Archive of ‘Shiva’s Quirks’ category

You know you live with a reactive dog when…

 

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You hear a dog bark and by instinct you reach for the treats in your pocket. Even though you are walking downtown and your own dog is miles away.

You have spent many an hour tucked in an isolated room with your puppy avoiding repair workers and landlords.

The instant the door bell rings you and your partner move into your pre-determined roles in an elaborate plan to prevent your dog from losing her shit.

Ordering pizza is a twelve step process and requires more energy than it takes to cook a meal yourself.

Even if you passed Ryan Gosling every day, you’d never notice because you are too busy making sure your dog is anxiety free every time that strange blond man walks by.

You can click and treat while reading a book, making dinner, and practicing the piano without missing a beat. At the same time.

You know how to make even the most mundane object the most interesting thing in the world. You have been known to exclaim over rocks, leaves, and poop bogs just to keep your dog distracted. A closed fist will do in a pinch.

You know exactly how to get out kibble stains from the pockets of hoodies.

Lucky for us, Shiva is in remission. Not cured, but we’ve got our management strategy down to a mad, mad level of skills. Every dog is different, however. Is there anything I missed on this list?

Fearless Fantasies: Shiva and I are Afraid

Today’s post is inspired by the daily prompt over at The Daily Post.I have a feeling this excellent website is going to be a vital resource for me as I plod through my 100 Days Project.

I am inhibited by fear at every turn. Some fears I am better at ducking through, others prevent me from doing things that many people accomplish without thinking. The most prominent one I have been unable to face millions of people do every day, often multiple times. As a result, there is a great deal of shame that tags along with the paralyzing thoughts. Few understand, including family. I wish I could explain what to me sounds like a rational aversion but to them sounds insane. Or worse, weak.

Fear is a weakness, I suppose, when it stops one from living life. But my fear, this fear of driving a car – I may as well be open –  has been easy to manage. Sure, relying on my own power or public transit can be more complicated and time-consuming. When I lived on my own, I became accustomed to carrying leaden bags of groceries for twenty blocks or more. On occasion, I still do. I don’t mind. I’d rather deal with the pain of plastic biting into my hands than the fear of losing control of a motor vehicle.

It wasn't easy for me, but I steered this motor boat for almost five minutes!

It wasn’t easy for me, but I steered this motor boat for almost five minutes!

Shiva has less fear than I do. If it comes down to fight or flight, she will often choose the former. She doesn’t worry about things beyond her control. Scary strangers in hats are nothing a little barking won’t cure. Thunder that shakes the house isn’t more important than a good nap. Shiva will scale trees, jump off cliffs, and face the claws of The Cat over and over and over again. Nonetheless, even the fearless wonder is daunted by her own dragon. She will take the teeter on the agility course backwards but put her on a boat in the middle of the lake and she turns into a shaking mess desperate for comfort.

Shiva is not a happy puppy

Shiva is not a happy puppy

Though it can be debilitating for her in certain circumstances, in a way, I am glad Shiva has this one unshakeable fear. It shows me that she does care about her safety. So often she rushes ahead without thinking and it has already gotten her in trouble. At least in this one area, she appears to have a bit of sense.

This could be my inner coward talking. I like that we seem to almost have something in common. Shiva hates going to the lake, despite the fact that countless dogs adore swimming and will do anything to get back in. I am terrified of sitting behind the wheel of a car, despite the fact that most human adults spend a lot of money to do it every day. It is far easier for me to contemplate skydiving or bungee-jumping than driving to the corner store. It is far easier for Shiva to tear across a wooden log or jump from a second story window than put her face underwater.

Would life be easier for us if we could conquer these fears? LIkely and maybe we both will in time. If only for how good it will feel to achieve something I haven’t thought possible for a long time. We aren’t going to let them stop us from living joyful lives, however, even if Shiva never leaps off a dock and I never drive again. Fear is only bad if it prevents you from living your life. In that regard, I think we are going to be just fine.

What to do when you see a coyote?

Shiva and I met a coyote last week. We weren’t hiking in the mountains or bushwhacking in the woods. It was 6:30 on a Monday morning and we had just begun our ritual walk in the ravine. I saw movement ahead and my first assumption was an off-leash dog. Before I could even roll my eyes, the animal turned to trot in our direction and I knew my initial inclinations were wrong. There was no mistaking the confidence of a wild predator. This was no muttski.

He looked like this, actually, only not as healthy.

He looked like this, actually, only not as healthy.

