Steve and I raised one puppy who was a glutton for affection from her earliest months. Darby loved being cuddled and petted as much as she loved chasing the ball and eating her kibble and swimming (she was our only CCI pup so far to be entranced by water). Far more commonly, however, our trainees have warmed to physical affection more gradually.
We’ve been seeing such a change in Adagio in recent months; he’s more apt to approach one of us when we’re seated on a chair or couch and seek out petting. And he’s enjoying such interactions with other humans in a more obvious way.
I saw more evidence of this on Wednesday, when Adagio and I volunteered at a CCI fundraising event inspired by Valentine’s Day. An employee at Intuit (the financial software giant with a big presence in San Diego) has organized a “Cupids and Canines” celebration for several years, but this was the first time a puppy and I participated. An area within the spiffy company cafeteria was cordoned off, and Adagio and I settled down within it with five other teams for three hours. Intuit employees who were willing to make a contribution to CCI could enter to receive some quality puppy-snuggling time.
It was a high-serotonin experience for both the dogs and the humans who got down with them. A few mosh-pits developed:
But more folks seemed to prefer one-on-one cuddles (often experienced in serial fashion with the dogs). Adagio reveled in it.
By the end of our stint, I was worried his tail might be exhausted, from wagging so much.
We heard that close to $4000 had been contributed during that day’s event, and another group would repeat the exercise on Valentine’s Day itself. It seemed like a particularly appropriate activity for the holiday of love.
I’ve enjoyed Adagio ever since we got him (a little over a year ago), but in recent weeks my affection for him has been building. Maybe part of it is losing Tucker. But Adagio also has reached a stage where he’s almost pure pleasure to live with. He wakes up in the morning bursting with happiness; happy to go for a walk or (if he’s very lucky) run around the nearby field for a short spell. Then he settles down, mostly snoozing throughout the day but ready to venture out if an opportunity arises. He does almost nothing wrong. We have a few things to work on to prepare him for a life of service — getting him to better ignore other dogs on the street; extending the time when he reliably stays down on command. But we’ve been relishing the thought of having until November 1 to work on these things.
That’s the date we were told he would have to be turned in for advanced training. (CCI includes this information in the paperwork, when they deliver each baby dog to its puppy-raiser.) By November 1, Adagio will be less than two weeks from his second birthday — a little older than most of the other CCI pups we’ve raised. I was aware that sometimes this “turn-in” date gets pushed forward, but I shoved that possibility from my mind. Then last week I received an email from the puppy program administrators at our local CCI training center. Adagio’s new turn-in date would be August 9, it announced. “Thank you so much for your flexibility! Rest assured that in the past dogs have turned in at a younger age. If your turn in was moved sooner, this change of a few months is not significant in relation to their potential success!”
At a couple of gatherings with other puppy-raisers, I soon learned that Adagio was not the only puppy who’s been moved up. His sister, Apple, has too, along with two other dogs close to Adagio’s age. Most of their puppy-raisers seemed more blasé about the news than us; they’d been half-expecting it. But Steve and I felt crushed to have three months less of life with Adagio. We love him!
As if to remind me that he hasn’t yet reached absolute perfection, Steve found this on Adagio’s bed yesterday afternoon:
Those are the mangled fragments of a set of earphones. Happily, Adagio found them in Steve’s garbage can. They’d stopped working, and Steve had discarded them. So no real harm was done. Still, the difference between stealing earphones from the trash or stealing something like that from a desk is close enough to remind us we’re not done with the task of civilizing him. We just have three months less to do it.
The incident in question happened Saturday afternoon, after Steve and Adagio had returned from a long grocery-shopping expedition. Because Steve had items to stow in our street-facing “bike garage,” he parked in front of our house, instead of in the big garage out back. He brought in Adagio and most of the groceries. I petted Adagio and walked into another room to do something else. It was several long minutes later when Steve asked, “Where’s Adagio.” I called him using my piercing “Here!” command, to which he usually comes running.
But he didn’t come. We looked out in the yard. No Adagio. We checked my office, then the garages. Increasingly incredulous, we went through every room in the house, even the closets — twice. But he was clearly missing from ALL the premises.
Feeling panicky, I raced out the front door and across the street to scan the elementary school playground/field where Adagio enviously stares at the dogs running free there. But I could see no large black dog romping among them. Our neighbor across the street, noticing my distress, asked what was wrong and offered to drive around looking for our missing pooch.
I wanted to check the alley behind our house first, but found no sign of him there. Two more neighbors volunteered to start a search. By this point I was nearly incoherent with not just fear but also disbelief. Adagio has NEVER bolted out the front door (which we figured Steve must have inadvertently left open for a minute or two.) On a leash, he waits patiently until we give him a command to venture out. I ran out the door again and then went down onto the field. I crossed it and scanned the streets on the other side (our regular path to the coffee shop). Again: nothing. With tears in my eyes, I raced back to the house and prepared to jump in our car and start driving, when my cell phone rang.
It was Jodie next door. “Have you lost your black lab?” she asked. In what seemed like two seconds later, I was at her door. Adagio wagged his tail in greeting.
