A peaceful day

Today was mostly a quiet day. Not a lot of talking, and we mostly talked about the food we were cooking. I cleaned house because it was bugging me, and I enjoyed the work. We cooked. I made bread. Xander made pudding. Yesterday he made butternut squash soup, very simple and perfect. I read a lot, played Plants vs. Zombies, played with the dogs (we have an extra dog in the house for a couple of weeks), and relaxed.

I don’t have very many quiet days. Work is not very noisy, but there is always the sound of people doing their jobs, so there is a constant background of sound. We went to a party this weekend. The reason for the party was great – the engagement of two dear friends. I’m not very good at groups of people, though. I’m an aerobatic pilot, I used to do technical diving, I’ve worked with kids, I like playing with computers, I work in housing, we have a Great Dane, we both sing – it isn’t that I have nothing to talk about. I’m happy just existing, people watching, and I am not good at jumping into conversations. It was very loud there, too. Maybe I’m getting old. I don’t know. I never really liked loud parties or big groups of people, though, so maybe that tendency is coming out more now.

Today was very peaceful. I needed that. There are days that we are both busy with our own things and we don’t need to talk much. It’s a good kind of silence. If there’s something to say, we say it, but days like today there wasn’t much reason to talk. Just enjoying each others’ company was a very good, fulfilling thing.

We’re going to watch The Simpsons now and then I’m going to go to bed. It’s a little early, but I am happily weary, and tomorrow I will wake up to a clean kitchen, food ready to take for lunches, and a good day ahead of me. I guess I just need these quiet, useful days to recharge, to feel at home in my skin again.

What gives you peace? I’m guessing that cleaning the kitchen doesn’t do it for everyone.

Teaching the dog Russian

Nyx is under the impression that “go away” means the same thing as “lie down”. She may have some reason for this, since the only time we say “go away” is when she’s standing in front of the television. This wouldn’t be an issue if she were a Jack Russell Terrier or if our television were higher up. Unfortunately for our viewing pleasure, she’s 34 inches at the shoulder (about – I don’t remember exactly what it was when we measured her) and the television is on a coffee table. When she’s trying to be close to us, she stands directly between the couch and the television and looks longingly at the much-too-small space on the couch where she would really like to be. That’s when “Go away!” is uttered. If she promptly curls up on the floor, she doesn’t get squirted; if she continues to stand and look lost, we squirt her and she moves.

We’ve had a few issues with what words we use to train her. When she was very little, we were trying to teach her “Down” (lie down) and “Off” (don’t jump on people – all paws on the floor, please!). This worked well as long as no one else was around, but people who are not dog people did not understand the distinction and used the two words interchangeably. This confused the dog. We eventually gave up. “Down” and “Off” are now interchangeable. Both mean “get your feet back on the floor!” and the command for “lie down” is in Russian. It works beautifully, and people don’t get confused.

I’ve never taught a dog commands in another language, but it helps keep her from being confused, and that helps a lot.


I usually have some clue what I’m going to write about, but today I don’t.

I’ve been sick off an on for a while now. It’s probably the stress beginning to tell. Much of it will be removed by the end of August, but until then I will just keep moving forward and keep trying to stay healthy. I’m not very good at it. I know I push too hard. I have slept 10 or 11 hours every night this week (although the morning that Nyx woke me up at 4:00 AM wasn’t quite as restful) and I am still tired. I’m on antibiotics, and whatever it is seems to be clearing up slowly, but even today I had a fever spike rather unexpectedly.

I’ve been pushing somewhat hard for over a year and a half now, and the past year has been unrelenting. It’s my choice, but it hasn’t been an easy one.

I know I’m being cryptic. I’m sorry. I just can’t explain a lot of what’s going on. Suffice it to say that my job, while challenging and interesting, can also be tiring, and, on top of that, foster children can need so much that I come home drained. We don’t live with any of them. I think good foster parents have to have an amazing amount of patience, because I couldn’t do what they do. I make jokes about not getting bitten or kicked in a while, but they aren’t very funny jokes.

