Thursday, January 29, 2009

Not-so-Graceful Charlie

Charlie is a dog with many wonderful traits.  Grace is not one of them.  On more than one occasion, we've witnessed Charlie's athletic leaps into doorways, furniture, play structures, and trees.  One unfortunate encounter with our kitchen island left Charlie with a bloody nose.  (Who knew that a dog could get a nose bleed?!!)
This week Charlie managed to give himself a doggie shiner after launching himself into the ladder on Tim's play structure.    The poor dear looked like he'd been in the ring with a boxer (or even a pit bull) and his pathetic glances at me just about broke my heart.

During our brief period of concern (thanks to Wendy the Trainer for taking my panicked call) my heart swelled as I watched Tim express his concern for Charlie.  He repeatedly asked me to "fix" Charlie's eye and to make him "not sad."  Then he stretched out next to him on his dog bed and gently stroked him.  (This is a vision I ABSOLUTELY LOVE.)  Fortunately, the swelling subsided by the following morning and he is once again Tim's loyal and flawless companion.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Foul Weather Charlie

Have I mentioned that we credit Charlie with igniting Tim's interest in hiking?  What we discovered this weekend was just how willing Tim is to hike so long as Charlie treks alongside him.
We had the great fortune of heading out for a hike up at Morgan Territory with Wendy the Trainer and her family (i.e. hubby and 3 giant, playful, extremely energetic golden retrievers.) We'd planned the hike well in advance and were prepared for every possible contingency ... except inclement weather.

On the morning of our hike enormous clouds stalled at the top of the mountains casting a gray pallor across the valley.   We considered canceling the outing but without rain ... well, who wants to be the one to cancel a hike just because of clouds?  So, off we trekked up the back side of the ridge and into the thick billowy clouds. 

As we ascended, the cloud cover thickened, obscuring everything beyond a few feet of pavement directly in front of us.  Tensions ran high as we silently we drove "toward the light" and saw nothing other than a faint glow through the fog.

When we finally reached the staging area we met Wendy et al in the parking lot.  They, of course, were raring to go so we unloaded and made our way up the trail.

Mud.  Drizzle.  Mud.  Fog.  Mud.  Wind.  Mud.  Puddles.  Mud. Four giant golden retrievers racing into the fog hurling mud blobs every direction.   One little boy, grinning ear to ear, covered in mud, and squealing with delight. 

There was a time when Tim couldn't stand to be dirty.  Not that day.  He was so game to follow Charlie and his canine buddies that he literally left us in the muck while he ran 20 yards ahead.   

While I can't say that I'm a big fan of foul weather hikes, I have to admit that this particular hike was memorable because of Tim's boundless energy and tolerance of truly horrible conditions.  His perseverance is truly a testament to Charlie.   (Thanks to Keith for the photos.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Time for Change

Charlie invited a friend over to watch today's historic events unfold.   Seems as though our new president appeals to all breeds.  (They're secretly holding out hope for a Golden Retriever in the White House.)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Some Things You Shouldn't Have to Ask For

When we first started working with Wendy the Superhuman Dog Trainer I knew that we'd be working on training Charlie to respond to commands like "sit", "stay", "come" and "get the paper."  (Ok, I didn't really think we'd be training him to get the paper but let's consider that one aspirational.)  What I didn't know is just how high Wendy the Superhuman Dog Trainer sets the bar for her student pooches.

Early on in our training, Wendy explained her training philosophy.  That is, there are basically two types of trained behaviors:  1.  behaviors to expect after issuing a command;  and 2.  behaviors just to expect.   I admit being skeptical at first -  it had just never occurred to me that I could train my dog to think on his own.  But after a few sessions I saw the light.

During our first session as Wendy introduced me to her philosophy, she made some suggestions about behaviors that we should just come to expect from Charlie ... without having to ask.  Some examples of this are sitting by the door after the doorbell rings and remaining in a sit stay while I greet the guests.   Another example is allowing me (or his handler du jour) to pass through a doorway first so that I'm not being dragged through the door or being body slammed into the door frame.  Admittedly we have more work to do on some of these "expected" behaviors.  However, Charlie has almost completely met my expectations relative to meal time behavior.  

We've come to expect that Charlie will not work himself into a rabid froth before we put his bowl on the floor.  In fact, our expectation is that Charlie will patiently wait while we prepare the meal, ...

   ... and that he will remain in a sit-stay (without any prompting from us) as we place his bowl and re-fill his water.  Then he waits ... and waits ...

and waits ... until we issue the release command (for us that command is "OK") at which point he usually attacks his meal with the ferocity of a fat camp fugitive.

