Monday, May 14, 2012

Life with Ranger

I often joke that my job is just to hold the leash. Ranger is special and amazing and many people treat him like another person. This is  a day of life with Ranger.

Tuesday May 8, 2012.

First thing in the morning. I let Finna outside. She chases the ball, potties and goes to Ranger's enclosure to ask for him to come out. Ranger sleeps outside on his own couch in a roughly 700 square foot partially roofed enclosure. This is by his choice. Ranger and Finna have a brief run and wrestle and then while Finna plays fetch Ranger sits by my side and enjoys petting. Finna and I go in to breakfast. Ranger, again, by his choice, stays outside.  My daughter comes out with her school backpack and loads Ranger into the car. He comes with us while I drive her to class.

After we drop her off Ranger and I head to the dog park where he greets his canine pals and soaks up attention from all the humans in the park. Ranger keeps an eye on play interactions and intervenes whenever he thinks play is getting a bit too aroused. He reads his p-mail and hangs out. If one of his particular buddies is there he'll play. After about an hour we load up and head to the Farmer's Market.

The local Farmer's Market is an outdoor affair and leashed well mannered dogs are welcome. Ranger gets suited up in his backpack and we go shopping. It's still early in the season and new vendors are coming each week. I see the homemade jam stall for the first time this year and am planning that as our first stop when Ranger spots another newly returned vendor. This vendor sells grass fed beef including dog bones and the owner loves Ranger. From across the market Ranger begins singing his greetings to his friend who is joyfully calling back, "Ranger, hey buddy, I've missed you too." Obviously, the jam will have to wait.

Ranger hurries me across the market to the beef vendor's stall. After a prolonged greeting, Ranger sits and prances in place while the vendor clears off the cooler where he keeps the bones. Ranger encourages him with the occasional bark. By now a crowd is gathering. When the cooler is cleared off Ranger and the vendor begin the negotiation about which two bones we'll be taking home. The bones are frozen solid and the vendor wields a hammer to get them apart. He selects a bone and holds it up. Ranger doesn't react so he puts that one back and holds up another one. This one is slightly larger with more meat. Ranger barks his acceptance and the crowd laughs as the vendor puts that bone in a bag. He hold up another bone similar in size and meatiness to the first and Ranger again barks his approval to the enjoyment of the crowd. That bone is bagged and I put the bones into Ranger's pack. He's now carrying close to four pounds of dog bones. I pay the vendor and as the crowd wanders on Ranger and his friend say their goodbyes. These are kept brief because there are customers waiting. Ranger's endorsement has encouraged people to stop.

Now I can do my shopping. We head back to the jam stall where Ranger is welcomed with open arms and praised to the skies. The vendors, two run this stall, feed him Ritz crackers that they've brought so people can sample the different jams. While he eats his crackers (two) they tell me about their dogs and how they wish they were as well trained as Ranger. I purchase two pints of jam and add them to Ranger's pack. He's carrying about six pounds now as we move on through the market.

A mom with a toddler in the stroller passes us and the toddler reaches out to Ranger. We stop and mother and child pet Ranger. As they walk away a vendor selling handmade soaps and body butters comes out to admire Ranger and to pet him. I find a body butter I like and that gets added to Ranger's pack. As we start on our way again Ranger suddenly drags me to a new vendor. She's offering kids a chance to make handmade cards for Mother's Day and isn't doing much business. Before I can stop him Ranger has his paws up on her table and is smiling happily at her. She seems a bit taken aback by this exuberant greeting from a rather large and unfamiliar dog. I apologize and tell Ranger to get off. He still wants to interact with her but to me she looks reluctant so we move to the next stall which will be the last place we visit in the market.

This stall sells homemade ice cream. The ice cream, named Viking Fest Ice Cream, is based on Icelandic yogurt rather than cream. Ranger loves this stall and the vendors love him. While I'm perusing the available flavors they're asking if Ranger can have a sample. When I say yes they want to know which flavor he'd like. I haven't made up my mind which flavor I want yet but I turn my attention to the question of what Ranger would like. He can't have the chocolate, he probably doesn't want key lime, does he like coconut I wonder, he had vanilla last time, I decide he wants caramel. They scoop up a generous teaspoon of caramel and hunker down to feed it to Ranger. I request a pint of caramel, one of key lime and a key lime cone for myself. I'm enjoying the cone while they scoop up my pints. Ranger is staring at me so appealingly that I scooped out a dollop of key lime and offered that to him. He samples it and decides it is acceptable. Can Ranger, have another sample, ask the vendors? Sure, I say thinking they mean the small amount that has spilled down the side of the pint they've just filled. I'm mistaken though; they grab another spoon and scoop out as much as the spoon will hold. Ranger graciously accepts this as his due while I put the ice cream into his pack. He's now carrying about eight pounds as we head out of the market. The woman Ranger greeted so enthusiatically next door has watched all this byplay with delight, several times I've heard her laugh out loud. Maybe next time she'll be ready to interact with Ranger.

