Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Cherry's Progress

Last night at puppy kindergarten we saw two signs of Cherry's progress. The first was her focus on us as we gave her commands. Of course the reward if she completes the command is a piece of food, special treats that I cut in half so she gets just a little taste. It doesn't take much to encourage. She learns incredibly fast. She looks you straight in the eye and seems to be asking, "what do you want me to do?" She's an "I'm all about doing business" dog and yet she is so young! Where's the scatty attention, short attention span, immature brain? I don't see it much. I see a german sheperd in a miniature body. Big paws, big ears, and a small head, small body.

The second sign of her progress was during play with the one other puppy in the group. Yes, we have only two puppies in this class. Part of the purpose of the class is for each puppy to play with the other. Canines need to be socialized with other dogs. This is part of the reason why they legally can't be sold in some states before the age of 8 weeks because they have bonding issues to do with each other. The other puppy named Hatchi is a black lab and cute as a button. He will go up to anyone and wiggle happily as he gets petted. It makes me sad that Cherry seems to have such little interest in physical affection by strangers, she is not, so it turns out, a lovey-dovey dog that wishes to be petted. Before the class we visited a co-worker that lives near the training center and while Cherry was interested in all parts of their home, she showed almost no interest in the owners! I've read that German Shepherds are a one family dog, and now I see what this phrase means. She wants Mike and I to pay her attention, she is curious about strangers, but she doesn't stay around for prolonged petting from anyone except Mike and I. Mike and I are attracted to her fur mightily, we can't seem to keep our hands to ourselves and want to touch her again and again. Hatchi I noticed went up to strangers and then stuck around a while to get a good rubbing. Cherry doesn't want a rubbing from strangers, she just wants to identify them and then she looses interest in them.

Anyway, Hatchi and Cherry were playing, an epic battle of paws and teeth and tumbling, when Hatchi started to let out short, loud growls. During these growls the play stopped and Cherry just kinda looked at Hatchi. Then the play began again as though nothing had happened. But the instructor was concerned, apparently Hatchi should not be growling at Cherry. Was the growl aggressive or was it play? Nobody could tell. The instructor asked Hatchi's owner if Hatchi had played with any other dogs since he was purchased about a month ago. The answer - none. The most likely problem - Hatchi needed more contact than what he was getting. Maybe he was illegally sold too soon. And now he is having odd canine behavior with another canine.

Now, before puppy kindergarten classes started, I set up two play dates with a dog who has the brains of a puppy (just over a year old) but with a mature, full grown body of an adult. This dog, Moosey, is a cross between a yellow and a chocolate Lab, and she is big, about 70 pounds bigger than Cherry! It was the only play-date dog I knew of, and I was grateful even though there is great physical disparity between the two animals and Cherry sometimes cowered at my feet, shy and overcome. Yet more frequently Cherry would rebound after such a rest, summon her guts, and good-sport leap into play. I was at first afraid of a poked out eyeball or torn ear, because the times Cherry was rolled around onto her back and under the legs of Moosey were countless. Mousey has the nicest disposition, a sweet, sweet dog, and she loves to play. In the end she never hurt Cherry, and Cherry did her fair share of attach lunges and teeth snapping, not meant to hurt, just meant to confront, confound, and tease the other dog. I've read that older dogs are special around puppies, that most will understand puppy play even if they have grown out of it, and not hurt a puppy no matter how obnoxious the play of the puppy becomes.

I count Moosey as the reason Cherry did not display the growling that Hatchi displayed. It was a simple example of socialization done at a critical time, with much success. Moosey is especially a godsend because Cherry is afraid of some dogs, and indifferent to others. She's only played with Hatchi and Moosey, but the at least she can do it. Natural instincts survive. This means in the future, when I am walking her as an adult, when we pass by other dogs, she won't probably go into some weird aggressive kind of disruptive doggie behavior.

Today is a beautiful day, with a blue sky, and for the first time Cherry and I practiced an exercise that will hopefully lead to walking her on a loose leash, without pulling, with her attention focused on her owner. First you walk backward, and as the dog immediately wants to walk towards you, with their eyes locked onto yours. Give them a treat for walking with you, and then turn right so that the dog is stepping next to you on the left. Eye contact usually isn't maintained unless you are still handing out treats, and the dog doesn't feel the same glee as walking toward you, so they pull out of step, usually going on ahead. As they start loosing the left hand position turn abruptly so that you are walking backwards again and then that glee returns to the dog and they look at you and walk towards you.......and you repeat the turn to get them on your left side again. We live on a dead end street so its pretty easy for me to go round and round in a strange pattern without worrying about traffic. The left side is the heeling side, where a dog traditionally should walk without pulling forward or in any direction of the leash. This exercise puts the dog into the heeling position again and again, after the easier but more awkward act of them walking forward and you walking backward! But start with what nature hard wired and try to turn it around to what is a more artificial situation.

When I walk backward, Cherry leaps into the air coming toward me and the treat. She has so much joy that it is distracting and she ends up snapping that treat out of my hand with much teeth and vigor. She is doing her own version of coming to me. The best way to get a dog to come to you is to start running away from them, then they want to play chase and your it! The worst thing is when you want your dog to run toward them, then they think it is a chase game and they are it. They will run away from you.

This weekend my husband and I will have to go to a place in the woods and practice off leash the come command. We don't dare do it at our home, there is a very busy road nearby, even with the dead end street at our backs. And while we've successfully played fetch in our kitchen, that too is a game you want to play off leash. So I'm hoping for sunny weather either Saturday or Sunday.

I drew that ugly bug I thought I would ruin a picture with, but it fits in nicely and looks more interesting than ugly. Tomorrow I draw ivy leaves. The ivy plant is growing in the bathroom, so I put the lid down on the toilet, sit on it, and copy from nature. Yesterday I painted the second coat of a background, rather tedious, but oh, it looks so good as the two coats of paint result in a strong, solid, color. I am dismayed as I look at the painting how much work will go into it and how little it will sell for, if it sells at all. This is the work that is only 8" x 10", two women in ball gowns, one pulling the other one's hair. Using mostly tiny brushes, tiny details. And if it sells, I will lose even more money on it because I can't buy a cheap frame. I mean I can buy a cheap frame design of wood, but it will have to be professionally cut and mounted, because I went too close to the edge in the drawing and planning of the painting and so the professional framer I've used before (because I've done this before!) must carefully size the frame to leave as much of the painted picture showing as possible, even adding little slivers of wood to bracket the picture! Buying a frame from a catalog that is standard size is cheap, having a frame made by a professional is expensive. But the guy I use is really good, he can shave only an eighth of an inch off a painting by making an oversized frame and you would never know just how close the edge comes to showing. I think next time I talk to him I'll call him a master!

I had my chance to draw this morning, but I ruined it by having a two hour phone conversation with three different people! Some days I say to myself that I won't answer the phone, no matter who it is, or make any phone calls myself, until the artwork is done, and my creative juices are burnt out.

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