Thursday, April 24, 2008


My husband came home with a massive bruise on his forearm. It was dark brown and as large as a lemon.

Considering his line of work (construction), all sorts of accidents ran through my head. Banged it on a pole, got hit by a rogue hammer, slammed it into an aluminum control box... who knows. He's always coming home a little scraped up, but this was an unusually noticeable injury.

Me: "Oh my God, where'd you get that huge bruise?!"

Him: "What, this? Me and some of the guys were playing a slapping game."


Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Success with toy box training!

Several months ago, I bought a little green cloth box to put all Dozer's toys in. I believe it's actually the sort of thing that goes in a child's closet or in some square nooks, and you're supposed to pull it out like a drawer, because it has a flat handle on one side to accomodate that sort of movement. But I just put it in a corner of the dining room. It's a very convenient thing; when I pick up around the house, I throw Dozer's toys into the box. When I vacuum, I just pick up the box full of toys, run the vacuum over the carpet, and set the box back down.

When I bought the toy box, I half-jokingly told everyone I was going to teach Dozer to put away his own toys. It was a nice thing to imagine, but realistically, probably out of Dozer's grasp. Until this evening.

Before I describe the training method, I should explain that Dozer knows the names of all his toys: ball, rope, bone, alligator (a stuffed alligator), and toy (meaning anything). [He also knows "Frisbee," but that toy stays permanently outside, first and foremost because it is a long-distance throw toy suitable only for the backyard, not inside, and secondly because he likes to pee on it.] So, for instance, I can tell him "Go get the bone," and he sometimes comes back with the bone, either after pulling it from the toy box, or after running through the entire house looking for it. However, he is definitely unreliable; he usually brings me a ball first, because that's his favorite toy. He seems to be saying, "Honestly, I don't know why you want that stupid old bone. Look, this ball is much better!"

So after getting the toy box, I made a little game with Dozer where I ask him for each of his toys, and he runs around collecting them all for me and putting them at my feet. Sure, it would be a lot faster if I just picked up the toys myself, but hey, I'm lazy.

This evening I went a step further and shoved the toy box under his mouth as he brought the first toy, the alligator. The toy naturally fell into the box, and Dozer got a treat and praise. Surprised, he apparently initially thought the reward was tied to that specific toy, so he immediately pulled the alligator out of the box and threw it at my feet. You like it? Okay, here it is again!

I made a "negative result" sound, sort of like unhh, so he would know that I wouldn't reward for the toy at my feet. Then I asked him to pick it up, which he did, and then put the toy box under his mouth and asked him to "drop it." Another treat and praise, and I pulled the box away so he couldn't take the alligator again. That toy was now "gone."

My husband asked him for the bone. After a few moments, he returned with the bone. This time, I didn't have to move the toy box; Dozer ran up and hovered over the box expectantly. On command, he "dropped it" into the box. Praise and treat, and something in his brain clicked. He deposited the next toy, the rope, even faster, though he still waited for the "drop it" command before doing so. In this way, he put four toys into the box.

Then the thing in his brain unclicked, and he pulled all the toys out of the box, looking perplexed but excited. I guess he was trying to pull the toys out so as to start over and earn more treats. He still didn't seem to quite understand the goal of this "game," but he sure liked getting treats!

Still, before he pulled them out, all the toys were in the box--and Dozer had put them all there himself. It may have taken three or four different commands to get each toy in there, and an awful lot of guidance, but it was an encouraging step forward. With a little effort, we might actually be able to condense the process into one or two commands.

I would say that this makes me the world's laziest pet owner, but I've seen that YouTube video of the dog getting beer cans out of the fridge for its owner.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Another irresponsible neighbor

Some people in the condos down the street moved in with a Boxer that gets loose all the time. This dog's escapades have become so common that I actually have the dog's home address written on a piece of paper that we keep by the phone, so when we call animal control, we can tell dispatch exactly where the dog lives.

This Boxer has harassed dog walkers, darted in front of vehicles in the street, and gotten into trash. And today he strolled into my backyard like he owned the place—much to my horror, as I was out back with Dozer.

