I published Stalled, the third book in the Truman Blue, Cozy Mystery Series. Publishing is always mixed blessing. This book is a success for a fledgling Cozy writer. I am well into the next book, Staked Out.
The sorrow was that I unhooked a virtual leash for Leala trot over the rainbow bridge. She was 14 years old. Leala was my first therapy dog. We started together in 2009. She was a stray, terrified of people, but gave them a second chance. She ended up as a premiere therapy dog. She is now in the “memory kennel” with the rest of her buddies.
Last month, while gardening, I picked up a shovel and Bear ran. It broke my heart. This month I noticed a huge change in his guardedness. I think he has adopted us. I credit Truman for a good portion of Bear’s trusting turnaround. Truman is top dog, and Bear finds comfort in his friendly and confidnet leadership.
Bear led a complicated life before he came to our house. He loves to come up from behind walk between my legs as I walk. He happily stands perfectly still while I put on his harness and leash. He loves to have his face held and rubbed. He loves car rides. He was house broken. He came with those trusting traits. Someone loved him. Then somehow, he became a stray.
Did his owner die from Covid? He is a fence jumper. Maybe he aggravated a neighbor to the point he was “relocated”.
He came to us with many fears. If you took hold of his collar quickly, he turned his head gaping his mouth, even putting it his mouth on an arm. He never bit. He was just very defensive. The click of a pen sent him running out of the house. Touching his legs terrified him.
We had him three weeks when he decided to start jumping our fence. He would run up and down a busy highway. I have no idea how he avoided being hit. We spent a bundle on a electric fence (feels like a 9-volt battery on the tongue) and raising the height of our 1-acre dog yard fence. Bear doesn’t try to escape anymore, not because of the fence, but because he doesn’t like to go too far away from us.
In another year, this dog will be one of those heart dogs, I can tell. He is respectful. He is obedient without formal training. He loves to touch and be touched. He often has a paw touching or is leaning against us or one of our other critters. He is one of us.
I admit, I hadn’t read the scientific research papers. When I learned about the connection between behavior and left/right handedness in dogs, I was delightfully shocked. How had I missed that?
As it turns out, there are predictors of a dog’s propensity to be a more easily trained, and less troublesome. The predictors are based on observable physical characteristics that are associated with left or right paw preference.
On the left you can see Truman and Bear playing. Bear has a definite preference of using his left paw to whack Truman. He doesn’t just “paw” at him, he actually whacks him, like a–well–bear would. Bear usually steps off to a walk with his left foot first. He was too “playful” for me to get a snapshot of the whorl on his chest, the whorl being another predictor. I tried several times.
On the other hand, the right-hand photo shows the whorl on Truman’s chest. This is the first and only picture I took because Truman was so cooperative. The whorl goes counterclockwise. A sign that the dog is more trainable. I’d put money on Bear’s whorl going clockwise. Truman generally steps off with his right foot.
Truman is the easiest dog I have ever dealt with. He loves to please. He listens to everything I say. He listens and learns so quickly that he seems like a dog genius. Bear, on the other hand, while sweet as he can be, seems head strong, persistent. He is fearful of odd things even though I have worked on desensitization. (Nutcracker cracking pecans at a distance). Bear runs out of the room if he sees the nail clippers. Truman offers me his paw to get nails trimmed.
Below is an over simplification of right and left brain functions in humans (which is comparable to dogs with obvious differences). Possible dog behaviors in italics
Right side of the brain controls:
Physical: left side of body (left dominant)
Thinking: attention, memory, reasoning, problem solving
Escapes from fence
Helps themselves to food on the countertop
Feeling: alertness, determination, disgust, avoidance, fear
Digs the whole yard trying to get a mole
Hates going to the vet
Left side of the brain controls:
Physical: right side of body (right dominant)
Thinking: language, number skills, reasoning, scientific skills, spoken language
Quickly associates words or signals with actions
Good at solving “dog puzzles”
Watches you to try to understand what you want them to do
Feeling: comfortable approaching and engaging with the world, happiness, pride, anger
Good therapy or service dog
Easy to get along with
Bear isn’t really a bad dog. He does have different behavior than Truman. That doesn’t make him bad, it does make him more challenging.
Of course, selective breeding pre-determines many behavioral characteristics. But within each breed, there are differences. The moral of the story is, as a general rule, if you want a dog that is more tractable, and less worrisome, pick a pooch that is right-pawed and has a counterclockwise chest whorl.
Truman’s best buddy, our new shelter pup Bear, has some aberrant behaviors. He is preoccupied with putting toys in certain arrangements.
After reviewing Bear’s toy alignments, I am convinced it contains a message to his home planet. I am in need of help from an astrophysicist. Being a tree hugger, I know angles are important in astrophysics, but I don’t know how to calculate or interpret the small angle approximation. I am certain this arrangement is a signal indicating an impending invasion of aliens from Bear’s home planet. I suspect the planet is in the Sirius solar system, in the Canis Major Constellation. Please help, or we may be overrun, by playful puppers!
Truman Blue has a new little brother, Bear. Like all the other critter’s in Truman’s household, Bear is a rescue. Adopted from the local shelter, Bear is a “Labradog”, mostly Labrador and maybe something else thrown in. Or maybe not, it’s hard to tell. Do I see a DNA test in Bear’s future?
Why Bear? A year ago, Truman’s adopted mom, 14-year-old Labrador Sunny, trotted over the Rainbow Bridge. The Hu-Man missed having a busy, affectionate dog. For several months, the family tried to find a special Labrador who needed a home. The dog had to get along with cats, and other dogs, and had to be happy being fenced in an acre yard.
Bear had been in the local non-kill shelter for nearly two months. Being a sensitive pupper, he was stressed by the raucous atmosphere filled with barking pits and pit mixes. Bear sat at the back of his sparkling clean kennel run, head hung, stress panting. But he came right up to say hello when Truman’s Hu-mom called him. He wanted to be petted.
Bear has been Truman’s little brother for 10 days and still has some minor adjusting to do. He is happy to be the Hu-man’s special dog because the Hu-man pets Bear, and throws toys for Bear to chase. Truman loves to run and play with Bear. Bear is mostly respectful when he plays but when he’s not, Truman only needs to woof in Bear’s face, and Bear gets the message. Truman is boss-dog.
Yesterday, Bear, Truman, Hu-mom & Hu-man, went on their first family outing to a plant nursery, and then the pet store. Bear did great for any 9-month old pupper. His worst offense was tugging on the leash a little. After the breezy atmosphere of the plant nursery, the sensory overload of pet store was a little overwhelming, and Bear stress panted a little. The family didn’t stay long. At the checkout counter, Truman showed Bear how to put his paws on the counter to get a treat. Bear is learning quickly.
How such a sweet dog as Bear ended up as a stray, is a mystery. The question is, will Bear make and appearance as Truman’s buddy in a future Truman Blue Mystery?
Scent work (AKA nose work) is a fun, easy game to play with your dog. You probably have the items needed, right there in your home. You can do this inside or outside. We do both.
What you Need Besides a Dog (I bet this works with cats too)
Something smelly (something you have at your house OR what needed for AKC training)
Around the house (make sure the odor isn’t offensive to you dog)
Baking flavor extract (example – mint extract)
Strong smelling spice (example – cloves)
AKC Scent Work
Birch essential oil – first level
Anise essential oil – second level (Pimpinella anisum – NOT star anise Illicium verum)
Something cottonish if you are using oils (consider the dog might eat the scented piece, so make it small enough to pass through)
100% cotton ball (cut in half or quarters)
100% cotton swab (with paper stems cut in half)
small scrap of cotton cloth (1″ square)
A SCENT container that fits inside the glass storage container (odor free)
used pill bottle (I drill 5 largish holes in the tops)
any small container (the lid will need to be open, or have holes drilled into it)
A glass container with a tight lid for storing the scent container (odor free)
For each step, the scent container must be open at top, or have holes in it, and contain scented a cotton ball, swab, or scrap.
