Impesa's First Christmas
It was our first Christmas with a dog. We bought our new Sibe a gift or two, as a matter of form, but didn't really expect her to notice that it was a special day.
At this time Impesa was still an outdoor kennel dog with visits to the house daily. Allowed in first thing that morning, she did the usual tour of the house making sure to say hello to everyone in the form of cold nose nudges under the sheets, bladder bouncing and puppy kisses. Dogs are the best wake up alarms known to man.
Impesa got her share of breakfast: my Dad - Mister "I don't want a dog that begs at the table in this house" - thinks it's only fair to feed the dog our food... at the table. His excuse... "dogs are people too", URGH. I have at least managed to train the dogs that the only acceptable way to beg is to lie down. Training the father not to feed them at the table is an ongoing project, that has little to no chance of success - twenty years later he just does it while I'm not looking. If you think Sibes are hard to train, try people...
Anyways, we eventually progressed to unwrapping the presents. In my family,
there are no young children, we take turns opening gifts so that everyone
gets a chance to see the presents unwrapped.
Some of you may think I am projecting my human feeling onto my dog - obviously you do not own a Sibe. They are masters of sulking and planners of revenge. The same dog urinated on my bed the first time I was away for three days. Don't tell me it was because she missed me, or because her house training was suspect - she never did it before or since. She was angry with me and making sure to send a message I would understand.
Back to the Christmas story... The gift she had picked out had been bought for my brother as a joke - a pack of rootbeer flavoured bubble gum wrapped in Christmas paper and then in clear packing tape about three layers thick. Impesa had done it no harm, not a single tooth print, just wanted to claim something for herself.
We all laughed and substituted one of her gifts - a squeeky hot dog toy. As we unwrapped the rest of the gifts we put her in a pile of wrapping paper in the center of the room, and stuck the bows to her between her ears. She was in dog heaven, the center of attention with a big Sibe grin on her face.
She loved the squeeky hot dog, and unlike many Sibes I know, was very careful not to damage it. She would make it squeak by scrunching it against the floor with her nose, or pouncing on it straight legged with both front paws. Running around the house with it and bouncing off the walls, couch, humans and anything else that was around.
Since then we always make sure to give the dogs a gift first, and a few goodies while we unwrap our gifts - after all, "dogs are people too".
Dance Puppies Dance
I've always made fun of my brother Ian's dogs and how they behave about feeding time.
Their mother, Sequoia, is a great one for food. We call her the "It's Five O'Clock Somewhere Dog" - after the country song of the same name by Alan Jackson with guest appearance by Jimmy Buffett. They sing about a guy who's had a bad day at work and is drinking at lunchtime, claiming it must be five o'clock somewhere, and never making it back to the office that day.
Sequoia would start to hassle whoever was home to serve her dinner between 4:50 and 5:10. She was much more reliable than my electronic clocks since the icestorm we had in '98 messed up the hydro lines. We put her on a diet - she was beginning to resemble a tree trunk on legs - , and she would get hungry, starting her 'feed me' campaign earlier than usual. We said things like: "Must be five o'clock in Newfoundland", and "It's five o'clock somewhere".
Anyway, Ian's dogs must have inherited some of her food motivation, though they express it in a different way. They are simply terrible about scarfing food. They don't chew, REALLY. I've timed them, 2 1/2 seconds to eat 1 1/2 cups of food. That's when they let you get the bowl to the floor without knocking it out of your hands and spreading kibble all over the floor...
When Jack was a puppy he constantly had kibble burn - a raw patch at the end of his nose from ramming his head into the food bowl too fast against the sandpaper-like texture of the kibble bits.
Talking to his new wife, Katherina, we were bemoaning their hideous food behaviour. She worked for weeks getting them to sit and stay politely while dinner was placed on the floor with reasonable success. Yet they still behaved terribly when Ian had the bowls.
One day Katherina observed Ian feeding the dogs. Unaware of her presence he took the bowls of kibble and rattled them above the dog's heads, saying "Dance puppies, dance", while the dogs went insane, jumping and stomping from foot to foot excitedly.
When confronted with his anti-food manners dog training - "Ian! What are you doing? We are trying to train them to behave!" - he sheepishly claimed "... but they're so cute..."
