Stepping out

When I was new to puppy-raising, I couldn’t wait for Tucker to get old enough (four months) to begin taking him out in public. The thought of waltzing into my Vons or a movie theater with my well-trained, adorable little canine companion tickled me, plus I imagined how happy I would be to be able to avoid leaving him at home while I was out running errands or engaging in various activities. Once we began venturing forth together, I did enjoy it at first, maybe even more than I had anticipated, as I learned how much my encounters with random strangers would increase. I still get a lot of pleasure from those social encounters, some of which I wrote about just the other day. After a while, however, I also began to appreciate how much taking a puppy along complicates any activity.

Even when a dog has reached the point of being very well behaved (as Beverly is now), he or she requires constant attention, if just to ensure that no temporarily loss of mind (or memory) has occurred. If I need to go out and buy a new pair of running shoes, for example, I do not enjoy making sure that Beverly maintains a perfect Down Stay, while I try on different pairs. And as charming as her fans can be, they also slow one down.

Over the years, I’ve found myself wanting less often to take along my current trainee. Steve, who does it more often, sometimes chastises me for what he sees as my puppy-raising lapses. The issue came up again on Friday.

That afternoon we were supposed to join a dozen or so old friends to take a tour of the art  at the San Diego Library’s central branch (downtown) — both the permanent collection and a current exhibit on local printmakers. After the tour, we planned to adjourn to a nearby gastropub with the aim of discussing some of what we’d seen. I was dubious about taking Beverly along for all this, but Steve wanted to and pledged to pay close attention to her. 021617-libe1

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She wasn’t interested in any of the art, but she did pay pretty close attention to Steve.

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It worked out well. She behaved flawlessly, got some good practice going up and down in elevators, and even was reasonably good under the dinner table. Steve did have to pay a bit less attention to both the art and our friends than he might have, had he not been working with Beverly. But on this particular occasion, he didn’t mind.

I wondered how other veteran puppy-raisers look at this question which comes up so often (“take her along — or leave her home in the kennel?”) So yesterday, when I took Beverly and Tucker to the twice-monthly puppy social hosted by one of the puppy-raisers, I made a point of asking four people about it. Three of the four had years more experience than me, with many successful graduates to their credit. I was intrigued that all four focused on the merits of NOT taking one’s puppy along.

One pointed out how the dogs really need to get accustomed to extended time alone in their kennels in preparation for their Advanced Training up in Oceanside (where they spend a lot of time in between training exercises kenneled). Another insisted that when she began puppy-raising, she’d been explicitly instructed not to take her dog along unless she could pretty much give it her full attention and be ready to return home at any moment. “Otherwise, if the dog is doing things it shouldn’t be doing and you’re not correcting it, it’s learning that that’s okay.” They all were adamant.

I didn’t walk away vowing to cut back on the number of outings on which we take Beverly. Steve and I still believe that the dogs benefit a lot from their forays into the world. But hearing those arguments in favor of leaving one’s pup at home in her kennel did change my mind about taking Beverly to the Oscar party we’ll be heading to in a few minutes. Steve’s going to be helping the host with the cooking, and I’m going to be mesmerized by the outfits and speeches and bad jokes. Plus I’ve come to suspect that Beverly is sometimes just as happy to rest, at home.

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I took this picture last night, after a day in which she attended the Puppy Social, went grocery shopping with Steve, and went out to dinner at a restaurant with us. We were then going to see a movie with her. She didn’t want to get out of the kennel (and for better or worse, the movie was sold out.)
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Beverly takes to the podium

“Tell us,” one lady in the audience requested, “what a typical day is like for Beverly.”

“Wow. It varies so much,” I responded. “Some days are terribly boring. She might go for a short walk or two, but she basically spends most of the day sleeping next to me or Steve, while we’re working at our desks. Other days she might spend the morning grocery shopping or — most thrilling — at a puppy social. Or she might be giving a presentation like this one.”

