School’s in session

School’s in session

Steve and I took Dionne to her first puppy class last night. Attending class every two weeks or so is something you’re supposed to do throughout your time with a CCI pup, and we go to the ones held in central San Diego in a facility that the SD Police Department makes available for community meetings. Our instructor, Bob, is a SDPD canine cop, as was his predecessor Mike. The two have had different styles, but we’ve liked them both — both know a lot about dogs.

It’s kind of a hassle to get to class, particularly the first level (known as Puppy Kingergarten, or KPT), held as it is at 5:30 p.m. Mondays. That means we have to fight the traffic  at a time when we’re getting hungry. But last night I was reminded of its value. Even though we’re now on our fifth pup, we forget a lot from one to another — or never learned various skills well enough in the first place. Last night Bob reminded us of subtleties in the best way to lead a young puppy into a “down” command and other fine points. Other experienced puppy raisers in each group jump in to make suggestions about one thing or another. When the little one last night next to us started barking aggressively at one point, one of those veterans commented, “Time to get a squirt bottle” (a useful tool for squelching bad behavior.)

As for Dionne, she was enthralled for most of the evening. When we entered the room, she almost exploded with ecstatic excitement: there were other DOGS in the room! Small dogs like her! They smelled so fascinating!!! If we would just let her go, she could go up and play with them!!!!

Obtusely, we continued to hold her. She quivered, squeaked, moaned. From time to time, she lunged for one attraction or another.

But she also walked fairly nicely on the leash, when it was our turn to perform. She has already learned to sit, and she demonstrated that nicely.  She practiced going Down.

As hard as it is to imagine, she’ll be a largish dog waiting at doors, doing Down-Stays, and performing other tasks in just a few months.  Puppy class is the path to that.

Dispatches from the front

Dispatches from the front

— Dionne got through all of yesterday without pooping or peeing anywhere in the house.
— This morning, virtually the first thing she did after eating her breakfast was to run into the front room and start to poop.  (But I yelled at her, interrupting the action, which she completed outdoors to my enthusiastic applause.) She’s had no in-house accidents since.
— We took her on our regular hour-long Sunday morning walk this morning and let her accompany us on the ground, on her leash, for at least half of it.
— She was so sleepy for much of the rest of the day that I worried about her.  Briefly.
 — In answer to my question the other day, she is capable of eating the linoleum that we bought to put under her x-pen.

— For the record, here’s what she looks like at 10 weeks, compared to what Tucker looked like back in early 2005: 

Fast walker, slow eater

Fast walker, slow eater

I walked around the block with Dionne for the first time yesterday and was impressed by how well she did. She trotted right with me, more or less in the proper position. She didn’t stop to sniff things or veer off on her own. Today when we went out, I ran for part of the way, and she particularly seemed to enjoy that.

Steve and I haven’t begun making her wear her Gentle Leader (halter) for these little outings, and though I’m dreading it, it’s probably time to start. I haven’t yet met a puppy who doesn’t dislike them and try to rub them off. It takes a lot of training, but they all eventually learn to tolerate them.

We’ve at least started the process by putting Dionne’s Gentle Leader on her for most of her meals. The idea is to create a positive association between something wonderful (eating!) and wearing the halter.

The only thing: Dionne so far seems the most blasé, leisurely eater we’ve ever had. Steve swears she picks up and chews each piece of kibble individually. Contemplatively.
She couldn’t be more different from Obrien, the pup we recently hosted for 8 days. He was so voracious we were instructed to put his food under an actual large ROCK in his bowl, in a (largely vain) attempt to slow him down.

Often at lunchtime, Dionne will eat about 3/4 of her cup and then turn away  to try and scrape the halter off, against the sides of the kennel.  We exhort her to finish, but often we have to take uneaten food away.

She’s none the worse for that; still one hefty girl. But we hope her attitude changes. It’s easier to train a dog who worships food. 

Dionne descending

My back is killing me. My shoulder is killing me. I had to teach Dionne how to go downstairs. Carrying her was/is too hard.

She learned fast. A little peanut butter, a lot of encouragement. Here she was, going down one of the biggest sets in the house this morning:

She’s still a tad hesitant at times.  But that won’t last for long.

Puppy containment — Part 2

Puppy containment — Part 2

Back when we had our second CCI puppy, I remember desperately asking a highly experienced puppy raiser what she did to survive the trying early months.  As I recall, she replied that she couldn’t live without an “x-pen.” I ran out and bought one. 

“X” stands for “exercise.” Ours has 8 folding panels, each two and a half feet tall and made of metal wire. We can clip the ends together to form an octagonal pen or arrange them to form other shapes (a 2×6-foot pen, a 4×4-foot square, etc.) 

