Halters are an essential element of any CCI puppy’s life — as well as that of the puppy raiser. I get asked more questions about the halter than anything else — by folks mistaking it for a muzzle, or just curious to know why the puppy has “that thing” around its face. Like many puppy raisers, I’ve developed a stock response. I explain that that thing is just like a halter on a horse — it makes it much easier to control and direct the puppy — who will soon turn into a 60-80-pound dog — than it would be by trying to pull it around by its neck. I explain that the dog can do anything in the halter (which are often referred to by the most common brand names: the Gentle Leader or the Halti) that it can do without it — eat, drink, lick, bark, etc.

Usually I don’t explain that most dogs hate the halters. If they’re not trained to wear them, they usually will try to rub them off (and as often as not, they succeed). Eight-year-old Tucker still tries to rub off his Halti when we get back from a walk.  When told to “Dress,” he stands patiently while the Halti is put on him, but he won’t turn his nose to accept it willingly, as some dogs do.

Several puppies ago, we learned that the best way to accustom the pups to the halters was to put the halter on at meal time — removing it as soon as the puppy is done eating. This way they associate the halter with something pleasant and wonderful — eating!  We’ve been putting the halter on Dionne, at least for lunch and dinner.  But we’d avoided using it on walks because of the staples in her lower eyelids.

They came out Thursday morning, but Dionne went to Susan and Frank’s for two days. They delivered her back to us last night, and this morning was a Sunday, when Steve and I normally begin the day with an hour-long walk. With a bit of trepidation, we put Dionne’s Gentle Leader on her and set off with Tucker (and the puppy stroller).

She typically takes a little while to settle into a walk. This morning was no different. She sat down and looked at us, unmoving.  We would coax her with treats, and she’d bound along for a few seconds, then sit down again. Or she attacked poor Mr. Tucker.  She particularly enjoys grabbing his Halti and trotting along with it in her little jaws (the Power.…) Several times she was being such a pain in the ass, we put her in the stroller, but there she squirmed and barked and tried to escape. What she did NOT do, however, was to try and rub her Gentle Leader off.

And after about 10 minutes, back on the ground, she settled down into lovely walking.  It wasn’t always in the perfect textbook position — right at our side, just slightly behind our knee. But she wasn’t pulling on the leash. She was paying attention to us. And she never once stopped to try and claw the halter off her muzzle.

Last night Susan and Frank said they loved her and would be happy to care for her on another occasion. They particularly complimented how well she walked on a leash. This is a good sign.
Here she is, walking so nicely this morning with Steve:

OMG! I forgot where I put the puppy!

OMG! I forgot where I put the puppy!

All day long, Steve and I have been doing mental
double takes, thinking: Where’s Dionne? Then we remember: she’s with Susan and Frank. They’re dog lovers whose situation isn’t conducive to raising a CCI puppy themselves. But they’re willing to puppy-sit, even during those dark days when a little one is most demanding.

We needed puppy care because my nephew, Lee DeWyze, who won the American Idol competition a couple of years ago, was performing at a music club in San Diego last night. We wanted to go to the concert, but Dionne is way too young to be taken into such a setting and too young to leave at home for 5-6 hours. But Susan and Frank volunteered to care for her from yesterday through Saturday evening, which will also enable us to go on a multi-hour beach walk with friends on Saturday night.  Not to mention giving us a break today.

It amazes me to see how quickly one adapts to the major change in lifestyle triggered by the arrival of a new puppy. You suddenly are on guard all the time — thinking about containment and elimination and destructive potential. Even when the puppy’s sleeping at my side, I feel like I’m racing against the clock to accomplish what I can until the puppy stirs and immediately needs to be taken out.

From experience, I know that over the next 8-10 weeks, this will gradually change. Bit by bit, Dionne will transform into an easier companion. Fractionally, our guard will slip.

But for now, we’re still on full alert mode.  And if disconcerting, a 50-hour reprieve feels great.

Frank and Susan — with a handful


Black (sheep) is beautiful

I really wanted a yellow puppy.  We’ve raised two yellow males (Tucker and Brando) and three black females (Pearl, Yuli, and Darby). The two most important dogs of my childhood (Dixie and Jemima) both were black labs. Still, for reasons that are probably completely irrational, I’m attracted to blondes.  As a child, Steve’s hair looked like spun silver. Not that I knew him them, but both our sons were pale yellow-blondes as toddlers. In the dog world, I think the yellow faces communicate more than the ebony ones. We joke that the black dogs can’t be photographed; they suck up the light like black holes. I love trying to read the expression on my dog’s face, and the black ones can be tough to read.

When we submitted our application to raise another CCI puppy, I specified that I wanted a yellow dog.  (Truth be told, I would have been happiest with a blonde male, but I agreed that a female would be okay too.) When Becca called to ask if we would be ready for a pup by December 5, I asked about the color, and Becca reconfirmed we’d be getting a yellow female. I e-mailed her a week before the pick-up date to reconfirm that — and again she said the puppy would be yellow. So my heart sank when I learned Dionne in fact was black.

