Friday, February 25, 2005

Secure in Love (Yes, that's me hiding in there among Elsie and Baxer!)Posted by Hello

The Security of Love

I’m leaving for a weekend speaking engagement—the kind where I swoop in, keynote four sessions, then swoop out, never to see most of the conferees again. No one knows me at these events; they’ve only heard of me or read about me or seen my books or listened to me once before.

Even though I’m welcome at these gatherings, and even though I may be wanted, I am not loved.

Not there, anyway.

Here, at home, I am. Maybe not perfectly, but I’m loved nonetheless. My husband and kids love me; of that I’m certain. My canine kids love me, too, as only they can. Even my friends and family love me (warts and all—I’ll never be able to figure out why). ;o)

Knowing I’m loved, that I have arms (paws, tails, and tongues) waiting to welcome me home, helps me rest easy while I’m away, even among strangers.

But a different love--knowing I have a God in heaven waiting to welcome me Home, who loves me forever and loves me no matter how I often fail and do the wrong thing—the truth and dependability of His love carries me. It assures me even more.

So as I go, I’ll remember the warmth of Elsie in my lap and Baxter supporting my feet (see pic above). I’ll recall Ridge’s sloppy affection. I’ll carry my husband’s embrace in my heart and my children’s love there, too. But I’ll rest in the certainty of a greater Love. The Love that will see me home.

‘Til next time,

Thursday, February 24, 2005

A picture of trust. Don holds a dog biscuit between his teeth for Elsie (and Baxter and Ridge in turn) to gently remove from his mouth. She won't take it until he lets go. How trustful they are! If only we humans could learn to trust each other so courageously and selflessly. I suppose that's how it should be. 'Til next time. :o) Posted by Hello

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

"Hey! What's she got?" Posted by Hello

"Hey! What's She Lookin' At Anyway?"

Nebby, nebby, nebby.

I'll tell ya: the Little Squirt may instigate, but the boys are more nebby (our word for nosey or busybody-ish).

It seems no matter what stunt or prank Elsie pulls, the boys joy in. And no matter what lands in her mouth, the boys just have to observe what it is firsthand (even if it's something really boring, like a piece of fluzz or string pulled from a carpet). Better than observing, they want to share.

My canine kids are no better at sharing than my children were when they were preschoolers. Experienced mom that I am, I've learned to buy and distribute treats in threes: one for each drooling tongue and set of four paws. But that gets expensive.

The most cost-effective treat I've found so far is ice; it's free from the ice-maker and comes in unlimited supplies. Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge love ice cubes. Every time I refresh my water glass at the refrigerator dispenser, twelve paws come scurrying to see who can get an ice cube first.

Good mom that I am, I make them wait for their ice cubes until they can have them simultaneously (quite a trick when I have two hands to their three mouths). They must sit, wait, and take the cubes from my fingers gently (no snapping or gobbling allowed). And usually they're very patient with the process.

The hitch comes when one of the three drops his cube (I say "his" because it's usually Baxter). Then it becomes a free-for-all; the fastest nose wins.

Lazy mom that I am, I let them battle it out: there's no way I'm going to join the fray--not over an ice cube.

Unlike my canines, I'm just not that nebby.

'Til next time,

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Ridge. Posted by Hello

Elsie. Posted by Hello

Baxter. Posted by Hello


I look at the profiles of Baxter, Ridge, and Elsie above, and I'm humbled. While they hint at who these fun-loving critters are and offer a partial image of what they look like, they don't provide the whole picture. No profile can.

Profiles can be wonderful tools; they offer insight into personalities or likes and dislikes or influences of past experiences or predictions of future performance. But profiles are incomplete at best.

The problem is that we're all profilers of sorts, but we rarely admit it. We tend to rely on partial information, like profiles, to make judgments about others or issues. These incomplete pictures lead to stereotyping--something we'd all agree is an unfair, prejudicial, and inaccurate means of assessment.

Lest you wonder where this train of thought originates, I was the victim of unfair profiling last week, and it hurt. It also angered me. I felt completely misunderstood and wrongly accused. I'd been labeled and lumped with every other individual (good or bad) who bears the same labels as I. The person who "profiled" me never even bothered to talk with me directly or discuss matters with me. He just assumed I was one of "them." The specifics of the label aren't important; just the fact that profiling exists is.

