car." We'd put up fliers all over the neighborhood, so I had to endure at least a dozen calls from well-meaning folks who'd seen him before we got the fliers down. Shaka's death broke our hearts, too.

My goal is to keep Sophie alive by any means necessary, so far so good. I don't know what I can do to protect the possums. Maybe always assume Sophie is lying when she indicates she needs to go out in the middle of the night.

By now, I've forgiven her for being a dog and a predator and we're back to normal.

Today's Report Card
# of cats sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 1

NOTE: This is very impressive, considering the cat was the one we see on the way to the park. This cat is badder than bad. This cat comes TOWARD us when it sees Sophie. The cat puffs up and steps forward. I admire this cat so much.

Today the owner came out and I told her I'm a big fan of her cat. She looked at Sophie's perked ears and wagging tail, and then asked if Sophie likes cats. Her cat loves dogs that like cats, she said. At that moment, her cat looked like one of those cats on a Halloween card.

I told the cat's owner that Sophie would probably try to eat the cat if I let her go. The cat's owner smiled uncertainly. Sophie had issues, I said apologetically.

# of mail carriers sighted (on foot): 1
reactivity: 3
NOTE: Here I'm thinking we might need to indicate how much time it took for her to calm down, because even though there was an impressive reaction, she pulled herself together right quick.

# of FedEx trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 2

# of UPS trucks sighted (in motion): 1
reactivity: 2

It was a busy walk.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

We're moving in the right direction.

Today's Report Card
# of meter readers sighted: 1
reactivity: 3
# of cats sighted (2):
reactivity: 1
# of mail carriers sighted (in motion, with truck): 1
reactivity: 0

I would throw a party if only there hadn't been such a hullaballoo about the meter reader.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What to Notice

A few nights ago, it was late, I was tired, and I could hear my daughters practicing their cellos (celli?) in their studio. (Studio may be a grandiose term; it's a shed, albeit with French doors and several windows, with an interior that we painted lilac, and it was designated their music room because inside our small house, two cellos/celli playing at one time is a lot.)

The background on this is that we've always had this rule, as loosely followed as it was enforced, of no practicing after 9:30, 10 at the latest, 10 being the hour specified in the city ordinance prohibiting noise. It was 11:30 and my daughters were playing their cellos/celli. Was I steamed.

I went out to the shed, offered a reprimand, and invited them to shut it down and go to bed. All the while I grumbled--about having had to rise from my warm cozy bed, about the possibility of their having disturbed the neighbors, and so on.

When I woke up in the morning, I saw that what I've often suspected is true: I am the most ridiculous person in the world. Here I have these teen-age daughters, these straight A students, these musicians who diligently practice: girls who are nice, fun to be with, and funny as all get-out, girls who never cause me a moment's worry that they might be sneaking out to gleefully roll around in all the trouble that teen-agers often do roll around in. If the worst thing they ever do is practice their cellos/celli at 11:30 at night on a school night--well! Then I will have been mightily blessed.

Late, while walking My Good Dog, I listened to the Make Dogs Your Life podcast, episode 4, the interview with Jessica Dolce, a professional walker of dogs. Ms. Dolce talked about this very topic as applied to dogs, and I realized how incredibly good My Good Dog is, let me count the ways:
1. Never chews on shoes or furniture or any other item except chew toys.
2. Is 100% house-broken.
3. Is absent any hint of food or toy aggression.
4. Is always sweet and calm to small dogs, no matter how aggressive the small dog is.
5. Is almost always sweet and calm with any dog (except, rarely, dogs that are aggressive to her--she usually doesn't react, but once in a while, she does--and, only twice, she was snappy with dogs who seemed passive and sweet).
6. Learns new tricks quickly.
7. Obeys basic commands: sit, stay, wait, down, sit up, shake.
8. Walks well on a leash.
9. Is always sweet and calm with family members.
10. Never lies on the furniture (when we're home).
11. Doesn't jump up on people who don't let her jump up on them.
12. Has learned not to lick my face.
13. Never steals food from the table or counter.
14. Never gets into the trash.
15. Is a pleasant companion.

All that having been said, if My Bad Dog's one personality flaw is her reactivity to mail carriers and all delivery personnel and strangers who come to our house unannounced, well, maybe that isn't the worst thing in the world.

Especially if that one personality flaw is seeming to (very gradually) diminish.

I decided to record the level of reactivity along with the stimulus to help me monitor improvement. Reactivity is measured on a 0 to 5 scale, 0 being obliviousness and 5 being nuclear explosion.

