The Austin Chronicle Recommends The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!)

What is our Great Dane’s Purpose?

Well, there’s been a spate of activity going on with The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!). And little wonder….the show opens in a sickening 10 days with all of the Christmas activity to help eat up some of that short time.

I was reading the Austin Chronicle’s recommendation to the dogs and look, they were all ears!The Pup-illons were "All Ears" when I read them this quote from the Austin Chronicle.

The Pup-illons were “All Ears” when I read them this quote from the Austin Chronicle.

KUT is going to interview me and my balloon-making Great Dane, our lucky seventh dog, Dane Dawson of, simply the best balloon twister in Austin. I mentioned that we won’t even be using this, his best skill because Moose and Mouse get a bit freaked out by the popping-plus it could eat up a minute of performance and that’d just slow us down.  Moose and Mouse sure had plenty of chances to get acclimated to the popping when I was practicing making balloons myself so they may just never get used to it.

I didn’t care so much about the twisting, but wanted to make something special for one person while showing off Lauren Macaw’s ability to differentiate colors and name them correctly.  The thing was that during shows I preferred when she got the colors wrong and would (and still do) pretend to get upset, throw things on the ground, yell at her for embarrassing me, and generally give her way more energy and attention for saying the wrong color. And I don’t need balloons for that.

Incidentally, since this is supposed to be a training blog, it is exactly the above-described phenomenon that causes people the most trouble with parrots and kids. They get more attention when doing something wrong….and dogs barking and then they get yelled at? Think about if you were an alien from another planet and you see dogs barking and then the owners start yelling at them. What would that look like? Simply a bunch of aliens screaming together. PS-if the dogs stop after you give them a quick “Stop” that’s impressive.

Parrots love yelling at each other in the wild. And they totally do everything they can to provoke humans into yelling back at them and storm around like little ineffective Hitlers. It’s the second most common reason parrots get kicked out of their loving homes. Biting is the number one reason. A good, measured program of Time Out is the only way I know of to humanely address parrot issues.

I digress. This is a piece about Dane and what his role in the show is.

Dane has played in numerous jazz bands and I’d say he might even be as good of a musician as he is a twister, but no, we won’t be using much of that skill of his either as we already have four amazing musicians in the cast. Dane will help me tie everything together. He’ll keep the action moving by doing short clown bits, some with an instrument, other times simply with his wit and charm (whatever-he seems to show up on time) while I prep the next act (catch a dog after I let him out of the crate).

Anyway, it’s shaping up to be an even more jam-packed show than normal, and normally people are stunned at how much I do in just my solo routine.

The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!)

2013_Dec_15.Squirrel_MuttcrackerAA Circus Musical with Puppets!

Well, a note about our upcoming show at The VORTEX is long overdue, but here it is. We are proud to include Jungle Jill and the Jaybirds in this year’s show. Jill Jarboe, Bruce Newman, and Kirk Williams make up the trio of musicians that weave puppets and original lyrics into just superbly positive songs with great messages. Jill creates her own puppets and loves getting jokes, parables, and life-saving information across in fun ways. Kirk Williams was the bass player with The Austin Lounge Lizards, and Bruce Newman has written songs that have been picked up by many groups you’d recognize (The Uranium Savages, The Austin Lounge Lizards, etc etc), and has been a regular performer at Nutty Brown Cafe, Strange Brew, Ruta Maya, and more.

Let me simply say this: I go see everything I can in children’s entertainment and this group is my favorite in many ways-I mean they don’t juggle, so there’s a limit to how much praise I can lay down, but they do everything else–I have plenty of the circus skills to fill in.

And, coming back again this year, we have pianist Bowman Maze. He blew me away with his talent last year and he will be the anchor for Tchaikovsky’s Suite while Jungle Jill and the Jaybirds back him up and fill in with some more upbeat music and songs. Bowman plays in jazz bands around the state and has even managed to play at the White House.  I don’t care about any of that-he just plays really original versions of the Nutcracker Suite while staying true to the spirit of the music.

