Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Queenie: The Good and the Bad

Queenie's been here for a few days now, and I'm beginning to approach the point where I can start cataloguing some of her good and not-so-good traits. This is, of course, an extremely preliminary list. On top of that, dogs, like people, change over time in response to their environments. Some of the things she does here might only make sense to her here; conversely, as long as she lives in Foster Dog Bootcamp, she won't have the chance to get into some of the unpredictable and doubtlessly awesome adventures o' trouble that I'm sure she'll inevitably get up to in her real home.

Because they always do. They always do. And Queenie is waaaayyy more mischievous than average. There is not a mean bone in her body, but she is an impish little troublemaker for sure.

Just look at that smile. Tell me that's not trouble. You can't. Exactly.

And so, without further ado, a very very preliminary list of...

  • Loves food + loves to tug = easiest dog in the world to motivate for training. Queenie will work for half of a stale animal cracker and an old sock. I'm not kidding. Well, about the sock anyway.
  • Extremely athletic and agile. Capable of leaping tall buildings and/or startled owners with a single bound. She can do it backwards, too.
  • Clever, clever little dog. Very quick learner, and quick to offer behaviors that she thinks you want. Queenie is already sitting unprompted at stoplights and before I open doors. Not always, but probably around 50% of the time, and this is with zero focused training effort to achieve that. She's just doing it because she thinks it's what I want and she is trying to be a Good Dog.
  • Bold, adventurous, brave. Resilient when startled. She has a good balance between recognizing when something might be dangerous but being quick to try new approaches instead of panicking in response.
  • Good with sociable dogs. I was initially a little worried about this because Queenie would snark at Dog Mob from inside her crate the first couple of days (she does not do this anymore, now that they've all gotten used to each other) and because she was charged by an extremely vocal, dog-aggressive pit bull on a walk her first night here. We had the misfortune of running into that same dog and same response not five minutes later as we went around another block, and this time Queenie helpfully offered to take off the other dog's face in response to his rudeness (never mind that he was probably four times her size. Did I mention she's not easily scared?). So I was a little concerned that she might either be or become reactive, based on that episode... but nope. Three days later, it's like none of that ever happened. She's completely happy to ignore other dogs she sees on walks.
  • Does not resource guard anything against people. Does not resource guard toys against other dogs. I don't know whether she will guard food against other dogs, since for now I'm feeding her separately in her crate.
  • Fine with small pets. She is curious about the guinea pig but not predatory, and will readily ignore the pig in favor of playing tug or otherwise interacting with a person.
  • Super awesome at pottying outside. I am very, very grateful for this character trait right now, because we have been having insane rainstorm deluges and it is NOT weather I'd like to stand around in for 40 minutes while awkwardly waiting for the new dog to pee. I am SO happy Queenie is easy in that regard. She goes without complaint within 10 minutes, no matter the weather.

  • Flipside of a highly food motivated dog (who is also underweight from some recent hardships): Queenie is a vacuum on the streets. She will pull toward, and attempt to snarfle, any disgusting rain-sogged unidentifiable blob of pulp that might or might not have been or contained food at some point in the past 10,000 years.
  • Also she will try to get into trash cans containing food, food-like substances, napkins that at some point may have come into contact with food, etc.
  • She pulls on leash toward squirrels, pigeons, and other walking dog toys around the city.
  • She has the Jack Russell Terrier trait of circling around behind you and jumping on your kneecaps from ambush. I actually had no idea this was a JRT thing until I was complaining about it to some dog friends and one of them was like "oh yeah that is totally a JRT quirk, tons of them do it" and I was all "heeeyy, I learned something new today!" And now maybe you have too. Hooray! Anyway, after a couple of days of me whirling around and going "No!" at Queenie every time she did it, the kneecap ambushes are largely a thing of the past, but I wouldn't be surprised if that recurred once she got a new person. It's not a big deal and it's easy to fix, but it's there.
  • Did snark at Dog Mob for the first couple of days. If there is a resident dog or dogs in the new home, expect to go through a few days of snaps and growls if other dogs approach Queenie in her crate. Again, this went away once she got familiar and comfortable with my dogs, but it was a thing in the beginning.
  • Will steal your socks if she gets a chance. She doesn't eat them, she just parades around with them, waving them proudly in the air like they are the greatest trophies that could ever exist in all dogdom.
  • Sometimes whines in her crate if she's feeling lonely or bored. It's not very loud and she usually settles down within a couple of minutes (if she doesn't, it is because she has to potty and needs to be taken out), but she does make a little noise in there occasionally.

