Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Light at the end of the tunnel

 No matter how hard things seem...
 ...there is always light at the end of the tunnel...
...just keep going!
Photos by Lelantos

Monday, June 19, 2017

Artful setter

Photo of Nobunaga by Lelantos


Setter mamas just can't resist that wispy hair, I see wispy, the moment you're near! I'm too wispy, and too much in love!...
Six years ago now, after the Fukushima Disaster and Tohoku earthquake, there was TV footage of all the dogs that had lost their homes and owners, and I wanted to help. Unfortunately the first rescue organization I called was prejudiced against "foreigners" and refused to let me care for a golden retriever or other large dog when I offered. My first rescue setter, Sofie, was therefore from friendly Dog Shelter Tokyo. She wasn't an earthquake rescue per se, but I figured adopting her would open up space in the rescue to help other disaster dogs...and I had fallen in love!

Sofie had been abandoned by her owner in the empty house after he did a moonlight bunk to escape creditors, and was only found after a week by police who responded to neighbors complaining about the incessant barking. She and I fell in love with a passion that was wholly reciprocated and totally exclusive of all others. It was a complete and devastating shock to learn from my vet that both her kidneys had outsize inoperable tumors and her bladder walls were like the Dolomite mountain range with bladder stones, and that instead of the heartworm meds and vaccinations I had intended, she was terminal and would be a hospice caring. 

Oh but she lived life 200%! We went everywhere together, being away from her was gut wrenching, heart-wrenching, impossible...and so the trauma of being alone in the house was circumvented by the bliss of joyous, glorious, loving togetherness. She and I were so in sync, she had such an infectious passion for life, and in the last few days, when she could no longer walk, we would just sit in the garden feeling the breeze and the grass, and being together. When she passed I felt a small piece of my soul go with her...
...and so Claire came into our lives...and I began to blog, this being part of the conditions of a rescue from Gundog Rescue CACI. Sofie was a jealous wee soul, but Claire, a veteran hunter, was focused on a male partner, and Sofie relented...
Nevertheless, for me, creating a special bond with Claire where there was none before was vital. What has helped Claire and me trust and bond so deeply has been our weekly experience of basic obedience training, a new skill for both of us, both of us newbies together, students together with a warm and friendly trainer. Without taking the time to train together, using treats and positive reinforcement, learning about each other's body language, me learning to minimalize verbal noise,  to watch her signals, we would not have the wonderful sister relationship we do now. It feels so good to have her seasoned stable presence in the house holding things together. Wispy beauty with balanced strength, Claire is a dog in a million. I am truly blessed to have her in my life!
Photos by Lelantos

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Umeshu Plum Wine

 We've had a great year for garden plums, so we decided to have a go at making plum wine...the dogs are snoozing and rain is in the offing...after picking the plums, you wash them off, pat them dry and get out the stems with a toothpick...mushy overripe or bruised ones can go back in the garden for the insects...three types of liqueur this year, one kilo with brandy, one kilo with liquor and brown sugar, and one kilo with Kurokirishima shochu...takes at least a year to steep and flavor, more like three for a decent mature flavor. Great on ice-cream!
Photos by Lelantos

Saturday, June 17, 2017

#2017 Train4Rewards Blog Party

One of my favorite education websites, a major source of insights and thought-provoking articles on dogs (well, I focus mainly on the dog stuff), is Companion Animal Psychology. They have this fantastic blog party event June 16th to celebrate the joys of training your dogs with treats and clickers and all things good, and I thought it would be great to join in and celebrate how much positive reinforcement and happy training methods have helped Sherlock to calm down and become the beautiful dog he now is. Although I'm a bit late, I am so grateful to the community for sharing the knowledge and training tips freely so that I can apply it as best I can here with my setters in Japan, even though my regular dog trainer and doggie sitter Dodo-sensei has passed on across the rainbow bridge.

Sherlock had been browbeaten into submission by choking, rattling of jars, spraying of citronella, shocking and beatings...when he came to our home a year ago after rescue and a month in the pound, he hugged the ground to avoid being kicked in soft underparts, his tail beating frantically against his belly to signal appeasement, and his mind racing in fear at the slightest noise or movement, so that he either barked and leaped, mad and frantic, or heeled in soulless dull compliance. He was plagued by fleas, itchy skin and matted fur, not to mention a wounded foot and the incipient heartworm-no wonder even now he still flinches at being stroked around the hindquarters, cowers down at an inadvertent hand movement.
All the joys of being with a setter, the wise alert decision-making, the gauging of scents and wind and seasons, the architectural mapping of animal tracks and lairs...the benign gaze as they laze on the couch, the regal poise, the supple equilibrium...all were lost, as wee Sherlock frowned, confused, panicked and hunched up, yet still so eager to please.
Photo by Yakobu Miyajima
And so began our journey together, as I massaged his neck, his ears, around the eyes, and gently eased the skull bones apart so his brain wasn't all squeezed in. We tried tryptophan supplements and chamomile/ frankincense essential oils together with salmon oil...there was the heartworm to be dealt with, and he needed to fatten up, the wee bag of skin and bones. Using treats to train him made perfect sense: scavenging was how he had survived, and now I needed him to think for himself from a safe space of food galore. It seems hyper dogs also need the treats to feed the brain so it can function. 
What was really exciting and uplifting was the way a clicker followed by treats really worked, so that he could begin to understand exactly what was required (simple things like sit, wait, shush) and be rewarded. Thankfully over this past year as my clicker broke down with the constant use, the whole daily routine has become a place of safety and embrace, and he has so much more confidence. Knowing when it's okay to chill, that it's okay to say no if you don't want to be brushed or share the couch, that we wait for each other to peewees or sniff or chat on walkies and choose the paths depending on who has the strongest desire, either to hunt more cats or head for home, that a poopies does not mean an instant u-turn back, that life is good! 
That he can sit with head held high, saliva dripping from his mouth as he waits with such ardent appeal, has power to summon delicious bowls of home-cooked soup and kibble: the nourishment of training with rewards is not just in the belly, but in the mind. The space is about communication and understanding, confidence and sharing, really discovering and knowing your dog, and him knowing and trusting you! Wouldn't do it any other way! 
Photo by Lelantos

Monday, May 29, 2017

Dog Grooming Inuya

The end of May is an expensive time for the family as we buy 7 month's worth of heartworm meds for three dogs, plus bloodwork and vetting. At the same time Nobunaga goes for his summer trimming session at Inuya、one of the few dog grooming salons that cater for big dogs. 
The owner personally grooms Nobunaga, and since he has trained with dog show groomers in the US, I know I can trust him with the setter breed. He always makes Nobunaga look superb for a very reasonable price by market standards. Thank you, Inuya!

Nobu loves being cool as the summer heat intensifies, and always comes home with a big smile, which makes the hole in my wallet worth it. 

Talking about holes in wallets, GundogRescue CACI , the pointer and setter rescue organization that saved my three setters (four if you count Chiaro di Luna) needs to renew the lease on the rescue facility in October and together with outstanding vetting fees, they need a whopping sum or face closure...please help out and donate if you can, every penny helps and every donation goes to saving English setter and pointer lives here in Japan:

Friday, May 12, 2017

What big teeth!

I remember my first kiss so vividly, truly a moment that will never fade in my memory. Not because of the passion nor conversely the innocent sweetness of it, but the gentle, loving and mind-blowing exploration of new, what I could only understand as tactile sensations via my tongue, as oppose to my habitual fingers. It felt like I kept returning again and again to explore the slippery smooth surfaces, the osculation, the softness, until my brain registered, aha, this must be teeth, and this, lips, okay, so, gums, tongue...and I could finally give in to the emotional meaning of the embrace with another. Deep space without stepping off the planet!
...And so to dogs` mouths, which is what this post is about, technically speaking, bite inhibition acquisition: because it seems clear to me that for dogs, kissing is their mode of being, their primary means of haptic communication, in effect the way they touch. We humans unlearn this mode of experience after babyhood, because we are so focused on experiencing and grasping with our hands. 

...So when we adopted Nobunaga, and this big setter was always jumping up on me bitey bite as I shrieked, to the great comic enjoyment of my male family members, and while I personally had a problem with him biting my breasts and nipping my love handles, bruising my forearms and scraping my hips with his strong embrace, I nevertheless realized that for him this was his true mode of being and his primal expression of loving contact. In other words, I felt very uncomfortable, even hurt, but never felt intentionally threatened. To have him stop biting was unthinkable, because it was so integral to his being. He needed to learn how to do it gently and well.
First I tried to get him to actually stop, by turning my back on him and crouching down, hunched in a little ball. This didn't work, he would just climb on top of me even more. I realized I had to let him bite something else instead, so I made a habit of carrying an old shoe and shoving it in his jaws when he came at me, saying Omocha, omocha (toys, toys). I made a tugsy toy out of old jeans cutoffs, and invited him to play. I asked friends for giant discarded stuffed animals which he can bite and tug as hard as he likes. He particularly loves my winter coats because he can bite harder without it hurting me! (Good thing he came in winter, and he was bite sensitive by summer!) 

We bought all kinds of chewies, horse tendons, turkey tendons, pig trotters, deer horn, and I would sit with him and hold it while he chewed away until he got the hang of using his paws, so he could tell the feel of skin and fingers round his mouth.
I would stick my hand in his mouth covered in coconut oil and the like to let him lick it off and play with my fingers (this works well with Sherlock too, who seems to have had treats thrown at him rather than given). 

Just this morning, after meeting a six-month old Akita puppy on a very short leash, who of course invited Nobunaga to play (not sure his owner understood that at all, and the leash was like held so tight, so short)...Nobunaga finally got all fired up and started barking and play-bowing, and when the poor puppy couldn't respond, he turned to me instead, jousting and jostling, and jumping up to bite my breast with just the right amount of pressure so it doesn't really hurt, whereupon i grab my toy from my waistpouch, omocha, omocha, and I can let him bitey bite and I play with him at will until he's feeling loved and appreciated and the world is good. The Akita owner wandered off and fed his dog some treats, they probably thought I was being mauled by a very untrained dog, but on the contrary, this is a dance of delight we have perfected over time...he lets me stroke and hug when I get blue, I let him gently bitey bite when he's fired up, that's who we are.
Special thanks to Companion Animal Psychology who brought the topic to my notice and make my day thinking about the issues and how they relate to me and my setters.
Photos by Lelantos

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Off the beaten track

I love wandering off the path and exploring the verdure, not too far, but just to get that feeling of being totally absorbed into the elements and away from mankind, if only for a brief moment...me too, says Claire.
Photos by Lelantos

Monday, May 8, 2017

Celebrating Milestones

Pictures are Nobu having a good old roll in Nasu Pension Olive woody dogrun. Always a glorious event to behold and chuckle at...but the milestone I am celebrating today is Sherlock's silence! As Claire gets older, she needs a wee rest inbetweentimes on our longer walkies, and has a tendency to stumble as she gets tired. Meanwhile Sherlock has so little patience, he barks and barks for us to hurry on, and his strident tones in your ear are enough to kick even Buddha himself out of meditation mode. 
But today, oh happy day, oh glorious day, Sherlock pottered around eating grass and never let out a peep...what bliss, to sit under the fresh cherry leaves on a carpet of grass and dandelions, enjoying the breeze and the beauty of my three setters in perfect idyllic silence. Finally one of the ultimate joys of being a setter mama is restored, lazing in nature just beaming at the green. I only hope he keeps it up.
Photos by Lelantos

Thursday, April 20, 2017

One Year Rescue Anniversary

A rather blurry picture of the dogs running free in Pension Olive during a wee spring holiday up north, but the happiness shows in their body language. Today is one year since Sherlock was rescued from death in the pound, and he is such a different setter...
...alert, active, confident, proud, friendly and strong...
...keenly aware of all that is going on around, and yet blissfully focused on what interests him at the time...
...happy setter luxurious tail, proud muscular chest, a swinging gait...
...happy freedom jive...we love you Sherlock Holmes! And a big thank you to Gundog Rescue CACI for saving this wee bundle of joy.
Photos by Lelantos

Monday, March 20, 2017

Blue Skies

The dogs are on a roll thanks to the three day holiday. They're getting an early morning walkies followed by home-cooked breakfast, and then another longer walkies around the neighborhood. Extra treats from friends galore! It's even getting so warm in the sunshine Nobunaga gets all hot (being blue roan, or rather the Japanese sumoh-type setter reminiscent of calligraphy) and lies down to rest, meaning he needs coaxing and coaxing to get back up again...good thing I carry treats. Here we all are stopping off to chat with a rescued poodle friend who was kind enough to take the snapshot.