We haven’t been reporting much on Dilly’s activities in part because we’ve been on the road. You can read Dilly’s account of our trip here.
It’s hard to believe but last summer Dilly wasn’t alive yet. For half of it, he wasn’t even a twinkle in his mother’s uterus. He’s only been living with Steve and me for 8 months, but he’s such a big presence, it feels like he’s been with us for ages.
Had the coronavirus not followed him into the world, we would have missed several weeks of his puppyhood when we traveled to Europe in May. But like so many people’s plans, that trip was canceled. Instead we cobbled together a more pandemic-friendly adventure: a California road odyssey for which Dilly was our game fellow-traveler.
Packing our van with 3 weeks worth of dog provisions reminded us of when we took our oldest son on the road as a toddler. Instead of diapers and child seats and snacks and toddler toys, we had bags of dog food, Dilly’s bed, bowls and brushes and balls and more.
Along with all our gear, it barely fit.
We hit the road July 3. Over the next 21 days, Dilly got to hike in many awesome landscapes: in meadows and mountain trails at Mammoth and Lake Tahoe:
At the foot of volcanic Mt. Lassen.
He got to sniff the needles of the oldest trees on Earth…
… and some of the tallest…
He met exotic wildlife.
He discovered that the world can feel and smell very different from the way it does in San Diego.
Probably the funnest place was the enormous yard in back of the ranch house. Dilly got to run around in it, off-leash, at 90 miles an hour. He NEVER gets to do that at home.
Most of the time, he brought us daily pleasure. Countless folks admired him, and he reciprocated with love for one and all.
But he wasn’t wild about all the time on the road. For most of the more than 3000 miles we covered, he rode in his kennel, but he often didn’t sleep. We speculated that the twisty blue highways made him uncomfortable. Or maybe he was too warm back there.
For a while, he went out strike, refusing to jump up in his kennel as ordered. Then we had to muscle him in.
A few times I took pity on him and let him sleep at my feet up front.
He seemed to enjoy everything else about traveling, though. We sensed that what he loved most was getting to spend more time than usual being paid attention to by us.
How are Goldens retrievers different from Labrador retrievers? That’s something Steve and I have been pondering since we got Dilly last November. Dilly’s the first purebred Golden we’ve raised for CCI. Among his predecessors, two were purebred Labs (Tucker and Yuri). All the rest were so-called crosses, a mix of Labrador and Golden genes. Some had softer, curlier coats (the Golden influence), but they all basically looked like Labs (some black and some yellow). Compared to all of them, Dilly feels like a strikingly different doggy experience.
How so? It’s hard to put it into words, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
— The beauty factor. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder. There are probably folks out there who genuinely think French bulldogs are the most beautiful dog in the world. Or pit bulls. Or Shar-peis. For me, however, golden retrievers, male and female, embody Beauty. (As one friend notes, they all look like they’re girls.) I often look at Dilly and think of Farrah Fawcett (a person whom I otherwise pretty much never think of). They have that gorgeous glowing mane in common.
It’s not just me who reacts to Dilly that way. A higher percentage of people on the street stop and exclaim about his looks.
— The affection factor. I’m probably on thin ice here, but Dilly feels more cuddly and affectionate than almost any other dog I’ve lived with. He craves physical closeness; curls up on my feet, for example, when I’m washing dishes. Often when I sit down, he has a way of insinuating himself in front of me, first to be petted, then subtly slipping up first his front legs and putting them on my shoulders, then — almost imperceptibly! — his back ones so that his body fills my lap and covers my chest and he is perfectly positioned to take tiny licks of my ears. Usually he smiles and wags his tail while doing this, which makes him look very happy.
It is seductive in a way that feels completely ingenuous.
— The goofy factor. Labs, even puppies, possess a certain dignity. I think that’s much less true of Goldens. We see it in Dilly every morning, when he leaps straight up in the air, over and over, overcome by the excitement — be still my heart!!! — of getting to eat an entire bowl of kibble!!!!!!!!!!!!
Recently, I’ve discovered that he seems to enjoy dancing with me. This experience too has a special goofy Golden quality.
