Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Six days until we get hitched!

Last night I emailed our 35 wedding guests with final details for Vegas.  We've decided to have the Pre-Nup party (the night before the wedding) in the gorgeous suite which Hank managed to book at the new Cosmopolitan hotel.  It has a wrap-around terrace and looks ideal for entertaining.

Our idea is to hold a BYOB party there, taking the pressure off people who don't like nightclubs and don't want to waste money on overpriced bottled beers.  It also means we can have kids there, if their parents want them to stay.  We'll even get to load up the ipod and play our favourite tunes for our guests.

After the machine gun shooting, all-you-can-eating, Mystery Solving, roller coaster riding, Atomic History learning and Hofbrau drinking of the day, we'll have a safe haven for relaxing in the evening.  I'm so excited and grateful to Hank for finding this wonderful room for our wedding night.  My future husband rocks!

We're getting on that plane this afternoon so the blog may go quiet for a while.  But rest assured there will be plenty of updates to follow!

Sunday, 20 February 2011

The dog-gone dog is gone

With the trip to Vegas approaching, we took Tock back to board at Celtic Acres Farm for ten days.  

I have such mixed feelings after abandoning him there for such a long time, but strangely they were not the feelings I'd expected.  

I didn't feel relieved to be released from Tock's demanding exercise regime and explosive diarrhea.  I also didn't feel guilty for abandoning him.  I felt something totally and utterly unexpected.  As we released Tock into a huge outdoor farm pen, he was greeted by howls of delight from his former breeding partners, and I felt guilty because I knew that in ten days time we would be coming back to take him away from them again.  

We would take the big stud back to a place where he was just another small dog in a big city.

I can still hear the yelps of happiness from the other huskies when they saw Tock.  And Hank put it all in perspective when he said, "of course Tock is happy in there, he's with his bitches!"

A day later I find myself wondering: does Tock miss his DC home?  Does he dream about his blanket and pillow, his red spotty bowl, his doggy back pack, RFK stadium and the Washington monument?   Does he remember Kosmo and can he even recall the squirrels we chased in Stanton Park?  In his happy tail-waggy world, does Tock ever spare a thought for his adoptive parents?

Somehow, I doubt it.  

It was hard enough to leave the dog.  It will be harder still to bring him home again.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Tough love teaches an old dog new manners

Tough love is what a dog needs.  This is my mantra.  But when Tock looks at me with those big eyes....  Ah, man, it's hard.  

Today's training activity is to encourage Tock to respond immediately to a single command to "sit" before I clip his leash to his collar for a walk.  Usually I ask him to sit, he prances around a bit, whines ever so slightly, gestures towards the door with his head, turns his back on us, looks away .... All very evasive.  The sitting itself often comes only when we tug his collar upwards, by which time he has cunningly also elicited a lot of extra human attention.  

It's the same struggle every day, three times a day.

So I'm trying something new.  If he doesn't sit immediately upon command, I'm walking away for three minutes, ignoring him completely and typing a bit more on this blog entry. 

So far, he has ignored me three times. You could be here a while.

I'll try again. 

Four times. 

Each delay costs me three minutes of my life.  He can also smell his lamb chops defrosting in the kitchen, which probably doesn't help focus his mind. 

12:43.  Must hold out for another two minutes.  Hold out, girl!

12:44.  Crikey, this is boring as well as agonising.

12:45.  Go, go, go!

.... Ah, rats! Five times, now.  Alright, dog, that's fifteen minutes of my life!

He looks so bloody miserable, why doesn't he just give in and sit?  He knows the command; he sits for his dinner, or when being petted by children and he always sits when he knows he has done something wrong.

I think we have adopted the world's most headstrong hound.  A former stud.  Wow, the ego!

12:47.  Come on Tock, I want to get outside in the sunshine.  Do the right thing and sit, pesky dog!

