Puppy mind-reading

Someone who read my last post (about Kyndall peeing in the kitchen) emailed me to offer the opinion that she was testing us; that she wanted to “see what are the consequences of doing what I kno013115 mind-readingw they don’t like.” He went on that to say if he’d been there, he might have promptly rubbed her nose “in the offense,” not in anger but to demonstrate that peeing in the kitchen resulted in having one’s nose pushed into a smelly puddle.

It was just a suggestion, and I appreciated the good will with which it was offered. Reflecting on it, I had two thoughts: 1) he was wrong about her motivation, and 2) how did I know?

Here’s what made me think so. Nothing about Kyndall’s posture or attendant behavior suggested defiance. On occasion, we’ve seen defiance, or at least contrariness in our puppies. Dionne, our last trainee, certainly became well aware we didn’t want her to jump up and snatch stones out of the fireplace. But she’d do it routinely anyway, and if we caught her at it, she’d race away, delighted by yet another opportunity to play Keep Away.

After Kyndall’s urinary lapse, I think she just would have stood there as if nothing had happened — had we not simultaneously bellowed “No!!!”, and swept her up and outside, where we tried to cajole her to “Hurry” in an appropriate spot. In the kitchen, I think she felt a sudden pressure in her bladder and… spaced out… Forgot to wait until she was outside to relieve that pressure. Although 95% of the time she urinates and defecates outdoors, and she never once has defiled her kennel, she still is barely 3 and a half months old and hasn’t quite mastered the subtler rules (patio=okay; kitchen=bad); hasn’t yet learned to communicate with us (“Uh-oh! I need to be on the patio NOW!”)

This will sort itself out soon, I know. The chore of house-training any dog interests me less than the larger challenge of trying to read its mind. If you live with dogs and pay attention, it’s obvious they have thoughts. Some are easy to decipher. On our little walk this morning, we passed a bicycle sitting next to an open garage in the alley. Kyndall’s head swiveled and she stared at it in passing. “What’s that?” we could see her thinking. “I don’t recognize it! I’d like to check it out!

Or this: I recently learned there’s another CCI puppy-raiser living just 5 minutes drive from us; a mutual friend put us in touch. So on Thursday afternoon Kyndall and I went for a short visit. Most of it went like this:

And I could easily read her mind: “I like this girl!  She’s bigger than me, but I can bite her neck and roll around with  her, and it’s SO MUCH FUN! (All that tail-wagging is a dead giveaway.)

Other thoughts (or the absence of them) are harder to decipher. Why, for example, when I took her out for a little training session a few minutes ago did she stare at me blankly when I told her, “Down!” Several dozens times I have given that command, and she’s flopped right down into the position. But this time she looked at me as if I had lost my mind: suddenly ordered her to “Smorghl!” Was she being defiant? I seriously doubt it.

But what do I know, really?



Two steps forward, one step back

012815 peeI’ve been feeling almost smug in the last few days. We’ve seen Kyndall make some real breakthroughs. Almost a week ago, I stopped carrying her down the stairs from our bedroom for the first toileting break of the morning. I’ve hustled her along quite fiercely, but it’s been effective. She hasn’t once stopped to squat and pee on her way out, despite how urgently she sometimes does that once she’s outside.

We’ve seen progress, too, on the chewing front. I think she’s starting to get that we really don’t like being bitten by her. She still tries, from time to time, but she’s not persisting as much as she was a few weeks ago. The number of gouges on our hands is diminishing.

Tucker also has been training her. A few nights ago, she did something that must have really made him mad (we didn’t see what it was). He snarled and barked at her, and instead of screaming just once, she emitted loud squeals of terror for several long seconds. We think it was terror, rather than pain, as she bore no sign of being bitten. Whatever she did and he did, she’s been downright deferential to him since then. When he’s eating out of his bowl or licking a plate, she gives him a wide berth.

So it was a startling disappointment this afternoon to see her blithely squat down next to Steve and me in the kitchen and pee a substantial puddle. This was only an hour or so after Steve took her out and she peed, and then took her on a short walk during which she peed again.

What was she thinking? Then again, what am I thinking? She’s not yet three and a half months old but already adjusting beautifully to life with us — most of the time.

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She’s still a very little girl.




Confinement vessels

I’ve come to realize that puppy-raisers have to be able to stomach locking up joyful little fur balls that are bursting with life. Maybe there are puppies so sleepy they just lie at your feet and snooze all day. But we’ve never had one of those. We’ve had lively, inquisitive puppies who, unconfined and unrestrained, will learn all manner of bad habits.

Over time, we’ve refined our confinement strategies. We have kennels of various sizes, and several puppies ago, we acquired an “X” (for “exercise”) pen. Since it’s just a fencing system, with no bottom, I didn’t set it up for years in my wall-to-wall-carpeted office. But with our last puppy (Dionne), I began experimenting with ways of protecting the carpet from any accidental deposits of puppy body waste.

