Monday, August 27, 2012

30 Days and 30 Nights

It's official: Tater has gone unclaimed for 30 days. So now we get to figure out whether to keep him or place him. He's finally showing signs of emerging from his shell, and I'd like to put in some training time with him to encourage that. Also, my son is with mom this week, so Tater certainly isn't going anywhere until he (that is: my son) returns.

Tater has come a ways in the 30 days he's been here. He wasn't exactly afraid of his shadow when he arrived, but he was certainly looking to be reassured that the most basic actions were OK. When he got here, he was pretty tense when I would approach, as if he were uncertain what that might portend. Four days ago he climbed up on my bed and snuggled up without asking, and the day after that he wiggled himself between myself and my son during a bedtime story to get some attention. He still lowers his head rather than looking at me, but he'll now tap me with a paw to get attention and gently (but clearly) advise me that he I'm not done petting him yet. On arrival, Tater proceeded to mark every single place that Faith had previously peed and a few more to be sure. Early on, I couldn't let him out of my site lest he pee in the house or poop on one of the rugs. He now seems content to wait to go outside on the schedule. When he got here he was afraid of the travel crate. He will now "mount up" without hesitation, and obeys "inside" from the back yard without any difficulty.

A few issues remain. If crated next to Faith (or Trevor, probably, though I haven't tested it) Tater does OK. If I put him in the travel crate, which is currently on the other side of the garage, he bites his tail bloody and proceeds to spin in circles in the crate, painting the inside with blood as he goes. Not clear if that's about distance, visibility or (probably) a combination. He's definitely got some degree of separation anxiety, and it clearly reassures him to know that some of the family is crated along with him.

Tater would make a great dog to take to work if the workplace allows it. My sense is that he won't do well if he is left at home on his own. He would certainly need to be crated or contained, but if left to himself he'll resume the tail-biting behavior. He does do well with other animals (both dogs and cats), so adding him to a family that already has pets might be an option.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


I've said many times over the years that you don't really see pack behavior with two dogs, but you start to see hints of it with three.

For the moment, Faith (on the right) is clearly in charge of our merry band of misfits whenever she wants to be. Tater has recently made tentative motions toward testing Trevor's position, but it's all very provisional.

When people talk about dog behavior, they talk a lot about "alpha" dogs and hierarchies. In reality, the hierarchies among dogs are situational and flexible. Dog packs in the wild will shift off leadership according to qualifications and skills for the problem at hand. It's much more fluid than talk of "alphas" might suggest. Have a closer look at the picture.

Here we have Tater grabbing Trevor by the neck, with Trevor about to roll onto his back in mock-submission. Faith really looks like she's the referee, about to call "pin" on the  wrestling match - though just a moment before she was right in the thick of a three dog monty. So Tater is dominating Trevor, right? Wrong.

I say mock submission because that is exactly what it is. Between the two of them, Trevor is far more established than Tater, and is completely confident in his leadership between the two. His willingness to mock-submit during play is actually a reflection of that confidence. I've seen him do shoulder rolls to let Tater grab him. It's part of the process of socializing Tater into the group. If only humans could do this as well as dogs do.

The fact that Tater is willing to explore the pack boundaries is something I find very encouraging. He arrived shook up and timid, and he is slowly beginning to adapt. Can't wait to see how the "real" Tater emerges.

I now think that Tater was hit by a previous owner. I started to try teaching him hand signals for "sit", and he immediately flinched away as if expecting that he would be hit. There have been a few other hints, but today was pretty clear-cut. I'll teach him otherwise, rest assured, and we got past his initial reaction quickly, but the more he starts to come out of his shell the more reactions I see that feel like he expects to be struck or punished. Nothing awful, and nothing he won't overcome with time and positive reinforcement, but damn. What kind of jerk would beat up a Border Collie? Especially one as calm and innocuously obsessive as this one?

In Rottie rescue this kind of thing was par for the course. For better or worse it goes with how the breed is perceived by the public at large. I find it disconcerting to find the same mis-handling problems among BCs. Which is bloody stupid of me, I know. I suppose I just hoped for better.

