Sunday, November 28, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

This year's count: nine people, four dogs, including Zorro. The dogs got along fine when they were all out on the porch--once Zorro got them where he wanted them, he left them alone. The troubles began when one of us went out on the porch. Bogey, Dad's 8-month-old golden, has a bad habit of jumping on people. So as was the case a week earlier with Dolly, Zorro felt the need to protect the family member and pounced on Bogey. Occasionally, Binky, Dad's oldest golden--a gentle giant who nonetheless has an edge to him--would move in and try to protect Bogey. To keep the peace, we ended up keeping Zorro on the porch and the goldens inside.
At night, we kept Zorro in our bedroom with the door closed. Otherwise, we knew he would station himself right outside my parent's door, where the other dogs were sleeping. It also prevented any late night moon alerts. Zorro didn't like it but was too tired to make much of a fuss.
Mom and Dad left Friday (big high school football game that night) and Saturday, Denny and I went for a run on the tow path to burn off some calories. Once the weather cools off, Zorro is a great running companion--you get the feeling he would run all the way to Georgetown if given the opportunity. The morning moon was up, so after the first mile I had to turn Zorro over to Denny for a while. Zorro's moon run is great speedwork but I can't sustain the pace for very long.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Head case

Poor Zorro. He was romping in the yard with Denny this morning and was so distracted by his favorite rope game that he ploughed right into the shed. He hit his head so hard that he yelped, and Zorro never, ever does that, even when he gets a shot or someone treads on his paw. How do you determine whether a border collie has a concussion? Ask him to count to 10? Name the president?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Non-mortal combat

Interesting weekend in WV. Our friends, Jessica and Glenn, along with their two young children, came for an overnight visit. They brought their eight-month old yellow lab, Dolly, a sweet-natured pup who likes to jump on people, countersurf and get into the garbage. (Jessica and Glenn are hoping she'll outgrow these habits).
As soon as she arrived, Zorro went into his badass mode, jumping on her, smacking her with his paw, and basically bossing her around. But after we put both of them on the porch, Dolly decided that being herded was a great game. They spent hours running around the porch, occasionally colliding. There was a lot of growling and snapping, and at times it was hard to tell whether they were fighting or playing. But no blood was shed, and at various intervals they would retire to their corners to rest. When we took them on a walk, Zorro pretty much ignored Dolly, even though he was on a leash and she was not (she has good recall: even though she would run ahead, she always looked around immediately when her name was called. We can't count on that with Zorro).
Jessica reports that Dolly, normally rambunctous in the car, slept all the way home. Zorro is pretty wiped out, too. I told him to save his strength because more dog guests are coming: Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010


I wasn't here for Halloween and was a little worried that Zorro would scare the trick-or-treaters. Lately, he's been barking at the pizza man, and he has an intimidating bark.
Luckily, though, it went fine, Denny says. He was mainly curious about all the little people coming to our door. He figured out pretty quickly that if the neighbor's door squeaked, kids were on their way. Denny told all the kids that Zorro was wearing his Halloween mask, which they liked. Next year, I'm getting him a Batman cape.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A fast turnaround

Denny hosted a bunch of guys at our house in West Virginia this weekend and took Zorro along. With all the coming and going, I figured Zorro would get loose at least once and I was right. Someone left the porch gate open on Saturday and before anyone could react, Zorro streaked down the porch steps as if the hounds of hell were behind him.
What happened next is really interesting. Denny and his friends called for Zorro to come back, and sure enough, as soon as he got to the end of the driveway, he turned around and flew back to the porch, as the same rate of speed. Everyone was greatly relieved. Not sure if this counts as 100% recall but we'll take it. Not sure if it would have turned out so well if there had been deer in the vicinity.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Change of season=new dog

Now that fall is finally here the weather has cooled considerably and Zorro couldn't be happier. One afternoon this week, he bolted to the back fence as soon as I let him out the door. He wants to run for miles.
Since we're out on the path longer, we're running into more dogs, which is a challenge. For the most part, he's showing self-restraint. Denny had an interesting stand-off one day this week. Normally, we put Zorro in a "sit" until the other dog passes, but on this occasion, the other dog's owner instructed his dog to do the same thing. As they were staring at each from opposite sides of the path, someone else walked his two dogs right between them. Zorro and the other dog abandoned their sit to bark at the interlopers.
Lots of drama at work so my nighttime walks with Zorro are restorative. But days are getting shorter, so will soon need to carry a flashlight. I was already unsettled one dark morning this week by a dog that seemed to come out of nowhere, causing Zorro to nearly pull me over.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Working dogs

The 2010 National Sheepdog Finals were held just outside of Winchester this year, so we had no choice but to attend. We spent a couple of hours there on Saturday for the semi-finals, then went back on Sunday for the "double lift," featuring the 17 finalists.
A couple of observations: if you ever attend one of these events, take binoculars. The TV version of sheepdog trials don't give justice to how far these dogs go to round up the sheep. The event was held at a former plantation and working farm, and the dogs had to run at least a half a mile, just to start. Until they bring the sheep down, all I could see was a small black dot, racing up the field.
Second, these dogs are definitely not selected for their looks. All of them were pretty small (much smaller than Zorro) and some of them kind of stringy-looking. That's not surprising, because they are superb athletes, and they don't have an ounce of fat on them. And once you see them in action, it's clear that they are selected purely based on performance, which is as it should be.
They also have a very workmanlike relationship with their handlers. We saw very little petting. (although one of the finalists" dogs did give him a hug at the closing ceremony). None of these dogs were leashed; there was no need, even when they left the ring and were surrounded by other people and dogs.
Zorro, needless to say, was leashed, but behaved himself, even in the presence of lots of other dogs. And this was BC heaven: border collies of all shapes, colors and sizes everywhere you looked. Denny took pictures; I'll post them when they become available.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Praise from strangers

