A dirty mouth

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Sometimes Adagio looks older than his days (all 74 of them). Is he worrying about the state of his gut? Is that why he’s eating dirt?

Steve and I often roll our eyes over the fact that all puppies do the same things. I could tick off a half-dozen behaviors that every one of our CCI charges has engaged in during their youngest days (they all love to squeeze into tiny spaces such as under the couch, they all chew up their bedding, etc.) But some come up with novel tricks. Kyndall, for example, was the only one who gobbled up fallen hibiscus blooms. Adagio is the only one who eats dirt.

At first we thought he was merely smelling it. Or licking it.

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It’s hard to tell exactly what’s going on.

But close observation has revealed that often he is transferring the grains of soil from the ground into his mouth, where they are masticated (briefly), and swallowed.

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Sometimes there’s telltale evidence.

We have no idea why he does this, or how bad it is for him. I plan to ask other puppy raisers what they’ve experienced; maybe even consult with one of the CCI experts.

An interesting coincidence is that, along with Adagio, we were given a week’s supply of “Pro-Pectalin tablets.” We’d never heard of them before, but a note explained that the CCI national veterinarians have begun to recommend the stuff “for pups with soft stool. Pro-Pectalin contains kaolin and pectin in addition to a probiotic (to restore good bacteria to the GI tract.)”

Adagio hasn’t had any diarrhea, and his stools are about the same as those of most puppies we know (sometimes firm and sometimes goopy). But we shrugged and gave him the pills (which he eagerly consumed). We used them all up and didn’t plan to buy more; they’re not cheap.

We’re not sure that Adagio’s dirt-consumption has increased since we finished up the pills. But as far as I know, kaolin is a form of clay. Could he be eating the dirt because he’s craving the clay in it for some reason? We’re leaning toward a month-long trial of more of the pills (along with tight limitations on his snacking in the flowerbeds.)

Halter training 101

Adagio has been living with us for almost two weeks. He’s learned a number of things. He seems to respond now when he hears his name (usually). He’s learned to pee (usually) when we take him outside and command him to “Hurry!” He’s becoming accustomed to our household routines. And he has begun to tolerate wearing a halter. Barely.

All CCI puppies must wear the things (known commercially by brandnames such as “Halti” and “Gentle Leader”). By the time a dog weighs 60 or 75 or 90 pounds (as all these dogs eventually do), it is vastly easier to control them with quick pops to their muzzle than it would be with any device around their muscular necks. I tell inquisitive bystanders it’s like using a halter on a horse — more practical than trying to direct the beast with a rope around its neck. But in order for our dogs to tolerate the halters when they’re adults, they must get used to them when they’re little. Every CCI puppy we’ve raised has hated his or her halter at first, even though they can eat, drink, bark, lick, and nip when they’re wearing them.

To help with the training process, we learned after a puppy or two to introduce the hated control device only during mealtimes. The idea is to associate it with something intensely pleasurable: eating. We began feeding Adagio with a halter on right from the beginning.

He doesn’t run away when he sees it.  That’s good. 012318 halter1We attach it and give him a piece of kibble.

We put him and his bowl in the kennel, where he invariably dives in and crunches away with gusto.

012318 halter4When he’s very hungry, he will work through the full cup of puppy chow. But more often, about halfway through, he’ll back away and start pawing at his muzzle…

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…flinging himself on the kennel floor…

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…and trying to rub the halter off.

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Working like this, he can get it off in short order, but we reposition him in front of the bowl and usually, nose to kibble, he’ll eat some more.012318 halter5

We’ve been slipping the halter off around this point, to end the training session on a positive note.

That’s it, as far as we’ve gotten. Eventually, as he gets bigger and hungrier, we expect he’ll routinely eat without all this folderol. The next step will be to slip on the halter and take him for little walks around the yard and on our block. But that’s Halter Training 102. We’re not there yet.


Dogs also train puppies

Day 11 of Life with Adagio. Things are going well. He’s a champion sleeper, which means we’re not chronically exhausted. We also appreciate his appetite for long daytime naps. Mistakes are still being made in the toileting department, but mostly Steve and I are the ones making them (forgetting how often we need to take the puppy out to relieve himself.)

I’m also fascinated by the way our canine housemates are training each other. Although Tucker initially greeted Adagio with a smile and a wagging tail, we think he’s begun to think of the little one as a houseguest who has overstayed his welcome. (“Um, isn’t it time for him to leave now?”) In the first day or two, Adagio tried pestering Tucker to play by barking at him loudly. That didn’t go over well. Here’s one example of how it played out:

Note that Tuck never laid a tooth on Adagio. He just scared him off.

