Monday, 29 July 2013

And Lily (temporarily??) makes 3...

Adventures in walking three hounds.
Last week, the ratio of greyhounds to people at our house finally tipped in favour of the racers when 2 year old Lily (Lilylicious) came to stay. There are also now more females than males at home - although I'm not sure that Mike and Chris have picked up on that increase in awesomeness just yet. 

Lily comes to us short-term, as a foster hound while she awaits her "forever home", although so far, she has fit in to life as a pet so well that the effort of having three hounds doesn't seem that much greater than having two - and it isn't such a stretch to imagine us being a 3 dog household. While there are some initial practical issues that you have to get around (or at least think carefully about how you will manage) - for example, two hounds fit comfortably in the car for a drive to the park but 3 not so much - and we have had one or two very minor teething problems - the experience as a whole has been a positive one. Meal times aren't even as much of an event as I thought they would be!

Like butter wouldn't melt...
Lily has found a new BEST BEST BEST friend in Mila - even if the feeling isn't entirely mutual. She is a mini-version of Mila - right down to the black fur and waggy tail - and constantly looks to Mila for guidance on how to deal with a new situation or for any indication that it might be time to go out and play.  When Mila does decide to go outside (in her own time of course - she will not be pressured!!), Lily dutifully follows and is very careful to make sure that she sniffs the same bushes in the garden, and pees in the same spots as Mila - imitation being the most sincere form of flattery after all. Each morning, when Meels sets out for some alone time on her morning walk, Lily waits (not so patiently) for her return - driving Chris mental in the process - until the moment they can be reunited like long lost sisters.

I would love to report that Mila feels the same way about the new addition - that a fabulous friendship has blossomed and that she has taken young Lily under her wing like a good "big sister" - but we all know that's not the way that Mila operates. Madam subscribes to the "treat 'em mean - keep 'em keen" school of social interaction, which isn't to say that she doesn't enjoy having Lily around, but she does like to make it clear that Lily's presence is entirely at Mila's discretion. It reminds me a bit of the movie Mean Girls. There is a great deal of "tough love" going on - but it's pretty clear that Lily is having a great time and that Mila thoroughly enjoys having someone to boss around and (finally!) having someone who will worship her very existence. Old man Chris is much more worried about where his next meal is coming from and how much of the day he can spend lying in his favourite spot in the sun, to care whether Mila likes him or not - so the attention from young Lily is a breath of fresh air. I'm sure that even if Mila learns nothing about the value of compassion, patience and caring through this experience - it is doing wonderful things for her self-esteem.
Enjoying a pig's ear in the sun

Lily and Chris seem to get on just fine - bearing in mind that Chris is old enough to be her great grandfather (several times over). Sometimes Lily forgets that Chris would rather lie in bed undisturbed than be jumped on or sniffed or head-butted - but she always has a gentle ear-lick for him and generally respects his need for space (and peace).

As I type, I have close to 90 kgs worth of greyhound relaxing in various spots around the house - trying to make best use of beds, sunlight and space. When it comes down to it, whether you have one hound, or three, an ex-racer's favourite pastime will always be sleeping and it's difficult to feel too outnumbered in your home when the animals around you are dead to the world...

Friday, 5 April 2013

Off-lead and...under control?

Out for a stroll in Newlands
Jeepers - where did 3 months just go?? The hounds and us humans have been enjoying the sunshine so much over the last few months that we've forgotten what it's like to sit down in front of the computer for any decent length of time - we've had nothing particularly exciting to report - so our updates have been somewhat neglected. A recent flurry of hound-related activity reminded me of the blog and a rather opportune lazy Friday has given me a chance to sit down and write about our latest adventures. 

In the post on Tuesday, arrived a large A4 envelope for "Miss Mila Conner". Too thin to be a bone or a bag of dog food. Too informal to be invitation to dinner with the Prime Minister. What could it be? We got the envelope inside and Mila had a sniff (and a sneaky slobber) to see if she recognised the handwriting. There was a wee glimmer of acknowledgement before she lost interest completely and went to lie on the bed.