You don't believe we're guilty of "profiling?" Look over this arbitrary list of terms. What's your immediate, knee-jerk reaction when you read each one?

Golden Retriever
religious right
secular left
Southerm Baptist
New Ager
Welfare mother
College Co-Ed
Senior citizen
Baby Boomer
Gen Xer

Chances are, we've developed "profiles" in our minds of who or what these terms represent. We're biased. Let's face it; we stereotype the world and the people who dwell there.

The point isn't that we shouldn't or that we won't; we all have (and will have) biased lenses through which we view the world--no one is completely neutral or objective. It's rather that we would do well to become aware of our biases and learn about them. We'd be better off if we realized our limitations and second-guessed our assumptions. We might even profit from getting to know folks (and breeds) who differ from us or our norm.

If I allowed the above profiles of my canine kids to be my only source of information about them, I'd miss the beauty of their individual personalities, the quirkiness of their spirits, the joy of getting to know and touch each one. My world would be a smaller, duller, narrower place.

But if I take the time to get the whole picture (up close and personal), my world becomes a bigger, brighter, more colorful place in which to live.

How about yours? What can you do today to profile less and broaden your world? You'll be glad you did.

Thanks for letting me rant today.

'Til next time,

Monday, February 21, 2005

Elsie opening the back door (note muddy paws). :o) Posted by Hello


The Elsie girl has figured out how to open the back door using its brass lever-action handle (you know, the one designed for humans to use). She's the first of the five Labradors we've owned to do so (we currently have three, of which she is the youngest).

It's not that our other Labs haven't demonstrated intelligence; intelligence is characteristic of the Labrador breed. Intelligence plus temperament is why so many Labs are chosen to serve as guide dogs or aids dogs or in other such roles. Our Labs have consistently proven their intelligences in ways suited to their personalities.

But Elsie, by far, is the most intelligent. She's a fast and eager learner. She's intuitive. And if she wants something, she'll figure out a way to get it. That's how she learned to open the back door.

When I'm working in my home office (I'm a writer), I often let Baxter and Elsie outside to romp in our fenced-in back yard (Ridge prefers to doze by the woodstove). I'd much rather allow the two youngsters to play safely outside than to be confined to their crates, which is where they have to be, when inside, when I can't supervise them.

One afternoon two or three weeks ago, I was so engrossed in my writing that I didn't hear the I-want-to-come-in scratch at the door. When they received no reply, easy-going Baxter just moseyed over to a sunny spot on the deck to lie down. Not Elsie. She wanted to come in!

So she scratched. And scratched. And scratched. And during one of her down-strokes, her paw clipped the brass door handle, and it moved! Ah ha! She tried swiping it again. It moved again. She was on to something.

Persistent gal that she is, she continued until the door popped open. And in she came, muddy, un-wiped paws and all.

Her first clumsy experimentation with opening the door morphed into a smooth, deliberate if-I-push-the-lever-with-this-paw-while-I-press-the-door-with-my-other-paw-the-door-will-open action. She's fluid now. When she wants to come in, she opens the door just like she was meant to do so.

That presents a dilemma. I'd like to reward Elsie's intelligence by letting her continue to open the door at will. It's fine when the ground is frozen or covered with snow. It is not fine, however, when the back yard turns into a swamp. I need to be at the door, towels in hand, ready to wipe muddy paws before they track on our carpets and furniture.

When Elsie opens the door herself, there's no telling where I'll be (bathroom, office, laundry room, kitchen, upstairs,--anywhere but at the back door). And who knows what she'll bring in with her (remember, this is the dog whose love language is gifts and who regularly deposits her finds at the back door).

Hmmmm. Reward her intelligence or protect my possessions? It's a toss-up. They (my possessions) are just things after all. And I don't want to quash Elsie's budding brilliance.

On the other hand, who knows what kind of trouble she and Baxter can get into if they come in unsupervised.

Maybe I'll just have to learn to lock the door now-and-then.

'Til next time.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Thanks, Blog-of-the-Day!

