Category: Dogs - Labradoris
I am very excited at my recent discovery!  I have discovered a free, open to everyone, enclosed dog park/agility course that is 12 minutes away from the house! 

We had seen it while driving past when we first moved here, but I always assumed it was restricted to current customers (it's attached to a vet's office).  Then, when I was researching dog parks in the area, I ran across that information!

Today was our first visit, and I'm sure it will be the first visit of many.  My only regret is that it doesn't have a pond to do water retrieves in, but beggars cannot be choosers!  Trooper made up for this fact by putting his front two paws in a giant water bucket they had for the dogs to drink out of.  Oh well.  Supposedly in the summer they also have a little doggie pool, but it's nothing like a good stretch of water. 

ANYWAY, I'm still excited!  This is a place that has 10-foot high fences around a big expanse of grass.  Within the park, there are a number of agility obstacles that anyone is free to use!  I will most likely get the terminology wrong, so forgive me, but they had the following:

A-frame ramp
Long bridge
Weave poles
Many, many adjustable single and double jumps
O-ring jump
Two open tunnels
One closed tunnel (the fabric drapes down and the dog has to "open" the tunnel)

I first let the dogs just do some open exploring and sniffing around when we arrived.  No dogs were there at the time.  Then we played tennis ball to let them run off some energy.  Before I go much further, I should preface this by saying Cosette is totally and completely uninterested in agility obstacles.  She retrieves.  Enough said.  Trooper, however, needs more mental and physical stimulation to be satiated. 

The first obstacle we tried was the long bridge.  He first tried jumping all the way up (about 4 feet off the ground, past the ramp part).  I then managed to show him he needed to walk up the ramp while making sure his paws were touching the banded parts (sometimes they are white, these were yellow).  If we ever got into agility, that's a good habit to instill.  He was so excited, though, he kept losing his footing and falling off.  What a goof.  I ran some more energy off of him with tennis balls, and then he seemed to be able to focus a bit better and walked up and over with no problem.

Then we tried the platform with a good "sit," wait, "jump up," "sit" and "down" and "okay!"  So, I made him wait to jump up on the platform, and then gave the ok, then once he was up I made him sit and then lie down.  That obstacle he was a super pro at (but I'm not even sure that's what he was supposed to be doing).

Then we tried the A-frame.  This one he had a bit more a problem with.  He would climb up to the top and then turn around and jump off and weird angles.  He finally just went running at it on his own once, and managed to get up and over.  He had his little lightbulb moment, and then I worked further on it with him.  I backed him up about 5 feet away from it, and then walked over to the apex of the frame and held his tennis ball up on the top.  I then told him "okay" and he ran up the frame and down the other side, following my hand with the tennis ball in it.  Every time he did it successfully, I threw the tennis ball for him.  He then explored the tunnel without me prompting.  I'm not sure how to teach how to go through the open tunnel other than to throw a tennis ball in, so I'm going to wait and read up on it.  But at least he's not afraid of it!

We also did a few jumps, but nothing major or high.  I was mainly wanting them to just run off energy and get used to everything. 

There were some small dogs that came to the park (a Yorkie, and then two little mini poodles).  Cosette and Trooper's response to them was HILARIOUS.  They barely perked up their ears at them, and then completely ignored the little dogs (it seems they share my big-dog bias). 

Then some big dogs arrived (a fat yellow Lab mix, a fat golden retriever mix, and a pitbull mix).  The owner kept the pit mix on a leash, but kept walking over to where I was at with the dogs and would tell her dog, "No, they're playing" and would drag her back away.  After the fifth or sixth time she did that, I asked, "Can she not be off-leash?"  She said that she was worried about how my dogs would react to her, and I looked back at C&T and said, "Ohhh, no, they'll be fine.  They're used to being around other dogs."  She was really apprehensive and made sure it was ok with me to let hers off leash.  She bent down and unclicked the leash, and the little pit mix ran over to C&T.  Cosette ignored her, and Trooper chased her (good-naturedly) a little, but then lost interest.  My dogs were more interested in the tennis ball and could care less what the other dogs were doing.  Oh well. 

All in all, we were out there for an hour and a half!  Wow.  I completely wore them out!!  I'm sure I'll be updating more with our agility course adventures.  Maybe I can try snapping a few photos, with the help of Joel.  ;)
Well, I’m very happy to report that our work yesterday went well.  I took both dogs out to a field behind our house and worked with them.

