indoor/outdoor personality

One thing we love about our Stevie Wonder is what a good indoor/outdoor personality she has. Whichever the setting, it’s like she instantly adapts and brings her A-game. Indoors, her A-game involves lots of cuddling, playing quietly with toys, and following us around to observe our household activities. She has even taken to a favorite (camoflauge!) chair, where she goes to lay down after she has visited each of the dog beds scattered throughout the house:

But outside? Outside she is no couch potato. She walks nicely and calmly on leash, but when it’s time to go play in the yard, our Stevie-girl is like a little torpedo. She bolts across the deck and down the stairs in excited anticipation, and immediately starts hunting for the nearest fetchable– whether it be a stick or a ball. She picks it up so quickly that sometimes she has to go potty with it in her mouth before triumphantly prancing around the yard for a minute and bouncing back over to drop it at our feet.

Of course we know the difference between indoor and outdoor behavior, but how are some dogs — like Stevie Wonder — so darn smart?

the art of being

In our little dog fostering world, there are very few steadfast rules. When we picked up our first foster (Lollie Wonderdog), we kind of made it up as we went along, trusting our intuition to help us be good foster parents. We haven’t read much instruction or philosophy on good dog foster parenting so we can’t say for certain that our approach is the best one, but it feels right to us: first, teach the dog how to just be.

When a new dog enters our home, the only thing we can be sure of is that its most recent experiences have been new, stressful, and probably a little bewildering. These animals have been removed from any stability they once knew and have no idea, when they enter our home, that it will be a good, friendly, safe, comfortable place. So our first task is to help them learn how to just be. And we take this simple little primary mission very seriously.

Just be. It’s hard to explain what we mean by that. But there is definitely a bit of magic that goes on during the first few weeks of a dog’s time with us. In truth, there isn’t a process. And yet, those magical first few weeks set the tone for the rest of our time together. Somehow, it’s the time in which our foster dogs learn how to be house pets.

We spend no time on tricks and very little time on basic commands, but we do help them learn how to function in a household. By being around us in a low-pressure environment, they first learn how to relax. Period. Then, they learn how to not panic if one of us leaves the room. They learn how to eat in our presence and without our presence. They slowly begin to learn which furniture is dog-friendly and which furniture is not. We help them understand what a toy is and isn’t. They learn to get excited at meal times and when a person grabs a leash off its hook. They learn that barking or mouthing gets you no attention, but a nice, calm presence often does. They learn how to appreciate a good round of chase in the yard or a nice snuggle on the couch. They learn that begging for food is futile.

They learn how to politely initiate a game with a person. Just this weekend, Stevie learned how to properly return a ball to us to play fetch. This involved no formal training and no commands, but a consistent pattern of reinforcing the good behavior (dropping the ball at our feet) and ignoring the bad behavior (teasing us with the ball, running a few steps away when we look at her). That’s the beauty of this important, formative time. None of it involves commands or training. Just simple, no-pressure, consistency. Lots of patience, lots of rewards, and lots of love.

Of course. No dog is perfect, and most dogs have had a hard time with some element of our basic concept of how a good house dog behaves. Still, after a few weeks (and the length of time varies from dog to dog), we usually feel pretty good about a dog’s ability to just be, and we sometimes move on to obedience and commands. But truth be told, we didn’t teach Gonzo a single trick or new command during the entire 3 months he was with us. We knew there would be time for that later. But we did help him better understand how to be a good dog. After his time with us he knew not to get up on the furniture unless invited, he knew where to lay down to wait for his dinner, he knew not to steal shoes and run around the house, and he knew that climbing up on a person for a movie was likely to gain him a nice snuggle and some ear rubs.

And here’s the deal: I would be willing to bet that few dogs get returned by their adopters because they don’t know how to shake or roll over, but that many do because they don’t know how to interact with humans and behave acceptably in a house.

And avoiding that tragedy is the business we’re in.

a tangle of limbs

Miss Stevie Wonder took advantage of the beautiful weather this weekend to become acquainted with the ins and outs of the chairs on our deck. She did not seem to realize what the rest of the world knows, which is that adirondack chairs are not actually custom built for dogs to sit on.

She conducted about 15 minutes of false starts and contortionist moves that make me want to audition her for Cirque du Soleil, and could not have possibly been comfortable.

In the end she determined that all four of her gangly tangle of limbs could not fit on the chair at the same time. In the spirit of fairness, the limbs took turns, two at a time.

It may have looked ridiculous to us, but Stevie Wonder did not appreciate our poking fun at her:

“I insist. This chair is quite luxurious.”

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sooner or later, every dog . . .