In any case, gotta run. Tater has challenged me to 400 laps around the dining room table, and he's been at it for 40 orbits already. Thank doG he can't count worth a damn.:-)

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Various Visits

Well, yesterday was a slow day, and no progress finding Tater's owner, but we did get a chance to visit various places. Here, for example, is Tater lying down on the job at the local Petco, where I finally caved in and bought him a collar. In fact, he is wearing his new collar here. That blue floor is what they have in the fish department.

I've been trying to resist the temptation to re-home him into our house by small steps, but it's hard to avoid. Since we didn't have any records on him, for example, I went ahead and had the vet give him a full set of vaccines. No problem there, except now there's this rabies tag, and where does that hang? Yup, on the collar he didn't come with.

More and more Tater is following the lead of Trevor and Faith and following them around the house to stay with the group. He no longer seems interested in hanging out by himself downstairs. As he grows more confident, a few mildly obsessive behaviors are emerging: chasing his tail for ten minutes at a stretch or orbiting the dining room table.

After Petco, my son and I went out to dinner. This particular restaurant won't allow a dog in their outdoor section (some restaurants around here do), but we were able to get the table closest to a convenient nearby railing. Sorry for the (very) poor photo quality. The moral of this story is that the digital zoom on the LG G2X cell phone stinks.

We did learn in the course of this little experiment that Tater will obey commands from a fair distance away. People who "work" Border Collies presumably take that for granted as something you would teach a dog, but I don't have the sense that this guy has ever been worked, and it's unusual for other dogs to be trained that way. One or two of mine have been over the years, but it's a surprise in a rescue. He's clearly been taught "sit" (which he confuses for "down"), and "come", but not "paw" or "heel".

I'm also starting to get calls of the form "I don't know who he is, but if you don't find the owner and you don't keep him I would like to adopt him." I'm telling people that if we don't take him in he's going into Border Collie rescue (because they are equipped to evaluate and place him), but I'll be happy to pass along their contact info. Amazing how many people lose interest all of a sudden when they hear that.

I've also had to explain to a few people that BC and Aussie mixes usually don't have the same behavior patterns as the pure-breds. Trevor (BC/Spaniel), for example, has no herding drive, though he was prone to tear around our house in Maryland at top speed as a younger dog.

Speaking of herding drive, I can't remember whether I have passed along that we found Tater's herding focus: blueberry muffins. Given a look at a blueberry muffin, his strategy is to laser-stare it down and think herding thoughts at it until it holds still, and then pounce. So far he's managed to maintain focus for almost three whole seconds before the muffin disappeared on him. The nearest he wants to get to a sheep is to see one on television from the reassuring comfort and safety of his couch.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Walk of the Pure

Somebody seems to have a fondness for pure-breds with mismatched eye color. That's my son, doing his level best to worm his way into getting a third dog. I told him that we needed to do the right thing for Tater whatever that turns out to be, but we certainly weren't getting another dog when he doesn't even walk Faith. His response was to walk both dogs.

The light tonight was incredible, but the photos didn't work out. I had a choice of shadow on Faith's face or great light but one dog or the other looking the wrong way. Sigh. And it was such nice light!

In other news, Tater turns out not to have any visible bladder stone on the X-ray, and no infection or crystals, so now we look for other possibilities to explain the blood in his urine. The next step is a full abdominal ultrasound by a radiologist. His blood sugar levels are back up to normal, though, so that's looking good. The Blue Wilderness product seems to agree with him.

While we didn't find a bladder stone, we did fine a BB in one of his knees. This guy has sure been around the block.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

I'm Comfy Right Here

The first signs of what I take to be stress appeared last night. Tater didn't want to come upstairs to bed with the rest of the crowd. I got him started a couple of times, but the minute he realized where we were going he went back to the couch in the living room. He came up eventually, but the sense of it was that he needed a quiet spot for a while.

What's in a Name?

So after a day of testing, I'm thinking maybe Tater rather than Tato. Same idea, but it seems to work better. And it's got more stories. Couch potater. Imitator. Commutator.

Maybe it's my secret redneck self looking for a means of expression.

Monday, July 30, 2012

If I move to Jamaica...

The Kingston Trio
... can I call them the Kingston Trio?

Yes, that's Tato on the left. As you can tell, the established dogs are totally up in arms about this furry interloper. Heck, they even let him eat in their kitchen this morning with no poaching. Actually, they mostly seem confused that he doesn't want to play yet.

