Today Tucker turns 11 years old. Ten years and 10 months ago (approximately), Steve and I picked him up from the CCI facility in Oceanside and embarked on our career as puppy-raisers.
I was so smitten by him. He was my first male dog. First first blonde dog — a sweetly goofy package of soft white fur that I quickly became convinced was a canine prodigy. I remember reporting to the puppy program director about how intensely he paid attention to me. Steve and I thought he learned with great speed.
I also remember the feeling of blood draining from my face when I received the call informing me he was being released from Advanced Training for excessive energy and distractibility. Asked if we wanted to take him back, we never hesitated. As soon as our pre-existing non-CCI dog (Pearl) died, we acquired our next CCI puppy, and Tucker settled easily into the role of babysitter, protector, and (often) annoyed older brother.
We’ve never regretted keeping him, even though we have since taken the pledge not to keep any more CCI release dogs. Tucker is one of the easiest, friendliest dogs I’ve ever known. He sleeps a lot these days (he’s always enjoyed a good snooze, preferably in the doorway, his favorite napping spot.) But take him to any gathering of dogs, and he perks up like a young’un. Steve and I often declare that he’s the ultimate party animals. Even now, at 11.
We should probably have organized a party for him here, but instead we’ll take him to Darby’s house, where he’ll stay with her and her family for a couple of days. He’ll love that. He always enjoys a change of pace.
While he’s there, Kyndall and I will be deep in an extended training session — in Las Vegas. How will she take to the lights, the noise, the crowds? Stay tuned.
A few weeks ago, our multi-talented friend Bob Schneider (dog lover, schutzhund competitor, photographer, videographer) passed along some links to the work of a photographer named Carli Davidson that he knew I would enjoy. Davidson recently has been capturing hilarious freeze-frame images of dogs in mid-shake. They’re highly amusing, but I was even more tickled by the slow-motion videos produced by Davidson and the production company Variable. Just try to watch them and not laugh.
I commented to Bob and Alberto Lau that it would be fun if we could catch Kyndall in the act of shaking. Bob and Albie are very intrepid. They’re working on a documentary film project about puppy-raising that substantially focuses on Kyndall, and they immediately took the bait.
It wasn’t easy! To get her wet, I had to pour water on poor Kyndall’s head with a watering can, torment to which she reacted reproachfully; none of us had the heart to do it too many times. Dogs don’t shake themselves dry for very long in real time, so it was tricky for the guys to catch the action. Their fancy cameras took a long time to record what they got.
Still, we felt that the following succeeded at least to some extent. (Kyndall doesn’t want to do any re-takes.)
Steve and I have had 6 CCI puppies in our career as puppy-raisers (including Kyndall, our current trainee). At the moment, 50% of them are with us.
That’s because Darby, who was released from the program and went to live with our friends Joe and Kerri, is staying with us while her family celebrates the Thanksgiving holiday in New Mexico. As Steve notes, it’s always particularly pleasant when Darby visits, as she has done several times. She lived with us from the time she was 8 weeks old to a year and a half, so she fits in better than almost any other canine guest; falls immediately back into our daily routines.
She seems a little less ravenous for non-stop wrestling with Kyndall than some of Kyndall’s young pals (like Kora), but that makes sense. Darby will turn 5 at the beginning of January. We noted with a little pang the first sprinkling of white among the hairs on her otherwise coal-black chin.
Still, the two girls seem to be enjoying each other. They’ve done some playing and some chilling.
Darby is wet in the photo, which I took almost immediately after her arrival, because one of the first things she did was to jump in the pool and cruise around. But look at that smile on Kyndall’s face. That’s her reaction to pretty much any young houseguest. She’ll be among those of us tomorrow who are giving thanks.
The big annual fundraiser for the southwest region of CCI is called DogFest. This year’s event took place this past Saturday, and Kyndall and I had signed up months ago to work in the “Hug-a-Pup” booth. I had done that two years ago with Dionne, and we both enjoyed it. Unfortunately this year I signed up for a shift from 11:30 a.m. to noon — at the tail end of the event. We wound up missing out.
Even though we showed up 20 minutes early and checked in at the volunteer booth as directed, when we arrived at the booth to work, we discovered that some of the eager-beaver clean-up crew had already taken away the signs for it! So there was nothing to do but stroll around.
That was just fine with Kyndall, who was happy to receive hugs and pets for free. (In the booth, that was supposed to be a fund-raising activity.)
Apparently lots of funds were raised without us. The website says the goal for the day was $150,000, and more than $165,000 was raised.
I’ve learned my lesson: the next time I have a puppy in training who can participate in a DogFest, we need to arrive bright and early. (Hopefully Kyndall will be an actual working dog by then.)
Does this look like the face of a depraved source of corruption? We’ve never thought so. Tucker, our first CCI puppy, is normally such a mellow and unobtrusive fellow. Though he was early judged by the professional trainers to be unsuitable for a life of service (because of his excessive distractibility), he’s never been a troublemaker, and that’s been particularly true as he nears his dotage. (He’ll turn 11 at the end of this month.) For a long time, we thought he was an actively good influence on our successive puppy trainees. But we’ve just seen one acquire an actively pernicious behavior that obviously was learned directly from Tuck.
