Monday, December 24, 2007

Games People Play

Sailor here.

The most wonderful thing happened! Mom was watching grown men wearing pajamas spit on television and she started to smell really nervous. She mumbled something about twelve innings being too much stress, and took me for an impromptu walk! I guess innings for Mom mean outings for me! One down, eleven to go...

I think I like baseball better than the other game Mom watches on TV in which grown men wearing war paint and body armor jump on each other in the mud. During these games, there’s only halftime for walks instead of the seventh inning stretch. On the other paw, playing chase in the mud sounds just like one of Zoe’s favorite things!

Last night, Mom went to an ice hockey game and says that it was pretty noisy. She says ice hockey is a cross between Keep Away and Bowling with a lot of body slamming thrown in. Now THAT sounds like a Zoe game if I’ve ever heard of one, especially since it’s played on ice! I prefer something a bit more genteel, myself.

Mom says she won’t even tell me about golf in which grown people try to beat each other with clubs. Shudder.

Mom and I play games, too. Unlike human games where there’s usually a winner and a loser, when we play, we both win. This is because when Mom wins, she smiles and laughs. When I win, I get cookies! The first game Mom taught me was Take a Bow. She said it was easy because every time she blew air on my face, I play-bowed. So now when she says, Take a Bow, I, well, I take a bow.

My favorite game is going to dog school. Mom says this isn’t really considered a game, but it is to me. Mom smiles and laughs. I get cookies.

Another game that makes Mom smile is Find. When the family is sitting around the house, Mom will say, “Sailor, go find Katy” When I walk over to Katy, Mom smiles and laughs. I get cookies. Sometimes, Katy hides upstairs, and it takes me a while to find her, particularly if I forget why my head is in the coat closet and I wander back into the kitchen to find Mom. It’s times like these that Katy gets to take a nap upstairs on Mom’s bed.

Mom and I have also started playing Find with the cookies themselves. I find this really exciting. At first, she hid a cookie in plain view, on the floor, not in the grass or anything. She told me to find it. I found it. Mom smiled. I got more cookies. Then she hid it behind the chair in my crate room. I found it. Mom smiled. I got more cookies. She made it harder, hiding my cookie in the kitchen when I was in my crate room. Then she told me to find it.

I didn’t find it. I looked at the last place she had hidden it. I looked high, I looked low. I looked under the pillow. I looked in my crate. I looked in her pockets. Then Mom told me, “Kitchen.” I looked at her like she had lost her mind.

“Mom,” I said, “I’d think you lost my cookie.”

“I did, Sailor,” Mom answered. “I lost it in the KITCHEN.”

Light bulb.

Mom smiled. I got cookies.

Now, Mom hides my cookies in places I didn’t think we had places. Sometimes it takes me quite a bit of rug digging, pillow tossing, and toenail scrabbling to find it. She gives me fewer and fewer hints, too. She says this will be a fun game to play when the rains start and she can’t hide cookies outside. She says they disintegrate in the rain. I can’t imagine a cookie lying on the ground long enough to get to that point, but Mom is usually right.

She makes the cookies harder and harder to find. Yesterday, after a difficult game of Find the Cookie, my brain was quite drained. I took my cookie to my crate and fell asleep with crumbs still on my lips.

Mom smiled.

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Straight Fronts and Butt Awareness

Sailor here.

At dog school tonight, Mom harrumphed and grumbled about my crooked Front.

“Mo-om,” I patiently explained, “Look at me. My legs are straight. My chest is straight. My head is straight. That means my FRONT is straight.”

“Sailor,” she patiently explained, “when you run to me on the Recall, your front is indeed straight. But your butt is canted off to starboard. That makes for a crooked Front.”

What? My butt is crooked? I stood up, craned my neck and looked at my butt.

I have a nice butt. It is big. It is furry. It is round. It is independent.

“Mom,” I explained, “My butt has a mind of its own. It doesn’t always follow along in the most amiable fashion.” (I herd that somewhere and thought I’d try it out on Mom.)

“Boy, that’s for sure,” Mom agreed.

And the next day, she lugged this large white frame onto the lawn.

“We’ll practice some Butt Awareness with your ladder,” Mom said.

“Mo-om,” I groaned. “That isn’t a ladder. Ladders lean up against houses so Erik can get Zoe down from the roof. This thing is lying down in the grass.”

“Sailor,” Mom patiently explained, “Let’s throw caution to the winds and call this a ladder. I’m going to make it do an incredibly long DownStay and you are going to walk through it.”

Fine. It’s a ladder.

So I walked around it. Then I walked two steps into its slatty little sides and jumped out. I walked around it again.