So, it was left to me to do the honours. Inside the envelope was two shiny certificates from Jo at Canine Solutions, who we had been going to training courses with - one for Level 2 and a BIG one for Level 3. I showed them to Mila and after she had spent some time trying to eat the smaller one, she looked at me as if to say 'Yeah, I know. It was nothing.'

Mila and I have been going to "Dog School" with Canine Solutions on and off for some time now. We have been through the Beginner's Course (Level 1), the Lead Aggression Course (Level 2) and, most recently, the Off-lead Course (Level 3). In the early days, Jo also come to visit our house and was a huge help with the settling in process and making Mila comfortable during the times we are away from home.

Mila and her Level 1 certificate
But Dog School was the best part. To start off with, we learnt basic commands like Sit, Down, Watch, Wait and Stay and practiced our on-lead walking and polite meetings. Jo was very understanding when we had to have class inside one day and Mila couldn't do her Sits and Downs on the hard wooden floor as well as she wanted to. Mila's 'Waits' were also very good, so we were allowed to do our walks without having to do a Sit to cross the road at an intersection. I think this had more to do with the fact that we didn't want to have to wait half an hour to be able to move off from the kerb - but that's neither here nor there.

Going to class once a week was also a good chance for Mila to practice being social and friendly with other dogs. During the time we were there, we learnt a lot about Mila's personality (she has a limited tolerance for excitement in other dogs and needs to be in control of a "playtime" situation to be having fun - what a madam!!) and the situations we should avoid and/or try to manage.

Mila at her final class before Christmas - much to her annoyance, the dogs had to come dressed-up

But by far and away our best achievement was getting through the Off-Lead Course (Level 3).

Anyone who has ever seen a greyhound at full speed will know that when a hound decides to go, there is no catching it. At the start of our course, Jo told us that by the end, the group would be able to walk confidently together around the field with our dogs off-lead beside us. After we had done a bit of an experiment and Mila had wandered off into the bushes to explore, suddenly gone deaf and not come back, I quietly asked Jo if maybe we were biting off more than we could chew. She was insistent that we would get there in the end - and I am rapt to say, we did!! 

Mila's (much more impressive) Level 3 certificate
Our Off-Lead work wasn't perfect, but it was pretty darn good - even if I do say so myself. At times, the bushes were too much of a temptation for young Mila and she would wander away from me to see what the plants were doing. Her 'Emergency Stop' is more of a 'Slow Down' and her 'Down Stay' is so good that she often wouldn't get up again. But she didn't run away. She didn't try to race the other dogs (much) and best of all, we PASSED!

Mila's Level 3 certificate is now pride of place on the fridge for the world to see and we need to think about whether we should enrol ourselves in agility classes. Given Mila's irrational hatred of tunnels, we might be facing an uphill battle there.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Summer of Hounds

Mila and Chris have crammed so much into their summer so far that, rather than tell you about their adventures, I thought it was best just to let the photos do the talking. Something about pictures painting words... Anyway, hope you have all had a fabulous festive season and are making the most of the AMAZING weather we are having at the moment. Here's what the hounds have been up to -

After a very successful lunch, Mila helps out with the Christmas Day washing up

On our New Years' road trip, Chris decides that he loves the car so much, he'd like to try driving.  

When he's not driving, he prefers to be right into the thick of the action - in the backseat, with the bags and groceries

Mila enjoys a post-breakfast rest in the Taranaki sunshine

...followed by an afternoon rest with the family.

Of course, Chris also welcomes any chance to have a snooze
In early January, the hounds' friend Nonu came to stay. Here Mila shows her patience when Nonu decides she needs protecting while she sleeps...and then (below) reports back on what he saw while she was resting

And just this weekend, we found out that a lie down in the swamp at the park...

leads to a nice cool shower at home and a beautifully clean Chris!       

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Making music

Our home land line has a ridiculous ringtone - a very loud, very high-pitched version of 'London Bridge' that goes on...and on...and on. 

