It’s Complicated

August 25, 2010

After two weeks so far, living with two dogs reminds me of the name of a very bad movie that I wasted a chunk of my life on not so long ago.

Walking is complicated.  We already had a six-foot leash and and a sixteen-foot extendable, so I tried those at first.  Holding both with one hand is awkward and they get tangled.  Hold with two hands and you can’t do anything else like control an MP3 player.  You can temporarily hold two leashes in one hand and get out the MP3 in the other, but try a one-handed earphone unwind and you get another tangle, or if you get the earbud into your ear, sooner or later one of the leashes will catch it and yank it out.

So I bought a double leash.  Four feet from the handle it branches into two two-foot sections, one to each dog.  This was easier.  Just one handle to hold and only two short sections to tangle.

DSC_0304 Walking Dogs on Double Leash

However, walking is still complicated.  The dogs’ interests and actions are not synchronized.  When you’re walking along with one dog and he wants to stop and sniff, you can let him do that.  With two dogs, you can stop if you want but the other dog blithely marches onward and gives the sniffer a good yank. Or vice versa, the threesome is moving at a good clip and suddenly one dog wants to go backward and check out some sweet-smelling road-kill.  Or one goes to the left of some signpost and one goes to the right and they stop rather abruptly two-feet beyond it.  Or better yet, after lagging behind slightly they decide to catch up and do to you what they did to the signpost. Or a squirrel runs across the road in front of you and you experience a two-dog-power shoulder-yank.  The Dog Whisperer TV show always shows Cesar Milan “walking” a team of about a dozen dogs all on leashes towing him on inline skates.  I always thought that might be a fun way to give my dogs some exercise, but now I suspect that was just a photo-op for which they cleared the area of squirrels, rabbits, and cats.

Training two dogs to heel at the same time is complicated.  I had only in the last month or so taught Buck how to heel.  He was doing pretty good, needing a yank back only once in a while.  But he’s forgetting.  Recently I took the two dogs out and for some reason wherever we went they acted as though a squirrel were running just ahead of them.  They were winning the tug-of-war, and I decided it was time some dual-dog heeling practice.  I grabbed the leash at the branch point and tried the way one trainer taught me:  every time they pull, you stop and make them wait a while.  Then you start up again and keep moving as long as they leave slack in the leash.  Repeat the process if they pull.  They’re supposed to get the idea that they only get what they want – forward progress — by leaving some slack in the leash.  Doesn’t work.  I would stop, hold for a minute or two until they stop straining, then move forward, and the instant I moved forward they’d be chasing that imaginary squirrel again.  So the forward progress was measured in feet per hour rather than miles per hour.  This was not fun.

Next, I tried the way another trainer advised.  I held them on my left, and every time they got a ways ahead I’d give them a quick yank to get them back even with me, then I’d let it go slack until they got ahead again.  This  gave me rather more of a left-arm workout than I really needed, and they still weren’t quite getting the message.  It’s true, the message was supposed to be conveyed to them by means of a “training collar,” aka choke chain, which I did not have.  And to their credit, the yanks were slightly less frequent toward the end of that not-very-fun walk.  Slightly.

Dog relationships turn out to be as complicated as human ones too.  At first the newcomer seemed to be accepted pretty well by the doggie king of the castle.  They even played well together, but there was an edge to their play.  They took turns mounting each other.  Constantly.  (I never knew that female dogs would do this; but then I was surprised that fixed males would do it.  I’d heard it was just a dominance thing, but I’d had my doubts.  No longer.)  We didn’t stop it even though it grossed out my 12-year-old daughter, because that, after all, is what dogs do.  But then one time it turned a little bit nasty.  We heard a squabble out back and one dog was getting the worst of it and was squealing in fear or pain.  I ran out and yelled at them and they broke it up, but Buck ran off to a corner of the yard with his tail between his legs, and no amount of coaxing would get him to come back.  I had to go out and put the leash on him to bring him back.  So then I was scared for poor Buck – what if Cookie were to attack and hurt him while the two were home alone?  That left me apprehensive to say the least the next day at work.

But they didn’t get into another spat.  They play now and then again but I don’t allow the mounting anymore.  Since then there has been the occasional slight growl when one intrudes on the other’s space, but otherwise they ignore each other most of the time and play on occasion.  I had thought of getting a second dog precisely to provide a playmate for Buck during his long hours alone during the day.  But this has not happened.  It turns out that they play now only when I take them on walks.  Perversely, they seem to want to do it only when one or both of them is on leash – just try to keep those lines untangled when two dogs are wrestling and flipping each other.

Traveling is complicated.  For years we had an extended-cab pickup.  It was fine in back for two small kids.  Then the kids got bigger and the back of the cab shrunk in size.  Then we added a big dog, and the back seat shrunk even more.  It was so tight that for a three-hour drive Buck would sit the whole time with his rump on the seat between Zoe and Tony and his front legs standing on the floor in front of the seat.  This spring we got a crew cab pickup (we need a truck to tow our trailer).  Now there was room for a dog to lie completely on the floor with two kids on the seat.  But add a second dog and that back seat area into squabble-engendering crampedness again.

We camp in a travel trailer.  It’s a good-sized trailer at 27 feet in length, but that too has dramatically shrink in size.  Four people and one big dog already experienced a lot of squeezing past and stepping over and bumping into and stepping on, but it was marginally manageable.  Add a second dog into the mix and suddenly the big trailer feels like a pup tent.  Because they move around so much it’s almost like having four dogs, two on the floor, one on the couch, and one on the bed at all times. And that’s during the summer when you don’t have to deal with wet dogs and muddy feet.

