Friday, November 13, 2009

What is Now, Won't Always Be

I struggle to see shades of gray. It is a long held and detrimental flaw of mine.

I think the world should follow a certain set of rules. I think that good in should equal good out. I think that everyone has the same moral compass as I do.

Thinking this way causes a lot of disappointment.

It also makes it hard for me to see beyond my current circumstances. I forget that things do change or maybe I am just convinced that things change for other people but not for me.

Thinking this way causes a lot of bad expectations.

Finnegan was not a pleasant puppy. We do not have pictures of him conked out on the living room floor or curled up in one of our laps. We do, however, have lots of pictures of him biting things. He was a vicious little vampire puppy.

He was also not what I would call affectionate. He took love on his terms. He was not a puppy who asked to be pet. He was not interested in snuggling up next to you and watching television, which was disappointing considering part of the reason we chose to get an Australian Shepherd was because they have a reputation as velcro dogs.

We had come to accept these things about Finn and to embrace the great characteristics he did have. He's always wildly happy to see you and greets you with a waggling rear. He's extraordinarily friendly with strangers and patient and kind to toddlers. These things were more than enough for us and even though we were a little sad that Finn would only hang out with us on the couch if we bribed him with a rawhide, we were also very appreciative of all the good things about him.

Then one day he decided that he liked us after all. Suddenly he was nudging against us. Squirting his head through the crook of our elbows when we knelt down. Smacking us with his paw when we stopped petting him. Walking up to us and giving us sweet eyes when both of us are on the couch together and he's not (I'd really like to know how he senses two butts on the couch, it's uncanny) .

Lately, Finn has reminded me that things do change. That the seemingly impossible can happen. Lately, Finn has been snuggling up against me on the couch, flopping his head on my feet and falling asleep.

Ryan and I look at each other and say, Can you believe this is happening? Do you see this? Our hearts grow and our eyes get misty and our heads nearly explode with the cuteness of it.

It makes me believe; it forces me to acknowledge that life moves on. It's easy to wallow in the belief that nothing changes and nothing gets better. It's really damn hard to believe good things will happen; that your wildest dreams come true. It's hard and it's scary to believe these things because what if it's not true? What if you put yourself out there and made yourself vulnerable and everything is still bad?

I guess at that point you have to believe you haven't reached the end. That you're still in the middle of your journey to get to some other place. You have to hold on to the belief that even the most vicious, blood thirsty puppies one day grow up to be cuddly, sweet feet warmers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Puppy: Uncrated

Finn is one year old now. One of the ways we are celebrating his first steps out of puppyhood is by starting the uncrate training process. Crate training him was a piece of cake. He loves his crate. He’s never really complained about being in there. When he’s tired, even mentioning the word “bed” out of context sends him galloping up the stairs to his room.

The problem was we felt that he was spending way too much time in his crate. He would come out, have some breakfast and then lead the way back to his bed. Later he would come out again, take a walk or go to the dog park, have some dinner and then be ready to have us put him back in again. After a nap, he’d come out again to sit on the couch and chew on a bone while we watched evening tv.

This wasn’t really working for us for a couple of reasons. First, we felt guilty. Second, he was rambunctious and annoying every time he got out of his crate because, I guess, he wanted to make the most of his freedom. Third, one of the big reason we got Finn in the first place was to have a velcro dog; a dog who would, amiable and companionably, trot along after us and accept loving pets whenever he passed us by.

So, if everyone wanted the same thing, then why couldn’t we just make it happen? We had a pretty major problem: Finn couldn’t sleep outside his crate. He rarely even put his head down. When he did, he would pop it back up, refusing to admit that he might have been even the slightest bit tired. We began to suspect that he was being disobedient just to be sent to his bed (crate) so he could get some sleep.

One day, I just decided to break the cycle. I made up my mind that no matter how annoying or aggravating or infuriating Finn was, he would spend the entire day out of his crate.

