A dog’s life

It’s true what they say, ‘It’s a dog’s life’, if you’re a dog that is …

Over the past 14 months, I have inadvertently been living ‘a dog’s life’ with Darcy and Milly.

My days revolve around the two walks we go on each day. In the mornings we head for the beach so that Darcy and Milly can run off all that kelpie herding, chasing, prey energy by chasing the ball, birds, and dogs.

Their latest trick on the beach is to cajole other people into throwing the ball for them by dropping the ball at their feet incessantly until they play the game. Most people fall for this trick and inevitably my dogs spend most of our beach time chasing anyone who comes along for a game of fetch. Apparently, I am worthy to throw the ball only when there is no one else around to throw the ball …

The other day I decided to head to the beach ball-less in an attempt to halt the somewhat awkward occurrences of my dogs stalking people up and down the beach to play ball. It appeared to work with my dogs merely rounding people up, swimming with some children and herding dogs until they spied a man up ahead who had two doggy companions and also a ball…

I ended up walking an awkward distance ahead of the man and his two dogs and my two dogs playing ball…I thought my dogs might adopt the man and his dogs as their new family leaving me ball-less and dog-less…Once the game of fetch was over, Darcy and Milly dutifully returned to me, however…

The next day, I brought the ball to the beach…

The middle of my days involves my dogs and I having a feed (separately) and ‘quiet time’. Quiet time involves my dogs sleeping while I do human things such as cleaning, shopping, reading, writing, thinking about life while giving my dogs tummy rubs on the couch …

When the late arvo rolls around, just as I feel like nodding off, Darcy and Milly start throwing toys around the room and we head out for our second walk of the day. The arvo walk is usually a leash walk. I have found the leash good for teaching my dogs to do what I say as the leash prevents them from running off to chase dogs, birds, kangaroos, bikes, prams, anything that moves…

The second walk also allows time for lots of sniffing of dirt, blades of grass, fences and posts (by my dogs) as the overwhelming influx of smells to doggy noses (only a tiny percentage of which humans can identify) is very tiring for doggies and, in turn, very good for fur-parents.

I have to admit that I do experience a certain level of fear on the afternoon walks. My fears primarily comprise encountering other dogs or people riding bikes at close distances. When my dogs encounter either of these things (or sometimes both together!) they demonstrate ‘leash frustration’. Leash frustration involves my dogs lunging, growling and barking at the dog or bike or both in an attempt to break free of the leash and herd the dog or bike or both…These encounters are generally embarrassing and unpleasant for everyone involved and hurt my arms.

I have started to manage these encounters by keeping my dogs at a certain distance from other dogs or passing bikes, if possible. This makes them easier to control and less intimidating to the objects and subjects of their desire.

After our second walk, we settle in for the night. My dogs watch me (herd me) from the couch while I cook dinner and do human things waiting for pre-bed couch snuggle time…How can they go to bed without this…?

Basically, a day in the life of Darcy and Milly is very similar to the day before and the next day. It is full of play, walks, food, chewing things and sleep. My days focus on relieving their frustration at not having sheep or cattle to herd and in-turn I learn to live in the moment…

I must say that living a dog’s life has also taught me how important it is to do human things once in a while…

Milly’s currently chewing my laptop and licking the screen so it must be time for our second walk…

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Valentine’s Day Spat

Valentine’s Day can be a stressful day for couples, singles and, it also appears, dogs. On Valentine’s Day eve, I went to my cousin’s beautiful wedding on a semi-rural property romantically decorated with white sails, hanging lights and a Tropicana dance floor. The evening was warm, the guests exquisitely dressed, especially the dog wearing the bow tie, and the drinks ran freely. The only thing to worry about was how my kelpies were coping home alone …

It was the second night in a row that I had to leave Darcy and Milly home alone and without their evening walk. The first night went ok … There was only one breakage in the house, one couch cushion on the floor with a few pieces of fluff lying around and one bone brought into the house. The dogs were ecstatic when I returned home at 9:30pm and settled down to sleep quickly.

