Movie-going pups — further reflections

After reading my post yesterday about our first movie-going outing with Dionne, my friend Doris asked: 

As a victim movie-goer, had the whining been distracting, I think I would have been tempted to wring all your necks. Was the movie-going experience of the people around you compromised? As a puppy raiser, at what point does the comfort of the non-raisers around you take priority over training the pup? 

Good questions. I asked Steve how obvious Dionne’s whining was. He claims he was too engrossed in the movie to notice it. They were exceedingly quiet little squeaks. But I can’t imagine that the woman immediately to my left didn’t hear anything. She gave me no indication she was bothered by the squeaks, but I don’t know if that’s because she didn’t feel like being confrontational or she simply ignored them, like Steve.

If she had let me know she was bothered, I would have immediately gotten up and moved. I wanted to do that anyway, but climbing over the 8 or 10 people on either side of me would have been disruptive had it been me alone — let alone trying to do it with a 6-month-old puppy. 

The take-away lesson for Steve and me — at least until Dionne gets more accustomed to behaving well in movie theaters — is always always to sit on an aisle, where we’re a) better insulated from others and b) can escape, if necessary.

The larger question about the comfort of the non-raisers is an important one. Happily, it doesn’t seem like that comfort is compromised, the vast majority of the time. (This past weekend’s experience may actually be the first time it’s come up for us in a public space.) For me the answer’s simple: if someone has paid for an experience and my CCI puppy is degrading that experience, I want to remove the puppy. Also happily, all the feedback we’ve ever gotten from having the dogs in public spaces has been positive. Lots of people like dogs, but I think it’s also an indication that most folks realize if the dogs can’t be trained to behave well in public spaces, they can never serve the disabled in such spaces.  

Dionne goes to the movies

Dionne goes to the movies
Steve and I haven’t gone out to any movies recently, as we’ve been busy with travel adventures, plus we’ve been seeing a movie at our friend Alberto’s house almost every Friday night. Last night, however, our social calendar was free, and the reviews for Mud sounded enticing. We decided it was time to introduce Miss Dionne to the cinema. 
As things turned out, it wasn’t our worst experience ever in a movie theater with a CCI puppy. When we were puppy-sitting for Murphy last fall and he vomited up a huge quantity of something smack in the middle of lobby (on our way in), that was worse. We also cringe when we remember the moment Yuli inched under Steve’s seat and stuck her (pitch-black) nose in the crotch of the unsuspecting woman behind us. “Is that your dog?!” she yelped, in horrified disbelief. 
Dionne didn’t do anything quite that bad. On the other hand, she did emit high-pitched whine/squeaks throughout at least the first hour of the film. I don’t think any of our other dogs has done that. The fact that the theater was packed made it particularly nerve-wracking. Whenever she made a noise, I alternated between quietly hissing, “Don’t!,” giving her pops with her Halti, petting her lavishly, and letting her chew on my fingers. 
But we’ve got a long, long way to go.  
At least the movie was good.  
Dionne says if we’d just bought her her own nice big bag of popcorn, she would have hunkered down with it and been a little angel.  But we didn’t, and she wasn’t.



For several years, I’ve gotten an e-mail every time one of our CCI puppies reaches the 6-month mark. It reminds me that “CCI is engaged in a multiyear effort to identify ways in which behavioral traits may be more accurately assessed and quantified.” As a part of it, they ask the puppy raisers to fill out a questionnaire created by a U Penn professor. The idea is supposedly to compile all the info to make the training and breeding programs better. So I dutifully answer the dozens of questions — and do it again at the 12-month mark. But so far, I’ve never heard anything about what the questionnaires reveal.

Now I have an opportunity to get a juicy, satisfying report card for one (or both) of the dogs in our house, without the tedium of having to churn through all those questionnaire items. I learned this in the New York Times story that ran yesterday (and was the most-emailed today) about the Duke University biological anthropologist who has become something of a specialist in the canine mind. Four years ago, he set up a center for canine cognition research, and it sounds like he’s found some interesting findings. But the genius stroke is that he and some colleagues have come up with a way to get the public to pay to help them in their research.