I’ve since been told that the local office was informed that all 8 pups in Dionne’s litter were yellow. But in fact, Dionne, the 6th of the 8, was a black sheep.

In the three weeks since then, I’ve been surprised by how often I exclaim over how cute she is. My reaction still puzzles me. Although our Puppy Mentor LeAnn had said she thinks Dionne is one of the prettiest CCI puppies ever, I don’t think she’s as classically pretty as several of her predecessors.

Baby Yuli

Baby Darby

Baby Dionne

Steve and I have commented that Dionne has an old, old face — a face that looks as if it has borne heavy burdens and experienced woe. Adding to the picture have been those nasty eye staples. 

Today Steve took her back to the animal hospital, where Dr. Scoggin removed the staples. 

Note her new Christmas collar.
Staple free at last! And note also how much her muzzle has grown in just 3 weeks.

What impresses me most is that I’ve stopped noticing what color she is. Far more than her appearance, I’m responding to her personality. It is lovely. 

A bit more immune

A bit more immune

Steve took Dionne in for her second round of immunizations today (she had the first up in northern California.) Although the vet’s office was a madhouse, and she was wildly distracted by all the other dogs, she handled the injections without a whimper, according to Steve. She’ll have two more sets of immunizations after this.

More confusing was the adamant assertion by one of the vet techs that the staples keeping her lower eyelids from turning inward would NOT come out by themselves (as we were told by CCI) but would have to be removed, the sooner the better.  Later this afternoon, I finally got in touch with Stu Wahrenbrock, the puppy program manager, who reiterated that the staples normally do fall out. But he said we could have them removed if we preferred. Steve then called back to make an appointment to do that and was told by the person who answered the phone… that they normally fall out, and we could wait and see if that happened.

Both of us would prefer to see them come out, one way of the other, me because it will make Dionne more beautiful and Steve because he’s afraid of their getting infected.  But neither of us think it makes any difference to her.  She was much more interested in the new pack member we brought home with us last night — our older son, Michael, here in SD for a Christmas visit.

A puppy Christmas

A puppy Christmas

Steve and I no longer have children to wake us before dawn on Christmas, so Dionne stepped into the breach, barking commandingly to announce that she was ready for her morning journey to the far back yard. Drifting back to sleep almost always proves impossible after that, so Steve and I leashed up the dogs for an early morning Christmas morning constitutional.  (Note Steve’s festive socks.)

Our gift exchange (Steve, Elliot and me) began shortly after 9, and as usual Tucker was enthralled by the pig’s ear in his stocking. For the longest time, he merely stood by us, wagging his tail, the pig’s ear extending his mouth into something that looked a lot like a grin.  We all felt like he was somehow trying to let us know how happy he felt; how deeply he appreciates this annual bounty.

It’s a violation of the CCI rules for puppies to have rawhide bones, but we let Dionne chew on one of Tucker’s gifts for a while, supervising closely to make sure she didn’t swallow any parts of it.  She found the gnawing to be riveting.

In the past two weeks, she’s made an occasional lunge at the lowest lights on the tree, and she’s dislodged an ornament or two. But she’s never come close to making our darkest nightmare — knocking down the 10-foot-tall installation — a reality.

It’s lovely to think that we should also have her with us next year for Christmas. We might have to relax the rules even more, to give her at least a little time with a pig’s ear. 

Party animal

Party animal

Reasons to take your 11-week-old puppy to a party:
— What else can you do with him or her?
— When they make their appearance, your fellow guests will be dazzled by their furry cuteness.

The problem, as we were reminded last night, is that an 11-week-old dog also can be a royal pain. When we arrived at Larry and Virginia’s last night, Steve controlled Dionne on her leash for a while. Some folks oohed and aahed. When the resident shih tzus realized what had been brought into their domicile, they were enraged. They tried to attack Dionne, barking furiously. Steve was able to swoop her up and keep her away from him.

By 7:15, people were making their way to the buffet table, and we stashed Dionne in the kennel that we had brought with us. But instead of curling up and sleeping, as she surely would have done at home, she howled and whimpered and barked,, imperious. She tried to bite the kennel bars.  All this was very annoying, and in an effort to shut her up, I took my plate and sat on the floor in front of her.

After a while she seemed to settle down and I sneaked off to a more comfortable chair. But she soon began barking again. Steve pulled up a chair in front of her kennel, and stayed nearby as he consumed his dinner.

Eventually, he and she rejoined the main group, and she more or less settled down for the rest of the evening.  But I can tell you this: I’m not looking forward to New Year’s Eve (where we’ll repeat the challenge at the home of another set of friends.)

Memo to self: avoid getting future puppies right before the heavy holiday party season.