I held out at the wedding until desserts and then decided I had to get home. It was 10pm and the dance floor was just starting to get going with Whitney’s ‘I wanna dance with somebody’. I’d stayed an hour longer than I had first intended and quickly said my farewells. I felt guilty about leaving my dogs alone for so long at night without an evening walk.

As I drove home I imagined returning home to find Darcy and Milly barking incessantly in the back yard and my neighbours knocking on my door to inform me of their atrocious behaviour; or a huge hole dug under the fence and Darcy and Milly, gone; or Milly ripped to pieces by Darcy after a fight over the marrow bones I had left for them while out.

I arrived home straining my ears for barking kelpies as I parked my car. Everything was quiet. As I opened my front door, I could see Darcy and Milly behind the glass, watching me and wagging their tails. I went inside. There was a marrow bone on the floor, one couch cushion on the floor and one missing and … no breakages tonight. I found the cushion outside the back door. They love pulling things through the dog flap during games of tug of war …

Darcy and Milly were home and quiet and my house was still intact. Phew! They were doubly excited to see me home because my sister was also with me. They love visitors! It took an hour and a coffee mishap – resulting from Milly launching herself at my sister to plant her signature kiss on my sister’s lips – before they settling down to sleep. By midnight, we were all in bed.

On Valentine’s Day I slept in longer than usual due to my late night after the wedding. The dogs were getting stuck into a cushion when I first woke up so I put them outside. The next thing I heard was a large thump as Milly pushed herself threw the closed dog flap. I turned over to get some more shut eye.When I woke up a bit later, I noticed the glass of a framed photograph my sister had given me was broken. It had been sitting on a low chest and my sister reported hearing glass breaking (which she had assumed came from outside in the street somewhere) in the early hours of the morning …

As I was making my breakfast I heard the dogs fighting. I went outside and told them to stop it. This usually quietens them down. No so this morning. Milly was crying out (as usual) but it went on for a while. The fight had started over the marrow bones I had left for the dogs last night. I assume Milly had gotten too close to the place where Darcy had buries his bone.

I carried Milly inside and she seemed ok. My sister thought she looked hurt but I assured her that Darcy never actually injured Milly when he told her off. Not long afterwards, my aunty and uncle dropped by for a cuppa on their way home, after staying nearby for the wedding. My uncle noticed that Milly was licking the top of her leg. I had a closer look and found an open wound and realised that my sister had been right, Darcy had in fact wounded Milly. Of course it was Sunday so I could not call my vet. My uncle recommended I disinfect the wound as I did not want to have to end up taking her to the vet.

I bought some betadine for Milly on my way to taking the dogs to the beach for a run. I decided there was no use me trying to administer the betadine until she was asleep and thought a swim in the sea water would do her good. At the beach, after playing fetch with the ball, Darcy picked up a stick and the dogs ran and ran and ran in the water playing ‘keeping’s off’. It brought a smile to my face. And a pang in my heart seeing how much pent up energy they had inside them today.

Over lunch, my sister and I discussed New Year Resolutions. My sister had forgotten hers. I had not made one. Lent has just begun. So my sister decided to give up bread and I decided to get the dogs out earlier in the mornings for their first run of the day.

When we returned home after lunch, I put betadine on Milly’s wound. She woke up, and walked away from me, tail between her legs, and lay down on the side of her wound. I hoped the betadine helped. I hoped Milly did not have tetanus! I would definitely be calling the vet in the morning. Also, after doing a bit of research I found out that seawater may not be the best thing for open wounds because it is not a sterile environment …

After talking it through with my sister, I have decided on a different strategy for dog sitting and marrow bones. In the future, when I give my dogs bones, I will tie them up so they can chew on them separately and safely and throw the bones out when they have finished so Darcy cannot bury them … When I go out in the evening, I will ask a dog walker to look after my dogs.

I do not know if Valentine’s Day had anything to do with the biffo between Darcy and Milly today. What I do know is that where my kelpies are concerned, bones are not a satisfactory substitute for the love of human company and walks along the beach. Tonight I will be taking my dogs for a romantic sunset walk and staying in.

