12 April 2016

Focus: Trying To Rattle Red. Donkey Mischief

Trying To Annoy Red

Trying To Annoy Red

Donkeys are mischievous, Lulu and Fanny love to come up to Red when he is working, and try to get him to move or jump. They try to startle him, coming up behind him and sniffing his coat or bumping into him. This happens frequently, Red never moves or bats an eye, and he never gets startled or gets up. I do not know many creatures, canine or human, who would stay that focused on their work while a 400-pound donkeys is creeping up on them, sniffing their back and rubbing against their body. Rose used to jump out of her skin when they did that to her.

Red does not seem to notice, he is granite out there. Sometimes I think the donkeys are just jealous, they want to herd the sheep too, but it is more likely that they are just trying to stir up trouble, as donkeys will do.

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The Happy Herder

The Happy Herder

The Happy Herder

I don't really know how to define Fate as a sheep dog, I have not seen another dog quite like her. She has tons of instinct, and astonishing speed and endurance. She loves to be around sheep, she always wants to be with them. But she has little or no interest in herding them or moving them.

As for the sheep, they do not recognize Fate as a herding dog in any way. They don't lock eyes with her, move when she approaches, or watch her closely while she hangs around. Border collies herd with the "eye stalk," a predatory instinct that frightens the sheep and gets them to move.

Fate doesn't seem to have an "eye stalk," she is never serious around the sheep, like Red, or tough with them when they blow her off or chase her away, which they often do. She has no fear around them, she seems to see them as a marker for her joyous tearing around in circles around them. She does, to her credit, often keep them together that way, but there is no real purpose to it or direction that I can see.

She and Red work beautifully together, he moves the sheep and quells any rebellion or disrespect, Fate is the Happy Herder. She loves to be out there doing her thing.

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Video: Red And Fate, Sheep Equines. Mayhem Herding

I'm getting back into videos, WordPress has made it much easier to post them. I took the dogs out to move the sheep around before feeding, this was a little complex, the sheep were dodging into the feeder and the pole barn, Red had to dig them out, Fate did her usual joyous outruns – she did try, bless her spirit.

I love doing this. Real sheep work on a farm is not like the pretty herding trials you see on TV, it is messier, more chaotic, especially with a pony and donkeys coming up to stick their noses in things. I'll be putting up more of these videos, but I wanted to share a sense of our work together. We have a good time. Red is a stellar working dog, Fate will not be Red, but I wouldn't be without her. And she has the best time of all.

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Ghosts Of Cesar: How To Housebreak A Dog. Put Down My Sock!

How To Housebreak A Dog

How To Housebreak A Dog

Publishers often send me books on dog training with requests for my endorsement – they call them blurbs in publishing – and as a lifelong owners of dogs and the current owner of two border collies, I am always glad to get these books, I consider them to be works of inspired humor and fantasy.

Most recently, I've been sent Cesar Millan's best-selling work, How To Raise The Perfect Dog, and the title alone ought to get Cesar a gig on Saturday Night Live. I'm not sure what a perfect dog is, or why anyone would want one – would you want a "perfect child?," or buy a book with that title?

I do know I have never had one or met one or seen one, and the idea seems like something out of a horror movie to me.

Dogs are animals, they are not people, or very much like people, (I know this is a controversial idea) so the relationship will almost certainly be unpredictable, messy and filled with ups and downs. If you expect that you will train a dog to be perfect after reading anybody's book, you are setting yourself on a course of self-loathing, disappointment and pain.

I aim to have a good enough dog, a dog that is good enough to live happily and lovingly with this. I would not ask a dog to be perfect anymore than I would ask a dog to expect to have a perfect human. I don't know any of those either.

Cesar is perhaps the most popular dog  trainer in America, and far richer and popular than I will ever be – he certainly does not have to crowdsource for a new camera. If General Electric put out a pamphlet advertised the "perfect refrigerator," the government would haul them into court and fine them millions of dollars.

in the dog world, there is no such wariness, Cesar sells a ton of books.

Desperate and loving animal owners would do or pay almost anything to have a perfect dog, they are perhaps the most hapless suckers in the publishing spectrum. Most dog lovers are desperate to find gurus and quote them, even if they rarely can do what the gurus do. Cesar sells a lot of books most telling people to do things they will never do, don't need to do, or even want to do.

He has 20 aides, trainers and assistants, and you will not see his failures and mistakes on You Tube or his television program. You don't see too many of mine either. Cesar is to most dog owners what I am to the world of professional soccer.  Your life with dogs has little relevance to his.

I have nothing against Cesar Millan, this is America, everyone is entitled to make a buck.  And most of what he says is sound and sensible. I love his smiling face on the book jacket, I do notice he is not hugging the feaersome Pit Bulls he magically flips on television but two cute pure-bred dogs, a Schnauzer and a Bulldog, one in each arm.

