the end of the crate

From the moment we got her, Sous was confined to her crate whenever we weren’t at home to watch her. All the new-age dog lit claims it’s not a prison but a safe space, a housebreaking aid, and a way to keep your puppy (and your stuff) safe from harm while they’re still young and learning what is and isn’t a chew toy. She slept every night in her crate.

sous in crate

When we moved to the new place in Oakland, we started leaving her free to roam the house when we were gone. An hour, then two hours, then three hours. Then, we set her free at night to sleep where she chose (anywhere, of course, except our bed). When I started work, we arranged to have her walked in the middle of the day. After a while, we started leaving her free in the mornings before the walk, but she’d still return to her crate to wait the 4-5 hours between the end of her walk until we got home.

Yesterday, we eliminated the crate all together. She’s free to roam the house whenever she’s home, and so far there hasn’t been a bit of destruction. As always when I compare her to my previous dogs, her behaviour is a revelation. In high school, dogs alone in my room for any extended period meant destroyed books, exploded chewed-up pens, and the occasional urine stain. In comparison, Sous was at home today with her treat bag full of food at nose level as well as most of a bag of toffee sitting on the coffee table–both left untouched.

I mostly attribute her good behavior to exhaustion–again, the hippie school of dog care traces most misbehavior to lack of exercise–and I’m relieved to find that what we pay in time and money on her exertion is indeed sufficient. Still, it’s another little miracle to me to have a dog I can trust free in our house all day. Thank you, Sous!

we moved

It’s been a busy month. On top of Jeff getting married, trying to find a job, and finishing my dissertation, we also moved to an awesome two bedroom house in Rockridge (North Oakland). As part of this transition we finally obtained the quintessential piece of IKEA furniture, the Poang chair. What’s more, we purchased this chair like-new at one third the retail price from craigslist, which makes this like the ultimate example of bay-area 20-something home furnishing. Too bad we don’t get to sit in it much:

sous in poang chair


Let’s discuss a number of awesome things, some sarcastically and some earnestly. In an awesome meeting this week with my advisors, we decided that my schedule for finishing my dissertation was too aggressive to get all the necessary results in and text reviewed, so my graduation slipped by a month! Awesome! Leslie put together an awesome invitation to this year’s camping trip to Utica reservoir:

utica invitation

How could you not go? Looks too awesome to miss. Also assuredly awesome is our upcoming road trip out to Colorado with the pup. You would not believe how many motels will let you bring your dog right in the room with you.

You’re probably thinking that there are too many awesome things in the world for you to keep track of all of them in your head, and you’re right. That’s why God created Awesome Overload as an authoritative source on awesomeness. Don’t miss it… they need submissions!


Yesterday I gave Jonathan the first three chapters of my dissertation for review. There will be many more chapters and many more drafts, but its a good feeling anyway. Summer is here, the puppy is six months old and infinitely more tolerable. You should check out the three new albums Leslie just perfected on the gallery. Let me whet your appetite (this one was taken by Clare):


Beware the ferocity of the puppy!

the xbox trick

The one bit of our sprawlingly complicated TV setup that can’t be manipulated via remote control is the turning on and off of our XBox, which we use for watching DVDs. We have to actually get off the couch to turn it on and off. One night whilst lamenting this burden, Leslie had the epiphany that we could train Sous to do it. You know, she’s five months old now, she should be pulling her weight around the house.

It turns out it was pretty easy to do with the clicker… I just had to glue a piece of a plastic easter egg to the switch so she could hit it with her nose. There have been calls for internet video of the feat, and we’ve finally gotten around to it. So, by popular request:

[qt:// 480 376]

cruising through spring

I figure I’ve left the profane Obama ad up at the top long enough, so a quick update on life and puppyness: Yesterday was our first day with Sous’s pen taken down, and overall it went great. Leslie is mixing up frozen kongs for her every morning now, so she quite happily munched on breakfast in her crate for an hour and a half while we ate breakfast and prepared for the day. Walking on loose leash is really getting good now that we have started using a Gentle Leader head collar. It really only goes into action once or twice per walk, or if she feels like lunging at another dog or friendly person to greet them. Whenever she spontaneously decides to fall into a heel, we give her pieces of kibble, so she tends to naturally hang out there a lot of the time.
I’ve just finished reading Jean Donaldson’s Culture Clash, which is basically a rant against traditional dog training and a plea and explanation for more humane and realistic training and behavior modification. Even after reading Ian Dunbar’s Before and After Getting Your Puppy, which gives you basically the same philosophy in a more practical package but without explaining “why?”, I was very impressed by her viewpoint. There is so much magical thinking that goes on with dog training, and the more I banish it, the more success I feel like I have. Her book inspired us to tackle a few of the remaining nagging behaviors that we’ve been ignoring. For example, Sous pretty much hates grooming and gets very squirmy when we brush her. We’d half-heartedly tried to fix it by feeding her treats during the process, but our consistency wasn’t great. Yesterday we tried giving her one brush stroke, then giving her a piece of kibble, then another stroke, then another piece. Sure enough, by the hundredth stroke or so, she was happily standing there collecting food while she got brushed. This process counter-conditions grooming to be something she likes, and you are supposed to slowly ramp down the rate she gets food until she stands for a whole grooming session for one treat at the end. We’ll see.