As we head out a couple more people stop to admire and pet him and another vendor comes out to pet him. We make it back to the car where I remove his pack appreciating the fact that he's been carrying it not me and load him in the car. I give him the last little bite of my cone and we head home. Ranger finds a sunny place in the yard and has a nap while I put away our purchases and then play ball with Finna.

After my daughter gets home she takes Ranger for a walk and he goes for a walk again with my husband when he gets home. On both walks through the neighborhood he's greeted with joy and affection by everyone he meets. Ranger and Finna get the bones that Ranger has so carefully selected. Finna takes hers into her crate while Ranger takes his outside. Ranger comes back inside and watches TV with my husband until bedtime. Ranger bounds happily off to his enclosure for the night, gobbles down his dinner and settles in for the night. Tomorrow will be another exciting day of life with Ranger.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Sixth Month Finnaversary

Time for my monthly reflection on life with Finna. We've finally figured out a few more clues in this never ending puzzle that is Finna. We've discovered that Dad by himself is not frightening. He came back unexpectedly one morning because he forgot something and she just met him at the door with no barking, or other negative reaction. Since then we've experimented a little bit to see what does set her off and what does not. Dad with no one else home is not scary; Dad home with one kid is only a little bit scary; Dad home with two kids and no Mom is somewhat scary; Dad home with Mom and both kids, well, then Dad is often but not always very scary. We're not sure what's going on in her crazy little head. When she barks at my husband when he talks to me I'm pretty sure she's reacting to the fact that his baritone voice sounds, to her ears, like he's growling at me and she's trying to protect me. When she's barking at him as he tries to go away from me up the stairs to bed the protecting Mom hypothesis doesn't make sense. It does seem, however, that taking care of me is somehow involved and that the more things that are going on the worse she reacts. Our standing joke at this point is that Finna thinks everything is Dad's fault.

Since Finna's issues with my husband seem to be related to me we've switched our training protocol. Rather than him spending time dropping treats and generally trying to make being around him a positive experience I'm using Look At That from Leslie McDevitt's Control Unleashed. When she looks at him I click and treat. Knowing that a treat is associated with  the click she automatically looks back to get it. We're building up a connection in her head that looking at Dad is a rewarding experience and since she's being rewarded before she comes unglued she's 1) not having opportunities to practice coming unglued at Dad and 2) learning not to come unglued. It was very encouraging the other night when she started barking at my husband and then remembered that she could be rewarded for looking at him and turned back to me for treats (I'd put the clicker away while I was eating dinner.) I think the steak scraps she got were a satisfying reward.

Finna has come a long way. The dog that was so conflicted both craving petting and finding it over-stimulating and too much to handle is now soliciting petting and  leaning in for more. The dog with severe separation anxiety who needed to be physically restrained if I needed to go out the door can now be told "Finna, no" and will move away from the door so I can leave without any trouble. The dog whose wild leaping, mouthing, and jumping when I came home was actually scary doesn't even greet me at the door all the time now and when she does she comes outside quietly and asks to play ball. I do still need to make sure I have a tug rope with me when I go to bed since mornings are still pretty exciting but by giving her a tug rope and playing a brief game of tug first thing she's no longer grabbing my clothes and trying to drag me down the stairs and outside. We play tug for a little bit then she wins and I ask her to take it down stairs. It gives her something to mouth, shake, and chew making it much easier to get her outside in the morning. And the dog that was regularly pottying in the house at even a raised voice--calling for a kid upstairs to come down because it was time to go--hasn't pottied inside in months. The dog that made it hard to open the door with all her jumping and leaping on it and when the door opened bolted outside now waits politely at the door. And best of all the hyper-vigilant, wildly stressed out, wound nearly to the breaking point dog is relaxed enough to give me genuine smiles.

This week, I'm pretty encouraged that Finna can recover enough to be a safe happy dog. But this is the Finna roller coaster. Last week things were sufficiently bad that we actually had a family meeting discussing whether she should be returned to the Humane Society as unmanageable or even whether she'd be better off if we had her put down. All credit to my family, they were unanimously in favor of not giving up on Finna. Their dedication is very commendable and those moments when I despair and wonder if there's any chance that this profoundly damaged dog can ever be safe and happy are getting further and further apart.

Finna still has a long way to go. I pray she doesn't get sick or hurt since taking her to the vet at this point would be a real problem. She's able to tolerate a couple of people we know in the driveway but we don't invite them inside the fence at this point. She still only goes for walks when I'm fairly sure no one else will be out. It isn't easy living with Finna and the constant vigilance we need to exercise to keep her and  everyone else safe can be very wearing. I'm learning not to look too far ahead because it can be too overwhelming. It helps to look back and see how far she's come and to celebrate the small victories savoring the moment.

One day at a time and patience, patience, patience that's life with Finna.