Making Lemonade at 5 AM with the Dog

I’m not really sure why at this stage in my life, my body has decided that 5 in the morning is an appropriate time to wake up.  It just has.  I tried detoxing from caffeine with no effect.

May as well live with it and do things that will improve my life and those around me.

There are some definite benefits to being up well before the rest of the city.  Dad would have said that I’m “Up with the cows”.  I don’t know why because he was a steel worker from Easton, PA, but hey you never completely figure out your folks.

I get up, get ready, top off Rack’s water bowl, and we go for our walk.

It gives me the opportunity to do things with him that I wouldn’t do with other people around.  In Wilton Manors, FL, at 5 AM, there are really only a few groups of people up and most of them are easy to avoid.

Dog Walkers are easy to spot, and we’re all trying to keep a respectful distance.  After all, we’re all in the same boat!

The Police, early workers, and other delivery folk couldn’t care a bit about me and my dog.  They’re doing their job.  Wave hello to them and go on.

As always, there are the leftovers from the night before.  You know, the people who forgot that the bars closed three hours ago and are sleeping it off.  Easy to spot, easy to avoid.  They don’t move too fast.

Walking with Rack has gone from a tuggy job to a much more pleasurable experience at this time of day.  We’re really not supposed to be off leash at this time of day.  He has his leash.  Its not always attached To Me.

On that very early walk, we are having a Bonding Experience.   I learned when Rack tugged one too many times one day what happens when he is off leash.   He circles back immediately.  As in gets about 2 dog lengths ahead, turns around and plasters himself to my legs to stop me from going anywhere until I pick up the leash.

“Confused look” Good Dog!

That’s all it takes.

He does get more than a leash away when we’re walking, and I stop that by stepping on the end of the leash and verbally correcting him.

Trucks still scare him, and since Wilton Drive is where the dreaded 50 bus goes through along with them, I watch very closely.  When he starts to show fear, I stop.  He comes back to me and we wait for it all to pass.

After all this walking and bonding and conversation, we finally get close to the house.

I can tell he wants to go home, he’s getting further away from me and needing more correction.  I don’t want him  to cross the last Avenue before the house alone.  He usually stops but since it isn’t always I make sure to stop him before we cross.

This is all off leash, and it is training him to be better on the leash.  When I walk off leash with a second person he walks right by me, on my left, exactly how I like it.

Crossing the last Avenue, I have learned I can give him instructions and he will follow them.  There’s a video about a Border Collie in the English Borderlands that was able to be taken to the fields and do his work with the sheep completely independently of any instruction.  As in All Day Alone.

I simply expect Rack to have that level of intelligence.  Getting past his normal fear is what will get in the way, but it is getting much better.   I tell him to “Go home and lets wash your feet”.

He’s still a “Yellow Footed Collie with bad aim”.  I still have the Foot Wash station on the porch to at least clean him up before we go in.  He walks the last bit at his own speed to the yard, turns up the drive, walks up to the porch and waits for me to amble up to the hose to wash him off.   Independently.

It’s still well before 6AM and I haven’t had my coffee yet, so of course I’m walking slower than him.

After his foot wash we have a routine.  We walk him through the grass and around the car, back to the front door.   It gives the water time to run off his legs and brush off any crud that has gathered on his toes.

He now does that Independently too.

How about that?  He walks around the car, comes back to the front door, and waits for me to unharness him and let him in.

Small victory compared to that English Border Collie, but my own Rack was completely shut down when we got him.

We’re making lemonade out of those lemons.  Turning a weakness into a strength.  It always takes a different mindset when you have a fearful dog.  Things are done on THEIR terms, and at THEIR speed.   Not on yours.

I am learning too.   My little guy is teaching me patience.  I’m excellent at setting goals, rules, boundaries, and limitations.  Plans are laid out, and he’s great at following them.  In his own time.

I’m finding out also that his own time can be much faster now than it was.  Fear can fade, but you have to allow it to.

Just have a little lemonade while you’re waiting.  It’s quite tasty at 6 AM.

