Gracie and Talulah

Born to run.

The dog park. On a warm, sunny day it’s like ladies night at a college bar: it’s packed, everybody is there to mingle and socialize, but chances are you’re going to go home with whoever you came with.

I like to get Gracie to the dog park as often as possible, which isn’t nearly often enough, partly because I have been busy on the weekends, but also because Gracie likes to embarrass me.

Gracie does seem to like me when we’re in the apartment. She listens to me, follows me around and will even snuggle with me sometimes when I get in bed. When we’re in public, she acts like I’m a perfect stranger.

For example, one weekend afternoon several weeks ago, I took Gracie out to the dog park at Reedy Creek Park. It looks like it’s going to rain soon, but I wanted her to get some exercise before that happens. We barely even got into the gate before she was fighting against the leash to go run around. I could barely control her enough to unlatch the leash. And she was off.

For the next two hours the only attention she paid me is the occasional glance as she sprints past with a pack of dogs chasing her. The grey clouds continued to gather and I see lightning in the distance. It’s looking about time to go home, so I started calling at Gracie. No response, more running. I grabbed the leash and started walking toward her; she ran away. I pulled out some treats; she completely ignored them.

The dog park emptied out some, so I thought she might get bored and want to come to me. No such luck. She’s ran around by herself for another 30 minutes. I finally gave up and just sat down on a picnic table.

I tried unsuccessfully several more times to round Gracie up. There was no reason to try and chase her because she’s unbelievably quick and me running at her would just make her want to mess with me more.

I naively thought I could wait her out. It started to get dark. There were maybe four people at six dogs at the park. It’s starting to be obvious to everyone around me that I wanted to leave, but Gracie didn’t want to cooperate.

Everyone else that leaves just called their dog over, threw the leash on them and walked out calmly. It looked so dang easy. I was jealous.

One of the four people got up to leave, her dogs tagging along behind her. When she got to the gate, I look up and notice something strange: Gracie was standing right behind her, with the other two dogs, ready to leave.

Seriously? Gracie was trying to leave with someone else. Just imagine what the other dog owners were thinking about me: “he must beat that dog;” “does he feed her? she’s so skinny!” “poor thing, he must be awful to her….”

All I could think was, “I promise, she likes me at home!” She does, or at least she fakes it really well.

The lady let all three dogs into the holding area. I ran down to get her. We walked out of the gate, me with my head down and embarrassed, Gracie with her tail high trotting along.

I loaded her into to the car and got in the front seat. She leans forward from the backseat and licks me on the face.

“See!” I wanted to yell, “she does like me!”


sit…good dog

18May10

Let me start by apologizing for being completely MIA over the past month. A lot of things happening in the workplace wore me out and kept me from updating like I should. I hope to be back on track now.

“Gracie, sit!” Blank stare.

“Gracie…sit!” A slight cock of the head to the left.

I’ve always heard the benefits of training a dog, how it makes them happy to please their owners and they’re actually happier when they’re trained. With my old family dog, we didn’t even try training. The only reason she knew sit was by simple process of elimination spread out over many years.

Gracie will be different, I told myself. So soon after I brought her home, I started her training program.

“Gracie, sit!”

With normal dogs, when you push down on your butt, they sit. So learning sit should be easy. Say “sit,” push down on the but, reward when the dog puts its butt on the ground.

But, as we’ve learned, Gracie is not a normal dog. I said “sit” and I pushed down on her butt. She stood strong. I said it again and pushed down a little harder. Nothing. I pushed down with all the force I had and said “Sit!” She spun her backside out from under my hand and looked at me with an expression that said “You want me to put my backside where?”

I learned from a friend that if you put a leash around a dog’s neck and pull up, it almost automatically puts them in the sitting position, so I tried it.

“Gracie, sit!” I pulled up on the leash. She looked at me strangely and looked away.

It was like she was scared of getting in the sitting position. Over the next few weeks, I slowly wore her down. I pushed down on her backside until she would finally give in and hesitantly place her haunches on the ground. When I gave her treats and petted her after sitting, she looked confused as to why I was so happy. Gradually, she figured it out.

I created a sitting monster. Anytime I had anything she wanted or if she wanted to play or go for a walk, she sat. It was like she figured out that the sitting thing that she’d been so scared of was actually pretty cool.

But I was happy because she responded to my command (inside, at least) almost every time I told her to sit.

Onto the next step: “Down.”

Now that I had her sitting, it was time to take her obedience to the next level. I’d have her sit, hold the treat in front of her nose and bring it slowly to the ground. At first, she just bent her head farther and farther trying to get to it.