I worked with Trooper for an hour and a half – I was surprised when I realized what time it was when we came back.  We walked squares on the long lead, worked on heeling, sits, and long stays off lead.  He did very well, considering the amount of traffic that was driving by on two sides of the field.  I felt a little silly walking around in squares in front of cars, but it proved effective.

I worked with Cosette for about 30 minutes.  We also walked squares and worked on long stays.  She’s not as skilled with the stays which is ironic, considering how calm and still she can be when she’s around the house.  She is much more likely to break her sit.  I was also working intensely with her on nosing ahead of me when she’s heeling. 

The long time with both dogs paid off in the evening.  Joel and I both settled down to do some computer time and grading, and the dogs curled up in the living room next to each other and chewed on their bones.  There was significantly less dog rough-housing, which I don’t tolerate for long periods.

I was very happy to read about this article, reporting that it is National Dog Walking Week.  I liked this excerpt:

  "With more and more people becoming sedentary and gaining weight due to a lack of exercise, dogs don't get the necessary outlet they need to stay physically and mentally healthy. I feel that part of the overpopulation of dogs in this country is hugely associated with our growing waistlines. Generally, the less a person exercises, the less a dog exercises. Having trained thousands of dogs in the last twenty years, it's my estimation that at least 75% of dogs in shelters are there due to a lack of exercise, which has thus resulted in serious behavior issues such as aggression, destruction and separation anxiety issues. Often, dogs run away from home because they're kept sequestered all day long in a crate or a small yard, says Paige, which only exacerbates a dog's destructive, aggressive or anxious tendencies. This, coupled with too much fatty food, leads to obesity, as well as medical issues like pancreatitis, diabetes, heart disease and the number one killer of dogs – cancer. October is a beautiful time of year everywhere to get outside. Walking your dog on a daily basis not only increases the endorphins in both human and canine brains but it improves the bond between the two.”

I’m looking forward to working with them both tonight.

It turns out that being unemployed keeps me busy!  Well, I’m not completely unemployed  - I have a long-distance telework arrangement with the winery, and I teach a graduate class on Fridays.  Both of those are occupying some of my time.  The other parts of my time are filled up by editing my dissertation, preparing a follow-up study to my dissertation, creating additional studies, and a few other academic pursuits.  The dogs are enjoying the house.  I find myself wishing that I could take them for more walks or do more water retrieving, but doing so involves us out and about in public.  Both dogs have small issues I have to work on, and taking both by myself just seems somewhat insurmountable sometimes.  Well, not insurmountable, but more difficult.  And if I only take Cosette, Trooper howls and yelps up a storm (separation anxiety – which is an issue unto itself).    Cosette is in need of a few retouches on her heeling – she regularly walks with her shoulders ahead of the line of my hips, which is a no-no.  I’m considering going back to basics with her, and restarting.  Trooper is just in general all over the place, so he needs attention 100% of the time when we’re walking together.  Together, they are a little too much to handle – especially if there is another dog crossing our path.  The other day we were having a bit of a challenging walk and there was a dog standing in his own lawn minding his own business, and Cosette and Trooper saw him and just went nuts and ran in front of me to start barking.  Luckily I had a good grip on their leashes and gave them a quick correction and walked away from the distraction.  But, it still stands:   I don’t have as much control over my dogs as I want.  

This is a several part problem:  (1)  not enough exercise, (2) not enough training on my part, (3) not enough consistency.  It’s very much an avoidant thing – because it’s bad, I avoid it, and by avoiding it, I make it worse.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, they aren’t terrible or anything, but they certainly are not laid-back Labs.
Sigh.  I should go walk them some more.  I’ll go walk Trooper now, and Cosette later when Joel gets home so Troops has some company.  Peace!

Did you hear that?  That was the sound of me emitting a giant exhale.

-The motorcycle course wrapped successfully, with me emerging hand-in-hand with a passing score and a certificate that I can use to obtain the "M" classification on my license.  While I am FAR from being comfortable on a bike, I'm at least not afraid anymore.  Taking the class made me a better driver, too.  I had never operated a manual in my life, so getting used to a clutch was a big step.  But, I did okay and actually liked going "fast" - we never got up above 25 mph on the course, but it felt fast to me initially.  I'm a master corner-er too.  I can corner, swerve, lean, and do a perfect double U-turn (a serpentine in dressage horse language).  I'm not wanting to go out and buy a motorcycle right now, but it's definitely more possible now.