— The sensitivity factor. Here I really feel nervous committing my thoughts to type. But after living with a dozen Labradors (both CCI’s and my own), the labs seem tougher and sturdier than Dilly. He’s fine as I type these words, but he still can wake us up at 2 am with mystery diarrhea. Just eating a dead flower or twig can set him off. We shrug it off now. “It’s like owning a Ferrari,” Steve says.
Not that we’ve owned one of those — or ever would be tempted to. I’m not even sure I’d want to own a Golden retriever for his whole life. All that hair! All that brushing! All the special dietary dog food!
For the moment, however, and for the next ten golden months, we’re reveling in this extraordinary experience.
Steve and I have long been interested in the tails of the CCI puppies we’ve raised over the years. They’re not all the same. Dionne (puppy number #5) had one with a distinct twist at its tip, which gave it a slightly porcine look. The tail of Kyndall (#6) appeared to be kinked, just about an inch from its end. You could see and feel it.
For some time, we nursed a theory that the longer the tail, the more dominant the dog. This notion was fed by the fact that despite his size, Tucker (#1) had a rather wimpy little tail and a docile, submissive personality to match it. Dionne and Darby (#4), both smaller physically, had long tails and — bossed Tucker around unmercifully. But our Tail Dominance theory took a beating with the arrival of Kyndall, who had a nice long tail but was more subservient to Tucker than any other dog he had lived with.
The fact that Dilly’s tail is in a class by itself is hardly surprising. He’s the only purebred Golden Retriever we’ve raised for CCI. Matching the rest of his body, his tail is a magnificent feathered scepter. It’s hard to capture its beauty with a camera; so often it’s in motion, wagging.
We have thus been dismayed recently to notice that very end of Dilly’s tail has begun to resemble… a bony finger.
We know why this is happening. We have on occasion caught Dilly in the act of ripping the fur out, though of course we have no idea what would move him to do this. Boredom? Neurosis? Hunger? (Once ripped out, he seems to like chewing the fur. We do not know if he then swallows it.)
We haven’t yet consulted with any authorities about this problem. Steve found an old bottle of bitter apple in the garage, so he is spraying it in the hopes that the bad taste with discourage this bad habit.
We’re not wildly optimistic. Look at the way he’s licking his lips. (Seasoning!)
Only one of our previous CCI puppies has been wild about swimming. That was Darby who, when she was little, stared at the water in her bowl in fascination and pawed at it. Before long she discovered the joys of paddling around in our pool. Despite their water-dog heritage, though, most of our other CCI pups have actively avoided getting wet. I’m not sure how Dilly will turn out.
He has slipped and partially fallen into the pool a few times, but that doesn’t appear to have freaked him out. At the same time, he’s never tried to walk down the steps into the water. But it hasn’t been swimming weather, and he’s never seen Steve or me (or any canines) swimming.
So I was startled by what he did Monday morning. We’d been invited to a little play session with Emmett, the pure-bred white Lab he played with last week. This time we met at the home of Emmett and his puppy-raiser, Mary Milton. Joining us was another even younger CCI puppy who also lives in the neighborhood, a feisty black three-month-old male named Corduroy.
The three guys seemed wildly happy to romp together.
They explored the great puppy play toys in the yard: a long fabric tunnel, a little raised bed…and a little blue plastic pool filled with a few inches of water. To my astonishment, Dilly stepped right into it.
He sniffed it a bit, then plopped down.
He seemed content to rest there for a moment, then he got out and played some more. But he returned to the water once or twice.
It wasn’t a hot day, though Dilly seems a bit more sensitive to heat than some of the pups we’ve raised. Steve and I speculate that maybe all his fur makes him warm. This experience makes us wonder if, come the true heat of summer, he won’t discover the pleasures of cooling off in deeper water. It will be fun to find out.
What’s the different between the two dogs above? The one on the left is 8-month-old Dilly (as of yesterday). On the right you see the 7-month-old version. Not much difference. Older Dilly looks a bit more sleepy but he tends to get like that by mid-afternoon. He may be a pound or two heavier and a smidge taller. But that could just be a trick of the camera angle.
For Dilly, the BAD news about this landmark was it marked the beginning of his life without lunch. CCI puppy-raisers actually are supposed to eliminate their dog’s mid-day cup when the pup reaches the 6-month mark (adding a half-cup to the breakfast and dinner fare) but two months ago we were still fretting about Dilly’s delicate digestive system. Smaller meals — for a while — might be easier on him, we told ourselves.