Mom sighed. Then she smiled and kissed my nose. Then she led me to the end of the ladder and cookied me down the length of it. We did this more than once. I got more than one cookie. And I learned to walk down its midst without tripping. Then I learned to walk up its midst without tripping. Then Mom ran with me and I learned to run down its length without tripping or jumping off to port. What fun! This was easy.

Then Mom sat down on the grass and turned me around so I was facing the ladder.

“Sailor, I am going to have a private conversation with your butt. Just stand there and look at the hummingbird feeder or something.”

And Mom put her hand on my back and started to move her fingers in a small circle. She moved them in larger and larger circles, moving down my hips to my haunches and the back of my legs. She whispered secret things that I tried to ignore.

Finally, she stood up and led me back to that grid of white pipes she calls a ladder.

“Sailor,” she said. “Get your butt in gear. We are going to go BACK.”

What a disaster. Well, I’m not a her and I wasn’t dis-assed exactly, but my butt definitely had other ideas about backing down that ladder. But during this exercise, I discovered something quite startling.

I have two back feet. I have two back feet that are attached to my butt. I have two back feet that will actually help my butt get in gear, unless, of course, they are having an independence day of their own and running riot with my rear end. Like today.

Mom patiently lined me up again, and we started to slowly back down the ladder. My butt went to starboard, my back feet did an about-face and my body swung around sideways My rear end rioted, causing my butt to leap and bound away.

“Maybe if you’d called it a Butt Awareness Apparatus,” I said a little testily, “my butt would be more aware. If you insist on calling this thing a ladder, my butt will keep trying to climb into the air.”

“OK, Sailor,” Mom patiently agreed. “It’s a BAA. Now, let’s start over.”

She gave me the Back command.

And so, daintily picking my way down the BAA, I pictured myself backing away from a flock of wooly sheep, keeping them from bolting, while concentrating on my butt and my back legs and the grass and the BAA slats and Mom and the cookies in her pockets.

My rear end rioted. My brain took a small vacation.

Mom smiled and kissed my on the nose again. “Well, Sailor,” she said, “We just have to be patient with your butt, huh? All this patience will pay off in the end. We’ll try this next week.”

I groaned.

Maybe next week, this exercise will be easier. Maybe I won’t have so much to think about. Maybe Mom will have another heart-to-heart talk with my butt and maybe it will be more cooperative.

Maybe I can convince Mom that canting to starboard isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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Something Nude

Sailor here.

Right after dinner, Mom hupped me onto my grooming table and took the pin brush to me. “Sailor,” she said between tangles, “Tonight we are going to night-time dog school.”

“You mean I won’t see Mrs. Dogs-On-The-Inside anymore?” I asked.

“We will still go Saturday morning,” she explained. “We are adding a class Monday night to get you ready for your CD.”

This was a lot to think about. I’m glad we will still take class with my Saturday buddies. And I’ve waiting forever for that Compact Disk to appear, so Monday nights will be fine with me, too.

And in fact, Monday night was a blast. First of all, it was dark and for once, I could see better than Mom. Instead of Mrs. Dogs-On-The-Inside, our Alpha was Mrs. CounterclockwiseEveryone. I remembered her from the Nine-Year DownStay evening in which I do a DownStay for nine years and Mom listens to a bunch of people meet and talk and eat cookies. Some times I get cookies, too, when I am lying down doing nothing. (Zoe thinks this sounds like heaven: cookies for doing nothing.)

Second of all, our dog school class gave me the opportunity to show off. I love showing off. I showed off how I could heel and come and sit and heel and heel. I got to show how I have overcome my lagging tendencies and now end up forged. And best of all, I got cookies. And cheese. And Rollover.

“How do you like your Nude Dog School?” Mom asked while we were waiting in line for the Recall.

“Huh?” I looked around. No nude dogs, just a lot of hairy ones. Some of the people were hairy, too. Mom has some strange notions at times, but I decided that tact was the better part of getting cookies and overlooked Mom’s insanity..

“Great,” I said, “just great.”

On our next heeling pattern, Mom stumbled a bit on the bumpy grass and I banged into her. Her timing was all off in the dark. Mrs. CounterclockwiseEveryone then asked the humans to count in cadence when we heeled to make it easier for us dogs to keep our humans in step. I thought that was a great idea. After all, this is obedience class and our humans are learning to be obedient.

“One, two, one two,” some people counted.

“Tick, tock, tick, tock,” I heard others chant.

Mom had a different idea, though. She started singing to keep time. This would have been OK, except she started singing about our web–footed friends and this reminded me about the great duck disaster. Ducks are NOT my friends, especially puffy-headed, slappy-footed rogue ducks. I lost my concentration and took a few missteps.

“Mom,” I whined banging into her knee on the Left Turn. “Ducks? Please gimme a break here.”

“Oh, Sailor, sorry,” Mom whispered. “I forgot.”

Mom stopped, regrouped and started off on her left foot humming an Ode to Joy. I looked around for Joy, but she wasn’t there. Shrugging, I decided Joy was better than Ducks, even though she was absent, and, forging a bit, I took off by Mom’s side, keeping her more or less in step.

Too soon, it was time to go, and I reluctantly jumped into the dog car for the ride home.

But the next night, Mom again hustled me into the dog car and drove off with my water bottles in my backpack and cookies in her pocket.

“Nude Dog School again?” I asked, as we pulled into the parking lot and Mom saddled me up.

“No,” Mom answered. “It’s dog club night.”

I had a very bad moment suddenly, picturing abuse and violence. So when we arrived at the meeting room, I spent a few moments sniffing all the corners, looking for clubs. Mom noticed my agitation and patted me on the ribs reassuringly. She explained that we were at a meeting of her dog TRAINING club, but even so, it took me a while to relax. Training clubs sounded even worse.

Mrs. CounterclockwiseEveryone was there and gave my ears a rub when I wagged up to her. My other friend, Pat the Doberman, was there, patting her Doberman. I gave her a big hug and politely sniffed noses with her pretty Doberman bitch. Mom has told me to always be polite to Dobermen, and I suppose the same applies to Doberwomen, too.

Then began the long DownStay. After three minutes, I popped up.

“What?” Mom said, looking surprised.

“My three minutes are up,” I patiently explained.

“This is not the three-minute DownStay,” Mom said, waving me into a Down again.

After five minutes, I popped up.

“Sailor,” Mom said, waving me down a second. “You must stay down until I release you.”

Hearing the magic word, I popped up.

“Arrrgh,” Mom growled and gave me a very small leash pop.

I downed. And stayed down. For nine years.

I am so glad we only go to Dog Training Club once a month. It’s not easy being obedient with nothing to do but smell the cookies in Mom’s pockets.

The Town of Cats

Sailor here.

Mom has branched out into new directions, geographically speaking. We go to dog shows and hang out. I carry my own water. We go to parks and hang out. I carry my own water. We go to new towns and hang out. I carry my own water. In fact, Mom is so pleased with my water carrying that she meets friends for walks to show off how versatile I am in this new backpacking mode.

Why just this morning, Mom dragged me from my futon, remarking that yesterday must have worn me out, what with all the water carrying and hanging out in the park and all. Was this sarcasm at its best? To show Mom I was NOT tired, I sprang down the stairs and went straight to the front door where my leash lives. I was ready for my morning walk.

Mom redirected me to my dog bowl in the kitchen and gave me what she calls a quick breakfast, a misnomer if I’ve ever heard of one. A quick breakfast is actually eaten in the same amount of time that a slow breakfast is. Only the amounts change, not the inhalation time. She should have called it a small breakfast. She could have called it a miniscule breakfast. She could have called it a snack. I definitely did not qualify as a regular breakfast.

Anyway, having eaten, we jumped into the dog car, water bottles, backpack and all, and drove another million miles on the freeway to a town named (are you ready?) THE CATS!! Mom said the name is actually Los Gatos, but translates as The Cats, as any good Chihuahua would know. I thought a town full of cats was a fantastic idea. Imagine so many sporting opportunities all in one place. Imagine the chance to show how very well behaved and non-cat-aggressive I am. This is my kind of town!

Mom put on my blue backpack and shoved the water bottles into my side pockets. She put on her backpack, too, and we set off toward the town square in search of cats. I was admired by all who saw me trotting at the end of my leash, face grinning, paws prancing, Mom in tow, looking for cats.

Just as I was about to check the rear pockets of one of my admirers, Mom tugged mightily on my leash.

“Sailor,” she said, “meet Conner.”

I abandoned my cat search and turned around. There stood Conner. Conner is a collie. He has a blue backpack, too. His backpack smells a lot like mine but with spaghetti instead of water. His human, Neato, is Mom’s friend and she brought Conner along on our walk so they could admire my backpacking talents. I love Neato. She smells like cookies and collies and knows how to give great butt rubs.

We headed southeast, sniffing the sidewalk for cats, and paused on a bridge directly over the freeway. Cars whooshed below us, causing me to perk up my ears and drool a little. This was decidedly odd and maybe a little dangerous. Remembering my goal and forgetting my nervousness, I sniffed the bridge, but there were no cats lurking over the interstate.

Instead of cats, we met almost as many dogs as miles driven that morning. Los Gatos, it seems, is teeming with dogs. I saw big dogs. I saw small dogs. I saw dogs with kids and dogs with hats, but nowhere did I see dogs with cats.