-My dissertation edits are done and it is in my committee's hands.  I will DEFEND MY DISSERTATION next Friday (July 30)!  It feels weird to even say that!  But, I am very excited and very happy to be approaching the finish line -- it's been a long three years.

-The big news is:  I've decided to move!  Joel and I will be moving to his new job, which is in a smaller town outside of The Big City.  I'm going to spend the first two months closing up my life here, unpacking there, and settling in to a life outside of graduate school.  I'm going to be job searching in The Big City, and I'm really hoping I will land something nice - not just something to get by on.

-We've found a very cute rental house with a great, laid-back landlord that (1) has a black Lab, but (2) LOVES that we will be bringing our two Labs!!  Can you believe it?  She wants us to have our dogs there!  It's almost too good to be true - we had to pinch ourselves.  The dogs will even have a doggy door in the back door to go out into the FENCED BACKYARD!!!!  I'm so excited!  The past three years, Cosette (and more recently, Trooper) have had to wear their leashes everytime we go outside.  Now, they can go out and play in the backyard without having me go out there too (I'm most excited about this during the winter).  It's a small backyard, but it's big enough for them.  Plus, we got $100 knocked off our rent by agreeing to take care of the lawn and garden maintenance!  Score!

-My time with the winery is coming to a close, although I'm not looking forward to leaving.  It's been a great job and something that I've really cherished doing.  I will probably stay in contact for the next few months, just helping out and letting them transition to a full-time person that can take care of wholesale distribution. 

-So, the next few weeks will be spent cleaning, packing, teaching, defending, graduating (Joel, not me - I have to graduate in December), moving, working, and job searching!  Should be a really fun time in its own little way. 

I'm happy to report I'm feeling much better!

Joel and I even ventured to the gym this morning, something which I've been unwilling and somewhat unable to participate in the past few weeks.  Last week my ear infection was resolved, only to find out that I still had fluid retained in the ear, which was making irritating popping sounds and made one side of my head feel heavy.  It also made me feel dizzy and somewhat off-balance.

This week, I am back to normal and high-functioning.

Yesterday I started the day by delivering my dissertation prospectus document (bound and beautiful!) to my committee.  On Monday, May 10 at 9am, I will prospect the dissertation and move on to the next phase.  Throughout the rest of the day, I was busy making phone calls, grading my students' last homework assignment for the semester, celebrating our research lab's hard work with a pizza party, and then more work in the afternoon.  Afterward, we came back at 4pm and took the dogs to the lake behind our house for some awesome water retrieving.  Trooper has grown like a tall weed, and those tall, luxuriously long legs propel him off the dock and through the water like a pro.  Cosette has her work cut out for her now!

Then I cooked dinner, and Joel sat out in the front cleaning his wine bottles for his bottling this week.  I'm still waiting on my wine to finish on the oak, and then I'll rack it several more times and we should be good to go. 

In other news, I've started working at a local winery that I love!  I work in the tasting room on the weekends, and last weekend I helped bottle a batch of wine.  So much fun.  One of the best things about this job is the hands-on learning.  I'm pretty familiar with the wine-making process, but I'm far from an expert on the topic.  This allows me to learn - very quickly - what it takes to succeed in the business.  Maybe someday I'll be in a position to direct energy to my own winery.

For now, though...dissertation.
Running with joy
I can tell when I've  been gone too long when I'm greeted on my blog hosting site with a request to re-log-in.

Sorry about that.

Today I took the dogs to a local doggie day care that we hadn't tried before.  The staff was a little surprised at my willingness to drop off my dogs and leave, fairly unconcerned.  I don't know about other dog owners, but my dogs kind of do their own thing and they are well socialized, so it's not like I'm worried that they will not be invited to the birthday party.  They'll play with anyone and everyone, furry or otherwise.  I took a tour of the facilities, signed the necessary waivers, and walked out the door.  When I picked them up at 4:30, they were happy as clams and gladly climbed in the car for the ten minute drive home.  Since I don't have a fenced backyard, I think they really enjoy running around in the open-air runs with the other dogs.  The staff goes outside and plays with them, too, so they have a lot of interaction throughout the day.