I tried heavy-duty vinyl…

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But within a few hours, Dionne managed to puncture and rip it.

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Next we got hold of some linoleum-type flooring material…

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…but that too quickly fell victim to her teeth and claws.

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So last summer we replaced the carpet (it was time) with ceramic faux-wood tiles. The experts at Home Depot insisted that’s toughest flooring available for homes. It’s been working splendidly.

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As fate would have it, Kyndall has never had an accident within it. She’s inches away from my desk, and she can play with toys or nap. Of course, she also enjoys playing outside of it. We allow that too, and we’ll gradually do more, as she gets more and more adept staying out of trouble.

Pure joy

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Kyndall was totally smitten by Meri, who’s just a little older (but MUCH more furry).


It was late morning at the puppy play session, when one of the puppy-raisers commented dryly that she hadn’t yet had her morning coffee. I’d already consumed a large cup and as always had enjoyed the subtle but uplifting feeling of caffeine meeting nervous system. However, I got a much bigger jolt of adrenaline and pleasure from taking Kyndall and Tucker to the party.

The gathering was hosted at the home of longtime puppy-raiser Cyndy Carlton, who started raising CCI dogs a couple of years before Steve and I did; we first met her about 10 years ago, when Tucker (our first dog) was little. At some point over the years, she invited us to her regular Saturday-morning play groups, and for a while I attended often. Then we got out of sync with Cyndy and her pups, and I lost contact with the group. Now, however, she’s raising 15-week-old Hawk. They’re both in our Kinderpup class, where I was delighted to learn that Cyndy is still hosting the twice-monthly events.

Kyndall, Tucker, and I arrived about 10:15 this morning. Cyndy has rigged a double-fencing system (like what you see when entering dog parks), but even with that, it was hard to control my two — both were beside themselves with excitement. In the yard, they joined a throng of more than a dozen other canines ranging in age from 13 years to less than 3 months. All the littlest ones were naked — freed of not just their leashes but also their collars to avoid any choking accidents — and for a few minutes, I feared I might actually lose Kyndall in the fray. Here’s a glimpse of what the scene looked like:

It’s not so easy to tire out a CCI puppy. They’re not supposed to go out in public until they’re fully immunized (around 4 months), and even then, they’re not supposed to go to regular dog parks. We can’t let them frolic out in the yard, unsupervised. So one of the reasons the play group seems so wonderful to me is that they provide an opportunity to tire out the little ones. They’re also a place where the puppies can practice playing nicely — with no growling or barking or other overly aggressive behavior. Yet another benefit is the opportunity to hang out and chat with other folks who are grappling with the same challenges you are (or have confronted at some time in the past.) For example, one of the brand-new puppy-raisers asked Cyndy and me if it was normal for her little female to be waking up and whining to go out several times a night. An extended discussion ensued. Later I asked Cyndy and two other veterans how many puppy toys they own (a lot, was the consensus.) I got some inspiring ideas for what else to stuff Kongs with (besides peanut butter or cream cheese.)

As for Kyndall, she ran around. She played tug-of-war with another dog who looked like a lanky teenager. But most of all, she appeared dazzled by Meri, the little golden on our Kinderpup class with the luxuriant coat of fur. They hung out under a bench swing for at least half the time we were there, chewing on each other, wrestling, licking each other’s ears. On the drive home, Kyndall told me she wants to go back and play with her some more. I’ve put it on my calendar.

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Meri in a rare moment when she wasn’t being pursued by Kyndall.


A speaker in the making

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I’m a sucker for dogs who Speak. I realize, of course, that the Speak command is one of CCI’s rare optional ones. Some dogs will do it, but others just won’t. We’ve had one or two who were resolutely mute. Still, those that do tickle me. And I think Kyndall will soon join that club.

As is evident in the following clip, she’s a little confused about Speak versus Down (versus jump up and paw the command-giver.) But it’s coming…



Flower child

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We planted the “Butterball” hibiscus on our patio 19 years ago. Since then we’ve acquired 6 CCI puppies. Collectively, they eaten all kinds of things in the yard. Yuli was wild about the King Palm seeds. Dionne favored mulch — fresh or aged. Kyndall is the only one who’s been obsessed with eating the hibiscus flowers.011915 hibiscus3

Maybe that’s because the tree happens to be bursting with fat yellow blossoms at the moment. After some time, they dry up and fall off. Dried and withered or newly unfurled, she pounces upon them and hunkers down for a chew. For a while we told ourselves she wasn’t swallowing, but now we know better.

This alarmed us. Certain plants can kill dogs, including a couple that we have in the yard, oleander (permanently) and poinsettias (often during the Christmas season). No dog has ever shown any interest in them, however. When Kyndall’s hibiscus cravings became evident, we turned to the Internet and (surprise!) found conflicting information. But a common assertion is that “hardy” hibiscus (Hibiscus syriacus) is indeed poisonous, while the “tropical” varieties do no harm.

