How will she do?

How will she do?

More and more people ask us: how do we think Dionne will do? Meaning: will she succeed at becoming a service dog, when she leaves us to go off for her advanced training?

While the Dognition software may have proclaimed her to be a Charmer with a prodigious memory, Steve and I are less sure how to categorize her or what prediction to make.

Some things are clear. Just short of her 10-month birthday, Dionne is unquestionable THE most mischievous puppy we’ve ever had. Sometimes when she’s off-leash in the house, we can almost literally see her scanning for new things to investigate, to sniff, to snatch, to run away with. Much to our horror, she’s our first true Counter Cruiser — ready to pop up and check what’s on a desk or a counter or the butcher block in the kitchen and set to grab it and run if it looks the least bit intriguing. It’s comical. When it’s not exasperating.

In her brief time with us, she has managed (unlike any of her predecessors) to train Tucker to play with her. She’s done a fairly good job of training Steve and me too. We now often clean up Tucker poop almost the minute it hits the ground — to thwart her from getting it. Sometimes we screw up, as Steve did Monday, when he released Dionne from her kennel into the yard for what he hoped would be a little ball-throwing and chasing. She had little to no interest in the ball, but raced to the lower yard and discovered a fresh deposit. Steve tried to chase her off, but she was zooming around by then at about 100 miles per hour, darting in to grab yet another tasty (gag!) morsel.

That’s the downside of life with her. On the credit side of the ledger, she continues to be the best pup ever at walking on leash. She’s quick at learning commands; ready and willing to execute them.

We still have nine and a half months until Turn In, and we both know she will continue to change. She may mature. Along the way, she could surprise us.

Is Dionne a rocket scientist?

Today Steve and I finished playing the Dognition Cunning, Memory, and Reasoning games. And once again, all three if us wound up feeling: this is work! Dionne, who had been racing around  like a lunatic before we began, was so tired by the time we were halfway through the Reasoning section that we had to take a break. By then, Steve and I were also ready to lay down and put our heads on our paws.

At every stage, the Dognition software reminded us that there were no right and wrong answers. But we didn’t really believe it. In the Memory tests, we had to make her watch while we put treats under plastic cups that we set up on the floor next to us. Then we called her, and we were both disappointed when she didn’t go straight for the cup each time. Later, we cheered up. When we put the treat under one of two cups (one on either side of me) and made her wait while an on-screen timer counted down, she went for the correct cup four times in a row — even after having to wait for one minute, then a minute and a half, two minutes, and two minutes and a half. (Cats, the Dognition software later informed us, typically can’t remember which cup a treat is under after just ten seconds!)

Finally, we were done with all the test/games, and feedback came immediately.  Dionne, Dognition announced, is a Charmer.

As a Charmer, the software informed us, “Dionne has exceptional social skills, which means she can read your body language like a book. She is not above using this information to get her own way. Dionne is no fool when it comes to independent problem solving, and her scores reflect a keen understanding of the physical world. However, Dionne’s real genius is that she sees you as an ally and partner, and she will usually turn to you for help before trying to figure out a problem on her own.”

The report then proceeded to give us detailed information about how she did in each of the five testing areas.  Here’s a graphical representation of how she performed:

(Note that she scored literally off the chart in the (green) Memory section.  And her performance in the (orange) Empathy section was also extraordinary. “If most dogs are bonded to their owners, Dionne abosolutely adores you,” the report stated.  We liked hearing that. (Sometimes we wonder, when she’s snatched one of our possessions and is playing keep away.)

It sounds like we’ll continue to get new Dognition games to play with Dionne every month or so. If they send ’em, we’ll play ’em, work or no work. Steve and I feel intrigued by this whole line of scientific inquiry. We wonder if all the CCI puppies will turn out to be Charmers. Or will some of them fall into the other eight dog-personality categories (Socialite, Expert, Renaissance Dog, Protodog, Maverick, Einstein, Stargazer, and Ace)? Will it eventually turn out that one type of Dognition personality is most successful at becoming a working Canine Companion?

