Meet your halter, honey

Over the years, we’ve heard repeatedly that one of the most important tasks of any puppy-raiser is to teach his or her pup how to walk nicely on a leash — without pulling or needing to be yanked about. On the day we receive our baby dog, we also get a brand-new halter for the puppy to begin wearing, right from the start. The halters are mandatory for all CCI puppies, even though the general public often confuses them with muzzles. I can’t count the times I’ve had to explain that the thing around my dog’s nose is NOT a muzzle but rather a halter  — like what horses wear, I chirp. “She (or he) can eat, drink, lick, bark, and even bite with it on — not that one of our puppies would ever dream of biting anyone.” The second part of the answer is that the puppy is wearing it because the Gentle Leader or the Halti (two of the main brands) gives the puppy raiser and (later) the professional trainers much more control than a mere leash attached to a collar.

063016 haltered

The tricky part of this aspect of the training is that most puppies despise their halters at first. They claw at them as if their whiskers were on fire; they try to rip them off. Often they succeed, and we’ve had more than one puppy chew up and destroy a brand-new Gentle Leader, ensuring that it, at least, won’t torture any more innocent young animals.

To counteract this initial aversion, one of the trainers years ago suggested that we put on the halter every time we fed our puppy. Since eating brings most of these dogs delirious pleasure, this would help establish a halter=pleasure association, we were reassured. We’ve tried it with several dogs since then and have come to think it works.

Until Beverly.

Beverly has so despised her Gentle Leader that at first she would only eat with it on if we fed her the pieces of kibble by hand. She would chomp a bit and then try to get it off of her face.

063016 eating

But we’ve been persisting, she’s slowly been improving, and we’ve now developed a new strategy. We put on the halter, get her started eating, then watch her like a hawk until she stops eating and starts working on Halter Removal. That process looks like this:

<p><a href=”″>Intro to halters</a> from <a href=”″>Jeannette De Wyze</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

Then we take away the food bowl — until the next meal.  She’s now consuming usually a half to three-quarters of a cup of dogfood per serving. And feeding her a bit less seems to be making her hungrier — and more inclined to ignore the halter at the next meal. A positive feedback loop! Of course we still haven’t begun to try taking her for a walk with the Gentle Leader on.

We don’t want to press our luck.



Great news about the old boy!

Counterbalancing the sad phone call Monday about Kyndall’s release from CCI service was the one I just got a few minutes ago from the veterinarian who operated on Tucker last Friday. She announced that his pathology report was back — and the growth that she removed appeared to be a type of soft-tissue sarcoma known as a spindle cell tumor, a cancer that probably originated from a nerve sheath. The excellent news was that the pathologist thought the surgery had removed all of it, and furthermore it appeared to be Grade 1 — a low-grade cancer that was very unlikely to metastasize. So Tucker stands a good chance of moving into his 12th year — and beyond!

062916 Tucker
That blur is his tail, wagging. He detests wearing the cone, but the vet says he has to endure it for another 9 days to ensure he doesn’t rip out his stitches.

Steve and I originally were drawn to puppy-raising after having to have one of our favorite dogs ever (Tootsie) euthanized. Wanting to avoid ever going through that heart-wrenching experience again, we signed up as CCI puppy-raisers — and got Tucker. But when HE was released (for being too distractible), we couldn’t resist welcoming him back into our home as a family member.

Now that he’s almost 12, we know that a dark day eventually will be coming. But it’s wonderful to learn this surgery bought him some more good time.

On the new-puppy front, Beverly continues to be an astonishingly devoted sleeper (except at night, when she still needs one brief toileting excursion).

062916 Beverly
A bed of stones? Bring it on!

And on the recent release-dog front, Kyndall is recuperating up in Oceanside from being spayed. We should learn more on Friday about her next move.


Not again!

This morning, for the fifth time in our CCI puppy-raising career, I got a phone call that plunged me into depression. This time it came from Becky Hein, the current Southwest region CCI puppy program manager, informing me that sweet angelic Kyndall was being released. “The trainers have decided it would be best for her not to be a working dog,” she said gently. “But she’s such a lovely girl!”