I would (and actually have, now that I think about it) pay just to hear either one of these musical talents-and I’ve managed to put them on the same bill and throw in juggling, unicycling, parrot tricks, and six circus dogs. That’s going to be one jam-packed show. My biggest regret is that I won’t be able to watch it.

To make it an actual figurative (I can’t believe I just said that) train wreck, I’ve added the owner of, Dane Dawson, our very own balloon-making Great Dane. We call him our lucky seventh dog.  His best skill, balloon twisting, we won’t even be using. Balloons are like kryptonite for Moose and Mouse. This is proof that they are super hero dogs from another planet, balloonton, or something like that anyway. Anyway (ha ha), Dane is talented enough that there’s plenty more for him to do to keep you entertained (like a train wreck is wont to do) and then maybe, with enough roaring shouts of encouragement made while the entire audience stands in amazement at the end of the show (or appreciation of us mercifully ending), which is sure to happen, maybe, just possibly, Dane could be persuaded to entice, lure, tempt the audience out of the theater and into the swanky Butterfly Bar and large patio area with a delicious food trailer with even better-tasting food to enjoy while you wait for your amazing artistic creation.

Ok, there is so much more to say about this show, but I promised to get a short blog out about it today and I hate writing. And the dogs–what can I say? If I don’t feed them soon I might wind up missing a leg.

Finding Meaning in Chaos

Space for Fetch

I took Coyote out to the old burial house yesterday to visit the grave-cue the sounding of the lie detector. Actually, I was going out to get some work done. The house is on a double lot with nineteen large oak trees and a totally fenced in yard. The house isn’t much, especially now with all of the holes in the walls and broken out windows, but the property itself would make a great neighborhood natural park.

Too bad it wasn’t appreciated by the tenants. I’ve about given up on trust after my experiences giving “affordable housing” to people. When I started buying properties I heard stories from other landlords who said they’d get a tenant in and never raise the rent and they’d wind up in a symbiotic relationship-everyone gets stability. Oh, the counterpoints I could make. I had one cook from a popular restaurant that had knee high trash with what looked like every cigarette butt he’d ever smoked laying on the floor.

I saw the benefits of giving low rent from the tenant side as well. I dated a woman who had been in a house for 15 years and she often commented on how she never contacted the owner except to give him money. She appreciated her good situation and never wanted to give him any reason to notice her at all. But one needs enough awareness to appreciate the good situation.

Now my life is thrown into chaos, needing to get out to the house to fix it up. As I mentioned earlier, I took Coyote out to keep me company. Dead dogs just don’t do it, you know? I let Coyote out of the van and he kind of tentatively wandered around for a couple of seconds and pretty soon was doing that drag racing thing that dogs do where the rear end stays low and he was peeling out from place to place, stopping and panting for a second before getting a good pouncing start again. That quickly turned into complete circles of the house and yard until he eventually came back in to find me working, and collapsed on the floor in exhaustion, panting on his side with his eyes wide open staring at his dreams as if they were prey being ferreted out.

Seeing Coyote’s joy at having all of that space, combined with my general attitude of always living in the worst one of my rental places in order to fix it up, has catalyzed me into moving out to the house. I’ve put my current apartment up on craigslist and have already made appointments to show it while getting my stuff moved out to the house.

Get ready dogs-you’re about to live in an awesome off leash dog park! I’m looking forward to having the space to build some fun doggie playground equipment-think agility equipment with a circus flair. I have several ideas. Plus there’s plenty of space to coerce *er* “train” the dogs to play fetch.

It also occurs to me that I had Moose out there recently and she was acting almost exactly the same way the original Chickendog acted when I first got her as a puppy and was trying to come up with a name for her. They were both scared of everything in the yard. Great-one more thing to  habitualize Moose to. But that’s the thing about playing fetch, I’ll get her to fixate on the object, and then any new environment will narrow down to playing with the object and interacting with it and our routine of giving it back to me and (from her viewpoint) coercing me into throwing it for her to chase.

These tenants trashing my house is a good thing.  Right? Everybody has a lesson to teach-it couldn’t be as simple as they are atrocious human beings. Right? Gotta make it more complicated. Get ready dogs-you are now taxed with giving those people’s actions some meaning through this chaos.