Imagine, if you will, a beautiful springlike day, with a soft cool breeze and sunny skies. The birds are singing, the grass is green, and in the shade you could just sit and enjoy the fresh nothingness for hours on end. Well, there I was watering plants on the back porch while Dozer flopped in the shady grass with his disc toy.

As I turned to move the water to the next pot, I heard a soft jingle to my left: keys, or loose change—or dog tags. Dozer's collar was in the house, as I had just brushed him a few minutes ago. At that exact moment, in the corner of my eye, I saw Dozer leap up from his grassy haven with a strangled, ferocious growl.

Dozer disappeared around the corner of the house in a split second, and at the same time, my brain put all the pieces together and I realized there was another dog in the yard. In the next instant, I knew it was that Boxer. All sorts of bad scenarios started flying through my head, but there was no time for me to do anything but yell.

So I put all my faith in my dog's obedience, and shouted at the top of my lungs, in my most hard-edged, furious, obey-me-or-die voice: "DOZER, GET OVER HERE THIS INSTANT!!!" A heartbeat later, Dozer came dashing back around the house and ran behind me. His tail was as frizzy as a cat, and he had a ridge of fur standing up all along his spine, but it seemed that his goal had been merely to scare the stranger away. He seemed relieved that Mommy was going to take charge now.

Tentatively, yet audaciously, the Boxer peered around the house at us. I glared at him, but he didn't seem interested in a fight. Rather, he looked surprised. Oh, is this your yard? The gate was open. I started toward the Boxer, thinking I might catch him, but when I did that, Dozer stepped forward too. No, I didn't want a fight. I led Dozer into the house and shut the door. Then I went back into the yard to see if the Boxer was still there—but he was gone.

So I made my call to animal control.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Dozer and the advent of "senior"

According to the chart my vet gave me at the D's annual checkup, Dozer (age 7-going-on-8) is in his early fifties in human years. This, apparently, now qualifies him for senior dog food and supplement pills for his joints.

I guess no one actually told Dozer he needs to start acting his age. Honestly, if we hadn't adopted him when he was a bitty little puppy, we wouldn't believe he is so old. As it is, people think we are lying to them when we say, "He's a senior citizen." I'm not sure why we'd lie about something so pointless, but the fact is that Dozer still reminds everyone of a rather large, awkward, ridiculous, immature adolescent dog. "One or two years, tops," say the disbelievers.

Perhaps it's his big, goofy grin, or the clown dots under his eyes, or his soft, velvety rabbit ears, or his bright white fur that never shows gray. Maybe it's his big paws and gangly body. Maybe it's the way he gargles like Chewbacca, or squeals like a guinea pig, when he's excited.

Possibly it's because he crashes into and over everything in his path as if he were still a small puppy: as if he might be able to squeeze under the dishwasher's open door to retrieve his ball, as if he might be able to push his body between handrailing spindles to avoid climbing the icy back steps, as if he could share the front passenger seat with you on a ride to the drive-thru—if only you'd scoot over a tad. Or it might be because all his thought processes seem to end with the same conclusion: "Throw ball now."

All of these things make him seem like an oversized puppy with an undersized brain. So when the vet said Dozer was now a senior, I had a little trouble keeping the laughter in. Won't we be relieved when Dozer finally does start acting his age!

In the meantime, Dozer takes his joint pills with great reluctance. Though I believe they are supposed to taste good for most dogs, Dozer merely sticks his nose up and licks his lips unhappily. I have to force him to eat the pill, and though I am sure that a bystander might imagine that I am thrusting my tiny pink hand into a veritable alligator's jaws, it is in fact quite easy. Dozer has always been very good at opening his mouth for medicine; he opens as wide as possible at the slightest pressure on the top of his nose, and holds his mouth open for the delivery; I can stick my hand (and most of my arm) in to the back of his throat, drop the pill, and pull my arm back out in a mere second. When I press the bottom of his jaw, he closes his mouth and swallows obediently. Then I just have to wash my hands clean of the dog drool.

Not that he is having any joint problems (that we're aware of, anyway), but we would like to be proactive and build up his joints before they do start causing problems—especially considering all the backflips and other gymnastics that the D so enthusiastically delivers during his daily fetch routine.