Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Social creatures

 A recent odd experience (because I don’t seem to have any other kind) made me think about how the idea of socializing our dogs has changed over the years.

 Over the weekend, I took baby Raider to one of those big sporting goods stores that lets folks bring their dogs with them while they shop for Ranger bass boats and absurdly overpriced women’s sportswear. Raid thought this was super cool (in light of full disclosure, he thinks cat butts and dirty socks are also super cool). We had a grand old time. We worked through the women’s wear, the cabin-kitsch home d├ęcor and looked at the great big fish swimming in the floor to ceiling aquarium. 


All the while, there was a lot of cheese involved and random sits and downs and hand touches and get-ins. I was proud of my baby dog. He’d never experienced retail therapy before and wasn't at all intimidated by the bustling, six-weeks-until-Christmas shopping environment.


His biggest challenge was wanting to greet every person he saw like he was a politician hot on the campaign trail. Left to his own devices, he’d have been kissing babies (and everyone else) whether they wanted to be kissed or not.


I kept him on a short leash. The general shopping public is unprepared for the reality that is Raider and we were not there so he could maul every person who cooed, “Oh what a darling puppy!” or some such nonsense. Darling puppy, my sweet aunt. I could list the offenses he has committed that do not fall under the “Darling” category but none of us have that much time.


And then we met The Most Annoying Man in the World sauntering through the store with his older German Shepherd Dog plodding sedately along at his side. He spied Raid and called, “Would your puppy like to make a new friend?”

Um. No. I declined politely, stupidly expecting him to get a clue like the two dozen people we’d already met who smiled and commented and sensibly moved on when it became clear Raid and I had our own agenda.


But it was not to be. Annoying Man launched into a long-winded assurance about how my puppy didn’t need to be afraid because the GDS wouldn’t hurt him.


Guess he missed the absolute joie de vivre radiating off my absurdly fearless puppy, who had figured out this gig somewhere between the racks of pre-Black Friday sales flannel shirts and the discounted fishing tackle boxes and was happily butt-wiggling and giving me incredible eye contact in return for cheese.


He also missed the reality that Raid is a 7-month-old, 40-pound, spring-loaded projectile without a great deal of good sense. Aside from the fact we were there to specifically practice NOT interacting with everyone he saw, I was afraid he would do something reckless and break the Annoying Man’s placid, geriatric dog. Who by the way, showed zero desire to meet Raider. I didn’t blame him. It was clear who had the brains in that outfit.


Annoying Man then proceeded to mansplain (which is totally a word now, my spell check didn’t even red flag it) about how puppies need to meet other dogs so they don’t grow up to be afraid.





Someone should have given me a cookie for keeping my mouth shut.

 When I got my first Tervuren (before the turn of the century. Literally.) I don’t remember taking any special steps to socialize her. I doubt I even knew what that was. She went to my 4-H club dog training classes and then to dog shows and she did fine. 


My first sheltie was another story. I tried to socialize him but he wasn’t having it. Jesse was scared of everything and everyone except me. Oddly, he totally loved the showring spotlight so except for the five seconds when the judge touched him for the stand exercises, he did fine.


Sheltie number two was subjected to more rigorous socialization protocol. Puppy class. Pass-the-puppy. Puppy play-time. Lots of time in parks, finding people to pet the puppy. Connor tolerated this with good grace and was happy to trade pets for cookies. He liked people well enough and he was a go-with-the-flow kind of guy, so he did fine.


By the time my next Tervuren arrived, I was a pro at puppy socializing. Inflict as many people as possible on the puppy in the shortest amount of time possible because everyone knew if your puppy wasn’t totally fine with every sight, sound, smell, surface, light, flavor and hot air balloons launching unexpectedly while you are training (don’t laugh, it happened) by the time he was six months old, he would never amount to anything. 


Well. The Tervuren standard mentions the word “aloof” something like 437 times and Jamie took it seriously. He was a firm believer in stranger danger and nothing was going to change that. He had a small circle of human friends who he adored and the rest of the world could go take a hike. He tolerated strangers petting him and viewed judges as odd but harmless. In reality, he had lovely, wonderful, perfect Tervuren temperament in spite of my attempts to turn him into a golden retriever.


