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Monthly Archives: September 2013

Cricket’s Cardio

            When Cricket was a puppy, I tried to teach her how to use the treadmill, and she managed to stay on for two minutes at the lowest speed. But the next time she changed her mind. She scratched at the treadmill with her paw, and then rested her head on the side and made puppy dog eyes at me while I walked by myself.

My treadmill (temporarily usurped by Panda)

My treadmill (temporarily usurped by Panda)

Cricket has a lot of nervous energy to work through every day and when we don’t get her out walking enough, or exercising enough, she uses it up by barking and by attacking her dog bed and racing around the apartment and generally being a menace.

            When the weather is good, I can push myself to take the dogs for a long walk once a day, but in the heat, it’s impossible. So Cricket has taken to bringing me her tug toy when she’s getting antsy.

"Nu? It's time to play tug."

            She loves her tug toy. She holds on with her teeth and I lift her in the air and she dangles, and growls, over and over and over again. Once my shoulders are too tired for dangling, we move on to the floor exercises. First we do the back and forths, and then we do side to sides, and then we do circles in one direction and then the other. If I can get her to let go at all, I will throw the tug toy for her, but she is much better at catching the toy than I am at throwing it, so she finds this frustrating.

Cricket is very strong, especially in the teeth.

Cricket is very strong, especially in the teeth.

            Butterfly cannot play tug, maybe because her teeth aren’t strong enough, or maybe it’s just not a game she understands, but she wants to play too. So while I am pulling and pushing Cricket’s tug toy with one hand, I am scratching Butterfly’s head with the other, and getting licked to death.

Butterfly really wants to play.

Butterfly really wants to play.

"Scratchies!"

“Scratchies!”

            When we can’t find the tug toy (because Cricket likes to hide things), I get out the chicken treats and we go through the commands Cricket remembers from training class. We start slow and then speed up until it feels like an old time Jane Fonda workout. Up! Down! Sit! Turn! Down! Sit! Up! Turn! Until she’s tired, or she’s finished three chicken treats, whichever comes first.

Cricket sit.

Cricket sit.

Cricket up. (By the way, please ignore the tomato sauce residue on her face in these pictures. Thank you.)

Cricket up. (By the way, please ignore the tomato sauce residue on her face in these pictures. Thank you.)

Butterfly has been learning the basic steps to this routine, but Cricket is not happy with having to slow down while her sister learns the steps.

            (“Turn” is code for a pirouette on her back feet and it is cricket’s favorite move. Butterfly can manage a quarter turn so far, and she is very proud of herself.)

            The problem with Cricket’s workouts is that they are completely dependent on my participation. She can’t put in a DVD and do a workout on her own. She’s not a self starter. If I put her out in the yard on a long lead, she will sit in the shade and chew sticks.

            Sometimes, if I’ve really worn her out, she’ll be calm enough to do her old stretch routine, the one we came up with together after her first knee surgery many years ago. Of course there are leg stretches, for her quads and hamstrings, and then some massage at the hips and waist, because she does a lot of jumping and twisting. And then I rotate her ears and massage her neck and jaw, because barking builds a lot of tension. But her favorite stretch is when she stands on her back feet and I hold her arms up just a little above her shoulders. She breathes deeply and almost sighs with relief.

Cricket resting, for a moment.

Cricket resting, for a moment.

And maybe, if I’m lucky, she’ll wait half an hour before she brings me the tug toy again.

"Again?"

“Again?”

 

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Talk Therapy For Dogs

We’ve been learning a lot about how dogs can be helpful to people, as therapy dogs, guide dogs, service dogs, grief and tension and anxiety and stress relieving dogs. But where can dogs go for therapy?

When Cricket was in her second training class, her anxiety was through the roof, and her trainer was unable to break through the storm in her brain to make much progress at teaching or calming her. I have tried massage, exercise, and medication, but each one only helps Cricket a little bit, and only for the short term.

Cricket is tied up in knots.

Cricket is tied up in knots.

To me, the point of talk therapy is to be heard and valued by another person, and, if at all possible, understood. I feel like Cricket really is trying to talk to us, and she is frustrated by our inability to understand. If only we could find her a therapist who could listen to her version of talking, and really understand her. I get the gist of what she’s saying, but I think I miss the subtleties.

When we are getting ready to go out for a walk, Cricket makes an insistent cawing sound that echoes through the hallway. She seems to be telling me to get her leash, but she repeats the message over and over like a panicked car alarm, even after her leash is on.