On the more fun side of things, we’re in the process of training her to turn on our DVD player (which can’t be done with a remote control). We used the clicker and have managed to pretty reliably get her to go turn it on and off from a foot or two away with her nose. The next step is adding more distance so that she’ll eventually jump off the couch and do it. At that point I’ll be sure to post a video 🙂

two months

It was January 18th when we drove away from the Pet Food Express in Palo Alto. I was up front, trying to take it easy on the turns, Leslie was in back, trying to comfort the 11-pound puppy honking like a monkey.  I don’t think I was well rested again for 3 weeks.

Now I’m typing this and Sous is quietly chewing on the ground beside my desk. She’s free to wander around the living room and kitchen, but usually settles down somewhere near me. I can more or less work all morning now, with a few pauses for a training session or a game of fetch (which, so far, she only plays indoors). It now takes her at least 2 minutes out of sight to get into trouble, which is like an eternity compared to the 4 seconds it was those first days. She has tried to put everything in the apartment into her mouth at least twice, and is starting to show signs of recognizing just how small the class of things allowed in there really is.

Things are in fact so much easier now that topics other than the dog occasionally cross my mind. Last week I finished my contract job, and I’ve been able to really turn my attention back to thesis research. The plan is to work with maniacal intensity for the next two months so that when I give my dissertation talk in May, I won’t have to fabricate the second half. I’ve also been trying to find worthwhile games to play. Most recently I’ve been toying with Super Smash Bros. Brawl, which I can’t figure out why everyone loves. Yes, it has a bunch of Nintendo characters, but how is the game actually fun?

breaking new ground

Look! Sous can imitate internet memes:

Sous waits for biscuits

It looks like Sous has reached an age where she is developing some self control. Not only can she occasionally do reliable stays while I stand around the corner, she now knows “leave it,” which basically means “don’t touch that thing you really want that’s right in front of you.” The corollary of course is “take it,” which is really her favorite part. For some reason tricks where she doesn’t do something are more impressive to me than ones where she does.

Even more exciting was our first trip on Sunday to the off-leash dog park at the Berkeley marina. Although the park is on a peninsula, it’s big (about 30 acres), and the off-leash area doesn’t actually extend to the edges of the peninsula. So there’s this little 17-acre circle in the middle where dogs are allowed off leash. I had kind of pictured a fence around it, but no such luck–just stakes with “leaving off leash area” written on them here and there.

Every previous dog of mine has had totally reliable behavior when you took off the leash, and that behavior is to rocket away from you as fast as possible. The next step was usually the “keep at least 100 yards away from Bryan” game, but it was also sometimes the “disappear for hours until you hop into a stranger’s pick-up” game. People walking around with their dogs dutifully following off lead has always seemed kind of like a fantasy magic world to me.

So, it was with considerable trepidation that we unhooked Sous’s leash. She immediately trotted directly away from us about 20 feet, and my heart sank. She bounded through some tall grass, scaring off birds as we sheepishly followed, and then something amazing happened. She looked back at us. I crouched down and did my most convincing “Sous, come!”, and she starts rocketing toward me with this huge puppy smile. I couldn’t believe it. We got a repeat performance a couple of minutes later, and then realized that we could walk along and she would stay generally with us, never letting us get more than 20 or 30 feet away. She would greet other dogs politely, maybe play a little if they were down, but we could always get her back to us, and in the absence of other dogs she stayed pretty close. I was on cloud nine… this was always part of my dog dream, but I didn’t think I was going to start living it at 4 months!

George and Jana joined us for the rest of the afternoon and we just strolled around, meeting interesting dogs and people, including a 120-lb old lady with her 145-lb Rhodesian ridgeback–quite a pair! I think we’ve got a picture that we’ll try to post soon, but I think you could have stuffed Sous into a jar smaller than this dog’s head.

So anyway… Sous is now officially the best-trained dog I’ve ever had. She’s spending 3 hours alone in her crate each afternoon while I’m at the office, she’s up to 10 days without a housebreaking accident (knock on wood), and acts more and more like a real dog any day. It’s almost like they give you a puppy at 8 instead of 16 weeks just to see if you’re serious.

25.51 miles

Last week I got a pedometer to put in the bag that we take everywhere with Sous. It counts the number of steps we take, and so it can tell us what our total walking distance is. The total for the first week we had it: 25.51 miles. No wonder I don’t get so winded going up the hill to Soda anymore.

We always claimed that getting outside for consistent twice-daily exercise was one of our goals for dog ownership. At first, staring down another hour outside at 6:30 in the morning was nigh unbearable, but now by the time we get through the first block or so (especially on sunny days), I find my mood soaring. Probably the blood flow knocking loose some endorphins in my brain. Anyway, the alternative would just be staring at websites for another pointless hour in front of a monitor.