Uh-oh!  Unintended consequences!  Tock's gone into his crate and when I stand in front of it and call him, he is ignoring me.  I'M THE ONE WHO DOES THE IGNORING HERE, BUDDY!

13:01 Eight times now.  We are not making any progress.  Can dogs really be this stubborn?  Isn't that a human trait?  

Should I just give in? What if he needs to pee?  Yikes.


FINALLY, I got Tock to sit at 13:34 after goodness knows how many attempts. I ended up luring him into the back yard to sit there.  Outside of his territory, I suppose it stung his pride less to submit.  

The best time to train this hound seems to be late afternoon when he's really hungry.  That's the only time he responds to food incentives rather than exercise incentives.  Exercise incentives are difficult to make immediate enough for him to recognise as a reward for "sitting".  But when he is hungry, oh yeah, there's everything to play for.  Look how obsessed he is with the treat ball in this video, to the point that he ignores my offer of a walk.

Today at 5pm I waited until Tock had stopped begging for dinner and then made him sit while I fed him raw chicken liver pieces by hand, one by one, and I stopped feeding the minute he ceased to sit.   This has certainly improved his sit reflex already.  Kosmo's owner has kindly agreed to get some  training treats for Tock from Petco tomorrow - the tiny treats you can feed repeatedly without making your dog fat - so with a bit of luck he will learn to sit just in time for Vegas, and his stay back at Celtic Acres Farm.  

And when we pick him up from the farm in March, it will all need to be taught again!

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Husky, again

You must be bored of hearing about Tock, who is still dominating my life.  Yesterday we met yet another DC husky (an aggressive female - Tock's kinda chick!)  whose owner reassured me that huskies calm down after about 6 years of age.  I live in hope as last night I was so tired I fell asleep with my head on the dining table. 

More Police Officers continue to approach me to befriend my dog every single day than I would usually speak to in a year.  So many strapping young men in uniform ask me about Tock that I wonder why I never invested in such a man-magnet when I was single.

Of course, like every day, yesterday had its "Tock tribulations". I went to meet a friend at the Natural History Museum after Tock's lunchtime walk, and was away for 3.5 hours.  When I got back Tock had released explosive diarrhea all over the hallway, but at least we had gated him out of the carpeted areas.  I kinda saw it coming and was mentally prepared:  he'd been eating grass on his morning walk (often a sign of dog indigestion) and over the last few days he'd begged me to open the patio door a couple of times for "emergency evacuations".  He hates the boxed-in patio so it was clear something was wrong.  I'm keeping a closer eye on him today and he is currently tethered in front of the house while I sit on the stoop and type.  It's a lovely day in DC and Tock seems happy outdoors, plus this is a good way to socialise him to dogs walking past, without him being able to assault them.  And if he should get explosive diarrhea again, it won't hurt the shrubbery to receive an early layer of manure. 

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

The End is Nigh

Like my fellow Brits, Americans often seem surprised that they have a poor reputation overseas.  On Sunday I saw something that goes some way to explaining the reputation Americans have acquired.

I truly wonder how this overly-vocal minority of the US population can be not only so blindly religious, but also have enough money to buy not one, not two, but five RVs and customise them with an insane message about the end of the world starting on May 21st 2011 (NB not 2012, as previously advertised).

And then the same set of people find time to drive along the Mall, advertising this "good news" to tourists and locals alike. It's certainly a different kind of "good news" from that told by my Christian friends in the UK.  I suppose I should get rejoicing and remember to make Hank use up all his Annual Leave before May 20th.

And I'll be sure to tune into FamilyRadio.com on May 22nd 2011 for an update.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Why Valentines Day is great if you're single!

Invented by Hallmark.  An excuse to inflate the price of red roses.  A reason to bump up the cost of a fixed menu in a sleazy restaurant.  Another chance for society to take a swipe at the broken-hearted.  Yes, all of those things it is.  But Valentines Day is also a good opportunity for us to remember how much love there is in our lives.  Not just from spouses or partners, but from our parents, our siblings, our friends.  And... dare I say it ... our crazy pets!

