Breakthrough

Life with Beverly has been so calm, so orderly, so free of bad behavior that it has left me with little to report on for this blog. Last night, however, Beverly made a breakthrough that was exciting.

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In general, she has learned all her commands with little fuss, but over the past few months she developed one terrible phobia. Faced with having to go up a set of stairs with open treads, like this one, she becomes frozen with terror. Most Friday evenings, we join a group of friends for a potluck and movie-watching in the Hillcrest condo of our friend Alberto. He lives on the third floor, connected to the ground by an elevator and a set of stairs — with open treads. Beverly is not the first puppy to be afraid of them.  I’ve reported on our troubles with various of her predecessors. But Beverly has been the most afraid. Week after week Steve has patiently worked with her, trying to lure her upward with increasingly irresistible treats. She descends with no problem, but she has mulishly resisted climbing.

So at puppy class last night, when our instructor, Shaina, asked if anyone was dealing with any problems, Steve lamented about what a challenge it has been to try and overcome Beverly’s open-tread terror.

“Let’s all go work on it together,” Shaina suggested. “Right now.” First she directed us all to pass our dogs to the puppy-raisers on our left (so every dog was being handled by someone more or less new to him or her). Beverly went to Mark, whom we know fairly well. (With his wife, Karla, Mark is raising an easy-going pure-bred male lab named Keegan.)

Outside, most of the dogs ascended the stairs without incident. 062717 Stairs2

Mark approached with Beverly, and for a minute I thought perhaps she would be swept up in the momentum of the group ascent. 062717 Stairs3

But then she seemed to realize what she was about to do. She froze, then turned away, cringing.062717 Stairs4

Oddly, a moment later, Keegan had trouble with the climb — despite the fact that he has gone up and down even scarier stairs many times. Happily, he was being handled by Dan Flynn, who along with his wife, Janice, is one of the most experienced puppy-raisers in the United States. (They’re raised more than 20 CCI pups — most of whom have graduated to lives of service.) Dan helped us in the past when one of our charges was terrified of open-tread stairs, so I wasn’t surprised to see him calmly coax Keegan upward.

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Mark waited, then walked over again with Beverly. She put her front paws on the lowest step…

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but then  she seemed to think better of what she was doing, and shied away. Mark led her back, and she got up two steps.062717 Stairs 8

She looked panicky and backed off again, but Mark led her back, and in a daze, I watched her timidly scurry all the way up to the landing, where her buddy Keegan was waiting. All of us assembled puppy-raisers cheered, and Mark gave Beverly many pats and a food treat.062717 Stairs9

He led her down the stairs and approached the stairs again. This time she hustled up the Treads of Terror with notably less hesitation.

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I’m not sure if she’ll bound up the ones at Alberto’s this Friday night. But if she balks, I now feel confident we’ll be able to get her over it. It was another lesson in how life is easier when one is raising one’s puppy within a supportive village.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Grate terror

For some months, we’ve known that Beverly was afraid of staircases with open treads. Several of our past puppies have developed the same phobia, so it came as no surprise to see it again. Eventually each of her predecessors overcame it, so we’re optimistic that Beverly will do so too.

But now, out of nowhere, something else has begun to terrify her: street grates. We first learned about this reaction a few weeks ago when she was staying with a puppy-sitter who observed it and reported it to us. I knew it wasn’t uncommon; CCI’s monthly puppy report form even lists “avoids grates” as a possible issue involving surfaces that one’s puppy might be struggling with. Steve and I have never had to check that particular box in the past, but now we’re seeing what grate fear looks like.

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This is the sort of object that suddenly makes Beverly’s blood run cold.
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She seems to think she could fall into it.
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She generally veers away..
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…or steers a course around it.
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“Are you crazy, Dad?! Get off that thing!!!”

We’ve been trying to work through it, mainly by being calm and cheerful to demonstrate that grates are not malevolent monsters waiting to gobble up unwitting puppies. Sometimes we try to lure her on them with extraordinary treats (liverwurst! smelly sausage!)

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This morning, Steve and I actually got her to walk on this grate, located in the alley near our house (though I failed to photograph her success, being involved in the coaxing, as I was.) We’re hopeful  that, with patient instruction, she’ll get past this (literal) bump in the road.

Corrupter of innocents

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Does this look like the face of a depraved source of corruption? We’ve never thought so. Tucker, our first CCI puppy, is normally such a mellow and unobtrusive fellow. Though he was early judged by the professional trainers to be unsuitable for a life of service (because of his excessive distractibility), he’s never been a troublemaker, and that’s been particularly true as he nears his dotage. (He’ll turn 11 at the end of this month.) For a long time, we thought he was an actively good influence on our successive puppy trainees. But we’ve just seen one acquire an actively pernicious behavior that obviously was learned directly from Tuck.

About his only “bad” habit has been to raid Steve’s basket of recycled paper. For some years now, Tucker has done this almost every time we go out and leave him at home. He does very little to the paper — nibble on the edges a bit. We’ve joked that it was his way of expressing his displeasure at being left behind — a doggy snit.

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What we typically find when we get home.

Recently, however, Kyndall has begun doing the same thing when she’s bored. She’ll snatch a piece of paper out of the basket and rip it up. (Most fun of all is if we forget and chase her, trying to get it.) Obviously, she watched Tucker do it and decided it looked like fun.

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We’ve also begun to question whether puppies really do better if there’s a “civilian” dog at home. I supposed CCI probably could produce some research and statistics on that question, but I’ve never seen any (and certainly they don’t disqualify anyone from puppy-raising if they have a home dog.) But Steve and I have begun to think the presence of another dog may distract our trainees and make them focus less intensively on us.

