From the World of Sheltie-Speak

I was skimming through sites focused on dogs, writing, and all things happy when I came across the latest from the blog Change is Hard, written by Dawn Kinster with frequent observations and opinions shared by her Sheltie, Katie. If you’ve spent any time at all with a Sheltie, you’ll understand when Dawn says:

“Katie says she has stuff to say. Of course she does. She’s a sheltie.”

And right on cue, Katie has an update for us today on her health, happiness, and continuing zest for life. The ups and downs of life are reflected in today’s post, aptly titled It’s been a tough few weeks.  Hop over to Dawn’s blog and read the latest!

Katie in her garden © Dawn Kinster 2021

If you missed Katie’s story on previous posts here and on Dawn’s blog Change is Hard .. but change is certain, you can catch up on all of Katie’s adventures and enjoy her mama’s fabulous photos taken during her travels.

Ticks!

Like many parts of the world, summer in the Ozarks brings out the ticks. That’s why I keep my Sheltie on prescribed tick preventative and check her daily checks after walks. Still, nothing’s 100% effective when it comes to repelling these blood-sucking critters. That’s why, when Sasha showed signs of lethargy and her now-and-then limp became more pronounced, I had her tested for tick-borne disease. Sure enough, she tested positive for Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever. She’s begun a regime of antibiotics, which wreaks havoc with her digestive track. I’m happy to report we seem to be through the worst of it and she’s responding well to treatment.

This graphic, courtesy of Dogs Naturally magazine, shows the different ticks that transmit this disease: 

Ticks, flies, fleas, sand flies, and mosquitoes are all parasites that can transmit what’s known as “Companion Vector Borne Diseases.” Go here to see an interactive map that provides a global perspective of disease occurrence diseases by type of parasite. You can narrow your search by country or state, as well.  This site, by the way, also includes general information about ticks and preventative measures.

Here’s a graphic courtesy of The Dogington Post, which highlights places you’ll want to check. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

The AKC’s Canine Health Foundation is another helpful resource. Learn all you can, and be prepared!

One Joyful Year!

For seventeen years after losing my beloved spaniel Alix, I didn’t believe I had enough heart left to offer another dog. Then a year ago, a volunteer sent me this photo of a dog surrendered to a rural county sheriff’s office:

I took one look at that sweet—and oh, so frightened—dog, and put everything on hold to cross the prairie plains to bring her home. It was a long journey and a heart-wrenching one at that. What was I getting myself into? I knew next to nothing about her situation other than the sad details shared by the volunteer, and I knew even less about adopting a rescue dog. Was I making the right decision for her, for us? How would Buddy the Wonder Cat react to sharing his family? And what would happen to her, to us if I couldn’t make this adoption work?

If you’ve been following Sasha’s story, you know her most challenging issues included generalized anxiety, fear of strangers (and men in particular), and extreme hyper-sensitivity to noise. We still have work to do, but overall she’s made tremendous progress along the way. That progress might be best summed up using our experience with the coffee grinder.

In her early months with us, loud or unusual sounds sent Sasha scurrying for cover.  That included raised voices, applause, and the sound of clickers, which proved problematic during obedience class. She was wary of anything and everything in the kitchen that made noise, to include the coffee-bean grinder which left her trembling with fear and barking wildly. It was quickly apparent that this dog took hyper-sensitivity to sound to a whole new level. We tried showing her what it was so she wouldn’t be scared. Tried distracting her, supplied extra love and attention. Nothing worked.Fresh-roasted-coffee-beans-and-grounds

Then I got smart and turned it into Extra-Special Treat Time. Using Fromm’s big oven-baked biscuit treats  I put her in a sit-stay where she could see the grinder, praised her, and gave her a treat. Repeated the process when we measured the beans into the grinder, again when the grinder started and yet again when the grinder finished. Yup, lots of treats, with plenty of time to chew before we moved on to the next step. Since we don’t use the grinder daily it took several weeks to condition her to the sound and cutting back on treats at the same time.  And then one day she came running into the office, whined softly to get my attention, and then trotted back to the kitchen just as I heard the coffee grinder in action. The message was clear: it’s treat time! 

We successfully reduced her fear in favor of excitement. That success, however, came with an unintended consequence. She reached the point where she’d hear the kitchen drawer holding the coffee supplies slide open (and yes, she’s smart enough to differentiate between the sounds of different drawers!) and would begin barking. We’re talking the piercing, full-volume bark only a Sheltie can manage; it’s enough to hurt your ears and earn a disapproving glare from Buddy the Wonder Cat. Oh, and she added the word coffee to her vocabulary, which had reduced us to spelling the word to avoid the inevitable manic barking.

