Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Obedience

When I researched which dog breed might be right for Scott and me, I remember reading a lot of positive things about greyhounds.  They typically have sweet, gentle temperaments.  Check.  They’re loyal and can become fiercely attached to their people.  Check.  They’re quiet and clean.  Check.  But obedient?  Now that I think of it, I don’t remember reading anywhere that they tend to be obedient.  We’ve had Izzy for close to a year, and now I know why I’ve never seen the words “obedient” and “greyhound” in the same paragraph.  She is quite the opposite.

At first, she did pretty well with her mini-training sessions, as if she were trying to let us know that we made the right decision by adopting her.  She already knew “sit,” she picked up “down” and “come” with ease, and we even taught her to “play dead.”  Over time, however, let’s just say she’s developed selective hearing.  Now, when we tell her to “come,” there’s a 50-50 chance she’ll remain draped across her couch wearing a defiant grin that says, “I’m really comfortable, and judging by the tone of your voice, I’m not too sure that you really need me to come right now.”  In fact, I’ve recently read somewhere that with greyhounds, it’s all about your tone.  If you don’t mean it, they can tell and will act accordingly.  Check.

To backtrack a little here…  Izzy isn’t a bad dog by any stretch of the imagination.  In fact, she’s probably the calmest dog I’ve ever been around.  But her selective hearing combined with a few other bad habits (her lack of self-control on walks, her whining, etc.) has led us to one conclusion: it’s time for obedience lessons.  After all, I’m pregnant (surprise to those of you who didn’t know!), and the last thing I want to deal with when the baby comes is a surly dog sulking in the background.  So after asking around, we settled on a training program, Taming the Wild Side in Aledo, Texas.

I have to admit, I went into it the first lesson believing Izzy would be the star pupil.  The room was full of mostly puppies or adolescents with their gawky bodies and too-long legs.  Piece of cake, I thought.  Izzy’s gonna show these youngsters how it’s done.

Boy was I wrong.  Star pupil?  She was the last one to master each exercise, if she mastered it at all.  Mostly, she just stood around, watching the other dogs and panting.  We walked away with a long list of homework assignments for the week, discouraged by Izzy’s apparent ADD and lack of progress.  Fast forward one week to Lesson #2...  I’m happy to say that she did better, earning compliments from the instructor and a few other owners.  But let’s remember that she was starting at rock bottom; after last week’s performance, she had nowhere to go but up.

I’m sure there are a lot of things that we as dog owners do wrong to contribute to Izzy’s stubbornness.  Cesar Milan would probably say we’re not asserting ourselves as the pack leaders; he’d come in and do a little magic wave with his magic hands and utter a single word, and BOOM!, she’d be transformed into a calm, submissive state… forever.  Or Victoria Stillwell would arrive on our doorstep with her 50 different types of treats, spend an afternoon cooing and feeding Izzy warm chicken bits, and she’d leave us with a different dog.  Still, I think there’s something to be said for breed and personality.  I have a feeling that what we’re mostly dealing with here is your good old-fashioned case of stubbornness. 

After two obedience lessons, I’ve come to the conclusion that Izzy will never win the title of National Obedience Champion, and I don’t know that she’d make a great therapy dog like I once thought.  But hopefully, with a little more patience and work, we’ll crack that stubborn streak, just a little bit, making her that much more of an amazing companion.          

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trance Dog

We thought she just liked to sniff the bushes.  A lot.  As a reward for an especially obedient walk, we would lead her over to the giant fountain grass in our apartment complex where she would bury herself in the greenery and smells.  Or so we thought.  It turns out, Izzy could care less about the smells.  She just likes to trance.

Ya, you heard me correctly.  She’s a trancer.  We only heard of this odd behavior recently when we dropped Izzy off with the Sylvia Krause, aka the Greyhound Lady.  On Sylvia’s front porch, Izzy had found a ficus tree, which she proceeded to circle in slow motion. 

“Oh, she’s a trancer,” Sylvia said matter-of-factly. 

A what? 

