Highs and lows

Highs and lows

I thought I was going to have such a nice little post for today. At last night’s puppy class, Dionne behaved well, despite the presence of two new little fluff balls that she obviously longed to romp with. It’s hard to believe she looked like them just a few weeks ago. Now, halfway through puppy kindergarten, she’s learned so much.

From the class, we drove to the yacht club to grab a couple of burgers, and once again, Dionne’s behavior was exemplary, considering that it was her first time out to a restaurant, and that she’s still less than five months old.

But things went downhill fast around 3:30 a.m., when she loudly threw up in her kennel. (This is our fourth vomiting adventure in the past 6 weeks. But who’s counting?)

This morning, when I tried to use my newly developing diagnostic skills on the vomit, I found it looked like dogfood — except that it was congealed into an almost solid mass. Poking at it with the turkey needles revealed that it was filled with tough, stringy, and obviously indigestible fibers.

I recognized those fibers — the stuffing from the little dog bed she’s been chewing on since we first introduced her to it.

I can be soft-hearted, but I try not to be soft-headed for too long. The bed is now in the trash.

Here’s the bed, in the dumpster.

And Dionne seems as energetic as ever. We withheld breakfast, but fed her her normal lunch, which she wolfed down. She’s on VERY tight restrictions, however, as we had a load of mulch delivered Sunday. We can only imagine what it would do to her delicate tummy, were she to start snacking on it. We don’t intend to find out.

Stepping out

Stepping out

It was a busy weekend.  On Saturday, Dionne went to three grocery stores, Costco, a cookware store, and a nursery. Yesterday she attended an Oscar party. This morning she and Steve went on a foray to Fry’s.

So far, so good. I had one bad moment at Costco, when she seemed to be sniffing the floor with particular urgency. I had successfully directed her to pee in the parking lot, but I was afraid she might need to poop. But I finally decided the floor aromas simply were fascinating. (“The floor in Costco IS probably extraordinarily smelly,” Steve pointed out.)

He says she woofed, loudly, at the pleasant dog-loving Hmong man who was assisting him in Fry’s. And she tried to snatch a few things from the shelves there.

But mostly, she has stared at us (and our cache of treats) adoringly, sat when ordered to, and trotted along nicely beside the carts. Off to a good start.

Under the microscope

Under the microscope
Friday night one of our close friends made a comment that implied he thought Dionne was the most unruly, incorrigible puppy we’d ever had. “What in the world makes you think that?” Steve and I exclaimed. “I read your blog,” he replied. “I know about all these bad things she’s been doing.” 
We were flabbergasted. The truth is we both think Dionne may be doing better than any of our previous CCI pups. At only four and a half months, she’s already mastered 16 commands. She’s a joy to walk with, and she has a spirited, lovable disposition. 
“You only think that because I’m recording everything she does!” I told Howie. “I didn’t do that for our other puppies.” 
I’m doing it now because I thought it would be interesting to examine the puppy-raising experience — from pick-up to turn-in (to graduation? In our dreams!) under the microscope, trying to record it as fully as possible. Steve and I continue to find raising CCI pups to be a complex and interesting enterprise. I wanted to share it.
Not surprisingly, maintaining this blog is prompting me to be aware of and think about every aspect of raising Dionne, including all the negative ones, like yesterday, when she threw up her breakfast under our dining table. In the past, I probably would have made Steve clean it up, averting my eyes. Labrador and golden retriever puppies tend to eat all kinds of things they shouldn’t eat, and vomiting is a pretty common activity. If I weren’t blogging about Dionne, I would have assumed it was just another such episode.

Instead I shoveled the vomit yesterday onto a plate, got out a turkey pin, and poked around. The good news is that I found something — an inch-long caterpillar-ish creature (some kind of larva?)

It would certainly make me throw up, were I to eat one. But I have no idea is if this is what upset Dionne’s tummy. Steve thinks not. “Dogs eat bugs all the time,” he harrumphed. I, on the other hand, think the bug is the likely culprit. Moreover, I’m happy that we found nothing worse. We could have. (I think of the story I once heard about a CCI puppy who ate a pin cushion — full of pins. That had to be retrieved surgically.)

Being on short (post-vomiting) rations can make a girl feel sad.

Such drastic action seems unlikely in this case. We fed Dionne no lunch yesterday, and gave her rice and cottage cheese for dinner last night and breakfast today. An hour ago, she wolfed down her cup of puppy chow. She’s been racing around, wagging her tail, clearly NOT undisposed. She probably hasn’t learned her lesson yet — that eating gross things has gross consequences. Somehow along the line, dogs seem to get that, though again I haven’t a clue how it happens.


Dog names

Dog names

Does anyone else give their dogs (or their service-pups-in-training) funny alternative names? We don’t get to pick the names of our CCI pups; they come with their names as a package. But Steve and I somehow wind up bestowing bizarre nicknames on all of them (a continuation of our practice with the canine pets that we had before we started raising canine companions.) I should probably be ashamed to admit any of this (much less write about it). But somehow it feels to me like part of the Experience.