I don't honestly think of any of those "bad" things as being particularly bad. They're dog things, and Queenie is a dog. All of her behaviors are on the continuum of normal dog behaviors, and none of them is especially severe or difficult to deal with -- frankly, I'd think an owner who couldn't handle this stuff should probably just get a plush toy instead of a real dog.

But in the interest of full disclosure, that's what I've seen from her so far.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Queenie Helps With Gardening

...or, you know, not.

Yesterday I finally accepted the glaring truth that my blackberry vines had not, in fact, survived the polar vortex death spirals of this past winter.

I had been in denial about this for a while because I was secretly hoping that through sheer force of will and/or laziness I could force them to still be alive, since the prospect of chopping down all the brambles, hacking the gigantic root balls into manageable chunks, hauling the whole grim mess down four flights of stairs to the curb on garbage day, and then hauling replacement sacks of dirt and baby blackberry plants back up four flights of stairs was all just too horrible to contemplate.

I mean, we're talking about two separate blackberry trellises, each of which occupies about 35 square feet and grows from a box containing about 120 pounds of potting soil. Major hassle.

Sadly my superpowers of denial were only about 50% effective in this situation. The vines were incontrovertibly dead, but I saw some tiny tentative sprouts of new life emerging from the boxes, so it looked like the roots had survived and were sending up new vines. Which meant I could just chop down the old vines, resign myself to having zero blackberries this summer (the fruits grow on second-year canes and I had no surviving canes), and hope that the new vines grow up enough this year for the plants to be back in commission in 2015.

Good enough! I embarked on a chopping-and-boxing spree over the weekend, and I brought Queenie up to "help" because (a) she needed a bath; and (b) the deck is the only place on Earth where I can allow a new foster to roam around mostly unsupervised and not have to worry about either the dog or myself committing suicide as a result.

I did not count on how much she would delight in digging up and destroying my baby soybeans, though. My mistake. She actually didn't dig them up so much as she jumped on all the pots and stomped around in the dirt because whee!, now I'm taller!!, but the soybeans are equally dead either way.

Upon realizing this error, I brought the other dogs up to distract her. This worked... moderately well. As usual, Crookytail was MVP of Foster Dog Engagement.

Aw they have the same paw lift/swipe mannerism, isn't that cute.

Pongu, predictably, wanted no part of any of this, and wandered around trying to get me to do some obedience practice and tattling on the other dogs whenever they broke Rules.

He gets pretty smug about tattling on the other dogs, Pongu does.

So Queenie ended up pretty much only playing with Crookytail.

And that was their afternoon.

We are making pretty decent progress with Foster Dog Boot Camp. Queenie is pottying outside consistently (and woke me up this morning by insisting that she really needed to go, which she did, thereby establishing that she is well and truly reluctant to potty in her crate. Yay!, that's 90% of the potty training battle right there), getting better about walking on leash (she still whirls around me like a demented furry satellite, but at least she's not trying to kneecap me from behind anymore), and started clicker priming last night. We're probably about halfway to having a quasi-decent Sit and I expect I'll be able to get that on cue in another couple of days.

More updates later, for now it's time to knock out another photo session while I still have enough daylight to use.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Heeere's Queenie!

Last night we drove through a torrential downpour to a rest stop outside Newark, Delaware, where we picked up Foster Dog #24: a little brindle mystery mutt named Queenie.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to pull Queenie in large part because I thought she might be Crookytail's sister. Now that I've gotten to see her in person and compare them side by side, it's clear that there's a strong family resemblance (from the back, it's outright uncanny), but not quite that strong. I'm now guessing that the connection is uncle-niece rather than brother-sister.