Cool, fall-like weather so Zorro has lots of energy. While he was sniffing the grass this morning, I saw a guy and boxer approaching, so pulled Zorro aside and told him to stay (Zorro often has issues with boxers). As they ran by, the owner said, "Nicely done." I was thrilled. Less success on the way home: we got stuck behind four slow-walking dogs (not a tree on the path went unmarked) and Zorro desperately wanted to set them straight. I kept some distance by putting him into a couple of sit/stays. He obeyed but his internal struggle was clear.
There were at least two Labor Day parties in the neighborhood last night and one featured fireworks. And not just your ordinary sparklers: at one point, it sounded like they were firing off a cannon. Every explosion sparked furious barking by Zorro (and every other dog in the neighborhood). Strange that thunder scares the hell out of him but fireworks seem to rev him up.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Learning while sitting

The moon was high this morning and lots of dogs in the park so Zorro was in fine form. It's supposed to go up to the 90s today but the mornings are cool.
Denny had him in a sit while another dog went by and the owner asked, "Is this supposed to be a learning moment?"
I told Denny that he should have said, "Yes. I'm teaching my dog not to kick your dog's butt."

Monday, August 30, 2010

Crazy, not stupid

Our neighbor from across the road in Berkeley Springs died last week after a short illness. We were saddened and surprised by the news, since it was only a couple of weeks ago that we exchanged pleasantries as we edged around his truck on our narrow dirt road.
We went to the funeral yesterday and came away wishing we'd known him better. We knew that he played the organ at his church and played piano for some local productions. What we didn't know is that he played eight instruments--including the ukulele--and performed with jazz bands when he was still a teenager.
After the service, we introduced ourselves to his oldest daughter and told her we were his neighbors. After we described which house we live in, she said, "Are you the ones with the dog Dad used to call Big Stupid?"
Now we're trying to figure out which dog he was referring to. Snoop? Zorro? My dad suggested it could have been one of his dogs, since they often go over to his property to do their business.
Denny thinks he was referring to Zorro because of his habit of barking at the moon, fireworks and gunshots. Now we'll never get a chance to explain that Zorro isn't stupid, just crazy.
RIP Gordon LaTourette. A thoughtful neighbor and a good man.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Unsettled skies

Not much to report. We are still enduring the hottest summer in memory, punctuated this week by violent thunderstorms. Zorro has spent a lot of time in the basement. But at least he seems to recover fairly quickly; last summer, he wouldn't venture far from the gate for days after a thunderstorm. Now, he'll venture all the way to Kensington and sometimes farther if there are other dogs around. I've reduced his Prozac dosage and plan to wean him off by the end of the summer.
He still barks and runs in circles every time our neighbor opens her squeaky screen door, but will stop if I tell him to sit and give him a treat. That's progress. The main problem I'm wrestling with is occasional and unpredictable blow-ups around other dogs. I wonder if I'm contributing to the problem by tensing up when I see another dog (especially a big dog) approaching. A guy pushing a stroller and pulling golden retriever passed us this morning and Zorro was fine.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Surviving the summer

Last weekend was the hottest we can ever remember in Berkeley Springs. High 90s on Saturday and not much of a cooldown at night. And as luck would have it, my parents came to visit, with their three dogs.
Fortunately, Zorro was a pretty good host: there were only a couple of dust-ups, and they were over quickly. Mostly, the dogs languished on the porch, along with the rest of us, trying to catch a breeze.
On Sunday, Denny and Zorro went home early, and that was a good thing. A quick, violent storm blew up shortly after Mom, Dad and Chip returned from their golf game. I was on the porch and heard a loud crack, then saw a flash of light not 50 yards from our house. Lightening struck one of our trees, tearing the bark right off of it. If Zorro had been there, I'm not sure he would have ever gotten over it.
Zorro continues to show self-restraint around most dogs we encounter on the running path. He's even made friends with a couple of small blue heelers we see most mornings. Their owner insists that Zorro is also a blue heeler. Rather than get into an argument over Zorro's heritage, I just nod and smile. Last week, she told me that if he acts up around dogs, I should just grab him, say ZZZT! and roll him over on his back. Sure, that'll work. She's obviously a Dog Whisperer devotee.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The puddle puzzle

In an earlier post, I mentioned how eagerly Zorro laps up puddles on the path. Denny and I thought it was amusing. I don't think so any more. In this column, from a USA TODAY contributor, Sharon Peters describes how her American Eskimo rescue , a long-term victim of severe neglect, did the same thing. The poor dog had gone long periods without water and learned to store it up as a survival tactic.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An incident