About his only “bad” habit has been to raid Steve’s basket of recycled paper. For some years now, Tucker has done this almost every time we go out and leave him at home. He does very little to the paper — nibble on the edges a bit. We’ve joked that it was his way of expressing his displeasure at being left behind — a doggy snit.
Recently, however, Kyndall has begun doing the same thing when she’s bored. She’ll snatch a piece of paper out of the basket and rip it up. (Most fun of all is if we forget and chase her, trying to get it.) Obviously, she watched Tucker do it and decided it looked like fun.
We’ve also begun to question whether puppies really do better if there’s a “civilian” dog at home. I supposed CCI probably could produce some research and statistics on that question, but I’ve never seen any (and certainly they don’t disqualify anyone from puppy-raising if they have a home dog.) But Steve and I have begun to think the presence of another dog may distract our trainees and make them focus less intensively on us.
For that reason, assuming that we continue to raise puppies to be service dogs, we’ve resolved NOT to have another home dog, once Tucker shambles off to the big doghouse in the sky. Of course, despite his occasional depravity, we hope that’s a long time off.
Kyndall isn’t the easiest puppy to exercise. She’s not a Ball Brain, as Steve and I refer to those dogs who are orb-chasing addicts, such as Brando, our third CCI puppy (and only graduate so far). You can exercise a Ball-Brained dog any time, any place, say, while watching television or hanging out in the back yard. You throw the ball, the dog chases it, and you do it again — 5 times or 5000. True Ball Brains never get enough.
Some puppies love to swim so much they jump in the pool and cruise around for hours, even by themselves — great exercise. But Kyndall has no interest in that, either. So we’re left with few options. We take her for walks, though probably not enough of them. CCI says we’re not supposed to patronize dog parks. Group gatherings are limited to the rare CCI puppy party.
I got an email the other day from a veteran puppy-raiser who has long organized play sessions on one of the playing fields at MiraCosta College up in Oceanside. She typically does this on days when the graduation (and turn-in) ceremonies are taking place — in the morning before they begin. I wasn’t sure if Kyndall and I would be able to make it to the session that Chris was organizing this morning. But at the last minute, my deck was clear enough to slip up there.
I enjoyed a mellow 45 minutes chatting with some of the other puppy raisers. And Kyndall got a taste of paradise — the huge grassy expanse to run around in with a dozen or more pals. Here’s a glimpse of what it looked like. (It’s hard to tell, but Kyndall is the cinnamon-colored one who spends some time on her back getting beat up.):
Mostly she ran and ran and socialized and played Keep Away with a cool orange toy that someone brought. By the end, she was flaked out under a bench. I think she’s a little out of shape. Probably because she doesn’t get enough exercise.
Kyndall, Steve, and I went to puppy class last night. It felt like we hadn’t been there in ages. This is the Advanced group, and the first meeting of the 8-week-long session was August 31. But we missed that one because it conflicted with a friend’s Big Birthday celebration. We made it to the next session September 21 but then were traveling in Asia on the succeeding one (October 5). Then CCI cancelled the October 19 session for reasons that weren’t clear.
We felt no sense of panic over any of these absences, because we’ll continue attending the Advanced classes until Kyndall departs for Advanced Training in mid-May. The two classes we’ve participated in so far have only included four puppy teams. That makes for a mellow experience; if you don’t have to watch 15 dogs practicing Unders, for example, one after another, you can cover a lot of ground.
Last night our regular teacher, Bob Smith, was still out on medical leave, so Rick Williams, a longtime puppy-raiser and dog trainer, once again was serving as a substitute. Rick is patient, enthusiastic, and thoughtful, so we were happy to again be working with him. He had us work on commands including Out, Wait, Visit, Back, and Jump.
Rick also asked about current challenges we were facing, so I mentioned Kyndall’s penchant for playing Keep Away or Tug of War with various objects that I order her to Drop. Rick suggested we roll out a two-pronged response to this, squirting her when she keeps objects out of our grasp but also offering her treat after (extra-delicious) treat in response to a series of Drop commands.
I tried the latter this morning. Clearly it’s something she and I need to work on a lot. But the results held some promise, so I plan to keep at it and see what happens.
The battle of wills currently unfolding in my house is between Kyndall and me. I’m trying to train her to enjoy the old-fashioned, tried and true doggy favorite game of Fetch. She’s not much interested in balls, but she loves sticks and her chewy toys, and if she could learn to reliably run and fetch them when I threw them, bring them back to me, and do this over and over again, I would have an easy and effective way to provide her with exercise.
She’s perfectly happy to run and fetch them and bring them to me. But her idea of a jolly good time is for me to then try and pull the fetched object out of her mouth (in other words, to play not Fetch but Tug of War). Kyndall finds that game to be wildly entertaining! I dislike it, however, because it burns up too much of my energy, and she can clamp down on anything so hard it’s almost impossible to prize it out of her jaws. It’s also easy to get bit, by accident.
This video provides a glimpse of the conflict between us.
I’m pretty confident she will not convert me to an ardent Tugger. But I wouldn’t bet money I’ll be able to make her into a Fetch devotee. For now, however, we’ll continue to work on each other.