A cruel coincidence

A cruel coincidence

It was stupid of me I will admit, to leave the spool of thread on the bannister outside my office. I’d used it over the weekend to sew a patch on a costume, and I put it on the bannister because I was too lazy to take it directly from my desk back to the sewing box downstairs where it is stored. For years, I’ve used the bannister as a staging post. I simply forgot that we’re now living for the first time with a puppy who has no scruples about stealing things off desks and counters… and bannisters.

I actually left two spools — a small one with dark blue thread and a big one with white thread into which I’d also stuck the big needle that I used. When I left for the gym yesterday morning, I noticed both spools on the bannister but didn’t take the time to put them away. Only much later in the day did it strike me that the big one was gone.

I suspected Dionne immediately, and Steve and I searched for it. We found no trace of either spool or needle, and we told each other it was almost unimaginable Dionne could have EATEN them in the small amount of time she was unsupervised. There’d be traces of such carnage. Right?

Still I worried about her as I feel asleep last night. She seemed fine in the morning and gobbled down her breakfast. But a few hours later, she crept into the corner next to the sofa in my office and vomited up the whole meal.

For all the barfing that girl did in her first year of life, she hadn’t done it in a few months. Once again I tackled the disgusting task of poking a skewer in her upchucked breakfast to see if I could detect any spools shards or blood from the needle ripping up her guts. (Years ago, Steve and I heard about one CCI puppy who ate an entire pin cushion — filled with pins. That required Surgical Intervention, something we’ve never had to endure and which we fervently hope to avoid. But the thought still chills our blood.)

Kenneled and fasting, she looks sad. 

Dionne threw up again a few hours later, and I tried to stay calm, reminding myself that even a cautionary trip to the vet would be a multi-hundred-dollar outing. We called our housekeeper. She was  here yesterday and remembered seeing the small spool but not the big one. She certainly hadn’t found it on the floor and tucked it away somewhere, as we had hoped.

It was only sometime in the mid-afternoon that Steve thought to look under a piece of furniture we hadn’t looked under before. Both the spool and needle were hidden there — intact, though a bit the worse for having been gnawed.

So the cruel coincidence is the fact that Dionne just happened to throw up on the very day after she stole, chewed on, and hid the spool and needle. Obviously, the one had nothing to do with the other.

As to what IS irritating her tummy, we have no clue. At the moment, we’re feeling almost no sympathy for her at all.

Tucker wouldn’t dream of stealing anything from my bannister.  He wouldn’t even look at the recovered spool and needle even when we tried to lure him into doing so. 

The recovered spool, complete with chew marks and intact needle.  (Both are now safely back in the sewing box.) 

The blackest of the blacks

The blackest of the blacks

There may be 50 shades of gray, but that’s not the case for black labradors. They all tend to be as black as black can be — a kind of ultimate standard for blackness. This can make it hard to tell them apart. Our friends’ black lab, Kenzie, is staying with us again for a few days, and as usual, we occasionally struggle to distinguish her from Dionne. Even though Kenzie’s nose is longer and she’s taller, one black lab looks an awful lot like another.

Still, Steve asserts that, according to one measure — her eye color — Dionne is blacker than all other black labs we’ve ever lived with.

Kenzie has beautiful golden-brown eyes. They remind me of topazes:

But Dionne’s eyes more closely resemble espresso: 
Put her in the shadows, and you can barely detect any brown at all. (During the Halloween season, she looks particularly stylish.)

Do dogs have brains?

Our friend Devin Dunn and his buddies pose that question in an, um, offbeat fashion in their latest creation for The Parody Factory:http://youtu.be/XsrW7bkQ1dE

We were asking ourselves much the same thing this afternoon, when Dionne suddenly squatted down and peed a LAKE in the middle of our Oriental rug (something that hasn’t happened in at least a year).  And I’ve been telling everyone what a champion she is, at letting me know when she wants to/has go go out.

A little earlier, I heard a strange but subtle noise, looked down, and found that she had stolen YET ANOTHER sponge!  Her third in a week or so. I caught her in time to get some insight into her sponge-eating modus operandi: clearly, nibbling it around the edges. Sponge-eating obviously isn’t bothering her in the slightest. (A form of Doggy Metamucil?)  But Steve figures it’s costing us more than a buck a sponge, expensive for a dog treat.

