Dog Personality

September 19, 2010

One positive aspect of having two dogs is that the difference between them calls to your attention facets of the personality of each that you might take for granted otherwise. 

Cookie is almost always completely quiet.  She’ll give chase to a squirrel but not a peep comes out of her mouth.  Even a cat rarely evokes a bark.  Buck, on the other hand, has such an incredible vocal range it’s almost as if he can talk.  At the sight of a squirrel he’ll drag you to the tree and try to climb it and launches into a veritable cacophony of squeals and barks and yips and yaps and ki-yi-yis, all at a pitch high enough to break glass.  After a while he plants his rump on the ground and continues yapping while alternately stomping his right and left front paws on the ground out of excitement and frustration.  The idea seems to be to entice the squirrel to come down and play, but it never seems to work.  Things are different with cats.  The sight of a cat calls forth a throaty bark from his jaws while his claws are digging deep furrows through the pavement trying to break the leash or break your grip on it.

When he wants up on the bed there’s a very short little low-volume yip.  If he’s ignored, he waits a while and the yip gets a little louder.  The cycle repeats until the yip becomes a rather more insistent yap and you get down and help him up (we have a high bed and he’s not a jumper). 

When it’s feeding time or you’re eating something that smells good and you’re trying to ignore him, the yap is still high-pitched but a little lower and more like an arf and more insistent right from the start.  It’s always two at a time:  arf, arf; wait to see if there’s a response; arf, arf; wait to see a response; ad infinitum until (a) he gets what he wants or (b) you evict him from the premises. The call to play time is similar.

If Buck senses danger its a semi-high-pitch frantic staccato arfing, not the two-at-a-time-and-wait routine. Once when we were hiking and came up to a log across a rushing river far below he took one look at the bridge, one look at me on the other side, and he ran back about 20 feet, turned around and gave me a very clear rendition of “I can’t do that, I won’t do that!” I went back and carried him across.

Another time we were hiking and we came across an orange backhoe someone had been doing trail work with and left there, and I got the danger warning.  This time the normally-high-pitched dog produced a very deep growl and matching bark to warn away the malefactor.  The bear statues at the Brown Bear car wash on 148th Ave NE also appeared menacing to him in the same way as we drove by.

Buck howls long and plaintively whenever he hears emergency vehicle sirens in the distance.  Cookie doesn’t even notice them.

Their different attitude toward squirrels goes beyond vocalization.  Cookie gives chase if she sees one crossing directly in front of her on the path, but otherwise she’ll blithely prance past dozens of them all around her.  Buck, on the other hand, everywhere we go is scanning the upper reaches of the trees at all times.  He can spot squirrel-caused branch movement a hundred feet high and a half mile away and will give chase immediately with leash-holder in tow.

On the other hand, anytime we’re near tall grass Buck is scanning the lower reaches of the greenery for any signs of mice or rats, something Cookie has only a passing interest in.  We have been to Marymoor dog park dozens of times, and in all those times I have never seen another dog ignore the other dogs in order spend all his time pouncing in the tall grass to hunt for mice and rats.  We can spend an hour there and that’s all Buck wants to do.  He makes a four-paw high leap into the air from the path into the grass and his snout goes deep into the roots trying to catch a mouse unawares.  He has been successful several times this way, but most of the time you see his nose in the ground and his rump sticking up with the tail wagging, after which he comes up mouseless.  In a big field of grass he’ll make a flying leap and then another flying leap and then another and another, like a giant four-legged frog, until he’s he’s far out in the field.  It’s spectacular but I’ve never seen him actually catch a mouse after multi-jump pounce.

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2010-06 Marymoor Dog Park 001 mouseless

Beyond personality, when you get an adult dog you get a different background of life experience as well.  I had both dogs in the vet exam room and from the waiting room we heard a meow.  Cookie’s ears pricked up, she got that "I want it, I want it!” look in her eyes and wanted to batter down the door to get at the source of the sound.  Buck, on the other hand, didn’t realize there was any special significance to that sound.  He’s never heard a cat meow.

