Are dogs color-blind?

Are dogs color-blind?

By color-blind, I’m not talking about the ability to distinguish red from green. Rather, what I wonder is whether they’re aware of being in the presence of another dog who looks just like them. Or are they clueless about such matters — i.e. color-blind in the sense that we sometimes talk of human beings who don’t notice racial differences?

The question has arisen because Kenzie has been staying with us for the past 6 days. Kenzie’s eyes are a beautiful dark amber, whereas Dionne’s are closer to bittersweet chocolate. Kenzie’s nose is a bit longer. And some of her chin hairs have begun to turn white. But otherwise, she could be Dionne’s mom. The two look so much alike that Steve and I have confused them on occasion.

What makes me wonder whether their similar appearance has engendered some feeling of kinship is that for many reasons, they should dislike each other. Kenzie’s around 7 or 8 years old, and being tackled by a hyperactive youngster is something she’s clearly skeptical about. On top of that, this youngster is a female, and females often are reputed to bristle at each other.

But I’m seeing them spend more and more time doing what Dionne loves best.  It looks something like this:

It gets noisy as well as rambunctious at times, but Kenzie is the vocal one. 

Still, I can’t tell if they feel any sisterly bond. They only thing that’s crystal clear is that they like each other. Thank tails for that.



We’ve developed a new training problem du jour.  This time I’m the problem child.

Steve and I understand that CCI puppies are not supposed to get up on the furniture. This is not something anyone talks about very much. In fact, earlier this afternoon I dug out the Puppy Raiser Manual we were given when we first started raising CCI puppies, and I had to search for several minutes before I found any reference to the topic. What I found was brief and so buried that when I tried to look for it again just now, I couldn’t find it. Still, Steve and I mostly never have allowed our dogs to climb up on the furniture at will, and it hasn’t been a problem with the CCI pups — until now.

When Ella was staying with us a couple of weeks ago, however, she constantly jumped up on the furniture, and Dionne found this notion electrifying. Clearly, she approved. Ever since she’s been popping up on the couch in my office, and on the couch and chair in the sitting area adjoining our kitchen. We usually don’t even see her make the move; she can do it in a silent instant.

The problem is that I’ve been finding the sight of her so charming that I’ve been tolerating the behavior. She looks so cute and cuddly and… comfortable. I haven’t had the heart to yell at her and chase her off. I’ve also gotten the impression, over the years, that other puppy raisers and certainly the folks who receive the dogs who graduate let their dogs get up on the furniture. So I’ve held my tongue.

Steve, on the other hand, is appalled, and mostly, he’s been issuing stern “Off!”s every time he finds Dionne above floor-level. This afternoon it struck me that we’re violating the biggest animal-training rule of all: we’re being inconsistent.

So much as it bothers me, I guess I’ll start cracking down (unless I hear some chorus of comments from other CCI puppy-raisers telling us to chill). I will add that one thing we never EVER do is allow any of our dogs up in bed with us. I do have my limits (even if I sometimes forget some of them).

Running with the big dogs

Running with the big dogs
Two of our (significantly older) classmates

Well…. not exactly running. Training.

We followed Bob’s suggestion and took Dionne to the Basic class last night — instead of Puppy Kindergarten. On the one hand, it felt very comfortable, as three of the four other handlers in the class are experienced puppy raisers whom we’ve known for years.

But their dogs are all so big! Most all were at least a year old.

Still, Dionne acquitted herself respectably. She executed a decent Heel (in which the dog returns to the handler’s left side when told to Heel). She Waited. She Shook. She Rolled with aplomb. “Under” was the only command we had not yet introduced her to (which was hardly disgraceful). When Bob told put all the dogs in a FIVE-MINUTE Down-Stay, Steve and I quailed. But Dionne only popped up once or twice toward the very end (when Jan’s adorable granddaughter practically danced right in front of Dionne.)

It was hard work. But she’s doing well.

No desert flower

Although the Swallows Parade was our big adventure of the weekend, we had an interesting experience on Friday afternoon, when Steve, Dionne, Tucker, and I joined some friends at the Bow Willow Campground out in the desert. Our goal was to check out the spring wildflowers (though we knew the sightings might be slim because there wasn’t much rain this year).

It’s good we were prepared. While we saw a few things, like this barrel cactus in bloom, the floral display was pretty sparse.

We only hiked for about 90 minutes, but Steve and I savored being there. It was hot, but not blistering (as it will be all too soon). Tucker seemed to enjoy himself too. We allowed him off leash, and he trotted along, wagging his tail and smiling.

