Awareness

Last Saturday was pit bull awareness day, and this week wraps up awareness month. I’ve seen tons of stats, and this one really stayed with me:

On average, 22 people are attacked and killed each year.

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By cows.

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Now you are aware, and I bet from now on, you will cross the street whenever you encounter a cow.

A certain cow-spotted fellow and I are building our awareness.

I now know that when at a vet’s office, to ask what the side effects of steroids are. I won’t go into detail, but let’s just say they were extreme, and had me worried that we’d lost ground in building Bosco’s confidence.

nervous

I am aware that a large dog who consumes 4 quarts of water each day needs to release 4 quarts of water each day, regardless if I am home or not. Bosco is aware that towels are extremely absorbent. The county water authority is aware that I am doing lots of laundry and they will make more money from me this month.

We each became very aware of food. Bosco did not know that wonderful things like peanut butter and cream cheese existed, and does not care that there are pills jammed in them. Now he knows to wait until my back is turned to stand up on the counter and eat out of the containers. Now I know to close lids and put things back right away.

I have experienced the hysteria of an 80 pound dog who thinks he will starve if he has to wait another hour until supper. I am aware that no matter how ravenous he is, he still will not eat green beans or carrots. Even if they are covered in peanut butter or cream cheese.

We are both aware that he can lose all inhibitions and be silly and super-cuddly, and run in circles and sit ON my lap and demand tummy rubs.

And now that the drugs are leaving his system, he’s ready to relax. He is newly aware of the greatest doggie possession that isn’t food – a warm fleece blanket.

fleece

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Ownership

ImageWe interrupt your regularly scheduled blog for a very special announcement…..

Emotionally, Bosco became mine as I drove on I-78, somewhere around the Hellertown exit. Legally, he became mine three weeks later when I handed some cash to BARC shelter and swore I would always do what’s right for him.

I’ve always loved my dogs with all my soul. I’ve also always had this Peanuts cartoon stuck in my head – the one where Lucy says (of Snoopy) to Charlie Brown, “He only likes you because you feeeeeeeed him.” God, Lucy’s a jackass.  But it made me wonder what the dog/person relationship was like from the dog’s side. Is it just food, shelter and security?? I didn’t know.

Until last weekend…..

I became Bosco’s.

Something clicked and took away any remaining doubts he had.  And for once, I actually noticed when it happened. We were on the sofa. His head was on my leg, and I was rubbing him. He twisted around, tilted his head up and we locked eyes.

Yep. Dogs love.

Ever since, he’s never been more than a few feet away. If I go upstairs, he’s coming with. Taking the garbage out? Maybe I should make that bag a little lighter for you and eat something in it. How come I can’t go to work too?

My favorite thing in the whole world is our weekend morning routine. I drink coffee and screw around on my iPad, and he sits with his head in my lap. Having been awake for an interminable 30 minutes, he falls asleep almost immediately, and has woofy, ear flicky dreams, and he eats in his sleep.

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Hanging on a Sunday

The bond really sunk in last Monday. We were out for our morning walk, which is at the same time kids walk to school. There were two girls half a block behind us.

Remember how I said Bosco is a freak deterrent?  Well… I noticed a guy, and my spidey sense told me he wanted to play some “hey baby” game with those girls.  Of course I wasn’t going to let that happen. So I stood 10 feet away from him until they went past, ruining his game.

And Bosco? He picked up on it – and moved so he was standing between me and the freak.  This is the dog who hides behind me when he sees a goose or a group of children. But a freak – a potential threat – he took the lead. And the freak went away.

Bosco knows now, that aside from nose buttering, he has nothing to worry about when he’s in the house. And he’s been a cuddly clown, prancing around and making sure I notice him. He HATES my new workspace, and does everything he can to pull my focus away, mostly by asking for (and receiving) affection.

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“hi”

His last resort is to play “sofa shark,” where he pretends to give up and go sit on the sofa. Then he suddenly pops his head up, and the cutie faces start all over again. I have to explain that work means money, and that means snacks, and he sighs and flops down in resignation.

Image But the best part, when I know that I’ve done right for this dog, and that he is happy, is when I catch his eye. There’s no caution, no worry. No fear.

It may not be a cute YouTube video, but to me, it says “I love you” loud and clear.

Tipping Point

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Professionally, I am known for my attention to detail. But apparently that is not the case in my own home.
 
Bosco’s made huge, huge strides in the last few weeks. I don’t think these changes were like a light switch got flipped.  But apparently I’ve missed all the little things that led up to these moments. So for Bosco it’s a progression, and for me it’s an epiphany.
 
We started working with Robyn right around this time last year. I don’t know if either of us could have pictured the big goofy “woofus” that he’s becoming.
 
Don’t get me wrong – Big Boy enjoys peace and quiet and loves his sleep. But when he’s awake, he wants attention. He’s requesting affection, and enjoying physical contact. Last week, when I was vigorously cuddling him and rubbing his head, I thought it was too much for him, and stopped.  Bosco leaned back into me, tilted his head up and gave me that pittie smile, which said, “more, please.”
 
I was thrilled a few months ago when he understood that he could interact in his environment, and not just be there while things happened around him. Now he understands that he can put in requests. Last weekend he pestered me until we went for a walk.
 
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Yesterday, he decided that watching me play Candy Crush was not how he wanted to spend his day. So he sat in front of me and whined. I took him outside, but that was not what he had in mind, so he went off to pout.
 
And speaking of opinions and pouting…. The top of his nose got awfully dry this week, and it looked like the dryness was spreading. For once I did research before I rushed off to fling my wallet at a vet, and discovered that what would be prescribed is also sold in people stores…an affordable cream called Shea butter.
 
So every night last week, Bosco got his nose buttered. And he was unhappy every time.  Don’t know why.
 
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 I remember a year ago, when I was learning the mechanics of interacting with a big dog – I was standing next to him, looked down and discovered I was standing on his tail.  And he just sat there and didn’t say a thing.  Now, the dog who was too timid to express pain slinks away when he thinks he’s about to get buttered – or get his ears cleaned.
 
But here’s the absolute best part – early one recent morning, I saw something that stopped me dead in my tracks.
 
Bosco was on his back, asking for a tummy rub. Not on his side, not half rolled, not responding to a rub-in-progress. But spine on the floor, front paws tucked up for maximum rubbing room, full-on tummy rub requesting position.

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Rolling back to see why the rubbing stopped

So I was really late to work that day, because damn it, I gave the best tummy rub ever.
 
Qualifying statement: while Bosco being more expressive is wonderful, and exactly what everyone wants to happen, I know that this is where my role as a responsible dog owner will fail or succeed. I am fully aware that this is the time where his training must be reinforced every single second of the day. This is our tipping point – I can’t let him be goofy and out of control.
 
I hear Robyn reminding me of that every time something cute, yet not okay, happens, and we do some homework.  Oddly enough, I’m also hearing her say something else:
 
Bosco needs a treat!

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Fwip Fwip Fwip*

Bosco caught up in scintillating conversation

Bosco caught up in scintillating conversation

I’m trying to decide if Bosco’s progress is really as delineated as it seems.  Are these new behaviors as sudden as a light switch, or am I unobservant and don’t pick up on them until they’re fully developed?

Here’s what happened this week: he’s responding to conversation, and interacting with me more.  Don’t think I’ve gone ’round the bend – we’re not having tea parties, and he’s  not saying “why yes, I would prefer two sugars,” or anything odd like that.  This week it clicked that when I talk to him… I’m talking to him.

And he loves it. He doesn’t have the slightest clue what’s going on (to quote Robyn, he hears “blah blah blah Bosco blah blah blah.”  And of course “snack.” But every time I say something to him, I get these adorable tail flips. I’m assuming its because he’s happy to have been consulted.

And he goes bonkers when I do my bad impression of Frank Nelson’s yeaaaaaaahuuhhssssss” (google it and you’ll know what I mean).  Apparently that’s MUCH more fun to his ears than a simple good boy.

I’ve been working a lot in the evenings, and Bosco’s decided I need project management. He likes to sit nearby and supervise – with his eyes closed. Every so often he will crawl over and nudge me to pet him. And after a few minutes he tells me my break is over and goes back to supervising.

Bosco, keeping me on task

Bosco, keeping me on task

He’s been much more bouncy. He practically does backflips when it’s time to go for a walk.  He’s so excited and runs around the house and woofs, and does face plants on his bed.  We start down the street and he stops in front of my car. And he’s disappointed if we don’t get in it.  Oh, the guilt, I tell you….

Last weekend I took him for a long walk in the park. We got in the car and he was all happy and panty. He tried to squeeze between the front seats so he could see where we were going. He was thrilled when we got to the park, and couldn’t wait to get started down the trail.

Then after a few hundred yards, he realized …. I expected him to walk.  He wasn’t prepared for that. Or excited about it.

