Saturday, December 19, 2009

Blizzard of 2009

We're pretty sure this is Zorro's happiest day ever, or at least in recent memory. We woke up to six inches of snow and it continued to fall all day; forecast calls for blizzard conditions and total accumulation of up to 20 inches. Zorro couldn't get enough of it, even though some of the drifts were up to his waist and the snow covered his face and eyes. We've taken him on three walks already and chased him around the yard a bunch of times and if it were up to him we'd still be out there.

D.C. blizzard 2009

The Beaver moon

There's never a dull moment when Zorro notices the mid-day moon on the rise. No peace till he barks the lunar orb into submission and it thankfully disappears from the sky.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

O Christmas tree

Early morning wake up Saturday from Zorro, who spotted a crescent moon through the glass doors to our deck in WV. Closing the curtains didn't calm him much, because he knew it was out there. So I finally got up once it was light enough to see and took him for a walk.
One of his many oddities is that he doesn't bark at the moon when he's outside; only when he sees it through the window of the house or car. Instead, he wants to run very fast, as if he's some kind of superhero who derives his superpowers from the moon. So we can always count on a vigorous run when the moon is up in the morning.
Took him to Shriver's to cut down our Christmas tree, an annual ritual for us. Shriver's is located on top of a mountain and is such a lovely piece of property that we worry every year that it will be sold to developers. Zorro enjoyed sniffing the firs and didn't even bark at the owner's black lab.
Rainy and dreary today so no moon worries tonight.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

First snow

Our first snow of the season and the first since we adopted Zorro. We got about three inches in Berkeley Springs. What made it special was that it was a wet, heavy snow that coated the tree branches and transformed our yard into a giant doily.
Not surprisingly, Zorro loved it. He wanted to eat the snow, romp in the snow, bury his nose into the snow. The only problem occurred last night, when the sky cleared and the moon came up. The reflection from the snow made the moon brighter than usual, with predictable results. Even with the curtains closed, Zorro could see the moonlight, prompting an explosion of barking. He finally calmed down and went to sleep around midnight.
We took advantage of the wintry background to take photos of Zorro for our Christmas card. He was not thrilled to wear a Santa hat and we had a hard time getting him to stay still and look into the camera. There were too many other things in the snow that he wanted to see.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


Thanksgiving 2009: 11 people, 4 golden retrievers, one border collie. The good news: the toilet didn't overflow, and no blood was shed.
Plenty of fur flew, though. When Mom and Dad arrived with their two goldens on Wednesday, Zorro sniffed them, circled them, and immediately jumped them as soon as they tried to walked away. Not a good start. I kept the peace by keeping them separated--Zorro on the porch while Binky and Biscuit were inside, or vice versa. When Chip's family arrived with their two dogs on Thursday,, we decided to put all of the animals on the porch and, in my mother's words, "let them work it out." Here's how they worked it out: Zorro herded all the dogs into a corner, and spent the rest of the day keeping them there. We didn't have to worry about having any dogs underfoot during dinner. Zorro took care of that.
Back in Arlington now with clear skies and a waxing gibbous moon. The sheet is over the bay window and the pillow case is over the front door.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Enemies around us

Warm fall day, so everyone is out raking leaves. We ended up doing it manually because a) the leaves are too wet for the leaf blower, and b) Zorro attacked the leaf blower. Looks like I'll have to take him for a walk next time Denny wants to use it. We put it back in the shed with his other arch enemies, the lawnmower and the weed-whacker.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Wildlife in Arlington

A wild morning. While Denny and Zorro were returning from their run, Zorro began to act erractically, sniffing wildly and pulling on the leash. The reason soon became apparent: a deer raced by them, scattering runners on the bike path. Zorro has become accustomed to seeing deer in West Virginia but probably didn't know what to make of a city deer.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Uncomplicated dogs

A friend at work has been fostering a black lab for possible use as a service dog. Next spring, the pup will undergo a battery of tests to test his aptitude for the job. Only about 40% of dogs fostered for the program are accepted. So the friend is looking for potential owners if this dog doesn't make the cut when he takes the exam in May.
He would be an ideal dog: already trained, well-behaved and socialized. The friend owns two border collies. Denny thinks he might make a good pal for Zorro, and possibly even calm him down. So we're on the list (I suspect these dogs aren't hard to place). It would be just our luck that Zorro would teach him to bark at the moon.
Moon is on the rise so need to go put up the sheet ...

Monday, November 2, 2009

Being proactive

Big bright full moon tonight so I have a sheet hanging in the bay window AND a pillow case over the front door window (because the moon is shining right through). Thank you, Patricia McConnell, for giving me permission to hide the moon.
Maybe later I'll take Zorro outside to look at it.

Dogs everywhere

Took Zorro for what I had planned to be a short run yesterday afternoon, but it ended up being a real test of endurance and patience. It seemed like every dog in Arlington and surrounding jurisdictions was out for a walk. Maybe it was because daylight savings time ended Saturday and everybody wanted to get a walk in before dark.
Normally, when I see another dog coming I'll try and take a sideways route, or head in the other direction. But yesterday, it seemed like every time I turned around, I encountered another dog coming towards us.
Zorro did pretty well, considering. I put him into multiple "sit-stays" and ran out of treats pretty fast. He didn't bark or lunge--although he sure did crain his neck--until the very end, when he lost it over a wiry white dog coming down the path by our house. I think that dog started it; he was yanking on his leash and trying to get at Zorro.
When we got back inside the gate, Zorro raced around the yard, probably overcome by pent-up energy. But it wasn't too long before he was knocked out, and as the trainers like to say, a tired dog is a good dog.
Now that the weather is cooler, he wants to run forever. This morning, we came up behind one of the women who participates in boot camp near our house. She was running with some difficulty, and I was tempted to ask her if she wanted to borrow my dog. He'll speed up anyone's pace.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Trying to be a good dog