Queenie is much smaller, bolder, more energetic, and more adventurous than Crooky (or, for that matter, most other foster dogs we've had) was this early on. We know she's probably got some Akita and pittie in the mix, because that's Crookytail's mix, but I would guess that there's something smaller, shorter-coated, and more active in her heritage as well. So far, Jack Russell Terrier is the leading guess on my Facebook page, and I suspect that has a good chance of being correct.

Whatever the breed mix, she is an active, inquisitive, hilarious little girl with a BIG personality. She snuggles with great enthusiasm and she trots on leash with great enthusiasm -- this dog does not do anything halfway. She would be a great fit for a home that was looking for a confident, playful, highly affectionate dog with a sunny disposition.

Queenie is so far not a big barker (I haven't heard her bark once), doesn't seem terribly interested in pigeons or cats on the street (but this could change over time, and often does), and is great with Dog Mob out of her crate but is currently a little growly when they approach while she's in her crate (this behavior is fading quickly as she gets used to them, though, so I anticipate it will cease to be an issue in a week or less). She is super food motivated -- no surprise, given how underweight she is right now -- but takes treats very gently. I think she'll be a snap to train.

As usual, we're starting Foster Dog Boot Camp with (1) leash walking; (2) potty training; and (3) a basic Sit, all of which are progressing nicely after a whole < 24 hours of work. I got a good enough fake Sit-Stay out of Queenie to take a posed, dropped-leash photo in the middle of the city on her very first daytime walk, and had absolutely no worries that she would bolt (but still, don't try this at home):

So that's Day One. As ever, we'll see how things develop as she relaxes and lets more of her personality show.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

4/18/14 - Pongu Gets His RA

Friday afternoon saw us back in New Jersey, this time at the Lower Bucks Dog Training Club's evening Rally trial in hopes of finishing off Pongu's AKC Rally Advanced title.

I cajoled the Spousal Unit into driving because twice now I've gotten pulled over and ticketed for expired registration, inspection, and/or emissions stickers on our car. (Well, last time I got a ticket. The time before that was when our car got towed because the City of Philadelphia does not joke around about expired registrations.) It is not my responsibility to do those things, but somehow Peter never gets pulled over for the expired stickers. I am the only one who gets ticketed for those things and they're the only things I ever get ticketed for.

So, given that this was a short trial and should hopefully be the last time I have to drive anywhere before the emissions and inspections stuff gets updated, I bugged him to drive. And, of course, we got no tickets.

To my mild surprise (because I expected traffic to be worse on a Friday evening leading into a holiday weekend), we got there on time. The training facility was slightly hard to find; our GPS system was off by about half a mile when we finally got to the correct road, and the training center is located in a residential neighborhood where it's not visible from the street. But after a couple of missed passes, we found the place.

It was a nice, low-key, well-run trial in a matted indoor facility that was comparable in size and layout to most of the single-ring WCRL venues we've visited. The Rally trials were split off from the obedience trials (which were being hosted on Saturday morning/afternoon) and the entry numbers were about comparable to a medium-small WCRL trial in our area. The Excellent and Advanced B classes each had about 20 entries and the A classes had 7 or 8 entries apiece. Both Novice A and Novice B were around 10 each.

The venue was not too crowded or noisy and there weren't any weird environmental quirks that I could see, so I didn't think it would pose any huge challenges to Pongu other than being a new place he had never seen before. He seemed pretty okay when I brought him in to look around (as much as scaredybutt dog ever is), so I wasn't too worried about a major meltdown.

And then there was a curveball, because there's always a curveball.

We were the last team to go into the ring in Advanced A. While we were "on deck" in the designated waiting area, the working dog suddenly ran out of the ring and charged straight at Pongu. Nothing serious happened -- they exchanged some snarks and snarls, and Pongu tried to snap at the other dog but missed because I was grabbing him -- but it was a little disconcerting.

