The ever more flexible puppy

Kyndall is getting yet another lesson in resiliency and adaptability. This morning I dropped her off at the home of Diana and John Vines, seasoned CCI puppysitters. They took care of Dionne for us on one of our trips, and they agreed to host Kyndall for the first week we'll be traveling in Asia. (Kyndall will then go to another puppysitter, in order to lessen the burden on each of her caretakers.)

The Vines home should not have been completely unfamiliar to Kyndall; she visited it for one long afternoon when she was just a tiny puppy (and Steve and I were on a beach hike that was way too long for her at such an early age). But this morning, it was impossible to discern whether she recognized her surroundings. She was smiling and wagging her tail — but she does that almost everywhere.

Diana had a full morning of outings on which she was planning to take Kyndall along. I felt reasonably sure our girl would be well-behaved. She usually is. And besides, learning to keep it together no matter where you are or who's holding the leash is all part of the program.



Get back!

One of my favorite commands is “Back.” Until we started raising CCI puppies, I’d never seen any dog comply with that order. The idea is simple. When you tell your dog “Back!” he or she is supposed to walk backwards, which turns out to be something dogs can do about was easily as humans. This is often useful in tight quarters.  Besides, I think it looks cool.

To train it, we’ve learned that the trick is to use the proper accessories, namely anything that can create a narrow channel into which the puppy can be guided. Steve and Kyndall were in a parking lot the other day that was excellent for Back instruction. I’ve worked on the command a few times in the entryway of our house, where I can pull an old wooden chest away from the wall, as we did here:

Kyndall is clearly beginning to catch on, though she’s not exactly rock-solid yet. Still, I’m confident she’ll master it. (All of our CCI pups eventually have.)

With Kyndall, Steve also has been continuing the almost daily habit he began with Dionne — taking a break around 4:30 in the afternoon to go for a little Poop and Training Walk. (She does the pooping — more often than not — and he does the training.) Thanks to his diligence, she’s become quite polished at many commands, including Roll,

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Side (going into position on the handler’s right-hand side), Jump, and Heel (going into position on the left side).

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We’ll continue to polish these — and to work the few required commands she hasn’t yet learned in our Advanced puppy classes. We should have taken Kyndall to the first of these on August 31, but we missed that because of a social commitment. We went last night, however, and were pleasantly surprised to find just two other Advanced pups there, as well as a substitute teacher, Rick, who seemed patient and kind.

I find puppy classes to be much more relaxing when there are only a few dogs. For this session, we all worked on Visits and Unders and Ups, and we chatted about the challenges of keeping puppies from eating things off the ground. Steve and I left feeling almost sorry that we’ll miss the next two classes, as we’re taking off on another travel adventure. Kyndall will be traveling too — to two local puppy-sitters, so don’t look for many posts from me in the next few weeks.

From figs to fig leaves

From figs to fig leaves
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The tree is starting to look bare, with the figs gone and the fig leaves going.

Almost all the figs have now fallen off or been harvested from our fig tree. I’ve made fig tarts and fig preserves and figgy salads using them. We’ve given them to friends, and Steve personally has eaten about a thousand of them on his morning cereal. Those are the pleasant things about fig season. The part that makes our lives hellish is the way the dogs become insatiably avaricious for them. Even though we grossly restrict Tucker and our current puppy’s access to the tree, they still seem to pounce upon and wolf down too many, often with disastrous digestive consequences.

So we are filled with happiness at the end of fig season. And this year, we’re also filled with horror to discover that Kyndall is eating… the desiccated and disgusting fallen fig leaves.

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Ummm-ummmm good…. Seriously?!
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Does that look tasty to you?

No other dog has ever done this, for reasons we thought we understood. When they’re on the tree, the leaves are irritating. Whenever they touch our bare skin, they cause itching and may even raise little welts. Who could eat such things? Steve’s theory is that Kyndall is selecting specimens on which juice from the ripe figs has dripped. She doesn’t look that discriminating to me when she snatches one off the ground. I wonder if she likes them for the same reason I like potato chips — for their crunchy savory eating pleasure?

This experience has made me think long and hard about a behavior rule. I know that CCI puppies are not supposed to ever eat anything off the ground. But Steve and I always have kind of rolled our eyes at this. It seemed an unattainable pipe dream — sort of like saying that CCI puppies should never pant. Over the years, however, I’ve dimly noticed that some puppy-raisers seem to take this goal quite seriously. Some suggest their puppies in fact never DO eat anything off the ground.

It’s now struck me that if we actually trained a puppy not to ever eat anything off the ground, it would save us a lot of grief. Kyndall, mercifully, has never eaten the most disgusting thing imaginable off the ground. (We love that about her.) But at least three of her predecessors have. So I’m thinking that in the future we should dedicate ourselves to learning how to prevent a puppy from scavenging.

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“The season is all too short!” she says.

I’m not sure it’s realistic to do that now with Kyndall, not since her fig and fig-leaf cravings have been enflamed. I’m afraid all we can do is count the day remaining until fig-leaf season also has ended.

Art crawler

I am pleased to report that puppies like art. Or, to be more precise, our puppy did not disgrace herself on the Barrio Art Crawl Saturday night. The barrio in question was Barrio Logan, that slowly gentrifying neighborhood spread out in the shadow of the Coronado Bridge, where a lively community of artists has taken root. Steve and I and Kyndall began the evening by meeting up with some friends for extremely delicious tacos and ceviche at Salud, the hip newish “taco pub” at the corner of Logan and Sampson. While we gorged, Kyndall did an extended “under” even though it required her to crawl under the quite low bench of a picnic table. There she snoozed.

Then we moseyed along, stopping in at a number of the interesting gallery gatherings. Some were noisy and crowded, but she remained calm.

