In my last blog about Leela's health, I wrote, "That brings me to the next blog about Leela: canine enrichment, or how to be with your dog in a way that plays into your dog's natural instincts. I've spent a lot of time going in the opposite direction. Now, I see how doing what she loves can benefit me, as well."
Since I last wrote about the many breeds Leela may carry in her DNA, I believe I've discovered her dominant breed: Australian Kelpie. Take a look at the photos I've included up top. The first, an Australian Kelpie. The second photo is Leela.
I can see the differences, too, and I see more of the similarities, so much so that I joined a Kelpie group on Facebook, who guessed her DNA as Kelpie, Cattle dog, and Staffordshire Terrier. The brindle color is probably the terrier but her behavior is all Kelpie.
Reading up confirmed all my opinions about this:
"One of the smartest of all breeds, the Australian Kelpie can also be one of the most challenging to live with. His superior intellect, combined with his independence, intensity, and passion for keeping busy, are his best features - and the ones that make him unsuitable for most homes.
This sharp-eyed, quick-thinking, fanatical workaholic must be allowed to do his job with livestock, to learn advanced obedience or agility, to accompany you jogging or biking, or to chase balls or Frisbees.
Without physical and mental stimulation, Australian Kelpies become bored and hyperactive and will drive you crazy with obsessive, destructive behaviors as they seek creative outlets for their energy.
High intelligence means they learn quickly - including how to do anything they set their mind to. They are master escape artists (going over and under fences) and zealous gatherers of cars, bikes, joggers, cats, other dogs, livestock, and running children - circling, poking, pushing, and nipping if the person or animal or object doesn't cooperate.
You must stay one step ahead of this brilliant breed, and most people are simply not up to the task."
So, when a friend said, "Linda, you've finally met your match" she wasn't kidding. I posted on Facebook, "Anyone have any sheep you need herded?" I wasn't kidding, either.
Now, there's also a meaning to the word Kelpie: a water spirit of Scottish folklore, typically taking the form of a horse and reputed to delight in the drowning of travelers.
Oh, great. Since she hasn't taken the form of a horse, I'm going to let this one go. For now.
Here's where canine enrichment comes in, though, and I'm just learning about it so please forgive the simplicity of what I write.
Leela loves to forage. She won't eat all the food in her bowl, yet she'll go out and forage and scavenge the backyard for tasty morsels (albeit not to this human's observations).
My first trick: I turn over a muffin tin and put her dry food in the bottom of the tin. Just testing the waters here. She immediately went over and started eating and ate most of it; sometimes, she eats all of it. This morning, I brought the tin outside so I could have my coffee in the backyard. Leela didn't seem as interested in the muffin tin food outdoors, so I grabbed a handful and tossed it on the grass. She had a blast foraging for part of her breakfast. Now, I understand that this isn't always possible, and she doesn't find all the food, so there's that. And yet, what a natural instinct for her; one that also seems to be fun! Quite accidentally, I learned that she seems to respond to 'come' more when there's something to see or do or my interest in her involves something she likes to do. Maybe that will eventually lead to her responding to 'come' when I want her to. Could it please do that?
I'm struck how important breed is when it comes to training. Whether Leela's the Kelpie, Cattle dog, Terrier or Occasional Hyena, her own instincts make training possible, not my will or wanting and certainly not my controlling her. We've come a long way since, "A good leader always ..." We humans are also who we are and our leadership must come from that, too.
It's time for more reflection, for without reflection, these thoughts simply turn into that muddle of memories in our brains; maybe to be forgotten sooner than not.
This blog is about Leela's health, which is sound, thank goodness, and yet we've made more trips to the vet lately than I'd have imagined or cared to make. Sometimes, I forget that delicate balance between the little girl puppy and the occasional hyena. Sometimes, that first year in a pup's life is full of surprises and challenges.
It began with a small growth just under one of her front legs; nothing she cared about; something I cared about. After visiting the vet, days later she was in surgery to have it removed and biopsied. A large plastic cone was her parting gift from the vet. That lasted about 10 minutes before she'd chewed the edge on the inside of the cone where the two ends overlapped. She looked at me from under that cone with some hyena energy. It clearly said, "How can you do this to me?" and "I am prepared to kill this thing around my neck. Just watch me."
