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.