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.


Wild dogs of the forest

Wild dogs of the forest

The other day I categorized Dionne’s pen-chewing escapade as being the worst mischief any of our CCI pups has gotten into. But the worst moment in our lives as puppy raisers — by far — occurred about a year ago. We had taken both Tucker and Darby (Dionne’s predecessor) up to Julian, where we were gathering with some close friends in the mountain home of one couple in the group. Tucker had been there several times before, and he’d enjoyed running free on the large unfenced property. But when Darby woke us around 3 a.m. and Steve took her and Tucker out to pee, Tucker didn’t just run around. He streaked off, disappearing into the night with Darby in his wake.

This was an astounding thing for Tucker to do. He’s normally the meekest and most mild-mannered of fellows. Never once has he attempted to bolt out our front door. But clearly, the wild freedom of being up in the mountain woods deranged him. It was freezing cold and pitch black. I finally dragged myself out of bed to see why Steve and the dogs were taking so long to return, and when Steve told me what had happened, I panicked. We stood on the porch, trying to clap our hands and whistle and call the dogs back loudly enough for them to hear us — but not so loud as to wake up everyone else in the house. On the verge of tears, I struggled to suppress images of our two charges being attacked by coyotes or mountain lions — or simply breaking a leg with a misstep or losing an eye to an unfortunate encounter with a low branch.

After a long, long time, we heard the distant jingle of their collars, and the pair of them eventually bounded up, panting and wagging their tails. We herded them into the house and eventually got back to sleep. (Unbelievably, Tucker ran away again in the morning, again with Darby in tow. We finally found them in the custody of a neighbor who was a sheriff’s deputy.)

Despite this drama, our patient and generous friends invited us to bring Tucker again for another gathering yesterday, this time with Dionne. We gratefully accepted but vowed that neither dog would have a moment’s opportunity to escape.

Taking such a young pup up to Julian reminded us of the car trip we took with our first son when he was about two. We crammed that vehicle so full with toddler-management gear there was barely room for passengers.  To help keep Dionne under control we took three kennels AND an x-pen, along with dog-drying towels, food, toys, treats, bowls, leashes and halters. 

Things went so much better. We stuck to our resolve, made easier by the fact that a snowstorm had moved in. By late evening, a couple of inches had built up, and when Steve and I stole out of the house to walk both dogs in the early morning light, we exclaimed over and over at the magical transformation that the snow had wrought. Dionne seemed startled by it at first, but then the light went on and she clearly got it: “OMG! I can stick my snout down into this cold white stuff!  I can dig into it, and it’s even edible!”

It would have been a blast to release her and watch her tear around like a crazy puppy and frolic in it. But we resisted. The memory of last year’s adventure was too fresh.

The worst

The worst

In addition to growing with freakish speed and having almost no more toileting accidents in the house, Dionne once again has resumed sleeping through the night. She went from 10:15 p.m. last night to 6:15 yesterday. But as if to remind us that she is still a very young puppy, she also did the worst thing that perhaps any of our CCI pups has ever done.

I had gone out to coffee with a friend. But somehow my departure slipped Steve’s mind, and at some point he assumed Dionne was upstairs in my office under my supervision. She was up there all right. But, in my absence, she apparently stood up at my desk and helped herself to a pen. Then she settled down for a good chew. Apparently she moved around at several points. We know this because when Steve finally discovered what was going on, the light tan carpet in my office was stained with black ink in half a dozen places.

Steve made a valiant attempt to blot it up. He sprayed all the spots with carpet cleaning foam. He scrubbed and scrubbed (clearly feeling guilty that this disaster had unfolded on his watch.) For a brief while, we thought these efforts worked. But when the foam dried, ugly dark smudges still showed, as obvious as if someone had come up to scuff around on the rug after shuffling through the ashes of a campfire.

It must be said that the rug is more than 16 years old. It’s been peed and vomited on and blood-spotted by literally generations of puppies. Always before, however, with the aid of in-house chemicals and regular visits from our neighborhood carpet cleaners, we were able to restore it to semi-respectability. Still we would have conceded some time ago that it was time to replace it — except that when we finally  do that, the project will require lugging out of the room all my bulging file cabinets and a large couch. Worse still, we’ll have to disassemble my 14-feet-long desk, and store it somewhere until the new flooring goes in.

“Maybe we should just resign ourself to living in squalor, as long as we’re raising puppies,” Steve mused.

I don’t think I can bear that. On the other hand, I don’t see how I can bear to dismantle my office. It makes me want to go off and chew something up myself.

Four months old today!

Four months old today!

Dionne weighed 36.6 pounds yesterday — compared to 15.6 when I picked her up two months ago. That’s a gain of 21 pounds! We’ve calculated that she eats 11.5 ounces of Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy Chow daily — a total of approximately 34 pounds since we got her. But by our calculations, she also has excreted at least 100 pounds of solid waste.

So where is the world is all the dog coming from?

At this rate, there’s no way I’ll be able to lift her a month from today!

Complete immunity

Steve took Dionne in today for her last set of puppy shots. Now, at least according to modern veterinary theory, she should be protected from canine distemper, adenovirus, parvovirus, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, bordatella, and rabies.


Steve said she was very brave and all the vet office staff loved her.  But an exceedingly ugly bulldog in the waiting room freaked her out (or so Steve says.)

She may not have whimpered when she got her shots. But she certainly thought the best part of the experience was getting the post-injection biscuit.