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.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Finn at 5 Months

Finn turned 5 months old on the 18th. Here are some of his milestones:

This is Finn in his "place" chewing on a turtle.
  • Finn sleeps until 6:30am most days. We wake him up for a potty break at midnight, he wakes us up with a bark sometime during the 6 o’clock hour, he eats his breakfast and sometimes goes for a walk and goes back to sleep until around 10 (later if he went to the dog park the day before, not so late if not).
  • He eats ¾ cup of food, three times a day.
  • He is walking well on the leash and no longer pulls unless there is a dog or person he’d like to visit with.
  • He is incredibly social with both dogs and people.
  • He’s lost most of his baby teeth and rarely nips or mouths us.
  • He is still very, very chewy though and most recently chewed the window molding through his crate. Thanks to crate training, window moldings are the only things he’s damaged in our house.
  • He still rides in a crate while in the car.
  • He’s just beginning to get coarse fur along his spine but still has puppy fur everywhere else. He’s beginning to get much fluffier on his neck, legs and tail.
  • His favorite toy are the cheap Frisbees I buy for him at Target and WalMart. He doesn’t understand that he’s supposed to bring them back to me but he loves to chase them down and then carry them off to chew.
  • He knows the following commands: sit, stay, come, down, up, wait, shake, high five, fist bump, roll over, bang, and place.
  • He sits in his “place” before meals and waits patiently for us to give our OK to eat. I’ve been using this time to empty the dishwasher.
  • He eats anything that is organic and on the ground, ie sticks, bark, flower buds, seed pods, etc.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Finn: The Bully?

And on the fifth day, the clouds parted and the sun appeared.

Finally, after four days straight of rain and cold and just plain ickiness the sun finally came out. In the last few days Finn has gotten increasingly restless. Combine cabin fever with puppy teething and you get one aggravated puppy dog. We tried to keep him active by playing Frisbee with him up in Ryan’s office but nothing tires him out quite like running amuck and wrestling around in the dog park.

Today we swore, not matter the muddy collateral damage, we would take him to the park. Finn had his last lesson with our trainer, Cody, at two this afternoon so he wasn’t entirely bursting with energy. You wouldn’t have known that, however, if you could have seen him at the dog park. He was out of control. Our sweet, quiet puppy turned into a sweet, very vocal dog this afternoon. I don’t know what got into him.

Seeing ten or so people in the small dog park, we headed there first. Usually Finn sniffs around, hangs back, greets the people first and then will find a few dogs to play with. He almost always lets other dogs instigate the play.

The difference today is that there were some very young puppies in the park. Very young, like, 10-weeks-old young. Because they were puppies and naturally playful they would approach Finn and bat at him and Finn would…roll them over.

Of course, the reason Finn rolled them is because these puppies had no muscle tone yet. Older dogs would have just swayed and then grabbed hold of Finn’s ear but these puppies went done like a WalMart worker on Black Friday.

To top it off, Finn was being unusually vocal. Generally, he does not do a lot of growling and barking but these puppies today were very vocal, which prompted Finn to growl as he wrestled with them. The whole thing combined made Finn come off as a bully and it was kind of embarrassing.

We finally left after he started taking down this quite small shepherd mix. The owner didn’t seem to care but it made us uncomfortable as the pairing was clearly unmatched. At one point, I knelt down to pet the shepherd mix and the puppy nearly fell over at the pressure of my hand. I asked the owner how old the puppy was and she said five months. I know I’m new to this whole dog thing but there is no way that puppy was five months old. Finn will be five months old tomorrow and the differences are enormous.

Anyway, the whole thing left me feeling uneasy. Should we only take him to the big park now (as opposed to the “small dog” park)? Is he starting to get a little aggressive? Was it just a different group of dogs there that Finn wasn’t familiar with? Was he just too amped up after having spent four days straight in the house?

Ryan’s answer to all of this was, “It’s just like when you have kids. Sometimes they embarrass you and it’s frustrating because you know they are better behaved than how they acted. He’ll probably be fine the next time.”

Still, I worry.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Mother's Approval

I am my mother’s only daughter.

When my mom and I are at a mall, she will point to a stroller and tell me, that’s the kind you should get. When we are at Home Goods, she runs her fingers along the railings of beautifully ornate cribs and says, I’m going to put aside money so I can buy this for you. Once, at Costco, she held up a onesie with turtles parading across the front and asked me to divine whether I would have a spring baby or a winter baby.

