Dionne meets Darby!

Dionne meets Darby!

Dionne had a thrilling day. She got to meet and play with Aunt Darby.

I didn’t get to witness this momentous event, but Steve did. Steve’s a good friend and professional associate of Joe Dunne, who along with his wife Kerri, adopted our last CCI puppy, Darby, when CCI decided she wasn’t cut out for a life in the service. So when Steve had to go to Joe’s today to discuss a business matter, he naturally took Dionne with him.

“They got along famously,” he reported when they returned, hours later. “Dionne finally met someone who thinks like her. The minute we arrived, Dionne went for Darby — jumped up and put her paws on Darby’s neck and head. The Puppy Attack. Darby wagged her tail and was totally down with that.”

Joe and Kerri have a fence around their lap pool, creating a space that’s perfect for two mischievous dogs. Safely confined within it, they wrestled. They ran each other around. At one point, Dionne started barking insistently, but Steve found it was only a challenge to play more. He heard no screams or snarls.

Darby, a passionate swimmer, took a water break from time to time, but Dionne
 apparently wasn’t tempted to follow suit. 

He says when they finally left, after several hours, he secured Dionne in the kennel in the back of the van, and as they pulled away from the Dunnes’ house, she cried.

A good class

A good class

If it sounds like I’m always complaining about Dionne’s misbehavior, that’s not my intention. It’s simply easy to write about the more challenging experiences; they stand out. It’s less interesting to record the countless times that petting this puppy makes my oxytocin levels sore, or she blows us away with her cuteness.

But last night she actually had me dreaming about her graduation (a year and a half down the road, if she makes it.) Her behavior in puppy class made me think: “This dog IS going to make it.”

To our surprise, we found only one other puppy when we arrived. No others showed up. The other classmate was almost exactly Dionne’s age and also female — only she was the first CCI pup being raised by her caretaker, whereas Dionne is our fifth.

Most of the time, Steve and I are pretty focused on our myriad mistakes. But last night was one of those rare times when I was aware of how much we’ve learned about dog-handling over the past 8 years. The  contrast between Dionne and the other pup was stark. Walking around the room on leash, Dionne’s eyes were glued on me. She sat crisply. She surprised me by going into a Down position without being lured. She Stayed for much longer than I thought she would.

When I mentioned to our teacher, Bob Smith, that we could use some review in how to teach the Wait command (which we had not introduced to Dionne), he took her leash and demonstrated it. When you tell the dog to Wait just before reaching a doorway, it’s supposed to stop and let you to go through first, waiting until it gets permission to proceed. After just a few passes with Bob’s instruction, Dionne clearly got it.

“She’s really doing well,” he commented, more than once. “You guys have a great relationship with her. You’re handling her very well.”

He even exclaimed over her beauty. (“She could be in a dog show, she’s so pretty!”) The other pup was having a bad night. Her puppy-raiser had forgotten to bring her halter, so that was making it hard to control her. The puppy veered off and straggled around her handler’s legs. She lunged at Dionne and barked at her. She peed in the middle of the classroom.

It reminded me of a time, almost lost in the mists of memory, when Steve and I were that inexperienced. We’re still far, far from great. We still screw up a lot. But an experience like last night makes me feel there’s hope for both Dionne and for us.

Crystal clear

Crystal clear

It was 2:45 a.m. when Dionne woke us up this morning, yipping urgently. Steve has been princely at such times, and once again he hauled himself out of bed, leashed her, hustled her out into the cold and watched her pee. We both felt appalled.  She usually sleeps from around 10 to 5 or 6 a.m. This aberration made me worry that I probably should do what Dr. Shatila told me to do last week — namely bring her back for a follow-up urinalysis. Maybe there really was something wrong with her, I fretted as I tossed and turned, trying to get back to sleep. Maybe the high acidity and struvite crystals that he saw in her urine last week were irritating her so much it awakened her. So first thing this morning, I made an appointment to bring her back for the recheck.

Forty-four dollars poorer, I can report that Dionne’s pee was clearer than springwater. No microscopic crystals of any sort. A pH level of 6.5 — which the vet says is exactly what it should be.

This still leaves the question of why she chose to wake us up in the middle of the night. Our explanation du jour: she’s still a baby, and they’re not perfectly consistent.