When Malinois Phoenix and I made one another’s acquaintance, I’ll never forget him marching into the Portland International Airport, head up, ears up, tail up, the poster child for canine confidence, thanks to his breeder’s puppy program that prepared him to meet the Big Wide World. And his own badass attitude. Although we took the requisite puppy kindergarten class, complete with puppy passing and puppy playtime, I can’t say it was money well spent. 


By now, I was starting to question why I would encourage my dog—whose job was to play games with ME, where I needed to be center of his attention in order to succeed—to have such an external focus that I was reduced to only being the chauffeur who held the leash and picked up poop.


My first Aussie, Banner, came with a dance card he couldn’t wait to fill. A party-boy at heart, he shared none of the Belgians’ reluctance to mingle with the unwashed masses. While I took him to a puppy class, I found myself on the sidelines more often than not, working attention and interaction games while the rest of the class enjoyed free-for-alls with puppies who didn’t know their names, let alone how to come when they were called. In the instructor’s defense, it was a home obedience type of class, not one geared toward competitive dog sports. I'd enrolled Bann because it was the only class available at the time and some part of me clung to the old adage that he “needed to be socialized.”


The years passed and when Raider arrived this spring, my definition of socializing had changed dramatically. We did not go to puppy class. We did not find dogs he “needed” to play with. I did not go in search of men, women and children to pet my dog. While I wanted him to experience new places, weird flooring, odd smells, loud noises, chaotic environments and random hot air balloons, I wanted him to experience them with ME as his wingman and on his own terms—explore it or observe it, not be forced into it. There was no need to pass the puppy or collect at list of “100 People in 100 Days” who had met my dog.


The dog sport community as a whole has made the sensible shift toward socializing becoming less about puppies being forced to interact with every aspect of their world on their own to experiencing that world at their own pace with their human partner.


Flash back to the weekend’s adventure at the sporting goods store. Most Annoying Man informed me he was a dog trainer and would be glad to help me if I was having any problems. By then I was rolling my eyes so loud they probably heard me in the parking lot. I refrained from asking his thoughts on fixing a recurring drop signal problem on a burned out UDX dog or whether he thought I should be insisting on heads up heeling or let it go if the dog was clearly working with focus. But I kept my mouth shut. Seriously. Santa had better be paying attention. 


Walking away, I was feeling really good about Raider’s behavior that afternoon until he nearly yanked the leash out of my hand in a rush to greet . . . a mannequin.


Baby steps . . .

Blessed be.




Saturday, November 6, 2021

You can't get there from here



I’m back.

Apparently if left unattended, I keep wandering away, finding things to do that are not blogging, until friends get on my case about it. 


This time, I’ve been gone long enough for this:


Raider, 8 weeks, June 2021


 To grow into this:


Raider, 7 months, October 2021

 With that in mind, I should be writing about puppies (especially the crazy red ones) but today’s topic is the I-80/380 interchange project near Iowa City. It's been under construction since forever and shows no sign of being completed any time soon.


To give you an idea of the scope of the project and its impact on the surrounding communities, the dang thing has its own Facebook page. Go to I-80/380 Systems Interchange and you, too, can play the never-ending game of “Where will this lane of traffic take me today?”


Here’s an overview, copied directly from the Iowa Department of Transportation (IDOT) website (motto: Iowa, come for the corndogs, stay because you can’t figure out the detours to get home):


“The reconstruction project will replace all four loops of the interchange with directional ramps. Interstate 380 will be widened to six lanes with 12-foot shoulders from I-80, to approximately one mile north of the Forevergreen Road interchange. U.S. 218/IA 27 will be widened to six lanes from I-80 to approximately 1.5 miles south of I-80. Interstate 80 will be widened to six lanes with 12-foot shoulders between Ireland Avenue and I-380. Interstate 80 will be widened to eight lanes from near I-380, east to near Coral Ridge Avenue. Additionally, auxiliary lanes will be included in some areas between interchange ramps to provide drivers more time to merge in or out of interstate traffic.”