Jumpin’ Jack-Out!

Boo Hoo….

Well, no easy way to say it….Jumpin’ Jack didn’t make it.  He’s dead.  That was supposed to be my last dog ever. Now I’m stuck with six more.

When Hefty, from my college years died, it was hard enough that I didn’t want to go through it again and simply didn’t want to get another dog.  I looked at Chickendog and Jumpin’ Jack and just saw dead dogs, and eventual loss. I intended to let them get old and, uh, you know…..And it happened- they both checked out recently. I can’t imagine how much harder this would have been if I hadn’t had puppies crawling over me distracting me while I was petting JJ.  It might just have been so hard that I would have been glad I hadn’t gotten any more dogs!

Jumpin’ Jack was going to be my last dog and then I took my first road trip with a budding romance who’d found a dog on the PetFinder website.  She was my first contact with the world of formal dog training and had lots of competition experience. People from that world seem to just accept that poop is going to move through their life-and it isn’t stepping in dog poop that’s the problem, it’s letting it hang around.
If you mention, “No dog, no poop,” they’ll just be like, “What does that even mean?”

Someone brought up with lots of dogs reminds me of immortal characters that have captured my imagination—Samantha on Bewitched, The Immortals in Highlander, or even, sadly, in many cases, Vampires.  Only it’s the humans who are “Immortal” and supposedly have the larger picture in mind for the dogs. Breeders will simply go through a thousand dogs, culling the ones they most desire out of the litters that come out-did I mention vampires; ha ha. I’m talking in this case about the breeders who care and just want to have great dogs to train and compete with, not the ones that the media like to show during sweeps week. There is no doubt in my mind that I’d want a Moose or Chickendog puppy if they hadn’t been fixed-they are such great dogs, though neither of them were a specific breed.

And there’s the flipside right there: They were both abandoned dogs. Neither one was bred for any specific reason but simple “accidents” and nobody else wanted them. Chickendog had even gone through six homes. In fact, all six of my current dogs have been discarded and they’ve proven to be great pets, extremely trainable so you might as well adopt a dog from a shelter. They tend to appreciate having someone petting them and are more likely to return the attention they get more than those ungrateful new puppies. Jumpin’ Jack? That was the worst of the dogs (I know, this is some eulogy for him) and I got him as a puppy. His mom was apparently owned by an unresponsible person and had gotten knocked up by a neighbor’s dog who also had an unresponsible owner. “Hey-I taught them abstinence. Let everybody else in society deal with the consequences.” Such great trainers-they couldn’t even keep their dogs in a fence.

Well, the new gf was looking for a new dog, even though I think she already had seven at the time, and we showed up and there wasn’t just that one, but four litter mates.  They’d been scheduled to be destroyed the day before we got there, but the facility knew that we were coming and, long story short, we went home with all four.  Looking back on it, I can’t believe how easy this decision was but we were sure we could find good homes for them.  And we did; OOPS!  She took two, and I took two.  Lucky dogs.  I had a momentary lapse.  I see a day when there will be a 12 step program for people like me, and trust me there’s a need. In the case of normal substance abuse, once you stop you, you can be done. With dogs, once you stop you have to keep literally feeding your habit for another 15 years. And picking up its poop, and making trips home to let it out before you meet your buddy after work for a drink or run, and eventually have to bury it.

I never know if it was a predictor of the future, a cause of the ultimate result, or simple maturity on our parts, but early on we definitively made definite decisions on whose dog was definitely whose. There was no sharing of dogs. Like I say, dog people have seen it all. I had to learn fast.

So anyway, Jumpin’ Jack is dead. He died in his sleep out at his puppyhood home while I was working on the house. He was able to take a walk around the property and get one last pee in to mark the property. I’d left the other dogs at home, partially for Jumpin’ Jack’s comfort, partially so they wouldn’t have to try to figure out what death is-we certainly don’t need another religion to get started based on their understanding.

I’d been feeding JJ about a pound of ground beef a day to keep him eating and so he’d been putting on some weight and had decent energy from where he’d been.
While Moose and Mouse have taught me that positive reinforcement is the only way to go, it was Jumpin’ Jack that proved that negative methods simply do not work. It is those methods that I’ve buried in that hole with Jumpin’ Jack.

