Tag Archives: dog training

Dog brag

Two posts in a day? What can I say — we’ve got an epic storm unfolding outside and I’ve got a magnificent dog.

During the first blocks of our walk, Finn was rubbing his muzzle in the snow and it was fun and novel and exciting. But then we cut behind the VFW building and emerged out into the wind tunnel that is Langley Road. Whew! Here was a bit of “the bomb”. I could hardly see, even with glasses on my face. Finn got more subdued.

Once we headed down a wooded road toward the Upper Field, I fumbled with one glove and a zippered pocket to get out my camera. Nearly pulled out and dropped a credit card. Nearly dropped the phone. DID drop the leash.

But here’s the brag: a sharp “COME” and Finn turned and came right back to me. Please note: we were less than a block from an off leash field. What can I say? He’s not this responsive all the time, but how great was that? How great is he?

The end of the Upper Field was barely visible from the cul de sac. Compare the snowy picture with the one I took yesterday.

With a dog-reactive dog, the storm imposed both good and bad conditions. On the plus side, no one else was likely to be out. On the negative side, I sure wouldn’t see them coming!

Stay warm Northeastern friends!

Did I create a monster 

When we invited Finn into our lives, I wanted to raise him to be unafraid of the vacuum.  With all that shedding black fur, I knew I’d be vacuuming A LOT.

And so, for months I made sure that I never startled him with the cord, or bumped into him with the canister, or acted anything but super casual-cool about the noise. It worked! Look — there’s a dog relaxing on the couch while his human runs the vacuum — I was so proud.



But then one day he tossed the star toy down next to the canister and fool that I am, I flung it across the room.

You can guess the rest. Now every single time I start up the vacuum, he thinks it’s time for a game. It. Just. Took. One. Time.

(Noticing the speed of conditioning makes me fearful about how I dismiss a few less than exemplary moments of parenting (once? It just took once?)). But never mind. I can’t go there today. It’s sunny and 80 degrees out and I have the afternoon to myself.

What a difference a year makes


With the start of school, the parade of kids with backpacks and parents with umbrellas began today (yes, we are getting some rain — not much, but a little).  Last year, Finn rocketed between windows offering up his noisy volley of barks. It was nerve wracking. I had to keep the curtains closed.

Today? One little growl. That was it!

And here are a few progress shots of a cloth totem I am calling “Woven Girl”.


Even with red and green in the crown it doesn’t show up very well. Deanna suggested silver beads. I may give that a go.

I was inspired by Jude’s critters. Needing a use for the many rectangles of woven strips I’ve made. And, I wanted to show myself how much easier it is to craft a figure in two, as opposed to three, dimensions.

But she feels a little anonymous to me. Without a season. Or a purpose. I could think of her as a sampler and be done with it. But maybe she just needs a better name?

Why I admire dog people so much

Dog people are stalwart, good communicators, aware of personal and canine boundaries, committed to the task of training. Many of their capabilities are nonverbal and barely register to the human eye, meaning they are sensitive and subtle, too. They tend to be kind. They tend to be patient.

I am not a dog person. Not yet, anyhow.

This post catalogs a few encounters that Finn and I had this morning (plus one remembered incident). If  you don’t have time to read 1,100 words, you might want to skip to the end and at least read about the German Shepherd and his guy. They were kind of amazing.

It’s 98 degrees out now, but even this morning before nine, it was brutally hot. So I decided to take Finn to Crystal Lake where I hoped to exhaust him without inducing heat stroke. To get to the lake, we cut through an off-leash park. We’ve played fetch there on occasion with mixed results. It’s okay as long as the other dogs are far away and their people are paying attention, but it’s always a little bit of a risk.

This morning we happened to get pinned by two incoming dogs, both off leash.

After I alerted the closer woman that Finn was reactive, she immediately abandoned the stroller she was pushing, grabbed her yellow lab by his harness and hooked him up to a leash. She then quietly put some distance between us. A dog person.

