Monday, January 31, 2011

Stitch in Any Language

When my friends and I get bored, we do silly things, like think up Stitch's international names:

Canadian - Stitch-eh
English - Stitchson
Filipino - Kuyah Jhun Sthitch
French - Steesh
German - Stitchmeister
Greek - Stitchanopoulos
Hawaiian - Stitchamehahamaunakoa
Indian - Stitchasurimanerjee
Irish - O'stitch
Italian - Stitchillini
Japanese - Stitchuzuki
Jewish - Stitchenstein
Korean - Kim Stitchee
Mexican - Stitchelcoatl
Polish - Stitchsky
Russian - Stitchnokov
Scottish - McStitch
Swedish - Stitchsen

*Disclaimer: this list is meant to make people smile, not offend them. If this offends you, my friends, Stitch, and I extend our apologies.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Puppy School: Part 2 - Recall

Stitch is now into his third week of puppy school.

Last week he learned the "down" command, given from a distance with the "down" hand signal (palm flat, facing down and parallel to the floor; then bounce a couple of times as if bouncing an invisible basketball).  Trainer Ally also went over "up" to come up for hugs or onto furniture (if allowed), followed by the "off" command, to get them off whatever they were on (like people or aforementioned furniture). Since Stitch was recovering from his surgery last week, we didn't really have time (or him, energy) to practice a lot of the new commands.

This week, however, the conehead is gone and Stitch is back to his regular, energetic self. Just in time, because trainer Ally went over "Recall" and "Stay," and it certainly tuckered out my little guy.

So "recall" is basically the term used for getting your dog to come when he or she is called. Trainer Ally had a great session for recall this week. First, the puppy parents identified their pups' greatest motivator - either a favorite toy or a treat. Ally recommended a tug toy, which works great for Stitch because he loves to play tug-o-war (plus it's a no-cal alternative to treats). Then we did some "restrained recalls" in class. This is how it worked:
  • Trainer Ally holds Stitch [or insert other puppy name here] by the leash
  • Doggie-mama (that's me!) takes the toy and starts walking away from Stitch (For the purposes of the in-class exercise, Stitch "borrowed" a tug rope with a squeaky toy attached at the end)
  • Doggie-mama makes toy really attractive for Stitch (swirl it around, press the squeaky toy, etc.) to get his attention and get him excited
  • Trainer Ally gives the command and Doggie-mama says, "Stitch, Come!"
  • Trainer Ally releases Stitch who runs excitedly towards mama and gets rewarded by playing with the toy
  • This is followed by the "Drop it" command, teaching Stitch to drop the toy (with a treat incentive)
After several exhausting rounds of Recall training with all the pups, we moved on to the "Stay" command.  Stitch was already somewhat familiar with this so it was just tidying up our routine, complete with hand signals:

"Down. Stay. Walk backwards away from puppy. Release! Sit. Praises and Treat."

Stitch, sitting and "staying," albeit slightly distracted

So after a very fun-filled yet tiring class, Stitch and I (mostly me) decided to take a few pictures in his class surroundings. You know, for his puppy scrapbook* and this blog:

Photo-op: Going once...

Photo-op: Going twice...

Photo-op: Gone!

Of course with all that activity and attention, Stitch's only recourse was this by the time he got into the car:

Stitched passed out on the passenger seat.
Yes, he is wearing a doggie seat belt.

*Note: Stitch does not have a puppy scrapbook. I'm not that neurotic. A blog is sufficient.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Stitch Adventure: going for a ride

I was vacuuming my room the other day using my handy dandy Roomba. Curious little Stitch watched intently as the cleaning robot zipped around my room.

A few minutes later, I switched the vacuum off and placed it back near its base for a recharge. Seconds later, I hear the familiar jingle of the Roomba as it comes to life -- "tana-nana!"

Stitch was sitting on top of the vacuum, conveniently where the "on" switch was and inadvertently turned it on. As I turned around,  I see my little dog zipping off the vacuum as it started whirring to do it's job.

My poor illustration of Stitch on the Roomba.

