April 19, 2014 § Leave a comment
Today 2 years ago I had to let go of my first ever dog, my beautiful little kelpie girl. I still miss her at my feet every day. She was perfect and sweet, and she brought a lot of friends into my life. Many, many years back, one of my friends wrote a story about her after a weekend trip.
Thank you Michelle, for agreeing to post your story on my blog.
And my beautiful Fin, I still will never forget you or leave you behind. Ever.
The bag was on the verandah and that could only mean one thing – we were going away! I’d often see Angi pack and my tail would droop lower and lower as she moved about the rooms packing and shutting things up. Would I get to go or would I be under the house with a chicken wing for company? Sometimes she would drag my bag out at the last minute, putting my food and leash into it as if I was some sort of afterthought. But not today! Today there was no doubt that wherever she was going, I was going too.
I gave the bag a sniff while she pottered around with last-minute human things. My bag still smelt like our trip to the sea, which could have been years ago or just yesterday. Sometimes having a short-term memory was a blessing but it could also be very frustrating, particularly if you were hungry and no one was about. It could feel like days since you were fed but it might have only been two hours ago.
Angi’s friend arrived in the blue car and gave me an absent pat on her way through the door. She always seemed in such a rush, and way too excitable. I know all about excitability being a kelpie. They fiddled around for ages trying to tie their bikes on the back of the car. Angi would occasionally turn to me and say, “Fin – stay”. Like I was going anywhere! I kept my eyes glued to them just in case they forgot me in the rush.
Finally they bundled my bag into the car and I got a prime spot on the back seat. There is nothing like the wind in your ears as the car goes along and I’m glad they remembered to wind down the window for me for a change – they could be so thoughtless sometimes. But this was turning out to be a great trip.
We drove for a while and then stopped to pick up another person who smelt vaguely familiar. She called my name and showed me her teeth in that way humans do when they are pleased. This reminded me of wonderful times past. I licked her face with enthusiasm but she responded by pushing me away with her arm. Some people really do lack decent social skills. Never mind – it isn’t their fault if they aren’t brought up properly I suppose.
I settled down on the back seat while the car rocked back and forth. The humans seemed to be doing a lot of looking through the back window at the bikes on the bike rack but no one seemed to want to stop the squeaking. Was I the only one that heard it? I tried a couple of times to see what was going on by squashing my face against the back windscreen but all I got was, “Fin – down” from Angi. “Fine,” I thought, “I won’t help!”
It was dark and I woke from a snooze when I felt the car slow down and turn into a driveway. The smells were unmistakable. This was a fun place for sure. Hazy memories of exhausted bliss were linked to what I could smell. The car stopped and the humans piled out of the car calling, “Come on Fin”. They didn’t have to say it twice.
–Michelle Riedlinger, 2004
July 1, 2013 § 2 Comments
While procrastinating, tempted to do so by an article by Bruno Latour, I clicked my way absent-mindedly through the Facebook news feed until a post of a friend: Actor Jimmy Steward recites a poem to his beloved dog. That got me. It’s a touching and sweet and funny recitation.
It’s comforting to see that I’m not the only sentimental one who wrote a poem for the dog they lost. Jimmy Stewart is of course much more of a writer of poems than me, but still. It made me dig out the poem I wrote about my first dog, my kelpie Fin, when she was dying. I wanted to let my friends know where she was at; I had had an emotional day, struggling with the knowledge of what the impending loss would mean. Back then I was reading Patricia McConnell’s book For the Love of a Dog. In it she encourages dog owners to see themselves through their dog’s eyes. If the dogs could write down what we do around them (and sadly often to them), what would they write. I had started out trying to do that for Fin, but I ended up just wanting to write about Fin and me. And I wanted to share it with my friends. So I wrote that poem and emailed it to my friends back then.
While out for a walk with a friend and the dogs today, we talked about soul dogs. This made me think about my kelpie. It’s been more than a year since I lost her, and it still hurts. I still feel her. I still look down at my feet on walks and I still startle when she is not there. So here it goes.
Fin, to her human
I’ll be at your feet
While you write, while you read, and while you sleep.
Until I smell
an antechinus, or a mouse, or a cat.
Until I hear
the waterhose, with my neighbour,
waiting for me to come and play.
Until I sense
a tennis ball—somewhere, anywhere
Then I chase.
I come back and get you. Drop.
And your feet and my paws run together.
And later, when we sit down and look out at the world together
I lean into you
and you rub my belly
while I smile my kelpie smile.
