Monday, December 19, 2011

Sous Chef, Revisited

Last night Charissa and I were baking, and just as I got my yummy pumpkin-oat-nut muffins in the oven, I realized--oops--not enough flour left for Charissa to make her World's Best dark-chocolate-mint-chip cookies.  Rats -- time for a trip to the corner store.  Grabbing our coats, we dashed out the door.  This should've been just a quick trip, but you know how it is...you get to the store and, wandering down the aisles in quest of flour, you see just the perfect gift for this person...something else you'd forgotten you needed...and on and on.  Perhaps there is no such thing as a quick trip to the store, especially at Christmas!

Only as we were checking out, which was rather too late, did it occur to us that the muffins were probably going to be wayyy overdone (read: torched) by the time we got back.  The timer I'd set only beeps once -- no second chances.  Sure, Tim was home, but he'd be the first to tell you he's not known for his kitchen skills. Plus, if he'd been in another room, he probably wouldn't have even heard it go off.  I hadn't thought to call him, and now there was no real point.  Bemoaning our muffin losses, we headed back.

Walking in, though, a delicious (as opposed to burnt) smell greeted us, and we saw two dozen beautiful muffins happily cooling on the counter. 

"Oh my goodness, Tim, you did take them out!  I thought you wouldn't hear the timer!"

"Um, yeah, I guess I must've heard it, but it didn't really register that it was your kitchen timer until Alfie ran over to the stove and barked..."  Apparently Alfie, who does rather have a way of insisting, made it quite clear that this was Something Important and Tim should Do Something

Good Dog.

Alfie sits proudly gazing off to the distance
Saving the world, one muffin at a time.
Will accept medals of honor, treats, and tummy rubs...

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Oh What Fun

This year, decorating for Christmas felt extra-special: due to our move, it had actually been two years since we'd gotten out all the Christmas things.  Everything old was new again, and we found some things we'd forgotten we had!

Like these curious little musical toys:


a small, brightly-painted music box in the shape of a whirling carnival ride; the tiny people in it are dressed in Victorian style

same as above, only this is a little ferris wheel


...when you wind them up, the little rides start spinning, and they play Christmas music.  Okay, cute.  But Alfie found them totally amazing

He carefully watched us wind one of them, tilting his head first to the right, then to the left...when the music started to play he was surprised and very excited.  We set it down where he could see it and it seemed as if he wanted to play it himself, first flipping the toy over with his paw, then nibbling at the key to try to get it to work! This went on for quite a while, until I fear the tiny Victorian people on the ride were getting a great deal more excitement than they bargained for. We laughed til we cried, then I finally thought to take a little video before we had to take the toy away:


video

Enjoy your Christmas season -- in the midst of it all, Alfie reminds you: don't forget to let go, play, and have some fun!  


Alfie's all cuddled up in Charissa's lap as she sits in a recliner
...and take time to snuggle with someone you love...


Friday, November 25, 2011

Two Years Ago...

...on this very day, we brought Alfie home for the first time!  Little did I know that that tiny ball of fluff and puppy breath would grow up to make himself a permanent part of our lives, bringing his special blend of humor, mischief, and affection with him. 

What a personality he's proved to be! Perhaps one of Alfie's most amusing traits is his natural curiosity.  I have never seen a dog as interested in every detail of our daily lives as Alfie. For example, the first time Tim did some work in the crawlspace beneath the house, the rest of us nearly died laughing as we watched Alfie trot alertly from room to room, tracing Tim's route by snuffling into the heat registers on the floor.  Then, one day, I helped Tim up into the attic to check on the insulation -- Alfie, who of course was watching these proceedings, gave an unexpected and valiant attempt to follow right behind him!  I had to hold him back, much to his irritation.  As he heard Tim's footsteps above our heads, Alfie followed his progress around the house, looking up at the ceiling with an occasional excited bark.  From time to time, he would just stop and look at me intently, as much as if to say:  Well, aren't you going to do something about this?  When Tim finally reappeared, Alfie greeted him as if he'd just gotten back from the moon, or perhaps some mysterious fourth dimension.  What an adventure!