Stay tuned…

Back to Basic

Back to Basic

Monday night we started the first night of the Basic class. As far as landmarks go, this was the smallest one imaginable. If the timing worked perfectly, you would begin taking your brand-new 9-week-old puppy to the first session of the Puppy Kindergarten classes. You would attend all eight classes in that series (the classes typically are held every two weeks.) Then you would graduate and start the Basic series, attending those classes for 16 weeks or so. Then you would move on to the series of 8 Advanced classes.

Trouble is: that all adds up to about a year of instruction, but CCI puppies typically are with their puppy-raisers for 16 months or more.  Furthermore, the chances are that when you get your puppy, the Puppy Kindergarten series will already be underway.

That’s what happened with us and Dionne. Although we took her to a couple of the Kinder classes, our instructor, Bob, said we’d be welcome to move on to the Basic group, which we did in March. That series finished up two weeks ago Monday.

Even Basic class graduate still practice cradling. 

Steve and I opted to do the Basic classes again because, if we do, we’ll finish up the series at the end of October. Dionne will then be able to go through all the Advanced classes once — and we’ll still be able to get through the lion’s share of a second set of Advanced classes before she turns in May 15.

Given that we’ve gone through all the instruction with four previous CCI puppies, we probably could muddle along without going to classes much at all. But a) we’re supposed to attend, b) the sessions are often quite entertaining, and c) we feel we benefit from being reminded of what we’re supposed to do.

And, oh yeah.  The classes also remind us of what a good girl she can be. Last night, there were 7 other Basic dogs in attendance, along with their handlers, and when Dionne and I did our “Let’s Go” around the classroom, I heard people chuckle with delight at the way she prances when she walks. She executed near-flawless Rolls and Heels, and her Under was passable (even though we hardly practice it.)

She broke her Down-Stay, but it was interminable and one of the other attendees, in a deliberate attempt to distract the dogs, all but stepped on her.

We forgave her. She’s got plenty of time to work on getting it perfect.

The testing begins!

The testing begins!
This morning Steve and I began administering the Dognition “toolkit games” to Dionne. What we’ve learned so far: it’s WORK! 

We spent at least an hour giving her the tests for “Empathy,” “Communication,” and half the tests for “Cunning” (although the Dognition site said that each one of those would take about 10 minutes.) But for each one there was a video to watch, followed by a practice session, followed by a number of trials for which the data was logged. And we often had to do some set-up: putting Post-it notes on certain spots on the ground, for example. Getting treats organized. Maybe the professor and his grad students can administer each test in 10 minutes. But we sure couldn’t.

Steve was reading the directions and recording Dionne’s responses on my computer; Dionne and I carried out the instructions.  After we had completed all the tasks in the Empathy and Communication modules, we got a little summary of how she did. But the summaries kind of baffled us! In one of the Empathy tests, for example, I had to yawn every 5 seconds for a while. Then we had to observe her for 90 seconds to see if she yawned. She never yawned. And yet the program told us that she scored on the empathic side. 

The series of tests assessing “What’s the best way to communicate with Dionne?” were intriguing — but also baffling. Most of them involved putting treats on the ground to my right or left (or both), pointing to one, calling her, and seeing which side she came to. I was instructed to do this by pointing with my finger and then by pointing with my foot. She didn’t responded to the pointing every time, but she did often — or so I thought. But the program responded, “In the Communication games, Dionne exhibited traits from both the collaborative and self-reliant sides of the spectrum. However, this may change as she finishes the Memory games ahead. What we know so far is that Dionne may prefer to use your gestures in some cases, while making her own decision in other cases. We’ll see what happens when she is faced with more complex problems.” 
We haven’t finished all the Cunning games, but what we saw didn’t exactly come as a shock. When I put down a treat on the ground, told her to Stay, and watched her, she obeyed for almost a full minute. But when I did the same things but turned my back after telling her to stay, she advanced upon the treat much sooner. When I repeated it and covered my eyes, she ignored the Stay command earlier still.
After that, we all needed a break. But Steve and I will finish up the Cunning tests, as well as the ones for Memory and Reasoning.  (I do hope we get some kind of an overall assessment and explanation once we do!)
She may be Cunning. But she’s also pretty cute.