I get to spend some time with kids in stable, strong families with intelligent and loving parents. Sometimes I forget how good it is to just be able to hang out with kids without having to actively work with them or keep an eye on them or make sure they aren’t doing things they shouldn’t. It’s a whole different level of awareness, working with kids who are so damaged, and it can be exhausting. Our friends’ kids are a relief, a balm to what is sometimes a very weary existence.

I think I am still grieving a little, too. Scratch that. I know I am. Friends of ours recently told us that they are expecting. I was, and am, very happy for them, but on the way home I cried. I wanted to be able to raise our child with Xander. Mostly it’s ok. If I get enough sleep, enough exercise, enough down time, it sinks into the background and doesn’t bug me. Once in a while, though, if I am particularly vulnerable and something triggers it, the feelings are there again, raw and sad. My response? We stopped and got good chocolate, and I am eating my share a little bit at a time.

Monday I have completely off. I may not do anything interesting with the time. I may spend the day on the couch. If I feel really motivated, I’ll take Nyx out for a nice long walk. If not, though, I’m not going to feel bad about it – she’ll share the couch with me all day quite happily.

The last year has worn me down. I am tired even when I have had enough sleep. I feel like I used to be better at things than I am now. I know that my attention is too fractured at the moment to do as well as I have in the past, and I am very glad I’m not trying to take classes right now, because I think I’d fail them.

Next week is a short week. The week after that I am actually taking some time off. I’m trying hard to make it through August, to have enough money set aside so we don’t have to worry about money for Australia whether or not a certain job market improves. My job is stable, and I’m happy there. I’m learning a lot.

It’s just a few more months. I just have to keep moving, and if I get too tired, I’ll skip a day, one way or another. I’ve been pushing too hard for too long and I think I can’t do it for much longer. I don’t have to, though. We’re almost there.

Canine Good Citizenship test

For those of you who aren’t serious dog people, the American Kennel Club has a Canine Good Citizenship program (also referred to as the CGC). If you want your dog to be certified, you and your dog have to pass the Canine Good Citizenship test. There are ten items on the test: accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, out for a walk (walking on a loose lead), walking through a crowd, sit and down on command and staying in place, coming when called, reaction to another dog, reaction to distraction, and supervised separation. If you want your dog to be a therapy dog (the ones who visit people in hospitals and who get to have kids read to them in libraries), you have to have the CGC certification. We would like to have Nyx certified as a therapy dog. She has a very good temperament and she enjoys learning. She’s already a fairly well-behaved dog, but it would be fun, I think, to be able to pass that test.

Nyx and I spent over an hour this weekend working on very basic obedience. She went through an entire bag of treats, which made it much more fun for her, and she did really well, especially considering that I was changing something that was, for her, pretty basic. We’ve always used a harness for her. It clips in the front so when she pulls she can’t get her front shoulders into it, which was extremely helpful when she was younger and much more bouncy. She walks fairly well on a leash now, so it isn’t quite as big a deal, other than that she is comfortable in it and knows what to expect. The CGC test requires that the dog wear only a soft collar, so we had to start over, at least to some extent. She didn’t feel her usual pull at the chest when she decided to go explore, so she had to learn to pay attention to the collar. The fact that I had treats certainly helped!

I grew up with English Bull Terriers (Spuds McKenzie and the Target dog are both examples of the breed). I love them dearly. I thought every other breed of dog looked weird for much of my life. They are fairly smart and, though it’s probably anthropomorphizing, as far as I’m concerned they smile and they have a sense of humor. They are also some of the most stubborn dogs around. I had one dog trainer who said, “There’s no such thing as a stubborn dog, just one that you haven’t figured out how to inspire yet.” I laughed out loud. She was rather offended, but, when asked, said she had never worked with English Bull Terriers. If they get bored with training, it just won’t work. You don’t see them in the obedience ring nearly as often as, say, a Border Collie or a German Shepherd because it takes a certain type of person to be willing to work through obedience with English Bull Terriers.

My last dog, Ace, was no star at training – he became a reasonably well trained dog, but he took a lot of hard work. It didn’t help that I didn’t get him until he was two. He had a lot of bad habits to undo and he didn’t really see the point. Why work for treats when there were quail running around in the back yard?