Solving My Fearful Dog’s Picky Eating Problem

My dog Rack is a McNab Dog, coming up on 2 years old.  He’s a rescue, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  My Lettie before him was a rescue, and if Rack would allow it, I’d probably foster another McNab.  We simply aren’t ready for another rescue.  If and when we are, Rack will let us know.

McNabs are a comparatively rare breed outside of the Western US, although I personally think that there are more of them than the “experts” think.  They look like a Smooth Coat Border Collie, with the main differences being that there is no undercoat, the feet are webbed, and the temperament is much more laid back.  Even if a smoothie has an undercoat, there may be significant McNab blood in them, just like Lettie was.

No matter what kind of dog, McNab, Border Collie, Similar Breed, or a Mix, you’re in for an amazing ride!  We definitely are a herding dog family, even here in the city.

But they do get fearful from time to time, especially with what they’re put through in the whole Shelter/Rescue/Foster/Re-homing cycle.  Rack is still, almost a year and a half later, exhibiting the PTSD that you see in dogs.  He hides when the house gets too loud like when things get dropped, and forget seeing him during thunderstorms.  There are three places he will hide, all of which are “dens” to him.  If I need him, he will come when I call if it is not thundering or, Dog Forbid, firework-y out there.

All of this manifested itself in the weirdest behavioral problem I ever saw.  Rack will skip meals.  He simply would not eat.  We have had him checked out at the Vet with this in mind and we all concluded it was behavioral.  So in the house we all, myself definitely included, “tread lightly” and keep noises down. 

But my little furry puzzle still skipped his meals.

Finally after asking a friend of a friend who once was a dog trainer in Stockholm, Sweden, we got a clue.

What happened is that since Rack is such a beta dog, and a weak beta dog at that, he needs to be given permission to eat.

How about that?  Given Permission To Eat? 

A dog’s reputation is that they’ll sniff your food, steal food from tables, eat your own dinner if you don’t guard it and train against that kind of behavior.  I have seen that all in dogs that I have had in the past.  But not Rack. 

How we are going about it, and this is definitely Work In Progress, is to have him eat with me.  Rack sees me as the alpha here.  He is the weak beta.  When I eat, I always eat at a table now.  No meals in the recliner.  This rule must be rigidly adhered to, at the table. 

He doesn’t care about setting the table, just the same ritual all the time.  Rituals are important with dogs.  They learn you and your routines and strive to be as much a part of it as possible.  The stereotype of the rancher with the pack of cow-dogs in the back of the pickup is a great example of that. 

What I do in my suburban South Florida Home is that I invite my dog to the table.  He would not come to the table on his own, I don’t think he sees himself able of approaching The Alpha like that.

The ritual is like this:

First I make Rack’s food.  Put the bowl together and set it on the edge of the dinner table I choose.  It is nearby and he can see and smell it, but it is just out of reach.

I will then comment, clearly so that it can be heard, that I am hungry.  That clues Rack in that something Food is happening.

I cook my own food.   If it has long prep time, I will prepare Rack’s bowl noisily and set it on the table before I am ready to sit down with my own.

Now I will begin eating.  If Rack does not show, I will call him to the table.   “Rack are you hungry?  Dinner time!”.  He will come into the kitchen and slowly join me.  Head down, ears down, and settle next to me as if to ask if he is allowed.  I pet him and let him know it is ok.

At this time I may even take a few bites of the food.  He may show interest in his own bowl. 

His bowl now makes it to the floor and I go on about my own food.

Usually by this time, he’s snuffling around the bowl and should start eating, but not every time.  When he doesn’t I may have to “prime the pump.  If I have finished and he has not started, I will hand him a piece of kibble and get him started.   It takes judgement to see where his head is at.   If he takes it, try another or a small handful. 

It literally can be as bad as single piece of kibble for a quarter of the food before he gets to the point that he will eat on his own.  This happens if we have a thunderstorm in the area and South Florida is where “Thunderstorms are Born” for six months out of the year.

Normally though, it usually only takes him being given permission to eat in the morning.  Evenings are a bit more difficult, so I make sure the house is quiet and try again.

Some say to simply remove the food.  I tried that and with My Dog, it didn’t work.  Since he readily skips meals, taking the food away simply made the problem worse and he was losing weight as a result.

