Saturday, January 1, 2011

Bonding over bananas

My daughter Julie has been home for the past six weeks, and in that time has singlehandedly turned what had been Allie's mere love for bananas into a full-blown obsession. If Julie decides to sleep in, Allie sits in front of her bedroom door, paws at that door--and at times, even starts to whine. When Julie finally gets up, Allie pastes herself to her side. Then, as Julie slices up a banana to put in Allie's dish, Allie stares at Julie intently--and drools a rather sizable puddle onto the floor that Julie's occasionally had the misfortune to step in.

Until recently, Julie had been a little ambivalent as to what Allie's love for bananas meant with respect to her relationship with Julie. "I don't want Allie to love me just because I give her bananas," she'd say. "I want her to love me for me. I want to know she loves me."

I'm no ethologist, so anything I say about the nature of canine feeling is at least somewhat speculative. But it seems to me that it's a mistake for Julie to say that Allie loves her just because of the bananas. If one individual gives another individual -- regardless of species -- something that's desired by or pleases the recipient, the recipient is likely to regard the giver more favorably than before. And if what the giver bestows to the recipient is really important to the recipient, the recipient's regard for the giver will become even more favorable. So, just imagine how the recipient will regard the giver if that cherished item is given not once, not twice, but almost every day.

The fact that Allie loves those bananas, and that Julie gives them to her, is enough to grow the bond between them. To Allie, bananas clearly are a big deal -- so the person who gives them to her becomes a big deal, too.

In her book Bones Would Rain From the Sky, trainer Suzanne Clothier writes about a dog named Chance, whose relationship with his person, Wendy, was badly damaged as a result of misguided training. Clothier suggested that Wendy start rebuilding her relationship with Chance by tossing him a treat whenever he looked her way. Such a tactic sounds incredibly simple--even simplistic--but as Clothier tells the story, Chance decided on his own to work once more with Wendy after she tossed him several treats.

I love that story. I think of it whenever I see how Julie is building her relationship with Allie just by giving her some fruit in the morning. Because good relationships are more likely to form when we associate another individual with being a giver of good stuff. Those gifts can be time, an email, a smile, a kiss or so many, many other things.

Including bananas.

(Pictured above: Ginger the Golden Retriever, eating her favorite fruit. See the video here.)

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Letting go

The past few days have been, shall we say, tumultuous. Despite taking what I had every eason to believe were appropriate and sufficient precautions, my PC has been beset with 4 viruses over less than two months, each of which forced me to expend some cash to pay a pro to clean them up. Finally, last Wednesday, the boot file/sector got corrupted, leaving my computer and data dead in the water.

Enough already.

I decided to bag PC's and Windows forevermore and get a Mac -- specifically, an iMac. And I love it.

Unfortunately, in making the transition from PC to Mac, I lost some data, including years worth of emails and my virtual address book. At first, this seemed like a huge loss. Those emails included exchanges between Allie's breeder and me, enabling me to relive the whole history of how she came into my life eight years ago. There were plenty of other emails too: notes from my husband and daughter, email interviews, all kinds of history. I didn't refer to that history often, but I liked knowing it was there.

But now it's gone. There's no way of getting it back. I have to let it go.

I'm going to be doing a lot of letting go in the next few months: leaving my home of 20-plus years, watching my daughter graduate from college and make a life of her own, for starters. Further on down the line (I hope), I'll have to let go of Allie, too. What had been light-blonde patches on her face now are starting to look white. Thankfully, she still acts like a puppy while we go on walks; who'd have thought that I'd actually welcome her tendency to use her leash as a tug toy?

I guess life is a series of letting-go events. I've reconciled myself to some of those. I'm actually liking the look and feel of an email in-box that doesn't take forever to load up. I feel proud that I've raised a splendid daughter. I'm stoked about starting a new life chapter in a new place. But even those changes evoke bittersweet feelings. As for the Allie-related eventuality -- well, there's nothing sweet in contemplating that. When it comes to my golden girl, the sweetness is all in the present.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Like dogs? Like movies?

No, this is not a post waxing nostalgic about Lassie, Old Yeller, or other classic movies of the boy-loves-dog genre. Instead, I'm veering in a somewhat less reverent direction. Specifically, I invite you to check out the Empire Online Dogs Movie Poster Mash-up. It's totally irreverent, occasionally tasteless, and completely hilarious. My personal favorite is poster #5, which I wish I could post on the Northern Virginia Dog Blog. It certainly sends the right message.

(Pictured above: the movie that poster #5 refers to)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What if they COULDN'T swim?

Like probably a gazillion other animal-loving WaPo readers, I enjoyed reading about the swimming test that the National Zoo gave to four lion cubs that were born in August. The photos of the cubs in both this morning's article and the website photo gallery were suitably aw-inducing.