Always one to be overprepared, at least when it comes to Leela, I had purchased a soft cone when she was spayed that I never had to use. Out came the soft cone as a replacement for the big, awkward plastic let-me-bump-into-everything-especially-the-back -of-your-legs cone. That worked briefly. At least she could lie down and rest a bit. But it didn't last long. I decided to take it off and 'just see' how things went. As it turned out, things went really well. Only once did she start to go after the surgery site and a quick reminder with the soft cone was all Leela needed to leave it be.
And a few days after the surgery, her biopsy came back benign much to my relief.
End of story? No. About a week into healing, I noticed something just above and to the left of the incision site. Another growth? Not another one, please. I gave it a few days and called the vet. We went back and she was due for a post-surgery check-in so it was a good time to ask about this other thing of concern.
The vet quickly said no, not the same thing; maybe she scratched herself and got an irritation or infection. No charge for the visit (bundling the post-surgery with this new thing was a good idea) and some antibiotics for a week. I'd promised Leela that I wouldn't be pushing pills down her throat anymore so there was some apologizing to do when it began again.
To celebrate, because that's what you do when you get good news, we went to the dog park near our home; my favorite park for dogs because there is a grove of mature trees (probably left there to keep the neighbors happy), nice dogs and nice people who clean up religiously after their dogs.
Leela loves to rough n tumble. Leela loves to run and she corners like a ball player turning third base to head for home plate. An odd analogy for me, and yet that's what it reminds me of.
So, Leela was playing with all the other dogs and one in particular who was larger than her and enjoyed the rough n tumble, too. At some point, when it was time to go home, they managed to get off the dirt and grass onto the concrete walkway. Suddenly there was a yelp from Leela and that was that; she seemed fine. I checked her over. All good.
We headed home and suddenly, she was licking her back paws. She was also licking a spot on her leg. I took a look and saw that the licking was causing some redness; perhaps the beginning of a hot spot. I had some very old over the counter medication for that. Leela didn't like it one bit; shaking her leg until the stinging (I imagine) stopped. It wasn't until the next day when I looked again to see if it was any better that I noticed that she'd worn away a bit of one of her pads on both back feet. No bleeding. Just part of her pad missing! Yikes, I thought, how did you do that??
You guessed it. Back to the vet. He was less concerned about the pads, saying young dogs still have tender pads and she'd simply run them off. The redness was diagnosed as allergies that show up as dermatitis with Fall pollen already present around us. I wonder about Leela being from the South and how the Northern pollen might affect her. So, more meds and a shot that was cold and caused Leela to jump. Two cookies from the vet followed immediately and the cold shot was forgotten. Good vet. Great vet.
The hardest part of the Rx was no trip to New Hampshire, which we had planned for the following week; only soft ground for a week or two to heal her pads; then an easy routine of toughening up her pads. Now, we've always walked a lot and on concrete, although I'll admit because it's summer and very hot in NY, I've been walking her on grass much, much more. I also think because she loves to run, she's wearing down her pads over time, and not the yelping in the playground. That might have just been from hitting the hard surface when she was playing with the other dog. And who really knows, right? How things happen are often a mystery. We notice the results of the mysterious happenings when it comes to puppies more often than how they happened.
It's been a lot time spent indoors these past few weeks; time spent in the yard: no playground, no beach, no getting wet. It seems we'll have another week or two of that. She is unphased by her injuring and wonders why we're not doing more. Her energy hasn't changed. Not one bit.
That brings me to the next blog about Leela: canine enrichment, or how to be with your dog in a way that plays into your dog's natural instincts. I've spent a lot of time going in the opposite direction. Now, I see how doing what she loves can benefit me, as well.
Our two weeks at the lake ended as Barb and Kate returned home. The following morning, they drove to pick up their 3 Standard Poodles: Magic, Harper and Zoom.
This introduction to the dogs, especially after being at the house for two weeks on our own, had me a bit anxious. I knew the dogs would be excited to be home and that excitement plus another, new dog seemed a bit unpredictable. Leela had been on their scent the whole time we were at the lake. She would be new to them. And I trust them completely; probably more than I trust some humans.