Intelligent breeds require a gentle touch.  Not to say “de-dog” or “humanize” the dog, but there really is a lot of conversation going on and while dogs are excellent at reading you, you may not be so good at reading THEM.

One last thought.  Every dog is different.  Most won’t need this kind of care.  But with a fearful dog, you have to understand the first thing they think might not be anything other than fear.  It is up to us to figure out how to combat the fear.  Most of it can be trained out.  Lettie was this bad when I got her in her own way and by the end of her life, she was the Dog of a Lifetime.  Rack will be too, it just takes time, patience, and training.

Rack’s Bad Ear Day

There are just some days that you have to go with the flow.

Actually that would be every day.  You can’t control everything, that is the job of a Border Collie.

I don’t have a Border Collie, I have a Mc Nab Dog.

Mc Nabs were bred from the same “source” dogs as a Border Collie, but they were bred for a different temperament and different conditions.  Their native Mendocino County California is a warmer climate than the Border Lands of Scotland and England.  Divergent needs mean that my own Rack has webbed feet and no undercoat.  He can take the heat better than a Border Collie, and will plop himself in the full sun of a South Florida Summer afternoon to recharge.

Solar Cells tend to be black as well.

A Border Collie is a wonderful dog, but they never rest.  You must give them work or you become their job.  It is up to you whether you want to be awakened at a strange hour for a five mile run. 

A Mc Nab is more patient.  He’ll lay there and watch until you’re ready, then ask “What are we doing today, Boss?”.

That would be my Rack.   He learned my routine, sometimes I think a little too well.  He also tries to convince me that his way is the best from time to time.  Quirky little beast, to say the least.

On this particular morning in question, I happened to get up at a normal hour.  I still beat the sunrise by a half hour or more, and that was enough in itself to set my entire day later than usual.

While my own Mc Nab tends to act like a Business Analyst, he takes a subordinate role to my own Project Manager mindset.   It fits well, but I do have my own tendency to “Over Plan” things.

Knowing that routine gets him confused sometimes.  He’s got some habits that are making me do some things with food that I realize are not for the best.  A bit manipulative?  Sure, but show me a dog that isn’t going to work their way into your lives and your heart – if you don’t have a heart of stone.

I finally got him reestablished on a normal eating schedule the day before.  Too many Summer Wet Season Thunderstorms had him rattled to where he hid the entire day under a table, in the corner, in a fetal ball.  When the rains broke, I was able to get some errands done.

Who knows, it may even get dry enough to get that yard work done.  After all, things are growing faster than I can get the weed eater at them.

The next day he must have realized that he could do a little campaigning.  Unfortunately, I was also taking advantage of the dry morning.  I had run out of coffee, and unlike you, most likely, that means I need to roast more.  Roast today, Drink tomorrow is the rule.  Get the popcorn popper out, pour a half cup of green beans into the hopper, plug in and wait for Second Crack for a lighter roast.

Repeat four times.

Since I was preoccupied in the kitchen, my mutt decided he wanted to go outside.  You see him going outside makes yogurt magically appear.  He had left half of his food in the bowl.  That bowl normally gets partially eaten, then I spend the rest of the day placing it in front of his nose telling him to eat.  If I get frustrated, I pour a tablespoon of yogurt on top and mix it in.

That leaves a half bowl of yogurt encrusted dog food and one happy dog.

Manipulation, 1, Human, 0.

I had him outside and was doing my best to ignore him.  Kind of difficult, if you ask me.  He’s looking at me through the window.  I’m entertaining him as I dump the roasted coffee into the “cooling jar” and stir them around to let them cool.  Grab my own first course of breakfast, and he’s still staring at me through the window.  It is as if he’s saying “Soon, my precious yogurt will appear”.

Yes, but not for you my furry charge, not yet.

The entire half hour of breakfast, coffee roasting, and my own puttering was spent with this dog staring back at me.  Every time I looked, the one ear was down.  His down ear never completely stood upright, and the upright ear isn’t quite as bolt upright as some other Mc Nabs are.  But since this is a breed that the standards are set more for What They Can Do rather than What They Look Like, it certainly doesn’t matter.