Over the years, we’ve set our x-pen up on the patio and put various pups in it, mostly on sunny days, mostly for just a short time (until the puppy gets bored and cries to escape.) But with Dionne’s arrival, I had a new idea. From the garage, I got a piece of heavy-duty plastic tarp.  I lay that on the carpet in my office, set the x-pen on top of it, and added a couple of toys. 
The first attempt


After just a few days of puppy attacks.

It seemed a brilliant solution. Dionne could occupy a big space right next to me, where she could snooze or play with her toys. She could see I was at her side, but she couldn’t just roam around, to randomly pee on the carpet or chew my electric wires or rip up my artificial ficus or discover one of the many other possibilities for getting into trouble. 

What I didn’t envision was that she would eat the plastic tarp. By yesterday she had chewed some great gaping holes in it, as well as making many small punctures. When she peed in the x-pan, the urine leaked through the punctures — onto my rug.

So now Steve has had another idea that we hope will actually work. This afternoon, he went to Home Depot and bought two remaindered pieces of vinyl flooring.  They’re pretty ugly. But we don’t care.  We’ve set one up on the carpet next to the kitchen. The other is in my office, under the x-pan. 

Will Dionne be able to chew up linoleum?

Stay tuned.

Will this work?

Third time’s the charm

Third time’s the charm

In my last post, I mentioned that Steve and I only relax when Dionne has pooped within the last 5 minutes. This morning, I learned that’s a mistake.

She has continued to be angelic about sleeping through the night, but this morning she began to moan and yip a little before 6, so Steve took her outside. Upon his return he reported that she had pooped with great urgency, spending no time at all stalling and sniffing. “She appears to have heard that there are poop-production quotas,” he said. “And she’s behind.”  He put her in the kennel in his office and returned to bed. Around 6:30, I got up to feed both dogs their breakfasts.  Dionne acted ecstatic as I filled the bowls, and she dove into hers when I set it down in the kennel. But less than a minute later, with the puppy chow only half consumed, she was whining and barking. Puzzled, but thinking of the lessons of just yesterday, I took her to the lower yard where she immediately deposited a second large pile.

With that prelude, I felt cheerful as I set off on what I thought would be an hour-long walk up Mt. Soledad and over to my neighborhood coffee shop. With Tucker on his leash and Dionne in her stroller, we started down the block. I felt a little disappointed to see Dionne once again standing up and looking over the front of the stroller, looking for all the world as if she were thinking of jumping out. As we started up the hill, her agitation increased, and she began yowling like she did the first time I took her out in the stroller last week. I told her to be quiet and calm down. But I didn’t understand what she was signaling until she backed up against the side of the carriage (as if trying lift her little rear end up high enough so that she could keep the stroller interior clean) and pooped for a third time. Those of us who become caught up in the bizarre subculture of obsessive puppy-defecation monitoring develop keen eyes for assessing the firmness of the production, and I can assure the world: this was NOT diarrhea.

What followed put me in a foul mood.  She’d gotten it on the sides and fleece of the carriage, and I got it on my bare hand. I returned home; abandoned my workout.

“Now,” Steve noted, “she probably won’t poop again for another day.” Yeah. Right. 

The picture of relaxation (after all the excitement of the morning.)


Puppy containment

Puppy containment

The CCI manual makes it sound so easy. It offers this sample schedule for a 2-4-month old puppy: 

6:30 a.m. — Toilet pup, feed and offer a drink, play with pup, and toilet before returning to crate. 

Midmorning — Toilet puppy, keep pup out of crate for play and/or training, toilet puppy before crating. 
Noon — Feed puppy second meal and offer water, toilet puppy, play time, toilet before crating. 
Mid-afternoon— Offer pup water, toilet them, quick walk or play time, return them to crate. 
5:00 p.m. — Feed puppy third meal and offer water, toilet puppy, allow puppy to play in kitchen while preparing dinner, toilet puppy before crating. 
7:00 p.m.— Toilet pup, play/training time, practice cradling while watching tv, return to crate. Cut off water access at this time. 
Bedtime — Toilet pup, play time before bed, pup sleeps in crate for the night. 

Why can’t we do that? 

We have various puppy-containment structures: three dog crates and an exercise pen. Dionne spends part of the day in one or more of them, sleeping or playing. Often contented. 