We arranged that the 3 dogs would start out outside in the yard and then, I'd let Leela out to join them.
She saw them first through the window and every occasional hyena bone in her body came alive. Dogs! 3 of them! She cried and barked. "Mommy, we have to go outside, now ."
That first moment was chaotic. Everyone was meeting and greeting, sniffing and finding their rank with this new dog. Zoom was less interested, being the doggie version of Carlson, the butler, on Downtown Abbey. A very elegant man. Very composed. And less likely to head foolishly into anything. He prefers to watch with amazement at their antics, or hunt chipmunks.
We all thought Magic, the youngest and high energy dog, would be BFFs with Leela immediately. We were wrong. They loved each other and Leela's attention immediately went to Harper, another female, and a therapy dog. They played non-stop with Magic right next to them, as involved as he could be in the play. Zoom watched and even joined in at times.
What I noticed about me was that I relaxed when the dogs were together; that I was more concerned about Leela with humans. She was right at home with the dogs; loved them. And, of course, these particular dogs are extraordinary.
Exhausted, there were dogs everywhere, sleeping off the play and bitey-face games. Then, they'd all rouse, one by one, and the games began all over again.
This brief time together made one thing clear, Leela needed time with other dogs and we began to explore our options at home immediately. We found something right away and I've already taken Leela in for an evaluation and to get more information. Puppy play time starts soon!
What I hope that will do is match our energy. When I'm away, she gets to play with other dogs. That means, we both come home calm and ready to be together, rather than me coming home tired from working and Leela ready to play after being in her crate/home for a few hours.
A dog really does change your life. Trying to keep your life from changing only creates tension and tension doesn't build relationship. I hear myself saying, "Oh, so this is my life now. Okay," more and more. I noticed her and what she wants and pay attention to that. It doesn't mean I'm 'less than' in any way. It means I'm partnering with her so we have the best lives; both of us.
Leela at the Lake, Part One
Once or twice a year, I drive to central New York to house sit for really special friends. This year, Leela was invited. Did I mention that these people are really, really good friends; special friends? I had my apprehensions, only having Leela for 2 months and both of us still on a learning curve. Taking her with me to house sit raised all the flags in me about wanting her to be the perfect house guest. She still wasn't perfect in my house, and yet, off to the lake we went for two weeks of housing sitting.
I learned right away what it's like to pack for a road trip with a puppy: food, treats, dishes, mats, beds, toys, towel for muddy feet, potty bags, leashes, brush and nail clippers. Need I say more? I was so busy packing all those things that I forgot the motion sickness pills the vet gave me and didn't realize it until we were too far along to turn back. And yes, somewhere along the way, she got a bit sick but I never heard a peep out of her. For her, it was a colossal nap time. We stopped along the way because puppy mommy wanted to give her baby a break. It was, after all, a 5-hour trip. Darn it, I had to pee and yet, couldn't see leaving her in the car, so I managed to wait until we arrived at our destination. I envisioned people breaking my car window because I'd left her in the car, even though it wasn't hot. I thought about posting a sign that stated, "She's already peed. Now her mom needs to. I promise I'll be right back. She's fine." But I didn't. I just waited. How do other doggy moms do it?
She was so excited when we stopped, I thought she'd never pee. "Are we here? Is this the place we're going to?" It happened to be the back of a McDonald's that had a small 'wild' area with grass and rocks, so I'm sure she would have been more than happy to stay and smell the burgers and fries all day; more than happy if that were our destination.
But back in the car we went.
The lake was instantly a magical place for Leela. It didn't take long for her to feel right at home (in a good way - not all the ways that I'd been apprehensive about). There was a backyard forest and hills and a big lake, new sights and smells. A nest of Red Winged Blackbirds was nearby and they weren't too happy with Leela's choice of favorite spots. But we survived and so did they. Chasing robins became a favorite pastime. Never catching any made me happy.