When we gave her some water, she flopped down and
looked like she might refuse to get up.

Dionne, though, was another story. Although it wasn’t an oven, her coal-black coat soaked up the intense sunlight. The air was dry; the setting austere. Something about the experience must have struck her as creepy, because her ears were back and her tail was down.

She’d better hope she doesn’t graduate and get placed with someone living in Palm Springs.

Dionne on parade

Ever since we first got involved with CCI more than 8 years ago, the puppies have paraded. We paraded with Tucker. But in the early years, this activity just meant straggling along in a disorganized group and waving to the parade spectators.

Then in 2010, a puppy raiser named Pattie Urie had a brainstorm: we should practice with our pups and form a drill team, marching in precision and demonstrating some of the commands that we teach our charges.  I thought this was a wonderful idea and signed up with Brando. We were proud to perform with the team’s debut parade — in Coronado on the 4th of July, 2010. Steve and I later paraded with Darby on several occasions. And on this past Saturday, Dionne took part in her first parade.

This was an event that Steve and I had barely heard of before: the annual Swallows Parade in San Juan Capistrano, which promotes that city’s long-cherished (and marketed) association with the annual return migration of coastal swallows. Although some members of the San Diego crew took part in it last year, Steve and I missed that occasion. So when Pattie sent out the call for volunteers this year, we wanted to help out the team.

I should mention that Dionne is a bit young to be parading. I think the CCI rules say puppies should be 8 months old before being exposed to that level of stimulation. But we figured a) Dionne already knows all the commands that the team performs, and more importantly, she’s a very self-confident pup, who hasn’t demonstrated any fearfulness of any sort. She’s solid. So, going on the principle that all rules have to be applied with common sense, we signed up.

All in all, we were glad we did. It was quite an experience. The parade turned out to be a huge production — by far the biggest parade we’ve ever marched in. It completely took over downtown San Juan Capistrano.

Although initially wildly excited by the sight of the other CCI parade dogs, Dionne soon calmed down and tolerated wearing the costume of the day: Mexican bandannas and little bright yellow sombreros.

Tucker came too, and although he didn’t perform with the puppies,
he seemed happy to wear a costume.

We were supposed to show up by 9:30 a.m. in order to register, and this meant we had a long, long wait, as the parade didn’t start until 11.

But little girls worshipfully petted Dionne. 
And there was plenty to look at, while we waited.

Even after the parade began, we had to wait for an eternity to start marching.  (I think we were entry #83 in the “second division.” Dionne got pretty tired just standing in the sun, but we took little breaks from time to time.

The actual parading part went extremely well, with at least 18 puppies performing and everyone looking very sharp.

Even though parade route felt like it was miles long, the crowds were very dense along almost all of it, and it was clear that most of the attendees loved seeing the performing puppies.

The worst part of the day was extracting ourselves from San Juan Capistrano once our group had completed the route, as the parade went on and on, which meant the streets remained closed. So Steve and I couldn’t get out of the parking lot we were in until almost 3 p.m.

We didn’t make it back to San Diego till 5, and all of us were exhausted — but glad to have gone.

Her latest trick

Her latest trick

I thought she was just fooling around with the metal doorstop in my office. Turns out she was also chewing on the baseboard. We’ve never seen that puppy trick before.

And this morning there was another first. Dionne was watching me bathe in my shower, which is entered by descending a few stairs. For some reason, today she decided to join me. It was brief, but exciting. (Steve was at hand, but fortunately, the camera was not.)

Nightmare Dog

Nightmare Dog

At 2:30 a.m. this morning, Miss Dionne started whining and yipping. “Quiet!” I snarled at her. She moaned; gave a few tentative barks. But Steve had noted that she’d peed and pooped on her last excursion of the evening, so we knew this couldn’t be a true emergency. “DON’T!” I told her. And sure enough, the noises stopped.

It took both of us a long time to get to sleep again. When I finally did, I fell into a troubled dream. Steve and I were staying at a hotel in Pacific Beach that, improbably, had a river running through the back of the property. I knew it was Rose Creek, which in reality is a miserable stream with a reputation for being loaded with industrial chemicals. But it looked like a river in my dream, and I was startled when Steve and Dionne waded in and started splashing around. After a while, he dried her off with a ratty old towel, and later, in the hotel lounge, I found her with Steve and several other dogs who were also staying at the hotel. Amidst the chaos, I lost track of the two of them. So I went up to our hotel room, where I discovered he was taking a bath, and she was romping around the room. I did a double take. It wasn’t Dionne at all, but some larger mostly black dog (part Giant Airedale, it seemed to me.) I was livid that he had confused Dionne up with this mongrel.