Big dogs and little dogs

Big dogs and little dogs
Here Dionne is acting like a big old dog.
Hanging out and chilling with Tucker.
(But she’s faking it.  She’s still very much a puppy.)

I’ve been giving some thought to the difference between puppies and big dogs. I think it’s more profound than the latter having learned specific things that the former don’t yet know — e.g. not to urinate or defecate in the house, not to chew on things etc. It seems to me that the two behave in fundamentally different ways. All the big dogs that I know spend most of their time either sleeping or hanging out. Sure, they’re happy to get up and do stuff with you when you invite them —  to go for a walk, say, or play ball. Sometimes they actively solicit affection or ball-playing. But they’ve somehow internalized the knowledge that their main role in life is to… chill. It makes them easy to live with.

Puppies are different. (And it’s possible that what I’m going to say might not apply to other breeds of puppies. What I know are the labradors and goldens and mixes of the two.) They spend part of their days sleeping. But when they’re not asleep, they display a relentless, questing curiosity — moving from one thing to another and usually acting inappropriately as they go along.

Because it’s Sunday, I thought I would give myself the assignment of following Dionne around for a while, trying to document how inventive she can be about spending her time. I let her out on the patio, where she helped herself to a drink of water, then she wandered down to the three giant flowerpots next to the pool. Yesterday’s rain had caused the saucers that they sit in to fill with water, and this fascinated her. She circled and circled each pot, smelling the rainwater and every now and then trying to drink some of it.

She moved away. Picked up a leaf and chewed it. Moved into an adjoining flowerbed and chewed for a minute on one of the plants. She spotted a root and dug it up, then rocketed with it in her mouth down to the lower yard. Still holding it, she peed, then dropped it to snorfle around in the pile of leaves under the avocado tree.

I called her into the house, where her investigations continued. She chewed on the metal door of the small kennel that we just moved into the living room. She jumped up on the fireplace hearth and stuck her nose in the sand around the grate.

It goes on like this, sometimes with her picking up and playing with her dedicated toys, but more often not. Frankly, there’s a part of me that finds it hugely charming — all that spunky curiosity on display. I feel bad constraining it; but it’s also a big pain to try to monitor it. Soon enough, we confine her in her kennel or the exercise pen.

Spending time in the kennel also is part of the CCI pup’s training. It gives them less opportunity to be rewarded for doing things that aren’t acceptable. I guess it probably helps them on their transition to being a big old chiller dog. Simultaneously, I find a caged puppy to be both a sad thing — and a great relief.

Menagerie a trois

Menagerie a trois

Steve returned from his business trip Thursday night, and it’s a huge relief to no longer be a single parent to Dionne. But while he was gone, necessity led me to a Eureka moment.

Although Steve and I sometimes walk the dogs together, I also for years have enjoyed walking alone with them to my favorite coffeehouse for my morning caffeine fix. It’s about 10 minutes from our house, and I’ve taken both dogs because I simply haven’t been able to bear to leave Tucker behind. It would break his heart. But I’ve done it knowing it was not optimal, from a puppy-training perspective. Walking side by Tucker’s side, the puppies often harass him or bite his leash, and when they surge ahead, it’s harder to correct them than it is when I’m walking the pup alone.

This time, however, because of Becca’s recent reminder that the CCI pups must be accustomed to walk on either the right or the left side, it dawned on me that I could have Dionne on my right and Tucker on my left (something that never seemed possible before because I always walked both dogs on the left.)  To my astonishment, Dionne complied with this arrangement, never even attempting to circle around and molest him.

I’m thrilled by this turn of events. I feel like the three of us can go to coffee without breaking any training rules.

For all her occasional wildness and puppy mischief, Dionne continues to be the best walker we’ve EVER had.

In the doghouse

In the doghouse

Not a great day.  Dionne attacked the plant outside Steve’s office, ripped out the irrigation hose and the clip for it, and tried to eat that.  Before dinner she peed on the steps in Steve’s office. Worst of all was what happened when I inadvertently left a bowl of rice (intended for our dinner) on top of her kennel for a few minutes.

She leapt up to snatch the bowl, knocked it off, shattering it and scattering the contents.

Her reward: immediate imprisonment (as shown here.)

We all need to do better tomorrow.