Tucker, for example, gets called not only the normal and respectable “Tuck,” but also Tuckerbell (which in turn is a contraction of Tuckleberry Hound Dog) and Tuckerman. Brando, our one success story, somehow became Brandonioni or Brandini when he resided here. We dubbed Darby “Darbinski” and “Darbinscus” and “Darberella.” How she did so is now lost in the mists of memory, but Yuli acquired the alias of “Snork.”

The strange thing is that we weren’t using the nicknames because we had any objection to the dogs’ real names. I’ve loved all our dogs’ names — until we got Dionne. Mostly I prefer not to give dogs names that normally belong to humans. Dionne arguably isn’t the most common human name on the planet; we often end up having to explain it to strangers (“like Dionne Warwick”). But it sounds first and foremost like a human name to me, so from the start, I was curious to see what it would morph into within our household.

We never consciously select the alter-names; they just sort of… emerge. When Dionne was in her most aggressively mouthy stage, I toyed with the idea of re-naming her Deinonychus (after that nasty little dinosaur who played a role in Jurassic Park). But that hasn’t stuck. Instead more often then not, I we call her “Dionnicus.” Once in a while, “Dionne-y” emerges from my mouth.

And when she’s being sweet, who can resist calling her Princess?

Cleared for take-off

Cleared for take-off

We’ve received our puppy raiser ID cards for Dionne from CCI. They’ve got no legal status. Unlike working assistance dogs, the trainees need not be allowed to enter public establishments. We’re supposed to use our “tact, education, and diplomacy” to gain access to such places. It’s all a matter of goodwill. Over the years, I think I’ve pulled out my ID card once or twice. Still the cards carry some symbolic value; I see them as the green light from CCI to take off into the wide world. One’s puppy is now fully immunized and hopefully civilized enough to avoid disgracing itself — or its caretakers — in public places.

So I’ll soon be reporting on how Dionne did on forays into our grocery stores, warehouse goods purveyors, libraries, movie theaters, and beyond. I have mixed feelings about the start of this new phase. When Steve and I first began raising service dogs, I couldn’t wait for it. I thought that taking my puppy on such adventures would be the coolest thing in the world.

What I’ve learned is that there are moments when it is. I’ll never forget the trip to Vegas on which Brando came along. In the casinos, heads turned, people everywhere exclaimed over him, charmed to see such a sweet young creature in such a jaded setting. Even in more mundane places, puppies draw attention. It’s very common to be stopped and asked about them and the program. I’ve found that I usually enjoy talking to folks about it. It enhances my sense of belonging to a friendly community.

But sometimes the questions are unwanted interruptions of a tedious chore that I just want to complete. More than that, I’ve learned that it’s more work to do anything — shop for groceries, watch a movie, go out to dinner — with a puppy in tow.

More often than not, we take our pup along anyway, because it’s our job as puppy-raisers to expose our charges to as many new experiences as possible. The goal is to get them to the point where it’s not much more work to have them along; when they behave like paragons. Until you get to that point, you just have to hold your breath and cross your fingers that they won’t do something bizarre — like taking a dump in the middle of the cereal aisle, or inching their way under a movie seat to stick their noses in someone’s crotch.

Stay tuned…

Home again, home again

Home again, home again

So here’s Steve, a few hours ago, cleaning up the deposit of (oh, NO!!!) puppy poop that he discovered in a far corner of the front room.

This shocked us. Dionne hasn’t done anything like that since before I started maintaining my Toileting Errors log back on January 12.

But we know what happened. Yesterday, I picked her up from the home of Linda Dreyfuss, who was puppy-sitting her while we were in San Francisco, and I forgot to ask when was the last time Dionne had pooped. My bad. Although she dutifully peed both at Linda’s and when we got home, the daily schedule of puppy poop production, usually never far from our minds, had slipped off our radar over the course of our brief time away. And obviously, she still hasn’t learned to command our attention when she needs to go out.

Otherwise, however, it was gratifying to hear Linda’s report on their time together. She exclaimed over and over about how much she enjoyed hosting Dionne, and she said Dionne didn’t emit a peep over the course of her day in the classroom yesterday (Linda’s a teacher who takes her CCI pups to school with her.) Although acknowledging Dionne’s occasional outbursts of wildness, Linda shrugged that off as normal. Balancing the insane intervals, apparently, were periods when our girl settled down, angelic, to watch Linda work in the kitchen.

That’s the kind of homecoming present we appreciate!

On vacation

On vacation

When I first heard about CCI and puppy-raising, one of the things that instantly appealed to me was hearing that the community included folks who were happy to puppy-sit. As much as Steve and I enjoy raising these dogs, we also love to travel, and we do it as much as we can. One of the worst thing about dog-ownership, for me, has always been figuring out what to do with the dog(s) when we’re away. Putting any pet in a commercial kennel is the choice of last resort, given that they’re potentially dangerous, expensive, and we suspect the dogs hate it.

