When I watch TV in the evenings, Cali will often boycott. She’ll watch the first few minutes, then let me know how dreadful my taste is by simply walking away. She’ll hang out nearby, on a comfy dog bed in the next room, and keep her ears peeled for the sound of snacks, but … she won’t stay in the same room with me, much less let me cuddle her.
It’s distressing. And a bit insulting.
My friend who recently dog-sat for Cali for a couple of weeks has figured out the secret. When they spent time at a co-working space nearby, it became clear that Cali’s favorite show is …
A fake fireplace.
That’s right; she was mesmerized.
When she wasn’t watching the fake flames, she met all the other people in the building and showed them her new carrot toy. Exhausted from the socializing and the exciting viewing, she also napped quite a bit, I hear.
All the people programming Dog TV and figuring out how to teach dogs to make video calls should save their efforts … dog owners can just turn up the heat and watch their dogs tune out.
Montana Water Dogs, right here in Missoula, offers swim therapy (hydrotherapy). The owner, Varen, has a really nice setup. She’s got an indoor “infinity pool,” essentially a small, shallow swimming pool. There are steps at one end. The water is about waist deep.
We’ve only had a few sessions, and so far, I get in the water too. But as Cali gets more comfortable, I might not need to do that.
Cali wears a life preserver along with a special collar that helps her keep her head out of the water.
Varen holds onto the handles on the back of Cali’s life vest and guides and supports Cali. She also does exercises with Cali so that Cali uses all four limbs, works her muscles properly, and uses her full range of motion.
During a session, Cali might spend between 9 and 12 minutes actively swimming. But she gets a rest break every 1-2 minutes so she doesn’t get over-tired or overheated.
Cali loves to swim after a tennis ball—or just swim holding her tennis ball—so we use a ball, along with lots of treats, to keep her motivated.
When she’s done, we both rinse off, and I shampoo her so the bromine from the pool water won’t irritate her skin. She doesn’t love the baths, but she’s been very cooperative. The cookies help.
She’s always hungry when we get home (I understand; I’m always hungry after a swim too) but not as tired out as I’d expect. She works pretty hard during her swim sessions!
The long-awaited Pullman visit date finally arrived.
We drove down the day before, a sunny, golden Sunday. I decided to take the scenic route, along Highway 12 through Idaho. Cali and I stopped a few times along the way — for a walk in our favorite photo spot, for a picnic — and we arrived in late afternoon.
Our appointment was at 10 am. We got to campus early and enjoyed a walk among the fall leaves.
Finally, it was time to go inside. The small-animal clinic is huge, with a vast waiting area, which was filled with dogs of a ll sizes, one or two cats, and assorted pet owners. Cali marched in confidently and popped up to put her paws on the desk and greet the receptionists.
A neurology resident soon came out and sat with us for about a half-hour, taking Cali’s history and explaining the process. Cali had skipped breakfast in case the team wanted to do X-rays and needed to sedate her. She was not thrilled about this and kept nudging me and the resident, asking for cookies.
They finally went off to the exam area, and I had a couple of hours before I would get an initial report. I went back to our hotel to do a little work before check-out.
When I returned for the consultation, the news was good: The neurology team did not think there was anything major (= a tumor) wrong. They thought she might have a mild disc herniation. They asked if I would consent to a blood test to rule out Degenerative Myelopathy, “a non-painful chronic degenerative disease.” I agreed, and I should have those results soon.
They recommended having the orthopedics team examine her as well, and I agreed to that — and to X-rays if that seemed necessary. Off they went.
A few hours passed slowly … I could not get online, but I had some work I could do offline. I watched other dogs and humans come and go.
Finally, the neurology resident returned with more good news. The orthopedics team did a thorough exam and found that Cali has full range of motion and no joint issues; no X-rays were needed. They did find “multiple myofascial trigger points in all limbs — muscle pain likely secondary to compensation for abnormal gait.” Basically, knotty, tense, painful muscles (and she doesn’t even sit at a computer all day!).