Back to school night

Back to school night
Last night we returned to puppy class for the first time in what felt like ages.  Our instructor, Bob, took all of September off, and then Steve and I missed the first class upon his return (two weeks ago).  We’ve chosen to repeat the Basic series of classes, which started Oct. 7th and will continue through mid-December. Though Dionne knows all the Basic commands, it’s a congenial group — filled with several of the same folks we’ve been gathering with since puppy kindergarten. And we’ll have plenty of time to start the Advanced classes in January and complete that series before we turn in Dionne in mid-May.

Dionne executed her Under well — as she did the Heel, Roll, and Downs that we worked on.

It’s a pretty mellow hour. Sometimes I teeter on the brink of boredom, but there are almost always a couple of goofy puppy antics to make me laugh. Usually we also see at least a thing or two we can learn from. Last night, for example, Bob gave a masterful demonstration of how to tease a puppy into a Roll (Junebug had been balking). And watching different handlers demonstrate the Heel command reminded us why it’s a good idea to practice giving that from different starting positions.  

They’re subtle refinements — but they make us feel like we’re still getting tips on how to become better trainers. God knows, we can use that. There’s also encouragement to be taken. Dan and Janice Flynn, the enormously experienced puppy raisers who’ve had something like 18 CCI pups, are attending this series with their newest charge. After class, Dan shook his head and muttered to me about how distractible this one is. Their last puppy, Sorbet, was the easiest puppy they’ve ever trained, while the new girl was shaping up to be one of the hardest. “That’s a tough transition,” Don commented. Tough for them, maybe, but it could be inspirational for us. 

Not possessed, after all

Not possessed, after all

So it turns out that the answer to the question I posed the other day is no — Dionne’s recent stay in the CCI kennels did NOT, after all, cause a complete personality change.

We continue to find her calmer and better behaved. But in just the past two days, the old Dionne has been very much in evidence. On Friday, the sponge mysteriously disappeared from the kitchen sink, and this morning it became clear where at least part of it had been, namely making its way through Dionne’s digestive system. Steve finally persuaded me that it was be too gross to photograph and post the evidence of this. Nonetheless, in short order, she also went on to:

Run out in the backyard and stick her head into some mass of spider webs, many of which stuck to her. 

(A doggy bit of Halloween costuming?)
Steal a shoe from my closet…  
and take obvious delight in Keeping it Away from me:
Snatch the little Halloween witch off a table, eviscerate her,  
and strew her little plastic bead/guts all around the house. 
On a more positive note, when we took her to Movie Night on Friday, she bounded up those open-tread stairs without missing a beat — and without any need for smelly treats or other inducements. So I guess it’s one step backward but two forward.
(Or something like that.)

Big girl food

Big girl food

When Dionne had her first birthday on the 6th, I forgot to mention the biggest change that comes with that landmark — it’s the point at which CCI says the puppies should stop eating Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy Chow and start subsisting on Large Breed Adult dog food.

For years, we’ve stored our dog food in a large metal garbage can, which we keep in a spare closet on the lowest level of our house. Steve some time ago cleverly made a divider for it that creates two compartments, which he has labeled as seen here:

During the first year of any CCI puppy’s life, we stow the puppy chow on the left (Puppy) side, while we fill the right (Tucker) side with what we refer to as Geezer dog chow — formulated with fewer calories to help one keep one’s older dog from getting too fat. But it’s kind of a pain to buy the two separate varieties, so when the puppy turns one, we switch to feeding both dogs the Adult stuff.

Of course we have no idea what Dionne thinks of her new sustenance. We imagine it probably doesn’t taste as delicious as the kibble intended to nurture fat, happy baby dogs. She came back from the CCI kennels so skinny that we feel sorry for her. (Figging season is now conclusively over, so there are no extra calories to be snorfled up from the lower yard.)

There’s still a bit of the Geezer food left on Tucker’s side, but as soon as it’s gone, he’ll start eating the Adult fare, and we imagine this is a happy turn of events for him. As far as Tucker’s concerned, All calories are good calories, and the more, the merrier.