A similar difference obtains when we’re walking on the sidewalk and a car comes by.  Buck walks blithely along with not a care in the world.  Cookie, on the other hand, looks back and watches the car coming with apprehensiveness, and as it gets close she slinks as far away from the road as the double-leash will let her, almost dragging Buck off the far side of the sidewalk.  All the while her head is turned all the way around, terror in her eyes.  As the car goes past, she gradually drifts back onto the sidewalk, watching the car suspiciously as it disappears ahead of us.

When we’re going on a walk there are many options for destinations.  There’s Robinswood woods (squirrels), Robinswood dog park (dogs), Robinswood sports fields (endless expanses of grass to run in), the greenbelt leading to the library (rats and mice galore in the tall grass), and the big open area near Microsoft Advanta (rabbits), to name just a few.  If I think we’re walking to Robinswood and we get to the branch point and he wants to go to Advanta, he stops walking along beside or ahead of me and won’t move farther.  I pull but he stands there looking at me.  I pull again and he won’t come.  He just looks at me.  So when I have time I give in and off we go to Advanta.  Otherwise I have to pull a bit harder.  I sometimes give him a treat to compensate to reward his willingness to do what he manifestly doesn’t want to do.

He does the same thing for certain things he wants when we’re at home.  I have a plush green recliner in my office.  He likes to be in here when I’m in here and usually wants to be on the green chair.  But it’s an easy place to throw backpacks and coats and the like.  So he saunters into the office, sees the green chair occupied, looks at it for a moment, then looks back at me.  He stands there silently looking it at and looking back at me until I get up and remove the offending object so he can get up there and relax.  But if I stay here too long typing on my computer the chair starts to seem like it’s too far away and he moves down to the floor right underneath my desk chair’s rollers, oblivious to the possibility that I’ll roll over an ear or something.

He’s there right now and it’s time for us to go on our morning walk or hike.  We’ll probably head to one of his other favorite routes – Squak mountain.

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One Complication Too Many

September 6, 2010

A couple of days after we picked up Cookie I came into the kitchen and stopped short as I watched her finish dropping a pile of poop next to a big wet splotch on our dining room carpet.  OK, thought I, she’s new here, maybe she’s a little confused.  No biggie.  Just clean it up and she’ll adapt to her new surroundings.

Well, she did adapt but not in the expected manner.  The next day a spot big enough to turn a couple dozen paper towels yellow appeared in another area of the dining room carpet.  A day later another followed.  Later yet a lake spread across the Wilsonart floor in the kitchen. 

OK, so we need to house train a four-year-old dog who was supposed to be a house-trained two-year-old.  You get surprises when you marry a spouse or get a kid or get a dog, and you just have to adapt.

Adapting to some surprises is easier than others, however.  To effectively house train a dog you really have to catch her in the act, and Cookie is a master at avoiding detection.  You can let her out in the morning and watch her diligently and she acts like a six-year-old who refuses to use the bathroom before a long car trip.  You let her back in and keep an eye on her, but of course you can’t every second.  Everyone has to check email once in a while, right?  (Doing that fifty times a day is a horrible waste of time but it’s an addiction that’s hard to break.) And you’re not watching a dog when you’re watching a monitor.  Then you walk back to the dining room, and on the way your socks get soaked.

Multiply that by a few more days and the frustration mounts.  We did not sign on for this kind of challenge.  We experienced enough house-training to last us a decade when Buck was a puppy.  It is not fun.  And now it’s the school year and everyone is busy and we have two dogs, and everyone is stretched a bit thin already.  In a word, this is one complication too many.

For Karen and me the handwriting was on the wall – Cookie’s days were numbered.  But Zoe would not hear of it.  Would she then take responsibility for the house training, we asked?  Yes, she would.  Would that turn out to be the same kind of commitment she made when we got Buck and which turned out to be a dead letter from the day it was made?  No this would be different.

We are now a week into the Zoe-takes-responsibility-for-Cookie era, and the record is mixed.  Zoe has willingly taken on more responsibility, but she’s no better than I was at keeping eyes glued to Cookie every second she’s in carpet-squirting range.  For Zoe, the call to run off and play with friends still tends to trump the call to stay and watch a dog who might soil the carpet at any moment but who waits for an opportune moment. 

Cookie is a very nice dog who is affectionate and appreciates affection and harbors not an ounce of aggression for any human or canine.  She deserves a very nice home.  But whether this is the best home for her is now an open question.