Truth be told, Beverly and I don’t do much public speaking. But last week I got a call from the volunteer coordinator for CCI’s Southwest region, asking if we could appear before a class of seniors at the Joan Kroc center in eastern San Diego to talk about what’s involved in raising a service dog. Since we had nothing special scheduled for that time slot (10 a.m. this morning), I was happy to accept.

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I’d guess some 50 or 60 folks filled the seats in the center’s “Rolando Room,” which made it feel like our effort to get there was worth it. Moreover, the audience seemed to hang on my words, and after I talked for a half hour or so, many asked perceptive questions. Beverly, I’m happy to report, was on her best behavior. She went Down at my command, and although she occasionally got bored and stood up, she immediately resumed her position when I redirected her. She gazed up at me adoringly, appearing to hang on my every word.

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The folks in the audience asked about everything from how the dogs are named to what happens to those who don’t make it to what I thought about folks who try to pass off their pets as being service dogs (even those who’ve had no training.) I enjoyed trying to answer them all, including the follow-up question posed by that lady who asked about Beverly’s typical routine. What she really wanted to know, she clarified, was whether we trained our puppies for a certain period of time every day. I told her that Steve’s been making an effort to go out in the late afternoons for a short training session. But more often than not, the training was interwoven into the fabric of each day — Stays, Downs, Waits, and other commands issued as the context dictated. And occasionally, opportunities to try and be good in front of an audience.

Social service

One recent night, Steve and I went to dinner at the San Diego Yacht Club, where Steve has been a member for decades. We took Beverly with us; she’s been at the club’s restaurant many times. Most of the tables there are supported by central posts (rather than legs), so it’s not easy to get a puppy to execute the Under command. Instead, we put Beverly in the Down position right next to the table. She had scarcely settled in when a woman from the next table over got up and approached us.

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The woman explained that she had raised a CCI puppy several years ago, up in northern California. She had enjoyed the experience, although events in her life had prevented her from raising more than one. She just wanted to say hello; to reconnect, however briefly, with the puppy-raising community. We chatted with her for a couple of minutes, then she retreated to her table, and we turned our attention to the menus.

Beverly was pretty good. She broke her Down position a couple of times, but she eventually settled in. Although our waiter had to maneuver around her, he quickly let us know that he was a great dog lover, raising a young puppy of his own. Every time he brought something to the table, he shared another tidbit or two about his dog, and toward the end of our meal, he dashed over to our table.

“I was waiting until you guys were done eating,” he confided. He whipped out his cell phone; wanted to show us a few photos  of his canine buddy, a goofy lab mix that he had named Andy.

I exclaimed over his dog’s cuteness, and the waiter looked happy. Steve and Beverly and I made our way out to the lobby. There two more sets of people snagged us to pepper us with questions about Beverly and the CCI puppy-raising experience. The woman I was talking to told me all about how she had long wanted to be a breeder-caretaker for the organization (but she’d been told that most of the breeding takes place up in Northern California). While she and I discussed this, Steve supervised Beverly’s interaction with a toddler and answered questions from the toddler’s mom.

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Because Steve and I were relaxed and not in any hurry, I experienced all these interactions as pleasurable. We’re not deeply involved with the club, so we don’t know many of the other members. We’d never talked before with any of the folks who approached us that night because of Beverly. But she did for us what the dogs who graduate often do for the humans they serve — serve as a social bridge, a conversation starter, a facilitator of connection.

That’s not as flashy a trick as turning on a light switch or fetching something from the refrigerator. But I’ve come to appreciate that it’s as least as satisfying.

Svengali

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A Svengali retriever

Steve and I can’t resist speculating about what effect Tucker (our first CCI pup, whom we adopted 10 years ago when he failed to make it as a service dog) has on our current puppy in training. In recent years, Steve has begun fretting that the influence is negative — that the pups bond more to Tuck, rather than being most attuned to us. I don’t know about that, but I’m pretty confident he influences them all, albeit in ways that vary from one youngster to another.