Training is an ongoing process. I have the bruises to show it.
Last Thursday, I took Zorro out for what I thought would be a short moon run. The weather has been insanely hot, punctuated by thunderstorms, so I take every opportunity to get Zorro out and about, and he's always happy to run when the moon is up.
As we hit the path, I saw a woman walking toward us with a small, short-haired brown dog. As I'm accustomed to doing, I pulled Zorro off the path and put him in a sit. I do this dozens of times every week and usually there's no problem. Zorro will look at the dog, but that's it.
Not this time. I think the dog may have growled at Zorro, or insulted his heritage in some manner, because the next thing I knew, I was flat on the ground with a face full of dirt. Needless to say, I lost hold of the leash.
Here's where it gets interesting: once Zorro got up to the offending dog, he stopped. He didn't jump on the dog, and the dog didn't go after him. They just stared at each other. I managed to right myself and put my foot on the leash before anything escalated. I apologized to the dog's owner, who said her dog was "unpredictable." A passing runner asked me if I was OK. I said I was, and continued our our walk, but when I woke up the next day I felt like I had been mowed over by a semi.
We haven't had any similar confrontations since then but when I encountered the same woman on Sunday, she turned around and went in the other direction. Meanwhile, I'm making Zorro do more sit/stays on his walk.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010


Border collies are supposed to be smarter than the average dog, but sometimes, I wonder. On Sunday--a delightfully cool day in WV--Zorro stirred up a nest of yellow jackets during his morning walk with Denny. The enraged yellow jackets burrowed into Zorro's fur, and when Denny tried to beat them off, they went after HIM. Denny got stung three times in the arm and he thinks Zorro was stung in the rear, judging from the way he jumped. Zorro seemed unaffected by the stings, which could not be said for Denny. His arm swelled up and he was in considerable discomfort for the rest of the day. I've since heard many other stories about dog-yellow jacket encounters, but I expect more from Zorro.
On a more positive note, we're having thunderstorms all week and Zorro seems to be handling them well, even though I've lowered his Prozac dose. There were several loud rumbles last night and he didn't even hide in the bathtub. He went for a good run with Denny this morning, mainly because there were other dogs in the park and he was in pursuit.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A rescued Leonberger

Here's a photo of Callie, a rescue dog we met at the Bonnie Doone in Grand Bend, Ontario. Lilly is part Leonberger, a German dog of mammoth proportions. But Callie, who is also part Golden Retriever, is a gentle giant. She's happy to recline in front of the registration desk and greet guests. The Bonnie Doone's owners adopted Callie from an animal shelter in nearby Goderich. She had been abused, and for a while was afraid of men, particularly those with grey or silver hair. Happily, kind treatment by an older gentleman who stayed there for a week helped her overcome her fears. Now she seems to love everyone. And only someone with a heart of stone could fail to love her.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Moon walk

Made the mistake of letting Zorro out on the screened porch last night without first looking skyward. Furious barking immediately alerted me that the moon was up.
Since Zorro was reluctant to go far during our earlier walk, I decided to seize the opportunity and head out for a moonlight run. We dashed down the path, through the park, and around the tennis courts, stopping only to toss back a ball that had been lobbed over the fence. It was a beautiful summer evening: above us, a crescent moon, and all around us, dozens of fireflies. The invasive plants looked like they were covered with white Christmas lights. Zorro was good and tired when we got home and slept right through the night.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Mean dog

Our efforts to train Zorro to behave around other dogs have really paid off. The other day, when Denny was walking him, he sat down when he saw another dog, even before Denny gave the command. When other dog owners look approvingly at my well-behaved dog, my chest swells with dog-owner pride.
But today he was truly tested. We were just entering the path from our back gate, and a young girl approached with a brown, short-haired dog. I put Zorro in his sit, but I could tell he was tense. And for good reason: suddenly, the dog leaped at us, snarling and barking in a very fierce and aggressive manner.
Zorro showed what I considered admirable restraint: he didn't bark or snarl, although he didn't follow my "look at me" command either. The young girl apologized and they went on their way. I'm hardly in a position to criticize, since Zorro has his own rap sheet in the neighborhood. But I do question the wisdom of parents who would let a young girl walk a dog who is--in the politically correct nomenclature of the rescue world--dog-aggressive and reactive. I spent the rest of our walk looking over my shoulder, worried we would see them again. Luckily, we didn't.

Jailbreak, the Sequel

Well, go figure. Now that we're in the thick of thunderstorm season, there are days when Zorro won't venture beyond the corner. But last week, he all of a sudden decided he's Bruce Willis.
Here's what happened: I was out with a friend, and Denny was home with Zorro. The UPS man came to the front door, which agitated Zorro. After Denny signed for the package, he accidentally left the front door slightly ajar. In a flash, Zorro was out the door. Denny tried to grab his rear, but it was too late.
Zorro ran down our street, North 4th Street, towards Kensington, a cross street that gets a fair amount of traffic. Denny's heart just about stopped when he heard a truck approaching. Zorro crossed Kensington (without getting hit), stopped to pee, then crossesd again and ran toward North 5th. He headed down North 5th, then crossed a short path that connects the street with the bike path that runs behind our house. And that's where Denny collared him and brought him back inside.
Scary stuff. Denny says he behaved like the whole chase was a big game. I guess we should take comfort in the fact that he ended up near our house. But we're keeping a close eye on the front door.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Summer trauma

We are in thick of thunderstorm season, with predictable results. Zorro spent most of Memorial Day weekend in the basement of our house in West Virginia. More thunderstorms this weekend, so he rotated between the basement and the shower stall (we don't have a bathtub in WV).
It's not as bad as it was last year, when he had to cope with thunderstorms and a new home. He'll even go for a run if there's a good distraction: the moon, another dog, or a flock of deer.
I've read on the Internet about something called a "thundershirt," which is supposed to make them more secure during storms. Might be worth a try.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Finding balance

