Life is Short. Snuggle With Your Dog.

Howie

I don’t know about you, but I’m not telling him to move. Well, maybe, “Move over a little.”

Despite tales of lost remote controls, couches chewed to smithereens, shoe after shoe after shoe lost to determined jaws, holes in the backyard landscape big enough to hide a body or four, I am actually a professional dog trainer.

No really…I even have an official looking certificate and letters after my name. CPDT-KA: Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed. You can even Google me.

And to my credit, I do live in relative peace with a rotating number of foster and on-purpose dogs that requires me to stop to count heads on my fingers…and yeah…my toes. So you know, I have that on the old resume.

And Jim. I have Jim. He has mad dog training skills all his own.

My professional training work is with other people’s dogs. And while I love the clean slate of helping someone train a new puppy, more often than not, I’m called in to “fix a dog” (which really means “undo something the human accidentally taught the dog”).

The most common training requests I get, beyond basic manners training, are usually related to jumping up on people, too much barking, pulling on the leash, and dealing with shyness and/or aggression issues. And sometimes I have people who ask me to teach their dog to stay off of the furniture.

If you’re anything like me, that last one is a real head-scratcher.

This request often comes from owners who held a baby puppy on their laps for months, but now the big dog is just too much. Ahhh…the old rule change. Dogs love that. They totally get it.

Not so much.

After months and months, perhaps even years, of snuggling up next to the humans on the couch, now the dog is just supposed to understand that it’s time to move over to that fancy dog bed way over there in the corner. Sigh.

Well, of course we can teach dogs to stay off of the furniture, stay off of the bed, and sleep on the dog bed. It starts with retraining the humans…that tends to be the tricky part. But it can all be done fairly and in a positive fashion. Because you don’t punish the dog for something that was rewarded with a hug and a belly rub just five minutes ago, right? Right?

The old off-the-furniture mandate is not the end of the world for the dog or the people. Worse things have happened. But still, as I go through this particular training process with families, I really want to ask them if they know what they’re giving up. Do you really want your dog to get “off” and “go place” over there?

dog snuggle

Don’t you feel better just looking at this moment?

Don’t you know how great it feels to have your dog next to you on the couch, pressing his head against your cheek to help the stress of a long day at work melt away? Won’t you miss that warm body curled up in the crook of your knees on a cold night? Don’t you know that it’s the ultimate compliment that this loving, devoted creature wants to be as physically close to you as possible?

Oh I know. Not everyone wants to live as I do. My dogs are free to get on the furniture and the bed. Admittedly, my furniture and bedding do pay a little price in the wear and tear department. I get it. Some people choose to have nice things and don’t want dog hair and paw prints included in the decor. Yes, I get it.

(But I really don’t.)

Yes, I admit that dogs and humans can exist in perfect happy harmony with the “no dogs on the furniture” rule in place. I’ve seen it. I lived it as a kid in my own family.

But if you come to our house? Well, I will ask the dogs not to jump on you. I will ask them to give you space on the couch, though feel free to invite them to snuggle up – they will happily comply. Truth be told, if you don’t want a pretty close friendship with my dogs, we should probably just meet at a restaurant.

Jim buried

Jim is under there somewhere. Who needs blankets?

I may have methods for teaching other people’s dogs to stay off, stay away, stay in your place, but in my home, the closer the better. And when I wake up in the night and feel the warm bodies of my dogs curled next to me, when my Brooke puts her head on my shoulder and snores contentedly in my ear, my soul smiles.

Training clients, you may want to stop reading now.

Brook chair share

Every post I write involves sharing my chair with my muse. We fit just fine.

You want my heartfelt, professional advice? Rules and furniture be damned. Snuggle with your dogs, people.

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Good Morning, Sunshine.

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How does your day start?

Big stretch as you fix that first cup of coffee? Check the headlines online? Maybe you go for an invigorating morning jog? Or maybe you’re the lucky soul who can find 20 minutes to meditate so you start the day in a calm, focused state?

Yeah. Me? Not so much.

My today started with several of our ever-vigilant dogs thwap-thwapping (trust me on that sound effect) out of our dog door at high speed and in full frenzy. Ahhhhh…the pleasant start to yet another day on Tails You Win Farm.

There are different levels of bark around our place and I know them all well. There is the “I think a leaf just fell somewhere in the back 40 acres” bark. That gets no response from me. We have no neighbors within 80 acres of our dog yard. Bark your fool heads off.

There’s the “HEY, did you know we have horses” bark. Yeah. I know. This bark also gets no response from me.

There is the “I’m barking and barking at nothing in particular” bark. This is generally Bernie, our adorable, but often vocal pit bull mix. He, as my father used to say to me in my babbling youth, is “talking just to hear his own head rattle.” Stellar parenting right there.