When her Grandma comes home after even a short absence, Cricket climbs on Grandma’s lap, paws her face, and cries, a very delicate, high pitched keening sound that seems to express her grief and fear during the unacceptable absence.

Her most verbal-like moments are the long diatribes when she trills and gurgles and growls and seems to be pleading her case, usually for some item of food. I listen to her. I nod my head. I respond with “Hmm, that’s interesting,” or, “I never thought of it that way,” and, gradually, she gets it all out of her system and flops on the floor, exhausted.

Cricket just wants to be understood.

Cricket just wants to be understood.

Butterfly, who spent most of her first eight years in a puppy mill, surrounded by other dogs and not many people, communicates more with body language. She licks people to tell them that she likes them. She licks her lips to let us know that she’s anxious, and her tongue can even fold in half from the tension. She barks at me in the middle of the night if I accidentally push or kick her, because she has chosen to sleep where I think my arms or legs should be. But she especially likes to express herself through dance, hopping and skipping across the grass when she’s happy, and stiffening her neck and sitting perfectly still when she’s mad. I’d still like to help her find a way to process her sadness and grief, from her years in the puppy mill, but I don’t know how to do that. Could we try paw painting? Or sand play?

Butterfly speaks without words.

Butterfly speaks without words.

Sometimes, I think the girls could use another dog as their therapist. A mentor dog could act as a role model and show them the ropes. She would probably be a Golden Retriever, and wear a scent that other dogs could recognize as authoritative, but not intimidating. She could lead group hikes to teach polite pack behavior, or work one on one with clients, like Cricket, to teach her how to stay calm when the mailman comes too close. Butterfly has blossomed so much with Cricket as her mentor, how much more could she learn from a role model with a, let’s say, healthier mental state.

A Golden Therapist. (not my picture)

A Golden Therapist. (not my picture)

My big dream is that one day schools will train therapists to specialize in dog and human family therapy. They would have easy-to-wash floors, with dog toys scattered around, and snacks. We would go there together as a family so that the therapist, and her doggy co-therapist, could see how we interact with each other: Cricket overexcited and racing around with her tug toy, and Butterfly bobbing and weaving and then running to me, and back to Cricket for approval. And the doggy therapist would do the head tilt, and the human therapist would say, “Hmm, that’s interesting.”

And then Cricket would gain confidence and start her long diatribe, with Butterfly sitting nearby, listening intently. And all of the pain and frustration would pour out of Cricket’s voice and inspire Butterfly to speak up and tell of her own grief and disappointments. And the human therapist would tilt her head to the side, and say, “I never thought of it that way.” And the dogs would finally feel heard, and understood.

Butterfly and Cricket, completely happy.

Butterfly and Cricket, completely happy.

While You Were Barking

Dear Cricket,

This is an accounting of all of the things I have missed while you were barking.

You bark whenever someone opens a door: to the building, the basement, their apartment, a passing car, or a building across the street. Often this happens while I am watching TV. Inevitably the characters will be in the middle of revealing the heinous secret at the center of the plot when you start to bark. Thank God for the pause button. There never used to be a pause button on my TV remote. Clearly someone else has a dog like you.

Butterfly to Cricket - "Shh, I'm watching TV."

“Shh, I’m watching TV.”

You especially like to bark when I am on the telephone. I know that you do not like the idea that I could choose to pay attention to anything but you and that this is, in fact, truly painful.

"I am Cricket, hear me bark!"

“I am Cricket, hear me bark!”

I have noticed that recently you have been teaching your sister how to bark with you. Together you are a formidable Greek chorus, lamenting murder and mayhem, warning of death and destruction. Every once in a while, I wish you would sing a few sweet lullabies, but I don’t expect this to take place.

Butterfly - "I think I can bark, I think I can bark..."

“I think I can bark, I think I can bark…”

You bark over conversations your humans are trying to have, and successfully end them with your demands for attention. We do try to wait until you are resting quietly on the floor before having any kind of in depth conversation, but not all conversations are in depth, or planned. Sometimes I just think of something I want to say while I’m at the computer, or eating dinner, and you inevitably have something louder to say at exactly the same time.

You have been very successful at using your bark as a device to train your people. Just like we might use a pull on your collar, or a clicker, you use a bark. These are the lessons you have taught me:

“Mommy, you can’t eat all of that dinner yourself.”