Got that? There will be a test.


Essentially, it means when all the new roads and ramps are built, there will be 49 lanes of traffic going 16 different directions at 70 mph (pending weather and Hawkeye home games). That isn’t a whole lot different than what’s there now, except the element of yee-haw merging should be eliminated.


If you’re not familiar with yee-haw merging, it’s what you get when you’ve got traffic entering and exiting at speeds anywhere from 40 to 80 mph over about a 200-yard stretch of roadway, often in a manner that defies numerous rules of physics, namely the one about two objects not being able to occupy the same space at the same time. Motorists range in skill from your 90 year old grandma to people who are graduates of the Dale Earnhardt Jr. school of driving.


Yee-haw will not be the only words you use.


Remember the scene in Star Wars: A New Hope (the original blockbuster that knocked everyone on their collective butts in 1978, sorry my geek is showing and I don’t care) where Han Solo is yelling to his co-pilot to make the leap to hyperspace and yells, “Punch it, Chewie!”


Well, merging from I-80 onto I-380 or vice versa is something like that. No matter which direction you go, or what time of day it is, there will be another vehicle performing the opposite function, which means you are going to end up in one another’s lanes. 

This is because the geniuses at the DOT made the exit lane and the entrance lane the same lane, providing an approximate 20 foot allowance for vehicles to pass while drivers grit their teeth and their passengers quietly have heart attacks. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea at the time.


The original cloverleaf was designed decades before the Iowa City/Coralville/Tiffin/North Liberty communities began growing at about 300% a year and everyone started driving two cars at a time.


Which is not possible, but neither is sharing the same entrance/exit lane with an 18-wheeler with the pedal to the metal and let me tell you, sister, I’ve done it.

And if anyone can explain what auxiliary lanes are, I’ll be glad to listen.

One should always drive with cake, no matter the conditions.

 The project began in July 2017 and is projected to wrap in mid-2024. Maybe. I think. Don’t quote me on that.


In the meantime, it’s a new adventure every day. At one point, I counted 17 construction cranes in a two-mile stretch of I-80. SEVENTEEN! Amazing. What’s even more amazing is that I didn’t crash into anyone while I was counting.


This eternal construction zone is about 20 miles from where I live, so I get routed through it on a regular basis to get to important places, like dog shows. I can deal with the fact there are now only two lanes where there used to be three and one lane and a nasty-ass looking cement barrier where there used to be two and what used to be the safe center lane is now an exit that will send you winging off to Cedar Rapids when you least expect it. Not that Cedar Rapids isn’t a nice place this time of year. It’s not under water anymore and they’re mostly done picking up wrecked trees and houses after that pesky derecho.


But then the DOT starts pulling this business:


“Beginning this morning, the westbound I-80 exit ramp to northbound I-380 will shift to the west. Drivers can now expect to access the exit ramp ½ mile west of the previous exit location. This change is anticipated to be in place until Summer 2022.”


Stop it.


Just stop it.


Stop moving exits around like they’re staircases at Hogwarts. I just figure out where they’re hiding amidst the cement barriers and orange barrels and barricades warning “EXIT CLOSED” and trucks with signs on the back telling me not to follow them into a construction zone—while the entire western half of Johnson County is a construction zone—and a dozen more signs telling me to yield, merge, shift lanes, reduce speed and prepare for the Second Coming and then you go and move the bloody exits! You’re messing with my mind and it’s enough of a mess already. I don’t handle change well. I’m Lutheran. We had the Reformation in 1517. That was enough.


And stop capitalizing Summer, damn it. That’s inappropriate.


The degree of consternation this has caused local drivers is surpassed only by folks who are passing through our fair state and are totally unprepared for the havoc being wrought. Not to worry, Iowa drivers keep an eye on those out-of-state license plates

and since we’re “Iowa nice,” we’ll let ya’ll folks from California and Maine and Florida cut right in because honestly, we just got our cars back from the body shop after a run-in with Bambi and we don’t want to do it all over again.


Only three more years until it’s finished.


Until then, punch it, Chewie.