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.