Is your dog an excessive marker?

I am always fascinated when Shiva’s behaviour changes without apparent cause. So much of her routine is consistent and her actions fall within an expected set of actions. Even when she does something crazy, I can usually predict it. I know when she is going to smack her head into the wall to snatch a ball; I don’t have to look to investigate the source of the sickening sound of skull against brick. Knowing is not preventing.

But, again, I digress. It seems I have a set of predictable behaviours too.

ANYway, Shiva”s actions are so steady that she throws me off anytime she adopts a new habit. This round, that habit is marking.

Shiva has never been all that interested in marking her place on the side of a tree. Every once in a while she would make a half-hearted attempt, going through the motions, as if to prove she is, indeed, a dog, but it has never been part of her standard repertoire. Other dogs might feel the need to cover her urine with their own, she couldn’t be bothered to return the favour.

Until this week.


For the last few days, Shiva has felt the urge to sign her name on every other post and urban structure we pass. And not in her typical ladylike fashion, either, as if she is almost embarrassed to be caught in something so base. No, she has been in full leg-lifting mode, to the point she has performed full handstands to ensure her pee will spray on a precise location. It’s mystifying.

There has only been one other time in her life where she performed this behaviour. When we moved from Halifax to Edmonton, she drove me crazy for several weeks while she insisted upon leaving her mark every where and any where. Sometimes twice. But I rationalized that as a need to declare her presence in a new neighbourhood. The smells here in dry northern Alberta must be nothing like the ones in humid coastal Nova Scotia. She had to familiarize herself, announce herself to her fellow canines, let them know she was around now and meant no harm.

Or something.

But we have lived in the same house for over a year now. Why would this action resurface? Could she be feeling insecure about something? Maybe a new dog has moved in and she wants to let him or her know she walks this beat too?

It’s curious. I am not worried. She has no signs of physical illness and I don’t think it is related to a UTI. Of course, I’ll keep watch just in case. From what I can tell, however, it is simple marking behaviour. Me being me, I can’t help but wonder the cause.

Things I learned about my dog while camping

Whoever said that dog training is never over was a very bright individual indeed. After all the time I have spent studying my dog’s behaviour, enough to fill several years of blog posts, one might expect me to be an expert on Shiva-isms. This is why expectations are premeditated resentments. If Labour Day Weekend 2014 is a forecast for my future, I am a novice in the way of the Sheevs.

Once I climb out of myself and look at it from an aerial view, I can see how this is a positive. Learning more pushes our relationship forward. Time had taught me how to give us both a break.

DSC08233We spent the last weekend camping with family. We’ve never done this before as we always lived several prairies and a Canadian shield away. I was nervous. Obviously. Shiva has met these family members before and it sometimes went well, sometimes… Less well. To be kind about it. Camping brought fresh hope, however, in a clean environment. There would be no territory for her to defend.

This was the thought. Shiva had other ideas. Doesn’t she always?

Alas, there were plenty of dicey moments, more than made me happy. But there were also more moments of clarity than I could have predicted. It turns out, gaining a little outside perspective on my dog’s actions can spin even my cynical brain.

DSC08203Things I learned about my dog while camping (with my parents)

  1.  Shiva is a dog. Yep. Stunning, right?
  2. Shiva is a dog who does dog-like things. You are blown away, I know it.
  3. Dog-like things include barking and sometimes jumping. Can you believe it?
  4. Shiva’s bark is loud and frightening BUT she is easily called off after one or two woofs. This is not the end of the world. Some people startle, some people swear, some people laugh, and some people don’t do anything at all. None of these reactions say anything about my dog.
  5. Shiva is a very well-trained dog, in comparison to the majority of other dogs. Comparison games are dangerous and I don’t want to play them, but it feels awesome when Shiva sits after one cue and other dogs the same age look like they have never heard the word before in their lives. I shouldn’t gloat over this. I don’t care. Shiva and I worked hard!
  6. Shiva likes her sleep. She turns into Grumpy Dog when she doesn’t get it.
  7. Shiva can sleep alone in a tent when she is motivated to do so. She cannot sleep alone at home.DSC08195
  8. Shiva has a lot of trust in me. When walking on narrow board walks and passing unpredictable toddlers and flailing cyclists, she didn’t have one reaction. Not because these things didn’t bother her, but because we worked together to give her the space she needs. This is why I can stop her from losing it at the end of her rope when people and other dogs wander by our campsite, sometimes staring as we eat our dinner. She knows I will take care of it.
  9. Shiva makes mistakes. And so do I. Thus far, no one has died.
  10. Shiva is not a dog everyone likes. She isn’t cuddly with strangers and she struggles with impulse control in new environments. She is anxious when forced to stay still. These are not endearing qualities. It doesn’t matter if anyone else loves her. It has nothing to do with my training.DSC08222
  11. Shiva is not an easy dog and is not a dog for a beginner. I was a beginner. I am not any more.
  12. Shiva is great with smaller dogs and puppies. I love this about her.
  13. Shiva is not going to change. She might mellow, she might learn more fun tricks to show off, but she isn’t going to turn into the relaxed, submissive dog other people think she should be. Good on her.