Today's blog is dedicated to my darling Hank who has made my new life in DC absolutely wonderful.  I gave up a lot to be with him and he makes every minute of it worthwhile.  

I am the happiest lady in the world.  If this is as good as it gets, baby, that's absolutely fine with me!

And for those of you reading this blog who are single and maybe looking for that special someone, Valentines Day is the best night to get out there.  Don't hide at home with a hot water bottle and a tub of Haagen Dazs.   Go to a bar and see who is not draped over the arm of another person.  I guarantee you, that person is single.  How many other nights of the year can you make that assumption?

And, as I mentioned in my entry on the Secret of a Happy Marriage, you can be sure that good relationships only come along when you are absolutely happy with being single:

Friday, 11 February 2011

The right way to adopt an adult dog

I have learnt that there's a correct way to introduce a rescue/adopted dog into your home - and through sheer ignorance Hank and I managed to do it totally wrong.  On Day One, we inadvertently let Tock establish his dominance in our home, by letting him cross the threshold before us (that first day and, yep, every day since) and by letting him off the leash the minute he came indoors.  Today I found a good website on adopting adult dogs and everything they say makes excellent sense.  We did none of it! It seems we were too friendly and emotional, too quickly with Tock and that's probably why I'm sporting a slight black eye after he "muzzle punched" me for wiping his back paws unguardedly on Day Two.

I'm attempting to re-establish my dominance.  Before our midday walk, I nudged Tock out of the way to exit the front door before him. Boy, did he kick off about that!  I thought he was going to explode, trying so hard to get out of the door first.  But I managed to get one foot out before he darted around me, and apparently, that is enough, at first.

The second advantage I have over Tock is a credit card and access to Amazon.com.  His doggy backpack arrived yesterday and Hank loaded Tock's flanks down with with two heavy jars of pasta sauce (I know!) before jogging him over to Lincoln Park last night.   The dog came home exhausted and apparently hadn't chomped on any other dogs, for once.  Today, I replaced the sauce jars with rubber hot water bottles (less banging against Tock's elbows) filled with cool water, and took Tock for his midday run.  The backpack has certainly leveled the playing field.   Weighed down by around two kilos of wobbly water, the dog now has an athletic disadvantage similar to my asthma - and he can even carry the poop bags for me!

Thank you all for your words of encouragement about Tock.  I am grateful for the advice of Jake and Ian who do such good work with retired Greyhounds, an equally demanding racing breed.  I do believe that Tock will stay with us for the duration but I'm still taking each day at a time, for my own sanity.   There have been no more peeing, pooping or barfing incidents since we gated Tock out of the high-risk indoor zones and he has mellowed out in the house and stopped chewing things since we gave him the Kong and sprayed the bitter yuck.  I feel like every day is a new challenge but he has a wonderful temperament, makes no noise, smells good (for a dog) and never tried to jump gates or come upstairs.  And he is wonderful with children - utterly adores them, always sits when they pet him and wants to frolic about with them.  He is the perfect dog in so many ways,  if we can just find that balance....

Yesterday Tock drew blood when he attacked a timid bitch in the street, after seeming to want only to sniff her.  We consulted the breeder who advised that he can be a bit of a bully with weaker females.  Well that also explains my shiner.  Dogs can sense weakness and understand inferiority at a level imperceptible to humans.  This will prove a real challenge for me, an unemployed little nobody with not much to show for myself these days.  Perhaps the dog can sense what is happening to me and thinks I'm just another weak female.

I am not.

Think I'll take him for another run before dinner.  This time, I'll get both feet out the door first.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

My first NBA game

Ok, I wasn't actually playing but in fact supporting the Washington Wizards, who WON against the even more mediocre Milwaukee Bucks.  NICE!

