Monday, July 13, 2015

Puppy Probation

What's it got to do with Puppy Probation?
From structure comes respect.
 With respect, Chuckie earns freedom.
Even the freedom to shamelessly pose in the landscape like friggin Lassie.

I've recently recently received so many requests for my Puppy Probation handout that I decided to put it here for easy access.

If you have been in dogs for any length of time, you have seen various flavors of this kind of protocol -- "Nothing in Life is Free" is a popular title, though that title is slapped onto many different sets of instructions. Job Evans called his a "Radical Regime For Recalcitrant Rovers," which, Dude, just, no. Most credible trainers have some sort of shot-gun approach to dogs who are generally pills, and it is very similar to the new dog burn-in program that each recommends. This one is mine.  I tweak it about once every ten years, which seems about right.

The thing about shot-gun approaches is, they aren't very scientific. When Puppy Probation "works" (which it almost always does when the dog owners actually follow through and get the whole family on-board), we have no way of knowing what worked for a given dog. Items 1, 5, and 7? Items 2 and 10 only? Every item was totally necessary? The gestalt of each item interacting? The simple fact of a change? The owner's expectations?

Science-bitch dog trainer wants to tease apart all the variables and find the golden thread at the core, discard the unnecessary, reduce the problem and the solution to evidence-based, coherent purity.

Neandertal dog trainer tells her to STFU. Don't care. Just trying to fix dog. Something worked. Don't matter if it was the one pellet at the edge of the grouping or all 30 of them. Keep doing.

If you would like a copy of Puppy Probation to print out on two pages and tape to your fridge -- recommended -- you can print a PDF from here.

I do not offer specific dog training advice to strangers online, so specific questions about applications will probably be ignored.


Puppy Probation is a re-ordering and rehabilitation program for dogs who are dominant, unruly, aggressive, wild, unfocused, derpy and destructive, or who are showing any apparently isolated undesired behavior. It is also a very suitable regimen for newly-adopted untrained dogs. 

Its aim is to change your dog's attitude by reducing his choices to a very clear set of simple options and requiring him to work for the things that he wants. It is not punishment. You must not have a "gotcha" attitude during the probation period; rather, you should think of it as a time to re-order the dog's world so that he can learn to respond by being pleasant and cooperative instead of wild and bossy. He will begin to see you as a credible, competent leader, and will love and respect you for it.

Many of the Puppy Probation provisions involve changing your behavior, not your dog's. If
you do not consistently follow through on the protocol, even though the rules seem unrelated to the problem at hand, you are unlikely to achieve the desired change If you start Probation and then apply it inconsistently, or back off when your dog's behavior worsens, you will have done more damage than no training at all -- you will have taught your dog that you are unreliable, and that he can succeed at getting what he wants in the moment by resisting you.

Puppy Probation lasts a minimum of one month, and is applied along with obedience training and other interventions to address the specific behavior problems that your dog is exhibiting. Items that are underlined are habits and rituals that you should apply to your dog for his whole life.

(1) The dog is confined to his crate (in your bedroom) at night, and
confined when you are away.
He is not allowed to choose his own sleeping place or roam the house unsupervised.
But he is allowed to be near you while you sleep. Remember, isolation is punishment,
and he will feel resentful if you isolate him every night.

(2) Two obedience sessions every day.
Work your dog on the obedience commands that he knows and introduce new commands in structured ten-minute sessions twice a day. Be absolutely firm and consistent during these sessions, and ask your dog to progress each day. Do not use treats in obedience sessions beyond the teaching phase of new commands, but praise lavishly.

(3) The long down
If your dog knows how to down and stay, he must do it once a day for a half-hour (minimum). If he does not know the down-stay, start teaching it now, and immediately begin the "Sit on the Dog" exercise every day.

(4) Nothing is free
When your dog comes to you for petting, play, or attention, he must obey a command before he gets it (sit, down, heel). He must sit while you put his dinner down and wait to eat until you tell him okay. He must not be free-fed; dinner bowl comes up five minutes after you put it down. There should be no prolonged or absent-minded petting sessions, and absolutely NO nudging, pawing, barking or whining to get attention.

