Adagio’s incision from his recent surgery has fully, beautifully healed, but his digestive system was disrupted last weekend, so we decided to skip the puppy “social” held out in Santee last Saturday, just in case his gut problems were contagious. Happily, he’s back to normal after being dosed with Pro-Pectalin, the pills recommended by CCI that are a mixture of doggy probiotics and clay (kaolin). They stopped him up nicely.
But I feel sorry about all the confinement he’s had to endure recently. There was no puppy class scheduled for this past Monday night, and to my astonishment, I missed it! Although many of the classes have been tedious, over the years, they’ve gotten markedly more fun and interesting since Kay Moore became our regular instructor. Kay likes to shake things up. For our class 10 days ago, although the day had been sweltering, she goaded us all into going for a little outing.
We usually work outside in the parking lot for at least a part of every class. But on this occasion, we strolled for a few blocks through the residential neighborhood adjoining the building where the class meets (on Aero Drive, across from Montgomery Field).
We were able to practice several CCI commands along the way. There were interesting things to go Up on, for example:
At an intersection, we had the dogs Sit on the bumpy surface of the wheelchair access ramp.
Back in the parking lot, we practiced having all the dogs respond to “Here” commands from handlers other than their regular people. It was all entertaining, and the time sped by.
Adagio had to be neutered (last week). Brando (our third CCI puppy and the only one, so far, to graduate) also underwent castration at a tender age. That’s unlike Tucker, our first CCI puppy, whom we adopted when he was released for distractibility. (He’s now approaching his 14th birthday). Tuck wasn’t neutered until after he was in Advanced Training. Like him, none of the 5 female CCI puppies we’ve raised had to be spayed until after they left us.
Why the inconsistency? What we’ve been told over the years is that all female CCI puppies — whether they’re pure-bred labrador retrievers or golden retrievers or some cross of the two — may be chosen for CCI’s breeding program. The decision about whether birthing more CCI puppies will be their mission in life is not made until after they’ve reached the advanced phase of their training. In contrast, CCI only uses purebred labs or goldens as studs, and Tucker (100% labrador) was the only male we’ve had who met that qualification.
But why only mate purebred males with all those cross-bred females? Steve and I had never heard any explanation for that until yesterday, when we attended a presentation by Esther Molina, the director of CCI’s national breeding program, based at CCI headquarters in northern California. Since she was in town, the staff at the Southwest Regional headquarters in Oceanside invited local puppy-raisers to a potluck dinner and informational program featuring her.
A 23-year veteran with the organization, Molina has both raised CCI puppies and served as a breeder-caretaker before taking over direction of the national breeding program. She told us that some 70-80 females are producing litters at any given time. The girls require the services of only 29-40 males.
From what Molina said, it sounds like the decisions about who to mate with whom are exceedingly complex. But the organization now has vast amounts of multi-generational data to help guide it. A top priority is doing everything possible to breed healthy dogs. Any hint of a predisposition to hip, heart, or eye problems will disqualify the animal for reproduction, and advanced genetic testing is now enabling CCI to eliminate certain problems common in labs and goldens (e.g. exercise-induced collapse and progressive retinal atrophy).
Producing dogs with the perfect personality to be service animals is even more of a challenge. To do that more consistently, Molina said CCI is now testing canine cognitive ability and assessing the results across generations. It sounds like this is very much still a work in progress.
During the Q&A session, I asked my question about why only studs have to be purebreds (and not the dams too). Molina’s basic answer was that this policy simplifies life and makes it possible to preserve the characteristics of each of the two breeds used by the organization. If CCI bred lab-golden crosses (LGXs) with other LGXs for generation after generation, the results would soon be a separate LGX breed — a breed whose characteristics were less well understood than the original two.
At least I think that’s what she was saying. Molina spoke for a disappointingly small percentage of the program time. Steve and I had the impression that the large audience of puppy-raisers happily would have peppered the breeding program director with enough questions to make for a fascinating hour beyond what she was.
Adagio, on the other hand, found our outing a bit taxing. He maintained a Down position nicely while we ate our servings from the potluck, but during the presentations he popped to his feet far too often. He’s been suffering from some minor intestinal upset, so it may have been that which made him want to jump up and go.