Besides, that “down ear” works and looks comical as he bounces around the neighborhood on his daily march.

I’d finally had quite enough of being stared at.  The yogurt hadn’t even hit the bowl yet.  I still had one course to go, and since I was at a logical breakpoint, I’d let him in. 

Squeezing past my legs through the partially opened door at the back of the house, he shot through to the kitchen. 

If a dog can show disappointment, this was when my own Rack decided to show it.  There was an enclave of food in the bowl.  Half of a bowl full of dog food sat packed to one side with an invisible border through the middle.  That is to say, dog food but no yogurt.

Yet.  Maybe Later.   Eat your food you silly dog!

He slunk off to his alternate den to tend to licking those webbed feet.   Dog food, no matter how premium it is or isn’t, is just not as attractive without the remains of my own breakfast yogurt on top.

Too soon, pal, you didn’t let me eat it this morning.  Maybe later.

Rack’s Six Month Anniversary – Picture

Six months ago today, we made the long trek up the spine of Florida.  Past the nearby cities, through the Citrus Groves, into the splat that is the Theme Park ridden area of Orlando, and finally to Deltona.

In Deltona we met Gisele and entered her home to adopt Rack.   Rack was named Les Paul when he was with The Dog Liberator, he needed a name, and they chose that musical one.   It didn’t quite fit us, and we were trying to come up with one that did.  Since we were recovering from the loss of our Dog Of A Lifetime, Lettie, we settled in on a name that she suggested. 

Rack.

When we stood in our large kitchen in Philadelphia shortly after we adopted Lettie back in 2002, I asked Kevin for a little help. I needed a baking rack.  When I said that word, Lettie snapped to as if being ordered around.   We never found out why, but when it came time to name our boy, it stuck.

Like many other, or even most other highly intelligent dogs, those surrendered to a shelter may shut down.  Rack was one of the most severely shut down dogs I had ever seen.   But like Gisele said “He’s in Deltona, He needs you”.  Our heart strings were pulled, Kevin said “She’s good, lets get him!”.  

So we did. 

Lettie was shut down when we got her, but in a much better frame of mind then.  She did give us the experience we needed to work with dogs like Rack.  

In the six months that we’ve had him, we’ve watched him grow.   He’s gone through three different de-worming treatments, and missteps with dog foods that held him back.  He’s put on another 10 pounds, grew about 4 inches in height, and has a coat so shiny that when you pet him your hand comes back with lanolin.  Robust is what we’d call him.  Thanks to a suggestion by a neighbor, we got him on Orijen dog food.  No Chinese sourced ingredients for this one.  I don’t want to go through the syringe feeding that I did with Lettie near her end.

He’s still showing signs of his trauma.  Loud sounds are triggers to him and make him turn and try to hide.  Twice a day we walk out to Wilton Drive and have a sit down on the benches.  At 6AM it’s quite quiet, but at 9AM it’s an experience.  He is getting immersed in the buzz of the city.  The 50 bus is bad enough, but in the morning when the trash trucks pick up the bottles from the bars, he notices it even a block away.

On the other hand, he’s one of the sweetest dogs I’ve ever met.  He’s a McNab, a not very well known breed outside of the ranches of California and nearby states.  Incredibly intelligent, eager to please, he’ll simply do what you ask as long as you don’t drop something that makes a noise.  A similar breed to the Border Collie, but definitely not one.  The BC’s are a bit more high strung, my McNab has a mellowness to his personality that you have to experience, but once you do you will understand.  There’s a sweetness and a subtlety to him that is hard to put to phrase.  The ranchers will say the difference between a BC and a McNab is the way they work.  Perhaps that is the best way to say it.  They’re both great breeds, but the McNab is it’s own.

It’s not all sweetness, having a Herding dog means that you absolutely must exercise them.  Fortunately he’s good with the 4 miles a day that we walk, and everyone in our society could use that.  Anything less and you are in for a strange experience.  The ranchers and breeders in California can’t understand how Their Dogs can live in an Urban Environment, but we are proof that they can adapt and adapt well.