Guess it all goes to show that dog training habits are genetic and that people are harder to train than dogs - see story above regarding our father feeding dogs at the table.
When I was 16 my parents moved to the country, and I had my first opportunity to get a dog. We visited Naakea Kennels when Impesa was 4 weeks old, and lost our hearts. When we returned to pick her up at 8 weeks they warned us that she would be a handful - I think the term they used was 'brat'. She was queen of a litter of nine, and we were first time dog owners. Were we sure we wanted this one?
Of course! I was not going to let my chance to get a dog slip away, and she was such a cute little bundle of fluff! - home she came.
At first we let her romp free around the field in front of our house, but as she grew older and roamed wider we realized that, like most Siberians, Impesa was a free spirit and would have to be kept on leash. After that she took every chance she got to escape with serious enthusiasm.
You could never catch her the same way twice. She would slip the lead, or somehow evade you at the kennel door and run victory laps around you to show off, until my sister dove out once and caught her. She was so angry she bit her! Not hard enough to break the skin, just enough to let him know how she felt about this turn of events. Impesa was beside herself with rage - this was not the way the game was supposed to be played! After that the victory circles got considerably wider. Later one of my brothers dove out and caught her despite the larger circles, so she stopped running laps around people all together.
She came for a treat - once. We drove up in front of her and offered her a car ride, and that was tempting enough to catch her - once. We ran away from her to get her to chase us, and she fell for that - once. We played dead and she was caught when she came over to see what had happened - once. Someone flopped onto their back and thrashed around barking, and we caught her - once. We through a blanket over her and caught her like a fish in a net - once. We even chased her around the house and straight into an ambush on the other side - once.
After a few training classes she learned to come when called, so long as she was inside a building and there was nothing more interesting to do. Treats are great for teaching your Sibe what you want, but not so good at keeping them from doing what you don't want. You could see the gears grinding behind those willful blue eyes. Treat, or freedom was no contest - and we were off running after her again.
She hated the barky terrier that lived down our 1/4 mile driveway, so after a few victory laps she'd tear off to beat him up again, stopping when you called her, just long enough to tease you into believing that she might just come this time; then she'd come a few steps toward you, turn and wag her tail arrogantly as she skipped and jumped away into the trees. Off we went, after her again. It was her game, and her rules.
Even repentance was part of the game. When she would finally allow herself to be caught, she would hang her head and tail in shame as we lectured her about her BAD behaviour. The minute you looked away however, a cheery Sibe grin would spread across her face and she be glorying in memories of her escape, at least until you looked back, and then her head and tail would droop and she'd look the picture of dejection again.
Eventually we got better at keeping her from escaping, but she never really lost the game. Her recall was definitely not up to agility standards, though she occasionally came, just to keep us guessing.
I did win the "drop the dead thing" contest after wrestling innumerable disgusting road kills from her mouth, and had to content myself with that.
Mountain Bike Mania
My husband David is a "do-it-now-think-about-it-later" kind of guy, which can be a very useful trait when you need to get things going, but sometimes it can be taken to extremes.
It was fall, I was at work, and David was at home. He had asked my brother Ian to come over with his dogs so he could take them out for some exercise. At this time we had no access to a sledding cart, and only six dogs between us, which means the ATV with motor was too heavy for them to pull.
Weeks before, David had got the bright idea of taking out the dogs in front of his mountain bike to get them in shape for sledding season. Now anyone who has seen huskies run in harness knows that even one dog and a bike is a potentially dangerous thing, but David had done this before with our three dogs, one of whom is fairly lazy. I expressed that I thought he was nuts, but he came back unharmed and built up somewhat of a feeling that this was a safe idea.
He upped the ante the day I received a phone call at the office from my brother telling me that David had just left the house rocketing along behind six dogs on the shoulder of our fairly busy road - even Ian could see that this was not a good idea... I begged him to call me when David got back so I would know he had survived, and be able to grump at him about the risk he was taking - semi-trained sled dogs on the side of the road is really a dangerous thing.