Maybe what sustains owners of difficult dogs is the belief that deep down, their dog really wants to be a good dog. At least that's what I think about Zorro. He wants so badly to bark at the window, or lunge at other dogs in the park, but knows he's not supposed to. So the internal struggle continues. But I do feel he's trying.
He was sorely tested Wednesday night, when our neighbor inexplicably left her little yappy dog out in the yard until after 1 AM. Zorro wanted so badly to bark back. What made it so frustrating is that the yappy dog would bark, Zorro would stifle a bark (guided by a stern "enough" from me), and then the yappy dog would bark AGAIN. By Thursday morning, both of us were exhausted and slept in.
Denny returns today so I won't be walking him solo any more. Good walks all week, although the good weather has turned everyone into a dog walker, which means I'm always on the lookout for other dogs. He tried to herd the neighbor's leaf blower when we got home yesterday. The yappy dog thought it was great fun.
Reading Patricia McConnell's "For the Love of a Dog," which isn't as readable as "The Other End of the Leash" but still quite good. Finished the chapter last night on how to read your dog's facial expressions. Zorro mostly looks worried.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Making new friends

Had company last night and everyone adored Zorro, although I thought he was a little too adorable; he kept nuzzling John and Mary Ann for more attention. They have a mixed-breed hound whose reaction to foxes is similar to Zorro and the moon, so we shared notes.
Before they got here, I watched Babe on HBO. I had seen it before, but watching it as a border collie owner is a new experience. The BCs in the movie are stunning. Unfortunately, I think I read somewhere that the movie led to an increase in adoptions of border collie puppies--many of whom ended up in shelters or rescues. (someone me a lot of labs ended up in shelters after the Marley movie came out, for the same reason.)
Quiet night except for a short bark at 2:15. Maybe our neighbor came home late.
Finally stopped raining so we had a brisk early walk this morning, and had the entire park and bike path to ourselves. When we got back, I let Zorro loose in the yard and he went wild; tearing all over the yard with his rope, daring me to catch him. Maybe the cold weather energized him. Home today so we can get in a couple more walks before the work week starts.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Along with a dog

Denny is off to Detroit for a week so it's Zorro and me and more bad weather. I did a radio interview from home this morning and worried that he might bark during the program (it was about credit cards, so might have been appropriate) but he lay there quietly throughout.
It's dark early now, and Denny said an off-leash dog appeared out of nowhere during his walk with Zorro this morning. Zorro didn't bark or lunge; he just wagged his tail and wanted to play. He did get a little agitated when the dog bounded away, probably because he couldn't understand why the game is over.
I'm still being a coward on our walks, avoiding dogs when possible. Ended up taking a long loop last night because while were walking in a wooded area near the pool--where we hardly ever see any dogs--I saw a man with two good-sized black dogs coming toward us. There didn't seem an easy way to get past them so instead of turning around we went out to the road and up the back path. Zorro was fine with that.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Fair weather dog?

When we were considering getting a border collie, everything I read from the border collie experts--I think of them now as the BC Police--emphasized the we MUST be willing to exercise our dog in all kinds of weather: snow, sleet, rain, tornadoes, whatever. Well, these people don't know Zorro. It has rained most of this week and he can't understand why I keep hauling him outside. Denny took him out this morning, and they were back in less than 20 minutes. Recalling Zorro's earlier weather phobias, I asked Denny if Zorro had been afraid. "He wasn't fearful, he was annoyed," Denny said. When the rain intensified, Zorro tried to walk under the trees, so he wouldn't get wet. Another argument in favor of getting an older dog.
An otherwise calm week: took him out last night (only a light rain) and we encountered a guy walking his dog. I directed Zorro off the path and got him in a sit. He did pretty well--he strained to look but didn't bark--but he was definitely tested, because the dog walker stopped to talk on his cellphone! I can't imagine what was so important that he couldn't put down the phone and walk his dog. I ended up walking Zorro in the other direction.

Monday, October 12, 2009

It's OK to hide the moon

Bad morning Friday. We put Zorro in the Subaru to take him to day care, and as soon as he saw the moon through the car window, he lost it. Even nipped me when I tried to subdue him. I did manage to keep him under control for the rest of the ride, basically by keeping him in a lie-down until we reached our destination.
Later that morning, I had an opportunity to interview Patricia McConnell, an animal behaviorist and author of "The Other End of the Leash." She was so easy to talk to that I couldn't resist telling her about Zorro. She was both intrigued and sympathetic. She offered a couple of suggestions: she said we could try letting him look at the moon and rewarding him with a treat for not barking. For the car, she suggested something called a "calming cap," which isn't a blindfold but does restrict what a dog can see. It's worth a try.
But here's the best part: she told me it's perfectly OK to cover the windows when the moon is up. "Trainers do that all the time!" she said. She is my hero.
After Friday's tantrum, we had a great weekend: lots of walks and no moon to worry about on the way home.
Here's a link to the feature I wrote on Dogtopia, which is where Zorro goes to day care.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Another full moon

Lots of drama this week. Clear nights and a big hunter's moon. To maintain peace at night, I've resumed hanging a sheet in the front bay window. The neighbors probably think I'm hiding a meth lab in my kitchen.
The sheet wasn't enough on Monday, because the moon shone through the window in the front door. So I ended up taping a pillow case over that.
He is less wild than he used to be when the moon was up, and when he's outside, he doesn't bark at it at all (although he definitely takes note of it and wants to run fast). And indoors, he'll stop and lie down when I tell him "enough." Trouble is, when he gets up, the moon is STILL THERE. Redirecting works pretty well when the source of excitement is temporary--such as a dog walking by or someone at the door. None of the books I've read offer suggestions on how to redirect a dog from something that doesn't go away.
There is, however, an interesting discussion on a border collie message board I follow about spinning. A couple of BCs rescued from a puppy mill in Tennessee--where dogs were confined in small, filthy cages--engage in mad, OCD, spinning behavior. Apparently, this is not unusual behavior for dogs that have been kept in close quarters: the poor dog is bored and has nowhere to go so he spins. Since we believe Zorro was also confined for long periods, maybe barking at the moon is his version of spinning.
In other drama, on Tuesday, Zorro terrorized a golden retriever on the path. Denny put him in a sit but he still barked ferociously, lunged and made a little girl cry. So we still have a lot of work to do on the socialization front.
On a more positive note, we took him with us Tuesday to meet some friends at a bar in Falls Church. Left Zorro in the truck and he was perfectly fine with that; sometimes I think he'd be happy spending the rest of his life there. We brought some of our friends out to meet him and they were impressed with his affectionate and good behavior. I guess we are fortunate that he has no issues with people.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A second chance

Received a lovely email yesterday from Sallie Williams, the Blue Ridge Border Collie volunteer who fostered Zorro before we adopted him in May. I recently updated her on Zorro's progress.

