You Are My Sunshine...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Benny's First Snow!

  Benny's  First Snow!

Um. Mum?  This is kinda wierd...
Did you know about this?

... but I could get into it.
Feels kinds all right!

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Small Gains, Big Returns


Small Gains, Big Returns

In my last page posting, “Overfaced” I wrote a little bit about how we worked with Nico to gain his confidence in small ways. Writing those pages takes me back in time to the first year he was here, which was of course when the most dramatic steps in his rehabilitation as a family pet were taken by him and by us. But it was by all means not over within the first year. This December he will have been with us three years, and Nico continues to evolve and change in his ways.

I have described elsewhere how Nico came to us particularly fearful of men and boys, how whatever confidence he managed to show when it was just me and my husband at home would disappear when strangers arrived. I remember when Molly Moldovan and her husband Jim Thompson came to visit and meet the new dog. Molly and Jim were among the small handful of people who founded the Alaskan Malamute Help League. For many many years the two of them did the lion's share of administrative and other work involved in realizing the League's mandate of helping Malamutes and Malamute owners in trouble. I cannot imagine how Nico would have found his way to us without the help of AMHL; indeed he probably would not have survived at all.

So it was no small irony that when they came to visit, Nico, instead of greeting his benefactors with gratitude, ran and hid in his dog house. Over the years, however, that has changed. The last time Molly and Jim came to visit, Nico came into the kitchen and was delighted to greet both of them. Jim is the kindest gentlest man when it comes to handling dogs. But he is over six feet tall, with an even bigger voice, exactly the combination that used to send Nico into a panic. Yet for the last year or so Nico has demonstrated greater and greater ease with large male visitors; this last visit Jim was able to lay hands on Nico for the first time.

This weekend however we experienced an even more significant indicator of Nico's sociability. We had friends visiting and from the moment of their arrival Nico not only did not show fear, he was positively anxious to come in the house and greet them. Then we went for a walk down the trail, into the part of our own woods where it is safe for Nico and Benny to run loose. I said to my husband Rick, I don't know if we should do this. Nico won't come in to be leashed if someone else is here, especially a man. Rick said, Well, he's pretty relaxed. I think we should try it. The worst that will happen is he will run home to the yard.

He was right about that. Nico has come to see the fenced yard as his “safe place.” When challenged, that is where he wants to be. No one makes demands on him there, and from the vantage point of a large but enclosed space with lots of hiding places, he has the freedom to make his own decisions about what he does, who he gets close to, and who gets close to him. On the rare occasions when he has gotten loose and taken off in a panic, instead of running away, he runs straight into his yard.

So we went walking and at the appropriate place, unleashed the dogs. Nico did not, as we had hoped, act like nobody was there with us. Instead he went right up to Brian, our male visitor, put his nose under his hand and demanded attention.

Small gains indeed! Nico was acting like a normal, well-adjusted Malamute, “friendly upon invitation” as the breed standard describes the ideal Mal temperament. A stranger to Nico's situation would not comment. But for us, remembering always that poor scared creature of three years ago who would not come out of his crate, this was incredible. That our Nico, when given the option to run off into the woods, would choose to return to greet a stranger and allow him to handle him instead: this was indeed cause for celebration.

Three years have passed since we began with this dog, and still he grows and develops. Our friend asked us what we expected when we first got Nico. Did we think then about how long it would take to bring him around? I told him, “When I saw how scared Nico was, I found myself treating him like a wild animal. He had obviously no reason to trust anything human, and there was no guarantee he would ever get past his fear enough to find one. So I figured our job was to see he was safe, housed and fed, show him kindness in what ways he would allow. Anything from him, any signs of trust and confidence I considered a gift to be hoped for, but not sought.”

Over the years, Nico has not only given us his trust, but also returned to us his own affection. Yet he still surprises us. Just at the moment when I think, “It's been three years. He's a mature dog. This is probably as good as it's going to get,” he shows us yet another measure of confidence and ease.

