When the Perfect Dog is not the Perfect Fit

We all have a dream dog, that dog we envision in our lives.  Maybe it is based on a dog we had growing up, or a dog we saw in the movies.  Or a dog we once met and loved – but it is there in your mind and you hope someday you will meet and you will have that amazing bond and everything will just be perfect.

I grew up with a German Shepherd, my first dog as an adult was a German Shepherd mix, and until Shadow the Ultimate Elkhound all my dogs were part German Shepherd.  While I admit to having a few dream dogs when it comes to different breeds, I have always wanted to have another German Shepherd in my life.  But more importantly I dream of a dog that can work with me, and compete with me, and snuggle with me, and join us in the Adirondacks, and help evaluate other dogs, and welcome foster dogs in the home, and just be, well, perfect.  So when I met a 3 year old German Shepherd named Savannah, who liked to swim, who lived with kids, who liked other dogs, and was sweet and smart and beautiful, I had hopes my perfect dog arrived.

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So we brought her home.  In anticipation I stocked up on treats, I got some new toys, I brought out the biggest dog bed we had, and I dreamed.  I saw us winning ribbons, I saw us walking in the woods, I saw us running errands and meeting dogs and working together every day.  And she arrived and she was wonderful, she was smart, she walked like a dream, she learned so fast, and she was so, so sweet.  But things were not easy.

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The cats rebelled, Tabby was overwhelmed, and Savannah was frustrated that Tabby would not play.  Savannah had gotten used to a canine playmate, and in our house no one would join in her games, so she started looking for things to do.  I was happy to offer scent games, puzzle toys, walks and rounds of fetch, but, what Savannah wanted to do most was find the demon that haunted our home.  You see, there was a demon that lived under the coffee table and would come out and hiss at her, sometimes it would even swat at her, and oh, how awesome it was when it ran.  We tried to convince her that it was in fact one of the cats, the cat she had even sat next to and interacted with even, but, no, she did not believe us, we were wrong, there was a demon in the home and we needed to be protected.  And the demon was not just under the coffee table, sometimes it was under the chair, or the dining room table, once it was near the dryer – Savannah was bound and determined to find it.  She would pace and circle and sniff and search and when she found it she would bark until it made fun noises and ran, and that was so much more fun then anything I could offer her to do.

Still we tried, we redirected, we rewarded her for calm behavior around the cats, we gave her a lot to do, we managed the cats and we managed the dogs and we had ups and we had downs.  It was not hopeless, but it also was not easy, and I started to get tired.  Five nights in I came home, sat down and started at this gorgeous girl who could do oh so much, and I re-examined my dream.  While Savannah was a perfect dog, we were not a perfect fit, and I asked myself if it was fair to her to keep trying to make it work?

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Savannah was not at risk, Savannah was not a hard dog to find a home for.  She was young, pretty, sweet and healthy, and she also had been perfectly happy in her foster home with a young active male dog to play with, and most importantly, no cats!   I could work to make her happy, but was it fair to her when there was a home where she just was happy without the work?  I could force the fit, or I could graciously accept she was not the dog we were meant to have.

And so we parted, I said good-bye to my perfect dog, and her foster home said hello once again to theirs.  Because they have realized that while they thought she wanted more, it seemed like what she really wanted was them, and so she is staying with them.

PirateMeanwhile I have opened my home to another foster dog.  And do not think I do not recognize the irony in the fact that a min pin with neurological issues, shaky house training skills and fear of the leash walked in and was a perfect fit with my crew.  Sigh.  I fear we are not destined for normal, and I would not have it any other way.

 

 

 

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Farewell Louie . . .

Saying good-bye today to a very special dog and client. Louie came to class a senior dog with health issues that impacted his mobility and stamina, but that did not stop him from having a blast and rocking the Low Impact Agility course.  Sure, he couldn’t fit in the tunnel but we just let him skip that one (and the teeter) – he didn’t let that stop him from having fun.

Louie taught me a lot and I am going to miss him, and his snuggles.

 

Much love to his family, thank you for sharing him with me, he was truly one of a kind.

Daisie!

Daisie came into our lives when her life turned upside down, and we were happy to have a spot for her.  Daisie arrived a little stressed and unsure, which translated into an easily excitable dog, which meant there were lots and lots of walks that first day helping her burn some of that excitement off.  And after a few days she and Tabby got to hang out a little, although Tabby was not so sure about a new dog . . .

Thankfully Daisie was a good walker, and a quick learner.  She knew the basics (although her recall seemed to require some negotiation), and what she needed most was time and understanding as she found her way.