Thank you for the info on Zorro. Prozac can really help a dog get through hard times. I have seen it work and then a dog can be weaned off it in a year or two. Im so glad you did not give up on the boy. So many border collie's like Zorro never get a chance with life when problems arise. Thank You on Zorro's behalf. sally

I check out their website, from time to time. The young dogs usually get adopted pretty quickly, but the older ones--like Zorro--are harder to place. Right now, they're looking for a home for a 9-year-old border collie named Skip who, according to the website, has the energy of a 3-year-old. But I fear Skip will be a hard sell. I'd adopt myself, but right now, Zorro is all we can manage. Half moon high in the sky this week ...

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A new dog

Haven't written for a few days because I've been out of town. Zorro is making amazing progress in overcoming his fears. I took him for a run this afternoon and he didn't want to come home. Such a change from a few weeks ago, when he didn't want to wander more than 10 feet from our back gate.
We still have work to do. He continues to bark at the moon, or what he thinks is the moon. Today was overcast, with the sun peaking out from the clouds. That was enough for Zorro: he barked most of the way home from Berkeley Springs.
He understands when I say "enough" that he's supposed to stop barking. The trouble, though, is that when he goes back to the window, the moon is STILL THERE, triggering another round of barking.
We also need to work on his behavior with other dogs. Last week, Denny went running with him before work and didn't see a little white dog right in their path. Zorro pounced on the dog (maybe he thought it was a sheep?) Denny was able to pull him off and I don't think any harm was done, but I'm sure the owner didn't appreciate having a 56-pound border collie on top of her dog.
My strategy is one of constant vigilance: if I see a dog coming, I try to get Zorro off the path, or if that's not possible, turn him around. That works pretty well; from a distance, he will sit and stay, but if we get too close, he loses it.
We had an interesting encounter during today's run. As we were approaching the top of a hill, I saw a woman with two dogs on long leashes approaching the path from a side street. I put Zorro in a sit/stay. Then, one of the dogs became entangled with a biker, resulting in a typical Arlington confrontation.
The dog woman insisted that it was a footpath, available to all, and the biker insisted that she was violating Arlington's 10-foot leash law. That caused the woman to say, "There should be a law against your shorts!" The man responded, "There should be a law against your mouth!" Meanwhile, poor Zorro was stuck in a sit/stay, waiting for permission to proceed. I was very glad I didn't have a dog in that fight.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Back from a week in Cape Cod. Zorro survived and I did, too.
We boarded him at Dogtopia, where he goes for daycare, for part of the week and Melissa stayed with him for the second half. He was a little unnerved by his time at Dogtopia; they let the dogs out during the day but crate them at night and I suspect Zorro wasn't crazy about that arrangement. Dogtopia people say he was a "little growly" at night and barked. And he looks a little thinner, so I suspect he didn't eat regularly while he was there (our old dog Snoop had the same problem. I think rescue dogs don't do well in kennels. Reminds them of their time at the shelter).
He fared better once Melissa picked him up and took him home, but woke her twice one night with mad barking. I put the sheet up in the bay window but suspect he saw the moon through the upstairs skylight. This is very hard to explain to someone who isn't used to Zorro's moon madness. Fortunately, he slept the other nights she was here. Probably because it was overcast.
Melissa took him to a dog park while she had him and he did OK, although he spent most of the visit going up to people, not dogs. Denny and I took him back there on Sunday and he was a good dog park citizen. He played a little with other dogs but mostly explored the parameters. Classic BC behavior. That's OK: I think it's good to expose him to new places and new dogs.
He still gets very excited when he sees other dogs on our walks so I'm working on that. I get pretty good results when I put some distance between us and the other dog and tell him to sit and stay.
The best news is that he seems to be getting over his global fears. We've been going for long run/walks in the morning and afternoon. I expected him to stay close to home tonight because it's overcast but we went out several times and he was confident and curious. It appears that time and Prozac are working their magic.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

September morning

Fall-like weather has arrived and everyone has extra pep in his step, including Zorro. Excellent run this morning and when we got back to the yard, he didn't want to come inside, preferring a game of "keep away" with the frisbee. I complied. While on the path, I saw a woman simultaneously reading a book and walking her dog. Needless to say, the dog was NOT a border collie.

Monday, August 31, 2009

As usual, two steps forward, one step back. Frantic barking last night when the moon rose. It's a half moon and this time of year hangs up there for a while. I spent a good part of the evening calling him away from the window, telling him to lie down and stay, giving him a treat, only to repeat a few minutes later when he rediscovered the moon. More work needs to be done. The neighbor's dog also sets him off when she barks, which is often.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Learning to accept the moon

Good run today, after some initial hesitation. Went in the other direction, towards the rose garden, and ran the entire time, with a few stops to sniff the bushes. Passed a few dogs and each time I pulled him off the path and told him to sit. He's getting pretty good about that, although sometimes it's obvious he's struggling. I'm being somewhat of a coward: I usually put plenty of distance between us and the other dog, and if there's nowhere to go sideways, I put us in reverse. We did see a little white dog this morning that I think he's tried to jump in the past with Denny (maybe he thinks it's a sheep) but we managed to avoid any problems by detouring onto the ballfield.
When we got back, he ran around the yard and didn't want to come in right away, which is unusual. I finally put the leash on him and brought him inside. We still have a lot of work to do with recall. He pretty much comes when he feels like it now.
The moon (waning crescent) sets around 10 this week, which means it becomes visible above the trees around 9-9:30. I've been letting him out in the yard when it's out, which leads to some running around and barking, but it's not as frantic as it used to be. Sometimes, we go for a moonlight run. I've read that you shouldn't let your dog get too agitated close to bedtime, but wonder if that mainly applies to puppies. Zorro has been sleeping like a stone.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