Alfie, his coat getting shaggy for the winter, sits on the front step
Life is better with a friend by your side.
Right by your side!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Thankful

Thanksgiving week -- and there's so much to be thankful for!  I'm not so sure that Alfie understands the concept of thankfulness, as we know it.  But there are many things that make him happy, most of them very simple:

Games of fetch
Games of find
All games
Learning new skills
Showing off old skills
Friends and family
New people
Walks
Dinner
Breakfast
Anything that smells funny
Anything that smells
Squirrels
Rabbits
All other animals
Morning
Night

...so, you get the picture, he's happy pretty much all the time!  There is very little, in fact, that makes him unhappy.  The three main things:

Being ignored
Being left behind
Having to skip a meal

Enjoy all the little -- and big -- things that come your way this week, giving thanks for them all!   As G.K. Chesterton said, "When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude."


Alfie's sitting on a rocky outcropping overlooking a pond framed by tree branches; he's looking back over his shoulder at the camera
Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

First Flurry

Yesterday evening as we headed out on our walk, it felt colder than usual...sure enough, before we were halfway along our route, tiny snowflakes were stinging my face.  Our very first snow of the season!  Okay, so it was just a teeny bit, but it was still exciting.  Couldn't resist taking a picture of Alfie with a couple of tiny white flakes on his face...

closeup of Alfie; a couple of white flecks are resting on his chocolate-brown face

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Sous Chef

Hi again blog friends -- Alfie's World has been quiet lately as I've been investing time and emotional energy in other areas.  Some big decisions have been brewing and we're excited for that.  But in the meantime, who keeps me grounded, makes sure I laugh several times each day...oh yeah, and makes sure I get my exercise?

I'm considering the title 'personal assistant'...

Alfie may no longer be a service dog, but that doesn't keep him from helping me out with many important things.  Sometimes I admit they are only important to him (such as alerting me that Hey!  Look!  The neighbor's dog is out AGAIN!); sometimes, though, he does help out in ways that are actually important to me.  He is a very alert and curious boy and not much gets past him.

One very minor inconvenience in our new home is the old electric stove...I'm still trying to get used to its quirky performance and miss some of the conveniences of the newer model I used to have in Texas.  I'll turn the oven on to bake something and keep having to go back to check it...it doesn't have a little beeper to let you know when it's up to temperature, and the guesswork can get frustrating.

That's where Alfie comes in -- twice now, he's actually come and alerted me when the oven was up to temperature.  Apparently he hears the little click when the heating element switches off.  Then he rushes over, gets my attention, and dashes back to the stove to show me what's going on.  Of course he got lots of praise and a nice treat for that -- I can use all the kitchen help I can get, so I want to reinforce the cool new trick he's teaching himself!

Last night, I'd made us a yummy casserole (shepherd's pie with lots of mashed potatoes...mmm...), set the timer, and popped it in the oven.  With a long time to wait while it baked, I went upstairs to work on the computer.  Alfie was napping on the rug near my feet.  Long before the timer was set to go off, though, he sprang up suddenly with a grrrUFF! and, making sure I was coming after him, raced down to the kitchen.  I opened the oven door to find that the gravy in the casserole dish had just boiled over.  Yikes!  I think Alfie must have woken up when he heard the first drops sizzling on the bottom of the stove.  Needless to say, I was glad he heard it when he did, saving me what could've been a very nasty cleanup job!

All in a day's work.  PS -- Can I have some??

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Funny Face

I have tried for sooo long to catch this photo.  Now, I know it's not great quality or anything, but it's too funny not to share.  Probably someone out there needed a laugh today.  Probably someone out there was just thinking:  "It's been a horrible day.  I'm really down and need something to make me laugh.  I need a picture of Alfie's Deranged Pig Impression!"  If you are that person, what can I say -- it's your lucky day!

Alfie's in his crate resting, his nose smooshed up against the wires; his nose and upper lip are kind of pushed out, showing his teeth

...Mwahaha!

He actually does this a lot.  Do you think it looks comfortable?  No, me neither!  But he is not explaining why he does it.  Your guess is as good as mine.

In the meantime...yeah, we've moved!  Alfie's been busy supervising.  Of course.


Alfie's in the van, standing between the driver's and passenger's seats and facing back over a sea of boxes that have been loaded up for moving
No, actually, the Borders box should go on top.  Let's do this right!

I think he wishes this sleeping bag were still on the floor, like it used to be when we were at Grandma's house.


Alfie's standing next to a bed and resting his chin on the sleeping bag that is on it.
Hey, where's my air mattress? It should be right here, with my sleeping bag...what do you mean, of course it's my sleeping bag...


Alfie smiles a big welcome from our new front door!
No place like home!





Thursday, September 8, 2011

New Friend

On our walk yesterday morning, Alfie and I met this friendly horse.


looking through a barbed-wire fence into a green pasture, you see a cream-colored horse

This morning, as we approached the pasture, the horse was way off on the far side...but oh, how Alfie wanted him to come over and say hello!  He sat politely and snuffled the air, hopeful. 


side view of Alfie's furry face as he stares intently across the fence

Sure enough, the horse saw him and pricked his ears...then cantered over to investigate.  So fun to watch them touch noses.  Somehow I wasn't quite able to catch it with the camera, but you get the idea!


the horse's head is reaching through the strands of wire to reach Alfie; he and Alfie have just been sniffing each other's noses

But what really made me laugh was that after a couple minutes, the horse put his head down to crop the grass by the fence.  Alfie, seemingly intrigued by this, started to do the same thing!  They grazed together like a couple of old friends. 


Alfie's lying down in some very green grass and looking up with a quizzical expression
What can I say?  I hadn't had my breakfast yet!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

All Better

Well, the bee sting took just a few hours to get over.  However, the vet instructed us to keep Alfie on a home-cooked diet of brown rice and chicken for a few days, then slowly switch back to kibble.

Oh. My.

Alfie's discovered a new raison d'etre:  DINNER!  He's gone from being a good eater to being downright greedy.  No wonder...his food smells really good.  One morning the kids came out to the smell of it simmering on the stove and were all like, "Oh, Mom, you're cooking us breakfast!"  Nope, I sheepishly had to admit...it was for the dog...

All I can say is:  Wish us luck switching back!

Alfie sitting on leash and looking up with a happy smile

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What Not to Do With a Bee

Don't eat it. 
Don't chew it.
Don't even taste it.
...It bites back!

Alfie on Charissa's lap; you can tell his nose is still swollen and puffy, even under all his whiskers!

Poor Alfie, he already didn't feel good; then we noticed that he was acting strangely and his whole snout started to swell -- fast.  It scared me that his breathing didn't seem normal, so I called the vet -- only to find that he was out until Wednesday!  Ack!!  We got in to see another vet and pretty soon Alfie got a shot to bring the swelling down. 

Turns out he had an insect sting right inside his mouth -- pretty nasty.  The weird thing is that since Alfie's been sick, we've been supervising him extra carefully outside, and no one knows exactly when he got stung -- he didn't yelp or anything like that.  The first indication we had that something was wrong was him wiping his face with his paws, and rubbing his head on the furniture indoors.  With his furry whiskers, we didn't see anything wrong at first.  But when Charissa took a closer look, she let out a little involuntary shriek...poor dog, his nose was all swollen up on both sides and hard to the touch.  By the time we got him to the vet, poor boy, he was pretty bad off!  Thankfully, the shot worked quickly!