The interaction between Adagio and 7-year-old Darby (whom we raised years ago and are hosting for a week) has been a quite different. Within a day of her arrival, I watched Darby and Adagio having a great time together in my office, despite the difference in their sizes:

They’ve continued to play, and I’ve noted that Tucker has begun standing nearby. Occasionally he emits a geezerly “WOOF!” Adagio seems to be catching on that this is the old guy’s idea of fun. Adagio responds by flinging himself down, belly exposed, the very portrait of submission. Then he bounces up. Tucker does it again, and Adagio follows suit.

Even sweeter was what I witnessed the other night. Tucker had curled up on his dog bed in our bedroom, and Steve brought up the puppy. But at first we didn’t kennel him. Ever so cautiously, he crept onto the bed and inched close. Fractionally.

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Tucker is now so old that when he falls asleep at night, he’s in a state of consciousness approaching comatose. So I think he was unaware of Adagio’s presence. We didn’t push it, but after a minute we locked Adagio in his kennel. But I’m confident that soon the very old and the very young dog will teach each other that it’s safe to snuggle.


Puppy class — yes!

011618 first puppy classI found puppy class to be pretty stressful last night. Adagio seemed to feel that way too. It was the first time Steve and I have ever taken such a young youngster to class.  Due to a combination of circumstances, our last puppy, Beverly (Adagio’s half sister) was more than three months old the first time we went to a class, and she behaved with impressive calm. Adagio is only two months and four days. He became intensely excited the moment we lifted him out of the car. That pretty much never ended for the hour that followed.

Both his sister Apple, her puppy-raiser Cyndy, and we arrived at the same moment, and both babies lost their minds when they saw each other. We took seats on opposite sides of the large classroom, but Adagio made it clear he wanted to roam the room and socialize. When he didn’t get it, he yowled. He barked. He emitted ear-splitting shrieks. Our instructor, Kay, had the tiny tots (about four, including Apple and Adagio) do a simple exercise or two, and that went okay. But it was hard to feel our little boy was shining.

Compounding my tension was the fact that Kay had just attended a weekend training workshop, during which she apparently learned that CCI is changing the puppy-training protocol. Instead of teaching pups the way Steve and I learned when we started 13 years ago, the organization has adopted the concept of using the word “Yes” as a “marker.” Kay explained it a bit, but a) we arrived late and b) Adagio was shrieking in my ear. She gave us a handout that details a nine-step progression from initially eliciting desired behaviors (and exclaiming “Yes!” every time you see it) to eventually getting the dogs to perform all the commands with verbal commands only (no body movements or food rewards).

This will probably turn out to be just fine, but it will require significant training for all of us. First order of business: get Adagio’s attention when he is not yowling.


Socializing Signor Adagio

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Adagio was 2 months old on Friday.

My understanding is that the most important job of CCI puppy raisers is to socialize our charges. They come to us when they’re about 8 weeks old, wild and unformed, and when we turn them in a year and a half or almost two years later, they’re supposed to have excellent manners, at home and out in public. Complicating the initial socialization process is their vulnerable immune systems. They get their first set of shots the day before they leave CCI HQ, but they must receive three more sets before they’re fully protected against such nasty illnesses as distemper, parvo, rabies, and more. Since they also haven’t learned not to urinate or defecate indoors, the puppy-raiser’s opportunity to take them places is limited until they’re about 4 months old.

Limited, but not non-existent. It’s okay to take them to the homes of friends who will forgive the occasional accident (and where no doggy diseases would be lurking). So it was that Steve and I took Adagio to Friday Night at the Movies in the Hillcrest condo of our good friend Alberto. (Happily, Alberto was very understanding when Adagio had his first major accident on the clean white carpet. He says the Folex carpet cleaner worked liked magic.) Adagio slept like an angel throughout the rest of the evening.

Friday morning we also loaded the little guy into the stroller and walked the 6 blocks to Bird Rock Coffee Roasters.

I’m not sure if CCI approves of puppy strollers, but frankly, I don’t want to know if they’re forbidden. Our stroller makes it possible for Steve and me to maintain our normal exercise and coffee-drinking routines during the early months of puppy hell.

