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Dear Doggers,

 

Last month, when I told Beverly Lambert I intended to try Fly as my literary dog – the dog who accompanies me to public readings and book signings - Beverly laughed, “Good luck.”

 

She’d sold Fly (in part) because Fly kept biting her husband. Doug is dog savvy and theirs is a dog savvy household. When Fly came to us, she bit me and wanted to bite Anne. We’ve come a ways since then.

 

Anyway – for the first time yesterday, I held a copy of Mr & Mrs Dog (Our travels, trials, adventures and ephiphanies). It’s always a nice feeling when my vaporous thinking and screen shots become an artifact. “Hey, this thing is real!”

 

Fly and I paused at the field behind Staunton’s 3rd Presbyterian Church (why did they choose that name, I wonder?) so she could empty before we went into the public library and took the elevator to the second floor meeting room. I had a sign:

IGNORE

THE

DOG

and a little tripod to prop it up. I leashed Fly to the speaker’s platform in the front of the room and when people came I talked about Fly and explained how she was a “literary dog in training”.

 

Maybe a hundred people. I spoke for I dunno – an hour? while Fly mostly dozed.

 

Afterwards, when I looked up from signing books, a woman was sitting on the floor beside Fly hugging her and Fly was enjoying herself.

 

So far so good We’ll see how Fly does tomorrow in Charlottesville. The reading room is very small and very crowded and afterwards my publisher is taking us to dinner. We’ll eat at an outdoor table but I'm asking a lot of Fly. Trust is a two way street.

 

Donald McCaig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

)

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Good story. Good girl, Fly! I doubt that woman was going to buy your book since she apparently can't read a simple sign.

 

PS - Tried to order your book today at work and they wouldn't let me. They say it's not out until May. I'll have to buy it from you at the Bluegrass because I want it autographed! And maybe Fly could just chew on one corner, only a little bit...

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As a user of a service dog, I personally think it's very irresponsible to take a dog with a BITE history into public like that without at the very least a muzzle. A sign is great, but people DO NOT always read them. Take it from someone who has huge "DO NOT PET/TOUCH/DISTRACT" patches all over their SD's vest. It doesn't stop people from drive-by petting, barking and yelling at, and yes, small children (usually!) running up and hugging him. I have worked extensively with my dog specifically about how to react when unexpected hugging happens. You, and especially Fly, are very lucky IMO that the ignorant lady who decided to hug a strange dog without the owner's permission didn't end up with stitches. I wouldn't be surprised if any dog bit or growled in that situation, being hugged by even a familiar person is very intimidating for most dogs, but gambling with your dog's life like that is just beyond me. I wouldn't even put a "recovered" biter with extensive behavior modification training in that situation.

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I have to agree that you are asking for big time trouble and maybe a lawsuit if Fly bites someone.

 

You see the hugging incident as an example of how far Fly has come. I see it as proof that she should not be in public because you can't trust strangers to keep their hands off her, even when clearly directed to ignore her.

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I have to agree that you are asking for big time trouble and maybe a lawsuit if Fly bites someone.

 

You see the hugging incident as an example of how far Fly has come. I see it as proof that she should not be in public because you can't trust strangers to keep their hands off her, even when clearly directed to ignore her.

 

When most people see a dog, they act as if they are at Disneyland and have just spotted Mickey Mouse. They will surely ignore your sign, probably thinking it's a joke. If you don't believe me, try bringing a plate of just out of the oven chocolate chip cookies with a sign that says: Ignore the Cookies.

 

That aside, it's a wonderful book, fascinating, informative, funny, sad and quirky. I read it in one long gulp with a Border collie pressed against my side. Perfect!

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Oh dear, I agree with the above posts. You're asking for trouble--and Fly will be blamed if she bites some idiot that can't read. You just can't trust people, and you need to protect your dog. BTW, congrats on coming so far with her, that is a real testament to your love and training. Maybe have a crate to keep her safe when you're not actually speaking?

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  • 2 weeks later...

Version:1.0 StartHTML:0000000175 EndHTML:0000010699 StartFragment:0000002619 EndFragment:0000010663 SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/yucatecd/Desktop/Dear%20Doggers.doc

Dear Doggers,

 

When Carol Benjamin thought to get a Border Collie as a service dog in Manhattan I advised against it. Wrong, Donald. Years later Carol, her husband Steve and I established the world’s record for number of mannerly Border Collies under one Greenwich Village café table (4).

 

I take Carol’s advice seriously and when my Charlottesville reading started to get complicated, I didn’t bring Fly. Likely she would have been fine but when my focus starts to blur, I lighten ship.

 

Some here have focused on my sign as if I really, really thought people would OBEY it. Nope. I thought it’d slow them down and invite a category shift.

 

Maybe I’ve been training sheepdogs too long. If we’re working sheep and Fly doesn’t DOWN when I down her but she stops on her feet – usually that’s okay. Sometimes it’s okay if she just hesitates. Maybe I’ve been writing too long to have faith in words.