The recommended treatments include massage, acupuncture, physical therapy, and a newer NSAID, Galliprant. Cali’s local vet has already talked with me about a local acupuncturist and a physical therapy place in Missoula that offers water therapy. I’ll be scheduling her first appointments very soon, and we’ll both get to swim regularly this winter!
I know that the news could have been much worse. In addition, I fully expected the team to strongly recommend an MRI (very expensive). Though they said we could tell more about what was going on with an MRI, they said it would not change their treatment plan.
I gave Cali some food and, at a little after 4 pm (5 pm in Montana …) we set off for home. We drove the slightly faster I-90 route; even so, it was well after 9 pm when we finally pulled into the driveway.
Dogs love routines. Anyone who says dogs have no sense of time have clearly never lived with a dog.
Dogs know when good things are supposed to happen for them. Some dogs serve as highly accurate alarm clocks, which is why it’s possible to train service dogs to remind their humans to take their meds on time.
Cali is a wonderful alarm clock. She even has a snooze setting, and she understands that, on weekends, we get up an hour or so later. If she’s desperate to go out, she’ll deviate from the routine, but otherwise, right on schedule, she lets me know that it’s time to get up.
She also knows when I am supposed to stop working (and prepare her dinner). About 10 minutes before 5 each workday, she comes over and, very gently, pokes me with her nose. Again 10 minutes later if I haven’t gotten up from my chair. At this point, she sits right at my feet and gives me that look. Anyone who has met Cali knows what I mean.
She knows the morning routine, too, and when I am almost at “put Cali’s leash on for her walk,” she bounds off to grab a toy and do her morning dance of joy, racing from living room to dining room to living room several times — a distance of about 6 feet — with the chosen toy. She then lets me put her leash on, and we’re off.
She has a set route for her morning walk, though she allows occasional changes. When we get back, we feed the birds before I start work upstairs, and she keeps watch over the front yard and sidewalk, warning me if other dogs approach. After an hour or two of that, she lets me know it’s time for a break, and we go outside and toss the ball a few times.
Our evening routine is no less set. Dogs get some yogurt or kefir — Koala’s dietician recommends it for the probiotics — go outside, brush their teeth, get a cookie, and go to bed.
How is it, then, that Cali “forgets” the teeth-brushing step, heading straight to bed, every single evening? I have to call her in or follow her to her bed to get at those teeth. The brushing jogs her memory, though, and she promptly appears to collect her cookie. This happens whether Koala is here or not.
Koala is very good about brushing her teeth, even reminding me if it looks like I may have forgotten (I’m not sure what that looks like, but Koala knows). So, while it makes sense that the sound and scent of Koala eating her cookie might jog Cali’s memory, I’m not sure what does that in Koala’s absence. I personally do not eat a cookie after brushing my teeth, so no reminder there.
Another routine that Koala is more strict about than Cali is the timing (and existence) of puppy lunch and snufflematting. Cali is delighted when these occur, and she occasionally does ask for the snufflemat, but she’s willing to let the matter drop if I am busy. Not Koala; her routines are very important to her, particularly if they revolve around food.
Koala and I had a little argument recently because I expected her to clean up after herself and she … resented that.
No, I haven’t figured out how to get dogs to pick up their own poop. They can pick up their own toys, though.
Toward the end of their time here, Deni was out, and Koala and I were in the basement, where there’s a well-stocked toy basket. (There are overly full toy baskets on each floor … and dog beds … it’s kind of a dogs-first household.)
Koala wanted a specific toy. It’s a great toy from West Paw, a Montana company. Anyhow, the toy happened to be at the very bottom of the toy box. Of course.
Koala methodically removed every toy in the box, distributing them around the rapidly emptying box. She finally reached her toy and happily pulled it out.