The other woman didn’t need a verbal cue because by then Finn was barking his head off. Nevertheless, she sauntered off toward the far side of the field. She sauntered off to the far side of the field while her poodle bounded toward us. This woman sauntered off to the far side of the field, pretend-calling her dog, while I restrained mine using a considerable amount of effort. I’ve done this many times before and have some confidence in my ability to restrain Finn, but she doesn’t know what I can or can’t do. If she bothered to look, she’d see a five foot tall woman working really hard to manage a dog that is hysterical because her dog is bounding toward us.

She kept chirping the dog’s name, as if she was actually calling the animal. But anybody could see that her dog was no more trained to come that I’m trained to do a Simone Biles gymnastics routine.

Most dogs aren’t trained to come, including Finn. It’s a 10,000 calls-kind of thing, with increasing amounts of distraction, so I didn’t judge her on that account. I judged her for acting as though she had trained him. Chirp. Chirp. She knew that dog wasn’t gonna come. La-dee-dah. Did I mention the bounder was a poodle with a pom-pom tail?

Not a dog person.

Needless to say, by the time we got to the Lake, I was a little wiped (that wasn’t the first episode of the walk). The heat was oppressive already and even though I’m practiced at these encounters, they’re still stressful.

The last time Finn and I were at the lake he attacked another dog, so I brought thirty foot leash. The sight lines at our spot are terrible and to make matters worse, I have to keep my back to the pathways to throw the ball. Up until the recent attack, I assumed that Finn’s intense play would keep him engaged. Oops!

He bolted past me that day and went after a dog just past the tree line. In her panic, the owner dropped the leash and backed away, leaving her dog to fend for himself. I got there quickly, of course, and pulled a crazed Finn away. Fortunately, he doesn’t bite in these episodes — just scares the shit out of everyone.

But to drop the leash? Really?

These bursts of ‘reactivity’ are terrifying, don’t get me wrong.  And while I know that his behavior springs from insecurity rather than aggression, no one on the receiving end has any reason to make such a distinction. So while dropping the leash made this woman human, it also revealed her status : not a dog person. I’ve seen a fifty year old woman tackle a golden retriever to interrupt a snarling, teeth-gnashing encounter, for god’s sake. That’s a dog person.

Interceding that day took a few minutes, so there was a delay before I could turn and make an apology. To her it may have felt like an afterthought. I’ll take it as a ‘dog person badge’ that I didn’t care, recognizing as I do now that my primary responsibility in these situations is to Finn.

If I hated the poodle-lady just a little (did I mention it was another god-damned poodle?), it wasn’t because she wasn’t a dog person, it was the way her wilted, victimized response almost seemed like a prelude to a law suit. If you don’t live in Newton, Mass., trust me — this kind of reaction is not out of the realm of possibility. Even absent a bite.

So today things seemed to be working out. The leash let Finn bomb into the water with glee, grab the ball, and come bounding back in that joyful way of his and let me know that I’d be able to restrain him if necessary.

That’s when a beautiful one year old German Shepherd and his guy arrived. Right behind us. As Finn blasted through the water to charge the dog, I had to hustle to gather up the slack. I managed, leash-webbing burns on my hands notwithstanding. It was the usual wild barking, the usual me backing him up, the usual continued wild barking, me being stern and then generally, a semblance of calm. Usually the uproar ends because the other dog gets far enough away and not because of anything I’ve done, but today Finn settled even with the shepherd near.

That guy stood there, calm as a brick wall. Not surprisingly, so did the dog. Not a growl, no hackle peak, no returning volley of barks – nothing.

Then, the man actually asked me, “Do you think they want to meet?”

I was nearly speechless with admiration.

Because I don’t have the confidence to do this yet, never mind the fact that I’d already emptied my adrenals once or twice that morning, I declined. But what happened next was just beautiful.

This guy set up a game of fetch just down the beach a bit, at what, really, was a phenomenally strategic distance. Not so far away as to make the shepherd irrelevant to Finn, but slightly inside his comfort zone. With casual precision, this guy established a session of parallel play that doubled as training. I was so, so impressed.

You might think I’m going overboard, but I’m not. This man probably didn’t have to think overly hard about where to start throwing the tennis ball, but he knew enough about dogs in general and about our situation in particular to respond in an intuitive manner that was both respectful and useful.