 

At a book event: I arrive early and fasten Fly to the podium beside her sign before people take their seats. First thing I explain about Fly. I’ve got enough control of Fly and listeners throughout my talk/reading until the end when I’m signing books and talking one on one. If I’m nervous before the signing, I can break off and put Fly up.

 

At the first (Staunton) reading, I knew the doggy woman who petted a relaxed and happy Fly while I signed. Did I mind? Nope.

 

Charlottesville, no Fly.

 

Hot Springs, benefit for the regional animal shelter. A hundred people and Fly dozed until I stopped yakking for signing and refreshments. Someone asked if they could give Fly a treat and I said yes. Mistake.

 

Drive theory doesn’t offer perfect metaphors for dog behaviors but can be illuminating. When Fly came to us, she was on Full Alert 24/7. Her ears were up, her eyes were hard and her neck was stiff as an iron rod. If she was concerned about her, she was underfoot inspecting you, wherever you went. Poster child for prey drive.

 

Rarely – every couple months - when someone’s body language was particularly incoherent Fly nipped them. That’s pretty much ended but I wouldn’t trust Fly in a homeless shelter, celeb cocktail party, Chinatown or around toddlers.

 

Her nips are nips, not bites. Fly fearbites when she’s cornered. She clearly warns with bared ivories only a fool (like me) could ignore. She doesn’t savage but she’ll break the skin.

 

So: nips aren’t bites but . . . Prey drive can become defense drive in a second (bite) and civilians who don’t object to nips are not numerous.

 

I’m guessing Fly had to compete with other dogs for not enough food when she was young because she is the most food focused Border Collie I’ve ever owned and the only one who’ll happily gulp down a large uncooked broccoli stem.

 

In Hot Springs, that very first treat kicked Fly into prey drive. She was still tied to the podium and no, she didn’t nip anybody or come close, but I didn’t like it. After the event ended and I unfastened her she ran to the door and outside, beelined for the car.

 

As I’ve noted, “literary dog” is a stressful gig. Strange venues, too many people, too much dog unfamiliarity. And, the effect is cumulative. June, the best literary dog I ever had, could do two weeks before she quit.

 

So I was concerned as much by Fly’s eagerness to depart as her ( food induced) prey drive. Would the next gig (Sunday night) be worse? Before we left home I worked her hard on sheep.

 

Another shelter benefit: sixty(?) SRO and Fly up front beside her sign. I did my spiel and tonight when someone asked about a treat I said no and Fly stayed cool. (Pack drive) Tonight again, a woman I trusted sat with and petted Fly. But when we were ready to leave Fly beat me to the door.

 

So far so good. Fly’s becoming more trustworthy as I trust her provided I keep my wits about me.

 

Why bother?

 

Having Fly as literary dog doesn’t make me the sheepdog handler – or writer – or man - I’d like to be. But it does mean that like her predecessors Fly can accompany me where I go. And, for some very complicated reasons, that is important to me.

 

 

Donald McCaig

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I know exactly what you mean. There is something about knowing you have a dog that you can do anything with, go anywhere with. It's a big relationship/ trust issue. There is nothing quite like it.

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Years ago when we lived in town, we had a dog that nipped the mailman. We got him when he was a year old - he was our first "married" dog. He seemed a good family dog and was especially fond of our young son. After the incident, dog specialists told us that tying the dog was accerbating his protective attitude and also making him fearful because he couldn't escape a threat - he could only zealously gaurd his territory. We were advised that since we wanted to keep the dog, we should use a long cable run behind a fence when we needed to put him out so the dog had access to more than half of a large yard but couldn't escape the fence should he take a notion.

 

The dog proved that no barrier was to difficult to cross when the need was great as he one day stretched the cable as far as he could, snatching a mid air bite off a meter reader on the other side of the fence then fell gracefully back to his side of the fence, still snarling because the unfortunate man's trajectory was toward our son. Myself, the meter reader, and a street cleaning crew down the road were witnesses to this feat so amazing that no one thought to report it and in fact there were kind words for a dog that so loved his boy that he would perform a super-canine feat to protect him - this was around the time that Etan Patz had been kidnapped and even in our small town, times were changing.

 

He was a good, loyal dog. We shortened the length of the cable tie and widened the fence. There were no more incidents. He lived a long life but every delivery man in town breathed a sign of relief when he was finally put to rest, an aged blind hero beloved by his boy.

 

There is room in the world for a dog that bites - but one has to be prepared for consequences. No matter how many fences we build - real or virtual - there is always the chance the dog will burst out of them given the motivation.

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  • 2 months later...