We've always wondered what Zorro would do when confronted with a herd of sheep. Now we know.
On Sunday, we took him to Keepstone Farm, a farm near Berrysville, Va. that trains herding dogs. The owner, Susan Rhodes, has sheep, goats, horses and more dogs than I could count. She trains all kinds of dogs, from novice to competitors.
We told her that we didn't know if Zorro had ever worked sheep, so she put him in a fenced-in area with three "dog-broke" sheep. She put a long line on Zorro so we could grab him if necessary, stood out in the middle of the corral with the sheep, and instructed me to let him go.
At first, Zorro rushed at the sheep, but after Susan pounded her long pole on the ground, he changed direction and started circling. Gradually, his circles became wider, which is what herding dogs are supposed to do, Susan says. He took direction pretty well, although when Susan told him to lie down, he looked at her as if to say, "Are you out of your mind? There are sheep out here?"
Then she handed me the pole and told me to stand with the sheep. I was pretty nervous: the sheep got right up against me, and they were big woolies. I didn't really get the hang of the pole but Zorro maintained a distance so I wasn't trampled.
After a half an hour, Zorro's tongue was on the ground so we quit. Susan said it's unclear whether Zorro has had some training or was acting on instinct. I think we'll take him back to the farm for a few more lessons. I don't think Zorro will ever be a serious competitor, but maybe herding sheep will get his mind off the moon.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Dogs with issues

An interesting day. I took Pam and her rescue dog, Silver, to see a veterinary behavioralist. It was located in a strip mall in Germantown. The behaviorist, Dr. Kathryn Meyer, shares the clinic with her husband, who is an animal allergist. So while I was in the waiting room, I entertained myself by trying to figure out which dogs were crazy and which ones just had a bad rash.
I liked Dr. Meyer--she was reassuring, and told Pam she's seen dogs with far worse aggression problems than Silver (a previous vet told Pam that she would have to put the dog to sleep). Basic conclusion was that Silver is an introvert and kind of cranky and there's not much Pam can do about that. Training regiments are complicated by the fact that Silver is deaf.
I mentioned to Dr. Meyer that I have a border collie with "issues," and she said, "There's no such thing as a border collie who doesn't have issues."
Managed to get Zorro out for a walk this morning but he was skittish tonight and didn't want to go far. Will try again later.

Crazy Sundays

The summer storms are starting, and with them, new challenges. After Friday night's thunder, Zorro's global fears have re-emerged. It's still not as bad as last year, when he wouldn't venture far from the gate. But this morning, he ran as far as the park, then sat down and refused to go farther. He'll snap out of it if he sees another dog. But it's been raining for two days, so other dogs are thin on the ground.
Although he still fixates on other dogs--he was so focused on a dog near Bon-Air park on Monday that he ran smack into a telephone pole--his behavior around them has improved considerably. When we see another dog, he goes right into his sit and looks to me for a treat. It's tremendously satisfying when other dog owners and runners look on approvingly at my well-behaved dog.
His finest moment came Sunday night. We were approaching the park and a big, white, unleashed dog named Roy came prancing across the bridge. I held my breath and put Zorro into a sit. He obeyed and let Roy pass while his owners reclaimed him. I was very proud.
Should be an interesting day: I'm taking Pam and her rescue dog Silver to see a veterinary behaviorist in Germantown. Resource guarding issues.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Spring cleaning

We took Zorro for a bracing 7-mile run on the towpath Saturday and he maintained a healthy pace throughout. There was a crescent moon in the morning sky when we started, which energized him, as usual. A woman passed by us on a bike with her brown lab in tow, but we managed to get Zorro off to the side and he behaved himself.
Yesterday was a tough day. I was at work; Denny spent the day doing yard chores. Not sure why, but Zorro was wild, racing around the yard barking, and doing the same when he was confined to the house. When Denny got out his lawn shears--which aren't even electric--Zorro jumped up and tried to bite them. Our neighbor was doing a ton of yard work, too, and was also in and and out a lot, using the squeaky screen door that always sets Zorro off. I took him for a run after I got home and after that he was exhaused. Barely moved all night.
Much better this morning. We encountered two dogs and both times, Zorro went right into his sit and looked at me before I even asked. Thunderstorms predicted for this week.

Monday, May 3, 2010

One year anniversary

I haven't posted lately because our lives have been refreshingly free of drama (at least where Zorro is concerned). He did get into a bit of a face-off with a boxer at day care this weekend, when we were out of town. But the staff didn't think it was that big of a deal. I think the boxer started it.
Now that it's officially almost summer (90 degrees yesterday) we're seeing a lot more dogs in the park. Yesterday we were literally surrounded: one dog in front of us, another behind us, and a third perpendicular to us! But there was enough space for me to get Zorro off the path and into a sit until the all of the dogs had dispersed.
We are also heading into thunderstorm season, but Zorro's global fears have yet to resurface. He did lie down in the park one day last week when Denny was walking him, but after some urging, got up and continued on his walk.
One year ago yesterday, we brought Zorro home (the people on the BC message board refer to it as the "got day," as in "Yesterday was Zorro's Got Day!) Now it's hard to imagine what life was like without him.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Half moon rising

Denny is back from a week in New Orleans so I get a break. Unseasonably cool this week but still lots of people and dogs in the park. We're managing pretty well, although a couple of days ago, Zorro had a meltdown over a boxer who went by too close and gave him a dirty look. Nothing I couldn't handle, just lots of barking.
I've noticed, now that the park is more crowded, that a lot of people are fascinated by Zorro. When I used to walk Snoop, it wasn't unusual for people to comment on his good looks, but with Zorro, they are intrigued. They want to know if he's a real border collie, and if so, is he really smart? Maybe they've seen sheepdog trials on TV or YouTube, or seen one of those "smartest dog" lists. (BCs are usually at the top).
We're scheduled to take him to a farm in Berryville in a few weeks to see how he does with sheep. Should be interesting. Off to WV today which is a little dicey because the moon rises around 3 and it's a clear day.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dogs on wheels