I should know better though: it's always a mistake to underestimate what a Malamute might do next. I am also pretty sure that Nico's most recent gains have a lot to do with Benny's presence While Benny is still too much of a puppy to act as a “leader” to Nico in times of uncertainty, we have noticed that Nico has become more relaxed and more grown-up in so many ways since he is now “big brother”to little Benny. When we were still just thinking about bringing a puppy into our pack our vet, who is very wise in the ways of critter-life said, “I'm sure another dog will do Nico more good than any human ever could.” It would appear she was right! Our Nico continues to evolve into the dog he was meant to be, showing us  indeed, you can get along alright, but isn't it always better with a little bit of help from a friend.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Back Story: "Over-faced"

You will notice a new entry under "Back Story". "Over-faced" is about one of the ways I managed to get Nico to over come his panic at the sight of new people or new things.  New people, especially men and teenage boys, have been a challenge for Nico from the very beginning. Yet over the past few months he has become positively friendly to both boys and men, at least when we are at home or walking in the woods and fields.  "Over-faced" is about one of the things I  did when confronted with Nico's fear in the presence of new people or in circumstances he found challenging.   This writing is not meant to be taken as training advice. Nico is a very special dog with issues specific to him. It is offered solely in the spirit of sharing the insights I have gained from having the opportunity to get to know my Nico, and in celebration of the gift which is his trust.

Nico, supported by me and my niece
enjoying an extended family party away from home.
Everyone there was a relative: does it get any scarier than that?
Publish Post

Wednesday, November 17, 2010


Up and Running 
I think fasting before surgery is stupid.
I'm going to need all the strength I can get before this over.

Indeed!  Benny has fully recovered from his surgery and is back to normal activities.  He was so very happy to be running again! And he is back to being our preternaturally calm Malamute puppy instead of doing all those crazy things purely for want of a good run that land Malamutes in Rescue (if they're lucky), the pound or worse if they are not.  Benny is a very easy puppy in many ways, but he is an Alaskan Malamute and that means energy! It only took about forty eight hours after the surgery for him to feel like his normal self again, but our vet counselled a much longer period of restricted activity to ensure sound healing.  So it was leash walks only, no running, no jumping, no playing, no fun!  Because the play with Nico is so rough and Benny  was so easily excited for want of real exercise, we could not allow them to even walk together.  The longing looks cast by both parties across the lawn as we put Benny in his kennel, Nico in the yard, day after day, were enough to break your heart.  Fortunately, by the end of seven long days, our vet pronounced Benny fit to resume activities, and re-integration with Nico involved nothing more than saying "Yes!" 

So here they are, being young and strong and Malamute, together. 




Did I say Malamute? 


Saturday, November 6, 2010

The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face...

The first time ever I saw your face
I thought the sun rose in your eyes
And the moon and the stars were the gifts you gave
To the dark and the empty skies my love
To the dark and the empty skies. 

These are the lines that come to mind when I contemplate  any of the dogs who've shared their lives with me. The song written by Ewan MacColl for Peggy Seeger goes on in a way that can only apply to a human lover, but I cannot think of any better words than these to express the feeling when I look into a dog's eyes and know he or she is coming home with me.  There are many ways to describe our response to these warm hearted creatures.  Dogs have always been important to me, perhaps because I am not very good with people. Dogs on the other hand never tell lies and their devotion has nothing to do with the lies we tell ourselves. They are completely without moral scruple, and social judgement. They just do what instinct tells them in the moment.  I find fathoming just what that might be on a day to day, moment to moment basis  eminently refreshing to my spirit and soothing to my mind. Anyone who has had and cared for a dog knows they leave behind a gift that defies definition but leaves a soft spot  in even the most flinty of hearts. 

Benny has been making his way into our hearts since the first moment I saw his face just like any other dog I've ever had. And yet no two dogs are ever the same any more than any other two individuals might be and Benny's  ways of endearing himself to us are all his own.  Here he is, doing what Benny does, over the last few weeks, as he has become an irreplaceable part of our family.

Toys! Amazing what you find you've got when you clean your room!

