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.
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.
I was complaining recently in this blog about all the paperwork that accompanies our last weeks with each CCI puppy. I got all my forms for Beverly in the mail last week but still needed to do one final task: take Beverly one last time to our veterinarian.
CCI requires this, I suppose so that it has a formal record of the state of each pup’s health as it returns to the organization. Along with giving the exam, the vet has to fill out a simple-minded form. It all seems to me like a classic exercise in bureaucratic hoop-jumping. But this morning I took Beverly in.
She didn’t mind. She always thinks Dr. Scoggin’s office smells interesting, and Dr. Scoggin is gentle and kind. The vet complimented me on the the cleanliness and healthy state of Beverly’s eardrums, described her skin on the form as “normal,” and judged her current weight (67.4 pounds!) to be a “good working weight.”
Most interesting to me was the doctor’s opinion that Beverly probably had a “silent heat” last spring when her vulva appeared to be a bit swollen, but we saw no blood. Dr. Scoggin said this is not all that uncommon; she might see it in one in 20 dogs (particularly big breeds). She said the next time Beverly goes into heat, she should bleed normally.
Now Steve and I are crossing our fingers that Beverly can put this off for just 30 more days. Otherwise she’ll have to go into the CCI kennels early and will almost certainly miss the big ceremonies on November 3. That would be very sad.
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.
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.
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.
Beverly and I went to a dedicated doggy pool party this morning at the home of the folks who are raising Florentine. As usual, Beverly declined to join in any of the aquatic activity — even though every one of the other 8 or 9 CCI puppies who attended swam. Some retrieved balls thrown into the water. Some made breathtaking leaps from the sides. But not Beverly. She clearly sees and understands that the other kids are enjoying the water. But it’s as if she just shrugs and thinks, “Eh. Not for me.”
I have no idea why not, except that I can say this is not uncommon. Only one of our six CCI pups has loved swimming; that was Darby (who clued us in to her passion by pawing the water in her bowl when she was just a few months old.) Many of the dogs fell into our pool by accident when they were small, and we used to speculate that maybe it traumatized them. As far as I know, however, that never happened to Beverly. She simply has little interest in swimming.
Hanging out with the other puppy-raisers this morning, I heard stories from several of them about how they had worked to get their dogs to be comfortable in the water. Steve and I have never put any effort into that, partly because CCI has never signaled it’s something we should be doing. Also, Steve hates the idea of having to clean dog hair from the pool filter.
And it’s not as if Beverly can’t have fun at pool parties. She greatly enjoyed this morning’s gathering because all the other dogs weren’t in the pool the whole time. She chased and wrestled with the ones who periodically got out.
After about 45 minutes, this tired her out so much that she lounged, poolside. That’s part of what you’re supposed to do at pool parties, isn’t it?
Beverly has been such an amazingly good puppy sometimes it’s easy to forget she’s still just a young dog. But this past weekend, we got a rare reminder. Here’s what happened (just for the record).
I woke up sometime in the wee hours Sunday morning to the unmistakable sound of canine regurgitation. (Raise a couple of dogs and you’ll never forget it.) I was too sleepy to crawl out of bed to see who it was coming from (Beverly or Tucker). But in the morning, it was obvious. If Beverly threw up much in the way of solids, she made them disappear by morning. Still, along with a sour smell, this is what we found on her dog bed:
She seemed quite unaffected by whatever had upset her stomach; ate her breakfast and acted normal all day. And we had a good idea of what happened. She’d spent most of the day at the home of another puppy-raiser, playing with three doggy pals while Steve and I participated in another activity to which we couldn’t take her. We assume that sometime during the day, she must have browsed on some irritating vegetation.
The good news is that the incident prompted us to thoroughly clean her dog bed. Now it looks and smells fresh and clean.
Unfortunately, I failed to get a picture of Beverly’s face when we collected her. She was literally grinning with happiness; obviously she had a wonderful time. If the aftermath illustrated that she is still only 98% perfect, that seems a fair trade-off.
Raising a potential service dog involves duties — most of which are pretty pleasant because they involve interaction with the dog (e.g. teaching the puppy good house manners, going to puppy class, etc.) But one of the most obnoxious duties arrived in my in-box the other day — the email bearing all the many forms to be completed in preparation for Beverly’s turn-in.
There’s an RSVP form for the turn-in ceremonies on November 3. A turn-in questionnaire, a medical questionnaire, a veterinary exam form, and more. I have to go through my myriad photos of Beverly and pick out three for inclusion in the Matriculation Slideshow. Churning through it all will probably take me a couple of hours.
Worst of all: every minute of it is a reminder of Beverly’s impending departure. 😦
We have a new teacher for our San Diego puppy classes. This will have the greatest effect on Steve and me in the future (assuming we continue to raise CCI puppies), as Beverly only will be able to attend a maximum of three more classes (one September 25 and two in October) before we turn her in for Advanced Training November 3. Still last week’s session (our first with the new instructor) felt like an exciting development.