With her awkwardly long legs, Gracie looks all tangled up when she sits and tries to lay down. Eventually, she started laying down when I brought the treat down, sliding her front paws out slowly until her belly finally plopped on the ground.

Success, I thought. But now I had created a laying down monster. If she’s excited about something I have or something she wants to do, and I say “Sit,” she skips that stuff and just lies on the ground. I say “no” and pick her back up, then try again.

Plop. Laying down again.

Even if I do get her in the sitting position, I can tell she’s just waiting to lay down. Her left-front paw lifts off the ground in anticipation. When I finally say “Down!” she brings her paws up and slams on the ground.

It’s not perfect, but it’s a long way from the cocked head looks I got when I started.

Now we’re working on sit and stay and I have a 20-foot leash that I haven’t broken out yet, but will soon.

Maybe one day I’ll be able to walk her outside without a leash and she’ll listen to me! A man can dream.

Gracie and I are most definitely a long way from this, though.


Gracie

Gracie is terrified of loud noises. Why?

A couple months ago, I was finishing up a walk with Gracie. As we walked past the entrance of the complex, I noticed some people were playing tennis on the court near the office. I thought nothing of it.

WHAPOW! One of the guys hit a huge forehand that echoed across the parking lot.

Gracie shot in the other direction like a bolt of lighting. Her tail was tucked so far between her legs that the tip was against her chest. She jerked back and forth, doing everything in her power to get away from the courts. If she hadn’t been on the harness, I’m fairly confident she would have gotten off the leash.

When I finally got her back inside, she ran straight to the crate before I could even get her leash or harness off. This is when I still had wire in the crate and she went to the other side of it. She sat there shaking and tense, so far back that I couldn’t reach through and take the leash off.

I had to go to a basketball game for work and I wasn’t able to get her out before I left. When I came back, she got out of the crate and was better.

That’s the first time that I noticed just how skittish she really was. She’s scared of people that she doesn’t know and will jump out of her skin if you accidentally sneak up behind her.

And she’s absolutely terrified of loud noises. Not long ago, something heavy fell in the apartment above me. Gracie ran into the bedroom, sat in the corner and was shaking.

It got me thinking: what happened to Gracie before I got her?

I know that getting an older dog from the shelter is dangerous because you don’t know what has already happened to him/her and how it will affect his/her demeanor. But based on her actions, here is what I think.

She’s a foxhound, which is obviously a hunting dog. It makes me think that the fear of loud, sharp noises is related to gunfire if she was around hunting when she was younger. Maybe she didn’t make a good hunting dog which is why she was left at the shelter.

The fear of loud noises could be simpler, in that she used to get beaten by her former owner and loud sounds remind her of that.

She’s scared of most people, but she is especially scared of tall guys. She takes to women much faster than men. My stepdad, which every dog seems to instantly bond to, had trouble winning Gracie over at first.

Gracie also came in with brush burns on her backside, which means she wasn’t kept in ideal conditions.

All I can imagine is that Gracie was owned by some tall male with many, many dogs (because Gracie is very social with other animals) that he used for hunting. He didn’t treat the dogs well, kept them in small cages and probably beat them occasionally.

Of course, that could be completely wrong. But that’s what I think.

What do you think is wrong with her? Do you have a dog that you got from the shelter? What happened to it before you adopted him/her?


take my picture

06Apr10

I hope everyone had a wonderful Easter!

I know I did, spending it with family and family dogs. I took Gracie up to my uncle’s house, which has a big fenced in back yard. Talulah was there, too, so a good time was had by all.

A post from Will My Dog Hate Me? about pet photography inspired me to try my hand at taking pictures of Gracie. I’ve been experimenting with sports photography for my work and I’ve wanted to branch out. I also just got a new Nikon camera for work, so I wanted to try it out.

Here are the results! Let me know what you think and be sure to read the full photography post to learn more about the best ways to take pictures of your beloved pet!

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Sorry for the missed post last week. The post about what I think happened to Gracie before I got her will come at the end of the week.


Other dog blogs

30Mar10

When I started this blog, I knew that I wasn’t the first dog blogger on the scene. But I have to admit I was surprised by the amount of dog blogs/Web sites that are out there.

Here are a few, most of which I met through Twitter, that I’ve started reading and really like.

Go Pet Friendly — This pretty awesome site is a great travel resource. If you’re planning a trip with your pet, this Web site will help make your life easier by finding pet friendly hotels, campgrounds and bed & breakfasts! Amazing site if you’re planning on going somewhere with your dog.