Beverly’s immediate predecessor (Kyndall) seemed to learn to Speak by aping Tucker. For some reason, Beverly hasn’t followed suit; she’s shaping up to be one of our few non-Speaking puppies. But she’s clearly learned that the landing at the top of the stairs leading up to our bedroom is one of the best places in the whole house to chill out. (You can see so much! And be safe from attack by mountain lions! Oh wait, there are no mountain lions in the house…) 021517-dogs-on-landing

Even more obvious is Beverly’s adoption of Tucker’s distinctive way of sitting — with his rear end on various landings and his front paws on the stair below. He has sat like this for years. Now Beverly is doing it all over the house.

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So comfy!

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It’s pretty harmless, I guess. I just wish he would teach her something with a bit more practical value.

The art of eating a dog biscuit

Several times a week, we walk with Beverly and Tucker to our favorite local coffeehouse, where I get a medium brewed coffee and often exchange greetings with various friends and acquaintances. The dogs enjoy this outing; they gather eagerly at the door to be leashed up.

An added incentive is that, once I get my coffee, we dole out a small Purina dog biscuit to each dog. They expect this ritual and enjoy it, but when Beverly was small, she often dropped pieces of her treat on the sidewalk.

She has now refined her biscuit-eating skills. She tips her head waaaaay back, and she usually doesn’t lose one bit. We find this amusing; it amplifies how much she seems to be enjoying it. Here’s what it looks like:


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Ten months old

The beautiful Miss Beverly is 10 months old today. At this point, the physical changes in her are almost undetectable from one month to another.

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Not like those days last summer!

Her behavioral changes are pretty subtle too. Steve and I racked our brains this morning, trying to think of any remaining flaws in her. In the past few weeks, she has stopped whining before dawn. This morning she was still silent when I got her out of bed shortly before 6:30. Steve claims that she still digs occasionally, but I’m not sure even that is true.

Bottom line: we’re in the extraordinary position of living with a virtually perfect puppy. And we have almost 9 more months to enjoy her company (minus the times when we’re on the road and various puppy-sitters will have the pleasure of hosting her).

It’s a happy thought!

Puppy class fun

Our new puppy-class instructor, Shayna, took over at the beginning of January, and Steve and I are pretty happy about the way things are shaping up.  I missed class two weeks ago, but Steve went, and he came home exclaiming about the games that Shayna had had the group engage in. It piqued my interest enough that I made sure to attend the next gathering (last night).

Shayna’s not a flashy character. I’m not sure what her background is, other than that she’s taught obedience classes for some of the big pet food stores. I like the fact that she seems to have a learning path in mind, and she offers clear suggestions when asked about how to respond to various behavioral issues.

And I love the idea of getting us engaged in puppy-training games. So many of us have been through the classes over and over again. Certainly we continue to gain new insights into training from time to time, but it’s also easy to feel jaded. When Shayna asked if we wanted to play Puppy Tic-Tac-Toe, that got my attention.

I had never played Puppy Tic-Tac-Toe before. To do it, Shayna laid four very long leashes on the floor in a familiar cross-hatch pattern. She said we needed to divide ourselves into two teams, and we instantly recognized that we had five black dogs and six white ones. The battle lines were drawn.

The idea was to put your pup in a Sit position somewhere on the grid, with the goal of getting three dogs of your team in a row. The twist: if your pup broke its Sit, then it was out, and that square could be refilled.

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I’m sad to report that the Blacks won the first game. But that was entirely HUMAN ERROR (how can anyone forget how to play Tic-Tac-Toe? Apparently… it happens.) In the second round, some doggy errors did occur, but the game still wound up a tie, as it did when we  moved to the more challenging phase, in which the puppies had to execute Down Stays.

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The puppies seemed to find the whole exercise only mildly amusing. But it made us humans perk up. And I feel a whole lot more interested in attending the next class in two weeks.