Every time the phone rings, that tone is heard wherever you are in the house and because the phone's instruction booklet has miraculously disappeared, I cannot for the life of me work out how to change the tone to something that even remotely resembles normal. 

It would be a special kind of torture to be stuck in a room with no escape, listening to this particular rendition of London Bridge on a continuous loop. However, there is ONE advantage: the hounds love it!! 

Below is a video of young Mila Grey relaxing on the couch, singing her favourite tune. She has heard the phone ring so many times now that she's got the timing down pat and she even knows where the pauses are. Sometimes she manages to get Chris to sing along with her (although I'm sure he has no idea why he is howling)...but usually he is content just to listen.

For the longest time, I couldn't work out whether Mila loved the phone - or wanted to smash it to pieces as much as I did. However, she roos along so calmly before dropping her head down and going back to sleep, that I can't help but think that she is enjoying the whole thing. There's no panting or panicking or racing around the house - just the sweet, sweet strains of a 4-yr old greyhound - and that freakin' phone!!

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Poor Old Chris

Our Chris has been in the wars lately – some of which has been his own fault and some of which can be put down to pure bad luck. Either way, he has been getting some extra special attention, a few extra treats and has been allowed to sleep in our bedroom (don’t tell Mila) while he recovers.

It started about a month ago when I found Chris chewing on very red, very swollen patch on his front leg. Being ridiculously patient when it comes to being poked and prodded (…I wish Mila would learn a thing or two from him in this department), I managed to get him to stop with the chewing and inspected his wound. A visual examination and one trip to the vet later and we were diagnosed as having an infected wart, which required antibiotics and a regular clean. Sorted? Not quite. 
Relaxing after our visit to the vet

A couple of days later, Chris and I were sitting on the couch watching telly when I discovered what can only be described as a hole in his back. Excuse the description, but this was a perfectly round and very clean hole (about the size of a 10 cent piece) through his skin that went quite deep between his shoulder blades and into his back. Another trip to the vet and we discovered that Chris had had an allergic reaction to the antibiotic injection he had received when we were there to check out the wart.
Chris very patiently waited as the vet prodded around, cut away his fur and then shaved a patch of his back to allow the wound to heal. The vet filled out a heap of paperwork to report back to the medical company and we returned home with a dog that looked like he had been shot, a new round of antibiotics, a huge pile of swabs and instructions to keep the wound clean and uncovered until it healed. We were told that if the wound didn’t heal on its own, Chris would need stitches which meant more injections…not something that we were really too keen on putting him through in the twilight of his life!

TV time with Chris
For the next few days, Chris felt a wee bit sorry for himself. The antibiotics made him a little bit nauseous and I’m sure the sight of me coming towards him twice a day with a bowl of warm salt water caused him to scream internally. He managed to scratch the top of his scab on more than one occasion (who knew that a 10-yr old greyhound could get his back leg high enough to scratch between his shoulder blades??) and several times he made a point of ensuring that he lay with his back right up against something clean and white!!  But he always came up for his regular appointment watching telly with me on the couch each night – which let me know he was okay. A few (free!!) follow-up vet appointments later and Chris’ wound is healing nicely and it looks as though we are not going to be needing stitches this time around.

As a side note, one very positive spin-off from this whole thing is that Chris has, quite unexpectedly, made a new best friend…the Vet! Generally speaking, new experiences scare Chris half to death but he LOVES going to see the vet. He jumps out of the car very enthusiastically and pulls his way down the driveway to the clinic (the only time he ever pulls toward anything!). Once we are inside he is very animated – tail wagging, stamping, play bowing - and can’t wait to get into the exam room. Then the vet arrives and it is as if all of his Christmases have come at once. More play bows and lots of sidling up for pats and treats. If the vet needs to leave the room for supplies, Chris tries to follow her out back and then wonders why he can’t - he even endures the thermometer in the backside without any trouble!! I’m sure he wishes we could go to the vet more often…even just for fun…in his mind it sure beats that big scary park!

Then yesterday, just when we were beginning to think that Chris’ troubles were behind him, he managed to lose the tip of his ear in a scuffle with Mila.