We learned that Jodie’s mother had walked outside and seen a big black labrador on her lawn. She went to get Jodie, a renowned dog lover, and Adagio trotted inside, at her heels. Jodie, as it turned out, was in the shower, but when she emerged she immediately posted a notice on our neighborhood website (Next Door Birdrock) about her unexpected visitor. Then she thought to call us. Vast relief swept over Steve and me. (Adagio looked like he would have been happy to hang out longer with the family’s gorgeous blonde miniature dachshunds.)
I am left to conclude that we must NEVER fail to close the front door ever again. You never know when someone will get it into their head to stroll out and go sniff the grass on the other side of the bushes. (If he does, however, it’s wonderful to have such helpful neighbors. In the end, besides Jodie’s on-line notice, no less than four neighbors had volunteered to help use scour the surrounding streets, looking for Adagio.)
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.)
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…
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.
We’re coming to the end of the season for our magnificent Mission fig tree. It was here when we moved in 41 years ago, and every year since, in the late summer and early fall, it has yielded hundreds of pounds of fruit. Crows feast on the bounty at the crown; Steve plucks figs from the middle and lower zones and eats them on his cereal. Some years I make jam, and we always give away as much as we can, but figs still fall off the tree and litter the ground around it. Tucker typically has gained at least 5 pounds every fig season, and every CCI puppy we’ve raised has discovered the deliciousness. Except Adagio.
It’s hard to say why he has resisted them. This year when the figs started to ripen, we took pains to limit his contact with the tree, taking him down to that part of the yard on a tight leash. But we’ve done that with all our CCI puppies. Allowing them free access to scavenging opportunities inevitably results in dietary disruption — not fun for them or us. Still, we inevitably let down our guard, and during those moments everyone except Adagio has quickly availed themselves of the morsels of pleasure.
Whenever we’ve seen Adagio approach one, we’ve sternly reprimanded him. So I wonder: is he more obedient than all the other dogs? Is his culinary palate less refined — or more? (Somehow that theory seems implausible.)
In recent weeks, it seems to me he’s been more eager to get near the tree and sniff around. A few times, we’ve seen him returning from its vicinity licking his chops. Still, we doubt he could have eaten more than a half-dozen pieces, if he got any.
Adagio is not scheduled to leave us and go on to his Advanced Training until November of 2019. If that doesn’t change, we’ll live with him through another season of the forbidden fruit. Somehow I’m guessing he’ll be less resistant to its charms the next time around.
The organization for which Steve and I raise puppies — Canine Companions for Independence (CCI) — takes pride in the fact it was the first to train dogs to assist folks with physical disabilities. CCI started in 1975. But Guide Dogs for the Blind began decades before then, in 1942. We’ve known CCI puppy-raisers who previously raised “seeing-eye” dogs. Steve and I have always heard that training is even more demanding than what CCI dogs undergo. The dogs must learn not only to obey complex commands but also when to disobey an order to protect their human (for example, refusing to walk them into the path of an oncoming bus). Steve and I haven’t known much more than that about what’s involved in the training. However this week we learned a lot.
A new documentary film, Pick of the Litter, takes a close but wide-ranging look at the process. Tuesday afternoon Steve and I and Adagio saw the movie, along with several friends and other puppy-sitters and raisers. Adagio didn’t seem at all interested, even when the big screen was filled with squealing, yipping youngsters. But the rest of us were riveted.
The film opens with the whelping of a litter, then follows the progress of its three male and two female members. It’s suspenseful (some of the gang graduate as guides, but some don’t make the cut), and we were surprised by how familiar many aspects of the experience felt. Some commands are identical — “let’s go!” for one example. Another: the Guide Dogs for the Blind puppies wear halters just like CCI requires.
Other parts — like traffic training — are very different. What shocked me most was that the GDB puppy-raisers apparently can flunk out along the way. They don’t appear to take their pups to twice-monthly classes (as we do), and we saw no signs of the vibrant puppy-raising community CCI seems to foster. Instead, they’re observed by a professional every three months, and the organization can (and does) summarily take puppies back. It made me much less interested in ever raising a seeing-eye dog, as enthralling as their work is.
Before seeing Pick of the Litter, I was a bit worried that our documentarian friends Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider might be discouraged from continuing with their project. For years, they’ve been filming Steve and me raising successive puppies, with the plan of creating a film about the puppy-raising experience. They attended this new film with us and didn’t seem bothered by its coming out first. Although they have shot countless hours of footage, they haven’t yet wrapped up their work because they’ve been waiting for ONE of our trainees to graduate (something that hasn’t happened for eight years.) Adagio may not have been enthralled by Pick of the Litter. But Steve and I are still hoping he’ll be the next star.
Dogfest is the big fundraiser for our local region of Canine Companions for Independence. Although we’ve participated many times in it and its earlier incarnations, for at least a few years it has been held in the fall at times when we happened to be traveling.
This year, happily, we were able to make it. It took place yesterday, and for the first time ever, Steve and I formed a team to participate in the walkathon. It’s not an athletic event, really just a 10-minute stroll around the perimeter of the grassy area where the event unfolds (at Liberty Station Park next to San Diego Bay). Adagio was very excited by the presence of so many dogs (including legions that are NOT in training for a life of service.)
After the walk, Steve tried to interest him in the athletic displays of the disk-catching dogs (one of the morning’s entertainments). Adagio had no interest. It was hot, and he looked bored. His idea of a true dog fest is one where all the pups get together and run wild. But that one takes place only in dreams.