Nyx has been a joy. She responds well and consistently to treat training, she seems to enjoy the work, and, when she’s nervous, she’s pretty clear about it. If I don’t pay attention to the fact that she’s nervous, she makes it very clear by putting her paws on my shoulders. She is generally not allowed to do that at all unless she is invited, but as a way of expressing nerves, it certainly makes her point. In general, though, she is a fairly calm and happy dog. We’ve started learning clicker training, which is challenging for me, too. Since it involves treats, she seems to be taking it as a challenge, so it is going well, even though we have only just begun.

We decided when Nyx was fairly young that we’d see if she could get through the training. I’ve been too busy to do the needed work, but I decided to carve out time because we both, dog and human, enjoy it so much. I think the biggest hurdle will be the supervised separation. She does not like being left. She’s crate trained and has no issue with that, but while we’re walking she wants all of her people to be in full view at all times. I am going to try to rope in a few friends to help work on this once I have her at least somewhat desensitized. To start she’ll go into a sit/stay and I’ll walk around a corner and immediately walk back. Eventually, once I’ve increased the time, I’ll have someone else hold the leash. I’m pretty sure we can get there, but it will be a new kind of challenge for both of us, so I will need to make sure to do it on days when I’m feeling very patient and she isn’t tired.

I’m really enjoying having a dog this eager to learn. It’s really fun. I’m not sure how much of it is the breed, since she is our first Great Dane, but whatever it is, I’m looking forward to training sessions. She will learn fairly quickly that the new collar means a chance for a lot of treats, which will certainly help. When we train it isn’t just work, either – she gets breaks and sometimes just runs in circles like a horse on a lunge line. We taught her that when she was very small, and she loves it. Never fails to make me laugh, too.

We’re lucky to have such a sweet-tempered dog, and I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can go with this.

Neurotic dog

We have a dog named Nyx. She’s a black dog with some white, thus the name. She’s a Great Dane, but rather small – she’s about 33 inches at the shoulder and she’s only 120 pounds.

Apparently she’s also just the tiniest bit neurotic. Or possibly just picky. I don’t know.

She has been eating raw chicken as her primary food source for about a year and a half. While she has been different from every other dog I’ve ever owned in that she will not eat absolutely everything that is set down in front of her, she’s eaten fairly well. I chop up a chicken, she eats as much as she wants, and then she makes noises until we let her out of her crate. She likes her crate, but not if there are people around. We are much more interesting. I am not used to any food being left behind by a dog (there’s a reason my last dog, and every other dog I’ve owned, was nicknamed Hoover at one point or another), so that took some adjustment for me.

About a week ago, after breakfast, she decided to stop eating. I was away for the weekend, she decided that she didn’t want to eat what Xander fed her, and she went on a hunger strike. This is not a huge deal, as she’s done this before for a day or two if she’s very stressed out. It doesn’t happen often. She didn’t eat Sunday. She didn’t eat Monday. She didn’t eat on Tuesday, and I was beginning to get rather worried. Her energy level was fine, she didn’t object to me poking around in her mouth, and nothing else seemed to be a problem. Wednesday she ate a little. I’m pretty sure she was just so starved she couldn’t hold off anymore. We went to the vet on Thursday.

The vet said she was the most well-adjusted, sweet Dane she had ever met. There were no signs of sickness of any sort – temperature was fine, she ate dog cookies like there was no tomorrow, and she got bored, curled up on the floor, and started snoozing. Did I mention that our dog is a couch potato? She takes after me – stress or boredom requires a nap in response.

The vet asked about the food Nyx was eating, made it very clear that she didn’t quite understand a raw diet, and suggested that maybe the dog was bored with her food.

We spoil Nyx rotten. I mean, she’s a reasonably well-trained dog – there’s no way I would have a 120 pound big black dog who was not well trained. She’s been trained using a clicker and lots of treats, though, which means she’ll do almost anything if one of her people has a treat for her. She goes to doggie day care to make sure she gets enough exercise while we are both working. She gets lots of attention and has a twin mattress she sleeps on next to our bed. She eats really good food.

Now she’s bored?