(5) Time out
When your dog is being a pest, he goes to his crate for ten minutes to a half-hour of time out. Don't inject a lot of drama in this, just quietly get him out of your hair. (Or require a down for the same period, if you can watch him and enforce it.)

(6) You control the space
Your dog gets no furniture privileges. If he is in your way, he must yield -- don't step around or over him. He must wait at the door for your permission to go through, and for permission to jump out of or into the car.

(7) Get a grip
The dog wears a martingale training collar with a tab or four-foot leash all the time when someone is home or he is at liberty, so that you able to easily catch and correct him. 

(8) Hit the dirt
Command him to down whenever the mood strikes you, and enforce each command. He should perform a minimum of fifty downs a day. Have him do "situps" -- a sitdown- sit-down sequence. At least ten times a day, roll him belly-up. Reassure or center him with a quiet "nose hug" or scruff tug whenever he needs it.

(9) Run it off
Your dog needs exercise to vent off his energy if he is to pay attention. Give him one hour of solid exercise a day -- chasing a ball, structured play, swimming, or jogging with you. 

(10) Tone it down
You have probably been yelling at your little canine terrorist when he acts up, which may be all the time. You are probably unaware of this. Stop it now. Practice silent physical corrections. Hold daily near-silent eye contact sessions, and reward him quietly for looking to you. All commands are to be given in a normal tone of voice. Praise and correction should be titrated to the dog's temperament and the circumstances, with the goal never to get the dog either hyped-up or cowed.

Copyright 1995, 2005, 2015 by Heather Houlahan.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Nobody Here But Us Peppers

When we lived on a half-acre in sprawlburbia*, the garden ran the show.

I had productive dwarf heirloom apple, cherry and peach trees. Thornless canes grew blackberries as big as a kitten's head. Raised beds produced improbable amounts of asparagus and the usual annual vegetables, including, at the peak of obsession, tomatoes from over fifty plants of thirty-five heirloom cultivars.  All started from seed under shoplights in my sewing room, along with plenty of hot peppers and basil because how else am I going to can gallons of marinara and salsa every fall?

Perfesser Chaos seemed to think I had some sort of problem.


Doesn't everybody collapse into stuttering fangirl squee when Dr. Carolyn Male offers to trade seeds?

(Okay, maybe it was eighty tomato plants some years. I didn't see him refusing to eat the marinara sauce.)

Down on the farm, there are creatures that can scream to be fed. Lots of them. They demand time more effectively than the quietly vegetative beings. The garden, though on a larger footprint than my prior spread, has never been nearly as populous or as productive.

One bottleneck has been seedlings. It has not gone well here most years.

Heat cable failure. Bad seed-starting mix. Procrastination. Out-of-sight, out-of-mind because the seed-starting rack was set up in the warm basement. I've ended up buying plants every year, and am barely keeping up with our marinara habit.

So this year, I changed things up.

I have two warm-chambers for germination. The heat source is a couple of rope lights. The old-fashioned incandescent kind, obviously, and good luck finding them these days. (Curse you, you cool, energy-efficient LEDs!).With the lid or a plastic cover on, the lights keep the bottom heat going and the temperature in the bins about 20 degrees higher than the room temps.

Sweater box. Incandescent rope light secured to hardware cloth on bottom. Germinating chambers on top.

As each little tomato or pepper seed sprouts in its space-efficient high-tech germination chamber, I gently slip it out and into a plastic-pack. Later most of them will be transplanted one more time into roomy individual pots, for garden planting at our leisure or for sale at Cider House Farm Market.

Substrate is cocoa-hull planting mix or pro-mix, with seeds covered in vermiculite and kept damp. I plant germinated seedlings in little plastic starter packs every night as they pop up.

If you are local and buy berries or tomatoes, etc. in these little plastic boxes and don't mind saving them, I'm planning to use a LOT more of them next year, and would be pleased to save them from the trash stream.

And I slapped together a seed-starting greenhouse on the deck, mostly with materials I had at hand.

For the main frame, two cattle panels (4' x 16') anchored to the wall of the house with long roofing screws and pipe hangers. I was going to anchor them to the deck rail, but they fit so nice and snug it isn't necessary
I planned to use plastic conduit for this frame, but the cattle panels work much better.