Ha ha-just kidding, negative methods are still alive and thriving, being promoted right there on the Animal Planet.

Training the Retrieve Part 1

Be a Good Mommy

I don’t know how he did it, but Jumpin’ Jack keeps getting better.  I’m going to say it: His poops even look great!  I’m not disappointed that he seems to be pretty much 100% on getting outside to go to the bathroom.  That’ll help any dog stay alive, for sure.

On that note, a brief comment on house training: vigilance.  Another note: The only time you get to yell at your dog for a “mistake” is when stuff is coming out of him.  That’s the only negative reinforcement you get—you are reinforcing his stopping by removing the negative of being screamed at.  Warning: your dog will next learn to not let you see him and wait until your back is turned for just a second, or he’ll meander behind something so you can’t see him.  You can’t trust a dog. I mean you can, but you know the saying, “Fool me once, shame on you.  Fool me twice, shame on me.” That’s what vigilance is: catching him every single time.

Imagine needing to watch seven dogs!  I made the mistake of already having too many dogs (five!) and then compounded it by getting two puppies at the same time.  There is no longer any doubt that seven is too many dogs.  And this is coming from someone who loves dogs.

This realization of having too many dogs has been very present after a friend watched my group for less than 24 hours.  When I came to collect them, she was in a daze, saying, “No one should have seven dogs…..nothing happened, they were fine, they were great, but just letting them out….” She went on with trivial examples that I am intimately aware of.  Simply feeding them has become a Kaizen study in efficiency.  I arrange their bowls in a baking pan (my original attempt at lining them up in order failed due to too short of a counter-actually the counter is long enough, it’s simply too many food bowls), get a quart scoop of food, and then fill them to appropriate levels.  Pro tip:  Have the dogs in their kennels already or you’ll wind up with unbelievable chaos after the puppy knocks the pan of food out of your hands.

Yesterday, I found myself with only two dogs for much of the day and I realized how much easier it is to train a smaller number of dogs. Sure, I just got done marginalizing my friend’s comment about my having too many dogs, but I’m a dummy. I have too many dogs! I am reminded of back when I had only Chickendog to train. I keep remembering her as a super-trainable dog but it’s more likely that she just got the benefit of my full attention. I certainly know more about training now; actually, that could simply be a further barrier. The best way to train is…..ready? Playtime! And that’s what got Chickendog started on her illustrious career…simply playing with the frisbee to burn off energy.

Playing is at the heart of free shaping, but the playing easily gets pummeled by the rules if you’re not careful. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve started taking Moose and Mouse out front to play fetch by themselves-I started with them individually and I’ve quickly gotten to the point I can train them this way together.  A year ago they were too scared to go out the front door.  The big world was just too scary. If I forced them out the door they would just sit and quake on the porch, leaning back on the door to try to open it.  They simply couldn’t be coerced into leaving the porch, even for a piece of steak. There were many times Moose would literally lose her sphincter control. It’s good for me to remember this as I work through getting improved retrieves.  There’s a whole process I’ve been working out for getting a retrieve and if Mouse (he was way more reluctant than Moose) can learn it, I am confident that just about any dog can.  Moose and Mouse are way down on the scale of natural retrievers.

To teach a retrieve totally from scratch you want to train all of the separate steps individually.  First there’s the completed hand off, the last step in the completed retrieve. This is a bit counter intuitive. It’s natural to get dogs to chase things.  I mean that’s what they love the most, right? Right! But remember, you are training them so it behooves you to make it as boring and horrible an experience as possible.  Just kidding.

Yes, the chase is the most enjoyable thing for the dog.  It’s what I love seeing a dog doing but the retrieve will give the added bonus of awesome amounts of exercise in a fairly confined space in a short period of time.  There’s an exponential bonus as well. This bonus is why I’ve worked so hard on this one thing Moose and Mouse started off with no interest in. The retrieve can be made into a reinforcer better than any treat. When I see someone with a naturally enthusiastic retriever?  I seethe with jealousy.