With an alternative of blood tests and stool samples, I took her to a little pet food store in Reno, Healthy Tails. They have always been good to us and given useful advice, and they know Nyx. They brought out samples of food for her to try.

Our dog, who has a beautiful coat and looks absolutely healthy, likes kibble. Not just any kibble, though. Some samples she picked up out of the offering hand, turned her head, and dropped on the floor. Her head is a fair ways up, so when she drops kibble, it scatters. A couple of kinds of food, though, she got extremely excited about. She sat without me having to ask, her ears perked up, and her tail started wagging. That was before she even got a taste of the food.

I need to be sure our dog stays healthy. I bought her kibble and a few other things to add in so the transition would be easier.

That night, she ate a little chicken and then ate everything I would give her of the other foods. She was up four hours later with a very upset stomach. I was not amused.

The next morning, when I put out the chicken, she refused to get off of the couch. (Yes, spoiled dog. I know.) I insisted. She moved. She didn’t, however, walk towards her crate. She flopped down on the floor on front of me. When I nudged her with my foot, she rolled onto her back and put her legs in the air.

Not only is she apparently good at passive resistance, she’s a clown, too. I’m so lucky.

I didn’t feed her that morning, considering the upset tummy the night before and my deep dislike of cleaning out crates when sickness has been involved. She did not seem to mind, although she did nose at the kibble bag a couple of times until I asked her to leave it. She sighed, ambled away, and settled in her crate with her peanut-butter-and-treats-stuffed Kong.

I fed her that night, and she ate everything that was offered and looked for more.

The only question now is how long she’ll like this food. I got two big bags of it, so hopefully she’ll eat it for at least that long.

Just a dog

I was driving a couple of kids around early this afternoon when we saw a pretty little (I have a Great Dane – this “little” dog was probably about 40 pounds) brindle dog running along a street. It wasn’t a busy street, so I wasn’t too worried, but we stopped and got him to go wander uphill, away from the road. I didn’t want to pick him up with someone else’s kids in the car, and he seemed disinclined to get too close, anyway.

Three hours later, coming down the same hill, with no kids in the car, I saw the dog again. I opened the door and called him and he hopped in and promptly fell asleep in the backseat. He seemed comfortable with people, his nails were trimmed, and he did not seem underfed or overweight. He looked like someone’s dog out for an excursion. He didn’t have a collar on, so I couldn’t call his owners. When I took him to animal control and put a leash on him, he was quite happy to walk with me and didn’t pull at all. He will be checked for a microchip and hopefully reunited with his family.

I’m a sucker for stray dogs. I worry about them getting hit, and I think about how devastated I would be if my dog got hit. I had a dog who escaped in the snow one day and wasn’t found for two days because he got hit, either by a car or a motorcycle, and hid under someone’s deck. I was incredibly relieved when someone called the number on his collar, and I don’t want anyone to have to go through that. I also generally like dogs and can read their body language fairly well, so I can tell if a dog will be ok for me to pick up or if I should call it in instead.

I grew up with rescue dogs. There are so many animals out there who need homes that it is really hard for me to buy a dog. When I have time, I train dogs at shelters so they can find a new family more easily. It’s important to me. I’m not completely sure why. I think it has something to do with the fact that they have no other recourse outside of trusting people to take care of them. They can’t just hitch a ride to the next city, find a job, and get by. They are dependent on us for survival in this world we have created and for which we bred them. Great Danes aren’t snow dogs, but our dog has a good life even in the winter. We are her family and we take care of her. Part of the reason her training is so important to me is so she can be around many different people without feeling anxious, and so people can come to her without feeling afraid. She’s a big black dog, and people have walked across the street to avoid getting near her.

If you have a dog, if you ever get a dog, please make sure it always has a collar, and make sure it has a microchip. It’s important. Vets will check for a microchip when someone brings in a new pet, so if your dog gets picked up by someone else, you may get it back from a vet who was paying attention. If you are a dog person and see a stray dog, call it in. It may be lost or afraid, and you might save its life by calling animal control or, if you are comfortable, picking it up and taking it in yourself.

I hope the sweet little brindle dog finds his way home or finds a new home. He was clearly well loved at some point, and he deserves a family.