He, or she, was thinner than other coyotes I’ve seen. Rangier, even, than the photo I nicked from Wikipedia to the left. The animal, whatever his or her sex, was built almost like Shiva. He was the same height and shape, only with less muscle and lacking her adorable puppiness. I haven’t spotted one in Alberta for a long time, not since I lived in the South and I would see them wandering down the side of a prairie road. Shiva and I hear them often but seeing them is rare. In a way, we were lucky.

Shiva doesn’t have a lot of experience with predator-type animals. Or any. Her response to most of the wild creatures we have encountered is much the same. Raccoon… Friend! Duck… Friend! Deer… Friend! Porcupine… Best! Friend! Ever! For the most part, she sees the world as full of animals dying to be sniffed. Her sole objective is to get her nose up the other animal’s bottom as soon as she possibly can. I had hope that she would be smart enough to tell the difference between a rabbit and a species who could cause he harm.

I was wrong.

Shiva responded to the sight of the coyote with the same alert anticipation she responds to off-leash dogs. Cautious, to be sure, but not afraid. Ears erect, tail high on her back, she wanted to investigate. If she hadn’t been connected to me via a thick nylon cord, she probably would have. Would this have been a problem? It’s hard to say. It was just one coyote. In all likelihood, he or she would have taken off and all would have been as normal. Then again, I wasn’t willing to take that kind of risk.

I am still unsure as the best thing to do in this scenario. While I have read all the books and heard all of the well-meaning advice, I don’t know if there is any one right way to respond. Sometimes the right thing turns out to be wrong and sometimes the dumb thing turns out to be smart. Show no fear, they say. Don’t look weak. Stand your ground. In an actual dangerous situation, I think all one can do is trust her instincts. More often than not, my instincts tell me to get the heck out of there.

Not that I think Shiva and I were in any danger. The coyote was far enough away and outnumbered. There was no need to do anything. Still, I chose to leave the park and take a different route. It seemed more reasonable at the time. Who needs that kind of stress on a Monday?

It makes me wonder, however, if I need to prepare myself better for future encounters. We live in bear country now and if I am going to follow through with my goals to hit up the back country this year, it is very possible a coyote will be the least of our problems. It’s not just my safety I have to worry about. The quickest way to ruin a good backpacking trip is to watch Shiva run up to a Grizzly and shove her nose up his butt.

Do you have any dog-wild predator encounter stories? How did you handle it? What do you do when you see a coyote?

New City, New Rules

Never in my life have I ever in a city where people flout leash laws like they are ephemeral guidelines, existing only for as long as it takes the peace officer to post the sign and then high-tail it for his afternoon nap. In Halifax, people would at least get yelled at for pulling the kind of crap people do here. I even was yelled at once at 7:00 am on a Saturday morning by an older gentleman with a cranky border collie, for letting Shiva run loose one day after the summer dog ban came into effect. Me! A rules-obsessed perfectionist. But in Edmonton, or at least in my hipster neighbourhood, which is as liberal as Alberta gets, it seems my fellow dog owners do not feel the rules are meant for them.

Sigh.

It’s fine, really. Shiva and I are good at this game. We are accustomed to diving in bushes and dashing around parked cars. We know how to make our boundaries clear and we have thick skins. My eye doesn’t twitch any more when someone refers to my furry pal as “unfriendly”, even though she is the one behaving herself like a canine saint. No longer do we need to estivate indoors or avoid daylight hours at the public park. We deal.  I resist the urge to argue when a cyclist insists the ravine is an off-leash area and that I must be mistaken despite the fact that I spend more time pouring over animal by-laws than most people spend  bathing.

I am not joking. I like to know the rules and when I am breaking them. It seems I am alone.I have accepted this. But that doesn’t mean it is fair.

Shiva loves to run, lives to run. But most days she can’t. The dog parks are too far away and I don’t want to be the jerk with the wild animal distracting the other dogs from their games of fetch or jogging with their humans, or whatever else these lawless critters are up to in public, non-off leash areas. It sucks. We have worked for five long years on her recall and it is just about as perfect as it can be. Yet we can’t show it off because we don’t want to be rude. Of course, it is okay if other dogs and people are rude and ruin our fun. It is far better to be in the right. At least we can look ourselves in the mirror in the morning and know we didn’t spoil a law-breaker’s good time.

Double sigh.