Ordinarily, Zorro isn't much interested in bikers. But this afternoon, we were passed by a biker who had a dog running alongside, on a tether. You can bet Zorro took notice. Fortunately, we couldn't keep up with them, although Zorro certainly tried.
Then, on our evening outing, we encountered a roller blader running with his dog. They went by so quickly Zorro didn't have time to react. I like roller-blading dogs.
In all the time we've lived in Arlington, I haven't spent much time in the park in the evening. It's a busy place. If an alien landed in Bluemont Park at 7 PM, he'd be hard pressed to believe there's an obesity epidemic in the US.
Last night, we watched two coach-pitch softball games, where the players--who looked to be 8 or 9 years old--took their eyes off the ball to admire Zorro. I suspect focus is a challenge at that age. On our way home, we ran into a pack of runners. Zorro didn't try to herd them, but he did feel the need to keep pace.
On any given night, there's a soccer game going on in the field on the other side of the creek. Sometimes we cross there, trying to skirt the game. That's difficult, because the boundries seem kind of fluid. Wherever the ball goes, the players follow. All of them are Hispanic, and their shouts of "Ariba! Ariba!" follow us all the way home.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hero to bikers

After last week's summertime blast, we're back to February. Cold and drizzly. I turned on the heat when I came home.
This is fine with Zorro, who prefers the cool weather. We saw only one dog on our afternoon walk, and he was pretty far away.
When it came time to cross the path and come home, I put Zorro in a "sit/stay" to allow a bike to pass. The bike rider gave us an admiring glance and I felt my chest swell with pride. As long as a dog isn't riding the bike, Zorro will give the bikers the right of way.

Too close for comfort

While Zorro's behavior has definitely improved, every once in a while he still feels the need to be a bad ass. Yesterday, he cut loose on a friendly yellow lab who happened to be passing by when Denny and Zorro got on the path. Zorro pounced. Denny said the lab's owner was "horrified." Worse, she knows where we live I was disappointed, because Zorro has been so well-behaved lately. He even looks at me (sometimes) when I tell him to sit, which is exactly what he's supposed to do.
But I still maintain some distance from other dogs. If a dog gets too close--which is what I think happened with the lab--he forgets everything I've been trying to teach him.
We're taking him to a farm in Berryville on May 23 that trains herding dogs on sheep. We have no idea what Zorro will do but it should be interesting.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back in the tub

First thunderstorm of the year, and as soon as the first clap sounded, Zorro's tail went between his legs and he headed for the bathtub. He's out now, though, so maybe that's progress.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Making new friends

Some of the posters on the border collie message board refer to their dogs as having "never met a stranger," and that certainly applies to Zorro. He warms up to everyone he meets, confirming my suspicions that he wasn't abused in his former life, just ignored (and probably confined for long periods, which may also explain why he craves human company so much).
Yesterday, for example, while on our morning walk, a nice couple stopped to admire him, and he played it for all it was worth, nuzzling them shamelessly. After I told them about his obsession, they howled at the moon.
It's been very warm all week--up to 90 yesterday and today--and the bike path is starting to resemble the main terminal at National Airport. So strange: just a few weeks ago Zorro and I could walk two miles without seeing a soul and now we can't go two feet without bumping into a runner, walker, biker, or a dog. Zorro has been behaving very well around the other canines; he definitely takes notice, but hasn't barked or lunged for a while.
He did, however, wake us up at 4 AM when he saw the moon through the window in my office. Denny installed a blind in there to keep the peace but I forgot to close it before we went to bed.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

First Easter

So proud of Zorro: we had 12 people and six dogs--including a 12-week-old golden retriever pup--at your house in WV this weekend and Z was remarkably restrained.
I worried about potential problems all week, especially when Mom told me that Bogey, the pup, likes to hang on the other dogs' tails. But after a few growls and snarks, Bogey learned to stay out of Zorro's way. There were occasional dust-ups, but nothing serious, and for the most part, the dogs just hung out on the porch. Even walks were non-events, despite the fact that Zorro was on leash and the others weren't. (we debated letting him off-leash, suspecting he wouldn't go far from the other dogs, but Denny saw about 30 deer Saturday morning, and didn't want to risk it).
Zorro wasn't even the grumpiest dog: that honor goes to Binky, Dad's oldest golden, who has turned into a curmudgeon. Whenever a dog would get tooclose, he would emit a low, grumpy growl, like an old codger telling the damn kids to get off his lawn.
Of course, Zorro's ability to Play Well With Others has raised the question of whether we should get another dog. I told Denny he could get one when he retires. Taking care of one rambunctious BC when Denny is out of town is enough for me.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Birthday moon

Beautiful big moon last night, prompting several friends to ask whether I got any sleep. But with the help of a strategically-placed bedsheet, we had a quiet night. The moon was still up this morning, so we had a vigorous run.
Took Zorro to Dogtopia for the day to give myself a break. I'm also hoping that spending the day with a bunch of other dogs will prepare him for Easter weekend, when we'll be hosting at least 10 people and five dogs (including one 12-week-old golden retriever puppy). Denny says that's wishful thinking. The forecast for the weekend is sunny and warm, so my plan is to put them all out on the porch. I may use the baby gate to sequester Zorro if things get out of hand (the puppy likes to hang on other dogs' tails. I don't see Zorro going for that).