After we picked the dogs up, we noticed a new winery had opened up down the road.  So, we dropped the dogs off and headed back to the winery for tastings.  I love arriving at wineries when no one else is there, just us and the owners.  The man who owns the winery came out with a big happy smile on his face and introduced himself as "the janitor...also, chief winemaker."  We laughed heartily as he led us over to the tasting bar.  We told him we are amatuer wine makers, and we always enjoy chatting with vinters about their techniques.  This particular vinter, from Lima, Peru, was very friendly and sweet.  He extended an offer to us to come back and taste his off-the-shelf wines (the ones he is still messing with in the production room), and encouraged us to bring our own back.  We were duly impressed with his wines, and his winemaking philosophy.  We bought a bottle of each, promised to come back with friends, and drove back down the shaded driveway out to the main road. 
Tonight I donned a heavier jacket and double-walked the dogs.  It was sprinkling and windy enough to whip the cold air right through the fabric of my clothes.  As miserable as fall weather can be sometimes, I love autumn.  I really do. 

And tonight as we were walking down the quiet neighborhood streets, I remembered how last year at this time is when I started cuddling my jacket hood into my neck and walking with Cosette, and the year before that.  This year, though, Trooper joins the walking parade.  For some strange reason, I tend to walk the dogs more in the fall and winter than I do in the spring and summer.  I think it is because I'm outside with them so much more in the spring and summer, water retrieving until they tumble back to the car, exhausted.  In the fall and winter, however, we spend our mornings and afternoons hiking local trails.  But, I love taking the dogs for a walk at night.  I'm not sure why.  It's not particularly pleasant, what with the wind and the cold hands and the shivering breath in the frozen air.  But in another way it is very pleasant, because it brings an opportunity to feel the change of temperature from the indoors.

Just like at my grandparents' house for the past twenty-some even years, I'd have the same experience at Christmas time while the entire family was packed into a three-bedroom, two-bath brick house with a metal carport, and the temperature control would be set at 78, and the kids would yank it down to cool the house down, and the older adults would crank the heat back up, and the house was full of life and energy and excitement, and it was palatable and real.  During the height of the evening, I'd push against the metal screen door and take myself outside, out into the freezing, still night air.  I'd suck in a deep, lung-shattering blast of air, grateful for the experience in my throat and the coolness on my hot face.  And I'd stand out for a minute or two, looking up at the stars and wondering about all the rest of the families around me, spending Christmas with their loved ones.  I'd start to shiver and delay my entry just a few more moments, savoring the coldness on my cheeks.  After a few delicate moments, I would sneak back into the house, shaking off the shivers and my coat.  I'd feel the rush of the heat to my face, instantly warming my body and tingling my toes, and I'd begin to savor the sounds and the energy emanating from the house again. 

A few years ago my grandmother passed away, and this year my grandfather passed away, so my hands will no longer touch that screen door handle and escape for just a moment, only to be enveloped back into my family once more, savoring the chill in order to experience the heat more fully. 

Perhaps that is what feels so familiar to me, that experience that is so solid and real.  While walking the dogs, I'm uncomfortable but I'm loving the intensiveness of the chill, and am imagining myself in all the warm houses I pass, the families gathered around the tv screens, a board game, their pets, doing laundry, tucking the children in goodnight.  I warm myself in the cold night with the knowledge that when I walk into my own house, my shelter from the elements, I will have everything there that I need and I will experience those feelings more intensely because I made myself slow my steps on the dark, cold pavement.
What a life, right?  I saw this little one out at a winery.  I'm not sure why the person didn't bring them onto the patio, but maybe the dog just likes the good life.
Taken Sept 2009
I’d like to take this space to address one of the most negative stereotypes of Labs:  destructiveness

Let me begin by defining stereotype.  Stereotype, a transitive verb, “a broad generalization or an oversimplified view that disregards individual differences,” or “a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion or prejudiced attitude.”

A stereotype can be both positive and negative, as stereotypes essentially function to increase our cognitive resources; i.e., by allowing our brains to make a quick assumption about a person, group, or idea, we use less cognitive resources and can focus on more important things (like running away from tigers and the like).

Unfortunately, stereotypes can be negative and can overlook individual differences in favor of broad, sweeping generalizations.  Also, stereotypes can be wrong.  Or at least, mis-informed.  Allow me to explain.

