August 14, 2011

RIP Buster 3-4-97 to 8-13-11

It is with a hole in my heart that I report that Buster took his last breath next to me and my husband on his favorite dog bed in our house. He went quickly and peacefully, on his own terms a short time ago. There was more than one time in the past couple weeks that I thought he was near the end, but then he would bounce right back and be like nothing had happened. He was a strong spirit right to the end. I wrote the following memorial when I knew his end was near. Thank-you Allison for helping us know Buster's wishes. It really helped us put our minds at ease and I think you were 100% right. He was 14 and a half years old.

14 years ago, Buster came into our lives through a twist of fate that said in no uncertain terms he was meant to be ours. It was back when I only had one dog, my Rottweiler, and my husband was not yet my spouse but was spending more time at my house than his own. He was raised on a farm with only outside "farm dogs" and didn't know how wonderful, loving and personable a dog could be until he met Hunter and spent some time with him. He decided he wanted a dog that loved him as much as Hunter clearly loved me. And although we were reading about various breeds, we both knew he needed more education about dogs and training before we started looking for another dog. He did decide, after much research, that he wanted a Cattle Dog, that he wanted it to be a blue male and that he was going to name him Buster. 

Shortly after he declared that, I was on duty as a police officer and got a call for a loose dog on a major road huddled next to the median. I responded and found a scared dog, I think it was a labrador, that was clearly someone's pet but had no tags. I called SPCA to respond, but they had a 3 hour estimated arrival and I already had the dog in the back of my patrol car. So I got permission from my supervisor to go across town to drop the dog off at the shelter where I had never been before.

While I'm in line waiting to turn over the dog, a couple walked in with a (you guessed it) male, blue cattle dog. I didn't think much about it and figured they were probably getting him neutered or something. But I couldn't resist asking. I was told they had a baby on the way and already had 2 small dogs and this one just wasn't working out. I asked what his name was and they said Buster. I knew he was meant to be ours. He was flattening himself to the floor and trying to be invisible, and looked catatonic, but I thought it might just be because he was in the lobby of the SPCA and likely knew his only family was about to give him up. We agreed to meet the next day at a park on the other side of town where it turned out they also lived. I wanted to be sure Hunter would get along with Buster and wanted to see what he was like away from the SPCA environment.  

They arrived the next day and had to coax him out of the car where he promptly flattened himself to the ground. Hunter walked up, gave him a sniff and walked off to sniff elsewhere. Buster didn't move. I thought I knew what we were in for and knew this dog would not be my husband's because it was going to take a boat load of training to get him out of his shell. We gave the people a dollar and had them sign him over to us just to make it official and we took him home. I have no doubt he would have been immediately put to sleep if he had stayed at the shelter. They told us they got him at 8 weeks old at a pet store and that they put him in their fenced back yard on a quiet cul-de-sac street and he never left the yard. He was now 8 months old and his entire known world consisted of that one back yard. He never learned that stuff outside that yard wasn't going to eat him or that sometimes thing change suddenly in the environment and it wasn't a signal for the end of the universe or that people and dogs he didn't know weren't going to kill him. Our saving grace, if you can call it that, for our newby training skills was that he never tried to bite. When he got overwhelmed, he laid down and went catatonic.

For the first 6 months, if we got up off the couch, or walked in the room he was in, he bolted out the back dog door. He was more comfortable outside, but it didn't take as long as I expected to get him indoors for the most part. The dog door helped and so did Hunter who Buster seemed to feel safe with (surprizing because he had only known small lap dogs, but Hunter was a gentle soul and had a way with people and dogs that were fearful dispite his 120 lb size). I think it was a year before Buster crawled up on the couch for attention, but for years he still bolted off if he thought we might stand up. 

I recall early on thinking I would take him for a walk, but as soon as he stepped out onto the front porch, into the new and unknown world, he was back to a catatonic puddle on the floor. So we spent months just sitting on the porch watching the world go by until he was able to take treats and deal with it all. Eventually we were able to leave the porch and take a walk around the block. During that time, I found that he was much more relaxed in the woods, so that's where he got most of his exerise when we weren't playing in the now familiar back yard.

Buster was the reason I found clicker training, because up to the time he entered our lives, I was not using completely kind methods. But it was pretty clear that since an unhappy glance in his direction caused him to turn into a puddle that the training I had used with Hunter wasn't going to work on him. So I attended a seminar in Chicago presented by two guys from the Shedd Aquarium that opened my eyes to a whole new world of training. It was also where I met Beth Duman and her Dog Scout Anja and found out about DSA. But I was still unclear on much of positive training and it wasn't till I attended Dog Scout camp in 2000 with Hunter that I really experienced the power of positive training and started understanding how it could be applied. 
After that, my skills with Buster grew rapidly, I started working at a Dog Daycare and learning loads about canine body language and Buster started making more progress with his socialization (but he wasn't ever able to attend the daycare where I worked). He did get to attend Dog Scout camp twice and on his second visit, he was relaxed enough to be able to play some fetch with a frisbee (his favorite toy) and to paint a lovely painting I still have framed. We went on many long walks in the woods together, Buster always off leash because he was more relaxed that way. If we met anyone on the trail, Buster would trot into the woods, way out around the other person, but always came right back to my side. I found he loved water activities and often took him to a park near our house where he could fetch his frisbee in the shallow reflecting pool, which he would do all day long if I let him. We also went on several kayak trips together and as long as he was able to go for the occasional swim, he enjoyed sunning himself in the kayak and watching the world float by. And once we moved and got a big back yard, countless hours were spent throwing the frisbee for him when we weren't hiking a trail.

When he was 12, he played with a dog he didn't know for the first time at a troop party at our house. I got it on video and nearly cried. During previous parties, he had started by staying in the bedroom and only darting out to pee whenever other people were visiting. But each party he got more and more bold. He started peeking out and watching, then coming out into the living room as long as no one looked at him. Then he started to make short trips outside where everyone was instructed to feed him. He was pretty food motivated, so that helped a great deal. But when he actually engaged in play with a corgi, that was a wonderful memory I'll cherish. 
I only wish other people could have seen what he was like when it was just us at home. He was playful and had a wicked sense of humor. He was also masochistic. He would torment Coyote or Dazzle until they bit him and especially when coyote would grab him by the muzzle and hold him, making indentations into the skin, Buster would stand there and wag his tail with a gleam in his eye. Allison did a reading of him a few years ago and agreed that if he were a person, he'd be wearing leather and chains and begging to be whipped. He was also quite cunning. He learned that when Coyote had a bone he wanted, if Buster barked at the front window, Coyote would run over to help him bark and Buster would saunter back and get the bone! That worked until Coyote figured out what Buster was doing and would carry the bone with him and bark with it in his mouth. Buster didn't try that ploy again after that. But he did do other similar things. He loved to play, wrestle and fetch and often walked around with a toy in his mouth. As he got older, he had a knack for laying in a traffic pattern so Coyote, who is nearly blind, would accidently step on him so Buster could "correct" Coyote. But he was never rough about it, I think it was a game he played, exercising what control he still could. He was truely a character to the end.

He taught me SO much about canine behavior, body language and positive training I could never thank him enough. As it has been said, it's not the easy dogs that make you a good trainer, it's the ones with issues. And Buster brought that in spades. But I wouldn't ever trade him for an easy dog. I know I wouldn't be where I am today without him and I wouldn't have been able to help the countless people and dogs I have helped because of what he taught me or forced me to learn. So thank-you Buster from the bottom of my heart. You will be missed deeply and a piece of my heart went with you. I'll remember you fondly. Rest in peace my dear friend and teacher.