Scent the cotton with 3-5 drops of scent (around once a week). (Less as dog progresses) OR put a tablespoon of spice in the container
Think of a word to use to send the dog after the scent container, a word such as “search” “find” “buscar” chercher” “stinky”. It doesn’t make any difference what word you use as long as it doesn’t sound like another command the dog knows.
MAKE IT FUN!!
Treats must be provided within 1 1/2 seconds of the dog finding the container.
Do not move to next step until the first one is solid. (The first few steps may be learned quickly but do them each at least 5 times) Go back to previous step whenever necessary.
(I have three dogs. I was only training Truman. After Truman was at Step 5, I allowed the other two to accompany him and everyone got treats. A second dog learned how to do this by watching)
DO NOT punish or scold your dog! This is for FUN! Be a cheerleader and encourager.
MAKE IT FUN!
Step 1: Let the dog sniff the container, give the treat when the dog puts its nose on the container out of curiosity. You can start using your “word command”.
Step 2: Making the dog wait, place container on floor with a treat on top. Say “search” (or find, or whatever you want) and let the dog get the treat. Encourage the dog with words. This is supposed to be fun.
Step 3: Keep moving the container with the treat on top farther away from you and send the dog to search. (Most dogs seem to find containers on the ground more easily. Start there.)
Step 4: With the dog watching, hide the container/treat behind something. Send the dog to search. It is fine to use the same or nearby places repeatedly in the beginning. Use a different hiding place in each room. The scent may linger in a spot and confuse the dog.
Step 5: Take the dog out of the room. Hide the container/with a treat in a “regular” hiding place. Bring the dog in and send it to search.
Step 6: Take the dog out of the room. Hide the container/NO treat. Bring the dog in and send it to search. When the dog finds the container give treat AT the location of the container. You can drop it next to the container if you want. (In competitions, the dog must ALERT the owner, but if you are just playing, don’t worry about that.)
Step 7: Complicate the playing by moving the container to high and low positions. Hide under pillows, etc with a route where the scent can escape. Always reward with a treat as quickly as you can (within 1 1/2 seconds).
Soggy dogs. It rained and rained, but the participants in the scent work trials were used to working in natural elements. Canines and people were wet and muddy, but that didn’t matter at this show. It was the ability of the dogs to locate a hidden odor cannister that counted.
Scent work is a dog sport where the handler learns more than the dog. The dog already knows how to find things with its nose. They are born that way. It is the handler who must explain to the dog which scent he should find, and then allow the dog to do its thing. It is an amazing privilege to understand how a dog reads the world with its nose.
This was Truman Blue’s first AKC Scent Work Trial. At this one show, there were two trials with identical classes. We entered four classes in each trial, so a total of eight classes.
Containers (the scent hidden in one out of 10 boxes)
Interior (the scent hidden in a room in a barn)
Exterior (the scent hidden in a roped off area outside)
Buried (the scent hidden in one of 10 boxes filled with sand)
Truman earned four first place ribbons, three second place ribbons, and bombed one class…more later on that one bomb, and the handler’s role in reading the dog. His desire to please and ferret out scents earned him High in Trial at his very first dog show
Truman Blue Double Blue Muffins are super easy and to die for if you like blueberry muffins. If you add the blue cheese filling, they are to double die for.
Blueberry Muffin Recipe
1 cup flour (I use gluten free, but it’s your choice)
1 cup frozen mini blueberries (Available in grocery stores. As a kid, we called them huckleberries when we picked them at the forest edge).
1/3 heaping cup coconut sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 melted butter (vegan option coconut oil)
1/4 cup yogurt (or some kinda plant or animal milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 egg (vegans know how to sub!)