We took a nice, long, three-mile walk on the greenway (for some Aussies three miles wouldn’t be considered long, but it is for Finn) and then we came home and he roamed around in the backyard while I read a book. He probably also played some soccer with Ryan. We basically gave him no choice but to have to put his little head down and nap.

And he did. Very briefly. By the end of the day he was red-eyed and exhausted and thrilled to eat his Milkbone and collapse in his crate. The next day, we did the same thing. And every day after that.

Now, when he’s tired, he just lies down. He’s even fallen asleep on the couch a few times. He’s fantastic to be around and far more mellow than when he was only out in shorter bursts.

Of course, new problems have cropped up. He’s in a horrific counter-surfing stage at the moment. However, for every major issue we’ve resolved with him I become more confident that we can handle the new problems that will inevitably arise.

For now, all I have to say is, Yay, to tired puppies!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Disregard the Previous Enthusiasm

The excitement of Finn's new milestone has worn off and now I feel like I'm living with one of those happy, goofy yellow labs from movies who will never leave you alone until you throw the slobbered on tennis ball that's in his mouth. Except Finn isn't really happy or goofy when he has the slobbered on tennis ball in his mouth and he has no intentions of giving up that tennis ball without you playing a highly dangerous game of tug first.

Using a tennis ball to play tug with a highly focused and competitive Australian Shepherd puppy will cost us all or part of a digit one day, I'm sure of it. It's not that he would mean to bite our pointer finger off, he'll just be trying to jostle for a better grip.

Don't play tug with him, you say? Well okay but then we'll be subject to very wet nudges. There's nothing that evokes feelings of comfort and safety like a dog chewing a ball against your thigh-- while you're wearing shorts. Now substitute that tennis ball with a floppy and disemboweled stuffed chewie and the fun is really starting.

All of that aside, it really is a fun, albeit slighting annoying, time in his puppyhood. He's constantly learning better coordination and is becoming a champ at catching tennis balls in the air. He seems to be up for anything, as long as it's in short bursts. Take him for a 3 mile walk and you'll be dragging him behind you by the end.

I really could do without being chewed against though.

And perhaps we should have thought twice about buying those squeaky KONG tennis balls.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Initiating Play

Finn has begun to ask us to play with him. We've been playing soccer and Frisbee with him a lot more since a 15 minute session will tire him out quite quickly in North Carolina's heat and humidity. He still doesn't understand the concept of "give" or "drop it." Instead he'll crash into you with the Frisbee or soccer ball in his mouth and keep nudging it against your knee until you engage him. Unfortunately, he has a new obsession with tug so it's not likely he'll learn to politely give us the toy anytime soon.

In the house, he'll grab a tennis ball and nudge us in the same way. Then he'll dance and circle around us trying to get in a quick game of tug before a short run of fetch. Then it starts all over again.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Changing Puppy Face

Finn's getting neutered tomorrow which, to me, is a huge milestone. It's made me want to go back and revisit his very young puppyhood. He's such a cutie and I can't wait to see what kind of dog he becomes.

Friday, April 3, 2009

It's Not All About the Puppy Mills

The news last month regarding the Petland lawsuit hit close to home because we bought our puppy, Finn, from the Petland in Charlotte. I’ve read blog posts, tweets and articles about the case and I feel like everyone has chosen the most sensational aspect of the lawsuit to highlight, not the most important.

I think we can all agree that puppy mills are bad. No one wants or condones that kind of lifestyle for dogs and puppies. However, not every Petland puppy comes from a puppy mill. Ours didn’t; ours came from a breeder who I have spoken with. This fact did not keep Finn from being a very, very sick puppy.

Not every breed of dog can be found locally and I understand that sometimes pet stores need to have dogs brought to them from far away but it would seem that it would be possible to do this without sacrificing the health of the puppy. Measures could be put in place and, at the very least, Petland could be upfront about the health of the puppies they sell.

When we purchased Finn, we were told that he was in good health but that was not true. We were told during our long and thorough information session that sneezing and runny noses were common for puppies and should not be a cause for concern should we notice these things in Finn.

