Dog trains man

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Viva Sunday #6: Snowflake

I lay down with Kenzo in the snow, while children shout in excitement around us. The chilling air feels clean and fresh. The bright sunlight reflecting on the white landscape forces me to shut my eyes. And there she appears, being silly and romping around. The first snow was always our highlight of the year, and I squeeze my eyes even more to hold on to the image before it will fade, and I have to open my eyes again.

Life has returned to its regular routine almost three months after her passing. She visits me still, in waves. I don't know when she will come next. This time it just took a snowflake. Sometimes she comes during the day, and other times in a dream. I am thankful for each visit. Cherished as an unexpected opportunity to again feel that love that once was. Promise me, soon to visit again, Viva.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Viva Sunday #5: Problemsolving

Viva watched in horror how I threw a ball into the surf. While Kenzo was already breaking the waves to get it, and swam back with the trophy in his mouth, she looked surprised and a little despaired at her best friend. I realized she worried for him, and didn't like the idea he was in the mids of all that splashing evil. She protested loudly in an attempt to herd Kenzo back to the beach, and on arrival he received one of his regular Viva spankings.

Like a mother, punishing her kid for doing something stupid, while hugging him at the same time, glad nothing bad had happened.

The spanking never stopped Kenzo from charging the waves. Neither did his continued surfing efforts make Viva less reluctant of a roaring and foaming ocean. Her mind was made up, this was not a good idea. It would have been easier to try and convince the late Margaret Thatcher to spend a little more on welfare.

Although she got used to the fact Kenzo did return unharmed, and started harassing him instead to surrender the ball over to her as soon as he got it out of the water, she still never ventured further than the occasional wet paw. Thinking over what to do now, a genius idea suddenly struck me. In an attempt to challenge her, I threw in two balls. Kenzo would get one, but the other one would stay adrift. Kenzo couldn't care less about the second ball, just as I expected, "just throw this one I returned again, dad"!

Viva, with excellent accounting skills, naturally did notice the remaining one and so far the plan worked. But even with a floating ball in sight, she was still firm in her decision not to go in. I continued throwing two balls, in a solid belief I could be more pig-headed than Viva, and while we waited for the balls to return either by the tide, or by Kenzo getting the picture to retrieve the lost bounty, I suddenly realized ... I had just lost the final battle.

Noticing how the ball could return itself by the tide, solved the dilemma for Viva once and for all. From now on she would keep her eyes on the ball from a safe distance as it floated on the waves, and pick it up as soon as it washed ashore, if Kenzo didn't get it first - in which case she could still refer to Plan B, to steal it from Kenzo.

Problem solved.

Come to mama...

Got it, works every time!

Eek! Alright then, most of the time ... those waves are fast!


Friday, January 24, 2014

Hovawart TV: Need For Speed

The scenery of the Swiss Alps might be distracting as they flash by.

If your dog had a bucket list, would this be on it?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Pump That Biceps

We are one month in on Kenzo's recovery from a shoulder injury and I finally got my act together to write something about it on the blog. Progress is pain-staking slow, but there is progress, which is - and must be - the most important of all.

It started with a limp he developed in november last year. Actually he also limped sporadicly before that. But we could always manage with a couple of days of rest. When the days of rest got longer, and the interval between limps shorter, we started a more thorough examination at the vet.

To make a long story short, it was a month of examinations, x-rays, wrong diagnosis, second opinions, more x-rays and examinations, when finally an arthroscopic exploration was done of both shoulders.

The tendon of his left shoulder was bad, very bad, and it had to be surgically transected.

Agility dogs frequently seem to have these type of injuries to the tendons in the shoulders due to repetitive strains. Although I never did agility with Kenzo, the scenario is recognizable, knowing how he behaves when we are out and about.

By the way. Why it was necessary to shave his whole front for such a tiny incision needed for an arthroscopic procedure remains a mystery.

Although the fur will grow back, the tendon unfortunately will not, but most dogs do recover just fine, from the article Surgical Management of Bicipital Tenosynovitis via Arthroscopy:
"Arthroscopic transection of the bicipital tendon also referred to as tendon release is the ideal surgical option. It consists of completely cutting the biceps tendon at the degenerative biceps groove. The tendon will adhere to the humerus over time, allowing future normal biceps muscle function."
Although vets don't seem to agree if the biceps tendon will recover to a level that can support Kenzo's previous activity level, it should be possible to get very close, when we follow a rigid program of short leashed walks and physical therapy during the months to come.

And that's where we are now:


I thought it wouldn't be possible. Kenzo on short leashed walks - a maximum of  four walks a day, 15 minutes each - sound like a contradiction in itself. But it is going good. Very good indeed. His "shave" from the operation keeps others at bay, and people are, surprisingly, really nice to ask before they approach with their dogs.