Part of a roll of clear 6-mil plastic from Home Labyrinth wrangled over the top, and secured with binder clips. Lots and lots of binder clips. The plastic is not crystal clear, which is actually better given the southeast orientation of the greenhouse walls.

I found a bag of shittons of binder clips in the bulk section of the Pittsburgh Center for Creative Reuse. Thought "I bet I'll find a use for these bad boys ..."

Then I framed up the end with leftover 2x4s and deck hardware. All this will easily break down with just a screwdriver.

Secured at top with just pipe hangers hooked over the wire and screwed down to the end of the 2x4s. But very solidly anchored to deck and rail.
At first I was going to just have a flap for a door to the rest of the deck, but that did not work well, so I bought some 2x3 lumber and used some old door hinges to make a proper door. The plastic above the door can be moved aside to make a vent. I secured the end plastic to the top with the same binder clips as the main roll, and with screwed-down tack strips to the framing pieces.

I had some wire shelves/racks from Construction Junction that
I'm using to protect the dog/goat zone from incursions.

Shelving, an old banquet table, and finally, the original seed-starting rack that has been in the basement all this time.

Step into my office ...

Conditions are staying temperate in there at night, though this week I will bring the tender ones in for several nights to keep them growing faster. The heathens on the top shelf in the picture above are kale and bok choy and cauliflower and such, and they can suck it. They're going into the ground pretty soon.

Yesterday I was showing the masterpiece to a friend and speculating that, while it has stood up pretty well to recent high winds, a decent hailstorm could be my undoing.

Not an hour later, as if summoned.

It's still fine, knock polyethylene. I had hailstones on my bed, blown in from the west-facing window 5' from its edge, but the greenhouse held up.

Also yesterday, I started some herbs, because you can't have marinara without basil. I labeled each little plastic box with the cultivar name and the date.


It's parsley, man! And oh shit, oregano! No, really.

* When I went by the old place over a year after moving, seeking a misdirected package, the young lackwits who bought it from us had bulldozed all the painstakingly enriched garden beds, including the fully-mature asparagus patch and were worshipping moar lawn.

Also, they stole my package. Larcenous lackwits.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Second Warming

It has been a snowy but pretty normal winter up until today.

I'm trying to replenish our depleted stock of firewood. We've replaced the never-satisfactory and now prematurely-dead Husqvarna chainsaw with a lighter-duty Stihl that I can actually start easily, and are working on cutting up the blown-down oak and cherry and pear trees, and the many ash trees killed by emerald ash borers in the past few years.

They say that firewood warms you three times -- first when you cut it, second when you split it, and third when you burn it. We're inefficient enough about stacking that all of ours gets in a fourth warming. I still need to finish a lean-to woodshed on the north end of the run-in shed that now houses our small stock of wood; when it's done, we won't have to go through a gate to get wood, and the livestock will have more shelter in that space. I'd like to move them back there next winter once the next run of fence is finished and they can get into the sheltered buttcrack and to the never-frozen spring in bad weather.

Today, while the northwest gale blew a whiteout, I pulled my wedges and sledgehammer down to a pile of bucked ash logs that were too big to haul up to the woodshed whole, and did my splitting on the south-facing slope of the buttcrack. Pleasant weather -- I ditched my hat and scarf for the second warming.

I use a star wedge, because it is easier, and occasionally it even produces a multiple split. Ash splits willingly and cleanly, unlike the accursed Bradford pear, which seems to have no grain at all, or the unbelievably dense hawthorn, which, I effing give up. The colder it is, the more easily a log splits; whatever residual moisture is in the wood becomes ice crystals which, as I understand the physics of it, want the wood to cleave apart along the grain. The more the mercury drops, the more fervently they desire this end.

When the wedge tip is just buried upright in the ground at the very center of the split, then you hit that sumbitch perfectly.

I got the entire trunk of the ash split and stacked in a spot where we can easily load it into the tractor's cart later. The smaller rounds from the top of the tree are in a pile nearby, to be split in-place or loaded whole.

Sorry, ash. You'll never be a Louisville Slugger.

I asked Charlie to skid the tools back up the hill for me, her first time in-harness. She was dubious at first, but willing to put her back into it. I think she'll be a handy little draft doggy in time. The two wedges and single sledgehammer felt surprisingly heavy on the sled.