Several friends came over last night, and Dionne made us look like liars. We’ve been talking about how good she is, but when they walked in the door, she went bonkers, sinking her teeth into Donna’s sweater and scarf and tugging on them, grabbing at the hems of various pant legs. She napped for a while during dinner, but then we all moved downstairs to watch a movie.  I held Dionne in my lap, figuring she’d chew for a while on a toy that I held and then conk out, like the little angel that she is so often.

Instead, for 90 minutes, she kept up a steady chorus of moans, distressed panting, and squeaks. She kept trying to gnaw on my hands, and her squirming and noise-making were a distraction from the film.

Steve has a theory. Dionne and I were sitting right next to the couch, where Tucker had climbed up to snuggle next to Donna. (It’s the only piece of furniture he’s allowed on in the house.) Steve thinks the sight of Tucker, so near and cozy next to a new human, drove Dionne crazy with jealousy.

Did this sight push her over the edge?

Who knows what goes on in these animal minds? I don’t. We’re taking Dionne (and her kennel) to another gathering of friends tonight. I’m nervous.

Preventive measures

Preventive measures

I went to Petco today to buy presents for Tucker and Dionne. (I know that’s gross, what with world hunger and all. But we try to be restrained. No doggy jewelry, such as I saw in the store today. Just a few pig ears for Tucker to chew on and baby toys for D.)

While there, I called Steve to make sure he wanted me to buy more de-smellifying solution — the stuff you squirt on the rugs and floor to extinguish any trace of excretory smells that might inspire further transgression. We still have part of a quart bottle of the “Nature’s Miracle” we bought when we were training Darby. Dionne has been doing spectacularly. Yesterday Steve noticed her heading to his office from the kitchen, where we all were hanging out. She went to the door and he rushed to open it for her, then tailed her as she trotted briskly to the lower yard. She peed under the fig tree, then again under one of the pittosporums. Then she went to the pear tree and pooped.

Clearly, she knows what she’s supposed to do. I predict she won’t have many more accidents.

But Steve thinks it would anger the Housebreaking Gods, were we to assume our puppy was mostly trained after only 16 days. He’s not one to spend money frivolously, but he ordered me to buy a gallon (though he agreed that the Petco Stain and Odor Remover for $17 was probably close enough to the Nature’s Miracle ($28)).

I think all we need is for her kidneys to grow bigger so that she has a bit of reserve capacity.  But if I’m wrong, we’re all set.

The charm offensive

The charm offensive

Steve and I think Dionne is one of the more charming dogs we’ve raised. Tucker is learning that too.

He’s a tolerant and courteous fellow, but he’s learned over the years that these pipsqueaks (whom we, bafflingly, continue to import into the household) range from merely annoying (ambushing him; grabbing all the attention) to downright dangerous (sinking their needle teeth into various parts of his anatomy in their demented idea of “play”). He’s learned to issue warning growls, but he would never come close to hurting a puppy. Mostly, he just tries to stay out of their way.

Dionne seems to worship him, though, and she’s been making further inroads into his turf than most. I think it’s partly because she’s a bit more restrained than most. She’ll approach him gently at times (rather than tackling him any time he’s in range). She even manages to insinuate herself into his bed. As recorded here:

Oh, please, he thinks. 

Puppy heaven.  (Tucker Purgatory.) 

The two-week mark

The two-week mark
She still fits under the couch — but barely now. 

The staples that were put in to keep Dionne’s lower eyelids from curling in (and thus stop the lashes from irritating her) are still in place, although when we picked Dionne up from CCI two weeks ago, the puppy training coordinator told us they should fall out after about two weeks. But it feels like so many other things about her have changed.

Already she understands a lot about our daily rhythms. Almost always, she sleeps until 6 or so, and then she trots briskly back to the lower yard to pee and poop.  Often we see her escorting herself out to deposit a little pile far, far from the house.

Days ago the in-house accident counts dropped. Now it’s once a day that she screws up  — or not at all — or twice if we get very lazy and ignore the signs we’ve come to recognize. Soon we’ll be counting the days that have passed without any accidents.

Likewise, we’ve already begun to relax our guard at times — to allow her moments when she’s not in the kennel or the pen or on the leash or directly under our gaze. Tonight Steve and I were dipping the Swedish Heirloom cookie dough balls into colored sugars in preparation for baking, and Dionne was right underfoot. A heartbeat later, she had disappeared. I eventually located her out on the patio scampering around in the herb bed (she seems particularly fond of sorrel.) But now I can glimpse how those uncaged moments will stretch out… and suddenly, miraculously, she’ll be a full-fledged house dog, more content to hang out around us (in anticipation of dropped crumbs of dough… or anything else) than interested in striking out into the dark on her own.

Already, she’s taking much of the place for granted. She no longer hurls herself into the pile of dried leaves under the fig tree every single time she’s in that part of the yard.  Been there, done that. Yet she’s not exactly blasé. She’ll be laying down looking calm and angelic, just taking the world in. And then she’ll be up to snatch a shoe and gnaw on it. Or drag a doormat around. Or conk out in someone’s arms, emitting loud snores.