Saturday, October 29, 2005

Lomax Report Card, One Month Down

I've shared with you some of Lomax's little quirks, and a few of our outings and adventures, but now that I've had him for a full month (well, okay, just over a month, and I've been meaning to post this but the past week has been busy), I thought you might be interested in an overall report on his behavior.

We're constantly practicing obedience: on my breaks at work, while we're waiting somewhere, on walks in my neighborhood, all the time. And when it's just the two of us, he's stellar. Excellent heel position on a loose lead, very attentive, not ground-sniffy, terrific recall when we're playing or when I put distractions in his way. Even in our obedience class, full of other dogs big & small, young & old, male & female, intact & "fixed," he does incredibly well when the two of us are called out to solo, as it were. It's obvious he enjoys working.

But the second there are other dogs in motion anywhere near him, all that goes out the window. It takes several stiff leash-pop corrections to get him to pay attention, then he's good until one gets too close. When the whole obedience class is walking at once, he'll all of a sudden stop a perfect "heel" in mid-stride and jump into a play stance as though he's about to pounce on the dog walking in front of us. We were out walking tonight, and he was magnificently on the ball until he heard someone walking a tiny yappy-dog about a block behind us. Mid-stride, he wheeled around and wanted to go in the other direction. I had to correct him twice, keep him moving, talk to him the whole way and make him turn a corner and do some obedience in order to get him re-focused. It's like someone flips a switch in his brain.

I took him up to the monthly puppy class at GDA last weekend, and felt like he was a completely different dog than the one who'd been with me at home that morning. Of course, the school is full of the sights, sounds and smells of literally hundreds of other dogs, so the distraction factor is higher than usual. We did a little recall test with him, just a trainer with some toys, and me and Lomax -- he did okay, but wasn't his usual attentive self. I wondered if I was doing something wrong, but the trainer reassured me that Lomax is actually doing well for only having been with me for this short amount of time (after having spent ten months bonding with another puppy raiser).

The last couple of weeks have been tougher than the first few, and I'm wondering if something clicked and he's realizing that he's not just a guest here but actually a resident -- and testing me (whether I passed or failed in his estimation, I am now wise to his plan). I'm also wondering if, since he was used to living with another dog or two, he is more distracted by dogs now because he misses having regular playtime. Mostly, I am wondering how much of this is me not being tough enough on him, and how much is simply his age and intact status.

From the beginning, there were things I was expecting him to do well and things I was expecting him to be challenged by, because I had asked his last puppy raiser about a thousand questions. But for whatever arbitrary adolescent dog reason, he has surprised me in a few areas.

For example, I heard he had a "water bottle fetish" of sorts, so I purposely set him up and tempted him left and right: I left several bottles on low bookshelves, I stood near him with a water bottle in my hand and my arm down by my side, at his face level, et cetera. I practically dared him to go for it. I even swirled the water around and pretended I wasn't paying attention. But he has not once, to this day, even cast a sideways glance at my dear friend Arrowhead 24oz Sports Top Bottle.

Things that have quickly improved:

• Perpendicular sit: for the first few weeks, he'd "swing out" to the left (perpendicular and looking at me) when I told him to sit, and I constantly had to put him in the correct position next to me. Now he's great.

• Heeling on the stairs: upstairs is nearly perfect, downstairs is generally very good unless he REALLY has to pee, early in the morning. (And can you blame him?)

• The sneaky soldier-crawl: we're working on keeping him where I put him in a stay by giving him a blanket as a boundary. When he streeeeetches or rolls ("I'm staying, technically. I didn't move my butt off the ground. What's six inches to the left between friends?!? Look how cute I am!") and moves over the edge of the blanket, he gets a correction. Getting better all the time!

Obviously, this is all a learning experience for me too; I know I'm not doing everything perfectly, and everyone has bad days. But I think Lomax and I are well on our way and building more trust all the time (even our teeth brushing is improving!), and the support and encouragement of the other puppy raisers in my group has been invaluable.

I know that real love means looking out for the best interest of the other party, which means you sometimes have to be firm (as they say at the school, "persistent, consistent and insistent"). I love him as much when I'm correcting him or putting medicine on his face as I do when I'm cradling him and rubbing his tummy. Judging from the way he wags his tail when I bring him out of a dead sleep just by whispering his name and telling him he's a good boy, I think he loves me too.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Just Flew in From Obedience Class...

...and boy, are my arms tired.

No joke. When I'm done with this dog -- or he with me -- I will surely have the scariest biceps this side of the governor's office.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

My Favorite Sound

Lomax isn't very noisy. I don't think I've heard him whine once, save for the occasional low-volume, split-second "hmEE!" sound he makes when he's elated to see me and itching to play.

But even his breathing makes me happy. When he comes out of the kennel in the morning, the first thing he does is stretch. Then he picks up the nearest chew toy and circles me for as long as I'll stand in one place. With his ears back and butt wiggling so hard and fast you'd think it would impair his forward motion, he circles and circles, breathing out this amazing sort of half-snort:

"Ffffff. Ffff-ffff. Fffff-ffff. FFF!"