Today's Report Card
# of cats sighted: 2
reactivity: 1

# of FedEx trucks (in motion): 1
reactivity: 1

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Into the Fire

# of mail trucks (parked): 1
# of mail trucks (in motion): 1
# of mail carriers (on foot): 1
# of UPS trucks (parked): 1
# of UPS delivery folk (on foot): 1
Fatalities or injuries: 0



# of mail trucks (parked): 1
# of mail trucks (in motion): 2
# of mail carriers (on foot): 2
# of FedEX trucks (in motion): 1
# of UPS trucks (in motion): 1
Fatalities or injuries: 0

# of mail trucks (parked): 1
# of mail carriers (on foot): 1
# of FedEx trucks (in motion): 1
Fatalities or injuries: 0

You see I have a new grading system for our walks.

We have been walking directly into the fire. Not once have we made evasive maneuvers. If a mail carrier is walking toward us from up the block, forward we go.

On Monday, the show we put on as we passed a parked mail truck and walked toward a mail carrier (who, upon seeing us, immediately reversed direction, got out her cell phone, and made a call while walking rapidly away) was so impressive that the two teams of middle-schoolers who were playing basketball across the street stopped the game to watch. Even the P.E. teacher stopped to watch for a second before he blew his whistle and yelled at them to get back to it. The gardener who was cleaning off the sidewalk of the church actually stopped the leaf blower and stood and watched.

The great thing? The show didn't last long. The more practice we have of My Good Dog reacting to the evil presence of mail delivery personnel and vehicles and my intervening, the less dramatic it gets.

This morning, as we passed the trailer park on Telegraph, My Good Dog fixed her attention on the mail carrier truck and on the mail carrier on foot beyond the truck, and I kept walking. She reared back a bit, tried a lunge to the right, and I gave a quick snap to the leashes (to ensure the safety of mail delivery personnel, I've been using two leashes in case one breaks or somehow gets free of me), told her no, and kept walking. Although My Good Dog continued to display an unseemly interest in the mail truck until we were half a block away, she did keep walking, and we walking the rest of the way home with My Good Dog trotted sedately at my side.

We've all heard the adage to face our fears a million times. The thinking part of my brain always nods and agrees Yes! Let's face our fears! Let's be bold and brave and daring! while the part of my brain that controls my actions sticks her fingers in her ears and ducks under the covers to hide until the thinking part of my brain gets distracted and wanders away. But the stakes are too high to do that now.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Wrong Is Me

We don't have cable at our house; we don't even have a TV. Our ancient cathode ray tube set gave up the ghost before we moved last fall, and when I asked my daughters if they wanted a TV, they said no. We do watch Netflix on occasion, and recently I've been watching Cesar Millan. That show is addictive. I could watch for hours.

Why? It's the old, old story: all about faith and hope and love and redemption.

I've been sorely in need of the faith and hope. In spite of that one moment, and subsequent minor victories (The mail carrier came to our door and My Bad Dog slept through it! We walked past a mail carrier who was only 15 feet away from us, and My Bad Dog didn't react at all! A FedEx truck passed us and she didn't lunge and bark!), I was feeling discouraged that the hard daily work of consistent discipline on walks and correcting her when she registered loud disapproval of landscape workers across the street, a real estate agent down the block, the Seventh Day Adventists who like to check in to see if we've changed our minds (we haven't) wasn't yielding consistent results.

She seemed better, then she seemed worse. She didn't bark, then she tried to eat the mail carrier/FedEx guy/school bus driver/elderly man with those enormous black sunglasses and the rather aggressive posture who doesn't like to share the sidewalk. 

In watching Dog Whisperer episodes this time, though, I found hope once again fluttering in my breast. I always say I'm a repeat learner, and the repeated lesson here is that it's me, not My Bad Dog. I had thought and thought and thought and thought about why she was the way she was, and kept blaming her sad, sad past of having been a street dog, having been abandoned not once but twice. The conclusion I always came to was that she was the way she was because of her past. Then sometimes I would sort of get it that all right, so I was inadvertently allowing some dominant behaviors and failing to be a confident pack leader, and so My Bad Dog then tried to take that role.

I got it, but I didn't get it. I probably just didn't want to believe it was me. On Cesar's show, it's always obvious to the viewer that it's the owner's problem that fuels the dog's problem.

Maybe the reason for the inconsistent results was that even though I had some of the behaviors in place (for myself, I'm not talking about My Bad Dog, I mean that I learned not to let her walk ahead of me and not to let her put her paw on me, for example), I hadn't done the necessary emotional excavation that you see with the owners who become successful in rehabilitating their dogs. Also, I was still making some behavioral mistakes (e.g., letting her sniff and track while we walked instead of requiring her to walk directly forward with me).