Yes, I’d love a natural retriever, but these are the dogs I’ve wound up with and there’s a reason. Whatever… Ha ha…the thought that the universe provides reason: Ha ha ha; but I might as well go along with the joke-I’d rather laugh along than, well, who knows what that universe would do…..I’ll admit this at least: I am happy that Moose and Mouse came along to create a situation where I can never use force or any physical “correction.”  These dogs simply shut down under any stress they aren’t used to. It has been a really life-changing journey to explore and use positive reinforcement-it changes the way I see all interactions.

Anyway, back to training a retrieve….The reason you want to work on that last step first is that you want there to be such a natural tendency for the dog to hand you the object that he naturally brings it back to you.

Then you play tug of war and let the dog win most of the time. Old methods would adamantly insist that you win every time.

 WRONG!!!! Think about it as if you’re a three year old.  You have a toy and your mommy is playing with you and you’re having the most fun you can ever imagine; and then she just yanks it away! Then she teases you with it, lets you touch it but not grab it, lets you have it again, gets you engaged until you’re happily playing with exuberance again;  and then she just yanks it away.  Let’s say that happens a hundred times….What do you learn? I suggest you’d learn that your mommy takes your toys away.  What kind of mommy is that?

Be a fun mommy! Let your dog win every time, at least at first.  And don’t make it too hard. Let him tease you with the toy, grab hold of it and let it slip from your grasp, and then ejaculate in exasperation! He’ll love the happy, fun energy!

Here’s the thing: If you pretend to be exasperated in fun now, it’ll keep you from being exasperated in reality later.

Speaking of later, Later Gator.

Three Free-Shaping Games

Last Meals: I May Be Slow, But I Am Trainable!

Jumpin’ Jack seems to be about as recovered as he could be.  His appetite is back and he’s eating everything I give him….No wonder! He’s getting hamburger, steak, and pork chops.  Frankly, I’ve started cutting back on the meat and cooking eggs to mix in so his stomach doesn’t freak out on him.  Ha!  It’s really so I don’t go broke.  I do have a tiny bit of regret about not having dispatched him earlier, but he seems to be enjoying the one-on-one time he’s been getting and gets up to go out and walk around and sniff the neighborhood.  Really, what else is there to life?  Eat, sleep, check out the world. I mean, I like to get a little more distance and reckless speed by doing it on a fast bike, but a dog’s is pretty much my ideal life, too. And while the cold rainy weather slows me down, it’s always made him perk up over the years.  This weather, along with all that one-on-one time may be another reason he’s sticking around.  Or maybe he just likes proving me wrong.  Whatever, it’s good having him for one more day.

While Jumpin’ Jack is joking around with life and flauting death, the rest of my crew have been gearing up for our sixth annual production of The Mutt-Cracker (SWEET!) that will be at The VORTEX again this year.  There is still way too much to do but we are looking forward to another great show, that’ll be almost a totally new presentation, even for us.

More about the changes another day, but Moose and Mouse have continued improving on their base tricks and I’ve added a few new things for them to do. Jingles will of course be the star dog of the show again—she’s just too cute, though one of the new puppies is certainly starting to crowd her out of the cute category.  That’s Squirrel.

Squirrel, while incredibly cute, is a total conundrum to me.  I don’t quite have a handle on her yet.  She is a combination of Buda and Bully.  She is a third of the size of her younger brother, Coyote, yet bosses him around mercilessly.  Generally they play fairly nicely, though extremely roughly.  But every time I let them out without guarding against it, Squirrel gets out first and waits for Coyote to get outside and she ambushes him.  Not to hurt him, but just chatters at him, attacking over and over, telling him what to do, not giving him any peace to do his business until he jumps up on a platform I built specifically for him to escape to and Squirrel is too small to get up on. I’ve even started putting Squirrel in a pen by herself before letting Coyote out so she doesn’t get the chance to start her bullying.