I am reading through this book to see if I can have a perfect dog, since I've spent weeks trying to persuade Fate not to jump on my head in bed or steal hamburger off of the counter. Okay, I'm being a bit sarcastic, even a little jealous maybe. I would never have the heart to tell anybody they could have a perfect dog.

Cesar knows his stuff, his instincts are good, we should, of course, all be the leaders of our dogs, not the followers.

Perhaps I don't need to have sheep for the dogs to herd, or take them for three walks a day, or run them in the pasture whenever they get restless, or cover the floor with stuffed toys, rawhide bones and important antlers from Nepal.They should follow me, sit in my study, sit quietly in the morning while I sleep and not tear around the house in pursuit of one another.

Nothing is more fun for me than to read the many passages on housebreaking that best-selling dog training books offer.

Cesar has about 20 pages on it, it seems that training a dog not to pee or dump in the house is now a complex undertaking requiring elaborate and strategic planning. There are yard rules, theories offered by vets, passages about smells, voice, crates, yards and gates and crates, food, diet and biology.

"If you are planning to let your puppy out your yard, make sure it's been puppy-proofed, and always  begin by supervising," cautions Cesar. "If you are going to use a dog door and make the yard a part of the space in which she's allowed free rein, make sure – especially if it's a large yard – that you start off by containing her in a small part." Set up gates between your yard and side yard, establish a yard pen, hook up a dog run, he suggests.

And that's just the start. Folks, I am here to tell you that this does not have to be this hard. You don't really have to think about this too long or plan for it too much. Honest. Don't feel like an idiot or an animal abuser if you do this more simply, as people have done this through the history of dogs and people.

My best advice Take the $15 bucks and buy your kids a pizza or buy them popcorn at the movies.

I have owned dogs for most of my life, I have housebroken every one of them within three days, and I never read a training book in my life. They include rescue dogs, mutts off the street, pure-bred Labs and border collies, a fierce Rottweiler-Shepherd mix.

I often think of the housebreaking technique of almost every farmer I have known, I have never met one who had any problem house-breaking a dog or thought to buy a book about it.

"Simple," one farmer told me some years ago, "I separate them from the house and lock them in the barn for a couple of days, they pee and poop outside and that's that."

You don't need a barn, either. A basement or living room will do.

My own method is a little different from the farmers, but not much, and I will share it with you, and for free.

When I get a puppy, I also get a crate and make sure it's fairly small or blocked off. I feed the puppy in the crate and keep him or her there when not supervised. Five to ten minutes after eating, I take him or her outside on a leash, wait for them to pee or poop (they will invariably do that, because they have to go and it is their nature to go outside), praise them with a hug or treat and then bring them back inside to the crate.

This takes two days on average, three the most.  An occasional accident is inevitable, clean it up and be quiet about it. The bigger fuss you make the longer this will take. Nervous dogs pee a lot.

Dogs and humans disagree on many things, from having sex to chewing furniture,  but they agree on this: dogs want to go to the bathroom outside, where they are stimulated and drawn by smells, and people want them to go outside. They are not drawn to toilets like people are.

This is not brain surgery, it does not require hours of worry and vigilance or massive  digging and renovation and construction projects in the yard.

When puppies are young and with little bladder or bowel control, they need to go out often and soon after eating. They should not run loose in the house until they are housebroken, it shouldn't take long.

I'm afraid that's about it for me, I'd like to add 20 pages or more to the process, as Cesar has, because publishers know people want a lot of text if they are going to pay $15. Common sense information is generally briefer than guru information, most often it is free and in your head.

In the next weeks, I'll continue to explore this idea of the perfect dog and how it relates to dog training. The news is often grating or worse, we need some inspired humor and fantasy. I told Fate to get ready, I am aiming for perfection. And put down my sock.

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Two Voices: Steve’s Lament, Chris’s Traveler’s Checks: Art And Cyberbegging

Steve's Lament

Steve's Lament

Yesterday, I launched a $3,000 funding project for a new Monochrome black-and-white digital camera. I was almost instantly rewarded with some generous contributions – $700 in just a few hours Monday via Paypal, checks on the way to my Post Office Box.  I don't know about today.

I was not comfortable doing a crowdsourcing project for a $15,000 Leica camera, it just felt like too much for me now, and perhaps for you,  I learned there were good alternatives and was happy to choose one. I will always dream of a Leica, but appreciate what I have.

Thank you for your support.

The first message I got was from Chris who wrote to say she was sending me some American Express Traveler's Checks, she is housebound now and does not expect to use them. My photographs, she said, have brought her joy and comfort to her and she wanted to contribute to my new camera. It was, she said, the least she could do. Such messages sometimes bring tears.