We none of us humans enjoy admitting we're wrong. It took me a while, but now I'm at this place of being thrilled to admit that I am wrong, wrong, wrong if that will solve the problem. 

My Mistake:
I had dreaded meetings with mail carriers/FedEd guys/teens in hoodies/elderly men with aggressive postures. Perhaps My Bad Dog sensed this dread and assumed that she needed to protect me from those dangers. My solution had been to avoid them, but that didn't work. It just made encounters worse when we had them.

What I'm Doing Instead:
I noticed that when Cesar worked with reactive dogs, he welcomed opportunities for the dogs to react in their typical manner because those were learning opportunities. Instead of avoiding such encounters, I needed to welcome them. This requires a certain amount of internal fortitude, but the great thing is that the more you do it, the easier it is.

Now we've have a few days of my embracing the outside world in its entirety, mail carriers and all. It gets dramatic and people do love to stare when they see me administering correction when My Bad Dog is leaping and lunging and barking.

The Result:
Today we were at what I used to think of as the Infernal Intersection because it had been the scene of many overreactions on the part of My Bad Dog. A big school bus rolled up from behind us, and My Bad Dog went crazy.

I gave her a firm "No!" (as opposed to a pleading or doubtful "No?") and each time she lunged, I gave a swift backward pull on the leash and the claw hand to the loose ruff around her neck--"claw hand" makes it sound meaner than it is, but there's no violence in it, nothing that causes her pain, and the reasons I know it doesn't cause her pain are that I'm not applying enough pressure to hurt her and that I know what she looks like when she is in pain, and that is not it. It does get her attention. She is used to my correcting her with ineffective words, and those are very easy for her to ignore. This she couldn't ignore. It was as if I had gone from saying "Blah blah blah blah, Sophie" to "Attention, soldier!" She calmed down and sat next to me at the intersection, EVEN THOUGH THE BUS WAS STILL THERE. Fantastic.

Then, because God likes a joke, I think, a little school bus pulled up in front of us on the cross street to turn right. My Bad Dog went crazy, and we went through the same routine, and she calmed down and sat down until our light changed, and then she walked sedately by my side while we crossed the street.

I'm so proud of My Good Dog.

And one of the best things about all of this is that it drives home for me what Cesar keeps saying about how dogs live in the moment, they don't live in the past. Sophie doesn't sigh for her lost puppyhood. She doesn't weep in remembrance of the wrongs done her. She reacts in the moment. Therein lie the hope, right? Every moment gives us a chance to react differently.

We met a school bus, My Good Dog reacted and got corrected, and then we went home, and the whole way, My Good Dog trotted happily and confidently at my side.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Trouble with Fun

There's always a price tag, isn't there.

No more jumping for My Bad Dog. Wouldn't you know it, the athletics aggravated that hip problem to which dogs of a shepherd persuasion are prone, and she's been limping. She's been resting, not comfortably, and we've administering the anti-inflammatories.

Now she's depressed because she had two days of no walks, followed by a few days of only a short walk, rather than the daily hour to hour and a half to which she is accustomed.

My Bad Dog has a powerful presence in a room. When she's subdued, you can feel it. We all wish we could do something to cheer her up, but the only remedy is a good long walk (or a cat or squirrel to chase, or a gopher hole to dig in). To a person who says that dogs can't get depressed, I offer these signs of depression from the National Institute of Mental Health:

1. Persistent sad, anxious, or "empty" feelings
She doesn't speak English, so we can't verify her feelings, but she appears to be sad, with bouts of moping punctuated by bursts of short-lived ferocity toward the neighbor or the mail carrier.

2. Feelings of hopelessness or pessimism
Ditto previous.

3. Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness
Makes sense. Not so much the guilt or worthlessness, but she's helpless to get out the door by herself, that's for sure.

4. Irritability, restlessness
Not so much the former, but definitely the latter. There's been more barking, and she's been click click clicking around the house in the middle of the night and whimpering to go out to chase--what? A possum? Maybe a raccoon?

5. Loss of interest in activities or hobbies once pleasurable...
My Bad Dog has no interest in her rope toy, refuses to play tug-of-war, won't chase a stick, and isn't even interested in chewing a ball.

6. Fatigue and decreased energy
Absolutely. All that moping is exhausting.

7. Difficulty concentrating, remembering details, and making decisions
Hard to tell, her schedule isn't exactly demanding.

8. Insomnia, early-morning wakefulness, or excessive sleeping
As described previously.

9.Overeating, or appetite loss
The latter. In fact, when I held out a treat, she sniffed it and then click click clicked away to lie down heavily on a rug and then sigh. She sighs a heartbreaking sigh.