Our Butterball is a a tropical variety, a rosa sinensis. And though I knock on wood as I type this, Kyndall has yet to throw up anything (unlike her predecessor, the vomiting superstar Dionne). We still try to stop her whenever we find a blossom in her mouth, but she’s persistent about harvesting more.



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Think you can keep me from my hibiscus fix? Make my day!


Yogurt head

I have a friend who claims to know some people who recently acquired a dog for garbage disposal. The trash services in their complex were poor, and so these folks supposedly were feeding all their scraps to the dog. My friend and I could hardly believe it, but she insisted she’d heard it from a credible source.

Steve and I feed Tucker small bits of leftover food now and then, but it’s never much. We don’t want him to get fat. And for our CCI puppies, we would no more substitute human food for their prescribed Eukanuba Large Breed Puppy Chow than we’d allow them to roam the streets alone at night.

Still, there are gray zones within the realm of CCI-puppy-human-food contact. The organization makes it clear that pups can be given small amounts of peanut butter in certain toys (like Kongs). Our puppy instructors refer to the benefits of sometimes using “high-value treats” as rewards for challenging tasks. We take that to mean bits of real meat.

In that context, I saw nothing wrong yesterday with giving Kyndall the quart-size yogurt container. I’d cleaned it out at lunchtime, and only the thinnest smear of plain yogurt remained inside. I knew she’d be transfixed by it — a puppy toy of the highest value.

She instantly carried it to a nearby rug and settled down to work on removing every remaining yogurt molecule.

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Unlike some dogs we’ve had, who never figured out how to restrain things they wanted to lick, Kyndall has already mastered using her paws for that purpose. But quickly, she moved on to paw-free exploration of the carton interior.

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Of course we should have seen the next thing coming.


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What fascinated me was that she didn’t panic. Was she inhaling? Savoring residual yogurt vapors? Wondering where everyone else in the pack went? I removed the carton, and she continued sitting calmly. A play session to remember.

Puppy goes wild (almost every day)


There are times (like in class Monday night with much more experienced puppy raisers) when I feel like Steve and I are still newbies. Then there are other times when I feel like we’ve been at this for too long.

I hit the Too Long category this morning, when I tried to look up “puppy wilding” in my CCI Puppy Raiser Manual. I was given the manual back in 2004 when we got Tucker (our first puppy). We studied it religiously back then. We consulted it from time to time in the course of raising Yuli (#2) and Brando (#3), as I recall. But just as parents of multiple children tend to get looser about raising their younger offspring, we haven’t cracked open the Manual for a while. So although I think I read about puppy wilding in the manual at one time, I could find no trace of it this morning.

Did we make it up?  Wherever we got it, in my mind it refers to those periods when very young dogs go a little berserk — suddenly tearing around the yard at breakneck speed or running in loops throughout the house, as if chased by some demon. It happens pretty regularly, and it’s usually comical.

Although Kyndall is a sleepier and calmer girl than all her predecessors in our house, even she succumbs to the call of the wild from time to time. First thing in the morning and late afternoons is when it’s most likely to happen. The clip above is a glimpse of one recent such display.





Kinderpuppy garden

Kyndall attended her very first class last night, the first of the 8-part “kinderpup” session. I came away feeling elated for at least 2 reasons.

1) Unlike a few of her fellow classmates, she didn’t whine or bark or shriek or lunge to play with the other dogs. Mostly, she sat or went into a down-stay and watched attentively.

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2) Having been through all the classes (5 times before), we’re aware of how much time we’ll be spending with our classmates over the next 15 months. And this promises to be an excellent group. It included 8 puppies, but one is 5 months old and will probably be moving up to the next older set. Among the remainder, three are first-time puppy raisers.

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Of the veterans, Steve and I are the least experienced. We know all the more senior hands. Candy Carlton’s Hawk is #9 for her.

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He’s a handsome fellow.

Willie Crawford’s Miso is her 10th.

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Look at those adoring eyes. (In the background is Bob Schneider, one of our friends who are working on a documentary about raising service dogs.)

Rounding out the group are Dan and Janice Flynn who enjoy an almost mythic status. Their current gorgeous baby golden retriever, Meri, is the 20th CCI puppy that they’ve raised; the vast majority of them have graduated.

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She’s not only a blonde bombshell, but she also seemed to know about 10 commands already.

That means we’ll have regular contact with a deep pool of puppy-raising talent. And that’s not to mention Bob Smith, our instructor. Just last night he give Steve and me a couple of useful concrete suggestions, e.g. where to position our hands while cradling Kyndall in order to best control her. It was yet another reminder of how much there is to learn about the complex task of transforming a clueless baby animal into a revered service companion.