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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Fig resistant

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Sometime here smells so interesting! Am I missing out? But on what?!

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.

 

On the big screen

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.

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Photograph by Robert Schneider

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. IMG_3245.jpg

Adagio does Dogfest

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.

 

Where the turf meets the woof

A whole pack of puppies and their accompanying humans descended upon the Del Mar racetrack yesterday (the last day of racing for this summer’s season). Happily, Adagio, Steve, and I and our videographer friends, Alberto Lau and Bob Schneider, were able to join in. The afternoon proved to be a lot less boisterous than one might expect and not at all profitable (that was entirely predictable, given my incompetence at horse-wagering). Still, all the humans had fun.

I’m not so sure about Adagio. Compared to sleeping, which is how he spends most afternoons, there was certainly a lot more to smell and see. But because this was a semi-official CCI outing, all the pups had to be on their best behavior, sitting and walking on loose leashes and staying in Down positions, rather than romping and wrestling, as they would have all preferred. For the most part, their behavior was impeccable, and they got a lot of admiration from the racing fans. But from the doggy perspective, it wasn’t what you’d call fascinating.

His first sight of horses parading around the paddock area did appear to grab Adagio’s attention.

Later, the dogs had an opportunity for an even closer equine encounter. Because one of the veteran CCI puppy-raisers works at the track and arranged for the group experience, the second race saluted the CCI organization. We all got to line up in front of the grandstand and be photographed.

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Photograph by Robert Schneider

And the puppies were allowed to approach some of the track horses for a nose-to-nose encounter.

Adagio thought the cute little blonde was MUCH more intriguing than the large brown weird-smelling dogs on the far side of the fence.

At only one moment did he do something unexpected. Shortly before the second race, he barked loudly — twice. I took it as a sign that my hunch about the #2 horse should be followed. Ignoring the 60-1 odds, I put $5 on Chocolate Goddess to win.

And now I have a tip for you: never take the advice of a dog when betting on the ponies.

 

An educational field trip

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.DSC00735.jpg

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.

DSC00740 2Going down the slide was scarier, but he managed to do that too.

DSC00741He walked across a wobbly bridge…DSC00745…did an Up on a turtle. (We don’t have those in our regular classroom.)DSC00753 2.jpg…and an Under under a concrete bench.DSC00760 2.jpg

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.DSC00766 2.jpg

A couple of picnickers were eating something that looked and smelled interesting. But no one lunged to help themselves to a taste.

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The dogs walked calmly, then Kay directed us to a little dock where more strange sights and smells surrounded the crew.

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Dark had descended by the time we broke up. Everyone looked a little tired but content.DSC00796

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.

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!