He should have been born into the "F" litter. Maybe he has a secret dog name that he's trying to communicate to me. Maybe it's Frank, or Fabio. Or maybe it's just "Fff." I suspect, in fact, that they all have secret dog names.

Dog One: "Greetings, General Fff!"
Dog Two: "Captain RrrRrr. How are the troops looking today?"
Dog One: "Excellent, sir. Though I am a bit concerned about Corporal HmEEEEE-HweeeEEEE-HmEEEEEEeee -- he seems upset about something."

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Dog Conspiracy Theory #47

GDA doesn't really have a breeding program. They just call the "breeder" dogs up to the facility every once in a while, give the Labs a good brushing, and build new puppies out of the hair.

Friday, October 21, 2005

What are ya, BLIND?

Perhaps the most amusing thing about puppy raising is that sometimes, people (who obviously don't actually read Lomax's "Puppy In Training" jacket) think I'm visually impaired.

Especially when I'm wearing my black sunglasses and walking him down the street.

The bold ones ask me, "So, if you don't mind my asking, are you totally blind?" But it's the hesitant ones I most enjoy, the ones who just shoot a sideways glance toward my face as we're passing. Is she or isn't she...?

A friend suggested I use this to my advantage in situations where Lomax and I are denied access to a store or restaurant by a cranky merchant. "Just stare blankly, feel for the door and say in your sweetest voice, 'I'm so sorry to have troubled you! God bless!'"

Heh heh heh.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lomax and the Great Glass Elevator

The hound and I attended a conference for work today, which was held at a nice Embassy Suites hotel near the airport. It went well. The rain had mostly stopped, so I didn't walk in to a room full of strangers with a smelly wet dog, which was a relief.

He did, of course, stink things up on his own once I positioned him beneath the table...which was a laughable occurrence (at least for me) because my roommate was remarking just last night that Lomax has been quite mild on the gas-o-meter for the last several days. So much for that. Problem was mostly solved, however, when I put him in a "down stay" in the corner of the room. His occasional stretches, yawns and Lab-trademarked sighs were met with the usual lower-lip-out, head-tilted, silent "awwwwwwwww" faces from my more dog-centric co-workers. Good times.

Anyway, as we left the session for a little walk around the center court of the hotel's lower level -- which was decorated with nifty ponds complete with koi, turtles and ducks (!) -- I noticed there was a glass elevator.

So I took him right in (he's quite accustomed to solid elevators) and pushed the button corresponding to the fifth and highest floor. And as the doors shut and the elevator moved up, I had a very brief moment of panic, which went a little something like this:


It was then I looked down to observe Lomax reacting as he seems to react to just about anything: with head held high, tail wagging and a goofy, tongue-out smile.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Fire in a Crowded Theater

On Saturday night, Lomax and I attended a "drive-in" movie event on the soundstage at the studio where I used to work. It was a fun evening; we celebrated the tenth anniversary of the company with a screening of the original Creature From the Black Lagoon (in 3D, as you may have surmised by the photo) and a delicious carne asada taco feast.

While we were mingling pre-screening, I attempted to take Lomax out to the parking lot for a visit with "Kenny Asada," captain of the grill. Barbecuing requires fire. And where there's fire, there's smoke.

And smoke, apparently, is a sign to the furry one that he needs to save my life by pulling as hard and as quickly as he can to get us outta there. It was like the Flintstones trying to start the car.

He didn't bark or whine or put his tail between his legs and freak out, but he was clearly aware that there was some kind of dangerous thing happening over near the grill. I managed to calm him down and get him back inside (trying all the while to act as though this were nothing for him to worry about, a completely normal situation...because, after all, it was). There was a little smoke on stage, too, and he was not happy about that, but when we were safely out of range of the fire, he snapped right back into his usual happy self.

My roommate thought it was a wonderful and heroic thing that Lomax was trying to save my life from the terrible fire. She said, "That's a good thing!"

"Sure," I replied. "Until the blind person wants to go to a barbecue."

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

"Hail Lomaximus!"

Our first puppy meeting together. The dog costume contest.

I was concerned that the costume wouldn't hold, the helmet or sword would go askew and obscure his vision and movement, that Lomax would wiggle his way out of it in the mad excitement of meeting dozens of new pups and people, that a spontaneous game of puppy flag football would break out and his fine red sash and faux-leather skirted accents would pay the price before the judging began. The contingency plan, of course, was that I would assert it was all part of the act, that Lomaximus had just emerged victorious from a brutal gladiatorial contest.

But there was no need. My beloved charge, my handsome little man, was well-behaved and fairly controllable...and I must say, looked mighty proud and confident in his getup. The much-hated helmet that had inspired death-ray looks of canine scorn in practice runs at home remained secure upon his lofty brow (he was too happy about the presence of others and being the center of attention to care much for the minor inconvenience). No one mauled him, nor did he maul others, though he did earnestly long for some extended sniffs in the general direction of the intact females in their pretty dresses and tiaras.