10. Thoughts of suicide, suicide attempts
I hope not.

11. Aches or pains, headaches, cramps, or digestive problems that do not ease even with treatment.
Can't say on this one.

On the bright side, a few days ago, My Bad Dog and I encountered a young cat--just out of kittenhood, but not grown, sort of a gawky teen-ager. This cat had the supreme and utter fearlessness of one to whom nothing bad had ever happened. The cat approached us. I told My Bad Dog to sit, and she did, just barely, almost jumping out of her skin with the effort of restraining herself from giving chase. Not that the cat looked as if it would run.

The cat actually touched noses with My Bad Dog, but then, sensing the unseemly avidity of My Bad Dog's interest, the cat dashed into a hedge.

About a month ago, we had a similar meeting with a mouse. I'd decided that the mouse was either mentally deficient (God bless it, but if humans exhibit of range of intelligence, it makes sense animals would, too) or visually impaired, as the mouse emerged from an ivy patch, appeared to look directly at My Bad Dog, and then scampered toward us. The only thing that kept this from being My Bad Dog's Best Day Ever, Except for the Time She Chased the Cows was that I wouldn't let her chase the mouse when it realized its mistake and hurried back into the ivy.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Light Bulb

I refuse to use the O Magazine jargon and call it an aha! moment. More like a hahahahaha moment, anyway. 

I'd been watching Cesar Millan interviews and show excerpts. Mr. Millan has plenty of critics who say that he is cruel and his methods outdated. Others swear by him.

What does that all mean? I don't know. What I know is that when I went to take My Bad Dog for an evening walk, I remembered how in one interview, Cesar had mimicked how Americans--and especially American ladies--talk to their dogs, using pleading, almost whining voices, repeating commands with a pitch that gets higher and higher. I decided I would give a command once, and then show My Bad Dog by my impassivity that I was serious. I could wait her out. I have two teen-agers. I have practice in waiting. I am highly skilled in waiting. I hate waiting more than anything, but I'm good at it.

And wouldn't you know, that resolution changed everything. I stood at the door with the leash, told My Bad Dog to sit, and then I waited. Sometimes she sits immediately. Sometimes I remind her to sit by putting gentle pressure on her back. This time, I just looked at her.

She walked in a circle, looked away, looked back at me. I stayed exactly where I was and did nothing. She sat, and I put on the leash. Then I told her to wait while I opened the door.

Shenanigans ensued. She didn't jump or bolt, but she did rise and move toward the door. I held up my hand in the gesture she understands to mean wait or stay, and then I waited, and then she stayed.

Repeat the above for what happened while I locked the door.

And then on the walk, My Bad Dog behaved perfectly 90% of the time. During the remaining 10%, she did not behave badly, but she did step ahead of me--not pulling on the leash, not chasing cats nor mail carriers, not being aggressive in any way--and I just stopped walking, stood still, and waited. Every time she circled back, took her place by my side, and waited for me before she started walking again.

It was as if I somehow understood that the way to get My Bad Dog to do what I wanted was to believe that she would do what I wanted and to act in that belief. Not asking her, not coercing her or pleading with her or bullying her in any way. I don't even know how to explain it; I felt different, and I talked to her differently.

Or rather, I hardly spoke to her. Poor My Bad Dog. I really talk to her far more, I think, than interests her, but she is generally polite about it. After seeing Cesar mimic American Lady dogspeak, I got so bored with the sound of my voice. I'd taught My Bad Dog every command in voice and hand signal, so there was no reason to keep up with all the blah blah blah blah. Maybe she behaved well out of gratitude for the gorgeous silence.

When my daughters came home, My Bad Dog and I performed a demo. My daughters were impressed, or at least they said they were, and that's enough for me.

We'll keep working and we'll see how it goes.

On the Cesar front: This video I found disturbing. I can't imagine kicking My Bad Dog.

On the other hand, there are probably many who would tell me how cruel I was to use a pinch (prong, training) collar on My Bad Dog. What defense do I have? A dog trainer told me to use it. My Bad Dog was uncontrollable without it. But then it backfired--and I learned that indeed, it did hurt her. Besides, today when I was watching all these interviews, I thought that I would like to find a way to inspire My Bad Dog to want to do as I asked. I don't want her to walk well on the leash just because she is afraid I will yank on her collar or say no in a strict voice. I want her to walk well with me because she wants to.