062716 happy girl
If she knew what was going on, she’d probably be wearing her smiley face. But she’s probably feeling somewhat morose herself at the moment. Becky also told me she would be spayed today.

Ha. We KNOW she’s a lovely girl. But this time Steve and I believed she had an excellent chance of graduating. For us, Kyndall always was attentive. She learned quickly. She was ready for activity when the opportunity arose — but happy to rack out and nap at other times, an affectionate and mellow companion. Yet even before receiving her first report card, here she was being judged unfit for a life of service. Becky explained that the trainers found her to be “overly aware of her environment,” focusing unduly on distractions such as other dogs, bunnies, and interesting smells. Food and verbal encouragement had not improved her, the trainers judged. So that was that.

One of the things Steve and I find most discouraging about this development is that we were able to be so wrong — so unable to see these failings in advance. It shakes our confidence in our ability to improve. Steve commented, morosely, that he felt ready to give up.

Of course, there’s no giving up right now. We’re less than 2 weeks into Life with 11-week-old Beverly. She’s at her peak of puppy cuteness — so small she still can creep under the sofa (and think that it’s SO COOL to be there):

062716 hiding

…so small she’s still nervous about descending long flights of stairs:

062716 creepy2
This doesn’t look very safe to me.


062716 creepy1
If I just sit here patiently and wait, maybe they’ll come and carry me down (again).

She’s so young it’s almost impossible to imagine what kind of full-grown dog she’ll become. By the time she gets there, I suppose Hope may triumph over Experience, yet again, in our hearts.


During the course of our recent travels, I got involved in a conversation with a Colombian guy in which he mentioned having once seen a person pushing a dog in a baby carriage. He sounded stupefied by the memory, which he appeared to find ridiculous beyond words. I understand that. Once I too dismissed stroller dogs and their owners as effete and precious — even decadent. But that was before I joined their ranks, 3 puppies ago.

At first I merely borrowed a stroller from another puppy raiser. I did so because CCI tells us not to take the pups out in public until they’re fully immunized (when they’re roughly 4 months old). Moreover, it takes a while for very young puppies to learn how to walk properly on a leash — without pulling or being dragged. If you want to continue exercising or walking to the local coffee shop, as I do, during the month or two in which these processes are unfolding, the puppy stroller helps a lot.

So when we got Dionne, I bought my own stroller, an inexpensive, second-hand one that I found on Craig’s List. Dionne barked and yelped and tried to claw her way out of it, but eventually she got used to it.

120912 Strolling 1

Kyndall, too, took a week or two, but she also eventually adjusted.

122914 stroller3

Training Beverly to ride in the stroller has been incomparably easier. She fell out once, and it looked like an accident (rather than a deliberate attempt to escape). She never shrieked and barked. Occasionally she stands up and makes high-pitched squeaks, as if she’s politely suggesting that it’s time for the ride to end. But we tell her to sit and be quiet, and invariably, she obeys.

062616 stroller pup

On the assumption that there aren’t many unvaccinated dogs roaming our block, I’ve also started taking Beverly for very brief walks up and down our street. She’s done very well with that, too, but so far we’re only attaching the leash to her collar, rather than to the Gentle Leader that all CCI pups are required to wear. Getting her to submit to the Gentle Leader — well, that’s another story.


Fun and not fun

Beverly had the fun today. I was able to take her for the first time ever to one of the twice-monthly play sessions hosted by puppy-raiser Cyndy Carlton. These are wonderful opportunities for CCI puppies to hang out and play together under the watchful eye of many experienced puppy-raisers. It’s fun for the puppy-raisers, too, to be able to compare notes and trade advice and socialize.

062516 Play2
At first Target took the initiative…
062516 Play1
…but soon Beverly was paying it back.

Beverly is such a quiet and gentle girl that at first she simply found a corner and watched the action. She continued to avoid the bigger dogs, but soon she was wrestling with Target, the handsome boy Cyndy is raising. (She doesn’t approve of his given name and instead calls him “Tar-Zhay.”) After an hour or so, Beverly was tackling him so aggressively I had to reprimand her (CCI puppies are not supposed to growl and bark when they’re playing.)