It took us two hours to do a two-mile circuit. It was hot, but not unsafe. We stopped to rest and drink water many times. I could tell he wanted me to get the car and come pick him up. We were lapped by dozens of dogs – bigger dogs, tiny dogs, geriatric dogs – even a human toddler went by with less fussing.

On our last stop, he pulled this stunt.

rolling

Our walks are very informal – we both like to wander and explore. But this time, I had to get strict with “heel.” Otherwise I think we’d still be out there.

And that’s when it dawned on me. Through all the years of Bosco being afraid to go for a walk … After all the energy spent teaching him that there was nothing to worry about, that he was safe…. After all the walks around the neighborhood…. There’s still one big issue.

Bosco, at heart, is freaking lazy.

*Regards to Patrick McDonnell for inventing the word “fwip.”

Bosco Thoughts

Bosco is pondering - or pouting - after I took a pen away from him.

Bosco is pondering – or pouting – after I took a pen away from him.

Bosco’s a quiet guy, and he likes to sit back and ponder things.  I can tell he’s having some deep thoughts lately.  Here’s what I think he’s been thinking:

Every song I’ve ever heard has a verse about me and my big feet. I’m famous.

When I have nothing to say, I say nothing. Think about that, humans.

How can it be that every time I’m ready to poop, somebody makes a big noise and wrecks my mood?

Why do people spend time fussing with food? If they’d just eat kibble, they could go to bed at 7:30 like me.

How come I don’t get to use the porcelain flushy thing? It’s raining. I’m tall enough……

Why isn’t there yogurt-covered kibble?

Why should I bring the ball back? You’re the one who threw it.

Why are Yorkies so bossy?

Big boy likes his sleep.

Big boy likes his sleep.

How can I possibly be expected to function on less than 21 hours of sleep each day?

How many pictures of me do you really need?

And most important of all: Life is about sitting in sun puddles.

sun puddle

PS: Why was there a pancake and a pop tart on the sidewalk?

#^%*!

Sleeping is serious business for Bosco.

Sleeping is serious business for Bosco.

Special irony must be noted – I’m writing this while leaning against The Golden Theatre, about half block from where I first met Bosco. He’s home sleeping. Or pouting. Or both.

Okay, every blog I’ve written has been about progress. This time we’re talking about a little different type.

I’ve been so proud of how Bosco’s confidence is growing and growing. But I’m not praising his latest boost.  Last week he growled at me.

And Bosco learned no matter how confident he gets, he will not be top dog.

Now that I’ve got your attention, let me dial back the drama. Here’s the big picture:

As you know, he’s adorable. As you know, I can’t keep myself from cuddling the stuffing out of him. And this dog is VERY serious about his sleep. He puts himself to bed every night at 7:30, and he’s done. The only way to move him then is with a leash and firm commands.

Every night  I spend a few minutes before I go to bed cuddling him. I hunker down and pet him and tell him he’s a good boy. This is usually just before midnight, and he wakes up when I come upstairs, and he gets his cuddling. I always thought he liked it.

But not last week. Maybe he was on edge because nice weather brings squealing children outside and back into his environment (neither of us are particularly fond of them, but alas, their parents seem to want them to play in the sunshine). Maybe he was  mad ‘cuz I’ve been sitting on the sofa and working instead of cuddling him, and when I finally have time for him, he’s not in the mood (God I made that sound like a marriage, didn’t I?). Maybe he decided it’s time to tell me that he hates it when I nod off with my head on his bed.

All very valid points, but he missed the main one. He is not in charge. Not for a single second.

So….

I will admit that I was a little scared when it first happened. It was a very soft growl, and I had to double check to be sure I was hearing it. The look on his face was the same as when he found green beans in his mouth, so I knew it was serious.

My first thought was that I had no clue what the time frame was between Bosco’s warning, and a physical reaction (if there was going to be one). I probably withdrew for a few seconds, which gave him the impression that growling works. I gathered myself, gave him the “no finger” in his face, and spoke sternly. And then I put myself right back where I had been when it started, figuring I didn’t want him to think he’d won.  A few minutes later I resumed cuddling.

And he growled again. Again, we had a firm conversation about roles and responsibilities in our household.  He seemed to get it, and gathered himself for five minutes of cuddling before I turned off the light (oh geeze, that sounds like a BAD marriage!).

The next morning we sat on the sofa together, and had our regular cuddle session. And he growled. I know his issue was that he felt pinned in the corner, but let’s remember – this is nothing new, and he doesn’t get to respond that way.

