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 Millan has plenty of critics who say that he is cruel and his methods outdated.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.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Dismal Situation

The dismal Situation waste and wilde,
A Dungeon horrible, on all sides round 
As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Serv'd onely to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That comes to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery Deluge, fed
With ever-burning Sulphur unconsum'd:
Such place Eternal Justice had prepar'd
For those rebellious, here thir Prison ordain'd
In utter darkness, and thir portion set
As far remov'd from God and light of Heav'n
As from the Center thrice to th' utmost Pole.

Thus spaketh Milton in Paradise Lost.

My Bad Dog--I don't even know how to talk about her. I may be projecting, but sometimes I feel as if at least a few of my friends think about My Bad Dog as they would were I living with an abusive spouse. I respond as I imagine an abused woman might: by making excuses for My Bad Dog. It's humiliating.

Maybe it is just me judging myself, as I well might have judged a Not-Me someone in the same circumstance. The pragmatic voice in my nature tells me that there is a slim likelihood that I will succeed in reforming My Bad Dog. And yet, I love this dog and so I have to try.

Life with My Bad Dog is never dull. Completing an ordinary walk in an uneventful fashion floods my soul with joy and goodwill to all. For people who smile at us and pet My Bad Dog, who treat her as if she is My Good Dog, I feel an upwelling of tender affection.

Such walks, as the one we had yesterday, lure me into complacency.

And then there is a walk like the one we had the day before yesterday, during which My Bad Dog unexpectedly bolted. My daughter had been holding the leash loosely, as My Bad Dog seemed to be behaving well, but she dropped it for a second. What happened next was shocking: My Bad Dog ran into the four-lane street in pursuit of a transit bus. Three cars had to stop to avoid hitting her as she zigzagged in traffic. We ran after her, then I told my daughter to stay put, and I ran across the street and called My Bad Dog. The dog stopped, and then turned around and ran straight back to me.

On that same walk, we encountered three different mail carriers. My Bad Dog reacts to mail carriers (and their trucks) in three ways:
1. Through some miracle, she doesn't quite register their evil presence and we keep walking. This is unusual enough that when it happens, we speak about it as divine intervention.
2. There is just a momentary lunge and a growl before we get My Bad Dog's attention back. This is not quite as rare as #1, but is much rarer than #3.
3. My Bad Dog becomes fixated on the evil presence of the mail carrier (or the mail carrier's truck) and her crazy comes upon her. Truly, it can be terrifying to see the lunging and leaping, the raised hackles and bared teeth.

On that walk, we experienced all three reactions.

This morning, we experienced all three reactions in this sequence:
1. A mail carrier drove toward us as we walked on the sidewalk. My Bad Dog growled and lunged, but once the truck passed, I got her focused back on walking forward.
2. Wouldn't you know it, that mail carrier had gone up and made a U turn. So when My Bad Dog and I were walking home, I saw the mail carrier's truck a block ahead. I employed a diversionary tactic, allowing My Bad Dog free sniffing time in the shrubbery in front of a convalescent hospital, and proceeding only when the mail carrier was safe in her truck and once again driving toward us. My Bad Dog barely noticed the truck as it passed.
3. Before I had time to congratulate myself on our escape, I saw a different mail carrier driving toward us and then he parked. Right in front of us. My Bad Dog gave vent to fury that you would have to see to believe, fury so vigorously expressed that an elderly woman in whom curiosity overrode prudence, wandered onto the sidewalk in her housecoat and slippers to watch the show. (I understand how curiosity may override not just common sense, but good manners--and yet, it is so horrible to be on the receiving end of that nakedly avid interest, especially when one is working with all one's might to avert bloodshed.) The mail carrier waved to me with both hands, gesturing that I should keep walking past him. I don't understand how he could have thought that was a good idea. My Bad Dog barked and growled and leaped and lunged with all her strength. I even had a quick stumble and fall in the tussle. It seemed like an eternity in hell, but it was probably less than a minute before I got her turned around and we went home another way.

We moved to this neighborhood in November. In our last neighborhood, there was one mail carrier, and we knew what time to stay off the street to avoid encounters. But here--the mail carriers are legion, their routines unpredictable. There's an army of mail carriers. It's like being in a horror movie of psychotic mail carriers, or a nightmare in which a malevolently grinning mail carrier pops up at every corner.

At home, we're making significant progress: I'm allowing My Bad Dog to do what she perceives is her sworn duty to protect and serve by giving warning barks about passing strangers on the street, odd noises, or dogs barking in the distance. I ask her to stop once she's alerted me to the potential for danger.

With the mail carrier, I try to be alert enough to escort My Bad Dog into my room before her crazy comes upon her, and then I stay with her until the mail carrier has long since disappeared.

But with mail carriers in public, I still don't quite know what to do. In this, what seems to be the natural habitat of a diverse and thriving population of mail carriers, the only way to avoid them is to walk in utter darkness--that is, stay off the street 8-5 Monday through Saturday. It may come to that.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Now What?

My Bad Dog woke me up last night. First it was the click click clicking of her toenails on the hardwood floors. Whimper, whimper, click click click. As noted previously, she usually tries to rouse my daughters first. One was in bed with me, but dead to the world. Sophie tried the other, succeeding in waking her, and so that daughter got in bed with me, too. All the while, click click click. I got up and looked out the window to see a furry rounded back end disappear into the hedge. Raccoon or possum.

The whimpering and click click clicking continued. Finally, I got up, pulled on the 10-year-old Ugg-boot-lookalikes, and took My Bad Dog out to the backyard. It was a beautiful night. Moon, clouds, stars. It was also cold.

I lost patience with the sniffing, we went back inside, and that was that. In the morning, after coffee, we went to the park and harvested two tennis balls, then went to the dog park.

If there were only dogs at the dog park, I would get along fine, but I never know what to do with the people. I was appropriately submissive, not speaking until I was spoken to. The queen of the dog park soon revealed herself: a large lady of about my age with a sweet mutt of some Dobie mix. She knew the names of all the dogs and of all the people. She handed out treats, reprimands, and advice. When she saw people running by on the trail, she said, "There they go, running for their New Year's resolutions, let's see how long they last." Which acerbity might have had some credibility if the speaker were a wee bit more active herself.

There was a sweet white Lab mix puppy, a gorgeous grey pitbull, a lovely shepherd/Borzoi mix, and a funny-looking scruffy grey terrier mix. My Bad Dog got along with all. She had to register her disapproval when the terrier mix tried to mount her, and again when the shepherd/Borzoi thought he could intimidate her, but all in all, it was quite pleasant and the dogs got along and played and chased each other and all that.

I was feeling strongly that My Bad Dog really is My Good Dog. She was friendly and waggy to all. We met a little pitbull mix on our way home, and Sophie was sweet and patient. Then we met an Aussie and a lab mix, both of which growled and barked, and Sophie just stood in a relaxed posture and wagged her tail. 

What the. Just when I thought I had found a way to make My Bad Dog's life more fun.

P.S. I watched some dog training videos and thought it would be fun to teach My Bad Dog to come to my left side or right side. We did some work on that, and she is a quick learner. I gestured to my left and said, "Left side." Eventually I got her to understand I wanted her to come and sit on my left side. We did the same for right side. She did a great job. It took about 15 minutes.