We also got something to help with the tummy issues he's been having...he's had to fast 24 hrs., and now he'll be on boiled rice and chicken for 3 days before transitioning back to normal food. 

closeup of Alfie's soulful eye looking upward
Home-cooked meals?  Can't be all bad!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Droopy

Alfie's just not feeling quite himself today.  He woke me up at 2:00 a.m. by walking over and licking my arm -- it took me a minute to realize he needed to go outside and be sick.  Poor guy.  This morning he was sick again...I'm keeping a close eye on him.

picture of Alfie laying by the table, chin on the floor, eyes sad

Dogs are pretty resilient, though; I'm sure he'll be fine in time.  Right now he just wants to curl up and snooze as I work at my desk. He always keeps one paw just barely touching my foot. Companionship + rest = good medicine.  Get better, buddy. 

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Being There

Last night I'm cooking dinner and go to grab an onion out of the little mesh sack in the laundry room.  Alfie's sprawled out by the backdoor, seemingly asleep.  As I pull out the onion, an involuntary gasp of disgust escapes me -- ewww, the onion has rotted and my thumb is sinking deep into brown mush!  BLEAH.  Before I have time to actually say anything, throw the onion away, or complain about having to wash stinky onion goop off my hands -- bing! -- there's Alfie, right by my side, checking it out. 

I swear,  I don't believe it's actually physically possible for a dog to move that fast, or transform so quickly from dead asleep to on-the-alert-high-tailed-snuffly-and-by-the-way-do-you-need-me-to-teach-that-onion-a-lesson?  But there he is, so I guess I have to believe it.

Today, I go to clean our toilet.  Hmmm, our bathroom's out of toilet cleaner, so I go to Mom's.  I knock over a bottle and -- bing! -- Alfie's wet chin is pressed in the crook of my elbow, bright eyes straining to see what's up, are you okay, what fell over, is it good to eat, is it dangerous, can I help?  Pleeease??  And here I thought he was in the front room playing with the kids! 

He's not what I'd call clingy; he's just got this way of instantaneously materializing.  A handy trick -- I wish he could teach it to me!

If friendship means being there for someone...yeah, Alfie's earned the title of "best friend" paws down!

[yawn]...It's nothing, just my special doodle magic...

Hellooo out there!

So, to start by stating the obvious...haven't updated in ages!  Time to fill you in on what's been going on -- and a fresh look on the blog to go with a new season. 

Hey, anyone out there still remember me??

The purchase of our new home went through smoothly.  Now we're proud owners of a great house that, due to much deferred maintenance, falls squarely in the "fixer-upper" category.  There's a lot to be done before we can move in:  new heating and air, new floors and paint, as well as various exterior repairs.  By the time we're done it'll feel like a brand new house!  The great thing is, since it's just a couple of doors down from Mom's, it's easy to supervise the repairs from here.

In the meantime, I've also been busy doing freelance editing work, as well as getting in gear with the new year for homeschool. Things are hopping!


I love the neighborhood -- very friendly.  Of course, people are always more friendly when they meet you out with your dog, don't you think?  This is the first time I have met all my new neighbors, including those across and down the street, before we've even moved in!  Alfie loves his dog neighbors:  Missy the toy poodle on one side, Baxter the Norwich terrier behind us, and schnauzers Winston and Bosley, the self-appointed neighborhood watch, rounding out the field.  Across the street there is little Molly...she looks a lot like a bichon to me although I can't say for sure.   Anyway, you know the type:  a sweet, smiling ball of white fluff.  Alfie mainly meets her out on walks, and he is absolutely smitten!  Two doors down we have Reesie, a sweet but shy Jack Russell terrier who was rescued from an awful life caged as a puppy mill breeder.  It's so great to see her now, happily going for walks and playing in her yard -- what  a difference!

Went to the doctor for a checkup recently and they asked me, Did I exercise?  I said yes; I walk just about every day.  For how long, they wanted to know?...Well, I explained, about 45 minutes to an hour every day -- see, I have this dog...

The nurse grinned as she scribbled on my chart.  "You have a lot to thank that dog for!  You better keep him."

Smile. Couldn't agree more.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Big News!

Read that sign carefully and you'll see two of the most beautiful words in the English language where Tim and I are pointing:  Under Contract !
All 5 of us are gathered, kneeling, around a realtor's sign in the front yard; Katharine is giving a big thumbs-up, Charissa is smiling, Tim and I are pointing at the words Under Contract, and Alfie is sitting and smiling too!
It's been a long time coming!