Saturday morning I had an 8 a.m. appointment for the works with my hairdresser. As soon as that was over, I raced home to scoop up Adagio and drive out to Santee, where Cyndy Carlton (raiser of Adagio’s sister, Apple) hosts twice-monthly puppy socials. Because of my hair appointment, we got there late. But I didn’t want to miss this gathering. I know for a fact that everyone who attends them has a huge soft spot for all puppies, but particularly for the tiniest babies, when they’re at their maximum cuteness. Retriever puppies are only tiny for a brief window of time. When you show up at puppy social with a 15-pound ball of fur, you feel like the belle of the proverbial ball.

That’s not the main reason I wanted to attend (though it is fun to have everyone coo over your new family member). Mainly, I wanted to see how Adagio would react to the party. His little tail started beating madly as we entered the back yard, and once down on the ground, he quickly found his sister. It seemed to me they recognized each other. They periodically sought each other out.

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But they also explored on their own and interacted with the bigger dogs.

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Even the “bigger” dogs were recently pint-sized, so they tolerable this kind of abuse well.

Back at home, our efforts to socialize Adagio have been going well. Last night he woke us up at 3:30 a.m. with an urgent need to poop, but then he returned to his kennel and allowed us all to sleep till almost 7. Both nights before that, he slept from about 10 to past 5.

He seems to be learning to relieve himself when we take him outside and command him to “Hurry” (at least when enough time has passed since the last such outing). He takes naps that last for hours. Life feels almost normal.

Still, we’ll be in what Steve calls “submarine mode” for weeks to come — with all the carpets taken up, every door closed, barricades installed. And it will take weeks (at least) to truly discern Adagio’s character. In between all those naps, he has brief spells of savagery:

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He bites, tries to eat the world, takes running leaps to attack us, and worse — he’s begun humping me! He’s only the third male dog I’ve ever raised, and neither Tucker nor Brando were humpers. I don’t understand the significance of puppy-humping or how to react to it. I guess I need to learn.













The first 24 hours

Steve and I each got up once with Adagio last night — Steve going first in response to  urgent cries and unfortunately not getting to the kennel before Adagio had deposited a massive pile of puppy poop on the towel in it. This was surprising, as Steve had taken him out at 9:30 p.m. and come back reporting not one but two poops then. When Adagio started crying about 2:30 a.m., I figured it was my turn. Out in the cold, dark lower yard, the little guy circled around for a while, then deposited a small gloppy pile under the fig tree.

We chalk the latter up to the stress of his flight and all the other excitement yesterday — coupled with the new thrill of free-range snacking. One of us accompanied Adagio every second he was outside yesterday, but he still managed to pick up and chew on dirt, assorted pebbles, leaves, seeds, berries, and God know what else was within striking range of his muzzle. Once again, I felt astounded by how thoroughly I’d managed to forget the insatiable drive of retriever puppies to pick up and eat stuff. Also, to chew. While I was out this morning for a few hours, Steve kept a list of all the things the little guy sunk his teeth into. They included:

The corner of our tatami bed platform

The knob on a bathroom drawer

The bathroom mat

The bedroom room lamp cord

My oak dresser

The TV cord in our downstairs room

The rug in downstairs room

The frame of the big crate

The frame of the small crate

The dish in the small crate

A living room lamp cord

The edge of the butcher block island

A redwood patio chair

The wheels of our puppy stroller

The hedgehog/doorstop in Steve’s office

The door mat in his office

My garden clogs

A bathroom door stop

His toys

Still, we’re not complaining (much). Over the last 24 hours, Adagio has several times settled down for long naps in his kennel. He whimpered a few times last night, but there was no shrieking, no prolonged protestation, as so many puppies emit on their first night.

This morning Steve took him for a block-long ride in our puppy stroller to the closest mailbox. He jumped out once, but then Steve zippered him in and reported that Adagio seemed to enjoy the brief outing.  Later, he tolerated his first bath.

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He was stoic. But does that little droop in the tail betray a hint of doubt?

He still has not once urinated or defecated in the house (unless you count the kennel last night, which I don’t). And whenever he has been awake, instead of napping, he’s displayed a solid confidence that impresses us. He’s the only puppy we’ve ever raised who has confidently walked up and down all the many stairs in our house, right from the start.

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If Tucker is up there, it must be worth following him. 

It feels like we’re off to an excellent beginning.

