In Memory of Dulcie
It was a nice, crisp fall day in October of 1999, when I got out of my car to attend a meeting at the Bangor Humane Society. Immediately I noticed one of the staff walking a little black dog that appeared to be a Cairn Terrier. Since Paula and I had been discussing adding a female Cairn to the family, I had to ask about her. It turned out that the diminutive dog was in fact a female Cairn who had been brought in as a stray several days ago and she would be eligible for adoption the following day. The next day I took Paula and the dogs over to meet the little dog and the decision was made, she was joining our family. Shed, Gus, Tikken, Crystal and Tyler all had a new little sister.
It took us a few days to get to know this new arrival and hence we waited to name her until we got a better idea of her personality. We finally settled on Dulcie because she was so sweet. Dulcie was a very affectionate dog but in true terrier fashion, only on her terms. She loved attention, playing ball, and washing my head; however, she was typically not a lapdog and not one to snuggle for more than a few seconds, although she did occasionally settle in for a close-up with person, child, dog or cat.
We were aware that animal control had been trying to catch Dulcie for a few weeks, so it was no surprise when we soon discovered she had a urinary tract infection (there’s just something about us, Cairns, and UTI’s – remember Gus?) and was prone to house training accidents. Although we do not know with 100% certainty, I do believe that she was a pureblooded Cairn and I have always thought her UTI’s might be why she was apparently abandoned. Like Gus, she had her share of UTI’s but it was a small price to pay for what she gave us in return
I suspect that prior to joining our family that Dulcie had lived life as a single dog. Feeding time at the Hanson’s was quite a ritual with four always hungry dogs and a cat. Dulcie was originally quite finicky and would only pick at her food, but in a matter of days she was eating robustly like everyone else. Eventually she enjoyed a daily apple, just like Tikken, until she got older and then preferred baby carrots. In her later years Dulcie became extremely vocal at feeding time and her lack of excitement was an obvious indicator that she was not feeling well.
Dulcie clearly knew no cues and had no training. I immediately enrolled her in our next scheduled training class, planning on training her just like we teach our students to train their dogs. Even though I’m a professional trainer, having the regimentation of a class to attend helps make me do my homework.
Sit is one of the first behaviors we teach in class, starting with a food lure and quickly fading to a hand signal. Well there I was in the first class trying to lure Dulcie into a sit and anytime my hand got anywhere near her head, she would back away as quickly as possible – freeze dried liver or not. It was clear that she was hand shy and that I was going to need to take a different approach.
There are several ways of teaching a dog a behavior and if luring doesn’t work and it’s a normal behavior that the dog would do on their own, another common strategy is to wait for the behavior to occur and then click and reward, thus “capturing” the behavior and building up a reward history. Now, anyone that knows me knows that I have not been blessed with the virtue of patience, but I tried watching Dulcie extensively for several days and the little sweetheart never sat once while I was watching. Clearly another strategy was in order.
Having completed my first 5-day chicken camp with Marian and Bob Bailey the previous summer I decided to consider how they would address my training “project” with Dulcie. I knew that I could shape the behavior with successive approximations because I had shaped countless behaviors with other dogs, always by the seat of my pants. This time I decided to do it like the Bailey’s; with a training plan, collection of data, and adjustment of the plan based on the data.
My first discovery was that I couldn’t start by teaching sit. I ended up adjusting my plan and started by teaching Dulcie to touch the palm of my hand with her nose. I had a near perfect “touch” behavior, on a verbal cue, within 13 sessions. In a short time I also had her sitting on cue as well, and from that point on Dulcie was an avid and apt learner. I’m really grateful that teaching Dulcie to sit required that I take a data driven approach because it taught me the value in doing so. It also taught her that training is fun and further strengthened our then still developing bond.
I love teaching people how to train their dogs, but with my own dogs I can be rather lazy if a lack of training isn’t causing a problem. In that sense Dulcie was a dream dog in that she was causing no problems so most of our interactions with her were all about play. Her biggest role in the Green Acres’ training program was as a demo dog for me or some of our instructors in training.
While my original goal was to have Dulcie become a therapy dog like Tikken, as I got to know her better I changed my mind; it really did not seem to be a good fit for her. However Dulcie contributed to many other dogs becoming therapy dogs, either by being the “test” dog in classes or at an actual test.