Because that’s what dog people do.

Things moving and growing

Even though it was cold again today, Finn and I had a good walk. We have taught him to “spin” and continue to challenge him with nose work outside, which he absolutely loves.

The comfrey is stately, vigorous. Soon it will flop down.

Later, I am planning to make a flourless chocolate cake for a friend’s birthday. Writing and conferring about writing went well today.

The heavens are about stitched down. I will need to get some more black thread.

In other words, life continues apace and while “bouncing back” would be an overstatement for the day, it’s not far off.

Doing his job

Now I am applying Byron Katie’s inquiry process to my thoughts about the dog  (we have not abandoned training or expert help). For example, “Finn shouldn’t still be so reactive toward other dogs.”    Is this true? Can I absolutely know it’s true? Of course not. The fact that I wish he’d settle down doesn’t make it so.

How do I feel when I think the thought, “Finn should be over this by now”? The usual: discouraged.

Is there a stress free reason to hang onto the thought? No. There isn’t.

Turn it around: Finn shouldn’t be over this. Finn is doing exactly what he’s supposed to be doing. What if it’s his job to be the way he is? Or, by the way, for my sister to be the way she is?  

 

Lost Orgasms or Zero Faith


Where do all the missed orgasms go? Do they stuff themselves into pelvic bones, later to afflict the unsatisfied with bursitis? Do they congregate in the shadows, behind the bureau, say, to become part of what haunts us in the half light when we are alone and already unsettled? Maybe they fly off like the geese that passed overhead this morning while I was walking the dog, barely visible in the fog, honking their lament.

Their ultimate destination ought to depend on how close they came to deliverance, so that the ones that never even stood a chance would go to one graveyard, while the ones that shunted off to the side seconds before blossoming into shuddering, clamping pleasure would go to another, presumably more exalted, resting place. The really near misses might properly be housed in a mausoleum, one lined with stone-carved lilies and angels. Wouldn’t it be nice to offer your disappointments a bouquet of flowers now and then? I would choose red roses, even if rock n’ roll cliché resided in every soft, perfumed fold.

The sorting of failed pleasure feels like a job for Pluto, that merciless lord of the Underworld. If you recall, he’s the guy who sucked Persephone down from a field of flowers where she had been skipping along in innocent glee, a mere handful of yards from her doting mother. What a way to lose your virginity! I’ll have to go back for clues. Are there any hints that Persephone grew to enjoy her year-long subjugation? Or maybe even that she enjoyed it right from the very first bloody, hymen-breaking start?

Maybe the collective missed orgasms sail down to the Underworld and settle in the young girl’s loins, giving her one thudding, yelping orgasm after another, so that in spite of being held captive by a foul-breathed master of cruelty with no capacity to care for her, she at least has that release – or dare I say — ‘fun’?

Probably unspent female pleasure serves no purpose whatsoever — either noble or trivial. And, think about it, if it could serve some greater aim than the simple satisfaction of its participant, why would it choose a story about rape, where the mere whiff of female enjoyment can be so easily misinterpreted by male listeners, the coercive ones that want to believe in their decency but shouldn’t?

All the skewed notions, why add fuel to the fire? On the other hand, why let certain malevolent others have power over the range of my inquiry?

And while we’re talking about women’s pleasure, how about the cinematic female orgasm? You know the one – the grinding mutual orgasm that takes four seconds and requires penetration only. It’s astonishing how ubiquitous it is. Here’s one of many versions: guy shoves lover up against wall while yanking up her skirt, enters her, pumps four or five times to much deep-throated moaning on her part, at which point they climax together. Four seconds, four or five thrusts of his member. To watch any screen for any amount of time gives the impression that there are lots of women going commando in black pencil skirts having way more fun than I do.

Just to be clear. I have fun. Okay?

I would give almost anything to see that improbably hot detective or that leggy, single mother who looks like she just stepped off the cover of Vogue, shove her lover back, look him square in the eye and ask with unfettered disdain, “Are you kidding me? That’s it?!”