In their anger against Cesar and his techniques, some of these anti-Cesar trainers insist that Mr. Millan's whole philosophy is nonsense, but I think they're wrong when they dismiss the importance of approaching a dog with what Mr. Millan calls calm-assertive energy. I know that my dog shows anxiety when I'm anxious. Besides, even if you can't measure or even satisfactorily define what he means by energy, we all know it's there.

Also on the other hand, not that I am defending the kicking, but unless someone has successfully rehabilitated a dog like My Bad Dog, a dog that has bitten at least three people (that I know of--one on my watch and two during the previous owner's, though I expect it's likely the bite count is higher), a dog that when she sees a mail carrier goes into a ferocious state that would frighten any normal person--well, that person doesn't get to offer me advice about how best to rehabilitate My Bad Dog.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Upward and Onward

A friend is a behavioral specialist with a school district. As you can imagine, her knowledge of behavior has been valuable through the years in settings domestic, professional, and social.

Long ago, after I had complained of some habit of my daughters that drove me round the bend and my friend had helped me devise some manner of encouraging a change in their behavior, my friend warned me of the extinction burst, or the temporary increase of undesired behavior that occurs after the commencement of efforts to extinguish the behavior. The temper tantrum is a good example; when you ignore a tantrum, it may increase in volume and intensity before (finally!) fading to mere sniffing and whimpering.

You can read a more thorough description here.

My Bad Dog and I went for a thirty-minutes-longer-than-usual walk yesterday morning. During daylight hours, because Sunday is, blissfully and thanks be to an all-merciful Divinity, a day of rest for mail carriers and FedEx drivers. At the park, I thought it would be fun to try to teach My Bad Dog to jump up and walk the length of the bleachers.

Say what you will of My Bad Dog, but in terms of tricks, she is what my grandmother would have called a quick study. She understood immediately what I wanted her to do, and she did it, over and over. We tried benches, the narrow brick raised border of a yard, and the low planks by the tennis courts, and My Bad Dog confidently trotted the length of each.

She was exhausted when we got home. My daughters and I noticed how little she barked the rest of the day, just a few times at our neighbor, who has the gall to enter and depart his home without asking My Bad Dog's permission, and once to reprimand the driver who parked in front of our house with what must have been criminal intent. Then again, it was Sunday. Not only were there no mail carriers, but the street was quieter than usual.

Today, we again took a longer than usual walk and again worked at plank-walking (in addition to gopher-hunting and squirrel-sighting). My Bad Dog was so tired that she slept through the arrival of the mail carrier, waking only after he'd dropped off the mail and was almost out of the yard. Even then, she didn't bark. Five minutes later, the mail carrier drove past our house and although My Bad Dog signaled her continued deep and abiding interest in his activities by intently looking out the window, she did not bark. Nor did she bark at the high school track team that ran by on their way up to the hills, nor at the garbage truck.

At this point, either her restraint gave way or she reached down deep for inner resources, and she registered her loud disapproval of the man across the street. What he did to annoy her, I don't know, maybe he committed the unforgivable offense of getting out of his car.

I'm not sure I have the pure-hearted faith to believe that what happened Saturday was an extinction burst. It seems more likely that Cesar Millan may be right (about the exercise thing, anyway, at least for My Bad Dog; I've never tried alpha rolling, which is a subject of vigorous debate, although My Bad Dog often does of her own volition roll over on her back, in which position she looks about as dangerous as a teacup Yorkie (not this teacup Yorkie).

In any case, the decrease in My Bad Dog's ferocity is powerful reinforcement to take longer walks each morning. I seem to be responding well to training.

Daily Kos
Dog Whisperer
National Geo Wild: Cesar's Way
Paws Across America
You Are Not So Smart: A Celebration of Self-Delusion

Saturday, January 26, 2013


Today little progress was made toward our ultimate goal of canine equanimity. In fact, we have regressed. My Bad Dog was a bad dog indeed.

The last few days have been very rainy in the dark hours, and so we had shorter morning walks than usual. One day there was no walk because I was loathe to walk in the pouring down rain. This morning I woke late, having been out late celebrating the birthday of a friend, and decided that I would walk My Bad Dog in the sunshine, come what may, mail carrier or no, FedEx driver or no. My Bad Dog needed a walk, and I would walk her, full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes.

With a firm grasp on the leash (mine) and a spring in the step (hers), we set off. The first few blocks were uneventful, which I would have enjoyed except the uneventfulness was punctuated by My Bad Dog's experiments in overstepping her bounds, which meant that every few steps I had to stop and tell her to go back to her place by my side.

That was annoying, but nowhere near as annoying as what happened at the intersection. As we waited for the light to change, we noticed a FedEx truck. My Bad Dog became restive, I admonished her, and then she suddenly took offense at a minivan next to us. Once I had her calmed down from that, she started to think that she didn't like the look of the border collie across the street, either.