Daisie was not perfect but she was pretty close, house trained, pretty good on the leash, trustworthy in the house and social with other dogs.  We did have to work on her interest in the cats but calling her name and giving her treats when she caught sight of one reminded her it was more fun NOT to chase.  She also was a bit of a jumper when she got excited, and a demand barking so helping her remember that she was going to get more attention when she was sitting or standing with four on the floor helped.  The demand barking . . . well, dogs are allowed to get excited when it was time for a walk right?

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But poor Daisie lived with a dog trainer so we did have to work on some skills, we practiced sitting to be leashed, we practiced sitting and waiting for her food dish, we practiced check-ins and look backs and lots and lots of recall work.  After she settled in I took her a few places to practice meeting people politely and see how she did with her dog/dog introductions.  I prepped for the long-haul and as fate would have it not even two weeks in I received an application for her.  A nice family with two kids, and a dog savvy cat.  I was not sure how Daisie did with kids but agreed to a home visit with her, and as the kids came out of the house I saw her get far more wiggly and excited to see them then she ever was to see me.  She clearly enjoyed the meet and greet and I was thrilled when they asked if they could take her on trial placement.

Daisie has been with them for two days now and so far so good.  Peppertree Rescue who I foster for places dogs on a two week trial so dogs get a chance to settle into a home and show their true personality.  We still have some time and she is still settling and getting to know them, and they are getting to know her, but I am hopeful for her that she may have found her forever home.

Quarry Quest

Wag It Games’ Quarry Quest is something I did not get the chance to try with my own dog so when I started to teach it I don’t think I realized how much fun it was, now I am a total convert and I think it may be one of my favorite scent classes!  Best of all the dogs seem to really be loving it too.

While I enjoy all the scent games, particularly the Wag it Games scent games, there is a light bulb moment that seems to come with Quarry Quest that never fails to make me smile.  When it clicks you can see it in the dogs, you can see it in the handlers, and it is so much fun.  The dogs start exploring more, they start picking up speed, and their enjoyment is infectious.

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We just finished up our last round of classes and this time I remembered to take some video!   Which is good because people have been asking me what goes on in class.  The basics are that a course is created, with ins and outs and overs and unders, different surfaces and different heights.  Then we take some containers and hide them.  Some have wool, some have poly-fill, and the dogs have to identify which one has the wool.

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Ally, Bonnie (who was not able to make the last class), Jack and Stella had been working for six weeks and they rocked at Quarry Quest – they were exploring, using their noses and working!  And also having fun.  So proud of this group.

You know it is a good class when it ends with tired, happy dogs.

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Saying farewell . . .

Our world is a little quieter, and our carpets are a little less furry, as Shadow, also known as Yaddo, has left us.

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It started with an episode in the middle of the night where he became distressed and listless, a trip to the Emergency Vet revealed fluid around his heart and while a cause could not be determined it was most likely caused by a tumor.  We brought him home to spoil him rotten, hoping for the best but preparing for good-byes.

Good-byes came just a few days later, same circumstances, same trip to the vet, although this trip had a brief stop for cheeseburgers.  When you offer an Elkhound a cheeseburger and they do not take it, you know it is their time.  It was his time, who knew a heart as big as his could give out.  It was not an easy March for us, but we are healing.

When you adopt a senior you know time is limited, and I have learned that you just have to embrace every day.  It is easy to get caught up on keeping them healthy, or keeping them safe, but you cannot forget the fun, the love and the laughter.  With a senior dog, with all dogs really, it is about quality, not quantity, and I am proud to say we made every day we had count.  Shadow had lots of walks, lots of cookies, lots of cuddles, and lots and lots of laughter for three glorious years.  Could he have been trimmer?  Yes.  Better behaved?   Undoubtedly.  Could I have done more medically?  Probably.  But could he have been happier?  No, I don’t think he could of.  Well, no, he would have been much happier if we left him raid the recycling bin and eat the cat food whenever he wanted to, but there are limits, this is not anarchy.

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Shadow was a constant reminder to stay humble, be creative, and laugh.  Because if you did not laugh at his antics your other option was to yell, or to cry, and laughing was so much better.  He would generally laugh along with you, Shadow never took himself too seriously either.

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I have no words of wisdom on handling grief, no poems, not even flowery prose.  I just encourage everyone to hug their dogs a little bit longer, to feed them that extra piece of cheese, and try to find the humor in even their naughtiest behavior.