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Puddle elixir

Blustery winds and rainy this morning. That's fine with Zorro, because it gives him more puddle water to drink. Don't know what the appeal is, but he approaches a big puddle with all the enthusiasm of a drunk who stumbled upon a cache of free beer. Passersby must think we never give the poor dog anything to drink.
Found an iPhone ap for an extreme sheepdog game! Can't wait to download it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Moonless night, rainy morning

Got a later than usual start this morning but pretty much had the park to ourselves. I saw just one dog, and it was far enough away that we made a turn before Zorro even saw it.
The sky was threatening last night, and that didn't sit well with Zorro. When I took him out around 5, he went a few yards, then stopped, plopped down, and refused to go further. The good news is that the fears didn't last: by this morning, he was ready for a run, and didn't want to come in from the yard. Such a change from a year ago.
Denny found this BC blog on Twitter. Check out the eyes on Dexter. He looks even crazier than Zorro.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A river run

I had to take Denny to National early yesterday, so decided to take Zorro and go for a sunrise ride along the Potomac. I parked at Gravelly Point Park,, which is normally jammed with cars, but at 6:30 AM on a Saturday, it was deserted, except for a couple of taxicabs and a guy who looked like he was having a smoke before reporting to his airport job.
Unfortunately, it was unseasonably cold: 32 degrees in Arlington, and probably a few degrees colder on the water. So we only did a couple of miles. Zorro enjoyed himself, though. And we didn't have to worry about encountering any other dogs; we pretty much had the bike path to ourselves.
Still chilly today but nice enough that there are lots of dogs on the running path, so I'm packing plenty of treats. The running dogs aren't a problem; I can usually distract Zorro until they've passed. But we've been running into a lot of meanderers lately, and that's a challenge. On our way back this morning, we encountered a dad, a little kid, and two little white dogs who walked out into the middle of the bridge ... and stopped. And on our afternoon walk, a little kid came running up the path with a puppy, ao I sequestered Zorro in the bushes until they passed. Then, her father instructed her to turn around and come back. We ended up staying in the bushes for quite a while. It's tough to avoid confrontations when I don't know where the other dog is going.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Counting canines

When we were kids, my brother and I used to play a car game called Cow. We would each take one side of the road and count all the cows we saw. If we passed a cemetary, the first to call out "Graveyard" would kill all the other's cows. Player with the most cows at the end of the trip was the winner (needless to say, this worked much better on country roads than on the interstate).
Even then, my eyesight was pretty bad. Sometimes I counted goats, sheep and horses, mistaking them for cows. My parents realized I needed glasses when I started counting chickens.
I wear contact lenses now, but I still have trouble with distances, especially when it's dark. And that has created challenges on my walks with Zorro, when I'm always on the lookout for other dogs. We're enjoying a bout of spring-like weather, so there are more dogs on the path. And because we switched to daylight savings time last week, it's dark in the morning.
Just like the old days, I've occasionally diverted Zorro to avoid what turned out to be a stroller, or a little kid. But I'm learning some tricks. If I see a runner coming toward me and I can see both arms, I know that one of them isn't attached to a leash.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wet dog

Endless rain. We had to leave Berkeley Springs yesterday to avoid getting stranded by rising water. By mid-morning, you could have ridden a kayak down Rock Gap Rd.
Zorro, of course, is wet and unfazed; puddle water is his favorite beverage. Went for a walk in Arlington when we got back and didn't see many dogs. Still working hard on "look at me." Yesterday, he looked at me and then barked at a passing dog (a safe distance away). So we have a lot of work to do.
I had dental surgery Tuesday and was instructed not to run for a week, which makes for some challenging outings with Zorro. He has two gears: first, which is his sniff and pee mode, and fifth, which is all-out running. Getting him down to second and third has been a challenge.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Tough dog

Say what you will about Zorro, but he is not a crybaby. Denny observed the other day that he's never yelped, not once. If one of us accidentally steps on his paw or his tail, he grunts. I've never heard him make a peep at the vet's, either, even when he's clearly uncomfortable.
This may be a product of his genetics. We've read that border collies are genetically disposed to play hurt: if they're rounding up the sheep they'll ignore all sorts of injuries so they can get the job done.
Warm springlike weather so we're encountering lots of dogs on the path. I'm still working on "look at me" but keeping a safe distance. Yesterday, a guy running with a bulldog came up behind us suddenly and Zorro contained himself, although I have to admit that he may not have had time to react.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Signs of spring

Now that the ice has melted and the weather is warming up, we're seeing more dogs on our walks, so constant vigilance is required. So far this weekend, we haven't had any big smackdowns. We encountered a pug and a larger dog yesterday in the underpass, which forced me to do a quick reverse and dodge around three runners. I mentioned that we were trying to avoid the other dogs and one of them said she has the same problem with her Dalmatian. Always good to know we're not the only owners whose dog needs to learn some manners.
There's something cult-like about border collie owners. I went to the Arlington Farmers Market yesterday and one of the vendors had a beautiful small BC named Pepper in his truck. He said he grew up with border collies and can't imagine having any other kind of dog.