I've been to a pretty good number of trials and I've never seen a dog break out of the ring to charge at another dog. I've seen plenty of zoomies (in fact, one of the dogs at today's trial got NQ'ed for zoomies), and I've seen dogs check out of the ring to wander around aimlessly because they were too bored or stressed to continue, but I've never seen a working dog leave the ring to go at another dog.

My luck, the first time it happens, it happens to us when we're waiting to begin our run. And since we were the last team in the class, there was no opportunity to let someone else go ahead of us and give my dog some time to calm down. There wasn't anybody left to go. So we got called to the start line as soon as the other dog had been leashed up and led out of the ring.

Miraculously, Pongu was completely unflustered. A flapping plastic bag will destroy him for an entire day, but it took him maybe 30 seconds or so to get over the other dog running out of the ring at him. After that he was just back to his normal level of stressy insanity.

One thing I'll say about Pongupants: after years of training with newly arrived foster dogs in the house, and other people's random pet dogs at the dog park, he is really good at ignoring dogs who interrupt him while he's working. He just yells at them to quit bothering him and goes straight back to whatever he was doing. I have seen him yell at other dogs without breaking his Sit-Stay, and then turn right back to me with a big proud smile at how he is a Good Dog (and, of course, clearly so much better than that other dog, because being better than other dogs is one of Pongu's primary concerns).

So we did our run and we lost three points on a crooked Sit and a couple of heeling errors and we finished with a score of 97 (because this time I did not forget to pause at the end of that goddamn Sit-Stand-Walkaround, haHAAA!!), which was good enough for first place and capped off Pongu's RA.

Three trials, three Qs, bam, done. If not for my 20-point disasteration on Pongu's first run, he would have gotten 97s in every one of his attempts at Rally Advanced A. Given the circumstances of this run, I'm especially proud of Pongu for doing so well on this one.

(The contrast with our long, slow, painful slog to the RL2, incidentally, is striking. Either AKC really is that much easier than WCRL, or we're actually getting better at this stuff. Ha!)

So that finishes our quest for the RA. I entered an insurance trial on the 27th, but we'll probably scratch that one since I don't need an extra RA leg anymore and it's an outdoor trial. I don't have a ton of confidence in Pongu's ability to work outdoors at this point.

We'll start working on our Rally Excellent in May, which ought to give me time to train the handful of new exercises that we might face.

And then I can start scouring premiums in search of trials that offer nice title rosettes.

Monday, April 14, 2014

4/13/14 - New Game Plus: Challenge Mode!

Apparently, beating the game with Pongu's ARCHMX unlocked an exciting new chapter for us. New Game Plus: Challenge Mode!

Sunday saw us at iQ Agility in Bloomsbury, New Jersey, just across the Delaware River from the Pennsylvania state line. I had entered a second day's worth of Rally trials just in case we didn't finish off Pongu's MX on Saturday, and once we did, I wasn't too sure about waking up at 4 am to venture out on a second marathon day of dog competitions. Two days back-to-back is a lot for both of us.

But I decided to go (even though I slept in until 5:30) because a fair number of our friends were going to be there (peer pressure ftw!) and it was my absolute number-one most favoritest judge, and also I was really curious about the new venue. It was not one that I'd ever seen listed on a trial premium before.

We rolled in pretty late, because (a) I slept in until 5:30 (only in the insane world of dog sports does sleeping in until 5:30 on a Sunday morning screw you for the day, but there you have it); and (b) I got in a fight with my GPS, which kept insisting that the fastest way to get there was to take Broad Street/Rt. 611 for 47 miles through the entirety of Philadelphia and up through many, many miles of suburban strip malls and big box developments and stoplights.

Broad Street is never the fastest way to go anywhere except crazy, so I steadfastly ignored the GPS's squawking until we were well up on I-95, and then I forgot what the rest of the route was supposed to be according to Google Maps so I had no choice but to let the GPS take over. At that point our progress slowed down dramatically and I got to take a long, scenic detour through rural Pennsylvania until we got back onto 611/Easton Road and it was just boring big box developments and stoplights again.

