Scary stuff

Scary stuff

When Dionne was tiny (6 weeks ago), she went through that brief (less than 2-week-long) phase when she thought the stairs in our house were too scary to descend. Now she rockets up and down them all at a speed that’s almost scary to watch. But stairs with open treads — that’s another story.

She freezes in her tracks, as seen here, and mulishly refuses to budge. Clearly she can see the drop-off, and the legacy of her  retriever ancestors who were afraid of heights — and lived to pass on their genes — are screaming at her: “Stop! Stop! This is dangerous!!!”

We’ve seen this reaction before in other CCI puppies, and like them, Dionne will almost certainly get over it. We’re confident.

At the moment, the only place we commonly encounter stairs with open treads is in our friend Alberto’s building, where we usually gather with friends on Friday nights for a potluck meal and a movie. Albie kindly welcomes Dionne and her little kennel.

She’s happy to take the elevator to and from his condo on the third floor, thank you very much.


Steve was distraught.  Here’s what he said happened.  “She snatched one of my garden clogs and ran out the door with it!” It took him a minute to run out after Dionne, at which point he found her clogless. I looked everywhere for it,” he insisted. “It’s GONE!!!”                        Clearly he had visions of her burying it or it disappearing into a black hole, though maybe that black hole comment was a reference to Dionne; he was muttering, darkly. Things have vanished on occasion in the garden over the years, and Steve can’t imagine living without his garden clogs. But the light was fading, and one thing I knew to a certainty was that the clog was out there somewhere. 
Where I found it
Indeed in this morning’s light, I located it, upside down, under our little patch of citrus trees.  Steve was relieved, but we both know it’s not the last item that will be kidnapped. Not when somebody in the household thinks keep-away is one of the funnest games a puppy can play. 

The wages of garbagenarianism

The wages of garbagenarianism

We knew it had to happen sooner or later.  We’ve never had a puppy that didn’t barf up garbage. Yesterday Dionne joined the club.

This occurred in Steve’s office around mid-afternoon. As he described it to me, Dionne was out of her kennel, sitting on the concrete stairs leading down from the landing and looking “rather green,” in Steve’s words. That’s an odd way to put it; Dionne can no more look green than I can look lavendar; she’s coal black. But what he meant was that something about her posture suggested queasiness. Indeed a moment later, she trotted over to Mr. Tucker’s bed and vomited up this ripe deposit.

Tucker looked appalled. Steve and I were disgusted, though once again it’s as much our fault as hers.  Or maybe mostly Steve’s fault this time. Earlier in the day, he’d been down in the lower yard, repairing the back fence. Dionne was with him, off leash, and he wasn’t paying the closest attention to her. At a certain point, he noticed she was chewing on an avocado seed. It must have come from our avocado tree; who got the seed out of the avocado isn’t clear (but probably one of the possums that regularly invade.) Where Steve blew it was in not springing up to extract the avocado seed remnants from Dionne’s maw. He says he figured the seed was “organic.”

Experience with puppies put some starch in our response. To allow her irritated gut to recovery, we fed her no dinner and prepared plain rice for her breakfast. (We have bad memories of being awakened at 1 in the morning by a retching pup.) In what I think was rather overkill, Steve also hectored her for the rest of the evening, as she looked at us from her kennel, wondering why she was confined with no dinner. “Barfers don’t get to be free,” Steve told her, contemptuously. “A barfer‘s life is not a happy one.”

This morning’s breakfast.  

Note the telltale rice grain.

Lest anyone worry, she’s fine now. Wolfed down her puppy chow at lunchtime and dinner today, and hasn’t so much as burped. But there’s so much to learn. (“I must not eat dirt. Must not eat poop.  Must not eat avocado seeds.  Must not eat palm tree seeds. Etc. Etc. Etc.”)

Strolling toward ambidextrousness

Strolling toward ambidextrousness

Long ago, all but lost in the mists of memory, Steve and I took our first dog, Astra, to our first obedience classes. There it was seared into our minds that the proper position for a dog to walk was on the left side, with the leash end held in the handler’s right hand. We always walked Astra in that position, as we walked Tess, and Tootsie, and Pearl. When we got our first CCI pup (Tucker, in early 2005) and started to train him in walking, the command was different: “Let’s go!” instead of “Heel.” But neither Steve nor I remember being instructed that the dog should walk anywhere other than on the left. 

