Sunday, July 17, 2011

Well Honestly, Nobody's Perfect

And so, dear readers, we come to the nitty gritty.

School starts in less than a month—in 24 days to be exact—and there is a lot of distance still to be covered puppy-behavior-wise.  My perfect puppy is, well, far from perfect.  She barks, she mouths and she insists on jumping up.  Oh, and she rattles the blinds at night.

Poor John has not gotten a decent night’s sleep in over a week.  I am gifted with the ability to will myself to sleep.  It’s a rare occasion that I can’t get back to sleep after having been woken up either by the call of nature or the call of the canine.  John, on the other hand, has only the most tenuous hold on Morpheus.  This becomes a problem when Cleo feels the need to do a perimeter check of the backyard fence at 2 AM, 3:22 AM, and 5:30 AM.  The reasons for her waking are varied.  The first is usually raccoons, the second is her bladder, the third is Boris.

The part of Monterey that we live in is right on the border with the town of Pacific Grove.  You wouldn’t know that you had crossed over between PG and Monterey if there weren’t signs.  Really, the only difference is the housing prices.  Four blocks up from us is the dividing line, Devisadero Street.  One side is Monterey, the other PG.  On one side of the road you can buy a three bedroom, two bath house for $500,000.  On the other side of the road, the same house would be $600,000. 

Pacific Grove doesn’t believe in population control, at least when it comes to raccoons and deer.  It’s a problem.  Wildlife doesn’t recognize city boundaries.  I know, I sound heartless when I say I’d like them to be—uh—dealt with.  Raccoons are those adorable bandits in Eddie Murphy’s Dr. Doolittle movies.  It’s the failure to save his raccoon friend that sends Ace Ventura into a monastery.  And deer, well, who could fail to love Bambi?  Deer are so gentle and peaceful with their soft, tender eyes.

Do not be fooled
by their innocent appearance!
Let me just tell you that deer kill more people every year than bears, sharks and mountain lions combined.  While most of these deaths are traffic related, I have heard first person accounts of runners being charged by male deer during rutting season and small leashed dogs being trampled by female deer who don’t like their looks (or their proximity to fawns).  Raccoons, on the other hand, are vicious.  They will attack dogs, cats, and even humans.  Sitting in the vet’s office once, I was told the harrowing story of a man who heard his cat yowling one evening.  He ran outside to see what was going on and discovered a large raccoon pinning the cat with one hand while with the other it calmly drew a sharp claw down the cat’s stomach, eviscerating it.  Throwing stones and even running at the raccoon didn’t persuade it to let the cat go.  The man finally darted up and kicked it in the stomach.  The good news is that he was at the vet’s office to pick his cat up and take him home following weeks of recuperation. 

Raccoons wander freely through people’s backyards around here.  It was only following the tragic death of a two year old boy who ingested raccoon feces while playing in his sandbox that Pacific Grove rounded up all the varmints in the area and transported them to the wilder areas of the state.  That was several years ago and the critters have made a hearty comeback.

You can tell by his eyes--
he's contemplating evil.
So nightly, they use our back fence as a thoroughfare, chatter amongst themselves and generally define the word “nuisance.”  Cleo doesn’t like it.  She doesn’t like it at all.  So she gets out of her bed, goes to the French door in our bedroom and weaves in and out of the floor length, light reducing blinds, making them rattle like castanets.  At this point, I tell her “No!” and “Go back to bed!”  Which she readily does, but John has at least partly woken up. 

The second rising coincides with my own nightly bladder needs.  That works out well.  I let Cleo out, do my thing and let her back in.  The timing is usually perfect.

The third alarm is thanks to Boris.  He is the dog who lives next door.  Boris has a face and a personality only a mother could love.  He and Cleo took an instant dislike to each other.  Good fences may make good neighbors, but no amount of sniffing through the fence, meeting in person or diplomatic summits will keep Boris from charging the fence in full growl every time he goes outside.  Most mornings, he goes outside at 5:30.  Though she has learned not to bark at him when she’s out in the yard, Cleo still hates the idea that he is out there unanswered and unchallenged every morning.  The minute she hears him, she makes a dash for the door.  Rattle, scrape, whine.  “Go back to bed!”  But John is awake.  Once awake, he is composing.  Once composing, he’s got to get up.  As we often don’t go to bed until one or two in the morning, this creates a marked sleep deficit.  Cleo, on the other hand, now curls up into a tight little ball and snoozes until ten.