Adagio joins our pack

011018 Adagio and his littermates

The breeder-caretaker of our newest (8th!) CCI puppy, Adagio, took this wonderful photo of him and his littermates, I assume shortly before delivering the gang to Santa Rosa for the final steps before their dispersal. It makes me feel even more compassion for the pups, as each of them heads out on the road to a life of service. No matter how well their adventures turn out (and Steve and I are starting, as usual, with the highest hopes), it still seems sad to split up such concentrated cuteness.

But disperse they must. At 5 am this morning, Adagio and his sister Apple (4th from left above) were fed their breakfast and ushered into the little kennel in which they would fly south. In the past, most of Steve’s and my new pups have been picked up at the San Diego airport by a volunteer, driven to the Southwest Regional headquarters in Oceanside, bathed, and cuddled until we arrived to collect them. This time, however, we followed the lead of Cyndy Carlton, who’ll be raising Apple (her dozenth CCI pup, and the granddaughter of Emerald, whom Cyndy also raised).011018 UAL cargo terminal Many times Cyndy had collected her puppy directly from the airport. So a little after 10:30, Steve and I met her at the air freight center just south of Lindbergh’s Terminal 1. Also joining us were our videographer friends, Bob and Alberto. (They hope one day to make a documentary about puppy-raising.)

As we waited, we chatted about how many CCI puppies are flown from northern California to cities all over the country — somewhere between 700 and 1000, we guessed. It made me feel a little nervous to imagine something going awry — having Apple and Adagio wind up in Minnesota, say, as a result of some ghastly mix-up. Happily, their kennel was unloaded from a transport van shortly after 11. I could just make out little black tails in it, wagging.

Cyndy signed the paperwork, and we transferred the kennel outside, opened the door, and peeked inside with bated breath.

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One of the little ones popped up and stepped right over the threshold. A quick check of the undercarriage revealed this to be — Adagio! Apple was trembling, but she seemed to settle down, once she was in Cyndy’s arms.

I think meeting a new puppy is a wonderful thing.

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It feels like love at first sight…
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…complete with delicious first kisses.

After giving the little ones a chance to relieve themselves, we drove to the home of another super-experienced puppy-raiser, Jan Ford. She runs a home daycare center, and her human youngsters were thrilled to meet the new babies.

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We had planned to bathe Adagio and Apple, but they seemed pretty clean, and the day was chilly. Instead we let them race around, playing with the children and tussling with each other. In almost every picture I’d seen of Adagio up with his litter, he was flaked out, looking comatose. But this brief session erased any fears I’d had that his sleepiness was permanent.

After a while, we drove him home, eager to see how 13-year-old Tucker would react to yet another youngster intruding on his dotage. It went as I expected. Tuck’s tail beat fast, expressing hospitality, if mixed with just a hint of nervousness. (“Will this twerp try to nurse from me?”) It’s way to early to know if they’ll turn out to be bros. But Adagio’s behavior was impeccable.

He gobbled down his lunch, did a little bit of exploring the back yard (on a leash, under our close scrutiny), then settled down for a long nap. The evening is just beginning. The first one with a new puppy is often a rough one. For us too, the adventure begins again.

011018 Adagio sleeping

Miss Beverly pays a visit

When Beverly was adopted recently by her family, Steve and I urged them to call us any time they needed a dog sitter. We were delighted to be asked to host Beverly over the New Year’s weekend, when they had a short trip planned up to Northern California.

She thus arrived last Friday morning, and she stayed until last night. We were charmed by how instantly she settled back into the routines of our house.

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She was eager to go for morning walks and to snuggle with Steve while I ran into my favorite coffee shop to grab a cup. Her recent training by Stephanie up at CCI was evident, as she followed commands more perfectly than ever.

On Saturday afternoon, while Steve and I went on a long walk on the beach, she got to play at the home of Truckee, the new pup being raised by our friends and neighbors the Stuarts.

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At our place, she took obvious pleasure in sunbathing, both outdoors and in.

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And she usually grabbed more than her share of Tucker’s beds.

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He wasn’t crazy about that, but he was very happy to see her again and hang out with her.

We were tickled to see that she still did pirouettes every time we were serving up the dog chow. Yet, for as content as she appeared to be here, last night, when her new family arrived to collect her, she danced with excitement, nuzzled up to them, and trotted off to their car, tail wagging. She didn’t look back.

We’re missing her this morning, but we’re also savoring our last week of relative calm before the arrival of Beverly’s half-brother, Adagio. That adventure begins one week from today.