Seducing Tucker

It occurred to me yesterday that Dionne has succeeded at something that (to my memory) none of her predecessors accomplished. She’s learned how to suck Tucker into playing with her.

His appetite for such amusement is limited. But he at least tolerates it, and as I’ve been watching the two of them, it seems to me that he even enjoys it — for a while.

I recorded the following video yesterday. Note that she starts the session by bringing a toy up to him and trying to insert it in his mouth, in an attempt to entice him into playing with her. He makes lots of growly noises and bares his teeth, but knowing him as long and as well as I do, I’m confident he’s experiencing the interaction as play (in his own noisy way). In the end, when she’s parked herself on top of him, I urge him to get her, and he appears to chase her away. But they continued with more such play for quite a while longer.

With previous puppies — particularly Brando — Tucker wouldn’t tolerate this at all. If they tried anything of the sort, he would bark at them quite sternly and then slink away.

Why does he put up with it from Dionne? I haven’t a clue. Maybe she’s just been persistent and unfazed by his attempts to restrain her. (Sound familiar?)

Destruction and progress

Destruction and progress
Steve and I together filled out the Dognition questionnaire the other night, and much to my regret, I didn’t take notes. There were a LOT of questions, and some of them were tough for us to answer. (“Does Dionne ALWAYS/USUALLY/SOMETIMES/
RARELY/NEVER show aggression when interacting with smaller dogs?” But… what’s “aggression,” we wondered. Growling when engaged in excited play? Sometimes. Hostility? Never.) 
We muddled through and did our best (and I can’t go back to review the questions or our answers.) Next step will be to engage in the six play/observational sessions. We decided to wait until the weekend to begin that. And I will certainly take notes then.
In the meantime, it’s one step forward, one (or two) back. The other night I heard an unusual noise, looked down, and saw that Dionne had chewed the plug off the lamp in my office. 
Who, moi? It cannot be! 
This is the very same plug that Dionne’s predecessor, Darby, chewed off. (She was only three months old at the time, not NINE months, like Dionne.) The good news is that Steve already knows how to fix it. 
Also this week: I put my brand-new pair of shoes up on a counter specifically so that Dionne could not get at them. But apparently it wasn’t high enough, because this is what I found:
There IS no good news about this discovery. I buy new shoes so rarely, it is galling to have one immediately savaged. It’s particularly galling when I have not yet even PAID for the shoe. (That Citicard bill arrived two days later.
I do have one bit of progress to report. When Dionne’s up in my office with me, she’s begun very clearly letting me know when she needs to go out. She circles around my legs. She whines. If that doesn’t get my attention, she barks at me. 
It may not seem like that much of an accomplishment, but she’s the first CCI puppy who’s ever communicated her needs so clearly. 

Exciting news!!!

Back in April I noted with excitement the New York Times story I’d just read about Dognition — the website set up of a Duke University biological anthropologist who specializes in canine behavioral research. He made the news at the time because he and some colleagues had come up with a way to combine their scientific investigations with generating some income.  For $99 a year, they were offering dog owners a chance to describe their pets using an online canine personality questionnaire. After that, you and your pet were supposed to play some “science-based games” designed to further assess your dogs’ cognitive style. From this, the researchers would create a report card. They stressed that they weren’t assessing simple intelligence but rather creating a portrait of each animal’s “cognitive strategies” in five core areas: empathy, communication, cunning, memory, and reason. What the researchers hoped to get (besides the fees) was a database that would grow and expand their knowledge over time.

It all sounded so cool I was seriously tempted to spend the money, but somehow never took the step.  And a good thing I didn’t!

A few weeks ago, I got an e-mail from CCI announcing that the organization had formed a working partnership with Dognition. They were seeking 100 volunteers to participate. I applied and learned this morning that Dionne’s been accepted in the program!