“One of mine does that.  The big guy over there loves to trance,” she said, pointing to one of her greys.  “No one really knows why they do it, but it’s a common behavior among greyhounds.”

As I paid closer attention, Izzy did appear to be pretty mesmerized by the low branches of the tree lightly brushing against her back.  She walked slowly, gingerly, letting the leaves of each branch linger on her skin.  And her eyes?  Completely glazed.  Our girl had entered a different world.

It turns out that trancing is not unique to greyhounds.  Got a bull terrier or a basset hound?  You may catch your beloved dog trancing, too—those are a couple of other susceptible breeds.  Some owners misinterpret the behavior as seizing, but it’s really harmless.  While there’s not a lot of info out there about trancing, it seems that there’s not much to the behavior.  Some dogs simply love the feel of something on their backs.  Weird, I know.  Even weirder to witness, I promise you.

Lately, as the heat of the summer has kept us hibernating indoors, trancing under our fake tropical plant seems to be Izzy’s favorite pastime, a post-dinner ritual.  I finally caught it on video for your enjoyment:
video

And just in case you want more proof of this odd canine behavior, I tracked down a You Tube video of another grey in full trance mode: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=puklj3TXvOU.

No matter how many times I’ve seen her do it, watching Izzy trance makes me laugh.  A silent laugh, of course—I don’t want to break her from her trance.  Wouldn’t that be dangerous, like waking a sleepwalker?  Really, what I’d like to do is hand her a pair of glow sticks and throw her a little light-switch rave.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Endless Summer

So I think anyone living in Texas right now would agree that we are smack dab in the middle of some serious Dog Days (which is a phrase, by the way, that I’ve never understood—I think dogs are pretty awesome, unlike this god-awful weather).  If you don’t live in Texas, well, it’s freakin’ hot here.  This weekend, we’ll break the record for the most 100+ degree days in a row (42!), and I’m counting on us breaking the record for total 100+ degree days in a summer (69!).   When you pair that with the “exceptional” drought we’ve been experiencing, you begin to understand why people believe in hell.

You see, when it’s this hot outside, life becomes more difficult.  Tap water doesn’t come out any colder than about 83 degrees.  You may need to give up running for the summer because, even at 6:00 a.m., it’s in the mid- to high 80’s with impossible humidity.  You feel nauseas after that five-minute walk from the office to your car in the evening.  And you find yourself hibernating—in mid-summer—in the air conditioning (which may or may not be working at the moment thanks to all those rolling brown-outs) because the last thing you want to do is spend any extra millisecond out in this weather.

Okay, okay, I’m done ranting.  To tie it into the subject of this blog…  This heat is also impossible for dogs.  Izzy is used to two short walks each day, one in the morning, the other in the evening.  We’ve been able to keep her morning walk, but as the endless summer has grown hotter, we’ve had to nix the evening one altogether since greyhounds are especially susceptible to heatstroke.  The result?  An incessant boredom that has grown more monstrous with each Texas summer day. 

This boredom manifests itself in frequent whining and pacing the apartment when we’re home in the evening.  It’s at its worst when she’s been staring at the squirrels outside, as if she’s telling us, “I used to be able to get so close to them.”  When we do take her out for a potty break, she zones in on those squirrels with an obsession more intense than we’ve ever seen.  There’s an actual change in her eyes as she transforms into Honing Missile Izzy.  But who can blame her?  She’s in her crate during the day; if I were her, I’d be looking to get my kicks in, too.  You would think she would be more interested in toys, but I think she’s just too darned hot.  She spends most evenings, in between the pacing and whining, panting away on her favorite couch, which happens to be in the warmest room of the apartment.

It’s hard to believe how big of a difference the lack of evening walks has made in Izzy’s life and ours.  And I have a feeling we're not the only dog owners in this boat.  If there weren’t already enough reasons to long for that crisp autumn air, for us, being able to exercise our bored dogs is certainly one more.  But for now, all we can do is continue to endure this endless summer and the endless canine boredom that comes with it.