Weirdophobia

Fear periods are something we’ve heard about a lot throughout our years of raising puppies for CCI. According to my Puppy Raiser Manual, one such period occurs when pups are between 8 and 11 weeks old. Then a second kicks in between 6 to 14 months. “Corresponds with growth spurts,” my manual reads.  “May be frightened of new things or even known things.” Aside from the fear of stairs with open treads — which have terrified several of our pups — no previous puppy of ours has suddenly become afraid of something. But once again, Adagio is breaking new ground. Two entities currently frighten him:

The Dog of Death. This one is somewhat understandable. At least we know its genesis. Our walk to the neighborhood coffeehouse often takes us past a house where, months ago, a dog would usually spring to its feet at our approach and bark ferociously at Adagio through the wooden fence. It made even Steve and me jump a couple of times. It startled Adagio, and he put his ears back, but we always quickly moved on past the house.

One day, the house seemed empty. The dog appeared to be gone. Yet at some point — weeks later — Adagio began acting afraid at our very approach to the house. He whimpered. We pointed out to him that this was silly. The scary dog was nowhere to be seen. But over time, Adagio’s reactions grew more and more extreme. He began to scream and yelp and cry as we approached the fence. Here’s a glimpse of what it looks like:

One day we realized there was indeed a dog in the yard, where new owners seemed to have moved in and begun a backyard renovation project. When we turned and walked up the alley that runs behind the house, we could even see this dog, a friendly soul who wagged its tail and never so much as emitted a snarl, let alone any menacing barks. One day, when Adagio was squealing in terror as we passed the house, we even met the dog’s owner, who told us its name is Rile. (I’m not sure that’s how it’s spelled.)

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Strangely, when Adagio has come face to face with Rile, he calms down or acts like he wants to play.

To this day, Adagio continues to make a spectacle of himself every time we walk anywhere near the house. Steve and I should probably just avoid it. My manual says, “Don’t force dogs into fearful situations. Ignore the scary thing so dog won’t be afraid. ” But it seems so ridiculous for him to be terrified of the Dog of Death, as we have come to think of poor Rile. We keep walking by ever so often to see if Adagio has finally come to his senses.

In the meantime, last week he began to act afraid of…

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The Bowl of Terror. The bowl in question is his water bowl — i.e. the large metal bowl from which he and Tucker both have been drinking for all of Adagio’s life. We keep it on the patio and typically fill it with water a couple of times a day.

When walking back to the house from the lower yard (where we typically go for his toileting breaks), I realized one recent day that Adagio was veering over to the outdoor fireplace. It took me a while to realize he was doing that to avoid walking close to the water bowl. I could scarcely believe this. It’s such an innocuous fixture. It’s given him so much pleasure — quenching his thirst! — over the course of his short life. Moreover it’s his only source of water. He’s never been one to drink from toilet bowls or the pool.

But afraid he clearly is. Happily, we’ve observed that when he gets thirsty enough, he walks right up to it and drinks. Once sated, he bolts away.

What can I say? He’s a weirdophobe.

I also comfort myself with the thought that he completely got over the fear of open-tread stairs. Now he ambles up them without a second thought. We can hope he’ll also make his peace with both Rile and the Bowl of Terror.

 

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Safari dog

Back in June, I wrote about what appeared to be a new hobby of Adagio — diving into Steve’s recycling bin and fishing out papers to tear into pieces. We had barked “No!” at him several times, but mere reprimands didn’t appear to be deterring him. I resolved to start squirting him with a spray bottle whenever we caught him in the act. But, no sooner did I make this vow in my blog than he…. stopped doing it!

IMG_3130.jpgI breathed a happy sigh of relief. Then the day after our recent houseguests departed, I walked into the room where they’d been staying. I found the debris shown in the photo. For a second, I didn’t recognize it. Then I realized it was pieces of the charming lion Steve and I had brought back from East Africa 5 years ago. He was made of recycled flip-flops, cleverly transformed into blocks of colorful rubber and sculpted into beastly forms. I loved that lion and his zebra companion. But Adagio evidently had wandered into the room (probably looking for his little friend Emery), spotted the rubber animals, and savaged them.

 

IMG_3132.jpgWe had only the one lion and one zebra, so there will be no catching Adagio on any future hunts for African prey. I am sad about the loss of these, but I’m trying to think of it as a reminder of what Steve repeats too often: young puppies can destroy new things at any time. We cannot let down our guard.

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But they looked SO MUCH like puppy chew toys!

On a tear

Adagio has a new hobby! Suddenly, he has gotten the notion into his brain that it is fun to extract papers from the recycling bin in Steve’s office, rip them into shreds, and strew them about. He attacks them with a gusto startling in a fellow who normally prefers to spend so much of his time sleeping.IMG_3010.jpgIMG_3015.jpg

In the thick catalog of possible puppy sins, I know this is a peccadillo. Also, Steve and I appreciate the fact that it’s the worst thing Adagio has done in his short (not-yet-8-month-old life). He could be destroying important papers stolen from our desktops. He could be gnawing on our shoes or our appliances. Instead he’s targeting items that are already slated for destruction.

Still, it’s annoying to have to sweep up the shreds, plus destroying any household item is precisely the sort of thing CCI puppy raisers are supposed to train their charges NOT to do. We understand we must nip this in the bud. Steve argued at first we should try stern verbal corrections. Adagio is such a docile fellow, that seemed like it might work.

But we’ve tried it now for a couple of days, with no success. So now Plan B is to set him up to sneak into the office, spy on him until he begins his attack, then jump out and blast him with our squirt bottle. (It has water in it at the moment, but if necessary, we can add vinegar to make it more repellant.)

This plan will require us to give the problem more discipline and attention than we’re accustomed to directing at Adagio. But we know our duty. Stay tuned for a report on the results.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.