I had the opportunity to FINALLY, after just over two and a half years as a "future puppy raiser" attending meetings with either no dog or someone else's, officially introduce myself and my furry foster child. Our happy moment was met with applause and cheering from those who have known me as their go-to puppysitter and a joyous participant in others' graduations. Of no less importance was my announcement that Lomax was NOT dressed as a Trojan, as he had been announced (I am a UCLA grad with blue & gold blood in my veins), but as "Lomaximus, mighty Roman warrior."

We came home with a (presumably) delicious rawhide chew tied in festive ribbons, the prize for Best Dressed...which we absolutely were, without question.

Finally, a hearty "Hats Off To You!" goes out to my good friend and former boss Ian at New Deal Studios, without whose tools, expertise, creativity and appreciation for the absurd I could not possibly have modified a child-sized Roman soldier costume to fit a wiggly Labrador Retriever. Thanks again, Ian! I owe you another latte.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Puppy Kindergarten

My group offers a 10-week class called "Puppy Kindergarten" for members with new 8- or 9-week-old pups. More often a learning experience for the people than the dogs, the kindergarten class encourages and teaches us how to begin working immediately to gain the trust and obedience of a creature that would, in the hands of the average person, probably be no more than an adorable and barely forgivable tasmanian devil (of the Warner Bros. sort).

But the kindergarten teachers are wise and patient, and the simple tricks they know are profoundly effective.

I took year-old Lomax to kindergarten not because he needs to brush up on his basic skills, but because I could always use a refresher...AND because Lomax loooooves other dogs, which is a fine thing for a family dog, but not such a fine thing for a service dog. Not everyone with four legs (or two, for that matter, as Lomax is nondiscriminatory in these matters) is a potential playmate.

His brother Liam comes to these classes, too, because this is apparently a genetic enthusiasm. Liam must stay down under Matt's chair and observe the class, and behave without whining and fidgeting and sucking up to "his people" for attention.

But I took Lomax through the class itself. It must have looked comical, three other tiny puppies in the on-their-back "cradle" position with their handlers, and me with the remedial student, having to actually reeeeeach forward to grab and inspect his back feet.

He did a fair amount of wiggling and sniffing because he's not just friendly but also intact ("GIRLS LIVE HERE. I SMELL GIRLS. GIRLS. GIRLS. GIRLS."), but by the end of the class, he seemed to be fairly attentive and calm. The real test will come at his first official South Bay puppy raisers meeting this coming Monday, which will be wall-to-wall with people and dogs who are new and exciting. And they'll all be in costume.

Photos to come, I promise.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Under My Desk in an All-Too-Air-Conditioned Office

There's nothing quite so soft and sweet
As this, dear puppy, Heaven knows!
As though you sense my icy feet,
You rest your head on my cold toes.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Our First GDA Event

Lomax and I helped man (woman? dog?) the South Bay Puppy Raisers booth at the annual Walk For the Animals in Long Beach last Sunday, which means we've now officially attended our first GDA event together. It was fun hanging out with some of the South Bay regulars, and brother Liam was there, which made it even better (pics to come). The two of them carved a canine crop circle in the grass and sniffed mutual dog butt like there was no tomorrow ("Hey! I know you! I know you! I know you!").

Then there was a little blessing of the animals, which required our standing in the midst of a huge mass of people and pets -- Lomax wasn't sure what to make of the free-range tortoise -- and straining to hear various remarks and benedictions and whatnot over the barking/growling/whining/"NO!"-ing crowd. "Blah blah blah ecumenical blah noncommittal notion of a higher being blah blah blah don't we all love the little creatures blah blah all dogs go to heaven blah St. Francis blah blah."

Then we stood in line in front of our blessing-giver of choice (we found ourselves a charming Catholic priest with a very short line), who addressed Lomax by name, proffered a quick "Father-Son-Holy Spirit," sprinkled the little man with holy water and "God Bless"ed us on our merry way.

Perhaps the loveliest part of the day, though (because as a regular churchgoer, Lomax is quite accustomed to being blessed), was the post-event hangout in the nearby back yard of Ann, another puppy raiser. Seven Labs off leash, all very happy to see each other.

He slept very well that night.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Who's Laughing Now?

I laughed when my dad bought some Israeli military-issue gas masks for the family in case of some, what, gas-related emergency? You know, it was the '80s, and dad had a few "survivalist" friends who seemed bent on being able to live in an underground bomb shelter stocked with an arsenal and a convenience store.

But Lomax spends several hours a day under my desk while I'm at work, and I'm not ashamed to admit that one or two of those gas masks would come in handy right about now.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Saturday, October 01, 2005

That Not-So-Fresh Feeling

There is now a can of air freshener sitting by the telephone. And our living room smells vaguely of apple-scented dog farts.