A pup or two later, I recall another puppy raiser remarking one day in class that CCI wanted us to train the dogs to assume both positions. But I didn’t take her seriously, and we don’t remember our teacher, Mike Fowler, ever hammering on this point. Since then, however, it’s finally begun to sink in: they’re serious about this. Old dogs that we are, we have to learn this new trick.
Becca Gordon, the local puppy program coordinator, expounded on why in a recent post in the CCI blog:

Many of our graduates have one side that’s better able to handle a dog than the other, or are using one hand to drive a power chair so require the dog to be on the other side,” she wrote.  “Because we never know which side a graduate will be more comfortable having a dog on, in Professional Training we work every single command, every single day, on both the left and the right.  So, as a trainer, if you get a “one-sided dog”, you then have to spend a large amount of your training time just trying to get them comfortable on their “weak” side.

She described how frustrating this could be to the professional trainers:

You start out with the puppy in a nice Let’s Go position on your right, and they immediately begin trying to duck behind you to get back to the left. You encourage them back to the right, and half a second later they’re ducking behind you again. And again. And again.

Chastened, Steve and I resolved that we would somehow make Dionne be as comfortable on our right as on our left. So as we’ve begun walking her, we’ve made an effort not to correct her if she switched between them, as she seemed to enjoy doing. But then a doubt began to niggle: should she be making that choice? That didn’t seem right. 
I brought up the question last night in our puppy class, and Bob’s reaction was unequivocal: it was BAD to let the puppy direct its own positioning. We had to be the bosses. If we started on one side and she began to cross to the other, behind us, a swift pop on her leash would be appropriate. 
I took her out for a test spin this afternoon, and it proved surprisingly easy to implement this philosophy. I don’t know if that was a fluke, or whether it’s simply not that hard to do.  

GOOD Let’s go! 

GOOD Let’s go! 

First night of kindergarten

First night of kindergarten
Although Steve and I took Dionne to a class in December, that was the last session of a Kinderpup course that had been meeting for 3-4 months. Tonight was the first class of the new session, which we’ll be in till mid-April. Now it feels like school’s really begun. 
Four other dogs were in tonight’s group. Two little ones like Dionne were in the care of first-time puppy raisers. Then there were two older females who looked like they might be close to 6 months old. They must have joined the last group when it was well underway; their puppy raisers must feel like it’s worth attending the baby class for a while longer. Other little ones are likely to join in along the way. What’s amazing about the Kinderpup classes is how dramatically the dogs change in the course of it — from crazily distracted babies who know nothing to dignified animals who look a lot like civilized full-grown dogs.
Tonight we worked on the most basic of the basics.  Bob had us start by sitting on the floor and cradling our charges. In this position, the pups are on their backs, restrained from wriggling away. It’s about the most submissive posture imaginable, and it tends to have a calming effect. Dionne’s heart was pounding and her tail, though pinned beneath her, was quivering with excitement. She squeaked and moaned for a long time, but her wild initial reaction to being in the group gradually subsided. 
The format is to go around the circle, with each puppy and handler demonstrating whatever Bob wants to work on. Invariably, we start with “Let’s go” (the CCI equivalent of “heel.”) Dionne’s and my form in this picture is terrible; the leash is taut, which is what we’re supposed to be avoiding above all. But it was a momentary lapse. For her age, Dionne walks on the leash better than any puppy we’ve ever had, and Bob looked impressed (at least until she started chewing on her leash and barking at me.) 
We also practiced “Down”s. Steve and I aren’t sure that she truly understands the word, but when we use a beef-jerky tidbit to lure her into position, she responds beautifully and stays down for a while. 

People seize the opportunity to ask questions about issues that are troubling them.  I did that tonight.  Tomorrow I’ll report what I asked about and how Bob responded.

Steve’s perspective

Steve’s perspective

I’ve met single people who raise CCI puppies, and I hold them in awe. Like being a parent to a human child, raising a puppy is vastly easier if you have a partner with whom to share all the work. I can’t express how grateful I feel when, more often than not, Steve is the one who gets out of bed when (as still happens more often than not) Dionne wakes us shortly before dawn because she’s about to burst. These January mornings feel frosty, and I suffer from that much cold. During the day, we try to trade off on who has direct responsibility for her. It can get tedious.

Although I’ve been writing these blog posts, Steve and I talk about the process of puppy-raising constantly, and this morning he offered to put down some of his recent reflections. Here they are: 

We know little about the process of civilizing children, but we can speak to them in our language by the time they’re one or so. We know even less about civilizing puppies.

Tucker is by any measure a civilized dog.  During dinner, he sits or lies at our feet. He rarely begs for food, doesn’t chew the legs of the dining room table or chairs, and doesn’t wander about the house looking for objects to tear apart with his teeth.