Thanks to Jeremy, a real b-ball fan, for getting us great tickets.  I can't believe how expensive the pizza was but it was worth it for a good bit of after-work entertainment courtesy of players like Wall and Young.

And (relief!) after spewing on the floor while I skyped for an hour yesterday afternoon, the dog did not soil the house while we were out for four whole hours of basketball.  In fact he was happily sleeping in his crate, with the door open, when we returned.  What a great day.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Dog eat dog world

My dog tried to eat another dog this morning.  Specifically: a three month old labrador puppy.

This did not make me popular with the puppy's owner.  

It was weird, one minute Tock was sniffing the puppy through the iron railings, the next minute he had shoved his face through the gap and trapped the puppy's entire muzzle in his own.  I was horrified but I managed to yank his leash and yelled "leave it!" and Tock dropped the puppy and sat.  The puppy had squealed in fear... and then came back to have another sniff of Tock.  I don't get it.  Is this a dog thing?

There were no signs that Tock had broken the puppy's skin, which I know his teeth are very capable of since I have watched him snap through his chicken spinal columns in one go.   So I guess maybe it is a dog's way of saying "don't mess with me"?  And the reason the puppy came back for more was its way of saying "ok, you're the boss, I get it!"  Well, whatever the case, I did not stick around for a second encounter.  I moved Tock along quickly and we both sloped home with our heads hung low.

Monday, 7 February 2011

A three-legged step too far

Last night Hank and I tidied up to host a Superbowl party.  I got the vacuum cleaner out for the first time since Tock arrived.  Tock seemed not very bothered but as I moved towards his crate, he did move behind Hank (Tock always likes to be in front) and then when Hank went upstairs, Tock disappeared into the downstairs loo.  This surprised me, so I wandered towards him.  Relieved to see he was no longer in the loo, I began to turn away but then something caught my eye.  Tock was standing on three legs and the raised leg was up above the coffee table.  Could he be ...?  I got closer.  NO NO NO!!!  Right on the coffee table, the rug (again!) and worst of all, Hank's beautiful leather and canvas-bound photography books!

Hank was really, really upset about his books (many of which were gifts) although he hid it well from the dog.  We cleaned up the pee and sprayed the area with disinfectant and a lemon scented spray to discourage Tock from remembering that this was a potty site for him.  Then I resprayed the table with  bitter yuck as the last thing we want is Tock licking the place he pee'd on.

Tock went into the yard while I finished the vacuuming. He didn't resume his interrupted toilet routine out there. Nor was he apologetic, which is unlike him when he has done something wrong.  I think this means it was my fault, not his  Even a big stud does get scared sometimes, and it is my job to look out for the signs.  When a dog owner scares a 6-year old dog so much he wets himself indoors, that is bad dog ownership.

For every challenging behaviour Tock demonstrates, he brings something else wonderful.  Yesterday morning at 9:30, Hank ran Tock to the Washington Memorial while I biked alongside them. It was a perfect spring day and the Mall was nearly empty.  Usually on a Sunday morning, Hank and I would be sleeping in.  At the risk of being cheesy, yesterday it felt like we were in a movie.  Later we took a now exhausted Tock for his second introduction to Kosmo and it went very well,  the two alpha males getting almost nose to nose without lunging at each other.  But most surprisingly, when the guests arrived for Superbowl (go Packers!) Tock sniffed around in the kitchen before lying down by the front door, showing no interest in the chicken wings, nachos, devilled eggs or American Football.  He was wonderfully well-behaved and did not even try to squeeze out the door as the guests departed.  We were so happy that we we took him for an extra night-time walk even though we were exhausted.  As we returned Hank pointed to one of our flower beds and I saw a tiny crocus had popped its head through the earth.  It is the beginning of a beautiful spring in DC and I couldn't be happier.

Yesterday Hank ordered Tock a dog tag with our address on.   Of course, Tock just pee'd in our front room so the tag is just in case we decide to keep him, it doesn't mean anything.  It's just in case, ok?