I need to add that in addition to house sitting, we were also cat sitting for Kizzie. Kizzie was used to three standard Poodles, but Leela, that was something altogether different. They'd touch noses, then Leela would get so excited, thinking they were going to play, that she'd cross one of Kizzie's boundaries and get hissed at or swatted. Now, Kizzie had lots of high places to be and there was a gate until Leela learned she could jump it. Still, when Leela thought of Kizzie from time to time, there was much tail wagging, barking, hissing and swatting. I wanted to create the perfect environment for Kizzie, who I'd developed a relationship with over the years. Well, occasionally, I got swatted, too, probably for bringing this beast; this hyena, into the house.
This is probably a good time to share why I refer to Leela as the occasional hyena.
Leela's energy connection with Catherine
While I was house sitting, I'd wanted to get some dog training from Catherine of Paws Please Dog Training. She'd worked with my friends' Poodles and they were awesome companions. Catherine also did energy work with animals.
Before Catherine came to the house for our first training session, I asked if she might try connecting with Leela to learn more about those precious few months before I adopted her. Leela shows no trauma or aggression; no hoarding or guarding, so I was curious. What I got was not what I expected.
Catherine came to the house with some interesting information. I'd sent her a photo of Leela earlier, as the conduit for connection. Catherine said that she was in her doggy day care center when she connected with Leela and didn't get anything about her early months at all. What she got was something about Leela's past life. In fact, as the energy came through, all the dogs in doggy day care began acting strangely. You see, Leela shared with Catherine that, in a past life, she'd been a hyena.
Well, of course she had; my dingo dog had been a hyena. Made perfect sense to me. So, when I refer to Leela as the occasional hyena, that's why. We have to figure out how to help the occasional hyena be a dog in this lifetime .
Immediately, the energy was different with Catherine. I wrote in 'the first 60 days' that I felt the first trainer's energy was very authoritative; that it impacted how I felt with Leela when I corrected behavior. I felt I wasn't gaining relationship. I may have been losing it, actually.
With Catherine, there was structure and an understanding of canine behavior that suited my own energy. Yes, you have to lead. Yes, the dog has to want to behave for you, not feel forced to behave.
Clicker and treat bag. More things to balance, manage and remember to bring on our outings. And yet, it fell easily into place. Less stress on my thumb, which the previous trainer told me to use to loop the leash (and people would know I'd been professionally trained - What people really care about that? ) using my middle finger so I could also hold the clicker. No arthritis in that finger so it felt better right away.
We worked on not jumping on people. We worked on approaching people differently. Still working on it and open to any volunteers who'd like to be the jumped-on person as we continue to learn. We also worked on getting her to come when called (rather than turning and laughing as she runs away). These are the big things when you want your dog to be social.
There's a great farmers market in Hamilton, NY, so Leela and I used that as our homework location, meeting and greeting so many people. I let them all know that they were helping to train her, because some people said, "Oh, I don't care if she jumps," to which I had to reply, "I understand and I do. She needs to learn not to jump. Will you help?" Frankly, she jumps with the force of freight train, so she really needs to learn not to jump.
More to write about Leela at the Lake. Stopping here for now.
The First 60 Days
I waited 3 years to even consider another animal companion after losing my Airedale, Harry. The wait was grief-related and also based on my home situation. My son's dog, Roxy, couldn't always manage the stairs up to my son's second floor apartment, so she stayed downstairs with me most of the time. She missed Harry, too, so we consoled each other. She had the best of both worlds and I still had a dog in the house.
We lost Roxy late last summer and suddenly, the house felt so empty.
I don't make decisions easily. I wish that meant I had keen discernment. What it really means is I angst over choice, for fear of making the wrong choice; for fear of the permanence of choice or what I'm missing having chosen, and for fear of the grief and effort it takes to right a wrong choice, when that's necessary.
Leela came to me through One Love Rescue, Inc., a foster care organization here on Long Island. She was the first dog I met and, after several days of decision-angst and my son's encouragement that she would be perfect for me, I said yes. She was a rescue from Alabama, found on the street with another dog that 'clearly wasn't related to her', according to One Love Rescue. She was sweet and social and about 4-1/2 to 5 months old.
