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?

The problem with toys

The problem with toys

Yesterday I was reflecting on Dionne’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for fun toys. One might wonder why we, as her puppy raisers, don’t simply supply her with safe and interesting ones.

We’ve had these Goughnuts for months, but they still look pristine. They are evidently too boring to chew.

The problem is that the choices are woefully limited. CCI decided a few years ago that too many pups were breaking teeth on the hard Galileo-brand bones that once were a staple in our house. I think pretty much all that still gets the CCI seal of approval are the very expensive Goughnuts which all our dogs find inexpressibly BOR-ing! Kongs still are acceptable (to both the CCI bureaucrats and our canines — but the latter only really like them when they’ve been loaded with peanut butter or cream cheese, and there are limits to how much of that it’s wise to dole out.) Rope toys may be okay too. But the ones we’ve bought from Petco don’t get much play.

Every few months, I have a breakdown. Overwhelmed with desire to supply our puppy with some really fun toys, I run into Petco or Target and buy something. I bring it home and then I remember why this isn’t a great idea. It happened again Saturday, when I purchased an awesome screaming-red chicken that also delivered ear-piercing shrieks when squeezed and only cost $4.99. Dionne went wild at the sight of it. Tucker was leaping in the air with excitement. This went on for maybe 15 minutes, and then Insane Chicken went silent when one of his feet was ripped off.

Saturday was also the day Dionne and I went to the EmBARKadero festival, and there I bought a couple of pretty chew/pull toys that are made by some of the puppy-raisers themselves. They assured me that they tend to be long-lasting. They only cost $5. So I bought two.

Dionne seems mildly interested. And in the three days since we’ve had them, no one has yet ripped them to shreds. Dionne and Tucker have even played with them together. A bit.

But they’ve also been pretty distracted by Insane Crippled Chicken. They still love him best.

An inventive puppy

An inventive puppy
Often Steve and I are struck by how similar all our puppies have been; one after another, they get into trouble in the same ways. But recently, I’ve been noticing the ways in which Dionne seems different. One is that, more than most of our puppies, she seems mentally active. She’ll sleep if she’s in her kennel or by my side in my office, with absolutely nothing new to investigate. But I sense her scanning her surroundings. If there’s anything she might conceivably play with, she’s on it.
This leads her to invent trouble-making activities that amaze us. She recently realized, for example, that plastic underlies the stones at the base of a plant in our back yard. She amused herself by nosing the stones out of the way and ripping up that strange black stuff (until we intervened).

No other puppy has noticed the sand and beachstones under the gas fireplace in our front room. But here’s the evidence that they didn’t escape Miss Dionne’s attention:
We can only assume that she jumped up on the hearth and DUG around in it.

A day or two later, we found a single big stone out on the hearth. Did she roll it there?

Steve says, “This is what it would be like to live with a monkey!” As fascinating as those exploits can be, they’re worrisome. But we’re more than a year away from Turn-In. Maybe when that day comes, Dionne will have done it all. All that will be left will be to hunker down, study hard, and graduate to a life of service. 
In our dreams…

At the dog festival

At the dog festival
Today was one of the big annual fundraisers for the local CCI organization. This year it had a new venue (on San Diego Bay downtown) and a new name (EmBARKadero). While I’ve worked at some of the previous fundraisers, I wasn’t able to volunteer for this event. But Dionne and I did put in an appearance, to check out the scene and look for opportunities to buy doggy products. 
Since it was all billed as a celebration of all things canine (not just CCI pups), it was an intensely distracting environment filled with many dogs who clearly were not assistance dogs in training…
and a fair number that weren’t even alive.
Dionne was mesmerized by them all. In fact, she initially was so wild and uncontrollable that my first thought was that it had been a big mistake to bring her. But after maybe 10 minutes, she settled down, and we were able to take in the sights. These mostly consisted of vendors selling products and services ranging from

pet portraits…

…to weird pet toys…

to dog camps… and more. 
My hope is that by the time next year’s fundraiser rolls around, Dionne will be far enough along in her training that she and I both will be able to work at the CCI booth. It’s something to aim for.