You could call the cinematic four second female orgasm (with penetration only) a male orgasm with tits. But the better view is that the quick, ecstatic humping we see time and time again stands in as pure male fantasy, something akin to the letters published in Penthouse, which even as a fourteen year old babysitter scanning the text surreptitiously, I knew to be pure fiction.

Can you imagine the relief that would flood this planet if women came as predictability, quickly, and with as little reliance on circumstance as men did? In four seconds with penetration only, in other words? Like they do in the movies?

I know women have these kinds of orgasms, and some women have them routinely (and I hope I don’t need to point out that to assert as much would require obnoxious gloating and very personal revelations?) For the sake of discussion, let me say that at no time have I come in four seconds while being pushed up against a restaurant bathroom stall wearing a pencil skirt with no stockings or underwear on. The point isn’t whether these brief climaxes happen or not — I know someone who came while dining out and enjoying a plate of shrimp, for God’s sake — but why that’s all we ever see, time and time again… the one version that just happens to be congruent with male fantasy.

I’m reading a well-written debut novel that features a lot of sex. In chapter after chapter, we are treated to a whole range of ways to have it, to enjoy it, and to be hurt and baffled by it. The protagonist is a privileged, self-destructive twenty-something who wanders through the sordid bedrooms of S&M, but also lies down in a fragrant eucalyptus grove and comes three times while enjoying the great California outdoors. At the author’s reading in Cambridge, her introducer focused a bit on the self-destructive and violent parts in a way that obscured the more subtle experiences described. Leave it to a guy to fail to mention the female protagonist’s multiple orgasms or her bland and recurring let downs.

I wish I’d said, “You don’t have to be a wanton 20-something hell-bent on self destruction to be bewildered or disappointed by sex. Hello? Anybody?!”

Instead, I raised my hand and asked if she wrote with pen or keyboard.

There was some pretty gross shit in there. But still, I’d rather read a passage about a feckless young woman being enamored with the vulnerability of a man’s ass as he walks away from their bed, even if they just shared a violent interchange that I can’t relate to at all than see that god damned four second improbable climax on the screen again. The fact that the novel’s passage is so wholly, explicitly, and credibly told from a female perspective makes it food for the soul. Scene after scene produced feelings of recognition and I doubt that I am alone in this.

The dog I walk does not look up at the passing geese. More and more I’m seasonally confused – remind me – what time of year is it?! He tugs at the leash and lunges, hackles raised, bark, bark, barking his head off at other dogs – sometimes, not always, and never for the dog walker. It’s an at least twice daily reminder that life is difficult. This is the dog I got. This is the life I got.

The embroidered pouch slung across my shoulder once held coins for wending my way – sometimes the change exacted by the ferryman in order to cross the dark river, sometimes as shiny offerings for Demeter when she missed her daughter the most. Now it stinks of beef. I offer up hot dog chunks to the dog in hopes of rewiring his canine circuitry into something friendlier, more manageable, more normal. “Please god,” I say at least twice a week. That I have zero faith in our strategies – strategies paid for with bloody dollar bills, by the way – I can only hope has no impact on their efficacy.

Arriving home, I look out over the still misty ground to what remains of the now abandoned play structure. There, I can just make out the black, spray painted letters that spell out: ‘ZERO FAITH’. Probably scrawled during one of the boy’s passages through middle school. Could be a skateboard brand. Or a song. Probably also a declaration. It makes me wonder: does misery pass through the body’s code, along with hair color and shoe size? Please don’t answer, I already know.

img_2642Notes: This was written to an ‘object prompt’ in a writing class. My object was a black cloth zippered bag embroidered with flowers.

A lament is a bit like a rant in that it resorts to stylized exaggeration. A rant uses the lens of anger and irritation, while a lament is more elegiac. In other words, don’t take this as autobiography. It’s more like sharing a dream.

The novel referred to is, “Wreck and Order” by Hannah Tennant-Moore. I plan to post reviews on Goodreads and Amazon (and maybe here) and so I am ruminating about the novel. I haven’t quite finished, but can certainly recommend it. It is a stunning literary debut.

Finally, after reading this to my husband, he recommended not posting– not because it includes stuff about sex, but because it is so grim. Well, this may be unwise, but I trust all 35 of my readers to hold this a certain way.