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.