But EVENTUALLY we got there.

And it turned out that the venue was in an old horse barn that still smelled strongly of horses. The crating area was in some of the old straw-littered stalls. The barn had a metal roof, upon which rain drummed as we entered, and an artificial turf floor upon which another dog had peed during one of the early runs before we arrived. One wall abutted a chicken coop, where a rooster crowed all day long and hens squawked as they laid their eggs, and another wall was next to an open, fenced area where chickens pecked and guinea fowl clucked and geese honked and clacked incessantly.

There was a sheep, too. A very big, very smelly, very vocal sheep. All the dogs were super excited about that, but the herdy dogs had their minds particularly blown.

So... that was a Challenge Mode trial and no mistake. Everybody got to do some heavy-duty proofing and distraction work. Dogs who normally run perfectly wandered off and snuffled at the chicken coop door and got distracted by the enticing chorus of sheep-and-geese noises coming from the other wall.

Pongu, predictably, regarded all the noises as Harbingers of Certain Doom and was a complete wreck. In a perverse way I found it pretty encouraging, though, because where "complete wreck" used to mean that I had absolutely no dog in the ring, or that he'd dodge the jumps or break his Stays or otherwise totally crash and burn, now a "complete wreck" performance for Pongu means that he needs some repeat cues and does crooked Sits because he's trying to hide behind me and lags during heeling.

It means we get ugly runs with ugly scores. But -- at least on that day, in that venue, which was in some respects the most difficult one we've ever visited -- Pongu earned a Q on every run. More than that, he mostly scored in the low to mid-200s. Not great, by any measure, but a much better definition of "disaster" than we've ever been privileged to have before.

His last run of the day would, in fact, have been a perfect 210 if his dumdum of a handler hadn't forgotten that the Stand-Stay recall is to Heel position and not to Front. I goofed up and had to re-do it, knocking our score down to 207 and ruining what would have been the only perfect score for any dog that whole day.


So overall Pongu did not-great but also, at the same time, GREAT!! Sometimes I really need to step back and remember that yeah okay his heeling is not spectacular today... but a year ago I would have wept for joy to have the problems that make me gnash my teeth today.

I am mostly planning not to keep our ribbons now that we've gotten our MX. Pongu has so many Q ribbons and even so many placement ribbons that I'm just out of space to hang them all. At this trial, he placed in five out of his six runs, but I only kept one of his blues, and that mostly so that I could take the pictures in this blog post. I was so proud of my little crazypants muttbutt for performing so nicely in a tough venue that I wanted to get a shot of him wearing blue at that site.

So I kept a ribbon for that. I think it's an especially nice one.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

4/12/14 - Pongu Earns His ARCHMX

On Saturday, Pongu and I went out to Washington, NJ, to enter a double trial. It was the day before his (fake) birthday, and for a while now my goal has been to finish his ARCHMX before Pongu turned 4, so I was really hoping to get it that day.

I'd had to scratch him from another trial a couple of weeks earlier because he chewed a hole in his foot, which was one of those glass-half-full scenarios because it meant we had to wait a little longer to finish his MX, but also meant we'd have the chance to do it at a trial where a lot of our longtime Rally friends were also competing. And I really wanted to be able to share the moment with them, so I was secretly kind of glad about the way the timing worked out.

Somewhat anticlimactically, though, it ended up being one of our crappier performances. That venue was difficult for a lot of dogs because one side of the ring was comprised of large floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out onto a strip mall, with passersby gawking at the dogs and other dogs pottying on a grassy area outside. Sometimes those windows are covered, but they weren't on this particular day.

Also, it was extremely quiet inside the venue but quite loud outside, so many dogs (including Pongu) got distracted by the contrast in noise levels. ALSO also, I was super tense, which kind of surprised me because I'm generally not that anxious about WCRL anymore, but I really REALLY wanted to get Pongu's MX that day and so it was like woah, flashback to ring nerves!