Switchbacks are Good

September 5, 2010

Twenty-four years ago I hiked with my sister Colleen and friend Bob up to the summit of Mt. Persis.  It was not a pleasant experience.  After climbing 2,700 feet almost straight up we found the summit so shrouded in thick fog that we could barely see each other, let alone the purportedly magnificent views.  Then the steep trail did a number on my knees on the way down.  The tendonitis got so severe that it felt like two pieces of rusty metal grinding against each other, and my knees have been touchy about long steep stretches ever since.

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Colleen and Bob at the summit of Mt. Persis in 1986

So Persis has been in the back of my mind for 24 years. What fantastic views did I miss?  What if I went more slowly and carefully?  I consulted with Buck and he confirmed that we’ve been doing so well on our climbs lately that this would be a good time for a new assault.  In addition, it would be a great chance to try out my new Garmin 60Csx hand-held GPS.

The Garmin came in handy right away – at first I couldn’t find the trail because where the it leaves the parking area looks like a little avalanche area rather than a normal trail.  That should have clued me in as to what was coming.

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The trailhead

I had read that the trail goes straight up without switchbacks, but what that actually meant didn’t really sink in.  Take a look at the slope on that “trail” in the picture.  It’s that way all the way up, steeper than stairs but paved with loose dirt and wet rocks and roots.

I figured, no sweat, we’ll just go slow and take it easy.  Even so it was work, and even Buck got tired – no excuse about being too hot for him this time, as it was only about 50 degrees.

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Buck taking a rest.

That would have worked tolerably well except for an unexpected condition.  Clouds had been moving through the area and they left their calling card:  every leaf, every branch, every root and every rock were all coated with water.  Grab a branch or tree to help pull yourself up and you get a shower of water.  Make your way through the underbrush of an overgrown trail and you get all the water on your pants and your shoes and your pack and sometimes your face.

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The overgrown trail with a gauntlet of wet brush to go through.

I was wearing jeans, and soon they were as soaked as if I’d been trudging into a driving rain.  Wet jeans complicates climbing a bit.  Because they stick to your skin, you often have to pull to unstick them when stepping up over a waist-high obstacle, which pretty much describes this whole trail.  I did have a plastic poncho in the pack for wet conditions, but no plastic rain pants.

Not wearing jeans, Buck was not quite as handicapped as I was and didn’t understand why I was lagging behind.

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Buck waits patiently for me.

We climbed about 900 feet this way when we stopped to take stock of the situation.  Wet jeans.  Ridiculously steep trail.  Clouds disobeying the weather report that predicted they would pass on after early morning.  A voice in my head said “This isn’t fun.”  If not, why am I doing it?  Buck being his usual agreeable self didn’t complain when I told him plans had changed.  And thus I was defeated by a mountain once again.

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The self-timer captures us at our turn-around spot.

Determined not to let the mountain get its revenge twice over by zapping my knees again, I lowered myself carefully and slowly down the slippery slope.  Not having any joint problems to worry about, Buck ran on ahead and once in a while waited for me to catch up.

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Buck waits for me on the way down too.

This time the defeat is permanent, I think.  Mailbox Peak is similar and we had a similar experience there.  I never quite realized it before, but I really like switchbacks.  I like walking, not scrambling.  Scrambling a little ways at the top is one thing, scrambling for 3,000 feet of elevation gain is quite another.  No more mountain trails for us that have been blazed by people who think straight up is the way to go.

However, the Garmin GPS was a roaring success.  It helped me find the trailhead.  It got me back on the trail a couple of times.  There are a few side trails that go off to lookout points on the top of rock outcroppings.  You don’t realize you’re on the wrong trail until it ends on a narrow ledge and you’re staring down at an abyss hundreds of feet down on three sides.  After one or two of those it is reassuring to be able to look at a GPS screen and see that yes, you have strayed a quarter mile off course.  Without it you’d probably make your way back to where you took the wrong turn, but it’s still reassuring to see that little arrow moving inexorably back toward the little pink line that represents the trail.

Not our most fun outing, but we learned something:  switchbacks are good.

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Back at the trailhead with wet pants, pack, and fur.