A jumper!

A jumper!

Two weeks ago, I failed to record a fairly significant piece of news: Dionne’s advancement into the Advanced class.  We go to the one that’s held in San Diego. It runs from 8 to 9 p.m. Mondays. Maybe because that’s a bit late, there were only 2-3 other dogs in it. And ALL of them will be turned in for their advanced training in Oceanside in mid-February. We don’t know if Dionne will be an only student then. That would be something different.

That class two weeks ago didn’t go so smoothly. Bob asked us to have our pups execute the Jump command, and even though Dionne had been routinely Jumping from our lower yard up to the pool level, in class she froze and balked at jumping up on the class bench. Bob worked with her for a good five minutes, but all Dionne wanted was to hide out Under the bench.

Monday night was a different story. I tried having her jump up from the closed narrow side, figuring that maybe the open bottom scared her. She refused, but then I scooped her up, plopped her on the bench, let her walk around a bit, ordered her off, then ordered her to Jump again. That did it. She succeeded and seemed to enjoyed being praised by everyone in the room. She did it over and over.

We still have to work on a few other Advanced commands, notably the Visit and the Back. But she’s acing everything else.


Girl party, Part 2

One of the things I love about dogs is how adaptable they are. Unlike human teenagers, they never whine about how much more fun they had someplace else. Although partying at Kathy Alameda’s house enabled Dionne and Ella to zoom around in a big space for hours on end, they never rolled their eyes and said snarky things about how much less room they had, once they’d moved here. They seemed to love being together even in the cozier spaces.

They engaged in huge amounts of neck-biting, for hours and hours. They’re both energetic girls, and at times they seemed to literally bounce off the walls.


This kind of roughhousing is very hard on any house, and Steve and I sometimes made them go outdoors, to burn off some of that energy. But unlike Dionne, Ella’s a swimmer, and she would invariably follow her dips by romping through the muddier parts of the yard.
At that point, the only solution was to kennel them. Ella had her own kennel, but she and Dionne seemed to enjoy hanging out in Dionne’s larger one.

It permitted more neck-biting!
Occasionally, they would crash. The ever-patient Mr. Tucker even let them share his bed.

Scenes like that made the increased levels of squalor easier to take.
And all things come to an end. Kathy arrived Friday afternoon to take Ella home again. She called yesterday to report that Ella seemed depressed.

I might say the same for Dionne. Except that Saturday morning Cletus arrived! More on that adventure soon.

Girl party, part I

Girl party, part I

Dionne and I haven’t dropped off the planet, though it may look that way. What actually happened is that eleven days ago, Steve and I went down to Baja, California for two days to investigate the development in the Guadalupe Valley, just north of Ensenada. I wrote a Reader cover story about the valley back in 1988, when the Mexican wine industry was just beginning to thrive. Six wineries were operating back then. Today there are more than 60, with many producing excellent wines and showing them off in tasting facilities that would fit right into the Napa Valley. We had a lot of fun checking it out.

The resident weimaraners at the inn/horse-breeding farm where we stayed seemed to live lordly lives.

But I don’t know if US government regulations would have permitted us to take Dionne with us, and she would have had to wear a cape and be on her best behavior, had we taken her. She unquestionably had more fun staying at Kathy Alameda’s exquisite home in Rancho Santa Fe.

Kathy’s raising Ella. In fact, she picked Ella up from CCI in Oceanside at the exact same time I was picking up Dionne. Kathy has hosted a couple of puppy parties since then, and watching dogs race at top speed around the grounds of her property has made me think it’s as close to Canine Paradise as anywhere I’ve seen.

As soon as we neared the gates, Dionne began whimpering. I had trouble restraining her when she saw Ella, and the two girls were off — reaching speeds I can only describe as scary.

Here’s how they looked after about 15 minutes of that. Pretty happy, I’d say.
Before I left, I helped Kathy get the girls inside and tethered to a spot near each other:
Note the wagging tails.
A day or so later, Kathy sent me a wonderful video of them playing together. She reported that they got along perfectly. 
She brought Dionne back to us last Sunday. But the fun wasn’t over! Ella came too and settled in as our houseguest while Kathy went to visit friends in the Northwest.
I’ll report next on how Part 2 of the Girl Party unfolded.

NOT a load of dog do-do

NOT a load of dog do-do

I’ll admit that when I saw the tweet last week about dogs aligning themselves with the earth’s magnetic field during peeing and pooping, I though it sounded pretty ridiculous. Steve also snorted when I told him about it, but we both started paying more attention to Tucker and Dionne’s directional orientation during defecation. Sometimes the dogs lined themselves up in a north-south direction, as the study said.

But just as often, they faced other directions.
When I took a look at the actual scientific article reporting this discovery, however, my attitude changed. Published last year in Frontiers in Zoology, the report is stuffed with eye-crossing statistical analysis and 32 supporting scientific references. More important: it explained that the researchers themselves didn’t see much of a pattern among their 70 subjects and their 1,893 defecations and 5,582 urinations. It was only after they correlated their findings with the strength of the earth’s magnetic field during each of the excretory incidents that a “highly significant” pattern emerged. When the field was unstable, the dogs relieved themselves facing any which way. But when it was stable, they strongly avoided facing east/west. The researchers point out that the earth’s magnetic field is calm during only about 20% of the daylight hours.
The researchers (who apparently were funded by the Czech government) also ruled out the influence of wind, time of day, and sun angle, and they let the dogs run free in fields (unlike Steve and me, who have been conducting all our observations on leashed canines). If you’re still skeptical, I recommend checking out the original report; here’s a link to a pdf of it.
The researchers suggest that their discovery opens new horizons in magnetoreception research. Without the sun or a compass, I can’t tell you which way is north, so I think it’s pretty cool if Dionne and Tucker can. (Steve remains skeptical. He thinks the Czechs scientists are chuckling in their beers over this.)