So….enter conditioning, phase two. These days, she has to work to earn that treat. At a minimum we go through the no-bark, down-stay, sit, and off-leash heel while the grinder’s being set up. Then, and only then, does she earn that treat. And since this is the only time she gets the Fromm’s treats, she’s been quick to pay attention.

I’ve used the coffee-treat time to build her interest in our indoor obedience sessions. Even though the treats are different, she knows if she works well she’s sure to enjoy some tasty tidbits. The indoor sessions are becoming a favorite activity on cold mornings. I use the same martingale collar and leash we use for our neighborhood walks, but Sasha clearly differentiates between my outside and indoor clothes and runs into the hall where we routinely start our workout.

And we have an audience for our indoor sessions, too. Buddy the Wonder Cat watches all the action from his perch and will follow us as we go through the house. We finish with a 3-minute out-of-sight down-stay. (The Supervised Separation is test item #10 for the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen test.) Buddy is the supervisor most of the time. Inevitably, we’ll hit the 2:30 minute mark and Buddy comes trotting to find me. I’m not sure if he’s reporting that Sasha is still holding the down-stay or if he’s asking if I forgot about her, but he follows me back as soon as the timer goes off and signals the end of our session. As that’s always followed by play time for Sasha and Greenies for Buddy, everyone’s happy!

Happy might be the best word to sum up our year together.  The scared little waif who came to me a year ago is now officially known as Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha. We’ll be back soon with more news of Sasha’s ongoing adventures. Meanwhile, here’s a snapshot tour highlighting our year together. Enjoy!

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For the love of a dog

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Ozark Summer Highlands Sasha

It’s hard to believe that Sasha’s been part of the family for nearly a year. And what a year it’s been! She came to us timid, thin-coated, suffering from poor nutrition, and in dire need of love. Over the past 11 months she’s grown into a confident, sweet-tempered dog. She may never have the typical full-length Sheltie coat, but considering how much she sheds now, I’m actually okay with that! Good food and daily exercise (to include herding Buddy the Cat) combined with love and attention have her looking more beautiful by the day.

Here’s one of my favorite photos of Sasha. This one was taken in late summer at the neighborhood park and captures what I’ve come to think of as her “happy face.”

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We’re still frequent visitors to the park, even though the summer grass has long since faded away and the wind whistles, clear and sharp, across the open meadow. The chilly temps discourage casual visitors, giving us plenty of space for training time and indulging in the Sheltie zoomies. For the uninitiated, picture a dog flat-out running in circles at the end of a 30-foot line. And since she’s a Sheltie, add in joyous barking with every revolution. The faster she runs, the more she barks!

If I were inclined to make New Year’s resolutions, I might be tempted to put “barking control” at the top of the list. Then again, she’s a Sheltie, and I suspect barking is hard-wired into her DNA. <grin> I can count on her to sound the alert for the UPS truck,  the coffee pot, and neighborhood boys out in the road. It’s taken months, but we’ve progressed to the point that she’ll (mostly) stop on command, although she often interprets “stop” to be an invitation to continue to vocalize; her range of mutters, grumbles, and almost-but-not-quite whines tend to be more entertaining than irritating.

As far as New Year’s lists go, I’ll stick to my own tradition of listing some of the many things I’m grateful for. To the many who have shared their experience and wisdom in All Things Sheltie, I’m thankful. To those who joined our vigil when Sasha had seizures and we feared the worst, thank you for sharing that burden as well as the joy when the tests came back clear. To all who have come into our lives because we opened our hearts and home to a Sheltie in need, I’m grateful beyond words. So I’ll close by borrowing the words of the late Roger Karas, known to millions as the voice of Westminster Kennel Club dog show:

“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our lives whole.

 

 

 

Spring in the Ozarks

Welcome to spring in the Ozarks! I woke up this morning to 28 degrees and a wind chill of 23. Brrrr!

That didn’t stop Sasha from rushing outside for her usual morning romp, of course. It’s a good thing her coat is starting to thicken since she didn’t wait for me to find her winter wrap I’d put away after last week’s warm temps! Here she is, celebrating the first official day of spring under a section of the forsythia we’ve nurtured for 20 years. I’d like to think we’ll have Sasha with us for almost as long.

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It didn’t take her long to realize that it really was cold and neither Buddy the Cat nor I were venturing outside. The sound of her squeaky toy lured her back inside for another round of Chase, which is fast becoming our pets’ morning ritual. After the cat declared victory we consoled Sasha with hide-and-seek and the promise of an afternoon walk. And now we’re back in the office as I work (again) on Chapter 23 and Sasha supervises. Or maybe she’s just dreaming of warmer days ahead…

Happy Spring, everyone!