This barking gets no  response from me UNLESS it causes the other dogs to also join in the chorus. Then my response is to stick my head out of the back door to yell something along the lines of, “Bernie, shut the living (insert expletive you can only yell when you have no neighbors within 80 acres of your back yard) up!”

Mad dog training skills. I know.

There is, however, one particular bark that will have me bolting straight out of a sound sleep, grabbing shoes and a spotlight. Note: decent clothing optional. No neighbors…80 acres.

The bark that gets my blood racing faster than even a double dose of caffeine can accomplish is the bark that signals a barn security breach. All of the dogs will be out sounding the alert. All of the dogs will be racing up and down the fence. All of the hairs on my neck will stand right up.

A barn security breach generally means that the miniature donkeys have once again found a minuscule hole in the fence. Or that Ferris Muler, the giant Houdini mule, has pulled another how-the-hell-did-he-do-that escape.

A barn security breach also means that our distant neighbors may have had wee morning hour visitors. OR it may mean that Jim’s beloved garden may have been raided. This is probably my greatest fear. Neighbors be damned, but God save those animals if they wreak havoc with Jim’s late season tomatoes and still vine-ripening cantaloupe.

By now you have guessed that this morning’s bark-fest was the latter. BARN SECURITY BREACH. This is a five-alarm, get out the door to assess the damage before Jim finds it emergency.

It was still dark:30, so spotlight in hand, pulse racing, I stepped out on the porch. Morning moment of gratitude: tomatoes and cantaloupe all safe and still snoozing.

An eerie calm had descended on the farm as I rounded the corner of the house to see who the latest escapee might be. Did the dogs REALLY rouse me so they could go steal my spot in the bed? Apparently.

Just as I was about to call false alarm and head inside I heard a rustling sound. I called out a tentative hello into the pre-dawn gray. Nothing. I called again. “Hellooooo?”

And I got a hearty roar in return.

Yup. A roar. A friendly, happy, whatcha-got-for-me roar followed by a pleasant snort, snort, snort.

Jerry at the porchToday’s escapee was none other than Jerry Swinefeld, our resident 800ish pound hog. Finding Jerry roaming the space between the house and the barn was actually a relief. He is truly the lesser of the evils once you have determined the garden is still alive. While the donkeys and the sneaky mule might stubbornly opt for the grass-is-greener wrong side of the fence option, Jerry is generally more than happy to follow me to the barn on the promise of an early morning snack.

I called out to him just as my mom called out to wake me me every morning of my childhood, “Good morning, Sunshine!” I probably just grunted at her too.

My big piggy ambled over to me, gave me his special “uh, uh, uh” greeting and followed me like a happy puppy. A really big, muddy, drooling, happy puppy.

Oh hey…the gate to his pen was standing wide open. This was not an escape mystery to be solved, this guy had an open invitation to roam. Oops. (For the record…Jim was the last being with latch-capable thumbs in the barn…just saying.)

I gave Jerry a little snack. I said good morning to the assembling horses, donkeys, mule, and Bob the ram. I returned to the house victorious, relieved, and ready to face my day.

And yes, the dogs had indeed overtaken my spot in the bed. Hope you’re comfortable…hey, did I just hear a leaf fall? Psych!

I hope you, my loyal reader, got to enjoy your coffee and muffin. I hope you had a leisurely shower. I hope your day got off to a good start. All possibilities considered, mine sure did.

Good morning to you too, Jerry Swinefeld. Hope you have a nice day.

He Doesn’t Know What Carrots Are.

Meeting eyeI first saw him from across a large paddock. He was relaxing under the shade of a tree on a glorious, sunny fall day.

I’ve been waiting for this hello for four weeks and though I wanted to rush across the grassy space to throw my arms around his neck, I knew better. Just as I know not to approach a stray dog head-on, I also know not to rush straight toward a horse that I don’t know, and that doesn’t know me.

So I approached quietly, talking softly so as not to startle him from his afternoon nap. He turned his head to study me and his sleepy eyes immediately creased with worry.

While I certainly posed no threat to this handsome horse that I have named Big Paul, he had no way of knowing that. His life over the past few months, or maybe years, had really given him no reason to look at an unfamiliar human with anything but mistrust.

Most of this big horse’s past life is and will remain a mystery to me. What I know for sure is that he was sold at an auction somewhere in the United States and then shipped to a feedlot in Oklahoma to await another grueling trailer ride to a Mexican slaughterhouse.

Until his recent life at Silvermoon TLC boarding farm, new people approaching had likely been valid cause for stress to Paul. Horses are not handled gently at auctions and certainly not coddled at the killer buyer feedlots. They are a commodity in both places, nothing more. They are moved around quickly using a horse’s natural flight instinct  as they are  herded from pen to pen, into chutes, and onto stock trailers. Horses are spooked, stressed, jostled and often injured.