She isn’t pressuring me to have kids, which is good because after five plus years, Ryan and I aren’t even married yet. She’s simply daydreaming about the day that her daughter has a child and all of the advice and clothes and baby paraphernalia that she’s been holding back will come crashing forward.

“It’s different when your daughter has a child,” she tells me after visiting my brother’s twin daughters. “When you have your baby, I won’t hold back.”

I remember thinking, awesome, more incentive not to have kids anytime soon. I envisioned always getting unwanted advice and always being worried that I was doing the wrong things.

My parents came to visit this weekend. It was only their second time meeting Finn and it went really well. He was, as always, his cute, sweet, charming self. My mom, who seemed reserved the first time she met Finn, really seemed to enjoy being around him.

Over the course of the weekend, Mom kept commenting on how smart Finn was and how pretty he was and how well behaved he was. And every time she marveled at how well he preformed tricks or how well he listened to us it gave me a little jolt of pride. My mom was telling me that I was doing a good job at raising our puppy and she was doing so freely.

I’m not sure why it surprised me. Maybe because she’s been so adamant about how critical she would be of how I would raise a child or maybe because Finn is my first dog and I’m a little insecure about how I’m doing with it. Either way, it made me realize that I had my mom figured out wrong.

I’m sure that when it comes time, she will be the first to tell me that I need to hold my baby’s neck more or that I should dress the baby warmer in the winter but she will also be the first to tell me that I’m doing a good job. She will tell me how sweet my child is and how smart my child is.

Thursday, March 5, 2009


There are many things that I want that I don’t have. Some of the things I want are goals that I’ve been working toward but can’t seem to achieve. Some things are material and aren’t really that important. Some things are beyond my control and better not to wish for at all.

I have a hard time accepting that I can’t always make things happen. That hard work doesn’t always result in getting want you want. I take disappointment hard. I often get defeated.

I worried about how that would affect me as a mother. Mothers should have patience; infinite reservoirs of patience that would allow them to parent without damaging their child with the burden of expectations.

Having a dog is not the same as having a child. I am not one of those dog owners. It has, however, helped me work on some of the attributes that I believe make a good parent. I like to teach Finn things. Being an Australian Shepherd, he likes to learn, it provides him with the mental stimulation that he needs to tire himself out.

Finn is stubborn though, much like I am. He likes to do things on his time schedule, which means that for two days straight he’ll act like he doesn’t understand the concept of shake and on the third morning he offers you his paw like he was born knowing how.

During our training sessions, I watch him for signs of frustration or boredom. I’m beginning to learn when to push a little more and when to reward him for something he already knows how to do and send him on his way. When testing him on a new command without offering a treat, I watch his muscles react. His muscles betray his thoughts. They give away his secret desire to perform the command.

I’ve learned to be patient and steady, repeating the command until he performs or has reached his limit of patience. It’s not that I don’t want to push or yell at him OHMYGODJUSTROLLOVERALREADY because I do. I really, really do sometimes. But I understand that it doesn’t really help anything. It doesn’t get us to where we want to be.

I’m not sure if I’m so far along that I can apply these lessons to human interactions, but it’s a step and I’m giving myself credit for that. If I can forgive Finn for not mastering “roll over” in the time that I have arbitrarily deemed necessary to learn it, maybe I can forgive myself for all of the things I have yet to accomplish.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

March Snow

A few days ago we got one of those March snows I loved so much when I was college. Here, where we don't get an awful lot of snow to begin with, snow in March is winter's last gift. Unlike in colder climates, snow is not terribly bothersome here. It rarely sticks around long enough to turn into gray, murky slush. You almost never need to shovel because everything in the city comes to a screeching halt at the slightest threat of snow, so no one is going anywhere. Your only responsibilities are to toss something cozy in the crock pot, brew up some hot cocoa and enjoy the spectacle.

Snow in March is only a reminder of the season that has nearly passed. This weekend it will be 72. The trees have already started to bloom. In a few weeks, the empty spaces left by bare branches will begin to close up. Fresh, nearly translucent green will be abundant. The tulips, planted with hope in February, will push all the way up, bringing with them promises fulfilled.