There's this imaginary story you create in your head about what having a new puppy will be like: the cuddles, the puppy clumsiness and pranks, the sweet sound of sleeping when you've only been in the world for 4-5 months. I'd also created another chapter to that story that Leela would become my forest therapy dog when I lead walks, sitting patiently by my side, unaffected by people, other dogs or anything else a dog might find curiously interesting. But that last part was for later. Now, it was sweet, clumsy, cuddly time.
It was nothing like that. Nothing like that at all. I had, it seemed, adopted Leela, the warrior princess; a puppy who looked like a Dingo dog rather than a cuddly ball of fur. Technically, dingoes are not a breed of dog. They're only semi-domesticated and are just as much wolf as they are dog. So far, it's unclear if Canis lupus dingo was ever fully domesticated. Some evidence suggests that they may once have been pets, but were abandoned and left to revert to their wild state. You can find dingo blood in Australian Kelpies and Australian cattle dogs, the latter of which I believe is part of Leela's DNA.
I used to laugh at people who tested their dog's DNA. Now, I am one of those people who is considering testing my dog's DNA to see what comes up in her mix. And then again, I stop and think. She is who she is: a dog that no one seems to be able to identify. Her own unique self. (You'll want to read the next segment - Leela at the Lake - to learn why this is titled, "The Occasional Hyena".)
People comment that she must have some German Shepherd in her, and yet her legs, front and back, are long and getting longer. Dutch Shepherd is the next choice, which feels closer than the German breed. Australian Cattle dog, because her chest and belly are colored white with black spots and the hair is much longer. They also have the ears and were originally a crossbreed between Dingos and Collies. Catahoula Leopard dog (uh, no), Treeing Tennessee Brindle (except for the ears, this is an excellent match!) And the list goes on. Now, through my own online research, Akita-Dutch Shepherd mix seems possible. But then, there's the Dutch Shepherd/Belgian Malinois mix and I say, "Yes! That's Leela!" So, the mystery remains.
Leela didn't start out being Leela. Her first name was Hootie. What an evil thing to do to a little puppy. No disrespect intended since the rescue organization has hundreds of puppies that require names. But really? Hootie? Since One Love Rescue, Inc., is a foster-to-adoption organization, the first couple of trips to the vet for shots and spaying were all Hootie trips. I had trouble saying, "Yes, this is Hootie, and she's here for ..." When she was spayed, the day she officially became mine, her tag said, "Leela." Enough of this Hootie nonsense. I'm done. Leela means Divine Play, or Sport/Play, depending on where you search for results. Derived from the Arabic Leila (night, dark beauty) or the Persian Leila (dark-haired). In Sanskrit, it looks like this - liilaa. I thought it looked like hearts.
At any rate, after the first few weeks, it was clear that my ideal dog relationship wasn't turning out as I'd intended. Leela was smart and quick to learn. She was also quick to ignore what was clearly something she knew how to do. I don't feel like sitting, no matter how many times you say it. Drop it? Drop what? And barking. For a dog that barks at nothing, Leela began to bark at me. After we'd run through the list of reasons why she was barking: out, eat, teething, needs a toy retrieved from under the sofa, etc., there was no godly reason to bark at me, except that she could. And then there was stalking. I'd throw the ball and she'd run after it, only to turn around, look at me, and slow-stalk me, eyes laser-focused on me, until, breaking into a frenzied run, she'd throw herself at my body. Really? Are we having fun yet?
As she's gotten better at "Fetch", the stalking has lessened, although sometimes, she runs to the ball, circles around the back of it, and then runs headlong for me, leaping within 2-3 feet of me. She's responding to "No. Stop" much better these days but I'm impressed at just how far she can leap, even if it's at me.
With all this going on, I decided to hire a trainer. My vet recommended someone who was reasonable and came to the house to train me . That's really who's being trained. Not the dog. The human. He was a kind man who immediately showed me that Leela could be 'the perfect dog' with lots of references to the human being a 'good leader'. Well, I must suck at leadership, which is ironic since I teach it to organizations. At one point, he said, "Linda, look" and I looked. I half expected a treat.