Mom needs to get them oxen she keeps talking about.

As we came up the hill, we could feel shit starting to get real, weather-wise.

Also, my iPhone became a whiny little bitch and started crashing within five seconds of coming out of its inside pocket. So no more photos.

It took two hours to get all the animals battened down for the Yukon weather incursion.

Hot water for everyone. Extra grain and hay for everyone. As I carried a half-bale of alfalfa to the hoofstock, wind blasts stopped me dead and tried to rip the fodder from my arms.

Stranger, the rooster who bunks with the sheep & goats in the pole barn, had been abandoned for the warm coop by his ladies and the guineas who normally roost with him, and was huddled under a milking stand. He felt really light when I picked him up. He's locked in a stall in the barn now, with hot water and grain and sunflower seeds, and he's staying there until he's fat again. I am fond of Stranger and his feral, gentlemanly ways; a rooster can only be so tough, and he's overreached himself.

Lebowski was in the upper barn -- which the wind has shot through with snow all the way to the east wall -- and had much to say, but refused to go out into the wind. I had to grab him, stuff him in my coat, and drag his kitteh butt back to the house. (Gollum had already come in the dog door.)

Still running through my mind -- did I get everyone? Did everyone get extra food and fresh hot water? Is every last critter accounted for and out of the wind?

Instead of hibernating, a farmer gets driven out into the arctic blast many times a day. Water and fuel, fuel and water for the critters.

This is why I don't lamb or kid in mid-winter.

Wind chill is now -11, and it's going to stay that way until Monday.

The woodstove is cranking; if anything should go wrong with the furnace tonight, I want that sucker already hot.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Pozzie Sally Hemings Problem

Video from Marineland Mallorca. Play it a couple times, we'll wait ...

Here we see trainers at a corporate captivity-for-entertainment facility in Spain yelling at, kicking, and striking their captives.

The trainer's actions don't look like corrections to me. They look and sound like the angry, impatient, ineffective outbursts of men who are frustrated because they lack the skill to accomplish their goals within the constraints that have been placed on them. The trainers, grainy though they are, look like guys who are losing their shit.

The pozzie mouthpieces, including Ms. 50 Shades of Self-Promotion, who have been holding up dolphin Stockholm syndrome as the gold standard of "humane" and (shit you not, irony is dead) "minimally-invasive" training protocols -- who have convinced thousands of clicking simpletons that a wild cetacean imprisoned in a bathtub is the perfect model for living with a pet dog -- are attempting a classic distraction technique by screaming See! It's terrible if you do it to a dog, too! This is how all those cruel balanced trainers treat dogs. Where's the outrage when someone puts a collar on a dog?

Wait, I thought that it was impossible to train a dolphin with force and coercion?

What's that, you say?

I'm sorry, I didn't hear that?

Wait, were you wanting to say that Marineland Mallorca is an outlier? I bet their dolphins aren't even trained, and they are a pariah in the industry, right? No legitimate kind and gentle dolphin-bathtub facility would have anything to do with such a person. And he couldn't possibly come in under the radar, because the total lack of results would mean that he had no resume as a successful porpoise-manipulator.

That must be it.

Oh bother.

ATLANTA -The Georgia Aquarium stands by the man they hired to become Vice President of Dolphin Training, despite allegations that surfaced on YouTube that he abused animals.
"We think he deserves, after 37 years in a career and no indication in our vetting that this had happened, that we should stand by him until we can prove that this kind of behavior would take place," said aquarium CEO Mike Leven.

Now, without being able to determine what it was that the men in wetsuits wanted from the dolphins they were yelling at, kicking, and striking -- I cannot make out verbal commands, and there's not enough context to guess at the point of each exercise -- I have to speculate on very little evidence.

It looks as if at least some of the "positive punishment" directed at the captives has to do with the animal horning in on other animals' sessions, and some might (again, I am reaching on thin evidence here) be elicited by the animal getting so pushy that the trainers are seeing it as a threat, or as behavior that will later become threatening.