June 25, 2013 § Leave a comment
We made our way back on foot. For both of us the walk proved too long. Downcast we strode on in the autumn sunshine, side by side. The houses of Kritzendorf seemed to go on forever. Of the people who lived there not a sign was to be seen. They were all having lunch, clattering the cutlery and plates. A dog leapt at a green-painted iron gate, quite beside itself, as if it had taken leave of its senses. It was a large black Newfoundland, its natural gentleness broken by ill-treatment, long confinement or even the crystal clarity of the autumn day. In the villa behind the iron fence nothing stirred. Nobody came to the window, not even a curtain moved. Again and again the animal ran up and hurled itself at the gate, only occasionally pausing to eye us where we stood as if transfixed. As we walked on I could feel the chill of terror in my limbs. Ernst turned to look back once more at the black dog, which had now stopped barking and was standing motionless in the midday sun. Perhaps we should have let it out. It would probably have ambled along beside us, like a good beast, while its evil spirit might have stalked among the people of Kritzendorf in search of another host, and indeed might have entered them all simultaneously, so not one of them would have been able to lift a spoon or fork again.
(WG Sebald, 1990, Vertigo)
The large black Newfoundland. One of the many dogs in WG Sebald’s work.Here the dog is menacing. But not as the dog that rushes the fence (although that seems to be a deeply ingrained fear for many), but as the black dog that figures depression. The narrator in Vertigo visits his friend Ernst, who has lived most of his life in a mental institution. Both are dealing with mental illness and in this episode they literally walk into the terror of it.
In Vertigo, as in Sebald’s other work, the dog mostly is a melancholy omen of actual or potential illness. As someone living with dogs, I find this aspect of Sebald’s work difficult to reconcile with that so much of his work is inspired by dogs. In an often quoted interview Sebald talks about how he has always had dogs and how the dog running in the field, following his nose, has taught him about writing and about walking and finding things.
For me, my dogs bring so much happiness and fun and laughter into my life; I cannot think easily of dogs as harbingers of bad things. But there is, of course, a long tradition in folklore of the dog as bad omen. And particularly the black dog.
There is also a dog in the cover photograph of my Penguin Books 2005 edition of Campo Santo, a collection of Sebald’s writings published after his death. It is a Kertesz photo of the church in Piana, Corsica, 1932. Men clad in black and in hats are lined up sitting outside the church, in the shade. It is probably a Sunday. A yellow, or white, dog shares the shadow of the church with them.
The photo is so Sebaldian in its style that I wonder whether it might have been one of the remembered images at the core of Sebald’s writing process: “[…] and on a walk there a remembered image came into my mind”, he writes somewhere in one of the pieces in Campo Santo. I can’t remember where, but it might have been the title essay, based on Sebald walking in Corsica. André Kertesz, of course, was a poet among photographers, observing the everyday, the easily missed moments. So here a dog as part of everyday life. No matter whether white, or black.
Interview by Joe Cuomo with Sebald talking about dogs and writing
W.G. Sebald and the Writing of History (ed. by Anne Fuchs and J. Jonathan James Long 2007)
June 16, 2013 § 2 Comments
Pinot is trouble. “Hello trouble!”, my neighbour says every time he sees her. “Hello trouble!”, or “Here comes trouble!”; this is one of my new puppy’s nicknames. I remember a Facebook post with a series of photos of catastrophes, earthquakes, floods, and the like. And then a photo of a border collie puppy in amongst the shreds of something now unrecognisable he has shredded. Meticulously shredded.
Pinot, one could say, is a little bit like that. Maybe I should have taken the momentousness of the question ‘Should I get a second dog?’ more seriously. Life was much, much easier with just one dog. And almost every day hears me moaning to the sky, or the earth, or a friend that I know nothing about dogs and training after all and what an idiot I was to fancy I could be a dog trainer. But hey, she’s a puppy. And as a friend of mine says, one of the ugly things we see in a lot of dog training is this intense obsession with control in so much of today’s life. We must control our partner, our children, our dogs, our cats. Puppy must learn controlled sits, downs, and whatever position. Puppy must sit when we say, every time we say so. Even if we say it a hundred times a day, and even if all puppy wants to do is go and explore the world with us.
Pinot is now almost seven months old and full of life. Here is what I have learned about her life in the two months we’ve lived together:
- Seatbelts must be chewed. Oh the pull on them and the texture; it’s all just pure chewiness.
- Four paws are for running. You must run, run, run on them, even when they get tangled and you fall over and even when someone somewhere in the distance implores you to come back.
- Waterbowls really are just dive pools in disguise.
- Chimneys are going somewhere you haven’t sniffed yet, so you must at least try and climb them. Even if then you and a lot of other things are black.
- You must let people know you reckon they are a bit of o’right by jumping up on them and grin. Sitting back and looking at them as if to check them out … oh no. You wouldn’t want them to think you think they look funny.
- Never let go of a tug toy if you can help it.
- Chicken are cool. Real cool. So cool you just must stare at them. Even touch them, if you can.
- Holes must be dug big enough to hopefully bury a sheep in it. You never know, you might find a sheep some day.
- Any dogs that still are there when you wake up in the morning are there for jumping onto and roll around with.