On the road again

I haven't written for a few days because things have been delightfully normal, or as normal as they're ever going to be with a border collie. Zorro's fears seem to be abating--maybe the Prozac has kicked in--and we've been going for good runs all week. Or as good as they're going to get in August, when it's 90 degrees and humid. He has even gone into the park after work, which is something he hasn't done for months.
He was somewhat hesitant this morning, which didn't surprise me, because the forecast calls for thunderstorms (and Zorro is better than the Weather Channel at predicting bad weather). He didn't want to venture far from the gate, so we took a couple of runs to the corner.
I was about to give up on the park when a young woman ran by with a small BC mix. She immediately recognized us because back in May, on one of our first walks, Zorro jumped that dog. The woman was very understanding because hers is a rescue dog, too. She said Zorro seemed "stressed" which was an understatement.
Today, I got him in a "sit, stay" and he behaved himself as they went by. Once they were in front of us, we followed them into the park. On the way back, we saw about five dogs coming our way--6:30 must be prime time for dog walking. I was able to get Zorro instead our gate before we got too close. He has been behaving pretty well with other dogs, but what was coming our way looked an awful lot like a herd, so I decided not to press my luck.
He's also gotten much better about barking at the window. He really wants to, but knows he shouldn't, so often it comes out as a slightly strangled yelp. When he does give in, he'll usually respond to my command to come away, so I feel like we're making real progress there. The real test will come when the moon returns.
YouTube is replete with examples of borders that are much weirder than ours. Here's our current favorite:

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Happy feet launched a pet blog today. The dog paws in the photo illustration at the top belong to Zorro. Not sure whose cat that is. Zorro was very patient while Denny took many pictures of his feet.
Quiet night last night after a raucous night before. I usually hang a sheet over the bay window but this week the moon is an angle that causes it to shine through the window above the front door. I became aware of his fact around 1 AM, when I was awakened by an explosion of moon barking. It took several "come aways" and cloud cover to calm him down. Last night, I taped a pillow case over the window.
Storm clouds this morning so Zorro was initially reluctant to go far from the back gate. We loitered there until a woman with a little black curly-haired dog strolled by and followed them into the park. Then, jackpot: a guy sped by on his bike, with his dog running along side him. It just doesn't get any better than that. We ran after them for a while, then took a detour by the tennis courts, where we picked up a woman running with a large terrier. Returned home tired but energized.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Murmuring at the moon

When I opened the door this morning, the moon was clearly visible and Zorro let out a couple of barks. But he's beginning to understand that he's not supposed to do that, even before I say "enough." He swallowed a yelp, and then he stopped.
He is energized by the morning moon, though. We dashed out the fence gate to the sidewalk. At first, he didn't want to go into the park, but a couple of women ran past us, and that was enough of a distraction, so off we went (fortunately, he doesn't try to herd runners). Down to the park, across the bridge, over to the tennis courts, and then in the other direction to the soccer field. Even though it was pretty humid and it stormed last night--prompting him to seek cover in the basement--he seemed unfazed and unafraid. Prozac? The waning gibbous moon? Who cares? It was a good run.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Eyes on the prize

Zorro needs a job. If he has something to do, his fears disappear. So I'm constantly looking for distractions.
On Saturday morning, he didn't want to go far from our driveway in WV. So I loitered around the road with him until the guy who lives above us, Bill, made his daily trip to pick up the newspaper. He drives a red pickup truck and takes his dogs--three yappy little beasts--with him. They bark all the way down the hill.
I pulled Zorro over to the side of the road, and Bill yelled hello above the barking. Then, once he was past us, Zorro and I took off after the truck, following it down the hill for a vigorous run.
I realize some this may sound like I'm encouraging my dog to chase cars. But I don't think Zorro was interested in the truck. He was interested in the dogs inside it. (who are cowards, by the way. If you so much as look at them sideways, they take off into the tall grass).
This morning, I caught an even bigger break that did not involve moving vehicles. On our first venture out, Zorro didn't want to go past the woodshed, so after he took care of his business, I brought him back inside. Then, after we finished breakfast, Denny saw a guy and a black lab run past our house. We're pretty sure he was renting a place nearby because we had never seen him before.
The road deadends at the top of the hill, so when they came back down I was ready. I slapped the leash on Zorro, who was watching them with intense interest from the porch, and we were off. They had enough of a head start that we didn't catch up to them--don't want to scare the tourists--but that didn't deter Zorro. We tore down the hill and didn't stop until we got to the mailboxes. Zorro would have gone farther but it was hot and I was feeling the effects of two cups of coffee and bacon and eggs. So we turned around and ran home. We were both out of breath by the time we got back so I felt we got our exercise for the day.
The forecast this week is standard August torpidity: temps in the 90s and the possibility of thunderstorms later in the week. If Zorro wants to stay close to home, he won't get an argument from me.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Zorro went out on the porch this morning, looked right at the almost-full moon (which hadn't set yet; have I mentioned we've become very cognizant of when the moon rises and sets?) and did ... nothing. No barking or stomping. Is it the Prozac?
I've had pretty good success this week in getting him to stop barking by saying, calmly, "Enough," calling him away from the window, and giving him a treat once he's quiet. Patrician McConnell recommends this is "The Other End of the Leash" and it's pretty effective, as long as I get him before he gets really excited.
Unfortunately, I haven't figured out a way to discourage him from barking in the first place. Last night, our neighbor was in and out of her front door several times and every time her screen door squeaked, he barked. Each time, I called him away and he calmed down. Then the door squeaked and we went through the exercise all over again. Finally our neighbor went to bed and so did we.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

