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! 
Click here for more blogs celebrating positive training
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