There were also some different kinds of comments, and I have always believed if you share the good, then you have to share the bad. That is what it means to be authentic.

I got this e-mail from Steven, who announced he was quitting the blog after reading it and my books for six or seven years:

"I've been a reader of your blog since about 2009 and of your books since before that. I quit the blog today and I wanted to let you know why. Cyberbegging and so-called bankruptcy. You should be ashamed to ask people for money because you cannot manage it. You certainly seem to have enough money when it comes to vacations to Disney, Cape Cod, NYC, Inns in Vermont, movies. Cameras that cost more than some peoples' cars, and then you have the nerve to ask the public to give you more when you run out? Insane. And now crowd funding a $7,000 camera you've just got to have. Doesn't your $8,000 Canon have a monochrome mode? You're living your life off the sweat of taxpayers and I'm tired of watching that spectacle. For you the internet is the equivalent of telemarketing, late night TV evangelism and sitting on the corner with a tin cup."

I'm not sure how the taxpayers got into this, I am not aware that any are paying for me, but I did read and consider Steven's message, it echoed some of my own thoughts at times and surely, the thoughts of some others.  I'm sure Steven speaks for many, as does Chris. That is the nature of the world, of a life in the open. I guess I have to be honest, like most artists and writers, I have been begging for money my whole life, mostly from publishers.

I do not feel shame, Steven, and my  bankruptcy was all too real. And no, my camera does not have a Monochrome mode.

I am actually begging my publisher right now to get the money I am owed for my next book, hopefully in time to pay my taxes. I have done as little begging as I could manage in my life, but I do intend to survive and hopefully, to grow. Steven is correct that I cannot manage all of this camera equipment and repairs by myself, I remember that William Faulkner borrowed money from his neighbors to pay for a  new typewriter to finish a book.

He wrote that he was embarrassed, but never ashamed.

Once in a while, I actually get some money.  That's how I got the camera I use now, as Steven remembers. I expect this project will be successful, and I am very glad it is for $3,000 and not for $15,000. Some people suggested a new camera is a "luxury," I get that but it is surely not a luxury to me, as my wife pointed out so eloquently on her blog. It is so wonderful to be known.

Still, I thought reading Steven's message – he writes well – that it is possible to read about someone's life and work for years and not know them. I fear this is a failure of writing on my part. I do not see myself in his message.

Maria saw it all happen. Photography transformed me, it helped me to see the world anew. So does every lens and camera I get. And what could be more meaningful that. That is no toy, no luxury. I never took a photo in my life until I met her, and I can no longer bear to move anywhere without a camera. Photography has given me my true voice, as much or more as writing.

I'm not sure how cyber-begging differs from plain old fund-raising, but I know crowdsourcing is a radical new idea, and I support it and do not apologize for it. No one has a gun to their heads. People can contribute or not, that is the beauty of it, and just as no one should be pressured to contribute, neither should they be ridiculed for it.

As my friend Ed Gulley said, people can give a buck or not, enough said. But in our world, of course, there is no such thing as enough said.

I think this question of always scrambling for money is in the nature of the creative life. I would wager that Steven has a job and a paycheck that comes every week.

I don't know any writers with money, or any artists either. We all swallow pride and circumstance from time to time, we all dance for our supper, whether we like to admit it or not.  When we talk to one another, money comes up all of the time, it is in the tapestry of our work and lives. Once, writers had rich patrons who supported their work. How strange.

All I can do is  tell the truth about it and let people decide for themselves whether my work is important enough to help support.

I respect Steven's opinions and wish him well, if I were to ask him one question it would be this: in all of these years, looking at all of those photos and words, did he ever consider what it cost to produce them? Did he ever offer to pay for the blogs he was enjoying or consider what it costs to take photographs and publish them every day?

Sometimes I feel like the dairy farmers who constantly wonder that everyone expects to find milk and food in the market, but nobody wants to know where  it came from or what it took to get it there.

I think the story of life is that you must find in yourself that which moves you.  And you must do it.

But Chris's message is just as much a part of the story as Steven's. Both voices are powerful and distinct. I feel a closeness and connection with so many of the people who read my work and look at my photographs we have been together a long time. For some, like Steven, that is a fragile bond, broken by a camera. For others like Chris, it is an affirmation, the point of my life.

And isn't that the very story of life, it's very nature, it's yin and its yang? To find your myth is to find your zeal. Wisdom has to come gradually, if it comes at all.

The creative life is almost never secure, it will always be dependent on the wishes and decisions of others. It is for greater minds than mind to figure out how important pictures and words and paintings and quilts are in a world of many competing interests.

In the meantime, if you wish to contribute to my camera project, you can send checks to Post Office Box 205, Cambridge, N.Y., 12816, or contribute via Paypal (Friends And Family) [email protected]

And thanks, either way.

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