Let's be clear here. Dolphins are powerful and potentially dangerous wild predators. They can ram, they can hold a person down underwater, they can and do bite and hold on, and they are rapists. Captive dolphins should be assumed to have neuroses and stresses that create novel pathological behavior over and above the perfectly normal aggression of their wild families.

I keep a mixed herd of medium-sized herbivores. None of my goats and sheep outweigh me, though the largest ones are close to my size. They nibble, but do not bite. They are not predators, they are both domesticated and tame, they are living a species-appropriate lifestyle in a stable social group, and so should be assumed to be sane examples of their respective kinds.

And you know what? I don't go in to the pasture with a bucket of grain without bringing a dog with me.

They really like grain, and they are perfectly happy to run me down and trample me to get it. They don't mean to flatten a person, they mean to get more grain than the next goat. Facing off against some credibly pinchy toothipegs reminds them of their manners.

A farmer who is without a useful dog will use a stock whip or an electric prod in the same circumstances. To maintain distance and respect.

I think it's possible that the kicking, yelling, hitting Marineland employees were getting a little fearful of the dolphins' pushiness and "testing" and were trying to instill respect and establish distance.

It did not appear to be working, for all that.

Now, it's very common in multiple-dog situations for one dog to try to horn in on another dog's interactions with the human -- whether those are just household interactions, affection and proximity, play, or training and work.

Most dog trainers solve this in the same way that the dolphin trainers ought to -- we train another exercise that prevents the undesired conduct. Normally, that means that one dog holds a stay, or goes to a designated place and holds a stay, while the other dog works, plays, trains or cuddles.

The stay and/or place command is taught first, then trained with consequences, proofed in the presence of high distraction, and then used at need. Animals who have not been proofed to a particular level are not expected to perform at that level during actual work.  In other words, just because my puppy can "stay" in the living room doesn't mean that I would expect her to do it 50' away while I play fetch with a different dog.

No drama, no anger, no fear, no yelling, hitting, kicking. Corrections, absolutely, fair and effective ones, for disobeying a command that the dog has demonstrated that he understands robustly.

"Withholding positive reinforcement" is not effective in circumstances when the conduct is fun in itself or the expression of a primary instinctive need. The dolphin who is horning in on two other dolphin's training session (if that is what I am seeing, and I do not know that it is) is having a good time being a pill. Or he's feeling left-out and anxious. He may well know that he will never get chummed for interrupting, but he's still going to do it. He may well know that he'll get yelled at, kicked, and hit -- but why the hell would he care, it doesn't hurt much, and he's not a fucking domesticated animal who has been genetically programmed to give a rat's ass about what a human thinks.

It's possible that if the trainers -- performers who are themselves often rather poorly-trained, are rather, conditioned by rote to follow the handbook -- had been given a wider toolbox for interacting with their prisoners, they may have had the cognitive and emotional resources to not lose their shit at animals who hadn't read that handbook.

In other words, if the official liturgy of dolphin-bothering didn't insist that the state religion of Operant Conditioning is the only lens through which the animals' actions will be "understood," and that only one corner of the Holy Quadrity shall be employed, the trainers' frustration might not have broken through in this ugly, nasty, visible way.

But to me, the kerfuffle is more than a bit like someone expressing outrage that the lonely widower Thomas Jefferson fucked one of his slaves and made babies.

Really? That's the outrageous thing?

Not that the philosopher of freedom, equality and virtue owned human beings, bought and sold them, and helped create a nation that simultaneously proclaimed liberty throughout the land and trafficked in human chattel? You don't think that is a wee tetch more troublesome? What kind of treatment would make slavery okay, then? Kind masters who never whip, but only dole out cornmeal and pig's feet to the good, hardworking servants? Soft padding on the leg irons?

It's okay, the sling is ergonomic

If you are outraged that a dolphin trainer kicked a captive, but okay with a corporation kidnapping them from their families, locking them in sensory deprivation tanks their entire lives, and throwing them frozen chum when they do tricks for the entertainment of the paying masses, then you have a Sally Hemings problem in your brain.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Drunken Pigs

The pigs went on their first and last trailer ride yesterday.

