Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Fetching the Newspaper

As I mentioned in my first post on this blog, Nema has taught me a lot of things, or at least caused me to learn a lot of things. I got a refresher course on one of them this morning -- patience.

For the past three days I have been teaching Nema how to fetch the paper. In the morning, before breakfast, I take her clicker and some treats, and open the front door. Then I say "Get the paper!" and she runs down the enclosed drive, grabs the paper between her teeth, and brings it back to me in exchange for a treat. Yesterday she did it perfectly.

Well, after only three days of practice, this morning I thought I could get her to fetch the paper again -- but this time less formally, with no clicker and no treats. Nope. As soon as I opened the door, she saw the paper, grabbed it, and ran around in large circles around me on the drive whipping the paper around in its plastic bag and shredding the bag. Then, when I called her to come to me, she did exactly the opposite and ran away from me holding the paper in her mouth. I felt irritation rising up -- I was already running late for work, now my paper was half destroyed, my neighbors were probably getting a good laugh through their windows, and she wasn't listening to me at all.

So I walked back in the house, leaving the front door open behind me. I waited in the hallway, and after a few seconds she looked into the house wondering where I went. I decided to try again. I went back outside, but she was still more interested in using the newspaper as a toy than in bringing it to me. Finally she dropped it, and I picked it up and told her to get in the house, which she did. I then tried three times to place the paper outside and have her fetch it, but each time she did the same thing. Finally I gave up. I still felt pretty irritated.

Then I realized that I had been too impatient. At 14 months she's just barely out of puppyhood. She's still a teenager in dog terms. So after just three days of practice I expect her to forget her natural play instinct and fetch something for me? It was unfair of me to get irritated with her.

I will need to continue working with her using the clicker and treats, and eventually no treats, until she completely associates the newspaper with fetching and not shredding. Maybe it will never happen, and that's OK. I don't really care about the newspaper. I just want to continue teaching her new tasks and tricks. I think it is fun for both of us.

It just takes patience. Thanks for the reminder, Nema.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Nema's first agility class!

I have been researching dog agility classes in my area, and on Saturday Jan. 24 B & I took Nema to try out a Pre-Agility course. It took her a few tries to walk across the whole beam rather than jumping off after a few steps, but once she caught on she was extremely enthusiastic. The teacher said she was learning quickly so she recommended we move her to the Agility 1 class. I was so proud of her. :-)

Nema had a great time jumping over tunnels, running through tunnels, running over beams, weaving through poles, and teetering on a see-saw. It was great physical exercise, of course, (for both of us, actually) but also it was challenging her mentally to learn new things. And it helps reinforce her obedience training.

The below photos show us starting up the beam, Nema running across it, and then down the other side.

Nema also learned to weave between poles, as shown below.

Although she was initially a little unsure of what to do when going through the tunnel (at first she just kept jumping over the tunnel) once she figured it out she loved running through it!

Saturday, January 17, 2009


When my puppy, Nema, came to live with me on Saturday, December 22, 2007, I knew I was bringing home the cutest bundle of black and white fur that I'd ever seen. But as she's grown up, she has taught me some interesting lessons about myself and about how life works.

First, some background: My boyfriend (now my fiance) and I had been pining after a dog for quite a while, but we lived in an apartment for three and a half years and since I wanted a big dog, I felt it wasn't fair to get one until we bought a house. He wanted a small dog, but I really wanted a bigger dog I could run and walk and roughhouse with. If my apartment complex had an area for the dog to play outside it wouldn't have been a problem, but there were no parks nearby. So, we waited.

In November 2007 we bought a townhome with a small yard in a neighborhood just minutes away from one of the largest parks in Houston. I wasted no time -- as soon as we moved in I started scouring the city's shelter websites for available dogs. I wanted an older dog so that I could start walking and jogging with him/her right away, and so the dog would already be housetrained. B wanted a puppy to bond with. We debated back and forth and I emailed him lots of pictures of available dogs at the area shelters.