It’s no wonder the approach of yet another stranger cause worry to cloud Big Paul’s huge brown eyes.

Meeting 4Sensitive to his concern, I approached with my shoulders rounded and angled away from Paul, my arms relaxed at my sides. I kept my eyes cast down, just glancing sideways at my horse. I spoke very softly to him, calling to him using the nickname he recently earned while I was pouring over photos of him that had been shared with me online.

“Hey there Paulie…hey Waffle boy. Hey big guy. How’s my Belgian Waffle?”

He tipped an expectant ear my way, but as I reached sideways to run a hand along his neck, he still took a few nervous steps away, unsure of my intent. I stepped sideways with him and simply reached up and gave a spot just below the crest of his neck a light scratching. That stopped him in his tracks. No predator in the world knows to scratch this spot so perfectly. I must be ok.

And so we stood together in the cool shade for several minutes, side by side, me telling him how glad I was to meet him as I continued to run my hand along his golden neck. As he relaxed, I turned to face him, using both hands now to reassure him that I was truly one of his best friends in the world.

Then I reached into my pocket, extracted a few little pieces of carrot and offered one to Paul. This gesture would cause the horses, donkeys, and mule that share Tails You Win Farm with me to crowd around and get a tad pushy as they competed to be the first to nab a sweet, crunchy treat.

Paul, on the other hand, sniffed the carrot carefully and turned away. Ohhhhh…a horse who has never had a carrot. Well, Big Paul, I have much to teach you.

After a few minutes, I stopped petting Paul and walked back out of the paddock to retrieve my camera for a little photo shoot. Paul, now relaxed, followed me out of the shade to bask in a little sunshine as he munched on a bit of hay from the giant round bale in his paddock. As he enjoyed his afternoon snack, I had an opportunity to get a good look at my new friend.

I estimated him to be around 17 hands tall, meaning his withers were about as tall as the top of my head, at 5’9″ (one “hand” equals four inches). His coat, a lovely golden shade, was still shedding old, dry hair, a new glossier coat coming in beneath. His tail brushed his hocks with burrs tangled throughout. I was itching to take a comb to those pesky snarls, but that would have been rushing our relationship. We have time.

His pale mane also had a few big burrs in it, I was able to tease those free. His mane was thick, but worn completely off where the collar of a harness would rest – a little clue to his past. We feel sure Big Paul was used as a working farm horse or a carriage horse for most of his life. The general consensus is that Big Paul may have been an Amish work horse, possibly traveling to Oklahoma from as far away as Pennsylvania.

Meeting nose scarHis long face, graying a bit  around his eyes, had a handsome white blaze marred by twin scars on his nose, likely from a halter fitted too tightly, or worn too long. His eyelashes, impossibly long and thick, shaded his eyes as he continued his seemingly shy glances my way.

Big Paul’s hooves, though in need of attention from a farrier, appeared sound. His long legs were straight, and strong with no lameness. One back leg had an impressive scar on the inside of the hock. It would have been an impressive cut, and perhaps the reason Paul was retired from work and sold, though his gait did not reveal any permanent limp or damage from the injury.

I actually believe that Paul’s life was likely upended simply because of his age. The veterinarian estimated him to be around 16 year old. Not ancient by any stretch, but perhaps beyond his peak heavy work years. I’ve been told that the Amish will sell off horses of a certain age in favor of younger horses. I need to do a little research on that, though the whys don’t really matter beyond satisfying my own curiosity.

Meeting followingThe reality is that I don’t care how old Paul really is. I don’t care that he can’t do hard work any longer. I wouldn’t care if he happened to be lame, though I’m quite relieved that, beyond needing to gain a few pounds, he does appear to be very healthy.

All that matters to me is his sweet disposition, his gentle, relaxed nature, and, hopefully, his willingness to accept one more change – the move to Tails You Win Farm.

As I spent time getting to know my “online boyfriend” – we did meet on what could be considered an online dating service for horse-crazy people seeking horses in need of a lasting relationship – I just kept my heart in tune with his. Horses can speak volumes to you if you just leave your own assumptions behind to spend some quiet time petting, brushing, and just being there with them.

What Paul told me was that he is very weary. That he has known great stress. That he has never been considered a companion animal, but instead a tool to be used until it is worn out. He told me that he is willing to try again, that his spirit is still quite strong.

Nan and Paul 2I think this relationship is going to work out very well. While there was no immediate ah-ha moment when we met – we did not rush to each other in cosmic recognition – I could see Paul lowering his guard, growing to trust me, and eyeing me with curiosity instead of fear.

I think that’s a perfect start. I think we’ll become fast friends. I think all of Big Paul’s worries are behind him now.

And I think I’ll teach him that carrots are quite delicious.

