Thursday, 26 January 2012

Tricks of the trade

Yesterday, Mila received her very first piece of personalised mail. It was her Beginner's Obedience Class Certificate which now sits proudly on our fridge for the world to see (I had to keep the envelope too - because having something come in mail for "Mila" at our address was just too cute to throw away!) 

We finished obedience classes just over a month ago - before the Christmas break. There, we interacted with heaps of different dog breeds - from other Greyhounds (Senso and Zaha) to a couple of small fluffy things and everything in between. For that reason alone, we found the classes to be a big help and it was good to see Mila socialise with other dogs in a pretty relaxed setting. 

Dog School also taught us a few things that have stuck with us ever since. Mila learnt all the basics: Sit (Sue is right - Greyhounds CAN Sit!! Although our one does it reluctantly - and doesn't seem to like to do it on hard ground...), Down (easy!), Stay (less easy - but we have been working on it and we are getting very good!), Wait, and the good old-fashioned meet & greet. 

Of course, our absolute favourites are the "fun" tricks - the ones that serve no better purpose than to exercise the mind and body - and show the world what a good girl we are because we can follow instructions. 

In no particular order, we have: 

BANG/Play Dead - the hand signal being a finger gun accompanied by the command "Bang". We do this one from Down and it is meant to be a dramatic fall sideways with legs sticking out - a real Play Dead. With Mila, it's more of a slow slump to the side (or sometimes a 6-point "get up, reposition yourself, lie down on your side, stick your legs out, put your head your head on the ground and don't move") - but we know that we've got it when her head touches the ground - and she'll do it every time. She might be a B-Grade actor when it comes to "dying" - but she seems to enjoy it - and it really helps with our Stay. Mike is particularly proud of this trick because - in his words "I taught her that one..."
Practicing BANG! at the park while friend Rupert judges our form.
Stretch - front legs out in front, head bowed and bum in the air. This one is EASY - and usually the default trick if she is trying to get away with not doing what she is told (nice try...). On the odd occasion we have to remind her what a stretch is by doing the actions ourselves (our Downward Facing Dogs are getting good practice) - and then she will stretch along with us. I'm starting to think that she just wants to see me practice my Yoga moves in the middle of the lounge!! 

Roll Over - this is our latest trick - and one we have devised to follow on from Bang. We can now roll both ways - although rolling right usually involves pushing off a wall/person/stationary object. I am amazed that we even got her to do this at all... with her legs up in the air and using what looks like her tail and her neck (or the stationary object) to give her some momentum in the direction she needs, it really is a sight to behold!

We are also great fans of Fetch (although the Return part is not always spot on - particularly if there is a bed within sight) and are currently perfecting our 'Come Here' (Thank God for high-value treats and squeaky toys is all I can say...) Any other ideas for tricks/tips for obedience? We are always looking to extend our repertoire.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

The Social Butterfly

Sometimes it seems as though Mila has a better social life than I do. A slightly depressing admission to make when you are twenty-something and Mila is a dog – but I don’t mind, it’s good for both of us to get out and mingle with our new hound/owner friends.

This long weekend, involved a whole heap of Greyhound-related activities. We discovered a new (and fantastic) dog park in Newlands with Sally and her hounds George and Mynx where we were able to explore off-lead, have a few sprint races and get ourselves very wet, dirty and smelly playing with Mynx in the pond. Having three black hounds together was good fun and it was really interesting to see the differences (and similarities) in personality between them. It is a bit of a trek from our house to the park in Newlands…but well worth the journey. Mila has been in need of a decent run around for a little while now and after that has seemed like a calmer and more settled dog.

On Monday, we headed down to Frank Kitts Park to spend some time with some of the other Greyhounds showing ourselves off at the GAP stall at the 350 Birdman on the Wellington Waterfront. It was our first official GAP outing and an excellent opportunity to catch up with/meet some of the other owners and to gauge how far we had come with settling in and dealing with all the attention of groups of people, young kids and other dogs.

Mila has definitely calmed down a lot since our (fairly disastrous) visit to Animates to see the other Greys during her second week of living with us. It’s fair to say that on that occasion we weren’t exactly a shining example of the docile, relaxed, happy and calm dog that we are supposed to be. Anything that moved or made a noise (which in a pet shop is EVERYTHING) would prompt an alert response, or if small animals were involved, it was time to bound about the place like a lunatic! It was definitely a case of too much too soon back then – and we got out of there pretty smartly before we ruined the reputation of Greyhounds everywhere! I feel a lot more comfortable now that Mila is better equipped to deal with the distractions and the fuss (although we are yet to venture back into Animates…).  She put on a Oscar-winning performance at the stall on Monday, positioning herself alongside strangers and nudging their hand just a little bit for a pat or patiently looking up at them with her long face and those soulful eyes, wagging her tail enthusiastically as if to assure them that they had just found their new best friend. It got me thinking that all those weeks ago when we first went to meet her in Sanson, I had been suckered in by a seasoned pro!! Anyway, there were many kisses, pats and hugs for Mila and her buddies – all of whom were very well behaved - and if the number of pamphlets handed out in the hour or so that we were there is anything to go by, it was a very successful day! I hope to post some pics up soon...

