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

Adagio 2 months old
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.

Tucker’s last birthday?

Almost 13 years ago, we received our first CCI puppy, a shambling little guy whose goofy good nature was evident from the instant I first met him. Steve and I had made the decision to raise a CCI puppy for several reasons. The most potent was that I was sick of seeing our beloved pet dogs grow old and get so feeble we felt compelled to euthanize them. I knew it would be hard to give away a dog we’d raised for a life of service, but it seemed better than the alternative.

What I never expected is that Tucker would flunk out. Throughout his time with us, he seemed a wonder — far more attentive and well behaved than any other dog we’d ever had. Maybe 6 weeks after he’d gone to Advanced Training, when the puppy program director called to inform me Tuck was being “released,” I felt the blood drain from my face. It was like hearing that one of my children was being expelled from college. We knew that if a CCI puppy fails to graduate, the folks who raised it can adopt it at no charge, but we never expected to face that choice. Still, we didn’t hesitate to welcome Tucker back as a permanent member of our household.

Today is his 13th birthday, and it’s hard not to feel a little irony in our current life together. In the 18 months since he had a cancerous tumor removed from his side, he’s done well. But he’s also aged so much. He’s deaf now, and he sleeps so deeply it’s often hard to tell if he’s still breathing. Once again we’re living with a very elderly animal (“91 in people years!” Steve often reminds me), and wondering if we’ll have to make the dreaded call to the vet about him.

We’re not there yet. Yesterday Steve and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Riverside County tree farm for a fresh-cut Christmas tree, and Tucker pushed his way into the garage, determined to accompany us on our outing. (He didn’t know the destination; he didn’t care.) He shared the car kennel with Ressa (the little seven-month-old CCI pup whom we’ve been sitting), and at the farm, he tried to smell everything.

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Sharing the car kennel requires a tight squeeze, but they tolerate it.

He still wags his tail at every puppy we welcome into the house, and he plays his silly game with them, emitting gruff, old-man “WOOFs!” that make them race around as if they’re scared of him. And he still loves to eat. This morning, in honor of the day, we served him turkey and other scraps from my post-Thanksgiving stock, mixed with a little leftover fettuccine. Tuck looked a bit startled by this change from Eukanuba (even after Steve removed the candle), but he gobbled it down.

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We figure he could slip away in his sleep two days from now. Or he could live another two years (any more than that is pretty inconceivable). Whenever he does go, we’ll miss him terribly. Maybe we’ll vow to never again have another pet dog. Maybe we’ll even mean it this time.


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Meh. THAT is not scary.

After CCI puppies are turned in for their Advanced Training (as Beverly will be four weeks from today), one of the first things that happens to them is that they undergo a series of exams, both physical and psychological. Over the years, we’ve heard about what’s involved in the temperament testing. A volunteer dons a cape and mask and approaches each puppy in a vaguely menacing fashion. Apparently this scares some of the dogs, and they bolt to get away. That’s a bad thing.

So the other day, we figured we would give Beverly some early exposure to this kind of creepy apparition, to prepare her for the ordeal. We had our son, Elliot, put on a cape and scary clown mask and suddenly emerge from the door opening onto our pool deck. Steve had Beverly on a leash outside, and we were delighted to see she didn’t flinch. Instead she wagged her tail a little and started to move toward Elliot. He pushed the button on an umbrella, and it popped open. We’ve had at least one (non-CCI) dog who was terrified of this. But again, it didn’t bother Beverly.

What does scare her are stairs that you can see through. As I’ve reported before, we’ve been working on getting her up these at the building where we attend puppy class. She’s still uneasy, but we can now usually coax her up one set there.

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This photograph was taken at our class last week. But when we tried to make her climb up another set of open stairs in the same complex — one where the lighting made the absence of a back to the stairs more obvious — she reacted with stark terror. She wouldn’t even look at them, let along try to ascend.

Will this one character flaw doom her chances as a service dog? That scares Steve and me.

Public service

The mission of this blog is to share the experience of raising a puppy to become a service dog. There’s a lot to that enterprise, and by far the most interesting parts are those that involve teaching and living with the puppies. There’s also some PR involved, however.

Part of that transpires when you’re out in public with your trainee, working on teaching him or her to behave while grocery shopping or sitting in a movie theater or under the table at a restaurant or wherever. But occasionally, CCI sends out email requests for us to serve as emissaries for the organization at various events.

When it doesn’t involve too long a drive, I enjoy helping out when I can. Recently, Beverly and I responded to two such activities, both close to our neighborhood.

The first was a tiny Lion’s Club chapter that had requested a presentation about CCI for their monthly meeting. It was held in the back room of a waffle restaurant in Clairemont. Steve and I both accompanied Beverly to that one — an easy assignment: talking to eight seniors about the Canine Companions for Independence organization and the work it does. Several folks in the group already seemed to know a lot about the program. We spent about a half hour chatting with them, and they seemed pleased to have us.

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Beverly put on a little show and tell — Sitting, going Down, walking nicely on her leash. But mostly she snoozed.

The next day, Beverly and I showed up at a meeting room in Pacific Beach where we joined three other CCI trainees — including Beverly’s buddy Keegan. It turned out that this event, a monthly meeting of a group called Fortune Builders, was an opportunity to publicize CCI’s big fundraising activity of the year, Dogfest (which will take place later this month.)

The volunteer who is chairing this year’s event was there, along with her latest puppy, only four months old. But she didn’t make the pitch for donations. Another puppy-raiser who’s a longtime member of the Fortune Builders group took the microphone to do that.

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This meant all that the rest of us had to do was stand around and let the meeting-goers see our dogs and pet them if they wanted to. Beverly excels at this.

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Keegan got petted first by this particular dog-lover, but Beverly received plenty of attention too.