Tato continues to settle in. This morning we had no problems in the house. I'm now inclined to think that the marking was a combination of bladder and new dog "testing" behavior, and that faith may have been the culprit on the other item I found. Unfortunately she does need work on her house training.

Puppy love?
As you can see, Trevor doesn't like Tato at all. Yes, he's leaning on him.

That's all for now. Gotta run and see what the crashing sound in the kitchen is all about.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

We Paws Now for this Announcement

Tato. My people are lost, but at least the food's good!
Recognize this fellow? Me neither.

He was found near my home in Woodinville, and I seem to be fostering him temporarily. He has been wandering around for at least five days, so the chances of finding his owner are falling pretty fast. No tags, no ID, and no chip. Grrr! My best guess is that he slipped his collar on a trail walk somewhere, but that could have happened anywhere within a 10 mile radius of here. I can file reports with the appropriate shelters and place flyers with vets and pet food stores, but it's not clear where to put up flyers locally. Several people are helping; we'll do what we can.

Last night my son wanted to name him Stinky Chest, but this morning he relented. For the moment, I'm calling him Tato (as in "couch potato"). At 46 lbs, Tato is a bit on the chunky side (so he's probably American). He arrived hungry, in serious need of a bath to clean off his back end, and needed a major brushing out. Apparently not house trained, though that could be because he has a problem with his bladder at the moment. Clean gums and clipped toenails; he has clearly been cared for by someone. Some signs of old injuries; he may be a rescue, but if so it's surprising that he isn't chipped. I'll say more about the injuries in a month - we're currently withholding that information to help us confirm that any putative owner is authentic.

Tato is very calm and gentle. He exhibits no herding drive. He is terrific with kids - better than Faith. After a day here, he is starting to try to play with Trevor and Faith, though Faith's idea of play is decidedly odd and has him a bit puzzled. He is very easy to handle, and was perfectly calm about having his mouth and paws checked over. Tato is doing quite well with my two after some initial hesitation. For the moment, he's the calmest dog in the house. He seems to like riding in the car - even with the top down - and is quite calm about being left in the car while I go in and out of places. Oddly enough, he does not seem stressed about having misplaced his people.

Trevor. See the resemblance?
People can be remarkable. One of the people who brought Tato to me is extremely allergic to fur. She was driving around with the dog in her car, sucking on an inhaler so she could breathe. She apparently got directed to me because he looks a lot like Trevor (left - see what I mean?). Considering her allergies I volunteered to take him in and post flyers, and failing that, to get him into rescue. Or that was the plan until I saw blood in his urine. Rather a lot of it. Flyers promptly took a back seat in favor of a trip to the vet, which is where I'm writing this as I wait.

Hard to tell how old he is. Lots of wear on his teeth, but he could be anywhere from 5 to 9 years. No CHD, but some stiffness in his back hips. Vet just came back, and he may have a stone in his bladder, but we're running a panel to check for other issues at this point.

Aside from the fact that he's way too calm to be a Border Collie, he's a great little guy. Some uncertain hesitancy on various things, but then he's very compliant when verbally reassured.

Right now he's being quite the snuggler, but let's see what happens as he becomes more confident with the environment at my house. On second thought, let's hope we find his people before he gets a chance to settle in that far.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Sleep of the Deaf

There is something fascinating about the way Faith sleeps. Like any dog, she'll pretty much plop down and fall asleep when there's nothing to do. Unlike most dogs, she can't "keep half an ear open" when she does. If something thumps the floor she'll look around, but otherwise her sleep isn't readily disturbed by things going on around her. If you'll pardon the expression in the current context, she's a sound sleeper.

If Faith wakes up alone in a room, she'll immediately search the house to see where everybody went. That seems to be disconcerting to her, so I try to make sure I touch her to wake her when I'm leaving the room for longer than a moment. Keep in mind that she's asleep, and she has no idea that someone is approaching. Getting touched unexpectedly - even gently - is pretty startling. And (very much as you might expect) there is a startle reflex in that first moment of wakefulness.

What I find amazing is how quickly she processes the fact that everything is okay. And the fact that there's no aggression or fear in her in that moment. By the time she's fully alert, which is very fast, she's already snuggling into the hand that's touching her.