I walked her away from the intersection, the light changed, the border collie and his people approached us, but the border collie's people then decided that discretion was a wiser course, and so they suddenly crossed the street away from us, the FedEx truck drove on, and--wouldn't you know it--a mail carrier truck took its place opposite us (we hadn't been able to cross earlier because of the FedEx truck and then the border collie).

Backward we went, into the Carrow's Coco's (sorry, all those chain restaurants look alike to me) parking lot next to the field that last month had been full of Christmas trees for sale. As we paced the parking lot, I muttered. Out of the fullness of my heart, my mouth spoke, and the words I muttered to My Bad Dog were not loving.

We went on to the park, walking side by side, not speaking, like a married couple silently arguing. My Bad Dog briefly indicated her disapproval of a passing Rhodesian ridgeback, but I let her know nothing interested me less than her opinion about anything, really, but especially about a dog or a mail carrier, and we kept walking through the neighborhood to the park, where My Bad Dog became transfixed by the squirrels in the pine trees, so she walked forward with her nose skyward, which was funny, because once she tripped over a fallen branch and I am just mean enough to have laughed at her, but then on our way back through to the park, we walked where all the eucalyptus trees are, and flitting amidst the trees were hundreds of Monarch butterflies and it was so beautiful to see the black and orange butterflies flying and gliding in circles that I almost forgot I was still mad at My Bad Dog.

To maintain hope that My Bad Dog will rehabilitate and faith that she is able to is probably crucial to the success of this venture, and yet such maintenance is not easy when the improvements are slight, slow in coming, and quick in diminishing.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Red Letter Day

Last night, we went for a walk after mail carrier hours, but you know how industrious those UPS delivery folk are, fetching you your packages until late in the evening. My Bad Dog made a bit of a to-do over the UPS truck, but nothing remarkable, just a bit of crankiness really. You probably wouldn't have slowed down to stare as you were driving by.

Last week, you might have slowed down to stare when My Bad Dog bolted after a squirrel. I was walking with my daughter, and it was a Non-Mail-Carrier Day. You know how complacency was a no bueno in the Bible? Still a no bueno. We're walking in a neighborhood and chatting while My Bad Dog is masquerading as My Good Dog, and then suddenly--WHOOMP! My Bad Dog lunged, leaping over a low brick wall and pulling me flat on my face in the dirt. No injuries resulted.

We had recovered ourselves, got My Bad Dog back into compliance, and resumed walked when a man on the next block greeted us, saying he'd watched the landing. After asking if I was okay, he laughed heartily and said that he'd called his whole family to come and look out the window. They thought it was funny, too.

Still and all, though the progress is slow, we are making progress. Today the mail carrier drove past our house and My Bad Dog didn't even bark. Not once. 

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The View from Today

When you watch The Dog Whisperer, dogs like My Bad Dog are rehabilitated in 20 or 30 minutes.

That's not what's happening here. What can I say? Today we walked. She mostly walked well. When she pulled ahead, we stopped and she went into reverse and we proceeded.

In mail carrier news (we received three USPS packages today)--how shall I put this? If I were our mail carrier, I would not put away the pepper spray quite yet. Still, the situation seems to show a shade of improvement.

Eight months, you know. A lot can happen in eight months. A friend asked if I felt discouraged about the eight months, but I don't think that matters. What matters is that eight months are going to pass whether I work with My Bad Dog or not. I can spend eight months working with her and there may be a significant improvement to both her excitable temperament and our quality of life, or I can let the eight months pass without working with her and find myself eight months from now exactly in the same spot.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Progress, Not Perfection

I would like perfection. I don't always--there's a charm in the imperfections and flaws of hand-crafted work, and I do believe all of our little quirks and eccentricities are so endearing--but in the matter of My Bad Dog's rehabilitation, perfection would be nice.

It is as yet a dream to which we aspire. However. There is good progress:
1. We've been walking every day now and have not experienced a major incident.
2. My Bad Dog's mail carrier alert system seems to be dialed back. One day this week, the mail carrier arrived, deposited the mail, and departed, with My Bad Dog peacefully sleeping and none the wiser.
3. When she does become aware of the mail carrier's presence, My Bad Dog seems to have a reaction that is less impressive than her usual temporary insanity.
4. She is definitely barking much less.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I must say that #1 may be a hollow boast; I only walk My Bad Dog during non-mail-carrier hours: before seven a.m. and after eight p.m. Even so, we did experience one minor incident, with a large delivery truck that looked nothing like a mail carrier's truck, so I don't know why My Bad Dog took umbrage, but the umbrage was mild (it's all relative; it might not have seemed mild to an onlooker) and soon abated.