Friday, February 26, 2010

High winds

The latest snowstorm hopscotched past the DC area and went straight to New York. All we got was gusty winds. And that wasn't necessarily bad, because the wind acted like a giant blow dryer on the path, eliminating most of the moisture. So hopefully I'll be able to retire the big boots this weekend.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Seeing pavement at last

Hallelujah. Zorro and I were able to go for a three mile run yesterday. I got my shoes muddied in one spot, but for the most part the path was clear. And the snowstorm we were supposed to get bypassed us and went straight to Philadelphia.
Had to go back to boots this morning because it was still icy. And because we went out a little later than usual, we encountered a few dogs. I'm working on the "look at me" queue, which works pretty well when the dog is in the distance, not so well when the dog is fast approaching. For those instances, I'm working on "Let's go," followed by a rapid turnaround and a retreat into the weeds or wherever. He definitely understands the command; now the key is to make it rock solid.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ready for spring

So very tired of ice and snow. Yesterday was warm and sunny, which led to a melt and refreeze overnight. I slid on some black ice this morning and went down. Fortunately, I landed on my rear so only my dignity was injured.
The only good thing is that we rarely encounter other dogs. Only saw one this morning and didn't see any this afternoon. It's raining now and generally miserable.
I took Zorro to doggy day care this morning; my hope was that a day spent bossing around other dogs would wear him out. It seems to have worked: he's passed out now.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Happy day

Both walks today were uneventful. No unleased dogs, Dobermans, or lost shoes. Managed to walk across the top of the snow this morning; it was slushy tonight so we had a messy walk.
I must have made quite a picture this morning: I saw a dog approaching at Bon Air Park, so tried to redirect Zorro by running through the parking lot. In my big boots. I probably looked like some Army recruit, forced to work out in full gear.
Zorro saw the moon tonight on the way home and that also created a comical scene. He wanted to run, but because the snow is so soft and slushy, he couldn't, so he belly-flopped. I'm sure his distinguished ancestors would have been mortified.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Taking it to the streets

Tried a new route this morning that involved more pavement and less ice. It felt good to wear running shoes and feel the ground under my feet. But before we reached plowed territory, we had an unfortunate encounter with a neighborhood Doberman that brings out the worst in Zorro. He and his owner came up behind us fast and I didn't have anywhere to redirect Zorro, who began to growl and lunge. The Doberman responded in kind. I ended up plowing us both into a snowbank and losing a shoe. The owner was weirdly serene about the whole thing: he said, "They're really interested in each other, aren't they? You never know how a dog is going to react to another dog!" All the while, I was shoeless and holding on to Zorro for dear life and desperately wishing they'd just keep moving.
Actually, that owner had the right idea: I'm told that dogs can sense anxiety. Some of the posters on the border collie message board recommend humming a tune. Good luck with that when your dog is charging a hound that looks like he had a role in "The Boys from Brazil."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Trying to stay upright

Our morning and evening walks are growing ever more challenging. I have two choices: navigate the path made by the sleds, which is slippery, or wade through the snow, which is still above my ankles on some places. Zorro can't figure out why we aren't running; he slides around, too, but has a lower center of gravity and rights himself quickly. Meanwhile, I'm trying to stay upright while holding on to Zorro and keeping an eye out for other dogs. Left early this morning but still encountered the Unleashed Dogs at the end of the path so had to take a detour.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wild dogs

With a foot of snow on the ground, we don't see a lot of dogs on our walks. Unfortunately, those we do encounter are often unleashed. In addition, the snow has blocked some of the detours I usually take to redirect Zorro, so this morning's outing was especially challenging.
The first unleashed dog was a friendly black Lab mix who checked us out and bounded away. Not a big problem. The second, a short-haired yellow dog, got up close and when Zorro growled, he responded in kind. I hollered at the owner to please call his dog, but it was tense. I know I'm supposed to remain calm in that situation but that was hard to do when Old Yeller bared his teeth at Zorro.
Worse, we encountered both dogs--who apparently are playmates--on the way home, right in front of the path that runs by our house. I took Zorro behind the soccer field--not a big deal ordinarily, but today we had to wade through snowdrifts to get back on the path. Both of us were worn out when we got home. Note to self: start earlier tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010


The entire DC area was shut down by a giant snowstorm last week--big not just by DC standards but by any measure. At around 10 PM Friday, we heard a big boom and then the power went out. It didn't come back on until Sunday evening (five minutes before Super Bowl kick-off). I wish I could say it was an adventure, but it was mostly wretched. It was very cold outside, and as the weekend wore on, the house got colder. We kept the fireplace going, but it's not very efficient (unlike our woodstove in WV, which I missed desperately) and the wood we have was smoky. So by Sunday morning, the house was cold and covered with a layer of ash. The living room, where we camped out, looked like a Red Cross shelter. That suited Zorro just fine: he liked sleeping on the floor next to Denny and me.
The only way to stay warm was to keep moving, so we took Zorro for lots of walks. He loves the snow but prefers to stay inside the paths carved out by the sledders. We shoveled out a crooked path from the back gate to the back porch and he loves to dash through it; it's like an agility exercise for him.
Had a great walk this morning; hiked up to the top of the hill where the kids have been sledding all week. We're supposed to get up to another foot by tomorrow night. At least Zorro is enjoying himself.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

unbridled spirit

Big full moon on Friday and four inches of snow on Saturday, so busy weekend for Zorro. It was bitterly cold in WV but beautiful and Zorro got a lot of exercise.
This morning, Denny was headed up the hill with him when he realized that Zorro's leash was no longer attached to his chest harness. It took a minute for Zorro to realize he was untethered, but when Denny said, "Come here," he raced up the hill.
Luckily, he stopped at the top to eat some snow and Denny was able to leash him. If I thought he would always run ahead and wait for us, I'd be comfortable letting him run off-leash. But I'm not sure the outcome would have been the same this morning if there had been deer or other dogs around.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Stormy weather

