Poochy smooches

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. IMG_4458

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.

IMG_4470It was a high-serotonin experience for both the dogs and the humans who got down with them. A few mosh-pits developed:

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But more folks seemed to prefer one-on-one cuddles (often experienced in serial fashion with the dogs). Adagio reveled in it.

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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.

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Bad news

IMG_4448I’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:

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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.

 

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.