Chris tells his new friend Nonu all about the drama
There I was, tidying up the dog food cupboard (much to the excitement of both hounds), when Chris rather clumsily got a little too wound up and bumped into Mila, causing her to whip around and pull him into line. Unfortunately, as she did so, she caught his ear and sliced off a decent piece of his lobe. 

There was a great whimper and a trail of dripping blood as Chris ran away to hide in the corner. Of course, his ear hurt and the best way to deal with that when you are a greyhound is to shake your head furiously. Blood sprayed everywhere and my lounge looked like a scene out of Dexter. I eventually managed to calm Chris down and fashion a bandage out of a pair of stockings and some swabs (although admittedly it took us a few attempts and several more blood spatters to make something remotely effective). Several hours later (and just as I was starting to research home-made Elizabethan collars), the bleeding stopped, the floors and walls were clean, Mila had satisfactorily apologised to Chris and he was sound asleep on the couch with his zig-zag ear sticking up for the world to see. 

Poor guy can’t seem to catch a break at the moment – but it doesn’t seem to have affected his otherwise cheery disposition. He is still the same goofy old Chris…scared of rubbish bins and the park but with a new-found love for a good temperate check at the vet!
Checking if anyone has noticed he's on the couch

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Adventures in nail trimming

One aspect of Mila Grey’s personality which I often refer to on this blog, but never quite seem to expand on is her penchant for the dramatic. She is the first to let you know when she is experiencing discomfort of any kind, or does not like what you are doing (or about to do) to her. Of course, I can handle all of that – but the problem is, in letting us know how she feels about something Mila tends to have trouble in differentiating between things that: (a) legitimately hurt; (b) cause her some level of discomfort/surprise; and (c) are just plain annoying. 

It means that her reaction when she cuts, bruises or scrapes herself is the same as the one where she is woken up unexpectedly, which is the same as the one where wind-blown newspaper chases her down the road, which (unfortunately for me) is the same as the one where someone tries to cut her nails. 

In other words, the Greyhound Scream of Death is bandied about our place like it’s going out of fashion.

I remember watching Irene at the GAP kennels in Sanson trimming Mila’s nails with an electric Dremel (which is like a miniature orbital sander) before she came to live with us. Mila stood there nice and calmly, allowing her legs and paws to be handled, and patiently waiting for the job to be done. 

When we got home, I bought a pair of nail clippers, thinking that it would be pretty simple to pick up where the GAP ladies left off. I soon discovered that the guillotine clippers had no place in Mila’s beauty regime. Admittedly, I am not the most confident of pedicurists at the best of times (where is the quick in all those black nails??) but each clip brought with it a fresh squeal of horror and a jerk of the leg. After four different sessions of attempted nail trims, both Mila and I were thoroughly sick of the whole thing and the clippers were retired to the junk drawer.  

Mila doesn’t have too much trouble with her feet and legs being touched (unless she is taken by surprise) and she is not scared of the nail clippers generally. She will sniff them happily when they are brought out and will even come to stand by me when I have them in my hand. But the second that I try to clip her “beautiful” long nails, it’s all over. 

When Mila went to Day Care, I asked the guys there if they could help us out. Paul has pretty much seen it all when it comes to the reactions of greyhounds, owning two retired racers of his own. He clipped Mila’s nails for us one day while she was there.  Apparently, his trick is to cover their head with a towel so they can’t see what is happening and don’t know to get themselves worked up and when to react. Sounds like a great idea in theory, but when I tried it she just knew. Same reaction, same result. 

Mila’s nails are naturally long and in need of regular attention. So a couple of weeks back, I relented and bought us a Dremel from Bunnings. I felt like a bit of an idiot spending $100 on a power tool for the purposes of grooming my dog – but now that we have two greyhounds, I kind of figure that the investment is worth it – and anything that can make the drama that is nail trimming an easier process for everyone gets a big tick in my book. 

