Thursday, 20 April 2017

Conflict Arises: In Which Scruffy Finds Himself in Bootcamp and Melon Thinks the Universe Knows More Than It Tells

Why do things never turn out like we expect?

I had Scruffy and Charlie booked in to stay with me for a couple of weeks around Easter. They last had a very smooth stay in January, so we assumed it would be pretty routine.

Left, a cream mini labradoodle stands on the grass. Right, a tricolour wire fox terrier stands on the pavers of the backyard.
Charlie (L) and Scruffy (R)

This was not to be. Just before their owner went away, I was told that I would be left with only Scruffy, as a trainer had advised that the dogs sleep separately. I was puzzled, but confirmed the boarding.

I've mentioned the issues between these two dogs before, and my hopes for some professional intervention. Due to personal reasons, I had made the decision last year to give their owner some referrals rather than take the job myself.

Then, less than a week before Scruffy and Charlie were to be dropped off, the dogs were at a different groomer from usual. While there, Scruffy attacked Charlie and left him with puncture wounds. The vet who treated Charlie referred their owner to a professional dog trainer.

Here's the cool part. The professional trainer, through a stroke of luck, turned out to be one of my teachers from technical college. So while I was thrilled to have Scruffy and Charlie in such good hands, he seemed pleased to hear that I was the dog-sitter who would be watching Scruffy while their human is away.

So while Charlie is resting up at home with a family member, I've got this dude with me.

Scruffy is scruffy looking with fur standing in all directions, one ear up and one ear down. His tongue is out in a relaxed expression, lead dangling out of frame.
Scruffy doing a Sit-Stay at the shops

As instructed by my teacher, Scruffy and I are working on basic obedience, crate training and treating some mild separation anxiety. He whines when left alone, presumably because he's never been truly alone before -- he and Charlie were always kept together.

A post shared by Melon (@melondious) on

It's not 'my job' to train Scruffy, but I am taking this opportunity to learn from my mentor. I'd also like to help out this owner, as long as she is dedicated to putting in the work to keep Scruffy. (If he is not safe around Charlie after this training, I believe Scruffy will be re-homed.)

Fingers crossed for good results!

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Tiger and Cow: A Love Story

As a petsitter / dog trainer, I am in the unique position of having many dogs go through my home / care, rather than just one.

And we know that every dog is different, with their own likes and dislikes, and all sorts of fun personality quirks.

That’s why, in my household, this plant will forever be known as Gatsby’s Bush.

I just loved to look out my window and see her balancing like a sphinx on the round bush (top left).

And then -- there's Tiger’s Cow.

Allow me to present: Tiger and Cow: A Love Story.

Monday, 10 April 2017

Sadness and a Success Story: In Which You Win Some, You Lose Some

That's what I'm strongly feeling right now: In life... you win some, you lose some.

I've been keeping busy, which is satisfyingly productive. I'm improving my skills, I'm helping people, and just generally getting on with life.

But I still live with depression.

I suspect anyone with chronic illness who has been fortunate enough to experience recovery has discovered the same thing: 'recovery' presents its own challenges. You start having expectations (other people's and your own), you start having dreams (your own mostly - others probably never had to give theirs up), and it hurts when you realise your illness hasn't gone anywhere. You're allowed to dream, but you know that most of those are still just -- a dream.

* * * 

But this is a dog blog, so let's share a "win" from the dog side of things.


I was asked to visit Tiger, the 6 year old Pomeranian, twice a week for a month while his owners were away. He was being fed and visited by his neighbours, who are extended family, but they felt he needed more attention and weren't sure how to give it to him.

I was told he doesn't like strangers -- which was true. Although I was let in by a family member, Tiger continued to bark at me inside the house. I had arrived prepared and immediately started counterconditioning his view of me. I tossed treats away from me when he approached me, always letting him move away from me to get them. Soon he was coming toward me of his own accord. I never reached toward him, as it was obvious it would startle him.

It wasn't long before we got along much better. Tiger turned out to a very alert, responsive little dog.

Tiger is lying on the grass in the sun, with his muzzle under a black-and-white cow toy.
Can you see me?

While toys were number one on his list, I used his love of food to teach him a few new tricks, too.

My dogsitting job is over as his family is home. I never walked him as part of the house visits as I was told he was both human and dog reactive, but the owners might contact me in future if they want to do a behavioural modification program.

Tiger proved to be very bright and extremely trainable, so I have high hopes for him if they choose to go down that path. In the meantime, this cute dude has a few new tricks to show his friends!

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Plot Developments: In Which There are More Dogs Than We Ever Expected

The first thing is that I have added two new regulars to my list of dogsitting clients.

an orange pomeranian sits on green grass beside a cow toy. A brown colourbond fence in the background.

Tiger is a cute little guy who needs a bit of extra company, so I'm visiting him a couple of mornings a week. He doesn't love strangers or other dogs, but he's a very smart little guy who is a pleasure to hang out with.

a large golden retriever lies on the floor of a house, smiling at the camera. A very ratty looking orange toy lies between his paws.