Mix the dry ingredients in a bowl ad stir until completely blended. In another bowl, melt the butter, add the yogurt, vanilla, and egg, and stir until completely blended. Mix together well, the dry stuff, wet stuff and blueberries. Put globs into silicon muffin cups, filling about 1/2 full. (You will make about 16 mini muffins)
Cook in air fryer at 360 degrees for 10 minutes. Let them cool a bit so you don’t burn your mouth. If you slather with butter, or fill with the ingredients below you will be in heaven.
2 oz cream cheese slightly warmed so it spreads easily
blue cheese to taste
Split the muffin, spread with the soft cream cheese, and add as much blue cheese crumbles and you want. You can probably mix the cream cheese and blue cheese, but I like the uneven bites, some thick some sprinkles of blue cheese.
I’m not destitute, but I hate to waste money. Even more than that, I hate to shove pills down my dog’s throat twice a day.
Stormy doesn’t like store-bought pill covers unless I put one pill in each cover. That would mean 6 covers a day and at $10 for 30 covers it would cost me $50 a month to purchase them. My homemade pill covers cost about $2.50 a month.
I can put all the pills into one homemade medicine ball and Stormy begs for her furosemide. Stormy is on the right in the photo expectantly waiting for her treat. (Truman Blue in the middle, and old Leala Bear on the left.)
It takes about 20 minutes to make the medicine balls. The size may need to be adjusted for smaller dogs, but Stormy who weighs 65 pounds can easily swallow a 1″ loaded medicine ball without chewing. The trick is to make the biggest ball the dog will swallow whole. Test several sizes until you find the right one.
Dog Medicine Ball Recipe (pill covers)
1 can smelly loaf dog food, mostly meat (I use American Journey Limited Ingredient Lamb Sweet Potato)
1 2/3 cup oat flour (don’t use wheat, but your dog may prefer other types of flour)
1 1/3 cup almond or pumpkin seed flour (start with 1 cup add more if dough is sticky)
Mix all ingredients with a fork in a bowl until smooth. If it is sticky, add more flour until the dough is still pliable but is not sticky.
Roll into about 60, 1” balls (or the size your dog can swallow whole)
Store 5 days worth of balls in a sealed container in the fridge
Freeze the remaining balls (on a flat pan not touching 1 hour, then into a freezer bag for storage)
Thaw enough balls for 5 days at a time.
When you go to put the meds in, flatten the ball, put the meds on the flattened ball, then reform it into a ball. BUT do not touch the outside of the ball with the fingers that handled the meds.
Before you start using loaded medicine balls, It is best to “trick” the dog by teaching him/her how delicious the balls are with ½ balls with no meds. (They love to be tricked like this.)
At each medication, I sacrifice one ball. I divide it in half, and give my two non-medicated dogs each ½ a ball before I give the loaded ball to the dog that needs the meds. (note the three expectant faces in the first photo). Alternatively, you could give your medicated dog an unloaded half before giving the medicated ball
Creating is the synthesis of a person’s life to that point. I do artwork. I even earned a college degree in art. I love taking raw materials and molding them. In that light, teachers, parents, friends, significant others, and more are all artists.
It struck me today that Truman Blue is my current work of art. Yes, he is an adorable pupper, but more than that I have molded him into a masterpiece of a dog. Okay, I know that sounds egotistic, but the truth is Truman would be very different if he was a feral dog, or if he had ended up on a chain in someone’s backyard. The bigger truth is that artwork is only as good as the raw materials. Truman is incredibly good raw materials. If Michelangelo had a small piece of gray stone and left it unshaped, or used a sledge hammer to flatten into bits, then it would have been trashed long ago.
Creating a beautiful or meaningful emotional or physical space around yourself, doesn’t require you to be a musician, sculptor, writer, etc. It requires sensitivity to another. Creativity is molding by using the best rapport “between”. Not manipulating, but working with. The art of art is understanding and interconnection.