Intelligent Dogs aren’t for everyone, nor are active dogs.  Some people should only have a dog from a toy store filled with polyester fluff – a stuffed animal.  I’m doing my best by him and as a result my dog is growing every day. 

He’s still the “Yellow Footed Collie” as he learns how to properly water a rock or a hedge, but that gives me the excuse to work with him more so that he doesn’t get fearful.  That hose in front of the house gets a workout frequently and will until he grows into a better aim.  Once he learns that particular “trick” I may just let him on the furniture.  That picture was taken when he invited himself on the chair.  First a wet nose on the elbow, then he pulled himself up bit by bit until he was on Kevin’s lap.  He didn’t want to leave the chair when Kevin did so he stayed behind.

Smart dog, huh?

So six months on my rescue and I are continuing our journey.  He rescued me when Lettie left us.  Now we can grow together.

Slow Motion Herding

Lettie had slowed down.  Our usual route shrank down from 1 1/2 miles at the peak three times a day, to one block or less.  In fact this was one of the last walks we had together.

That block will take a half hour or more.

As we’re walking around, we’re a slowly moving target for all the neighbors to chat up, complain about speeders, and get all the news of the neighborhood.

While we were walking we will see the usual strange wildlife that is around here in South Florida.  Lizards and Geckos are common, and no they are not the same thing.  An occasional iguana, snake or some other reptile will show underneath the foliage.

There are also the more mundane animals like Squirrels and Pigeons. 

In her younger days, she was quick.  Lettie would just miss catching the squirrels that would be in the back yard of our Philadelphia home.   Squirrels would be missed because there was a double right angle turn in the form of an S.  When you’re trying to run in that close corners, you’re just not going to be at your peak speed.

Those days are gone but not forgotten.

Near the end of our walk last weekend, there was a flock of Muscovy Ducks that had just landed near the end of the block.  About three houses up from the corner by the way we were walking was about 6 full grown black and white ducks.  They tend to wander around properties around here, cropping the grass and looking for whatever they can find for their next meal. 

Completely harmless and fairly approachable.  In some parts of the world, they are a prized dinner item instead of being mildly entertaining to my dog.

As we approached the flock, both dog and bird took notice and began to make plans.

When you are 12 years old, your speed isn’t exactly great.  But your memory is still sharp.  The Eye is formed, and the gaze is piercing.  Stepping forward toward your avian charges, you move along with a purpose.  Things are not where they belong.  There was a flock of ducks that don’t belong there so you are going to herd them along.

Walking at 1 mile per hour, a very slow pace, she put one paw in front of the other.  Moving toward the ducks, she deftly convinced the ducks to move from property to property toward the corner.

When we reached the corner, I got a quick glance looking for approval.   Getting the nod, literally, she stepped into the intersection, driving the flock across the street to the opposite side.  Giving the traffic a show, she guided the flock to their safety.

We actually got a “thank you for the show” from the Minivan as it moved on its way.

Just another day on the job for an old herding dog.

Goodbye Lettie

Today is Lettie’s Last Day.

She came into our lives November 30, 2002.  A year and a half old, she spent the year before in a shelter, and six months before that with her first family.

She had escaped or had been abandoned in the North Dauphin, PA area around that time.

Lettie is named after the Animal Control officer that saw her potential and took her to the No Kill Shelter that I found her at.  Thank you Paulette, I am forever in your debt as a result.

She has been with us for the last 10 plus years and now it is time to say goodbye.

She went from being terrified of other dogs to being one of the most well behaved, if not a bit wary,  dogs that I have ever had the privilege to know.

After having the thyroid problems for 2 years, and the chronic renal failure for around one, including 3 months of twice daily feeding via syringe, it’s time to end her suffering.

At 1pm today, I have an appointment to lead her “Across the Rainbow Bridge”.

Goodbye Lettie.  We’re done.

Chronic Renal Failure 1, Lettie 0. We’re Done.

If you are reading this blog for information on Chronic Renal Failure in Dogs, you will want to search for that tag here.   I’ve documented the last two years of my dog, Lettie’s life.  All the mistakes, all the trials, and all the triumphs in combating the disease.   I’ve been told I did better than most, a year past the formal diagnosis, three months of syringe feeding, and so forth.

