Training Sam to be a Killer

Sam by Big Blue Mess
Sam, a photo by Big Blue Mess on Flickr.

So, yesterday we had to have another frank talk with Sam. As you may recall, we recently had to educate her on her kind’s not so proud history of hunting rabbits and foxes in packs. We tried to explain that it’s not exactly fair when you have 30 of your closest buddies along when you’re running down a single opponent. Of course, Sam whole-heartedly agreed, because that’s 29 other beagles and hounds, not to mention pesky humans and annoying horses, who could get in your way and prevent you from snacking on the very best bits. I said, “you’re missing the point” and she responded, “you’re having an imaginary conversation with a beagle.” Fair enough.

Yesterday’s conversation was about beagles being used for testing and the importance of not being a docile, easy-going creature. It went something like this, “hey Sam, now if a lady in a lab coat comes at you with mascara, what do you do?” Sam wagged. “I don’t think you’re getting this. How about a different scenario. Say some skinny science geek says “lick this blush” or he rubs a scented Kleenex all over your face, what do you do?” More wagging from Sam. I sighed. “No Sam, wagging isn’t the answer. You rip their throats out. Got it? You’re a vicious little demented killer. You’re no longer Sam. You’re Destructicus Canine Slayer of Evil! Wow, that’s a ridiculous name. Good thing I didn’t choose it.” *wag**wag**wag* “You know, I think you’re getting the hang of it. Just like that only more vicious and less panty! Now do squinty eyes! No, no, less soulful! You’re a beast! A force to be reckoned with by mammal kind. Now let’s go storm a lab champ!”

“You know i have no idea what you said, but I bet it was about food. I like to CUDDLE! You’re nice! Now, let’s storm the kitchen!”


Ok, I may have really given this one-sided speech to Sam yesterday. I think she appreciated it and is on the road to becoming a ferocious  attack beagle. Tomorrow I’ll try to introduce her to camouflage and how to stealthily sneak past guards. This recruit has great potential. Mental note: must bring treats to hold her attention in training.

Sam Update: The Mighty Huntress

Yard Snacks by Big Blue Mess
Yard Snacks, a photo by Big Blue Mess on Flickr.

Well, Sam got a bird yesterday. (Jay couldn’t get to it before she did.) I can’t decide if I’m full of pride that our gimpy little beagle managed to live out some feral dream or feel bad for the poor creature whose last moments left it the mockery of all its be-feathered friends and family. I mean really, there you are unable to take flight one last time and you’re stuck watching in horror as some clumsy “handi-capable” beagle gallops over to finish you off with a mighty “nom”. Oh no, couldn’t be a coyote or some sort of wild cat, nope it’s a disabled beagle.  Oh, the shame!

Sam was super excited after making her first kill and I hear she did a beagle victory dance. Oh, to live the beagle dream! Sam the Mighty Huntress!!!  Killer of Things!

I guess it’s about time we sit down and finally have the talk with her about hunting and foxes – her not so proud genetic inheritance. We can’t afford to shelter her any longer.

Sam Update: Sometimes You Wanna Go

To catch everyone up on Sam – what we learned from the vet a couple of weeks ago is that Sam has degenerative joint disease in both her hips and stifles and the vet noticed arthritic changes in her hips. The excruciating pain she was experiencing in her hips caused additional pain in her back. After the vet visit and a refill of pain meds, Sam got worse. One terrible night she leaned against my foot to show she was happy I was home and yelped in pain sulking off and looking back at me with that, “why did you just hurt me, I was just saying hello, I’m a good dog” face. (Yes, I anthropomorphize a bit, but you should have seen the look of complete betrayal as she tucked her tail between her legs and hid beneath the desk looking at me. It broke our hearts and I had a hard time focusing the rest of the night knowing how miserable she was and how completely convinced she was that I had hurt her.) Over the next few days we set the ramp back up so she could get down the back stairs, coached her on how to use it again (ramps laden with treats for a couple of days did the trick) and gave her a daily low dose of pain medication. In these past two weeks we’ve seen her slowly get to where she can hop, get back on the couch (with doggie steps – although, she’d desperately love to jump) and dance around. She can even lean against my foot without flinching.

Yesterday was the re-check. We walked in the door and several staff cheerfully greeted her with a round of “SAM!” I think they only know us as maybe “Sam’s mom and dad”. She wagged, sniffed and complained throughout the visit. She also managed to get several treats, which made her hop in hopes that those empty vet assistant hands might actually be holding HIDDEN TREATS!!!!! and the vet and her assistants were pleased to see the improvement. We still don’t know what happened. Our vet, the orthopedic surgeon who performed the surgery on both of her knees, felt it could have been a perfect storm of arthritis and possibly something neurological (oh boy) coming together. We’re going to continue with the non-steroidal pain meds, which may be a regular feature in her diet. In two weeks we’ll reduce the amount she receives and see how she does. Then, if it doesn’t improve, we may have to look at different approaches to manage her pain – somewhere between additional medication and acupuncture. (I have a friend who uses acupuncture on all of her horses and swears by it. I’m more skeptical, so we’ll see. If it works, then I’ll be completely sold.)

I can’t begin to express how happy I am to see her bounce about where the only stink-eye I get is because I’m getting too rowdy with my keyboard.

So, now I’m just asking that she be able to go five years without a major event. She really deserves it after having such a rough four. If everyone could send her good vibes for that, please I know I’d be grateful.

Via Flickr:
Window lovingly decorated with feline and canine nose prints.

Sam Update: Back to the Orthopedic Specialist

Not too long ago I proclaimed that Sam had gone a full year without a major medical event.  When I made that hesitantly bold (not an oxymoron) statement I then asked that everyone knock on wood in an attempt to not anger the fates that clearly have it in for beagles.  Well, it looks like some of you clearly skimmed that bit and shirked your wood knocking duties.  Nosirree, you just couldn’t be bothered to tap on something wooden.  I suppose I can’t prove you’re to blame, so I might let you slide.  It could also be that I didn’t go big enough on my request.  I asked that Sam have one year of being medical event free when I should have asked for something more like “one year and a day” or maybe “TWO years”.

About a week ago, Sam had to be rushed to the vet.  I’ll spare you the details.  Suffice it to say it was kind of gross and she was in a great deal of pain.  When she got home, she just collapsed on the floor exhausted from a really bad vet visit.  I crossed my fingers and hoped that this would be Sam’s big thing for this year and the rest of the year would continue on quietly.

I couldn’t be that lucky. Tomorrow she gets to head back to the orthopedic surgeon to be examined (as a precaution). While I love and trust my vet, I love and trust my orthopedic vet that much more.  With Sam it’s just better to go big from the beginning.  Right now, Sam can’t stand without whimpering.  Stairs are out of the question and we’re back to carrying her into the backyard.  I also discovered that her trusty harness causes her pain when I lift her.  All of this adds up to me being hyper-concerned and going back to the land where I become insane.  Best case scenario is that her arthritis is flaring up thanks to the humidity, but the world I live in isn’t about the “best case” so I’m preparing for the worst.  (I have some first-rate martyrs in my family; genetics demand that I don’t let them down.)

So, if you wouldn’t mind, send some positive beagle energy Sam’s way.  She could use it.  I’ll do my part and ask that Sam be incredibly healthy for the next 5 years.

Sam Update: Commands

You’ve been without a Sam update in a while and I feel like I can cautiously report that Sam has gone a full year without a major medical event. I feel hesitant proclaiming this, because it seems a bit like asking the evil powers that be to come up with something new and more exciting. If you could all take a moment to knock on something wooden (or plastic or metal – whatever is close at hand that you feel brings good luck), I’d appreciate that. I’d really hate to see what is more exciting than neurologists, cat scans, spinal taps, new knees and rehab. If any dogs deserves a break, it’s Sam.

These days Sam mostly just patters around the house still afraid of the cats, still in love with food and a huge fan of cuddling under her blanket (which used to be my blanket).

I had read recently about a dog that knows over 200 words, so I tried to think of all the words/phrases Sam knows and came up with this rather short list:

“Sit” – she came to us knowing this one and a variant “sit pretty”, which is more like “beg” but we don’t insist she “sit pretty” for things.