. . . romances the kong. At least, that is, in our household.

I swear, if I ever met the person who invented the Kong, I would give him/her a great big kiss on the lips. Without this person’s contribution to dog happiness, we would be in a sad fosterplace.

It took a little while for Miss Stevie Wonder to gain the self-esteem to tackle the Kong puzzle, but once she did it, she DID IT.

For days 1-3, Stevie would scarcely touch any food, even if it was slathered in liquid fish oil, liver, and cheese (I know!!). The rest of week 1, she would gingerly eat her dinner and breakfast, but not if we were watching her. Week 2 she started to come around to daintily taking food from our hands, but only if it was in the form of cheese, string cheese, american cheese, cottage cheese, liver/cheese sandwiches, or similar food groups. Toward the end of that week, though, we finally got her. She became converted to the wonder of the Kong.

In our fairly limited experience with shelter dogs, there is a trajectory of self-assuredness that has to be minded, but if confidence is reinforced and built, most dogs will get to a point where they feel comfortable solving puzzles similar to a stuffed Kong toy. Our Chick was on the extreme end at first, where he was extremely food-motivated as long as the food was in our hands (he would do anything we asked for the piece of cheese we were holding) but if it took any brainwork to get the cheese out (from a kong, etc), he would immediately surrender.

When we explained this phenomenon to the greatest dog trainer that ever was, Lee Mannix solved our problem in a heartbeat. He had us start feeding Chick exclusively through puzzles and training, and never out of a bowl. If he refused to work at his puzzle, the portion of his daily ration that was in the puzzle got taken away. It sounds cruel, but he learned in about 1.5 days that from then on, he was going to work for his kibble. And he has been a 90,000% happier dog since. The task of dog food puzzles helps him focus, work, and then relax, so he has less brainpower left for anxious worrying after he has completed his food-motivated task.

Stevie Wonder is not extraordinarily anxious, but still – as a young dog she has a good amount of energy, and the kong challenge helps her reign it in and focus it in a productive manner. And clearly, she enjoys it.

heart-sick, and lung-sick too (but don’t worry!)

Poor Stevie Wonder is so heartsick, that sometimes she lays around the house in despair, looking like this:

Why, you might ask? Because she’s filled with unrequited love. Love for this handsome devil:

And these two irresistible lovelies:

I know, I know what you’re thinking. How could these three beauties resist Stevie Wonder’s charms and leave her with such heartache?

Well, the fault is all mine. You see, Miss Stevie is lung-sick. She is being treated for the highly contagious kennel cough (aka bordatella), and isn’t allowed to enjoy any makeout sessions with her would-be doggie friends. This means that no matter how much she would like to (and she would very very much like to), she can’t play with our neighbor Flash and his beautiful new sister/girlfriend Nahla or Chick — not until her treatment is over next week, and then another two weeks.

She does steal tiny sniffs every now and then when I can’t grab her fast enough, but for the most part, the poor girl has only us to wag her tail at and sniff noses with.

Bordatella is similar to the human flu: highly contagious between dogs in close quarters and though it is only threatening to dogs with compromised immune systems or dogs who are very young or very old, it’s still a little unpleasant and a bit of a pain. There is a vaccine, but like the vaccine for the human flu, it’s imperfect. Bordatella has many strains and the strains mutate quickly, so there is no guarantee that the strain that Miss Stevie has is one of the ones that Chick is vaccinated against. Miss Stevie is feeling much better, but her antibiotics course lasts another six days, and she has to be quarantined for another two weeks after that to be totally safe.

In the house, this means we have to keep the dogs totally separate. If we were being responsibly cautious, this would also mean separate water bowls, all separate kongs and toys, and entirely separate dog beds. Ideally, the dogs would be kept on separate floors so that little air is shared between them. Unfortunately we are lazy and our house is small, so we just do the best we can. So far so good.

I tried to explain the rules to dear Stevie Wonder, and she was quite exasperated. She very cleverly pointed out to me that four weeks of quarantine in human years is like five months in dog years!

Poor Stevie Wonder.

a tour of stevie’s signature features

well hello my cherie amours,

i thought i’d take a minute to point out some of my most charming signature features. first, did you know that i have a tail so much like a greyhound’s, that it helps me to run very fast?

and did you realize that the tippy tip of my tail is painted white, which helps me to wiggle and waggle it with a painter’s flourish?

and did you even realize that i have a thin little stripe right down my face, which helps me tell right from wrong left?

and finally, my mom says that i have such a big presence, that when she and i take self-portraits together, i very nearly push her straight out of the frame!

i hope you liked my tour of myself!

love, Stevie Wonder

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