- If you are happy, just bark. No need to hold back on joy.
January 21, 2013 § 2 Comments
This book is worth a much, much longer review, but alas there are so many other things to do, so just a brief one.
Karen Pryor’s Don’t Shoot the Dog: The New Art of Teaching and Training is an oldie. First published in 1984 it was part of the whole start of clicker training in the dog training world. But although being a time-honoured classic, the book is worth reading–or, if you’ve already done so, even rereading. It’s fun, and it manages to pack a whole lot of useful knowledge into a really readable little book. I’ve been reading, for the first time, the 2002 revised edition, reprinted in 2009.
Pryor explains the principles of positive reinforcement and clicker training. Clear and entertaining–the animal in training in her ‘case studies’ often is us, with our bad habits. For anyone who wants to understand animal behaviour. If nothing else, read the “10 Laws of Shaping” and the “8 Methods to Get Rid of Behaviour You Don’t Want”. These two sections are a good primer on real positive reinforcement training, showing the fallout of the use of punishment, corrections or any other aversives, for that matter.
Get a clicker, or get out your old one and brush it off, or remind yourself of what other marker signal you’ve used (Yes!), and have fun with your dog.
October 24, 2012 § Leave a comment
I’ve been not getting around to writing posts apart from keeping up with the weekly photo challenge. In one of these little things that just suddenly happen in life, I’ve rather suddenly ended up with a foster dog. He is big, he is hairy, and he is lovely. But he has never had a day’s training in his life and is a strong 12-months old stubborn beardie.
He was going to be put down after his time in the pound was up, and now he is living with me and my friend Bill.
Speak of a big challenge.
I’ll post about our adventure of finding a home for Scruff, formerly known as Dougal … once I get time between trying to help him turn into a wonderful pet dog.
But in the meantime, meet Scruff, the beardie x:
If you have time, check out his stories on his Facebook page: Dougal the Dog Needs a Home.
September 26, 2012 § 3 Comments
I’ve just finished reading Suzanne Clothier’s 2002 book Bones Would Rain from the Sky: Deepening Our Relationships With Dogs. I’ve heard it mentioned so many times, and seen referenced in many other books and on websites, and after months and months on my to-read list, I have finally read it.
I’m not sure where to begin and how to write a review of this book. I loved it. It is a beautifully written and deeply engaged book about our life with dogs. It is beautiful, honest, funny, sad at times, informative, and always courageous. Writing about the spiritual aspect of our relationship with dogs is a challenge, given how difficult these things are to put into words that do justice to the experience rather than fall into new age talk. Suzanne Clothier makes you think about how we treat and connect with animals on every page.
And this is what the book is about: our relationship with our dogs, the experiences that develop out of this connection. Clothier writes that this is actually what we want from dog training and from wanting to know about dog training. We want to know about this connection between ourselves and our dogs — something which is about more than knowing how to teach them tricks and how to stop them from destroying our garden or couch. Bones Would Rain from the Sky is a wonderful essay on the need to learn to understand dog behaviour — and the beauty of this learning process, together with our dogs as our teachers. Clothier calls us into educating ourselves continually in the technicalities and mechanics of behaviour and training, but then to not get lost in them and continue to be able to see the art of animal training.
The book is not a training manual as such, but every page brims with training tips and with explanations and exemplifications of dog behaviour. One of my favourites is when she describes her gold standard against which all training techniques and philosophies are tested:
[…] I need look no further than a dog’s eyes to find the precise moment when my connection to that dog shifted away from clear and free agreement between us. Did my approach to the dog create resistance, fear, distrust or pain, dimming the clear trusting light in his eyes? Then I had to find a better way. At first unconsciously , and then with deliberation, I began to evaluate all methods, philosophies and techniques against just this simple standard: the light in a dog’s eyes. Over and over I asked myself, “Does this allow the light to shine?”
And once you’ve seen that glitter of joy in a dog’s eye, you never fail to notice, painfully, when it is not there, or when it suddenly disappears. In the dog’s eyes also lives what Clothier calls the “responsibility of togetherness”. She reminds us of the need to keep the covenant we enter when we take a dog into our lives — and this reminder of our responsibility is still necessary today, ten years after the first publication of Bones Would Rain from the Sky. Just think of the huge numbers of abandoned or abused dogs in shelters. The relationship between dogs and humans is as old as human history. A good reason to think hard about how we treat dogs and to respect our responsibility when we touch an individual dog’s life, but also, more generally, when we continue to integrate dogs into human society — as working or assistance dogs, as pets, as entertainment, or even as a source of food.
Bones Would Rain from the Sky is probably the first book that as soon as I finished reading it, I immediately wanted to read again — in case I had missed something, not “learned” everything in it and absorbed it so that it would now be part of how I treat dogs and of my being with dogs.