And lest you misogynists out there get the idea that it’s a female thing, let me mention that Squirrel was actually born a male.  But she gender-identifies as a female.  That’s fine with me since her ability to procreate has been catastrophically compromised by her responsible care giver, so it’s an open question as to whether she is technically a boy or a girl–I suppose eunuch might be the most technically correct but whatever.   Who, outside of a judgemental busy body, would ever care what a dog wants to gender identify as?  Might as well start criticizing her species identification of being a squirrel.  Might as well criticize nature for not making the Earth the center of the universe or coal identifying as a diamond.

The point I’m trying to make is that I’m trying to discover who Squirrel is through free shaping.  Squirrel, as any dog does, loves free shaping. The only thing I do while free shaping is remain as still as I can, observe her behavior closely, and CAT (click and treat-and always remember: CATs make the best dog trainers!).  That’s it.  If I do anything else observable, I’m sabotaging the training.  What is it that dogs love so much about free shaping?  They can try anything they want! To start, I’ll click Squirrel for pretty much anything to let her know that the free-shaping game is on.  I mostly reserve the clicker for free shaping to make the clicker especially special to her and to emphasize to myself to be as true to proper training methods as I can.  I am still a failure, but have heart! Dogs are extremely forgiving!

Once she’s gotten a couple of clicks–and I try very hard to get them in before she has a chance to start exploring the environment–she starts looking at the clicker, trying to will it to click.  She’ll make a small head movement, CAT!  Jerk sideways, CAT!  Then she’ll just start doing lots of stuff, CAT! each time until she finds one of three things happening.

The first is that there are times I’ll have something in mind that I want her to do and will shape towards that goal.  Going onto a mat is always a good example, and very useful if you’re wanting something to work on.  Any accidental head or body movement in the right direction, CAT!  CAT! at the slightest move until you get a solid, automatic, and predictable movement, and then wait for millimeter more movement once.  Be sure you can get a click in.  Then relax back to the original slightest motion.  I love that alacrity–the immediate response.  Lots of very fast starts being reinforced create cheerful eagerness, and that’s what I try to get in all of my behaviors, every interaction with the dogs, actually.  If you click for small, immediate movements you’ll be training for quick responses for everything you ask from your dog.  Get a fast response on one behavior and it generalizes for all other behaviors. I simply cannot emphasize this enough.  And I won’t.

A second free-shaping game is to capture a cute behavior Squirrel just does naturally. These are things that it might be difficult or at least more time consuming to shape totally from scratch, but once captured they can be strengthened to good effect.  Often Squirrel will scratch, as I’ve clicked that often enough she knows it’s on the table.  It isn’t on cue yet, but she’ll get a good scratch going twenty times in a row in one short session so I’m reasonably sure she’s doing it with intent.  The idea here is that if, early in a session, she does the same behavior I know I eventually want on cue several times in a row, I’ll start doing CAT! for only that behavior.  In addition to scratching, things that might work for Squirrel include head shakes, a quick bounce to the side (as in a feint while playing), a quick lunge combined with an immediate backwards hop, and my favorite: sneezing.  And my other favorite–anything fun!

A third free-shaping game is to click anything she does, but never the same thing twice in a row.  Sometimes she seems to realize that there’s no pattern and stops and tries to figure out what’s getting clicked, or what she should do.  Motionlessness is the arch enemy of this game.  So I either CAT! immediately (it is a different behavior, after all!) or, when I’ve waited too long, hoping for something to happen, just give her a treat with no click for trying to figure out what’s going on, and to get her moving again.

One quick additional note is to mention that in none of these free-shaping sessions do I ever say anything, make any movements, or even sound.  It is strictly verboten. I have many personal examples to back up extensive scientific studies that show that these extraneous prompts do nothing but confuse a dog.   And by this I mean that I am a total hypocrite and often make a sound or even say, “Squirrel” to get her attention or, “Leave it,” hoping to keep things moving along.  But you can be better than me and never make a distracting sound or movement.

Anyway, Jumpin’ Jack has kept getting up to go outside, barked for attention, and told the little dogs to back off, so I guess I’ll take him out for one more walk off the property to get his appetite going for another meal before heading to the store to get him some hamburger. They are all last meals these days, or at least that’s what he’s trained me to think.  It only took 16 years.