What it’s all about

What it’s all about

Eight years ago, Yuriy Zmysly, a young Marine who had bravely served in Iraq and Afghanistan and returned home unscathed, went in for surgery at a North Carolina military hospital to remove an inflamed appendix. Mistakes were made, he suffered a brain injury, and he went into a coma from which his loved ones feared he might never wake up. But awake he did, and since then he’s been wrapped in the love of his fiancee (soon wife) Aimee and other devoted family members.

Steve and I met Yuriy and Aimee two and a half years ago, when our puppy Brando (whose baby face graces the top of this blog) was awarded to them to serve as their skilled companion. (So far, he’s our only Graduate.)

Brando with Aimee and Yuriy in the home last September (photo by Bob Schneider)

As a puppy-raiser, there’s no question I hear more often than, “How can you stand to give them up?” I have various answers. One that I don’t often express but could (and maybe should) is: I’ve seen what a wonderful life they can have in service. To our extreme good fortune, Aimee is a gifted writer, photographer, and videographer who amply chronicles the life of her family (principally on Facebook). I often glimpse Brando in her posts, and every time I do it makes me happy.

This year, as she’s done in the past, Aimee has created a video celebrating the fact that Yuriy is alive.  Not just alive, but thriving — working hard to gain strength and abilities.

To me, the greatest thing about CCI and the work of its dogs is the way it creates bridges between people: the folks raising the puppies, the folks awarded the graduate dogs, the people who meet them on their daily journeys through life. Raising Brando made it possible for us to get to know Aimee and Yuriy — and Adelina. What a gift.

Two for the show

Two for the show

Last weekend Jim Siegfried, a veteran puppy raiser, asked for volunteers with puppies to staff a booth at San Diego International Auto Show in the downtown Convention Center. The inducement was free admission to the show where a variety of new and classic cars were on display.

Steve and Dionne volunteered for a noon to 2:00 pm shift Sunday. The booth was a table with a CCI sign at one end of a huge booth paid for by Golden Boy Mobility, a firm that converts mini-vans and even pickup trucks to accommodate wheel chairs.  The location assured that lots of people who might be interested in a canine companion might pass by.
Car controls are kind of interesting…
But they can’t compete with oversized images of puppies. Or real pups!
Steve reported that Dionne seemed to enjoy the experience and was not at all nervous about the crowds. The show attracted lots of parents with young children who asked if they could pet her. She probably got more petting on Sunday than in the previous two weeks. During periods of light foot traffic, Steve and Dionne practiced CCI commands.
This young lady set down her coffee and knelt on the floor for several minutes stroking Dionne.  Obviously she was in serious need of a puppy fix.
A cheerleader for the San Diego Sockers also petted Dionne, but her pom-pom made Dionne nervous.

After their shift, Steve took Dionne around the show. While he looked at the new cars, particularly plug-in hybrids, Dionne received more petting and people asked about CCI.


After combing the show floor, Steve and Dionne decided that if they were in the market for a car (which they are not), they would buy the Toyota Prius hybrid that gets 46 mpg in city driving.

Escape artiste

Escape artiste

Steve and I think Dionne seems cut out to be a working dog.  Unfortunately, the line of work may be different from what CCI would like from her. We can envision her with a career as a screenwriter. She’s so inventive! Here’s the latest.

We took her with us to the Clairemont theater last night to see Saving Mr. Banks, the Tom Hanks/Emma Thompson film about the making of Mary Poppins, the film. The three of us have been in that theater many times.  Dionne, on Steve’s right, seemed quiet; well behaved. But somewhere about halfway through, Steve suddenly noticed that she was no longer on her leash.

She’d chewed herself free from it! While we were engrossed in the movie, SHE was thinking Great Escape! Born Free! Breaking Bad!

Thankfully, mercifully, she didn’t just slink off in the dark, nosing around for popcorn the way some hounds hunt truffles. (She’s so black, she probably could have gotten away with that.)
Steve has a solution to prevent this from ever happening again. He says we should have removed her Gentle Leader and connected the leash directly to her collar. We’ll do that in the future. (But by then her agile mind will have moved on…)

If Dionne was ever trying to make me mad…

If Dionne was ever trying to make me mad…

…she succeeded this morning.

I had taken her and Tucker on a walk to the neighborhood coffee shop, where we often go. Upon our return, I set my cup on the dining table, turned my back on it (and her) for just a minute or two.  And this is what I found:

My delicious cup of freshly brewed Kenyan!  With lavender notes!! Grrrrrrrrr.

We have no idea how she happened to disrupt the table cloth and dump my drink. But I was NOT happy.

Of course she was almost certainly not trying to make me mad.  Just doing it innocently, like a baby.


The journey continues

The journey continues

Sunday Steve and I took Dionne along on the long annual beach hike that we do every winter with friends when the tide is super low. As usual, Dionne walked nicely on the leash. But trouble struck when we reached the jumble of rocks that’s the most serious obstacle along the way. Dionne scrambled up them without hesitation, but when it was time to descend, terror gripped her. Steve (aka The Dogfather) was patient, declining at least one offer from someone to carry her. They took it slowly, and in the end, the combination of his reassurance and my calling to her, treat in hand, got her over the last scary part.

With the scary part behind her, Dionne particularly enjoyed the point where we all stopped to have some wine and hors d’oeuvres.  She scarfed up several pieces of errant popcorn.

But most of yesterday, she seemed worn out:

It’s likely the New Year will bring us all at least a couple more challenges. Here’s a toast to the hope that we’ll overcome them!