“You must check the window to see if someone is racing towards us with an ax.”

“You can’t clean the poop off my butt!”

“You will not make friends with that neighbor, or walk towards that corner of the lawn to meet that dog.”

“You cannot put your feet on the floor without my permission. How dare you!”

Cricket, you rule with an iron fist. You are not a person whisperer. You are a person barker.

There are so many places that say, of course your dog can come in, if she is well behaved, which counts us out.

You make it very difficult to have conversations with our new neighbors, because as soon as they walk up the path, you see them, and start to bark and lunge and I have to pull you away and focus your attention elsewhere. I try to make sure I smile at the human to let them know that I am not rejecting them or agreeing with your assessment of them, but I’m not sure how much of that comes across.

You need to be watched around children who don’t understand that you have boundaries. There are certain dogs (Golden and Labs come to mind) who can tolerate being poked and teased, but you cannot, and I understand this. I try to teach children how to be polite with you and recognize when you are warning them away, but they, inevitably, ignore everything I say. I’m sure you can relate to that. This is why I have to intervene and pick you up when things get knotty. This is not an invitation for you to bite me.

(No comment)

(No comment)

You are fully present in every moment, hyper-aware, and hyper vigilant, which makes you very entertaining, but it also means that you can get over stimulated. I am not suggesting that you become someone else, or that you stop expressing yourself. I just wish that, sometimes, you could hold back on the barking, and communicate your feelings in a less car-alarm, the-world-is-about-to-end, sort of way.

Love,

Mommy

Butterfly’s Day Out

My best friend from high school lives in Israel, with her husband and four kids, but she came to the states to visit family in the Catskills this summer, and I decided to take Mom and the dogs up for a visit.

            We packed up the car, with dog beds and treats and snacks and cd’s, for the drive upstate. We were prepared, with doggy Xanax (for Cricket), and Pepto Bismal (for Butterfly), and paper towels (for their maid, me).

            Cricket snuggled in behind my neck, and then behind my back, with her nose behind her grandma’s shoulder. Butterfly unhooked her seatbelt in the first ten minutes, with Cricket’s help, but stayed in her bed on the back seat, car sick. She only threw up twice on this trip, compared to the seven times she threw up on the trip to Washington, DC, in January. But I found two large chunks of chicken treat, and a ribbon of rawhide, floating in the puke, when we stopped at a rest area to clean up. Feeding her before a trip is a mistake. Now I know.

Butterfly, keeping an eye on Cricket's back

Butterfly, keeping an eye on Cricket’s back

            We reached Monticello, New York, late in the afternoon and checked in at the “best” local motel. One of the bedside lamps didn’t work. A floor lamp, the fridge and the microwave had to share two outlets. The door to the room didn’t quite close, unless you slammed it, repeatedly. And the bathroom light only stayed on for a certain amount of unspecified time. I won’t describe the carpets. But there was a grassy area next to the motel for the dogs to pee on, and beds to sleep on, and a TV to watch, so we were set.

Watching TV with Butterfly

Watching TV with Butterfly

Cricket guarding the door to the motel room

Cricket guarding the door to the motel room

            The next morning, I met up with my friend and her newest baby, not quite two months old, and only ten pounds, in her little pink footie pajamas. I had a chance to hold the baby while her mom and I caught up and, thankfully, she didn’t have that new baby fragility anymore. New babies feel like they’re barely held together with scotch tape, and a slight wind could break them apart, but this baby was gelling nicely.

Then we met up with the rest of her family at their bungalow colony, and Mom and the dogs arrived, and we were immediately swarmed with kids, some related to my friend, some complete strangers.

I saw Cricket getting a little antsy with all of the attention, despite her anti-anxiety medication, so I picked her up and held her for a while to help her calm down. Butterfly, on the other hand, sat patiently, while the kids took turns petting her back, and followed willingly when they led her around on her leash. She even took on a steady dog show trot to show off how well she conforms to Lhasa Apso breed standards.

How many hands can fit on one Butterfly?

How many hands can fit on one Butterfly?

Walk number thirty two.

Walk number thirty two.

            Before I put Cricket back down on the ground, to help meet the doggy love demand, I made sure that the kids knew that Butterfly and Cricket were different dogs. If Cricket ran under the picnic table to hide, I told them, it would not be a good idea to reach your fingers under the table to try and reach her. The kids adapted well, learning quickly that Cricket could be tempted with sticks, and would keep chasing sticks until her mouth was filled with four or five sticks at a time.