Jumpin’ Jack 2013_November_24

Hey-I Have My Own Problems

Well, back on Thursday I woke up and Jumpin’ Jack was not moving and pretty much completely unresponsive.  I was sure Jumpin’ Jack would be moving on that day and thought I might murder him in mercy.  But he was sleeping and not in pain so I just swaddled him up and gave him lots of loving.  I sat with him and thought about our life together.  The number of things I’ve learned from this dog–When I got JJ, I already had Chickendog, a competition frisbee dog that had made it onto Letterman. And then I couldn’t get JJ to even sit on command….he was the dog that got me into clicker training and he developed into a dog that had as many tricks as Chickendog and was a rock solid, totally dependable performer with just a great temperament.   This from a dog that I, at one point, would have awarded myself “Greatest Dog Trainer Of All Time” if I could train him to simply sit on command.  He was a project for sure and in many ways the opposite of Chickendog.

He made it through the day and I went to bed and woke up to him in pretty much the same condition.  I made sure he was in a comfortable position and sat with him some more through the morning.

Jumpin’ Jack grew up out at a house that I’ve had renters at over the last 10+ years and they’ve moved out, leaving holes in half the walls, not a single interior door, 69 bags of trash tied up and deposited in a back room before they stopped bagging stuff–there was probably that much more trash left loose, but I digress.

My point is that I have work to do out there and couldn’t keep my death vigil at home-life goes on.  I also want to bury him out with the rest of his crew who are out there, so I loaded him up, got him comfortable in the mud room that he spent much of his time in as a puppy, and got to work expecting to be able to bury a still-warm body.

Then he lived through that day and I got him back home and comfortable again, sat with him reading for awhile and fell asleep.  He woke me up barking around 1 am on Saturday and I started regretting not putting him down earlier.  I spent the entire night sitting with him, petting him, thinking about his life and reading.

The book I was reading is, “What is the What?” by Dave Eggers and there is lots of meaningless death in the book.  It chronicles stories of The Lost Boys from Sudan and the incredibly complicated situation in the region.  Sitting with JJ and seeing how hard it is to actually die makes the stories quite poignant.  The kids, according to this account, would be walking, sit down, and literally be dead in minutes.

One of the things I remembered about JJ is how tricky he is.  He could always watch for a moment of inattentiveness and make a break for freedom.  Even in his old age, as slow as he has been.  I left him with a friend overnight recently and she tried to get him out the door after waking, but he wasn’t moving yet so she sat down for liquid elimination, saw him walk by, and by the the time she got outside he was nowhere to be seen.  Score one for the 105+ (dog) year old codger!  He had a good hour of freedom and was found belly deep in a creek a hundred yards from the house. A great adventure that I’m really glad that he had. I often feel bad for my dogs that I am so on top of their activities.  At one point I realized that dogs aren’t as smart as humans and we manage to keep some of the most creative and adrenaline junkies confined–I could at least be as competent as a prison guard, right?  That’s my line of thinking when someone says their dog gets loose regularly.

For what it’s worth, I surmised where he would be based on knowing how hard it was for him to walk combined with the general sloping of the ground from the door.  “Keep going downhill,” I said.  “He likes to go in the wooded areas.” I guessed he’d be down at the creek.

Well, turns out he seems to have just been punking me again….I cooked some eggs around noon on Saturday before needing to get back out to the house to work again-I would have gone earlier, but I really couldn’t believe he was still hanging on.  JJ perked up a bit, so I gave him a bit and loaded him into the van and we went back out to do more work on his puppy home.  While there, he barked intermittently and after a few hours, just as I was ready to head home, he started barking and flailing in his swaddling so I unwrapped him and he started trying to get up.  So I helped him up and used my hands under his belly to act as a sling so he wouldn’t fall and he went to the door, down the steps, and pooped!  Then he explored his surroundings a bit–of course it’s impossible to know what even your best partner is thinking, let alone a dog, but I like to think he recognized the play area right outside his primary door from puppyhood and enjoyed being there again.