“Hey, Sam!” – I think she’s convinced this is her full name, but it lets her know I want her to “come” or “come and look” at something. When I say, “hey, Sam!” (and we’re in the house) she’ll immediately cock her head to the side and come over to see what I’ve gotten into. An alternate meaning when in the backyard is, “stop baying at the annoying little dog next door or the neighbors who are trying to chat outside,” which is great FUN if you’re a beagle! In fact, she likes to get one little dog riled up to the point that it’s completely spun-up and insane, she’ll then immediately return to her sniff satisfied that her work is done.

Blanket Thief

“Let’s go to bed!” – I think to Sam this means “snacks in 30 minutes”. This is used when I’m going to bed and she’ll pad along behind me, laying on her dog bed. She knows once I’m asleep Jay will then take her outside and then she’ll get a “cookie” – one tiny dog biscuit. This is the best part of her day behind eating breakfast, eating dinner, eating her mid afternoon carrot or eating a backyard dog biscuit (she made them herself – yuck!). Food is THE BEST!

“Uh uh” – Jay discovered that she understands this better than “no”. “Uh uh” is usually used at about 8 am on weekends when she decides that she’s tired of Jay being asleep and she’d like a snack. She doesn’t get a snack at this time, but if Jay, in a sleep deprived haze, gets up thinking she needs outside, she’ll run into the kitchen and wag excitedly. Have I mentioned hounds LOVE food?

“Back-up” or “Excuse me” – These are used to get her to back-up from the food container. She’s very polite.

“Ear” – I don’t know that she actually knows this word or even how she’d let us know she knows this word, but we’ve got some crazy idea that she wants to know it. So, we’ll say “ear” and then play with her ear, because nothing is cuter or softer than a beagle ear. I’m sure “ear” will soon be adopted with “heel”, “sit”, “stay” and “down” as one of the more popular tricks to teach a pet and here we are, the pioneers of that command!

Again, knock on something nearby, I just wanted to report that Sam seems to be doing great and she’d very much love some food, please.

Sam vs. Cow

Sam is not exactly full of surprises, unless you count the number of visits with various vet specialists over the past few years. In fact, Sam is fairly simple, she likes to eat (no really, she’s a hound – this borders on crazy like a starving refugee left alone at a buffet – in fact, she’d probably claim starving refugees don’t truly understand the depths of hunger certain beagles have to endure), she’d also like to free range at the litter box if she could (she’s a wee bit gross), she likes to dramatically fling herself on the kitchen floor if cooking or eating is occurring, and she likes to be about a foot away from us at any given time. That’s Sam’s personality in a nutshell – food, trying to get food, litter boxes and flinging herself down dramatically if food is being prepared.

Before we got Sam, I knew I was going to go through a rescue site and I knew she’d likely be a hound of some sort. I did a lot of reading on beagles where I learned the downsides: she might suffer from epilepsy thanks to decades of inbreeding (so far, no signs), she would probably want to chase cats (it turns out that no, they’re horrifying balls of fluff and tiny sharp claws which cause her to cower in fear if they’re too close), and she’d be completely driven by her nose and stomach (all true – as her foster parent told us, if her nose is on, her ears are off – in fact, you can sneak up on her while she’s on a good sniff and bay by walking up and tapping her). There were also the cuter things that I read like that beagles love stuffed animals and they love to play.

The day we got Sam, we ran to PetSmart and bought all sorts of food and toys to keep her beagle brain active and happy – balls, tugs, a Frisbee (just in case) and a stuffed cow that we named “Cow”. I know, it’s incredibly clever. The only toy that wasn’t a complete bomb was a puzzle toy that dispensed food if you rolled it around enough – the rest were a huge epic failure. Sam had no interest in tugs or balls or stuffed animals and if we threw one, we’d get a look that said, “Why would you do that? Now you’re just going to have to go pick that up, you fool.”

The toys became the decorations for the crate top with the idea being that I would find them a good home for someone who had a playful dog (I still have them, come see me and I’ll load you up). And we put Cow in Sam’s crate just in case she had a change of heart, which she did. Cow is brought out whenever anyone is eating and Sam would like to eat, too. She’ll put her head in her crate, haul out Cow and eyeball us while biting Cow’s feet. If she gets a treat, Cow is ignored, if she doesn’t, she’ll try biting Cow a little more and then give up in order to give us the stink eye.