Dog Jaunt — This is another cool pet travel Web site, where Mary-Alice Pomputius blogs about traveling to dog friendly places. The blog’s focus is on small dogs, but there is also some good relevant stuff for bigger dogs.

Will My Dog Hate Me? — I think the name says it all. This is a fun site for any dog owner with topics about everything from travel to dog aging. The author of the blog, Edie Jarolim, has a book with an equally awesome name, “Am I Boring My Dog?” that I haven’t read yet but is on my list.

Dancing Dog Blog — This is another general information dog/pet blog that has everything from product reviews to neat stories from all over the web to dog shows. The author, Mary Haight, works at a no-kill shelter and has been involved in animal welfare for over 15 years.

I urge all you pet owners to check these sites out regularly for great information. Also, they all have Twitter accounts which are great to follow. (@amanandhisdog follows them all, so you can find them there.)

Check back Thursday next week when I delve into what I think happened to Gracie in the year or two before I adopted her.


Gracie is a magician. Or possesses some mystical, supernatural powers. Or is just possessed.

The jury is still out on this.

Possessed Gracie?

Maybe Gracie really is possessed....

Regardless of the reason, Gracie has left me wondering “How the hell did she do that?” several times in our few months together. Two stories specifically stand out in my mind. I’m still not sure how she did these two. Maybe you can help me.

Story 1: the empty harness

Gracie is extremely skittish. I’ll delve into this deeper in a later post, but for now just know that she is terrified of loud noises and most people.

One day I was taking her for a walk but had some recycling I needed to drop off first. At my apartment complex, the recycling bins are centrally located near the exit of the complex. I figured it would be easy to swing by and drop the recycling off with Gracie and we would continue on our walk.

As you learned in my first post, Gracie is really good at getting out of her leash and collar, so I had gotten into the habit of putting a harness on her so that she couldn’t squirm out…or so I thought.

The harness was on Gracie correctly and everything was buckled when we started walking toward the recycling bins.

When we got to them, something about these green plastic bins didn’t settle well with her and she started to pull away.

“It’s OK,” I thought. “She’s on the harness, she can’t get away.”

So I turned my back on her and started putting my stuff in the bin. She was pulling on the leash the whole time, then suddenly the pulling stopped. At first I thought she had finally given up and decided just to wait for me to finish so we could walk. Then I realized how dumb of an idea that was. Gracie isn’t that rational.

I turned around and saw that I was holding a leash connected to a completely empty harness. I stared confused for a few seconds until, out of the corner of my eye, I saw Gracie leisurely strolling through the grass to my left.

By this time, I had finally learned that Gracie doesn’t to run away and that if I don’t chase her she won’t go too far away. It didn’t take that long to get her back on the leash and it wasn’t nearly as traumatic as the first time she got off the leash.

When I got her back on the leash, I examined the harness, assuming that something must have broken or that the latch must have popped.

Nothing.

The buckle was still snapped and the harness was in perfect condition. I’m still not exactly sure how she got out. The harness wasn’t skin tight, but it certainly wasn’t loose. And I am 100 percent positive that I put it on her correctly.

I’ve used the harness since and she’s never gotten off of it since then.

Story 2: jail break

I crate trained Gracie from the beginning (as you learned in “crate wars”), so every time I leave the house, she goes in her crate.

One evening, I left for a few hours to get some dinner and meet up with some friends. I gave Gracie her bone, a blanket and a treat in her crate, locked everything up and left.

When I got back, I opened the door to find Gracie running through the living room to welcome me home. My first instinct was that this was normal. My family used to leave my old family dog out in the house when we would leave, so she would meet us at the door when we got home.

Then I realized that this wasn’t right. Gracie should be in her crate.

I looked around the living room and nothing was torn up, destroyed or out of place. She had an accident on the floor, but this was still during the time when she wasn’t completely house or crate trained.

I walked into my room, where I keep the crate. It was still standing and the door was closed.

“How in the world did she get out?” I wondered.

My first thought was that I just forgot to put her in in the first place. But I distinctly remembered locking her up and I always leave the door open when she’s not locked up so that she can go in there and lay down with her blanket if she wants to.

There were no bent bars or busted walls on the crate, so the only way she could have gotten out was through the door. So I inspected the latches.

The door has two latches. The top one was latched fine. The bottom one wasn’t.

Well that explains it…sort of.