Adagio looks like a black Labrador Retriever, but he’s actually one-sixteenth Golden Retriever. Because he is not a purebred, he had to have his testicles removed today.
That seems unfair, doesn’t it? Not to mention smacking of eugenics (except that so-called “science” was designed to improve humans, not dogs.) Females chosen for CCI’s breeding program can be a mix, so the girls are almost never spayed before they go in for their Advance Training (in the course of which, the decisions are made about who will be chosen to be a breeder). The situation is different for the males. I’m not sure why, but CCI has developed a policy dictating that only purebred labs or Goldens can sire CCI puppies. Next week Steve and I plan to attend a lecture about the breeding program, so maybe we’ll understand it all better after that.
What we have understood for months, however, is that we would have to get Adagio neutered when he reached his 8-month birthday. That milestone came last Thursday. We had called his vet the week before and were told the doctor didn’t recommend castration until dogs reach their one-year birthdays. So we called CCI to ask more directly about this timing. The puppy program assistant manager told us yes; the organization has come to believe the males’ personalities develop best if the boys lose their little reproductive organs at eight months, rather than later.
So it was that this morning at 7:30, Steve took Adagio in. Our pup walked into the office perky, wagging his tail. Steve retrieved him around 5 pm, and the sight of him as he stumbled across the patio upon their return broke my heart. His eyes were bloodshot and drooping. He was moving slowly, looking dazed. Worst of all, for a week or so, he will have to wear the dreaded cone to prevent him from licking the surgical site and pulling out his sutures.
We are hoping he will perk up tomorrow. He should be able to begin eating normally then. I will be very happy to have this behind us.
The truth is, I was delighted by the opportunity to puppy-sit Apple, Adagio’s littermate. Her puppy-raiser departed on a week-long vacation early Friday morning, so Apple arrived at our house mid-day Thursday. She looks a lot like her younger brother, but Steve and I can tell them apart. Fittingly, she’s a bit smaller and her face is more delicate. Adagio worships her; her arrival triggered paroxysms of joy.
It’s also true that living with two 5-and-a-half-month old labradors is more trouble than living with one. The worst thing about these two is that neither one has learned to ask to go outside, when they need a potty break. To avoid accidents, we have to remember to take them both out every hour or two, and that’s more work with two than one.
I think they have taught each each other a few bad things. For example, I’ve caught Apple fishing used kleenex out of my wastebasket (something Adagio had not routinely done before). His sis then shared her plunder with him, and I found them both happily chewing on soggy wads. Another time one of them grabbed a roll of paper towels within reach, and they were unrolling it when I noticed this action and snatched it away from them. “They’re as bad as monkeys,” I marveled. “Oh no. Monkeys would be much worse,” Steve said. “Monkeys have hands.”
Still, the pleasure of watching the two of them interact has outweighed the nuisances. They walk beautifully on their leashes, Apple even better than Adagio, so we have taken them with us to the coffeeshop.
They have no sense of personal space, so they chew on each other interminably, taking things out of each other’s mouths at will. Each one periodically tries to hump the other. (Fortunately, Apple should still be a few months away from her first heat.) They’re both extraordinarily verbal dogs, so as they wrestle, they emit fearsome growls, as well as yelps, screams, gurgles, and sometimes just a lot of heavy breathing
They seem radiant with happiness to be near each other. And they do periodically crash.
Apple will go to another puppy-sitter tomorrow afternoon. We’ll all be sad to see her leave.
We continue to think Adagio’s biggest idiosyncrasy is his oddball response to our opening his kennel door. Every other CCI pup we’ve raised has sprung to its feet, tagging wagging, and rushed out. But Adagio usually doesn’t budge, even when he’s been whining (as he did this morning at 5:30 am). We implore him to emerge, but he just sits there, languid, gazing at us. We don’t get it, though we suspect this quirk may run in his family. (Last week in puppy class, his sister Apple did it after being directed to enter the class kennel as an exercise. She promptly went in. Then refused to come out. Everyone was most amused.)
I’m starting to work on a new approach: training Adagio that kennel exits get him really wonderful treats. One of his favorite things in the world is ice. (Again, God knows why.)