A good impression

We had our first houseguests since adopting Zorro this weekend and he acquitted himself extremely well. No jumping or barking, and when we had dinner, he sat quietly off to the side. I did close the curtains when the moon rose above the trees; I didn't want to worry about a moon meltdown when we had company.
We had a big thunderstorm in the middle of the night and this time, he sought safety in the bathroom instead of the basement. Fortunately, none of our guests got up in the middle of the night to pee; finding a big black and white dog in the shower at 3 AM could be alarming.
He did have some barking eruptions on the way home, apparently because he thought he saw the moon in some cloud formations. But Denny managed to get him to lie down, so I feel like we're making progress. When he quiets down, he gets a treat. Hopefully he hasn't figured out that this is an easy way to score lots of treats.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Waiting for fall

A discouraging week. Erica, our trainer, came over last night to see how Zorro is doing. She was impressed that we made it through the 15-day protocol and Zorro showed her he knows the "touch" command. But when she suggested we try to do some exercises out on the desk, he "shut down," as Erica puts it. Her basic message: let's hope the Prozac works.
Of course, it doesn't help that we're in for another round of thunderstorms. Today is cloudy and threatening so I haven't been able to get Zorro out of the yard.
Erica also gave us the name of a veterinary behaviorist (in Gaithersburg, ugh) we could consult if the Prozac doesn't help. She suggested that this problem could be caused by everything from faulty mental wiring to food allergies.
Everything I've been told and read says that it takes two weeks to a month to see results from Prozac so I guess we have to be patient.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The tyranny of fear

The list of border collie phobias continues to grow. So far, I've heard about border collies who are afraid of:
--Cell phone rings
--Ceiling fans
(that last one reminded Denny of this:
I received an interesting email from Sallie, who fostered Zorro before we adopted him. She said his behavior is classic border collie. Some studies have suggested that BCs are so wired for sound that when they don't have sheep to herd, the sensory overload leads to fears. If we could trace Zorro's bloodlines I'm sure he has very strong herding blood in him," she said. "You have a true Border Collie."
We started Zorro on Prozac on Friday, which Sallie thinks will help. Too soon to determine whether it's working. Luckily, he doesn't seem to be suffering any side effects. Maybe a little more tired than usual but it's almost August in Washington so everybody is moving pretty slowly.
This morning, he was anxious and fearful and at first I thought I wouldn't get him out of the yard. Then he smelled something interesting near the fence so that got us outside the gate. Once on the other side, we found a couple of dogs to tailgate for a while, so we got some running in. As long as he has a dog to focus on, he forgets about the sky. But we can only get away with this for so long, because once we catch up with the dog, Zorro wants to herd him, and Zorro is faster than most dogs. Maybe we can rent a greyhound.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Odd behavior

Border Collies may be weird, but I think some of their owners are even weirder. Too tweets I found today after doing a Twitter search for "border collies:"

pilates in the same room as my ridiculously codependent border collie getting out of control. An hour in the yard wont kill her.

My countenance and soul is an internal struggle between a large angry black woman and a border collie.

Blind rage

OK, so maybe I should have anticipated this.
While we were at work Monday, a "stump jumper" came to our house to remove some woody old azaelas that have become magnets for invasive weeds. These azaelas are located on the side of our house.
Because it's so narrow there, the stump jumper was unable to use his equipment; he had to remove them manually. This cost extra. On the upside, we figured, the process would be quieter, and wouldn't unsettle Zorro.
Late Monday, I discovered that the lower slats of blind over the window in the guest bedroom--which looks out over that section of the yard--was covered with teeth marks and gashes. Pieces of the blind were on the floor. (note: this is not a cheap blind).
Denny called the stump jumper, who said Zorro was highly agitated by the axe he used to remove the azaelas. Every time he swung the axe, he could hear Zorro raging on the other side of the window and said he feared he would come right through the screen. He said he felt sorry for Zorro--he's the owner of a rescue lab, which speaks to both to his character and common sense--and tried to calm him from the outside, but was unsuccessful.
So now the cost of our stump removal has gone up by $150. Off to the vet today for blood tests.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Plays well with others (most of the time)

Friday was Zorro's first experience with doggie day care. Dogtopia is located near our office in Tyson's Corner, so putting Zorro in there on Fridays allows us to go to straight to WV after work. Snoop was a regular there before he died and was much loved by the staff. I had some worries about Zorro, though, given his recent aggressive behavior towards dogs on the path and overall anxiety.
I took him in Thursday for his evaluation, which involved introducing him to six of their regular dogs. The staffer, Mark, said he growled at a couple of the dogs "when they got up in his face," but he didn't seem to think that was a big deal. They also check the dogs for "handling" and Zorro passed that with ease; he loves people.
We dropped him off there on Friday morning and I kept my cellphone close by all day, half expecting to get a call telling me to come get my crazy dog. Fortunately, that didn't happen. When Denny went to pick him up, the staffer at the desk told him it was an "eventful" day. They started him in the lounge, on the theory that it would be less stressful, but he got into a stand-off with a "bully boxer" (does that mean the boxer started it? I hope so). Then they moved him into the gymnasium, where, according to the staffer, "he made lots of friends." He also humped a lot of his new friends, she said, so I guess he felt the need to assert dominance. The staffer mentioned that there's one dog there "that everybody humps," which is pretty sad.
Anyway, he was tired at the end of the day, which is always good, and I'm hoping being around other dogs will make him less aggressive on our walks. He was pretty anxious this weekend; didn't want to go far on the towpath or on walks in near our home. Talked to the vet about starting him on Prozac to see if that will reduce his anxiety.
I've become somewhat obsessed with a border collie message board. Partly, I use it because I find a lot of good advice about training, behavior, rescue dogs, etc. But it also helps me to read about dogs with problems that are worse (or weirder) than Zorro's: dogs that are afraid of men, dogs that are afraid of men wearing hats, dogs that twirl, dogs that guard their food and toys, dogs that bite. Someone once pointed out that people only write about their problem dogs, so reading the boards can give someone an unfairly negative view of border collies (or dogs in general). But I still find it comforting to know that it could be a lot worse.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Morning moon and other trials

