One Week

Uschi’s been eating all of her meals in the kitchen for an entire week.

It’s significant enough to mention because it’s been literally years since she’s routinely eaten in the kitchen.

I haven’t referenced it because frankly it was embarrassing. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was and honestly I still don’t quite understand what her problem was.

According to Jason, the instructor we trained with, she definitely preferred to eat in her crate. It’s quite likely she was raised eating all of her meals that way and just associated it as a comfortable place to dine. I wasn’t particular fond of this concept since I like to have blankets and other bedding in the crate.1 At first Uschi was reluctant to eat her meals in the kitchen, but then we had the crazy incident with the cat at the bookstore.

I don’t know what happened. She stopped eating her food if I left it in the kitchen. In fact, she basically avoided the kitchen entirely. If I called her in, she would reluctantly obey and flee the moment she was released from any commands. Her entire behavior in the kitchen screamed how stressed and scared she was.

Initially it was more important to deal with the more active issues from the aftermath of the bookstore drama. I needed her to be solid in harness and so long as I wasn’t pressing the kitchen thing she was totally fine.

Slowly, oh so slowly, over the years she’s become more comfortable with the kitchen. First I couldn’t even convince her to take a drink from her bowl. She’d just stand there, glancing back at me from her elevated diner with white-rimmed eyes. I made sure to add extra water to her meals to make sure she was getting enough each day. At some point she started to sneak her water. I really can’t explain the logic of it since she’s always had free water, but the only way she’d voluntarily drink seemed to require her feeling totally secure that I wouldn’t be in there. Every time I’d go to the bathroom, for instance, she’d make a beeline for the kitchen and drink like she might never have water again. Sometimes the momentum from her eager running caused the bathroom door to open causing her to either run back the way she came or poke her head into the bathroom like she was really intending to visit me. Eventually I was able to use those times to get her to accompany me into the kitchen. I’d casually try to get her to drink and at first she would literally just dip her tongue in the water.

The whole process was a high-wire act. She was so tentative and inexplicably fearful that I never wanted to press her, but no matter how friendly and enticing I tried to make the kitchen I just couldn’t get her interested. If I tried to feed her a treat, she’d ignore me like she didn’t really want it or snatch it from me and bolt away. If I tossed a toy in the direction of the kitchen or one randomly rolled too close, she considered it lost and wouldn’t go near it. I was content, however, when she finally started to drink of her own accord. It was excruciatingly slow progress, but at least she wasn’t acting like her water was a protected resource that she had to steal. I figured it was as good as it would ever get and so the years have passed.

And then one day earlier this year I was cooking dinner and tripped over her. She was just lying there behind me like it was the most natural thing ever. She ran off like I’d beat her and I thought I’d broken all the progress we’d made. But then she was back another day batting a tennis ball around. Another night, I looked over to find her sitting demurely by the stove and watching me intently. Some time after that she tried to counter-surf while I was dicing up chicken. I gave her a soft “nuh uh” and bopped her gently on the nose. I expected her to dart off, but instead she sunk to the ground at my feet.

She didn’t join me every time I cooked something, but I noticed if I spent any great length of time in the kitchen she’d eventually come and investigate. Sometimes she’d bring a toy as a peace offering, dropping it at my feet and glancing over at whatever food was being cooked. At some point I started to randomly give her a treats when she visited me, trying to entice her to eat them in the kitchen. The first few times she ran off, leaving the treat on the floor until I let her take it away.

After a few tries I finally got her to stick around, but I still wasn’t convinced I’d ever get her to eat a meal in the kitchen. Then one morning I set her food in her crate and called her over. Rather than crawl into her crate with her food, she just stuck her head through the kennel door and ate. She did the same thing the next day, too. I didn’t make a big deal out of it. Honestly, I didn’t give it much thought at all.

Except a few weeks later when she flatly refused to eat at all. Brooke had spent the night here, before heading back to Canada and Uschi was too distracted by what Canyon and Rogue might be doing than bother with her breakfast. By dinner she was appropriately famished and she was so interested in her food that I just set her bowl on the floor. She ate ravenously and I was flummoxed.

Curiosity compelled me to see if she’d be as willing to eat in the kitchen the next morning. And, well, as you can probably guess she was and has been every day since.

I don’t know if she’ll continue to take her meals in the kitchen without issue since I still don’t know what the actual problem was. The trigger seems to have been the stress from that encounter with the horrible cat, but how it related to my kitchen is baffling.

  1. I’m sure it’s more comfortable, but it also helps keep the crate cleaner because the dirt and oils aren’t deposited primarily along the sides and bottom of the crate.

Little Things

A few minutes ago I took Uschi out for a quick constitutional. As I was about to clip her leash on her collar, she shook herself off leaving me with a momentary need to relocate the ring with my fingers.

Before I could do that, she nudged her head forward and just tapped the inside of my wrist with her nose. Uschi knows to target and she’ll often do this of her own accord to let me know she’s there and paying attention. This little gesture was basically her saying she was all set after her big shake and she wouldn’t move until her leash was clipped on. I’d like to think it was also partially an “I’m sorry.”

To me, it’s these small, little things that I often forget to mention that really show how deep a bond a guide dog team share. That intimate knowledge that a team has of each other is honestly my favorite thing about being a handler.

GSDs in the Snow

I have a bunch of photos on my camera to organize, but for now here’s a quick video of the shepherds having some fun in all the snow:

Adventures in Dog-Sitting

When Dad and Keith went to NYC a few years ago, the dogs spent the entire time moping about, being incredibly despondent. So, I’m happy to say they’ve reacted to this trip far better. Yara has been pretty much glued to my side since I arrived, while Eli and Uschi have been tearing up the house in an endless playtime.

Honestly, not much has happened. The shepherds definitely know they outnumber me and seem to have combined their efforts to drag me out of bed as early as possible. So far they’ve forced me to brave the below temps at 4 a.m. two days in a row.

Mealtimes have been delightfully uneventful. Everyone has eaten their respective meals with absolutely zero issue.

The weather unfortunately has still been far too cold to let them have some good outdoor fun, but the weekend is supposed to warm up a bit. So, perhaps we’ll get a chance before we get dumped upon by yet more snow.

Dog-Sitting

Uschi and I are at Dad’s for the next week while he and Keith are in Florida. Given the horrendous cold weather we’re having currently I am more than a little jealous. But for their part the dogs seem thrilled. Yara’s been practically glued to my side since we arrived and Eli and Uschi are playing as hard as ever.

I brought my camera, so hopefully I’ll get some fun photos to share. And if the weather cooperates, perhaps I’ll get some time outside with the dogs. They all certainly enjoy all that white stuff out there.