Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life

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9780091932251: Good Dog: The Story of Orson, Who Changed My Life

When Jon took on a troublesome two-year-old Border Collie in "A Dog Year", it turned his sedate life upside down and culminated in a move from suburbia to a rural farm. But the contrary Collie - incredibly loyal but incredibly misbehaved - never settles down. Jon tries everything, obedience training, changing his name from Devon to Orson, even acupuncture, and it all helps a little, but not enough. Together Jon and Orson chase sheep across high meadows, wade through snow, bask by a roaring stove and struggle to keep faith in each other. A story of great joy and heartbreak, in "A Good Dog" Jon faces the most difficult decision any dog lover has to make.

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About the Author:

Jon Katz has written for the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, GQ and other magazines as well as having a regular column about dogs and rural life for online magazine Slate. He has written sixteen books, including Sunday Times bestsellers A Dog Year and A Home for Rose, and co-hosts an awardwinning radio show Dog Talk. His website is www.bedlamfarm.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Carolyn Wilki told the five of us to spread out into a circle in her pasture, with our dogs. We were an odd group, a mot­ley mix of dog lovers and our anxious border collies and shepherds arrayed near an aging stone farmhouse in eastern Pennsylvania in the blazing summer sun.
The other four people did as instructed, along with their dogs. I didn’t.
Devon and I were in our third month of working with Carolyn, a respected and fiercely opinionated sheepherder and dog behaviorist. She’d suggested that we join this herd­ing class in addition to our weekly lessons. So we had, with trepidation. I’m not generally a joiner; I don’t have a good history with groups. And Devon was not a dog who played well with others, either.
Once we were mostly in formation, Carolyn brought out her antique metal box filled with small figures of dogs, sheep, and fences. I groaned.
Carolyn was fond of her toy farm creatures, which she’d shown me on our first visit, and loved to demonstrate the bal­let that constituted sheepherding–human, dog, and sheep all moving in relation to one another. She would haul her box out and carefully place the components in their appropriate positions on a picnic table or on the grass. Then she’d sketch out herding and training moves like an NFL coach diagram­ming complex patterns for offense. The papers she handed her students when class ended were filled with X’s and O’s, squibbles and arrows. The X’s were dogs, the O’s were peo­ple. If the X’s went here, she’d explain, then the O’s would go there. The sheep were usually the squibbles.
Devon and I were rarely where we were supposed to be. He herded sheep the way he herded school buses–forcefully, impulsively, explosively. At least the sheep could run.
This role-playing was not the sort of thing either of us was especially good at. I was allergic to being lectured to, had hated just about every class and teacher I’d ever had, and the favor had been returned. Poor Mr. Hauser actually wept in front of my mother when I had to take his math class for the third time. Neither of us could bear the idea of going another round. Authority issues continued to plague me through my adult life. One reason that being a writer suited me was that most of the time the only jerk I had to put up with was me.
Devon had similar issues with commands and obedience. Training seemed to either upset or excite him, and learning to herd sheep seemed unlikely to be an exception.
You are a ewe,Carolyn told me, pointing to an O on her diagram, and placing one of her tiny white plastic sheep along a toy fence. You will stand over here and wait to be approached by a dog, she said, gesturing to an eighty-year-old woman in a sun hat holding a terrified sheltie on a leash.
Everybody else seemed willing, even enthusiastic, about acting out these herding moves. But I didn’t want to be a ewe. Devon looked up at me curiously; I knew there was no way he was going to do this, either.
In fact, he suddenly charged after the sheltie, chasing him under Carolyn’s truck. I pulled him back, made him lie down, and he settled to watch the proceedings.
As Carolyn passed by, dispensing instructions, I whis-pered–hoping to avoid a scene–that I didn’t want to be a ewe, or to play this game. Carolyn did not suffer fools or rebels gladly. I don’t care what you want,she muttered.Do it. It will be good for you.
I couldn’t. No better at being submissive than this strange dog I now owned, I told Carolyn this wasn’t the right class for me. Devon and I retreated to our room (Carolyn’s Rasp­berry Ridge Farm is a bed-and-breakfast as well as a training center) to brood. I put Devon in his crate and lay down on the bed. Outside the window, I could hear the dogs and sheep going through their exercises as Carolyn offered sug­gestions and critiqued the proceedings. Much as I often wished for a more pliant dog, I also wished I were a more compliant human. Life would be smoother.
It’s an article of faith among trainers that the problem with dogs is almost always the people who own them. My dog and I were both impulsive, impatient, distractible, and restless. That was why we’d come.
Carolyn was an impassioned believer in positive rewarding training, a training method that emphasizes reinforcing ap­propriate and desired behaviors, and generally rejects negative or coercive methods like yelling, swatting, or even more abusive responses.
Positive reinforcement puts pressure on the human, rather than the dog, to suppress anger and impatience, and simply praise or mark good behaviors–with words of praise, food, clickers, whatever works. It asks a lot of people; they have to take a long view of training and curb some of their stronger instincts. For somebody who is by no means an all-positive person, like me, it was difficult–especially with a dog like Devon, who daily challenged one’s patience.
One afternoon he escaped the yard in New Jersey (I have no idea how), and soon afterward I heard the by-now-familiar screaming and tumult in the street and went running out. Devon had intercepted half a dozen Jersey teenagers on skateboards, rounded them up into a tight cluster in the cen­ter of the street–skateboards flying in every direction–and held everyone there until I arrived.
Carolyn would not have approved of my response, which was not positive in the least. I screamed at Devon to get away from the kids, apologized profusely, and retreated into the house, Devon in tow. The kids thought it was funny; when they got home, their parents might not.
Recognizing that I needed help with Devon, a far greater challenge than my mellow Labradors, I’d started bringing him to Raspberry Ridge, along with my younger border col­lie, Homer. Homer didn’t seem destined to be an ace herder, either, but he was much more attentive and controllable than Devon.
Carolyn often said she was surprised that I’d stuck it out with Devon’s lessons; in fact, she told me, she’d doubted I would come back after the first session. Which had been marked by Devon’s chasing her panicked sheep around a fenced pasture. The truth is, I never thought of leaving Rasp­berry Ridge. Eventually, we became regulars.
From the first time we drove down the long gravel drive­way, I was drawn to the place. Carolyn had an old stone farm­house, a giant barn and other teetering outbuildings, a junkyard, perhaps two hundred ewes and rams, an old don­key, a dozen or so dogs, and more than seventy acres of grass, meadow, and woods.
She lived upstairs in the farmhouse; guests and visitors oc­cupied the B&B rooms downstairs. She kept crates tucked all over the house, in which her herding dogs–border collies and shepherds–slept while waiting to work, exercise, or play.
These working dogs, I’d come to learn, led lives very dif­ferent from my dogs’. Carolyn let them out several times a day to exercise and eliminate, but generally, they were out of crates only to train or herd sheep. While they were out, Car­olyn tossed a cup of kibble into their crates for them to eat when they returned. I asked her once if she left lights on for the dogs when she went out, and she looked at me curiously. Why? They don’t read.
They were happy dogs nonetheless, fit and obedient, so­ciable with dogs and people. From Carolyn’s example, I was learning to respect the true nature of dogs: they are wonder­ful, but they’re still animals, and not even the most complex animals. She didn’t see them as four-legged versions of hu­mans, and woe to the student who did.
Still, they were everywhere. If you bumped into a sofa it might growl or thump. Some of her crew were puppies; some were strange rescue dogs.
The chief working dog was Dave, a venerable shorthaired Scottish border collie who efficiently ran the farm, moving sheep in and out of pastures and into training pens for lessons and herding work. This was an impressive fellow. I once saw a near-riot break out during a herding trial when some sheep crashed through a fence by the parking area, which was crammed with dogs, handlers, spectators, cars and trailers, and food stands. Carolyn yelled to me to run inside–Dave’s crate held the place of honor by Carolyn’s desk–and let him out.
When I opened the crate, Dave promptly rushed to the front door, pushed open the screen, and picked his way among the rampaging dogs and sheep and people. He gath­ered up the sheep and, at Carolyn’s direction, moved them down the drive and into the back pasture, maneuvering them around lawn chairs and tents, barking dogs, and all the para­phernalia of a trial. He held them there until Carolyn arrived to close the pasture gate. Then he trotted right back to the house, nosed open the screen door, and went back into his crate. Dave was the anti-Devon, as grounded as Devon was excitable, as obedient as Devon was unresponsive, as useful as Devon was difficult and unpredictable. I told myself he was less interesting, too.
Carolyn’s hallways were hung with crooks, ropes and hal­ters, flashlights and rain gear. She loved dogs the way great trainers do, respecting their animal natures, understanding their simple and sometimes crass motives, accepting them as they are, rather than trying to recast them into versions of ourselves. The signs of her success with this approach were also abundant: the walls were festooned with trial ribbons and awards.
Yet she spent much of her time working with less her­alded dogs and their desperate people. Troubled dogs from all over the country came riding up her driveway. I remember one pair of newlyweds who arrived with a schnauzer that had belonged to the bride. The groom was covered in bandages. It seemed that every time he tried to touch his wife, the dog bit him.
W...