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Beware of herding strangers

During my walks along the beach with Darcy and Milly, I have learned to ‘beware of herding strangers’…

Just the other day, Darcy, Milly and I were playing fetch at the beach. A man was walking towards us hitting a ball with a tennis racket for his big black dog. When Darcy spied the dog he immediately dropped and started creeping along the sand in full herding mode. Considering the size of the dog and the fact that he was playing fetch as well, I was not too concerned.

As we approached, the man stood still and stopped hitting the ball for his dog. Some people misunderstand Darcy’s stalk and mistakenly think he wants their dog’s ball. Most people laugh and make a joke as I pass them by. Not so, this man. I could see he was irate and I told Darcy to ‘leave it’ and ‘come’. Under his hat, the man looked angry and was talking to himself. It appeared he could barely contain his rage. Thankfully Darcy listened to me and left the dog alone.

After passing the man and his dog, I threw the ball for Darcy and Milly to chase. Milly fetched the ball. Unfortunately, she did not bring the ball back to me. In what is becoming typical ‘Milly style herding’ she ran all the way back to the man and dog we had passed. And so did Darcy of course. I called Milly to bring her ball and she raced up the beach towards me.

Darcy was not going let a second chance at herding go by. He was already ‘working’ the man’s dog. I kept walking and called him to ‘come’. I have discovered this to be the most effective way to get him to leave a dog alone and follow me. If I go to him, he just keeps herding and avoiding me so I cannot catch him. This can become rather awkward and embarrassing for me and the other dog owner …

The technique of continuing along the beach is far from perfect as Darcy often becomes fixated on a dog and can take a looooong time to follow me up the beach. This man was not having a bar of it and took a swipe at Darcy with his tennis racket. Darcy was too nimble to be hit, thankfully understood that he was being told to ‘p-off’ and came racing towards me.

This is not my first uncomfortable encounter with other people and my dogs. Every dog owner has stories of ‘run-ins’ with people over their dogs.

I need to train the dogs to come to me when there are distractions that are way more exciting than coming to ‘Mum’, such as herding other dogs. So I have Darcy and Milly booked into a group training session where I can take them both along at the same time.

I am also ‘going back to basics’ with training. I stumbled across a dog trainer who uses positive training techniques on ‘YouTube’: https://www.youtube.com/user/zakgeorge21. Before our evening walk, I started doing the basics of sitting, dropping, waiting etc and walking gently on the lead. Darcy and Milly loved it and seemed better behaved on our evening walk …

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Taming the crazies

Darcy (12 months) and Milly (8 months) are two smart, cheeky and exuberant kelpies. I adopted Darcy and Milly as part of my sea change earlier this year.

Milly and Darcy tearing things apart in the yard …

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Darcy and Milly need training to be polite, social and obedient dogs. I need training on how to be ‘top dog’.

Today we met the new trainer. Within 5 seconds of meeting her, Darcy and Milly were terrified and doing everything she said. And so was I.

When Milly and Darcy jumped on her as is their ‘go to’ when greeting people, the trainer raised her knee, put her hand out and defiantly stated ‘no’. Darcy sat and Milly steered clear of her knee.

Milly has made some ‘home improvements’ on my new place. This includes tearing away the wire screen door so that she can enter and leave the house as she pleases. If the wooden door is closed, Milly beats against it until I open it … and let her in. As a result, Milly has learnt that this is a good technique for getting me to let her into the house.

Within 5 minutes of the trainer arriving, Milly was happy to stay outside. The trainer achieved this circumstance by drenching Milly in a bucket of water and firmly stating ‘no’ when Milly scratched on the door. My heart hurt. However, when we went outside to tell Milly she was a good girl because she did not scratch at the door, she lay down at the trainer’s feet.

Next, I learnt to walk both my dogs beside me using correction collars and the commands ‘heel’, ‘leave it’ and ‘wait’ in a firm voice. I never believed this would be possible.

Despite some old fashioned training styles, such as the bucket of water, I am going to stick with this trainer. I went out after the training session and entered via the side gate. Darcy and Milly both slipped out into the driveway which is open to the road. With panic rising in my stomach as images of Darcy and Milly flattened by cars flashed through my head, I firmly called them to me and each one came to me immediately. They have not obeyed me so quickly when together before … I hope it was not just the lingering memory of the trainer that effected this sudden change.

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