As a Bangor Humane Society alumnus, Dulcie became our spokes-dog when Green Acres Kennel Shop would assemble a team to walk in the BHS Paws on Parade. More than one advertisement and t-shirt bore her image.
In 2001, Dulcie traveled to New Jersey and Intergroom with Paula and Shannan. Intergroom is a 3-day tradeshow, conference and competition where Dulcie made her debut as a model in a grooming competition. Shannan placed 3rd in the Rising Star Competition, Handstripping class, with Dulcie. Dulcie was less than thrilled with the crowds so we honored her request and allowed her to gracefully retire from being a super model.
Like Gus, Dulcie was a fiend for fetching tennis balls, but unlike him she would give it back. If you didn’t have time to play, she’d grab a ball, carry it up to the top of the stairs, toss it down the stairs, chase after it, grab it, run back up the stairs and repeat. She also became an expert at training our staff members walking through my office to stop and toss the ball for her every time they walked through. Eventually we decided the tennis ball had become an addiction – she was getting too demanding and too worked up – and had to stage an intervention. Dulcie readily learned that playing fetch occasionally was wonderful. I think it was more difficult to “untrain” the staff she had trained so well.
If you look closely at Dulcie’s face, you might think “Sea Otter,” at least Paula and I had that thought more than once. It was certainly reinforced by Dulcie’s habit of lying on her back with a ball in her paws.
Dulcie would occasionally attempt to play with Batman, our cat, but he would always respond with a “hiss” and sometimes a swat. Then there were the times that Batman would try to get Dulcie to play, or he’d try to clean her face like he does with Tikken, and she’d respond with a growl and bark. If the two of them had ever gotten on the same schedule they might have become great friends, but alas it was not to be; rather they contented themselves to simply coexist in the same household.
Due to her early housetraining issues with us, we started off with Dulcie sleeping in a crate at night, a place she was obviously very comfortable. Often in the mornings she would get to spend some time in bed with us as we were waking up. If I was still sleeping, one of the first things she would feel compelled to do was to lick my sleeping bald head. This became a regular ritual, and sometimes she’d climb on the back of the couch to do the same thing. In spite of her frequent over-exuberance, Dulcie also instinctively knew when to restrain herself. I often cite her behavior as an example of how well dogs can read us. There was a day when I had a crushing migraine, the type where any light or sound makes you flinch. I spent the day in bed and Dulcie was right there at my side, snuggling and not bouncing off my head. I guess she did know how to snuggle; she just had to choose the time.
Two of my favorite photos of Dulcie show her washing me head as I sit on the couch. I had one of them reproduced as a caricature by Jim George of “Draw the Dog.
In January of 2010, Dulcie was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease. This was a frightful prospect for me as my very first dog, Trivia, had developed Cushing’s disease when she was older and only lived a few weeks after the diagnosis. Thanks to the care and guidance of Dulcie’s veterinarian, Dr. Mark Hanks at Kindred Spirits in Orrington, we were able to enjoy Dulcie for another 20 months.
As time progressed, Dulcie developed some minor cognitive dysfunction (doggie dementia). This started occurring when I was traveling and Paula would put Dulcie in her crate at bedtime. Within 5 to 30 minutes, she would start barking anxiously. Paula would let her out of the crate, take her downstairs and let her out to go the bathroom and then take her back upstairs. Often she’d do the same thing again within a few minutes, eventually settling for the night. Since this wasn’t a regular event we didn’t worry about it excessively. Last December and January this barking behavior became much worse and we saw other signs of cognitive issues (general confusion, incontinence, etc). Fortunately Dulcie's homeopathic veterinarian, Dr. Judy Herman of the Animal Wellness Center, found a remedy that cured this behavior.
Last week Dulcie seemed more out of it than usual and only ate once over 3 days on the weekend. When we took her in to see Dr. Hanks this morning he found a mass encircling her intestine and we decided it was time to help her across the Rainbow Bridge.
Dulcie you came into our lives unplanned and endeared us in an instant. You made quick friends of our staff and all who visited our home. You entertained us with your antics and made us laugh, and even made me giggle when you regularly insisted on washing my head. You knew as much about creating a bond between human and animal than any person or animal I’ve ever met. You truly were a sweet treasure, you will be missed and I know that you are now happily romping at the Rainbow Bridge.
Don Hanson – August 29th, 2011