I've since used the Roomba again, but have not seen Stitch go for another ride. Maybe it's not his thing after all.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Photoblog: Conehead Stitch

Stitch enjoying a beautiful sunny day playing with his tennis ball.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Stitch in Stitches

Stitch got neutered and had his umbilical hernia removed the other day. The look that he gave me was  both heart-warming (because he looked like he was going to miss me) and heart-breaking (because he didn't know what was about to happen to him) when I dropped him off at the vet before his surgery.

Overall, the surgery went well. He was at the vet's office by 7am since I had to take him in before I went to work. I called to check in at 2pm, and learned that everything had gone smoothly and that Stitch was recovering. By 5:30pm, Stitch was ready to be picked up! The vet said Stitch woke up a few hours after the surgery crying and wanting to be let out of his temporary crate. The only thing that comforted him was when someone finally held and soothed him. While he recovered, he was part of a 4-member doggie orchestra: there was a yipper, a howler, a deep woofer, and finally Stitch, the yelper.

As I entered the lobby of the animal hospital, I heard the familiar yelping of my little guy in the recovery area and couldn't help but smile knowing he was awake and ready to go home. :)

I wasn't surprised when Stitch wasn't happy to see me initially. I, afterall, was the conduit that allowed the vet to rob him of his virility, so to speak. He kept giving me the stink eye! So what does a doggie-mama do in this situation? Why, take pictures of him wearing his post-surgery cone of course!

Angry Stitch, glaring at me

Stitch at home with an even stinkier stink eye

Stitch with a cone - and a scowl

It's now been two days since Stitch's surgery and he is recovering quickly! He's not shown any signs of discomfort or pain so he's off the pain meds. And he's almost back to normal just bouncing around the house. The roommates and I have taken great delight, however, in watching him try to maneuver with his conehead, which he has adapted to quite well. I take this to be a good sign - Stitch is resilient and is becoming well adjusted!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Puppy School: Part 1 - The First Day of School

Stitch went to his first class of obedience training last week at our neighborhood Petco. Mind you, Sitch doesn't have any behavioral issues and in general is a very good dog. But as a pup, he does have his mischief-making moments.

[begin fuzzy flashback sequence]

  • like that time he bolted out the front door as I was heading out to work, hands full with purse, bags, coat, keys, scarf, kitchen sink. We live along a main thoroughfare so imagine my horror ("Quelle horreur!") when my little pup started running towards the street, happy and oblivious as a clam. My heart would have jumped out of my ribcage were it not for the intricate musculoskeletal framework that held it all in.
  • or like that other time when he was so excited to see my roommates come home that he bounded happily towards them, 14-lbs. at full speed. While BFF was holding a hot cup of coffee and her brand new designer handbag. In a way I was glad I wasn't home at that time to see how livid she was. I am happy to report that Stitch came out relatively unscathed (yes he did get in trouble). In response, BFF (half-jokingly) quotes Genghis Khan when dealing with Stitch's puppy-isms: "If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you."

[end fuzzy flashback sequence]

So at my BFF's suggestion, I decided to sign him up for obedience training (only $89.99 with a $20 OFF coupon!). I agreed that Stitch not knowing/responding to the word "Come!" has it's general annoyances (often, he just sits there and gives me this "Duh..." look), but there are other, potentially life-threatening, ramifications to this (see point #1 above).

So with that said, Stitch and I entered the brave new world of doggy obedience. And boy are we glad we did!

Stitch's trainer, a petite, teen-like woman named Ally (Ally, if you're reading this, I mean that as a compliment. You know you rock!), has 7 years of dog training experience. But don't let her diminutive appearance fool you - that girl knows what she's talking about! By the middle of class, Stitch was looking at her with adoring eyes and was in absolute rapt. Not that I was jealous or anything. Hey, I was looking at her with adoring eyes and was in absolute rapt, too. She did reassure me by saying, "Don't feel bad if your dog likes me. I'm feeding him and giving him clear, consistent instructions." I have to admit that did motivate me to be a better mom-student, right along with Stitch.