The real Dionne’s ear tattoo.  She’s #609.

Unperturbed, Steve shrugged off the mix-up. He could probably find Dionne if he asked the front desk which other guest had gotten the wrong dog. If worse came to worst, he added, we could create a fake tattoo in the ear of the Airedale/Retriever. CCI probably wouldn’t catch on.

I’m not sure what happened after that. But I didn’t sleep well for the rest of the night. Dionne, on the other hand, seems perkier than ever.

Music-loving puppy

Music-loving puppy

Steve was in the kitchen this morning, loading the dishwasher. I had run out to a dental appointment. Dionne was hanging out with Steve. Until suddenly, she wasn’t.

He says the sound of her feet on the stairs leading up to my office alerted him that he should retrieve her. But before he could do that, loud music (I think it was the Pussycat Dolls) began playing.

A girl could get in trouble playing with one of these.

He raced up the stairs and when he entered my office, Dionne was sitting near my desk. “Looking uneasy,” Steve says. Clearly she had jumped up, seeking something to snatch, and through some magical combination of puppy paws on keys had cranked up not only iTunes but also managed to hit the forward arrow that started broadcasting “We Went As Far As We Felt Like Going.”

She ALSO somehow managed to start something called Voiceover, an Apple utility that speaks descriptions of items on the screen. Steve had no idea how to turn that off. By the time I got home, he’d even forgotten it was still on. So when sat down, I found an alien box on my screen and a robot voice narrating my every movement and click of my mouse. I had to call Applecare to learn how to turn it off (Control plus F5). “It’s really intended for people who are visually impaired,” the nice young man on the phone informed me. But obviously it’s accessible to dexterous retriever puppies.

But life is SO boring without Ella

Steve, by the way, thought Dionne must have been startled by the sudden blast of music. Mostly, however, she’s been moping around in the wake of Ella’s departure Sunday. Life once again is really, really boring. But there’s nothing like playing on the computer to escape that, eh?

Goodbye to a good girlfriend

Goodbye to a good girlfriend

Steve read my post of the other day in which I expressed my bafflement about why puppies think it’s fun to beat up their buddies, and he declared that he understands it. Dogs do this, he expounded, because they’re practicing to go out and hunt. It’s a throwback, but a powerful behavioral legacy. I say: maybe.

Whatever the impulse, we still had some fearsome moments during Dionne and Ella’s final day together.

A moment of glory for Ella

By last night, we had a couple of exhausted puppies flaked out around us. They slept until we took them out shortly after 7 a.m. and mustered them for a long hike up the mountain. 

For the rest of the morning, they seemed almost subdued. When I confined them in the exercise pen out on the patio, they didn’t even try to escape, but rather, dozed and watched me garden. 

Cathy came and retrieved Ella around 2 p.m., and I could honestly tell her we enjoyed the visit.

But I learned from it. Clearly Dionne and Ella had a wonderful time being together, and I derived no small amount of pleasure from seeing that. At the same time, Steve and I both had the sense that our training regimen went to hell. It takes a lot of manpower to lead each puppy out to toilet (on leash)  many times a idea, stopping them when they do things like eat mulch (or worse), jump on the furniture, put their paws on the counters, bark or growl at each other, and so on.

In a year from now, when they’re vastly more civilized, things will be different. But for the moment, I don’t think we’ll be volunteering to take on any additional five-month-olds for extended house stays any time soon — no matter now cute they are.

Nice to know

Nice to know

The phone rang. It was Steve, who’s out grocery-shopping with Dionne.

“Dionne just pooped,” he announced.  My heart sank.  I had visions of this occurring in the produce aisle at Vons.

Small but tasty (assuming
that you like the taste of
ear wax.)

But no. “We’re in the parking lot,” he continued.

As I’ve mentioned before, puppy-raising can elevate one’s interest in canine defecation. But this seemed a new low. Then he continued. “You know your missing ear plug?  I found it.”

Steve’s a Luddite about phone technology, so he was unable to capture the moment. Suffice it to say that he reported the squishy, bright orange ear plug to be intact. I urged him NOT to return it to me.

On other fronts, life with Ella has calmed considerably. We’ve had more and more sweet moments like this:

With only 24 hours remaining in her company, I can imagine that time will fly.