While I am not a vet, I may be of help. 

Yesterday I made hard decisions.  

We all think they were the right ones.

What made it final for me was the feeding session yesterday morning.

I’ve been syringe feeding my dog, Lettie for the last three months.  I had a visit with the vet the night before, Wednesday.  The vet expressed shock that I had been feeding her with a syringe for that long.

Her reputation was that she needed “Caution”.  She’s fear motivated first, so if you scare her she will show you teeth.  And by “you” I mean, Me.   I’ve gotten growled and snapped at, and sometimes she even connected.  It’s fear. 

Take one extremely intelligent dog and surrender her at 6 months to a shelter.

Six months later at her first birthday she gets out and lives with me the rest of her life.

Sure, she’s going to be fearful.

The vet said we’ll have a longer life expectancy if we shift over from the prescribed “I/D” diet for Pancreatitis, to “K/D” for Kidney Disease.

He didn’t realize that there isn’t a dog on the planet that likes “K/D” food.   The consistency is like modeling clay, play doh specifically.   She fought me every syringe.

In fact, yesterday morning, when I went to feed her, it took me 20 minutes to get one syringe in her.

A Syringe is 1 1/4 ounces of food.

That’s 1/2 of a bathroom paper cup.

I realized after 40 minutes that she had given up, and now it was time for me to as well.

I had a discussion with Kevin about this, and initially he said that he thought maybe we might…

But he came around too.  It didn’t take much discussion really, maybe a sentence or three.

The 20 minutes a syringe was the clincher.   You see the first time I fed her that K/D food, she rejected it completely.  Pump a small bit of about 1/2 Tablespoon into the side of her mouth behind the canine tooth and wait. 

I didn’t have to wait long, she immediately spit it out.  

It was a grey brown blob sitting on my foot.

I kept after the entire syringe and reloaded those blobs that were all rejected and I realized that I just spent 5 minutes feeding a dog who completely rejected 100 percent of the syringe.

Try again.

I had the time after all, but it was almost the same story.   She only kept in about 5 percent this time.  This was on Cerenia, a powerful Anti-Nausea drug that you are only supposed to keep her on for 4 days.  She was on Day 7 of this.

Eventually after 40 minutes and 2 syringes I quit.  She should get 10 syringes a day plus a lot of snacks.

I was due for a vet visit later, and that gave me time to think about it.   The catheter in her leg had to come out.

When I got to the office I had decided that we should cease all treatment, and only provide Hospice Care.   Make her comfortable and see how it goes.

While waiting to tell the vet this, I weighed her.  She was down another .8 pounds.  

.8 pounds is not shocking except that this was in One Day.

In short, She was telling me “It’s Time” and I had to stop being stubborn.   It isn’t helping her.

We spent an hour at the vet, and everyone came to me and told me that we were doing right by her. 

Armed with some “A/D” food for “Anorexic Dogs”, three tissues to help me from tearing up, and minus one leg catheter I went on my way.   With plenty of goodbyes, and eyes teared, we got in the Jeep and went home.

Lunch with Lettie was different.   All the rules are off.  It’s like giving Grandpa that one last slab of Death By Chocolate when he’s in the hospice and has diabetes.  

I was grilling chicken and she was getting some.  Never mind that the salt would mess with her system from this frozen chicken breast, she wanted it.

In fact, I’m glad I grilled four because she had 1 and 1/2 of them immediately, and another 1/2 at dinner time. 

Real Food makes one feel better even if it is bad for your long term survival.

This morning, syringe feeding the A/D food took me under 10 minutes.   An entire can went into her in that time.  

She looked at me confused when I told her “We’re Done”.   The battle was over and she was expecting more fight.

So you see, she realized it too.  She stepped forward and put her head down and gently on my chest.  Whether it is to show acceptance or thank you I don’t know.

The Final Appointment for that trip across the Rainbow Bridge is scheduled for Wednesday 1PM April 10th, 2013. 

We wanted one last week to enjoy each other.  Eat bad food.  Bark at the plastic duck in the pool.  Sniff the Lemons on the tree.

Dog Stuff.

“We’re Done.”