The breaking point occurred about six weeks ago. There is a woman who walks her two beautiful dogs in the ravine around the same time Shiva and I venture out in the morning. The two dogs are almost always off leash. One dog is not a problem. A gorgeous, happy Newf, he never gets in Shiva’s face and I have no issues at all with him being untethered in the on-leash park. The other dog is a Border Collie. Younger, faster, and, er, spunkier. She never hesitates to get right in Shiva’s space. Shiva, when on leash, takes objection to this. Most of the time we are slick enough to get out of there without injury. During their encounter six weeks ago, we were not so fortunate. In the five seconds it took for the woman to drag her dog away, Shiva had sustained an injury to her left eye.

It wasn’t serious. Her blood clots as fast as she gobbles her dinner. But there was blood. In her eye. It freaked me out. I am sure the woman didn’t know. It was too quick. I don’t blame the Border Collie. I blame the leash.

I have decided to change the rules. I can’t do anything about the laws. If it were up to me, all parks would be off-leash to dogs and humans who can prove they have connection and self-restraint. I understand this is impractical.  Nonetheless, I have come up with my own, albeit illegal, solution to this lifelong annoyance.

From now on, if I see an off-leash dog approaching, I am going to swing around, un-clip Shiva from her restraint and give her permission to play. This solves two problems. One: prevents my reactive mutt from feeling trapped and in need of defending herself. Two: lets Shiva let off the anxiety that builds from watching other dogs zoom without joining in herself.

Will the other dog-human partnerships appreciate it? Some will, some won’t. Shiva is friendly enough off-leash. I have no concern she will hurt anyone. Regardless, she has a certain vivacity that many other dogs find hard to resist. She has been known to lead many a canine into trees and bogs, encouraging them to run like the cops are chasing them, and then run some more. Shiva always comes back. The other dogs… Well, that’s not really my problem, is it? They shouldn’t be off-leash if they don’t have a recall.

Two wrongs may not make a right but I can’t think of a justifiable argument from the other human’s side. Sure, Shiva is a nutjob, but she’s harmless when untethered and has self control. The potential consequences are much, much worse when I leave her on. What can the culprit say? If his or her dog was leashed as he or she was supposed to be, Shiva wouldn’t have bothered them. Why should we be the ones going through the stress of avoidance all the time?

I am tired of turning around and walking another thirty minutes out of my way just to avoid meandering mutts with lazy humans. I have been doing this too long. The incident with Shiva’s eye was the end of it. I won’t put her in situations where she feels in danger. And I won’t stick to boring residential streets, where we still run into the occasional off-leash dog or stick-wielding toddler. Shiva deserves a walk in the forest as much as anyone. It’s time to take a stand.

Rules, What are They Good For?

IMG_20140315_135815Rules. Dogs need them. Every book I read before we adopted Shiva dictated this. Dogs require clear and consistent boundaries. Dogs need to know what is acceptable behaviour with no deviation. Rigid structure. All four on the floor. No affection without exercise and discipline first. Humans must state the law and never give in. No take-backsies. If we slide a little, dogs will think they own the place and turn into aggressive, drywall-munching monsters. Nom nom. Peaceful co-existence of dogs and humans is not possible unless the human is in control at all times. Rules keep everyone safe. Rules keep dogs from eating our houses. Rules keep dogs out of animal shelters.

These are things we all desire.

Once again, I find myself in a place of deep shame. Back when we lived in a world filled with obedience instructors and training regimens – in other words, the land that time forgot – our lives were bordered with decrees like “no dogs on the furniture” and “no dogs in the bedroom”. There was even everyone’s favourite canine statute: “no begging allowed.”Oh, how black and white Shiva’s realm was then. How absurd she must have thought us, we naive humans who imagined making her enter the house last meant we were in charge. As if the order in which one eats has anything to do with familial bonding. If the semi-parade we formed in each doorway made any significant difference in how she conducted herself, I don’t recall noticing anything.

On the other hand, my dog’s sit-stay continues to soothe my lazy trainer’s soul.

That's right, we win all the medals.

That’s right, we win all the medals.

I should be embarrassed by how many rules we no longer enforce. It connotes a sort of undress, an almost déshabillé quality to the way we run our household. Perhaps if we add a little more uniformity to the way we organize our lives our dreams would be less deluded. Alas, I kind of like our mess.