So, we now have some new fixtures in the social calendar – A&P Shows, the Martinborough Fair, GAP runs and some doggie play dates. It’s a great way to meet new people and to give Mila some exposure to different settings (and animals) and it keeps us both out of trouble. Between that and the renovations to our house, I wonder if I will ever get the time for some of the important human things in life…like shopping!!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Lazy, hazy days of Summer

On Sunday, we celebrated our 3-month anniversary with Mila Grey (and my 6 month wedding anniversary). It was a beautiful sunny Wellington day so we decided to take a mid-afternoon wander to the shops for an ice cream as a little anniversary treat.

We got home with our Magnums and pulled Mila’s bed out from the hallway into a little shady spot on the front door step.  We parked ourselves in our deck chairs to eat our icecreams and read our books (fair to say that we didn’t get much housework done yesterday!). Mila sat patiently for a couple of minutes and then came over to sniff my icecream. When it was clear that she wasn’t getting anything from me (not only is it chocolate, but I LOVE icecream far too much for sharing!!), she tried her luck with Mike before wandering back to her mat with her head down and a “Where’s mine?!?” look in her eyes. 

So, I went inside to the freezer and pulled out our last lemonade ice block for her to try, sat back down in my deck chair with my icecream in one hand and hers in the other and we went about eating our treats and enjoying the rest of the afternoon sun. Mila caught on to the licking technique fairly quickly - although she was more interested in licking the wrapper than the ice block itself. She got about quarter of the way through before deciding that it wasn’t really fun anymore (we humans having long finished our icecreams by then) and went back to sleep in the sun:

Yey! My very own ice block!!
It smells wonderful...but what do I do with it?

Yeah! That's yum!!
Maybe if I use my tongue??

Time to get the tongue really going!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Before she was "Mila"...

One thing I love about owning an ex-racing Greyhound is all of the information about our dog and her history that comes with it.

I have already told the story about Mila’s racing DVD and her fortuitous appearance on the podium in third place. Having access to that kind of thing is a whole heap of fun. 

Oddly enough, the dog does not show any interest in watching herself race on the telly (lucky there is no barking involved in those races, otherwise we would be beside ourselves with excitement!)

Another thing I love is having access to websites with her history as a racer – with information about all of Mila’s races, including dates, venues, distances, placing, race weight, and winnings.

All of Mila’s race info can be found at this site: Her race name was Bronze for Macos. As a side note, does anyone know how racing names are chosen?! There are some fantastic ones out there!

It's not quite racing, ma - but it's fun all the same!!
Mila’s last race was 10 July 2011 (so we might have a little 1-year retirement party) and she came to us in October, which is a pretty good turn around. She raced 26 times – which I am told is a lot for a dog that isn’t winning or placing. If I know Mila, she must have at least had the enthusiasm to give it a go each time – and I am proud to say that she only came last once. Based on the information on the website (and my non-existent knowledge and understanding of greyhound racing), I can see that she was carrying a little bit of extra weight for that race (it was December after all, and the excesses of Christmas season can be forgiven) and that tends to slow down even the best of us!!

The other site that absolutely fascinates me, is one called “Greyhound Data” where you can research the family history of your hound – see here: There I found Mila’s family tree dating as far back as 1820 on her father’s side and the 1780’s on her mother’s side to her 47x great grandmother “Hansome” who was born in the UK. Mila’s mum’s side of the family shifted from the UK to Australia in the 1870s and then to NZ in about 2003. She has a brother and a sister born on the same day as her – and six half brothers and a half sister (6 of whom were apparently born on the same day in sunny December 2007 – poor mum!!) The site is full of information about all of Mila’s rellies through the centuries (!!!) – including birth dates, sex, colour and where they were born. I could seriously spend days on that site without getting bored. If I had that much information about my own family – then it might start to explain a few things!!

So, there is my interpretation of the information available on my doggie – admittedly, through the eyes of a human (of course, I do appreciate that 6 puppies in a litter is not a terribly dramatic thing to have happen). The moral of the story is that having access to that kind of information and painting myself a mental picture of the type of racer my dog was, is a whole heap of fun (and a fantastic way to waste a day!!) and having everything recorded in such detail is great – even if the real meaning of it all is largely lost on someone like me!  