At least initially, the explanations by zoo officials for the test made some sense: they needed to see if the cubs would be able to swim if those cubs fell into the moat that surrounds the lions' home there. And the test was needed now, before the cubs get too big and dangerous for trainers to handle safely. Lions, like other animals, are born with the ability to swim--but that doesn't mean that some animals don't use that ability better than others. (Among those other animals, by the way, are dogs: some swim just fine, while others tend to flail about. Hence, the need for dogs to wear life jackets when boating.)

But then I started wondering: what if one or more of the cubs hadn't been able to swim? During the test itself, the zoo's trainers would have fished the water-averse cub out of the moat, but what about after that? Would they:

-- Give the cub swimming lessons? This hardly seems likely. If the cubs are almost too big to even test, they undoubtedly soon will also be too big to be taught how to keep themselves from drowning.

-- Outfit the cub with a life jacket? Somehow, I think not. First, the cubs are growing too fast to be outfitted with appropriately-sized life jackets for each stage of growth. Second, if the cubs will soon be too dangerous to be given swim tests or swimming lessons, they certainly will soon be too dangerous to put into life jackets, even if such garments were available for lions.

-- Fence the moat? Then, what about those sea-worthy lions who might want to use it?

-- House the non-swimming cubs somewhere else? Where, pray tell?

-- Hope that they won't fall in the moat until they're fully grown? That won't matter. WaPo says the moat is nine feet deep at its deepest point. That means an adult lion could drown, too.

Soooooo ... since apparently there are no options for dealing with a lion cub who can't swim, what on earth was the point of this test -- other than to perhaps provide a photo op?

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Field trip

Between today's absolutely gorgeous weather and the inspiration offered by today's Washington Post travel section on hitting the road with Fido, Stan and I decided to take Allie on a little field trip. We didn't go nearly as far afield as the WaPo travel crew ventured with their four-legged friends; instead, we headed over to dog-friendly Old Town Alexandria.

First stop on our itinerary was Founder's Park, located at 351 Union Street. This lovely waterfront oasis abounded with people and pooches--no wonder, with temperatures hitting the low 70's. We headed up to the northern end of the park, where we knew we'd find a doggie exercise area. There we tossed Allie a tennis ball several times, got acquainted with a Doberman mix named Joseph and his person, and then headed to our next stop in a roundabout way.

The roundabout way took us on a path along the Potomac, where we stopped occasionally to watch the boats skimming the water. An open gazebo made for especially nice viewing, not to mention a photo op or two. After awhile, though, our appetites got the better of us, and we headed to our next destination.

That next stop was Pat Troy's Ireland's Own, which Stan and I have visited many times, but where Allie was a guest for the very first time. We were welcomed enthusiastically by the hostess, led out to the doggie patio, and ate a tasty lunch while a harpist played some Celtic music. We think Allie appreciated the music, because she wagged her tail enthusiastically whenever the harpist played. Then we meandered back to Founder's Park, where we let Allie run around a little before we headed back home.

I'll be honest: between Allie's car issues and her sometimes over-the-top enthusiasm in greeting strangers, we haven't taken her out and about much lately. Now I regret that. Exploring new places not only deepens the bond between person and dog, but also provides the dog with much- needed physical exercise and mental stimulation. Until today, I hadn't really given Allie much of a chance to show how far she's come. But today she did great in the car, she was polite and mannerly throughout the excursion, and (bonus!) is plenty mellow this evening. I suspect a lot more field trips will be in her future -- which will nice for us all.

The rest of the Post's "have pet, will travel" section is here and here.

(Pictured above: Allie and me at the aforementioned gazebo, overlooking the Potomac. We're both feeling pretty happy. )

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Kiss and make up

I was pretty pissed at Allie earlier today. We'd taken a nice long walk over a couple of briskly covered miles, and were on the last block before reaching home when she got one of her infamous Attacks of the Zoomies. Those aren't a big deal anymore: I either wait her out, keeping the leash limp, or I get her to focus on some cookies and settle her down that way. Today I opted for the latter approach, which she responded to well ...

... until she suddenly hauled me out into the middle of the street.

From what I could tell, she saw an acorn -- a thumbnail-sized acorn, for cryin' out loud -- rolling in the street, and she darted out to investigate it, hauling a caught-off-guard me behind her. Thank God a car wasn't coming. I may espouse positive reinforcement in human-canine interactions, but I most assuredly was not feeling very positive at that moment.

Fortunately, we reached home without further incident. I filled Allie's water dish, and went off to do my thing. Later I fed her dinner, gave her a chewie, and performed the rest of the evening routine, not really paying much attention to my Golden girl beyond what was necessary.

But a little while ago, Allie quietly came into my office. For some reason, instead of calling her over to me, I went and sat down on the floor next to her. I asked her to lie down, which she did, and then she did something most uncharacteristic for her: she put her head in my lap. I stroked her for awhile, then paused, at which point she put her paw atop my hand and gently held it down on my lap. We must have stayed that way for 10 or 15 minutes. I could feel my butt going to sleep, but I didn't want to move.

Finally, Allie lifted her head and sat up. Then, very deliberately, she leaned in and gave me two licks on the cheek.

All is forgiven.