The scene at our house, in comparison, is not jolly at all. Tucker’s surgery to remove the cancerous lump in his side took place yesterday, and the news wasn’t good. The vet is concerned she was not able to remove all the tendrils. We should get a pathology report next week to tell us more about what’s going on — and what his prognosis is.

062516 Tuck
Having to wear the dreadful cone feels like adding insult to his surgical injuries.

Although he’s a sorry sight, he was perky enough this morning to walk to the coffee shop with me. Clearly, he still has some life in him.

Vet visit

Beverly screamed when she was immunized against distemper, adenovirus, and parvovirus today. Steve and I were shocked. This was our first visit to the vet with her, but we’ve grown accustomed to puppy after puppy not batting an eye when they’ve had needles stuck in them. We don’t really know why none of our previous pups have reacted to shots — or why Beverly shrieked. But we suspect it may indicate a greater level of sensitivity on her part.

062316 vet visit
Hmmmmm. Must say I don’t like the looks of this…

Although normally only one of us takes our charges for their injections, we both made the trip to the vet’s today because we also had to take Tucker in for a blood test. Tucker was our very first CCI pup. When he was released from Advanced Training (for excessive energy, back in 2006) we welcomed him as our house dog. He’ll be 12 years old in October — an ominous age for Labrador Retrievers (whose average lifespan is around 12). Grimly, we’ve discovered lumps on him in recent months. These are sometimes (often?) benign. But our vet was suspicious that one of the lumps seemed harder. She did a needle biopsy, and the lab reported it’s some kind of cancer.

Tomorrow, the vet will attempt to excise that lump, and we’ve been told that could just get rid of the problem. We fervently hope so; Tucker is a wonderful guy. We love him.

One minor good thing that came of our visit today is that we got a chance to weigh Beverly on a professional scale. She came in at just under 19 pounds. That means in the past week she has gained 4 pounds. It may not sound like that much, but it’s more than 25% of what her body weight was when we picked her up June 15). The difference is obvious.

Beverly one week ago.
062316 cropped
And Beverly about an hour ago.

She’s changing AWFULLY fast…


Beverly has thrown Steve and me off balance. I’ll confess that at the start of our life together, 6 days ago, I felt almost smug. Not only were we able to pick Beverly up within 4 hours of landing at Lindbergh (after flying all night, returning home from another continent), but in short order, we also puppy-proofed the house. We rolled up most of the rugs and stashed them in the places we’ve found for them while house-training other CCI charges. We hauled out the kennels and the exercise pen, and set up the latter in my office on the indestructible tile flooring. 062116 x-pen

Downstairs, we erected a makeshift barrier to limit where Beverly can roam. It looks pretty awful, but it’s effective.


Finally, we cranked up our psychological guards, returning to that hypervigilant state in which you try to watch every second for electric cords being chewed, garbage cans raided, tiny bladders being emptied in some corner.

But this is where Beverly has discombobulated us. I think she’s smart and self-confident. In less than a week, she’s learned to climb every stair on the premises (and there are many!) I’ve seen her walk to the door, sit down, and wait expectantly; sometimes she has yelped or barked to signal her need to go outside to relieve herself. She will Sit on command, and she seems to be grasping the concept of Down. But she’s so mellow; so downright sleepy, she’s gotten into very little trouble. She’ll wake up every now and play for a few minutes. Then she finds another cozy spot and again conks out.

062116 W Mr T
What she really wants is to snuggle up against Tucker, but he hasn’t allowed much of that.
062116 snoozy
She then typically ambles over to his bed in Steve’s office and…has another nap!

It’s all so unbelievable to us we’ve been letting our guard down. A few times, she has awakened and wandered outside to chew on a few sticks and leaves. I noted this but didn’t think she was swallowing them. Yesterday, however, she developed diarrhea, and I have to blame our failure in oversight. She is, after all, still a very young puppy, if a drowsy and angelic one.