I soon learned that the "Halti" was necessary, as Kenzo tried to expend as much energy possible in each short walk, and it became more like trying to keep my eyes on a bouncing ball, instead of walking a dog.

He is very aware of the "Halti", and it automatically seems to keep him calm during walks.

We find fun things to do, do a lot of sniffing, so we at least can stay out longer, and why not do a 45 minute drive to the beach, even if you can only walk for 15 minutes? Getting your paws wet and sandy, is always a feast.

He must miss his off-leash action, but he doesn't show it or complain, and I think he is quite content with what we are doing.


At home we do excercises with Kenzo at least four times a day to strengthen his biceps and keep him flexible.

We let him stand with his front-legs on the couch, and move a treat up and down in front of him, and by following it he is working his biceps muscles, similar with push-ups.

The vet also provided us with a Fitpaws Balance Disk, which is also to strengthen his muscles. With his front paws placed on the disc we move a treat in a back and forth motion, or left to right, while he is balancing on the inflated disc.

You might wonder if getting your fingers nibbled upon by sharp front teeth for 5 minutes in a row is painful, yes, it is. No pain, no gain.

Next to the biceps excercises, we also do massages, and general stability excercises. Kenzo loves all the attention and we think we might continue with this also when he has healed completely. Who doesn't like a little bit of wellness and work-out.


Our biggest surprise. Kenzo hates the underwater treadmill. For a dog that loves everything with water, this is clearly the exception. We hope it will get better by time, as the treadmill is such an important part of therapy.

Not only because it is great muscle training. Also because you can control the duration and difficulty-level, giving a great insight in how he is doing, and if he could be ready to be let off the leash on walks.

We use toys and treats to no avail, the treadmill remains a chore, and the only thing on his mind is how to get out of there.

Thankfully Kenzo never lost a lot of muscle according to the vet, so it might not be necessary to do it more than 5, maybe 10 times. We'll see about that.

So. That's where we are now. If you have any suggestions for fun excersises we can do at home we would love to hear them. This will still take many months, before he is healed again, but we focus now on the first step, to go off leash.

His fur comes back rather quick when you follow the photo's, don't you think? I hope the tendon heals just as fast.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Viva Sunday #4: Waiting For Patience

Kenzo can be patient. I would even brag about, I taught him, if it wasn't for Viva to prove me wrong.

When we train patience excercises, Kenzo could hold utterly still, look in my eyes with that serene look of a dog that understands that if he would wait long enough, the reward will come. And when it did, he celebrated his accomplishment.

Actually Viva could do that too. Technically. She would also, unlike Kenzo, do it under loud protest. She would snort, sneeze, growl and bark in frustration, in an attempt to convince me she was being patient, and her reward was already long overdue.

In Viva's world there was no room for a patience game. If you know what you want, go for it. The direct approach. All else made no sense to her.

Her goal-oriented attitude was a big plus in other forms of training. It took her maybe half a year, to be just as good a tracker as Kenzo was, and has since, by far outperformed him. She would have been a great dog to compete with, would her environment not have stressed her out. Viva was always "on" and ready to track. Although waiting for me to lay out the actual track, was again something she never took for an opportunity to train her patience, and was done under loud protest - see picture.

Many of the cues I used with Kenzo and hadn't come around yet to teach Viva, she learned herself by observing what we did. One of those was "search", which I asked Kenzo to do if either one of them had dropped their ball and I couldn't find it.

After she observed many searches, she started to recognize the cue, and one of the times I asked Kenzo to "search", I noticed a click in Viva's look. A split second in which she froze, looked at me with big eyes, and then stepped forward in a way that expressed purpose.

She soon became an excellent searcher too. When a search was too difficult or took to long, Kenzo lost interest, but Viva always continued until she found it. She never let a mission go unaccomplished and proved she could exert patience where Kenzo couldn't. Just not the waiting kind of patience.

It is one of the things I remember to be such an unexpected gift, of having two dogs at the same time that were in many ways each other's opposite. Recognizing those differences helped me in understanding each of them better, and to appreciate their different personalities.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Viva Sunday #3: Supermodel

The photos from Viva I like best were always taken by mistake. I am a bad excuse of a photographer. I go armed with a smart-phone, only to take it out to capture some type of action like swimming and playing, or a funny moment.

Those few snapshots I have where Viva sent me that sweet, loving and also somewhat dependent look are therefore rare, and were all taken by sheer luck. Like this one:

She just had a bath, which she loaths, and I was actually in the process of capturing her post-bath-scorned look, which looked like this:

She looks so regal when she lays down with her front-legs stretched, and I remember it as a moment of being forgiven by her Royal Highness, as I kneeled down before her to take these shots.