Where she has to spend her time during our dinners

Dionne does all these things.  We tried tethering her to my chair, but she chews the leash or puts her paws in my lap or yanks at the tablecloth. So our solution for now is a kennel.  We put it near the table facing us.  She complains at first, wanting to be out with Tucker.  But soon she quiets down, and often goes to sleep after five or ten minutes.

Some day she’ll be an angel most of the time. We have faith.
Expecting a puppy to infer that if she behaves badly she will have to stay in a kennel is a stretch. Eventually she will learn good manners and be allowed out with Tucker during our meals. But the process by which she learns such things is a mystery. 

From the trenches

From the trenches

 Yes, sad to say but we’re still battling the Elimination Wars.  Or maybe I say, the Pee Wars. During the past week, we had three days with not a single accident. But on four days, “toileting errors” were made (one per day).

I can say this with precision because I’ve created a log, which lives on the refrigerator. On it we’re recording both when the “errors” occur and what the circumstances were. The really depressing thing about it is how often, Steve or I are at fault — not taking Dionne out often enough. Several times, she was in her kennel and doubtless whining or barking. The problem is that she also does that sometimes when she just wants to get out. At those times, the proper response is to reprimand and ignore her. But the penalty for misjudging the situation is… another error.

I’ve decided to add the log to the end of this post. I don’t plan to write about this topic much more; I’ll just regularly update the error log here.  That way I’ll have an accurate record of when exactly she was housebroken without boring readers of this blog to death with canine urinary minutiae.

I risk another grim result — grossing you all out — by reporting the latest dispatch from the Eliminatory front. To our horror, we’ve found that Dionne has begun indulging in the same loathesome habit that her predecessor did. We’re redoubling our efforts to clean up any and all “temptations” asap, and to do it without Dionne seeing us (lest it give her the idea that if we also covet the morsels, they must be tasty. Gag.)

The Toileting Error log

For the moment, here’s the initial Unauthorized Peeing :

1/4/13: Peed in kennel — Didn’t take her out soon enough after eating.
1/5/13: No errors
1/6/13: Peed while we were watching DVD, by the door.  We weren’t paying enough attention.
1/7/13: Nothing
1/8/13: Nothing
1/9/13: Peed in J’s office, while crated. J ignored her barks.
1/10/13: Peed on living room rug, inexplicably.  Caught in act by Steve and taken outside, where she peed.
1/11/13: Peed in kennel after dinner.  Not let out soon enough.

Brando’s family

Our one puppy who has graduated was Brando (Darby’s predecessor.) In August of 2010, he was placed with Yuriy and Aimee Zmysly, who live in greater Chicago. Today, Aimee posted this video report on how far Yuriy has come. If this isn’t inspirational (and motivational), I don’t know what is.

Chow hound

Chow hound

Three and a half weeks ago, I was writing about how slowly and deliberately Dionne ate. Ha! Those days are a memory. Now she gobbles down the cup of dogfood that she gets morning, noon, and night. Her interest in food outside of her dog bowl also has grown avid. This afternoon we witnessed something almost scary. Dionne was in Steve’s office, with the door closed, when I came down from my office and went into the kitchen to start roasting the chicken for tonight’s dinner. I had scarcely cut open the plastic bag encasing the bird, when I heard whining from Steve’s office — through a wall, around the corner, and down some steps. It was Dionne, communicating her desire to get out of the office and into the kitchen. We think she must have somehow smelled the chicken and responded, wanting to hang around whenever food was being cooked, in the manner of dogs throughout the millennia

We never feed our dogs scraps from the dinner table, and we’re scrupulous about keeping them from the (seemingly growing) list of foods that could hurt them — chocolate, raisins, onions, grapes, sugarless gum,  etc. etc. But I’ll confess here that we’ve done something with all our puppies that probably isn’t strictly proper. We’ve always let our dogs lick dirty plates and bowls. (If this grosses you out, you might want to re-think your response, the next time you have an opportunity to dine with us.)

We don’t give them substantial amounts of leftovers because we don’t want them to get fat. We don’t worry about their germs making us sick, because after being licked, the bowls and plates go into the sink or dishwasher for vigorous scrubs with soap and very hot water. We do it for the obvious pleasure and entertainment it provides them. I think of it as a variation on the Kong (those CCI-approved dog toys that one fills with peanut butter or cream cheese or something similar.)

Dionne has taken to such activity with zeal. We have to hold her back so Tucker can get his licks in; otherwise, she bashes her way in and crowds him out (and he’s such a sweetie, he never growls or pushes back.) She may eventually rank with our best bowl-polishers ever. Here she is, working on the molecules of marshmallow left over from the making of some Christmas cookies:

Still, there are limits.

This is one (for us, obviously not for her!)