Another JJ story:  I had an old dog, Hefty Hefty Hefty Peterson, when I first got Jumpin’ Jack, and Hefty would go explore in the quarter acre lot that I had and be slow to come when it was time for meals or bed.  Jumpin’ Jack learned to go harass Hefty and herd him back to the house when it was time to come in.

A little joke I played on JJ:  After Hefty died I would still cue JJ to go find Hefty.  JJ would go searching for a good 15 minutes before coming back disappointed.  HA HA!

Anyway, with JJ perking up and ambulatory I didn’t feel too bad accepting a dinner invitation for homemade burgers.  I loaded JJ up and headed over and he ate most of a burger patty, five slices of Kraft singles cheese slices (hey-you can’t live forever), delicious homemade ranch dressing with buns, and assorted other stuff.

Another super funny story, for me anyway:  A girl I was going to marry was really into dogs and had 12 or so before we split up…..she HATED JJ.  It was visceral.  That’s how insanely wily JJ is.  Most dogs are smart enough to be trained, some are smart enough to be super well trained.  JJ was so smart that he knew how to ride the wave of getting what he wanted by doing what you asked and then getting what he REALLY wanted at an opportune moment.  This female made the point that JJ was old and would eventually die-she could wait him out.  That must have been five years ago.  A lot of misery saved from that break.
We got home from that culinary delight and I washed and dried his bedding, put him to bed, and woke up this morning, Sunday, to him waiting at the door to go out to do his business. He went out and mostly walked around unaided-I was there “just in case” but he seems back to 70% of where he was on Wednesday before his death vigil started-and honestly, I’ve expected he could go at anytime for six months or so. He’s been slowing down for awhile and he’s slower now than back on Wednesday but don’t feel bad for JJ—he might yet outlive all of us.  Ok, actually that might be a reason to feel bad for him.  How ‘bout:  Don’t feel bad for JJ-you have your own problems.

Bicycling: My Secret to Great Dog Training Sessions!

Create Exuberance in Training!!!

Mouse saw me getting my bike stuff together and had been acting pitiful, so I gave her a little one-on-one play time.  I was totally rushing and chancing running late so I really didn’t “have time,” but that’s the thing about time-if you aren’t using it for what you enjoy most it’s squandered.  For me, that means there’s always a minute to squeeze dog playing into.

You’ll see the video is about a minute and that’s all you need to get some good training done-maybe you won’t make a ton of progress, but I’ve found that that one minute often yields more than a 20 minute session.  That’s because you always go backwards in any session more than 10 minutes (five really, but I’m in total denial that the real number is three).

I took this video of our before-ride playtime since the camera was already set up and everything.

Introducing Moosie Dog!

Moose just met a new friend from right out of a box of toys we never opened until today.  Moose clearly shows avoidance behavior at the beginning but warms up quickly to the point that she starts patting her buddy on the head, just a little too hard.  Then Moose finds out that her pal knows words like, “Sit,” “Down,” and “Spin!”  I have a feeling this is going to be a great friendship!

Austin Pets Alive! Benefit!!!

Saturday, September 7, 2013; 10 am

Due to the wonderful generosity of The Institution Theater we have the chance to hold a benefit for the dogs and cats of Austin Pets Alive!  All profits from this show go straight to saving dogs’ and cats’ lives!

For only $10 you can help keep Austin one of the exceedingly few No-Kill cities in existence…..and have a great time simultaneously!

This Saturday, September 7th only!

3708 Woodbury Dr, 78704.

Credit/Debit card, Cash, or Check at the door only.

Awesome theater seating, bubble machine, lasers, and a disco ball!!!  Not to mention, juggling, unicycling, live accordion music, a singing Scarlet Macaw, and (wait for it)…..SIX live CIRCUS DOGS!!!  Including this adorable puppy, our future star, Coyote!  We keep him in an orange vest to remind everyone that he is a traveling disaster zone!  And what’s more fun than watching a disaster.  That’s why we have Coyote-if things start slowing down and get tedious we just bring Coyote out on stage.  Instantly riveting action!!!

Call to reserve your seats, or just show up a little early-you can beat the normal Saturday morning laggards!


Coyote with his most boring friend.
Coyote with his most boring friend.