Loading pigs into a trailer is a famously difficult, dangerous, shit-spattered, squealing ball of stress. Accomplishing this when the pigs roam a half-acre of lightly-fenced pasture generally involves three or more people with sorting boards and electric prods and one or more dogs with teeth. And lots of time. And, apparently traditionally, yelling. Also, it seems to be a prime opportunity for equipment suppliers to sell lots of special fencing and gates and chutes for many thousands of dollars.

Why would an animal walk peacefully into an obvious trap? Especially when being screamed at?

The butcher's schedule this time of year is non-negotiable, and meant that I would be loading the pigs by myself in mid-afternoon.

Our "stock trailer" is just our flatbed utility trailer topped by a repurposed city bicycle locker I bought at Construction Junction and mounted on wooden skids. Two hogs just fit in there. This is good for the actual transport -- they are safer and calmer if they can't thrash around -- but makes it trickier to get them in there.

I took advice from three sources and made it happen.

At the 2013 Mother Earth News Fair, Perfesser Chaos and I sat in on a short class on pasturing pigs, and took away several priceless nuggets of advice from the experienced farmers who taught it.

One tip was to feed the pigs on the stock trailer.

Just roll it into the pasture a few weeks before butcher date, and start feeding them in there.

The instructors also started their little piglets on pasture by first housing them in the same trailer for a couple weeks. That wasn't an option for us, but I was pretty sure we could cut that corner.

We trialled this concept with the meat chickens. Rather than waiting for full dark to round up 50 or 100 birds that would have to be stuffed squawking into the trailer, I now feed them on the trailer for their last week or so.  The evening before butcher day, 85%-90% of the birds load themselves; I close the gate when more are exiting than entering, and we wait until dark to scoop up the stragglers. The stragglers are typically the smallest, fastest, canniest chickens (in a flock of meat chickens, these are not very small, very fast, or very canny at all), but with only 5-10 birds to catch in their sleep, there is minimal work and no drama.

With two pigs, we need to be sure of 100% self-loading, and it needs to work the first time. Screw it up and make them scared, and we're back to a rodeo.

Our friend Janeen had told me about her friends getting pigs drunk on vodka so that they were in a stupor when the on-farm slaughter truck arrived.

We don't have any on-farm slaughter services here, and I didn't have any of the vodka in the plastic bottle that I'd be willing to donate to porcine self-anesthesia.

But I did have about eight cans of cheap undrinkable beer that had been sitting in the basement for several years, against the day I'd need to trap slugs.

I emptied the skunky cans into the bucket about 30' from the pigs' pasture; by the time I opened the third can, they had gotten wind of the treat and were screaming for it. I poured the beer into their trough, and by the time I'd set the bucket down and grabbed my phone for a photo, there was only froth left, and they were fighting over that.

I had to spend a few minutes futzing around securing the bike locker to the trailer (I didn't strap it down earlier because the pigs will chew the straps); by the time I was finished, they were enjoying a mutual stupor in the sunshine.  I had to wake them up with a hard nudge to the butt for phase three.

Kristin Kimball, who handles a much larger herd of free-ranging pigs, including huge sows and a breeding boar, told me "I wish I loved anything as much as pigs love mooshy apples."

So I saved some of the bruised and past-it apples from Cider House Farm Market special for this day.

Showed the drunken pigs the bucket of apples.

Tossed the apples into the trailer.

Waited while the hogs stumbled up the ramp.

Closed and secured the door.


When I got to the butchers after a 40-minute drive, they were snoozing quietly. A couple more mooshy apples and they contentedly stumbled off the trailer into the holding pen.

I don't have a special pig-loading white dress like the one sported by Caroline Owens, and I didn't have anyone to document the non-ordeal with video (Cole was my standby dog for both loading and unloading, but he has trouble holding the iPhone) but I did grab one of PC's retired white dress shirts, which I wore all day, and get the butcher to take a snap when all the loading was done.

 No yelling. No boards. No electric prods. One little dog and one pointy stick on standby, not employed. No squealing, balking, biting or fear.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

That Rug Really Does Not Tie the Room Together

We can haz traction?
There are three days left to help Lebowski out of his close second-place position in the quest to replace the abused floors in the Brandywine farmhouse.

Vote here for Lebowski!

The Dude got off to a commanding start in the voting, but late last week was passed by the sullen Australian shepherd who is pictured on a shiny new-looking floor.


