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.