As some of you readers may remember, way back in the mists of time (last November), our family moved to Missouri from Texas to be near family while Tim pursued his Master's.  In February, Alfie joined us, and everything just felt "right," having him around again! We've been enjoying staying with my Mom while working through the whole process of selling the Texas house and hunting for a new place here.  

We love Mom's place -- it's a wonderful home in a fantastic, friendly neighborhood.  Besides that, it's near miles and miles of walking trails, and is less than five minutes' drive from my brother and his family.  And as if that weren't enough, we've got an aunt and uncle and other friends nearby, too!

So when a deal on a house in another part of town fell through and an opportunity opened up to buy a home a couple doors down from Mom...we couldn't pass it up!  Maybe it was just meant to be. 

The girls are excited because they'll each have their own bedrooms now -- unlike our last home, where they had to share a room.  Alfie will love playing in the nice fenced yard.  It needs fixing up, but we're even excited about that!  With closing scheduled in just a couple of weeks, we're all thrilled. 

closeup of Alfie on my Mom's gorgeous green lawn; his body faces the camera but his shaggy face is turned to one side
I can still come visit Grandma, right?

Friday, July 8, 2011

It's Nice to Be Loved

Migraines -- oh, how I hate them!  I'm only an on-again, off-again sufferer, but when they do hit me they hit hard.  Last night's migraine kept me awake, and I knew that if I ever DID get to sleep, I'd need to sleep in if I were to beat it.  So, around 2:30 a.m. (almost unbelievably, about the time my dear husband is getting UP for his workday!), I left a note for Charissa to please take care of Alfie for me in the morning, and explained what was going on so she wouldn't worry.

But how does one go about leaving a note for a dog?  It didn't really occur to me that he might worry too.

When I stumbled over and groggily opened the bedroom door a little before 10 a.m., I nearly tripped over Alfie, who scrambled up, tail a blur, then proceeded to check me all over, lick me, and bound around as if he'd just won the lottery or something! 

The girls came over and told me that although they'd taken care of him as asked, after his potty break he insisted on coming back to my door.  They tried to feed him, but apparently he walked away, and even after they did coax him to eat he'd left half of his breakfast untouched (a claim I wouldn't have believed if I didn't see the kibble myself!  Alfie is all about food!)  Not even his favorite bones and toys would cheer him up.  Instead he lay at the door, yawning nervously, obviously...what?  Concerned?  Unsure?  At a loss?  I wonder if, like Dakota the diabetic alert dog (sidebar), he could even smell some sort of changes in my body chemistry and somehow suspected that all wasn't quite right with my world.  Wouldn't surprise me too much.

But although I may not totally understand what dogs feel at times like that, it's clear they understand something, and they do care about their people!  Even more clear was his joy at seeing me again.  As if to underscore that, he dashed off down the hall...

...only to return a moment later with a toy for me to throw for him!  Everything's back to normal. 

And, yes, I suppose it IS nice to be loved!

closeup of Alfie's smiling face

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Happy First Day of Summer

On a beautiful summer afternoon, what could be better than going to the lake?  The Ozarks are full of lakes, and right now, they're full of water from recent rains.  Most places require dogs to be on lead, but Alfie's long line gives him plenty of freedom to play without getting into any trouble.

Alfie's wading in the shallows, tail wagging, as he tries to grab something out of the water
Alfie enjoyed wading in deeper...and deeper...his favorite thing was grabbing little twigs and leaves floating on the water!


Alfie's in deeper now, up to his tummy, and is alternating wading and paddling
Dog-paddle!  (Sorry, I couldn't resist the pun...)


Katharine and Alfie stand at the shore, watching the little waves lap over their feet
Magical day.


Alfie trotting on his long line across a seemingly endless field; he looks like he's laughing!
Enjoy your summer, everyone!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

It's Official!