Also, at a campsite you don’t have a fenced yard or a dog door.  So you tie the dog to a long lead when they need to be outside but you’re not walking him.  With one dog that’s not so hard – we got a 40-foot cable and clip one end to the trailer and that’s it.  With two dogs, you can’t just clip them both to the trailer because they’ll get all tangled up.  I figured I’d solve that problem by getting one of those big screw things that drill into the ground to give you a tie-up spot for a long lead.  So I did that and got what they had for a long lead at the time – 30 feet long.  Then I’d keep them from getting tangled by putting that about 30 feet away from the reach of the trailer lead.  What didn’t occur to me is that this puts the second lead anchor about 70 feet away from the trailer.  Try doing that in the typical campsite or even the typical private lot.  And if the dogs need to go out early in the morning, and you want to just lean out in your jammies and grab the end of a lead and clip it on, you can only do that to one dog.

I knew that living with two dogs would have its ups and downs and maybe complicate life a bit, but I also figured that it would all be worthwhile to lighten the crushing boredom poor Buck has to endure on long workdays.  But the reality of this story is that now we have two crushingly bored dogs.  So anyone thinking of getting a second dog as a playmate might want to consider whether a professional dog walker or dog daycare or supply of Xbox games for dogs might be a better investment to solve this problem.

Or maybe the secret is to get three dogs?


And Cookie Makes Two

August 8, 2010

For a long time I’ve been feeling bad about Buck having to spend all day by himself with nothing to do.  Shepherding dogs are well known for being high-energy critters that are bred to work all day, not to mention that their highly intelligent minds need stimulating conversation and difficult puzzles to solve.

It has been so trying for me to see the sadness in Buck’s face when we get back from our morning walk and he knows he has a good 10 hours to sit around with nothing to do until some time after Daddy gets home from work. 😦

Those walks have been inexorably stretching out as a result.  The original intention was 30 minutes a morning, rain or shine or snow or hail or sleet or whatever.  That turned into 45 minutes every morning.  And lately it’s been close to an hour every morning.  I don’t begrudge him that as it’s a joy to walk him, but no matter how long we stay out there’s always the big sigh, dejected swallow or two, and crushingly bored look when we get home and he plops down in the living room.

Then I recently read this great book named Amazing Gracie about a deaf Great Dane and two guys who founded a dog treat company called Three Dog Bakery.   One of them had two dogs and the other had Gracie and they all lived in one house, and the guys somehow found time to work 12 hours a day while establishing this dog treat company while still keeping three dogs around.  Well, I try to get in lots of hours too between my work hours and my research and writing hours, so, I thought, maybe two dogs is doable without killing my attempts at being productive outside of work hours.

What would it hurt just to look?  Next thing you know my browser was pointing at and the screen zeroed in on a dog that looked like a perfect match – a border collie mix named Manny at the nearby Human Society shelter.  Saturday morning Karen and Zoe and I drove by there just to take a look.  Wouldn’t hurt to look, would it?

Like going to test drive a car “just to look.”  Who hasn’t done that and driven away unexpectedly with a new car?  I know that as much as anyone but shut it out of my mind.

Well, we get there and I look at Manny and he seems perfect and we ask if we can take her out and meet her and they say no.  He can’t go to a home with other dogs.  Not dog-friendly.

Meanwhile we’ve browsed the other canines in the shelter and there’s this calm German Shepherd mix about Buck’s size with big sad eyes looking up at his from his little bed.  Name is Cookie.  On their “canine-ality” sheet she is labeled a wall-flower and seems calm and friendly.  We decide to meet her and she’s quite friendly.  And her face and facial expressions bear an uncanny resemblance to Buck’s.  She practically begs us to take her home.

Having had a little forethought about how things might play out, we had brought Buck with us.  We introduce them and they play nicely together.

Not wanting to make a rash decision we might regret later, we decided not to adopt her immediately but we would put her “on hold.” That would at least let us sleep on it.  Then Tony too, my teenage son, wanted to take a look and we drove by.  He approved and now we had positive vibes from every family member.  Things were looking positive but we needed that night to sleep on it.

Then a friend called with two fantastic seats to Sunday’s Mariners game – 3rd row up from the third-base dugout.  That would take up much of Sunday, making a Sunday pickup of Cookie problematic.

Besides, we had waited when we got Buck and that had almost been a disaster.  We put him on hold and said we’d come get him after school ended in a couple weeks.  Then just two days before we were to pick him up I got a phone call.  “Buck’s had an accident.”  the voice in the phone said.  Two years ago and I remember the call, and what was said and where I was and what I was doing vividly.  He’d been injured, and although it wasn’t life-threatening, we didn’t think we were ready to adopt an injured puppy.  So they put the little guy up for adoption again.  A few days later we changed our minds.  We’d grown attached to that picture on PetFinder of the cream-colored puppy with a stick in his mouth.  But by then a woman was coming to look at him, we were told, and we had to wait to see if that woman would take him.  So we waited on pins and needles to see if we’d lost him.  Somehow that woman turned down the best dog in the world.  Must have been divine intervention.  And we said we’d take him, and the rest is history.

So perhaps rashness this time would be OK.  Besides, if things don’t work out, the shelter would always take her back, right?  It’s not like it’s an immediate life-long commitment with absolutely no way out.  Or that’s what I told myself, anyway.  So I drove back and picked her up. I did get “buyer’s remose” that evening as I walked the two dogs together.  So many things now become more problematic with two dogs than they were with one.  But she’s already worming her way into our hearts.  And they’re great playmates.

And that, I suppose is the end of this story and the beginning of another one.

Cookie and Buck enjoying meat-market bones.