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Photograph by Howie Rosen

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The evening included some pretty strange sights…

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Photograph by Robert Schneider
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Photograph by Robert Schneider

But none of it seemed to bother her. She thought the most interesting thing was one encounter with a curious cat. But even then, she kept it together. On nights like that, it feels like she’s our own little art work. In progress.

Natural born killer

Kyndall ate her bed this morning. All our previous CCI puppies pretty much immediately shredded anything soft we gave them to sleep on, but I had lobbied shortly after receiving Kyndall that we should allow her a chance to prove herself the exception. I bought a soft foam mat for her at Petco, and for all these months all she did to it was curl up and enjoy its coziness. I boasted to friends about her exceptionalism. Then this morning, after she’d been fed her breakfast in her kennel, I walked into Steve’s office and found this:

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My, THAT was fun!
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Bottom of the eviscerated bed
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Dead bed bits

The thought crossed my mind that this act of aggression might be linked to her recent transformation into a predatory killer…of house flies. Normally, we don’t see many flies. But in this past week’s heat wave, their numbers exploded. Kyndall is entranced whenever she catches sight of them. She leaps and snaps at them, and I’m pretty sure I saw her catch and eat one.

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I tried to video her hunting, but it was too erratic. This blurry image is all I could get.

Fortunately, they say the heat wave is ending. Fig season is also winding down (thank God!). That means soon we should be able to stop policing the dogs’ every instant outside (lest they stuff themselves with fallen figs, with disastrous consequences on their digestion.)

But even after the weather gets chilly, she’s going to be sleeping on the hard wood floors or plastic bottom of her kennel. After all, she is in training…

Miss Manners

I think Kyndall is the most polite puppy we’ve ever lived with — at least when it comes to other dogs. Around humans, we’re still working on things. At 10 and a half months, she still gets too excited when someone new makes an appearance (or a familiar person returns to the house). She’s still all too prone to stick her nose in personal spaces where it does not belong.

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Please, sir. Won’t you even notice that I’m standing her, crying to be allowed passage?

But when it comes to the venerable Mr. Tucker, Kyndall does things we’ve never witnessed before. For example, if he’s sprawled out on a landing (a common sight), Kyndall will not even attempt to walk over or around him. She’ll whine, sadly, as if suggesting that she really wishes he would move. But she waits patiently until he does.

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Note that Kyndall is on the higher landing, unwilling to be rude and step over Tucker.

On one of the increasingly rare moments when he’s feeling frisky and has a toy or a ball, she not only gives no thought to stealing it from him, she won’t even chase it if I take and throw it to both of them.

I’m not sure if Tucker appreciates this deference. He should.

Up to The Challenge

Up to The Challenge

When you are a Very Hungry Puppy (as so many members of the retriever clan are), it takes self-control to avoid pouncing on crunchy, delicious morsels of DOG KIBBLE!!!! when it is placed on the ground, just inches from your jaws. Yet I have seen evidence that certain CCI puppies could be trained not just to sit calmly next to one or two pieces of kibble, but to do this next to enough kibble to spell out their names. I’ve seen photos of this sort of thing on the Facebook page of Kat Greaney, who is raising Kyndall’s sister, Kihei. Still, Kat is clearly a remarkably gifted dog and puppy trainer. It never occurred to me to try to emulate her kibble-control demonstration.

Until last week. In honor of National Dog Day, CCI announced that it was launching the Kibble Name Challenge — inviting all puppy raisers to try it. Last Sunday Steve and I were still taking care of 4-month-old Spirit while her puppy-raisers were on vacation. It seemed laughably impossible, but we decided to try the Kibble Name Challenge on both pups (Kyndall and Spirit). Simultaneously.

As the video shows, it was — remarkably — NOT a total disaster. Kyndall at first stares, mesmerized. Then she just looks worried (though she often looks worried.) You can almost read the shocked disbelief on Spirit’s face when she sees that some of the most glorious objects in the world (pieces of FOOD!!!!!!) have been put inches away from her nose… and she’s being told not to go for it. I know the clip is long (almost 3 minutes). But nobody ever trained me to spell with dog chow. And the three minutes are fraught with suspense.

I’m still, embarrassingly, confused about what’s supposed to happen at the end. (Kyndall isn’t the only one in the house who needs more training.)

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Spirit looks like she’s gripping the floor to keep herself from springing.

Sleeping outside the box

Sleeping outside the box

It’s easy to say, “Let sleeping puppies lie,” but the question is: where? When they’re little fur balls, there’s no question. They sleep in the baby kennels that we borrow from CCI. Being confined helps with the house-breaking process, as 090315 old denmost dogs have an innate aversion to soiling their dens.

The day comes when the pup is too small to fit in the little kennel, so in our house, we then return the small box to CCI and move our medium-size crate up to our bedroom. That’s where Kyndall’s been sleeping for months. But lately she’s been looking cramped.

We thus decided to give her a chance to sleep outside the box. We never got to that stage with our last puppy, Dionne, who was so mischievous she would invariably find a way to get in trouble at 2 a.m. in the dark. Every night.

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But Kyndall’s generally so well-behaved we decided to give her a chance. We removed the medium-sized kennel from our bedroom, replacing it with her little sleeping mat. Steve snapped a rope on her collar and attached it to a grommet in the wall. She didn’t bother us that night — but silently chewed on the rope, almost gnawing through it by morning.

Rather than give up, I suggested we try letting her sleep untethered. We’ve done this for two nights in a row, and nothing bad has happened! She hasn’t tried to sneak into bed with us. She hasn’t nosed my head or annoyed Tucker (who sleeps on a big cushion a few feet away). She hasn’t decided that the nearby loveseat would be even more comfortable than the sleeping mat.

We can hardly believe it, but we’ll continue to see how it works out over time.