Dionne thinks the Dog Food Chamber is a magical place, even though normally we keep the tight-fitting lid on the can to discourage any unauthorized snacking. 



Dionne has now been home from the CCI kennels for 10 days, and we’re increasingly feeling that her sojourn in Oceanside changed her in some fundamental way.

“I think they murdered her spirit, while she was up there,” I muttered today to Steve. She seems perfectly content to sleep near my desk for most of the day. She’s made the occasional play for a discarded shoe, and she’s swiped a few of the stones from the fireplace. But that incessant driving search for Trouble that was so much a part of her personality has faded. She hasn’t thrown up once or stolen one of the kitchen sponges. Out on the leash, her manners are impressive. We even think she’s lost interest in lunging at passing small dogs (though she still swivels her head to stare at them).

“Maybe she reflected on her life while she was up there,” Steve offered, theorizing that she had some kind of epiphany about how she needed to shape up or she’d never make it as a service dog.

Whatever it is, life with her now feels MUCH more relaxed (even if she does feel possessed…)

The new Dionne?



We savored a minor, but satisfying victory Friday night when we returned to Movie Night for the first time since Dionne returned from Girl Camp. Steve and I had found another open-tread staircase in our neighborhood, and when we took Dionne there, she balked, as usual. But using a combination of tactics (i.e. 1) carrying her up the first few stairs, as Dan Flynn did on our outing at the mall, and 2) offering her pieces of very aromatic salami), we were able to break through her fear on those stairs, an accomplishment that she repeated later in the week.

The big test remained the dark, creepy stairwell in our friend Alberto’s building. On Friday Dionne again recoiled — first. But once again, a combination of the two persuasive tools got her going, and she climbed all the way to the third floor without any apparent panic attacks.

We’ll continue to take her up those stairs every Friday that we go to Albie’s for our movie group. But we’re proud of her!

Barking and howling

Barking and howling

We don’t own a decibel meter, but I wish we did. We strongly suspect that petite Dionne has a louder bark than the macho, 8 years older, 30 pounds heavier Mr. Tucker. Her voice at times feels ear-shattering. She doesn’t bark all that often, but when she does, she makes up in volume what she lacks in frequency.

Where Tucker has it all over her is in the howling department. Sirens set him off, as they do many dogs, and over the years, his howls have grown more and more mournful. They’re almost operatic. He lifts his snout high (the better to project?) and varies the pitch and phrasing. Here’s a sample:

Dionne never responds in kind. After recording Tucker the other day and playing my recording back on my computer, I discovered that the very sound of his own voice makes Tucker howl along. (This raises the possibility of re-recording him howling along with himself; I could add layer on layer to create a huge virtual howling dog pack!)

Dionne was standing next to me as Tucker accompanied himself. She stared at the screen. She stared at him.

What’s WRONG with him?!?

At one point, the eerie serenade prompted her to leap up and put her paws on his back; it looked like she was trying to get him to stop. At this point in her young life, she clearly thinks howling is nuts.

Something to worry about?

Something to worry about?

A year or two ago, we heard about some veteran puppy-raisers who picked up their female from the CCI kennels (after she finished her heat), brought her home, and took several days to realize they’d been given the wrong pup. Everyone got a good laugh at this at the time, and Steve and I joked about it on our way to pick up Dionne yesterday.

The dog we brought home was three pounds lighter than the one we checked in. And she seemed a bit more attentive to us; less prone to leap up on visitors. Still, we have NOT worried that this is not Dionne. She looks and acts like Dionne. Case in point: this morning, she seized an opportunity to bolt down to the lower yard, scout around, and gobble down some of Tucker’s droppings. WHO, we ask, would do that except Dionne?

Still, I did acquire one worry when talking to CCI’s vet tech. I asked when we might expect Dionne to go into heat again, and she said many of the girls are like clock work, starting the next cycle exactly 6 months after the last one ends. In our case, that would be right around May 6 — just one week before she’s due to be turned in for her Advanced Training.

I’ve heard of this happening to other puppies and their raisers, and it’s always sounded bad. Hard as it is to part with a puppy, the ceremonial leave-taking of Turn-In does ease the pain.

Still, there’s nothing we can do about it, as far as I know. Just hope for the best?