And you would think that after that, we all lived happily ever after? Not quite. After three 20-minute sessions involving a number of treats and Mike and I working in tandem to make the Dremel experience as pleasurable as possible, we have three paws worth of trimming done and are building up to the last. We even got Chris involved in the process, acting as a model to show how patiently standing to have your nails trimmed gets you a lot of pats and some chocolate drops. Funnily enough, Chris was all done within about 20 minutes. 

"Why would you even think about trimming these beautiful long things??"
By the time we finally get Mila’s nails all done, we will be about ready to start all over again. While I’m counting on next time being a (slightly) smoother process, any tips or tricks you have for dealing with the nails of a hypochondriac greyhound in the meantime would be much appreciated.

Monday, 8 October 2012

A Whole New World

We’ve had Mila for coming up a year. In that time, we have lived at the same house, with the same section, and more specifically, the same backyard.

However, it has only been in the last week or so that Mila has come to realise that our backyard is A LOT larger and A LOT more fun than she originally gave it credit for. Don’t ask me why it has taken her so long…we haven’t exactly been hiding it from her.  But I blame Mike for leading her to her latest discovery.

Come on!! Look at this awesome new playground I found!
Let me explain. Our property is divided into two parts: the part that is easy to get to (which includes the house, the front yard and the courtyard); and the part that you almost need tramping gear for (the steep, overgrown terraced section at the back of the property with the stone steps carved into the 3 metre cliff face and the immaculate view out over the city).

Mila has just found that second part.

We first realised that she had learnt to negotiate the backyard, when we let the hounds out to run around the flat part of the yard one morning.  They ran around the house, played in (and peed on) the pile of cut branches we had made from our gardening mission and generally enjoyed themselves while we had breakfast inside. Then Chris came back inside. While this in itself isn’t weird (Chris has a limited tolerance for outdoor activities), Mila’s fear of missing out is usually enough to ensure that she is not far behind. 

No Mila.

So I go outside, wander around the house, check the gates, come back inside, check the bed/couch/floor and then stand there stupidly, contemplating how a 30 kg dog can vanish into thin air. One more check outside – and in the tall grass above me appears a black face with a goofy grin and a long pink tongue. Mila has spent the last 10 minutes negotiating the steps and racing through the grass from terrace to terrace, getting herself covered in cobwebs and muck in the process. At least the furiously-circling tail is doing an excellent job of flattening the grass behind her.

Tearing up the stairs is the best part!!
Ever the spoil-sport, I call her down to see me, worried that she will fall down the hill. Down she comes full-speed (heart in mouth) until she reaches the steps again where she must choose where she walks wisely if she wants to avoid losing her footing and hurting herself. All credit to her, she understands that she needs to be careful and thinks before taking each step toward the ground.

You mean there's MORE??
Ever since that morning, Mila has taken every single chance she can to get up the back again and chase the birds, butterflies – and sometimes cats (they’re okay) that hang out in our little urban jungle. Wind, rain and mud are no impediment to her missions, and it appears that strategically placed rubbish bins, wheel barrows, bricks and wooden boards aren’t much of a deterrent either. She doesn’t even care about ruining her jarmies on the way up the hill!

She loves it so much up there – and can’t believe that this magical place is actually somewhere very close to her own house! She is always thoroughly worn out by the time she makes it inside.

Contemplating our next move...
Far be it from me to deny someone such a glorious adventure in their own backyard (literally), but there is a reason that that section of the property is particularly unkempt. It is hard enough for a human being to negotiate the cliff, let alone a gangly-limbed greyhound who manages to hurt herself (if you ask her, quite seriously) walking into walls in the comfort of her own home.  

Mike’s logic is that four legs is always better than two when it comes to keeping your balance and negotiating rocky terrain - and having a much lower centre of gravity makes it less scary too – but I worry that one day she will take those steps too fast or try to walk in just the wrong place and will end up tumbling down the hill and doing some serious damage. Looks like I’m going to have to be the meanie that blocks off access to the backyard, as much for my own piece of mind as for the safety of young Mila Grey.
...and pausing to survey our kingdom.