That means, we can get her assessed for free. I’ll try to fill out the questionnaire tonight and to play the games with her asap. As soon as we get back Dionne’s report, you can expect to read about it here.

First visit to the dog park

First visit to the dog park

I’ve been feeling guilty recently about Dionne’s lack of exercise. Since she’s not interested in balls, we can’t sneak onto the field across the street from us and have her chase them there. Tucker will wrestle with her now and then, but he’s not interested in racing around the yard with her. And as I noted in my last post, she can’t spend any time outside alone, as she’s still eating motley objects that irritate her digestive system.

Sometimes she goes nuts inside the house, exploding with pent-up energy. Yesterday I decided that I had to do something. So I took her and Tucker to the dog park.

The closest one to me is pretty pathetic, two sun-scorched mostly dirt enclosures on the side of Soledad Mountain Road (just north of Balboa in Pacific Beach.) What it has going for it, however, is that it’s only 10 minutes drive from the house. I haven’t been there often, but I’ve never seen it jammed with dogs.

When we arrived, there were two poodle-ish creatures, one large and one small, hanging out with their owners. Neither was playful, but that clearly didn’t bother Tucker or Dionne, who spent several minutes exploring the fascinating smells.

The poodleheads soon left, but a guy with a yellow lab arrived and that triggered several high-speed chases. I loved seeing Dionne streak around at full speed. She looks as fast as a racehorse.

To my surprise, she didn’t keep it up for long. It was hot, and I also wondered if she’s a bit out of shape. We left after about 20 minutes, and even after getting home we got home, there was lots of panting.

All evening, she was remarkably calm, almost sedate. Another reason to put “Return soon” on my To-Do list.



Around our house, summer is usually the happiest time of the year for dogs. That’s because the venerable old fig tree that’s been here since well before we moved in 36 years ago bears so much fruit  we can’t possibly use it all, and figs rain down, splattering in the dirt. Observant resident canines usually gobble up many of them. By the end of the summer, the dogs invariably look a few pounds heavier.

When we returned from our African travels at the end of June, I noted ripe fruit on the tree and the ground, and I assumed that Dionne would immediately discover the joys of figging. Letting one’s puppy eat fallen figs isn’t exactly in the CCI Puppy-raiser’s Manual, but Steve and I have never been too draconian about preventing it. For a few days after her return from her sojourns with the puppy-sitters, Dionne did forage happily.

But after that first happy weekend, she had a revolting episode of diarrhea. So — yet again — we’re mostly only allowing her into the yard on leash. We have mixed feelings about this. We suspect she may end up being more amenable to life as a service dog if she’s spent most of her puppyhood confined by our sides. But clearly she’d be happier if she could roam around freely.

This afternoon the pangs of sympathy for her need to get out and tear around became too strong for me, so I let her out off-leash for a few minutes (during which I watched her pretty closely.) I noted that not many figs were on the ground. I think the first wave of ripening is past, and the second won’t come for several more weeks. But instead of figs, lots of baby avocados have been falling off our old avocado tree. (We’re hoping that’s just because it was so loaded with fruit that some self-culling was necessary.)

Dionne loves the baby avocados too. This afternoon she snatched one up and raced around with it, then hunkered down to chew it up.

They must taste awful — hard and bitter, but she doesn’t appear to care. I told myself she probably wouldn’t get sick from it. At the same time, I only let her munch on one before I rounded her up and brought her inside. The memory of that last diarrheal attack hasn’t yet faded.

Can it be true?

Yesterday a friend passed along a link to an article entitled, “Blind couple brought together by their smitten guide dogs,” from the online site, DogHeirs. It recounts how the guide dogs Venice and Rodd fell in love when their owners were undergoing training. Human romance resulted; this video 
tells the story. 
Dionne can be quite the coquette. I could see her seducing some canine hunk in her Advanced Training. As for getting the relevant humans to follow suit, as the above goes to show, weird stuff happens.