My Bad Dog does seem more fatigued than usual. I was wondering whether our training regime is exhausting her. If so, good.

The Regime
1. At least an hour to an hour and a half of walking every day, with a long walk in the morning and a short walk at night.
2. During the walk, My Bad Dog is not allowed to step ahead of me. Not at all. This is per the trainer's instruction. If My Bad Dog steps ahead of me, I stop and tell her to go back. Sometimes she backs up immediately when she senses the tension in the leash; other times, she needs a gentle reminder or four. Most walks she is exceedingly cooperative. Rarely, but it happens, a walk is made unbearably tedious because we stop every few steps.
3. At home, My Bad Dog is not allowed to lean against me, nor to put her paw on me.
4. My Bad Dog must wait for the humans to pass through doorways before she is allowed to pass.
5. When My Bad Dog has a legitimate reason to bark, I look at the disturbance, thank her for telling me, and ask her to stop. If she doesn't stop, she comes with me into my room and lies down on her bed for a moment. When her crazy comes upon her, she comes with me into my room and, after some convincing, lies down on her bed.

Stacy (the trainer) did tell me it would take eight months. One week down, thirty-one to go. Although I expect our progress to accelerate after April, which is when we hope to begin working with Stacy in person, that being the month during which she will be studying a method of working with dogs like My Bad Dog.

This all sounds like a regime to train My Bad Dog, but I understand that I'm training myself to provide clear and consistent feedback and guidance to My Bad Dog in order to help her manage herself in the world in a way that will not cause harm to herself nor others.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Thing with Feathers

. . .in the immortal words of Emily Dickinson.

What never ceases to amaze me is the cheering power of setting a plan in motion. And then, perhaps even greater, the reassurance and comfort when another person has a calm response to what one inwardly believes is a tragedy of massive proportion.

That calm and solid "here's what you need to do" manner may go along with the territory for dog trainers. It is an excellent thing, is what I am saying.

You may have guessed that I have news. I called Stacey Ayub of Good Dog! Dog Training on a recommendation from a fellow who had also adopted a rescue dog.

I told Stacey everything about My Bad Dog: about her checkered past, that she had been labeled "incorrigible" by a trainer, that she had bitten her previous owners AND the trainer who maligned her (though I did ask Stacey to consider that the trainer used a fog horn, and who wouldn't bite under that provocation?). I told her about how My Bad Dog bit that one kindly stranger, seemingly for no reason, and I told her about how My Bad Dog responded to both the man in the blue truck and to the hoodie-sporting teen-ager. I told her about what happens when a mail carrier comes into view.

It was a relief to say it all out loud to someone who listened carefully. In the immortal words of Sir Gilbert Parker, "In all secrets there is a kind of guilt, however beautiful or joyful they may be, or for what good end they are set to serve. Secrecy means evasion, and evasion is a problem to the moral mind."

Rather than focus on what many might believe is the misfortune of Sophie's breeding, Stacey instead explained what was happening exactly what I've been doing wrong and what I should be doing:

1. Ixnay on the inchpay ollarcay. Why was My Bad Dog wheeling around and snapping at me? To stop me from hurting her. Stacey pointed out that Sophie snapped at me, but never bit me hard enough to hurt me. If a stranger had been using a pinch (prong, training, mean metal) collar on My Bad Dog, that stranger would have ended up in the emergency room.
2. Get a HOLT collar. (Done.)Introduce it gradually, with lots of steak or another special treat, over the course of several days before trying it on My Bad Dog. (We had several sessions today of bringing out the HOLT and then giving My Bad Dog a piece of hot dog every time she looked at it or smelled it. Then we put it all away again.)
3. All those cute behaviors, like the leaning on me? Stop those right now. Don't let My Bad Dog lean against me, put her head on my leg, paw at me, or stand in front of me. Nudge her out of the way.
4. Insist that My Bad Dog defer to me always in the matter of right-of-way (when entering or exiting) and that she walk next to me, never in front of me.
5. Never allow My Bad Dog on the furniture.
6. Wait until after April. Stacey is very busy at the moment training service dogs. Also, Stacey is going to Iowa in April to take a class on dealing with demon devil Cujo Satanic dogs like My Bad Dog from Robin MacFarlane of That's My Dog! and will come back ready to apply everything she has learned.

