Monday, 26 February 2007

Break in the Ski Season

We've not been working lately. I ordered the Dave Dikeman Command Performance tapes to see if what I've been doing is correct. Yesterday I watched the first lesson and, I'm pleased to note, I was doing the right thing, although not often enough.

Here are some differences I noted: Training tapes and books never have Chows in them. Well, one book did, as an example of the sort of dog the program was meant for, but he disappeared after Page 1. Chow books have pictures of Chows in them and suggest you train them. Looking at their training ideas tells you that this person has never lived with a Chow. The books written by Chow owners aren't very encouraging.

Lesson 1 is getting the dog's attention. You work with a 15 foot "longe line." By the end of Lesson 1 Dikeman's trainees are trotting right beside him, more or less attached at the hip. By the time Van-Ly and I finished Lesson 1, she was looking at me for the first time in her two-plus years, but she takes as much rope as she can. I don't believe this is a reflection on our relationship because after a month or so, she decided she wanted to be a lap dog. Chows, I explain to her, are too heavy to be lap dogs. Would she like to be a side car?

Today we started again from the beginning. We now have a limited area to work in because our neighbour has had the two adjoining fields plowed. We suspect truffle oaks are going in. Truffle oaks are going in everywhere. However, there is enough room for us in the field behind the house and Van-Ly didn't too too badly after our layoff. But she still takes advantage of the whole 15 feet of line.

My guess is, that unless I divorce my husband and give up cooking, cleaning and reading, there isn't enough time in the world to make her an obedience competitor, and that I may have to be content with whatever improvements will let me walk with her in town. Sigh.

"Bon courage"! say the French.

Saturday, 24 February 2007

Long time, no blog

Someone has been kind enough to send me an e-mail saying how much she enjoys my blog and would I please continue. Well. . . O.K.

Good timing. I have just received a set of video tapes to help me in my training effort. I'm very proud of Van-Ly, but we seem to have got stuck, so I ordered some tapes to see what I'm doing wrong. We may start, again, next week. Then, again, it is skiing season. However, my flattering correspondant also wants to know why I have Chows, no doubt prompted by the fact that no one in their right mind tries to train one.

Actually, I never wanted to train one. Come to that, I never wanted a dog. Neither of us wanted a dog. We're cat people, Nick and I. We'd been perfectly happy with cats for years. But then we came to France. Or, at least, I did. Nick was being an over-age, live-in student in England and I moved into this great big house in the country alone. Alone. Moi, who is scared of the dark.

"Not staying here without a dog," I said.

"We'll go to the pound," I said. That's where all our family dogs came from. "All our family dogs had pedigrees," said Nick, "With a pedigree, you know what you're getting. So, the next question was what kind. We became the FBI of the dog world. "What is your dog like"? Why did you choose him/her"? Why did you choose a him or a her"? We'd accost perfect strangers in the street and give them the third degree about their dogs.

Then we went to Chicago for a couple of weeks for an exchange course Nick was doing -- a survey of the history of art and architecture put on by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the IIT School of Architecture. (Their students went to England to study furniture-making and design at Parnham House.) One day the director of the School of the Art Institute invited the eleven furniture designers and me, the tagalong, to lunch. We were greeted at his house by loud barks and waitaminutes. When our hostess opened the door, we were confronted by a magnificent lion. Our hostess welcome us and the lion stopped barking and followed us into the interior. He followed us from room to room. He didn't join in the merriment, he didn't want to be petted, he didn't beg. He just lay on the floor in the middle of the students and surveyed. Regally.

So, I went into the kitchen and asked about him. What is he? He's a Chow Chow. "He came housebroken," said his mistress. "He didn't chew shoes, furniture or carpets." He didn't play, he didn't eat much, he didn't much care if he got any exercise, he didn't bark (except at the door), he didn't do much of anything except laze around being beautiful. "He's like a big cat," said our hostess.


So, we came back to France and I got in touch with the SCC (the French version of the AKC) and checked on puppies. $1100. "You're the one that wanted a pedigreed dog," I said to Nick. And we found Io Jima. To be honest, I was disappointed in her at first. When we arrived at the breeder's house, she only had black Chows left. Black? Aren't Chows red? Oh, well, if that's all that's available. . . we'll take her. We climbed into the car with her. I spread a towel on my lap and picked her up. "What's the towel for"? Nick asked. And I thought I knew nothing about dogs! She only threw up twice on the way home.

She was everything our hostess had said and more. I now realise that she was probably hypothyroid. At the time, I didn't know that was possible for a dog, but "calm" doesn't begin to describe her. Nor does "cute." And the thing about Chows is that they don't outgrow cute;
they're cute to the end of their lives. And they're no trouble. Feel like a walk? Walk them. Don't feel like it? They don't care.

We took her to the river. She wouldn't touch a toe in the water. "Hey! You're a dog!" So? We carried her across. Year 2: She put her toes in. Year 3: In, up to her chest. She was getting to be quite a weight to carry across. Year 4: Hold her and teach her to swim. She doesn't swim well, but she begins to enjoy it. We explain all to the breeder: how we've taught our dog to be a dog. "But," say Mme and M Breeder in unison, "Chows hate water." Voila! We have the world's only swimming Chow. But now that we know, we'll never be able to teach another.

She went to fairs and exhibitions with us and wore an exhibitor's badge, so that she could come and go, even if the guards didn't know her. Mostly, they knew her.

She slept in the bedroom and made me feel safe and loved, even if she was only twelve weeks old. When Nick came home for the Christmas holidays, she sulked at the stranger who invaded "our room." Nick sulked that she didn't remember him. We had her for eleven wonderful years until she was dying of stomach cancer and we put her down. I knew I'd always miss her, but I knew I couldn't live without a Chow in my bedroom at night.

R.I.P Io Jima