Any other interesting stories out there about bloodlines or race histories? There must be some lucrative racers out there who are now spending their days relaxing in their loving “retirement homes”…

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The politics of toileting

This is not so much an adventure, as an observation - but how is it that a dog knows when you want them to go to the toilet and holds on for as long as they can to prolong the process as much as possible? Every dog I have ever owned (or been associated with) has done it - and it has always amazed me.

I was thinking about this late last night as I wandered aimlessly around my neighbourhood in the hopes that Mila would find a spot to go (why does it always have to be the perfect spot??). She had already been for two walks and hadn't bathroomed since the morning, but she didn't (or wouldn't) again at nighttime - and I eventually gave up and took her home in the hopes that we wouldn't wake up at 3am to the signature pacing in the hallway that is a sure sign that we need to go outside.

Cesar Milan (the Dog Whisperer) has a rule that you should never take your dog on a walk with the sole objective of having them toilet. It's no fun for the dog to get mid-way down the road, do its business and then find that they are turning around to go home again. While I agree with this to a point, I have discovered that (for sanity's sake more than anything) there must be exceptions to this rule. As an example, when it is pouring down outside (and has been for days), and neither you or the dog want to be outside without good reason, it is out and about as quickly as possible before we drown. When the dog hasn't been to the toilet all day and you get home with time for a quick toilet (and the promise of an extra good walk later on) before you have to go out again is another good one that we get caught with.

Getting Mila to go voluntarily in the backyard is never an option on these days. If it is raining, she stands under the shelter of the porch and looks wistfully at the grass and then back at me as if to say "Please don't make me do it..." before she trots back past me indoors to the safety and dryness of her bed. Otherwise, there is always something more interesting in the garden than the need to bathroom, so we explore and then come inside again.

So an enforced walk it is.

On our routine walks, Mila has two or three favourite grassy spots to go (which we affectionately refer to a "Poo's landing"). On a good day, she will get to those spots and do her thing, and after some clean up, we can get on with the real fun that is the dog walk. On a not so good day, there is no interest in these spots at all - we muck about smelling flowers, attempting to wander up people's driveways, or stopping to look at something in the distance that isn't really there. We walk slowly and sniff the ground as if we are thinking about maybe going to the toilet sometime soon - and then stand up abruptly with a "hah - tricked ya!!" look on our face. It's difficult to remain calm and positive when your dripping wet and freezing cold!

I swear she can sense when I just need her to go and takes that as her queue to go for as long a walk as possible. When she does decide to go we are at the half way point of our long walk anyway, so it's just as easy to keep going as it is to turn around and go home. 

I suppose I shouldn't really be complaining about something that gets me off my backside and out in the fresh air on those days when I would rather just stay a little longer on the couch. We didn't have to get up at 3am by the way, but we were definitely busting by the time morning rolled around.

One of those walks....

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Not the Sharpest Tool in the Shed

It must be fairly obvious by now that I love having a Greyhound and that Mila has proven to be a fantastic addition to our little family (...I write a blog dedicated to her for goodness sake!!)

Lately however, I have started to query just how intelligent our new buddy is. She seems to get herself into situations which, with a little thought (even by a dog) would have been entirely avoidable (walking into blackberry bushes at the same part of our morning walk on numerous occasions and then wondering why it hurts EVERY time) and some of her reactions make me wonder just what is going on in that brain of hers. We have a puzzle ball at home that is meant to keep Mila entertained for hours as she works to get the treats inside which has to be constantly set on "Easy" - otherwise it gets barked at and thrown into walls in frustration.

I have never known another dog to do this, but when Mila hears a dog on TV, she will run in circles around the lounge trying to find where it is. It doesn’t really help that we have speakers set up around the room (so the barking comes from all four corners) - but what really amazes me, is that it doesn’t even have to be a real dog barking! Cartoon dogs get the same reaction (Zero from the Nightmare Before Christmas is a favourite) and we have even had examples of people on TV doing impersonations of dogs getting her attention. The other day we were watching a movie when someone onscreen (who didn’t sound anything like either me or my husband) called a dog over to them with a “Come here” and a whistle. Mila was on her feet in a flash and interested to see who would be taking her for a walk today. Nice to know where the loyalties lie I guess!!

I recently discovered an article about hound intelligence in one of the GAP Fast Friends magazines (Summer 2010 issue) which I thought I might try out. The article set out three tests which could be used to test a Greyhound’s problem solving abilities. We tried two of them and are building up to trying the third.