Alfie, what have you got there?  Something you want to mail?

Alfie's on leash, sitting on the porch, a white envelope between his front paws.

Oh, look -- it's to Guide Dogs of Texas!

Now he's holding the envelope in his mouth and you can see it's got the GDTX logo on it.

Here's what's inside...


close-up of the top of a white sheet of paper emblazoned with the GDTX logo, titled Owner Agreement, with my name written in the Owner blank.

...yeah!!  Okay, I know Alfie's really been ours since February.  But somehow in all the flurry of activity we didn't get an official owner agreement on him until just now.  Larry Gelvin called me to let me know he was sending it...now it's signed and on its way back to Texas.  Feels great!


closeup of Alfie's face with a big happy smile!
Let's celebrate!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Bark In the Park

This morning Alfie, Charissa and I enjoyed a visit to Springfield's Bark In the Park, a fun event for dogs and their people benefiting the local dog park.

On the way, I enjoyed stopping by some of the Master Gardener demonstration gardens.  I'm trying to learn more about gardening in this zone, in hopes of having my own garden soon!

Alfie in a down stay in front of a colorful bed of flowers
Okay, okay, I'll pose in front of the flowers...

We weren't really sure where to go at first so I let Alfie lead, figuring he'd sniff out the excitement sooner than we could.  Sure enough, as we topped a little hill we saw it all set up...a bunch of vendors, a stage, some music, and a whole lot of dogs of all different shapes, sizes and colors.

a big shaggy black-and-white dog stands waving his tail and panting
Shaggy dogs...


close-up of a red and white Cavalier King Charles Spaniel's face
...silky spaniel dogs...


...sweet dogs!

There was a little talent show where people and their dogs were going up on stage to perform, but apparently not too many had signed up so one of the organizers went out looking for participants.  On the spur of the moment, Charissa and Alfie joined in too.

It was so fun watching the dogs on stage...I don't think any of them quite did what their handlers wanted right off, but hey, it was a crazy distracting situation!  They were all having fun and that was the main thing!


A fluffy white mountain of a dog sits and smiles and offers a paw to his handler
Love that smile...


a big muscular tan dog stands on his hind legs, reaching up for his handler's hand
And this guy was a real ham too!


Alfie on stage with Charissa, prancing and wagging
Alfie's turn!

When Alfie and Charissa got up on stage he looked out on the audience and had his usual "ohhh...cute..." effect on the crowd.  Major distraction!  He didn't do what Charissa wanted right at first so she improvised, having him "stand high" and finishing by putting him in a down stay, sprinkling treats around, and having him "leave it."  That is not a trick per se, just good doggie behavior, but it got an approving round of applause from the onlookers!

All in all it was just a lot of silly fun and a chance to meet a bunch of new friends.  Cool!

After all that excitement Alfie was pretty worn out on our way back to the car.


Alfie and me walking back through the park; he's on a very loose leash, panting, ears and tail down and relaxed...looks tired!
Think I'll go home and take a nap!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Critters

Here's a cute little critter we encountered on last night's walk (Alfie's latest word:  bunny !)


A tiny brown rabbit is barely visible; he's in a mown area right next to tall brushy grass
Can you spot him?
(Hint:  toward the left, right next to the tall grass.)


Close-up of the rabbit huddled down in the grass; he's got big black eyes and the sun is lighting up his ears
Enlarged so you can see the little guy!


Alfie wagging his tail and looking the direction the bunny ran off; I let him sniff where it was but didn't let him chase it of course!
Wait -- where'd he go?

Yeah, I know, he's super hard to see.  Alfie didn't see him at first, just  smelled him.  Mr. Rabbit was stock still til we got right up next to him, then jetted off with a flash of white tail...I said, "Bunny!"...and since that moment, I cannot say that word (b-u-n-n-y) without Alfie going on High Alert

Then, the other day we were in a new park and I saw a giant lump of brown next to a pond, which I at first took for a stump.  Charissa said she thought it was alive...turned out to be a ginormous woodchuck.  Honestly, he must've weighed more than Alfie.  I'm glad he lumbered off into the woods while we were still a long way off!