Poor My Bad Dog. Stacey explained that our intersection troubles came about because I've given Sophie to believe that she must protect me, and so she is doing that to the best of her ability. Aggravating the situation is the use of the prong collar, which corrections keep My Bad Dog in check until she can't contain herself any longer, and so the situation is escalated before it has even begun.

We had a family meeting, during which I told my daughters everything Stacey had told me, and we are all in agreement to reform ourselves.

How long will it take? About eight months.

How did My Bad Dog act on our walk this morning? With perfect composure. But it was a shorter than usual walk. And also? No mail carriers.

Speaking of which, how did My Bad Dog greet our mail carrier today? As she usually does. But she obeyed me when I required her to go and lie down on her bed until her madness passed.

Let's see how it goes.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops - at all - 
And sweetest - in the Gale - is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet - never - in Extremity,
It asked a crumb - of me.
                       Emily Dickinson

Sunday, January 6, 2013

The Troublesome 1%

Here she is, doing obedience work at the park, whence we went this morning. You see how relaxed My Bad Dog appears. This is how she is 99% of the time.

In this photo, My Bad Dog is wearing a simple leather collar, not a training (pinch, prong, mean metal chain collar, collar that is the only thing standing between My Bad Dog and the cold-blooded murder of a mail carrier), it being a day of rest for mail carrier. The collar was a mistake on my part.

At this point in the outing, my mistake had not yet been revealed to me. I had resolved to renew some practices that I had let slide over time, practices that Cesar Millan and many other dog trainers prescribe in order to ensure that one's dog doesn't perceive and attempt to fill a vacancy in the role of pack leader: requiring Sophie to sit quietly while I open the door, directing her to follow me out the door, and again requiring her to sit quietly while I closed and locked the door.

Whether one agrees with this philosophy in dog training or not, my experience is that it works: My Bad Dog was in a properly calm state of mind, which state of mind was demonstrated by her walking sedately by my side the mile and a half or so to the park. We intermittently stopped for obedience work, and she was agreeable all the while. Once at the park, we alternated free time with basic commands (sit, down, stay, heel). She performed admirably.

On the way home, however, as we waited at an intersection for the light, a man in a small blue pick-up truck happened to glance at us, which glance Sophie took amiss. She lost no time in letting him know that NO ONE IS ALLOWED TO LOOK AT US, EVER, NEVER, NOT EVER with a response so disproportionate to his offense that he stared (in disbelief?) as he drove away.

Although I had her under control (by which I mean she wasn't lunging and she stopped barking fairly soon), I did regret the choice of the minimally restrictive collar. A minute hence, I regretted it even more.

We'd crossed one street and were waiting to cross the other when a teen-ager of the male variety approached from the right. What was it about him? I saw him and I knew My Bad Dog was going to object to his presence in her world. Damn ubiquity of hoodies, for one thing, and the teen-ager's sullenly slouchy posture for another. Regardless, as little as My Bad Dog approved of the boy's appearance,the young man has a right to roam the sidewalks unmolested. God bless him, and I hope his sleep isn't interrupted by nightmares about My Bad Dog.

After much barking and lunging and gnashing of teeth, she snapped at me for restraining her. Without the training collar, all I could do was maintain tension on the leash so she couldn't twist backward and try to slip out of the collar. The snap didn't hurt me at all, for which I give thanks to folds of heavy cotton fleece, but the incident strengthened the resolution I'd formed last night to begin working with a trainer again.

My bedtime reading was pages and pages about chows and chow mixes and what a trainer called their unstable and faulty temperaments. I read enough to know exactly what this (rather cranky but seemingly quite knowledgeable) trainer would tell me if I described My Bad Dog to him: her behavior is caused primarily by faulty temperament, a genetic weakness typical of chow mixes, and is exacerbated by my failure to have solidly established myself as the pack leader. (I prefer "pack leader" to "alpha" because there seem to be some disagreeably egotistic chest-thumping attitudes about the latter. I don't care about being Queen of the World or Mistress of My Universe, but I do need to make sure that the children and dog for whom I'm responsible feel comfortable and safe knowing there's a calm grown-up in charge.)

Anyway, hence the obedience work, the insistence on good walking manners, and a plan to call the trainer tomorrow.

I would say that My Bad Dog has been quite an education, only not much of it seems to have done me much good yet, except that along with a disheartening awareness of my own limitations, I have a dog that brilliantly and happily performs a routine of basic obedience commands.

What I have learned more than anything is the truth of the proverb not to judge another until you've walked a mile in his shoes, which proves what Keats said: "Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced -- even a proverb is not a proverb till your life has illustrated it."

Not that I would ever wish a dog like My Bad Dog on anyone. As much as I dearly love her, she is a burden.