And then there is this one where I actually was taking photos of Kenzo playing in the surf, and Viva got in front of me for some attention:

Together with this one and this one, which you already have seen, those are all I have of the "Viva look".

Although it is the look I have seen her give me most, my response was always to immediately start a cuddle or a hug, instead of reaching for my camera. It's that decision that defines if you are a good photographer or not.

Getting a better camera will probably not help me, as I obviously will continue to forget to reach for it. Allying myself with somebody that has those skills, is probably a better strategy to deliver that quality I can only dream of. Someone like my dad, who made superb photos of Kenzo and Viva, during those few visits in which we met. But living 900 km apart, could complicate that plan.

Either way, I am going out to get that camera, study all the technicalities and indulge myself in a lot of photo projects, and pretend I am improving. It is a good thing to do, it will take my mind away from the grief. I might find a photographer friend along the way too, shooting those good photos for me.

To achieve that, I will wear my soon-to-find camera in full sight for everyone to see, as bait, during the walks with Kenzo - when he feels better - pretending to be a very active and skilled photographer. We will see who will approach me and begin to talk about the camera instead of the dog. Or even better, both.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Faces Of Love And Growth

For this year's Pet Blogger challenge, I tried to close the door silently behind me in advance, and made a short announcement, to continue to blog about Viva after her passing.

Every effort I did to look back at blogging in 2013, and ahead at 2014, ended in me rambling about Viva in relation to the blog. Who would seriously want to know the ins and outs of that. The PBC is a blogger party, always been, and I wouldn't want to crash it.

Hopefully this scared you off.

Because if I would have joined, it would have looked something like this:


The one thing you know what is coming when you read a dog book, there's a big chance the star will die in the last chapter. There is not a dog book I can pick up and start reading, without bracing me for that end. Will it come, or not. Just as you feel you have gotten to know them, they pass. Don't even get me started about movies, in which it is almost a certainty.

With blogs it is different. A blog is many times a diary of a person behind the pet, and the blog continues after the main character, or one of them, has passed. Rarely will it continue to share more about the beloved pet that has passed, apart from the first stage, where the pain of the loss is so poignant. The beloved pet is not forgotten though, as it still is mentioned with love when we comment on other blogs that will find themselves in the same situation.

Why is it we stop blogging about them, just like a book, I wondered?

The Faces Of Love

Having lost Viva while blogging, I think, I can first now understand why it is difficult, apart from the way how we cope with our own grief. The grief is also vivid and always present with our audience. It is something we all share. Far the most of our readers have actually lost a pet before and are reminded about their own loss again. The comment, "I know how you feel", isn't fake, it is heartfelt.

When you realize that, it gets more difficult to continue writing about your beloved pet that passed. Each post will re-open wounds with your readers, and you might feel guilty about that like me. Even when you write about positive and fun memories, there will still be a tear among the smiles, as they know you wrote it, and wonder if you still grieve, just like them.

I wish we didn't, because we often start blogging for the love we have for our pets. During life it is expressed in being proud, in happiness, joy, but also guilt, embarrassment and worries. After life, it is pain and grief. They are all different faces of the same love.

We all grieve differently, but before we stop blogging about a beloved pet, we should realize we would still express ourselves from our love and not the pain, as we always did. And love is always worth reading in my book.

Really no one needs to go through grief alone. We may feel alone or that we live in our own world, but that doesn't have to be true. Our blog can be exactly that gateway to share with others.

And Growth

We don't cope with loss or get over it. We do learn to live with it and grow. I believe every loss has meaning. My heart is a vessel, housing all the dear ones I have lost, and make me a better person.

When we lost our cat, "Pjevs", four years ago, he taught me as I wrote in The Cat Behind The Dog Blog, how I could grow:
"I always regretted never to have expressed how much Pjevs meant to me. And on Pjevs' first anniversary after his passing, I vowed to him I will do better for Kenzo. I started blogging a month later."
It was around the time Viva joined our family. Naturally the promise extended to her too.

I will probably first let go of grieving publicly about Viva when she makes clear on the first anniversary of her passing, or whatever time she feels fit, what she intends to add to my heart. Then I will know that whatever I will write, Viva wrote it too.


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

I Am Watching You!

Living together with a Hovawart like Kenzo does wonders for your social life. At least, when you spent a lot of time outdoors. Receiving guests at home, not so much.

When you are new to the family, you can expect Kenzo to pay a little visit to let you know in perfect Robert de Niro style: "I Am Watching You!". If you haven't seen the movie "Meet the Fockers", it looks something like this:

In Kenzo's version, he comes in eye-height if necessary, barks, and then retreats again. It is not really harmful in itself, but Ben Stiller will agree with me, it is pretty uncomfortable when you are on the receiving end. Even when it is Kenzo, instead of Robert de Niro.