A tough week. On Monday morning, we drove back from WV, with Zorro in the back of the truck. Ordinarily, he's great in the car or truck. But this week, the moon sets late in the morning. He could see it from the truck window, and went nuts, resulting in a harrowing drive for driver (me) and passenger (Denny). Denny got him to stop temporarily by swatting him on the nose with a magazine, which he did not like at all. But after a few minutes, he would start up again. Looks like we may need to get curtains for the truck.
Walks have also been a challenge this week: he's started jumping and leaping at other dogs. He isn't aggressive: given the opportunity to get up close to a dog, he usually just wants to circle it in a playful way. But other dogs and their owners don't know that. They just see a 56-pound black and white dog straining against his leash and are rightfully intimidated. As of yesterday, we are back to using the head halter, which he doesn't like but does help maintain control. We encountered a brown and white spaniel on our walk this morning and I successfully got him to sit and stay until the dog passed.
Other rescue dog adopters tell me that a certain amount of backsliding isn't unusual. Even the Adopt A Pet Bible says that some dogs will show some JD tendencies after they've settled into their new home.
Meanwhile, we are on Day 7 of the Protocols of Relaxation. Hard to say it's working, given recent events. But he's doing pretty well with the exercises, which now involve me disappearing for a few seconds while he remains in stay position. Mostly he looks bored which I guess is the goal.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Pavlov's coffee grinder

Denny reminded me to write about the coffee grinder.
Every morning, after his walk, I give Zorro his breakfast. Then I put the beans in the coffee grinder and turn it on. This causes Zorro to bark a couple of times. Then he runs to his dog bowl and eats all of his food.
This reaction is so predictable that on a couple of occasions when I wasn't making coffee but wanted him to finish his food, I turned on the grinder. Worked every time.
We have wondered whether this goes back to his time in the shelter: maybe someone rang a buzzer before bringing in the dogs' meals.
Somewhat of a setback yesterday afternoon: when Denny took Zorro out for a walk, he saw someone walking two dogs and completely lost it. Went into his crouch, then leapt at the dogs so intensely that Denny could hardly control him. That was a disappointment because I thought he was getting better around other dogs. Maybe two looks like a herd to him. But if this continues, we'll have to go back to the Gentle Leader collar, which he doesn't like but offers better control.
Brief fireworks last night which caused him to run around the house but they ended early and Zorro was quiet all night. The moon rises very late now, which helps. Did Day 2 of the Protocols; he was a little more distracted last night (probably because of his earlier encounter with the dogs) but we got through all of the exercises, which included running in place, clapping, and feeling slightly ridiculous.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Relaxation therapy

At the advice of our trainer, Erica, we're putting Zorro through the Protocol for Relaxation, a 15-day program that's supposed to teach anxious dogs how to relax. It was developed by Dr. Karen Overall, a veterinary behaviorist. The idea, as I understand it, isn't to teach discipline: it's to teach the dog how to block out distractions and chill. Not sure what it does for anxious owners.
Basically, you're supposed to put your dog in "sit" or "lie down" position and go through a series of activities, such as a 5-second "stay," a 10-second "stay," etc. After each activity, the dog gets a treat (I think a dog came up with this, because by the time the day's activities are finished, he gets A LOT of treates).
Here's the activities for the first day, which I went through yesterday:

DAY 1:
o Sit for 5 seconds
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit while you take 1 step back and return
o Sit while you take 2 steps back and return
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit while you take 1 step to the right and return
o Sit while you take 1 step to the left and return
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit while you take 2 steps back and return
o Sit while you take 2 steps to the right and
o Sit for 15 seconds
o Sit while you take 2 steps to the left and return
o Sit while you clap your hands softly once
o Sit while you take 3 steps back and return
o Sit while you count out loud to 10
o Sit while you clap your hands softly once
o Sit while you count out loud to 20
o Sit while you take 3 steps to the right and
o Sit while you clap your hands softly twice
o Sit for 3 seconds
o Sit for 5 seconds
o Sit while you take 1 step back and return
o Sit for 3 seconds
o Sit for 10 seconds
o Sit for 5 seconds
o Sit for 3 seconds

Day 2 follows a similar sequence, but also involves walking halfway around the dog, jogging in place, then jogging halfway around the dog. Each day involves more complicated activities. By Day 15, I may be doing the chicken dance.
One of the challenges is that you need to keep referring to the list while keeping the dog from wandering away. But since it only takes about 15 minutes and doesn't hurt (and Zorro doesn't seem to mind), I guess it's worth a try.
OK night, although I ended up having to shut the windows and turn on the AC because someone in the neighborhood thinks it's still the 4th of July and the lovelorn fox was on the prowl.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

A calm night

Finally, a good night's sleep. The last week has been a trying one. Zorro's reaction to fireworks is different from his response to thunderstorms: instead of cowering in the bathtub, he runs around the house, barking, whenever an explosion occurs. And there have been a lot of explosions: our neighbors in WV set up fireworks past midnight on July 4, and on Sunday, someone was lighting up M-80s in the park near our house. People still had some fireworks to blow up on Monday, and there was a lovesick fox in the park, so that was another sleepless night.
Zorro's trainer, Erica, says these responses are actually two sides of the same coin: in both instances, he's highly agitated and unable to focus on us. So our homework assignment until our next training session is a behavioral technique called the Protocol for Relaxation, which was developed by an animal behaviorist. Basically, you put the dog in "sit" or "lie down" position for five seconds, then ten seconds, etc. Over a 15-day period, you go through an exhaustive list of different activities: walking around the dog, clapping, jogging in place, etc. After every activity, he gets a treat for staying in sit or lie-down position.
It's a long, complicated list and I bet a lot of people don't stick with it. But Erica says it's effective way to teach a dog to relax so he can focus on you, not the sky or the moon or another dog. So we will give it a try. Just when Zorro is at his most exasperating, he does something that endears him to us. After walking him yesterday morning, I collapsed on the upstairs bed, desperately trying to grab a little more sleep before work. He hopped up next to me (this was unusual; he usually gets on the beds when we're not in them), laid down and snuggled against my chest. Irresistable.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Prison break, Part 2