Conner had a lot to say about each dog in town. I found this a bit startling at first, and turned around during a couple of his alerts to see if anybody was running up on my rear end. Nobody was, but he kept announcing dogs anyway.

“Dog! Dog! There’s a dog! Look, over there, a dog! Drooling dog! Hairy dog! DogDogDog!”

Sheesh. I mean, all right already, yes, dogs.

Dog, not cat, was Conner’s mission of the day, and Conner was exceptionally good at telling us about each and every one. Nobody got past him, not even dogs too far away to smell. He must have great eyesight and a keen sense of dog.

But no cats. We saw no cats.

Mom and Neato kept up with us quite well and even stopped twice for water. We looped back around through a neighborhood of dogs and flowers (and NO CATS), and ended up where we started, at my car. Then I had a bad moment or seven when Mom left me with Conner and Neato and drove off. Conner was quiet, and for a change, and it was me who I felt like barking as I watched Mom disappear down the street.

So I yelled inside my head, “Hey! You forgot the dog!” I did my silent bark thing. Conner was impressed.

Neato told me is was OK; Mom just had to move our car so it wouldn’t end up in the car pound. She fed me cookies and gave me water and life was good again when Mom trotted back down the street to find us. Mom said all was well; she found a parking place off the street. I wondered how high in the air it was and whether she would take off my backpack before asking me to jump into my crate in the back of the car. Or did I have to use stairs?

She may have found a parking place, but she didn’t find any cats.

We walked up another street away from town so Mom could show me where she used to live long before I was born. She said she had two cats then named Sunny and Gray. I sniffed the bushes in front of her house, but smelled no cats.

And then, wonder of wonders, just as we had turned around and started back toward the town square, we saw it. A CAT! It was big. It was black. It had green eyes and was the size of a small dog. True to his mission of the day, Conner started barking.

“Dog! Dog!” he barked, “Black dog!”

“Not quite,” I panted, “guess again.” I shouldered him to the side so he could get a good look at this creature before she fled down her driveway.

“Cat! Cat!’ he changed his tune. “Big cat! Black cat!”

Neato told Conner for the umpteenth time that she could hear him. Mom chuckled. I whispered to Mom that this cat was not a big as Josie the FatCat, but she was definitely a cat. Mom agreed.

And with that, I was content. Mom and I were able to drive home with our mission accomplished. A cat was found.

So, where ARE all these Los Gatos cats, anyway? Maybe the town name should be changed to Los Doggos.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Kitchen Gymnastics

Sailor here.

We celebrated Chris’s birthday last evening. Mom’s son (human) turned 23. That’s about 3 in dog years, more or less. To figure out his exact age, you’ll have to check his teeth.

Chris came over early since Mom was late coming home from work. He walked into the kitchen with an armful of food-store bags and unloaded everything onto the kitchen counter. It’s times like these that I wish I were a real Leonberger, and not just an honorary one. Then I’d stand about 32” at the shoulder. Then I would have an easy time sniffing everything on the counters. As it was, all I could sniff was the celery, which leaned out over the edge.

Chris said he was planning to bake lasagna and Zoe and I could help. While we drooled, he chopped, grated, mixed and layered. When he put the lasagna into the oven, Zoe and I stood watch and, noses in the air, smelled all the wonderful smells. We drooled on the floor, too, which I bet would not please Mom in the least when she comes home.

Finally the dinger dinged. Mom, home at last, was not as patient with us as her son had been, and waved us away from our places by the oven. Zoe went into the family room to beg ice cubes from Chris. I stood by Mom in case she needed any help.

Mom opened the oven door, reached in with big fat blue hands and lifted out the pan. As she turned to place it on the marble counter, disaster struck. Well, she wailed in that unmistakable disastardly way, but to me it was a gift from the Dogs.

I am not sure exactly what happened. Did Mom trip? Did she have a lapse of hand-eye coordination? Did the pan miss its front handspring as it vaulted out of the oven? I’ll never know, but the lasagna did an impressive double-full Yurchenko, bounced off the counter, ricocheted off the wall, and landed right side up on the floor. I scored it a 9.975.

Mom COULDN’T have picked a worse time, however, to have me practice my Leave It! command. But she did and I had to. Drat. That was the bad news. That and the lasagna, of course.

The good news for Mom was that only about a puppy-sized serving of lasagna splashed out of the pan. The good news for me was that I got to lick the cupboard doors and Zoe got to lick the wall. Then both of us got to lick the floor.

Of all the gymnastic moves, I think I like the vault the best. It sure beats the Tsukahara that pesky duck did at the duck trials.

I am going to encourage more lasagna making and gymnastics in our kitchen, starting tomorrow. In November, when I turn four (that’s 28 in Chris years), I want a perfect-10 floor lasagna, just for me!
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