Our puppy-class teacher, Kay, is a fan of field trips. We went on another one to Mission Bay Park on our last class day (August 20), and I was impressed again by how many learning opportunities arise simply by moving into a novel setting.
Out in the evening light, surrounded by new sights and smells, the puppies have to work extra hard to control themselves. But they responded well.
The stairs of this play structure looked a lot like the open-tread variety that until recently struck fear in Adagio’s heart. But he mounted them without hesitation.
Going down the slide was scarier, but he managed to do that too.
He walked across a wobbly bridge……did an Up on a turtle. (We don’t have those in our regular classroom.)…and an Under under a concrete bench.
Thick green grass is particularly alluring to puppies, but none of the class members flung themselves onto their backs in a fit of wriggly ecstasy. They Downed and Stayed obediently.
A couple of picnickers were eating something that looked and smelled interesting. But no one lunged to help themselves to a taste.
The dogs walked calmly, then Kay directed us to a little dock where more strange sights and smells surrounded the crew.
Dark had descended by the time we broke up. Everyone looked a little tired but content.
We should have class again this coming Monday, but because it’s Labor Day, it will be postponed until the following week. However, Adagio and Steve and I have signed up for an extracurricular activity that promises to be at least as educational as our field trip by the bay. We’re going to the Del Mar Racetrack with a giant group of puppies and puppy-raisers. Should be another winning excursion.
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!
I 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.
We 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.
Sometimes I don’t blog as often as I want because not much is happening. Adagio is growing and learning things, but the changes are barely noticeable. Sometimes, however, we hit a patch where too much is going on, and time for writing is scarce.
We’ve been in one of the latter patches for the past two weeks. First we were happy to welcome my nephew John from Chicago, who arrived for a four-day visit with his wife Lydia and their 15-month-old daughter, Emery. Emery has met several dogs in the course of her short life, but at first she seemed a bit intimidated by our two hulking canines. She’s a happy, determined little toddler, but the emphasis is on little — she’s less than 18 pounds. Together, Tuck and Adagio weigh more than 8 times as much.
They thought she was fascinating, and in their excitement sent her plopping down onto her diapered bottom a few times. But they never made her cry, and Adagio and Emery soon shifted into viewing each other with calm curiosity.
It was hard to tell for sure what either side was thinking……although Adagio clearly decided she smelled intriguing.
Tucker has long adored little kids, so although he’s more than 95 in dog years, he looked happy every minute he was in Emery’s presence……and she was soon responding with hugs.By the end of the four days, Adagio also seemed content to let Emery treat him like a king-sized stuffed animal.
Our entire pack was sad to see them go. But Steve and I had to scramble to ready the house for termite fumigation (a huge disruption that we had not undergone for 20+ years.) We timed the tenting with a trip to San Jose for a convention, to which we planned to drive. Tucker is too ancient to accompany us on such an adventure; he stayed with friends. But we wanted to road-test Adagio, who reached his 9-month birthday during Emery’s visit.
We planned to drive up the coast on Highway 1, something else we had not done for decades. Steve and I had tried to take that route last October, when we drove up to Steve’s high school reunion in the Bay Area. Beverly (Adagio’s half-sister, and our last CCI puppy) came along with us on that trip. But a huge landslide had closed Highway 1, forcing us to use another road.
The news that Highway 1 had at last reopened at the end of July delighted us. This time we traveled north on it. Steve and I loved both the drive and the convention, but Adagio clearly found it vastly inferior to hanging out with Emery. He experienced a few brief interludes of ecstasy, like the walk we took on the deserted beach in San Simeon. We slipped off his halter and let him briefly experience the beach, unfettered, for the first time in his life. It drove him wild with excitement and he zoomed around at top speed over the sand for about two minutes, then returned to us, docile and content.
He also got to walk along a foggy clifftop……and check out Nepenthe, a legendary Big Sur restaurant and bar that Steve had visited as a child.
At the convention, he mostly had to curl up and be quiet on the convention hall floor and in panel-discussion rooms and under restaurant tables, for hours on end.
He didn’t love that, but he did it remarkably well. We returned home feeling optimistic about his future. He returned home overjoyed to see his buddy Tucker again.
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.
The good news is that Adagio seems to be recovering beautifully from his neutering surgery Monday. When I went to his kennel Tuesday morning, he sprang to his feet, tail wagging in spite of the cone. The woeful, crying animal of the night before had vanished — and has not reappeared since.
Equally encouraging news is that Adagio recently overcame his terror of walking up the open-tread stairs in the building where our friend Alberto lives (and to which Adagio accompanies us almost every week for our movie-night gatherings). A month ago, he was still cringing and digging his feet in, rigid with fear when asked to ascend “the Tower of Terror,” as Steve referred to it. But two weeks ago, some invisible switch flipped. He had made progress going up a limited number of stairs at puppy class a few nights before. Maybe the lesson learned there stuck. Whatever, the reason, he sashayed up the two flights of condo stairs as if no problem had ever existed:
We’re proud of him — and relieved. His half-sister Beverly never overcame her fear of those same stairs. It’s nice to know this, at least, will not stand between him and eventual success.
The small amount of bad news, such as it is, is that Adagio supposedly will have to continue wearing the cone for another week or so. (Our vet’s post-surgical instructions said 10-14 days.) He doesn’t seem to mind it that much; seems actually less resistant to our putting it on than to his cape. But it can’t be pleasant to bash into things, which happens a lot when he’s wearing it.
We’re starting to give him limited amounts of time out of it when we can watch closely to make sure he’s not licking or biting at the stitches. And we’ve seen none of that behavior so far. Maybe if this persists, life will be almost back to normal for Adagio — minus the stair fear — soon rather than later.
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.