Realizing that she has trained us better than we have trained her, we have begun limiting her time on our bed.  We used to let her come up once the sun was up, and while that encourages her to sleep peacefully, it makes John claustrophobic.  She wedges herself between us or presses against the back of his knees, tightening the covers until they feel like a mummy’s winding sheet.  She also developed a neat little trick.  Learning that I allowed her on the bed after she went outside to pee, she started asking to go out, but once out the door, she would turn around and immediately want back in and onto the bed.  She is so smart!  This morning she pulled the stunt on me twice.  What can I say?  I was sleepy.  It’s a lame excuse, but the only one I’ve got…

The barking is an entirely different story.  The cause used to be Boris, but as I’ve said, she’s gotten over that pretty much.  Now, it’s every other dog in the neighborhood and anyone passing on the street.  She has two kinds of barks: One says, “I hear you!  Can you hear me?”  The other says: “Someone’s outside!  Alarm!  Alarm!”  It’s possible that I’m wrong about that one.  It could just as easily be, “I hear you passing!  Here I am!  Come admire me!”  She loves (loves) to greet people and be ohed and ahed over. 

Houses in our neighborhood are close together and a dog barking can be extremely annoying.  A couple weeks ago, we were chatting with our favorite neighbor.  He lives two houses over.  As we talked about the goings-on in our lives, he said, “Wow, have you heard that dog barking lately?”  John and I looked at each other and gulped.  “Ah, that could be Cleo,” I said.  “Oh, no, no,” said our neighbor quickly.  “I’m sure it’s not.  I’ve heard Cleo bark and this is a different sound.  Much deeper.”  I think he was just being polite.  I’m told Bedlingtons in general have a deep bark.  I know Cleo’s is surprisingly deep.

We have tried multiple techniques to teach Cleo to stop barking so much.  We have done the Cesar Milan hiss.  We’ve clapped at her.  We have chased her around with a spray bottle.  This worked for a while, then she turned it into a game, bouncing back and forth barking and trying to catch the spray in her teeth.  We tried taking her outside only on a leash, snapping the chain collar when she barked.  That’s fine outside.  How about inside?  Does she live on a leash?

We finally got so desperate that we went to our local Pet Food Express and asked for some suggestions.  The impressively knowledgeable manager ran through many ideas.  He showed us bark collars, but then discouraged their use.  You can’t control them, he said.  You can’t choose when a bark might be appropriate and when it isn’t.  You also can’t train your dog to stop barking on command because the collar reacts every time the dog barks.  Then he took us through the training collars.  He pointed out the citronella collars, the ones that spray a burst of citronella scented liquid into the dog’s face, but told us that the collar he uses on his own two dogs, with great success, was an adjustable strength shock collar.  You can dial the strength of the stimulus or you can use only a tone to warn the dog.  In just a few days, he had trained his dogs not to bark and not to chase his cats.  He swore by the thing.

So we bought one.  The thing is, you have to be willing to use it for it to have any chance of being effective.  When we got home, I unpacked it, charged it, turned it on, put it on Cleo, took it off and left it sitting on a shelf for a couple months.  It was during this time that we tried the other anti-bark techniques.  As the barking ramped up, we decided to give the collar a real try.  We fit it to Cleo and took the plunge: We trimmed the collar to size.  Before putting it on her, I gripped the electrodes with one hand and pushed the Go button.  Have you ever shuffled across a rug in stocking feet then kissed someone?  It’s not pleasant, but it’s not really painful.  That’s what it felt like.

News flash: The collar doesn’t work if it’s too loose.  Go figure; the electrodes actually have to touch the dog.  I can’t stand putting it on her tight enough to work.

Yesterday, Cleo was barking and barking and barking.  Everything set her off.  The neighbor pulls into her driveway.  Bark.  A soldier walks down the street talking on his cell phone.  Bark.  A dog five streets over yaps.  Bark.  In desperation, I put the collar on and tightened it until it signaled that it was on properly.  The thing is, when I had it on too loose, I had to turn the strength of the shock up to 6 before she noticed that something was happening at all.  I didn’t realize that now that it was on right, I needed to turn the impulse down.  She barked.  I said “Hush!”  She continued to bark.  I pushed Go.

Cleo jumped straight up into the air, squeaked in surprise and dashed over to me.  In a second she was on my lap, leaning in to me, her head pressed under my chin. 

It’s likely I’ll never use the collar again.  Let her bark…

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