The puppy-sitting promise has proven to be true, over the years. For the most part, we’ve received great support and wonderful care for our pups from folks we’ve gotten to know and trust — and have asked personally. But this spring we have an unusually busy schedule of upcoming trips, including a last-minute run up to San Francisco this weekend. To my dismay, all the folks in my normal cadre of puppy-sitters were unavailable, so in desperation I sent off a plea to the CCI puppy-sitting coordinator.

Dionne was glowing with excitement at the
opportunity to stay with Linda Dreyfuss, who together with her daughter
has previously raised 9 CCI pups! 

Nancy Fairfield is relatively new to that job, but now that I’ve tried out the system, I want to sing her praises. When I e-mailed her, she passed along my request to her network within minutes. Early the next morning, I got a call from volunteer in Del Mar who sounded wonderful, and we made plans for her and her husband to take Dionne over the long weekend. But a week later, the husband developed a health problem, and they had to cancel. Even closer to our departure date, I was beginning to imagine having to cancel the whole trip. But I e-mailed Nancy again and got no less than 5 responses within a day or so.

I find this wonderfully gratifying. We in America today may not have fellow villagers to help us raise our children. But it feels like we CCI puppy-raisers in San Diego do have that sort of support. It feels great.

The battle of the habits

The battle of the habits
The more experience I have with puppies, the more convinced I become that habits are a key to understanding life. I recorded recently how Dionne got up on my desk, snatched one of my pens, chewed it, and got ink all over my rug. 
By dint of lots of elbow grease and rug-cleaning chemicals, Steve has managed to expunge most of the ink stains. Tomorrow morning, our local carpet cleaners will arrive, and we’re hopeful they’ll improve things even more. But what we failed to anticipate is that Dionne almost immediately stole and chewed another pen.  And another.  And another. We’ve caught her getting up on Steve’s desk too, trying to steal pens. 
It’s become her new habit.  We know we have to respond by making it impossible for her to get to our desks and pens, unsupervised. But that will require us always to close our office doors (or to supervise every second that she’s in either office.) Both those things will require us to acquire new habits. 
It’s not clear who will win…


We had class again Monday night, and once again there were only two dogs. This time the other was a little guy (Pirate) — only 11 weeks old.  Once again, Bob seemed impressed by how Dionne was doing. And I had a chance to ask for a refresher in how to teach the Shake command.

With so many of the commands, I seem to forget from one puppy to the next how to teach them. That seems pathetic, given that we’re on our fifth CCI pup. But the teachers (first Mike and now Bob) never seem to roll their eyes. They patiently explain, yet again.

Actually, Bob didn’t sound 100% sure himself.  (I assume they don’t teach the police dogs (Bob’s day job as a K9 cop) how to Shake.) But he suggested we could try tapping the back of Dionne’s paw or alternatively, holding up a treat where she would naturally try to paw at it.

We had a little training session earlier today. You can see how it takes me a while to figure it out. But eventually, things start clicking. You can also see how nicely she responds to the Down command.

Just a short while ago, that seemed hopeless too.



It took Steve and me many years to wrap our heads around the idea of brushing dog teeth. Neither of us grew up with dogs who had their teeth brushed. (Who did that back in the 50s and 60s?) We got our own first dog in 1977, and I don’t remember ever having her teeth cleaned — even at the vets.  I think we just accepted the idea that dogs had stinky breath. You dealt with it.

Somewhere along the line, we became conscious that good dog owners were supposed to brush their pets’ teeth. We acquired canine toothbrushes and Steve began brushing the beast teeth when I read bedtime stories to our sons (listening as he brushed.) But it didn’t become a real Responsibility until we acquired Tucker and learned that brushing his teeth “at least three times a week” was listed among our duty as conscientious puppy-raisers. Now, eight years and four pups later, it’s almost as much part of our routine as cleaning our own choppers.

Steve gets all the credit for this. He’s developed a complicated grooming routine that he executes faithfully. Already Dionne has accepted the program. She was one of the few pups who never tried to bite the brush. Sometimes she tries to bat it away, but overall, she submits to the dental ministrations more than she resists them.

Another step is ear-cleaning. The dogs almost seem to enjoy that. Steve squirts a solution onto a cotton ball…

…and swabs. (Interestingly, some dogs just naturally seem to have dirty ears, but it’s too early to tell about Dionne.

Most tricky is toenail-maintenance, another task we never messed with pre-CCI. When we got Tucker, we bought a set of clippers. The black quick of his toes was relatively easy to see through his white nails, so we managed to trim them without spilling too much blood. But when we got black, black Yuli,  avoiding the quick seemed hopeless, and we switched to a little battery-powered Dremel drill that grinds away the nail, rather than cutting it.

All our puppies since them have adjusted nicely to being Dremeled. Dionne is the latest member of that well-groomed club.