<p>Dear Doggers,</p>

<p> </p>

<p>Since she finished her last gig yesterday, I thought I'd report on Fly's experience as a literary dog.  She's been the centerpiece of nine literary events; readings and reading/book signings, meeting 1000-1500 strangers, some dog savvy, others not.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>1.  The sign (with my attendant explanation) worked.  It turns out that most people warned that a dog might bite avoid the dog.  Typically, at the end of a reading when I was preoccupied with book signings and meeting readers, one determined pet person would babysit Fly for me.  Fly never objected to her (always her).  The sign and warning meant she was never mobbed (which probably would have caused a nip).  Some years ago when I took Gael to an elementary school I asked the kids "How would you like to be petted by total strangers."  Their comprehension and restraint was prompt and Gael approached them on her own terms.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>2. Management can be comfortable.  While it was easy to ensure Fly wasn't pounced on when I was talking, it was trickier making sure she wasn't pestered entering, exiting, meeting the hosts and afterwards when I was busy schmoozing.  Still, by the end of the tour, I was careful but easy about it.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>3. Fly will be my literary dog (LD) only as necessary.  I could, without any preparations,  turn previous literary dogs loose in a crowd;  Fly, no. She was a good prop for the "Visiting Writer" show, but I would have preferred an LD that didn't need any management at all.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>4. It was good for Fly.  She is much more comfortable around strangers.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>5. BUT:  It may have increased her sense of safety with me but made no descernable difference on the trial field (more on that later) and something weird gives me pause.</p>

<p> </p>

<p> </p>

<p>I was visiting my friend Janeen McMurtrie <a href="http://smartdogs.wordpress.com/charlie/.%C2%A0">http://smartdogs.wordpress.com/charlie/. </a> Janeen is a scientist (she's the only person I know who carries a laminated Table of Periodic Elements in her wallet) and a brilliant dog trainer.  She redeems truly hopeless dogs (see Chucky).</p>

<p> </p>

<p>Anyway - when Fly and I arrived at Janeen's dog friendly Minnesota home, Fly was delighted to run more freely than she had at allthosedamnmotels.  Next day, Janeen and I were talking on the deck with her dogs: Audie (the Magnificent) English Shepherd. Zip (frail/ Border Collie Collapse) Kelpie, Chuck-the-horrid and Fly going in and out and about.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>At some point during our quiet conversation, Fly suddenly alerted and marched over to Janeen, stopped at her knees and bared her teeth.  Not a Full Warning - a civilian might have missed it - but we sure as hell didn't.  Janeen promptly reproved and Fly withdrew, but it was a really weird thing for Fly to do and I don't know what prompted it.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>It is true, finally, that they are another species with unknowable minds, but I've never had a dog that would have bared her teeth as Fly did.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>Interesting dog. Plenty to think about.</p>

<p> </p>

<p>Donald McCaig</p>

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...It is true, finally, that they are another species with unknowable minds, but I've never had a dog that would have bared her teeth as Fly did...

 

You nicely summed it up with, "unknowable minds". Because it was a surprise, you likely weren't completely aware of all the details of surrounding circumstances/environment. OTOH, everything may be replayable in your mind.

 

I have always thought of border collies as one of the hall monitors of the dog world. Everything has to be in its place; nice steady movement; nothing abrupt; no running; no talking. -- unless, of course, the dog grants permission. :)

 

Like many dogs, they can be protective of themselves (fear) or of their owner. The effect of triggers are increased when the dog feels cornered or vulnerable, and/or some perceived threat is present.

 

Did Fly have freedom of movement (not hemmed-in on several sides)? Did your friend do something unforgivable :wacko: like slide-about in her chair or make a broad arm/hand gesture? Were her dogs suddenly jostling around, or approaching her? The list can be long.

 

A person would almost have to review a video of the particular incident, and even then it may not provide good clues. Fly has done so well in social, literary and work situations, that I would think that something unusual for her provoked the raised lips. While not acceptable behavior for a dog in most situations, a careful re-play in your mind may provide something in particular (or a general circumstance) that can be counter-conditioned, or a scenario to be avoided in the future.

 

You and Fly have come a long way together. Wishing you the best. -- TEC

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I had the opportunity to meet Fly in Kentucky at the Bluegrass the day before the trial began, when things were laid back (well, we were working hard but the trial was not in progress). I was totally amazed at how far she had progressed in her social skills from the dog Donald had described in earlier "Fly journals". But what struck me most of all was that this little bitch was a *happy* girl when I saw her.

 

Fly was willing to meet me and be petted and talked to. She was enjoying spending time with Celt, who found her quite appealing as a companion. She was contentedly moving around, sniffing, checking things out, doing dog things. And when she'd had enough, she did just what Donald said she would do - she went and got in "her" vehicle for some quiet down time.

 

While Donald was out on the Open field with the other handlers for the handlers' meeting, Fly came out of the truck relaxed and refreshed, and began looking for the man in her life. She got a bit concerned when she did not find him where she'd left him, signing copies of Mr. and Mrs. Dog in the White House, the little administrative trailer by the Open field. She began to cast about, checking out everyone and looking everywhere, in her efforts to find "her person". As I saw her getting a bit concerned and casting her circle wider and wider (but not able to see Donald for the crowd on the field and not able to find him because he was on the field on the other side of the fence and in the midst of the crowd of Open handlers), I went and told him that she was looking for him. He went immediatedly and put her mind at ease that he was there.

 

And she went back to being a happy dog whose anchors (her person and her vehicle) were accounted for and there when she needed them.

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