The more we get to know Charlie the more ideas we have about "expected" behaviors but I'm always open to ideas ... of course, I'm still optimistic about the newspaper ....

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Best Things in Life

A father, a son, a best friend and a big stick.  Priceless.

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Friday nights at our house usually revolve around some type of family activity ... perhaps a walk to a park (when the days are longer), a stroll downtown, or a meal in one of our favorite joints.  Last night after a casual dinner out together (sans Charlie ... being that he's not fully certified yet we opted not to take him into a sit down restaurant), we all decided to make a stop at the video store.

Tim really enjoys these outings because he's usually permitted to select one Wii game to rent which we will inevitably spend a portion of our weekend evenings playing.  Friday night was no exception and after he made his selection we raced home to embark on the 30 minutes of video olympics we promised him before bedtime.

When we filed into the house, I couldn't help but chuckle when I watched Tim make a beeline for Charlie's crate and share his excitement with him.  He held the game box right up to Charlie's snout and said, "Look Charlie, we got Mario baseball!  C'mon!"  

Ahhh, music to my ears ....

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Charlie the Hiker

Have I mentioned what a great hiker Charlie is and how he's completely turned Tim into a master of the mountains?  This could be one of our favorite side effects of having Charlie.  Since his arrival we've been able to do so many great hikes (and California is just chock full of great places to trek.)  Looking back now, it's hard to believe that we didn't hike much before but I painfully recall a number of outings with Tim in the trailer ... let's just say that trailer went downhill much more effortlessly than up.

These first pix were taken during a hike at Del Valle which provides some great views of Lake Del Valle to the south and Mount Diablo to the north.  (That's Mount Diablo over Tim's right shoulder.)

(Took this one using the self-timer on my camera.  That's Lake Del Valle behind us.)

(Quick confession here:  our original intentions were to hike a portion of Mount Diablo but we foolishly neglected to check the park rules before we traveled out there.  Upon encountering the park ranger at the gate, he explained that dogs are not permitted on any trails ... grrrrr ....   So we drove to the summit and let Charlie explore from the visitors center with us.  You can see from these pix just how curious Chuck is about the view.)

Those are the snowcapped Sierras in the distance.  From the other direction we could see the Golden Gate Bridge.
I think this picture is my favorite from this day.  Charlie was so curious but so well behaved that I never once worried about him leaping off the peak or over the edge of the ridge.   (Apologies for making this a travelogue but I really just wanted to show off Charlie in some of these scenic locales.  More updates later!!!)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Charlie at Work

Although most of the holidays found us nursing each other through various stages of the flu, we did enjoy at least one day of whole-family-good-health.  When we discovered our good fortune that morning, we decided to celebrate with a trip to the beach so we packed up the truck and headed to Aptos.
Being northern CA, I didn't expect that it would be freezing, but I never expected it to be warm.  In fact, it was warmer on the beach than we've experienced there in the late spring.  That being the case, Tim HAD to have his shoes off, shorts on, and feet in the icy Pacific (sometimes I'm thankful that I'm the photographer!)  Of course Charlie was all too happy to partake in this craziness and that's just how these energetic boys spent the afternoon.
But it wasn't the icy frolic that was the highlight of the afternoon, at least not for me.  My excitement built as I watched the Charlie Effect occur just exactly as Patty Dobbs Gross explains it in all of her North Star Foundation information.   While strolling on the beach with Charlie,  Andy and Tim were approached by a small pack of young girls, all smitten with Charlie.  (This is what Patty aptly describes as the magnetic effect of a well trained dog.)  

Seeing this, I gave Tim the slightest prompting and suggested that he go tell the girls about his dog.  The rest unfolded like a script out of a North Star text book.  Tim told the girls that his dog's name was Charlie and then joined them in bestowing some love on Charlie.  (Please note in the photo below ... especially Wendy the trainer ... that Charlie is in a sit stay just like he's supposed to be when he's receiving attention.)  
There were a few other short utterances before the girls left us to go on their way.  The whole interaction lasted but a few minutes but the duration didn't matter.  Just the fact that it happened.  It was all just so ... normal ... and hopeful.   Hopefully, Tim enjoyed that interaction enough to repeat it the next time someone approaches us to inquire about Charlie.  I'm extremely optimistic.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Blog Break

So with the holidays and their usual frenzied pace (and this year, some untimely bouts of the flu - ugh!) I find myself looking at a blog that is woefully outdated!  Just a quick post tonight - wanted to share Charlie's glee on Christmas morning and his obvious satisfaction with Tim's gift selection.  More updates soon!