Maybe I'm projecting, but there's a level of trust there that humbles me. No so much trust in me, as trust that the world is going to be okay. There are days when I really wish I could do that...

Trevor, of course, insists that he can sleep just as solidly as Faith can. At least when he's not stealing bath mats. But as you can see, the scamp is cheating. He's not looking at the camera. Oh, no.

Did I mention bath mats? He's taken to sneaking off with them when I'm taking a shower. And he knows perfectly well what he's about, too. Makes a point of ambling slowly and looking over his shoulder until he knows I've seen him with the damned bath mat in his mouth, then walks out with it. So far they've ended up in the kitchen, the family room, and my office. He's a mix, sure, but his sense of humor here is all border collie.

Monday, March 12, 2012

A Temporary Forever Home

Too tired to play
We're having a great time at our new house (as you can see)! We get a brand new place to run around in. It has lots of places we can go in circles around at high speed, and lots of reflecting windows for Faith. Oh. And new quilts to en-fur!

Our Person has finally separated from his wife, which seems to be good for them both. We get to see our Little Person four days a week. The rest of the week we help our two-legs work by sleeping on his feet under his desk and bringing him balls when he's really trying to concentrate. Best of all, nobody here things of us as "big stupids".

A week after we got here, we went on an unauthorized adventure. Our person left a sliding glass door slightly open, and Trevor managed to open it. So he goes dashing out, tosses his head cockily at our Person, and with a telepathically projected "phbbttt!" heads off to check on marks all around the neighborhood. Being the responsible Border Collie in the family, I of course follow him, nipping at his ears and neck, trying to herd him back inside. So the big dummy takes off. So I follow him, still trying to herd him back to the house.

The thing about Trevor is that it's the principle of the thing. Given 20 minutes to leave messages on suitably selected trees and bushes, he always comes home. Mainly because that's where the food is in his puppy pea brain. But also because dogs aren't equipped with a digitus impudicus, so trotting back home with a look of attitude is his way of flipping our two-legs the bird. Which, now that I think about it, is probably preferable to him actually bringing our two-legs a bird. And I generally follow him around, so our Person was pretty sure I'd be back too, bragging on how brilliantly I had herded my furry reprobate brother back to the house. Not this time.

But a nice stranger in a car intervened. Trevor, the goofy lummox, made a dash for home. I decided to get in the car where it was warm and dry and I could distract a new person while driving. He looked at my tag and delivered me to mom's house. Where the cat dissed me, so I peed on mom's floor. Then my Person came and got me, and we had another ride in the car. Did I mention I like riding in the car?

- Faith

New tags are on the way. Anybody got suggestions for how to get dog urine scent out of marble? Nature's miracle isn't cutting it, and I'm afraid that bleach might damage the marble.

My son seems to be taking the separation pretty well. Once he figured out that he was going to have time with both parents and all of the pets (dogs here, cat there), he gleefully and mischievously turned his attention to planning his room. I need to get his new bunk bed painted pronto, so that the dogs can en-fur his bed too!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Cuddle me!

Dang. It's amazing how time gets away when you are otherwise engaged.

I love my dog.
This post is prompted by two photos. The first (right) shows my son hugging Trevor. The affection is real, and I think he views Faith with the same degree of affection. At the moment, Trevor is a little easier for him. Trevor and Faith are about the same age, but Trevor seems to be settling into the "mature, calmer dog" pattern. I've seen Alex cuddle Faith in very much the same way, but for the moment it seems to be easier with Trevor.

From my son's perspective, the effect of Trevor "settling down" is that Trevor is more predictable. In practice, this means that when my son teases or stimulates Trevor, the outcomes are less likely to result in tears.

I love his iPad.
His relationship with Faith, on the other hand, is shown at left. Faith is obsessed with images and reflections, and will cheerfully spend hours putting her head between child and iPad and drooling on both. To Alex, it must seem as if Trevor is interested in him where Faith is interested in his device. It isn't true, though Faith's deafness does make her less likely to respond to "My little person is in the next room crying, I better go see what's wrong." As all parties mature, I'm fairly sure that any preference will evaporate. For the moment, Alex seems more comfortable with Trevor.