We are also registering Tock with a vet and getting him some insurance.  Just in case we keep him.

The photography books are staying on the book shelf though.  And that is definitely just in case.

Friday, 4 February 2011

Does this thing have any brakes?

Tock has one blue eye and one brown.  They say bi-eyed Huskies have one eye on this world while the other looks into the mystical world.  Tock has one eye on squirrels, while the other eye looks out for cats to chase and "beta" male dogs to terrify.

Tock is still exhausting me.  Worse today because Hank only ran him for 30 mins yesterday.  I refused to go on another two-hour lunch walk and took Tock to meet Hank at the station after work instead.  We introduced Tock at the local pet store, where he was much admired by everyone except the small poodles.  In a desperate attempt to stop him eating our furniture or starting to bark, whine or howl for attention (not a problem yet but there's always a risk) we forked out for a Kong chewing toy, plus a second treat-dispensing chewing toy and some bitter spray to make our furniture taste unpleasant to dogs.  Hank also splashed out on a super-strong extendable leash and tonight I will order saddle bags, designed to weight Tock down with his own drinking water as we run.  That should even the odds!  So far this dog is costing us an arm and a leg (right arm - socket all but dislocated, left leg caked in mud).  As a final "thank you" for our hard work, Tock rolled in another dog's turd at the dog park and stank so much we had to sponge bath him for 20 mins before letting him back in the house.  One good thing did come out of the dog park: we met a fellow husky owner and his husky (Cody) was running around off the leash.  Because Huskies are bred to pull, run and keep on running, they are generally too huge a flight risk to let off leash.  But in Lincoln Park, there are so many dogs that apparently they have no desire to run away.  This chap adopted Cody when she was one year old so I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks!

Hank is running Tock to the Washington Memorial now so I have a brief breather, but I'd better get all my jobs done in this narrow window.  I imagine this is how new parents must feel - permanently exhausted and continuously changing from one set of sweatpants into another.  I have had three showers today and still stink.  Good lord.  To think I used to wear high heels once!

Thursday, 3 February 2011

The husky diet - lose weight the fast way!

The new husky exhausted us yesterday.  I mean, totally wiped us out.  I took him for a run and two walks, totalling over five hours of exercise and he still strained not to go back indoors.  We walked and ran over seven miles along the National Mall and back.  I don't begrudge him, because it was a stunning blue-skied Groundhog day (traditionally the start of spring in the USA),  I was just despairing that Tock's appetite for outdoor exercise was insatiable anywhere outside of a farm environment.  And perhaps that would force us to return him to Celtic Acres.  But that all changed when Hank got home.

Hank pounded the husky's paws with an hour-long Capitol Hill run.  The dog came home exhausted and has slept pretty much non-stop ever since.  Our dog-savvy friends Brandon and Dennis popped round to meet Tock last night and advised us to withhold dinner until the dog is hungry enough to sit on command.  They were absolutely right.  Tock bounded out of his crate this morning, acting all macho but then "sat" to cue for a snack -  the first time yet.   He's not just tired, he's now also hungry enough to do what he is told. 

Not so hyperactive now!
It took six hours of exercise to do this to our new Husky.
Tock showed off his wonderful friendly temperament to Brandon and Dennis.  He clearly utterly adores Hank, probably because Hank pets him with the grip of a seasoned wrestler which Tock prefers to my tickles and scratching behind his ears.

This morning we discovered a new dog park, three blocks from home, with a large grass area and digging sites.  I'd never even walked in that direction before so the dog is already getting me out and about more.  I sprinted Tock up and down the grass until he was visibly tired.  (Fortunately this didn't take long; I hate sprinting!) When I got him home, he passed out on the carpet.  Yep, even huskies have their limits.  And it seems possible that maybe, just about, between me and Hank we can keep this wolf happy.