This is the House Manners IQ test. Notice the gloves. The clock is ticking. Will Benny choose the gloves or a toy? 

YES!  He chooses the toy! Good Benny! 

A friend told us a prince like Benny needed a four poster bed....
That was fine until Sebastian came home from university!

Hey! Look who's sleeping in my bed?  That ain't no Goldilocks!

Oh. I guess he's alright. At least until that blonde chick comes back! (or was it a Golden? --Is it the boy or the dog talking here?)
 Hey!  That cat can sing!

Benny: "Ok. I hear a cat. But I don't see a cat. I don't even smell a cat. "
Sebastian: "This is my fiddle Benny. They don't make the strings out of cat gut anymore."
Benny: "Oh. They did that once? Seems like  a terrible waste."

Thunder and Benny: Carbon Copies

Let's Play!

Benny... Are you in there?

Friday, November 5, 2010



It's been a while since my last post but not because we haven't been having interesting developments in the Benny-Nico integration project.  I have  been doing some other writing which has taken my attention, but have managed to get the next installment of the beginning of Nico's Story ready. I've just posted it, so if you are interested in what happened after Nico came home, how we got him out of the truck and into our lives, check it out on the "Back Story" pages under the title, Nico's Story Part II: WAITING.

Apart from that though I thought I would report that Benny was neutered on Wednesday. All went very well, but a result he is on leash exercise only, no running, no jumping, no climbing, for anywhere from a week to ten days.  That adds up to no playing with Nico because what they do together is run, jump and climb all over each other!

Before surgery Benny weighed in at a little over 69 pounds. He's a very lean puppy and we have to work to keep his ribs from showing too much, so we know its all dog. He's going to be one big boy!  We could already see that he was almost as tall as Nico, and at 69 pounds now we know he's even a little bit heavier.  He's already showing his strength and because he gets lots of exercise there is no reason not to expect him to just to get stronger.  Nico remains of course faster, more co-ordinated and experienced in his movements, therefore dominant in the relationship.  We will be watching closely though to see what happens when they get back together as we could already see, before the play stopped last week, that Nico is feeling Benny's strength and size.  Also Benny will be at the stage where serious testing begins. But so far we have no reason not to expect things will go well enough.

Meanwhile, on the  entertainment front: Benny has discovered mirrors. I caught him in the bedroom the other day falling in love with his image, then running away and back again to see if that good looking dog with no scent at all was still there!  He remains a most affectionate pup, lapping up the cuddles now that go with non-stop supervision to make sure he doesn't lick his incision.  He's on a short leash all of the time right now, which means an opportunity to work on training. He's actually pretty good at a full attention heel and can do all the patterns on loose leash or without it entirely. But on the trail I let him go out front and do not correct him if he pulls forward: he is after all, a sled dog with a pulling career, however amateurish on my part, ahead of him.  He is incredibly powerful however, so I am glad that I have worked on come, finish (which gets him around to the heeling side) and then heel for when he is excited. He does it really well when its just me and him. Distractions however are something we'll start working with more seriously now that he's crossed the six month mark and more can be asked of his attention span.

So that's an update for Benny's breeder and anyone else interested in the developmental progress of this particular pup.   My next installment will likely be about what happens when we get Nico and Benny back together, and how the relationship develops.   Benny and Nico look longingly across the yard at each other,  but at least they can each still be with Thunder, separately.  When Thunder is on leash or in the house he ignores all play overtures from Benny, so they can be together despite the exercise restrictions. As for Nico, when he sees  Thunder coming his tail always does that slow heavy swing, a particular greeting reserved for the old guy who helped him find his comfort  here from the very first hour he arrived. They are still spending lots of time together in the yard. Thunder, being the consummate manager that he is, seems to have enough patience and control over his space to share part of each day and night with each dog, all the while  insisting on the rest his senior status dictates.  There is no question: my boys have formed a pack, with Benny very much included, Thunder very much in charge or at least, quite capably  taking over where we leave off, and Nico, my golden Nico happier and more relaxed than I've ever seen him be.