Apollo is my neighbour's dog, and is by far the biggest houseguest we've had so far! Other than giving people the impression we have a lion in the house, he's a pretty chill dude. I was pleasantly surprised to find he's a calm walker, so we'll definitely be doing more walks to get some of that extra weight off him.

Didn't you say there were a lot more dogs, you ask? Yes -- I'm not done! Aside from a very short sleepover with a puppy in a few weeks, my other news is more significant in my development as a dog trainer.

I've started helping teach at the local dog training club! I'm a trainee instructor, which means I'm rostered on with an experienced instructor to teach the beginners' classes.

I've found that some of the instructors just want me to provide some one-on-one assistance to students doing the exercises, and others want me to teach the class myself while they supervise. Aside from one memorable night where I was asked to teach a class I knew nothing about, I'm enjoying both roles.

Just like Tiger loves the visits from his cow friend.

Remember my 'class instruction' exam for the dog trainers' course? Well, I could not have asked for better preparation for this role.
New pet owners? Check.
Teaching a class of humans and dogs across an open field? Check.
Ten other classes on the field at the same time, totalling about 80 dogs? Okay, maybe not so much.
But I find as long as I can keep the focus of my class, everyone else will take care of theirs. Having smelly treats to keep the dogs' attention helps...

So in conclusion -- dogs everywhere! I'm even more physically tired than I am mentally at the end of each day (excluding the days I practise driving, then I'm both!). But I'm having fun.

They say to dive right in...

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Wednesday Walks

Little brown and white cavalier puppy Darcy sits on the porch in front of a purple door.
Hello Darcy.

Close up of Darcy on the porch. His mouth is half-open, relaxed.
Ready for a walk?

Adult cavalier Ava sitting is looking upwards. She is tethered to a cafe table.
What are you looking at, Ava?

Ava sits looking directly at the camera.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Mini-Holiday: In Which Ava and Darcy Are As Sweet As Ever

A holiday is always nice, isn't it? Ava and Darcy spent the weekend with me while their humans did human things.

They were dropped off in the morning, and as I was putting things away I turned around to find this...

Both dogs in one crate looking at me

How sweet are these two?

Big and little cavaliers in one crate, wide-eyed
Who, us?

Ava and Darcy sit behind baby gate
Whatcha doin'?

Seeing how close these two are seems extra sweet to me after my most recent boarders, two dogs who were from the same household but didn't like each other very much.

Darcy and Ava sit outside behind glass door
We pooped, can we come in now?
And yes, I let them in -- they were both very good dogs all weekend. Gotta love 'em.

Friday, 17 February 2017

An Exposition: In Which Melon Waxes Lyrical on Multi-Dog Management

Hello blogfriends.

Scruffy and Charlie, my most recent boarders, have gone home. I'm pretty sure they enjoyed their holiday and I refined my skills at multi-dog management.

Scruffy and Charlie: a rare snapshot with both boys

I owe a lot of this to another little guide: P. McConnell and K. London's Feeling Outnumbered: How to Manage and Enjoy Your Multi-Dog Household. I loved its advice on body blocking, and its general approach of 'teaching every dog good manners is the key to peaceful coexistence'. Makes perfect sense to me.

Most of all, though, I think this sudden foray into multi-dog management -- with Scruffy and Charlie at home, and Ava and Darcy at work -- has made me feel like the key here is management. Don't get me wrong -- dogs do need to be trained and you can almost always teach something new to improve situations. That's why I'm a dog trainer.

But I've also realised that management can be enough.

Ava: You call this management?

With multiple dogs, your time is split between them. Add to that normal life commitments -- for example, a homework assignment to finish, another dog job, and trying to fit in driving practice -- sometimes it's just about getting the dogs fed, walked, and getting in a little mental stimulation, whether that be with toys or training.

And I feel like part of understanding management is understanding that you won't be able to treat both dogs the same. Little Darcy, being only a few months old, spends half the day in his pen, while Ava can be trusted free in the house. Scruffy has to eat outside by himself while Charlie is inside with the humans, because Charlie needs to be coaxed to eat and Scruffy will steal his food.

Dog days of summer: I shut Scruffy in so Charlie could enjoy his iceblock

You won't even be able to treat your dogs equally all of the time. Some days only Darcy gets walked, because I can only take one dog with me to the cafe, and some days only Ava gets walked, because I'm out of time. And you know what? I'm realising that's okay.

Don't get me wrong, I wish Ava and Darcy could loose-lead walk nicely right now so that I could just walk them both together, and I really, really wish Scruffy and Charlie's owner could implement some more strategies so Charlie doesn't have to live timidly in the shadow of his brother. But I'm hoping that the more dogs I work with the more skilled I will become, so that I can achieve more in the same finite amount of time. Until then, though, I'm only human, they're only dogs, and we do the best we can.