Patti Soldavini

Posts Tagged ‘training’

Weimaraner Zebra

In dogs, humor, lifestyle, pets, weimaraners, writing on 07/30/2011 at 7:20 pm

"NO, I'm not quite feeling myself yet."

Last Monday night, I dropped Olive off at her Trainer’s in preparation for my out-of-town business trip the next morning. I am grateful that I can leave Olive in the hands of someone she knows and someone who knows how to handle dogs—even the most challenging. As Shelley and her daughter Amanda secure Olive in the crate in the back of their car, I feel the familiar separation anxiety (mine), which like an air biscuit in church, I try hard to suppress. Little did Olive know that she’d end up with a human companion who is actually much like herself. I try not to think about her as I drive home, focusing on navigating my way through the thick fog suspended above the roads like endless giant cottonballs, deciding that I should no longer take the long, winding, narrow, steep back roads at night ESPECIALLY when it’s so foggy out. I get home and turn on the documentary “Something’s Wrong with Aunt Diane” on HBO. It is both catastrophically sad, chilling and perplexing. I wonder what Olive is doing right now, I think. Every so often, I continue to think about Olive throughout the next three days at my business meeting. I really do miss her and hate being away from her. Yeah, I guess I’m head over heels in love with my goofy dog. I wait until early Wednesday evening to text Shelley: “IS OLIVE BEHAVING?” Zing. The reply? ‘NO, DID YOU GET MY EMAIL?” ‘NO, IS EVERYTHING OKAY?” Zing. I can’t even wait for the reply; I panic and immediately call Shelley who informs me that Olive barked non-stop from the time she got her home at 10pm Monday night until 4am on Tuesday morning. “SHE BARKS AT EVERYTHING,” says Shelley, ‘BUTTERFLIES, BIRDS, BEES, THE WIND, YOU NAME IT.” She barked so much in fact, that the three teenagers living in the house, vacated it in the middle of the night. And then I remembered. This house was new to Olive, and there were new people living there; it was now a more active environment that Shelley lived in. This kind of change is challenging to Weims who are always in a state of “high alert.” “THAT’S NEW, BARK BARK. THAT’S DIFFERENT, BARK BARK. WHAT’S THAT? BARK BARK. WHO ARE YOU? BARK BARK. WHAT’S GOING ON? BARK BARK. I felt sorry for everyone. No one in Shelley’s family got to sleep. And poor Olive was on guard duty all night in an unfamiliar house filled with new, unfamiliar faces. She probably felt overwhelmed by the challenge of trying to “manage” all the kinetic activity around her. She sure must have barked herself out because when she returned home, the first time she barked, it sounded funny; unlike her usual barrel-chested bark, it sounded somewhat strained. Like a fat opera singer with laryngitis. Pitiful. She also seemed a bit tranquil and tentative at the same time. Like someone who couldn’t decide if they were just exhausted or had post traumatic stress disorder. She marched straight into her Beverly Hills 90210 crate last night and went right to sleep. She even skipped jumping up on the bed to spend some time with me. Today, after our walk, Olive spent much of the day stretched out on top of the back of the couch, sunning herself in front of the South-facing windows like a grey panther in the Great Plains of Africa who has just finished a very satisfying wildlife meal. Back home. Back in her quiet environment. Back to her dinner mixed with sweet potatoes. Back to just having to watch one person. Back to being herself. Right now, she’s in the dining room, zonked out on the pony-print chair, head resting on its arm, snoring ever so lightly. Peace at last. For all.

Frankenprong

In Uncategorized on 01/07/2011 at 7:47 pm

"What now?"

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past six months, it’s that most people think their dogs are well-behaved. Even as they jam their snout into your netherbits trying to ferret out a toy. Guess what? You’re not supposed to have to give a dog a command 42 times before it stops trying to mount the defenseless 15-month old teeter-tottering through the kitchen wearing nothing but a soiled diaper and a grin covered in peanut butter. Yes, the baby smells THAT good to the dog. A walking, cooing aphrodisiac.

Anyway, dog training takes an unfathomable level of patience and the ability to endure hours of mindless repetition without wanting to cry. “SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY. SIT. GOOD GIRL. OKAY…” Sometimes, waiting for the light bulb to go off in the dog’s head is like waiting for Godot.  (Which by odd coincidence includes the word ‘dog.’) This is when the dog recognizes that we humans are woefully inept at communicating…especially in dog. I think they are actually jerking our chains then. Thankfully, Olive’s disposition makes her very eager to please. She will stand on her head and recite Desiderata just to make me happy. Other times, she puts on a William Wegman mask and tells me to stand on a chair.

Anyway, when Olive and I first started obedience school, she wore a regular, run-of-the-mill, overpriced dog collar. Big mistake. As I would soon learn, this was like putting a wet noodle around her neck. She had not one iota of respect for it. My independent spirited, crazed scent hound kept her nose to the mat, mentally categorizing and reclassifying every odor she encountered, occasionally stopping to lick some sort of forensic residue. The only time she wasn’t doing this was when she was distracted by the molecular activity around us. The dog is a biologic motion sensor. If the tiniest thread in the fabric of the universe shifts imperceptibly, Olive goes on high alert.