Much smaller and cuter are the tiny spotted and striped ground squirrels, which seem to be everywhere around here.

And of course, you can't have small mammals without their predators...I've enjoyed watching some amazing hawks, and, if I'm up early enough, owls.  Less appealing to me are the snakes.  Last night Alfie spotted a (harmless) garter snake slithering in a panic across our path, where he'd been sunning himself.  While house hunting recently, the girls saw a stunning red milk snake -- you know, the ones that look almost exactly like the deadly coral snake?  So we're standing around reassuring ourselves with, "Hmmm...'Red on black, venom lack/red on yellow, kill a fellow'...that IS how the saying goes, right?!"  The Missouri Department of Conservation assures that the coral snake does not live in this state -- out of the 40-odd species of snakes here, I only really need to worry about the cottonmouth, the copperhead, and 3 kinds of rattlesnakes.  How comforting...?  Ah well, good reason to look where you're going.

Out of all the critters so far, though, the most annoying have been ticks.  Alfie's on tick preventative/repellent, so they don't "bug" him (I comb him to make sure)...it's US they like, aarrgh!  Thank goodness for Deep Woods Off.

Alfie and I walking along on one of our favorite trails, a paved hike and bike trail that goes through thick woods
Ticks or no ticks, there's nothing like a walk in the woods!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Life With Alfie

Alfie lying on the back deck, looking alertly upward

Having Alfie means...

  • Always having someone to keep an eye on me -- almost literally!  When I open my eyes in the morning, he's standing there, wagging, watching me...when I come out of the bathroom he's sitting at attention.  Okay, it might drive some people crazy, but it makes me laugh. 
  • I know someone is always listening to what I say.  I don't mean to say that he obeys every single word, at least not immediately (he has amazing obedience skills, but also a healthy mischievous streak!)  Still, it means that he's constantly picking up new vocabulary:  kitty, neighbor, buffalo, and Grandma's room are some of his latest.  More to the point, he understands things without my saying them:  like that I'm about to get up from the table, put on my shoes, or make a phone call.  It's quite uncanny!
  • Resigning myself to reclaiming stolen items from him several times a day.  He has still not outgrown this!  I've learned that a single stern look usually does far more than the verbal command, "drop it."  He's just doing it for attention...but really, really doesn't want me to be mad at him!
  • That if something needs my attention, he'll be sure to tell me.  Whether the kettle's boiling on the stove, the kids are having a spat, or a bottle of detergent fell over in the garage...he'll rush up to me, poke me with his nose, and make sure I check it out!  Funny dog.

Every puppy I've raised has been a real individual, but Alfie takes it to a whole new level.  He's so smart and observant that he has easily been the most challenging of all my  puppies:  not difficult to train, because he learns things with few or no repetitions; the hard part is keeping him from learning the things you don't want him to learn!  But by the same token, he's bonded to me like some kind of canine crazy glue.  He is intensely curious about everything we do and just wants to be in the middle of everything, all the time...participating, giving his opinions, working his hardest, and just enjoying life. 

In other words...no, he's not a "perfect" dog...just the perfect dog for me!  He makes me laugh, keeps me company, and probably teaches me just about as much as I teach him.  A pretty good arrangement, wouldn't you say?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

First Aged Trail

So far Alfie and I have been working "runaways," where he actually watches his target run off and hide, and "fresh trails," where he cannot see the target run off, but still goes right to work on the trail as soon as the target is hidden.  Today was our very first "aged trail," where the target lays the trail and then we wait, allowing the scent to "age" before allowing Alfie to work it.  For today's assignment, Charissa was our target and we allowed the trail to age just 20 minutes before we began.

Alfie knew we were up to something but was very puzzled when Charissa left the house alone and I went back to my other activities.  Twenty minutes later, I harnessed him up, took him out, and gave him the scent item with the "smell" command.  He was definitely up for the challenge and responded to the "find" command by practically dragging me across the lawn!  (Mental note:  check with Charissa to see if she actually crossed the front lawn, or is Alfie taking shortcuts?)