When we first began raising CCI pups almost 13 years ago, our teacher was a long-time San Diego policeman whose day job involved working with the SDPD canine corps. Mike was very entertaining, his classes were focused, and we learned a lot in them. Unfortunately, he eventually became disillusioned with the police force, retired, and moved to New Mexico. Since then, we’ve had two other teachers. While both were pleasant enough people and skilled at training dogs, working with them reminded us that good teachers of humans need other skills (and unfortunately, neither of them had the key ones). Steve and I spent too many sessions feeling bored or frustrated.
The new teacher promises something different. She has raised a number of aspiring service dogs (including a current one for CCI), plus she has a little business teaching dog training to private clients. So she’s familiar with the CCI program and expectations, as wasn’t always the case with the last two teachers. Kay seems to have a vision for what she wants to communicate, and her energy level is high enough that it woke me up (along with everyone else, or so it seemed).
She says she wants all of us (even the Advanced group) to go “back to basics” and work on getting our dogs to focus intently whenever we call their name, heaping praise on them and using treats liberally every time they give us that rapt attention. In our first session under her direction, we went through several exercises designed to get the dogs to continue gazing at whomever was handling them in the face of some significant distraction. (Sometimes we traded dogs.) It was challenging.
It’s been even tougher to try to apply that at home, where we have plenty of distractions of our own. But it’s nice to have something to work on during this final stretch.
In two and a half months, Tucker will turn 13. That’s geriatric for a Labrador retriever. Our encyclopedia of dogs says the average lifespan of the breed is only 12 to 14 years. Tuck’s not dead yet, but we worry about his often-labored breathing, his failing hips, the depths of his slumber. One thing that makes me happy, though, is his still-evident affection for the puppies with whom he so often shares our house.
Beverly, is a particularly easy girl to live with; she never jumps or chews on him the way some of her predecessors have. I’ve seen Tucker use her as a pillow…
…and sometimes they serve as each other’s back rests…
At night, she loves to climb into his bed and curl up with him. Before turning out the lights, we make her go to her own bed because we think Tucker prefers sleeping alone, but he never growls or snarls at her incursions.
They even play together for brief interludes (though this activity mostly consists of him woofing at her to make her run away, in mock fear.
When he stops doing that is when we’ll really start worrying about him.
Our fig crop was late this year. Normally, some of the fruit ripens in the early summer, but this year that didn’t happen. Only now, finally, is the tree loaded with juicy purple delicacies, so many that they fall off by the hour.
It’s been fascinating to watch Beverly’s reaction to this — yet another illustration of how different puppies can be. Every dog we’ve ever had has quickly figured out that ripe figs are edible, and over the years, the most common reaction is that they are a gift from the universe, to be pounced upon and gobbled up as quickly as possible. For us, this is problematic for several reasons, including that:
Eating lots of figs makes dogs fat.
CCI puppies aren’t supposed to eat random objects that they find on the ground.
Eating too many figs gives some pups diarrhea.
Beverly’s reaction to the crop has been unusual. She clearly enjoys slipping out to the lower yard to inspect the messy detritus under the tree. She sniffs and sniffs, and I have seen her delicately choose certain chunks to consume. She chews them, as if savoring the flavors. Alternatively, sometimes she selects a less-ripe specimen and races around the yard with it, tossing it around like a toy. At other times, she lies out in the sun, ignoring the temptation altogether.
It’s wonderful (and exceedingly rare) to have a puppy so trustworthy it can be allowed out in the yard without our supervision. Beverly is almost that trustworthy, but not completely. Mostly we keep her in the house, away from the temptation. But at those moments when we slip up, I tell myself that fig season will be over soon.
Two months from today, we’ll have to give up Beverly. Steve has already warned me he’ll be crying. I’m sure I will too at some point during the proceedings. As we always tell people, you can’t raise a CCI puppy without being braced for the day you have to give it back. But that doesn’t mean you can’t dread it.
I’ve been remiss in reporting on life with Beverly during the past two months. That’s partly because Steve and were gone for a big chunk of that time, and Beverly was staying with puppy-sitters. I blame Beverly a little, too. She’s so far from being a drama queen, there’s little new to report about life with her. Our normal pattern is: when she’s up and about, she pretty much does everything we ask her to do. She also sleeps a lot. It’s a bit boring.
Still, my goal in writing this blog has always been to try and capture the puppy-raising experience, and raising Beverly has been a novel part of that. We’ve never had such a calm, easy-going charge before. Now in these final weeks, I’m determined to be more disciplined about chronicling our time together.
As an update, Beverly now weighs around 60 pounds. She’s a tall, sturdy girl, bigger than we first thought she would be. She has a pretty face, which often communicates sensitivity.
She’s learned all 30 of the commands that are on our training list, and she executes them solidly. She chewed up a leash when Steve and I were traveling, but normally she does almost nothing wrong. She doesn’t have a ton of energy, but she is happy enough to go for a walk, and she revels in being petted by admiring members of the public. Steve and I both think she would make an excellent “facility dog” (one whose able-bodied handler takes it regularly to visit those in some facility like a hospital or crime-victim’s center.)
Maybe Beverly’s most egregious failing is that she still has not yet come into heat, although she’s now almost 17 months old. We’ve heard stories of other rare dogs who never do so before turning in, and we’re praying she’ll be one of them. (It will break our hearts if it happens right at the end, and we have to miss the turn-in ceremony.)