Many thanks to Blog-of-the-Day for featuring Lab Tails today. :o)

You can show your appreciation by visiting their web-site (click "blog of the day" button in sidebar below left or click the link in the preceding sentence). You can also visit blogs they've featured in the past (listed on their web site).

Thanks for getting the word out about Lab Tails!

Oh, how the kids love Don! Posted by Hello

Delight in Training

Ridge is howling.

Now, I know Labs aren't a howling breed. They don't alert like blood hounds or bassets. But Ridge is howling none-the-less.

Here's why: Baxter and Elsie went with Don to the hunt club for training. And Ridge knows it (somehow he just knows). Oh, to be sure, Ridge will get his turn when Elsie and Baxter return, but he doesn't know that--he just knows they've gone without him.

Ridge is further along in his training than the pups, so he goes on his own for 1:1 time with Don, a special treat, but Ridge doesn't understand. Poor guy. He's feeling left out. He wants to be with "Dad" just like the other two.

Don 's relationship with the "kids" differs from mine. He's really their Trainer (I just work with them on basic social skils and manners). Don works with them on the things for which they were bred. And they know it. Don never gets the Royal Thppppppt. They respect and love him. And I'm glad. I'm tickled for Don, and I'm delighted for the dogs. It warms my heart to see their bonds.

But it breaks my heart to hear Ridge howl in dismay. I can't console him. Nothing short of jumping in the car with Don will do. My presence and attention help. But it's not the same as Don's.

They'll be home soon. And Ridge will get his turn. And he'll stop howling.

But then the stereo howling will begin (two dogs instead of one). When Don drives away with Ridge, Baxter and Elsie will start, despite being tuckered out by running the hunt club's grounds. Oh, how they love their "dad."

Howling's okay in my book. I just smile and consider myself blessed to have such loving, bonded canines. And I know that the howling will give way to long, afternoon slumbers when Don returns. There's nothing like a romp in the woods to wear these guys out.

Maybe then I'll get a little peace.

'Til next time,

Saturday, February 19, 2005

Elsie, the Retriever Posted by Hello

The Retriever

Elsie is a retriever, heart and soul.

It's not that Baxter and Ridge don't have strong retrieving instincts (Ridge does, especially); it's just that Elsie acts like this is her life's mission. She'll retrieve with gusto until she's too tired to run anymore, and then she'll retrieve some more. She searches out and finds retrieving dummies, tennis balls, kongs, and anything else we throw even when their buried in a foot of snow. When I toss for all three dogs simultaneously, though outsized and less experienced, she out-retrieves the boys. I can count on Elsie to bring whatever-it-is home.

Ridge has strong instincts, but his nose doesn't seem as strong as Elsie's. When Ridge loses a ball, he'll search when I say, "find it," but Elsie will "find it" faster.

Baxter, frankly, gets bored. He'll retrieve for a handful of throws, even when we're working one-on-one, and then he'll lose interest. I think he's forever ruined for field work. He prefers the lap dog life.

Elsie, of our three, is the Retriever (capital "r"). Though every Lab we've owned has come from strong hunting lines and from reputable breeders, Elsie, by far, is the one who seems born to retrieve.

Funny, isn't it, how different dogs can be, even purebreds from great gene pools. Each has his strengths and weaknesses. Each adds something to the lives of those around him. Each is unique, special in his own right, and deserving of our love and care.

Sounds a lot like humans.

'Til next time.

Friday, February 18, 2005

The Royal Thhhppppppttt! Posted by Hello

Some Days...

Some days I feel like no one listens to me. Or understands me. Or even knows I exist. Even the dogs have times when they ignore me.

Elsie seems to be selectively hearing impaired today--not when we're training mind you. Only when she's doing things she shouldn't or when she's having too much fun to be bothered. During those times she seems to give me the Royal Thpppppt (see photo above), and then proceeds to do whatever she wishes.

My kids were like that once (No more, really. Honest. They're good kids.). Now they're old enough to help out and to appreciate what I do for them. My dogs aren't there yet.