While the rest of the kids lined up to walk Butterfly, my friend’s seven-year-old daughter chose Cricket, who ran her every which way, to her father’s great amusement. Cricket is as bossy as the bossiest little girl, and managed to drag her new friend through the swing set, under the hammock, and into the woodsy area behind the house, until they were both dizzy, and smiling.

Happy Cricket, leading the way, to the water.

Cricket leading the way, to water.

Eventually, even Butterfly hit a wall, and scampered under the picnic table to rest, while I held Cricket, who had hit her limit a while earlier. The kids didn’t understand how the dogs could be done playing so soon. They had only been running for four hours, this way and that, with a crowd of children. Why would that be exhausting?

            Everyone gathered around for pizza and some kind of blue drink that even the kids found suspicious. The only sign that Butterfly was anxious was that she didn’t take pieces of pizza crust when they were offered to her, but Cricket didn’t mind eating a double share.

My friend’s children started to beg for a dog of their own, generously offering to trade in the new baby for said dog. I was a little worried that I’d brought discord into the family with my fluffy children, but my friend reassured me that the kids, and her husband, had been pointing out dogs everywhere they went, making a not subtle case for dog ownership, long before the fourth child came along, and long before my furry children offered such visceral temptation.

            It was nice just to sit there and take in the experience of seeing my high school friend, with her kids, and her husband, on a sunny afternoon in the country. I could feel her happiness; it was this quiet, solid fabric and her whole family was wrapped in it. And for a few hours, I was wrapped in it too.

The dogs slept well in the car on the way home, and through the next day. I don’t know if dogs relive experiences in their minds the same way people do, but I think Butterfly will always remember running like a show dog, with a long line of children waiting for the chance to be close to her. She was a star for the day, and she loved it.

Butterfly, after a long, but very good, day out.

Butterfly, after a long, but very good, day out.

Training A Butterfly

            Butterfly peed on the living room rug. She started by peeing on the hardwood floor in front of her food bowl, but then it was the rug, in front of me. She may have thought we kindly went out and bought her an expensive, floor wide, wee wee pad. She had been, mostly, potty trained, but this reminded me that I needed to get back to work.

Butterfly and her rug.

Butterfly and her rug.

I haven’t been very focused on training Butterfly since we moved to the new apartment in May. My big goals, since she came home from the shelter last November, were: to train her to pee and poop outside, and walk on a leash, and climb stairs, and respond to her name. And she learned everything, at her own unique pace.

            Cricket had her own list of skills to teach Butterfly, like the appropriate way to greet humans when they return home (jumping in the air and hyperventilating), and how to really walk on a leash (pulling your human where you want to go), and how to bark to get what you want.

Butterfly can now beg for food while standing on her back legs.

Butterfly can now beg for food while standing on her back legs.

            Butterfly has also learned, on her own, that she can say no. If we take her outside, and she pees right away, she will sit down on the sidewalk and stiffen her neck, because she has finished her work and does not want to walk any further. This is the first time I’ve seen, up close,  the biblical image of a ”stiff necked people,” all in one tiny dog. She is, if possible, more stubborn than Cricket. She doesn’t bite or bark or whine, she just refuses to move. And when her mind is made up, it stays that way.

            My renewed training efforts have been focused on teaching her the verbal commands Cricket learned in her puppy classes, like “sit” and “down.” Cricket is an impatient role model, though, and expects twice the treats for her efforts to show her sister the ropes, so we are running through chicken treats at a very fast clip.

The girls are ready for their chicken treats, um, training session.

The girls are ready for their chicken treats, um, training session.

            I’d never really planned to do this kind of training with Butterfly. I figured, at eight years old, after a life in a puppy mill, she shouldn’t have to work so hard. And really, she is as close to perfect as she could be already.

Butterfly, already her best self.

Butterfly, already her best self.

            A few months ago, I noticed white butterflies massed in front of our apartment building, specifically in front of our building, and not the ones on either side of us in the complex. They fluttered all over the place, in packs, kissing leaves and being beautiful and doing as they pleased. Logically, I’m sure, they are here because the plants in front of our building are especially attractive to white butterflies, but I would like to believe that they recognized that my little white dog was their kin, and they came to be with family, and train her how to be a butterfly.

The butterfly family, checking in.

The butterfly family, checking in.