After an hour of nail biting Ian called to say David had just pulled into the driveway, intact, with six tired dogs - heaven bless a fool! I FORBADE David to ever do this again, which is a really big waste of time, I should have just 'misplaced' the six dog gang line. It would have been much more effective.
A week later, I got another phone call from Ian - David was out again with six dogs and a mountain bike, but this time he was "playing it safe" and running them on the back field and the abandoned ski-doo trails. Ok, there's no traffic... but there's plenty of rough terrain and six crazy dogs who think 'whoa' means run faster and aren't too good with 'gee' and 'haw' yet. It's still nuts! I can't even stop these six dogs with a sled, brakes and a good pack of snow - they are all young and totally hyper about sledding.
I got home to find David and the dogs relatively unharmed - Thank God! -, but the bike was nowhere to be seen.
"How did it go?", I asked, already relieved to see them all in one piece, but suspicious of the sheepish look on David's face.
Eventually, I dragged it out of him... "Uh, Anne next door had a 12" diameter log left halfway across the entrance to our back field (only accessible through her property). The first dogs when around it, the next pair just cleared it, but the wheel dogs had to jump it... " David could see what was coming and jumped off, abandoning the bike to its fate - the first good decision he had made that day.
He caught up with the dogs 2 miles or so later, very lucky not to be
injured by the bike bouncing along behind them; tumbling end-over-end,
bouncing off the rough freshly ploughed ground of the corn fields.
You would think this experience would have taught David not to push the extremes, but he still talks about taking the dogs out in front of a bike (he only has an expensive Italian road racing bike left). When we remind him about what happened last time, he just looks up and says "It would have been fine if it the log wasn't there." Like a shark diver who has been mauled claiming it would have been fine if only the sharks had not been hungry...
I hope there is no sequel to this story, but I 'm afraid that there probably will be. (see stories above about the difficulty of training humans, particularly when your back is turned...)
W-A-L-K and Other Terms Huskies Understand Too Well
Many dog owners have learned that if they don't want a psycho dog on their hands, they had better spell out the word 'walk' when asking another human if they think it would be a good idea. There is no NOT going once the dog thinks that's what's in store!
We quickly learned not to say the word 'walk' in conversation, but we were no match for our clever dog. She must have had a thesaurus plugged directly into her brain. For a while we spelled out the word w-a-l-k, but she learned quickly enough what that meant. So we came up with new code words to substitute like: 'What do you think of going for a little exercise?', or 'How about a stroll?', or 'Let's take a little air'. She was too clever for us, deciphering the meanings of all the phrases we tried after a few uses.
We were no match for our little smartie. Any of these words spoken, even in conversation, and up would go those Siberian ears, no matter whether she was in another room, or even (apparently) sleeping. Bright blue eyes would fasten hopefully on us and she would start to bark and dance around the house. Pathetic whimpering would ensue if no walkies were then forthcoming. Walkies are better than treats! Once she heard any of the key words there was no peace until she got her walk.
Our dog was teaching us English as we dug through the dictionary looking for new words to use. In desperation we even tried perambulate, but the 'walkie' detector quickly figured them all out. She was even learning how to spell p-e-r-a-m... HELP! What words are left?
We should have taught her to play scrabble. Could have made a million on one of those TV pet shows...
Our dog had discerning taste buds, and she was not about to settle for second best. One day, Dad thought he'd buy a different brand of dog food. I guess it was cheaper and he figured he'd save money. "The dog won't care...", he thought.
WRONG! Impesa hated the new kibble; when offered it, she would turn up her nose and refuse to eat it.
Having bought it, we reasoned the if we mixed it half and half with her regular brand, we at least be able to get rid of what we'd bought. We hadn't reckoned on our opinionated dog. She carefully picked out what she didn't like and spit it out in a perfect heap on the floor, eating only her regular brand.
Not having yet learned that out dog was more stubborn that we were, we decided to disguise the offending kibble by pouring gravy over it. Impesa sucked the gravy off each kibble and once again spit out the yucky stuff in a perfect pile beside her food dish.
We knew when we were beat, and gave the rest of the bag away to the local humane society. Afterwards we made jokes about how our dog should have been a movie star, working for kibble companies, demonstrating her kibble sorting techniques in commercials across Canada.