Soon he slowed down and began to work much more carefully.  He decided to lead south, but kept glancing west across the farm road with increasing frequency.  We came to a church parking lot, which he gave a cursory check before definitively crossing the farm road west, into a cemetery. 

After that he seemed puzzled, sniffing the ground in wide circles, then totally stopping to air-sniff.  I figured it was time for encouragement:  stopping him, I showed him the scent item again and excitedly cheered him on with, "find this!" That was just what he needed -- with typical Alfie enthusiasm, he not only sniffed the little gauze scent pad, but grabbed it and licked it and tossed it around before beginning to circle purposefully once more with a "We can do this!" sort of attitude.   He widened the circles more and more until...yeah!!...he settled in again, leading me right to where she was.

Alfie in harness, standing and panting hard in front of Charissa, who is seated on a park bench.
Good dog!

...And, yes, she crossed the front yard.  And went pretty much exactly the way he led me.  What a dog.  We're having so much fun!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Found You!

This week, Alfie got to find his very first canine "target":  Hickory, a spunky and adorable mini dachshund.  We started off by using gloved hands to rub a sterile gauze pad all over Hickory to get a good scent sample.  Then off he went to hide with his handler (this time, Charissa), while I covered Alfie's eyes. 

After several minutes, I snapped the tracking line to Alfie's harness, his signal that work (or is it play?) is about to start.  Then I give him the scent item and the "smell" command.  At this point in training, that's a little superfluous...Alfie had already seen AND smelled Hickory and is smart enough put two and two together!  Still, keeping to the procedure is important for later, when I'll ask him to trail a target he's never met before.  Finally I give the "find" command...again it's hardly necessary, but hey, I like to feel like I'm doing something! 

A brisk breeze made conditions challenging and caused Alfie to work slowly, circling and weaving as he went along.  He did not follow their exact path, often preferring to trail along a hedgerow where their scent had no doubt collected against the windbreak offered by the vegetation.  After about a quarter mile across a field, a path, and through a semi-wooded area, he plunged sharply left through some brush to find Hickory in a cement drainage culvert. Yeah!

Hickory and Alfie are both wagging; I'm holding Alfie by the harness and Hickory by his red leash as the two dogs sniff and try to play

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Learning to Read

Alfie's sitting in the grass in his tracking harness; his nose is up sniffing the breeze


Talk about a new challenge!  While I'm trying to teach Alfie what I'd like him to do (follow a specific scent trail, to the exclusion of all other distractions), he has something to teach me too:  how to read his body language.  Although there are whole books written on that subject, the key thing seems to be that all dogs are different, and you have to learn to read your dog.  So I've been trying to consciously take note of all the little signals Alfie sends while working.

In general he looks focused and intent while on a trail -- loose tail, nose twitching, ears and eyes moving, mouth open.  Normally, when we're just out for a walk, he's easily distracted by every admiring passerby -- not when we're on a scent!  He ignores them like they don't exist.  Once a man tried to pet him in harness and Alfie just gave him a half-wag and an apologetic look like, "Hey, sorry, I'm kinda busy right now!"  So funny, given Alfie's usual life-of-the-party personality!

He always seems to know the general direction to take right off, but depending on terrain and wind, he'll then start to "cast" in loose s-curves right and left to help narrow down an exact route.  The interesting thing is that while doing that, he'll start glancing in the direction he favors, even while casting right and left of it.  That glance is really key for me to notice because it usually seems to be correct -- he knows that's the way he needs to go, but is just making sure and narrowing it down.

When he starts getting close to the subject of our search, he doesn't look (to my eye at least!) more "excited"; but he does gain a ton of confidence, moving much faster and leaning -- hard -- into the harness!  When he "finds" successfully he dashes right back to me for a yummy treat.  I have a feeling that once we start finding actual DOGS he'll be so focused on them that the treat will become superfluous!