So again he was reprimanded – more forcefully. I hooked my hand through his collar so he had to look at me. I used the same words as the night before. I kept my voice low and firm. But this time I added a twist – every other word was the f-bomb. That’s what happens when I get mad. Bosco’s never seen me mad.

Here’s what I learned – Bosco knows the f-word. And my meaning sunk in.

Don’t get me wrong – I recognize that solving this issue is totally a two-way street. I have modified my cuddling enthusiasm, and do ease off when he starts getting uncomfortable. But I don’t let him think the two actions are connected.  And I let sleeping dogs lie.

This was a minor hiccup, and our issues have passed. Bosco’s been super affectionate ever since. And I know he knows that “snack” means he’s a good boy, that “suppertime” is an event to celebrate, and “walk” means he gets to run around and leap up in the air.

And that the f-word means game over.

Foods

whatcha eatin?

So Bosco’s not exactly a connoisseur. For his whole life, his fine dining experience has been:

Morning: kibble in a bowl.

Evening: kibble in a bowl.

Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat……

Not that I have a problem with that. I learned the hard way that if you give a certain food to a dog once, he assumes that he will always get to eat that food. For nine years, my beagle and I shared tomatoes, strawberries, carrots, green beans, apples, jalapeños, etc. etc. etc.

It’s rather strange to have the opposite experience with Bosco. Just last night I was having a classy dinner of chipotle cod with shredded Brussels sprouts and caramelized onions. In front of the teevee. With Bosco sitting next to me. See, classy. I got up to refill my drink, and left my plate on the arm of the sofa. When I came back…..

There was my plate, on the arm of the sofa, with my food still on it. I know this is a very wonderful thing, but seriously – what dog does that?

I know that breed differences play into this – breed books describe beagles as “food motivated” – which really means “95% of the dog is stomach, and the other 5% is a big voice so he can yell that he wants something to eat.” At 29 pounds, I could not wrestle unauthorized food away from him. I figured Bosco’s 76 pounds would present an even greater challenge.

Shortly after he moved in, we were taking our regular walk and happened upon a pancake on the sidewalk. You are going to be dumbstruck and get caught up in wondering why there was a pancake on the sidewalk. I urge you to let it go – it’s one of life’s unsolved mysteries.

So Bosco found the pancake and picked it up. Out of habit, I firmly said “leave it,” but didn’t expect him to respond (we were still working on sit, heel, etc. at this time). But someone at BARC must have taught him that. He stood with the pancake hanging from his mouth, then gently placed it back exactly where he found it.

When I adopted Bosco, I had a list of questions for BARC, so that I could keep his basic care consistent. It seems that I misinterpreted the feeding instructions. After a few months, Bosco’s doctor let me know that he was 14 pounds too cuddly, and I needed to cut back on his food.

Up until that moment, he was still cautious about eating. He wouldn’t eat when I was watching, and often left food in his bowl (duh!). Starting a diet changed that – he went to town on his kibble the second I set it down, and was very aware that there were fewer of them. And he was not happy about it. I tried to make up the volume by adding green beans to his meals. That would have been nirvana to a beagle. The first time I did it to Bosco, he stood and stared at the bowl, as if saying “What.The. F%#*.” He did not eat that meal.

The second time I did it, he tried to remedy the situation. Using his blunt snout, he shoveled the green beans out of his dish, so he could just eat kibble. But things went terribly wrong, and he stood wide-eyed and frozen in place – the same look and stance as when he feels threatened.

There were still beans. And they were too close. They were

In.

His.

Mouth.

The horror. The horror.

But not every new food is a bad thing. One foolish day, I’d decided to take Bosco to get his nails trimmed, and then to meet some people at work. In the middle of a thunderstorm. I know now that this is Bosco’s Bermuda Triangle. He got so upset that he had diarrhea. For FIVE straight days.

before the doggie kaopectate kicked in.

before the doggie kaopectate kicked in.

Doggie kaopectate costs $110.

I would pay much more.

The other part of the prescription was for a bland diet. And Bosco went from “oh poor me, I don’t feel good, please rub me while I lay on the sofa,” to “I like chicken and rice. When’s supper time?”

I know that he will soon discover that I make lots of good food. And that he’s really tall and that no surface is out of his reach. And that no matter what he does, he will always be an adored member of this household. When he figures that out, it’s back to high food security.

But not tonight. I burned dinner. There’s smoke and swearing. He’s glad I didn’t wreck his kibble.