Every trainer out there is going to jump all over me and say I should never allow the canine kids to get away with such impudence, especially now during puppydom and adolescence. But some days I'm too tired to enforce every rule and correct every infraction. Some days, truth be told, Elsie and Baxter can raspberry me and get away with it.

Today is one of the those days. Maybe I'll just go make myself a cup of tea.

'Til next time,

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ooohhhhhh. How I love to be touched! Posted by Hello

Love Languages of Dogs

Gary Chapman's Love Languages books (for couples, teens, singles, children, God, etc.) revolutionized the way people express love to one another. For some, he claims, love is best communicated with acts of service; for others through quality time; still others through words of affirmation or tangible gifts. We communicate love best, the author maintains, when we use the love languages of the receiver, not the ones we prefer.

My husband's primary love language is physical touch: hand holding, neck rubs, a hand rested on his shoulder. My love languages are quality time and words of affirmation. The problem comes when I try to communicate love to him via my love languages, not his.

I think the same could be said for dogs (note to Gary Chapman: we need a Love Languages of Labradors book).

Baxter's love language is probably quality time. He loves to play. He craves our undivided attention. He wants to spend time, lots of time, playing and romping and hanging out--he doesn't care what it is as long as we're together. Elsie's love language is probably gifts: she's forever depositing gifts at the back door (old buried bones, pieces of wood, toys long ago lost outside, uprooted plants from the garden).

Then there's Ridge. He doesn't need undivided attention and he's not too enthralled with gifts. What he loves more than anything else is touch. Oh how he loves to be touched! He and Don are similar in that regard. Touch communicates love to them.

Don's away this week, so Ridge isn't getting his fair share of touching. And it shows. I'm just not a touchy-feely kind of gal. Words, time, gifts: I'm good at these. But touch? That's a stretch for me.

But stretch I will. Because I love Ridge. And I love my husband even more. Loving them, just as loving my children, has meant stepping outside my comfort zone to offer what they want and need (not just what I'm comfortable giving). I guess that's, in part, what is meant by the term "sacrifical love."

Thanks for the lesson on Love Languages, Gary. Little did you know your theory would work well for canines, too. I think I'll go give Ridge an ear rub now.

'Til next time,

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

"Bye, Dad" Posted by Hello

"Bye, Dad" Posted by Hello

Missing "Dad"

Ridge stopped eating and needs more affection. Elsie wants to be close. Baxter follows me everywhere. These are not their usual behaviors.

All three miss "Dad."

My husband is away on business this week. Other than his absence, nothing has changed in our routine. The human kids come and go. I work in my home office. I maintain the dogs normal schedule: I feed them at the same times; I give them their supplements at the same times; I let them in and out all day; I sit with them, play with them, pet them, and talk to them. I even let them join me in my office while I'm working. But they're still depressed.

It's not that they don't love me; it's that they miss their "dad." :o) Somehow they sense his absence and respond to it.

They said their goodbyes on Sunday(see photos above) and have been waiting for his return ever since. It's amazing to me how attached to us they've become. We truly are part of their pack.

For them (and for me), Friday can't come soon enough.

'Til next time.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Incredible nose #2 Posted by Hello

Incredible nose #1 Posted by Hello

The Incredible Nose

Did you know that certain dogs may actually be able to "sniff out" cancer? Researchers at Cambridge University (England) believe the same sensory sensitivity that allows dogs to make accurate drug and bomb identifcations can also allow dogs to identify early stage cancers (click here for more details).

Dogs helping people is nothing new. We use seizure alert dogs , service dogs, psychiatric service dogs, hearing dogs, guide dogs, police dogs, herding dogs, hunting dogs, therapy dogs, and many other kinds of helping dogs to aid us in our work and to improve our quality of living. Our canine friends don't hesitate to assist us as we have need and as they have ability.

And now they may be able to help us with cancer, all because of the wonderful wacky protrusion we call a nose. A display at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles cites these interesting statistics:

  • Of all a dog's senses, its sense of smell is the most highly developed.
  • Dogs have about 25 times more olfactory (smell) receptors than humans do.
  • Dogs can sense odors at concentrations nearly 100 million times lower than humans can.
  • Dogs can detect one drop of blood in five quarts of water!
The dog nose is indeed a miracle of grace. It serves canines and humans well.

In addition to these serious works, however, dog noses can also provide comic relief. Check out these pictures of dog noses great and small (compliments of Dog Nose Heaven). They'll be sure to make you smile.

I think I need to remember these things the next time our dogs sniff others inappropriately (well, inappropriately by human standards). They're just doing what comes naturally. And what comes naturally for them and others of their kind helps thousands of people all over the world. :o)

'Til next time,

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Baxter, the lap dog (as a puppy). Posted by Hello

Baxter, the lookout. Posted by Hello

Baxter, the tease. Posted by Hello

Baxter, the imp. Posted by Hello

Baxter, the loving companion Posted by Hello

The Many Sides of Baxter

Baxter, the lap dog. Baxter, the lookout. Baxter, the tease. Baxter, the eager-to-please imp. Baxter, the ______(you name it)--I could fill in a dozen other words here, and they'd all be true.

Part of the reason we love Labrador retrievers so much is the blend of loyalty, gentleness, friendliness, faithfulness, intelligence, work ethic, and impishness that typifies the breed. Baxter illustrates this mix well.

First we have Baxter the lap dog. Despite the fact that "the Boos" (as we affectionately nicknamed Baxter) long ago outgrew his breed standard and even longer ago outgrew the size of our laps, he still insists on being a lap dog. He considers anyone sitting on the loveseat in the family room fair game. If you sit on the loveseat, expect to have your lap warmed by Baxter's boxy head and flared front paws. Sometimes his chest cavity wiggles in there, too, and by then you're pinned. Don't expect to be able to move for an hour or two--the typical length of a Baxter nap.

Next we have Baxter, the lookout. The Boos is ever faithful to stand guard. He seems to think his main job in life is to alert us when his new best friends arrive (see "Of Fences and Freedom," posted previously for an explanation of Baxter's best friends). He waits and watches, ever faithful to protect and alert us, his humans.

Then we have Baxter, the tease. Baxter prances and struts when he holds a prized possesion in his mouth, whether it's his "red bone," his "rope," his "ball," or any one of a dozen other toys we provide for him. And he knows them by name. If we say, "where's your red bone?" he'll rummage in the toy basket (yes, the dogs have their own toy basket), until he comes up with the red bone. If we say, "go get your rope," he'll find the rope and bring it back to play tug-o-war. We call him "the tease," however, not because he prances and struts or because his finds his toys on command, but because flaunts them. He really does. Just like a flaunting human. He dangles his toy-of-the-moment in front of the other two dogs, nudging their noses with his, as if to say, "nah, nah, nyah-nah, nah; I've got it, and you don't!" And his flaunting is merciless. He won't leave Elsie and Ridge alone until he snares them into playing with or at least paying attention to him.

Then we have Baxter, the eager-to-please imp. Yes, an imp he is; but a loveable one whose heart's desire is to please us. Sometimes his size gets him into trouble (e.g.: he used to fit under the deck chairs outside with room to spare; now he overturns them if he tries to squeeze underneath). Sometimes he just wants attention (e.g.: when he puts down his toy-of-the-moment and picks up my husband's running shoe--he knows that will grab our immediate attention). And then there are the moments when he'll try to sneak something by us, like a sock pulled out of the laundry basket. But he's not really trying to hide his misdeed. He wants to be caught so we'll pay attention to him. Connection to people is all-important to this gentle giant; he'll get his connection however he can (sounds a bit like children, eh?).

And then there's Baxter, the loving companion, who seems to read our moods and to know just what to do when we're sad or worried or disappointed or weary. He gently nuzzles us or rests his head on our knees or just sits quietly leaning against us--no impishness or teasing or pressure to get into our laps. He seems to want to communicate comfort; nothing more or less. And he knows just when to offer himself to us in this way. I can't explain it. I doubt I'll ever be able to, but I know it's true.

So we love Labradors, for all of the above and more. I haven't even touched on the working aspects of the breed (their hunting instincts, agility, retrieving capabilities, etc.). They're a wonderful breed.

And we love our three in particular: whether lap dog, lookout, tease, imp, friend, or hunting companion, we couldn't ask for better. They keep us smiling; they make us giggle; they keep our blood pressures down; and they let us know we're needed and loved.

'Til next time,

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Ridge using his "hands." Posted by Hello

Use What You Have

It still amazes me how Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge differ from each other in personality, ability, and temperament, even though all three are Labrador retrievers. One of the most striking differences involves their front paw dexterity: Ridge uses his front paws almost like hands--fluidly and with purpose; Baxter uses his almost as well, but not quite; and Elsie, though alert and intelligent, doesn't rely on her front paws nearly at all, certainly not the way Ridge and Baxter do. Each one seems to have his/her own way of approaching and accomplishing tasks.

Sounds almost people-like, doesn't it? We humans differ from one another in our talents, abilities, strengths, and the ways in which we go about approaching problems. We tackle challenges in various ways: some methodically; some with caution or hesitancy; some with bold abandon. Challenges often don't provide clear-cut, right-or-wrong solutions or methods by which we can solve them; it's often up to us to customize solutions based upon our aptitudes and experiences. What works for me may not work for you. And what works for you may not work for me.

Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge remind me that, in the long run, it's okay to differ from one another. You and I don't have to handle the issues we face each day in the same way. Certainly I can learn from you and you from me, but we have grace to be who we are. You may use your front paws like Ridge, and I may not use mine at all, like Elsie; but we'll both figure out ways to hold our bones or retrieve our treats hidden inside our Kongs. We just have to use what we've been given.

And, if we get stuck, maybe we can learn from each other along the way.

'Til next time,

Friday, February 11, 2005

Two sources of warmth in my life. :o) Posted by Hello


Elsie's favorite curl-up spot is the hearth rug in front of our wood stove. It doesn't matter that the last few days brought temperatures in the 50s and warming sunshine during the day. She curls up there as frequently as she did when the snow piled high and our wind chills plunged below zero. Sometimes she gets so close to the stove she scares me--ever the "mom," I don't want my little girl to get burned. But she won't. She nudges close enough to get what she needs and no more.

There's something attractive about warmth: something soothing and restful and welcoming. Whether it's the radiant heat of a woodstove or the warming rays of the sun, warmth seems to lift our spirits and sooth our souls.

Like Elsie, I need warmth, and not just the kind that comes from heat sources. I need the warmth that pentetrates the heart: a friend's embrace, kind words, a welcome home, a listening ear. I suppose we all need warm spots--people and places where we feel comforted, safe, and loved.

Certainly my family and friends provide these places for me, as does my faith. I'm blessed with much in my life to warm my soul. But my canine kids--Baxter, Elsie, and Ridge--provide unconditional warmth. They wrap me in their affection and take the chill out of life like an old down quilt does on a bitter winter evening. Surrounded by their love and loyalty (and their sometimes ludicrous behaviors), I can't help but smile.

Even in the coldest of times, they warm my heart and remind me that spring is on the way. It won't stay cold forever.

'Til next time,

Thursday, February 10, 2005

"I can't help it, Mom. I just can't resist." Posted by Hello


Poor Ridge. It was just too much for him. I mistakenly left the remains of my nephew's birthday cake on the kitchen table, and Ridge--fine scent machine that he is--just couldn't resist. Now I know what happened to the cupcakes that disappeared off my counter two weeks ago. ;o)

Temptation. Even dogs live with temptation. Only they don't have the means to resist. We humans, on the other hand, are not driven by instinct alone; we have the ability to make choices.

One choice I'm making today and in the days ahead is to keep sources of temptation off of my kitchen counters; I won't even have them in the house. I'm trying to lose weight (have lost 21 but have 40 to go), and if tempting food is within reach I'm likely to consume it. Since I know I won't resist, I choose to keep the foods that tempt me away from me so I'm not even faced with their temptation. I won't bring them home. I just won't buy them.

Maybe someday I'll be strong-willed or determined enough to keep those things around the house and not eat them. But in the meantime, I'm still too much like Ridge: if it's there, I'll eat it.

I'd better just keep the stuff out of the house. It's better for me. And for Ridge.

'Til next time,

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

A true friend. Posted by Hello

Elsie snuggled with Ridge Posted by Hello