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

A dog joins the Blog Family

"Can I poop on this rug, too?"
If you've been wondering where I was over the past week, I was arranging for a Siberian Husky to join our life on what I call a "temp-to-perm" basis.  Toklat, or "Tock" as Hank calls him is a six-year old retired stud from the Celtic Acres breeder in Maryland.  Tock was once a domestic dog before he moved to Celtic Acres and, now that he's retired, he is apparently seeking domestic bliss again.  We agreed to try a week or so with him to see how he fits in our home.

So far, you can see, he is gorgeous!  Terrifying-looking, but gorgeous.  Yesterday we took him to the local hardware store (for some stuff for us, not for him - let's be clear, Tock is not very handy with a screw driver).  In the lumber yard, a little girl and her mum walked by and the mum said: "oh look at that lovely dog!"  The little girl looked at her mum as if to say you're nuts, and replied "that's not a dog, that's a wolf!"

Yes, Tock is a wolf.  Our neighbours eyed him suspiciously when he bounded out of the Zipcar yesterday afternoon, tongue hanging out of his mouth and teeth bared with excitement.  Once in his new home, he circled the house and then:

1. Eyed all the escape routes in the house and looked for gaps under the 6-ft tall patio fence. (There are none.)
2. Sniffed every floor surface for traces of food.  (There are none.)

We wanted to feed Tock at his habitual dinner time of 5pm.  He eats a raw meat diet (bones included -apparently safe because uncooked).  Preparing such a dinner was not pleasant for an ex-veggie! We tried to get Tock to sit before eating (he knows the "sit" command) but being a typical husky, he refused.  He turned down treats and raw meat morsels around ten times before we gave up and decided he just wasn't hungry enough.  At that point, I went upstairs to talk to Hank for a second and Tock dropped a very runny turd on our lovely new rug.

We weren't angry - Tock has been a farm dog for four years so domestic accidents will happen - and Hank managed to cut Tock off halfway by clapping hands loudly and calling his name.  But that was 5.30pm yesterday and no BM (as my mum, an ex-nurse would say) ever since.  I can't believe I'm blogging about my dog's bowel movements but really, it is quite concerning having a non-potty trained former stud in your house who has eaten a pound of raw flesh and not taken a dump in 24 hours.

So, rewind to the rug incident.  I cleaned up the rug and replaced it with an older one Hank's parents had donated to us (pictured), already damaged by Audrey & the other Princeton cats.  Tock sniffed this rug a lot, rolled around on it to show the absent Audrey who's boss (that's my boy!) and then, finally, when I'd given up asking him to sit, he sidled up beside my armchair, looked me in the eye, and sat.

Tock got his pound of flesh and we took him out for a walk to the National Mall.   He is very different from Kosmo: he pulls forward, never back, and growls at things he doesn't like, preferring to run towards other dogs, terrorising them, rather than make a Kosmo-style dash for safety.  Tock doesn't guard his food and has no interest in eating street trash.  Yesterday evening he walked straight past a chocolate eclair and a frozen strawberry without even registering them. The strawberry looked so perfect, even I thought about eating it (macrobiotic, no?).  I attribute this focus to his strict diet of raw meat - he has never acquired a taste for human food.  He doesn't beg in the kitchen and is not a pest at the table.  His breath smells better than most dogs.  He often turns down treats just because he doesn't want to sit or make eye contact.   He went willingly into his crate last night.  He fears nothing.

If, like my mum, you are now wondering if he is aggressive, the answer is not so far.  Unlike Kosmo, kids do not cross the street to try to pet Tock.  Adult strangers don't get too close either, so socialising him will be hard, although he himself seems to have no problems with humans of any size.  He will chase cats and yesterday he nipped at another male dog who was off his leash in the park, but that dog got out of the way and then just stood there looking at Tock.  So perhaps Tock just needs to learn how to play nicely.  I am not sure where I will get volunteer dogs to help him learn that lesson, though.

If you have a small or medium-sized dog you no longer need, please send him to my house for dinner.

Thank you.


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