It all goes well during the whole "oh what a good doggie" greeting process coming through the door with a lot of treats. Yet as soon as the treats stop, or we settle down, Kenzo hasn't forgotten to assert himself to the guest as the man-in-the-house, and waits for the opportunity to deliver that message loud and clear, to avoid any misunderstandings.

It has been a lot of work trying to socialize a Hovawart as protective as Kenzo - his protective nature was already shown in his puppy temperament test - with new visitors from the moment they step through the door.

And I admit, somewhere down the line, in his late adolescence, I got sloppy, thinking we were ready, because we had so many visitors as I ran my company at the 1st floor of our home, and he behaved so nicely. Maybe he was not ready, or maybe it was the fact that Viva joining the family made him even more protective, but it started with his first "I Am Watching You!" demonstration when he barked at a guest of which we assumed he had already ran the gauntlet with good results.

Since then we have tried different ways to introduce new house-guests, but he never lost his goal out of sight. The one that baffled me the most was, when I tried to greet guests outside. Away from the property, before they went into the house. It still didn't help, he even developed new strategies, by sniffing out a new guest from a group of people which he already knew, being his friendly self and receiving a shower of treats, only to quickly single that person out again for his "I Am Watching You!" warning, when we moved towards the house.

Who? Moi? Really?!
With the message delivered, he keeps one eye open to watch what the guest is doing, while I continue to reward him for all his "proper" interactions, like ignoring the guest when he or she moves, or just sniffing when we pass by. I can't define it as socializing anymore what we do, but more helping Kenzo to behave as society expects.

Our guests are always supplied with a rich supply of treats too. Kenzo might be protective, he is also practical. Although it sounds like a good idea, the treats and Viva's opposite outgoing nature, sometimes made guests overconfident towards Kenzo: "he looks sooo cute", and they approached Kenzo to give him a hug, despite my clear instructions. Only to discover, he ain't their pal yet.

More than once it were exactly the people that said to know and love dogs, who can't resist that urge to connect, and I have to bite my lip not to fire a "I told you so", when they stand there in disbelief, either questioning their own dog skills, or Kenzo's character. Instead, I run my simple script again, to explain, "Kenzo will never trust any person he never met before, in his own house, the first time you'll meet."

I realize I expect a lot from our visitors, with instructions not to initiate contact in any way with Kenzo, but do give him a treat, when he comes for a sniff. I understand it is difficult, and it is almost counter-intuitive for people not to try to touch or make contact in any way. Don't we by nature, disarm others with a smile and some attention?

The reward for the visitors that do decide to come back for a second time, is to enjoy that Kenzo will approach them with a toy, as a declaration of his acceptance. I always joke, that from now on they have to be even more careful, as Kenzo will start to protect them from their own friends.

What are your experiences with a very protective Hovawart, or any other dog that protects by nature?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Viva Sunday #2: Shark Bait

On a normal day, my wife would make herself an "ostemad" for breakfast, the Danish version of a cheese sandwich, with cheese on rye-bread. She would sit down, eat it together with a cup of coffee, and try to wake up. Both Kenzo and Viva would beg, as she occasionally would drop something "by accident". It is as uneventful as it sounds.

We also have a tornado version. When my wife wakes up to a busy schedule ahead, she hits the ground running right out of bed. While I am downstairs waiting with coffee, we can hear her dash down the stairs, already talking, and giving orders suggestions.

Viva immediately spots the upcoming opportunity and makes herself ready. I turn my chair, to ensure an unobstructed view of the spectacle to come, although I have seen it many times before, how Viva earned her nickname, the Shark.

A woman in full multitasking mode is an impressive sight. While holding the cheese sandwich in one hand, she uses her free hand to pick up bags, open cupboards, scramble with papers, you name it. In the mean time, her temper is rising, as I fall behind more and more and are unable to guess what she wants me to do next. Her arms join in on the talking, and start pointing the cheese sandwich in all kind of directions in a rapid pace.

Viva is following the movements of the cheese sandwich with every fiber in her body. Waiting for the moment in which it is being pointed in her direction. Or, when my wife bends over to reach something in a low cupboard and the sandwich is on eye height. Or, when she needs both hands and temporarily lays the sandwich down on the edge of the kitchen counter. Or, when ...

It just took a fraction of a second. Viva always wins. With two bruised fingers, my wife shouts, tramps angry on the floor, and just before I expect all hell to break loose this time, she sits down, exhales, and starts laughing.

Viva never let my wife start a day in stress.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Hovawart TV: Grey Muzzle

There is something beautiful about a grey muzzle...

Like wrinkles, it should merely indicate where the smiles have been. - (a slightly altered quote from Mark Twain).
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