 

The Heart of a Champion

Tilly is fourteen years old, and has been a much loved family pet for years.  Until now Tilly did not go to class because Tilly did not need class, she has basic obedience down and is generally a mellow girl.  But the family thought that Low Impact Agility looked like fun, and that maybe Tilly might want to try it.  And that is when we realized that inside Tilly beat the heart of a competitor . . .

Tilly is a Low Impact Agility Super Star!  She used to take a minute to run through a course but now she can do it in 30 seconds, and her tail is wagging the whole time.

Best of all her family says Tilly seems to be more relaxed and confident in their home.  When you say “school” she gets excited and runs to the door.  While I love working with all the dogs, dogs like Tilly touch my heart in a special way.  I love seeing these “Elder Dogs” have fun and use their brains and get out and just have fun and all the benefits that come from that.

Allow me to brag . . .

When your 14 year old dog earns his second Wag It Games Sniff It Title you are supposed to brag right?  Shadow earned his fifth qualification in Search last night getting him his Search Wag It Games 1 Title.

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So proud of this boy!  He has only been working for a little over a year and a half and did not start until he was 12 years old, but he took to Sniff It and does it with joy and focus (mostly).  When we were posing for our picture he wanted to go back and look in the tents some more which made me smile – even though he was totally ignoring his recall and doing what he wanted, what he wanted to do was work.  That’s my boy!

And a private victory is Shadow did it while being polite among the other dogs, no barking or staring or kicking up a fuss, Shadow was there and ready to work and relaxed (mostly) around the other dogs.  Time and patience do so much, and yes, old dogs clearly can learn new tricks.

Katy Bug the Brave . . .

What does a beagle do when they come to scent class?  They put their nose to the ground and they get to work!

This video is extra special because just a few months ago Katy was living in a lab being used for pharmaceutical testing and research.  In December she found a home and now she making up for lost time, getting out into the world and experiencing lots of new things.

It has been a pleasure to be a part of helping her learn and build confidence, and watching her and her mom become a team.   I have loved seeing her go from the shy dog, quietly entering class to the dog pulling on the leash excited to use her nose!  When Katy is working she is on a mission and her tail is up, her nose is down, and she knows just what to do.

Happy Birthday Jackson!

When you are taking Beginning Scent Work on your birthday, sometimes the finds are a little extra special!

 

Happy Birthday Jackson, aka Bubs, aka The Cheese Thief!  And thank you for bringing treats to share with your friends.

And great work to all the dogs in class, I’ll be posting more videos soon – you all worked so hard and had such fun it was wonderful working with you.

Sweet Potato Jerky

If you ask my dogs one of the best things about Thanksgiving is the post-Thanksgiving sales on sweet potatoes, because sweet potatoes mean sweet potato jerky!

When you have a chubby senior pup with a thyroid issue treats can be a problem. Well, as far as the Elkhound is concerned the lack of treats is the problem, for me the problem is more finding things that will leave him satisfied without packing on the pounds, so, sweet potato it is!

You can buy sweet potato jerky or you can make it – it is super simple!

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Just cut your sweet potato into either slices or rounds about 1/4 inch thick – you can go a bit thicker but try not to go smaller, they will burn!  And if you can tell by this picture, they are definitely closer to 1/3 inches then 1/4.  Really getting slices the same thickness is most important so they all dry evenly.  If your knife skills need some practice feel free to cut the sweet potato in half first so you can lay the flat side down on the cutting board so they are easier to cut.  It is what I do!

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Once they are cut lay them out on parchment paper and put them in a 250 degree oven for 3 hours.  The low heat will dry them out and make them nice and chewy, but I suggest turning them at least once half-way through.  I admit to being fidgety and flipping them every half-hour or with the idea it will help them dry out more evenly, but there is no method to that madness.

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When they are done lay them on a rack to cool and watch the dogs gather and beg.

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If you like a crispier treat you can but them back in and dry them out a bit longer, no more then a half-hour more is suggested.

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Please store them in the fridge to keep them fresh, they only last about a week though so I like to keep mine in the freezer and take them out a bit at a time at a time.

Ingredients:

  • 1 or 2 Sweet Potatoes

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
  2. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
  3. Wash and dry your sweet potatoes.
  4. Cut the sweet potato in half, lay the flat side on the cutting board and cut into slices about 1/3 to 1/4 inches thick (no thinner then 1/4 inches).
  5. Lay the slices out on the parchment paper and bake for 3 hours, turning over once after an hour and a half.
  6. Remove from tray and place on a cooling rack until cool
  7. If you want a crispier treat you can put them back in the oven for another half hour or so, but watch for browning!