One day at work, I happened to mention in the lunch room that for Christmas, B and I were considering getting a dog as our gift to each other. The very next day, my manager forwarded me an e-mail she received that morning from a co-worker in another building whose son's dog had given birth to puppies. She was trying to find homes for them. I called the lady that day to ask about the situation. She said her son's dog was about 8 years old and had never been spayed, and this was her first litter. She was keeping the puppies and mother dog, Honey, at her house and caring for the pups there -- I think because she had more room at her place than her son did at his house. I asked if I could come and meet the puppies, and she said please do. We arranged to come by that weekend.

Before we visited the puppies, we visited two local shelters to see if we could find a dog there that we felt would be a good match for us. We spent hours at both places, and at one we finally found a puppy that I just couldn't bear to leave behind -- but when we brought her to the staff to say we wanted to adopt her, they apologetically informed me they had made a mistake by letting us visit with her as she had already been adopted that morning. Oops. I was sad, but happy she (the puppy's name was Denise) had found a home.

So then we headed over to my co-worker's house, where the 5-week old puppies had just eaten and were lazily lying around on the newspaper-covered floor. I knew I wanted a girl dog, and there were two female puppies still up for adoption. One was medium brown with a dark brown stripe down the nose, and the other was black with a white blaze down her chest and a white stripe down her nose. The brown one was more playful and the black one was very quiet. I cuddled both of them and played with them a little and tried to suss out their personalities a little, although they are so young at that age it's hard to tell. The lady said they had just eaten and so were not as active as usual. She emphasized that they were usually much more energetic.

(I didn't really pay attention to that at the time, but she was right! Once we got Nema home, she had buckets of energy and still does! But she still likes to nap after she eats.)

I couldn't decide between the brown and black pups, and when I asked B he said it was my decision (although I learned later he was leaning toward the brown one). I remembered reading somewhere that black dogs sometimes have a harder time getting adopted because some people think they are more aggressive. So I decided to take the black one.

That was one of the best decisions I've ever made.

Nema has turned out to be an amazing dog, not because she obeys every command (which she doesn't), not because she never chews up anything in our house (which she does) -- but because she is an incredibly interesting animal.

We couldn't take her home right away of course, as she was only 5 weeks old. The lady said we could come back in a week. Since then, I've read that 6 weeks is still too early to take a pup from its mother, and I regret that I did not leave Nema there for several more weeks. But at the time, I didn't know, and of course I was anxious to bring her home.

We immediately went to the pet store and bought all the supplies to prepare for her arrival. My favorite was a tiny red collar and leash. I slept with the collar and leash on my nightstand for a whole week, so excited to finally be adding a dog to our two-person family.

When the day finally came, December 22, we drove that morning to pick her up, and I sat in the back seat and held her all the way home as B drove. She slept most of that first day, and most of the second, but by the third day (which happened to be Christmas Eve) her energy revealed itself and it began to dawn on us what we had gotten ourselves into! A six-pound puppy can still wreak havoc in your house, believe me.

She slept in a little crate with bedding right next to our bed in our room. But she woke up every couple of hours and either had to go to the bathroom or wanted to play. I also had to go to work each day. So by the time Christmas Eve rolled around, I was like a sickly zombie nauseated from two nights with no sleep.

Now that she's over a year old and housetrained (and 60 pounds -- big enough that I won't roll over on her accidentally hurt her) she sleeps in our bed with us. So no more crate in the bedroom and no more waking up all night long.

So, that's the story of how Nema came to live with us and be part of our lives.

I suppose I should mention that she is a mixed breed dog, we guess black labrador from her father's side, with boxer and beagle from her mother's side. She's a beautiful dog. Big brown eyes, white socks on her hind toes and an expressive face framed by velvety ears.

In my subsequent blog entries I'll talk about how Nema's taught me about imperfection, persistence and relinquishing control. Right now, however, I'm going to wake up my snoozing dog from the couch, tear my fiance away from his X-Box and maneuver them both to our bed for a good night's sleep.