There are benefits to a fearful dog. Zorro seemed to have shaken off his agorophobia this weekend. We went for a good five mile run on the towpath with no issues. On Saturday afternoon, the moon came up above the trees around 3, prompting another round of very excited barking, stamping and pacing.
I didn't realize that the downstairs to the garage was open until I saw Zorro streaking down the driveway and into the road. Denny jumped in the car to go look for him because Zorro can cover a lot of territory in a very short time.
Fortunately, he didn't get far: he decided to inspect a neighbor's porch (luckily, they weren't home) and when I got on the porch, he came right to me. We put him in the car and back in the house.
We would love to let him off leash so he can run the way he's built to do. But we're afraid he'll take off after a deer and not stop until he's in Pennsylvania. So no off leash running yet.

Anyway, here's an amazing video from Hulls Haven, a rescue organization in Winnipeg.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Running with the pack

Another good run today. It seems to help when there are other dogs around. This morning, we encountered a small beagle just outside the back gate, which definitely caught Zorro's attention. As long as he's focused on another dog, he's not looking for hidden dangers in the sky.
Yesterday's trip to the vet went well, but was kind of heartbreaking. The vet said his incisers are worn down and show signs of metal shavings, indicating that at one point, he knawed on the bars of a cage. This seems to fit with the trainer's theory (shared by out pet sitter, Melissa) that he was confined for long periods of time. I hate to think about that, but it could explain his fearfulness when he's outside.
The vet recommended something called a DAP collar; it's supposed to emit relaxing phermones. According to what I read online, it takes a few days to work, if it works. The vet favors trying natural remedies before giving him serious meds, like Prozac, which makes sense. Cheaper, too.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Back in the saddle

Zorro and I went for an energetic 2-mile run this morning. A huge change from his recent fearful behavior. His tail was high, he romped and sniffed, and when we got home, he didn't retreat to the bathtub. Just last night, he was still afraid to leave the yard. I have no idea what changed, but was thrilled to see it.
There were two schools of thought about his agorophobia. One: he's a rescue dog, and rescue dogs have Issues. Perhaps his former owners kept him confined, making him fearful of open spaces. Two: he's a border collie, and borders collies have Issues. They also have long memories, and if something spooks them, it takes them a long time to get over it.
First trip to the vet today so it will be interesting to hear what she says.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stormy weather, Part XXX

Ugh. More loud thunder and heavy rain, so Zorro was up most of the night, pacing and scratching. I had to drag him out to do his business this morning. I managed to get him halfway down the street but then he heard one of the neighbors rolling her recycling cart (which to him sounds like thunder) and turned tail for home.
Tonight we're going to try giving him a couple of Benadryl, which his foster owner says "takes the edge off" her thunderphobic dog. In Zorro's case, though, the edge is pretty sharp.
Read enough about dogs on the Internet and you can find reasons to feel grateful. Unlike some dogs (including, apparently, Marley), Zorro doesn't tear up the house during storms. And while he's extremely fearful, he's never been aggressive. I have literally dragged him by his collar to get him to go outside and he has never growled or snapped. Instead, he either lies down, or in extremis, rolls over on his back. This, of course, endears him to me even more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Prison break!

Zorro escaped the yard this morning. It happened after we got back from a walk/run that was longer than our most recent outings. I had to literally pull him across the street but once he got going we had a decent run.
When we got back in the yard, the neighbor's dog was out, so I let him off his leash because they like to visit over the fence. Only then did I realize the front gate was open. And before I could react, Zorro had sailed right through it, and out into the street.
I ran after him, hollering his name and calling for Denny. Luckily, the neighbors across from us all have fenced in yards. If he had taken a right and headed into the park, he would be in Reston by now. We found him by a neighbor's garage and when Denny called, he came to him, which was encouraging.
Maybe this adventure will cure him of whatever it was that was frightening him outside. He seemed more relaxed when he got back in the house, and didn't retreat into the bathtub.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Close to home

Zorro is still afraid to venture far from the house. When he does go out, he cowers and stares at the sky. Denny got him to the end of the block this morning, but when he got to the park, he froze and turned around. He spent most of yesterday evening in the bathtub, which he has clearly identified as a safe place.
I got some good advice from BC owners on a border collie message board who have dealt with similar quirky behavior. They advised against praising or reassuring him when he reacts that way, because that's affirming his fears. One suggested that I try to "jolly him out of it" by continuing to walk forward until he follows. That poster must have a much smaller border collie: Zorro is 60 pounds of willfulness.
Another poster said her rescue dog decided, after five weeks with her, that a ceiling fixture was a threat and barked at it for four hours straight. So it could be worse.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

House dog

A new dilemma. Zorro doesn't want to leave the house.
All was fine yesterday morning, when we went for a 7-mile run on the tow path. The run wore us all out.
Later that day, though, when I tried to walk Zorro around our property in WV, he refused to go very far from our house. This continued all evening, and I had to drag him out to do his business before bed.
He was more normal this morning, but still didn't want to go far from home. And now that we're back in Arlington, he's showing the same behavior, refusing to go for our usual afternoon run. He let me walk him just outside our fence, then made a beeline back to the yard.
Today is sunny so thunder isn't the problem. No moon, either. So maybe this is what people on border collie message boards call a "border collie moment." A friend who adopted a shelter dog said her dog behaved beautifully for the first few weeks, then started acting up. Her theory: he was afraid she was going to send him back to the pound.
That could certainly be the case here. From what I can determine, Zorro was in a shelter for several weeks before he was rescued, then at his foster owner's home for a couple of weeks. So he may be anticipating his next move. How do we tell him he's not going anywhere?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Dog in the bathroom

Calm night, traumatic morning. Zorro slumbered peacefully last night, but we were all jolted awake around 6 by a loud and violent thunderstorm. Border collies have extremely sensitive hearing, so a loud thunderclap must sound like someone is banging cymbols next to their ears. Zorro jammed himself in the space between the bed and the wall; later, he cowered in the bathroom. I finally persuaded him to go for a wet, humid walk around 7; unfortunately, it started thundering again mid-walk so we ended up sprinting all the way home. He's in the basement now, another place where he feels safe.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Full Moon Rising

Rough night. We anticipated problems because it was a clear night with a full moon. But instead of his usual barking, Zorro was actually quite apprehensive, and scared. He scratched on the bedroom door, but when we opened the door, he cowered in the doorway. Then he scratched on the wall. This weird behavior continued until around 3 AM, when he finally fell asleep. Seemed fine this morning on our walk. He'll probably spend the day sleeping it off on one of our beds while we drink coffee to stay awake at work.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Who's in charge?