This strategy seemed to work. He had no trace of diarrhea. In fact, he got to where he was occasionally defecating only once a day, typically massive but firm deposits on his morning walk. Then about a week ago, we were awakened around 2 in the morning by the much-dreaded, high-pitched, pitiful sound of puppy distress. I took him out, and two hours later, Steve had to repeat the long trek with Dilly out into the darkened yard.
We have a theory as to what may have provoked this. The weather is finally warm enough so we can dine out on our patio, and a night or two before the digestive disaster struck, we got so caught up in talking that we failed to notice what Dilly was doing. Only when he had consumed the better part of the pot of kale nearby us did the carnage catch my eye.
Can bunches of baby kale, seasoned with some kale roots and fresh compost, cause doggy diarrhea? Who knows. Thankfully, a few days back on the Diarrhea Diet (a melange of plain rice, cottage cheese, and Royal Canin Gastrointestinal Puppy Chow) straightened things out.
To be honest, this particular puppy has so completely stolen our hearts, we’re finding it more tempting than ever to coddle him. But we want to be good dog-raising citizens. So yesterday we served him a cup and a half of breakfast (that was the easy part!) and nothing at lunchtime. He looked a bit sad and hungry, but he tends to look like that whenever one of us is eating and he isn’t. We trust in a few more days, he will forget his lunches ever existed.
Compensating for this sad transition, he got to play with another puppy, only his second social date in a couple of months. Yesterday, the playmate was Emmett, a feisty four-month-old purebred Labrador male being raised by Mary Milton, who lives not far from us. Emmett still has a bunch of sharp little baby teeth, which he used to chew on Dilly. But Dilly chewed back. They climbed on top of each other; raced at top speed around our pool (miraculously avoiding falling in.)
I think the look on Dilly’s face says all you need to know about what a great present this was:
Eight weeks have passed since the last time Dilly and Steve and I have been to a CCI puppy class. Where has the time gone? (Oh yeah. I remember. We’ve ALL been kenneled.)
Steve and I have been doing our best to continue training Dilly during this challenging interlude. We’ve been walking him more than we normally do, and Steve takes him out for a separate training session most afternoons. Still, we’ve keenly missed the human interaction with our fellow puppy-raisers (and instructor). Without the twice-monthly reminders of what we should be working on, I suspect we may have lost some of our training edge. So with some trepidation, I signed up for Dilly and me to participate in an online Basic class that we attended yesterday.
Organized by one of the local puppy-raisers, it cost $10 to take part in the session (unlike our normal classes, for which we never pay). It was taught by a contract trainer named Chelsea Calabria. A few minutes before 5:30, I logged in and joined a group that included Chelsea and six other puppy-raisers (plus me but not Steve; he was working on dinner).
Earlier Chelsea had sent out an agenda, and we followed it closely. We took turns with each puppy-raiser having her dog walk over an unfamiliar surface (that Chelsea had asked us in advance to have available.) For Dilly, I used a large piece of cardboard, and it surprised me to see him shy away from it at first. But after a try or two, he was padding over it competently and sitting on it to receive a treat.
Later, we each practiced having our dogs walk past kibble scattered on the floor to get to their beds, then we put in some time showing off (and getting tips for improving) our prowess with the Heel command. Chelsea finished off with some advice for us to practice using the Under command during some meals, just as we would if we could go out to a restaurant. Which of course no one can do at the moment.
For me, this was all nowhere near as much fun as a flesh-and-blood puppy class. There’s a bloodless (if virus-less) quality to doing these exercises in front of a computer screen, an inability to comment and get quick subtle feedback from several people at once. At the same time, going over the material did make me think about things I hadn’t considered in some time. So it certainly didn’t feel like a waste of time.
From Dilly’s perspective, I’m sure it was way more boring still. The images on my computer screen may have looked like dogs to me but not him. They certainly didn’t smell like dogs or offer what some folks think is the most valuable part of the real-life classes — practice at ignoring all the fascinating distractions.
Still he got to work on things he hasn’t done in a while. Not a bad use of a sleepy hour at the end of an all-too-quiet afternoon.
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.