Working with this trainer led me to an interesting question. Is there a masculine energy associated with leadership and training, or is that a choice, and there's also a feminine energy associated with leadership and training? There was a thin, short lead for Leela to wear around the house. I needed to keep her close, so keeping my feet on the lead, so she had to lie down was my assignment. I liked that she sat on the back of the sofa, watching the world go by (not barking, mind you) but that was 1) elevating herself inappropriately in rank and 2) not paying attention to inside or me. The free spirit in me thought that if my parents did that to me, I'd have poked my eyes out with a spoon in a NY minute. And, oh wait. They did do that in their own way and I remember how I rebelled and how my spirit was broken often over silly things as well as monumental things. I didn't like it.
The next lesson/challenge was taking her for walks. He sold me a nose harness, assuring that it didn't hurt her (physically, that is. Her soul was another story.) and advising me that if people ask if she bites because it looks a bit like a muzzle, his reply was, "Oh, she could bite you if she wanted to." Uh, no. Not saying that to anyone. Leela hated the nose harness, often throwing herself on the ground until I realized (quickly) that I was dragging a dog, not walking one. Ironically, she walked perfectly in it by my side and there was something that felt outwardly assertive/even aggressive that I just couldn't bear. "Are you a good leader, or a bad leader?" ala Wizard of Oz (Are you a good witch or a bad witch), comes to mind. Now, she walks well without the nose harness and she gets time to sniff and wander and be a dog. Everyone is happy most of the time. Ask me what I did and I can't tell you. I have no idea except to say I worked with her and we figured it out.
At one point, during the bark-until-the-human-cracks phase, I called this trainer again. He'd promised that he wouldn't keep adding lessons so he made more money than I did, and yet, barking, it seemed, required another lesson. He started talking about teething and how good leaders always have a toy handy. You know, it takes me 3 trips on a good day into the backyard, just to have everything I need to sit and enjoy the backyard with Leela. Oops, I forgot the treats. Heck, let me get you a ball. Now my coffee is cold. Wait, maybe I could read that article I've been meaning to read. Good leader be damned, I'm doing my best.
The straw, final or otherwise, was when he told me that we'd require a lesson about barking because it would take him 40 minutes to explain it to me and then I'd need to agree to it. "Just tell me how to make it stop!" I wanted to say. Now I know how Leela felt when sitting just wasn't an option for her. Instead, I said thank you and the training relationship ended with me feeling deeply that there's got to be another way; a kinder way. After all, teaching leadership and how to create a culture of engagement, you are supposed to create the environment in which engagement happens. You can't MAKE anyone engage. I need to work on what motivates her and how to use that to our advantage and benefit.
Things haven't always been so rosy (yes, these stories were the good ones). Peeing on my living room rug sent me into a spiral of despair more than once. All I really learned from that is that if I were being murdered and screaming with all my doors and windows open, the neighbors wouldn't have the slightest curiosity about what was happening. Good to know.
Everything I have comes at a great cost to me. Being a solopreneur, money is always dear. So, when something is damaged or ruined, it breaks my heart, because often, I can't replace it. The last time I spiraled into despair, I was cutting my living room rug into 3 pieces for the trash people to take away and looking up how to get urine stains out of hardwood floors (It turns out that hydrogen peroxide works). I practiced what I planned to say the next morning to One Love Rescue; about why this wasn't working and why it couldn't continue. I'd reached the end of my rope and I was hanging from it that day.
Then a friend said to me, "You know, she's a lot like you: cuddly AND a warrior. Maybe you've met your match." Strangely, that comforted me. It encouraged me. Who had I decided Leela would be? Who was she really? When I looked at her as this little one whose only been in the world for 6 months, I was impressed and inspired. She's fearless. She's confident. She's got her own mind and a past I know little about. How do you keep the warrior princess spirit AND respect household boundaries? It really was up to me to be present and attentive and curious about who she was; who she is and learn from that; to be a better leader in my own way that keeps the warrior princess spirit alive in me, too.
here's no trainer to tell me that; just my intuition and reading her cues. I knew that intuitively. I felt it when guided to go against what felt right to me. I just couldn't own it as a method. What a huge learning that was for me!
Curiously, we are snuggling more as a result and having more fun. We are two cuddly, warrior princesses at the end of the day, both feeling good about ourselves and each other. In the end, that's all I ever really wanted.
We welcome guest authors who blog about the forest or forest bathing.