It's pretty clear to us that Zorro knows what "come" means. Trouble is, he views it as a suggestion, not a command. Case in point: he has recently picked up the habit of crawling into our bed when we're not in it. When we order him to get off, he just looks bored. He will vacate if pushed, but not without an annoyed grunt. Something else to work on in obedience school, I suppose.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Moondance video

Here's a video of Zorro's moon dance. Maybe he'll become a YouTube sensation, like Susan Boyle or the "Chocolate Rain" guy.

Back to school

Had our first obedience class at Woofs Dog Training Center near Shirlington The facility is unimpressive--it shares space with an auto body shop next to the DMV--but our trainer, Erica, was knowledgeable and patient. And patience is key with this dog.
We worked on getting Zorro to focus on us with three exercises (all food-oriented--apparently, this is part of their positive reinforcement philosophy). First, we worked on name recognition: one of us would say "Zorro," and as soon as he looked up, we would click our clicker and give him a treat. Second, we practiced eye contact: as soon as he looks at your face, he gets a click and a treat. This one seemed to be the hardest for him, because he was distracted by the sounds of other dogs in the facility. Finally, we worked on "touch," which Erica says is a more effective way to recall your dog than just saying "come" (Zorro knows what come means, but only comes when he feels like it). With this exercise, you hold out your hand, say "touch," and as soon as he touches your palm with his nose, he gets a click and a treat. We are supposed to practice these exercises several times a day.
Even though he was highly curious about the dogs on the other side of the door, Zorro was good-natured throughout the training exercises.
Erica, who owns three german shepherds, says she's never heard of dogs barking at the moon. She pronounced it "interesting," which is the kind of thing you say when someone has an unusual hairstyle. Bark control is for later sessions. Lots of thunder last night ,which was traumatic for Zorro but he calmed down after Denny let him go down in the basement.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

If dogs could talk

In the new Pixar film "Up," dogs are equipped with special collars that translate their thoughts into words. If Zorro had one of those collars, I'm pretty sure I know what he'd say during our morning runs: "Let's move it, grandma! You call that running? We're practically standing still!" Our runs are more like sprints, punctuated by sudden stops to sniff a bush (Zorro, not me).
A talking dog collar would also help us understand what the hell he's barking at. Last night was difficult: after we went to bed, he barked incessently. Couldn't figure out if it was the moon, boredom, or a distant sound heard only by border collies. I finally turned on the AC in the bedroom and that calmed him down somewhat. Our first obedience class is tonight, and can't come soon enough.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Barking at the moon, part two

The moon rises now around 4 PM. I know this not because I've been checking the almanac, but because twice this weekend, Zorro was on the deck of our house in WV when the moon rose, and chaos ensued. Not only did he bark madly at the moon, he stamped his front paws, like a three-year-old throwing a tantrum at the grocery store.
I know that border collies are closely related to wolves. But Zorro doesn't howl at the moon; he berates it. The only way to get him to stop is to put him inside. And this was just a crescent moon. God knows what a full moon will unleash.
Weirdly (and this is a word that can't be overused where border collies are concerned), he only reacts this way when the moon is on the rise. Later Saturday, I took him out for a walk before bedtime, and the moon was behind the house, high above the trees. It was bright enough to read the newspaper by, but he ignored it.
Also need to add to things he doesn't like: the blender and the hand mixer. However, Denny used his chain saw yesterday to clear the trail we're building, and that didn't bother him a bit.
Successful walk this afternoon: he sat quietly while a dog passed us on the bike path. I rewarded him with two treats.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

barking at the moon

When I heard mad barking from the screen porch last night, I assumed the neighbor's dog was out, or that a fox was in the vicinity. But when I asked Denny what the ruckus was about, he said, "Zorro is barking at the moon."
I don't know why this surprised me. Here's a short list of things that agitate Zorro: the lawnmower (big time), the vacuum cleaner, the coffee grinder, the weed whacker, anyone standing on a ladder, airplanes, and of course, other dogs. Sometimes, he appears to be barking at the sky. They say these dogs have extremely sensitive ears: maybe he's barking at the space station.
Thunderstorms are a source of major drama. Every time it thunders, it's as if it is happening for the first time. He races around the house, jumps on the bed, and ultimately squeezes himself into the tightest space he can find. The space between my side of the bed is a favorite refuge; so is our shower stall in Berkeley Springs.
We have had him for a little more than three weeks. The website for the Blue Ridge Border Collie rescue states we're still in the two-week trial period ("Cross your fingers that they'll love this handsome boy") but we're past that.
His past is a mystery. He was rescued from a shelter in Charlottesville. Sallie, who fostered him for BRBCR, said simply, "His family didn't want him anymore." But someone put a lot of time and care into this dog. He's housebroken, doesn't jump on people, doesn't beg. and knows how to sit, lie down and stay (sometimes). He can shake hands and will do a high five. He has nice teeth. He loves riding in the car and behaves like a gentleman in the back seat. He does try to herd other dogs, which makes walking him a challenge, but his behavior isn't malicious or aggressive (although other dogs may perceive it that way). Most of the time, he wants nothing more than to be near us. Occasionally, though, he retreats to a quiet place to think and reflect. Apparently, this is not unusual behavior for a border collie. Hard to imagine a golden retriever or lab doing it, though.