Certain dog trainers would be stunned by how lax we have become, and yet our dog has not run like a savage through the streets. The former me would be just as surprised by how accepting I am of Shiva’s libertine habits. For example, here are some of the rules we used to demand:

1. No dogs on the furniture.

Simple. Shouldn’t have been hard to uphold. Yet, this slid into, “dogs only on the furniture with express permission”. And then became “dogs on the furniture if they dog a cute trick first.” Which is now, “dogs on all the furniture whenever they please.”

This doesn't look very comfortable...

This doesn’t look very comfortable…

2. Dogs sleep in their crates.

This one took a bit longer to lose it’s significance but it eventually became “dogs sleep on the couch or the bed in the spare room.” And then “dogs can sleep in the bedroom but on their own bed.” And now, “dogs sleep on our bed every single night”

Ugh. I still don’t know how this one happened.

3. Dogs aren’t allowed in the kitchen.

This rule probably hit the garbage can the fastest. Don’t get me wrong, it is still technically in the law books. There is just no precedent for upholding it. The judge lets Shiva off with a warning every single time. In practice, the rule has now become more of a “dogs can be in the kitchen as long as they don’t steal things off the counters or get in the human’s way, but if they do get in the way, it’s okay as long as they look cute.” Or something. We are still working this out.

DSC_0188There are all sorts of other rules that I have forgotten about at this point. Decrees about no cat chasing (now acceptable, as long as one is quiet about it) and posted ordinances about no people food, ever, or how dogs must lay on their mats when people are eating. It is a vague memory, but I also recall something about dogs not being allowed to look out windows or run zoomies around the living room.

Huh.

No doubt my PH could remember many more than I. There is no disputing the fact that I am the softie of the lot. Though I maintain we are better off this way, Shiva’s wild nature, and our lack of interior decoration, might speak something a little different.

If rules are so important for a dog’s sanity, our laissez-faire attitude could be part of the problem. Maybe I should re-instill some of the order I’d intended five years ago. Remind Shiva who is Alpha. Teach her not to jump on me when I get home from. Let her cry it out and guide her back into her crate every night. In her own room, downstairs. Only pet her when she is lying calmly on the floor. Refuse to share my veggies and turn away from her adorable pleading face. Finally teach this mutt some household manners.

Life would be much more structured. I might even be able to own nice things. Shiva will know what is expected and I will be able to read my book without a tongue lapping at the pages. We will be nice and calm and predictable.

Doesn’t sound like much fun, does it? On second thought, I am happy with my speckled canine tyrant. Maybe other people couldn’t live like we do, with everything left on the floor fair game for Shiva’s jaws, but I think of it as our own adventure. We may never achieve greatness, we may always remain le maison de rêveurs égarés, but we’ll have no one to blame but ourselves. We revel in our mess.

Are there any rules you have tossed out after a several years of dog ownership? Or are you better at maintaining these than we are? Should we feel ashamed for letting Shiva get away with everything but murder? Is it possible to let Shiva be a dog while still creating a magazine-worthy home?

Dog Love: Why Does It Even Matter?

What the heck is love, anyway? Sure, we all think we know. We like to spout things about self-sacrifice, everlasting affection, and deep romantic attachment. Everyone has his or her own concept of what it feels like to love someone and of what this love should consist. We are eager to sneer at celebrities who marry one day and divorce the next, superior in our knowledge that it could not have been “real” love. Even I talk about it like it’s some defined thing, a concrete noun with assigned meaning.

Naturally, my opinion on this meaning is the only correct one.

Wanna hear it? Probably not. But I am going to tell you anyway.

The One True Definition of Love, as told by Kristine, shaming all other definitions of love because this is the one true definition and everyone else is wrong:

  • There is no such thing as love at first sight, love must grow over time to be real, otherwise it is just silly infatuation
  • Love means wanting to say you are sorry, over and over and over again
  • Love means putting those you love first. In fact, it means being grateful you can put them first, without a smidge of resentment.
  • That being said, love is not unconditional. I don’t care what crap your mom told you. Love can end.
  • There are no varying degrees of love. You either love someone or you don’t. You can’t “kind of” love somebody or only love them when they behave a certain way.
  • Love and need are two very different things.

I am going to stop now because I think I have made my point. I have no doubt ticked some of you off. If not, I have ticked myself off so I guess that’s good enough.

The thing is, I don’t believe anyone gets to tell us what love is. It’s too personal. It is such a profound word for some of us and an inscrutable one for others. Half the time, I don’t think I understand it at all. All I can tell you is how it feels for me based on my own experiences. Given that your experiences are – we hope – very different from mine I don’t get to tell you how you feel. As someone who was told throughout her childhood that her emotions were wrong, I believe in a person’s right to choose how she labels her feelings.