She brought it to me, asking for a tug game. I played with her for a minute, then took the toy. “We’ll play more once you’ve cleaned up your mess,” I told her. She looked at me, turned her back, and lay down.
I asked her to “get a toy” and “put it away,” things she routinely does. She ignored me.
I repeated the requests in a firmer voice. She got up, picked up a toy, and dropped it near the box. Looking at me and sighing. It was soooo hard.
I did not relent. No longer asking, I said in my best “I mean it!” voice, Get the toy and put it IN the box.
She did, then lay back down.
“Nope,” I told her. “You need to put all of the toys away.”
One by one, she got the toys and put them into the box.
When she finished, I offered her the toy and suggested a tug game.
“Nope,” she said, bu turning her back to me and lying down with an annoyed sigh.
Normally, when Cali and Koala put their toys away, they get rewards for their efforts. But since she had so deliberately taken all of the toys out of the box, a behavior I did not want to encourage, I did not give her any reward other than the offer of playing with the chosen toy.
Koala was annoyed at having to do it — and annoyed by the lack of rewards.
She got over it pretty quickly, though, and decided that she was willing to forgive me if that meant she’d get a belly rub …
One of the first things I learned in dog-training school was the ways that dogs synchronize with their humans. That’s why using an upbeat, energetic voice can get dogs amped up for a training class — and a low, calm voice can help them settle down.
But I’m increasingly finding examples of how dogs synchronize with their doggy friends as well. I first saw it with Maisy, Cali’s BFF, who clearly takes her cues from Cali when we’re on walks.
Maisy often gets very excited or anxious around unfamiliar dogs, and she used to get that way around unfamiliar people, too. But when we all went walking together, Maisy saw how much Cali loves meeting new people.
Instead of being nervous when a stranger approaches, Cali strains toward them, entire body wagging an eager hello. Cali has not figured out that not all humans want to pet the dog.
At first, Maisy would watch, uncertain and ready to bark, while Cali greeted people and made new friends. Cali convinced her to try it though, and Maisy has decided that saying hello and getting pats and compliments is fun. She’s not quite sure about other dogs yet, but then again, neither is Cali.
The next example of peer pressure and inter-dog dynamics came during playtime. When there are two dogs, they play together well; when there’s a third dog, two tend to gang up on one.
Unfortunately, Cali is often the gang-ee.
She and Koala often play well together, though sometimes Koala can be a little … pushy. Cali’s pretty confident about telling her to back off, and, if that doesn’t work, Cali literally takes her ball and goes home. Well to her little hideout in the back corner of her yard.
Maisy and Cali play very well together. They are BFFs.
When the three of them are together, Koala and Maisy become like the mean girls in middle school. They grab Cali’s tail and play tug. They each grab an ear. They behave like brats.
When all three are together, I have learned to organize separate play pairs. Cali and Koala each get a chance to play with Maisy — without each other. And Maisy goes home very tired and happy.
Koala faces daily ethical dilemmas, as do many dogs. She’s a highly educated dog who loves to show off her smarts. She also tends to follow rules. But something about the puppy lunch routine is her ethical undoing.
The routine is predictable: Deni gets the girls their puppy lunch each day. Koala brings the treat balls upstairs; Deni fills them; and everyone heads downstairs for PL, as we’ve begun calling it (as if they girls don’t understand …). After PL, Koala puts both treat balls into their little box, and she gets an a cookie as payment for her work.
A daily dilemma
For a while, Koala did daily battle with her inner bad dog.
She’d quickly finish emptying her treat ball.
But Cali works more slowly. Koala couldn’t stand it. Cali had a treat ball and she didn’t! She began plotting. Each day, she’d try to steal Cali’s. She had to do it without attracting Deni’s attention, of course.
Cali got crafty. She took to batting her treat ball around a very small, sheltered spot. She was on a dog bed, up against a wall, and hemmed in by furniture, so there was only one open access point.
Deni ultimately caught on. She began giving Cali her treat ball inside the office (where Cali continued using the sheltered space) — and banned Koala from the office until Cali finished.
Well. Koala hated that. She’d whine outside the door in frustration.
Cali gets revenge
Cali, however, quickly figured out how to exploit the situation. It takes her longer and longer to slooowwwly empty her treat ball. She then tucks it under a paw, snuggles it gently, and takes a brief nap. All while Koala rages whiningly outside the door.
When Cali has tired of toying with Koala, she gently nudges Deni to let her know that she’s done. Koala then puts the balls away and gets a treat.
Deni has discovered that, even if she’s not there, Koala won’t go into the office to steal Cali’s treat ball. Koala is generally very good about following rules, even rules she hates.
But she will find Deni and badger her until Deni goes downstairs, takes the ball, and lets Koala put the balls away.
I don’t understand …
A related example: Let’s say the girls have finished their treat toys, and Deni is nowhere to be found. So I ask Koala to put the balls away. She knows perfectly well what to do; she does it every day. She puts other things away, too, like toys in the toy box.
Yet, it never fails: She flings the ball down outside of the box. Over and over. And demands a cookie each time. When I don’t give her one, instead repeating, “Please put the ball away, in the box, Koala,” she huffs, puffs, scowls, flings it harder, insists that she has no idea what I want her to do.
I figured out a way to cut this tantrum short. Today, each time she flung the ball anywhere except the box, I calmly handed a cookie to Cali, a willing sidekick in this exercise. I then asked Koala (again) to put the ball away.
Two Cali cookies later, amid disbelieving looks (and many more huff and puffs) from Koala, the ball was in the box. Koala finally got her cookie.
When a good dog behaves badly
Koala is generally a very good dog. So, why does she do bad things when she clearly knows what she’s supposed to do? Who knows? Why does anyone? Maybe it’s just a game the girls play. Or just sisters tormenting each other. When Koala heads back to Florida, she may miss this daily battle. Cali will; she doesn’t even get PL when Deni isn’t here. She does get her snuffle mat, though.
Cali and Koala love Hanukkah, after discovering their Jewish-dog cores this year.
It all started last year. We were on a road trip during Hanukkah. I found a creative solution to celebrating without setting fire to our hotel room and being evicted into the winter night: a little advent box for Hanukkah,
Each night, we’d open the tiny cardboard drawer, eat the treats that were inside, and turn the drawer around to show the lit candle image.
I saved the box, and this year, I filled the drawers with dog treats, offering a different treat each night. This provided something easy and fun for Hanukkah without having to actually buy gifts.
Deni and I called the dogs over each evening and lit the candles. I said the blessings in Hebrew. Then we gave the girls their nightly treat.
By day 4, they’d really caught on.
We did a mid-day app-powered candle-lighting with friends in Israel. As the family in Israel lit their candles and (it was only noon in Montana, so we weren’t actually lighting yet) sang the blessings, Koala woke from her nap, raced upstairs, and sat next to me, wearing an expectant look. Seconds later, Cali emerged from the bedroom, shaking off sleep, and joined Koala.
Blessings finished, I chatted with my friends for a few minutes. The dogs sat. And waited.
I finally caught on — they were waiting for their treats!
They eagerly assembled later in the day for the real lighting, with cookies.
It had taken only 4 repetitions of blessing, then cookie, for the girls to learn that all they had to do was show up while the human was mumbling something unintelligible and they’d get a surprise treat. Why does it take so many more repetitions (like, 100) for them to learn to … say … put a toy in the basket to get a treat?
All good things, even Hanukkah, come to an end. Koala looked devastated as she watched me carry the Hanukkah box down to the basement. Don’t worry, girls; we’ll save the magic treat box for next year. Happy Hanukkah!
“Smell walks” with Cali and Koala are undergoing an update. It’s going better than I expected, actually.
Smell walks follow a suggestion from Alexandra Horowitz’s book Being a Dog. Basically, they are walks where the human actually lets the dog stop to sniff things. Since in the dog’s world, that is the one and only purpose of a walk, they tend to be mystified and frustrated by the large number of humans who seem to think walks are about walking.
Koala takes the concept beyond the extreme, though, sniffing Every. Single. Tree. And rock, blade of grass, and other, ickier stuff. After realizing that my usual 20-minute morning walk with Cali takes well over 45 minutes when Koala joins us, I knew that changes were needed.
I decided that each dog could choose 3 spots for long, deep sniffing sessions. The rest of the time, we’d walk. There’s one other rule: The deep sniffs do not include other dogs’ droppings.
I explained these rules to them carefully, and off we went. I counted each stop and told them how many they each had remaining in the bank. Even so, on the first modified walk, they seemed surprised and, yes, annoyed when I hustled them along after their 6 deep sniffs.
But they caught on pretty quickly. Soon, they started choosing their spots together, rather than taking turns. I could see one turn to the other, the other give a look — and both dive in. I think this approach provides them both with a greater return from their sniff budget.
They have started to return to the same spots, walk after walk. I’m guessing that those are spots favored by our neighborhood deer friends as well as the numerous other dogs who stroll the sidewalks.
Koala is quickly mastering the “walk-by sniff” — she samples an area with a quick sniff-survey of the air as we approach. Before we’re even there, she’s rejected it as a stop, quickly collecting all the information she needs without even slowing down.
Koala is efficient in another way: She often combines a deep-sniff session with other business needs. I appreciate that she frequently does that near one of the two trash cans on our usual route.
We’ve almost settled into a new routine. I can predict 3 or 4 of their stops already. Maybe they are weighing the others and will make their choices soon. Or perhaps they will always reserve 2 spots for impulse stops. Even dogs need some variety in their routines, after all.
Cali and Koala have odd habits. For instance, one of them checks in with me if I fail to get up to minister to their needs by 6:30 am. That’s necessary because, although one or both dogs are usually curled up in their dog beds when I go to sleep, they’re not there when I wake. Or at least not both of them. Cali usually strolls in from the living room when my alarm goes off. Koala often makes it upstairs by the time I have let Cali outside.
Similar oddities occur when we are watching TV. Deni and I are on the sofa. Koala is often there as well, instructing us on where to massage her. Then, she’ll get off the sofa. And … moments later, Cali appears. She sometimes even allows us to cuddle her.
The other day, it finally dawned on me: They’re working shifts.
Someone is on duty at nearly all times to keep the needy humans occupied. Occasionally they both manage to creep off somewhere for a nap on a sofa. Either sofa will do, but they rarely share. Shift change can be subtle, but I figured it out when their timing was exact and, as Koala handed us off to Cali, they gave each other a little nod.
Cali is generally responsible for getting me away from the computer as dinner time approaches (or is about to approach in the next hour or two). Koala is in charge of the morning walk.
Koala excels at keeping us to the schedule and ensuring that we don’t forget our daily chores — putting kibble in the balls for puppy lunch, setting up the snuffle mats, walks of course, and meal preparation. Both are at hand to supervise meal prep; it’s far too important a task to risk errors.
They seem to take turns at entertaining the humans, but Cali enjoys the task more and puts her whole heart into it. She especially enjoys running in circles while playing keep-away with her ball, just to see how long it takes to make the human dizzy. Koala, in contrast, is clearly just doing her job when she halfheartedly runs after a tennis ball, counting on the silly human becoming distracted well before Koala has to actually pick the thing up in her mouth and, ugh, return it to the human. Who is only going to throw it again anyhow. Why?
When Koala heads back to Florida in January, Cali will have to work overtime to keep me in line. As will Koala; I am sure that corralling Deni is more than a full-time job. I guess we need to be understanding when they steal an extra nap on the sofa now and again, while they still have the luxury of shift work.