When he sits in the kennel in Steve’s office, I’ve started going to the nearby fridge, opening the freezer, and extracting a cube or two. Adagio knows this sound and comes at a gallop.
I’ve also started practicing the Here game with him. We invented this activity years ago, when we would return from a walk with our current pup and Tucker. At the front door, we would remove their leashes but make them sit outside while I entered the house. After increasingly long intervals, I would then utter a piercing, “Here!” They clearly loved this ritual, and in all the years we’ve done it, I’ve never had a puppy stop focusing on the treat inside the house and wander off down the block.
Tucker’s now too old to go on long walks with us, but I’ve modified the game a bit and have introduced Adagio to it. I’m also doing it in the back yard. I make him and Tucker sit and stay, then I walk some distance away. Tension builds. Often the dogs start drooling. Finally, I command, “Here!” and they race toward me (Adagio races, Tucker ambles as fast as he can.) It’s obvious they think this is great fun.
It has occurred to me that I need to practice all this with Adagio — luring him with the ice; playing the Here game. Eventually I figure I’ll open the kennel door. Take one step away. Cry “Here!” And he’ll rocket out. That’s the plan.
Puppy class was unusually fun last night. There were only four of us in Kinderpup, for some reason, which made the pace mellow. One of the highlights was introducing the gang to the “Car” command, using the back of our teacher, Kay’s car. Since everyone was so young (around 5 months), we lifted them up and helped them in. Chaos ensued: a writhing tangle of tussling puppies. It is a miracle that Kathy Bennett, raiser of Bryce (on the far left), managed to capture this deceptive image of them looking so well mannered.
Note that Adagio (third from right) and his sister, Apple (half-prone), are not exactly in perfect position. (Wait till next year!)
So, roughly $160 poorer, we now know that Adagio’s kidneys are probably just fine. As I reported the other day, we freaked out when, after two accident-free weeks, he suddenly seemed seized by an urgent need to pee every few minutes. Including in the house.
It made us fear he might have developed a bladder infection. So, bleary-eyed, both Steve and I staggered out with him shortly after dawn Tuesday to collect urine. Steve delivered it to the vet’s, and several hours later, he and Adagio returned to learn the results. The good news was that the test found normal levels of sugar in Adagio’s pee (so: no diabetes!) Also no evidence of a bladder infection. Less good was the presence of higher- than-average protein precipitates. This might signal trouble with his kidneys, the vet said. Given our frightful experience with Beverly (Adagio’s half-sister) and her malformed kidneys, we agreed to have blood taken from him for examination.
The vet called late on Wednesday with more good news: his kidney-function values were normal. So why the sudden peeing frenzy? Why the protein crystals? We don’t have a clue. But at least our vet now seems unworried about Adagio’s renal health. When I spoke with the puppy program director yesterday, she also sounded unconcerned. Apparently some vets think protein crystals in dog pee is reason to switch the dog to special food. But others think it’s perfectly normal and doesn’t mean anything.
If the vet and Becky aren’t worried, Steve and I have resolved not to worry either. Furthermore, Adagio is once again relieving himself predictably — outside the house.
Given that, I decided today to take him for the first time with me grocery shopping. My list wasn’t long — maybe two dozen items. He accompanied Steve on a short excursion earlier in the week, and that went okay. So I crossed my fingers, caped him, and loaded him into the car kennel.
I have to confess, I found our time together to be somewhat nerve-wracking. Adagio is still less than five months old, and being in such noisy places, filled with so many people and smells, he looked a little amazed (to the extent that the face of a coal-black dog can communicate wonder.) Shopping for even just two-dozen items involves some searching and decision-making. If you have a dog with you, that dog has to take the inevitable pauses and back-tracking in stride. Adagio isn’t used to that, and he was prone to distraction.
Still, he didn’t bark or lunge at anyone. He had many admirers, and for the most part he sat obediently as they questioned me and showered him with praise. Best of all, he had no accidents in Vons. Or Trader Joes. Or Sprouts. Not a drop of inappropriate pee. By the time we give him back to CCI in November of 2019, he’ll be expected to conduct himself flawlessly in any sort of public setting. So this was a small but necessary start.