Do you still learn new things about your pets after years of living together?

Update: What Shiva and I did to avoid disaster

wpid-wp-1407029384819.jpegFirst, I want to thank you again for your amazing response to my question yesterday. I knew it would be fascinating and you proved me right. I loved hearing about your unique dogs and your varied approaches to what could have been a dicey situation. As I read through your comments, I learned several things and none were what I expected.

1. I learned that Shiva’s reactivity – or, assholery – has become much less of an issue than it ever was. There is nothing like a sharp blast of reality to give one perspective. I had forgotten what it was like to walk a dog who loses it at the sight of another dog in the same ten-mile radius. You reminded me and made me realize Shiva can almost pass for normal these days. Perhaps this is why other owners are bugging me so much more. They aren’t running away with their dogs clutched in their arms at the sight of my maniac puppy. I kind of miss those days. But only a little.

2. Space is a personal issue. Everything is a personal issue. Reactivity is one name for very different behaviours and causes. I loved finding out your diverse techniques and ways of keeping stress to a minimum. I had to laugh at the commenter who said she would just wait it out and let her dog bark, she was so used to it that it hardly bothered her anymore. Our fears and experiences lead us down assorted paths but we all have the same goals. I got warm fuzzies from all the supportive comments. It’s lovely to commiserate with people who get it, isn’t it?

3. My theory was wrong. Of all the people who shared their thoughts, no one did the same thing I did. It surprised me. I was most interested by the commenter who chose to go toward the off-leash dog with the lawn mower. That would have been my last choice. It shows how individual every dog-human partnership is.

Now I guess I should tell you how I handled the situation. 

What I did:

I looked at the large off-leash dog and reckoned he was definitely going to approach if we moved any closer. I then looked back at the two medium-sized dogs who were now drifting down the road, noses to the ground, leash handles dragging, as their human balanced her phone in the crook of her shoulder and fiddled with her keys. It took me a second to decide: I crossed the street and took my chances with the dog walker and her wee crew.

The result:

Shiva and I dawdled a decent distance behind the dog walker. I know she saw us and when we crossed she picked up her pace. The dog who had growled looked back at us once but joined his buddies and followed the human’s lead. I made sure to keep enough space between us for Shiva and the other dogs to feel comfortable. At the end of the block, the dog walker turned down another street and we kept going straight. Crisis averted.

Why the dog walker?

Out of all three, the dog walker was the only human paying attention. Shiva’s biggest issues these days are caused by dogs who approach her off-leash when she is on. After she suffered a cut to her eye this year, I won’t put her in a situation in which she feels threatened any more. Not if I can help it anyway. I can’t trust dogs with people who aren’t watching or who are ignorant enough to leave them loose in an unfenced area by a road.

I also had more information than you. The loose dog with the lawn mower was a Doodle we have encountered in the past. I have spoken to his owner and asked him to leash the dog while we passed. He gave me a blank stare.

There is another factor that might apply only to us. Shiva has respect for small dogs. I am not sure why but she will usually back off if a small dog takes umbrage. If a larger dog barks or growls at her, or gets in her space, she will fight back. If a little dog does it, she licks her lips, looks away, and gives any number of other calming signals to show she means no harm. Thus, the Chihuahuas and Manchester Terriers were a safer bet.

All in all, Shiva’s reactivity to other dogs has never been as bad as her reactivity toward strange people. It was an easier thing to work on for us and after a year or two, we could walk down the road several metres behind another dog without too many problems. I would much rather face a pack of off-leash dogs than a crowd of men in hats, or a school bus full of excited children.


Thank you again for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I hope you learned something too from all of the incredible ideas in the comments. I really appreciate you humouring me. I may have to try something like this again.

We need more pillows

In Shiva’s mind, the best seat in the house is the one you just vacated. She could be curled up on the couch, the expanse to herself, and the moment I get up from my chair to grab a snack or find my phone or, on rare occasions, clean something, she skulks over to my former place.

wpid-wp-1406861461202.jpegBy the time I return, she has snuggled in, as if she has napped there for hours and I am the interloper. She manages this comfortable sprawl in the amount of time it takes me to walk the five metres to the kitchen sink. I never even hear her move.

Shiva, the chair-stealing ninja.

wpid-wp-1406861466571.jpegShe doesn’t only swipe my chair, however. I can’t play the sole victim to her insidious crimes. She will do it to my PH as well. So many times I have watched her tilt her head, waiting to detect his footfalls up the stairs, and then spring with light feet from the couch into his favoured leather recliner. It doesn’t take her more than two or three steps before she has settled in. It is the most admirable act of chair kleptomania I have ever witnessed.

The worst part is, she makes you feel like a selfish jerk for wanting your spot back when you return. Shiva knows no guilt. When you leave the room, you know the risk you are taking. You have forfeited all rights to your seat and should expect it to be gone. Those are the rules. Lest you be met with this face, in which case, it is all over anyway.

wpid-wp-1406861470552.jpegGot it, Sheevs. The floor never looked so inviting.

You know you live with a reactive dog when…



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?