But unless one of us has just witnessed her peeing and pooping — and I mean like within the last 5 minutes — we react with alarm to any whining or barking or crying within a confinement vessel because it may mean that she needs to go out to poop or pee, distress that we ignore at our peril.  So we scoop her up and carry her back to the farthest area of the yard and and watch her like a hawk until she poops and pees.  Or we get tired of watching her screw around and give up. 

I’ve had a fair amount of time during the last week to reflect on the difference in appearance of a puppy who needs to poop or pee from a puppy who’s just screwing around. Puppy fun often consists of sniffing the ground intensely, moving from one spot after another, sometimes at rocket speed, but often stopping to rip up clumps of grass, chew on randomly encountered stones or pieces of bark, gnaw on plants, dig, squeeze under or behind the creepiest, most spider-infested objects in the yard, plow through piles of leaves, flop down on the ground. But puppies who need to poop do almost exactly the same things! The only way you can tell the difference is if they actually poop. 


During the course of writing these last few paragraphs, I had Dionne in the exercise pen in my office. Twice, after she whined, I put down my iPad, took her down the stairs and all the way out back. Each time she peed. But then she only screwed around. I returned her to the pen, started writing again, and she barked at me and whined loudly. Then she began to race around in circles within the pen.  I knew what was happening. I jumped up and grabbed her as she squeezed out two little balls of poop, but I terrified her by snatching her up, running down the stairs, depositing her on the patio, and yelling, “HURRY!”  

She deposited the rest of the very substantial load and is now sleeping like a little angel.

Because Steve and I have raised four previous CCI puppies, I know — intellectually — that in just two months, she’ll be so well adjusted to our routines that I will once again begin to forget what these earliest days are like.  That’s why I’m recording it. 


Excellent progress!

Excellent progress!
This is one lovable puppy. We went to bed around 10 last night, Dionne didn’t make a sound until 6:15 this morning. I scooped her up and hurried downstairs, thinking she must be ready to burst. But she was so overjoyed to be alive and outdoors and within sight of Tucker, that she raced around, attacking him for several minutes, before she could turn her attention to the mundane business of elimination. 
All this while she’s still so small she easily fits under the couch (a trick we’ve never seen before.) That won’t be possible for long. 

Rock Starlet

Rock Starlet

There may be exceptions, but most people who raise puppies for CCI find the first two months to be tough. Beyond the normal challenges (housebreaking, stopping the pup from chewing, digging, garbage-eating, etc.), it takes a while for puppies to learn to walk well enough on a leash to go for serious outings. Furthermore, CCI tells puppy-raisers not to overstimulate their charges or expose them to potential disease. (Full immunity from their vaccinations doesn’t come until they’re 4-5 months old.)

It’s confining. But with Darby (Dionne’s predecessor), I discovered a lifesaver. Another puppy-raiser (Pattie Urie) loaned us her puppy stroller.  Using it meant that I could keep up my normal exercise walks. It even enabled Darby and me to participate in a puppy drill-team event in Balboa Park. When Darby got old enough, we returned the stroller to Pattie but I started looking for a second-hand one on Craig’s list. We got lucky, and now with Dionne, we’re breaking it in.

I zipped her into it for an hour-long walk on Friday and she howled, barked, and moaned almost the whole time. But on a shorter outing yesterday, she was calmer. This morning, Steve and Tucker came along, and we didn’t even close up the front. It had occurred to me that any puppy who was afraid to walk down a few stairs wasn’t likely to leap out of her stroller. Wrong! She did leap out — probably because she didn’t know what would happen.  She wasn’t hurt, but she didn’t try it again. Our hope is that she’ll very quickly get used to riding in plein-air. That’s more fun for her — and for us.

Exposing her to the world, like this…

… gets you a lot of attention.  People literally stop you in the street. Everyone smiles, and many coo and ask to hold her or pet her. I’ve had at least two grown men pull out their phones to photograph her. Neighbors have stopped their cars in the street to exclaim over her cuteness. This morning, one woman told us we were saints for raising service dogs.

That’s just silly. We truly want Dionne to graduate and change someone’s life for the better. We’ll do our best to try to achieve that goal. But the truth is that we’re also in it for the fun. Steve and I don’t normally crave attention when we’re out in public. But it’s fun to feel, however briefly, like you’re in the  entourage of a rock star.

A Temporary Respite

A Temporary Respite

Miss Dionne will bound up most of the stairs in our house, but at least for the moment, she still finds it too scary to go down them.  This is wonderfully helpful for us, when we’re working in the kitchen, for example, and want to make sure she doesn’t wander very far (which involves going down stairs in most directions.)  It is deeply comforting to Tucker, who can escape her by going down some stairs.

Here’s a glimpse into why he’d want to escape her: