On Work and School

By Lynn –

The hazards of working at a pet store are more than many; suffice to say that in the few weeks I’ve been there, I’ve been planning on what things I’m going to need to get once I finally adopt my Dobe in the (right now, far) future. Got her collar picked out, food brand I’ll feed her, toys I can buy her (everything but food discounted 25% of course, the food gets me a 15% discount as an employee)…wow, my manager DID warn me that working there just makes pets all the more spoiled. The fun thing is that I’m going to have Z ‘tested’ so he can come in and work with me. At this particular store, employees are allowed to bring in their dogs (one dog at a time per store) but they have to behave properly and not be a distraction to said employee. I’m not too particularly worried about Z, it’s not hard to teach him that the toys and floor-level treats are off-limits, but he’s incredibly tuned in to anything that squeaks which unfortunately, comprises a good portion of the store. And of course, everyone who comes in has to sample the different types of squeakers out there. This, of course, brings me rather appropriately to dogs that pass through the doors and revelations I’ve discovered about some of the people as well.
The first one that stands out vividly is the 9-month old Golden Retriever. She sled-dogged her owner into the store where they walked around a bit and played with the toys. And while the store has one of the best policies of “If you know what you’re talking about when it comes to behavior, recommend whatever works for you,” with most of my co-workers, the first thing to be recommended is the Gentle Leader. Owner said that Sandy wouldn’t have a second of it and that she wouldn’t stand for having something on her face, in which case the Easy Walk harness was recommended. Just as it was being sized for her, a 4-5 month old black Lab pup comes up to her and here’s where the revelation began: Sandy promptly went on her side, back leg in the air and ears back, tail tucked and wagging while Cody kept mouthing, nipping and otherwise trying to engage her to play. All this time, both owners are smiling and saying “Oh look, you have a new friend” and I just wanted to say “No, Cody needs to be gotten away from Sandy, he’s too energetic for her and she’s trying to tell him to back off, he’s the more dominant one and he’s not understanding so he’s not letting up, making her more uncomfortable about the whole thing.” Cody eventually wandered away for a second to grab a cookie from the bulk bins, Sandy got up, and Cody comes RIGHT back over…Sandy goes RIGHT back onto her side. And therein lays the first revelation: People know next to nothing about dog body language. The second revelation is pretty simple since you can see where I’m going with this…the harness worked, but probably because Sandy was so exhausted from dealing with Cody that she didn’t really want to be a sled-dog anymore. Two revelations in one encounter isn’t bad, but oh well, it certainly wasn’t the last…

The next was actually a revelation about me, in a way. This particular store has a huge emphasis on holistic and natural stuff, including food, and I noticed right away that they didn’t have our particular food. However, since my hiring time was right before Christmas, there wasn’t much time for them to really teach me about the different brands they sold and why they were recommended. Eventually, I was given the basics, so I began comparing and watching Z with his food. Ever since we switched him over from Iams to Science Diet, everyone noticed not only how often he pooped (almost every single time he went outside as compared to 2-3 time per day as before) but also that they were darn HUGE. And of course, when I looked closer, I saw that it looked like someone had put corn meal in it, so my next course of action was to check some ingredients on his food: number one being ground whole corn. Believe me, I work with horses and they need grain…NO WAY am I graining my dog! Not only are dogs not horses in the sense that the halter concept hideously fails with them, but dogs are not horses in the sense that corn or any type of grain should NOT be one of the primary ingredient in their food (or even IN their food, as is the case with something such as Evo)! I talked to my manager about this, noting that Z has some allergies (to what we don’t know), and was recommended Innova, which is kind of the run-of-the-mill top-quality (I hope that makes sense) dog food. However, despite my allegations that I can buy the food and even get a discount, the family wasn’t (still isn’t, really) willing to switch foods. True, they knew that Z poo’d more and larger with the Science Diet, but come on…it was vet-recommended! How wrong can they go with that? Better call the vet to make sure it’s ok to make him a dog again…and (since I got to the tech first, ha!) was recommended a novel protein since beef and poultry comprise a good portion of meat sensitivities and food allergies. Apparently the vet got in touch with us very recently and actually wants him on Wellness (which we do sell and recommend) duck or venison, but I think the idea that a food has to be “Vet-recommended” really limits things. I’d love to see Z on Evo (the kibble alternative to raw) or even Life’s Abundance (which we’d still have to end up special-ordering), but I’ll take what I can get and afford. We also stock BARF diet stuff and raw frozen bones, but they don’t want him eating those either (or any edible chew, like bully sticks). I’ve got enough to say to that, but heck, I may buy the food, but I don’t pay the vet bills and until I have my own dog, there’ll be none of it, not by my decree. Family issues; pardon me for bringing those up.

Not exactly a revelation, but I did a loose-leash exercise in the store with a Jack Russell terrier…she came in saying that the GL just wasn’t working, he was still pulling and lunging at other dogs, going crazy when cars passed…I was hesitant to size a prong for the dog since it was a bit small for the breed and might have needed a micropinch or there wouldn’t have been enough prongs on the collar for it to be effective. So we fit Cooper with a check chain and was asking how it worked, so I demonstrated. It wasn’t perfect, but when she took the lead, paid for the materials and left, he was by her side and she seemed happy. Her one question was “Do you think I have what it takes to fix his problems?” Everyone has the capacity to fix their dog’s problems, I told her. They have to realize that the behavior is something that is damaging to the dog, themselves, or others, as well as the ambition to fix it and the guidance to fix it properly. (If I ever find the quote again, I’ll post it…I’ll run the book by Adam and maybe write a review of it once I’m finished, as it’s one of the better dog books I’ve read.)

I’ve probably had a few more revelations since then, but as I’m a bit low on sleep (worked closing shift last night, class at 8AM this morn), my memory unfortunately goes a bit low as well. Ah, that brings me to the equine breaking/training/farrier class I’m taking this quarter!

I was there early and of course, most if not all of the indoor horses were taken, so I went to the outside pastures to take my pick (the deal is, if you have an inside horse, you have to clean stalls, but if you have an outside one, you must catch it every day). The lovely dark bay who caught my fancy (and I guess I caught his as well, he stayed close to me a lot of the time) was already claimed, so I turned to a pair of palomino mares, neither of which I could tell apart. Mystique or Taffy? They were both Quarter horses, about 3 years old, both belonging to the University, but darn if I could only differentiate them by saying “One LOOKS darker,” that being dubious in itself. The one I chose turned out to be Mystique who, thankfully, catches well and knows how to lead. Unfortunately, she’s spoiled and bossy, as well as untrained to work from the right side. She’d lead and longe fine, as well as “whoa” from the near side (that’s “left” to the non-horsey people), but anything from the right side and she’d run me over or just not go anywhere. Took an hour or so and some help from the prof, but after that, she longes well from either side. Next goal is to teach her to go in either direction upon signal.

The rope halter isn’t unlike a prong collar…it’s the horse’s non-bit version of power steering when it comes to basic groundwork. Because of the knots on the noseband, it’s easier for the horse to feel a bump to the side and the thin construction makes for a bit more pressure on the poll. If the horse misbehaves (changes direction without permission, crowds, becomes gate-sour as Mystique did MORE than once, etc), we have 3 seconds, no more no less, to administer an appropriate punishment and redirection. And we don’t skimp on punishment, honestly: everyone talks about how to not take any flak from a toy dog as if it’s a huge Rott…here, we have no leeway. It’s either one good correction or a spoiled half-ton animal running all over you, literally. Gives a new meaning to making a correction “motivational”! I know that horses have their levels of punishment just as dogs do, but with dogs we have a little more leeway and control. Plus, we only have 50 days…not that that isn’t enough time, but it means getting the message across the right way the first time.

Which is honestly what I’d wish people would just do to all animals, as well as themselves and with others