Or even whether she names them at all.

The author of Something Wagging This Way Comes wrote an insightful and wise blog post today about a – in my perspective – less than insightful study. Ever since I read the science article this morning I have been ruminating over the concept of defining how dogs feel love. Pamela has already done an excellent job of breaking down the methodology and pointing out the scientific flaws. I feel the need to push it further.

In my opinion it is an act of hubris to assume we can ever understand the way a dog feels about his human or anything else in his life. Science can help us predict his behaviour and even – maybe – help us understand the way a dog might view the world. But I do not believe it is possible to know if my dog loves anything, be it me, the Am Staff at the dog park, or a stuffed Kong. I just don’t feel comfortable labelling any of her emotions with certainty. I believe she feels them, I just don’t know if it is my place to determine what they are.

Love is too complex of an emotion, too intense. That doesn’t mean dogs don’t feel it – I believe they are capable of so much more than we will ever be able to prove in a lab. However, I don’t know if it is possible to interpret their actions as something so complicated without hearing from them first. It seems to be doing them a disservice.

No doubt you are narked again. If you are the kind of person who reads late night blog posts written by people who spend too much time pondering canine philosophy, you are the kind of person who puts her dog first. I know your dog appreciates it. I know your dog is happy when you are around. It is possible your dog loves you. It is just not my decision to make.

Nor is it a decision for scientists in a lab to make.

Do I think Shiva loves me? No idea. As I said in my comment this morning, it doesn’t matter to me if she does. In fact, based on my own definition above, I hope she doesn’t. I don’t want her to put my health and happiness before her own. If there is a threat, I want her to run away as fast as she can so I can handle it. It isn’t her job to protect me. What is more important to me, and what is easier to gauge by her behaviour, is that I do think she trusts me.

Trust is much less complicated than love, and – in many ways – is much easier to define. Shiva shows me she trusts me by letting me handle her, even when she is in pain. She never flinches from my touch, even when she doesn’t want to be pet. When she used to be terrified of water bottles, she now will drink from one as I pour it into her bowl. She lets me reach into her mouth, even when she scooped up something super yummy from the ground. Shiva looks to me when uncertain and dives forward when I say something is okay.

For Shiva, I am a means to getting what she wants. But I am also someone safe, someone she relies on to care for her when she is feeling unwell I don’t need to call it love in order to feel proud that I can provide her with what she needs. My love for her is more than enough for the two of us.

Reactive Dog is Reactive, and Kind of an Ass

Shiva in snowWhen reading through the posts of last week’s #WOOF Support Blog Hop - an event hosted by and supporting owners of reactive dogs throughout the Petosphere – I was not surprised by how many of the stories sounded familiar. Roxy turns into a whirling dervish at the sight of other dogs, Ruby‘s anxieties are triggered by quick motion, and Felix was never taught solid social skills. These are all things Shiva and I have encountered together. And are still encountering.

Almost five years in, I wish I could say we have jumped down the other side of the reactivity mountain, like all her lunging is a distant memory and we walk down the street without a care. My former self liked to believe this was possible. If I was to go back and read posts from several years ago, I know I would find a cocky attitude and jokes about Shiva’s “reactive remission”. I saw every success as foreshadowing a cure.

I am now far too wise, too Shiva-savvy, to make these comments any more. Remission was never the right word to use. Reactivity (or assholerly, depending on the circumstance) isn’t behaviour that appears like a symptom of a disease and then remains until treatment pushes it into dormancy. Shiva’s barking and lunging and jarring is much more fitful and much more predictable. It is more like acne than cancer. It requires vigilance and practice. Sometimes old methods stop working and I need to try something new, a different topical cream to smooth out the skin. Shiva can be calm one second, jerky the next, and then calm for several months in a row. It’s just how it goes.

Sniffles

It would be a lie to say her eruptions are unexpected or that I never know how she is going to respond to a stimulus. Based on experience, I have an educated guess and I am almost always right. If I calculate twice per day for the past four and a half years, we have almost 3,500 walks in our tumultuous history. And counting. If I haven’t learned her common reactions by now, I haven’t been a very good partner.

However, just because I can predict her actions, doesn’t mean I always do something to prevent them. Sometimes I am too slow. Sometimes I am too lazy. Sometimes I am irritated with the situation and I don’t care if she freaks out. Sometimes I choose to be polite rather than put her first. Sometimes I like to take risks, see if I am wrong

I am usually not wrong.