Got up yesterday to find gusty winds and a spring-like 60 degrees. By evening, the temperature had dropped and there were isolated thunderstorms, according to Bob Ryan on Channel 4. We didn't hear them but Zorro apparently did because he was antsy and unsettled all evening: he scratched on the door to go out, but when Denny opened the door, he tucked his tail between his legs and retreated.
Around 10, our neighbor let her little dog out in the yard, which is always bad news. Holly is an incessant barker, and when Zorro hears her, he feels compelled to respond. We're making progress on getting him to stop, but it's tough: you can almost hear Zorro thinking, if she can bark, why can't I?
The neighbor's screen door is another trigger. Someone could drive a tank through our front door and Zorro would show only minor interest, but the squeaky door next door drives him nuts. This is bad news because our neighbor is a tax preparer who works from home, which means she'll be having a lot of visitors between now and April 15. Denny is thinking of heading over there with a can of WD-40.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Running forward, looking backward

Zorro's awareness of the moon never ceases to amaze me. Yesterday afternoon, when we were out for a run in WV, he started showing all the signs of a lunar sighting: he jerked on the leash, looked up at the sky, and started running very fast. But for the life of me, I couldn't see anything. Finally, after squinting, I saw a pale outline of a quarter moon, just barely visible through low clouds.
Even if we're running with the moon behind us, he will look over his shoulder so he can keep an eye on it. He looks like his head is screwed on backwards. Denny suggested that this talent--if you want to call it that--helps working BCs run while keeping an eye on their sheep.
Bad morning Friday: while on a walk with Denny, Zorro encountered a dog he didn't like at all, and went into full lunging, barking, growling mode, nipping Denny's hand in the process. We think the other dog may have growled at him first, but it's still troubling. So I'm putting more distance between us and other dogs on our walk, and we're talking about having a few more sessions with a trainer. There are a lot of dogs around here, and we need to teach him how to get along with them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Running with Zorro

I'm trying to teach Zorro that running with us is his job, and that he can't just stop and sniff the bushes whenever he feels like it. After consulting with some other border collie owners on the message board, I've worked out a system: when he starts to edge toward a tree or bush, I say, "let's go!" and give his leash a yank. The trick is to correct him before he has buried his nose in the grass or a snowbank, and praise him when he stays on the path.
So far, it's working out pretty well--too well, to be honest. Zorro has decided that if running is good, then running fast must be even better! If there are other runners ahead of us, he wants to pass them. This, of course, means that eventually I need to slow down to catch my breath, which gives him a chance to sniff and explore. Smart dog.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Another rescue dog

Here's a picture of Silver, a border collie/spitz mix (we think) adopted by my friend Pam. Silver is deaf. This creates lots of training challenges for Pam. On the other hand, the 4th of July is a non-event in her house.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Friends with rescue dogs

Here are my friends, Martha and Phil Rowley, and the three dogs they adopted from the Briggs Adoption Center in Charles Town, WV. I had my eye on Buster, the corgi/lab mix on the left, but Martha and Phil adopted him first. So Zorro, you owe them one.

Have dog, will travel

Zorro loves going for walks, eating snow, and playing keep-away in the backyard. But his hands-down favorite pastime is riding in the car (or truck). I've never known a dog who loved the back seat so much. Our last dog, Snoop, was apprehensive about the car: he usually needed to be coaxed in, and would often stand for the entire two-hour ride to Berkeley Springs. If we got out of the car, even just to pump gas, he would fuss and whine.
Zorro is the polar opposite. He'll hop right in (with a boost if he's getting in the truck), settle himself in the back, and lie down. If we want to go to the store or get breakfast, no sweat: he'll rest comfortably in the back until we return. Denny has gotten in the habit of taking him along on errands; right now, they're at Woodcrafters. It makes Zorro happy and he's good company.
The only exception is when the moon is visible from the car windows. When that happens, Zorro barks and jumps around, creating a dangerous distraction. So we pay attention to the position of the moon before putting him in the car.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

All-weather dog

It's bitterly cold with gusty winds. The weatherman on Channel 4 has been exhorting viewers to "bring the pets inside!" Zorro is unfazed, though. The wind makes him want to run even faster, and stay outside even longer. He was reluctant to come in off our porch in WV yesterday, even though the temperature was in the teens.
We had about 30 people over last week for a holiday party and Zorro's behavior was exemplary. He didn't bark at our guests or jump on them, or beg for food. He let everyone pet him, including a toddler. Sometime during the evening, he retired to the TV room, as if he needed a break from all the activity. I think some of our guests were disappointed that he didn't bark at the moon--and he did, briefly--but it was a cloudy night so there wasn't much to bark at.
Jan. 1 marked eight months since we went to Staunton, VA and brought him home and we're still discovering new things about him. Yesterday, for example, Denny was playing tug of war with him over a tennis ball and on a whim, threw it in the air and said "catch." And Zorro caught it! Denny tossed the ball in the air several more times and he caught it almost every time. This is somewhat baffling because when we first got him, we threw him a frisbee a few times--because border collies are supposed to be such great frisbee dogs--and he hardly ever caught it.
Maybe we were just using the wrong projectile, or didn't know the magic word.