I can’t believe it, but after visiting the Dognition website I am actually tempted to cough up $99 and join in the fun. If the temptation proves too strong, I’ll report on the results here.

Fun at Camp Connie

Fun at Camp Connie

While Steve and I were up this weekend at the annual LA Times festival of books, Dionne got to go to Camp Connie (as we refer to the home of masterful puppy-sitter Connie Gonczy and her husband Steve).  A former puppy-raiser, Connie was introduced to us by our beloved puppy mentor, LeAnn Buchanan, way back when we began raising Tucker. To my amazement, I discovered that Connie and I attended the same Catholic girls high school back in Chicago; her younger sister Monique was a friend in my class. Since then, Connie has helped us with her sitting services for every single puppy we’ve raised.

Though Dionne’s stay was short, we know she had a good time. Partly we know this because Connie shared with us a wonderful photo of Dionne getting some exhilarating exercise on the second-floor deck of Connie’s house:

Connie also recommended a kind of ball that she said Dionne was willing to retrieve.

You can see one in her mouth.

We need to find some of those.

Not a ball brain

Not a ball brain

Steve and I have a name for one category of dogs that we have lived with: the ball brains. Pearl, our last dog before we began raising CCI puppies, was perhaps the penultimate of this type. I recognized it in her on the day we brought her home. When I rolled a ball in her furry little 8-week-old presence, it mesmerized her. Later she could be relied upon to chase balls and bring them back, over and over and over again. She probably would have done this till she dropped, had we ever had the patience to test that.

Several of our CCI puppies have also been ball brains, if perhaps not to the same level of fanaticism as that of Pearl. Yuli was a ball brain, as were Brando and Darby. Tucker, our first CCI dog, whom we kept after he was released from the program, never was terribly interested. But we could still have fun with him and our current trainee down on the field. He would chase the ball — once in a while — and if he never could muster the enthusiasm to bring it back, Yuli or Brando or Darby would. So the game could continue.

But now we’re in trouble. Dionne may have less interest in balls than any other dog I’ve ever had. Once in a while, when she’s really bored, I can entice her into running after a tossed ball. But bringing it back is counter to the spirit of her most favorite game: keep away.

She can be very, very good at it. I’m not even supposed to know that about her.  The CCI puppy-training manual adjures, “You should not allow the puppy to play keep away. If the puppy picks up the items but refuses to return to you, simply end the game.”

Easy for them to say! When the puppy has snatched your iPhone and carried it off in a wild dash, the urge to race after and reclaim it is overpowering. I know what we’re supposed to do: grab something that’s even more interesting than the snatched item and tell the puppy to Drop. This works well — assuming we have a) a treat at hand and b) the presence of mind to control our natural impulses.  That’s not always the case, and so more times that I should admit, we’ve gotten tangled in comedic scenarios chasing her around the legs of the dining room table, the compost bins, in the backyard, the island in the kitchen.

Whatever the setting, Dionne finds it spectacularly amusing.

A question of intelligence

I saw Dionne do something yesterday that struck me as being extraordinarily intelligent. I had taken her and Tucker out to toilet shortly after 6 a.m., and both of them had defecated (in different parts of the lower yard.) Dionne is still in the grips of a terrible addiction to eating Tucker’s fecal products. She never goes after her own, and isn’t much interested in droppings left but unknown dogs out in the street. But she would race over and gobble up anything from Tucker — were we not to keep her on a tight leash.

I did have her leashed, and after the toilet break, I took both dogs in the house and fed them their breakfast. While they were eating, I went back out and cleaned up everything from the lower yard.

An hour or so later, I let both dogs out, off leash, for a drink.  Dionne lapped up some water, but then she raced for the lower yard. I could literally see her remembering that there was Tucker Poop out there (or so she thought).  She raced to the exactly spots where I had cleaned up an hour or so earlier, sniffed around for quite a while, and then came away, disappointed.

But I was impressed. Clearly, she has an excellent memory — at least for things that interest her.

I was telling myself this may mean she’s really bright. And then I clicked on the following video, sent to me by a friend.

Very discouraging.  (Dionne is about 26 weeks old, whereas this creature is supposedly 22 weeks here.) Is it really a dog? Could it be a computer-graphics trick?