That had to be how she got out, but the space she must have crawled through is inconceivable. When I pulled it as hard as I could, I could only get a few inches of space.

She’s skinny, but she’s still a 45-50-pound dog. This was a very small gap.

Since then, I’ve been sure to lock the bottom latch every time and she hasn’t escaped again, so that must have been the answer. But I still don’t see how she got out.

What makes these stories even harder to believe is that I never actually saw her do them. I either had my back turned or I wasn’t home.

Maybe I need to install a puppy cam and see what this crazy dog is doing when I’m not looking.

Do you have a dog that’s an escape artist? Or a dog that’s made you think “How the heck did (s)he do that?” Let me know in the comments. I love to hear your stories!

Next week, I talk about what I think makes Gracie as skittish as she is.

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Tracy

Courtney's dog, Tracy, the notorious pants-puller-downer. Photo courtesy of Courtney.

As crazy as ‘my first day with gracie’ was, it might have been just as traumatic for my girlfriend, Courtney, who had just bought the dog for me the previous afternoon. After reading my first post, she started telling me her side of the story. I asked her to share it with you, to give a whole different perspective to the story.

In her own words:

When Corey called me breathless and frantic on Wednesday morning saying Gracie had gotten away, I felt terrible. I had already been feeling a bit guilty because the dog I had picked out for him spent the night moping and lethargic, but this just made me feel terrible.

“I should have just let him pick out the dog he wanted,” I thought. But I had been watching Gracie on the animal shelter Web site for a month, making sure she was still available, and I could not leave her at the pound after becoming that invested. Besides, he said he wanted a hound dog.

Corey’s “Christmas present” had already cost him $250 in a pet fee and now she had escaped less than 24 hours later. Great job, Courtney. So much for an older dog being less trouble than a puppy.

The only good thing about the situation, in my opinion, was that I was about five minutes away from his house when he called me, because I was on my way back to Chapel Hill. However, I also had my dog Tracy, a beagle/corgi/dachshund mix (I think), who is not friendly towards other dogs by any stretch of the word.

When I got to Corey’s apartment complex, I knew I couldn’t leave Tracy alone in the car, so I put her on the leash and speed walked over to the field where the last Gracie sighting had occurred. When I reached the field, I saw a man and his chocolate lab playing fetch. Great. Before Tracy can see the lab and start making a fool of herself barking and growling, I strategically walk around to the other side and call Corey.

By this point, he has caught Gracie but has no leash to put on her, and there is no way he can carry an energetic, 45-pound dog the half mile back to his apartment, so I tell him I’ll carry Tracy and he can have her leash. But first I have to get past the chocolate lab. I decide the best course of action is to pick Tracy up as we walk by.

Of course at this point, Tracy has spotted the very well behaved lab and has decided to start barking her head off. I’m trying everything to hold onto 30 squirming pounds of dog, and she’s trying everything she can to push my pants down with her back legs. Let’s just say she’s being more successful than I am.

So, hiking up my pants, I survey the small, steep hill I must scale to get to Corey and Gracie. “Do you need any help?” asked the other dog owner.

“Nope, I’m good,” I pant, gritting my teeth. Why am I so stubborn and why won’t Tracy SHUT UP??

I manage to make it up the hill, where I find a sweaty, disheveled Corey and a not-at-all ashamed Gracie waiting for us. We begin the delicate maneuver of trading the leash without losing either dog, and Tracy decides to go crazy all over again at the sight of a new dog.

My arms can’t handle her anymore, so Corey takes Tracy while I grab the leash with Gracie on the end of it. I think everything is home free, until we get back to the steep, muddy hill and I realize I have to get down the hill while Gracie is pulling me with all her might.

Let me point out here that I grew up in a one story house and I have always been a bit of a scaredy cat, so going down hills is not my strong suit.

I get about two steps down when letting go of Gracie’s leash seems like the only way I am not going to wipe out on red clay, so I do.

When Corey realizes what happens, I get an exasperated look and Tracy back in my arms so he can chase Gracie down again. Luckily, she’s worn out by this point so it’s not hard.

We finally make it back to Corey’s apartment, where I calm down for about five minutes before I have to leave so that Tracy doesn’t disturb the whole neighborhood with her barking.

Luckily, Gracie has gotten much better by now, and this incident has never occurred again. I’m slowly becoming convinced that my idea to give Corey a dog was a good one. Tracy, on the other hand, still barks at everything that moves.

So there you have it.

The regularly scheduled Thursday post is still on tap for this week, so check back in two days for ‘the great hou-doggy.”