Online Love Affair

It’s true. Today is the day. Today is the day I am finally going to meet a man I met through an online matchmaking page.

Are you shocked? I know. You’re thinking, “But what about JIm?” How can you do this to Jim?”

Oh, he knows. In fact, I think he’s coming along with me. He wants to meet this guy too.

Scandalous? Have I lost all good sense? Taking the man who has been my partner for more than a decade to meet a man I recently met online? A tall, strawberry blonde for whom I admittedly have strong feelings?

Well, think what you will, but I feel pretty good about this love triangle. I think my two men will get along just fine.

face

The man we are going to meet is Big Paul, the handsome Belgian draft horse I purchased online from the killer buyer feedlot a month ago. Paul has a lot of fans across the country, many of whom generously donated money to help secure Paul’s safety. Today I finally get to make the trip to meet this special guy.

And I don’t think Jim will mind seeing me give Big Paul a huge hug. I don’t think he’ll mind one bit.

I already even have a pet nickname for him…he’s Waffle. My big Belgian Waffle. ❤ There will be stories and photos to come. Hopefully a long, happy lifetime of them.

Soul Dog

Red 2

The young black and white dog flitted about the room like a butterfly indiscriminately lighting on flower after flower. There was no rhyme or reason to her choices, just pure joy in welcoming smiles, scratches in all the right places, and hugs and enthusiastic kisses that only a puppy can so freely bestow.

The red dog, on the other hand, sat back thoughtfully, surveying the room. Each visit was granted deliberately, seemingly with consideration and purpose. I had seen the red dog do this before at the same gathering the year before. Politely greeting everyone with a friendly flash of his tail without fault, but very aware of those with whom he chose to spend time. It was as if the red dog had a mission and specifically sought out the people who needed the special attention of a soul dog.

During my visit the previous year, I received a quick and friendly hello from the red dog, but nothing much more. His sites were set on others.

This year, however, as I settled into a front row seat where I could give my full attention to the presenter in a writing workshop, I suddenly realized the red dog had settled in beside me. He materialized quickly, quietly, with gentle purpose. Determined not to seem distracted from the speaker by my very welcome guest, I reached over, somewhat absentmindedly, to rub his soft ears.

After a moment, I pulled my hand a few inches away from the red dog, just letting it rest on my knee as I remained focused on the presentation.

Immediately I felt pressure on my hand and looked down to see the red dog pawing me, gently letting his nails grip my fingers as if to pull me back into his realm. As I looked into his soft brown eyes, I felt a swelling in my heart that was so long buried, but so immediately familiar at the same time.

Suddenly everything else in the crowded conference room melted into a soft fog and only the red dog and I existed. Again I felt the unmistakable tug of an insistent paw on my hand, just as I had felt it for so many years, so many times before. And in the next moment, it wasn’t the red dog at all. As my eyes continued to hold the connection with the dog’s eyes,  I realized I was now gazing into very familiar eyes, into the face of a precious friend more than six years gone.

Monte 4It seemed impossible, but I knew those eyes, I knew that serious, handsome white face with the mahogany brown spots as well as I recognize my own reflection. This was my boy. My Dalmatian, Monte. The dog who was my heart and soul dog for 15 years, seven months to the day.

This was the dog who was always by my side. The dog who was outwardly reserved, perhaps considered quiet and stoic to some, but my perfect match, my fiercely devoted dog who allowed a chosen few to see his silly side. Here was the dog who always made me feel safe, who was always right there when I most needed a friend. Here was the dog who I had the honor of caring for during the long autumn of his life. The one born into my hands; the one who died in my embrace.

I don’t know how long I stared into my dog’s eyes, but I dared not look away. This was a precious gift. One soul dog was granting another soul dog time to sooth my still tender heart, to let me know he will forever be my boy. Time to tell me he’s OK and still a part of my very being.

This was a message I wasn’t even aware I needed to hear until this beautiful, unlikely moment.

A sudden burst of laughter rippled across the room and with it, the fog receded, the room came back into focus, and the spotted dog was once again a handsome border collie. I blinked back the tears that had filled my eyes and allowed the smile that spread across my face to remain in place.

Red 1Carefully, the red dog, still holding me with his knowing gaze, removed his paw from my hand. I gave his shiny coat another stroke as I thanked him. Then he turned to position himself near his person. His work with me was done.

Do you believe in soul dogs? In that powerful connection that you are lucky to find even once in a lifetime? Do you believe in the possibility that a special spirit can return to  visit you through the willing heart of another? Was this a real experience, or just a wish-filled fantasy conjured up by a fanciful, fertile mind?

I hope, in your heart and mind, you will allow for the possibility. But your conclusion matters to only you. It does not matter to me.

Because I do. I do believe.

Thank you, Red.

Thank you, Monte. It was pure heaven to see you again.