Maybe not such a good idea - you just stand there and look pretty!
First up we tried “the towel test” where you put a towel over the dog’s head and see how long it takes for them to take it off. The faster, the better. We did this one twice and although it took us a while to master, we got there in the end. I’m going to give Mila the benefit of the doubt and say that the first time, there was a little bit of confusion about what was going on. Was she getting dried? Were we putting our jarmies on and just hadn’t quite got there yet? She stood very patiently for about 10 seconds and then, when it was obvious that nothing was happening, tried to walk backwards out of the towel – to find the towel walking backwards with her. Then – light bulb moment!! – if I step on the bottom of the towel and pull it down, it will come off! The second time, there was no mucking around waiting to see what would happen – towel off, straight away. Result.

Next was “the tin can test” – where you show the dog a tasty treat and place it under an empty tin can and then ask them to find it. In theory, smart dogs knock the can over and have the treat in seconds, not so smart dogs won’t get it, get bored and wander away.

I tried this one with Mila twice (in quick succession). The first time, she got it straight away and had the treat almost immediately – good start. The second time however, she wasn’t so sure. She looked at the can, she looked at me, she pawed at the can, she looked at me again, she sniffed the can, and then she walked off. I called her back and showed her the treat again – she was definitely still interested because she tried to eat it before I could put the can back over it – but as soon as it went back on, we went through the process again. It was hilarious (although I promise that I wasn’t laughing at her)! I could almost hear her brain working as she tried to get her head around this seemingly elaborate puzzle. In the end, and completely by fluke (she tipped the can over with the paw as she tried to walk away), she got the treat and went on her merry way. It was like reverse learning…

So, I decided to leave it there. The third test can wait...or maybe I should just let sleeping dogs lie. When Mila doesn’t understand something, there is much barking and circling. We run through the gambit of things we have learned (is she asking me to sit? To play dead?) in the hope of getting our treat and eventually give up and walk away.

Who needs a smart dog anyway, right?

Sunday, 8 January 2012

Mila and the Renovations

Being a new year (Happy New Year everyone!!) we have been trying to make more of an effort to stay on track with our house renovations. Our mission over the last couple of weeks has been sanding and painting the hallway - and I am glad to say that we are just about there! 

Our house has been in desperate need of a spruce up for quite some time. The people who owned it before us didn't do any sort of painting in the 30 years they lived here - and it seems like they spent most of the time inside with the windows and doors closed, smoking up a storm. As you can imagine, the walls and ceilings are yellow and the everything needs to be freshened up...with oil-based paint. 

Of course, renovations in the presence of a lumbering black greyhound were always going to be interesting - especially when it came time to be painting doorframes, doors and skirting boards a lovely new shade of white. Mila always has the absolute best of intentions - but one of her absolute favourite pastimes is racing down the hallway to her bed with a soft toy and racing back again to show us how fast she is. That, combined with her wayward tail (which hits both walls of the hallway when it really gets going!!) was asking for trouble.

Our ongoing work on the house was one of the reasons that we decided to put off getting a dog. We couldn't be sure that we could control (or keep an eye on) a four-legged friend and get on with what needed to be done. I had visions of tipped over paint cans, smeared walls, and fur dried into the paint work - and we weren't really prepared to have our hard work ruined and all that money go down the drain, just because our buddy wanted to see what we were up to. However, it soon became pretty obvious that if we waited for a time when everything was done (when the time was perfect), we wouldn't be getting a dog until we were both old and grey. So, we put our concerns to one side (well, I put our concerns to one side - M still wasn't sure...) and we got Mila. We could work out the rest later!

Luckily, by the time we came to be really getting into the paint work, we had discovered the wonderful world of crates (thanks to Fatima - who convinced us that it was worth thinking about and was not a mean thing to do!!). We set up Mila's crate in the lounge (it fills nearly a quarter of the room) with her bed and her toys - in a spot where she could watch us working and feel like she was part of the action. After a bit of training and some bribery she seems to be getting the hang of  "in your crate" and what that means - and while we are not quite at the stage where she will hang out in there voluntarily, she is fine once she gets inside. When I say that we needed a bit of training, it wasn't even so much Mila - but me too. It took me a little while to get used to the fact that the "sad eyes" I was seeing in the crate were not sad at all, but was the same Greyhound expression Mila has when she is curled up of her bed. The bars of the crate are very deceptive like that!!

Watching the action from the crate
So, the first week of January has brought us a near-complete hallway and solved the problem of renovating around a dog. The crate has been god-send - and I can see it having a long and illustrious life with the three of us in future!