Perhaps it's just that the circles I run in are more, you know, dog people?

Lebowski would like to point out that he is an apprentice dog, and as such, deserves the votes of dog people.

Floors so awful we have to stack the animals

Not just an apprentice dog, but an apprentice English shepherd. One of the more difficult sorts of dogs for a Dude born a cat to pull off. He's been working on the Family Yoga Pose.

Don't judge.

At the emergency vet on Thursday I saw a poodle/Yorkie cross that I actually thought was a cat at first. She was a very nice little dog, of mature years, and not feeling too well. She sat so quietly in the chair next to her owner's chair, and had such dignity, that I mistook her for one of the clinic cats. Easy for her. Lebowski has a more challenging task before him.

Wait, what?

The emergency vet?

What has Sophia done this time?

Nope, not Sophie. Not this time. Though it's a very Sophie sort of thing to happen.

You shoulda seen the other guy.
Rosie was helping me to teach young Charlie to swim. Mission accomplished with the help of a retriever bumper and some social modeling/competitive spirit. But Rosie knows that she can get a head start on both Charlie and Cole by launching herself with great force from a dock, while the others prefer the less flamboyant shore entry.

The other guy. Seemingly unaffected.

I'm mindful of the danger to toes and toenails posed by the gaps in the decking on docks.

Never occurred to me that an agile little dog could slip just as she launched and get a hock entrapped under the  rope cleat. And then hang there. Screaming.

I was certain her hock was broken. Things moved that are not supposed to move. I didn't diddle around after discovering that. Three wet dogs into the car and off to the emergency vet, as it was approximately four minutes after my real vet closed for the day. Since the emergency vet was Doogie Howser's prom date*, since the advice that seemed so counterintuitive when she gave it was also very wrong according to Doctor Google, since Rosie was completely tripoding and clearly in terror that something would touch her foot, and since (we later discovered) the radiograph I paid for did not cover the entire relevant section of dog, we followed up with a visit to our real vet, who corrected these deficiencies and fashioned a wondrous splint that appears to include in its engineered innards both a yogurt cup and a system of flying buttresses.

The good news is that it isn't fractured. The bad news is that it isn't fractured. Hock sprains with this kind of dramatic mechanism of injury can be a nasty business. Lots of complicated ligaments down there. Putting them right can get ugly as well as uncertain.

We will see whether conservative treatment -- rest and splinting -- gets Rosie back into fighting form. Meanwhile, we are bereft of our best and most versatile SAR dog, and hoping for no hairy deployments.

Oh, and the vet bills so far have et up what I'd scraped aside to replace the worst floor, the stinking old carpet in my office, with the cheapest vinyl planking I could get. A visitation of The Budget Gremlin.

So now we really, really need Lebowski to win us some damn floor. I'm more determined than before to get rid of the slippery laminate in the living room, too. I feel it lurking there, ready to throw a search dog into a skid and wreck a knee or ten.

And I need all who wish well to Lebowski and his adopted transpecial pack to vote for him, tell your friends to vote for him, bribe your co-workers to vote for him, harangue your Twitter followers and Facebook friends and blog readers and Yahoo groups and whatever happens on Instagram and Pinterest and MySpace and LiveJournal.

Apparently the mechanism for voting limits you to one vote per device (phone or computer or tablet). Which has been a bummer for the families we know who all use one computer.

The link:

Maybe you'll win floors yourself. Someone will. Two thousand dollars can get you some pretty nice hardwood.

Lumber Liquidators Cutest Pet, Ugliest Floor Contest. Lebowski. Certainly cuter than the sullen Aussie. The floors on which he romps certainly uglier than the shiny new one on which the Aussie is being sullen.**

The Dude will thank you.

Voting ends Thursday, July 31. Not much time left.

I shouldna have started measuring it before the contest was over. That jinxed it


*Yay! Baby-talk for both animal and owner! We love that shit. Especially from someone who is younger than some of the stuff in the back of my fridge.

** I freely admit that Lucy the puppy with the dork ears is hella-cute, and the floor on which she is lying is heinous. But Lucy is out of the running. She's the Ralph Nader of cute pets on ugly floors. Do not be distracted by the puppy with the dork ears. Lebowski is your candidate!