We did notice these symptoms in Finn during only his second day home with us but we brushed them off as we were told to do. By the morning of his first vet visit, 10 days after purchase, I called to move his appointment time up to 8:30 from 3:00 because the crackling/rattling sound coming from his little chest scared me.

At one point, Finn was diagnosed with kennel cough, two parasites and roundworms and was on three different forms of antibiotics as well as receiving nebulizer treatments.

When Finn’s kennel cough relapsed, we found out that Petland administers nebulizer treatments to their puppies every morning. Petland knew their puppies were sick. They knew that even if Finn was not actively sick at the time they sold him, he had been exposed to a highly contagious and dangerous virus and yet they not only did not inform us, they dissuaded us from being vigilant about our puppy’s health.

Sending home sick puppies to unsuspecting owners is Petland’s must egregious act. It is easy to only focus on puppy mills because of their dramatic and sensational slant but Petland—even a Petland strongly positioned against the mills—is not blameless in how they care for, and merchandise, their puppies.

Finn’s poor health was not a result of puppy mills. Not every breed of dog can be found locally and some dogs will need to be shipped, but Petland and their “middleman,” in our case it was Pet Board of Trade not Hunte, could make changes to guarantee the delivery of healthy puppies.

Over the next week, I’ll be writing here in more detail about our Petland experience.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Finn's Progress

Two nights ago, a friend’s dog bit Finn on the mouth. The dog was standing near Ryan and Finn went over to be closer to him and in the process leaned over to give the other dog a sniff and she growled, barred her teeth and bit him.

Finn let out a hurt puppy yelp, ran to the middle of the room and kind of stood there for a moment smacking his lips and processing what had just happened. I grabbed his leash (he always has it on when he’s out of his crate) and kind of steered him toward me to make sure he wasn’t hurt. After allaying my fears, I let him go and he wandered off to play with his toys.

It wasn’t a big deal but it made me realize how proud I am of Finn and of us. We thought Finn was going to be an aggressive, dominant dog. We thought he would be a struggle to train and a real handful to live with. Instead, Finn is loving and social and has trained incredibly well.

Finn never mouthed us-- he bit us. When we first played with him, before we bought him, Finn chewed on us. Ohh, he’s teething, the sellers chuckled. And we laughed along because look at the little furball trying to chew on Ryan’s shoe, Ryan’s finger, Ryan’s face. We brought him home and he wouldn’t play with us, he would bite us. It was the only way he expressed emotion. Finn was happy to see us so he would nip at our hands. Finn was frustrated by a toy so he would growl and attack our legs. Finn wanted to go back to his crate so he would try to take a chunk out of our nose.

It was awful and I resented him for it. The biting made it hard for me to bond with him. I am truly grateful for our trainer because he taught us how to handle Finn. We learned how to correct him and how to become the leader. All of our hard work and patience has paid off because he is a rather obedient puppy. He rarely bites us anymore and when he does it’s never with any force or intent.

We knew that we were successful when we witnessed Finn’s first encounters with other dogs. He was outgoing and confident but also submissive and quick to back down when other dogs were aggressive toward him.

The dog that bit him has never liked Finn. She is possessive and intolerant and quick to defend her space. No one has ever really told her that her hostile behavior is unacceptable and so she persists. Finn was a victim of that hostility but he did not take it as a challenge. He backed down and distracted himself with something else.

At one point we were afraid that Finn would be the biting dog. We worried that we would never be able to assert our dominance and position as leader. In the past two months we have all made great strides and I am loving the dog Finn is becoming. You never know how a puppy might change as they grow and gain experience but I hope that we are always willing to put in the work to make him the best dog he can be.

That being said…

Obviously, he’s not perfect; he still has things he needs to work on. Just today he put his paws up on the coffee table, knocked over an old mug of tea, soaked himself and then proceeded to jump up on the couch with tea soaked paws and shake off, spraying the couch, laptop…everything. It looked like a CSI scene.