One of the most common complaints of Lab owners – and some other dogs in general, but Labs in particular – is that Labs are, in no uncertain terms, destructive.  Destructive, adjective, “capable of causing harm, injury, or damage.”  Chewing.  Digging.  Barking.  Chewing, eating – yes, eating – carpets, furniture, wires, t.v. remotes, couch cushions, beds, papers, floorboards, patio furniture, the list goes on.  Digging up the flower beds, the garden, the hallway carpet, hardwood floors, shrubs, tree roots, and random holes.  Barking at the neighbors, barking at the postal worker, barking at deliveries, barking at another dog, barking at a cat, at a squirrel, at a bird, at…nothing.

Here’s where I deliver a harsh dose, and a spoonful of sugar it is not.  I suggest that it is not the Lab that is being destructive, but the owner.  Unintentional?  Sure.  Still harmful, injurious, damaging?  Absolutely.

A destructive Lab is nothing more than a bored Lab.  A bored Lab is nothing more than a neglected Lab.  Neglect can take on many forms, but it can simply mean not enough activity for the specific breed.  For Labs, this is generally the case.  Labs are high-energy and athletic.  Labs were bred to spend all day long hunting, retrieving, concentrating, and being busy.  Engaging in focused, intense activities is hard-wired.  The desire is in their DNA.  

Imagine that same potential energy locked up or abandoned outside day after night, night after day, interacting with the owner for less than thirty minutes each day.  Labs do not do well in the absence of corresponding interaction.  It is simply not enough to let the Lab outside to “run off energy.”  Labs are bred for intense, serious, focused activities.  They cannot devise these activities on their own – the owner must create this environment.  Show me a Lab that hikes, swims, and retrieves, and I’ll show you a happy Lab.

That said, it should be easy to imagine why suddenly this high-energy, motivated, lively dog (or puppy) suddenly begins engaging in destructive behaviors when it is in an environment devoid of athletic stimulation.  Being the most popular dog in the United States since 1991, there are a lot of Labradors in the country (and in others as well), and the status has afforded me the opportunity to live next to or around a lot of Labradors.  I have heard some mighty fine complaints coming from Lab owners, for good reason.  I’ve seen the destruction wreaked by Labs:  patio sets completely torn through; little to no grass left in the yard from digging; actual walls in houses chewed through, floorboards dug up.  Almost every one of these circumstances involves the owner(s) engaging in what I consider to be destructive neglect for this particular breed.

Just as you wouldn’t expect a teacup Chihuahua to survive in the frigid air in the deep of winter for long periods, a Lab can’t be left unsupervised for long periods of time without suffering severe consequences.  They don’t deal well with being left to their own devices.

Now, there are exceptions.  Just as there are some genuinely destructive dogs (having little to do with owners), there are also genuinely adaptive Labs that begin coping day one with nary a problem.  But that’s not the point of this post.  The point of this post is to address the “in generals,” the “overalls,” the “averages.”  
Labs, in general, are not destructive by nature.  A Lab can live indoors, even in an apartment, just fine.  It is what is happening outside that living environment is what matters so much.  Outside the living environment, the Lab must have the ability to engage in a focused, active lifestyle. 

I’m far from an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer.  But I can tell you that a Lab that is having behavior problems likely has an activity problem.

I’ve learned this from my own two Labs:  if I start slacking off in my responsibility as an owner, I can tell almost immediately.  My Labs grow restless, overly responsive, hyper, and are a handful.  They are embarrassing.  The minute I start adding activity back into their lives is the moment that my Labs calm down and focus.  My two Labs like doing different things.  Different activities entertain their brains – we have a responsibility as owners to find out what these activities are.

Labs are NOT bad dogs.  They are NOT predisposed to be destructive.  A destructive dog most likely has a destructive owner – destructive in the sense of not providing an enriching, Lab-compatible environment. 

So here’s my challenge to you, the future, the current, the past, and the never-again Lab owners:  realize what the breed is capable of, and strive to match your environment to their capabilities.  If this isn’t the active lifestyle you want, don’t purchase or adopt a Lab.  Work against this negative stereotype of Labs.
In doing so, maybe those chewed couch cushions will be few and far between.  And, you’ll have one heck of a happy Lab.