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Book Description Ebury Publishing, United Kingdom, 2009. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. When Jon took on a troublesome two-year-old Border Collie in A Dog Year , it turned his sedate life upside down and culminated in a move from suburbia to a rural farm. But the contrary Collie - incredibly loyal but incredibly misbehaved - never settles down. Jon tries everything, obedience training, changing his name from Devon to Orson, even acupuncture, and it all helps a little, but not enough. Together Jon and Orson chase sheep across high meadows, wade through snow, bask by a roaring stove and struggle to keep faith in each other. A story of great joy and heartbreak, in A Good Dog Jon faces the most difficult decision any dog lover has to make. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780091932251

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Book Description Ebury. Book Condition: New. 2009. Paperback. When Jon took on a troublesome two-year-old Border Collie, it turned his sedate life upside down and culminated in a move from suburbia to a rural farm. But the contrary Collie never settles down. Jon tries everything, obedience training, changing his name from Devon to Orson, even acupuncture, and it all helps a little, but not enough. Num Pages: 256 pages, Illustrations. BIC Classification: BM; WNGD. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 200 x 125 x 20. Weight in Grams: 238. . . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. Bookseller Inventory # V9780091932251

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Book Description Ebury, 2009. Book Condition: New. 2009. Paperback. When Jon took on a troublesome two-year-old Border Collie, it turned his sedate life upside down and culminated in a move from suburbia to a rural farm. But the contrary Collie never settles down. Jon tries everything, obedience training, changing his name from Devon to Orson, even acupuncture, and it all helps a little, but not enough. Num Pages: 256 pages, Illustrations. BIC Classification: BM; WNGD. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 200 x 125 x 20. Weight in Grams: 238. . . . . . . Bookseller Inventory # V9780091932251

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