It was impossible to walk her. The collar was simply an accessory. It was like walking a 40-pound jackrabbit, zigzagging all over the place, leaving scorch marks in the earth she traversed. At this time, it would have been easier to train her to plow crop circles. I quickly developed “Olive Elbow,” from overextending it repeatedly. The leash burn on the underside of my arm was getting worse. My shoulder was dangling out of its socket. Olive was learning many, many foul words during this time. “$%#@!*&^%&*#@$! My God, am I ever going to enjoy walking this dog?”

At my wit’s end, I consulted with Olive’s trainer. “Do you think I’ll ever be able to train Olive without using the prong collar?” If you’re not familiar with the prong collar, it’s the one many dog owners (usually those who own dogs no larger than a Fabergé egg) wince at when they first see it. Actually, I winced too. It resembles a medieval torture device. A series of interlocked angry chrome pincers. I couldn’t imagine stringing this around Olive’s dainty neck. Oddly enough, it reminded me of going to the dentist, where they try to shove equipment the size of a 1962 Buick through your piehole. Nonplussed, the trainer responded: “Yes. But it will take a VERY, VERY, VERY VERY, VERY LONG TIME.” The perfect answer to give an impatient personality like myself.

“Welcome to Frankenprong, Olive.”

The much maligned and misunderstood prong collar should be sold, not as a utilitarian pet product but as a device that balances the relationship between dog and human. It works. Olive respects it’s ability to set limits. And if you wrap it around your arm, you’ll see that it’s no big deal (assuming you bought the quality one with rounded prongs). What I couldn’t get past though was watching Olive shrink 4 sizes before my eyes when the trainer popped the leash connected to Olive’s bright new prong collar. I think my sensitive, short-haired pooch yelped more from surprise (the party’s over) than anything else. Still, I said, “Screw that. I’m not making my dog feel small.” Off came the Frankenprong. For now anyway.

Four weeks later, ready to pull a Sylvia Plath, I attempted to reintroduce Olive to the Frankenprong. I gently placed it around her neck, softly cooing to her like the crap-stained baby from paragraph one. She remained unusually calm while cocking her head every so slightly as if to let me know that I’d been had.  I swear, she may have even winked at me.

Unpredictable

In Uncategorized on 12/30/2010 at 4:14 am

Yesterday morning, as I started to awaken, I could hear Olive inside her crate whining. Not a loud insistent whining, mind you, but a low, intermittent kvetching. Sort of like an idealized Disney Princess, pseudo-whimpering for attention. Or so I thought. “Go back to sleep,” I barked. I need another 10 minutes to shake off the fog that still envelops my brain. It is now about 6:30am. The kvetching continues, low and still intermittently like worn windshield wipers that struggle to keep time. So, now I make the fatal mistake of doing what I do every morning. Get up, quickly restore the comforter to its pre-slumber state, get dressed, open Olive’s crate door, say “Good morning Olive,” and head for the bathroom. Except, this time, unlike any other morning, I close the bedroom door behind me. I march toward the bathroom in a semi-tranquil state of mind, having no clue about the train wreck destined to occur in just a few moments.

I open the bedroom door and there is my little “grey mouse.” Perched regally on top of my bed like a giant chrome hood ornament. Peeing. I stand there, slack jawed like a stupid human, my brain unable to process what my eyes are seeing. “BAD, BAD, BAD,” I yell as I reach for Olive and she frantically scrambles for cover. There is now a wet stain winding its way across the comforter, settling into the nooks and crannies as though the Hoover Dam had burst and was trickling out about 1,000 miles from the epicenter of the disaster.

This is how my day started. I was alternately furious with myself for having ignored the obvious signal – the kvetching – and discouraged that this spectacular display came on the heels of literally months of not soiling anything inside the house. Maybe she couldn’t take the pressure of a perfect record. Thank God, it didn’t seep through to the mattress.

I wondered, did Olive have any idea her trainer was coming to the house today for a private lesson? Was this morning’s performance a foreshadowing of what was to come during Olive’s in-home tutoring session? To the point, was I about to throw $85 in the toilet today?

And then, she surprises me. The trainer arrives and Olive dutifully sits when greeting her – and I haven’t even taught her that yet. (I still haven’t figured out how to “quiet” lightning in a bottle.) Olive also has only a nano-understanding of the concept of “stay” right now. She performs admirably in front of the trainer, once again, defying expectations. Sit, down, sit, down, come. Perfect. Then, in a display of her unquenching desire to please, and perform coupled with her natural slap-happy exuberance, she hurls herself up the stairs and almost kills herself. She holds up her back leg and I’m freaking out afraid she’s snapped a bone. The trainer instructs me to put ice on her leg and we sit there on the landing (aptly named, although Olive confuses it with a “launching pad”) a few minutes while the trainer holds Olive still and I wrap the ice pack around her leg.

The trainer was going to show me how to get Olive interested in the treadmill, but not today. Today, we will focus on the hound’s predilection for “dog singing,” meaning barking. But, that’s another story. :>)

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