The areas that differed between participating blogs in the hop were the posited reasons behind the reactive behaviour. Buster was injured by a larger dog, Forrest battles vet-diagnosed anxiety that affects multiple areas of his life, and Lucas has overcome a great deal of fear but needs help keeping his emotions in check. I have yet to come to any conclusion about the cause of Shiva’s dislike of other dogs, plastic grocery bags, and strange people – among other things.

I used to think it was fear based. Perhaps sometimes it is. But she is a very confident dog in many ways, if not a little over-confident. Is she just over-compensating?

The bulk of her problems lie in surprise. She doesn’t like it when something is there that wasn’t before. For instance, a few weeks ago someone had dumped an old leather chair at the entrance to the ravine. When we came out of the trees, Shiva saw the stocky black item and stiffened. The closer we got to the chair, the more she tensed. She started breathing in thick pants through her nose, always a warning sign. In her mind that chair didn’t belong there; it was an instant threat. The same thing happened on the weekend with a minivan parked on the trail. According to Shiva, minivans do not belong on trails, they belong on roads. When we turned the corner and she saw the large vehicle planted to the side of the path, she lost her mind.

If you have never seen a forty-five pound mutt take on a Dodge Caravan, I highly recommend it. Hi-lar-i-ous.

Strange men are also a common trigger. Not all men, though, just most. She instantly liked my PH’s older brothers but is still wary of my father. I can never be sure who she will accept and who she won’t so we avoid them all equally on our walks. This morning we took advantage of my day off and took a longer sniff through a part of the river valley we don’t get to visit often. It was early for a holiday and there weren’t many people. I made the mistake of assuming we were completely alone and forgot to pay attention.

Scary Men

Do you see the men in the above picture, to the right? Way off there in the distance? I didn’t either. Shiva did and she let them know it. I should probably have felt bad about her wild barking but, in truth, I appreciated the warning. I didn’t want to hang around in a quiet park with four strange men any more than she did.

This is why I am still conflicted about the reasons for Shiva’s reactions. They could be caused partly by fear and partly by a naturally territorial nature. They could also be a way of communicating with me when I forget to observe our surroundings. A “hey, there are people over there, just so you know, can we trust them?” Or, when it comes to her behaviour toward other dogs, she could just be kind of an ass.

PosingAt this point Shiva trusts me to handle most situations and the worst of her asshole, er, reactive, days are in the past. Most of the time I am able to prevent any episodes and we continue on our merry way with none the wiser. We’ve got the techniques down to an art and when in doubt, I don’t hesitate to cross the street or make use of someone’s driveway. But we both still make mistakes. Like an annoying pimple, there are some things that will always give us trouble. Shiva is reactive because she is reactive. That is just her personality. It is my job to help her deal with it.

Monday Mischief: Dusting Off the Ol’ Recall

Before I get into the problematic aspects of last night’s exploits I want to celebrate something. For the first time since Shiva’s injury on November 8th, 2013, I went for a walk with letting her off-leash as a goal. It was going to be my first step in dealing with this fear. Did I envision disaster? Yes, of course I did. Before I’d even set foot outside I saw all of the money depleting from my bank account, heard the cries of my poor baby as she came down from the high of pain medication. Knowing Shiva isn’t Shiva unless she is allowed freedom, I decided it was time to face my paranoia and ignore all of my instincts. It was time to risk the worst and let her run.

Can I get some applause?

Thank you.

Now that you have acknowledged my bravery, I will tell you the whole story.

It took me some time to screw my courage in deep enough to take the plunge. First, we walked over to the park with all the rabbits. I figured Shiva and I could dart around chasing bunnies together and it would tire her out enough to prevent disaster once she was released. No dice. Instead of fuzzy white rabbits we encountered a tall fence and some sort of funky ice sculpture.

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Edmonton? Only you would hold a festival in the middle of winter.

No park time for us.

Genius lagomorphic plan foiled, I had no choice but to suck it up. We turned away from the odd construction in the bunny park and headed toward the community centre. I remembered there was a fenced off area by the playground that is used for street hockey in the summer. The gate is always unlocked and I have previously seen other handlers using the space to play with their dogs. It seemed like the perfect spot to dust off the ol’ recall for the first time in over two months.  Being a quiet and cold Sunday evening I hoped it would be abandoned.