The class started with introductions. Aside from Stitch, there were 2 other eager pups in the class -- a 7-mo. old (looked-like-a) Border Collie mix named Kota and a 23-mo. old chocolate lab, named Zoe. Kota was in his second week of class and was a few commands ahead of Zoe and Stitch. Zoe needed a little more attention from Trainer Ally since her mom says Zoe only behaves for the men in the house, but not for her.

For that first hour, we covered the basics: "Sit" (plus "Stay" and "Release" while giving them their food bowls), "Watch", "Leave it" and "Wait" before going through the door. I decided (upon Kota's mom's recommendation) to try the clicker training with Stitch. I was a very proud mom! I was so happy and, admittedly, pleasantly surprised to see Stitch following Ally's, and eventually my, instructions so well!

Stitch did particularly well with the "Sit, Stay, Release" but needs more practice on the "Leave It" (he's quick on the draw when it comes to something he wants, especially when it's a treat).

So here are some highlights of what Stitch and I learned in class:

  • Make sure you have a lot of your pet's favorite treats on hand. Break them up into smaller chunks to make them more manageable (and to avoid making your pup an obedient yet pudgy pet)
  • Do not feed your dog before going to obedience school. Otherwise they get full and won't respond to treats. That or they'll respond to the "new" treats presented by the trainer
  • Don't repeat a command over and over again until your pup does it - they'll associate your repetitition as what it takes to get them to do the action. Instead, say the command and just wait quietly until they do it
  • If you're trying clicker training, here's the order:

(1) Say the command
(2) Wait
(3) Pup does the command
(4) Click
(5) Give treat and praise
(Optional 6) Smile at yourself for having a well-behaved dog

Stitch and I are looking forward to our next class and will share the new tricks we've learned!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Groom Reaper

Stitch went to the groomer for the first time last weekend, at least since I’ve adopted him. I went to a Petco grooming center near our house because I had a 15% off coupon. When I brought him in, I gave the receiving person some instructions on how I wanted him cut: trim him to about ½ inch all over, keep his tail layered and curly but just trim the tip a little bit, hygiene cut on his underside, and trim around his face so that his hair isn’t getting in his eyes and his mouth. Shih tzus are notorious for having stinky faces because their snouts are smushed in so I wanted to make sure his face was as clean as possible. So this is how Stitch looked a couple of days before I took him. Notice his cute little mohawk that was just starting to grow out.

Stitch before his visit to the Groom Reaper

This is Stitch 2 days after his grooming.

Stitch looking like he just ended a 40-day fast

His cut was all uneven, which didn’t bother me so much, but I was disappointed with the way they trimmed his face. The cut makes him look older than his 8-months. He looks eternally sad and it highlights his not so flattering features. I think next time I will try a different groomer…

Monday, January 17, 2011

My life in Stitch's: The Beginning of the Journey

Sometimes we think we know exactly what we want.

We daydream and fantasize about it, and believe so much that it’s the perfect “something” for us, that we go so far as thinking that it’s already ours. It could be something material like a car or a house, or a some-“one”, like an ideal mate. But whatever it is, we go through the sometimes-futile exercise of owning and loving it in our minds.

In my case, it was a dog.

I decided a few months ago that I was ready to get my own dog. I love dogs. I grew up having them around, but none was ever really mine. They were either family pets or were dogs who belonged to other people close to me, like my sister or my best friend. This time, I wanted one that was mine. All mine.

And just like that, the door opened up for me to adopt a little Havanese through one of my work colleagues. The timing was perfect – he was looking for a home, I was looking for a pet. For all intents and purposes, Dash was the perfect dog for me. He was just turning one so he’d essentially “grow old with me” (his birthday is 3 days before mine), he weighed less than my purse (so very portable, which was one of my stipulations), he was a rescue (I didn’t want to buy a dog), and he was the cutest little ball of fur! We had our first “date” – at his foster mom’s home, from where we took a nice little stroll through his neighborhood park.

He frolicked; I followed. He sniffed other dogs’ butts; I didn’t.

By the end of our date, I was convinced that Dash was the dog for me. I let his foster mom know that I was definitely interested and she suggested I submit my application through the Havanese Rescue group that was handling his adoption.

The adoption process through the rescue group was rigorous: a 4-page application, 3 references, vet resources, and a nice fat check (if the adoption was approved). I got all my ducks in a row and submitted my application as soon as I could. I was determined to bring Dash home for the holidays. I went as far as getting him a plush new pet bed, a harness, and a retractable leash on Black Friday, braving the cold and the crowds! I even began to puppy-proof my room.

As I waited for the adoption decision, they discovered that Dash’s liver enzymes were elevated during a visit to the vet. At that point, they basically put the adoption process on hold until they could find out what was wrong with him.

“They think he might have a liver shunt. At the very least, he will need to be on a special diet for the rest of his life. If it’s really bad, he may have to have surgery,” his foster mom explained. That didn’t matter to me. I was enamored of Little Mr. Dash.

While I patiently waited for Dash, there was another little puppy development brewing. On the Sunday before Thanksgiving, my best friend and I were out all day shopping, preparing for the week’s oncoming feast. We had hit up at least 4 different stores and were on our way home when she caught sight of Big Lots! along our route home. Now we don’t normally shop at Big Lots! so I don’t know what prompted her to say “Let’s go check out what they've got!”

It was getting late, my feet ached, and I was generally fatigued, but I agreed to make one last stop. We pulled into the parking lot and were getting ready to hop out of the car when a large pick-up truck pulled up behind us. The driver, a woman who looked to be in her early 40s, was signaling to us. As we got out, we realized what she was trying to do.

“Do you guys want a dog,” she asked. And in her arms was a somber little puppy with eyes that looked in opposite directions.

We walked closer to her truck to make sure we understood her correctly. She seemed to be in distress, thin with dark circles under her eyes. She looked like she had just been crying.

“Do you guys want a dog,” she repeated, this time with desperation in her voice. “We have to get on a plane tomorrow morning and we can’t take him. We don’t want to leave him at a shelter or the vet because they might put him down. Do you want him? He’s a really good dog. He’s a Shih Tzu. I paid $600 for him. He’s only 4 months old.”

Inside the pick-up truck were the woman’s two young daughters, neither older than 10. They too, begged us to take their puppy.

“His name is Stitch. He’s a really good boy. You can keep his name if you want,” one of them said, on the brink of tears.

As we did a quick survey, BFF and I noticed that the pick-up truck’s bed was filled with plastic bags of clothes and miscellaneous things – as if the woman and her daughters had just upped and left. Foreclosure? Eviction? We may never know.

After praying with the family for a circumstance we knew nothing about, and a tearful goodbye to their beloved Stitch, BFF and I went home with a little Shih Tzu puppy, with the intent of keeping him for a few weeks until we found him a good home.

"Let's just get him through the holidays," was our mantra.

Stitch - the day after we brought him home. This was supposed to be his "Adopt Me" picture.

Through all this I still wanted Dash. I conveyed to the adoption team that I was willing and able to take care of a dog with special medical needs. Dash’s foster mom sang my praises to the adoption committee. My best friend even wrote a lovely letter of recommendation on my behalf, enumerating all my lovely doggie-aunt qualities and how I would then make a wonderful doggie-mom.

But sometimes, things don’t work out as we plan.

In the end, the adoption process for Dash just became a fruitless pursuit. Besides the liver issues, they discovered some behavioral issues that prompted the rescue group to remove him from the adoption list.

Yet there was Stitch, this loving little puppy at home just wanting to belong and needing someone to call him her own once again.

And that’s when I decided to adopt the little guy.

He wasn’t my first choice, but in retrospect, he is the perfect dog for me: he’s silly and affectionate, but not clingy or needy. He’s playful and energetic – the quintessential “dog’s dog.” To quote a line from (I’m pretty sure) some movie, “he’s everything I never knew I always wanted.” And thus began “my life in Stitch’s” … and his in mine.

Yes, sometimes we think we know exactly what we want.

But the story of Stitch just reminds me that the God who knows me better than I know myself is watching out for me, and still delights in giving me the desires of my heart – even better than I can ever hope for.