All attempts to play with her and Cow were met with a submissive, “ok, if you want Cow… I mean, I was enjoying Cow, but clearly you want Cow… I’ll go under my blanket now since you’re a mean Cow thief and a bit of a bully. Good for you, way to steal a toy from a creature about 1/8th of your size.” Which leaves you feeling like a bit of jerk and you try to make up for it by patting her under the blanket.

We got Sam when she was 4 years old and I’ve always wondered, since we know she was around a little kid, if she was just told “no” one too many times when she tried to play with her owner’s toys and she understood that all toys were off limits.

Well, a few weeks ago Kendra came over and saw that Sam was chomping Cow, since Sam wanted attention, so Kendra unknowingly got on the ground to play with Sam and Cow. I watched and didn’t warn Kendra that Sam would throw up her paws and wander off to sulk once Kendra had possession of Cow; I just let it play out. And then an extraordinary thing happened – Sam played tug with Kendra over Cow. Sam wagged excitedly and tugged away and was frisky. I called in Jay to watch and we just sat in awe. In four years we’ve never seen Sam actually play with another person. It was surprising, our dog actually knew how to play with a toy. Exciting stuff! We decided that maybe something clicked on in her little beagle brain, so a day or so after Kendra left, we tried. Sam immediately gave the Cow up to Jay and stared at him.

My best guess is that it’s maybe a pack thing. Maybe she sees herself as the Omega pet in this house and Kendra, not part of the house pack, is ok to struggle over toys with, whereas if we are trying to take the toy, well it’s her duty to surrender it. Regardless, it makes me a little sad especially after seeing how much fun she was having with Kendra.

That just leaves me with one plea: KENDRA! Come over and play with our dog, please! Sam needs you!

Sam: Routines

Originally uploaded by Big Blue Mess

For months after we first got Sam from the hound rescue folks she had a difficult time coping with separation. Sam would shake uncontrollably to the point that I thought she was having a mild seizure and wail by the door (and this was with someone staying with her). The one time we had to put her in a kennel for a long weekend, there was such a production in the vet’s lobby that I had a group of people around me all commenting on Sam’s excitement at seeing me again. The only thing I can think is that Sam, who was put up for adoption when she was four and lived with a new foster family for a bit before coming to us, was fairly insecure about where she belonged.

Almost four years later, Sam can now let one of us leave the house without a major dramatic episode at the door. She still doesn’t like it and will come softly complain with a whimper to the remaining house occupant, but she no longer sounds like the world has just abruptly ended because that door swallowed part of her family – something I think she strongly suspects.

This is all thanks to years of reliable routines. Mom goes to work, Mom comes home, Mom sits at the computer, Mom has dinner, Mom goes to bed. Repeat. Occasionally, I can slip in one new thing, like “Mom goes to Improv” without too much fuss, but the change (according to Sam) should only be one or two new things at a time otherwise her brain short-circuits. Sam even knows that if certain friends come over, we’re going to leave so in anticipation of the leaving,  she’ll hop into her crate and wait for us to get on our way. She knows that if I haven’t gone to work (one of those crazy things that happens every five days or so) and Jay and I are fussing about too much, we must be about to leave, so once again she’ll hop into the crate and wait. This totally beats the paw on the head, the shaking, the throwing herself down dramatically on the floor and the wailing (beagles can really let out a whopper of a wail when required).

Lately though, we’ve had several new routines. Jay is at home more and in the computer room while I have been staying up later and our dinner time is earlier. Sam completely disapproves. She likes her routine. She understands her routine and she would like us to get back to what she knows. So, she’s appointed herself the human wrangler. If Jay is in the computer room when he clearly should be in the living room, she’ll huff at him until he gets a move-on. If I’m up past my bedtime, she’ll try to lead me out of whatever room I’m occupying then every three feet or so she’ll turn back and wait so she can cajole me into moving another three feet down the hallway. Once she’s satisfied that I’m heading in the right direction, she’ll fling herself on her dog bed in the bedroom. However, should I pause too long, she’ll come to the bedroom door, cock her head to the side and stare until I get moving towards the bedroom again. Basically, if we do it right, she’ll lay down and cuddle under her blanket. Wrong – she’ll get within 6 inches of you and huff until you move to your proper place.

That’s our Sam.