028I was right. When we arrived, there wasn’t a single living creature to be seen and the small gate was wide open. It was the perfect spot, I remember thinking. The wooden fence was topped by even higher chain link. There was no way she could jump the ten feet and I could block or close the only exit. The area was the ideal baby step for my off-leash phobia.

One slight problem. I was so engrossed in checking out the barricades, making sure Shiva couldn’t make a break for it, it didn’t even occur to me that I might want to double-check the surface. Who would? The last time I had been in the area, it had been the typical concrete of any school yard. Was it silly of me to assume that it would be no different in January? Yes, it was white, but every surface of this city is covered in snow. It would have been stranger if it wasn’t glistening.

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Now, you all being very observant folk, I am sure you can tell on first sight what it took me thirty seconds to discern. This was not snow. It was ice. As in, a full-on skating rink.This would have been a mistake easily remedied if I hadn’t already revved Shiva up and unhooked her leash by the time I noticed.

Oops.

As soon as I realized my error, I called her back to my side. Shiva, being Shiva, was already on the other side of the ice, not letting no slippery surface get in her way of a good time. To her credit, and the credit of our years and years of hard work, she came dashing back as quickly as her Bambi legs could carry her. Only she got a little side-tracked before she reached my side.

034Error number two. You see, when I had scoped out the area, I took in the double-fence and the narrow gate. I did not examine the bench area. If I had, I would have noticed a. there was a benching area that is clearly meant for a hockey team, which means this was likely a hockey rink and b. the snow piled high on the other side of the fence with no chain link to prevent a wily dog from escaping.

Thus, escape she did. One second her head was poking out of the seating section, the next I saw a dog-like figure bounding over the snow in the park beyond.

Sigh.

Don’t worry. It wasn’t a disaster. I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this if it was. Somehow, thank Susan Garrett, my handling savvy kicked in and I was able to recall Shiva back into the rink and back onto a leash. The handful of turkey treats in my pocket may also have something to do with this but I prefer to think it was pure skill and instinct. And the fortune I spent on recall training.

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While it may not have been the best re-introduction to off-leash play for the Sheevs and I, I guess I shouldn’t discount it either. Even if she had run amok in the sports field where, technically, no dogs are allowed, nothing happened. She slipped, she ran, she ate frozen garbage lingering under bench, and then we went home. All in all, it was a step forward for us. Maybe next month I’ll be ready to take her to a park with trees.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

Major Shiva Handler Fail

I apologize for the re-post. Something happened while I was out of town and the below post was swallowed up by WordPress, never to be seen again. I hope it was tasty. Hopefully it sticks around this time.

001“Let’s go check out Candy Cane Lane!”

“Yeah! We can take the dog!”

“Yeah! It will be fun!”

I don’t remember who first suggested it but we both thought taking Shiva down eight residential blocks of Christmas lights was pure genius. Could we be any more naive? After almost five years of living with the mutt you’d think we’d know better by now. Surely even a first time reader of this wee page would see the folly of the scheme.

I will give us the benefit of the doubt and say we were caught up in the holiday vibe. It was Christmas Alpha – the night my PH and I chose to celebrate together, quietly, before trekking out to the mountains to spend the real day with family – and we may have been a little high on Lindt.

I know, it’s not much of an excuse.

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The instant Shiva sprung out of the car, we knew we had made a ginormous mistake. We could have cut our losses then, avoided disaster. Naturally, we chose to proceed toward the mass of over-excited toddlers and harried parents. As one does with a tornado who is semi-reactive to the unpredictable movements of small children. 003

That’s just the way smart people do it. Obviously.

I will say, it could have gone much worse. Even if our brains were broken, our hearts and instincts were in the right place. My PH and I have perfected the Shiva walk to an art form at this point. It is almost a thing of beauty, the way we automatically take our places to guide her through a crowd. Neither of us needs to ask for help or speak at all, other than to maybe point out an incoming dog on the left or a large man with a funny hat on the right. The level of team work involved is impressive and after all these years of Shiva handling, we know exactly what our respective jobs are.

005My PH almost always takes the leash. He is stronger than I am and faster. If Shiva needs to bail into a bush, he is the man to do it. He also is less likely to be dragged down the street. My job is usually to block and watch out for surprises. As we “strolled” this way down the over-filled sidewalks, I would make sure there was enough breathing room between us and the crowds in front and behind. If the masses were catching up, I would indicate that it might be time to pull into a driveway or snow bank. We both made sure to check in with Shiva often, observing her ears, to ensure she wasn’t becoming too over-stimulated. It was a guarantee that she was going to be a little nuts and a lot tuggy. This we can handle. But in these instances, on a scale of ten we prefer to keep her stimulation level at a nine as opposed to a twelve. It is a precarious line that only true Shiva Masters understand.