For that reason, assuming that we continue to raise puppies to be service dogs, we’ve resolved NOT to have another home dog, once Tucker shambles off to the big doghouse in the sky. Of course, despite his occasional depravity, we hope that’s a long time off.

From figs to fig leaves

From figs to fig leaves
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The tree is starting to look bare, with the figs gone and the fig leaves going.

Almost all the figs have now fallen off or been harvested from our fig tree. I’ve made fig tarts and fig preserves and figgy salads using them. We’ve given them to friends, and Steve personally has eaten about a thousand of them on his morning cereal. Those are the pleasant things about fig season. The part that makes our lives hellish is the way the dogs become insatiably avaricious for them. Even though we grossly restrict Tucker and our current puppy’s access to the tree, they still seem to pounce upon and wolf down too many, often with disastrous digestive consequences.

So we are filled with happiness at the end of fig season. And this year, we’re also filled with horror to discover that Kyndall is eating… the desiccated and disgusting fallen fig leaves.

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Ummm-ummmm good…. Seriously?!
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Does that look tasty to you?

No other dog has ever done this, for reasons we thought we understood. When they’re on the tree, the leaves are irritating. Whenever they touch our bare skin, they cause itching and may even raise little welts. Who could eat such things? Steve’s theory is that Kyndall is selecting specimens on which juice from the ripe figs has dripped. She doesn’t look that discriminating to me when she snatches one off the ground. I wonder if she likes them for the same reason I like potato chips — for their crunchy savory eating pleasure?

This experience has made me think long and hard about a behavior rule. I know that CCI puppies are not supposed to ever eat anything off the ground. But Steve and I always have kind of rolled our eyes at this. It seemed an unattainable pipe dream — sort of like saying that CCI puppies should never pant. Over the years, however, I’ve dimly noticed that some puppy-raisers seem to take this goal quite seriously. Some suggest their puppies in fact never DO eat anything off the ground.

It’s now struck me that if we actually trained a puppy not to ever eat anything off the ground, it would save us a lot of grief. Kyndall, mercifully, has never eaten the most disgusting thing imaginable off the ground. (We love that about her.) But at least three of her predecessors have. So I’m thinking that in the future we should dedicate ourselves to learning how to prevent a puppy from scavenging.

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“The season is all too short!” she says.

I’m not sure it’s realistic to do that now with Kyndall, not since her fig and fig-leaf cravings have been enflamed. I’m afraid all we can do is count the day remaining until fig-leaf season also has ended.

Natural born killer

Kyndall ate her bed this morning. All our previous CCI puppies pretty much immediately shredded anything soft we gave them to sleep on, but I had lobbied shortly after receiving Kyndall that we should allow her a chance to prove herself the exception. I bought a soft foam mat for her at Petco, and for all these months all she did to it was curl up and enjoy its coziness. I boasted to friends about her exceptionalism. Then this morning, after she’d been fed her breakfast in her kennel, I walked into Steve’s office and found this:

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My, THAT was fun!
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Bottom of the eviscerated bed
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Dead bed bits

The thought crossed my mind that this act of aggression might be linked to her recent transformation into a predatory killer…of house flies. Normally, we don’t see many flies. But in this past week’s heat wave, their numbers exploded. Kyndall is entranced whenever she catches sight of them. She leaps and snaps at them, and I’m pretty sure I saw her catch and eat one.

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I tried to video her hunting, but it was too erratic. This blurry image is all I could get.

Fortunately, they say the heat wave is ending. Fig season is also winding down (thank God!). That means soon we should be able to stop policing the dogs’ every instant outside (lest they stuff themselves with fallen figs, with disastrous consequences on their digestion.)

But even after the weather gets chilly, she’s going to be sleeping on the hard wood floors or plastic bottom of her kennel. After all, she is in training…

Kyndall learns to read

We cannot imagine how it happened, but Kyndall appears to have learned to read. She also must have figured out how to get online and check the blog that I write about her life as a service-dog trainee. How else to explain her criminal behavior this morning? She must have seen yesterday’s post about her new-found “peaceability” and excellent behavior and decided to disabuse us of this ridiculous notion.

Normally, she doesn’t have much opportunity to misbehave. We almost always keep her near us or kenneled. But Steve slipped up this morning. He came into the house and forgot she was outside;assumed she was up in my office with me. When he finally stepped outside, he found the carnage:

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Oops.

She had completely dug up and destroyed the beautiful white rose bush that we planted a month ago. An elderly fuchsia bush had died and we had long pondered what to replace it with that wouldn’t fall prey to a puppy. The spot gets a lot of sun, which roses like, and it occurred to me that its thorns would protect it. Ha.

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It seemed to be thriving and was loaded with blooms. Blooms that now will never open thanks to you know who.

We checked Kyndall’s mouth to check for gouges from the thorns, but she was unscathed.

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If we hadn’t known instantly who had murdered the rose, the snout dirt would have incriminated her.
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Peaceable puppy? Sez who?

Good news, bad news

So the good news is that we gave Kyndall the new large-size Extreme Kong last night, and to our delight, she did NOT manage to tear any chunks out of it! Maybe it will be tough enough to stand up to her jaws of steel. Fingers are crossed.

The bad news: while watching the movie (an engaging documentary, Red Army, about Soviet hockey and Russian sports training), Steve got so engrossed that he failed to notice that Kyndall, on her leash next to his chair, was chewing on the strap of my purse, which was sitting nearby on the floor. Here’s what we found when the lights went up:

 

61315 purse destroyerThis morning Steve managed to find and order a new purse strap for me on Amazon. It was $14.99. But as he points out, we’ve spent more than that on Kongs recently.

Raising puppies teaches one about relativity.