But Pongu got the job done. He picked up two sets of triple Qs, finishing his MX with an extra QQQ to spare for the day (because WCRL fixed a mistake in our score tally from last year, so we were credited with another QQQ that we earned but weren't given in 2013).

Here is our sucky terrible lag-tastic final run:

You can see that Pongu's pretty nervous throughout that run (stress jumping on the start line, lots of stopping and staring while heeling, freezing up before the send on his retrieve and lifting his paw on the return, etc.) and we got dinged a bunch for crappy heeling, a crooked Sit, forward creeping on the Stand-Down-Sit-Recall, and two repeated cues. (On the plus side, his Fronts are getting better, and my instructor clued me in last week as to what I was doing wrong on our left turns, so those are on the road to improvement as well.)

So yeah that wasn't pretty and I am not proud of our score and I sure do wish we'd gotten a nicer finale for our championship quest... but it was good enough, and I guess "good enough" is pretty appropriate for us after all.

(As a passing thought, this is one thing I'll say about the AKC OTCH: nobody ever, ever gets a crappy run as their final victory for that one. That is possibly the only good thing I'll ever say about the structure of that championship: you'll never get a bad final win on video there!)

And so it is done. Pongu is the 25th mixed-breed dog ever in the history of the world, and the 168th dog overall, to earn the ARCHMX championship.

Pongu's second set of runs was better, because after we got the MX I was back to being totally relaxed and he was more acclimatized to the environment. But those were just insurance runs -- the real work of the day was already done.

This is not the end of Pongu's trialing career. He has only just turned 4. We still have lots of adventures ahead, lots of new sports to try, lots of new challenges to face. He is still a scaredy dog and we will always have to battle with the bogeyman of his fear and anxiety. The radioactive spider ghosts in his brain will never completely go away.

But it's the end of a chapter. My fearful little crazypants pound puppy made it to the top of his sport, and became one of a small handful of mixed-breed dogs to achieve the highest championship in World Cynosport Rally. Whatever we do or don't accomplish in the days ahead, Pongu has already done more than I once believed possible.

HOORAY. Mission accomplished.

Friday, April 11, 2014


In a couple of weeks, we'll have a new foster dog: Queenie, a (probable) Akita/pittie mix from Robeson County, North Carolina.

 photo Queenie.jpg

Queenie is very probably Crookytail's younger sister out of another litter. She was picked up as a stray in the same area outside St. Pauls under circumstances quite similar to how Crookytail was found. She has the same distinctive brindle-and-white patterning in the same shade of black-striped gray, the same white tip to her same-shaped tail, the same thick ruff of white fur around her neck, the same whorly ridge in her chest fur, the same black markings on her lips that shade to the same pink around them. The same stocky toes and the same boxy tuck to her tummy. The same floppy-tipped prick ears, although she doesn't have Crookytail's one straight ear.

It could all be coincidence, of course. We have no information about the owner, no papers, nothing really except a striking similarity in appearance (and possibly some personality traits) between the two dogs. But it's a very unusual appearance and the similarity is very close, and they were found in roughly the same area, and it is not at all uncommon for people in that area to keep breeding the same dogs, and dumping the same puppies, year after year.

There's no proof. But that would be one hell of a coincidence.

 photo Queenie2.jpg

 photo Queenie3.jpg

In all likelihood, therefore, I think that Queenie is indeed Crookytail's younger sister. She might be a niece, or some more distant relation... but the similarity is so close that I am inclined to guess she is most likely a full sister out of a subsequent litter.

She is currently about 35 to 40 pounds. The shelter estimated her age at 1 to 2 years. However, they estimated Crooky's age to be in that range too when I adopted him, and he turned out to be probably about seven or eight months at that point -- and he grew considerably from the emaciated 45 pounds he was then, so although I have not yet seen her in person, I am open to the possibility that Queenie might be younger than her current estimate indicates and may grow somewhat larger, too.

We'll know better when she gets here in two weeks.