I still have yet to receive my black belt.

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Perhaps after this experience, I am a bit closer. I am happy to say Shiva had a grand total of zero reactions the entire evening. True, we didn’t walk the whole eight blocks, deciding to end on a high note we drove through the second half, but we managed to achieve something never before attempted. Yes, it was stupid to bring her in the first place. No, we will probably not take her again. Yes, we acknowledge we would have enjoyed the lights more if my PH had been able to look at something other than the back of Shiva’s head. However, we took Shiva to an outdoor holiday event crammed with waving little hands and screaming little voices and nothing bad happened. So even though it was a fail, it was also kind of a win for Shiva and for us.

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Our wackadoo puppy is all grown up, standing next to terrifying lawn ornaments and everything.

Dear Santa – Shiva Style

014For the last three years, when the holiday season looms, one of the things I have anticipated the most is Tales and Tails’ annual “Letters to Santa” feature. This round is no exception. Today’s letter, from the incorrigible Küster, reminded me why I enjoy this so much. Sure, it’s a little impractical. We are all adults. We know dogs can’t really write letters to the big guy in the North Pole. Nonetheless, I think these letters showcase just how well the author knows her dogs, knows what they likely would say, if they had the ability. Her sound comprehension of each of her dogs’ unique personalities is something I covet.

We are all only guessing. There is no way to truly understand what our dogs are thinking and there is certainly no way to know what they would make of a bearded man who delivers presents around the world. Still, I wish I had the confidence the of the Taleteller when it comes to knowing what motivates my dog.

I don’t think this cuts it, but here is my attempt at Shiva’s letter to the jolly old elf, with warm thanks to all the puppies at Tales and Tails for the inspiration. 

Hi Mr. Kringle!

How are you? My name is Shiva! That’s with a “v” and not a “b”. A lot of people get confused. Since I hear you bring presents to all the good doggies I wanted to make sure you got the name right. Sheeeevvvvvaaaaa. And not Shebbbbbaaa. Okay? Cool!

Ummm! I guess I am supposed to tell you about all the good things I did this year. But it’s kind of boring and I’d rather tell you about all of the fun adventures I went on! Like, I went on this reaaaaalllllyyy long truck ride and saw lots of cool new things! I ran and ran and sniffed and didn’t get sick once! Also, I am living in a really cool new place that is kind of cold and kind of weird but it smells really good with lots of really nice doggies and my people are here so it has been lots of fun! I just wish I could run more. I missing running. But that’s okayI I can always run in my dreams.

Oh! I just remembered. I have been extra good this year. Just ask His Excellency Mr. Kitty Meister Meister Kitty. He doesn’t bat at my nose with his claws nearly as much these days so I think this must mean I am doing better. Yeah, I still chase him sometimes but only when he runs first! I think he likes it too. Yeah, we’re totally BFFs now. Totally.

010Anyway! Can I ask for what I want now? Honestly, I don’t want that much. Only, can you get my people to stay at home with me more often? That would be nice. It sucks when they have to leave every day. I try to be good when they are here. I don’t jump on the counters as much and I tolerate all of their weird cuddling. But they still leave so maybe that’s not enough. If you could make that happen, it would be great.

Also, if it isn’t too much to ask, I am a bit worried about something. I am not sure why I am worried but my human has seemed upset lately the closer it gets to the big day so I am assuming something scary is going to happen. They tell me it is going to be my first Christmas away from home. That sounds exciting but when my person says it her face gets all tense so maybe it’s bad? I don’t know. I just want everyone to be happy. Can you make that happen? Will you be able to find me if I am not at home on Christmas Eve? Is that why my person is worried? I hope not. Can you please tell her it will be okay? That’s all I want, us to be together and happy no matter where we are. Because if I am with my people and they are with me then I know it will be okay.

So, that’s it! I hope you have a very good week and holiday with your doggies. I promise to be as good as I can and Mr. Kitty Meister Sir promises to also be good so maybe you can give him something he wants too? Like maybe more string? He seems to like string.

Happy holidays, Mr. Kringle! I don’t know if I want to see you because your booming voice is kind of scary but I hope your magic is real.

Your doggy friend,

Shiva,

S-H-I-V-A

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