Dilly is 7 months old today. If I needed any reminder that the thrilling transformations are behind us, the two photos below would do it for me. I took the one on the left exactly one month ago, the one on the right just now. Coincidentally California’s governor ordered our lockdown on March 19, and while it may feel like a thousand days have passed since then, during which our lives have changed in profound ways, the time doesn’t appear to have made much of a mark on Dilly.
Another thing that hasn’t happened to him is the loss of his daily lunch. Normally, CCI puppy-raisers are supposed to eliminate the mid-day meal when their charges reach their six-month birthday (at the same time increasing breakfast and dinner by half a cup each). But Steve and I have never raised any pup with as delicate a digestive system as Dilly’s. Encouragingly, it’s been several weeks since he’s had any bouts of diarrhea. We’ve worked him up to where he’s now eating about one cup a day of regular Eukanuba puppy chow (the CCI standard) and two cups of the more expensive Science Diet. We plan to continue slowly, carefully increasing the former and decreasing the latter, but until we complete that process, Steve worries that shifting to two bigger meals might shatter our fragile peace.
I should also add that no prior puppy of ours has ever reacted to his meals as exuberantly as Dilly does. He reminds us of Snoopy doing the suppertime dance; Dilly literally leaps into the air with joy.
Eventually, we’ll have to harden our hearts and limit the ecstasy to twice a day. But we’re not there yet. (Here’s a glimpse of today’s lunchtime performance.)
Dilly’s been a confident and plucky pup since his earliest days with us. Unlike many of his predecessors, he has bounded up steps, even those with open treads. He’s never flinched at any new sights. Never started at loud noises.
So it’s been interesting recently to see him become a little fearful of certain commonplace experiences. It’s like he’s been reading some canine-development textbook and has gotten to the chapter about the so-called Second Fear Period. That phase typically starts when puppies become 6 months old. Dilly’s right on schedule.
It began a few weeks ago with him shying from being dressed in his cape. For months, he’d been prancing up to us, eagerly poking his head into the garment’s opening, clearly cognizant that Dressing precedes going out on an adventure. But suddenly he was ducking and slinking away, as if the familiar yellow outfit had inexplicably grown menacing.
During the relentless rains last week, Steve and/or I and Dilly ventured out many times with an umbrella. Again we noticed at some point that umbrellas have become Scary Things.Even the giant package of paper towels that I picked up at Costco yesterday afternoon — a thrilling score in these paper-goods-deprived times! — struck Dilly as being spooky.What we’re supposed to do (according to the doggy developmental psychiatrists) is project calm and reassurance, showing him that these objects will do him no harm. Probably the fearfulness will melt away, and he’ll soon return to his formerly stout-hearted self.
In the meantime, I find this little chapter in his personality development kind of sweet. It’s a bit like when your beloved two-year-old has his or her first tantrum. Confirmation that they’re a normal kid.
Over the last several weeks, as Californians’ social interactions have shrunk, Dilly’s walks have ballooned. Steve and I have been venturing out with him almost every morning, covering anywhere from 2 to 6 miles. Steve also invariably takes him out for a late-afternoon “training walk” where the two of them focus on practicing commands, rather than covering ground for exercise. Sometimes I dash out mid-day and take Dilly along on some small errand — walking to the mailbox, or running to the pharmacy. Sadly, despite all this, his walking form is still far, far from perfection.
Perfection for a CCI puppy is trotting along at his handler’s side, his head stationed at the human’s knee. Roughly like this: Most important: the leash is slack. One or two of our puppies over the years have done this more or less naturally. Alas, Dilly is not among them.This is his idea of the perfect position: leading the way!
Dog trainers have many tricks for teaching dogs where they should be walking. If you’ve got the room, you can make sudden left turns, smashing into your furry friend. Or right turns, surprising him or her into position with a jerk. (This supposedly sends the message that they need to be walking where they can follow you and avoid being bushwhacked.) If the dog is wearing a a halter or a corrective collar, you can give it sharp little “corrections,” as it starts to surge ahead. You can lavish treats upon it when it’s walking in the right place.
We’ve used these — and more — techniques on Dilly. And it’s clear he understands where he’s supposed to be positioned. Sometimes we see him slip out ahead and then glance back quickly, then reposition himself to get a treat. Here’s a video glimpse of what he looks like on a good day. He’s not perfect, but he’s clearly trying to be good.
At other times, however, his memory evaporates. He surges ahead. I stop walking. He glances back and comprehension spreads across this face. He trots back into position. Receives his treat. We start to walk again and he instantly forgets, flowing out ahead of me. We repeat this drill… was it 100 times this morning? 200?
This is different from those moments when he is seized by complete insanity. Walking by grass often triggers this response, most intensely if the grass is shaggy and weed-choked. Then Dilly goes nuts, bucking like a bronco, accelerating, reversing course, oblivious to the yanking force of the halter when he smashes to the end of his leash and recoils. Such episodes never last long. They’re so obviously the result of excess puppy energy, we shrug them off.
Still, in my last Puppy Report to CCI, I mentioned our struggles with the “Let’s Go” command (what we use for walking). The program assistant sent me back a couple of videos of still more techniques for overcoming the forging, one of which we hadn’t seen before (a complex pivoting maneuver that Steve plans to try on his training walks.) But I was most helped by Patti’s assurance, “Loose-leash walking is something most folks work on for the duration of raising the puppy!”
If all goes according to schedule, we’ll still have a little more than a year with Dilly. I’m hopeful we’ll get to the point where he consistently walks on a loose leash. But we may need all that time to reach it.